Retrograde

Launch was in three days. That meant today was Pirinid’s last day of leave before she had to report to the launch complex for final preparations. Her whole life had been a series of preparations, but now that closest approach was upon her, she wasn’t certain she wanted to be an Ambassador. Oh, but her family… The shame would last for generations.

The sun appeared enormous and hazy in the midmorning sky, as it had for millions and millions of years. It was an artifact of the Engine.

The Engine had been humanity’s solution to the challenges of galactic expansion. And, like all great human creations, its elegance was only matched by its audacity. The Engine was a propulsion device powered by and pushing against the sun until the star itself was compelled to move against the whirlpool of the galactic disc in a retrograde orbit. And where the sun goes, the planets follow. On this course, the Earth was within short distance of new stars with regularity, and Ambassadors were sent out every hundred years or so like dandelion seeds to bring humanity to all the passing points of light.

Long ago, they were called Life Bringers, but it soon became well understood that life was already everywhere. But all of it—all that we’d found in those millions of years—had been locked between the icy ceilings and rocky seafloors of lightless oceans. They never traveled to or studied the stars—couldn’t even conceive of them—so we became Ambassadors, bringing knowledge in exchange for anything of value.

The monopoly of the Merchant Empire was born.

Now, Pirinid, after generations of her family pleading and working and thieving and scheming, was three days from launch, and she didn’t want to go. The air was warm, and the breeze was soft, and the birds composed minuets for free, and those things could only be found here. Earth. Nowhere else would ever be home. And it was the home of some other poor creature she’d be expected to enlighten.

Even if she lived with the shame and refused to go, someone else would fill her role. On and on the wheel would turn, forever and ever. But, if she went, who could stop her from altering course? Such a thing had never been done, but an Ambassador was sovereign. Perhaps she would leave Earth, but not Sol. She could go instead to the Engine itself.

Pirinid could halt the wheel.

A terrible smile pulled her face muscles taut as the wheels within her began to turn under her own control, in a new direction.

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