Join billionaire adventurer FRANK EBERSOLE
as he becomes the first to
LAND ON, WALK ON, AND RETURN SAFELY FROM
EARTH'S SMALLER MOON
The Nokomis astronauts explored LUNA.
It's time we explored PAUPER. TOGETHER.
The expedition leaves in eleven months' time.
There will be seven people on it.
Four will be chosen from the CIVILIAN POPULATION,
open to ALL with USA citizenship.
You will be INTENSIVELY TRAINED—
Study PHYSICS, GEOLOGY, ASTRONOMY, and MAGIC!
Practice emergency WATER SURVIVAL!
Work in simulated ZERO GRAVITY!
Subject your body to the HUMAN CENTRIFUGE!
Until finally you LAND and WALK ON PAUPER!
You will be PAID A SALARY during training
(about ten months) and on the expedition.
Are you PHYSICALLY FIT?
Are you UNDER 75 KG?
Are you free from VERTIGO and MOTION SICKNESS?
Then you are encouraged to apply.
ANY CITIZEN meeting the above requirements will be considered.
Downloadable/printable application, with instructions:
Each high school in the USA may nominate ONE boy or girl.
Details and materials here: http://pauper.voyage/under18
We used to think Luna was the SOURCE OF MAGIC
But the Nokomis astronauts didn't find anything.
Will we find it on PAUPER?
Will you be with us?
PART ONE: FITNESS
"Where the hell is Frank?" Pam had asked. By then, it was a reasonable question, and she couldn't have known what it would lead to.
Six of them had been busting their asses in intense physical fitness training for two weeks, with two more to go before they moved on to the really hard stuff. Not once had Frank Ebersole shown up to train with them.
"He's really swamped," Frank's assistant and "body man," Garrett Potts, said. Again.
"He's swamped. Right." Pam grabbed the bar above her head and started a series of chin-ups. "Is he in good enough shape that he can skip this? If he is, why aren't we?"
"He understands your—"
"He's supposedly going to Pauper, right? With us?"
"No, he's not," Pam said, back on her feet. She groped at a rosin bag. "He's not, is he?"
"I don't know what you—"
"This is all some sadistic publicity stunt, isn't it? If Frank were serious about going to Pauper, he'd be training with us. He told us we all have to be better than our best—he said that, remember?—we have to be better than our best because everyone's life is in everyone else's hands. Ergo, my life, Michaela's life, Joe's life, Violet's life, all our lives are going to be in Frank's hands. Right?"
"Right," Garrett said warily.
"He's not going. We're not going. That's got to be it." She turned to Joe Hansel, who was directing their training at that time. "I'm leaving," Pam told him. "I'm not killing myself as a public relations exercise." And she left. It wasn't as dramatic as it could have been, because it was Friday at about ten minutes to five, and they were about to quit anyway.
But Pam's tirade got back to Frank—Garrett was observing training as often as he could and reporting back, that was the point—and Frank had decided Pam Goetz needed to be put in her place. On a phone call Frank told Pam he wanted to show her something that would prove how serious he was about all this. A car would pick her up at eight a.m. She could skip Saturday's fitness training.
And that was why Frank and Pam were flying in a private plane from Chicago to Frank's under-construction spaceport, location undisclosed.
"Look, Frank," Pam said. The cabin was appointed like a conference room: dark, nonspecific faux wood accented in burgundy, bare walls—the kind of workaday decor to inspire lethargy and apathy, it seemed to Pam. Except for possibly the most comfortable chair she had ever sat in, they could have been on the twenty-fifth floor of one of Frank's buildings, yawning their way through a management meeting. "I'm sure you have a lovely facility. I apologize for going off yesterday, I was frustrated and tired. You don't need to give me a tour of your spaceport. I'm ready to go back to playing astronaut."
"Just trust me," Frank said, smirking. "I guarantee you you'll feel differently at the end of the day today. Then maybe you can pass it on to the others."
