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Despite Sands making it clear that Movie Night is in no way compulsory, almost everyone shows up. The only one absent is Celi Tate, the new doctor, and our existing doctors explain that ke’s under sedation in the medbay, dealing with complications from chronostasis that they refuse to elaborate on for patient privacy reasons.
This information does not put anyone in much of a Movie Night mood. Despite Tal explaining the gambler’s fallacy to everyone again and the doctors insisting that the revival chance estimates are inherently unreliable because the AI doesn’t have the data to predict such things with perfect accuracy so revival chances might be higher than it looks, it still feels incredibly lucky that we got five successful revivals out of an attempted seven. The idea that Celi’s revival might not be so successful just feels worryingly likely. There’s been too much good luck otherwise.
We get through a few songs on the collection that Denish wants to introduce us to, but nobody can really focus. That’s kind of disappointing for our first Movie Night with the new crew, but what can you do? (Anyway, Captain Sands is determined to pull us up to a full crew of 21, so the real first Full Crew Movie Night will be when we have that many awake, and with the limited hospital beds available that’ll take another couple of revival cycles at least. Probably longer, if the doctors insist on continuing to keep failed revivals on life support, like Zale and Clover.) Eventually, everyone just kind of gets distracted and splinters off in their own little groups to do other things. But while Lina occasionally ducks into the medbay to check on Celi, nobody, I notice, seems to want to actually leave Recreation and Medical Ring 1.
Captain Sands approaches me. “Aspen. Did you get the new room assignments?”
“Huh? Yeah. I’ll move my stuff into the other habitation ring later.”
“There’s no hurry. The rest of us in that ring are all still in the medbays. Just, whenever you’re ready.”
“You’re not a fan of the change? A bit shy with the new crewmates?”
“No, it’s just… well, my first memories of Habitation Ring 1 involve nearly dying and having to dispose of the month-old corpse of a crew member.”
“You should probably talk to Renn about that. It’s not a good idea to let trauma fester.”
“If I talked to Renn about everything unpleasant I’d seen on this ship, he’d never have any time to see to the rest of the crew.”
“He’ll make time. Don’t be afraid to use the resources available to you. Your crewmates have their jobs to do and you can expect them to do them. Did you complete that supply check today?”
“Yeah. The hardware’s all there. Any particular reason for the urgency?”
“Oh, it wasn’t urgent. It’s stuff for when we land in four years. If it was damaged or missing, we’d need that time to come up with replacements, but it’s not, so the engineers can focus on the ship’s systems instead. If you’ll excuse me, I need to check on Doctor Tate.”
“I’m pretty sure ke’s sleeping.”
“Lina’s not. I need to know kes chances of survival and recovery to predict how long restaffing this ship is going to take and whether we need to focus on more doctors in the next round.” He walks off, presumably to pester Lina into revealing private medical information. Which I should probably be wary of, but I’ve certainly seen a lot of scans I probably shouldn’t have when helping Lina and the Friend, and those who tend stinkmoss shouldn’t wrinkle their noses at others.
I glance around at the rest of the crew. Sunset has found some kind of silver jumpsuit in storage that matches the outrageous miniskirt that Tal is wearing, and ke’s painting her nails the same horribly garish purple as kes lips – great, we’ve got another one. I make a mental note to check that there aren’t any absurd high heels or anything that looks like a bulky raygun in storage, and if there are, to hide them before the pair can find them. Tinera appears to be in some sort of deep discussion with Renn; he’s probably pulled her into an emotional discussion to get a psychological baseline. She doesn’t look pissed off by it, which is a testament to his skill I suppose. Adin, Denish and Sam are playing some sort of finger game together Our old Public Universal Friend is absent, probably helping Lina, and the new one is cleaning the picnic table where we eat breakfast.
I have to admit, I’m burning with curiosity about the new Friend. I never got to know any Friends on Earth (they always creeped me out), but now that I know ours so well, I just have to know if this one is similar. Is that weird? It might be weird. It’s probably weird.
I always carry a cleaning rag on me these days. I pull it from my wrap and go to help with the table. The Friend glances up at me, gives me a little nod, and moves to make space. Then it focuses back on what it’s doing.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hello,” it says.
We work in silence for a couple of seconds.
“How are you feeling?” I ask.
“This Friend appears to be recovering from chronostasis well, and should be capable of normal duties within the next few days,” it says.
Right. Yeah, see, this is the level of conversation I normally expect from Public Universal Friends. Maybe our doctor is a fluke.
“I hope Celi’s okay,” I try.
“Are you worried about kem?”
“Would you like this friend to go and inquire about their health for you?”
“N-no, I didn’t… it’s fine.”
The Friend nods. The table is clean. It walks away, probably off to some other task.
Alright then. So far as social cohesion on the crew goes, that might be –
“I still can’t believe someone would to that to themself.”
I jump at the sound of Tinera’s voice behind me. “Do what?”
