Fiction: Aqaara – Part Two

Tuesday, 06 November 2018 - 10:04AM
Tuesday, 06 November 2018 - 10:04AM
Fiction: Aqaara – Part Two
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Celine Laheurte

We are pleased to introduce the second installment of our inaugural venture into fiction with Donald McPhedran Gibson's Aqaara, the second book of a speculative fiction trilogy Umiariak, chronicling a trans-generational journey to a distant planet. Set in the present day, Gibson's work reflects on what awaits in our inevitably entangled future. 

A separate glossary covering some of the terms may be found at the bottom of Part One. Installments of Aqaara will appear every Tuesday on Outer Places. 



Her space helmet sat in the corner of the room, upside down with her gloves and blue-black infinity shirt and underwear jammed inside. It still smelled of Earth, the salt air of Greenland. It made her quiver to think about what she had left. She opened her Bearing and reopened her video message from Fitz, his face was too close to the screen making him look fat and lost in her hand. We've been looking in the sky for your ship, imagining it there. It's a remarkable thing, isn't it? Even if it gives me the fear. I'm supposed to be telling you about the strife and the anguish visited upon us and that, all of your money gone, and your things. It's not good with them here. They're striking out every which way. Too many of these people saying things like they know what they're meaning. The pluralists have amalgamated with the populists and extermination is on the rise. You're a dream, Deirdre. Give us a ring before you push off permanent-like. 

Dee sat up, positioned the light beside her, examined her face for the right angle – the camera wasn't in the ring but above it somehow, at eye level, and was hard to configure. "Hi, Fitz. Forgive this ring camera thing – a Bearing they call it – it doesn't have a lens, not that I can find, and so this is all weird. I don't think you'd actually like it here." She tilted the ring down at Icarus but only showed his back half. "That's Icarus, his better half anyway. He's all right. Doesn't know what's going on, but he seems good with that. Everything's round and, I don't know…it's an empty place, nothing but what's supposed to be ahead, this planet we're going to. There's a lot of anxious people here, like we're facing communal execution. I know I'm exaggerating. I mean, nobody actually…I mean we're actually going somewhere, and not just somewhere, but to another galaxy, other stars and planets, a new place in the cosmos, something no one has ever done, right? I mean, we're really doing that. And yet, I don't know, we aren't. We're not doing anything. We're just here, on this ship, sitting in Lagrangian Orbit, pretending to be voyaging somewhere. As real as everyone wants to believe all of this, as much as we might have dreamed it to be, this isn't anything more than another ridiculous chapter in a ridiculous story of cave people pretending that we're something else, not just cave people, brute savages that would kill anything that told us otherwise. Yeah, hit the ignition switch. Yeah." She reached to delete the message on her ring but paused, looked at her tiny self-mirror icon in the bottom corner of her hand and went on. "I'm scared. That's obvious, I know. I am. I don't want to go. It's like we're running away and that's only making the end come that much faster. I don't know. It's lonely. And that's it. We don't belong here. We don't belong in space. And the more we keep going like this, the sooner we'll find out what we don't want, the wizard behind the curtain masturbating on a loop. Yeah, try to get that out of your head. That's the secret behind everything, right? Nothing or something you don't want to think about. Death is like that. That's why I'm so into all that pleasure stuff, right? I mean as long as it's there. Yeah, whatever, shut up, Dee. Time to launch. I hope you get this message, that it gets through customs, as it were. Love you boys more than you know. I might get so far out that I'll be coming in the back door. Take care of Elaine."

Aeschylus Pod was oddly crowded and empty at the same time. The labyrinth at the base of the Sortavut was busy, people moving purposely, evenly paced, like they were in a dance, long, firm steps, bodies erect, others standing on the perimeter, watching, stepping in, heads down, joining in, projections of flowers and cascading water guiding them along the path. Dee led Icarus up the tightly angled stairs to the top of the Sortavut, a three-story hemispheric structure of crystalline blue glass, alternately opaque and transparent. She climbed to the back tier and sat, out of breath, on the edge of an oblong couch and tried to blow her nose. Nothing came out; her ears were now completely blocked. Dejected, she looked across the Sortavut at the immense rotating screen, people from all across the ship sharing their thoughts.

