He had to run, and he fled with the boy out into the dark spaces between the stars.
Garrison Reeves stole a ship from the Iswander Industries lava-processing operations on Sheol. Though he’d planned his escape for days, he gathered only a few supplies and keepsakes before departing, careful not to give his wife any hint of what he intended to do. None of his possessions mattered more than getting safely away with his son.
He knew the disaster could come soon—any day now. Lee Iswander, the Roamer industrialist, dismissed Garrison’s concerns about third-order tidal shifts in the broken planet; Garrison’s own wife, Elisa, didn’t believe him. The lava miners paid little attention to his warnings, not because they disputed his geological calculations, but because they didn’t want to believe. Their priorities were clear. Adding “unnecessary” and expensive levels of redundant shielding and “paranoid” safety measures was irresponsible, both to Iswander Industries and to the employees, who participated in profit-sharing.
Lee Iswander had commissioned follow-up reports, biased reports, that painted a far rosier picture. Garrison didn’t accept them.
So he made his choice, the only possible choice. He stole one of the company ships, and when she found out about it, Elisa would claim that he stole their son.
He flew out of the Sheol system, running far from any Roamer settlement or Confederation outpost. Elisa was not only an ambitious woman, she was abusive, tenacious, and dangerous—and she would come after them. He needed a head start if he had any hope of getting away.
The ship was a standard Iswander cargo transport, a workhorse, fully fueled with ekti, run by an efficient Ildiran stardrive. Garrison could fly the vessel without special training, as he could fly most standard spacecraft.
Ten-year-old Seth rode in the cockpit next to him. Garrison made a game of familiarizing the boy with cockpit systems and engine diagnostics, giving him simple navigation problems to solve—as any good Roamer father would, even though Garrison had chafed under how his stern father had raised him. He would not make the same mistakes with Seth.
Roamers were free spirits, sometimes deprecatingly called space gypsies, whose clans filled niches too rugged and dangerous for more pampered people—places such as the Sheol lava-processing operations. He had followed Elisa there because of her promotion in Iswander Industries.
“You should stay away from That Woman,” Olaf Reeves had warned him, not once but dozens of times. “If you defy me, if you marry her, you will regret it. You are spitting on your heritage.”
Now, Garrison hated to admit that his father had been right.
He closed his eyes, took a breath, and opened them. He studied the markers on the ship’s copilot control panels, then turned to his son. “Go ahead and set the next course, Seth.”
“But where are we going?”
“You pick, so long as we’re heading away from Sheol.” He tapped the starscreen, which showed infinite possibilities. “On this trip, we’re truly roaming. I just need some time away from everybody so I can rethink things.”
Though anxious, the boy was glad to be with his father. Seth respected his mother, even feared her, but he loved his father. Elisa never let down her walls—not with any business associate, not with Garrison, not even with her own son.
“Will I be able to go to Academ now?” Seth asked. The Roamer school inside a hollowed-out comet had always fascinated the boy. He wanted to be with the children of other clans, to have friends. Garrison knew his son would be happier at Academ, but Elisa had refused to consider sending their son there.
“Maybe we’ll arrange that before long. For now, you can learn from me.”
Unlike other Roamer children, Seth hadn’t grown up in a pleasant domed greenhouse asteroid or on the open gas-giant skies of an ekti-harvesting skymine. Rather, his daily view was a blaze of scarlet magma erupting in a smoke-filled sky. All the personnel of the lava-mining facility lived in reinforced habitat towers mounted on pilings sunk down to solid rock. More than two thousand employees, specialists of various ranks—engineers like Garrison himself, metallurgists, geologists, shipping personnel, and just plain grunt workers—filled shifts aboard the smelter barges or control towers, surrounded by fires that could have inspired Hell itself.
No other parents kept their children here. Sheol was no place for a family, no home for a boy, regardless of the career advancement opportunities for Elisa.
As the two closely orbiting halves of the binary planet adjusted their dance of celestial mechanics, Garrison had analyzed the orbital pirouette, uncovering fourth-order resonances that he suspected would make the fragments dip fractionally closer to each other, increasing stresses. He studied the melting points, annealing strengths, and ceramic-lattice structure of the habitat and factory towers.
And he realized the danger to the Iswander operations.
Alarmed, he had presented his results to Lee Iswander, only to be rebuffed when neither the industrialist nor his deputy—Garrison’s own wife—took his warnings seriously. Iswander impatiently told Garrison to go back to work and reassured him that the lava-processing outpost was perfectly safe. The material strength of the structural elements was rated to withstand the environment of Sheol, although with little margin for error.
When Garrison insisted, Iswander grudgingly brought in a team of contract geologists and engineers who found a way to rerun the calculations, to reaffirm that nothing could go wrong. The specialists had departed with surprising haste—worried about their own safety?
Garrison still trusted his own calculations, though. Next, he felt it was his responsibility to warn the Sheol employees, which infuriated Elisa, who was sure that his whistle-blowing would cost her a promotion.
Honestly, Garrison hoped he was wrong. He knew he wasn’t. Convinced he had no alternative, he decided to take Seth away from Sheol before disaster struck.…
After scanning the star catalog, the boy chose coordinates that qualified as little other than “the middle of nowhere.” The stardrive engines hummed and changed tone as they adjusted course, and the vessel streaked off again.
Seth looked up at him with a sparkle in his eyes. “If we had our own compy, Dad, he could fly the ship, and you and I could play games.”
Garrison smiled. “We’re on autopilot. We can still play games.”
Because there were no other children on Sheol, Seth had longed for a competent computerized companion, probably a Friendly model who could keep him company and amuse him. At the lava-mining facility, Lee Iswander used only a handful of Worker compies, none of which were the more sociable types, not even a Teacher compy.
“Your mother didn’t see the point in owning a compy,” Garrison said. “But maybe we can revisit that.” After we see what happens.
In his head, Garrison heard his father’s gruff voice again. “You never should have married That Woman. You’re a Roamer, and you belong with other Roamers!”
“Elisa’s not a Roamer, but Lee Iswander comes from a good clan,” he had responded, though the words sounded flat