Later in the ship’s lounge, Iain and the three others discussed the situation and the potential opportunities they might find by being able to get off the ship, at least for a while. Cygnus seemed to be distracted throughout, as well as Arc, but not for any reason that they said mattered.
While Iain liked the idea of actually being able to get off the ship finally, given the vast distances of space and time he was from Earth, his life, and all that, he did feel a little apprehensive wondering exactly what he’d find on the asteroid hive. Might there be something there which would convince him to jump ship he’d planned with Cygnus. It wasn’t like he knew much about the universe as he lived in it now nor did he have any idea of what it would really cost to live out here, and how he would even survive in an alien galaxy that just might be as hostile as his own ‘Zos kept reminding him.
Yeah, yeah, they’ll kill me, I know.
At worse, Cygnus seemed ambiguous about what the asteroid hive itself might offer, and seemed happy enough about the situation to remind Iain more than once her plan was working out so far, so he decided to let whatever uncertainty about what amounted to a weekend off the ship to find a permanent way off it. And it helped that on the other hand a part of Iain was looking forward to getting some time off the ship and figuring out what kind of larger world he was living in, and to find out whether or not if he even wanted to live in it.
How bad could it be? After all, he’d been involved in some pretty extreme experiences since becoming a conscious passenger of this airport shaped spaceship, including a murder.
Relax, he ultimately told himself eventually, after the parasites in his head had been quiescent for a while and maybe even asleep. What’s the worst that could possibly happen?
As stated by Skipper, within a couple of days they arrived at the Verindika Asteroid Hive. From the main view screen in the ship’s passenger lounge on approach the collection of tiny planetoids reminded him the most of a tangled ball of Christmas lights hanging in dark, deep space high above the galactic plane, with that still the generous view of the entire Milky Way galaxy glowing beneath them. Arc was there with him, in a rare moment without his brother present.
“That doesn’t seem too bad,” Ian decided. “Those are just asteroids, right. Got to figure they’ve got artificial gravity, right? ‘Cause those asteroids don’t look really that large. Or is it a microgravity place where we’ll all be floating around from rock to rock?”
The alien snorted.
“Everyone has artificial gravity, primitive,” he told Iain in an entirely irony-free tone. “Except for those who are really, really stupid and haven’t figured out how to put it together yet.”
“Skipper?” he tried for a more intelligent response.
Yes, much of the hive features at least low-level gravity for the enjoyment of its biological visitors from planetary systems all along its three-dimensional matrix.
“So you definitely have been here before?” he asked. “As the Transient Void's command OS?”
Yes, of course, I’ve been there before. Skipper sounded affronted by Iain’s query. You don’t think I trust my repairs to just any old maintenance facility, do you? That I would ever allow some beings or robots I didn’t trust tinker around with my ship’s delicate insides. You know, there’s not a lot of stations which provide AAAA service for vessels between a hundred thousand and a million years vintage. This is one of only a million or so of them.
“Good to know,” Iain said again having a little difficulty with the scale of the universe he was now living in.
Despite the fact Arc didn’t seem to be too big on venturing off the ship and onto the asteroid hive, he and his brother stated they were going to head down into the hive as well, together. Their reason was primarily he and his brother were looking for was food which wasn’t available on the ship, not any kind of escape as far as they let on. That didn’t really sound like a bad idea to Iain.
“Maybe we all should see if we can find some sort of sweetener so the ship can produce food which actually appeals to Cygnus and my taste buds.”
“Sweets?” Arl scoffed. “You do know that sort of combination of hydrogen and carbon stuff will kill you. It is toxic.”
And then the ‘Zos got involved and all about what sugar or any of its analogs had done to his inside and would do in the future. Exploding intestines, runaway metabolism, projectile tooth loss. Worst healthy eating PSA ever. Once they were finished, Iain scowled at the alien.
“As far as I’ve been told, everything out here is going to kill me,” Iain reminded Arl. “Even you and your brother. Even my toothbrush. At this point, if I die with the last bite of an honest to God Honey Cruller gripped in my cold dead hand, that’s going to be better than any alternative this galaxy and time has offered me so far.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Arc supposed.