A Dearth of Land

Russ is out riding the fence lip when she spots something coming up from ringward. It takes her a minute to recognize it, and another twenty to get a sense of scale; it’s been so long since she’s seen anything she or Tip hasn’t made except through the grainy screen of the ansible. She’s forgotten that things can be beautiful, and that beauty can be BIG. She spins her wobbly back around and jets for home.

“You’re back early,” Tip says when she comes clattering in. “Something wrong?”

“Dunno yet. Maybe. Something big, whatever it is, and heading this way.”

Tip wipes the grease off her face with a rag and starts worming her way out of the house motor. “Another cyclone? The alarm didn’t go off—”

She shakes her head. “Something human, whatever it is. Either the smallest ship or the biggest wobbly I’ve ever seen.”

“People!” Her wife whoops and falls off the side of the motor. “M’god, Russ, when was the last time we had people?”

Russ grunts noncommittally as she helps Tip up off the floor. “Go get cleaned up. They’re an hour, hour’n a half out yet.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll splash some water on my face. Go on, now, Tip, I got other things to worry over.” She hesitates. “I love you. Keep sharp now.”

Tip widens her eyes mockingly and scampers upstairs. Russ watches her go, then takes the long barreled rifle out to the porch to watch the wagon come bumbling through the clouds, haloed in ring light, beautiful and terrible.