Mel Banks is sixteen years old the first time she slips away from another Athosian festival and gates to the ‘jumper parked on the closest Ring planet to Sateda. She has all her knives and her personal stunner, her radio, a knapsack full of emergency rations, a first aid kit, and an LSD. The ‘jumper is fully stocked. If all else fails, there’s the tracker embedded in her left upper arm.
Once she finally lands she wanders around for hours, letting it all sink in. The ruins. The decay. The overwhelming silence.
She checks in with Atlantis every three hours without fail. The code and the signs of life had been what had finally made her parents grant her this independence, and Mel has lived in Atlantis nearly all her life – she knows the value of stand-by teams.
By nightfall she curls up inside the safety of the ‘jumper.
For years Mel has listened to every tidbit the Satedan survivors would divulge about their home world. Her mother has told her of her impressions from the year a group of volunteers conducted hundreds of burials. She taps into that knowledge on the second morning as she calls up the HUD and plans a route.
She finds what is left of her father’s old apartment, looks for traces of the woman she is named after, unsure if she is disappointed or relieved when she finds none. It’s a relief, after that, to return home.
Two months later she is back. Six weeks after that. Three months. Day after day she wanders the city of her father’s youth, drawing a map no computer system could ever render.
On her fourth visit, she comes across a library and reads about five books at random. Her fifth, she starts collecting for a stash of weapons on a nearby planet because she thinks she should.
She never knows quite what she is looking for. Mel knows how to draw up systematic searches, how to catalogue what she sees, but she never does. Her camera snaps dozens of photographs she never sorts through once she is home. All that she could find on Sateda remains in her head.
At some point during and before every visit, she thinks about inviting Torren along for her upcoming trip. Torren is her best friend, her brother, and in the best position to appreciate all she has discovered. She is alone when next her ‘jumper lands.
Sateda is hers.