Home > NaNoWriMo 2011, The Serial Box > Day One Hundred and Seventy-two: A New Star 2

Day One Hundred and Seventy-two: A New Star 2

Continued from Day 171: A New Star 1

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The paperwork took five days to complete, even with fudging the numbers. During that time, Atris found himself nearly overwhelmed by his duties. Being the captain of a legacy ship usually involved little more than keeping people doing their daily work – maintaining systems, keeping up the greenhouse, not jettisoning themselves out the airlocks, that kind of thing.

Now, however, he found himself trying to organize a full-scale exodus from the ship. Even though the Nightfinder would remain their home once it was incorporated into Aurelius’ system, the passengers and crew ached to be allowed off. They wanted to see other places, meet other people, to experience anything that wasn’t the shipboard life they’d known for so long. Consequently, he had dozens of different disembarkation plans to consider, groups vying for prominence, and “experts” trying to get their voices heard.

In the end, he announced that he and a small group of officers and community leaders would be the first to go and present themselves to their new neighbors. Following that, people would initially be let off the ship according to their deck and section, and everyone would just have to be patient. “Aurelius isn’t going anywhere,” he said. The plan wasn’t met with great approval, but neither was it met with rage, and that was good enough for him.

Eventually, he got the signal from Beddesh that all was in readiness. He’d transmitted the documents to the appropriate branches of the Aurelian bureaucracy and they were free to board.

“Excellent,” Atris said. “My people are getting restless over here.”

Beddesh laughed, and it sounded jolly and genuine. “Oh, we’re looking forward to meeting them, too!” he said, looking a little too proud as he said it.

Atris gave him the outline of their plan, and after a little negotiation, it was approved. There would be a small ceremony for the newcomers, with all the pomp and circumstance that implied, and then an orderly immigration, part of which involved a fairly detailed interview and recording of each and every person on board. It was hard not to grimace when he heard that. It would only make the whole process slower. But there wasn’t a lot he could do about it.

The next day, he and Jackev were in their dress uniforms, waiting by the airlock. Behind them was a full contingent of Nightfinder’s elite – people who had been famous when they left Cygnus and somehow managed to hold on; deck presidents and their spouses; the most interesting philosophers, artists, historians and poets they could find. Everyone was dressed up, and everyone was watching the airlock door.

Atris stood on the balls of his feet and silently wished he could pass all this on to someone else. He thought about being able to say that it wasn’t his problem, but he knew that it most certainly was.

The messenger gave him a start. “For you, sir,” she said, handing him a thin piece of paper with a number written on it.

“Thank you,” he said, but she was already gone. He took his pad from his pocket, signed into the ship’s network, and tapped in the number. It took only a moment to scan the document, and he grimaced as its meaning sank in.

“Sir, are we -” Atris interrupted Jackev with a gesture and handed him the pad. The younger man read it slowly, and his face fell. He looked up. “Sir? Does this…” He swallowed. “Does this change anything?”

Atris shook his head. “No,” he said. “Everything goes as planned. When I have a moment, I’ll take Beddesh aside and… discuss what we’ve found.” He scowled and put the pad in his pocket. “I’ll be interested to hear what he has to say.” He turned to the younger man and give him the full force of his rank and experience. “Until then, you tell absolutely no one. Do you understand?”

Jackev nodded, his expression fighting for composure. “Yes, sir,” he said. Atris wasn’t entirely certain his second could stay quiet. Not with news like that.

The crowd cheered when the airlock doors opened, and they were greeted by an applauding group on the other side. The Aurelian dignitaries looked about as comfortable in their formal clothes as did those of the Nightfinder, but they also looked genuinely pleased to be there. From the Aurelian group, Beddesh Ajaki stepped forward and gestured both crowds to silence. Atris put on his most congenial face and walked up to meet him.

“Friends,” Beddesh said. “Your long journey is over. Your lonely travels are at an end. We of Alpha Aurelius welcome you into our community as new friends, neighbors and family.” He extended a hand to Atris, who took it in a firm handshake. “Welcome home,” Beddesh said, bringing another great cheer from the assembled crowds.

When they quieted down, Atris cleared his throat. “People of Alpha Aurelius. We have traveled far and searched long for a new home, ever since Delta-b Cygnus grew unable to support those she had nurtured for so long. We are honored to be welcomed into your system, and look forward to adding to your strength and uniqueness for many generations to come.” He looked Beddesh in the eyes, and nodded when the other man met his gaze. “We are happy to be home.”

