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Burn the Boats

Sarah A. Hoyt

Sarah A. Hoyt has published over thirty novels (don’t make her count!) in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical, and they-say-it’s-romance. Also, over one hundred short stories (really don’t make her count. We’ll be here all day) in magazines like Analog and Asimov’s, Weird Tales, and others, as well as a whole bunch of anthologies. However, since she broke into her aunt’s house (really don’t make her explain) at age six to watch the Moon landing, her first and last love has been science fiction. She’s cleverly managed to guide one son into medicine and one into engineering, for the sole purpose of using them as sources to supply her own pitiful knowledge of the subjects. Thus armed, she hopes to be able to spend imaginary time in space, even if she’ll never live there. Oh, yeah: She was born in Portugal, writes in her third language (if you ask her to say “moose and squirrel” you can’t be her friend anymore), has won the Prometheus Award for her novel DarkShip Thieves, etc., etc. But mostly she’s just happy to be writing science fiction.

They’d swept a path on the green-blue ice, so that it looked like a road, from the landing site to the village. On either side of it, the snowflakes crusted, gilded a pale orange by the light from Proxima Virginis.

Martha swallowed hard and bowed to the two waiting…men—she would have to remember to think of them as men—who stood on either side of the path as what? Guards? Escorts?

Their skin was too pale, they had no noses that she thought of as noses and they looked, for lack of a better term, slimy. She breathed through her mouth, so as not to detect what her nose insisted was a distinctly fish odor, and she squared her shoulders in her temperature-controlled suit. The men wore what looked like harem pants in a fabric that looked as if they’d skinned a fish and not cured the skin. And she had a feeling that was just a concession to the new arrivals, despite the cold making the skin of her own face go numb and her eyes sting.

They bowed to the survivors of Gloriana with a sort of fluid elegance that made all the alarm bells go off at the back of Martha’s head. There was something here like the uncanny valley effect that had made androids a rare thing back on Earth because they looked just enough like men but weren’t to set off subconscious alarm. Perhaps if Martha hadn’t known these were humans, the same seed of Earth as her own people, this would be easier.

There wasn’t much to the swept path. After half a mile, and cresting a rise that looked artificial, they came upon a village of clear igloos. They had obviously purified the water, making the bricks of the persistent blue-green algae. The igloos sparkled gold under the sun, but were too small to be habitations. Which was fine. The scouts and ambassadors who had arranged this deal for her people had told her they weren’t habitations so much as covers over greenhouses, both to increase the concentration of oxygen and to keep the plants warm enough to grow. Below that were the actual houses, in ice caves, and below that still, the waters where these amphibian-adapted humans farmed the crabs and fish that provided the protein in their diets.

As Martha approached, followed by her people, she and they acting like polite refugees, each carrying only a small sack of possessions, not even sure what they would need in this new life, people flowed out of the igloos. Between the lower gravity of this much smaller world—Diana, which the people on Earth had called Ross 128 c—and the modifications that made it possible for them to spend so much of their time underwater, their chests were larger and it seemed to her their heads were smaller, though that might be an effect of the proportionally larger chests. Their arms seemed longer too, and spindly, and their hands had long inter-finger membranes. As for their legs, they seemed too long and too thin, like they bent in extra places.

Men, women and children were near-naked, though some wore skirts or pants that looked like fish skin, and most wore some kind of ornament, from earrings to what looked like tattoos.

They flowed out, in massed confusion behind a man up front, who surged forward with either an eager or threatening expression on his face as he undulated into a deep bow before her. “Welcome, Martha MacArthur,” he said, “leader of our dead sister-world, Gloriana. Welcome to Diana, be welcome. And may your people and mine prosper together.” His voice sounded too high and had weird echoes. Reports said these people saw much better in the murky water of their world than they should, and besides, they seemed to have some kind of sonar. Whatever it was, it made their voices sound funny.

She bowed, trying to breathe through her mouth, trying not to think of fish, or of these long, sinuous creatures moving underwater like humanoid versions of the dolphins she’d seen on holos from Earth.

