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First pages

Zero

The Girl on the Moon

September 5, 2034

 

Bathed in nothing but soft Earthshine, Mount Hadley was a charcoal-colored rent in the skyful of stars. The landscape to the west and south could have been a blasted, empty desert on Earth at night, except the sense of something alien, something primeval, intruded. The stillness was a presence, covering the land like water in a lake.

Conn wished she could have toured all six Apollo landing sites. Seen everything the first moonwalkers saw. She would settle for indelible memories of the alien desert she shared with the Apollo 15 astronauts.

And she was looking forward to being home. Sleeping on a pillow. A shower. Walking normally. If she had been offered two extra days on the moon she would have gladly accepted, but if she needed to leave now, she left with a sense of closure, of accomplishment.

She clambered back up into the lander and repressurized it. She stowed her helmet and gloves within reach, but left the rest of her pressure suit on. “I think I can fly her as long as my hands are free,” she told Gil Portillo, CapCom in Brownsville. Like the Apollo astronauts, she stood while flying the lander. Usually without a pressure suit on. But now she wanted to be mostly suited, in case the epoxied patch and duct tape she had used to fix the gash in her hull didn’t hold.

The computer did most of the work on liftoff, anyhow. She didn’t have to sight out the window and look for obstacles and flat landing spots.

She went through the launch checklist, vocalizing each step, and each was confirmed by Gil. The pressure was holding at nine hundred sixty millibars so far. Conn glanced at the patch in the hull. Then she spared a last look at the surface outside. She saw her footprints in the regolith. She smiled.

Launch checklist complete. Jake and the command module had emerged from around the far side and were on their way to meet her. The world would be watching her lift off. Peo would be watching. Thoughts were cycling through her mind too fast to follow. She realized she was exhausted.

The descent engines would fire one last time to raise her a meter off the ground. Then the descent engines would cut and the ascent engines would fire. The lander would separate from the descent stage, and she would be on her way to lunar orbit and her ride home.

As the descent engines came online, a whine filled the lander. She focused.

“Firing descent engines,” she said, and tapped the screen. Her knees bent as the lander rose. Last one off the moon. She felt a stab of regret.

“Ascent engines online,” she said. “Firing.” She toggled a switch.

All that happened was that the descent engines quit and she dropped a meter back onto the ground with a crash. She lost her footing. Her helmet fell on her, slow motion in the lunar gravity.

She scrambled to her feet. Fear gripped her heart and squeezed. In eight tries, nobody had ever failed to blast off from the surface of the moon. And this wasn’t the time for the first. She was utterly alone.

Willing herself not to panic, she backed out of the warning screen, typed the command for the correct menu, and retried the sequence. Crash. No ascent engines.

“Conn, let’s back up and go through everything again,” Gil said. “We both missed something, that’s all.”

They went through the checklist again, making sure of every step. Again a whine. Descent engines fired. Ascent engines online. Fire.

Nothing. Dropped again. Something was going to break if they kept this up.

Conn’s eyes were already leaking with frustration and exhaustion. She didn’t want Brownsville to think she was crying. She sniffed and got herself together.

OK, no big deal. Something’s not working. We’ll fix it.

They would have to.

PART ONE

The moon? It is a griffin’s egg,

Hatching to-morrow night.

And how the little boys will watch

With shouting and delight

To see him break the shell and stretch

And creep across the sky.

The boys will laugh. The little girls,

I fear, may hide and cry.

 

— Vachel Lindsay, The Congo and Other Poems (1914)

 

One

The Aspiring Astronaut

March, 2024 - August, 2028

 

Conn Garrow, of all people, missed the Moon Shower. The night sky on the north side of Chicago was close and gray that evening, otherwise, Conn might have been looking at the moon when it happened. Even at thirteen years old, she looked at the moon every chance she got.

Theories about what the Moon Shower was, and what it meant, abounded. But with the certainty of a teenager, Conn knew it was a survey of the moon, performed by extraterrestrial technology. What else could it have been?

