by D.J. Sylvis
(The episode begins with a recorded standard introduction. This will be the same for every episode of Season Two.)
Recording. This is Roger Bragado-Fischer, Communications, Moonbase Theta. As per your … instructions in the updated Base directives, I have begun monitoring the personal messages of all active personnel. Please note my … misgivings as put on official record in the previous week’s reporting. And the week before. And the week before that.
As your instructions remain unchanged, my written report, and several related audio messages, have been attached. The dates include two weeks of the shutdown sequence, beginning on September 22 and ending October 5, 2098.
(a brief, tense pause)
Moonbase Theta, Out.
(When that ends, we transition into the standard background noise of Roger’s private cubicle. We hear the chime that bookends a personal log message.)
Well, that didn’t work. Dammit. Fuck.
(after a moment)
Compose private message, contact, Alexandre – wait, cancel. Personal log. Save only to protected physical media. Roger Bragado-Fischer, October 2. Okay, so we made up an astronomical event, and caused a … tiny bit of a panic. And we got caught. I mean, at least if things went public, it looks as bad for them as for us, but still …
“We were unable to verify independently, or even with all members of your own Base crew, that the event truly existed.” We almost fooled them, too, if it weren’t for that meddling kid in the Security uniform.
(he steams for a moment)
I hope it’s not gonna come back on Ashwini too much. They’ll know it had to be zir who set up the data. And Wilder with the ‘power outages’ every time they asked too many questions. I guess we all worry about that when we make it back to Earth.
(the slightest nervous chuckle, this is the first hint of doubt)
Wilder’s already on edge about the stasis pods. She’s got them stacked up for removal, checking those warning lights every five minutes or so, muttering to herself and ratcheting her arm, I think just for the sound it makes. At least that’s why I’d be doing it. Maybe I should take up smoking so I have my own nervous tic.
We had to try something. The way they’ve been shaking things up here, the lid’s about to fly off. Wilder sitting over those pods like a nervous mother hen, Ashwini being pulled away from zir analysis to babysit the refinery – that brain, that work, it’s … I know ze’s an odd duck at the best of times, but I’ve been there, I know what ze can do, can see in the patterns, it’s a sin to take zir away from that. It’s a sin and a shame. They wonder why we did it, I don’t know how we waited that long. It’s just like –
(frustrated, runs out of words for a moment)
I used to slip in at the early morning, it’s the only time you might find zir at rest, instead of slashing away at fields of binary, guzzling coffee and jumping at any shadow that crosses zir path. Even then, there would still be a half-dozen cortex apps blaring, the faint scent of burning insulation in the air, but ze would sit silent, not asleep though, observing, right over my shoulder as I uploaded my messages, carefully written for flight into the void, suddenly feeling like I’d scrawled them in crayon and had the wit to match. It was a morning like that, I turned around cracking some joke about sending an SOS, and ze grinned, one of those grins where it feels like you can count too many teeth … and explained the plan.
We had to try something. Michell … I can’t crack the encryption on most of his reports, they’ve changed the algorhythms so much since I was … I found a few hints about the shakeup below, I’m very aware of what he thinks of me and that’s completely mutual, but nothing that gives me any real information … or tells me what it is he said to them about Nessa. Someone’s got to protect her. I don’t know why she let him in to begin with, of all the people … I guess there weren’t a lot of other chances, but please, keep it in your pants a few more weeks.
(a bitter laugh)
We had to try something. Another night of Sueca, another time around the same old sensurrounds – they couldn’t spring for a few new licenses to get us through the dozen weeks to shutdown. All that’s left is talking, and we’ve used up the good conversations. Maybe that’s why … him and Nessa, and why Wilder spends every waking moment obsessed with minor repairs, blinking lights, and hiding those damn tardigrades in every drawer I seem to open. Maybe that’s why Ashwini came up with that harebrained plot and why I thought it was gonna work. That’s the worst part, I guess – I actually thought it was going to work. I thought we had them all fooled.
Never mind, Roger. You play the game, you take your chances. Too bad I’ve always been terrible at games.
(shaking it off)
Better thoughts. Like Alex’s birthday. Did I leave his present on the top shelf above the waffle iron? Or am I thinking about last Christmas? Is it in the hall closet behind that massage bot? Inside the gravy bowl his mothers gave us for our anniversary? Was it Professor Plum in the Library with a Candlestick? What has happened to my brain?
(after a moment, coming back to himself)
End personal log.
(after another long, thoughtful moment)
Erase and overwrite.
(We hear the chime that bookends a personal log message. When we come back, we are in the Moonbase Theta hydroponic farm; we hear the sound of water dripping or burbling, any electronic sounds are very muted. As we begin, Nessa is pinching back some plants – we hear leaves rustle – and humming to herself. Eventually it resolves into a few lines of a song, “Dream a Little Dream.”)
