Valerie Halliwell hated dermals; their slick touch always felt
fragile, like they would burst at any moment. The tabloids called
it N-Phobic like it meant something and she had to agree; perhaps
it did, being naked in hard vacuum took some getting used to.
But she would bury her fears for the moment, for Gordon and his
promise of something wonderful.
Send the suit command, Val. This is kind of time constricted.
Gordon looked like an athlete, his nano-sculpted body pushing
at his dermal in all the right places. Hell, he had everything,
but shed be nobodys pawn, least of all their respective families.
Love? Yes, in an old-fashioned sense. But could she live with
him? Marry him? She had hoped to find out on this trip, however
His suit rippled with refracted light. She cued the command through
her link and as her suit flowed about her skin from her neck torque;
she saw her crazily reflected image slide into mirror, sealing
her in against the hostile environment outside the Lander. It
As it reached her head and mouth, it bubbled out and became clear.
That part always scared her the most.
Gordy? Why all the secrecy? Since we left Blue Jay 2, youve been very coy.
Cant a man show his intended a surprise now and then?
Maybe, but without the dermals next time
What you are about to see, and Im quite sure of this, is beyond
compare and suits are definitely required. And anyway, your butt
always looks good, skin-tight.
Careful, cowboy. No need to get a girl hot, especially in these
bags. She tried to pluck at the suits material, her finger coming
away empty. Gordon linked the airlocks external door and as it
slid silently aside, Valerie watched a small rocky expanse grow
through the opening, shadows, harsh against bright, unfiltered
Okay Val, once we are down, I want you to take a look around
and see if you can find anything odd.
Is this going to be like one of those school-girl/teacher scenarios,
where I havent done my homework?
Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. Itll be your loss. Just humour me.
Okay? She knew when he was being serious; hell shed been with
him for a long time. Outside, the horizon was alarmingly close,
it looked only a stones throw away. Above, blackness and few
bright stars and beyond, the Sagittarius Arm swirled like a smoky
tentacle made of stars.
High to the right, Blue Jay 2s golden hull glittered in bright sunlight. It shone fiercely;
perhaps the star they had come to was hotter than Sol. Another
vessel hovered above, much larger than Gordys private yacht.
Its the San Jose, one of the research vessels, said Gordon. Valerie always found
it amusing that he never said, one of my research vessels, even
though his company owned nearly every one in the Confederation.
Lowering her gaze she saw that theyd landed on a small, levelled
piece of rock. To one side, a wide cut-path led away between small
You and your boys have been busy, said Valerie. She got a raised
eyebrow and a smile, before Gordon said, Okay honey, opaque that
visor and well begin.
This better be worth it. Or Ill be opaquing your visor every
time you raise it.
They both laughed. Gordon took Valeries hand.
Glancing through a small band shed kept clear at the base of
her visor, Valerie carefully placed one silvered foot in front
of the other. Each footfall felt heavy, too heavy for a small
rock and as she pondered that, quantum-arrays in the soles of
her suit fed telemetry to her link. Just a rocky lump, a standard
Gordon said, Anything yet?
She saw his feet pull ahead and out of view. Okay, the gravitys
whacked and thats about all I can say at the moment. Rocks just
a standard, nothing special
Right on the money. Anything else?
Yeah, but Im too bright to give away my game plan. Have you
ever had a date bug out on you Gordon? I have tips you know
Come on, play along Val, it really will be worth it. Who knows,
you may even be able to decide if youll take the plunge with
Why Gordy, thats so perceptive. Okay though, here goes. My suit
arrays are feeding me data on micrometeorite impacts in the paths
surface. Theyre kind of screwy; got to be something in my virtual
processing throwing out figures like these.
What do they indicate?
Well, two, three thousand years worth. Maybe my data on dust
density in this region is out?
Are you teasing me Gordon Petrucha? She started her suit diagnostic.
Now stand perfectly still for a moment. Thats right.
Valerie remained motionless and as the seconds stretched, she
wondered if Gordon possessed a vicious streak that shed never
Right Val. Im going to ask you to clear your visor. But please
be careful and concentrate on standing upright. Okay, now.
She cheated; first clearing small pinholes before each of her
eyes and then, steadily expanding the view. It gave her a second.
To her right a huge mound obscured most of the sky. The path had
curved over the rock and then turned to the left. On the left,
the ground scurried away. Light had changed. A blue-ness clung
to edges and clefts. Before her
Her mind fought to adjust and
she nearly fell to the ground. Gordon stood upright on a perfectly
flat surface, which tilted at a forty to fifty degree angle to
her position. Her instincts kept asking her, Why doesnt he slip
off? When no answer presented, waves of dizziness tried to wash
her to the ground.
