Six days before the money ran out, Enceladus kicked Medusa right in the ass. Onboard thermistors registered a sudden spike—80°, 90°, 120°—before the seabed jumped and something slammed the probe from the side. A momentary flash. An ocean impossibly boiling. A rocky seabed, tilting as if some angry giant had kicked over a table. Channel down. Telemetry rippled through a black alkaline ocean.
When it came, I remember I washed my hair in a cracked tub on the side of the road. You could walk miles out into the wastes, dig a hole, and wait. The water would rise soon enough. It felt like a miracle. A real-life miracle, not one of those TV miracles or Kentucky prairie miracles. Or miracles with a capital M for money. The aquifer we found waiting for us was a saving grace.
Rhea found the feral child on the edge of the garbage park on the last day of the group’s vacation. Garrison, passed out from drinking the better part of a bottle of hundred-year-old Islay Scotch, had dropped a cigar onto the edge of the canvas tent and set it all on fire. “Damn it, Garrison!” Agunye shouted as personal air quality alarms blared. “You and your fucking retro addictions.”
I’d always known Calam would run. He had all the signs. A taut restlessness, body brittle as an overstretched lute string, when we stayed too long in one place. A gloom in his eyes, as we drifted through stretches of dead space. A sullen crease between the brows, whenever I tried to ask how he’d landed in that dead-end Martian workshop at seventeen. But after ten years, why now?
I had enough time to light a fresh cigarette before my office door told the client to come in. Smoke in the air didn’t make it any easier to oil a cutlass, but it made me look badass. Same with my leather jacket, tailored to fit comfortably over my smartsuit. I projected confidence so brightly that every once in a while I forgot what I hid beneath it. My client entered wearing fine high heels and the calm stability that came from long years in habitat gravity. My most interesting cases were from habbers, because habbers didn’t come my way until they figured out their problem was beyond them.
Everything the sea takes, it gives back in its own way and its own time. That was what Jess’s grandmother believed, what she’d told Jess as they stood in the shadow of the giant red cedar that had washed ashore, its severed roots thicker than Jess’s body. It must have drifted for a thousand years or more to return to them in that moment. So, when the virus takes Jess’s grandmother, Jess steers her little solar-powered boat out past the Channel Islands and gives the body to the sea.
Bruce Grinnord parked aslant in his usual spot and ran inside the DiZi Corp. headquarters. Bruce didn’t check in with his team or even pause to glare at the beautiful young people having their toes stretched by robots while they sipped macrobiotic goji-berry shakes and tried to imagine ways to make the next generation of gadgets cooler looking and less useful. Instead, he sprinted for the executive suite. He took the stairs two or three at a time, until he was so breathless he feared he’d have a heart attack before he even finished throwing his career away.
Do: Be Aware of Strangers Who Ask You What Day It It. Be Aware of Strangers Who Ask You What Year It Is. Be Aware of Stunned Looking Strangers Who Murmur “Mom?” in The Squeeze-In Diner When You Stop By After School For a Chocolate Malt, Though Clearly You Have Never Given Birth to Them or to Anyone At All, Thank You Very Much. Be Aware of Strangers Wearing Clothing, Footwear, or Accessories That Seem Just A Few Years Out of Fashion or Incongruent With the Season, Climate, or Weather Forecast, or Perhaps Not Gender Appropriate Because No Woman Needs to Wear Trousers Anyway.
I didn’t expect the trailer to feel so small and that some of the blood would still be wet. But I must have expected some blood because I cuffed my jeans before going in. And I didn’t expect the cats would have come back—a window was open, its screen clawed loose. I didn’t expect how they pawed through the blood. Dotting the counters with their small footprints. I didn’t expect the trailer to feel so densely packed—a family had lived here, a mother, a father, a twelve-year-old son, and all of their stuff.
There were better workers aboard the Great Ship. Virtuous entities with proven resumes reaching back across the aeons. But the timetable was inflexible, the circumstances brutal. Seventeen hours, six minutes, and two breaths. The job had to be completed within that impossible span, beginning now. Now. The client was among the weakest citizens of the galaxy, reasonably healthy one moment, and in the next, passing out of life. What wasn’t a home and wasn’t a shell had to be rebuilt from scratch. If the client perished, nobody was paid.