She stepped into the flitter, the control panel illuminating as soon as she sat down. The bio-shield was like a gelatinous membrane extending a millimeter or two from her skin and clothing, a bulky, invisible suit between her and anything she tried to sit on or touch.
Her boot soles didn't quite contact the floor plates. The belt of the bio-shield felt warm around her waist, and she could swear it made a low hum that lurked irritatingly just below the range of her hearing. She touched thumb to ring finger, pressing a little harder this time.
<AMI,> she thought, <take me to Dulcia.>
She heard fans engaging as the flitter lifted, settled, then moved forward and away from the base. She looked back to see the bay doors closing.
The ride down from First Base, set on a high plateau, to Dulcia nestled in its harbor, was nearly as bad as the shuttle descent.
The rain and wind remained a constant presence, smearing water across the windshield of the vehicle that blurred the violet-tinged landscape outside. The flitter rocked from side to side in the gusts as it hovered over the terrain. At least, she didn't have to actually drive the damn thing. Her AMI did that for her though there were manual controls that would extend from the dashboard to use if she wished.
And the light... Canis Lupus was tidally locked to its star, Wolf 1061, with one hemisphere always facing Wolf 1061 and the other always facing starward: one side eternally hellish, the other eternally glacial. The planet's habitable zone was a 1,000-kilometer-wide swath along the terminator strip between the two sides, where water was liquid and the temperature moderate. That also meant the sun never quite fully rose or fully set. The inhabitants lived in a perpetual, reddish twilight—when they could see the sun at all through the cloud cover. Even though the Odysseus kept shipboard lighting at similar levels and coloration, this world never seemed quite bright enough to Ichiko.
<How long?> she asked AMI, double touching her contact this time so that she'd have continual access for the trip. <Oh, and what's the weather like down there?>
<We should arrive by 1053, ship-time. And it's raining, though it's not as windy as it is at First Base up in the mountains.>
<If you like rain, it might be. At least you can't get wet.>
The flitter banked left over a ridge of the mountain, and there, suddenly, was Dulcia laid out before her, stretched along the interior edge of a narrow inlet of the aptly named Storm Sea and protected by a headland on the other side of the harbor. Closer to the flitter, there were cleared farm fields planted with rows of purple, pink, and orange-leafed crops that Ichiko didn't recognize and couldn't eat even if she did. A few of the fields were occupied by the six-legged, round-bodied, and extraordinarily hairy ruminants that the locals had dubbed "sheepers"—a portmanteau word combining "sheep" and "spider"—raised both for meat and for their pale, woollike hair.
The flitter passed over the farms cut into the lowering slopes of the mountains before finally descending into the town proper where, through the rain, Ichiko saw a strange amalgam of stone buildings, some with thatched roofs, others with roofs of slatelike stone, but all of them small and none that looked to be more than two stories tall. A quay stretched the length of the town's center at the water's edge.
Ichiko glimpsed fishing boats moored here and there, rocking gently with the gray-green swells.
There were people in the streets, staring at the flitter as it passed above them. Ichiko noted what she already knew from the records on Odysseus: the people here were far more homogenous than the crew of their starship, whose crew was deliberately multinational and multiracial. That had not been the case for those who had crewed the original exploratory ships before the Interregnum. The crew for those first starships had been chosen because they all spoke the same language and shared the same general culture: British Isles, North American, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, German, and so on.
<There appears to be a greeting party near the quay. Minister Plunkett is among the group,> AMI said.
<I see them. Set us down there.>
The flitter shivered as if cold. The sound of the wing fans grew louder as the flitter slowly settled to the ground near the gathering, wafting down as gently as an autumn leaf—though there were no deciduous trees on this world where the climate remained largely uniform throughout the year. The hatch opened as Ichiko unbuckled her seat harness and a short set of stairs extruded from the hull. A burly man in a woven flat cap beaded with the rain stepped forward, a fringe of unruly white hair curling out from underneath the cap and several days' growth of beard on his chin. He walked with a limp as if his hips or knees pained him. His hands were thick and obviously used to manual labor: broken fingernails with dirt caked underneath. He was missing an upper incisor; the gap showed as he smiled. "Dr. Aguilar?" he said, nodding to Ichiko as she stepped from the flitter. He extended his hand toward her, then pulled it back before she could respond as if he understood that she couldn't actually shake hands. "I'm Minister Plunkett, but please call me Hugh. Welcome to Dulcia."
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
Monday, June 14th, we begin the book Dead Space by Kali Wallace.