Typical Gordy. At their pairing party hed been just the same;
only six or seven years old and out to impress. Even then Valerie
had known that her life could never be her own. That it was her
duty to marry a chosen spouse. But Gordy was in thrall to his
boyhood ways and wants and couldnt help himselfA trick with
a phase shield and a high-wall balancing act brought out the showman
in him. His fathers disapproval and reminder about the solemnity
of the occasion, only served to put a wry smile on Gordys handsome
Valerie had loved him ever since, although the arranged marriage
always would be a step too far
Recovering, she said, Its the gravity isnt it?
You bet, honey. Gravity planes. Its a bloody miracle.
Ill explain in a minute. You need to come out here.
Hesitating, she looked beyond Gordon. In the centre of the space
(it reminded her of a courtyard), stood a chair. It appeared to
be hewn from the floor material, as if theyd scooped out the
pit for the yard and left an up-thrust for the chair.
A smile wrinkled the edge of her mouth, Gordy? What are you playing
No, its okay. I promise. Step out here, youre going to have
your mental socks blown right off.
I hope this isnt some rich stunt our families have put together
to help you impress me into doing the deed
Nothing like that, Val. He hesitated, then continued, I guess
it might help you decide though.
Cautiously, she stepped forward.
The universe turned.
Stars and sky swept to the left and her body tilted precariously
as she nearly stumbled out into the courtyard. Her foot slammed
down and she found a new orientation.
Gordon stood patiently before her and to be sure, Val turned around
and saw the path shed left, snake away at a crazy angle. Blue
and velvet shadow etched an almost icy landscape. Incredible.
Okay, Gordy. How did you guys do it? This kind of technology
is way out there, years away.
Dont ask questions Val, just turn around and look at the sky.
Stars, how romantic. But as she turned, Val noticed that he
didnt reply. The blue-ness increased and as she final saw what
held Gordons attention, fear and awe nibbled at her mind.
An eye. No, a planet that looked like an eye. Neptune-blue and
white around the spheres edge. An eye without a pupil. It made
her feel small and vulnerable, watched.
Gordon was talking.
Its some sort of aerosol, suspended in
the atmosphere. From here theres less atmosphere to look through
directly at the planets centre, but as you move towards the edge,
it deepens and so becomes more pronounced.
That it is.
Like the universe is looking in on us, telling us were small.
Youll get used to it.
Used to it? And there I was thinking you were getting all romantic
on me, Gordy. If you want to cuddle me, nows a good time.
Gordon smiled and said, Later, thats not what I brought you
all this way to see.
No. Val, has your array diagnostic finished yet?
Do you spy on all your girl friends data activity? Some things
are sacrosanct you know.
I love your data activity, cant get enough
So, anything new?
Well, it cant be right
Even as she said the words, moulded
the thought, she knew she was wrong. Sixty seven barren worlds;
rocky, desert strewn, damp and wet, all devoid of life,
Her knees buckled and she sank to the floor.
Val, its hard to take in, I know. But it turns out that we may
not be alone in this universe after all.
Val babbled, How? When?
It was the gravity that got our attention. The Jose drifted this way doing some gravimetric sheer tests and it showed
up. They came here; then I got a call. Took me almost a week to
get out here the first time.
Place has been dug out around a thousand, two thousand years.
Gravity is being maintained by a device in the centre of the rock.
We dont know how its doing what its doing, but well damn well
find out. But thats not what I brought you out here for.
A girl can get impatient you know. Im not sure I can cope with
much more. Cant we go back to playing teacher/bad pupil? I love
Val, this is important and later, after youve seen the rest
and weve talked
Well, youll be able to decide. And it wont
have anything to do with our families or their precious dynasty
You sure know how to impress a girl.
Come on, get your tight butt off the ground and come over to
what were calling the throne.
He helped her up and his reassuring touch through the dermal,
provide just enough anchor to steady her dizzying mind. A world
Tall and slim, a sculpture of fine lines and ornate carvingsValerie
thought the throne possessed an elfin quality, a lightness that
belied its actual strength. Its beautiful, Gordy.
After a week or two, Im still amazed at how alluring the chair
is. Isnt it strange that we find the aesthetics pleasing? Different
minds and yet
Valerie traced a finger over scrolled stone as
Gordons spoken thoughts trailed away. Small swirls of stone counterbalanced
against grand sweeps of carved rock. The micrometeorite impacts
were here too, but there were also patches of worn stone on the
arm-ends and at the base of the seat, the back of which dipped
down and away into the carving.
Not like us physically then.
I dont get it. They came here, threw up a court yard and a throne
to look at a planet, which they could have viewed from the comfort
of their ship.
