Home / Stuff / Downtime The first five chapters

Downtime

by Spiral Lobster

I

Demae was growing bored with Rain. He sat by the side of their bed, watching her sleep, trying to remember the last time their lovemaking had been anything other than formulaic. He had unrealistic standards for long term sexual coupling, his psyche profile told him. It also told him that he ignored his profile's warning of this. But he had made a career out of finding fault in profiling, in showing the discrepancy between truth and statistical proof, and he doubted he would ever reach a point in his life where he would trust the detached conclusions of a psychotechnician over his own instincts.
He had always shown promise in the field of applied philosophy, even from an early age. His parent had encouraged his talents right up to the point that Demae passed his sentience and responsibility exam and had become an accredited adult, at which point they had parted ways amicably and not seen each other since. One of the problems of a civilisation spread throughout the stars was that once you had said farewell to someone, there was never a guarantee that you would ever cross paths again.
Demae had striven to reach the point where he could attain a life contract as a ship's philosopher on one of the many Nomads that threaded between the waypoints and stationary colonies of the Ninshiki Foundation. It was the height of achievement for any philosopher, and for Demae it had only been achievable by accepting to pair bond with Rain. The fact that she had been the team leader onboard Janus had been both a blessing and a curse. He hadn't bonded for love, sex or procreation - all were available without the inconvenience of a pair bonding - he had bonded because he and Rain were both driven to be the best they could be, and it seemed that being together could fulfil their mutual needs. Tensions between the person giving instructions to a community the size of Janus' crew and the person empowered to approve or negate those decisions were unavoidable.
It seemed a strange thing to enter into a relationship with someone you hadn't met, just on the basis that psyche profiles had indicated tangible advantages to performance estimates, but spaces in a Nomad crew were limited and Demae had known that if he was ever to succeed he would have make some compromises. In this case, the compromise had been a pleasant one, and his relationship with Rain had been a wonderful experience until recently. Now it seemed that they were certain to come up short on their profiles' predictions of a 66% chance of three years, plus or minus sixth months; 3% pair bond until death.
What little history survived suggested to Demae that there was once a time that people always pair bonded until death. Whether this was because they actually loved each other, or because the customs of the time eschewed breaking relationship contracts wasn't at all clear. It must have been exciting, Demae reasoned, being able to make passes at people without any foreknowledge of how events might transpire - the humiliation of attempting relations with someone of an incompatible sexuality, or even not knowing one's own sexuality. But how strong could relationships formed solely by chance encounters possibly be compared to those carefully estimated by psychotechnics? It was one of many questions that might never have an answer.
The Charter ensured that members of the Foundation would live as productive a life as was attainable, both by helping members to make informed decisions, and by carefully eliminating those behaviours that might undermine an individual's position in their community. It was perhaps not an ideal system, but it had lasted several hundred years, the Charter being revised only slowly, as changes in opinion percolated through the vast, distributed network of Nomads and colonies to reflect new attitudes amongst the Foundation members.
He watched Rain shift in her sleep, perhaps dreaming of her life before Demae, or of the early days when their association had been vibrant and challenging. But the steady stream of psychological evaluations that had followed had attempted to tune their relationship to an arbitrary concept of perfection, and the closer they had seemed to be to that goal the less comfortable Demae had felt with the products of that tinkering. Perhaps he just resented the interference. Perhaps he would have liked to make his own mistakes.
Rain stirred and leaned across the bed to where Demae sat, brooding.
"Having trouble sleeping?" she asked.
"Hai," he replied, using the standardized affirmation on Janus.
"You take too many recreational chemicals," she chided warmly as she stretched out under the covers.
"I need them for my work," Demae protested.
"You don't need them in the quantities you currently use," Rain said, her disapproval apparent.
"I like to think that's my choice and not my psychotechnician's," Demae snapped. "The Charter still allows me some freedom of expression."
"Please don't start," Rain replied quietly. "I've only just woken up."
Demae found his anger was slow to subside. "I was just thinking that myself."
An uncomfortable silence blanketed the sleep cell.
"Do you think we're coming up short on the estimate?" Rain asked sadly.
Demae hung his head, his bitterness temporarily subsiding. "Let's not talk about profiles. You know how it depresses me."
He leaned across to kiss her, and she responded with uncharacteristic passion. Demae flinched with surprise, old instincts making him doubt whom he was with.
"Are you wearing a new personality?" he asked.
"Hai." She grinned sheepishly. "I..."
He put a finger to her lips. He could guess what was happening. Presumably she'd read his recent profile about his complaints over their sex life, and had gone out and acquired a new sexual personality for him, one designed to help them through their current problems. It was by no means a casual step, even with psychotechnic programming at the advanced state that it was.
She really loves me, he thought. Why don't I love her?
He ran his hand down her side and kissed her gently. Whatever problems they might be experiencing, Demae could never resist her, especially when she went to such great lengths to ensure she was everything he desired in a woman. It was only after their love making that the shame of being manipulated so easily began to undermine his self esteem.
They made tender love, and he took another virginity from her. For all that was new and different (and he couldn't deny that the moment of transfiguration was intense and close to perfect in its timing) it was still the same formula he had grown to hate: a personality built to please him. Why did the psyche profile never make it clear no custom-built personality was ever going to satisfy him in any way other than the physical?
When they lay in each other's arms afterwards, neither spoke. 3% seemed such a hopeless chance of making it last.



Janus was still several months from its next waypoint. In principle it could reach its destination faster - the Nomad's engines could handle a higher degree of thrust, but the crew could not. Its acceleration and deceleration had to be as close to one gee as was attainable, effectively producing a force equivalent to gravity opposite to the direction of travel. It was convenient from the point of view of day to day life, but it meant that the waypoints where vessels met and changed course were by necessity months or even years of shiptime apart.
Their next waypoint was open, a mathematically assigned vector calculated with the Ninshiki Foundation's current navigational equation. Hypothetically another vessel might be heading for the same waypoint, but they had no way of knowing until they were a couple of months closer. The Charter kept the Nomads circling around its stationary colonies in vast convoluted flight paths, occasionally passing through so-called tethered waypoints that passed close to planets the Foundation had chosen to inhabit.
The Charter served to protect the members of the Foundation both from themselves and from any threats external to itself. No-one knew what those threats might be, but it was clear that the Foundation wasn't the only clan to have left humanity's birthplace behind. Demae frequently wondered if the precaution of keeping as many people as possible in tiny communities, circling around aimlessly was justifiable caution or rampant paranoia.
It seemed likely to him that his own criticism of the Foundation's policy of caution had originated when he had been growing up on Silence, the stationary colony where he and his parent had parted ways. Contact drills were a regular occurrence, preparing for the possibility that the colony had to be evacuated in the event that an unidentified vessel was detected on a non-Foundation flight vector. Childhood fears decayed into habits, and later into doubt. Even if Silence wasn't a designated first contact outpost, it seemed cowardly to flee at the first sign of visitors, especially since the vastness of space kept such chance encounters to a legendary few. But the Foundation refused to risk its flight equations being intercepted, and whilst the dominant attitude amongst its members was for discretion Demae had no choice but to bow to the will of the majority.
Demae's anti-Foundation opinions had been the reason he had been channeled into philosophy. An ability to criticize assumptions was considered a definite asset in that field, although many people complained that he was wasting his time going into what they saw as a pointless profession. Even if the Charter still required crews to carry at least one philosopher, the slow trend was towards more people in scientific professions. In another few hundred years stationary time, the position of ship's philosopher might no longer be a requirement.
Alone among the Janus' crew, Demae avoided filling his spare neural capacity with science or mathematical patches, preferring reference patches and, his personal preference, a vast array of historical patches. His implanted knowledge of the past had helped him with his greatest academic achievement so far; a patch on the uselessness of neural patches in the teaching of philosophy that had apparently been well received throughout the Foundation.
He enjoyed the irony but considered it such an obvious conclusion that he didn't like to bask in his own glory. The maths, and most of the science, could be learnt mechanically - overlaying a neural patch of the knowledge was often an ideal starting point. But good philosophy came from rejecting the old ideas and replacing them with new ones. How else could philosophy hope to grow?
His job, according to his life contract, was to 'advise on the sociological and personal impact of any decision', and was technically a senior position on the crew. For the most part, it consisted of hanging around the recreation area and operating the drug synthesizer. He knew how to make over five hundred liquid, solid and gaseous recreational chemicals, and did his best to learn about the histories of them all. Although his consumption of drugs was quite substantial and varied, he preferred an ancient beverage, strongly resembling a viscous, black pool of effluence, which linguistic archaeologists assured him was called 'the property of guin'.
Janus' decks were divided into rooms of various sizes that were generally referred to as cells, on account of their uniform simplicity and ubiquity. They varied from the tiny sleep cells up to the larger chambers housing more specialized equipment and fauna. The recreation area was the largest single chamber on Janus. There were certain parts of the ship with webs of interconnected cells that might be considered larger in some senses, but recreation was the hub of all social activities, the home of all the larger plant species that grew onboard and the area with the largest population of techno-organic Harvesters that were by far the easiest source of food.
Demae loved the recreation area, not just because it was easy to acquire recreational chemicals there but because it offered such a unique view of the community on Janus. It was somewhere you could go to be alone, or to be in a crowd, to tell stories or to solicit for sexual contact. It had versatility, which was a trait Demae admired.
He was alone, drinking his property of guin when Rain arrived.
"Pleasantry," she greeted, kissing his forehead.
"And to you," he responded mechanically as she sat down opposite him, frowning. He could tell from her body language that this wasn't going to be a professional discussion, and he put his glass on the table.
"If you want dissolution now..." she started, uncomfortably.
"No," he sighed. "No, Rain, it's not like that."
"Well, what is it?"
"I... I don't know." He picked up his glass nervously and rolled it around in his hand. "But I'll be damned if I'm giving up a good thing just because I'm a little introspective. I mean, we can be really good together..."
She took his hand and smiled. Demae smiled weakly, downed his remaining property of guin and began dreading his next psyche profile. For a while they were silent.
"Look, there's no point in me lying about this, I do want to dissolve the pair bonding - wait, hear me out. Please? The thing is, I also know I have a self-destructive tendency, and I can't help thinking that leaving you would just be giving in to that."
It was the first honest thing he'd said to her in weeks, and he immediately knew it was a mistake.
"If you have anything to say to me, I'll be in cartography." she said, walking away.
He knew what he had to do. She wanted him to go to her, apologize and say it was all his fault. To ask for her forgiveness. It wasn't that unreasonable, under the circumstances. Instead, he drank three more servings of property of guin, composed a short but insightful patch on erotic logic systems and decided to work out his anger by visiting his psychotechnician.



