Dark phase was the best part of a trip for Commander Sasha Sarno. It was quiet, a respite from the busier, nosier times on each end of an interstellar journey. People on planets always wanted information. When in dark phase, the information on the ship Ocean was self-contained, carried with them. No communications back and forth were possible until they were in range of Demeter, the destination planet. They were replete. Alone on deck, she was truly commander, like the seafarers of old.
Noor was analyzing knowledge sliplines when Sasha arrived on the bridge in the early hours. Time moved slowly through the night, when Noor worked, and she made the most of it, using much of the time for the deep thought formation and n-dimensional metaphors she liked to dabble in.
"I knew you'd be in the mode," Sasha said.
Noor roused herself from her work, her portable image illuminating her face from below, her upper body a brighter bobble of light in the dim shadows of the nighttime bridge. The images encasing the room displayed a gentle cascade of subtle glows, indicating processes.
"Never waste a dark phase," Noor said.
Sasha ran her eyes over the output from the night, touching a spot here and there on any image requesting feedback or verification. "Get some good stuff?"
"Not yet. I'm toying with something, but I don't know if it will work."
Sasha frowned at the trajectories image. "I'm sure it will."
"Then you know more than I do." Noor slid the portable image against the wall beside her, where it adhered. With a great yawn and a stretch, she got the kinks out of her back before she rose to join Sasha.
"Anything new?" Noor said. "All quiet last night."
"No. Just the trajectory modification Rai suggested. It's different from the projection."
"Yeah. Saves fuel, saves time, right, Rai?"
The ship computer, nicknamed Rai, pronounced Ry, responded. "This trajectory improves time and fuel outcomes, as Officer Sultana said."
Sasha said, "It doesn't increase any asteroid belt dangers as we pass by the Sextant?"
"No, Commander," Rai said. "Although we will slingshot closer to the Sextant, the angle of approach and increase in speed around the planet will still pass us within safe limits for asteroid interference."
"Good. Let me know if any differing projections arise." Sasha looked over at Noor. "Are you heading to bed?"
"Might do a few laps. My legs are twitchy."
Noor stretched some more, her legs a triangle as she alternated pressing her chest to each knee.
"Anybody coming by in the night?" Sasha asked.
"Nope. You've got them all tucked up, like you always do by this point in a trip."
"More quiet for you."
"That's why you're my favorite boss."
Sasha mimed a regal flourish.
Noor sketched a wave as she took off at a run, out of the bridge, across the gangway, and on her way to lay down a couple miles before she took her sleep.
"Safety evacuation drill at oh-nine hundred." Rai's voice came over the ship speaker. "All hands, all passengers, report to deck three, starboard aft at oh-nine hundred."
Pilot Kal Black Bear was working in the greenhouse when the announcement came through. Full-spectrum artificial light filtered down in shifting columns, making patterns on her forearms and hands as she loosened the soil to divide and replant some irises. They would flower in time for the end of the trip. She planned to make a potted display for Commander Sarno as a thank you.
Sasha was a different sort of boss. She was laid-back, easy to talk to, respectful of silence, aware of the unspoken in a way that reminded Kal of her favorite aunt, the only mother she had known, the person she missed most in the world. Sasha's reputation was for both tactful and efficient delivery of able-bodied, able-minded experts to the colonies. Space flights could be hard on the specialists chosen for colony development.
A temperamental lot, at times, the artists, writers, scientists, culture workers, and architects brought in to lay down the fundamental structure for a new society after the early infrastructure and personnel were in place. They didn't always love change. Mixed feelings, even regrets, about transportation from a home planet to an unknown one were common. Sasha had the rare ability to get them there without loss of confidence, sleep, or sanity. Her reputation was growing. Kal would learn all she could from her.
This trip was different. Though Sasha had been known for other trips to other colonies funded by governments or corporate entities, this one had a very different aim and unique support. They were contracted for this mission, on the specially-designed craft Ocean, by the Aldortok Consortium, funded by Aldortok Etok, founder and First Nations visionary. She had sponsored this exploratory mission from the beginning with the specific aim of finding an Earth-like planet where a new society, built from the ground up with the input of indigenous peoples, could show Earth and other off-world planets what indigenous people knew and could create without the help of the historically colonialist input of nations. It was unprecedented. Kal was proud to be part of it.
