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My Nanowrimo 2013 novel

Hope - a novel

Part 0

Humanity had explored everywhere there was to explore on the Earth and was itching to explore the galaxy.

Dr. Henry Green was first to discover the wormholes. His newphew, also Dr Henry Green, was the one to begin to map them out. Together, late in the elder Henry Green's life, they discovered something wonderful. A viable Earth-like exoplanet at the mouth of a wormhole, taking a journey that would take thousands of years, and reducing it to mere decades. They named the planet Sanctuary, as the Henrys hoped that this would be their final resting place.

Quickly, work began to build a ship that could take a founding colony to Sanctuary. Hope was the first of many. It could carry thousands of people, and remain habitable for many decades. Twenty years ago, Sanctuary was crewed by brave volunteers, who knew they could never return. Millions of people applied, from all over the world.. It was thought that for an estimated 20 year journey they should crew with the youngest people possible - almost all of the six-thousand-strong crew was under 25, all but a mere handful under 30, the vast majority a mere eighteen, the youngest the international body could accept.

Those brave young souls were encouraged to intermingle, to couple, and to have children. At least early on. My parents were both eighteen when they boarded - they'd never met each other. Which is kind of crazy to think, they were just a year older than I am, when their lives changed so drastically. When they were eighteen they were leaving a planet for space. When I turn eighteen I'll be just about leaving space for a planet.

Hope itself was designed to be habitable long-term. To give the appearance of gravity the entire ship rotates throughout it's journey at a relaxing two revolutions per minute. This gives up to forty percent of Earth's gravity at the widest point, without placing undue stress on the skeleton of the ship.

Part 1 - Hope

Chapter 1

Ow.

Though the 'ow' didn't escape my mouth. Nothing but a little in-drawn breath.

I watched my blood drip steadily into the tube, glaring at the needle stuck audaciously in my arm.

"Blood sample looks good Iris, well done girl."

Ugh, why must you speak to me like I'm nine?

"Now we're just going to test your strength. Can you push against this pad for me? As hard as you can."

"Like this?" I found myself matching his patronising tone inadvertently.

As I pressed all my weight against the pad I looked around this tiny doctor's office. It was a spartan white room, lined with tidy drawers concealing all sorts of wondrous equipment. It was clearly lovingly designed by someone really into white squares. Except for that junk someone from Engineering had dumped in the centre of the room.

"Hmm, Ok..."

I didn't like expression on his face while he scribbled down those numbers.

"Very well done," (ugh) "Now, have we measured your bones with this before?"

"No, I don't think so..."

He turned his attention to that awful mess of badly-welded machinery. It looked so out of place in such an otherwise clean room. The designer would be horrified, In fact, I was suprised the doc wasn't horrified.

"We had engineering make this diag machine especially for this test."

That it explained it a little - space-life equals pragmatism. Though Engineering can't have thought much of his project - that's the messiest welding I've ever seen. They could've at least painted the thing white to cover it up.

"Ok, what we need you to do is just place your leg in here. I'm sorry, you'll feel a bit of pressure, and maybe a slight shock, but it won't hurt much, and will be over quickly."

"Ok I- OW" dammit, that escaped.

That was more than a slight shock. And I'm a roboticist, I've electrocuted myself more times than I'd care to admit.

"Sorry, sorry. Now, we just need to do the other leg..."

I clenched my teeth and didn't let any pain show on my face this time.

"And we're all done. You've been such a good girl Iris"

"Can I have a lollipop then?"

"Really? but you're seventeen..."

Finally, nice of you to acknowledge my age.

I did want a lollipop though. My legs were aching all the way back to my room.


The dorms lined the edge of the ship - where the gravity was strongest. They all looked mostly identical - a narrow plastic and metal corridor, lined with four to eight sleeping pods: a long, low-profile sliding door set halfway up the wall, with a mattress and encloseable personal space inside. Under and above the bunk were drawers and other personal storage. The entirety of my life was stored in this three metre by three metre section of wall.

Well, the entirety of my stuff .

My life really consisted of my stuff plus my apprenticeship.

Our apprenticeship system was, according to my review of histories, pretty unique. The entire programme was designed to make us kids as useful as possible - no-one on the ship should be just breathing (except when they were toddlers, I suppose.)

Ship life was broken into major departments: Engineering, Surveying, Hydroponics, etc, but also Hospitality, Interior Design, and things you might not expect: Hospitality, etc.

When we were kids, up 'til about age ten (some kids did more, some did less ), we learned basic language, math, etc, from some of the specialist teachers. Then, we could choose an apprenticeship, and switch as many times as we liked. Then at 15 we would choose, or be assigned our primary apprenticeship. I naturally picked Robotics, and stuck with it the entire way through.


"Hey Zuck," I called as I walked through the entrance to our dorm, "How were your legs after the test?"

"Eh, fine. What's up with yours?

"Sore, I dunno what that machine was. but I hate it."

"Haha, I think they were measuring bone density or something."

"Probably."

Zuck was named after the 21st century soft-engineer who had invented the internet, or something. Oddly enough she wasn't at all interested in engineering, soft or hard. It had always fascinated me though. Rolling into my bunk space I un-docked my tablet and returned to working on the software I'd been debugging before I got called in to Doctor Nguyen's office. Scamper, my robot, had been having trouble with a leg and I wanted to try and code my way around it rather than rebuilding him, again.

I contemplated my own legs as they twinged and reminded me of their presence. I quite like my legs. Usually.

"- Iris, what do you think it'll be like?"

"Huh?"

"On Sanctuary."

We were still a few months away from our destination.

"It'll be pretty awesome. We'll get to see mountains, to dance on real grass, to feel real sunlight..."

"Don't you think it'll be hard work though?" Zuck said, turning in her bunk to face mine.

"Well, yeah. But no harder than life out here. I don't think our parents had to do as much as we do, when they were kids"

"Yeah, you're right. They had it pretty easy. Except for having that ridiculous one-point-oh Earth gravity the whole time"

"Yeah we get to leap though the air gracefully-" I lobbed a cushion at her across the dorm corridor for emphasis "- while doing our chores."

Living under artificial gravity was pretty cool. Because the top-speed the ship rotated it was only point-four gee at most. Those of us who'd spent our whole lives under it had grown much more gracefully than the Earthborn: we were all tall, long-limbed, elegant. The Olds had stopped having kids when they realised we were developing differently under the low gravity. - They just didn't want to be superceeded, everyone seemed to prefer to wait for the chance to raise 'normal' kids in a more Earthlike gravity.

We were glad we weren't normal. We'd invented zero-gee dances - a kind of musical aerial acrobatics. The Olds were all hilariously bad at it - they were too short and stubby and had learned to move all wrong. They couldn't get it, even those who'd danced on Earth. no matter how much we tried to teach them, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I was ok with them never learning though. As space-born, it was ours, and ours alone.

"We should dance tomorrow," I suggested at Zuck, inspired by my thoughts. "Keen?"

"Yeah, I've got my apprenticeship 'til eighteen hundred, I'll see if the others want to join"

Just then, Carde burst into our room.

"Hey girls, I have news!"

"Get out Carde, no boys in girls' dorms." I said, goodnaturedly.

"Oh come on, that's just for the little kids"

"No Carde in Iris' room?" I tried.

"Fine, then you miss out on the news."

"Whatever"

"Aw, but I want to know. Hold on...", Zuck said, as she untangled herself out of her bunk.

"Traitor!" I yelled playfully as they left.

I was pretty sure they had a thing going on, but Zuck played those cards pretty close to her chest. No pun intended. at all. ew.

I dragged scamper out from his drawer under the bunk and uploaded his new code.

"Off you go, Scamper..." He looked at me quizzically - then trotted down the dorm corridor... yes, yes! he was walking perfectly, now running even. No! dammit, he ran straight into the wall. Oh well, at least the running code works now. Before he crushed his own front legs. I'd better book some workshop time in / visit my parents.


As I padded barefoot through the corridors, I realised that on Sancturary, for the first time in my life, I was going to need to get some shoes fabricated. I didn't really understand the point of shoes. My entire life was lived in this carefully-designed climate- controlled polymer and metal container. Yes, I've read history - I get that planets are full of dirty, sharp, and bitey things, and obviously, if you're an Engineer you need nigh-indestructable boots. I suppose what I actually didn't understand was why anyone else wore shoes while on ship. The Olds have their reasons: they're creatures of habit and they started out with shoes (I didn't say they were good reasons). But other kids, space-born, have shoes too - and they act like I'm the weirdo.

I guess it is just another one of those impractical fashion things I try to avoid. I keep my hair short, which drives my mother crazy, but I like it. And it has the added benefit of my being able to laugh at the other kids when their hair floats in the way when they try to dance, at least tie it up, dude. So what if it's not as elegant as when in floats? -There's nothing elegant about watching two people spinning elegantly into each other because their elegant hair drifted into their elegant faces.


My parent's room was much cooler than my dorm. They had a table with chairs and a little personal kitchen. And Dad was a wicked-good cook.

"I got Scamper to run today" I said, awkwardly around my mouthful of mushroom lasagne, "then he ran straight into the wall - busted his front legs"

"Oh no! Bring him in to the workshop tomorrow, we'll see if we can fix him," Mum said.

Ha! yes, thankyou predictably helpful mother.

"Aren't you busy with prepping all the landers at the moment, dear?" Dad asked Mum.

"Oh, it'll just take a moment. Scamper's only little. It will be a fun mother-daughter project."

Well it will be a fun mother-tries-to-help-by-telling-daughter-things-that-are-flat-out-wrong-while-daughter-gets-to-use-mother's-tools project, but I wasn't going to say that out loud...

"Thanks Mum. I'll show up at nine-hundred."

I gave my full attention to the lasagne. Dad still complained from time to time about how food was so limited on the ship compared with Earth-food, but it seemed pretty amazing to me: Tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, tofu, synthesised pasta - give me the same ingredients and i might barely be able to cobble together something a tenth as tasty.

"Iris, you're going to be at the all-council meeting tomorrow right?" Dad asked.

"Uh, well, I figured it was mostly just for the Olds-uh, I mean, adults." I had hoped to avoid going - those meetings are dull dull dull. Like next month's hydroponic tomatoes have a lower yield, Mme. Pascal would like to step down as a councilor and they're voting in her replacement, or Engineering and Operations are fighting over whose fault it was that all of the bovine DNA was found inviable... ugh. killmenow.

"It's important, especially now we're nearly at Sanctuary."

"And you're nearly 18," Mum added, "once we're planet-side you'll have adult responsibilities, it will be all hands on deck."

"Fine, Ok, I'll be there."

"And make sure the other kids come along too. This meeting is significant."

Am I an adult or a kid? Make up your mind.

"Ok. I'll see who I can con into sharing the pain."

"Come on Iris, it's not such a hardship. You should know what's going on throughout the ship, you're a part of this community."


Chapter 2

There, that should do it.

Scamper's little motors whirred in simulated delight as he ran the diagnostic script on his newly-attached legs.

"Well done, Rissie" Mum said, looking over my shoulder.

I glared appropriately at the pet name, tightened a screw, and set Scamper down in the (generously padded) testing bay. Scamper's eight little legs spun as he scrambled around, he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. And drawing attention to himself - one of Mum's workmates (Elliot?) wandered up to see what the fuss was about.

"That your 'bot Iris? Looks good. We could use somethin' that agile to aid the terraformers when we get to Sanctuary"

"Thanks, He's just a hobby at the moment - he has a habit of crashing into things."

"How long've you been working on him?"

"Oh, on and off for the last few months. I wanted to practice writing walking algorithms"

"Not bad at all. Those look like X8s you've got as collision detection, right? I'll see if I can rummage up some X10s for you, they should solve your little issue."

"Wow, that'd be great." It would be good to get him some decent eyes, "Uh..."

"Thanks, Ilya" Mum said on my behalf. (Ok, so I was off a bit with the name. Close though.)

"You should be working with us already, that's a pretty impressive walk for 'practice'." Ilya said,

Mum gave me a look, referencing yesterday's conversation about adult responsibility.

"Will you be joining us for dinner again tonight?" She asked, as I tidied away my space.

"Nah, Zuck and I are going to work on our dance tonight. Thanks for the help today, though."

Scamper followed at my heels the entire way back to the dorm, just needing help at the entrance. I was pretty pleased with myself.


The dance sphere was a beautiful room. The fifty-metre-diameter space was lined with tesselating triangular mirrorrs, handholds in each seam, a light in each vertex. It was ostensibly for testing and training the use of vacuum suits, but we'd claimed it as a dance studio so long ago that all the Olds just assumed it was our space and left us to it. Located along the center of the ship, the gravity was very low - not quite zero: if you got stranded at the center with no momentum you would essentially fall very slowly toward the walls, and the handholds. It had only happend to me once, moving millimetres per minute toward the handholds that felt like they were only getting further away. It had taken hours.

Today it was just Zuck, Carde, Amelie, and me. (Carde had started showing up a lot lately. It must be going well with Zuck.)

I always felt a bit uncomfortably exposed just before we started - clad only in my black skin-tight workout clothes.

"Alright, everyone ready?" I asked, "I figured we may as well start with one we know to warm up to. Track three ok?"

Everyone mumbled their approval and assembled themselves into position. I slid along the wall, snagging the fifth handhold, and hooking my toes into it.

One... Two... Three...

The warm sound of Zuck's composition filled the room, high frequency pulses giving just a hint of the beat. We waited

Six... Seven... Eight...

The beat hit, I pushed off, rotating slowly enough that the opposite handholds appeared under my hands just as I reached the wall.

Perfect. I spun, sliding past Zuck, jelly-fishing to the quarter-notes. Counter turn. Slide for four. Push against Amelie, slide, skip, roll... I stopped thinking and just moved, letting the music flow through me. This was being alive! Looking around the room and through the mirrors at everyone was a magical experience - the fluidity and complexity of movement was breathtaking -

I loved to dance. It was when I felt most alive. Everything had it's place, it's correct moment. Beautiful precision. I was, as you've probably figured out by now, a bit of a nerd; I didn't have that thing where I always knew what to do, but when dancing i did, everyone had their place and their moment and their part. here we go:

  • Flip and spin, catch and return Zuck, circlular ease to the right, Everyone's at the wall for the break and shout. Pause a second. Everyone spins and dives for the center. I push off Carde at the exact same time and opposite Zuck, so he loses all momentum until Amelie arrives moments later and pushes off him. The music hit it's peak, then drops away almost completely, leaving only the high frequency pulses to gradually fade out.

... breathe.

"Oh my goodness, you guys. That was perfect."

We lost ourselves in the dancing, after about half an hour into it, I had a sudden flash of memory: "Hey guys, what time is the council meeting?"

"Uh... five minutes ago"

"Oh no, I promised my mum I'd be there. Showers!"


My hair was still damp as we snuck into the council hall. Ridiculously late. Oops.

The hall was a massive hemisphere, hundreds of meters across, almost the entire diameter of Hope. The bowl of the hemisphere was lined with everyone on the ship who had a non-essential posting. The councillors and presenters were seated in a circle in the centre of the flat side, in essentially zero-gee.

Each presenter had a slightly different version of up - the more conscientous would adjust themselves to match the majority of the room, others, well they seemed to expect the six-thousand-and-change other people to match themselves.

The current presenter, Councillor Gavin Smith, was one of the latter.

"This final order of business was brought to my attention earlier in the week by Doctor Nguyen," He droned, "and it greatly concerns our children."

Did Dad know about this? Was that why he was so insistent I be here?

"As you know, early in our voyage we encouraged everyone to have children to get a head-start on being a community.

"a few years later we passed the Progeny postponement bill, mandating universal birth control after we noticed consistent unusual development as the first few children reached about 3 years old.

"Doctor James Nguyen has determined that due to the general developmental differences: our children's longer and lighter limbs - and also our recent surveying of Sancturary that showed it's gravity is one-point-two times Earth's, we now know that almost all our children will be likely incredibly restricted once we land, most semi-permanently wheel-chair-bound, as their bones will be incredibly fragile, and susceptible to frequent breakage under the increased gravitational force."

A complete silence fell in the room, just for a moment. The calm before the storm. Then the yelling began.

Councillor Gavin tried to continue. "Fortunately the rapid actions of this council fifteen years ago prevented this issue affecting any more children than that generation of fifteen to nineteen year-olds, this council is committed to- ... -this council is committed to-" Gavin gave up, apparently realising that no-one was listening anymore. Meeting ajourned.

I just sat there, stunned, along few other space-born. We stayed in the council hall, not talking, just sitting, long after everyone else had left. Staring at nothing, trying to come to grips with what we'd just heard.

Our entire generation, almost a thousand kids, were suddenly crippled.


The next morning, everything I did, I did slowly. I felt like only half a person, like joy and life had been stripped away. My morning meal was cold before I got a third of the way through it. My shower automatically shut off before I'd finished.

It took me so long to towel off that all the water had evaporated away before the towel got to it. I stood there, just staring at myself in the mirror, cursing my skinny legs and arms, with their light bones and light muscle, which, though they worked so well in space, would be worse than useless once we landed on Sanctuary.

No more dancing.

If only the journey had been twice or three times as long. I could've lived out my life on the ship, and landed just as my body was getting old and crusty anyway.

Wait a minute... who said we had to leave the ship? We could just stay in space. We would just stay in space!

It was all I could do to not run through the corridors stark naked, yelling "Eureka!" at the top of my lungs.


"Zuck! Zuck! Zuck!" I'd taken the time to dress (barely), but my enthusiasm hadn't abated.

"buh?", - enthusiasm that was clearly confusing to the grey despair that had over-taken us all.

"We don't have to go landside."

"What? Of course we do."

"The Olds can still land, but we space-born don't have to."

The despair in her eyes paused, took stock of the situation, and fled. Zuck's usual grin tentatively inched back into place.

She started voicing the same objections I'd batted away as I ran to see her.

"They won't go for that, we're just kids."

"Are you kidding me? Mum's been threatening me with adulthood for at least the last three years."

"Why didn't they suggest it themselves then?"

"They're blind to it. Their entire lives they've been working toward settling a planet, It'll never occur to them to settle in space. Heck, it barely occurred to me."

"But we belong on a planet. Humanity belongs planets."

"Humanity belongs on Earth. We've already broken free of that. And we space-born certainly don't belong on a planet if a planet will cripple us."

Her mouth goldfished a few seconds while she tried to come up with more objections

"Iris, you're a genius."

"I know."

"Who else have you told this to?"

"You first, of course."

"We need to get everyone together"

"Dance studio?"

"Meet you there at twelve-hundred hours?"

"ok." I said, running off.


I'd never seen so many people in one place before. Well, the council hall, but that was a million times bigger. It was cramped, the air was getting thick, but kids were still filing in.

The three of us- Zuck, Carde and me, were lined up at the front facing a thousand spaceborn, crammed into the room in every which way.

At ten minutes past I nodded to Zuck, so glad I'd asked her to speak.

"Hey guys" How was she so relaxed, talking to such a big crowd?

"So, I was kind of freaked out by what we heard yesterday. I know most of your were too."

"However, Iris has a plan, which I want her to tell you, Iris?"

Wait, what? Not cool not cool...

