Illuminae, p.5

Illuminae, page 5

 

Illuminae
 



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  My group leader says it’s important to talk about my FEELINGS. I am stone-hearted and have none, of course.

  Well, that’s not true. Most people would say I’m pretty cold, but I think of it more as … private. People are always saying “how are you?” to each other, and I guess I just don’t see why I should answer such a personal question for just anyone.

  But for the sake of trying, here goes.

  Ezra’s been on my mind a lot, lately. Why, I don’t know, except that the more you lose, the more you realize you don’t have much left.

  But at the same time, I’m … am I dumb to go back there? It was hard enough to make a decision the first time, but if after a year he couldn’t even trust me enough to talk about whatever he had going on … and anyway, practically the first thing he did was email me and say it was all a sign, and we weren’t meant to be together, and I do have SOME dignity. I don’t want to be an option for him just because now he doesn’t have any others.

  I’m glad he made it out, obviously. It’s not about that.

  I think a lot about who made it out, who didn’t. Sometimes I just remember some random person, like the lady who came to fix our habitation recyc the week before it all happened. I can see her face, but I don’t remember if I knew her name.

  I wonder if she made it out, if she’s somewhere on board, or if she died. And then I don’t know why I’m wondering something like that, or why I feel so bad about not knowing. Survivor Guilt, according to the Counseling Circle Of Hastily Downloaded Wisdom.

  I guess an experience like this is supposed to mess you up.

  ByteMe: u there?

  ByteMe: ping

  ByteMe: ping

  ByteMe: PING COME ON COME ON

  CitB: fuck me, i’m here, what?????i was trying to find Copernicus survivor lists for you, that takes concentration u know

  ByteMe: told you i don’t want them. forget that. ping the Alexander

  CitB: how can u not want to know?

  ByteMe: PING THE ALEXANDER

  CitB: ok

  ByteMe: u doing it?

  CitB: trying

  ByteMe: well?

  CitB: still trying did u miss ur meds or what?? whats the rush??

  ByteMe: well?

  CitB: i can’t

  ByteMe: I KNOW

  CitB: ??

  ByteMe: comms are down

  CitB: system check?

  ByteMe: no they all blinked out simultaneous. when they’re running a check u see them cascade out. Alexander’s main engines are still offline too. i was watching for court martial results when comms were cut

  CitB: checking on ur boyfriend

  ByteMe: this again?

  CitB: don’t deny the flame still burns. ur heart leaps at the mention of his name. u know this is love, sent by forces above …

  ByteMe: r u quoting song lyrics now?

  CitB: i do not have a lot of rl experience with romance

  ByteMe: listen, i’m doing this because it’s our best chance of finding out wtf happened to the Copernicus. we don’t have anyone else on the ground.

  CitB: mmm hmmmm

  ByteMe: can we please keep our mind on the job at hand?

  CitB: I don’t know, can we?

  ByteMe: Byron, they cut the ship link. Just like they did with Copernicus.

  CitB: ok, ok. i don’t like it either. i have news though

  CitB: there are def Copernicus survivors on the Alexander. i found signs about an hour ago. The Cyclones are only landing in bays 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. see what’s missing?

  ByteMe: omgnumbers

  ByteMe: wait, wait, I CAN TOTALLY DO THIS.

  CitB: …

  ByteMe: o, the thinking, it HURTS.

  CitB: ok fine, point taken

  ByteMe: wait … is it the number … 4?

  CitB: all RIGHT I’m sorry

  CitB: point is, we found our Copernicus shuttles

  ByteMe: so the survivors are still locked down

  ByteMe: shouldn’t they be debriefing, working out wtf happened?

  CitB: i’m just one guy, patience, grasshopper

  ByteMe: i want to know y they isolated us by cutting comms. R we next?

  CitB: careful going after that sort of gen. thats hardcore. they find u doing that they burn u right out

  ByteMe: ur scared

  CitB: no, smart. dangerous times

  COMMAND TRANSMISSION SENT 07/21/75 09:06

  HYPATIA HAILS ALEXANDER: NARROW FREQUENCY BROADCAST, SHORT BURST

  Alexander, Alexander, Alexander, this is Hypatia, Hypatia, Hypatia. Do you copy? Over.

