PENUMBRA

She was right there. In astronomical terms, and as compared to the millions of miles they'd already traveled, the Icarus I was close enough to touch. She was broadcasting an automated distress signal. Her engines were off-line, but her hull was intact. More importantly, at least in the opinion of her sister-ship's physicist, her payload was intact, too.

But then the decision-- Do we stop or don't we?-- went to a vote, and Capa lost. Searle had started in with a line of what the others obviously perceived as nonsense about how Capa should be the one to make the call, about how Capa, as their resident bomb-master, was best qualified to decide whether they should try to acquire the payload from the Icarus I. Capa mostly agreed with him, past a niggling sense that this was a decision he'd just as soon not have to make.

So the others, sensing his hesitation, had made the decision for him. Kaneda, whose mistrust of Searle had grown in direct proportion to their doctor's self-inflicted skin damage from his solar-viewing sessions in the observation room, had informed Searle curtly that Capa's was not the only opinion at play here. Mace, his expression roughly relieved, had backed Kaneda while splitting an openly contemptuous stare between the doctor and Capa. "You're right," he said to their captain, while the statement's obverse echoed silently in Capa's ears: And you're fucking wrong.

Capa had looked from him to Trey, who looked openly relieved but who refused to meet his eyes, and then at Cassie, who looked back at him levelly. Supportively, he'd thought--

"It would be an unjustifiably dangerous maneuver," she said. "I'm opposed to it."

Before he could stop himself, Capa said: "I can understand you're afraid--"

He never had a chance. To finish, that is. Either then or, as it turned out, later.

"Fuck you," Cassie hissed.

"Cass-- All I'm saying is--"

The room narrowed down to them, just the two of them, and in narrowing seemed to catch and then to crush his heart. He'd never seen her angry; he'd never dreamed she could be this angry.

"Do you know the first thing about docking these ships, Capa?" she snapped. "I don't think you do. And you've got the fucking balls to say I'm afraid--?"

"Cassie." The others were looking at them now, at him and at her. Capa felt his cheeks go hot. "Jesus Christ, I only--"

"She said 'no,' Capa." Mace turned to Kaneda. "So we're not stopping."

"No, we're not." Kaneda had his eyes on Capa; Capa knew him well enough to recognize that Kaneda was disappointed in him: they had a mission-- that much was plain to anyone with an ounce of pragmatism or intelligence-- and the one among them who lived more in theory than in reality, that being Capa, had openly advocated deviating from that mission for a bad risk, a remarkably unsound chance. "However-- Trey?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Calculate an alternate trajectory for our return voyage. If our payload doesn't succeed, perhaps we can rendezvous with the Icarus I on our way out. Take her payload and, if necessary, her reserve fuel stores." He asked Capa: "Is that acceptable to you, Dr. Capa?"

"Yes, Captain."

"It better be acceptable, you little shit," Mace muttered. "Goddamn geek moron--"

"That's enough, Mace," Kaneda said, as Capa bristled.

"Yes, sir." The meeting over, the mission safe, Mace headed for the entrance to the mess hall. He looked back, caught Cassie's eye. "You coming, Cass?"

"Yeah." For just a second, she looked at Capa. Her eyes were as dark as naked ice at night on a frozen lake, and just as clear and cold. Then she followed Mace out of the room.


Capa went back to the payload. Dinnertime approached; he wasn't hungry. Just after eighteen hundred hours, the lights flickered for a moment. He paused. The lights steadied again. He kept working.


The first thing he noticed when he left the payload at twenty-two hundred hours was the smell. Someone had burned something in the galley. Meat, by the odor. Maybe a chunk of packaging had caught fire, too.

He asked, moving aft along the long spindle of a corridor leading from the payload back to the ship's residential areas: "Icarus, aren't the air filters working?"

Air filtration is functional, Capa. Filtering residual smoke now.

Capa paused. "Residual smoke from what, Icarus?"

Event, eighteen hundred hours, sixteen minutes: Fire, originating in galley, spreading to common area and Comms. Extinguished at eighteen hundred hours, eighteen minutes, by automated containment system. Damage to comms systems. Estimated casualties: four. Known fatalities: three.

By now Capa wasn't listening. He was running for the galley.