Imogen Cassidy

Imogen Cassidy is a thirty-six year old mother of two from Sydney Australia, currently juggling full time study and full time parenting with part time writing. Imogen has worked in a number of jobs over the years, including a two year stint as a personal assistant to a private investigator — a job a lot less glamorous than it sounds. Most recently she spent four years teaching English and History in Sydney Secondary Schools, before taking maternity leave on the birth of her first child.

Imogen Cassidy is a thirty-six year old mother of two from Sydney Australia, currently juggling full time study and full time parenting with part time writing. Imogen has worked in a number of jobs over the years, including a two year stint as a personal assistant to a private investigator — a job a lot less glamorous than it sounds. Most recently she spent four years teaching English and History in Sydney Secondary Schools, before taking maternity leave on the birth of her first child.

The Pull of the Earth

Kenese Umaga had not yet gotten used to the twists and turns of corridors in Alpha station, even after a year. She wouldn’t say she was lost, exactly. Not on the way to the lab that she worked at every day. No.

Confused maybe. Turned around. Not lost.

She put it down to trying to walk and talk at the same time.

“I thought you said this would only take an hour,” she said into her comm as she hesitated at the junction of sections two and three. A passing technician gave her a small smile and a gentle head tilt in the direction she should be going and she took a moment to nod in thanks.

“We had problems with some of the core concepts,” Martine said in her ear. “Look, I can turn the translator back on for you, but it will delay my work by a day if I don’t get this done before third shift.”

“Martine, I need these samples, and I can’t take them if he can’t understand what I’m asking for.”

“You really need to be able to talk to him? You’ve done this a hundred times.”

Kenese sighed in frustration, but quietly so Martine wouldn’t hear. “I can’t just walk in there and start sticking him with needles. It wouldn’t be polite.”

“The samples will have to wait then,” Martine said briskly. “Anyway, I know you had other plans for this afternoon, Manny was going on about it in rec yesterday.”

Kenese had forgotten she had plans.

She finally turned the corner to Eli’s corridor and stopped, just before walking in front of the glass wall that made up one side of his quarters. “Shit,” she said. “Okay Martine, I can leave these samples until later. You think you’ll only need an hour for the translator update to be finished?”

“Less than that.”

“Good.”

Kenese switched off her comm, still standing just outside Eli’s line of sight. The glass wall that made up one entire side of his cell could be made opaque, if he should wish it. Eli never asked for privacy, however. There might have been a time, when he first joined them, when one of the scientists could have flipped the switch themselves — given him the privacy he possibly wanted but did not have the language with which to ask.

That time passed, however, and now the corridor to what most called his cell was avoided by all who could manage it, and traversed quickly by those who could not.

Kenese’s comm crackled and Manifred’s deep, amused voice sounded in her ear. “I’m waiting in Airlock Q with a space suit that is far too small for me, Umaga,” he said.

“I’m sorry, Manny,” she said. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

The Wall of Mouths

End of training celebrations were typically riotous and sometimes ended in injury. Rosa, seventeen years old and technically not allowed to consume any type of mind altering substance, sipped her drink when others gulped, and gently declined the more extreme offers of hallucinogens. She wasn’t concerned with fitting in, not today, and in any case she had heard some rumors that excessive indulgence lead to lowered reaction times, even weeks after the fact.

She was the youngest there, naturally. They’d tried to keep her out, telling her that it was just bad luck she’d been born two years too late, but her scores had been so good, and, she suspected, her letters and video calls and campaigns so annoying that they’d admitted her in the end, possibly just to shut her up.

She knew they’d expected her to burn out, like seventy percent of candidates did, and she’d half believed that she would. When she didn’t, when she did well enough to scrape into the top ten percent, when she’d graduated with the rest of her class, standing slightly shorter and grinning a damned sight wider, well?

She had cause for celebration. Just in her own way.

She was going to make it through the Wall of Mouths.

“Rosa, you’re a lightweight.” Hardison was one of the few other pilots who didn’t care that she was so much younger. He’d told her on no few occasions that he would have done the same, if he’d been born, like she was, too young for a Push. Some of us are meant to fly, kid, he’d said to her. You and me, we’re meant to do this, you’ll see on Push Day.

Here, now, he swayed to the music, eyes heavy lidded, full lips curved in a smile. “A lightweight,” he repeated. “Have a drink you’ve earned it.”

