It was a beautiful explosion, and in a way Jordan was lucky to have such a good seat. She’d been watching the Earth swell up to fill and exceed her porthole, ignoring the thin strand of the space elevator and the wide modules of its ascender until one of them flashed and spilled its guts in a spray of diamonds.
The guy next to her, asleep since they crossed inside the moon’s orbit, jerked awake as the skiff fired its slowdown thrusters to stop them still a kilometer from the elevator station. He leaned over against his straps, gaping at the rainbows glittering beside the ascender. “My god, that’s beautiful. What is that?”
Jordan’s mouth was dry, her heart going tripletime.
“Water,” she said. “That’s all our water.”
• • • •
By the time the station took a damage assessment and rousted every security guard posted there, the skiff had gone into an uproar and the complimentary drinks cabinet was locked. By the time the skiff emptied onto the station the starfield was peppered with emergency vehicles and private Help & Rescue, and guards with nonlethals bristled at the passengers flooding the concourse.
The queue at the transmission station was long enough that Jordan just pushed off toward the light skiff toward Lagrange One, cornering around a couple Earthers who startled, all nerves, as she boosted off their shoulders. Poor bastards. If they’d planned on taking the ascender down, acclimating to touch-friendly micrograv was the least of their problems.
Due to the accident on the ascender, all hydrogen- and oxygen-thrust vehicles out of Hyperion Station have been suspended, announced the PA. Repeat, due to the accident on the ascender . . .
Jordan showed her identification to a cluster of guards at the terminal, went up to the kiosk, and sprang the extra expense to board into a private module with a transmitter. The module was a closet, compared to the cabins on the ascender; even the micrograv straps seemed superfluous, as there were barely ten centimeters of space left between Jordan’s elbows and the module walls.
She keyed in the transmission codes for her rig, and a few seconds later Marcus’s face popped onto the screen, dark skin flushed in the rig’s full-spectrum lights.
“Oh, thank god,” he said. “Are you all right?”
“I’m pretty well shaken and stirred, Marc,” Jordan said. “Listen—put the rig into emergency water rationing. Stop all the new planting, and restrict personal use as far down as it’ll go.”
Seconds passed, and she watched Marcus’s expression as he waited for the transmission to reach him. “Already done, Ms. Owole,” he responded. “Soon as we heard the news. Have you heard the latest?”
“I know they’re suspending H and O ships out of Earth orbit. I’m just glad we do enough business to have photonic corridors from L1 out there.”
“Yeah, saved by big business,” Marcus said. “L1 is putting a discouragement tax on H-O thrusters. Oh, and Etienne is coming after you.”
He had the grace to look sheepish, at least. Jordan groaned.
“Between us and the refueling stations Galot and Bardroy run, that’s sixty percent of the water in the near-Earth colonies,” he said. “The next reserve is on Mars, and the next after that is Europa. They’re no help. Didn’t take long for Etienne to come to that conclusion.”
“And did Etienne’s observation come with demands?”
Marcus laughed uneasily. “You know it would’ve. Fortunately they’re still crunching numbers on how long we can stretch what we have. Heard anything from Ouranos-Hyperion on repair times?”
“You know Earthside procedure,” Jordan said. “It’ll be security promises and pointing fingers for a while. Marcus, I haven’t even got a message to Harper yet. She was going to meet me Earthside; god knows what she thinks.”
She waited a few seconds.
Then, without waiting for the response, said, “They’re calling it an accident. I know they want to keep us from rioting, but do they think we’re stupid?”
“Jordan.” Marcus pressed his fingers to the camera. “I’m sure she heard that the ascender exploded; she can put two and two together.”
A pause, as the second half of the message caught him.
“If I were them I wouldn’t know what to think,” he said. “Listen, I’ll meet you on Lagrange One, okay? Raxel’s got things in hand here, and you could use an escort in. And a stiff drink, and I’m thinking the bars will be crowded.”
Jordan quirked a dry smile. “You’re an angel, Marcus. Feel free to call me on the flight. I’ll see you there.”
Marcus gave a little wave after the lag, and the transmission cut.
Jordan closed her eyes, listened to see whether more people were boarding or whether the crew was gearing up to fire the photonic thrusters, couldn’t tell, and typed another transcode in. The screen flashed red.
