Bena Fidi Outpost, humanity’s most distant colony, has vanished from the surface of Fidi. But the problems begin when it comes back.
Stasia is now on the run from Sentinel—the point at the end of the Sovereign Alliance’s spearhead. Is the security agency pursuing her to find out what she remembers about the outpost’s three-minute disappearance? Or are they trying to silence the survivors?
Zara is enduring a series of Sentinel-sponsored interrogations, and faced with questions about the vanishing that she has no answers for. But why is everyone so cagey about the other survivors? And why is Sentinel convinced that she had something to do with the disappearance?
Ellie, a freelance news photographer, is on Earth. And that’s the problem: only moments ago she was on Bena Post. How did she just cross an unknown number of light-years instantaneously? Why does no one at home remember her leaving? And what are the marks developing under her skin?
Three survivors of one unexplained event will face their own personal struggles as they work to piece together what happened to Bena Post before their own bodies and minds betray them.
Stasia felt Adi’s lips on her temple before she opened her eyes. As he brushed her hair back with gentle fingers she was transported to that cramped honeymoon hotel room in Nantucket, and all the rooms they had shared since. The tender gesture had become his signature—one that had felt familiar even that first time. He would brush her hair back, and then he would ask—
“Are you awake, maitea?”
The first time he had asked it that way, her bug had translated his endearment for her, whispering, “my dear.” She had asked him its meaning anyway, just to hear him say it. Basque, he had explained. What little he remembered from a rocky childhood.
Now she opened her eyes to the wan light of their cabin, and Adi propped up on one elbow, blinking back at her. How long had he been awake? What had he seen in her face?
The stiff foam of the bunk was pressing into her shoulder, and she turned onto her back and breathed deep. Shard of Heaven’s bunks weren’t as comfortable as other beds they had shared, but at least they had been given some privacy—rare for a freighter. But no less rare, Stasia thought, than the adaptive centrifuge the Shard of Heaven had been outfitted with. In addition to reliable gravity for the duration the craft’s flight, that meant the captain’s commercial ventures must have been lucrative—and he wasn’t afraid to show it.
“I don’t know if I slept,” she whispered, just over the drone of a dozen systems.
“You were twitching,” he said, matching her volume. “But whatever it is—whatever happened to you down there—we’re going to put it all behind us.”
Stasia bit her lip. He’d been quick with the reassurances, but something about his expression stopped her.
Adi turned on his side to face her, and rested his head on his hand. “Did you want to talk about it?”
Maybe he felt she was keeping him in the dark. And maybe she was, by omission. But there again, rising to meet his gentle prompt, was that feeling of resistance, indistinct, but no less insistent. She shut her eyes again, and faced the resistance head on. What was it? Something new? Something growing still?
She opened her eyes. Adi was still there, but the sudden sense of loss felt like the oxygen had been sucked from the room. What was going on? Nothing had been taken away. Yet she couldn’t just dismiss that feeling, that if she looked too hard she might see something that couldn’t be unseen. Poking around in the dark was scarier when you were sure something was there.
“Hey, it’s me,” Adi said.
“I’d really like to understand. To try, at least.”
That’s what that look had been. Not adoration—not just that—but concern. It almost had a sound of its own, layered over the ship’s background noise. How to push it away without pushing him away?
“What if nothing happened?”
“Everything happens.” She smiled to make it sound like she was joking.
He smiled back, then goosed her. “Word games?”
She pulled away from him, laughing.
He hugged her into him and gave her temple a peck. “Was it really that bad?”
She took a breath, exhaled. “I’m sorry. I’m just not sure I can tell you anything that makes sense. I thought it might come together in my head, but…it scares me that it hasn’t.”
“If it’s something specific though, that means you can describe it, right?”
She thought back to the video they had watched yesterday with some of the crew; a capture of a news feed, still raw, without any edits or commentary.
It had showed Bena Post vanishing from the face of Fidi.
“It was Saturday just past noon,” she said. “So I could have been back in the Hab, maybe? It’s hard to lock into anything specific. After awhile it all blends together anyway. I try to replay it from the last moment, but whatever the video showed, that doesn’t feel like anything I—”
“But we saw it with our own eyes,” he reiterated, sounding almost defensive. “No instrument failure, no tricks of the light.”
“No, I know, Adi. But I’m trying to surface my experience.” She pulled away so she could face him. “It’s impressions, like a dream you’re trying to remember from weeks ago. I see a brilliant flood. Like someone had turned on all the lights at once.”
“Inside Bena Post, you mean? Like flood lights?”
“No, more like…” The word that came to mind was suspension. But had it been physical at all? Her memory didn’t work that way. No, it was more conceptual, like being aloft. “It’s hard to articulate. I have an impression of being cast away, only…with no sense of transport.”
“More,” he said.
She wasn’t sure. “Realization?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. Poor choice of words.” She sighed again. “I think a big part of it was psychological, like on an emotional level. I don’t know if we can get to a conclusion out here, Adi. We’re essentially on the run, aren’t we? Which means we’re also getting farther and farther from the answer.”
“The only answer I care about is right here,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. His skin must have been the warmest thing in the cabin.
Her eyes felt suddenly heavy in her head; not fatigue, exactly, but a sense of dullness setting in. She reached for his hand, and laced her fingers in his, but there was more than space between them. What was it? She peered into the shadowed contours of his face as if she might find a clue there. Instead she imagined it as a stranger’s face. They had been apart for so long that the sanctuary of their familiarity now made her feel like an intruder.
Stasia shifted, and stared back at the metal ceiling.
“I didn’t mean to push.”
“No, Adi,” she said, sliding her leg over, beneath the covers, to touch his. “You’re asking me the same questions I’m asking myself.” She let her eyes close, but didn’t try to force anything. Now she watched the play of light behind her eyelids. Maybe Bena Post had left an impression. Or maybe it was Fidi itself. “It’s like I’m not fully awake yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like…I don’t know. Like this is a dream, and I’m going to wake up back there. Or maybe like I left a part of myself behind.”
“No way, you’re here with me, I promise.” He moved closer to her. “And from now on we stick together. No more side gigs or forks in the path.”
Her eyes found him in the dark. He looked serious.
“We can’t run forever,” she said.
“No, I know. But this will all die down, and when it does we can find something solid. Everyone needs engineers, and if I can’t find anything to pilot, there’s always rock farming.”
It was a funny thought. “Don’t let anyone hear you’re going straight.”
“Hey, were no spring chickens,” he said, chuckling. “Even Quan Hua has been itching to retire for years.”
Adi proceeded to tell her about their time on Mars, when they had been young, and away from their families for the first time. His voice drowned out the other sounds, and his face was like a piece of home. He had come for her. This was no stranger. Here was the man she loved.