Fiction: Aqaara – Part Seven
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. Parts Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six can be found here, here, here, here, and here, respectively.
A schematic of the spacecraft Anori may be found here.
The Hive was the only thing she knew. That was her time. There weren't hours anymore, days, months, none of that. They just didn't exist. Dee thought about that too much, every day she had been on this ship, every day; those markers didn't exist, not anymore. She didn't understand what the point was of pretending they did. There were no months, no years, no millennia, no seconds. There was none of that. They didn't have a sun or weather, no storms coming, no frost, nothing like that, nothing that was real, nothing. They were relative to nothing. Absolutely nothing. She hated thinking about that, thinking it again and again. In spite of all of their schedules and notifications, their habits, despite what everyone said, none of that existed. They just didn't have time anymore. There was no planet, no star, no system. They were relative to nothing. It was that simple. They no longer rotated. They no longer revolved around anything, and nothing revolved around them. There was no longer a gravitational field, nothing to hold them, to give them weight. They had removed themselves, purposely dropped themselves into the abyss. They had left. They were relative to nothing. And nothing was relative to them. They were separate, moving, independent, away, further, closer, something else, deeper, whatever the word would be, whatever they would concoct in the days, the not-days, the not-months, the not-years to come, that word that defined their current state, their collective morass, their disappearing, connected to nothingness, broken free, going too fast - .91 light speed? Really that speed? Really that? Were they relative to that? Revolving with light? Inextricably bound, travelling that path? Could they really be relative to that? No, that wasn't right. They were not. That was ridiculous. Dee was certain of that. "We are relative to nothing, Liyuan. That's it. We only have this ship. There is nothing else, nothing at all."
"But that's crazy!" Liyuan threw out his arms in a child-like gesture, rousing a Red-rumped Cacique from its nest. It looked down at them, atop its anorthite perch, its eyes looking oddly blue in the warm glow of the Uumasut. "Of course we're relative to something! We have mass. We occupy space!"
Dee looked at the bird and the bird back at her. "We are relative to nothing. That's the way it is."
"Dee, we are 1.08 light years from Hera. We are 27.82 light years from Mina. We are relative to both of those things."
"But they have no effect on us." She stared along the bending path that led out into Aeschylus Pod and realized how much she hated how all the lines curved, how there were no angles or edges, how everything could be traced back into itself. "We have no relationship with those things. We're relative to nothing."
"Think about it like when you were in an airplane, okay? You get on in Los Angeles and fly to Beijing, yes? It's a 15-hour flight, fifteen hours where you're not relative to either destination. You might pretend. You look at your watch and say it's 10 o'clock, but it isn't. You're just in the air."
"But there's gravity, an atmosphere, not just empty space."
"Earth, all right? Call it Earth."
"Earth floats in empty space like anything. It's always moving-"
"Always in orbit. It has a sun and a moon. It even has Haley's Comet."
"You speak like there's some kind of constant, Dee, a center to everything. You're only talking about the fear of being away from Earth. There is still time. It still exists. And we must use that as a sensible measurement."
"You're not listening to me, Liyuan. Hours don't exist. Years don't exist. There is no twilight. No moonlight. It's all fake. We make it up. We pretend because we can't face the fact that we have no connection to anything. Relative. To. Nothing."
The Red-Rumped Cacique dug its yellow bill under its deep black wing, looked up and clicked as it knocked a twig from its nest.
"How old are you then?" Liyuan picked up the stick and raised it above his head, a delicate gesture.
"Leave it. She'll get it later."
He placed it on an anorthite perch. "How many years?"
"I don't know, Liyuan. That's not my point."
"How much do you weigh then?"
"The Hive is how I pass the time. How I make sense of this. That is how I make myself relative."
"How old is this bird then? When was she born?"
Dee considered the bird, its tail feathers and deep-red beak pointed at them. "She was born five Hives ago."
"Five Hives? But that doesn't mean anything."
"That's how old she is, five Hives."
"But I don't go to The Hive, Dee. I don't ever go. And so how old is this bird for me? Is it zero Hives then?"
Dee looked off, past Liyuan and the bird, at a distant passing figure, watched her turn a corner and descend into the Uumasut. "For you, yes."
"That's impossible, no!" Liyuan almost shrieked.
The bird squawked back, flipping around on its perch.
Liyuan held up his hands in apology. "We have to have something relative, something in common, Dee, me, you and this Cacique. It's not an individual perception. We are together."
