Read a sample from Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
International Law Regarding the Codicils to Govern the Existence of Clones
Established October 9, 2282
- It is unlawful to create more than one clone of a person at a time. Each clone is one person. Cloning will be used for longevity of life, not for multiplication. If a clone is multi- plied by their own hand or others, the most recent clone has claim to the identity, while the other(s) are extraneous.
- It is unlawful for a clone to bear or father children. A clone is considered their own child for the rest of their life, in- cluding where it affects inheritance law. Clones must be sterilized upon rebirth.
- It is unlawful to put a mindmap onto a body that does not bear the original DNA.
- Clones must always have the most recent mindmap of their consciousness on a drive on their person. They and their mindmaps are subject to search by authorities at all times.
- It is unlawful to modify any DNA or mindmap of any clone. (Codicil 2 being an exception.) Clones must con- tinue with the DNA of their original bodies and their original mindmap.
- The shells a clone leaves behind must be disposed of quickly, hygienically, and without ceremony or ritual.
- It is unlawful for a clone to end their own current life in order to be reborn. (Exception one: A clone can sign a eu- thanasia agreement, if a qualified doctor agrees that death is imminent and they are suffering. Exception two: See Codicil 1.)
WAKE ONE: THE DORMIRE CREW
THIS IS NOT A PIPE
DAY 1 JULY 25, 2493
Sound struggled to make its way through the thick synth- amneo fluid. Once it reached Maria Arena’s ears, it sounded like a chain saw: loud, insistent, and unending. She couldn’t make out the words, but it didn’t sound like a situation she wanted to be involved in.
Her reluctance at her own rebirth reminded her where she was, and who she was. She grasped for her last backup. The crew had just moved into their quarters on the Dormire, and the cloning bay had been the last room they’d visited on their tour. There they had done their first backup on the ship.
Maria must have been in an accident or something soon after, killing her and requiring her next clone to wake. Sloppy use of a life wouldn’t make a good impression on the captain, who likely was the source of the angry chain-saw noise.
Maria finally opened her eyes. She tried to make sense of the dark round globules floating in front of her vat, but it was difficult with the freshly cloned brain being put to work for the first time. There were too many things wrong with such a mess.
With the smears on the outside of the vat and the purple color through the bluish fluid Maria floated in, she figured the orbs were blood drops. Blood shouldn’t float. That was the first problem. If blood was floating, that meant the grav drive that spun the ship had failed. That was probably another reason someone was yelling. The blood and the grav drive.
Blood in a cloning bay, that was different too. Cloning bays were pristine, clean places, where humans were downloaded into newly cloned bodies when the previous ones had died. It was much cleaner and less painful than human birth, with all its screaming and blood.
Again with the blood.
The cloning bay had six vats in two neat rows, filled with blue- tinted synth-amneo fluid and the waiting clones of the rest of the crew. Blood belonged in the medbay, down the hall. The unlikely occurrence of a drop of blood originating in the med bay, float- ing down the hall, and entering the cloning bay to float in front of Maria’s vat would be extraordinary. But that’s not what hap- pened; a body floated above the blood drops. A number of bodies, actually.
Finally, if the grav drive had failed, and if someone had been injured in the cloning bay, another member of the crew would have cleaned up the blood. Someone was always on call to ensure a new clone made the transition from death into their new body smoothly.
No. A perfect purple sphere of blood shouldn’t be floating in front of her face.
Maria had now been awake for a good minute or so. No one worked the computer to drain the synth-amneo fluid to free her.
A small part of her brain began to scream at her that she should be more concerned about the bodies, but only a small part.
She’d never had occasion to use the emergency release valve in- side the cloning vats. Scientists had implemented them after some techs had decided to play a prank on a clone, and woke her up only to leave her in the vat alone for hours. When she had gotten free, stories said, the result was messy and violent, resulting in the fresh cloning of some of the techs. After that, engineers added an interior release switch for clones to let themselves out of the tank if they were trapped for whatever reason.
