Illuminae, page 6
EM: My father is dead, sir. He died at Kerenza. Sir.
DT: Listen, son, I know you’re conscript-material. I know you didn’t join the UTA willingly and I know you don’t want to be here. …
EM: No sir, I’m happy to help out, sir. Alexander saved us at Kerenza. And I want to help. I really do. What I don’t understand is why you fought so hard to save us, only to X-out the Copernicus near six months into the retreat.
DT: This is not a retreat, Mason.
EM: Can we tell that to the BeiTech dreadnought chasing us?
DT: This is a tactical withdrawal, Lieutenant.
EM: Yes, sir. Apologies, sir.
DT: Are you ready to start answering my questions now, Lieutenant? Or do I get the MPs to warm you a seat in the hole?
EM: Ready, sir.
DT: What did Major Hawking do when Alexander ordered Echo Group to engage and destroy the Copernicus shuttles?
EM: He asked for confirmation from you.
DT: He refused the order.
EM: He wanted confirmation from a human. He’d just watched AIDAN nuke the Copernicus.
DT: How did you know it was the artificial intelligence that ordered the strike on Copernicus, Lieutenant?
EM: Because it was the AI talking to us. Prophet tried to raise you on comms and AIDAN told him it was unable to comply.
DT: And so, instead of following orders, Major Hawking decided to tow the shuttles into the Alexander’s hangar bay. Despite repeated warnings of an Alpha Zero pathogen aboard those ships.
EM: He didn’t …
EM: The Major didn’t escort the shuttles right away. He spoke to Dreadnought—
DT: First Lieutenant Alvaranga.
EM: Yes, sir. He spoke to her and the CO of Delta Group. Delta got scrambled when the Copernicus was nuked. They talked it over. And all the while, AIDAN was just screaming at us to engage and destroy. We had no comms on those shuttles. The EMP from the blast had knocked out their systems, and they were floating helpless. But they were close enough at that point for us to see the people inside. I saw this little girl in one of the viewports, she couldn’t have been more than ten—
DT: Who made the final decision to tow the shuttles onto Alexander?
EM: You know the answer to that, sir. You have the communications logs.
DT: I am asking you, Lieutenant.
EM: You want me to feed Prophet and Dreadnought to the wolves.
DT: I want your version of events, Lieutenant Mason. I’m not going to warn you again.
EM: There were innocent people on board those ships. We could see them. Prophet and Dreadnought made the right call.
DT: So it was Major Hawking and First Lieutenant Alvaranga who made the decision?
EM: I don’t recall, sir.
DT: I beg your pardon?
EM: I don’t remember. Everything happened too fast.
DT: You are on thin fucking ice, Lieutenant …
EM: I’m sorry, sir. I don’t remember. You want to brig me for that, do it. I’ll sleep easier in the hole than I will on thirty pieces of fucking silver.
McNulty, J, Sgt: jus saw you head back to your rack wut news chum
McNulty, J, Sgt: chum
McNulty, J, Sgt: mason
McNulty, J, Sgt: ezramaaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssssosooonISrnbopNRb[on erb
McNulty, J, Sgt: ANSWER ME FUCKER
McNulty, J, Sgt: i guess they didn’t shoot u
Mason, E, LT 2nd: nope, not me
McNulty, J, Sgt: good news for ms hottie and my young namesake
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Bad news for Prophet and Dreadnought
McNulty, J, Sgt: ?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: they fucking shot them, Jimmy
McNulty, J, Sgt: …
McNulty, J, Sgt: u fucking kidding me
Mason, E, LT 2nd: DO I SOUND LIKE I’M FUCKING JOKING?
McNulty, J, Sgt: … JESUS
Mason, E, LT 2nd: lined them up against the bulkhead and X-ed them out. CO from Delta group too. And some Lt from Flight Control. Just straight-up shot them
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Only reason me and Carlin got off was because we were obeying direct orders from Prophet. They had it all on the comms logs. Whole show was bullshit.