TRANSMISSION TO EARTH IS TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED: EARTH SECURITY DIRECTIVE 515.05.81 03:07 UTC, it read.
“Great,” Jordan muttered. “Just great.”
• • • •
Lagrange One wasn’t as large as the Ouranos-Hyperion station at the Elevator, but it was large enough to have a photonic-thrust lane there and back. And it was large enough that as soon as Jordan disembarked from the skiff, she was assaulted from all sides by the low roar of spacers arguing, the tense tones of the news broadcasts, the smell of too many frightened people. Jordan wrinkled her nose. Hygiene was going to go to shit.
The terminals along the walls displayed the same news accounts she’d been subjected to for eight hours on the skiff, though these were intercut with station-wide announcements warning everyone to stay calm.
No one was staying calm.
Barely three metres from the debarkation line someone called “Hey! You Jordan Owole?”, and she turned just in time for a man to sail into her, grab her arm, and link their momentum. A moment later they were against the wall. The man wore the charcoal security armor that denoted system-wide jurisdiction, with a tag reading LISTER on his chest. He was short and strong and looked like he’d had a lot of elective surgery, which meant that no way was he a native in micrograv. New guy in space, maybe, and not happy about it today.
“Something wrong?” Jordan asked.
“Got a flag from the skiff,” Lister said. “You were trying to contact someone Earthside?”
“Yeah—I was scheduled to go down and meet my sister,” Jordan said. “Is that all right?”
“Your sister is Harper Owole?” Lister asked, and a mass settled in Jordan’s throat.
“Is that all right,” she said again, colder this time.
“She wrote those editorials,” Lister said. “‘Earth shouldn’t be shipping its water away, it’s not renewable if we ship it up there—’”
“Yeah, I know what she thinks; we talk from time to time,” Jordan interrupted. “What—”
“Why’d you try to call her?”
“I was going down to visit her!” Jordan said. “We were going to look at roses.”
That seemed to throw him, for a moment. “Hell’s that supposed to mean? Roses?”
God bless Marcus, Jordan thought, and looked past Lister into the crowds. Marcus was boosting his way through, systemwide security be damned. She looked back to Lister as Marcus arrived.
“Am I under arrest? Sir?”
Lister let go of her arm, releasing it like it was something disgusting. “We’ve got a flag out on you,” he said, jabbing a finger at her before he shoved off.
“Putain de merde,” Marcus muttered. “What was that?”
“He’s scared,” Jordan said, watching him go. “Everyone is scared, and that’s not a good place to be. Let’s get off this floating hunk of scrap.”
Marcus turned to her and palmed over a foil packet—alcohol, probably. Judging by the size, Jordan guessed straight ethanol. “Don’t flash it,” he said, and clapped her on the shoulder. “People will think it’s water. Let’s get home.”
That was easier said.
This close to her rig, people recognized her. Before they made it to the terminal someone intercepted her, caught her arm. “Ms. Owole? Jordan Owole?”
“I didn’t do it,” Jordan said, and only realized belatedly that she’d probably pay for that joke.
“You’re selling, aren’t you?” the man asked. “It’s been on the news; it’s up to private holders now—”
Oh, no. “Stop right there. Just stop.”
“I’ll pay any price. There are fifteen families on my station. Eight of them have children.”
“It’s not—” she said, and didn’t have anything to follow that with except for the urge to roundhouse-kick this guy down the hall and escape.
“Pull the E card,” Marcus muttered.
Jordan wished for some choice French profanity of her own. “I’ve got a call waiting with Etienne.”
And, for once in her life, she thought God bless Etienne, too. The man didn’t back off, but he looked like he was weighing the benefits of pressing.
“Which we have to get to,” Marcus said, and put a hand between them. “I’d take it up with her.”
Excusing themselves felt less like a departure than a retreat.
Marcus kept himself between Jordan and the station crowd as much as he could, which would have been difficult enough in an Earthside concourse and was nigh impossible in L1. Every bumped shoulder and correction of momentum seemed to communicate tension like a sludge or a fast-acting disease, and a palpable relief hit them when they made it to the dock module for the hydroponic rig skiff. Only one guard was stationed there, and he checked their identification, unlocked the dock door, and said, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
It was enough of a deviation from the pattern that Jordan couldn’t process it for a moment. “Excuse me?”
