“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a question of if. It’s only a question of which one.” Gil leaned back in chair and swiped a hand through his shaggy hair. There was a lot more grey mixed with the brown than there had been six months ago.
“We’re talking about throwing away a Plan that our fathers and mothers worked their whole lives constructing.” Belle kept her voice soft, but it was sharp at the corners. “You can’t seriously expect us to have no arguments at all.”
“No one is throwing away the Plan,” said Ashanti. She tried not to let her exhaustion show. “The location of our colony is only a small part of the charter. Its true principles will hold no matter where we settle…or when we arrive.”
“You can’t pretend it’s not a huge change,” Belle insisted.
“Of course it’s a huge change,” Hiram said, “but Shanti is right about it still being true to the charter. I would remind you that the Plan includes the need for adaptation to new discoveries. In considering this new course, we are following the Plan perfectly. Not…” he said forcefully as Belle opened her mouth again “…that we are taking the decision lightly.”
Ashanti marveled again at her husband’s controlled energy. As the rest of them had become progressively more drained in the weeks of work since discovering Una and Dua, Hiram seemed to gain vitality. On the surface, he maintained his steady demeanor, but underneath a fire had been lit.
“We’ve been studying the system for more than five months now,” Gil complained. “No one in this room has had a decent night’s sleep in all that time. We know more about these two planets than we do about Theta Prime, and every single thing we’ve learned tells us that they are both a hundred times more suited for human habitation than Theta Prime will ever be. I can’t believe this isn’t already decided.”
“It will be by tomorrow night,” Hiram said. He was watching Ashanti, and she saw the worry in his eyes. “You’re right. We’ve done the work we needed to do, and it’s time to get everyone back to a more reasonable routine. But we will discuss the decision at length in a full gathering tonight. Everyone will get a say. In this, as in all other things, we will follow the Plan. Everyone’s life depends on it.”
“Sure,” growled Gil. “I’m all about letting everyone have their say. As long as we make the right decision when they’re done.” He turned on Belle. “Tell me you don’t think these planets are our best chance for survival.”
“As it happens, I do,” Belle said. “But people are afraid of a change this big. You can’t force it on them.”
“God save us from shrinks forevermore,” Gil muttered.
“We all want the same thing,” Hiram reminded him. “We always have. Now, enough talking. There’ll be plenty of that tonight. Everyone take the afternoon off. And I mean OFF. Go back to your quarters. Read a book. Take a nap. Think about anything but Una and Dua.”
“Its name is Bhaskara,” Gil said for the hundredth time.
No one answered.
Ashanti smiled to herself as Hiram helped her to her feet. As the discoverer of the binary planets, Gil had been given the honor of naming them. He had immediately named the larger one Una, after his Russian grandmother on Earth. In the three days it took him to decide on a name for Una’s sister planet, his staff had started referring to it as Dua. It was a joke, but it took hold. Even though Bhaskara was the official name of record for the smaller planet, everyone but the chief astronomer called it Dua.
In their family quarters, Ashanti eased herself down onto her usual chair, leaning back and closing her eyes. She was only six months along, and already her belly was as big as it had been full-term with Lil. It was like lugging around a melon everywhere she went. These months would have been exhausting even without trying to grow someone inside her body. With it, the edges of her brain were permanently fogged over.
Not that she would want it any other way. Just last month they had found out the baby was a boy. A son. She didn’t know how Hiram felt about it–there had been no time for talking about anything other than Una and Dua–but Ashanti walked around with the same feeling she had when she solved a difficult equation, every number and symbol falling perfectly into place. One girl. One boy. They were complete. Even her ridiculous size was a comfort. This was a quiet little guy, only occasionally moving around to let her know he was okay. After Lil, who punched and kicked non-stop until her release, Ashanti found this baby’s stillness strange. If it weren’t for her rapidly-expanding waistline, she might have been truly worried.
“I didn’t know it was possible for a person to look so exhausted and so happy at the same time,” Hiram said.
Ashanti opened her eyes a crack to see her husband watching her with a half smile.
“Well, I didn’t know it was possible for a person to look so tranquil and so agitated at the same time,” she said.
Hiram’s smile disappeared, and for a second, she thought she had offended him, but he considered her words thoughtfully.
“That’s how I feel,” he said finally. “I feel calm, purposeful. I have as much surety as I ever had. But I also feel something I didn’t before.”
Ashanti’s sleepiness faded, her brain clearing up as much as it ever did these days. She waited for him to go on.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” he said. “I don’t have the words.”
She could have let it go. She and Hiram had been married for twenty-five years, and though there was plenty of affection, neither was in the habit of sharing their personal feelings. Most of their years together, they had felt more like coworkers than lovers. But something had changed in Hiram, and after watching it slowly grow these last weeks, Ashanti found that she wanted very much to understand it.
“You’re excited about this change in the Plan. We’ll arrive so much sooner.”
“Yes. Yes, that must be a part of it, surely. But…” Hiram sat down in the chair opposite her, leaned forward with his forearms resting on his knees, almost like he was going to tell her a secret. “From the moment I heard about these planets and realized we would have to make a huge decision, it was like…”
“…something came alive.”
“Yes. Exactly that.”
“I saw it,” Ashanti said.
Hiram studied her face, and Ashanti dropped her eyes. She was thankful she wasn’t given to blushes. It was uncomfortable to talk like this.
After a long silence, Ashanti looked up again. Hiram had leaned back, but he still watched her. She tried to smile like this conversation was normal.
“You think you’re just ready to get off this ship?” she asked, mostly so that he would have to talk again.
“Aren’t we all?” he said. “But no, I think…I think I was waiting all this time to have something to do.”
“You work as hard as any of us. You always have.”
He waved a hand dismissively. “I collect everyone’s work. I listen to complaints. I keep files and records. A robot could do those things. But my father trained me to look ahead, to bring the future into the present. He always told me it would require resourcefulness and adaptability to make the Plan into a reality, but until now it was all just…execution.”
Oh, thought Ashanti as the disconnected pieces fell into place. “You have been governing, but now you get to lead.”
Hiram’s breath rushed out. “Yes.” His surface control broke down for just a moment, and he sagged in his chair.
After a second he looked up, and this time when he caught Ashanti’s eye, she didn’t look away. “Thank you,” he said. “You made that sound almost…reasonable.”
She meant to tell him that it was perfectly reasonable, that anyone would understand why he was happier with a problem to solve, that she felt the same. Instead, she said, “I like you this way.”
The words felt simultaneously inadequate and much too revealing. The way Hiram’s eyes darkened told her that he heard what was under them.
For a long moment Ashanti held herself perfectly still, returning her husband’s gaze, barely daring to breathe. Then the little one inside gave a single kick, and her eyes widened. She pulled Hiram’s hand to her belly, but their boy was still again.
“Sorry,” she said. “He doesn’t move much.”
“He has his mother’s calm,” Hiram answered.
“Or his father’s self-control.”
Hiram took a deep breath. “Yes. About that.”
“It’s maybe not necessary all the time,” Ashanti said.
Her husband smiled.