Part 1: The Apprentice
Even when he was young, Tom always found himself attracted to spacers. Growing up on a progressive world had its advantages, but even a life among the best technology the human race had to offer had not been enough for him. Tom had always longed to go out into space, moving from star to star. He had thought himself perfect spacer material: below average height, a strong stomach, a good understanding of modern technology, and an open mind. The first blow to his dream came when he was fifteen, and the teachers at school told him that spacers needed specific skills, and that his qualifications' were just a foundation. From then on, he had thrown himself into his design work; a move which, while unexpected, pleased his teachers and his parents - the life of a designer (especially on an advanced world like Hephaestos) was a highly respectable one. But his purpose was not what was expected of him; his sole goal was to get into space. He confided in no-one (although plenty of people guessed his motive), until the day came when he was accepted by a crew.
Five months after he had been awarded a competent' degree, he was offered a berth aboard the Tyrhenna. He told his family a week before his departure - and was very surprised by their reaction. They were proud of him, they said, and wished him all the best for his future. They believed that he had the determination to follow his dream, and realized that he was probably better applied roaming around space than designing warships for the Cydonians. All they had asked was for him to remember them and what they had taught him. He had realized how much their detachment cost them, and he didn't intend to betray their hopes.
His new life on the Tyrhenna had been everything he had dreamed of and more. The crew, especially Ruby and Rachel, the two combat specialists, had kidded him heavily for the first few weeks, but Chryse had come to his rescue, sticking up for him and training him in the many useful skills needed to be a worthwhile member of the crew. In that time he got to know Chryse well, and came to understand that he was different, not just because of his unselfconscious generosity, but in his mindset and worldview. Chryse was a man apart from humanity.
As Tom learned more and more, he found himself accepted as a full member of the crew - still teased about his youth, still forced to blush and duck his head, but now respected for his skills. With the Tyrhenna's powerful software at his disposal, he restructured the ship's landers, maintenance drones, ground vehicles, and whatever else caught his eye as needing improvement. His judgement became more and more valued, and he woke up every day more and more optimistic. He found himself getting used to the temporal phase shifts between the alertness of watch duty, the quiet of regular time, and the lethargy of deep sleep. His life was everything he had hoped it would be. And then the ship stopped off at Demeter.
Demeter, Delta Crucis system, 2893
He didn't go to talk to the rebels and zealots; he stayed back in First Landing, along with Rachel, David and Michael. He found himself wishing he had asked to go - at least one of the two opposing factions made sense to him. Demeter's general populace scared him.
How could such seemingly nice, rational people possibly find comfort in a lack of technology? How could they willingly forsake a life of comfort, freedom and knowledge to live as they did? Each day he felt himself slip a little deeper into despondency, surrounded by these strange, crazy, people. It only took a short while, of course, and soon the captain was back - but it was not over yet. The rest of the crew understood Tom's problem, and allowed him to keep a low profile while they were being paraded around as heroes, but he couldn't help feeling like he'd failed a test - but this time a very different test from the ones he was used to. It wasn't an issue of knowledge, skill, determination, or even bravado. This time, however, he felt sympathy, more than contempt, as far as his failure went.
His depression and confusion hit its peak several days before they were planning to leave. The whole crew was in an uptown bar, talking quietly. He'd been in the middle of a discussion with David about a glitch with the Tyrhenna's engines when a girl - more a young woman, really - came up to them. Rachel nudged the captain, who'd been looking elsewhere, and he turned around to face the visitor. His manner was reserved as always, greeting her with a small smile and courteous voice, letting her speak first.
You're the spacers, right? Tom thought he recognized her face - probably from a brief glimpse in a crowd. The captain nodded.
Yes, although I doubt you really need telling. We are what you'd call distinctive, no? No two ways about that, Tom thought - the crew, and spacers in general, took pride in subtly displaying their personal technology: neural sockets, prosthetic limbs and communication devices were all deliberately kept in plain sight - a simple way to reinforce to the casual observer that they were different.
The captain continued. We've had a lot of well-wishers and entrepreneurs coming our way lately, but somehow I doubt that you fit into either category, Miss...Jenkins. You're correct, captain, I'm not interested in praise or money. She took a deep breath, as if to brace herself for a big request. I've seen how you and your crew get along, and if it's all right with you... She trailed off in embarrassment.