Maria pushed the button and heard a clunk as the release trig- gered, but the synth-amneo fluid stayed where it was.
A drain relied on gravity to help the fluid along its way. Plumb- ing 101 there. The valve was opened but the fluid remained a stubborn womb around Maria.
She tried to find the source of the yelling. One of the crew floated near the computer bank, naked, with wet hair stuck out in a frightening, spiky corona. Another clone woke. Two of them had died?
Behind her, crewmates floated in four vats. All of their eyes were open, and each was searching for the emergency release. Three clunks sounded, but they remained in the same position Maria was in.
Maria used the other emergency switch to open the vat door. Ideally it would have been used after the fluid had drained away, but there was little ideal about this situation. She and a good quan- tity of the synth-amneo fluid floated out of her vat, only to collide gently with the orb of blood floating in front of her. The surface tension of both fluids held, and the drop bounced away.
Maria hadn’t encountered the problem of how to get out of a liquid prison in zero-grav. She experimented by flailing about, but only made some fluid break off the main bubble and go floating away. In her many lives, she’d been in more than one undignified situation, but this was new.
Action and reaction, she thought, and inhaled as much of the oxygen-rich fluid as she could, then forced everything out of her lungs as if she were sneezing. She didn’t go as fast as she would have if it had been air, because she was still inside viscous fluid, but it helped push her backward and out of the bubble. She inhaled air and then coughed and vomited the rest of the fluid in a spray in front of her, banging her head on the computer console as her body’s involuntary movements propelled her farther.
Finally out of the fluid, and gasping for air, she looked up. “Oh shit.” Three dead crewmates floated around the room amid the blood
and other fluids. Two corpses sprouted a number of gory tentacles, bloody bubbles that refused to break away from the deadly wounds. A fourth was strapped to a chair at the terminal.
Gallons of synth-amneo fluid joined the gory detritus as the newly cloned crew fought to exit their vats. They looked with as much shock as she felt at their surroundings.
Captain Katrina de la Cruz moved to float beside her, still fo- cused on the computer. “Maria, stop staring and make yourself useful. Check on the others.”
Maria scrambled for a handhold on the wall to pull herself away from the captain’s attempt to access the terminal.
Katrina pounded on a keyboard and poked at the console screen. “IAN, what the hell happened?”
“My speech functions are inaccessible,” the computer’s male, slightly robotic voice said.
“Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” muttered a voice above Maria. It broke her shock and reminded her of the captain’s order to check on the crew.
The speaker was Akihiro Sato, pilot and navigator. She had met him a few hours ago at the cocktail party before the launch of the Dormire.
“Hiro, why are you speaking French?” Maria said, confused. “Are you all right?”
“Someone saying aloud that they can’t talk is like that old pic- ture of a pipe that says, ‘This is not a pipe.’ It’s supposed to give art students deep thoughts. Never mind.” He waved his hand around the cloning bay. “What happened, anyway?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “But—God, what a mess. I have to go check on the others.”
“Goddammit, you just spoke,” the captain said to the computer, dragging some icons around the screen. “Something’s working in- side there. Talk to me, IAN.”
“My speech functions are inaccessible,” the AI said again, and de la Cruz slammed her hand down on the keyboard, grabbing it to keep herself from floating away from it.
Hiro followed Maria as she maneuvered around the room using the handholds on the wall. Maria found herself face-to-face with the gruesome body of Wolfgang, their second in command. She gently pushed him aside, trying not to dislodge the gory bloody tentacles sprouting from punctures on his body.
She and Hiro floated toward the living Wolfgang, who was dou- bled over coughing the synth-amneo out of his lungs. “What the hell is going on?” he asked in a ragged voice.
“You know as much as we do,” Maria said. “Are you all right?”
He nodded and waved her off. He straightened his back, gain- ing at least another foot on his tall frame. Wolfgang was born on the moon colony, Luna, several generations of his family develop- ing the long bones of living their whole lives in low gravity. He took a handhold and propelled himself toward the captain.
