The Synth Oppression

a sci-fi mystery series in 25 parts

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Part 2

Rea couldn’t even look me in the eye. She was staring at her hands, threading them together, and searching the air for her words while I sat across from her patiently, face half-lit by the flame from the lopsided candle on the wall. Half an hour had passed, and we were still sitting on the lower steps of the back staircase. The after party roared on farther down the hall. I waited, concerned, anxious, for whatever she was trying to tell me.

“You’re going to hate me, Calvin,” she whispered, refusing to make eye contact.

“No, that’s impossible,” I said. “Whatever it is, you can tell me. You can trust me.”

She shook her head.

“Rea, we’re best friends. You know I won’t tell anyone else.”

“Promise?”

“Promise. What’s going on?”

Rea took a deep breath. “I’m a Synthetic.”

I couldn’t move. I stared at the flame that danced back and forth, and I felt the crushing weight of knowing the truth. The silence was tense. I could hear her skin shudder nervously, her fingers tremble.

“And you’re sure?” I asked. “I mean, how do you know for sure?”

She hesitated, “My parents were both Synthetics.”

My head sunk. That was not the answer I wanted. “So you’ve always known? You’ve known and you’ve kept it a secret?”

“What was I supposed to do? This isn’t something I can just tell people about!” Her voice was rising, but there was a shake of terror in it. “You won’t tell Sav, will you? Please tell me you won’t tell Sav.”

I didn’t know what I was going to do right then, and I didn’t answer her. The flame looked so warm and comforting flickering overhead. For some reason, I couldn’t pull my eyes from it. It felt like I was pulling all of the shock and pain out of my soul and placing it right in the center of the burning light where it could fizzle away, and I could be left in ignorant bliss.

Suddenly someone came running down the hall towards us. It was Slip, the chief miner, and he was wobbling back and forth with a stupid grin on his face. He was drunk on Aurora again.

“Whachoo guys doin’ out here in the dark?” he shouted. “People’ll get the wrong idea ‘bout you two, heh heh.”

Slip and I were pals, but I didn’t have the patience for his inebriated state. “Can you give us a minute, Slip?”

He eyed both of us carefully through droopy lids. “Actually, no. S-s-sav, the Captain sir, has some big announcement! You have to be there.”

I sighed, “Alright, we’re coming.”

Slip waltzed away, and I turned to Rea. There was an awkward silence as we stared at each other. One of her eyes began to water.

“I don’t think I can go to the after party,” she said. “Tell me later what the news is.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Calvin . . . please don’t tell anyone.”

“I won’t.”

“If they find out—”

“I won’t.”

When I finally reached the crew lounge, bottles of Aurora were littered everywhere, and the card game where old buttons were used as betting chips had erupted into a four-part harmony of “My Love on the Rilshen Plains.” The song stopped abruptly, however, upon a slow knocking at the door.

All of the heads in the lounge turned to see Captain Sav standing proudly in the frame of the door with his hands on his hips so that the tail of his jacket was pushed back majestically. The captain attended the after party from time to time, but he never made a big deal out of it and was, in general, a quiet man. He only called their attention when he had something particularly important to announce.

“First, congratulations on a successful mining,” he said. His thin voice was more exuberant than usual, and his chiseled face was practically beaming. “Now, to the news. The good news. I just finished negotiating with the Liemann Company. The deal closed. And it’s even more than we expected. 500 tons.” A murmur of surprise swept throughout the room. Captain Sav waited patiently, and when the initial shock quieted down, he continued in a more serious tone. “Obviously this is such a large order that I am temporarily suspending our current contracts, and we’re changing courses for the only planet on this arm of the galaxy where we can find that much Beryllium on short notice: YK25.”

“The Tempest,” Slip whispered in awe.

“We will arrive in one week,” Captain Sav continued. “We will make two stops along the way to deliver our current reserves in storage. So finish your party, and then get ready for the operation. This is going to take all of our efforts, not only to mine the most gas we’ve ever collected for one contract but also to trade it without the GTC noticing. Now, someone get me a drink.”

The party erupted into a roar, but I couldn’t focus. Mannon approached me and tried to ask what was wrong, but I ignored him and left the party. I couldn’t get my mind off of Rea, and I didn’t know what to do about the situation. I was her friend, so of course I wouldn’t tell anyone. But what would Captain Sav think when he found out he had a synth on his ship? What if he thought I was conspiring with her?

Three days later, as we approached the dock to deliver our first quota, I went down to the mining deck early to prepare the compression tanks for transfer. I switched on the lights, about to move down the rows of tanks, when I noticed the tool shelf next to the door. The restriction wrench—a heavy, metal tool used to seal airtight connection between transfer tubes—was missing. I thought maybe Slip had come down even earlier than me for maintenance.

“Hello?” I called out, my voice echoing throughout the deck. “Slip?”

There was no response, but my spine tingled, knowing something wasn’t right. I walked forward, one step at a time, looking up and down the rows of compression tanks. The first row . . . nothing. The second row . . . nothing. The third row. . . .