  [NO RESPONSE]

  HYPATIA HAILS ALEXANDER: AUXILIARY FREQUENCY

  Alexander, Alexander, Alexander, this is Hypatia, Hypatia, Hypatia. Do you copy? Over.

  [NO RESPONSE]

  HYPATIA HAILS ALEXANDER: MAYDAY FREQUENCY

  Alexander, Alexander, Alexander, this is Hypatia, Hypatia, Hypatia. Do you copy? Over.

  ALEXANDER HAILS HYPATIA: MAYDAY FREQUENCY

  Auto-response: Your message has been received and quarantined. Your message will be processed. Over.

  HYPATIA: Alexander, this is Hypatia. What the fuck do you mean our message has been quarantined? This is Captain Chau. Get me Torrence on the line. Over.

  ALEXANDER: Your message has been received and quarantined. Your message will be processed. Over.

  HYPATIA: That right? Well process this: you flex your tiniest gun turret, look like you’re even reaching to scratch an itch, I’m going to raise so much noise the Lincoln and every ally she has in the ‘verse will know where to find you.

  ALEXANDER: Hypatia, this is Colonel Myles. Go secure. Repeat, go secure. Over.

  HYPATIA HAILS ALEXANDER: COMMANDER’S SECURE FREQUENCY

  HYPATIA: Lia, what the fuck?

  ALEXANDER: Sit tight, Ann. Comms are down while we do some work on AIDAN, and we could live without gossip flying back and forth between the ships. You should see the stats on broadcast frequency the last couple of days. Your people and ours have been busy. Loose lips …

  HYPATIA: Look, I said exactly what you told me to say, I said it was the Lincoln that took out the Copernicus. Pretty soon someone’s going to have to start answering some questions for me, though. Anyone with eyes can see your main engines are offline and you’re reaccelerating on secondaries. Has this work you’re doing taken AIDAN offline completely? Get your main drives back up!

  HYPATIA: Where’s Torrence?

  ALEXANDER: He’s taking care of some official business. You have my word, Ann. We’re here to keep you safe.

  This girl has to be some kind of spider monkey. I don’t know what those are, but I know what a spider is and I know what a monkey is, and if you found some unholy way to combine the two, that’s what I’d be watching right now. You said include everything: right now I am including my impression that she is very flexible, and apparently unaffected by gravity. I guess you need more context. I’ll go back to the start and transcribe from there.

  Footage opens at 11:38, 07/21/75. Subject is Kady Grant, neurogramming intel student third class, refugee from Kerenza training aboard the Hypatia to replace crew they lost to the Alexander. Camera 892A takes in the corridor leading through to the servers. She enters with a group of fellow trainees and an instructor, and they make their way down the corridor.

  The floor is a metal grid, and the clanging of their footsteps interferes with the audio on the file—the sound dampeners don’t work when there’s such a big gang. The noise drowns out individual conversations, but that doesn’t matter. They’re just fooling around the way students do, showing off for each other as they funnel down the long, narrow corridor, and she’s in the middle of it. She’s short, so she’s sometimes hidden behind other bodies, but there are enough gl
impses to confirm she’s there.

  They reach the server door, and she slips to the back of the group as they shove through. The subject digs in her jumpsuit and palms something too small to pick up on the cameras. Just as she reaches the door itself, last in line and invisible to everybody else, she jumps, slapping at the environmental sensors by the top of the doorframe. There’s a dark mark there when her hand comes away, but camera definition isn’t good enough to pick up the specs.

  I would have laid down this week’s salary she couldn’t jump so high. Where does she get that kind of bounce from? Seriously, big jump for a small girl. She slips through the door the moment before it hums shut.

  Inside the server room, the data monkeys look up and scowl and make shut up we’re working gestures, which dampens the students. The data monkeys don’t look worried, though—they either don’t know the Alexander cut comms, or they’ve been fed some excuse.

