The Shrinking Sky

“The Shrinking Sky”

by Daniel Huddleston

The embossed letterhead bore official seals from Central Accounting, the Labor Bureau, the Ministry of Fortune, the Municipal Police, and the coroner’s office. Crisp and sharply creased, it lay on the red granite counter where Nahum Carpenter had left it days ago. It mocked him, silently and mercilessly, as he dressed for his son Eckland’s funeral.

As Nahum straightened his black serithene cravat in front of the mirror, he stared into a reflection that felt less and less his own with every passing year—though not since the year of the hungry fever had the turning of any season changed it so much as this one.

The notice had arrived a week ago, informing him that his yearly income adjustment had been approved. Starting next month his compensation was scheduled to increase once again. It was not compensation for any greater amount of work or responsibility on his part, however. It was the other kind of compensation.

Cash, cold and hard, as the idiom went.

Nahum’s misfortunes in life had long since filled his pockets with mammon he’d learned to despise. Heavy of heart, he stared into the stoic reflection of that stranger in the mirror.

This wasn’t the first time he had gotten such a letter. The first had come in the spring of 0138—after the hungry fever had ravaged his and so many other families. From high up in their towers, the autosapient rulers of the Carina Settlement Project had looked down on him, tallied his misfortunes from the calamity, and dispassionately adjusted his standard yearly income in accordance with the standard model.

He still remembered the numbers: a one-time payment of 23,435.24 marks for the sterilization (i.e., burning) of his residence, and associated inconveniences. 3,452.02 marks yearly for the scarring of his child. 50,000 marks—yearly, or until remarriage—for what had happened to Robin.

And now today, another 35,000 mark adjustment, minus the 3,452.02 marks that no longer applied. Carina’s distribution authorities had made good for every misfortune that had befallen him. Equality of happiness was both a guarantee for the people of Carina Settlement Project and a cruel joke. Most people Nahum knew who dared speak of such things would admit to a feeling that something was wrong with the way this was administrated, but then quickly add that the autosapiens were not merely curators of humanity’s present, but also sculptors of its future. If we could see things as they do, then maybe…

Glancing down at the letter on the dresser, Nahum wondered what he would do with it all, now that he was all alone. Buy a bigger house? A more expensive car? Ridiculous. Such conspicuous consumption would be viewed by the community as a raw, shameless cry for attention and sympathy. Nahum Carpenter still had his pride.

He looked over his appearance one more time, straightened his silver cufflinks, and slid into his black suit jacket. It was time to go now.

It was time to go and say goodbye.

In a wide room at the funeral wing of Organics Recycling Center #6, Nahum stood by Ekland’s casket and shook hands with the guests as they arrived. The lid was closed, and the casket itself was a mere prop. There would be no dissolution of the body afterward, for what had been Ekland Carpenter had been reduced to ashes already by the homemade heat bomb that had taken his life.

By his son’s written request, the funeral was an invitation-only affair. Along with his lengthy suicide note, Ekland had left a list of those who were to be invited today—mostly relatives and close friends of the family. It was immensely disappointing to Nahum to see so few friends of Ekland’s. His son had been popular—very popular—in his student days, and as far as Nahum had known, had been well liked in his workers’ group also. Even so, there was only a smattering of people in the wide room whom Nahum hadn’t known for most of his life already.

I wonder if I really knew him at all, Nahum reflected bitterly. He had thought he had every reason to believe his son was happy. After all, Ekland had never had any adjustments made to his income since the old ones—for the hungry fever scarring and the loss of his mother. It was true that over the past few years he hadn’t visited as regularly on his days off, but whenever he had come home for a visit, he had laughed and joked with his father on the back veranda just like always, sipping tea and staring off into the gray metal distance.

Then last week a phone call had come out of the blue: Ekland had detonated a homemade heat bomb in a public square in Townbelow, incinerating himself in front of dozens of shocked bystanders. Hardly an unusual occurrence these days, but he had never dreamed his son would ever…

In Eckland’s tiny living quarters in the worker’s dorm, there had been nothing left behind save a suicide note, and that had raised far more questions than it had answered. Ekland had written in only the vaguest of terms of depression, heartbreak, and deep spiritual turmoil. Unable to see any road ahead for himself, he had joined a suicide cell, agreeing to do a share of its illegal chemical procurement in exchange for inclusion.

But why?

He had been specific only in regard to the instructions for his funeral arrangements.