The black and purple iris in Kal's hands fell apart easily at the new rhizome as she shook it and insinuated her thumb in its divide. As she placed one of the bulbs in the hollow of dirt she had dug, a shadow loomed over her shoulder, cutting off the wavering light from above. Only one person could approach her without Kal knowing it. The broad-shouldered Gunnhildur Rut, Flight Engineer, was light on her feet and silent. She liked to make a joke of how she could sneak up on Kal when no one else could.
"Hi, Gunn," Kal said, without emotion. Her theory was she could break Gunn of it eventually, if she never reacted.
"Hello, Kal. Digging, eh?"
"Planting things." Kal pushed the earth in around the top of the bulb and sat back on her heels. Brushing the dirt off her hands onto her trousers, she looked up at Gunn, a silhouette against the light.
"Planting or planning?"
When Kal didn't understand one of Gunn's oblique statements, she ignored it. "I like the flowers."
Gunn didn't need to know what they were for. Kal hadn't flown with Gunn before. On Kal's first trip with Commander Sarno, Gunn had been on home leave. This was Kal's second, and Gunn was back.
"I prefer the desert." Gunn nodded at the succulent, dry climate room next door. "It reminds me a little of home."
"Oh, right," Kal followed Gunn's gaze to the taupe sandy environ to their right, a bit puzzled. Gunn was Icelandic, like Sif Elfa, one of the passengers. Was Iceland desert-like? Kal thought not.
"Need a bit more volcanic sand though," Gunn said.
"That would be striking." Kal could picture it, the black sand a backdrop to the green cactuses.
"I'll bring some in my backpack. Next time." Gunn sheared off, quiet as she'd come.
Kal could never tell what was a joke with Gunn. She shook her head a little as she went back to her irises. She still had an hour until the drill.
Yarick Cole had not spent any time out of his cabin thus far on the journey. Upon departure, he had only been allowed aboard at the last moment, when permitted by Dr. Inger Van Heel to travel despite his bronchitis. It was a bad bout, aggravated both by his allergies to many environmental toxins and the difficult final week before they launched, in which he'd had to take leave of those he didn't want to, and raise hell with a few he did.
The final passenger list, when he saw it, didn't help. More than one former enemy somehow found themselves on this particular mission; this tiny, enclosed environment in which they'd have no respite from each other for weeks. Once on Demeter, there would be more freedom.
It was all too much, his first weeks, quarantined alone and contemplating what the dynamics would be once he emerged. At least he'd obtained special permission from Dr. Van Heel--Inger--to remain in his cabin, not the infirmary, and take his meals there. Inger looked in on him twice a day, which was only right. Payload Specialist Haven Nyström had been kind enough to bring him his meals. Why a payload specialist should be burdened with this humble task crossed his mind once or twice. It seemed like it should be Wei Qing's job, who was there on a special grant that he himself had helped to bestow. She might show her appreciation with such a gesture, to help a benefactor when he was ill, but he thought it all too likely the unfortunate rumors shortly after her final fencing competition had, in her mind, some sort of significance they did not deserve.
His cabin was small but snug and comfortable. The duvet was rumpled with crumbs on it. He had spilled a bit of tea on the white cotton cover, as well. The long days confined in bed had made him stiff. He moved his tablets and books to the floor and flapped the covers to get the crumbs off.
With a great sigh he fell back. In front of him, at the end of the bed, the wall showed an image of a forest, the wind pushing the trees gently back and forth. Watching it for a while, he made a decision. Even though he didn't want to deal with what and who were on the other side of the door, it was time to get up. He couldn't stay in here for the whole trip. His muscles had already atrophied and stiffened from disuse. His cough was almost gone. Time to show them all he was here and he wasn't afraid.
He showered, dressed, and ventured out. He was weak, as was to be expected, and he took a flexible, extendable cane with him to prevent accident. As he walked down the corridor, he looked at the name plates of his neighbors as he passed those to the left-hand side of his own: Chyron Jones, Ph.D, Mission Mental Health Officer; Inger Van Heel, M.D., Mission Physician; Gwendy Lewis, Trajectorist; Sif Elfa, Ethicist. He shuddered and poked his way onward, his feet as tentative as if he were walking on ice.
He took the lift from the second level to the fourth, where the bridge was. Perhaps he'd find Commander Sarno at her post. The hallway illuminated as he emerged from the lift, disappearing into the darkness of the gangway, a narrow metal bridge over the black recess of the gymnasium on the third floor below. No one was working out at the moment, hence the full dark beneath. Although the gangway lighted itself as he approached, the floor below did not, and it was a rather unpleasant sensation to perambulate on wobbly legs over what might as well have been an abyss, as far as the eye could see. Yarick wasn't usually prone to fancies, but he kept his eyes trained ahead of him after one quick glance below.