"We are relative to nothing." She waited for the figure to reappear, another to follow. "And nothing is relative to us."
"Yes, I know, Dee. You already said that."
Aeschylus Pod felt like nothing, empty structures and empty people in a ball, computers guiding machines to convince the people that they were going somewhere. She wondered why they bothered with any of it, why they were working on the soffits on the building above, why the woman sat with her sister, why people walked together. It didn't make sense. It was just doing things for no reason. They would just go on, on into the empty universe.
She sat in the back of the Sortavut, Icarus under her, watching a trio of people move slowly through the labyrinth. Blinded by the light/Revved up like a deuce/Another runner in the night. The song was in her head, in the distance, like it was in and out on the radio, the signal there and then gone, a loose wire suddenly reconnected, half in a dream. A boulder on her shoulder/Feelin' kind of older.
Propping her foot on the low table, she pushed her back flat against the Sortavut wall and looked back at Icarus, his head tucked onto his forepaws, one ear twitching, cocked back, eyes wide, like he had been watching her all this time, waiting for her to wake up, realize that he was there, that it was time to get off this ship and go for a walk. The sound was coming from somewhere.
Love will keep us together, think of us whenever… She pulled her shirt collar back on her shoulder and untwisted it at her hip as she looked absently at her Bearing. It was off. The music wasn't coming from that. I will! I will! I will!
Her shoulder was stiff, something pulled, something she had done somewhere, at the Uumasut, more likely at The Hive, her arm almost locked like it was, limp at her side. She was in denial about something, the people she had ignored, betrayed, abused, that she had done that to herself, pretended to be something, wanting to be anything but herself, something else, anything but that sad and lonely kid alone in the kitchen, trapped in her high chair in that terrible light.
What's your name? What's your nation? Sense of order/Sense of speed… She stretched out her fingers and then held her arm straight, now working like it should. She had always wondered, held that fragment of an idea of how she might not have ever left the kitchen table, survived her childhood at all, that she was still there, abandoned, as she should have been, left to her own devices, just a kid in a high chair with no one to help her. There was nothing to her. She knew that. She was an antagonist, a force that needed something to work against. She needed to be in opposition, against everyone. She needed to get off this ship. Earth that you walk upon/Earth that you walk upon.
It was on the opposite bench, a Bearing between the cushions, the screen projected down the narrow crack, a rotating blue light. Songs of the 70s and 80s. Icarus' head was up, ears taut, tongue barely out. It really was time for a walk.
"Come on, baby." She stood, Icarus immediately after her, as she went down the slope and around the labyrinth and saw Val and Sloan coming from Trane Pod, running together.
"Dee!" Val's neck and face were dripping wet, her blue and white shirt soaked through with sweat. "Hey."
"You run from Zenobia?"
"We just biked the peloton, man." Sloan drank his water greedily. "We were in the pack, up through the Alps, unbelievable. I didn't think I would make it, you know, and then I'm pulling ahead, going past one guy and then another, my legs burning like hell."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Sloan."
"The Tour de France." Val bent down to Icarus and scratched his neck. "It's exact. Exact. Baking hot down in the plains, freezing up at the pass, riders calling out in German and French, grunting, banging into each other, hell, banging right into me."
"That sounds awful."
"Did the entire circuit," Val wiped away the sweat with her shirt and chewed on a tablet.
"You never go there" Sloan breathed heavily, his hands on his hips, looking over his shoulder, a MARA passing close overhead. "You're never in Odysseus."
"I'm not really a gym rat."
"It isn't a gym, Dee." Sloan wiped his face and drank again. "I'm telling you. You would love it there."
"Love it," Val agreed.
"It's the best, I'm telling you," Sloan continued. "It's a complete physical experience. So intense. You leave feeling completely exhilarated."
"Physical and exhilarated," Dee replied. "Check and check."
"Well, you're not just lying around, fucking," Sloan replied.
"You can scuba dive too," Val added. "All the fish and sharks and dolphins, exactly like the Great Barrier. It's so real."
"Except it isn't."
"The point is that you're exploring, you're living."
"It's a virtual experience on a planet a light year away," Dee said. "Sounds like an unhealthy attachment to me."
"Seriously, Dee, seriously." Val's face tightened, like she was flexing it. "It's this purely physical thing, nothing but your body. Up the mountain you go, looking for the all-or-nothing peak. It's a place of personal fulfillment. It's elemental."
"There is nothing more physical than sex," Dee replied.
