Io Asunder

Brantov stared at Gwen across the table of the Norvanoss bar. “Tell me again. Where you want to go?” he asked, leaning in as he took another sip of Martian vodka.

“Io.” They had been over this more than once. She’d begged every legitimate transport captain she could find. Now she was slumming it, asking hauler captains like Brantov if they had a price. He swirled his drink, glancing at the table where the rest of the Kamen Nevesty’s crew drank.

A woman in Brantov’s crew caught Gwen’s eye, returning her stare. Gwen’s cheeks burned as she looked away. The woman would have stood out in a crowd of amazons. In a Norvanoss bar, she was an ebony supernova in a field of waning dullards.

Gwen focused on Brantov. “It’s good money,” she added. It wasn’t her money. Every credit belonged to the Institute, which in itself was just a collective of companies looking to get forbidden technology into the Solar System. Gwen didn’t care what their motives were. She was desperate to continue her research on the alien Sentinels. The Institute gave her that freedom, plus the cash allowance to pay off her debts. They took care of the dirty work, but it was up to her to find a way to get to Io.

“So you say.”

Gwen had asked around before approaching the Russian. The Kamen Nevesty was too far in debt to be picky about work. The fact they were huddled at a bar in Norvanoss instead of off-planet proved that. If they had better work, they’d be doing it. In the hour she and Brantov had talked, he’d only ordered one drink. If actions spoke louder than words, his actions said he was trying to pretend he wasn’t desperate.

Gwen pushed the datawhisp across the table. It was her last gambit. “The funds are there. The Institute approved the funding.”
Brantov shrugged. He didn’t even glance at the numbers on the datawhisp. “I’ve been here before,” he said, taking a sip. The clear liquid made him wince as he downed the rest of the glass. Good Martian vodka was caustic as ignition vapors. Gwen was sure he wasn’t drinking a top shelf bottle. “Institute grants are good only when you can draw on them. The money, there is no guarantee it is there if you are slow.”

“Then you understand why we have to act fast,” Gwen urged.

“What are we really going after for you and your Institute?”

“It’s all right here,” Gwen said, sliding a finger along the datawhisp. Lines of text and numbers scrolled beneath her fingertips. “There’s a piece of Belt ejecta we’ve nicknamed Oestra. It’s on a collision course with Io.”


“Asteroid fragment 2175 FR 1. It’s all here.”

“How minor?”

“The arrays on Mars and Titan don’t even have a registry entry for it,” she said before he could ask. “As far as the Authority is concerned, it isn’t a threat to shipping. That makes it not worth their attention.”

Brantov scratched his head, brows furrowed in confusion. “Then what you want of us? You want we try and stop it from hitting Io?”

“God, no,” Gwen laughed. “I want it to hit, and hit hard. I’m counting on it.”

“And it just happens this fragment, this Oestra, it is hitting Io? Just where you need it?” Brantov arched an eyebrow.

They stared at each other. Gwen could feel the tension in her shoulders and down her back. What Brantov was suggesting - that Oestra had been aimed at Io - was both irresponsible and extremely illegal. It was one thing to haul a rock around for smelting, something else entirely to point it at a body and kick it. Last time someone aimed a rock at something, they were found guilty of war crimes.

“What you need us for? We are rock haulers. Your rock, this Oestra,” he said lifting his chin to point at the datawhisp, “it is already going somewhere.”

“When it hits, it’s going to hit hard. The crater it leaves will be deep. I need a ride to the show.”

“We are no survey crew. No tourist line.”

“I can’t find anyone else,” Gwen said. “I’ve gone through the proper channels. I’ve been on the list for a survey ship since Oestra’s trajectory was confirmed. It’ll be years before my name comes up. By then it could all be gone.”

Brantov pursed his lips, shaking his head. “Craters. They don’t go away so quickly. Why this rush?”

“Io is geologically active. Violently active. The surface is in flux, constantly changing. The crater may be there, but the layers it reveals? They might not last long.”