Knave's relationship with Demae had been less than friendly almost from the moment Demae had arrived on Janus. Knave, to his credit, remained the professional psychotechnician throughout, refusing to let Demae's attitude get to him. Demae insisted that since it was Knave's job to help maintain the mental and social health of the crew that he should be permitted to indulge in his repeated abuse of Knave's services. After all, Knave's psyche profile of Demae clearly showed that being allowed to blow off steam in this way helped his performance estimates and had insufficient negative impact on Knave to justify making changes.
"It's not like you to be early for a profile," Knave said warmly, knowing full well that Demae had come for other reasons. Getting a psyche profile out of Demae was always a long and painful process, but one that Knave had always found strangely satisfying. A little unpredictability was good for the crew's personal evolution.
"I didn't come for a profile," Demae stated obviously. He sat down in one of the seats against the wall, sitting sideways on from Knave. "I came for advice."
Knave tried not to smile. It was exceptionally unlikely that Demae would come to him for advice. He began to speculate as to what Demae's agenda was. "I'm always happy to assist in any way I can," he said.
Knave watched as Demae played with the fronds of one of the plants growing out of the walls. Janus' hull was metal and stone, but infected with a techno-organic agent that in a very real sense was the ship. The plants that they grew in crevices and parts of the floor were part of the delicately maintained ecosphere that recycled everything onboard.
It looks as if he was angry, and decided to come here to work out his frustrations on me, Knave mused. Except he's calmed down on the way over and now he doesn't know what to do next. If he had been angry, it must have been a personal problem - a disagreement with Rain would be most likely. Otherwise he wouldn't be thinking about philosophical issues.
"It's hard to say where life begins, isn't it," Knave said aloud. It was a carefully composed gambit to take advantage of what Knave predicted Demae was thinking about, and to draw him into discussing an area the philosopher was comfortable with.
"The latest consensus on life is that any thing which replicates itself is alive," Demae said without passion.
"But you disagree?"
"Fire replicates itself," Demae observed. "I wouldn't consider fire alive."
"What do you think they're missing?" Knave asked.
"The power to grow and evolve - something all organic and techno-organic cells have in common." Demae frowned. "That and a sense of balance between rules and freedom of expression," he said bitterly.
Turning the issue around into an attack on the Charter, Knave thought. He's exceedingly bitter today.
"Surely we need some rules just to act as common ground," Knave suggested.
"You make it sound as if the rules are our servants," Demae replied bitterly.
"We have the power to change them if we want," Knave countered.
"Not easily. And besides, rules that serve a majority will always be a prison to minorities."
Knave began to build a clearer model of what had happened. Demae and Rain were experiencing personal problems, and Demae blamed the psyche profiles, believing his relationship with Rain would be different if she wasn't required to read
"You believe that's the problem here?" Knave asked with a purposeful vagueness.
"I feel the Ninshiki Foundation has reached an evolutionary rut," Demae replied.
"You're still not comfortable calling it the Foundation, are you?"
"That implies we are the only Foundation in existence," Demae noted.
"As far as we know, we are," Knave observed, "but I see your point." He wondered if agreeing with Demae would actually cause him to stop insisting on referring to their clan in its full name. It was one of Demae's habits that made certain members of the crew uncomfortable, for reasons that remained unclear. He hadn't mentioned it to Demae in the certain knowledge that something about Demae's personality took great pleasure in standing in the way of Knave's goals. But if Demae couldn't control it and it began to impact on productivity, steps would have to be taken and Knave preferred to resolve issues as indirectly as possible.
Demae's attention returned to the leaves he had taken an interest in. "Everything in the Foundation tends towards balance," he said quietly. "Our ecosystems and our society is stuck in a cycle of self preservation. We don't have any room left to evolve."
"Surely natural selection works here as well as anywhere else," Knave suggested. "The fact that we aim to maximize our efficiency simply means that our methods give us sufficient evolutionary advantage to persist."
"If a new bacteria was introduced here on Janus," Demae began, "one that was extremely efficient in what it did but which didn't benefit our current goals, would we tolerate it?"
"I'm not a bacterial engineer," Knave observed. "That would be an issue for them to resolve."
"It's a hypothetical question, Knave. You can think hypothetically can't you?"
"Of course, most of my work is hypothetical..." Knave chastised himself for not spotting Demae's metaphor sooner. It was a typical approach for Demae, after all. He considered how best to continue. "I would like to think that if it wasn't of direct benefit to Janus we'd isolate it and pass it on to other people. If someone else found its design useful, we would certainly make it to available to them."
"But you'd consider it prudent to isolate its influence here as a precaution."
He's baiting me. Knave hadn't considered that Demae might seriously be considering leaving the crew. "If the problem was a bacterial species, hai."
"And if it was a person?"
Uncharacteristically direct, Knave noted to himself. Demae must be having doubts about his role, which will almost certainly mean he'll be visiting Castle later. That would allow me a certain latitude in how I approach this problem now, since he can affect Demae's moods far more effectively than I can.
"Are you concerned that I may have made a mistake with your life contract?" Knave asked.
"Not the life contract as such," Demae replied. "But the community that contract serves, certainly."
"You are a valuable member of the crew," Knave reported honestly. "You are the best ship's philosopher that's served here in my tenure, and what you perceive as negative, I view as a strength."
"You think it's an advantage to attack everything everyone else holds dear?" Demae said coldly.
"I perceive advantages in that approach. Isn't that the purpose of philosophy?"
"I feel that I'm the rogue bacteria, and it's your job to isolate and redirect me."
"The only realistic way to isolate you would be to put you into cryptobiosis, but that's an extreme step and one that would certainly reduce the crew's overall performance."
"So you wouldn't authorize such a decision?" Demae asked.
"It would be unprofessional of me to do so," Knave replied. He could predict Demae's next question confidentially.
"But you couldn't prevent me doing it, could you?" There was a bitter glee in Demae's voice.
"I would certainly attempt to persuade you otherwise. You're still young and healthy, your life's work wouldn't benefit from extended longevity. With the exception of your parent, you have no significant relationships exterior to Janus, and you appear to be content with the nature of your sexual role and relationships here. I can't ascertain any conspicuous reason that either you or the crew would benefit from a period of suspended animation."
"Hai, I'm sure you don't." Demae stood up slowly and began to walk out of the work chamber resolutely.
"Please don't do anything foolish, Demae," Knave chastened. He immediately recognized his mistake.
"I'll make use of the freedom I have in whichever way I choose," Demae stated as he stood ready to exit. "That's what the Charter is for, isn't it?"
After Demae had left, Knave took a moment to go over the tactical errors he had made in his conversation with Demae. Then, as a matter of procedure, he performed a calculation and sent a message one of the crew's medical technicians informing them of a 75% chance that a crew member would be requesting cryogenic leave in the next few days. It seemed the most efficient course of action.



