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By´╝ÜJennifer Foehner Wells

They were prepared as well as could be expected under the circumstances. They would be outfitted with everything that could be thought of to protect them.

It was the things that could not be anticipated that worried him.


Jane swallowed a bite of a nutrition square. She’d gathered the others over a meal to discuss their upcoming arrival at Atielle. Jane sat at the head of an oblong table in the vast cafeteria-style room they used as a crew mess. Alan sat on one side with Ajaya and Ron on the other, the two so close to each other their arms occasionally brushed.

Her primary concern was unraveling the issue of the yoke before they left the ship. It was a complex amalgam of devices and software that controlled Ei’Brai, preventing him from moving the vessel without her consent and presence on board. They would be leaving him alone up here, and if something should happen to her, he would be trapped once again, as he had been in their solar system. That wasn’t okay with her. She wanted him to have more latitude in a worst-case scenario. Alan had been looking into the issue already, but it was complex and hidden, even from her, for security reasons. She felt she couldn’t depart until they found some way to decrease the yoke’s power at least somewhat. She asked Alan to make that a priority in the coming days.

They’d already gone over the issues of the breathability of the air on the moon, which wasn’t going to be a problem, and the foreign microbes, which they’d all already been exposed to without any negative impact on the Speroancora. They’d deliberated the size of the Sectilius system’s star, the fact that it was slightly larger than Earth’s, and that Sectilia and Atielle were closer to their star than Earth was to Sol and what that might mean to them while they were planetside.

Ron joked, “But I didn’t pack my sunscreen.”

They’d also discussed how to handle potential reinfection with the rogue squillae some of them had been affected by when they first boarded this ship, and the safety measures they should take to prevent that problem from recurring. So far all scans for the specific signals squillae emitted were negative. There was no indication that any nanites were extant on Atielle. Given the volumes that would have been in use before the squillae plague, they should have been detectable if still present. That didn’t mean they couldn’t exist in small pockets, even if someone had managed to obliterate them on a large scale. As a group they worked out how to enact several levels of prevention and control just to be safe, including a small set of nanites, programmed to work defensively, for each individual.

With those details set, it was time to discuss the problem of the weather conditions on Atielle. The conversation was going about like she’d imagined it would.

“The entire planet is having a monsoon season? You’re sure about this?” Alan asked incredulously, the food in his hand seemingly forgotten.

Ron frowned. “How’s that even possible?”

Ajaya put down a food cube she’d been about to nibble on. “Surely there is some kind of temperate zone where we can touch down and travel overland?”

Jane sighed. “Unfortunately, no. Atielle is small, about one-third the mass of Earth, though its surface area is roughly twice that of our moon. It’s orbiting Sectilia, which is a much bigger planet than we—”

“We’d call it a Super-Earth,” Alan said and put down his food like he’d lost his appetite.

Jane nodded. “I think so. Its mass is nearly nine times the mass of Earth. Its gravity is greater—”

“Yes, but its gravity isn’t nine times the gravity of Earth!” Alan interjected.

Jane raised a hand to forestall further comment so she could finish a thought. “True. The gravity of Sectilia is just under one and a half g.” She’d found that a bit odd until Ei’Brai showed her how planetary density and radius worked to create surface gravity. The concept didn’t seem to stump anyone at this table, so she went on. “Atielle’s orbit is closer to Sectilia than our own moon’s is to Earth. And there are three other moons which exert some gravitational force on it seasonally, as their orbits converge in proximity—this pressure and friction leads to a lot of volcanic activity. There is sporadic volcanic venting which creates uneven heating. The atmosphere destabilizes as hot and cold pockets of air continually collide—this results in a monsoon season that lasts for months.”

“Without breaks?” Ajaya asked.

“The breaks in weather are very short windows and unpredictable. Minutes or hours,” Jane replied.

Alan shook his head and blew out a heavy breath. “Jesus.”