CHILDREN OF THE STARS
Liam O'Mara sat in front of the large display screen that covered more than one wall of his bridge. An old jazz tune swirled around him. The screen showed a mix of visual and tactical information, revealing the small planetoid that was his target. Occasionally he entered commands into the navigation system, but they were only checking commands, the automatics didn't really need his interference to pilot the ship into its projected orbit. He had selected the display in front of him more for his own pleasure than anything else, and on a whim, he changed it.
The gray planet vanished, to be replaced by another world, a blue and white one. This was Prosperity, only fifteen light seconds away and getting closer by the minute as his own orbit overtook it. It was in a strange place for a habitable world. Along with the planetoid that Liam was approaching, and twelve other bodies of various sizes and compositions, it orbited a gas giant. Not a very large one, in fact not much bigger now than Uranus, but once upon a time it had been probably as big as Jupiter. That was before its sun had expanded, becoming a red giant.
All the closer planets in the system had become charred cinders in the explosion. The giant lost a lot of its atmosphere, as the space it inhabited became suddenly warmer, some of it to be later captured by it's satellites.
They too heated up. Cold, frozen atmospheres melted. Though some gained extra gaseous material from out of the expanding cloud that had been once part of the giant, others lost what little they had.
Prosperity suddenly found itself in the right place, and with the right atmosphere to be inhabitable by Earth type organic lifeforms, and busily set out to produce some. It didn't get very far though, because in galactic terms, soon after that, along came man.
One of the very first human colony vessels found Prosperity, after almost two hundred and fifty years in space at just less than a tenth of the speed of light. Its human, and other organic cargo, frozen in time for the journey by cryogenic suspension.
They had come here chasing a line in a spectrograph. A piece of data that said this system had the right elements in the right combination to support life. A combination thought to be only produced by life. In this case, the algae in Prosperity's seas.
They had brought with them terraforming technology, which began transforming Prosperity's primitive environment, starting with patches of imported growth, spreading out from the various points of initial seeding. One of these points was the town/city simply called `Landing'. It was not only the initial point of arrival, but even now still the main concentration of human habitation on the planet.
Liam expanded the enhanced view of the planets surface he was getting from his main telescope. Fields and buildings filled his view, not seen directly from above, but from the side as dictated by the angle of the ground relative to Liam's distant ship. The view flickered slightly, despite the power of his image enhances.
"A nice place" thought Liam to himself, wishing secretly that he could live there. Not that he could ever do anything about such wishes. He knew his place in the universe, one he had mostly created for himself, and was realistic enough to be able to accept the things that he couldn't change.
Not wanting to carry on with that chain of thought he decided to do something concrete. Switching the system into communication mode he sent a message winging its way towards the world he was looking at.
"This is the starship `Jacob Marley' calling Prosperity Landing, over." It would be thirty seconds before he could expect a reply, and then the same amount in between each segment of conversation. He spent the time watching the view in front of him. One of the helium filled airships that provided the bulk of medium and long distance transport for the fledgling colony was floating into view. He shifted his framing so he could watch it as it headed towards the town's airfield.
To its inhabitants, landing was a City. Fifty thousand people, over half of the population of Prosperity, crammed by necessity into a tightly monitored earthlife environment. Without the hydroponics farms and the energy intensive support systems, that depended on the power plant that had once been part of the main drive of the colony ship, Prosperity could not have supported a fraction of its population.
The other seeded areas of the planet were empty by comparison, and kept that way in order not to overload their tenuous but growing place in the planets biosphere. Landing, and the area surrounding, was kept flourishing despite the demands on it to support its population, by technology.
The critical parts of that technology could not be produced on Prosperity. A safe, clean, fusion reactor, as was Landings power plant, was definitely beyond their capabilities. Without the ability to repair and replace such things the colony's survival would be a close run thing. It would be much longer before it could not be wiped out by an inconvenient bit of bad luck.
That was where Liam came in. His ship was the pinnacle of Earth technology. Given the availability of raw materials, it was capable of producing almost any piece of human machinery, from a bow and arrow to an even more sophisticated copy of Landings power plant. Its primary purpose was to produce an orbiting copy of its own production facilities, to provide a colony with the ability to produce such things for itself.
Access to raw materials was why Liam was making for the smaller satellite before heading for Prosperity itself. To mine Prosperity for what he needed would not only have upset its delicate ecological balance, but it would have been ten times more expensive. The delta-vee needed to lift such an amount to orbit from a close gee world like prosperity was an expensive commodity.
