Ellie and I have been assigned quarters in a spartan inflatable dormitory on the surface of Fuego. We descended yesterday in the flying-saucer shaped re-entry vehicle along with ninety-five other colonists. A rough ride, with alarming creaking noises as the disk slowed down by aerobraking in the thin atmosphere. Most of the others are bunked in dorm rooms of six or eight, with a small amount of room for their personal effects. Fortunately Ellie and myself have a double room all to ourselves, although there is only one bed. Our two small bags, containing lightweight clothes and a few essential memory brickettes, were brought to us by a silent and unresponsive humanoid robot; the other colonists had to retrieve their luggage themselves from the hold of the ship.
“Looks like we are getting special treatment,” I said.
Ellie lowered herself onto the bed carefully; the planet’s gravity was quite a bit more than we were used to. “Do you see me complaining?”
“The Acting Captain wants us to take an active role in the liaison process with the Fuegans. For whatever reason, they see us as a class above the other refugees; somehow we have to capitalize on that perception.”
“Uh, huh, revetaw, revetaw.”
I translated this to myself. “I’ll give you ‘whatever’, Ellie. We have to take this seriously. This world is our new home.”
“Yeah. Great, isn’t it,” she said. I listened to the sounds of the other colonists filtering through the inflatable walls; they didn’t sound too happy. “We’ll have to start by trying to sort out the accommodation arrangements,” I said. Somehow I didn’t look forward to sharing my quarters with this prickly young woman for the foreseeable future. Especially as I can see so much of myself in her.
Today we have started our basic training, learning various safety procedures and how to work with the Fuegan technology. The Stevens rely heavily on non-sentient robots and automated systems, obviously based on prototypes from the century of their departure but quite often modified in ingenious ways. The colony has been developing independently for a century or so, and their tech has moved on somewhat. Luckily they seem to have some pretty good engineers among their number, although the modifications which have been made are all strangely uniform. I think I can understand that - a group of cloned engineers would all think alike, no doubt.
The two phenotypes we had already met in orbit were the only two examples of the Stevens clones who were involved with our training. The females all had Barbara as part of their name; the males were all Ivans, but they each had a different first name which they answered to. Confusingly, the most senior Barbaras often had the first name Barbara as well, and the senior Ivans were similarly named. On occasion I noticed one or two other clone types, but they would not speak to us directly. At all times the Stevens wore the thin plastic hoods that protected themselves from our infections.
One of the Barbaras showed us the emergency exits and the general layout of the habitat cluster, while demonstrating that almost all the equipment was controlled by specialised neural interfacing.
“This will not work for you, unhappily,” she said, showing us an electric surface buggy in a utility shed filled with similar devices. “Soon this problem we will fix.”
The Martian Dustie, Gusev, was not convinced. “l bet I could get it to work, he said. “Your interfaces are pretty basic stuff compared to what I’m used to- no offence, like,” he added, awkwardly, but he was concentrating on the mental interface now. After a minute or so the machine started to run, hesitantly. “There you are. Elpmis,” he said. The buggy immediately stuttered and died.
“No, it is not possible, sorry; the controls are protected,” the Barbara said smugly. “We have special software which will let you control this. Tomorrow we download for you.”
Later, while we were having our communal meal, another meal of unidentifiable vatgrown processed foodstuffs served by the mindless robot servants, we were joined by a dozen or so Ivans and Barbaras. The two clone groups sat separately, and the Ivans rarely spoke to the Barbaras and vice versa. However within their clone group they were animated, jovial, intimate even. I saw a couple of the younger Ivans with their arms around each other’s shoulders, and two of the Barbaras shared a kiss. The oldest Barbara, however, was watching Ellie and myself closely. I turned to look at my cousin, who turned to me at the same time with a look of realization in her eyes.
“Oh, my, God,” she said quietly, for once avoiding the annoying backslang.
Later, in our shared bed, she said, “That explains a lot. They put us in here together because they expect us to shag each other.”
“It’s unbelievable,” I said. “Their culture must have taken a completely different turn from our own Sisterhood. They started off with, what, seven different genotypes; that is all that survived the cryosleep. They must avoid interclone relations because of the risk of inbreeding. They quite simply keep all their intimacies within the clone groups themselves.”
“That’s appalling- like some kind of incest or something. Well, if they think us two are -like that – then they are dead wrong. Astraea on a bike!” She rolled her eyes.
“Hmm. It looks like setting up a liaison with these people might be a bit more problematic than I expected.”
“Well," Ellie said,” One thing’s for certain. We can’t give up and go home.”
I thought about the old Solar System, and the life we had left behind, and the empty space which was my half-remembered relationship with Rosie, who still slept in the hold of the Starlark four hundred kilometers above our heads.
“No. We are here and that’s that. We will have to make our home here now, somehow.”