“What do you remember?” Maria asked Hiro as they ap- proached another crewmember.
“My last backup was right after we boarded the ship. We haven’t even left yet,” Hiro said.
Maria nodded. “Same for me. We should still be docked, or only a few weeks from Earth.”
“I think we have more immediate problems, like our current status,” Hiro said.
“True. Our current status is four of us are dead,” Maria said, pointing at the bodies. “And I’m guessing the other two are as well.”
“What could kill us all?” Hiro asked, looking a bit green as he dodged a bit of bloody skin. “And what happened to me and the captain?”
He referred to the “other two” bodies that were not floating in the cloning bay. Wolfgang, their engineer, Paul Seurat, and Dr. Joanna Glass all were dead, floating around the room, gently bumping off vats or one another.
Another cough sounded from the last row of vats, then a soft voice. “Something rather violent, I’d say.”
“Welcome back, Doctor, you all right?” Maria asked, pulling herself toward the woman.
The new clone of Joanna nodded, her tight curls glistening with the synth-amneo. Her upper body was thin and strong, like all new clones, but her legs were small and twisted. She glanced up at the bodies and pursed her lips. “What happened?” She didn’t wait for them to answer, but grasped a handhold and pulled herself toward the ceiling where a body floated.
“Check on Paul,” Maria said to Hiro, and followed Joanna.
The doctor turned her own corpse to where she could see it, and her eyes grew wide. She swore quietly. Maria came up behind her and swore much louder.
Her throat had a stab wound, with great waving gouts of blood reaching from her neck. If the doctor’s advanced age was any in- dication, they were well past the beginning of the mission. Maria remembered her as a woman who looked to be in her thirties, with smooth dark skin and black hair. Now wrinkles lined the skin around her eyes and the corners of her mouth, and gray shot through her tightly braided hair. Maria looked at the other bodies; from her vantage point she could now see each also showed their age.
“I didn’t even notice,” she said, breathless. “I-I only noticed the blood and gore. We’ve been on this ship for decades. Do you re- member anything?”
“No.” Joanna’s voice was flat and grim. “We need to tell the captain.”
“No one touch anything! This whole room is a crime scene!” Wolfgang shouted up to them. “Get away from that body!”
“Wolfgang, the crime scene, if this is a crime scene, is already contaminated by about twenty-five hundred gallons of synth- amneo,” Hiro said from outside Paul’s vat. “With blood spattering everywhere.”
“What do you mean if it’s a crime scene?” Maria asked. “Do you think that the grav drive died and stopped the ship from spin- ning and then knives just floated into us?”
Speaking of the knife, it drifted near the ceiling. Maria pro- pelled herself toward it and snatched it before it got pulled against the air intake filter, which was already getting clogged with bodily fluids she didn’t even want to think about.
The doctor did as Wolfgang had commanded, moving away from her old body to join him and the captain. “This is murder,” she said. “But Hiro’s right, Wolfgang, there is a reason zero-g forensics never took off as a science. The air filters are sucking up the evidence as we speak. By now everyone is covered in everyone else’s blood. And now we have six new people and vats of synth- amneo floating around the bay messing up whatever’s left.”
Wolfgang set his jaw and glared at her. His tall, thin frame shone with the bluish amneo fluid. He opened his mouth to counter the doctor, but Hiro interrupted them.
“Five,” interrupted Hiro. He coughed and expelled more synth- amneo, which Maria narrowly dodged. He grimaced in apology. “Five new people. Paul’s still inside.” He pointed to their engineer, who remained in his vat, eyes closed.
Maria remembered seeing his eyes open when she was in her own vat. But now Paul floated, eyes closed, hands covering his genitals, looking like a child who was playing hide-and-seek and whoever was “It” was going to devour him. He too was pale, nat- urally stocky, lightly muscled instead of the heavier man Maria remembered.
“Get him out of there,” Katrina said. Wolfgang obliged, going to another terminal and pressing the button to open the vat.
Hiro reached in and grabbed Paul by the wrist and pulled him and his fluid cage free.