She was doing what she had to do to allow her people to survive. She’d chosen the most likely path to bring them to safety and to a future.

“We are honored to be here,” she said, her voice sounding raspy and her throat feeling too dry in the thin atmosphere. “May the uniting of our peoples and technology be propitious to both.”

Why did this feel like defeat?

* * *

The first hint that something had gone seriously wrong had been that no one who was out that “night” had returned.

It wasn’t night as such, but conventionally held as the night hours. There was no real night on Gloriana, aka Ross 128 b. It was tidally locked, with a night and a day side. The day side had permanent cloud cover, which kept it cooler than it would otherwise have been, and allowed the poles to be habitable, but still there was no night as such.

The colony, established over a hundred years ago, had decided to keep “night” and “day” as roughly the same cycles they’d kept on Earth and on the slow ship out, the better to match human circadian rhythms. Though to be fair, people worked both night and day cycles. Plants grew around the cycle, and why waste time that could be spent tending the fields? Night workers just kept a different cycle than day workers.

Only on this particular day, the night workers hadn’t returned. It was late in the morning and not one of them had made it back.

Martha, newly elected as colony leader, was informed of this as she entered her office. Mike, her husband, chosen according to their genetic profiles, was a dozen years older than her, and had slid seamlessly into the role of supplies manager for the colony. He’d taken the fragmentary records of the previous administration and was as informed of what they had and what they could do with it as anyone had ever been.

Their relationship was not a warm one. Both Martha and Mike had grown to adulthood under an administration that believed the rules which had held the colony together and successful for a century were no longer needed. Both of them had experienced the failures in technology and knowledge that came with people no longer being forced to learn to maintain and equip their world. They’d chosen therefore to take the path of their grandparents and be matched according to DNA. Martha, in her early thirties, was the mother of eight of their genetic children and two womb-children, the name given to the embryos brought, frozen, in the long voyage to Gloriana.

Having done her duty for the colony, having realized that the rule of Caiden Lester, the previous ruler, had brought them to some perilous places, both genetically and in knowledge, she’d run for office under the “restore and work” platform.

And while her relationship with Mike might not be warm, or passionate in the sense of those couples you tripped upon in the odd corners of the colony, locked in embrace and looking far less embarrassed than you were to see them, they had learned to be friends.

Their passion for the colony and ensuring its survival had guaranteed that, as had their preference for a quiet, ordered life. They rarely disagreed on how to raise their children, or on things like the necessity to resume hybridization experiments for Gloriana and Earth life-forms.

He was still fit, in his early fifties, and the hair going gray at his temples seemed to enhance his attractiveness. He’d gotten up earlier than she did, as usual, and was waiting in her office with a cup of coffee and the bad news.

“What?” she asked. “None of them?”

There were no dangerous animals on Gloriana. In fact, there had been nothing but vegetation, insects, and some fish and crustaceans when humans landed. That Earth vegetation and animals could thrive on Gloriana was an unexpected boon, though what thrived and what died was strange. For instance, why had goats survived but not cows? Why chickens and not rabbits? But there was no larger indigenous life-form than a kind of palm-sized spider.

That said, Gloriana had seismic activity, and there had been work parties that had failed to return in the past, having run into lava flows or other things that damaged their equipment. The normal protocol was to send search parties for anyone who failed to make it home safe in the morning. But, “All of them?”

Mike nodded. “I’ve sent parties out to look for them.” He paused a moment. “I had them wear radiation-protection suits.”


“All our sensors indicate that the radiation outside is very high.” He hesitated again. “I think the sun had a quiet flare during the night.”

Martha arrested in the act of taking her cup of coffee to her lips. It wasn’t real coffee. Her grandparents said it wasn’t real coffee. She remembered their complaints. But the plant, grown on Gloriana, had the same caffeine content and Martha liked the flavor. It associated in her mind with waking up. Now she took a deep breath of its caramel odor, then set the cup down. Her hand would not tremble. She would not allow it.

“A flare,” she said.