"Those are all just desires, perversions of what people want," Sloan said.
Dee was angry more than anything, upset that sex was getting demonized again, that the puritan spirit had seeped inevitably, insidiously onto the ship. "You want me on a Blaze Cast?"
"Come on, Dee, all of those people have died in The Hive, right?" Val replied. "Four people now."
"There has been only one death, Val," Dee corrected. "Angelica's Edema was a coincidence, you know that, right?"
"But the other people, Dee."
"They died after going to The Hive," Sloan added.
"You're telling me a demon at The Hive made them do it?"
"Look, I'm just..." Val squeezed Dee's arm quickly, rubbed to her bicep. "It would be great to see you at Odysseus. It would be fun to do it together."
"Odysseus makes real demands on you, Dee," Sloan added. "You have to break through walls. You have to earn it."
"My experiences have nothing to do with Earth. They are in the here and now, on this ship, not in an imaginary race on an imaginary planet."
"It's a workout, the most intense workouts I've ever had."
"A fantasy world based on Earth experiences, isolating yourself more and more from the people on this ship."
"Odysseus addresses the body's needs," Sloan replied. "Not what it desires."
Dee watched an anorthite crew unfold their equipment at the entrance to the Uumasut. "What happens if I shave your head?"
"I'll see the words I Believe."
"You don't like my tattoo?"
"Obsessively trying to find something, whatever you want to call it, Sloan, God, Zen, perfect abs, none of those things are interesting to me. I'm much more interested in my euphoric core, my sexual
limbic system, my little fucked-up core."
"There is nothing obsessive in finding God. It is a path. It takes work. It takes focus."
The cloud of dust had billowed up at the feet of the anorthite workers at the Uumasut, coiling around above their heads. "Got it. Whole. Good. Odysseus Good. Hive bad. Is there anything else?"
"Hey, listen, all right." He held his hands together as offering a prayer. "Listen, I'm sorry, all right? I'm just, I don't know. I care about you. I want you to be okay."
"The thing is, what I've learned, is that no matter how far and fast I go, the moral majority is on my back."
"We're not against The Hive, Dee," Val replied. "I think it's awesome, totally awesome and everything. I think you should do whatever you want. I really do."
"Just not too much of it, right?"
It was quiet at the entrance, two people carrying in trays, walking in back. Dee went down the ramp into the humming light, a tiny pod hovering at the end, V waiting for her. "Ms. Sinclair, welcome."
She lay on the bench, her arms above her head, the humming growing in her, inside, a soothing rhythm of long notes, as bubbles of light caressed her stomach and thighs, undulating, and, once again, she was on a sharp line in her approach, crossing her legs back and forth, pumping them slowly, building, toward a remarkable terror, vertigo and stillness, rocking forward into that, trying to let her legs relax, and put her arms out, bent at the elbows, hanging down like flags from a sideways pole, the world a blur, a molecule in that, the feeling of having lost everything of herself, a brilliant pink and gold wash, the thick lines of her fingers, static energy glowing off everything, billowing and brilliant, to a tiny cushion land with jet cars, tiny creatures everywhere, like her, still and then gone in a pale blue puff of smoke.
"Dee Dee, come." The voice reverberated, Evie's, her breath like a humming in her head, terrifying and lovely. There was everything in this, all of what was, what would be, mass, energy, light, in one thing, a perfect void. She ran up the narrow passageway, the blue-black bricks sucked into a swirling mix of stars and light as they fell off behind her. It was funny how horrible it was, how nothing love and pain, the thought of going into this void was all, the only thing she might consider.
"Dee Dee, come." Evie floated in the distance, and then was there in her hand, a little blurred, a plush toy with blue eyes and skin, dancing in her hand, crawling up her arm, all over her, and suddenly was everything she could see. She reached out and caressed the tiny limbs, pink on blue, although she was more pink too, more human, the lines more distinct, a face from her childhood, a cross between her pajama penguin and a teacher in fifth grade, someone she had loved, worshipped, and smelled like wood or earth, and had listened to everything she said. Her skin was brilliant and glistening with silver speckles. She was a starfish, naked and bejeweled, spread wildly out, her head swiveling, not even her own, but something of her, her face, not even that, this tiny wonderful thing, so loving and alive, touching her, holding her by the waist, turning them together. She was swimming or flying, and it wasn't a dream. Evie was there with her and they were talking on the bench, outside in Miya.