“Okay, only five of us were out,” Maria said, floating down. “That cuts the synth-amneo down by around four hundred gal- lons. Not a huge improvement. There’s still a lot of crap flying around. You’re not likely to get evidence from anything except the bodies themselves.” She held the knife out to Wolfgang, gripping the edge of the handle with her thumb and forefinger. “And pos- sibly the murder weapon.”
He looked around, and Maria realized he was searching for something with which to take the knife. “I’ve already contami- nated it with my hands, Wolfgang. It’s been floating among blood and dead bodies. The only thing we’ll get out of it is that it prob- ably killed us all.”
“We need to get IAN back online,” Katrina said. “Get the grav drive back on. Find the other two bodies. Check on the cargo. Then we will fully know our situation.”
Hiro whacked Paul smartly on the back, and the man doubled over and retched, sobbing. Wolfgang watched with disdain as Paul bounced off the wall with no obvious awareness of his surroundings.
“Once we get IAN back online, we’ll have him secure a chan- nel to Earth,” Katrina said.
“My speech functions are inaccessible,” the computer repeated. The captain gritted her teeth.
“That’s going to be tough, Captain,” Joanna said. “These bodies show considerable age, indicating we’ve been in space for much longer than our mindmaps are telling us.”
Katrina rubbed her forehead, closing her eyes. She was silent, then opened her eyes and began typing things into the terminal. “Get Paul moving, we need him.”
Hiro stared helplessly as Paul continued to sob, curled into a lit- tle drifting ball, still trying to hide his privates.
A ball of vomit—not the synth-amneo expelled from the bod- ies, but actual stomach contents—floated toward the air intake vent and was sucked into the filter. Maria knew that after they took care of all of the captain’s priorities, she would still be stuck with the job of changing the air filters, and probably crawling through the ship’s vents to clean all of the bodily fluids out before they started to become a biohazard. Suddenly a maintenance-slash- junior-engineer position on an important starship didn’t seem so glamorous.
“I think Paul will feel better with some clothes,” Joanna said, looking at him with pity.
“Yeah, clothes sound good,” Hiro said. They were all naked, their skin rising in goose bumps. “Possibly a shower while we’re at it.”
“I will need my crutches or a chair,” Joanna said. “Unless we want to keep the grav drive off.”
“Stop it,” Katrina said. “The murderer could still be on the ship and you’re talking about clothes and showers?”
Wolfgang waved a hand to dismiss her concern. “No, clearly the murderer died in the fight. We are the only six aboard the ship.”
“You can’t know that,” de la Cruz said. “What’s happened in the past several decades? We need to be cautious. No one goes anywhere alone. Everyone in twos. Maria, you and Hiro get the doctor’s crutches from the medbay. She’ll want them when the grav drive gets turned back on.”
“I can just take the prosthetics off that body,” Joanna said, point- ing upward. “It won’t need them anymore.”
“That’s evidence,” Wolfgang said, steadying his own floating corpse to study the stab wounds. He fixated on the bubbles of gore still attached to his chest. “Captain?”
“Fine, get jumpsuits, get the doctor a chair or something, and check on the grav drive,” Katrina said. “The rest of us will work. Wolfgang, you and I will get the bodies tethered together. We don’t want them to sustain more damage when the grav drive comes back online.”
On the way out, Maria paused to check on her own body, which she hadn’t really examined before. It seemed too gruesome to look into your own dead face. The body was strapped to a seat at one of the terminals, drifting gently against the tether. A large bubble of blood drifted from the back of her neck, where she had clearly been stabbed. Her lips were white and her skin was a sickly shade of green. She now knew where the floating vomit had come from.
“It looks like I was the one who hit the resurrection switch,” she said to Hiro, pointing to her body.
“Good thing too,” Hiro said. He looked at the captain, convers- ing closely with Wolfgang. “I wouldn’t expect a medal anytime soon, though. She’s not looking like she’s in the mood.”
