On Horizon's Shores
by Aliette de Bodard
Alex and Thi Loan transferred at Sapalawa Spaceport, from their small shuttle to a
military Naga craft -- the only ones still allowed to crawl between the stars with
the fuel shortage.
Because the thought of their mission on Horizon weighed on Alex's mind, he said,
"You've read the files?"
Thi Loan shrugged. "There isn't much. Professor Kishore died -- and then . . .
suddenly there wasn't enough fuel for the spaceships." She smiled, a showing of
white teeth against her tanned skin.
"It's a little more complicated than that," Alex said, darkly. "I can't believe they
have no idea why it happened." He'd seen the images in the wake of Professor
Kishore's death: the automated boats at their anchors, their control panels and
quantum brains jammed by the song of the hatirkas. And that was it. That was all it
had taken to paralyse the quadrant: no more boats meant no more algae oil, and no
more oil meant no fuel.
Thi Loan shook her head. "Horizon's a reservation, not Federation territory. There
was just Kishore and the other xeno posted here. Not enough to really investigate.
And you know they're not going to pull anyone off of the algae gathering stations."
"You really think our presence will make a difference?" Alex asked, bitterly. He'd
read the mission brief; he knew what they wanted of her.
Thi Loan shrugged. "We've had our successes."
"Yes. I wish to God they'd take those and leave us alone."
"They never do," Thi Loan said. "That's the whole point of having xenos." There
was reproach in her voice, and he wasn't sure why.
Alex said, "We'll see when we get there. See what we can do to understand why
the hatirkas are stopping the ships." But he didn't want to get there.
Again, silence. Thi Loan sat in her chair, as regal as an empress.
"Alex," she said, gently. "We'll board soon. You have to reconfigure now."
He shook his head and didn't move.
Her face was that of a mother reproving a wayward child. "It won't get better if
you put it off, you know."
She was right, as usual. But . . .
He'd seen the orders, and he didn't want to get there. He didn't want Thi Loan to
get there. He was getting the standard xeno modifications -- enough to ease his
way among aliens while he tried to discover the cause of Kishore's death. But she
was going all the way from human to tirka to adult hatirka. Her job was to get the
hatirkas to stop doing whatever it was they were doing that had shut down the
boats. To get production restarted on the Federation's precious spaceship fuel.
And to achieve that aim, they were subjecting her to a barely legal metamorphosis,
using brand-new, untested nanos; and more importantly, that metamorphosis would
be irreversible past a certain stage. If they didn't succeed quickly, Thi Loan would
become so alien that the nanos wouldn't be able to restore her to human form. But
they didn't have a choice. Xenos never had a choice, not with the Federation
pulling the strings.
Thi Loan was still watching him. With a sigh, he pressed his hand on the terminal
by the side of the chair, and felt the familiar tingle as the computer connected with
"Authentication complete," the computer said. "Alexander Paul Cadogan, xeno
number 186554." Then a pause, and another tingle. "Nanos reprogrammed for
assignment on planet designated 'Horizon.'"