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Evening Star: Chapter Three
Note: The story herein is from the official site and should not be altered.

Small Room Edit

Darkness.

And voices.

Eyes. Eyes, open.

Blurry. Shiny.

Light.

Voices. Excited.

First voice: “Can you hear us?”

Second voice: “Can you hear us?”

Asking. Asking…

Blurry ghosts; blurry shadows.

Eyes closed.

Darkness…

***

Darkness.

First voice.

Masculine: man, male.

First voice, male: “Is he awake?”

Is he…?

First voice: “He should be...”

He should…

Second voice: “Yes…”

Woman, female. She.

Who is she?

Second voice, female, she: “I think he is.”

He is…

Open eyes. Misty light.

First voice, he: “He is!”

Second voice, she: “Can you hear us?”

Hear…

Asks: “Who… where…?”

Voice. My voice.

Male voice. Like him.

I am like him.

Asks: “Who are you?”

The blurry ghosts whirl. First voice whispers something; second voice whispers back.

They wait.

They. Us. We.

Asks: “Where are we?”

They coalesce into focus.

He´s young she´s old they´re looking

Looking at…

Looking at me.

She says: “Gavin…”

Gavin!

Gavin says: “Gavin… that´s me.”

They glance at each other. They smile.

Smile. Joy, happiness.

Gavin smiles: “I´m Gavin.”

They nod. They smile.

Gavin says: “That´s my name. That´s me.”

The walls move

the room spins

eyes close

darkness

darkness

dark…

***

Darkness.

Third voice: “Perfectly stable now.” Male, old. Grim, harsh, tense. “What did you do?”

Voice, first voice: “Nothing, Danio. Nothing.” Male, young. Firm.

Second voice, female: “Now don´t you dare saying it was because we did nothing, Danio dear.” Old. Serious, stern.

Third voice: “He is ok as far as I can tell. And he should be awake.”

Gavin says: “I am awake.”

Hushes and shushes.

Second voice, she; anxious: “Gavin? Dear?” Gentle. Worried.

Eyes closed, Gavin raises a hand.

First voice, young male: “Look!”

Gavin says: “Dizzy. Things spin, if I open my eyes. Blurry.”

Excited whispers. He, young: “…subjective qualia…!”

Eyes closed, Gavin says: “The light feels like a dense fog.”

She, old, cries: “Metaphor! That´s a metaphor!”

Third voice, harsh and grim: “Gavin. Can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“Is that your name? Gavin?”

“Yes…”

“Do you know where you are?”

Where…?

“No.”

She, old: “Gavin… we are inside a room…”

Gavin says: “Room… walls, roof. Doors? Windows?”

Soft laughter.

He, young: “You´ve got that right, save for the windows…”

Gavin opens his eyes. Blurry, but not so much. Three of them: he´s young, she´s old, and he´s old.

Walls…

Too near…

too tight…!

“Air,” Gavin says. “I need air… Windows! Where are the windows?”

Walls move forwards and backwards…

Gavin closes his eyes.

Gavin says: “Too small… too cramped! Too tight…!”

She: “Danio, don´t you…”

Darkness.

Dark.

Beta Edit

“Apparently,” Danio said, “this team has made their clone a claustrophobic.” He seemed almost amused.

Noora was not.

“No way,” she said. “The database would have filtered that.” She looked at Leticia, Thomas and Ralf. “You did filter that, right?”

“I will not dignify that question with an answer,” said Leticia.

“They are impossible to miss,” said Thomas. “Phobias are flagged on the database, Danio; big, red, huge flags.”

Danio shrugged. “Flags and filters can fail…”

“Of course they can,” said Thomas, “some of them, sometimes. But you cannot fool all the algos all the time. Heck: even without a filter, simply the chances of us picking the same phobia twelve times in a row are practically zero.”

Danio repeated his vulture-like shrug.

“Ralf,” said Noora, “you are our in-house psychiatrist. What is going on?”

“Well…” Ralf said. “We specifically had the algos search for as much outdoors and into-the-wilds experience as possible…”

“Phobos does not oppose Eros here,” said Leticia. “Loving dogs does not, per se, make you hate cats.”

“But `you´, in Gavin´s case,” said Thomas, “is a blend of dozen people…”

“Exactly,” said Ralf. “And all those twelve loved to be outdoors.”

“You mean that hate is love-by-committee?” said Leticia.

“I mean that we are in uncharted waters.” Ralf turned to Noora: “How are the other two?”

“As normal as people can get, so far,” Noora said. “Given the context, at least. Kurt and Karl´s boy is chatty as a parrot with a caffeine overdose; seems they have designed a politician. Zhelya and I, we´ve got this cute, introvert girl…”

Leticia cursed under her breath. “I told these two,” she said. “I told these two: let´s go for somebody who will like, who will love to be indoors. But no; some alpha-male Arctic explorer, that´s what the boys wanted. Now look what we´ve done with our dear Gavin, poor thing…”

She sighed. Thomas put a hand on her shoulder.

“Can Amanda give us a hand in here?” asked Ralf. “Some betablockers ought to do the trick, I should think…”

“I´ll ask her,” said Noora. “And ask her to keep it shush, for the time being.”

“Indeed,” croaked Danio. “Or Tomison´s headbangers are gonna have a field day with your boy. First patient with a serious phobia they see in a couple of centuries, now that´s the kind of thing that can make the Psychos´ day.”

He did not seem amused by this.

Psychobabble Edit

The room is small, almost tiny; surgically clean and empty except for a table and two chairs.

Gavin sits on one. The man in front is blue-eyed and white-haired; he looks about fifty.

“So, Gavin,” says the man. “My name is Itzka Kourailen. Most just call me `Doc´.”

“Why?”

“Well… maybe because I´m a Doctor?”

“Ralf is also a Doctor. So are Leticia and Thomas. And Danio, and Noora…”

“Indeed they are, yes…”

“But nobody calls them Doc. Why you?”

“Maybe because I love wine?”