“For this you give me milk run.”

“I can pay you up front.”

That made Brantov smile, but it was short lived. “I am a rock hauler, true, but I am not a fool. Not even Io changes so fast. No,” he said, motioning for another refill of his drink before pointing a finger at her. “You are looking for something else.”

Gwen glanced around at the crowded the little bar. Nobody looked their way. The fact that he was refilling his drink meant no matter what he said, he was still curious. Drinks weren’t cheap, and they weren’t wasted on dead conversations. “I think we’ll find a Sentinel.”

“Solar System has no alien Sentinels. Everyone know this.”

“Do we? Then why can’t we run higher tech? Why do Alcubierre drives fail inside the heliosphere, or complex AI’s turn back into really fast witless calculators? Something has to be suppressing higher physics. We know Sentinels can be found in other dead zones. Why not here?”

Brantov shrugged. “You have no proof.”

“The proof is everywhere,” Gwen said. “You ever listen to the S-band signals that Io generates passing Jupiter? What if that wasn’t just a coincidence? What if that was some kind of beacon, like a lighthouse broadcasting?”

“This is Martian der’mo. My crew and I, we asteroid movers. Not scientists. We have no answers for why Solar System is way it is.”

“But I do,” Gwen said. “And I think the answer is buried on Io.”

Brantov picked up the datawhisp, muttering something to himself in Russian. They both remained quiet as a fresh round of drinks was set down.

“Listen, I’m not asking you to believe there’s a Sentinel,” she said as soon as they were alone again. “I’m not even asking you to help. I just need you to get me to Io and back again.”

“And your Institute? Is that real, or more of your lies?”

“I’m not lying,” she said. The best lies were the ones that were the truth. “The funding will be there, I promise.”

Brantov frowned, then glanced back at his crew. “We will take you,” he finally said. “But you pay for drinks.”

Gwen didn’t stay in the galley because she enjoyed the smell. Even in the cramped confines of the rock hauler, there were better places to spend some free time. The galley was the social hub of the ship, the one place where everyone came between shifts to relax for a few minutes, eat, and socialize. Tzena, the ship's mechanic, had taken up a seat to her right. Brantov sat across the table, the sullen medic Phillipe beside him.

When Tzena started reading her mail, everyone's attention, even Gwen's, was on the mechanic's melodic voice and intoxicating laugh. For a few minutes Gwen forgot why she was on the rock hauler, why they were hurtling outbound from Mars. The other woman put down the datawhisp long enough to squeeze another dollop of seaweed paste on her food before continuing.

“‘Were that my love were like a fountain,’” Tzena read out loud,  “‘that I could dip in it eternal.’”

“Let me see that,” Brantov said, snatching the datawhisp. His cheeks flared red, lips moving as he read on to himself.

“Who wrote that?” Gwen asked.

Tzena shrugged. “There was a guy in Norvanoss.”

“Always there is guy in Norvanoss,” Brantov said, still reading.

“Where does someone come up with that shit?” Tzena asked, stifling a laugh. Which was a shame, Gwen thought, because the woman had a laugh that was like a melody only a poet could capture. A better poet than her forlorn lover, anyway.

“You have no heart,” Brantov said, sliding the datawhisp back and pushing away from the table. The big Russian gave Gwen a wink, then rolled his eyes at Tzena. “It is good thing you better at fixing ship than breaking hearts, or Norvanoss not let us back.”

“You mean good thing we have a paying gig,” Tzena said. She gave Gwen a smile.

The ship’s medic pushed away from the table, glaring at Tzena with open contempt. He shoved his tray in the recycler, leaving for the corridor with a bounce.

“What’s his issue?” Gwen asked, taking a sip of coffee. Whatever it had been in a past life, coffee hadn’t been part of its heritage.

“Phillipe? He had thing for Tzena when he join,” Brantov said.

“Not reciprocated, I take it?”

