Being a part of a space-faring generation may sound wonderfully futuristic, but life with traditional people, like parents and grandparents, might mean having to look backwards to old traditions. Will we be able to look forward to new ideas and traditions, and will we be able to love who we wish to love? The pressure of family life…
I lifted the hem of my robe, and the girl dived underneath just as her pursuer swaggered into view. My burka covered us both. I shuffled backward, pushing the teenager against the wall behind me. The hidden door opened, she tumbled through it, and the wall sealed up again. I froze in place, shoes velcroed to the street, head bent.
The off-worlder towered over me, big old gun in one hand, the other arm akimbo. “Where is she?” he rumbled in a basso profundo synthesized by speakers in his helmet. His mirrored visor hid his face. My veil hid mine. I mumbled something without looking up.
“Stupid cow.” He clomped off in his magnetized boots. I say “he” because of the spacesuit’s massive shoulders and brawny torso. But it could have been anyone in there. It’s been a long time since astronauts had to wear spacesuits to blast out of Earth’s orbit. Yet, everyone from the visiting freighter wore these armored suits at all times, just to appear identical, anonymous, and intimidating.
Also, ridiculous. We were inside the dome of the mining colony.
As he stomped down the street, my neighbors stepped out of their doorways. In our burkas, we were identical and anonymous too, though not at all intimidating. One woman glided into the street, floating in the microgravity of our little planetoid, and grabbed a tow cable with one hand. It pulled her silently after Thumper. When he turned to disappear down a back alley, she signaled “all clear” before releasing the cable to follow him. At that, I ducked through the hidden door in the wall.
In the storeroom, the teenager was rummaging through a locker. “Where’s your burka?” I demanded.
“He broke into the house. I had to run out the back.” She lifted a life-support pack and strapped it around her waist. “I was coding the servers to lock the mine.”
“And now the servers are locked, too?”
“Yes. The miners were already inside, along with the other non-combatants.”
“Everyone in shells, just in case?” She nodded. “That’s it, then. Their cargo ship is loaded. No more pretending to be honest traders. They’re going to make their move.”
“We can handle them,” she said. She fished out a frame and I helped fasten it to her backpack.
“We’ll have to.” We were far from the more populated suburbs of Earth. “Help is still five days away.”
The girl deployed the shell from the frame. It was smooth, nearly unbreakable, lined with sensors, extendable arms, and propulsion exhausts flush with the rounded surface. Inside it, she resembled a collectible doll still in the package. She flexed her legs, scratched her nose, and opened a projected screen at about chest height. “I’ll double-check that everyone is in position.” Her fingers flew in midair.
I draped a burka over her. Then I tossed my own robe upward, deployed my shell, and let the burka settle back down over me. My figure was now a little too symmetrical to seem realistic, but the strangers never looked closely at us anyway.
“All set. Comms are open.”
We left the storeroom — by the real door, this time — and split up. Outside, figures in burkas milled around in the streets feigning normalcy. We watched the surveillance feeds on displays hidden beneath our veils. Thumper had a pal, and we tracked them both as they marched angrily around town, apparently seeking someone in charge. No one answered at the mine entrance. They pushed past anyone in a burka. Finally, they exited the dome to return to their ship out at the loading bay.
“Be ready,” I said. I wondered for a second if they might be content just to rob us. But no. Salvage rights to a tragically depopulated mining colony would be just too tempting.
Not more than a minute later, someone shouted, “Incoming!” Alarms blared. We had five seconds, just enough time to clear the area under the speeding projectile.
The rock punched a hole low in the dome. The pirates climbed in as our air rushed out. We waited, immobile, until the last of them clambered over their own rocket-launched boulder. If they noticed any motionless forms, they probably assumed we were asphyxiated.
They certainly didn’t seem prepared to see dozens of burka-clad attackers shoot up and speed toward them from all directions. They froze. Then, they panicked.
Why wear a deep-sea diver’s suit in space? You can’t run. Every step in those magnetized boots is an effort: you’re either stuck to the surface or drifting helplessly. Our tow cables are magnetized, too. Once we cut them, they snapped tight around any boot that left the ground.
Why carry a gun in nearly-zero gee? Fire once, and the recoil spins you around. Fire twice, and you’re shooting each other. Take some damage, and you probably won’t even be able to reach it, much less repair it. We can fix our shells from the inside, and ourselves, too, if need be.
Why screw on a helmet? When you’re starfished and flailing helplessly, it fills up with puke.
Okay, they looked big and scary while we looked like Russian nesting dolls. But we maneuvered accurately just by expelling grappling hooks on lines. The elastic cords whipped around every spacesuited arm, leg, and neck.
Ropes don’t impede us in any way. Ever try to lasso an egg?
When the pirates exhausted their ammunition and all hope of untangling themselves, we unlocked the mine and dragged them over. At the entrance, we passed the rest of the colonists, unharmed, dressed in street clothes under their transparent shells. Well, not everyone can wear the burka. Just those of us who choose to be underestimated.
We stuffed the pirates into a side shaft. They could spend a few days in their suits, waiting for the authorities. We wouldn’t let anyone die. Though pretty soon, they’d be dying just to scratch all the places that itched.
I made a one-way call to them. “I’m sorry to say that your advance payment has been declined for lack of funds. You appear to be broke.”
We’d loot their freighter — fair’s fair — and fix the dome. The burkas had gotten shredded in the fight, and we’d have to replace them. They’re important to us. They represent our cultural heritage.
And besides, you can hide a lot in a burka.