1

Lacey I

In orbit of the Earth

Lacey raises a hand forward onto the glass in front of her, killing her momentum and sending her short, blonde hair forward. When her eighteenth birthday was approaching, Lacey used to think that after a couple of months in space, she would become bored of the sights out of the window. But now it's been half a year since she was deployed on the HubbSat V and almost every time she gazes out of the four-paned glass windows, she can't help but stare into the seemingly infinite number of stars, lighting up the sky. Even the Earth below her looks beautiful, despite its disgustingly polluted atmosphere. Its oceans dried up years ago, so most of the human race had to move to Mars. Now, what's left of Earth is covered in desert.

"For the last time, McCorbin, stop staring at that rock and get some work done. Actually, I need you over here to look at something," Felix tells her from one of the speakers in the walls. His voice is tense, but Lacey can hear the suppression of a smile somewhere in there. There are five people maintaining and studying the HubbSat V, but Felix is the only one of which Lacey would call a friend. He's also the only Farsho onboard.

"That 'rock' happens to be my home planet, Felix," she tells him with a hint of a laugh to let him know that she didn't really care. She pushes away from the glass and makes her way to him. The instinct to kick her legs while moving in zero-gravity went in a few days. At first, she would find myself hitting the walls with her feet, causing more damage to herself than to the equipment. "Where are you? Outside?"

"You wish," he taunts. "Come to observation." Pulling herself through the narrow walls of the HubbSat V, Lacey begins to think about her home on Mars, the small flat left over from when her mother abandoned her, leaving behind a small piece of paper saying "You're on your own now". Lacey kept that paper for the eight years she was left alone, hidden behind a pile of discarded photographs of a once-happy family.

Screw them. She reminds herself. Screw dad for dying and screw mum for leaving. I'm doing fine on my own.

"McCorbin, could you tell Felix that it's meal time soon? I really don't want to go myself," Stamets and his thick New-American accent float into Lacey's view from one of the attached corridors, his salt and pepper hair swaying in the microgravity.

"Felix is listening, Stammets," Felix's voice calls from the speaker with a playful tone. "Felix is always listening." Stamets sighs and looks at Lacey.

"Could you also tell him to stop talking in the third person?" he asks, turning himself around with the help of the metal bars lining the walls.

"I'm the best engineer here, but even I can't stop him from doing that," she tells the slowly disappearing Stamets. Lacey hears Felix's gurgling Farsho laugh through the speakers and continues on, finally reaching the comparatively bigger square room. Razor-thin TV screens light up the dark room, displaying nearby planetary information, incoming radio signals, their orbital velocity, even the status of the few cities left on the barren planet below. There are no windows in observation, making that section of the satellite—in Lacey's personal opinion—boring. Facing away from her, Felix's reptilian form is gathered around the HubbSat V's internal cameras. He turns around as he hears Lacey enter. Felix was the first Farsho she had ever met, so her initial encounters with his thin, lizard-like body and sharp needles for teeth had made her recoil. But as she and her fellow colleagues soon learned, Felix turned out to be one of the more pleasant people she had met.

"Y'know, I'm beginning to think that I'm not welcome on this ship," he tells her as she stops herself in the doorway, grabbing a bar.

"This isn't a ship, Felix, as much as I wish it were. Don't rub it in my face," she snaps, pushing her choppy hair back so her view is unobstructed. Felix tilts his head.

"I know, I know," he turns to one of the monitors. "This place isn't what you wanted, I know that. But it's on the way. You'll do something great someday."

"While I'm stuck on this hunk of metal?" when Lacey was assigned a job on her eighteenth birthday, she had been hoping for nothing more than to be dispatched outside of the Sol system on a military or science ship. After all, it's what she spent her years learning Engineering and Fabrication aiming to do. Yet she was placed here, on the HubbSat V, a half day trip away from home.

"Come take a look at this," Felix sighs, trying his best to change the subject. Lacey approaches, bending her legs closer to save space in the dark room. Peering forwards, she tries her best to make sense of the sea of numbers on the screen Felix points at.

