by Deborah L. Davitt
Dr. Miranda Evans loathed the sound of her own recorded voice. This was, naturally, why
the rest of the crew of the Predpriyatiye--Venture, in English--had opted to needle her by
replaying her most recent interview with the media back on Earth as she and two others prepared
for descent in the landing module.
She grimaced at her own rueful words in her ears. "Half of our crew can't remember a
time when Exoria wasn't a part of the solar system."
The interviewer chuckled. "But you remember life before?"
"Yes. I was twelve when astronomers first inferred that something was out there,
disturbing the orbits of Sedna and Pluto, and managed to resolve Exoria on telescopes."
She sealed her suit, and Dr. Kerr, their geological specialist, double-checked the fittings,
while Dr. Tamboli, their medical specialist, double-checked the seals on Commander Volodin's
suit. Then Kerr and Tamboli both double-checked the seals on Akemi Himura's suit; the
Japanese woman would be piloting their module and any drones they sent out today, while
Lieutenant Zhong Jian remained here, at the controls of the Venture. Strict mission protocols.
Never more than three crew members on the ground, and always one pilot left aboard the Venture
at all times.
"Wish I were going with you," Kerr told Miranda amiably. "But until we find a patch of
ground not actually covered by ice, I'm stuck with radar studies."
"We will all get our chances," Alexei Volodin reminded them. "Several weeks of
opportunities. Let us make the most of them." His English was excellent, even if the Russian
man tended towards the terse. Miranda couldn't see his face through the polarized helmet, but
after the year-long flight to Exoria, she knew his buzzed-down graying hair and prototypical
Slavic cheekbones very well indeed.
Miranda nodded stiffly in her suit, too nervous to speak at the moment. Yet still, in the
background, her voice chatted on politely with a media envoy. "What I remember the most is the
panic when the world realized that this rogue planet had been captured by the sun's gravity.
Cosmic coincidence, of course. It was ejected from its home system tens or even hundreds of
millions of years ago, probably by some manner of collision. And it passed just close enough to
our sun that gravity winked. And it disturbed the hell out of people to realize that Earth's orbit
isn't inherently stable, not over millions of years of time. It's chaotic. And that a new element
entering the system could wind up ejecting us from the merry-go-round, and that we could all go
screaming off into the abyss. Just like Exoria before us. We were all too busy at the time
worrying about that to even consider other ramifications. If Earth would wind up tidally locked
to the sun through a change in orbital resonances. If we'd lose the moon, or even Mercury. If our
orbit would decay, and we'd watch the oceans boil. We were lucky. None of those things
"Yet," the interviewer pointed out. "As you say, orbital changes take time to accrue and
"I leave that kind of worrying to the astrophysicists these days." She'd passed off the
concerns as lightly as she could, and gotten a chuckle from the interviewer in response.
In the here and now, she followed Volodin into the module, and finally managed to find
her voice. "Can we turn the damned interview off?"
"Baikonur and Houston probably want to make themselves heard," Volodin returned
mildly. "So, yes. Enough teasing, everyone. Turn it off."
"You're no fun, commander," Akemi replied, the grin audible in her voice as she took the
pilot's seat in the module. "And I just don't understand, Dr. Evans. You're a recognized expert in
atmospherics and planetary environments. You've given hundreds of lectures and interviews, and
have dozens of journal articles to your name. Why do you hate listening to yourself?"
Miranda snorted. "You may not have noticed the Nashville accent," she told the Japanese
pilot, settling into her seat. "But people deduct fifty IQ points when they hear me talk. Just like
when Dr. Kerr here opens his mouth, they automatically credit him with fifty IQ points more.
Because everyone knows that geniuses and supervillains are all Brits."