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Written by Todd McCaffrey
Illustrated by: Lee Kuruganti

Annogi floated in Observation Room Four staring blindly out of the viewport to the blue Earth below.

Clutched tightly in her hand was a small strip of paper. She had read it twice and still could not believe the words written on it. Words that, at age ten, she should not have been able to read—words stored on the station's computers that should have been kept from her for eight more years.

But Annogi was station-trained, station-bound, clever; and Tanuro was the head of station security. Tanuro had adopted her when she was three, just after her mother had died.

Annogi wondered why Tanuro had adopted her. He never seemed to smile, was never satisfied with her work, was always angry with her failures. Yet his adoption of her had solved a very difficult problem for the space elevator; because Tanuro was the head of security and his job demanded that he be at the top-end station much of his time, he could provide Annogi with the zero-gee quarters that her body had grown accustomed to in the months after her mother's death.

Annogi looked down, past the bottom of the viewport, past her hand with the clenched slip of paper, to one of the many pictures which lined the walls of the Observation Room.

The face which smiled back at her had blue eyes and blond hair, not the dark eyes and jetblack hair that was mirrored back at Annogi in the viewport. The only feature Annogi had in common with her mother was a thin smattering of freckles across her nose.

"Amanda Brown. She died so that others may live, May 5th 2025." Annogi didn't need to read the caption to know what it said. She thought idly of linking in to the station's computer network to call up a video of her mother, then shook her head and pulled the earpiece which doubled as a holographic display out of her left eye and slid it into the top pocket of her shipsuit.

Images of her mother disturbed her. They were different from her memories. And all her happy memories were hidden behind the last frightening minutes of her time with her mother.

Annogi knew that her mother had volunteered to work on the space elevator. In fact, Amanda Brown, former astronaut, had been in retirement when the elevator was first funded. She had become an artist and writer, chronicling the adventures in space of herself and so many others.

When the chance came to take residence in the space elevator, to draw, photograph, and scribe about the new project and its impact on Earth, Amanda had grabbed at the chance. Annogi knew this because Tanuro had told her.

Amanda had spent almost all her time in the Observation Rooms. She had helped select the pictures that adorned the walls of Observation Rooms One through Three. No one had ever thought that there would be pictures in Observation Room Four.

Observation Room Four was a special room, even now. This was the room chosen above all the others for inaugurations of presidents, premieres, prime ministers, and even kings. From this vantage point the world had no boundaries, save that brilliant blue band between the cold of space and the life-giving atmosphere.

The space elevator was more than just a place from which to understand man's place as caretaker of the Earth. It was a place of new beginnings.

Here was the doorway to the solar system. Where before the cost of moving into space was impossible, now it was achievable. Where before Mars and Venus were mere points of light, now they were home to growing numbers of scientists, explorers, technologists, and colonists.

Here also was the doorway to Earth's healing. Where before solar satellites were the thing of fiction, now they were commonplace. Factories in space were being constructed that made marvels never seen before, and produced goods that would cost hundreds of times more to make on Earth—all without polluting the fragile homeworld.

Bases on the Moon, Mars, and Venus also provided invaluable insights in to how to husband the Earth itself; for what kept life alive on the airless Moon could be applied to making life less polluting on the bountiful Earth.

So Amanda had sat in the various Observation Rooms, floating cross-legged, her sketch pad and colored pens strapped to her with Velcro or floating in hands' reach nearby while Annogi played with toys and goggled at the glowing Earth below.

Often Tanuro would stop by to talk. Amanda's behavior with him was strange, it seemed to little Annogi almost like a game of hide-and-seek—Amanda would smile and talk animatedly, then Tanuro would say something and Amanda's smile would fade and she would become silent. Annogi taught Tanuro hide-and-seek one day after asking about it, and Tanuro would often play the game with her, so much so that Annogi became adept at finding all the nooks and crannies of the station.

At that time Annogi had wished that Tanuro was her father. Amanda had always refused to talk with Annogi about her father, insisting that he was a good man and that she would tell her when she was older, that it was not the right time. Annogi could never understand that and often cried when her mother would tell her that she could not see her father for dinner.

"Your father does not know about you," Amanda had explained once. "I chose to have you by myself, you are my star child. It was my choice, he never knew."

