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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 22

   Casper Mulholland was gobbling down his third package of Turns, and his stomach still felt like a bubbling cauldron of acid. In the distance, Apogee II glinted like a bullet casing planted point up the desert sand. She was not a particularly impressive sight, especially to this audience.
   Most of them had heard the earth-shaking roar of a NASA launch, had been awed by the majesty of the shuttle’s giant columns of fire streaking into the sky. Apogee was nothing like the shuttle. She was more like a child’s toy rocket, and Casper could see disappointment in the eyes of the dozen or so visitors as they climbed the newly erected viewing stand and gazed across the bleak desert terrain, toward the launchpad. Every one wanted big. Every one was in love with size and power. The small, the elegantly simple, did not interest them.
   Another van pulled up at the site, and a fresh group of visitors began piling out, hands lifting at once to shield their eyes from the morning sun.
   He recognized Mark Lucas and Hashemi Rashad, the two businessmen who had visited Apogee over three weeks ago. He saw the same disappointment play across their faces as they squinted toward the launchpad.
   “This is as close to the pad as we can get?” said Lucas.
   “I’m afraid so,” said Casper. “It’s for your own safety. We’re dealing with explosive propellants out there.”
   “But I thought we were going to get an in-depth look at your launch operations.”
   “You’ll have full access to our ground-control facility—our equivalent of Houston’s Mission Control. As soon as she’s off the pad, we’ll drive over to the building and show you how we guide her into low earth orbit. That’s the real test of our system, Mr. Lucas. Any engineering grad can launch a rocket. But getting one safely into orbit, and then guiding her to a flyby of the station, is a far more complicated matter. That’s why we moved up this demonstration four days—to hit just the right launch window for ISS. To show you our system is already rendezvous-capable. Apogee II is just the kind of bird NASA’s looking to buy.”
   “You’re not actually going to dock, are you?” said Rashad. “I heard the station is in quarantine.”
   “No, we’re not going to dock. Apogee II’s just a prototype. She can’t physically hook up with ISS because she doesn’t have an orbital docking system. But we’ll fly her close enough to the ISS to demonstrate we can do it. You know, just the fact we’re able to change our launch schedule on short notice is a selling point. When it comes to spaceflight, flexibility is key. Unexpected things pop up. My partner’s recent accident, for example. Even though Mr. Obie’s laid up in bed with a broken pelvis, you’ll notice we didn’t cancel the launch. We’ll control the entire mission from ground. Gentlemen, that’s flexibility.”
   “I can understand why you might delay a launch,” said Lucas. “Say, for bad weather. By why did you have to move it up four days? Some of our partners weren’t able to make it here in time.”
   Casper could feel the last Turns tablet bubble away in a fresh spurt of stomach acid. “It’s simple, really.” He paused to take handkerchief and wipe the sweat from his forehead. “It has to do with that launch window I mentioned. The space station’s orbit is an inclination of fifty-one point six degrees. If you look at a of its orbital path on a map, it makes a sine wave varying between fifty-one point six degrees north and fifty-one point six degrees south. And since the earth rotates, the station passes over a place on the map with each orbit. Also, the earth isn’t entirely spherical, which adds another complication. When that orbital passes over your launch site, that’s the most efficient time to lift off. Adding up all those factors, we came up with various launch options. Then there’s the question of daytime versus nighttime launches. Allowable launch angles. The most current weather forecasts…” Their eyes had begun to glaze over. He’d already lost them.
   “Anyway,” Casper finished with a profound sense of relief, “today at seven-ten A.M. turns out to be the best choice. That makes perfect sense to you, right?”
   Lucas seemed to give himself a shake, like a startled dog coming out of a nap. “Yes. Of course.”
   “I’d still like to get closer,” said Mr. Rashad on a wistful note.
   He gazed at the rocket, a snub-nosed blip on the horizon. “From this far away, she’s not much to look at, is she? So small.” Casper smiled, even as he felt his own stomach digest itself in nervous acid. “Well, you know what they say, Mr. Rashad. It’s not the size that matters. It’s what you do with it.” This is the last option, thought Jack as a bead of perspiration dripped down his temple and soaked into the lining of his flight helmet. He tried to calm his racing pulse, but his heart was like a frantic animal trying to batter its way out of his chest. For so many years, this was the moment he had dreamed of, strapped into the flight seat, helmet closed, oxygen flowing. The countdown ticking toward zero. In those dreams, fear had not been part of the equation, excitement. Anticipation. He had not expected to be terrified.
   “You are at T minus five minutes. The time to back out is now.” It was Gordon Obie’s voice over the hardline comm. At every step of the way, Gordon had offered Jack chances to change his mind.

   During the flight from White Sands to Nevada. In the early morning hours, as Jack suited up in the Apogee Engineering hangar. And finally, on the drive across the pitch-black desert to the launchpad.
   This was Jack’s last opportunity.
   “We can stop the countdown now,” said Gordon. “Nix the whole mission.”
   “I’m still a go.”
   “Then this will be our last voice contact. There can’t be any communication from you. No downlink to the ground, no contact with ISS, or everything’s blown. The instant we hear your voice, we’ll abort the whole mission and bring you back.” still can, was what he didn’t add.
   “I roger that.” There was a silence. “You don’t have to do this. No one expects you to.”
   “Let’s get on with it. Just light the damn candle, okay?” Gordon’s answering sigh came through loud and clear. “Okay. You’re a go. We’re at T minus three minutes and counting.”
   “Thank you, Gordie. For everything.”
   “Good luck and Godspeed, Jack McCallum.” The hard link was severed. And that may be the last voice I’ll ever hear, thought Jack. From this point on, the only uplink from Apogee ground control would be command data streaming into the onboard guidance and nav computers. The vehicle was flying itself, Jack was nothing than the dumb monkey in the pilot’s seat.
   He closed his eyes and focused on the beating of his own heart.
   It had slowed. He now felt strangely calm and prepared for the inevitable, whatever that might be. He heard the whirs and clicks the onboard systems preparing for the leap. He imagined the cloudless sky, its atmosphere dense as water, like a sea of air which he must surface to reach the cold, clear vacuum of space.
   Where Emma was dying.
   The crowd in the viewing stand had fallen ominously silent. The countdown clock, displayed on the closed-circuit video feed, slid past the T minus sixty seconds mark and kept ticking. They’re going for the launch window, thought Casper, and the fresh sweat of panic bloomed on his forehead. In his heart, he had never believed it would come to this moment. He had expected delays, aborts, even a cancellation. He had lived through so many disappointments, so much bad luck with this damn bird, that dread like bile in his throat. He glanced at the faces in the stands and that many of them were mouthing the seconds as they ticked by. It started as a whisper, a rhythmic disturbance in the air.
   “Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. Twenty-seven…” The whispers became a chorus of murmurs, growing louder with each passing second.
   “Twelve. Eleven. Ten…” Casper’s hands were shaking so hard he had to clutch the railing.
   His pulse throbbed in his fingertips.
   “Seven. six. Five…” He closed his eyes. Oh, God, what had they done?
   “Three. Two. One…” The crowd sucked in a simultaneous gasp of wonder. Then the roar of the boosters spilled over him, and his eyes flew open. He stared at the sky, at the streak of fire lifting toward the heavens. Any second now it would happen. First the blinding flash, then, behind at the speed of sound, the pulse of the explosion battering their eardrums. That’s how it had happened with Apogee I. But the fiery streak kept on rising until it was only a pale dot punched in the deep blue sky.
   A hand clapped his back, hard. He gave a start and turned to see Mark Lucas beaming at him.
   “Way to go, Mulholland! What a gorgeous launch!” Casper ventured another terrified glance at the sky. Still no explosion.
   “But I guess you never had any doubts, did you?” said Lucas.
   Casper swallowed. “None at all.” The last dose.