Pam shrugged. She was grateful for the day off, though she wouldn't tell Frank so.
They landed at the spaceport's airfield. It was muggy, like breathing through a wet washcloth, and Pam could smell seawater. Cranes, construction cones, and skeletal building frames waited for them off the plane. The facility didn't look ready to launch people into space. Nonetheless, a great gray and white rocket cast its early-afternoon shadow over them.
"Ain't she a beauty?" Frank enthused, as he and Pam both appraised the rocket. Pam couldn't help it: she didn't see a testament to human engineering ingenuity, she saw scuffs and scores in the vehicle's skin, blackened patches near the engines where it had been burned, the dull, worn-down gray finish. There were no recoverable rockets in the Nokomis program, Pam knew—they were used once, then dropped into the ocean. Whatever was salvageable was salvaged, but the rockets couldn't be used again. Frank's rockets, like this one, were recoverable. Reusable. This particular rocket had obviously been recovered and reused more than once.
"She's something," Pam said tactfully. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. He really had, she decided, flown her who knows where to show her how big his rocket was.
"Let's go," Frank said. "We're burning daylight."
Pam didn't know what the hurry was, but she matched Frank's purposeful stride on their way into a finished two-story outbuilding. Beyond it was a tall, squat structure blooming with satellite dishes—a control tower, Pam assumed. If the rocket looked used, the tower looked like it had just been assembled from a kit. Maybe it had. The frames of two single-story wings adjoined the tower on the ground—offices-to-be, perhaps. The purpose of the building they entered, eluded her.
A woman with a bright face and blond ponytail met Pam and introduced herself. She smiled at Frank and acknowledged him. "Ready to suit up?" the woman asked neither of them in particular.
"Suit up?" Pam said. Maybe they needed hard hats and protective gear of some kind. "Frank, what is this?"
Frank beamed. "What I wanted to show you, Pam, was the spacecraft that will be taking us to Pauper once it's finished."
"That's—I thought that was being built in orbit."
"It is." Frank waited for understanding to dawn on Pam.
Pam sputtered. "You mean—"
Frank nodded out the window, where the rocket stood. "Want to go for a ride?"
+ + +
Not an hour and a half later, they were aboard a capsule atop the rocket, strapped in tight on their backs facing up. Pam could move her arms and her head, but felt like the circulation had been cut off from the rest of her. Nevertheless, they were ready to have seven million pounds of thrust go off underneath them when the count got down to zero.
"Don't worry," Frank said. "Eleven successful launches and retrievals for this baby."
"How many flights is a rocket like this supposed to have in it?"
Frank shrugged as best he could while strapped in so tight. "About a dozen," he said, smiling weakly.
Pam darkened. "Frank, for real—I quit. OK? I don't want to do this. I'm not ready."
"You are ready, and you're not quitting," Frank said. "You're going to see firsthand what you're training for."
Their destination was the USASA space station. One of Frank's companies owned a module on it. Three astronaut-engineers were stationed there, and worked to convert the skeleton of an Indian spacecraft that was designed to go to Mars into a vehicle to fly to and land on Pauper. "There's five of them altogether, freelance astronauts," Frank told Pam. "They rotate in and out—or rather, up and down. Once a month or so. Three at a time working on the vehicle. Raw materials are sent up periodically by remote." Pam knew most of this, but she sensed Frank was trying to keep her mind off things that might make her nervous. Like that seven million pounds of thrust.
Their countdown was into single digits, so Frank went quiet. Pam ground her teeth and moaned. She was grateful that diapers were worn under space suits.
On instinct she sucked in a breath and held it. Three . . . two . . . one . . . and the rocket slammed into Pam from below. A bag of rocks pressed down on her chest. She wheezed, part alarmed, part exhilarated. They hadn't blown up on ignition.
As the breath was squeezed out of her, Pam couldn't help but think of her sister, Polly. Polly had wanted to be an astronaut. She'd never had the chance. "You would have loved this so much," she whispered, as best she could with flattened lungs.