Well, maybe we’ll learn something today, Nahum thought miserably.

“Thank you for coming…thank you for coming…” He said it again and again as the black-clad guests filed past.

“Nahum, I am so sorry!” cried a familiar voice. He didn’t have time to see a face before he was enveloped in the hug that followed, yet he knew without looking that it was his Robin’s elder sister Windchime. Nahum returned the hug fiercely. After a moment they pulled apart to look one another over and see how the years had changed them.

Every time Nahum saw Windchime, he couldn’t help imagining how Robin would have looked now if she had survived the fever. Both sisters had the same eyes and the same smile.

“Thank you for coming,” Nahum said.

“Are you all right? Do you need anything?”

“Nothing at all. It’s not going to be easy, but I’ll soldier on through.”

“I was so shocked when I heard,” Aunt Windchime said. “He was always such a good boy!”

On Carina, it was rude to accept a compliment without making some show of deprecation, so Nahum hastily offered, “Well, he did get in his share of trouble.”

“But never bad trouble!” said Windchime, rushing to her nephew’s defense. Tears welled up in her eyes. “He tried to help people!”

“I know, I know,” Nahum said, trying to calm her. He put his hands on her shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze. “But what’s done is done. I was just as shocked as anyone.”

“But to think that a boy like that would get pulled into such a thing!”

“To tell the truth, I don’t know much about who he’d been spending his time with these last few years. He never talked about his friends all that much anyway.”

Unbidden, memories surfaced of Ekland as a teenager coming home from school one day with his face caked in dried blood. He hadn’t washed it off because he’d been proud of the fight he’d been in. He had wanted his father to see. He and his friends had been in the right, he had insisted, and had given a good enough account of themselves that the ‘Rageballers’ would surely think twice before tangling with them again.

Nahum’s reaction that day had not been the one that his son had been expecting, but now he couldn’t hold back a wistful smile at the memory. Nahum remembered the clear shining certainty in his son’s green eyes—a certainty that had rendered null all of Nahum’s scolding that day. There’d been nothing he could say to the boy; he had raised Ekland to hold fast to his beliefs no matter what, and that day he first realized that in training him so, he had unwittingly included himself in the opposition his son felt free to ignore.

The ‘Ribcrackers’ had been a gang of sorts that Ekland started recruiting a year or so into his secondary school career—not for purposes of delinquency, but as a sort of mutual self-protection society, organized to resist the more predatory youth gangs that continued to be such a problem in the schools. Ekland hadn’t been much of a student in his classes, but he had had a rare combination of natural leadership skills and concern for the well-being of those around him. He had also been able to look at his circumstances objectively, understanding that a school was a system with rules that could be learned, manipulated, and turned to his advantage—at least up to a point.

Infinite promise, all wasted now in the mines of Townbelow.

Nahum was going to miss his boy a lot.

Music began to play over the loudspeaker, indicating that it was time for the funeral service to begin. Everyone found their seats in the pews. Nahum took a seat reserved for him in front, with Aunt Windchime and Uncle Ross sitting down at his right.

The lights dimmed, and the front of the auditorium transformed into a small, dingy bedroom—the kind allotted to single workers in the Townbelow miners’ dormitories. In the middle of this room, an insubstantial figure shimmered into existence.

Standing before them was the smiling figure of Ekland Carpenter. It wasn’t the kind of professionally-done holograph that one normally sees at funerals, and in a way that made it all the more difficult for Nahum to sit there returning his son’s oddly piercing gaze. Aside from a slight translucence that lent his figure an otherworldly quality, the man standing in the bedroom was Ekland Carpenter exactly as Nahum remembered him, his once-lanky frame packed with a heavy accumulation of muscle, dressed casually in work clothes and that long dark jacket he’d always favored. His brown hair was thick and tousled, framing an athlete’s face with green eyes and prominent cheeks—a face cratered somewhat on the right side with childhood scars.

The auditorium grew deathly silent as everyone waited for him to speak.

“Well, I won’t say, ‘good morning,'” Ekland began with that ironic smile Nahum knew so well. A smattering of appreciative chuckles in the back reflected not amusement so much as recognition—as if that laughter were saying, “Yep, that’s our Ekland, all right.” The hologram of Ekland had paused briefly, almost as though he’d anticipated the reaction.

Nahum heard sniffing from the row behind him.