   Emma squeezed the plunger, slowly emptying the contents of the syringe into her vein. She removed the needle, pressed gauze the puncture site, and folded her arm to hold it in place while she disposed of the needle. It felt like a sacred ceremony, every performed with reverence, with the solemn knowledge that this was the last time she would experience each sensation, from the prick of the needle, to the hard lump of gauze pressing into the flesh at the crook of her arm. And how long would this final dose of HCG keep her alive?
   She turned and looked at the mouse cage, which she had moved into the Russian service module, where there was more light. The lone female was now curled in a shivering ball, dying.
   The hormone’s effect was not permanent. The babies had died that morning. By tomorrow, thought Emma, I will be the only one alive aboard this station.
   No, not the only one. There would be the life-form inside her.
   The scores of larvae that would soon awaken from dormancy and begin to feed and grow.
   She pressed her hand to her abdomen, like a pregnant woman sensing the fetus inside her. And like a real fetus, the life-form now harbored would carry bits and pieces of her DNA. In that way, it was her biological offspring, and it possessed the genetic of every host it had ever known. Kenichi Hirai. Nicolai Rudenko.
   Diana Estes. And now, Emma.
   She would be the last. There would be no new hosts, no new victims, because there would be no rescuers. The station was now a sepulcher of contagion, as forbidden and untouchable as a leper colony had been to the ancients.
   She floated out of the RSM and swam toward the powered down section of the station. There was barely enough light to guide her through the darkened node. Except for the rhythmic sigh of her own breathing, all was silent on this end. She moved through the same molecules of air that had once swirled in the lungs of people now dead. Even now, she sensed the presence of the five who had passed on, could imagine the echoes of their voices, the last pulses of sound fracturing at last into silence.
   This was the very through which they had moved, and it was still haunted by their passing.
   And soon, she thought, it will be haunted by mine.
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Capo di tutti capi

Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 24

   Jared Profitt was awakened just after midnight. It took only two rings of the phone to propel him from deep sleep to a state of complete alertness. He reached for the receiver.
   The voice on the other end was brusque. “This is General Gregorian. I’ve just spoken to our control center in Cheyenne Mountain. That so-called demo launch from Nevada continues to be on a rendezvous path with ISS.”
   “Which launch?”
   “Apogee Engineering.” Profitt frowned, trying to remember the name.
   Every week there were numerous launches from sites around the world. A score of commercial aerospace firms were always testing booster systems or sending satellites into orbit or even blasting off cremated human remains. Space Command was already tracking nine thousand manmade objects in orbit. “Refresh my memory about this Nevada launch,” he asked.
   “Apogee is testing a new reusable launch vehicle. They sent it up at oh-seven-ten yesterday morning. They informed the FAA as required, but didn’t let us know until after the fact. This billed as an orbital trial of their new RLV. A launch into low orbit, a flyby past ISS, and then reentry. We’ve been tracking for a day and a half now, and based on its most recent on-orbit burns, it seems possible they’ll approach the station closer than they told us.”
   “How close will they get?”
   “It depends on their next burn maneuvers.”
   “Close enough for an actual rendezvous? A docking?”
   “That’s not possible with this particular vehicle. We have all the specs on their orbiter. It’s just a prototype, with no orbital system. The best it can do is a flyby and a wave.”
   “A wave?” Profitt suddenly sat up in bed. “Are you telling me this RLV is manned?”
   “No, sir. That was just a figure of speech. Apogee says the vehicle is unmanned. There are animals aboard, including a spider monkey, but no pilot. And we’ve picked up no voice communication between ground and vehicle.” A spider monkey, thought Profitt. Its presence aboard the spacecraft meant they could not rule out the possibility of a human pilot. The craft’s environmental monitors, the carbon dioxide levels, would not distinguish between animal or human life. He uneasy about the lack of information. He was even more uneasy about the timing of the launch. j L “I’m not certain there’s any cause for alarm,” said Gregorian.
   “But you did ask to be notified of any orbital approaches.”
   “Tell me more about Apogee,” Profitt cut in.
   Gregorian gave a dismissive snort. “A minor player. Twelvemen engineering firm out in Nevada. They haven’t had a lot of luck. A year and a half ago, they blew up their first prototype twenty seconds into launch, and all their early investors vanished. I’m surprised they’re still hanging in there. Their booster’s based on Russian technology. The orbiter’s a simple, bare-bones system a parachute reentry. Payload capacity’s only three hundred kilos, plus a pilot.”
   “I’ll fly out to Nevada at once. We need to get a better handle on this.”
   “Sir, we can monitor every move this vehicle makes. Right now, we have no reason to take action. They’re just a small firm, to impress some new investors. If the orbiter presents any real concern, we can have our ground-based interceptors standing by to bring that bird down.” General Gregorian was probably right. The fact that some hotshot ground jockeys decided to launch a monkey into space did not constitute a national emergency. He had to move very carefully on this. The death of Luther Ames had unleashed a national uproar of protest. This was not the time to shoot down another spacecraft-one built by a private American firm, no less.
   But so much about this Apogee launch disturbed him. The timing.
   The rendezvous maneuvers. The fact they could neither confirm nor rule out a human presence.
   What else could it be but a rescue mission?
   He said, “I’m leaving for Nevada.”

