by Tala Bar
Chapter 1: The Flight
part 1 of 2
Nine people — five women and four men — aboard the starship Incentive flee a catastrophe on Earth and head for the colony planet Astria. Swept off course, the Incentive lands on a hot, desolate planet, which the travelers name Lunari. They realize they must change radically in order to survive, and to do that they will need all their ingenuity as well as guidance from others...
Leshem was not a person to bother too much about the quirks of human nature, but as she was working so closely with Ziv to reassure the smooth running of the ship, she could not avoid noticing his unusual behavior, which became stranger day by day.
At the beginning of the voyage, she ascribed it to his lack of confidence in his new job, as she saw him spending so much time sitting in front of the consoles, as if reassuring himself of their working order. In spite of his great skill and knowledge in his profession, Ziv had never been known for being overconfident, but she was certain he would pick it up with time and experience.
Then it happened that, when Ziv had gone to sleep and she sat for a while in front of the monitor, she saw the words appearing on it, “Ziv must learn.”
“Who sent that?” she immediately wrote in answer.
The main computer on board was situated at an almost unapproachable corner of the ship; it was in charge of the trip, as well as the running of the engine and the maintenance of life. For human use it had a few terminals: one in the navigating room; a couple in the common room; two at the laboratory and one at the plant room. There were none in the bedrooms, so as not to disturb people in their sleep or love making, as there was always one shift awake at any time.
There was no way for Leshem to know where that message had come from, and she wondered, thinking like Ziv before her, that it could only be Lilit.
“I did,” was the answer, with a string of letters appearing after the announcement.
“The computer?” the scientist asked with half a jest.
Leshem was dumbfounded. She had heard about machines talking to humans only in fiction, and she would never think of anything of the kind possible in real life. “Why?” she punched the first question that came to her mind.
“It’s necessary. Ziv must learn to accept.”
Leshem did not answer again. She knew what the computer said was a fact, and she hoped Ziv would improve when they left the more “crowded” part of the Solar system and got into the open, free space; but as the distances grew and space looked more and more empty, it seemed that his mind was getting foggier and foggier instead of becoming freer of worry.
For one thing, he was not giving Leshem direct answers to her questions, and sometimes he did not reply at all. On the other hand, she noticed that he was also ignoring the rest of the people, behaving as if they were strangers. She felt he was living in his own bubble, and as she could not understand the cause of that behavior, she did not know how to deal with it to the best.
Leshem then noticed Ziv had not been going to sleep in any of the bedrooms, and at one time she found him deep in slumber, stretched on a couch in the common room when it was empty. She touched his arm, and he jumped to his feet in alarm.
“Ziv, that won’t do!” she said severely, though trying to hide her agitation. “Go, refresh yourself. You look terrible.”
He said nothing but went to one of the bathrooms to wash and change his clothes. When he came back, he got some food and drink from the wall buttons, and Leshem sat at the table beside him and said in a conversational way, “It’s a wonder the way the computer manages to give us every now and again new types of food and drink. Did you program it for that?”
“No,” he replied, not looking at her, “Mira did. You know she’s good at programming; she does a lot of it for her art.”
“So, it’s been Mira, then?”
“Sending you messages?”
He paused in his eating and looked at her. “Sending messages?”
“Yes. I saw one of them. ‘Ziv must learn’, it said.”
“You saw it? But it wasn’t Mira. I asked her.”
“Who do you think, then?”
“The computer. I know it was. I don’t just think so.”
“So?” she stared at him.
Ziv shrugged and continued with his eating.
“Are these new flavors good?” Leshem accepted his silence about the computer’s interfering.
“I don’t know. I haven’t noticed,” he mumbled.
She was silent for a while. “You don’t notice much around you nowadays, do you, Ziv?” she said at last.
He did not answer. Having finished his food, he put everything into the recycling hatch and left for the control room. Through the open door Leshem could see him touching the consoles here and there, as if checking their reaction, then reading the answers and shaking his head as he tried other keys.
Leshem rose and came up to him. “Ziv, what are you doing?” Anyone else but he would have noticed the tone of worry in her voice.
“Nothing, just checking.”
“But you know everything is in order, you can tell the pre-calculations blindfolded! Are you trying to talk to the computer?”
“What an idea!” he protested. “I’ve nothing to say to the computer!”
At last, frustrated, Leshem left him and went to see Lilit. “You must take a look at Ziv. He barely eats and hardly sleeps, you know,” she told the ancient leader. “And he’s not interested in lovemaking any more, not with anyone, even Nogah or Mira. He does not talk to any one, only sits at that blasted computer of his. I don’t know what to do with him.”
Lilit looked askance at her; she was not used to such speeches from Leshem. Leshem’s green eyes had darkened under her thick brows, and her full lips were contracted. The older woman put a tiny hand on her mate’s arm. “It’s the void,” she said, softly. “I suppose it unsettles some of us. How are you feeling about it yourself?”
