First Light is a collection of stories not currently available anywhere
The red beam caught Lind in the eyes before it adjusted for her height, read her suit helmet identification, and then could be switched off by voice command. She stood, blinded, waiting for her vision to adjust and her heart to stop racing. The ship architect had turned the automatic glare filter off in order to see better in the dimly lit bay and the beam had hit her right in her wide-open pupils.
Security robot, Lind thought with annoyance, as green phantoms glowed in her vision. She didn't dare move. There were too many wrong places to put her feet. Now you know what it feels like, she told herself. The system had caught a few crewmen six or seven ship's-hours ago. Lind had always been a stickler for security. I ordered bots, I should have keyed myself in and blanked the recording.
Standing there, she could feel her suit puff and cocoon around her as it fought the cold. Huygens was being chilled to its operational temperature for the final time. Twelve ship's-hours from now, the crew would board and the astronomical observer would be launched immediately thereafter. Already Huygens was in its natural element, for the bay was separated from space only by grated safety gates. Any air that had been here was long gone.
Except for the psychological comfort of being enclosed by Los Angeles and its frame of reference, Lind might as well have been floating in the open. Vision restored, she blinked. The huge construction bay was meticulously clean. If they had been willing to waste anything, most of it would have been lost by now, tumbling out into the void to surround Los Angeles with dangerous particles. But work teams had cleared the area of everything including dust before opening it to hard vacuum. Apart from the hazard, the ship builders worked with gold and other precious materials. Almost anything was harder to replace than recycle in the great deeps of space, and the Huygens itself was even more vulnerable than its mother ship to any micro-debris launched with it. Huygens' outer shell was a meter deep layer of ablative foam.
Lind sighed, and inched forward on the walkway. No human hand had ever touched the streamlined reflective white hull that stretched away into the dimness. Real or slaved robots had done most of the construction, and when they had touched it the workers had been completely suited. The one exception was the sealed living-control module that had only been joined to the main frame today. There, there were the subtle irregularities introduced by human hands.
Everyone was on a lifetime's voyage. Those remaining on Los Angeles hoped to return to Earth to live out their late middle age and senior years. The observatory ship riders were unlikely to meet humanity in the flesh again, except in brief passing. This was why an eagerness to explore personal change of all kinds was a prime requisite in developing the manning pool. That, and a dedication to the search for knowledge of the universe around their ship and beyond.
Lind had done none of these. Building six models of the ships she had designed was to be her life's work. She had thought it would be enough, but here, scanning one last time the glassy hull that would be continuously robot-renewed throughout the Huygens' life, here -- here she was not so sure. I designed it, she thought, but did I build it?
"Lind?" came the query in her ear. It was John Coltsfoot, second in command of the project and likely successor, should one be needed.
"We're no longer losing heat from the bay. I think we're close to turn-around. Unless you've found a problem, you might want to leave."
What a diplomat, she thought sourly. The boss is trashing the project. Had it been me on the intercom, I would have had a few things more to say. "Thank you," she said flatly and started back to the entry lock, thinking, Now there will be an archival note to show I broke my own orders.
She didn't have much time. Coltsfoot would have waited until the last possible moment. It was the way he was. Safe behind her reflective faceplate, she grimaced in annoyance. Lind hated being observed when she didn't know it. Not that there was anything wrong with her overriding herself, but it was not part of the image she strove to project. She wanted to be a strong loner, for that was what this kind of spacefaring life required of the Los Angeles' quasi-military officers, people she needed to respect her.
The story continues in First Light, which is available from Amazon.com.
Art on this page and and cover art and layout by Paul McCall, copyright 2000;