   Forty-five minutes later, Profitt was in his car and pulling out the driveway. The night was clear, the stars like bright blue velvet. There were perhaps one hundred billion galaxies in universe, and each galaxy contained a hundred billion stars. How many of those stars had planets, and how many planets had life?
   Panspermia, the theory that life exists and is distributed throughout the universe, was no longer merely speculation. The belief that there was life only on this pale blue dot, in this insignificant system, now seemed as absurd as the ancients’ naive belief that sun and the stars revolved around the earth. The only strict requirements for life were the presence of carbon-based compounds some form of water. Both were in abundance throughout the universe. Which meant that life, however primitive, could be abundant as well, and that interstellar dust might be seeded with bacteria or spores. From such primitive creatures did all other spring.
   And what happened if such life-forms, arriving as bits of cosmic dust, seeded a planet where life already existed?
   This was Jared Profitt’s nightmare.
   Once, he had thought the stars beautiful. Once he had viewed the universe with awe and wonder. Now, when he looked at the night sky, he saw infinite menace. He saw biological Armageddon.
   Their conqueror, descending from the heavens.

   It was time to die.
   Emma’s hands were shaking, and the pounding in her head was so severe she had to grit her teeth just to keep herself from passing out. The last morphine shot had barely taken the edge off the pain, and she was so dazed by the narcotic she could barely focus on the computer screen. On the keyboard beneath her fingers. She paused to still the trembling of her hands. Then she began to type.

   Personal E-mail to Jack McCallum
   If I could have one wish. it would be to hear your voice again. I don’t know where you are, or why I can’t speak to you. I only know that this thing inside me is about to claim victory. Even as I write this, I can feel it gaining ground. I can feel my strength retreating. I have fought it as long as I can. I’m tired now. I’m ready to sleep.
   While I can type these words, this is what I most want to say. I love you. I have never stopped loving you. They say that no one who stands poised at the doorway to eternity steps through it with a lie on his lips. They say that deathbed confessions are always to be believed. And this is mine.

   Her hands were shaking so badly she could not type any more.
   She signed off and pressed “send.” In the medical kit, she found the supply of Valium. There were two tablets left. She swallowed them both with a gulp of water. edges of her vision were starting to black out. Her legs felt numb, as though they were not part of her body at all, but the limbs of stranger.
   There was not much time left.
   She did not have the strength to don an EVA suit. And what did it matter now where she died? The station was already diseased.
   Her corpse would be just one more item to clean up.
   She made her last passage into the dark side of the station.
   The cupola was where she wanted to spend her final waking moments.
   Floating in darkness, gazing down at the beauty of the earth. From the windows, she could see the blue-gray arc of the Caspian Sea. Clouds swirling over Kazakhstan and snow in the Himalayas. Down there are billions of people going about their lives, thought. And here am I, a dying speck in the heavens.
   “Emma?” It was Todd Cutler, speaking gently over her comm unit. “How are you doing?”
   “Not … feeling so good,” she murmured. “Pain. vision’s starting to fade. I took the last Valium.”
   “You have to hang in there, Emma. Listen to me. Don’t give up. Not yet.”
   “I’ve already lost the battle, Todd.”
   “No, you haven’t! You have to have faith—”
   “In miracles?” She gave a soft laugh. “The real miracle is that am up here at all. That I’m seeing the earth from a place so few people have ever been…” She touched the window of the and felt the warmth of the sun through the glass. “I only wish I could speak to Jack.”
   “We’re trying to make that happen.”
   “Where is he? Why can’t you reach him?”
   “He’s working like crazy to get you home. You have to believe that.”
   She blinked away tears. I do.
   “Is there anything we can do for you?” said Todd. “Any one else you want to speak to?”
   “No.” She sighed. “Only Jack.” There was a silence.
   “I think—I think what I want most now—”
   “Yes?” said Todd.
   “I’d like to go to sleep. That’s all. Just go to sleep.” He cleared his throat. “Of course. You get some rest. I’ll be here if you need me.” He closed with a soft, “Good night, ISS. Good night, Houston, she thought. And she took off her headset and let it float away into the gloom.