The cheering this time was even louder. The ceremony was complete, and the two sets of ambassadors and dignitaries surged forward to meet each other. The people from Aurelius wanted to see the ship that had brought all these newcomers, while the crew of the Nightfinder were more eager to start exploring their new home. The constant hum of conversation filled the bay, and the constant movement of people brought even more activity. In all of this, Atris caught Beddesh’s sleeve. “Administrator Ajaki,” he said with a smile that was hard to hold onto. “Thank you again for organizing this. I know it can’t have been easy.”

In person, Beddesh seemed much more relaxed. He grabbed Atris’ arm and gave it a friendly squeeze. “Well, you know how the beancounters are,” he said. “They need to feel like they’re in charge.” He gestured out beyond the walls of the bay. “And you know what’s out there.”

“What’s not out there,” Atris muttered.

“Aye,” Beddesh said. “What’s not out there.” He sighed. “Captain Atris, when you know that the universe is dying around you, you cling on to whatever you have.” He smiled grimly. “I don’t know how things were back at Cygnus, but here it has brought a new renaissance in bureaucracy.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small case to show Atris. Inside was an ornately carved stone stamp, red with ink. “We can’t control what goes on out there,” he said. “But we can damn well control what goes on in here.” He tossed the stamp in the air, caught it, and then pocketed it again.

“About that,” Atris said, taking out his pad. “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.” He looked around for others. “Do you have a moment?”

Beddesh nodded without checking. “I reckon everyone will be busy here for a while, sure. Lead on!”

Atris took him to a small conference room near the bridge and closed the door. “Administrator,” he said, “where your people have cultivated bureaucracy to fight against the inevitable, mine have adopted a certain bluntness.” He put the pad on the table and called up the document he’d been sent. “We don’t see that there’s a lot of time for us to waste anymore.” He spun the pad around and slid it to Beddesh. “Any of us.”

The administrator squinted at the pad and picked it up. After a moment, he sighed and nodded. He put the pad down and rubbed his eyes. Neither man spoke for a long while.

Finally, Beddesh broke the silence. “We didn’t think you’d stay if we said anything,” he muttered.

“Aurelius has how long?” he asked. “Two generations? Maybe three?”

Beddesh nodded. “Maybe.” He picked up the pad again and flipped through it with a finger. “We’ve started making plans for an exodus within one, just in case.”

Atris pulled out a chair and slumped down in it. “What do I tell my people?” he asked. He gestured, unable to find the words he wanted. “How do I ask them to go through all this again?”

Beddesh nodded. “I have no idea,” he said. “We’ve been around Aurelius for as long as I can remember.” He looked at the wall as if he could see through it to the small, red sun outside. “I thought I would die long before he did.”

The room was quiet enough that Atris could hear the blood running through his ears. Finally, he asked, “Do your people know?”

“Only the administrators,” he said quietly, shaking his head. “And the top-level bureaucrats.” He grinned ruefully. “They’ve been funneling money into an exodus project for years. We’ve had to arrange for quite a few whistleblowers to get kicked as far out of the civil service as we can.”

Atris laughed quietly, but made himself stop. The laughing was too close to sobbing, which he couldn’t afford to let himself do. Instead, he took a deep breath and stood up. “Two or three generations,” he said. Beddesh nodded. “Okay,” Atris said, a little more loudly than he’d meant to. “That will have to do.”

He extended a hand to the administrator. “We know a bit about exodus,” he said. “Our experience is at your disposal.”

Beddesh looked surprised, but he shook the captain’s hand. “I appreciate it, sir,” he said.

“As for telling people…” Atris looked far away, through his ship to all the people in it. “As for them,” he said again, “we’ll let the future happen in the future.” He clapped the administrator on the back and smiled, genuinely this time. “Right now, let’s go meet our new neighbors.”

The two men left the conference room for the party. There would be a time to break hearts. But not today.

*****

Beddesh Ajaki’s page on 30characters.com

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  1. November 13, 2011 at 12:18 AM

    Ah, not as sinister as I thought it might be, but kind of heartbreaking. Entropy is the great enemy, inexorable and implacable. I very much enjoyed this little two parter, a believable and absorbing set up. Great stuff. =)

    • November 13, 2011 at 6:42 AM

      Thanks for the good words! My brain actually came up with a better plot when I went to bed, so I guess it’s marked for revision. :)

  1. November 12, 2011 at 11:02 PM

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