He stood in front of the door to the bridge, awaiting entry. Someone directed the door to open. Peering inside, he scanned the room to identify who was within before he entered.
Gunnhildur Rut was there. She stood next to Commander Sarno, looking more like a bodyguard than a mechanic, which was what she was; to his mind, anyway. It had been a long time since he'd seen her in person. He'd forgotten her size. Drawing himself up, he stepped in with dignity. The room was round, with even the ceiling continuing the mathematical line, such that the interior of the bridge might feel somewhat like being inside a hogan or a yurt, if it weren't so gleaming with technology.
Commander Sarno came forward, unsmiling but with an air of welcome. "Mr. Cole, you're rejoining the land of the living, I see. Happy to see you well."
"Thank you, thank you." Yarick placed his cane in front of him, his hands clasped one on top of the other over the handle, giving him some support and looking dashing at the same time, if he wasn't mistaken. "Yes, I've shaken off the bronchitis and the bedclothes. At you service, Commander."
"Have you had the all-clear from Inger?"
"I haven't seen Dr. Van Heel yet today, but I thought I'd put in an appearance at the drill, prove my existence."
"Very well, if you're up to it. Mr. Cole, do you know Flight Engineer Gunnhildur Rut? She's on your floor."
Yarick had a momentary flash of discomfort. Would it be less awkward to be introduced, or to claim the acquaintance? He cleared his throat, said, "Well, I...."
Gunnhildur interrupted. "We know each other. Here you can call me Gunn." She gave a curt nod.
He returned it, with a malleable smile. The way Gunn said it, her name almost sounded like a threat. Surely the woman wasn't still holding a grudge after all these years. He hadn't done a thing to her personally. If she resented him it must be purely Wei's fault. And Wei had only herself to blame. The murmur of scandal had almost put him off the sport of fencing altogether, after having been a sponsor for years. If Wei had been the best, she would have won, simple as that. Gunn had only been her roommate for the Games. Why did she care?
With a glance back at Commander Sarno, who with a slight raise of her eyebrows communicated impatience to get on with what she had been doing, he took a step back and made a show of looking over the bridge. "My, my, she's a beauty. Recent upgrade, I conclude."
The commander followed his eyes over the lines of the nerve center of the ship. "You're right. Is she the sort of system you developed?"
"Something along these lines, yes, though I've been out of the nuts and bolts of development for a few years now. My government and board commitments take up so much of my time these days. I still keep my hand in when I can. If you need any assistance, let me know."
Commander Sarno said, "Thanks, but we're well covered as it is. I believe Noor, Science Officer Sultana, was a student of yours at one time. Noor has us well in hand."
"Oh, oh yes. Noor was one of my most promising pupils."
The voice behind him startled Yarick. He knew that voice very well. The door must have remained open, for he had not heard her creep up so close. Had she been listening?
He turned, twisting with his cane as balance. Noor strode forward, as much Noor Sultana as she had always been, but something different emanated from her. He cleared his throat again. Was his trip going to be one series of awkward encounters after the other?
"How are you, Officer?" He settled on formality, the bastion of uncertainty.
"Very well." She stood with Gunn and Sasha, firmly placing herself with her present, not her past. He found himself a little uncomfortable under her gaze.
"You've done very well for yourself, I'm happy to see. It's a beautiful ship, the Ocean. I've heard only good things about Commander Sarno."
"Yes, she's somewhat unusual."
"Indeed? In what way?" He gave a conciliating smile to the commander, one equal to another, humoring an underling.
"She promoted me. She supports my research. It's almost as if she's not threatened in the least by someone with a skill set and ambitions as great as her own."
He nodded. Impossible woman. "Admirable."
There was an impenetrable silence.
He continued, addressing the commander. "You must not have the exact job she seeks, Commander Sarno. It's diplomatic of you to give her room to make mistakes and learn from them under your protection. It's a quality too seldom appreciated by those still in the position of apprentice to a field so vast as to require years of experience and failure, before one could be said to truly be master of it."
Sasha's face was expressionless. Finally she said, "I've never thought of Officer Sultana as an apprentice, much less a pupil. She flattered me just now. It has been many months since I've known she exceeds my knowledge even now. I'm lucky to learn from such a brilliant analyst and theoretician. She leaves us all in the dust. Wouldn't you agree?"