Liam had crossed light years of space, but his ship and its precious matter-energy converter, wasn't designed to land on a planet. His shuttles were forced to rely on the much less efficient propulsion generated by a fusion engine. The ones he would use in Prosperity's atmosphere would be even more inefficient, relying on completely radiation and pollution free hydrogen/oxygen motors.
The fuel to drive his shuttles was also something he had lacked upon arriving in this system. This he was in the process of rectifying. The planetoid would provide him with all the heavier elements he needed, but it was barren of most of the lighter ones. What little atmosphere it may have had before the swelling of its sun had boiled away to space since then. Hydrogen particularly he had to get elsewhere.
That elsewhere was of course obvious. In fact already the scoop drones he had released as he approached were dropping back to rendezvous with his current orbit. They had approached the gas giant faster and closer than he had, dipping into its outer atmosphere, playing off friction against velocity, while they collected the hydrogen and other gasses he needed.
Their trajectories had been calculated so that by the time they had passed clear of the giant's atmosphere they ended up in orbits easily re-matched to the orbit the `Marley' was in. Once their onboard systems had processed some of their cargo for fuel for their fusion motors, they had done this. Liam hadn't had to do anything once he had launched them, their onboard systems were sophisticated enough to pilot them through the scoop run and back to him with no outside input needed. He just had to wait till they turned up on his doorstep, so to speak.
The reply he had been waiting for arrived. He changed his display to show the visual part of the return signal. It showed one of the operations officers for the colony.
"This is comm centre, Prosperity landing, replying to starship `Jacob Marley', good morning Liam, over."
"Hello Matt, I'd like to speak to Mayor Lane if he is available, please, over."
Liam watched the comm officers image as he waited for him to receive and respond to him. Behind him people came and went from the busy comm office. The scene was cheerful as well as efficient, indicative of people happy with their work. A scene often very rare on earth, but not on a colony world.
He had become friends with many of the colony's operations officers over the past few weeks he had been in communication range, despite the fact that until recently nothing close to a proper conversation had been possible because of the lightspeed delay.
It had been a fortuitous circumstance of space travel that had meant that no one on prosperity knew anything about his history. He hadn't had to lie about his past yet. The newscasts of seventy five years ago, beamed into space along with the much more useful data about humanities growing knowledge, would have reached them while they were still in flight.
Liam would have been only a few years behind those transmissions if he had come directly here, but he had gone to the destination of another colony expedition first. Despite being a later expedition than the one to Prosperity, with better technology, hence a faster ship, they had not survived. Liam had found no trace of them at their destination star, or any indication of what had happened to them.
Somewhere in the banks on Prosperity images of his past notoriety must have been automatically stored, but the shear vastness of such information meant the chances of anyone coming across it in a search of the files were astronomically low. It was unlikely that anyone on Prosperity would have the time or the inclination to go looking through Earth history. There would be history professors on Prosperity in the future, but right now there were much more important things for the planets population to study. It was none of their business anyway, he reasoned, he wasn't a criminal, just a social outcast.
Matt's reply arrived. "He's in the building, I saw him as I came in, I'll buzz his office." Matt keyed the terminal in front of him and a few seconds later spoke into his mic "Hello boss, I've got Liam O'Mara on line for you. Right, OK, I'll put him through." He attacked his terminal again. "See you later Liam."
The view changed to show George Lane's image. "Hello Liam, how are you this morning, over."
"Fine thanks George. I'm almost matched with number three and I'll be starting mining operations in about a day. I called to take a look at the schedule of operations, Carrie said it would be ready enough by today for me to start going over it. Over."
It was Carrie, not George he really wanted to discuss the subject with, but it was good form to call him, and anyway he liked talking to George Lane. Carrie was George’s daughter. She was also his de-facto deputy, even though she held no formal office. She could have done though, most of the colony would vote her for any office she wanted. Liam got the idea, however, that she didn't want to hold an official office, but was quite content to be able to help her father in any way she could.
Carrie could get along with anyone, and, Liam gathered, had often smoothed over quarrels between her father, who could at times be rather abrupt, and offhand, and very stubborn when he felt strongly about something, and other members of the colony's governing council. She was also excellent as a computer programmer, most of the current updates to their main operating system where her work. She might even have been as talented in the field as Liam was himself, which was saying quite a lot.
