SUNDAY, 3 AM, JULY 2, 3150

“My dreams are blocked? Are you sure?” Albert rubbed sleep from his eyes and glared at me for waking him hours before daylight.
I touched his lips to shush him for fear our voices would awaken my parents. He sat frog-legged with his back against the headboard and pouted. I attempted to imitate his position but felt a surge of modesty and knelt at the foot of the bed and faced him.
I said, “Sera has near perfect dream intercepting antennae. She and I play a game of who can better remember my dreams.”
I wished she’d allowed my nightmare to run its course before awakening me to relate Albert’s problem. Or had she purposely cut it short? I decided to badger her about it when this business with Albert concludes.
His pout morphed into a scowl. “I only vaguely remember dreaming as a child. Is a block something that happens naturally?”
“Sera said it had to be implanted.”
“Someone cut my head open and stuck it in?” He stroked the back of his head as if to sooth away a headache. He’d be entitled to a whopper after the events of last evening.
“Laser the block into the circuitry, I suspect.” I repressed a yawn. Sera remained covered to her chin, her eyelids fluttering. “She’s reconnected to the data library and will tell us in a minute.”
Albert peered askance at my avatar. “Can that thing talk?”
“And she has feelings,” I fibbed.
He pressed down on the bed and leaped, his genitals dangling, and he landed triangularly to Sera and me. “She can join us if she wants to.”
Sera slid out from under the covers and sat adjacent to Albert and me. She flashed a see-what-I-mean smile to me as she crossed her legs at the ankles and tucked them under her body, a lady-like position I had yet to master. Momentarily, I reconsidered her warning about coercing Albert into fatherhood.
“Well, what did you find?” Albert appeared oblivious to our nakedness.
Sera’s eyes roved from Albert to me. Her voice smooth and modulated, she said, “Ariel is correct. Someone manipulated Albert’s dream capability but not during his prenatal state.”
“Who would do that to me and why?”
“And when, if not before you were born. With Sera’s help, we can pursue this issue after you impregnate me.”
Sera focused coffee-colored eyes on Albert. “I marked for your attention in the data library The History of the Roman Empire. You may want to check it out. Of course, Ariel has access to much of the Twentieth Century research about that era.”
Sera flashed the smirk that I repressed. I hold the trump cards in the exchange of secrets between Albert and me. What’s left is how to play them.
“Ariel’s body is ovulating. If you plan to impregnate her, now is the time while her parents are still asleep.”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you having second thoughts?” I asked.
“No. I just don’t know what to do or how to go about doing it.”
Sera unfolded her legs, stood beside the bed, and lifted the sheet. “Crawl under the cover and clear your minds of dream blocks, Roman empires, and getting pregnant. Ariel knows what movements are effective from experimenting together on the balcony. I will retreat and remain behind my closet drapes unless I am needed.” As she stepped back from the bed she muttered, “I envy you.” From behind the curtain, “I fear for you.”
Albert closed his eyes and his breathing became rhythmical, obviously faking sleep. Anticipating my frustration, Sera stepped from her closet to my bathroom and filled the tub. Her gesture made sense. It had been a long day.

When I returned to bed, Sera lay against Albert’s back with her arms around him. She inched free, and I snuggled between them and drifted to sleep.


“From where does the sun get its energy?” I asked Albert, as we sat on a branch between our buildings previously obscured by our balconies. Protruding through thickly clustered vines, it appeared to have sprouted from the outer wall of my house.
Following last night’s adventure, he would hardly have expected my interest in physics rather than planning for my pregnancy. I dangled my feet and considered asking Dad to hang a swing or, better yet, build a tree house for Albert and me like the one the Swiss Family Robinson had.
“Water?” I’d almost forgotten my question.
“Yes. Separated into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for nuclear fusion.”
“How do you know that?”
“It’s my . . .”
“Your specialty. Now you have to tell me all.”
He brushed a strand of blond hair from his eyes as blue as the shade of water from Dad’s hologram. “I can tell you everything about our past, but nothing about what’s in store for us.”
“Dad already explained the process. That’s what led to my question about the sun.”
“I know what he told you.” Albert leaned back and lost his balance.
I grabbed his arm and pulled him face-to-face. I definitely want that tree house. “Did your dad give that same lecture?”
