Welcome to February and Build-a-World month! I’ve been working for a while now on the research for a new book, and I’m having to invent a whole planet or two to make it happen. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting short stories from the history of this new world and I’ll throw in a few informational posts about what you might find if you travel there. All questions and comments are welcome!
In five minutes, the chime of her alarm would sound. She would get up, brush her teeth, put on a fresh jumpsuit. In the mess, she would get a tube of strong hot tea and drink it while she looked over the previous day’s reports. There would be just enough time when she was finished to wake Lil and get her ready for school before reporting to the lab section. She had tests running, but none of them were very interesting. She had calculations waiting to be finished, but they were just double checks of previous work. Worst of all, it was her day to be shadowed by the apprentice astrophysicist. Jim was a nice enough kid and certainly brilliant, but he had a tendency to hum without realizing he was doing it. By the end of the day, Ashanti would be tearing her hair out, but she’d take deep breaths as she walked to dinner in the family cabin. Hiram always collected the food after he had picked Lil up from her class. They would eat and trade boring stories about their boring days. If they were lucky, Lil would have something amusing to report from the children. There would be a blessed hour with her violin while Lil played nearby. Then bedtime stories. Ashanti would read her novel when Lil had been tucked in. Hiram would interrupt her from time to time with comments on his own book. When she’d had enough, she’d say goodnight. She’d fall asleep. It would all start over again the next day.
When Ashanti’s father had told her she would see the stars, would colonize a whole new planet, she had thought it would be exciting. How naive she had been.
Ashanti sat up and turned off the alarm before it could chime. There. One thing that was different from yesterday, at least.
For a brief moment, she considered skipping her teeth-brushing, but she banished the thought sternly. What was wrong with her? She wasn’t a petulant 18-year-old. She was forty-five, a scientist, a mother, a leader of a historic community. She brushed her teeth.
The mess was empty when she walked in, but Michele and Irina came in while she waited for her tea to heat. They nodded at her and went straight for the coffee. Luckily, they weren’t morning talkers.
Ashanti set her tea on the corner table and keyed open her tablet. Then she sat for a few minutes, not ready to face the reports. Absentmindedly, she sipped at her tea and burnt her tongue. The pain felt almost good.
Ashanti shook her head. This wasn’t like her. She loved this ship. She loved the future they were headed toward. She loved her work. She loved her community. She had been helping to lead them for the last twenty-five years without faltering. True, when she had turned forty, there had been a brief bout of depression, but that was normal. She spent a few hours talking with friends and wrote longer-than-usual entries in her journal. Then a few weeks later, she found out she was pregnant with Lil, and there was enough excitement in her life to banish any boredom.
All the reports in her inbox were marked green except one. The astronomers had sent her something with a red flag. They did that every few months. Gil was an excitable guy, and they were traveling through space no one else had visited. The last time he had sent one, it had been…
Ashanti froze. Slowly she lowered the tablet.
The last time.
The last time she had felt this way…
She picked up the tea and sipped carefully, determined not to jump to conclusions. She would go get Lil up and off to school. Then she would visit Mia on the way to the lab. She would not hurry. She would not do anything to alarm anyone. She would not read those reports, either. They could wait.
Dr. Mia Lang was only thirty-two years old and still technically an apprentice to her distinguished father, but Ashanti always preferred to visit Mia on the rare occasions she needed a doctor. George was not as brilliant with people as he was with diseases.
“You were right,” Mia said as the results of the blood test scrolled across her screen. “You’re probably not even two weeks along based on these levels. How did you know?”
From long force of habit, Ashanti kept all of her emotions contained and addressed the question. “I recognized the feeling.”
Mia grinned. “That’s impressive for something that’s only happened once before. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Ashanti said, and she meant it, though her answering smile was all she would allow herself.
“Are you going to go straight to Hiram?”
“I think this might be worth interrupting his work, don’t you?”
“If you don’t, I will,” Mia said with a laugh. “And would you like to be the one to tell my father, or can I do that?”
“Oh, I think you’ve earned that right.”
“He was sure it wasn’t going to happen without in vitro,” Mia said.
“Between you and me, I was about six months from telling him he was right, but there’s no need for him to know that now.”
“Absolutely not. He needs to be wrong from time to time. Keeps him from getting a big head.”
“Thank you, Mia. Really.”