Experimentally, she waved her arms in front of her. The strain on her shoulders felt like she was bench-pressing three hundred pounds. Beside her, Frank calmly swiped at a screen in front of him. The effort didn't seem to faze him. Pam whimpered and squeezed her eyes shut.
Her body wasn't ready for the strain of several g's. She struggled to breathe. This was insane. Frank was going to kill her because she was mean to him.
She didn't realize she was getting used to the force until their capsule separated and blasted away from the rest of the rocket. Pam croaked in alarm as she was pinned back into her seat even more heavily. Her vision grayed out around the edges. She wished she was on her way to land on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean or wherever, like their now-separated rocket was.
After a time, though, nothing seemed to have been permanently damaged, she was still breathing, and the acceleration tailed off. She opened her eyes, not realizing until then that they had still been shut.
Frank undid his straps, and floated a couple inches above his seat. "Aren't we going to be there in a few minutes?" Pam asked.
"Sure. But I hate being strapped in in space," Frank said. "Always seemed to me to defeat the purpose." Pam shook her head. She'd undo her straps when it was safe. Which would be maybe never.
Pam looked out the forward window. It was a night sky, spattered with stars. Big deal. "How much is it costing you, bringing me up here?"
"Don't worry about that," Frank said. "This is a planned trip for me. I come up here every couple months to observe the work on the spacecraft. Now, I could answer your question, but to figure out how much it cost to get you up here I would have to know how much you weigh." He smiled. So did Pam.
"This isn't so bad," she admitted. Despite Frank's downplaying it, there had to be a considerable cost involved in launching her into space. She was learning something about Frank Ebersole. How he reacted to criticism, sure, but also how serious he really was about his adventure in outer space. And she gleaned that seeing the spacecraft was beside the point by now. He had already done what he wanted to do to convince Pam that the expedition was real, and really happening.
"Didn't I tell you?" Frank said, grinning. "Nothing to worry—"
An alarm sounded.
+ + +
They were going to arc up and back down again, missing the space station, and they would either skip off Earth's atmosphere and be flung out into deep space or fall into the atmosphere and burn up. The computer that separated them from their parabola and pointed them at the space station was out.
"Out?" Pam said, voice raised.
"Kaput," Frank said, looking up, down, and around, as though searching for the switch he could throw to fix everything.
Pam felt anger, not panic. She assumed she would be panicking in due time. Now, she thought about billionaire Frank Ebersole and his ratty rocket and his breaking-down computers and she wanted to tear the man's throat out.
"The master computer is giving out instructions to the slave computer," Frank said. "I can crack them open and see them. Fire jets, burn engines for 3.76 seconds, fire again, burn for 5.8 seconds. If I can do that manually . . ."
"You can count to 3.76?" Pam growled.
Frank couldn't. "Not that precisely," he admitted. "But I can get close. And when I'm done we should be pointed pretty much right at the space station." Pam caught sight of the station now, nothing more than a blob, a reflection of sunlight, at this distance. It was above their current plane and about to vanish out the top of their window. "That I can manage. We just might be . . . a little off."
"Just a little off," Pam said. "Great. Won't we take out half the space station, if we're a little off? What can I do to help?"
Frank said he wasn't sure there was anything. "I don't want you to do the counting, because it'll take longer for me to respond to you than to just do it when I think about it," he said. "Hey. Relax. I'll be able to see the station in cockpit window. Even if I'm a little off, we can goose the jets to get us pointed straight at the thing."
"You're forgetting," Pam said. "Didn't you say we have to turn and point our rear end at the station to slow down?"
Frank had apparently indeed forgotten that. He swore. "Well, that just means I have to get it right the first time." Pam was not consoled.
Frank belted himself back onto the seat, more loosely than before. He cracked his knuckles.
"Frank, you can't do something for 3.76 seconds," Pam said. "We need another solution."
