It’s the last day of the A-to-Z Challenge! Z is for Zeta Reticuli, a binary star about 39 light-years from Earth, and fairly popular in science fiction.
If you’ve never heard a firsthand account of riding a hyperspace zipline, I’ll sum it up in two words: pure terror. Humans just weren’t meant for hyperspace travel, and if not for the ziplines connecting various star systems, we’d never have left Earth.
I never imagined myself volunteering to become a colonist. Colonization was for murderers, vagrants, and other riff-raff. But there I stood, at the “Z”-end of the zipline connecting Earth and Zeta Reticuli IV.
My first view of the fourth planet was beautiful in an eerie way: the hyperspace receiving station is an open-air acropolis carved from white marble. The structure looks like something built by Romans, and it’s the last familiar thing an incoming colonist ever sees.
Just past those towering columns, the cliff face plummets almost vertically down to the vast fields of purple crops, undulating in the wind. Isolated human settlements dot the landscape out to the distant horizon. Those are mostly two-story communal houses that the Z-Colony inhabitants have built from native thatch, and the blood-red adobe that’s ubiquitous on the planet.
As I viewed this alien countryside under the harsh lighting of the planet’s twin suns, I knew my old life was over. There was no way to ride back up the zipline to the “E”-end, and even if there were, no force in this universe could make me spend another microsecond in hyperspace.
“Thought you could get away from me so easily, Fortuno?”
My heart skipped a beat. That voice… “Reno?”
He approached me from the receiving station. From beneath the papyrus-like toga worn by all zipline travelers, he produced a spring-loaded stiletto knife. His brow furrowed. His long hair danced medusa-like in the thick air, whipped by wind and by residual electron buildup from hyperspace. A blaze of hatred poured forth from his eyes as he waved the stiletto at me.
“You think you can just sleep with another man’s wife, then ride a hyperline off to some exotic alien world to escape?”
“It’s not like that, Reno.” I held my hands up defensively. “I didn’t know she was your wife. I mean… when I found out, I called it off.”
“And then you ran. To your parents. To your friends. To Fortuno’s many fawning admirers.” For all my money, and all my popularity, there was no place on Earth where I had been able to hide from Reno.
“Yes,” I admitted. “I thought you’d be able to patch things up. You and your wife could have reconciled and been happy.”
“Reconciled?” he scoffed. “I killed her the night I found out!” he confessed, making a stabbing motion with his weapon. “Adulteress and adulterer, killed with the same weapon. Poetic, is it not, Fortuno?”
“You have an odd notion of poetry, Reno.” He had backed me up against the sheer cliff face. There was no escape for me this time: I would stand and die as a man, or be dashed to pieces on the jagged rocks far below. “But I understand your anger. Had I known, I never would have been with Maria.”
“Maria?” My assassin frowned. “My wife was Naomi.”
The two of us sat down at the edge of the cliff, legs dangling in midair, and contemplated our fate. We can’t go home again, and there’s nothing but murderers, vagrants, and riff-raff at Z-End of the line.