Bright pricks of light winking into existence in front of the dark part of the moon’s disk. Trails of light careening around in impossibly fast orbits, random orbits, flaring, vanishing. Dozens of lights. Thirteen and a fraction seconds. Conn saw every YouTube video that caught even part of the event. It wasn’t a mass hallucination, or a hoax, or something coming apart in Earth’s atmosphere. No human space agency had done it. No human space agency could have.

She knew somebody was up there, on her moon. They hadn’t surveyed the moon and then just left it. When days became weeks became months after the Moon Shower and there was no further activity, the world stopped thinking about the event. Not Conn. To her, it was evidence that the aliens had found what they were looking for on the moon, and were there even now. How would anyone know? Nobody had been there for more than fifty years.

Conn had been entranced by the moon her whole life. She didn’t remember her mother very well, but Dad said that Mom used to show Conn the moon and tell her about the people who had been there. Conn wanted to go herself.

Like Peo Haskell did. Peo had used her own money and her own company to fly herself to the moon in 2022, when Conn was eleven. Conn was rapt. A woman, an Illinoisan woman, deciding she wanted to go to the moon, and just going. That told Conn it was possible. Granted, Peo was bumping up against fifty at the time, but Conn was patient.

Peo had technical problems in lunar orbit and had to abort the mission without landing. She wasn’t going to try again, she said—she had cancer, a kind Conn had never heard of. Peo was Earthbound for good, now. But Peo’s journey inspired Conn: she vowed to go the distance, and to land and walk on the moon herself.

The Moon Shower made getting to the moon all the more urgent. Conn collected eyewitness accounts and analysis of the event obsessively, and immersed herself in everything: articles, videos, syntheses, all well into her teens. Her digital files were bursting with material, much of it annotated with Conn’s own elaborate, sometimes baroque theories and thoughts. She showed her collection to somebody only once, her freshman year of high school. A boy who liked her. Once the boy got a look at Conn’s work, he didn’t want anything more to do with her. She stopped sharing her files with people after that.

# # #

The moon wasn’t the only thing teenage Conn obsessed over. As an aspiring astronaut, she wanted to get ahead in school, so she bought and read and mastered textbooks that were two years ahead of her level. As a sophomore she started collecting and immersing herself in chemistry, biology, geometry and algebra in the same obsessive way as her Moon Shower files. She flew through ancillary material, additional reading from the school library, YouTube and OpenEd teaching videos geared toward seniors, or even freshmen in college. She didn’t have a natural aptitude for math or science, but that just meant she had to master her subjects through overwhelming force of will. Her appetite and energy to learn was so expansive that it thrilled some of her teachers and counselors—and troubled some others.

As the summer after her sophomore year began, Conn planned to conquer calculus and physics in her usual house-on-fire manner. She gave half a thought to applying for astronaut training years early, daydreaming about being the youngest astronaut candidate ever. But instead, that summer, she felt untethered and adrift. What was the point of all her hard work, really? Even her files on the Moon Shower went untouched. She spent much of that summer in bed.

In junior year, her energy returned, for a brief time, followed by another drastic dip. She cycled between dramatically high and frighteningly low energy, each state lasting a few weeks at first, then later just a few days each.

She started to miss school during her low times, the worst parts of the cycle. Often, she stayed in bed, coming out of her room only for the bathroom, which was itself an effort. She cried a lot, doubted herself a lot, wondered a lot whether it was any use studying so hard—or studying at all. Even as thoroughly as Conn knew the material, her grades started to suffer.

When she felt her worst, it was impossible to remember that she would inevitably come out of it feeling invincible. To Conn, both states seemed permanent, while she was living them. She spent half of her life doing, thinking, and feeling nothing, the other half believing in her bones she could do anything. And that training as an astronaut would be a snap, with her level of commitment and energy.

One winter’s day at the end of 2027, during senior year, Conn felt as though she had run out of vector calculus to learn, and she couldn’t stay still. She ripped off fifty push-ups, fifty sit-ups, and ten chin-ups, physical fitness having become a new way to burn off energy during her peaks. She could feel the blood pumping through her circulatory system, hear each squeeze of her heart, visualize each ragged breath feeding her oxygen, venting moisture and poison.