“Please.” Tzena rolled her eyes. “Even I have rules. Never sleep with the crew or it’ll fuck everything up. That kid just didn’t understand professional boundaries.”

“Tzena was lovely self, in other words,” Brantov said. He was smiling, but Gwen didn’t think he sounded amused.

“At least I didn’t publicly humiliate him.” She glared at Brantov, challenging him to say otherwise.

“Minus that, yes. You were all heart.” Brantov left them, nimbly pushed his bulk through the galley doorframe. He spun as he went, orienting his head towards the bridge.

“Well, that wasn’t pleasant,” Tzena said, pushing her tray away. She took a drink, giving Gwen an appraising look. Gwen felt her cheeks grow hot at the attention. “Let me ask you something.”


“What’s the real deal?”

“What do you mean?”

“Wherever we’re going. You think it’s aliens.” It was a statement. “A Sentinel?”

“I didn’t say that,” Gwen said.

Tzena laughed at her, then leaned in close. The intoxicating scent of warm cocoa butter, so at odds with the galley, caressed Gwen’s senses.

“I find the Sentinels fascinating,” Tzena confided. “Alien living machines. Amazing. So? Did you find one? Is that why we’re out here?”

Gwen wanted to tell the other woman everything. The thrill of sharing something with Tzena, even a secret that would be public knowledge on the ship in a few hours, made her tingle.

Another crewman interrupted them, passing into the galley. Both women stopped talking, lips pursed as they watched him retrieve a drink bulb. He gave them a funny look as he floated past. They waited until he passed back out into the corridor, then burst into laughter.

“Nosy rock fucker,” Tzena said.

Gwen took a deep breath. It wasn’t much of a risk to put this woman in her confidence, she’d know the truth soon enough.

“Truth is, I don’t honestly know if there’s a Sentinel,” she said, a smile lifting the corner of her mouth. “But what else could it be?”

Gwen stood beneath Jupiter ascendant, surveying the surface of Io. A yellow haze filled the sky, the strange aurora of Io swirling over the thin atmosphere of the mottled moon. The ground constantly rumbled beneath her feet. Out of distant volcanoes, slow motion lava fountains rose up into the sky. The weak gravity of the Jovian moon was no match for the tectonic forces that pushed the magma outward.

Around her, a field of fresh boulders and upturned earth were the only signs that something had just recently crashed. She had intentionally landed away from the crater, to avoid risking her landing craft. Even in the weak gravity, the walk was becoming fatiguing.

“How much further?” Her voice echoed, filling the emptiness of the helmet. A burst of static answered her.

“Not far,” Tzena came back between the chirps and pops of the Jovian radio show. “Next ridge.”

Gwen took a sip of water, wetting her lips and tongue. Her lips were chapping in the dry air of the suit, but at least it was still holding atmosphere. The humidity regulator, at a guess, was busted, but she wasn’t a suit mechanic. It was the best Brantov could spare, and she hadn’t been in much of a position to argue.

“Thanks,” she murmured.

The ridge ahead of her rose up quickly, a sharp jut of rock that seemed to just stab out of the landscape. Gwen took a deep breath, her shoulders aching, and started climbing. She’d done field work on Luna as an undergrad, pogo sticking her way across the surface. Luna had a surface gravity roughly equal to Io. Luna boasted a soft layer of silt, but she hadn’t realized how much of a difference that made until now. Io had the same gravity, but the landings were tougher. Geologically active, the surface was hard and compacted. It gave the small moon a sense of familiarity that was at odds with the jarring discomfort of each landing as she hopped her way across the rock-strewn surface. She pressed her legs together, flexing her knees for the next bounding jump.

“You should be close now,” Tzena said, breaking through her train of thoughts. Brantov had insisted the mechanic be her navigator. Alone, they had joked about the old Russian captain, but Gwen had suspected he was still an old softie at heart. Another shattering burst of static made her cringe. “Wait there a moment. Please.”

