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.