She ran up, down, up, down, up her building’s four flights of stairs, until her muscles trembled. She burst out onto the building’s roof. It was cold, wind chill in the twenties, and Conn shivered in her sweaty sleeveless shirt and sweatpants. She stepped to the edge of the roof, and looked down on Division Street. She felt a familiar adrenaline rush. She could barely contain it. But she hesitated, then darted back down the stairs to her first-floor apartment, looking for her winter jacket. It was too cold to jump off the roof and fly without her coat on.

It might have been some deeply-buried part of Conn that stopped her, coat in hand, in front of her dad’s bedroom door. Dad was paying bills on a tiny desk. He looked up, saw the coat. “Where are you off to?” Conn’s mind almost drowned him out. She stammered. Why couldn’t she tell her father she planned to jump off the roof and fly? Was jumping off the roof bad? How could it be? And yet, she couldn’t tell him, couldn’t face him if she did. She told him she was going to take a shower instead. She did, and in the shower she started to shake. She was still shaking afterward when she went to her dad again and said, “I think I need to see a doctor.”

# # #

Conn was bipolar, her doctor said, what they used to call manic-depressive: a disorder easily treated with a daily regimen of Symbyax and Levalil, antidepressants and mood stabilizers. The combination eliminated her manic episodes, but she spent most of the next month in a shallow version of one of her troughs. Her doctor added Wellbutrin to the mix, and then Conn was her bright, engaged self again.

But she had just been disqualified from becoming an astronaut.

Needing a prescription for almost anything disqualified you from astronaut training with NASA or the European Space Agency, let alone having what was considered a moderate-to-severe mental disorder. It wasn’t strictly necessary to be trained by NASA or the ESA anymore, but it meant a leg up. Two legs up, and into the rocket on its way to orbit, as far as Conn was concerned.

The summer after she graduated from high school, Conn stopped taking her medication, hoping against hope that her disorder was instead a phase she’d grown out of. If it was, and she could get a doctor to pronounce her cured, she might yet have a chance to train as an astronaut somewhere. It didn’t take even two weeks to learn that her disorder hadn’t receded at all, and was still only held in check by her daily regimen of drugs.

As down as Conn had felt half the time before her diagnosis, it was nothing compared to the sense of loss when she realized she would never go into space. She thought about what she could do for a living that would help get other people to and from orbit. But then she would rebel against her practical self and insist she had to be an astronaut or be nothing. And the thought of being nothing terrified her.

She finally shunted her negativity aside long enough to accept that she could become an engineer, or a scientist, or a publicist, or something, anything that would support space travel. She took an introductory engineering course at the Illinois Institute of Technology her senior year, and learned that she liked it and was good at it. The decision was made: she would become an engineer. Maybe she could build the rockets that took astronauts into space, or the space station they were going to.

She had applications out to RPI, MIT, other schools that would have impressed NASA or ESA recruiters by name alone, and had even been accepted to some of them. But without a chance of going into space, and wanting more to learn than to pad her résumé, she chose Illinois Tech. Her education wouldn’t suffer, not really—Illinois Tech’s Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering Department was world-class in 2028. It didn’t hurt that she was familiar with the school, and could avail herself of scholarships that paid if she went to a college in state.

Those factors influenced her choice. What made up her mind was that her hero, Peo Haskell, would be starting at Illinois Tech at the same time, as a visiting professor of aerospace engineering.

Two

The Opportunity

August, 2028 - April, 2030

 

Conn kept herself from camping outside Professor Haskell’s office door during her freshman year, with difficulty. College was a new experience, and she wasn’t yet sure of her footing, especially in the aeronautical engineering program. She had to concentrate on classes.

