Major Tom Valence knew it was a one-way trip yet he felt at peace, euphoric even. Soon he would be with them again – Liv and Susie. He sent a quick prayer of thanks to the Tetrad. The agony of the absence of his wife and daughter had left him hollow – Susie had been only eight. An emptiness he had filled with a nearly fanatical purpose – to open a passage through the Net.
As they left Estia’s atmosphere behind, he set a course for the Gemini moons and let the autodrive take over. He had a good hour before he would have to begin entering the manual adjustments to the course set. The Institute had calculated the weakest point in the Net. The Roda had not fully taken into account the disturbance caused by two moons in such close orbits. They should have made sure the Net passed beyond both moons and not between them.
It had been more than three centuries since Estia had been trapped inside the Net, as the Suvernal Forcefields were more commonly called. The Roda had placed it there to stop the Estians spreading like roaches they said. But nothing had been heard of the Roda for almost a century, so the Estians had dared to look for a way out. Desperation had fuelled and funded the research needed. A desperation born of the Unrests caused by overpopulation and scarce resources. Estia was mostly water with only one continental mass. It had been meant to be the home of a colony of three million, not twelve million. Liv and Susie had been among the victims of the Unrests – a Meronite suicide bomber who killed forty civilians.
Major Tom planned to be the ultimate suicide bomber, but instead of innocent lives, he planned to blast a hole through the Net. Then the Estians would be free to populate a new world, maybe several worlds. The sonic wave catalyst needed to be detonated at the Net’s weakest spot, that slight wear in the fabric caused at the point where the moons’ orbits were at their closest in their dance across the heavens. The Net wreaked havoc on the navigation system of any ship when you got too close to it though, so constant manual adjustments would have to be made to reach the weak spot.
A light flashed again on the console. There was a problem with the sensors in the ship’s tiny galley. Not that it really mattered at this point, but it would kill the time nicely to repair it. As he moved towards the galley, the door slid open and Lieutenant Atticus Rokes limped out. Two prosthetic legs in small confines was a recipe for stiffness.
– Atticus, what the fuck are you doing here?
– Well, I’m pleased to see you too!
– Atticus have you gone crazy?
– Maybe. I just couldn’t stand the thought of you alone up here at the end.
– But there’s no sense two of us dying for a gamble!
– What makes your life less worthy of living than mine?
– You know I haven’t been the same since I lost my girls. I’ve been leading a shadow life at best.
– My life hasn’t been the same either since I woke up with three prosthetic limbs, and a synthetic stomach and liver. I don’t hate my life, but I’ve never been able to shake the feeling of living on borrowed time. Anyway, I brought us the most expensive fire brandy I could find. The orometer tells me we still have fifty-six minutes in which to savour it.
– You beautiful, stubborn piece of shit.
Tom moved forward and hugged Atticus fiercely.
– I guess I can risk a small glass of that fire brandy…. You remember that time…
PLAQUE IN ESTIA’S CENTRAL DISTRICT:
In memory of Major Tom Valence who gave his life for our freedom. The planet of Valentia was named after him to honour his sacrifice.
Also in memory of Lieutenant Atticus Rokes who refused to let a friend die alone. “But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side, To the gallows-foot – and after!” – Unknown Terran poet.