Mind Over Ship

To my daughter, Kalina,

who makes Earth my favorite planet


A big thank-you goes to my indefatigable crew of first readers without whom I would still be paddling in circles: Vince Bonasso, Terry Boren, Sandra Boatwright, Derick Burleson, Dixon Jones, Marion Avrilyn Jones, and Paula Kothe.

Thanks also to Avi Loeb and my brother, James Marusek, for helping me with the science (as always, any errors are mine alone); to my editor, David G. Hartwell; and agent, Ralph Vicinanza; and to Sharron Albert, whose sharp eyes are the bane of typos great and small. And thanks to Kat and Steve Haber, who loaned me their lovely guest house in Homer, Alaska, to finish the manuscript in comfort and style.


The Short Commute

It was a short walk from Mary’s suite on the north side of the Starke Manse to the library on the south. Along the way she greeted doris maids and russ security men. The main parlor was closed off — fleets of household arbeitors and carpet scuppers were giving it a thorough spring scrubbing — and she detoured through one of the smaller banquet rooms. A solitary jerome sat at the head of the long, empty table going over house accounts on a dataframe.

“Myr Skarland,” he said, nodding to her as she went by.

“Myr Walker,” she replied with mock formality.

When she reached the library, Mary was surprised to find no one there. “Hello?” she said to the empty room.

Lyra, Ellen Starke’s newly made mentar, appeared at once in her latest persona, that of a plain young woman in a featureless blue smock with a slate tucked under one arm. “Good morning, Mary,” she said, her voice burbling with cheerfulness. “I trust you slept well.”

Mary knew that the mentar knew that she had indeed slept well, since its job was to monitor everything and everyone on the Manse premises, but she said, “Yes, I did, Lyra. Thank you for asking.” Then she said no more and only looked around at the empty chairs.

“Oh!” the young mentar said at last. “I should have informed you of the room change. Nurse Eisner moved the care plan meeting to the atrium because of the lovely weather. I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize, Lyra. You’re learning very quickly, but, yes, next time inform me of schedule changes.”

Mary took a shortcut through Ellen’s bedroom to reach the atrium. Both the bed and the hernandez tank next to it were unoccupied. A jenny nurse was wadding up purple-stained towels from the floor and tossing them into the hopper of an arbeitor. She was a new staffer Mary hadn’t met. When she noticed Mary, she said, “We’re bathing her.”

“Actually, I’m just passing through. Don’t mind me.”

But as Mary went by, the jenny’s jaw dropped, and though Mary wore no name badge, the tall woman recognized her all the same. “Mary Skarland?”

“Yes, that’s me,” Mary said and paused to offer her hand. “Good to meet you” — she glanced at the nurse’s name badge — “June.”

The nurse clasped Mary’s hand, but instead of shaking it, she pulled the smaller woman into a full embrace, which was what jennys often did when they met Mary for the first time. Sometimes they cried a little. To Mary it was odd: not every member of the jenny germline reminded her of Hattie Beckeridge, but some of them did, and then she cried too. Not this time, though, and in a little while she freed herself and said, “Welcome to Starke Manse, June. We’re so glad you could join us.”

THE ATRIUM COURTYARD roof had been scrolled back, and the morning sun painted the walls with creamy light. The air was fresh and a little chilly. Three night jennys sat on wooden folding chairs alongside Mary’s two evangeline sisters, Georgine and Cyndee. Mentar Lyra stood in front of them posing in what appeared to be a period costume of some sort.

Cyndee had sleep lines under her eyes, but she smiled at Mary and patted the empty chair next to her. “What’s this?” Mary said. “A fashion show?”

“We told her she had to lose the blue smock,” Cyndee explained, “and this is what she’s come up with so far. What do you think?”

“Yes, Mary,” Lyra echoed, “what do you think?”

In place of the smock, the mentar’s persona wore a lavender blouse and short black skirt with a light jacket in dusky plum brocade. On its feet were simple black suede open-toed slip-ons.

“Hmmm,” Mary said, looking her up and down. “Understated, elegant, professional. Granted, it’s like two hundred years old, but I like it, Lyra, and I give it my unqualified stamp of approval.”

The mentar beamed. “Thank you, Mary.”

“Wait. Hold on,” Mary said. “You’re not finished, are you? Where’s the hat to go with that outfit?”

“Yes,” chorused the jennys. “Show us the hat.”

The young mentar said, “I have been studying the history of hat design, and I believe I have fused several popular styles into an original one.”


But the mentar hesitated and had to be coaxed into showing its hat to them. When the hat appeared on Lyra’s head, the jennys gasped. The mentar’s design was a complicated wad of velvet ribbon liberally sprinkled with tiny silver pine cones, rosebuds, and acorns. The brim turned up in the front like the prow of a ship, and from its bowsprit sprang a golden sprig that dangled three freshwater pearls. From the rear of the hat protruded a fantail of pleated felt, like the rear end of a turkey.

“Hmmm,” Mary said. “Hmmm.”

“Hats are the hardest,” Lyra complained.

“Oh, I know it,” Mary agreed. “What do you think about your hat?”

Lyra glanced at the jennys. “I like it, but I wouldn’t want to appear ridiculous when I wore it.”

“I don’t blame you. No one wants to appear ridiculous. Maybe our friends can make some suggestions how to fix it?”

“All right,” Lyra said.

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