Author: Joel C. Scoberg

“I’m telling you it would catch me,” said Duncan, his words slightly slurred.

“Think about it, if it was dangerous, they’d put a sign up.”

Alyn leaned over the viewing platform’s guardrail. The toxic clouds seethed and churned beyond the habisphere, completely enveloping the Arcology which floated in the Venusian atmosphere like a lost balloon. “Maybe, but it’s still, what, a fifty-foot drop to the habisphere?”

“Very survivable.” Duncan waved away Alyn’s concerns with his beer bottle. “Especially considering the elasticity of the habisphere membrane. It’ll be like landing on a bouncy castle.”

“I thought only the astroengineers loved a late night.”

They both turned. Renee Amara walked—no, sauntered—toward them, dressed to the nines in a tight-fitting, emerald-coloured dress. Her dark brown hair hung over her bare shoulders. Barefoot, she carried a pair of sparkly high-heels in one hand and a bottle of red wine in the other. Duncan swallowed heavily beside him.

“We botanists know how to party too.” Duncan leaned back against the polished metal guardrail and took a swig of beer. Alyn was impressed. Duncan usually fell into stuttering incoherence around Renee.

“I can see that.” Renee stepped between them and leant on the guardrail, her floral perfume more intoxicating than any beer. “What were you two arguing about?”

“Duncan’s latest obsession. He reckons the habisphere would catch him if he jumped.”

Renee’s amber eyes met his, and it was Alyn’s turn to swallow heavily. “And what do you think?”

“I, er, I think he’d fall straight through.”

“It’s perfectly safe.” Duncan climbed on to the guardrail, balancing precariously with his back to the raging Venusian cloudscape. “As I told Alyn, there would be a sign if it was—”

Duncan slipped. Renee dropped her heels and grabbed his leg, steadying him. “Careful,” she said.

“Thank you, my lady, but have no fear for me. I’ve thought a lot about this.” Duncan glanced at her hand on his leg and beamed. “Astroships can only sail through the habisphere because of their bulk, the habisphere stretches before it allows them through to the dock. That elasticity helps retain the air pressure inside the Arc—not too rigid that it pops, not too soft that it loses pressure. It’s how the Arc floats in the heavier carbon-dioxide clouds in the atmosphere. To science,” cheered Duncan, raising his bottle in the air.

“Okay, okay, you’ve convinced me,” said Alyn, reaching for his friend’s hand. “Now come down.”

“I’m telling you, if I jumped, I’d be fine. And I’d be the first person to do it.” Duncan drained his beer then winked at Renee. “That would be worth a kiss, right?”

Renee laughed weakly. “Don’t be silly now.”

Duncan stretched out his arms like an Olympic diver, grinned, then jumped.

Alyn lunged for Duncan but he was too late.

Duncan plummeted with a loud, triumphant yell, which turned to a strangled yelp as he plunged straight through the habisphere and disappeared within the thick Venusian clouds. The habisphere rippled and repaired itself, snuffing out the sudden stench of rotten eggs.

“I can’t believe he did that,” said Renee, after a long silence. “What should we do?”

Alyn shook his head. “I guess we should put a sign up.”