II

Castle had no idea where his body was, his mind lost in the delicate embrace of Communion with the consciousness of the vast techno-organic vessel that was Janus. It was the most important part of his life contract, and his greatest pleasure in life. He had left behind the senses of his human body, and let his sensorium fill with Janus' perceptions. It was an intimacy he could never share with any of the other members of the crew, despite his frequent sexual experimentation with anyone who was willing.
Experiments with primate to primate Communion had produced disastrous results. In principle, it should have been easy for two consciousnesses sharing a common substrate to share their minds, but the reality had proved substantially different. Whilst in Communion, both entities functioned as if they shared a common mind - two identities rapidly readjusting to become a single organism with one integrated personality and set of memories. When the Communion had been severed, the subjects had to be given large doses of sedatives to stop the screaming. When interviewed about it, the one subject who managed to talk had said that it was like becoming a whole new being, with a greater understanding of what it meant to be a primate, and then her mind was torn apart and she didn't know what she was anymore, or how she could go on living. The experiments were discontinued, and even now were implicitly disallowed.
Communion between the techno-organics and primates had proved safe, although harder to implement. Techno-organic life forms arranged their neural pathways on a different substrate and used different schema, limiting the degree to which the two minds could come into direct contact and protecting both from the assimilation of their identities into one corporate entity. The experience was like finding oneself within another person's dream, able to tap into their senses and share their thoughts. Speech became obsolete as direct mental conversation allowed non-verbal information to sift as images and impressions between the two minds. Disagreements, when they occurred, were perceived to be differences in the fundamental beliefs of the individual and nothing more.
Castle loved Janus as much as he loved any of the crew, and his times in Communion were intimate and personal. The bond between techno-organics and primates was often beyond ties of family or friendship, which was why the Foundation limited the number of people who were permitted to enter into Communion with the fully-sentient Nomads. Castle was one of the privileged few permitted to enter into Communion with Janus on a regular basis, entrusted to ensure the contentedness of the vessel just as the vessels natural instincts were to ensure the contentedness of its crew.
Castle became aware that part of Janus was drawing his attention to the recent incident between Demae and Knave. It didn't use language in any tangible fashion, but has an intuitive understanding of what had transpired and could tell that there was a problem to be resolved, and that either or both parties would come to Castle sooner or later, either to discuss it or for other reasons. Most likely, for other reasons.
In all his time as Janus' virtual confident, Castle had never comprehended how the ship perceived sex. It was clear it appreciated that a healthy, directed sex life was an important factor in the happiness of the crew, and in the efficiency of their work. But the experience of sex was lost to it, and despite Castle's ample store of memories of the activity it could never really understand it in terms beyond mutual self-maintenance.
Castle had entered into abstract debate with Janus about the issue on many occasions, but their recurring conclusion was that Janus felt a certain sense of isolation. It was, in some sense at least, present at every social gathering and sexual encounter that occurred onboard, but always as an observer (although its attention was not so absolute that it could actively concentrate on everything that took place inside its hull). They had mused about whether Janus lived a vicarious sex life with the crew via Castle, and whether Castle's ongoing love affair with the vast majority of the crew was Janus' love for its occupants manifesting itself through Castle.
When he was not in Communion with the ship, Castle was often struck by the fact that his two most frequent (but by no means exclusive) sexual partners were Knave and Demae. He wondered if he was acting as Janus' ambassador, attempting to reconcile the two greatest dissenting views onboard. He had attempted to hide this paranoid thought from Janus, fearing the ship might be offended by this view in some way. If it had ever felt that thought in his mind, he had never seen any sign of it. And the truth of the matter was that Castle felt anything but used.
Janus made Castle aware of Demae's impending arrival at the sleep cell he was working from. Castle preferred not to use the designated work cells to do his job, which after all only required him to put on a neuroclip and exchange his sensorium for Janus'. He preferred an environment which maximized the possibility of any random encounters with other members of the crew being ended with (or punctuated by) sexual contact. Not that sex in a work cell wasn't possible or enjoyable, they just weren't as well equipped for the job.
Castle made a note of which techno-organic subsystems were not functioning quite as well as they could, and removed the neuroclip from his temple. He was temporarily disoriented by the loss of information from the ship's senses being lost to him, but rapidly regained control of his own body, and an awareness of just where he had left it.
"Pleasantries," Demae said meekly as he entered. "I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
"Never," Castle replied. "You know my door is always open."
"Amongst other things," Demae said, smiling.
"Come in," Castle said, gesturing towards the bed he was sitting on. "What can I do for you?"
Ordinarily, Castle would visit Demae for only one reason: sex. Demae in turn would visit Castle for only one reason: punishment. In both instances, the outcome was the same. They'd load up on sexual hormones and perform acts of liberating sodomy until one of them passed out. It was, the whole, an equitable arrangement, and one that had served them both well. Most of the time Demae was content to sate his lusts with Rain, but there were times when he needed Castle, and the terms of his pair bonding to Rain allowed them both the luxury to have other sexual partners, if they wished.
Sexual stimulants were one of the few classes of recreational chemicals that Castle really enjoyed. Demae had a broad-based appetite for chemicals that Castle admired but couldn't keep up with. Besides, so many of Demae's chosen drugs inhibited sexual performance or sensation which wasn't an experience that Castle considered worth exploring.
Castle regained consciousness first, feeling a nagging need to slip on a neuroclip and share his recent experiences with Janus but resisting on the grounds that it was impolite to start gossiping when the subject of that gossip was still in your bed. When Demae eventually regained consciousness, Castle was applying dermal tape to the scratch marks on his back.
"Trouble with Rain," Castle stated.
Demae sighed. "It's all my fault, of course."
"Which is why you came to me."
"I needed to not think for a while," Demae explained.
"I'd always thought that was a state you were more than capable of achieving by yourself," Castle observed.
Demae took Castle's hand and squeezed it hard. "I wanted some company."
"You miss Rain, I'm just a substitute." There was no trace of complaint in Castle's words.
"It hasn't really been long enough for me to miss her," Demae observed.
"What happened?" Castle asked.
"It doesn't matter what happened, it just matters that it was my fault."
"Don't be so quick to assign blame, Demae. Besides, there's every chance you'll work it out."
"That's not the point, is it." Demae sat up, feeling defeated. "If I don't apologize, she shouldn't take me back. It wouldn't be fair to her."
"So apologize. Feeling guilty isn't helping anyone."
Castle lay back on the bed in a way that seemed to say 'this advice isn't free, you know.'
Demae was coming down from the hormone stims, but knew that sometimes sex was about duty and not about personal wishes. Besides, it did him good to forget his own concerns and concentrate on someone else's for a while. He crawled over Castle's body carefully and began to caress his penis.
"Tell me how I can do that and keep my dignity." He slid it carefully into his mouth and began to apply a steady, skilled pressure.
"Well, I don't see that your dignity is the thing you should most be worried about," Castle began, letting a short sigh escape him as Demae adjusted his rhythm.
"What you need to do is forget about... forget about, well, forget about how foolish you feel and go to... um... go down to wherever...I mean, go across to wherever she is and..." Castle's voice trailed off momentarily as he lost himself in the sensation. It was getting hard to concentrate. "What was I saying? Oh, you and Rain. Hmm... well, you just go... um... you just go down to where she is..."
"Ardogofee."
"Well, go down to... ahhh... to cartography... and... and... and... ahhhh!" Castle sighed. "Apologise," he finished, panting. He rolled onto his front and let his relaxed frame drape across the bed, his dark skin still glistening with sweat.
"Gratitude for the advice," Demae said, patting him on the buttocks and beginning to dress.
"Don't mention it," Castle replied, feebly.
"I was about to head over to the recreation area," Demae announced as he finished dressing. "Would you care to join me?"
"Apologies, Demae," Castle almost whispered. "I have some work I should be doing."
"I didn't mean to..." Demae began.
Castle raised his hand to silence him. "That's quite alright. I'm quite sure Knave will accept this as a legitimate performance expense."
"Yours or mine?" Demae asked.
"Either will do," Castle replied.
"Is it ethical to be having regular sexual contact with your psychotechinician?"
Castle was vaguely aware of some discomfort in Demae's voice. He suspected it was unwise to have mentioned Knave. "Well it's about as ethical as having sexual contact with the ship's philosopher, I suppose," Castle said warmly. "But not as much fun."
"Flatterer," Demae replied. He paused. "What about the ship's philosopher and the team leader?"
"Demae," Castle exclaimed, smiling, "I'm not a philosopher; you are. I don't know the first thing about ethics. I know about techno-organic symbiosis and systems, I know how to read a psyche profile and how to have sex in a vast and satisfying array of styles. But philosophy is beyond me, I'm afraid."
"I really don't believe philosophy is beyond anyone, Castle. It's just that professional philosophy gets so caught up in its own endeavours that it only succeeds in alienating people."
"Professional philosophical endeavours?" Castle said, laughing. "That would include ample experimentation with carefully synthesized chemicals?"
"Well," Demae said with a certain grim amusement, "I wouldn't suggest that me own personal efforts should be representative of philosophy as a whole."
Castle had a sudden instinctive feeling that he should encourage Demae that what he was doing was valuable. It seemed as if it was an intuition of Janus' that had lingered in his consciousness after they broke Communion. "You're much better than the previous philosopher's, you know."
"I appreciate the compliments, but..."
"I meant at your job," Castle explained, "not at sex. Although now you mention it, you are better at that as well."
"How have I used my skills to help anyone since I came aboard?" Demae challenged.
"You revitalized Rain," Castle pointed out.
"For a while," Demae countered.
"Knave's performance statistics have improved too."
"Only because he never had to work that much before I came onboard," Demae replied.
Castle opted to try a different approach. "The crew trust you. They like the fact that your judgement is there to temper any decisions are made."
"In other words I'm an attractive but ineffective barrier between the crew and the psychotechnicians."
Castle wasn't sure how to proceed. Demae's perceptions of the psychotechnicians' role on Janus was not one shared by anyone else onboard as far as he knew. Demae sometimes tended towards paranoia on the issue, but it wasn't Castle's place to break news of that nature to Demae, it was Knave's. Castle considered it prudent not to interfere with the more abstract aspects of the running of the ship. Eventually he said: "I don't feel you can judge your effectiveness without having a more objective perspective."
"Like Knave's for instance."
Castle looked forlornly at Demae. "Please don't fight with me; I'd like to think that's not what our relationship is for."
"You're right, apologies. I guess I'd better get going."
"Come back and see me later if you want," Castle suggested.
"Farewell, Castle - and gratitude for your time."
"Always a pleasure, Demae." Castle watched Demae leave, and the moment the door had closed immediately reached for the nearest neuroclip.
He slipped back into Communion with Janus, and relaxed into the blissful moment where all the new memories danced between their minds and settled into new equilibrium. Janus, he could sense, was disturbed by Demae's behaviour, which it perceived as erratic and abrasive. Castle in turn was distressed by the discovery that one of the cryptobiosis tubes was being routinely prepared.
They shared a sense of resigned desperation at how this situation would resolve itself.

*       *       *       *       *

Demae stood outside cartography for an hour, hoping Rain would come out spontaneously and he could be seen as casually passing by and - oh, by the way - sorry about that fight earlier, all my fault, you know how it is. It wasn't the apologizing he found difficult, it was having to go to her to do it. Something inside him balked at the idea; found it distressing and unpalatable. He suspected it was his own foolish pride.
He used the time spent waiting constructively to practice his skills at avoiding people in Janus' corridors, and at appearing to be going somewhere whilst actually remaining in the same place. They weren't actually skills useful for his life contract, but he reasoned that either his lingering would result in reconciliation between him and Rain (which would be good for both their performance estimates) or he would take himself out of the crew entirely (in which case it wouldn't matter at all).
He also used the time to think, and when he wasn't obsessing about the situation with Rain, he obsessed about how to get past Knave. The psychotechnician must have already advised someone to prepare a cryptobiosis tube, which meant Knave, or someone acting on his behalf, would probably be waiting by the only active tube to either talk him out of it, or to insist that he submit a profile before going on cryogenic leave. He either had to find a way around whoever would be there, or find an alternative.
Near the end of the hour, a young technician passed down the corridor and began working on part of the techno-organic systems. Demae had seen her around, but had no idea who she was beyond being a member of the technical team. It looked like she was adjusting the behaviour of an Ayah, one of the many minor techno-organic organisms that Janus maintained both for their benefits to the crew and as part of its own balanced ecology.
The Ayah was essentially nothing more than a rigid node of memory growing out of the hull. It collected and recycled Janus' nano-agents and teknekaryotic bacteria when they reached the end of their natural life-span, forming a bulbous growth that was in direct contact with Janus and which could be accessed by the crew with a neuroclip. They helped protect Janus from too much direct mental contract with the crew, and its metabolism recycled several useful chemicals that were by-products of other elements of the ship's ecology.
Demae considered querying the Ayah to find out about the woman, but he wasn't carrying a neuroclip and the nearest ones would be inside cartography - which was precisely where he didn't want to be. He was still hiding around the corner when she shouted out to him.
"Castle asked me to check over the subsystems on this deck."
"I'm not checking up on you," Demae said meekly.
"You seemed to have developed an healthy interest in what I was doing."
"Actually, I was..." He paused. I was hanging around hoping that my lover would pass by. It wasn't the picture he wanted to paint of himself. "I was looking for some help."
The technician seemed intent on the node she was working on. "With what?" she said with neither interest nor malice.
"Do you have any medical skills?" Demae asked.
"Hai, I'm a medical technician primarily."
"Could you help me with something when you've finished up here?"
"I'll help you now if you'd like," the woman said. "This isn't priority work. What do you need doing?"
"I need someone to put me into cryptobiosis," Demae said calmly, unsure of what she would make of his intentions.
The technician seemed to be unfazed. "I'm not an expert on cryogenic systems, but I know the principles."
"I'm certain Janus will have a patch for the procedure," Demae suggested.
"I don't use patches," the woman noted. "But don't worry, I can put you under if you want."
"Have you any experience?" The thought of someone removing all the water from his cells and then rapidly freezing them wasn't comforting, and the thought of it being done by someone who didn't know what they were doing was distinctly unnerving.
"Not with a sentient, no, but I've stored surplus scion organs in perfluorocarbon before."
"Clone tissue?" Demae asked. "Is it the same procedure?"
"Essentially, hai." The technician looked thoughtfully at the Ayah. "We'd have to link you up to a dreamopera, I suspect - give me an hour or so to research it. I'll contact you."
"I didn't realise you knew who I was," Demae said innocently.
"Demae, ship's philosopher. Currently pair bonded to the team leader, and 80% likely to go into suspended animation in the next two days."
Demae felt a sinking feeling. "Were you asked to be here by Knave?"
"No, like I said. Castle asked me to check out these systems."
Paranoia built convoluted paths in Demae's mind. Knave could have asked Castle to send someone down here to intercept him. Except he knew the crew didn't work that way. And even if it did, Knave couldn't possibly predict where he was, unless Janus told Castle who told Knave...
The technician couldn't read the expression on Demae's face, but she felt an explanation was in order. "I checked your profile through the Ayah when you came over," she said flatly.
Demae hadn't really thought about the neuroclip she was wearing. They were so common onboard that you quickly didn't notice them. "Apologies, I didn't think..."
"I'll let you know when I'm ready," she said, and walked away without saying anything else.
Demae was left wondering if she was this cold with the rest of the crew, and thought briefly about checking her psyche profile. Eventually, he decided that it would only feed his paranoia, and decided to get his affairs in order instead. Unfortunately, he quickly realized that he didn't actually have any affairs to put in order, since his principal contribution to the crew was working the drugs synthesizer and waiting patiently for his advice to be useful. It reaffirmed his decision to take himself out of the crew.
When the cryptobiosis tube was prepared, he readied himself to go to sleep. The medical technician seemed to be in control of the procedure, and had already acquired a quantity of the biologically inert perfluorocarbon liquid that would be housing his body for a while. She seemed to have every confidence in herself, and Demae decided not to discuss what he was doing with her in case he changed his mind.
It was just like going to sleep, he told himself. Except all the water is going to be removed from my cells and... and what? "How does this work?" he found himself asking.
"First I'm going to rig you up inside a dreamopera," she began in a matter-of-fact voice, "just to give your slowed mental processes something to keep themselves busy with. Then, I'm going to have to map the biological flora of your body; make sure we know what bacteria to restore to you when we, well, thaw you out. Then, once your mind is safely lost in the dreamopera I'm going to flood your body with a sugar called trehalose to stabilize your cell membrane structure during the freezing and strip your body of all its water with nano-agent."
"And I won't feel a thing?" Demae asked.
"I've never undergone the procedure, so I'm not really qualified to comment."
"That's not very comforting."
The technician didn't seem to understand the cause of Demae's discomfort. "It's a modified form of a survival mechanism that evolved in organisms called tardigrades - they must have used it for hundreds of centuries, so I'm quite sure it's safe. Of course, they're only a fraction of a millimetre in size, but they're multicellular so the principle should extend to primates."
"Why would a tiny creature like that need to survive cryogenic freezing?" Demae asked.
"I don't think it evolved for that purpose," the technician replied, "it just happened that in their hibernating state their metabolism was discontinued and they could survive massive changes in temperature and conditions."
"A fact that I suppose humans were happy to take advantage of."
"It's always the way with evolution," the woman mused, "you can never tell what value there is to an organism until you start looking for new solutions to old problems."
"Let's just get this over with," Demae suggested.
She nodded calmly. "Disrobe and lie on the table. I'll try and make this as fast as possible."
Demae wasn't greatly impressed with the woman's bedside manner, but she quickly and efficiently prepped him, and was soon lost in the distracting dreamopera Janus had selected for him. He had the impression he could feel the trehalose seeping through his body as he lost all physical sensation, and his thoughts turned to Rain briefly before he passed out of normal consciousness.
For the time being, he'd sleep to the next waypoint.



