August 20, 2085 Shiva, a 4.5 kilometer asteroid, is first spotted and identified outside the Oort cloud. Most estimates put it at not even reaching Mars.
October 7, 2085 Shiva suddenly changes course. Its trajectory is predicted to bypass most of the planets and strike near Earth. Precautionary measures are taken.
January 19, 2086 All measures to either destroy or change Shiva's course have failed.
February 4, 2086 Most of the world's economies have crashed, and much of the globe lies in anarchy.
March 2, 2086 Shiva hits Earth near the Indian Ocean killing 3 billion within the first day.
May 13, 2087 The lack of sun and constant acid rain destroy all natural plant life and collapses the food chain. Millions die from famine and disease.
November 23, 2090 Element zero is first discovered in the atmosphere and the first human eons are born.
December 23, 2091 The first official governments since Shiva have established themselves in the former countries of the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Brazil.
June 12, 2093 Innovades are first recognized as a separate human species and the first Cradles and domes are built.
Blood-shot, groggy eyes creaked open to angry red florescence letters glaring back at them.
05:30. Early, way too early.
Grace mumbled a few choice words as she turned over in her bed and wondered why in this smog covered hell would her alarm go off this early.
She tried to rub the crusty, aching sleep from her eyes as she gradually started notice the urgency in the cacophonous jingle, and the continued non-deactivation of the alarm.
It takes Grace a full minute to realize that her phone was ringing in a preselected, specialized tone.
"Aaron..." Grace reached for her Holo-Tool, reading the caller ID and confirming her initial guess.
"My brother has the most…" she begrudgingly mumbled. Graces flicked her wrist Holo-Tool into view only to be greeted by an ardently glaring 'LOW BATTERY'. "And I forgot charge my Holo-Tool. How lovely."
Grace peered over to her power station, and figured she had enough time to transfer the call. Or I could just stay in bed. Let it go to voice-mail, she thought wishfully. Grace sighed, if her brother was calling now it was probably important.
She willed her body to sit up as her eyes registered their surroundings. She rubbed the remainder of the night's sleep from her eyes, and forced herself out of bed. She nearly stumbled to the ground as he cold, stainless steel floor sent a painful shiver up her spine, and as the phone clicked off, she mentally cursed herself for not just using a damn voice command.
"Lights." The room was then immediately white washed in blinding artificial lights as Grace harshly rubbed her eyes, trying to stem the encroaching headache. "Navina." The glowing green pixie materialized in front her.
"Good morning, Grace. How may I help you?" the VI responded politely. "Coffee. Hot shower. Please." Grace opened her eyes just in time to see the familiar glowing orb beginning to flirter about, performing its assigned task. "Would you like your daily report as well?" Grace ventured into her kitchen, the spartan white and steel decor brought to life by the bright neon. "Sure."
A blue, holographic data sheet materialized in front of her. Partitioned into several sections, the sheet regaled several top news reports, weather forecasts, and pollution and smog charts. Navina appeared beside Grace, displaying her perfectly programmed polite demeanor and sunny smile.
"Temperatures outside the doom will be an average of 20.6° C with a high of 23.9°C . It will be very cloudy with a high air pollution index containing eon particles and a red smog adversary has been issued."
Grace resisted the urge to snort as she took a sip of her coffee. "When isn't ever."
"The top headlines from last night are: 'Over 100 Dead in Slums After Teltin Dome Column Collapse', '67 Dead in Enviro-Failure in a Belt Mining Facility', and 'Raganorak: A Promise for Paradise or Death Voyage?'" Grace scrolled though some other less interesting but equally macabre stories. "Isn't there anything good happening?"
"The box office rave Blue Skies is set to première Thursday, the season finale of Death Race will be on tomorrow evening at 20:00, and the last list of the Generation Nine Voyagers will be announced tonight at 21:00."
"Death Race," Grace scoffed, "Who even watches that macabre, psychotic, piece of shit!"
"Shall I find some more appropriate entertainment to discuss?"
Grace rubbed her forehead. I'm starting to get my brother's mouth. "No, no, no. I'm sorry. I'm being a little short this morning."
"Very well. Your brother has left a message. Would you like for me to play it."
"Yes please." Grace leaned against the counter as a crackling, highly pixellated image of Aaron appeared on the kitchen's holo-island. "God, he must using one of those public terminals." His blue hair was in a wind-swept mess, his face was prominently sporting a dark 5 o'clock shadow, and his air filter was hung lazily around his neck. Grace giggled. "Someone's been up late again."
