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Redena Hobbs is a software engineer aspiring to be a humorist, but her boss just doesn't think things like *y = x ? ( *x < 50 ? 2000 + *x : 1900 + *x ) : 1492; are funny. She was borned in the hills and hog farms of western Kentucky but currently resides in a small swamp in McKinney, Texas.

 

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

All materials copyright 1996-2001 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

The Halls

by Redena Hobbs

 

Ree was always unpredictable in her movements. When she hopped sideways and landed on a toe-tip, the motoped nearly knocked her down. The carrier turned around to look back as the spinning wheels flashed by, and Ree paused her dancing steps to meet his backward look. She was shocked by the eyes--nervous brown eyes--vivid, alert eyes--strange in her world where most eyes were dreaming other-worlds.
A carrier, of course. Only carriers had eyes like that.
The motoped was already long gone. "Lazy eyes on that doo, ha?" She circled Miyah and continued her pirouette along the brightening, silver-striped halls. They passed oval doors on either side, all labeled with copper-carved numbers and many-colored geometric crests, all very tasteful and never too close together. This was a residential area of the shuttleworld.
"Oh, Ree, you got the foolest sense of style! Padik could lick him in five in a one-on-one slammer."
"You know they're too old to be playing that game anymore. It's too aggressive."
Miyah snorted. "Stupid neighborhood council! It ain't ag-gres-sive. It's SKILL."
"Not the way Padik plays it. He's supposed to call penalty if the robot with the ball bumps the guard hard enough to knock him down. And of course, if the guard bumps the 'bot moving the ball, he's out, too. But when Padik's ref'ing the game, you gotta bump the guard down with a motoped to get called out."
"He's a good player, though," said Miyah.
Ree patted her friend's shoulder, grateful for the unselfish praise. Ree's friend Padik was the worst of the neighborhood sim-ball players; Miyah would never have wanted him for herself, but she'd never admit it to her best friend.
"Let's go pick up your Ma Bon's LRAM now," Miyah said.
They headed off down the 31 hall, roughly trailing the path of the vanished motoped. Ree wondered what it would be like, moving so fast, and immediately shuddered. It would be like scary, that's what it would be like. The halls were so narrow, the corners so sharp; motopeds moved as fast as a person could run and they didn't slow down nearly so easily. Motoped drivers--carriers--only worked for a few lifeyears before giving up the ride for a calmer, saner lifework. If they survived. Sometimes they didn't--crashing and dying, crunching their insane conveyances into a sad jumble of plastic and frail human bone.
If they took out a passenger with them, it was a rare, news-catching event. All the monitors spread the sadness and all of the neighborhood faces looked a little hurt that day. Ree could only remember it happening once in her twenty-lifeyears1; she supposed the carriers drove calmer and saner when a passenger ventured aboard their sidecar. More often they crashed alone, unnoticed and unremarked--missing a tricky, high-speed negotiation in a lights-out corner or avoiding a loose baby toddling in a distant hall.
They never hit the baby, though. Hurting a person--even by accident--was unthinkable. Carriers were too well trained for that.