III

Rain was furious when she discovered what Demae had done, and her anger made her want to immediately call for him to be revived. But even though she was team leader on Janus, she still didn't have the right to interfere with the personal choices of the crew, not without some just cause. Demae's decision may well have been stupid, but he was permitted to make stupid mistakes if that was his wish, provided those decisions did not violate the Charter. If he wanted to leave the crew, there was nothing she could do about it but submit to his wishes. It just angered her so much to see him give up on their relationship so easily.
She stood in the chamber, staring at Demae's frozen body in its tube for over an hour, quietly fuming and running through in her head all the things she'd say to him when he was revived. He looked somehow peaceful, although it was hard to make out his features through the colourless perflurocarbon his frozen body floated within. Eventually, her professionalism took hold and she did what she always ended up doing when she had problems with her lover: she went to read his psyche profile.
Psychotechnic profiling was a part of daily life in the Foundation, and Rain had no reason to doubt that it was common in all of the organizations that made up post-Migration humanity. Profiles helped improve productivity and ensure the contentedness of the populace, as well as helping to prevent crime by identifying dangerous antisocial tendencies whilst they still existed as mere possibilities. The principle was simple: the subject's mind was placed in a dream-like state and connected to a Monitor; a techno-organic entity that tested the subject's responses to a variety of situations and stimuli.
The Monitors were a small species related to the Ayahs, although more specialized in their purpose. When a person's mind was connected to a Monitor via neuroclip the organism effectively mapped the neural connections and chemical patterns of that person's brain and endocrine system becoming a little microcosmic copy of that person's current personality. Not a perfect copy, but one with sufficient similarities that it could be used to generate percentage estimates. The Monitors were selected for their effectiveness, the varieties with the most accurate mappings being chosen to seed and hence continue to evolve towards a human-moderated idea of perfect utility.
The raw data from a Monitor was far too abstract to be understood directly, but a trained psychotechnician could use it to make long term forecasts for behaviour, like a meteorologist predicting the chance of precipitation in a planetary environment based on measurements taken from the atmosphere and the weather system's previous behaviour. Even an untrained individual could use a Monitor to make crude, short term estimates, once they had learned the basic methods.
Rain attached a neuroclip to her temple and felt her mind enter Communion with her personal Ayah. As a tiny fragment of the techno-organic ecology that was integrated into the ship's hull, the Ayah was her most frequent link into Janus' vast stores of information, and there was a pleasant familiarity to the way it felt in her mind. She had used other Ayahs from time to time, but she always preferred to use her own. They had a relationship, of a sort, although not one that existed on anything beyond a purely abstract level.
She asked Janus to link her with Demae's Monitor, and to call up the written psyche profile for her to read. Written reports were compiled by psychotechnicians periodically as a more accessible way of benefiting from the Monitors' data, and on the whole Rain preferred to read the profiles than attempt to interpret the Monitor personally. Over Communion she was able to absorb the profile as if she had read it in seconds, but she quickly concluded that it didn't help at all. She decided that what she really needed was either someone to talk to or something to get her out of her head, and both would be available down in the recreation area.
She had a brief look around to see who was there. Janus, omnipresent in a certain sense, illuminated her path towards those areas where people it thought she might wish to talk to were sitting. It's guesses on such matters were usually worth pursuing, both because it had good instincts and because sometimes you just had to wonder what had caused the ship to reach such a strange conclusion.
Knave was sitting in a clique site alone. Rain watched the vacant look on his face as he transcribed psyche profiles over a neuroclip, and wondered why he was in the recreation area. Knave seldom went there to work, and whenever he did it was usually with an ulterior motive. She sat beside him quietly and waited for his attention to stray in her direction.
"Rain. I'll be right with you," he said, his voice somewhat distant.
"There's no rush, Knave," she replied.
"Ah..." Understanding blossomed in Knave's voice. "You want to talk to me about Demae." He removed the neuroclip from the side of his face and turned to face Rain.
"We had another fight and he's put himself on cryogenic leave. Sometimes he makes me so..."
"Angry," Knave stated.
"Right. I can't escape the thought that we're going to have to get..."
"A contract of dissolution," Knave added.
Rain scowled, not appreciating her colleague's attempts at helpfulness. "That's a really bad habit, Knave."
"I know. I keep having it edited out, but it keeps resurfacing. It might be a core trait for my psyche phylum... we get impatient and want to finish other people's sentences when we know how they're going to end."
"It's easy to see why Demae doesn't get on with you," Rain observed.
"It's not me so much as the profiling. He can't stand being tied down to categories and numbers."
"Which makes it all the more ironic, I suppose."
"That he's a unicus?" Knave replied. "It's not that we can't classify unici, it's just a psyche phylum that presents certain logistical problems."
"You mean your predictions often deviate radically from what Demae actually does." There was a trace of humour in Rain's voice.
"It's a tricky phylum to work with," Knave admitted, "but the frequency of significant variations is comparatively low. It's just the extent of the variations that is often dramatic. It's his greatest strength as ship's philosopher, and I stand by my recommendation for his life contract."
"And what about your recommendation for our pair bonding?" Rain asked plaintively.
"There's no doubt that it's a good pairing in terms of productivity."
"Damn productivity, I want to know if it's good for us."
"I've told you all I can, Rain. I estimate a 66% chance that you'll last three years and a 3% chance that you'll pair bond for life."
"Gratitude Knave," Rain said bitterly. "Very helpful." Rain strode away from the clique site, scowling.
Rain was dimly aware of Knave watching her as she left. He was probably thinking to himself that he should have seen that coming. She would have to apologize to him later, for the good of the social relations on the ship. It was never good for the team leader to hold a grudge, especially against a psychotechnician, but it irritated her that Knave wouldn't care if she did or didn't apologize provided the profiles didn't suggest it was necessary.
Despondant, Rain did what she always did when she had problems in her private life: she buried herself in her work. Although she was nominally a stellar cartographer, the life contract she held also gave her the role of team leader, which gave her a slightly schizophrenic perspective on the crew. The Foundation was careful in appointing leadership roles and generally avoided candidates who enjoyed the power of command. The ideal team leader would consider their role to be that of facilitator - someone who would look upon their task as solving the problems facing the crew, rather than just giving orders all the time. In fact, on a Nomad like Janus, with a crew of a little over a hundred, people basically looked after themselves and Rain was free to spend most of her time mapping space.
Every now and then, Rain would walk Janus' corridors and check that the various teams were running smoothly. Still angry with Demae, she decided that it would do her good to focus on other people's problems for a while. She spent time talking to the ship's artists, and looking at the work they were doing, before holding brief meetings with members of the physical and social science teams. She talked to the environmental engineers about the stability of Janus' biome and learnt about the possibilities for expanding their ecology, and she spoke to mathematicians and chaos theorists who carefully dismissed all those possibilities as unpredictable. The only genuine problem seemed to be that the data archaeologists were suffering intermittent faults in the techno-organic interfaces to their excavation exercises.
After the Migration, humanity had lost any sense of a traditional history. Most primate communities existed in space and in isolation, and their only connection to the past was the vast array of confusing, contradictory and inaccurate records from earlier eras. Even on a trivial subject, the records were more than a single mind could assimilate in a lifetime, even assuming it was possible to separate truth from lies and fact from fiction. The volume of data was so vast that history could only be researched by the execution of carefully designed data excavations - attempts to piece together the facts from what information survived. Rain herself was seldom interested in data archaeology, but it had been of enormous interest to Demae who installed any new history patches whenever they were published.
The problem the data archaeologists were experiencing seemed similar to the problems that Rain had reported about the Ayah that served cartography, a problem that Castle had apparently sorted out. She asked Janus to select a member of the technical team who wasn't too busy and who had the necessary techno-organic and medical skills for the task in hand and immediately went to speak with her.
If she couldn't get her relationships to work, she could at least keep the ship's crew running at optimal efficiency.