"Six-point-five-two seconds now," Frank said. "Our angle to the station is constantly changing. Look, this is the only way. Let me do it." Pam put her hands up to convey that she would shut up and leave Frank to his work.
Pam watched as Frank took a joystick in his hand, gently. His gaze bore into the computer screen. Then he closed his eyes and tugged on the joystick, then toggled a switch that slammed Pam back into her seat. The stars out the cockpit window scrolled out of view, replaced by new ones. Frank took another joystick. His head bobbed up and down as he read the computer screen and counted off a silent rhythm. Finally, he squeezed the joystick and pushed it in the right direction, firing the engines again. Stars arced out of and into view again. This time the space station was among them, a bigger blob than before. Frank let go of the joystick. As far as Pam could tell, they were headed right for the station. But they could be off by miles, as poorly as she could judge from where she was sitting.
"We're going to miss," Frank mumbled, frowning at the computer screen. Pam squinted at him and imagined punching him in the face.
Frank goosed the second joystick, only for a fraction of a second. Then again. He fired the engines for no more than a second. "You're guessing," Pam shrieked.
"Educated guesses," Frank said distractedly.
"We're going to turn around soon, and you won't be able to see anymore."
"I know that, Pam," Frank snapped.
"Unless that's the same computer. Shit!"
"It's not. Quiet, now."
Frank quickly goosed the other joystick. Then again, then the other one again. Engines fired. Pam imagined knocking him out of the way and doing it herself, but she'd never flown a space capsule, and wouldn't be able to start now. Frank tugged at a joystick and held it for slightly longer, then just flicked the other one. Engines fired.
If they didn't turn around soon for braking, it wouldn't matter whether they were on target or not. They'd destroy the space station if they were, or fly out into deep space if they weren't.
Suddenly Frank's hands came up and he bent his head down to get a closer look at his screen. "Well?" Pam said.
He seemed to light up. He looked at Pam, wide-eyed. "I did it!" he said. "We're going right where we need to go."
Pam almost didn't dare to think they'd survived. But Frank wouldn't be lying to her. "Congratulations," she said frostily. The panic she'd been holding back leaked out of her, and her anger turned to relief.
Only seconds later, their attitude jets fired on their own, turning them around so the main engines were pointed in their direction of travel. In a moment, the engines would fire enough to brake them. Frank looked at Pam and giggled. Pam shook her head.
For now, the Earth was in view. Its charcoal-colored horizon blotted out the stars in a gentle arc. It was a curiosity—until Pam spotted the city lights. Thin strands of them in the shape of the Indian subcontinent, along the coast and spattered inland, with brilliant eruptions around Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai. The supernovas of New Delhi and Lahore, with ejecta, hugged the lazy curve of the Himalayas. Pam tried to comprehend how many people she was looking down on. All of them. Everyone.
She looked back at Frank, expecting him to be just as awed, but Frank, veteran of space, was busy trying to rendezvous with the space station.
"Did you—" she sputtered. "Did you know—"
"Neat, huh?" Frank mumbled, swiping at a screen and not looking up.
And then she saw Pauper. Brilliant white, with barely discernible streaks of rust-red, it was a crescent, a toothy smile just above the Earth horizon. Bleak, a pale husk, contrasting starkly with the hum of artificially-lit life on the planet. But though lifeless and inert, it beckoned, offering itself, promising there was more to it than she could see. She reached out and touched the window where the tiny moon was. So easy, from up here . . .
She would reach Pauper, touch it for real, in less than a year's time. If they survived until then. If Frank's computers quit breaking down.
Whatever the months that followed brought, she felt sure she would see this all again.
She would be back.
"Luna is where magic comes from," Jack Wells said. "People have said so for centuries. Smarter people than me."
Violet Molloy appraised Jack. He was thin: solid, just not substantial. Gawky, with a pronounced overbite and a receding hairline. But his voice had made him famous, at least to those who listened to satellite radio. It was startling to hear such a basso come out of that face.
