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​​​​Eleven

"I'm from the Sunshine Coast, in Australia," you say.

She wrinkles her nose. "Where in Australia is that?"

"Have you heard of Sunshine City?" you venture.

Her eyes light up, as you suspected they would. "You mean that place where it's paradise all year round? The storm-proof dome city on the coral reef. I knew someone who went there on their honeymoon. She said it's better than the tourist brochures say. Of course, she could only afford to go there in the low season, which is also the storm season, but even watching the storms break over the dome is spectacular. She said – "

You cut her off. "Sunshine City was built off the Sunshine Coast. It was meant to be just another suburb, but the year before they started construction, Cyclone Scott blew in and destroyed pretty much everything between Caloundra and Noosa. The storm surge came in like a tsunami, but wave after wave until most of the suburb was flattened and under water. My parents' place was on a hill, so when the waters receded as much as they were going to, it was still sort of standing. Most people's insurance didn't cover storm damage from the sea – something about how it was government negligence, so the Australian government was responsible, not doing enough to prevent or mitigate climate change – so they left, and never rebuilt. My parents stayed and repaired as best they could, with what they could salvage from the ruins."

You laugh. "I spent all my school holidays helping Dad with the repairs while Mum was at work. By the time I finished high school, I probably could've gone straight into construction, but by then they'd laid the foundations for Sunshine City and there wasn't anything else being built nearby.

"I'd been driving Dad's motorised dinghy through the flooded streets for suitable salvage we could use for our place, and some of the construction crews mentioned they needed someone who knew boats and the local conditions to shift men and materials around. I got my skipper's ticket that weekend and…well, I figure I must've carted around half of the materials that went into Sunshine City. I ran the ferry service for a couple years, too, until the seas just got too rough and they started using submarines year-round."

Torny shakes her head. "Submarines weren't your thing?"

You manage a smile. "Actually, I was qualified to pilot those, too, by then, and I wasn't bad at it, either, but then Cyclone Morrison came through. The forecast was that it would be downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached the coast, but it just stayed offshore and grew like you wouldn't believe. Turns out that was the first Category Six cyclone ever recorded. Nobody in its direct path survived. I was below the surface with the submarine at the time, and when I reached shore there were so many bodies in the water…my parents included. There was nothing left of the house where I grew up. So when one of the Sunshine City sparkies said he'd gotten a job in the Exodus spacedock, and how they needed shuttle pilots…a quick stint in flight school, and I was headed into space. The rest, as they say, is history."

You redden as you realise you've told her half your life story, without asking her about herself. "What about you?"

It's her turn to smile. "My family's from Norway, but my ancestors joined the Russian space program early on. I was born on Titan…oh, the moon in orbit around Saturn, not the Titan system, where the aliens have come from. I'd visited every inhabited planet in the Solar System except Earth. I guess I idolised it a bit, growing up, reading and watching everything I could about it. When I turned eighteen, my father bought me a ticket to Earth as a birthday present. Except…we didn't arrive in time." Tears sparkle in her eyes. "So close…we saw the space elevator break, and some of the mushroom clouds were enormous. We docked at Exodus and, as you say, the rest is history."

"I've always wanted to visit Titan. Just the videos of all the cold water sea life…I heard there were more whales on Titan than Earth. When the Genesis was finished, I was hoping to take a freight job that might get me to Titan. I had the money saved to rent a submarine and everything…" You swallow. "Do you think it's still there? Not that I'll ever get to go now, but…"

"I hope so, but even if it isn't…before this war started, I was asked to join the terraforming team for Theta – the fifth planet here. Apparently the freighter we were travelling on stopped at Exodus to deliver a cargo of frozen embryos from Titan, for the Genesis terraformers. From the probe pictures I saw, it looks just like Titan. It'll take decades before the seas of Theta are teeming with life like Titan was, though."

"After the war's over," you add.

Torny sighs. "Yes. I wish it were over tomorrow. Oh, which reminds me – the captain wants to see you. I should take you up to the bridge."

Guilt prickles within your chest. "Shouldn't we have gone there right away, instead of chatting about home? I don't want to get you in trouble."

"No, my orders were to make sure you're not a Titan spy first. You know, one of the aliens. Some of them look Human, but they don't know much about Earth. That's why the captain sent me."

Now she's piqued your curiosity. "What was it I said that made you decide I'm not a spy?"

She shrugs. "Oh, I haven't decided yet. I figure if you are, you'll trip up sooner or later. I mean, you said you worked on the Genesis."

"I transported equipment for the Genesis," you correct her.

Another shrug. "So you know where everything goes. That means you probably know the way to the captain's briefing room."

"Probably. It's been a while since I saw the plans," you say.

"Lead the way."

If you take a wrong turn, will she stun you or shoot you? You waver between the two in your head as you hope you don't get lost.

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