We think that perhaps they were more like us than we could have
hoped for. Valerie suddenly found the enormity of the discovery
overwhelming. Consumed by awe and amazement, she felt somewhat
surprised as her thoughts drifted to Gordons motives for bringing
her here. His Conclave seat would be assured by this find and
her family, probably his, would insist on the marriage. She did
love him and they were good together, but she couldnt help but
feel lost. Her world seemed to work from the outside in, people
arranged things and she fell into place, through doors opened
and barriers raised. She said, Who knows besides us? And then,
Please tell me our families dont know. Itll be just the weapon
Val, calm down. Therell be no, Engaged couple make discovery
headlines and no free Conclave seats for us. Ive kept it strictly
in house. And our families wont get their chance to further their
aims through this. Its too big. He hesitated and Valerie knew
his link had caused him to pause. Its time, he said. Now,
jump up into the seat and watch the planet.
Move it, your butt, that throne.
Cautiously, she levered herself into the seat. Uncomfortable and
cold. Of course, she couldnt really feel the cold; her dermal
maintained an adequate temperature that her mind found hard to
accept. What am I looking for?
You remember that I said we may have been surprisingly alike
Yeah Something nudged out of the planets aerosol haze in its
upper right quadrant and Valerie immersed herself in her link,
accessing telemetry streams from the San Jose.
Data flowed into her; size, mass, velocity, atmospheric depth,
radiation emissions, on and on
She switched off. In the silence
she heard her heart beating. It must be huge to look so large
from here. A silver teardrop the size of Australia gently drifted
into view. Floating in atmosphere, a huge raft made buoyant by
high pressures and thermal layers. Its front edge seemed crumpled
You down-linked? Gordon said.
Its too much, too fast. Pausing, she fought down an urge to
turn and run, flee to the Lander and forget everything. This felt
Unfair. She was too young for such responsibility. You know,
Gordy? I dont think I like it. Life used to be so much simpler;
us, the universe, real-estate.
Gordon ignored her. We couldnt figure it out. Not until we took
some measurements. The object is sinking into the planets atmosphere.
Some anomalous decayed isotopes gave us some figures to work with.
Its been adrift for over half a million years.
The front edge appears to be pressure damaged.
Gordy? Are we saying that there are two artefacts here? Two constructs
by different races?
Looks that way. I doubt we could reach the floater; pressure
is already way too high. Its a shame.
This is bound to leak. Theres no way youll be able to keep
the Conclave out.
I guess youre right. Thats why Ive come and brought you along.
Gordon ignored her and stared at the planet and its strange cargo.
Watching, she saw it slide across the face of the world, a world
they could never visit. The builders of that artefact were as
distant from them now, as they had ever been. Untouchable. It
looked so much like
and then Valerie shed a tear of her own,
as understanding bloomed.
I get it Gordy. The throne builders were just like us. Searching
for companionship, a race like themselves, like us. And yet the
best they managed was a wreck from time, a drifting hulk in the
night. I can almost feel the loneliness, as they came here to
sit and watch what might have been
and we came so close.
The universe is big and time is deep. We just hadnt looked hard
He was interrupted again by his link and while he took in the
information she composed herself.
Gordon was speaking again
so much like us. You know, I once felt consumed by this stuff;
ancient star-faring civilisations, vast empires and trading routes.
Adventure, I guess. As I grew older, it all became
by the facts, by the big empty universe. But now
Its a corker, Gordy. A real humdinger.
So, Valerie Halliwell, heres the bad news. I dont want to marry
Things have changed. I havent got time. In two hours, the Arrabella
will be here. Blue Jay will be taken aboard and Ill be going
with it. You however, have a choice to make. My dream has been
rekindled. Im going that way. He waved a well-muscled arm in
the direction of the galactic centre, before continuing, Id
like you to come with me.
Valerie felt stunned. All the while shed been worrying about
a publicly arranged marriage and now
Why do we have to go now,
Gordy? Dont you want to enjoy your moment, take the recognition?
Times kind of constricted.
Yeah. You arent getting any younger and I thought running away
would suit you better now, rather than later.
So, youre that sure Id come with you are you? She recognised
the pattern, pressures from outside, some might call it fate,
but not her. If I dont agree to come along, youll go anyway,
Probably. I had hoped youd be similarly inclined.
Then, against my better judgement Ill say yes. But youd better
keep this obsession in check buster, or Ill be ripping holes
in your dermals from here to Sirus. Shed rationalise later,
place the fulcrum-events into pattern and convince herself shed
made the choice. Life could be so cruel, an arranged marriage,
a strong independence and true love made sorry bedfellows.
Youd better get that butt moving, we only have an hour or so.
Whats the hurry?
We discovered another gravity anomaly about fifteen days travel
from here. Same signatures as this one.
Thousands of years old. Give a girl a break, eloping has to be
planned right you know.
No, five days. We swept that area two weeks ago and it was dead,
now its not. Five days ago someone, or thing switched it on.
Weve got to move. He patted her behind and Valerie giggled slightly
in response. Rekindled sense of wonder certainly put a zing in
a mans motivation.
She let him move ahead and turned to look at the planet one more
time. The object that now glided across the lower left quadrant
of the planet forced Valerie to think of a crying eye. The universe
was a lonely place.
Her dermal felt cold as she rushed to catch Gordon.
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