There were very few applications for which petroleum was still essential in the mid-22nd century. The
aircraft under which the orbiter Markus was sitting in was being attached to was one such continuing
He'd travelled on commercial orb-liners before, but never private. It was usually a privilege reserved
for those even
wealthier than the Bowland family. This one existed more out of necessity than luxury though. The New
couldn't rely on commercial travel and shipping given their hectic and demanding schedule and security,
so a private
orbiter was rolled into the overall cost estimates for the project. It was bought and paid for, and
after the gala a
couple nights earlier, fuel cost wouldn't be a problem.
The orbiter was being secured to a much larger launcher craft. Markus saw Molly watching with rapt
attention as it
rolled over top of them, and then lowered onto the secure mounting points between mother and daughter
There were a series of softly felt jolts as their orbiter was secured to the mother craft. It had no
crew, and a
fairly simple design. It was as light as possible, but had long delicate looking plastic and carbon
designed to maximize lift at high altitudes. On each wing, four powerful jet engines were moulded into
fed by a gaping air intake at the nose of the craft.
Molly looked back at him nervously, and it occurred to him that she must never have been to orbit
certainly never taken her; it's not the kind of thing one typically does with their prostitute, and she
the autonomy and freedom to get up by herself before they were together. "It's your first time, isn't
"Yes," she answered with wide eyes somewhere between fear and excitement.
"Honestly Molly, if I'd have realized that earlier I would have taken you up just for fun. Everyone
should go at
And most people did make it to orbit at some point in their lives at one point or another at least. It
was much like
intercontinental travel. A rare luxury for most, a work requirement for some, and for the very few,
something fun to
do on the weekend. There was a fair bit to do up out of the world. There were places to visit out there
in the solar
system, but they were all still dependent on Earth's existence in one way or another for their continued
"I'm just happy to be going now…" She was clearly more interested in watching the take off than
Markus. He didn't mind; he remembered how exciting it was when he went up for the first time.
Two cycles from the warning klaxon blared a warning to all inside and out of their impending launch, and
with her out her window as lights on the side of the launch tunnel started to move past them. They could
jet engines spool up to full power in anticipation of their need, the computers testing for any error
would require them to emergency brake the whole assembly if it could still be done without killing the
Magnetic linear accelerators worked against metal strips along the length of the mother aircraft,
causing the lights
out the window to speed up to the point at which they seemed a punctuated continuous stream of light
their eyes. A single klaxon blast warned of the impending upturn and Markus braced himself. The
veered upwards towards the sky, pressing the passengers into their seat with some force.
Molly let out a small whimper of pain as the hypnotic stream of lights outside the window was replaced
blinding might of the late morning sun glaring at her as they emerged out of the launch tube.
"Sorry I forgot to warn you about that… it used to get me every time before I learned
my lesson too."
Molly punched him gently in the arm. "Asshole…" she teased.
Markus looked over at his brother across the aisle. His face revealed nothing, but his white knuckles
Lucas hated travel to and from orbit ever since their parents had died. It was understandable, but Marks
much younger and had made no such associations. Lucas was able to make the trip, and was quite practiced
comfort with the process, but if he could ever send someone else to orbit in his place he surely would.
contract was too important to leave the final important details to underlings. Lucas had started out as
physics engineer at the company and worked his way up, and he still wasn't afraid of getting his hands
dirty when it
Markus began to worry he was going to rip the foam arm rest off of the chair, and he wondered what might
be adding to
his stress. Probably just how important this job was, he figured.
The mother craft took them to ever higher altitude and speed. Once at the maximum altitude which the
the wing could carry them, three long klaxon blasts warned everyone of the most dangerous and physically
part of the process.
With a jolt their seats fell under them and they were held in by their restraints as the orbiter
underneath the aircraft. Once the two vehicles were at a safe distance from each other, They were all
the back of his seat as the oxygen-hydrogen rocket engines at the back of the craft exploded to life.
There wasn't much to do during the dozen or so minutes it took to get up to orbital speeds, it was
usually too loud
and vibrating to think let alone speak. He did find himself looking over at Molly as she looked out the
the darkening sky.
He wasn't sure what to do with her. He was pretty sure he loved her, but he was pretty jaded on the idea
overall. He'd had some very intense love affairs, a couple that almost destroyed him in one way or
another a time or
two. He'd been alone for quite a while before Molly, seeing various sexims before leaning exclusively
They wound up just talking as often as they'd have sex. He found her simplicity soothing. There were no
They'd discuss philosophy as Markus took a deeper interest in her, and became more interested in her
nature, in her
sense of self. He suspected that it was these conversations which had caused her to fault, and he was
that. She insisted it was a lot of things, but he could have a big ego sometimes.
