Chapter 10

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Yan Liu raised her face to the sky, feeling the drops of rain splatter against her cheeks. Grey, low-hanging clouds canopied the desert, with thin wisps of vapor trailing below and behind them. The raindrops themselves felt heavier than normal; they struck almost hard enough to cause pain, accelerated as they were by the planet's high gravity.

This was the first sizable rainstorm observed in Gaea's temperate zone. It was technically nothing but a remnant of the massive, global hurricane that spanned the entire sun-side hemisphere, cooled from a scorching vapor to a pleasantly warm drizzle. It was a blessing; many had begun to worry that the farms would run out of water, and that the colony would be left to starve.

But of course, all boons came with their curses. The interaction of boiling and freezing air had already started creating powerful winds, and many of the atmospheric scientists predicted that supercells would begin forming in the region soon. The possibility of tornadoes was a whispered rumor.

On the horizon, smudged with mist, Liu could make out the angular faces of the hill, and the pebbles of human civilization clustered around it. Fields of greenery extended around the village, stretching almost to where she stood. Beside her was the white, plastic hull of a large rover. The front windows were broad and black, forming a bubble of glass around the driver's seat. On top of the rover was a veritable forest of antennae and sensors. Beads of rain water marred the EXN logo sprawling triumphantly on one flank.

The rain gradually became more persistent, falling like a shower of marbles from the overcast heavens. Liu decided to take shelter. She turned to the rover and climbed in.

The main cabin was roomy, with black rubber floors and soft yellow lighting. The walls were dominated by computer monitors, each spitting out streams of data. One of the monitors showed a weather map, with wisps of green and red across a black background. It seemed the worst was still to come.

This was the Iapetus rover, an exploratory vehicle designed to roll its way over an entire planet's worth of land. The rover was one of a fleet of twelve identical vehicles, each named for a different Greek Titan. The Iapetus was the god of death, the piercer. Maybe not the most cheerful namesakes, but Liu decided to ignore it in favor of the rover's utility.

A man appeared from the back of the rover and waved a greeting.

"Hey! I'm Amit Gabriel. I'll be your partner for the expedition. And you are...?"

Liu smiled and reciprocated the gesture. "Liu."

"Well, Liu, I hope you're ready for a couple months on the road. This planet's a big one, and we'll be making frequent stops."

"If you're asking whether I'm ready to dig up some secrets, most definitely. You're a geologist, right?"

"Yep. And Gaea is a very active girl. Volcanoes, earthquakes, it seems the rocks themselves are alive."

"Too bad nothing else is," said Liu with a disappointed frown.

"Sure it is. I mean, here we are. Even if Gaea was barren before, she's become quite fertile enough in the last few weeks. And who knows? Maybe we'll find something extraordinary out there."

"I hope so."

The two parted ways and prepared their respective quarters. The storm outside beat down with increasing ferocity. Rivulets of water turned into streams, then roaring floods of murk. Eridu was spared the worst of the flooding, protected as it was by the hill, though the farms suffered.

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