(Opens a New Window)
New Elysium, Earth Colony. March 2156.
Thunder boomed out of the mid-afternoon sky and, with a frown, Doctor Samantha Beckett pushed aside her status reports before rising from her desk. She strode to the window and stared at the clouds anxiously. There had been no hint of a coming storm, not on the weather satellites that orbited the colony or on the localized scanners set up for that very purpose, and Sam felt the first stirrings of concern. She was still not entirely comfortable here, despite the ninety-seven days she had been on-planet. New Elysium wasn't yet home.
Its official designation was Mu Virginis V but one of the early colonists had looked at the virgin landscape and promptly rechristened it after the mythological Roman afterlife for heroes. The name stuck. Discovered by Columbia during her shakedown cruise last year, it was an idyllic world of lush trees and windswept plains, a veritable paradise marred only by the occasional lightning storm. It was uncanny how much like Terra the planet was; there were differences to be sure - Earth was a couple thousand kilometers larger and the gravity of New Elysium was fractionally less than Terran standard - but there were days when Sam could close her eyes and fool herself into thinking she was in Georgia or North Carolina or Virginia.
The persistent cloud cover was probably the most difficult thing to adapt to and turned out to be the only thing that seemed to be totally alien to the colonists. It completely blocked the local star from view yet did not prevent the necessary radiation from reaching the planet's surface; local flora thrived and the colonists had quickly learned that they could get sunburns just as easily under the clouds as they could on a Florida beach during summer. When Sam had asked about it, the xeno-planetologist - a burly Swede named Olafsson - had tried to explain it to her but she barely understood him to begin with, let alone something as complicated as extra-terrestrial cloud cover. Rationally, she knew that she'd grow accustomed to the lack of a visible sun, knew that, once she acclimated (a word that suddenly had new meaning for her), she'd think nothing of its absence. Rationally, she knew these things.
But that didn't prevent her from missing the sun.
The colony itself was steadily growing. Already, six children had been born with another fifteen on the way. Everyone was adjusting, none more quickly than the forty-two youngsters under the age of ten. Even now, as Sam studied the sky for the threat of a storm, she could hear many of them at play.
Standing at the window, she studied the clouds for long moments, looking for any sign of the bluish lightning that always heralded the worst storms. There had been two of them since her arrival and they had been brutal, resulting in a dozen injuries and a single death, yet the colonists took it in stride. A local engineer had even gone as far as to develop an engine that he promised would be powered by the lightning. He didn't seem to mind that he was the only one actually looking forward to another storm.
The absence of sound drew her attention to the construction crews and she saw them studying the sky with equal concern; they had suffered the most casualties during the last storm and clearly had no desire to do so again. She could see the foreman trying to get his people back to work; already three weeks behind schedule, they could ill afford any time to watch the sky. For a long moment, it seemed as if the entire colony held its collective breath.
But no storm came.
Sam exhaled and started to turn away when a glint of...something caught her attention. She squinted, trying to make out what it was that was tumbling through the air. Toward the colony. Man-sized, it had a distinctive shape, a shape she recognized at once. She opened her mouth to scream a warning, knowing that she was already too late.
She was right.