Like Liam, she loved jazz, and played a mean clarinet. Not only that, she composed classical music as well. Liam had become increasingly attracted to her over the past few weeks, as he had been getting closer and closer to Prosperity. Somehow the ever-present delay in communications hadn't seemed to stop that. This caused him many internal struggles. The good thing, he thought to himself, was that his feelings were not shared by Carrie. Liam was sure that he was slowly falling in love with her, and the worst thing that could happen was that she would return that.
"Carrie's out of the building at the moment, if you want to go over it now I can look up the data myself, but I'm not as familiar with it as she is. If it's urgent I can contact her and get her to call you, which might be the best bet. It's actually my doing she's not here, I told her to take the morning off, virtually had to escort her out of the building. I know it won't do any good to nag her, but I wish she would take things more easily some times." George paused, lost in thought for a second, then changed track.
"We've decided to throw a party in your honor once the construction program is under way. The council's been talking about making up an award of some sort for you, keys to the city, that sort of thing. I hope you don't think we're being too provincial, but you know how important your presence here is to us. We're all looking forward to being able to thank you in person."
"Also, Carrie won't admit this, but she is looking forward to showing you around, I hope you don't mind, she's come to like you a lot, you know."
George paused again. "You may not have realized that, I think that she's been trying to conceal her feelings for you. I know her well enough to guess why. She doesn’t like people feeling sorry for her." He paused once more, searching for a way to continue. "I don't know what I can say, except that I don't think that you would want to hurt her, and I think you should know how she feels when you meet her face to face. Over."
The delay time ticked over. Liam thought for a while. Lot's of things spun round in his mind. "Typical" he thought to himself, "just when you think things are complicated enough, they get worse." He had been dreading this moment but there was no way he could put it off.
"George there is something I have to tell you about me. I suppose I should have told you sooner but there didn't seem to be a right way to put it. You see, I'm not really needed to pilot this ship. The Marley is perfectly capable of carrying out its mission without anyone aboard her. I am only here because, basically I bribed my way aboard."
"I held a lot of the patents for various parts of this ships technology at the time she was finished, that and a bit of old fashioned political influence let me convince the Space Council to allow me to pilot her. I'm not just free-loading either, many of her other designers don't agree with me, but it does make a difference to have me aboard as a check on the automatics."
"As to why I went to such trouble, I didn't have much choice. You see I have an incurable illness. It's not terminal, it's not even physical, which is a mixed blessing, at least it doesn't stop me from doing most things. It just means that I have had to isolate myself from people."
"Its a very rare, extreme form of Agoraphobia. It means that I can't, be in the same room with other people, even singly, for very long, without a nervous reaction, or a complete panic attack, setting in. Even being in the same building with other people makes me feel uncomfortable. In my case all regular forms of treatment have always failed. Drugs can reduce the effect of it, but the last thing I want to be is tanked up all the time. The money I inherited from my parents meant that I've been able to live a fairly `normal' life, but no matter how much I achieved, or perhaps because of how much I achieved, I've still been regarded as an oddity. A few people even feared me, because of my money and power, but most people just pitied me. Eventually I guess it was the pity that got to me."
"Finally when I got the chance to leave Earth, I took it. There has never been anything that could cure me, and I stopped trusting the headshrinkers long ago. Throughout my life they've always had something or other they wanted to try out on me, none of which ever worked. I guess that somewhere in the back of my mind is the hope that maybe, just maybe, when I get back to Earth there will have been advances that could help me."
This time Liam paused. "You can't know how much I really want to be able to come to this party in person. And don't worry about being provincial, there is no other honor I can think of that I would rather have than one from you and your people George. Over."
George Lane turned away from his terminal, Liam's image was still etched in his brain, though the screen now displayed only the system Logo. He hadn't had time to think of many positive things to say to Liam. He should be better at dealing with illness in people close to him, he thought to himself, but all he was good at was coping and concealing. Despite the fact that he had only known Liam for a few months, and only via the tenuous link of a deepspace microwave beam, he looked on him like a son, though he would not embarrass him by admitting that.
Of course he had always known that his daughters attraction to Liam could come to nothing. But it was not that that saddened him. George was primarily trained as a psychologist, and recognized the pain in Liam's personality. He was also very compassionate by nature, this was one of the things that made him a good colony leader, and he could not be oblivious to other peoples pain.
Ever since his first discussions with Liam he had sensed there was something wrong, something not quite `kosher' about the man that everyone on Prosperity viewed as a savior.
There was no false gratitude in the party and the award the council was planning. They had not expected Liam’s arrival until a few months before he entered the system. Their situation had been marginal throughout the life of the colony, right from its first days.
