Record of a spaceborn fe.., p.16
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       Record of a Spaceborn Few, p.16

           Becky Chambers
 
The boss nodded with a quiet smile. ‘Found him outside the job office?’ she said to Oates.

  Oates gave a happy shrug. ‘It’s a talent, what can I say.’

  ‘I don’t pay you enough.’

  ‘I know.’

  Muriel studied Sawyer. ‘I’d want you to do that faster. But now that you’ve done it once, you have a better idea of what to do next time, right?’

  ‘Right. I can practise before the job, no problem. I mean . . . if I got the job.’

  Muriel smirked. ‘Let’s talk about the job. We’re heading to the Oxomoco.’

  ‘Wow,’ Sawyer said. ‘Okay. Wow.’

  Muriel leaned forward and rested her chin on her laced fingers. ‘What does that mean to you?’

  ‘Well . . . jeez, everybody heard about that. What happened to it, I mean. That was a huge thing. And horrible. Really horrible.’ He processed this new info. ‘Must be a ton of scrap that needs sorting, huh?’

  The captain considered him in silence. Something satisfied her, and she sat back up. ‘It’s a trial run, you understand. Right now, all you and I have is one gig we’re going to work together. If either of us is unhappy with how it goes, we walk away, no hard feelings, and no further obligations. But if it goes well . . .’ She made a let’s see motion with an opened palm. ‘I do have an empty set of quarters open to the right person.’

  Sawyer wasn’t sure when he’d last felt so determined. He was the right person for this, he knew it. He was going to rock this job. He was going to give it one hundred percent. One hundred and ten.

  A part of him, though, was hesitant. This wasn’t what he’d imagined. He’d imagined a hex, an address in the Fleet. But then again . . . A warm thought cut through the caution. This was the Fleet, too. He’d read the Litany they recited at ceremonies. We are the homesteaders, yes, but also: We are the ships that ferry between. Well, here he was, on a ship, ready to do some spacer recycling. That sounded pretty Exodan to him.

  Muriel reached her hand across the table. ‘We got a deal?’

  Sawyer took her hand and shook it firmly. ‘We got a deal.’

  Part 3

  To This Day, We Wander Still

  Feed source: Reskit Institute of Interstellar Migration (Public News Feed)

  Item name: The Modern Exodus – Entry #6

  Author: Ghuh’loloan Mok Chutp

  Encryption: 0

  Translation path: [Hanto:Kliptorigan]

  Transcription: 0

  Node identifier: 2310-483-38, Isabel Itoh

  [System message: The feed you have selected has been translated from written Hanto. As you may be aware, written Hanto includes gestural notations that do not have analogous symbols in any other GC language. Therefore, your scrib’s on-board translation software has not translated the following material directly. The content here is a modified translation, intended to be accessible to the average Kliptorigan reader.]

  * * *

  It is without question that there are many ways in which Exodans have benefited from GC influence. Imubots, artigrav, algae fuel, tunnel access – and of course, mek, which Exodans drink in quantities on par with the rest of the galaxy. But cultural exchange is never without its disruptions, and while the elder Exodan generation frowns over the younger’s preference for Klip and penchant for Harmagian charthump (why that genre of music in particular, I can’t say), I submit that there is one introduced factor more divisive than any other: the Galactic Commons Commerce Credit.

  To understand the conundrum created by the humble cred, you must first understand how Exodans manage labour and resources – and indeed, how they have done so for centuries. To begin, the basics: if you are physically present within the Exodus Fleet, you receive lodgings, food, air, and water. You have access to all public services, and you are granted the same sapient rights as any. No exceptions, no questions asked. There are limits to how much an individual can receive, of course – finite stores within a closed system can only be stretched so far. But Exodan life support capacity has been greatly expanded by the upgrades they’ve implemented over the standards (again, thanks to GC tech), and they take careful count of each person who enters the majestic homesteader shuttledocks. Were Fleet systems or supplies to become taxed, all but citizens would be systematically deported. This has yet to become an issue. In fact, if anything, the decrease in Exodan population since their admission into the GC has made the Fleet more capable of welcoming others.

