Far Horizons: Tales of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Issue #13 April 2015 - Page 161

normal etiquette and sat on the back row beside a porthole. Vaclav sat beside her. The other twenty-odd mourners comprising Raoul’s mother, sister and mining crew trickled in and filled the shuttle from the back. The last on board, Priest Kylone, popped his head back out of the plasma door for a few seconds, before coming back in and turning an airlock switch. A solid door slid inside of the plasma shield, closing off the outside with a physical barrier. The light above the door turned from red to green. Almost as one, they removed their helmets. Stashing his straightened staff in a locker above the seats, Priest Kylone asked “Are we ready to go back?” Drying her face of the remnant tears, she nodded and said “Would you fly us along the Hero’s Path please, for Raoul’s sake?” A murmur of approval rose from the miners. Raoul’s mother, Emma, frowned at her from across the aisle. Her husband, having died in the surface avalanche at Helsingborg Crater, had been refused burial in the Hero’s Gallery. Her envy was plain to see on her face. Raoul deserved the honour of the fly past. He had died in a mining accident saving the lives of miners. Priest Kylone bowed his shaven head. “I would deem it a privilege to do so, Wife Alva.” He disappeared into the cockpit. Lights dulled and seatbelts fastened themselves around the passengers. The shuttle rose momentarily pushing her down into her seat. It turned to bring the three-quarters full Uranus into her view. The planet’s upper atmosphere was divided into turquoise, cerulean and aquamarine horizontal cloud bands. They churned round the planet, tearing at each other’s edges to curl slivers off into interlocking cyclones. A giant darkened vortex, its centre like a dull empty void, was being dragged round the planet’s upper rim. Above all this turmoil floated a few serene streaks of white cloud. Lit strands of atmosphere clawed and faded their way into Uranus’s night crescent. Its blackness was deepened by the lack of stars. Only the brightest of stars burned through the blue- PAGE 160 green halo surrounding the planet. The further out, the more numerous and more densely packed the stars became. Below her stretched out a plain of ice, tilled into frozen gravel over the eons by showers of small meteorites. Paler craters haphazardly broke its evenness. Sprays of cyan and electric blue glints streaked across the ice as they flew along a level path. The shuttle turned up a gentle slope. In the distance, a pockmarked steel-grey slope rose out of the plain. Looking left to right, the slope morphed into a bunched-up set of level lines, which then separated to form slender triangles like a partly unfolded fan. They looked so small, yet she knew these fan blades were the tiers of the high cliffs of the Inverness Coronae. The shuttle turned again. A silver cliff, the lowest and outermost one of the Arden Coronae, loomed up before her. At its foot were ice graves like her husband’s, except a layer of planetary dust had settled to encase the bodies from sight. The screens on the bulkhead and behind seats began the roll call of the names and photos of each of the Heroes. The first and oldest was Helmut Schmidt, an ice-miner who had torched into an ice-fault, which exploded on him ripping his suit to shreds. That was over a century ago. Ever since, miners had been careful to measure fault stresses before torching or mining through them. The passengers remained silent while the shuttle flew slowly past the graves, zigzagging its way down the slope. The roll call continued as the graves became gradually paler until the next to last row, when all 50 graves had the sheen of new ice. A quick glance on her screen showed the oldest of these had died less than three years ago. Horrified, she stared at the graves of all the lives lost to recent mining accidents. They had th