By Kim Stanley Robinson
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 1984 Kim Stanley Robinson
All rights reserved.
"A ship is floating in the harbor now, A wind is hovering o'er the mountain's brow; There is a path on the sea's azure floor, No keel has ever plowed that path before; The halcyons brood around the foamless isles; The treacherous Ocean has forsworn its wiles; The merry mariners are bold and free: Say, my heart's sister, wilt thou sail with me?"
— Shelley, "Epipsychidion"
The first indication I had of the mutiny came as we approached the inner limit of the first asteroid belt. Of course I didn't know what it meant at the time; it was no more than a locked door.
The first belt we call the dud belt, because the asteroids in it are basaltic achondrite, and no use to miners. But we would be among the carbonaceous chondrites soon enough, and one day I went down to the farm to get ready. I fed a bit more light to the algae, for in the following weeks when the boats went out to break up rocks there would be a significant oxygen depletion, and we would need more chlorella around to help balance the gas exchange. I activated a few more bulbs in the lamps and started fooling around with the suspension medium. Biologic life-support systems are my work and play (I am one of the best at it), and since I was making room for more chlorella, I once again became interested in the excess biomass problem. Thinking to cut down on surplus algae by suspending it less densely, I walked between long rows of spinach and cabbage to the door of one of the storage rooms at the back of the farm, to get a few more tanks. I turned the handle of the door. It was locked.
"Emma!" called a voice. I looked up. It was Al Nordhoff, one of my assistants.
"Do you know why this door is locked?" I asked.
He shook his head. "I was wondering myself yesterday. I guess there's classified cargo in there. I was told to leave it alone."
"It's our storage room," I said, irritated.
Al shrugged. "Ask Captain Swann about it."
Now Eric Swann and I were old friends, and I was upset that something was going on in my area that he had failed to tell me about. So when I found him on the bridge, I came straight to the point.
"Eric, how come I'm locked out of one of my own storage rooms? What have you got in there?"
Immediately he blushed as red as his hair, and hung his head. The two rocketry and guidance officers on the bridge looked down at their consoles.
"I can't tell you what's in there, Emma. It's classified. I can't tell anyone until later."
I stared at him. I know I can intimidate people if I look at them hard enough. His blush got deeper, his freckles disappeared in the general redness, his blue eyes gave me a watery stare. But he wasn't going to tell me. I curled my lip at him and left the bridge.
That was the first sign: a locked door, a secret reason for it. I thought to myself, We're taking something for the Committee out to Ceres, perhaps. Weapons, no doubt. It was typical of the Mars Development Committee to keep secrets. But I didn't jump to any conclusions; merely stayed alert.
The second sign was one I probably would have missed, had I not been alerted by the first. I was walking down the corridor to the dining commons, past the tapestry lounges between the commons and the bedrooms, when I heard voices from a lounge and stopped. Just the voices sounded funny, all whispery and rapid. I recognized John Dancer's voice:
"We can't do anything of the sort until after the rendezvous, and you know it."
"No one will notice," said a woman, perhaps Ilene Breton.
"You hope no one would notice," Dancer replied. "But you can't be sure that Duggins or Nordhoff wouldn't stumble across it. We have to wait on everything until after the rendezvous, you know that."
Then I heard steps across the velcro carpet behind me, and with a start I began to walk again, past the door of the lounge. I looked in; John and Ilene, sure enough, among several others. They all looked up as I appeared in the doorway, and their conversation abruptly died. I stared at them and they stared back, at a loss for speech. I walked on to the dining commons.
A rendezvous in the belt. A group of people, not the superior officers of the ship, in on this event and keeping it a secret from the others. A locked storage hold. ... Things were not falling together for me.
After that I began to see things everywhere. People stopped talking when I walked by. There were meetings late at night, in bedrooms. I walked by the radio room once, and someone was sending out a long message through the coding machine. Quite a few of the storage room doors were locked, back behind the farm; and some of the ore holds were locked as well.
After a few days of this I shook my head and wondered if I were making it all up. There were explanations for everything I had noticed. Shipboard life tends to become cliquish on the best of runs; even though there were only forty of us, divisions would spring up over the year of an expedition. And these were troubled times, back on Mars. The consolidation of the various sectors under the central coordination of the Committee was causing a lot of dissatisfaction. Sectionalism was rife, subversive groups were everywhere, supposedly. These facts were enough to explain all the little factions I now noticed on the Rust Eagle. And paranoia is one of the most common shipboard disorders ... seeing patterns is easy in such a heavily patterned environment.
So I began to discount it all. Perhaps we were carrying something to Ceres for the Committee, but that was nothing.
