The ship dies in orbit above an abandoned world. Kitshan curses. Metal bones shudder around him as the last of the ship’s breath is sucked into vacuum. His skill at the helm and hasty patch jobs have kept the engines together, but luck is scarce out here, and his is gone. The ship is unminded. Lifeless metal, basic programming, and manual flight operations are things he can tolerate better than another consciousness wrapped against his. The viewscreen flickers and a cold vista stretches across the interior curve of the cockpit: the small star, bright and distilled against the void.
That’s how Cynthia and Ugo met. The Easter egg hunt had just started when little Cynthia noticed a dark, short-haired nine-year-old boy, all alone, sitting by the church steps. Her first impression of him was his quietness, and the way he stared at her. When she told him (well, shouted) that it was impolite to stare at strangers, and why wasn’t he running like all others?—the dark-haired boy walked quietly over and told her that they didn’t need to hurry.
Wren Hex-Yemenni woke early. They had to teach her everything from scratch, and there wasn’t time for her to learn anything new before she hit fifty and had to be expired. “Watch it,” the other techs told me when I was starting out. “You don’t want a Hex on your hands.” By then we were monitoring Wren Hepta-Yemenni. She fell into bed with Dorado ambassador 214, though I don’t know what he did to deserve it and she didn’t even seem sad when he expired.
“Ladies and gentlemen, everyone you know—the entire world you know—is now dead.” Murmurs ripple through the assembled cadets. Not because they’re shocked—everyone knew what they were signing up for—but because it all happened without fanfare, a jump across light-years of space unaccompanied by any grand orchestral swell or roaring engine thrusts. The wiry guy with a shaved head standing next to Tone mutters, “Jesus, I didn’t even feel anything.”
I should have known when I didn’t hear whooping and hollering and congratulations from Chornohora Station when I crossed the finish plane. My sister Luzia and I eked out a win over Scott and Ferenc Nagy in the maneuverability race even though Luz was just barely old enough to compete in the teen division. Usually that sort of thing calls for celebration, and Luz was not going to let it go without some. “Wooo!” she hollered into the comms. “That’s right, Pinheiros have beaten you again, even without Amilcar’s help!”
He emerged suddenly from behind a potted shrub. Taking Madeline’s hand, he shouldered her bewildered former partner out of the way and turned her toward the hall where couples gathered for the next figure. “Ned, fancy meeting you here.” Madeline deftly shifted so that her voluminous skirts were not trod upon. “Fancy? You’re pleased to see me then?” he said, smiling his insufferably ironic smile. “Amused is more accurate. You always amuse me.”
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.