Cathedra – M.C. Tuggle

Cathedra – M.C. Tuggle

We glided out of the base’s garage onto smooth tarmac, but once we hit the icy terrain, things got bumpy. The rover shimmied up a rise pocked with shallow fissures and slowed to a crawl as we neared the crest. I gazed up. Saturn and its massive rings dominated the sky, glowing in the dim bronze light of early morning on Enceladus.

We stopped. Rafferty tapped my shoulder from the rear seat. I was so absorbed in the view she startled me. I turned, and for an awkward moment, we were face to face. Through her crystal-clear helmet, glints of simmering anger flashed in green eyes set off by a mop of red hair. She pointed to a smooth stretch of grey ice in the gorge below and said, “That’s it, Kaplan. That’s where our friends were working. They never had a chance.”

Beside me in the driver’s seat, Martinez turned his dark eyes on me, his head tilted back. “Yeah, that’s the spot. ‘Safe for geothermal drilling,’ according to the survey.”

Our helmets were equipped with automatic radio comms, as well as audio sensors and external transducers for through-water comms, but I didn’t answer. Martinez sat back and kicked the brake. The rover purred down the slope as Martinez jerked the tiller left and right to dodge ice blocks in our way. Even in the tiny moon’s low gravity, our loopy course threatened to hurl us out of our seats. My companions seemed to have no difficulty. I tightened my grip on the grab bar.

Martinez shot a look at me. “Better hold on, Kaplan.”

The way Martinez was driving, and with no protective sides on the rover, I could’ve been flung out onto the rock-hard ice. In fact, my two associates might’ve been hoping to see me take a fall, since everyone on Cassini Base blamed me for the disappearance of two of their coworkers.

Well, that’s me. Always the odd man out.

The three of us, me, Martinez, and Rafferty, the electrician’s mate, wore white company-issued biosuits, easily the best I’d ever used. They’d been designed to function on surface and underwater, though powerful, shifting currents made it impossible to work in the underground seas. In addition to flex-ballast to simulate 70% g, the suits supplied us with air, and were enviro-adaptable and armored to protect us from Enceladus’ hostile environment. So if the journeyman astrogeologist tumbled out of the rover, no one would be reprimanded. In fact, it’d make a great story back at base.

We reached smoother terrain and coasted toward a dozen or more toppled ice columns that looked like a collapsed Stonehenge. Something caught my eye and I twisted around. On the grey horizon, a geyser shot superheated water into space, followed by another. Seconds later, the twin rumbles reached us through the moon’s thin atmosphere, registering nearly 50 decibels in my suit’s audio sensors. The fountain-like spray rose high, caught the sunlight, and formed a gigantic sparkling cone with Saturn looming in the background like an enormous round agate of gold, blue, and white bands. Most of the propelled water would add to the moon’s atmosphere, but some would break free of Enceladus’ gravity and become part of Saturn’s E ring.

We reached the site where the two men had vanished. Martinez braked the rover, and we clambered out. Rafferty busied herself setting up the 3-D imaging unit we’d brought from the main base, and Martinez followed close behind me.

There was no doubt in my mind that both watched my every move.

The terrain surrounding us was warped and striated with pressure faults, smooth in places, powdery in others. Blunt ice boulders and smaller chunks littered the area. And there it was – in the center of a stretch of ice otherwise smooth as glass, ten feet of a silent drill derrick poking out.

When I turned toward Martinez, he wasn’t looking at the accident site. His eyes had narrowed on me.

He nodded toward the drill. “Hasegawa’s comm is still active down there.” Martinez’ tone was icier than the atmosphere. He took a deep breath. “We never heard from Spenser. And that’s been almost three months.”

“How do you know it’s still active?”

Martinez patted the back of his suit. “When you put in a charged lithium pack, your suit is operational about four months, including the radio. The three of us are sending and receiving on frequency Tac 12. But if an activated suit is not in motion more than three minutes, it’s assumed you’re in trouble, and a dead man circuit kicks in. The helmet comm receives all live transmissions so you can locate help, and broadcasts a directional beacon on the emergency frequency.”

Yep. Damn good biosuits. The company takes care of its own.

