Samba do Espaço

The drums in the street called the Escola out and led them, pied-piper-like, down the hill to where the buses waited. Letícia looked up from her book–paper, ancient, but all she could afford–and felt a single tear roll down her cheek, cool in the February heat.

Her sister Flavia poked her head into the room. She was wearing the green and pink leotard that identified her as part of the Mangueira dance troupe and her face was covered in glitter. The skirt and feathered headdress would come later. “Last chance,” she said.

Letícia laughed. “I wish you luck. I’ll be watching on TV. Wave to me when they film you.” The cameras seemed to be drawn irresistibly to Flavia.

“It won’t be the same without you.”

“It won’t be the same for me, either. But the exam is on Thursday.”

“Who holds an exam during carnival week?”

“The Americans,” Letícia replied. “Now go, or you’ll miss the bus.”

The entire neighborhood emptied out when the Scola headed to the Sambodromo and an eerie silence fell over the humid summer afternoon of Mangueira Hill.

In the emptiness, Letícia da Vieyra glanced around the single room shared by her mother and two sisters–all off to the Carnaval–and dried her eyes. Mangueira, one of the top escolas, would be parading close to midnight.

Letícia would watch. She would take a small break because her heart was there with the Escola.

But it was also far from there. She could feel a different reality calling as she turned her eyes back to the thousand pages of hefty, dog-eared and torn textbook published two decades ago.

The planets didn’t change their orbits in twenty years so the information in her precious copy of Orbital Mechanics for Engineering Students still served.


Almost exactly two years later, Emmitt Hall floated past her on his way to the control room. Out of the corner of her eye, Letícia saw him stop, one hand loosely holding a rung.

“You’ve been watching that since yesterday,” he said.

She shuffled uncomfortably, knowing that most of her peers found the Brazilian Carnival impossible to understand, something for weird impoverished people who didn’t know the first thing about space. Even in Brazil, the participants were mostly drawn from the very lowest classes. “It lasts four days…at least the televised portion does.”

“And you’re going to watch it all?”

“As much of it as my duty list permits, yes. That’s why I volunteered for the China shift.”

“What’s going on now?”

It was the typical question outsiders asked. Even many well-to-do Brazilians had little idea that the magic of the Carnaval was more than just a hypnotic wave of motion.

“The dancers are organized in teams called escolas, and they dress allegorically to act out the story that the main singer sings, and sing along with him. Each float tells a piece of the story, and each escola tells a different tale. This one is Beija Flor, and they’re telling a story about the liberation of Brazilian slaves.”

“And people are supposed to be able to tell by looking at it? All I see are half-naked dancers.”

“By looking at it and listening to the words, yes.”

“No offense, but that sounds boring even by our standards.” He grinned. “Except for the half-naked dancers, of course.”

Emmitt disappeared through the hatchway.

The shifts were named for the major countries their satellites gave service to. The China shift lasted while their constellation was over Asia, sending solar energy from the sun down to the billions below in the form of atmosphere-penetrating microwave radiation. Her shift was just about to start. Nighttime in Río–Carnival time–was daytime in Beijing. She turned her screen off with a sigh and headed after Emmitt. The brown-haired American looked much too young to be a shift commander, but he’d told her he was pushing thirty, the old man of the facility.

She took her place in front of the readouts and began to scan the satellites for anomalies.

“Number twelve is still transmitting intermittently,” she said. “Only 98% of the power is getting beamed.”

“How’s the temperature looking?”

“Still high, but holding steady since last time. The heat must be leaching out into space.”

Emmitt sighed. “All right. Keep it online. Our request for a maintenance crew is still being processed, so we’d better pray she holds until they get here. I don’t want to explain to a bunch of angry politicians that we’re going to turn off an entire power station because of a 2% shortfall. They won’t understand the scale of the energy we’re administrating here.”

“And if the satellite melts?”

“If you see even a single degree of additional temperature, let me know and I’ll shut it down.”

“Of course.”

She turned to study the power transmission readings for the past twenty-four hours when, all of a sudden, every red light on her board began to blink.

“What the hell…” She looked at the messages. “We just lost number 4. Number 19 is failing catastrophically.”

“Are you sure? Can you get us a visual?” Emmitt floated over to her position and stared at the screens. Blank screens met every attempt to get a camera online until, finally, a spinning starfield, occasionally showing the blue marble of Earth appeared on one of 19’s monitors.

“Looks like the camera’s loose,” Letícia said.