George had been among those who had argued in favor of colonizing prosperity, as opposed to going back. He had always believed that while there was hope there was always a reason for going on. It had been a gamble, as indeed had all the first colony expeditions, coming here with only the most meager of expectations of finding a habitable world, especially this far away from earth.
The discussion among the evaluation team that had awakened from suspension first, had been wide ranging, and at times quite heated, but their decision making process had been designed from the start to generate a consensus. The polarized political environment of a classical democracy could only but hinder an already marginal colony.
Unlike the pioneers of earlier centuries, their `new world' was far more inhospitable and isolated from the old, than the landing places of ships like the Mayflower. Their only advantage was their technology, and that had hung by a thread until Liam's arrival. Liam represented the salvation of their world, his ship meant that their children would not have the threat of imminent disaster hanging over them for several generations to come. Whether this adulation was undeserved or not was irrelevant to George, and also to the rest of the colony, but he hoped it would have a positive effect on Liam.
Even without seeing his case history, George recognized the severity of Liam's illness. He had kept up with the advances in his profession via the data link from earth and despite all the advances of the last two hundred and seventy five years the human mind was still largely an uncharted mystery.
If anything, the severity of such mental aberrations seemed to have been getting worse on earth in the last few hundred years. He remembered the classic case histories from the end of the twentieth century onwards, that he had studied in his early training, and the people he had treated during his career, and the cases he had read about out of the data banks since they had arrived here. Despite many new theories of the working of the mind, and even some spectacular remedies, George didn't consider they were much further forward in treating such illnesses than the psychologists of the late twentieth century had been, four hundred years ago.
George and his colleagues, many of whom were fellow colonists, had been a part of a school of thought that had largely died out on earth. They theorized that the cure for the psychological problems that beset mankind had to be a social one. This had mostly been discredited by the impossible problem of changing society for the better, against the overwhelming force of human nature. George could of course site the success of the colony as evidence that they had been right, but that could not help Liam.
The other original colonists had been all very much of like mind with George and his friends, the colonies social and philosophical structure had been, from the start, deemed very important to its survival. George had a degree in sociology as well as psychology and had been one of the social designers responsible for both their written and unwritten constitutions, and he felt that they had largely been successful.
It had been clear from what Liam had said, that he did not wish George to conceal the information about him from the rest of the colony. George knew from experience that here it would not generate pity. The social characteristics that produced pity, envy, hatred and the like had been something they had striven to eradicate from their culture.
But these things existed far more in the minds of individuals than in fact, and Liam's unconscious expectation could cause him to react to something that was not there. George's professional `sixth sense' had spotted the unhappiness evident in Liam's nature, and now it was telling him to be concerned about what this could lead to.
George didn't think that Liam would do anything to hurt the colony, though, of course he had a vast potential for destruction at his finger tips. But, he might try to hurt himself. He had said specifically that he wasn't needed to pilot the Marley, if he ever came to actually believe this then it was possible that the effect of a perceived loss of the reason for living could cause him to abandon life completely. If he wanted to, Liam would have no difficulty in painlessly taking his own life. If he believed that no one would notice his passing, then he would probably have nothing to hold him back.
Maybe the best thing for Liam would be the party. Though he could not take part in person, it could still be a powerful symbol of Liam's place in the affections of all the colony. If Liam thought that he would hurt people he cared about by committing suicide, then he probably wouldn't.
Carrie Lane sat on one of the benches that lined the promenade, looking out into the bay. It was a bright but cold day, below her there were a few people walking along the broad stretch of beach that lined over half of the waterfront. It had been painstakingly created as one of the first features of Landing to fulfill two purposes. It was a recreational area, but more importantly, it was part of the artificial breeding grounds for the marine earth-life they were transplanting into Prosperity’s seas.
This was one of the most delicate aspects of the teraforming process. Most of the primitive life that inhabited the planet resided in its seas. They were attempting to introduce earth-life that could co-exist, at least in part with the already existing biosphere of the planet. This had to be done carefully to ensure a smooth transition from the planets current ecology to one that could support human habitation unaided. This, of course, would mean that many of the current life forms of prosperity would eventually exist only in laboratory conditions.