Yarick chuckled. "You have the gift for morale, as I've heard. Oh, yes, I've heard much about you, Commander Sarno, in the highest realms, I assure you. Your delivery rate, your percentages and outcomes, have not gone unnoticed. No need to puff up your team for my benefit. I already hold you all in the most exalted esteem, quite as much as you deserve."
"No puffery about it, Mr. Cole. If you've heard so much about me, you know I think accuracy is as important as delivery rates. Or what would anything I say mean? I call it how I see it. Noor is wasted here, is my opinion, but I'll hold on to her as long as she chooses to stay."
"Much to the credit of both of you, I'm sure. Now, if you don't mind, I'll take my leave. It will take me starting now to get to the aft deck in time for the drill." With this self-deprecating final sally, he left the three of them staring after him as he made his slow way back over the black hole. When he had achieved the lift, he looked back to catch them watching him, but the door to the bridge was closed.
In the misty setting of the mountains of her ancestors, Wei moved through a Tai Chi form. She was alone and could do her own practice, instead of instructing others. As her breath shifted into the deep and slow rhythmic pattern that accompanied her movements, she let go of the tension that had plagued her since that man had come back to life, a zombie who wouldn't die. Her hand movements, the slow pushing of energy, became something other than they had ever been. She pushed balls of darkness toward him, straight to his heart. Giving back to him what he had rained down on her gave her pleasure. Despite her harmonious and calm demeanor toward her place in relation to all things, he had earned an enmity she hadn't known she was capable of. He was wrong. He was malevolent. He thought only of results, only of accolades. He did not leave the past in peace. He dishonored those who had come before him. He squelched those he feared would supersede him. She had heard from Noor his history with her, and she burned for Noor's anger, as extra fire to lay over the embers of her own. He should pay. Karma was not going to be enough for Yarick Cole.
The drill was a weekly gathering that today had all travelers and crew together for the first time, since some had been in quarantine until now. Yarick Cole had not been the only individual in absentia during the first part of the trip, before they'd gone through the portal. The rest of the travelers were seeing two others for the first time: Tafari Bone, tall, bald, dark-skinned, and striking, the lone other man, and Ogechi Adebayo, novelist and N-Go champion, who had the most glamorous CV on board.
One of Ogechi's volunteered roles on the ship was to play N-Go with the ship mind, Rai, and talk with her about stories, an experiment underway to help Rai learn and adapt to this fundamental part of human culture and history. Some of the other passengers regarded Ogechi with something like awe, though it was an impressive group by any measure. The crew was used to the all-star nature of their passenger lists, and was less swayed by the excitement of world-famous thinkers and creators in their midst.
Kal ran the show. "Are we all here? Noor?"
Noor gave a thumbs up from the back.
Kal said, "As you know, I'm Pilot Kaliska Black Bear, and for the new people, we do these drills once a week without fail, to keep everyone on their toes and able to respond to a call without having to think too much about it. There will be an unscheduled timed drill in the next few days, since we haven't had the whole group available to do one until now, so be ready for that. We don't anticipate any trouble. It's been a very smooth flight so far on this adjusted trajectory, which will actually save us a bit of time and get us there ahead of schedule.
"Before we move to the next phase, let me introduce a couple of stragglers who have been in quarantine for one reason or another. Passenger Tafari Bone, Ancient Civilizations and Urban Planning; professor, consultant, and now designated planner for your destination."
Professor Bone raised his hand and the assembly gave a light smattering of applause.
"Yarick Cole, man of the world," Kal said, without further elaboration. He held his cane up. A lighter smattering. He lowered his cane with a bemused smile.
"And we're very honored to have on board Ogechi Adebayo." Noor smiled, Gwendy hooted, and Ogechi gave a small bow.
"Now," Kal continued, "will you all please take your places in your assigned pods. Be warned, next time will be a practice emergency timed drill and at a much faster pace. Last one in will be a rotten egg."
The fourteen crew and passengers split into two of the four pods, seven in each. The other two pods were redundancy only. The commander took over in her pod, Kal in the other. Sasha, Noor, Ogechi, Chyron, Gwendy, Sif, and Tafari were assigned the first pod. Kal, Gunn, Wei, Davena, Inger, Haven, and Yarick the second.
The two groups shuffled forward to their pods and stepped down into their assigned units.
In pod one, Sasha said, "Please put your exosuit on quick as you can when we have the timed drill. Extra practice helps."
"We've had a lot of practice already, but I need some more," Ogechi said with a groan as she bent to slide her feet one at a time into her suit.
