AUTHOR: Jos Mous
DISCLAIMER: I don’t own any of these characters and am not making a profit.
NOTE: Mike Ely’s “Journey to Alpha Centauri” is the official Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri backstory and I, personally, don’t agree with it. Mostly because Yang and Santiago (but especially Santiago) are set up as the villains and SMAC has no villains. So I’ve been playing with the idea of writing my own little AU version of the Unity’s voyage. I probably won’t, but if I did it’d probably contain a scene very much like this one.
This fic can also be considered to be a prequel to “Love”.
Lieutenant commander Deirdre Skye, the Unity’s chief xenobiologist, walked through Hydroponics Pod 1 between the rows upon rows of plants and trees. She was, strictly speaking, off duty and she was probably supposed to go get some sleep, but, in a sense, she’d just awoken after sleeping for 40 years and so wasn’t in a particular hurry to go back to sleep again.
A subtle change in the air (as well as a brief hissing sound) told Deirdre that someone else had entered the pod. Walking back, Deirdre saw lieutenant Santiago standing stiffly, if a bit uncertainly to attention.
“Yes?” said Deirdre.
“Ma’am,” said lieutenant Santiago with a quick nod.
“I don’t think we need to be formal right now,” said Deirdre.
“Ma’am,” said Santiago.
Deirdre hid a quick smile behind her hand. “So. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Just checking to see if everything was fine,” said Santiago.
“Is there any reason why everything wouldn’t be fine?” Deirdre asked.
“Well, there was a minor. . . scuffle today between Zakharov’s engineers and Miriam’s followers.”
“According to our chief surgeon there were only three broken bones and six mild concussions,” said Santiago.
“I see,” said Deirdre.
“Afterwards, there have been certain irregularities all across the ship. I wanted to make sure that the Hydroponics Pods, at least, were free of trouble.”
Deirdre gestured to the space around her. “As you can see, everything is fine.”
“Good,” said Santiago.
Deirdre watched how the lieutenant didn’t leave. She smiled again and turned around.
“Zakharov’s engineers,” she said. “Miriam’s followers. And I suppose people have started calling these ‘Deirdre’s greenhouses’.”
“They have,” said Santiago, her voice carefully blank.
“Strange, don’t you think? You’d have thought we’d have learned.”
Santiago didn’t respond.
“And how about you. . . lieutenant? As our chief of security I suppose you like our venerable executive officer’s ideas about safety and control?”
“His ideas have some merit, I suppose,” said Santiago. “But it would only work if people were sheep or bees instead of people.”
Deirdre smiled. “So, you’re not one of Yang’s.”
“I’d like to think I’m one of mine. Ma’am.”
“Don’t we all,” Deirdre murmured. “Well, I care not for Yang’s security or Zakharov’s religious science.”
“And Miriam’s faith?”
“Her ideas have some merit, I suppose,” said Deirdre with a faint smile. “But I think we will need more than faith alone if we are to survive on our brave new world.”
“That we do,” said Santiago. “We’ll need strength.”
“Yes indeed,” said Deirdre. “We will need to learn to deal with an entirely alien planet and if we want to avoid another ecological catastrophe we will need to let go of our very human selfishness. But that, I believe, is not the kind of strength you had in mind.”
“No,” said Santiago. “People won’t let go of their selfishness. People will stay people. So there will be strife and war and worse. Eventually.”
“I cannot believe that,” said Deirdre. “I refuse to believe that mankind can be stupid enough to destroy a second planet.”
“That’s very admirable of you,” said Santiago.
“Just not very practical?”
Santiago’s face got an extra degree of impassiveness.
“Well now, I hope our chief of security is convinced my greenhouse is quite peaceful. I’m sure she has far more important issues to devote her time to,” said Deirdre, her voice gaining a more cheerful tone. “Or did our chief of security have some ulterior motive in coming here in person?”
Santiago clasped her hands her behind her back, put her feet firmly on the ground and straightened up considerably, the very image of the perfect soldier.