Still, there was something about the atmosphere of the ship in those days. More people than usual were jumpy and strained. There were mysterious glances exchanged ... in an atmosphere of mystery. But here hindsight may be influencing me. The facts are what I want here. This record will help me to remember these events many years, perhaps centuries, from now, and so I must set down the facts, the sharpest spur to the memory.
In any case, the third sign was unmistakable. By this time the sun was nearly between us and Mars, and I went to the radio room to get a last letter off to my fool of a father, in jail temporarily for his loud mouth. Afterwards, I went to the jump tube, and was about to fall down to the living quarters when I heard voices floating down the tube from the bridge. Had that been my name? I pulled myself up the rail to the steps that led to the bridge, and stayed there, eavesdropping again. A habit of mine. Once more, John Dancer was speaking.
"Emma Weil is pro-Committee all the way," he said as if arguing the point.
"Even so," said another man, and a couple of voices cut over so that I didn't hear what he said.
"No," Dancer said, interrupting the other voices quickly. "Weil is probably the most important person aboard this ship. We can't talk to her about any of this until Swann says so, and that won't be until after the rendezvous. So you can forget it."
That did it. When it was clear the conversation was over I hopped back to the jump tube and fell down it, aiding the faint acceleration-gravity with some pulls on the rail. I ticked off in my mind the places Swann would most likely be at that hour, intent on finding him and having a long talk. It is not healthy to believe yourself the focus of a ship-wide conspiracy.
* * *
I had known Eric Swann for a long time.
Before the turn of the century, every sector ran its own mining expeditions. Royal Dutch looked for carbonaceous chondrite; Mobil was after the basaltic chondrites in the dud belt; Texas mined the silicate types. Chevron had the project of pulling one of the Amors into a Martian orbit, to make another moon. (This became the moon Amor, which was turned into a detention center. My father lived there.) So each sector had its own asteroid crew, and I got to know the Royal Dutch miners pretty well. Swann was one of the rocketry and guidance officers, and a good friend of my husband Charlie, who was also in R and G. Over the course of many runs in the belt I talked with Swann often, and even after Charlie and I divorced we remained close.
But when the Committee took over the mining operations in 2213, all the teams, even the Soviets, were thrown into a common pool, and I saw all of my friends from Royal Dutch a lot less often. My infrequent assignments with Swann had been cause for celebration, and this present assignment, with him as captain, I had thought would be a real pleasure.
Now, pulling around the ship I was the most important person on, I was not so sure. But I thought, Swann will tell me what's going on. And if he doesn't know anything about all this, then he'd better be told that something funny is happening.
I found him in one of the little window rooms, seated before the thick plasteel separating him from the vacuum. His long legs were crossed in the yoga position, and he hummed softly: meditating, his mind a floating mirror of the changing square of stars.
"Hey Eric," I said, none too softly.
"Emma," he said dreamily, and stretched his arms like a cat. "Sit down." He showed me a chunk of rock he had had in his lap. "Look at this Chantonnay." That's a chondrite that has been shocked into harder rock. "Pretty, isn't it?"
I sat. "Yes," I said. "So what's happening on this trip?"
He blushed. Swann was faster at that than anyone I ever saw. "Not much. Beyond that I can't say."
"I know that's the official position. But you can tell me here."
He shook his head. "I'm going to tell you, but it has to wait a while longer." He looked at me directly. "Don't get angry, Emma."
"But other people know what's going on! A lot of them. And they're talking about me." I told him about the things I had noticed and overheard. "Now why should I be the most important person on this ship? That's absurd! And why should they know about whatever it is we're doing, and not me?"
Swann looked worried, annoyed. "They don't all know. ... You see, your help will be important, essential perhaps —" He stopped, as if he had already said too much. His freckled face twisted as his mouth moved about. Finally he shook his head violently. "You'll just have to wait a few more days, Emma. Trust me, all right? Just trust me and wait."
That was hardly satisfactory, but what could I do? He knew something, but he wasn't going to tell it to me. Tight-lipped, I nodded my good-bye and left.
* * *
The mutiny occurred, ironically enough, on my eightieth birthday, a few days after my talk with Swann. August 5, 2248.
I woke up thinking, now you are an octogenarian. I got out of bed (deceleration-gee entirely gone, weightless now as we coasted), sponged my face, looked in the mirror. It is a strange experience to look inside your own retinas; down there inside is the one thinking, in that other face ... it seems as if, if you could get the light right, you could see yourself.
I grasped the handholds of my exerciser and worked out for a while, thinking about birthdays. All the birthdays in this new age. One of my earliest memories, now, was my tenth birthday. My mother took me to the medical station, where I had to drink foul-tasting stuff and submit to tests and some shots — just quick blasts of air on the skin, but they scared me. "You'll appreciate this later," my mom said, with a funny expression. "You won't get sick and weak when you're old. Your immune system will stay strong. You'll live for ever so long, Emma, don't cry."