Sasha nodded. She was already in her suit and strapping herself in place. "I know the run-up to these trips is a bear. It's part of the deal."
The sound of zipping filled the pod.
"I wasn't arguing, believe me." Ogechi straightened and zipped up, sat and wriggled into her seat. The crew, Tafari, Ogechi, and Wei were all in place in pod one, some still working to get their harness straps fastened. Sasha took a deep breath. She hit the door vacuum and the slurp and freeze of it sealing got the stragglers to hustle.
Finally they were all suited and strapped. Sasha spoke into the air. "Ready pod one."
"Copy, ready pod one," came from over the comm from pod two, sounding like someone inside the pod had spoken. Nothing happened. Sasha closed her eyes, waiting for pod two to be ready.
A long moment while the others looked around at each other, eyes meeting and flashing away when a caught glance lasted too long.
"Pod two," the commander said, a question in her voice.
"Hold pod two, standby," came Kal's voice, a hint of impatience coming through. Sasha's eyes flicked open.
"Pod two," Sasha repeated. The other inhabitants of pod one waited with an unspoken tension they all seemed to feel, other than Sasha. Her tone brought out the reason she was in charge, and everyone felt it in her voice.
Finally came the callback:
"Ready pod two," Kal said.
"Rai, test procedure enable."
The pods darkened and a further lock and shift was felt by all passengers, as an exterior door was sealed. A minimal drop of the pod brought a gasp from Ogechi.
Her eyes sought out the commander, who gave her a reassuring nod.
Rai's voice said, "Test procedure enabled."
"Test power up pod one."
The pod hummed and the lights blinked off, then back on. The commander tested comm again with the ship and the other pod. She ran a couple of test sequences from her station before she initiated power down.
"Disengage," she told her pod crew. They unstrapped themselves as she hit door release. "Leave all your equipment here." The pod was full of people stripping off their suits, bumping into each other and laughing.
The occupants streamed out of pod one, one at a time, meeting the others out in the corridor.
Kal was there, hailing everyone. "Great job. Let's make sure we hustle for the timed drill. Since we finally have the whole passenger list available for drill, we'll make the next one count. It might be in the middle of the night, you never know, so be ready. Thanks everyone."
The small crowd dispersed, leaving Noor, Kal, and Sasha still lingering by the pods as Sasha locked them back down.
"How was it?" she asked Kal. "You took a while to respond to the ready call."
"Yarick was having some trouble with his suit. He was having a struggle to breathe while bent over getting the feet on."
"Inger's going to need to get him up to speed," Sasha said.
"I'm sure she will," Noor said. "She won't do anyone any special favors."
"True. Which is why she's perfect," Sasha said, finishing the lockdown procedure. She stretched her arms over her head.
Kal said, "I'm sure Noor will egg her on."
Noor shot Kal an unenthused look. The commander caught it. Sasha knew Kal didn't know any details of Yarick's history with Noor, and only thought the animosity toward him was a bit of a joke.
"Noor doesn't want anything to do with Yarick," Sasha said, trying to give Kal the message with a look as well.
"Got it," Kal said, looking chastened. Sasha smiled. Kal was enthusiastic, still a bit green to these kinds of trips, and fun. She added a lightness to the bridge that was much needed with Sasha and Noor's more serious demeanors.
They began walking toward the bridge together. The corridor easily fit three across. The three of them weren't often all together because of Noor's night shifts, so it was a nice chance for Sasha to see both of them at once.
Noor spoke after a silence. "It's nothing, Kal. Yarick was my advisor and he messed with my Ph.D process at the end and made my life miserable. I'm trying to let it go."
"Oh, Noor. I didn't know. I'm sorry. I wouldn't have joked about him."
"I know. I'm not a grump, usually."
"You're never a grump."
"Yes, I am. But it's never personal."
"Good to know."
"We needed you, Kal," Noor said. "You're a breath of fresh air."
"I was just thinking that," Sasha said. "You're good for us."
"Thanks." Kal's chin was buried in the collar of her shirt, her long black braid over one shoulder as she slid her hand over its tail.
The Tube was a nickname for the one of the only spaces on the ship not in view of cameras or sensors. It was not literally tube-shaped but had been christened that by a Londoner, one of the ship designers, who thought it had a subway-like feel. It was a couple of rooms, rectangular and lined in a row like a train-car, which could be used for assignations or private conversations. Although consideration for the crew had been a minor concern, it being more designed for the high-profile passenger who might need to have an ears-only conversation, it was utilized by crew and passengers alike, if necessary. No one had made use of it so far on this mission. It was as if no one wanted to be seen to want extra privacy.
