Now that Warming Season, my science fiction novel, is live, I’d like to share with you the next installment of a short story series that began in Nature’s Futures section. The first installment “In Cygnus and in Hell” showed Dorothy Fenton’s decision to join the Xi-Zhong colony expedition, and the second, “Home Cygnus,” showed her beginning her journey. “Space Cygnus” begins her next step in becoming one of the First Hundred Cygnan pioneers.
Here it is, without further ado…
by S. R. Algernon
“Crewmate One hundred, report for assignment” said Mission Commander Wang, the middle of five bald women in jumpsuits, seated around a semicircular table. Wang wore black. It matched her dark eyes.
I have a name, thought Dorothy. Why remind me yet again that I’m the last one?
Dorothy stepped forward, feeling the itch of her white jumpsuit and the chill on her shaved scalp. Dr. Neumann said close-cropped hair was a safety precaution, but she suspected that Mission Commander Wang preferred the austere look.
I’m not even supposed to be here, thought Dorothy. It’s plain in her eyes. I’m just taking up space meant for another.
“Doctor Neumann cleared you for stasis,” said Wang. “After some consideration, we have decided to assign you to construction. Commander Liu?”
The woman at the far left of the semicircle, who wore crimson, stood and presented Dorothy a white feather. Red was a prosperous color and white the color of death. Prosperity through death, the rallying cry of a ship casting itself into the void. Or was it death through prosperity, the ecological curse of 21st century Earth?
“You should know, Construction Commander, that I’ve never built so much as a chicken coop.”
“You will adapt,” she said.
Will I? Or will I always be a hanger-on, there to round out the first hundred?
Liu pinned the white feather on Dorothy’s jumpsuit with a clasp shaped like a hammer.
“Meet me at the airlock at 0800 hours to begin your orientation,” she whispered, before retaking her seat.
“Dismissed, one hundred,” said the Mission Commander.
The Commanders in the semicircle carried on a conversation in Chinese as Dorothy left. Dorothy wondered if they planned an airlock accident for her. Perhaps another death would be an acceptable loss to preserve the purity of the mission.
Dorothy arrived at the airlock despite her misgivings, wearing the red jumpsuit, which was thicker than she expected. The neck ended in a plastic ring.
“Glad you could make it, Crewmate Fenton.”
She handed Dorothy a transparent helmet with the clear expectation that she put it on.
“I’m going out there?” said Dorothy. “I’ve never done a spacewalk before.”
“Don’t worry,” said Liu, as she put on her helmet. “I’ll be with you. But first, look out there. What do you see among the stars?”
“Nothing. Blackness. Void. Perhaps the same thing Mission Commander sees when she envisions Earth’s future.”
“She believes we will be the last of humanity. It is a heavy weight to bear. Look closer.”
Tethered to the station, a sphere glittered in the ship’s light. Dorothy turned to Liu, who smiled and held up a shimmering sphere the size of a marble in her hand.
“It doesn’t look like much, but imagine thousands of these, tied together.”
Liu closed her hand around the marble, and the glittering sphere outside expanded into a geodesic structure larger than the ship, larger than Great-Grandad’s farm.
“Together, they keep the air in. The sphere will be our factory and our garden until we find a habitable world. Out here, free from gravity, we will harvest asteroids to build what we need.”
Liu opened her hand.
“But, right now,” Liu continued, “it is just a seed. You’re going to help me test it.”
“For leaks. We filled the sphere with oxygen we harvested from a comet in the Oort Cloud. We must check every facet for escaping gas before we activate the interstellar drive.”
“I’m going out there?”
“Come on. Take my hand.” Liu kept one hand on the tether and extended the other to Dorothy. Liu led Dorothy along the tether to the sphere’s airlock and let her inside. She unhooked the tether and let herself drift, still holding Dorothy’s hand.
Under the ship lights, each facet of the sphere shimmered. Dorothy focused on their reflected light to take her mind off the emptiness and the fear of vomiting in her suit.
“Out here, call me Big Sister.”
“Why did you bring me out here? Why not anyone else in Construction?”
“I’m not just testing the dome. I wanted you to see you can learn to do the work.”
“Maybe,” said Dorothy, glancing back at the ship, “but I still don’t fit in.”
Liu unsnapped a pocket on her suit and took out a metallic object, an old Chinese coin with the square hole in the center. She held it tightly so it wouldn’t float away.
“Mission Control wouldn’t like me having this. Commander Wang would call it a relic of capitalism and empire. My grandmother gave it to me, and it will have a place on Cygnus. You will too.”
Dorothy wished she had brought something with her of Great-grandad’s. After they finished the task, Dorothy felt the petulance of a child at bedtime.
“Can we breathe in here, Big Sister?”
Dorothy unhooked her helmet and glanced at Lui before taking it off.
“Yes, but be careful. No more than a minute or two.”
Each inhalation of pure oxygen sent a rush. Dorothy wondered if maybe the Holy Spirit had hitched a ride along with that comet. She breathed deep and sang, imagining the stars to be a choir of angels.
Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home a-waiting
In the sky, in the sky?
Habershon and Gabriel wrote the song as a plea to the heavens. It belongs here, and if I carry it with me, maybe I belong here too.
The sound waves filled every centimeter of the air.
If Earth does fall, thought Dorothy, and nobody follows us, we will expand to fill the void. It’s not our hands or our bodies that matter. It’s the ripples we leave behind, the echoes of our souls — and they are infinite.
Now ready for the centuries of sleep ahead of her, Dorothy played the last verse of the song in her mind, certain she could answer in the affirmative.
One by one their seats were emptied.
One by one they went away.
Now the family is parted.
Will it be complete one day?
I hope you enjoyed the story. Stay tuned for more of Dorothy’s journey in future blog posts. For a step further into the Cygnan journey, please take a look at Warming Season, the first of a series set in the Cygnus universe. It picks up over three centuries after the Xi-Zhong landed on a moon of 16 Cyngi Bb, where the question asked by Dorothy (and countless country singers) looms over the colony. Will Cygnus be unbroken or will its people scatter like the embers of a flame? To find out, check out the e-book on Amazon. If you like it, please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads to share your thoughts.
Thank you for reading, and as always, happy reading and happy writing!