“Wait. Can you get me the image from a few seconds back?” Emmitt asked.

She fiddled, putting the feed on a secondary monitor and played with the clock.

“No. Just before that. Before Earth came into view. There. Can you zoom?”

“We should go get Zhou.”

“In a minute. Do the best you can for now.”

The image expanded to show something conical and grey. Emmitt stabbed the image with his finger. “This part here looks like a pair of engine pods.”

Their gazes crossed. “Boeing S-16,” they said together, naming the popular civilian orbiter.

Emmitt looked away. “But it shouldn’t have been able to get all the way up here. That’s a LEO ship.”

“Who cares?” Letícia replied. “It’s here, and it’s right next to a power satellite that just went offline. We’re under attack.”

The blood drained from Emmitt’s face. It was the nightmare scenario: armed strike out of reach of any of the world’s defense forces. He hesitated only a second before pushing the Big Red Button.

There was one of those in every module of the Orbiting Distribution Facility, even in the showers the gym. Anyone could press the button…but you had to have a really, really good reason, or you were probably on the next cargo ship back to Earth.

People began to filter in from everywhere; the control room was the rendezvous point.

The crew was ten strong: the three duty shifts of two Energy Satellite Specialists apiece, three general maintenance technicians, and a computer specialist. Of course, all of them could do any job on board in a pinch…but each was faster and more efficient than others at their specific tasks. Right now, however, most of them were trying to wipe sleep from their eyes. They looked alarmed at the sudden emergency.

“We’re under attack,” Emmitt said without preamble. “At least two of our satellites have been disabled by unknown assailants. We know one of them got here using an S-16.”

“Can’t be done,” Dmitry said. He was one of the maintenance guys and a serious expert on flying hardware. “Not enough fuel capacity.”

“I know,” Emmitt replied, “but we got this image from the only camera working after Satellite 19 went offline.” He pointed at the screen beside him. “It sure looks like an S-16 to me.”

Dmitry leaned in to get a closer look. “Yeah, I think so. They must either have replaced the tanks with bigger units or refueled on the way. I’d need a better look to understand how they pulled it off.”

“I can probably clean that image up for you if you tell me the timestamp. The original feed should have quite decent resolution.”

“All right, get on that. See if you and Dmitry can figure out what, and most importantly who, we’re dealing with. The rest of us need to do three things: the first is to tell Earth what happened. Letícia, can you comm the receiving station? Ask if they can send us help.”

Letícia nodded and headed for the comm console. While she put on her headset, Emmitt kept speaking. “The second thing we need to do is get on the radar and check the other satellite’s camera feeds to see if we can figure out how many enemies we’re dealing with. Brianna, could you do that? Finally, the rest of us need to inventory what we have that can fly.”

“What for?”

“Because I don’t think Earth is going to be able to help, and I’m damned if I let some bastards take out the power supply for three billion people. We need to figure out how to fight back.”

The crowd dispersed as Emmitt led most of them to the recreation room.

“Ground Control, this is the ODF, do you copy?”

She waited a second for Earth to respond. “We copy. We’re getting some unusual readings from your birds.”

“Copy that. The satellites have been attacked. Repeat, the satellites have been attacked. We don’t know who did it, but we should have some images for you in a few minutes. We lost two birds so far.”

“What kind of an attack? Missiles?” Whoever was down at mission control must have had nerves of steel because his voice didn’t change. An absolute flatliner. But she knew the protocols–he must have been pressing buttons and looping people into the call at a furious rate.

Once again, the idea was pressed home: this program had hired the very best people in the world, and only those. She remembered those nights reading by the single bulb in her mother’s house. Then the months in training in Houston and Shanghai and the Ukraine. The look on failed candidates’ faces as they admitted defeat and headed home.

That kind of training produced people who didn’t crack under pressure.

“Negative on the missiles, at least for now. Visuals seem to indicate that the assailants are physically in the satellite field.” She told them what they’d seen, what they were doing to clean up the imagery, told them what time they should be studying for the detonation images and promised that she would send down the cleaned-up image once they had it. Earth would probably be able to do more work, faster, than the Facility. But Emmitt had a head start.

“We need to know what kind of help you can send us. We think they’re going to try to attack the other satellites.”

“I’ll get back to you on that. Please stay at your console.”

Like she was actually going to move.


Fifteen minutes later, Zhou had replaced her on comms as Letícia went to the recreation room to report. “The quickest Earth can get us help is in five days.”

“They’ll destroy the entire constellation before then,” Emmitt replied.