Fortunately, Conn wasn’t the only one from her high school class to start at Illinois Tech in August, 2028. Jody Guidetti was tall and wiry, with close-cropped dusty blond hair, and when he smirked it looked like a grimace, and vice-versa. He was nobody Conn had hung out with. He hadn’t taken any honors classes like Conn had. He mostly spent his high school career playing basketball, well enough that those who gave him any thought at all assumed he would go somewhere on a basketball scholarship.

Illinois Tech did not have a basketball team. Jody confounded everybody by aspiring to an engineering degree instead.

Neither Conn nor Jody made friends easily, but they were familiar to each other in an intimidating new world. They glommed onto one another, he settling her down when she wasn’t sure where her Bio classroom was, she helping him with early Physics homework.

“If I need homework help two weeks into freshman year, is my engineering career already doomed?” Jody asked.

“No,” Conn said. “When I run out of stuff I already learned when I was manic, is my engineering career already doomed?”

“Maybe,” Jody said. She swatted his arm.

# # #

Between freshman and sophomore years, Conn assembled a Peo Haskell file. She wasn’t quite as obsessive about such things anymore, but she knew how to be thorough.

While fighting her peritoneal cancer, Peo had ceded some of the day-to-day operations of her company, Dynamic Aerospace Technologies, to hand-picked executives. When she beat the cancer, her reduced role gave her more time to teach engineering at Stanford, then come to Illinois Tech to be closer to home. Teaching was easier on her than running the company.

She had shifted Dyna-Tech’s focus from getting her to the moon to building and operating a space station in orbit around Earth. Then to everyone’s surprise she announced a Hail Mary project to send a crewed mission to overshoot the moon, and Mars—a mission to the moons of Saturn. A great expedition into deep space that Conn hoped would rekindle the world’s imagination and interest in space exploration. Peo’s failure at the moon combined with Cole Heist’s terrible death on Mars had made the country lose its appetite for astronaut adventures.

Not Conn. Conn would have given anything to be one of the three astronauts scheduled to make the trip to Saturn.

The space station, Dyna-Tech Station One, was complete. Dyna-Tech made money by building and repairing spacecraft there for whichever governments and companies had the cash. It earned the station the nickname Gasoline Alley. If someone went into space, she likely got a ride from Dyna-Tech, and if not, she probably wound up at its space station anyway.

In 2029, Dyna-Tech was space travel. And Peo Haskell could take whatever visiting professorships she wanted, but she was still Dyna-Tech.

In interviews after her moonshot, Peo always came across as bitter, and Conn felt she understood why. Peo could have tried for the moon again but for her debilitating fight against cancer. Conn could understand what it felt like to be denied a dream for medical reasons.

# # #

Once a sophomore, Conn wasn’t shy about letting Professor Haskell know she was willing to do just about anything to be her research assistant. Her persistence made Peo take note of her, but she already had a graduate research assistant. A boy named Pritam Chettri, with prominent ears, a big smile and a limp Conn never asked about. Peo didn’t have enough for someone else to do.

Conn had all but resigned herself to having to wait until grad school to work for Peo. Casting about for ways to be useful, she stumbled upon a grant open to Chicago Public Schools alumni that would pay a student for up to twenty hours’ work a week in an appropriate academic setting. She informed Peo of the grant immediately, let her know that she could basically work for free, as far as the MMAE department budget would be concerned. Peo wouldn’t budge.

Instead, Conn caught on with Dr. Dutta, her Intro to the Profession teacher, doing undergraduate-level “research”—make-work, mostly. The grant money came in handy. On one income, Dad was sending her to college and had her sister Cora just two years behind.

Then, during spring break, lightning struck. Peo had work, and Conn had made enough of an impression that Peo thought of her first. She called Conn in for an interview.

Conn wore a comfortable knee-length dress, and had to buy dressy but comfortable shoes. Her dark, red-tinged hair, usually only seen in a utilitarian ponytail, was primly up in a bun. She decided against makeup. She could never get it right—she was always drawing attention to her too-small nose or too-long mouth when she did her makeup.