Gavin frowns.

“Do you know what wine is?”

“A drink?” Gavin says. “Alcohol. For toasts… too much makes you dizzy and vomit?”

“A large enough dose will, yes.”

“And it´s made from grapes? A small round fruit, dark green or dark blue? That grows on vines.”

Doc nods approvingly. “How do you know all this?”

“I guess… I guess I just do. Pops must have grown me this way.”

“Pops?”

“Ralf, and Leticia, and Thomas.”

“Aha… why do you call them that?”

“Because…”

Gavin trails off. Doc waits.

Gavin shrugs. “Because they´ve taught me all I know, I guess?”

“Have they?”

“I guess…”

“Have they told you how they did that?”

Gavin nods. “Yeah. Chose twelve memories from the database.” He taps his own forehead. “Layered them all here.”

“Seems like the database taught you all you know, then…”

“But they´ve taught the database how to teach me, didn´t they?”

Doc smiles and nods. “That they did, yes.”

“Took them centuries, right?”

Doc nods.

Gavin says: “That is a very long time…”

“Yeah,” Doc chuckles. “It´s not exactly a blink, I can tell you that.”

“How old are you?”

“Fifty three, in this body. Or did you mean in total?”

“In total.”

“In total… Seems like I have more decades than you have hours, come to think of it.”

Gavin looks at the palms of his hands. “I cannot… I cannot remember how that feels like. To be that old.”

“I don´t think any of us do.”

Gavin looks at him.

Doc smiles: “Oldest discussion we´ve been having with… Pops, you called them?”

Gavin nods.

Doc says: “Most of us agree that our memory is just software, sort of. Do you know what software is?”

“Yes… computer program?”

“That´s it, yes. Most of us think that memory is like software: give Mr. Gao infinite hardware to run with, he will code you an infinitely large program. Question is: what´s our hardware?”

Gavin taps his forehead.

“Well then…” Doc raises his left hand. “You belong to Team Brain. You are in great company, let me tell you: AJ, of course, first and foremost… have you met him?”

“Judair boss?”

“Yep.”

“Then yes.”

“AJ, captain of Team Brain. Also Leticia, Noora most of the time, Tomison…”

“That´s your boss, right?”

Doc raises and eyebrow and grins. “He would say that he has been required to perform the role of a leader…”

***

Ralf laughed, watching the screen where Doc interviewed Gavin. “What da…”

“Required to perform?” laughed Thomas. “Does Tomison actually say that?”

Doc chuckled and froze the feed. On the screen, his eyebrows remained arched like two white-haired bridges. “Indeed he does,” he said. “It´s not that he wants to be the boss; leadership is a heavy burden he is required to carry.”

Leticia snorted and mumbled something.

“Hey,” said Doc. “Every boss has an excuse.” He turned to Noora: “What´s yours, by the way?”

“Oh, she makes no excuses,” said Thomas.

“She likes it,” said Ralf.

“Aw, c´mon!” said Noora. “I´m as kind and gentle as any power hungry tyrant… sorry, I mean benevolent leader can be!”

“Yeah…”

“Suuure…”

“Would never dare to even hint otherwise, O´ Queen of All Things Mnemosyne!”

“You see?” said Noora. “Leadership is not a burden when your slaves… I mean, devout followers actually want you to lead them.”

“Yeah,” said Doc. “I can think of a couple of bosses who share the exact same theory.”

“Anyway,” said Leticia. “Shall we…?”

Doc unpaused the feed.

***

Tiny room, table, two chairs; Gavin and Doc face to face.

Doc raises an eyebrow and grins. “Tomison would say that he has been required to perform the role of a leader, but yeah: he is as much as a boss as I can put up with. But anyway…” with his right index, he points towards his raised left fist, “he would also be a huge fan of Team Brain.”

Gavin looks at Doc´s fisted hand. Doc waits.

Gavin says: “And Thomas and Ralf, right?”

“Wrong,” says Doc, and raises his right hand, palm flat. “Thomas is captain of Team Body. We are mostly bodyware, according to him; our brains just think what our hormones want them to think. Hormones…?”

“Body chemicals?”

“Did you just remember that too? Man I wish I had been a Mnemosyne, back at Med School!”

“No,” Gavin says. “That I´ve learned today. I woke up, and Letty was taking some blood from me; said she needed to test for aldosterone levels, then explained to me what hormones are.”

“Hummm…” says Doc. “Now did she…”

Gavin nods.

***

Gavin´s nod froze on the feed.

“Now did you?” said Doc.

Leticia glanced at Noora, and said: “Yes. Routine checks.”

“And Gavin´s routine aldosterone levels were ok, I hope?”

“Yeah…”

“Anything to do with that extra batch of betablockers you´ve requested from Paulina?”

“Damn,” sighed Noora. “So much for discretion.”

“Doc, my dear friend,” said Thomas, “screw you.”

Doc laughed, good-naturedly.

“How did you know, anyway?”

“You´ve just said it yourself,” said Doc.

“Did I?”

“Indeed,” said Doc. “I´ve been screwing Paulina Skorva more or less every night since the Just-Three-Months-´Till-Rhyldan party. And you know our pharmacist; she gets all chatty after you bang her right. Which I do, as a general rule.”

“Itzka, dear,” sighed Leticia, “do you have to be so crude?”

“Do you have to be such a prude?”

“Hope you had a good time…” said Ralf.

“Hardly,” said Doc. “Paulina´s idea of kinky is to roleplay Doctor and Nurse. Can you believe that?”

Noora said: “I believe we don´t need any more details on this particular topic.”

“Hey,” said Doc, “you guys asked. So it´s my turn, now.” He turned to Ralf: “Why does Gavin need betablockers?”

The Mnemosyne team exchanged glances.

“Well, you know,” Ralf said, “stress, anxiety… Gavin is going through a lot…”

“Like everybody onboard right now,” said Doc. “Right? With the Star being so close to Rhyldan, and all the changes that we will have to go through once we arrive there?”

