Short Story Awards

 

2015 Sci Fi Best Short Story – Europa by Feiya Zhang

I had a dream I was drowning beneath the icy crust of Europa. My hands slipped beneath its surface, pulled under by the warmth of its liquid ocean. I swam for days in the solace of this alien sea surviving only on one drawn-in breath. On the seventh day, I sprouted gills on my neck, large bony scales on my body and lungs that morphed into one dorsal organ. I became Neoceratodus forsteri, a flesh-finned fish, air-breathing and ancient.

I swam past the wreck of Icy Moon Probe III, which malfunctioned on an abortive rendezvous attempt with the space station, Expedition 104, eleven years ago. I swam past the first base known as Ice Station-1, which is still surprisingly functional after being declared to be situated in an active subduction zone.

Finally, I reached the deepest layer of the ocean, where the water is so hot there is less dissolved oxygen to breathe in. My heart hammered against my hollow ribs, stammering out a final request. Why did you do it?

The voice of the late Dr Adrian Savos echoed from the depths of the watery darkness. Even in my dream, I heard him reciting his favourite Darwin quote that justified everything he had ever done. That’s a fool’s experiment. But I love fools’ experiments. I am always making them.

And, just like that, my gills disappeared, my scales vanished, my single dorsal lung bifurcated. I became aware of the burning sensation in my chest, like a rubine fire racing to my head, erasing all else but the desire to breathe. I opened my mouth, and the water rushed in, forcing me to swallow.

‘Are you sure you’re all right?’

One of my colleagues tapped me briskly on the shoulder with her finger. I jerked my head up and swivelled around in the carbon composite chair. Susan Messin-Tyers stared down at me through the frames of her bright red spectacles.
I groaned, inwardly. ‘Hi Susan, I’m fine.’

From the pocket of her clinical uniform, she pulled out her old handheld unit and spoke to it directly using the now outdated voice recognition software. ‘Booking an appointment for Dr Averly Callisto Mastro tomorrow at three-six-zero-zero hours, East Ward 12B Academic Unit, Office P910.’

I opened my mouth to protest. ‘I don’t need to see you, I’m fine.’

Susan printed off the notice from her handheld and placed the receipt on the ceramic nanolatticed bench in front of me. ‘You’re welcome,’ she replied. I stared at her in a state of disbelief before pushing the receipt away from me. ‘I’m not going,’ I told her.

‘Sure you are.’ Susan slipped her handheld back into her front pocket and looked at me, expectantly. ‘Otherwise I’ll send Han down to cross-examine you instead.’

‘That’s unprofessional.’ I folded my arms and looked around at the information service desk to see if anyone was there, listening in. The only entity behind the desk was the humanoid robot receptionist, CARLU, a Communications and Response Liaison Unit positioned at the medic facility three years ago.

‘By the way,’ I asked, ‘where exactly is your personal assistant today?’

Susan brushed her hands in the air, as if idly dismissing my question. ‘Han’s in the process of being upgraded,’ she said, ‘his systems are being reset and the techs needed to reconnect him to the colony’s central computer. He should be fully functional by tomorrow.’

‘Tell Han not to waste his time.’

‘I’ll tell him you said hi.’

In the silence that followed, I stared out past the wide tinted windows made of aluminium silicate and fused silica glass, past the sweeping view of the expansive orbital colonial infrastructure and its hundred micro satellites, to gaze upon the largest colonized moon orbiting Jupiter, Ganymede.

This time last year, I would have called Ganymede home.

‘I’m not going, it’s too late.’

‘You don’t sleep much, anyway.’

I turned my back on the breath-taking view of the orbiting colonial platform from the windows of the medic facility and wretched my thoughts away from Ganymede. ‘What?’

‘I’m fully booked tomorrow, that’s the earliest time I can fit you in. You don’t sleep much, anyway, so it’s a poor excuse, on your behalf.’

I stared at Susan, who was starting to look impatient. ‘How would you know I don’t sleep much?’
She gave me an assessing look with her bright blue eyes. ‘People talk,’ she said, briskly, ‘don’t think that they don’t.’

I watched her stride away, the heels of her boots making an audible clack-clack-clack sound, which echoed down the corridor. The integrated light and motion sensors in the walls immediately activated and flooded the corridor in a white glow that enhanced the pristine and sterile nature of the inside environs. I took in a lungful of artificial air generated by the medic facility’s environmental control systems and turned to CARLU.

