As the commuter jet descended toward the ruins of Las Vegas, Roland Zhang craned his neck at the window, watching the skeleton towers grow nearer. Billowing clouds of dust clogged the air, and wind-blown dunes partially buried the filthy, abandoned buildings. He’d viewed footage from the far corners of the Earth, every remote hellhole imaginable, but this was the first time he’d ever seen the real deal in person. He tugged at his collar, sweating in spite of the air conditioning.
Dear Sir: I hope you will forgive the impropriety of this personal letter sent without the benefit of previous acquaintance, but I feel compelled to write you in order that I might, indeed, introduce myself, and also so I might render to you my personal wishes for your hale and happy birthday. And, as I am scheduled to go on display in just a few days’ time, I would additionally like to express my genuine and incalculable pride that I am soon to be joining your illustrious ranks.
Namaste, helloji, please to come in. First time visit, so nice you came. Thank you for removing gravity shoes. Please be comfortable, no formality. It is like your home only. What for I can get you? Mineral tea? Carbon Filter coffee? Gel Cola? If it is not in our supply ration, we can send Senthil to fetch from company concessionary on main asteroid. Senthil is our homebot, see, he is understanding our language fully now. Beginning time he was little confuse. Now he is fully understand.
Dr. Ain was recognized on the Omaha-Chicago flight. A biologist colleague from Pasadena came out of the toilet and saw Ain in an aisle seat. Five years before, this man had been jealous of Ain’s huge grants. Now he nodded coldly and was surprised at the intensity of Ain’s response. He almost turned back to speak, but he felt too tired; like nearly everyone, he was fighting the flu. The stewardess handing out coats after they landed remembered Ain, too: a tall, thin, nondescript man with rusty hair.
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.