At the intersection with hall 10, the doors became frequent and bright--some draped in glittering dˇcor and some telling stories in simple, shifting symbols. This was the gathering center of the burb--the party rooms, sports arenas and delivery rooms for four entire neighborhoods. The walls spread out and the girls walked through the fellowship center, feeling rather than seeing its serenity-blue sides and warm, brown ceiling. Small groups of people were sprinkled around, talking or lounging atop soft green cushions that dotted the floor like an island-dotted ocean of the imaginations of the past. Ree's Ma Bon was a storybuilder and often pulled up such images from the shuttleworld's ancient history archives. Her stories were magical...and anything that could be imagined could someday be created.
If you could talk a builder into it.
Ree and Miyah skipped through the fellowship area to pickup center C, desk parts. Ree remarked, "You should have seen her when her work-desk's self-diagnostics kicked on. It said that an LRAM failure could take down her entire access system."
"How does that work? Doesn't it order itself automatically?"
"Yes, but it said, 'Carry on your normal activities. The self-diagnostic demon has been activated and will provide you plenty of warning before access is shut down.' And Ma heard this, popped her speech driver out, put it in mine and booted me off MY desk instead."
"She ought to trust it," said Miyah. "It knows what it's doing; my Gramma is a engineer, and she says so."
Ree said, "Ma's SUCH a worry-magnet. Like her precious stories are going to change the burb instead of keeping a handful of babykids amused for a kilosec."
"Ree, hush! You don't make fun of a person's lifework, even if she is your mother. Look, there's Lew and Padik. Hey!"
Miyah waved her hand around and the strolling boys hurried their steps without seeming to notice. Only when they were about to bump heads did Lew look aside, to tilt his head in casual recognition. "Ladies, what's down?"
"Undersound," said Miyah, giving them her best lazy smile. Ree grinned to see her friend carelessly straightening her yellow unishort to line up evenly on both legs. Lew was one of the players smartest on the ball at any game. He'd already chosen a lifework--coaching--and although the teenagers were always being told that a lifework choice did not have to be for life, it seemed to mean a lot all the same. A choice meant you were a real person, not just a child. You went to advanced schooling on the subject, or apprenticed, or just started doing it if you could; you kept at it as long as you loved it. Very few people ever changed. Some might take up, say, drawing as a hobby, a calming change from a day's intense excitement at software design. But seldom did an experienced lifeworker drop it all and start over. It would be like admitting you hadn't loved what you had been doing all those years, and that would have been a mistake.
Miyah said, "I got a hunch says you'll short at the games today."
"I got a hunch says YOU will," retorted Lew.
"I got nothing says you both will," said Ree, giggling. She requested the LRAM at the delivery dock and tucked the flat plastic case under an arm.
Lew noticed and laughed at her. "Ain't you artys got the fast parts distribution system yet?"
Padik replied for her. "No, micro-brain. You know the builders put it in their neighborhood first. We only just got the auto-food-master this last lifeyear."
Miyah said, "I want to be some kind of builder, for my lifework. Build me a pool network. We'll swim to school and we won't have to walk down the halls."
"The brains wouldn't let you," said Padik. "You know some babykid would drown in it."
"You need to walk, you lazy bones," jeered Lew. He turned to Ree for a new subject to tease. "'Course Ree, she always dances, anyway. She don't need to swim."
"We could all have motopeds..." began Padik, closing his eyes to imagine the speeding motion. As the others watched, he stepped faster and faster until he was almost running, eyes still closed. Daring them to stop him....
He ran into a wall and fell down, cursing out loud. He swore, "On a motoped, I'd have my eyes open."
"Not me," said Ree, shuddering.
"Not me," echoed the others.