I recalled this spot from when I conducted my original survey nearly a year ago. We stood at the moon’s south pole, one of the most complex and tectonically active regions in the solar system. Enceladus was covered in water ice that hid a liquid sea and hydrothermal flows heated by tidal friction and radioactive decay. The company that had hired me, Xtracta, planned to tap into the moon’s vast geothermal reserves and ship charged supercapacitors to power-hungry space outposts. That plan had suffered a major setback when the two crewmembers disappeared. Which was why we were here.

I looked up. The alarm array on a utility pole near a small, nearby mound of dark ice showed no sign of damage. I tapped the touchpad on my wrist and studied the display in my visor. “Strange,” I said. “All the sensors and alarms I installed are responding. Everything’s working.”

Martinez faced me, arms folded across his chest. “Well, Kaplan, then I suppose you’re done here. You can go back to the belt and forget about us. Again.”

I didn’t respond. But something about Martinez’ tone got to me. People like Martinez were one of the reasons I preferred working alone as an astrogeologist in the asteroid belt. The asteroid miners kept to themselves and paid well for my surveys. But when Xtracta contacted me about the disappearance of its two crewmembers, I’d felt I had to come back. It had taken nearly three months catching transports, but I was here to do what I could. What I had to do. Anyone who questioned my work was going to hear from me. I’d come back to defend myself.

But now a growing ache in my gut told me I might be responsible for the deaths of two men. An unknown geohazard must’ve killed them – unknown because I had overlooked it. Nothing else could explain what had happened. The football-sized creatures that raced in the small moon’s sub-surface seas were harmless. Cute, even. The miners had dubbed them sea pigs.

My response to Martinez was to march out to the derrick. Martinez dropped his arms to his side and stared at me. Rafferty turned from the equipment she was setting up. Neither wanted to miss the sight of me crashing through the ice.

“It’s solid here,” I said, stomping my boot. “The alarms would go off if the ice was thinning or under stress.” When I touched the drill’s control panel, the unit’s display lit up, and I squinted at it. The drill had punched through the ice and had penetrated rock, still several meters away from the superheated water that surged below the surface. But the display indicated the wellbore had ruptured. What the hell could’ve caused that? Squatting, I brushed away blue powder ice from the surface. The solid ice showed signs of stress and rapid re-freezing. “Has anyone tried to retrieve this equipment?”

Martinez remained motionless. “No one’s dared. Not after what happened.”

“I don’t get it,” I said. “There’s no way hot streams from the interior could breach the surface. Not here. The ice is always at least 30 centimeters. And look at this.” I pointed toward the drill’s display, but Martinez and Rafferty didn’t budge. “The wellbore is still embedded in rock. Don’t see how enough hot water could’ve seeped out to do any damage.” After another glance at the drill’s display screen, I said, “Rafferty, let’s roll out the GPR.”

“Hooah.” She turned half way, looked back at me, and scurried back to her equipment.

“As soon as the ground penetrating radar maps the interior, I should have a better idea what’s down there, maybe even figure out what happened. Then we can power the drill back up and replace the bore.”

“What’s the map gonna show you?” Martinez folded his arms.

“Hopefully, that it’s safe to continue.”

Martinez snorted. “You’re mighty cautious when it’s your butt on the line.”

“Yes, I am.” I turned away, burning in shame. Why the hell had I said that? I leaned close to the drill’s control panel. “There’s the main power. If the area’s secure, we can continue to drill, finish the job. The one thing we don’t want to do is overlook–”

That’s when the world I thought I knew disappeared.

A powerful shock wave whipped through my body, and the ice around me pinged and cracked and roared. Something tossed me high over the surface, and I tumbled and dropped among shards of flying ice. The alarm blasted the air, and the crisis alert chime in my suit sounded. I bellyflopped into water, and the instant I hit, something wrapped around me and pulled me down into darkness.

I rocketed through the water at mind-numbing speed. I tried to switch on my suit’s light panel, but whatever was pushing me had pinned my arms back. Helpless and terrified, I sped face-first through black water.

Seconds later, as suddenly as it had started, all movement ended. I glanced around, panting. Blood throbbed in my ears. There was no sign of whatever had brought me here, and I drifted in the water. It took a few seconds to control my breathing and orient myself. I was in an underwater cave. My audio sensors picked up the dull thunder of water rushing through a nearby channel, broken every few seconds by the crash of a powerful surge colliding with rock. Several meters away, a dim light flickered through water thick with icy slush. By kicking my legs and pulling myself along the rocks, I glided toward the white glow that gave the chamber its only illumination.