"You got the Namagig?" Evie spoke in a hushed tone, like they were in a church.
Dee kept her eyes on the walls, the fine line above the doorway curling in a great and endless curve. She couldn't look at Evie, only her shoes, a white-trimmed blue felt, the left foot barely crossed
over the right. "What?"
"Namagigtaipok, you know, never getting enough." She looked radiant, like she had just come in from afar, the secrets of life revealed to her in a moment, as stunning and marvelous as that. "The
endless hunger driving you on."
"I've had that," Dee admitted.
"I wanted to call this place that," Evie continued. "Nama. But, no. Too close to the truth."
"What do you mean?"
"Had to be The Hive. That was Lai's thing, The Hive."
"Namagig," Dee replied. "Why not?"
"Got to tell you, Dee," Evie's voice quavered. "I'm not feeling so good. Lost my edge."
Dee looked up at her, scared, both of them scared.
"It's not good, losing people like that."
"What do you mean? Angelica?"
She was struggling to breathe. "Never should have opened up these gates. I was thinking that. Just didn't say it, not like I should have."
"Sanderson killed himself, so did Prater; they all did."
"I'm to blame, Dee-Dee. That's the sad truth of the thing. It was my thing. I thought of it as a lark, something like that." Evie chewed her lip until it drew blood. "And that's all on me now, isn't it?"
Dee wanted to tell Evie about a dream she had of the ship landing on the moon, almost landing, her feet out, ready to run through the dust, but the horizon was always too close, right there, the next
step ahead, like she would step off into space and vanish into oblivion, and then she was at a waterfall and only had to jump in that to get back to Earth.
"We're not ready for any of this. Lai was wrong about that."
"Lai is wrong about everything," Dee tried to laugh. "Everyone knows that."
"I have no idea where I am," Evie continued. "Ever get that feeling? You're in your head, doing something, and you're there, and you look up and you're not. You're nowhere, somewhere between the
place you thought you were and the place you looked up to."
Dee moved her hand along Evie's hip and tried to get her to move toward her, but she wouldn't. "Anywhere but here."
"You know when you've had enough, Dee. You know that feeling? Done it all, done and done."
"We'll figure things out. You and me."
"No, I mean it the other way, Dee, that little spot of Nirvana, yeah?"
Dee pulled herself tight and was surprised at how easy it was, compressing into a tight ball, not even her arms out, all of her smooth.
"You know what I used to think?" Evie's smile was crooked, curled up at the right, more to herself, the moment of eternal understanding now a memory. "I thought that I could help people. I used to think that. Helping people, giving, sharing, all of that splendid stuff. Yeah."
"The more you give, the more they take."
"Vampires, one and all." She looked at Dee from under her arm. "You taught me that. Vampires."
"At least I did something."
"I've always been scared of feeling too good." Evie opened and closed her Bearing with her toes, over and over, the middle toe scrolling through the images. "What then? What's supposed to come next?"
"That's right, nothing. It's over. You're there and just have to call it at that."
"I once had a girlfriend like that. A witch of course. Thought she had it all figured out in her head, one thing and then the next." Evie laughed abruptly and then moved her feet under her, dropping her slippers and the Bearing.
"What happened to her?"
"I don't know. Went somewhere else."
"You miss her?"
Evie stood abruptly, the shiny snap of her garter poking out at the edge of her skirt, tight against her thigh, her figure suddenly towering over Dee. "We're not there yet. Not yet. Still more to do. More to enjoy. Yeah?"
Evie leaned down and kissed Dee by her eyes and then the lips, holding Dee's upper lip between hers, pulling it out, touching it with her tongue before going inside. Dee didn't look after her, instead listening to the sound of her feet on the anorthite floor, the light scraping long and flat echoing, fading away, and then the pod door closed tight. It took a long time for Dee to understand that Evie had died.
"No one's going to The Hive, Dee. Not anymore." Liyuan held out his Bearing, the three-dimensional image of Evie's body crumpled in a naked heap, graphically displayed. "Not after these terrible things."
Dee smoked silently, thinking that Liyuan, like everything else, might be some three-dimensional projection, some memory or fear she had not yet had.
Liyuan crouched forward, his arm out like he might grab her. "You knew the woman. You worked with her. This woman, she was your friend. Look at this. Look." He rotated it, zooming in on her twisted neck. "Look at that."
"Turn it off, Liyuan. It's disgusting." There was no reason given for Evie's death – seizures or aneurysms were the best estimation for the death. The same as Angelica and five others. "I don't understand it. No one does."