Annogi learned about sperm donors and artificial insemination years after Amanda's death. It took her two more years to learn about DNA typing and another year to gather the nerve to break the station's security systems, worrying all the while that security manager, not-father Tanuro would discover her.

Tanuro had visited them several times when they were not in the Observation Rooms. In fact, Tanuro had dined with Annogi and Amanda just the night before the accident. When Amanda had put Annogi to sleep that night, she invited Tanuro to participate.

"She looks so Japanese," Tanuro said. "No one would ever think she wasn't my daughter."

Why would they ever worry about that? Annogi had wondered muzzily to herself at the time.

Amanda had laughed and shaken her head. She shushed him, pushed him out of the cramped room with her hand, gave Annogi one last kiss goodnight, turned out the lights and had left.

But Annogi had not fallen asleep straight away. Tanuro's comments had got her wondering about her father again. So she was still awake when their voices rose loudly and the front door was opened and Tanuro left, his voice full of sorrow. Annogi couldn't remember the words they'd said but she wondered if their argument had contributed to the disaster of the next day.

The day certainly hadn't started like a day for disaster. Amanda seemed a bit withdrawn but her smile for Annogi was as bright as ever, perhaps even brighter.

"We're going to draw today, would you like that?" Amanda had asked Annogi over breakfast. Annogi liked that.

They set up in Observation Room Four. Just before lunchtime, a group of strangers came in and crowded around the viewports.

Annogi frowned at them because Amanda frowned at them. Amanda saw Annogi's frown and smiled at her.

"Maybe this is a good time for lunch," Amanda said, starting to gather in her floating pencils.

In that instant, Annogi's world changed.

It would take nearly a year to finally discover what had caused it, but the large bolt which slammed into the Observation Room did not hit one of the walls. If it had, maybe the worst that would have happened would have been a loud bang which would have startled everyone. Instead, the bolt hit one of the viewports with such force that it shattered both the outer and inner panes. Its size and speed were so great that it continued through into the room and started bouncing like a deadly missile off the walls—and through the suddenly terrified people.

Amanda, with years of astronaut training, was not terrified. It was her actions which saved everyone else in the room. She forced them through the hatch, forced Annogi into the arms of one of the wailing women, and closed the emergency hatch. She would have gone through it herself, except that as it slowly closed, the flying bolt ricocheted into her head.

Annogi screamed and yelled for her mother and struggled to get back to the hatch, to open it, for she was a smart girl and even at three knew how, only to find herself restrained, held tightly—in the arms of Tanuro.

In that moment Annogi hated Tanuro. She hated him more when he seized her struggling body and squeezed it tightly against his, keeping her head on his chest. Annogi remembered wondering for a moment if Tanuro had been hit by the flying bolt too, for as she screamed and yelled into his face she could see all color and life draining out of it, as if Tanuro were turning to stone before her eyes.

Annogi broke out of Tanuro's tight grip when another group of station personnel arrived, and fled. She knew the station so well that it took even Tanuro six months to track her down. By then her body had grown too accustomed to microgravity, she could not return to Earth. So Tanuro had adopted her.

It was years before she realized that Tanuro had been watching her mother die, still tormented by the flying bolt, and that Tanuro had held her, Annogi, instead of donning a spacesuit to rescue Amanda from the now airless Observation Room.

It was still more years before Annogi realized that even as Tanuro had cradled her against him, Amanda had been too long without oxygen and had become just as dead as the bolt that had killed her.

But by then Annogi was too accustomed to hating Tanuro to say anything to him.

So Annogi decided to track down her real father. She would ask him to raise her, forgetting that years in microgravity had banished her from Earth forever. It didn't matter to Annogi, she would be rid of Tanuro.

And now she had her slip of paper, now she knew.

A noise from behind her startled her and Annogi turned to see someone enter the Observation Room. It was a teenager and something about the way he moved caused Annogi to turn her body, reach into her pocket and put her earpiece into her far ear. She brushed her hair over the earpiece, hiding it.

The boy was blond-haired and blue-eyed. Something about him seemed familiar but he moved like an earthling, not a spacer.

He was older than her, Annogi realized. Not really a boy at all, in fact, in his mid- to late- teens. He was not yet shaving or had very soft facial hair, he still had the look of a youngster about him; that was why Annogi had first thought of him as a boy.

They spoke at the same time.