We can wait. A woman with pronounced cheekbones was on the screen, from Eno Pod. Why can't we wait? We can wait and decide what we need to do next. There is no reason to create such dissension. We don't have to leave like this.

We have a job to do. We are on Anori for this reason. A younger man with a surprisingly deep voice appeared from Sooja Pod. It's time to get moving. Let's do our work and get to where we need to go. Who cares about what they want on Hera? We're leaving.

If anyone wants to go back, then they should go back. A round-faced teen with tightly cropped hair appeared from Miyazaki Pod. There's a shuttle. That's what it's there for. Leave. Riddance. Start your engines.

Icarus circled around Dee and curled under the bench as Dee opened her Bearing. Anori, Sinclair Log-in.

Hello, Dee Sinclair. Join Solaris?

Dee swiped to the next screen.

Welcome to Anori Mission, Day 462, Temperature 72. Initiating Sequence: 38 hours. Join Solaris?

She touched at the top of the image but couldn't find the right layer, slipping in front and then behind the Delete icon and finally just skipped to the next page.

Ethi request?

She swiped away the image and searched for New York weather.

Today: High 92, Low 78. Precipitation, 10% Sunday: High 93, Low, 80, Precipitation, 10%.

Dee searched Banana Republic and scrolled through the sweaters, stopping at a beige open-knit sweater, turtle neck, short sleeves, but it had green threading on the waist. She didn't know why they had done that. There was another, a grey ribbed pullover, with a chevron design. She idly wondered if they would ship it up here and how much that would cost as she looked down past the groups moving through the labyrinth, many bowed over their Bearings, the isolated blue lights, bobbing amongst one another, in a what seemed a late afternoon light, a distinct glow, warmer now, but she couldn't see where the light came from, the source. It was like it was from everywhere.

"Hello, Dee." Liyuan stood beside her, one foot on the stair above.

"I don't get it." Dee gestured at the sourceless light. "It looks like it comes from somewhere over there, but it doesn't."

"What do you mean? It doesn't go anywhere. It just goes around, for contemplation."

"The light, Liyuan. Not the people. It's like it just appears out of nowhere."

Liyuan gestured behind the Sortavut. "We're looking at it. Right there, behind The Nerri."

Dee looked around the back of the Sortavut to where, surrounded in blue and green light like a magical island, there was a small hexagonal pyramid, its peak rounded off. "It comes out of that place?"

"The gathering was crazy, Dee!" He extracted a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. "The people got so very mad. They were yelling and screaming at one another. I couldn't believe it."

She took a cigarette from his hand. "Were you screaming too?"


"Me? No, no." He laughed abruptly, his teeth bared. "I would never do that."

"What did they decide?"

"There was nothing to decide. They were just mad."

Icarus inspected Liyuan's crotch and jumped down the steps.

"My family is all very upset." He lit her cigarette and then one for himself. "My mother says that I am disowned."

"You received those messages?"

"Oh, yes. From my sister too." He held the cigarette between his forefinger and index, squeezing the filter tight. "I am worried, Dee. I am worried about this terrible feeling."

"Scared?"

"I am scared, yes. This thing is very bad."

"You're being cryptic."

"The deception. It is all around, everywhere in this place." Liyuan stared back at her hard, insistent that she understand. "I remember how angry people were when I left, so long ago, thinking that I was stealing something, hiding or lying, things like that."

"They're all just babies, Liyuan. That's how all of us have always been."

"There are many millions that would do anything for us not to leave. They are very angry and they do not think about what they are doing. They are like a child that has been left. They would even kill us. Their spite is as terrible as that."