Back on Earth, when the colonization of Gloriana had been planned over two hundred years ago, they had known that Ross 128 was likely to flare. To be honest, all stars were likely to flare, including Earth’s own Sol. But Ross 128 had been quiet a long time, and there seemed to be little risk of it. It might flare again in a thousand years or ten thousand, but on the way there the colony would have plenty of time to establish its systems of defense, its magnetic shields, or simply to move on, further, to another and more hospitable planet.

The idea that a flare would strike within just about a century of the colony’s founding seemed…unlikely.

And Martha found to her horror that she was not absolutely sure of what it would do precisely. She knew about the Carrington Event from history, and that it would have destroyed any non-hardened electronics back on Earth, but she wasn’t sure what it meant for humans. “Would it have killed our people?” she asked.

Mike shook his head. For the first time he looked old, as though an immense tiredness had settled on him.

They’d done a lot in their one-year term. But he’d never looked this tired.

“No, they’ll be alive,” he said. “But all their equipment will be dead. For that matter, we only have buggies and tractors and radios still operating because we—because you—implemented that rule about keeping all the not-in-operation vehicles in underground garages, like our grandparents did.”

She shook her head, “We.” He’d told her long ago that he didn’t want the burdens of public leadership, of being the one in the spotlight. But they’d always been a team. “Not that we even thought about that,” she said. “I mean I thought maybe some kind of storm, or…”

“I thought of solar flares,” Mike said. “Unlikely though they sounded, I knew they were possible. On the other hand, I’ll confess I didn’t expect one this soon. I’d…I’d intended to restore the practice of having a number of people on the mothership, where they could observe solar activity and…and the rest of the system, beyond the cloud cover, but we never—it’s expensive, Martha, and I couldn’t justify it. We’d have to send people up every couple of years, and we’d have had to supply them, too. Not to mention no one wanted to go and live confined in the mothership.”

“I know,” she said. “Caiden left a mark. His leadership wasn’t just leadership, but the result of the culture. And the culture itself was dying to break out. People were held to roles and rote too long. Maybe it’s natural they wanted to explode out of them and follow their bliss.”

Her predecessor, Caiden Lester, had held onto a policy of what he called “making the people happy.” He’d thought the colony, three generations in, was established enough, and the dangers of the world were known well enough that they could relax somewhat, and just “make people happy” by letting them pick their own professions, their own interests, their own passions. “Follow your bliss” had been one of Caiden Lester’s catch phrases. He thought that now that the population in the colony had reached a thousand people, they could afford to stop interfering in personal choice in their occupations, personal choice in their mate selections, and personal choice in their free time.

While Martha, having grown up in a colony where it seemed to her that all her movements were carefully watched and scripted, agreed that there should be more freedom, she had fought against Lester’s ideas that no vigilance was needed: no mandatory observation of the environment around Gloriana in case of surprises, no mandatory genetic mapping pre-marriage, no extraordinary vigilance. With a thousand individuals in the world and ten thousand embryos still awaiting thawing and carrying to term in the mothership, the colony was now safe enough, secure enough. It needed no special hardship to keep going, Lester said. And Martha had wondered if a hundred years of stability really meant anything.

Eventually Lester’s aversion to other types of planning had led to people electing Martha, who thought that crops must be planned, and that it didn’t hurt young people to do a term of service in the farms, or to learn to fly shuttles that might never be needed except for the decennial ceremonial flight and the bringing down of additional embryos.

Martha knew, from reading over supply lists, that when it came to essential food supplies, Lester had brought the colony to the brink a few times. But this—

“There has been no observation?” she asked. “None whatsoever?”

Mike shook his head. He took a deep breath. “We might have to figure it out now. We might very well have to have everyone return to the mothership, and I don’t know if we have room for a thousand people. But we might have to find out. Even if all the night shift died, that’s two hundred individuals. The outlying farms…many are still underground. They should have survived, at least if they were home.”

“Why?” Martha asked. “Because our equipment was destroyed?”