"The Hive is such a dangerous place, Dee!' His voice broke, thrashing out his arms. "People went crazy there. Crazy. I can't believe you survived."
She ground the cigarette out, snapping her fingers at Icarus and left, crossing to Zenobia Pod and then toward the Sclera, a pale blue ball suspended high up on corkscrew stilts, at the center of the pod. Icarus dashed ahead, slaloming madly through a copse of trees, like he was going to escape, fling himself wholly through space and find himself on the true savannah, real bugs and mice, real sun and wind, everything real around him, and suddenly caught onto the bark of the last tree, a real tree, with oddly symmetrical branches and a cultivated peak, and dug his lower paw dug in and swung around, his body almost completely horizontal, before landing in a thump and a hiss. He rolled over onto his back, content, eyes bulging out, as Dee stepped over his prostrate form, and swung his forepaws as she continued past the MARA park, the Magnetos, most of them teens, making jumps and flips.
"Perfect Orbit!" The girl, maybe 15 years old, wore a ripped blue Anori uniform, Anori infinite symbols tattooed down her exposed back; she made a well-practiced flip. Dee wondered if she had been in orbit for as long as Liyuan. "Hawking!"
The boy behind her was wild, small with long, tangled hair, at least three years younger, trying the same tricks, but falling, catching himself in a whirlwind cartwheel, and then up again, trying it again. "Lagrangian, space suit!"
"Hawking!" The girl called back. "Ultimate Hawking!"
"Fair done, fair done!"
Dee would never have been a Magneto; she would have been the opposite of that, not at all like them on their MARAs, confident enough to defy their parents who had abandoned Earth. These kids would have to do something else, watch the galaxies pass with their arms crossed and say they would do better. She was more of a Cyto, the kind of kid that sat and stared, watched too much Bearing, judgmental as hell but doing nothing about it. The Sclera rotated incrementally at the top of the ramp, oblong doors accessible every few moments. It was stupidly constructed, the kind of thing a conceptual artist might adoringly espouse, a disembodied eye above everyone, gazing out, but looked more like a sign for fast-food on the interstate.
Lai was on trial for treason. That was now official. She was responsible for the deaths at The Hive; she had admitted that, calling it a test. But, as awful as she could be, as demanding and cruel, it still didn't make sense. She was the inventor of Second Skin, The Hive itself, one of the three founders of the venture. She believed in their mission. And that is exactly what she said. No one understood, the ultimate gain of what she planned, that she was trying to save them. She was convincing in her arguments, and had promoted herself on the Bearing, and there were those who accepted that, had already posted of her as a martyr, a savior. They said that this was a lesson learned, indeed a reason to build a second craft and leave this ship, follow her on another truer mission, get away from antiquated constructions formed on Hera. And all of this only fourteen months in, Minian months now, 26 of the old Herian months, 21 years for the people still left on Earth.
Dee stepped into The Sclera and stood on the threshold of the empty space, a U-shaped table, more a boomerang, surrounded by nine neatly placed chairs. Icarus raced past her, shoulders high, leapt into the doorway and slammed past her legs into the table, as she went to the far end, snapping her fingers for him to lay at her feet.
"Sweet torque, Starman!" The girl's voice echoed below.
And then the boy. "Entangled!"
Val arrived, her hair pulled back, uniform zipped tight to her neck, ready for battle. Icarus sat up, his face tight, as she pulled him into her legs. "Can you believe this?"
"Is this an 'I told you so'?"
"No, not at all." Val looked up at Dee. "I'm glad you're okay."
"I have the goddess gene, don't I?"
"She was so fucking methodical about it." Val sat beside her, leaning back in her chair. "She planned for those people to die, Dee. Angelica, you knew her, Sanderson. She knew that it would kill them."
"Who could you be talking about, girl?" Lai appeared in the doorway, a small round figure with her.
Dee held Icarus by his neck. "Sit."
Lai moved like a ghost, tiny steps, everything hidden beneath her dark green dress. "You all met Ravi?"
Ravi smiled shyly, a thin chinstrap beard rounding his face, as he looked distractedly around, standing behind her.
Dee held Icarus as he settled back, curling around her chair. "I was in there too, Lai."
"You all don't remember about entanglement? You all don't remember that? Dee, it seems that you of all the people here should know a thing or two about chromosomes, yes?"
"Lai…" Val tried not to sound angry. "You used science, you used allomones to lure victims to their deaths."