He looked at her, and held her gaze. He had a sort of spacer-mutt gangliness, and his expression, while serious, didn’t share the panic of the rest of the station. Native, maybe. Young, certainly.
“You’re Jordan Owole, right? You own the hydro rig?”
“I’m not selling,” Jordan said.
“Wouldn’t want you to,” the guard responded. “Just let me know if I can help.”
• • • •
The light-skiff ride to Owole Hydroponics was just under fifteen minutes, and the first thing Jordan saw on arriving was her workstation waiting just past the airlock. She looked around for Raxel—the only one who’d leave the hint that blatantly—but she was nowhere to be found.
“My kingdom to avoid this call,” she said, grabbing the workstation from where it had drifted into the bulkhead. Marcus gave her a sympathetic look. “Of course, my kingdom is what she’s wanting.”
“If you want me to take it—”
“She’d make you put me on, and you know it,” Jordan said. “If you don’t hear from me again, send rescue.”
She turned, got a foot against the inner rim of the door, and pushed toward an office.
Etienne wasn’t officially anything in the near-Earth colonies’ administration, but unofficially, you did well to stay on her good side. Jordan was of the opinion that Etienne played either the cattledog to the near-Earth colonies’ herd or the bent Sherriff to the colonies’ Wild West, anachronistic as those concepts should have been. Love her or hate her, you had to admit she was needed.
Jordan keyed in her contact information, and waited as the local stations caught, interpreted, and routed her call. After a minute the screen switched to WAITING, and not long after that, it switched to Etienne’s face.
“Jordan. So glad you called.”
“Well, I needed to,” Jordan said.
Etienne nodded almost immediately, and Jordan jumped. There wasn’t even a second’s delay—much less than the ten or so it would take to transmit to Earth orbit and back. Etienne must have come out to the L1 cluster.
“I heard you had an interesting day,” Etienne said.
Jordan grunted. “En route to Hyperion Station when the ascender blew. Watched it out of the skiff window.”
“Nasty piece of work.” Etienne clicked her tongue. “If the names of the perps go public, I know a few solar satellites which may be abruptly retargeted from their collection stations.”
Jordan felt a vertiginous sense of unease. “You’re not serious.”
“There’s always talk of retribution, Jordan. Even if we don’t have half a blip on who we’d be targeting.” Etienne waved a hand. “Relax. No one’s launching a burn attack on Earth under my watch.”
Jordan didn’t relax.
“But let’s talk business,” Etienne said.
Jordan took a breath. “Etti, our water is tied up in food production. Why is everyone looking to us? What’s the matter with the reserve?”
“Oh, you really haven’t been watching the numbers, have you?” Etienne said. “The problem is we grew too fast, hon. The reserve was only ever a stopgap and now it’s a flash in the pan. Ergo, near-Earth needs you.”
Jordan shook her head. “No water, no crops, no food.”
“Less water, fewer crops, less food. You’re one of our luxuries up here. If the other choice is going thirsty, you think people will complain when their kumquats come off the market?”
Jordan ignored the jab. “It took years to get some of these crops established. You can’t just stop and start production on a hydroponics rig.”
“Try putting a stop to drinking,” Etienne shot back. “And darling, I looked over the logs from Ouranos-Hyperion. You’ve been ordering water over your business use.”
Jordan groaned. “I won’t bother asking how you got those.” Etienne got anything she put her mind to getting. “Listen, I know, it’s a disaster, but there’s gotta be other options. I’ve got loans out, the crop cuts could take years to correct—this could ruin me.”
“We’re pulling every option we have.” Etienne drummed her fingers against the console, and the sound translated to a menacing bassbeat over the connection. “You’ll be compensated for your expenditure—”
“No insurance on Earth or in the heavens above is going to pay me for giving up water and destroying viable crops,” Jordan said. “I’ll get reimbursement on the shipment I lost in the explosion, but there’s no way I’ll get anything back from a fire sale of my stores.”
“I’ll see to it,” Etienne said. “Darling, the reserve will last us a month, at most. You want to know how many liters we’re losing every day?”
“No. I don’t.” Jordan rubbed her temples, and let her shoulders slump. “What are your numbers?”
“Against seven months for the ascender repairs, we’ve got two weeks on the reserve at normal use—a month on emergency rationing. Four more months using eighty percent of your water stores and sixty-five of the refueling stations’. That’s leaving the rest to you to grow food and to Galot and Bardroy to run food and water deliveries and handle emergencies. That should get us to a point where relief organizations can send up water in the quantities to get us through the interim.”