If what's all right? I'm a reasonable man.I'd like to join you, she blurted out, quickly handing him a sheet of paper. I'd like to see other worlds and strange stars and new cultures. I want to escape my sickness on this world. I'd... like to leave.
That stopped everyone in their tracks. The captain raised an eyebrow after quickly browsing the paper. The girl blushed. Everyone else waited to hear what he would say.
It says here you've completed a first-aid course. Are you good?
Aware of the crew's stares, and conscious of how important her answer might be, she waited a little before replying. Yes. I can handle basic physiology and I'm well acquainted with anatomy. While hopeful, she was painfully aware of how little her qualifications' really meant to the ship and crew. Everything hung on the captain, now. He pondered for a short while, before coming to a decision.
I'll list you as medic' in the crew manifest. Her eyes shone with hope. The crew looked at her in a fresh light, and Ruby muttered something to David, who groaned. One other thing, Miss Jenkins?
The captain returned the paper to her. I'll see you at in three days, an hour before departure. Don't be late.I won't... sir. She bowed. Thank you.
The crew's reactions were mixed as she left. Ruby and Michael were frowning; David and Rachel seemed pleased, while the captain was his usual enigmatic self. Chryse wore an expression that Tom couldn't decipher.
Tom himself felt ambiguous; he would no longer be the newest member of the crew. On one hand, much of the kidding and jokes would stop, and he'd be able to do his bit without everyone looking over his shoulder. However, they would no longer cut him any slack when he failed to match up to his responsibilities, and chances were he'd be asked to show her the ropes, a daunting proposition for him. He'd always been awkward around others his own age, especially girls. Still, he'd manage. And they were leaving Demeter; he felt more at ease knowing that he'd soon be elsewhere.
He turned back to talk to David. So, where were we?
Tom gazed out the window at a sea of grass. The crew had come down in a flat region; probably once an ocean floor, but now covered in tough, resilient plant life. He had to admit, it was beautiful. Each time the wind changed, the grass shifted with it, moving in strange random patterns. Knee-high stalks rubbing together in the wind filled the night with ghostly whispers.
Now that he'd gotten over his depression, he could appreciate the vision that Demeter's first colonists must have had. A fresh world, a clean world, free of all the clutter of civilization; a small population and virtually no industry meant that people had adapted themselves to meet the world's requirements, rather than the other way around.
It was a vision he disagreed with, but he had been forced to admit that it had an elegance all its own. A day spent hiking in some foothills a few hundred kilometres distant had opened his eyes to the subtle strength of life; everywhere he had looked, he saw the delicate balance between the native life and the introduced species from Earth; tentative symbioses and new food chains were being negotiated before his eyes. It may not, in his opinion, have been a good way for people to live, but Demeter and other pastoral worlds had gained a new respect in his mind as sanctuaries, places where life could relax and branch out. Places like these were humanity's insurance, in case something went horribly wrong with starfaring civilization.
The breeze also blew the curtains around him. He and the rest of the crew were staying in a suite of well-appointed rooms several kilometres out of town, lent to them by the locals as a sign of gratitude. A rich, dark decor prevailed, apparently based on well-to-do nineteenth-century America - it was the first time Tom had been in a wooden building. It was interesting at times, hearing creaks and groans as the timber cooled down from the day's heat - but he couldn't help feeling uneasy, worrying about the old structure collapsing and burying him alive. Of course it was safe, he knew people wouldn't build houses that weren't durable and reliable; but that didn't stop his instincts telling him something was wrong.
It reminded him of one time when he had slept in a cabin suspended by high-tension cables, several hundred metres above one of Hephaestos' large cities. He knew that it there were backups everywhere, that it was safe and redundant to the point of infallibility, but that hadn't stopped him from imagining the long fall to the ground. Instinct was anything but rational.
He turned around when he heard a sound at the door - Chryse had just come in, his usual confident self, holding some sort of local drink.
Hi yourself. Chryse sat down on a couch and put his drink aside (it smelled so strong that Tom suspected he was drinking it as a dare, not because he liked it).
You doing all right? Last time I checked you were in a pretty bad state.