Gwen frowned. The ridge line was clear in front of her now, not more than two or three meters away. Just past it, the elongated oval of Euboea Montes had been sheared off by Oestra when it hit. Destroying a geological landmark was a capital offense. If the Authority ever got wind the institute had orchestrated this, there’d be hell to pay.

“What is it?” The suit’s rebreathers filled the emptiness of the hard suit, wheezing as they pumped air. Her faith in the suit to survive the coercive atmosphere of Io was dwindling, and with it the time she could afford to be out on the surface. “Why am I stopping?”

“It might be nothing,” the mechanic said. Gwen could hear her mumbling to herself over the open channel.


“It looks like there might be something sticking out of the crater wall,” Tzena said.

Gwen shuddered with anticipation. This could be it, this could be her moment. “Show me.”

The HUD in her suit flickered to life. She hated the damned thing, getting in the way of just seeing with her own eyes. She’d convinced Brantov it was a waste of the aging suit’s battery pack to have it running all the time. They’d compromised that she would turn it on when told to. The display flickered again, measurements streaming across it. In the lower right she could see atmospheric sampling results, verifying high amounts of sulfuric dioxide and sodium chloride. What she didn’t expect were the spikes of high ratios of oxygen and nitrogen. Not breathable high, but for a moon considered documented, the variances were startling.

“I don’t like this, Gwen,” Tzena said. “Those gasses should not be abundant on Io.”

“What were you saying about the crater wall?” she asked, ignoring the mechanic’s concern.

Brantov cut in, his Russian accent thick with distress. “Listen to me. Never mind the crater. You could be standing over chamber of trapped gas, ready to explode. You head back to the rendezvous point, where it is safe for us to come down.”

“Even if I die you’ll still get your Institute credits.”

“Easy for you to say,” he said, but he chuckled. “You will be on other side of the Heavens by then.”

“The crater wall?” Gwen repeated. “Tzena said she saw something?”

Brantov cursed. “Fine, but this is your life. And your precious Institute owes me new suit if you die in that one.”

“I’m sure the suit will survive anything I can do to it.”

“True, is good suit. But the stench? Bah. We want new suit.”

“Fine, you’ll get a new suit. If I live through this, it won’t be because I was wearing this piece of shit suit of yours anyway,” Gwen said. “The crater wall. What did you see?”

“It is fifteen degrees west of your position, near the crater bottom,” Tzena said, coming back on the line.

“What is?”

“I don’t know. Lidar sees something, but I don’t know what it is.”

“Anything visual?”

“It is in the shadows, so hard to tell. It could be something. Or it could be a giant piece of rock.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Gwen said. “Heading over the ridge.” She bounced lightly, pivoting around an outcropping of rock with just enough force to lift off the hard ground without flinging herself too far in the air. When she landed on the other side of the crater ledge, she stopped, staring. Despite it all, she was disappointed.

“What is it?” Tzena asked through a burst of static.

For years, Gwen had tried to keep herself distant from the crackpots who saw an alien influence in every unusual outcropping of rock or genetic drift. But even when no one would acknowledge the Io Mystery, she had held on to her belief that there was something hidden. Her proposal had been as grand as it was outlandish - that Io was a key component in a megastructure engineering project, its close orbit to the gas giant designed to form a natural radio beacon.

She let the suit’s video feed do all of the speaking for her.

She slid down the inner wall, a small avalanche of debris pacing her. At the bottom of the crater, she crumpled to her knees. The suit made a hissing noise as it tried to compensate for the stinging tears in her eyes. There was nothing here. Silvery glints of silica rich rock, remains from Oestra, littered the bottom of the crater. There was no Sentinel, no alien robot.

“Gwen?” Tzena’s voice was weak, distant. Desperate.

“I’m here.”

“What do you see?”

Gwen opened her eyes, letting the suit dry them with puffs of stale air. “Rocks. Silicate compounds. Sulfur. Lots of sulfur. It’s caked up, coating almost everything.” She stopped, frowning.