McNulty, J, Sgt: FUCK
Mason, E, LT 2nd: They revoked my flight status. Decked until further notice.
McNulty, J, Sgt: wut the fuck is Torrence thinking? We shorthanded as it is and they’re X-ing out our best jockeys? Wut they charge them with?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: On paper? “Disobeying a direct order in time of war.” Unofficially, I heard it was a gag job. Command is telling the civis on Hypatia it was the fucking Lincoln that blew up Copernicus. Prophet and Dreadnought wanted to tell it straight. Wouldn’t keep quiet about it.
McNulty, J, Sgt: civis would shit bricks if they knew it was Alexander on the trigger
Mason, E, LT 2nd: You said it
McNulty, J, Sgt: but X-ing out our own guys? i didn’t sign up for that shit, chum
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Watch the chat, they could be monitoring
McNulty, J, Sgt: Dorian said the whole commtech crew is working full time on AIDAN, they got no juice to monitor local chatter, fool
Mason, E, LT 2nd: does Dorian know what they did with the civi’s we escorted over from Copernicus?
McNulty, J, Sgt: They all locked in bay 4. Nobody getting in or out
Mason, E, LT 2nd: no confirmation about Phobos?
McNulty, J, Sgt: shit chum, they’ve had constant outbreaks on Copernicus since we evac’ed Kerenza. Wut are the chances none of those folks are carriers?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: so we could have let the virus on board Alexander?
McNulty, J, Sgt: *shrugs*
Mason, E, LT 2nd:shit
McNulty, J, Sgt: wuts the prob? It’s a bug. 3 days and you’re good as new
Mason, E, LT 2nd: During the Copernicus SNAFU, AIDAN called it a “Class Alpha Zero Pathogen.” And command ain’t treating it like the common fucking cold.
McNulty, J, Sgt: jesus
Mason, E, LT 2nd: you didn’t hear that from me btw
Mason, E, LT 2nd: The worst thing about this shit is we never even heard direct from Torrence during that whole mess. It was AIDAN that gave us the red alert. AIDAN that ordered us to fire on the shuttles. Prophet was just supposed to X-out a bunch of civi’s because the computer says so?
McNulty, J, Sgt: Order must have come from Torrence. The Ai can’t make calls like that
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Then why the fuck didn’t Torrence transmit the order? He must’ve known Prophet wasn’t going to waste 9 shuttles of civi without meat authorization
Mason, E, LT 2nd: we couldn’t just fucking kill them
McNulty, J, Sgt: chum, I know
McNulty, J, Sgt: I would’ve done the same thing in your boots
Mason, E, LT 2nd: The brass has got pants full of bricks over this AI, jimmy. I dunno wut’s up, but it smells brown
McNulty, J, Sgt: Dorian said they pulled the plug on it
Mason, E, LT 2nd: … on AIDAN?
McNulty, J, Sgt: ya. is why the engines are off
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Then what’s flying the ship?
McNulty, J, Sgt: momentum, afaik
Mason, E, LT 2nd: …
Mason, E, LT 2nd: fuck me
McNulty, J, Sgt: I got some rocket fuel from a squaddie. He got a line to the spanner monkeys. Come over and have a drink chum
Mason, E, LT 2nd: neg
McNulty, J, Sgt: come onnnnnn best cure for those sorrows is to drown em,
Mason, E, LT 2nd: no drowning these ones, chum
Mason, E, LT 2nd: these badboys can swim
Subject: Nightmare time
Today’s group counseling session was taken up by a lady called Martha, who worked GeoSpec Analysis on Kerenza. I think. I guess it doesn’t matter where she worked.
Martha had three daughters named Julie, Lela and Katya.
Julie was six. She died during the evacuation of her school.
Lela was two. She died when their car crashed on the way to the evac shuttles. Martha’s husband Tony had Lela on his lap. He died too.
Katya was eight. Martha doesn’t know how she died, or if she died, just that she never made it off planet.
