by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Choral music. Sixteen voices, perfect harmony, singing without words. Chords shifting in a pattern. First, third, fifth, minor sixth, and down again. I can hear them, running up and down the scales like a waterfall, their chorus twice as loud as the rest of the music floating through the Boneyard.
Of course, I know there is no music here. I am hearing the malfunctioning tech of a thousand, five thousand, ten thousand ships, all clustered together in an area of space larger than some planets. The sound is the way my head processes the changing energy signatures, although, oddly, I can’t hear any of it when I have my exterior communications link off.
Anyone with a genetic marker that ties them to the Fleet can hear this. Everyone else can’t. Although I’ve never really tested this assumption thoroughly. I don’t know if those of us with the marker hear the same thing.
My mind is wandering, which is dangerous during a dive. I have just exited the Sove, a Dignity Vessel we pulled from the Boneyard months ago, and I’m heading toward a completely intact Dignity Vessel only one hundred meters away. I’m wearing an upgraded environmental suit, with more features than I’ve ever used before. I hate those, but I’ve finally gotten used to the clear hood that seals around the neck, instead of a helmet, like I used to wear.
We’ve sent a line from the Sove’s smallest bay door to the only visible door on the Dignity Vessel, and I’m clinging to that line by my right hand.
I’m facing the Dignity Vessel when the sound catches me.
Elaine Seager, one of the original Six who learned to dive with me way after we discovered the need for markers, is slowly working her way toward the other Dignity Vessel. She’s ever so slightly ahead of me on the line. I was the second one to exit the Sove.
Orlando Rea, another one of the Six, is waiting to exit the Sove. We have strict procedures about the distance between divers on a line. In fact, we have strict procedures about everything. The procedures keep us safe.
“What’s the hold-up?” Yash Zarlengo asks from inside the Sove. She’s monitoring us. She hates diving and avoids it as much as possible. Yash will have to do a lot of it on this trip—she often has to dive when we’re in the Boneyard—but she’s going to dive only after we know what’s inside our target vessel.
I snap to attention, still caught by that sound.
“I’m the hold-up,” I say. “Orlando, you need to go around me and catch up to Elaine.”
“Not procedure, Boss,” Orlando says from behind me. His tone is half-amused, half-chiding. I’m the one who always harps on procedure.
But he does as I ask. He exits the bay door on the right side instead of the left, and grips the line.
I flip my comm so that Yash can’t hear what I have to say to the other two divers.
“You hearing that?” I ask Orlando and Elaine.
Orlando looks around—up, down, sideways. There are ships everywhere. Different kinds, different makes, different eras. As far as we can tell, they’re all Fleet vessels, although some of our team back at the Lost Souls Corporation hopes we’ll find vessels of other makes.
There’s a theory that these ships were stored here during a protracted war. I think the theory’s wishful thinking. Because I love diving ancient and abandoned ships, I’ve learned a lot about history. And one thing that unites human beings, no matter where they live, is their ability to take a historical fact and discard it for a story that sounds ever so much better. The war sounds so much better than a ship graveyard, put here to store abandoned ships until they’re needed—a kind of junkyard in space.
I’ve stopped arguing that point of view, though. I figure time will tell us what this place actually is.
I can’t see Orlando’s face through his hood. He has turned away from me.
I wish the new suits had one more feature. I wish we could monitor each other’s physical reactions in real time. We send that information back to the Sove as we dive, but we don’t give it to each other.
I didn’t help with the design of the new suits, and that was a mistake. Yash designed them to handle the constantly changing energy waves we identified inside the Boneyard. The waves come from all the anacapa drives inside the Boneyard and, Yash thinks, from the Boneyard’s anacapa drives as well. Each drive has a different signature, and malfunctioning drives have even stranger signatures.
We hit the waves as we move across the emptiness from one ship to another, sometimes one wave in the short distance, and sometimes three dozen waves.
Orlando’s hand remains tightly wrapped around the line.
“Yeah,” he says softly, in answer to my question. “I do hear that. I can’t tell where it’s coming from.”
Elaine has stopped a few meters from us.
“Are we diving or not?” she asks.
That annoyed question went across the open channel, which means Yash heard it.
“Is there a hold-up?” she asks again. “Besides Boss?”
I decide to come clean. “We’ve got a strange energy signature.”
“I’m not reading anything from your suits,” Yash says.
I sigh silently. We’re now getting to the thing she hates—the musicality of the Boneyard itself.
“I can hear it,” I say.
“Me, too,” Orlando says. He doesn’t have to. I hope he’s not protecting me.
Even though Yash represents the Fleet on these dives, I’m in charge of them. I still run the Lost Souls Corporation, even if I’ve delegated many of my duties to Ilona Blake. I never go on dives where someone else is in charge.
by Jay O'Connell
“Gotta look sharp at my wedding, Bro.” Tate blinked me. “I bought you a gift.”
