Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
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Best Friend in Greyworld

by Glenn M. Diamond

A blurry halo of pale sunlight crept onto the walls of the cave through an irregular opening of weathered rocks. Swirling gusts would occasionally find the perfect angle and induce a ghostly resonance within the rocky void, rising and falling in pitch according to the speed of the wind. Reese opened his eyes. He may have nodded off a short time, it was difficult to tell. Momentarily transfixed, he imagined the sound to be from a band of mad flautists hiding in the deeper recesses beyond. It was a lonely sound befitting a desolate planet. Chroma in A-minor, he thought briefly, then reminded himself this was no time for poetic indulgences.

He scanned the mission chronometer on his sleeve, but it remained lifeless like everything else. Gazing towards the outside, he recalled solar observations were sufficiently complex to preclude any jump team from making practical use of them. Someday, if there were mining settlers here, they may decipher the meaning of day and night in this place. Professionalism compelled him to care about such details, just in case the team survived to file their report.

A small but nagging dread rose in his mind along with a lump in his dry throat as he grappled with their realistic prospects for survival. Supplies were dwindling rapidly and would likely be exhausted long before they found the pod. Even if they found it, they must somehow signal the Aldrin, orbiting a hundred fifty kilometers above. Failing that, and after a customary waiting period, the small expedition team would be declared lost and the Aldrin assigned to another mission.

Reese struggled to concentrate. It was more than mere exhaustion; the storm must have affected his mind. As his eyes adjusted he noticed how perfectly the light blended and tapered from white into blackness at the rear of the cave. Blackness. Ironic, he thought. Blackness had a purity that the world outside did not. Though black is the absence of color, he preferred it to the vast grey wasteland outside the cave. Did it really happen? What could have gripped Chroma, one of the most visually spectacular, spectrally-rich worlds in the galaxy, and removed any trace of color from the sky and the rocks and the sand, and even him? Or did something happen to his eyes? Within this cave he felt a strange comfort. It was a place he wouldn’t expect to see color, so he wasn’t as disturbed by its absence.

Reese was seized by a flash of panic ... Trooper! Where was Trooper? He leaned forward and with great relief felt the dog’s pulsating muzzle nosing into his hand, and saw his stub of a tail wiggling with excitement. Reese pulled him into a reassuring embrace. Trooper, always the provider of a cooler, albeit furry, head, stopped to sniff at the cut on Reese’s left index finger. It had stopped bleeding. Reese took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, glancing away and then back into the dog’s shimmering once-topaz eyes.

“Sorry boy. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just that I ...” Reese examined his hand. The cut was superficial, that wasn’t the issue. It was a careless thing to do, and Frost was justified for her outburst. He had allowed her to see him scared, and they needed to be strong. There was still time.


A couple of hours earlier, Reese Hunter, Tara Frost, and a three-year-old Viszla named Trooper stood at the center of a small circular depression bordered by a modest horseshoe-shaped ridge, the highest they’d seen so far. The opening might have been the eroded remnants of an oblique impact crater. The inside was a rock-strewn plain a few hundred meters across, sheltered somewhat from the constant wind. Beyond it was a landscape of low ridges, shallow canyons, and narrow washes extending uniformly in every direction. This was the strange terrain that Major Cyrus Hadi, jump officer of the Aldrin, had described during their briefing.

Hadi was an imposing but gentle giant of a man, with wild black hair and deep charcoal eyes. A brilliant yet reclusive physicist, Hadi had a talent for conveying a richness of information, reasoning, and confidence in a very few words. He was a deeply private person and one of the best deep-galaxy navigators in the CSF. Hunter and Frost considered his briefings the most important part of the jump.

“The surface is a near-perfect isometric projection of a textured polychromic fractalscape, with ridges and washes containing lines of highly saturated colors. It will appear the same at any distance, a hundred meters or a hundred kilometers. There are no mountains, valleys, lakes or rivers, only nominal variations in the surface texture. Topographically, the height varies less than one hundred meters over any ten-square-kilometer area. Gusty winds are constant and favor no particular direction. Complete disorientation is possible if your navcom systems fail.” Reese and Tara looked at each other and shared the same thought: If things turn to shit, it will be easy to get lost.

Indeed they had, and indeed they were.

Reese spotted the small cave about halfway up the ridge and told Tara he’d investigate while she walked the ridgeline and attempted to re-establish visual contact with the pod or at least estimate a bearing for their return course. She looked at him with resignation and silently hiked off. She knew it was probably just an exercise, but welcomed some time alone to gather her disjointed thoughts.

Reese approached the entrance of the cave and stopped. Trooper waited obediently a few steps behind. Sunlight penetrated an indeterminate distance, and he ventured in a few meters before sitting on a flat boulder along the wall. Without a functioning light source he couldn’t go too far in. The wind drove eddies of dust around the rim of the opening, and the resonant sounds only added to his sense of detachment. Over the next twenty minutes he just sat there, confused and anxious. The situation was absurd. Slowly he tightened his left hand into a fist and started hitting it against the side of the rock in a symbolic gesture of denial or defiance or just disbelief. Trooper, who lay at his feet, lifted his head quizzically.

Reese fumbled at a clip on his belt and took out the knife, extended the blade, pausing for a moment to consider the fact that only simple tools still worked, unburdened by the need for electricity. With curious deliberation he drew the blade across his finger and watched the blood well up and drip into the sandy soil. He stretched out his hand to capture a ray of light, which is precisely when Tara Frost appeared at the entrance and saw him, her face flushed with sudden anger. All he could say was “Why isn’t it red, Tara? This has to be RED.”


Star G1440 had amazing spectral properties; producing a pearly-white light with a glowing, metallic quality. Such a perfect source, illuminating the diverse mineral and chemical surface of Chroma, produced the richest colors imaginable on a planetary body. The blood from Reese’s finger looked as black as pitch because roughly fifty hours ago, during a nightmarish event lasting perhaps ten minutes, all of the color on Chroma had simply disappeared. What replaced it was only smeared, ugly grey. To Reese it looked like dirt and death and insanity. It was also an event that rendered their equipment useless and left them with no navigation, no communications, and no way to locate the jump pod Stanhope.

Frost watched Reese casually bleeding, and was furious. “Are you crazy? And by crazy, I don’t mean eccentric or inspired or whatever euphemistically named mental deviations the Commercial Space Force allows in their jumpers. Shit, get hold of yourself. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is not a solo jump and there are TWO of us stuck here.”

Reese glanced defensively at Trooper.