"Uh, so... We, uh..." dammit, pull yourself together. Pause. "To live our lives on Sancturary means being crippled." breathe. slow. "I don't want to be crippled." look forward. wuargh. "We should be able to-" breathe "-continue to live on Hope", "while our parents start their colony below."

Everyone was just staring. I hate you forever Zuck.

"We can run the ship ourselves, we've spent our lives apprenticed to roles throughout it. We are the natives of space."

Someone cheered. Then someone else.

"Sanctuary is not our dream. it's not for us, it is the dream of our parents. We have a new dream. To live amongst the stars."

I was laying it on a bit thick, but people were cheering! it was intoxicating.

"Planets are not meant for us. We crave a different kind of buzz. We could handle zero-gee before we could walk."

"We're no longer Homo Sapiens. We are Homo Spaciens!"

The cheering was deafening. I was talking nonsense, Zuck had apparently just awakened a monster.

She took that moment to step in before I said anything else incredibly stupid.

"Ok guys. any questions? One at a time... You first.-"


Chapter 3

A couple of days later, we felt ready to take our case to the council.

I had thought that eight stumpy people would be less terrifying than a thousand tall, angry teenagers. I was wrong.

But against all odds, I was a public speaker now.

"Honoured councillors, thank you for agreeing to meet us." I read off my palm. "We would like to present a solution to the spaceborn issue" As I listened to myself, I had a sudden flash of clarity about why council meetings were so mind-numbingly boring. "We just don't land on Sanctuary. Instead we'll stay on Hope where we won't be crippled."

"We thought of that- delaying the landing, but we need to prepare for the next wave of settlers," Councillor Yvonne said.

Did I say something about delaying the landing?

"Sorry, let me try again. The landing goes ahead as planned, all those who boarded on Earth intending to start a colony do so. But we space-born remain in space." Hopefully that was clearer.

"Alone?" Councillor Reuben asked.

"You'd leave your parents?" Councillor Gavin added.

At least they seemed to get it that time.

"Yes, obviously it's not ideal, but neither is crippling an entire generation!" Woah, Iris, calm down... keep them on your side.

"Iris and I have shared the plan with each of our parents," Zuck stepped in, "and they are one-hundred percent behind the idea."

"You kids are some of the older ones though. What about the fifteen year olds?" Councillor Yvonne, again.

"Um. We feel they'd be better off living not restricted by -uh free to " Oh man, how could I make this not sound like we would go crazy without adults around. I flashed my eyes at Zuck: help,

"Those who wish to continue to watch over their children would probably prefer to do so in an environment where their children are not paralysed."

Good save, Zuck.

"So some parents may wish to stay behind. Had those children landed those parents would've been the sort to be distracted indefinitely by caring for their suddenly disabled children. At least under this solution they will, in at most a couple of years, feel free to go landside and give their full attention to the work"

I was pretty sure she was making all this up on the spot. I mentally hi-five'd her.

The council members conferred amongst themselves. I strained to hear, but they must've had some kind of audio dampening going on. I wondered if they used the same system for enhancing vocal projection as well, it would work. they could just reverse the phase... ooo, getting distracted. Focus Iris, focus.

"It sounds like you've given this idea a great deal of thought," Councillor Gavin responded at last, "But unfortunately we are simply unable to go with your plan."

"I- What!? - Why?" My shock overwhelmed my trying to be formal and proper.

"It's straightforward." Councillor Gavin said, "We need the resources from Hope to properly set up Sanctuary. What you're asking for is impossible."

"And there's no way we can give a multi-trillion dollar spaceship to a bunch of teenagers. I'm sorry." Councillor Reuben said.

"I know this matters a lot to you," Councillor Yvonne said, "but there's nothing we can do."

I felt like I'd been punched in the gut.

It was like they weren't even trying. Here was a solution staring them in the face, and their stupid little plans from stupid little twenty years ago had to be followed to the letter.


The council made me sooo angry. I had to talk about something else, anything else.

"How is Carde going?" I asked Zuck, as we walked back to our dorm.

"Huh?" Embarrassment flashed on her face, "He hasn't, um, said anything to you has he?"

"Nah -I've just been noticing him hang around so much more lately."

"What do you think of him?" She asked.

"Oh, he's all right I guess." I tried to be a supportive friend, "He's um, He can be fun to have around - a bit too forward though"

"ppppffff hahaha." Zuck almost folded over, "Carde, forward!?, you have no idea how wrong you are."

"Nope, apparently not." I laughed too, releasing all the tension of the last hour, the last week.


I was sitting in one of the common rooms, laser focused on a robotics text-book - I may have been drowning my anger in it.

"Iris?"

I looked up at the speaker

"Grandma Cathryn!"

She wasn't really my grandmother. I don't think she was anyone's actual grandmother. Or mother, even. She'd earned the title by being older than anyone else on the ship by twenty years - I'm not sure how she was approved to be part of the project when she was already 56 when she started out.

"I heard of your meeting with the council. I was appalled. Kids these days have no respect."

"I'm sorry Cathryn" I began, then stopped in my tracks. Had sha really just winked at me?

"What young Gavin's problem is, is that he seems to have forgotten something very important"

I tried to see Councillor Gavin as 'Young Gavin' from her perspective. I gave up. It was too absurd.

"Just a few years ago a much more irresponsible 'bunch of teenagers' were already given a multi-trillion dollar spaceship."

"And those teenagers hadn't spent their lives knowing it inside and out. Or become dependant on it for their lives."

"That they won't share that trust is mind-boggling."

My mouth had dropped open...

She leaned in conspiratorially.

"I'll help you defeat Gavin and fight for your homeland." She giggled.

This whole exchange was just bizarre. What kind of 76 year old woman giggles?

"Do you have any suggestions, 'cos I'm all out," I said - immediately wishing I hadn't said it so abruptly.

She seemed not to notice.

"Gather your generals, it's time for a brainstorm," She said with a sparkle in her eye.

My picture of Grandma Cathryn was apparently going to have to change quite significantly.


Zuck, Carde, Cathryn, and me were sequestered in our my and Zuck's dorm-room.

"So. Councillor Gavin thinks we can't look after this ship."

"That's because he's a self-important and power-hungry child." Grandma Cathryn would never cease to amaze me. She certainly didn't act like one of the Olds.

"What you need to do," she continued, "is to prove him wrong about you. Zig when he thinks you zagged. Succeed while he's talking about your failure."

"I've been thinking about that," Carde broke in, "and also how we're going to deal with the settlement being resource-starved without the ship."

Carde has ideas!? Oh, this is going to be good.

"I've been talking to some of the guys in Surveying. Apparently some of the asteroids are relaly mineral-rich."

What good does that do us?

"You're wicked at robotics, right Iris?"

Oh no no no no.

"So, what I figure we do" he continued, ignoring my look of horror, "is mine these asteroids to essentially buy Hope from the Olds."

"Oh, yes yes yes" Grandma Cathryn, "That'll throw them."

"You want a mining bot? That's a bit more of a big deal than making Scamper walk. And remember, he's almost always busted in some way or another."

"Are you kidding me? Scamper is amazing." Something about Carde's sudden enthusiasm made me uncomfortable.

"Whatever. What do you want me to do? I can't just make some full-size mining robot."

"We can reprogram one of the maintenance robots - set it up with some new tools"

"You guys have no idea what you're asking, do you."

"Well, no. That's what makes you the roboticist, and us merely the encouragement."

"Iris, if we do this, we can save everyone."

Ugh. Dammit. Well I had to at least give it a shot - that was a bit of a reach of a plea though.

"Alright." I sighed, giving up any further protest. "I'll give it a go. - but no promises"

"Yes! You're brilliant." - Where was Carde's enthusiasm coming from!

"Ok. Carde - you're in charge of finding the tools and attachments we'll need for mining, Zuck - you're in charge of figuring out how to borrow one of the maintenance bots." If this is on my head there'd better be some delegation.

"I'll sort out some space in Mum's workshop"

"What do you want me to do?" Grandma Cathryn asked?

"Oh you'll think of something - mess with Councillor Gavin." I figured she'd enjoy that.


Chapter 4

"Well, it certainly won't be missed." I appraised the Maintenance bot Zuck had dug up from maintenance.

It was the junkiest thing I'd ever seen. Half of the joints seemed to be fused, there were little craters from micro-meteorites all over it. It had clearly had a hard life out there.

"Don't be so rude to Monty" She patted it's ...head?

"Monty?"

"Yeah, it's a Maintenance bot - 'Mainte' to 'Monty'. would you prefer 'Nancy'? Mainte-nancy?"

"No. Look, we're going to be putting drills through it's head and sending it off to an asteroid to probably never come back. - No pet names."

"Aww, well. I'm going to call him Monty"

That's not going to end well.


The next few weeks were a blast.

For all it's worn exterior, MNT-7 was a pretty powerful base to work on, though we had to do so much rewiring and make so many structural changes.

I'd just finished hooking up all the booster-controls when Carde invaded my workspace.

"Where did you find all this stuff?" I asked Carde, surveying the wealth of random old and disused tools he'd scrounged up to outfit the mantenance bot.

"Like, what the heck is this even supposed to do?" I said, picking up a particularly bizarre looking tool...

"I think that's for, um. You know, I have absolutely no idea." He grinned. "Do you think you can make this stuff useful?"

"Oh, for some of it sure, other items," I picked up a jagged and worn out wrench, "maybe not so much"

I would get into the shop at oh six hundred, and work continuously untill twenty four hundred. Working on the software all morning, until the code was all blurry, then working on the bot's motion and tools until late. Looking back on it, I think that project was where I learned the value of delegation. by not doing it at all.

"We've found our asteroid" Carde said.

He and his friend from Surveying: Giri, were taking a break in my workspace, and forcing me to take a moment to eat. I was glad I'd been forced.

"We needed something not too far from the ship, and high in easily extractable resources, so we automatically surveyed thousands of the asteroids, and gave ourselves a short-list of ten, which we carefully examined the properties of each to make sure they matched our criteria."

Yes, I'm sure it was very hard. Gold star.

"Cool, just get me the telemetry data so I know how much range we need to give MNT-7"

"And get out, I have work to do."

Everything was still crashing. The code was held together with duct-tape and desperation.


Launch-day came - Our little crew had grown to about 15. A couple of other robotocist kids, the Surveyers, Amelie, Amelie's boyfriend... (Since when does Amelie have a boyfriend...), and of course Grandma Cathryn.

Years of debugging robots had taught me to expect the worst. There was no way this would go off without a hitch, but we so desperately needed to. We had to have something to show to the Council in the next couple of few days - and I daren't return empty handed to ask for clemency, or even just time to explain this plan unproven: they certainly wouldn't approve of a bunch of teenagers jury-rigging up a mining system.

This is it.

MNT-7 tumbled out the maintenance port, and.

Nothing.

My heart dropped. It was all for naught.

...

No, wait.

There. It looked like a booster fired.

Booster 1 Fired - the readout in front of me so proudly proclaimed.

MNT-7 was on it's way to make us some money money money.

I ran around hi-fiveing and hugging our whole team.


"Iris! Wake up!"

Someone was banging on the wall of my sleeping chamber. Not cool.

Ugh. "Go away!"

"Iris, you have to come out", it sounded like Zuck. "Something's happened to Monty", yep. That was Zuck.

What did I tell that girl about naming that stupid robot?

"Fine. I'm awake. give me a moment."

I slid open the door and saw ten sets of eyes staring back at me.

"Whup." I closed the door mostly out of reflex.

Not dressed enough for that many people. Although - it was probably an emergency, quickly now. I threw a jacket on over my pyjamas, braced myself.

"Ok, ladies, and " I glared at Carde "gentleman. What seems to be the problem?"

"We've lost contact with Monty"

"He freaked out and then went nuts."

"Bug reports style, people. What is 'freaked out'?" blank looks.

" What I did:, what I saw, what I expected to see." I prodded

"I was looking at the displays, just to make sure everything was on track, I swear, I didn't touch anything."

Ok, I believe you, unless you say "I swear" again, then it's suspicious.

"Then the camera went crazy."

"Closer, what kind of crazy. Crazy colours, crazy flickering...?"

"Crazy angles, like it had just decided to point in random directions."

That's not good. I pictured MNT-7 getting knocked away from AS-59 and tumbling through space.

"How fast crazy angles? Spinning?"

"Yeah, spinning, randomly."

Ooooh no. "Get me in a Vacuum Suit. My bot's tumbling through space"

"You can drive a Vacuum Suit?" Carde asked, part incredulous, part impressed.

"Of course I can"


This was only my fourth time in a vacuum suit, my first unsupervised, but I wasn't going to tell Carde that.

Vacuum suits were thick. unweildy, Like you'd strapped a string of tyres to all your limbs. At least they came equipped with a little booster pack - Personal jetpack for the win!

I boosted out to AS-59. My breathing echoed in my ears.

-"100 metres to target."

Thank you suit-voice, I can see that.

I squinted in the glare - I could just about make out the outline of MNT-7 slowly tumbling downward out of the elliptical plane.

boost-boost-boost.

"Iris, I'm at suit-comms, are you ok?" Zuck's voice crackled to life in my helmet.

"I'm ok Zuck, I'm going in now. -"

"Please save Monty..."

What'd I tell you Zuck? don't name the damn robot.

I set up the movement-matching program to use seven's data.

"Ok computer, lets do this."

The micro-boosters came to life, firing precise little bursts. The star-field spun. Vertigo.

Ok Iris, focus on MNT-7. MNT-7 is the ground. Plane of reference. Ground. ok. In control.

MNT-7's erratic tumbling slowed and simplified, then was still. Well, to me. Stars were spinning like crazy. Which meant I was spinning like crazy. I tried not to think about it.

I boosted myself laterally toward MNT-7, and locked myself to the maintenance post.

Ugh. I was going to have to go through that vertigo-inducing course correction again

No time to waste - every second drew MNT-7 and me further from elliptical, further from the ship.

I triggered the righting algorithm.

The universe spun. Boosters firing much more powerfully than I thought they could. Straining to right the mass of the miner, straining against it's incredible momentum. G forces were hammering me in every direction.

"Warning, booster reserves at fifty percent"

The universe was still spinning like mad. I could feel myself losing consciousness

"Warning, booster reserves at twenty percent"

There was nothing I could do but hold on. Then nothing. I'd blacked out.

I clawed my way to consicousness. The stars seemed to have finally slow their spin.

"Warning, booster reserves at nine point three percent"

And then everything stopped. Everything was still.

I realised I'd been holding my breath.

Breathe in, breathe out.

I boosted us back toward the relative safety and stability of AS-59.

"Warning, booster reserves at two point eight percent."

Welp, better call for a pick-up.

"Zuck, I need"-kstittsssshhhh - beeeeeeeep beep beep.

Oh. That can't be good.

The screen display went red.

"Error, communications systems have lost contact. Error, communications systems have lost contact. Error, communi-"

I shut it off.

Apparently some asteroid or tiny bit of space-junk had broken the aerial and comms-controller leaving me completely unable to contact the ship, or anyone.

Suddenly space felt very empty, and very quiet and very big.

...

"Computer," my voice cracked, "How much air do I have?"

"2 hours 26 minutes remaining."

What the hell was I thinking, coming out here alone? What was I trying to prove?

I was going to die.

They wouldn't know for a while. Then Zuck would have to go to my parents. To tell them what an idiot I'd been. Mum would cry. Dad would stare blankly into the distance for a week.

Maybe two.

There'd be a funeral, though with communications dead on both MNT-7 and my suit they'd have no way of locating the body.

The council would use this to claim we kids clearly couldn't cope with running the ship ourselves. And we certainly couldnt' continue mining. I'd doomed all my friends to being trapped on the surface of a planet that would quickly kill them for the rest of their shortened lives.

Stupid stupid stupid.

"Computer, How much time do I have left?"

"1 hour 58 minutes remaining."

Pull yourself together Iris. Nearly 2 hours.

Think, think, think.

I didn't have enough booster juice to make it into an airlock, let alone get all the way back to the ship in time. Comms in my suit was busted. Comms in MNT-7 was busted. My comms system was pretty inaccessible to fix while in the suit. But maybe I could fix MNT-7's comms?

I clambered over it, trying to find the diagnostics port. Aha!

"Ok, Seven, what seems to be the problem, lets run some high-level diagnostics."

The display scrolled through a sea of red. Comms errors, tracking errors, error systems errors... Apparently there was nothing about MNT-7 that wasn't broken.

"Monty, you piece of junk! I should've just let you tumble into the sun."

"1 hour, 30 minutes remaining."

Not helpful computer, I need space to think. Well, time to think - I wasn't short on the space.

Oh well, nothing for it.

I switched my brain into autopilot and started fixing the code, as time ticked away. I needed Monty to take me back to the ship.

Slowly but surely things went red to green, but it wasn't happening fast enough.

"10 minutes remaining - you are about to be put in a coma to make the oxygen reserves last - repeat you are about to be put into a coma to make the oxygen reserves last"

Gah, just let me-

I held my breath held my focus and punched in the instructions for monty to boost me to the airlock. Half the code was still failing, but it didn't matter I just had to- and nothing.


Chapter 5

...

I was alive.

This one fact penetrated my consciousness.

My tongue was thick in my mouth.

I slipped back into the black.

...

"Did we do it?" I mumbled, half to myself, as I opened my eyes.

I was laid out in the infirmary, surrounded by friends. Or maybe just Carde and Zuck and I was seing double.

The infirmary was blindingly white. my eyes wanted to roll back in their sockets. they tried their hardest.

"Ugh, My head"

"You're are the luckiest person in the world."

"I certainly don't feel like it, there isn't an actual sword stabbed through my temple is there?" I waved my hand around beside my ear.

"You showed up with almost no oxygen bobbing around outside the airlock. What kind of vacuum suit pilot are you? Leaving with only a couple of hours of air supply..."

I was very happy with never being a vacuum suit pilot ever again.

"I want you to see this. The nurse almost killed us when he found it."

Carde rummaged in the drawer and dumped a silty mess of metal beside me on the bed.

"96% Platinum. Useful for electrical contacts and buying spaceships"

Wow. We'd done it.

"We also got a whole mess of iron." Zuck was bubbly. "The council will just have to listen to us now"

"Lets do this." I said, going to get up.

"Ooh, no. woooh... Hello floor."

"Lets do this tomorrow." Zuck said, forcefully.

I couldn't really argue with that. Zuck helped me back into the infirmary bed.

"See you later then" Zuck said, then added "guys" a little too aggressively.

Carde was suddenly really nervous as Zuck left... What was going on between them?

Then, all of a sudden, he leaned in and kissed me. I was stunned.

For a moment.

"NO nononono, not cool, not cool. Dude. at least ask if you can kiss me first."

"I love you. I want you to be mine" he said breathily. Uh, there was the Carde overconfidence I expected.

I was so confused to be angry: "But what about Zuck, didn't you two have a thing?"

"Huh? no..."

"But you were always hanging around us, Oh. right." I catch up eventually. "Was she in on all of this?"

"I told her I was going to tell you today after nearly losing you"

"oohboy." My head hurt, and I wasn't sure that it was just my recent brush with asphyxiation. "You never had me to lose."