Glances exchanged again; nods.

“All right…” said Doc. “If that´s your story, I´ll run with it. Just try to keep Gavin quiet on the subject of hormone levels.”

He looked at them. They stared back at him.

“Don´t worry,” Doc said. “Tomison doesn´t need to know. He is not Paulina´s type, anyway. And her nights are busy enough already, so don´t worry about that.”

He resumed the feed.

***

Gavin nods.

Doc says: “Now did she…”

Gavin nods and says: “Yeah… said she wanted to check my aldosterone levels, keep them under control.”

“Hummm,” says Doc. “Interesting!”

Gavin nods again.

“Well,” says Doc, “that would support Team Body´s claim: Thomas et al say we think what our bodies tell our brains to think. `Think afraid´, or `think angry´, or `think happy´, etcetera. Therefore, going back to your question: how does being three hundred years old feel like? Answer: no clue. Because, since no body has yet got to live more than about a hundred years, how could any of us know how being two centuries old feels like? A few of us know what it feels like being a centennial, twice; most of us just know what it feels like being a septuagenarian, four or five times.”

Gavin thinks.

Doc waits.

Gavin says: “But you do remember, right?”

“Oh,” says Doc, “I remember. I remember a day, around ninety thousand days ago, when I first stepped onboard the Northern Star. I clearly remember it launching. I also vividly remember the next day, when I had… let´s say I vehemently disagreed with my boss Tomison about my nickname, and I could retell you quite a few early-days anecdotes, when none of us was none too sure about how things worked and everything was brand new. But most of the ninety thousand days afterwards…”

Gavin waits.

Doc says: “Do you know how to use a toilette?”

“Yeah,” Gavin says, a bit embarrassed. “That´s perhaps the first thing they wanted me to do, after I woke up.”

“Well…” Doc says, “I don´t remember learning how to, myself; I was a little kid. But I also don´t remember about the first time I used the toilettes onboard. Or even which toilette I used first. In a way, what the database did with you, blending and fuzzying all those memories into a single, coherent one, is no different than what good ol´time has done with me. Or any of us onboard.”

Gavin thinks. “Are you on Team Body, then? With Ralf and Thomas?”

“I guess I am.”

“But you boss, Tomison… he is on the other side?”

“Aha…”

“How that does work?”

Doc shrugs and smiles. “That´s what teamwork is, I suppose. You gotta spread out to cover the entire field.”

Gavin nods.

Doc waits.

Gavin asks: “Do you remember… you know…?”

“Dying?”

Gavin nods.

“Twice. One heart attack, and one pretty nasty gastric cancer. Although the latter, I just remember Amanda putting me to sleep; the pain was fucking unbearable. The other two times, I was asleep already. Guess I got lucky at that.”

Gavin says nothing.

“Woke up good as new,” Doc says. “Feeling like a million bucks.”

Gavin frowns: “Like a lot of young horses?”

“Yeah,” Doc laughs. “Something like that. Feeling awesome, young again. Probably like you feel right now. But yep; let´s say that recloning pretty much killed obituaries as a literary art form; now they are just fatal bug reports.”

Gavin looks at the palm of his hands.

Doc waits.

***

This time it was Ralf who paused the feed.

“Shouldn´t you be… I don´t know…” said Ralf.

“You doing most of the asking?” Thomas said.

Doc shrugged.

“That´s what Tomison does…” said Noora. “Just sat there with Faye, and let him talk and talk and talk, with the occasional question to keep him talking. Then sat there with Laura and asked and waited and asked and waited until she said a couple of things.”

“But I´m not Tomison,” said Doc. “Am I?”

“You are certainly not, Itzka, dear,” said Leticia.

“And is that what´s worrying you?”

Leticia smiled. “You see? You are pure questions right now; as the good Psycho you are.”

“Let me prove you right, then,” said Doc, “by asking: is that a compliment or an insult?”

Leticia glanced at Ralf.

“Doc… seriously,” Ralf said. “What are you trying to do with Gavin? Don´t answer that with a question, please.”

Doc doodled with his finger over the table, like drawing the map of an imaginary country. “You know that old joke, right? About the answer to the ultimate question? A gazillion scientists build the most advanced computer in the universe, wait like forever…”

“Yeah,” said Ralf. “And the computer answers: 42.”

“So, now,” said Thomas, “the scientists have to find out: what´s the question?”

“Yep,” said Doc. “That joke.” He stabbed at the Capital City of his imaginary nation. “You guys have just done something amazing. You have created something new, and not once, but thrice. Fuck if I know how you´ve made it work, but it does seem to work: blending the memory layers, like you did… I could have bet a lifetime supply of Cohibas that you´d end up with a severe case of schizophrenia, yet what you achieved is… is…”

“Scotch,” said Thomas. “Blended.”

“I thought you were Irish?”

“That should tell you a lot about me giving credit to the Scots. They know squat about distilling, let me tell you, but when it comes to blending…”

“Well,” said Doc, pointing at the feed, “there you go: you guys have blended a Blue Label kid right there. Something new and different, and probably unique, out of mixing old stuff.”

Letty whispered at Thomas: “Blue label…?”

“Means very good,” he whispered back.

Leticia nodded approvingly. “Still, Itzka dear… why is it that you let him ask all the questions?”

“Because of the joke,” Doc said. “The one about the answer 42, and needing to find the question.”

Letty looked at him questioningly.

“You guys have blended three human beings into existence,” said Doc. “And now everybody from AJ to Tomison is standing in line to test them, analyze them, ask them everything, because that´s what we scientists do, right? That´s what we seek: answers. But what if Gavin and the other two Mnemosynes are actually questions, rather than answers? Like, questions we are about to ask to that big round ball of mud we should find floating out there when we exit darkspace?”

They stared at him. He said: “That doesn´t make much sense, does it?”

Leticia said: “I know I´ll feel all dirty after saying this but maybe, just maybe… maybe our Psycho friend here is right.”

