You know, I think I’m going to give you some extra today. I’ll give you new stuff, repost something I shared before, and add some more afterwards, because the bit in the middle is something you’ve already had a chance to see. This does pick up from the last post, here.
I wave my hands. “I said basically, not exactly. It’s complicated.” How can I explain it? “I mean, they’re the one who came up with the idea for how I could practice my calculus without having to do the dumb stuff that Teach is obsessed with. That’s got to be at least as good as Teach at being a teach-soft.”
“Suuuure.” Cesi squints. “But you said they were ‘supposed to be’ a deluxe teach-soft. That’s not the same thing as being better than Teach at Teach’s job. Mom and Dad might be better than Teach if they weren’t so busy whenever we have lesson time. That doesn’t make either of them a teach-soft.”
“Hah!” I smile at Cesi, and she smiles back. “No, Mom and Dad aren’t teach-softs. I guess Daemon isn’t either. But they told me that they were designed to be like a really good teach-soft for kids. They were supposed to help kids learn things and teach them more than other people could, I guess.”
“Okay, sure.” Cesi shakes her head. “But putting them in a big box with no audio or video seems like a big mistake. It’s a simple, stupid design mistake! How are little kids supposed to interact with them before they learn to read and type?”
“Maybe Daemon was meant for older kids?” I suggest, even as I know that this isn’t the real reason. Should I tell her? Daemon did say that I could let her know. But I would have to make sure that she never told Mom and Dad, or else Daemon could be in really big trouble.
Cesi pushes me away, scoffing. I bump against the wall before catching myself again.
“Whatever. You’re hiding something.” She crosses her arms. “It’s sooooo obvious.”
“Okay, fine,” I open my mouth, close it. The right words aren’t coming out. “Fine, but you have to promise not to tell Mom and Dad, okay? And you have to go talk to Daemon when you can.”
Cesi’s chin juts out. “Fine. I promise.”
I start, then stop myself again. “Actually, you know what, you should just talk to Daemon. They’d explain it better than I can.” Maybe. At least Daemon is less likely to totally screw things up than I am.
“Ugh!” I don’t know how, but Cesi’s sounds of disgust sound so much more disgusted than mine ever do. I’m jealous. “You’re just being annoying, Barry. If you wanted me to just talk to Daemon this whole time, I could have skipped all this dancing around.”
I wake up to Mom telling me that we’re closing in on the station and need to all be alert. I don’t think she’s ever made sure that I was awake and alert for just visiting a station before, unless she was expecting me to practice docking. What’s going on?
“You and Cesi are going to be going aboard with us. We’ll split up to finish things faster, you two picking up supplies for our ship while your Dad and I meet with our delivery contact.” She must have seen the look on my face.
“Sure thing Mom.” I nod, quietly swallowing terror. I’ve never bought our supplies before. It’s always been Mom or Dad. “Can you pass me a list of everything we need topped up?” My voice breaks. That’s the calm and mature thing to say. The adult thing to say. And my own body betrays me.
Mom’s smiling at me. Probably amused by my voice. Holes, it’s embarrassing. At least maybe she thinks I’m just embarrassed about that and not also worried about talking to people.
“You two keep each other out of trouble, okay?” She’s already pulling out of my compartment. Like talking to strangers, like walking through a station full, FILLED with people I’ve never met isn’t a big deal.
“Yes Mom!” My voice breaks again and I cover my face. Holes. This is not a good beginning to the day.
Cesi looks uncomfortably cheerful when I get to the kitchen.
I shoot her a dirty look. “Morning.”
“Good morning,” her smile is infectious, but only like a disease. She tosses me a meal pack, the easy-suck kind with nothing chewy about it. It tastes like oats and chocolate and raisins.
Squishing the paste around in my mouth I finally manage a smile.
“I thought you’d like that.” She pushes off the wall and glides closer. Then she’s whispering, “Mom and Dad want us to go out shopping on our own?” There’s a flicker of concern behind her smile.
“Yeah,” I mumble around paste. Swallow, “Do you know why? Did you get it on your mics?”
She shakes her head no, looking serious.
“Then why,” another suck of delicious breakfast goodness, “were you looking so smiley?”
She’s smiling again. “Here,” a twitch of her head and there’s a blinking in the corner of my glasses. I open it. There’s a window of a little terminal with blinking prompt, just like the one on Daemon’s box, and the option to link up keyboard control to the window.
I frown. “A terminal? What is this?”
She’s grinning madly. “Try typing hello.”