"But I love you!"

"That's great. but just because I'm single, and currently hospitalised, you still have no right to just kiss me and see if it works, then tell me you love me to try and make me feel bad and fall for you."

ooh, there was the anger bubbling up.

"I really don't appreciate your trying to manipulate me by using the 'L' word, as though it's some kind of magic spell."

"That's not what I was trying to do at all, I..."

"Are you sure?"

I was maybe being a bit too venemous, but why had he only tried this on when I was at my weakest. A little voice was telling me that I should give him the benefit of the doubt - perhaps my near death experience really did trigger him in to action, and it was just that his timing was appalling, but it was too easy to charge him with Attempted Manipulation and be done with it.

"Sorry. not interested."

His expression of Indignation was replaced by one of defeat.

"but Zuck said-" he broke off, leaving me to figure out how what Zuck had said, and how she had read me so wrong.

And then, believe it or not, he fled. literally fled. It was beautiful. I felt very powerful in spite of my hospital-bed-ridden status.


suddenly Zuck appeard in the entrance.

Had she been listening in the whole time?

"Dude, I am So. Sorry."

I take that as a yes.

"What was he about to say you said?"

"You know when I asked you what you thought of Carde, I think it was after that dreadful council meeting."

"Oh," I cringed, remembering. "I thought you were interested in him. I was trying to be nice. Oh no"

"That'll teach you for being nice." She grinned,

She grinned, I grinned. Zuck always had a way of making me feel better about everything. Even unreasonably.


Mum and Dad visited soon after

I guess Zuck must've told them where I was. Mum looked as though she'd been crying. Dad too, but rather less openly.

"What the heck were you playing at?" Mum asked, almost before making it through the door, "Start from the beginning."

I tried. I really did. but they just didn't seem to get it. They didn't appear to think I'd risked my life for anything worthwhile. Though Mum did hi-five me when I told her about the misadventure with Carde.

Based on the number of non-Zuck-non-Carde kids who visited me while the most annoying nurse on the ship kept me imprisoned, I was clearly worthless to almost the entire population. Ugh, I had to get out of that room, it was driving me mad.


It was 3 days before the nurse would let me out of the infirmary.

Unfortunately Zuck wasn't allowed back in to visit. That nurse seemed to entirely distrust us - and I guess I couldn't blame him. 3 kids apparently playing with dirty chunks of metal and irresponsible play at starving ourselves of oxygen. somehow.

Grandma Cathryn came to visit last tof all, really, she was the one who broke me out of there. Without her, I'd probably be in that infirmary bed 'til I was at least 100 years old.

"There's an hour 'til the next council meeting. Shower, dress, Go." She pushed me down the corridor. Goodness that woman was task-focused. And strong.


The council hall seemed smaller than last time I'd been in it. Verging on claustrophobic. My brush with the infinity of space was clearly still hanging round.

"We have gone further than all of humanity" Councillor Gavin began enthusastically.

Oh brother, he wasn't going to do a rousing speech was he?

"We have been through, in the last 20 years, a new evolution in humanity."

Yep. He was.

"We have left our lives, and our families, and our homes at a distant star, to forge a new life, a new center, for all people to thrive."

All people to thrive... this was the man who refused an entire generation's thriving...

"In just 12 days we will begin landing on Sanctuary. I congratulate you all for having made it this far."

Oh well done everyone, for living in a tin can for 20 years. Ugh. Enough bitter thoughts, positivity. we are about to improve the lives of a thousand people.

"Can I say something?" Grandma Cathryn's voice was suprisingly authoritative when she chose.

"Girls, can you guide me across?" she whispered, "You're better at this null-gee stuff than me"

"I just wanted to add..." She started before we reached the stage, "I just wanted to add, that all your children are wonderfully dedicated people."

Councillor Gavin glared at me and Zuck. He knew something was up, but couldn't shut down Grandma Cathryn - she was way too widely-loved.

"Unlike all of you, they didn't ask to grow up in a rotating jar" Hey, I liked the rotating jar, "yet the hundreds of apprentices have been just as essential to the success of this mission as any of those who boarded on Earth. And now, against all choice of their own, due soley to their being born in space, they will have much less than a full life on Sanctuary."

"These two girls -"

aaah, no, dont mention me - I tried to be invisible.

she continued: "These two girls have suggested that the entire teenage population stay in space indefinitely, while the older ones settle Sanctuary."

Gasps flooded throughout the hall.

"They will continue to live out their lives on Hope - they'll develop the ship into a permanent space station in orbit around Sanctuary, and prove to be a great asset as the next waves of settlers come."

She looked at Zuck and me. I nodded.

"When these girls first presented their plan to the Council, it was made plain to them that the success of the colony was predicated on the the raw materials of Hope being accessible, and easily stripped out. Obviously, as the ship is required for the lives of your children, a new plan needed to be put into motion. Iris."

Why am I always the one called on. Call on Zuck. She's good at it.

Come on Iris. You can do this. It's just everyone.

"We will buy the ship from you." I pushed past the quaver in my voice.

"With what?" Gavin clearly felt more comfortable interrupting me than Grandma Cathryn. "You have nothing other than what's on the ship."

"With our effort! With our abilities. As you were expecting to get metals from the ship, we'll use our abilities to mine metal ore."

"What the heck makes you think you can mine anything?" He asked, walking right down the path we needed him to walk.

I walked up to the council bench, and dropped the 10kg of messy iron ore. Even under such light gravity it made a satisfying thunk.

"This."

Councillor Gavin's face went white. I was pretty sure he hadn't been expecting that.

There was a surge, a swarm. The space-born was descending on the council stage. Cheering as they went.

"We'll gladly look after Hope while the Earthborn settle that beautiful new planet hanging out the window" I said goodnaturedly to Councillor Gavin.

I addressed the crowd, with the bulk of the spaceborn behind me I felt the need to say something massive.

"You are settling the planet below, we will follow in your ideological footsteps rather than your literal ones, and leave the homes of our parents to settle permanently in a brand new place. We are citizens of space, not just passing through."

"Thank you for all you've done for us."

I felt euphoric, I could get used to this, speaking to crowds of people. Although, confined as I was to a ship, I wasn't ever going to get a chance to speak to any larger groups.


The next two weeks were a whirlwind of activity and of goodbyes.

My parents made me cry. "I know you were instrumental in saving your generation" Mum said "I don't know what crazy stunt you pulled that got you hospitalised, but promise me that you don't do anything like that again"

"Don't worry Mum," I said, "I'm never going out in a Vacuum suit alone again, and, If I can help it, no-one else will either."

I shuddered at the memory.

"But it worked."

"It did, honey. I'm so proud of you. If we could stay, we would. But we're needed groundside."

"You look after yourself." Dad finished off. He always used just enough words. I knew him well enough to know what he was saying was "I love you"

I also had to goodbye my old teachers and trainers, babysitters, My parents friends - the pseudo uncles and aunts...

But oddly enough, when I went to say my goodbye to Grandma Cathryn, she stopped me.

"I will be staying with you."

...what?

"For much the same reason you've been forced to, actually. My body has acclimatised to the easier gravity and computer-perfect climate- I'm not sure I'd survive very long downside - I need this space station as much as you do"

"And besides, Y'all need someone older to assume you know more than" And again with the wink.

Winking really didn't suit her.


The corridors felt empty that final week. Spaceborn had taken over most of the essential services - Engineering, Hydroponics, even Doctor Nguyen had submitted that his apprentices would be mostly ok at the basics.

We'd even held Council elections.

So now there was Councillor Zuck, I was so proud of her, and of course Councillor Cathryn. And a few others. They tried very hard to get a 'Councillor Iris' in there too, but I did not want to be a politician. At all. Any problem I can solve with robots is a good problem. Politics just sounds painful. Even what I'd been exposed to so far was more than enough for the rest of my life.

Right now though I just needed to sleep for a month. I'd barely recovered from my space walk, and Carde was being so awkward around me it was sapping all my people-dealing-with strength, and everyone wanted to talk to me and ask me things and we needed to plan out the mining programme, and we'd had to work out how much and how frequently we'd send ore and produced equipment to the settlement and there'd been so much handing over and and and asplode. I have no idea how the Olds were expecting to do this all before. Even dismantling Hope in its entirety would've been a year-long project.

Wuargh


"I propose we rename the station."

What was I doing speaking at yet another council meeting? Oh well, carry on...

"Hope is a good name, but it's not our name. It's not a permanent name." I'd realised that for us to fully embrace this life we needed to own this place. to put our stamp on it.

"We don't need to change it much, and I welcome suggestions, but I want us to show this is no longer a transient vehicle. It is where we will live out the rest of our lives. It's the place we will build up. It's the place we will raise our own families in."

I paused for emphasis, like Zuck had taught me.

"Let's call it 'Home'."


Part 2 - Home

[ have story here - I need to establish Cathryn's solid leadership, why she will be missed and Giri is able to take over essentially. maybe more Zuck and Iris awesome. ]

Chapter 4

It was a little over two year later, and everything was different and somehow the same.

Dressed in black (which never looked good on me), I walked mutely through the corridors. No sparkles in eyes. Neither mine nor anyone else's.

As I entered the council chamber, it was slowly filling up. Much more sparsely than it did when all our parents were here. Oh man - times like this, I needed my parents.

I took a post against the wall, watching Zuck float in the distance getting ready to present to the hall.

She had become the unofficial spokesperson of the council. We were still friends, but not as close as we had been. We were so busy now, her with the council and me with heading up the mining programme. It didn't we had moved out of the dorm (along with everyone else) and into the private rooms our parents had vacated. I missed her a bit.

I missed Grandma Cathryn more.

"We are gathered here today to recognise and honour the life of Cathryn Emma Brown, known to us all as Grandma Cathryn.

"She was honoured, already late in her life, by being accepted to join the Hope crew - so much older than most of the citizens, though she kept her heart much younger.

"Everyone knew her wink, knew her cheeky grin"

I could picture that smile so vividly, that would never be seen again - ugh, I blinked away a tear.

"She was incredibly vital to the freedom of us all. It was Grandma Cathryn who pursuaded the Olds to leave us the ship, Grandma Cathryn who orchestrated our paying for it with the mining project. Without her we would all be immobilised on the planet below, due to the curse of our space-adapted development.

"We owe a great debt of gratitude to you Grandma"

I tried not to think about how we were honour the memory of Grandmay Cathryn by sending her corpse to Recycling. I failed.


Zuck came to me after everything was done. "So now there's a spot on the council. I think you'd do well."

"Dude. way too soon."

"It's not too soon for some people to start campaigning, and I'd rather you than anyone else," Zuck said

"No. I'm not a politician. I don't want to be"

"And that's why I think you'd be great at it." Zuck's logic was.. creative, at the very least.

"I'm happy with what I'm doing."

"Can you at least help someone campaign. You still have a lot of pull, Iris"

Ugh.

"I won't say no. How's that?"

"If it's what I can have, then it will do" Zuck's face broke into her trademarked grin, shocking everyone around us that she could be happy on a day like this.

"I've got to go, Giri's calling me" She said, turning away.

Wow, Giri? I wouldn't have predicted that, Zuck.


I wandered slowly back to the newly claimed Mining workshops, thinking about Grandma Cathryn, thinking about how the whole reason we did mining at all, and were not trying to herd pigs from a wheel chair, was her brilliance.

"I miss you." I said to nothing in particular. "I will miss you."

As Grandma Cathryn had been fading I'd been spending less time at the workshop, and more time in the infirmary. I know this sounds stupid, but as one of the older ones on Home I felt much closer to her - 40 years older than me, than the kids just a few months younger. Perhaps it was everyone pairing off - Zuck now apparently with Giri, and here I am, just as single as Grandma Cathryn always was.


Zuck organised us to catch up properly after our cut-short conversation at the memorial. I'm glad she organised it, I was so busy with the Mining project that I didn't have the head-space to organise a social-life too.

"So, Giri, huh?" I asked, around a mouthful.

"Yeah, he's really smart, I'm so lucky"

That didn't sound much like Zuck, but whatever - love does strange things to people.

"I need to ask you a favour actually." She said.

Oh man, I should've predicted that,

"I knew it was too good to be true, us actually getting to pause our busyness and just hang out." I said, perhaps a little too glumly.

"Don't be such a cynic. I wanted to just hang out. This is more a passing on a favour request."

"So, you know how I asked if you could support someone campainging for the council."

"Yeah, I mostly just gave in to that so you'd stop bugging me about being on the council"

"You'll be on it one day - You have no idea how good a leader you are."

"You have no idea how bad a leader I am. I don't feel the need to test that."

Zuck just gave me a loo that said 'Really?' with more bite than she would ever put in her voice.

"Anyway, since you won't stand, can you please at least give your support to Giri?" She asked.

"Giri's standing for Council?"

Is that why he's going out with you I almost added, but thought better of. Zuck was happy, I didn't need my own cynicsm about relationships to put a hole in that.

"Yeah, please. As a favour to me."

sigh

"Ok. But you have to tell me all about him"

In hindsight I shouldn't trusted the judgement of a love-struck teenager.


"Giri has been instrumental to the success of this place."

This was my first time presenting in the council hall since the renaming.

"He has been a loyal a valued surveyor. He was responsible for finding AS-59, the first mining target, and has found many more since."

"As a councillor he will represent the interests of Mining and Surveying, and I wish him all the best in his campaign"

There. Not the best speech I've ever done, not by a long shot. And nothing I said committed to anything more positive than the verifiable facts about a man I really hardly knew.

But it made Zuck happy.

And it worked, however much I had to do with it. Giri was elected into the council that week.


Silas, one of my deputies in the Mining department was usually pretty held-together. This morning he was bubbling with nervous energy.

"Iris, uh... One of the mining hoppers has vanished."

"What do you mean vanished? Things don't just vanish, this isn't Shakespeare's Harry Potter"

"Well, it had been being fed by 3 of the mining bots on AS-631, and it was full, we'd just sent the recall ping, and it vanished." He said

"Uh, I mean, was not at the co-ordinates it reported." He clarified.

"What do the other mining bots' sensors say?"

"They're just as confused as we are." He said

"Alright, get an investigation team together, we need to find that hopper." I said, "If I remember correctly the quota for this month to supply downstairs was already pretty tight - we certainly won't have anything left to feed our own projects."

"And we have to recreate that hopper out of nothing." I added as an afterthought.


That day was full of bad news. Silas's investigation team discovered nothing, in fact, they discovered so much nothing that they determined that the hopper had simply never made it to the asteroid in the first place, and the mining bots had dutifully been emptying their own on-board mini-hoppers into the emptiness of space - in the place that the primary hopper claimed to be. It would've been fine if just one thing failed. If the sensors, or the position-broadcasting, or whatever caused the hopper to be lost 3 weeks ago.

I randomly ran into Zuck in the hallways that night. We had a brief catch up about the state of the ship - I vented a bit about the missing hopper and how tight quota would be this month.

"Wow, what a coincidence. Giri and I have been talking about how to improve that." She said.

"Cool, I know we need more people," I said, "After keeping ourselves alive, sending resources to Sanctuary is really our only responsibility. I feel bad when we don't do it well. Can you imagine what it would be like if we fell short a drop? What it would do to the terraforming project?"

"I, no. See you round Iris."

"Uh, bye then." That was abrupt.


Chapter 5

"Iris," Silas, had made a bee-line for me as soon as I entered the workshop.

"Two things. first: good news. We've spotted the missing hopper, it was drifting amongst the asteroids. We don't think it's anywhere near close to full, but it's possible we'll recover some minerals from it. I'm sending out a recovery team today."

"Cool, good work." I said, I really wasn't a good, encouraging sort of leader, but I did try.

"Second thing," he said, "did you know about this?"

I took the tablet he shoved at me.

Attn. all citizens.

We have, until now, been paying a tax the Sancturians where we get nothing in return.

No longer.

All Mining output will now go into strengthening and expanding _Home_, there will be no more resource drops to the parasitic Sancturians.

Councillor Giri.

Wordlessly, I handed the tablet back to Silas. I didn't trust myself to speak.

I felt like I'd been trapped, been tricked into supporting something I had no intention of supporting. Betrayed by my closest friend. Tricked into betraying my parents.

My fury continued to build as I stalked the corridor toward the council chamber. Oh I hoped they were all there.

"You have no right!" I yelled as I barged straight in to the council chamber, interrupting whatever councilish shenanigans were going on.

"You have no right to speak for us all, to betray our parents like that."

"Why not? They abandoned us." Giri, inadverntely admitting betrayal.

"They didn't abandon us. They did what was best for us. They left us this station at great cost to themselves. They rely on the resource drops we send them." I was livid.

"You know as well as I do, that almost the entirety of our mining production is sent straight to Sanctuary." Giri said, standing, making the fact that he's more than a head taller suddenly quite off-putting. "You know the projects we put on hold or throttle because we don't have enough resources left over for our own."

"But they're still reliant on us." I glared up at him. "They'd still be living off a dismantled ship if we hadn't taken it off them"

"So? They'll have to become self-sufficient at some point, if we don't make a stand we'll just have to keep sending them the bulk of our mining effort indefinitely." his voice raised to match mine.

Oh, politics, how I hate thee.

"There was always a plan against that." I countered. "Once the next colony ship arrives we stop resource drops. We thought about that. We can't leave them in the lurch now, so many people are relying on us."

"Iris," Zuck joined in, "This is best for us. With the extra resources we can build out Home. You can extend the mining project much further"

"No," I was on the verge of crying, my fury was subsiding, replaced with a growing sense of powerlessness. "We haven't got the right. We still owe our parents for this ship, for our lives. We can build later"

"It's too late now Iris, It's done." Zuck said.

"You tricked me into supporting Giri" I said. "This is not what I wanted. Not something I support."

Zuck looked distraught, torn. "I'm sorry Iris. but you know we need to show our independance."

"Not like this." I said, "not like this."

I left before frustration made me burst into tears in front of them, I couldn't let them see me break down, any more than they already had.


Hey Iris,

We haven't received the Mining shipment for last month.
Is there an issue at your end, or did we just lose track of the drop?

Thanks,

I read the message again.

Did that mean Zuck and Giri hadn't even told the landsiders about their little plan? Surely they weren't that obnoxious.

I drafted a response.

I threw out the draft, and the next one.

There was no way I could say what needed to be said, without sounding like we were desperate for "adult supervision". Did Zuck and Giri really not realise the implications of what they'd done? How this would mean they were destroying our hope for independance rather than increasing it?


"What the heck did you do?" Giri yelled at me as he stormed in to the Mining workshop. My workshop.

I looked around to make sure people were watching this unfold. I desperately wanted to clear my name of supporting Giri's plans.

I waited for him to be a bit less ambigous in his accusations.

"What did you do? They're sending up a 'diplomat' to make us pay the stupid tax"

Ah.

"What does that have to do with me? I'm not the one who mandated abandoning our parents." I felt slightly dirty for politically charging what I was saying, but I'd not paid attention to the implicatinos of what I'd said before, and that had landed us in the current mess.

"You sent a message. They're sending a taxman. What was that message?"