Grace wince equally at his glaringly cheerful tone and the use of her most hated childhood nickname.
"Oh voice-mail, crap." She heard him mumble a few choice words. "You must be asleep, it's pretty late over here at Transit Nine."
Grace looked up the terminal on her Holo-Tool. That puts him about three hours away if he's already on a shuttle.
"Well anyways Shrimpy just thought I check in before being back in the neighborhood." Aaron yawned leisurely. "A lot happen these past few months, and I've got some big news to tell you. See if you can get some seats at that Japanese place you like so much."
"Ryuusei," Grace murmured blissfully. Images of her favorite restaurant, eating yakitori and reminiscing childhood memories with Aaron, flashed by as a small contented half-smile appeared on her face. But soon that blissful thought was quickly replaced by the inevitable reality of the large chunk it will take out her finances.
"And don't worry about the bill, I've got it covered."
Grace took a slow sip of her coffee. Don't you always, she thought with a slight hint of malice.
"I should be there by 11:50. Transit Three."
The green VI appeared in front of her. "I have placed reminders on your Holo-Tool."
"See you soon Gracie, and Happy Birthday. Love you, sis."
The hologram disintegrated as Grace simultaneously deleted the message.
"You're shower is ready, Grace. Is there anything else you need."
"You have a three hundred twenty-three minutes remaining of combined water usage for the month. A shower of seven minutes is recommended to keep within quota."
Grace wandered into her bathroom, turned her shower on to a steaming full blast, and stared at her reflection. Fumbling with her cascading coal black hair and pinching her pale cheeks, what stared back at her were pale thoughtful, supple bow-shape lips and extremely vivid eyes the color of a clear midsummer sky with greater age and experience than the twenty four years that the body owned. Her mother often told Grace how her eyes reminded her of the sky. She could count on one of her hands how many times she had seen a blue sky that wasn't artificial. Every time comparing the color was the least of her concerns.
"Grace. I have made reservation for Ryuusei at 17:45."
"Thanks, Navina. That is all for now." Stepping into the arousing warmth, Grace decided to take ten minutes. She could go a few days without washing the dishes.
Grace dressed herself in an opaque brown sweeter, dark skirt, thick leather boots, and her black air filter. Stepping out of her two bedroom apartment she ventured into the artificial sky of the Hugo Dome. The top of LED hemisphere proudly displayed a comfortable temperature of 25°C with a mid-spring weather setting.
Hugo was one of the better upper-middle class domes, Aaron's civilian contractor paycheck and contacts made sure of that. It had below average life support failures, a decent safety and crime index, and good number of genetic research facilities.
It was just past the morning rush and the streets were sparsely populated. Grace hoped that luck would find its way over to the transits. Without any concise thoughts, Grace found her way to the South Gate. After spending an excruciating amount of time in a glitchy decontamination room crammed with god awful smells and who knows how many other people, she found herself entering a world of smothering pewter gray, bright neon lights, and bruised yellow putrid air.
"The slums, home, sweet home." Graced decided against taking a shuttle. She had an already taxed budget, and she could take one back when she got Aaron. Grace walked purposely with her head down, hands in her pocket, and a close eye on her personal belongings as well as everyone and everything around her. She was lucky. The number of religious fanatics, thugs, doomsday sayers, and just general crazies were uncharacteristically low. Glaring mega vids traveled the trams and advertised the latest Breathe Chic air filters. And, of course, Raganorak dominated the landscape with their arrestingly macabre vids of death, destruction, and hopelessness.
"Earth is gone." Grace brought up the collar of her jacket, hoping the block out the message.
"Discover your future among the stars. Become the future of humanity. Join the Vienya Inititative. Paradise awaits."
Grace resisted the urge to snort. Paradise awaits for the rich. She took a sky-scrapper sized elevator up to the transportation wards, and an hour later she found herself at the transit station.
This particular spaceport was barely standing; resembling a much overused, very old train station, except it had people on it that you might find at a public shuttle port. There were the poor, the angry poor, the disgruntled poor, the slightly richer poor, and the homeless. Any person who ever lived in the infamous under-cities would tell you, without a second thought, that it was better to live on an interplanetary transit port. They were cleaner and safer than living under the domes and in the slums.
Grace found her way to the waiting area, a large glass room overlooking a majority of the concrete landing pads and the giant space shuttles. She ventured toward the area marked specifically for all incoming shuttles from Europa Station before peering over to the station's time tables.
