A Tour of the Solar System

Part of 2100 CE.

“For as long as humanity has looked to the stars to expand its reach, man has dreamt of ways to shape other worlds in our own image, a process called Terraforming—quite literally, ‘earth shaping,’” Walter Elias Disney said, “and for that reason, it has been the stuff of science fiction—until now.  Experimentation first began in the twentieth century with projects like Biosphere 2 in the American southwest or the BIOS-3 project in central Russia.”  The screen images of glass-ceiling buildings that looked like gigantic greenhouses.  “These proofs-of-concept demonstrated mankind’s ability to harness the power of nature for his needs.”  The screen at the front of the classroom changed to distant view of the red sphere of Mars.  “When humans first set foot on the red planet, we immediately began the process of adapting our environment to our needs.”  The image changed again to a room of people looking at a three-dimensional holographic image of a Martian city.  “Disney Imagineers were the first to propose a viable way of covering parts of Valles Marineris in order to create an enclosed habitat where the earliest Martian inhabitants may live free from the sandstorms that plague the planet.”

            Someone yawned loudly in the darkness of the seventh-grade classroom, a sentiment echoed by others throughout the video lecture and even the teaching assistant in charge of the classroom today.  The novelty of space settlement had worn off for most second and third-generation space residents, but to Laelyana Taylor, nothing could have been more interesting.  She and her family had emigrated from Earth when she was two years old, undergoing the months’ long voyage across interplanetary space.  Among her earliest memories were seeing the colonies in high Mars orbit under construction, red and green running lights outlining their enormous cylindrical silhouettes against the darkness of space.  Now, whenever Laelyana looked up towards the sky panels of Fahiri, her mind’s eye would trace imaginary interplanetary trajectories, the sketches of her dream to travel the solar system and see its wonders.

            “Now we turn to Ganymede, arguably mankind’s greatest success in environmental manipulation,” and in turn the image on the screen changed.  The bright blue orb of Jupiter’s moon filled the screen, spinning slowly to show reveal the green/grey artificial islands which dotted its worldwide ocean.  “Ganymede was not always so beautiful—it was once a barren, frozen world known only for being a source of water ice.  Here, some of the earliest settlers in this part of space would regularly stop to resupply, while today it is the center of learning and engineering in the outer rim.  A combination of DESS and private scientists undertook the process of terraforming the moon as part of the international ‘Second Earth Initiative.’  The process began—”

            The school bell toned, and the video lecture automatically shut off, cutting off the A.I. lecturer and replacing it all with a static image of the teacher’s homework assignment.  The yawns turned to groans, stirring the teaching assistant awake.  He walked to the front of the room just as the lights came up.  “We will pick up where we left off next Friday,” he said.  “For homework, do the worksheet for sections four, five, and six, and complete the short answer essay”—there were even more groans—“the short answer essay that you will have to turn in as you come in the door on Monday.  Ms. Tanner will be here on Monday,” he warned.

            Ms. Tanner was the school’s seventh-grade teacher.  She used visit about once a week, but after Mr. Gupta the sixth-grade teacher died in a traffic accident, Ms. Tanner found herself busy covering fourteen classrooms.  Most schooldays, the teaching assistants assigned to each class administered the classroom, activating the electronic lectures which conducted the actual instruction, and then assisting the students with their assignments.  Students would turn assignments in to the teaching assistants, who would grade them and hand them back—except for essays.  Essays were always graded by the teacher, and Ms. Tanner usually said really good things about Laelyana’s writing.  She was probably the only one who looked forward to the essay…

            The students gathered their belongings and started for the door and the hallway beyond.  Weaving her way past students jostling and laughing and boys wrestling, she reached her locker at the far end of the school, which was itself at the end of a hallway.  She knew a lot of students who would hate having her locker, but so far from the confusion of so many people, Laelyana had room to gather both her things and her thoughts.  The inside of her locker was blank, just like the walls of her bedroom.  It wasn’t that she didn’t like decorations like the other girls, but she preferred things about planets and constellations instead of makeup and celebrities.  Friends who had liked space and science fiction when they were in elementary school were suddenly making fun of her on the first day of sixth grade, calling her names and making fun of the way she dressed.  It was easier to take down the pictures of Uranus and Neptune she had put up at the beginning of that year than to keep hearing the ridicule.  Now it was just habit to leave it bare.

