Violet’s behaviour continues to perplex me. Last night, after a plain supper, I was sitting on the sofa, trying to absorb myself in a novel, when Violet excused herself for a moment. She was gone for a long time. When she returned, she was wearing what looked like the most expensive set of lingerie I have ever seen. I was stunned. She strutted demurely across the room in her five-inch heels, and with every step she took, I burned hotter with lust. She took my hand, and led me to the bedroom. We had very slow but passionate sex. I was determined to kiss every square millimetre of Violet’s skin which was not covered with lace or silk, and I did, again and again: her neck, shoulders, lips, ears, arms, thighs, and all the parts that her tiny briefs failed to cover.
After I eventually entered her, she did something that I have never seen her do before. She cried. I watched as a single tear appeared in each eye, fattened, and broke in a trail down her made-up face. I thought at first that she had malfunctioned, and the liquid might be silicone oil, but I then observed that it was definitely water. I kissed her face, and rubbed my lips gently over the wet trails. They were salty. She was crying real tears.
A moment later, I thought she was going to say something. She was stroking my face, and she seemed on the point of uttering something unforgettable, but no words came out. I think she might have said “Oh, Kelvin”, but the sound seemed to die in her throat.
We were lying together in my double bed, and Violet had gone into a dormant state, which is her equivalent of sleep. I was wide awake, and my head was brimming with thoughts. Violet still had her new underwear on, which made me wonder if she was uncomfortable. I could feel the lace, silk and the bones of the corset against my skin. I re-lived the memory of seeing her parading across the floor: hair, make-up, perfect skin, lace, breasts, corset, silk, more lace, tiny briefs, lush curls of pubic hair, suspenders, stocking-tops, more skin, silk stockings, legs, heels. There was something unusual. It took me half an hour of staring at the ceiling in the dark to work it out, but I eventually got it. Firstly, Violet’s make-up palette was different from usual. It was pale pinks, bronzes, and touches of silver-grey and blue instead of the usual hot pinks and scarlet. In other words, it was subtle and under-stated rather than brazen and tarty. Secondly, the lingerie was white. I have seen her wearing black underwear (always my favourite), brown, red, pink, orange, purple, blue, green, and even gold with black edging – but never white. If it was supposed to be symbolic, I do not know of what.
The security audit necessitated by the virus attack in the space lab computer is finished. The launch has been scheduled to take place in twenty-eight days. I have virtually finished assembling my equipment. Most of the trips away from home were to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This was not a holiday, in spite of the fact that most of the places I visited were whisky distilleries. I was trying to obtain a second-hand copper pot-still, and some brewing equipment. I eventually succeeded.
I will refrain from interspersing “assuming we live through the journey and the planet we are going to will support life” between every sentence which follows. The still and brewing-vats are not for survival: they are for the business I want to set up once we have got past the stage of mere subsistence. I am likely to be involved in setting up a chemical industry on the new planet, but the plant for this is communally-owned by the whole colony. The equipment I have obtained is mine.
As well as receiving training for the physically demanding part of the journey, I have been briefed on what is known about our destination. It took less than an hour to impart, but it represented over forty years of studies and unmanned exploration.
The solar system we are heading for belongs to a star called Achird. It is in the constellation of Cassiopeia, and is 19.4 light-years from Earth. Achird is in the same spectral class as the Sun. The planet we are intending to colonise is Achird-gamma (i.e. the third planet in the solar system).
90 per cent of the planet’s surface is covered by water. Data sent back from probes which arrived about 40 years ago indicate that the planet is temperate and habitable with a 95 per cent confidence level. (In other words, there was a 5 per cent chance that we are going to our doom on a planet that might burn, freeze, smash, irradiate, starve, dehydrate, suffocate, dissolve, devour, poison, infect or mentally destroy us). Achird-gamma is uncannily similar to the Earth. It is the same diameter to within less than one per cent. It therefore has the same gravity and an atmosphere of the same density and thickness. It even shares with the Earth the property that it is not a perfect sphere, being slightly wider than it is high by about 50 kilometres. Its year, at 346 Earth-days, is slightly shorter than the Earth’s, but its day, strangely enough, is closer to exactly 24 Earth-hours in duration that the Earth’s. The planet’s axial tilt is about 21 degrees — slightly less than the Earth’s but, again, uncannily similar. It has a magnetic field of about the same strength and orientation. I am not an astronomer, but I know enough about space exploration to see that this is crucially important. It means that the new colony, unlike, for example, a colony on the surface of the Moon, will not have to shelter underground from the radiation produced by solar flares: the planet’s magnetism will obligingly direct it towards the poles and away from the populated areas.
Achird-gamma has one satellite, which is comparable in distance and mass to our Moon, which means that the seas must be tidal.
Probably the most amazing thing about the new world is that it is practically certain to have life on it already. Data sent back by the previous probes indicated that, as well as liquid water and a favourable temperature regime, the atmosphere was composed mostly of nitrogen, oxygen and inert gases, with a small percentage of carbon dioxide. The levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide were entirely consistent with the established presence of plant life in substantial quantities. Images sent back by the lander showed a geology and topography comparable to some of the more rugged parts of the Earth, and also seemed to reveal the presence of what appeared to be masses of vegetation. I asked if I could be allowed to see these images, but was told they were all classified as top secret. I then asked what evidence they showed of animal life. I was told that they showed none. The orbiting probe had taken many images of the surface, and had certainly found no evidence at all of civilisation. What about micro-organisms? How could we be sure that there weren’t deadly bacteria or viruses waiting there to infect the colonists? The landing probe had certainly found micro-organisms, but it was only designed to count them and measure their diameter, not assess them as possible pathogens. I decided not to worry about this and, if possible, to avoid letting anybody else hear it.
After I had absorbed this very scant information, dispassionate man of science though I am, I found I could not help liking the sound of the new planet.