Elfrida was wrong. They were not being nuked.
At the far end of the asteroid, the cathedral’s main drive had engaged. Gouting radioactive waste gas—for this was a z-pinch fusion engine, at the time hailed as miraculously clean, a judgment that later generations would qualify with amiable scorn—it liquefied the strata of rock and epoxy that had disguised it for eight decades. Two minutes ago Father Hirayanagi had received a brief communication from Jun Yonezawa, telling him to launch because the PLAN was coming back. “Don’t worry about me,” he’d said.
Grieving for Jun and all the others they’d lost, the old priest enabled the propellant feed and monitored the temperature of the coolant tanks. His lips formed silent Hail Marys. The people crowding the bridge watched in tense silence as he executed the half-forgotten launch checklist.
Extending its radiator fins like wings, the cathedral once known as the Nagasaki Maru lifted off from the rock.
In its first 100 microseconds of acceleration, it shed spires and lattices, statues clothed in gold and palladium mined from 11073 Galapagos’s rich trove of ores, and a million fragments of rock. Bits of this granitic casing stayed attached to the needle-nose which had been the cathedral’s spire, giving it the appearance of a drill bit covered with barnacles.
Within its first full second of acceleration, the cathedral had left 11073 Galapagos a hundred kilometers behind.
One second later, that distance tripled.
One second after that, the surviving PLAN fighter brushed past the asteroid at 200,000 km/h. Like a bird laying an egg on the wing, it deposited its last nuclear bomb on the surface.
Half a second after that, the asteroid exploded into hundreds of large and small fragments which accelerated throughout the surrounding volume, masking the cathedral’s trajectory in rocky chaff.
Elfrida looked out of the church. She saw the sun. She turned back to Yumiko. “Well,” she said. “Guess this is it.”
“I feel so alone,” the phavatar said, her eyes big and glittery. They were strange, those eyes. Flat. Elfrida could now see why the Galapajin had not been taken in by her.
“You feel alone …” she said.
Yonezawa was there, too, trapped under a pew that had gotten stuck in the corner, but neither the woman nor the robot paid any attention to him.
“I’ve turned on my Mayday beacon,” Elfrida said, “but I don’t think it’s working. Doggone radiation. I must be glowing in the dark by now.”
“It’s not working,” Yumiko confirmed.
Sunlight blinked on and off as the asteroid fragment spun haphazardly. Stars filled the space that had been the church’s roof. Elfrida spotted Venus. Tears filled her eyes as she gazed at it.
“I’m not giving up,” she muttered. “I’m not. Dad, Mom, Baba, Jiji …” Real and false memories blended into a surge of pure willpower. She puttered towards Yumiko and grappled her. Her suit’s servo-powered chops matched the phavatar’s inhuman strength. “You have to help me.”
“Fuck off and die,” Yumiko said, wriggling. “You don’t belong out here. You’re just a maladapted zoo monkey, and besides, you have fat tits and no waist to speak of.”
Elfrida drew the katana Yonezawa had given her. This was your great-grandfather’s sword. She jammed her feet against the phavatar’s torso, while seizing its long, luxuriant black hair with her left glove. Swinging the katana, she snarled, “Don’t—call—me—fat.”