Chapter 22



            "While I consider it extremely likely that the isolated societies will develop a high level of inward focus, I suspect that—because of the gene-pool we're selecting from—there will always be explorers, visionaries and dreamers. People who revel in pushing the boundaries."


Transcript of testimony given by George Walsingham, Professor of Psychology, University of New Colorado, to the Senate Select committee of Sys. Gov. on the mental health stability of the Slowtrain colonists.




            Nothing, Amber Geraint realized, prepared you for deep space. You could look at a million pictures but it wasn't the same as being there. The darkness and vastness of it all crushed her. Paralyzed her. How could the others be so casual about it? She thought that she'd prepared so well. Old vacuum-tight bags, relics of the initial founders, and everything from food to tools. The part that wasn't ready was her mind. She'd wanted to do this. Believed it would be whole new world, away from the frustration of her life in Diana… but you always took yourself with you. It was a difficult time to discover she was agoraphobic.

             She struggled forward, trying not curl into a tight little ball and die there. Voices crackled over the suit radio.

            Lani: "Fantastic! I was born to do this!"

            Then Howard—her big lover. "It is magnificent, isn't it? It's a very spiritual place." His deep voice was calm and sincere. Trying desperately to think of anything but the billions of miles of nothing out there, Amber wondered if anyone apart from herself knew that male average weight in Diana had been climbing slowly for the last three hundred years. Sexual selection was triumphing over genetic engineering. Female humans—at least a fairly high proportion of them—must have hardwired somewhere into their mate selection criteria 'bigger is better'. Oh Holy Susan. How did they walk so casually! She tried just looking at her feet.

            "Howard, that little rat has followed us. What we do with him?" Lani demanded.

            Amber managed a glance back. Sure enough, toddling along after them was a diminutive space-suited figure. She wished that she hadn't looked. There was a vast blackness lightly salted with stars out there, trying to devour her. She gave a low moan, despite her best intentions. She was the scientist. She'd wanted to see this!

            "Are you all right, lady?" asked Howard.

            Who was “lady”? Oh, yes, it was an extinct term for woman. "No," she admitted. "I think I may throw up. This is horrible!"

            She knew she was slipping into hysteria. This was no place to panic! She couldn't help herself, though.

            "Lani and I will walk either side of you," he said. "Put your arms around us and close your eyes." His voice, deep and calm, helped. So did the steadying presence of an arm, someone there holding her, someone close in all this nothingness.

            With her eyes tight shut, they walked. She tried to tell herself it was all just a horrible dream. She would wake up in her own bed, with the alarm shrilling, her running late for another boring day at the protein vats…

            "He's still tagging along, Howard," Lani said again.

            "I don't think we can stop him, Lani. He will go back of his own accord. You can't do the cable-flight alone."

            "I'm not going back there," said a defiant male voice. "Not alone. This place frightens me."

            At least Amber wasn't alone in that. As a scientist she knew that being sick in this suit would possibly be lethal. That didn't stop her feeling nauseous.

            "I think I'd better go back," She decided that she'd been incredibly stupid. Being bored and frustrated didn't kill you.

            "Too late," said Lani heartlessly. "I'm not going back with either of you, and you won't get there by yourselves or with each other. Is this where we tie them together, Howard?"

            "Yes. Together with these bags we’ve been pulling. We have more air this time, fortunately. I wish we could also talk to Kretz about these two. I would take them back if I could explain. But we can't just leave them here."

            "It's nearly as far back as it is on, anyway," said Lani. "That is, if we're talking about the walking part. I can't wait for this 'flying' bit! Here. Hook this onto the little perp, if you insist on taking him along. I think we'd do better just to leave him here though."

            "Please don't." That was genuine fear in his voice. "Please."

            "Hell's teeth. Howard, you should have let me shoot him. Okay. He's attached."

            It wasn't just a bad dream. It was a nightmare.

            And shrieking with glee, in someone else's nightmare, should not be allowed!




Chapter 23



Internal e-vox:

            It's a nix on that, Mike-O. The reason that there are no external amplifier aerials in the shipment is that we're not supposed to fit them. They don't want the crazies to talk to each other, I guess.

            Samantha Browne (stores)

            PS. When do I see you again, darlin' man?




            Out here without the interference of a thick sphere of metal between him and the ship, Kretz's reception was reasonable. What he was hearing, wasn't.

            "Selna, I can't," he said. "It's not that I don't want to." Kretz was worried by the tirade. Normally changeover tantrums and instability were unpleasant… but not as bad as this. They normally only lasted about fifteen days, dropping in intensity as the more conservative, rational female side of the Miran personality kicked in. Of course nest-territory deprivation and the huge male hormone supplement load would make things worse. But she seemed almost entirely out of it.

            And the news from Abret seemed to be worse.


            Of course it could just be that the retransmission granule units power was exhausted. The suit radio just wasn't intended for long range transmission.