‘CARLU,’ I asked, despondently, ‘what is the meaning of life?’

CARLU looked up from her place at the information desk, her hazel eyes blinking rapidly before she focused on me completely. ‘Question approved. What is the meaning of life. Answer. Life is defined by the conditions of biological processes that distinguish living organisms from inorganic and inanimate matter.’

‘Tell me about Dr Adrian Savos,’ I said to her, impulsively.

‘Request approved. Tell me about Dr Adrian Savos. Answer. Dr Adrian Savos was a renowned genetic engineer and pioneer from Lunar City, Moon who emigrated with his family to Colony COSR-6, Callisto. He founded the C1 genetically modified hexaploid bread wheat that is now most widely cultivated throughout the Jovian system. His later works involved the genetic modification of human genomes to enhance human physiology and adaptability to hostile otherworld environments.

He proposed and advocated for the emergence of a new super-human species through the insertion of novel genes and rigorous germ line editing. After his tragic death in Year two thousand three hundred and ninety nine, Month October, Day eleven, the Committee for Human Aspects of Science and Technology from the Ganymede-88 research station discovered Dr Adrian Savos had successfully engineered five super-humans in an undisclosed manner.

Many researchers in the interplanetary medical and engineering community have stated that this remarkable feat represents the culmination of his life’s work into genetic engineering and marries together his dream for the eventual colonization of Jupiter’s sixth-closest moon, Europa.’

I closed my eyes, trying to imagine what it was like to no longer exist except as an accessible file in the colony’s electronic archives. I couldn’t even keep the memory of him alive, couldn’t even picture his face without glancing at a saved image on my handheld.

Other voices emerged from the left wing corridor, and I could hear the newcomers laughing, unrestrained. Their carefree chatter wafted into the reception area where I sat. I stood up quickly and walked over to the information desk, pretending I was a new medic staff enquiring for directions.

I was glad Susan was not present. She would have pulled out her notes and written something small and indiscernible down, no doubt another mark against my name, another reason to state why I should be talking to a certified psychologist instead of to my expensive imported Earthian lungfish.

‘CARLU,’ I whispered, as the two medical officers walked past me without looking away from each other, ‘what would Dr Savos say about death, if he were alive?’

CARLU regarded me with her pale complexion, jet-black hair and innocent hazel eyes. She tilted her head, as if to regard my question. She leaned in, opened her mouth and matched the volume of my voice. I could imagine that we looked very much like conspiring female colleagues, sharing gossip, or possibly sharing secrets.
‘Question approved. What would Dr Savos say about death if he were alive. Answer. Dr Savos would say that death is but another form of life.’

I stared at her, sadly. ‘You’re right, CARLU.’

‘Statement approved. Feedback on my performance today will be highly regarded. Have a good day.’

Queenie stared at me from the bottom of the sandy freshwater tank, between two clumps of seagrass and above the moss-covered pebbles. The olive-brown scales on her back gave way to a subtle pale yellow-orange colour on her underside.

It was late at night, and I was in my office, preparing the files for those of my patients whom I was seeing tomorrow. It would be my first day back at work from compassionate leave, and honestly, I couldn’t have cared less. If it weren’t for the paycheck I received every four days that paid for my place aboard the orbital colony, I’d probably be deported back to Callisto, my birth moon, which is by far the safest place to reside amongst the Galilean moons and away from Jupiter’s main radiation belt.

Of course, I had looked forward to my emigration to Ganymede. But that was before my ex-partner broke off our engagement and cancelled my entry permit visa.

I leaned back against the carbon and aluminium chair frame, and stared at Queenie from across the flat desktop, past the glare of the virtual screen. ‘Or, alternatively, I could try and smuggle my way in on a public shuttle,’ I mused. Queenie flicked her tail at me and gently bumped her bony scales against the lukewarm pane.

‘You know,’ I told Queenie, ‘two nights ago I had a dream I was underwater. ’

The proximity-based notification icon on the virtual screen suddenly flashed. ‘Oh drat,’ I turned around and, of course, there was handsome Han standing behind the liquid-crystal display panel. Damn it, I thought I had fooled Han. I had purposely changed the settings on the LCD display panel so that it replicated the image of my office with no one in it.

‘Enter Han.’

The LCD panel automatically slid open and I turned to face Susan’s personal assistant. Han walked in smoothly, his brown eyes narrowed slightly as he adjusted to the brightness. ‘What can I do for you, Han?’ I clasped my hands together as if I was preparing for a counselling session with one of my patients.

