In a rowdy Arab bar orbiting Betelgeuse, the blue-lipped, blue-haired jacky tapped his forehead, and a red monochrome hologram projected from his eyes. Sitting in the booth across from him, Freja watched it carefully.
This hologram was a security camera feed of an operating room. Must be a far-arm colony somewhere, Freja thought. There was a very pregnant woman on the table. The surgeon dipped scissors in an old-style steam autoclave. There were two men, dressed in samurai regalia, watching.
The jacky—rather Colonel Peters, the jacker—pulled a cord embedded in the flesh behind his ear and slid it across the table. Freja took the headset and put it in her ear.
“Hey sweetie, can I get a smoke?” Peters shouted to the waitress above the mesh of country and traditional sitar music that rattled the cups on the table.
Freja instinctively watched the doctor’s hands. Must be an unlicensed implant job, camera planted in the kid’s ear or eye for nutjob voyeurs. Or a drug-dosing, where they’d hold the baby’s health hostage for the dosage. That’s the only crime far-arm colonies ever had the tech for.
“I don’t see anything,” she said.
“There’s the rub, Freja,” Peter’s said in an electro-tinged voice. “It’s what we don’t see.”
The woman grunted and screamed. The surgeon was waiting for the baby, and then he wasn’t. There was the afterbirth, the blood, and no baby.
“Video manipulation?” Freja said, but already doubted that. Only one person could work with low-tech footage like this, but the Grey Ghost wouldn’t be caught dead on a backwater planet like Dawn.
Peters frowned. “Don’t know. We only get what was uploaded to the comsat. They’re blocking that baby’s ID for one reason or another. Unless of course…” Peters leaned in. “The kid’s invisible, and what we’re looking at is the goddamn invisible man.”
He laughed at his own joke.
“We don’t even know who these people in the video are,” Peters continued. “Facial scan doesn’t work with tech this old.”
“Slavery then,” Freja said. “Not enough AI’s to do the work there…which is?”
“Dawn’s still settling. Two generations in, but there’s a lot of forest to comb through. Still a Class-3 life-potential planet. They’re moving slower than Rigellian treacle. Gotta be careful not to disturb all that potential sentient life down there, right?” Peters chuckled. “Makes you wonder when Eden will give up the hunt and realize we’re alone out here.”
“Another thing,” Peters said, sliding a small box across the table.
It was labeled with Freja’s full name, the Old-Earth one she had tried to forget.
“Can’t believe you’d trust a jacky with a package,” she said.
“Astral Corp has good insurance. Guy that looks like this,” Peters pointed at his face, smiled. “He’s all show, no substance.”
Freja opened the box. There were plant seeds in it.
“They’re specific to Dawn’s environment. Engineered on Old Earth. Where she died.”
“Quite a coincidence,” Freja said.
“Chambers, down in the Rez Division is good about this sort of thing. Must have checked your itinerary.”
Then Peters was gone from the jacky. The red light faded from the man’s eyes, and a cough burst from his throat as his own biology came back online.
Freja slammed the box shut. What did it matter how she got the seeds?
“Hey, Baldy, where you going?” the jacky said, watching Freja slide out of the booth. “Don’t you want to get to know the man behind the jacker? We’re good for more than flesh you know.”
He looked down at the ashtray and burning cigar on the table. “Christ, told them I don’t want no smokers. Lady, was he smoking?”
The waitress’s skates shrieked on the glass floor as she stopped in front of the booth. “All done here?” She slapped down a bill.
“Fucking Eden cheapskates,” the man shouted. “Was he smoking?”
God’s Cross, the only settlement on Dawn came into view through the window of Freja’s starship. Japanese-style towers and temples, katana-sharp edges at every angle, egg-white color. The planet was tidally locked, ninety-five percent of the surface drowned in a glassy ocean. A star, Azrael 108-B, sat eternally on the horizon from the vantage point of God’s Cross.
The city sat in the middle of that five percent, perched atop a plateau that looked down on the sun-side, a fungal forest that stretched to the steaming ocean, and the dark-side, a desolate, windswept place that remained forever in the shadow of God’s Cross.
“Oh boy! We’re here,” Lena said.
Lena was an AI, eight legs attached to a large compound eye. She wasn’t quiet, and she wasn’t much for stealth. Just how Freja liked her. Lena’s eyeshell blushed green. She was excited. Then again, she was excited all the time.