The resurrection switch was a fail-safe button. If all of the clones on the ship died at once, a statistical improbability, then the AI should have been able to wake up the next clones. If the ship failed to do so, an even higher statistical improbability, then a physical switch in the cloning bay could carry out the job, provided there was someone alive enough to push it.
Like the others, Maria’s body showed age. Her middle had soft- ened and her hands floating above the terminal were thin and spotted. She had been the physical age of thirty-nine when they had boarded.
“I gave you an order,” Katrina said. “And Dr. Glass, it looks like talking our engineer down will fall to you. Do it quickly, or else he’s going to need another new body when I’m through with him.”
Hiro and Maria got moving before the captain could detail what she was going to do to them. Although, Maria reflected, it would be hard to top what they had just apparently been through.
Maria remembered the ship as shinier and brighter: metallic and smooth, with handholds along the wall for low-gravity situations and thin metal grates making up the floor, revealing a subfloor of storage compartments and vents. Now it was duller, another indi- cation that decades of spaceflight had changed the ship as it had changed the crew. It was darker, a few lights missing, illuminated by the yellow lights of an alert. Someone—probably the captain— had commanded an alert.
Some of the previous times, Maria had died in a controlled en- vironment. She had been in bed after illness, age, or, once, injury. The helpful techs had created a final mindmap of her brain, and she had been euthanized after signing a form permitting it. A doc- tor had approved it, the body was disposed of neatly, and she had woken up young, pain-free, with all her memories of all her lives thus far.
Some other times hadn’t been as gentle, but still were a better experience than this.
Having her body still hanging around, blood and vomit every- where, offended her on a level she hadn’t thought possible. Once you were gone, the body meant nothing, had no sentimental value. The future body was all that mattered. The past shouldn’t be there, staring you in the face with dead eyes. She shuddered.
“When the engines get running again, it’ll warm up,” Hiro said helpfully, mistaking the reason for her shiver.
They reached a junction, and she led the way left. “Decades, Hiro. We’ve been out here for decades. What happened to our mindmaps?”
“What’s the last thing you remember?” he asked. “We had the cocktail party in Luna station as the final passengers were entering cryo and getting loaded. We came aboard. We were given some hours to move into our quarters. Then we had the tour, which ended in the cloning bay, getting our updated mindmaps.”
“Same here,” he said. “Are you scared?” Maria said, stopping and looking at him. She hadn’t scrutinized him since waking up in the cloning
bay. She was used to the way that clones with the experience of hundreds of years could look like they had just stepped out of university. Their bodies woke up at peak age, twenty years old, designed to be built with muscle. What the clones did with that muscle once they woke up was their challenge.
Akihiro Sato was a thin Pan Pacific United man of Japanese de- scent with short black hair that was drying in stiff cowlicks. He had lean muscles, and high cheekbones. His eyes were black, and they met hers with a level gaze. She didn’t look too closely at the rest of him; she wasn’t rude.
He pulled at a cowlick, then tried to smooth it down. “I’ve wo- ken up in worse places.”
“Like where?” she asked, pointing down the hall from where they had come. “What’s worse than that horror movie scene?”
He raised his hands in supplication. “I don’t mean literally. I mean I’ve lost time before. You have to learn to adapt sometimes. Fast. I wake up. I assess the immediate threat. I try to figure out where I was last time I uploaded a mindmap. This time I woke up in the middle of a bunch of dead bodies, but there was no threat that I could tell.” He cocked his head, curious. “Haven’t you ever lost time before? Not even a week? Surely you’ve died between backups.”
“Yes,” she admitted. “But I’ve never woken up in danger, or in the wake of danger.”
“You’re still not in danger,” he said. “That we know of.” She stared at him.
“Immediate danger,” he amended. “I’m not going to stab you right here in the hall. All of our danger right now consists of problems that we can likely fix. Lost memories, broken com- puter, finding a murderer. Just a little work and we’ll be back on track.”
“You are the strangest kind of optimist,” she said. “All the same, I’d like to continue to freak out if you don’t mind.”
