By Jay Werkheiser
Ari allowed his skimmer to brush the outer edge of Nouvelle Terre’s atmosphere. He tried to imagine air jostling the light nanofiber support frame, whistling through the skimmer’s magsails. Excitement pulsed through his veins at the thought of being so close to the blue-and-white surface, perhaps closer than any human had ever dared. Nothing but his skinsuit and a few hundred kilometers of atmosphere separated him from the living, breathing landscape below. He spread his arms and legs, trying to feel the miniscule tug of atmospheric drag.
Is that what wind feels like?
His faceplate HUD showed a ripple in the magsail’s yaw loop. The threat of a coil collapse brought his mind back into focus, and he hiked up the field strength to gain some altitude. He savored every precious minute the skimmer took to climb away from the atmosphere. Nouvelle Terre’s secondary sun climbed over the horizon, visible only because the primary sun hadn’t yet risen. He scanned the starry sky, taking advantage of the view before primary sunrise darkened his faceplate. Earth’s distant sun was almost directly overhead, a pinpoint at the tail of a zig-zag of stars. The drive flare that cut across the constellation chilled his good mood. After a generation of silence, what could the Earth people possibly want?
Bah. Figuring that out was the job of bureaucrats. Ari preferred jockeying around with a skimmer, launching and retrieving microprobes, and taking time to enjoy the freedom of flight. Before long, the Gardien rose above the limb of the planet. He’d be home within a half hour, pining for his next chance to fly free.
“That you, Ari?” If his solitude had to be interrupted by a human voice, he could do worse than Maura’s.
“Who else would it be?”
He knew damn well who she was afraid it might be. He tilted his head upward toward the spear of light that dominated the sky. A new ship from Earth arriving unannounced after all these years was reason enough to be on edge.