I stopped. A figure in a white biosuit, arms and legs spread-eagled, stared back at me. But when I pulled closer, the suit’s sleeves floated free in the current. They were empty. It was just a biosuit and its helmet wedged into the rocks, its fading light panel illuminating the watery chamber. The armor at the chest appeared gouged open. I switched on my own light panel and read the letters “HASEG.” A cold shudder shot down my spine.

A voice in my helmet said, “Kaplan, do you copy?”

“Yes, Martinez, I copy.”

“I’ve been trying to reach you. What happened?”

“Something dragged me underwater. What did you see?”

“Water, ice, arms, legs. Where the hell are you? You okay?”

“I’m in a cave, and I’m still in once piece. Martinez – I found Hasegawa’s suit and helmet.”

“Is he …”

“There’s no sign of his body. And I haven’t seen any trace of Spenser.” I switched off my suit’s light panel. No telling how long I’d be stuck here, so I figured I’d better conserve power.

After a long pause, Martinez said, “What can we do?”

“Say again?”

“Kaplan, I repeat, what can we do?”

“Hold on.”

Martinez’ voice was echoing in my audio sensor, repeating what I heard over the comm. How was that possible? I turned up the amplitude on my through-water system and heard a team leader bark at workers in the hangar for not moving uncharged supercapacitors into the warehouse. Then I remembered what Martinez had told me about our suits. The dead man circuit in Hasegawa’s comm system had triggered, so it repeated all radio conversations in the area.

It was possible a random burst of superheated water had broken the ice I’d been standing on and washed me into this cave. But what had stuffed the helmet and the suit in the rocks? And why?

“Martinez, do you copy?”

“I’m here.”

“I’m going to look around, see if there’s a way out. Rafferty?”

“Rafferty here.”

“Go ahead with the 3D mapping. Look for an opening in the rocks.”

“Hooah,” she said. “Got it. And good luck, Kaplan.”


This seemed like a good time to check the indicators in my visor display. No telling what might be useful. Trimix replicator: fully functional, so I had plenty of air. Surrounding water: 7 Centigrade, but the suit’s enviro regulators checked out. At least I wouldn’t be frozen or cooked alive in this crazy stew of freezing and boiling water. Ambient radiation: now that was a problem. The radiation in the cave was high. Deadly high. Nearly 25 Sv. My heart sank as I did the math. I had less than an hour to escape.

Then another problem – the light behind me went out.

I nudged against the rock to turn around, and peered into murky water. Just as I started to power on my own light panel, I realized the light from Hasegawa’s suit was still on. Something floated between me and the suit, blocking the light. Something large. And it was only a couple meters away.

This was serious. A breakaway ice column drifting in the powerful currents could crush me. I glanced around the cave searching for an escape route and realized my situation was even worse than I first thought: there were several enormous columns floating in the cave. The moon’s wildly elliptical orbit created enormous friction between the ocean and the moon’s rocky core, and that friction heated the underground sea. Other streams heated from radioactive decay blended with those currents. If heated waters from another region had shifted, my little underwater cave could suddenly freeze up, and the radioactivity would be the least of my worries.

The column nearest me moved. It didn’t lurch in random current, it flexed so that it remained close to me as I drifted. It jerked closer, and when I tried to swim out of its path, it changed course until it was nearly in my face. And it had eyes.

Clicks and deep grumbles sounded through the audio sensors of my through-water comm system, which were answered by eyes opening on the dozens of other large shapes in the cave. The dim glow from the dead man’s suit reflected red in the large eyes that surrounded me.

It took me a long moment to comprehend what I faced. These giants weren’t friendly little sea pigs.

And here I was trapped in an underwater cave full of them. My heart thumped in my chest, and I took a couple of gulps of air. I had to remain calm. I let myself drift in the water, unsure how any effort to maneuver might be interpreted.

I could tell I was being studied by these aquatic creatures. The one closest to me was at least four meters long, with a thick, streamlined body that glistened like slate in the dim light. It resembled a dolphin with an alligator’s thick hide. A row of spikes formed along the spine. Oval, reptilian eyes that blinked from front to back sat high on top of a cone-like head. The blunt jaws, anchored by a massive neck and chest, suggested monstrous power. The creature had two long flippers in front and stubby flukes on its tail. And near the tail, a thick dorsal tentacle swayed menacingly.

Was I in their dining room? Had Hasegawa’s suit been mounted in the rocks as a trophy?

Radioactivity was accumulating in my body, so I had to do something. I needed a better idea of my surroundings, and how many mouths were aimed at me. I switched on my light panel at its lowest setting.

Rapid clicks and moans filled the cave. Like a school of fish, the creatures rippled away from the light, but as they retreated, each one formed a fist at the end of its dorsal tentacle. The balled-up tentacle reminded me of the hammer tail of the ankylosaurus, and I had no doubt of the immense power behind each.

The creature next to me nudged forward and faced me. My only weapon was the light panel in my suit. The max setting might blind the creatures. But only some. And then what would I do? I had no idea how to get back to the surface.

The creature opened its mouth, revealing three rows of pointed black teeth. A rapid pulse of clicks sounded from it. Adrenaline fired through me, but I forced myself to remain still and face whatever was about to happen.

Then the creature said, “Have you finished?”

All I could do was stare back. The creature’s voice was a bone-rattling bass. I took a deep breath and switched on my external speaker. “Finished what?”

“Mourning your dead self.”

I wrestled with a response, but gave up. “Please explain.”

“Part of you died. You have seen the shell. The suit.” It slowly shut and opened its red, slotted eyes. “Know that the dying was necessary.”

So these creatures had killed Spenser and Hasegawa. A knot of fear clenched my stomach.

“How is it you can talk to me?”

It looked at Hasegawa’s suit. “We listened.”

That was another punch to the gut I wasn’t ready for. This creature had learned to speak our language by overhearing the communications on Hasegawa’s radio.

“That’s – quite an accomplishment.”

“We must speak to the beings who feed us, the podfrums, gallytrots, and firedrakes. What you would call our prey.”

Predators. They fed on the smaller animals that lived in the underground sea. I had to force myself to breathe deeply. These alien beings possessed an intellect as breathtaking as their physical power. And they were apparently immune to extreme heat, cold, and radioactivity.

Were we considered a new prey species?

Surrounded by intelligent aliens of immense power, and my body absorbing radioactivity at dangerous levels, I had little to lose by interrogating them. More important, the crew at Cassini Base had to know what was down here. My finger tapped the control panel on my arm to transmit our conversation.

“Who are you?”

“We are Of Na. And you are Kaplan.”

It had heard my name on Hasegawa’s comm when I was talking to Martinez and Rafferty. There was no doubting its intelligence. “You said it was necessary the two men had to die. Did you kill them?”

Of Na blinked its eyes. “That horrid thing they brought to life, your drill, was harming Na, which would deprive Cathedra of her beauty.”

“Who are Na and Cathedra?”

“Na is our home, what you call Base. Cathedra is the great One above. You call it Saturn.”

“How do you know what’s above?”

“We can see through the ice in many places, especially near the geysers. Sometimes pools form near the heated water, letting us look up at Cathedra and its holy circles. And we can open the ice when Na’s currents allow us.”

So that’s what their hammer tails were for. I had to let Martinez and the others know what they were facing.

“Did you break the ice and bring me here?”

“We heard you tell yourself on the comm you were going to bring the horrid drill back to life. The Hasegawa and Spenser parts of you had to be stopped. And you, Kaplan, had to be stopped.”

“Why? Why did you have to stop us?”

A long moment passed before Of Na shut its long eyes from front to back. Then it said, “You would have disrupted Na’s lifeblood, which we offer to Cathedra. When an offering is accepted, our dead become part of Cathedra’s sacred rings.”

It shuddered, edged closer, and its broad, powerful mouth hovered inches from my face.

“Your time of mourning is finished.”

Before I could answer, the creature’s tentacle shot forward and the sledgehammer on the end opened up and engulfed me. Darkness hit me like a falling rock, and we took off. The sudden g-force from shooting through water turned my brain to mush. Seconds later, we stopped. Too lightheaded to react, I drifted in total darkness. The distant roll of surging water rumbled in my through-water comm. I gulped air, found the control for the light panel in my suit, and peered into a pair of long, reptilian eyes. A panicked search of my surroundings revealed we were alone in a water-filled, rocky chamber.

Despite my suit’s enviro-regulators, my entire body was slick with sweat.

I started to ask Of Na why it had brought me here, when a rat-like, rust-colored skeleton floated in the light from my suit. Following in its path were dozens of similar remains, some whole, with wide, staring eye sockets, and many others headless. A few meters away, at the fuzzy edge of my beam, a creature like Of Na drifted, its massive jaws gaping as it slowly cartwheeled in an invisible eddy.

“What you call the geyser will soon erupt at this place. We have honored the dead by bringing them here. What is left of their bodies will be sky-scattered.”

The small skeletons must’ve been the sea pigs these creatures hunted. While that thought sank in, my still-addled brain comprehended what Of Na had just said: a geyser was due. In my survey, I’d concluded the geysers erupted irregularly, and other geologists had confirmed that.

“How can you predict a geyser?”

“We listen. We know.” Of Na cocked its head and slowly blinked. “The Hasegawa and Spenser parts of you were also sky-scattered, and are now part of Cathedra’s rings.”

I glared back, so enraged my vision went blurry. “You killed them because they were drilling?”

“You are worse than the podfrums. Even they understand when we explain what has to be done.” Of Na shuddered. “We had to stop you from destroying Na’s lifeblood, which feeds Cathedra. We did not know you could be killed so easily.” It shook itself, edged closer. “But you have said you will drill again, and we have pledged a sacred oath to protect Na. We will surround your mess, your barracks, your rec center, your garage, and your admin building and crush them.”

My anger at the planned mass murder crowded out what the creature had claimed about the geyser. The roar and hiss of powerful streams of superheated water crashing against the chamber’s walls reminded me, and I checked my visor display. I blinked, and looked at it again. The surrounding water was 98 degrees Celsius, approaching the boiling point.

My heart dropped into my gut when I realized the creature might be right about an imminent geyser. The blast from a geyser eruption would shred and atomize anything in its path. Including me.

Of Na turned around.

“Wait – are you going to leave me here?”

The creature did not face me, but rumbled its reply. “It is our way to give all a proper sky scattering. Whatever good or harm one has done, the story of their life must have a proper end.”

My entire body tightened up. I gulped a breath of air. “Of Na.”

No response.

“Of Na, you told me you can see Cathedra when the currents allow you to break the ice.”

For a long moment, there was no reply. “Yes.”

“I – we – don’t believe you would wrongfully take life. But we don’t know how to read the currents. If you told us where it is safe to break the ice and run our generators, there would be no harm to Na. Cathedra would continue to receive your dead.”

Of Na turned until we were eye to eye. It gave me a long, slow blink – hopefully a good sign. For the first time since I’d crashed through the ice, the tension that had knotted my stomach relaxed, and I exhaled.

The creature regarded me without moving or speaking.

I said, “We can adapt the comm so you can use it to tell us where it is safe to drill.”

Of Na cocked its head. “That would be – impossible, Kaplan.”

“Impossible? Why?”

“We have listened to you argue among yourselves. You are too stubborn, too greedy to be trusted. You would not follow our instructions.”

“But we would. We will shut down a turbine when you make your offerings. We can switch to different locations so we don’t interfere with Na’s lifeblood. I promise we will do as you say.”

Of Na closed its huge eyes several moments. When its eyes reopened, it stared at me. “What you are saying is pure bullshit.”

It had certainly paid attention to the crew’s radio chatter. “Of Na, wait – you said you made a sacred oath to protect Na.”


“We can make our sacred oath to you.”

Of Na studied me without speaking. It opened its mouth and let out a loud stream of clicks. Its eyes opened and closed in a jittery, shaking motion.

Was this its version of laughter?

Not far away, rushing water thundered against rock, and the walls around us groaned. Bubbles fluttered up from the depths. The water was boiling. A glance at my visor display showed the water had reached 102 degrees.

The creature stopped shaking. “Kaplan, I have listened to you many sunrises. You are a contentious, divided people. There is too much mutual distrust for a sacred oath to have any meaning.”

“Ah–” I stared back into those probing, alien eyes, my mind racing. There was no way to convince Of Na we could be trusted. And time was up.

Then it hit me.

“Yes, we do.” I swam close to the creature’s broad face. “We have a sacred oath, and you have heard it. What’s more – you have heard us fulfill that oath.”

“You really need to cut the crap.”

“That oath, which we hold sacred, is –‘Hooah.’ When we make this oath, it is our duty to do what we say. I’m surprised you haven’t recognized that oath for what it is.”

The front flippers quivered, and Of Na backed away, its eyes locked on me.

“Of Na, if you destroy the base, more of us will come, and there will only be more damage to Na. Take me to the surface, and I will convince the others what they must do.”

Of Na made no reply.

Deep below, something snapped, radiating shock waves through rock, ice, and water. I made the mistake of looking down toward the source. At that instant my head jerked back in my helmet and I plummeted through inky water, the light panel in my suit illuminating knife-like rock shards that flashed bright, then flickered into darkness. I spun at breakneck speed through tight channels of rock and ice, then raced through icy slush.

Suddenly, no more motion. A bone-shaking thump, followed by a metallic crash, and the next thing I knew, I was facing Of Na, who dangled me from its dorsal tentacle. We were nearly eye to eye, and the light from my suit cast deep shadows on Of Na’s rock-like, muscular face.

“Kaplan, you will speak to me through the suit we possess before the next sunrise. We will then guide you to a place where you can safely drill.”

Reeling and nauseated from hurtling through deadly waters, I held my head as high as I could, took a deep breath, and with my last trace of strength, firmly replied, “Hooah.”

Of Na whipped his tentacle and tossed me.

I shot out of the water, slid several meters, and sprawled onto the icy surface. As I staggered to my feet, the flash-frozen water on my suit splintered and cracked in the freezing atmosphere. Lightheaded and stumbling, I searched my surroundings. When I found the place Of Na had hammered through the ice, it had already turned solid. It took a couple of drunken efforts to cut the power to my suit’s light panel.

“Martinez? Do you copy?” In all directions, the frozen, twisted terrain stretched toward a black horizon, with no sign of help. “I’m on the surface. Martinez? Rafferty? Cassini Base? Can you hear me?”

A geyser flared and rumbled directly in front of me, shaking the ice under my feet, spewing a giant plume of water, silt, and the remains of dead, alien beings into space. The ice rattled and cracked, but I didn’t have the strength to run. I gazed up at the gigantic spray as it caught the sunlight. Saturn, its huge rings nearly a knife edge, loomed overhead, glowing its warm colors.

Never again would I see geysers the way I used to. They were more than interesting displays. The creatures of Enceladus – or should I say Na – were building something – something worth working for. Something worth defending. I understood.

Over the roar of the nearby eruption, Martinez’ voice crackled in my helmet. “We’ve spotted you, Kaplan. We’re at bearing 270, and on our way.”

I scanned the area. The rover bounced and wobbled toward me at full speed over the rugged surface. Rafferty waved, signaling me to run away from the geyser. I plodded a few steps, slipped, and fell flat on my face. The groaning and trembling in the ice warned of the possibility of fissures opening around me. I pushed myself up on my arms and focused my remaining strength on scrambling to my feet.

Martinez scowled when he stopped the rover. “Damn, Kaplan, get in.”

I hobbled forward. Rafferty grabbed my outstretched arm in both hands and hauled me into the back. She scooted into the front seat, and Martinez revved the engine and steered toward base.

The rich hum of the rover’s engine turned into a whine as we gained speed. Flat on my back, arms and legs like jelly, I gulped air.

Martinez glanced back at me. “Took you long enough. That was a hell of a geyser blow. We coulda been launched into space.”

I didn’t say anything. A couple of minutes later, Rafferty turned toward Martinez and must’ve given him a look, but I couldn’t see their faces.

“Thought you’d like to know, I relayed your comms when you were underwater so the whole base knows what happened to you down there.” Martinez shifted in his seat, leaned back a bit. “And I just got a priority comm from the commander. After sick bay checks you out, I’m taking you to her office. She wants a full rundown on this deal you want to make with that creature.”

I was too beat to answer.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Martinez. “She’s reasonable. And I shouldn’t tell you this, but she did tell me we need someone who knows the crazy geology here, someone who can handle our underwater friends.”

Rafferty pivoted in the passenger seat, tossing the mane of red curls inside her helmet as she faced me. “Know anyone like that?”

I gave her the strongest grin I could manage. “I’ll ask around. But first, I’m taking a long, old-fashioned rest.”

Rafferty raised an eyebrow. “I guess you’ve earned it.”

I nodded agreement and shut my eyes and let my bruised body conform to the shape of the back seats. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was the moaning engine harmonizing with the swift beat of the rover gliding over bumpy ice, but I thought I saw the mist from the heart of Na racing through dark space to merge with the rings of Cathedra.



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