  You may be wondering, dear guest, as I did, how labour is compensated if your base needs are met. This is the part that’s hard for many – non-Exodan Humans included – to understand: it’s not. Nor do some professions receive more resources than others, or finer housing, or any such tangible benefits. You become a doctor because you want to help people. You become a pilot because you want to fly. You become a farmer because you want to work with growing things, or because you want to feed others. To an Exodan, the question of choosing a profession is not one of what do I need? but rather what am I good at? What good can I do?

  Of course, some professions are more glamorous than others – a pilot, it’s safe to argue, has more dynamic days than a formwork clerk – but this ultimately comes down to personal preference. Not everyone wants a busy, exciting profession that requires long hours and specialised training. Many are content to do something simple that fulfils the desire to be useful but also allows them plenty of opportunity to spend time with their families and hobbies. This is why professions that do require rigorous schooling – or pose inherent risk, either physically or emotionally – are so highly respected within Exodan society. I witness this often in the company of my dear host, Isabel, who receives gifts and deference wherever she goes (you may be wondering how gifts work in a society with no native currency; I will come to that). I have seen this behaviour as well with caretakers, miners, and council members. This is not to say that other professions are unvalued – far from it. There is no such thing as a meaningless job in the Fleet. Everything has a purpose, a recognisable benefit. If you have food on your plate, you thank a farmer. If you have clothing, you thank a textile manufacturer. If you have murals to brighten your day, you thank an artist. Even the most menial of tasks benefits someone, benefits all.

  Perhaps it is their very lack of planetary scale that makes this kind of inclusive thinking possible. Societal machinations and environmental stability are not abstract concepts for the Exodans. They are an immediate, visceral reality. This is why it is rare for able adults to eschew a profession entirely (though this does happen, to considerable scorn), and why youths are under intense scrutiny from their elders as to which line of work they will apprentice in. A job is partly a matter of personal fulfilment, yes, but also – and perhaps chiefly – social fulfilment. When an Exodan asks ‘what do you do?’, the real question is: ‘What do you do for us?’

  This is not a wholly communal society, however. The concept of personal belongings (and living space) still exists, and is quite important. A canister of dried beans, for example, is a public resource, until said canister is allotted to a family. The family trades nothing for this item, as access to it is their right as citizens. But once the canister crosses from storeroom to home, it now belongs to the family in question, and another family taking it would be a punishable act of theft (not to mention unnecessary, as the thieves would have their own beans to start with). Let’s now imagine that a member of this family decides to become a baker. Xe takes xyr family beans, makes them into dough, and creates delicious confections (or so I am told; as with so many Human foods, bean cakes are one of the many staples I cannot consume). Unless this individual is extremely generous, xe will not distribute these goods for free, as this is food now absent from the family pantry. Xe will instead engage in that most Exodan of traditions: bartering. Were I an Exodan with want of cake, I could offer vegetables from my home garden, or a selection of spare bolts, or any such offering that both the baker and I deemed a fair and acceptable trade.

  If the baker is suc
cessful enough in bartering xyr wares, xe will have a surplus of bartered items that can then be traded with the public food stores in exchange for surplus allotments of beans, at which point the herbs and bolts and whatnot re-enter the realm of public resource and become available to the general populace. Or, the baker can simply hang onto xyr bartered items in lieu of having a full cupboard at home, if the family decides they prefer bolts to beans. So even though all resources are rigidly controlled and meted out on a public level, there is profound freedom in what each family decides to do with their share.