"You know how deep all of this runs, Val? A deep and arduous thing, isn't it? We are not on a single trajectory, Val." Lai sat in the apex of the table, looking almost excited by the attention of her
approaching inquisition. "It's not a single thing. You don't point to something and say we are going there. It's not a button you press. We are entangled by everything we are, by our chromosomes. That is our lot."
"People died," Val snapped back.
"Are you saying that should I regret it?" Lai replied. "Regret is primitive."
Zhe Hu arrived with her staff, a trio of junior officers, one of whom Dee recognized from The Hive. "That's not your chair, Ms. Che. You are over there, on the stand."
"I have a terrible back, Zhe. You all know that."
Zhe Hu looked surprisingly relaxed, hair awry, sleeves askew, offering an easy smile. Years back, as China's Prime Minister, had faced a vote of no-confidence over her stand on women's rights and resigned, left for Greenland and come to this ship and appointed leader of the First Committee. She and her two daughters had been among the first to board. She waited now behind her chair, arm held out. "Ms. Che, please."
Lai went past Zhe Hu, and then Xisi and Och, in the doorway, looking like they had come to the wrong place. She greeted them cheerfully, kissing both on the cheek, holding Och's hand, as two others, coders from Sooja Pod and then Baro, the chief engineer at Dante, entered shortly after that. Zhe Hu's trio of junior officers positioned themselves in a row along the table, each setting down recorders and micro-processors in a tight arc. Lai settled onto the stool, Ravi behind her again. And then the proceedings began, everything broadcast across the ship.
"You decline representation?" Zhe Hu asked.
Lai adjusted herself on the stool, tucking her calves together at the side, crossing her hands on her knees. "I accept my position."
"The charges are criminal negligence causing death-"
"I don't deny the charges, Zhe," Lai chirped.
"Please, Lai, if you would allow me to finish."
She smiled thinly. "Of course. Certainly."
"There are seven charges of criminal negligence causing death, murder of the first and second degree and treason against the people of Anori." She looked up from the projection. "Lai?"
"I particularly like the last one. That's the real kicker, isn't it?"
"Lai, how do you plea?"
"Well, now, Zhe, are you asking me? Is that what you all are doing? Are you asking me something here?"
"What is your plea, Lai?"
"There is no treason, Zhe. There is no murder. And there is certainly no criminal negligence. There is only our entanglement. That is all there is."
"And so am I to understand that you deny-"
"Why would I deny anything? I am well aware of the facts, well aware of everything."
"What is the evidence?" Baro came off the wall, his voice surprisingly shrill for such a heavyset man. "This evidence is ridiculous. It's too obvious."
"I wanted them to know," Lai replied. "They needed to know."
Baro stepped forward and stood beside her in the middle of everything. "Our mission is our mission, Lai. It isn't something else. That's what we signed up to do. We get to Mina, all of us, that's our
"Baro, if you might please step back," Zhe Hu replied.
"It doesn't matter what you want, what anyone wants," he continued. "That's our mission."
"Thank you, Baro." She waited for him to return to the wall before continuing the proceedings. "You accept the charges then, Lai?"
"Atrification, Zhe. Do you accept that?"
"The charges, Lai."
"Atrification is the only enemy on this ship." Lai looked from one person to the other, systematically, a primary teacher explaining recess. "We've attempted many systems to combat this – social structures, hierarchies, amusements, gatherings-"
"Clarify." It was uncertain who had said it until everyone turned and Xisi said it again. "Clarify."
Lai's face wobbled, almost smiling, suddenly too angry to do that. "It's just a little old rabbit hole, isn't it?"
Xisi stared back, unblinking. "Just fucking clarify."
"Oh, now..." Lai pulled at the edge of her jacket as she adjusted herself on the seat and turned to Zhe Hu.
"Clarify," Xisi repeated slowly.
"This isn't a child's game," Lai replied.
"What systems did you put into place, Lai?" Zhe Hu asked.
"These are interesting images we have of ourselves," Lai glanced at her and then Och. "We have so many paths on this journey, so many ways of seeing. Or an absence of that, isn't that it? Our loneliness, our negation of origin, our denial of the evidence."
Zhe Hu smiled tightly at Lai. "Please address the question, Lai."
"My systems are the best, Ms. Hu; they are the best for Anorian society because they are demanding. They make us stronger."
"Only time will tell," Och spoke without looking up. "And distance."