This was one of the favorite topics of discussion for the colonists. Despite being acutely aware of what they were doing, no one seriously held the opinion that they should simply leave, and return the planet to its original state. Even if they did that, its chances of evolving further were slim, given the unstable nature of its sun, it was remarkable that Prosperity had developed this far already. Their astronomers calculated that their might be as little as ten million years left before the star started contracting again. To Carrie and the rest of her people the big philosophical issues surrounding their world, and indeed the whole role of humans in the universe, were constantly put in their place by the struggle to survive. Judgments of right and wrong were always being made, by humans everywhere, in the end, all they could do was learn from their mistakes.
Carrie herself liked discussing such philosophical topics, but though she had her opinions, and like her father would defend them stubbornly at times, she had come to realize the transient nature of human thinking. If one described her as being in touch with a larger truth, she would have denied it, but at the very least, in describing Carrie one had to admit a temperament much older than her years.
She was watching the airship `Archamidies', as it floated across the other side of the bay. Her thoughts, however, were much further away. She was thinking of Liam. Turning over in her mind her decision not to let on to him her feelings for him. She had hoped that they would go away, that her attraction to him was only the product of her own unconscious mind. The reverse had turned out to be the case, despite, or maybe because of what she knew about him.
When she first uncovered Liam's history in the archive data banks she had thought hard about either revealing what she had found out, or confronting Liam with it. In the end she decided to do neither, but to let the matter lie. If Liam chose not to reveal the truth about himself, that was his right, as she saw it, there was nothing in his deception that could hurt anyone else, and she didn't think the he would carry on with it if it did cause harm.
One might expect that a deliberate lie would hurt a relationship. It had not been so in this case, despite both this and her resolution not to let Liam know of her feelings for him, Carrie realized they had been growing closer all the time they had known each other. She was becoming worried where this would lead, as Liam got closer to Prosperity. She was also concerned about the plans of the council to hold a party in his honor and how he would react to it. He might be forced to explain his background to everyone after all. Her fellow colonists possible reaction's didn't concern Carrie, they would not react to what Liam had done in the same way as the people of earth had, but she suspected that any reaction would be seen as negative by Liam.
She had read a lot about Liam in the data banks, including his own published material. She felt that she had some idea what he had gone through. After the way in which the people of earth had treated him, hiding what he was an understandable reaction.
Her phone sounded. She fished it out of her pocket. It was her father, he wanted her to come back to the office, he had something important he wanted to discuss with her. His tone of voice worried her, it was one she knew indicated he was trying to hide something he was worried about.
Remembering what time it was she took two pills from the bottle in her pocket and swallowed them. She then got up and started back towards the administration building. About half way down the promenade, without any warning, she collapsed and fell to the ground unconscious.
George watched his daughters unconscious form through the glass bubble of the medical station. Her condition was stable. The temporary imbalance in her body chemistry that had caused her to faint had been identified and was being treated by the med stations automatic systems, under the watchful eye of her doctor. Liam's image also watched her from the vid screen above the med station.
"I'm sorry Liam." said George, without taking his eyes off his daughter, "I didn't realize that you didn't know about her condition." That was a partial lie, thinking about it George had come to realize that he must have suspected that fact, but had not consciously acknowledged it. "I think everyone else must have assumed the same."
"I should have realized myself. I'm sorry George, I'm always far too wrapped up in my own problems."
George was glad to be able to talk to him without the delay time at last. Shortly after Carrie had collapsed Liam had separated his command module from the rest of the Marley and made his way into orbit around Prosperity on his auxiliary engines. The command module was essentially a separate vessel to the rest of the Marley, with fusion engines for propulsion. Liam had himself described that as basically an irrational thing to do, since there was nothing at all he could do to help Carrie by rushing to her bedside, or as close as he could get, but that had not stopped him.
Liam had said that as soon as he had heard about Carrie's collapse, he had looked up her medical file in the colonies data banks. Not only that, he had fed that data through his own diagnostic computers. These were faster than those on Prosperity, but the data available to them and the programming they used was the same. Hence they had, of course, confirmed what was already in the file. Carrie's condition was terminal.
George had had the last few years to get used to that. At first they had thought that the genetic damage caused by the hibernation malfunction could be at least controlled and compensated for by the bio-tailored viruses that made up the bulk of modern medical technology. An area that had been in its infancy when they had left earth, but was now one of the mainstays of the medical profession. An area of knowledge that was almost as easily transferable to the colonies as was information technology. However. as time went on it became obvious that they could only have a proportional effect of that which they had on an undamaged subject. They had lengthened her life, but they could not reverse the original damage.
Jack Maris, chief medical officer of the colony, and Carries doctor, came into the room.
