The Astromancer

When the wormhole appeared, we sent through six ships. Each ship brought 36 passengers, including ambassadors, religious figures, military officers, and career astronauts. Only 14 souls returned; a random selection from five of the six ships. They were gone less than a day, and they were recovered drifting naked in open space save for an oily coating that destroyed itself entirely when they returned to an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Five of them were dead in less than a week. The other nine…they weren’t right. There are a lot of stories about the amazing things they could do, but what all those stories have in common is the one thing they couldn’t do: die.

They split up, each living in isolation on one of Earth’s nine colony worlds. That was 300 years ago.

They called themselves Astromancers. There’s one here, on Titania, living like a hermit down in the Messina Chasmata. That’s the urban legend, anyway. But when somebody gets desperate enough, those legends take on a certain appeal. They can seem as sweet as strawberry ice cream, and are likely to leave you with the same icy headache.

As it happens, that’s my own present level of desperation. I’m looking for the Astromancer.

The stories say her name was Hazel Grassie. I have an old picture of the crew of ship two; she’s sitting in the front. Petite with oversized cheeks, a straight smile, and dark plum hair. I have a second picture taken from after her recovery. Streaks of shock white form interference patterns with the dark plum. She’s gaunt. Her mouth hangs limp, her eyes closed. I reference it many times as I fly back and forth over the canyons as if there were someone else out here. As if there were anyone out here at all.

There’s a magnetic storm coming in from Uranus, and I set down in the protective shadow of an escarpment. I take a nap, and I’m woken by a rapping at the cockpit window—my bones nearly jump from my body. It’s the Astromancer.

“There’s a storm coming,” I say over all comm channels. “Quick, get inside.”

She shakes her head no, and the comms squeal. “I am the storm,” she tells me, “and I have come for you.”

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