Tucker sat knee-to-knee across from Evelyn inside the cramped crawler. The cabin was three cubic meters, but most of that space was taken up by equipment crates, the contents of which he could only speculate about. Even so, it was better than being out in the elements just beyond the crawler’s specially-built walls and redundant energy shields. The temperature was well over 300 degrees and the atmospheric pressure was above the threshold needed to crush a human skull. But at least they were below the acid clouds. And the crawler’s AC was working.

Tucker had stopped asking questions. Evelyn wanted to play coy, and when she put her mind to something there was no force in this universe or any other, real or imagined, that could alter her course. She was excited to show him something, but it would remain a surprise until the last possible moment. He knew she’d been working on the surface for months—standard, not local—and whatever she was doing was highly secretive, even compared to all the other clandestine shenanigans of the megacorps. Somehow she’d managed to get him visitor’s clearance though. Either that or he’d be shot on site when they disembarked.

It was 50 kilometers down the tether from the consortium of aerostatic habitats to the solid Venusian surface. Ground level was mainly the forgotten domain of robots and sociopaths, and he didn’t relish the thought of seeing it for himself.

“Does it ever make you nervous?” he asked.

“What’s that?”

“The fact that everything on this planet seems to be screaming trespassers will be murdered.”

Evelyn screwed her face in her funny way and then relaxed again. “I never really think about it. Better than deep space, I guess. Besides, Venus used to be a lot like Earth, long ago. Better than Earth, even.”

“Yeah, well, it seems like it’s had something of a rough patch since then.”

She laughed, a sound as lighthearted as a wind chime, and then they spent the rest of the descent in easygoing silence.

The last few kilometers grew uncomfortably turbulent for Tucker, but then the crawler passed through the energy bubble over the base station and the shaking and thunking all leveled out like a wrinkles smoothed from a bedsheet.

There was indeed a guard station with armed sentries at the crawler terminal, but Tucker was allowed to pass without much more than a bored visual appraisal. After they were out of earshot, Evelyn cautioned him that the security would be much more invasive—that was the word she used—upon their return.

“They don’t much care who comes poking around; more concerned with who lives to talk about it.” No laughter accompanied that warning.

She led him to a tarp-covered pit dug down into the endless expanse of what looked like black flagstone making up Venus’ surface.

“What’s in the hole?” Tucker asked.

Evelyn livened up all at once like an uncorked Champagne bottle. “I told you Venus was once Earthlike, right?” She was practically vibrating.

“Yeah, you said—”

But she was already throwing back the tarp.

“Look!” She exclaimed. “Fossils!”

The skeletal imprint uncovered in that pit looked like it could have eaten a T-rex whole in its heyday.

“There’s still genetic material,” Evelyn continued, practically shouting. “The corp is going to replicate it! Can you believe it?”

That was possibly the most terrible idea Tucker have ever heard. And he knew at once it was true.

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