Though he didn’t understand his son’s suicide or the detailed instructions he had left behind, he had honored his boy’s wishes in every detail. He was just praying now that this recording—clearly made near the end of Ekland’s life—would give him answers, and not cause for even deeper grief.

“I’ll need you to bear with me for a few minutes,” Ekland said, looking around the room. “I’m afraid this isn’t going to be just a quick parting message today. By my request, I’m preaching my own funeral this morning. I don’t want anyone else getting in the last word on my life. There’ll be no other speakers, no preacher summing up afterward. When I’m done, you can leave. If there is a preacher here, I humbly request that you not give him the floor when I’m finished. I don’t think it’ll be a problem. I just want to sit down and talk to you all for a few minutes about some things, and also explain some things.”

Eckland sat down on the side of his old bed, got comfortable, and looked up at everyone thoughtfully. It was as if he really were looking right at them. Just as in life, the warmth in his voice and the informality of his manner made everyone in the room feel like he was talking just to them.

“With that out of the way, I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who thought enough of me and my dad to be here today. To Gramma Judith, to Aunt Thora and Uncle Bear, to Aunt Windchime and Uncle Ross, Aunt Vecta and any future uncle you may supply, cousins Mina, Rooke, Sil, Niles, and Rom, to Nahum Carpenter—the greatest father inside or outside this narrow little world of ours: thank you all. I love all of you, and I love all of the others here that I don’t have time to mention.

“This isn’t a sad day. It’s not.

“Now having said that, you probably think I’m about to start saying things like, ‘As long as you remember me I’m not really dead,’ or ‘I’ve just crossed over’…that kind of thing. Unfortunately, though, you know me better than that. I don’t have a lot of patience for clichés and euphemisms, so I’m not going to offer that kind of consolation today.

“What I can tell you is that I am now free of a life I was unhappy in.

“The only sad thing about this day for me is that I’m leaving all of you behind. That thought was the biggest obstacle to me in following through on this crazy idea. I don’t know what lies ahead in the great beyond, but I do know what I’m leaving behind: lips that kissed me goodnight, arms that held me when my mother died, hands that bandaged skinned knees, hard knuckles that made sure I stayed in line.

“I miss you already. And I’m terribly, terribly sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you. No doubt, most of you were pretty surprised when you heard the news, and most of you are probably here today hoping for some kind of answer to your questions. I’ll try not to disappoint you there.”

Ekland took a deep breath.

“So why did I have to die?

“Before I get into that, let me say that for a long time I’ve believed that the autosapiens that govern this little armpit of a colony have embarked on a project that’s fundamentally at odds with what we are as human beings. Now, don’t look shocked. Don’t force a frown to make it look like you don’t approve. We’re okay here. This place is an armpit. Nod your head. Nobody but family will see, and nobody here will report you. After all, private family funerals of twenty or fewer participants are one of the last forms of gathering that the autosapiens still don’t monitor, so enjoy this little moment of privacy while you’ve got it.”

There was a bitterness in Eckland’s voice that had cast a silent pall across the whole auditorium.

“There are three things I imagine you’re all wondering: ‘Why?’ ‘What made me snap?’ and ‘why didn’t I just talk to you?’

“Let me take the last one first. I didn’t talk to any of you because there are times in life when you just know what you have to do. I remember one night when I was a kid: we had family over and all the grownups were playing cards at the kitchen table. They thought I was asleep, and Aunt Windchime started talking about the night Uncle Ross proposed…about how she’d known exactly what Gramma and Gradda would say if they knew, and exactly how certain she’d been that she needed to marry him anyway. So she kept it to herself and just did what she needed to do. That way, nobody could stop her.”

Ekland looked around the room sadly.

“I am aware that this analogy might bother some of you, but please stick with me just a little while longer. Don’t cover the little ones’ ears. I’m not going to say anything that they shouldn’t hear.

“Next, I’ll answer the question of ‘why.’ The answer to that one is pretty straightforward, too, and you can probably guess it from my earlier comments on the general armpittyness of this pathetic excuse for a human colony. Let me sum it up this way: I’m part of the last generation of children here who has a clear memory of the open sky. I used to lie under that old oak tree up on Riggs Hill, resting my head on my mother’s lap and staring off into the sky for what seemed like hours while she stroked my hair. Even after the satellite drop…even after the contagion that cost me my mother and left me with this oh-so-lunar complexion, I kept staring off into the sky whenever I could. Day or night, it didn’t matter.