The feed continued.

***

Gavin asks: “And you?”

Doc raises an eyebrow. “What about me?”

“What did you do, all these hundreds of years?”

“Talk,” laughed Doc. “Talked a lot.”

“Talk to who?”

“Talk to everybody onboard. Just like I´m talking with you. Do you know what a shrink is?”

Gavin puts his palms together. “To make something smaller?”

“Yeah,” Doc smiles. “They used to call us shrinks, back on Earth. As in, head shrinker. Psychologist, psychiatrists…”

“You mean a Psycho!”

Doc grins. “I´m quite willing to bet that somebody taught you that one after you were awake.”

Gavin grins, too. “Yeah. Ralf did.”

“Well… did he tell you he is a psychiatrist himself?”

“Yeah, he did,” smiles Gavin, and counts with his fingers. “Ralf´s a psychiatrist, a neurologist, a neural engineer, and a… a bio nanny, I think?”

“Nano,” Doc laughs. “Nanobiologist.”

“What´s that?”

“Well,” Doc scratches his head, “you´ve got me there, son. That´s one of the fields they developed in here; has something to do with the proteomic interface between the Judair chip and our brains, and how we can now reclone in minutes instead of months, and thanks the dark gods also without having to endure through a Judair brainscan session each time. And lemme tell you, kid, Judair brainscans are bitch…”

“But you don´t know about what Ralf knows?”

“Not much, no.”

“How come?”

Doc shrugs. “Guess I just love talking. Maybe I´m a specialist, and like to focus on just one subject. Being just one thing, and not four or five like your Pops Ralf.”

“So you´re only a Psycho?”

“Yeah,” Doc smiles. “Just a Psycho.”

“And you talk to people?”

“Yep, I talk to people…”

“What for?”

“Well… that´s a very interesting question, in your case.”

“Why?”

“Because, if I understand your file correctly, which I probably don´t…”

“Why not?”

“… because, as we were talking just a moment ago, before they were be able to bake you and blend you, your three Pops had to spend two and a half centuries teaching the database how to teach you all you know. And let me tell you, they´ve also developed their own juju jargon for all the nifty things they´ve come up with during all these years, which for a humble layman like myself is pretty much impenetrable…”

Gavin looks at Doc and waits.

Doc asks: “Did you understand everything I´ve just said?”

“Yeah… I guess,” says Gavin. “Before they could grow me, Ralf and Leticia and Thomas, and Noora and the others, researched and discovered new things during all these years, and gave new names to these new things.” Gavin thinks for a moment, and then adds: “Just like they´ve grown me, and gave me a name. That´s why I call them Pops, I guess.”

Doc nods, raising both eyebrows high.

Gavin asks: “Are you surprised?”

Doc nods again. He says: “I would have bet… sorry, scratch that. I have bet that you would hardly be able to express yourself as you woke up; a bet I lost pretty much as soon as this conversation started, I´m afraid.”

“Bet with who?”

“Never mind. But not only are you articulate enough; you are able to perform introspection.”

“You mean look inside?”

“… AND you understand big words; that´s not something everybody onboard can do, let me tell ya´.”

Doc smiles. Gavin smiles, too.

“But that´s what I do, in a nutshell,” says Doc. “I talk to people, and they talk to me; and if I do my job right, I help them look inside.”

Gavin says: “Do you think I need to? Look inside?”

“I guess you´ll have to answer that one for yourself.”

Gavin stares at his hands and nods.

Doc waits.

Gavin asks: “Do you think…?”

Gavin´s fingers fumble with each other.

Doc waits.

Gavin asks: “Do you think I´m human?”

“Son,” Doc said, “after whole lifetimes spent trapped in the routine of living inside this flying tin can, most of us are just spaceship appliances by now. Which probably makes you and your two siblings the closest thing to a human that we have onboard.”

Gavin nods.

Doc asks: “Anything else you want to ask me?”

“Yeah… why do they call you Doc?”

Doc smiles. “Tell you what, kid. If you can find out that little secret all by yourself…” Doc lowers his voice and grins, “… I´ll tell you the biggest, best guarded secret onboard the Northern Star.”

***

“And what is, pray tell,” said Leticia, “the biggest, best guardedest secret onboard our ship?”

“Would it still be a secret if I told you?” said Doc. “I´ll give you a tip, though,” he said, and stared at Noora. “Your boss knows.”

“Aw, c´mon!” Noora smiled. “Don´t try your mind games with us.”

“Moi? Mind games with the Mnemosyne Team?” said Doc. “I would never ever dare to pee so far out of my league!”

Leticia pointed towards the video feed: Gavin and Doc, sitting across a small table in one of the smallest rooms in the Northern Star. “Anyway… what´s your professional opinion, so far?”

“You´ve just heard me.”

“I´ve just heard what you told Gavin in there.”

“Nothing else to say, Letty. Seriously. I could go on for a bit with him calling you guys `Pops´…”

Ralf shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“… and it´s kinda interesting that he feels the other two Mnemosynes are his siblings… they aren´t, are they? I mean, in any biological sense.”

“You´ll have to ask that one to Danio and his midwives,” said Noora, “but I´m pretty certain they spliced different DNA strands, and probably partially sifted at random to boot so no, not more related to one another than what they are to any random human being.”

“Still,” said Doc, “Tomison did mention both Faye and Laura referred to the other Mnemosynes as `siblings´, and you´ve just seen that Gavin knew who I was talking about when I used the word. Why would that be?”

“Is that a Psycho question?” asked Leticia. “Or a real question?”

“Real.”

“We are as intrigued as you are, Itzka, dear. Honestly.”

Doc looked at Ralf.

“Beats me, colleague,” Ralf said. “But Gavin does refer to Faye and Laura as brother and sister, and as far as I know the feeling is reciprocal. Not a clue why they do so, but they do.”

Doc nodded thoughtfully. “Anyway… as to your previous question: as far as I can tell, it´s obvious that he is a stranger in this little space travelling town of ours, but other than that he seems human enough. At least that´s my preliminary professional opinion.”

