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Represented by: Catherine Pellegrino

Publishers: Egmont
Strange Chemistry Stripes

Undiscovered Voices Winner's Badge


Windrunner's Daughter

Prologue

“We’ve lost them.” White-faced, the Captain stared at the viewing station, where his view of the tiny blue planet remained unchanged. Perhaps in a few minutes they would see flashes of light, or spreading fungal splotches of mushroom clouds; or maybe, from this distance, it would remain at peace.

“Who started it?” There was no point to such a question.

The Captain shrugged. “The Caliphate, the Pan-Asian Alliance, the Russians, the Western Blockade?” His lean body curved as though a sudden gravitational increase had dragged at his spine. His hands hung loosely at his sides. Impulsively he flicked his fingers, changing the view to the 100km orbiting mirrors, wiping out the Earth altogether.

“Captain?”

“We’d better annou-”

The control room rocked sideways and a cloud of oxygen propelled debris, puffed silently in front of the viewers and filled the window with mist.

“Sector three – report!”

“No answer, Captain.”

“What the hell?” The Captain’s fingers danced as he called up displays. The mirrors that had been filling the screen slowly began to realign, turning their reflective surfaces away from the planet below.

“Get a security team suited up and over to three. Send Phelps to engineering, find out who’s altering the mirrors,” the Captain shouted. “Where are the redundancies?” More silent explosions of atmosphere and bodies: dandelion fluff blown towards the turning mirrors.

The Captain’s face hardened. “Sabotage.”

“They were waiting for the earth event?”

“Had to be. Now they know there’s no chance of resupply. Hail the Intrepid.” The Captain’s foot started to beat on the tile, a hard sound in the thickening atmosphere.

“Nothing, Captain. I-I think -”

“They’re in the Molniya orbit, it might take them a minute.”

The seconds ticked by.

“Still no answer, Captain.”

“Keep hailing, if the Intrepid is down, then there’s no way to get the colonists up to the emergency habitat.”

“Captain, word from Mariner Canyon, the CFC factories have been targeted.”

“Co-ordinated attacks.” Trembling with cold rage the Captain spun to his communications officer. “Find the messages. They’ll be buried in code but find them. I want to know who’s doing this.”

“Everyone’s Deep Vetted.” The reply was almost a wail. “How could this happen?” The Captain’s eyes filled with tears as the wreckage of the Intrepid swung past the viewing screen, moving in a majestic ballet towards Phobos, the largest and closest of the Martian moons.

Alarms blared and he started. His screen blinked at him, emergency warning lights strobing furious red lines across his face. “Get the scientists and their families into the shuttle.” His voice cracked. “Hail the ten colonies. Let them know …” He closed his eyes. “Let them know that now the CFC factories are gone, they’ll have to rely on the positive feedback loop.” He shook his head. “That last orbital asteroid transfer would have had us a decade away from a breathable atmosphere, Lieutenant - a decade.”

“And now?”

“In a few years they won’t need their pressure suits to go outside, but they’ll need oxygen canisters for generations.”

“They, Captain?”

“We have to try and give them a chance - those mirrors need to be put back in alignment. It’s a manual job now they’ve blown the Stack. The last thing they need is sunlight being reflected away from the surface.”

But instead of rising from his chair the Captain switched the view once more. Swirling below them was the red planet. The Martian Delta was gouged with patches of brown-green and half obscured by the clouds that thickened and rolled in its new atmosphere. The sun glittered from the shallow water that covered Lake Lyot, turning it into a mirror that reflected back the racing clouds.

“They’ll have to remain in their separate habitats, won’t be able to spread out as planned.” The Captain was dictating furiously as the communications officer transmitted in a low voice. “The dust storms are worsening, so no leaving the safety of the biospheres in the afternoons.” He wiped his forehead. “God help them when the next big one comes around. There’s a mega-storm due in six months and no way to get them off surface.”

“And what about -?”

The viewfinder switched to the bio-labs. They were burning.

“The indigenous organisms we modified appear to be restricted to the sand, at least at the moment. They’ll have to find a way to survive alongside them.”

“We were so close to full terraforming.” A shuttle burst onto the main view screen and started to fall towards Mars; a tiny burning seed, carrying the last of the colonists.

“They could be on the shuttle - the saboteurs.”

The Captain sighed. “Lieutenant, they’re already on the surface. Keep working on the messages, send what you find down to Harris and the other nine colonies, maybe they can pinpoint the terrorists. The important thing is that the families have dropped to safety.”

“Safety?” The word was a sneer.

“Earth’s irradiated.” The Captain sagged in his chair. “If the biospheres can hold, Mars is the safest place in the solar system for humanity now.” He turned off the view-screen. He’d had family back on Earth, been coming up to the end of his posting; had been looking forward to sunlight and true-blue skies, not the florescent glow of the space station or the half light on the Martian surface. He stood, just as the low oxygen warning began to flash. “If they all left on the shuttle, at least we’ll able to realign the mirrors.”

“And if some of the saboteurs have stayed behind?”

The Captain smiled dangerously, and lifted his weapon. “Lieutenant, a part of me hopes that they have.”