   The convoy of black sedans braked to a stop in front of Apogee Engineering, tires churning up a massive cloud of dust. Jared Profitt stepped out of the lead car and gazed up at the building. looked like an airplane hangar, windowless and bleakly industrial, its rooftop studded with satellite equipment.
   He nodded to General Gregorian. “Secure the building.” Barely a minute later, Gregorian’s men gave the all-secure signal, and Profitt stepped into the building.
   Inside, he found a ragtag group of men and women herded into a tense and angry circle. He immediately recognized two of the faces, Director of Flight Crew Operations Gordon Obie and shuttle Flight Director Randy Carpenter. So NASA was here, as he’d suspected, and this featureless building in the middle of the desert had been turned into a rebel Mission Control.
   Unlike the Flight Control Room at NASA, this was clearly a shoestring operation. The floor was bare concrete. Spaghetti tangles of wires and cables were strung everywhere. A grotesquely overweight cat picked its way among a pile of discarded electronic equipment.
   Profitt walked over to the flight consoles and saw the data streaming in. “What’s the orbiter’s status?” he asked.
   One of Gregorian’s men, a flight controller from U.S. Space Command, said, “It’s already completed its Ti-burn, sir, and it’s now moving up the R-bar. It could rendezvous with ISS within forty-five minutes.”
   “Halt the approach.”
   “No!” said Gordon Obie. He broke away from the group and stepped forward. “Don’t do this. You don’t understand—”
   “There can be no evacuation of station crew,” said Profitt.
   “It’s not an evacuation!”
   “Then what’s it doing up there? It’s clearly about to rendezvous with ISS.”
   “No, it’s not. It can’t. It has no docking system, no way of connecting with the station. There’s no chance of cross-contamination.”
   “You haven’t answered my question, Mr. Obie. What is Apogee II doing up there?” Gordon hesitated. “It’s going through a near-approach sequence, that’s all. It’s a test of Apogee’s rendezvous capabilities.”
   “Sir,” said the flight controller from Space Command. “I’m seeing a major anomaly here.” Profitt’s gaze shot back to the console. “What anomaly?”
   “The cabin atmospheric pressure. It’s down to eight psi. It should be at fourteen point seven. Either the orbiter has a air leak, or they’ve purposely allowed it to depressurize.”
   “How long has it been that low?” Quickly the flight controller typed on the keyboard, and a graph appeared, a plot of the cabin pressure over time.
   “According to their computers, the cabin was maintained at fourteen point seven for the first twelve hours after launch. Then around thirty-six hours ago, it was depressurized to ten point two, where it held steady until an hour ago.” Suddenly his chin jerked up. “Sir, I what they’re doing! This appears to be a prebreathe protocol.”
   “Protocol for what?”
   “An EVA. A spacewalk.” He looked at Profitt. “I think someone’s aboard that orbiter.” Profitt turned to face Gordon Obie. “Who’s aboard? Who did you send up?” Gordon could see there was no longer any point in holding back the truth. He said, in quiet defeat, “It’s Jack McCallum. Emma Watson’s husband.
   “So it’s a rescue mission,” said Profitt. “How was it supposed to work? He goes EVA, and then what?”
   “The SAFER jet pack. The Orlan-M suit he’s wearing is equipped with one. He uses it to propel himself from Apogee II to the station. Enters via the ISS airlock.”
   “And he retrieves his wife and brings her home.”
   “No. That wasn’t the plan. Look, he understands—we all understand—why she can’t come home. The reason Jack went up was to deliver the Ranavirus.”
   “And if the virus doesn’t work?”
   “That’s the gamble.”
   “He’s exposing himself to ISS. We’d never let him come home.”
   “He wasn’t planning to come home! The orbiter was going to return without him.” Gordon paused, his gaze fixed on Profitt’s.
   “It’s a one-way trip, and Jack knows it. He accepted the conditions. It’s his wife dying up there! He won’t—he can’t—let her die alone.”
   Stunned, Profitt fell silent. He looked at the flight console, monitors streaming with data. As the seconds ticked by, he of his own wife, Amy, dying in Bethesda Hospital. Remembered his frantic sprint through the Denver airport to catch the next flight home to her, and remembered his despair as he’d arrived breathless at the gate to see the plane pulling away. He thought of the desperation that must be driving McCallum, the anguish of being so heartbreakingly close to his goal, only to see it drift out of reach. And he thought, This will bring no harm to anyone here on earth. To anyone but McCallum. He has made his choice, with full knowledge of the consequences. What right do I have to stop him?
   He said, to the Space Command flight controller, “Return control of the console to Apogee. Let them resume their mission.”
   “I said, let the orbiter continue its approach.” There was a moment of stunned silence. Then the Apogee controllers scrambled back into their seats.
   “Mr. Obie,” said Profitt, turning to look at Gordon. “You do understand that we’ll be monitoring every move McCallum makes. I am not your enemy. But I’m charged with protecting the greater good, and I’ll do what’s necessary. If I see any indication you to bring either of those people home, I will order Apogee II destroyed.”
   Gordon Obie nodded. “It’s what I’d expect you to do.”
   “Then we both know where we stand.” Profitt took a deep breath and turned to face the row of consoles. “Now. Go ahead and get that man to his wife.” Jack hung poised at the edge of eternity.