  The room originally housed servers only, with personnel up the hall. The repurposing of the Hypatia from research vessel to refugee carrier removed that luxury. The servers have been relocated to line the walls, rows of desks crammed into the resultant space.

  The cables that would usually slither all over the floor have been looped up against the ceiling by fat metal bands, though they still droop and coil downward like so many intestines. Whichever interior design genius handled the redesign found some harsh, fluorescent emergency lights, and jammed them in among the cables bundled up against the roof, which means there are bands of bright light and deep shadow all over the room.

  The students, including the subject, take up places at the desks and log into their individual ports, getting to work on today’s assignment.

  At 11:41 the environmental controls in the server room and the corridor beyond indicate a concern regarding air quality, loud, high-pitched and fucking annoying beeping cutting over the chatter of the class and ruining what little audio I have.

  They all rise and grumble and turn for the door, and as they exit, the subject pulls her spider monkey thing. Stepping up onto her desk, she grabs at the nest of cables, tangled up there like a bowl of noodles. She’s little, and they hold her weight. The subject has picked a spot in the back of the room, and by the time the head datatech checks everybody’s out, she’s clinging to the ceiling in the shadows and out of sight.

  The door hums closed as she unpeels from the ceiling and drops to the ground. She walks over to one of her fellow student’s stations, still logged in. The enviro system is still beeping, and she looks up at the speakers like she wants to silence them with her death glare. It’s a pretty good death glare, actually. I’d behave.

  Subject inserts a mem-chit into the station’s port, pulls on the HUD headset and drags out the old-school keyboard. It slides out from the side of the station, sitting vertically, and her fingers dance. She sends a batch info dump to an anonymous holding drive—we know this from what we could piece together of the drive records. We still don’t know what most of that info was. Sliding away the keyboard, subject pulls off the HUD and dumps it on the desk. She then crawls in under the desk, so for a moment all you can see is her butt sticking out.

  No complaints here. Just saying.

  For those playing along at home, she was attaching a device called an interface leech. Has to be attached physically, and allows access to a super–low frequency broadcast band the fleet commanders use for emergency communications. So if you can access it, you can piggyback your own comms on it without anybody noticing.

  Also, somebody should probably tell the UTA they’ve got a fleet-wide security vulnerability going on there.

  At 11:48 the enviro alarm stops beeping without warning.

  She freezes. Caught by surprise, I’m guessing. Abruptly, she’s scrambling out, banging her head on the desk in her hurry, clambering to her feet, yanking the mem-chit from the station, though she still pauses to give the monitor a little pat, like it’s a good dog for behaving so well. Subject hurries over to the back of the room, stuffs the chit into her pocket and crouches in the shadows behind a bank of desks.

  At 11:49 the students and datatechs file back in, grumbling about the interruption. She slips back into her place and makes for the door. The head datatech says something inaudible. Subject replies with a quick smile that’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from that death glare, and says something inaudible in return. They don’t need this girl in neurogramming, they need her in psych-ops, eyeball-to-eyeball with the guys who need to see things a little differently. Just saying. What she says must be an excuse, and it works. He doesn’t bat a lash, and palms the door open for her himself. She strolls back down the hallway ultra chill, stands there waiting until a datatech opens the door from the other side. She slips past, and she’s out and free. As the door hums shut, subject is visible pivoting and blowing a kiss back toward the server room.

  I don’t blame her. She just plundered that thing.

  It took twelve fucking minutes. And she’s just strolling away.

  Subject: Journal

  Date: 07/22/75

  Learning is everywhere. I remember my mom telling me that when I was little, making mundane things seem like they were full of adventure. What I wouldn’t do for a little mundanity at this moment. Or my mom.

