5810 words, short story
A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones
There’s a cloud across Europa.
Every time Henry looks out at the flat, grey disc, he tries to think what you’re meant to think: We’re almost there, soon you can breathe, it’s nearly rain.
Henry knows, every time he goes out on the ice in a crawler to fix a transmitter, that he’s driving over the work of generations.
They’ve been here for centuries: drilling through ice until they hit water, sending drones to scoop molecular mess from the Storms planetside, spreading kilometers of fertilizer to bleed nitrogen, cultivating native algae and some bacteria they’d carried with them, bright little soldiers for hundreds of years, kept inside until there was enough atmosphere for any of them to survive on their own.
A few did, these days, in little patches gripping the ice; they were well-marked, so you wouldn’t run over them.
(The biologists promised that if all went well, there might be hydroponic gardens on the surface, someday.
That was all they could promise. There wasn’t any rock to rest soil on; there would never be trees, here.)
They’re trying, though, trying for any life they can make or build or find. None of them is ever going back home again. They’re determined to find everything here that’s worth finding.
These days, when he goes to the far side, the bio team sends him with sonar in case there’s sea life that won’t come near the equator, where the pull from Jupiter is so great that the ice stretches and cracks. It makes sense, says the bio team, that some species would find a less volatile home.
Henry doesn’t blame them. He prefers the quiet, too.
The year before Henry and his parents reached it—while they were in that long, heavy sleep around the sun—there had been the first discoveries of animals under the ice, eyeless and white and in numbers.
That was the first generation of people who began to call Europa, home.
Not that the name really takes; there are a lot of names on Europa, and the more you think about them, the harder things get.
The whole place is chaos.
The ice itself is pulled and scratched and pockmarked with so many things that needed naming that they ran out of just one sort, and now you start a speed-test marker in Greece and finish it in Ireland, mythologies piled on top of one another, linae and maculae and craters.
They all mean something—this is where a foreign body hit, this is where the surface fractured as Jupiter’s gravity pulled the water close, this is where the ice has sunk deep enough you can’t get a sledge out of it—but the longer you’ve lived in the base, he thinks, the more you realize this moon has been slapdash from the beginning.
The base is between Cadmus and Minos, north of the pole, on a plain of ice that’s thick enough and calm enough to build on. They use other linae for distance markers, or for transport. Pryderi goes almost down to Rhiannon, near the south pole, and whenever there’s something that needs testing on the far side of the cloud, that’s the trench they set the drone into.
Pryderi was the Welsh myth. That had been his second name (the one his true parents gave him after he was found, with meanings that must have been like scrapes—worry, care, loss). It was what they gave him after they realized what he really was, a name piled on top of his other one.
The Gliese 581 probe team works on the far side of the base, where there’s the least interference and they can actually run their machines.
(They’re left to themselves. There are thirty nations here using the halting translators on their comms just to get by, but they haven’t invented the tech yet to get you to understand the interior jargon of a Gliesian. That’s a fever all its own.)
The first probe’s already gone up. They’re building another one. This one’s supposed to hold two people.
There’s a big signup where you can volunteer, if you want to go.
The first-gen arrivals from Earth don’t go near it, like they’re afraid proximity triggers acceptance. They’re still adjusting to artificial gravity (70% of Earth g, but that 30% keeps you off balance a good long time), to nutritional yeast pills, to eternal day underneath the Storm. They’re not going one inch into a place stranger than this one.
Everyone from the Gliese team signed up. That crew has only ever looked at this place as the launchpad to where they’re really going.
Henry stands across the hallway from the sign-up sheet, sometimes, but never puts his name down.
His parents brought him here. That should be enough to keep him here.
(If it isn’t quite, he’s not sure anywhere else would be better.
Earth must not have been; his parents left.)
He takes the graveyard shift at the comm, when they’re on the far side of the planet or occluded by the other moons, and nothing interesting ever comes through.
He’d just as soon be alone. This place is too full of strangers; he’d rather keep out of the way.
It’s easier just to watch the blips of the open comm pinging itself in a loop for hours than it is to look up and see the cloud.
Earth launches a civilian transport.
It’s nearly five years behind schedule; rising water means that a lot of countries are falling apart by inches, to disaster and disease, and it’s harder to get by even in places where the grid’s holding steady.
Mainland space programs got popular in a hurry.
