Part 4: Shiva - Chapter 4

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Shiva loomed large in the window, a dark pear-shaped chunk of rock and iron much longer than a Slowboat, with a small moon of its own, a barely visible boulder perhaps a hundred metres across. The asteroid tumbled over and over on its long axis once every thirty minutes, the little nameless moon orbiting against Shiva's spin. Geranium watched the two rocks drift along, well beyond Jupiter's path and away from the main Trojan belt. It was a beautiful thing, lord of its own lonely orbit.

'Why Shiva?' Beside her, Reed also gazed at the asteroid, but kept an eye over the data the AI was collecting about it as well. It seemed to have some difficulty deciding where to land the ship.

Geranium had been thinking about that too. If the plan was to slam this rock into the Moon, there were surely other asteroids in more suitable orbits. She knew little about physics, but it seemed this was a long way to go to find something to throw at the Moon on the other side of the solar system.

'Aesthetics,' said Maddy from the table back in the main cabin. She'd been searching through the ghost data since they'd set off from the Oort Cloud, dropping out of Void just a few minutes before. All eyes turned to her and she looked up. 'Shiva was selected for aesthetic reasons. In Earth mythology, Shiva was the god of destruction.'

'You think terrorists are interested in aesthetics?'

'Not the terrorists, no. Whoever's behind them.'

Geranium knew what she meant. Mere Helots couldn't come up with a plan this complicated by themselves. They didn't have the education, or the resources. Besides, the ghost data revealed that the Syndicate was somehow involved in this.

It seemed ridiculous to her, that the Syndicate should be involved in such a scheme. After all, her own father was on the Board of Directors—it was outrageous that he would be party to anything like this. But then again, the last few days had torn her safe, comfortable world to shreds. The incidents on Mars, the death of Sarti...She wiped a tear that had immediately formed in her eye. Her father was only one representative on the Board out of over five hundred. Perhaps he didn't know what others were doing. Perhaps...

No use thinking about it, or daring to presume anything. She was here now, carried along with events like a piece of luggage. On the other side of the room, Maddy looked up, caught her eye, and threw her what might have been a reassuring half-smile. Geranium looked away without returning any expression at all.

The AI announced it had selected a landing site on the asteroid. It also suggested the crew strap in, as it had never landed on anything so small before.

Great, thought Geranium.

She felt Maddy's hands make sure her harness was sufficiently tight. The woman smiled at her again, but Geranium could see no warmth there at all this time.

She's as scared as I am.

Reed handed control over to the AI, which started the ship on a gentle curve down towards the far side of the asteroid. The rock grew in the screen until the rest of the universe was crowded out. Shiva was no longer a small lump of matter tumbling through infinite space; it was a place unto itself; cratered, dusty, but a complete world over which they skimmed in a frail man-made chunk of metal.

Despite the AI's misgivings, the landing itself was fairly smooth. At the last minute there seemed to irregularities in the terrain that hadn't looked so bad from far away. Geranium could see the terrain below slip and slide across the viewing screen as the AI made last second adjustments to its trajectory.

She felt more like a piece of luggage than ever as the ship hovered and searched for a safe place to put down. The safety straps dug into her shoulders and waist as the ship threw itself around above the surface. Then it was like something struck the bottom of her seat hard as contact came. The engine vibrations ceased and the craft at last settled into stillness.

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