   No amount of EVA training in the WET-F pool could have prepared him for this visceral punch of fear, for the paralysis that seized him as he stared into the emptiness of space. He had swung open the hatch leading into the open payload bay, and his first view, through the bay’s gaping clamshell doors, was of the earth, a dizzying drop below. He could not see ISS, she was floating above him, out of view. To reach her, he would have to swim down past those payload doors and circle around to the opposite side of Apogee II. But first, he had to force himself to ignore every instinct that now screaming at him to retreat back into the air lock.
   “Emma,” he said, and the sound of her name was like a murmured prayer.
   He took a breath and prepared to release his grip on the hatchway, to surrender himself to the heavens.
   “Apogee II, this is Capcom Houston. Apogee—Jack—please respond.” The transmission over his comm unit caught Jack by surprise.
   He had not expected any contact from the ground. The fact Houston was openly hailing him by name meant all secrecy had been shattered.
   “Apogee, we urgently request you respond.” He remained silent, uncertain if he should confirm his presence in orbit.
   “Jack, we have been advised that the White House will not interfere with your mission. Provided you understand one essential fact, This is a one-way trip.” Capcom paused and then said quietly, “If you board ISS, you can’t leave it again. You can’t come home.
   “This is Apogee II,” Jack finally answered. “Message received and understood.”
   “And you still plan to proceed? Think about it.”
   “What the hell do you think I came up here for? The fucking view?”
   “Uh, we roger that. But before you proceed, you should be aware of this. We lost contact with ISS about six hours ago.”
   “What do you mean, ‘lost contact’?”
   “Emma is no longer responding.”
   Six hours, he thought. What has happened in the last six hours? The launch had been two days ago. It had taken that long for Apogee II to catch up with ISS and complete the rendezvous maneuvers. In all that time, he’d been cut off from all communication, from any knowledge of what was happening aboard the station.
   “You may already be too late. You might want to reconsider—”
   “What does biotelemetry show?” he cut in. “What’s her rhythm?”
   “She’s not hooked up. She chose to disconnect her leads.”
   “Then you don’t know. You can’t tell me what’s going on.”
   “Just before she went silent, she sent you a final E-mail.” Capcom added gently, “Jack, she was saying good-bye.” No. At once he released his grip on the hatchway and pushed out of the air lock, diving headfirst into the open payload bay.
   He grabbed a handhold and scrambled up over the clamshell door, to the other side of Apogee II. Suddenly the space station was there, looming above him, so big and sprawling he was momentarily stunned by the wonder of it. Then, in panic, he thought, Where is the air lock? I don’t see the air lock! There were so many modules, so many solar arrays, fanned out across an area as large football fields. He could not orient himself. He was lost, overwhelmed by the dizzying spread.
   Then he spotted the dark-green Soyuz capsule jutting out. He was underneath the Russian end of the station. Instantly snapped into place.
   His gaze shot to the American end, and he identified the U.S. hab. At the upper end of the hab was Node 1, which led to the air lock.
   He knew where he was going.
   Here came the leap of faith. With only his SAFER jet pack to propel him, he would be crossing empty space without tethers, without anything to anchor him. He activated the jet pack, pushed off from Apogee, and launched himself toward ISS. It was his first EVA, and he was clumsy and inexperienced, unable to judge how quickly he was closing in on his goal. He slammed into the hab hull with such force he almost caromed off, and barely managed to grab onto a handhold.
   Hurry. She is dying.
   Sick with dread, he clambered up the length of the hab, his breaths coming hard and fast.
   “Houston,” he panted. “I need Surgeon—have him standing by—”
   “Roger that.”
   “Almost—I’m almost to Node One—”
   “Jack, this is Surgeon.” It was Todd Cutler’s voice, speaking with quiet urgency. “You’ve been out of the loop for two days. You need to know a few things. Emma’s last dose of HCG was fifty-five hours ag,. since then, her labs have deteriorated. Amylase and sky-high. Last transmission, she was complaining of headaches and visual loss. That was six hours ago. We don’t know her current condition.”
   “I’m at the air-lock hatch!”
   “Station control software has been switched to EVA mode. You’re a go for repress.” Jack swung open the hatch and pulled himself into the crew lock. As he twisted around to close the external hatch, he caught glimpse of Apogee II. She was already moving away. His only lifeboat was going home without him. He’d passed the point of no return.
   He closed and sealed the hatch. “Pressure-equalization valve open,” he said. “Beginning repress.”
   “I’m trying to prepare you for the worst,” said Todd. “In case she—”
   “Tell me something useful!”
   “Okay. Okay, here’s the latest from USAMRIID. The Ranavirus does seem to work on their lab animals. But it’s only been in early cases. If it’s given during the first thirty-six hours infection.”
   “What if it’s given after that?” Cutler didn’t respond. His silence confirmed the worst.
   The crew lock pressure was up to fourteen psi. Jack opened the middle hatch and dove into the equipment lock. Frantically he detached his gloves, then doffed his Orlan-M suit and wriggled out of the cooling garment. From the Orlan’s zippered pockets he pulled out various packets containing emergency medications and prefilled syringes of Ranavirus. By now he was shaking with fear, terrified of what he would find inside the station. He swung open the inner hatch.
   And confronted his worst nightmare.
   She was floating in the gloom of Node 1, like a swimmer adrift in a dark sea. Only this swimmer was drowning. Her limbs jerked in rhythmic spasms. Convulsions wracked her spine, and her head snapped forward and back, her hair lashing like a whip. Death throes.
   No, he thought. I won’t let you die. Goddamnit, Emma, you are not going to leave me.
   He grasped her around the waist and began to pull her toward the Russian end of the station. Toward the modules that still had power and light.
   Her body twitched like a live wire jolted by electric shocks, thrashing in his arms. She was so small, so fragile, the strength now coursing through her dying body threatened to overpower his grip on her.
   Weightlessness was new to him, and he bounced drunkenly off walls and hatchways as he struggled to maneuver them both into the Russian service module.
   “Jack, talk to me,” said Todd. “What’s going on?”
   “I’ve moved her into the RSM—getting her onto the restraint board—”
   “Have you given the virus?”
   “Tying her down first. She’s seizing—” He fastened the Velcro straps over her chest and hips, anchoring her torso to the medical restraint board. Her head slammed backward, her eyes rolling up into the orbits.
   The sclerae were a brilliant and horrifying red. Give her the virus. Do it now.
   A tourniquet was looped around the restraint-board frame. He whipped it free and tied it around her thrashing arm. It took all strength to forcibly extend her elbow, to expose the antecubital vein. With his teeth he uncapped the syringe of Ranavirus.
   Stabbing the needle into her arm, he squeezed the plunger.
   “It’s in!” he said. “The whole syringe!”
   “What’s she doing?”
   “She’s still seizing!”
   “There’s IV Dilantin in the med kit.”
   “I see it. I’m starting an IV!” The tourniquet floated by, a startling reminder that in weightlessness, what was not tied down would quickly drift out of reach. He snatched it from midair and reached, once again, for Emma’s arm.
   A moment later he reported, “Dilantin’s going in! IV’s running wide open.”
   “Any change?” Jack stared at his wife, silently demanding, Come on, Emma.
   Don’t die on me.
   Slowly her spine relaxed. Her neck went limp and her head stopped battering the board. Her eyes rolled forward, and he could see her irises now, two dark pools ringed by blood-red sclerae. At his first glimpse of her pupils, a moan rose in his throat.
   Her left pupil was fully dilated. Black and lifeless.
   He was too late. She was dying.
   He cupped her face in his hands, as though by sheer will he could force her to live. But even as he pleaded with her not to him, he knew that she would not be saved by mere touch or prayer.
   Death was an organic process. Biochemical functions, the movement of long across cell membranes, slowly ceased. The brain waves flattened.
   The rhythmic contractions of myocardial cells faded to quiver. Just wishing it so would not make her live.
   But she was not dead. Not yet.
   “Todd,” he said.
   “I’m here.”
   “What is the terminal event? What happens to the lab animals?”
   “I don’t follow—”
   “You said Ranavirus works, if given early enough in the infection. Which means it must be killing Chimera. So why doesn’t it work when given later?”
   “Too much tissue damage has occurred. There’s internal bleeding—”
   “Bleeding where? What do the autopsies show?”
   “Seventy-five percent of the time, in dogs, the fatal hemorrhage is intracranial. Chimera’s enzymes damage blood vessels on the surface of the cerebral cortex. The vessels rupture, and the bleeding causes a catastrophic rise in intracranial pressure. It’s massive head injury, Jack. The brain herniates.”
   “What if you stop the bleeding, stop the brain damage? If you get the victims past the acute stage, they might live long enough Ranavirus to work.”
   “Possibly.” Jack stared down at Emma’s dilated left pupil. A terrible memory flashed into his head, Debbie Haning, unconscious on a hospital gurney. He had failed Debbie. He had waited too long to take action, and because of his indecision, he had lost her.
   I will not lose you.
   He said, “Todd, she’s blown her left pupil. She needs burr holes.”
   “What? You’re working blind. Without X-ray—”
   “It’s the only chance she has! I need a drill. Tell me where the work tools are kept!”
   “Stand by.” Seconds later, Todd came back on comm. “We’re not sure where the Russians stow their kit. But NASA’s are in Node One, in the storage rack. Check the labels on the Nomex bags. The contents are specified.” Jack shot out of the service module, once again colliding with walls and hatchways as he clumsily barreled his way into Node I. hands were shaking as he opened the storage rack. He pulled out three Nomex bags before he found the one labeled
   “Power drill/bits/adapters.” He grabbed a second bag containing screwdrivers and a hammer, and shot back out of the node. He’d been away from her only a moment, yet the fear that he would return to find her dead sent him flying through Zarya and back into the service module.
   She was still breathing. Still alive.
   He anchored the Nomex bags to the table and removed the power tool. It was meant for space station repair and construction, not neurosurgery.
   Now that he actually held the drill in his hand and considered what he was about to do, panic seized him. He was operating in unsterile conditions, with a tool meant for steel bolts, not flesh and bone. He looked at Emma, lying flaccid on the table, and thought of what lay beneath that cranial vault, thought of her gray matter, where a lifetime of memories and dreams and emotions were stored. Everything that made her uniquely Emma. All of it dying now.
   He reached into the medical kit and took scissors and a shaving razor.
   Grasping a handful of her hair, he began to snip it away, shaved the stubble, clearing an incision site over her left bone. Your beautiful hair. I have always loved your hair. I have always loved you.
   The rest of her hair he bound up and tucked out of the way, so it would not contaminate the site. With a strip of adhesive tape, restrained her head to the board. Moving more quickly now, he prepared his tools. The suction catheter. The scalpel. The gauze.
   He swished the drill bits in disinfectant, then wiped them off alcohol.
   He pulled on sterile gloves and picked up the scalpel.
   His skin was clammy inside the latex gloves as he made his incision.
   Blood oozed from the scalp, welling into a gently globule. He dabbed it with gauze and sliced deeper, until his scraped bone.
   To breach the skull is to expose the brain to a hostile universe of microbial invaders. Yet the human body is resilient, it can survive the most brutal of insults. He kept reminding himself of he tapped a nick into the temporal bone, as he positioned the tip the drill bit. The ancient Egyptians and the Incas had performed skull trephinations, opening holes in the cranium with only the crudest of tools and no thought of sterile technique. It could be done.
   His hands were steady, his concentration fierce as he drilled into the bone. A few millimeters too deep, and he could hit brain matter.
   A thousand precious memories would be destroyed in a second. Or a nick of the middle meningeal artery, and he could unleash an unstoppable fountain of blood. He kept pausing to take a breath, probe the depth of the hole. Go slow. Go slow.
   Suddenly he felt the last filigree of bone give way, and the drill broke through. Heart slamming in his throat, he gently withdrew the bit.
   A bubble of blood immediately began to form, slowly ballooning out from the breach. It was dark red—venous. He gave a sigh of relief. Not arterial. Even now the pressure on Emma’s brain slowly easing, the intracranial bleed escaping through this new opening. He suctioned the bubble, then used gauze to absorb the continuing ooze as he drilled the next hole, and the next, a one-inch-diameter ring of perforations in the skull. By the time the last hole was drilled, and the circle was complete, his hands were cramping, his face beaded with sweat. He could not pause to rest, every second counted.
   He reached for a screwdriver and ball peen hammer.
   Let this work. Let this save her.
   Using the screwdriver as a chisel, he gently dug the tip into the skull.
   Then, teeth gritted, he pried off the circular cap of bone.
   Blood billowed out. The larger opening at last allowed it to escape, and it gradually spilled out of the cranium.
   So did something else. Eggs. A clump of them gushed out and floated, quivering, into the air. He caught them with the catheter, trapping them in the vacuum jar. Throughout history, mankind’s most dangerous enemies have been the smallest lifeforms. viruses. Bacteria. Parasites. And now you, thought Jack, staring into the jar. But we can defeat you.
   The blood was barely oozing out the cranial hole. With that initial gush, the pressure on her brain had been relieved.
   He looked at Emma’s left eye. The pupil was still dilated. But when he shone a light into it, he thought—or was he imagining it?—that the edges quivered just the slightest bit, like black rippling toward the center.
   You will live, he thought.
   He dressed the wound with gauze and started a new IV infusion containing steroids and phenobarbital to temporarily deepen her coma and protect her brain from further damage. He attached EKG leads to her chest. Only after all these tasks had been done did he finally tie a tourniquet around his own arm and inject himself with a dose of Ranavirus. It would either kill them both them both. He would know soon enough.
   On the EKG monitor, Emma’s heart traced a steady sinus rhythm. He took her hand in his, and waited for a sign
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 27

