Skye Object 3270a
weren’t coming.”
    He sat on the bench next to Buyu. “I told you I was coming.”
    â€œSooth.”
    â€œI got held up.”
    â€œIt’s what we figured,” Buyu said.
    That wasn’t quite true, but it was nice of him to say it.
    Devi added, “I searched all the floors on the elevator car and I didn’t see you. Did you know the floor below is empty? When I saw that, I thought you had decided not to come. That’s when I called.”
    â€œI said I was going,” Skye answered.
    â€œSooth.”
    Below them, the ocean had begun to flush pink with the dawn’s light. Skye could just make out a ragged line of forest along the coast.
    â€œI’m moving out of my mother’s house,” Devi announced.
    Skye twisted around to look at him. “Your telescope—”
    He shrugged. “There’s not much to see from inside this nebula anyway.”
    She nodded, wondering if it was all her fault.

Chapter 9
    D uring the final five hundred meters of the descent, the elevator car slowed to a crawl, so that it felt as if they were floating down among the trees that clothed the steep sides of a bowl-shaped valley. The elevator terminus was a circular black platform that filled the valley floor, rising thirty meters above the nearest trees. A U-shaped bay formed an opening on one side of the platform. The car descended into it, coming to rest between the wings of the building.
    Skye stood up slowly, gazing out the window in amazement. An empty road ran out from the terminal building. It was flanked on either side by two meters of neat lawn, but all signs of civilization ended there. Beyond the manicured grass the forest rose far overhead, a green wall of ancient, crowding trees, their massive branches reaching over the broad roadway to catch what light they could. Skye had never imagined that trees could truly grow so big. She’d seen forests in virtual reality sims, but she had never understood quite so clearly that such giants could be real.
    â€œBuyu, this is so slick.” She reached down to scoop up Ord. “Come on, come on. I want to get outside.”

    They embarked onto a wide pavilion, where three explorers in mud-brown skin suits like Buyu’s were greeting the incoming tour groups. Most of the groups were being sent up to the roof, where aircraft waited to take them to the two small coastal settlements. As they set off for the escalators, each group was joined by a small, glassy, humanlike figure less than a meter high. These were the wardens. Like Ord, they were biogel robots, but the wardens looked as if they were made of dark green glass, fashioned to resemble some lithe human child, though their faces looked only half-formed. For centuries, wardens had been used to explore the planet’s surface. Now they watched over tour groups, monitoring their actions and immediately reporting any violation of the rules.
    Skye smiled at a line of five wardens waiting with machine patience at the edge of the pavilion. Let the little spies accompany someone else! Buyu was a trained explorer, and he was all the escort they would need. She boosted Ord up to her shoulder.
    â€œBuyu Mkolu!”
    Skye turned to see one of the three resident explorers waving a friendly greeting. She was a tall, muscular woman, with dark blue hair the color of deep water. As she strolled across the pavilion to meet them, it was easy to see by her bearing that she was very real. “Welcome back, Buyu.”
    Buyu looked shocked to see her. “Hello, Sensei Matilé.” He raised his hand to touch palms with her, yet he did not seem able to meet her gaze. He looked very nervous—as if guilt were knocking behind his eyes, trying to get out. Sweat glistened on his cheeks and Skye felt sure it wasn’t caused by the steamy tropical air.
    Apparently, Matilé too, noticed his distress. Her eyes narrowed as she examined him. “Are you all

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