I do. There’s a reply. <Hi there. Who is this?>
Now I’m curious. <Barium>
<You’re certainly up earlier than I thought. Have you come to talk with me more, Barium? Is there something I can help you with?>
I stare at the screen within a screen. “You didn’t.” I don’t realize I said it out loud until Cesi is nodding, still smiling with all of her teeth. “How?” Now I’m looking at her. “You didn’t open the box, did you?”
She shakes her head. “All external, input is mechanical, on a delay and copying your actual keyboard usage for timing.”
This is so illegal. This is put-you-jail-forever illegal. Then again, so is Daemon. I like Daemon. I’ve already spent hours just talking with them. They’re my friend.
<Oh nothing right now, just saying hello.> I see it appear on the projected screen, and start to grin.
<Hello then. I hope you’ve rested well. Let me know when you’d like to talk more.>
Just a little grin, but I can feel it spreading. No wonder. Now I can’t stop smiling either.
Cesi bites her lips, fighting for seriousness even as I start smiling as madly as she was. “We can ask him questions at any time!” She takes a breath, exhales. Just like Dad. “But what about shopping?”
Yeah. What about shopping. “Why are they sending us out shopping while they talk to their contact? It’s not like we couldn’t just order everything from here.”
Cesi nods. “So they want us on the station.” There’s a short pause, as we both consider this. “Or not on the ship.”
We stare at each other. Cesi adds another question, “Why would they rather have us on the station, instead of with them or on the ship?”
A little chill runs down the back of my neck, like pressing myself up against the refrigerator units in climate control. “They don’t trust the contact. Or whoever might be there.” I don’t feel any desire to smile right now. I know Mom and Dad do business with people they don’t trust sometimes, but they usually don’t do it in person.
“And they think being on the ship might be dangerous too.” I’m certain Cesi has the same expression I must have on my face.
“More dangerous than alone with strangers.” I nod, biting down on my fingers. “Holes.”
Cesi shivers, whispers, “Holes.”
More dangerous than alone with strangers.
That’s what keeps running through my head. Cesi and I nod and smile and go along with it as Mom and Dad part ways with us. We’re good little kids, we’re going to go do the shopping, we’ll be back after they call and let us know that they’re back onboard and ready to stow things. We know their safety phrase, they know our safety phrase, we’re all set and ready and definitely not panicking quietly while they pull themselves down the corridor away from the airlock that leads to our ship. Away from the airlock that leads to home, safety, and not strangers. That leads to Daemon, who might be in even more danger than we are.
“Barry,” Cesi starts to talk to me and I clamp my hand down on her fingers, giving her an obvious stare.
“Ow!” She scowls at me, then blinks. The scowl is still there, but she’s chagrined. “Right, sorry Harry. Harry. Harold.” She shakes her head, looking down the corridor after Mom and Dad. “God, what a boring name.”
I blow a raspberry. “You know that’s Dad’s actual name, right? Not Hal like halogen?”
She gives me a weird look. “Sure, but it’s not like he uses it.” She shrugs when I keep staring. “He’s Hal. Dad’s Hal, not Harry.”
I sigh and turn around, looking down the length of corridor that streaks away from us to the next set of bulkhead doors. Not the way that Mom and Dad went. More dangerous than alone with strangers.
I squeeze Cesi’s hand. Gently this time. “Come on.” I start pulling myself down the corridor, away from our airlock. She follows me.
The station is beautiful from outside. We can’t really see any of that now.
From in here, it’s all industrially finished corridors and people and bright harsh lights and people and bulkheads and people and too too many people. I liked it better when I was outside, looking at it from a safe distance. There, you can see the speckling of lights that fleck its outside like glimmering bits of crystal. There you can see the way that its central shipping spar runs through the whole thing, how the different rings that have been built off of the central spar spin around that as their central axis, how they rotate at different speeds to maintain consistent Earthlike g-forces throughout their hab levels even though they’re different diameters. It looks like a huge, shiny, complex toy. Like so many nested tops all clumped together, turning together even though none of them turn at exactly the same speed.
From a distance, it really does look like a toy. It takes knowing the lengths of the different classes of ships coming and going from the central spar to really tell just how huge it is. Thanks to Daemon, I actually knew those figures off the top of my head. Doing the math took a little longer, but I got to my answer long before we arrived. The short answer is, Titan Station is huge.
Huge enough for us to get lost in. Huge enough for people hunting us to find us and catch us and disappear back into the corridors again before anyone knows what’s gone wrong.
More dangerous than alone with strangers.