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Chapter 40

Horatius

I’d been accompanying Airomem most nights after her meetings with the council, bringing additional questions and jotting notes down as she ate her sparse dinner.  Each day she seemed to bring a new surprise, a new alien trait that made my eyebrows shoot up and my thoughts spin.  

It was so interested because I was a historian, I told myself.  It was my duty to learn not only about my side of the ship and our past, but theirs as well.  These were stories that I had never been able to access, ones that had been sealed away for hundreds of years by the void of space, pages unread for generations.  Ones that to them were old, but to me were brand new.

But there were other reasons too- how Airomem walked so confidently, how she seemed to demand attention from everyone in the room.  How her face had been the first I had recognized on the other side of the ship, and now was speaking to me, something that just weeks before I would have declared impossible.  And how I yearned for a way to impress her as well, since her side of the ship seemed far more extraordinary that my own.

“You said you knew about the control room before I took you there,”  I asked as she finished her rations, a disappointed look on her face as she set the plate on the floor, “How exactly?”

“It was mentioned in our stories,” She said, “We remembered a time when the ship would do much of the work for us, and the engineering in the power room was such that many of our tasks could be accomplished from a distance.  And since we always had the ability to change the power on other areas of the ship, it took little imagination to understand that perhaps we used to be able to change much more than that, or to change it more precisely.”

“And the power on your side of the ship, did you ever try to enhance farming with it?”

“Considering that the Agrarians did the farming, it was not in our interest,”  She said, “If we helped them too much, then they would grow too strong and become a threat.  Conversely, if we starved them off, then we would starve our own food supply.  And even if we were allies with them, we wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of the science.”

“Wait, you’re saying that you’ve never actually farmed?”  I asked, realizing there was something I *did* know more about than her, “Would you be interested in learning?”

“Of course!”  She said, “Trying on our end of the ship would be suicide due to the Agrarian’s grasp on the land.  But learning how to do it can only prove useful- whether in fighting our enemies, or upon arrival on the new planet, where I suspect we will have to do it ourselves anyways.”

“I can teach you then!”  I said, beaming, “Tomorrow, just after our meetings, I’ll take you to the fields.  It’s simple, really, especially since you already seem to understand the conceptual parts.”

“Deal,”  She said, as Ruth came to the door, and paused in the frame.  The she put her hands in front of her, her tongue tucked around the corner of her mouth, and started forming symbols as Airomem laughed.

“Yes, you can come in,”  Airomem said, and and made another sign, after which Ruth looked to me and laughed.

“What did she say?”  I asked, as I stood up to leave.

“Oh, it’s a secret Horatious,”  Said Ruth, wagging a tiny finger and laughing, “You’ll have to learn sign language to find out!”

The next day, Airomem joined me in the fields, and I taught her the basics of how to plant seeds, and of the varieties, their preferred soils, and light optimizations.  Her presence on our end of the ship was well known by now, through an announcement by Elliot who had temporarily taken control as chief by vote of the council, at least until the ship was no longer in crisis.  He’d also made the announcement of Segni’s death, assuring the crowd that he would, in fact, be remembered.

“But what about her!” Skip had shouted from the back of the crowd, as others murmured, “Segni was killed by her people, and you’re going to let her walk among us?  As if she were one of our own?”

“Aeromem’s people are enemies of those who killed Segni,”  Elliot had responded, keeping his voice level, “And they have been giving us crucial information about how to keep them from harming anyone else.  In addition, she explained how the ship created an extremely heavy room on the bridge for our protection as its systems came online. She is an incredible resource, and will do far more good than harm.”

I coughed as Elliott had mentioned the ship creating the heavy room, turning away slightly to avoid the eyes of the crowd.  I’d instructed Airomem to tell that lie, informing her that the control room was a long kept secret, one that it was best if the remainder of the population did not know about.  All it would take was one twist of the wrong knob, and there could be another Great Thirst.  This close to our arrival, another catastrophe might prove to be the last event we would experience.

I sighed in relief that the crowd’s perception of Segni had been so negative at the time of his death- they still felt the hunger attributed to his feasts, and many fought infections from lack of medicine, and others had family members that had perished or were close to perishing from the ship coming together.  Segni’s death was a distant tragedy compared to their own, washed away in a river of sorrow that hoped for new beginnings and redemption.  There were some who cried at his funeral, and others who paid their respects, but the general shock smoothed over any sense of retaliation.

The death of a chief had happened before, and was eclipsed by the shock of the other recent events.

In times of crisis, our people had always learned to listen to tradition and to orders.  Now Elliott, as the new temporary chief, was able to provide both of those.  The majority people were willing to overlook the events that had lead up to Segni’s death, and to focus upon the future.

The majority, but not all.

We planned on an assembly in the next week as Elliott met with each of the local leaders to discuss his plan, instructing them to keep the details extremely confidential.  He spoke with Tom, who would move the porters to action.  He reached out to the eldest cooks and doctors, relaying on to them that he would need their support to ensure survival.  And he asked me to start convincing the gardens, to bring Airomem out there under the pretext of teaching her our ways, but to win over as many people as possible into trusting her.  To acclimate them to her presence, to convince them that there was no danger.

Only then would we cascade the evacuation plan, speaking through localized leaders to win over the whole.  By Elliot’s estimations, that would gather support from over three quarters of the ship.  And the last quarter, while we could prod and goad them to follow, we could not force.  

That last quarter, if could we not convince them to follow us, if could we not convince them to change, then we also could not convince to live.

Chapter 41

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