"What are you doing here?" the boy demanded.

"Are you lost?"

Annogi waited for the boy to respond. She'd seen enough television to expect that they would both burst out in laughter but she had no real friends her own age.

"You should leave," the boy told her. His voice was full of tension and anger. Annogi realized that he kept his back to her and that he was holding something with one hand behind his back. His nerves left him shaking and Annogi caught a glimpse of a handle dangling behind him.

An axe? Annogi wondered. But where could anyone get an axe on the station? And just as soon as she asked the question, Annogi had an answer—at any of the fire posts in the station. There was one just outside the elevator that came up from earthside.

Those fire posts were all alarmed. Annogi knew because her 'father' was the head of security. But Annogi also knew how to deactivate those alarms. Clearly the teen must have done the same, or the fire alarm would be blaring all over the station.

Aside from fire or catastrophe, there was only one use for an axe—destruction.

A rush of terror set Annogi's heart racing. I cannot fear, she told herself. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, letting her fear go with it as Tanuro had taught her.

She saw that she could escape through the airlock, that the teen had actually left room for her to do so.

No. I choose differently.

"Hi," she said looking up at the teen who towered above her. "I'm Annogi, who are you?"

As she spoke, she walked toward the boy, not so close as to spook him but close enough that it would be hard for him to strike her with the axe.

As she looked up at him and saw him glance nervously down at her, then out the porthole, Annogi knew that wasn't his intention.

* * *

Tanuro Nakashima stared at his computer screen in anger and amazement. How had she done it?

When he'd checked the computer logs in the morning, Tanuro had noticed the record of abnormal activity. His suspicions aroused, he spent the rest of the morning tracking the activity down—and discovered that Annogi had hacked the station's security system. She had broken into the system's time-locked database and had read several files—files that Tanuro could not access himself—and had then meticulously covered her tracks.

In fact, as Tanuro discovered, Annogi's intrusion would have been completely undetected except that someone else accessed the same part of the database at nearly the same time—someone who was permitted under the time-lock protocols.

This person had used the protocols as a springboard for a hack into the security system's innards. As Tanuro followed the hacker's assault he became more and more worried. The hacker had accessed engineering data on the station. The hacker was looking for physical weaknesses in the station. He was looking for the one place where he could destroy the station—and the space elevator.

"Security Alert Level Two," Tanuro had called calmly on the security network. He was calm because he was trained that way, he was calm because he willed it, he was calm because panic would accomplish nothing.

Level Two meant that an assault on the station was possible. Throughout the station, airtight doors were sealed, inspections increased, non-essential personnel assigned to the next free elevator—either up or down.

Tanuro returned to his pursuit of the second hacker. In fifteen minutes he had located the source of the assault. In twenty minutes he had a name—Chris Halleck.

Chris Halleck was an intelligent teenager, just turned eighteen. Eighteen, the number caught Tanuro's attention. Chris' eighteenth birthday was yesterday. The boy was now a man, was able to vote, to stand on his own and—what else?

Tanuro frowned in thought. Why would someone use his eighteenth birthday to hack into a liftport station's security system? Why not hack at a younger age, when the penalties for such intrusions were so much lower? What Halleck had done was a felony, he could lose all the privileges he'd just earned.

Eighteen, Tanuro mused. Legal age.

Of course!

Tanuro's fingers flew over the keyboard as request after request streamed into the security system. Each answer brought another query until finally Tanuro understood.

And when he did, calmly, for there was no room for panic, Tanuro hit the emergency button.

Chris Halleck was a test-tube baby. His mother's ovaries were infertile, so his father's sperm was combined with that of a donor's egg to produce a healthy baby boy. Healthy in body but not in mind. Tanuro's quick scan of the boy's records portrayed a loving childhood which was shattered by his birth-parents' divorce when he was fourteen. At fourteen—no coincidence—he tried to commit suicide. His school records displayed the decline in grades Tanuro associated with an increasingly bitter and depressed youth. At age eighteen, Chris was allowed to know the identity of the egg donor.

The egg donor was the famous hero and astronaut, Amanda Brown.

Tanuro tapped into the UN population database and waited while it determined the location of Christopher Halleck, aged eighteen.

"It's alright, there's nothing to worry about," Annogi's voice piped up over the security channel. Tanuro frowned, wondering why his adopted daughter would so wantonly flaunt station protocols—he had taught her better.

