"Until You Saw into My Cracks"
The trip to Sargasso Base
was exciting and frightening
in equal measures.
V bore the anxiety with
silent fortitude, for there was
no profit without some risk, and
a trader simply had to learn
how to endure it.
Astin was quiet in
respect of Vs dignity, but
unfailingly kind all the same.
Outer space was
surprisingly beautiful, too.
When they arrived at
Sargasso Base, the spacer
told V, "Your quarters should be
ready for you. Feel free to go ahead
and investigate them -- I'll be here for
awhile, taking care of docking protocols."
V had made arrangements in advance,
poring over blueprints and descriptions
of available places in the facility, then
finally selected a two-level unit in
the Agora with live-work space.
"Thank you," V said. "It will be
good to see what has come of it."
V walked from the ship to the Agora,
enjoying the view. From Astin's descriptions,
V knew that much had changed over the years.
Now the promenade of shops included
small parks lined with moss, hardy grass, or
astroturf. The chairs and walls of the lounges
and offices along the way sometimes used
green motifs of trees, leaves, and flowers.
V could see how the base had been
customized for the needs of its people, too.
There were large open spaces,
small meeting rooms and breakout pods,
where people could interact with each other
or not depending on their preferences.
There were beanbag chairs and swings
in addition to couches and bar stools and
even some shaped like mushrooms.
V's quarters had space for both
a public and a private office on
the lower level, opening out
onto the Agora. Upstairs was
the living room, kitchen and
bedroom. The bathrooms on
both levels were the same.
V was delighted to see that
the bedroom held a garden closet
with a carpet of velvety green grass
surrounding a small fruit tree.
The base colors were
all gentle neutrals, and
the temporary furnishings
were simple and elegant.
V could always add
personal touches later.
On the front window,
V solemnly installed a sign
with an image of a star cluster
and the words Procyon Ventures
inscribed around the circle.
Having staked a claim to V's territory,
the young executive wandered out to
the green lounge called the Academy Club.
It was not as fancy as the Flask of Phlegethon,
but it offered an opportunity to observe
V's new neighbors strolling about.
It was simple to choose a seat in
the corner, a sort of hanging basket
that enclosed V almost entirely,
slipping through the cracks of
their society as V had once
done back on Trunnion.
V knew that it was unlikely
anyone would ever come looking,
but V had to consider the possibility --
after all, quite a lot of money had
disappeared along with Vself.
Still, the Lacuna was quite probably
the biggest crack in the galaxy, spun
out between the Orion Arm and
the Carina-Sagittarius Arm.
It was easy to get lost in here
and never come out again.
The people who first washed up
in the Lacuna had made a home
of sorts, and the beginnings of culture,
although they were none of them experts
in the study of human nature the way
V had been trained to become.
They had made their mistakes,
but they were learning -- even now,
V could see the awkward dance
between inclusion and exclusion,
so helpfully facilitated by the frame
of the furniture in its little clusters
and the hanging baskets for those
who wished to be alone or were not
entirely welcome at the moment.
It reminded V of the Arms themselves
and how poorly they got along and
how desperately everyone needed
to work out the kinks in negotiation so
they could create a buffer zone
here inside the Lacuna.
V had spoken over the ciphernet
with Backup, who had connections
to the Carinan military; and with Hootowl,
one of the most respected members of
the Lacuna. Hootowl and Router were
perhaps the closest they had to leaders.
So far, none of it had been enough, with
Carina wanting assurance of authority
and Orion hung up about trust.
V sighed. It could wait until later,
when V was not so tired.
Familiar footfalls approached
and then paused nearby, but
V heard nothing from Astin.
"Astin? Is something wrong?"
V asked, leaning out far enough
to see better around the rim.
"No, it's just ... rude to bother anyone
in a basket chair," Astin explained.
V realized that meant V would
have to extend an invitation, and
talking would be awkward with
both of them so enclosed.
"Would you like to pull up
another chair?" V said,
beckoning with one hand.
"Sure," Astin said, choosing
one of the felt boulders
and dragging it closer.
Something huge and blue
scuttled from underneath it.
"Ai!" yelped V, yanking
both feet into the basket.
"What in space was that?!"
"It's just a sky roach," said Astin.
"Don't worry, they're harmless.
They even help clean up a bit of
organic waste around the place."
V appreciated how Astin always
explained things so clearly, without
making anyone feel inferior for
not having known whatever.
This was, in Vs experience
very nearly a unique quality.
"I hope there are none in
my new quarters," V said.
"Probably not," Astin said.
"They like these open areas
because it's easier for them
to find food here, although they
can fit into amazingly small spaces.
V heaved a sigh of relief. "I am
most grateful to hear that."
"What do you think of
your new home, now that
you've had a chance to see it
in person?" Astin asked gently.
"I like it," V said. "It's comfortable, and
well placed along the Agora. I'll need
to find more furnishings, of course --
I have no idea where to start --"
"Do you have what you need
for tonight?" Astin asked.
"Yes, someone left the basics
there for me," V replied.
"Then don't worry about it,"
said Astin. "I can show you
around the Agora tomorrow,
introduce you to people, and
help you pick out some things."
V smiled. It would feel so good
just to have someone familiar
along for that first excursion.
"Thank you, that's very kind."
Astin's fingers fluttered on
xyr knee, then stilled again
without reaching for anything.
"I come through here much more often
than I visit Trunnion," the spacer said.
"It's the biggest trading hub here in
the Lacuna, and I cross it going to
and fro between the Arms as well
as the shorter hops inside."