"Looks like Aaron's flight got delayed." Grace let out an expected sigh. "Guess I got to wait." She bought an overpriced cup of coffee, and sat in one of the cleanlier seats at the far end of the waiting room.
A half an hour later and Grace started to notice the sudden influx of Innovades. With very wild, very unnatural hair color, extreme spectrum of skin color, and equally unusual vivid dark rimmed eyes, the trans-human were easy to spot. Grace noticed the arched symbol many of them had on their black kevlar enviro-suits. Soldiers. From Luna Base looks like.
"Excuse me." Grace looked up from her people watching to see a wispy woman with paper white skin, very pale hair, and crimson-rimmed golden eyes.
"May we sit here?" Grace suddenly noticed the little boy as well as the two empty seats beside her. A cherub, curly haired version of his mother, the little boy was shyly hiding behind his mother.
Grace adjusted in her seat to allot for more space as the little boy was seated next to her. "Thank you. Say thank to young woman, Van." The boy, Van, casted a shy glance to Grace. "Tank you." Grace returned with a polite nod followed by a sip of her cold coffee. "You two came from Luna Base?"
"Yes. It's been complete chaos this past week. All personnel were required to leave and transfer before the end of the cycle." That caught her interest. "Why?"
"Not sure. Were given the usual 'it's classified' bs. But several Raganorak personnel were on the base and I heard several thousand were coming in, including families."
Grace slid back in her chair and thoughtfully sipped her coffee. Sad day when a multi-trillion dollar corporation can commadere a high security military base. "I see."
"So me and the munchkin are taking a shuttle over to his father's over in Vancouver Base."
"The last shuttle for Vancouver left over an hour ago."
"We're taking the train. Unfortunately it took all our credits to even get Earth-side." Grace resisted the urge to cringe.
Van suddenly turned to his mother and said, "Mommy I'm hungry." The woman gave a short nod and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "I know munchkin, you father will have food waiting for us when we get home."
An uncomfortable knot began to form in the pit of Grace's stomach.
"Aaron. Aaron stop, please." Grace's legs buckled under her paper thin weight. "I'm tired."
Her eyes glossed over and she was brought back to a time of insistent pain, squalor, and constant searching.
"Just a little longer, Gracie. I promise." Aaron tried to lift his little sister to a standing position, but her exhausted, emancipated body hung unwillingly over his shoulder.
She was twelve again; starving, helpless, and without a home.
Grace's vision began to fade, and the constant ache in her stomach started to become less noticeable. "I'm so sleepy, Aaron. Please." Grace eyes suddenly became incredibly heavy, and she could no longer feel her aching hunger. "Let's just take a quick nap."
"No, Grace! No! Don't fall asleep!" She could barely notice the pleading urgency and shaking in Aaron's voice as his words began very faint and distant "Just a little rest…"
"No! Sis, get up! Grace, wake up! Wake up! Grace! Grace! GRACE!"
"Europa Station via Transit Three and all connecting shuttles now arriving." A synthesized voice and grimy steel walls suddenly brought Grace back to reality.
"Miss? Miss, are you okay?" She looked over to the woman staring at her disconcertingly. Not, fucking, again. "Yeah. I was just… thinking." Grace began to gather her few things while deftly slipping out a hundred paper credits. "It was nice talking to you. Thanks for the company." The Innovade woman smiled politely. "Thank you. It's rare for a Natural to be so courteous to an Innovade."
Grace smirked and resisted a snort as she quickly slid the money in a folded flier, "Not all of us are supremacists or religious fanatics." She carefully replaced the flier on her seat. Hopefully the boy would see the money before they left. Hopefully it would be enough for a few meals.
"RAGANORAK: A PROMISE FOR PARADISE OR DEATH VOYAGE?"
The holo-vid in Aaron's seat glared ardently as he fumbled the carefully wrapped package in his hand.
"The Raganorak Corporation can and has provided respite for many, away from the dangers and pollution of Earth, but their reputation was put to the test when contact was lost with their first colony, Terra Nova. Since then the story of Terra Nova has become a modern day Roanoke. Combined with the corporation controversial policy of withholding the locations and condition of the other eight planets has many very skeptical of Raganorak's promise for paradise. Despite this, millions have applied for the Vienyian Intitiative's final voyage to the ninth and final planet, Vienya 9; the opinion of many being that any planet which has air you can inhale without a breather is worth it, no matter the challenges or struggled faced by colonists. Still many wonder if Vienya 9 is truly fresh start or a new hell. You decide"
Aaron snorted quietly at the report on his Holo-Tool, flicking his eyes across the text but not taking much in. Transit Nine was getting quiet. The shuttle to where he was going was one of the last, and he was trying to pass the time amusing himself with redundant news reports. Often times his work brought him places where even the news couldn't reach his Holo-Tool. Not that he was complaining, depressing bunch of shit that it was.