India had won the bid to build the latest ship, and the right to 40% of the passenger manifest, so after the scientists and engineers and psychologists and adventurers had their slots, India could rescue some of its own.
(It’s a refugee ship, but that was a name no one wants to give it, not even Henry.)
When the notice comes in from Bangalore Ground Control (on a 51-minute delay—they’re on the far side), he sees that alongside the ISI numerical designation, they’ve given it the name Manu.
He’s the only one in the comm room, just him and a bowl of bright yellow algae the bio team’s put in for morale, and he has time to look up the name and see the myth behind it—he was the first man, who built a ship to escape the cleansing flood.
It’s almost enough to make him laugh.
He tags the transmission alongside his name in the database, and repeats the ISI sig and launch time, and says, “Roger that, Hammond and Preetha at Bangalore Ground Control, good night and godspeed.”
Then he sits back and sighs, “Why would you name a ship after a flood story if it’s headed to a warming ice planet?”
Bad luck or desperation. Neither one is good.
He wonders how bad things are, back there; if the house he remembers has been swallowed by water.
He wonders how soon it will be before the surface is as blue and unbroken as Neptune.
(It’s something the counselors remind newcomers, over and over, to accept.
The trips these ships make are only ever one way.)
Two hours later, just as he’s headed to sleep, he gets a message on a private channel.
For the record, I objected to the name. Also for the record, close your channels when you’re being rude.
Kai Preetha, ISI Bangalore.
Henry’s never had a message before.
(His parents were here with him, so there was no need, and there was no one back on Earth to miss them—if there had been, they might not have left.)
For a week, he looks at it every night before he goes back on shift.
He wonders what Bangalore looks like, now that the waters have nearly reached it.
After some flashes of pride he can hardly bother defending even to himself, he writes back, Sorry. You get superstitious here, but you’re not supposed to get rude. I’ll keep an eye on them for you.
They can see its slingshot around the sun, from where they are. It’ll be gone to Earth’s eyes, soon, and out of range for weeks.
Preetha writes back, Watching the journey from here. Will let you know when we lose them on instruments.
There’s no other activity from Ground Control over the feeds. She’s there alone. She’s the night shift.
When the message chime comes next, he starts, sits up. (He didn’t realize he’d been waiting for anything.)
Then, a separate line, as if, at the last second, she couldn’t help it.
What does it look like from there?
They’re nearly an hour apart. Whatever he’s looking at has already happened for her; whatever he tells her will arrive too late to be of any real use.
He looks at the readout from the Evrard Telescope, which the first generation sent out far enough away that none of the minor moons can strike it—a clear, sharp eye on the system they’ve left behind.
It’s beautiful; it’s always beautiful, from this far away.
Like a splinter of mirror, he writes, swinging clear of the fire. But that was a while ago. By the time you get this, who knows.
Jupiter spins so fast that not even its storms can keep up; the clouds beneath them are always shifting, so it feels like they’re dragging, like the planet that eats the horizon is uncoiling to devour them any moment.
The shift would drive him crazy, probably, if the moon ever moved.
(They’re locked—there’s no rotation, just the constant steady bask of light.)
The windows on the station go darker when it’s supposed to be night, some vestige from home they don’t need any more. It’s been a long time since anyone thought of Earth as more than a little blue marble you could see now and then, if you were with an off-base assignment out to the dark side where you could even see the sky.
The planet eats it up, from where they are.
They mark the days with calculations; you can’t do it from looking at the Red Storm.
Still, it’s for the best. It helps you get used to living in the past. On the scale they’re working with, everything you look at is an imprint of something that’s moved on by now.
What he doesn’t say: Earth could go up in smoke, and they wouldn’t know for an hour.
You get far enough away from something, there’s nothing you can do.
The bio team gets a report of more extinctions Earthside. It’s just paperwork; everyone knows they’re gone. They just have to wait out the standard time, to make it official.
The WWF starts negotiations to send up a manned veterinary transport of deep-sea and Arctic specimens, who can be kept there until there’s enough greenhouse for them to breathe.
The project’s code name is Ark.
Henry thinks it’s maybe no wonder the names on Europa are patched together; eventually you run out of myths and have to start over.
What’s your favorite animal? That you’ve seen, he adds, to make it fair.
Birds, Preetha writes him. Or spiders. Anything that eats mosquitos. What’s yours? That you’ve seen.
He writes, There’s a limpet species here the bio team is naming Methuselah. They’re still trying to date how long it’s been in stasis down there.