Her commute to school from Humboldt Park, where she still lived with her father and Cora, was always a pain. It was no better that day—worse than usual, because it was raining. She thought about taking a cab, but she thought about it when she was already changing trains downtown. She managed to make it to Professor Haskell’s office reasonably dry and without exploding from nerves or anticipation, but it was close.

Peo was hanging up the phone as Conn knocked on her office door. Peo told Conn to come in, sounding disgusted. Conn hesitated at the threshold. She was back on her heels already, and the interview hadn’t even started.

“I wish I could have caught you before you left home,” Peo said. “They won’t approve the work I have in mind under your grant program. Not academic enough. I’m sorry.”

Conn reeled. She thought she might scream.

Peo looked at her, eyebrows raised. Expectant. What was Conn supposed to say?

“Professor, I took two long walks and two trains to get here. My feet are soaked. Could we at least talk? Over coffee would be great.” Peo cocked her head at the girl, smiled, and motioned for her to sit down. Then she got them both some coffee.

Peo Haskell was tall, wiry, with dark hair Conn could tell was straightened and with some silver streaks piping through. She had freckles, mostly under her big, round eyes. The contrast between the freckles and the wrinkles that came with being in her late fifties was amusing. It gave Peo a disarming face. Conn knew enough about Peo not to be disarmed.

“Thank you, Professor,” Conn said, taking coffee.

“I prefer Peo. Still raining out there, I take it?”

“I think I grew gills on the way here.”

Peo laughed, and Conn thought sadly that she would have nailed this. But it was too late.

“Let’s talk about you,” Peo said. “In your letters and e-mails and in our previous meetings you talked about how excited you are about aerospace engineering. Have you considered becoming an astronaut?”

Conn surprised herself by not being comfortable sharing that she was bipolar in this initial interview. She compromised on the spot and said, “I considered it. I was pretty obsessed when I was younger, actually.”

“It’s not for everyone,” Peo said.

“I decided to go a different way.”

“Never too late.”

“Um—” Conn sipped her coffee, her heart hammering—“this position you have. Had. You said it wasn’t very academic. May I ask what it is? Was?”

“I have a company,” Peo said. “I don’t run it day-to-day anymore, but I still keep a hand in, and I’ve been getting more involved the last few months. My assistant at Dyna-Tech back in California was my gatekeeper. She screened everything that was sent to me, and passed along what needed to be passed along. She handled the rest. Until she took maternity leave, and then quit on me as soon as it was over.

“I’m a little sour on the idea of hiring someone two time zones away again. I wanted to bring you on to do what she did.” She shrugged. When Conn didn’t say anything, Peo continued. “Listening to voice mail, reading e-mail, watching v-mail, reading memos and reports, bringing to me whatever needs my attention, summarizing the rest in a daily report—that’s a failsafe. I would look at your report and make sure you didn’t miss anything I needed to act on.” Your report, she said.

“Attending the odd meeting and taking notes for me. Nothing that would interfere with your class schedule. Arranging meetings I want to have. Writing basic memos and e-mails with my name on them.

“So no, not a lot of academic work involved. But you would learn an awful lot about Dyna-Tech and running an aerospace company in general, if that’s something you would be interested in.” Peo finished, and Conn again wasn’t sure what she was meant to say, other than Great. This would have been my dream come true.

Instead she took her cue from Peo, and acted out her portion of the interview. She asked the questions that she thought would naturally come next, in a production of Job Interview Theater:

“How many hours?”

“The twenty you were going to get paid for, but also more, if you didn’t mind working for free after that.”

“You don’t need somebody full time?”

“I’d love to have someone full time, but I wanted to try this out, first.”

“How would I know which things need your attention and which don’t?”

“You would pick it up. You’re bright, you would get the hang of it in a week. And if you made sure to err on the side of bringing stuff to me, to start—you’d learn that way, too.”

Conn was almost bursting. This was exactly where she wanted to be, exactly how she wanted to start her career sending people into space.

So she couldn’t get paid for it? She decided she didn’t care.

“Could I try it out as an unpaid, I don’t know, intern? The money isn’t the point.”

