Venice in the Sky
Not sure how old this story is, but it's been from a long time ago. When I was still working on a typewriter. I still like the idea of it, though there is much to improve on the execution. On thing is that this has so much more room for world building, fleshing out the beginnings of change by following other family members, it could easily be a much better novelette than it is a short story. However, I am not in love with it enough to reshape it, so here it is as it is, with a few essential errors, as pointed out by G. David Nordley, fixed.
"Matching now," the computer announced.
The whole LaRoche crew, ninety-seven of them, was gathered in the large meeting room. It had been three years since they'd met another ship in the gaps of Diaspora's dust rings, and more than ten since they'd been able to get electronic components. Gilles LaRoche pressed his lips so tight, it hurt his jaw. His heart counted off the moments it took the computer to download the population information from the repair ship Edelweiss.
Gilles glanced around at his peers. A match was essential for all of them. They needed the new blood. Finding HIS match on the Edelweiss would bring him a step closer to realize his dream.
Five hundred years ago, escaping a war that threatened to turn the whole solar system into a toxic wasteland, an armada of scientists, engineers, and wealthy ship owners with their families, had made their way to the Diaspora system. For twenty generations the hodgepodge of science vessels, luxury cruisers. miners, and supply frighters had survived. They cruised and processed the debris rings in fear and in silence, assuming they were the last of humanity. Without a satellite network above the rings, the dust limited communications. When two shops met, they traded goods and genes. The shortage of either never ended.
Gilles broke out in sweat. All this would change soon, if he got the ticket to all the electronic parts he needed.
"Match found," the computer said.
Captain Arnaud was one for dramatic effects and he played their anticipation until Gilles felt he was about to burst.
"Melissa Edelweiss and Gilles LaRoche," the captain announced.
The crew broke out in applause. Most of them . Gilles scanned the tables and the standing rows against the wall. He saw some long faces, too. But the small grain of guild in his stomach could not make him regret that he had changed the odds in his favor.
"Adrienne LaRoche and Hans Edelweiss," the captain continued. "We'll dock with the Edelweiss in two days. Captain Will and I will work out the details. WIth two matches, we might be able to do a trade instead of a docking."
The crew filed out to the larger mess hall, where the biggest party in a decade was developing.
"Gilles. A word, please," said captain Arnaud.
Gilles felt the heat rise to his cheeks.
Captain Arnaud moved in close.
"I know what you did," whispered the captain. "You are good with the computer, but I am better. Lucky for you, I think the time for change has come. Five hundred years of stagnation is enough. You are not the only one who thinks it's time to break the silence. I will let your match stand. Make it worth my lie."
Captain Arnaud left the room with the last of the crew. Gilles dropped into a chair. "Tell me about Melissa," he said to the computer.
Melissa Edelweiss' favorite spot on the whole ship was the small, overgrown arboretum. She often came here to think, and to dream. Her father, Will, had found her to give her the good news. She was looking at a picture of the the man who was to be the father of her first children. His short red hair and freckled face made him look younger than the twenty-eight years noted on the data overlay.
I hope he's nice, she thought. At eighteen, short and full, with blonde dreadlocks falling into her face, she looked his opposite. But the program didn't match for looks, or dreams, for that matter. It matched for the best chance of healthy offspring in their shrinking gene pool diversity.
Melissa looked at Will. Her father put his hand on her shoulder.
"I hoped for more than a docking," he said. "But they want to keep their computer wizard, and we don't have room for another man anyways. We'll get a lot of medications, 'cause they need quite a few components. Think of that, and how much better you'll feel soon."
Melissa nodded. Her body in return for a sword to fight her daemons, a drug to silence the voices. She rose and took her father's hand.
"Let's go meet my man."
Gilles kissed the girl again. Her skin tasted salty from her tears, but she smiled.
They had a good chance of conceiving tonight.
Gilles relaxed next to her on the large bunk of the honeymoon cabin without pulling his arm away. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, then snuggled up to him. He liked the feel of her full body against his skinny frame. Melissa was a comfortable girl.
He nibbled her ear.
"Do you think I can use your computer?" he said into her ear.
She stiffened. "Why?"
"What do you dream of?" he asked.
He stroked her back. She relaxed again.
"Never to run out of medication. True love. And a future for our children," she said.
"I can give that to you."
"Sure, and a chest of star dust on top of it."
"I'm not teasing you. I can do it. With your help."
Melissa rolled on top of him. Her nipples tickled his chest. He cupped her breasts with his hands.
"All I need is use of your computer for a few minutes."
He slid his right hand towards her belly button, and beyond.
"Why?" she asked. She touched him, demanding, and his focus blurred.
"I want to build a satellite and launch it above the rings."
He pushed into her.
"Oh," she said. He didn't know whether he had her promise, but it didn't matter right now.