Later, so late he can’t help himself, he writes, When I was eight, my parents took me to the zoo Earthside, so technically I remember elephants and penguins. But they took me because we were going to Europa, and this was our last chance to see them. I closed my eyes a lot, for revenge, I guess.
A few days later, there’s a picture.
The water has risen over the road—it must be a boat journey just to get to Ground Control, he can see the front edge at the bottom of the frame—and everything is so green his eyes hurt just to look at it, and for a second it’s hard to breathe.
That’s not home, he says to himself. That’s the place you’re doing all this for. Home is where we go next.
(It’s what the counselors tell you to say, when you feel a panic attack coming on.)
It takes him a moment to register there’s a lake in the photo, and a bird perched in the foreground, brown with turquoise wings and a sturdy beak.
He wonders how far out of her way she went to get the shot. He wonders if she knows this is the first bird he’s seen in a long time.
He goes out and takes a photo of the screen on the monitor they have over one of the open patches on the ice, where they can keep an eye on the limpets, clinging to rocks in water almost as sharp turquoise as the kingfisher, once the light gets in.
He takes a photo of the bright yellow algae in the empty comm room.
He sends them to her, titled A Trip to the Zoo.
His parents hadn’t lived to see it, but Henry saw the launch of the first Praetoria, headed for Gliese 581.
It was powerful and maneuverable, and he’d never shaken the feeling, all through the testing process that happened on the ice outside the comm center, that it looked like a mutant spider puppy in a robot suit.
They’d launched it right through the cloud.
It turned into a phoenix for a second in takeoff, punched a little bright spot against the grey, and vanished. The cloud slid closed behind it a moment later, smooth and opaque as a door.
The Gliese team had data coming in all the time. Four people tracked it 24/7, parsing headings and fuel readings, initializing processes as the lag time got longer and longer; small things that hardly mattered, just things to tell it before it was too far away and there was nothing they could do.
But they hadn’t seen Praetoria since the cloud swallowed it. The rest of their lives, they never would.
(It was for the best that Henry was on a detail whose results were confirmed every time a transmitter started up again.)
His supervisor, Wen, calls him up to make a trip in the crawler.
(Moonside duty used to be split evenly, but now she has a kid; after you have a kid on Europa, your days taking risks are over.)
“I think a board just fried,” she says. “Nothing critical. I’m impressed it took this long. We’re up to nearly a year before they start going.”
(She’s fifth generation; her great-odd-grandparents had to hold handrails to keep from floating away, and never left base because the radiation shield wasn’t strong enough to cover more, and replace the transmitters every month or lose contact with Earth when the shear shorted everything out and left them in the dark until they were on the near side of Jupiter again.
Earth is just a concept to Wen, like Gliese; she calls this home.)
He heads north.
It’s hard to take, suddenly—it’s worse, having looked at something as green as what Preetha sent, and looking now at an expanse of grey above him and below him, unbroken except for the red storms that loom over his shoulder, if he wanted to look.
(It was dawn when Preetha took the picture; shadows were tucked under every leaf, and he’d looked at them and tried to remember what a real day looked like.)
This isn’t home, he writes her. Gliese might be. We can scrape out a living here until we know. But this isn’t home, not really.
She writes back, I hope you’re wrong.
It’s struck him, before, that he’s wrong.
It’s never struck him before, that there’s hope.
The facilities team spends more time on the twilight edge of the moon, south of the equator.
They’re building a bigger civilian station for the passengers of the Manu, and all the passengers who are lined up to follow them. It’s huge; it’s something that can hold all the people who will need to rally here and go on, as soon as they hear back about Gliese.
Nobody says anything—supplies arrive at intervals, two and a half years after someone on Earth sent them, and they use everything in cargo and everything they can salvage of the transports, and grumble about the extra strain on radiation shields and what must pass as food on Earth these days, if this is the best they can do.
But with every work detail they send down the linae, and every inch of polymer caulk they seal into place, what they’re saying is, This has to be built, here, soon.
Home won’t last.
He makes a delivery of some of the ruined transmitter parts. The building team will break down a motherboard to the molecular level, and build whatever they can from the rest. He imagines fountains made entirely of transmitter parts that Jupiter burned out.
Halfway back to the base, he turns, angles away from it all and out to the bare plains.
(He’s been here long enough to read the ice, and his pace never falters. He can be alone in no time at all.)
