Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 31 764 a.t Outer system, Epsilon Indi

During the deceleration phase, it is difficult to maintain contact with the colony at Epsilon Indi. A brilliant glowing plume of white- hot exhaust issues from the motors at the bottom of the ship; we feel the vibrations through our feet as the ship creates its own gravity with its thrust. Far below us and off to one side is the tiny spark of the colony planet, Tierra del Fuego. Harlan is engaged in sending medical details of our various casualties via laser to the colony, and in attempting to make sense of their answers.

I have been working with him to tune the message laser so that the signal can be distinguished from the light of the rocket's glare. The best results have been obtained by using drone relay transmitters sent out far from the ship, but each drone falls ahead of the ship rapidly and eventually we lose contact with it, so we have to fabricate new ones and send them out at regular intervals. However the replies we have so far received have been short, vague and lacking in details.

"They probably don't have the facilities to handle the worst cases. Feh- we should plan to be living in temps for the first few years, as we don't know if they can even handle our able-bodied."

"We have better technology on the Starlark than the original colonists took with them,” I said. “There are some good temporary habitat designs in the database; all the Indis will have to do is shovel raw materials into the fab and it will manufacture them.”

“No doubt they'll be getting us to do that for them, we'll be expected to work for a living."] We have nothing to look forward to but a lifetime of hard graft on an inhospitable planet, Elanor, old girl. Oh, such joy. I can't wait. Life on the new frontier is always nasty, and brutal, if not necessarily short."

Ania was perched nearby, watching our efforts with some interest; now and then she moved her lips as if subvocalising. I guessed she was in contact with someone elsewhere on the ship, via net implants.
I saw her say something like `I don't know- I'll ask them," then she said (out loud) to us, "How many of them are there? Have they told you that?"

"Well, that's the damnedest thing," Harlan said. "They say they have twenty thousand people living on the planet and a few thousand in orbit. So there are a few more of them than there are of us."

"We could probably squeeze in without too much construction work," I said. "And of course the temps can be put up quite rapidly. But somehow we'll have to nearly double the output of food on that world > down there, or we'll all go hungry

"They must be used to having a rapidly growing population," Harlan said, shaking his head. "They have already increased their population by three hundred thousand percent”

"What are you saying?" said Ania. "Do you mean to say their population is three thousand times as large as it was when they arrived?" She muttered something into mid-air, obviously to the person she was in communication with. "Yes, I know, I'm not stupid." She continued, talking to us now, " There are only twenty thousand of them on the planet. Where are all the rest? The ship that brought them there carried fifty thousand people."

"Like I said, that's the mystery. When I told them that we have hundreds of statics that we can't revive, and many more with memory impairment, they were off-hand. Apparently, out of fifty thousand, they lost all but seven."

"Seven thousand?" That still doesn't add up," I said, calculating in my head.

Harland pulled a wry face. "Nope; seven. Only seven survivors out of fifty thousand. And somehow they've built their population up to more than twenty thou in a hundred and forty years."

"By Astraea!" I exclaimed. "That is some impressive birth rate" I was suddenly reminded that I have never yet had a child myself. As a Parthene, I could self-replicate at will, just by thinking about it. But so far, I had never found the time. After all, the process takes nine Lunar months, just to make a newborn. "How, in the name of all the stars, have the Indi colonists managed to produce so many people in just a century and a half?"

"Perhaps they have genetically engineered themselves so that each woman has ten wombs, or something. I imagine something like a giant human queen ant, with a massive belly and lines of babies on breasts." Harlan gave an evil grin.

Ania threw her hands up. "That's disgusting," and left the comms-deck.

"Actually, the original colonists were sent out by a faction opposed to germ-line engineering," Harlan said, after the bulkhead door flowed shut." So I doubt we will be greeted by human ant hybrids. As I said, it is a bit of a puzzle; but hopefully we'll find the answer soon enough

Thursday, January 10, 2008

January 11, 764 a.t Outer system, Epsilon Indi

At last the end of our journey is in sight. The Starlark will shortly ignite the catalysed fusion motors once more, and we will decelerate into the system for six months before making orbit around Indi. I have briefly been outside the ship with the maintenance crew to check the droplet radiator array and the antiproton feed lines. Interstellar space is starting to become thick with the dust and gas that surrounds our destination system; the erosion of myriad microscopic hits has scoured my armoured suit.

Hoyle is determined to reawaken my former skills as a fusion specialist, and it certainly seems to be working. With luck and much hard work, I will be competent again before we finally power these motors down in mid-system. Every night I study, learning a subject that seems tantalisingly familiar.

Sometimes I wonder if Hoyle realises that we specialists are really only needed because we cannot afford to place all our trust in artificially intelligent systems. Every major system on this ship is under Hoyle’s control; we would barely be able to take over if ey went off-line, but there is always the chance that this would be necessary. So many of the AI systems back in the Solar System failed, were poisoned or subverted, or went mad in the time of the Nanodisaster, that no-one can put all their trust in any mechanical brain any more. Of course, our human minds have proved even more fragile on this trip, and there are few on board who are entirely unaffected by the cold sleep process.

To dispel my blacker moods Hoyle has awoken one of my clade-sisters; there are few enough of us on this ship, and the one ey has chosen is a younger clonecousin of mine. Ellie is twenty years younger than I, and I barely remember her as a young child. I do remember teaching her how to draw a spaceship, one afternoon long ago; that memory floats unconnected in space and time but seems quite vivid. We both drew with the left hand, with the same tilt of the head, and we both pressed too hard on the paper. Now she is a woman in her twenties, travelling to the stars with a small group of friends I do not remember.

“You are such an ebuk, clonecousin,” she said to me today, using that annoying dusty backslang all the young people seem to have adopted. I had expressed mild (and, I hoped, polite) surprise when she told me she was travelling with a group of dusties, non-Parthene Martian refugees from the orbital habitats. I can’t say I blame her—there aren’t enough of our kindred on this ship to make a sorority like we had back on Hebe. I had hoped that our special ability to replicate ourselves would eventually lead to a new sorority out here in the Indi system; but there are so few of us, I believe that is a vain dream.

So I’m a cube. an “ebuk,” eh? I suppose I am. Despite our identical phenotype we are very different. She doesn't even look very much like me, with her long, red, bushy hair and slightly over-the-top make-up; my hair is short, and was once dyed blond, but now the rusty roots show through. Harlan laughs and calls us the “ginger twins,” but I see the differences between us more vividly than he does, no doubt.