Melissa circled the arboretum along the outside trail. She had stopped counting, how many times she'd gone around. Her hand rested on her bulging stomach. She could feel the babies kick. Only a few more weeks to go until their birth, and until Gilles would leave.
With a lover she had come to care for, and all the drugs she needed to control her schizophrenia, her life had taken on an unfamiliar brilliance. She reveled in every moment.
The hatch opened. Gilles entered the arboretum with the biggest grin on his face. "It's up. Let's try it."
"Won't the computer know the moment we start talking?"
"It will know but it won't tell. Don't worry. Remember, I am the best. Here is your phone. I'll call you from the mess hall."
Melissa received the small box from Gilles and cradled it in the palm of her hand.. In just a few minutes, the walls that held their way of life together would open to the universe of infinite possibilities.
A green light blinked on her box.
Or final oblivion?
Her future beckoned, and she decided to answer its call.
"You have betrayed the families. You have betrayed humanity, and if we didn't need every person we have, I would execute you for high treason. I want you off the ship. And I want the LaRoche out of comm range. Pray that I am the only one who has eavesdropped on your calls. You have two minutes.'
Will stormed out of the meeting room.
Gilles had hoped for discussion, at least. Options. Possibilities.
He put his head in his hands and cried.
After a few seconds, he stopped and rose.
"Will's given me two minutes. I better make use of them."
Melissa moaned when the medic, Hans Edelweiss, poked her swollen ankle and left dimples on her puffed up leg.
"I am sorry Melissa, Will," this is serious," he said. "You have a bad case of toxemia. You're dizzy, because your blood pressure is through the roof. The good news is, the condition is treatable--"
"And the bad news?"
"We don't have enough medication to keep you safe until the end of your pregnancy. And the LaRoche is gone. We hadn't received our full shipment of drugs."
"What are my options?" Melissa asked.
"No attractive ones. Best is to treat you until we run out of medication and hope for the best."
"I don't want to die," she said.
She didn't get an answer from Hans. Will put his arms around her and held her so tight, it hurt.
"We'll think of a way," he said.
Melissa pulled the receiver box from its hiding place under her mattress. Will had destroyed their original boxes, but Gilles had made backups for them, anticipating that not all might go as they hoped.
She left her tiny cabin, that felt as tight as a bathroom with her big belly. She felt like the Little Mermaid when she walked to Will's cabin. Every step hurt as if she was walking on knives. She trailed her hand along the hallway wall to keep her balance. Hans was giving her just enough drugs to keep her from dropping dead. She was supposed to stay in her sick bay bed where the computer could monitor her vital signs. As if knowing when she was about to die would make it any easier.
She knocked and entered Will's cabin. His attention was focused on the Go board.
"Damn computer's slaughtering me again. What do you want?"
Melissa offered him the receiver.
"Where'd you get that?"
"Gilles left it."
"That boy is going to destroy us all."
The creases on his forehead deepened and hi slips tightened.
"And what do you expect me to do with this? Eh?"
Melissa didn't flinch. She held Will's stare until he took the box from her hand. And dropped it.
"You can't.." Melissa said.
Will lifted his boot and ground the box into a mass of electronic debris.
"If you don't make the call, she won't wake up."
Hans' voice hung in the meeting room.
"Let's put it to a vote," Will said. "We can't ask the other ships, but we can each ask ourselves whether the life of one crew member--"
"And her babies," said Hans.
"--is worth the risk of broadcasting our existence into space. "
"And our medication shipment for the next decade," said Hans.
The thirty-seven family members started to whisper among each other. This was not a new topic of discussion. Recently, there had been voices of dissent, since the captain had expelled Gilles. The volume level increased and several family members threatened each other with fists.
"Silence, please," Will demanded. "Let's vote now. All in favor?"
Sixteen hands rose immediately. One more followed a few seconds later.
"I would assume Melissa is in favor," Will said. "That's a draw."
Everybody stared at him. The decision had fallen back on his last deciding vote.
Five hundred years they had lived in silence. For five hundred years there had been no sign of danger. For five hundred years they had endured constant need, constant shortage, and precious people had died because of it. He didn't feel he had a right to change the world. However, someone had to take the first step. He didn't want Melissa to die.
Slowly, he raised his hand.
Captain Arnaud LaRoche looked up from his tiny work surface when he heard a brief beep. A second beep directed his eyes to the small receiver box that had been sitting on a stack of document foils for a few weeks.
The signal indicator on the receiver blinked. Gilles and Melissa sent messages to each other every few days. They didn't know he had a receiver, and he pretended not to notice their forbidden communications. Sending the emergency message that had saved Melissa's life was one thing. By allowing this, he was making a decision for all of humanity. The responsibility rested on his shoulders like a warm blanket. That's what leaders were supposed to do.
Out of habit, Arnaud checked the ID window on the receiver to see Gilles' or Melissa's call number.
The ID window was blank.