"Well?" said George.
"As we thought it was only a temporary imbalance. I've altered the mix of her medication slightly, which might help, but this sort of thing was to be expected."
"I know." replied George.
"There is nothing more we can do George, even if I had her under 24 hour observation, and we both know she would never agree to that."
"Has this changed anything?"
"No. Provided she keeps following my advice, it could be as much as another year before things come to a head."
"What about all the extra work she has been doing lately." asked Liam.
"She hasn't been overworking, I've kept a close eye on her, if anything it's probably better for her than sitting around doing nothing. George worries too much."
George hadn't told Liam about his concern that Carrie had been putting too much effort into the work she had been doing preparing for his arrival in orbit. The last thing he wanted was for Liam to attach any blame to himself for Carries collapse.
"I'm her father, I'm supposed to worry." he said. "I also know how pointless it is. It would be worse if she was surrounding herself with restrictions that can't do any good anyway, just to please me."
"I know." said Jack, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I know." The med station beeped twice to attract their attention. Jack and George went over to it. "She's coming around." said Jack, as he reached out and retracted the cover over her.
Carrie opened her eyes. "Daddy?."
"I'm here." replied George, taking his daughters hand.
"You passed out."
"It's not serious." interrupted Jack. "It's not a change for the worse. You'll be fine in a couple of days. How do you feel? Any pain?"
"No. I just feel weak."
"Fine, that checks." he replied, looking down at the readouts by her side. "It shouldn't last, you should feel better by tomorrow."
She nodded in reply, then shifted her gaze to her father. "I'm sorry I worried you Daddy." She then looked past him, to the screen on the wall. "You too Liam."
"As long as you're OK now I'm not worried."
"You're in orbit." she replied, startled. "I haven't been out that long, have I?"
"No, only about ten hours. I separated the command module and brought it here separately, the rest of the ship is still ticking over happily around number three."
"Oh." she responded, holding his gaze for a while before opening her mouth to say something and being interrupted by Jack.
"I think that we ought to let you get some rest." he said, half expecting her to object. But she didn't get the chance, Liam interjected instead.
"Jack's right, you said yourself you feel tired. You can talk to me when you feel all right. OK?"
"OK." she replied after a couple of seconds.
"Right." said George. "That's a very good idea. You get to sleep."
"All right Daddy."
Jack turned out the rooms lights, and he and George withdrew out the door. Liam raised his hand in farewell and the light from the screen was gone too. Carrie lay in the darkness thinking for quite some time, almost causing Jack, who was watching her bio monitors in the anteroom, to do something about it. Then, without really noticing it, she was asleep.
Liam stayed in orbit around Prosperity, controlling his ships mining operations by remote, for many weeks before he decided that he was needed back at the Marley. Shortly after, he brought the whole ship back into orbit, from where it would finish its construction program.
As George had foreseen, the colony readily accepted Liam's condition. A frontier world is not a place for pity, but lack of compassion is not a survival trait, and the colony would not have survived if its inhabitants had not possessed the ability to see past limitations.
Liam and Carrie seemed to spend every spare moment they had talking to each other, first via standard video phones, then by means of the holographic projectors Liam constructed to enable him to take more of a part in the anniversary celebration. The idea escalated from a simple ceremony of thanks, if it could have been that in the first place. It became a festival, held on the anniversary of their first planetfall, and the first celebration of that date without the muted background of uncertainty that Liam's arrival had swept away.
Over the months that followed a small number of technicians and engineers came and went between the Marley, the satellite factory it was building and the auxiliary ground stations. One of them was Carrie. No one on Prosperity seriously believed her stated need to get hands on experience of the ships computer system, but no one would have even considered disputing the matter with her. Her father considered talking to her about it, but then decided that it was none of his business, unless she wanted to make it so.
Finally the station and its ground based auxiliaries were completed, and Liam made ready to leave Prosperity.
It was blowing hard on the top of memorial point. The view out over the bay and the city clustered around it was clear with only a few scattered clouds. George stood by the statue they had erected only a few months before as part of the anniversary celebrations. Before they had never felt the desire to erect such a totally frivolous monument to their presence on this world. It was much easier, George reflected, to be frivolous when you felt secure.
He turned around and looked back to where Liam's image stood, flickering slightly, with the group of friends and relations who had elected to stay by the grave for a little while after the rest of the funeral party had left. Carrie would have liked the image of the group clustered around the windswept gravestone. Only Liam looked out of place, his clothes not touched by the moving air.