*       *       *       *       *

Midnight was one of the most recent additions to the crew, joining at the last waypoint, where Janus had crossed paths with another ship, a Nomad named Baal. They would have missed each other entirely, but the timing of their flight plans was such that they were able to communicate for over a month before Janus reached the region of space that was the designated waypoint. Docking the two vessels was impossible given their trajectories, but through some creative flight plan adjustments the two ships had been able to arrange a path that would allow them to exchange two cargo lighters. It permitted a small number of crew members to change between the Nomads and Midnight had left her parent behind on Baal and joined Janus' crew.
Despite her engineering expertise, Midnight had never really come to grips with the idea that despite the vast distances of space, a Nomad was marginally more likely to encounter another Foundation ship at a waypoint than not to. The mathematical models that calculated the flight plans were so vastly complicated that only natural mathematical genius or an astrogation patch could permit a human to comprehend them. Midnight had never been especially good at mathematics, and she refused to use patches of any kind. It was a matter of principle.
Midnight looked over the woman who was approaching her. She had no opinion of her, beyond the knowledge that she was the designated team leader. She was briefly concerned that her recent work had put her in the team leader's bad books, but she reassured herself with the knowledge that nothing she had done was at odds with official procedure.
"Midnight? I'm Rain. We met when you came onboard Janus, of course, but this is the first opportunity we've really had to meet properly. Well, not the first opportunity, but the first excuse."
Midnight gave Rain a blank stare, not really sure what Rain was talking about. "What can I do for you, team leader?"
"Please don't call me 'team leader'. You make it sound so tyrannical. Call me Rain."
"Rain." Midnight spoke as if she was trying out the concept of a name for the first time. "What can I do for you, Rain?"
Rain was about to tell her about the technical problems that needed addressing, but then wavered. "Well, I was going to assign you to solve a problem the archaeologists have been experiencing. But I have a better idea. How do you fancy coming to the recreation area and doing some socializing?"
A slightly confused expression came over Midnight's face. "Umm... I don't use recreational chemicals," she said uncertainly.
Rain raised an eyebrow in surprise. Although there was no reason why someone shouldn't refrain from drug use, it was practically ubiquitous behaviour for Janus' crew. "You don't have to take anything," she said eventually.
"Look, I'm not sure how to put this..." Midnight began to look uncomfortable.
Realization dawned in Rain's mind. "No, don't get me wrong. This isn't a proposition of sexual coupling. I just thought it would be good if we got to know each other."
"Alright," Midnight replied, a note of caution in her voice. She seldom socialized with other primates, preferring to work with techno-organic systems where possible. Her dream was to advance from her role as medical specialist and acquire a life contract which would allow her to enter into direct Communion with Janus. Perhaps, Midnight mused, socializing with the team leader might be a step in the right direction.
Several hours later, Rain had consumed a large quantity of her preferred intoxicant whilst Midnight had sat patiently and listened to her ramble on incessantly about Demae. She had started out with the casual distance of someone talking to a stranger and finishing up halfway between shouting at Midnight and bursting into tears. Midnight felt slightly uncomfortable about the whole situation under the circumstances, but she continued to listen without saying anything.
"I don't understand him," Rain lamented. "When we first got involved we were so into each other - and I don't just mean sexually. I mean, you could see him light up when I entered into the room. We were so... so... I don't know. So something. Am I making any sense?"
"Perfect sense."
A look of slight confusion entered Rain's eyes as she peered at Midnight. "You've listened to me go on about this for ages, and I barely know a thing about you."
"Don't worry," Midnight said simply. "I'm not much of a talker."
"No, come on. There must be something you want to talk to me about."
Midnight thought briefly and then realized that she hardly ever had anything to say to other people. She spent all her time working on the techno-organic systems, or in the medical area. Her whole life was a continuous process of fixing holes in other people's lives.
"How long have you two been together did you say?" she said eventually.
"Six months," Rain replied.
"Sounds to me like you're coming out of the period of assessment latency."
"What's that?" Rain asked. She knew she'd heard the term before, but she wasn't in the most focused state of mind, and the mild hallucinogen she was taking made it hard to remember trivia.
"In the early stages of primate relationships the behaviour is dominated by a hormone called PEA - phenylethylamine."
"I don't have any chemistry patches, I'm afraid."
"This is more biology," Midnight explained.
"That too." Rain giggled to herself.
"Don't worry about it." Midnight suppressed the feeling of awkwardness she felt.
"I'm sorry," Rain said sincerely. "It's just the chemicals talking."
Midnight waited a moment, but then decided to explain what she was talking about. "PEA is part of the chemical response when an individual falls in love. The PEA dominated phase of a relationship is sometimes called assessment latency - when people don't think too hard about what's going on, they just enjoy it. The PEA rush tends to last for about three to six months."
"And then they start to analyze what's going on?" Rain said with a touch of dejection.
"Possibly, hai. Certainly it's a turning point in any relationship. For some, the rest of the relationship can be a futile attempt to recapture the PEA high."
"So should I persuade Demae to start taking PEA?" Rain asked.
"As a medical technician, I couldn't recommend that as a sensible course of action. It's a dangerously addictive substance and not recommended for recreational use."
"Great. So I just have to sit back and wait for him to leave me," Rain said with evident sadness. "If he hasn't done already."
"Look, do you want my advice?" Midnight asked.
"Of course."
"Draw up a contract of dissolution and present it to him when he gets out of cryptobiosis. If he doesn't want to stay with you, he'll confirm it. At least then you'll know."
"And if he does want to leave me?" Rain asked.
"Well assuming we revive him at the next waypoint," Midnight reasoned, "and assuming there's another vessel there to meet us, he'll leave Janus and you'll be free to start over."
Rain nodded solemnly. "Hai. Alright. Gratitude, Midnight."
"Don't thank me yet," Midnight said. "I don't think it's particularly good advice. You'd be far better off talking to a qualified psychotechnician..."
"No. I don't think so." Rain seemed to smile.
"I really don't have much experience in this sort of matter," Midnight protested.
Rain raised a hand in gentle dismissal. "I think I'm going to get some rest. Gratitude again; I appreciate your honesty, and your time."
Rain stood up and made to leave.
"Perhaps we could do this again sometime?" Midnight asked, surprised at how nervous she felt making such a simple suggestion. She hadn't noticed authority figures causing her any discomfort in the past.
"I'd like that," Rain replied, smiling. "Farewell."
"Sleepwell, Rain."
After she had left, Midnight looked back over the experience with some confusion. She found herself trembling slightly, and wondered if she had caught some minor infection that had perhaps mutated from one of the many bacteria that were an integrated part of Janus' ecology. The recreation area (being the site of most interpersonal contact) was usually guarded by large numbers of teknekaryotic bacteria. The unicellular techno-organic life forms helped monitor and control populations of bacteria that were judged dangerous, but no such system was a foolproof protection against random mutations.
She headed over to the medical area to carry out a full checkup, wondering if she had caught one of the sparring infections that were periodically introduced to Janus in order to help people build up their immune systems. Only when she detected the elevated levels of PEA within her bloodstream did she realize what had begun to happen to her.