"I don't know, Liyuan. It's just people talking."

"Oh no, it's more than that. I know. I am a psychologist. That is my training."

"I thought you were some kind of mining engineer."

"Look at this." Liyuan pointed down at the Sortavut screen. "She died, that little girl died."

Dee read the text. Anori mourns its first loss, our youngest crew member on board, unborn, six months in utero.


"Complications on the flight here," Liyuan explained. "They announced it at the gathering. It's terrible, not even born."

She looked back at the screen, now offering details of what would be next, but she didn't read it. Unborn and already dead. No, she had no desire to learn more about a little girl who had never been born, who had died leaving Earth.

 

Dee didn't know how long she had slept; it felt like she had always been there, in her bed, half in dream, her hands tight between her thighs, legs pulled up, fetal, closed off in her world. She adjusted her ring and opened her Bearing.

Anori, Sinclair Log-in.

She held her hand aloft as the screen unlocked.


Hello, Dee Sinclair. Join Solaris?

She swiped to the next screen.

Welcome to Anori Mission, Day 464, Temperature 72. Initiating Sequence: 2 hours. Join Solaris?

She tapped the ship's icon and watched it rotate and hover up, a thin blue peg, its blue light radiating out against a grid of blackness, a pinprick of light, the moon, at the top left corner of her Bearing screen. The ship edged over the line, the nose turned toward the next vector, four more boxes until the top of the screen, the moon's vector. She scrolled ahead, slowly at first, empty vector after empty vector, and then started to swipe ahead like mad, waving through the vectors, a blur, the blackness, on and on, the same thing, all of it empty vectors, hundreds of millions of them to go. They were leaving, but it wasn't the moment it should have been, not like she wanted it, leaving the world like this, massive, remarkable, terrifying, like when she was young, out in the deep ocean, the monsters swirling in the depths, heart pounding, unable to think, expecting to die. This wasn't that. This was nothing, just an icon on a screen, a game, a little nothing of a thing inching ahead, a speck on a speck on a screen.

She returned to her home screen and then found an Earth broadcast, talking heads addressing the issue of Anori's departure across an oval glass table.

There is no negotiating position. A middle-aged man sliced his hand through the air. We have no choice but to condemn their treachery. Their only hope, their only course of action, is to return. Beg for mercy. Beg for it.

A woman, much younger, wore a red sleeveless dress that matched her thin lips. We have to accept their decision, Jesse. We have to. What choice do we have? If we accept what they've done, only then can we gain understanding for ourselves. That is the only way.

Jessie lurched forward, as if he might strike her. These people abandoned their families. They abandoned their countries, Con. They abandoned their species. Do you understand that, Con? They have taken their knowledge, their will to live, their future progeny, and they have abandoned all of that. They have abandoned their very planet.

Connie had remained as she was, smiling thinly back. You have to remember that despite their decision to leave Earth, despite that, they have given over every measurable asset with open use for the good of all.

They gave us nothing! Nothing that we didn't already have. Nothing.

Why do we have to consider their departure as such an affront, Jesse? It really isn't that. Can't we treat this as a cause for celebrating our potential? We need to send them off with love.

That's the exact thing, Jessie continued. That weakness will destroy us all.

They're not coming back, Jesse. You either accept their decision, as I said, or waste your time in seeking vengeance.

Mr. Lange will face that vengeance, full brunt.

You want to hang Nico Lange?

Drawing and quartering would be my preferred mode of execution.

Dee searched "Nico Lange": Nico Lange Faces Death Sentence for Crimes Against State. Nico Lange Rescinds Right to Representation. The Perverse History of Nico Lange. The idea was that Nico had sacrificed himself for the mission, but Dee knew there had to be something other than that. She remembered when she had first met him – watching as she performed for him – sitting there passive, and then when she looked back, suddenly gone. He had paid for her so many times, just to watch her perform naked, with so many others, never close to her, always still, in the dark, watching, what she had thought to be a perversion but was more of a recruitment, seeing if she might be ready for this. She glanced up again, Liyuan now gone, just the rotating screen there.

