A day hadn’t helped the rumor mill any. After the fourth or fifth suspicious look from a fellow passenger, Desanto decided to take Hannigan’s advice and go see Doctor Dubicki.
Dubicki watched him from across her desk, waiting for him to begin talking first. It was an old trick. Shrinks were like martial artists in a way- whoever made the first move put themselves at a disadvantage. He didn’t want to say anything that would make him appear anything less than sane.
“Do you think I’m crazy,” he finally asked.
The Psych Doctor smiled, pleased with her win. “I would never use that word,” she replied.
“That’s not a no.” Something was different. What was it?
“Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you, Erick?”
He squirmed in his seat. Desanto didn’t trust the woman across from him. He was already regretting his decision to come to her. At the same time, he needed help dealing with all the thoughts bottled up in his head. “You know about the teacher, the one that disappeared.”
“Of course. People are understandably shaken. I’m told you were one of the first on the scene.”
“I’m the one who found it.” Was it her desk that was different?
She clucked her tongue. “That must have been difficult for you.”
“Finding it wasn’t the worst part. It was that I dreamt about it.” The color of the walls?
Dubicki made a note on her screen. “We often process traumatic events in our dreams.”
Desanto sat forward, his elbows on his knees. “Before it happened,” he added, and she looked up from her notes.
“I see. What do you think that means?”
“What it means? I’m really hoping it doesn’t mean I did something terrible.”
“Ripping out a man’s arm doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you would forget.”
“You know me- I’m good at forgetting.” He paused, looking off into nothing. “I don’t know, my mind, it’s…I still don’t trust it. That’s probably a bad thing to tell a Psych Doctor, but if I was in any way responsible for this…” His voice cut out as he remembered the screaming from his dream. He’d looked up Baptiste in the ship’s computer, of course. The face in his dream was blurry and incomplete, but he still recognized it. Knew his eyes as the home of that terrified look he couldn’t shake from his memory. “What are the odds of having that dream the night before he-?”
“Probably higher than you think,” she offered. He looked back at her. “There are only around two hundred faces walking around the Ark right now, and at the moment they’re the only faces you know. That’s not exactly a large pool for your mind to draw from.”
“But it was so specific, so visceral. I felt…I felt the blood on my hands. The warmth, the stickiness between my fingers. I tasted it.”
“It sounds like a very vivid dream, but you have to look at this logically- if you’d had Baptiste’s blood on you, don’t you think you would have been seen leaving the scene covered in it? Wouldn’t there be handprints? Footprints? A whole pile of evidence leading from the Storage Deck to your doorstep? And what about your quarters?”
Was it a different painting?
“What about them?”
“That much evidence would be difficult to make disappear under the best of circumstances, let alone in the kind of fugue state you’re describing. So, how were they?”
“Clean,” Desanto replied.
“Then your conscience should be as well.” It was her turn to lean forward. “You’re going through a confusing time, Erick, and now you’ve been confronted with some very traumatizing imagery. Just because your mind is struggling to deal with it, doesn’t make you responsible. And it certainly doesn’t make you crazy.”
He nodded, wanting to believe her. But he knew what was different now.
It was Dubicki herself. Her eyes had been dark brown the first time they’d met, but this time they were a lighter shade of brown, with slightly different patterns in the irises. To most people the difference would be indistinguishable, but to Desanto, who studied everyone he met, judging if he could trust them, it was as if she had someone else’s eyes entirely. “I guess I’m having a hard time letting go of the guilt,” he said.
She smiled, showing her teeth. “If you’d like, I can schedule you an appointment with an Allcleric.”
“No, thanks. I can burn in Hell just fine on my own.”
Abigail had one rule. It was a good rule, because it had brought her this far in life, further than some of her friends.
Mind your damn business.
It didn’t matter what was going on on the Ark, Abigail kept her head down and stuck to her Vocation. Water Processing wasn’t glamorous or fun, and she certainly wasn’t winning any awards by doing it, but she didn’t hate what she did. It was honest work with visible results. People needed her, yet she didn’t have to look them in their faces and be nice to them. Just keep the machines running, keep the water clean, and when it was time to go home she could leave the Vocation behind and not think about it until she showed up the next day.
