As a child, she discovered the shelves of yellow hardback Gollancz science fiction books at her local library, and she was hooked.
Christmas Eve morning and it is good to be alive. Rudolph, the twenty-seventh reindeer of that name and the twenty-sixth generation since the great legend, prances out of the barn to his personal manger for his annual treat.
His favourite lichen, the one that makes his nose glow red, is missing. He will not be lighting the way for the sleigh tonight. Is he being retired?
“Ho, ho, ho!” Santa says from behind.
“Is this a joke?” Rudolph grunts and turns to face him nose-to-nose, his breath freezing on Santa’s beard. “If so, it’s not funny. Where’s my lichen?”
“There’s a problem.”
“You bet there is.” He nudges Santa to force him to bend a little backwards.
“There was none to harvest this year.”
Evening darkness thickens its veil over the cloudless sky as the Earth’s heat drives the bats zigzagging higher. Nothing Greg can do about them, except hope they will not cut across his photo. He will have just one chance to snap his dream picture of H-Line’s new hyper-plane on its London to New York flight.
A cream light arcs up from the tree-lined horizon. He predicts its hypersonic flight path and points his camera ahead of the plane, finger ready over the shutter tab. As it comes closer, the cream divides into red on the right and green on the left. The fuselage material is absorbing sun- moon- and star-light, and transferring and changing it into this plane’s navigation lights.
He bites his lip: closing, almost there. He hits the tab.
The hyper-plane flies past in silence.
Greg examines the image on the camera’s screen. Got it after all these months: plane dead centre; its sleekly curved airframe in staggered rainbow colours – red on the plane’s left, orange and yellow lines down its centre, and green on its right side, haloed by bands of blue, indigo and violet. The version on film with the rainbow colours merging more smoothly is a sure prize-winner.
A bat crashes into his hand. His camera falls and bumps downhill. He half-runs, half-slides after it. The camera smashes into a rock, its back opening and the film dropping out.
Manoeuvre thrusters start up to turn Talfryn’s spacecraft back. He hasn’t touched his nav controls or pre-programmed the autopilot to return to Oberon. This is a hacking job. Panic hits him.
He switches to the backup nav to reverse the course change.
That kind of override means an arrest worm. The moon’s police will be waiting to take him into custody for a murder he did not commit. Yes, the moon’s auto-surveillance system recorded somebody with all his personal traits knifing Bernice Deutsch, but he was asleep in his condo at the other side of the Othello crater and had no alibi, not even CCTV.
Left with no other choice, he checks for nearby landing sites for his life-pod. The Frankenstein moon, Miranda, is within reach if he leaves now. He’ll call his twin sister to retrieve him once he’s landed.
He dashes to strap himself into the pod, seal the door and hit the release button. The thrust pushes him into his seat to clear his spacecraft, and then he’s in free fall with only the straps restraining him.
He switches off the pod’s emergency locator beacon and other transponders to go dark. These are all the signs of an expensive way of committing suicide. Let the police think that.
The Council’s vote was in. It was a tie. She, being the Chair, has the casting vote and a devastating decision to make. A responsibility she definitely does not want but cannot now avoid. She rereads the summary for the umpteenth time, though she knows it by heart. With all the Council’s eyes, ears, noses, quanta readers and sub-quanta sensors on her, she just wants some breathing space.
Planet Orion-Arm-485-3 has followed the usual Gloop, Moved, Anchored, Extenders, Rovers, Makers, Enlightened, and Transcendent (GMAERMET) process, but is now stalled in the Makers stage. Below is a summary of its history, current situation, and available options. A decision is urgently required.
Our galactic sub-quanta spider-net picked up the normal signal of the Gloop’s chemical reactions to form the microorganisms of the Moved 3,900 million years ago. We followed procedure to set up a sentinel to watch for changes in the fractal dimensions of surface features, which would prove the planet’s surface had evolved from Anchored microorganisms to the plant life of the Extenders. This happened 470 million years ago, later than normal, but still within the expected time tolerance. We re-evaluated our time span probabilities for achieving the next stages accordingly and upgraded the sentinel to watch for the surface movements of the Rovers.
The safety pod’s almost completely circular bench is hard and there is no room to stand up with the table in its otherwise empty centre. Detective Torvinne Bergholm has to find a distraction from the discomfort.
She ups a holographic screen from the seam in her spacesuit’s forearm and stops short of activating her favourite games. That would be rude if her murder suspect and interviewee, Oona Campbell, were to open the door unannounced. So she reads her case notes: the suspicious death of Mike Benson, found near this mine’s face with his helmet’s faceplate smashed in, which had led to total air loss in his spacesuit. Locals, here on Miranda, had put the cause of death down to ghosts: clearly ridiculous. Hence the constabulary sent her all the way from Earth to investigate. Good job she likes weirdo puzzles.