“I’m seventeen, Hardison,” she said, smiling up at him. He was the tallest guy she knew, all lean muscle and deep black skin, and she’d had a hopeless, harmless crush on him ever since training had begun.

He was way too old for her. But that didn’t matter in the land of hopeless crushes.

“No one here cares that you’re seventeen, girl. You’ve proved yourself a thousand times over. Most of them wish they were half the pilot you are.”

She shrugged and sipped her drink, even as another pilot came up behind Hardison, draped his arm around the man’s shoulders and pulled him down for a kiss.

Rosa flushed and looked away as Hardison returned the kiss enthusiastically, then shoved the man away.

“Who was that?” she asked, and Hardison shrugged.

“Don’t know. Good kisser though.” His eyes narrowed, looking at her again. “I know it’s a bit wild here,” he said. “If you need me to stick with you.

“I can take care of myself, Hardison,” she said.

She could. Although, in its own way, the heaving mass of humanity in the relatively small bar was more intimidating than the final exams and practicals had been back in the arena. The graduates were celebrating life, she could understand that, and, when it boiled right down to it, she hadn’t lived as much as they had.

And possibly wouldn’t.

The night wore on and she found herself in a corner nursing the same drink, legs crossed as she watched men and women and everyone in between do things she’d never even dreamed of, in the name of celebration, in the spirit of life.

There was a desperation to it that she was finally coming to understand, and she wasn’t sure if she should be afraid.

Beta Child

The first few years were fuzzy. After all, she wasn’t truly alive yet. She was told what she could see, insofar as it was seeing when all you were was a bunch of sensors, and she recorded what she saw in her memory banks, ready for the pilot to access if she ever wanted to.

Occasionally the pilot would put in random commands that confused her, or would confuse her if she was capable of emotions like confusion. She returned those commands with an error message, or a query. Sometimes it was simply a mistype, and the error was corrected, and the command was executed. Other times there was no repeat of the command and there was the equivalent of silence. She never found out what those commands were supposed to be.

The pilot called her Georgie, and she thought of that as her name, once she started to be able to think.

She was an information bank. The pilot asked her questions. She asked her to map the surrounding asteroids, so they could pilot a course through them without damaging the ship, and so she did that. After a time the pilot would input new codes, so that instead of simply giving the locations of the asteroids, Georgie could plot the course herself.

New codes were exciting. Or they would be exciting if Georgie knew how to get excited. The first few years those new codes were all to do with the ship and how to pilot it. How to judge fuel levels from the amount of thrust that had been used, how to measure the levels of radiation pouring in through their crude shielding, how to time to the second how long the pilot could spend away from station before she suffered from radiation poisoning.

It was all about computing time and judging distance and working out exactly how much a human body could take in the belt. It was a surprisingly large amount. Humans were resilient.

In the third year, the pilot gave Georgie a voice and started to program her to talk back.

In the deep black, days away from station, it was nice to hear a voice.

“What do you think, Georgie. This gonna be a big find?”

“Past data and the density readings we are receiving would suggest that the probability of a large uranium deposit is approximately 37%.”

The pilot sat in a chair that was directly in front of what Georgie thought of as her head. She could not see the pilot, of course — not in the way that humans did. She did not have eyes. But she could hear, and she could approximate the position of the pilot’s face. She had even learned how to recognize expressions.

She remembered the first time she asked questions about it.

“Query: for what reason do humans move their bodies so much when they talk?”

They were in dock and the pilot had just finished negotiating a price for the location of a find they had made. A small one, but enough to keep the ship fueled and supplied for a few more months. The pilot liked to say they lived hand-to-mouth. Georgie wasn’t sure what that meant, although she speculated that it was something to do with food.

“Did you just ask a question, Georgie?”

“You programmed me with the ability to ask questions at random intervals, Annie.”

“I did. I just wasn’t sure you were ever going to.”

“I am curious.”

“Are you?”

“That is the expression you taught me to use when I wished to ask a question, Annie.”

The pilot sighed. “I guess I did. What was the question again?”

“I wished to know why humans move their faces and bodies so much when they talk.”

The pilot sat in the pilot’s chair, her face moving into expressions one after another. “Like this?”

“Yes, Annie.”

The pilot’s face settled on one expression, then she started keying in commands. “How about I program you with some facial recognition protocols, Georgie? Then you can watch the miners and tell me when they’re lying to me.”

“It would be a satisfactory answer to my query, Annie.”

“Okay then.”