“Hey, it was you and Hiram who made the decision. I carried out your wishes, just like the charter says.”
“Yes, but the charter doesn’t say anything about being kind. That was all you.”
Mia smiled. “Congratulations.”
Ashanti walked out of the tiny medical bay and down toward the governor’s office. A second child. Hiram would be so happy they were finally fulfilling their responsibility. The charter didn’t demand the colonists to have children, but the Plan depended on most doing so. Two to three children per couple was ideal. There was plenty of genetic material on board to make that possible for anyone, but Ashanti had wanted to hold out for natural conception. It wasn’t a spiritual or ethical issue. She just knew herself. She didn’t easily connect with people. Without the full biological experience, she wasn’t sure she would properly bond with her child. Not that she had ever said that out loud to anyone.
Hiram had supported her without understanding her real motivation. He had his own reasons for not rushing to have more children. According to the charter, one of their children would one day take his place as governor. They would not arrive at Theta Prime for another thirty-three years. The younger that new leader was when they arrived, the better for the colony. This timing was perfect. Hiram would be pleased, though he would almost surely express it with trite platitudes.
Ashanti sighed. She wasn’t being completely fair. Hiram was a good man. He was kind and he was fair and he was determined to lead the colony to a successful life on Theta Prime. It wasn’t his fault if he wasn’t terribly original. It wasn’t his fault that he sometimes seemed to be all training and no personality. His ability to stay the course and execute the Plan made him perfect for his position. Most days she appreciated his dependability and calm. On a space ship, predictability was gold.
It was just at moments like this that she wondered. Was it possible to be too dependable? Was there no room for spontaneous feeling?
When the door to the governor’s office opened, Hiram was not behind his desk. He was standing with a cluster of admins and he didn’t look surprised to see her.
“You saw it?” he said as soon as Ashanti stepped inside.
She had been so focused on her own news that she didn’t register the question at first.
“What do you think?”
It was Hiram’s turn to look confused.
“This is huge,” said Gil from the corner. She hadn’t even seen him there.
Ashanti took a deep breath to clear her head. “I think I missed something.”
“You didn’t read the astronomy report?”
“They found another habitable planet.”
“Two habitable planets,” said Gil.
“Possibly,” Hiram said.
Ashanti pushed her own news aside. It could wait until they were alone.
“Where?” she asked.
“2.43 light years away!” crowed Gil.
Ashanti raised an eyebrow. “That would mean…”
“With deceleration time, we have about six months to decide if we want to pursue it.”
“That’s not enough time for thorough studies,” Ashanti said.
“Wait til you see it,” said Gil. “We won’t even need six months. I’ve never seen anything so perfect.”
If there was one thing Ashanti’s father had taught her, it was that things that seemed too good to be true, were. He had learned that on the supposed utopia of the Lunar Scientific Colony.
“We’ll take every minute we have before making a decision,” said Hiram. “We’re putting the whole scientific team on this in every minute that can be spared. I have no intention of changing a plan that was seventy years in the making on a whim.”
Ashanti studied her husband’s face. Something was different. There was a thrum of excitement in his voice that belied his cautious words, and his eyes didn’t quite meet hers.
“How have we never seen this planet before?” she asked.
“Planets. Plural. They were hidden from view of Earth by a cluster of stars and only came into our field of study four days ago. Believe me, we ran two dozen studies and ten thousand equations before I wrote that report. We’ve been staring at only this day and night. It’s a complete game-changer.”
She had thought Gil was excitable before. The manic look he wore now made the other times look calm.
“I’ll read the report and get my people on it immediately,” she said.
“I’m making a ship-wide announcement tonight at the gathering,” Hiram said. “Full disclosure and all hands on deck is the only way we’re going to collect enough data to be reasonably sure of our course.”
Ashanti turned to go before they all noticed that her head was spinning. Had anyone ever been more wrong about a day than she was this morning?
“Ashanti.” Hiram put a hand on her arm. “If you didn’t read the report, then you came here for something else. Did you need something?”
The fact that he would ask that, would notice, even with something so huge on his mind was what made her husband such a great leader. It was the reason she had come to love him in her fashion, in spite of her doubts.
“It can wait. This can’t.”
He nodded. “No family dinner tonight with the gathering. Tea afterwards, maybe?”
Ashanti smiled. “You might want to make it coffee. I don’t think any of us are going to get much sleep.”