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Reality was a blur.
As it was every morning.
Tsukiko woke. 98 years young. The eldest member of the geriatric crew.
Her enhanced retinas spun to work, and reality focused. The augments’ efforts seemed to cause a whir in Tsukiko’s skull. She knew the sound was a figment of her imagination, a phantom of her own making. A persistent one, though.
The antimatter grav-engine in her quarters switched into day-mode and, slowly, Tsukiko felt the weight descend on her joints. Others preferred weightlessness in their personal chambers, but the light pressure made her feel oddly comforted, as if she were being embraced by embodied memories of Earth’s unrelenting tug. Besides, it numbed the unavoidable aches that came with an ancient body. Even an augmented one.
As gravity reasserted its dominion, Tsukiko started her morning routine. She cleaned up and went through a set of tai chi moves.
Her mind soared. Her body shed the veil of sleep and inactivity. It became a white crane, grasped a sparrow’s tail, and deflected demons. She crossed her hands to complete her transformation.
She was ready for another day on the ship. As she donned the standard ship coverall, a smooth, androgynous voice filled her private quarter.
‘Good morning, Ms. Nagawa. Excretion analysis complete. All physiological parameters are within range.’
‘Thank you. Good to know.’
‘Do remember that you have a holocall scheduled.’
‘Yes, yes. I’m old, not senile.’
‘Agreed, amyloid aggregation precursors are well within normal boundaries.’
Humour was still hard for the AI.
Tsukiko folded her legs in full lotus—more difficult every day—and activated the holoscreen with a wave of her hand.
Her granddaughter Yixin appeared. A slim, flawless face lined by long, raven-black hair.
‘How are you?’
‘So far, so good.’
Yixin pursed her lips and shook her head.
Tsukiko smiled. ‘You’re still sceptical?’
Frail shoulders rose in a shrug. ‘I wouldn’t exactly call it sceptical. Just…I just can’t understand why you did it.’
‘We’ve talked about this. On Earth, I and the rest of the crew would be nothing but…’ she waved a wrinkled, veined hand. ‘…dead weight. A needless sink of resources.’
‘That sounds so… harsh.’
‘Still…is it worth it? Being a guinea pig, rather than living among your family in comfort?’ A mischievous face burst onto the scene, quickly manifesting next to Yixin’s.
‘Why hello, my darling.’
As usual, Yixin’s young son, Yashui, couldn’t sit still. He bounced around his mother. ‘Did you see any aliens yet?’
‘Not yet, dear. But I’ll keep an eye out for them. I’ll tell them Yashui says hello when I find them.’
‘Cool. Do you think they’re going to eat you?’ the boy asked with genuine curiosity.
‘Yashui, what did I tell you?’ Yixin shooed him away. ‘Get ready for school. They expect you to plug in in 10 minutes.’
The boy’s smiling face vanished from the holoscreen.
Tsukiko hesitated. She did miss them.
‘Well?’ Yishin asked.
Of course she missed them. But… ‘It’s for my family, for all of you, that I’m doing this. Humanity cannot—should not—be confined to Earth.’
‘Maybe so, but it doesn’t have to be you up there. I mean, why you?’
‘Old and frail. Don’t you see? We’re the ultimate test. If we can make it work, if the support systems can deal with us ancient people, then young and vigorous travellers will definitely succeed.’ Tsukiko shrugged. ‘Besides, I like it here. At least I can do something useful in this place.’ She smiled. ‘You should see us, dear. A bunch of elderly that would silently wilt on earth. Out here, the starlight makes old, withered flowers bloom again, defying odds and expectations.’
Yixin sighed and rubbed her eyes. ‘It feels like we’re having the same conversation over and over.’
They looked at each other in silence.
‘How’s everyone doing?’ Tsukiko asked eventually.
Yixin shrugged. ‘Same as usual. Mom and Dad still don’t want to talk to you. But they’re okay. And I know they’re going to ask me how you’re doing. They still care, Gran. They really do.’
Tsukiko shoulders slumped slightly. ‘I know, dear. Stubborn kids.’
Her granddaughter smiled. ‘Well, we both know where that comes from.’
Tsukiko mirrored Yixin’s expression. Only with more wrinkles. ‘Now what’s that supposed to mean?’
During another moment of silence, different generations—different worlds—observed each other.
‘I’ve got to go, Gran, and make sure Yashui’s plugged in. You know how he is.’