“I don’t pay any attention to it,” the scientist said, decisively. “There’s enough to do inside the ship, enough to occupy oneself; and there are enough people to talk to, to have any kind of relations with if you want to. Why should I bother about what’s outside the ship?” It was obvious that although she cared very much about Ziv and his well-being, she did not have much patience with his strange behavior.
“Be patient with him,” the ancient said, gently, answering Leshem’s inner feelings. “Stay with him as much as you can, even when he’s oblivious to you, give him the human company he is missing, even if he’s not aware of it.”
Leshem looked at her for a moment in silence. She had known Lilit for many years, and now wondered what she meant. Lilit had never spoken without a reason.
At last, she nodded. She loved Ziv perhaps more than anyone else of the Family, even more than Lyish. There was something very endearing about that young man, besides his sexual attraction for her; and they had had some hot moments to remember. But he was also like a kind of child to her, so young and sometimes quite helpless... There had been a kind of mother-son affiliation between them, to which the sexual connection had added a deeper dimension.
Thinking about it now, it was not hard for her to comply with Lilit’s suggestion. But, for the time being, she did not think it was necessary to share her computer talk with Lilit.
* * *
Some time after her talk with Lilit, Leshem found an opportunity to come and sit by Ziv, as if taking part in his checking the working of the machine. While moving her fingers over the consoles, she let her hand touch his, but at first he did not respond, as if not paying any attention to her touch. She then took her hand off the console and passed it along his arm. He stopped his punching, and sat for a moment, motionless.
“What is it, Ziv?” she pleaded. “You’ll have to talk to me some time, you know, you can’t go on like that forever.”
There was a pause, and then he whispered, “It’s the Moon, you know; I really miss it.”
“Oh!” she said. And then, “Really?” not knowing how to react to that.
Ziv added, “It was Nogah who showed me the Moon, and now I feel her getting away from me...”
“Nogah?” Leshem wondered, because Nogah was such a rational person, she could not think of her as showing Ziv the Moon... But the two had been lovers long before they got together for the training, and Leshem did not know much about them in those times.
Now that Earth’s Moon had gone from their lives forever, would some people miss it so much? Having never been a romantic, having always conducted her affairs according to her own inner drive rather than an outside influence, Leshem had had no answer to that question.
“Would you like to see more of Nogah, then? Shall I send her to you, Ziv?” she asked with some worry
He looked at her, wondering. “What could she do without the Moon?” he asked, his voice expressing his misery. “What can she do to fill that void around us?”
That was too much for Leshem to solve, and in her despair she left Ziv, seeking that young, silvery woman to ask if she would see to Ziv when she had the time. Nogah was in the company of Mira, who had had her own difficulties on the trip, and she sent them both to comfort Ziv. Her main interest, after all, lay in the machines, their working and their maintenance; on the intellectual level, they were her favorite people.
* * *
The machines, for the time being, were not causing any trouble and Leshem decided it was time to share Ziv’s problems with Lilit, the one who did take charge of the humans on board. That ancient woman had given the impression that she had seen it all and heard it all and was able to cope with any situation arising from human problems.
“I wouldn’t bother too much about it,” Lilit was answering Leshem’s thoughts as the younger woman approached her. “But as I see it, there are basically two problems facing people on board. One is living in a confined space without the ability to escape outside; people cannot get away from each other and clashes and conflicts are sometimes unavoidable. The other is the sense of that void outside, which can seep into your heart and fill it with the horrors Ziv seems to experience.”
“I admit I don’t very well understand this kind of feeling,” Leshem said.
“That’s because you are usually involved closely with your own life, personal or professional, and do not pay too much attention to anything outside it. It is a marked advantage in our situation.”
“I have an idea that Ben may have problems which may be connected to the first difficulty you’ve mentioned.”
“Does Ben have any problems that I haven’t heard of?” Lilit asked with interest. As far as she knew, Ben was not as emotionally vulnerable as Ziv was, but his place among the travelers had been shaky from the start. She hoped that Nan, a former colleague and perhaps a lover, could help her there, even though there had been some estrangement between them.
Ben had inadvertently killed Lee, a poet who had had connections both with Nan and with Mira, for which both women found it difficult to forgive him. Besides, the geologists had enough interests to occupy her besides her friendship with Ben.
The trouble was that Ben, who had been thought of as a stable and reliable worker, had started showing less and less stability in his behavior, and nothing could upset Leshem more than slackness or inattention to details in dealing with the ship’s facilities. Lately, she had the impression that... No, Leshem told herself; she would not think about it, not before she had made a thorough check from all possible aspects.
She decided to go find Nan and talk to her; and for that purpose she went to the recycling garden, where the geologist spent most of her working hours.
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Tala Bar