This time, Rom says, we're keeping records for more than just us. I don't think anybody else will care, not for a long time. Rom disagrees and wants us to have more than her words this time. She thinks it's important. I think the words will end up mostly being hers anyway. She's better with them, and the rest of us won't always remember why we should bother.
Rom says that it's not lying when she tells people what they want to hear. "It's just not all the truth," she tells us. Parts of me don't like that idea. Truth is, after all, a thing to be shared, a thing that helps everyone. Then again, truth is a tool, each fact a tool for the right moment to be applied in the right way, and we scare people enough already.
She covered months of political maneuvering and negotiations in a few blithe sentences at the end of her record of our trip to Ariel-- Everyone understands now. Things are going to be better, so much better. No one's going to interfere with Ariel because those people aren't hurting anybody and haven't done anything wrong. We'll all be happy.
She said it better than that, but it didn't mean anything more. I'm not sure she realized that when she wrote it. I'm not sure she didn't, either, not exactly. I think she was waiting to look at it until no one was watching but me and Bisty and Gloust, until it was safe.
I wouldn't have thought to lie, not as fast and as easy as she did. I knew she was doing it. I hadn't thought to, but she was right. That's why we'll probably always put her out front and let her talk for us when we have to convince people of something.
In the end, I told her why-- Calling the All Earth Council and leaders of Discovery cowards would have been true, but it also would have lost us everything we gained in the meetings. We'd have been pushed back into the rigid expectations of the old Discovery ways, and nobody'd have looked for Caper anyway.
That's where I started. I worried about Caper.
Don't get me wrong. I was mad at him. He hurt us. He tried to trap us all even more thoroughly than Earth and Discovery had. He tried to make us live with his preferences and needs, a slavery as profound as what he was trying to escape. I just don't think that means he deserves to live on Ariel, surrounded by people who don't trust him, by people expecting disaster at any moment and blaming him for it.
Assuming he's still alive.
We didn't see them kill anyone. I don't think they've gone that far, but it's not that great a distance from callousness and brutality to murder to war. I can understand why nobody wants to talk to them. It might be catching.
As much as the people happy to stay on Earth feared the differences in those who'd chosen to leave for Discovery, people in Discovery fear those who chose to leave for illicit colonization. The people of Earth fear Ariel more than we do. We're alien to Earth. Ariel is another incomprehensible step removed.
We aren't cowards. We haven't forgotten Ariel or the other colonies that are certainly scattered through the galaxy.
Romula let them all read the record as soon as she finished it. She didn't ask how well they thought she'd done. She wanted to, but she wasn't sure she could face either praise or criticism. "I wasn't sure how much I should say about the meetings." She hesitated. "There're other records, official records." She studied her friends, trying to guess what they were thinking. After a few seconds of silence, she asked, "What will you do now?"
Waver looked at her for a few seconds, looking as if he were deciding something, then smiled. "What else? Study everything." He spread his arms apart as if to embrace the universe.
They all laughed, and Gloust tossed a pillow at Waver's head.
Bisty shrugged. "Going back to the question-- Nothing's changed for me."
Romula wondered if Bisty really believed that but couldn't think of a polite way to ask.
Gloust looked at the ceiling. "I thought about going to the colonies, whenever they get those going, but...." He shook his head. "Will it even work? I don't want to be like them."
Like the colonists on Ariel, he means. Romula bit her lip, wanting to offer reassurance but not really certain how.
Bisty took one of Gloust's hands in hers. She didn't say anything.
She only cares because he does. She wouldn't mind never breathing fresh air again.
"I think so," Waver said. "Ariel's colonists were poisoned by fear."
Romula gave him a sharp look, trying to understand what he meant. "If you say so." She folded her arms across her chest to let him know that she was waiting for an explanation. Feeling the new bulge of her chest, she lowered her arms and turned away. That feels wrong. She picked up a reader and tried to pretend that that was what she'd meant to do all along.
"The real reason nobody's going to talk to them is that the Council's afraid to take responsibility for making them that way." Waver sounded absolutely certain of it. "They're ashamed. They don't want to admit that their fear of us-- their xenophobia--" He sounded proud of the big word. "--made them hurt people that badly. The people on Ariel aren't happy. They're happier, but they're not happy. They prefer it to the options they know about. Who knows what they'd choose with our options? Nobody's going to ask them."
Gloust made a grumbling noise. He hated thinking about the men he'd met and how close he'd come to joining them.
If not for Bisty.... Romula liked to think that he'd chosen for all three of them, but she knew that Bisty had mattered more.
"None of them ever told me their names." Gloust set his jaw and met Waver's eyes. "I don't think they're human any more."
Waver shrugged and plucked the reader out of Romula's hands. She suspected that he disagreed and was glad he wasn't going to argue it.
The number of habitable planets with no minded life actually isn't that large. The galaxy is vast, but habitable planets-- at least for our species-- are limited. If one includes those habitable by other species, the number jumps, but it doesn't grow by much.
I've disguised my search for hidden colonies by saying that I'm looking for planets that might be open for the colonies the Council has approved. There are dozens of people doing similar searches. Both habitable planets and almost habitable planets are a resource other minded species have exploited. Some species even reshape worlds to be closer to ideal. Humans never have. We don't even know how.
