Elsewhere, beyond the horizon...

A spaceship tears across a starfield at warp speed. Each dot of distant light stretches to become a spear, hurtling in the opposite direction of the craft faster than any photon ever fired from its surface. The ship was brand-new when it departed from Earth C, and it doesn’t look a day older now, even though many hundreds of days have passed. It seems to be built to look somewhat like a shark, by a designer who wasn’t totally sure how many fins a shark hard, nor where exactly to stick them on the beast’s body.

Inside, a hot iron smooths the fabric of an elaborate garment, releasing a gentle hiss of steam. At a glance, it looks like the top to a god tier costume. But it clearly isn’t standard issue. This one is more stylish, more ornate, more... anime? Sometimes one finds there simply isn’t another word that will do to describe some sick gear. The iron eases the wrinkles out of the icon emblazoned on its chest—a hot-pink heart, bisected vertically, hollow in one half. A shiny, graceful metal hand puts the iron down, removes the garment from the ironing board, and reaches for the pantaloons.

She isn’t even sure how he gets these things so wrinkly. Perhaps it’s all the time he spends training in the hypergravity chamber, assuming they’ve got one of those onboard. Then again, there are times when he seems so high-strung, he could wrinkle a good anime costume sitting perfectly still in an armchair.

She drapes the pantaloons over the board, then pauses to reach for the candy bowl nearby. She doesn’t actually need to eat anymore. The entire concept of eating has been upended for her. It’s not about sustenance, or even necessarily about enjoying certain flavors. It’s more about staying connected to a vestigial habit reminding her of the humanity she’s been forced to abandon.

Not just any kind of candy would cut it. The sensors on her metal tongue are very particular. Weaker than taste buds and arranged differently. These would taste like some combination of battery acid and wasabi to a human tongue. But to her the flavor is mild, exotic, certainly worth snacking on to pass the time. Human teeth wouldn’t stand a chance of cracking these, but hers make short work of turning the candy into fine gravel. One of her more reckless shipmates chipped a tooth trying one, despite repeated warnings to stay away from the stuff.

The iron hits a snag on the pantaloons, putting an awkward crease in the ridiculous, billowing fabric. She curses and puts the iron down. She decides “laundry day” is officially over. The guy can just wear a wrinkly pair of pants today for all she cares. It’s not like he has an audience, despite his best efforts to behave as if he did all the time. She doesn’t really enjoy doing laundry or ironing silly anime ensembles, and she considers herself nobody’s maid. It’s just that there hasn’t been much to do on this ship.

It’s not like the old days of her long-range interstellar travels. That halcyon period riding a meteor across the abyss for years, with an atmosphere of camaraderie, feelings of optimism—a rewardingly transformative period in everyone’s young life. She guesses this is just what things feel like on a long journey when you’re older, and with a much smaller crew.

She turns off the iron, then wanders off down a corridor. It’s nothing like the meteor in here. Bright, futuristic. Skaianet does build a lovely ship, she has to admit. She turns a corner, and her foot kicks something. It’s a stray ruby slipper. The other is about ten feet away, down the hall. No sign of their owner anywhere. She’d sigh, except she doesn’t breathe anymore. She doesn’t consider herself to be her maid either, but she reaches down to pick up the slippers nonetheless.

She enters a room central to the ship, one that she visits now and then, possibly for sentimental reasons. Or maybe it’s just to creep herself out. Situated near the wall is something that looks like a rather elegantly designed iron lung. It’s mostly made of glass, with polished silver trim around the sides and base. There’s a digital monitor on the wall. She approaches and places her hands on the glass with a faint metal clink.

She used to live in this body. She’s dressed in the same clothes she was wearing the day she slipped into the coma. A special tiara replaces her typical hairband, lined with blinking transmitters. The device beams her awareness directly into her current mechanical avatar. She presumes it utilizes the same technology that Jade’s grandfather once used to build a dreambot for her, which functioned similarly.

She knows she’ll never be able to inhabit this sleeping body again. She honestly can’t decide whether that makes her feel sad or relieved. She ponders the future of her old body. Will it all work as planned? She has to believe it will. It is the only path to achieve permanence for these tenuous bodily accommodations.

A jarring sound snaps her out of her reverie. It’s an alert, beeping urgently from the cockpit. The robot leaves her entombed living body and runs quickly through the winding corridors. She sits down at the helm and examines the monitor.

A new planet is within sensor range. She studies the millions of statistics all pouring in at once. Her pupil-less eyes take them all in simultaneously, her head needing only to move a quarter inch from side to side to pan her vision across the data. It’s an M-Class planet. The right size, right age, right distance from the sun. There’s no advanced life yet. It’s exactly what they’ve been looking for all these years.

Her heart doesn’t beat any faster, because its pace is regulated by an internal chip. She consciously accelerates it anyway. It’s been a long time since she’s had the occasion to feel exhilarated. She’s missed the sensation of the old flesh-ticker acting of its own accord.

The thoughts in her powerful brain race. What will they name the planet? How long will it take for the ship to arrive? Once the new race has established an advanced enough civilization thousands of years from now, who will the lucky kids be? The ones who get the chance to play what will arguably be the most important session in the history of Sburb?

She holds her thoughts. They can wait, and there’s much to discuss. She taps a button, and lowers her head a little closer to a mic on the panel.


She supplies a courtesy pause, as if waiting for him to reply. He usually doesn’t.

ROSEBOT: You’re going to want to come see this.

Enough time goes by that she begins to wonder if he’s asleep. But no. It’s just the irritated silence of a man who knows he isn’t currently dressed well enough to attend to something important.

DIRK: Are my fucking pantaloons ready yet?