When he’s far enough from the base to breathe again, he parks the crawler and seals his suit and goes out onto the ice.
He looks up at the flat grey disc that caps the sky.
Electricity skitters across it, far up, where the radiation shields and the wind shear crack against the edges of this new, delicate thing that will make it safe to breathe, one day.
(Once or twice, he’s caught Wen looking out the comm room at the cloud, tears in her eyes.
It’s what her family came here to work on, back when they didn’t have the luxury of a civilian station team, or a Gliese probe. Her family came and worked on it when they were fighting for every breath.)
It’s silent here; he notices the wind.
Maybe it’s happened, he thinks. Maybe the numbers have quietly ticked over while he’s been gone, from that yellow dial at the airlocks over to green.
Maybe he can take off his helmet, take a breath, live.
The darkness presses against his chest.
(He remembers watching the sky from Earth as a boy, five or six, thinking how big the moon was, how lonely and anxious it felt to look for it on cloudy nights when its light was swallowed up, when it vanished whole.
His mother explained once that the light is always there, even if you can’t see it, but when you’re little, and your parents have told you that you’re leaving Earth, sometimes you don’t care much for physics.)
In the distance there are pinpoints blinking in and out, signal lights from the base. They’re almost level with the horizon.
If he drove another three minutes, he might not be able to see anything at all, except the cloud, and the shadow it casts across the ice.
Though he’d lose his grip, maybe, if he did. The farther away you get from the base, the weaker the gravity field gets. At some point, it’s not safe.
If you drove to the edge of the cloud, to see the sky whole, you’d begin to come apart.
He looks up at the cloud, at the spot where he knows Ganymede is passing.
Galileo saw this moment; he marked this position on his notes, a long time ago.
The light’s still there; his mother taught him.
(He wonders what would happen if he gathered all his strength and jumped.)
It’s too late to make it back to base; he calls it in and stays the night in the bunk in the back curve of the crawler, hooks crimping the ice underneath him so he won’t roll away in his sleep.
(Pods have bunks, with lightweight masks you strap on to recycle the air, so you can sleep without a helmet. There are comforts now, on Europa, to make you feel at home.)
The sonar attachment bleats over and over, calling through the ice, looking for anything with a heartbeat.
Do you have a favorite moon?
Luna, she writes. Of yours, I like Sinope. It’s an imposter—the dust is red and everything else in the Pasiphae cluster is grey, but no one can prove why.
He’s never thought of it that way, but he likes it.
(Sinope was the Greek who outwitted Zeus by asking for a wedding wish, to stay a virgin. One name that’s suited, at last.)
He writes, The transport will have to pass it, as they navigate the outer ring towards the center. Close enough to hit it, probably, knowing this navigation team.
She doesn’t write back.
He tries not to worry. Storms happen—more and more often now, from the reports. Sometimes the whole planet goes dark.
(He knows that feeling. He lives under the cloud.)
When she writes back, it’s short.
Don’t tell me what they’ll see. It makes it harder.
It feels like a stab between his shoulders, reading it.
He’s forgotten that most people who do what he does do it because they long for the sky, and the moon, and a chance at the new worlds; that, for most of them, being alone is the side effect, not the object.
It feels like something he should have known.
He imagines her, suddenly, in the place he was when he first felt really alone—in the same little desk, looking at Galileo’s notes and holding his breath, trying to be quiet, feeling heavy all over and wondering if his heart would give out.
The notes are taught in the Jupiter courses at the prep school for emigrants, in a single slide, to explain the discovery of the first four moons. Then it’s the images from Pioneer 10, and the video from Voyager (low-res and jumpy, solar system silent films), and then learning the song that names all sixty-six orbiting bodies, with clapping.
(He was nine when they set out, so young that he’s forgotten in swaths what he might have known of home.
He remembers the song, in patches that leave out Kallikore and Kore; he remembers seeing a meteor shower once, as his mother pointed at the sky and explained what was happening, and where they would be going soon; he remembers being betrayed by how much of the sky disappeared once they were moonside.)
He doesn’t remember, now, how the moons were lined up when they approached Europa—if they were like the notes, or not.
He barely remembers the moon that hung above Earth, the one you could see without ever meaning to.
If he’d known, he’d have stood in the dark every night, counting craters and seas, storing up.
On January 12, he writes her.
What does it look like, from there?
She writes, Like a bead of jasper, and four small stones.