   Gordon Obie walked into Special Vehicle Operations and gazed around the room at the men and women working at their consoles.
   On the front screen, the space station traced its sinuous path across the global map. At this moment, in the deserts of Algeria, villagers who chanced to glance up at the night sky would marvel at the strange star, brilliant as Venus, soaring across the heavens.
   A star unique in all the firmament because it was created not by an all-powerful god, nor by any force of nature, but by the fragile hand of man.
   And in this room, halfway around the world from that Algerian desert, were the guardians of that star.
   Flight Director Woody Ellis turned and greeted Gordon with a sad nod.
   “No word. It’s been silent up there.”
   “How long since the last transmission?”
   “Jack signed off five hours ago to get some sleep. It’s been almost three days since he got much rest. We’re trying not to disturb him.”
   Three days, and still no change in Emma’s status. Gordon sighed and headed along the back row to the flight surgeon’s console. Todd Cutler, unshaven and haggard, was watching Emma’s biotelemetry readings on his monitor. And when had Todd last slept? Gordon wondered. Every one looked exhausted, but no one was ready to admit defeat.
   “She’s still hanging in there,” Todd said softly. “We’ve withdrawn the phenobarb.”
   “But she hasn’t come out of the coma?”
   “No.” Sighing, Todd slumped back and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know what else to do. I’ve never dealt with before. Neurosurgery in space.” It was a phrase many of them had uttered over the last few weeks. I’ve never dealt with this before. This is new. This is something we’ve never seen. Yet wasn’t that the essence of exploration? That no crisis could be predicted, that every new problem required its own solution. That every triumph was built on sacrifice.
   And there had been triumphs, even in the midst of all this tragedy.
   Apogee II had landed safely in the Arizona desert, and Casper Mulholland was now negotiating his company’s first contract with the Air Force.
   Jack was still healthy, even three days being aboard ISS—an indication that Ranavirus was both a cure and a preventive against Chimera. And the very fact that Emma was alive counted as a triumph as well.
   Though perhaps only a temporary one.
   Gordon felt a profound sense of sadness as he watched her EKG blip across the screen. How long can the heart go on beating when the brain is gone? he wondered. How long can a body survive a coma? To watch this slow fading away of a once-vibrant woman was more painful than to witness her sudden and catastrophic death.
   Suddenly he sat up straight, his gaze frozen on the monitor.
   “Todd,” he said. “What’s happening to her?”
   “There’s something wrong with her heart.” Todd raised his head and stared at the tracing shuddering across the monitor. “No,” he said, and reached for the comm switch. “That’s not her heart.” The high whine of the monitor alarm sliced through Jack’s twilight sleep, and he awakened with a start. Years of medical training, of countless nights spent in on-call rooms, had taught him to surface fully alert from the deepest sleep, and the instant he opened his eyes he knew where he was. He knew something was wrong.
   He turned toward the sound of the alarm and was briefly disoriented by his upside-down view. Emma appeared to be suspended facedown from the ceiling. One of her three EKG leads floated loose, like a strand of sea grass drifting underwater. He turned hundred eighty degrees, and everything righted itself.
   He reattached her EKG lead. His own heart was racing as he watched the monitor, afraid of what he would see. To his relief, normal rhythm blipped across the screen.
   And then—something else. A shuddering of the line. Movement.
   He looked down at Emma. And saw that her eyes were open.
   “ISS is not responding,” said Capcom.
   “Keep trying. We need him on comm now!” snapped Todd.
   Gordon stared at the biotelemetry readings, not understanding any of it, and fearing the worst. The EKG skittered up and down, then suddenly went flat. No, he thought. We’ve lost her!
   “It’s just a disconnect,” said Todd. “The lead’s fallen off. She may be seizing.”
   “Still no response from ISS,” said Capcom.
   “What the hell is going on up there?”
   “Look!” said Gordon.
   Both men froze as a blip appeared on the screen. It was followed by another and another.
   “Surgeon, I have ISS,” Capcom announced. “Requesting immediate consultation.” Todd shot forward in his chair. “Ground Control, close the loop. Go ahead, Jack.”
   It was a private conversation, no one but Todd could hear what Jack was saying. In the sudden hush, everyone in the room turned to look at the surgeon’s console. Even Gordon, seated right him, could not read Todd’s expression. Todd was hunched forward, both hands cupping his headset, as though to shut out any distractions.
   Then he said, “Hold on, Jack. There are a lot of folks down here waiting to hear this. Let’s tell them the news.” Todd turned to Flight Director Ellis and gave him a triumphant thumbs-up.
   “Watson’s awake! She’s talking!” What happened next would remain forever etched in Gordon Obie’s memory. He heard voices swell, cresting into noisy cheers.
   He felt Todd slap him on the back, hard. Liz Gianni gave a rebel whoop.
   And Woody Ellis fell into his chair with a look of and joy.
   But what Gordon would remember most of all was his own reaction. He looked around the room and suddenly found his throat was aching and his eyes were blurred. In all his years at NASA, no one had ever seen Gordon Obie cry. They were damn well not going to see it now.
   They were still cheering as he rose from his chair and walked, unnoticed, out of the room.
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
Five Months Later