“No.” Mike sighed. “Because a flare of the magnitude I suspect we had would have altered the atmospheric balance and likely killed all plants and animals. And made it impossible to farm this land for the next several hundreds of years.”

“But it can’t have,” Martha said. “We know in the past these flares were much more frequent, and yet we found native plants and animals in residence.”

“Yeah, but we don’t know how. It’s possible that there is something to local life that allows it to survive these, just like Earth life can survive volcano eruptions and other natural catastrophes. We might just have lost Earth plant life.”

They hadn’t just lost Earth plant life.

Most tragically they’d lost all of the night shift. The colony was shocked at the loss of one fifth of its population. Everyone had lost a mother, father, sister, brother, husband or child. Some people were left alone. But worse, even as the memorial services were carried out, the evidence accumulated which made them realize that nearly all plant life had disappeared from Gloriana and the irradiated world might not recover for decades.

“Maybe centuries,” Angelo said.

Lucy’s eyes went very wide in response, and her mouth formed an “o.” She sat in the communal refectory across from Angelo. They were both in their early twenties and it was too much to say they had been courting. Before the disaster, they had spent some time together in the sort of parties the colony threw, but they’d barely known each other.

A hundred years in, the colony had started spreading out. Families had built individual lodgings mostly dug deep into the earth, which now must be their salvation, as anyone who hadn’t had a thick coat of earth between them and the surface had died.

Only a core remained, keeping up the early planned farms.

To be fair, the private farms outproduced the others twenty to one.

To also be fair, it had been more comfortable to be outflung, outspread.

Now, in the wake of the flare and with the possibility of other and possibly even worse ones—there had been a mini one, like an echo, shortly after—everyone had returned to the old quarters, the hardened, dug-in-the-earth ones created by the original colonists. They were eating food from every store they could gather, including those that had once belonged to private families, though most of it had become too irradiated to eat.

And they ate in the refectory, pretty much day-around. It was a noisy, crowded place, where you claimed a seat if you were lucky, and if not, you ate standing up by the wall. Lucy and Angelo had struck an acquaintance and usually reserved seats for each other depending on who arrived first.

“We don’t have food for centuries,” Lucy said.

“No,” Angelo said. “We don’t have a year, I hear. Old Mike told someone who told someone who told me, so it’s a rumor and take it for what it’s worth, but at the current rate of consumption we have maybe six months, after which comes cannibalism and death.”

Lucy made a face. At twenty she’d been looking around for a husband and was ready to start a family. She’d thought she’d have five or six children, ten if she were lucky, and maybe two or three womb-children, and live in an outlying farm—a happy farm wife. And frankly, even after the cataclysm, she thought the old people, the ones who knew more, would find a way to make it happen. And perhaps Angelo, dark-eyed, brooding, muscular Angelo, would make a good husband.

Cannibalism and death just weren’t in her plans. “Like that?” she asked. “No one will do anything?”

Angelo lowered his voice and leaned in. “We’re doing something. I’m flying a shuttle to the mothership tonight.”

“We’re going to go back to the ship?” she asked.

“Can’t. Not enough room. There were two hundred original colonists. We can’t cram eight hundred people into it, much less supply them with the means to survive. The reactor probably could handle it, but there’s not enough room. The recycling of oxygen and water for that many people might be too much. And we don’t have the ability or tech to create more deep-sleep berths.”

“Then why?”

“Because there is another world in this system. Ross 128 c.”

“I thought that was an ice-ball. At least the instruction films—”

“It is.”


“When the expedition was planned, it was thought that there were liquid oceans and life under a thick crust of ice. The thick crust of ice probably protected life in the waters from the solar flare.”

“Uh, is there life under the ice?”

“We don’t know. We’re about to find out.”

“Can you fly the shuttle?” Lucy asked.

“Technically at least,” he said. “I’ve flown it in the simulator. Caiden Lester let it fall in disrepair. But Mike says there is enough fuel and it’s good enough to get us to the mothership. And I have the best simulator record on docking.”

Lucy wasn’t sure where it came from. She just knew she wanted this to work. She wanted Angelo back. She wanted some way they could still have the life she’d dreamed.