Dante's main engine will be set in motion on our 250th and final rotation. Zhe Hu's expression never changed, not monotone but seemingly on the verge of exclamation or delight, never quite there. The same signal has been sent to every station – in Russia, India, China, France and the United States. They have been informed. We have no control of how they might accept our decision.

She went back on Facebook: a gif of a woman screaming to escape a glass Anori coffin, (1.3 million likes), memes of a prisoner of war with Nico's face, set on fire, the Death Star exploding again. She tried to log into her Chase Manhattan account but was locked out, the same with her Mutual of Omaha Investment Portfolio, an invalid log-in and password. An ad for Suteishi appeared, her favorite place for sushi in the city, and then vanished. She searched sushi and The Nerri appeared. Meeting all dietary needs. She took Icarus out across the pod and found The Nerri, empty but for a tattooed young man, his baseball cap tilted backwards off his shaved head, tongue out, ear pieces tightly in, hunched over his Bearing-screen. She tried to discern his tattoos running up and down his arm, covering his shoulders and neck. There was one on the side of his head. My L—, something. It was a short word. Love? No, it wasn't love. Lord. Was it really that? Yes. My Lord. There was another word on his neck, but she could only see the side of that. There was a mass of tattoos on his other arm, a jungle – maybe vines, flowers, a woman's face. There was a crying woman, and a baby below that, maybe an angel. Were those wings? He didn't look up.

"Sit." She pushed Icarus' hindquarters down, waiting for him to circle and find his spot at her feet, and opened the Bearing again, looking for the restart option and clicked on the Anori icon, opening a page of text: Screening for Anori is genetically based, including families of as many as five, multi-generational, incorporating peoples from the six major continents, totaling 3,247 people as our incept population. While some indigenous groups are not represented, Anori's population does feature many indigenous groups from the Americas, Asia and Africa. There are 18 women in various stages of pregnancy, 34 children under 1 year of age, and six septuagenarians and one octogenarian.

It wasn't a restaurant like she had thought. It wasn't anything that she could understand. It was just another weird thing. This guy had been thrown out here too, the same as her, flung from a normal meaninglessness to this. She scrolled down her presets and projected the view from the flight deck, out to the universe. It looked like night except that it wasn't. It was a blackness she didn't understand, blackness upon blackness, like she was deep in a mine, out the bottom of that, like Val had said, depth and dimension of eternal night, a sense of seeing herself growing and shrinking with every breathe. She was a tiny nothing in a gargantuan world, immense, beyond everything and anything, looking from without the universe, above, beside, between, no direction at all, a Who in a Who-ship, rotating on a spit, alternately boiling and freezing in the unfiltered light. She remembered Nani telling her how time sped as you got older, days became hours, hours became minutes, and then it was all over, all of that waiting for something to happen now gone, only now able to wonder where it had all been. And this was worse than that, an awful hybrid of boredom and terror, her molecules dissolving, absorbed into a vacuum of nothing. This was just emptiness, nothing but that. And worse, she had chosen to be here, chosen this very thing, sitting here in this Nerri, whatever the fuck that was supposed to be, watching a tattooed body-builder transfixed by his device. There was no time, only purgatory, like the guy's tattoos said.

It is with great humility that we anticipate this new frontier. She watched the back of the screen from the Sortavut, the same message scrolling on, as it had for the past days in an odd font, the edges of the letters slightly blurred above the infinity logo of the Anori mission. As much as we are focused on the opportunities afforded on this distant world, we endeavor to maintain every possible communication with Earth and share our gathered knowledge from every possible avenue. We understand that this mission is difficult to assess from many perspectives. We acknowledge our great debt to the generations before us, to our colleagues around the world, to our compatriots, to our family and friends. We trust that you might grow to understand the aims of our exploits so that we may find honor and satisfaction together in this humble pursuit.