“Mina, Rooke, Niles: the pictures you’ve seen at school don’t do it the least bit of justice. Those shots of gray clouds in your readers were chosen to keep you from wanting to go out and see it for yourself. They’re worried that if people go out again, they might bring the hungry fever back in with them. They’re always worried about us. They’re always concerned.

“But the sky out there doesn’t look like that. Not usually. It starts out blacker than curfew, but then you start to notice this faint, pale light off toward the east. It slowly gets brighter and brighter, and the grays start turning into pinks or reds or sometimes yellows or oranges, and then finally the first sun rises: an orange fireball that sets the whole eastern horizon on fire. A few minutes later, the second sun comes up right behind it. Sometimes the smaller sun comes up first; sometimes the order’s backwards, but either way, the glory that’s spilling down on the east doubles. The suns slowly rise until they clear the mountains, and then the whole sky starts to turn bright blue. White clouds drift across it, like they’re sliding across a gigantic blue glass lens. Fluffy little silly clouds…big grand magnificent clouds… The suns chase each other all day long from one side of the sky to the other, and through more shades of blue than you can imagine. At the end of the day, when the suns are slanting off toward the west, the clouds on the horizon start blazing with yellows and golds and reds and purples. You may think I’m done now, but all of this is really just a preview of the main event. ‘Cause as our suns start sinking away toward the western hills, everyone else’s suns start filling up the darkening sky. A sea of suns. A froth of suns. They don’t hurt your eyes, but sometimes if you stare too long at them, you almost feel dizzy—as if you’re about to slip free of gravity itself and fall out into them. They burn all night long until the new day finally dawns, and then the whole big show starts over again.

“That was the sky I watched while the enclosure was going up. I watched the sky grow smaller and smaller every day, until there was only one tiny little window remaining. At last, the day came when that was gone too, and we were—as the autosapiens determined—”safe” from any space-borne infections ever getting in here again.

“That was around the time I entered secondary school. Now, secondary school’s a tough time for everybody, but still…I can’t help thinking that it’s a terrible, terrible thing for young boys to grow up under a shrinking sky. That school was a cesspool of violence, intimidation, petty crime. I wasn’t much of a student myself, true, but how could I be? It was all I could do to get me and my friends through another day. Secondary school was like a six-year prison sentence—surrounded by real-life prisoners-in-the-making.

“What the autosapiens had to teach us ranged from the useless to the ominous. Useless, in that it was full of propaganda clearly written to turn us into good little cogs; ominous, in that I could see my future clear as day in my personalized lessons.

“My word problems in math and my reading selections in literature almost always had something to do with mining. My sci-tech courses ignored things like aviation and astronomy, but were full of lessons on geology and the proper handling of various drills. It wasn’t enough that they had taken the sky away from me; now they were going to bury me in the ground for the rest of my life.

“How is that supposed to lead to a better future for anyone? How could I go on trusting that they know better in the face of that?

“Maybe they realized somehow that I was the type who starts to think that way. Maybe my punishment was to spend my life digging the rare earths that they need to maintain and grow their network and functions. What’s more likely, though, is that they simply read in my file that I had bad grades and a strong back, and concluded from that I would be most useful in the mines. For six years, I could see it coming.”

Ekland paused for a moment to breath out a heavy sigh.

“There are people I love here, but for me, there’s no future in this place. In destroying myself, I have what revenge I can get against the machines that stifled my future.”

Ekland was silent for a long moment, then he looked up, and cracked a wry smile. “‘What finally happened to make me snap?'” he said. “That’s the last question I’ll answer today. What in the world happened to make a kid like me take my own life? Why did I have to go that far?

“Well, it started as an extension of my ‘gang activities’ in high school. Now, Mina, Rooke, Sil, Niles, and Rom: this wasn’t like most gangs. Most gangs are bad. When I was in school, there were a lot of bad gangs, and weak kids were completely helpless. But I was big for my age, so instead of attacking me, the gangs tried to get me to join. However, thanks to the fine example of your aunts and uncles and grandparents, I wasn’t interested. Saying ‘no’ got me into a lot of fights, but…well…fighting turned out to be something I was pretty good at, and after a while, they moved on to easier targets. But even after they started ignoring me, I kept on watching them. In time, I started going out of my way to make friends with their victims. And not too long after that, we were turning into a little gang ourselves.

