Elfrida sprinted for the elevator and hurried to the auxiliary bay, where a Superlifter was preparing to take off. She’d made it just in time. The sturdy little craft arced through space to the Nagasaki, which was wallowing behind the Kharbage Can in geostationary orbit.
From the outside, the great passenger ship no longer looked like a cathedral. Splart-scabbed pink hull bare to the vacuum, it resembled a spherical habitat abandoned in space. Most of its radiator fins had broken off when they unfolded during launch (which was why the drive had overheated). It definitely wasn’t going anywhere under its own power anytime soon.
The Superlifter docked with the Nagasaki’s main airlock, formerly the cathedral’s front door. Elfrida transshipped, together with the handful of other people who had come, out of respect or plain old curiosity, to Jun Yonezawa’s funeral.
Of the twenty-nine thousand colonists, only about two thousand remained. It still felt crowded. Inflatable bivouacs drifted around the support pillars like silver balloons, stamped with PROPERTY OF THE UN. Children darted in and out of the shadows. There was a smell of toilets. It was very cold.
In the center of the ship, glowsticks burned on either side of the high altar, substituting for candles. Elfrida joined the silent mass of people clustered in front of the altar. Ad orientem, she remembered, randomly.
“Our brother sacrificed himself to save us all,” Father Hirayanagi orated, celebrating the funeral Mass. “None of us ever doubted his courage. Now, no one should doubt his faith. He was called to serve God, and now God has called him home.”
Quiet sobs filled the hush. Elfrida’s own eyes prickled. But she wasn’t moved by the sad solemnity of the occasion. She was consumed by anger and guilt.
Unable to keep it all inside, she hung around after the ceremony to talk to Father Hirayanagi. “I don’t know how you can say he sacrificed himself to save everyone,” she blurted. “If it wasn’t for me, he would have stayed in the cathedral and survived. It was my fault.”
The old priest thoughtfully removed the chasuble he had draped over his EVA suit. They had buried Yonezawa in space, pushing his coffin out of the airlock. The coffin had been closed throughout the ceremony. Elfrida knew why. After her emergency resource-mining, the corpse had not been presentable.
“He may not have known that he was going to die,” Father Hirayanagi said. “But he embraced his martyrdom.”
“He died with Christ’s Holy Name on his lips, fighting the minion of Satan that destroyed our home.” Father Hirayanagi floated ahead of her into the Superlifter’s concertina docking gate. He was going back up to the Can with them to talk to Captain Okoli about something.
Elfrida sullenly kicked off and followed him. Minion of Satan! There was just no talking these people out of their crazy notions. On the other hand, they had been right about one thing all along: it was Yumiko who’d brought the PLAN down on them.
They strapped into harnesses in the cabin, which was cluttered with junk from the ongoing efforts to rescue Botticelli Station. The Superlifter powered away from the Nagasaki, inflicting a mild inertial drag on their bodies.
“It’s a shame his brother couldn’t come,” Father Hirayanagi remarked.
“His brother?” Elfrida said dully.
“Oh, yes. Jun had three brothers, as well as two sisters. The taller of the altar boys who assisted me at the Mass was one of them—a good boy, strong in his faith … But I’m talking about the eldest brother. Kirin. He said he’d try to get here for the funeral … I suppose he couldn’t make it.”
“Kirin? Doesn’t that mean giraffe?”
“It does!” Father Hirayanagi congratulated her excessively for knowing that bit of Japanese. To him, and the other Galapajin, she was not Japanese at all, but just another deracinated mutt. “We’ve called him Kirin since he was a boy—it’s not his real name—because he looks like one. Very tall, you know. His mother took some sort of supplement while she was pregnant … it worked rather too well.”
Elfrida turned to look at the old priest. “Are you saying there are some Galapajin who aren’t here? I mean, who weren’t on the asteroid?”
“Only Kirin, I’m afraid.”
“Where is he?”
“Heaven knows. He didn’t say. Always rather cagey, Kirin. The only one he really talked to was Jun.” Father Hirayanagi sighed. He reached forward and tapped the screen on the bulkhead, which they were sitting right behind. “Does this work?”
“Yes. You just have to turn it on.” Elfrida turned it on for him. She was confused by this new information. No one had ever hinted that there might be Galapajin elsewhere in the system.
Ships, she realized. Of course they had ships. She remembered those glimpsed gardens tucked away in the thickness of the asteroid’s skin—evidence of undisclosed wealth. The Nagasaki wasn’t their only ship. They had at least one more, and it’s still out there.
She had no idea, but for some reason she thought of 99984 Ravilious, floating all alone in Gap 2.5.
She said in a low voice, “I think you’d better not mention this Kirin to anyone. If he didn’t come to his brother’s funeral, it’s probably because he had a good reason for staying out of sight.”
“Of course,” Father Hirayanagi said. “They told us to pick new names, to hide our heritage, and we all know why. Kirin is no fool. He’ll take precautions.”
That wasn’t what Elfrida had been thinking about. Of course, the Galapajin would always be prime targets for the PLAN, if they ever strayed from Space Force protection. But maybe this Kirin Yonezawa had a different reason for hiding … from Space Force itself. Her speculations wouldn’t come together, however, so she said no more.
“Kirin has another meaning, too,” Father Hirayanagi mused. “In old Japan, it was a mythical creature, similar to a unicorn.” The screen was displaying the usual autofeed of Venus. Abruptly, Father Hirayanagi pointed at the screen. “There!”
“A flash. That must have been him …”
If there had been a flash, it had been so tiny Elfrida hadn’t noticed it. Father Hirayanagi stared at the screen as if he might be able to see Yonezawa’s coffin falling deeper into the Cytherean atmosphere. Elfrida knew that he couldn’t really have seen the coffin. More likely, it had been an asteroid. The impacts were still coming. The asteroid capture pipeline was years long, and couldn’t be stopped. In fact, a near-collision with Botticelli Station was the reason the mass driver scheme had failed first time around.
“Requiescat in pace,” Father Hirayanagi murmured.
“That wasn’t him,” Elfrida said. “We sent the coffin the other way, remember? Unscheduled impacts aren’t authorized, even for something that small. So he’ll probably never fall into the atmosphere, but just keep spinning around up here forever. That’s why they call it a graveyard orbit.”
Suddenly, she had tears in her eyes. She leaned back in her harness, trying to will them back into her tear ducts.
“You did nothing wrong,” Father Hirayanagi said, intuitively grasping the reason for her distress.
“I ate him!” she whispered fiercely. “My suit told me how to harvest his proteins and water. And I wanted to stay alive, so I did what it said. Dog, those Space Force suits are smart. It probably could have given me highlights and a blow-dry if I wanted.” She laced her fingers over her mouth. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Father Hirayanagi touched her knee with his glove. “Space is a harsh environment. To survive, we have to recycle.”
Elfrida shook her head. She spent the rest of their trip back up to the Can fighting back tears. She couldn’t cry. She had to tape an interview with Cydney Blaisze, the hottest up-and-coming curator in the English-language mediasphere.