“That’s the gamble?” Jordan asked. “Your best-case scenario leaves us two months’ blind hope?”
“Well, its a damn sight better than six months of despair,” Etienne pointed out. “I know we can count on you, darling.”
“I got mobbed on L1!” Jordan shouted. “We haven’t even cracked the reserve yet, and people want to buy off my stores. What happens when we’re coming up on the end of our rations?”
“If you need protection, you know that’s never been a problem,” Etienne said. “Protection from Ouranos-Hyperion too, if you need it.”
It took Jordan a moment to process that. “You’re talking about my sister.”
“I’m talking about you, dear,” Etienne said. “As of that explosion, you’re the richest person in space.”
Jordan felt disbelief and anger tangling up at the bottom of her lungs. “Rich?” she demanded. “You want to call this rich? Getting strongarmed into killing off my crops, setting my own business back, jettisoning everything I’ve achieved, everything I’ve planned for—”
“Yes, and what were you planning for?” Etienne asked.
“I was planning for mind your own damn business!” Jordan said, and cut transmission.
• • • •
Raxel and Marcus were waiting when she left the office, with looks that suggested they were checking her for ripped-out hair so they’d be ready to change out the air filters. Jordan arrested her momentum as she came up to them, and jerked her chin down one of the tunnels. “Come on, let’s see our damage.”
“I say we keep the water for ourselves,” Raxel grumbled. “Between the three of us, we could probably last here longer than any of us would live.”
“Oh, definitely. If only because they’ll kill us for it,” Jordan said. “Etienne is talking people down from using the solar transfer beams as retribution against Earth. Let’s not piss her off or she might tell them to switch targets.”
“So did you work something out?” Marcus asked.
Jordan grimaced. “Well, I told her to piss off.”
“. . . uh,” Marcus said.
“I know, I know, and if we catch a laser through our bulkheads, blame me,” Jordan said. “You think we have a choice? Our crops versus everyone’s life. But I’m allowed to get mad, watching everything I’ve worked for go out with the waste brine.”
She steadied herself with a handhold and punched the bulkhead. Her workers looked at each other.
“We could dehydrate what we have,” Marcus said. “That might stretch the water reserves a little.”
“Too little. And anyone who ate the food would just get thirstier wanting the water back,” Jordan said. “For storage, though, probably our best option. People will be tightening belts once we scale down.”
Raxel glanced toward an empty bay. “Does she know about the stash?”
“She’s Etienne. She knows everything.” Jordan picked an office and pushed off for it, and Raxel and Marcus followed her. “So, we need a plan to scale down to twenty percent of our water use.”
“Twenty percent!” Raxel said. She reached the door first, and keyed it open. “By when?”
“Distribution at the end of the month, I think,” Jordan said. “Thanks.” She swung in the open door, and grabbed a hammock with her feet. “Ideas?”
“Will that even feed us?” Raxel asked, twitching to the desk and catching her feet under the lip.
“Subsistence, high-yield crops,” Marcus said.
“What, bean crops, potatoes, onions, peas?” Raxel asked. “Winter wheat, I guess, if we still have water. Could people live on that?”
“You could live on that,” Marcus muttered.
“People are going to riot if they don’t have colors available for their plates,” Jordan said. “Fruits and vegetables. Hell hath no fury like colonies who think they’re entitled to their grapes and raspberries, water crisis or none.”
“Maybe we should hire additional security,” Raxel said, and Jordan thought of the guard outside her dock at L1. “I know we don’t have the budget, but we could cut a crop and pay in fresh water until this sorts out.”
Jordan dug the knuckles of her thumbs into the corners of her eyes. “Anyone else beginning to think that maybe the anti-exporters have a point?” she asked. Despair was a strange feeling in micrograv: still felt like something settling on your chest, but it was the only thing settling. One spot of weight in weightlessness. “Maybe we have no business being in a place that can’t support us.”
Marcus and Raxel exchanged a look, and Raxel said, “Tell that to my family back in Phoenix.”
Jordan snorted and flicked her pencil at Raxel’s head.
Raxel reached out and plucked it from the air, then looked across at Marcus. “Marc, why’d you come to space?”