I'm not even looking at planets that are almost right. Escaping Discovery agents stupid enough to settle on marginal planets are dead. There's no way around that. None. I think that's why Bisty and I get along so well. We both understand that what's out there will kill us if we're not prepared and smart and careful. We just worry about different environments.
Waver's plan isn't one I'd have gone along with normally. I don't want to find those hidden colonies. I don't think we'll like any of what we discover out there. Waver thinks the problems can be fixed. I'm not so sure.
Still, I have reasons. The first, the one I'll admit to, is that any planet that's likely to work for sanctioned colonies probably already has a secret colony. Ariel was never officially claimed by anyone because the explorers who found it didn't report it properly. Any planet we can use will be one either new to us or unreported. An unreported planet probably has a secret colony, and a secret colony is a danger.
Waver thinks that at least some secret colonies will be on worlds with other minded species. He says that some species must have seen how terrible Discovery was and been willing to offer escape. That's his belief. I don't see that it matters. People like that may end up not human, but they won't threaten us.
My other reasons for going along.... Well, that's obvious enough, isn't it? The other three are my family. They want this. They need this. I need them. I need the four of us together.
About an hour later, Gloust and Bisty went out for a walk. As soon as they were gone, Romula asked, "Do you really think it's just fear?" She'd been holding the question back out of fear of open argument. The pod is all we have right now.
Waver marked his place carefully and looked up at her. "Almost certainly. And we've left them with more fear and done nothing to ease it." He stood up.
"I don't really understand." I don't want to understand. I have to understand.
"Gloust looks at them the way Earth looks at us."
She shifted from one foot to the other. "That's a good thing, though. If he didn't.... I couldn't have rescued you and Bisty on my own. I'd have tried, but...."
"I didn't like them either." The words came out just above a whisper. She refused to meet his eyes. They must have been like us once, but...I don't like to think about that. I don't want it to be possible to get from here to there.
"You couldn't have helped sooner." He put a hand on her back and stroked. "I'm glad you know how to talk fast."
"I was surprised they believed me." She managed a smile. "I was terrified for you."
He sighed. "I worry about Caper."
She felt her spine stiffen. "He wanted to be there."
"Yes." He waited for her to agree.
She closed her eyes. I liked Caper. Before. "Do you think they hurt him?"
"I don't know." He squeezed her shoulder. "From what you heard.... Knowing would be better than wondering. They may not even be on Ariel any longer."
What? She turned to look at him. "You think they'd risk self-placement through space?" If they hit a screen they might die, and they couldn't take anything with them. She shook her head.
"They might have a ship." He didn't sound like he believed it. "And there aren't so many screens in that sector."
I understand screens, but they're cruel, too.
"The people on Ariel-- and on any other secret colony-- are the price of what we've been promised."
She froze, staring at him. It's true. Waver's always right about people. Her mind tested the statement then weighed the alternatives. "Losing what the Council promised won't help them." Give me an alternative. Please. "We're not supposed to have to--" She shook her head. The adults aren't going to fix this.
"I think we can find them. Not quickly and not safely, but we could."
She pulled away and pretended to study one of Bisty's diagrams. "We can't do it now. Maybe not for years." I'm not saying no.
"Late is better than never."
She could see his forced smile out of the corner of her eye.
"It's a goal that will need all four of us. I still want to study, but--" He waved a hand to cut himself off. "I keep thinking-- Has Caper run out of pain medication yet? Does he miss having pictures of his wife?"
"I'm not ready to think about Caper." She met Waver's eyes. "I can think about the rest of them, but I'm not ready to think about him." She took a deep breath to steady herself. "What do we need to do?"
I told Waver that I don't want to think about Caper, and I don't. I really don't. I decided that his life was worth less than ours. If he's dead, then I killed him. Indirectly but nevertheless. I never completely understood how Caper could underestimate us so badly. I thought he knew us. Maybe he never really saw us, even though we thought he did.
We certainly never really saw him.
Discovery pushes everyone to look outward, at the stars, at ships, at anything but each other. Maybe that's been part of the problem. Nobody ever bothered trying to figure out what people needed to keep being people. My account of events on Ariel made the All Earth Council look at us and really see us as human.
Thousands of people in Discovery and the All Earth Council never saw any of us as anything but a resource until my record became public. Maybe it's hard to use a person you see as a person.
I'm glad that we accomplished something, even if it's something we never thought needed doing. I don't think we're done stirring things up. To be done at fourteen would be a waste. That's why I like Waver's plan. It needs doing, and nobody's going to do it unless we push in the right places. We're good at that.
Discovery devours people. Even with the planned changes, it still will until somebody makes it change. I think that's our job. Nobody's going to thank us for it, either. Change hurts too much.
Maybe that's why Waver and Bisty can forgive Caper more easily than Gloust and I can. They changed less than we did. I'm not sorry to have grown up, but it still hurts.
Romula spent a week trying to decide how to explain Waver's plan to Bisty. Waver'd said he'd talk to Gloust. She rather thought that talking to Gloust would have been easier, but she wasn't sure what would convince him either.
