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Moonseed

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘Of course it’s me.’

‘I left, Geena. It’s over.’

‘Do you have any coffee in here?’

He ran his hand over his stubble and yawned. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Go away and leave me alone.’

‘Believe me,’ she snapped back, ‘there’s nothing I’d like better. But I can’t just walk away.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because we have things to talk about.’

‘Geena, my lunar probes just got canned. My career is stiffed. What things?’

‘Our assets, Henry. Our property.’

‘All there is, is stuff. Burn it. I don’t care. Sell the apartment. It was no use anyhow, since we both spent the last two years working out of Houston.’

She said heavily, ‘We’re taking apart our home.’

He closed his eyes.

‘I know.’

‘Then you can’t just walk away. You have to go through the pain, Henry …’

There was a light in the window.

Maybe it was the torch beam of some security guy, Geena thought, distracted. Rocky whined a little, and padded over to the window. Whatever the light was, it was high up; it cast Rocky’s shadow on the floor behind him.

Not a torch beam, then.

Even as she tried to deal with this situation with Henry, her damn problem-solving brain kept working. Something in the sky. A chopper beam, maybe a police patrol? But the beam would shift. And there’d be noise. The Moon, then? But the light was the wrong quality, vaguely yellow-white. And besides, the Moon was near new tonight.

The dog was staring up at the light as if he’d seen a ghost.

She said, ‘What about the dog?’

‘He comes with me. He’s my dog. He predates you.’

‘I suppose he does. But he’s used to staying with my mother –’

Henry unfolded off the floor and stretched, tall and wiry, strong hands flexing. His face was dark in the uncertain light from the window, weather-beaten by all those days in the field. He looked towards the yellow glow at the window. ‘What the hell’s that?’

‘I thought it was a chopper. But it isn’t.’

‘No.’

They walked towards the dog, still standing in his shaft of light, Henry’s bare feet padding on the tiled floor.

‘… Jesus,’ he said.

‘What is it?’

Henry was standing over the dog, staring up into the anomalous light. She came to stand beside him.

The light, beaming in through the window, was so bright it was glaring, dazzling, like a spotlight in the face. But she could see it was a point source.

It was fixed in the sky. There was no noise, no rotor clutter.

The light was eerie. Not part of the natural order. This is bad news, she felt instinctively.

‘What do you think?’ he said. ‘A planet?’

‘Too bright.’

‘A satellite?’

‘Not moving quickly enough.’

‘A star, then,’ he said. ‘It would have to be a nova. Or a supernova.’ He frowned. ‘I don’t like it.’

‘In case it’s a supernova?’

‘Even if not. It shouldn’t be there.’ He glanced at her. ‘Don’t you feel it?’

‘Yes,’ she said reluctantly. ‘I guess I do.’ Bad news. ‘What would a supernova do to Earth?’

He shrugged. ‘Depends how close. Supernovas are candidates for causing extinction events in the past. The radiation burst, the heavy particles … A massive star exploding within a hundred light years might give the planet a dose of five hundred roentgens.’

‘Enough to kill.’

‘Oh, yes. Even the trees. Did you know that? Trees are about as sensitive to radiation as humans. Also, all that ultraviolet hitting the atmosphere – disassociated nitrogen will oxidize to form nitrous oxide, which will react with the ozone and deplete it –’

‘Just as well we destroyed the ozone layer already, then,’ she said drily. ‘But maybe it isn’t a supernova.’

She couldn’t identify what part of the sky this lamp hung in. Her astronomy wasn’t so good, considering her career choice. But then it didn’t need to be, if you planned to spend your working life in low Earth orbit. ‘What else could it be?’

He leaned forward, resting his hands on the window ledge, and looked around the sky. ‘I wish they’d clean these windows. Kind of a poor observing platform we have here … Oh.’

‘What?’

‘I think it’s Venus.’

She frowned. ‘Venus, the planet?’

He said heavily, ‘What other Venus? It’s right where Venus is supposed to be, tonight. And I don’t see any bright object nearby that could be Venus. So, it’s Venus.’

‘But how can it suddenly become so bright?’ She remembered an old science fiction story. ‘Oh. Venus is closer to the sun than Earth. What if the sun has flared? Or even gone nova? And the reflected light –’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘It’s near superior conjunction right now. Which means it’s on the far side of the sun, so showing us a full face. So if you think about it, by the time the increased sunlight reflected off Venus and crossed space to get here –’

‘The sunlight would have reached us direct, already.’ A suppressed sigh of relief. ‘So Venus itself must have gotten brighter.’

‘Which is impossible.’

‘Is it? Maybe it’s some kind of volcanic thing.’

‘What kind of volcanic thing?’

She was used to his sarcasm. ‘You’re the geologist. Think of something.’

He went to the back of the office, and came back with a scuffed pair of binoculars. He raised them and focused them briskly.

He whistled.

‘What?’
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