She sighed. “I know.”

Emmitt addressed the whole team. “We’re no worse off than before. We still have two maintenance buggies with enough fuel to get us to any of the satellites and back.” The buggies were two-person orbital transports which could carry a payload of parts and tools. They were slow and not very maneuverable, but they were all the team had. “And the station isn’t unarmed. Trini and Andreas will pull a pair of missile defense guns off the Facility and mount them on the buggies.   I already said I’d take one, but I don’t have any volunteers to fly the other.”

“We already know the assailants are armed,” Andreas, a tall, blonde Austrian said.

“And they’ve already shown that they don’t care if they kill people. How much of the energy we just lost was going to hospitals and essential infrastructure?” Sabrina added. “The buggies are barely airtight as it is. They can kill us.”

The rest of them nodded.

Emmitt glared. “They won’t see us coming,” he said.

“You don’t know that,” Sabrina replied. She was a big woman from Texas, second in seniority to Emmitt and the strongest voice of calm and reason aboard the ship. The fact that she was directly confronting their leader spoke volumes about how stressed she was. “You don’t even know what kind of vessel hit the other satellite, and even if we’re right about the S-16, they could have modified the radar like they modified the fuel capacity. If they have long-range capacity, we could be heading into an ambush.”

“But there’s nothing else anyone can do. If we don’t stop them, they’ll take down the satellites and this program will get scrapped forever.”

“It’s too risky,” Sabrina insisted. “You’ll just get someone killed. I say we wait it out here in the Facility and shoot at anything that gets too close.”

“But the program…”

“It’s not our responsibility.”

“I’ll do it,” Letícia said.

Every head turned towards her and she could almost see what they were thinking: the youngest member of the crew, the one tasked with the most menial jobs. Young and pretty and the only one who had become a national celebrity for being chosen. She had everything to lose by going out on a crazy stunt and nothing to gain.

Emmitt was the first to recover. “It’s settled then. Letícia, you take the one that destroyed number 19. It’s closer to the Facility and we already know what kind of craft we’re dealing with. I’ll take number four. And while we’re going out there, we need the rest of you to try to raise the attackers and see if we can talk sense into them. Maybe they’ll listen to us if they won’t listen to Earth.” He raised his voice so it would carry across to the next room. “Brianna, any progress on finding these bastards?”

She shouted back: “Yeah, the ship you spotted at number 19 is heading towards Satellite 18. It’s taking its sweet time about it, too. Almost like they haven’t got enough fuel to really push. Our buggy can launch in three hours and still beat it there. The other one…if I’m right, it’s heading towards Satellite 5 at a much faster clip.”

“What do you mean, if you’re right?”

“I’m not actually sure the blip we’re tracking is the right contact. It’s on a weird trajectory from 4 to 5 and it’s much bigger than an S-16,” Brianna replied. “Remember that most of the tracking is being done by watching eclipsed stars. Not infallible.”

“If you had to guess, would you say it’s the right one?”

“I don’t see anything else in the area.”

“How long do I have?”

“We’re not going to beat them to Number Five.”

“Dammit. Let’s get down there. I want to launch now. No more satellite losses.”

He stood and Letícia was drawn along in his wake as everyone followed him toward his buggy. Halfway to the door, someone grabbed her arm. She turned to see Trini standing beside her, one eyebrow raised. “Your buggy is on the other side of the station,” the woman’s surprisingly deep voice informed her. “Come with me.”

It would have been impossible for Letícia to go in any other direction–Trini was built like a tank, more muscular than any of the men on board–and besides, she was right. They kept one buggy on each side of the Facility to keep any misfortune, such as a stray meteor, from incapacitating them both at one time.

So she followed the maintenance tech and let the other woman suit her up in silence. When she was wearing everything but the helmet, she asked the question that had been bugging her. “How did you manage to get the guns mounted so quickly? I don’t imagine the buggies were designed for them.”

Trini laughed, a low rumble. “All I did was unbolt one of the guns from the top of the station and bolt it onto a tool rack on the buggy. Then it was just a question of plugging the control and power jacks in and we’re on our way. You can aim it from the display in the cockpit.”

“You did all that while we were talking? Out there?” she gestured absently toward the vast empty vacuum beyond their walls. No one on board needed an explanation of what anyone meant by ‘out there’.

“Sure. Ten minute spacewalk. Good to stretch the legs and get the smell of the rest of the crew out of my nose. You guys should bathe once in a while.”