"European Christians believe Luna appeared in the sky over the birth of the first magicker," Violet said. "They've been scrubbing any source that says otherwise for 1,800 years. They want Luna to be source of magic, and they've tried to convince everybody else it is."
"So, what, you're saying it was Pauper that appeared over the birth of the first magicker?"
"I'm saying," Violet said, "something new showed up in the sky 1,800 years ago, and suddenly we had magic. It had to be Pauper. Scientists will tell you Pauper shouldn't be there now. We should have earthquakes, tsunamis, rising seas, all sorts of apocalyptic stuff from having two moons. But we don't."
"That doesn't mean it's Pauper that shouldn't be there," Joe Hansel pointed out. "Just means one of them shouldn't." Joe was a veteran astronaut, part of the Nokomis program that had landed men on the moon twenty-five years ago. He himself was supposed to land, but then he didn't get to.
Except for the part where he was arguing with her, it was great to have Joe come out with the gang. They were celebrating another week of training survived, in a randomly-chosen downtown Chicago sports bar. All of Frank Ebersole's astronauts-to-be were there. Minus Pam Goetz, wherever she was. (Violet would admit to some concern that Pam had gone off on Frank and then had disappeared.) Joe himself was part of the expedition to Pauper—one of the grown-ups, was how Violet thought of it. He was helping train the rookies in the meantime.
"I don't have to tell you, Joe, that we've been to Luna. There was nothing magic about it."
"We only landed six times," Joe said. "We haven't been back for twenty-five years. You can't explore a whole moon that way."
"But we've learned that Luna used to be part of the Earth," Violet insisted. "It got knocked out of the molten Earth in a collision. It's been there for billions of years."
"That's a theory, and it's not what the history books say," Jack repeated. "So they've all been whitewashed by these Christians?"
"Anything that's survived until now, yeah," Violet said. "It's been whitewashed." Jack waved his hand at Violet, dismissively.
"Luna has always seemed supernatural," Manny Garcia offered. "Like how it doesn't rotate."
"Yes it does," Michaela Jardin said. Everyone turned to look at her. She hardly ever said three words out loud. "It just takes as long to rotate as it does to revolve."
"But that's what I'm saying," Manny said. "It doesn't seem like a moon. It just hangs there in the sky, like a face."
"What difference does it make?" Roxy Henderson said. "You wouldn't remember how they covered the Nokomis missions. It got to be ridiculous. We were landing on another world, you know? But all you heard about was magic. Would they find evidence of magic? Would magic disappear? Shouldn't the astronauts be magickers? Blahbedy blah blah. It was all anyone could talk about. And what did it matter?"
"If magic went away because people set foot on Luna, like many, many people believed would happen, that would have been a big deal," Violet said. "But it didn't."
"You sure?" Roxy said. "Not a lot of new magickers over the last twenty-five years. A lot of them who were magickers got away from it. Did people think setting foot on Luna would shut magic off like a spigot? I guess some did, but not everybody. Magic is on the decline. They could have been right about landing on Luna being the end of magic, it's just happening slower than everybody thought."
"Why does setting foot on a moon that turns out to be the source of magic mean magic has to go away?" Manny asked.
"They've always said, wherever the source of magic is, it has to remain undisturbed," Jack said. "Unless the Christians made that up, too."
"No," Violet said. "That's been a part of magic lore since they started looking for the source, probably shortly after magic first appeared."
"And we disturbed Luna?" Joe said. "How? By exploring about five square miles of it, total?"
"OK, forget Luna," Jack said. "Violet, you think Pauper is where magic comes from."
"Why does it have to be a moon at all?"
"Quiet, Manny. So, Violet. Do you think magic is in jeopardy if we set foot on Pauper?"
Violet thought about her answer and said, "I don't really have an opinion. Roxy's right. Magic has been on the decline for a long time. Maybe it's already on its way out."
