1, 1 (May
sky above Europe was a light tan
color, a pale mirror of the dusty landscape. Without much of
an atmosphere, there were no clouds to block the faint light
of the stars, the ruddy glow of Asia, the harsh rays of Iota.
started as a barely perceptible dot low in the morning sky.
An observer on the plateau would have had difficulty determining
what the thing was. It didn't appear to be a meteor, because
even in the thin methane air, a meteor would have been burning
the dot grew larger, details appeared.
lander designofficially known as a Boeing 4344had
been nicknamed a "raven" because of its black-metal
construction, its forward-pointed cockpit and its swept-back
wings. Hermione had carried two ravens strapped to the
outside of her hull across fifty-three light years of space
to Iota Horologii.
the first captain of this raven, Eliot Burke had the honor of
naming her. He had dubbed her Icarus.
before waking from his long sleep, Eliot had dreamed of bison.
In the irrefutable inner logic of the dream, he found it quite
normal that he was driving a herd of bison across the hills
of Wyoming. Of course, Eliot had never been to Wyoming, and
had never ridden a horse, and hadn't come within five hundred
kilometers of a bison in his life. He'd always lived in citiesTucson,
Orlando, Hong Kong. One of the reasons he relished the opportunity
to travel to a new solar system was the chance to live in a
real place, a place with human dimensions, where you know your
neighbors and you can raise a family, where you are close to
insistent thud of hooves on fertile ground slowly transformed
to the persistent beat of Eliot's own heartbeat in his ears.
He was immersed in half-frozen gel, lying on his back in a coffin-like
freezing chamber. He waited patiently for someone to open his
bed and pull him out of the artificial womb he'd been living
in for more than seven decades.
a seal broke and Eliot heard a far-away whistle of air slicing
into his little space. The lid tipped up and strong arms dipped
into the blue slush to pull Eliot's head up into warm air. They
removed his face mask and allowed him three unsteady breaths
man helping Eliot into a seated position had a dark complexion
and frizzy black hair. He looked at Eliot closely, as if searching
for some deep truth.
man turned his head and yelled across the freezing bay: "Eliot
focus of Eliot's eyes grew sharper, and he saw fifty people
milling about the room, some dressed in casual clothes, others
draped in blankets, recently awakened. All of them looked at
Eliot expectantly. He felt a shiver of nervousness. He was only
one of a hundred thousand colonists. Why did they care so much
about him? And why didn't they already know his name? Something
recognized the man at the far side of the bay: Clark, one of
Hermione's android pilots. He typed Eliot's name into
a screen on the wall.
the strong man asked.
I think he's a 'maybe'," Clark said.
working theory was that some unseen solar flare from a passing
star had scrambled the index files for the colonists. Since
the system containing all their personal information was in
the freezing bays, away from the heavily shielded main Hermione
computer, that was a plausible explanation. The androids would
never have known. The colonists were protected from the flare
by the freezing gel; the computer wasn't.
mission parameters, carefully constructed by the Ministry of
Extrasolar Affairs nearly a century ago, laid out a specific
sequence in which the colonists would be awakened. Among the
first were the construction specialists who would build the
initial pressurized structures on the surface of Europe. Those
with skills in low-oxygen botany were next; they were needed
to start up a rudimentary agriculture on the planet. Communications
specialists would calibrate the beam assembly in its polar orbit
of the star for the link to Earth. Doctors would care for the
sick. Cooks would prepare food. A dozen different skill sets
were required in the early stages of an extra-solar colony.
first, they needed a pilot.
Another pocket of turbulence
rocked Icarus. The pilot and navigator kept silent while
the passengers gave a collective yelp of fear.
think at 0.02 atmospheres of pressure there wouldn't be this
" John, the navigator, didn't finish the thought.
think," Eliot answered. His hands were cramping on the
flight yoke. He didn't dare raise a hand to wipe the sweat from
his face. He watched the altimeter wind down. With a largely
unmapped countryside below them, he wasn't sure how much value
the device provided. It couldn't warn him about every little
mountain that might lie in their path. That's what John was
for, after all. His eagle eyes continued to scan the horizon
other colonists sat belted into the seats behind the cockpit
of the raven. Behind them, in the broad belly of the ship, lay
the construction materials for a temporary shelter. Eliot was
flying them toward one of the equipment drops that Hermione
had sent to the surface during the past several weeks. In a
reinforced orbital container lying on the European surface was
everything needed to start a colony on an Earth-like planet:
construction materials, radiation-hardened electronic equipment,
water, food, clothing. The supplies in the back of the raven
were a backup, in case they landed too far afield. When Icarus
landed, they were going to put down roots, one way or another.
had been a pilot back on Earthin his spare time. It was
little more than a hobby for him. There were two women and one
man on Hermione who had logged several hundred hours
of flight time in ravens. Unfortunately, the one pilot who had
been thawed out was experiencing severe hibernation sickness,
and the other two pilots hadn't been found yet.
