Exo: A Novel

Exo: A Novel

Exo A Novel 22

  Don’t need station keeping. Would antenna effectiveness be affected by tumble? How about the solar charging?

  —Space Girl

  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Subject: re: Fengyun 1C

  Thanks for the offer of business, but we’ll pass. If you have any ISS emergencies, though, drop us a note.

  —Space Girl

  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Subject: re: cubesat specs

  Space Girl (Really? Space Girl?)

  It’s cheaper and more reliable to put solar cells on all surfaces instead of doing active attitude control (since we only need to power the transmitter) but there’s an advantage to earthward orientation for antenna effectiveness. If you’re really okay with unlimited dimensions, we could passively orient the bird with a telescoping, 10-meter mast, putting the solar cells, batteries, and transmitter at one end, and a counterweight at the other.

  Like the tether from Lost Boy, this would align with the local gravity gradient, putting one end slightly above the orbit and the other slightly below.

  While this isn’t very critical in LEO, it would greatly improve signal strength in MEO and GEO. I’m sure we could do each bird well below twenty-five kilos.


  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  [email protected]

  [email protected]

  bcc: [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Subject: Fabrication Team Meeting

  As we are coming up on the winter break and some of you are traveling during that time, I’d like to get together and discuss our schedule and timetable for fab sessions in late January or early February. I propose this coming Saturday at the lab, 9:00 A.M. Pacific. It shouldn’t take longer than an hour.

  Please let me know as soon as possible if this works for you.

  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Subject: re: cubesat specs

  I think the mast idea is AWESOME. Please proceed.

  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Subject: Transport for Fab. Team Mtg.

  You got my bcc on the meeting, right? They all rsvp’ed, so can you get Jade and Tara here?

  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Subject: re: Transport for Fab. Team Mtg.

  Right. I’ll bring ’em.

  I jumped Tara from New Prospect directly to a large handicapped stall in the women’s restroom on the top floor of the Durand Building. I’d jumped from there, and locked it first, so there were no surprises when we returned. I wasn’t expecting any—it was Saturday and the top floor was mostly admin, deserted on the weekend.

  I gave her Cory’s office number and said, “Elevator’s to the right as you come out.”

  “You’re not coming with me?”

  “Well, no. I’m not going to the meeting. Joe’s gonna be there.”

  She blinked, her eyes large. “Well, then I’ll wait here for Jade, so we can go down together.”

  “Oh.” She was nervous. I’d been working with Cory for six weeks; she’d never met him. “Sure. Go wash your hands or something.” I pushed her out of the stall and relocked it.

  Jade wasn’t in her room, but came in right after saying, “Sorry. Wanted to brush my teeth.” She grabbed a jacket and nodded. She was also nervous.

  “You okay? I thought you Smithies did all sorts of interviews and things.”

  “It’s not that,” she said. “You’ve always transported Tara from home. You never … I’ve never done it—travelled your way.”

  I looked at the ceiling and laughed.


  “Tara’s nervous about the interview. Come on. Let’s go before she has a panic attack.”

  I didn’t even let Jade put on her jacket.

  I was getting pretty good at it. Not as good as Dad, perhaps, but I knew to keep supporting Jade’s weight after we appeared since it was probable her knees would buckle.

  They did.

  At her gasp, Tara’s voice came over the partition, “Jade?”

  I opened the door and let Tara take over steadying Jade.

  Tara said, “So, come back here after the meeting?” She gestured at the tile and sinks.

  I wrinkled my nose. “Out there. By the elevators. There’s a couch and chairs.” I bit my lip. “Uh, don’t let Joe follow you.”

  Jade looked at Tara and raised her eyebrows, but Tara just nodded. “Okay.” She looked at her watch. “Seventy minutes from now?”

  I nodded. That was five minutes’ buffer on both ends of the meeting.

  As they left the bathroom, Jade asked, “We’re really in California?”

  “Guess so,” said Tara. “Look—palm trees!”

  * * *

  I had seriously considered setting the camera on the shelf in Cory’s lab and letting it record the meeting, but in the end, I behaved.

  Okay—Cory was using one of the conference rooms and he would’ve noticed if it showed up there.

  I jumped to the cabin, thinking I’d do better if I had someone to talk to while I waited. But when I stuck my head into my old room, Mom was holding Grandmother’s hand and Grandmother was back on the respirator and either sleeping or unconscious. Seeana was taking her blood pressure and Tessa was doing something with the respirator settings. None of them were smiling and they were so concentrated on Grandmother that they didn’t notice me.

  It didn’t look like a good time.

  I went looking for Dad.

  For a time, after we had to leave New Prospect, Mom, Dad, and I had recorded our destinations and expected time back in the kitchen. Lately, with Seeana and the other caretakers in our space, we’d stopped it rather than answer awkward questions.

  Dad wasn’t anywhere in the cabin and the white board in the kitchen was blank. I checked the warehouse, but he wasn’t there, either.