Letícia shuddered. She’d been on a couple of walks since arriving–everyone on board was spacewalk-rated and had to get out at least three times in a six-month tour–but she would almost rather take any other job than have to go out there and do real work in nothing but a suit and a tether. She couldn’t understand how the maintenance crew came in and out of the airlock as if they were just popping down to the corner store. “Thanks.”

“Are you familiar with the launch procedure for the buggy?” Trini asked.

“I’ll be fine. I knew it by heart a couple of months ago, and the manual is in there, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. But I’ll walk you through it just in case,” Trini replied.

“I can take care of it.”

That earned her a hard look. “I know you’re nervous, but don’t be stupid. This isn’t the occasion to prove anything more. You’ve got plenty of time, so I’m going to make sure we do this right.”

So Letícia sat through the training session and when it was done, she chuckled. “You’re right. I would have muffed that pretty badly.”

The rumbling laugh joined hers. “I know. You specialists always think you know how to do everything just because you passed a test on it two years ago. Most of the time, it’s funny watching you find out just how wrong you are, but not today. Today is important.”

“You’re right,” Letícia said, and she realized that Trini was saying something else, something about being a second-class citizen when everyone was supposed to be equal. Letícia had felt it, too. Even as the junior-most of the Energy Satellite Specialists, she was made to feel that she ranked above the support crew. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the time to apologize. “And thank you for helping me out.”

“Yeah, like I said, today is important.” Trini was suddenly gruff, businesslike.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Good luck.” She turned to go.

Letícia grabbed her hand, knowing perfectly well that even before she’d been in space for four months with the consequent loss of muscle mass, the other woman would have been able to shrug her off without any effort. But Trini didn’t. She stopped and looked expectantly—defiantly?—at Letícia.

“I grew up in a single room with four occupants. I know when something is wrong with someone else just by hearing their voice in the dark or seeing their expression. What’s wrong?”

“I just wanted to know why you’re doing this. I mean, you’ve already got the world eating out of your hand, the girl who gave up her love of dancing to go into space to help the world get clean energy. Everyone knows your story. You don’t need to be a martyr, too.”

“And I hope I don’t get to be one. Personally, I’m betting on the crew managing to convince the attackers to stop.” She sighed. “But if I do have to attack them…”

“They have a bigger ship. They’re probably better armed.”

“I know. If I have to engage, I won’t be doing it for the glory. Hell, I won’t even be doing it for the clean energy, even though if we succeed in saving the satellites, that’s how the press will spin it. No. I’m doing it for my sisters and my mother. You know that thirty percent of the energy we beam down is given away for free to poor families in precarious settlements around the world. My family is one of them, and I’m doing it for them.”

“Well, you make plenty of money, they can move out, live anywhere they want. You can support them forever, even after you get back.”

Letícia shook her head. “You don’t leave the favela. It’s not a question of money. But even if my family does move somewhere less cramped, everyone on Mangueira Hill is part of my family. I’ll do it for them.”

Trini held her gaze a long time, nodded once and stepped back from the buggy’s door, which sealed shut.

And then she was loose. She took a second to get her panic under control, forcing herself not to think of the fact that she was floating free of the safe, solid Facility in a flying tin can. Instead, she thought of her mother and the fact that she now had free electricity, safely, without having to climb the utility pole to connect illegally every time the power company removed all the clandestine wires.

“All right, I’m away,” she said.

“Good,” Dmitry’s voice came over the radio. He read her a heading and told her to gun it…the engines were small enough that she had fuel for a long acceleration. “The bogey is still on the same bearing.”


She entered the heading, had them double-check that she was moving in the right direction and tried to get comfortable on her seat. She was wearing her pressure suit, minus the helmet, so she took advantage of the quiet minutes to test that it sealed correctly; the buggy was pressurized, but if the enemy shot her…she shuddered to think how thin this hull was.

“Letícia,” Dmitry said. “You might want to see this. Sending a video transmission on channel three.”

Her eyes flicked instinctively to the battery level. 100%. She knew the buggy’s juice, covered as the vehicle was in solar panels, should theoretically last forever, but one of the first things they’d drilled into her in training was that she needed to check three levels constantly: air, temperature and battery level. They’d even put each candidate in a dead suit, without power to drive the fans, just so they could feel the slow sense of suffocation. She hadn’t forgotten the lesson and now, every time someone turned on even the smallest piece of electronic equipment, she immediately checked the juice.

Radiation exposure, of course, was the fourth critical indicator. But Letícia didn’t even want to think about that now; she had a job to do.