This was the message transmitted to Earth, followed by a fifteen-second pause, and then their reply, always the same. Abort Mission. Compliance is requisite.

The Earth had launched of a trio of missiles from Jiaquan Space Station in Mongolia, calculated to be in range of Anori within 16 hours, if they were to stay in Lagrangian Orbit. Which they weren't.

Abort Mission. Compliance is requisite.

"26 people are going back to Earth." The tattooed man suddenly appeared across from her at the counter. "Did you see that?"

"What?"

"26 people." His tattoos were not just on his arms and head but all down his legs. Hope and Love written in script, one on each thigh, below his cargo shorts, some kind of Native American symbols coming up his calves. "You ditch everything to get on this ship and then you fuck it off. That's pure fucking panic." He held his hand out to her. "Sloan."

"Dee." She took it lightly, noticing his wrists and fingers had symbols too. "Oh, I get it. They're totems."

He looked down at his calves, pulled one leg sideways, inspecting what looked like a beaver and eagle and shrugged. "That's a Martial Eagle. Know it? Lives in the fucking desert. Thing eats jackals and wildcats."

There was a sudden shift on the ship, as if they were slipping sideways down a river, the bow no longer there, everything going backwards. like missing a series of steps, the atmosphere thick, and then a metallic taste in her mouth, the rotation slowing, making her legs suddenly light. She stared up at the screens, keeping herself rigid, and arched forward onto the table. And then it passed, and she was feeling terrible, like she had been awake for days. "What the hell was that?"

"You're the animal expert, aren't you? You must know about the Martial Eagle." His accent was strong, something from the other side of the old planet.

She crouched down to look at the screen at the Sortavut but couldn't see anything. "Missiles? Are we under attacks!?"

"You ever seen one in the wild? Man, I would love to have seen that."

"What are you talking about?"

"Martial Eagle. Have you seen one?"

The ship continued to drift sideways. "What's wrong with the fucking ship?"

"We can't crash, all right, Dee? There's nothing to crash into."

"What the hell was that?"

"They've begun the ignition sequence. Firing up Dante."

Dee stared back at him, trying to figure out if he was a projection too. "We're moving now? Is that what you're saying?"

"You must have seen a shit-ton of birds. You've been everywhere, getting your animals here. I heard about that. Ever seen a Snowy Owl? I bet you have."

 "Jesus, where are you from? Are you some crazy Australian?"

"Australia? You're giving it to me?"

"New Zealand."

"Ever hear of the Torridon?"

"Is that a place?

"A place? Yes, it's a place." He cocked his mouth into a mean smile, something he had clearly practiced over the years. "Scotland. Fucking Scotland, Lassie."

"Aren't you supposed to have red hair?"

"15% of Scots have red hair. It's a low bloody number."

She was surrounded by vibrations, up along the concave walls, down the other side, crossing each other, in sync and then not. She bent down to Icarus, hoping it would just end and let him lick her hand.

"I've got a cat too." Sloan leaned over the counter as he turned his other shoulder to reveal his tattoo of a tiger coming out of a thick wall of grass. "It's a tiger."

"A tiger. Good." She waved at the jungle life coming down his arm. "What about all of the rest? Is it one big statement? Or just the remnants of binge drunks?"

"I believe." He turned his shoulder to her, a teary-eyed woman with her hands in prayer. "These are reminders of my faith."

 "Is there anywhere on your body that you left blank?"

"You're an American. You've made that bloody clear." He readjusted his baseball cap, a little higher from his eyes; he was good-looking in a bent-up small boy way. "I would guess New York or Los Angeles. Failed actress? Real estate agent?"

"Pittsburgh."

"But you moved to Los Angeles."

"New York."

He chuckled to himself as he went back to scrolling through images on his Bearing. "I knew it."