“OKAY, Reese. Two jumpers and a damn dog!” She had a right to be upset, which only made him frustrated. Being cut off from both the Stanhope and the mission ship Aldrin, coupled with his slight seniority, placed him nominally in charge, but now he was undermining that slight edge of authority.

She already viewed him as unpredictable; driven by intangible gut feelings and subject to emotional swings. Tara Frost was the overly confident, coldly rational, judgmental raven-haired beauty that Reese Hunter enjoyed confounding and occasionally outwitting, always in the spirit of maintaining a high level of team readiness. They made an adequate team but their relationship was a stormy collection of incongruities; abrasive but respectful, opinionated yet cooperative. Reese always wondered if it started with their awkward crew orientation back on L-5. Could that really matter now? As experienced jumpers they shared the same singular goal on every mission: Survive, at least until the next one.


Time, or the ability to track it, was another casualty of the storm. No functioning chronometers and no solar references. It felt like mid-day but that meant nothing. This was a world where no day was like the one before or after it, the periods of sunlight and darkness twisting and curling according to a grand astronomical dance nuanced by parallaxes and eccentricities and perturbations and all manner of messy nonlinearities. The planet’s crust drifted as well, being loosely coupled to a rapidly spinning molten core. It was a new world, less than twenty million years old, and in a new system with a class G star in the second octant of the Milky Way known simply as O2/G1440 in the catalogued systems section of the CSF expedition database.

The system was comprised of fifteen barren vacuum-worlds with a handful of moons, and then Chroma. System-wide orbits were still evolving, and gravitational anomalies were strong. It was thought there might be an event horizon in the neighborhood. Despite its strange nature, the habitability numbers were high. Atmosphere, gravitation, solar spectrum were all in the green. There was moisture in both the atmosphere and the soil. Best of all, mineral deposits were among the richest ever identified. For the CSF, this was the ultimate mining jackpot. The jump team was dispatched as soon as a mission profile was developed for the Aldrin. Briefing, prep, launch of the Stanhope, landing on Chroma, all perfectly executed -- and now largely irrelevant.

It happened as they were near their furthest planned excursion distance, roughly twelve kilometers from the Stanhope. They had been following a dry bed comprised of emerald-green soil and tessellated with deep silvery-blue pebbles along the shallow bottom. They were each in the process of labeling their samples when the deep and slightly ominous voice of Commander Gabriel Akin flooded their headsets.

“Jump team, this is Aldrin. Akin here. Do you copy?”

“Aldrin, this is Hunter.” Reese noticed the link had degraded; there was actually something like static riding on top of the signal, which was not normal in digital communications.

“Listen carefully. Major Hadi has an urgent message for your team, time critical. Akin out.” The two explorers exchanged worried glances.

“Cyrus here. We have a rapidly developing situation. During the briefing I mentioned gravitational anomalies, possibly from a black hole near this system. It might be more active than I thought. Our graviton flux detectors show modulations even though our engines are off. Something is buffeting the Aldrin, probably coupling through the torsion field generators. It’s increasing and could develop into a ... a quantum storm; something that has only been theorized. We don’t know what the effects will be, but they could be widespread, such as interfering with any EM field. This means navigation, communications, all your field gear, the Stanhope, everything. Do you understand?”

Reese really didn’t understand. “We copy, Major. Please advise.”

“Get an immediate bearing on the Stanhope and expedite your return to the pod. If your navcom fails, go to visual, I repeat, visual navigation. Move to the center of your survey area and locate that bright red line. Remember the briefing. This should lead you ...”

Rising static put an end to their radio contact, and then it hit. In less than fifteen seconds Reese felt enormously heavy, almost incapacitated. His movements became slow and viscous. The world around him grew blurry and distant, like seeing the memory of a childhood dream from your mind’s eye. Tara had a blank, faraway look in her eyes. Trooper had dropped to the ground and was on his side with a paw over his ear and whimpering slightly. With great difficulty, Reese uttered a few words of comfort “It’s okay boy,” then slumped down next to him.

Tara collapsed to her knees, her voice slow and labored. “Stop it Reese. It’s not okay. What’s happening to us?”

“Tara, I ... Do you hear that sound? Like hissing?”

“Hear it? No, but ... I see it.”

Reese lifted his head to scan the near horizon. That’s when he became aware of it, a strange hissing sensation while all the color drained out of the world, like the air out of a balloon.


“I was paralyzed,” Frost recounted some indeterminate time later, “In a sort of dream-state. I could see you and Trooper but everything looked twisted and slightly out of focus, like a scene from an old fun-house mirror. Then everything would refresh or hop into another scene. It was as if reality had gaps in it, patches of nothingness. I was terrified, Reese. I saw my brothers. They were sitting cross-legged on the ground about twenty meters away. They’re both dead, but there they were, and all I could think was ‘why am I colorblind?’”

Reese testified to his own similar experience, characterized more by disorientation and confusion than hallucinations. The loss of color dominated their thoughts. In the end, neither knew how long the storm lasted or when they ‘came out of it’. They were shaken and disturbed, but the only obvious lasting effects were the loss of color and the failure of their equipment. So this is what happens during a quantum storm. Reese wondered about the Aldrin; what happened there, and would they ever see the inside of her again. Meanwhile here they were, and it didn’t take long to realize they were in serious trouble.

The irony of their current peril started back on the Aldrin, with Major Hadi’s contingency plan. Every jump team was in some sense an anachronism. Take away the fantastic technology of the pod and the meticulously planned equipment and clothing, and you were left with a primitive scouting party, traveling on foot, resembling scenes from Earth’s cave-dwelling past.

Each mission required a contingency plan for equipment failure, and developing this plan was a key role of the Jump Officer. Jumps were dangerous enough under the best of conditions, and the CSF insisted on improving the odds wherever technically (and financially) practical. Hadi’s plan was so simple and relied upon something so basic that it was accepted without question.

Seated around the table in the wardroom were Hunter, Frost, Commander Akin, and the Aldrin’s medical officer, Major Milana Denko. Dr. Denko was a widow, well past seventy, and could fit the role of ‘ship’s grandmother’. In reality she appeared youthful and was highly sharp and physically fit thanks to a fair bit of bio-cybernetics with some genetic tuning.

Trooper was unconcerned with the briefing, stretched out on a large mat atop a nearby footlocker. Major Hadi stood near the main projection screen, which displayed high resolution images of the planet’s surface. The subject area of five hundred square kilometers was broken up into several frames of various magnification levels. Hadi explained his plan.

“Aside from the location of mineral deposits, water, etc., we generally choose landing locations based on their proximity to landmarks that can be used for surveying and also for emergencies. I’ve been studying this particular area and found this.” He began aligning and zooming the image, simulating the view from the Stanhope during the descent.

