Authors: Kim Stanley Robinson
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“A ship is floating in the harbor now,
A wind is hovering o'er the mountain's brow;
There is a path on the sea's azure floor,
No keel has ever plowed that path before;
The halcyons brood around the foamless isles;
The treacherous Ocean has forsworn its wiles;
The merry mariners are bold and free:
Say, my heart's sister, wilt thou sail with me?”
The first indication
I had of the mutiny came as we approached the inner limit of the first asteroid belt. Of course I didn't know what it meant at the time; it was no more than a locked door.
The first belt we call the dud belt, because the asteroids in it are basaltic achondrite, and no use to miners. But we would be among the carbonaceous chondrites soon enough, and one day I went down to the farm to get ready. I fed a bit more light to the algae, for in the following weeks when the boats went out to break up rocks there would be a significant oxygen depletion, and we would need more
around to help balance the gas exchange. I activated a few more bulbs in the lamps and started fooling around with the suspension medium. Biologic life-support systems are my work and play (I am one of the best at it), and since I was making room for more
I once again became interested in the excess biomass problem. Thinking to cut down on surplus algae by suspending it less densely, I walked between long rows of spinach and cabbage to the door of one of the storage rooms at the back of the farm, to get a few more tanks. I turned the handle of the door. It was locked.
“Emma!” called a voice. I looked up. It was Al Nordhoff, one of my assistants.
“Do you know why this door is locked?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I was wondering myself yesterday. I guess there's classified cargo in there. I was told to leave it alone.”
“It's our storage room,” I said, irritated.
Al shrugged. “Ask Captain Swann about it.”
Now Eric Swann and I were old friends, and I was upset that something was going on in my area that he had failed to tell me about. So when I found him on the bridge, I came straight to the point.
“Eric, how come I'm locked out of one of my own storage rooms? What have you got in there?”
Immediately he blushed as red as his hair, and hung his head. The two rocketry and guidance officers on the bridge looked down at their consoles.
“I can't tell you what's in there, Emma. It's classified. I can't tell anyone until later.”
I stared at him. I know I can intimidate people if I look at them hard enough. His blush got deeper, his freckles disappeared in the general redness, his blue eyes gave me a watery stare. But he wasn't going to tell me. I curled my lip at him and left the bridge.
That was the first sign: a locked door, a secret reason for it. I thought to myself, We're taking something for the Committee out to Ceres, perhaps. Weapons, no doubt. It was typical of the Mars Development Committee to keep secrets. But I didn't jump to any conclusions; merely stayed alert.
The second sign was one I probably would have missed, had I not been alerted by the first. I was walking down the corridor to the dining commons, past the tapestry lounges between the commons and the bedrooms, when I heard voices from a lounge and stopped. Just the voices sounded funny, all whispery and rapid. I recognized John Dancer's voice:
“We can't do anything of the sort until after the rendezvous, and you know it.”
“No one will notice,” said a woman, perhaps Ilene Breton.
“You hope no one would notice,” Dancer replied. “But you can't be sure that Duggins or Nordhoff wouldn't stumble across it. We have to wait on everything until after the rendezvous, you know that.”
Then I heard steps across the velcro carpet behind me, and with a start I began to walk again, past the door of the lounge. I looked in; John and Ilene, sure enough, among several others. They all looked up as I appeared in the doorway, and their conversation abruptly died. I stared at them and they stared back, at a loss for speech. I walked on to the dining commons.
A rendezvous in the belt. A group of people, not the superior officers of the ship, in on this event and keeping it a secret from the others. A locked storage hold.â¦ Things were not falling together for me.
After that I began to see things everywhere. People stopped talking when I walked by. There were meetings late at night, in bedrooms. I walked by the radio room once, and someone was sending out a long message through the coding machine. Quite a few of the storage room doors were locked, back behind the farm; and some of the ore holds were locked as well.
After a few days of this I shook my head and wondered if I were making it all up. There were explanations for everything I had noticed. Shipboard life tends to become cliquish on the best of runs; even though there were only forty of us, divisions would spring up over the year of an expedition. And these were troubled times, back on Mars. The consolidation of the various sectors under the central coordination of the Committee was causing a lot of dissatisfaction. Sectionalism was rife, subversive groups were everywhere, supposedly. These facts were enough to explain all the little factions I now noticed on the
And paranoia is one of the most common shipboard disordersÂ â¦ seeing patterns is easy in such a heavily patterned environment.
So I began to discount it all. Perhaps we were carrying something to Ceres for the Committee, but that was nothing.