  I wonder if I’ll be able to claim some kind of school credit for the stuff I’m learning on board. It’s not exactly conventional, but I haven’t given up on college and I don’t want to end up behind. Note to self: figure out how to argue the merits of practical experience in computer crime to a college application board without getting arrested. (ha ha, I am on a REFUGEE SHIP limping alongside a disabled military battlecarrier being chased down by a BeiTech dreadnought and hoping to live long enough to find a jump gate so I MUST NOT GET BEHIND ON MY SCHOOLING … I sound dusted.)

  I am just too funny, but there’s nobody here to appreciate my jokes. My group leader says I mask my emotions with dark humor and sullenness. Maybe she’s right. The poor woman used to be a geologist before they made her a counselor, and the only thing she’s got going for her is that our group is about as easy to talk to as a bunch of rocks. But who wants to break the dam on stuff like this in public? You write it down and put it away, then back to work.

  Today’s counseling session was about looking behind the face we put on in public to think about what else might really be going on. I wonder if that was just a sideways attempt to get me to be nicer to some of the others, walk a mile in their shoes, blah blah.

  Anyway, she gave us the theme, as she launched off into another round of how-does-that-make-you-feel, I kept thinking about this traveling holoshow that came to Kerenza. They put on a play in the community complex with light-projected puppets, and I snuck away from my parents and went around the back to investigate the puppeteers. The whole romance scene was spoiled by me sauntering out on stage to share my discovery. (I am only realizing now mom and dad must have wanted to hide under their seats, but to be fair it was hardly the first time I’d mortified them.) I remember that moment really clearly. It was so important to me that everybody understand that what they were seeing, this romance, these feelings right there on stage—none of them were real. And that the girl puppet was really a guy with the biggest moustache I’d ever seen, which struck me as hilarious.

  Clearly I had missed the romance of the moment.

  I was all over today’s theme of What-Might-Really-Be-Going-On though, even at the age of eight. I knew it mattered, getting behind the pretend, the masks, and finding out what was really happening.

  And romance? I knew even then it wasn’t the real deal.

  Today, as we practiced empathy and pretended to put ourselves into the shoes of others (without really doing it, because none of us want to imagine anyone else’s grief, we have enough problems with our own), I thought a lot about that holoshow, and the commanders of our little refugee fleet.

  Like I
said, back to work. My group leader has no idea how much I want to know what might really be going on. And I’m going to find out.

  INCEPT: 07/22/75

  WITNESS IDENT: Ezra Mason (UTN-966-330ad)

  RANK: Second Lieutenant

  CALLSIGN: N/A

  COMMANDING OFFICER: David Torrence (UTN-951-787ad)

  RANK: General

  CALLSIGN: Dozer

  —TRANSCRIPT PAGE 5—

  DT: Lieutenant Mason, what was your initial reaction when Echo Group was ordered to attack shuttle group Osprey?

  EM: Sir?

  DT: What did you do when the Alexander ordered you to open fire on the Copernicus shuttles?

  EM: I didn’t do anything. I was waiting for my CO to confirm the order.

  DT: Your Commanding Officer being Major Eli Hawking.

  EM: Yes, sir. Prophet.

  DT: And did Major Hawking confirm the Alexander’s command and order Echo Group to engage and destroy the shuttle group?

  EM: (inaudible)

  DT: I beg your pardon, Lieutenant?

  EM: (inaudible)

  DT: Lieutenant, you are accused of disobeying a direct order in a time of war. Do I need to explain the severity of this situation to you? The penalty you will face if this court finds you guilty?

  EM: You have the communications logs, what do you need me to—

  DT: Lieutenant Mason, you will answer all questions addressed to you, or this court will find your prettyboy ass in contempt.

  EM: … No. Prophet didn’t confirm the order. Sir.

  DT: What did Major Hawk—

  EM: We’d just watched the Alexander murder over two thousand civilians for no good reason, what the hell was Prophet supposed to do?

  (slamming noise)

  DT: Lieutenant Mason, you might be fresh meat from some pitdigger shithole, but that’s still a goddamn UTA sigil on your collar. One more outburst and I will rip out your eyeballs and skullfuck you so hard you’ll wish your momma told your daddy she had a headache the night you got loaded into the launch tube.

 

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