Yes, yes. Apparently she was right, I thought, looking into the mirror again, where my image seemed to pulse with color under the artificial lights. Very long lives, young at eighty: the triumph of gerontology. As always, I wondered what I would do with all the extra years — the extra lives. Would I live to stand free on Martian soil, and breathe Martian air?
Thinking these thoughts I left my room, intent on breakfast. The lounges down the hall from the bedrooms were empty, an unusual thing. I walked into the last lounge before the corridor turned, to look out the small window in it, with its view over the bridge.
And there they were: two silver rectangles, like asteroids crushed into ingots of the metals they contained. Spaceships!
They were asteroid miners of the PR class, sister ships of our own. I stared at them motionlessly, my heart thudding like a drum, thinking rendezvous. The ships grew to the size of decks of cards, very slowly. They were the shape of a card deck as well, with the mining cranes and drills folded together at their fronts, bridge ceilings just barely bulging from their sides (tiny crescents of light), rocket exhausts large at their rear, like beads on their sides and front. Brilliant points of light shone from the windows, like the fluorescent spots on the deep-sea fish of Earth. They looked small beside an irregular blue-gray asteroid, against the dead black of space.
I left the lounge slowly. Turned and walked down the corridor —
In the dining commons it was bedlam.
I stopped and stared. Of the entire crew of forty-three, at least twenty- five must have been in the commons, shouting and laughing, six or seven singing the Ode to Joy, others setting up the drinks table (Ilene maneuvering the mass of the big coffee pot), John and Steven and Lanya in a mass hugging and laughing-sobbing, tears in their eyes. And on the video screen was a straight-on camera shot of the two ships, silver dots against a blue-gray asteroid, so that it looked like a die thrown through the vacuum.
They all had known. Every single one of them in the room. I found myself blinking rapidly, embarrassed and angry. Why hadn't I been told? I wiped my eyes and got out of the doorway before I was noticed by someone inside.
Andrew Duggins flew by, pulling himself along the hall rails. His big face was scowling. "Emma!" he said, "come on," and pulled away. I only looked at him, and he stopped. "This is a mutiny!" he said, jerking his head in the direction of the commons. "They're taking over the ship, and those others out there too. We've got to try and get a message off to Ceres — to defend ourselves!" With a hard yank he pulled himself away, in the direction of the radio room.
Mutiny. All of the mysterious events I had noticed fell together, into a pattern. A plan to take over the ship. Had Swann been too afraid of the possibility to discuss it?
But there was no time for a detailed analysis. I leaped off the floor, and with a strong pull on the rail was after Duggins.
Outside the radio room there was a full-fledged fight going on. I saw Al Nordhoff striking one of the ship police in the face, Amy Van Danke twisting furiously in the hold of two men, trying to bite one in the throat. Others struggled in the doorway. Shouts and Amy's shrieks filled the air. The fight had that awkward, dangerous quality that all brawls in weightlessness exhibit. A blow that connected (one of Al's vicious kicks to the head of a policeman, for instance) sent both parties spinning across the room....
"Mutiny!" Duggins bellowed, and diving forward crashed into the group in the doorway. His momentum bowled several people into the radio room, and an opening was cleared. I shoved off from the wall and grazed my head on the doorjamb going in.
After that things were blurry, but I was angry — angry that I had been deceived, that Swann and the general order of things were being challenged, that friends of mine were being hit — and I swung blindly. I caught one of the policemen on the nose with my fist, and his head smacked the wall with a loud thump. The room was crowded, arms and legs were swinging. The radio console itself was crawling with bodies. Duggins was bellowing still, and hauling figures away from the mass on the radio controls. Someone got me in a choke hold from behind. I put heel to groin and discovered it was a woman — put elbow in diaphragm and twisted under her arm, nearly strangled. Duggins had cleared the radio and was desperately manipulating the dials. I put a haymaker on the ear of a man trying to pull him away. Screams and spherical droplets of blood filled the air —
Reinforcements arrived. Eric Swann slipped through the doorway, his red hair flying wild, a tranquilizer gun in his hand. Others followed him. Darts whizzed through the air, sounding like arrows. "Mutiny!" I shrieked. "Eric! Mutiny! Mutiny!"
He saw me, pointed his gun at me and shot. I looked at the dart hanging from my forearm.
... The next thing I knew, I was being guided down the jump tube. Leaving it at my floor. I saw Swann's face swimming above me. "Mutiny," I said.
"That's true," Eric replied. "We're going to have to put you under arrest for a few hours." His freckle-face was stretched into a fool's grin.
"Asshole," I muttered. I wanted to run. I could outrun all of them. "I thought you were m'friend."
"I am your friend, Emma. It was just too dangerous to explain. Davydov will tell you all about it when you see him." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson. Copyright © 1984 Kim Stanley Robinson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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