Tanuro's eyes widened in sudden apprehension—he had taught her better.

"Security Alert Level One," Tanuro announced softly, raising the safety guard on a button that he never expected to use and pressing down upon the button.

"The station is under attack," he added. Tanuro swallowed hard and took a deep steadying breath. Annogi was his daughter; he knew her, he heard the message in her words and knew that she had told him that there was nothing to worry about. He would trust her.

"An agent is in place and will affect apprehension."

An agent. His daughter.

Tanuro took another deep steadying breath, forcing his heart to calm down, telling himself that his panic would do nothing for his daughter—for Amanda Brown's daughter—yet all the while memories of Amanda's death, toddler Annogi's screams and Tanuro's breaking heart pounded inside his skull.

* * *

Chris Halleck jumped when the flashing alert light strobed and the alert sounded.

"It's alright, there's nothing to worry about," Annogi said both to him and to her open station microphone.

"What is it?" he demanded, his voice harsh, breath jagged.

"Security test," Annogi replied calmly. She glanced over at the hatch and saw that it was closing. She looked back at the teen, hiding her relief in another question, "Do you have the time?"

When the blond boy looked at her incredulously, Annogi continued, "They do random tests but I've been trying to find a pattern."

"A pattern?" the boy repeated dully.

"Sure," Annogi replied with a shrug. "I'd like to avoid getting caught out when there's a test going on." She gave the boy a conspiratorial look and leaned closer, whispering innocently, "Sometimes I like to sneak away from my father. With these security tests, he notices when I'm missing.

"I don't like to get in trouble, do you?" she finished, looking right up into his eyes.

Reluctantly Chris shook his head.

Annogi smiled at him. Her smile was genuine, she was well within his reach, well within the arc of any axe swing. The teen would now have to step back if he wanted to strike at her, a motion which would give Annogi plenty of advance warning. In fact, anything the teen might want to do with the axe would require him first to move away from her.

"Is this your first time on the station?" Annogi asked, glancing toward the flashing lights.

Chris nodded.

"I figured," Annogi said. "They run the tests so often that even regular tourists notice pretty quick."

"They do?"

"Sure," Annogi said, gesturing to the ports on the outer edge of the Observation Room. "Space is right there and you never know when there might be another accident—"

"This is where Amanda Brown died, isn't it?" Chris asked suddenly, staring around at the pictures lining the walls.

The question startled Annogi. She nodded reflexively. Chris' jaw tightened at her response and he moved the axe from behind his back.

"What are you doing with that?" Annogi asked, feigning surprise. Her eyes narrowed. "Did you steal that?"

"Yes," Chris told her.

"You set off the alarm?" Annogi asked, eyes wide. She knew better, knew he must have disabled the alarm. That told her that he had spent a lot of time planning. But she asked the question because she needed him to continue to underestimate her. She could tell that he saw her as harmless, a little girl.

And she was. Both harmless and a little girl. Trapped in Observation Room Four with a deranged teenager.

"Turn your weaknesses into strengths," Tanuro had told her long ago. Annogi had never understood that—until now.

"No," Chris said, "I didn't. I got past the alarm system."

"What are you going to do with the axe?"

"You should leave," he told her, gesturing toward the door with the axe. "If you close the door, it'll act as an airlock."

"An airlock?" Annogi repeated. She looked at the axe, asking in the role of a little girl, "Are you going to use that here?"

"My mother died here," Chris told her in a flat tone. He gestured again to the door. "They watched her die from the far side of that airlock.

"Now I'm going to die here, too," he finished solemnly.

"Amanda Brown?" Annogi asked, her act forgotten in her shock.

"They say her picture is here somewhere," Chris said, glancing around at the pictures placed below the viewing portals. "She died because—"

"Because there was a stray bolt which breached the viewport," Annogi finished for him, her voice as flat as his. Startled, Chris glanced down at her. The memories came back, the images of Tanuro as his face turned to stone replayed in her mind, only now, at ten, Annogi could see that Tanuro's stone-faced look was because his heart was breaking. He had loved her, Amanda Brown. And he had watched her die. Annogi blinked rapidly to clear the tears of compassion which threatened to flood her. How was Tanuro feeling now, with Amanda Brown's daughter in the same situation?