Tom smiled and sat down too. I'm better now, thanks. I just couldn't cope with this place. But then, I started looking at it in a different light. It has its charms. I've just failed another test, haven't I?
Chryse thought about it for a moment. Not failed, exactly. The test was about tolerance, and dealing with culture shock. You've done better than we thought you would - but that's not the reason I'm here. Tom, we think you have the wrong idea about what what's involved in being a spacer.
That came as a shock. What? What don't I understand? I've tried to be as good as I can with my work-That's exactly the problem. Chryse smiled sympathetically, then continued.
You've been so focused on earning our respect with your skills that you've become one-dimensional. You may be thinking: I'm a specialist, we're all specialists, and the answer is yes, we are, but at the same time we are also generalists. The first spacers were people who were tired of the old system, with its careers and hierarchies and expectations; they wanted to better themselves, to learn as much as possible. If you want to be a spacer, you'll have to broaden your vision. There are so many talents people have that they waste, that's why we do what we what can I do? Tom cried, What is it that I can learn?The question you should be asking yourself is what can't I learn?' It's not up to me to tell you what you should or should not do, but I can point you in the right direction. You could work on navigation and astronomy; the captain would be happy to teach you, and it would come in handy if you ever join a new ship. Or perhaps you could study ecology; you'd probably make a good scientist, and you certainly appreciated yesterday's view of Demeter. Ruby told me you had a good voice - you could take up singing. She's not as harsh as she comes across - she really does care about you, but she's too proud to admit it. And there's something else... I've noticed a few things about you, so do you mind if I ask you some personal questions?
From experience, Tom knew he could trust Chryse. Fire away.
Fine. Do you have any genetic engineering in your heritage - anything apart from the normal immunity and longevity stuff?
Tom shook his head. Not really, no. But we're not big on family trees on Hephaestos... there may well be. Chryse nodded and continued.
Have you ever had any trouble understanding other people's motives or intentions? Perhaps not so much when you were younger?
Yes - you've probably noticed. I can't say about when I was younger, 's fine, it's not too important. Now, do you have much trouble moving around in the dark? Do you tend to find your way around, or do you bang your shins on the furniture?
Tom laughed and nodded. I get around fairly well, yeah. But how does this translate into something I can learn?
Chryse gave him an enigmatic smile. I was getting to that. I think that you may have psionic potential. Tom's eyes widened appreciably. It's actually more common than most people think, and much more diverse. Heavily engineered genes can accidentally promote it - although they're not necessary. He paused for a bit to sip from his drink and winced at whatever was in it before continuing. It also manifests in early childhood, as young people's emotions are more straightforward and easier to pick up as a rule. Because of this, a lot of potential telepaths never need to learn the usual cues in expression and body language - at least, not as well as other people - so they get stranded when they're older. And a lot of what we credit to instinct and habit - navigating a dark room, for example - is actually a result of marginally enhanced perception. Tom shook his head. So you're saying I'm psychic.
Generally I prefer to avoid that term - it implies there's something mystical about it. It's just about how people's minds sense others' and the universe in general. Most people have it to one degree or another. Ruby's sensitive, and I'm fairly sure our new recruit has a little talent. It's a murky field, and they haven't really defined what is psionic and what isn't, but it's more than real enough. As you might have gathered, I have talents myself; I can mind-talk to a limited extent, and I've got some other modest skills. If you like, I could test your aptitude and train you.I really don't know what to say. Tom meant it. The very idea of learning those skills was overwhelming.
There's no pressure, Chryse assured him. Don't feel like you have to.
Tom's awe tarnished a bit and he cracked a smile. But you'd like to have a student, wouldn't you? Chryse said laughingly, conceding the point. It would be nice to have another telepath on ship; someone to talk to on a different level. But if you agree to this, I'll need your complete, total, and implicit trust. A lot of mental training strays along the borders of consciousness, and mind-to-mind occasions can get very personal. You don't need to decide yet. Give me your answer tomorrow - and consider those other offers, too.
Tom let out a sigh and nodded. I'll do that.
Thanks. Goodnight. Chryse smiled and left the room, taking his drink with him.
