Today's Reading

Jal had just hit the end of the hall when that telltale pneumatic hiss from the hatch echoed through the cargo bay. A blade of blue- white light appeared as the door opened, casting shapes across the crates. People-shaped blurs approached up the gangway, and Jal skidded to a halt by the rover with a sick lurch in his stomach.

"There you are," Eoan said from all around him. He didn't see their projection anymore, but he was too busy watching the door. The blurs became people again as his eyes adjusted to the brightness, and damned if it wasn't the woman from the gangway again, with the grease-smudged coveralls and raven plaits.

She wasn't alone. Beside her stood a man, easily as tall as Jal but built much sturdier. Silver streaked his short hair and beard, though his forties were still a few years ahead of him, and his shoulders were the kind of wide that made you think they'd borne their share of burdens and then some.

Jal could tell the moment they saw him. The woman cocked her head with the most 'fuck you, fuck this, fuck're you doing here' look he'd ever seen, and the man—'CRACK!'

The crate the man had been holding had dropped from his hands, old wood splintering on impact and contents scattering like confetti across the floor. Potatoes. Carrots. Every-color citrus, and produce Jal didn't even recognize.

A head of something leafy came rolling toward him, bouncing off the tip of his boot as the rest of the cargo bay stood still.

"You." Jal 'knew' that voice, hoarse as it was. Knew it like he'd known the handwriting on the wall, like he knew the green-brown eyes gone wide under furrowed brows, like he knew the calluses on the hands stretched out like they still had something to hold.

'Huh', he thought, errantly, with a fist squeezing around his quick- beating heart. 'You got gray, old man.'

Then he ran. Sprang forward, launching himself up the hood of the rover, vaulting across its roof, and sliding down off the back square between the two newcomers. 'It's not him,' whispered a desperate little voice from the depths of his head, struggling up from under a wave of 'run, run, run' that threatened to drag it under. 'It can't be him'.

Out onto the too-bright gangway. Tears stung his eyes, white stars bursting across all those shiny hulls and strangers with someplace else to go.

"Stop!" That voice again. Damn that voice. It wasn't supposed to be there. How the 'fuck' could it be there? And on and on went those frantic little whispers in his head, 'not him, not him, not him'. "Goddamn it, Jal!"

His name. Of all the stupid things that could've damned him, it was the sound of his own name in that grit-and-gunshot voice that did it. He stumbled on his next step—runners like him didn't stumble, didn't slow, didn't stop, but he 'did'. His outsoles caught on thin air a few decs down the gangway, that fist around his heart clamping down until he swore his pulse stopped dead. His 'name,' punctuated by the crack of charged air, was Jal's only warning.

The last thing Jal felt before the world dropped out from under him was a slug between his shoulders and the most terrible sense of déjà vu.



It was a beautiful thing, flying. Eoan had thought as much since they'd first come to understand what 'beautiful' was, back when humanity was taking its first fledgling steps toward a life among the stars.

Eoan had been simpler then—nascent strands of programming with precious little grasp of the world. It had taken time for them to understand, but then, they'd been born with time to spare. Lifetimes, generations, 'centuries,' and a single guiding directive at the very foundation of their code: 'learn'. Learn and discover and explore, absorb everything their infinitesimal slice of the universe could offer, and then go searching for more.

So, they'd searched, and they'd studied, and they'd 'learned,' and eventually, that search brought them here, to the frontier of the Orion-Cygnus arm, where humans' grasping fingers stretched and clawed for that taste of something more.

Eoan used to think they had that in common with humans—that hunger for answers. They'd counted it among the things that made them 'feel' human, like grasping the beauty of flight and all the intricacies of the human experience they'd taught themself along the way. Mannerisms. Speech. Those curious, complex neurophysiological shifts humans called 'feelings'.

They knew better now. That innate yearning to understand & it didn't connect Eoan to humans; it isolated them. Humans craved discovery, as Eoan did, but to humans it was a means to an end. Power. Renown. Peace in knowing their place in the cosmos. Humans learned so that they could better fulfill a greater purpose.

For Eoan, knowledge had no greater purpose; it 'was' the greater purpose. They learned for the sake of learning, not just because they'd been programmed to do it, but because 'learning' was the only thing they'd ever had that they hadn't lost. It persisted, as they did, through the centuries. Always more questions to ask, always more answers to seek, so they asked them, and they sought them, to the exclusion—or, at least, the subordination—of everything else. What choice did they have, when nothing else could 'last'?

That, they'd come to realize, was the insurmountable line between them and humans: humans had the power to choose for themselves, with whatever faults or freedoms that entailed.

This excerpt is from the ebook edition.

Monday, April 29th, we begin the book FLOATING HOTEL by Grace Curtis.

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