"All I did was inform them of your plan, something I'm frankly astounded you didn't do. Did you really not think this would happen? That they'd decide we need some adult supervision."

"You're just mad I stole your Zuck from you."

...What!? Where did that come from? Quick self-examination. Nope. No. "No, I'm mad at your short-term thinking. And I'm mad that you think it's ok that you're betraying all our parents on our behalf."

And I'm mad at myself that I supported your bid for councillorship.


Chapter 6

The shuttle docked later that week, our first sight of a Sancturian in the last two years.

"Councillor Gavin?" I was very suprised to see that it was him who was the diplomat, he didn't strike me as the diplomatic type.

He was much stockier than I remembered, though that was probably my mind playing tricks on me after being surrounded almostly solely by the long-limbed spaceborn. He was tanned too. I'm not sure why that surprised me.

"Councillor Iris," he said

"Oh, I'm not a councillor," I replied.

"You should be, you'd be amazing at it."

"So I keep hearing," I said, smirking.

Somehow Gavin saw me as an equal now. That was a very strange feeling.

"I'm surprised there are no councillors here to meet me? Is there some emergency?"

"Nope, just politics," I sighed. "I'll show you to your room, you can get settled, and prepare of omigoodness quantities of meetings soon." I was speaking to Gavin as an peer too. That took me even more by surprise.

Collapsing into my bed that night, I was really not looking forward to the following day. I was really sick of politics. Of being drawn into everything. I just want to make stuff. I didn't dare leave it up to Zuck and Giri though.


Sitting in the council chamber the next day I tried not to think about how much I didn't want to be here. I tried not to think about my Mining department, and whether Silas and the team were coping with whatever difficulties were coming up. I tried not to think about what resources it cost to send up a shuttle and how much they needed those resources below.

In short, I tried to focus.

I wasn't doing very well.

"... But we send you tonnes of material every month," Giri seemed to have installed himself as the spokesperson. What the heck did Zuck see in that jerk... Oh my goodness, Iris. FOCUS.

"Of course we do," I interrupted. Ugh, this whole thing was just so stupid. "Because we took this ship out from under their noses."

"We're paying them for this ship," I continued, " and our payments also provide the resources they would have had otherwise."

"I'm sorry, Iris, but I refuse to accept that." Zuck countered. "We had just as much right to the ship as they did, why should they get the resources for it."

"Because we're the ones who have it! I don't understand why this is hard to understand, except that you're being willfully obtuse out of greed."

"And Zuck," I finished, "that really doesn't sound like you."

"If I may say something" Councillor Gavin seemed a little put out that I was doing his diplomatizing for him.

"I understand your fear, " He said, "Your fear is that we won't stop requesting resources once the value of this ship has been, uh, shipped."

"Why would you?" Giri pressed unnecessarily, "You have a little slave-nation of Miners up here."

Gavin ignored the ribbing and continued.

"As Councillors Iris," (I'm not a Councillor!!!), "and Zuck are definitely aware, and I'm sure Councillor Giri has been informed, that there was always a plan to reduce shipments over time."

"I propose we begin to trade for a portion of those resources early."

"We would gradually increase the proportion that was in exchange for trade, in comparison to the portion that was in exchange for the ship."

"Your constituency would feel that there was an obvious exchange for goods, and it kept getting better. This is a win for your and a win for us."

"What do you need to trade? Fabrics, foods, seeds... There are options."

"No. There aren't. I will not negotiate with you any further." Giri tried to sweep dramatically out of the room.

I glanced at Zuck. Really? This is the guy you pick?

"I think there is merit to that plan, and" I looked pointedly at Zuck, "Disregarding my own unofficial status in this meeting, I will do my best to get behind this plan. Counclilors?"

There were vague murmurs among the ten in the room. Had Giri taken over so completely?

"Zuck?"

She looked torn. distraught. "I'll ... consider the proposal."


Chapter 7

"Iris! It's an emergency!"

Ugh. I glance at the chrono - oh two hundred. It'd better be. It had so better be.

I was pretty sure I'd only just got to sleep. I hated what being a politician, however unofficially, was doing to me.

Having haphazardly thrown on some clothes I poked my head out the entrance to my room.

"WHAT! Oops, I mean: what?"

"Councillor Gavin is hurt."

"So get him to Janet. She'll fix him up, what do you need me for?"

"We wanted to make sure you were safe."

Safe? of course I was... oh. no.

"...What do you meant hurt? How did he...?"

"Someone, -"

"Or someones -", someone interjected.

"Someone or someones, appear to have forced entry into his room, and..."

The horrible feeling in my stomach knew what the end of that sentence would be.

I was already moving, running through the corridors.

Oh no oh no,

Our Medical department surrounded the entrance to the room Gavin was staying in.

"What happened? What's going on" I called to the room, I didn't particularly care for the answer.

Janet, the head of Medical saw me, and asked me if I was ok

"Has anyone attacked you? Threatened you?" She asked.

"What, no? Why would anyone?"

"Why would anyone indeed."

She gestered to the entrance. I looked inside the room, I'd never seen so much blood.

"Is ... is he?"

"He's alive, he's unconscious. He's sustained a head wound - appeared to have been hit in the face repeatedly, Kicked in the gut - there's a lot of internal organ damage,"

"!-"

"Do you know who did this?" She asked me.

"No, I- I mean, his history with the spaceborn isn't amazing - you heard his last speech before the Sancturians left."

"Why was he the one who came back? Surely there were better choices."

"I don't know, perhaps he wanted to make amends."

"I can't imagine his plan was to make amends like this."

"No," I said, distantly.

I had a flash of political inspiration

"Have Councillors Zuck and Giri been awoken, they need to see this."

I immediately felt terrible for being political and manipulative, but I knew that this was the result of Giri's pattern of denigrating the Sancturians. They needed to see the result.

"They're already on their way Councillor." Janet said to me. Why was everyone calling me councillor, oh well, I didn't feel like fighting that battle right now.

"Ok I'll wait for them. Please, continue to do what needs to be done."

Just a few minutes passed, Zuck showed up, having been escorted by one of the Medical department juniors. She looked like she'd been crying.

"Iris! Is he going to be ok?"

"Apparently he's unconscious - I think he's stable for now. It looks pretty bad though."

I didn't have the heart to turn this in to a teachable political moment like I'd been planning to. It didn't seem right at all.

"Giri- he.... Iris, I've been so stupid" I resisted the urge to agree. It was difficult though, I'll readily admit.

"We'll figure this out. It's going to be ok." I just sat with her and said platitudinous things,

About an hour passed. Not much at all of substance happened, either from Zuck, or from Janet's team.

The Med Junior who'd been sent to fetch Giri returned and told us he'd refused to come, refused to even see the Junior. Then he went inside to what had now become a hospital ward, leaving Zuck and me in the corridor

"Can we go to your room, I don't feel safe in mine alone tonight," Zuck said at last.

"Sure," I responded. "Shall we go now."

"Yeah,"

I let Janet know what was happening, and to contact me with any new developments. Zuck looked shattered though.

As soon as we were in the relative privacy of my room, Zuck turned to me and said: "Giri did it."

"Uh, yeah, I guess he did, his acting like we and the Sancturians were enemies must've made someone think that-"

"No no no. He personally did it. He came and bragged to me about it. I saw the blood on his knuckles. I heard him describe in careful detail how Gavin looked as he tried to fight back, how he'd forgotten how to move in low-gee. - It was terrifying."

"I-."

I had no idea how to respond to that. I couldn't imagine. I mean, I knew he was short sighted about the whole relationship with the Sancturians, but I hadn't realised how aggressively and how dangerously short sighted, I hadn't realised. I hadn't seen. I hadn't thought Zuck could get herself into a relationship with someone like -

"I had no idea. I'm sorry. -Did, did he hurt you?"

"No, well. He never did hit me. Though I suppose he always kept me very aware that he could."

"Oh, Zuckie, I'm so sorry I wasn't there more. I admit I never liked the guy, but you seemed so happy with him and I didn't want to interrupt that" waitaminute I was making excuses for not foreseeing this? Stop that conversation thread.

"Do you think he will openly admit it? In a Grand Council meeting?" I asked, pragmatism getting the better of my empathy. "Because this is going to turn the entirety of Home upside down. Way more than everything he's done up to now."

"I don't know. Maybe? He was definitely pretty proud of himself -In fact, I'm not sure that he thinks he did wrong," She said.

"How could-" I started,

"Because they're Sancturians right?" She responded, "they're the ones who left us, the ones who are stealing our stuff."

"But they're our parents. we demanded to be left." I said, much to aggressively, especially since - on reflection, Zuck was just trying to represent Giri's views, not espousing her own views.

Zuck's so patient. She didn't rise to defend herself, or correct my aggression. She was so much better than I was. How had she ended up in such a stupid, violent stupid --arrgh it made me so angry.

"I'm sorry, you've had a worse night than anyone -except perhaps Councillor Gavin -" She sob-laughed at my attempt at black humour, "I should let you sleep. We can work everything out in the morning."

I let her take over my bed. I sat down against the wall, tablet in hand, and I went and found the thorniest, messiest, mind-bendingest bot-software bug in the Mining department's issue tracker, and got to work at unravelling it. Aah, sweet relief - a problem with defined edges, which probably isn't going to put anyone in hospital, isn't going to mess up the gentle heart of my friend. Isn't going to break wide-open the society I desperately wanted to succeed.


Chapter 8

I called an all-hands Council meeting that morning. Yes, technically I had no authority to do so as I wasn't a Councillor, but if no-one else seemed to notice that little fact, I was going to have to take advantage of it.

Zuck was in no shape to speak anyway, I probably wasn't either, but I was running on a thinly veiled rage against Giri's recklessness, whereas she appeared to be running on nothing.

There we were, Zuck, Giri, the other Councillors, me, Janet - who I'd pulled away from the infirmary to give a report. At this point it was still just potentially a murder. Frankly, I was shocked that Giri had willingly showed up to this meeting, but it made things easier, if scarier.

"Today, something shocking happened."

I took the first word before Giri could, while people were still filing in.

"I'm speaking today in place of my friend Councillor Zuck Zrunan." I had to have some kind of valid claim for why I was taking over the Council meeting. It was a stretch, but I just needed it to hold up to a light scrutiny.

"As you all know," I continued, "we've had the pleasure of hosting Councillor Gavin of the Sancturians, as a diplomat while we tried to resolve some trade issues"

"During the night shift last night, someone broke into his room, and beat him up with enough force to render him unconscious. Janet?" I turned, hoping for confirmation and a little good news

"-He deserved everything that happened" Giri interrupted, standing. "He and the other Sancturians believe they can boss us around, take our resources. We didn't ask him to come, but he felt it was within his right to invade our space and make us give him our hard-won resources."

"Councillor Giri, did you do this?" I asked, not believing my luck at his outburst.

"Of course not, but I commend whoever did."

Dammit, he's not the stupidest person, just very close... plan, plan, how do I prove it was him?

"Uh, Janet, please tell us what happened to Councillor Gavin"

"Certainly. He suffered repeated impact in his face, he'd been apparently kicked in the torso repeatedly - many of his internal organs suffered damage, or ruptured."

Even Janet's dispassionate description was shocking

"Do you think he will live?" I asked

"I don't know, sorry."

I hated what I was about to do, politicizing such a criminal act, but I needed to fix the Giri problem.

I stood, projecting my voice and injecting it with all the confidence I didn't have "I move that Giri be suspended from the council due to his self-proclaimed approval of such violence."

Hands were raised across the room, the automatic vote-counting bot's camera swept the room recognising faces and hands.

688 for, 206 aganist, 121 not present

Oh thank goodness. That small nightmare was over.

Zuck stood, now with more confidence than she'd had in months.

"I move that Iris be installed as a Councillor in his place."

Oh great, a new small nightmare was beginning. Zuck knew my feelings on being a Councillor. though, I suppose she was right (implicitly). I was needed to stand as a councillor.

the bot gave the numbers:

550 for, 343 against, 121 not present

Wow, that was enough of a lead the non-present didn't need to vote. I was a Councillor. Fancy that.

"I propose we go back to sending resources to the Sanctuarians, but, as we arranged with Sancturian Councillor Gavin before all of this went down, they will gradually ramp up return trade of foods and seeds and fabrics and other organic products."

"All in favour?"

703 for, 191 against, 121 not present

I assumed the distribution of votes was very similar to those in favour of Giri himself. I wonder what it would've been had Giri not beaten Councillor Gavin to within an inch of his life.

Ugh, politics.


2 days later, Councillor Gavin regained conscousness.

Relief washed over me as I heard the news. I felt incredibly responsible for all of this. If only I'd taken Zuck up on her initial Councillor offer, If only I'd paid more attention to Giri. If only we'd set a guard on Giri's door. If only if only.

"Councillor Iris! I mean, just Iris!" Gavin's eyes lit up as I entered his hospital room.

"You were right the first time, strangely enough," I said, "Now you're awake and functioning, we can return you to the surface."

"Thank you, for all you've done."

"Does uh, is Giri still a Councillor," he continued, "or is that what your new posting means?"

"It was definitely him. He hid his face, but it was definitely him." He confirmed, without being asked.

My heart sank. I knew that we now had to respond more thoroughly than just stripping him of his councillorship. But I didn't know what to do.

"I- What can we do about this?" I asked Gavin, "it's the first time we've had to deal with such a crime"

"You're smart, you'll figure something out. I haven't any more experience with this than you."

That was bizzarely both comforting and terrifying.


I really had no need to be there, but I went along, just for the fun of it. "Former Councillor Giri," Officer Callum said, "You're under arrest for violent assault, and conspiracy to incite violent assault."

"And for treating Zuck like rubbish" I added. I may be a bad politician, but I was a terrible fake police officer.

Callum glared at me. Giri glared at me.

"We'll hold you until we can give you a trial in a few days, once we have a plan for what to do with you."

"Why do you need to do this Iris," Giri said. "Where the heck am I going to go? You've been watching too many earth films."

Perhaps I had. But we needed to do something. Or at least look like we were doing something.

Having a Police Officer was probably going to be annoying soon enough.

Not that I had anything against Police Officers. I just wasn't really sure what to do with them yet, or how much power they had. We didn't even have a police department until early that morning, when we'd recruited Callum from the Engineering department because he was one of the biggest and strongest men on the ship who hadn't voted for Giri to stay. And, yeah, ok. he was also kind of cute.

Callum fiddled around with the hand-restraints for so long I was worried Giri was going to get bored and run off. Fortunately he seemed to have resigned himself to arrest. As I didn't really want to chase him all over the ship, even though it was all dead-ends eventually.

Officer Callum marched Giri to the frantically retrofitted makeshift cell we'd set up that morning. We could probabably have just used Giri's personal room, but that would've violated the principle of the thing. I was thankful we didn't have any more criminals to incarcerate; rewiring the locking mechanism on those doors was a nightmare.

We deposited a discomfortingly silent Giri in his cell then left him to it. I really didn't like how little he was protesting. He'd never stuck me so coldly rational that he'd willingly accept his fate.

Oh well, there was nothing more we could do.


I was getting the hang of these council meetings now. Not that I hadn't already wheedled my way into many before.

"So what do we do with him then?"

"We can't keep him locked up in that room indefinitely."

Zuck glowered a bit. She'd been the most knocked about by all of this. She was used to being the star of the show, but people wouldn't catch her eye now. It wasn't like she'd done anything wrong. I think everyone just thought she was fragile. It was making her fragile.

I really hoped we could just figure everything out and move on. I just sat back and listened to the others throw around words.

"So. We can't toss him out the airlock?" ... "It's not like he killed someone." ... "No! We can't do that!" ... "We'd do that if he killed someone?" ... "I don't think so. we should probably have a plan." ... "We're making a plan. This. Now is the planning." ... "I though we were just..." ... "Can we exile him to the surface? Maybe an island. an Island would be nice." ... "Really? do we have our own little Australia?" ... "Don't you remember why we're up here? that'd be a death sentence..." ... "Why can't we just keep him locked up?" ... "Because he's taking up resources and unable to provide any effort to the station." ...

I faded out. words words words. Ugh councilling was not fun. Who's idea was that?

We really should've figured out what we were going to do with criminals before we had any.

This rabble would never get anything done.

"Alright, everyone shut up for a moment." I interrupted. "We just need to work this out a step at a time, rather than telling everyone why we should already know this." I was speaking to myself as much as anyone else.

"Lets first figure out what the problem we're trying to solve is, because I don't think we're even all on the same page as each other."

Systematic problem solving. lets go.

"We need to figure out what to do with Giri," Councillor Allan started.

"Ok," I said, "that's good. Now, up a step. Why?"

"Because we can't keep him locked in that room forever."

"Ok, that's something I've heard a few times already today, but it hasn't been explained to me: Why?"

"Because his merely breathing and eating and just existing costs the station resources, so it's not fair that we have to work hard to look after him while he just sits in his room all day"

"Ok, that's something we should measure, benchmark. How much of everyone's time is spent on keeping Giri locked up. There must be other reasons"

"There's Callum, he needs to watch Giri."

"Ok, he probably doesn't need to watch him the entire time. That does sound like a waste of station resources, any other reasons?"

"It might make lazy people do something dumb so they get out of working"

"Ooh, that's one I haven't heard yet." My system is working. "That's another good reason to have him work, I don't think we've gone up the first Why stack enough. Why does he need to be locked up at all?"

"Iris. these are stupid questions."

"Maybe, but they're helping us get a fuller picture of the issue, and maybe then we'll get to solve it. Why does he need to be locked up at all? We just kind of did that knee-jerk."

"Because there needs to be a consequence for attacking someone so violently."

"Because his ideas about the Sancturians are dangerous, and he's a pursuasive speaker." Zuck said, she knew this most of all.

"So we've got: 1) punishement, and 2) censorship. I don't think we can win at 2 by just keeping him locked up, ideas have a way of spreading," I said, "I think our approach to ideas we don't like has to be: pay attention to them, and spread counters as necessary. Not just from Giri, but from everyone, and sometimes we'll be the wrong ones."

I felt like a teacher dragging some kids along a Socratic method path, but I didn't have any idea what we'd find when we got there.

"Ok. So, we do need there to be some kind of punishment, and keeping him locked up might not be seen as punishment by those predisposed to laziness. So we need to find something different."

"You forgot 3. keep everyone else safe from him" Zuck said, "He's proven he's a bit of a sociopath."

"He doesn't seem that bad. to non-Sancturians at least"

"You didn't see the terrifing glee in his eyes that night," She shuddered, "You didn't see how much he enjoyed it."

"You're right, ok. I'll put it back on the list. What's something that looks like punishment, that can be done from an enclosed room. It doesn't need to be a punishment, it just needs to have the appearance so we avoid emulators."

"Answering your questions is punishment," said Councillor Allen. Wow this really was exactly like carrying some children on a path of thought.

"What was his apprenticeship again? Long-range scanning and surveying, right. Can't he do that from a locked up room?"

"Ok, so we can ask our judge to let us confine him to quarters, but he must continue to work as a demoted Surveyer? and he's not allowed apprentices?" I tried to sum up.

"Judge?"

"Yeah, we've got to have a trial."

"But who's our judge?"

"We'll figure something out."