She kissed him, fleetingly, on the face. “Come back to me alive,” she said. She then got up and fled before she could see his reaction.

* * *

Mike stood, dumbfounded, not sure what to tell Martha. Eventually she had to find out.

“Definitely igloos, the report says,” Mike said. “We sent up the shuttle and a couple of the people who’ve been studying—at least theoretically—how to handle the observation telescopes. And they say the structures that cover most of the northern hemisphere are definitely artificial and they look like Earth igloos. But they could be aliens.”

Martha looked tired. She gave him a faded smile. “Well, then. Do we have any choice but to meet these aliens?”

“I suspect not. We can refuel from the mothership and we estimate that a trip to Ross 128 c will take maybe ten days. It’s doable in the shuttles.”

“We’d better take volunteers,” she said. “If they die…”

“Oh, we’re going to have deaths on our conscience one way or the other. But I agree. We’ll take volunteers both for pilots and for the party to meet the aliens,” Mike said. “Let’s hope there are enough.”

* * *

There were a lot of volunteers to both fly the shuttle and go meet the aliens. Lucy was happy she made the party of greeters—the Welcome Wagon, as the colony had taken to calling them. Though, really, shouldn’t it be the other way around?—and that Angelo would be flying the shuttle.

Ross 128 c was a little world, but perhaps somehow there would be room for an aquatic farm, for…herding fish or something. She didn’t want to think too hard about it. She’d grown up in a farm with goats, but the goats all had to be slaughtered when the vegetation died. Now…

She’d almost gone insane the ten days of the trip. Now they were landing and she had to admit it didn’t look promising. Ross 128 c was a tiny world, green-blue due to algae trapped in the ice.

They landed close enough to the structures to see they were in fact igloos. And then the natives came out.

* * *

“From Earth,” Martha told Mike. “But I’m not sure I’d call them human. They were headed further on but their recycling systems started malfunctioning. Insufficient air. Something to do with the electrical system and their reactor. They didn’t have the ability to repair anything and could only limp to the nearest promising world. They used their shuttles for landing, one last time. Their useless ship remains in orbit. Many of the embryos were lost. They could only bring down the essentials, and the essentials allowed the landing party to barely modify themselves for the environment, but genuinely genetically modify their descendants and the frozen embryos.

“They are amphibian. Well, not quite. Mammals, but with the possibility of storing enough air that they can maintain undersea…cattle farms, I suppose we must call them. Their complex system of transparent igloos over other tunnels did indeed save their crops from the flare, though they suffered some losses. They offered us a trade. We can come and join them. They can modify us enough that we can survive and modify any newborns or embryos enough that…well…we can find shelter there. If we’re willing to become like them.”

Her reluctance must have shown in her voice, and it showed even more when she played the films the Welcome Wagon had taken to Mike. Mike’s reluctance was also evident. His lip curled. He sighed. “Is it even possible to make us like that?”

“No. Not really. Not fully. But it’s possible to take us halfway there, as their landing party was. Mostly bio-modified viruses that will alter our genome to survive on thinner air, to endure the cold, to be able to oxygenate our blood to the point we’ll only need a breath every hour or so. The natives can go six hours without breathing.” She put her head in her hands. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “They will welcome us, and our embryos, as many as we’re willing to trade, because they need the genetic diversity. Only fifty founding couples survived on their side, and the gen mod narrowed their gene base even more. In return we can do anything we want with their marooned ship. It’s possible we can fix it. Part of their tragedy is that their main technicians were killed in the original crisis, and they don’t even know what it was. Most of the survivors were people awakened from deep sleep by the emergency systems. We were a planned colony and however bad Caiden Lester’s administration was, we still have techs.”

“Caiden wants to stay, by the way,” Mike said. “He opposes all attempts at leaving the colony. He thinks the vegetation will come back soon. He thinks we’re tyrants, trying to circumvent his choice.”

Can the vegetation come back soon?”