He’s looked at Galileo’s drawings, since, a thousand times, the careful circle and the five or six or eight-point stars in line.
Sometimes there are only two or three stars, their different magnitudes noted. Sometimes one was noted as too bright, because one moon was in front of another, and he could only record what it looked like from that far away, with what little he had.
On January 8, 1610, Galileo didn’t think to count Callisto, too far away for him to see. (He’d been armed with a telescope so weak it must have been hardly better than cupped hands.)
He feels for Galileo, imagines the man sitting up and frowning at his notes, trying to decide how this could be, bodies moving in and out of sight.
But on January 13, the circle is flanked by all four stars.
This is the one they showed in school, captioned, “We have known about Europa ever since Galileo recorded it,” as if the first time he had pointed the scope at the sky, he’d counted the moons and moved on.
(They never say what it must have been like to sit there for night after night and feel locked out of the truth. They never say that it took him a while to even be certain they were moons, not stars.)
After that night, the scientists’ fever takes over, and Galileo sometimes takes several observations in a night, trying to pin down what the moons were, how fast they moved, what this rotation meant for the Earth he was standing on.
But Henry doesn’t come back to those. He knows what it looks like when someone’s forming a hypothesis.
He always looks at that first notation, January the thirteenth, all four moons drawn emphatically eight-pointed, the handwritten notes uneven, as if his hands were shaking, as if couldn’t help himself; for the first time, he had looked at something and really known.
He sends the notes to her.
She writes, I hope someone draws by hand for us, when they’re nearing Gliese, so the people who make it home will have something to remember it by.
He writes, If it works, that would be wonderful. Not sure how exploration works, these days. I had these—they didn’t make this home.
But he doesn’t send it. Something stays his hand, every time; it sits and sits, and he doesn’t know why.
The civilian dock is practically a city, sprawling and huge and too far from the base to be considered real, so the ISI representative moonside declares that the Manu will land in New Mumbai.
Henry takes watch in the comm room, so Wen can join the contingent heading out to the naming ceremony in the audience hall there.
(Fifth-generation status means you attend a lot of ceremonies.
“Worth it?” he asked once.
She said, “Depends. Is there food?”)
He writes to Preetha, to tell her that Manu will be landing in a place named for home, a city long since swallowed by the tide.
It’s fitting, he thinks, that there should be all the names possible, as if the moon’s gathering everything that had been left behind, back home.
Europa had never escaped the little wars of nomenclature.
Galileo had tried to name the first four moons in honor of the Medici brothers; they’d be standing on Francesco, maybe, if the term had stuck.
Galileo had held steadfast to his right to name them. He’d fought against suggestions of using the names of Tuscan nobles (Victripharus), and leaving them nameless (as The Comets of Jupiter), and long after it had been named Europa by someone else’s measure, Galileo still called it Jupiter II, refusing to give in.
It had been one name piled on top of another from the very first, long before anyone had ever set foot on it, long before they knew it was ice; before they knew anything about it except that it held steady, and so it was a moon, and not a star.
The next message he gets from her comes over official channels, and by voice.
“This is ISI Bangalore Ground Control. There’s been an H9N2 outbreak in the city. Hammond is infected. At the moment, everyone who was at Ground Control in the last forty-eight hours is under quarantine. There weren’t many of us, so the main team will hold steady elsewhere for now. We have supplies and medical staff standing by outside. Data collection and monitoring of ISI Manu will continue as scheduled. I’ll keep you apprised of developments. Kai Preetha, over and out.”
(“You okay?” Wen asked him as he stood up, and he said, “Fuck,” more emphatically than he’d ever said anything to her, more than he remembers ever being.
He staggered to his room and sat on the edge of the bed, tried not to vomit.
She already had it.
She was sick, he knew it, he could tell, something in her voice that had been trying too hard not to shake.
He’d only heard her voice twice, but some things you can tell.
Planetside made him dizzy; he projected the kingfisher picture at full opacity on his windows until he could look around again.
It resembled her, he’d decided a long time back; he’d never seen her, but the way it looked across the water like it could see the future seemed about right.
Its name was Halcyon smyrnensis, and Home, and Preetha; one name piled on top of the other.)
On the next pass, he repoints the telescope and takes a picture of Sinope, a little red glint in the garland of minor moons.
This is what Sinope looked like fifty-three minutes before you opened this message. She says, Be well.
