If you haven't read the Previous Chapter, please do so before starting this new installment. If you'd like to read this installment on your favorite e-reader or would like to print it out, in order to save your eyes from strain, see the directions under "Read First" for an offline copy of this installment (and others). Happy reading! —G. Michael Rapp
Note. 1.1.10 will be a ten-part installment, featured over the span of two or three weeks, depending on what comes up on my end. Those installments will be featured on RoyalRoad, on Substack, and on this Website.
Hoshi had a hard time keeping warm aboard the Somnium. She believed it was just something she had to deal with when on board a spacecraft. The night cycles felt like the desert, her home in the virtual wasteland, Las Ochentas. The day cycles rarely compared to the days on Las Ochentas, even after Aurora modified the heating systems to make Hoshi more comfortable.
Everything on the spaceship was different. The metal was too unnatural, even for someone used to barren, unforgiving landscapes. Even the air felt too clean, too pure, too metallic. There was no smell of piss and dung that stung her nostrils. No taste of dirt and sunbaked rock. Hoshi missed the smell of wet dirt after a monsoonal rain. She missed the taste of freshly pumped good bleu. She found that ship life, even after several decades, couldn’t compare to her real home.
One day, one day soon maybe, she’d go back home, if it still existed when she got back. Although she preferred Aurora’s company to others, she didn’t miss the messiness of social interaction with real people. She missed the loneliness of the desert, the coarse sand, and the extreme heatwaves. Nevertheless, she did enjoy the ship and its oddities.
One such oddity was the ship’s many departure docks. Hoshi walked through what might have been mistaken for a clear opening to the cold, hard vacuum of space. Those primal fears, fears lodged deep in the bac of her brain, nag at her as she stepped through the threshold. She even felt herself hold her breath, as she left the comfort of the Somnium.
A gelatinous bulb, of marbled fuchsia and cobalt, enveloped her, surround Hoshi in a shell of protective atmosphere, gels, fluids, and armored plating meant to absorb everything from cosmic radiation to micro debris that might strike the craft. A bluish-purple field surrounding the bulb, something called a scutum, adding another protective layer against radiation and other nastiness in that one might come across in the Verse.
A heads-up display, control console, and gravity cocoon sport from the fuchsia and lavender programmable mass. Hoshi situated herself inside the cocoon and provided the necessary verbal commands to send the bulb in the right direction—toward the planetoid. The heads-up display flickered to life, bringing up a readout of the Subaru Collaborative’s planetoid. Each piece of geology was labelled using technical jargon unfamiliar to Hoshi. She switched the readout off and decided to hail Aurora, knowing that she needed something to do during the estimated ten-hour journey to the planetoid’s surface.
“Already in trouble?” Aurora asked, her ghostly form appearing in Hoshi’s peripheral vision. She was surrounded by her plants and flanked on either side by a number of semi-autonomous cultivators she purchased when they were last sunward. The cultivators were centaur-like machines, with the anthropomorphic upper half and the lower halves similar to those tractors Hoshi’d seen on terraforming projects throughout the Verse.
“Can’t say I am,” Hoshi said. “I’m just curious about something. It has been bugging me.”
“I must say that I have no idea where you are going with this.”
“Did our initial communication with the Subaru Collaborative come from them or a proxy?” Hoshi asked, scrunching up her eyes.
“From my own analysis,” Aurora began. “We were given the message from a courier service. That is probably how they keep things secret on their end.”
“Doesn’t seem very secure, does it?” Hoshi asked.
Aurora looked up from her plants and said, “Depends on how you use the courier service. My guess is they treat couriers like mushrooms: feed them shit and keep them in the dark.”
"Very astute observation, Aurora,” Hoshi said with a chuckle.
"I try my best, dear Hoshi.”
"Anything new to report, Aurora?” Hoshi asked.
"You’ve been gone only a few moments,” Aurora protested.
"So?” Hoshi said.
“Yes,” Aurora said, with an audible sigh
“Yes, Aurora, what?” Hoshi asked, pressing her for information.
“Yes, I’ve something, Hoshi.”
“What kind of something, Aurora?”
“Some note I found in a recent sprawl query,” Aurora reported. “It’s small mind you—almost insignificant.”
“It’s about the planetoid,” Aurora reported. “I thought it would be quite unusual to find something about a mere planetoid on the sprawl. The information is quite useless outside of certain specialties—legal or otherwise.”
“Get to the point, Aurora.”
“It is registered as an asset of the Subaru Development Corporation—or SDC.”
“The what?” Hoshi asked.
"Not much out there on it,” Aurora said with a shrug. She pointed to a plant and a cultivator deposited a fertilizer pellet into the damp looking soil. “I’ve been trying to see where that information leads. Nothing thus far. I’m guessing the information is old or completely false. A Zhang analysis on the information comes up inconclusive. That means we’re just going to have to have something bordering on faith when dealing with this information.”
“What are the chances it is false?” Hoshi asked.
“Quite likely, I’m afraid,” Aurora answered.
“That’s not very reassuring, Aurora,” Hoshi said. “Keep looking into it.”
“I will,” Hoshi answered back. “I prefer a good mystery to something easy these days. When you get back, I’ll have a nice salad waiting for you, Hoshi.”
“I would like your input. Gardening appears to be both an art and a science, especially when it comes to getting the right flavor profiles in every vegetable and fruit.”