‘Good evening, Dr Averly,’ Han replied in his usual deep baritone voice. ‘Dr Susan has paged you repeatedly. I am here to escort you to her office for your appointment that was due to commence at three-six-zero-zero hours.’

I didn’t even pretend to look surprised. ‘How did you know I was here? I adjusted the setting on the LCD panel; you would have seen my office with the lights out and no one at home.’ A new thought entered my head. ‘Or, unless in your upgrade you can now suddenly see through opaque LCDs?’

A subtle crease appeared between Han’s dark brows as he processed my questions. ‘That is correct,’ he replied, inclining his head slightly, ‘my systems are upgraded. I cannot see through non-transparent structures. I was able to connect to the wireless transmitter module located in this building to detect your current position.’

‘How does that work?”

Han blinked at me. ‘This building is intelligent. It was designed with a harvesting floor imbedded with advanced piezoelectric material. It can convert movement into electrical energy, which drives the wireless transmitter module. The wireless transmitter module is able to detect the current position of every human and humanoid aboard this facility.’

I sighed, and stood up. ‘So basically it means there’s no escape, right?’

Han stepped aside to let me pass. ‘The probability of a successful escape from Ad Astra Colony is three million four hundred and seventy six to one.’

‘Huh,’ I stared down the empty corridor and watched the sensors activate, one by one. ‘That’s better than I thought.’

‘It was so bad.’

I had my head in my hands, over my face. Melissa Keow Chan, the Medic’s token female technician, patted my shoulder sympathetically. ‘There, there,’ she said, ‘I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.’

She turned around and continued programming the medic humanoids afternoon-evening shift schedules. She looked up from the medic database projected from her portable virtual screen, and frowned. ‘Well,’ she queried the ROTOR 360 Surgical System Units, ‘what are you waiting for?’

The thirteen medic humanoids turned to her and said, in unison, ‘Madam Chan, we believe you may have forgotten to activate our re-programmed schedules via the automated verification system.’

Melissa looked up quickly, and tapped her index finger on the virtual screen. ‘Okay, you’ve got my fingerprint, now go.’
The medic humanoids swiftly exited the room.

‘Now, where were we?’ Melissa pulled out a flat, foldable chair and propped it up against the wall. She turned to face me. ‘So, what did you and Dr Susan talk about?’

I sniffed. ‘She wanted to know everything.’

Melissa lifted her arched eyebrows. ‘Like, everything everything?’

‘Yes.’ I said. ‘She wanted to know about my mother’s death, my relationship with my father, she even wanted to know about my cancelled civil status application.’

I swallowed thickly. ‘The scary thing was that she knew everything already.’

‘Honey,’ Melissa said, gently, ‘everyone knows everything about everyone already. It’s impossible to maintain your individual privacy when you’ve got two thirds of the colonists already wirelessly connected to the central computer system.’

‘I know,’ I said, glumly.

‘What is it that is really bothering you?’

‘I don’t know,’ I answered. ‘I feel as if I’m waiting for someone to come and take me away from here. I feel like such a disappointment.’

‘Don’t even try to live up to your father’s reputation,’ Melissa warned.

I leaned forward in my chair, trying hard to find the right coherent words to explain how I truly felt. ‘I feel as if I’m on the outside, looking in,’ I said.
‘Oh crap.’ Melissa dropped her head, and clasped her hands together. ‘I know you’re going through a hard time,’ she told me, ‘and I don’t want to make this harder for you.’

She turned to face me, her brown eyes wide and anxious. Her short black hair framed her face like a fan. ‘My civil status application was approved two days ago,’ she said in a gush, ‘I’m emigrating to Ganymede in three weeks.’

I sat in my chair, like a stone. ‘Not you, too.’

‘I’m so sorry, Averly,’ Melissa apologized, ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Why didn’t you choose to raise your family here in the colony?’

‘Oh, Averly,’ Melissa turned her palms up towards me, as if asking for my forgiveness, ‘you know why. The colony is overstaffed and underfunded, the humanoids are taking over our contracts, and the reality is that people rarely get sick now; this medic will one day become defunct. It’s the same reasons why you wanted to emigrate to Ganymede with Connor.’

‘Don’t,’ I said in a tight voice, ‘even mention his name to me.’

Abruptly, I stood up. ‘Well,’ I said brusquely, ‘have fun. Have fun in the next chapter of your nice little life, thanks for letting me know.’