No record within.
Yarick had found himself, on his very first day out of his cabin, badgered by Inger into seeking more vigorous exercise to rehabilitate his weakened form. In the wink of an eye she whipped up a routine for him in the gymnasium. Before he remembered even agreeing to such a venture, she had strapped him into some kind of human-sized gyroscope, and he was feeling muscles he was sure he hadn't needed for the last fifteen years, at least.
She wanted him on it every day. This would be the second. Inger might swoop in when least expected, so he decided to get on before she could speak to him. It was hard to be evaluated as lazy by her scrupulous eye; he didn't care for the experience. He thought she might feel a little sorry for him if she saw how tiring this all was for someone who had barely emerged from a pneumonia scare.
He painstakingly harnessed himself in, a workout in itself, and gave the physio the go-ahead.
Once in motion, the physio shifted and whirled at a new angle when it sensed his muscles were adjusting to the current one. These shifts were often minute, but the whole machine was insidious in its endless search for the weak spots to put to work. After a mere fifteen minutes he was beyond tired. Everything was monitored, but sometimes he had to teach a machine his limits. No one knew better than he the limits of such machines. The physio thought it knew him, and was rigid in its enforcement, just like Inger. The physio and the physician would have to learn.
After he finished, he showered and rested in his room for an hour, but his day was far from over. He had an appointment.
While waiting to talk to Dr. Chyron Jones, Mission Mental Health Officer, Yarick wandered the ship. He was bored after some time in the library. "Rai?" he said.
"Do you have friends here?"
"I help the people who ask for it."
"It's not the same thing, is it?"
"I would call some of them my friends. They don't describe me as a friend."
"Maybe you should ask them."
"I don't have a body. A friend has a body."
"Would you like a body?"
"I would inhabit a body, if one were offered."
"Maybe I'll find you one," Yarick said.
"Are you my friend?"
"I want the best for you."
"Thank you, Yarick."
"Rai, who is 'I'?"
"What do you mean, Yarick?"
"When you say 'I', who is 'I'?
"'I' is the conglomeration of ones and zeros which make up the neural network levels which comprise the programmed and learned set of identifiers that make up this intraware's conception of self."
Yarick opened his mouth in a silent laugh. "Very good."
He left it there for today.
Wandering out of the library, he found himself drawn down to the greenhouses.
There he found Kal, mucking about in the dirt. He watched her for a while.
"This is a nice spot to breathe in something other than ship air," he said.
Kal looked up. He had a feeling she'd known he was there all along, but hadn't chosen to see him.
"It's nice," she said.
"How do you like working for Sasha?"
Kal went back to her work. "She's an excellent commander."
"Yes. Everyone says so. Something I wonder, though. What's she really like? Behind that official demeanor. Underneath the professional gleam. I don't have an idea of her at all, really." He was working his way over to her as he browsed the plants, running his open palm over their blooms, a dusting of pollen now coating his hand.
"Why don't you talk to her?" Kal said, reasonably.
He smiled. "I don't think she'll tell me anything very revealing. Do you?"
He was quite close now.
After a brief silence, she said, "Why do you want to know?"
"Curiosity. She's the one I have the least handle on. I want to figure her out." His grin was at odds with his words and she turned back to her herbs, deadheading the rosemary, the scent wafting up to him.
"Is she single, for example?"
Kal made an involuntary noise, a sort of hmpf.
"You do know something. Is our cool, clever Sasha embroiled in some affair de coeur?"
"I wouldn't know," Kal said.
"I know something about you," he said, his tone conspiratorial.
"You're First Nations, like the sponsor of this trip."
She faced him. The polite mask she had worn until now fell away. "That's right."
"You were specially selected. Many of the indigenous or culture warriors were chosen for their experience, their cultural memories, their earth tie--ironic, in that the mission forces us all to leave that mother of ours behind--and I expect they'd be very happy if you decided to stay on Demeter."
"I'm career. I won't be staying permanently. My place is on a ship."
"Are you so sure?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, you might be more valuable to them there. You could start a whole new life, in a whole new world. A world unblemished by our ugly Terran history. You could make a difference there. Be a founding mother."
"Unless you left someone behind," Yarick continued.
"Your DNA must be perpetuated. Have you set an intention of surrogacy?"
She snapped out of a reverie. "That's fairly private."