The last contract had been very top secret, and for good reason. The mercs selected had to have good enough eonic ability to install a serious mental block on all contract events. It was necessary, when every passer-by could be a good enough telepath to pick a stray thought right from your brain. Aaron qualified, but that wasn't why he went for the job. It was the rumor mill. There were several different types of rewards floating around for doing the job. Serious credits, promotions, expensive power armor. It was the rumor about tickets to Vienya 9 that got Aaron. Word was Raganorak was going to scout out mercs for their militia on the colony there. Through a couple contacts, and because he actually worked for the company in the first place he managed to get a good chance that he would be hired. And it had paid off! Now all he had to do was to tell Grace.
"Hey, look. Death Race. That sounds pretty good. Want to go?"
Aaron looked over to one of his colleagues, who was heading back from Europa with him. Rory was a real buddy of his, good at what he did and someone who took no bullshit. His taste in entertainment, however, was awful. He didn't know what Rory got paid for the job, they'd never talked about it. Still, he was friendly when he laughed in the man's face.
"Not even if you paid me." Aaron looked at the time, impatient. The shuttle would be here within twenty minutes, but it felt like he'd been waiting for hours. Looking around, he spotted a public terminal and wondered why he hadn't had the thought before. "Be two secs, Rory. Gonna use that terminal and call my sister."
"What happened to your Holo-Tool?"
"I don't even know. It won't make calls anymore but I can get the news up." He gave a shrug, not too bothered. He planned to get Grace to fix it when she had the minute.
The public terminals were never all that great, but it would work well enough for a quick call. Typing in the information to get through to Grace, Aaron waited as the line kept ringing. Maybe she forgot to charge her Holo-Tool, again.
The call connected after a further few rings. "Hey, Shrimp!" Aaron was caught off guard when he didn't immediately hear Grace's voice, before the obvious hit him in the face. Damn, he was tired. Oh and time differences he forgot about those as well! Damnit! Quickly continuing, he left a message instead.
Just as he was done, the call for his shuttle was announced. Gesturing Rory over, they both slowly walked to the docking station.
Aaron had missed his sister these past months. They were pretty close. He had grown up taking care of Grace, and it was a conditioned habit that he didn't think he'd ever get over. He was excited to see her, and especially grateful he made it back for her birthday. For a while, he was sure he wasn't going to make it back anytime soon.
The shuttle wasn't too packed, which Aaron was thankful for. The journey wasn't too bad and he had some company for it. Mostly, he caught some sleep. Most of the time travelling was the most boring part of the job. Hours on trains and shuttles and there was only so much Aaron could be bothered to read. Grace was the brains and the reader, Aaron was good at all the things involving physical exertion. This was why he was so sure there was a place for them both on Vienya 9. He had somewhere, and Grace would easily kick ass with the scientists there. That's where most of the science industry was now, with Raganorak. She'd love it. Aaron was sure.
Just about to doze off for a quick kip, he was brought back into fuzzy reality by a beggar. The mercenary opened his eyes in surprise that one managed to get on a shuttle. Trains, sure, but usually it was difficult to get on a shuttle free. He was talking to the area Aaron and Rory sat, begging for any paper credits people had. Aaron felt something horrible wrench at his gut. The man patted around his body, looking for anything he had spare.
"What are you doing, man?" Rory said, shaking his head. "You're better off giving it to the charity, the one Raganorak set up."
"You'd be surprised about how much money you give to charity these people never see." Aaron said, with the depressing truth of someone who had needed help but had only got it when he had talents to exchange for it. Unfortunately, Aaron had no paper credits on him. He paid by transfer with his 'Tool most days and never really carried paper credits.
"Sir, do you have a ticket?" Shuttles were automated, but most had some security on board. You didn't want anyone hijacking a shuttle, that's for sure. Like most security now, the man was a hired mercenary working for the company that owned the shuttles. Predictably, the man did not have a ticket to show. Most were on Holo-Tools anyway, and Aaron didn't think he had one of those either. The homeless man was escorted away, leaving Aaron with an unsettled feeling of a quick escape.