Marcus shrugged. “Ms. Owole was the only person who wanted to hire a thirty-year-old Haitian geek who’d spent way too long getting a Bachelors in hydroponic ag. And the relocation package was good.”
“How about you, Jordan?” Raxel asked.
“Because I was an 1860s frontiersman in a previous life,” Jordan said. “What about you, Raxel? I’m guessing you have a point to make.”
“Yeah, I have a point to make, “ Raxel said, and jabbed the pencil at Marcus. “I say we’re all up here for the same reason: because without hacking it up here, we’d never have sent the diver out to Europa. And if we can’t hack it that far, we’ll never get to another star.” She waved her hand back toward the observation modules, indicating the entire Milky Way by association. “Because either we can spread out or we can say this is as far as we’re gonna get. Because Earth is like—it’s our parents’ house, and near-Earth is our first crappy apartment, and somewhere out there is New York City, it’s New Delhi, it’s Sydney, it’s Madrid, and some people dream of going there and some people actually do. And we do. Least, we’re trying to.”
There was silence for a moment. Then, Marcus cleared his throat. “Rax, how many papers on this did you write?”
It was his turn to get a pencil flicked at his head.
“I was going to say we were little babies, and our umbilical just got cut, and we are desperately premature,” Jordan said. Raxel sent a disparaging look her way.
“Look, you can disagree, but this has always been the bargain,” Raxel said. “Back when we were still shooting things up with individual launches, those rockets were pumping out enough shit to turn the local nature preserves into acid swamps for half a day. You know what they said? ‘The dead animals are dedicated in the interests of the mission.’ You can love Earth or you can love space.”
Marcus’s hand closed around the pencil, and he looked uneasily to Jordan. “So it’s us or them? I mean, we solved the fuel problem with the elevator. You don’t think—”
“Marcus,” Jordan said. “Kids. Both of you. You want to save the world—” she looked from Marcus to Raxel, “—and you want to colonize other stars. Let’s focus on keeping in food and water and Etienne’s good graces until they fix the damn elevator, and we can all be heroes then.”
Raxel showed both hands. Marcus looked contrite, and pushed off to Jordan.
“Here’s your pencil back,” he said, and his hand closed on her shoulder. She curled her hand over it.
“Thank you,” she said, and looked back to her notes. “So. Rice, lentils, and raspberries.”
• • • •
You could hire security, you could seal your hatches, you could do just about anything in the near-Earth colonies, but you could never bar your door to Etienne.
She arrived on a light skiff at what, planetside, would be an indecent hour, but Jordan was still awake to meet her. She led her back to an inner observation module, placed alongside a long row of producing fruits, and opened a cabinet to withdraw two small packages of awamori from the secret and not entirely legal still Marcus tended in the back of the rice modules. She floated one to Etienne, who caught it and placed it in the air just to one side.
“I tell you,” Etienne said, looking down into the complex, her face softening as she took in the green. “If civilization ever collapses up here, all of us who can’t get to Europa should hope you’d let us in. You’ve got your own little ecosystem.”
“It’s an ecosystem that requires a lot of intervention,” Jordan pointed out. “We’re no Earth.”
“Still, if you downshifted to subsistence farming, rationed your water, recycled every drop . . . how long do you think you could last, here?”
Jordan sighed, rolling her head back. “With the staff I have now? Years. Indefinitely. Does it matter?” She popped the cap off the awamori, traced her finger around the lip. “It’ll never come to that.”
“Mm,” Etienne agreed.
They sat in silence for a moment, looking down at the crops transplanted from their terrestrial homes. They looked strange, to an Earth-cultured perspective: far away from nature and the richness of soil. But space had its own rules and its own rightness.
“So. Darling.” Etienne affected an old French accent, and Jordan slipped half a smile. “Time to bare all. What is it twisting up your mind?”
“You’re going to laugh,” Jordan said.
“I won’t laugh.”
“Oh, you’re going to laugh.” Jordan nudged herself back, pushing her shoulders against the curve of the bulkhead. “You said that we’re a luxury. Thing is, we were finally doing well enough to be.”
“The pomegranates were a particular triumph,” Etienne agreed.
Jordan shook her head. “I wanted a rose garden.”
Etienne watched her. After a moment she took and raised her awamori, indicating Jordan should continue.