“Try to keep it together. You don’t want to devolve into what- ever Paul has become,” he suggested as he continued down the hall.
Maria followed, glad that he wasn’t behind her. “I’m keeping it together. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“You’ll probably feel better when you’ve had a shower and some food,” he said. “Not to mention clothes.”
They were both covered only in the tacky, drying synth-amneo fluid. Maria had never wanted a shower more in her life. “Aren’t you a little worried about what we’re going to find when we find your body?” she asked.
Hiro looked back at her. “I learned a while back not to mourn the old shells. If we did, we’d get more and more dour with each life. In fact, I think that may be Wolfgang’s problem.” He frowned. “Have you ever had to clean up the old body by yourself?”
Maria shook her head. “No. It was disorienting; she was look- ing at me, like she was blaming me. It’s still not as bad as not knowing what happened, though.”
“Or who happened,” said Hiro. “It did have a knife.” “And it was violent,” Maria said. “It could be one of us.” “Probably was, or else we should get excited about a first-
contact situation. Or second contact, if the first one went so poorly…” Hiro said, then sobered. “But truly anything could have gone wrong. Someone could have woken up from cryo and gone mad, even. Computer glitch messed with the mindmap. But it’s probably easily explained, like someone got caught cheating at poker. Heat of the moment, someone hid an ace, the doctor flipped the table—”
“It’s not funny,” Maria said softly. “It wasn’t madness and it wasn’t an off-the-cuff crime. If that had happened, we wouldn’t have the grav drive offline. We wouldn’t be missing decades of memories. IAN would be able to tell us what’s going on. But someone—one of us—wanted us dead, and they also messed with the personality backups. Why?”
“Is that rhetorical? Or do you really expect me to know?” he asked.
“Rhetorical,” grumbled Maria. She shook her head to clear it. A strand of stiff black hair smacked her in the face, and she winced. “It could have been two people. One killed us, one messed with the memories.”
“True,” he said. “We can probably be sure it was premeditated. Anyway, the captain was right. Let’s be cautious. And let’s make a pact. I’ll promise not to kill you and you promise not to kill me. Deal?”
Maria smiled in spite of herself. She shook his hand. “I promise. Let’s get going before the captain sends someone after us.”
The door to medbay was rimmed in red lights, making it easy to find if ill or injured. With the alert, the lights were blinking, alternating between red and yellow. Hiro stopped abruptly at the entrance. Maria smacked into the back of him in a collision that sent them spinning gently like gears in a clock, making him turn to face the hall while she swung around to see what had stopped him so suddenly.
The contact could have been awkward except for the shock of the scene before them.
In the medbay, a battered, older version of Captain Katrina de la Cruz lay in a bed. She was unconscious but very much alive, hooked up to life support, complete with IV, breathing tubes, and monitors. Her face was a mess of bruises, and her right arm was in a cast. She was strapped to the bed, which was held to the floor magnetically.
“I thought we all died,” Hiro said, his voice soft with wonder.
“For us all to wake up, we should have. I guess I hit the emer- gency resurrection switch anyway,” Maria said, pushing herself off the doorjamb to float into the room closer to the captain.
“Too bad you can’t ask yourself,” Hiro said drily.
Penalties for creating a duplicate clone were stiff, usually result- ing in the extermination of the older clone. Although with several murders to investigate, and now an assault, Wolfgang would prob- ably not consider this particular crime a priority to punish.
“No one is going to be happy about this,” Hiro said, pointing at the unconscious body of the captain. “Least of all Katrina. What are we going to do with two captains?”
“But this could be good,” Maria said. “If we can wake her up, we might find out what happened.”
“I can’t see her agreeing with you,” he said.
A silver sheet covered the body and drifted lazily where the straps weren’t holding it down. The captain’s clone was still, the breathing tube the only sound.
Maria floated to the closet on the far side of the room. She grabbed a handful of large jumpsuits—they would be too short for Wolfgang, too tight for the doctor, and too voluminous for Maria, but they would do for the time being—and pulled a folded wheelchair from where it drifted in the dim light filtering into the closet.