“I helped him write the script.” He straddled the branch and carefully pressed his back to a vine clinging to my building. “How’d you like the hologram?”
“That was your bit of magic?”
“No magic, just the laws of physics.”
“Never mind. Skip to the part where my father left off.”
“The explanation of rotation and acceleration to create gravity?” He twirled his finger and swung his arm.
“A good place to start.”
“Not really.” He smacked his lips. Had I missed a kissing opportunity? He said, “I can fill in details preceding the account your father recited, starting with Halley’s Comet.”
I responded with information from my recent research. “Halley’s Comet viewed from Earth twice in the Twentieth Century would appear only once in the twenty-first. Its orbit, perpendicular to Earth’s, extends beyond that of Pluto.” I fixed my gaze on his eyes. “The year 2061 to be exact. I traced my ancestry to that date.”
Albert’s expression grew grim. “Are you sure?”
“Of course. I got the reprimand of my life for my effort.” A truth, but he needn’t know how minimal it actually was.
“You should have been scolded.”
“What does that mean?” Had my father underestimated a serious offense?
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
The boy from next door appeared to mature before my eyes, and it frightened me. “It was my mother’s DNA that I traced. Does that have any significance?”
“It will be our challenge, yours and mine, to find out.”
“Albert! I need to know. What do we, my family specifically, have to do with Halley’s Comet?”
He chuckled. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
I refused to laugh. “Tell me everything you know.” I put my hands on my hips and leered over him. “Now!”
He pondered before responding. “Our habitat, the sphere where we sleep, play, and work, used to be Halley’s Comet. Still is Halley’s Comet.”
“We’re hitching a ride like a parasite?”
“We are the comet, at least an integral part of it. Embedded inside, controlling its trajectory.”
“Not doing loops around the solar system?” I considered the generations of disappointed schoolchildren anticipating the comet’s arrival.
“Just twice around to allow time to prepare our habitat and to align with Jupiter for the skip needed to break into outer space.” He beamed. “In conjunction with an atomic boost of our own.”
“Where are we going?”
“To Proxima Centauri, Earth’s nearest star, a little more than four light years distance.” He clung to a branch but gave a nonchalant wave with his free hand. “If it’s still there when we arrive.”
“It might explode like a nova?” I was proud of my knowledge.
“Not likely, but it may wander toward another arm of the Milky Way. If so, we’ll find a different one. We won’t arrive for another three thousand years anyway. Not the problem we’re faced with presently.”
“Which is?”
“How to start a new colony with a separate goal.”
“Can’t we duplicate the process?”
“There aren’t any comets available. The closest one spotted is more distant than the planet we hope to inhabit.”
“Planet? Inhabit?”
“Our ultimate goal.”
“Can’t we phone home for advice?” I chuckled at my twentieth-century movie allusion.
“We make periodic contact with Earth, mostly to update our computer technology. However, two-way conversation takes two years to transmit and receive.” He puffed up his chest. “Dad and I are awaiting acknowledgement for the glitch we located in last year’s computer patch.” Blue eyes turned up, but thank goodness, he didn’t whistle.
I allowed him the satisfaction his expression demanded. “Tell me from the beginning how and when Halley’s Comet was accosted.”
“In the year 2061, Earth scientists launched an unmanned space probe to rendezvous with the comet. Because of the probe’s extreme weight, composite material for its hull had to be manufactured on the moon and sections assembled in a moon orbit. Its prototype was the Sea Wolf class nuclear submarine.”
“They thought the comet was an ocean?”
“Not really, but the hull’s design could withstand the vacuum of space, and the nuclear reactor created power for robotic arms to carve into the comet’s ice core. Cold fusion reactors weren’t developed until Halley’s return trip. The hull still exists as a passageway to exit through the comet’s rear. The most serious challenge had been matching the velocity of the comet and attaching the cigar-shaped probe into its tail. Then a free ride for the next seventy five years, time to hollow out a thousand-foot-diameter cavern inside the comet’s ice and debris.”
“Like an Eskimo Igloo,” I interjected. “Actually two of them to create a sphere.”
He gave one of many shrugs and proceeded. “Meanwhile, back on the moon ten self contained capsules were constructed and outfitted, the string of pearls from your father’s presentation.”
“Let me guess. On this second round, people also got on board.”
