Record of a spaceborn fe.., p.25
Record of a Spaceborn Few, p.25Becky Chambers
Eyas converted standards to Solars. ‘He would’ve been . . . what? Six?’
‘Stars.’ She frowned. ‘Why did he remain on Mushtullo, then? He must have had relatives elsewhere.’
The patroller shrugged. ‘I have no idea. Maybe they weren’t close. Maybe they didn’t know. Maybe they didn’t care. Grounders, y’know?’
Eyas didn’t care for that assumption. She gave a noncommittal ‘mmm’ and waited for Boothe to get to the point.
‘Anyway, we couldn’t find much about him, but based on his bank records and known addresses, it looks like he bounced around until adulthood – some kind of foster home setup, or friends, maybe. I don’t know. He worked a bunch of odd jobs, then he wound up here.’
Eyas sighed. Trying something new. ‘So who’d he record as his next of kin?’
‘That’s the shitty bit,’ the patroller said. She tossed her scrib onto the table between them. ‘He didn’t.’
Eyas stared. ‘His emergency contact, then.’
‘All GC records have them. It’s right there for you to fill out when you update your patch.’
‘Yeah, well, apparently he missed that bit. Didn’t think he’d need it, or something.’
How could you miss that bit? Eyas thought incredulously. How could you— She shook her head, ending the loop between scorn and pity. ‘There has to be someone.’
The patroller shifted in her chair. ‘I’m telling you, M, we tried. We tried to get on the local news feeds, we tried to get law enforcement to put out a notice or something. But they’re not Human, and they don’t get it. The way they see it, somebody with no family and no emergency contact is dead and has been identified, and their job is done. If he has friends, all we can do is hope they read Exodan news, because we don’t know who to—’
‘Are you saying,’ Eyas broke in, ‘that nobody’s coming for him?’
Patroller Boothe nodded. She cleared her throat again. ‘We might hear from someone. I don’t know. I can’t predict that. Could be tomorrow, could be next standard. But I also know that the, um . . . the stasies you guys use here aren’t built for long-term storage. So you might . . .’ She trailed off.
Eyas understood. ‘I might want to take care of it sooner rather than later.’
The room fell quiet. Nobody was coming for him. Nobody was coming for him, and there was nothing more to say.
Feed source: The Thread – The Official News Source of the Exodan Fleet (Public/Klip)
Item name/date: Evening News Summary - Galactic - 130/306
Translation path: 0
Node identifier: 8846-567-11, Kristofer Madaki
* * *
Hello, and welcome to our evening update. I’m Quinn Stephens. We begin tonight’s headline summary with news from the Fleet.
The investigation into the body discovered aboard the Asteria last tenday is still unfolding. Five suspects have been apprehended and detained in connection with the untimely death of Sawyer Gursky, a Central space immigrant who recently took up residency in the Fleet. The crew of the Silver Lining, a registered Exodan cargo ship captained by Muriel Saarinen, are believed to have hired Gursky to assist with looting aboard the Oxomoco. Large stores of stolen and illegally obtained goods were found aboard the Silver Lining, in addition to drugs and small weapons. All five crew members have been charged with theft, smuggling, illegal salvage, possession of firearms, and unlicensed possession of a pinhole drive. No murder charges have been reported yet. Jannae Green, a member of the traffic control guild, has been arrested as well. Green allegedly accepted credits from the thieves in exchange for disabling the Oxomoco’s proximity alert system for several hours while salvaging took place.
The supervisory council for the Fleet Safety Patrol reminds all citizens that illegal salvage is a serious crime, and is punishable by imprisonment. Patrol also encourages any persons aware of such activity to make an anonymous report, and wants to remind the public that without such a report having been filed, today’s arrests would not have been made so quickly.
* * *
There was a buzz at the door. Kip put his scrib down and raised his head up from the pillow. ‘Yeah?’
The door spun open. His dad entered, wearing a dorky smile and carrying a shopping bag. ‘Know what time it is?’
Kip shook his head. Shit, was he supposed to be somewhere?