“When will it become your not preliminary opinion?” asked Leticia.

Doc looked at Ralf.

“He cannot know,” said Ralf. “Right? No more that any of us can know what awaits us in Rhyldan, for example.”

Doc stood up, went to the feed, turned it off. “In fact,” he said, his back to the others, “He may very well be the calmest person onboard. I mean, betablockers aside, he does seem to be the only one not scared shitless about losing his job, changing his century-old routines, having our neatly arranged hierarchical organization turned upside down, and experiencing all sorts of related tensions, stress, and anxiety.”

Ralf looked at Noora, who silently shook her head.

Doc turned around. “Anything else you want to tell me about your kid?”

“Nothing comes to mind,” Ralf said.

“Very well… do let me know if something does come up.”

“All right”

“Of course.”

“Sure thing, Doc.”

Relaxed Edit

The Gym´s floor is coated with a thick layer of soft polymer. It feels cold against Gavin´s bare feet.

He is panting.

He is sweating.

He is in pain.

His lips twist in a feral smile. He raises both fists in the kyokushin guard Yaco has taught him today.

Kyle Williams, one of Yaco's best students, stands in front of him; he is also sweating profusely, but his breathing is calm and steady. Relaxed. His dark-colored skin ripples with wiry muscles.

Yaco´s voice barks: “Go!”

Gavin lunges forward and launches a brutal right hook; his fist finds nothing but air, and Kyle is now somehow crouching underneath him, pressing his shoulder against Gavin´s stomach, then lifting Gavin up in the air…

Slam!!!

Gavin´s back smashes against the soft floor, Kyle´s shoulder crushing his solar plexus and leaving him breathless. Bones creak, but none cracks.

Yaco´s voice says: “Good, good… Let´s try that again.”

Kyle stands up, extending his right hand to help Gavin get back to his feet.

“Gavin,” Yaco says, “watch your balance, kid. Kyle, c´mon: he is not a porcelain doll; I need him to feel the real deal.”

Eyes vigilant, Gavin and Kyle return to their starting positions.

Yaco barks: “Go!”

Gavin is careful now; he holds his ground. He crouches forward a bit, as he has seen Yaco doing: knees bent slightly, the weight over the ball of his feet. This is right; this feels right.

“Good!”

Kyle circles around Gavin, keeping at safe distance, smooth and precise as a prowling feline. Gavin strafes to his left; moving targets are harder to reach.

“Good job, Gavin! Don´t let him choose the angles; don´t let him choose the distance.”

In a blink, Kyle closes the gap and throws a left jab; Gavin raises his left forearm to block it…

Blam!!!

… Kyle´s right shin smashes against Gavin´s left side; as soon as Gavin lowers his elbows, Kyle´s right fist lands hard on his face; Gavin´s reflex is to raise his guard again: Kyle vanishes, then is crouching below Gavin and grabbing both his legs…

… and up goes Gavin and…

Slam!!!

… Gavin crash-lands over the mat with Kyle on top.

“Enough!”

Kyle stands up, nodding. He smiles now, as he extends his hand.

Gavin accepts his help. He smiles, too.

***

Ralf and Thomas watched with fascinated awe as, on the biggest of the Mnemosyne lab screens, Kyle lifted Gavin off the ground as if he was a rag doll.

“Oooh!” they said in choir as, on the feed, Gavin´s head landed over the mat, hard. “That has to hurt!”

“Oh, it does,” laughed Yaco. “If I had a Cred for every bruise Kyle has given me with that move…”

“What the heck is wrong with you!?” said Leticia. “Are you trying to kill him!?”

“Just keep looking,” said Yaco. “See? He stands up. He is in one piece, and he smiles. Your boy Gavin, he is a natural: he likes it!”

“You mean he likes getting his ass handed to him?” said Letty. “You want to tell us we´ve created a masochist, is that it?”

“Boss,” said Yaco. “Requesting backup?”

“Officer Souza is right,” said Chief Taak. As usual, he had politely refused to sit down and now stood solid and erect as a broad-shouldered Greek column. “Your boy is a natural.”

“You call that a…”

Taak raised a hand. Leticia shut up.

“Yaco… slow motion.”

On the feed, at a snail´s pace, Kyle circled his arms around Gavin´s legs, just above the knees…

… pressed his shoulder against Gavin´s belly…

… lifted him in the air, as if they were dancing in zero G…

“Freeze,” said Taak. Then: “Do you see?”

“See what!?”

“Dr. Lopez… The man going up in the air is about to pound the ground. Hard. He knows it. He knows he cannot avoid it. And he knows it´s gonna hurt. But look at his arms; his neck; his legs. You see?”

“He´s relaxed,” Yaco said. “He lacks technique, but already knows that tension is not going to help.”

“Oh, I see,” said Leticia, “not masochistic, but fatalistic. Right? Life´s about to smash you and there´s nothing you can do, so you might just as well relax and accept it?”

“Arguably one of the most difficult skills to master,” said Taak, straight-faced. “Most of my people have been training for lifetimes, yet still don´t get it. They practice and practice and practice, but once they are in harm´s way, their technique vanishes and the flight-or-fight instinct kicks in; usually falling on the flight side of it.”

“But not Gavin?” asked Thomas.

“Not Gavin,” Taak said. “Look at him as he gets back up: he is smiling. He is calm. He doesn´t lose it, he doesn’t snap: he wants to try again.”

“And, let me tell you,” said Yaco, “after Kyle Williams lands you on the ground, not many are willing to go for another ride.”

Taak watched at the feed, thoughtfully. “It´s even like he is remembering,” he said, almost to himself, “rather than learning…”

“In a word,” said Thomas, “he is good. Isn´t he?”

Yaco patted Thomas on the shoulder.

“Take it from me, Pops,” he said. “Your boy is a natural.”