“Because of my mother and my scarring, I had more money than most kids, so I used it to take self-defense lessons from an old guy in the neighborhood at night. The next day, I’d turn around and teach my friends whatever he had taught me. It was rough, and there were a lot of ugly fights, but together, we somehow managed to pull through. We were close back then, and some of us still keep in touch even now.

“If I learned anything useful in school, it was how to spot and organize victims. By the time I graduated, doing that had practically turned into a habit.

“But then it happened. Graduation. As soon as I got my certificate, I was shipped down to Townbelow and assigned a room about five kilometers under the ground. It’s the same room you see me standing in right now. By that time, the sky had been closed off topside for years, so you might think that it shouldn’t have felt any different to me.

“It did, of course. Every night when I’d lie down on this bed, it felt like I had a five-kilometer column of rock pressing down on my chest. There was no way out. No hope of transfer. When I complained, I was sent to a counselor whose job was to teach me to ‘adapt.’

“But I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one that this newer, bigger bully called Carina Settlement Project was trying to push around. Normally, we can’t talk freely about this kind of thing and we certainly can’t gather in significant numbers, but I kept on marking the victims when I saw them, introducing them to each other in pairs, and organizing the pairs into cells—which was actually just a more sophisticated version of what I’d been doing back in school. Suppose I met a baker who’d always wanted to work in the spaceport. You’d be surprised to learn how easy it is to introduce a person like that to a spaceport security inspector who’d never really wanted to do anything but bake the best bread in town. People like that can find a lot to talk about when you get them together.

“Those of you who are still paying attention are probably anticipating what happens next at this point, but don’t think you’ve got it all figured out just yet. As I’m sure some of you now suspect, our group—okay, my group—decided that dying was the only way we could ever get free of this place. Mea culpa. I was the ringleader, the cult leader, whatever you want to call it.

“There were a lot of us, but the news of so many simultaneous self-immolations is probably not being reported fully, so anything you’ve heard so far is most likely word-of-mouth. The only one of us whose death was sure to have made the news was Katerina Ursamajor, since she was somewhat well-known as an entertainer and stage magician. For what it’s worth, her lifelong dream had always been to be a full-time mother. Ironic, really, since the good looks and gentle nature that should have made that dream an easy one instead got her pegged as entertainer material, which has kept her too busy for marriage and family.

“Anyway, me and a certain disgruntled pharmacist I met in Westblock sat down one night and hammered out the shopping list that was eventually distributed to everyone else in the cells. Some dropped out of the project at that point, but nobody seems to have ratted us out. We gathered materials slowly. First, the incendiary chemicals we needed for heat bombs. After that, the parts we needed to build the trigger mechanisms. It wasn’t easy. The bombs needed to be tested in secret first, because none of us wanted to do this halfway. Total immolation was the only way to go, we’d decided. So we’d grab a bit here and a bit there. It took a full year for everyone to get all their stuff tested and ready. Fortunately, Townbelow only occupies only one small part of a huge maze of caverns and tunnels down here.”

Ekland gave a sad laugh and looked around at the dead-silent auditorium.

“I can only imagine the looks on your faces right now. My dear aunts and uncles, please don’t cover the children’s ears. I’m not going to tell them to do what we did. I’m sorry. There isn’t much time left, so I’m going to have to wrap this up quickly now.

“In addition to the chemicals we needed for immolation, we also needed a few other things. Carefully-measured amounts of carbon, phosphorous, calcium, and the like. Remote-control carts made entirely of combustible materials. Holographic projectors.

“You see, our group of desperate, hopeless, and highly-trained adults was quite extensive, diverse, and good at sharing knowledge. It encompassed a miner like me, an accountant, an engineer, a cook, a pharmacist…”

As Nahum listened, Ekland’s sad smile was gradually transforming, resignation giving way to a sort of ferocity. His voice gradually dropped by a few octaves as well, acquiring an ominous edge as he named off the professions of his compatriots.

“…an auto mechanic…a stage magician…and a spaceport security inspector.”

Ekland stood up from his bed, thrust his hands into the pockets of his long, dark coat, and smiled again, more amiably.

“Not many people know about this, but it seems there’s a little-known security flaw in the software that processes retina scans down at the spaceport. A couple of overlapping databases that are updated on different schedules can confuse the system if it reads the retina prints of a dead man within a week of that person’s demise.

“In fact, if such a thing were to happen…the computer would become so discombobulated that such a man…or any number of such people…could walk right through the automated security gates like the ghosts they supposedly are.