IV

It wasn't uncommon for Castle to be found wandering around the decks with a neuroclip on his temple, seemingly in a dream. It was not for Castle's benefit, but for Janus who found sharing Castle's sensorium as he walked around provided a unique and valuable perspective of how the community that lived inside it interacted. It also gave the ship a better idea of how to improve the design of its corridors to aid navigation and reduce the time it took to travel between commonly visited locations.
It was not easy for the Nomad to change its internal geometry, but it was the nature of the techno-organic systems that they were essentially moveable. It could take months to extrude a new chamber or extend an existing corridor, and hence the scale of individual changes was usually extremely slight. Castle sensed that the ship was striving for ideals that, whilst imperceptible on a human time-scale, were very real concerns for an entity with the vast longevity of Janus. It was perhaps a good thing that Janus took so long to restructure itself, Castle reasoned, since otherwise the crew would never be able to keep up with it.
Although he did enjoy the sensation of guiding his body around from a third person perspective, Castle disliked the resulting distance between his mind and his emotions. He liked to be warm and loving to everyone he met (especially if they were in the mood to be particularly loving), and he seemed to be more robotic than sensual when Janus walked the decks with him. It wasn't an impression he liked to give people, and Janus preferred him not to advertise the fact that the ship sometimes walked around itself. Castle, as the closest thing the Nomad had to a psychotechnician, was happy to indulge its little foibles.
He became aware that Rain was trying to locate him using the Ayah in the sensor nest, and began to direct his body upship. Ordinarily, Janus would have to wait for him to put on a neuroclip, or attract his attention to inform him that someone was looking for him. Assuming the message was urgent enough, the ship could contact somebody nearby with a neuroclip or by altering the appearance of part of its walls to communicate. Lacking any personal conception of language, the procedure consisted of little more than attracting the appropriate person's attention and relying on them to put on a neuroclip. For the most part however, people connected to Ayahs frequently enough that it wasn't a problem, and messages were seldom so urgent that Janus had to resort to more drastic measures.
The sensor nest was, like most rooms on Janus, plushly comfortable in order to ensure that people would not feel self conscious about having sex there. Rain, like the majority of team leaders in the Foundation, opted for an open sexual community. People were encouraged to have sex when and wherever the desire arose, in order to prevent their work performances suffering from pent up sexual tension. The crew knew each other's psyche and sexual profiles on the whole, and it was rare that anyone experienced unwanted attentions. Janus usually could alter the lighting outside the appropriate chamber to discourage unwanted interruptions, if that was their wish.
"You wanted to see me?" Castle announced as he entered.
Rain was taken aback. "That was fast; I only just asked to see you."
"Ever on hand to service the needs of the crew," Castle joked.
"I need you to do something for me." Rain didn't seem to pick up on Castle's obvious comment. She seemed distracted. "I need you to revive Demae."
Although Janus was unable to use language to express its thoughts, the conception of discussions between members of the crew was available to it. The subjectivity of language was a barrier it avoided by reading the sentences formed through Monitor of the person speaking, translating it into the pure concepts that were the basis of Janus' communications. The odd errors caused by imperfections in the Monitor's models were rarely significant enough to hamper understanding.
Castle became aware of Janus informing him that the Charter would not permit Rain to interrupt Demae's chosen course of action for purely to resolve her personal issues. It realized once this idea had been filtered through Castle's perceptions that it would be more prudent to wait to hear what Rain had to say before making such a comment. It frequently lost sight of the social subtleties of primate interaction.
"Have you discussed this with Knave?" Castle ventured.
"There's no need," Rain explained. "I have something I need to discuss with the ship's philosopher, and since we have no other philosophers onboard our only option is to revive Demae."
Janus expressed a concern with her reasoning. "This is an unusual situation," Castle observed. "If Demae had died or had his life contract revoked we wouldn't be in this situation."
Rain was clearly taken aback by Castle's logic. "Is that really relevant? I mean, Demae's decision to take cryogenic leave wasn't accompanied by a formal request for transfer."
"But we can presume that such a transfer would come after we thaw him out," Castle said at Janus' prompting. "Knave predicts at least a 60% chance, and that's with a very out of date Monitor."
It was apparent that Rain hadn't considering this side of the argument. "What would be an acceptable procedure for resolving a dispute between the team leader and protocol?" she asked.
Castle laughed. "Janus has asked me to let you know that in circumstances of that kind, the ship's philosopher would be required to arbitrate."
Rain nodded with the sudden understanding that Castle was half in his own sensorium and half in Janus', which explained his air of detachment. She smiled as she realized she was going to get her way. "Would you mind going and waking him up?"
Castle thought he could perceive an undercurrent of resentment in Rain's tone of voice, but he nodded and made his exit. "I'll bring him here as soon as he's sufficiently recovered. Farewell for now."
"Farewell, Castle."
Janus and Castle contemplated the situation on their way over to the chamber where Demae's body lay in cold-frozen slumber. The Nomad disliked the asymmetry of Rain's decision, even though it was perfectly permissible under the terms of the Charter, feeling it would have been more advisable to allow Demae's Monitor to act as his surrogate. Castle has held back Janus' advice on the grounds that when all was said and done, Rain was still team leader, and she had the freedom to interpret the Charter in her own terms.
The centre of their disagreement seemed to be that the ship felt that Rain had purposefully not researched her options in order to pursue her agenda above the needs of the crew, which it considered somewhat inappropriate behaviour for a team leader. Castle felt it would have been derelict of Rain not to allow her emotions to help guide her actions. It was not that Janus had any lower opinion of Rain because she had done so, it was simply that it felt most satisfaction with those leadership decisions that was in its view more objective.
When they reached the right place, Castle made some room in his head and installed a patch on cryptobiosis to supplement his own techno-organic skills. He carefully switched from being in Communion with Janus to being in mental contact with the cryptobiosis Ayah, bidding Janus a pleasant farewell and asking it to keep its attentions on the procedure in case anything went awry. He had little doubt that the Nomad would have done anyway, but felt it wouldn't hurt to give the ship a sense of how strongly he felt about not making a mistake.
Castle had no direct experience of cryptobiotic systems, but the patch provided an almost instantaneous mastery of the basics. Patches for physical skills were not so easily assimilated, requiring some practice for the muscles and mind to adjust to the new responses and instincts, but a purely knowledge-based neural patch could be used almost immediately. The only problem was that there were definite limits on how much new information any mind could incorporate.
Checking on the dreamopera, Castle learnt that Demae had perceived the equivalent of nine months of 'Die Fliegendekinderscheisse' during his few months of cold sleep. Castle knew that Demae's taste swayed towards immersing himself in neo-absurdist tragedies, on account of them having absolutely no applicability to his life, so it was hard to say what frame of mind he would be in when revived.
It was not entirely understood why humans in cryptobiosis appeared to experience dreaming, but it was anticipated for and dealt with by a thriving research area. In the half-death of suspended animation, dreampatches were the only known method of preventing the psyche from potentially damaging itself, or from inducing sensory depravation trips which to a pessimist like Demae were almost invariably bad trips.
Castle opened the tube with the Ayah and began draining the perfluorocarbon as he raised the temperature inside. He instructed a sizable contingent of nano-agents to begin removing the foreign sugar from Demae's cells and chemically convert it back into the water they required to function properly, generating useful heat to warm the body in the process.
Once Demae's core temperature had risen sufficiently, a web of nano-agents were instructed to give carefully attuned electrical impulses to his nervous system and heart, which flickered into abrupt life from its period of torpor. The dreamopera was disconnected, and Demae struggled back into consciousness.
He sat up in the tube, a viscous colourless fluid dripping from his naked skin, and leant over the side to throw up. The biologically inert fluid in his lungs was unpleasantly coughed onto the floor where scores of insect-sized organisms collected it for recycling as part of the ongoing life cycle on Janus.
"Pleasantries," Castle said, putting a self-warming blanket around Demae's body.
"That was extremely unpleasant," Demae croaked. "Are we at the next waypoint?"
"No," Castle replied. "Rain wants to see you in the sensor nest."
"Can she revive me for that?" Demae asked, his mind still not up to speed. He began to realise that either way he had got out of going to her, and felt ashamed at his stupidity. Cryptobiosis was a foolishly extreme solution to his own petty relationship problems.
"She needs your advice as ship's philosopher," Castle explained.
"Oh." Demae tried to suppress his need to vomit as blood returned to his stomach. It wouldn't be pleasant given he hadn't eaten anything. He'd had enough sterile liquid pass through his mouth already, without bringing up the traces of it in his digestive tract. "How long was I out?"
"A couple of months."
"She's furious with me, isn't she," Demae asked.
"Hai," Castle replied honestly. I can't say I blame her either. She's hiding it well though if that's any consolation."
"I didn't realise you had any cryptobiotic skills," Demae said, changing the subject.
"I didn't," Castle admitted. "I had to install a patch."
"But you didn't have any spare capacity..." Demae began. "Oh no. Which one did you have to remove? Not Advanced Male Homosexual Positions."
"It was the one I had the least use for," Castle explained.
"But it was hilarious!" Demae protested. "Whoever recorded it had obviously never considered the effects of height differences. I don't think we ever got one of them to work."
"Less than a minute out of the freezer and you're already thinking about sex," Castle said with a grim smile. "That's a good sign." He watched Demae clutch his chest. "Are you alright?"
"I've been better." Demae dimly remembered drinking something black and sticky before being frozen. The ethanol in his blood wasn't helping the way he felt.
"I'll get you cleaned up, replace your biological fauna and we'll go and see Rain." Castle, knowing Demae would want support even though he wouldn't ask for it, decided not to leave him until he was sure Demae was mostly recovered from his recent experience. Once his bacteria had been repopulated and the philosopher had passed a basic physical exam, they headed upship.
He gave his friend a vigorous hug just before Demae entered the sensor nest, and then let the door to the chamber close. He suddenly became aware that he hadn't had sex since waking up; walking around with Janus in his head tended to rob him of his sexual appetite. He decided it would be unfair of him to impose on Demae after he got through with Rain, and headed towards the recreation area.

*       *       *       *       *

Rain was dressed in a translucent gown that to most peoples' eyes was a beautiful cerulean blue, the result of the frequencies of blue light it reflected and emitted. All other colours of light passed through the fabric, but the blue colour obscured the image they revealed. To Demae whose eyes were colour blind to the exact frequencies of light that matched the dress' colour, the garment appeared faintly transparent, revealing Rain's exquisite body underneath. She'd let some of her upper body muscles atrophy slightly whilst Demae had been out, giving her a more gentle, welcoming look. Painted on her breasts were hypno-linguistic glyphs, designed to draw the minds of people from Demae's cultural background onto erotic thoughts. Demae's only recently defrosted penis stood painfully erect in his underwear and a grimace passed across his face.
"Can I get you something to drink?" Rain asked, her voice neither soft nor inviting.
There was no doubt that she was acting as if she wanted to seduce him, but without the benefit of an updated profile to guide her she was forced to proceed cautiously. The Monitors needed to be updated on roughly a weekly basis if they were to maintain a high degree of accuracy, and his had been almost out of date when he had taken cryogenic leave. Demae blamed and congratulated himself for repeatedly finding ways to abuse the psyche profile system, a system specifically designed to try to make human interactions easier and more efficient. He couldn't decide if what Rain was doing was an attempt to stimulate catharsis by initiating angry sex with him, or a subtly cruel psychosexual torture.
"No," he eventually replied. "I don't feel up to it."
"I've drawn up a contract of dissolution, by the way." She paused. "But that's not why I brought you out."
Demae sat down opposite Rain and tried not to stare at her breasts. It was difficult at the best of times, but Rain had obviously done her research. The glyphs she had painted were a known 'false hit' produced by the patch his parent had used to provide sexual education: it instinctively made him think about sex. He could have had the patch removed, when he had his own skills to draw on, but he didn't like to remove something that was such an intimate part of his accelerated puberty. Besides, it was only a small patch.
Determined not to be drawn in, he tried to clear his mind of many a happy morning spent picking Rain's pubic hair out of his teeth and instead attempted to focus on the job in hand, whatever that turned out to be. Ordinarily his work didn't take him much further than the recreation area and the notion that there might actually be genuine work for him was an unfamiliar one.
"I take it you need my advice on something?" he said.
"Hai." She paused again. "Have a look at this." Rain passed him a neuroclip, and he attached it to the side of his head.
The information from the sensor Ayah flowed into Demae's sensorium, and within his mind's eye he saw a standard navigation and cartography projection. Demae perceived himself at the centre point of a sphere of space; he'd experienced Rain's work before and knew what it was. "It's a map. What's the significance?"
Demae felt his partner modify the image in his head. Although they were dimly aware of each other's mind's, the Ayah prevented them from entering into Communion with each other.
"Watch what happens when I subtract the projected map for this area of space," she said.
Digital subtraction of any two images deleted any common features, leaving only those areas that differed. Demae watched as almost all of the stars winked out. He could see only one part of the original image now, a blurry region of stars in the top right of his virtual field of vision.
"What is that?" he asked.
"According to my astrophysics patch, it's an area in classical space-time where a disturbance in the compacted dimensions extrudes on the macroscopic dimensions."
"And what does that mean?"
"I have no idea," Rain admitted. "But my patch claims it's not a wormhole or any other known phenomenon, theoretical or observed. I haven't been able to explain its size, or how it is that we are apparently seeing through it."
"Some sort of gravitational lance?" Demae offered, not sure what the term meant.
"Lens, Dem. And no, but it's a good suggestion. The geometry of the image is all wrong for any lensing effect, and the light doesn't diverge sufficiently."
"I don't follow."
"Matter produces gravity, broadly speaking, and the heavier the object, the greater the strength of the gravity, right?"
He knew that he was being patronized, but equally knew that he wouldn't understand what it was any other way. "Alright."
"Well gravitational lensing is the result of being in a particular position relative to a very massive body; the light gets bent around it by the gravity and you get an effect like a lens, focusing an image at some point."
Demae thought he understood. "Like the Battista array?" he hazarded. The array was sited at a tethered waypoint that maintained a fixed position and velocity relative to a massively heavy star. He had never really understood why it was considered so useful, but he presumed the gravitational lens effect allowed people to observe things that were otherwise wouldn't be visible.
"Exactly. But - and here's the strange part - I've matched the image fragment here with a map."
"How?" Demae asked, "it's just a mass of dots. It must match millions of starmaps."
"Stellar cartography isn't that random," Rain explained. "Each dot is a star, and each has a specific spectrum of light associated with it, depending on the temperature and chemical composition of the star the light is coming from. I've matched the spectrums of the stars in our image fragment with a specific map."
"Which would mean?"
"If I'm right, what we are seeing here is a link through space to another point." Rain was evidently excited by the prospect.
"Like a window, looking out from a different point in space," Demae mused. "What is it we're seeing then?"
"The view in question matches the map generated from our position two weeks back."
"So it's not two-way?" Demae still couldn't see what this had to do with him.
"Not as far as I can tell - which makes it totally unlike any kind of astrophysical entity anyone in the Foundation has ever postulated. Not to mention the fact that it seems to be moving at a velocity close the speed we were travelling when we passed through that point."
"What do you need me for?" Demae asked eventually.
"You're the ship's philosopher - I need your advice."
Demae let his mind tick over for a few seconds and then realized what Rain was working towards. "You need my permission to miss the next waypoint and investigate, don't you."
"I've run the projections," Rain said, barely containing her excitement. "If I give the order to decelerate without being advised to do so, it will look as if I'm placing my role as cartographer above my duty to the ship and its crew. But if the ship's philosopher certified this as a phenomenon worthy of investigation..." Rain bit her thumb and tilted her head slightly forward, giving Demae a coy glance.
He knew that his profile listed that look as damn near irresistible to him, but that didn't bother him so much as the fact that it was right. All the same, he could at least make a show of resisting her. "Well, I guess you're going to have to convince me that this is worth missing a waypoint for."
Rain's shoulders slumped. "Oh come on, Dem. We don't know anything about this thing - it might not even be stable. It could be decades before a follow-up mission passes here, and it might be gone by then."
"Missing the waypoint could delay us by at least a year, stationary time, not to mention the worry it'll cause the Foundation when we don't check in."
"I've thought of that," Rain said. "If we send out a sensor pod at the right point in our deceleration frame, it'll reach the next waypoint in good time to get the word out that we've had to change our flight plan. It'll can sit at the waypoint indefinitely if necessary, and no-one need worry about where we've got to."
Demae thought about the proposition. They had no pressing reason to make the next waypoint, especially since they'd passed a vessel at their last waypoint. "What does Janus have to say?"
"We only have to slow down, we don't need to really change our course. Janus has determined that we can recover almost all of the lost momentum with the string fragment.
He had never been adept at physics, but he made an effort to have a broad idea how things worked. Janus' drive incorporated a manner of artificially generating a space-time anomaly known as a vorton. He found the name hard to take seriously, especially when it had been described as a super-conducting loop equivalent to a cosmic string fragment, which meant absolutely nothing to him. He understood that it somehow gave the ship something to act against, allowing momentum lost in he ship's deceleration to be stored in the rotation of the string and recovered later. He'd heard it described as a 'flywheel', but the term meant nothing to him.
"What about the disruption to shipboard time," Demae asked, hoping to steer the conversation into an area he was more familiar with.
"It's negligible, really, we're not slowing down to anything near the rest frame of the cosmic microwave background so there'll still be a sizable difference between shipboard time and stationary time, but there always is. Time will just be running slightly faster for us than it would have been otherwise."
Demae struggled to think of some way to prolong the argument. Eventually, he added somewhat weakly: "I'm still not convinced."
Rain pushed herself forward so that she leaned across Demae's lap, kneeling on the floor. The painted markings on her breasts kept Demae's attention as she slid her hands under the clinical robe he'd put on after Castle defrosted him.
"As ship's team leader," Rain said, "and as a mature human being, using sex to get what I want should be beneath me."
"It's not though, is it," Demae said, smiling.
Three hours later, he consented to breaking with the waypoint.