“Check the logs,” Freja said, when they stood in the cold, rarely used docking station. Detox slugs scooted across the ceiling. Nothing but darkness out the windows.
Lena plugged a tentacle into the AI interface.
“Denied,” Lena said.
Of course. They were hiding something.
Freja had been on a breathable-air planet once before. Old Earth when she was a child, when she still lived in that guarded, al-Oregon-Territory compound with her neurotic mother.
The docking-station door hissed when it rose. Freja stared out at plant scrub, a dusty path that led to God’s Cross. The place was so backwoods they didn’t even have a rover waiting for her. They had to walk.
It was a bustling little town. Teahouses, Zen and Buddhist temples, traditional Japanese theatres. There were stalls lining the main drag where farmers sold produce, the local cuisine and synthetic staples. Lena questioned a stocky man in a cone-shaped hat about his gourds.
“We’re not here to sightsee, Lena,” Freja said. She had the box under her arm and her pack over her shoulder. “Where’s the hospital?”
“Sun-side, we follow Dawn-road-00X down the mountain, past the first Rilke encampment,” Lena said, swiveling her eye to Freja. “Can you believe it, real life trees?” Lena snapped pictures at the strange purple plants that stabbed through the mist where a sliver of Azrael 10-B peaked over the horizon. The air smelled like fresh-cut grass on Old Earth.
“Doesn’t look like any tree I’ve ever seen,” Freja said.
“We can get a carriage ride from the teahouse to the hospital.”
“They use horses here, no rovers.”
Just how backwoods was this place?
Geisha in dazzling kimono filled the synth-bamboo teahouse with music Freja had never heard. The tea steam was so thick, it condensed on Lena’s eye shell. Freja flashed her credentials to the hostess and inquired about getting to the hospital. The hostess told her a samurai named Nakamura was already on his way.
Freja sipped a milky purple brew that tasted like chocolate and not the synthetic kind, while she stared at the box Peters had given her. Lena wouldn’t shut up about the teahouse.
“Geisha haven’t been seen outside of holograms for years, Freja. Dawn has resurrected a culture lost to everything but records.”
Freja didn’t feel like bursting Lena’s bubble, telling her these weren’t real Geisha. These were entertainers hired and sent in from off-world. Most of these girls lived on rice-farms with their husbands and had families. Nothing real Geisha ever had.
“It’s rare for a planet to embrace an Old-Earth culture so completely,” Lena said.
Lena was right about that. Were any old Japanese customs that involved selling children or using them as slaves? She’d have to ask the samurai.
Nakamura showed up in a kimono and sandals. There was a sword at his side. That worried her. Freja recognized him as one of the samurai in the grainy video.
Freja stuck out a hand and Nakamura bowed. His grey eyes struck her as familiar.
“You guys are really all-in on this Old-Earth thing,” Freja said. She was bad at introductions.
“We are also polite to strangers,” he said.
She must have broached some taboo. Asking about what she had seen on tape was probably out of the question, so she took out her frustrations on the samurai. “Did the Japanese embrace child trafficking as well?”
Nakamura laughed. “You should be glad I came rather than some of my brothers. They would have struck you dead where you stand for suggesting such things.”
“And Lena would have caught every frame of it, and a whole troop of Eden soldiers would be landing within a standard week, probably shutting down the whole colony for the crimes.”
Nakamura turned on his heels. “Come with me.” Then he said, “Who is in the seeds?”
The question hit her like the blast from a volt gun. “My mother.”
The horses clopped through the blood-red mud, occasionally slinging some up on Lena, until she tired of wiping her eye and spidered atop the carriage, craning her head into the lower stories of the strange trees which littered Dawn’s sun-side landscape. The landscape was beautiful, but it carried the eerie silence that all non-earth planets did. No sound but the occasional wind through the trees and the horses’ hooves beating against the path.
Nakamura pointed out potential spots for where Freja could bury her mother, while he gave her a rundown of Dawn. “We’re nearly self-sufficient,” he bragged. “We use the terrace farming of Old-Earthers. The rain that drops in God’s Cross flows down sun-side where we use it to grow kumo and banana-apples. The tea you had was flavored with kumo. You liked it yes?”
Freja nodded. He was being too kind to her, she thought. But then again, these far-arm places have that reputation.