The video showed a man with a digitally distorted face sitting behind a desk, facing the camera. It appeared to have been filmed in a forest clearing with greenery behind him. A banner in a corner of the video informed her that she was watching a transmission from Earth First, the terrorist organization dedicated to attempting to stop humanity from colonizing space. Their argument had traditionally focused on the fact that resources used to reach space were better employed to improve the lives of people on Earth, but since the Space Solar Power program had gone online–making the lives of the poor better globally, and granting electricity without pollution–they’d shifted gears to say that the microwave radiation coming from the satellite constellation was cooking the planet so that people would be forced to move away and the space tycoons would dominate everyone, a claim that exhaustive research had disproven countless times.

To Letícia, and to anyone else who understood just how critical it was to get humanity off the planet, they were just a bunch of luddite nuts.

But dangerous ones. A bomb planted by a luddite nut was just as deadly as one planted by someone sane.

The man spoke. “Many of you will have noticed that the power in certain areas has gone out. That is not a localized problem that the power company is working on. That has happened because we have acted against the irresponsible individuals currently working to burn away our planet, to cook us like an egg in a microwave.

“Earth First has disabled two of the microwave satellites sending the deadly beams back to our beloved home. We’ve acted to preserve life on Earth before it’s too late.

“Now, we’re moving onto the remaining satellites, and they will be destroyed over the next few days. We’ve been studying the launch situation on Earth carefully, and there is nothing the ambitious overlords can possibly do to stop us. They just don’t have the rockets available.

“So yes. A good chunk of the power you normally use will be gone, but if you pressure your governments, they can get a solar grid running soon. That is the way we should have solved the problem in the first place.

“It will be an inconvenience, and it will bring hardship. But the sacrifices will only last a few weeks or months, depending on the location. After that, you will thank us.

“But we don’t expect your gratitude. All we want is your survival.”

She watched in stunned silence, thinking of what the man had just said. The scenario would mean the deaths of millions. Forget about hospitals–hopefully the ones without generators were scrambling to get them. But what about water pumps that allowed people to have water in their homes and not need to walk down to the nearest supply–often unclean or suspect–to get it? Work? How would people work? How would they take money to their families if the banks had no power? Would the internet run? Phones?

Life would…stop. And the survivors–she had no doubt that millions would die–would find themselves even poorer than before. It wasn’t fair.

“Can’t this thing go any faster?” she radioed.

“Negative. But you’ll get there before they do.”

“And then what?”

“And then you shoot them full of holes. You saw the video. They have no clue we’re coming and mission control hasn’t told anyone, not even the governments.”

“Because they’re afraid it will leak?”


“What about the other space programs, the national ones? They will have seen us launch the buggies. Won’t they report it?”

“We hope not. They don’t exactly love our friends at Earth First. We think they’re rooting for you to decompress them. Now, in about ten minutes, we are going to ask you to go silent. They shouldn’t be able to spot you if you maintain radio silence even on this tight beam. We’ll send them a surrender ultimatum, saying that we have assets in place with the ability to fire on them. If they don’t listen…” she could imagine his characteristic shrug, “then you do what you have to do.”

“Copy that.”


“Unidentified craft, we have you both on long range radar and every available optical telescope is watching your progress as you eclipse the stars. We know where you are, and we’re taking measures to stop you. If you do not cease your actions and surrender immediately, we have assets in place to destroy you.” It was Dmitry’s voice, transmitting the words they’d written for him.

The response was a laugh. “You can’t reach us for days. And by then, this whole satellite energy project will be a bad memory. If you’re telling the truth, you’ll stop us before we detonate the next set of charges.”

Letícia’s heart sank as she listened. The terrorists were right about one thing: Emmitt wouldn’t be in time to stop them from destroying Satellite 5. The bird was too far away from the facility to overcome the enemy’s head start. So they’d lose another one.

However, they’d still decided to send the ultimatum now, in case they could convince the terrorists to withdraw. It was the only chance—and it was the slimmest of threads, because an attempt to negotiate with spokespeople for Earth First back home had already failed.

“We don’t have enough ammunition to fire warning shots,” Dmitry continued. “If you do not surrender now, we will be forced to strike. This is your final warning.”

“And I still say you’re bluffing. If you’re going to shoot us, now would probably be a good time. Can you see our robotic arm through any of those telescopes? Probably not…you might be better off using the satellite’s cameras. The package at the end, just big enough to slip between two plates of external shielding and get itself wedged inside the satellite itself, is a beautifully shaped piece of high explosive and shrapnel. There. Now we’ll get out of range and detonate it from a safe distance. And you still haven’t shot us.”