‘Yes, I expect great things from him. But don’t tell him that.’
‘Wouldn’t dream of it, he’s hard enough to control as it is. Bye, Gran. Talk soon.’
‘Bye d—’ The tetrahedron symbol of disconnection swirled around.
Tsukiko unfolded her legs under loud protest of her knees.
Hmm, maybe I should see Pierre.
The man was an artist. He was one of the original anti-ageing scientists. Now, with all the resources the Earth sponsors had put at his disposal on the Methuselah I, he had resumed his battle against Mother Time. Every day the crew survived was an inch closer to victory.
She left her cabin. The gravity shifted slightly. In the passageways of the ship, it was the centrifugal force that pushed them down. No need for grav-engines, which weren’t strictly necessary in the private rooms either, but they needed to be tested anyway. And so the old ones had been gifted power over gravity at the behest of the curious Earthlings.
It was about 3/4 g, a little less than in her room. Lithely, she bounded towards the quarters of the energetic, French octogenarian.
He wasn’t there.
Of course not.
She reset her course. Lab A3 it was.
Pierre was, as usual, wearing flip-flops, flannel shorts, and a cotton shirt. In the first days, the rest of the crew had tried to persuade him of the usefulness of the coveralls. A foolish attempt. Today, the tan man was floating bent over a free-falling microscope. Pierre, as leader of the medical research group, had sole dominion over the gravity regime in A3. He seemed to find great pleasure in varying the gravity in his second home. At any given day, it could range between zerof and almost 3 g.
Tsukiko passed the double door of the airlock and swam through the air towards her friend.
‘Bonjour, Pierre, how are you today?’
‘Aah, bonjour chéri. Creaking and groaning, but I’ll manage. Here,’ he gestured her over, ‘look at this.’
Tsukiko hovered over to Pierre and threw her gaze down through the microscope. A brief blur, a buzz as her retina adjusted, and then: focus. ‘Brain cells, yes?’
‘Oui. But they’re embedded in an artificial matrix. Personal recipe.’
‘They’re looking pretty good to me.’
‘Exactement. They’re from a cell culture that mimics rapid ageing, and yet there they are, spritely as ever.’
‘So you’ve cured brain ageing?’
‘Not yet.’ Pierre grinned. ‘Soon.’ He let the microscope drift away. ‘What can I do for you, chéri?’ He didn’t await her response. ‘Your knees again?’
‘Cartilage is always the first to go. Fortunately, the doctor’s here.’ He winked. ‘Strap yourself in and reveal those heavenly calves.’
‘Silly child.’ Tsukiko smiled. ‘I could be your mother.’ She navigated to one of the wall-holds and used the Velcro patch on the back of her coverall to anchor herself.
‘Puh, age is a relic, a meaningless number. Love is eternal. Young and old. Timeless and ancient.’
‘You French, always too romantic.’
‘Hah, you know there’s no such thing.’
Pierre prepped the syringe. His warm hand softly touched Tsukiko’s bared skin as he guided the needle underneath her kneecap. Left. Right.
Mocha woke up.
Emptiness stared him in his weathered, black face. Slowly, his mind crawled through the fog. It was so slow. Too slow. Mocha fought through the stupor. Angry. Afraid. In the battle for eternity, his thoughts were beginning to retreat.
He rolled off his hammock and did his morning push-ups in a little over 1 g. Established routines did not get erased. Not yet. Blood surged through his arm and chest muscles. It helped. At least that’s what he told himself.
He slipped into his coveralls and, for a brief moment, reality went blank. The present shattered and was replaced by vivid memories from a bygone age. Sun and sand. Raised fists. Speeches. The fight for independence and unity. Support. Opposition. Controversy.
His body went through the morning motions while his mind jumped to his brief spell of imprisonment, followed by fame and infamy. Book deals. Comments and opinions about how he had softened with age. From conflict to compromise. The hatching of a plan.
‘Good morning, Dr. Adisa. Levels of beta-amyloid and tau-protein are cause for concern. Shall I alert the medical staff?’
‘No,’ he grumbled. ‘Just give the medgram the parameters, and continue monitoring.’
‘I am obliged to ask if you’re sure.’
‘Yes. I can still manage. Working on it.’
He threw the specially-printed omega-antioxidant capsules in his mouth and gulped them down. ‘Initiate cognitive function test.’
A multidimensional puzzle appeared on the small bathroom mirror integrated into the white wall. The timer in the bottom-right corner began counting down. Mocha shuffled cubes around.