She sighs impatiently. “What do you mean, do what? Mutilate their own brain, obviously.”
Oh, right. That. “Yeah, they’re… they’re a weird bunch.”
Tinera lowers her voice to almost a whisper, practically hissing in my face. “A weird bunch? They’re Lyson victims! And they don’t seem to care, which is probably because of the brain damage!”
“No, it’s a voluntary procedure. Meaning they didn’t care beforehand either. But you know the autonomy creed, Tiny. Freedom of bod – ”
“Body and soul, yes, I know, but they’re obviously not capable of making that decision or they wouldn’t do it! Why aren’t you pissed off about this?”
“Uh, probably because I didn’t learn about it a day ago?”
“Oh, so if you’re used to the information, that makes it okay.”
“Tiny, what do you think getting upset about it is going to accomplish? Is it creepy? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes. Do I think it would be better if Friends weren’t allowed to subject each other to Lyson projects in their weird little service cult? Obviously. But the fact is, they have. We have six Public Universal Friends aboard this ship, two of them conscious, and the damage has been done. Its not like their brains can be healed again. There’s no potential recruits running around, so far as I can tell, and even if there were, initiation takes years and our friends do not have access to the equipment and materials for the Lyson process anyway, which means they’re not any kind of danger to anyone else. If they can’t be healed and they can’t hurt anyone else, what exactly are you trying to accomplish, other than trying to make them regret a decision they can’t change now?”
“Jesus, Aspen, sometimes people can be pissed about things they can’t change.”
“What’s the point in that?”
“Ugh, you’re impossible.” She storms off.
“Is everything alright with her?” Adin asks, sidling over.
I shrug. I have no idea if Adin knows about Friend rituals, and the last thing I want is to have to handle two crew members who – wait, no, that’s not my job any more! “No matter how the vine wants it, you can’t call the sun,” I say.
“Is that another one of your Arborean sayings?”
“Sorry. We do have kind of a lot of them, don’t we? I don’t mean to be all… you know.”
He shrugs. “Why not? I’ve never bothered to try not to be Texan. Anyway, it reminds me of the stuff my mum used to say.”
“Right. Your mother was Arborean.”
“Yeah. She had this really good one one about personal responsibility, um… something about planting seeds and how they grow, or something?”
“May the seeds we tend grow to shelter us.”
“Yeah, that one! It – ” he catches my expression. “You don’t like that one?”
I sit down at the bench. “It’s fine. It’s a really popular one, kind of a central moral. It… it was Acacia’s favourite saying, too.”
“You miss her?”
“She’s dead.” I say it a lot harsher than I mean to. I try to soften my tone. “I mean, she died before the javelins launched.” I’d signed up for the Javelin Program six days after the funeral, in fact. But there’s no need to get into that.
“I’m really sorry to hear that.”
“It makes no difference. Everyone’s dead to us now anyway. The seeds we tended didn’t grow to shelter us, because we abandoned them.” Probably for the best; I’d tended some pretty rotten ‘seeds’.”
“That’s a pretty myopic view. We’re tending more seeds now, on this ship, with each other. They can grow to shelter us.”
“Yeah. Good point.”
“You say that a lot, you know; about the past being behind us and something we shouldn’t worry about any more. Do you regret leaving Earth?”
Everyone has past regret on the brain lately. Maybe Adin had had a similar conversation with Renn to mine. “No.”
“So is it a happy thing, then?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, I… when I signed up to this whole spaceship thing, it’s not something I had a huge amount of choice in, obviously. But I was kind of relieved, one specific way. Because I knew my daughter wouldn’t have to deal with me any more. She was… I mean, I loved her, obviously, but I don’t think either of us made each others’ lives easier. She’d come and visit me and it was really obvious that she was ashamed of me, she didn’t want to, and when I got press-ganged into this program it was like… well, obviously I don’t want to abandon her, what kind of parent would want that, but it’s not like I had any choice, and now she could live a long full life without me and I could live my life and nothing bad needed to happen to anyone so there’s nothing to actually mourn, and we could…” he glances up, apparently noticing for the first time that I’m staring at him with my mouth literally hanging open. “Hey, it’s not like that! I love her, and I hope beyond anything that she had a long and happy life when I wasn’t there to hold her back! I just – ”
“You don’t have a daughter.”
“I checked your profile before we revived you. Nobody on this crew has children.”
“Well, not legally.”
“What do you mean, not legally?”
“I mean that sometimes, if you’re going to jail for a really long time, it’s best that innocent little kids aren’t associated with you any more on any legal paperwork. Her foster parents adopted her when she was three.”
“That must have been hard for you.”
“I considered killing myself. But it doesn’t matter. It’s what was best for her. Her parents made her keep coming to visit me, but they should’ve just let her forget me. And now, with her entire life in the past and without me there to fuck it up, I can have some peace on that front. I like to imagine that she lived a really happy life, that she grew old and comfortable with a bunch of grandkids who all loved and appreciated her. What about you? What lives did your family live, do you think?”
