Posted - 2011.03.24 13:20:00 - [1
Hello, is this Ö ?
I guess it is. Or not. I guess it doesnít really matter.
If it isnít working, Iím just talking to myself. Like those people you see down by the docks at most stations, ship crew who were out in the black too long and too far, muttering to themselves and staring at nothing, like some part of themselves got stuck back out there in between jumps and what made it home was always going to be lonely for it.
That would have bothered me, before. Talking to myself, like a crazy person. But it doesnít really seem to matter now.
I guess a lot of things donít really matter now. When you get right down to it. Not now. Not here.
Itís been Ö forty-three days.
On day one, of course, we didnít know that it was day one. It was just Diutriach, second Diutriach of the month which meant it was the day life-support maintenance pulled and replaced the carbon-scrubbers on the port side modules in the storage silo. And by life-support maintenance, I mean me, mostly, me and Ylomaa. We pretty much did all the scrubbers across the whole tower through a two-week fuel cycle and then started again.
It was our job, not complicated, but it took a certain practice, setting and re-setting every filter perfectly and tightening every screw enough but not too much, just to where the give stopped.
Thatís why Iím still alive.
Because it was our job.
Life-support tech was one of the desirable categories the XO put on his list.
Female was another.
I had two ticks next to my name, so Iím still alive.
Ylomaa had just one.
There wasnít any reason to see any of it coming, that Diutriach, day one. The Captain often left his ships at the tower and pod-rolled back out of W-space for a few days, a week, two sometimes.
Canít blame him, even if we didnít get the option. W-space is pretty creepy if you spend too much time thinking about it, what with the Sleepers who arenít exactly alive and certainly arenít dead, and the connections between systems that are here one day and gone the next. Itís like youíre living inside a permanent warp-bubble or something, in that gap between one moment of normal space and the next.
So yeah, if you have an option, heading back to where there are solid edges to things for a while might feel like a pretty good idea.
So off he went, and on we went, replacing scrubbers and processing gases and all the rest of the usual day-to-day business, and no doubt the crews on his ships went on about their day-to-day business as well, keeping everything running so their life-support kept humming and the shields stayed up, and so the ships would be ready to be spun straight up to combat ready when the captain came back.
Except he didnít come back.
A fatal accident, the notification said. When he was being reanimated at the cloning facility.
We share your sorrow.
We were sitting in a wormhole that no-one alive knew the co-ordinates to and they were safe at Vilur Six Ishukone station. They shared our sorrow?
I really, really doubt it.
I guess there were a whole lot of pretty frantic meetings among the higher-ups after the notification came. They didnít tell us squat, of course. A bunch of people just upped and killed themselves right off, did the math on how much fuel the tower had left and decided to get it over with I suppose, and maybe they were the smart ones. The rest of us, Ylomaa and me included, kept on doing our jobs and trying not to think about things. Itís not like signing up to work for a podder in W-space was ever exactly a low-risk proposition, after all.
Posted - 2011.03.24 13:24:00 - [2
Still. I didnít do a whole lot of sleeping, and neither did Ylomaa. We played a lot of cards, sitting on his bunk. Talked, too, keeping our voices low so as not to disturb anyone who could sleep, unlikely as that seemed. Talked probably more than we ever had up until then, for all weíd worked together two years and a handful of days.
Looking back, I think it was because we both knew we were going to die there. Even if someone had come up with a way to jury-rig one of the captainís ships for ice-mining, thereís no ice belts in W-space and the tower didnít have the facilities to refine it into fuel. Not to mention the rest of it, the stuff the captain had made down the bottom of gravity wells. The tower was going dark, I knew it, Ylomaa knew it, everyone knew it, and there was a kind of peace that came with knowing it, a stillness like our hearts had already stopped beating in our chests and there was just a quiet hollow where all the wanting and striving and hopes and fears of our lives had used to be.
A space, between living and dying, a space for things there hadnít been space for before.
It should have been an awful nightmare of a time, those days between the captain dying and the XO making his announcement, but it wasnít. It was Ö
Better than what came after, thatís for sure.