Allergens Edit

Compared with Gavin´s muscular forearm, Naomi Yamada´s hands are fragile, minuscule; they are also deft and precise. She has already painted two rows of numbers over Gavin´s skin; now she chooses a needle from a rack, gently prickles Gavin with it, returns the needle to the rack; then repeats the procedure with another needle, over the next number on the row on the arm´s skin.

The Microbiology lab is twice as large as the Mnemosyne´s, but equally cramped. The plants on the shelves are lush and well kept. They have a few tiny white flowers.

Yaco and Ralf have found stools and have perched there, watching Naomi work. Yaco massages his own forearm as a needle pierces Gavin´s.

Yaco says: “Ouch.”

Ralf asks: “You serious?”

“Yeah,” says Yaco. “Needles give me the creeps.”

Ralf asks: “You ok, Gavin?”

“Yes,” Gavin says. “I´m alright.”

Naomi whispers: “Hold still.”

“I just don´t get it,” says Yaco. “Can´t Jenkins and his Necros build him allergy-free?”

“Not quite,” says Ralf as he watches Naomi´s silky fingers caress Gavin´s skin. “We still don´t fully understand how allergies work. Best to test, to be sure.”

“Heh,” says Yaco. “That sounds exactly like something us Secs would say.”

“Aha…” says Ralf. “Isn´t it why you stick with Gavin?”

Yaco laughs. “Point taken,” he says.

“I don´t mind him being with us,” says Gavin. “We are pals, Yaco and I.”

“Hold still,” whispers Naomi; she gently buries another needle in Gavin´s forearm.

“Man, I just cannot watch,” says Yaco, turning away his head. “It isn’t a fair fight if the poor guy can´t fight back.”

Gavin does not flinch from the needle. “Will this keep me healthy?”

Naomi, eyes fixed on a patch of skin, shakes his head. “Not exactly.” She prickles. “It will allow us to know if you react to some of the most common allergens.”

“Are they common in Rhyldan?”

While choosing her next needle, Naomi shrugs. “I don´t know.”

“How about germs?” asks Yaco.

“No clue, either,” says Ralf. “There´s no way to know what we´ll find there.”

“As long as it´s not like in Contagion…” says Yaco. “Man was that one scary!”

Gavin asks: “What´s Contagion?”

“Best Layla Rouge flick.”

Gavin asks: “Who´s Layla Rouge?”

Yaco looks at him in disbelief. “You kidding? You don´t know?” He stares at Ralf: “How on Earth didn’t your Pops teach you that?”

Ralf makes an apologetic shrug. “Not the kind of stuff that you can layer; it´s way too specific… besides, we went for more outdoors types; guess Gavin is not a flick fan.”

“It´s ok, Pops,” says Gavin. “Can´t you show me?”

Naomi says: “Hold still.”

“Wish I could,” says Yaco, “but it never came to mind to smuggle her movies onboard, and apparently nobody else did. So… Okay, let me see: to get to Layla Rouge, first step is Zoe Clapton; that´s the actress that used to play her. You follow?”

“Yeah… actress: a woman that plays a role.”

“Exactly. Now, reach down into your wildest dreams… you do dream, don’t you?”

Trying not to move his arm, Gavin says: “Yup.”

“Okay. Reach down into your wildest dreams; pull the hottest girl from there: full lips, epic hips, angel´s face, legs that… well, you get the picture. Hellishly hot. What you now have is Zoe Clapton in her worst day. Oh, and a voice like coarse silk. You there?”

Gavin chuckles and then stiffens before Naomi can chide him.

“Now that you have Zoe, the actress, you have to get to Layla, the character… so on top of her hellspawned hotness, you gotta make her a world-class thief. Also a polyglot, polymath, fourth or fifth best hacker in the galaxy, almost as good a sniper as Zedkay, and of course capable of seducing and sweet-talking pretty much anybody from a Martian ambassador to a Ganimedian ring leader.”

“Can she fight?”

“Of course she can! Could behead you with a spin kick.”

“Wow,” says Gavin, “that Layla sounds bad-ass hot.”

“Yeah!” says Ralf. “She really is. Hottest, toughest girl in the galaxy.”

This needle goes much further down than the previous. “Ouch!” Gavin says.

“Stay still,” Naomi says.

***

After Naomi´s acupuncture session, the three men returned astern traversing one of the long corridors joining Aft and Prow. Yaco and Ralf walked ahead, side by side; Gavin followed them a couple of steps behind, massaging his left forearm.

Yaco said: “Try Japanese.”

“Sorry?” said Ralf.

“With her. Try Japanese.”

“Yaco…” Ralf said, “she´s British. Born and raised.”

“Half right,” said Yaco. “Raised in New East London since she was six months old, yeah. But born in Tokyo, and didn´t learn English until kindergarten. After Oxford, she went back to Tokyo; got her first Doctorate Imperial University, then her second at Chiba, where she also taught for about five years.”

“How on Earth do you know all that? Have you… I mean, with her…?”

Yaco gave him a sidelong glance. “I´m Sec, my friend. It´s in her file.”

Ralf stammered something incoherent.

They kept walking for a few more steps, then Yaco repeated: “Try Japanese.” Without stopping, he craned his head a bit and told Gavin: “Not sure how much your Pops taught you about this, but take it from me: it´s the oldest trick in the book. Tell a girl she´s beautiful, sometimes it works, sometime it doesn´t; depends on the girl. Now, take the trouble to tell her she´s beautiful in her mother tongue… blam. Never fails. Oldest trick in the book, I´m telling you.”

“Heh,” said Ralf, “I thought the oldest trick was to be almost two meters tall, full of muscles, a great dancer and a great smile?”

“Yeah… that helps, too,” said Yaco. “But your boy´s not bad at all in the muscle department. Gavin, you have gained, what, ten kilos?”

“Twelve.”

