Nexus 3, Chapter 3

I made it around the corner, full of a desire to stomp or be stomped. But the kind of kicking that came down the hall in my direction wasn’t the right kind of masochism at all.

“You look like hell,” Elle said flatly.

“She means the rigors of our circumstance are showing,” Sam soothed.

“He knows what I mean- and it’s more complex than that.”

Sam’s chromatophores shifted blue, the rough equivalent to my cheeks going red when my mother first asked about my sex life. “I… didn’t mean to…”

“Inject yourself into our relationship?” Elle asked, and if you didn’t know her like I did, you might have thought she was about to bite clean through Sam’s neck, but the corner of her mouth turned up, in a sad little smile, because a part of her knew that Sam and I had been… involved when we reconnected. “Lot of that going around,” she added. There was a lightness in her voice that said she was acknowledging that was exactly what she’d inadvertently done when we thought Sam died on some planet whose name I couldn’t even remember now; there was no moral high ground here for any of us. But she couldn’t let herself linger on our situation; none of us could. “But we aren’t here for the parade of awkwardness that is our interrelations. We’re here to tell you we’re taking the first pod.”

“You say that like I should understand what you’re getting at,” I said.

“The prototype two-man pod. We’re taking its maiden voyage. Both to preempt you from selfishly taking it, and to keep you from using it as an excuse to keep from making your decision. Which you will do, by the time we get back. Or you lose us both.”

I wanted to fight, but the fight had gone out of me. My clone and I had idly discussed the idea, but we never really wanted to take it; we were going through the motions, fulfilling a role we felt we had to play, and at the same time knowing it didn’t matter, wouldn’t help anything, wouldn’t fix any of the things that were broken, or even delay the doom that was chasing us. “Isn’t that giving me a grace period?”

“We considered that,” Elle said. “But Sam’s pretty sure you’re no closer to deciding than the day we learned she was still among us. PsychDiv’s certain you never will; she apparently made a bet with Clew over it… the stakes of which I begged not to know about.”


“Your clone,” Sam said, “the Drew clone.”

“And you didn’t go with ‘Drone?’”

“What did I say?” Elle deadpanned, pretending to glare at Sam… who was more confused than anything by it, until she inadvertently picked up enough telepathically to understand the underlying joke.

“I’m pretty sure I know what she bet,” I said.

“Please don’t tell me,” Elle said.

“Which means my clone must be confident; I wouldn’t take chances with that kind of bet.”

“I really super don’t want to know…”

“He’s right,” Sam said, “and so are you.”

“So I’m curious what my younger half thinks I’m going to do?”

“Oh no,” Elle said. “I’ve already sworn him to secrecy. I’m not letting you get demoralized or overconfident because of something your test-tube copy said.”

“Those were my two options? No chance that he and I could commiserate, and that I could draw strength from him?”

“Not much,” she said. “But you can still talk to him. Get whatever kind of support you can.”

“She’s right,” Sam said. “It doesn’t really matter what he thinks you’ll do. What matters is knowing wouldn’t help, and she’s probably right that it would likely hurt.”

“I feel like you’re ganging up on me,” I said, and I just didn’t have it in me to keep playing along. I sighed. “Wish I could say I didn’t deserve it…”

“Don’t get morose like a dick,” Elle said.

“Right,” Sam nodded. “This isn’t something you did. It’s something that happened to us- all of us.” “That’s still happening,” Elle added.

“It was tolerable,” Sam started, “when you pined for Elle. I understood that love. I shared it, with you. But it isn’t ours, anymore. It’s just yours. And so is her child.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, because it was all I could say. And every apology just made it all hurt worse, because they didn’t blame me for what happened. I know it hurt, that I hadn’t be able to figure out how to stop loving one of them. But every time I told them I was sorry- and I was- I think it just hit each of us that much harder that this wound wasn’t closing- couldn’t close- not without hurting one of us even more.

Elle shifted on her feet, pain distorting her face for a moment, and in profile I saw her baby bump, and I saw a glimmer of a hope of stopping them from taking the same kind of stupid risk I’d taken too often. “Come here,” I said, and led them to some seating a hundred meters down the hall.

Elle’s face softened, as she realized why I’d led them to a few chairs near one of the big windows. I helped her lower herself awkwardly into one of the chairs.

I bit my lip. “I’m trying to be delicate, here, because I’m sure you’ve thought through it more thoroughly than I have, but what about the baby? Is it safe to take her?”

