Milo found his father and older brother reviewing the latest mineral samples from the Redlands. Dozens of unopened canisters, each stamped with the Morton Mining Company logo, crammed every corner of the already cramped laboratory. Stacks of datapads sat on Father’s desk, and various laser tools were laid out on the floor. In the center of the room, a holographic map showed the exact location the samples came from, right near the edge of an ancient impact crater.
“I saw her,” Milo said, approaching the lab’s central worktable. “I saw Talie Tappler.”
“Who?” Father replied, squinting at the holographic display.
“Talie Tappler, the reporter from the Tomorrow News Network. She’s here. She’s doing a story about us.”
One of the machines beeped. Father manipulated his control panel, and a metallurgical analysis appeared on the screen. Milo’s older brother, Dexter, reached for another canister and began prying open the seal.
“Why would anybody do a story about us?” Dexter asked.
“This is a noteworthy colony,” Father said. “We supply over a quarter of the Earth Empire’s lithium. I’m not surprised this Tappy woman wants to do a story about that.”
“Tappler,” Milo corrected.
Dexter carefully arranged the next mineral sample under the submicron imaging scanner. The scanner beeped twice and began recording new data.
“Dad,” Milo said, glaring at his father, “she’s from the Tomorrow News Network. That means she’s a time traveler.”
“Uh huh,” Father responded.
Milo shook his head. He glanced at the lab’s solitary window, seeing the orange and purple landscape outside. Balloon trees and bubble moss swelled in the afternoon heat, their helium sacs stretched so thin they looked almost transparent. Beyond them lay the Redlands, rich in lithium and poisonous to all forms of life. Though he’d never given those red hills a second thought before, now Milo wondered: could they be the reason Talie Tappler had come? Would the entire colony be destroyed somehow by toxic dirt?
Father sighed. “Well, what’s this reporter saying about us?”
“She interviewed a few people in Alpha District,” Milo explained. “Asked if they liked living here and liked working for the Morton Company. She said something about all the equipment, how everything’s brand new, how we have such a promising future.”
Dexter chuckled. “Sounds serious.”
“She mentioned the local economy,” Milo added.
“Oh?” Father said.
“She said it has so much potential.”
“You don’t have to be a time traveler to know that,” Father replied. “The price of lithium keeps going up. The company is making a fortune, which means higher percentages for us!”
The scanner beeped. Father entered notes into a datapad while Dexter prepared another sample.
“And she said,” Milo continued, leaning over the worktable, desperate to communicate the gravity of the situation. “Dad, listen. She used these exact words: ‘What could these colonists possibly have to fear?’”
Father nodded as though he were listening. He reached for a datapad, cross-referencing the most recent orbital survey charts. Milo turned to his older brother for support.
“Sounds like a positive story,” Dexter said, scratching his armpit. “You don’t often get that on the news.”
“But it doesn’t make sense! She could pick any day in history. Why today? What makes today more newsworthy than any other?”
“Milo,” Father said, “aren’t you late for your shift in the bio-dome?”
“I thought this was more important.”
The scanner beeped and beeped again, but Father pressed a button and switched the machine off.
“Milo,” Father said, turning to his youngest son, “this colony is in an isolated sector. We’re far from the Border Wars and the Planet Eaters. We’re far from the Xanadu Uprising and the Galactic Inquisitor. There’s no alien life here except helium sacs. The only danger we face is when fifteen-year-old boys skip their shifts in the bio-dome.”
“I don’t want to hear it. This colony is a community. We must each do our part. Understand?”
Milo clenched his fists. He’d never beaten his father at anything: not darts, not checkers, and certainly not arguments. An error message flashed red on the holographic display, warning that the scan had been interrupted, but Father ignored it. The old man waited patiently, his stern gaze challenging Milo to disobey.
“Fine,” Milo said. He turned to leave, kicking one of the heavy, metal canisters on his way out.
The scanner beeped as Father switched it back on.
“Oh! That’s a reading of 110!” Dexter shouted.
“Jackpot,” Father said smugly.
Milo paused in the doorway, watching as a tiny indicator light blinked on the holographic map. The topographical features of the Redlands revealed a series of large craters, almost like a geometric pattern of interconnected circles. The indicator highlighted a point near the center of the largest crater.
The problem was that Father never watched the news aside from financial reports. He didn’t know Talie Tappler, didn’t know the kind of stories she covered: black hole collisions, telepathic terrorism, inter-dimensional genocide—always with a cheerful smile on her face. No amount of lithium, no matter its value on the commodities market, could save Litho Colony from a Talie Tappler story.
* * *
All colonists wore diamond-shaped patches on their uniforms called skill-marks. These skill-marks indicated an individual’s level of accreditation in a variety of fields, from chemistry to medicine to gardening, with the design becoming more elaborate with rank. The master gardeners who managed daily operations in the bio-dome wore a bright, red flower. Assistant gardeners had a tree, and beginners got a little, green sprout.