He enjoyed what they had, but cracks had started to show. He wasn't sure how to describe it as anything
other than a
'flatness' to her that he was noticing more and more. He didn't know if it was him becoming ever more
aware of the
finite limitations of her programming, or if it was the absence of something between them. It had been a
since he'd really fallen in love hard with someone, and he was at the point of being unsure if he just
anymore, if it was exclusively an artifact of youth, or if he just couldn't feel it with her.
And she had expressed her own concerns about him as well. She was blessedly much more direct than he was
less inclined to keep things to herself. She said it was hard enough keeping things straight without
censorship. She had begun to wonder if it was appropriate for them to be together given how they'd met.
He asked her
if she wanted to stop and she said no, but it somehow wedged into their relationship the understanding
they had couldn't last forever. Her journey was just beginning and it was larger than him.
The last vestiges of blue disappeared as a blanket of stars fell over their view out the window. If they
they could see a brilliant waxing Earth above their heads as the underside of the shuttle guarded them
from the sun.
The rocket engine throttled down to zero, and they were left floating in their restraints.
"There it is," Sadhika called out, pointing through their window from her seat.
Markus and Molly saw the ship come into view. It was something to see it in person. The habitat ring was
kilometer wide, and light glinted off of one large section. The light flared at them and it stung his
eyes for a
brief moment before the windows' automatic filters adjusted.
"What is that?" Markus asked, "that high reflective?"
"The arboretum," In-Su answered from behind him. It was the first time he'd heard the old
man speak in person.
They approached the ship on puffs of air and docked on the central section just aft of the struts
connecting it to
the ring. Markus had a brief private conversation with Molly to offer advice on moving around in
realizing this had to be her first time. He wasn't as experienced as some, but he could get around
He'd never spent enough time in microgravity for it to ever come to feel normal though.
Sadhika unclipped her harness restraints and moved over to open the hatch on what used to be the
ceiling. Markus and
Lucas exchanged a look of curiosity. They were used to travelling commercially, where attendants opened
and controlled their exit. This ad hoc personal ship and its ensuing absence of familiarity made things
interesting for them. Sadhika said nothing as she eagerly pulled herself up through the open hatch.
Wiremu held up
his hand in invitation for them to follow her, and following Lucas, Markus pulled himself through to see
with her feet secured in rungs along one surface.
"Welcome aboard the New Horizon," she beamed after Molly had poked her head up. "I can't wait to show
you what we've
After they all climbed through the strut down onto firm footing on the upper most level of the habitat
other three mission founders broke off to attend to preparations while Sadhika conducted the promised
tour. After an
elevator trip down to the lowest level, she led them to a nearby door not far down the wide central
"This is your suite," she said as she opened the door and invited them in.
"Well, the suite in question, at least," Markus reminded her as he stepped in. It struck him that
did assume the spot would probably die in this room. This would be their last living
It was a comfortable enough size for one person, well-lit and clean, obviously hardly touched since it
constructed and furnished. It had a small kitchenette against the wall to his right, and further along
on the same
side was the dining area. To his left were the open doors to the bathroom and bedroom. At the far end of
rectangular space was the living room which had a large circular window in the floor. As he approaches
Markus found the Earth just hanging there outside the window, with the view slowly changing as the
ship's ring he
was standing in and the planet below him both slowly revolved.
"You have this small kitchen here," Sadhika waved a hand towards it, "but there are meals in the main
hall four times
a day and most people are expected to eat the majority of their meals there. But, if you miss it or
what's served you can just cook your own food in here. There's an onboard grocery where you can find
schmilk from our labs, and fruits and vegetables from the arboretum gardens and aeroponics bay."
"What are people expected to contribute along the way for the ship?" Lucas asked. Markus was surprised
at his being
interested enough to ask. Maybe he was just being business politely curious to his important client.
"We break it down by brain and body hours," Sadhika explained. "twenty brain hours and twenty body hours
that's mental tasks and physical tasks. We'll use weekly signup sheets for the jobs. Some aren't very
you'll want to be proactive on that."
"That's not too bad," Molly remarked.
"The life task as well," Sadhika made sure to add as she watched them roam the space, opening cupboards
toilets. "Everyone is required to be willing to risk their life for the good of the ship and crew, but
they can only
be asked once."
"Yes I saw that, it's kind of extreme to literally put that into the contract isn't it?"
"Call it a small insurance policy," Sadhika retorted with a shrug through her crossed arms as she leaned
frame of the open door. "I don't want anyone to be on this ship after we launch who isn't that
"Maybe I should put that clause into the standard Boland Power Systems contract," Lucas
"Guess you'd better soak up that view now while you can, hunh?" he suggested to Sadhika with a side
looking back out the window.
Sadhika shrugged indifferently. "I think a lot more about the view on the other side."
"I wanted to apologize for the other night," Sadhika offered discretely to Markus as Lucas and Molly
discussing something they'd noticed about the ship.