She looked around the building. "What do you do here? Just stare at your screen and tattoos?"

"You're a vegetarian, right? Egg salad on rye?"

"Sushi."

"Veggie rolls."

"Dragon rolls. Can you handle that?"

He moved abruptly under the counter and sorted through a series of containers. "What's your username? Queen-of-NY? I'll send you a Solaris request."

"Solaris? What would I want with that?"

"You're not on Eden? How can you not be on that?" Sloan turned his Bearing toward her as he worked. "What about Echo? It creates a picture for whatever you want, new or one of your saved, and you set a new background, see?" He showed her a picture of him sitting and scrolled through a series of alien backgrounds – red desert, thick jungles, swirling rainbow clouds – the perspective of the camera twisting all around his image, in profile, over his shoulder, head-on. "Cool, right?"

"It's an app."

"Kubrick! This one's it. Make your own movie, thriller, rom-com. You make everything up, the place, all the people, and then you watch it." He tilted his head, lunging under the counter as he finished cutting the sushi roll and slid the dish onto the counter. "It's right there. You can kill anyone you want. Or save them. Like you're a god. It's totally addictive."

She reached tentatively for the chopsticks, bending down to smell the fish.

"Everything's fresh."

"From what sea?"

"It's all here." He pulled a squirming lobster from its tank. "Fresh."

"Where does it come from? The fucking moon?"

"Some of it, I guess, yeah." He dried off his hands. "Anything else?"

"I'm good." She scrolled through Solaris as she ate and found a menu of icons and tapped the first one, a bird on a branch, its wings opening and closing. Mourning is recognized as a key component of our journey together. The expectancy of the older travelers with us is embraced and understood. All members of the expedition over the age of 12 are expected to teach others in the capacity that they are able.

Dee swiped back and tapped the icon of a woman, her arms back, neck stretched back, chin in the air. Sexuality is our celebration, a revered source of knowledge and understanding of our well-spring, not only pleasure but our essence. It is through our senses that we learn to question and come to a place of understanding where we accept that difference is paramount to the survival of what we believe.

She tapped the icon of a kayak surrounded by a number of quivering blue lines. Earth-out-of-view syndrome has never been experienced by our species, to say nothing of any living creature from our planet. We approach this matter with deference and acceptance. We refer to this as Qajaalaq, Greenlandic for being alone, a kayak alone at sea, lost with little hope of survival. It is an essential psychological issue on our journey for which we must prepare and guide one another to seek our inner strength in this anticipated loss of self.

"I'm not such a fan of all the Greenlandic names." Sloan stood over her shoulder, a strip of mackerel flesh in his palm. "It's not like we're there anymore."

She stared at the phrase anticipated loss of self and wondered about that, if she had had that since she was small. "Are we really leaving now? How do you even know that?"

"The whole thing is crazy when you think about it, never seeing Earth again. It can really fuck with your head if you think about it too much. Never to see it again, right?" He looked at her like he was going to laugh and then righted his head, almost winking that they both knew where they were going, not back to Earth, just that, a simple little trick, a game that they had agreed to play between themselves. "I can invite you to Eden, if you're interested. A colony-building thing, pretty awesome."

"As if."

"Fly Thru, no, that's too young for you. Casino Galaxy maybe? No." Sloan swiped through his screens. "Buy-Ubble. That's more like it. You look at least half creative, Dee. Ever want to design your own line? You select your line. Shoes, right? Stilettos, let's go with that. Okay, and then you choose your shapes here – you see the stiletto series? Your forms are here and your patterns… whatever, like I know anything about this. And, then if you like what you make, you press that. And create. The Kiki comes right to your door, your personal line in a box."

The Bearing vibrated in Dee's hand, a message from Em, the first since she'd arrived on the ship. Final thoughts?

Dee frowned as she messaged back. Where have you been?

