Record of a Spaceborn Few Page 1


Four Standards Earlier


‘Mom, can I go see the stars?’

Tessa looked up from her small workbench and down to her even smaller daughter. ‘I can’t take you now, baby,’ she said. She nodded toward the cleanerbot she was trying to coax back to life. ‘I want to finish this before your Uncle Ashby calls.’

Aya stood in place and bounced on her heels. She’d never in her life been still, not while sleeping, not while sick, not while she’d grown in Tessa’s belly. ‘I don’t need you to go,’ Aya said. ‘I can go myself.’

The declaration was made boldly, laden with enough self-assurance that Tessa set down her screwdriver. The words I don’t need you made a part of her shrivel in on itself, but then, wasn’t that the point of being a parent? To help them need you less and less? She turned to Aya, and considered. She thought of how deep the elevator shaft to the family cupola was, how easy it would be for a bouncing almost-five-year-old to slip off the bench and fall a full deck down. She tried to remember how old she herself had been the first time she’d gone down alone, but found she couldn’t. Aya was clumsy, as all people learning their bodies were, but she was careful, too, when she put her mind to it. She knew to buckle her safety harness on the ferry, to find an adult if she heard air hissing or metal groaning, to check for a green pressure light on any door before opening it. Aya was a kid, but a spacer kid, and spacer kids had to learn to trust themselves, and trust their ships.

‘How would you sit on the bench?’ Tessa asked.

‘In the middle,’ Aya said.

‘Not on the edge?’

‘Not on the edge.’

‘And when do you get off of it?’

‘When it gets to the bottom.’

‘When it stops,’ Tessa said. It wasn’t hard to picture her daughter jumping off while still in motion. ‘You have to wait for the bench to stop all the way before getting off of it.’


‘What do you say if you fall?’

‘I say, “falling!”’

Tessa nodded. ‘You shout it real loud, right? And what does that do?’

‘It makes . . . it makes the . . . it makes it turn off.’

‘It makes what turn off?’

Aya bounced and thought. ‘Gravity.’

‘Good girl.’ Tessa tousled her kid’s thick hair with approval. ‘Well, all right, then. Go have fun.’

Her daughter took off. It was only a few steps from Tessa’s table at the side of the living room to the hole in the centre of the floor, but running was the only speed Aya knew. For a split second, Tessa wondered if she’d just created a future trip to the med clinic. Her fears gave way to fondness as she watched Aya carefully, carefully unlatch the little gate in the kid-height railing around the elevator shaft. Aya sat on the floor and scooted forward to the bench – a flat, legless plank big enough for two adults sitting hip-to-hip. The plank was connected to a motorised pulley, which, in turn, was attached to the ceiling with heavy bolts.

Aya sat in quiet assessment – a rare occurrence. She leaned forward a bit, and though Tessa couldn’t see her face, she could picture the little crumpled frown she knew had appeared. Aya didn’t look sure about this. A steep, dark ride was one thing when held firmly on your mother’s lap. It was another entirely when the only person taking the ride was you, and nobody would catch you, nobody would yell for help on your behalf. You had to be able to catch yourself. You had to be able to raise your voice.

Aya picked up the control box wired to the pulley, and pressed the down button. The bench descended.

I don’t need you, Aya had said. The words didn’t sting anymore. They made Tessa smile. She turned back to the cleanerbot and resumed her repairs. She’d get the bot working, she’d let her daughter watch ships or count stars or whatever it was she wanted to do, she’d talk to her brother from half a galaxy away, she’d eat dinner, she’d call her partner from half a system away, she’d sing their daughter to sleep, and she’d fall sleep herself whenever her brain stopped thinking about work. A simple day. A normal day. A good day.

She’d just about put the bot back together when Aya started to scream.



Isabel didn’t want to look. She didn’t want to see it, didn’t want whatever nightmare lay out there to etch itself permanently into memory. But that was exactly why she had to go. Nobody would want to look at it now, but they would one day, and it was important that nobody forgot. Somebody had to look. Somebody had to make a record.

‘Do you have the cams?’ she asked, hurrying toward the exit.

Deshi, one of the junior archivists, fell alongside her, matching her stride. ‘Yeah,’ he said, shouldering a satchel. ‘I took both packs, so we’ll have plenty to— holy shit.’

They’d stepped out of the Archives and into a panic, a heaving chaos of bodies and noise. The plaza was as full as it was on any festival day, but this was no celebration. This was terror in real time.

Deshi’s mouth hung open. Isabel reached out and squeezed his young hand with her wrinkled fingers. She had to lead the way, even as her knees went to jelly and her chest went tight. ‘Get the cams out,’ she said. ‘Start recording.’