1 - Bridge

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THE MOON SHONE on the viewscreen like polished glass, an unrelieved silver canvas, a spinning ball of ice. Noah had stared at it for three days, now—three days without peaks or valleys or craters or waves, without a single weather event, without a single landmark. A blank wall was its own kind of silence.

He would have been alone on the bridge if not for Pet, whose golden-furred head rested on his knee. There was no one else around during the early shift to chide Noah for it, so he rested his hand on the crown of her head and stroked the soft, yellow hair there as he scrolled through the overnight logs of the infrared laser messaging system. As he swiped through hours of uneventful dead space with his index finger, only half his attention was on the silence piped into his earpiece; the ILM logs were as featureless as the moon. Daphne, as Captain Sayers had nicknamed it, was uninhabited, just like everything else in this backwater star system. But there were interplanetary agreements governing exploration. You didn't just get in a rover and land on any satellite you pleased. It wasn't like the old days when humans would drop anchor on every surface indiscriminately, swaggering in like they owned the place and spreading pestilence and plague everywhere. Now, you sent down a few probes first. Ran some telemetry. Scanned for life. But there was nothing on Daphne. They'd checked.

The display on the telemetry station glowed green, throwing the bridge into a swampy half-light as Noah surveyed the ILM logs. He heaved a tortured sigh. When he'd joined Flight Academy, he'd had visions of grandeur—interstellar travel at near-light speeds, alien encounters as he piloted spacecraft. Instead, he'd been assigned to the Julius as a Junior Communications Officer, which, although it was on the bridge, was about as far from being a pilot as it was possible to be. But his math marks had been so abysmal, he'd almost flunked out of the academy, and you couldn't pilot a starship when you'd failed trigonometry. Still, he'd scored high in languages.

Pet yawned, her pink tongue lolling out of her mouth. Noah rubbed her ears, then scratched beneath her collar. Her tags jingled as she leaned into his hand. He looked at the clock on his screen.

"It's almost oh-four-hundred, Pet. Captain Sayers will report for duty soon."

She made a morose sound.

"Hush." With a soft murmur of apology, he pushed her head off his knee. "Sit up. Be a good girl. Go to your post."

Her nails clicked on the bridge deck, and her tags tinkled like bells as she crossed the floor to take up her position by the door. Noah refocused on the overnight logs. Nothing but dead air. If there was anything living on Daphne, it wasn't making any noise. The long-range sensors hadn't picked up anything of interest, either. The moon was a ball of ice, smooth and featureless as a marble, its only point of interest the massive quantity of potable water frozen in its ice fields. For all their advances and accomplishments—space travel, terraforming Mars—there were a few things humans still couldn't live without. Water was one.

He reached the end of the overnight logs and switched back to the live feed, glancing at Pet to be sure she was in her spot. She watched him, her wet, brown nose glistening in the light from the telemetry station. As he swiveled in his chair to return his attention to the screen in front of him, a sound filled his earpiece. For the first time since they'd slipped into the moon's orbit three days ago, there was something other than dead space on the ILM. He froze, his finger hovering over the screen. It was soft. A whisper. Like a gentle hiss. He tapped the volume icon and dragged his finger upward, and the hissing grew in intensity, a sibilant he felt in his chest like a weighty thrum. Behind him, Pet barked. Noah waved his hand to shush her.

The hissing stopped.

He frowned, waiting, his blond brows furrowed, but the infrared laser messaging system had gone silent.

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