            She took off her vest—the one bit of school uniform they were all required to wear—and hung it up inside of the locker.  She missed the hook and the heavy ballistics material clanged loudly on the bottom of the locker.  She frowned and put it back up, before then pulling her backpack from the other side.  Inside the pack she had carefully put away her gym shoes and sweaty gym clothes from this morning’s class, to which she now added her electronic notepad.  There was another scuff on the back of the case, she noticed, and she frowned again.  Her mom had bought it for her used, but Laelyana had done her very best to take care of it.  Seeing it get damaged troubled her—her family didn’t have money for a new e-pad like everyone else.  She had seen some of the wealthier students literally throw their phones or pads against the wall or the sidewalk outside, shattering and destroying them over minor irritations.  They trusted in their family’s ability to immediately replace anything they broke, and so they willingly threw away perfectly good things.

            She slammed the locker shut and started for the school’s entrance.  By now most of the school had cleared out—it was the weekend, and students always rushed to get out of the school more quickly on Fridays.  She liked to take her time walking the hallways this time of day, looking at past classes and the old trophies won by nameless, faceless students years before.  The rate team and speedrun team were the most prolific, encompassing two walls between the two of them, while sports and other activities were left to line the walls beside the main office.

            The main office.  She picked up her stride as she went by the long window that looked in to where the principals and teachers had their offices.  She tried not to peer in, but movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention and she saw him notice her.  She tried to pick up her step, but he was faster and cut her off via a door that let out from the office directly next to the main entrance.

            “Hey Ana,” Mr. Smith called even before the door was all the way open.

            Laelyana froze midstride and looked up.  Mr. Smith was the eighth-grade teacher, a tall and swarthy man with the lowcut crew cut and light beard that were all the fashion among the Areal upper classes.  He wore a blue button-down shirt tucked into pressed khaki trousers, to which he dropped one hand, placing the four fingers of his left hand into his waste band with the thumb hooked over it, while extending his right hand in a wave.

            “How are you, Ana?”

            Laelyana forced a smile.  “I’m well.”

            There was a pause as Mr. Smith waited, and when the response he had expected was not forthcoming, he said, “Aren’t you going to ask me how I am?”

            Laelyana swallowed.  “How are you?”

            The skin of his lips peeled back in a wolf-life grin.  “I am well, thank you for asking,” he said.  “You know, eighth grade is right around the corner for you.  We should talk about your scholarship potentials, since you will want to start looking at that before you go into high school.”  He leaned in towards her.  “You have a lot of potential, Ana.  I want to help you find that potential.”

            Laelyana nodded.  She had known Mr. Smith for some time now—he had been his mother’s sponsor when she had applied for residency in Fahiri, the two of them knowing each other through some second or third cousin who had emigrated from Earth to neighboring Tsavo.  Her mother had shown some interest Mr. Smith when they met for the first time in person, but he had shown more interest in Laelyana, who was then five.  They had talked about tutoring for Ana, as he called her, to catch her up from the schooling she had missed during the transfer from Earth.  He was a very nice man, her mother assured her regularly, and so Laelyana listened to what he said.

            “Have you started your primaries yet?”

            “No,” Laelyana admitted, feeling a little foolish.  The primaries were the tests used to determine which high school you would get to attend.  There were two rounds of primary testing, first at the end of seventh grade and then at the end of eighth, both of which required a great deal of studying if she wanted to get into Musk Academy.

