aftermath

Excerpted from the prologue to Voyage of the Calico Tigress, to appear in Volume Six of The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

It was a dark and stormy night on Ceres. Though four and a half billion years had passed since its violent formation, the planetoid had never hosted such a monumental downpour. Compared to the rampaging whirlwinds of Jupiter, this tempest was a small and transient affair, certainly not the boiling cauldrons that churned for centuries on the gas giants. But for Ceres, tonight’s symphony of destruction had set the bar for darkness and storminess to an all-time high.

The monstrous tornado had destroyed much more than the landing zone and administrative buildings of von Zach Division. Relentlessly advancing beyond the warehousing district, it encountered the Ceresian water-processing facilities.

The asteroid’s once-icy surface and the frozen reserves below its mantle had become the single greatest source of water for human consumption in the Belt. The water also served as radiation shielding and propellant for spacecraft, making it one of Ceres’ chief exports and a centerpiece of the extraterrestrial economy.

But no more. The mega-cyclone pulled the processing stations apart. Their contents spewed into its savage funnels and past the upper atmosphere where, once again, the water crystallized into the solid form it had enjoyed for a million centuries before humanity’s interference. Within a few days, Ceres’ artificial gravity would draw the ice crystals into rings like those of Saturn, peppered here and there with human remains.

The carnage encircling the planet from above paled in comparison to the suffering below. In the driving rain, thousands of Ceresian citizens clambered through the wreckage of their homes, their possessions, and their lives. Once-orderly streets became paths of ragged rubble filled with cries of loss and mourning once the tornado had exhausted its fury and ebbed into mere turbulence.

Despite the fresh devastation scarring its stony hide, Ceres maintained a cool detachment well-suited to its unimaginably long existence. If Ceres felt anything as it observed the affliction and geologic catastrophe the tornado created, it was a kinship with the tiny cat who had just left the asteroid—a calico who, like Ceres, was destined to outlive every other being who had survived that night.

Immortals, after all, so rarely cross paths.