The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)

Mary Robinette Kowal

For my niece, Emily Harrison,

who is in the Mars Generation

’Tis thought the king is dead; we will not stay.

The bay-trees in our country are all wither’d

And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;

The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth

And lean-look’d prophets whisper fearful change;

Rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap,

The one in fear to lose what they enjoy,

The other to enjoy by rage and war:

These signs forerun the death or fall of kings.

— Richard II, by William Shakespeare




March 3, 1952—(AP)—The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics successfully put its third satellite into orbit, this one with the capability of sending radio signals down to Earth and taking measurements of the radiation in space.

The president denies that the satellite has any military purpose and says that its mission is one of scientific exploration.

Do you remember where you were when the Meteor hit?

I’ve never understood why people phrase it as a question, because of course you remember.

I was in the mountains with Nathaniel.

He had inherited this cabin from his father and we used to go up there for stargazing.

By which I mean: sex.

Oh, don’t pretend that you’re shocked.

Nathaniel and I were a healthy young married couple, so most of the stars I saw were painted across the inside of my eyelids.

If I had known how long the stars were going to be hidden, I would have spent a lot more time outside with the telescope.

We were lying in the bed with the covers in a tangled mess around us.

The morning light filtered through silver snowfall and did nothing to warm the room.

We’d been awake for hours, but hadn’t gotten out of bed yet for obvious


Nathaniel had his leg thrown over me and was snuggled up against my side, tracing a finger along my collarbone in time with the music on our little battery-powered transistor radio.

I stretched under his ministrations and patted his shoulder.

“Well, well … my very own ‘Sixty Minute Man.


He snorted, his warm breath tickling my neck.

“Does that mean I get another fifteen minutes of kissing?”

“If you start a fire.”

“I thought I already did.”

But he rolled up onto his elbow and got out of bed.

We were taking a much needed break after a long push to prepare for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’s launch.

If I hadn’t also been at NACA doing computations, I wouldn’t have seen Nathaniel awake anytime during the past two months.

I pulled the covers up over myself and turned on my side to watch him.

He was lean, and only his time in the Army during World War II kept him from being scrawny.

I loved watching the muscles play under his skin as he pulled wood off the pile under the big picture window.

The snow framed him beautifully, its silver light just catching in the strands of his blond hair.

And then the world outside lit up.

If you were anywhere within five hundred miles of Washington, D.C., at 9:53 a.m. on March 3rd, 1952, and facing a window, then you remember that light.

Briefly red, and then so violently white that it washed out even the shadows.

Nathaniel straightened, the log still in his hands.


Cover your eyes!”

I did.

That light.

It must be an A-bomb.

The Russians had been none too happy with us since President Dewey took office.


The blast center must have been D.C.

How long until it hit us?

We’d both been at Trinity for the

atom bomb tests, but all of the numbers had run out of my head.

D.C. was far enough away that the heat wouldn’t hit us, but it would kick off the war we had all been dreading.

As I sat there with my eyes squeezed shut, the light faded.

Nothing happened.

The music on the radio continued to play.

If the radio was playing, then there wasn’t an electromagnetic pulse.

I opened my eyes.


I hooked a thumb at the radio.

“Clearly not an A-bomb.”

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