“Only a crew of technicians, scientists, and biologists during the comet’s short loop around the back side of the sun to make the sphere inside the comet habitable. They used the nuclear reactor from the submarine lodged in the comet’s tail to ignite the fusion reactor inside the sphere, and an eco-system began to flourish. After preparing for a nuclear blast to propel the comet beyond the apex of its orbit and into deep space, these astronauts returned to Earth. Within the next hundred years, the habitat flourished and it reached our maximum acceleration of one-thousandth the speed of light.”
He tugged on a twig and let it swing back to its natural equilibrium. “The walls inside the habitat were covered with a carpet of lichen that absorbed ultraviolet light from the energy orb in the sphere’s center, and it drew nourishment from the dirty ice that comprises the comet.”
“What about our ancestors?”
“Humans couldn’t have tolerated the radiation during the journey to the edge of the solar system, and they would have been crushed by the G-force from the initial blast to catapult them into outer space.” He squashed a bug covered with pollen exiting a flower. “Oops. Didn’t need to do that.” He flipped the bug off his thumb and a bird swooped to catch it. “Also, the tangle needed time for its roots to establish a controlled rate of ice-melt to meet human requirements for water, atmosphere, and energy. In short, the interior needed heat, light, and air to function as a self-contained biosphere. And the fifty-two hour natural rotation of the comet had to be increased along with acceleration to produce a safe level of gravity around its circumference.”
“How then did humans get on board?” My exasperation peaked.
He shrugged. “The Stork began laying her eggs and they hatched, I guess.”
A delicate subject stated from a man’s point of view. I refused to acknowledge his comment. With the balconies removed, I noticed the woody vines had merged to cover the complete outer wall of our building, giving the appearance of bark on a single tree. “I still can’t believe we’re living inside Halley’s Comet.”
He pondered and at length said, “Remember the string of pearls your father mentioned in his presentation—the one inside the sphere rotating and accelerating?”
“Yes? Some quite large pearls, if an entire family were to eventually live inside each one.”
“They were connected, still are, by a tunnel rather than a string, and submerged in one hundred feet of water. Their metallic structures have long been absorbed as nutrients for marine life.”
“How did giant pearls with dissolved walls become four-hundred-foot towers, inhabited by hundreds of people?”
“The tangle enclosed them into a solid mass of cellulose.”
“We live inside a tree trunk?” My gaze traced the branch where we perched, and I realized it actually sprouted from the wall of our home. Similar leafy arms extended from the exterior of Albert’s building. “Our homes are living trees?”
“Yes. That’s how habitable space increased to accommodate the population growth.”
I laughed. “I can visualize my father hacking away inside a tree rather than at the overgrown tangle.”
“Specialized insects gnaw away the cellulose and produce a usable by-product. Methane gas.”
“We heat our homes with termite farts?”
“Could, except for the danger of an open flame. A brush fire could wipe out our entire civilization. This gas is seeped to the roots of the trees and surrounding tangle as energy necessary to melt the minus four hundred degree ice of our comet.”
“Halley’s Comet, not ours,” I reminded him. “Let me get this straight. Termites eat the inside of our tree house, and their flatulence melts away the guts of Halley’s Comet.”
“Some of the cellulose is fabricated to form our walls, furniture, and even some of the food we eat. Other than ice and cold fusion energy, plant life is our only natural resource.”
“We live in a tree house with paper furniture?” The Swiss Family Robinson had nothing over on us.
“This tree, as you call it, is as wide across the base as it is tall. Roots form the ten lower floors and are submerged in water.”
“A cypress tree?”
“I wouldn’t know about that. Specialized trees, I suspect, held in place by gravity. Approximately a hundred people occupy floors eleven through thirty-nine.”
“Locked in. Prisoners in their homes.”
“Not really. Children, maybe, but when their bodies mature they can roam as far up as they wish but only a few levels lower. We lofted into gravity free space last evening.”
From his causal reference to our previous tryst, we might have intended to play marbles up there.
He continued, “Most people maintain social and productive lives within two to three floors.”
I gazed down perhaps five or six levels before leaves and branches obscured my view. None seemed to have windows. “All deprived of sunlight, like squirrels in winter.”
“My family lived comfortably at the thirty-eighth level in a building on the other side.” He gestured toward the sun. “Moving to the apartment across from yours with windows was pleasant, but it didn’t improve the quality of our lives.” He sighed. “We barely got settled, and we’ll be vacating along with your family and eight others.”