Jack seemed satisfied with that answer. Joe tipped his beer glass in her direction. They were some group of proto-astronauts, Violet mused. Roxy, the no-bullshit, CrossFitting overachiever. Manny, the quietly competent dude. Jack, the celebrity entertainment. Pam, the—what was Pam? And Michaela. The high school sophomore. Fifteen years old, and training to go to outer space. Violet herself was the young, sexy, and brilliant member of the group, if you asked her—but she was ten years older than Michaela.
What they all had in common was a mystery. Violet herself was an entrepreneur, a self-employed office workflow consultant, good with people, positive, bright—generally, she believed, a good gal to have around, a contributor. But she had no clue what made her a good candidate to be an astronaut. Frank Ebersole wasn't saying.
Joe excused himself for the evening. His hair was slate-gray curls and worry lines were gouged into his face, but there was no other obvious evidence that he was sixty-five. Violet was sure that if he put his mind to it, he would be the last man standing in a drinking contest.
As Violet could have predicted, Manny used Joe's exit as an excuse to go home himself. Violet instinctively liked Manny, even while observing that he obviously hadn't been selected for his looks. Acne had scarred about a third of his face, chiefly on the bottom left. He had bushy eyebrows over small, round eyes. His ears and nose were prominent. But he seemed always to have a shy smile, which softened his face.
Violet, Roxy, and Jack had another round; Michaela, another Pepsi. Before long Violet's theories about Pauper were forgotten.
"That's it!" Violet said suddenly. "Pam is the mom." She wasn't the oldest of the group, but the administrative assistant from New Orleans with the Native heritage had earned everyone's respect. If not before she called out Frank, certainly since. The three drinkers toasted Pam, "wherever they might find her body," Violet said. "And may she rest in peace."
"I dated a magicker until very recently," Jack said. I already knew you were single, Jack, Violet thought. You haven't failed to get that across. She caught Roxy rolling her eyes, too. "I was surprised by how much she had to practice."
"I think that's got more to do with the decline in magic than anything else," Violet said. "People are too busy nowadays to devote the time it takes to do magicking right."
"I tried to learn some magic," Michaela said. "But not from anybody, just my own research. I couldn't get anything to work." Michaela was reedy and awkward and tall for her age. All elbows and knees. She had close-cropped hair and a creamy, caramel complexion. Violet had gleaned already that Michaela didn't come from the greatest home situation, but the girl didn't talk about it. She didn't talk about anything.
"You can't half-ass it," Roxy snapped. "It's like anything else: once you decide to do it, you have to do all of it. Everything it takes. You might be on to something, Violet—nobody commits to anything anymore."
"You can lead a perfectly normal life as a magicker," Jack assured Michaela. "My ex was a buyer for Macy's. It's not like you would have to become a nun."
"Most people probably would, if they wanted to do it right," Roxy grumbled.
A lull in the conversation ensued, and neither Violet nor Roxy seemed interested in the fact Jack was available, so the party broke up after that. Violet said she would walk Michaela back to her hotel.
Unsurprisingly, the walk passed mostly in silence. Frank had put his astronaut trainees up in furnished apartments, but Michaela lived out of a hotel room—more people around to keep an eye on her, she could have a meal whenever she wanted, someone cleaned up after her, there were a number of reasons it made sense for a teenager.
"I don't know what got into Roxy, there at the end," Violet said.
"I do," Michaela said. "She thinks she should be on the crew, not an alternate. She resents me."
"You may be right," Violet said. "Too bad she can't be more like Jack."
"I'm not sure Jack cares that he's an alternate," Michaela said. "He's just trying to have fun."
"Well, unless something happens to one of us, he can have fun for about three months. Then he has to go home."
"I know," Michaela mumbled. "Believe me." As quiet as Michaela was, it had gotten across that she did not want to return home in any hurry. Violet wondered how bad home was.
"What I know is you can be an alternate and not be hostile about it," Violet finally said. Michaela shrugged.
