The constellations, Laurent. That is what first struck me about this place. Are you sure you want to hear all this tonight? It is so late…
Then I will go on, but only if you wish to sit here with me… more tea?
I’m so glad you noticed the holopainting. Look, there are two different sets of constellations. See the green stars? Those are the ones you can see from New Canada. And the blue stars are the ones I used to watch on my home planet of Sahar.
Incredible that a world as young as New Canada should have such an elaborate mythology. Sahar is home to many myths and legends, but most of these were imported from Earth. We paint constellations back home, too, except they are almost always holopaintings like this one. Our art is mathematically calculated. Anything else would be considered rebellious. That is why New Canada suits me so well. I am a rebel.
Why are you laughing? I can be chief of security and still be a rebel! I know I’m hardly dressed like a rebel now in this dress, but tonight was the ball. There is a time and a place, you know.
You would find Sahar far too dry and harsh. Ha, well your humour would fit right in! But it is a beautiful world. Bands of lush gardens stretched across expanses of desert like painted scarves draped in a window. Why are you smiling? I try to be poetic for you, so that I can explain to you why you must visit it with me someday.
New Canada is very beautiful too, and I am not forgetting that, Laurent. It is far more pristine. Sahar, for all its beauty, has its share of intrigues and shadowy corners. And every year, the gardens struggle to defend their borders against the encroaching desert. Our terraforming is based on the oldest technology. Our medical tech is outdated too. I got the nerve conduit garment here on New Canada.
Could you fetch us more tea? When you return I will tell you the whole story.
A doctor enters my room at the clinic.
“We have your suit ready, Miss Cantara. A technician will arrive shortly and help you into it.”
Constellations on the clinic ceiling. I have been looking at these same constellations for months, both standard and Sahar lunar. These constellations are different from the ones back home. There, they float and circle. Here the ceiling paintings have no holopainting component. They are an analog representation of a window onto the universe. This is a view I am sick of viewing. As my body heals and accepts its new inputs, I stare at this artificial sky and dream of the real one.
Upright. For the first time in nearly a standard year, I am able to lift my head. Lift an arm. It comes slowly, and I feel like an animal being trained for some historical Earth circus. But I persist. Days later I am able to sit up. Then stand. Then walk to the door to greet him.
Serge paid for my treatment. All of it. This is why he is more than just my boss, Laurent. Now I hope you understand the dynamic better.
The accident was not supposed to happen. Someone had turned off the safety gravfield below the roof where we were training. And so, instead of treading carefully over the roof, I ran. I sprang with élan. I fell flat on my back into a cobblestoned courtyard.
I could not move.
Sabotage? Likely. I have not looked into it yet, Laurent. There has been no process. Not yet. But as I said, Sahar is a rough jewel. It is not New Canada.
At home after the accident, I lay and picked out constellations through my bed’s canopy. I had no parents, but my sister took care of me. The weeks slid by and the starfield above my bed changed ever so slightly: a comet entered, planets moved, the moons shifted. My body did not respond to the standard treatment. I felt it was because this was Sahar. The local attitude was at best fatalistic. It would be better anywhere else, I thought. Even my doctors mentioned other planets where medical care was better. Acadia. New Canada. Even Earth!
I had not told my sister about the job offer from New Canada Engines. The offer would now be revoked, I was sure. I had told no one that I had applied for it. This kind of life does not come easily to those on Sahar. To have been given such a chance and to let it slip away… I know the accident was not my fault, but I still felt incredible guilt.
Then, one day, a ticket was waiting for me in the receipt box of my circuit tattoo. Paid for by the Chief Planetary Officer. That’s how I knew him back then. Not Serge, but a title. He’d heard of my accident, he wrote. Please, come to New Canada. There was no mention of the job, but there was a calendar entry, with an appointment at a medical clinic in New Toronto. The date was in a standard month. Just enough time for me to board a ship and fly over.
I could not board by myself, of course. My sister helped me. Rented a gravbed at great expense. Had me floated into my ship cabin, booked a caretaker for the journey. I have since been able to pay her back, but for a time I was not sure whether she would be able to keep our house on Sahar.
On New Canada the first shock hit me when I was told that my condition would not be treatable. The Sahar doctors had done everything right. They had gone above and beyond. Yet my spine had been injured in a very specific way. The nerve regrowth did not take hold on either planet.
You cannot imagine, Laurent, how deeply that hurt. The entire time on Sahar, I had believed it was the planet that was limiting me, not my body. But now I felt trapped. I could not afford the trip back.
Serge appeared a week later. He had learned the full extent of my situation, and he arrived together with a New Canada Engines tech. They were both very serious and asked me if I would consent to some body scans. The tech spent hours doing all sorts of readings and measurements alongside the doctors.
I was a good candidate for a nerve conduit garment, they announced.
And so I began an alternate treatment process, based on a design by an Earth company that had taken their cue from historical medical technology and taken long-ago plans and made them viable again.
I needed implants that would allow access to my central nervous system. These implants would connect to the suit, and the entire garment would then act as an alternate spinal column, distributing nerve signals throughout my body. My nerves felt on fire during each treatment. The results are worth all the discomfort and pain. In fact, when I felt the pain, it was infinitely better than not feeling anything at all.
When it was over, I had a job. I learned that I had gathered a year’s worth of pay for being on medical leave. And so I started life on New Canada with more stability than I had ever had before. I was able to send some of that pay to my sister. She used the surplus to start her art gallery and now has clients on all seven worlds.
This suit is my independence. I am encased in it from the neck down, but it frees me. They designed it so beautifully; you can barely see the netting. I like to think of it as lace. When I wear it now under my clothes I forget it is there.
It is very functional; they thought of everything. It is my second skin. Every week I go to the clinic and the techs and doctors scan me and measure me and care for my body. Earlier in my life I would have found this humiliating, but now I know it is something to be endured. Temporary discomfort is an easy condition to accept. My year of immobilization taught me much.
Look at the constellations again. My sister sent this holopainting over when I was in treatment. I love it so much because when I look up every night, my two homes overlap and become one.
Watch the stars with me, Laurent.