Letícia screamed into the emptiness of her buggy, a mixture of frustration and incomprehension. Why would anyone do that? How could they not see the harm they were causing? She wanted to shake them by the shoulders and ask them who had given them the moral authority to condemn millions of people to privation, and who knew how many to death. It was too much for her to contain, and so she screamed.

Dmitry whispered. “Satellite 5 telemetry lost.”

Tears fell down Letícia’s face as she imagined the single bulb in her mother’s house blinking out.

The fact that she had nothing to do except wait made things worse. It was torture, but at least she could watch the feed and count the moments until she could take action. The enemy was five minutes out. She looked in the direction the data said they would be, but saw nothing until, with two minutes to go, the enemy ship performed a deceleration burn.

There they were. The bastards.

But still, Letícia had to wait. Earth had decreed that they’d get one more chance.

“Unidentified ship,” Dmitry’s voice said. It had a hard edge, and she could imagine his face, angry as she was at the loss of power to so many. “We are about to open fire. This is your last opportunity to surrender.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” the terrorists replied. “You’ve already shown you’re bluffing. Please don’t waste our time anymore. We’ve got work to do. These satellites won’t blow themselves up, you know. And since you won’t listen to reason and turn them off, it falls to us.”

Ironic that they had to come all the way out into their hated outer space–and make modifications to civilian craft–to do it.

And then she jumped. Someone, an older man’s voice that sounded tired, spoke to her through the radio. “Miss Da Vieyra, this is General Bücher in Baikonur. You are authorized to fire.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

She had long since locked on to the target–the computers that tracked the enemy craft had been sending her navigation telemetry on the tight beam–but now that the moment came, she knew she would feel little satisfaction at killing whoever was on the ship. Those vessels could carry up to twenty people, but she hoped there were no more than two or three on board. Orbital terrorism seemed like an activity for small groups, the smallest number necessary to carry out the mission.

Still, even knowing that, by ending a few lives, she could ease the suffering of millions, her finger hesitated over the trigger. The difference was that she would be the one doing the killing. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined being in a situation like this.

But then she remembered the meeting. No one else was going to volunteer. No one else knew how much that energy meant to people like her, people who were already poor enough without having to schlep water from a public pump a mile away.

Her hand pressed the button of its own accord, and she felt the ship shudder with the recoil and also felt the engines fire to compensate the movement. There was no explosion, no fireball like in the movies. Instead, the terrorist’s ship outgassed a bit and began to drift in the direction of fire.

Were they dead? She had no way to know, but she felt dead inside. A whirring sound told her that her finger remained pressed against the trigger button. She pulled it away. “Facility, this is Letícia. I…I think I killed them.”

“Copy that. We’re trying to raise them on the open frequency. Give me one second.” Moments later, Dmitry’s voice spoke again. “Unidentified craft in the vicinity of Satellite 18, do you copy? Did anyone survive? Are you ready to surrender now? Do you require assistance?” It was the spacer code: if you were in position and someone needed assistance, you offered it, no exceptions. Apparently, that went for people you’d just finished shooting at, too.

“You monsters!” The voice was tinny as if it was coming from substandard mike. “You killed Doran and Gabriela! I’ll get you. I see you.”

Letícia’s eyes snapped back to the ship she’d riddled. While she’d been talking, her buggy had drifted towards it, and it was now less than 200 meters from her cockpit.

Close enough that when something moved at the side of the enemy craft, it caught her eye: the robotic arm. And something moved out from the arm, towards her.

It could only be the explosive.

Letícia yelled: “They threw a bomb at me!” and hit the thrusters to try to get out of the way. She knew that any explosive they were using in space had to be mainly fragmentary, as shockwaves wouldn’t carry in a vacuum. She struggled to put her helmet on, bashing it against her head in her panic. Then, the seal wouldn’t close.

There. She lifted her head back to the screen just as every alarm in the ship went off and her control board lit up with more red lights than she’d ever imagined. She stared at them for a while before a sixth sense made her tear her eyes away towards the forward screen.

“Oh, God,” was all she had time to say. Her buggy was meters away from the enemy ship. She pulled on the control stick and felt the attitude rockets rotate the vehicle until empty space filled most of her front viewscreen. It looked like she’d done enough.