She rereads Oona’s profile. Instead of, as expected, working alongside him, Oona said she had to get away from the mine’s face and was sitting in this pod to calm down at the time he died. Why would a practical, level-headed person be deterred from earning drilling premiums? Especially as this mine is a safe one. There was that word in the report again, ‘iceborne’. What the hell did that mean?
My workday was unusually frustrating: more robo-carers needed urgent repairs; human carers asked for more help for clients whose condition had worsened; and the turnover of contract carers had gone into a spin with so many colds and flu bugs about. But I was managing, just.
And I had to develop that app to help wheelchair users have a bath on their own. This required real peace and quiet to get the ‘alter a bit here and tweak a control level there to bring it together’ right. Something I planned for the evening.
My auto-aide announced a surprise visitor.
He walked into my office in the full dress uniform of a civil servant: black bowler hat, navy pinstripe suit, white shirt, walking-stick umbrella and battered leather briefcase. The handkerchief sticking out of his breast pocket warned me he was a high ranker. This was turning into an awful day.
I forced my number three smile normally reserved for my most awkward customers, stood up and offered to shake his hand. ‘How may I help, Mr … ?’
* Winner of the 2016 Story of the Year Award *
I am numb, paralysed from the neck down. Strangers over-ooze sympathy when they hear the word: quadriplegic. Family and friends avoid me, too embarrassed that they can stand on their own two feet. I hate this prison of false emotions. I want to be back in the real world, the way I was before my so-called accident.
The sea was my fascination. I would sail, swim, dive, or if it was in a fury, stand back from the shore to watch pebbles being hurled out of its spindrift.
The injury happened when I was diving in the newly discovered Forden sea cave in Gothenburg’s archipelago; 33 metres depth and 240 metres in to be precise. A pink granite boulder twinkled wildly in my lights. Curious, I diverted towards it. Two strokes should have got me there. I barely got three quarters of the way. Puzzled, I checked my oxygen via my wrist screen. Levels were normal. I felt my lips with my tongue. They were warmer than normal, a sign of carbon dioxide poisoning. My diving app had gone haywire.
‘So they’ve sent another nerd-head of a cybercriminal.’ Dan turned his back on the slouching youth to continue varnishing the window frame.
‘You calling me a dumb ass?’
‘You’re the one having to do community service.’ He inspected his latest brush stroke for evenness in the varnish.
‘You don’t want me around, do you?’
‘I’ll be off like a shot if you’ll sign off my worksheet.’
Dan quickly suppressed his smile, carefully put his brush back in the tin and faced the youth, who held out his smartphone and a stylus towards him.
‘Doesn’t work like that.’
My mother clutched my hand as she lay under the wreck of the vehicle whose auto-steering had gone crazy. Pain etched heavy lines across her face. Her body trembled. She tugged at my hand for me to come closer.
I bent my face over hers, trying to hold back the blurring tears.
“Promise me…” she whispered.
“A lit candle… on the table… when boyfriends come to dinner.”
It was a crazy thing to ask for, a small thing to beg of me and I wondered why it was so important to her.
She closed her eyes and her hand relaxed, letting go of mine. She died smiling. My tears drowned out the sight of her and much of the days that followed.
The experimental spacecraft’s dashboard fuzzed. Tyrell blinked. The blurriness remained. He flicked his spacesuit’s vitals onto his visor. All green and normal. Relieved, he breathed out. The vitals remained crisp. The fuzz was definitely vacuum-side.
He wiped the outside of his visor. A thin ice layer crazed then shattered into flakes floating away into space. He glanced beyond his cockpit into the Skylon’s hangar deck. The earthlight had grown strong enough to see the sheen of a new veneer covering every surface in sight. The wide even spread meant only one thing. They had had a gas leak, a bad one.
He gritted his teeth, suppressing a groan. Even if they corrected whatever the problem was, Bob and Shirley would block his test flight back to Earth on health and safety grounds. Damn their jealousy. But they were ensconced in their control cabin at the hangar’s other end, not out here taking the risks. Something snapped inside Tyrell. He would make that flight.
Making sure of his grip on the slippery handholds, he hauled himself out of the cockpit and around the spacecraft, searching for gas plumes and unusual ice build-ups. He paid particular attention to each of the two thousand thread nozzles tucked in their cup-like dimples on the spacecraft’s skin. Nothing, not even a telltale of lithium gas. Continue reading