07:00 Corsair timezone (southern hemisphere);10:00 Sunset Strip
Pete Garcia finished unloading a set of pallets destined for the small store at Corsair Central. The three thousand or so residents of the Corsair community on Viridian System 3b did not feel comfortable calling the entire planet Sunset Strip, after the main settlement in the northern hemisphere. Calling their own first settlement area Corsair Central was a step towards making it their home, even though Pete had advised against it.
“You’ve got our petition to the Elders?” his sister Maya asked as she accompanied him across the level grassland back to his shuttle.
“Yes, safe here.” Nowhere safer than his inside vest pocket. He kissed her and gave her a hug for good measure. “I’ll persuade them, don’t worry. The main thing will be to work out what to call the planet. They might resist change. Like you resisting dropping the Corsair link. If that senator hears…”
“He won’t hear, and besides, lots of places in the galaxy have the same names. Two Sunsets might work, instead of Sunset Strip.”
Pete sighed. He was losing his argument over using the name of their former planet, owned by the Imperium senator who’d bought land on Pleasant Valley. “Any idea gives people something to start on. Lars agrees with the concept, I think. That’s a start.”
“Give him my love.”
He raised one eyebrow. “Are you sure?”
His sister was a married woman. Teasing her about a possible relationship with Lars was second nature to him.
“When will you be back?”
“I’ll check out the progress of that order for seeds from Pankut. And have another chat with Tylene Smithson about releasing your seeds. I’m sure we can show they won’t endanger the southern hemisphere biota somehow. And we’ve already got evidence that they can’t cross to the north.”
“I’m worried they won’t be viable after all this space travel.”
“Don’t worry about it now. I’m on it.”
Maya smiled and stepped away as Pete climbed into his shuttle. He gave her thumbs up from the door, and closed the outer hatch. He stood, letting the decontaminant system do its thing, then went through to take his place in the pilot’s seat. He checked that everybody had cleared the area, and set off for home. Maybe he’d call Dolores from near space.
09:00 Corsair time; 12:00 Sunset Strip
Pete never tired of the view as he cleared the atmosphere and had the whole of Sunset Strip curving below; a ball of variegated patterns where the storm sector in the equatorial zone would rip anything that entered it to shreds, the smoother cloud formations to the north and south, above the habitable zones. And the dark of first sunset creeping across the world like a monster eating a cookie.
His sister and the rest of the Corsairs were right though. Sunset Strip was the northern settlement and the continent where he lived. It had never been suitable as a planetary name. Neither was Pleasant Valley, for the co-orbital planet, either. Whole world named for a single settlement. It wasn’t logical.
He frowned. Something else wasn’t logical. That flicker of green lightning running through the Van Allen belt. And what the heck was going on in the galaxy? The normal blue-silver disc of the spiral galaxy was speckled with green lights.
The green lightning headed straight for him. “Shields up!” he called to his Al, although surely it would be ahead of him. Why hadn’t it alerted him to something in the sensors?
His control panel went dead.
21:00 Pleasant Valley time, 12:00 Sunset Strip (warpspace)
In the dark of space, Dolores Azulzumbi woke to the sound of banging on the doorway.
“What’s going on?” her Imperium senator passenger was yelling. “I’ve lost comms. I had a vital meeting!”
“Please be calm, sir. There seems to be a systems failure. Please take your seat—What was that?”
A green flash lit up all the viewpoints. Despite the lack of a view in space, most shuttles still had portholes.
“Sir, did you see any more of those green flashes before you lost comms?”
“Yes, a few, far off. What’s going on? I demand that you open this door and let me in.”
Dolores turned the manual release to ‘lock’.
“I’m afraid the mechanism is not responding sir. But we have gravity, air and water. I will give you a sitrep as soon as I have run some checks. Is the food dispenser working?”
There was a pause before he responded: “I’ll check.”
Dolores breathed out. Okay, emergency situation. Loss of power, but life support operational. What other checks could she give her passenger to make him feel the situation was under his control?
Meanwhile… what was her AI doing? And what the hell was it with those green flashes?
12:00 Sunset Strip
Lars Nilsson paused at the top of the hill, wondering what the green stars were in the early noon twilight. Meteorites, rather, since they blinked out. They didn’t fit any normal pattern. And lots of green mist in … the asteroid belt, he realised as he mentally mapped the sky. Green was the colour of orichalcum. What was going on?
Then he heard alarms in the town of Sunset Strip across the bay and, closer to home, screams for Maggie. He leapt down the hillside, registering small explosive noises coming from their home.
Lars bounded across the grass towards the balcony, ducking every time a spark flew from somewhere on or in the building.
She flew from under the arch of the stairway into his arms. “Everything’s exploding!”
“So I see, honey.” He held her close and ruffled her golden streaked wavy hair, tucking her head under his chin. “It’s happening over at the town, too. And I saw lights in the sky, and even in the asteroid belt. But we’re safe, huh? It seems to have stopped.”
He looked down at her, and she nodded, gathering her fears together and tucking them back into the nameless place she hid them. “I must finish freezing this batch or I’ll lose it.”
“Have we got power?”
Maggie’s mouth dropped.
“Where are the handlights?” Lars asked.
“Where we always put them.”
Armed with a wind-up torch each, they checked the electrics and the kitchen gadgets. After a thorough check of the whole villa, including the basement workshop where Pete ran various projects using a separate electricity circuit, they concluded that two circuits were working, but everything that connected with comms was down.
“That means the freezer…”
“Will be down, yes, but I can switch it over to the low power circuit. You won’t have the inventory and monitoring, but it’ll carry on freezing this batch, and keep all the rest frozen too.”
Maggie’s shoulders straightened as she relaxed. It wasn’t until her food was safely batched and stored, with an archaic stamping system to label it, that she turned her mind to other things.
“What about Dolores? And Pete? Will he be at Corsair still?”
“I don’t know.” This was serious. How in Sirtis was Pete going to be able to check where he was. Could they navigate home? Was Pleasant Valley hit by it too? If the asteroid belt had got it, then surely all the planets would be affected. And all the space ships.
Pete’s shuttle would fly if it had power, and Pete could navigate by sight around the planet, but Dolores was in deep space. How in heck was she going to get home?