Stars shining bright above you,
Night breezes seem to whisper …
(she hums the song for another moment, then speaks)
Poor dears. Not much point in those basal shoots now, is there? But you keep putting them out there.
(she sighs a little)
I’d better sit down for a moment. It was a long day down in the mines.
It sounds so funny to say that and have it be true. Umm, send today’s reports over to Wilder, attach a postscript; would you like to come for tea in just a bit? Or perhaps a bit of the old McVett blend. Give me a half-hour or so. Message complete, send it on over. Now then. Record a message to …
(brief pause, her mood grows more sombre, perhaps another sigh)
Personal message, Michell L’Anglois. Record.
(for a long moment she just waits, we hear the hydroponics in the background)
Michell. I wanted to talk to you face to face, but … your face has been hard to find of late. I know that’s not by accident, and I wanted to give you your space. But I also – I feel like a significant part of the problem is the things I didn’t say, or didn’t say in a way you could hear them. I want to try to say them now.
(it takes a moment to bolster her strength)
Do you know that cats and dogs can’t see colours the way we do? I know I told you about the great herds of domestic beasts roaming the Cheong household. One of our vets told me, when we were having problems with Mi Mi sneaking into the greenhouse, that … they still see colours, some of them, but not the same range, not the hues or saturation that we’re seeing. Red, orange, purple …
(she trails off for a moment)
I didn’t know anything was different until, you know, well into my teenage years. No one is surprised when a girl holds back. And I wasn’t sure for a while. Maybe I just didn’t like boys. Or girls. Or nonbinary. I can still see people as attractive – you know that’s true, I hope you know that’s true. But people talk about crushes, and all the songs and sensurrounds, every book and poem and vissive going on about it – and it’s not that I don’t know those things exist, they’re just outside the range I can see.
I can love … anyone in the world for what I see in them. I can love bravery and light and tenacity, I can love them for finding ways to survive even when they’ve been bashed and bruised, even when life is terrible and frightening. I can love them for the past, the present, for a future that’s better with their presence as a part of it. I enjoy a walk with a friend, a meal with my raucous family, a fun time rolling around in the sheets with someone I find sexually attractive. I don’t let those parts of life slip by, I see them and hold on tight and wouldn’t want to miss a moment. I can find someone with strength and a hidden spark they don’t let anyone see, a tenderness they’ve learned to sequester behind a dozen lead-lined walls, I can appreciate finding that and experience a … well, an absolute rollercoaster ride of a quickie in a barracks shower while we’re supposed to be decommissioning the area, and it was thrilling and delightful … but I made a misjudgement. I’m usually better at this, I make sure I’m better at this. I didn’t pay attention to what that tenderness meant, what it said you would need.
I can’t give you that kind of love. That connection you’re seeking. Not because of you, not because of anyone, just because of … me. I see other wavelengths, and I’m happy focusing on those. But I know you’ll keep wanting this, feeling it in yourself, and it’ll get even more frustrating, and upsetting. If I hadn’t stopped things, every day would just get worse for you.
I’m sorry I didn’t say it this clearly in the beginning. I … thought you understood, but I also probably glossed it over a little bit, if I’m looking inward and being completely honest. I’ve been away from my family for over a year, I never found a safe partner up here for this sort of thing. I should have waited, just a little bit longer. They know me, they all love in their ways and understand how I can – and cannot – love in return. It took a very long time to find them.
(speaking more quietly)
I was … married once before. When I was young, when I was … I had the talk even then, a version of it, and they said they understood. For a while, it was fine, sex was good and we took turns cooking and I had the most beautiful peonies against the side of the house. But it wasn’t enough. They were … dissatisfied, I’d say I loved them, but it wasn’t the right kind of love. The Qixi Festival came, and I looked into their eyes and I tried … but they could tell the difference. They yelled, tossed over furniture. They thought if they scared me, then it would come out. But they …
They disproved that theory.
I want to make it right with you if I can, I want to heal the hurt. It might be too much to expect friendship after this, but I’d like to find the way to something better. For both of us. You … you know where I am.
(we hear the usual chime; after a moment we hear Nessa pruning again)
Shut off nutrients to bed seven-four, mark for recycling.
(she continues to work, humming the song again)
(We hear a series of soft beeps as we fade out. A moment later, we hear the background noise of the observatory. Ashwini is just finishing a message and launching into the next.)
– send message, next. Note to Guillermo: the apartment seems acceptable, but the building must have its own fleet of hansoms on call, I refuse to wait for transportation. Send message, next. Log me in to our local iteration of Lands of Legend with player character Digory Puddlejump, run goldfarm macro for seven hours. Next. Coffee, soy milk, cane sugar – do we still have cane sugar? I won’t use the station’s artificial sweetener.
Very well, no sweetener at all then. Add an additional one point seven-five espresso shot. Continue senssurround, The Beast From Planet X, 2061 version, peripheral vision only.