But she hadn’t. The buggy hit the S-16, a glancing strike, but one that delivered a sickening blow to the hull which broke at least one of the supports on her chair. The buggy should have bounced away free of the other craft, but luck wasn’t on Letícia’s side: something caught on the other ship’s skin and, with vibrations that blurred her eyesight, speed scrubbed off and her ship slowed. Her front viewscreen survived intact, but popped off as the window deformed.

It all took place in the silence of vacuum. Her air had vented as soon as she crashed.

Stunned, unable to reconcile the violence with the lack of sound, Letícia found herself motionless, shocked.

“Letícia,” the radio in her helmet asked. “Are you all right? Your telemetry says you crashed. Letícia?”

“I’m all right,” she responded.

“Letícia? Letícia? Do you copy?”

“Can you hear me? I can hear you. Hello?”

They couldn’t hear her. There must have been something wrong with the mike in her suit. The one in the buggy, of course, was useless, encased in vacuum.

“There. One less of you to dictate to the masses. Haha.” The guy in the ship sounded euphoric. “I might not have enough air to reach all your satellites, but I’ll destroy this one.”

Letícia growled. She wasn’t going to let that happen. They’d already lost too much. Three satellites from a constellation of twenty would create hardship she didn’t want to imagine. Four…would be a humanitarian catastrophe.

Pain shot from her hand as she moved, but she concluded that she had nothing worse than a sprained wrist. The HUD in her helmet said that she had suit integrity, so she undid her harness and took stock. The buggy had come to rest about ten feet from the hull of the civilian craft, held in place by a handful of cables caught on a jagged edge of metal.

This was the moment of truth. If she couldn’t get over her hatred of spacewalking, that satellite was going to die.

“All right. Just don’t look outward,” she told herself. “Keep your eyes on the hull.”

Letícia grasped the cables between the ships with her gloves–they weren’t work gauntlets, just regular articulated piloting gloves–and worked her way down gingerly, looking out for sharp edges.

Finally, she made it to the S-16 and looked around. Every ship, military or civilian, had a network of rungs on the hull designed to be used by EVA astronauts. She had to locate the nearest one.

There. Luck was with her…she only had to jump about eight feet. Still, she hesitated. If she missed the handhold, she would become just another frozen piece of orbiting space junk.

She saw movement from the corner of her eye. A hatch was opening. As she watched, the robotic arm emerged, holding something about two feet by two feet.

It had to be another bomb.

She jumped and, as she’d done countless times inside the Facility, she grabbed the rung without thinking. Two rungs later, she had arrived at the opening and looked inside. It was dark until she remembered her helmet light.

She illuminated the space, expecting to see a typical S-16 trunk, but instead found a large cargo area holding half a dozen of the cubes she’d already seen–bombs–as well as the mechanism for the arm. They’d apparently enlarged the standard cargo area, and she could see enormous non-standard welds everywhere. Whoever had done the work was not concerned about weight or aesthetics. They just wanted it to work. A small airlock opened on what she assumed was the crew cabin, though how much of that might be left, considering the increased cargo area and fuel capacity, she didn’t know.

Relief flooded into her as she dove into the hold. The eternity of space was once again on the other side of a hull.

Just in time, too. Whoever was flying the vehicle nudged the engine, burning for only a couple of seconds, and she was thrown against the back bulkhead. If that had happened when she was outside, in mid-jump…

But it hadn’t. And it meant that the terrorist was moving towards the Satellite.

Time to act.

Both airlock doors opened easily. The hatch was smart enough to know that zero pressure on the inside meant that there was an emergency. So its little brain prioritized ease of operation. She smirked at that. Bypassing the safeguards was probably meant to ease the work of rescue teams…not make it easier for marauders to gain access.

The interior was dark and cramped. A narrow corridor that led towards what she hoped was the cockpit–at the very least, she could see stars ahead. She turned off her light and felt her way along. She didn’t want to give her presence away.

Something blocked the starlight and a second later, she was tumbling down the passageway. The terrorist must have seen her light and pushed her. To avoid hitting the edge of the airlock, she straightened just when she judged that she was reaching it and only brushed the side. She thanked her dance lessons, endlessly training her body to know where everything was. The same coordination had served her well aboard the Facility, too.

Her flight ended against the same bulkhead as before, and she chinned her helmet light to see another suit flying toward her. It was a brand new model, a Volov 17, a bulky work suit. The terrorist brandished something metallic, and she could see his eyes, wide and white, inside his helmet.

One hole in her suit would kill her. And hers was a much weaker suit than his.

The man lunged.