“I see it,” Frost pointed at something that was resolving itself into clarity. “Amazing. Is that it -- the bright red line?”

“Affirmative. Very strange, whatever it is. It continues, unbroken, for almost fifty kilometers independent of any other geological feature, almost like a scar. Here, let me show you.” Hadi scrolled through different fields of view, following the red line across the surface of Chroma. It was only a few meters wide, but contrasted well among the surrounding terrain.

Hadi continued. “It’s not a crevice -- it seems to follow the surrounding topography. How something like this could have formed is geologically perplexing, and I’m still trying to determine its composition. Samples would help, of course. The important point is how visually unique it is. Choose a landing site near it, and extend your survey pattern roughly on either side of it.”

The team studied the image on the screen. Hadi was right, that line would be the perfect landmark in an emergency. Unfortunately, now it was invisible.


Frost left Hunter and Trooper alone in the cave, and spent the next hour traversing the ridgeline looking for anything besides the vast ocean of grey. Swirling winds boiled up around her. Even the wind had a fractal quality, ranging from tiny vortices dancing around her feet to more forceful ones off in the distance. Once again she attempted to coax some life out of her navcom equipment, but it was useless. The pack was beginning to feel heavy, but she dared not abandon it. She wondered if the crew of the Aldrin had her in sight on the main survey scope, huddled around in an animated brainstorming session trying to find a solution. Even if the team found their way back, it just meant surviving a bit longer on the pod’s modest supplies. Without functioning systems, liftoff and orbital insertion were impossible. Eventually the team would have to be abandoned. It was a rare occurrence, but it happened. Everyone knew the risks.

Frost took another look at the grey panorama and sighed. What the hell was going on with Reese? She made her way back to the cave entrance and found Reese holding out small bits of food for Trooper, who was gently nibbling them from his fingers. He saw only her silhouette, with arms crossed.

“How touching.”

Reese decided not to start in with her. “Look, he’s got to eat too. I’m sharing my rations, not yours.”

“That’s fine, Reese. I just wonder if he knows he’s on a perpetual suicide mission like us. At least we volunteered; he was drafted.”

This angered him. He rose briskly and brushed past her to the outside. Trooper followed. Turning back to face her with a serious gaze, he deliberated for a moment before declaring “I don’t know how, Tara, but we ARE going to get out of here”.

Tara said nothing, but smiled slightly as she thought to herself, That’s more like it, Reese.

Now squinting in the full light, Reese shielded his eyes with his left hand and pointed towards the top of the ridge with his right. “Were you able to see anything?”

“Negative. It’s just like Cyrus said. The terrain is the same in all directions. I don’t know why, but I feel our best chance of finding the pod would be that way.” She was pointing roughly in the direction they’d hiked in from, but each knew that wasn’t exactly considered a navigational fix.

They reached the center of the horseshoe where the wind wasn’t quite as bad and sat down on a flat spot of ground. They adjusted their hoods and goggles to gain an extra bit of shelter and cut down on the constant moan of the wind. Reese took out a water bottle and held it out to Frost, a peace offering. She nodded weakly and took a small sip then handed it back to Reese, who next gave a small sip to Trooper. Each knew they were quickly running dry, already very dehydrated. The situation would deteriorate rapidly from here.

“Okay,” Reese began, “the atmosphere and the soil hold moisture. We have an emergency still and might be able to get some water out of that cave, but that would take too long. Waiting here would only cut into our food and delay our search for the pod. We need a plan, but first we need to focus our brains and review all the facts. Agreed?”

Tara nodded soberly. “Agreed. Let’s start with our route. Our plan was to execute a fifty-six-square-kilometer survey pattern. Like this...” She moved closer to Reese to block the wind, and drew a compass rose with her finger into the sandy soil. “Navcom established an arbitrary waypoint called ‘north’. The route was to be four equal legs of seven point five kilometers each; initial heading northwest then northeast, southeast, and finally southwest to return to the pod. We were almost to the north waypoint when the storm hit, maybe half a kilometer shy. Reese, I think we were approaching this ridge when it all turned to shit. We’ve pretty much been wandering around this area ever since.”

“Best guess about the pod?” Reese asked.

“Eleven or twelve kilometers due south, somewhere over that way,” again, she motioned vaguely behind them.

“What about time?”

“Unclear,” she began, “except I remember checking the mission time right before the storm, and we’d already been gone fifty hours. And then... who knows. Add another fifty hours and that should bring us to the present.”

The time since the storm was only a guess, part of it had been like a slow recovery from anesthesia.

“In other words, we should have been back to the pod by now. Do you have any idea where south is?”

Frost sighed. “Oh sure -- as long as you give me plus or minus fifteen degrees.”

“What do you suggest?”

“We backtrack. Seven point five kilometers southwest, then seven point five kilometers southeast, looking for our tracks along the way -- provided the wind hasn’t obliterated them.”

Reese pondered this. “We can try, but estimating a good return heading is critical. We’ll need to constantly evaluate our position and look for tracks. Everything must be a consensus decision since neither of us is one hundred percent. Agreed?”

Tara again nodded without looking at him. “There’s something else.”

“Night?” He’d been wondering the same thing.

“Look,” she was pointing at the sun which was closer to the horizon than at any point since they landed.

“Then we’d better go. I say we keep moving until it gets dark, then stop. We’ll use our thermal tubes and wait for daylight. Hadi told us night shouldn’t last longer than four or five hours at this latitude.”

“I’ll admit it’s not much of a plan,” Tara offered, “but I sure as hell don’t have anything better.”

Frost, who generally viewed Trooper as an “extra” piece of Hunter, like an abnormal growth or deformity, found herself crouching to address him directly. She gripped his muzzle tightly in her gloved hand and stared into his startled eyes.

“Easy.” Reese said with a slight edge in his voice.

She kept her eyes on the dog, but spoke to Reese. “Don’t you think it’s time he got busy sniffing out our trail?”


The survey team made one last excursion to the top of the ridge. Each made their best guess at the direction they had come from, split the difference, and this would be their initial heading. They agreed to stop every five hundred meters to reconnoiter, and then either continue or change course. No third option existed. Now, with their best guess of “southwest” established, they began to piece their way through the bewildering maze of the colorless terrain.

Doubt set in almost immediately. Despite being reasonably confident of their direction, they saw no old footprints and nothing looked familiar. There was no far horizon, just the visually claustrophobic sense of everything being too close. The horseshoe ridge was no longer visible. Adding to their disappointment was Trooper. Reese normally kept him on a three meter tether but now gave him closer to ten, in the faint hope he would pick up a scent.

