Blue Skies Ahead

Up ahead the sky was baby blue. Fortunately, between Karta and the sun were long white stretches of high cumulonimbus clouds with inflamed charcoal-filled underbellies. If she only looked up she could almost mistake it for Earth, as long as the clouds held out anyway.

But the wind was picking up.

It was supposed to be a simple snatch-and-grab. She should have known better. No, she did know better, but she ignored her instinct. Now it was all she could hope for not to end up as a permanent burn spot on the cracked stretch of calcium carbonate between her and the shuttle waiting beyond the terminus line. Maybe 20 klicks to go. She was toast.

Nov Ripon has a hospitable atmosphere and orbits in the Goldilocks Zone, but it lacks Earth’s magnetic shielding. The clouds were providing a temporary shield, but if they cleared up and left her in direct sunlight she’d burst into flames in under a minute.

Of course, dragging this body behind her wasn’t making the process any easier. He’d been worth five times more if she could’ve brought him in alive, but once she lost the ground transport she knew she she’d be bringing him in dead or not at all. It was a quick decision and over in a snap. Just like that, the whole bounty evaporated. His corpse would only cover the costs.

She didn’t like the way those clouds were moving. She looked back at the long straight track behind her, and then at the endless white blur ahead. She ruminated on how quickly this guy had depreciated in value before he’d even cooled. He’d be worth less—worthless, in fact—if she didn’t get off this rock.

Karta unclipped the tether latching their suits together. She paused to say a few words, mostly obscenities, but nonetheless ritualistic in the way they were strung together, and then she took off toward the shuttle. She was moving more quickly now, but somehow less convinced than ever that she’d made the right decision.

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