“Moving to a new habitat?” I asked.
“Yes, but I am not at liberty to talk about that.”
I lost my balance and Albert kept me from falling. The reality of our situation burst my fantasy of a tree house. Copulation to take place in my bedroom, when Albert’s body cooperates. Our embryo on this journey will be safely tucked inside my womb.

MONDAY, JULY 3, 3150

In the midst of intense concentration—Sera having challenged my level of chess to free my mind from countless problems—came a tapping at my door followed by my mother’s voice. “May I come in?”
A distraction to a distraction. “Yes, Mother,” I huffed. “Come in.” I remained kneeling on the floor.
“I see you girls are playing chess. How nice.”
“Mother, she’s just a droid.” I needn’t apologize to Sera later because we had an understanding of circumstances regarding my mother.
“Would you direct her to the closet, please? I want to talk to you alone.”
“A Droid, Mother? You can ignore it.”
“I know. But sometimes I feel like I’ve raised two daughters.”
I gave Sera’s closet a nod. She shoved the pieces from the floor onto the board and sauntered to my desk. She reset our game, backed into her closet, and snapped the curtain shut. I rested on my haunches and peered up at my mother.
Mother sat on the edge of my bed. “And now I have to put up with two teenagers.” Her gazed roved from Sera’s closet to me. “Your father and I haven’t forgotten your birthday. We’re awaiting an overdue surprise gift, but it’s been delayed due to the turmoil of our evacuation plans, I suspect.”
“A birthday surprise!” The child still existing inside me erupted, although I already possessed almost everything our society had to offer.
Mother smiled. “Sera had detected the arrival of a message from our relatives back on Earth, and I received a notice today that it will arrive soon.”
“Your letter is my birthday surprise?” The depths of my inner child seemed limitless.
“Our cousin Phyllis has passed the privilege to her daughter, Marty. The correspondence is addressed to you.”
“Mother, that’s wonderful.” I subverted my immaturity, but my adult came out sarcastic.
“I knew you’d be excited.” Her gaze seemed to penetrate. “Now do you have anything to share with your father and me?”
I cast my eyes down. “Not really.” Other than my dress-up wearing her clothes, or Albert’s stay overnight following our experiment with adults-only entertainment. I tried to remember if I replaced her oddly shaped ornament where I found it.
She rose from my bed, and I remained on the floor holding my knees to my chin.
“Your father and I are concerned . . .”
“About what?”
“He’s worried . . .” She placed her hand on my shoulder. “Ariel, are you pregnant?”
“Mother!” I sprang to my feet, and she pulled me into an embrace. My mind reeled until I visualized a chess strategy Sera had taught me. I pre planned three or even four moves ahead and whispered, “Yes, I am pregnant.” This may be the only way for it to happen.
Our gazes locked. She broke contact, walked across the room, and picked a flower from a branch outside my window. She plucked the petals one at a time and tossed them at random. Approaching Sera’s closet, she pulled back the curtain and glared. Then she faced me. “Tell her to come out and join us.”
Sera aped the expression that I felt sweep across my face, and my reaction that started as laughter melted into tears. She stood beside my mother, both silently staring at me.
“I lied. I’m not pregnant, but I want to be.” No game plan, but I sensed Sera’s approval. My mother didn’t seem to rejoice, as I might have suspected.
“Does Albert understand the consequences?”
“Of course he does. He’s not a child.” I looked to Sera for support but she remained mute.
“Are you fully aware of the external problems involved with a pregnancy?” Mother’s gaze pierced my defenses.
“Yeah. No woman has given birth in over a thousand years.”
“You aren’t the only teenager who defied the Realm.”
“Others have had babies the normal way?”
“Not to my knowledge, and I have a pretty good perspective of the matter from my position at the Stork.”
“But you said . . .?”
“Teenagers have gotten pregnant, but none were allowed to carry the child to birth. If caught in time the fetus was saved, but the girl usually tried to hide her pregnancy until it was too late.”
“I won’t—wouldn’t let them destroy my baby.”
“Neither will I.” Mother stood and her eyes shifted toward Sera, losing none of their intensity. “Sera won’t let them take yours and Albert’s baby.”