The reality, Frost’s sarcasm notwithstanding, was that Trooper’s well developed nose wasn’t much good here on this strange and barren world. Whether it was the wind or the minerals or the soil, Trooper seemed confused and wandered back and forth within his range of motion, his movements becoming anxious and erratic. He would appear to stare into the distance, become fixated, then jerk his head in another direction and do it again.

“Tara, look at this.” Reese had stopped in the middle of a small depression and knelt down on a surface of neatly placed irregular flat stones, all mirror-smooth and black. Trooper quickly came to his side, and was rewarded with a gentle pat. Frost glanced down but the only thing she noticed was an unusually long shadow being cast by the crouching Hunter. The stones didn’t interest her.

“Look at what?”

“This ... carpet of stones. It’s perfectly assembled, like a mosaic.”

“So what about it?” Frost asked, her voice rising with frustration.

“I don’t remember it, do you? It’s unique, and I would have remembered it -- if this was the way we came. We would have taken one of these stones as a sample.”

Frost examined it herself. “You’re right. I don’t remember this. This terrain is impossible to navigate. Our trail could be fifty meters on either side of us and we’d never find it. For that matter, the Stanhope could be a hundred meters from here and we’d walk right by it. Look at our shadows, Reese, look at the sun. It’s almost gone.”

They decided to suspend the walk until after the coming night, hoping it would be as short as Hadi calculated. They found a flat, sandy area at the base of a rocky wall that served as a windbreak. Silently each of them began deploying their thermal tubes and prepared for the difficult task of trying to sleep. Frost had the presence of mind to gather up some larger stones and arrange them on the ground into a long arrow pointing to their estimated heading. Without it, they’d be completely lost by morning. Hunter had his pack open on the ground and was reviewing his supplies. There wasn’t much left. From within a small pocket he extracted a tiny flask and waited for Frost to sit down before extending his hand. She hesitated.

“Is that what I think it is?”

Reese nodded. “Explorer’s Elixir. My own special bootleg mix. Mild tranquilizer, mild euphoric, REM enhancer, all suspended in synthetic hundred-proof brandy, just for taste, of course. All you need is two sips and you’ll sleep like a baby. Shit, Tara, have some. We survived a quantum storm.”

She took a tiny sip and handed the flask back to Hunter. “So far,” she added.

By the time Reese had gotten Trooper settled into his tube and slid into his, the sun had fallen away and brought near-darkness and a sense of calm to their little encampment. Nothing mattered until daylight. Several minutes of quiet passed before being broken by Hunter.

“Tara, if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear about your brothers. I only know that ... you lost them. You said you saw them during the storm?”

She answered in a subdued tone, not appearing to mind the intrusion.

“Obviously a hallucination. They’re both dead, of course.”

“Tell me about them. You and them.”

“I was the youngest of three children. My brothers didn’t know how to treat a girl, so they treated me the way they treated each other. Rough, competitive, always challenging me.” She stopped for a moment and noticed the sound of the wind made it hard to hear. She wiggled her tube a little closer to Reese.

“So you weren’t playing with dolls or going to the high school dance or ending up in the back seat of the family hovercraft. You know, doing normal girl stuff.” Reese tried to see her face through their clear visors, but the night offered only a dim outline.

“Normal girl? I was never allowed to be a girl. Not even after I started to ... to look like one. Do you want to hear the rest?”


“My older brother Einar had twelve years on me and took the place of my parents, who were rarely at home. My father was in CSF Security which probably meant space intelligence. They are back on earth now, but I haven’t seen them in almost four years. Before I left Earth my brothers and I lived in NorAm Sector 15, in the Southwestern deserts. They taught me about exploring, navigating, astronomy, space missions, and all about the wonderful Commercial Space Force. By the time I was eighteen, I’d been accepted to the Lunar academy, and left Earth shortly after that.”

“Go on.”

“There’s not much more to tell. Five years ago Einar was piloting a standard jump pod on a relatively easy asteroid rendezvous mission. Something malfunctioned; we were never told what. It doesn’t matter. His pod impacted the asteroid at over fifty thousand kilometers per hour.”

“I’m sorry, Tara.” He’d never heard this before and now felt bad for bringing it up.

“Why? It was the job he chose, knowing all the risks. Same choice you and I made. It wasn’t especially unfair or tragic, just a lethal demonstration of Newtonian physics.”

Hunter reluctantly asked about her other brother. When she didn’t answer right away, he figured it was bad.

“Lars was a solo jumper. He’d been on nine missions, attached to the Boone. After a seven-month tour they were heading back to Earth when the Boone simply disappeared without a trace. Four crewmembers were lost. No distress call, nothing. Last regular communication was normal. That was a little over two years ago.”

Reese digested this carefully, unsure what to say next. He didn’t have to, Tara mercifully changed the subject.

“What do you think happened? To the color, I mean?”

That was the real question, and it nagged at him. Reese had an average academic background but was the only child of two accomplished scientists. His father was a physics professor, his mother a mathematician. Abstract concepts were plentiful around the dinner table growing up. He’d developed a theory, or maybe just an idea, but he offered it to her.

“Maybe this is too vague, but suppose there’s a massive EM or gravitational force involved, related to the black hole Hadi mentioned. When electrons change from one energy level to another they either emit or absorb photons of a certain wavelength.

“And wavelength equals color,” she stated.

“Exactly. Electrons orbit the nuclei of atoms in a ‘probability cloud’. We don’t know where an electron is, only the probability of it being in a certain place. But the atoms don’t care. It all works out. That’s the magic of quantum physics.”

“Okay...” She was starting to lose him.

“What if this EM force distorts the normal orbits of electrons? Maybe the electrons become ‘confused’, and so do the photons. Maybe the wavelength drifts, and our eyes see grey because the ‘real’ color is constantly changing. It would be the optical equivalent of everything tasting like chicken. It could also explain the dead equipment. If the electrons are confused, they don’t move through the circuits properly.”

“Very creative, but that’s a lot of ‘maybes’. I guess the only thing that matters now is getting out of here.”

Reese heard that last sentence trail off into a yawn, and after a minute or two he’d assumed she was on her way to sleep. In fact she had one more thing on her mind, and it had nothing to do with photons or quantum theory.

“There’s something else I want to ask you,” she said flatly, “about something that happened back on L-5.”

“Our crew orientation?” He was guessing.


He knew eventually she was going to bring up that bit of their history, and under the circumstances, now seemed as good a time as any.