            His left hand moved a little further into his wasteband, his thumb disappearing.  “We need to work on that.  Do you have the materials?”

            “Yes.”

            He was still smiling.  “Why don’t you stop by on Monday morning before class, we’ll say at seven o’clock, and we can start looking at them.”

            Laelyana hesitated, feeling pressure growing in her throat.

            The smile vanished from his face at her hesitation, replaced by a scowl.  “Monday morning at seven o’clock, Ana.”

            Laelyana swallowed against the lump in her throat and nodded.

            The smile crawled back onto his face.  “Good.”  His left hand shuddered in his trousers.  “I will see you then.”

            Without another word, Laelyana turned on her heels and went straight through the doors into the schoolyard and off school property.

            She had only gone a block and a half before she turned off the sidewalk into some bushes and vomited.


It took her twenty-five minutes to walk home, first along Schoolyard Road until 7th Street, and then the rest of the way down 7th until she reached her development.  She lived in a community of five-story apartments constructed around a rectangular courtyard.  They had a small pool and a place to picnic and relax, but the area was small and not well maintained.  The residents of Stonebridge were among the least economically well off of the residents of Fahiri—these were residents living on housing subsidies and other forms of public assistance meant to open space settlement to more than just the super wealthy.  Her mother had won a migration lottery funded by the Bezos Group, which had granted passage to one hundred families from Earth to the colonies being then constructed in high Mars orbit.  In theory the subsidies were supposed to bridge the economic disparity between the “paying” residents and the new arrivals—but in practice it equated to crowded conditions in areas confined by fencing and routinely trafficked by Security Police.

            She didn’t make eye contact with the three police officers standing guard in front of the Stonebridge Community gates.  She walked past them with the practiced ease of routine and placed her phone to the identity verification pad.  A second later, a red light beside the verification pad turned green and the gate opened.  She could feel eyes staring at her from behind those mirrored sunglasses every officer seemed to wear as they watched her push the gate open and go through.  They kept watching her even after the gate clanked shut behind her, all the until she disappeared around the corner of her building.

            Building three, fifth floor.  She walked the ten flights of stairs, foregoing the one working elevator that routinely trapped people inside of it for as much as an hour at a time.  In the stairwell, young men crowded together smoking and drinking.  They didn’t pay her any attention as she passed them—they were too embroiled in whatever they were watching or playing on their phones.  The one person that did notice her was Clarissa, her next-door neighbor.  When they made eye contact, Clarissa just rolled her eyes and went back to looking at her phone.  Clarissa and Laelyana had been friends for as long as Laelyana had lived here, but then last year Clarissa had discovered social media and boys.  They stopped hanging out when one day Laelyana objected to staying in Stonebridge every day doing nothing, wanting to go out to a museum or for a walk.

            “You go do whatever lame crap you want to do,” she had said to Laelyana, “but one day you have to grow up.”

            She hadn’t known what to do or how to react, so they simply stopped talking.  Laelyana went and did things on her own, but Clarissa stayed in the stairwells or in the yard with the local boys.

            Her apartment was at the far end of the hallway from the stairwell, apartment 523.  She pressed her phone to the verification pad and the lock clicked open.  The smell of vaporized marijuana flooded into the hallway amid the sound of the screen in the living room playing the newsfeed.  “Hi mom,” she called, shutting the door behind her.  “How are you?”  Laelyana stepped into the kitchen, which was just as she had left it this morning—even the dish she had been washing, with the wet sponge sitting in the middle of the plate, just as she had left it.

            She set down her backpack and deposited her gym clothes into the washing machine, already filled with dirty laundry.  She dropped a detergent pod in, closed the top, and set it to run.  She took another look at the dishes in the sink and the small stack of clean ones she had washed this morning—there were some already missing.

            Walking into the adjacent living room, she found her mother sitting on the couch, her knees to her chest and a vaporizer pen in hand.  Her gaze was locked on the screen, which showed rerun footage of the Peacekeeping Forces’ entry to Tharsis City amid explosions and firefights.  The commentators were discussing the ongoing siege of Elysium, the final stronghold of resistance on Mars.

