I didn’t think we’d ever get here. Not both of us at any rate. The Martian customs federation still doesn’t know what to do with non-human visas.
The university made good with their promises of research priority override though. They even booked us this table. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the doorman so surprised.
I look out at the stars and smile. I think that maybe this private booth in the horrendously overpriced restaurant hanging off the Mars Orbital Colony might just be mankind’s crowning achievement.
Space is everywhere.
See, it’s cleverly made because all of the walls are clear, not glass obviously, but something I can see the stars through.
Given what I’ve done and what I do now, I guess that I should feel like I’m living sci-fi. I never do though, except when I eat here. It’s the combination of the unrecognisable food and the heavy white linen cloth and the silverware, just suspended out here in the universe.
I mean, that’s the future. Right there. And I’m living it.
There’s a small shuffling and the waiter comes in. He’s too young for this job, so I guess he must have family somewhere in the Colony Directorate. He’s just about to hand me my menu when he screws up his face and says
“Sorry, but I just gotta ask. Are you… you know… her?”
“You mean am I the scientist the United Colonies council banned from practice and then awarded the Nobel Robotics Prize to three years later? Yeah, sure I’m her. My hair’s longer than in the press pictures.”
The kid swallows. I always take an inordinate amount of pleasure in giving that speech.
“So, is that…” He gestures at the young man sitting opposite to me.
“Yep. A certified non-human. You can check the visa. Do you really have foie gras this week?”
He taps into the kitchen frequency on his dental ‘com. “Three kinds. One’s actually made of goose. I’m sorry but… why bring it here?”
He gestures again to the teenager at the table with me. This time Alec turns to look at him and the kid starts.
“That’s an organic casing?!”
I smile a little, tolerantly. Sometimes I forget why my work was banned. Good science is so hard to sell to the layman. “It’s a donor body. Lab interns live forever.”
He steps back, paling a little and I laugh.
“I’m joking. The body was brain-dead and donated by the family. We have to use human casing, otherwise we’d never be able to interact with or communicate with the AI’s. They just wouldn’t have any means of interfacing with us. The brain is mostly computer parts and vat grown tissue.”
“Can I take your order now?”
I always forget that the Martian colony gets so prudish. I’m in an odd mood tonight though, so the kid’s not getting off that lightly.
“In a minute. You asked me a question. It happened to be a good one. Sit through my answer and I’ll put a nice tip for you on my expense account. Did you know I used to be a Colony prep?”
He shakes his head slowly.
“Well I did. Have you ever thought that space” — here I gesture at the opulent display of stars and galaxies around us — “is really what makes us human?”
I don’t think he’s stopped shaking his head from the last question yet, but I take it as a cue to continue anyway.
“I mean, it’s tempting to think about it like it’s just another frontier for the human race, like the ocean floor was, back in the day, but it isn’t. Frontiers just mean a new place to carry on doing the things we’ve always been doing. Something changed when we came out here. Before, back on Earth we were peasants and kings and soldiers and poets and whatever, but we weren’t fully human. Not then. Space taught us that. It showed us how small we were, and how alone.”
“I couldn’t deal with that loneliness and so I turned inwards. There’s nothing out there, no alien overlords, no enlightened beings, nothing Other. Just a Human race so small that size is meaningless. So I built one. An Other, that is. To answer all that loneliness. Even if we’re so small that our being lonely shouldn’t matter.”
He’s staring at me like I’m crazy now, and maybe I am. But I mean it, about space teaching us to be Human. It certainly taught me.
“But I haven’t answered your question yet kid. By the way, I want the foie gras, the real goose one, and a glass of dry white. Alec probably needs more time to decide.”
I can’t help smiling as the underage waiter ‘coms the kitchen a little frantically.
“I brought Alec out here, because he’s never seen space, that’s a shame. Space is beautiful. Also because I thought: If seeing space is what really made us Human, I wonder what it’s going to make him?”