“Have you found life beyond the usual?” Lena asked.
Nakamura scratched his arm. “No, though our scientists delve farther into sun-side every day.”
“Why the carriages?” Freja said.
“Feel the wind in your hair and smell the beasts in front of you. Hear the music of their hooves. Is it not evident? How much better the old ways were. Before the days of universal corporation rovers and logos plastered on everything. If I ever see any more Rilke Corp red, I’ll scream.”
Of course Dawn harbored anti-corp sentiment, Freja thought. Freja’s mother would have loved knowing she’d be buried on a planet that sided with her politically. She didn’t mention to Nakamura that Rilke probably owned these horses.
“How long have you been here?” Freja asked.
Nakamura scratched his arm again. “About five years. Who keeps track of the time anymore?”
The hospital was the largest building on the surface of Dawn according to Nakamura. A Japanese castle styled after the Old-Earth Shimabara castle, blood-red terraced levels of adobe that grew smaller with each floor. Lena prattled on about the architecture, until Freja told her to hush.
The two of them watched Nakamura and the carriage disappear farther downhill where the forest thickened. A man wearing a Nehru jacket and slacks was waiting for them at the top of the hospital steps, tiny spectacles tottering on his nose. Freja recognized him as the other man on the security camera.
Now I just need to find the mother, Freja thought.
“Investigator,” he said. “Your reputation precedes you.”
What reputation? Freja thought. Breaking the arm of the Old-Earth ambassador? Or did he mean…
“Your mother is an inspiration to all of us living upon colonial worlds. Her teachings of self-sufficiency and anti-violence to protect life inspired me as a young man.”
“She was an anarcho-environmentalist who never left Old-Earth,” Freja said.
Freja had often encountered far-arm colonies who preached self-reliance, but every time she checked the books of such planets, she found that they took every handout Eden offered them and frequently begged for more.
“Imprisoned for most of it,” he said. “In my excitement I have forgotten to introduce myself. I am a doctor and the elected governor of Dawn. You can call me Montana”
Freja told him why she was there, then cut straight to the chase. “I need to see your security logs. My AI, Lena, was denied access to the logs at the docking station.”
Only after introducing himself to Lena, did Montana address Freja’s request. “We believe, after your mother’s teachings, in the rights of a planet and the rights of a people. That includes certain records outlined in her manifesto—”
“I know what my mother’s teachings were. And they conflict with Eden policy. Now, I’ll be seeing those records, or your planet will be stripped of the rights it now possesses.”
The Japanese theme was eased slightly in the interior of the hospital. Nurses dragging their feet and doctors bore the scars of SleepAway injections from their residency years. Same as every hospital in every far-arm colony across the galaxy, except for the swords hanging from the sides of some of the staff.
In the security room, Lena plugged into the feed and downloaded the hospital logs. They were encrypted, not to mention massive, and it would take Lena hours to find the records Freja needed among the raw data.
“Happy now?” Montana asked.
“I need to see the maternity ward.”
Nothing in the ward seemed suspicious. In the nursery, Lena stepped on a toy that squeaked beneath her feet. She was happy the children paid no attention to her. The figure was naked and blood red with a ferocious horned face.
“It’s a Tengu,” Lena exclaimed. “A fierce Japanese spirit. A harbinger of war.”
“I don’t like it,” Freja said, kicking it across the room.
The children turned to watch her.
Freja had no evidence of any wrongdoing and it ate at her. She’d need to go over the logs after Lena had decrypted them.
“You know what the penalty is for child slaving?” She asked Montana.
“I imagine it involves a gravity-free prison, constant darkness, and being fed intravenously. Not to mention whatever form of crackpot therapy goes on there nowadays. Have they cycled back to shock treatments yet?”
“We’ll be in touch, Dr. Montana. You have a few days, if that, to confess your crimes and tell me why I shouldn’t turn this planet over to the highest bidder for resource mining.
“Tell me, Freja. Do you happen to have any of your mother’s books upon your person? It seems some of her lessons may be of some benefit for you.”
Later, in her top-floor apartment in God’s Cross, Freja sat watching the dark side of Dawn through the patio door, cold winds swirling dust across the desolate plain. She was feeling tipsy from the sake. She fingered her seeds and thought of her mother, the helicopter trip she’d taken with her up the eastern seaboard of the former United States. The limestone had been bombed barren from the Carolinas to Maine. Nothing but rocks and ash.