colonization was weeks behind schedule. Europe was approaching
conjunction with Asia, and the android pilots didn't think it
was wise to do drops from Hermione during such a close
pass to the gas giant. The landing had to be now. Otherwise,
they would have to wait for fifty days or so for Asia to retreat
to a safe distance.
population of conscious people on the ship had started taxing
Hermione's design. There weren't places for all of them
to eat, sleep, bathe. They needed to get the colony started
as soon as possible.
asked, Eliot agreed to pilot the first landing to the surface
turbulence didn't really bother him. The raven was basically
a flying tank. It was their speed that had him very concerned.
He hadn't understood fully until now the importance of drag
in flying a fixed-wing aircraft. Eliot had extended Icarus's
wings to their limit; they provided the raven with enough lift
to keep her from slamming into the ground like a stone. He was
still going entirely too fast from his orbital insertion to
make a safe landing. Their proposed site for the initial camp
was coming up, and Eliot wasn't sure what to do. He thought
for half a second of calling back up to Hermione and
asking them to put Elaine Karpaskithe sick raven piloton
the line to talk him down. Unfortunately, by the time they brought
her to the bridge, Icarus would already have crashed.
the plateau," John said.
the horizon, Eliot saw their landing site. It was a fairly level
parcel of land next to a dry ocean bed. They were flying over
the ancient ocean now, but soon enough the plateau would be
and not too many kilometers beyond that was
a craggy mountain range with several active volcanoes.
wasn't sure who picked this landing site. He'd have a talk with
if there was a later.
didn't have the fuel for a return to orbit to try for the landing
again. He had two choices: turn tail and run back up to Hermione
on his afterburners, or find a way to bleed off some speed.
everyone buckled in tight?" Eliot asked.
looked back into the cabin, then said, "Yeah. Why?"
pulled hard on the yoke, putting the raven into a steep climb.
He figured they had to be pulling three, maybe four gees. He
held tight to the controls, allowing the ship to do a loop,
up and over, sending hundreds of little bits of paper and wrappers
from protein bars falling to the ceiling. The passengers screamed.
Eliot ignored them.
pulled Icarus through the loop and leveled her off again.
Unfortunately, they were still going too fast.
person in the back shouted, "No!"
tilted away from them again and they looped high into the sky
once more. Eliot made sure this was a bigger, taller loop. They'd
have to fly upside down a little longer, but they'd definitely
slow down more this time. At the tail end, he pulled them out
of the loop a little early, describing a "9" in the
sky, rather than a "0"; they were at a much higher
altitude than before. The plateau was laid out like a map below
almost there, folks," Eliot said. He put the raven into
a series of leisurely figure eights, making full use of the
thin air to slow them even further as they gently descended
to the surface of the planet. The landing itself was, if anything,
a heated discussion about the proper way to execute a planetary
landing, the other nineteen colonists agreed to let Eliot be
the first to exit the raven. He slid on his pressure suit and
moved into the tiny airlock. It took a couple of minutes to
equalize to the pressure outside the ship.
had realized as soon as he agreed to pilot Icarus that
he might end up being the first person to step onto the planet
Europe. With only hours to prepare, he had looked to history
to see what brave words others had left behind in similar situations.
Armstrong stepping onto the Moon: "That's one small step
for a man, one giant leap for mankind." That was the gold
standard, as far as Eliot was concerned.
August Robinson stepping onto Mars: "Today, humanity makes
a statement: we will not be confined to the surface of our small
world; we will make our presence known throughout the universe."
A little blustery, but not bad.
Verona stepping onto Titan: "Yeee-haw!" What she lacked
in gravitas, she sure made up for in enthusiasm.
suspected there were a couple more of those kinds of quotes
that had been recorded on other worlds, back home and elsewhere,
during their seventy-five year journey to Iota. He hadn't had
time to request they be sent down the beam from Earth. He doubted
they'd be helpful, anyway.
pressurization cycle ended and the door of the ship opened.
it was: the surface of Europe. Drier than the Sahara, colder
than the Russian steppe, rock and dust in equal measure. Eliot
knew that the other colonists would see this as a barren, inhospitable
or as a scientific opportunity
or as a historical
stepping-stone on their way to the center of the galaxy. Eliot
didn't see any of that. As clear as day he saw lush, green fields
of wheat blowing in a leisurely breeze. He saw rolling plains
darkened by the passage of thundering bison. In the distance,
over the gleaming, blue ocean he saw thunderheads approaching
with much needed rain for his crops. He saw what Earth used
to be, and what Europe would become.
he stepped off the ladder and crushed wind-carved pebbles under
his boot, Eliot Burke decided that he would build his farm on
this very spot.