  I jumped to the cliff house. I was still having trouble thinking of it as “my” place, but I’d been sleeping there for three weeks. I stared at the books and vids on the shelves, but I wasn’t really seeing them. I remembered looking at other books on other bookshelves, but not alone.

  I jerked away from the books.

  The propane-powered refrigerator was mostly empty. There were two sodas, one leathery apple, and a piece of cheese that had gone fungal in a ziplock bag.

  Without thinking I popped the bag open.

  I don’t know why. Distracted, I guess. I nearly vomited and jumped, but I didn’t do either. Instead I held my breath and sealed it shut.

  Just like Joe.

  No, Joe wasn’t a piece of decomposing cheese. But, what had happened, it was like that, somehow. A good thing spoiled and made worse because I’d left it sealed away, unexamined.

  For one brief second, I considered dumping the plastic bag onto Joe’s dorm bed, but my stomach heaved at the thought. I jumped to Stanford and threw it into the Dumpster behind the Durand building, where Cory’s lab and office were.

  When I looked at my phone, it was still forty minutes away from the scheduled end of their meeting.


  * * *

  Joe nearly fell out of his chair when I walked into the conference room. Jade and Tara looked at each other, eyes wide.

  Cory just said, “Thought you had a conflict.” His eyes shifted slightly toward Joe and back again.

  “I was able to move some stuff around.” I pulled out a chair at the far end of the table and sat, carefully looking at Cory. “How’s the scheduling going?”

  “We think we’re good. Joe’s return flight isn’t until four days after we were going to start, though. Can you transport him a
s well as Tara for those work days? That would give us a four-day stretch to get started—that would really give us a chance to ramp up.”

  I glanced at Joe. His hands were clenched on the table top and his eyes kept flicking from me to his hands and back to me.

  I thought about saying, we could reschedule his flight, or we could reschedule the start of the program or he isn’t necessary at the beginning. I looked back at Cory.

  “Sure. Is that coming back early or working from home, like Tara?”

  Joe said, “I … I can’t get into the dorm until after.”

  My stomach twisted. I wasn’t sure how I felt about transporting him eight, nine times. “What will your folks say when you disappear for the last four days of vacation?”

  He looked away. “I can probably find someplace to stay in Palo Alto.”

  Only one trip, then. I wondered if he was thinking of staying with his study partner.

  Cory said, “I’ve got a couch you could use.” He eyed Joe. “You might have to scrunch up a bit.”

  Joe looked relieved. “That would be good. It would be better if I told my family I had to return early for my new job, which is the truth. I was going to hit up a classmate who lives here for crash space, but I don’t know him that well.” He looked at me. “It would be really expensive to change the flight, now, so a lift would be very helpful. That way I could use the flight later, for spring break, or end of semester.”

  Stanford was providing a lot of aid for Joe, but they weren’t covering transportation and I knew his family was still stretching to cover the rest.

  It wasn’t exactly fair to say that he’d gotten spoiled when we were together, but I had taken him surfing in Australia, snowboarding in New Zealand, and to the theater in London.

  Now he was scraping for airfare. I thought I’d be happy about it, but I wasn’t.

  I looked off to the side and said, “Right.”

  Cory spent the next twenty-five minutes talking about the work. The next suit was going to have the split-neck flange. The process would be identical to the way my suit was made, but there would be additional steps along the way to test certain automation methods.

  The process was both complicated and simplified because the suit weave was assembled while the electroactive-polymer fibers were under current—in their relaxed state. The form they’d wrap corresponded to a seven-foot-tall, four hundred-pound human. At that scale, the weave was wide and didn’t require a lot of precision. But it had to be kept electrified until the entire suit was completed.

  It was a good thing I knew most of this already. I was working very hard to appear attentive, but Cory’s voice was mostly going in one ear and out the other and it was all I could do not to watch Joe out of the corner of my eye.

  Cory finished his summary with, “What we do in four days, this first time, we hope to cut down to two on the next suit, so I’m hoping we can schedule those for weekends. Questions?”

  Jade and Tara shook their heads, but Joe said, “How have you been testing the suits—vacuum chamber?”

  Cory looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

  I blinked. “You didn’t tell him?”

  Cory shook his head. “Didn’t know what you’d told him. Them.” His gesture took in all three of them.

  “Uh, I told Tara and Jade—they designed that logo on the video.” I took a deep breath. “One second.”

  I just jumped from the chair.

  This is a bit tricky since, arriving without the chair’s support, you promptly fall on your butt. After discovering that one the hard way, I learned to add a slight bit of velocity upward and rotation forward when I appeared, so it would pop me up onto the balls of my feet, as if straightening from a crouch.

  In the Eyrie, I grabbed my laptop and returned to the conference room. I queued up the raw video, put it in full screen, and set the computer on the table in front of Tara. Joe and Jade leaned in from both sides when I hit “play.”

  All three of them leaned forward when they saw my suited hands pick up the satellite, but when the footage switched into orbit they practically bumped heads. I let it run until we got to the first selfie I’d taken with the Delta-K booster and the Lost Boy AggieSat, then froze the video. You could see my extended arm and the camera reflected in the gold visor, with a background of half black sky and half brightly lit Earth.