“This isn’t Sontem’s ship anymore. I’m not just a uterus on legs, and the ship can’t spare me until the brat’s in classes.”

“But we can spare you for a jaunt off-ship?”

“I deserve some R & R. Away from this place. Away from our shit. Away from,” she couldn’t look at me, and her voice got quiet as she added, “you.”

“I’m sorry. For everything.”

“Stop apologizing,” she said, rising from her seat enough to shove me back. “Stop staring at me with those puppy fucking eyes.”

“I have puppy-fucking eyes?” I asked. “That sounds horrifying. And kind of uncalled for. Even if it is true, that’s not the kind of thing you tell a person.” I rubbed my eyes for effect. “Wait, just so we’re clear, is this eye-fucking in the traditional sense, as in someone leering at puppies in a way that makes everyone in the pet store uncomfortable? Or are we talking the look in a man’s eyes when he’s mid-coitus with a puppy, which is definitely so much worse? I- God help me, I now need to know really badly.”  

Elle sighed, and the littlest hint of smile crossed her lips. She hit me in the shoulder, like we were on the same little league team. “Thanks.” It was hard, everything that was happening. None of us wanted to be in the situation we were in… and none of us could navigate a way out. The way I loved Elle, always had, probably always would, the joy I felt over being the father of her child, all of it was so different from how I loved Sam. She knew me in a way that Elle never would, never could, likely couldn’t stomach, even if somehow it were possible.

I wished I could cut myself in half, and try to make both of them as happy as I could; the thought of not making one of them happy was so much harder than the ship hunting us down, and somewhat ironically, my clone was dating someone else, someone who I’d screwed up with in a way I couldn’t recover from- but that he could.

I realized then, that they were sharing a look, and just how fucked that meant I was. Sam fixed me, and it was the look of a woman who knew my worst moments, who had felt my deepest hurts, and was cracking my heart delicately, like an egg. She sighed. “I can-” Elle offered, but Sam put up her hand.

“Let me. This is an ultimatum. We discussed it, that Elle may be hard-nosed, but is soft-hearted; it means you don’t always take her words to at face value. But I am not inclined towards hyperbole, and often struggle to be assertive. So hear me when I say, either you can choose between us before the first pod launch, or we will take it ourselves, buying you the time it takes for us to return.”

“Whatever you choose,” Elle said, taking Sam’s hand, “we want you to be a part of my pregnancy. However else this plays out, you’ll always be the father of my child.”

“I appreciate that,” I said, feeling like a man who had just been moved from the uncertainty of being on Death Row for years, to finally having his date on the calendar.

The thought of a calendar reminded me of all of the logistical tech built into our HUDs, including the memo about the scrum between the Meh-Teh and the Argus crewmembers. “Crap,” I said. “While I’ve got you, I should probably…”

“If it’s about the brawl, I’m working the problem.”

“Which is?”

“That the culture aboard the Nexus is vastly different than the one aboard the Argus. Or that the Meh-Teh are used to, for that matter.”


She rolled her eyes, uncertain if I was trying to have her help me think out loud or if it was another memo I’d spaced. “The Argus may have technically been organized around the same basic corporate boilerplate mission statement as the Nexus. But the crew was almost entirely military security veterans, people whose experience of contact with aliens was of the ‘shoot first, let god sort it out’ variety. The Meh-Teh were not a cooperative species, even within their species. Add a xenophobic, martially-minded cohort who blame said alien bears for their defeat and you have conflict.”

“And what has PsychDiv said?”

“The Argus cohort do score higher than the Nexus crew on the Xenophobia Scale… but PsychDiv think that’s conquerable.” I tilted my head to induce her to continue. “Basically, some portion of xenophobia, like most biases, can be defeated by long-term, positive interactions with the object of the phobia. Fear gay people, get a gay friend and you’ll be less homophobic. Fear trans people, then have an uncle transition, and you get less transphobic. Fear sex workers, and find out your favorite grandmother stripped to put your mother through school, and your world-view adjusts. The Argus crew aren’t born bigots- they were taught it, and through a MilSec career had it encouraged as a survival mechanism. So if we can get them to stop being toxically masculine long enough to have a beer with the Meh-Teh, well, the situation likely sorts itself out.”

“Huh,” I said. I could practically hear the rusted gears in my head starting to turn. “I’m frightened,” Elle said. “He’s forming an idea.”