“It could have been avoided,” her mother had said.
Ah, Mom couldn’t you just have lived a quiet life, couldn’t you have made life easier for your daughter like all the other Old-Earth moms? Freja thought. What did you even accomplish?
Nothing but writing a few books, paltry royalties barely enough to pay Freja’s way into Antorus-Jackson Military school on Titan. Why would you fight against what brought so much good in the world, just to save a few trees?
“I’m finished, Freja,” Lena said.
“Did you find anything?”
Lena’s processors hummed. “I don’t see anything,” she said. “You’ll have to look.”
She spidered over to Freja, lowered herself, and slid the access port on her head open. Freja flipped out the keyboard and started pecking.
Lena projected a hologram. “Now in order mode,” she said.
“Go to Old-Earth year 2081, May 8th, 13:29. Maternity Ward Camera 8.”
The familiar projection of the pregnant woman. The elated surgeon cutting an invisible cord. Montana wiping a tear from his eye. Nakamura stone-faced.
“Again,” Freja said.
Still nothing. She put away the controls. “Did you figure out who the mom was?”
There was a meowing outside. A little too drunk on the sake, Freja staggered to the door and checked the hall. Nothing there. As she closed the door she heard it again. Meow. So close, but she saw no sign of it.
Lena said, “There was only one woman giving birth that day. Michiru Honduras. Deceased. Thirty-one Old-Earth-years. She worked in the Noh and Kabuki theatres. She was a costume designer.”
Lena closed the door. She had no time for ghost cats. “Cause of death?”
That was a forgery. Michiru had not died during the pregnancy, if what was on the tape was even real. But if the pregnancy was staged, wouldn’t Montana have come out and said so? It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble.
“Show me last video. Twenty-x speed.”
Freja watched twenty-four hours of footage of nurses bringing Michiru meals, her going to the bathroom. No sign of sickness. There was crying. Freja balled her fist.
“They took her damn baby,” Freja said.
More footage showed that there was an argument between Michiru and Montana, her pounding his chest with a balled fist, her sitting alone on the edge of her bed for hours. Then Michiru dressed, packed, and left the hospital room. There she was walking down the steps of the hospital, long shadows falling over her and Montana. Nakamura waiting at the bottom, smoking a synth cig, brushing one of the horses’ coats.
“Does Montana look like a man in love, Lena?”
“I don’t know that, silly.”
“What about Nakamura?”
Freja watched Nakamura help Michiru in the carriage, get in himself, and drive. Not up into God’s Cross. But farther into the forest.
Bubbles came up from the milk when Freja slammed Nakamura’s head into the bowl of milk.
“Where is Michiru?” Freja yelled.
The Geisha scattered like pigeons, short steps in long dresses, tall wooden sandals clopping against bamboo.
Nakamura’s chin dripped milk and blood. She had broken his nose. He was smiling. “Montana was wrong about you. You aren’t like your mother.”
“No, I’m not.”
Nakamura’s sword leaned against the wall. Freja grabbed it and drew the gleaming blade. “You murdered her. You took Michiru out in the forest and killed her.”
Lena was moaning. “Can’t we go out to the woods, Freja? Can’t we look for her?”
“You are as blind as the rest of the Eden scum,” Nakamura spat.
Freja raised the blade. A cry of protest rose behind her. A guffaw. Not Lena’s. Something less metallic. She turned to see nothing, but the nothing was coming towards her, porcelain shattering as the nothing knocked teacups from the tables. She could hear it. Running. The blade was knocked from her hand.
“Blind,” Nakamura said. He was lighting a cigarette.
Freja spun toward him. “Lena show me thermal.”
Freja gasped when she looked upon Lena’s screen. The room was full of odd… things that only appeared in thermal vision. One squatted atop a table like a large frog, chest that rose and fell like an inflated bubble, another hung from the rafters with three limbs, cleaning itself with the other three. On the table behind Nakamura, a small bipedal creature cowered behind him.
“Nakamura, what am I looking at?”
He said nothing.
She directed Lena around Nakamura, toward the biped. Freja looked at it with her own eyes. If she strained, she could see a haze, like engine exhaust rising around it. Looking again through Lena’s eyes, she thrust her hand at the shape. It moved in response.