  Joe’s mouth was half open and he stared at the screen wide-eyed.

  Cory said, “So, yeah. We’re on that testing thing.”

  Tara leaned back and said, “We’ve got to get some logos on your suit. Do we have to use paint? I thought the suit was supposed to be tight?”

  I said, “That’s just Nomex/Kevlar coveralls. The suit’s underneath.”

  “Oh. So we could use patches and embroidery?”

  I thought about it. “Uh, Probably. Something that can take high temps, though.”

  Joe blurted, “That was you?”

  I looked at him. He was staring at me with wide eyes.

  “Well, it wasn’t Sailor Moon,” I said.

  “Are you insane?”

  Jade and Tara flinched back from Joe’s raised voice.

  I felt my jaw muscles bulge and my teeth grind together. “We all heard that, right?” I said. I pointed at the door. “They probably heard that in the next building.”

  Joe held up his hands and looked at Cory. In a somewhat quieter voice he said, “That can’t be safe!”

  I reached over and picked up my laptop, closing it before tucking it under my arm. “We’re not hiring a health-and-safety officer. You want the job we are offering, great. But you don’t get to tell me what I can and can’t do.”

  He clamped his mouth and dropped his gaze to the table. I think his ears were turning red, but I turned my head to Tara and said, “You know where to meet me when you’re done.”

  I jumped away.

  I waited in the bathroom because I wouldn’t put it past Joe to follow them and I was right. Jade, second through the door, shut the door behind her rather than letting it close on its own, and leaned against it.

  I raised my eyebrows and she nodded. “Yep.”

  There was a knock on the door and Joe’s voice said, “Is Cent in there?”

  My mouth opened by itself but I shut it quickly before I actually said anything.

  He tried to open the door. Jade said, “Hey!” and pushed hard against it with her back. I joined her, back to the door.

  “Cent? I just want to talk!” He tried the door again. Tara added her weight. I put an arm around each of them and jumped.

  We fell in a heap in Jade’s dorm room, Tara falling across the bed and Jade banging her elbow on her desk.

  “Shit, shit, shit!” Jade said, hopping in place and cradling her arm.

  I’d never jumped two people at once, but it hadn’t been any worse than jumping Joe and his backpack.

  “Sorry,” I said to Jade. “You okay?”

  She held her elbow up so she could look at it in the room’s tiny mirror. “Funny bone,” she said. “S’okay.”

  “So he followed you guys?”

  Tara said, “Yep. He did. We didn’t let him in the elevator, but he ran up the stairs.”

  Jade nodded. “He saw us push the ‘up’ call button.”

  “What did he say?”

  Jade laughed and Tara covered her own mouth before saying, “Joe said, ‘What did she say?’” Tara looked over at Jade and shook her head.

  I looked at Jade. “What did you tell him?”

  She stopped laughing and shrugged. “I just went with, ‘You mean, did she tell us you slept with your study partner?’”

  I looked away.

  Jade said, “I’m not going to lie—we have to work with him. Better we’re all up front, you know?”

  “I … guess.” I raised my chin to nod but instead of dropping it I hesitated, then shook my head.

  Tara nodded as if I’d just confirmed something.

  Jade said, “Why’d you have Cor
y hire him? Revenge?”

  I sighed.

  “Leave her alone,” said Tara. “She doesn’t know.”

  Jade said, “Doesn’t know what?”

  “She doesn’t know why she had Cory hire him. She’s still working it out.”

  I met Tara’s eyes.

  That I could nod to.


  Cent: You should include some Chuck Berry

  I found Dad in the living room scooping ash out of the fireplace. I told him, “I need to know how to do that thing you do.”

  He looked at me frowning. “Really?” He dumped a load of ashes in the bucket and hung the shovel with the poker, then stood up. “I would’ve thought that you and Joe were working that out for yourselves, but okay. When a guy and a gal love each other very much—”

  I struck out but my fist passed through empty space and he was standing behind me saying, “Missed him. Darn that guy.”

  My elbow caught him in the stomach. I’m sure he let me, damn him. He gave an exaggerated “Oof” and staggered back.

  “You done?” I said.

  He straightened. “What thing that I do?”


  “Hmmm. Really? What for?”

  “Airflow. You know: lots of air.”

  “Oh?” He raised his eyebrows and pointed at the ceiling.

  “Let’s go try it.”


  “We could do it right here.” He glanced back up at Grandmother’s bedroom. “But then we might scare the horses. Let’s go to your launch site. The sandy wash, okay?”

  I jumped.

  Dad appeared thirty feet away. He turned in place, carefully scanning all around.

  I glanced around, too. It was in the upper sixties and the air was still. It was overcast but you could just barely make out the sun through the clouds. It was a bit past midday. No one was in sight. I jumped up a hundred feet and spun around as I fell, then jumped back to the ground before I’d dropped thirty feet.

  Dad said, “Well?”

  “There’s a vehicle moving off that way, heading north. I could see the dust, but nothing we have to worry about. Had to be over six miles away.”