‘What did the message say?’ Wilf said.
Full of delicious excitement I let the moment draw out. Then I said, ‘WTF.’
Tension left Wilf’s shoulders, ‘Nothing else?’
‘It’s enough that they responded. It proves they’re alive.’
‘Appie, it could just be an autoresponder.’
‘I don’t think so.’
Wilf’s mouth twisted, ‘What does it mean?’
I hated to admit it, but I didn’t know. A decade of Cultural Anthropology, Comparative Modalities, and Archaic Dialect, had still not taught me all I needed to know about communication with an island population isolated for a third of a millennium. Two days with almost no sleep caught up with me, suddenly I was close to tears.
Wilf laid his fingers on my hand. ‘How are you doing, Appie?’
I didn’t know what he meant, except I did, and it was upsetting. ‘I’m all right. I’ve worked so hard, I know so little.’
‘It’s still working out for you, staying Delayed?’
I stared at him open-mouthed. ‘What’s it got to do with you?’
Wilf held up his hands, ‘Look, I Delayed too, remember? For five years. We’re the same, you and me, we’ve got ambitions and we made sacrifices. I know what you’re going through, I know what it’s like to see your peer group become adults before yourself.’
‘And now you’re all grown up.’
‘Appie, I’m just saying. When I gave up the Delay there were some distractions, but I didn’t feel like I suddenly got stupid or anything.’ He looked over at the girls by the pool, all self-aware curves and knowing looks, ‘Some things became easier to understand.’
He didn’t know how cruel that was. ‘So what are you doing that’s so important?’
He gave me that self-deprecating grin of his, ‘Sewerage and water treatment. I’ve revised the reed bed ecology - retuned the rotifers lifecycle, widened the hydra’s oxygen tolerances. It’s pretty interesting. I’m recruiting a consortium for implementation.’
It did sound like fun, working with Wilf. And it was important, the colony was growing, systems needed to expand with it. Wilf already had good Rep, this project would seriously add to it.
‘What about them?’ I jerked my head across to the crowd around the pool. Vanhya and Daihid had never Delayed, they just grew up and got on with playing in the sunshine with their friends.
‘Vanhya’s lot?’ Wilf gave a short bark of laughter. ‘Maybe. If they don’t start to work soon, someone will invoke corvée. Everybody has to contribute.’
That was funny. Vanhya’s crowd were so cool, I knew I could never be like them. Perversely, the thought made me glad. I loved the thought of corvée, of them being obliged to do any old job, whether they wanted to or not. Digging ditches for Wilf. Re-energised, I jumped to my feet.
‘The people on Mesopotamia,’ I touched the pseudo-gland implanted high up inside my biceps, ‘I have to stay as I am, I can’t let a few hormones mess with my intellect.’
Wilf put his hands on my hips, a confusingly intimate contact I liked but simultaneously didn’t want. ‘Appie, have you ever thought they might not have made it?’
What an outrageous, stupid, question. I was so shocked, I just stared. ‘What do you think I’ve been doing all my life? I’ve thought about them every day. They need my help, they’ve been isolated so long, so ignorant and lonely. They set out as Earth’s last hope, their destination a hostile planet. When they find us here, they’re not going to know what to do, what to think, what to feel. Without me they’ll go crazy.’
YOU ARE READING
All Your Futures Are Belong To UsScience Fiction
I was chatting with my son, Tom, and we got onto the pace of technological change. Long-term space flight seemed problematic to us, because once you’ve launched you’re stuck with the technology you started with. ‘Wouldn’t it be funny,’ Tom said, ‘if...