I shrug. “Fir probably went on to design some really cool new kind of engine. Ke was part of the design team for creating the engines on the javelins, so ke had the skills. I bet Rose and Gooseberry founded an entire new edge cluster, and would’ve dragged Ash along with them probably, and my mother… probably spent every day until her death trying to keep the kids out of trouble.”
“Was she happy doing it?”
“Yeah. She was always happiest trying to keep us out of trouble.”
That isn’t even close to my entire cluster, but Adin probably doesn’t know how big Arborean clusters are. He doesn’t push for more, at any rate. “Why did you join the Javelin Program?”
“Sorry. You don’t have to answer. I, I know it’s personal, it’s just… I mean, we always kind of knew why everyone else was here. Except you.”
“Or all the new people.”
“Well, yeah, but they’re new people.”
“Anyway, you do know why I’m here. I got swept up by the Exodus Phenomenon.”
“You were hanging out planting grass or singing to trees or whatever with your family, and suddenly the travel but bit you and you realised you had to jump on a spaceship to a distant exoplanet.”
I shrug. “It’s a powerful force. Clearly I’m not immune. Since our first steps out of Africa – ”
“Humans have been possessed with a natural urge to go further, explore more, and settle in the most distant corners of their environment that they can possibly reach.” He nods.
I blink at him in surprise. The quote he just finished is the opening line of my third book. “You read my book.”
“I read all of them.”
“When we met, you had no idea who I was.”
“I hadn’t read them then. But they’re all in the ship’s computer.”
“You read all of my books on the Courageous?”
“Well, uh… what did you think?”
He shrugs. “I’m not a sociologist.”
“Right, but what did you think?”
“I think you’re wrong.”
“About the Exodus Phenomenon. I don’t think it’s a thing.”
I bury the surge of irritation that wells up within me at his words. This is my life’s work, and this random guy, who’s not a sociologist, who probably didn’t even go to university, has just decided it’s all bunk? What does he know? I bury that irritation, because I’m a scientist, I work on data, not feelings and ego. And I’m very calm when I say, “Well, something made our species spread out and dominate the whole planet and beyond.”
“Yeah,” Adin says. “Overpopulation. Famine. Ice ages. Threat of war. Cultural oppression. Needing alternate trade routes when old ones get broken, or needing to travel across the ocean to get a better look at some planets for an eclipse, or hearing rumours that there’s gold or spice somewhere and wanting to get rich. Obviously humans have spread out over time, I just don’t think it’s evidence of some innate instinct that makes people all pick up and migrate.”
“You don’t think people expand and explore for the innate joy of discovery?”
“Individual explorers? Sure. Some people like to move around and see new stuff. Entire nations? No. People move for all kinds of reasons, but there are reasons.”
“I always think of you as the nice guy on the crew, but you’re really pessimistic about human nature.”
Adin grins. “I can be both.”
“How do you explain the Javelin Program, then? I know you were kind of forced to be here, but the program itself is the concerted effort of millions of people wanting to stretch out further into the galaxy, and a lot of them threw their old lives away just to be able to do it.”
“We already have an explanation for that. Some rich guys wanted to start their own little space kingdoms or whatever. That’s why all us convicts are here.”
“Sure, the Courageous was hijacked by this Dor Delphin guy, but what about the others? We have no reason to believe they’re all like our ship.”
“We have no reason to believe they aren’t. There’s a lot of rich stupid people out there.”
That thought is so depressing. “I don’t think that theory holds any water.”
“Too cynical for your taste?”
“No, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s too stupid, even for rich idiots, and nobody can stay that stupid all the way through the planning process. No matter how rich someone is, they can build a much safer and more comfortable life for themselves on or near Earth than in space. Sure, there’s no one to tell him what to do out here, but there’s also no planet full of oxygen. No way to import luxuries. Extremely limited supplies, and the constant threat of death. If Dor Delphin wanted to be some kind of space kind, he’d have better luck buying an asteroid near Earth, putting a space station on it, and paying desperate workers enough money that they’d let him be a dick to them. There’s no luxury in colonisation; that alone can’t be the reason that any one would come out here. And it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever for it to be the planned fate for the whole Javelin Program; it involves too many people who never got on the ships.”
“So you think it comes down to a mysterious group instinct to explore and create new tribes.”
“Well, yeah. That’s literally what we’re doing. And it worked on me.”
Adin grins. “Well, you probably know better than me. I don’t know much about this kind of thing, and you are the Aspen Greaves.”
I grin back, although being called that still annoys me. It feels different than it used to, though. It used to annoy me because it meant people wanted to ask me about my old life, my books or whatever. It felt different now, and after talking with Renn yesterday, I’m starting to realise why.
It’s because every time somebody calls me Aspen Greaves, the ‘Greaves’ part feels more and more like a lie.
I don’t have a family any more.
None of us do.
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