She’s been so quiet through all our sessions. Like me, she never really spoke. You couldn’t tell what was going on in her head. She’d sit there, hands folded in her lap, listening. But she’s been slowly coming unfastened, the last month or two. Strands of hair hanging loose from her normally perfect bun. Buttons done up wrong. Shirt untucked. Little things you see everywhere, but never before on Martha.
Today, she just imploded. She was sitting right beside me.
I don’t even know what set it off, but one minute I was counting ceiling tiles, and the next she was talking. One of the guys in the group, Thanh, was in the middle of some story, but he went quiet when she started. He knew it meant something that she’d chosen that moment to speak.
She told us about the girls, and her husband. She said she thinks a lot about whether Katya and Julie were scared at the end. That she wasn’t there for them. And then she started gasping for breath. Short, sharp, hoarse breaths, like she couldn’t drag in enough air, her whole body shaking.
Some people, when they lose it, they scream, they fight. I hope that would be me. Martha just slowly slid down off her chair and folded in on herself. Everyone stared at her like she was contagious, and I reached out like—I don’t know, maybe I was going to touch her or something. And suddenly she was crying. Long, low moans that sounded like they were wrenched out of her. All her grief and pain in those noises, like her body couldn’t hold it any longer. One piece too many got added to the load, and she couldn’t do it anymore.
The group leader called the medics, and by now Martha’s probably under sedation, but I’m not.
I’m lying awake in bed, wondering what will happen if one piece too many gets added to my load. Wondering if there’s any way out for Martha. Any chance she’ll ever be okay.
I can hear every sound in my dorm, every rustle as someone turns over, every sigh.
It’s impossible to sleep.
There are a lot more of us on board than there were ever supposed to be—the Hypatia’s a research vessel, so they have a lot of space, but most of it was intended for samples, labs, stuff like that. There are over 2,000 of us jammed in where there used to be just 500 crew.
My living quarters used to be a storage facility for geological specimens, by which I basically mean rocks. The air leaves a sharp, metallic tang in your mouth, almost salty. It clings to your hair, so you carry it with you and the scent wafts around you when you turn your head. The air is also HOT and kind of humid, because the scrubbers just weren’t designed to recyc for this many people. Makes you really, really wish we weren’t on water rations. You get used to it, though.
They’ve taken down the shelving and crammed sixteen of us in here. Each person has a bunk that’s kind of a shelf sticking out of the wall (you have a belt to stop yourself rolling out at night). Being the youngest in the dorm I’m up at the very top. I don’t mind being up high. Sometimes it almost feels safe.
But I still can’t sleep. This isn’t my room, isn’t my place.
There’s nothing around me that’s known, anymore. Sure, I have routines—there are times to eat, times to sleep, times to train. I just never realized on Kerenza, there was this background comfort level, the knowledge of safety, that was the bedrock under everything else. My big adventure was going to be college. My little adventures were hikes, choosing classes at school, Ezra, even.
I thought he was going to be a big adventure, but that’s a whole other thing.
Point is, I had no idea how safe I was, because I’d never been unsafe. Ezra said that to me once. He was right. I took it all for granted. The constant and comforting background static of the universe.
Now, though there are more routines than ever before, nothing’s certain. The Lincoln could catch up with us at any point. It’s months until we reach the waypoint to Heimdall. Even when we do, we’ve been isolated for half a year. We could be in the middle of a war, for all we know.
And beyond all that, command won’t tell us what’s happening. I’m pretty sure they’re lying to us about a lot of things that matter, though I don’t know why.
And right now, that’s just one uncertainty too many.
I don’t know my limit, but I’m scared to reach it. I don’t know what will happen if I do.
And I still can’t sleep.
ByteMe: Ezra, u there?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Who this?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Hello, Dorian. Your timing is as shitty as your comedy
Mason, E, LT 2nd: You don’t happen to have a sister, do you?