            Her father was there.

            “Fuck,” her mother murmured and took a long drag from the vaporizer.  “Fuck.”

            “Mom?”

            Slowly Magdalene Taylor turned to look at her daughter, as if noticing her only now for the first time.  Her eyes were rimmed red and when she spoke, she spoke with a the heavy tongue of the intoxicated and sleep deprived—which she was.  “Oh, hello Laelyana,” she said mechanically and took another drag of the vaporizer.  “How was school.”

            Laelyana thought about Mr. Smith and Monday morning.  “It was fine.”

            “That’s good,” her mother said, and took another drag.  Exhaling the white vapor, she added, “Have you studied for your primaries?”

            Laelyana felt her throat tighten again.

            “Mr. Smith texted me.”  She took another drag, this time pausing deliberately a moment before exhaling.  “He says you haven’t been studying.  You need to study, Laelyana.”

            Laelyana nodded.

            “You want to be a success, right?”

            She nodded again.

            Something from the screen caught her mother’s eye, and just as quickly the direction of her thoughts changed.  “I haven’t heard from your father.  I haven’t heard from your father.  I haven’t heard from your father.”  She took a long, long drag and slowly let it out.  “They won’t let out any information because they don’t want the world to know what they’re doing, how they’re abusing them.”  Her eyes began to well up with tears.  “I haven’t heard from your father.”

            Laelyana nodded.  It was the same thing every morning before she went to school and every evening after coming home—there was never any word from her father, and there might never be again.  Preston Taylor was largely a stranger to Laelyana—he had emigrated and moved in with then, unannounced to Laelyana, about two years ago, after having no relationship with her and her mother since Laelyana’s birth.  He had worked odd jobs, but he mostly seemed to entertain her mom—and because he made her mom happy, Laelyana said nothing.  When protests on Mars had turned to violence and then all out rebellion, he had been among those who had joined the “Liberator Brigades” to fight for Mars’ independence.

            He could stay there.

            She only took half notice of the dishes she had cleaned this morning sitting soiled on the coffee table before walking to her room with its small window overlooking the courtyard.  She dropped her backpack beside the door and took the two steps to her bed before plopping down on the mattress.  Everything was likewise as she had left it, clean but unfolded laundry in piles around the room and essays she had been working on stacked on her desk.  She was worried one of her classmates might try to hack her account and steal an admissions essay, as had happened to a neighbor a few years ago, so Laelyana had been writing her essays out longform: by hand in old-fashioned spiral notebooks, each one with a different angle from the last.  In some she was the poor student seeking assistance, in others she was the overconfident child her classmates were, in other she just cried and cried—

            Her phone buzzed with a text message.  She smiled when she saw who it was from and read the message: Wanna go 2 Flight/Space?  I gotta write a paper…

            It was from Aléria, one of the few friends she had who thought being smart wasn’t laughable.  Laelyana tapped back to Aléria, Right now?

            Yeah.

            Okay!  Be there in 30, and she added a grinning emoji.  Aléria was one of the few people Laelyana thought understood her, or at least tried.  Aléria didn’t pretend to understand everything Laelyana was interested in or said, but she was always open to new things and really enjoyed listening to Laelyana talk about science and the universe.  Every few weekends they would just lie down in the grass, staring up at the sky panels overhead, while Laelyana traced constellations or explained the process of astronomic evolution.

            She changed into something more casual and more comfortable than her school clothes and walked back out of her room and past the living room.  Her mother never noticed her walking by, or when she took a protein drink from the refrigerator, or when she opened the apartment door and left.  Her mother’s attention was entirely occupied by the newsfeed and the continuing speculation on the siege of Elysium.