Nexus 3, Chapter 2

“I’m still not sure why I’m here,” Dave said.

“Continuity of leadership,” I began, “because you’re my likely successor if I manage to cheeseburger myself to an early death, because the ship essentially flies itself so we know you can’t possibly be busy ‘navigating’, because I’m a sadist. Pick.”

“He’s cranky this time of morning,” Dave replied.

“He’s cranky, full stop,” Bill said. “But that’s why you shouldn’t give him the opening.” He exhaled, standing up. “And you’re both here because I was right.”

“And wanted to gloat in person?” Dave asked.

“You know the longer we’re trapped on this ship together, the more you sound like him,” he nodded in my direction.

“Maybe the longer we’re on ship, the more we all become like him,” Dave said in a nearly spooky voice.

“Or maybe something about the burden of leadership…” I offered.

“That was half-assed even by your standards,” Bill said. “But it has less to do with gloating, and more to do with wanting all of us on the same page. And I suspect you either don’t read my memos, or don’t retain them. So periodically we do this in person, so I can at least watch for your eyes glazing over, to know what I’ll need to repeat later.”

“And?” Dave asked.

“It’s like babysitting, only marginally more cleaning up other people’s shit.” He rubbed his eyes before continuing. “Retrofitting our sensor pods to accommodate a second pilot took doing- honestly, retrofitting them for manned travel in the first place took care of most of it. But aside from a little logistical streamlining the work is essentially done. What’s proving harder- even more difficult than my initial estimate, is the launch bays. A single pilot could be accommodated inside the original structure of the pods with just a little jiggering- and of course removal of some of the more fidgety sensor arrays. But something has to give; there just isn’t enough space for a second person; we even did some testing, using only the smallest 10% of our crew, but still, unless we put them all on borderline deadly starvation diets and trained them to be contortionists- and ignored that it isn’t healthy for a human body to be stuck in a strange position for weeks or months- it was a worthy attempt, but came to nothing. Which means we’re back to the bigger pod with room for two.”

“Can we get inside?” Dave asked.

“It’s not a roller coaster,” Bill started, “but yes.”

Dave slid into the front seat, and I squeezed into the back. There was maybe a foot between Dave’s head and mine, and the majority of that was taken up by screens and controls.

“Tight fit,” Dave said.

“We’re trying to fit two square pegs into a round hole at the same time.”

“It’s necessary,” I said. “We’ve gotten lucky, in that I don’t think it would have made a difference on any pods we’ve sent. But there are going to be situations where two heads are better than one, or where one person needs medical assistance they can’t get from the locals.”

“I’m not arguing over the philosophy behind the project, merely explaining the practical difficulties.”

“When can we launch?” I asked.

“Depends. Who’s we?”

“You and me. I wanted us to have a romantic weekend away together, so I could finally confess my lust in style.”

“I’m out of your league,” Bill said. “But just assuming you learned your lesson last time- just like I did- inside of a week. Now, I know you could probably do an end-run around me, maybe even have the logistics all laid out. That’s why I’ve already told the council what I’m telling you.”

“Well they have historically been superb at curbing my worst instincts,” I said, putting an edge in my voice without realizing it. I smiled, to soften it a little. “You didn’t have to do that,” I said, “but I understand.”

“And I… don’t care,” Bill said. “You spend a lot of time on this ship acting like you know what’s best for the rest of us; you get that right often enough we’ve left you nominally in charge.” He sighed. “But your paternalistic bullshit is going to get people killed. We need you right now, but I pray every goddamned night that either you’ll finally grow up into the captain we need, or you’ll get the hell out of the way so someone better can.”

Bill offered me a hand out of the prototype and it took every ounce of self-control I had not to use it to fulcrum his face into the instrument panel. It was one thing to cut me down when he felt I was getting too big for my britches; it was entirely different to do it in front of one of the other DivHeads.

I was most of the way out of the room, but Haley made sure to pipe the audio in to my cochlear implants. I think she did it because she knew Dave better than any of the rest of us, and was pretty confident how he was going to react.

“You should know that he’s the better man right now,” Dave said, “because I would have decked you for that.”

NaNo NaNo

The title of this post really only works if you’re ancient, like me, and remind the still more ancient Mork and Mindy (starring the great, and unfortunately late, Robin Williams), and imagine it mispronounced as such.