  Perhaps it has already become obvious how this delicate balance was disrupted the moment Exodan forebears crossed paths with an Aeluon research probe. Exodans are not impoverished (a misconception I encounter constantly back home). They are healthy and housed, and experience no extraordinary stress. But it is true that if you were to pick up an Exodan home and place it in the middle of, say, Sohep Frie or the residential edges of Reskit, that home would appear jarringly meagre. It is not that Exodans are lacking; it’s that the privileged of us have so much more. A canister of dried beans is well and good, but it’s not as nutrient-packed as jeskoo, not as tasty to a Human palate as snapfruit, not as exciting as something new. Yes, an Exodan might say, the shuttle engines built in Fleet factories are perfectly adequate, but have you seen what the Aandrisks are flying these days? Have you seen the latest sim hubs, the latest implants, the latest redreed hybrids? Have you seen what wonders our alien friends have?

  I should note, in case you’re getting the wrong idea, that Exodans have been steadily innovating and inventing throughout their history. The Fleet is one enormous tinkerer’s workshop, and the equity with which goods are accessible means that anybody with a new idea – mechanical, scientific, artistic, what have you – has the resources to bring it to life. The only limit to what an Exodan can create is what xe has on hand. The fact that Humanity has been liberally implementing GC tech (and building off of it in ingenious, locally specialised ways) does not mean that the Fleet has been technologically stagnant since leaving Earth, nor does it mean their system of labour management is insufficient in driving creative minds to improve upon the old. Dear guest, I cannot impress strongly enough how important it is that we understand the current Exodan state of affairs. It is not that the Exodans were standing still. It is that the rest of us were so far ahead.

  Which brings us to those who keep the treasures the average Exodan cannot resist: GC merchants. Non-Human species in residential areas are so rare as to be effectively hypothetical, but the merchant-facing shuttledocks are relatively diverse. Multilingualism is a job requirement for today’s import inspectors, as is interspecies sensitivity training. But while the Exodans working the docks have made efforts to adapt to alien custom, the merchants they so eagerly welcome have neglected to adapt in one crucial respect: payment. This is hardly surprising, nor is it unfair. A GC trader has no use for beans or bolts. Xe wants creds, plain and simple. If the Exodans want their imports (and they badly do), they must pay up.

  On a galactic scale, a unified currency makes sense. The alternative would be madness. But in a society as small as the Exodus Fleet, the mixture of creds and barter has yet to gel. The Exodus Fleet produces virtually no trade goods of outside interest, which means creds can only come from elsewhere. For generations, more and more Exodans have left to do work in other systems, in search of wealth, adventure, or simply a broader variety of occupational options. These individuals are Exodan through and through, however, and they do what any community-minded citizen would: they send creds home. Who wouldn’t do this? Who wouldn’t want their families to eat better, to be more comfortable, to have more conveniences and delights? How could this act of sharing be born of anything but kindness?

  Imagine now that our baker has been given some creds. Now xe no longer needs to wait for beans to become available, or to carefully save up the right number of bolts. Xe can instead put in an import order for suddet root – not the same as beans, but usable in the same way, and more valuable for its exoticism. The creds then leave the Fleet, nothing re-enters the public stores – beans, bolts, or otherwise – and other bakers who once comfortably traded bean cakes in nearby neighbourhoods now find their customers making longer walks elsewhere for the sake of alien novelty. A seamless harmony that was maintained for centuries has been thrown off-key, and it remains unclear how the song will end.

  This is not a new problem. The Fleet has been struggling with creds since the days of first contact. At first, participation in the galactic economy was perceived as a harmful acquiescence to foreign values – not alien, interestingly, but Martian. Contact with the GC in turn enabled Fleet contact with the Sol system for the first time since the Exodans left, and the reunion was not a cordial one. Much has been written on this topic elsewhere, so in the interest of brevity, I will mention only that in the early days of the post-contact Fleet, anything coded as Martian – money, war, extreme individualism – was understood to be dangerously incompatible with Exodan morality. This sentiment still lingers (unwaveringly so in military affairs), but in matters of economy, there has been a slow, steady shift. There are Exodan merchants who, to this day, steadfastly refuse to accept creds out of cultural pride, and there is a social righteousness I’ve observed in individuals who, in turn, choose to only interact with such establishments. But these principled people live next door to others who do have the newest implants and the trendiest food. While our resolute barterers may not be tempted by flash and fashion, while they may be content to live with amenities that are suitable and adequate and just enough . . . their children are still making up their minds.