 

The question stuck in Ree's brain, and she asked her vid-guider about it next day, at the regular training session. She was in her last lifeyear of organized learning.
"Why do we walk?" she asked.
"Review the lesson on early discoveries, in the section of history, post-departure," he replied. He didn't bother to pause the encyclopedia search, just spoke with his mouth while his fingers waved directions over the motion-sensing pad. Every second a new frame of thought flicked over to the data array, organized itself into an appropriate place in the pattern, and sunk down to enrich his scholarly argument.
"That's what you're here for," muttered Ree, turning back to her simscreen and plopping the earphones over her ears. Some archaic notion had insisted that a human guider was necessary in the learning rooms.
Ree thought the guider was worse than useless. The vids told it all. She flipped back to the history archive.
"With our shuttleworld designed to be a self-contained system, the builders anticipated a human need for travel within his own neighborhood. The brain becomes restless without the semblance of movement and the diversion of variety--sights, sounds and smells. They divided us into ten burbs, each consisting of four small neighborhoods. Each burb can exists as a self-contained community; water, food and power supplies are maintained for each...."
This was obvious--geography. She yawned, and flipped ten thousand lifeyears ahead. She did a search on "traveling."
"Over the fourteen-thousand lifeyear of our post-departure history, the needs of persons in our shuttleworld has changed. Our facilities for long range, rapid transportation have been de-emphasized until they are almost unused. Only in emergencies are the carriers allowed to energize the motopeds; all transport of material is handled safely and smoothly though the internal material movement systems."
She did a search on "motoped," and read,
"Two-wheeled, pedal powered and motorized transport device. Approximately four motopeds and their trained riders, or carriers, are maintained per burb; they are restricted under normal operations to non-motorized-use only, due to the noise and dangerous speeds that can be attained in their motorized state. Even in non-motorized use they are considered needlessly injurious--"
"Lessons are over," said the guider. He barely lifted his head from his simscreen as the chattering students mobbed the exit.
Ree quickened her steps to catch up with Padik. The husky boy was hopping in step, practicing football kicks and mock-hitting the walls. The girls' game started in a kilosec and the boys' would follow immediately after.
She asked, "Ready to go?"
"So ready, girl, so ready! Pop me a kiss, felly."
Ree blushed as she tiptoed to plant a good-luck peck on the practice-scratchy cheek.
"Too much sandpaper, Kingpin," she teased. Feeling eyes on the back of her head, she wheeled around to confront the observer. It was the carrier from yesterday--the thin, brown guy with the eyes like nervous asteroids. He grinned at her.
Ree tossed her head and crooked a finger through Padik's, dancing on toward the playroom with lightened steps and a conscious eye to behind. She asked Padik, "Say, why don't you be a carrier?"
Padik's mind was in the game already; his eyes were fixed on the blue-and-white striped door ahead. But he answered absently, "No go, felly. You got to be crazy to do something like that."
"You're crazy enough," she said. "You're always wanting to be running. I'd think you'd be perfect. Here's one now."
She was speaking of the carrier, who'd caught up with them and now walked alongside. He wore a full-body suit, unusual in the current style of unishort outfits that hit around mid-thigh. The suit was silvery brown and seemed to reflect the black streaks in his close-shaved hair.
They squeezed in the mob of chattering kids at the entrance and found seats down front, meeting up with Lew. Miyah was playing in the game, so they wanted to be up close to cheer their friend on.
Padik looked at the carrier with narrowed eyes. Uninvited, the boy had taken the seat next to Ree and engaged her in a second smile, preparing to start a conversation while they waited for the game to begin. Padik said, "So here's the reason I wasn't interested. They only train weaklings. Isn't that right?"
The carrier shrugged. "Name's Cap," he said.
"OK, Cap. Is it not true, that I could throw your skinny ass five meters?"
Lew interrupted. "Take it easy, Padik. You know coach said that a second incident of aggression-"
"No," said the carrier, ignoring Lew and staring Padik full in the face. His word held no trace of conciliation--no attempt at compromise. It wasn't a civil response.
"Push me down--try it now," said Padik, standing up and raising his voice. People nearby were beginning to notice. Ree backed away, humiliated at being so close to a physical scene.
Padik said, "Why couldn't I throw your ass?"
"Because I can run faster than you," said the carrier, flashing a quick grin at Ree. She had to return it; and that did the mischief.
Padik jumped forward, and the carrier dodged to one side. He was quick; reflexes honed to wiry strands in a frame of fast-twitch muscle. Carriers are trained to defend themselves for the rare event they're required to assist with a person out of his head.
Horrified, everyone stared while Padik grabbed for the carrier's waist. He caught only air; the carrier seemed to dodge at the latest moment possible, leaving Padik off-balance and staggering. Padik lunged forward and grabbed for the throat with both hands--the carrier ducked below, poking out an arm to off-balance the taller boy.
Jumping from behind, Lew caught his thrashing friend around the middle. Trying to pull him back, he shouted with his mouth an inch from Padik's ear. "The coach-"
Seeing the commotion from the other side of the court, the girl's team coach ran up and vaulted the low rail. She put one muscular hand on Padik's shoulder and pushed him back against a bench. His knees buckled and he thumped down.
"You're out," she said. "Sit out the games until next season."
"But-but this is my last season!"
"Then sit them out for the rest of your life," she said.
Padik half-rose in his seat, folding his arms in front as if to charge into her. His head leaned down--the woman gasped, almost flickering backward. But her arms stiffened and her feet returned square, towering over the seated boy.
Padik stayed in his seat. Every eye was turned to him...and he suddenly looked around, seeing the eyes. Every eye--annoyed, or shocked or disgusted at his lack of control. Every kid in his school class, a goodly number of adults, a handful of teachers--they were all seeing him lose control. They would all think he was crazy.
White-faced, Padik ran out of the stadium.
The carrier--Cap--spoke calmly. "Is he not well?"
"Just needs to grow up," said Ree, embarrassed for her friend's sake.
"Everyone has to, sometime," he said. "Will you stay and watch the game with me?"
Slowly relaxing to cool, they sat back down and applauded the play. Tag-toss football, played slow and strategic. Four teams were in the arena at a time--four teams, four balls, and forty quick brains revising attack and defense in an ever-changing challenge. Running was important, but more important was to guess your opponent's strategy and be in the place where the ball was going to go next. It was the primary lifework the youths had learned so far, and they approached it with the determination and joy that they would practice as adults in a chosen profession.