“I have no doubt that you will’ve out done yourself again,” Hoshi lied. Secretly, she hopews that she wouldn’t have to eat another of Aurora’s salads. “I’ll beam you if I need anything. If anything happens, be sure to send word to a client who owes us a favor.”
“I’ve already prepped a dozen wasps, just in case. They’ll travel faster than is technically safe, but they should get the job done, if they’re needed, of course.”
“Can’t say that I didn’t expect that from you, Aurora,” Hoshi said with a chuckle.
“Always be prepared, my friend,” Aurora said with a straight face. “My experiences with you have taught me that, Hoshi.
“Glad to be of service, Aurora.”
Hoshi was dreaming of Las Ochentas, when the Collaborative’s planetoid hailed her. It used the encrypted channel she’d been warned about through the courier message. She opened the channel and transmitted the passcode given to her nearly two decades before. A few moments passed before Hoshi’s craft received another encrypted broadcast from the planetoid. His second broadcast was more to the point. It offered the bulbs nav computer coordinates for what Hoshi assumed to be a docking back or landing site of some kind.
After an hour’s flight, the gelatinous bulb began its slow approach toward the docking back. The docking back, much like the planetoid itself was quite tame, aesthetically speaking. Its walls were a utilitarian gray. Safety warnings were clearly marked with red paint and flashing lights. Even the maintenance systems appeared to be boring, to a fault. Nothing was given over to aesthetic pleasures of those who built the planetoid’s infrastructure. Every had a set purpose, nothing more. It was all a bit unsettling for Hoshi, who’d spent the better part of a decade wandering what many outsiders called the Palatialband—what locals called the Great Sutra—located around Earth and Luna The utilitarian aesthetics felt out of place, alien, a relic of a time long forgotten by history.
The bulb kissed the nanocrete and steel landing of the docking bay. The scutum’s bluish-white light blinkered out, and the craft’s gelatinous mass dissolved into a quick matter receptacle situated beneath Hoshi’s booted feet. Before Hoshis could gather her bearings, a bald neut, more masculine in appearance than feminine, appeared before her.
“You must be Hoshi,” the neut said in a crisp monotone. Its face was a featureless mass, indistinguishable, easily forgotten. The neut’s clothing was a dark gray and crisply ironed, with special attention given to the seams. “Was your trip uneventful?”
Hoshi nodded and stretched her arms and legs. “Very.”
“That’s good to hear. I was informed that a nasty reactor overload had occurred on flight path, more sunward, but still quite dangerous I’m told.”
"I wasn’t aware of that,” Hoshi said, with a bit of alarm in her voice. “I will have to talk to Aurora about that.”
“I’m sure she didn’t want to worry you about such trivial matters.”
"Yes, your artilect.”
“Oh,” Hoshi said, a bit unnerved by the information. “How do you know my artilect?”
“She hailed us prior to your emergence from requiescence.”
“Of course, she did,” Hoshi said, making a mental note to talk to Aurora about protocol.
“She was afraid our planetoid might try and destroy your ship before you finished your slowdown burn.”
“I’m sure she was.” She was probably more afraid for her safety than my own, Hoshi thought to herself.
“Let us dispense with this useless chitchat, Hoshi,” the neut said with a have of its hand.
“Sounds like a plan, friend.”
“I want to show you something before we go into Conveyance.”
“All I due time, Hoshi,” the neut answered, hoping to reassure her. “I want to show you my orrery. It is quite beautiful, to use a word from your vernacular.”
The orrery was nearly a kilometer across. At the heart of the orrery, Hoshi noticed a brightly rendered fireball of hydrogen and helium, held in place, as if by some invisible field. Orbinting the large sun were trillions of objects, each immaculately rendered and simulated by the orrery’s computing hardware. Even the terrestrial planets appeared to be given atmospheres and geography found in nature. Each piece of the solar system was accounted for in a detailed that even surprised Hoshi, who’d seen enough wonders in her own lifetime.
The orrery also offered Hoshi a glimpse into her new employer’s thinking. The detail put into the orrery was off-putting. It suggested a slavish adherence to realism. Nothing was given over to false colorations or aesthetic pleasure. Instead, everything was the way it would be in space—except for the actual scale of the solar system itself.
“Quite beautiful, isn’t it?” the neut asked, looking over at Hoshi.
“Yeah,” Hoshi said, not knowing what else to say. “Sure is.”
“You don’t sound like you enjoy it.”
“No,” Hoshi began, turning her gaze to the neut, “it’s not that I don’t enjoy it. I find it very beautiful. The craftsmanship is definitely worthy of anything I’ve seen in the Palatialband.”
“But,” Hoshi said, “it’s too real. Too much like the real thing. Where are the embellishments?”
“Embellishments,” the neut said, rolling the word over its tongue, as if tasting a fine wine. “There are plenty of embellishments here. Nothing is according to scale. Even the coloring of the orrery is nowhere near the real color scheme of the bodies it wishes to represent here.”
“Never mind,” Hoshi said. “It’s definitely beautiful—in its own special way.”
“Thank you, Hoshi,” the neut said. “I spent the better part of three centuries working on this by hand.”
“Oh, yes,” the neut continued. “While the others were in requiescence, I was here, working on every detail you see before you.”
“It’s no masterpiece. My brothers and sisters and fellow neuts have built far more impressive wonders than this.”
“I guess you’re right, it is still impressive, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Hoshi commented. “I’ve never managed to put something like this together myself.”
“Well,” the neut said, “you could.”