"Maybe we should hold elections?"

Oh no, not more elections.

"Yes, we should hold more elections. always more elections. never-ending elections."


We held more elections, but now we had a Judge. Marta, a hydroponics engineer had apparently decided hydroponics engineering was boring, she needed a change, and so, would now decide how to imprison people.

Yay.

And that was all resolved becase I'm thouroughly sick of this story line.

Part Whatever - HERO

Three years had passed on Home since the Sancturians had left. Our society was humming along, metals export and organics import had begun to be equitable.

And then this happened.

"Councillor Iris!" (Oh yeah, and against all odds, I was still a councillor. why?)

"We've just been alerted the Hero has arrived in system."

Hero was another colony ship that was apparently just starting to be built as what used to be known as Hope had left Earth. With no communication possible through the wormhole we'd no idea if it had ever been launched, or even finished. We'd kept an eye out just in case.

"Cool, can we communicate with them yet?"

"Yeah, they're still light-minutes away so not realtime, but go for it."

I sent a message welcoming them to the Sanctuary system from the comms technician's tiny office, then realised it was probably An Historic Moment TM and I should've shared it with the others.

I sent for Zuck and the other councillors while I waited for the response. After a few mintues I realised the comms technician - (Kevin?), was a bit uncomfortable with me hanging round his tiny office.

"Can you set up the council chamber to send and recieve messages to and from Hero"

"Sure," he said, looking grateful for being useful, and for a way to get me out of his hair.

"Done - are you heading there now?" He looked so hopeful. Clearly he was someone who needed his own space to be his own space. Not the sort that really suits being in a floating tin-can in the sky, but whatever. go diversity!

"Yeah, please redirect the other councillors when they arrive too." I seemed to have reduced Kevin's role to just redirecting people and messages. Sorry Kevin. Calvin. Kieran. What was that kid's name?


I got to the conference room just in time to see a video message ready to play.

so play.

"Who the heck are you kid? What are you playing at?"

huh.

I'd clearly introduced myself poorly.


We eventually resolved that little confusion, helped the residents of Hero land on Sanctuary, and in response the gave us the ship. They were much more generous than we had any right to expect, but I suppose that they'd seen how responsible we were for Home and assumed we were happy to build some sort of empire in the sky.

Apparently we were sky-emperors. cool.

So a maybe half of us moved to live on the Hero to keep it ship shape, while we figured out what to do with our newly growing empire.

And newly growing it was. during that time we celebrated our first birth among the spaceborn leading to a whole string of the things. Our little civilisation was growing. weeee


Part 4 - HOVER

I was always nervous for tech demos. Somewhat suprisingly, especially ones I hadn't worked on at all. I supposed that meant I was sympathetic, or maybe a pessimist. Maybe both. Who knows.

Elias was a genius. Just 15 years old when the Sancturians left, he'd been apprenticing with the Robotics department. After the great reshuffle when we all had to figure out what we were doing on our own he'd started a little research department.

He and his small team had made a few changes to our systems here and there, little efficiencies, here and there. Apparently those efforts were just side-projects was all just so we'd leave him alone to do this. Whatever this is. He'd dragged a group of us over from the Hero to this demo on Home.

"As you know," Elias began. He was definitely one for jumping straight in without introduction. "We live on a space station where we fake gravity. This requires continuous rotational velocity, requires either a very wide radius, or forces you to raise your children in a low-gee environment"

He seemed to be waiting for some kind of acknowledgement. It started to get awkward. Eventually he continued.

"Not only is this method less than we want in a large space station, it's completely untenable on smaller shuttles."

"I'm going to show you something now."

He was grinning, obviously pleased with himself.

"Here is a plastic cylinder. just standard plastic, nothing special"

I felt like I was watching the patter of a stage magician.

"We place inside it a plastic ball. I'm using plastic so you can see it's not magnetism."

The ball drifted to the bottom of the cylinder under it's the ship's point-three gees, which I was suddenly feeling more aware of.

"Now, If I place this cylinder on our device here, you see no change."

"But If I take the device and put it above the cylinder..."

The ball fell up!

Elias was 'tadaa'ing, and polite applause drifted through the room. I suppose most of the people present didn't really understand the significance of what they were seeing.

"We've created a device that can manipulate gravitational fields with a very small energy cost"

"are there any questions?"

Oh man, were there any questions. I had so many.

"What is the energy cost?" I asked. It seemed like a good place to start.

"Like a magnet there's really only enegy input required when we change the strength of the field, after that it's constant and doesn't really require maintenance. Like a planet. That initial Energy input isn't impossible, but it's pretty large ."

"How does it work?" Someone else asked, I didn't see who.

"Magic." Elias replied, grinning again - clearly enjoying himself. "Actually, I'm publishing a paper on what we think is happening, that'll be available in a few weeks, but unless you've got a good understanding of quantum mechanics I wouldn't even try reading it," he said, not unkindly.

"How high is the gravity it can generate? Over how wide an area? Does the gravity extend in all axis of the device or just one? Could you reduce the effect of gravity with it? Could you cause something to float? Could we make a gravitic impeller?" I figured I'd ask all my questions in one go.

"ooh thanks, good questions." He grinned. I liked that grin. it looked good on him.

"We seem to be maxing out at ten gee, but I don't know if that's a hard limit, or just a limitation of the devices we've built so far. The area of the field seems related to the size of the device - we've not yet found an upper limit for that, though there probably is one. We're working on designing different fields patterns."

"Floating and gravity reduction are interesting ideas, we've obviously been focused on the other side of things, perhaps others will come up with that"

"A gravatic impeller is something we've been looking into, uh - does everyone know what it is?"

There were murmers of unsureness throughout the room.

"A gravatic impeller is something that projects a gravity field ahead of a ship it's on, then continuously falls into it like a cartoon donkey chasing after a carrot that's tied in front of it's face. It's one of the applications we've been looking to, and a large part of why we're trying to control the field pattern."

"It means we'd be able to make a much simpler, smaller, faster, and more efficient spacecraft."

"With it, we could go anywhere." His eyes had a strange glow, a far-off stare. This man was an explorer.

I think that was the moment I fell in love. I wasn't sure if it was the Elias or the 'go anywhere'

Whichever it was, I had to get involved on this project.


I cornered Elias while he was packing up after the presentation.

"That's amazing tech, can I be part of your team?" I stumbled over my words in my enthusiasm. Calm down Iris, it's only a boy.

"Hi, ...Councillor?" he said.

"Oh, sorry, yeah. I'm Iris." I held out my hand.

He looked down at his hands full of equipment, apologetically at me. Awkward.

"Um, I'm primarily a Robotics engineer, programmer. I'm not really the best councillor, or politician, I'm about done with that," I said, "do you think you have room on your team for someone like me. I'm especially interested in the new propulsion tech and mainly my author is bored of talking space politics and wants to write about space exploration."

Huh, where did that come from. Oh well.

"Roboticist, huh? You could help us retrofitting our test shuttle, I imagine you're good at welding and fiddly mechanical interactions."

Oh good, he was listening to the important bits. And being very generous with his assumptions about my abilities.

Enthusiasm, kids. It goes a long way.

"You're on Hero right? When does your shuttle leave?" He asked.

"sixteen hundred tomorrow"

"Come on down to the workshop tomorrow morning then. Workshop 28"

I thought I knew roughly where that was.

"Sure, I'll be there, nine-hundred?"

"Nine hundred. I'm there from seven."

"Seven hundred then." I'd get as many hours as I could with this man. How had I not spent any time with him before now? I suppose he'd been much younger than me relatively. And he hadn't been able to manipulate gravity.


Zuck and I had arranged to meet that night at one of the fancier observation lounges. Carde too. Apparently they'd been an item since soon after the Giri debacle. No, I can't explain the logic behind it. but, there you go. They seemed happy together. She had told me she had a suprise, I couldn't imagine what it was.

"Zuck!" I said, as I entered the lounge. "You're pregnant?"

She was right. It was a suprise.

"Wow, you're pregnant. You two certainly don't do things slowly."

And they didn't. Their wedding had been only a few months after they started dating, and it had only been a year since I'd seen them last, before moving out to Hero

"I have good news then, I expect I'll be moving back Home, I can be Aunty Iris."

"Oh, why are you moving back?" Zuck asked, "not that I'm saying you shouldn't."

"You know Elias? The gravity project guy? I want to work with him," I said.

"Yeah, makes sense. He's cute."

"Huh?" Carde and I said at the same moment.

"You're into him. Your eyes lit up a bit too obviously when you said his name"

Really? hopefully it was only Zuck who can read me that well.

"Nah, I just think the project is really interesting." It was mostly true.

"Whatever. You can't fool me."


I stayed in my old room that night (We still were a long way from filling all the rooms in both ships).

I unpacked Scamper for the first time in years. I'd gotten so busy being an adult that I'd stopped playing with robotics - I hadn't even thought to take him across to Hero.

It really was time to move back to making things. I started him up.

Oh you poor thing, He struggled to move his little legs, everything was a seized up. I gave him a little lubricant, got him to walk again. I had a sudden flash of curiosity - and downloaded his code.

Oh my goodness!

I clearly had no idea what I was doing when I was a teenager. This was awful; no modularity, terrible routine naming, no documentation, no automated tests. I felt the compulsion, the tug fix this. I glanced at the chronometer - twenty three hundred. I could afford to spend then next hour or so cleaning up the code, just to remind myself what I was doing, before going into an environment where I'd brashly claimed to be a roboticist.

Midnight passed, and I didn't even notice. At about oh four hundred I glanced up having written trivial tests for the walking routine, and fixing at least one bug that had become obvious immediately - see, past Iris: tests are good and useful. Though, present me: sleep is good and useful too. Set him down, you can work on him tomorrow. Although, If I want to bring him along to show him off to Elias he could do with a bit of a polish, and that joint needs cleaning up and... before I knew it it was oh seven hundred hours. That was a surprisingly refreshing feeling. A little irresponsible and care-free, but why the heck not.

Shower, stimulant, just enough makeup so I look less like a wild thing that was awake all night. A carefully selected outfit that was trying to do so many things at once: a little bit casual, a little bit engineering, as much makes-me-look-good as possible, without being completely out of place. I was off to see a cute boy about his invention of gravity.

Wow.

I had actually fallen for the guy, and I'd barely exchanged more than a few sentences with him before yesterday. That was interesting, and a new feeling. I weighed it up - yeah, I can own this feeling, lets run with it.

And what I'd told Zuck was true, I was really interesting in the work he was doing, truly. I was just also interested in the who that was doing the work.


"Hi"

"Hi"

...

"What's this?" He asked, after an age.

Oh, thank you Scamper. I love you for the beautiful little icebreaker you are.

"It's a bot I built as a teenager. His name's Scamper- Don't be shy" I'd been a little too precise with the following algorithm. He always stayed directly behind me.

"I just thought you'd like to see it." Feeling dumb that I didn't have a better reason.

"I hadn't taken him across to Hero" I tried again, "so I missed him a bit, and thought I'd work on him while I was back." Yeah, that wasn't a much better reason. oh well.

"You built him when you were a teenager? Impressive. How'd you get him so emotive"

"Oh, accident mostly." Gah, don't be stupid, Iris. No talking yourself down. "Lots of experimenting giving me lots of happy accidents." Good save.

"As you can see we're kind of in the middle of a lot of things right now."

I looked around their workshop - there was the skeleton of a shuttle in the middle of the room, surrounded by bits and junk.

"We've pulled out all the engine-ish bits, the human spaces, it's really just a shell of a ship and radiation shielding."

"Would you like to help us build out the interior of this thing? I think we could make a livable space for two to four people for the weeks it would take to get to other places, rather than years."

"I am so in" I said. "can I come too?"

"Haha. definitely."

We walked through the workshop, as we met the others in his team, while Scamper's little motors whirred as he struggled to keep up, and to navigate the equipment and unwanted bits of shuttle strewn on the floor. It was really a sight to see. I'd never before paid much attention to just how a shuttle was put together, and just how much space there was inside them once you took all the bits that made it work out. It really could easily and comfortably hold four or five people, provided no-one was particularly unpersonable.

"Why did you start from a shuttle?" I asked, "when there doesn't seem to be much left that you're using."

"Mostly because we could," he said. "This one's entire engine system was hosed, and we'd have had to break it apart almost this much to get it working again anyway."

"Also radiation shielding. That's not something you want to get wrong - and there doesn't seem to be anyone knowledgable about it who actually came on this journey. Either on Hope or Hero"

"I don't really want to think about the fact that no-one who knows about the quality of the radiation shields is willing to travel within them."

He laughed. "I'd never thought about it quite like that - you're probably right. Maybe I should've spent my time looking into improving radiation shielding."

He had that faraway look again: "...Maybe if we use the gravity controls to manipulate electromagnetic fields like Class-A habitable planets have, then..."

He shook his head: "That's a problem for later; Morning Hob," he said as we got to the other side of the skeletal shuttle.

"Hobson, this is Iris; Iris, Hobson"

"Hobson is an excellent structural and environmental engineer, He's most in charge of the actual build of the shuttle. Iris is a roboticist by trade, I'm thinking we'll get her in charge in the control interfaces" Oooh. that sounded fun.

"Hi, Hob," I said. I did actually know him, though I couldn't remember from where.

"Hi, Iris," He smiled. awkward teeth poking out every which way. "I knew you'd be back at engineering. You always seemed happier than when you was being a Councillor."

Ah, that was it. We had been apprentices to the same Engineering master. A beard suited him, compared to the fourteen-year-old weedy kid I was vaguely re-remembering. He still had that cheeky childish grin though. And no shoes. I could already tell I was going to like this crew.

"The others in the team tend to get in later; Christie, Alex, Callum..."

"Callum? The short-careered police officer?"

"Oh, you know him?"

"Yeah, We appointed him. He was a truly terrible police officer" I said goodnaturedly, "We just needed him because he's big."

"He's a pretty good pilot though. And he's very dedicated."

"Yeah, I just meant we chose badly, not that he wasn't good at anything -" Oh I was putting my foot in my mouth. Elias was clearly a good people-leader, and I was revealing I clearly wasn't, and which of us had supposedly led our people for the last 3 years? Abort abort abort.

"Oh, here's Alex now." Oh thank goodness, a distraction.

I turned and saw the most beautiful woman I had ever seen enter the workshop.

"Oh no."

Ooops. I'd vocalised that. Do I try to recover or do nothing and hope he didn't notice? Let's go with do nothing.

"Hi Ellie," she said, as she walked over to us, "who's this?"

She went in to hug him in greeting. They seemed very comfortable touching

Oh no. in the comfortable and hidden parts of my brain.

"Hi, I'm Iris." I said, trying to take control of the situation.

"Oh, you're the Councillor, right?" She said. "Didn't you move to Hero?"

"Yeah, but I came over for Ellie's demo" I tried his nickname on, then immediately felt awkward, like I'd violated some level of friendship. It didn't seem to matter though.

"Oh cool", she said. "Yeah, it's just a party trick compared to what we're doing here, but it keeps Personel from insisting we work on more 'productive' endeavours."

"Oh, oops." He hand rushed to her mouth. "I mean we are being productive here... I forgot you were ..."

"Haha, don't worry. I'm here to join this productive endeavour." I said. Thankful that the playing field had just levelled out in a tiny way.

"Really? I didn't realise we needed a politician?" She said, a little agressively.

Oh, It's gonna be like this is it.

"Oh, I'm actually a roboticist, software engineering, micro-mechanical engineering, that sort of thing. What do you do?" My voice had an edge of challenge to it.

"I'm a quantum mechanical engineer" Ah, hell. Of course you are. you're perfect. "Currently we're working on gravity dampening so we can make this shuttle go fast without killing the occupants."

"That sounds like a good plan" I said, uselessly. Quantum Mechanical Engineer? Really? And that hot? just not fair.

"'tis, Ok, See you later kids" She said, giving Elias a peck on the cheek, which thankfully appeared to take him by surprise. "I've got work to do. Nice chat."

"That was ... weird" Elias said, rubbing his cheek, "what the heck just happened?"

"Oh good." I said.

"Huh?"

"Nothing." Why wouldn't my thoughts stay inside my head like good little things.

Thankfully he moved on.

"While we wait for Christie to arrive, I can show you some of what we're working on that'll suit someone with a roboticists training."


Christie never did arrive that day, apparently that wasn't uncommon.

Elias got me working on control interfaces for the gravitation system. It definitely needed it. Oh he had no idea what he'd just signed up for, when it comes to control interfaces, I Have Opinions!

Ugh the entire inteface they had so far had so clearly been created by someone with very little elegance. There was no sense to the layout of items. Nothing was a hardware control and major things like 'on', 'off', 'faster', 'slower' should've been. Diagnostics was hidden away on a third level screen, and that was probably quite important for experimental tech. Oh there was so much that could be done here.

It was hard to tear myself away in time to catch the shuttle back to Hero. I had barely looked up from my station the entire time. So much for trying to spend time with Elias. Welp, there was always next time.

"Hey, so did you enjoy on this?"

"Yeah, I've set up these as hardware controls and ..." I stepped him through the things I'd done. trying so hard not to rant against what was probably his work, however placeholdery.

"Wow, you're pretty good at this." I could feel a blush coming on at his praise. Play it cool Iris. You are good at this. You don't need validation.

"So will you join us?" He asked. "You put Alex on edge, which is kind of fun." He grinned. "I like what you've done with this."

"Yeah, I'll be back as soon as I've extricated myself from Hero's political machinery." I laughed. I wasn't looking forward to that, but whatever. It had to be done.

"Can you look after Scamper 'til I'm back. His battery will last about 30 hours. Just keep him sipping from his charging cradle every so often, or he'll end up flat in someone's way and cause trouble."

"Sure, he's a cute little thing, isn't he."

I could've sworn Scamper looked bashful. Wow, maybe I was a better programmer than i thought.

"Oh, and I'd like to have dinner with you when I get back to Home" I said, in a last-minute fit of overconfidence.

"Sure, we'll definitely organise a welcome-to-the-team get-together." He said.

Le sigh. Oh well, That'll do for now, I didn't have the time to properly explain myself.

As it was I had to run to the shuttle bay (the one with a shuttle not in a thousand pieces).


During the four-hour journey back to Hero I thought about the impending changes in my life.

I felt like a kid again, fun projects, worlds ahead of me, cute boys abound, no politicking, Zuck and Carde's soon-baby. Everything was wonderful and rosy.

Alex was going to be a challenge. It definitely seemed like Elias was immune to her, or maybe he was just oblivious. Maybe he was gay. Maybe it doesn't matter at all, Iris. and just being part of building new tech, and having the opportunity to travel the galaxy will trump any kind of romantic hopes.

I only fifty percent believed myself.

Besides, Elias clearly didn't dislike me, even if he was an oblivious geek. I grinned like a little girl at his parting display of not getting it. This was going to be fun.


