The flickers of fighting ships looked like glitches on a cheap screen, colors and movements that shouldn’t have been there. The sign that something was very wrong. He licked his lips. There had to be a way. There had to be some way to save them.
“Prax,” Doris said. “We have to go. Now.”
The cutting edge of low-resource agricultural botany, the Glycine kenon, a type of soybean so heavily modified it was an entirely new species, represented the last eight years of his life. They were the reason his parents still hadn’t seen their only granddaughter in the flesh. They, and a few other things, had ended his marriage. He could see the eight subtly different strains of engineered chloroplasts in the fields, each one trying to spin out the most protein per photon. His hands were trembling. He was going to vomit.
“We have maybe five more minutes to impact,” Doris said. “We have to evacuate.”
“I don’t see it,” Prax said.
“It’s coming fast enough, by the time you see it, you won’t see it. Everyone else has already gone. We’re the last ones. Now get in the lift.”
The great orbital mirrors had always been his allies, shining down on his fields like a hundred pale suns. He couldn’t believe that they’d betray him. It was an insane thought. The mirror plummeting toward the surface of Ganymede—toward his greenhouse, his soybeans, his life’s work—hadn’t chosen anything. It was a victim of cause and effect, the same as everything else.
“I’m about to leave,” Doris said. “If you’re here in four minutes, you’ll die.”
“Wait,” Prax said. He ran out into the dome. At the edge of the nearest field, he fell to his knees and dug into the rich black soil. The smell of it was like a good patchouli. He pushed his fingers in as deep as he could, cupping a root ball. The small, fragile plant came up in his hands.
Doris was in the industrial lift, ready to descend into the caves and tunnels of the station. Prax sprinted for her. With the plant to save, the dome suddenly felt horribly dangerous. He threw himself through the door and Doris pressed the control display. The wide metal room of the lift lurched, shifted, and began its descent. Normally, it would have carried heavy equipment: the tiller, the tractor, the tons of humus taken from the station recycling processors. Now it was only the three of them: Prax sitting cross-legged on the floor, the soybean seedling nodding in his lap, Doris chewing her lower lip and watching her hand terminal. The lift felt too big.
“The mirror could miss,” Prax said.
“It could. But it’s thirteen hundred tons of glass and metal. The shock wave will be fairly large.”
“The dome might hold.”
“No,” she said, and Prax stopped talking to her.
The cart hummed and clanked, falling deeper under the surface ice, sliding into the network of tunnels that made up the bulk of the station. The air smelled like heating elements and industrial lubricant. Even now, he couldn’t believe they’d done it. He couldn’t believe the military bastards had actually started shooting each other. No one, anywhere, could really be that shortsighted. Except that it seemed they could.
In the months since the Earth-Mars alliance had shattered, he’d gone from constant and gnawing fear to cautious hope to complacency. Every day that the United Nations and the Martians hadn’t started something had been another bit of evidence that they wouldn’t. He’d let himself think that everything was more stable than it looked. Even if things got bad and there was a shooting war, it wouldn’t be here. Ganymede was where the food came from. With its magnetosphere, it was the safest place for pregnant women to gestate, claiming the lowest incidence of birth defects and stillbirth in the outer planets. It was the center of everything that made human expansion into the solar system possible. Their work was as precious as it was fragile, and the people in charge would never let the war come here.
Doris said something obscene. Prax looked up at her. She ran a hand through her thin white hair, turned, and spat.
“Lost connectivity,” she said, holding up the hand terminal. “Whole network’s locked down.”
“Station security. United Nations. Mars. How would I know?”
“But if they—”
The concussion was like a giant fist coming down on the cart’s roof. The emergency brakes kicked in with a bone-shaking clang. The lights went out, darkness swallowing them for two hummingbird-fast heartbeats. Four battery-powered emergency LEDs popped on, then off again as the cart’s power came back. The critical failure diagnostics started to run: motors humming, lifts clicking, the tracking interface spooling through checksums like an athlete stretching before a run. Prax stood up and walked to the control panel. The shaft sensors reported minimal atmospheric pressure and falling. He felt a shudder as containment doors closed somewhere above them and the exterior pressure started to rise. The air in the shaft had been blown out into space before the emergency systems could lock down. His dome was compromised.
His dome was gone.
He put his hand to his mouth, not realizing he was smearing soil across his chin until he’d already done it. Part of his mind was skittering over the things that needed to be done to save the project—contact his project manager at RMD-Southern, refile the supplemental grant applications, get the data backups to rebuild the viral insertion samples—while another part had gone still and eerily calm. The sense of being two men—one bent on desperate measures, the other already in the numb of mourning—felt like the last weeks of his marriage.
Doris turned to him, a weary amusement plucking at her wide lips. She put out her hand.
“It was a pleasure working with you, Dr. Meng.”
The cart shuddered as the emergency brakes retracted. Another impact came from much farther off. A mirror or a ship falling. Soldiers shelling each other on the surface. Maybe even fighting deeper in the station. There was no way to know. He shook her hand.
“Dr. Bourne,” he said. “It has been an honor.”
They took a long, silent moment at the graveside of their previous lives. Doris sighed.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Mei’s day care was deep in the body of the moon, but the tube station was only a few hundred yards from the cart’s loading dock, and the express trip down to her was no more than ten minutes. Or would have been if they were running. In three decades of living on Ganymede, Prax had never even noticed that the tube stations had security doors.