I hadnít even really thought about the ships before the XOís announcement. I mean, I knew, everyone did, that ships could run their systems for a lot longer than towers could without fuel or supplies, maybe forever if nothing went wrong and maintenance kept happening. But the captainís ships were just out there, like they always were. Ship crew and station crew didnít have much to do with each other at the best of times. They thought we had it easy compared to them, and given how often the captain lost ships they were probably right. And we didnít really care what they thought of us, since mostly they didnít live long enough for any opinions to matter.
So, yeah, I hadnít really thought about the ships, or the people on them, or the fact that we had a lot more in common than weíd used to, all of us stuck being in the wormhole together.
Theyíd been thinking about us, though. At least, the top people on them, the officers, had been. Commander Hekken, the XO on the captainís biggest ship, got put in charge, or put himself in charge maybe, since he strikes me as the kind of man to do that.
The kind of man to decide that something needs to be done and to go on and do it.
And never mind the niceties.
The best chance for the greatest number of people, is what he said. And itís not like I think he was lying, exactly.
But the ships, the ships keep on running, indefinitely, only as long as they have the right parts and supplies.
And those parts and supplies Ö includes the trained hands that take out things that are broken and mend them and put them back. When you come right down to it, thatís what we are, isnít it, as far as the ships are concerned?
Self-replicating spare parts.
It didnít go smoothly, of course. In the end, they had to send marines over with the shuttles, to keep the people who werenít chosen off.
And drag those of us who were chosen on.
I didnít want to leave Ylomaa. There was a part of me, though, I have to admit it, a part of me that was glad they didnít give us a say in it, us chosen.
Because I donít know what I would have done, when it comes down to it.
I know what I would like to believe I would have done, and thatís stay with Ylomaa, turn down the chance of living a little longer on this ship with these people I donít know and be with him until the end and maybe find out if there really is something after.
Posted - 2011.03.24 13:27:00 - [3
But with the shuttle right there and him saying to me Donít be stupid, I want you to go, I want to know youíre going to make it, go on, go on now Ö
Thereís a part of me thatís glad they didnít give us a choice.
We got sort of a choice when we got on board. The XO explained that living space was going to be tight and we were all going to have to share anyway so we might as well get on with it, especially given as it was why we were picked in the first place. He put it nicer than that but we all got what he meant, all of us from the tower and the men lined up on the other side of the mess hall too.
They gave us a few minutes to make up our minds, which I guess in normal circumstances wouldnít seem like enough but by then I mostly wanted it over with and I guess most of the other women did too, because it didnít take long before we were pretty much paired up.
I picked Kemiloto almost as soon as I saw him. Not that heís much to look at, or anything. But he wasnít looking us over like some of the guys were, trying to pick which one of us heíd impress.
And he was the only one who brought flowers.
Not real flowers, of course. He works in recycling and heíd cut up some flim-print out of the bins into sort of flower shapes. And it wasnít like I could keep them, thereís no waste on the ship these days, not at all. I got to hold onto them while we walked back to his rack, that was all, and then they had to go into the Ďcycler with everything else.
Itís not a lot to go on, but it was all I had. And I guess when you get right down to it, it doesnít really matter a whole lot, who I would have picked for myself, back before day one, or who I might pick for myself some time in the future if any capsuleer ever finds us here and helps themselves to the Captainís ships and takes us all back to the world. Was and will be is all very well, but now is in between.
And Kemiloto wasnít a bad choice, all things considered. He didnít try and touch me, or anything, not until I told him it was okay with me. At first I thought it never would be, but then, after a couple of weeks, when I started to suspect, I wanted Ö to keep my options open, I suppose.
Not that Iím planning on lying to him about it. But sometimes you need to be able to tell yourself that thereís things you can decide.
Not because you donít know what youíre going to decide, when it comes down to it, no. Until you do, though, until you do tell yourself this is what Iím going to do, nothingís certain. There arenít any edges to things, just a space where things can happen, things that havenít happened yet and maybe havenít ever happened before.
Maybe Iíll lie to Kemiloto. Maybe Iíll tell him the truth.
Maybe itíll be a boy, and maybe Iíll name him Ylomaa.
Maybe another podder will find us tomorrow, and my child will be born in Vilur, like me.
Maybe weíll live here for the rest of time, and my grandchildren will one day teach their children how to replace carbon scrubbers and carefully tighten every screw just until the give stops.
Maybe Kemiloto will hang paper flowers above the babyís bassinet.