THE NEXT MORNING, I do something I haven’t done in a long time: I wake up and get dressed for work. It feels good. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it–waking up with a purpose.
Outside the habitat, the sun shines dim on the horizon, the sky hazy, snow dropping in sheets. The weather’s getting worse. And it’s getting worse faster.
At the Olympus Building, James and I visit Lawrence Fowler first. He poses only a single question to me–the same one he asked before I accepted the mission to the ISS–“Are you sure you want to do this?”
I give the same answer I gave then: “I am.”
THE CREW of our ship will be drawn from across the triple alliance. That was one of the conditions the Caspians set forth: mixed crews. The crewmembers from the AU are here in Camp Seven, and they’re all at work when we arrive, milling about the team room.
James escorts me around the large space, introducing me to each of them individually: Heinrich, Sparta One’s German navigator; Terrance, our British ship’s doctor; and Zoe, a lithe Italian woman who will be the ship’s engineer. James activates a camera and begins a recording for the crewmembers in the other two territories, explaining to them that I’ll be leading the drone construction and repair team and serving as the backup mission commander.
The video will be couriered to the other two states via drone. Plans for a global communication network have been drawn up and discarded several times, the alliance unable to settle on an acceptable solution. Satellites could be disabled by the array–just like the satellites that used to orbit the Earth. The weather could compromise ground lines or towers. Any option would take time and resources to build–two things we don’t have. For now, data between the superstates moves at the speed of drones, and probably will for a long time.
I can’t help but notice how guarded James is around our new crew. I know why. I’m perhaps the only person on Earth who would. What he’s feeling here isn’t about the challenges ahead of us. It’s about what we left behind.
In his office, he shuts the door and starts pulling up his drone schematics.
“The drones we’re working on are similar to the attack drone we launched from the Pax. With a few upgrades of course.”
“I would expect nothing less.”
“We can run through them, and start talking about the prototypes.” He scratches his head. “You want to work here or at home?”
I shrug. “Doesn’t matter to me. What do you prefer?”
“I’m open. But I’ll say this, I’ve just about got my hands full here every day with design on the ship and its systems.”
“Working at home would cut out travel time to the labs.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. And I would be free to focus on it there.” “Home it is.”
He nods. “Good.”
I motion behind me to the closed door. “They seem like a good crew.” “They are.”
“I know what you’re feeling, James.” He raises his eyebrows.
“It’s hard to let yourself get close to them after what happened on the
“Was it like that for you, when you came aboard–after the ISS?” “Yeah.”
“Does it get better?” “With time.”