Hero was the same as usual. I don't think I'd ever really felt at home here. I mean, maybe it was just that Home was a better name for a home. But I'd always felt a bit disconnected, with so many of my friends not being here, doing my work out of a sense of duty rather than truly doing it for reasons I could stand solidly on. At least there were others who could take my place in the council. I didn't think they'd all do a good job, but some of them might. (It would help a lot if I knew which some were which.) I would have to let that go though. I couldn't always be worrying that I'd let people down. And I wasn't letting people down. I'd done a good job as a Councillor. I'd worked hard and tried to be fair, and I'd looked out for the interests of society as a whole over any one person or group. It was time to move on to new things. Time to live other stories.

I announced my resignation at the small council meeting the next day. The others were pretty generous, I didn't feel forced to reconsider. A part of me kind of wanted that, some validation that I was needed would've been nice, but I was glad that everyone seemed to respect that chapter in my life was done.

I booked a space on the next shuttle back to Home and looked over my things, choosing which I'd pack and take back. I'd never properly unpacked when arriving, perhaps I'd known all along this wasn't permanent.

I said goodbyes, promised to catch up with so many people when they or I next visited, and then it was done. What a week. What a 3 years.

Three years I'd been a councillor. Two on Home, one on Hero. It certainly wasn't the most rewarding work - you were constantly balanced on the razor edge of doing the wrong thing for some versus the right for many. It was definitely draining. but. There was a certain joy to it. a certain clarity of 'Why, yes, I am improving the lives of a thousand people a tiny bit at a time.'

It would certainly be different.


That morning I woke up, ridiculously early, to catch the freight-shuttle to Home (I hadn't paid proper attention to the time it was leaving when I booked, I just grabbed mindlessly at the soonest one.) Bleary eyed, it took me halfway through the journey to wakey up. But when I did it felt like everything was new and exciting. Like I was travelling to a new place, even though it was where I'd spent my entire life. For the first time in my adult life I wouldn't be responsible for any people which was frankly pretty refreshing. Ok, so I felt a little responsible for whoever took my spot on Hero's council.

Whatever. They'd be fine. There were no emergencies. (Of course, that was far from the case, the Hero riots were only a few weeks later, but I couldn't have predicted that, any more than anyone else, or, you know, done anything more than anyone else. The council handled that well enough.)


I arrived at Home, and stood in the shuttle bay a moment. Standing in the silence of machine-noises and distant echoes of Pilots yelling at engineers I felt a bit ... epmty? wasn't quite the right word for it. I'm not sure what I was expecting. no-one else's life had changed quite so dramatically in the last week (Except perhaps Zuck's developing baby.) I had been expecting fanfare, or at least someone to arrive to greet me.

I shook off the feeling, everyone has their own thing going. I lugged my luggage to my room and sat in my bed a moment.

And woke up a few hours later. Oops.


Day two of Iris at workshop twenty eight began with little ceremony. I just got straight on with where I'd left off the previous week. I liked that sort of work. it waited for you, didn't demand you, but practially ate your attention whole.

Christie turned up a little later on.

"Hey Iris, this is Christie"

"Hi, Christie" I'd said, amiably, but not too amiably. I was a little concerned she'd turn out to be another drop-dead gorgeous woman vying for the attention of the comically oblivious Elias. I needn't have worried.

That sounds harsher than I meant it to.

I mean, she wasn't unattractive, but she was so, completely and utterly, With Someone. Seriously. I have never heard someone speak so many words about their partner to someone they'd just met. I thought it would die down throughout the day. I was wrong. I asked Alex if it would stop. She told me you just learn to tune it out. That didn't sound promising.

Oh yeah, second day with Alex. It was an improvement. She seemed to accept me as a presence, and once we'd developed an (unspoken) truce about being (unspokenly) after the same (unspoken) man, we could begin to develop an unstable but promising friendship. One of our feelings would be hurt, we'd just have to move on, and we'd figure out how to be friends without being so (unspoken). I, of course, was aiming at not being the one forced to move on.


"And so that's Alex," I finished telling Zuck as we packed away food prep. It was so good having space to just spend time with my friend again, after so long of being so busy. "What do you think I should do next?"

"Clearly you just need to sleep with him first," she said.

That was ... not at all what I was expecting from Zuck.

"Joking, joking," she said. "I was just joking. don't look so shocked." then, under her breath "It'd work though."

"I don't think he's that kind of guy."

"Oh honey," She said, "Every guy is that kind of guy."

"Says the happily married woman."

"How do you think one gets to be happily married?" She said, winking. "oh that came out wrong. I'm still just kidding."

"On a more serious note, how do I attract this boy and defeat Alex in hand-to-hand combat?"

"Oh, You know I'm really not the best person to ask. My major achievements were a Sociopath who tried to destroy our society, and I followed that up with the man who you yourself tore to shreds after he had the audacity to kiss you."

"Oh man, I'd forgotten about that." I laughed, "I'd nearly died, was not in a good mood that day."

"We laugh about that sometimes." She said.

"Gee, I feel bad now. Tell him I'm sorry, it was just that his timing was just truly horrible."

"Haha, I don't want him to change his mind and think he can try again" She said.

Then a realisation hit me like a slap in the face. She still felt like second best somehow, that Carde would've still preferred to be with me if I'd've had him.

"You know I have no hope of attracting him now," I said, "the way he looks at you. He is well and truly yours."

"Yeah, I know. I know."

It didn't feel right to press any more, so I dropped it.

We hung out, talked for hours, catching each other up on the minutae of our lives. Slowly, the conversation drifted back to me and Elias and the Cold War with Alex.

"You know. you could try not dressing like a boy." She said, a little abrutply.

"... I don't dress like a boy. Do I?"

"And maybe wear a little make up."

"I wore make up that first day. " Because otherwise it would be a little too obvious I hadn't slept

"It's bad enough you still have that short hair, but I guess it's your 'thing'" (she managed to pronounce those quote marks)

"But, I like my hair." I said, feeling a little oppressed now.

"I know, sweetie. It's also harder to change, so it can stay. But, you should borrow some of my clothes, especially since I can't wear most of them at the moment anyway."

"Zuck, no, you know I'm not the clothes borrowing type."

"You're also the single-your-whole-life type. Some things have got to change, follow."

I think she'd been saving that all up as an overwhelming strike during the last hour's conversation. Warning everyone: Zuck is a crafty lady.

Also, I'll admit, she has quite good taste in clothes.

It's not that I don't have taste, I did have taste. I just didn't care that much to actually use that taste to affect the way I dressed. Was that dressing like a boy?

I dutifully followed Zuck to the closet.

"Um... try this one, with this, maybe this. Oooh, this will suit you, this, this..."

Clothes were piling up in my arms.

"I do have clothes of my own." I reminded her. It was futile.

"This one... now: shoes."

"I have my workboots," I said, "That's enough. Shoes are mostly a waste of time anyway."

Zuck glanced down at my bare feet.

"Mmmmno." She added a couple of barely functional pairs to the pile.

She hustled me into the bedroom and left me there. A pile of clothes more colourful than clothes had any right to be. "You know I work in a Workshop right? With welding and jagged edges and all sorts of anti-nice-clothes things." I called out.

"There's a pseudoleather jacket in there." She called back through the wall. "Stop stalling, I want to see."

I resigned myself to not winning this war, peeled off my perfectly adequate clothes, and stared dumbfoundedly at the array of options.

Bright purple pseudoleather? What was Zuck thinking? Sure it worked against her dark skin, I wasn't so sure it'd work for me.

I was so glad dresses didn't work in low gee, I was sure Zuck would shuffle me off in a welding mask and an Earth-style ballgown.

What are the simplest things in this pile? black long-sleeved top. check. Waistcoat? pinstriped pants. ok.

I walked out feeling slightly uncomfortable. still barefoot though.

Zuck burst out laughing. "You've managed to use my clothes and dress even more like a boy - A very stylish boy, if I do say so myself. But definitely a boy."

"Fine," she said, "I guess I have to select you some outfits. This is kinda fun."

"Kinda..."

"Stand there." She said, purposefully ignoring my reticence.

The purple jacket seemed to want to form the centrepiece of an outfit. Brick orange pants rested next to them for a time while she sorted through the pile, holding things up and making thinking noises. I was worried she expected them to go together. Mono.

Fortunately in the end the orange pants were relegated to the 'actually maybe not for you' pile.

"Ok, I'll leave you to try these on."

There was the purple pseudoleather jacket that just wouldn't die. black and silver paneled top, simple black pants, woven silver belt. It was suprisingly tasteful for all that silver and purple - I never thought I'd wear purple.

And the second outfit. Wow. A top printed all the way to the edges with a ... a sunset? (Why a sunset, it's not like they're a common occurence in orbit), White cuffs, a white belt, together with my own many-pocketed slate grey utility pants. - "They're not bad" she'd said. "you just need to pair them with the right thing."

So apparently the right thing was a sunset. Ok then. sure, why not.

I pulled on the sunset. It did look pretty good. Way more colourful than anything I would ever have chosen for myself, but against all odds, I liked it.

"See Iris, you're at least as good looking as Alex, and everyone likes a good sunset." She said, as I shyly showed off my new outfit.

"Thanks Zuck"

Just at that moment, Carde came home, stalling any more awkwardness about how attractive I wasn't.

"Oh my goodness, you girls. What's been going on here?"

"I'm trying to spruce up Iris' image." Zuck said,

He looked me up and down, not in a creepy way, I think he truly was just looking at the clothes.

"Good job sweetie," He said, kissing her on the forehead "Big improvement."

"How was your evening," She asked, giving him a quick peck on the lips.

I took that as my cue to leave, gathered up my things. Passive-agreessively leaving the nonsensical shoes.

"Thanks Zuck" I called out, as I left, "Thanks Carde for lending her to me."

No response, they were totally distracted by each other.

They'd be alright.


That morning I woke up early, unreasonably excited to wear the sunset to the workshop. I'm not sure how much of it was to impress Elias, and how much was to show up Alex. I did feel extra confident. I had to hand it to Zuck - clothes did affect how I felt.

I arrived in the workshop about eight-hundred hours, hoping Elias would be there, but Alex wouldn't yet.

I got it wrong on both counts.

"Nice top," Alex said, as I walked into the workshop. "Who fabbed it for you?"

"Oh, I don't know. It's actually a friend's," I said. Why was I admitting that?

"Looks good on you," she said, shrugging. "This one I had Allan fab for me. It's cute, don't you think?" she said, referring to peach trimmed whatever you call that kind of shirt.

I am so not able to have a conversation about fashion with you Alex. I made vague positive noises instead.

"Is Elias around?" I asked.

"No, he's gone all this week, over at Hero setting up some side project or other."

Of course he is.

This would never be so simple.

Oh well, At least I could focus on getting some work done.

I settled into my station, and got knee deep in some code problem or other

"Hi sweeties," Christie said, sweeping in. Shattering my concentration. I'm not sure how she swept instead of, you know, walking, but sweep she did.

I busied myself with the interface work, carefully designig the various primary elements and labelling. I tore up the old shuttle steering interface, looking at how it operated the tiny jets that controlled the shuttle's fine movement.

"Hey, Alex" I called across the room, "Do you have documentation on how fine the adjustments we can make with a gravatic impeller are, I'm looking at the steering system."

"Uh, nope. I have the mathematical model though. How familiar are you with the theory."

"Just the basic principles," I said, a little ashamed. I knew she felt I wasn't smart enough to work on this stuff - Just because I'd never apprenticed with the theoretical physics lab. I just loved to make things - how was I supposed to know theoretical physics would become practical physics in my life time. This gravitation work was amazing, but I just didn't have the foundation to grok the mathematics of it.

You know what, to hell with this. I'm smart enough to learn this "I'll pick it up though, what can you teach me."

And to my utter shock, she began to.

[Your author would, had he more time to research, actually pretend to know more about quantum physics and how by manipulating bosons and whatever they could control gravity fields. The main issue with pretending this is hard science fiction is that it's probably pretty much magic, and the something something bosons don't do what he thinks they do. Whatever. Disbelief re-suspend thyself.]

Alex was actually a pretty good teacher. She was surprisingly patient, and as we went through the basic theory of it the maths gradually started to make sense. After we had spent most of the morning going through everything I could understand how to control the inputs of the mathematical model, by which point she left me to it and went back to whatever theoretical physics-land her brain hung out in.

I jury-rigged up a system to let me manipulate the software model as though it was the hardware ship, mimicing the overly simplistic hardware API Elias had set up for the prototype. And I started planning out how to connect the jet triggers to operate the impeller's field generator.

After a few hours of writing tests and following rabbit holes of code and learning way to much about how the steering systems of traditional shuttles worked, I realised that this was totally the wrong approach. The way of propelling the ship through space was so different, that I would have to change the signals the steering controller output right back to the direct manipulation.

And in fact, the primary interface could change too, as rather than a ship with a main thrust in one axis and minor rotational corrections in others, we had something that could have a main thrust or to be more technically accurate, a main accelleration in any one direction, which could (If I was reading the model right). In fact, because it depended on fields, rather than vents, there was an incredible fidelity of control, which was unimaginable before. It'd be a lot more efficient too - rather than having two thrusters pushing in mostly the right direction, you could pull the ship in exactly the right direction along exactly the right axis.

So now I had a blank canvas rather than an already built control human interface. sweet.

I was just putting the finishing touches to version one of the control system software model, when I realised that I didn't have any way to rotate the ship. I only had three dimensional translation. This was fine in my simulated software model of a space craft, but people like to have a sense of forward.

That seemed simple enough to solve - I'll just use four impellers rather than one, and if they're laid as the verticies of a tetrahedron by controlling them in concert I'll have a full range of three dimensional rotation. Sweet.

And that was when the maths got really weird.

Welp, I'll get help with the math later, right now I wanted to sort the human interface. Firstly I knew the rotation system would have to be modal, I needed it to be mostly controlled by the computer because although the brain can get a handle on six-axis controls, once you give someone infinite axis control they just sort of shut down. Even those of us who'd grown up with zero-gee readily available struggled with it.

There would be two modes. One for main travel, and one for making minor corrections of the sort needed for manual docking.

There would be three primary controls. The first would be a button which would rotate the ship to automagically match the axis of thrust, pressure sensitive, where the pressure controlled the speed of the rotation.

The second would be a sphere, suspended magnetically within another sphere, which was to be held in the hand and controlled by pushing and pulling in different directions, indicating the direction of translation. I also designed it to have a specific magnetic pattern so that the rotation could be tracked as well for fine changes in rotation.

The third control would be simply a dial to control the fidelity of the other two contols. at zero end small changes would result in big changes - the sphere was one-to-one rotation locked with the ship, at the other end, very fine changes were possible, many hundreds of full rotations would match a full rotation.

I spent some time practicing these controls with the software model until I felt they were both intuitive and powerful enough to properly build the hardware for.

I also had to run the sticking your hand in amongst powerful opposing magnetic fields for long periods of time past someone who'd know. I felt a social call with Janet coming on.

The last thing I added was a screen focused on diagnostics and full logging. It never paid to hide those away for experimental tech.

And at that the whole day had passed. Alex had left some hours ago, I still had no idea what Christie did on the team. Hobson had arrived late and left early. Time flies when you're having fun, and solving human-computer inteface problems was the most fun I'd had in years. The control system I'd devised would only work on a infinite-axis ship with decent enough cockpit gravity. And I felt like it was optimum for controlling such a system as well. Just enough buttons, and

As I drifted off to sleep that night in my new-old room I was still turning the UI problems over in my mind.

Maybe I'd change the interior sphere to mimic at least a rough representation of the overall ship. If that woudn't screw up the magnetic balance too much. no, then the fidelity change wouldn't work. I could have a floating software model ship like I'd been playing with the whole day as part of the interface, to show what was happening.

Wait, why was I messing with magnets in the first place? I knew people who could manipulate gravity.


That week was a blur of ui work, printing mockups and then fininished polished items (Oh it was good to have access to a real printer - steel printers were so much nicer to deal with than the laser cutters I'd been relegated to when building Scamper's structure and all the similar projects all those years ago.

The mockups would use magents and electrical resistance as that's what I knew how to deal with. I'd let the gravity kids have at it later.

I contstructed a dial for the shipboard gravity - zero through to point-five gees. Alex pursuaded me to include controls all the way to one gee as the earthborn would want access to it, and she let it slip that, as we could travel at incredible speeds compared to the generation ship, as we didn't have to worry about internal G forces, we would, in fact, be able to return to earth after only a few months of travel. Which seemed insane to me. Why didn't they wait until they'd developed similar tech on earth.

"Why didn't they wait until they'd developed similar tech on earth?" I echoed my thoughts aloud

"Huh? oh. you mean because this all can go much faster?" Alex jumped right out of the silence with me.

"Yeah, Why take a 20 year journey instead of taking 15 years to properly develop the tech and then a 5 year journey?"

"The pressure to explore is too great." She replied. "Can you imagine those who set out in ships across the atlantic deciding they would wait for the invention of the airplane?"

"Or polynesians waiting til they could build massive sailing ships before exploring and settling the entirety of polynesia."

"Do you think we'll be able to see earth?" I asked.

"And that's exactly what I mean," she said laughing, "look how excited you are."

I conceded. and was really excited about the possibility of seeing Earth. We'd read so much history as kids. I wanted to see where everything came from.

"Hopefully us spaceborn will be able to have personal gravity reducers," she said. " I'm making progress. Still a messy idea though."

"The other downside to travelling at really high speeds, is the massive relativistic time effects we'd age months, but the universe around us would age years, possibly even centuries if we got fast enough, accellerating continuously at 10 gees with no maximum velocity but the speed of light would get us going quite fast quite quickly."


The morning of Elias's return I was super nervous. I'd abandoned the purple leather jacket - It was more a statement about the jacket than a statement about me. The silver top was sweet though. Who was I kidding? I'd just spent a week amongs the APIs and just-good-enough user interfaces this man had designed, he didn't have any aesthetic sense - he probably wouldn't bat an eyelid if I showed up in one of Grandma Cathryn's old jumpsuits.

"Hi everyone - this is André, he'll be working on radiation and micro-meteorite shielding." Elias said as he walked in with a very nerdy-looking man in tow.

"Hi guys," he said, "This gravity stuff is cool. I've just played with electromagnetic fields a lot up 'til now." His voice getting quieter with every word. Not a particularly confident speaker then.

"And it looks like mimicing planet-style electromagnetic shielding will be the way to go with the speeds we're expecting to run into space dust with." Alex said. "It'll be good to have you in the team."

My opinion of Alex was improving bit by bit.

"Nice shirt Iris," Elias said when he came past later that morning - proving all my opinions of his fashion-sense wrong, "Yes."

"Yes?"

"Yes."

"...Okay?" I said.

"Yes, I'll go to dinner with you. You did ask me out, right?"

"Yeah, but that was a week ago. And you totally misunderstood me."

"Oh, sorry, you've changed your mind, I took too long to think it over. Please forgive my assuming the offer held."

"No, no. I was going to..., but ... but you totally misunderstood me."

"My apologies, it took me by surprise is all. And by the time I figured out what you meant you were halfway out the door."

"Oh, cool" My face broke into a grin. "How about seventeen hundred tomorrow at Angie's dining hall?"

"That sounds good... ah, nineteen hundred? Otherwise I'll just go straight from the workshop and still feel like your boss."

"Ok, that works better," I said.

That sounded like a man who had experience dating people he worked with. I developed a new theory about Elias and Alex.