She looked at him with a hint of disbelief "Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought."
"I'm aware of nothing you need to apologize for."
Sadhika smiled. "The crown jewel."
The hallway came to an end.
Behind them the floor curved up and out of sight behind the ceiling, but before them was a large hatched
more robust than any other he'd seen so far.
"When we built the ship," she began to explain as she winced at the control panel on the wall beside
her. It flashed
credential clearing in response, and started the motors which rotated the imposing portal up and away.
working on this part first after we had the core framing up."
"Wow…" Markus involuntarily marveled as the view inside was revealed. It looked like a magic
gateway to a path in a
lush, dense temperate rainforest like back home.
"We had to build it first because it required the most lead time and fine tuning. We had to build a
complex ecosystem, and we failed several times before we got it to work. This is orders of magnitude
larger than any
arboretum in the solar system," she beamed.
"So this is for your air?" Molly asked as they began making their way through the snaking path. Holes in
along the way revealed the several stories high glass ceiling which showed the central section of the
and the other side of the habitat ring further afield.
"Air yes, food too, but more intangible reason as well."
"Such as?" Lucas asked.
"Nature." Molly answered for her thoughtfully.
Sadhika seemed a touch surprised at her correct response. "Yes, it's for the psychological health of the
well, that's why we put so much work into it being a place to be, a place where people can be with
waved her hand around at the forest around them. "It has proven mental health benefits."
Lucas found the recreation astounding. From soil to canopy it was rich with life, the only things
missing he presumed
was animal life. He thought that until he saw something rustle from one tree to another. "What was
that?" he asked,
"Bat," Sadhika answered matter-of-factly. "We need to manage complex microscopic and insect scale
elements. We do
this up to the level of things that eat insects, all heavily modified of course."
"Of course," Lucas said with a look at Markus that said: 'can you believe this shit?'
As they progressed along the path, they kept coming across things which seemed rather out of place. At
one point he
saw a collection of banana palms, which seemed completely out of place in this kind of forest, but you
had to be
right in front of them in order to see that they were there at all. This is what he found over and over,
wondered if this was the purpose of the ever winding pathway. He was particularly relieved to see the
when he came across them.
They occasionally passed park benches which Markus observed as places which would probably become one of
favourites on the ship after they left. If he came along that was, he reminded himself.
As they rounded the corner, they found In-Su sitting alone on one of the benches. He was looking up to
the sky and
tapping a pencil softly against his angular chin with a paper notebook open on his lap. His straight
came down below his ears, but not so low as his sharp jawline.
"In-Su!" Sadhika exclaimed at sight of him. "I was just showing our guests here our
"What do you think of our garden?" In-Su asked the three newcomers. "I designed it and
Sadhika made it."
"With some help obviously," Sadhika chimed in with feigned modesty.
"Why did you settle on the forests outside Vancouver?" Markus asked.
"Didn't, actually." In-Su corrected his misattribution. "It is based on the Korea rainforests, but we
did study all
incarnations of coastal temperate rainforest, the pacific northwest of North America included."
"It's amazing, I've never seen anything like it," Markus admitted in admiration.
"That's because nothing like it has ever existed before."
They left In-Su to his notebook and continued down the circuitous path until it eventually found the
leading back into the rest of the ship. They made their way through a section with very few doors on
which Sadhika explained was the section containing the massive physical data archives. They passed
various people in
the main hallway, all seemingly preoccupied with whatever they'd been tasked with. He wasn't entirely
sure why, but
he was surprised to see everyone just wearing street clothes instead of some sort of uniform.
Just beyond the archives section Sadhika stopped in front of one of the doors.
"This is my toybox," she said with smiling eyes, "also known as the bio lab," she finished as she opened
the door for
Markus was surprised that it appeared no larger than the main living space of his supposed quarters on
opposite walls were entirely covered with drawer fronts arranged in a grid, each about a quarter meter
There were two women in the room, one of whom was observing a monitor displaying the optical output from
microscope. On the display were several small clusters of circles; they appeared to be zygotes after
only a couple
rounds of division. At the far end of the room the other older plumper woman was sitting reclined in a
intently engaged with her medium sized scroll and tapping at it with a stylus. They both looked up
the door opened.
The two scrambled to their feet when they saw Sadhika enter behind the strangers. "Master Sengupta! What
can we do
"Again, just Sadhika please, and nothing right now, don't worry. I'm just showing these find folks
around some of the
ship. This is Markus and Lucas Bowland of Bowland Power Systems, and this is their… friend,
Molly" Friendly waves
went all around. People didn't tend to shake hands much anymore. No one really knew why, it had simply
fallen out of
"What do you do here?" Markus asked. He'd met enough academics to know that he only had to get them
started, and then
the hard part would be getting them to shut up again.