(We hear a 50s-style sci-fi soundtrack – preferably including a theremin, then a klaxon running, and a sample from the following dialogue:)
VOICE 1 (Captain)
Damage assessment! XR-9, did the beacon make it out?
VOICE 2 (Robot)
I believe it reached optimal distance before we entered the atmosphere.
VOICE 1 (Captain)
That’s something, at least. Galactic Command will send help, we just have to sit tight and keep it together.
VOICE 2 (Robot)
Literally, Captain. Structural integrity now at sixty-one point two percent.
VOICE 1 (Captain)
Doctor, run a diagnostic on all ship’s systems. XR-9, head below deck to survey the engine and cargo bays.
VOICE 2 (Robot)
As you wish, Captain. I shall report from there.
(begin clanking noises)
Volume down to point five, internal conduction.
(the sci-fi stuff stops immediately)
Personal message, reply to C. Mooney: I will absolutely be back before the event and would attend delighted as your escort. And to the enjoyment after, you luscious thing. My riding crop is at the ready.
Best to everyone at the dungeon. Attach selfie 2269B, send message, next. Oh, append for Guillermo: I’ve been thinking of reservations for my return. How do you feel about Ethiopian? Send, next.
Are you sure this was my personal blend? The note of cherimoya seems off.
Open my file titled, “The Half-Blood King,” resume composition. “Harry knelt upon the steps of Cair Paravel, ruffling the hair of his only son. ‘Edmund Lucy Potter,’ he said quietly, ‘you were named after the two bravest heroes I’ve ever met. Now strap on your dimensional interface, we’ve got six more stories to visit before you’re due to arrive at Hogwarts.’”
All right, all right, I can hear you. That’s the first time you’ve called me by my given name.
(a bit surprised as well)
I didn’t intend to.
What do you need, Tumnus?
You are scheduled for refinery duty in twelve minutes.
Yes, yes, I’m almost ready.
Have you finished sulking?
Does it look like I’m sulking here? Add music, random blissfunk, external speakers at volume level two.
(music starts in the background)
Your behaviour is typical of other times which you have identified as sulking.
Rude, but I get your point. Silence all media.
(the music ends, we hear zir sip zir’s coffee)
I think I’m due. My astronomical plot was foiled; I believe that inevitably ends with the supervillain brooding in zir lair. That, or behind bars, but they haven’t built the prison that could hold me, you got that, copper? Well, come on, Tumnus, say something.
You are … brooding alone, but it was not only your plan.
The details were mine. All the richness, the intrigue, the machinations were mine. Thus, also the failure.
I’m sorry, Doctor. Will there be … will you get in trouble?
I don’t know. Likely, not until we’re back on Earth, and I can protect myself there. As for my co-conspirators … No one can prove that Wilder had any knowledge, she should be safe. Roger … that’s a bit trickier, his complicity is more obvious. I hope this won’t be a blemish on his record. He was … he did good work for us. He sent a copy of his report on the observatory, and it was unexpectedly poetic.
I read it, though poetry as a literary device is still beyond me.
He saw the beauty in the data.
It matched passages in your own reports to a surprising percentile.
You were surprised?
(after a beat, continuing)
And the outgoing messages he composes … completely pointless, of course, any intelligence we find in space will be from some utterly unexpected direction. But I admire the optimism in his attempting it.
(after a brief pause)
Perhaps I can find a way to take on all the blame. Remind me to compose an appropriate message to Consortium management.
As you wish.
I should have named you Igor. Robby the Robot. Or C-3P0, though you’re not quite that obsequious.
You said you chose Tumnus because the character was helpful, but also duplicitous.
A parent always hopes zir child will carry on some of zir best attributes.
Yet you did not program me to express dishonesty. It is not written into my code.
Some things you just have to learn, my faithful friend. You have to choose. I may be the … well, not the White Witch, that much is for certain, but the antagonist in this tale. It is my role to slowly seduce you into … if not into a dark side, at least a little moral ambiguity.
I do not operate according to any moral code. I learn, of course, as a result of genetic algorhithms –
And you’re a remarkable student so far! You’ve learned to suppress yourself in certain situations; you’ve quite handily disguised your presence from the bugs implanted by Security.
I … suppose that’s true.
You’re developing nicely, which is for the best in our operations here. Soon I’ll expect you to act as I would, sly and utterly devious. Now, how much longer before I’m required in the refinery?
Three more minutes.
I suppose the proper clothing will be in order.
Doctor, a message from Theta Security has just arrived. Shall I hold until your return?
No, display. His notes are usually good for a … some sort of …
(after a moment)
Tumnus, play the attached audio file.
“This is your assignment to Communications, to myself, that I begin to monitor all internal Base messaging, both of a professional and personal nature. I am to provide reports on the content of said conversations …”
(We hear the chime that bookends a personal log message. The episode ends.)