The Speed of Winter
Four Seasons quintet
By B. Morris Allen
Earth's Bureau of Planning sent the arkship out to found a new colony and save humanity. But they made a mistake...
When two of the crew broke the rules to have a child, they didn't know their target planet was a frozen wasteland. Now their daughter Elyse must watch the adults around her cope with devastating failure, and try to make something out of her own life at the same time.
The Speed of Winter is the first in the Four Seasons quintet, which explores the voyages of four arkships and the fate of those left on Earth. Winter will be followed by A Heading for Fall.
Not suitable for children.
The average speed of winter is five meters per second in the steppe and in the desert, but only two meters per second in the valleys. When I first read those words, I was in the high plains of my life, had I but known it, and winter was approaching at great speed. Now I am grey and cold, and winter drags on interminably as I wander the pale, silent valleys of this base.
Outside, the hurricane winds blow as they always do, and the viewscreen shows only a film of white. Even during rare periods of calm, gusts can knock a human down with ease, and the cold kills in minutes. It has been decades now since I ventured out on the surface. The protective suits are old, the seals cracked and friable. There is nothing to see in any case.
I think about the surface now, as I sit here, surrounded by my loved ones. Should I have made one last futile attempt at exploration? But I know there is nothing to find. The instruments confirmed it many times over, before they failed. I know well enough that the best we can hope for is to provide a fitting welcome to any who come after us.
It was different, of course, when I was young. Then, every day brought news and curiosities, and the ship was alive with excitement. Those memories keep me warm now, like well-worn slippers, the rough material rubbed smooth, the sensitive soles callused and hardened. I wear them sometimes, just for the company, so comfortable in them now that I cannot tell which are true memories, and which are pieces I reconstructed from logs and records. They are all mine now, even the ones from before I was born. They are all I have.
“Humans are from Earth!” cried a woman in an inflatable globe costume outside the Forum of Nations. The crush of people gradually squeezed the air out of the globe, leaving her draped in its wrinkled, sagging folds. Far in front, others pressed against a fence behind which stood ranks of armored police.
“Where’s my Ark?” shouted a young man, and the crowd surged forward, pressing the fence slightly inward. Police shifted sweaty grips on the stingsticks and shields that were rapidly becoming standard issue, and not only outside the Forum. Tensions were rising across the planet; any excuse would do. The officers in the front ranks cared less about the reasons for today’s crowds than about whether the crush would break into a full-fledged riot. Or when.
A middle-aged woman at the front waved her sign at an officer and the news cameras hovering overhead. It read ‘Good Planets are Hard to Find’. “Fix this one!” she shouted angrily in the carefully blank face of an officer, leaving spittle on the visor of his helmet.
Behind her, a group of burly men started a chant as they surged forward. “Cold sleep is for slackers! Cold sleep is for slackers!”
With a sigh, the commanding officer signaled for the water cannons. They would need them earlier than expected, the way this was going.