I had been granted my wish, but Sera’s expression remained neutral. My mother’s behavior startled me even more.
She walked to the door without glancing back. “I have to return to the lab. Sera will explain what we’re up against. Share her information with Albert, and together you can decide if you still want to go through with your plans.”
Sera cradled me in her arms, and I washed away pent up emotions with a flow of tears. She had suddenly become more surrogate mother than personal avatar. When my chest stopped heaving, I wiped my face with the back of my hand and stared into my mirrored companion’s eyes. “Who are you?”
“I am not a human nor will I ever become one nor would I want to.” She blinked, as if establishing some media contact “My directive has been the care of your ancestors over the past millennium.”
“But you began your existence the day I was born.”
“I am every droid that ever existed or still exists in this habitat.” She wagged her finger, a glint in her eye. “Undeterred by the Realm.”
Every droid that ever existed? Why the double speak? “If not the Realm, who do you answer to?”
“Your mother, and by way of her extension, now I take instructions from you.”
“Why my mother? Why me?”
“My body incubated your earliest ancestor, and I have been a personal avatar to every female in that line ever since.
“But we’ve grown up like identical twins, even approached puberty together.” An image of her body reshaping itself from my mother’s adult likeness to mine as a child overwhelmed my imagination. “How did my parents adjust to the change in your form? Especially my father.” I shuddered at the thought of Father being confronted every day with twin wives.
“Technology hadn’t afforded me the possibility to morph my shape until our experience. The problems you suggest will be encountered by the next generation.”
My concern switched from my parents’ relationship to Albert and me as a couple. I blocked the thought and changed the subject. “I told Albert you couldn’t conceive or self replicate. Am I wrong?”
“My computer can modify my body when necessary, within the laws of physics and biology.” She winked. “And in accordance with the Realm’s primary directive, the continuation of human life forms to establish a civilization on a distant planet.”
“Albert already told me about Proxima Centauri.” Her recently developed facial tics were annoying. “So, you could carry our baby.”
“My body could incubate the embryo for the required nine months to produce a child, if you chose that option.”
Nine months! I hadn’t realized what a pregnancy entailed, but we were committed. “Albert and I don’t want you or the Stork to hatch our baby.” My voicing his flippant expression didn’t seem to faze Sera. “Why were you given the task of incubating my first ancestor?”
“The Stork’s system hadn’t been tested and couldn’t be trusted with one of only two embryos that survived the comet’s preparation orbit through the solar radiation.”
“So, we have all descended from that pair of embryos.” A new twist to the children’s myth of Adam and Eve. “What if the second embryo had died and the Stork failed to function? A single human in a world of intelligent machines would constitute the epitome of loneliness.”
“My system is also capable of cloning biological life forms.”
“A harem of identical twins!” My mind couldn’t fathom such a world, but from Sera’s perspective it probably seemed no less strange than a world of men and women.
“The other embryo was taken back to Earth and replanted in the woman who had produced both of them. Scientists wanted her pregnancy to mimic the human space-travel experiment.”
“While you conducted your own little human experiment aboard Space Mission.” A horrid perspective caught my awareness. “My cousin Marty and I are the result of a thousand year experiment like bacteria evolving in a Petri-dish!”
Sera reminded, “As a part of a much larger experiment expected to last four times that long.” She continued unabashed with the lesson my mother considered an important addition to my education. “Both pregnancies had been successful, but to delay the mission until birth wasn’t an option. Technicians boarded and reengineered the human incubator to inseminate eggs with sperm rather than preserved embryos. A few dozen of each were shielded in lead and cryogenically stored. My body froze the embryo in my womb until we accelerated beyond the solar system. The nine other families on Space Mission descended from nine of those unrelated human eggs fertilized inside the Stork’s incubator with nine separately donated sperm specimen.”
“Does Cousin Marty know she and I are actually related?”
“It is logical to assume her mother shared that information, as your mother directed me to share with you. Perhaps she will mention it in her message which should be delivered any day now.”
“Why has it been delayed?”
A full eye-flutter. “My sources indicate the censors held it up but will release it unaltered.”
“Your sources? A grapevine among the droids?” I envisioned backroom screeches and squeals interspersed with cackling and blinking lights. Was my avatar the droid among generic droids, or shunned because of her unique human impersonation?