The slip of paper in Annogi's back pocket was suddenly immensely more important than it had been minutes before.

"I was going to visit her the week after," Chris continued, ignoring Annogi. His face took on the image of a happy eight year-old. "I was all ready to see my real mom."

"I was three," Annogi said. "I was in the Observation Room."

"You were?" Chris asked, suddenly aware of Annogi once more. "She saved you?"

"Yes," Annogi said with a sob she couldn't control. She caught his eyes with hers, her tears suddenly welling up. "Our mother died to save me."

"Our mother?" Chris repeated. His blue eyes were troubled as her words registered.

Annogi withdrew the slip of paper from her back pocket. She kept her thumb over part of it, on purpose, but extended it to Chris, her other hand reaching for the axe.

"Our mother," she said again, her voice firm once more as she grabbed the axe, "would not want this room, of all rooms, harmed. She gave her life for it."

Chris didn't even notice himself relinquishing the axe as he read the printout.

"And she wouldn't want you hurting yourself, either," Annogi added, sending the axe spinning slowly away from them. She turned back to face Chris. "And I don't want you hurting yourself, either, brother."

"Brother?" Chris echoed softly.

Annogi nodded and moved away from the viewport, gesturing at the picture below.

"I often come here," Annogi told him a little shyly. Chris looked down at the picture and crouched down beside Annogi, suddenly smaller than she was. She looked down at him and gently touched his shoulder. "I was mad all these years, angry that she was gone, that I had nothing left to remember her by—"

"You too?"

Annogi nodded. "But I'm not angry any more."


"No," Annogi replied firmly. She gestured to the viewport and the stars beyond it. "She left me everything to remember her by. She left us this spaceport, the elevator, and she left what she loved most of all—the stars."

Still crouched, Chris looked out the viewport over Annogi's shoulder. He could see the brilliant blue Earth below and above he could see the faint twinkling of uncountable stars.

"We can't take that away from her, Chris," Annogi said. "Clear?"

"Clear," Chris agreed, looking up at his little sister.

* * *

Tanuro opened the airlock. With a glance behind to indicate that the follow-on security officer should retrieve the axe, he kicked off to the two children huddled by the viewport.

No, not children, Tanuro corrected himself. Either of them.

The import of the past twenty minutes weighed down upon him. His ten year-old daughter had disarmed a full-grown man with only her words.

Annogi saw him and turned to follow his glide toward them. She touched Chris gently on the shoulder and pointed at Tanuro.

"This is the man who raised me after our mother died," Annogi said as Tanuro reached them. Tanuro nodded in recognition, his heart frozen by her words. Annogi saw his reaction but continued to Chris, "He is the head of station security. He is a just man. You broke a number of station rules by what you did, you'll have to accept the consequences."

Chris nodded in acceptance, his face grim.

"But I'll ask him to understand that you are my brother," Annogi said. "And I'll come visit you if I can."

"If you can?" Chris repeated.

"My body adapted to zero-gee," Annogi explained. "I can't go earthside."

"Will you call me?"

"Of course," Annogi replied with a grin. "We have a lot of catching up to do." She turned to the viewport for a moment. "And there are all those stars."

Chris nodded, his eyes bright with the light of the stars. To Tanuro he said, "I'm ready."

Tanuro nodded brusquely and gestured to two security men who led Chris away.

When they were alone, Tanuro turned to Annogi. "I am very proud of you."

"I hacked into the security system," Annogi confessed, pulling the slip of paper once more from her pocket. "I wanted to know who my real father was."


"So you can live with him?" Tanuro asked, his voice devoid of emotion. Once again the images of Amanda Brown's death floated in his eyes.

"Yes," Annogi said. "Always and forever."

"Very well, it shall be as you wish."

"This is his name," Annogi said, handing him the slip of paper. "He is my real father."

"He is a lucky man," Tanuro admitted, taking the paper from her.

"No, I am," Annogi said, flinging herself into Tanuro's arms and hugging him fiercely.

Tanuro was shocked and dismayed but he instinctively hugged Annogi back, even while trying to read the name on the paper. And when he did, he gave a heartfelt sob and clutched her all the more tightly, tears flowing for the first time in seven years as the rock that was his heart finally melted once more.

The name on the paper was: Tanuro Nakashima.

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