Nestled in an invisible well created from the gravitational forces of the Earth and Moon, neither gaining nor losing distance from either of them yet dutifully trailing behind the moon in its monthly orbit, is a magnificent city in space, known as Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 5, or more commonly, “L-5”. This is where Reese found Trooper and also where he met Tara Frost. At twenty-seven, Reese never knew a time without L-5. It was constructed when his father’s father was a young man. That official year was 2093, but marker buoys, debris trackers, and supply pods started parking there at least five years earlier. Now, fifty-four years later, it was a circular disc three kilometers in diameter with a population near five thousand. Well over half were under contract with the Commercial Space Force in positions ranging from food processors to solar technicians to mining engineers, fleet commanders and even ambassadors.

The deep-galaxy exploration “jump” teams were not considered residents, even though L-5 was as close to a permanent address as they had. Some stayed for a few weeks, some left and never returned ... to L-5 or anywhere else. Jumpers were living ghosts who seldom formed lasting relationships beyond their immediate crews. The reason was simple: space jumping was the riskiest profession in the galaxy. From the moment you became a jumper, your life was a series of coin tosses and you could never be considered fully alive in the sense of belonging. When someone was hurtling between the stars far beyond the reach of normal communications, they existed as Schrödinger’s hypothetical cat; being alive and dead at the same time.

Compensation for space jumping came down to two things. The first was an extraordinarily generous lifetime retirement package earned after fifteen jumps, which represented a working career averaging six years. Strangely enough, jumpers often kept going past their fifteenth jump despite securing great wealth at a young age.

The second was known as “Jumpers Exemption”, a controversial management practice to say the least. Jumpers could do, or have, virtually anything they wanted. This generally applied to periods of shore leave, but extended into some aspects of the mission. Personal behaviors from the mere eccentric to the perverse, deviant, and sometimes criminal are not only tolerated, they are catered to with the abandon normally reserved for Earth’s royalty and top cultural icons. The CSF provided it all, behind a veil of secrecy and security. A jumper could go on drug-fueled benders, engage specially-ordered prostitutes, live for days in custom AI fantasy chambers, fly personalized pods to exotic locations on Mars, or almost anything else they wanted short of utter self-destruction.

An entire section of L-5 was devoted to the CSF jump team quarters, and the large staff of cooks, attendants, and medical experts made sure the whole enterprise ran smoothly. Some tried to rationalize this excess as a moral imperative, like giving a last request to a condemned prisoner. While this view placated many, it didn’t fool the higher ranks of the CSF. Keeping a supply of willing jumpers, regardless of what that entailed, was just the cost of doing business.

This was how Reese got Trooper. He could have had whatever he wanted, but beyond eating like a king and having access to an entire library of Earth’s classic films, all Reese wanted was a dog to go with him on jumps. Creating his special kennel, plus the training and equipment, was fantastically expensive, but the CSF provided it without hesitation.

Then there was the matter of the crew orientation, the least-known aspect of the program. It grew out of a simple and noble goal: to prevent jump teams, especially mixed gender, from failing due to repressed desires, sexual tension, incompatibilities, misunderstandings, and all related human emotional complexities that could wreak havoc on a tightly confined space crew.

Conventional wisdom by the mission planners and human factors scientists was simple: Encourage new teams to participate in “rapid immersion” crew orientation. Generally this meant a completely open environment with encounters ranging from casual nudity to outright sex, preferably combined with free discussions around personal fantasies and the revealing of normally hidden or taboo behavior. Romantic attachment or love was not considered necessary for success. The idea was to quickly break down interpersonal barriers and create a cohesive team combining the best aspects of a professional office, a military squad, and a healthy marriage. The idea didn’t always work as intended, and could produce unpredictable results. There was no telling what crewmembers might adopt as acceptable behavior for their long months in space, or what strange requests would be received by the Crew Logistics Office.

Frost met Hunter in the L-5 expedition simulator; a rotating centrifugal annulus, seven hundred fifty meters in diameter, containing an artificial landscape and eco-system. Jumpers could hike the terrain as a way to stay sharp between missions, test their equipment, or simply get to know each other. Gravity and temperature could be adjusted precisely according to training requirements. Giant lamps provided a range of spectrally diverse sunlight. Today it was set to one point two g and thirty-eight degrees Celcius; Earth desert conditions with simulated equipment pack. Trooper joined them for their strenuous hike. They introduced themselves in the safety airlock, shook hands, and then moved to the unisex dressing room to change out of their jumpsuits. Frost already had on a one-piece bathing suit beneath hers, Hunter turned his back and changed clumsily into an old-style sleeveless grey cotton jersey and academy gym shorts. Each carried a small waist pack and wore flex/grip sandals without socks.

As they made their way around the giant ring through sandy trails and over rock outcroppings and other obstacles, the conversation quickly drifted to mission procedures, tactics and each other’s experiences. Although each found the other physically attractive, personal relationships can take time to develop naturally, and this was something new jump teams didn’t have. Those within the CSF opposed to this practice would always point out there was nothing natural about an arranged marriage on a giant space station.

After completing two trips around the structure, they ascended the first of three observation towers via a lift platform. At the top was a small patio and lounge. The patio served as a sundeck and was one of the most coveted spots on L-5. Trooper snoozed in the lounge while Hunter and Frost chose the sundeck, lying on large cushions under the bright rays of the sky lamps. Frost made the first move, slipping the straps of her suit from her shoulders and saying to Hunter, “How often can you get an all-over tan in space?” He smiled a bit sheepishly. Not bad, he thought. I wonder if that was a rehearsed line. Soon she had tugged the suit down and finally wriggled out of it entirely. She lay on her back wearing only her dark goggles. Reese quickly followed her lead and removed his jersey and shorts before saying “I guess this is why we’re here. To ‘demystify’ each other, right?”

Frost casually rolled over on her side to have a good look at him, remarking “Oh my, you must be very popular with the ladies.”

The next move was clearly his. He knew he could reach out and have what anyone would desire, yet he resisted. Something inside him, some apprehension, compelled him take no action other than to say “Tara, you are a very beautiful woman.” If she was disappointed she didn’t show it. They enjoyed the warmth and privacy of this special place and remained for another hour before dressing, gathering up Trooper, and descending the tower. Soon they returned to their quarters. She never mentioned it again, just assumed he wasn’t interested. But it bothered her just the same. They agreed to jump together, and had been on two uneventful missions before Chroma. She never got used to having Trooper along, but it was Reese’s choice. She tried, but never stopped thinking that he cared more about that damn dog than he did about her.


The starlit sky of Chroma spread out like a vast ocean above them. Reese was stalling, but only to choose his words carefully.