“You could. I would only hesitate because if it gets to be too much, you might have to scale back—or find something that pays.”

“By then, I’ll be indispensable. You can start paying me then.”

Peo loved that answer. Conn started that day.

Three

The Animation

April, 2030 - February, 2032

 

All the reading and filing and responding and flagging for Peo’s attention did teach Conn a great deal about running an aerospace company. She was fascinated by the subjects discussed in memos, v-mails, e-mails. Corporate infighting over whether naturally-occurring propane and acetylene could be counted on to power equipment on Titan was a thousand times more interesting than Differential Equations.

She overshot twenty hours a week and usually thirty as well. At the start of the second semester of her junior year, Conn accepted a salaried position with Peo—thirty hours a week, half-decent pay but not bank-breaking—and moved into a twenty-fourth floor apartment in a tower just west of the Loop. It took an hour and a half each day off her commutes.

Once on the payroll, Conn took on more responsibility. She still screened and wrote correspondence, but she gradually began sitting in on meetings remotely and taking notes, and providing her own input on company issues and ideas. She had made herself indispensable.

# # #

In November of Conn’s senior year, the Chinese government announced a crewed mission to the moon, date to be determined.

“What do you think it means? China going to the moon,” Pritam asked. Peo, Conn and Pritam were at lunch, coincidentally on the ninth anniversary of the liftoff of Peo’s flight to the moon. Conn was aware of the date. She wasn’t sure if Peo was.

“With China, it’s hard to tell,” Peo said. “They had everything they needed to send people to the moon years ago, but they can never get everybody in the government pointed in the same direction.” After some encouraging reform in the late teens and early twenties, China’s government had swung back in the direction of totalitarianism in a big way. The Chinese would be pointed in whatever direction they were told to be pointed, now.

In a year and a half working for her, Conn had never asked Peo about her moonshot. Training for it, she would talk about a little. Obliquely, she would talk about its aftermath, about being shut out from trying again. But never the mission itself. Conn had seen right away that Peo avoided the subject as best she could. But today Conn’s curiosity overcame her.

“How do you think it’ll feel? Seeing other people on the moon,” she asked carefully.

“Took them long enough,” Peo said.

“Do you hope one of them is a woman?”

Peo, formerly the presumptive first woman on the moon, thought about her answer. “I do,” she finally said.

“I was eleven,” Conn said. “Not your typical eleven year old—I was watching feeds from Mars rovers and lunar prospectors when I was eight. I was just… in awe. To think there was someone going to the moon, just because she decided she wanted to. You couldn’t shut me up about becoming an astronaut after that.” Peo smiled, but blushed.

“What happened?” Pritam asked.

Conn never had told Peo about her condition. She had never been brave enough. She swallowed. “I was diagnosed bipolar-A when I was seventeen. Without drugs I’m either Wonder Woman or a puddle of goo.”

Peo considered her. “So NASA won’t take you.”

“That’s my understanding.”

“Oh, you’re right, I’m afraid. I wonder how many kids like you NASA misses out on because there are no Rite-Aids in space?”

“I guess their argument would be that their astronaut pool is healthier and stronger that way.”

“Sure. But smarter, more creative, better managers, better teammates, better improvisers? Nope, sorry, you’re allergic to honey, we can’t train you. I can’t see the logic in it.”

Conn couldn’t, either.

# # #

The second week of February, everything iced over, deep. It combined with a brief thaw, then a blizzard, to all but shut down the city for a week and a half.

Once things were halfway back to normal, Conn returned to classes and to her work for Peo. Her first day back to work, she was interested to see a v-mail from Gale Jennings.

“He’s a lobbyist, is what it comes down to,” Peo had said of Jennings. “He works China, Korea, Southeast Asia. Not Japan, I don’t know why. You need something done over there, you hire Gale. You want information on a new market, an acquisition target, new regulations, whatever, you buy it from him. China probably has their version of Gale in North America, and he personally knows the President, half the Senate, and two thirds of Fortune 500 CEOs, and dates Sarabeth Allen.”