 

"Tell me what does a carrier do?" Ree asked, nibbling ceecakes and curry at the gathering center snack room. Padik had never shown up again, but Cap had offered to walk her back to her rooms.
"Well...you know that. Deliver emergency supplies when the distribution's broke down and something can't wait. Sometimes we drive an old person who has to go too far for his legs to carry him. None of that happens too often. Usually it's just checking on equipment when the sensors are down."
"But how often do you have to do a job at all?"
"Ten to twenty a day. I'm on the ped maybe one kilosec out of ten. The other carriers, it's more."
"Why is that?"
"I'm faster than they are."
Ree tilted her head, giving a quirky frown. "Oh? Why aren't you working now?"
"My partner's covering for me. He'll beep me if he needs me. Besides, it's getting close to lightsdown. We don't do nothing except emergencies in the dim; person's gotta rest sometime."
"It would be scary," she said, standing up. It was already dimming down outside; they'd been talking even longer than she'd noticed. It only took a kilosec to walk to her rooms, but Ma Bon had set the rule she had to be in by half-light to get enough sleep for the next day of training. The halls had a one-kilosec warning of quarter-light before they went to half-light for the sleeping time of the shuttleworld.
"Scared of the dark?" he said, following so closely that his leg brushed hers. Ree slowed down to let him catch up even, and turned a careless smile on the nervous brown eyes in the calm, brown face.
"No, silly." She felt like giggling and swallowed the impulse in a cool drawl of her words. "I meant, riding the ped in the dark."
"No way. It's fright'nin'. If it wasn't against the guidelines, I'd take a spen ever night."
"Ain't you afraid you'll run over somebody?"
"All the time! We call it spenning, among ourselves--pedding at night. It's the greatest part of the whole great game."
"You just like to be dangerous," she commented, pausing at her door. Lights had just gone down and you could see pinpoint stars through the semi-transparent roof. The stars seemed still, and so did the rapid-moving eyes of the carrier--still and pointed straight into hers.
"Yeah," he said, leaning forward for a slow, cool kiss. Ree felt her face flushing; her breath gave out in uneven gasps. But it was important to stay cool, herself...until she leaned closer and fell into another first kiss even longer than the first.
"Spenning," she said, pulling back unsteadily and placing a fingertip on the door-entry key.
"Night," he said. "Hey, what's your name?"
"Ree," she whispered, and vanished into the rooms.

 

