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In the 25th century, the human race is scattered throughout the galaxy’s Sagittarius Arm. But no matter where people go, they always remain human...
Amy Longfellow, and her eleven-year-old daughter, Elaine, have just joined the crew of the hollow-asteroid ship, Rachel Carson. For both of them, it’s a chance to leave heartache behind, and for Amy, a chance to rekindle an old love. But as the ancient holiday of Christmas approaches, Elaine must face her deepest sorrows alone - and learn how to make the best part of her old life part of the new.
Amy blinked against the flashing lights as she made her way past knots of people along the side of the road. She walked with steady steps, ignoring the rain that slid under the collar of her raincoat. She had not taken the time to look for her rain shield.
The blue beam of a police barrier blocked her way. Numb, she stared past it at the lights, heard the chatter of emergency communicators as rescue workers coordinated with their central station. Her first reaction, drilled into her from years of medical training, was to determine if they needed her help. But she knew that County Rescue had the situation well in hand and they were adequately staffed. That was not why they had called her away from her post in Antarctica.
Amy strained to make sense of the tangled machinery distorted among the rain and flashing lights, but nothing resolved itself. Amid the chatter, she heard other sounds—the quiet murmurs of the gawkers behind her, an approaching siren, cries of pain. She closed her eyes, trying to sort it all out. Deep among the wreckage, a man's voice begged for help, she heard the calm reply of one of the workers. Then her ears picked up another voice, farther down, yelling, but strangled by weeping.
"I want my Mom."
If a worker gave answer, Amy didn't hear it. She slipped quickly beneath the barrier and turned toward the voice, heedless of the alarm set off by her action. Ten feet past the barrier, a security 'bot zipped in front of her, its bulk bringing her to a halt.
"Please remain behind the barrier." It's mechanical voice was not threatening, but she knew it was programmed to enforce the rule with escalating warnings, to the point of a taser shock. She stared as it floated in front of her.
"That's my daughter," she said, surprised that her voice sounded normal. But the hand she raised to point down the line of mangled cars was shaking. "She's asking for me. I know you can hear her."
The 'bot was silent a moment as the voice among the wreckage asked again for her mother. A blue light blinked at the top of the 'bot. "Follow me," it said.
It moved quickly, but Amy ran past it as they neared the crying voice. Philip's overturned car was unrecognizable in the crush of vehicles, but the voice led her to it. A worker was directing a slicing laser at the metal and he turned when Amy ran up. "Hey lady, you're not supposed to be..."
"My daughter," she gasped, aware that tears wet her face as much as the rain. "Elaine..." She knelt, reaching her fingers inside the broken window—dear God, just a few inches of space. No one tried to stop her.
"Elaine. I'm here, baby."
"Mom! Help me, Mom."
"We are, sweetie. They're getting you out."
"Daddy's dead, Mom. And Grandma, too. I can see them."
"Don't think about it, sweetie. Can you see me? Can you see my fingers?"
"Can you touch me? Let me feel you."
The worker had gone back to his slicing. After a moment, Amy felt a brush on her fingers, then a slight tug as Elaine gripped the tops of them. Such a weak grip.
"That's good, dear. I can feel you holding my hand."
"Will you stay with me?"
"Right here. I won't move until you're out."
Amy's sob was a gasp as she pushed her hand a little farther in, to clench her daughter's fingers. "We'll get you out. They're cutting into the car, now."
There was no answer.
"Elaine? Say something, baby. Talk to me."
The silence continued.