Chapter no 29

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

The rest of the day passed in a mood of quiet intensity. The crew bustled around, preparing for the descent to the planet, while Kira reviewed the procedures for preventing contamination while in an unknown (and potentially life-bearing) alien environment. She knew them by heart, but it was always good to read them again before the start of an expedition.

Ideally they would have spent months, if not years, studying the planet’s biosphere from a distance before daring to put an actual human on the surface, but given the circumstances, that was a luxury they couldn’t afford. Still, Kira wanted to reduce the chances of contamination—in either direction—as much as possible. The planet was an incredible source of information; it would be a crime to infect it with a set of human microbes. Unfortunately, even the most thorough decontamination couldn’t remove every foreign body from the surface of their equipment, but they’d do the best they could.

After some thought, she drew up a list of recommendations: best practices for protecting the location and themselves, based off her professional experience. She sent the list to both Falconi and Akawe.

<These are going to be a real pain in the ass, Navárez. Running through decon twice? No touching of an object without express permission? Walking single file? No COventing? The UMCN already has its own set of protocols for dealing with this sort of situation, and they’re more than adequate. – Akawe>

<No, they aren’t. We’ve never found a location like this before. We can’t screw this up. Future generations will thank us for it. – Kira>

<First we have to make sure there are future generations. – Akawe>

He continued to grumble, but after some more discussion, he agreed to implement her guidelines during the landing mission. <But that’s all they are, Navárez, guidelines. Shit happens in the field, and you have to adapt. –Akawe>

<As long as we make an attempt to preserve the site. That’s all I’m asking. – Kira>

<Roger that. – Akawe>

Kira returned to examining the images Gregorovich and Horzcha Ubuto were collecting of planet e, as well as the rest of the system. She didn’t

learn much, but she kept at it, hoping to spot something else that might help them find the Staff of Blue.

Dinner, when it came, was a friendlier, more energetic affair than the previous one. Nielsen was there, and though everyone was somewhat on edge about the upcoming trip, a sense of optimism pervaded the air. It felt as if they—and humans in general—were finally going to be able to make significant progress against the Jellies.

Most of the conversations revolved around what they might or might not expect to run into on the planet, as well as the best pieces of equipment to take. Room on the UMC shuttle would be limited, so they had to choose wisely.

Sparrow, as Kira expected, was disgruntled at being left behind on the Wallfish (Hwa-jung didn’t seem to mind either way). To which Falconi said, “When I don’t have to worry about you ripping your stomach back open, then you can climb into an exo, and not a moment sooner.”

Sparrow conceded the point, but Kira could tell she was still unhappy. To distract her, Kira said, “So I’m curious; is Sparrow your first or last name? You’ve never said.”

“I haven’t?” Sparrow took a sip of wine. “Imagine that.”

“Her name is just listed as Sparrow on her ID,” said Falconi, leaning toward Kira.

“Really?” said Kira. “You only have one name?”

A twinkle appeared in Sparrow’s eyes. “Only one that I answer to.”

I bet the Marines could tell me for sure. But Kira wasn’t about to ask them. “What about you, then?” she said, looking at Trig.

The kid groaned and buried his head in his hands. “Aww, man. Did you have to ask?”

“What?” Around the room, the rest of the crew grinned.

Vishal plopped his cup down on the table and pointed a finger at Trig. “Our young companion here has a most interesting name, yes he does.”

“Trig’s just a nickname,” said Sparrow. “His real name is—”

“Nooo,” the kid said, his cheeks reddening. “My aunt had a weird sense of humor, okay?”

To Kira, Vishal said, “She must have; she named the poor child Epiphany Jones.” And everyone but Trig laughed.

“That’s a … unique name,” Kira said.

Falconi said, “It gets better. Tell her how we found Trig.”

The kid shook his head as the rest of the crew tried to talk at once. “Come on! Not that story.”

“Oh yes,” said Sparrow, grinning.

“Why don’t you tell me yourself?” said Kira. The kid wrinkled his nose. “He was a dancer,” said Hwa-jung, and nodded as if she’d shared a great


Kira gave Trig an appraising look. “A dancer, huh?”

“On Undset Station, around Cygni B,” Vishal added. “He was making a living performing in a bar for the miners.”

