Tales from New Canada: Captaincy

for John

I dreamt I was a spaceship captain.

Yet we are on the planet of New Canada. Stranger things have happened here. Still, for me, this was a sweet dream to be savoured. More like a daydream made more solid through the powers of night. It made me so happy.

I dreamt that I attended the launch ceremony for a ship called the Corona Borealis. Speeches, champagne, uniforms. I wore pants. Formal slacks, but I could tell that some still found me rebellious. Well, a spaceship captain should be rebellious. Anyway, you would always wear pants on board, in case of emergency. Practical ones too. Beautifully designed of course, to blend seamlessly with the New Canada spaceship that would surround you like a bubble as you streamed elegantly through space.

My alarm woke me. It’s is a recording of the engine I’ve been working on. Actually I did a holo of the entire thing so that I’m woken up by the light as well as the sound. My enhancements mean that certain frequencies irritate me. I programmed the alarm to simulate an out-of-phase engine at the beginning, progressing towards a finely tuned hum over several seconds, the time it takes me to fully awaken.

My alarm engine hums neatly. I force myself out of bed. This is an elegant sound, far from the roar of the prototype when it’s not in a sound bubble field. I turn off my holoviewer and rub my eyes. I’ve been so very tired lately, far more than usual.

“Good morning, DRGN-145.”

I cringe momentarily at the sound, but then square my shoulders and smile. “Thank you, Sir.” My mentor has called to check in and I must remain polite.

I have no last name, but I do have a first name. Violette. I wish they would call me Violette. Anything but that code. Yes, I’m engineered, but it rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps it’s my emotional fragility, to go along with my physical drawbacks. No natural birth, of course. But maybe I was an experiment, maybe they tried something on me.

I always had slightly different exercises from the others. Flight simulation in addition to the standard engine modelling classes. Schematics for entire ships, not just engine housings. My frame was different. Not fragile by any means: no DRGN can be termed that.

But those differences have already taken their toll. I eye myself in the holomirror and rotate my reflection. Yes, I am tall by planetary standards, but not as tall as the other DRGNs. Short dark hair, a little longer than the standard training pixie cut. Almost a flattering bob now, the historical Earth hairstyle. A practical yet beautiful uniform, gray on gray, with tall boots, vaguely military. And glasses.

Not part of my genetics, of course. In terms of clarity, I can see perfectly. My eyes are more sensitive than those of other DRGNs. I should have seen it coming, should have realized my weakness when I looked into that engine casing. The others were fine, but I wasn’t.

My mentor didn’t stop me from looking into the casing. He probably didn’t want to believe I was weaker than the others in any way. I am his project, after all. His conservatory flower. But after a short visit to the medical bay, I was sent away with glasses, the first DRGN in the history of DRGNs to receive them. They didn’t particularly bother me, but the entire incident had been highly disconcerting.

My mentor gets to spend his days in a beautiful house with a conservatory garden. I have been there many times. No, not like that. He takes his job seriously and is only that – a mentor. Unfortunate, that. I do feel more for him, but it would be strictly prohibited.

I have no reason to complain about our living quarters. They are stunning – we have a gym, our own conservatory where we grow some of our own food, and the dormitories are beautiful, furnished in a historical style. Yet we all share a room. Personal space, so abundant here on New Canada, is not afforded to us DRGNs.

My room has a beautiful view, and I watch the sunrise and sunset every day from my window as it lights up the blossoming city-in-progress below. New Toronto, they call it. The name doesn’t fit at all, but maybe it will once enough buildings spring up.

My roommate, Iris, is often out and about, social and bright. My polar opposite. I wonder why they put us together. Maybe they wanted her cheeriness to rub off on me. It hasn’t worked.

We are not located in the city proper. I know it is for the same reason that my mentor’s home is several kilometres away due to the radiation. The same radiation that damaged my vision. It is insidious. We are beginning to feel it. But I have been mostly spared, due to the unique nature of my tests. There is some awareness of it and it buzzes its way into the background of all our conversations, worrying them into a constant state of stress. They did tell us of the radiation, of course. Basic ethics must be followed. I’m not sure they knew the risks themselves when they began the project.

The promotion comes that afternoon. More than a surprise – an emotional avalanche.

He approaches me, hands trembling, so I can tell that it is a surprise for him as well. He passes me the letter and I open the seal.

I am being offered a captaincy for the New Canada Engines fleet. The Corona Borealis, one of the most beautiful new passenger ships. Its name has been revealed only to me; no one else knows yet. On Earth, that name denotes a constellation.

Corona Borealis. Something about it seems odd, or wrong, somehow, as beautiful as it sounds.

It is hours later that I realize the name is the same as that of the ship in my dream.


Three weeks later I am standing in a vast hangar on a podium overlooking a teeming audience of reporters for the press conference and launch ceremony for the vessel. It will not actually launch now, of course, not with all these people here.

Speeches, champagne, uniforms. I usually wear pants to formal events here it would be considered too rebellious. I am wearing a dress, but not an ostentatious one. Beautifully designed to blend seamlessly with the spaceship before me.

I noticed something troubling as they were setting up for the ceremony: anti-radiation walls. Energy-intensive, expensive beyond belief to operate for long periods of time. They blocked off the laboratories where my colleagues work from the press conference.

This same anti-radiation technology is integrated into the walls of my quarters. A few days ago I tore off a square of luxurious damask from the wall when I saw a suspicious gleam with my enhanced vision. Not something anyone else here would notice: part of the reason my vision was damaged so easily is that it is much more sensitive to many parts of the spectrum than the vision of a non-engineered human. The sensitivity remains, even with my current need for glasses. To everyone else here, the installations must look like components of the sound system, or maybe just visual art.

The shielding is in all the quarters. I know that Tarek’s room has it, because I stayed there last night. I wonder if this is a fresh addition or if it has been there for a long time. When did they begin to worry so much about this radiation? They must have learned something new recently. They know about far more than they let on. Like about my sleepover at Tarek’s. We did everything possible to make it appear casual – we need to be able to retain the option of working together. And while a casual dalliance flies under their radar, a serious relationship – especially anything that may result in a Partnership – is frowned upon, though not officially forbidden. I wonder briefly if these tacit rules would still apply to a captain, even if she is a DRGN.

I will find reasons for him to spend more time in my quarters. Then I shake my head – I have a ship now. I will find reasons to request Tarek, and any other colleague I choose, to form my new crew. If I truly am a captain, then I should have that right.

Here he comes now – resplendent in his DRGN uniform, and the rest of our colleagues. A chime sounds, interrupting my thoughts.

Time to step onto the podium and accept the captaincy of the Corona Borealis.

Story © 2018 Clio Em. Image © 2018 Hali Rey.

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