The next day he decided to go diving. While Demeter had slightly more water than the average habitable planet, it was mostly caught up in large rivers and rain systems; its oceans, while considerable, covered less than half its surface. Tom was a reasonable swimmer, despite having grown up on an industrialized world, and he relished the opportunity to go out and explore more of Demeter. This put him in a minority among the crew, as he had no sensitive mechanical or electronic implants (you're too young', he had been repeatedly told) - only Chryse (who was busy elsewhere) and Ruby (who hated swimming) were in the same situation.
So he found himself flying alone in one of the ship's surface-transport craft. It looked like a silver dart with deltoid wings added almost as an afterthought; it was small enough for its internal workings not to show, so to the casual observer it looked like solid, seamless metal. Unfortunately for Tom, it had no windows or transparency zones; he had been hoping to see the world rolling away below him. The impossibility of sight-seeing had one compensation, however - it let him pull the craft up into the high stratosphere and burn all the way to Mach 5; the trip was a short one.
He landed about a hundred metres from the port he was hoping to depart from; the natives in this area still had radio technology, so they were expecting his arrival. The first thing that struck him when the hatch cracked open was the heat. He felt like he had stepped out into an oven - 315 degrees Kelvin, his electronic all-purpose assistant told him. He was in a tropical area, according to the ship's maps, but at least the autumn heat was mercifully dry. Bracing himself for the walk to the town, he set off down the road.
A small group met him at the edge of the town, and he was escorted the docks with, thankfully, minimum fuss. Even so, he was put off balance by the stares and hushed voices of the locals. He could almost imagine their whispered conversations: Look, there's the boy from the stars! Do you think he's really human?' I wonder what he's here for - they landed a long way away.' It pleased and scared him at the same time that he should be the subject of this strange mixture of awe and pity. Earlier, at First Landing, he'd been safely eclipsed by the other members of the crew: Rachel's heavy cybernetics, Ruby's striking features, and the captain's calm and decorous presence had all been magnets for attention. Now, though, he was on his own and stood out like a sore thumb. His strange clothes, pale skin and bewildered manner all marked him as an off-worlder, someone who simply did not belong on Demeter.
Thankfully, he was soon out at sea, gazing forward at a blank horizon. He found the boat he was in - a small, metal-hulled dinghy with a solar motor - to be really quite well made, with a perfectly hydrodynamic profile that let it almost fly through the water. An interesting sign, Tom told himself, that perhaps Demeter hadn't thrown away all modern technology - some of the essentials seemed to have been kept.
Bet you're surprised to see something like that on a planet like ours. His guide, a man named Gorton, had spoken little so far, and this was the first sign Tom had been given that this was going to change.
Yes, I am, actually. Do you keep many manufactories operating? This boat seems quite modern.
Gorton laughed and shook his head. Not on your life, kid. Our ancestors got rid of most large-scale technology three hundred years ago. This boat - he slapped the gunwale - has been in the family for two hundred fifty. Made of some special stuff - Smart Material', I think - that doesn't rust, and repairs scrapes and dents in the hull. I have to say, you're not the first spacer she's fooled.I see. Smart Materials'? He must mean nanotechnology! Tom was taken aback. Nanotech had always been somewhat of a maverick in the pantheon of human enterprises. Although it could achieve incredible feats or microengineering, the problem had always been that it could only be properly supervised (on a large scale, at least) by an Artificial Intelligence, and that requirement meant that any nanotech enterprise would inevitably end in disaster. An AI's inability to engage in critical thinking outside its programmed parameters meant that any uncontrolled situation would invariably overwhelm it. Give it too much freedom and small errors would be magnified a hundredfold until the nanomachines were repeating the same stupid mistakes time after time. Restrict its choices too much and it would be paralyzed by indecision. This fatal flaw had essentially reduced nanotechnology to little more than an occasionally helpful curio among spacefarers. Evidently, the founders of Demeter had thought otherwise, and if this boat was any example, they had managed to set their systems' limits perfectly. To tell the truth, it made Tom a bit uneasy to be sitting in a boat swarming with nanomachines. He couldn't help worrying that perhaps they might decide that his blood, for example, would be an excellent source of replacement iron, or that it would be a good idea to resurface his seat while he was still on it.
Then again, Gorton wasn't worried, and his ancestors would no doubt have abandoned the boat long ago if it had homicidal tendencies.