Violet saw the girl to her hotel lobby and walked home herself. On the way, she sagged as tension gave way to relief. Going out drinking and talking, there was always the chance she would give herself away. She had to be careful. But her secrets had survived this night.
News of Frank and Pam's near-catastrophe jarred them all. They hadn't even known, any more than Pam had, that the two would be launching into space. To hear that they almost died on the trip was sobering. Things could go wrong. And things going wrong had potentially drastic consequences.
For her part, Pam seemed more determined on Monday morning. Gone was her sometimes flustered look of I can't believe I'm doing this, replaced by a grimly-set you'd better believe I'm doing this.
But Michaela's mood was dark, as the Chicago skyline loomed above her. She pumped her ten-speed down a lakefront bike route. The jagged blocks and angles of the city seemed to be following her, watching her. Menacing as a watchdog. It was a warm September day, and Michaela had on a sweat-wicking soccer shirt above gym shorts.
She wondered what Alice LaRotonda's group of trainees were doing. Had to be better than a sixty-mile bike ride down, up, down, and up the bike route. Alice was a trainer for USASA whom Frank hired away to train his new astronauts for the expedition to Pauper. Joe Hansel was in charge of Michaela, Pam and Roxy for the day. Alice had Violet, Manny and Jack.
Pam pumped beside Michaela on an identical bike. Roxy was far ahead, though still visible, which probably meant she was trying to stay in sight, showing them her back. Roxy had taken her own advice and committed to their boot camp, outshining everyone else. She deserved to be far ahead of them. The problem was that if Roxy was too impressive, Michaela's place on the crew was in jeopardy.
She was a kid. She was nobody. She had no clue how or why Frank had picked her, and he was probably just as confused about that as she was at this point. If Roxy convinced Frank to give her Michaela's spot on the crew, Michaela would have to go home in three months, instead of ten. And that wasn't acceptable.
So even as sore and worn out as she was, she had to keep it going. She had to will her legs to churn hard.
She knew by now that if she pedaled harder, Pam would catch up, and if she slowed, Pam would slow to match. Pam had been trying for a week to lure Michaela into conversation, so far without success. Michaela wanted to ask about Pam's experience going into space, but didn't want to deal with somebody trying too hard to make a friend.
A new smell and new sounds told Michaela they were passing Lincoln Park Zoo. They were inland from the lakeshore, due shortly to curve east, under Lake Shore Drive. Then they would skirt the lakefront beaches on their way to and through the Loop, the heart of Chicago's downtown.
Michaela looked ahead for Roxy. They were approaching the nearly right-angle turn east toward the lake, and Roxy was around the corner already. Michaela turned her head to her right towards Pam, but Pam wasn't there. She had drifted behind Michaela to the left. Michaela swiveled to look that way and ask Pam if they should try to catch up to Roxy—
A teenager on a mountain bike coming from the opposite direction wiped out, and skidded right into Michaela's path. She hit the horizontal bike at about twenty miles per hour. Her ten-speed flipped back over front, and Michaela was airborne. She skidded onto the asphalt on a knee and an elbow, and shrieked as the skin was torn off both. She tumbled through two more somersaults and into the path of another oncoming bike. The rider tried to avoid a collision, but his knee caught Michaela right in the cheek, just underneath her helmet, as he tried to zig out of the way. He came off his bike, still clutching the handlebars as she collapsed in a soundless heap.
In a fog, she heard Pam urging her awake. She lifted her head and the world spun from that little effort. Her elbow and knee both felt hot and puddly.
"Try and stay awake, sweetie," Pam was saying. "You got it right in the head."
"Easy. Easy, please?" Pam's t-shirt was tied around Michaela's knee, and Pam loomed over her in a sports bra. A shirt she didn't recognize was wrapped around her elbow, and the rider who'd gotten her in the head was shirtless now. She was exhausted. She noticed both shirts had round bloodstains on them. That got her attention. She wailed as the pain asserted itself and overtook her.