‘Almost three. You blazed right through lunch, buddy.’ He lifted the bag. ‘Hungry?’
A tantalising, familiar smell drifted its way to Kip’s nose. He sat up. ‘Yeah.’
The dorky smile intensified, and his dad produced the bag’s contents: a wrapped-up hopper and a frosty bottle of choko. He tossed both to Kip, one at a time.
Kip turned the warm bundle over after he caught it. The order was quick-printed on the cloth. 2x pickle. Fried onion. Extra hot sauce. No greens. Toasted bun. ‘How’d you know?’
‘M Rajan knows your order, apparently.’ His dad shook his head. ‘I weep for your stomach lining.’
Kip managed a small smile. ‘Thanks, Dad.’
The meal had been exchanged, and Kip was grateful, really, but his dad just stood there awkwardly, hands in his pockets, bag hanging around his wrist. ‘So . . . tailoring didn’t work out, huh?’
Kip rubbed his face. Stars, but he did not want to talk about job trials. ‘Please don’t lecture me.’
‘No lectures,’ Dad said, holding up his hands. ‘Just . . . curious as to what you’re up to.’ He paused. ‘Any fun plans today?’
‘Nothing with Ras?’
Kip looked away. ‘No.’ He didn’t want to hang out with Ras. Ras had been pissed at first that Kip talked to patrol, but once time went by and no trouble came with it, Ras started straight-up bragging. Everybody at school was talking about the body, and Ras was telling them, yeah, he’d overheard the scavengers who did it, they were a buncha mean motherfuckers, you should’ve heard the way they laughed about killing that dude. Kip hadn’t talked to Ras since he heard him doing that, and he hadn’t responded to any of his scrib messages, either. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Okay.’ Dad nodded like he understood. Kip didn’t know if he actually did or not. ‘You know that if you ever do want to talk – about Ras, or work, or . . . or . . . you know your mom and I are here, right?’
Kip picked at the hopper wrapper. Dad going to Grub Grub was nice and all – like, really nice – and he knew Dad wanted him to talk. But Kip wanted to be alone. Alone was easier. Alone was safe. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what he was feeling. The wanting was still there, but it was different now. It wasn’t him and Ras wanting more together. It was just Kip, wanting alone. ‘Yeah. Thanks.’
His dad nodded. He seemed disappointed, but he didn’t push. ‘I’ll be in the hex if you need anything,’ he said. He started to leave, then turned back. ‘You know, might feel good to get out for a while. I can give you some extra trade. Y’know, if you want to go play a sim or pick up some vid chips or something. I heard there’s a new vid out with – oh, what’s his name, that Martian actor you like – Jacob something.’
Kip rolled his eyes. ‘Jasper Jacobs,’ he mumbled.
‘That’s right,’ Dad said. ‘He’s not my type, but I get it, I really do. He’s got those . . . those big arms, and—’
Kip’s chest began to cave in on itself. Stars, of all the things he didn’t feel like talking with his dad about, Jasper Jacobs’ arms were in the top three.
Dad cleared his throat. ‘Anyway, let me know if you want to do something fun.’
Kip squinted. ‘I spent all my tenday trade already.’
His suspicion grew. ‘Mom doesn’t let me have more after that.’
Dad winked. ‘Mom doesn’t have to know.’ He gave a hal
Kip sat cross-legged on his bed, gifted lunch in his lap, guilt gnawing at his empty gut. Dad was trying to be his friend, and he knew that. He sighed, unwrapped the hopper, and tucked in. ‘Mmmmph.’ The moan was reflexive. He was hungry. He tore into the meal like somebody was going to take it away. M Rajan had made it perfect, like always. The fried grasshopper meal was satisfyingly crunchy, the twice-round pickle felt like a salty, sour hug, and the hot sauce skirted that line between ow, this hurts, please stop and I want to eat this forever. He swore she put more hot sauce on each time, like she was training him or something.
The knot in his stomach grew. He thought about M Rajan, who knew his order when he wasn’t even there, and Dad, who’d thought to go pick it up for him, and Grandma Ko, who’d been offering to take him for ‘an unofficial Sunside’ even though she one-hundred-percent did not have a shuttle licence anymore – and even Mom, who hadn’t given him any shit when he pulled out of the trial at the tailor shop.
