As per last time, I have more Barium Deep for you! Yes, it picks up immediately again. This time, it also changes scenes!
<You mean, you’re want me to be able to do things without my glasses.>
<Exactly. Or at least, without any of the standard advanced functions available through your glasses. In fact, there is another tool which I would recommend learning to use as well. You play tactical space combat simulations?>
<Dogfighting, yeah.> Had I already said that? Was Daemon just checking to be polite and bring the conversation back around to that topic?
<Presumably you use the various aim assistant prostheses. Automatic range estimates, leading aim point displays, etc?>
I frown. <Yeah.> What are they getting at?
<What if I told you that a simple non-electronic tool, a dumb tool with no programming involved, could tell you everything that you needed to know about those things? All you would need to know was a little basic math, the specifications of your tool, and the standard dimensions of the objects with which you were interacting.>
Yeah right. That could totally happen. <You’re pulling my leg.>
<Besides not having the manipulators with which to do such a thing, no, I’m not joking. Why don’t you try making that free fall simulator I suggested, and come back and ask me about sights some other time?>
Did Daemon just give me homework? I think Daemon just gave me homework. Where the task is to program a game, add a stupidly hard segment to the game, and then practice beating it.
<Daemon, you’re sneaky.>
<Thank you Barium. I’ll take that as a compliment. Now have fun with your game, and let me know how it goes. Maybe you could ask your Cesium or your parents for help with implementing some of the details.>
<Sure Daemon, sure thing.>
<Just make sure to give it a try first on your own, and do your best to follow any changes that other people make for you.>
<Well, yes. Now it’s quite late in your day/night cycle. I’d suggest that you get some rest. I’ll talk with you again soon, yes?>
I smile. There’s something nice about knowing that Daemon is looking forward to talking with me again. <Yes. Good night Daemon.>
<Good night Barium.>
I’m staring at the terminal hanging open in front of my eyes. The game should be working by now. I should be soaring through space, just ahead of the little bots that I set up to chase me and provide a bit of challenge to the race.
But it isn’t, and I’m not.
“Holes.” I bang my fist against the bulkhead. It hits with a meaty thunk, and then its stinging and aching at the same time. Ow. That was a stupid thing to do.
“Barry?” Mom’s voice from the corridor. “Are you okay in there?”
“Yeah Mom.” I cradle my hand, rubbing it gently. I don’t think I broke anything. I hope. I’m not going to cry to Mom just because I was stupid and slammed my hand into the wall. I’m not.
She taps on the bulkhead from the other side of the entryway and leans her head around the corner. “Is it okay if I come in?”
I don’t look up at her. I leave my various windows at their usual high occlusion. “Sure.” Maybe if I ignore her she’ll go away.
She floats through the entryway, holding onto the edge to stabilize herself while she looks at me. She has to be able to see that my glasses are occupied right now. I’m busy, even if she won’t acknowledge it.
“Barry,” she spins herself around so that she’s facing the same way up as me, “I wanted to apologize.”
That’s not what I expected. I keep my eyes on the broken program sitting in front of me, still cradling my hand. My eyes feel a little hot around the corners. I don’t want to cry.
“I’m sorry for yelling at you.”
Ugh, yep, I can feel the moisture oozing from my eyelids. “It’s okay Mom.” I don’t really feel okay. But I know that she wants to hear that it is.
And I want it to be okay too.
“Barry,” she pushes herself to the corner of my room, where she can support herself on the walls and look at me from the same orientation that I have. “I was very nervous about you. Worried for you, I mean.” She frowns. I think maybe she’s frowning at herself. She’s not looking at me, at least. “I was worried that you might have made a big mistake. Something that would haunt you for years. A mistake that you could make without knowing it.”
Holes. The tears are leaking out now. I sniffle and rub at my nose. At least my hand doesn’t really hurt anymore. “You mean telling them my name.” I try blinking, but my eyes are still blurry. I take off my glasses to wipe at them too. It helps, because I can do that and not have to look at Mom. I hope I got all of Cesi’s bugs. I hope Cesi isn’t listening to this.
“Yes. Telling them your name.” I’m definitely not looking, but the expression on Mom’s face is making me nervous. She doesn’t look angry, but there’s something else there that I’m having trouble placing. Is she afraid?
“Well, I did. So that’s that I guess.” I finally look at her, really look at her. My eyes are still bleary and hot.
Mom doesn’t shout or anything. She sighs. It’s almost worse somehow.
I clear my throat. “That’s it, right? My name is on file now. On file for lying about Search and Rescue and doing illegal salvage.” It’s so unfair. I can feel the unfairness of it burning a little pit in my stomach. One stupid mistake. Daemon thinks that I could be a ship captain, but I guess they don’t know everything. They don’t know that I’m already illegal just like them. A criminal, just like their very existence is a violation of the law.
“Barry.” I don’t want to listen to Mom. I turn myself around and stare at the far wall of my compartment. “Barry. Listen to me.”
I almost, so very almost, stick my fingers in my ears. Instead I just wrap my arms around myself and hold on tight. Maybe that will feel better. It doesn’t feel as much better as I want it to.
“Barry, yes, it’s a problem. But it’s something that we can work around. Ok?”
“Work around?” I hate how my voice breaks at the end. “How is this something that we can just work around?”
“Barry, I—” Mom’s voice gets closer, then she’s behind me, arms wrapped around me. Her face is buried in my hair. “Look, you’re not the only person on this ship who has a record. You’re definitely not the first person. Yes, we can work around this.”
I feel stupid for even thinking this, but Mom’s smell is so much more comforting than it has any right to be. She squeezes me, and even though it’s a little too tight it feels good.
“I’ve had a record since before your Dad knew me. I’ve made it this far.”
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This book is going to be so good.