Melissa grabbed my arm. ‘Wait,’ she said, ‘please don’t be like this.’

I yanked my arm away and pretended to look down at my wrist pager. ‘My patient’s here,’ I lied, and headed towards the door, ‘I have to go back to work.’

The next week became progressively worse.

‘Following from our previous session, I would like to know if you harbour any current resentment from the unsatisfactory outcome of your cancelled civil status application last year.’

I stared at Dr Susan with suspended doubt. ‘You wouldn’t believe it if I said no, right?’ I clasped my hands together and placed them on my knees. The office was rather cold, and all the red décor in the room reminded me of lipstick. Dr Susan’s lips were a rather unnatural pale pink shade, I wondered if anyone else ever noticed.
Vanity was disapproved of in the colony.

‘I have a record of your academic transcripts from your four years of medical training and two graded examination papers from your advanced specialised training as a clinical geneticist.’

I nodded.

‘You were in the highest quarter percentile of your medical cohort, and the tenth colonial medical graduate to pass all your specialised examinations on the first attempt.’

‘What are you trying to say?’

‘You were an excellent student, Averly,’ Dr Susan said, frankly, ‘and my concern is that you are not achieving your full potential.’

‘Maybe I am.’

Dr Susan took off her red spectacles. She looked at me with her sharp blue eyes, and shook her head.

‘Your colleagues have expressed their concerns,’ she replied, ‘about your apparent lack of motivation. This colony is founded upon motivated and ambitious individuals who have strong work ethics and enormous vision. You obviously have the aptitude to help expand this colony, to be a leader in your field of research. Yet, you step back.’

I opened my mouth to protest. ‘Are we still in a counselling session, or are you now giving me your own personal opinion?’

‘My personal opinion is irrelevant. I am talking on behalf of the colony. The colony cannot afford to keep people who are not prepared to invest in and drive its vision of expansion. In three weeks, the Council will assess the viability of every contracted human and humanoid currently serving Ad Astra. If I were you, I would show a little more motivation.’

There was silence.

‘Are we finished?’ I asked, finally.

Dr Susan placed her spectacles back on and glanced down at her electronic notes. ‘One more thing,’ she said, ‘can you tell me why your civil status application was cancelled.’

I stood up. ‘You already know,’ I said, loudly, ‘it’s all there in your file.’

‘I want to hear it from you,’ she replied, firmly.

I sighed. ‘It was my genetic profile; it wasn’t good enough for Connor.’

Dr Susan stood up and made a small motion with her hand. The LCD panel at the entrance slid open.
We stood, facing each other.

‘I would have thought,’ Dr Susan said shrewdly, ‘that you would have done something about it. You could have easily modified or enhanced your own gene expression on the epigenetic level, you could have been at the forefront of ground-breaking research on adult genetic modifications and advanced gene therapy. You’re a clinical geneticist and your father was Dr Adrian Savos, for goodness sake!’

I had never seen Dr Susan so worked up before. ‘Is this your own personal opinion or that of the co- ‘

‘This is my own personal opinion,’ she snapped.

I left soon afterwards.

‘I feel like such a disappointment.’

Queenie gazed mournfully at me, her small eyes downcast. She rested her elongated body on the smooth pebbles, her strong diphycercal tail swaying slightly.

I reached over and placed my palm on top of the tank. The warm water lapped over my fingers. The feeling of my hand being partially submerged in the water sent a thrill through my body.

I bent down and pressed my forehead to the glass. Queenie lifted her flattened head and surveyed me, wearily.

‘You don’t know it Queenie,’ I whispered, ‘but you’re one of the last surviving members of the ancient air-breathing lungfishes. Your kind flourished four hundred million years ago back on the first planet, Earth.’

I paused. ‘Yet here you are, over three hundred and sixty five million kilometres away from home, and you’re doing just fine.’

There came a clear, resounding knock from the entrance panel.

I whirled around, thinking that my next patient had come early. The notification-based icon was flashing silently on the virtual screen. Damn it, why did I change the system preference setting to silent mode. I looked past the glare of the screen, and almost choked.

Standing outside my office was the Council Chancellor, and the Vice-Chancellor. Behind them were the temporary Expedition 104 Station Leader, Dr Dross Azarov, and a young man I did not recognize.

‘Enter.’

The men filed into my office, immediately crowding the space. My back was pressed against the glass of the tank; I almost wished I could have passed through it and become a spectator, like Queenie.

