The derelict hangs in Neptune’s blue orbit, a chip of shadowy flint from a distance. Up close, it’s old and rusting, myriad old systems cobbled together, and Hadley swallows her nervous and exhilarated heart a dozen times as she latches the pod to its belly, makes a hard seal at the airlock, and geckos her team inside. The exterior of their spatulae suits—hands and knees and hips—permits them freedom of movement even in zero gee. Especially in zero gee. She glances back at their pod once.
“It seemed to me that it was too easy to disparage jobs of that kind. Mickey over there, for example . . .” (Huw pointed to a university lecturer with tousled hair), “or Susan there. They are always having a go at me about the iniquities of forcing people to go home when they want to stay here. ‘No-one leaves their own country except for a very good reason,’ Mickey always says. But what I always ask him is this: Is he saying that there should be no immigration controls at all?”
“Slots Palace,” says Suze. You all stare at her. Staring at her is worth doing. She’s moved into a new bod since coming here, and the change has been a big improvement. There wasn’t exactly anything wrong with the one she initially adopted for the pentagon’s pre-consensuality union, but she became dissatisfied with it and the dissatisfaction affected the rest of you—especially Kagura, who said it reminded him in all the wrong ways of a past consensual of his who turned out badly.
I rooted her system on the first day. It was the only way to be sure. Sure that she’d love me. Step by matching step, I walk her under the boughs of great elms in Prospect Park, while the slanting sun passes through the tangled mesh of leaves to dapple her smiling face. When her heart rate spikes, I know she’s excited. When it slows, she’s bored.
The sun burned through the clouds around noon on the long Cytherean day, and Dharthi happened to be awake and in a position to see it. She was alone in the highlands of Ishtar Terra on a research trip, five sleeps out from Butler base camp, and—despite the nagging desire to keep traveling—had decided to take a rest break for an hour or two. Noon at this latitude was close enough to the one hundredth solar dieiversary of her birth that she’d broken out her little hoard of shelf-stable cake to celebrate.
It’s 12:15, and Monica West is late for our lunch. We’re meeting at a trendy Greenwich Village bistro, one of the few to survive the depression that bankrupted the City, and so many of its residents, nearly two decades ago. There are few reminders of those trying times here now. The place is packed with the young power elite, the air thick with talk of mergers and screenplays and spring designer collections. I order a glass of Cabernet and wait.
The Yakshantariksh is beyond one’s imagination, yet that is where its existence is made manifest. It is a being so real that it can only be sensed by that most intangible of organs: the mind! What a delightful paradox! And yet it is so. It was discovered in a dream—supporting evidence came later. Thus a tick living on the body of an elephant may never realize the elephant exists, unless, perhaps, the elephant speaks to it mind to mind. So it is with the Yakshantariksh, which is as vast, perhaps vaster than galaxies.
Jade was the sort of backwoods girl who had a map of the countryside tattooed on her heart, and she could feel it in her bones when the pieces of her world shifted. So when the new family moved into the house across the road that late summer, she felt ripples of wrongness radiating out from them and their too-bright clothes, their bizarrely old-fashioned wood-paneled station wagon, and their rolling words.
The dragonfly hung in the thick, humid air like a jeweled miracle, wings beating so fast that they became a blur. Its body was an oil slick of shifting colors, greens and blues and purples, blending together in patterns that would have seemed garish if they hadn’t been natural. It had a cocker spaniel clutched in four of its six legs.
There was one girl I really liked in school when I returned to Earth, but it took me three months to say hello. I wasn’t good with human beings. We’d just gotten back from Pitipek (a red-dwarf star system “just left” of Tau Ceti, as the joke goes). My father had been stationed there for two years with the TU’s Planetary Safety Agency, and living with the slow, enigmatic, bipedal Pitipeki—especially in one of their villages, and under those endless clouds—tends to make you lose your people skills.