This time travel stuff is weird, but tiring. I arrive at the spacedock of Pleasant Valley, one of the synchronous third planets of the sun Viridium, without really knowing how, and satisfy myself I am some 800 years in my future. Then I take the shuttle to Sunset Strip, where Big Pete is waiting for me.
“Good trip?” he asks, grabbing my tablet and my bag and throwing them into an egg-shaped vehicle he calls a yelocab. “Hop in.”
It is only a few minutes until we get to a sprawling villa on a promontory above a sea-green sea. Everything here is a slightly green shade of another colour. It’s disconcerting, and makes me slightly nauseous.
“Oh, yes,” Pete says when I mention it. “It takes a bit of getting used to. I used to wear contacts to help. Try these shades – and here are the girls! Maggie, meet Jemima…” she hugs me, and asks me if I am ready to eat. I shake my head but ask for a drink of water or something. “…and here’s Dolores.”
She grins and waves as Maggie releases me. “Come and sit down. Lars will be back in a minute; we sent him for fresh breads. There he is, look.”
A tall, well-built blond man jogs up the track with a pack on his back. After a few minutes, he joins Pete and myself in the shade on the balcony, with a great view over the trees to the sea and hills on the other side of the bay.
“Hi, I’m Lars,” he says, drawing me into a huge hug. “I hope you don’t mind, but I feel I’ve known you all my life.”
Pete shakes his head. “Smooth talking so and so. I hope you remembered the cross-breads.”
“Of course. Take a seat, relax,” he adds, so I do.
“Since this is the first interview you’ve done for my readers,” I say, once we are relaxed with water, fruit juice, wine, small vegetable dishes, breads like flat breads and croissants, and various dips to soak them in, “perhaps you’d start by introducing yourselves.”
“This is Lars,” says Pete. “He’s a self-centred layabout who enjoys being lazy when he’s not surfing or running, and apart from spending a lot of time with the women, he also likes talking to the trees.”
Lars laughs, a rich, rolling sound that comes from his belly. “It’s like that is it? Okay, this stunted mule is Pete, whose main claim to fame is that he can fix any engine that goes wrong, and who makes sure my ass is covered when we’re out mining asteroids. And when he’s at home he doesn’t know what to do except play with the girls and with model spacecraft.”
Pete grins and smoothes his moustache. His ear-ring gives him a piratical air, but the glint in his eye has no wickedness in it.
“Okay,” I say, tapping away on my tablet. Pete looks over and asks why I have to tap the words in. Ten minutes later I have a compatible version of Vvoice installed, and the rest of the interview is recorded on the tablet, transcribed into both Standard and English for us all to read later, and all I have to do is amend the spelling mistakes to put it into 21st Century English when I get home. Vvoice doesn’t seem to work in the past, though.
“How did you two meet in the first place, and what was it that made you such a pair?”
Lars smiles, looking off into the distance, and Pete takes up the tale.
“We arrived in college, at Farsight, the Academy, and were allocated a shared room. That was the procedure for all off-worlders who weren’t sponsored by someone rich. I had applied from a freighter in space; I’d lived on it for three years, got all my education from the crew and the computer, and been accepted for a Spaceware Engineering major.”
“And I’d spent two years on a cruiser from my planet, Ulric, to get to the Academy, working on the courses I needed to take up a place on Galactic Governance and Philosophy. Then the first day I was told they weren’t doing Galactic Governance any more, but they were holding a place on Space Politics and Economics, did I want that?”
Pete wrinkles his nose in amusement, and I notice he has freckles as well as a deep spacer tan.
“I looked up the courses,” Lars continues, “and then asked to see the list of all the vacancies. There weren’t many. The registrar took pity on me, I think, looked over my exam results and suggested I signed up for the last place on Planetary Engineering, and took the other courses I wanted to in the options.”
“And the first year of both courses are pretty much the same, so we did more or less all the same things, and hung out together in our spare time, met girls, met guys, did sports, partied, all the things students do on land.”
Lars smiles again, reliving the memories. “That was a long time ago. It was great.”
“I guess in a way, most people’s experiences of college are much the same, as long as they settle in and enjoy their courses,” I say.
“Well, most of the others we met had only just left home. They could be pretty whiney. The guys we got on best with were like us, space brats and drifters.”
“Why had you both left home already?”
“My planet, Corsair, had been taken over by the Imperium. They wanted it as a grain planet. They ran us off the land, treated us like peasants. My family helped me escape—”
“—and my planet, Ulric, was already solidly Imperium when I was born, but there was a change of regime, and my mother and I took refuge from the government. Then she had to escape, and I ended up staying on before being shipped off in slightly more comfortable surroundings than Pete had.”