"Oh, my god, have you even tried Ethi?" Sloan clutched his Bearing, tapping and spinning the ring, a strobe light flashing across the floor, making Icarus jump. "Seriously, have you?"

Goodnight Moon. Another message scrolled across her palm. Goodnight Earth.

Em's message almost made Dee feel better.

Why don't you bring him down to me in Miya Pod?

"Seriously, Dee," Sloan replied. "Hey, look at this."

She expected to see the Earth receding into blackness but it just a light, a ball and then a line, flowering up between them, thin, piercing bright, spreading up and curling back into a ball, a cartoonish figure suddenly there, like out of an egg, exaggerated eyes and lips, and then more human, a young man coming out of a crouch, head tilted forward and then whole, standing perfectly straight in a tight blue Anori shirt, the infinity logo sideways on his chest. "Kinarsiva."

"Kinarsiva," Sloan replied and then nodded at Dee. "Say Kinarsiva. Don't be rude."

Icarus hissed behind her as she read Em's last message. Lai says hi.

"You can touch him." Sloan slipped past her and patted the Ethi familiarly on the chest. "He likes it. Right, Oscar?"

"Yes." Oscar was a little shorter than Sloan, broader shouldered, black-skinned, with only one visible tattoo, a flowering plant on its neck. It held Sloan by the waist. "I like it, Sloan."

"What's the capital of the Faroe Islands, Oscar?"

"Torshavn," Oscar replied. "Population 50 778."

"Earth trivia," Dee commented. "Isn't that great."

Sloan shrugged at her. "What's our anticipated time of Anori's voyage to Mina?"

"167 040 Earth Hours."

"I thought it was closer to 168," Dee mocked.

"He knows everything," Sloan continued. "What's the longest I can survive without water, Oscar?"

"71 Earth hours, but I wouldn't go past 10, if I were you."

 "What about Dee?"

"Dee has more endurance," Oscar replied. "At least 83 hours."

"We have a problem with water or something?" Dee remarked.

"Ask him something," Sloan encouraged. "He's an Ethi. He knows everything, don't you, Oscar?"

"I am here for you," Oscar affirmed.

"You going to help Sloan cope with his Kajalak?" Dee demanded.

"It's pronounced Qajaalaq," Oscar corrected. "The syllables are more guttural."

"Earth-out-of-view syndrome is expected to induce suicide, correct?"

"Correct."

"What about Sloan?" She asked. "Is he going to make it?"


"Okay, that's intense," Sloan quipped.


"I cannot anticipate anyone's acceptance of this phenomenon," Oscar replied. "There are too many variables."


"I thought you knew it all," Dee replied.


"The probability is low," Oscar slapped Sloan on the back. "I think he'll do great."


Sloan gave him a high-five. "That's my boy."


"What about you, Oscar?" Dee continued. "You struggle with your non-existence?"


"I exist, just like you, Dee." He touched her arm. "I am entangled in you just as you are entangled in me."


"You're nothing, bits of nothing, 0s and 1s."


"Everything is made of particles, Dee, every living thing, all of that entangled together."


"Entanglement Theory." Sloan gave Oscar another high five. "I love that stuff."


"It's a video game." Dee pushed the Ethi's arm away. "And it's irritating."


"I am sentient."


"Sentient?" She turned on Sloan. "Is it serious?"


"Yeah, why not?" Sloan replied.


"It's a program, a fucking application, Sloan. How do you not understand that?"


 "I perceive," Oscar continued. "I feel. I understand."


"Turn it off, Sloan."


Oscar bowed and was suddenly no longer there.


Sloan closed his Bearing. "What are you so afraid of, huh? Those things do everything like you tell them. It's just for a laugh."


"I have no interest in downloading my life into their computer."


"Christ, they've already got your chromosome codes in their banks. Who cares if they know what your favorite ice cream is?"


"I'd pay for the sushi but I left my credit card on Earth." She snapped her fingers at Icarus. "Let's go, you."

To be continued.

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