“It wasn’t like that!” Trig protested. The others tried to break in, and he raised his voice to be heard over the clamor. “Not really, honest! My friend worked at the place, and he was trying to find a way to attract business. So I came up with the idea. We put some Tesla coils on stage and used them to play music. Then I rigged up a skinsuit to work as a Faraday cage, and I stood between the coils and caught the lightning bolts with my hands, arms, that sort of thing. It was awesome.”

“And don’t forget the dancing,” said Falconi, grinning. Trig shrugged. “So I danced a bit.”

“I wasn’t there myself,” Nielsen said, putting a hand on Kira’s arm. “But I heard he was very … enthusiastic.” Despite his obvious embarrassment, Trig seemed somewhat proud of the first officer’s praise, humorous though it was.

“Oh, he was,” said Vishal. “He was.”

Taking pity on the kid’s discomfort, Kira changed the subject: “What kind of music did you play?”

“Mostly scramrock. Thresh. That sort of thing.” “So why’d you leave?”

“Didn’t have any reason to stay,” he mumbled, and downed the rest of his water.

A somber mood quelled the conversation. Then Falconi wiped his mouth with a napkin and said, “I know what you need.”

“What?” said Trig, staring at his plate. “A religious experience.”

The kid snorted. Then his lips curved with a faint, reluctant smile. “Yeah. Okay.… You might be right.”

“Of course I’m right,” said Falconi.

With newfound enthusiasm, Trig scraped the rest of his food into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “I’m going to regret that,” he said, smiling as he got to his feet.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” said Hwa-jung.

“Go on, eat the whole thing this time,” called Sparrow. “Video! Take video,” said Falconi.

“Just make sure you wash afterward.” Nielsen grimaced slightly. “Yes, ma’am.”

Confused, Kira looked between them. “A religious experience?”

Falconi picked up his plate and carried it to the sink. “Trig has an uncommon love of hot peppers. While back, he picked up a Black Nova off a wirehead on Eidolon.”

“I take it a Black Nova is a kind of pepper.”

Trig bounced on his heels. “Hottest one in the galaxy!”

“It’s so hot,” said Sparrow, “they say you’ll see the face of god if you’re idiot enough to eat one. That or you pass out and die.”

“Hey now,” Trig protested. “It’s not that bad.” “Ha!”

“Have you tried it?” Kira asked Falconi.

He shook his head. “I prefer not to wreck my stomach.” She eyed Trig. “So why do you like it so much?”

“Well, uh, if you don’t have enough food, hot sauce really helps, you know? Cuts the hunger. That’s what got me into peppers. That and I kinda like the challenge. Gives me a sense of control. It doesn’t even hurt after a while, and you just feel like, whee!” Trig rolled his head, as if dizzy.

“Helps with hunger, huh?” Kira was starting to understand.

“Yeah.” Trig took his dishes to the sink and then hurried out of the galley. “Wish me luck!”

Kira took a sip of her chell. “Should we wait?” she asked, looking at the others.

Falconi activated the holo-display on his table. “If you want.”

“A while back, Trig mentioned there were food shortages on Undset Station.…”

A frown settled onto Sparrow’s sharp face. “If that’s what you want to call it. Royal fuckup is more like it.”


“Yeah. Way I understand it, the sublight transport that was supposed to resupply Undset from Cygni A broke down, went off course. No big deal, right? The station had a hydro bay plus plenty of extra food stockpiled. Only problem was—”

“Only problem was,” said Falconi, looking over the gleaming holo, “the quartermaster had been cutting corners, pocketing the difference. Less than a third of the food was actually there. And most of it was rotten. Faulty seals or something.”

Kira winced. “Oh shit.”

“You can say that again. By the time they realized how bad the situation was, the station was nearly out of food, and the replacement tug was still a few weeks out.”

Weeks? Why so long? Cygni B isn’t that far from A.”

“Bureaucracy, time it took to gather the supplies, prep a ship, et cetera. Apparently they didn’t have any FTL transports set up at the time so they had to do it sublight. It was a whole collection of screwups.”

Sparrow chimed in, “From what Trig’s said, things got real bad on Undset before the new transport showed up. Supposedly, they ended up spacing the quartermaster and the station commander.” And she nodded as if sharing a great secret.

“Thule.” Kira shook her head. “How long ago was this?” Sparrow looked over at Falconi. “What, about ten, twelve years?” He nodded. “Sounds about right.”

Kira picked at her food, thinking. “Trig would have been pretty young, then.”


“No wonder he wanted to get off Undset.”

Falconi returned his attention to the holo. “Wasn’t his only reason, but … yes.”

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