The sky was clear and the suns were up. Light rays bounced off the dust particles in the atmosphere, making the daytime sky seem full of stars. Charlie tried to enjoy it. She liked being outside the settlement, even with the bulky envirosuit. She tried to marvel at the bioelectric technology that surrounded her as she plucked ripened pods from woody green stalks and dropped them in the hopper. She really tried.
But she was paired with Weston.
“My back hurts. Doesn’t your back hurt? God, we still have another hour until lunch. I’m starving.”
She got stuck with Weston a lot. They weren’t related—thank God—but they shared the same last name so they were often on the same duty rotations.
“Hey, Charlie, I said I’m starving. Think we could head back? Take an early lunch?”
“You can.” He didn’t respond. Just kept picking, somehow conveying through the silence that he was sulking. Charlie thought again about changing her name, as she often did on such occasions.
For a while, she did manage to just enjoy being outside. The crops covered the landscape for kilometers. They grew to about waist height and produced what looked like deep maroon butternut squash. But they weren’t squash; they were batteries. The interiors were segmented into ionized layers. If you stuck an electrode into either end you could power just about anything. Every settlement on Okab Eta depended on them for day-to-day life.
“How do we always get picked for the worst jobs, huh? You ever notice that?”
Charlie paused and looked up to the sky as if to ask for mercy. Just then, the ground rumbled. It felt like a carpet was pulled out from underfoot. Charlie and Weston were thrown together to the ground along with their hoppers. Batteries rolled everywhere.
Charlie pushed Weston away—”Hey, ow!”—and launched to her feet. Thick, heavy curtains of smoke were rising from the settlement. The dome was broken.
Charlie felt as if all the air had been sucked from her suit. She had to look for survivors, but she wasn’t hopeful she’d find any. Had to find a shuttle. Had to get to the next settlement before she ran out of air or froze to death in the night—whichever came first.
“You gonna help me up or what?”
And she had to do it all tied to a boat anchor named Weston.