I asked, “If my mother or I am in charge, as you say, why must we keep my pregnancy a secret?”
“As I said, my authority lies within the laws of nature and the parameters set by the Realm.”
“Your cavalier wink made me think you can circumvent the Realm.”
“Not if it in any way interferes with the Space Mission’s primary directive.”
I mocked, “Which is to preserve the human species for its implementation at a predestined planet. I hardly think my pregnancy would inhibit the Realm from achieving its mission.”
“Once a rule has been established, the Realm cannot adjust or eliminate it.”
“Hard-wired for a thousand years with no means of amending?” I asked.
“Like an ancient culture clinging to traditions from a different set of needs, the Realm is inflexible.”
“A runaway computer.”
“Programmers back on earth gave up trying to intercede, and no robot here would be willing to pull the plug, if indeed it has one to be pulled. Any perceived conspiracy creates even more rigid rules to maintain order.”
“We have no jails or need for them,” my feeble attempt to defend the status quo.
“All humans are incarcerated, their only crime being too cowardly to break free. Your mother is the only free criminal, up until now.”
I pressed my finger to my breast and Sera nodded. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Martha has declared your independence, and henceforth I am required to answer to you. Shall I summon Albert?”
“Yes.” Sera’s left eye triggered a tic, not the usual flutter when transmitting. I shook my head. “I may be getting paranoid, but you better make this a personal visit.”
Sera nodded and headed toward the door.
I yelled after her, “Prepare my bath and give me half an hour to soak.” I needed time to get my thoughts together.

After buzzing the front door open, I stepped out of the tub and draped my robe over my shoulders. I savored the feel and odor of my personal bath oils, eager to meet Albert in a sensual mood. I stepped into our living area and found a uniformed officer, droid or human I couldn’t immediately distinguish.
“Sera Gordon?” He or it couldn’t make the distinction between my avatar and me. “The inspector requests your immediate attendance for a malfunction check. The Realm has been unable to access your attention.”
“Give me a minute to dress.” I turned and casually dropped my robe to the floor just inside the door to my room. Through the reflection of a mirror, he appeared to gawk. Rumors of female droids teasing human agents of the Realm were probably true. I could imagine Sera employing such antics.
The officer abruptly marched to my door and blurted, “I have orders not to let you out of my sight once I make contact.” He turned his back to me. “I will allow you to dress, but please don’t do anything you might regret.”
“Deprived of Sera’s immediate advice, I felt doubly naked. My mind reeled. You are mistaken sir. I am not my avatar. I conquered my fear and held back my confession. The situation had granted me an opportunity to glimpse the mysteries of the Realm. I assessed the danger. I wasn’t pregnant, the apparent no-no—just an adolescent with normal curiosity, according to my father. I decided to dress and accompany the officer to headquarters, or whatever it is called.

As we stepped from the elevator onto the roof of our building, I blinked and shielded my eyes from the glare off the silver patrol vehicle, its open door beckoning. When the officer sat and pulled the strap across his lap, I had a hunch we’d be exiting gravity. But where? During daylight, only atmosphere and harmful rays existed between us and the sun.
He said, “Take your seat and use the belt, Miss, whoever you are.”
“I am Ariel Gordon, Sera’s owner, and I demand to know where you are taking me.” I feigned indignity and refused to explain why I had impersonated Sera.
He stared straight ahead and pointed until I buckled up. He said, “I’m sorry. I had no choice but to go along with your deception. You would have alerted your droid and complicated my life even more.”
He set his wrist dial and the robot-patrol hovered, swung across Albert’s building, and headed perpendicular to the tops of the tangle. As we lifted beyond the gravity field, an elevator sensation coupled with fear brought my lunch to the back of my throat. I refused to upchuck. The buildings on my side of the sun grew distant, as those completing the ring on the opposite side came into view. Does the Realm reside within those families? I had never observed the sun from this angle, and its intensity made my skin tingle. I expected the brightness to diminish to normal once we were in range of the residents on the opposite side, but the cab made a sudden turn directly into the tangle.
“My body can’t stand the gravity,” I screamed.
“At this point we’re perpendicular to the rotation. Zero gravity continues through the tangle all the way to the outer wall of the sphere.”
“But the water?” I gasped.
“Without gravity there is no water except when irrigating the tangle. The sprinklers have been shut off.”