Speaking of which, it was nineteen-hundred hours, Standard Ark Time. The next shift had just shown up, which meant it was time to clock out and get the hell out of there, maybe drum up a little trouble before she had to go to sleep and did it all over again.
Abigail walked the walkways, wiping the sweat from her forehead as she decided how she was going to spend her night. She liked to pretend she had so many options. On her way out she saw Saam and a few of the other Recyclers sneaking down one of the side tunnels, a handful of fellow orange-suits going off on one of their little secret excursions. A more curious person might be interested to know where they were always going off to, maybe even invite herself along, but not Abigail. And why?
Because she minded her damn business.
The other Recyclers bored her anyway. If she had to guess, they were going off to play something a little more risky than Bohap. Maybe bet on fighting cockroaches or some shit. Who knew. She clocked out and left without looking back.
Back in her quarters, after a shower and a change of clothes, she decided to hit The Bottle.
People said that for quite a few years after launch, the Ark had been a dry ship. Those were the days when the high of jettisoning into space was enough to keep people excited and focused. But as the years wore on, boredom set in. Passengers began brewing their own beer and concocting spirits from potatoes and such. After some time a speakeasy opened up, a hidden backroom at the furthest edges of Deck Two. It went by the name of The Floating Bottle, and it was an instant, if secret, hit. There was a bit of back-and-forth from the Allclerics and ship’s Captain once the truth of it came to light, but eventually the speakeasy was allowed to open as a legitimate establishment- permitting a few rules, of course.
Twenty years of age was the decided on minimum age, though the fuzzy nature of age on board the Ark made it complicated to enforce. More of an honor system. Patrons were expected to control themselves. No lewd behavior or excessive sexuality. Though, according to the rumors, after three a.m. the stripper holograms were activated and The Floating Bottle became a very different place. But those were just whispers.
Abigail strolled into The Floating Bottle and was surprised to find the bar was packed. Nearly every conversation she overheard, people were buzzing about the teacher who’d gotten hurt. Not that Abigail didn’t care, but she was on a mission, and that mission was to drink just enough that she didn’t have to worry about what was happening on the Ark, but just shy of alcohol poisoning setting in. It was a delicate balance.
She signaled to the bartender as she cozied up to the bar. “Two snipers,” she said over the noise.
“At this point you can just say the usual. ” Travis’ deft hands were already pouring the two shots. She couldn’t remember what his day Vocation was. Something in Computing.
“And admit I have a problem? No, thank you.” Travis snorted and slid her the small glasses. She placed her thumb on the screen and paid the man his Trade Credits, plus tip.
All the regulars were in attendance, except for the guy who was usually face-down in the corner table by now. Now that she thought about it, he might have had the same last name as the teacher everyone was discussing. There were a bunch of new faces as well, folks who wanted to meet in public and talk about the only thing apparently worth talking about. As her eyes passed over the scene, they stopped on a familiar face.
Gunnar Larsen, that generous stack of yellow-suited smart-ass. To no one’s surprise he was currently hitting on a woman. She was pretty, and wearing the came color uniform as he was. If she knew him the way she thought she did, Gunnar was following up on some groundwork he’d laid down earlier in the workday. That was how he operated: first he set them up, then he walked away, and later, just when the woman thought she was in the clear, he moved back in and sealed the deal. Yet no matter how many times he’d hit Abigail with steps one and two, he never came back in for three.
“There was a time you punched a guy and he knew what it meant,” she said to herself. Then she raised a customary glass to the bottle mounted over the bar, the message inside no one but The Floating Bottle’s founder had read, and threw it back. A woman sat down in the vacant stool next to her. Abigail was about to make a comment about the seat being reserved when she saw who it was. “Well if it isn’t my favorite farmer,” she said.
Imani settled into the seat. “So? Are you going to go over to him?”
“Oh, please. You’re eye-fucking him so hard, I think he’s already pregnant.”
Abigail laughed, nearly spilling her second shot. “Just because I’m window shopping doesn’t mean I’m ready to buy.”
