September 23, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: The Hunt for Beagle Part 2

As promised, here’s part II of our Mars-spanning epic. Also be sure to check out last week’s Part I, and read The Hunt for Beagle in its entirety.

The Hunt for Beagle

by

David A. Dickinson

Part II

They donned light excursion suits shortly after dusk and headed outside. The night was cool and calm and Andrea could feel the bite of the oncoming Martian winter even through her thermocycle, which was working overtime. Soon, men like her father would’ve been coming in from their months on the high plains.

“Show me some planets, Andrea,” Her grandfather called over her comm.

“There’s the gas giant, Jupiter,” she called out, pointing to the east. It was just rising in opposition. “…and here comes one of our moons, Deimos!” The moon was a slow moving star, just barely showing a discernible oblong disk with a silent movement was that was perceptible among the stars.

“Anything else?”

She looked off to the west.  A blue-green dot was emerging from the dusk, with a just barely noticeable silver companion.

“The Terra-Luna system!”

“We called it the Earth and Moon not to long ago, “Xeres replied, “Until people started living on other moons and started to think that was too damned confusing.”

They both stared in awe at the darkening sky. Finally, Xeres pointed low to the southwest. “There!” A trio of moving dots appeared. They were not winking like aircraft would in the tenuous Martian atmosphere, and Andrea knew that they had to be in space. Satellites, she knew, were not uncommon to see at dusk; but these seemed to move faster as they approached the zenith and moved in formation.

“Who are they?”

“Anthros from Earth,” Xeres replied, eyes fixed on the moving fleet. “Kicked out of the inner solar system and immigrating outward. They’re slingshoting past Mars to pickup speed.”

Andrea marveled at the large, generational ships. She had never been beyond the Martian system, and wondered what life on such a ship would be like. She wondered if there was maybe a girl like her, staring back down at a swelling orange Mars. She held back a childish impulse to wave.

“Where are they going?”

“Eris, Orcus, the Oort Cloud, who knows?” He said, eyes fixed on the sky. “Maybe they’re headed for the stars. What’s a millennium or two to a large, multigenerational fleet?”

Andrea paused to let it all sink in. The universe was vaster and stranger than she imagined. She felt a comfort in imagining how insignificant her problems with school and family were on such a vast cosmic stage.

“Will we ever see them again?” She said.

“Maybe, if they want to be seen. They’re understandably pretty secretive, what with the persecution that they’ve been through. And the universe is a pretty big place.”

They both silently stared as the swiftly moving dots faded and winked out into the night.

 

Andrea had arrived home much too late for her mother’s taste. This time, it would cost her.

“Young lady, were have you been?”

“Out with friends,” she replied nervously. She didn’t want to get her granddad in trouble for fear that her mother would forbid her visits.

Alexi sighed imperceptibly. She had one last weapon to hold over her, and Andrea new it.

“I talked to your teachers an hour ago,” she began. Andrea knew what was coming. It was like watching a spacecraft docking turn into a head on wreck in slow motion.

“You’re failing both Linguistics and Planetary History. You’ve got to get your act together, gal.”

“It’s not fair,” Andrea protested, “My instructors hate everything I do!”

“You know they’re not programmed for that,” Her Mom continued. Andrea knew the what-do-you-want-to-do-with-the-rest-of-your-life speech was coming.

“What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Load garbage pods? Because that’s precisely where you’re headed,” She took a breath and continued. “No Terran University will take you in with your grades; it doesn’t matter how good a gymnast you are.”

Andrea knew it was fruitless to argue with her mother at this point. She had been running the household solo for months now, and was approaching the breaking point. Andrea knew better than to test her.

“…and speaking of which, I called your father and we both think it’s a good idea that you be suspended from the low-grav gymnastics squad until you show some solid improvement.”

“But they’ll tube without me!” Andrea blurted out. She knew her mother realized that this was her one leveraging point, but was loathe to reveal it. “I’m the only performer they’ve got on some routines!”

“You should have thought of that before you “tubed” interplanetary history, young lady. They’ll just have to put in Jessica Sabbath.” She knew that would get Andrea’s goat.

“You might as well put up a Sand Cow, for all the grace she has!” Andrea said under her breath and closed the door to her tiny room. She wished she was outbound with the Anthro fleet, far from here.

 

That night, she slept uneasily. She dreamt she was in the open Martian desert, the fine talcum dust swirling around her. She was exposed and devoid of an excursion suit, and although part of her knew this should be impossible, she trudged on nonetheless. The sand seemed to get thicker and deeper. She saw what she thought to be an outline of an old, unmanned probe in the drifts. It seemed to back away as she stepped forward.

“What is it?” Her instructor’s voice called out in her head. “What year was it launched? The fate of the Anthro fleet and your father is in your hands!”

“I don’t know and I don’t care!” She wanted to cry, as dust choked and consumed her.

She bolted upright in her bed, sweating. Unable to get back to sleep, she turned on the Grid and began scanning old databases. Suddenly, she had it. She knew what would show them all and bring her grades up for the science fair.

She finally knew what she had to do.

To be Continued…

-Read more sci-fi from David Dickinson.

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