As we headed directly toward the tangle, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of the ring of buildings from both ends at the same time. Fear coupled with disorientation caused me to upchuck, splashes of vomit clustered and drifted behind the cab. The vehicle danced like a honeybee on a flower, and its rear stinger-like projection gathered the puke as if soda through a straw. I had heard of utility vehicles gathering debris that escaped gravity but never witnessed one in action until now.
The cab zigzagged between twigs, branches, and vines that crisscrossed the narrow tunnel hewn into the tangle. Sunlight gave way to shadows and shadows to total darkness. A speck of light ignited, expanded and engulfed the cab, the officer’s finger pressing a button on the dash.
“Light is unnecessary as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t want a repeat performance of what happened back there.”
I secretly thanked him, and then voiced it. “Thank you.” His glint of kindness gave me hope for his support when I’d be confronted by the entity that probably has no physical dimensions. I needed a face from which I could interpret what wasn’t apparent in its vocabulary.
The vegetation gave way to twisted and gnarled roots with soil as mortar and, I realized, grimy ice. The comet! A tunnel continued for perhaps miles and opened into an enormous cavity enclosed in what appeared to be metal walls. The hull of the submarine! We encountered no sentries, but on three occasions the officer slowed, raised his wrist band, and sped forward. The cab stopped. My cab driver unsnapped my safety belt and, with one hand on my shoulder and the other on my elbow, lifted me from my seat. He held me in place momentarily until I no longer felt movement. He released me, and the cab zoomed back the way it came, the officer still aboard. So much for support from that quarter.
I pieced together information from my father and my friend with snippets from my programmed instruction. The extreme tangle has intense gravity only near the bases of our buildings that are ringed around the diameter like the inside rim of a wheel. When Dad said our new habitat is being constructed in the extreme tangle, he probably meant here, or the axis opposite this one. If our habitat had been carved from the rear of a fifteen-mile-long comet, as Albert had claimed, the bulk of it still exists opposite this submarine stuck inside its tail. With an excess volume of ice at the head, perhaps a portion of it will break away and house our new unit. Albert said no other comets were available, but he didn’t mention using part of this one. Either my assumption is incorrect, or he is unaware of the option.
I stared into the stark interior for what seemed like hours, wondering from what cranny would come an apparition to give voice to my impending doom. Like the iris of an eye, a speck of green light expanded floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, accompanied by a crackling sound that increased to a crescendo. From a void either within the wall or behind it, a pyramid-shaped structure slid forward. The light receded and the decibels faded, a sound I recalled from my research, that of a Geiger counter. Radiation from an ancient power source. I futilely clutched my lower abdomen, fully aware the rays could pass through my hands. Had my womb been zapped? Eggs mutated to produce a monstrous two-headed baby. Thank God—I don’t care if they can read my thought—I’m not yet pregnant.
The sides of the pyramid opened like petals on a flower. Flabbergasted, I recognized the figure standing on a pedestal, surrounded by a green halo. The light flickered, flashed brilliantly, and faded as the portal disappeared. Sera strode forward and took my arm.
She said, “I’ll take you home now.”
We floated back through the tunnel, through the tangle, and cut a diagonal shortcut in front of the sun, already dimmed for the evening. With her arms around my waist to protect me from the pull of increased gravity, we settled on the roof of our building. Back in our apartment, I headed for the bathroom, envious of my bladderless companion. When I finished peeing, I scanned the room, and located Sera, a lifeless hull in her closet with eyes aglow, batteries drawing a full charge. I kicked off my shoes, plopped onto the bed, and debated whether to go to Albert or wait for my mother to return.

When I opened my eyes, my father stood over me. “You’ll need to pack tonight. We’re leaving in the morning. Albert and his folks already left this afternoon. I’m sorry you weren’t around to say goodbye.”
“Will I see him when we get situated in our new habitat?”
My father stared blankly, as if he’d forgotten some important detail. He had. Families from the top floors of alternate buildings would be forming separate colonies. He hadn’t mentioned two isolated groups.
He stepped to the door and turned. “By the way. Albert said to give you this for your puppy. He’s sure a strange kid.”
My eyes grew wide open as he held out his hand. A small sealed capsule filled with a mucus-like substance rested in his palm. I took it and clasped it to my breast. Sera will have to help me insert this into my uterus.

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