This NaNo I’m largely forsaking the usual format, because I have a life, a marriage on the mend, and irritated bowels (not irritable, medically, just cranky). As a compromise, I’m still planning to write out a novel, finally finishing out the Nexus Trilogy (Sontem Trilogy if you’re nasty, and let’s be honest, both I and anyone reading this probably is). But the compromise is doing a NaNo with actual boundaries. As friends and family (what few have lasted with me through these long, bad years) would tell you is I largely disappeared during November for the last decade plus. Sure, I’d emerge from a cave with a completed novel and a Hefty sack containing my weight in bodily solids/fluids (my only real companion during that dark winter month). I don’t feel like I’ve got anything left to prove, on that front. And I’ve matured… a little. Or I’m being crushed under the weight of adult responsiblities. Potato-potato (that really doesn’t work in print the same way, does it?). My compromise position is that I’m going to try to write every day. On weekdays, that means one writing hour per day. On weekends it will be 3-4 hours, depending on what I need to do besides. My hope is to be able to post week-daily updates Monday-Thursday, with a pause on Friday for the pitches; I think that schedule should give me enough time to keep ahead of the posting schedule, while still leaving time and space to handle my other responsibilities. This revised schedule likely means that it will take a bit longer for me to finish Nexus 3: Fight the Future, and a bit longer to post it. I don’t know if I’ll try to keep up that writing schedule until the novel’s finished; I think that depends on the state of my responsibilities on December 1st, but the hope, moreso than a goal, at this moment, is to be able to post the final chapter (assuming not too much outline bloat) around Valentine’s day.

Nexus 3: Chapter 1

I wake from the same nightmare, the ship in flames, with a familiar boot on my throat, choking the last moments of life from me. It belongs to my nephew, who I held minutes after his birth back on Earth, who I was with on his first trip to Disneyland. I tell myself, and the crew, that it will be all right, that we can evade our pursuers. But I can’t convince my subconscious. Unlike the Argus, we can’t outrun them, we can’t lose them. The Nascent, nicknamed in the Argus‘ files the ‘Shipkiller’, is advanced enough that it will catch us; it’s only a matter of time.

What makes waking from the dream worse is that I’m alone. I can’t turn onto my side and find comfort. Sam moved out months ago. Elle barely speaks to me. And I know I deserve far worse.

“Good morning, Captain,” Haley, the ship’s artificial intelligence, said, the synthetics in her electronic tone barely audible, thanks to her own fiddling.

“I’m not awake yet, Haley. That’s why my eyes are still closed.”

“Your neuronal activity would beg to differ.”

I sighed heavily and rolled out of bed. “And what’s it saying now?”

“You’re upset. But it isn’t with me. Would you like to talk about it?” I frowned. “Or would you prefer I schedule an appointment with PsychDiv?”

“Neither,” I said. “And I’m sorry I snapped.”

“I understand. It’s difficult, keeping the Nascent threat to yourself. I can only simulate your anxiety and guilt over it; it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like for you.” She paused, and I knew that pause well. She was an AI, capable of forming a billion ideas or doing a trillion calculations in the space of that break. She was pausing for effect, for my benefit, and because it was something she’d seen the humans living in her ship- essentially her body- do to signify a spontaneous idea when with her it most assuredly was not. “Perhaps, then, it’s time to tell them what’s chasing us.”

“I want to, Haley,” I said. “But the Nascent is not the Argus. The schematics on this ship are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We don’t have a realistic hope of evading her, not for more than a token amount of time.”

“Perhaps measured in decades…” she soothed.

“We thought we were so damned clever,” I said, flopping back onto the edge of my bed. “That taking the Nexus away from them, and humanizing its mission was unfathomable. But they already had a contingency in production.”

“In fairness, Captain- Drew– the decrypted files taken from the Argus indicate that the Nascent was in production to be the third ship in the exploration fleet. It was only after discovery of your… defection, that the Nascent was retrofitted as a Shipkiller.”

“I don’t think that makes me feel better,” I said.

“I’m not sure what would,” Haley admitted. “Though my figures would indicate that Sontem has placed itself at considerable risk building the Nascent at this stage. The Argus was built using standard stock sales, as was the Nexus. Due to the fact that these prior investments had yet to bear fruit, and to rumors of troubles with their fleet, another stock split was deemed ill-advised, and so the company took on debt against its assets.”

“That… helps, actually. Though it strengthens my concern. I’m sure by now they’ve assured their shareholders and regulators that the mutiny aboard this ship was limited and already put down. Which gives them more incentive to murder anyone who could ever say otherwise… something I would not put past the company at this point.”