She and Bisty were in one of the recreational caverns, sitting on the grass and sharing a meal. Romula tried to pretend that the artificial turf and the artificial trees and the artificial wind were real. She plucked a blade of synthetic grass. "I wish I didn't know the real thing," she said. She'd made the same complaint often enough since Ariel that she expected Bisty to ignore her.
Instead, Bisty said, "It doesn't smell as good." She ran her hand over the turf, skimming just close enough for the blades of grass to bend under her fingers.
"What? I enjoyed being there, too. At least the good parts." Bisty rubbed her arms. The bruises had taken more than an octave to fade. "My work's here. That doesn't mean I think the place is perfect." She lay back on the grass and looked up at the ceiling. "I bet we could get real grass to grow here if we worked at it."
Romula made a face. "You know they'd say it was too messy and too much work." She dug her fingers into the turf, feeling for soil that wasn't there.
"Probably," Bisty agreed. "Maybe people need some mess." She propped herself up on one elbow. "Life support ought to do some of that. If humans need it to survive, we ought to be doing it."
"Maybe we forgot." Romula took a deep breath. "I think.... The first people in Discovery forgot that what they needed wasn't what everybody needed. Some people don't need life around them."
Bisty laughed softly. "Most people do. It's just different kinds of life. That's what the pods are for, you know. It's bad for humans to grow up isolated. I asked. After we got back, after we'd been without the dessert-energy bars, I asked why we needed them, and Quest Wenter explained. I don't like thinking of growing up as an engineering problem, but somebody did. Delaying puberty, raising us in pods, all of it was planned to keep us sane."
"That's stupid!" Then Romula started thinking about it. She frowned. "I don't know...."
"While the Council was here, I asked some questions about how children live on Earth. It's...different." Bisty shook her head. "Mostly, you live with people you're related to. Family."
"Ah." Romula looked away. "Our pod's our family, right?"
"It's supposed to be."
Romula looked back to see Bisty giving her a hard look.
"You and Waver are up to something," she said.
Romula opened her mouth then closed it again.
"What? I wasn't supposed to notice? It's more than pairing secrets."
Romula looked down at her hands. "He's got a plan. He wants to accomplish something, all of us together. There's not a lot of ordinary Discovery work that wouldn't separate us, you know."
"He thinks the lost colonies need to be found. He thinks no one else will." Romula tapped her fingers together. "We could."
Silence lay between them for a while. Finally, Bisty said, "I don't know."
"You don't have to." Romula tried not to let desperation into her voice. "We don't want you to have to do anything. We're not Caper."
Bisty reached over and tugged on Romula's ear. "I never thought you were." She sighed. "I don't know because you haven't explained why or how or anything else."
Romula laughed, more due to relief than in humor. "I don't know any of the how yet. I don't think Waver does either. We need you and Gloust for that. The why, I pretty much understand. It has to do with letting people make informed choices."
Finding a way to identify or track a handful of lifeforms on a planet is a task that's been brought up more than once in the history of Discovery. It's always been theoretical. It's a brain breaker, a thought problem with no real solution. We can detect heat. We can track signals. We can find technology.
Life, however, defeats us. Life varies too much. Humanity, too, is a difficulty. How we define it dictates what we find. Is it certain biochemical processes? Is it certain ways of thinking and relating to the environment? The former might be detectable. The latter certainly isn't.
On a planet with little life, a human would be easier to find. On a planet filled with life, it's much harder. We've yet to manage either. I can't help thinking that there must be a way. Implanting a tracer in Discovery agents might be a future mechanism, but it does nothing about those already missing.
It's also a step that would drive more people away from Discovery, even with the real lack of privacy to which we're already accustomed. Most people seem to assume that no one's looking even when everybody's just pretending not to look.
I think my friends would be surprised that I understand that. They don't expect me to look up from the latest device or plan long enough to know that people are complicated, but part of designing survival systems, good ones anyway, lies in understanding the people who'll use them. In this case, people want to-- need to-- believe that there are times when nobody's near, when nobody's watching. They want to think that they're unique and different from everyone else. Their needs are special and more important than anyone else's.
I knew that before. I just didn't really understand it. If I'd understood it, I might have predicted Caper. I might not have, though. Nobody else did, after all. People as groups do the expected. Individuals not so much.
Still, if humans in secret colonies could be relied on to create technological artifacts, I could find them. Unfortunately, that would take generations. I don't think Rom and Waver plan to be that patient. Right now, though, those people know that somebody's looking for them and that certain power sources and certain pieces of equipment can be tracked. They don't want to be found. They'll stick with fire, wind, water and their own bodies. I don't know how to track any of that, how to filter out the noise.
That's the challenge. I'll figure it out. There's something unique about minded life. There's something more unique about human minded life, about any specific minded species. I'll find out how to measure it, how to identify it. I'll make a tool to do it. I need to. I've promised that I will.
Then, when we're done, I'll destroy the tool. Some people shouldn't be found. Some people have reason to hide. Any tool can be a weapon as much as any haven can be a trap. It all depends on who's looking.