Milo had a sprout. Most kids his age had already earned a grade-one chemistry credit and proudly wore their hydrogen atom patches in addition to a sprout or water droplet or single-celled organism. Milo only had a sprout. His friends called him Sproutling.
Milo hurried to the bio-dome, anxious to find Lianna. She watched the news. She knew about the Tomorrow News Network. She’d understand the danger the colony faced.
Interior lights hanging from the bio-dome’s arched ceiling simulated terrestrial sunlight. A specialized sensor grid monitored plant growth, and a series of hydroponic tubes maintained the proper moisture levels among the densely tangled foliage. Several unripened fruits dangled from the treetops. Workers tended their crops while a group of students, all younger than Milo, gathered around a plot of bare soil and listened to an assistant gardener explaining how to sow seeds.
As Milo entered, one of the master gardeners, a woman named Sylvia, chastised him for his tardiness. Milo mumbled an apology, adding, “I was worried about the reporter from the Tomorrow News Network.”
“Ms. Tappler?” Sylvia said. “Oh, she seems nice. Nothing like the way she is on the viewlink.”
Milo frowned and marched off toward the bio-dome’s artificial forest to look for Lianna.
“By the way, where’s your girlfriend?” Sylvia asked, wiping her hands on her sweat-stained uniform. “I thought you were being late together.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Milo grumbled.
The master gardener laughed. “I just don’t want her receiving another citation. You two get into far too much trouble, you know.”
Milo didn’t respond. He followed a path zigzagging through the taller trees, searching for a quiet place to think and wondering where Lianna could be.
The Tomorrow News Network broadcast the news before it took place, but they prevented their reports from reaching anyone directly involved. If Milo switched on a viewlink, the screen would show only static, but maybe there were other ways to acquire information from the future.
Milo was deep in thought, pretending to check the asparagus, when he heard her voice: “Litho is the third moon orbiting the planet 55 Cancri f, better known as Cancriph. The environment cannot support the types of fruits or vegetables humans eat, so the colonists erected this bio-dome for their crops.”
“This is the second moon,” Milo interrupted. “Not the third.”
Talie Tappler turned away from her cameraman and warily examined every detail of Milo’s appearance before speaking. Milo felt as though she were inspecting each individual cell of his body.
“Of course,” Talie said, flipping back her blonde hair. “The first moon hasn’t split apart yet. Mr. Cognis, we’ll have to do that over.”
“Affirmative, Ms. Tappler,” Talie’s cybernetic cameraman responded, taking a step back and adjusting the lens of his massive, mechanical eye.
“Is that why you’re here?” Milo asked, trying to decide if he should fold his arms across his chest or let them hang in a comfortable, non-combative posture. He was the kind of teenager who never knew what to do with his arms and legs when he wasn’t using them. They were such long, gangly appendages.
Talie shook her head. “That’s several centuries away,” she answered, looking at Milo again, this time with even greater interest.
As much as Milo feared this woman, as much as he dreaded whatever had brought her to Litho Colony, he liked the way Talie stared at him. Her eyes were violet, a very sexy color. Her midnight blue suit, her pink skin, even her hair, a color more golden than gold—none of that compared to the ethereal violet of her eyes.
Talie wore a ribbon around her neck, just like all the fashionable women did five hundred years ago, and she’d popped the collar of her jacket in a style older than that. Ruffled flare trimmed the hem of her skirt, even though women had stopped wearing skirts back in the 33rd Century. Her jewelry, however, glowed with a light unlike anything Milo had seen before, like the magic of some distant future.
“Would you like to do an interview?” Talie asked. Her soft voice, her slim body, the flirty anachronisms of her wardrobe made her irresistible.
“No,” Milo answered stubbornly.
“Oh, please!” Talie said, coming nearer. “You’d be perfect. A strapping, young man living on the frontier of space who obviously isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. You’re exactly what I need for my report.”
Milo glanced at his hands. “Is the bio-dome important to your story?” he asked, determined to get some answers even if he were blushing.
Talie smirked. “I can’t tell you that, but I can say I’m covering a big story. The story of the century.”
“If something bad is going to happen, shouldn’t you warn everyone?”
The reporter stepped a little closer. Milo could smell her perfume: the luscious scent of flowers long extinct.
“I’m sorry,” Talie said in a sultry tone. “I can’t get personally involved in a story like that.”
Talie’s eyes seemed to grow ever more violet. Her wavy, golden hair framed a heart-shaped face with a small, dainty nose. She was shorter than most women of Milo’s time, but who knew what time period she came from? Hers was the beauty of a long forgotten era or of a glorious era yet to come.
“So,” she said, almost pleading, “can I have my interview?”