A woman swivels her executive chair and snaps a command. "Sync level two."
The gray-steel wall hums with power, shimmering. It becomes transparent, like thick glass. The pitch increases and the wall seems to vanish as cold starlight illuminates the bleak exterior moonscape.
Her interior office door opens. A male voice says, "Hello."
She nods without looking. She knows the young man well, and trusts him.
He steps in. "You saw the Quantum Drive tests?"
She stiffens. "Forty percent failure at two light years. How many ships are affected?"
"The first two: Outward Bound and Peerless."
Her stomach knots. Gillian and the kids. But a more imminent disaster looms. "We're being recalled," she says.
He inches closer. "What is?"
She clears her throat. "Everything. The Fundamentalist Accord passed on Earth. By this time tomorrow-"
"Should we run?"
She shakes her head. "The Liberty is ready, but we're not. Besides, there's something more important." She opens a credenza drawer. "Is your family still at Maginus?"
She turns toward him. In her outstretched palm she offers a sparkling crystal set on a gold chain.
"A data crystal?"
"Listen," she fixes his gaze, "there's going to be a dark age: An honest-to-God, down-the-tubes collapse; ignorance, superstition, the works. In fact, it's already begun." A chill climbs her spine. "Data and knowledge will be destroyed. And if you help preserve it, you'll be in danger."
"I'll take that risk."
"Of course. But this affects your children, and their children."
"Don't worry." He accepts the crystal. "These are manufactured on Ganymede for colonies only. They're not used on Earth. It won't be recognized."
"The next shuttle leaves in five hours. I want you and your family on it."
She spends five hours preparing, then checks the logs. They've left. She admires how he moves seamlessly from decision to action.
The door crashes open.
She glimpses the cheap tan uniforms of political officers-local goons of the new Earth Government.
A thin-cheeked officer recites her name with exaggerated formality.
She stares back. Her skin prickles with goose flesh.
He straightens his over-starched sleeves. His dirty-yellow eyes flare with power-drunk smugness. "We will escort you to the near-side shuttle."
She studies him. The cretin believes he is in command. The others wield fully-charged Shock Rods. This is it.
She smiles calmly-a short bluff.
Then she barks orders to her computer. "Alpha Code Gamma, execute commands in sequence, scramble ..."
The Rods discharge. Her body seizes in the grip of strong, overlapping electrical fields.
As she collapses, the dark steel ceiling swings into view. It pales, fading to fuzzy white. Numbly receding from life, she hopes only that she's done enough.