An announcement was made that they had to make a stop at a station between Europa and the destination because of a small fault. Aaron couldn't help but wonder – were they really stopping to kick the homeless man off? Specially delaying the shuttle so that he wouldn't get the whole journey free? That seemed a bit too extreme, so Aaron just tried to take their word on it. Small fault. Whatever that was. Then he realized that the man had been an Innovade. Of course. They were worried he'd decide to use whatever eonic power he had to cause trouble, since they'd caught him. Still a rush a heat found his way to the tops of his ears and the white to appear in his knuckles. Stopping a shuttle, just because a homeless man was an Innovade.
By the time the shuttle landed, Aaron was extremely glad to be off of it. He said goodbye to Rory in arrivals as he headed off for whatever business he had, and began looking around for Grace. It didn't take too long to spot her, despite the fact her Innovade nature didn't show through. The again he'd recognize his little sister anywhere.
"Gracie!" Aaron greeted, loudly and indiscreetly as he waved excitedly. "Aaron!" Their eyes met as Grace sprinted headlong into her brother's direction and leapt into a crushing bear hug. "Happy birthday, Shrimp!" He let the poor woman go, knowing he was probably crushing her a bit.
"Yeah, yeah. Now let Ms. Shrimp go." She pushed against him as she gave herself an arm's reach of her brother and gave him a quick inspection. "You look good. Well, anytime you come back without a half-dozen new scars you look good," she quipped.
Aaron let a lazy, half-guilty grin spread across his face at his sister's jibe. It was true that in his line of work new scars were to be expected, but he was glad he'd come out of this one "looking good". That was always something! He took a good look at his sister, and she looked okay too. Maybe a little down, but Aaron would expect that. Grace wasn't the type to be lazy or not wanting to work. She probably had a thousand things she wanted to be doing running around in that brain of hers, but no resources to do it. Just another thought that made him sure his decision was the right one.
"You got my message then, you made them reservations?"
"17:50 at Ryuusei. Not for a while. Plus, I'm sure you're tired."
"17:50? Alright, sounds good to me. Ehh…" Aaron rubbed the blue stubble on his face, scratching it a bit and wondering if he had bags under his eyes. "I can survive." After all he didn't want to just KO on his sister on her birthday, but he always came back a little dead.
As he talked Aaron reached into a large pocket and pulled out something wrapped. "It's only little, but I saw it on a market and thought you might like it." Aaron gently placed the package in her hands.
Grace discretely eyed around as she carefully unwrapped the gift. What greeted her spread a small smile across her lips and made her chuckle. "How did you? Where did you?"
It was a miniature, cheap, touristy item. A small Eiffel Tower. Half-century ago an item like that would be worth little more than the paper used to advertise it. Now little trinkets that were the only vanguard to a life they never knew, at least to Grace. Their childhood had fostered a scavenger's love for pre-Shiva items and pretty baubles. She had learned French, along with a few other languages, but now the people that once gazed upon that steel spectacle, and the building itself, were long gone.
How much did this..." she stopped. "It's beautiful." She then carefully stashed the trinket in a breast pocket inside her jacket.
"I'll have to do something nice with it. Maybe a necklace or a bracelet." She gave Aaron a quick peck on the cheek. "Thank you."
Watching Grace receive the little present made Aaron happy more he would ever let on. He loved doing things like this for his little sister. There had been so many times he had failed to give her the food she needed, or a safe place to sleep. As a man now, he could look back and appreciate he was just a kid too, but that didn't stop him making up for all the things he couldn't give her then by giving it to her now.
"Don't worry about it." In actual fact he hadn't paid all that much for it. Well, for what it was worth. He hadn't been in an exactly tourist area, or an area with many people at all. In fact Aaron had to over pay the seller otherwise he would have felt guilty for robbing the man blind. "Glad you like it, sis." And that she hadn't pressed too hard over how much he'd paid.
Grace linked arms with her brother as she started leading him to a line of auto-shuttles. "Come on. I have pot of hot coffee and lunch waiting back at home."
Aaron gave his sister a bit of a squeeze before walking along with her with her arm through his. It was always funny walking like this, because she walked at a slower pace than him and if they did it for too long he tended to end up dragging her a little. Thankfully the auto-shuttles weren't far. Instantly the holographic image of a well-kept chauffeur appeared. "Welcome to Marx6 Shuttle number 233891. Your destination, please?" When they got inside Aaron was waiting for what he knew was going to happen, so much so that he started to laugh when it came.
"So how was the tour? Tell me all about it. Or the at least the parts you can tell me about."
"Hugo Dome. South Gate."
"What were you doing? Protecting miners in the Belt? Helping the development of another eon plant near the station? You were on Europa, so what does Jupiter look like in real life? Is it as breathe taking as others described? Give me details."