George had secretly hoped the Liam would have been gone before this happened, but he knew that grief was better dealt with than avoided. He studied the young man he thought of as a son in law, wishing that that could actually have been so, more for Liam's sake than his or even Carrie's. He knew that Carrie had been very happy in the last few months, and indeed that was true of all her life, despite her illness. She had said once that the only thing that really worried her about dying was not knowing if her home would live on after her.
His daughter had possessed a somewhat strange way of looking at some things. `Deep' was the word that sprung to mind out of the mists of old history lessons. George on the other hand was just content with carrying on with life one day at a time not worrying about unanswerable questions about afterlife and destiny.
George was the last person to leave the cemetery, it was easier to hang back and leave the grave alone than to think of what to say to other people who had been close to Carrie, when he wasn't even sure of what he was feeling himself. Somehow it didn't feel as if she was really gone, it was just the effect of grief of course. He hadn't expected to feel like this, it had been different when Jane, his wife, had died, that had been unexpected, an accident, but somehow it had been easier to cope with than this, which he had been expecting for years.
The sun was just setting when George finally got back to his house. His son, Alex, who had come to Landing from the outlying settlement where he was stationed, with his wife and two young children, was waiting in the central courtyard for him.
"Maggie's putting the children to bed." he said, gesturing toward the quest wing of the house where their rooms were. "I just stayed up to, ah..."
"To make sure I got home OK." George smiled, "Don't worry, I know I've taken it harder than I thought I would, but I'll get over it. Trust me, I am a professional shrink remember."
"OK Dad, but you know what they say about doctors as patients."
"I know you're concerned, but I'll be fine, you get some rest, you need it as well."
"OK, just as long as you do."
"Sure, I'm just going to potter around for a bit, then I'll be off to bed real soon."
"All right then Dad, goodnight."
George could tell from his son's hug as he said goodnight that he was still worried about him, but he knew as well as George when there was nothing more he could say, and had enough faith in his father to take him at his word when he said he would be all right. George was not tired though, and for want of something better to do he sat down at his terminal and accessed the management system he had shared with his daughter. Though of course they had separate files, he hardly ever locked his, and they had shared the same system because it had made it easier for Carrie to organize his schedule.
On a whim he displayed the directory of his daughter's files. The result surprised him somewhat, there were far less files in her directory than he remembered had been there last time he had looked a few weeks ago. He then ran a search through their whole system, and then the dead file stack. Finally he even searched the whole of the colony's computer system for anything tagged with his daughters personal code.
The only answer to the puzzle was that his daughter had deliberately erased a large part of her personal file space in such a way as to ensure that they could not be recovered. For the first time he began to suspect that his daughter had been hiding something from him. Maybe he should have respected her right to privacy, but the fact upset him enough for him to want to dig deeper.
Some time before his daughter had shown him various tricks for tracing information imported into a management system from the wider General Management and Storage System that made up the basic operating system for the whole of the colony's computer network. It was these that he used to trace the archive files that his daughter had accessed to make up at least part of the erased files. This took him some time, and then he spent the rest of the night, studying what he had found.
It was afternoon when George awoke. In the early hours of the morning he had come to a decision, and finally he had been able to sleep. The Marly wasn't due to leave orbit for another eight hours, but he saw no reason to put off what he had to do any longer.
Liam's image on the phone's monitor was as George had seen him many times before, sitting in his chair on the Marley's bridge, with the view behind him showing display screens and other instrumentation. George had himself been on the Marley and seen the bridge, but until now he had not realized what was wrong with the image behind Liam. It was lived in, there were personal effects and other things one would find in an inhabited environment, used eating utensils, discarded books and sheets of hardcopy printouts, all in the scene behind Liam. Of course it should be, but the actual bridge itself had been antiseptic in its condition, not just as if Liam had tidied it up, but as if it was brand new, totally unlike the view he had always seen when talking to Liam.
Now that he knew why this should be so, the difference was obvious, but at the time it had totally escaped his notice, he had been so used to the bridge he had seen every time he talked to Liam that he had totally missed the obvious. There were lots of other things he had missed and he had been angry with himself for not suspecting that Liam had been lying all this time. Though he realized that his daughter had been trying to spare him distress, he had also been upset that she had not confided in him. After the initial shock of the enormity of what she had done, he had however come to share the same understanding of the situation that she must have had.
Liam noticed the frown on George's face as he considered these things
"Hello George." he said "What's the problem."