Still, there was something about the atmosphere of the ship in those days. More people than usual were jumpy and strained. There were mysterious glances exchangedÂ â¦ in an atmosphere of mystery. But here hindsight may be influencing me. The facts are what I want here. This record will help me to remember these events many years, perhaps centuries, from now, and so I must set down the facts, the sharpest spur to the memory.
In any case, the third sign was unmistakable. By this time the sun was nearly between us and Mars, and I went to the radio room to get a last letter off to my fool of a father, in jail temporarily for his loud mouth. Afterwards, I went to the jump tube, and was about to fall down to the living quarters when I heard voices floating down the tube from the bridge. Had that been my name? I pulled myself up the rail to the steps that led to the bridge, and stayed there, eavesdropping again. A habit of mine. Once more, John Dancer was speaking.
“Emma Weil is pro-Committee all the way,” he said as if arguing the point.
“Even so,” said another man, and a couple of voices cut over so that I didn't hear what he said.
“No,” Dancer said, interrupting the other voices quickly. “Weil is probably the most important person aboard this ship. We can't talk to her about any of this until Swann says so, and that won't be until after the rendezvous. So you can forget it.”
That did it. When it was clear the conversation was over I hopped back to the jump tube and fell down it, aiding the faint acceleration-gravity with some pulls on the rail. I ticked off in my mind the places Swann would most likely be at that hour, intent on finding him and having a long talk. It is not healthy to believe yourself the focus of a ship-wide conspiracy.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
I had known Eric Swann for a long time.
Before the turn of the century, every sector ran its own mining expeditions. Royal Dutch looked for carbonaceous chondrite; Mobil was after the basaltic chondrites in the dud belt; Texas mined the silicate types. Chevron had the project of pulling one of the Amors into a Martian orbit, to make another moon. (This became the moon Amor, which was turned into a detention center. My father lived there.) So each sector had its own asteroid crew, and I got to know the Royal Dutch miners pretty well. Swann was one of the rocketry and guidance officers, and a good friend of my husband Charlie, who was also in R and G. Over the course of many runs in the belt I talked with Swann often, and even after Charlie and I divorced we remained close.
But when the Committee took over the mining operations in 2213, all the teams, even the Soviets, were thrown into a common pool, and I saw all of my friends from Royal Dutch a lot less often. My infrequent assignments with Swann had been cause for celebration, and this present assignment, with him as captain, I had thought would be a real pleasure.
Now, pulling around the ship I was the most important person on, I was not so sure. But I thought, Swann will tell me what's going on. And if he doesn't know anything about all this, then he'd better be told that something funny is happening.
I found him in one of the little window rooms, seated before the thick plasteel separating him from the vacuum. His long legs were crossed in the yoga position, and he hummed softly: meditating, his mind a floating mirror of the changing square of stars.
“Hey Eric,” I said, none too softly.
“Emma,” he said dreamily, and stretched his arms like a cat. “Sit down.” He showed me a chunk of rock he had had in his lap. “Look at this Chantonnay.” That's a chondrite that has been shocked into harder rock. “Pretty, isn't it?”
I sat. “Yes,” I said. “So what's happening on this trip?”
He blushed. Swann was faster at that than anyone I ever saw. “Not much. Beyond that I can't say.”
“I know that's the official position. But you can tell me here.”
He shook his head. “I'm going to tell you, but it has to wait a while longer.” He looked at me directly. “Don't get angry, Emma.”
“But other people know what's going on! A lot of them. And they're talking about
” I told him about the things I had noticed and overheard. “Now why should I be the most important person on this ship? That's absurd! And why should they know about whatever it is we're doing, and not me?”
Swann looked worried, annoyed. “They don't all know.â¦ You see, your help will be important, essential perhapsâ” He stopped, as if he had already said too much. His freckled face twisted as his mouth moved about. Finally he shook his head violently. “You'll just have to wait a few more days, Emma. Trust me, all right? Just trust me and wait.”
That was hardly satisfactory, but what could I do? He knew something, but he wasn't going to tell it to me. Tight-lipped, I nodded my good-bye and left.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The mutiny occurred, ironically enough, on my eightieth birthday, a few days after my talk with Swann. August 5, 2248.
I woke up thinking, now you are an octogenarian. I got out of bed (deceleration-gee entirely gone, weightless now as we coasted), sponged my face, looked in the mirror. It is a strange experience to look inside your own retinas; down there inside is the one thinking, in that other faceÂ â¦ it seems as if, if you could get the light right, you could see yourself.