"I don't—what am I looking at here Felix? I have no idea what this is," she tells him, shaking her head. Felix rolls his jet black eyes.

"These"—he points at the screen with a scaly finger—"are readings from Sagittarius A*"

"Which is?"

"The supermassive black hole in the centre of our galaxy," he tells her. Lacey's eyes widen.

"We have sensors going that far?"

"We do now," he says. "It's taken thirty years for the sensor to get there." She looks at the data again, having no idea what the numbers are telling her. Sensing this, Felix continues. "You see these readings here?"—he points to a row of numbers halfway down the page—"These are an approximate number of atoms being detected. You've got Iron, Copper, and tons of Carbon right here."

"Where are you going with this?" Lacey asks.

"I thought I recognised something earlier," he says. "You know how we've been designated observation of the Oort Cloud for this quarter?"—she nods, curious—"I looked at some of the readings we've had today and found this." He brings up a separate set of reading on an adjacent monitor and points at another row of numbers.

"They're the same," Lacey observes.

"Exactly the same," he says. "The exact same number of atoms of the exact same number of elements."

"What does that mean?"

"Whatever's at Sagittarius A* is at the edge of the Oort Cloud," he pulls up some sheets of paper filled with more and more numbers. "And look, this number keeps getting bigger, whatever this is, it's getting closer." A moment passes in silence as Lacey processes this.

"There's life in the centre of the galaxy," she concludes.

"And it's coming to meet us!" he smiles widely, revealing his sharp teeth. Lacey is about to laugh herself before Stamets' voice calls out from the speakers.

"Felix! Lacey! Come look at this!" Felix's smile fades and the two make their way to Stamets' location.

"Is it anything important?" Lacey asks.

"Pretty fucking important, McCorbin!" Stamets is staring out of one of the windows facing away from Earth, along with some of the other crewmates. Worried looks cover their faces. "What the hell is that?"

Outside, a giant grey ship approaches them. By Lacey's estimation, it is at least five times larger than the HubbSat V. Each and every one of the giant circular weapons points at the satellite.

"Have you ever seen a ship that big?" Stamets asks.

"There are no ships that big," Felix says. "There can't be. Unless…" Lacey looks at him, reaching the same conclusion. Somehow, the ship went from the edges of the Oort cloud to Earth's orbit— in seconds.

"Oh my God," one of the other crew members, Walker, shouts. One of the ship's guns fires a red beam of light. It stretches across space and hits the right side of the HubbSat V, sending the satellite spinning. Lacey lurches forward, hitting the wall. The alarm bell begins to ring and red lights flash.

"Get to the escape pods!" Stamets yells just before another beam of light hits, making Lacey and Felix fly back. A fire erupts between Felix and Lacey, and Stamets and the rest. Blobby plumes of blue flames spreading uncontrollably. On the other side, Stamets wave them away and yells for them to go, trying his best to lead the others to an escape pod.

"There's another pod close," Felix says, grabbing Lacey's shoulder. "If we live that long." Lacey's heart beats hard in her chest as they pull themselves towards the nearest escape pod. When the third beam hits, Lacey hears part of the ship tear off, oxygen rush out, and a hatch close. God, please let me get through this. She had expected not to fear death, but surprisingly, the thought of being sucked into the vacuum of space terrifies Lacey to no end; adrenaline pumps through her body and she sweats profusely, her only intent being to run. Finally, they reach a small, round door with a tiny glass window in the centre. Felix forces open the door, planting his feet on the wall.

"Get in!" he says, still holding the door open.

"You first!"

"Get the hell in, Lacey!" reluctantly, she pulls herself into the pod and holds her hand out for Felix, who reaches forward.

But then the fourth—and final beam—hits, sending Felix flying down the hallway and Lacey into the wall.

"No!" she yells as the door closes, fire spreading over the other side of the glass. Lacey covers her mouth, the tears spreading from her eyes and resting on her cheeks, the microgravity keeping them in place. She pushes the release button to her left, feeling the pod push off from the crumbling HubbSat V. Behind the wreckage, the unidentified ship disappears into the night sky, leaving Lacey all alone as she begins to plummet onto the nigh-on deserted rock below.