"Well, our first job after we launch is to screen the crew for discrete genetic anomalies," the older
"Primary testing was to screen out people with existing anomalies, but it will be our job to project
problems between genomes, and to direct breeding away from those potential problems. Our second
responsibility is to
keep living gametes from every individual we launch with through our eventual arrival, so we can match
launcher's gametes with someone several generations down the line if we want or need to. Our third
to do just that, the selective genetic combination, incubation, and implantation."
"Right off the brochure," Sadhika teased her.
"Along this wall," she motioned towards the surfaces covered with grids of drawers, apparently choosing
Sadhika's comment, "we have storage capacity for twenty-five hundred live gamete samples." One of the
the wall opened, presumably in response to a thought from his host. Condensation mist rushed out as the
air met the chilled air from inside the refrigerated chamber.
Markus could now see that the drawer front was just a cover, and that attached to the inside was a
central beam running far back into the wall; how far he couldn't tell. Opaque spheres were arranged
central beam in a circle, in rows lined up one after another, extending as far into the wall as he could
see. A pale
blue light emanated from the inside chamber, a light near to what happened to be Markus' favourite
"Twenty-five hundred, wow…" Markus was becoming genuinely impressed. He was starting to realize
that this cramped
space was not devoid of advanced technologies, but rather that it was a pinnacle of their
integration. "Brahma Biotech?" he turned to inquire of Sadhika. This was the name of the conglomerate
and the banner under which she'd taken over the world.
"Of course, only the best," Sadhika winked. "We can't exactly order replacements along the way, you
know? We have
practical needs for cutting edge biotech, but it was also important to me that we have the means to
research along the way and once there."
"Why?" Markus asked. "Pretty soon there'll be no practical way to communicate it to the rest of the
existing body of
"Well then we'll just have to create our own won't we?" she answered back with the flash of
Fifteen minutes later the three were standing outside another door and Sadhika's expression changed. The
still there, but back in her eyes was a hint of that dangerously playful look from the other night.
"Molly I think you'll find this room particularly interesting." The door slid open. "This is our general
storage bay. Weapons, hazardous materials, anything with restricted access is all here. Aside from the
bridge it is
the most secure part of the ship and can serve as a second bridge in an emergency. Our simulants aren't
critical, so we don't have a lot of resources to repair and maintain them."
She led them in and then directed a panel on the wall to reveal the simulants. Four large panels slid up
and out of
view to reveal the lifeless forms they had concealed. "We say they're to coordinate the initial
and colonization of Haven, but we're not exactly shy about how self-indulgent it kind of is."
Sadhika watched as Molly seemed to stop listening and got very close to the Sadhika simulant's face and
it to a degree Markus couldn't imagine. She then looks over at the human Sadhika.
"Impressive recreation," she admired purely as she moved on to the face of the next. The Wiremu Tynes
much more intimidating in this state than in human form. He struck Markus as a sentinel waiting to
strike them down
if they made a wrong move.
"I think given everything you've done you're entitled to a little self-indulgence?" Lucas suggested with
"Agreed." Markus affirmed. Sadhika nodded in a way that suggested she appreciated their positive
thoughts on the
matter if on offer, but also that they affected her view of the situation not at all.
"They're inactive…" Molly said in a drifting off way which only partly included
question in the comment.
"Yup," Sadhika affirmed as she watched Molly move onto the next. "Can't deactivate them after you start
'em up so
we're waiting." She seemed to hesitate before adding: "I'm sure you of all people can imagine us not
wanting to have
them walking around on the ship with us."
"No, but you could have just sent them and stayed behind yourselves," Lucas suggested. "It's
not too late,"
he laughed, "you could still simulate the whole crew and just send them!"
"And what a marvelous accomplishment that would be for the simulants," Sadhika stated a
little too icily.
Molly halted her approach to the fourth simulant and looked over at Sadhika to assess if she should
perceive what she
said as some sort of threat or insult, but apparently decided not. She continued on to scrutinize the
"It's creepy," Molly offered as she finished her assessment. "even for me."
"How so?" Markus asked.
"I've never seen a pre-activated sim before. They look so real but… they really seem like
something between alive
and dead don't they? It's like their motionlessness gives away their artificiality"
"This is how we hope to influence the arrival in a way we otherwise couldn't," Sadhika explained. "We
don't know what
effect full lifetimes of isolation in deep space will do to the crew psychologically or politically.
These exist to
right the ship so to speak, if there's trouble along the way. We can also send them down to the planet
invulnerable as they will be to the alien biology, for our initial surface reconnaissance."
"Given everything you've put into this mission Sadhika," Lucas offered, "you've definitely earned
whatever bit of
self-indulgence this may be."
"Thank you," Sadhika nodded with a well-rehearsed look of grateful humility. "Next up, core