            Fahiri’s Flight and Space Museum was at the sunward, “northern” end of the colony located at the base of the mountain created at the end of the colony and the city of Stanleyville at its base.  The city spanned the interior of the colony cylinder so that standing at the entrance to the Flight and Space museum, Laelyana could look up and see the rest of Stanleyville extending on bridges across the sky panels connecting the three sectors of the city.  There was a matching city, Owensville, built at the base of the opposing mountain on the southern end of the colony.  These two cities were where the wealthiest of Fahiri’s residents lived in large mansions terraced into the side of the mountain, with multistory buildings rising to match them as one moved away from the mountain.  Aléria lived here.

            She met her friend at the entrance café—Aléria was sitting at a table by herself, bent over her phone.  Her long black hair hung down to hide her face and what she was reading.  Laelyana smiled to see her and started into the café—only to be stopped when something suddenly reached out and grabbed her by the arm, bringing her to a stop.

            She looked up and found herself face to face with the bearded visage of a Security Police officer.  “Your identity,” he demanded, releasing her arm but making it clear she should make not move to leave.  “What are you doing here?”

            Laelyana handed him her phone and he tapped it against his own, activating the verification tab built into his—but he did not hand back her phone.  “I’m meeting a friend,” she said, her voice a practiced monotone.  She had seen what happened to Stonebridge residents when they showed even a hint of attitude towards the police, and it never ended well.

            The officer frowned at his phone and swiped through a screen.  He held it out in his palm, a small square in the middle of the screen.

            She had done this before and without thinking pressed her thumb against the square.

            He retrieved his phone and frowned again.  “You’re from Stonebridge.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “What are you doing here?” he asked, more pointedly this time.  He put away his phone away but continued holding on to hers.

            “I’m meeting a friend,” she said, and for a moment even considered trying to wave Aléria over, but remembering again how jumpy DSP officers could be, chose instead to stand still and elaborate.  “My friend lives here in Stanleyville—”

            “Who’s your friend?” he cut in.

            “Her name is Aléria Greenberg—”

            The officer scoffed.  “Your friend is a Greenberg.  You expect me to believe that?”

            “It’s true,” Laelyana said, fighting back tears she could feel percolating.  Her father had told her, over and over again for the brief time she had known him, that nobody respected a cry baby, and her mother had echoed that sentiment since then.  “We go to school together—”

            “Where do you go to school?”

            “Prince Henry Middle School.”

            The police officer squinted at her, but something seemed to click there—clearly not to his satisfaction, but within the bounds of what was acceptable.  He looked her phone over critically, his thumb lingering on the cracks and chips peppering its exterior.  “This is an old model.  Harder to trace.  Where did you get it?”

            “My mom bought it for me,” she replied.  “I don’t know where she bought it.”

            He shook his head and handed the phone back to her.  “Okay.  Don’t overstay your welcome—get back to your side of the colony when you’re done.”

            She took the phone and dropped it into her pocket.  “Yes, sir.”

            He rolled his eyes and walked away, leaving her statuesque form at the entrance of the café.  Local residents who had been at the nearby register during the encounter gawked at her, reminding her of how old her clothes were compared to theirs, and just how out of place she was.  Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and thought of why she had come here in the first place.  When she opened them again, she was looking at Aléria, bent over her phone still—she hadn’t noticed what had happened.

            “Hi.  I’m sorry I’m late,” Laelyana said, sliding into the chair across from her friend.

            Aléria looked up and smiled.  Her large, emerald eyes sparkled whenever she smiled.  “It’s okay!  I know it was last minute.”

            Laelyana gave an awkward smile.  “Thanks for thinking of me.”

            “Who else is going to geek out with me over the Space Race?”  She motioned to her phone in front of her.  “I was just reading something Mr. Smith posted on the school’s blog about adding an astronomy section next year and that he’s going to teach it.  Isn’t that great?”

            All at once space exploration seemed a little less exciting.  “Oh.  I didn’t know.  I haven’t looked at the blog today.”