“Well, I suppose it’s pretty simple. Do you remember when we were laying on the sundeck and I told you that you were a beautiful woman?”

“Of course.”

“I was holding back. The truth is you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. And ... you still are. I know you probably figured we’d get down to business right then and there. Maybe for some fun or just to get that little item checked off the list. I can’t really disagree with the general idea. Try and understand that I just ...”

“You just what?”

“I just felt that if we waited, someday it could mean something ... more.”

That notion hung in the air for a few quiet seconds before Frost’s tube erupted in a fit of laughter.

Reese suddenly felt like he’d been tossed out of an airlock. “What the hell is so damned funny?”

Between snorts and giggles she blurted out, “YOU, Hunter. YOU are. Think about it. Here we are, facing utter doom, but we never fucked because YOU were holding out for a meaningful relationship. You know something? You’re an anachronism. You should have stayed on Earth and gotten yourself a plump breeder-type and a little white house with a yard for that dog.”

Reese was incensed. He certainly knew what a hard, cynical woman she could be at times, but that didn’t matter. She had spoken her mind and left him disappointed and angry.

“That’s great, go ahead and laugh. I won’t apologize for simply being honest with you.”

Shit, she thought. Already she was regretting it, feeling the weight of his sincerity, and realizing that of all the times in her life, she was truly grateful she wasn’t alone. Now she felt horrible for making sport of him.

“Damn it. Look Reese, I’m sorry. Please forget I said it. I just didn’t understand how you felt. I ... I suppose it’s quite flattering. But you know something? Now it’s my turn to be honest."

“Yeah? About what?”

“I’m frightened, Reese. Just you being here with me now, it gives me hope.”


Morning came as a drab light through the visors of their tubes. Reese woke only a few minutes before Tara, and immediately gave Trooper a tiny drink of water, which he gratefully accepted, his stubby tail thumping the sides of his tube. Reese let him out and accepted a lick across the face before Trooper ran off to relieve himself on a rock. Reese noticed the dog straining to produce only a pathetic dribble, and felt a chill come over him. How long would they last? At least Trooper wouldn’t suffer; there was always the Slumber pill, which Reese believed he could administer to Trooper but wasn’t so sure about himself.

Tara quietly ate half a food stick and drank a few sips of precious water. Reese had climbed a small hill and was pointing his optical scope in the direction of Frost’s rock arrow. He returned to gather his things and soon they set off in silence.

A short distance later she stopped. “Reese, maybe we should run another equipment check,” then added a little smile, “just in case the photons are less confused this morning.”

He nodded, and again they went through the motions, with the same results. All dead.

“Sorry Tara, all we can do is start moving.”

She scanned the grey horizon and nodded. Trooper was back on his ten-meter tether as they began. Almost immediately the dog became agitated and started to whimper slightly while circling to the left and eventually reaching the end of the tether, where he sat.

“What is it, boy?” Reese approached the dog, looking all around but seeing nothing.

Frost was annoyed. She joined Reese and Trooper and knelt down to once again hold Trooper’s chin in the palm of her hand. Was she addressing Trooper, or Reese, or maybe both?

“We didn’t come that way. We came that way,” pointing in the direction of her arrow. “If you could smell our trail you’d know that. And I doubt there are any rabbits on Chroma.”

“Tara, maybe ...”

“Maybe what? We can’t be sure of our track but our heading must be reasonably accurate. And we might still find our footprints, but only if we go that way.”

Reese couldn’t fault her reasoning, but felt uneasy about Trooper. The dog’s behavior had to mean something. Again he coaxed the dog back on their original heading and resumed walking, only to be interrupted a short time later when Trooper started pulling to the left. Reese tried in vain to find the source of the dog’s distraction. He looked all around, listened above the lonely drone of the wind, but saw nothing. Once again the reluctant Trooper was pulled back into line, with Tara in the lead.

The long day settled around them. Nominal temperatures were mild by Earth standards, but today was very warm and the effect of the wind and the exertion was inexorable -- an urgent and rapidly worsening state of dehydration. After they’d walked another kilometer with no sign of their previous tracks or anything familiar, they stopped to examine their dwindling water, down to less than a hundred milliliters each. Their original plan required little safety margin for supplies, and they should have been back to the Stanhope long ago. They had reached a critical point, and Reese needed to acknowledge it.

“Whether we try something else, or keep going, it’s probably a good idea to recognize our chances are deteriorating rapidly.”

“You mean we’re screwed? There’s a news flash. What do you mean ‘try something else’? What else is there? We’re following the oldest navigational technique there is, dead reckoning. Speed, time, heading, distance. We’re either going the right way, or we’re not. If we are, we keep walking until we arrive where the Stanhope should be, then start an outward spiraling search pattern. What’s wrong with that?”

“I think we’re lost now. And I think Trooper knows it too. He wants us to go left. I have no idea why. But he does.”

This made her wince. She’d built an illusion of confidence around a plan riddled with assumptions and now had to confront the weakness of the whole idea. Thanks a hell of a lot, Reese, she thought to herself. Now you and that fucking dog have made me doubt myself. She hated that.

“Are you seriously suggesting we abandon this course and follow Trooper?”

“Why not? Hell, you told him to lead us!”

“I was being sarcastic, or hadn’t you noticed. Reese, the animal is probably unhinged from the storm. He's been acting very jittery. Have you seen him sniff the ground even once?” She had a point about that.

“It doesn’t matter. Face it; we’ve probably been lost since we left the cave. We’ve never found any of our tracks.”

Frost stared at the ground, shaking her head. She almost burst out laughing at the absurdity of it. For all they knew, Trooper would lead them back to the cave or simply to some random spot where a future CSF expedition might locate fragments of their desiccated remains. She was tired, and thirsty and scared. They might as well just get it over with.

“Fine,” she said almost in a whisper. “Lead the way.”


It was only a matter of minutes before Trooper veered left and pulled at his tether. With that, he became the leader. Any hope of dead reckoning was gone. They were one hundred percent lost, and being led by a dog who might be brain damaged for all they knew.

Little was exchanged in the way of conversation. Both explorers were going through the difficult process of mentally preparing for the worst. Each had been trained what to do when becoming hopelessly marooned or incapacitated; the Slumber pill would be used. The Human Factors group at the CSF Lunar Academy had trained all jumpers when to use it and how to feel about using it. Jumpers were told they might feel heroic reluctance or cling to the hope of rescue, but this needed to be weighed against the danger to other crews.

These thoughts occupied their minds as they followed Trooper up and down little hills, around craters and across flat basins, and wondered what, if anything, guided him. Tara was beyond worrying, and had already forgiven Trooper for whatever final resting place he might lead them to.