She recoiled. “Explain this.”
“Ah, if only I could.” Nakamura blew a smoke ring.
“He cannot,” came a voice from behind. Montana stood in the doorway. Glasses traded in for thermal shades. “No more than any of us. All we know is what you’re looking at is native to Dawn’s ecosystem. Life, Freja. Intelligent life.”
Lena fluttered on her feet, four legs flutter like sea anemone tentacles. “New life? Oh boy!”
Freja’s mind raced. There were things to be done. Quarantine protocol. A whole host of steps to preservation that she knew Montana hadn’t taken.
The breath left Freja as she hit the floor. Nakamura stood over her with his sword pointed at her, one eye swelled shut. Some of the milk dropped from his chin to her face. It smelled so bitter.
“We can’t let you contact Eden. We wish you had cooperated. I would have shown you when you were ready, but you had to resort to violence at the first opportunity,” Montana said.
“You’ve both just dammed yourself to prison,” Freja said. “I hope you like eating your ricere through a needle.”
“You contact Eden and what do they do?” Montana said. “They send in the Rilke clowns, and destroy the fragile ecosystem here. There’s a reason we use carriages, Freja. Artificial forms of energy kills them. It’s a miracle they weren’t wiped out when Rilke first landed on the planet.”
Freja hated it, but if Montana was telling the truth, he was right. Delicate operations were a thing of the past, especially on worlds like Dawn where news traveled slowly, where news would be doctored by a public relations team before reaching Dawn. Any company willing to come this far out into the galaxy would never agree to a low energy mandate.
“Show me,” Freja said. “Kill one and I’ll believe you.”
Montana’s eyes grew wide. “Nakamura was right, you are not at all like your mother. Put her in chains, Nakamura.”
“There are dangers you don’t—”
“I understand the dangers,” Montana yelled. “I have lived here decades, checking and double checking every change in pressure and humidity, monitoring for infections among the settlers.” Spit dribbled off his chin. His face was red with anger. “Even letting your ship land rather than blast it out of the sky was a miracle I granted you. Ryo lives were lost.”
“Ryo? You’ve named them? How arrogant. All naming rights belong to the company who powered the expedition.”
“Our argument is done. I’ll see you in your cell.”
Nakamura sat in front of the bamboo bars, staring at Freja. He was smoking a real cigarette. It made Freja cough. Montana had slid a book between the bars. Her mother’s most famous work Lifesong.
“The walls here filter the nasty stuff out. What doesn’t go into my lungs, anyways,” Nakamura said.
Freja picked up the book, tried to read it, then threw it across the room. If Montana thought she would read her mother’s work and magically agree with him, he had another thing coming.
Had Michiru given birth to one of those…Ryo? Freja wondered. She couldn’t tell from watching the security cam. It only recorded light in the visible spectrum. And how had Rilke not discovered them first?
If Rilke discovered them, they would be in chains now, and Dawn would be a tourist attraction. Perhaps her mother had been right about some things, Freja thought, despite herself.
No, she told herself. Dawn’s residents would be wallowing in money if Rilke had found the Ryo first, money that would go to infrastructure, schools and hospitals. That wasn’t true either. That money would go into Rilke shareholder pockets. Rilke would own everything, and that couldn’t be good, could it?
“Can they communicate?” She asked Nakamura.
Nakamura said nothing.
A Geisha slid her a meal of synth salmon, fried local vegetables on a wooden tray with chopsticks. They weren’t starving her at least. Three days passed this way, Nakamura coming in when the artificial lights kicked on, leaving when they went off, smoking a cigarette in the interim.
On the third day, Montana showed up with a pair of thermal goggles. “I want you to come with me, Freja. If you think you can behave yourself.”
Freja knew Montana’s back was against the wall. If Peters came calling, and she told him she was in a cell, the whole planet would be swarming with Eden agents.
Equipped with thermal shades, Freja saw the forests brimming with strange creatures. Ryo sprang from tree limb to abandoned Rilke research huts, swooped in and out of the top layer of the alien canopy. She heard them now, crunching through the knee-high flora. Montana drove, hurtling further into the forest, past the hospital, the way Nakamura had taken Michiru.
“We were worried. The Ryo seem to shut themselves down somehow in the presence of strangers. When you came and walked among the streets, most of the Ryo ceased movement.”