“What is it?”

“I see something.”

“A Sentinel?”

“No. I don’t know. Hold.”

Gwen rose up, her legs rubbery beneath her. She took a few steps and then stopped, planting her feet shoulder width apart. Eyes focused on the ground, she fumbled at her side, releasing one of the sample canisters from the pouch.

Tzena said something over the radio, but the words were lost to Gwen in a burst of static. She leaned forward, gloved hand reaching out to touch the thing rising up out of the crater floor. It was black as night and all straight lines, woven together like an intricate latticework of thornless brambles. She poked at it with a gloved finger.

Another squeal of static sounded, this time so loud she thought she would go deaf. The bramble broke at her touch, brittle material shattering beneath her near gentle poking. Gwen scooped up the pieces in her containment tube, sealed it and slid it into her pouch.
Around her, Io rumbled, setting loose more of the crater wall.

“-rendezvous point, you understand?” Brantov’s voice belched out of her headset mid sentence.

“Nevesty, repeat?”

“Gwen.” The Russian sounded almost relieved. “We are moving to rendezvous point bravo. You meet us there.”

“Rendezvous? Why?

“Seeing increase in geological activity. Don’t want to lose suit.”

As if to emphasize the point, Io rumbled again. The vibrations were audible inside her suit. “Yeah, maybe heading back isn’t a bad idea,” she said.

Scaling the wall of the crater was more difficult than the descent. It took twice as much work to maintain a foothold. Her hands and feet sunk into soft walls, buried before she could find purchase. As she climbed, she could feel the earth beneath her quake more frequently. They were slight tremors, like something far beneath the surface turning over in its sleep, but the interval was increasing. For the first time, she wondered if Oestra had caused more damage than grazing a mountain.

Finally on the rim of the crater, Gwen risked glancing back down. What she saw took her breath away.

A giant, brambling structure was rising up out of the crater behind her. The piece she had broken off was shiny, brittle. This looked to be anything but. The smallest branch of it was at least as thick as her waist. There was no sheen to it, no shine. The surface was smooth but matte.

“Nevesty, come in.”

There was no response, only an increasing staccato in the roar of static. Gwen stared in awe, watching as the branches began to reach over the edge of the crater, surging forward in bursts of activity. With every spasm of the structure, the land rumbled.
Gwen felt her breath seize, the sound of her heart pounding in her ears. Spasm. Rumble. Static. All three were related. “Nevesty, are you there?”

A squawk of jumbled words that sounded like Brantov replied.

Gwen brought up the compass in the HUD, triangulating a red square on the secondary pickup point. It was a little over a kilometer away. She needed to get out off of Io, fast. “I really hope this piece of shit suit makes it that far.” She had walked less than a hundred meters when the landscape around her shifted. She stopped, eyes narrowed until she realized what it was.

The lighting had changed.

With a cold sense of dread, she turned around.

The brambling structure was still growing, spilling out of the crater. Only now, it was rising up into the sky too, blocking what light reached the surface.

Gwen started running. The reduced gravity of Io made the motion hard to control. Alerts began flashing in front of her eyes, the small red square of the pickup point lost beneath the flood of suit failure messages.

“Brantov!” Gwen screamed. “This fucking suit is failing!”

There was a burble in the static. The only word she could make out distinctly was her own name. Her breath was coming heavier. The air in the suit was starting to taste funny. The air scrubber was dying. It wouldn’t take long for her to die if the air scrubber stopped recycling air.

Gwen skidded to a stop short of the pickup point. When they had done their flyby and marked pickup points, this had been the center of a lava plain. Buried beneath layers of soot and sulfur, it had been a nice, open flat area.