Another puzzle. Pyramids and tetrahedrons merged and split.
Words appeared. Some connections were obvious. Others less so.
6 OUT OF 10 FOUND
Questions appeared. The sets of possible answers were similar but not exactly the same.
To complete the quiz, Mocha had to answer silly queries about the past few months on the ship. Dates, breakfasts, crew members’ personal lives… All kinds of trivia passed the review.
‘Shall I add the results to your personal test file as usual, Dr. Adisa?’
This wasn’t good. This wasn’t good at all.
‘No wait. Erase the results. And those from the past two weeks.’
‘Are you sure, Dr. Adisa?’
‘Just do it.’
He didn’t need a reminder. He was a reminder. And soon, no reminder would be able to jog his faltering memory.
That couldn’t be allowed to happen.
Mocha erased the uncharacteristic frown from his face and left his room. He steered himself to Lab A3.
Was it left or right here? Right, of course. Stop questioning yourself, fool.
Mocha was so absorbed by doubt and self-loathing that he didn’t notice how his feet had mindlessly left the ground when he’d closed the lab’s hatch behind himself. The silent dismay of his inner ears shook him out of his contemplation.
He huffed. ‘Playing with the gravity again, Pierre?’
The Frenchman snickered. ‘Mocha, mon ami. How nice to see you. You’ve been immersing yourself in your lair so often lately?’
Mocha shrugged, which felt odd in zero g. ‘Working on some ideas.’
‘As am I, my friend. As am I. Speaking of which, have a look at this…I’m sure you’ll be interested, as a self-taught neuro-wizard.’
Mocha reached for the wall and pushed off gently. He peered down the microscope. ‘Neurons,’ he mumbled. ‘Looking good…functional.’
‘Exactement. But they’re from the aged cultures.’
Mocha looked again. ‘That’s…impressive. I thought they were affected by plaques and reduced synaptic function?’
‘Certainement. “Were” being the key word. The extracellular matrix I designed not only prevents damage through age, it even reverses some of it.’
‘Is it usable?’
Pierre huffed. ‘Not for a while, I’m afraid. The journey from lab to man takes time. Are you in a hurry, mon ami?’
‘In a way we all are, aren’t we? But I’m fine. Great work, Pierre. Keep me informed.’
‘Merci et bien sûr. How’s your stuff going?’
‘Quite well, thanks.’
‘Would it be too much to ask you what you’re doing, or will you keep insisting on secrecy?’ Pierre winked.
‘It’s still early days, so I’d like to keep it close to the chest for now. Let’s just say that there is more than one path to eternity, my friend.’
‘You intrigue me, mon ami.’
Mocha smiled. ‘To keep you on your toes.’ He gently patted Pierre on the shoulder and used the momentum to fly to the hatch.
Again, memories took over his wandering thoughts while his legs instinctively led him to his own personal lab space. The prototype arkship was more than large enough to accommodate its first geriatric inhabitants. It was built to hold a lot more people. As a result, its wrinkled crew members were free to claim unoccupied rooms.
Mocha relived his imprisonment. The immersion in computer programming. The budding interest in neuroscience. Wielding his name and influence to get more time in the virtual library. The gears in his mind that started to turn in unison. Puzzle pieces that suddenly connected. A plan, an idea. The long view.
The small room was less bright than most others. He had programmed it to resemble the dusky hours on Earth during which he felt most productive.
Mocha sat down in front of the far wall.
The large holoscreen embedded in the wall displayed a colourful depiction of a human brain. His brain. Mocha put the cap that was strung to the ceiling by thin cables, on his balding head, plugged the buds into his ears, and tied the mask in front of his mouth and nose.
‘Proceed scanning,’ he mumbled.
His brain disappeared. In its place came an assault of images, sounds, smells, and tastes. Mocha had let loose a self-learning program on the data archives. Its goal had been to design a sequence of sensory stimulants that would tickle each one of his neurons and fire up every engram that his brain had ever encoded.
The onslaught was brutal. Mocha became a conjunction of every past self he had ever been. All the joy, all the pain, every sight and sound; the emotional equivalent of years’ worth of life experienced in a few hours.
As always, it left him drained. But there was no time to lose. No time for caution. He pushed on. After months of daily sensory battering, his project was nearly complete.
Mocha’s eyes watered. A nervous warning sign pulsated in a corner of the screen. His heart rate was off the charts. Drops of blood fell from his nose. He wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long.