“Ryo is the Japanese word for spirit,” Lena said, excitedly.
The AI had been blissful since they had left the teahouse. Lena had detected the lifeforms since disembarking from the ship, but had no context to put what she detected in. It may as well have been random radio waves or cosmic noise, which often bombarded her senses in every locale. Now that she knew, now she could begin to catalog.
Freja even felt the excitement.
“What we know of them is not enough to fill a Rilke advertisement,” Montana said over the bustling feet of the horses. “We’ve set up a camp where the Ryo feel most comfortable, the mostly unexplored valley on all of Dawn. That’s where we’re going.”
“How did Rilke not discover them when they first landed here?” Freja asked.
“The plant life appears warm in thermal vision at all hours, unlike plants on worlds with a traditional day-night cycle. The Ryo, already invisible to the naked eye, have the same temperature profile as the plant life. Camouflage in every spectrum. They merely hid from them. Come now, we’ve arrived.”
The camp consisted of a few Rilke hovels and a Japanese-style inn with a large courtyard. A waterfall dumped steaming water into a pool which flowed into a bathhouse built onto the side of the inn. Men and women rushed in and out of the sliding door rooms, some with tools—old hammers and saws—others wrapped in towels headed to or from the bathhouse.
It reminded Freja of Old Earth. It was in fact the closest she’d seen humans with nature outside of her early childhood explorations with her mother, hiking the Oregon rainforest trails.
Perhaps there was something to what her mother had preached. Perhaps life was worth protecting at the expense of humans.
With her goggles down, she saw that the Ryo partook of the baths themselves, hurtling here and there and for the first time, she heard them emit strange cooing sounds, which had more variation than any bird song she had ever heard.
“Can you communicate with them?” Freja asked as she followed Montana through the courtyard.
Montana was more forthcoming than Nakamura.
“We are working on it,” He said. “Their language is complex and not intended for human ears. Though not without struggle, our linguists have worked out a sort of pidgin with them.”
Lena snapped pictures continuously, climbing a wooden bridge under which koi swam. She was so fascinated by the Ryo that she was, for once in her existence, speechless. Freja saw something that looked and behaved exactly like a koi.
It is a Ryo and it is a fish, she thought. But that doesn’t make any sense.
As they turned a corner, Freja saw a large creature, nearly eight-feet tall, hundreds of tentacles packed close together which it used for locomotion. It mumbled in its high-pitched voice to a woman in a lab coat, who nodded and took notes
Montana slid a door back and waited for Freja to step through. There was a crib in the room and a woman dressed in a kimono rocked a Ryo in her arms. Freja recognized the woman. It was Michiru.
“This is the woman I was telling you about, Michiru.”
Michiru seemed to glide across the room, taking Freja’s hand in her free one.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. My husband’s been giving you a hard time, I hear.”
She planted a kiss on Montana’s cheek.
“Does that mean…” Freja said weakly, not knowing how to approach the question burning in her mind.
Montana said, “It’s okay. We were confused as you about the origin of the child. Was it mine? I spent nights staring at the dark-side, sipping sake, doubting if this was a pregnancy I wanted Michiru to carry out. Thankfully, she convinced me otherwise.”
He put his hand on his wife’s shoulder. With the other hand he reached over her and rubbed the chest of the Ryo. The child flapped its arms—Freja guessed—and cooed, a strange electronic sound, like someone playing with a synthesizer.
“Put on your thermals. Look at him. His name is Thom.”
Freja slid down the googles. Thom smiled at her, and yes, he was a child, she thought. Even though she couldn’t say how it had happened. He had the same pointed nose and curly hair of his father. The child reached for Freja’s finger and she gave it to him.
Its touch was electric, prickling the ends of her fingers. Her heart leapt, a feeling she had not felt since she was a little girl.
“Soon after Michiru gave birth, we noticed a new fish swimming in the koi pond. After the fish, one of the horses gave birth, followed by one of the town cats. Perhaps you heard Luna, who roams the town and meows loudly when the exterior lights are shut off?”
“Yes,” Freja said, thinking of the noise in the apartment hall. “Are there more children?”
“Not like Thom. None of the other Ryo appear human in nature, and all the other mothers have given birth to regular children.”
“I don’t understand. Then what of the Ryo who have no Old-Earthen analogues?” Freja said.
