Natalie

artist studio

© Natalie Ruka

Natalie had calculated the exact number of images and other objects suspended on the wall at a glance. She filed away that value, along with item categorizations, for later use. She did the same for the books, opened and closed, the number of light sources, active and inactive, brushes, pencils, liquid, semi-liquid, and solids containers. In less time than it would have taken her to brush her long, thick, brunette hair, she had learned everything she considered relevant about the room’s interior.

However, she had yet to discover what it all meant, at least beyond the literal understanding.

“Noel Gray is an artist.” She uttered the words like a holy revelation, even though she had been provided with that information before arriving here. She correlated what she knew of art in general, then of graphic design, types, media, notable examples of artists and their works, and then compared that data to everything in the room and what she knew of Noel Gray so she could construct the necessary context.

George had related to her what he believed was necessary for her to know about her assignment, and then had the Uber deliver her to the address just past noon. The front door was open, which she expected, and her instructions only said to go to Noel’s studio and wait.

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Deadly Magnificence

solar flare

An artist’s illustration of a flare from Proxima Centauri, modeled after the loops of glowing, hot gas seen in the largest solar flares. The planet Proxima b, seen here in an artist’s impression, orbits Proxima Centauri 20 times closer than Earth orbits the sun. A flare 10 times larger than a major solar flare would blast Proxima b with 4,000 times more radiation than Earth gets from solar flares.
Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Carnegie Institution for Science, NASA/SDO, NASA/JPL

Meredith Wallace stood outside the lander and stared up at its magnificence visible only because of her helmet’s shielded visor. The gigantic loops of glowing hot plasma from Proxima Centauri were large enough to be seen from 4.6 million miles away because they were twenty times as large as solar flares from Earth’s sun.

No one had predicted such a massive build up of magnetic energy within this star. The cluster of sunspots, the flare’s eruption site, was just north of the sun’s equator and positioned almost directly at the planet. The electromagnetic radiation wasn’t visible to the unaided eye, but for Meredith, the coronal mass ejections were like an astonishing Phoenix rising from its ashes, climbing far into the space between star and this world only to follow relentless magnetic forces back down like a brilliantly flaming Icarus.

“There’s no hope then.”

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