Letter From The Editor - Issue 55 - February 2017

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Issue 52
Stories
Silverbird Rising
by Rebecca Birch
The Cenotaph
by Deborah L. Davitt
A Touch of Scarlet
by David Steffen
Cabbage Communion
by Chris Phillips
Orphaned
by James Van Pelt
IGMS Audio
Orphaned by James Van Pelt
Read by Stuart Jaffe
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
Waiting for Rain
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Bonus Material
Ghost Talkers
by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Fantasy

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-   -   -   -   P   r   e   v   i   e   w   -   -   -   -

Orphaned
    by James Van Pelt


  Listen to the audio version


The boy sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor, chanting names: Metis, Adrastea, Amalthea, Thebe . . . He said them to calm himself. His Mom had told him, "Facts fight fears."

He climbed into Dad's chair by the communication console and surveyed the buttons, toggles, sliding switches, small joysticks and an array of lights. Some blinked, some were green. One was red. A countdown timer clicked off numbers methodically: "0D, 2H, 12M, 8S." The 12 became 11 while he watched.

He pressed a button. His Dad always pressed buttons when he sat here. "Ethan to Dad and Mom," he said. The speaker above a small video screen that displayed nothing remained silent. Ethan tried his call again. Dad made calls too, except he said, "Captain Ramis to Relay Central," to talk to his bosses, or "Base to Mobile One," when he called Mom. She said the same thing when she sat in that seat, but she'd be calling Dad. Someone always answered when they called. Mobile One would answer on its own if Mom and Dad were in the habitat. It could explore independently. "It has a bright AI," Dad said.

But no one answered. He was sure he pressed the right button. He'd seen Mom and Dad use it a thousand times, but they also adjusted dials before making a call. He didn't know what the settings were. He murmured, Io, Europa, Ganyemede, Calisto.

Through the tiny port beside the communication array sat Mobile One, eighty yards away on Io's uneven surface. Something had happened to it: The six-wheeled car was canted to the side, lying on its single door, the top pressed to a rock, crushing the communications array. "Ethan to Mom and Dad," he said again. "Are you okay?"

Behind him, Mom had hung a "Happy Birthday" banner over the dining room table. She and Dad had been figuring out how to make a cake for him before they'd left. They'd wrapped a present that sat in the table's middle. "I'm five today," thought Ethan. "Today's my birthday." Mom would hold him close and call him her "little miracle." Dad bounced him on his knee when he sat at his workstation. He played games with him. He read to Ethan and said he was their "science project." He said, "You, my child, are a 'misappropriation of resources,'" then laughed and hugged him.

"Station, why aren't they answering?"

The station said, "The Mobile One Rover appears to be incapacitated."

"What it they're hurt?"

"My medical facility is top notch. It can print skin, major organs, eyes, and other desired replacements. It can also diagnose and treat most known illnesses."

"Call Relay Station. They'll help."

"Relay Station will not be within range for four more days. You will have to be brave."

"Shut up, Station." Ethan hated AI pep talks. It was always telling him to work hard or be happy or to "solve the problem."

Ethan went back to the port. In the distance, one of Io's numerous volcanoes spewed sulfur dioxide into the sky. Sunlight caught the flume, turning it into a sparkling fountain.

If he could call Relay Station himself, he would, even though Mom and Dad warned him to never talk to them. They sent him from the room when they called. "They don't know about you," said Mom. She told him when he went to bed about their journey to Io, about how they were to man the station for seven years before coming home. "We were too lonely," Mom said, "So you came along. You're our secret child. You're a treasure and twice as precious."

Ethan checked the countdown timer again. 0D, 2H, 7M, 49S. It was the air supply in Mobile One.

"Are they okay? How's their telemetry?" No one told Ethan that he had a strange vocabulary for a five-year old. In fact, it wasn't unusual for someone raised the way he was. He knew words like silicate, caldera, Colchis Regio, and he knew that Io was subject to tidal heating. He could disassemble and reassemble a space suit, and he could sort and store rock samples. He could name Jupiter's sixty-three moons.

"No telemetry data is available from Mobile One."

"Is there air in the rover? Has it ruptured?" Ethan swallowed heavily. He knew about vacuums. He understood that outside the habitat was beautiful but empty and deadly cold. Jupiter filled half the sky, white, grey and orange striped, always changing and always huge.

"No telemetry data is available from Mobile One. Your parents wear space suits when in the rover, though. Even if there were a loss of pressure, they could survive."

Ethan grabbed handholds and propelled himself through the living area and work area, barely touching the floor in the light gravity, past hydroponics and the power plant until he was in the garage. Mobile Two stood under the lights, a duplicate of the rover marooned outside the station. Access covers were open. Wires led to panels on the walls. "Can we fix Mobile Two?" said Ethan.

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