He didn’t have to.
When Mocha re-emerged from the sweet nothing of unconsciousness, his brain hovered before him.
Dried blood around his mouth cracked as he smiled.
All that was left to do now was push ‘start’, and he would complete again. More than complete. Forever.
Tsukiko softly stroked the long green leaf.
She took a deep breath. This was, by far, her favourite room. Rows and rows of hydrocultured crops on top of water basins that contained various invertebrates and a few engineered fish species. Even though the facility was planned as a contingency for food printer failure, it had quickly become a place of relaxation for the crew.
Tsukiko tended it well. Her old fingers had proven to be the greenest on board.
She folded her arms behind her back and slowly walked along the lanes of plants whose dipping leaves greeted her as she passed.
At first, she thought it was the rustling of leaves. Then, she realised that there was no wind. Shuffling footsteps came her way.
Pierre would have looked like a perfect addition to the room in his leisurely outfit, were it not for the worry on his face.
‘Ah, chéri, I thought I could find you here.’ Pierre’s usual glee seemed fabricated, beset by shadow.
‘Like a flower in the night,’ Tsukiko murmured.
‘What’s wrong, Pierre?’
His smile faded. ‘You know me too well. We have, I fear, a saboteur in our midst.’
‘What do you mean?’
He showed her his tablet. ‘Have a look at this.’ Data rolled across the screen. Different colours helped the aged onlookers make sense of it. ‘Someone has been tampering with the propulsion system.’
‘That is…odd, but we all have our own little projects. Maybe someone just wanted to improve it or test something out?’
Pierre tugged his bottom lip. ‘Hmm, maybe. Still irresponsible, though. It affects all of us, unlike other pet projects. And there’s another thing. I think someone has been accessing the medical records.’
‘And you know this how? Are you keeping tabs on us, Pierre?’ Her tone was only half-joking.
‘I am part of the medical team, remember. And AI or not, I still like to have a look at the data myself every now and then.’
Tsukiko threw a dubious frown at him.
He sighed. ‘I think it’s Mocha.’
‘He’s been very…preoccupied lately. Very secretive. I’m certain he’s up to something. And his history—’
‘Never thought you’d be so quick to judge, Pierre.’ After a moment of silence, Tsukiko continued. ‘But maybe you’re right. We should address this. It could be a good opportunity to get everyone together and gauge the general morale.’
Pierre shrugged. ‘If you think that’s best. After all, you’re the shrink.’
‘Group cohesion matters.’ She looked at him. ‘Just don’t confront Mocha directly.’ Tsukiko turned a segment of her wristband. ‘Message for general intercom.’
The pebble-sized screen lit up green.
‘Everyone, this is Tsukiko. There is something we need to talk about that could affect all of us. Let’s meet in the central hub in a couple of minutes. Thanks. Out.’
When Tsukiko and Pierre arrived, the central hub already looked like the common room in a nursing home. With augmented retirees. Floating through space.
Refurbished retinas turned towards Tsukiko and Pierre as they entered. The flow of conversation slowed to a trickle.
Tsukiko took control of the moment. ‘Hello everyone, and thanks for coming.’ She spotted Mocha. The big man looked spent, exhausted. ‘There have been some anomalies in the ship’s systems. It has come to our attention that someone has been tinkering with the propulsion system.’
Murmurs and whispers came out to play hide and seek.
A strong voice rose from the crowd. Mocha. ‘And how do you know this?’
Tsukiko answered confidently. ‘The AI alerted me.’ One discussion at a time.
Mocha laughed. ‘You got me. I confess.’
‘May we ask you why?’
‘Of course you may.’ Mocha got up.
Tsukiko noticed the briefest flash of confusion in his eyes, but it was quickly buried by resolve.
Mocha marched to the middle of the room, commanding attention as he went. He had spoken to crowds before, toggled the strings of their thoughts and persuaded them as he did so. ‘Curiosity?’ He shrugged. ‘Perhaps. But really, it’s about truth and control. You see, I’ve had enough of this, of waiting for our deaths, because make no mistake, we’re here to die.’
‘What are you talking about, mon ami? We are testing the systems, laying the groundwork.’
Mocha snorted. ‘You still believe those lies?’ He pranced around derisively. ‘Oooh, come and join the expedition. You’ll be pioneers. Heroes. You can still write new chapters in old age. You’ll be remembered by generations to come.’