The plain was gone now, a gaping maw spread open before her. Rock jutted out where only earlier it had been flat, all of it ending abruptly to drop into a chasm. Gwen turned to back away and stopped. A wall of the alien briar was creeping towards her. She couldn’t tell if it was spreading across the surface, or breaking through it. It didn’t matter. It was only a matter of minutes before it caught up with her.

“Nevesty, can you hear me?”

There was another burst of static over the radio. Gwen stared at the approaching wall of briar, her throat tight. She had to get out of there.

Gwen turned her head from left to right, staring through the scratched dome of the helmet. To her left, there was a sharp decline, ending abruptly in a drop off into the chasm. To her right, the ground rose up, cresting in a short hill. She didn’t know what lay beyond that, but it was her best chance at getting a signal. Her legs pumped, calf and thigh muscles burning as she ran up hill.
Gwen stopped halfway up the hill, panting. Even in low gravity, it was exhausting to run uphill in a suit. She glanced back and gasped. The wall was moving faster now, visibly expanding towards her.

“Nevesty,” she called again, her breath short as she continued climbing. “Copy?”

She reached the top of the hill and stopped, her feet sinking into the soft soil. The chasm had already spread ahead of her, circling the small hill she stood on. The ground looked like someone had ripped it open bare handed, a jagged line marking the boundary between solid ground and a dramatic drop. Gwen stared at the chasm for a long moment, weighing her odds. She couldn’t see the bottom, and doubted the Nevesty would be able to negotiate the cliff walls to be able to pick her up.

“Nevesty, please,” she pleaded. “Answer.”

“Gwen.” Tzena’s voice was loud and clear. Gwen straightened, hoping that meant they were close.

“I need you all. Fast.”

“We can see you. Gwen.” The silence that followed seemed to stretch. “Gwen, don’t be alarmed, but there’s nowhere for us to land. But I have an idea.”

“Whatever it is, I don’t think I have much choice. What is it?” Gwen asked, staring back at the wall of bramble. It was almost to the base of the hill now, chunks of earth churning to the side around it.

“Do you trust me?”

Gwen swallowed. Her mouth was dry, and the air was beginning to taste foul.

“I don’t have a lot of options. What do I have to do?”


“In the air?”

“Over the edge.”

Gwen swallowed, staring at the wall of bramble. It was ascending the hill now.


“When I say now.”

Gwen shuffled to the edge of the cliff and looked down. She saw dark rock and bright rivulets of lava all the way down until it was obscured by dark shadow. “Tell me this is to going work.”

She could hear the grin on the other woman’s face. “We’re rock haulers. We know all about catching a claim.”
Through the hazy clouds that clung to Io, Gwen caught a glimpse of something silver cutting across the sky. The Kamen Nevesty wasn’t made for atmosphere and it showed. The rear engines flared, struggling to keep the hauler from plummeting to the surface. Dangling beneath it on tethers hung an exopod, arms extended.

“Now,” Tzena shouted.

Gwen looked over, then back at the wall behind her. It was close now, less than a few dozen meters away. She tried to take a deep breath but choked on the taste. And then she leapt over the edge.

The ground rushed towards her. Not as fast as on denser worlds, like Mars or Earth, but fast enough to be fatal. Something whipped around her waist, jerking her back. Alarms flared across her visor, more alarms than the old suit could handle. Without warning the suit shut down, the familiar but constant sound of the scrubber and the radio suddenly absent.
Lungs tightening in her chest at the lack of oxygen, Gwen’s vision darkened, her awareness fading with it.

Gwen sat bolt upright, gasping for breath.

“Breathe,” Tzena ordered.

Gwen tried to smile and was rewarded with a coughing fit instead. Her chest felt like hot pokers had been driven into it. Around them, the Nevesty groaned against its passage through the atmosphere. In the concentration of Io’s atmosphere, the sulfur would be corrosive. In the background, Gwen could hear the constant warble of the S-band radio signal.

Gwen reached up, grabbing Tzena’s hand. “Thank you.”