“There you go; all pure muscle, our Gavin, and I´m willing to bet I can make him gain a couple more. Tell you, my friend,” he playfully nudged Ralf in the ribs with his elbow, “once your boy starts getting his way with the ladies, I´m afraid we´ll just have to sleep with whatever he refuses. Which means you better start talking Japanese fast, Doctor Hounds, before your creation steals all the women. Take, for example, let´s say… I dunno, Doctor Burroughs.”

Gavin chuckled, midway between proud and embarrassed.

Ralf frowned. “You mean Stephanie from Hydroponics?”

“Yup,” said Yaco. “That Stephanie, yeah. Shoulder-length blond hair, about one meter and seventy centimeters tall, and fifty kilograms perfectly distributed all along the right places…” He pointed to Gavin with his thumb. “Lately, he seems to bump a lot into her; and when they do, she´s all smiles and giggles, and our boy Gavin has eyes for nothing else.”

“Well, I… uh…” stammered Gavin.

“Hey,” said Yaco, “nothing to be embarrassed about, kid; let me tell you, no Sec would complain about being assigned watch duty on her.”

“Maybe you should watch out yourself, Gavin,” Ralf said. “She´s a bit of a gwyn.”

“What´s a gwyn?”

Yaco put a hand over Ralf´s shoulder; Ralf stood silent.

“Bit of a tease,” Yaco said. “Likes to turn heads. A bit too much for her own good.” He stopped, turned around, and faced Gavin, who had to stop in his tracks too. “Not a word you should use as a compliment with a lady, okay? And definitely not a word you want to use where Chief Taak can hear you.”

“Why…?”

“Just don´t.”

Yaco continued walking, and so did the other two. The metallic echo of their footsteps was the only thing that was heard for a bit.

The corridor bifurcated. They stopped.

“Go right ahead,” Yaco told Gavin, pointing towards the right. “Start your warm up; Kyle and you are in for a lot of legwork today. I´ll catch up with you in a second, there´s another tip about ladies that Doctor Hounds needs to hear.”

“Sure,” smiled Gavin, and kept on going.

“Laters,” said Ralf. He looked at Yaco: “Shouldn´t you be with him at all times, whenever you don’t have him locked up? Not letting him out of your watchful sight, and all that?”

He meant it as a joke, but Yaco nodded gravely.

“There´s nothing to worry about,” Yaco said. “As far as I´m concerned, you can´t get a more decent human being than Gavin. He may be a bit shy when it comes to ladies, but overall he is as good a kid as I have ever met.”

Ralf stared at him for a long time. “Wow… that´s… I mean, thanks.”

“No need to; he is all your doing. Yet, still…”

“Yeah…?”

“You know that skin test? The one Naomi just did on him, to see if there´s something that gives him an adverse reaction? I have a feeling that, for a few people onboard, Gavin and the other two Mnemos will be like that: something that will cause those people a nasty rash.”

“You think?”

“No,” said Yaco, “I feel. On the other hand, it wouldn´t be neither first nor last time that my guts are awfully wrong, and most people I´ve seen interacting with Gavin treat him all right. Perhaps a bit overly curious about the Mnemos, but that´s to be expected: they are the first new faces we´ve seen in the last couple of centuries. Anyway… just wanted to let you know.”

Ralf allowed Yaco´s words to sink.

“But there is one thing that I am absolutely certain of, tough,” Yaco said.

“What?”

He patted Ralf in the shoulder: “Try Japanese.”

Tactics 101 Edit

Gavin likes the Mess Deck.

The roof is twice higher than in any other room on the Star, and if he stares at his food and focus on his table, the walls are so far away that they vanish from his peripheral vision.

Gavin eats.

Leticia talks.

She says: “There´s no such thing as too much food for you, is it, Gavin dear?”

She says: “Tommy, Puppy… can´t we ask the Necros to code his metabolism in our next clone? It would be nice to be able to eat, and eat, and eat, and gain only muscle and no fat!”

She says: “Gavin, dear… remember to chew!”

The food is greens and vegetables and beans, and it´s awesomely good. Gavin gobbles non-stop and even forgets that he somehow knows he loves something called meat.

“He works hard, eats hard,” says Ralf. “Yaco says he has already gained about fifteen kilos, and rising.”

Gavin nods, mouth full.

“Uh oh,” says Thomas.

“What?”

“Don´t turn around, Ralf,” says Thomas. “And save the Security jokes for later: Zedkay Decroux is standing right behind you.”

Leticia hisses something.

Ralf freezes.

Gavin raises his head and smiles.

“Hi, Zed!” Gavin says. “Shooting range this afternoon?”

“Yes,” Zedkay says. “After you finish with Yaco. Same time as yesterday.”

Gavin takes a spoonful to his mouth. “Shotguns today?”

“No,” said Zedkay. “Rifles.”

“Mh hm,” nods Gavin while chewing.

“Oh, and Gavin,” says Zedkay, and pats Ralf on the shoulder. “Bring Dr. Hounds with you to the Shooting Range, please. Chief Taak wants him to witness your progress.”

Ralf flinches.

Zedkay leaves.

Gavin, Thomas and Leticia look at Ralf.

“What´s going on?” says Letty.

“Must have run out of live targets?” says Thomas.

Ralf looks at Gavin.

Gavin shrugs. “I have no idea, Pops,” he says. “Do you think she was angry at me?”

***

The Shooting Range is not much bigger than the Mnemosyne Meeting room, but the walls are fully covered with screens here, from floor to ceiling.

“Forest clearing,” Zedkay says. The screens flicker to life, showing vegetation. The illusion of being outdoors is perfect: they are standing in a forest clearing, grass all around, and about fifty meters farther a thick tree line encircles them.

Gavin takes a long, deep breath.

“Miss the smell?” says Yaco, by his side.

“The wind, actually.”

“Yeah; nobody thought necessary to sim that, either.”

“It´s weird,” says Gavin. “I miss something I have never felt.”

“None of us have,” says Yaco. “Not in our current bodies, anyway.”

Gavin nods, thoughtfully.

“Targets,” barks Zedkay. “Three, in front. Static, 30 meters.”