She handed a jumpsuit to Hiro and donned hers, unselfcon- sciously not turning away. When humans reach midlife, they may reach a level of maturity where they cease to give a damn what someone thinks about their bodies. Multiply that a few times and you have the modesty (or lack thereof) of the average clone. The first time Maria had felt the self-conscious attitude lifting, it had been freeing. The mind-set remained with many clones even as their bodies reverted to youth, knowing that a computer-built body was closer to a strong ideal than they could have ever created with diet and exercise.
The sobbing engineer, Paul, had been the most ashamed clone Maria had ever seen.
The jumpsuit fabric wasn’t as soft as Maria’s purple engineering jumpsuits back in her quarters, but she was at least warmer. She wondered when they would finally be allowed to eat and go back to their quarters for a shower and some sleep. Waking up took a lot out of a clone.
Hiro was already clothed and back over by the captain’s body, peering at her face. Maria maneuvered her way over to him using the wall handles. He looked grim, his usually friendly face now re- flecting the seriousness of the situation.
“I don’t suppose we can just hide this body?” he asked. “Recy- cle it before anyone finds out? Might save us a lot of headache in the future.”
Maria checked the vital-signs readout on the computer. “I don’t think she’s a body yet. Calling her a body and disposing of it is something for the courts, not us.”
“What courts?” he asked as Maria took the wheelchair by the handles and headed for the door. “There are six of us!”
“Seven,” Maria reminded, jerking her head backward to indi- cate the person in the medbay. “Eight if we can get IAN online. Even so it’s a matter for the captain and IAN to decide, not us.”
“Well, then you get to go spread the latest bad news.”
“I’m not ready to deal with Wolfgang right now,” Maria said. “Or hear the captain tear Paul a new asshole. Besides, we have to check the grav drive.”
“Avoiding Wolfgang sounds like a good number one priority,” said Hiro. “In fact, if I could interview my last clone, he probably avoided Wolfgang a lot too.”
The bridge of the starship Dormire was an impressive affair, with a seat for the captain and one for the pilot at the computer ter- minals that sat on the floor, but a ladder ran up the wall right beside the room entrance to lead to a few comfortable benches bolted to the wall, making it the perfect place to observe the universe as the ship crept toward light speed. The room itself comprised a dome constructed from diamond, so that you could see in a 270-degree arc. The helm looked like a great glass wart sitting on the end of the ship, but it did allow a lovely view of the universe swinging around you as the grav drive rotated the ship. Now, with the drive off, space seemed static, even though they were moving at a fraction of the speed of light through space.
It could make someone ill, honestly. Deep space all around, even the floor being clear. Maria remembered seeing it on the tour of the ship, but this was the first time she had seen it away from Luna. The first time in this clone’s memory, anyway.
Drawing the eye away from the view, the terminals, and the pilot’s station and benches, Hiro’s old body floated near the top of the dome, tethered by a noose to the bottom of one of the benches. His face was red and his open eyes bulged.
“Oh. There—” He paused to swallow, then continued. “—there I am.” He turned away, looking green.
“I don’t know what I expected, but suicide wasn’t it,” Maria said softly, looking into the swollen, anguished face. “I was actually wondering if you survived too.”
“I didn’t expect hanging,” he said. “I don’t think I expected anything. It’s all real to me now.” He covered his mouth with his hand.
Maria knew too much sympathy could make a person on the edge lose control, so she turned firm. “Do not puke in here. I al- ready have to clean up the cloning bay, and you’ve seen what a nightmare that is. Don’t give me more to clean up.”
He glared at her, but some color returned to his face. He did not look up again.
Something drifted gently into the back of Maria’s head. She grabbed at it and found a brown leather boot. The hanged corpse wore its mate.
“This starts to build a time line,” Maria said. “You had to be hanged when we still had gravity. I guess that’s good.”
Hiro still had his back to the bridge, face toward the hallway. His eyes were closed and he breathed deeply. She put her hand on his shoulder. “Come on. We need to get the drive back on.”