Ree relived her first real kiss a hundred times that night, but she woke up to just another day. She finished her vid-training sections by daydreaming through the computer-generated questions until she guessed enough answers to call them finished.
The guider noticed. "You'll have to repeat this section tomorrow. Two more, Ree, and the rest of your class will be letting out a quarter ahead of you."
This was a threat Ree couldn't endure. She buckled down to work, only stopping for an occasional dreamy memory.
Suddenly it was real. He was stepping out of last night's dreams and standing in front of her class, beside the guider's vidscreen booth. Cap spoke quietly to the guider and they both nudged Ree out of the rest of the group and into an inner hall in the training area.
Cap's brown face looked as appealing as it had last night, but his nervous eyes seemed stilled. He stared at the floor as he spoke.
"I was sent to bear news, my least favorite of the jobs. It's never good news that has to be delivered personally."
Ree said, "For me?"
"Your friend we met last night...they sent me to tell the whole school, all his friends. But I wanted to tell you first. Padik. He is dead."
"How could that happen? He was not old enough to die!"
The carrier nodded, not looking up.
Ree gasped. "Oh, you mean...on purpose."
Ree joined the carrier in staring at the floor, and he stepped forward to put an arm around her shoulders. The guider slipped off to tell the rest of the class.
"It is not a surprise," she said. Finding herself less shocked than saddened, she let tears creep out of her eyes and felt better at knowing the crying would come later.
She continued speaking rationally. "I should have known, if I had just seen. He was just like Ollie, my cousin. Ollie couldn't seem to fit in, and he always wanted to be fighting about it."
The trainer said, "Do you want to go home, now?"
"Yes, I think I do."
She wandered out the door, beginning to mourn. Cap followed along, walking her to her rooms a second time. This time it wasn't an event to boast to her friends about or giggle at in her bed, in memory. She could only feel an echo of the day-old excitement.
"It used to happen more, Ma Shesa tells me," she said. "She knew one other, a girl. Le-Le-something. She was unstable. Used to boast about walking around the entire shuttle-world. When that wasn't grand enough, she'd talk about breaking out into an emergency raftship and blasting herself into space. She had to GO somewhere. Nobody understood why."
The carrier just nodded, letting her babble. He settled his arm more closely around Ree's thin shoulders, not dancing now.
Ree said, "When Ollie died, I read up in the life-record. Ma said there had been two students in her class who killed themselves; in mine there's only one. In Gramma's class it was three; in Great-Gramma's class, five. If you go back twenty generations it was nearly thirty; if you go back sixty-four generations it was seventy-two. So it used to be common and now it's rare, but I'll leave it to some big brain scientist to figure out why. It's always the young ones."
"Yes, it always is," he said. "I reported an older person's suicide only once; he'd been hurt in a freak accident and had suffered unbelievable pain before he'd been picked up by a life-monitor system and help could be sent. When he came back to reason, he was so irrationally afraid that the pain might happen again, he could not live with the fear."
"But that's not the why for the others," she retorted.
"No. For them it seems to be restlessness. Aggression. "
They'd arrived at Ree's door again. Cap slowed her entrance with a hand on the arm.
"Another thing I have to tell you...may not mean anything to you, right now. But if you could wait just a second...."
Ree turned back around, pushing aside the tears.
He said, "I have to leave, so I wanted to say good-bye."
"Leave? People don't leave. Unless you mean--"
"No, no. Just that I'm being relocated to the third burb. They lost their carrier and need a replacement, and we have an extra carrier here. We're phasing out the carriers, you see. We used to have four to a burb, but now it's only two...or one. So I volunteered to go, and yesterday was my last day, here. I wished I'd met you sooner."
"Why...I do too, Cap. Why'd you like me? You only just saw me once, then you came back to meet me."
"I liked the way you moved. You walk like a dancer; you stand like a statue."
"I'm sorry you're leaving," she said. The daytime-bright lights were glaring in her face; reflecting off the silver-striped floor. The glare made her eyes sting.
"I'll come back and see you. It's allowed; it's just a long, long way to travel. I'll come on my free days, two each quarter."
"I'd like that," she said. Overwhelmed with emotions, she said nothing else.
"Good-bye, Ree," he said, picking up her hand and touching her fingerprint to his palm. You keyed a new door entry that way, touching a fingerprint to its key.
"Good-bye," she echoed.

 

Ma Shesa had heard about the suicide. When the door gave its gentle, closing chime, she swung around from the monitor, red curls dancing. "My baby!" she said.
Nothing was ever better than Ma Shesa's warm hug. But after a long, warm spell of consolation, Ree found herself still looking toward the outside door. Beyond that door was a new world of emotion. A world that mothers didn't understand.
"I will stop mourning in the morrow," she announced.
"That is according to the guidelines," said Ma. "You have begun already; you do not need to drag it out nor cut it short."
"I only have ten more days before I'll finish up the required learning sections," mused Ree.
"Will you then choose a lifework? For only after that, will you grow to a woman. The med-lab tests say you're due to take your first shot now--it came today--so you're now old enough to have a child when you're ready and you have found helpers to raise it with. But the first action is to choose a lifework, and that need not be rushed," said her mother.
"I have already. I will be...a dancer."
Her other mother--Bon--looked back from the monitor screen, frowning at the lightness in her daughter's tone. "This is not a frivolous topic. Remember--the only waste greater than to compete unfairly is the waste of not trying to compete at all. There is no soul when you do not give your soul to the work."
"But I shall! You know that I have loved it and practiced, practically forever! My dance guider said I was 'physically able.'"
"Yes, but..."
"It is what I shall do." As she spoke, Ree recognized the already-made decision and felt the suppression of youthful passion redirected to a natural path of creation. It seemed inevitable. Once chosen, there were no more struggles that could not be sublimated. Laughter would transcend to her joyful dance, worry to the jitter steps of a baby's first dance. Even Padik's death--not even yet mourned--would be fuel for her sorrow in the dances, the dances of mourning. She would not need to cry now; she would cry in her dance completely.