“I’m confident you won’t allow that to happen,” she said.

“Allow… no.” I didn’t have it in me to crush her hope. “But are they really that precariously positioned?”

“The Argus was the most expensive and advanced ship launched at the time. The same is true of the Nexus, and Nascent was only made possible by proprietary technology acquired by the Argus through trade with alien species. By even the most optimistic timelines, the mining rights procured by the Argus are only now beginning to be exploited. It is very unlikely the company can sustain in this fashion for the long-haul. Infobursts from the Argus further indicate that the loss of the Nexus became public knowledge, and caused a precipitous drop in Sontem’s stock. This is likely why the Nascent was not likewise financed by issuance of further stock. But at this juncture, retaking the Nexus is likely the only scenario in which the company can avoid dissolution.”

“Unless they tell everyone we’ve been retaken,” I said.

“Lie?” she asked.

“They’re the only ones in a position to know whether or not we’re working for them again. Ditto the Argus. They can stall, at least for a while, by claiming to be back in control of their fleet.”

“I hadn’t anticipated that.”

“I think that’s good,” I told Haley. “You’re nearly as smart as every person on this ship; computationally you bury us. I can’t imagine how dangerous it would be if you were skilled at guile, too.”

“But what if it’s necessary?” she asked.

“In some ways, this ship is about being the pinnacle of human- and now inter-species- possibility. And you’re a part of that; perhaps the most integral part, since you’re functionally immortal. But some of our worst traits- like guile, like treachery- they’re important now, because they increase our odds of survival. But they’re vestigial instincts, ultimately dangerous to the fabric of our society, and toxic to our relations to other cultures. I don’t want you to learn to be treacherous, because I want those traits to die with my generation, or at least, to get bred out over the proceeding generations.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Drew,” she said.

“I sleep through anything important?” I asked, trying to rub the sleep from my eyes, and because I was eager for a change of topic.

“There was another three-way brawl, between Meh Teh refugees and former Argus crewmembers, and security.”

“Who started it?”

“A review of the footage would indicate that the Argus crew were the aggressors, but that conflict was quickly enflamed by the Meh Teh.”

“Makes sense. The Argus crew might see us as liberators, or even rivals, but at least we’re still human. But an alien species sharing the same resources… that’s a harder sell for them. Especially coming from mostly military backgrounds, they’re not used to peaceful coexistence. I’ll talk with Elle.” My mind flitted back to the stolen time I spent with her, when we thought Sam dead. She was still swollen with the fruits of that experience- my daughter. I missed her, and Sam, too.

“And it looks like PsychDiv put in a request to meet with you as soon as you were awake.”

“Looks like?” I asked.

“I’m beta testing introducing grammatic uncertainty into my repertoire, to more closely simulate the experience of speaking with another human being. In this case, I’ve notified PsychDiv, and she is currently-”

“PsychDiv override,” my door intoned, as it opened.

“I might not have been decent,” I said, as PsychDiv stepped into my room.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“On my clone, maybe. Which isn’t the same.”

“Or had pressed against me way back when.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Why the sense of urgency? Or did you only just now realize you could abuse your power to catch men in compromising situations.”

“I assure you, I’m not here for my own personal sex comedy.” She sketched instructions on her HUD in the air, and a graph shared onto my eyescreen. “Haley’s been spreading decrypted communications from the Argus to the relevant departments on the ship. I noticed their sociologists were tracking some… odd information, gleaned from our ship. I don’t have access to the equations these variables were being fed into… but making a few educated guesses, I was able to get some useful results anyway.”

“So what am I looking at?” I asked.

“This inflection point in the graph,” she traced it with a delicate finger, and a glowing circle appeared in her wake, “represents the likelihood that you will take the ship off-mission. Similar figures on the Argus captain put the number in the low teens- within the realm of possibility but also attributable to noise and error. Your score was in the high 60s.”

“Interesting,” I said. “But what does that mean?”

“It means that if Sontem was doing similar calculations- and the existence of them tracking these kinds of variables would indicate they were- they may have known fairly quickly into our mission that you were going to go rogue.”

My stomach tried to drop through my feet. “How early?” “Within a few months of our launch. Which could cut down on the amount of time it would have taken for them to prepare a response. So whatever that might look like- it could be a hell of a lot closer than we previously thought.”