“We have only hypotheses. Since we have not seen any of the Ryo themselves become pregnant, the simplest answer is that the Ryo is a kind of obligate organism that requires a host couple and copies the host physiology.”
“But that would mean—”
“Yes. All the creatures you see were birthed from couples of their respective species. Each creature is—or was—native to Dawn or—”
“They came here like us, gave birth, and the Ryo copied their physiology?” Freja said.
“Yes. We’re not just looking at first contact with an intelligent species,” Montana said. “With the Ryo, we’re seeing a glimpse into the diversity of life in the universe. Suddenly the universe feels a lot less lonely, doesn’t it?”
All this life, she thought, and how much of it would belong to Rilke International by the 8th Corporate Amendment? All of it, since Rilke had funded the expedition to Dawn. Eden lawmakers had crumbled under the pressure of Rilke and Caravaggio lobbyists, and signed away the rights of alien lifeforms for property on luxurious water worlds and stock shares.
Her mother had warned Eden of this day.
Though Eden would surely enact protective legislation as soon as the Ryo were ‘officially’ discovered, it would be years before Rilke was forced to cease control of the Ryo. By then, what would happen? Would they claim rights to Thom?
Freja looked from Michiru to Thom. She was breaking a family apart. “If you were hoping to keep a secret, I’ve ruined it,” Freja said. “Lena’s been uploading everything to the comsat, sights and sounds, since we arrived. Eden are probably already on the way, along with a fleet of Rilke researchers and lawyers. They’ve probably already began broadcasting their intentions to the rest of the universe”
“Your guilt is commendable, but you’ve underestimated us, Freja,” Montana. “Our comsat is broadcasting dummy data to Eden. Our secret is safe for now.”
But there was no one who could crack a comsat, Freja thought. Well, only one person in the galaxy who could do that. But she wouldn’t come all the way out here.
“We believe you and our hacker go way back.”
She turned to see the silhouette of someone standing in the doorway, topknot and a cigarette. Black eye and a sword on his back.
“Nakamura,” Freja said. “I’ve never met him. What do you mean?”
“You don’t remember the talk we had in that Storm Garden bar as lighting struck fire to the grass sea?” Nakamura said. “You told me you’d flay me yourself, if I didn’t confess to reprogramming all those Caravaggio AIs.”
That conversation was with The Grey Ghost. But the Gray Ghost was a woman, a grey-eyed woman. Freja understood.
“It’s something I always wanted,” Nakamura said, rubbing the scruff on his face. “But the operation required a sponsor.”
“Mr. Nakamura and I made a deal. I pay for his sex-change operation and he hack the comsat for us.”
“It was win, win,” Nakamura said. “The Dawn comsat was easy stuff. Not like those Caravaggio AIs. You know they had to change their official colors from crimson to violet because of me? AIs opened fire on anyone wearing their insignia.” He blew a smoke ring.
“A hacker can only get you so far,” Freja said to Montana. “You need a legal team large enough to fill a star cruiser. You need a public relations team. You need everything, and you have so little.”
“But we have you, the daughter of Melinda Spjut, an investigator with a spotless reputation.”
“I can get you nothing. As soon as my report goes through, you’ll be relieved of your duties as governor. Rilke will come in and…”
She looked at Thom again. She couldn’t believe she ever suggested killing one of the Ryo. Each life was invaluable. That’s one thing she agreed with her mother on.
“Your mother told me you would be bound up in your duty. She said you would be so stubborn headed that we’d have to lead you to the truth like a blind deer to water.”
“You knew my mother?”
“Of course, Freja. Did you think it was a coincidence that your mother picked seeds native to Dawn? With all the cases in the universe you could have been assigned to, didn’t you think that was a little suspicious?”
“I can’t keep Rilke from coming,” Freja said.
Montana laughed. “But you can. All it will cost you is your career.”
Freja looked at Thom. He reached for her.
Freja met Peters in the teahouse in God’s Cross. She was drenched from the showers that pelted the plateau, floating up from the Ryo valley and drenching the fields of potatoes, rice, and quinoa. She did not wear thermal shades but saw signs of the Ryo. Footprints in the scrub. The sagging branches of trees scattered about the plateau. She saw signs, but they had retreated to hiding. The Ryo sensed the presence of a stranger, even through the interface of a jacky.