The rest of the trip out was spent in silence while Tom leaned forward and trailed his hand in the water. When they reached the dive site, Gorton stopped the engine and threw out the anchor, and reminded Tom to check his SCUBA gear. Tom fastened the rebreather over his face and pulled the mask on, then slipped over the edge of the boat into the water. The tanks contained pure oxygen, he'd been told, so he'd need to be wary of ascending or descending too quickly. Despite the hot weather, the water was quite cool - he was glad he hadn't refused the wetsuit he'd been offered. Gorton swam around the boat and gestured for Tom to follow him before turning around and heading down. Tom kicked experimentally a few times, then followed.
Everything was muted underwater; there was no sound other than his breathing and a deep, aquatic ambience. The colours had all faded to blue. He choked back a feeling of claustrophobic pressure and continued after Gorton - already, their destination had started to appear. A few days ago, he'd looked into the history of spacer contact with Demeter, and found that there had been a rare but regular crash-landing every sixty years or so. He'd decided to look into the crash site of a small shuttle, which was apparently a little over two hundred years old. The deep blue silhouette resolved itself into metallic greys as they got closer. This site especially, he'd been told, was famous because the craft hadn't sealed itself on landing, so anyone could dive down and swim around inside. Tom followed Gorton through the main hatch and down a corridor. The design was strange, nothing like any of the Tyrhenna's craft. It seemed made for people at least seven foot tall, and it had obviously been intended for atmospheric use only - Tom saw the shattered outline of a glass window every few metres. The ship's layout was also different, and he spent several minutes trying to open a door that seemed to lead, by his reckoning, to the engines (normally a taboo section on a craft this small) before giving up.
Turning around to swim around the exterior, he was suddenly jerked backward by his air hose. Tom started to feel the first tinges of panic, breathing faster and straining over his shoulder to see what had caught him. Later he couldn't remember how long he had waited there, lost in fear, but eventually Gorton came round (he had been waiting outside - the ship held nothing new for him) and motioned for him to calm down. Tom still felt a shock of fear, though, when the local pulled out a large knife and swam nearer. They couldn't talk, but Gorton gestured upwards and mimed removing his tank and weight-belt. Tom nodded assent, but still felt horribly uneasy when Gorton moved behind him. Wouldn't ascending that fast be lethal, like the natives had said? He supposed that at least this way he had a chance.
He felt Gorton's sawing motions, took a deep breath, and suddenly found himself surrounded by bubbles. He pulled off the mask and undid the belt, and managed to catch a brief glimpse of an ugly, twisted piece of metal jutting out from a bulkhead, with his hose still caught, before rocketing up. He remembered to swallow just in time and the pressure in his eardrums eased, but he was now feeling a steady burning sensation from his abused lungs, and couldn't decide whether that or his sudden light-headedness was the more worrying. Still, he had been going up very quickly, and the light had been growing steadily stronger until he breached the surface.
He let out his breath and gasped for air, still feeling giddy. The bubbles from his tank were catching up to him now, and he was afraid for a moment that he would faint and drown (an ironic death, after rising fifty metres from the seabed), before managing to weakly kick himself away from the gas. After ten seconds or so his head began to clear, and he started swimming with increasing confidence toward the boat. He was tired beyond belief when he pulled himself over the edge, (feeling very thankful that he was slightly built) but something still struck him as wrong. He shook his head to clear it and managed to pull himself up into a crouch, then surveyed the boat. Nothing seemed out of place, and there was no sign of Gorton; he must have decided to come up slowly. Tom couldn't help wondering, though, how he'd managed to bring the other boat with them.
Wait a minute... Other boat? His sluggish thoughts caught up with reality just before an arm grabbed him around the throat. He cried out, but his assailant clamped a hand over his mouth and shoved something hard in. He tried to pull at the arm around his neck, but it was far too strong. The other hand moved away from his blocked mouth while the first arm tightened its grip until Tom started seeing red. Then he felt the hand on the back of his head, pushing forward. He strained against it, but his attacker was simply too strong for him to resist. At least the first arm had slackened its grip to make room, so he could breathe again. It was all to no avail, of course, he was helpless and about to die, but he felt it appropriate that he wouldn't suffocate.
Something crashed into him and pitched him to the deck, finally escaping the arms. He bashed his head on a seat and yelped at the pain. Dizzy once more, he could only sit back and watch the latest development in his unhappily eventful day. Gorton, it seemed, had made it back in time. He and Tom's attacker - who was a large man much like Gorton - were each doing their best to strangle one another to death. Tom was afraid, but at the same time felt respect for the two combatants. He knew that he would have crumpled instantly under the kind of force they were using on one another, and was now just thankful that he wasn't the one getting hurt.
That's no way to think, get up and help! Easier said than done, of course, but he managed to stand as vertically as possible in the rocking boat and summed up his options. He very quickly revised them as the attacker gained some leverage and pushed Gorton overboard. From the panicked floundering noises, it would be some time before he returned. The attacker now turned back to face Tom, picking up Gorton's knife from the bottom of the boat and rubbing a fresh wound on his shoulder. He breathed slowly out, and advanced.
You're going to die as an example for your blasphemy, spacer. By the looks of it, he knew how to handle the weapon and would have no compunction against using it on Tom. All this time he was moving forward, slowly, backing Tom into the bow. But although Tom was still too scared to speak, he knew he wasn't helpless anymore. He kept backing up until the edge of the boat hit the back of his knees, and slowly stretched his hand down to a bulge in his leg pocket. It was only a small gun, pressed upon him by Rachel just in case', but to Tom its compact, hard profile gave more comfort than all the heft in the world. It was easy to fire, he remembered, a simple matter of holding the firing stud down for one second. No recoil and no reloading. He pulled it out, still concealing it behind a leg and moving as slowly as the man trying to kill him. He looked into his eyes, which had a horrifying fanatical depth, before raising his gun and pressing the stud. The man's eyes widened and he dived toward Tom with the knife outstretched. That second felt like an hour to Tom.
The gun fired with a flash and a hum, and a brilliant violet beam leapt out and passed through the attacker's throat. As far as Tom could remember later, the man had died almost instantly, but his weight kept him moving and so he plowed into Tom, crushing him against the wall and pitching the boat alarmingly far forward. The knife had thankfully dropped to the floor, but Tom was now stuck under a corpse several times his weight. He felt a shock as his hormones finally realized that they were no longer needed and gave up the ghost. Burnt out and stunned, he lay trapped under the corpse and cried.
Tom slept through most of the crew's third-last day on Demeter, he was told later. He'd gone into shock, they said, and had withdrawn into himself for the best part of a day. They had taken turns watching him until he had finally relaxed and fallen asleep late at night. None of them blamed him.
Gorton had apparently gotten his feet snared in a fishing net, and so had spent several minutes disentangling himself before being able to climb back aboard. Hed been amazed that Tom had survived his ascent in the first place - apparently, the bends were quite a common cause of death among incautious divers - but as it turned out, his genetic heritage had provided an insurance against that problem: his red blood cells were actually capable of using nitrogen the way most used oxygen - a useful trait, he realized later, to have at high altitudes. Gorton had then taken the boat back to harbour without mishap, where he met Ruby, (she had been alerted by the alarm trigger built into Tom's gun) who then took Tom back to First Landing.
The attacker had been, the crew found out, a local fisherman, for the most part a perfectly normal citizen of Demeter. He had also been an active member of the Church of the Second Saviour, one of the more radical denominations on Demeter. Its adherents had been among the colony's founders, drawn to a pastoral world by their fervently anti-cybernetic beliefs. This aversion had apparently led to a hatred of spacers in general, making Tom just an unlucky victim of unfounded prejudice. He had apparently been targeted as soon as he arrived in town, picked out for his youth and his isolation.
Of course, there were repercussions for the Church. The local government fined them and a monitor was placed on their activities. Several culpable individuals lost their positions, and two were imprisoned. The would-be murderer, of course, was dead. But the symptoms, not the problem, had been dealt with.
Tom learned a valuable lesson that day: not to travel alone. He slept through most of the next day, occasionally waking to catch blurred impressions of conversations: Chryse and Ruby, Chryse and Gareth, Ruby and Rachel, Gareth and David. In his memory they all blurred into one long drama, with changing characters but a recurring theme of incomprehensibility.
...isn't Kreel... ...not your fault, Ruby...
...don't beat yourself up... ...nothing we could have done...
...to think I gave it to him as a joke.