No one sat down. Not that there were enough chairs to begin with, but CARLU could have been summoned to bring over more furniture.

The Chancellor spoke first. ‘Hello, Dr Averly, my apologies for our unannounced arrival. Though, I have to say, I myself was given no adequate warning as to the advent of Dr Dross Azarov and his, er, pupil.’

He glared at Dr Dross Azarov with open disdain.

Dr Dross Azarov, who became the temporary Expedition 104 Station Leader after the death of my father, stepped forward. ‘Averly,’ he said, seriously, ‘we’re here to testify your father’s will. You’ll know by now that the Council and Expedition 104 have very different views on how your father’s assets should be distributed.’

‘Er,’ I stared into Dr Dross Azarov’s face, realizing that I could no longer hold off on my decision, ‘I know. These last three months I’ve thought about it, and…I’ve decided to bequeath it all…to you.’

‘WHAT.’ The Chancellor’s face exploded with colour, as he jabbed his finger in the air. ‘This is blasphemy! That research station was funded by this colony. The colony has the right to claim it back!’

‘That was before the colony decided to focus on its own expansion,’ the young man said, angrily, ‘research grants for Expedition 104 dried up a long time ago, Chancellor.’

Dr Dross Azarov stared at me as if I was crazy. ‘Averly,’ he said, quietly, ‘we both know that’s not what your father intended. He wanted you to take full ownership of the research station, he wanted you to step forward and take the lead.’

‘Dr Averly is still contracted with us,’ the Vice-Chancellor piped in, ‘her contract will be under review in two weeks.’

‘Yes,’ the Chancellor nodded, vigorously, ‘we can terminate her contract immediately in which case she’ll be deported back to her home moon, or alternatively, we can extend her working visa for another three years. In either case, you’ll have a hard time getting her aboard Expedition 104.’

‘Unless a civil status application is lodged,’ Dr Dross Azarov said, through gritted teeth.

‘Oh,’ the Chancellor seemed bemused, ‘and who would lodge that?’

‘I would.’

Everyone turned around and stared at the young man. ‘And who,’ I croaked, ‘are you?’

The young man fixed his yellow eyes on me with sincerity. ‘My name is Sarpedon,’ he said patiently, ‘I was part of Dr Adrian Savos’ last project.’

I stared at Sarpedon, stunned. ‘You’re…a super-human.’

‘We prefer the genetic class term G6.’

Just at that moment, the notification-based icon started flashing again. Babitha Yeboah, my next patient, hovered outside the entrance panel, looking uncertain. I almost cried with relief.

‘We’ll continue this discussion before the scheduled tribunal next week,’ Dr Dross Azarov said. ‘And Averly, you’ll need to finalize your decision.’ He reached forward and held my hands. ‘Please consider taking the lead for Expedition 104, your father believed you could do it- and I do, too.’

As the Chancellor swept past me, he suddenly turned around and said, ‘Dr Averly, isn’t that fish supposed to be in the Ad Astra Museum of Natural History?’ He stared at the small aquarium fish tank before giving me a hard, sour look.

My shoulders sank, defeated. ‘Yes,’ I whispered.

I sat bleary-eyed and inconsolable in the Garden of Eden.

The synthetic greenhouse garden was constructed at the centre of the orbital colony. Its transparent dome arched high into the void, framing the Jovian landscape, so to speak. The orbital colonial platform orbited Ganymede. It was so large by design that it only had to spin at a slow rate to generate artificial gravity.

The leafy fronds of modified Mizuna lettuce seemed to be growing happily in the synthetic soil substitutes. Why did it seem like I was the only one plagued by worries?

Tomorrow was the date of the tribunal.

I hadn’t decided, yet.

‘Why did you do it?’ I asked aloud. ‘Why did you want me to have everything you’ve ever worked for? I can’t do this. I’m not qualified to spearhead a colonization project on Europa! I don’t even believe in it!’

‘You should.’

My heart gave a great thump. I looked up, and there was Sarpedon standing beside the happy Mizuna lettuces. He came over and sat down on the bench beside me.

‘Ms Melissa Chan said you’d be here.’ There was a pause. ‘She also wanted to know if you’ve forgiven her.’

‘Yes, I have,’ I sighed. In response to his raised eyebrow, I answered, ‘Her civil status application was approved last week; she’s emigrating to Ganymede.’

‘Is that what you wanted?’

Surprised, I turned to stare at Sarpedon. I noticed his eyes were pale yellow, sharp and perceptive.