The jacky was a Geisha socketed into the wall outlet. She had a bowl of rice in front of her, steam floating up to the ceiling, where Japanese spirits were painted in vivid reds and orange. The steam looked ghostly in the beaming light of the jacky’s eyes.
Freja could tell Peters was uncomfortable. He was still of the old generation, those who felt strange in the flesh of the opposite sex.
“So what is it? Child smuggling? An implant racket?” Peters asked.
“None of the above. It’s the Grey Ghost’s work.”
“Out here? What the hell is she doing out here?”
Freja didn’t mention the sex change. “Reworking the terrestrial AI to ignore orders of Rilke,” she lied.
“We’ll send some engineers.”
“You don’t have to. The Grey Ghost has been apprehended. Found her sightseeing in the Kabuki theatre. Had Lena check the systems. She reverted the AI to a local state.”
“Where is she now?” Peters said, gazing the jacky’s flashlight eyes around.
“On my ship already. In chains. I’m bringing her in…You’re not smoking?”
“Ethics committee received a complaint from the Astral Corp. I’m looking down a fine.” Peters sighed. “Bringing in the Grey Ghost will mean a promotion, Freja. Won’t be long till I’m reporting to you.”
Freja said nothing. Stood up and started to leave.
“Goodbye to you too, honey,” Peters said.
She heard Peters unplug. She saw the light leave the woman’s eyes and heard the gulp of air swallowed by the woman as she came back to herself.
Freja packed her things from her apartment. She felt lost. She beckoned Lena, and the two of them walked across the great plateau for the last time.
A cruiser arrived at the docking station as Freja said goodbye to Montana and Michiru. It was sleek black, thin, the blue sheen of its stealth system washed over its surface. Three men alighted the plane and approached them. They were dressed in black robes that fell to their ankles. Lawyers.
“Freja, meet the legal team who will be leading the upcoming fight against whoever lays claim to the Ryo,” Montana said.
Their ship would be the last to arrive on Dawn for at least a decade. Nakamura had reprogrammed the navsats as well. Anyone flying to Dawn would instead find themselves staring down at the uninhabitable planet of Baggot H-301, a hundred stars away.
Montana had told her there were people on the forest planet of Whitewald who needed the information Lena carried, people who would support Dawn. There, Montana promised, she could find work, and live quietly among the trees.
“Those trees reach to the highest clouds of the atmosphere. I hope you find it as comforting as I did,” he had said.
She didn’t know if she was ready for a quiet life and told Montana as much, standing outside of her ship.
“The group that you are delivering Lena’s data to needs everyone they can get. They call themselves Lifesong. Perhaps a career change is in order,” Montana said.
“Or just a change in scenery,” Nakamura said, shouldering a bag. “Lifesong needs muscle like you, Freja.”
Montana said, “Where did you end up burying your mother?”
“I’ll hold on to the seeds,” Freja said. “I’m not ready to let go of her just yet.”
“I can’t wait to see the trees,” Lena said. “But I’ll miss the Ryo.”
“You will always have the records,” Montana said to Lena.
But Freja knew that wasn’t guaranteed. Lena’s information was priceless and would attract every data thief in the galaxy.
Freja knew the lie she told Peters would not prevent Rilke and Eden descending on Dawn like salvagers on a scrap heap, but it would buy Montana and the lawyers time before the vultures came. Thirty years, Montana had guessed. Nakamura guaranteed twenty. Freja had ventured only ten.
From the cockpit of the cruiser, Freja, Nakamura, and Lena watched the teahouses and theatres shrink to spots, saw the swell of the forest that housed countless Ryo.
Freja did not put on thermal shades to watch Dawn disappear. She did not want to cry in front of Nakamura.
“Goodbye, Dawn,” Lena said.
Three hours into the flight to Whitewald, Nakamura sent a message to Eden Com, one that would go to Peters himself. It said that Freja’s ship had been hijacked by the Grey Ghost.
“It will take years before they track us to Whitewald,” Nakamura said. “I’ve planted fake coms in the database as well. They think I’m taking you somewhere else. By that time, I’ll be living it up on a Minerva minor colony.”
“Living it up?”
“Yeah, what else?”
“Lifesong needs you just like it needs me,” Freja said.
But she wasn’t sure she believed what she said. She touched the seeds and prayed that her mother would help her again.