...fault that I'm... ...won't blame you either.
...not too well right now... ...introduce you tomorrow...
He woke once, very late at night, to hear Ruby practising the piano. She was playing Beethoven (he couldn't tell what piece), very fast. She seemed angry, or at least upset - the keyboard sounded abused, she was hitting the keys so hard. The piano was at the other end of the long common room he'd been placed in, so no-one noticed he was awake when he saw the captain approach. They had talked, and then they started playing a duet - still Beethoven, though. Tom had slipped back to sleep.
Eventually (he guessed in the early evening the next day) he woke properly. Chryse was sitting nearby, facing Rachel, who had just opened the curtains to let twilight into the room - Tom saw he'd been moved back into his own. Neither of them seemed to notice his awakening, so he half-closed his eyes and listened.
We're heading off tomorrow, and you're on first watch. You should get some rest, Rachel. It's not as if he needs a bodyguard.
Rachel leaned forward, the pale light accentuating her mechanical parts.
Ruby's still guilty. She already feels like she's failed, and she doesn't want another weight on her conscience.
That's fair enough, but she has to learn to put these things behind her.I've tried to tell her, believe me. Rachel shook her head and moved away from the window. But she can't leave it alone, she feels that what happened on Kreel was her fault. I never blamed her, but that wasn't what mattered to Ruby. She didn't measure up to her own standards. Kreel, Tom thought. That's the second time they've mentioned it. I wonder why?
She's so full of guilt. I feel sorry for her. Chryse walked over and kissed Rachel. Get some rest. I'll look after him. She nodded. Thanks. Good night. She walked out of the room, caught up in her own thoughts.
Tom lay still for several minutes more before stretching and sitting up. Chryse noticed this and put away the book he'd been reading.
Tom asked, still drowsy, what happened at Kreel? He started, then seemed to stare straight through Tom.
You'll have to ask Rachel that, he said, before walking out of the room.
The next day was the crew's last on Demeter; they were scheduled to leave shortly before midday. No-one said it, but everyone was glad that Tom had recovered from his curtailed expedition the day before. Chryse studiously neglected to mention their conversation the day before. Tom packed his things and spent the next three hours wandering through the plains - feeling the wind on his face, lying in the sun and thinking in the silence. He still didn't know what to say about a lot of things.
The most immediate of those was the prospect of meeting Sarah Jenkins. The captain had properly' introduced them earlier in the morning, and mentioned (as an aside, as if it was of no great import) that Tom would be giving her a whistle-stop tour' of the ship. There was no getting around it; she just made him feel plain uneasy. He knew that much of it stemmed from his prejudices, his misgivings about pastoral worlds, and even more from the religion that seemed so ubiquitous on Demeter.
But he was forced to admit that these things alone would not have been insurmountable. Of course, there was the flood of hormones which evoked embarrassed silence (and mute curses) from him; but more importantly, he knew nothing about her. She was quiet and introverted, which made him feel like he was being observed. At least Ruby had given him something of herself, something to identify with; Sarah volunteered nothing. The real problem, though, the one he'd being trying to avoid facing up to, was her age. Whenever Ruby and Rachel were too much for him, he could just duck his head and teasingly say Yes, Mother,a phrase which had managed to change their now occasional friction from something hostile into a game - with Sarah he had no such resort. Eventually he decided to be civil, nothing more and nothing less. He figured she'd prefer a zombie to a tongue-tied child.
His mind made up about that particular dilemma, Tom's thoughts started to wander. He thought of home on Hephaestos with its orange skies; he tracked the movements of a dragonfly hovering close to him and wondered where the nearest river was. Eventually, he drifted away from even those thoughts, and fell asleep.
Several hours later, he and the rest of the crew found themselves waiting in front of a farewell delegation. The usual formalities were being observed, and the captain did all of the talking. The ceremony bored Tom, but at least he had plenty to think about. Shortly before Sarah had stepped up to join the crew, there had been a scuffle in the crowd; her parents had wanted her to stay, and several of the more pious locals had agreed - luckily, the captain had intervened quickly, and Sarah stood with the crew when the official goodbye was said. The captain and the mayor each wished one another well, and the crew and captain bowed to the assembled citizens.
Then they got into the shuttle and left for their ship.