Dear readers, tonight with us is a interplanetary scavenger, salvaging wrecked and abandoned space habitats. She is here to speak about space pirates and explosive secrets.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
I was created in a space habitat called Kumu, out in the Kuiper Belt. My early childhood was . . . well, anyone who didn’t grow up in Kumu would think it was bizarre and horrifying. You see, Kumu’s main industry is the creation of Qarinas — genetically-engineered sexual slaves. I thought that life was normal because I never knew anything else, but then a task force of Salibi soldiers invaded Kumu, took off all the Qarina slaves, and destroyed everything else. I spent the next few years in a Salibi habitat, learning how to be a person with free will.
Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?
I don’t want to talk about the “toys” I was given as a child. My most cherished possession is the set of goggles I was given when I left the Salibi habitat: they filter my vision to thwart the hard-wired programming in my brain, which would otherwise make me willingly obey commands from any other human.
What do you do now?
I’m a scarab — we salvage abandoned space habitats and get them ready for recycling. It can be dangerous, though I didn’t expect anything like what we encountered at Safdaghar.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
We went to an abandoned hab called Safdaghar, which nobody had visited for sixteen years after some disaster wiped out everyone there, including the main AI which controlled the place. We planned to loot as much valuable stuff as we could find, before boosting the wreck into a trajectory which would take it out to the Kuiper habitats, where metal is really valuable. My boss Yanai got paid for moving Safdaghar, but all our salvage would be pure profit.
What did you first think when the pirates arrived?
I was terrified. The scarab crew were all non-human, so I didn’t have to worry about my built-in programming. But this new gang of looters were mostly humans, with one chimp and a mech. I tried to hide from them at first, but eventually they found me.
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
When we found out what had actually killed everyone in Safdaghar, and realized it was hunting us, we had to get out as quickly as possible. Climbing up to the station hub was dangerous enough, even without a monomaniacal killer stalking us.
What is the worst thing about being a salvager?
Until Safdaghar, I would have said boredom — most salvage jobs are just a lot of cataloging and moving things. But Safdaghar was full of dead people, all mummified by years of sub-freezing temperatures. I never want to see anything like that again.
What is the best thing about it?
The best part of being a scarab is that it’s a job where I don’t have to see many other humans. It’s also pretty profitable, which is good because I’m saving up to get my hard-wired conditioning removed, and nanoscale brain surgery isn’t cheap.
Tell us a little about your friends.
I used to work with a good crew. My boss was a space tug named Yanai, who could move a whole space hab. My best friend on the team was Atmin, a corvid bird who was an expert at appraising things. And there were a couple of new members: Pera, a neoraptor dinosaur with a lot of experience as a mercenary military engineer; and Utsuro, a cyborg who couldn’t remember his past.
Any romantic involvement?
It’s very difficult for me to trust other humans. I’ve spent most of my adult life avoiding any kind of romantic or sexual relationship. I hope that can change.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
Jaka. The leader of the pirate gang. She is the only person I’ve ever really hated.
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
I’m engineered for very high alcohol tolerance, and I grew up drinking nothing but water. Fruit juice was a wonderful discovery for me when I left Kumu. My favorite color . . . that’s a tough one. My goggles give me full multispectral vision, as well as showing me things like electric and magnetic fields. I can see some amazing things. I love to see the fields around a wire carrying a current. I guess you could say I like the color of electricity.
For relaxation I like to make things. By hand, not just printing them out with a matter printer. Working with microscopic-scale components and miniaturized tools is like entering another world.
What does the future hold for you?
Once I can raise the money I’m going to get my brain rebuilt so that I can look another human in the face and say “no.” After that, I don’t know . . . I would like to bring the ones who murdered the inhabitants of Safdaghar to justice, but they are very powerful and I’m not.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
My darkest secret is part of my Qarina programming. It’s true of all of us: we’re made to enjoy obedience. When I don’t have my goggles filtering out human faces, I want to be a good little slave. Afterwards I hate it, and it’s very hard not to hate myself for it.
James L. Cambias writes science fiction and designs games. His far-future science fiction adventure The Scarab Mission is coming in January 2023 from Baen Books. Originally from New Orleans, he was educated at the University of Chicago and lives in western Massachusetts. His first novel, A Darkling Sea, was published by Tor Books in 2014, followed by Corsair in 2015. Baen Books released his third novel Arkad’s World in 2019, the urban fantasy The Initiate in 2020, and The Godel Operation in 2021. His short stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Shimmer, Nature, and several original anthologies; most recently in the collection Retellings of the Inland Seas. In March 2020 his story “Treatment Option” was adapted for audio by DUST Studios, starring Danny Trejo. Mr. Cambias has written roleplaying game sourcebooks and adventures for Steve Jackson Games, Hero Games, and other publishers, and in 2003 co-founded Zygote Games. Since 2015 he has been a member of the XPrize Foundation’s Science Fiction Advisory Board.
You can find Solana on the pages of The Scarab Mission.
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