‘Specifically which mission are we talking about?’ Jace asked nonchalantly.
She looked at him disbelievingly. ‘You know which one. The one everyone wants to talk about.’
‘I didn’t want to assume for a woman with so many titles! I remember Halley’s Comet flyby and the Mercury landing. I was just a kid and remembered thinking you were the coolest woman ever and how I wanted dad to marry you after mum left. He died two years ago.’ He cleared his throat. ‘But we’re talking about the mission to Barnard. Daisy Dare was, for many years, the only person to go through a wormhole and return.’
She smiled. ‘Daisy Dare! That’s a nickname I’ve not heard in a long time. I’m not sure anybody knew my real name. Everyone wanted me to go through, NASA and ESA most of all. When they pooled their resources, there was only one person for the job.’
‘Well, Captain Daisy Reeves, you must have been proud to have been asked?’
She lit another cigarette. ‘And scared, terrified even especially considering my grandmother went missing when I was a baby. Going through a wormhole is nothing like you’d imagine. In the films, it’s all explosions of colour, a tunnel and crazy physics. This was, well, a little disappointing. One minute the star field was there. It shimmered a little, the stars faded to black for a while and the next thing I was no longer in Earth orbit.’
A waiter came along and asked if they required anything else. They placed food orders and waited for him to leave.
‘So anyway, Barnard’s Star has four planets. It’s difficult to detect the rocky ones and both Administrations wanted to settle the question. I made landing on Barnard IV. It was the nearest plant to where I exited the wormhole.
‘What was it like?’
‘Well, let me tell you…’
‘All systems check and prepared for departure in nine hours.’ Captain Reeves said. ‘End of report number four.’
Outside she could hear the angry winds battering at the shell of the ship. Through the toughened glass windows, she could see small particles of black material hammering desperately at the hull. ‘Eugh, do I really have to go out in that?’
She switched off the last of the electronics to conserve energy and threw the switch to open the hydraulic doors. ‘Come on Reeves, woman up. It’s only a bit of wind and no worse than Scotland in November.’ The door opened painfully slowly and she stepped out onto the grey soil of an alien world.
She was on a beach, the ship landed around 100 yards from the shore. The image was not one fit for postcard covers. The sand was a dull grey, the angry waves bashing the shore a dirty grey mixed with a pale grey foam. The sky was darker than the colour of snow clouds she was used to, and the rocks at the end of the beach were obsidian black – the only break from the grey of the environment.
The sand banked upwards towards the rock and from this position, she could not see a clear way up the jagged edges of the rock. It was her only way off the beach without making a swim for it and she didn’t fancy swimming in that, even if it had been still.
She headed west to the end of the beach, examining the obsidian cliff face for a safe route up. As she reached the west end, she could see the rock disappearing into the mist a short distance away. Turning around, she began a slow walk east. After just a few yards, something glinting in the sand caught her eye.
Bending down, she pulled the item out from beneath the sand and was startled to see it was a square piece of plastic with a torn strip along the top. Curious, she turned it over and saw there was a paper label attached to the other side, burnt and tattered and barely legible. The writing was mostly faded, but she could make out the most important words: Property of ESA Supplies