“They weren’t uncomfortable,” Pete objects.
“Not once they found you, but you stowed away, whereas I was always a passenger. Well, I worked my passage.”
“So how did you come to be asteroid miners?” I ask, moving them through to later in their lives.
“We both did the Planetary Resources course, and there was a practical term where we got a chance to work at two bases, I did tellurium mining and fishing, Pete did silicon mining and agriculture, and we produced a joint thesis on ‘adaptations of spacecraft to handle multi-modal resource transfer’.”
“Got an A for it,” adds Pete.
“And sponsorship for the fifth and sixth years from one of the big space hardware corporations.”
“Well, it was good enough,” Lars continues. “Nobody really does the last two years without sponsorship, and the sponsors do it as much for publicity as anything else. Pete got an internship after, though, and I went job hopping.”
“Yeah, he’d grown up enough to stop people messing with him by then.”
“Did you have problems at college, Lars?” I’m confused by Pete’s suggestion.
“Oh, I had problems before I got to college. I was a wimp when I arrived.” He pauses, checks with Pete. I can read him like a book – should he tell the truth? He shrugs. “I grew up a lot in the first year. Pete suggested we do one of the fitness and self-defence programmes. It was a great idea. Certainly helped later.” He grins as he finishes. Sounds like that was when he turned from a weakling into someone who knew how to handle himself.
“My readers want to know what you miss most when you’re asteroid mining — apart from the girls,” I add as they grin suggestively.
“Yeah, the girls,” Lars sighs deeply. “And surfing, and water, and fresh air, especially fresh air…”
“Don’t blame me for the lack of fresh air,” Pete objects.
“Oh, I will, but it’s all recycled of course, and it gets… stale.”
“I miss light, vegetation and fresh food. But when I’m on the ground I miss space and the vastness of it all.”
“I miss being clean,” Lars adds. “Space is fine but mining is dirty, even in a vacuum. The dust gets onto your suit, you take your suit off in the airlock, and it’s supposed to be sucked clean before the air gets pressurised properly, but somehow it builds up, and you get it in your hair, in your skin—”
“—and you don’t get water-showers in space, so you never really get clean.” Pete finishes.
“Not until we’ve had three groundside showers.”
“And a sauna.”
“And a beer or two.”
“Surely a beer doesn’t help you get clean?” It’s my turn to object.
“Cleans the palate,” Lars says, and they both grin.
“What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done?”
Lars scratches his forehead, Pete strokes his moustache. I eat some of the wonderful bean stew that Maggie has made.
“Dunno really,” Lars says. “Silly things, but nothing except— oh, I can’t tell you about that. It’s in book 2.”
“Mostly things when racing, like we did on Alpha Kenworthy; that took a while to live down. But miners are supposed to do embarrassing things from time to time, it goes with the job, letting people make fun of you for something goofy, you know?”
I move on. “What would you most like to change and why?”
“I’d like to end slavery. Make sure that other races can’t takeover a planet and use its inhabitants as they wish.”
Lars nods. “Same here. Part of it’s because the Imperium works that way. The Federation isn’t that bothered, doesn’t have the same subjugation impulses. But slavery in some form or other pervades this part of the galaxy.”
“And any weak or defenceless people, races, or even sexes, lose out. Human women in particular.”
“Why are human women more likely to be enslaved? It puzzles me.”
“Because too many human men are bastards working within the Imperium which condones it.” Lars’ bitter tone does not surprise me, but it might shock others. They seem fully united on this topic. I decide to move on.
“If you weren’t you, who would you like to be?”
They both pause for a long time, thinking about the question and helping themselves to more food. At last Pete wipes his moustache and speaks.
“I’m happy being me. I don’t think I’d like to be anyone else. Unless I was me being a full-time race-flyer or something like that. I wouldn’t want to be Parvo Anaxias [a professional flyer] I’d want to be me winning what he did.”
“Yeah, I think the same. I was thinking of being someone in the Imperium who would change things, make them more equitable, but I wouldn’t want to be that person. It would be hell making it happen.”
“So you’ll stay as you are, on the outside of things?”
“Well, I didn’t say that, exactly,” Lars winks at me. Pete sees the exchange and pulls his ear-ring. The simple exchange suggests an undercurrent, things that may be building up. Maybe Lars is about to leave his comfort zone.
I spend another couple of leisurely days with them all, then head over to Pleasant Valley to see Zito before I return to my own time. Sunset Strip is great, but you have to have earned it the hard way, I think.
© J M Pett 2016