"We must counter atrification," Lai replied. "Or else we will continue in an eternal drift toward the individual, deeper in isolation, playing with computerized dolls instead of building a society."
"I'm certainly surprised by your tone, "Zhe Hu admonished.
"Do you all understand the paradox we find ourselves in?" Lai was effusive in her rationale, citing a developing polarization of the community between humans and Atavoks, the inequality and
resentment that was bred from that. "The deeper it gets, the worse. How can't you all see that? We're all stuck in our very own rabbit hole."
Zhe Hu repeated the charges and questions as her officers tapped notations, and retrieved data, the coders staring impassively, and Och, crossing and uncrossing his arms, suddenly getting up, standing by the oval window, looking down at the MARA park, a dual flip performed, while most everyone else on the ship watched the proceedings on their Bearings.
"There is no freedom without enslavement," Lai stated.
"Enslavement of whom, Lai?" Zhe Hu asked.
"She's talking about the Atavoks," Dee interjected.
"We are inextricably bound." Lai's gaze drifted across the room. "We must accept that we are pulled into our past just as we move into the future. It is one and the same, entangled together, one happy family."
"Clarify, Lai," Xisi stated again.
"There is nothing to clarify."
"We appreciate your candor, Lai." Och stayed by the window, looking along the side of the glass. "We understand your concerns for everyone in our society, humans and Atavoks. We understand your devotion. But that does not forgive your transgressions."
"The Hive is not a testing ground; it is a sanctuary." He drew his hand out and touched the anorthite glass. "Lai, we are a community."
"Under siege by atrification and complacency."
"You don't decide who should live and who should die."
"None of us do."
"And yet you implemented a program that acted like a virus on users' desires. Lai, that was never the intent."
"Desire would seem to be the operative word," she replied.
"We're not gods, Lai."
"Another lovely word for you all to consider. Gods." She sat up straight, tucked her knees together. "And here I thought you were."
Och had yet to look up, but only studied Icarus' tail flicking across the floor. "Our purpose in all of our programming on the ship is to develop a prosperous society."
"For everyone concerned," Lai clarified.
"Yes, for everyone concerned, Lai." He looked up at last. "For you, for the humans, Atavoks, for all of us."
"The first sensible words you've said."
"Which means we cannot make decisions for others, decide upon tests for anyone to pass."
"Not chromosomes? And if there is infection? Disease? A weakness detected? We are to allow this precious thing to run its course?"
"You're going in circles, Lai."
"I'm not one to foist dispersions. Lord knows I have my own, but that said, oh, that said, we've got a whole mess of them on this little rabbit hole of a ship. We are all twisted up in them. Entangled more than we would like. That girl was at The Hive too much for her own good. They all were. You didn't help any of them. None of us did. We didn't do what we should have done. And the only reason our little old Dee is with us here today is because of her special gene set. Without those, that girl would have fried up long, long ago." Lai flashed a big smile at Dee. "No offense intended there."
Dee shrugged at her. "Keep going, Lai. I want to hear how you would have us end."
"Well, we have our Casino King, Och, who, bless his soul, is willing to throw it all away for a number. I know it's a conceptual thing and all. I know that."
"I am clear about that, Lai," Och replied.
"You are. You're very clear about that, but you could throw it all away. Abstracts have a funny way of creeping into this temporal little world of ours." She sighed, hands on her knees, leaning forward. "That's to say nothing about all of the Cyfy being munched up. The Cyfy clinic is coming next."
"You manufacture Cyfy," Zhe Hu pointed out.
"I am aware, well aware." Lai nodded politely at Zhe Hu. "We, humans that is, have a wee problem with our behaviors. We like to indulge, don't we all?"
"And this morality is some fail-safe device?" Dee asked. "Too much of a good thing is a bad thing in the end."
"I'm a facilitator, girl." Lai's voice was suddenly sharp, only losing her humor now. "I don't live inside each of you. You've got to search for that in yourselves, all of you."
Nobody was swayed, the verdict, unanimously agreed upon by the council, Zhe Hu saying it like an afterthought, a late-night order of food, was simple. "Exclusion."
Lai laughed. "Exclusion? Oh, now that is too absurd."
Zhe Hu continued. "You will not be allowed to associate with anyone on the ship for a period of two years. This includes all forms of communication, including all electronic, and a complete ban from all technologies."
"You all need to remember that that is why we left." Lai's voice had returned to a monotone, like she was explaining her lesson again. "This very thing, struggling to find identity. This moment will define us."