He halted. His voice took on a deeper, darker edge. ‘No. The only thing they gave us is a glorified tombstone. We’re an experiment, alright. An experimental new way to get rid of the fourth world. To cast out the old and ensure the young don’t have to look upon their future. Despite all the advances and snotty optimism, age still holds sway over their lives.’
Pierre responded. ‘Paranoia aside, you can’t deny we’re generating lots of useful data. Maybe we can even help them in treating ageing. We’re measured, probed, parametered, and given experimental augmentations. Yes, we’re guinea pigs. But at least we’ll be a cornerstone of a new, improved generation of humans that will be better suited to live longer and healthier lives, and we’re giving them the opportunity to travel to the stars well-prepared.’
‘Don’t be stupid. Do you really think they don’t already have all the data they could possibly need from us? We’ve been here for months. Daily measurements of all kinds of stuff. You do the math. No, we tried the different drug regimes, done the hibernation protocols, and tested the ship’s systems to exhaustion. Right now, we’re just waiting for our death, just like we would back there. Are you really foolish enough to think this actually was preparation for interstellar travel? Of course it wasn’t. That would be…unprofitable. Imagine moving the unwanted elderly off-planet into places they can maintain themselves.’ Mocha scoffed. ‘They’ll probably start charging our families as soon as there’s enough interest.’
‘Hey, wait,’ Pierre said. ‘Didn’t you volunteer for this like the rest of us?’
‘Yes, I did. But not because of their marketing talk. A tombstone can be a door too, if you want it to be.’
Tsukiko rolled her eyes. ‘What are you talking about?’
The wrinkles on Mocha’s face reassembled to accommodate a growing grin. ‘Those fools gave us everything we need.’ With a swoop of his arm, he went on. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, at our disposal, we have one prototype arkship, fully functional with ample space and amenities. Top-notch computational resources included.’ He turned serious again. ‘Sure, there are some propulsion limits, but I’ve been working on those. We’re basically ready to reach for the stars.’
‘What if they chase us?’ Pierre asked. ‘It’s not as if letting us leave is a prospect they’d relish. PR would be a nightmare. Plus, the ship is expensive. They surely don’t want to see their investment disappear into the starry night.’
‘Ha,’ Mocha replied, happy to have anticipated this. ‘They want us to disappear, anyway. That’s their whole plan, remember? I’d rather do it on our own terms and take the ship with us.’ He raised an index finger. ‘And true, the ship is expensive, but coming after us would cost them nearly as much. We’ll be out reach of the q-comms quickly, and mounting an interstellar search is just too costly at the moment.’
‘That’s another thing,’ Pierre interjected, ‘we’ll have to relinquish all contact with our families.’
‘So what?’ Mocha scoffed. ‘We all chose to be here. That says something, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes, but, unlike you, we know we’re going back eventually.’ Pierre shook his head. ‘My friend, you’re sounding paranoid. Confused. Have you taken any cognitive assessments lately?’
Mocha looked as if he had been slapped in the face. Hurt and hostility painted his voice. ‘I am appalled, Pierre. How dare you suggest something like that? I’m perfectly fine up here.’ He tapped his head.
Tsukiko cleared her throat. The authority of age numbed other tongues. ‘Let’s not allow this to get out of hand. Mocha, you’ve clearly thought this through.’ She glared at him. ‘And you’ve clearly made preparations. But what are your real motives, huh?’
Mocha began to speak, but Tsukiko’s old hand shut him up. ‘Never mind, you present us with an option. I ask you to give us some time to let us decide, and to respect the decision we reach after a vote.’
‘Time?’ He barked. ‘Ha, look at us, look at this council of elders, we don’t have time.’ I don’t have time, he thought. His shoulders sagged. ‘Fine, you already know my vote. Let me know what you decide.’
Susurrations of restarted conversations marched in as Mocha walked out.
Mocha left the muttering behind.
They don’t understand. They can’t understand.
Motives? Hah, who’s she to talk about my motives? I’ll show them. I won’t go down without a fight. Never have, never will.
He stopped. Confused, he looked around.
Where am I?
Waves of incomprehension eroded his mind and exposed the fear within. Terrible fear. Looming oblivion grinned at him, coming closer with each breath.
Mocha’s entire body shook when his awareness punched through the enchantment of mental shadows.
No no no.
No time. There just isn’t any time to waste.
I will not end like this.
I will not end.
He didn’t remember how he had made it into his personal retreat.