"Reese, have you thought about how long the Aldrin might remain in orbit?" He immediately translated this into 'when will they abandon us?'

"Does it matter? They can wait longer than we can.”

“Not if they think we’ve made it back to the pod. We might last a month there.”

Reese saw what she was getting at but had no answers. Right now the Aldrin wasn’t their problem; it was how long they could stand the thirst before ... ending the mission. Frost found the whole subject hard to drop.

“Just another lost survey team,” she continued. He wished she wouldn’t talk; it only hastened their moisture loss. “But the game goes on and the CSF always has a surplus of top candidates and won’t admit just how expendable we are.”

Reese stopped walking, and waited until he could look at her clearly. “Oh, Tara, now that’s where you’re wrong. Do you really think of us that way?”

“Get serious, Reese. You know they could do this with AI rovers, but we cost a lot less, even with all the perks.”

Reese shook his head. “It’s not about the cost. They need people. People have to live in these settlements, not rovers. There are so many intangibles. Humans have to be the ones to do the surveys and make the final decisions.”

“Oh, that again. Look, I’m willing to admit one thing. You and me and that lost little puppy are probably going to leave our bones here. Our philosophical debates seem a little pointless now. But tell me something, you’re a Deist, aren’t you? There’s some Universal Being who created all this and humans are a key part of some multidimensional clockwork cosmos with good and evil and fate and destiny? Maybe even heaven and hell?”

Reese smiled, candor like this was refreshing. Unlike terrestrial society, the CSF couldn’t care less if jumpers were Deists or Chaoticists or Spectralists or simply sex deviants and narco-sporters.

“Sure. Call me a Deist. How can you travel the galaxy and not grasp the breathtaking wonder of it all?”

“Breathtaking wonder? How about ‘extreme randomness?’ Sorry Reese, it’s an old argument.”

This exchange was interrupted by Trooper, who had reached the crest of a small rise and stopped. He looked side to side, stared straight ahead for a moment, let out a brief whimper and sat down, showing no signs of wanting to get up. Frost just shook her head.

“I told you he would lead us to nowhere. Looks like he’s picked our final resting place. Maybe he likes the view.” She didn’t even sound angry anymore.

Reese gently stroked the top of his head. “It’s alright boy, you tried.” He reached for his nearly empty water bottle but froze, fearing Trooper wouldn’t understand why he was being teased with such a small amount. He caught a worried glance from Frost but returned it with a shrug. “It won’t matter soon. We’re essentially dry. Let’s all have a small sip, then just force ourselves to save the rest of it as long as we can.”

“We can try,” she said “But what now? Trooper just gave up. We have to keep moving, even if we just pick a random direction. We can’t stop at the one place we know the pod isn’t. We have to keep going because ... I just don’t know how much farther I can go.”

Reese was scanning the horizon with his scope, still finding nothing familiar, and then turned to face her.

“Maybe you had the right idea before,” Reese said. “Let me try this time.”

“Try what?”

Forcefully, Reese seized Trooper’s harness, lifting the dog to his feet and getting his full attention before commanding, “TROOPER! GO HOME.”


He repeated it two more times, much to Frost’s surprise. Trooper’s legs were shaky, but he stood for a moment, turned to the right and soldiered on. Every few minutes he looked back at Hunter who encouraged him forward. Some fifteen meters back was Frost, now fighting just to stay on her feet.

They continued, slow and trancelike, for a long unbroken stretch. Reese no longer used the tether. There was little awareness of time or distance. At the last rest stop they finished all the water save one or two sips apiece. What they swallowed did nothing to alleviate their thirst. The amount that remained was symbolic, a way to claim some hope and prove that Schrödinger’s cat was still fifty percent alive rather than one hundred percent dead.

Frost felt the presence of her brothers again; not a vision, more like a distant beckoning. Nonsense, she concluded, I'm delirious, knowing she didn’t believe in such spiritual myths. Slumber wasn’t sleep, only a euphemism for a quick and painless way to end her short but adventurous life. After, her body would be assimilated into the atomic soup of the physical world.

She saw Reese was having trouble as well. His stride shortened and wobbled, a few times he stumbled to his knees before slowly rising again. Occasionally he glanced back at her, perhaps only to verify she was still moving.

The sun dipped but did not set. It lingered on the edge of twilight while the party rested with parched mouths and labored breathing. Though night did not come, the darkened landscape gave the illusion of night; and after every night there must be a morning, and morning meant the hope of a new day.

Hunter and Frost may have briefly slept, the former being nuzzled awake by Trooper’s dry and cracking nose. He whimpered slightly, and Reese felt the crushing burden of what he must do to prevent Trooper from suffering. Frost, now awake also, looked around the drab landscape in resignation before her eyes met his.

“Is this it, Reese? The end of the line?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. We still have a sip of water.”

“Yeah, just enough to take our ...” She was struggling to say it, when Trooper barked and began pawing at the ground.

“Can you believe it? He won’t let us stop.” Reese croaked.

“It’s pointless.”

“I know. But ... maybe just a little further. Okay?”

“Okay.” Thoughts swirled inside her; the academy, how hard they pushed her, how much she accomplished that she never thought she could, and once again labored to rise and face the dreary wasteland. The sun had reversed course and began to brighten the sky. She watched Hunter watching the sky with a distinctly puzzled expression. He had noticed something odd; nothing obvious, more of a subtle perception.

“Do you see something different,” Reese asked her, “about the sky, I mean?”

“No, I ... wait a minute,” then she saw it too. “Yes! It’s not just white; it’s sort of a ‘pearly’ white!”

That was it, Reese thought. A pearly sky. Ahead was a group of boulders leading to a flat ledge. Reese cautiously worked his way through a path between the rocks, but Trooper was already waiting on top.

“What else do you see?”

She studied the terrain for several seconds before turning back to Reese and smiling with cracked lips. “I think I see color.”

Even before they had time to comprehend this astonishing fact, they managed to pull themselves on top of the ledge, and collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Directly ahead, sitting in a small flat valley, was the Stanhope.


Major Hadi stood on the bridge of the Aldrin, manipulating the controls of the high resolution survey telescope while Commander Akin and Major Denko studied the main display screen. The image was grainy but unmistakable; the survey team had returned to the pod. Major Denko clasped her hands together and leapt in the air. Akin simply bowed his head while placing his right fist over his heart.

“Congratulations, Major,” Akin said.

“Brilliant,” added Denko.

Hadi appeared slightly embarrassed. “The red line? It was the only viable emergency navigation option.”