“Well, if you want to cry about it I have time. The boy I had my eye on just went home with the other boy I had my eye on.”
“Figures.” She downed her second sniper. “Maybe we should just go home with each other. Then we can disappoint whoever has their eye on us. It’d be easier at least.”
Imani scoffed. “Nothing easy about it, sweetie.”
Abigail nodded to Travis. He brought the next round over and she handed the second glass to Imani. “How about this,” she said, “let’s get really, really drunk and see where the night goes. One way or the other, we’ll end up with what we deserve.”
Imani raised her glass. “As solid a plan as any I’ve heard,” she said, and they touched glasses.
Feeling restless, and not wanting to sleep, Desanto decided to take a walk. He wanted to go someplace on the Ark he hadn’t visited yet, or rather didn’t remember visiting. Letting his feet do the thinking, he walked for some time, somehow ending up on Deck Seven in the Computer Labs. Desanto stood in a sea of glowing, blue screens, the blinking of servers in the walls like cat eyes peering at him from the bushes. He walked among the rows of machines, imagining the clicking and swiping and typing of Coders that took place there during the day, their blurry fingers speaking their own, ancient language.
Gunnar had invited him out for drinks tonight, but he hadn’t been in the mood to be around people. Of course Gunnar had pushed the issue, telling him he was being a fittnylle and whatever else he thought would work, but Desanto insisted that he go on without him. And Gunnar, this man he’d for all purposes just met, actually seemed disappointed.
Gunnar was a good man. Desanto knew little else about the Ark and about life on it, but he knew that. Trust still didn’t come easy for him, though.
A short time later he left the Computer Labs behind and headed toward the Schooling Area. He found his way to the Art Department, where rooms were filled with easels and screens and all manner of supplies. There were rooms with cameras and sets and lights and costumes. A theater for putting on performances and recording them. Pencils and paints. Artwork hung everywhere, in various states of completion. Most of it was typical of students, still-life drawings of fruit and seashells, nude studies either marred or enhanced by misjudged anatomy, and enough color charts to choke Davinci. But some of them, just a few, were a bit darker, their subject matter of a more haunted nature. They seemed to hint at things beyond the skill of whomever had rendered them, yet they weren’t all rendered by the same hand. It was more an underlying pattern among the work of the students. A theme running beneath their collective skin.
In the pottery studio, Desanto was surprised to find a woman working on a sculpture. She had stayed behind long after everyone else had gone home, still huddled over her work in the half-light. Her hands were covered in clay and her eyes full of the most intense focus. As Desanto walked closer, the nature of her sculpture became apparent. It was an animal with two bodies, a skeletal thing of exaggerated proportion and no head to speak of. It was disturbing, yet somehow familiar. A horror in clay.
“What is it,” Desanto asked. The woman continued to work, not looking up or pausing her carving to speak.
“Something I saw in a dream,” she said. Desanto recognized her from the gathering. Her name was Beli Corrick, the Sculptor who’d been thawed the same day as him. She’d seemed radiant that day, excited to be awakened. Now she stared at the shapes her hands made as if watching the movements of someone else. The painting over her head, easily ten by ten foot, showed a vast field of blood-red constellations, and a man, face-down, drowning in the stars. Across the painting six words were written in thick, black lettering only visible because they blotted out portions of the star-field.
We live as we dream- alone.
Somehow he knew it was a quote by Joseph Conrad, yet he couldn’t say where he’d read it. For all he knew he’d read every classic work of literature, the history of fiction locked away inside his mind. He looked back at Beli Corrick, the woman enslaved to her work. Her eyes were bloodshot, her skin pale. She showed no sign of stopping. “Good night,” he said to her, but she didn’t respond, having already forgotten he was there.
On the way out he passed more of the Schooling Area, peeking in on the darkened Auditorium, the Gymnasium. He passed a classroom where students had left a dozen or so candles to burn out at the door, along with a single flower. Desanto knew whose room it was, but he didn’t want to think about it.
Back in his quarters, Desanto ignored the whispers coming from the bathroom sink as he washed his face. He went to sleep some time later, wondering if Coders dreamt in code.