            Aléria shrugged and put her phone away.  She knew that Mr. Smith and Laelyana had some kind of connection, but she had never asked—and whenever it came up, she would stop once she noticed how uncomfortable Laelyana would become.  “So, what do you want to do?”

            It took Laelyana a moment to return to the moment—to the reason she had come to the museum.  “Oh, yeah.  Well, in class today we watched that lecture on colonization and we started on terraforming—what?

            Her friend was grinning from ear to ear at her.  “You.  You’re so cute when you get excited.”

            Laelyana blushed and looked down at her lap.  “Thanks.”

            They sat in silence a moment before Aléria cocked her head.  “Terraforming…?”

            “Yeah.  We started on terraforming,” she said after a heartbeat spent finding her voice, “but the bell rung before we could actually get into it.  Can we start at Jupiter and go through the Galilean moons and then Saturn and Titan?”

            Aléria nodded, exaggerating the motion to make her hair dance back and forth.  They both giggled—it was something they had done in a video they had shot together a long time ago and had been a running joke between them since.  Laelyana imitated the nod, her own curly brown hair bouncing in messy ringlets, and they both started laughing.

            Nobody ever seemed to visit the Flight and Space Museum except for school groups and families on Sundays.  But with just an hour before the museum closed, the girls all but had the museum to themselves.  Laelyana took her time with each exhibit, reading every placard and caption she found, while Aléria would swoop in to read something of interest and then proceed to wander.  There were exhibits with pieces of rock from the various Jovian moons that she entertained herself with while Laelyana finished reading the last placard for Callisto and started toward Titan.

            It made her sad, what she read.  The first experiment at terraforming on Ganymede had been a spectacular success, but with each subsequent attempt something would go wrong.  She had heard on a science podcast that more and more shortcuts were taken by the companies in charge of the projects, pushing for faster turnaround times and lower expense.  Ganymede had become an ocean paradise, while Europa was transformed into a subarctic environment which the placard described as being “Scandinavian” in character.  Whatever warnings or lessons might have been learned from the radical differences in result between Ganymede and Europa were ignored or simply overlooked, for with Callisto everything seemed to go wrong.  Instead of replicating the success of Ganymede or the partial success of Europa, the process of terraformation rendered Callisto a hostile frozen world which commentators compared being in an unending Siberian winter.  People settled there, but not all willingly—most were those who could not afford to go anywhere else.

            At the same time the project to terraform Callisto was underway in the Zeosphere, and second, simultaneous project was attempting to do the same with Saturn’s moon of Titan—and both were dismal failures.  Whereas Callisto was rendered a frozen wasteland, Titan was converted into a freezing desert of ever shifting sands and hidden canyons.  Whatever process had been taken to one extreme on Callisto was taken to the opposite extreme on Titan, signifying two different reactions at the failure to replicate Ganymede’s success on Europa.  And just like Callisto, Titan too had its population of settlers, and once more they were of economic demographic who could not afford residency elsewhere.  The dual Callisto/Titan project had made the idea of terraformation untenable, citing the exorbitant costs and the high likelihood of failure, all future projects were tabled.  It had been because of those failures that human space settlement activity had shifted from settling on celestial bodies to the construction of large-scale artificial habitats, like Fahiri.

            She was still staring at the placard below the holographic image of Titan when Aléria slowly snuck up behind her.  When she felt her friend’s fingers touch her hips, she shuddered from the unexpected touch, and as a reaction whipped around—to find herself face to face with her friend.  Aléria’s eyes sparkled in the artificial light of the exhibit and she smiled.

            Laelyana smiled back, and as if that were some kind of cue, Aléria wrapped her arms around her waste and drew her closer.  They both giggled, unaccustomed to what they were doing, though they had talked about it before.

            Aléria pursed her lips and leaned in.