"Liam, I'm not going to beat around the bush. I want to speak to Carrie".
In response to Liam's shocked expression he went on. "Don't try to bluff me out, I traced the material about you that Carrie had accessed from the archives, she should never had shown me how to do that. Once I knew about you it was obvious what Carrie has done."
Liam's expression changed from false shock to concerned consideration. Suddenly the image around him changed, and Carrie was standing beside him. The bridge had changed slightly also, the simulation reflecting her personality as well as Liam's.
His daughter looked only slightly different. He could not think of either of them as just recordings of human personalities in the computer banks on the Marley. He had known Liam for too long to delude himself that a human being could only exist in a protein brain. In fact most psychological theory depended on the model of a human being as a complicated parallel chain computer as a basis for understanding the human mind. The interesting thing, thought George, is that the images before him were probably a truer vision of the persons behind them than the light reflected off of a flesh and blood body.
It was far more obvious in Liam. The Liam he knew was a much younger version of the archive images of Patrick Erick O'Mara, known to his friends by the nickname Liam. To some people their physical age has very little to do with the reality of their existence. Professor Patrick Erick O'Mara had been one such person. Known throughout most of his life as a spacecraft designer and physicist, he had gone from academic to commercial magnate and back again. In fact his first degree had been in Philosophy, though he had never achieved any fame in this area until the end of his life as a flesh and blood being, and then only as an object of the rantings of philosophers. According to the biography in the archives he gained his twin Phd's in Astrophysics and Aerospace design a year after this first degree. He toiled away in relative obscurity for five years, until he finally became so fed up with the bureaucracy that surrounded the astrospace industry of the time, that he founded his own company. An idiocy that should have been his downfall according to the conventional wisdom of the time.
Ten years later he had succeeded in turning astrospace design on its head. The thing that most physicists dreamed of in their sleep, and none could turn into reality had come off his drawing board, and turned the company that everyone regarded as a joke into one of the richest and most powerful corporations on Earth. It was still another thirty years until that first patent for an anti-matter induction field and the matter-energy converter it made possible became the heart of his true goal, the first prototype of which had been the salvation of George's world. He had not even been satisfied to stop there, with the certain completion of his life long goal, but had gone on to master yet another field and produce a second world changing achievement.
George rather suspected that Liam would have preferred to have gone down in history for the ship and not for the thing that had given rise to its name. George, who was an avid reader of old literature, had only in hindsight recognized the significance of that name. Jacob Marley, the ghostly partner of Ebenezer Scrooge, a dead man in chains. George was sure that this was what Liam had felt like when he had named her. Of course it has been this Liam who had named the ship, not the dead man that Earth history vilified, whose memory he shared.
It must have affected Liam profoundly when in the space of three months a small number of fanatics, who feared the discovery he had spent the last ten years of his life developing, had whipped up enough paranoia among Earth’s population for them to take over Earthgov in an unstoppable landslide. They then outlawed not only the personality copying process that had made Liam what he was, but also a wide body of research into related fields.
Then they had tried to destroy Liam himself. However it took them time to circumvent his influence on the virtually autonomous bureaucracy of the Space Council. When the prospect of a civil war finally forced Liam's friends on the Council to resign, the Marley was already on its way out of the solar system and nothing could stop it.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you dad." said Carrie.
"If you want to know why." interrupted Liam, "I persuaded her not to. I'm sorry I had to lie to people, but when it became apparent that my history was lost in the archive files, and no one had realized what I was, I decided to avoid any chance that what happened on Earth would repeat itself here. Things just escalated from there, and when Carrie found out my secret and wanted to come with me, I couldn't leave her behind."
"And I couldn't let him go off alone Daddy." interjected Carrie "I wasn't afraid of dying, you know that, but I couldn't let Liam be alone."
"I know dear." replied her father, "You love him, you both love each other. I'm not totally blind, it would be pretty hard not to see that. I just want to know why you felt you couldn't confide in me.
"OK" said Liam, he paused then continued, "The people who chased me off Earth have sent a ship after me. I spotted it even before I got here. They can't possibly catch me. They may even give up when they are sure that I've not stayed here. But, if they found out about Carrie, they are bound to come after us."
"Where will you go?" asked George, "It's obvious you are not going back to Earth."
"Out there." replied Liam, gesturing to the window in the side of the bridge, and the stars beyond it. "I've figured out how to make sure we can't be traced. We think it's best we stay away from inhabited worlds for a while. Maybe we will come back some day, I don't know."