Deren stood watching the east horizon’s dirty yellow smudge, lightning popping inside clouds of sulfur like neurons in some titanic mind.
Forcing himself to the west viewport, he gazed across fewer than a hundred meters of cracked gray slate, where loomed Venera 24, a metallic abstract simultaneously broiled, dissolved, and squashed—even three years’ exposure to 800-degree “air” and 90 atmospheres had failed to erase the skeletal wreck’s dead radar-imaging gear and deader Russian ambition.
Deren turned, and stepped toward the winking clutter of his work station. “Trash on the landscape,” he murmured, “scars on the ego.”
He wished the guilt would die, but two things conspired daily against him: Arda . . .
. . . and that heap of acid-scoured shit out there memorializing the site of Ilia’s death. He was my son too. And I did love him, goddammit.
Deren was coming apart, and even his self-image (when he bothered to ponder it) blurred in his mind’s eye.
Seated before the tense constellation of his gear, he flicked the screen harder than necessary, squinted at its waking blue burst. “Koner, Deren”—he unnecessarily leaned closer for the retina-blip—“Terra/V. Data-acquisition—4:14 A.M., Thursday, Tee plus one point three-two-seven. Optimal.”
The display beeped; CyberSun Inc.’s triangular logo glowing silver and violet in iconic silence, acknowledging Deren. His vocalizations meant nothing, mere confirmation (with the retina-blip) that KONER, DEREN, still drew breath and was present to begin another “day.” The system tracked everything, from meals consumed, toilet habits, bio-telemetry, to the status of RNA-guided gene drives editing damaged DNA. Serving in the Antarctic Conflict, Deren had taken serious gamma rads halting meltdown of a malfed-out reactor core. Besieged by Sword of Giza terrorists during Operation Shatter Ice, half of the NOAA weather station—and one-tenth of the Ross Ice Shelf—got vaporized by friendly fire. Ninety lives lost to some prototype ionospheric-reflector beam.
Abruptly Deren stood, trotted toward the egress hull. He would not again glance at the ambered viewport, and his ears hissed with tinnitus aggravated by recurrent PTSD ghosts smoldering black in the ruined Antarctic weather station of 20 years ago.
Presently he had two choices: further rage, or maintain the controlled demeanor of a career soldier/scientist. Or Option Three—enter the airlock, draw a final breath, punch in the negation code and step through the gates of hell.
Out there, the corroded hulk of Venera 24 loomed like a specter of futility. Over the three years since Deren had inadvertently engineered its and his son’s cataclysmal doom, acid rains had scoured silver what remained of the hull; etched into a miraculously intact satellite dish a face with blank sulfur eyes and mouth gaping in horror.
If Deren, Arda, and the other dome operatives failed, everyone still on Earth—and subject to the full-time psychosis of its climate—would assume a similar expression, shortly before dying. . . .