His brain awaited him, seduced him.
He put on the cap for a final time. The one thing the emulation needed to be full, to be complete, to be him, was the moment—the experience of death.
Mocha pressed ‘start’.
…And he died.
…And he was born.
‘Are you seriously considering this?’ Pierre looked incredulous.
Tsukiko pursed her lips. ‘There is some temptation.’
‘But…but he’s mad!’
‘I’m not saying his paranoia is justified, I’m just saying that…I don’t know—’ She grabbed Pierre’s hands in hers. ‘To explore. Really explore, you know. Go where no human has gone before. Don’t tell me this doesn’t appeal to you. We’re all here because we wanted to be pioneers, to mean something, to do something with our lives other than waiting for death. This is our chance.’
Pierre looked at their clasped hands. ‘Still, it’s—’
‘Quiet,’ Tsukiko hissed.
A tug. A tug that shouldn’t have been there. An unknown, unfamiliar tug.
‘Something’s happening.’ Tsukiko got up.
Pierre tapped on his tablet. ‘We’re accelerating. The ship’s moving away from its orbit. Merde, the madman has done it!’
Others were beginning to feel it as well. Word floods stuttered. Frowns arose.
‘Take control, Pierre.’
The Frenchman tapped away furiously. ‘Merde. Merde! I can’t. Something’s blocking me.’
‘What about the ship’s AI?’
Tsukiko got up. ‘Where is he? Where’s Mocha?’
Pierre shrugged. ‘His secret lair, probably.’
A blueprint of the ship appeared in his tablet.
‘Send it to the central holoscreen,’ Tsukiko commanded.
With a swipe of his hand, Pierre threw the image to the cylinder in the middle of the room. Above it, a rotating three-dimensional rendition of the ship’s skeleton appeared. ‘All shared rooms and personal rooms with known ownership are coloured green.’ About half the ship was green. The rest, dark blue. ‘Engine rooms and other logistical areas are red.’ Two-thirds of the blue turned red.
‘Okay, everybody,’ Tsukiko addressed the crowd, ‘tap the rooms you have claimed for your own projects. No time for secrecy now.’ She walked over the hologram and tapped a small room near to her personal quarters.
Others followed suit. Soon, only a few blue specks remained. People had been busy. Reinvigorated by this second chance, old hobbies had re-emerged and the search for meaning had been resurrected.
Maybe Mocha would have won the vote after all. If only he had been more patient.
‘Right,’ she said, ‘I’ll head over here.’ She pointed at a small room that seemed to be hidden in some forgotten corner. ‘Someone should check out the other rooms.’
‘On it,’ Pierre said as he started to coordinate the search.
Tsukiko found Mocha’s body leaning back in the chair with a smile on its face.
‘He’s here,’ she whispered into her wristband.
When Pierre and a few others arrived, Mocha’s voice sounded through the ship’s speakers. ‘Hello, everybody, Mocha here.’ A chuckle. ‘Pierre, you should see your face. I told you there was more than one way. Anyway, I have merged with the ship and am in control. Do not worry, I intend none of you any harm whatsoever. No, I will take you on a journey unlike any you’ve ever undertaken before. We will free ourselves from Earth’s chains. Continue all your projects. Keep pushing. I will do all I can to help you. We will become eternal. Transcendent. I will refine my procedure and help Pierre with developing his. The eventual choice between oblivion and eternity is, as always, yours. Those who wish to leave can take the safety pod I have outfitted as soon as we reach the point beyond which I am convinced earthly pursuers can no longer catch us. Best of luck to you. For those who elect to stay, welcome. We will become eternal. We will become pioneers.’
‘Mocha,’ Pierre shouted at the ceiling. ‘Stop this, you fou!’
‘I’m sorry, Pierre, but I will not. I am whole again. I am free. The stars await…I hope you’ll stay, my friend.’
‘Hello, dear. By the time this message reaches you via one of the Leavers, you’ll probably have heard the story. I expected some people to stay, but not this many. There must have been something about Mocha’s words that resonated with the waves of desire deep inside us. I guess everyone has their own reasons. Me? I don’t want to spend the brief remainder of my life awaiting death. This old flower has seen the starlight and wants to bask in it for a little longer. Will I miss you? Of course. But I know you’ll understand. I hope Pierre chooses to stay as well. But he’s stubborn. I love you, dear. Send my love to your parents…
‘And tell Yashui the aliens will know his name.’