“There was something else on my mind, yes.”
Deirdre raised an eyebrow.
“My shift has just ended, and. . . I don’t suppose you would like to join me in the canteen for something to eat?”
Lieutenant commander Skye observed that impassive face that betrayed so very much. She wondered how much it had cost the woman to utter the phrase, how long and how hard she’d fought herself before even coming here.
Well, Deirdre Skye did not have to fight herself. She didn’t even have to think about her answer for very long.
“I’d love to.”
The canteen bore the official nickname ‘Cargo Bay 5’ simply because it was cargo bay 5. The Unity had been built under the assumption that the voyage to Alpha Centauri was going to be relatively smooth and that most of the crew wouldn’t wake up before landing. A canteen, therefore, was considered unnecessary.
Plus, there hadn’t been any money for one.
Still, after the engineering crew had removed most of the emergency tools for patching the ship up before everybody died, there had been this fairly large empty space that no-one was doing anything with. So some enterprising crewmember had put together some rudimentary chairs and tables and, with captain Garland’s permission, opened a canteen. They only served water and rations, but it was doing a steady kind of business all the same.
Deirdre and Santiago sat down at one of the makeshift tables and started to eat. Or at least, consume. Deirdre spent most of her time watching Santiago carefully, and was very nearly convinced that she was doing the same.
Santiago often struck people as a coiled spring just waiting to unwind violently or as a kind of predator in a fight-or-flee stance but without even considering the fleeing option. Most of the time, those people would be right.
But now the spring had been gently laid aside and there was no need for either fighting or fleeing. The careful, determined way with which Santiago ate her food spoke volumes to Deirdre.
“Do you think we’ll make it to Chiron?” Deirdre asked.
It was a strange thing to ask an obviously nervous person, but only if that person wasn’t Santiago. The lieutenant was quite used to looking death in the face.
“No,” said Santiago. “I read some of the damage reports. The reactor’s damaged beyond repair. The engineers are only trying to keep the ship in one piece long enough to make a crash landing.”
Deirdre nodded. She’d half expected that as well, but hadn’t been able to really admit it to herself.
“But there’s one upside, at least,” said Santiago, smiling wryly. “When we all die here, there’ll be no more war.”
“On the other hand, there won’t be quiet little dinners either.”
“No. There won’t,” said Santiago. “I suppose, perhaps, that would be a loss.”
“But I don’t think it will come to that,” said Deirdre. “There are still the escape pods, after all, if things go really bad. And when we see the new world and witness our first sunset, well, I think it will work out.”
Santiago gave a very brief chuckle. “You’re an idealist, Skye. A dreamer. It will never happen.”
“Perhaps not. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try.”
“A dream worth fighting for.”
Santiago’s wristcom bleeped twice.
“I thought you were off duty,” said Deirdre.
“I’m chief of security,” said Santiago. “I’m only ever technically off duty.” She punched a few buttons. “What?”
“Ma’am, there’s been an accident.”
“What kind of accident?”
“The kind where someone ends up with half their face melted away by a plasma-welder. Sorry ma’am.”
Santiago closed her eyes. “Alright. I’m on my way.” She looked up at Deirdre. “Still convinced everything will work out?”
“Yes. In the end.”
“Well, until the end comes, I suppose someone will have to protect you.”
Santiago stood up. Deirdre rose as well, slamming her knee against the low table and not caring.
“Santiago, before you go,” she said, taking the woman’s hands. “I’d. . . love for you to be my knight in shining armour.”
Deirdre quickly kissed Santiago’s hands. “And now, Santiago, you really must go and keep us all safe.”
Santiago gently pulled her hands free, took a step back and hesitated for the merest of moments. “You know my name, Deirdre. I’d. . . like you to use it.”
Deirdre nodded. “Very well. Corazon.”
Santiago nodded, turned around and walked out the room with the determined stride of a soldier off to fight for something she believes in.
Deirdre watched her go and smiled.