I was sipping my morning espresso while crafting an apology template for Novellus, the formerly-Swiss-but-now-Oceania-based Pharma Megacorp. Their retail gene-mod, Genipro, which protected against reproductive and gastric cancers, turned out to have unintended behavioral side effects now manifesting in teenage clients; specifically, a love of twangy country music—more specifically, the stylings of Slim Whitman.
I’m a corporate apologist, a contractor, working for Sotto Voce, a Global PR firm. This kind of cock-up was my bread and butter.
“Stop sending me crap,” I blinked back at Tate. “I have no space. Literally. I’m a city mouse.”
“I live in a city too, Bro.” Tate shot back.
“You’re rich. It’s different.”
“You’re gonna love this,” he blinked.
“Better not be another gadget,” I blinked back. Tate didn’t reply. His time was far more valuable than mine, so this was the way our conversations ended, with my last message quivering in the ether, the text just hanging there in my wearable, delivered and unanswered.
I took off my wearable, a newish pair of Serendipity OverCasts, and rubbed my eyes. I got out of my Zero-Gee office chair and walked to the fridge, which I opened and stared into blindly. I wasn’t hungry, which if you’ve seen me you know is rare.
Tate was getting married.
It was hard to stay angry at the man. He’d staked me half the downpayment on my condo, so I didn’t have to buy mortgage insurance. I’d told him I owed him half the upside on my unit, when and if I ever sold it, but he’d waved that away. “Pay it forward, dude.”
Tate hadn’t surfed in over a decade, but he’d kept the lingo and the demeanor as he jet-setted about designing elaborate trade shows for SubOrbital, a satellite bandwidth provider. He demo’ed new products and services that, you guessed it, used a ton of bandwidth. His mix of theatrical background, tech-savvy, and salesmanship had helped him write his own ticket. Fifteen years ago he’d been a college dropout addicted to MMORPGs, answering customer service calls for SubOrbital when it was a hundred-person company. I’d learned he was a millionaire while reading an article on SubOrbital in the Times; every employee with a number under five hundred was rich on the stock options alone.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
In two days he was marrying his long-term relationship Jericho in a ceremony in southern Italy. Jericho’s family owned property there, in the heel of the boot. The offspring of a tight-knit Filipino family who had been serious about the Catholic thing for generations, Jericho had almost three hundred cousins. Family events resembled Tate’s trade shows, with name tags and screen-printed commemorative T-shirts and scads of children calling everybody auntie and uncle. I’d been to a wedding and a funeral and learned a dozen names, which I’d have to brush up by scrolling back my LifeBook feed.
Tate and I were the sons of a pair of WASPS, the tapering tail of our family name. Jericho would add Tate’s name to his, and maybe breathe a little life into it. He’d been a firefighter and a designer and now he was figuring out how to spend Tate’s money to make the world a better place. He was also drop dead gorgeous.
I don’t do relationships. Not sure why they never work for me, but they don’t, and I’m old enough to have stopped expecting my life to change. I’ve learned to accept my situation.
I had booked a flight, corpse class to Oostini in Southern Italy, but had to hub through Dublin and Rome. I’d be unconscious, catheterized and packed in a capsule so I’d not have to endure the two to three hour layover in each city. My body clock would be reset en route so I’d experience no jet lag. Yay technology! Sure, I’d once had to apologize to a corpse class passenger who had been, ah, mislaid for a few weeks—but she’d survived!
That kind of thing almost never happened.
* * *
Tate’s gift plunked into my mailbox about thirty minutes later. He had bought me a Wilkinson Tonsorbot from a joint called The Joy of Shaving. I unpacked the unit and cleared a space for it on the vanity in my tiny bathroom.
The shavebot consisted of a lighted mirror like a round shiny head on a pole mounted above a pair of brass arms, one ending in a badger hair brush, the other a surgical steel straight razor.
I sucked at shaving. My lily-white, sensitive skin disagreed with it, going bumpy and red and awful afterward, so I shaved infrequently, tending toward a scruffy ginger-colored half-beard that my brother hated. He wanted me clean-shaven at his wedding so he’d bought me a robot?
“Use of your Wilkinson Tonsorbot requires your signature on our Limited Liability Waiver,” the bot said after I’d plugged it in and let it boot. Of course the mirror was also a display. I flicked through pages of legalese before finding the accept button.
I was familiar with such text. I waited for approval, which triggered a firmware update. I watched the green progress bar fill slowly.
I wasn’t a lawyer, but I’d learned to express regret without incurring liability. My first year on the job my text had come back from legal pulsing with zigzag red underlines, deletions, and comments, but I’d eventually internalized an algorithm. My stuff sailed through legal now without a hitch.
I knew how to sound sincere.
AB Split testing revealed that my apologies reduced the chances of participation in class-action suits by almost 9 percent, which put me in the top 1 percent of my profession. Semantic Copy-Bots couldn’t mimic my performance. Yet. So I made a half-assed living.