He shoved the last of his hopper into his mouth. He kind of wanted another one, and he did kind of want to go out. Not to the sims or the vid shop or anything. He popped open the choko and washed the burn away from his mouth. He’d had a weird thought for the past tenday or so, one he couldn’t shake and couldn’t share. It wasn’t bad or anything. It was just . . . weird. A weird thing he wanted to do, one he couldn’t have explained to Dad or Ras or anybody. Definitely not to himself.
Kip folded the wrapper and picked up his scrib. He stared at it for a moment. Maybe this was stupid, but . . . nobody would know, right?
‘Public feed search,’ he said. ‘Saved parameters.’
The scrib chirped and did as told. He’d run this search probably a dozen times by now, but this time, a new result popped up. It wasn’t much – just three lines. He read them a couple times over. He took another swig of his drink, then thought for a minute, then took another. He noted the date (tomorrow) and the time (eleventh hour). He looked down at himself, wearing a holey shirt and pajama pants. He got up, opened his closet, and sighed. Most of what belonged in there was on the floor. Bit by bit, he gathered shirts and trousers and underwear, and threw them into the basket that often stood empty.
His dad – who hadn’t made it to the hex yet – looked surprised as Kip exited his room with laundry in tow.
‘Hey,’ he said, sounding confused. ‘You . . . doing laundry?’
‘Yup,’ Kip said.
‘Need any help?’
‘Nope.’ He headed to the hex’s wash machines without another word. If he was going to do this weird thing, he was gonna do it right.
Funerals were never an easy affair, but Isabel was hard-pressed to think of one as uncomfortable as this. Not in a personal way. That distinction belonged to the funerals of her parents, her sister, Tamsin’s parents, close friends. This was a different sadness. A social sadness. It was a natural feeling to have when attending – or even hearing of – a funeral for someone you didn’t know. But this . . . this was exceptional.
In attendance were herself, of course, to make record, and Tamsin, who insisted on joining her for this one. Eyas Parata was the caretaker that day. Isabel had done ceremonies with her before, and she knew her to be the sort of compassionate guide a grieving family would benefit from. But there was no family today. There were no friends. Just three strangers, a body that had been thrown away, and a story that elicited plenty of public thrill but little sympathy. People had been horrified by the discovery of the body, and satisfied when the culprits were caught. There was a general buzz in the air that something had gone too far, something had to be done.
When it came to the victim himself, however, feelings changed. Isabel had heard everything from apathy to blame to indignation. The victim was an outsider. A leech. He’d come into their home, the party line went. He’d eaten their food. He repaid their welcome by attempting to steal. There was more to it than that, Isabel knew, but that was the story being told over tables. Sawyer Gursky had become an abstraction, an evidence file for whatever societal shift you hoped for. You want to encourage your kids to lock down a profession instead of heading elsewhere? Look at that poor dead boy, born of people who’d left Exodan values behind. He hadn’t had the sense to find honest work. You want resource management reform? Look at that guy who died on the Oxomoco. He wouldn’t have been there at all if there wasn’t demand on the black market. You want to tighten up entry requirements for non-citizens? Look at that thieving bastard who got himself killed. Why should we let people like that into our homes?
’Round and ’round the chatter went, at hundreds of tables with hundreds of families. Yet none of them seemed to care about the indisputable truth: a Human being was dead, and no one had come to mourn him.
Isabel and Eyas stood together in the privacy of the shrouding room, side by side next to the body. Neither said a word. Tamsin had pulled up a chair. Her legs were giving her extra trouble that day, so she was saving herself – ‘preserving her batteries,’ as she put it – for the walk up the ramp.
‘This is so . . .’ Eyas began. She shook her head. ‘I know how to do this with families. I’ve done this a thousand times.’
‘I know,’ Isabel said. ‘I’m feeling lost, too.’
They were quiet again, and still.
‘Can I see him?’ Tamsin asked, nodding toward the body.