  * * *

  Sawyer

  Sent message

  Encryption: 0

  Translation: 0

  From: Sawyer (path: 7466-314-23)

  To: Eyas (path: 6635-448-80)

  Hi Eyas,

  I hope you don’t mind me sending you a note. I found your scrib path in the ship’s directory (you’re the only one with your name!). Anyway, I wanted to thank you again for your advice the other day. I’d just signed up for sanitation work when I met somebody outside the job office looking to hire workers for a salvage project. It’s just a gig right now, but it might be more. Plus, this crew’s been the only group of people other than yourself to offer to show me the ropes. They seem like fun folks. So I’m on board with them now, but don’t worry! My name’s still in the sanitation lottery. I took what you said seriously, and I’ll help out when I’m needed. Thanks for steering me in the right direction.

  Sawyer

  * * *

  He should’ve been sleeping. Sleep was the smart thing, the responsible thing. He was worried about not screwing things up that day, and he knew that if he was smart, he’d still be in bed, because being well-rested would help him actually accomplish that. But instead, he was up during the artificial dawn, standing in his bedroom in the otherwise unoccupied home, turning this way and that in front of the mirror, cycling through the five shirts he owned and liking none of them. They didn’t look like what Exodans wore. They were too bright, too crisp. They lacked that degree of sincere, inoffensive wear that Exodan clothing always had, that reminder that new cloth only came around every so often. His clothes, cheap though they’d been, simple though he’d thought them, were made too well. He hadn’t known that when he’d packed his bags back on Mushtullo, but he knew it now, just like he knew that his accent put people off, and that even though he shared the same DNA as everybody else here, they saw him as something other.

  I should’ve bought new clothes, he thought irritably as he pulled off his shirt with a sigh. He’d meant to, but he’d been so busy brushing up on Tinker that he’d run out of time. He backed up to the edge of his bed and sat down, holding the garment in his hands. Red and brown threads, woven together in a breezy fashion, perfect for the sticky days back home. He’d bought this shirt at Strut, one of his favourite shops down in Little Florence. He’d been with friends at th
e time – Cari and Shiro and Lael, blowing their creds and getting drunk in celebration of yet another payday at the shitty stasie factory.

  Of all the things he’d anticipated in leaving Mushtullo, homesickness hadn’t been one of them. He didn’t feel it with a pang, but with an ache – a dull, keening ache, the kind of thing you could ignore at first but that grew less tolerable every day. There was a lot about his homeworld he didn’t miss. The crowds. The grime. The triple dose of daylight that made shirts like the one he held a necessity. But he missed the people. He missed Lael, with her incessant puns. He missed Cari, always good for the latest gossip. He even missed Shiro, the cranky bastard, garbage taste in music and all.

  He’d left for good reasons, he told himself. He’d left for the right reasons. What was there for him on Mushtullo, beyond working jobs he didn’t care about so he could buy drinks he’d piss away and shirts he wouldn’t like later? What was there beyond a drab studio in a drab residence block, in a neighbourhood where people shoved guns in your back and took your creds? What meaning was there in that? What good?

  Even so, he missed his friends. Stars, he missed having friends.

  He wondered, cautiously, if he’d made a mistake. If he was still making one. Maybe Eyas had been right. Maybe the folks at the job office had been trying to tell him that he didn’t have the right stuff to become part of the Fleet. He knew where the transport dock was. He only had five shirts. It wouldn’t take him long to pack.

  Sawyer shook his head. What was wrong with him? He was starting a job today! A job! With people! With Oates, who’d liked him! Muriel seemed to like him, too, and Len seemed all right, and . . . okay, Dory was scary, but maybe she’d come around. Maybe he was what they were looking for. Maybe they’d welcome him in.

 

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