Pendulum Ch. 1: Spaceport

For Narumi, without whom this book wouldn’t have been possible.

“Next time you meet a climate-change denier, tell them to take a trip to Venus; I will pay the fare.”

Stephen Hawking

Dublin Spaceport almost vanished behind a yellow curtain when the sandstorm hit. The heatwave it carried took the young druid’s breath, and she coughed and spit out sand. The tarmac was too hot to stand on, but the boots of her uniform were made for extreme environments. Her suit was supposed to protect her from the sand, but without a helmet, that effect was wasted. The storm drove tiny sand particles not only in her mouth and nostrils but also down her collar, and only seconds later, her body was itching everywhere.
“Where’s my fucking helmet?”
Deirdre turned her head toward the voice and grinned. Maya tried to shield her face with both arms, but in vain.
“In the transporter, on the bench where we’ll sit down.”
“Then where’s the fucking transporter?”
Listening to the petite engineer cursing like a sailor was funny, but the looks from the huge, tough fir bolg marines were outright hilarious. She’d endure this sandstorm just to watch them react to her friend going berserk.
A powerful gust almost knocked Deirdre over. She flailed her arms to keep her balance.
“Fucking sandstorms!”
A rough laugh from her side, then explosive coughs.
The weather had got worse since she had last been here in Ireland, some ten years ago. Deirdre had spent most of her time in the druid circle and at the academy of the Space Exploration Agency in Luna City on the moon, and ten years was a long time.
“Watch your mouth, lieutenant.”
The voice from behind belonged to Kendrick, a fresh officer like them. His low, rich voice didn’t fit the ‘tall lurikeen’ at all. His fifty-one centimetre stature towered over Deirdre’s ankles. Despite his small size, he stood like a rock in the storm, and the sand bowed around him, as if a force field protected him.
“Fuck you, too, Kendrick.”
He laughed like a goat.
The transporter didn’t come into sight until it almost reached the marked area where the sky hook would pick them up, and then it was only visible as a silhouette.
Like the lurikeen, it didn’t get hit by a single sand particle, but unlike him, this was the effect of a druid spell.
When it settled into position, it drove a thick cloud of sand in her face, and that of everyone else. Wild curses and dry coughs were the answer.
Her eyes hurt and tears ran down her yellowish face, leaving wet traces on her skin. Her hair was covered by sand and would take forever to clean. But the worst of all were tiny asshole particles going everywhere, even inside her clothes.
The command to move was barely audible, but her AI spit out a notification. The group moved together, but not as orderly as expected from a unit of the Agency.
Sweat formed on her skin and mixed with the sand. Deirdre’s scalp itched. She checked the temperature: thirty-eight degrees Celsius. A mild October day.
The open door of the transport vessel looked like the mouth of a mythical creature, like a dragon’s, or maybe more like a whale’s, ready to gobble them up whole and disappear into the depths.
The moment she entered the ship, bright lights switched on and tinted the interior light blue.
There it was, the helmet with the name tag. ‘MacBreen’, in white letters on dark green painted acrylic glass.
“Per aspera ad astra,” Kendrick’s muffled voice came from behind. Then a moan of pain, followed by a curse.
“Move it, Hightower,” Maya growled.
The door closed with a metallic clank, and the sound of the engine drowned out their voices.
Through trouble to the stars, indeed.


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