ByteMe: It’s me, Ezra. I don’t know who Dorian is
Mason, E, LT 2nd: I can’t believe that scrub told you. McNulty’s vault has more leaks than a recycled baby baggie
ByteMe: That’s completely disgusting. We have 7 mins until I have to shut this thing down or they’ll be able to track it.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Uh huh
ByteMe: This is not the reception I was hoping for. It’s ME.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Prove it, he cried
ByteMe: How about … you sprained your ankle jumping out my bedroom window while I stalled my parents at the front door.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: … Kady?
ByteMe: This is what I’m saying. Yes, Kady.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Well I feel sheepish …
Mason, E, LT 2nd: How have you got access to IMs? Ship to ship comms are down?
ByteMe: You’re right, how is this happening??? WITCHCRAFT
Mason, E, LT 2nd: This isn’t like jacking the school system to give me a passing grade in chem. You could get into a lot of trouble
ByteMe: You did suck at chem. It’s fine, trust me. Short bursts, text only, undetectable if we keep it under 7 mins. Comms might be down, but command always leave themselves a back door open in case they want a heart to heart.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: … is that what this is? heart to heart?
ByteMe: Let’s not get carried away, I wouldn’t want to impose
ByteMe: Do you know why comms are down?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: All non essentials are offline.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Life support and power is about all we have while the data monkeys do their thing
ByteMe: With the AI? Something’s wrong with it, isn’t it?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: probably shouldn’t be talking about it. We could both meet some serious grief.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Like, imagine “serious” written in 40 foot high letters, set on fire with dancing girls all around it and you’re there
ByteMe: I think we are eyeball to eyeball with some serious grief already. Are you ok?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: … Why wouldn’t I be ok?
ByteMe: The comms aren’t the only thing I jacked. I saw your court martial records
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Are you dusted? That’s classified UTA intel and we’re in wartime. They can charge you with espionage if they catch u
ByteMe: you know, I hadn’t considered I’d get in trouble if I got caught. Thanks Ez.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Kady, I’m not talking
ByteMe: There’s no way they’ll catch me.
ByteMe: Trust me
ByteMe: I saw what you said to them. That was … unexpected.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: how so
ByteMe: You do not have a long history of telling the man to go fuck himself.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Could’ve thrown me in the hole for that. Kinda stupid, right?
ByteMe: My kind of idiocy.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: …
Mason, E, LT 2nd: maybe I should do it more often then?
ByteMe: Once is enough for now. You’re no use to anyone in the hole. Not even sure what that is but I am taking some nasty guesses.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: solitary. Water and dehydrate grub. Occasional visits from a big hairy guy called “Raoul.”
Mason, E, LT 2nd: I might be exaggerating about the Raoul part
Mason, E, LT 2nd: He’s not all that hairy
ByteMe: I saw what you said about your dad, too. I saw his name on the casualty lists after the evac.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Oh.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Right.
ByteMe: I’m so sorry, Ezra.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: It’s not ur fault. You got nothing to be sorry for
Mason, E, LT 2nd: how’s your mom doing over there anyway? Tell her I said hi
ByteMe: How long’s AIDAN been down? Since the Copernicus was destroyed?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: Um.
Mason, E, LT 2nd: I shouldn’t have told u that. I’m not even supposed to know. Don’t say anything, alright? people could get rolled.
ByteMe: Not planning on broadcasting this conversation. They’re lying to us tho, you know it. We should just sit here and wait to see what happens next? How’d that turn out for the Copernicus?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: There’s no danger to you guys. Nobody’s sick on Hypatia, right?
ByteMe: What’s sick got to do with it?
Mason, E, LT 2nd: If nobody’s sick, then nothing at all. Dun worry about it.
ByteMe: So because we’re safe over here we should just swallow whatever lies they want to feed us? Nobody here is saying AIDAN is down. They’re pretending the Lincoln is out there and we still have comms, but we have to stay silent to avoid detection. You want to tell me that’s true? Saw a great big BeiTech dreadnought when you were out by the Copernicus?