Wednesday, April 10, 2019

[chapter 2]

The children’s names were Abdan and Mershi. Preteens, traumatized. Everyone helped, but Mazi turned out to be surprisingly good with them. Jase started teaching them how to read and the Ambassador would knit them garments while being petted by them. Mazi took all of their gear out of their quarters and it was remade into a room for the kids.

But they had been raised as slaves, outside of civilized humanspace. All they knew was being used cruelly. That’s why Mazi was good with them, despite being scarred and brutal; Mazi knew what it was like to have to share air with broken wrecks. Mazi could tell when they wanted to eat, or cuddle with the Ambassador, or needed to be alone.

The children, with the way they grew up, they couldn’t even imagine an angel, To them the Ambassador was a big softpet. The luckiest child slaves got a hand-me-down or cast-offt; they were the currency of their rudimentary economy. The ambassador knitted, and piece by piece replaced the oversize garments that the crew gave them to replace the filthy rags they had been wearing.

Mershi knew some words and letters, Abdan was completly illiterate. Jase did their best to teach them. Wer thought that, considering Jase’s temperment, they would have gotten along, but after a brief period of awkwardly getting to know each other Wer could have sworn that the children had began getting the better of and taking advantage of Jase. Wer shrugged, lit a cigarette.

Completely unsurprisingly Jase was the only one that had any media that was both appropriate and that they found engaging. For games night cards, dice and Panzerkraft was replaced with children’s games that Jase printed out from an entertainment archive on his server. Snakes, ladder, micetraps, dice under plastic domes. It was actually a relief playing the completely luck based boardgames after the repeated farce of the Ambassador pretending that they couldn’t win at every hand of poker.; their performance had been flawless, leaving no one feeling condescended, but it was still an insult to their intelligences when they thought about it afterwards.

-

Wer had been expecting past-date MREs. Instead it was a durafoam case of fresh fish sealed in transparent foil packets. They were unpacking the pallet of supplies after the initial business with the children had been taken care of.

“These say ‘Product of Hades’ on them. Assuming that nobody would sell counterfeit Hades raised fish on Hades, how infested and polluted do you think these are?”

“They can’t be any worse than these blank label cigarettes that you’re going to suck down. Besides, I’ve seen you smoke fucking fast Wer, while you were integrated with the fucking helm. You used to call yourself the human garbage can.”

“That time was an emergency Mazi, I’m way too old for fast anymore. Anyways, I’m not worried about myself but the Ambassador doesn’t smoke, Jase doesn’t smoke, the kids don’t...” Wer stopped and looked at Mazi.

“Both of them Wer. Slaves get by with whatever they can.”

“Well, I’m not going to take away whatever small pleasure they have after the hell their lives have been.”

Wer continued digging through the pallet. “Anyways, if you knew that then you damn well have better bought extra cigarettes as well.”

-

Jase figured out how to make fish sticks. It was the only thing the kids liked, everyone else resigned themselves to fish sticks for every meal. The Ambassador gave all of the fruit from the plants they kept in their cabin to the children, after peeling and cutting them them up. Wer had seen the signs of malnutrition and had talked to them about it. The Ambassador did a convincing performance of pretending that they hadn’t already thought about it.

One time Wer found Jase watching recordings of the encounter with the grown up ship at Hades. Wer watched for several minutes as Jase changed camera, speed, rewound, repeated. Wer sparked a cigarette. “what are you looking for Jase?”

“I feel like I’m missing something.”

Wer sighed. You miss everything with the grown ups, that’s why they’re gods.

“Okay Jase, let me know if you find anything you think is important.”

-

Mazi had slung a hammock in the hold. Snorted when Wer asked if they were okay bunking there.

Wer shrugged, “I still have to ask. I know your ass is made out of granite but I gotta do due diligence. Anyways, do you think we can drop the kids off at Gilead?”

“An illegal colony of a primitivist cult outside of civilization? Maybe I should have left them at Hades instead Wer.”

“Fuck off Mazi. They’re some sort of peace church, maybe they’re not that crazy. Maybe the kids are better off far away from civilization, the cops and the corps, at least out there they might have some sort of freedom.”

“Wer, I’ve been through bad shit, you fucking know that. And I went through it with a bunch of others, and most of them didn’t make it. I’m telling you those kids need real help.”

“It’s an isolated colony Mazi, even if they are a primitivist cult, they still might have good mental health care. How about we check it out the colony and then we can talk? We’re still getting there well before the rendezvous. Always arrive early. I get it, you did the right thing and you want to follow it through. I support it. I just don’t know if the kids are going to be that safe with us.”

“We check out the colony Wer. Any bad vibes, we take them somewhere better.”

-

Wer was dreaming. The ship was dark, quiet. He got up from his bunk. His door was open. Walking down the corridor, he could see dim flickering light from the bridge.

One of the children was there, standing before a console flickering with white noise. The child put their hand out, palm first, and pressed it against, through and into the console display.

Wer tried, couldn’t move. Legs unresponsive, body slow, clumsy, anaesthetized.

The child leaned back, forearm immersed in the console. The white noise spreading up out and around the console.

Slow the child turned, their body rubbery, and Wer was frozen staring into eyes full of white noise, getting larger, pulling them forward....

-

Gilead was a young planet. Larger than Earth, but with a less dense crust. It still had a magnetosphere. Liquid water. Life, primitive plants and invertebrates, simple enough to both crudely compatible with human biochemistry without significant issues.

The Vespers were some variety of breakaway heretic Catholic sect: egalitarian, communal, pacifist, repudiating technology that they felt was detrimental to the soul. Wer had no idea when the last time a ship had been in the system. They had no communication facilities so the transit from the gravity wall was deaf.

-

“Those are fucking gibbets Wer. Wheels. Cages. This is fucking medieval shit Wer.”

“I see the bodies Mazi. I see the smoke and I see the people.” Wer lowered the binoculars, “We keep the kids with us until we find someplace good.”

Mazi nodded. Looked through their binoculars at the village. “This looks really fucking ugly.”

“You want to find out what happened?”

Mazi snorted, look at Wer, raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, let’s get back up and stay in offdirt until the meetup.”

-

It was better part of a week before the meet. The crew started getting tense again. Everyone had been looking forward to time on actual habitable pleasant planet. From orbit running slow detail scans it looked like whatever had happened had happened in everywhere. They found a couple of battlefields strew with bodies. The agricultural fields looked wrong, bruised and stained.

-

Wer heard a knock at the door to their cabin. Sighed, took a deep drag off of the spliff. “Come in.”

Jase entered, carrying a dataslab, shut the door.

“What’s this about Jase?”

Jae held up the ‘slab. There was a piece of paper on it, “Always assume that someone is listening”

Wer nodded.

Jase removes the piece of paper, shows the slab display

It’s a video, paused. Half of the display is a video capture of the bridge during the encounter with the ship at Hades. The other half is a composite of external cameras. The blobs. The receding ship-thing in one square.

Jase points at the Ambassador, zooms in on their hands, knitting. Starts the video.

The needles flashe. The audio was off but Wer imagines the clicking.

The video runs until Mazi turns and obviously glares at the ambassador. The ambassador stops knitting.

Jase rewinds the video. Plays it again, slower.

Wer leans forward, watching. The video runs until the knitting stops.

Jase plays it again, slower. And then again, even slower.

Halfway through the playback Wer nods, holds out his hand for the piece of paper, writes on it, holds it up.

“Show Mazi”

-

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