Her body took over. It danced away of its own accord and she bounced off the wall, her chest less than an inch from the tip of the metal bar. Rolling with the wall, she bounced off until she was behind him.

He turned, close enough that she could see him say something, snarling into his helmet. He swung the bar again and this time she pushed off the top wall with her hands and curled into a ball as the bar sliced soundlessly over her head. Just another dance move adapted to zero gee, but one that saved her life.

He spun with it and when his back was turned, she kicked out with both legs, sending him spinning out of the hatch.

The terrorist desperately tried to grab the robotic arm, but missed, and floated out into orbit.

“Bye,” she said to herself.

Then, not thinking about anything else, and especially not looking at the two freeze-dried corpses in the pilot and copilot seats, she went back inside and, after a few minutes figuring out the bodged controls, retracted the arm and stopped the S-16.

She looked for the radio and smiled. It had a morse code function for situations like this one where sound would simply not carry and a suit radio wasn’t going to work. A card in the radio manual, tethered to the comm unit, reminded her of the letters so she didn’t accidentally order a pizza.

This is Leticia. Enemy craft secure. Suit radio down. Send me a beacon. Coming home.

Two eternal minutes later, she received a reply. “Leticia, if that’s really you, send us message so I know you’re really all right.”

It was Emmitt’s voice. But what did she have in common with Emmitt?

Then she smiled.

Carnaval isn’t boring. Carnaval is life.

She had to wait another minute while the Facility translated the message and sent it to Emmitt. “Copy that, Letícia. Dmitry is sending you the beacon now.”

When Dmitry called, she heard people cheering in the background.


Almost exactly a year had passed since the Earth First incident, and Letícia’s eyes were glued to the monitor.

“You coming?” Aguri asked. “Zero-gee spherical cocktails in the hub in ten minutes.”

“Not tonight. I have to watch this.”

“What is that?”

“Carnaval.” She wondered how she could explain it to a newly minted astronaut from Tokyo doing his first stint on the Double Wheel, the newest of humanity’s orbital outposts. “It’s like a big parade where teams are judged.”

“In Río, right? I’ve heard of this. The colors are beautiful.” He hesitated for a second. “Do you mind if I watch with you?”

“I’d love it, especially the next team.”


“Because that’s Mangueira, my team. See, there’s a gap after the ones that are parading now.  My team comes after that gap.”

“Why is it your team? I mean…how do you choose a team?”

She laughed. “You don’t choose. You’re born to it. My whole family is dancing in that crowd there. My sister…well, they always film my sister. She’s magnetic.”

“You look sad.”

“I wish I was down there with them.”

She could have been, of course. After the second terrorist ship surrendered, Letícia became a worldwide hero, and people made exceptions for heroes. They would have let her dance. Hell, they would have named an escola after her if she’d asked.

But after the first few months of being mobbed and wined and dined wherever she went, she’d asked to be sent back up. In Brazil, she couldn’t walk on the street without drawing a crowd, couldn’t go to a restaurant without people wanting to take selfies with her. She felt that, on a planet full of air, she couldn’t breathe.

Now that she was up, of course, she wished she’d stayed for Carnaval.

“What do they judge them on?” Aguri asked.

“How well they tell the story.”

“And what’s this story about?”

“It’s a surprise this year. For some reason, everyone is being very hush-hush about it. That’s not normal, and I don’t know why the other escolas allowed it, so I can’t wait to see.”

On the screen, Manguiera filed into the Sambodromo, the special straight stadium built especially for the Carnaval. Portuguese text scrolled across the screen:

Letícia was a young girl born on Mangueira Hill. She was poor, and she wanted to help the poor.

“Oh, no. They didn’t,” she said, putting her hands over her mouth.

“Didn’t do what?”

But she was beyond words. The allegory that showed the captured terrorist ship returning to the Facility and the poor people of Earth bathed in light–the light from the free energy she’d fought for them to keep–had Letícia sobbing uncontrollably an hour later, and half the station there watching the Escola dance across the screen.

When Mangueira finally finished, when the last of the hundreds of dancers arrived at the line, everyone applauded and hugged her.

Letícia knew she now had a second home, a second family.

But it would be a while before she stopped crying.


Copyright 2024 Gustavo Bondoni

About the Author

Gustavo Bondoni

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer with over four hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages. He is a member of Codex and a Full Member of SFWA. He has published six science fiction novels including one trilogy, four monster books, a dark military fantasy and a thriller. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019), Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).

Find more by Gustavo Bondoni

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