Saturday, February 16, 2008

February 17 764 a.t. Approaching Tierra del Fuego

We have finally finished our deceleration phase. Hoyle has allowed me to resume my full duties as a drive supervisor, although I get the impression e is watching me closely all the time. Ironic, since our role as supervisors was originally devised as a way of keeping an eye on the supposedly unreliable ship AI systems. Yet in the event we humans have proved to be the unreliable ones. For instance, I have heard today that the ship’s captain cannot be successfully revived at this time, so the acting captain (a relatively young Earthman of whom I have few reliable memories) will be in charge when we reach our destination. But the role of captain is relatively unimportant- the running of the vessel is mostly entrusted to Hoyle, who has effectively controlled the ship throughout our voyage of over a century.

After a tiring shift, which was mostly taken up with various shutdown procedures, I made my way to the Comms deck. This part of the ship often gets crowded with onlookers and idlers, like myself, who desire to find out more about the colony we are approaching. Today Harlan was there, once again, sending medical details about our casualties to the main space station orbiting Fuego. He was frustrated, as usual, by the lack of response from the colonists.Also present was Ania, once again muttering to an unseen companion somewhere on the ship, and Ellie, looking discontented, as she often does. With Ellie was one of her fierce companions from the Martian surface, one of the ‘dusties’ forced off the Red Planet by the nanodisaster. His name is Gusev, a common Martian name.

“That looks like a major impact scar,” he said to Ellie. They were looking at an image of Fuego that covered the whole wall, and spilled over onto the ceiling.

“Yeah,” Harlan put in. “That happened a billion years ago, more or less. Shocked most of the atmosphere off the planet, they reckon. Looks like the Fuegies are having a bit of trouble putting it back- the planet still hasn’t got atmosphere worth a fart.”
He swigged at a beaker of coffee, shook his head. “I bet they are really looking forward to our arrival. A ship of amnesiacs and sleeping beauties, on the run from the old worlds they have never seen, bring who-knows-what kind of plagues with us. They’ll welcome us with open arms.”
“Perhaps not you, Earther, but I know this kind of world. Fuego is not so different from Mars. I can help them put it right.” Gusev said.
“Like you did back home,” Harlan said, with a wry smile.

I was just about to change the subject, when Ania did it for me. “No, I can’t see it,” she muttered to her unseen correspondent. “Shall I ask them?”
“Ask us what?” Ellie said, flicking a not-particularly-friendly glance at her. Ania glanced back; her eyes were dark-ringed, as if she hadn’t slept for a week.
“Where is the- you know, the space station. All I can see is planet.”
“Oh, you can’t see it on that scale,” Harlan said, flicking a finger at the planet on the wall. “Here, I’ll call up a magnification for you.” He made no visible motion, but a small part of the image expanded until if filled most of the field of view.

A respectably large space habitat could now be seen, moving against the thin clouds on the planet below; several rings counter-rotating hypnotically. Nearby a disc-shaped spacecraft accompanied the habitat, quite a large one it seemed, but small compared to the station itself.

“Look, they’ve got a flying saucer,” Ania said.
Gusev shook his head. “That’s the inflatable heat shield on an orbit-to-surface shuttle. The same sort of trick we used to use on Mars in the early days.”
“Uh-huh. That’s what you need when your dumb planet has too much gravity for a rocket landing and not enough atmosphere for a lifting body.” Harlan smirked.
“Are you calling my homeworld stupid, mud-eater?” Gusev became angry in a flash.
“Don’t get snarky, red-boots,” said Harlan, but the thin wiry Martian launched himself at the Earthman’s head.

In the low gravity created by Starlark’s leisurely spin the fight was like a slow ballet, with arms and legs wheeling in space and little contact with the cabin floor. Harlan had the advantage of Earth strength, but Gusev wanted to fight much more than he did.

I decided that this was getting no-one anywhere, so I pushed myself in between the two men and thrust them apart. Perhaps a bit too loudly I told them “That’s Enough!” They were both a little shocked at my strength and anger, and so was I.

I don’t quite know where that came from, to be honest; but who knows anything on this ship of amnesiacs, to use Harlan’s words.

Later, (a few minutes ago to be precise, just before I wrote this journal) Hoyle thanked me for stopping the fight. “We are all somewhat highly strung at this moment in time, young lady,” e said.
“Except yourself,” I replied.
“Oh, don’t you believe it,” e said. “I am on tenterhooks.” I have no idea what tenterhooks are, for the record.
“I wanted to speak to you about another thing, by the way, Ms Denley,” e continued.
“What’s that?”
“The young Earther colonist, Ania. You may have noticed that she often carries out a conversation with someone on her neural interface, even while talking to people who are actually present in the room.”
“Yes; but that isn’t all that unusual. Some people just prefer talking in cyberspace to talking face-to-face. Plenty of people do that.”
“Indeed; certain people have annoying habits, and appalling manners. But I am in control of all network communications within the ship, you know. And I can tell you that there is no-one on the other end of the calls she is making.”
“I see. Oh dear.”
“Quite. I do feel responsible for you all, in many ways; I only wish I could have prevented so much suffering during the cryostasis process. But since that has not been possible, I feel I must be solicitous of your welfare as far as possible in the coming months.I suspect this is connected with some undiagnosed trauma she has suffered during her period of vitrification; but I do not have time to fully treat it before we reach the planet. I’ll administer some appropriate medicines for now, but I’d be grateful if you could keep an eye on her.”
“Of course,” I said, with a certain degree of trepidation.

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