‘I read your personal history record on the colony’s electronic database. Also, Dr Dross debriefed me on our way here.’

I felt my face flush. ‘So you know why my application was cancelled.’

‘Having a genetic profile grade of one point six really upsets you, doesn’t it?’

I counted to ten, slowly. ‘You have no idea,’ I said, ‘what it’s like to grow up under the shadow of my father’s achievements. Everyone expected great things from me, back on Callisto, and even here, people used to hero-worship me.’

‘Then what happened?’

‘Four years ago, I applied for my civil status permit. I discovered my genetic profile grade was one point six out of five. In the Jovian system, your genetic profile grade is a big deal. People want to be partnered with those who have a more prestigious genetic profile so they can produce children of the highest unmodified genetic calibre.’

I closed my eyes.

‘I met Connor three years ago. We both worked at the medic facility in the colony. He wanted to start a family, I was desperate for a civil status partner, so we mutually agreed to become co-parents. He went first to establish permanent residency on Ganymede. After a year, when I was preparing to emigrate, I found out he had settled down with a third generation Ganymeden woman who had a profile grade of four point eight.’

A year later, and I was still so resentful.

Sarpedon stretched out his long legs. ‘Your mother was from Earth, wasn’t she?’ he continued, gently, ‘your low profile grade was brought down mostly by her genes, I gather.’

‘Don’t talk about my mother like that,’ I said, sharply. ‘I’m proud to have her genes, and I’m proud to be half-Earthian.’

‘I know,’ Sarpedon replied, promptly, ‘otherwise you would have modified your genes already.’

I sighed.

‘My father visited Earth when he was in his twenties, he met my mother, and they fell in love. Back then, and even now, genetic screening of embryos on Earth is not mandatory. After my mother migrated to Lunar City, they discovered she had congenital heart disease. My father relocated them to Callisto where the force of gravity is much weaker, to lessen the impact on her heart. But even with the specialized cardiac care, and weaker gravity, she died giving birth to me.’

There was a prolonged silence.

‘Sarpedon,’ I asked, miserably, ‘how did my father die?’

Sarpedon shifted his weight on the bench. He leaned his head forward and cupped his hands together, as if praying. I stared at the back of his neck, and at the unruly dark brown strands of hair that fell over his ears.

‘We were on Europa, in the second construction phase of a permanent base below the ice sheet. An unchartered comet crashed seventy kilometres away, and destabilized the entire structural integrity of the foundation. Your father and I became trapped under the wreckage in the ice for six hours.’

‘How did he die,’ I repeated, again.

‘Your father knew he would die,’ Sarpedon said, softly, ‘his hazardous material suit wasn’t designed to withstand the intense radiation from the surface for that long. After your father had been exposed to double the maximum dose of radiation deemed safe, he asked me to drag him down to the ocean underneath.’

‘No.’ I faced Sarpedon, stricken. ‘You didn’t.’

‘I did. There was no saving him, Averly. By that time, he was already experiencing severe radiation sickness. He wanted to feel the ocean, he wanted to rest there.’

I buried my face in my hands. ‘You could have saved him!’ I cried, ‘I know you could have. You survived. He could have survived!’

‘I was genetically designed to survive intense radiation exposure,’ Sarpedon said, quietly, ‘I can survive quite comfortably in temperatures below freezing, and stay underwater for three days without drawing air. Your father designed me to survive in Europa, so that I can help create a safe settlement for others to come.’

I blinked through my tears. ‘I’m not buying it,’ I said thickly, ‘there’s too much radiation exposure on Europa for safe colonization, and the surface is too unstable for permanent base establishments.’

‘Your father believed it could be done.’

‘My father was obsessed with the immortality of the human race, and he died because of it!’

‘Your father was the greatest man I’ve ever known,’ Sarpedon said, softly, ‘he had a vision and he wasn’t afraid to reach for it.’

Abruptly, Sarpedon stood up.

He looked down at me, and in that moment, I realised, with sudden epiphany and startlingly clarity, the human medical and engineering marvel that my father had created. This was my father’s life’s work, this was his dream.

‘You’re right,’ Sarpedon said, and his yellow eyes held mine, daring me to rise to the challenge, ‘your father was obsessed with immortality.’

I stood up. ‘But he wasn’t afraid of death.’

Sarpedon shook his head.

I looked up, and stared out at the transparent dome. A last tear trekked its way down the corner of my eye.

‘And he wasn’t afraid of life,’ I said.

 

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