Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

A strange mythology has grown about morning; it has sent its roots to twine inextricable rhizomes through the human psyche. Like all mythology, it is mostly falsehood. According to the myth, with the rising of the sun hope is kindled in the human spirit. The body rises refreshed, vigorous. The brain is audacious. Keen again. The profound and dark despair of the predawn soul has been vanquished by those golden bars of light which bathe a reborn world...or so the myth would claim.

Morning has another and more pragmatic reputation: the time of attack, of unexpected death intruding rudely and impudently into dawn's domain. In contrast, that ancient reality is all the more gruesome. It is said among observers—at least among those of a sensitive nature—that the horrible irony and tragedy of dying at first light is reflected in the expressions of the newly dead. Only then has the mythology played its final deception.

—SHIG MOSADEK, DONOVAN PORT AUTHORITY, 2153


An exhausted Talina Perez watched the sunrise on Donovan. They still called it sunrise, even if the "sun" was officially named Capella and lay some thirty light-years from Earth. This particular morning began as a brilliant spear of light behind the craggy black silhouette of the Blood Mountains. Donovan rotated in the same direction as Earth, so sunrise was still in the east.

Aching with fatigue and possessed of a pervading sense of futility, Talina would have preferred to be back at Port Authority. She would have awakened this morning, rested and energized from a full night's sleep. Instead she stank of sweat, her feet and legs spotted with dried mud, her overalls filthy and smudged. Her skin stung from thorn punctures that she hadn't been able to avoid in the darkness.

As the first light spilled through the distant gap, she desperately wanted to believe the morning myth, to lower her guard and yawn. Maybe let her mind wander.

Except that she'd seen too many sunrises play across the rictus on a freshly dead man's face.

Donovan did that, destroyed illusion with brutal regularity.

As the dawn brightened, its light softened the angles and contours of the canyon—sifted shadow and form from the darkness.

She crouched on a precarious trail, body tense, the heavy rifle tightly gripped in her slim and tanned fingers. Her dark eyes shifted constantly, desperately searching the shadows. The charge was almost depleted in her thermal scope. Overhead, two of the drones scoured the canyon sides, the hiss of their fans barely audible.

Capella's first rays caressed her face, warming her high cheeks and straight nose as they gave a golden cast to her bronzed skin. They illuminated her ancestral features of Spanish hidalgo mixed with classic Maya. Descended from sun gods and conquistadors, their spirit flashed in her sable eyes as she stalked the wild and rocky trails of another world.

Talina Perez hunted a killer.

She pursed her full lips and brushed back a strand of black hair where it had come loose from her long braid. Hair that adopted a bluish raven tint in the full morning light.

Warm air drifted down the canyon, carrying the odor of dry dirt and the cloying scent of musk bushes. The silence seemed to intensify as Capella's light accented the parched surface of cracked and tumbled stone with pale lavender; high above, it bathed the shredded cirrus clouds in purple and orange streaks where they stretched across the northern sky.

Invertebrates whizzed and chirred in the tangles of brush beneath the sandstone outcrops. To her right the canyon dropped away to a stone-and-sand-choked streambed some twenty meters below.

She swallowed nervously and snugged the rifle butt into her shoulder. Her gaze searched the cap rock above for any irregularity. Then she turned her attention to the narrowing gap where the trail climbed the canyon wall and emptied out onto the flat tableland above. Dotted with aquajade trees and ferngrass, the plain extended to the distant Wind Mountains where they rose some twenty kilometers beyond.

"Where the hell are you?" she whispered.
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