"Date clothes, need." I had appeard at the entrance to Zuck and Carde's room uninvited but for Zuck's general hospitality.

"Really? already? Wow, well done you."

"Thanks for the overwhelming confidence" I said, a little more harshly than I'd meant to.

"Haha, sorry. Of course, I shouldn't be surprised. Come in. Carde, dear, Iris is here."

"Hi Iris, how are you."

"I have a date." I said, "So - pretty good, actually. How are you guys doing?"

"We're well, scans show baby is healthy, and exactly on progress, everything is excellent"

"How much longer?"

"Oh, a little over 3 months yet. We're both transitioning slowly out of our roles so we can focus on being parents for a while." Zuck said, "My parents are actually planning on shuttling up to be with us for the first little while, bringing my four-year-old Sancturian brother I've not even met yet. So. that'll be... interesting."

"Oh, your parents are lovely." I said. "I wonder how your brother will take to low-gee? and, why didn't you tell me you had a brother."

"Because it never came up? I only vaguely knew he existed. His name is Socrates."

Of course it is, your parents choose the strangest names, Zuckerberg.

"That's all 3 months away though." Zuck said, "Your date, tell us everything, how'd the clothes go."

"Well, they may well have been unnecessary. I'd asked him out like a week ago, then didn't see him for a week, then today he says 'Yes.' I had to drag the context out of him."

"Oh, and he did say nice shirt." I added.

"Ah, he's not totally unobservant then. When is it?"

"Angie's tomorrow."

"Good choice, make sure you get a booth though. And tomorrow? Yes, we do need to sort you out with some clothes. Come with me..."

"Right, lets try: this top, these pants, these shoes, and maybe some bracelets"

I can't imagine why she felt it necessary to emphasize these shoes.

The top was lovely: loose, peach, silky, elbow-length.

The pants were a pale blue I'd have never thought would go with peach, but it actually looked really nice. Zuck had a good eye for this stuff.

The bracelets were various oranges and blues, metallic, 5 or 6 thin bands for each arm. I barely resisted the urge to run around the room making karate poses while wearing them.

The shoes.

The shoes were stunningly pointless. They were a glittery, medium blue. They appeared to offer no protection to my feet and were, truth be told, a tiny bit too small. At least they were flat - there was no way I was going to wear any kind of heel.

"Thanks so much Zuck, I owe you a bunch. I'll tell you how everything goes."

"Thanks for visiting Iris, remember you can just pop round any time."


I'd spent the entire day pointedly not looking over at Elias's workstation, and then rushed to my room to prepare. Now I was sitting opposite him one of the sound-proofed couple's booths at Angie's.

"So."

"So."

How does one prepare for a date? I was 22 and hadn't ever been on a date - I suppose that put me at a disadvantage - but I'd spent so much of my life with more important things to do. It was nice to have a break. Not that working with Elias wasn't important, it was just a little more spaced out, and I didn't have so many people relying on me all the time to be on top of things all the time oh my goodness.

Ok, so a little nervous...

The shoes were already making my feet hurt. they were a mistake.

"So. um. What inspires you outside of all this gravitation work?" I asked, What happened to the soft, simple questions to start. Come on Iris

"Ooh." He said. "I find the potential for exploration fascinating. I want to see Sanctuary from the surface - to see mountains, snow, lakes - all these mythical things in person. I guess that drives why I started trying to get into gravity - I want to make it so all space-born can see this stuff without destroying themselves. Although even if I'd never managed it, I would've gone to the surface when I was an old man, even if it killed me."

Not a bad question then Iris, not very related to his answer but that didn't matter so much

"And then when I started looking into the gravatic impeller possibility," he continued, "I realised I would be able to see Earth."

"You get this, right?" he asked, "You want to see the worlds too."

"Yeah, I do- to see the Great Wall of china, the Pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge!" I said, no having to fake excitement where this is going.

"Really? So you're more interested in the man-made than raw nature - that's interesting."

"I think what it is is the edges, the boundaries between what people have done and what the planet provides. How we bend ourselves to the resources we have and how we bend the planet and resources to ourselves."

"That makes sense. Half of the wonder of seeing a wonder is imagining the wonder of all those who'd wonder'd before - with such old engineering projects, at some point the wonder was just in some old Egyptian's head."

"Exactly." ish

"So how do you get from wondering about historical things, to robots?" He asked.

"I don't know - it runs in the family I guess," I said smiling, "My mother is a roboticist, although I think we get different things out of it. - for me it's the edges again, the point at which humans and computers interact how each bends themselves to meet the other"

"Well, that and there's a kind of delicious joy in controlling a machine. After being in politics for a few years I am absolutely sold on controlling machines by software - and kind of wish I could treat societies the same. How unfortunate that society is made up of people" am I admitting too much? possibly

"oh, I can't imagine what it must be like, to manage that many different people. Especially once we spanned two ships. I can barely deal with the four or five or however big my team is at the moment."

"It's not at all what I expected to do as a kid, I assumed I would dance and robots and that was all."

"Oh you dance?"

oops, "Well, I used to. I haven't in years." I admitted.

"I never did get the hang of dancing," he said, "I always loved to watch though."

awkward silence

"How did you get into being a Councillor if that wasn't really your thing?" He asked.

That was a good question. How did I? did it just become my thing?

"Um, I guess I've always felt a very strong responsibility to the health of our society." I said, "From before the split, from before we'd even reached Sanctuary, like when they were threatening to take Home, I mean Hope away from us, Zuck and I fought pretty hard, and we didn't really stop fighting until everyone stopped needing us to."

"You're one of the Grandma Cathryn's girls, wait. -You must've built that first mining bot!"

Oh my goodness. This was suddenly so awkward...

"Yeah," I said, "I nearly died chasing after it." trying to steer the conversation to some kind of interesting life experiences. What. Nearly dying is interesting.

"Oh my goodness I had such a big crush on the two of you. I never thought I'd actually be on a date with one of you"

This was so awkward please be over soon

"Well the other one is married and pregnant, so you really missed out the chance to date her too." I said, trying levity instead.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I've been making you uncomfortable." He said. "I've just never dated someone this famous before" And saying that is supposed to make it less uncomfortable?

"I've never dated someone before" I said. Rescuing defeat from the jaws of victory. Not a thing to admit, Iris. But maybe it wouldn't matter, he had a crush on you when you were seventeen. eek.

"Being a councillor kind of eats your social life, and before that I'd been the director of the mining programme just by default - Silas and his team do a much better job now." I said, trying to justify my continued singleness. It's not 'cos I'm a horrible person, honest.

This was not fun. I sank lower and lower in my seat hoping it would be over, and wishing I hadn't worn those shoes. My feet were yelling at me and I wasn't even standing.

After a while more of whatever. (I stopped caring). he said, "shall we go, then?"

It probably seemed like I fled the dining hall. Appearances were accurate.

Oh my goodness. that was the worst dinner of my life. Yep. Singleness was for me. It's not a bad way to be. Especially for a worlds traveller. I really didn't want to go in to the workshop the next day. Maybe I just wouldn't go. I could work on Scamper instead. Yeah, he wasn't nearly as difficult to be around.


I barely slept, lying in the my date-clothes I stared up at the ceiling of my sleep-chamber, running over all the things that could've gone differently. better ways to steer the conversation. less stupid responses. It started out so well. but. but what? I was uncomfortable with being the hero of Home?

I decided the day following would be even worse if I didn't go in to the workshop. I defiantly wore my own clothes this time - I'm not here to attract anyone, I'm here to be part of the team designing the transportation of the future. So there Alex, so there Elias!

Mostly.

I spent another entire day pointedly not looking over at Elias's workstation. I wouldn't say that I got a lot done that day.

Elias came to me just as I was leaving. We were the only ones left in the workshop.

"I dun goofed." he said, trying to be cute or something, maybe the author was bored.

"I mean, I'm sorry," he said, thanks for the rephrase "I think I said some stupid things and I'd like to try again, and this time not say those stupid things"

"I ... don't know." I said. What. I really didn't, stop with the judging.

He looked crushed.

"look, I like you, I just don't think I'm the 'going on dates' sort. I've spent too long as a politician - it feels too much like that."

"Oh." he said. he looked so sad and confused.

Oh, poor boy. I really did like him. I just couldn't stand the idea of another 2 awkward hours of forced best-behaviour conversation.

I had a sudden flash of inspiration. I reached up and kissed him, going red as I did so.

Yes, it took me by surprise too.

"Um, ok." he seemed a little taken aback, more confused, less sad.

"Ok."

What was I doing? I hadn't asked for any more permission than Carde had once upon a time. I'm sorry Carde, perhaps you were as stuck as I was.

"I like you, but can I be done with being a politician or a hero? I just want to be Iris for a while."

"Ok. but I think 'just Iris' will turn out to be bigger than those in the end."

"Whatever," I said, a grin returning, fighting away the red of the unexpected kiss.


Does that mean I had a boyfriend? - I may have danced a little as I walked back to my room that night. There may have been an imagined musical chorus following me around.


This was the third day in a row I'd pointedly not looked over at Elias on his work station. The third day in a row I'd barely got any work done. My goodness, romantic entanglements made for inefficient working environments. Not that I'm complaining or anything.

"What is up with you guys?" Alex appeared over my shoulder as I finally got my head in the game - Ugh an hour's worth of context came crashing down.

"Huh?"

"You and Elias"

"Um. Well, um"

"I thought so."

"I didn't say anything."

"Your face said everything"

I certainly was finding it very difficult to not burst out in the widest grin imaginable. I thought I wasn't that transparent though.

Oh well, it's not like it was a secret.

"Just so you know, he's. um. I'll tell you some other time." She looked over at him with the most confusing array of emotions I have ever seen.

Uh. ok then.

"I'll just keep working then, shall I?"


I was trying to make a version of the floating sphere that wasn't so mechanically fiddly. I liked the conceptual model of it, but it was balanced on a razor edge of functionality. I needed something more robust.

I split the translation from the rotation again, and made two hand-sized hemispheres set free-moving within hemispherical hollows, with an arrow drawn from one edge to the other along the flat top of each hemisphere. The arrow would be the direction of travel, or of rotation, and you would rotate the hemispheres within their bowls, the arrow would point in the direction of intended movement, then as the ship rotated the hemispheres would shift until they were pointed both pointed forward. If you were merely translating up and to the right without rotating then the translation hemisphere would remain fixed in an up-and-to-the-right pointing position.

The fidelity control ceased to make sense when we couldn't just count revolutions. because we would'nt be able to have full revolutions with hemispheres rather than spheres. What if the top half of the sphere was transparent, leaving the directional arrow visible... that could work, optical distortion was an issue, but we could solve that with careful materials choice, something something refractive index. I'd ask Hob. Actually the full half-transparent spheres were much easier to control, even if doing multiple revolutions wouldn't make sense, they could be rolled under the palm. Whee, I was brilliant.

There was now a logical way to slave the spherical controls together for the rotation-follows-thrust mode I'd set up before. Lastly I added a logarithmic dial for the speed of rotation and and another for translation, and now I had an interface that was essentially 4 circles, visually appealing, with readable state, it was easy to control, mechanically uncomplicated, and sturdy. I scribbled down notes to make sure my plan was explicable.

* Fine. Have a diagram *

Control layout, top down view:

    |  o. ← dial for speed of translation
 /  | (⬀) ← spherical direction control for translation
:)  |  ]  ← switch to slave the rotation control to the translation control
 \  | (⬂) ← spherical direction control for rotation
    |  o˚ ← dial for speed of rotation

Spherical direction control:

   __⎛∖  ⎞__   ← side on view of a spherical control,
     ⎝  ∖⎠        set half into the surface of the control panel
                    the top half is clear, the bottom half is opaque
                    and contains the electrodes to determine the position.

I was so focused and then pleased with myself I hadn't realised everyone but Alex and me had left the workshop for the day.

I felt like she'd been waiting for me to look up. She pounced.

"Be careful." She said, "he and I dated for a while; he will forget about you for weeks at a time while he goes off in his brain inventing something."

"Oh, was that all? I was afraid you were going to tell me he shoved an ex-girlfriend out of an airlock or had 6 toes or something."

"He doesn't, but I do." She said, looking suddenly not nearly as pleased or concerned for me.

"What? 6 toes? really? That's awesome" I said, sincerely. and sincerely wishing I hadn't put my 5 toes in my mouth with that throwaway. "Can I see?"

"I guess," she said, removing her (very pretty) shoes.

Wow, she really did have 6 toes on her foot. huh. I didn't even think that was a real thing.

"Wow, that's so cool." I said again, possibly laying it on too thick.

She gave a crooked smile, and I think with that we were friends.


The entire team was there, bar Callum, who had apparently been eaten by an allosaurus. Don't worry, the allosaurus is a metaphor. for... something. Uh, It's just not a real allosaurus. carry on.

You'd think I'd gotten used to presenting to groups by now, but this was my first time presenting a complex human computer interface, and the main steering interface for the project we were all working so hard at, it was certainly ripe for bikeshedding. I was nervous and verging on over-prepared.

I'd printed out a mock up of the interface, after recycling my previous attempt. It was a bit messy, and the clear material was the wrong thing - too much refraction, but the idea was visible at least.

I'd hooked it up to the software model of the ship, letting me calibrate the controls and demonstrate how the ship would move. Also I'd become pretty good at steering the model.

"Hi guys, as you know I've been working on the steering control system" I said,

"I started with a trying to hook up a traditional shuttle's control system to our grav impeller, but that proved messy and difficult to control, and I realised that because the grav impeller moves the ship in a completely different way than a traditional shuttle, the control system needed to be tailored to it, rather than shoe-horned in inappropriately."

"This control system needed to be able to rotate and translate with infinite axis like the grav impeller could itself"

"Uh - we can't rotate with the grav impeller." Alex interrupted.

"Yes we can, we just need four smaller dispersed ones, rather than one large one" I said. "If they're laid out equidistant in a tetrahedron then the maths isn't too bad."

"Oh, is this demo using that system?"

"Well, no, it's not using the grav-impeller model at all - that's my next task, It's currently just moving the model round in 3d space."

"Oh, ok. Yeah, a tetrahedral pattern could work." Alex said, mostly to herself I think.

Yay, can I keep going?

"Uh, where was I. uhm. Infinite axis of rotation. right."

"So here we have 2 spheres, one controlling translation and one controlling rotation. This is different than a traditional shuttle design because this is the first time those controls can be seperate. All other ships primary thrust is in a certain axis of the ship, ours is in any direction we like."

"Between these spheres is a toggle, slaving the rotation sphere to the translation one."

"You can see, the rotation indicates the goal rotation's difference from the current rotation, as the ship completes the rotation. the control returns to center."

"Nice, does the translation arrow move as well?" Elias asked

"Also only during rotation, as that control shows translation relative to the ship's rotation. So while the ship is rotating in space, a constant translation direction is assumed and the control is updated accordingly."

"The other primary controls are these two dials, one controls the accelleration of the translation, from zero gees to whatever the maximum ends up being, I'm favouring a logarithmic scale for these dials so there's more finesse for the lower values, and less distance for the controls to travel between higher values."

"The other dial controls the duration of rotation. from infinitely long, or no rotation, to however fast the system can cope with - I leave the values to you once again."

"If you watch the screen for a moment, I've set up a software model of the ship to use these mock-up controls, and placed it within a course, and I can show you the basic range of movement we have, and the proficiency the system allows after only a few hours of practice."

This was the tricky bit. I had to demonstrate the usability of the controls, but they did require some practice, and I still wasn't very good. I did, however make it mostly around the course cleanly, and after handing it to the others to play with I was please to see that although they appeard to understand the concept they weren't as good as me. ... not that that was the right attitude to have when designing general use control interfaces or anything.

"I think what's missing is um..." Elias started. Oh no, here comes the opinions of the one who hasn't spent the time in this problem. "I think you need to seperate out thrust and rotation on and off from the dials."

Actually that was a good point. I could indicated it with lights. Everyone likes big glowing buttons in their steering systems.

"And there needs to be a way to quickly and exactly reverse the thrust direction." Alex added.

Dammit, these were true things. why hadn't I spotted these issues?

"Other than that I really like it" Elias said, "so much better than what I gave you to start with, and, I think it's easier to use than piloting a standard shuttle. Nice work."

Of course he can pilot a shuttle.

"Aright team," Elias said, "Hob, when you get a moment can you see about the clear less-refractive material Iris wants, I'll look at the tetrahedral layout to drive rotation, Iris, did you need anything else?"

"I'll just get reverse thrust, and on-off in, and then I'll work on using the grav-impeller on the model."

"Cool, thanks for showing us this Iris, anyone else have any questions? no? ok."

Not a bad first couple of weeks I think.


Scamper was becoming a bit of a workshop pet. It had become a game to move his changing cradle somewhere new every few days and see if he managed to find it. After being stranded chargeless the first few times he'd learned to start looking earlier. It was nice that everyone had started seeing him as ours it made me really feel like part of the team.

I had the steering control units wired up, they were giving me the electrical signals I wanted, now it was just a matter of waiting for Elias to complete the full-sized gravimpellers.

Alex was making rapid progress with the negating gravitic fields, They now only failed occasionally. Occasionally was still more often than I wanted to experience when surrounded by ten gees of acceleration. keep working Alex.

André was a bit of a mystery. He didn't talk a whole lot. He had his set up in the corner with lasers and radiation and foils and I don't even know what else. Apparently things were going well? I don't think even Elias fully understood what André was up to.

I started helping Hob fit out the shuttle. The interior was originally designed for ship to surface landings - just a couple of hours, lots of stowage but very little in-flight access of the same. Oh and as many people as you could fit. We'd originally had 120 seats to deal with, now we had enough rooms for 6 people who could stand each other's near-permanent company for months at a time.

The sleeping bays we were building in were a little more compact than the ones on-board Home, about one metre by one metre by two-point-five metres set into the floor of the main corridor. This would not be a ship for claustrophobes. The bays had little personal storage spaces built in to the sides.

There was a full humidity and water purification system, which when operating on a closed system would retain 98% of all water. It was a decommissioned system that, after I'd taken it apart and put it back together (not an easy job), worked perfectly. If I didn't have the need for it in our project I'd have had words, words, with whoever had so lazily decommisioned it.

The shower and waste system we lifted wholesale from the facilities connected to our own workshop. Hob wasn't a bad plumber, and he got most of the system going, I made sure everything was working with the humidity system.

We made sure everything was zero-gee friendly, in case (as seemed likely from Alex's intermittent grav-failures ) we would have to shut off all gravity entirely while we worked on a problem. we also made sure as much functionality - and all the experimental stuff was within pressurized areas of the ship as possible, including the impeller sockets.

As we worked Scamper would get underfoot on his search for his charging cradle (which I'd set as his primary goal if it wasn't presently in sight - he almost never was stranded without charge now.)

One time Elias offered to help with some of the simpler welding work when we were installing the gravimpellers for the trial. There's no two ways about it, he was awful. truly terrible. I gently suggested he might find it more fulfiling doing something, anything, else.

Elias and I were... going well, I think? We weren't spending much time outside the workshop together, but to be fair, we weren't spending much time outside the workshop at all.