“And very elegant,” Denko offered. “The essence of simplicity. Now we actually have a chance to get them back.”

“Anything yet?” Akin asked hopefully.

“No sir,” Hadi replied. “But I’ve started detecting faint traces of their beacon. That must mean the local effects of the storm have started to dissipate. Signal–to-noise ratio is steadily improving. It shouldn’t be long.”

Akin nodded. “Getting their first-hand accounts of the storm will be historic. The effects here were minimal.”

Back on the surface the survey team was reveling in the sheer bliss of their salvation. Reese Hunter, between gulps of water, collapsed on top of an exhausted Trooper and showered him with words of praise. Frost was nearly sobbing, managing only to say “He saved us, Reese. Somehow he saved us.”

This was true for now, but they weren’t home yet. First order of business: water and food. Next, Reese began checking the Stanhope’s systems, which were gradually coming back to life. Tara was outside collecting their samples and equipment and marveling at the world around her, which grew more colorful by the minute.

She walked up the ramp into the pod, finding Reese trying to filter static out of the com system. All around the pod various displays and indicators were beginning to dimly illuminate in a mixture of pastels and sepia tones. He wanted to show her but she suddenly took his hands into hers and squeezed them. She was very shaky, and Reese felt his arms tense as they swayed together slightly. Trooper was a short distance away, happily focused on a rather large bowl of chow.

“How did he find it?” She asked, on the verge of tears. Reese looked deeply into those once-again green eyes. Her face showed the harsh physical and emotional strain of their ordeal, but to Reese she was still a creature of astonishing beauty. He smiled, but didn’t have a chance to tell her I don’t know before the calm baritone of Cyrus Hadi’s voice suddenly rose above the static of the audio monitor.

“ ... -hope, this is Aldrin, do you copy? Stanhope, this is Aldrin, come in Stanhope.”

Hunter leapt at the main console where he’d placed his headset, grabbed it clumsily and flung it across the cabin where it slammed into a bulkhead. The noise startled Trooper, who looked up for a moment before resuming his meal. Frost laughed, picked up the headset and handed it to him.

“Aldrin, this is Stanhope; Hunter speaking. The gang’s all here, Major. We were lost, just barely made it back. Suffering from severe dehydration and exposure. We very nearly had to ... make a rather difficult choice.”

“Understood. But ... what happened?” Hadi asked. “We assumed your navcom was inoperable, but why didn’t you follow the red line? We saw you cross it at least once.”

Frost put on her headset and joined in. “Frost here. No, Major, we never saw it. It was Trooper; somehow he got us back here.”

Another voice cut in. “This is Akin. We are all greatly relieved, but more than a little confused. We lost contact, followed you on the survey scope like the Major said. You seemed to be wandering -- several kilometers off course and in the wrong direction. At some point you doubled back towards that red line, turned south, then straight to the pod.”

Reese was pacing the cabin. “You don’t understand, sir. There was no red, no color at all. We couldn’t see anything but grey everywhere, the whole planet was GREY. The storm did something to the color, or our eyes, but it’s starting to come back. It was Trooper, sir.”

“We'll have to sort this out later. Do you have sufficient flux to achieve orbit?”

Reese studied the main instrument panel. “Negative, commander. We only have thirty percent torsion field, but it's rising.”

“Outstanding. Here are your orders: Top priority is your physical condition. Dr. Denko will discuss your status and advise treatment. Report when you are sufficiently recovered and the ship is capable of departure. We’re anxious to see you. All three of you. Akin out.”


Roughly two hundred fifty hours elapsed from the time the Stanhope docked with the Aldrin in orbit around Chroma to its arrival at the main CSF hangar at L-5. Thanks to Major Hadi’s masterful navigation skills, the Aldrin’s return trip via HSC -- Hyper Space Curvature -- brought them within a scant million miles of their destination. The remaining distance was leisurely covered in about two days. During that time, Major Denko spent some time with Trooper and consulted with some veterinary sources in the ship’s main library.

Before docking, the crew gathered in the wardroom for one last briefing and the customary award dinner, where Hunter and Frost were officially credited with the completed jump. Later, Dr. Denko found Reese relaxing in his quarters with Trooper. Despite her examination of the dog and careful analysis of the events on Chroma, she had found no explanation. On the contrary, it had grown more enigmatic. Hunter appreciated her sincere interest in the matter, but couldn’t offer her much more than he already had.

“He must have seen the red line, Doctor. Or sensed it, and followed it to the pod. How or why he did it -- only he knows.”

“I’m sorry, but that only sharpens the riddle. Did you know that dogs are largely colorblind? That they can’t see red at all?”

“What?” Reese was stunned.

“It’s a fact. Dogs cannot see red.” She reached over to stroke the dog’s fur. “If only he could speak.”

Reese enjoyed this puzzle immensely, it made him smile; not as a challenge, but a humbling reminder of the richness and complexity of all things. Even though the galaxy had already been charted and explored in fantastically advanced ships traveling unimaginable distances, larger mysteries remained. Reese had no use for a universe without mystery, any more than he did for a world without color.

He was still smiling a few days later, walking the familiar corridors of the CSF crew quarters on L-5. He was looking for Tara, who wasn’t in her room. It was quiet and dark where he found her, in the observation lounge; the great bubble from the side of the superstructure provided a breathtaking view of the sapphire orb of Earth framed on a backdrop of stars. She was lying on a long cushion and appeared to be dozing, curled around a smaller shape aligned with her torso. Trooper.

Reese tried to sneak up, but her senses were too keen. One eye opened, and a corner of her mouth rose a bit.

“Is it serious between you two?” Reese whispered.

“Sorry Reese, he wanted me to take him for a walk but one thing led to another and, well ...”

“That’s okay. I’d like to make you another offer.”

“I’m not sure. He’s a very special dog, you know. What did you have in mind?”

Reese knelt next to the mat and stroked her long black hair. “I’ve reserved the expedition simulator for tomorrow. Thought you and I could go for a little hike, then maybe back to that sundeck on Tower One. You know, that first time we were up there, I ...”

She giggled ever so quietly and reached out to gently put her index finger over his lips.

“That’s a wonderful idea. But what about Trooper?”

Reese thought about it, and rubbed the underside of the dog’s chin. “Oh, he’s still on the team. Just not on this trip.”

The End

© 2014 Glenn M. Diamond

Bio: Glenn M. Diamond has spent over 30 years in the computer industry as an engineer and manager. His first published short story "The Cleansing" recently appeared in the Huffington Post. Diamond lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and daughter.

E-mail: Glenn M. Diamond

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