“By this point, it should be about 11:30. Thank you for coming here today to see me off, but unfortunately, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you want to see me off for real, you’ve got about twenty-five minutes left to get down to the spaceport for the scheduled launch.  Go to observation lounge #2, and tell the children to look straight up when they see me go.

“I’m done now. I’ve had the last word on my life. If there’s a preacher here, don’t give him the floor. Instead, get up and get moving, because there isn’t much time. Stay healthy and live long, so that maybe we can meet again when I finally come back with the firepower to crack this place’s shell and set you all free. Friends and family, dear aunts and uncles, cousins, Grandmother, Father, I haven’t died…I’ve just crossed over!”

When the recording finished, the lights came up and there was a long, awkward silence.

“…weird kind of service…” grumbled a voice in the back.

But Nahum Carpenter felt his breath grow short.

…a stage magician…

He couldn’t believe what he’d just heard…

…and a spaceport security inspector…

…how could he believe it?

If he simply sat where he was, he might never be required to believe it. His face flushed beet-red. His chest started to pound. He had to know. He had to know. He shoved himself up out of his seat, stood there helpless for a moment as he looked around at a collage of hesitant, uncertain faces, and shouted, “Well, come on, then! Let’s hurry! Hurry!

At first, there was only the sound of his own feet running for the exit door, but after a moment the swish of fabric and the claps of dress shoes against the hard floor grew to a crescendo.

There had never been such a sight before at the funerary wing of Central Recycling #6. It wasn’t only the Carpenter family either. Along the long hallway that led outside the building, doors to other chapels were bursting open, and black clad men, women, and children were spilling out into the hall, their faces covered in sweat and tears and more hope than had been seen in Carina Settlement Project in decades.

The black wave came gushing out into the parking lot. Those who had come by public transport found rides with those who had cars, regardless of which family they were from. They were all one family for that moment, and everyone was headed in the same direction.

At the spaceport, crowds were already spilling out of cars that had arrived from other funerals. Their vehicles were being left abandoned at the roadside as their occupants thundered away toward Observation Lounge #2, where they rushed the gigantic window overlooking the bottom half of the launch silo. Those in front held up their children so they could see the giant rocket. It was waiting to depart in a long, slender tube that led to the surface of the enclosure.

Nahum Carpenter was at the front, pressed up against the soundproof glass by the crush of people behind him. Little Rooke climbed up onto his shoulders, quickly grew bored, and began playing with his hair. Nahum stared up at the forbidding gray shape of the rocket, atop which was mounted a small interstellar craft that the autosapiens periodically dispatched to conduct business with other worlds circling those little suns they used to see at night. He saw no sign of any suspicious movements at first. There were only cranes loading last-minute provisions and mechanical arms performing last-minute checks.

“Look! cried Rooke suddenly. “People!”

Nahum followed the little girl’s finger to a hooked crane that was descending from the spaceship. Dangling from the hook was a large bundle of struggling men wearing only undershorts, tee-shirts, and tape across their mouths. They were lowered right past the observation window; the remote-launch system completely unaware of them. Cheers and uproarious laughter broke forth, and no one even thought about calling it in.

Nahum strained his eyes, looking upward, trying to get a glimpse of the hatch. He could see that it was still open, and standing inside it was a figure. He couldn’t see the face, but he could make out the vague shape of a long, dark coat that looked very familiar. The figure waved a hand once, and then went back inside. Moments later, the hatch slammed shut.

The crane disappeared into a wall casing far below, taking with it its reluctant cargo, and moments later, the rocket’s engines ignited.

Though the soundproofed walls blocked out most of the deafening roar, the vibrations transmitted through the floor, and the very air seemed to shake as the rocket shot upward through the launch tube.

After an interval that seemed much longer than it really was, the air stilled.

The exhaust and steam that had filled the tube slowly began to dissipate.

“Look up,” Nahum whispered to Rooke. “Look all the way up as high as you can.”

The smoke was still thick, but high overhead, the launch tube’s shutters had not yet closed.

Framing the pillar of flame and cloud that Carina’s free sons and daughters were riding to the stars, the children stared up in awe into a distant, perfect circle of clear blue sky.


Although Abyss & Apex was the first to publish Daniel Huddleston (see his “A Time to Weep”–what a debut!), it had been a while before he submitted to us again and we snatched this one right up. In the interim Huddleston, who teaches English in Western Japan, has been translating Japanese science fiction. Here’s his Audible link to translated tittles:

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