Alex and I were very much friends - she seemed to have adjusted to Elias and my status.

André even talked to me one time.

I filled out the shuttle with remotely controllable systems, and we prepared to do an unmanned test run.

Alex's anti-gravitation fields were still finniky, and Andre's radiation shields weren't production ready, so we were still a long way from a manned run without being fried to a crisp and crushed into soup, but it would be a first practical proof of the grav impeller drive.

As we dropped it out the shuttle bay connected to our workshop I had flashbacks of dropping Monty out the airlock all those years ago. Of course the predefined route, warning systems, and my override controls were much better on the shuttle, it wouldn't go spinning off on it's own, but still. give me this moment of reminiscing, back when everything was possible. back when regularly hit wordcount.

Elias hand found mine as we watched the diagnostics monitor.

As soon as it had drifted a safe distance from Home the shuttle started up. it spun in place in a pseudo-random fashion, ensuring a full range of rotational movement - I couldn't believe how well it was doing, and how perfectly calibrated it was - Elias: you're a genius. It slowed its rotation til it was perfectly still, and then fell sideways. Just at one gee to start with, no rotational drift, it slowed (technically it accellerated in the opposite direction) to a complete stop then went up and to the right at an angle, testing the rotation locking with the translation - it rotated up as it moved, until it's nose was pointed in the direction of travel, then just as suddenly it rotated one hundred and eighty degrees along the axis of travel, slowed.

I then realised what I was looking at - a dance like the ones Zuck and I used to love to do - full of rapid changes of direction and rotation. Who could've predicted that my crowning achievement would be to make a shuttle that could dance like the spaceborn.

I don't know why I'm writing or where this story is going, what happnened next? Oh yeah, that's right.

We had essentially a big party that night, laughing at the telemetry data - giddy with what we'd achieved, and even sillier with the expectation that soon we wold ride inside that thing, while ti shuffled a long throwing the occupants against the wall at with eight gees of acceleration - Alex, are you getting this - please don't crush me, bro.

Scamper was scuttling around while we shared our bread together and exchanged our various well dones and hoorays, and I can't wait to be in its.

yes.


I spent the next few weeks wrapping the entire shuttle with high-endurance solar-cells, and printing all sorts of little details for the interior such as cupboard handles and generally tidying up the rough edges and Elias's welds- it still felt a little duct-tapey in places - but I aimed to reduce all of that before our final launch.

Today - André was going to present to us what he'd been working on the since he'd started with us. I was both excited to see what he'd done and dreading that he'd done nothing, he was such an infrequent communicator.

"Hi guys." He started well enough - good projection, etc. But history told us that everything went downhill from there when it came to listening to André talk.

"I've finally solved it. Not only will these electromagnetic fields protect the ship from both radiation and micormeteorites, they accept the energy and matter in such a way that they'll collect the majority of it, absorb it, and use it to power the fields and eth ship in turn."

Amazingly everything he was saying was a clear as could be, apparently the way to get André to talk was to have him solve a problem for you.

Also- waitaminute -

"Are you saying you've made it so the ship will gain energy by moving? rather than spending it?" I asked - not quite believing what I was hearing - that seemed to be against some of the laws of physics.

"Yes. It obviously expends a lot of energy on direction change but as it continues to travel in a straight line it will potentially have a net gain of energy."

Really?

If this was true André was pretty incredible, regardless of how little he talked

"It uses a scoop-shaped field, that, rather than repelling everything it runs into, funnels it into a, a, sponge - a kind of energy sponge."

"I've set it up to read the direction to point the scoop from the work you've been doing, Iris."

So that was why he asked about that one obscure directional control thing

"And that's all I have to say about that."

And it really was. We installed the sponge - shielding for it, the electromagnetic field generator, filled the ship with geiger counters, and dropped it out the shuttle bay again to orbit sanctuary for a few days while we made sure it wouldn't fry us.

It wouldn't - but we were going to need bigger battery-cells for the enegry we were gaining from the solar cells and the scoop. A lot bigger.


All that remained was Alexes anti or negative gravity system. This was the most-science-fiction/magic of all the technologies we'd developed - though they all seemed pretty magical so far - no wonder it was taking so long. Elias had been working closely with Alex on trying to finish it all off - it hadn't occured to me until I said that sentence that I shuold've been jealous about that.

Oh well, All that time aching with a sad heart saved by the fact that they were actually working hard and doing complex maths which I thuoght I understood until Elias had tried to explain it to me one day, and then I realised I had absolutely no idea what the heck he was saying

The day finally came for a manned trial of the ship. Naturally we all volunteered to go first, disregarding the danger and high probability of death. So we rolled dice for it. Alex rolled a 14, Elias rolled a 15, André rolled a 12, and Hob rolled a 9. I rolled, it spun daintily in the soft gravity, and then rested, on a 1. I was going to pilot the first manned excussion in the shuttle.

By this point we should've named it I guessed, I was always hesitant to name things too early lest I grow an attachment to them, but seeing as I was putting my life in it's hands/systems, I felt like a name wasn't much more. I suggested this to the others.

"How about Freedom?" Alex suggested.

"Ugh, tacky." Hob said, "I suggest Prime. It's the first of many, it's indivisble. And we can nickname it optimus."

"Sounds good." I said. "I'm in for Prime"

"Freedom prime?" Alex tried again. We all but her laughed for a moment.

"Ok. Prime it is." Elias said. "Ready Iris? Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Oh yes. don't you dare try and take this from me." I said. worried about the distinct possibility that Elias would decide it was his boyfriendly duty to keep me safe and out of experimental space ships, Especially as he probably could because he was ostensibly in charge of the whole project - though that had ceased being clear.

The team helped me into a vacuum suit, I'd resisted at first, feeling the visceral horror of what had happened last time I'd worn one of these, though this time it was just a just-in-case measure, ideally the hull would hold up and it would be completely pointless, though if there was a depressurization, well I didn't intend on being freeze dried.

"We've also set the ship to monitor your counsciousness, if the gee forces get too much for your body the ship will stop whatever it's doing and bring you gently home."

"Ok guys, I'm good to go. Comms working?"

"Yep, can hear you loud and clear"

I felt like we probably should've cleared this test with some group or other - but I had no idea who. Whatever, hashtag YOLO.

I closed the hatch and started up all the systems, initialised the travel test. It seemed like it hadn't worked for a while I was reading through the diagnostics and trying to figure out why, when the star-field veered violently and I realised it was just that Alex was a genius. Not only was her work keeping me from being crushed into Jelly against the wall - it was hiding any indication of motion at all - it felt smoother even than day to day life on Home. It was truly incredible.

I ratcheded down the apparent gravity in the ship to zero. The steering controls (which had been difficult to control within a vacuum suit) became uncontrollable at zero gees. I would do an unsuited zero-gee test back in the workshop to see what I could improve there to start with. Yes, I should've been focused on checking the functionality of everyones work, but that steering system - I was way too invested in its success.

I brought it back up to the zero point four gees I was used to and took over manual control from the conveyance routine - just to check it out. I spun the ship round almost real time- not feeling any sense of motion - that may, in fact, have been a bad thing - as the pilot you needed some feedback, though I suppose it was better for everyone who wasn't the pilot if everything was still. Perhaps you'd get used to the sense of motionlessness, and would bu able to orinent yourself visually using the starfield and the rotating 3d software model which had made it onto the ship because I thought it had provided useful feedback for steering. I hadnt' realised it would be providing almost all the feedback.

I started to dance with the ship - to put into practice that zero-gee almost apparently-motionless movement we'd perfected as teenagers, applying it to the ship here and now. I would spiral outward, then dive back through the spiral, There was a lot more flexibility here whereas with dancing all you could do away from the walls was change your centre of mass and control your movements that way, or push off someone.

Or push off no-one. I was suddenly aware that I was very distant from any other people. much further out than I had been all those years ago with Monty. I'd also not said anything over the comms channel, and neither had any of the team. I knew I'd gone into independant, quiet, Iris-is-alone mode as soon as the airlock had closed, but I was suddenly surprised that I hadn't heard anything from them. I know I would've been asking me a continuous stream of useless questions, I couldn't imagine why they weren't.

Not that I was complaining or anything, or even uncomfotrable with it. I was actually kind of enjoying the isolation, which - i'll readily admit, sounds really bad.

I wondered if everything was ok. The comms system seemed fine from my end - the status indicators indicated the correct status.

Had there been a depressurisation event in the comms-capsule they were in? had they all died?

(Why did I jump straight to that. )

I felt a wave of fear wash over me -

"Guys, I'm just checking in, everything's fine, but I haven't heard from you."

Nothing.

"Guys... Uh. Hello?"

...

"Guys? Elias? What's going on? this better not be a prank, this isn't funny."

The distance of space-lonliness I'd felt once before stretched it's cruel arms towards me, and I felt.

lost.

Tears filled my eyes. Was this really happening? Could they really all be dead? Was the author that cruel? I really really liked Elias, and I'd barely got to know him yet. Alex and Hob were good friends now. Was I just being paranoid and feeling the distance and lonliness of space too much?

Was there some kind of nasty neuro-drug in the spacesuit? Surely they weren't all dead. Surely I was being irrational. But it would make sense - the comms silence, they were all in the one room, a bubble on the ship - if a tiniest tear had opened up in the wall of their capsule they'd be quickly exposed to vacuum and the rest of the ship would seal to them. The greater good, whatever.

I hammered down on the 'take me home' button and I curled up into a ball. Or tried to - the bulky vacuum suit not making it easy. I'd lost all taste for the ship. Why couldn't I have died with them? Why when I was the one supposedly taking my life into my own hands had I survived.

The docking routine was still pretty rudimentary. I entered the landing bay, undocked my vacuum suit helmet, and - as I powered down the shuttle the comms came to life.

"Are you alive oh please say you're alive can you hear us are you ok?" The jumble of words from the whole team filled my ears.

I had never heard something so panicked sound so beautiful in my whole life.

The great sadness that had already started to build a little home within me began trying to escape and did so very poorly, crashing into things and knocking them over and generally making a mess.

In other words, I burst into tears.

"Yes I'm here I can hear you. Are you ok?" I asked, all in a rush.

"Yes we're fine. we're ok. We couldn't hear your comms at all" Elias said, still just a robot in my ears.

"And I couldn't hear yours. Otherwise the run went perfectly. No radiation, no unexpected gees - in fact, no sense of motion at all."

"We're coming down to the bay, I really thought I'd lost you."

The memory of Carde saying very similar words reminded me too closely of the last time I was alone for too long in space flooding back. This was becoming a habit. Or maybe the author was a hack who only had one way to build tension in while wearing a space suit, as if being that isolated and that vulnerable wasn't enough.

I added a 'don't be alone in the black' clause to my mental list of things I'd learned the hard way, and never ever never wanted to repeat.


Our public display of affection, also known as 'oh my goodness I'm so glad you're alive' clearly made my teammates uncomfortable, so I won't put you through it too. I hadn't realised how important Elias had become to me in that short time, until I thought I lost him - ah, there's that phrase again.


"So apparently Andrés magical wondrous field of awesome blocks all comms along with the background solar radiation, and micrometeorites."

We should've spotted that much earlier, but it was a magical wondrous field of awesome. we just assumed it was awesome

"So back to the drawing board?" I asked.

"It's a quick fix, should take about 20 minutes" André grunted.

And so, with proper estimation padding applied, a few days later we had a test unit of the magical wondrous field of awesome that let a couple of bands of comms through without comprimising the strength of the field.

"Will the field stop bullets?" Alex asked André one day, while we all ate lunch together in the still quite bare shuttle, sitting 'grounded' in the middle of the workshop

"I mean, it's quite science fictiony - basically a force field."

"Maybe?" André offered. "It's used to stopping slow things while it's going fast, but it's the same the other way round."

André had been growing more comfortable with Alex's abrupt manner and generally cheerful disposition, though he still managed to have an edge of leave me the heck alone to all his conversations.


"Oh my goodness Zuck!" How are you

I hadn't seen my old friend in at least 2 months I'd been so busy with the Prime project. I don't know how it had taken over my life so much, especially with such a big (heh) event in her life

"How are you how is everything how's being pregnant how's Carde coping?"

"good, good, good, good." Zuck said.

"Come on, actual details, you dork."

"Tired, tiring, uh, what was the other one, oh yeah. Carde. Tiresome."

"Hahaha,"

"Entirely tiresome."

"You don't mean that."

"No, of course not, he's lovely. A buffoon - but a loveable one. He's trying his best but he really has no idea what he's doing." she said.

"When do your parents arrive then?"

"I've no idea. Scroll up you lazy kid."

"Hey, i'm the older one."

"Yeah by weeks, but being a mum makes me the more mature one."

"O RLY."

"YA RLY."


Later, while I drunk tea, and Zuck drunk some kind of green rubbish, it seems like far to much effort to make a child. I just casually mentioned I was going away soon, and due to relatavistic time effects I would probably be away for a very long time. Zuck took this in stride - I think she had some expectation that would happen soon, what with the building of the ship for the purpose.

She's not stupid.

I wanted to stay until baby arrived and maybe plus a few months. It certainly wouldn't hurt to train up some others in how the system worked so they could, in turn, build more of these things and follow us round the galaxy. not literally follow of course, but go where we went. I mean, not literally go where we went, but have the ability to travel just as far. I should have said that to start with, but you shuold've been able to pick it up from context. Really.

So we stayed for a time. I spent less and less time with the project team, and more and more time with Zuck, until some time after her parents arrived on board, and her mother kindly suggested that I was maybe getting in the way, and could I please be try to be less helpful.

Sorry Zuck. I'm just really excited.

Zuck had a baby girl, named her Cathryn Iris, which is just brain-stem-chokingly sickly sweet. But thanks Zuck for that honour, unless she turns out to be a real brat, in which case I'd like my name back please.

Ugh that sounds so mean, I guess that's what happens when you write these whatever they are's journals? diaries? narratives? do I have an in-universe explanation for why I'm telling you all my deepest thoughts?

Nope.

OK. whatever. carry on.

The surfacers were suitably impressed by our ship tech (there were a few of them now - apparently the fashionable thing was to come and visit your children once they started giving birth- who knew?)

We took the reverse route, and we all took our gravity shuttle to the surface - Obviously we hadn't overridden the shuttles original purpose - ship to ground transport. We really wanted to make a show of it - we'd worked hard dammit - so we plopped it right in the middle of a lake. hovering above the water. stopping with the precisest of movements - An idiom registered in my brain - stopping on a dime. But I don't know what a dime is. is it a line? Why wouldn't they say stopping on a line? whatever - 'they' is kinda dumb.

Alex had designed, created, and presented each of us with a grav-belt. This belt basically gave us localised point-four gravity wherever we went. It was pretty incredibly brilliant.

It did require a bit of care in operation. and it had a tendancy to make you slip as you had less friction than everyone else too.

However, it meant we could comfortably visit the surface. To varying degrees of 'comfortably'.

We landed smoothly taking much more time than the 'fall out of the sky' shuttles usually could, and we had better shielding than they ever had, and could take off without expensive refuelling and resheielding. We had just completely revolutionised planet to space-station shuttles, mostly by accident - this was supposed to be a long distance interstellar shuttle.

This was the first time I'd seen my parents in almost 5 years. Apparently my parents had developed a similar attitude to childbearing as my own (or the other way round I guess) in that unlike many of the settlers they hadn't taken part in the second wave/boom of kids, I was still an only child- this gave me unreasonable satisfaction.

I looked out the view-port. Everything was so incredibly colourful - it looked like the photos I'd seen of earth, but just more. the sky was a more intense blue than I could really comprehend, or had been expecting, clouds more bizarre than I'd ever though - the water vapour just floats? and it's white? I mean, I knew what clouds were, I'd studied the basics of weather systems - but I hadn't really expected them to be so fluffy looking. and just hanging there, It's weird.

Then in the distance, oh what distance. I think I'd already developed a kind of agoraphobia by my two alone-in-space experiences, but distance in space feels much more illusiary. here I knew as we decended just how far away the mountains were, and how big, and seeing them, so far away, so blue- everything was so blue. or green.

Elias helped me down from the shuttle - a bit more gentlemanly than necessary, thank you - it's not the eighteen hundreds, Alex, Hob, and André followed - Apparently Christie was also eaten by an Allosaurus.

Alex addressed us all "ok people - the gravity belts I've given you should all work without failures - if you feel too much gravity too much pressure, lie down and I'll get you one of the spares - you have 10 hours of charge."

"How will we know when we're running low on charge?" I asked - not wanting to get caught out again.

"Uh, you'll feel the weight of the extra gravity - sorry I didn't think about charge indicators. - use your watch."

I grumbled something about 1.0 tech. and we sat in the grass. WE SAT IN THE GRASS. and waited. GRASS. so much life. I felt the grass and mud slip between my toes and was even more puzzled why you'd wear shoes as an Earth-person.

I really wanted to run off and explore the forest just nearby, but was pretty sure I'd get lost as my path-finding skills were completely unadapted to a forest. A FOREST. WITH TREES. AND MAYBE BIRDS.

yep, there was definitely an overexcited child inside me.

No, no, no. not in the pregnancy sense. In the metaphorical sense. Stop being so literal. You're killing my excitement.

"Hello parents" I said, spotting them as they rounded the corner of whatever forst path we'd been told to land on.

"Hello Iris."

I hadn't meant to be quite so standoffish - but it was weird seeing them in the cold grey light of adulthood. Dad hugged me, mum hugged me and gave me a peck on the cheek. It was kind of surreal, I thought back to all the things that had happened to me in that time period - it kind of blew my brain a bit.

I pushed Elias forward. "This is my boyfriend. It's name is Elias."

"His."

Mother tended to prefer the correct pronouns in sentences for some silly reason - to me they were mostly 'suggestions', things to play with. I'm not sure why she felt it was more important to correct my grammar than, you know, say hello and whatever to the first boy I'd ever shown them, but maybe they didn't feel any more comfortable with this whole situation than I was. Elias was really the one who wanted to meet my parents - I could've gone either way with that. I mean, don't get me wrong. I love my parents. Just, from a distance. I like the independance I have, ever since I moved into the dorms as a seven year old. I felt liek by them seeing Elias they could somehow take him away from me - which was, I know, completely irrational - but there you go. Sometimes I'm not completely rational. You're shocked.

Before we managed to make it any more awkward some of the other parents showed up. It was weird seeing how rough and how strong the Olds all looked, women and men.

Alex had reverted to being a little girl in the presence of her parents. You have no idea how much this pleased me, she was all cute and trying to impress them. It made me laugh inside. She was their little princess.



[Let's jump ahead a few generations and write a more traditional space opera. I'm getting too bored and stuck.]

I'm Ellie. I'm thirteen years old, and I'm a spacer, or a spaceborn. I grew up in Sancto-orbit, but I'm going to see the whole galaxy.

My parents are both dockers. They catch the massive freight containers after they are ejected from the big gravimpelled freighters. It's hard work, they say, but it looks like just a big game of catchball.

I'm going to be a freighter pilot when I grow up. I want to visit all the 90 stations in the wormhole network. The orbiters and the wormhole gates.

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