Panama City,

   The squeal of hinges and the clank of metal echoed in the vast Navy hangar as the door to the hyperbaric chamber at last swung open.
   Jared Profitt watched as the two Navy physicians stepped out first, both of them taking in deep breaths as they emerged. They had spent over a month confined to that claustrophic space, and they seemed a little dazed by their sudden transition into freedom. turned to assist the last two occupants out of the chamber.
   Emma Watson and Jack McCallum stepped out. They both focused on Jared Profitt, crossing toward them.
   “Welcome back to the world, Dr. Watson,” he said, and held out his hand in greeting.
   She hesitated, then shook it. She looked far thinner than her photographs. More fragile. Four months quarantined in space, followed by five weeks in the hyperbaric chamber, had taken its toll.
   She had lost muscle mass, and her eyes seemed huge and darkly luminous in that pale face. The hair growing back on her shaved scalp was silver, a startling contrast against the rest of her mane.
   Profitt looked at the two Navy doctors. “Could you leave us alone, please?” He waited until their footsteps faded away.
   Then he asked Emma, “Are you feeling well?”
   “Well enough,” she said. “They tell me I’m free of disease.”
   “None that can be detected,” he corrected her. This was an important distinction. Though they had demonstrated that Ranavirus did indeed eradicate Chimera in lab animals, they could not be certain of Emma’s long-term prognosis. The best they could say was that there was no evidence of Chimera in her body. From the moment she’d landed aboard Endeavour, she’d been subjected to repeated blood tests, X rays, and biopsies. Though all were negative, USAMRIID had insisted she remain in the hyperbaric while the tests continued. Two weeks ago, the chamber pressure had been dropped to a normal one atmosphere. She had remained healthy.
   Even now, she was not entirely free. For the rest of her life she would be a subject of study.
   He looked at Jack and saw hostility in the man’s eyes. Jack had said nothing, but his arm circled Emma’s waist in a protective gesture that said clearly, You are not taking her from me.
   “Dr. McCallum, I hope you understand that every decision I made was for a good reason.”
   “I understand your reasons. It doesn’t mean I agree with your decisions.”
   “Then at least we share that much—an understanding.” He did not offer his hand, he sensed that McCallum would refuse to shake it. So he said simply, “There are a number of people waiting to see you. I won’t keep you from your friends any longer.” He turned to leave.
   “Wait,” said Jack. “What happens now?”
   “You’re free to leave. As long as you both return for periodic testing.”
   “No, I mean what happens to the people responsible? The ones who sent up Chimera?”
   “They are no longer making decisions.”
   “And that’s it?” Jack’s voice rose in anger. “No punishment, no consequences?”
   “It will be handled in the usual manner. The way it’s done at any government agency, including NASA. A discreet shuffle to the sidelines.
   And then a quiet retirement. There can’t be any investigation, any disclosure whatsoever. Chimera is too dangerous to reveal to the rest of the world.”
   “But people have died.”
   “Marburg virus will be blamed. Accidentally introduced to ISS by an infected monkey. Luther Ames’ death will be attributed to a mechanical malfunction of the CRV.”
   “Someone should be held accountable.”
   “For what, a bad decision?” Profitt shook his head. He turned and looked at the closed hangar door, where a slit of sunlight through. “There’s no crime to punish here. These are people who simply made mistakes. People who didn’t understand the nature of what they were dealing with. I know it’s frustrating for you. I understand your need to blame someone. But there are no real villains in this piece, Dr. McCallum. There are only heroes.” He looked directly at Jack.
   The two men regarded each other for a moment. Profitt saw no warmth, no trust in Jack’s gaze. But he did see respect.
   “Your friends are waiting for you,” said Profitt.
   Jack nodded. He and Emma crossed to the hangar door. As they stepped out, a burst of sunlight shone in, and Jared Profitt, squinting against the brightness, saw Jack and Emma only in silhouette, his arm around her shoulder, her profile turned to his. To the of cheering voices, they walked out and vanished into the blinding light of midday.
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Capo di tutti capi

Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
The Sea

   A shooting star arced across the heavens and shattered into bright bits of glitter. Emma took in a sharp breath in awe, inhaling the smell of the wind over Galveston Bay. Everything about being home again seemed new and strange to her. This unbroken panorama of sky. The rocking of the sailboat’s deck beneath her back. The of water slapping Sanneke’s hull. She had been so long deprived of simple, earthbound experiences that just the sensation of the on her face was something to be treasured. During the last months of quarantine on the station, she had stared down at the earth, homesick for the smell of grass, the taste of salt air, the the soil under her bare feet. She had thought, When I am home again, if I am ever home again, I will never leave it.
   Now here she was, savoring the sights and smells of earth. Yet she could not help turning her wistful gaze toward the stars.
   “Do you ever wish you could go back?” Jack asked the question so softly his words were almost lost in the wind. He lay beside on Sanneke’s deck, his hand clasping hers, his gaze also fixed on the night sky. “Do you ever think, ‘If they gave me one more to go up there, I’d take it’?”
   “Every day,” she murmured. “Isn’t it strange? When we were up there, all we talked about was coming home. And now we’re home, and we can’t stop thinking about going back up.” She brushed her fingers across her scalp, where the shorter hair was growing back as a startling streak of silver.

   She could still feel the knotty ridge of scar tissue where Jack’s scalpel had cut through her galea. It was a permanent reminder of what she had survived on the station. An enduring record of horror, carved in her flesh.
   Yet, when she looked at the sky, she felt the old yearning for the heavens.
   “I think I’ll always be hoping for another chance,” she said. “The way sailors always want to go back to sea. No matter how terrible their last voyage. Or how fervently they kiss the ground when they reach land. In time, they miss the sea, and they always return.” But she would never return to space. She was like a sailor trapped on land, with the sea all around her, tantalizing yet forbidden.
   It was forever out of her reach because of Chimera.
   Although the doctors at JSC and USAMRIID could no longer detect any evidence of infection in her body, they could not be certain Chimera had been eradicated. It could be merely dormant, benign tenant of her body.
   No one at NASA dared predict what would happen should she return to space.
   So she would never return. She was an astronaut ghost now, still a member of the corps, but without hope of any flight assignment.
   It was up to others to pursue the dream. Already, a new team was aboard the station, completing the repairs and biological cleanup that she and Jack had begun. Next month, the last replacement for the damaged main truss and solar arrays would be launched aboard Columbia. ISS would not die. Too many lives had been lost to make an orbiting station a reality, to abandon it now would be render that sacrifice meaningless.
   Another shooting star streaked overhead, tumbled like a dying cinder, and winked out. They both waited, hoping, for another.
   Other people who saw falling stars might think them omens, or angels winging from heaven, or consider them occasions to make a wish. Emma saw them for what they were, bits of cosmic debris, wayward travelers from the cold, dark reaches of space. That they were nothing more than rocks and ice did not make them any less wondrous.
   As she tilted her head back and scanned the heavens, Sanneke rose upon a swell, and she had the disorienting impression that stars were rushing toward her, that she was hurtling through space and time. She closed her eyes. And without warning, her heart began to pound with inexplicable dread. She felt the icy kiss of sweat on her face.
   Jack touched her trembling hand. “What’s wrong? Are you cold?”
   “No. No, not cold…” She swallowed hard. “I suddenly thought of something terrible.”
   “If USAMRIID’s right—if Chimera came to earth on an asteroid—then that’s proof other life is out there.”
   “Yes. It would prove it.”
   “What if it’s intelligent life?”
   “Chimera’s too small, too primitive. It’s not intelligent.”
   “But whoever sent it here may be,” she whispered.
   Jack went very still beside her. “A colonizer,” he said softly.
   “Like seeds cast on the wind. Wherever Chimera landed, on any planet, in any solar system, it would infect the native species. Incorporate their DNA into its own genome. It wouldn’t need millions of years of evolution to adapt to its new home. It could acquire all the genetic tools for survival from the species already living there.” And once established, once it became the dominant species on its new planet, what then? What was its next step? She didn’t know. The answer, she thought, must lie in the parts of Chimera’s genome they could not yet identify. The sequences of DNA whose function remained a mystery.
   A fresh meteor streaked the sky, a reminder that the heavens are ever-changing and turbulent. That the earth is only one lonely traveler through the vastness of space.
   “We’ll have to be ready,” she said. “Before the next Chimera arrives.” Jack sat up and looked at his watch. “It’s getting cold,” he said.
   “Let’s go home. Gordon will go ballistic if we miss that press conference tomorrow.”
   “I’ve never seen him lose his temper.”
   “You don’t know him the way I do.” Jack began to haul on the halyard, and the main sail rose, flapping in the wind. “He’s in love with you, you know.”
   “Gordie?” She laughed. “I can’t imagine.”
   “And you know what I can’t imagine?” he said softly, pulling her close beside him in the cockpit. “That any man wouldn’t be.” The wind suddenly gusted, filling the sail, and Sanneke-surged ahead, slicing through the waters of Galveston Bay.
   “Ready about,” said Jack. And he steered them through the wind, turning the bow west. Guided not by the stars, but by the lights shore.
   The lights of home.
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