 

Ree was deep into her apprenticeship when the news came. Stepping out weary from a long session at gymnastics practice, she paused at a public access news screen and noticed the bulletin, blinking across its vid-news display. She clicked over immediately to the arts news.
The screen had said, "Solar orbit to be established tomorrow. Research teams analyzing new worlds." But the arts news said,
"Expression exhibition opens tomorrow. Top-rated novice Ree Della, in an exclusive report, talks about her co-exhibitors.
Her face appeared on the screen and she blushed at the sight: the cocky, thin face, smiling a studied, perfect smile. It said, 'As a newby, I only hope to learn enough to compete in the next rounds. It will be an honor to be outclassed by dancers such as these. But watch out--I won't be saying this next time!'
A tap on the shoulder felt familiar. Freezing at a memory, only for a moment--she wheeled to face the eternally alert brown eyes once again.
"You came!" she said. A brilliant smile broke across her face, open and warm with no need for the forced cool of a schoolchild.
Returning the smile with a matching, grown-up grin, Cap said simply, "Yes. Did you see the news?"
"Uh...yes?"
"The news! We're there!"
"Oh, that news. It's interesting, sure. Twelve thousand--how many lifeyear, did they say it was? We'd been traveling. I'm sure the physics people are very excited."
"Well, a few. There's a few who are--three or four. They've been mapping it out, ever since we came in visible range. We'll be orbiting around the star, 51 Pegasi. There are twenty-five earths; the first three are way too hot to even attempt a landing, so we'll fall into orbit between the fourth and fifth. Computer analysis shows a best chance on the largest satellite of the fourth; it has a surface temperature of twenty degrees--"
He paused, studying her eyes. "You haven't been keeping up with it, I guess. What is in your news?"
"The dance competition tomorrow, open for free-style. It's all I've thought about for weeks. But why are you so excited about the space news?"
"Did you know, the ancestors equipped this shuttleworld not just to travel, but to land on--even to explore--the earths we discovered? They had a theory we might be able to breathe on some, but we know that was a hopeless dream. But all the same, they equipped this world with small travel craft and self-contained landing suits. With air supplies. We can explore and return safely in 4800 kilosecs."
"Forty-eight days? But who would do such a thing? Leave the world for forty-eight days!"
"I would. I thought you might want to come with me."
"You mean...go away? What for?"
"Just to be going! To see things you've never seen; things no one has ever seen. Look, there's room and air on the landing craft for sixty people."
Ree cringed at the thought. "I see things right here that no one's ever seen. I create my dance; it's unique; it's applauded. It will be broadcast on the vids to the other burbs." She lowered her voice. "I am almost ready to try sex--maybe with you--isn't that good enough for you?"
"No."
Ree tapped her toe and frowned. "Why is it you are going? Surely the right person would be a physics brain? Some lifework in astroscience. Who else is going?"
"Well...it's only me and two others. Another carrier and a young physics apprentice. It's all the people they could find...if you don't go."
Ree turned aside, avoiding the disappointment in the nervous brown eyes. "I'm surprised they even found three. People have their homes, their lives and lifeworks. People are happy. Normal people don't go uprooting all they've learned and created just to go traveling off around an undiscovered universe. I'm surprised they even found you three."
"Maybe we're special."
"Maybe you're abnormal. Three out of a world of...how many?"
"Almost twenty thousand. The ancestors thought it would be different. I checked in the archives; one of the ancestors even gave advice on the ways and means of choosing among the many, eager adventurers who would volunteer. He said it would be the most exiting moment in man's history--the exploration of a new solar system. He said there would be thousands clamoring to go."
"And there are three."
"Yes. Why won't you?" He touched her chin to make the downcast eyes look up, to the light. "Are you afraid?"
"Yes, a little. But so are you. It's not that; it's just that...I don't want to. I just...don't." She shrugged, unable to put words to a nothing.
"I guess people were different back then. One of the brains was trying to explain it to me--an ancient theory he called punctuated equilibria. 'Small populations under stress can undergo rapid change due to variation and natural selection.'"
"What's that?"
"I think it means suicide."
"Oh," she said.
"I guess I'll go."
"Yes. Let us know what you find out."
"Sure. If anyone is still interested," he replied.
"Of course! I'll make time. Time--oh, no! It's half-a-kilosec to my expression practice. Store me a vid-note...."
Ree ran off down the silver-striped halls, stopping only once, to wave. But the carrier had already climbed back on the motoped and it was rolling away--
He wasn't using the pedals...but it picked up speed all the same.

 

THE END