Aaron laughed knowingly. "Ha, Gracie. You know I can't tell you about it much! 'Sides the mem-block makes it fuzzy for even me. The jist of it was resource collection. For the scientists at Raganorak. Dangerous territory. Couldn't have gone their themselves. We'll leave it at that." That wasn't even a lie, even if some of the resources collected were very questionable. Raganorak PR would have a nightmare if details got out.
"Jupiter is something." Aaron admitted, with a slow grin. He launched into an in-depth description of the more scenic areas he had seen, and some of the most disgusting as well. By the time he'd finish the shuttle had stopped, and they were almost at the door.
"Wow. I wish I could see it one day. Hell, I wish I could be in space one day out of my miserably dull life."
Aaron tried to stifle a chuckle, but it ended up coming out as shallow weaze. "But the best thing," Aaron swore that he saw Grace step an inch closer, "the best thing about it you're going to have to wait to hear." The man said, with a mischievous grin.
"I'm going to tell you tonight at dinner. You'll either kill me or love me, but my strategy is that if you want to kill me you won't do it in the middle of a crowded restaurant." Aaron teased her, knowing his naturally curious sister would be out of her mind trying to figure it out between now and their Japanese dinner.
"Jokes on you brother. The easier for me to slip something in your food and get away with it."
Aaron laughed fully, a deep sound, at his sister's annoyance with him. He was just being mean, but hey, you had to be mean at your little sister sometimes. "Ha, ha." He said sarcastically. "Kill me, you'll never know, put nasty stuff in my food, I'll never tell you!" Aaron replied, with a big grin. "For now, what's this about lunch?"
Grace quickly followed her brother into a newly arrived shuttle and into Ryuusei. Once there the staff treated them kindly and had them seated immediately. "Mr. and Ms. Satou, this way if you please." Grace had to stifle a snort.
Once seated, Grace immediately redoubled her efforts at squeezing information out her brother while ordering sake and yakitori. "Come on, Aaron. You have to tell me, or I'm going to go crazy. What is it? Another job? How long this time? Eight months? A year?"
Aaron groaned comfortably as he reclined back into the seat. "Another job is pretty close," He'd give her that much, but the mischievous grin alone would let her know that wasn't even the half of it. "...More to it than that."
I hate him. Grace let out a very unladylike groan. "Come on, Aaron. What is the job? Are you going to the Oort? An asteroid facility? A genetic lab?" Finally granting her respite, Aaron began to slowly, excruciatingly, tell her his surprise.
"Okay, okay! I was going to wait until after we'd eaten but I'll tell you now!"
Grace let an exasperated sigh. "Finally!" The unbridle happiness in his smile at least set Grace at ease, and assured her that the news wasn't anything bad. Despite this, his teasing did nothing to ease her tension, and a long 'sip' of his drink and subsequent relaxation only just annoyed her to the brim of her patience.
"Yes. Get on with it!" she harshly urged.
"So, it was for Raganorak. The team involved with hiring and paying us, there was a guy I knew on it. There were rumors about what they'd be willing to pay... Something really special for the mercs they liked. Scouting for them, you know? So..."
Grace was getting tired now. She was on the edge of her seat and had the overwhelming urge to hit Aaron, hard.
"I pulled in a favor, just to make sure... and got us two tickets to 9."
Grace scoffed. Now she really was going to hit him if he didn't tell her the truth. "As if. Come one Aaron. I'm really getting pissed off now."
"We're going to Vienya 9, Gracie."
Grace's mouth hung open then as her throat suddenly and completely lost all moisture. "Oh god." All the feeling left her extremities as the world around her began to shut in. "You're...not...kidding..."
For one of the few, countable moments in her life, Grace was utterly speechless. Her thoughts raced light-years as she struggled to form coherent sentences. "You're not... We're going... 9" His words were the only clear thoughts in her head. We're moving to Vienya 9. "I don't... How did you...I...I..." An exuberant smile started to slowly spread across Grace's face.
He couldn't be telling the truth. He was teasing her, surely. There was no way that he had found some way out of this hell hole. That Aaron, her brother, had afforded tickets to a place where could breathe air that wasn't filtered. A place where they could actually see a blue sky that wasn't artificial. That they could finally build a home where they weren't just a couple Innovade kids from the slums. A place where they could completely start over, and did not have to fight for every inch of survival and happiness.
"I'm not kidding!" he said clearly waiting for her to get as excited as he was.