Blood rolled across the floor towards my feet. Rea’s body was sprawled out, face down, and her head had been bludgeoned. I shook uncontrollably and fell to the floor. Then I panicked, knowing I was on a ship with a murderer, a murderer who had killed my best friend.

 

Come back Monday for Part 3! In the meantime, consider making a donation, buying cool gear from the merchandise store, or reading the bonus content Rea’s Journal to be released on Saturday.

Part 1

The ship was called the Scrubber. It was a small-operation ship, built for short-distance resource transfer between planets, but during the Beryllium Prohibition of ’27, we were trading nearly 800 tons a quarter. We were discreet, fast, and knew where to find the resources, and with government sanctions breathing down merchants’ backs, they turned to us for their under-the-radar operations. And they paid us well too, accepting our steep prices in exchange for a confidential and no-questions-asked business agreement.

Of course, none of it would have worked without the right kind of crew, the types who could keep their heads down while they did their work without the need to communicate beyond the ship’s hull. All of us—a concoction of orphans, criminals, and depressed academics—had been hand selected by Captain Sav. We were a misfit bunch, but we trusted each other because we trusted Sav. That’s why Rea’s death came as such a shock, and the Scrubber just wasn’t the same afterwards. Of course, I should have seen it coming.

Three days before it happened, we were mining for Beryllium on one of the moons in the Capreal System, just off the beaten path. It was a small operation, but the process was taking up the better part of a day.

“We still need half a ton to fill the quota,” Mannon shouted through the radio behind his operations desk. As resource manager, he had an over-inflated ego that came with the job. He was responsible for fulfilling and cataloguing all the contracts for natural gas, and the fact that he was paid exactly 6.25% more than the rest of the deck crew didn’t help his sense of superiority.

A gargled voice returned on the radio’s speaker, “Alright, I’m sending it up at a rate of 15.4 meters cubed per minute.”

“Got it,” Mannon replied.

I looked up from my switchboard, and my stomach lurched. I yelled to Mannon across the deck, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”

“What now, Calvin?”

“I’ve got my compressors set at 12.7. Tell them to match my rate!”

Mannon cursed and relayed the information through the speaker. I checked the barometer on wall, and it flicked to a dangerous level. I tried to reduce some of the pressure, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do besides hope and wait. I was the ship’s compression engineer, one of the most stressful jobs. Each of the ten tanks on the deck could hold between eighty to ninety tons of gas, depending on the maximum density of the gas itself. The problem came in compressing the gas from the transfer pipes fast enough so that the volume of gas wouldn’t exceed the capacity of the tank in which it was being stored, and this rate of compression had to be fast enough so that the transfer pipes would emit a continuous flow and not cause a backup that could damage the miners’ gas filter.

I constantly second guessed myself. But this time, I was sure the rate was too fast. I held my breath as the barometer wavered back and forth. The ground crew wasn’t reducing the rate fast enough. I could just imagine the tubes bursting and the tanks draining, all of that valuable gas evaporating into empty space. The red light blinked. One of the pipes began to hiss. My limbs twitched.

“Stabilized at 12.7,” Mannon called out to the deck. I breathed a heavy sigh, wiping the sweat from my forehead, as the barometer fell to its normal level.

Half an hour later, we reached our quota, and the rest of the deck crew and I powered down the equipment. It was a lengthy process that always took longer than it should have, what with all the procedural steps, celebration of a successful operation, and Mannon’s obsessive need to double check everything. I was always the last one to leave. I liked to know that the storage tanks were secure and stable and that the power supply keeping the gas at optimal temperature was functioning properly before I could relax. The rest of the crew headed to the after party in the lounge, and Mannon locked the door from the outside so that I just had to turn off the lights when I was finished.

As I checked the lock seals on each of the tanks, I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around to see my best friend Rea standing behind me.

“Hey, what are you doing down here?” I asked. She worked as a communications technician on the bridge. Usually she was one of the brightest people I knew, but right then her eyes were hollow and very sad.

“We need to talk, Calvin,” she said, almost in a whisper.

“Is everything okay?”

“I . . . um . . . no, no it’s not.”

“Well, we just have the after party, and then—”

“No,” she interrupted. “We need to talk now. It’s important. It’s about . . . it’s about Synthetics.”

I shivered. Synths weren’t something talked about in public, and I had no idea what Rea could possibly have to say about that subject. She looked scared, though, and I knew it must be serious. I turned off the lights on the deck and followed her to the back stairwell where she and I sometimes talked in private. It was the best place on the ship to be alone. I could hear the after party erupting in a lively commotion down the hall and wondered if I was going to be able to enjoy it later. But before I could, I focused on Rea, waiting for her to speak. She was trembling, but I must have been more scared than she was. Naturals only discussed Synthetics on the most serious occasions and never for good reasons.

 

Come back for Part 2 on Friday, and check out the merchandise store while you’re here!

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