“Not a chance, though we might be able to provide him, and anyone who wants to remain, with the hydroponics facilities, and the seeds. Maybe one hundred people can stay behind.”

“It will have to be voluntary,” Martha said.

“All of it will have to be voluntary. Do you want to have any of it on your conscience?”

She laughed, but there was no joy in it. “Not even my own fate,” she said.

* * *

“There’s room for four hundred people in the two ships,” Lucy said. “And we’re surrendering half of the embryos to the people in Ross 128 c. They call it Diana.”

“Are you staying?” Angelo asked, with some anxiety. “Only, I’ve requested to go on the mothership. Our original mothership, that is, the Eos. It’s going further on, you know. I don’t know if I’ll be chosen or exactly where we’re going yet. People have mentioned Kepler, I think, but I’m not one of the eggheads, so I can’t tell you. The techs are fairly sure they can get us to a world, maybe better than Gloriana and close enough that, using long sleep, you and I—I mean, I’d still be young enough to start a life and a family.”

Lucy smiled. “Yes, you and I could do that, Angelo. If we’re keeping the domestic animal embryos…maybe we can still have a farm somewhere. I’ve requested the Eos, too. A lot of stick-in-the-muds want to go in the Diana colony ship and back to Earth. They called it the boomerang.”

“Well, if they don’t accept me to the Eos then maybe Earth will be okay,” he said. “I hear they have enough room for farms there.”

“For all of us?”

“Probably, but Lucy, if we are going to stay on the same ship when they choose, perhaps we should get married? I hear they give preference to married couples.”

“Uh…is that a proposal?”

He leaned in close in the crowded refectory. People were talking very loudly all around, and in a corner Caiden Lester was holding forth on how a hundred of them could hold this world, and make a stand for another generation or three, and then they could recolonize. Ross 128 was a quiet star, as quiet as the sun. Another catastrophic flare was unlikely in the near future. They needed, of course, to pick those with the cleanest genetics among the colonists. One hundred people could form a viable colony, particularly if supplemented with a few frozen embryos, but they must have clean genetics. And breeding would have to be carefully controlled. Lucy spared a look at the man’s haggard face, as he expounded the exact opposite of what his administration had stood for, and then leaned in closer to Angelo, in time to hear him ask, “Lucy, will you marry me?”

“Of course. Let’s register it.”

And maybe there wouldn’t be enough time or resources for a farm in their future. Maybe like the landing-party generation in Gloriana they would have to sacrifice their lives in regimented, almost military discipline. Maybe she would have to spend most of her life pregnant.

But somewhere they would go on, and she would have Angelo. And maybe their children or grandchildren would have their own farms and find a world more hospitable than Gloriana had proven to be.

* * *

Mike waited. He stood by his wife’s desk, looking at her with every air of expectancy.

He’d brought her a cup of coffee. Martha sipped the coffee as much to wait out the need to speak as to savor its rich caramel flavor. She wasn’t sure there would be any equivalent where she was going. And she didn’t want to go. She really didn’t want to go. Given her choice she would go to Earth, or on the Eos. But she was too old to establish a new colony. Even with the minimal aging while in deep sleep, she might not be able to have more children. And Mike—

Beyond all that, it behooved her to provide a good example to her subordinates. Even with two ships, there was only room for four hundred people, give or take. Even with Lester’s group subtracted, they’d need three hundred people to stay behind. Three hundred one if they counted the new Martin baby in the population, though he and all the young children would probably go in the Eos, in deep sleep.

“Patrick and Peter and James have signed up to the request list for the Eos,” Mike said. “And I allowed Mary and Jane to make the choice as well.” Patrick, Peter and James were their sons over fifteen and Mary and Jane were their ten-year-old twins.

Martha felt a wrench at her stomach. She was sending five of her children to places unknown. It was logical, even loving, to give them a chance at a new world. It was risky also.

“I suggest we send Michael, Miles, and Janet with them, as well as the babies.”

Michael was five, Miles three, Janet two, and the babies, her womb-children, were one year old. The wrenching increased. “I don’t want—” she started.

“If we have them modified to stay in Diana,” Mike said, “they’ll never fully fit in. It will be difficult for them to procure mates or to start a new life. They’ll be like us, creatures caught in the middle, but for their entire lives. It will inform their ideas of themselves, everything they are. We can send them back to Earth, of course. They should be able to find a place there, but it is also denying the entire effort our ancestors made to establish a new beachhead for humanity. And we don’t know what the Earth is like after two hundred years. Or how they’ll be treated. They might become curious specimens to be studied and observed their entire lives.”

“There is no good option,” Martha said.

“No. We can have more children,” Mike said. He put his hand across to her.

She looked up at him, and was both comforted and shattered to see tears in his eyes. “But you don’t understand,” she said. “There is only one place I can go. I have to go to Diana. Someone has to set the example, and by virtue of being the elected leader when this happened, it falls to me. The captain goes down with the ship and all that.”

“I know.”

“And you don’t mind?” she asked. They hadn’t married for love. Their married life had been harmonious rather than passionate. He’d been a reliable ally and a steady worker for her goals. But all of a sudden, inexplicably, in the middle of the destruction of the whole world, she needed to know for sure that he would be with her. They might have to cast their children adrift into the unknown but she didn’t know if she could survive without him. She looked at his green-blue eyes and realized he was looking at her just as intently.

“Wither thou goest, I will go, even beneath the ice.”

Martha wanted to laugh and cry at once. The facilities were more technologically developed than she expected under those igloos. They should have known, of course. After all, creatures who can perform gen mods aren’t exactly primitives, no matter how many fish skins they wear, nor how many ways they choose to decorate their skins with fish bones and tattoos.

The accidental, ill-begotten colony was about where the carefully planned Gloriana had been. They were at the point that there could be individual farms and some autonomy.

They retained, from the two ships, enough tech to keep a wary eye in the skies in case there should be a flare so massive it would affect them.

But now the five hundred Gloriana embryos had been delivered and the shuttles returned to the mothership.

They were here for good. Their boats had been burned. There was no going back. They could never leave this shore.

She held Mike’s hand as she was put under, to start the modifications that would make her a native of Diana.

* * *

It all depends on what eyes you use to look at the world, Martha thought. She looked out the window of the igloo that was both greenhouse and home. All the plants gave the house a very high oxygen content. And the plants grew at levels that her two-year-old, Triton, couldn’t reach.

She heard the splashing down from the lower level as Mike came in from tending to their fish.

He brought back a crab. It wasn’t really a crab, not unless crabs were the size of dinner plates and pale violet. But it tasted much like Earth crabs. She straightened from where she had been singing Triton to sleep, and welcomed her husband with open arms.

If their movements were weird now, or if they smelled like fish, she couldn’t detect it. He was still the most handsome man in the universe, and Triton was as beautiful and loved as her other children had been.

They had scattered their children to the universe and she prayed, as she did every night, that they’d been granted safe landing.

But looking around her home, filled with plants that glowed orange gold in the ice-filtered sunlight, she found nothing missing.

They would go on, as colonists had had to since the first amphibian crawled from the deeps onto dry ground on Earth millions of years ago. They would go on as human colonists had managed to throughout the centuries.

Sooner or later Earth would find faster ways of traveling—warps or gates or something—and they’d come and unite all their colonies into some sort of human commonwealth.

Martha would wager that when that time came the inhabitants of Diana would be far from the strangest, accidental or planned.

She took the crab from Mike’s hands and kissed him passionately, smoothing back his soaked hair.

Perhaps Earth would come much sooner than expected. Perhaps they’d even understand her attempt at communicating they hadn’t all died, and that they might be found elsewhere in the system. Or perhaps she had just sought comfort from history and from the tale of the lost colony of Roanoke.

And yet, if Lester’s remnants of their people didn’t make it, perhaps someone would correctly interpret the word Croatoan—the sole remains of the lost colony of Roanoke—which she’d ordered carved deep in the rock of what had been Gloriana as they left.

A sign to those who came after.

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