Grace had to forcefully stem the tide of tears that were surely there. She was not about to cry in a public place, no matter the occasion or joyous news. "I don't know what to say, but than-"
"Well, well, well." The smell of bear laden breath and cheap cologne suddenly turned Grace's mood to defensive and sour. The young woman quickly peered over her shoulder to see a couple Natural, Luna base soldiers sauntering over to their table. Probably angered by their removal from the base by Raganorak, the three looked primed for trouble.
The lead directed his sole attention unto Grace. "What is a pretty little Natural doing with an Innovade?" he said, his last words dripping with venomous malice and directed toward Aaron.
"Hey, back off." Aaron said quickly.
The group was blatantly trying to goad a fight, but Grace would not allow it, not on this momentous occasion. Grace kept her voice even and her eyes locked on Aaron. "Piss off." Grace and her brother barely looked alike and were often mistaken as a couple. That coupled with the fact that her appearance disguised her nature as an Innovade and that Aaron's appearance prominently announced his, made this a very common occurrence and she was ready for it. Usually ignoring their type and a sharp comment made them retreat, but these men were determined to be persistent.
The group's second grabbed Grace's arm and snatched her close to him. "You should have some fun with your own kind, and not some mutant freak." That struck a nerve. Grace struggled against the man's hold and was able to free one of her arms. "I said," she brought her palm across the man's face hard, "PISS OFF!" The soldier released Grace as he clutched his bruised face. She then immediately backed herself against the table and got in a defensive position.
Suddenly a loud crash brought her attention back to her brother. Aaron had stood up so fast the chair he was sitting in flew back, exploding and getting the whole restaurant's attention. "Never put your filthy fucking hands on her again, do you hear me?" He said, bringing the group's attention off Grace and onto him.
"What did you say, mutant freak?" The drunk said in the eerily calm tone.
"You heard me, dickhead. Stay away from her, or I'll rip your head off." The trio had no idea what they had gotten themselves into. She would be almost sorry for them if she wasn't too angry to care.
The leader lunged toward Aaron in a drunken rage. The other two tried to follow, but with a thrust of an open palm Aaron blocked them with a concussive, eonic blast. Aaron then side-stepped the leader's charge, causing him to audibly crash into the nearest table.
The man was floored, but the other two were coming in front the side. Aaron twisted his fist and gritted his teeth, causing vortices which caused both of the men to be sucked in and crash into each other. Quickly looking back to the first guy, although still floored, was getting up preparing for more. Aaron grabbed the man by his hair and settled for a good old-fashioned hard punch to the head, knocking him out cold. When he turned, ready to do the same to the other two, they were both still on the ground pathetically attempting to get up. The shock of the vortices and too much alcohol seemed to be sufficient. Finally, the mercenary turned back to Grace with a grimace, "Think we'll still be able to eat?"
Maybe it was the brevity and ridiculousness of the situation. Or the extreme fluctuation in emotions that she had just rode though. Or maybe it was the complete hilarity and audacity of her brother's statement. But Grace laughed, long, hard, and uninhibited.
"I...doubt...it," she said between breathless cackles. After a few moments Grace was finally able to compose herself. "Come on. Let's get out of here before they call security." She didn't care about the condition of the restaurant or the dozen of eyes trained on her. More than likely she would never see either again.
Some weeks later...
"Navina, li-" Grace stopped herself. Even though she personally packed and shipped the AI's blue box to the Luna base herself, but she still found herself giving her AI commands.
She looked around in her now empty apartment as she nervously fiddled with her Eiffel Tower necklace. The steel and spartan decor accented the dwelling's complete scarcity and made devoid of any feeling of habitation. The few picture frames that had once lined the walls had long since been removed and carefully packed. Furniture had been sold or given away. Clothing, personal belongings, and unique lab equipment had already been shipped off to Horizon, and anything that wasn't highly valued was donated to a local charity.
Weeks of decontamination and immunization procedures had made Grace physically ready for her three year voyage upon Horizon. All she possess now was a skintight, selkie-skin suit, and her newly treasured necklace.
Grace placed her hand on the light switch as she gave her former dwelling one last, thorough look. She had spent most of her adult life in the apartment and all of her twenty-four years upon Earth, but now that she was about to leave both behind a certain feeling began to creep up on her and manifest itself in her disposition. She couldn't label it or truly distinguish it from foreboding. It wasn't sadness, or regret. Nor apprehension. Not even melancholy. It was a nervous, surreal, brooding sense of something greater lying in wait.