V

It took Janus six weeks to slow down to what amounted to a stationary position relative to the anomaly. For many of the crew, it was a moment of shared excitement from a completely unexpected source. A community travelling through space is still a community first and foremost, and far more attention was paid to what was going on inside the ship than outside. Breaking a waypoint to investigate a curiosity was something that didn't happen often, and both artists and scientists were inspired by the novelty. It wasn't that they expected anything outstanding to be discovered, it was more that the vast empty expanses of space so rarely caught anyone's attention that it was a thrill to be part of a ship that had found something apparently new.
Midnight found herself unable to work up any enthusiasm over what would, in all likelihood, turn out to be nothing of importance. She found herself slightly irritated by the air of anticipation onboard, and increasingly disturbed by her own behaviour. She couldn't seem to concentrate at work, and her mind flitted frequently to Rain. When her performance dropped by over ten points, she was asked to report to Knave for psychotechnic evaluation.
Never one to waste time with social niceties, Knave got straight to the heart of the matter. "It's your feelings for Rain, I'm afraid. They're distracting you too much."
"I realize that," Midnight replied with a certain degree of irritation. I'm not naive."
"The question is, what are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know. I've spent long enough thinking about it."
"I notice you accessed the Monitor system to get an estimate for a pair bonding between you and Rain. I take it that it wasn't very encouraging."
Some members of the crew found Knave's forthrightness unnerving. For Midnight, it was refreshing.
"The figures were less than encouraging. Besides, she's got Demae."
"You could have made a move while he was in the cryounits, but you didn't. Why is that do you think?"
"I have a feeling you're about to tell me."
"You're not cut out for a sexual relationship. At least, not a lasting one. A brief liaison might actually do you some good, though."
"So you're suggesting I go out and have sex with the first random woman I find?" Midnight's tone of voice made it clear she was being sarcastic.
"It's one option," Knave replied flatly.
"I want others."
"Well, I can see two other options."
"Go on."
"One, you can give up your friendship with Rain."
"That's not an option."
"You're only saying that because of the way you feel about her."
"I'm saying that because she's the only friend I've got. Check my profile, you'll see what I mean."
"Alright. Option number two is submitting to some voluntary psychotechnic reprogramming. I could edit your feelings for Rain out of you and you wouldn't even notice the difference."
"You already know the answer to that."
Knave nodded. "You won't even use recreational chemicals to up your performance estimates so there's little chance of persuading you to submit to reprogramming."
"The whole basis of my life is..."
"Not artificially changing who you are," Knave concluded.
"Precisely."
For a while, neither spoke.
"How long till Rain finds out?" Midnight asked.
"By my reckoning, 20% chance she'll check your profile in the next week, rising sharply if you stop socializing with her. I'd say we're looking at three weeks, plus or minus two weeks."
"And I don't suppose you'd let me withhold my profile from her."
"There are no grounds for that. Besides, Rain is team leader."
"What if I ask her not to check it?"
"I'd say you'd be looking at a 95% chance that she'd read it within an hour."
Midnight punched herself sharply in the leg. "What do you suggest?" she asked in frustration. "And try and limit yourself to options I'm willing to take."
"I'm afraid you're in a no-win situation as it stands. The only thing I can suggest..." Knave's voice trailed off.
"What?" Midnight's voice betrayed her impatience.
"Well, this is slightly unethical, but you could increase the amount of development noise in your life."
Development noise, a euphemism for the unpredictable factors that affected the evolution of a person's psyche. Psychotechnicians generally tried to reduce the amount of development noise in the system of people they were working with so as to maximize the accuracy of their psyche profiles and estimates. Increasing it served to make the outcomes less predictable, but when your options were limited, a shuffle could introduce entirely new avenues.
"The most effective approach would be a temporary reassignment of your life contract."
"To what?" Midnight asked, horrified. "I'm not qualified for anything else."
"How about artistry?"
"I have no artistic skills whatsoever! There's a line in my profile saying something like 'Midnight should avoid areas that require creative expression and...' "
" 'Stick to the mechanical.' " Knave smiled. "Hai, I wrote that."
"This isn't a joke," Midnight replied indignantly.
"I'm perfectly serious. A couple of weeks as an artist might have all manner of beneficial side effects."
"Such as?"
"I don't know. There's too much development noise in an endeavour like that for me to make a good prediction. That's the point."
"Hai, alright. I'm desperate enough to try anything."
"Alright. I'll have a temporary reassignment filed immediately."
"Gratitude, Knave."
"Just fulfilling my life contract."
Knave's attention seemed to drift away from Midnight and back onto whatever he had been working on when she arrived. She concluded that their interview was at an end, and made her exit. The thought of attempting art didn't fill her with confidence, but it had to be worth a try. Anything to get her mind off Rain and onto less troubling thoughts.