Tzena leaned over, the beads in her hair tickling Gwen’s chin as she kissed her on the forehead. “We need to get you out of that suit,” Tzena said, straightening.

Gwen nodded. She squirmed on the med couch, trying to slide out of the old suit. 

Tzena fumbled with the latches at her side, helping her with the seals. She leaned over to help release the chest plate from the hip actuators, then recoiled back, nursing her hand. “Damned suit bit me.” Tzena unclipped the pouch at Gwen’s side. The carry case was crushed and dented, one side completely caved in. The mechanic opened it carefully, nursing her bleeding hand as she dumped the contents. Shattered plastic tumbled out onto the med couch.

“Destroyed,” Gwen said, staring at the mess.

Tzena hissed, looking at the cut on her hand again. “I think there’s something in there,” she said, prodding.

“Let me help.” Gwen retrieved a pair of tongs from the first aid kit. Holding Tzena’s hand in her own, she carefully pulled a black thorn from the mechanic’s hand.

“What the hell is that?” Tzena asked.

Before Gwen could say anything, Brantov’s voice echoed through the ship, interrupting her. “If you hear me, turn on monitors. You do not want to miss.

Gwen set the thorn and tongs down on a tray. She hurried to unhitch herself from the couch. Nursing her injured hand, Tzena helped her stand. They crossed the small bay to the bank of screens and controls that were the tiny shuttle’s monitoring station. Tzena fumbled with the controls until the screens came up. The Nevesty’s external cameras were all pointing back at Io. A large black scar was forming beneath them across the moon’s surface.

“Looks like you broke Io,” Tzena teased.

Gwen opened her mouth to say something, but the words stuck in her throat. The scar stretched out, spreading from horizon to horizon on the moon’s surface until Io resembled an Easter egg splitting open. As it spread, it widened, a jagged black chasm across the surface of the moon. “My God, that’s huge,” she finally managed in a hoarse whisper. Gwen knew there would be no hiding this from the Authority.

Then, from out of the scar, something rose up, escaping the chasm. It was enormous, thousands of kilometers in length. Large enough to be visible even with the backdrop of Io’s new scar.

“It’s certainly no Sentinel,” said Tzena?

“I don’t have any idea what that is. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Tzena squeezed her hand. “I don’t think anyone has.”

The chill of realization hit Gwen. The wall of spines she had seen hadn’t been spreading. They had been rising up, unearthing themselves. Now free, it was lifting itself from the moon slowly, debris and regolith shaking off as it rose into the sky. It was larger than seemed possible for a ship. Large, and organic. The length of the alien object undulated as she watched, the outcroppings of spiny thorns flexing.

Every speaker in the small compartment burst to life at the same time with static, the monitor screens flickering. Then the alien ship seemed to fold sideways, like an optical illusion, winking out and leaving a void in the sky. The speakers went mute.

“The S-band,” Tzena said. “It’s gone.”

Gwen heard her, but she didn’t acknowledge. The alien ship had just done the impossible. Whatever the mechanism, it had left Io using higher physics, something that even that morning had been impossible. And she had no proof.

She felt like crying, an ache in her stomach like someone had punched her. She had had proof in her hands, and now it was gone. All she had left to show for it was a partially destroyed moon. Wouldn’t the Authority assessors have a field day with that?

“Don’t cry,” Tzena said, putting an arm around her shoulder. “We will be fine.”

“You don’t understand. I’ve got nothing to show for all of the work I’ve done.” Gwen didn’t even want to consider what the Institute would do to her once they found out.

“At least we have a souvenir?” Tzena asked, holding her bloody hand up. The thorn twitched, dancing on her open palm.

“Is that?”

“It is.”

Gwen kissed her.

Michael Cummings

Io Asunderfiction, Issue 34, March 1, 2016

Michael Cummings, his wife, and three daughters are recent transplants to the Bay area. When not glued to his servers, Michael enjoys writing, playing games with his girls, and occasionally even sleeping. 

His website is,

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