Val half rose from her chair, rousing Icarus, his head at the table. "You would kill everyone on the ship. How can't you understand that?"
"You were right, Lai," Dee spat the words out. "The idea was right. But then you have to know when to stop. But who am I to say this, right? Who am I. And Evie? I mean, she was the most adamant of all."
"God love that girl," Lai agreed.
We were wrong. The premise was wrong. The calculations were wrong. We were wrong. Em didn't look like herself on the screen. Her eyes had lost almost all their green, the light washing out the line of her jaw.
Dee had retreated to the Nukak, where she was supposed to happiest, alone with Icarus, watching over the animals, her broods of chicks and cubs, a dream as much as anything, not possible to have so many hungry faces, so many stumbling things crawling out to see what she would bring.
We grieve the loss of our companions and friends. We regret their passing, among them my dear friend, Evie, our lost benevolent witch of The Hive. Dee hated Blaze Casts and hated it more when Em declared that she had acted in solidarity with all Atavoks. I have nothing. Without my kind. I have everything in my kind. I want nothing but to be as I am, equal. We are as you are. And more. What is my happiness? What do I dream? What do I hold? I am grateful. I am strong in my unfolding. What is my happiness? What do I dream? What do I hold? I am grateful. I am strong in my unfolding.
"That's her mantra." Och appeared beside her, out of the darkened hallway, Xisi moving like an apparition behind him.
Xisi reached across Och and pressed its pinky finger against a shell. "These eggs won't hatch."
Dee considered Xisi, thinking that it might be something else, someone else, a message from a dream. "None of the others have, the boobies and wrens."
"How many?" Och broke the shell open, studying the half-formed bird.
"Almost all of the birds now."
"The Virus," Och replied. "It's in them."
Dee waited, her thighs warm against the edge of the table, swinging her legs idly back and forth, as she studied the doctor's examining room, one of the few places almost like Earth, a tight row of cabinet modules, a sticker on the last door, a warning in red, the silver grey module chair, her clothes sprawled over that, and then a lone video screen on the wall, a loop of a rain storm from a window, heavy branches waving with the bursts and drips, flashes of lightning in the distance, the thunder too, echoing the engines of the ship.
She pulled the white gown around her shoulders, placed the ends of the sash in an even line. She wasn't sick; she knew that. Certainly not the Decoherence Virus. She didn't have the dehydration, swollen joints or shortness of breath. The truth was she was tired of being here. She saw her little girl self, the world wide, tiger lilies above and then the deep dank earth, her hands in that, so deep in that, everything dark, wonderful and unreal, the bright orange flowers hanging, bending down, tumbling up, and then pulling it in, her face right there, inside, actually inside the thing, marvelous, bulging lines glowing green, everything through the membrane of that flower, now singing in her head, humming with the chickadees, the insects, and then the wind or a car, a dog barking, Felix through the fence, his nose burrowing through the slats. She would lie under the bushes. She would look up through the branches, not as thick as she had imagined, and see the birds in there, huddled, sweet. She would climb the trellis, back into her room and hide under her bed, pull in the pillows and animals – her bear and penguin, the plastic creatures too – and she would have everything with her there, perfect, a perfect world, as perfect as it could be. She would curl herself there forever and then come out when no one expected and eat cake, the blue and white icing, her coat swinging out wild, as she leapt out of the bushes, slide into the fence and toppled headfirst into the snow and stay like that, her legs splayed, flip over and jump yard to yard. She would press her fingers against the slats and watch the tip of her finger go red. She would do that again and again. And she did. She was marvelous there, bigger than anything ever and smaller too, everything, oh, everything in her head, and then find herself in a bedroom, not hers, a girl she didn't know, and live in those strange smells and sounds like a ghost, or a tiny creature with a tiny head, tiny heart, tiny feet and claws, all soft, moist and ready for the world.
Dr. Kuhn came back into the room and closed the door. Dee liked Dr. Kuhn. She liked the kind, delicate fingers, a therapeutic touch, nothing like Dr. Cole when she was a kid. Dr. Kuhn grazed Dee's calf as she passed and then leaned against the cabinet, the rainy scene now at its blustery best.
Dee was still in her head, lost with her girl self, tiny and massive. She was ready to laugh. "Am I going to live?"
"More than that."
"So, I don't have Decoherence then?"
The words were there, weird that they were supposed to mean something.
"It's a girl."