He thinks about what will happen in the time it takes the message to get there. They’ll be on the far side of Jupiter by then, and the lights will be coming up slowly, pretending dawn, and he’ll be here with channels open, hoping she’ll come on the line and tell him that, fifty-three minutes ago, she was cured.
(It’s hopeless. He knows already. Whatever news comes across that line won’t be good, and he won’t know until it’s too late. You get far enough away from something, there’s nothing you can do.)
But the light from Europa right now would be reaching her by then, and she would have a picture of Sinope.
Sometimes just looking at a moon was medicine; if it worked for Galileo, it was worth a try.
She doesn’t answer.
He puts a cot in the comm room.
Wen doesn’t say anything.
(It’s for the best. If he explained that he had a picture of a kingfisher, and that he’d sent Galileo’s notes to an interplanetary Ground Control, and that they should send paper and pencil on the probe to Gliese, and that he had to stay right where he was in case he heard back from Bangalore, it wouldn’t look good.
She wouldn’t argue—she seemed to know when people had their reasons—but she wouldn’t think the reasons were connected, and they are; they are.)
The message comes back a week later, over official channels.
It’s patchy, as if the machinery is going, or her voice is.
He sits more forward in his chair with every word.
“Dr. Hammond died. Sometime early morning, maybe 0430, actual time unknown—I didn’t sleep for very long, but when I woke up she had gone. It’s just me.”
The horror fades. Panic edges in.
Where are the others, he almost yells into the mic, who would leave you alone like this, but the question would take an hour to reach her, and that isn’t the thing he wants her to hear from him last.
(It would be the last; her voice is going, he realizes now what it means.
This will be the last.
His hands are shaking.)
So instead he says, “Roger that, Preetha. Please update us with any message for the Manu, and continue to report.”
He says, trying to be steady, “Everyone from home wishes you well.”
They send an ethicist and a psychologist to the comm center a few hours later, to talk to Henry and Wen about whether the ship should know.
“This puts them under a lot of unnecessary stress,” one of the ethicists argues.
“Good,” Henry says. “They have a lot to live up to.”
The other one says, “Informing them of a change like this could be more stressful than useful. They already know the importance of a clean landing on this.”
He says, “After this they fucking well better.”
Eventually, Wen snaps.
“This entire operation hinges on the crucial importance of full information,” she says, cutting off the psychologist halfway through a sentence about perception of failure. “It’s been that way since my forebears set foot here. Earth trusted them enough to send them. If we can’t trust them with information, we should tell them to turn around. Do you want to tell them that? Because I’m not going to.”
And before they can object, she hits the button to bounce it to the transport, so the skeleton crew that’s still awake will know what’s happened.
When they’re gone, muttering about calling her before the Ethics Board, Henry says, “There might be a record of something else on the Manu.”
She looks over at him, parsing what he’s done.
“Sometimes records are faulty,” she says. “Sometimes Jupiter interferes.”
They sit side by side, looking out at the cloud and the ice and the red day rising, channels open for messages that don’t come.
(The message Wen sent is a duplicate.
Henry hit Send before they ever showed; he hit Send before he ever paged Wen and told her there was something she needed to see.
He hit Send as soon as it came over the transom, and his hand stopped shaking.)
“To the Europa Base, and the crew and passengers of the Manu: We on Earth who have dreamed of exploration honor your mission, and have faith that what you work to build will come back to you a hundredfold.
For those who will go on to Gliese 581, that hidden world that holds our future in it; you are the children of Galileo, and we send our hopes with you.
The citizens of Earth wish you good journey, and good homecoming.”
He takes a crawler out to the dark side.
Ahead of him is a blue marble (behind him is a bead of jasper).
The blue marble isn’t winking—looking from here, there’s no marked difference from what it used to be. It will take some generations yet. When the water swallows up the last of it, the Evrard Telescope will show a surface of near-unbroken blue.
The grandchildren of Europa will be taken out to the dark side (no helmets, by then), and they’ll hold up binoculars and be instructed to look carefully for the bluest thing they can see.
(It won’t be Rigel, the teacher will have to remind them. Keep your eye out for something steady—you’re looking for a moon, not a star.)
Through his binoculars, he can see India passing out of sight; somewhere on what’s left of the land is the place where Kai died, fifty-three minutes before he got her last transmission.
It’s the first time he’s looked at something, and really known.
(Preetha means, The palm of the hand; it means happiness; it means beloved; one on top of the other.)