Grace flipped the light switch, blanketing the apartment in total darkness. She manually closed and locked the door, and as she walked away to meet Aaron at the newly arrived shuttle, not once did she look back.
The Raganorak manifest directed them back to Transit Three, and aboard a private interstellar shuttle to Luna Base. There she and Aaron were due to rendezvous with a contact of his, a mercenary named Richard. Through most of the ride Grace was very quiet, and that same silence found its way to the docking station.
Stopping in front of the shuttle's entrance, Grace's legs refused to move one more step. Time seemed to stop in that very instance, and she fiddled nervously with her necklace. For a moment she forgot to breath as she remained completely still, almost as if any subtle movements would render her current situation and all events prior false. That this was all just a dream, and any moment now she would wake back up in her apartment. That this was just another one of her dreaded hallucinations.
Grace took in a deep breath and sighed. "This will be my first time in space," she whispered to no one in particular.
Aaron gave her a reassuring pat.. "You'll love it, Shrimp. The feeling is amazing, when you look back at Earth. You feel so far away from all your problems. It's really cool." He smiled, seeing the shock on his sister's face. "But seriously, Grace, you need to get on. The people behind me are totting." Aaron joked, putting an arm around his sister and walking her on to the shuttle.
Grace took a deep breath. "You're right. Sorry." She willed her legs to board the two soon found their seats, and were then securely fastened by an automated staff.
"Please be seated. Take-off wil commence in 10...9...8..."
Grace nervously fiddled with her necklace as images of Shuttle 669 flashed through her mind. The week long mourning, news broadcast. The list of casualties hundred of names long. Those poignant images of a fiery explosion and dozens of victims drifting off into space or being pulled back into Earth's atmosphere.
Grace took a deep breath, but it did nothing to ease her nerves. "3...2...1..."
Shuttles malfunctions within the first five minutes of, twelve percent. Within the first ten seven point nine percent.
"Shuttle is now departing."
Grace forced her breathing to stay regular and inaudible as she instinctively grabbed Aaron's hand for comfort.
Malfunctions within the first thirty minutes of flight one point seven percent. Thirty minutes.
"Just thirty minutes, Grace," she whispered to herself. But the wrenching jolt of the sudden take-off and subsequent tumultuous ascent only added to her already frayed nerves. With ever violent jolt Grace's breath hitched very audibly as she jumped as far as her restraints would allow.
When the shaking had finally subsided Grace let out a very audible sigh of relief. She immediately released Aaron's hand. "Sorry." Refusing to meet his gaze, she was sure that she had nearly crushed it.
"You may now move freely. Hand rails are on your right and left. Slow movements are advised. If you experience motion sickness please remained seated and staff will be their momentarily to assist you."
The automated restraints receded with a sliding hiss, and Grace could hear the hum of the engine as the artificial gravity was disengaged. Grace gently pushed herself up from the seat as her hair started to billow around her like a black rain cloud. She let out a small girlish as she performed a small swirl in mid-air, testing her weightlessness for the first time.
"Observation decks Starboard and Port are now open for your viewing pleasure."
Aaron immediately got up and led her to a nearby hand rail. "Where are we going?"
"You'll see." And with a mischievous grin, her brother left it at that. Though it didn't take Grace long to read the on-board directions and figure their destination.
They soon came to a large, dome room sparsely populated by other passengers. The room was completely dark, and barren save several meter high wall of retractable metal. Aaron led her to the dilating door as a synthesized voiced announced : "Observation ports now opening. Please stand back."
The metal port slid open with crank and prolonged hiss, but what stared back at Grace took her very breath away. "Wow."
A perfect blue, polished marble spun gracefully in a black sky. Countless stars broke through the blackness like millions of perfect diamonds scattered around black statin. Never before had Grace seen stars, and now the words of her mother rang through her hears. "They're spectacular." Earth's surface was a beautiful patchwork of green hues and vast cerulean expanses, the only thing marring it countenance, a small pock mark over what was left of the Indian Peninsula.
It was as if that her life upon the Earth had been a nightmare and now she was finally waking up. Despite of all bleak ugliness that had stained every single memory of her mother's planet, nothing could have prepared for this. The countless, wishful vids. Accounts from spacers like her brother. Even the stories of mother couldn't have prepared her for this : that Earth was truly beautiful.
Grace forced herself to look away. The persistent feeling that had engendered itself at her former dwellings had found its way to the observation deck. And as Grace turned away and made her way back to her seat without a word, only now was she able to pin it : a sense of somber longing.
Earth is gone.