Bite-sized Backstory 38: Brother, Mother, and Alice Li (Destiny)
As Mara heads inside from her most recent spacewalk, we get to learn a little more about the young woman and those around her. We learn that Mara was previously some sort of Extra Vehicular Activity tech near Jupiter. It was, in fact, a shocking experience on one of her maintenance EVAs that caused her to insist that she and her family leave the solar system. Mara and an unnamed man were outside in their space suits repairing a radiator fin of maybe a spaceship or space colony when something whipped in at high speed and smashed straight through the man’s faceplate. It would later be determined that his death was a tragic accident. Somewhere else in the solar system there was a cargo spill, and a frozen rabbit embryo made what must have been a months or years long journey around the sun to cross through the point the man’s face was occupying.
We’re told that Mara has always been good at figuring out the meanings behind things, a skill that she prefers to keep somewhat secret, and she saw this accident as an omen that she, and humanity, were vulnerable as long as they just stayed in our solar system. So, somehow, Mara persuaded her mother Osana and her brother Uldwyn that they should join Project Amrita: the launch of a soon to be departing colony ship. Note that Amrita means immortality and in Hinduism is a drink similar to the Ambrosia of the Geek gods.
Inside the Yang Liwei, Mara first seeks out her younger brother, Uldwyn. Mara joins a crowd of onlookers and watches as her brother and a bulked up woman woman from Gravity Ops have something of a zero-g cage match in some equipment storage area. Mara’s appearance delights Uldwyn… leaving him open for a devastating uppercut to the face. He goes tumbling. The larger woman who had her genes altered to bulk up her muscles pushes off the wall sending them both for a devastating impact on the floor a good ways below. We’re told that Uldwyn doesn’t have a chance against this woman, and that he knew that before he entered the fight, but that he likes to measure himself by his bravery and by seeing just how bad of a loss he can survive.
On their way down, Uldwyn manages to shift around and put the larger woman in a choke hold. He successfully chokes her unconscious… but there’s nothing he can do about their momentum. They smack into the floor, with Uldwyn on the bottom. Uldwyn loses. But he’s still delighted to see his sister back inside. One of my faviorite bits of the story is where the woman rolls off of Uldwyn and says, “oh hi mara.”
Uldwyn and Mara sort of talk past each other, each not openly answering each others questions. We’re told that Mara likes it that way. She likes knowing her brother well enough that they can communicate in half answers that mean so much more coming from each other than they would mean coming from anyone else. Ultimately, Mara asks Uldwyn to distribute her sensorium captures in exchange for more parts to continue her little roaming repair mission. Uldwyn agrees. He likes the hustle and bustle of it all, but he warns Mara that their mother is going to die of worry if she keeps pushing so far off the ship like she just did.
We cut to Mara and her mother Osana walking rapidly down one of the Yang Liwei’s corridors. We find that Mara and her mother have something of a special mother-daughter relationship, in that they, for the most part, don’t have one. Some time ago, several years before when Mara was young, Mara insisted that her mother treat her like an adult. And Osana agreed, but with the stipulation that if she was going to treat Mara like an adult she wouldn’t be able to protect her like a mother would a daughter. And that she would live her own life and make her own choices as more of a friend than a mother. I like this relationship between Osana and Mara because it shows an independence on both sides. But even though they have apparently lived their lives somewhat independently, Mara and Osana still do the mother daughter thing every once in a while. Like now, where Osana is dragging Mara to face Alice Li, the captain of the Yang Liwei.
Mara, for her part think that her mother only exists to embarrass her. Osana, however, is hauling her daughter to off to see the ship’s captain because Mara will be punished by the ship’s Behavior department sooner or later. So, Osana is using someone else to talk some sense into her daughter, but you can also see the love there, that Osana is protecting Mara while still maintaining the independence they both agreed on. At one point, Mara tries to shift some of the blame to Uldwyn. It’s only here that Osana involves herself directly. She spins on Mara as they stride down the hall and chastises her daughter. Not for her daring activities outside the ship or for breaking regulations in her ongoing unordered repairs, but for pretending that she doesn’t hold sway over people like her brother or those who are in awe of her skill and activities. Mara is sure she can come up with a clever retort, but before she does, she and her mother arrive at Captain Alice Li’s wardroom.
The position of Captain, we’re told, is something Mara would like for herself someday. But right now? That’s not who she is. Fortunately, Captain Li is more understanding that Mara thought she would be. She starts by offering Mara tea from an old tea set that was made some hundreds of years ago, before the Traveler arrived in our solar system. This tea set will be important later. (Seriously.) I laughed though, because Captain Li mixes her tea with milk from the “Cow Thing” on this ship’s bio deck. Apparently the Yang Liwei is large enough to have one or more bioengineered creatures that aren’t exactly cows.
Once all three have their tea, Osana explains the situation to Captain Li. She says that her daughter has, through her actions, set herself up as something of a minor divinity among the ship’s crew. There’s a great line where Osana says that Mara has become such a big celebrity that people have started drawing fan art of her! We come to find out that Alice Li knows about everything and has even bought and experienced some of Mara’s death defying sensorium captures. But that doesn’t mean Captain Li is a Mara fangirl. She challenges Mara, saying that Mara has to understand her emotional place among the crew of the Yang Liwei. She explains that if Mara were to die on one of her spacewalks she would harm not just herself, but the ship as a whole. The key line, which is also seriously important, is:
What people make of you, what they create of you—even without your consent—becomes a kind of responsibility.
This takes Mara aback. Makes her, if only for a moment, reconsider her actions and the little cult of fans she has been building up around herself. It’s not like Mara is going to stop, but Captain Li was unexpectedly insightful and at least gives Mara something new to think about.
Li then asks about Uldwyn, noting that he has been to medical far more than any of the other unsanctioned, underground fighters. It seems that Captain Li keeps a good close track of what happens on her ship. She mentions that she does so because she is keeping an eye out for curious personalities that might be better suited to not go into cryo while the Yang Liwei makes its long journey to its destination among the stars. What that probably means is that the Yang Liwei is not a sleeper ship that runs on auto pilot, but more of a generation ship where at least some part of the population remains awake during the ship’s journey. And Alice Li has tagged Mara and maybe the rest of her family as some of the ones she thinks are well suited to that kind of life. Perhaps Mara is destined to become Captain one day after all…
…except she is not going to get the chance to rise to that rank. Because something, some unknown vessel, is tracking the Yang Liwei.