Knave barely noticed as Midnight left the room. His curiosity had been roused once more by why Midnight hadn't made a move on Rain whilst Demae was in the cryounits, but he rapidly determined an 85% probability that she was waiting for the right moment and then Midnight's problems were forgotten as he started work on calculating the ship-wide performance estimates. It had always been one of his trickier tasks, and recent events had only compounded that difficulty. After a few hours of tinkering with his calculations, frustration began to set in and he began to consider his options for relaxation.
He had always found it difficult to relax. He let himself get too caught up in his work, which he strove to keep at the highest possible standard, and found it difficult to escape from it. Whatever he was doing had some impact on the performance of the crew to some extent, and if he involved himself with other people it only heightened the complexity of the situation. Eventually, he decided to check on Castle, sure in the knowledge that pursuing a habit was less likely to unbalance the situation than trying something new.
He found him deep in the heart of the Nomad, performing some routine diagnostic tests on Janus' drive organs. Castle, like Knave, was passionate about his work, and Knave watched him patiently for some time not wanting to interrupt him unduly.
"I didn't see you there," Castle said as Knave finally came to his attention. "How long have you been watching?"
"Less than an hour," Knave replied vaguely.
"Did you want something?" Castle raised himself up to his full height and wiped some sweat from his brow. The residual heat near the drive organs made it one of the warmer working environments onboard, somewhat uncomfortable for humans but ideal for the thriving community of techno-organic life forms that benefited from the heat.
"Not really." Knave shrugged. "I just felt I needed a break."
Castle nodded sagely. "Do you mind if I take off my shirt; it's a little hot in here."
"Be my guest," Knave replied. He's game, he mused delightedly. He knew Castle's personality better than he knew his own. He watched the large man undress and took great pleasure in admiring Castle's perfect musculature, sweat glistening beautifully on his dark skin.
"I'm so tired," Castle said theatrically. "I should probably get some rest."
Knave had always considered it amusing that Castle, so willing to pursue liaisons with most of the crew made a point of playing hard to get with Knave. The psychotechnician's best model for the behaviour was that Castle did so because he knew how much Knave loved the chase. Certainly on the many occasions when Castle had courted him, Knave had received a great degree of satisfaction from resisting his advances for as long as possible.
Perhaps his sexual profile suggested it was his preferred manner of arousal; he tended not to read his official profiles because they were by necessity produced by a different member of the psychotechnic team. He heeded their advice, and considered himself a dutiful member of the crew, but he didn't like his own style to be influenced by unduly be other methods of profiling on the grounds that the most efficient psychotechnical teams were those that employed a variety of methods.
Knave sat down by Castle's side and looked him over. "You do seem tired," he noted. "Perhaps you have been exerting yourself too much." That should get him worried.
"Well, I always make sure I have an opportunity to unwind."
Too easy. I'd have thought he'd put up more resistance than that. Knave was somewhat disappointed.
"Perhaps I should cut down on my sexual appetites," Castle suggested.
That's more like it. Knave took Castle's hand in his own. "You can't deny the crew your gifts; you have genuine talent."
"True," Castle said, smiling, "but perhaps I've squandered that talent too liberally. Perhaps I should restrain myself to only pleasuring a select few."
"That could create unprecedented problems for crew morale," Knave joked. "It would have to be done very carefully. I mean, you'd need good counseling."
"Hai," Knave replied. "You'd want a talented psychotechnican to help organize a project with such profound ramifications for the ship."
"Well to ensure impartiality I'd have to refrain from pleasuring whoever was advising me."
"What if doing that would badly effect their performance estimates."
Castle made a show of looking thoughtful. "They could always resign from being my psychotechnician."
"You'd do that just to continue having sex with me?" Castle said, touched by the exaggerated display of affection.
"I never said that my performance estimates would be affected," Knave remarked.
"Oh," Castle said, feigning disappointment.
"But I'd certainly want to apply for whatever services you were including in this project," Knave said with relish, rubbing his hand gently against Castle's.
"I'd have very stringent standards," Castle announced. "You might not qualify."
"I'd be prepared to submit to whatever examinations you'd be insisting upon."
"Off you go then," Castle laughed.
"What do you want me to do?" Knave asked.
"Well I feel I should at least examine what you have to offer."
"You want me to undress now?"
"No time like the present," Castle replied.
"These aren't the idea conditions for me to be naked," Knave noted.
"Ah, but my lovers would need to be ready to perform under any conditions."
Knave began disrobing. He took his time, watching Castle's anticipation build as he slid out of his clothing, and enjoying his own arousal. Knave, unlike many of the crew, preferred not to be caught in flagrante delicto with another member of the crew, but found the risk of discovery strangely alluring. Not that anyone was likely to come down to the drive section, but there was still the possibility.
He folded his clothes neatly and lay them on the gently curving walls, his compulsiveness in no way detracting from his enjoyment of the experience. As he strode naked towards Castle, dizzy with the thrill, he didn't notice that his garments had attracted the attention of several techno-organic mites. Thriving in the heat of the drive section, they helped service the engines and remove any impurities, staying away from the lumbering towers of flesh and bone that occasionally passed through. The began to explore Knave's clothes, and harvest them for valuable chemicals and metals.
"Reasonably impressive," Castle said nonchalantly, letting his hand drift down his chest suggestively. "But I'm afraid I'm feeling aroused now, so I'd better go and have sex with someone - I wouldn't want any sexual frustration to interfere with my judgement, you understand." He rose and made his way to leave, pausing before heading out the corridor to leave. "I'm afraid there's not much left of your clothes," he said, and promptly exited.
Knave was filled with a sense of disorientation, and turned to see the tattered remains of his clothes. It was pointless trying to save what was left; it would be more efficient to let the mites recycle the materials and get new clothes. Panic started to set in as he realized he had no dignified way of leaving the drive organ chamber.
Castle leaned around the corner of the corridor and smiled.
"You were going to leave me here," Knave said, feeling the sense of apprehension melt away into vast relief.
"Well anyone who wanted to by a priority lover with me would have to enjoy a little fun and games," Castle said, emerging into the light, now completely naked.
"Where are your clothes?" Knave asked reflexively.
"Your logic was always stronger than your libido," Castle observed.
"You stored them somewhere safe," Knave said, nodding to himself.
"I've been caught out by the local fauna before," Castle explained. "And I've asked someone to put some clothes for you in the same cache. Not that you'll need them just yet."
Knave thrilled to Castle's touch as he leaned down to lift Knave up and lay him down on one of the softer curves in the wall. He felt Castle's hands run up and down his back and lost himself in the moment. Adrenalin was still coursing through his veins, and he experienced a tremendous elation, both from the relief that he hadn't been abandoned and the thrill of his imminent satisfaction.
"You had me quite concerned there," Knave admitted, feeling the kiss of Castle's lips on his skin.
"The great psychotechnician fails to anticipate the subtly executed gambit," Castle said, his hand exerted firm but temporary pressure on Knave's penis.
Knave found himself almost clawing into the techno-organic surface he was lying on. "I was distracted," he explained.
"A good psychotechnician never lets himself get distracted," Castle said before licking Knave purposefully.
"If I'd had a little longer," Knave said, trying to ignore Castle's stroking of his scrotum, "I would have had time to model what was going on."
"You always have to have the last word," Castle joked before beginning to nibble on Knave's ear and masturbate him skillfully.
"Hai," Knave sighed. "You might have to punish me later for that..."
The rest of their time in the drive section was wordless, if not entirely silent.



During the deceleration period, Rain and Demae didn't discuss dissolution once. After the incident in the sensor nest, there relationship seemed revitalized, at least until Rain couldn't hold out much longer and read Demae's profiles. Afterwards, they began to fall into all the old traps. Rain, desperate to satisfy Demae, couldn't resist looking up his desires which proved both frustrating and humiliating for him. What they gained in the sexual seemed balanced out by what they lost in the personal.
Demae found himself constantly frustrated by his inability to resist Rain, even though he knew intellectually that she was using the profiles to predict his desires and hence make herself irresistible. He'd long since given up trying to persuade her not to read his profile, given that professionally she was required to, and he hated the fact that sex with Rain after she'd read it was so good that part of him didn't want her to stop.
He spent his time studying patches on predestination and self fulfilling prophecies, laughing to himself at the continuing foolishness of mankind. He was particularly amused by events before the Migration, shortly after the development of basic quantum mechanics. Both philosophy and science were engaged in a quest to find some comprehension of what the so-called Uncertainty Principle meant in physical terms.
The Uncertainly Principle stated nothing more than the impossibility of knowing both the position and speed of any given particle. A seemingly innocuous inequality raised considerable philosophical debate. Did this restriction imply something about the nature of reality, or was it merely placing limits on what was knowable? Either way, the prevalent idea that nature was a vast machine, intricate but comprehensible, was forced to give way to new paradigms. For the more spiritually inclined, it raised fundamental questions about predestination.
Demae was particular interested in the unusual social behaviour that had resulted from the apparent riddle of physics. The Universal Power, a vast clan whose power apparently rested in the clan's general belief that their alpha male was infallible (despite evidence to the contrary) arranged a meeting between their alpha male and representatives of an opposing clan whose belief system rested on the assumption that the universe could only be fully understood by using their methods.
Demae knew the histories of both clans well. The first was allegedly based around a single book that was claimed to be written by an extra-dimensional entity, and yet the clan was governed by a series of rules and methods that apparently had nothing in common with what was contained in its writings. According to the linguistic archaeologists, the name of the book translated quite literally as 'the book', which furthered Demae's suspicions that the primates of the time didn't use language very productively. The clan was aggressive and adversarial, despite claiming that they followed the edicts of the extra-dimensional entity and that this entity loved all primates equally.
The second clan was apparently called the Scientia, although it's most militant faction appeared to prefer the name 'Skeptica'. They may in fact have been two separate clans, but the more vocal Skeptica primates seemed to believe that their interpretation of their religion was superior. It was common enough behaviour in clans with such heavy religious overtones, although at times the more rational Scientia clans members seemed to be nothing more than agnostic scientists. It wasn't clear if such people were persecuted by their more dogmatic brethren, but it seemed likely.
The Scientia clan was not predominantly warlike, but seemed content to produce destructive weaponry for the other clans of the period, who rewarded them by using the weapons primarily on each other and not on the Scientia. This curious group apparently spent most of their time arguing with themselves over minor differences in their belief systems and generally achieving very little. It sometimes seemed implausible that they had achieved enough technological advances to allow humanity to reach onto into the stars.
What Demae couldn't understand was what drove the two clans to discuss the issue of predestination at all. Both clans had a history of overt aggression to each other, and yet for some reason the issue of free will appeared to transcend all other differences between them. Perhaps, he mused, his fascination stemmed from the fact that he identified with their problems, fearing that his life was controlled by forces beyond his control. His psyche profile tended to confirm his hypothesis.
Rain spent most of the deceleration time in the sensor nest, probing the anomaly for any insights. She sent all manner of signals at it including, despite feeling somewhat foolish doing so, the Foundation's first contact signals in the hope it would display some intelligence. If anyone questioned her sanity, she reasoned that they needed to beam some signal at it to see if they could detect it emerging from the point it seemed connected to, a position only a few weeks back along their trajectory. She was hence somewhat surprised when she got a signal back.
She burst in on Demae as he was having a shower with Castle.
"Dem!" she screeched, before pausing to assess the situation. "Oh. Pleasantry, Cas. Sorry to interrupt, but this is huge."
"Not a problem, Rain." Castle ran his hand over the control area of the shower to turn it off and passed a towel to Demae who was looking uncomfortable. It wasn't that the two of them had been caught together, Castle knew. Rain and Demae were not exclusive within their pair bond, and Rain had never been bothered by her partner's relations with him. He resolved to look it up in Demae's psyche profile when he got a chance.
"Meet me up at the sensor nest," Rain said, unable to suppress her excitement. "I'm getting signals back from the anomaly."
"Both of us?" Demae asked, meekly.
"Hai - I need Castle to check the systems. I want to be sure this isn't some problem with Janus."
The phrase struck a note of terror in Castle. He didn't like the thought of Janus suffering any kind of ailment - he strove so hard to ensure it remained healthy and content. It took him a while to realize that it was far more likely that Rain was just trying to be absolutely certain about her findings than that there was something wrong with Janus that he didn't know about.
Castle and Demae dried each other off and headed up to the nest. Being at the front tip of the Nomad, the tendency was to conceptualized the sensor nest as up, owing to the direction of local pseudo-gravity when the ship was in thrust. There was a certain sense of being right in the frontline when you were in the nest, especially when Janus projected exterior views onto its walls.
When they arrived, Rain was rushing around in a surge of frenetic energy. Castle immediately slipped on a neuroclip and began to check on the sensor organs, greeting Janus with a warm mental hug. From his detached vantage point, Castle noticed Demae making himself comfortable and sensed he was waiting for Rain to calm down sufficiently to engage her in coherent conversation.
"What exactly did you do?" Demae asked her once her pacing had slowed down a little.
"I sent the Foundation's approved first contact signals at the anomaly - don't ask me why - and now I'm getting signals back."
"Some electromagnetic reflection perhaps?" Demae suggested.
Castle turned to respond, still partially in control of his own body. "No. I don't think so. If the impression I'm getting from Janus is accurate, the signal we're getting back is returning all the logical progressions to suggest intelligence."
"Did you hear that!" Rain's voice had a childlike quality to it.
"So what are we saying?" Demae asked, apparently trying to be the voice of reason, and perhaps justify to himself his presence aboard Janus. "Either the anomaly is intelligent and is responding to us, or there's another ship on the other side of the anomaly responding to us..."
"There aren't any ships close enough to that point - I did the calculations and checked the logs for when we passed it." Rain was aglow.
"Are there any other possibilities?" Demae asked.
"I have one," Castle commented. His face was a blank look of shock.
"What is it Cas?"
"Janus and I have examined the carrier waves to see if the response is coming from another Foundation ship."
"And?"
"To the best of our knowledge, it is coming from a Foundation ship alright. The trouble is, as far as we can tell, the ship it's coming from is this one."
"Janus?" Rain looked ready to explode. The veins in her temples rarely throbbed so convincingly.
"Hai. I can't see any other explanation. Except Janus has no memory of sending that response."
A cool silence descended on the sensor nest. For perhaps the first time, nobody could think of anything to say.



This prequel to Dreamtime is currently on hold, pending negotiations with publishers over contract issues.