            Laelyana froze, seeing in her mind’s eye a man’s face doing the same…

            Impatiently Aléria closed the distance, and when their lips met, Laelyana forgot all about Mr. Smith or Monday or the primaries.  A warm sense of euphoria washed over her, running up and down her body like static electricity, making her shudder with every movement of her friend’s fingers.  She pressed herself against Laelyana, and Laelyana pressed herself against her, embracing Aléria with every ounce of strength she could muster—falling into the warmth of her embrace and their kiss.


The guard at the door frowned when she saw them come down the stairs into the lobby.  She looked at her watch impatiently but chose to say nothing to the two girls making their way out of the museum.  She instead simply motioned them to a door she opened for the purpose of letting them out and immediately locked it behind them.

            Aléria led the way to the museum’s outdoor café, a very expensive little restaurant with an outdoor bar that surrounded the museum’s Fountain to Rocketry.  Laelyana stared in admiration at the accuracy of the fountain’s rendering of the Saturn V and Soyuz rockets, as well as beauty of the others, which she could not immediately identify.

            “Do you want anything?” Aléria asked.

            Laelyana shook her head.  Even if she wanted something, she could never afford it here.

            Aléria shrugged and placed an order for herself from the table’s automated server.  It confirmed the order and the screen disappeared from the tabletop, resuming a wood pattern uniform with the rest of the table.  “How’s your dad?” she asked after a little while.

            “I don’t know,” Laelyana responded.

            Aléria blinked—she didn’t understand what it meant to not know how her parents were doing or even where they were, but she at least tried.  “What are you looking at?” she asked, changing the subject.

            “The fountain,” Laelyana said halfheartedly.  “In the middle there, with the cosmonaut, those pillars are rockets.  One of them is the Saturn V, another is the Soyuz, but I don’t know the other two.”

            Aléria studied the fountain a while, seemingly considering her options, before finally shrugging instead.  “Maybe one of them is the Chinese?  They were the third ones in space, right?”

            Laelyana nodded.  “Yeah, maybe.  That would make sense.  What about the fourth?”

            Aléria shrugged.  “Should we look it up?”  She motioned for her phone.

            Laelyana shook her head—she liked the challenge.  “Not yet.”

            Aléria grinned at her and looked about to say something when the server brought her order.  The server smiled at them both and said, “Green tea oatmeal smoothie?”

            “Me!” Aléria said and took the glass.

            Laelyana looked up and made eye contact with the server.  She recognized him.  He was one of the boys who lived in her building—Gerardo?  He looked her over quickly, not pausing to stare, but she felt the resentment behind his eyes.  Here he was, her neighbor, serving her and her rich friend.

            She looked down at her lap and tried to clear her mind—but no sooner had she done so than something else caught her attention: someone screamed from the other side of the café.  Over by the bar, a few people were crying and waling at something they had seen on or read on their phone, while other patrons and the bartenders looked on with confusion.

            “Some people take their sports too seriously,” Aléria said as the wailing persisted.  “They really need to calm down.”

            “Yeah,” Laelyana said, trying to make out what was playing on the screens behind the bar.  One looked like a baseball game, the other might be a news video feed—

            “They did it,” somebody at the table next to them said.  “They finally did it!”  He was motioning to his phone and waved out for his friend across from him to see.  “Makobe did it!”  They were both from among the wealthy population, local residents of Stanleyville by the look of their pressed trousers, leather boots, and haircuts.

            From somewhere else in the restaurant, somebody else started shouting—but this shouting was more along the lines of her neighboring table’s elation than the wail of the person at the bar.  In a second the entire restaurant exploded first into pockets and then finally a single massive cheer, overwhelming the wailing from the bar.

            “Makobe takes Elysium.  No enemy combatants survive,” Aléria read aloud from her phone.  “Wow, that’s great news isn’t it?”

            Laelyana could only blink in response.  No enemy combatants survived.

            “I guess that means your dad will be coming home!”

            But only a weak “I guess” was all Laelyana could muster.


Continues with Julia.

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