Hiro turned and focused on the terminal, which was blinking red. “Are you able to turn it on without IAN?” Maria asked. “I should be. IAN could control everything, but if he goes off-
line, we’re not dead in the water. Was that my shoe?” The last question was offhand, as if it meant nothing.
“Yes.” Maria drifted toward the top of the helm and took a closer look at the body. It was hard to tell since the face was so distorted by the hanging, but Hiro looked different from the rest of the crew. They all looked as if decades had passed since they had launched from Luna station. But Hiro looked exactly as he did now, as if freshly vatted.
“Hey, Hiro, I think you must have died at least once during the trip. Probably recently. This is a newer clone than the others,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to start writing the weird stuff down.”
Hiro made a sound like an animal caught in a trap. All humor had left him. His eyes were hard as he finally glanced up at her and the clone. “All right. That’s it.”
“That’s what?” “The last straw. I’m officially scared now.” “Now? It took you this long to get scared?” Maria asked,
pulling herself to the floor. “With everything else we’re dealing with, now you’re scared?”
Hiro punched at the terminal, harder than Maria thought was necessary. Nothing happened. He crossed his arms, and then un- crossed them, looking as if arms were some kind of new limb he wasn’t sure what to do with. He took the boot from Maria and slid it over his own foot.
“I was just managing to cope with the rest,” he said. “That was something happening to all of you. I wasn’t involved. I wasn’t a Saturday Night Gorefest. I was here as a supporting, friendly face. I was here to make you laugh. Hey, Hiro will always cheer us up.”
Maria put her hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eyes. “Welcome to the panic room, Hiro. We have to support each other. Take a deep breath. Now we need to get the drive on and then tell the captain and Wolfgang.”
“You gotta be desperate if you want to tell Wolfgang,” he said, looking as if he was trying and failing to force a smile.
“And when you get the drive on, can you find out what year it is, check on the cargo, maybe reach IAN from here?” Maria asked. “With everything else that’s happened, it might be nice to come back with a little bit of good news. Or improved news.”
Hiro nodded, his mouth closed as if trying to hold in something he would regret saying. Or perhaps a scream. He floated over to his pilot’s chair and strapped himself in. The console screen con- tinued to blink bright red at him. “Thanks for that warning, IAN, we hadn’t noticed the drive was gone.”
He typed some commands and poked at the touch screen. A warning siren began to bleat through the ship, telling everyone floating in zero-g that gravity was incoming. Hiro poked at the screen a few more times, and then typed at a terminal, his face growing darker as he did so. He made some calculations and then sighed loudly, sitting back in the chair and putting his hands over his face.
“Well,” he said. “Things just got worse.” Maria heard the grav drive come online, and the ship shuddered as the engines started rotating the five-hundred-thousand-GRT ship. She took hold of the ladder along the back wall to guide her way to the bench so she wouldn’t fall once the gravity came back.
“What now?” she said. “Are we off course?”
“We’ve apparently been in space for twenty-four years and seven months.” He paused. “And nine days.”
Maria did the math. “So it’s 2493.”
“By now we should be a little more than three light-years away from home. Far outside the event horizon of realistic communi- cation with Earth. And we are. But we’re also twelve degrees off course.”
“That . . . sorry, I don’t get where the hell that is. Can you say it in maintenance-officer language?”
“We are slowing down and turning. I’m not looking forward to telling the captain,” he said, unstrapping himself from the seat. He glanced up at his own body drifting at the end of the noose like a grisly kite. “We can cut that down later.”
“What were we thinking? Why would we go off course?” Maria thought aloud as they made their way through the hallway, staying low to prepare for gravity as the ship’s rotation picked up.
“Why murder the crew, why turn off the grav drive, why spare the captain, why did I kill myself, and why did I apparently feel the need to take off one shoe before doing it?” Hiro said. “Just add it to your list, Maria. I’m pretty sure we are officially fucked, no matter what the answers are.”