“Of all the fussy, water-intensive things,” Jordan said. “Harper was going to take me to see a rose specialist. Grand conciliatory gesture, now that she’s finally come to terms with me moving up here—and it only took her, what, seventeen years, for that to burn off? And now the ascender’s blown, and I guess we’re both suspects, because she gets loud about water crises planetside and I’m apparently rich these days, and—”
“Breathe, darling.” Etienne waved her hand.
Jordan glared at her.
Etienne watched, as though weighing how much her protection might be worth. What came out of her mouth, though, was “Roses? Really?”
“What, I don’t seem the type?” Jordan raised an eyebrow. “This specialist, Etienne. He’s got roses traced to stock from the Gardens of Albarède, from Chandigarh, he’s got a Autumn Damask that would make your heart ache. I wanted something of my own up here. Something just beautiful.” She sighed, and drank. “Everything on the frontier is so damn practical. So, so am I.”
“Numbers and figures and madmen and dreamers,” Etienne said. There was a fondness to her tone that Jordan wasn’t used to hearing. “They got us here and they’ll get us through. So it’ll take a few extra years.”
“It’ll take a few extra years to scale crop production back to normal,” Jordan said. She shook her head. “Longer than that for roses. So much for dreamers, huh? One little explosion, and boom.” She made an exploded gesture with one hand. “Bleeding rainbows in geosynchronous orbit. We were barely bringing up enough water for me to claim a surplus in the first place; where do we go from here?”
“Where do we ever?” Etienne said.
“Raxel says living in space means bleeding Earth dry.”
Etienne massaged her drink with her fingers, then crossed her legs and her arms. “Jordan Owole, do you think people up here will pay back your water if they can?”
Jordan shrugged. “I think I do. But—”
“Then let’s tell Earth the same damn thing.” Etienne shrugged. “One day it’ll all pay out. We’ll bring them some nice comets for their troubles, or whatever they need from us. It’s big out here. Full of possibilities.”
“Have you looked at space?” Jordan asked. “It’s not full, it’s empty.”
“There’s more out here than there’ll ever be down there,” Etienne said. “It just takes a little getting to.”
“That’s the problem.”
Etienne gave an exaggerated sigh. “You know, you’re damn cynical for a spacer, Jordan. It’s a wonder you ever got your feet off the ground.” She extended her leg, pushed off in one graceful motion, and caught Jordan’s shoulder. “Darling, it’s space. We help each other or we float dead into nothing. You share your water and every spacer worth a breath of air and a bag to drink will dip in to make your dreams come true. I guarantee it.”
Jordan gave a sad, sidelong smile. “You mean you’ll henpeck them until they agree to your terms.”
Etienne put a hand to her heart. “Why, Jordan,” she said. “How well you know me.”
• • • •
Jordan was going through the seed logs when her callpad blipped with a message, and she reached over to open it without looking. She hit the button for the text-to-audio option, and it read IMAGE FILE FILENAME PROMISE.
That got her to glance over.
It was a rose. Hand-rendered, rotating on three axes. She checked the message data, traced it back to a doctor in the colony at Tsiolkovskiy. There was no message attached.
She studied it for a while. She didn’t know the doctor, though she’d heard his name around. They’d never interacted.
She might have questioned that further, but she was interrupted by another message blip. Another rose, this one in oil pastels.
Four minutes later, another.
They kept coming. One by one, diverging from art to factoids, to photos and personal recollections, memories of scent-rich Earth. She watched as the number climbed past thirty, past sixty, past a hundred.
“Oh, hell,” Jordan said, and scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her palms. She reached over and typed Marcus’ number into the callpad. “Marcus—”
A new message flashed onto her screen.
She opened it. This one was text, and the speech option read it dutifully out. Jordan read along with it.
Marcus connected on his end, his face popping up on the vid channel. “Ms. Owole?”
“Etienne can get a message to my sister on Earth,” Jordan read, tracing the words on her screen.
“That’s great!” Marcus said. “Trust Etienne. What are you going to say?”
Jordan took a long, deep breath.
“I’ll say, ‘Still love you, still miss you, and enjoy the gardens at Sangerhausen,’” she said. “And Marcus?”
She closed the images, and braced herself against the coming dry spell. “Tell Raxel we’re putting our faith in her, for this one. And start scaling down. Make ready to distribute our water.”