The weapon-shops of Fornax blazed into the night. Blood-red flames and thick gray smoke poured from grates and smokestacks, muffling the brash bellow of hammers. From observation Platform #19, Diana Mason watched the work below, furnace-glow reflecting off her polarized goggles. Work-roughened hands gripped the safety railing, and her mouth curled downwards in dissatisfaction around a cigarette. It wasn't enough.

Diana had been a floor super for ten years now, watching agricultural machinery destined for the colony worlds churn from the red-hot smelters in endless streams. Now, the huge assembly lines of Atlas & Greenhill Steel spun with a new purpose. Long rivers of cogs and sprockets streamed beneath Diana's feet, fed into the assembly line's unending appetite. Adrian's crew was in the nearest one, and she half-imagined his brow furrowed over a pneumatic drill, struggling to retrain ten years of muscle memory into the production of a new sort of vehicle.

It wasn't enough. Half-instinctive, Diana glanced upwards, past the armored plastic that made up Fornax's 'sky'. The other side of the wheel was obscured by the huge receiving section, where swarms of tugboats brought asteroids in from the Belt to be cut up and processed in factories all over Fornax proper. Somewhere beyond the window, the tattered remnants of the Federation's fleet also waited, standing a nervous guard over one of the most vital industrial centers the nation had. Somewhere further out, the Dominion's forces were gathering.

The shift horns blared, and Diana crushed her cigarette beneath a shoe and turned towards the stairs. She paused at the punch-out clock to switch the square of heavy, yellowed paper from one rack to the other.

Adrian was waiting for her when she got home, Gabrielle somewhere else in the apartment. They were downspin of the air filtration plant, which meant there was always a mild crispness to the air. It mixed with the smell of home: Adrian's favorite Chinese food place, and oily work boots they had been avoiding cleaning for a few days.

Adrian smiled at her as she stepped in the door, his round face pinkish and a little sweaty, a heavy wok steaming on the stove. Stirring with a ferocious spatula, he hollered at her over the crackling oil. "Dinner's almost ready. Can you call Gabrielle down to set the table?"

"Sure!" Diana called back, kicking off her boots in the doorway and heading further into the apartment.

Gabrielle was in her own room, as usual. A beat-up cassette player lay next to her daughter on the bed, pumping god-knew-what through the girl's headphones. Diana rapped on the door before entering- had to give kids some privacy at this age or they got all snippy. Gabrielle turned around, snapping shut the diary she'd been writing in. She peeled back one headphone and looked at her mother. "Yeah?"

"Sweetie, can you set the table for dinner?"

Gabrielle heaved a dramatic sigh, but she slipped the headphones off and paused the cassette player. "Okay."

Diana watched the girl go. It must have been a good day at school. Gabrielle was almost a carbon copy of her paternal grandmother- Diana's mother-in-law was a woman well accustomed to getting her own way. It was fortunate she'd taken a liking to Diana, as it made family reunions almost pleasant.

Dinner was a tranquil affair, with Adrian doling out three heaping portions of stir fry and the group crunching on them in silence. Diana asked after Gabrielle's day and was met with the normal amounts of teenage reticence. Adrian, meanwhile, had managed to forget the same screw three times on one particular assembly, and had needed to sprint after the tank hull on the assembly line in order to correct his mistake. He chuckled about it with Diana and Gabrielle, but the laughter died quickly.

With their appetites sated and the leftovers put in the refrigerator, Gabrielle took her leave to head back to her room. Adrian flicked the television on, and Diana joined him on the couch, pulling her husband's arm around her shoulders as they watched some mindless comedy or something.

Adrian was tense, she could tell from the way he sat up straight instead of leaning his head back and snoring before twenty minutes had gone by. Diana knew she ought to ask him what was the matter, but she had a sense she already knew.

After another few minutes, Adrian heaved a deep breath, gathering himself to say something. "You've got folks on Benevista, don't you?" he asked her.

"Yeah, a couple of cousins. We exchange Hanukkah cards every year. Why?"

"I was thinking you could take Gabrielle for a visit in a few days. Not a big trip, just a little...getaway."

Diana was silent for a moment. "You're worried about the war?"

Adrian flinched. "I am." he said, his voice wavering. "I want to keep you and our daughter safe. They'd never let me leave during wartime, not to go visit people I've never met before. But you and Gabrielle would be safe."

"And you would stay here?" Diana asked, her voice low.

Adrian licked his lips. "I got notice that I'm being drafted in a few weeks. The Navy's got a serious personnel shortage."

"Oh, Adrian." Diana pulled him closer, putting her head against his chest. "I don't want to leave you."

"Nor I you." He sounded close to tears.

"All right." Diana said after a long pause. "I'll see if I can find some tickets on a liner for next week."

They went to bed not long after, passing Gabrielle's room in silence. The light was still on inside, the girl on the phone with one of her friends, gossiping about school. Diana smiled, letting the sound of her daughter's voice reassure her that tonight, at least, everything would be all right.

It was early the next morning that Diana awoke, her mouth feeling filled with cotton. Cursing under her breath at the lost sleep, she crept out of bed without waking Adrian and padded into the kitchen. The first gray streaks of morning were an hour off, and the night was at its darkest point before dawn. The only sounds in the kitchen were the distant hum of the air-conditioning unit, and the gurgle of the tap as she filled a glass with water.

A truck rumbled past, and Diana took a moment to watch it go by the blinds. It was one of the big industrial models, ones which Atlas & Greenhill had made until not long ago. It pulled to a stop at the cross section just outside the air filtration plant, and she watched with mounting concern as dark figures poured out of the tailgate and swarmed into the plant. A second vehicle swung onto the street, this one smaller and darker than the truck, squeaking across the intersection as it pulled up in front of the filtration plant.

The turret swung around, and Diana realized in horror it was pointing at her building. The glass of water shattered on the kitchen floor as she turned and sprinted for the bedroom door.


The world went white.