‘Are you sure?’ Eyas said. In preparation, she’d made an understandable break with tradition: the body was already shrouded. Usually, that was part of the ceremony – the family lovingly wrapping the cloth together. In this case, though . . . ‘He’s not in the best of shape.’
Tamsin pursed her lips. ‘Is it bad?’
‘Not—’ Eyas’ face twisted as she thought, perhaps weighing the difference between what was ‘bad’ to her and what it was to people who didn’t do this every day. ‘Not gruesome. There’s no blood or disfigurement. But we didn’t receive him right away. He’d started to decay before I got him into stasis. I did my best with him, but he . . . doesn’t look like they usually look.’
Tamsin took in that information. ‘I’d like to see him.’
Eyas stepped forward and pulled the shroud from his face. She’d done her best with him, that much was clear. He was clean. He was peaceful. But yes, he was different, different enough to give Isabel a stab of adrenaline, a shiver of disgust. This wasn’t right.
‘Oh, stars,’ Tamsin said. ‘He’s just a kid.’ Isabel laid her hand on Tamsin’s shoulder. Her wife grabbed it. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, brushing at her cheeks.
‘Don’t be,’ Eyas said. ‘I’m glad someone’s crying for him.’ She paused. ‘I did, too.’
Tamsin nodded. Her tears continued to flow. She stopped wiping them away.
‘Do you want to read the Litany?’ Eyas said. ‘I wasn’t sure which of us should do it, so if—’
The door to the shrouding room opened, and they all turned to look. A boy stood there, a teenage boy in fresh-pressed clothes that didn’t fit quite right. Isabel didn’t know him. It didn’t appear that Eyas did, either.
‘Are you lost?’ Eyas said.
The boy’s eyes fell to the body, and he stared. ‘I, um—’ He cleared his throat. ‘I asked outside where to go, and uh, they said I should go here, and— I didn’t know you’d already started—’
‘Are you a friend of his?’ Eyas said, her words rising with a sliver of hope. ‘Did you know him?’
The boy continued to stare. ‘No. I just, um, y’know, I heard about it, and I—’ He tugged at the edge of his shirt. ‘Tika lu— I mean, I’m sorry, this is stupid, I—’
Eyas gave a puzzled frown. ‘You’re welcome to join, if you want, but—’
Two pieces clicked together in Isabel’s mind – a sliver of gossip and an inexplicable hunch. ‘Are you the one who told patrol?’
The boy swallowed, and nodded. Isabel watched him with interest. His eye
‘What’s your name?’ Isabel asked.
The boy finally made eye contact with someone other than the corpse. ‘Kip,’ he said. ‘Uh, Kip Madaki.’
Madaki, Madaki. Her brain tossed the name around, seeking connection. ‘Does someone in your family work in water?’
‘My Grandpa Griff did.’
Another piece clicked. ‘Yes, I remember him. Not well, but I remember.’ Old memories surfaced. She remembered being an assistant, an extra pair of hands at a naming. ‘He had twin girls?’
‘Yeah. My mom and aunt.’
Her brain was satisfied. ‘Well, then. Kip Madaki.’ She nodded with confirmation. ‘I’m Isabel, and this is Eyas and Tamsin. We’re glad you’re here.’
‘Would you like a seat?’ Tamsin asked, pointing toward the other chairs.
‘I’m good,’ Kip said, shuffling closer to the table. ‘Thank you.’
Isabel continued to study him. ‘How did you know this was happening today?’
The boy moved as if he didn’t know where to put his limbs. Stars, Isabel didn’t miss that age. ‘I’ve, um, been checking,’ he said.
‘Ceremony schedules? The public feed?’
‘You mean, since they found him?’
The boy shrugged.
Isabel felt her spirits rise. ‘Kip, before you came in, we were discussing who should read the Litany for the Dead. Would you like to?’
Kip was taken aback. ‘Me? Um . . . I dunno, I’ve never—’
‘Is this your first laying-in?’ Eyas asked gently.
‘No,’ Kip said, ‘but – I’ve never read the . . . that.’
Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes