Saturn’s ammonia clouds stretch into an infinite horizon, the Sun casting long shadows across the platform’s deck. Lucky Cricket rests silhouetted against the sky while shimmering aerostat lights hang suspended in the distance, waiting.
Sarah pushes the Pintail’s flight stick forward and the aquamarine sky rolls away. Below, the cloud deck is an impossible swirl of cinnamon and gold with pockets of flickering lightning. Thunder rumbles in bursts, its audio out of sync with the light show. Through the cockpit windows great banded rings fade into the horizon and the scale of it is almost too much to take in at once. Motion catches her eye as a silver glimmer carves a vapor trail across the sky. It changes course, the vapor trail bending, then corkscrews a white spiral before matching her altitude. Saturn’s moons are an audience of bright stars behind it.
“Well, now you’re just showing off,” Sarah says to her helmet mic.
Jia’s stomach burns and she jolts awake. She flails against the suffocation as if she can beat it away with her own two hands. Tears well in a weightless film across her eyelids and she scrubs the back of one hand across her face while the other fumbles with the harness release. Her head throbs. When she sets her hand to the site of the pain, it returns sticky and red. Thoughts spark and fizzle in an overlapping jumble of competing primal urges. Air. She needs air.
Kyan Anders drifted in a room brimming with a hundred billion stars. Radiant golds spanned familiar constellations, but it was what lay between the stars that captured his attention. Smudges of galaxies against ebony sky. Glowing stellar lanes dusted with rose. Objects no man could see from Earth, but here they were impossible to miss. It was like seeing, truly seeing, for the first time.
James Hayden smiled as his dream died. It was the polished, charismatic smile that had glossed the feeds of Frontier and Momentum. In the silence he could hear the soft pulse of Hayden-Pratt’s logo spinning on the wall behind him. He paused and gripped the podium. A room full of tuxedos and gowns looked back.