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"Why is it so white? Has anyone analyzed this?" The color intrigues me, and I wonder why the ground underneath the patch where I’ve picked up the powder is moist and cool.

"I’m sure someone has. Is that important? It’s ash, Envoy, human ash." Brother Copernicus brandishes the word human like a sword, challenging anyone who dares to disagree. "You’re standing on the biggest murder site in all of humanity."


* * *


The camp looks like a prison with two perimeter fences, one about five meters inside the other, the top bar of each armed with spikes as long as my hand. Through two lots of metal security mesh, I can make out tents of the infantry variety lined up in perfect rows. There is no sign of movement, human or alien.

I follow Brother Copernicus along the walkway of rubbery mats. My crutches keep sinking into the little crevices in the mats that allow rain to filter through.

Sweat rolls between my breasts and over my back. At the moment, I hate every gram of my uncooperative body and my body has a lot of grams, let’s leave it at that.

You’ve spent too much time in space, Miranda, the doctor at Solaris would say in his self-righteous voice.

I agree. I love low-G environments, I thrive in crisp recycled air. I hate planets. I’m a whale on a beach.

Three guards stand at the camp entrance, missionaries in ankle-length brown habits with sleeves tucked into their gloves. The religious garb contrasts oddly with the plasma guns on their belts and crossbows in their arms. I stare at the weapon in the closest guard’s hands as he busies himself opening the gate. Why the heck would they use crossbows?

Brother Copernicus has already gone through the open gate. "Envoy Tonkin, if you please."

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