Peo and Gale had known each other for years. Peo had him on retainer. Messages from Gale had a priority most others didn’t automatically have.

In the v-mail, his hair was messy, his face sheened with sweat. He wore a gorgeous, slate-colored silk suit jacket that was badly rumpled. Today he had glasses, unlike the other times Conn had seen him.

The message was brief: “I have something for your alternate e-mail. Urgent.” That would be Peo’s double-encrypted account using a sophisticated technology called Wawigdin, which had never, to anybody’s knowledge, been successfully hacked. Conn had never been given access to it, and Peo never talked about what she sent and received from there.

Conn brought the message to Peo’s attention immediately. Peo tapped away on her tablet, accessing her Wawigdin e-mail, Conn presumed. Conn left her alone.

Peo was distracted and troubled for the rest of the day, and the next.

“Is everything OK?” Conn asked over the next day’s lunch in the office.

“Depends on how you look at it,” Peo said. She dunked another Chik-fil-a waffle fry in ketchup and ate it. “I can show you, if you like.” She sounded conspiratorial. Conn’s curiosity was piqued.

# # #

Peo shut the office door, and snow began to flurry outside the window. She pulled the blinds and motioned Conn to her side behind the desk.

“That NDA you signed”—the non-disclosure agreement, that forbade Conn from revealing any sensitive Dyna-Tech information outside of work—“it’s still in force.” Conn wasn’t sure if it was a statement or a question. She nodded.

Peo swiped a few instructions into the Wear on her arm. “Wait.” She rooted around for her tablet. She found a cable, as well, and Conn’s heart thumped. This was sensitive enough that Peo didn’t want to cast the screen onto the tablet wirelessly.

On the tablet screen, an animation began, a large sphere in the center of the display, and a smaller sphere out near the border, foreshortened to show its smaller scale. The larger sphere was the orange-brown color of burnished wood, the smaller a dull gray, with almost a metallic sheen.

The smaller sphere began to spin, and to orbit the larger. A planet around a star.

The planet orbited twice. Then the animation froze, and the perspective shifted to a bird’s eye view, directly above the spheres. The planet began another orbit and then halted a little more than halfway around the star.

Zoom in on the planet. As it grew in size on the screen, a second, much smaller, silver-white sphere appeared to the side of it. The picture focused on the new sphere and continued to zoom in. When the new body filled three-quarters of the screen, an arc drew itself across the sphere, and one side of the arc went dark. The result looked like a gibbous moon.

Conn was transfixed.

“FALCON” appeared on the screen, so large that it was wider than the moon. Then the screen went blank.

Peo’s face was inscrutable.

“OK. What was that?” Conn asked.

Peo sighed. “If you figure it out, please let me and Gale Jennings know,” she said.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Jack McDonald Burnett is an attorney living in the Atlanta area. In former lives, Jack was a freelance writer, an editor for a small, niche periodical publisher, and communications director for a software company. Jack’s short fiction has appeared in the anthology Defiant, She Advanced: Legends of Future Resistance, available from Amazon, Ama-Gi Magazine, and firstwriter.magazine. His nonfiction work has appeared in a diverse group of publications and venues. Girl on the Moon is his first novel.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
I wanted to re-create the adventure of the Apollo program. So few novels really celebrate humankind’s greatest achievement properly. Conn’s journey to the Moon is (I hope) as exciting, as tense, as fraught with danger and intrigue, and as remarkable as the Apollo Moon landings were in real life.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
My girls (23, 16, and 14). There’s a little bit of all of them in Conn and Peo both. I wanted to write science fiction that girls, boys, and adults could enjoy with a kick-ass female protagonist, and I was lucky to be able to draw heavily from real life in creating that character.
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
A Wrinkle in Time and the Dragonriders of Pern series hooked me on sci-fi as a boy. Heinlein’s so-called “juveniles” had a big influence on Girl on the Moon. It’s not sci-fi, but reading the books in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series always makes me want to write as well as he did.

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