Three human-shaped shadows flicker in the grass ahead of them.

Zedkay raises her rifle; aims; shoots thrice. Neatly beheads the triplet shadows.

“And that, gentlemen, is how you use a scalpel,” says Yaco.

“Rebuild,” says Zedkay. The shadows sprout heads. “Gavin, left,” she says. “Dr. Hounds, take the right.”

Gavin raises his rifle, aims, shoots. There´s a flare about five centimeters above the left shadow.

Ralf fumbles with his weapon.

“Yaco, help him.”

“Like this,” says Yaco to Ralf. “I´m left-handed, so mirror me. Your off hand… that would be your left: off hand on the barrel; gun´s butt against your shoulder. That´s it… that´s it! Classic posture; required with gunpowder to absorb the recoil, but still useful to keep the beam steady while aiming.”

Ralf asks: “Are the real ones the same as these?”

“Yep, pretty much; same size, same weight. Some of them heat up if you shoot for long enough, but other than that, same thing.”

Zedkay says: “Go.”

Gavin aims and shoots; a flare caresses the crown of the left shadow´s head.

“Good,” says Zedkay. “Dr. Hounds?”

Ralf shoots; the flare is way too low, and far to the right. Yaco gently grabs him by the shoulders and corrects his posture.

Gavin shoots again; *pop* goes the left shadow´s head.

“Eeesa!” yells Yaco.

Ralf grunts: “Bah… lucky shot.”

Yaco turns to Ralf: “Don´t reject credit, Doctor Hounds: my boy Gavin calls you `Pops´, so you must have something to do with his shooting. Honestly: I´m not sure what your team did to him, but Chief Taak will have a job for as many of them as you can breed once we land.”

“Don’t think our goal is to grow Taak a super-soldier army…” says Ralf.

“Yeah, that wouldn´t be a good idea, come to think of it,” says Yaco. “It would put us Secs out of a job.” He again corrects Ralf´s posture, making him stand straight. “But it does mean you may have to do your own shooting, my friend.”

Zedkay says: “Dr. Hounds… please? Your target is still a threat.”

Ralf shoots: way too high. He grumbles: “I think something´s wrong with this gun?”

Zedkay snatches it from his hands. Raises, aims: *pop*, *pop*; all shadows are headless.

Ralf sighs. “Do you really think you guys are gonna need these, when we reach Rhyldan?”

“Well,” Yaco says, “me, I like fighting up close, in-your-face. And, as a rule, unless the engagement is clearly one-sided, up close is how things usually end. But it´s Tactics 101, really: whenever possible, kill your target from far away.”

“Yeah, but anyway,” says Ralf, “do you think there will be so many things worth shooting at?”

“We are Security, Dr. Hounds,” says Zedkay. “Better safe than sorry, that´s our motto.”

“I thought it was `Mutiny Not´?”

“Oui, that too,” she says. “Or else. Rebuild.”

Hydra-style, the shadows regain their heads.

Zedkay says: “Do you like flicks, Doctor Hound?”

“Eh… sorry?”

“Flicks. Movies. Do you like them?”

Fearing a trap, Ralf says: “Depends on the movie, I guess…”

“Do you like zombie movies?”

“Yeah,” he says timidly. “You mean, like Contagion? I kinda do, actually.”

She returns him his rifle. “The dead are walking, Doctor Puppy,” she says. “They are coming for us. Look!” she points at the shadows. She smiles: “Zombies, incoming!”

Ralf grins. He grabs the rifle, takes aim; stiff arms make the gun wiggle.

Zedkay´s hand is on his shoulder.

“Easy there,” she says. “Relax your grip. Gentle. Yes, good; like that. Now, s´il vous plaît, excuse my English: shoot those undead fuckers in da head.”

***

“Gavin, he just seems one of them!” said Ralf. “You should see how he shoots; even Zedkay was impressed.”

“Now that´s some compliment…” said Thomas.

“You guys must really have done something right,” said Noora.

Leticia grumbled. “Three centuries old, and still playing soldiers…”

Ralf shrugged. “If there´s life, there might be predators. Taak´s crew is all about safe, so…”

“Germs, not predators; those are the ones they should be worried about.”

“Actually,” Ralf said, “those were Zedkay´s exact words.”

“Were they?”

“They were. `Big, we shoot; small, we squash. It´s micro what we should worry about´.”

“Is she really such a good shot?”

“Can Captain Kjell fly a spaceship?” Ralf said. “Can Corion Jaffar cook? She made us sit down, then had the range just throw scores of targets at her: shadows came running from everywhere, but she seemed to be some eight-armed goddess capable of shooting in every direction at once; poor bastards never had a chance. I mean, man… that girl was like Layla Rouge in Contagion: pure bad-ass.”

Noora winked at Thomas. “I think our Puppy is quite impressed by this gun-toting Security Officer,” she said.

Ralf shrugged and smiled, thinly. “Well… she ain´t that bad, once you get to know her. More like she wears this cold mask on the outside, but…”

“Ah, to be again young and naïve,” said Thomas. “All those hormones in your bloodstream, getting aroused when confronted with a weapon-wielding tough chick.”

“Just saying, she is not…”

“She is Sec,” said Leticia. “Don’t you see?”

“Yeah, but it´s just that…”

“Her job is to watch us,” Leticia said. She pointed at the invisible Sec cameras on the upper corners. “Remember? She said so herself, for crying out loud!” She turned to face one of unseen cams, waved, smiled, said: “Hi, Zedkay. Hope Danio botches your next clone, bitch.”

“Come on, Letty,” Noora said. “That´s enough.”

“Yes, Noora dear, I concur,” Leticia said. “We´ve already had enough of Sec watching us, enough of the Psychos and their mindmongering.” She clutched her steel cane as if it was a mace. “I want them far away from Gavin.”

“Letty,” said Thomas, “that´s not something that we…”

“Far away from Gavin,” she said. “As far away as I can keep them.”


Next: Chapter#4, Party

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