"That's nice to know," V said. "I'd
enjoy seeing more of you. Trunnion
never really ... felt like home to me,
you perceive, though Spalling gave me
a place where I finally felt welcome. I'd like
to think this place could become home, where
I can make friends and perhaps even find
a family that isn't utterly horrible."
"I know what it's like to feel lost,
to feel broken," Astin said, fingers
riffling again. "But once the vessel
cracks, then the light can get in ...
or the light inside can get out."
"What do you mean by that?"
V wondered, unable to take Vs gaze
from the spacer's graceful hands.
"We've been allies for years, and I'd like
to think we've been friends for some time,"
Astin said. "But when did we first see
each other face-to-face? Not that
initial meeting, I mean really see
who we are, and what we are."
"I don't know," V said,
"but I feel that we have."
"Not until this trip, I think,
when we spent so much time
together," Astin said. "Not until
you saw into my cracks and I saw
into yours. Before that, we were just
seeing the shapes and shadows
on the surface of ourselves."
V shivered, feeling like
a planet adrift in outer space.
It was dangerous to be
known in such depth, or
at least it had been among
the Alta Familia, and the habit
proved hard to leave behind.
Yet it was tempting, too,
because V thought little
of the Alta Familia and of
their endless machinations.
Surely there must be something better.
"What are you suggesting, Astin?"
V asked, half-hoping that xe
would say it was nothing,
and half-afraid of the same.
"I would like for us to get closer,
perhaps much closer," Astin said.
"I have no interest in the breeding
of heirs," V said sharply. Vs own life
had been all but ruined by Vs parents
and their incessant meddling. V would
never inflict that on another innocent babe.
"I don't either," Astin assured V.
"There's more to kinship than sex, or
even romance. Have you not noticed
how many platonic friendships there are
here in the Lacuna? This culture seems
to value that a lot more than usual."
"I don't know if -- if that's even
something I'm into," V stammered.
"Neither do I," said Astin, "but
won't it be exciting to find out?"
* * *
V -- a teenager living on Trunnion, a planet bordering the Lacuna on the Orion side. V was born to the Alta Familia or High Clans, and has a holographic tattoo to show that, which is currently covered by a wide cuff bracelet made of copper wirefloss and black plastithong. V no longer affiliates with that family, and is currently living with Spalling. V is asexual and aromantic, still trying to figure out how to form connections with other people, around that and the socially fraught childhood experiences. V uses a "V" pronoun set: V is, Vs arm / V's book, with V, of V's, and Vself. The distinction is that Vs is inward-focused, about V; while V's is outward-focused, things associated with V. V is introduced in "Too Expensive to Ship Back."
Astin -- an other-gendered trader, neurotypical, friends with Weavercreep and Operetta. Astin likes clothes of ambiguous colors, such as honey and mauve, with shapes that are easy to customize. Similarly, practical yet attractive furniture of androgynous style is preferred, blending straight and curved lines. Introduced in "Uncounted Colors of the Stars." Astin uses the "xe" set of pronouns: xe is, xyr book, with xyr, of xyrs, and xyrself.
Backup -- a small man with excellent memory (better from hearing than from reading) whose head is full of useful facts and useless trivia. He has no hyperfocus mode; he's a complete flitter, and needs prompting to begin tasks. He also has no passion; he just absorbs random bits of whatever he encounters. He's in the service out of pure nepotism, the youngest of six sons belonging to the important General Fallon, who found a relatively harmless place to stash him. But he fell in with three neurotypical men who discovered his knack for remembering things, and he saved the supply depot once when the computers crashed, so they're all very attached to each other. Backup's official job is maintenance; with support, he's adequate at it. He becomes quite popular with other neurovariant people because he will listen to anyone's passion on any topic. He works on Supply Base Bounty 3D3N, belonging to the Carina–Sagittarius army and located toward galactic east, later converted to food production and renamed Eden.
They all pretty much land in a strong fraternal relationship because the roles match and Backup doesn't do well without guidance. He is still fairly young, which helps support their relationship dynamic of younger/older brothers. The older men's tendency toward infantalizing Backup can annoy other people, and it's a bad habit in general; but for this group it works, which means Backup tends to protest when other people tell them not to do it.
Router -- a tall, moderately muscular, neurotypical man in charge of Supply Base Bounty 3D3N, belonging to the Carina–Sagittarius army and located toward galactic east. He coordinates supplies and traffic for much of the region. He has excellent skills in organization, communication, and leadership. The oldest of five siblings, Router tends to act like everybody's big brother, and he is especially protective of Backup. Router is also the oldest of the four crewmen, just entering middle age. During the secession, Router chooses to stay even though he is neurotypical. He refuses to abandon Backup and the rest of his crew.
Supply Base Bounty is designed for a permanent crew of six. They are one man down when the secession hits, and the fifth crewmember leaves (no harm, no foul). The base is later converted to food production and renamed Eden. The food production is the responsibility of the gardener. It takes a lot of work for Router to learn how to handle Sam the Gardener, who is nothing like Backup and doesn't respond at all well to the same techniques. But gradually Router learns how to apply his leadership skills to a wider range of people. Router becomes a key leader of the few neurotypical people in the Lacuna, but he also comes to work with Hootowl, the leader (such as they have any) of the neurovariant people.
* * *
“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”
― John Green, Paper Towns
Read about Procyon, and see an image of Procyon and its neighbors that V uses to make a logo.
This is the floor plan for V's quarters on Sargasso Base. The space is decorated mainly with sleek modern styles and neutral shades, but if you look closely you can see touches of brighter colors in the personal parts. The large public office is in front, facing the open area of the Agora; the small private office is in back. Living space is upstairs. The living room and kitchen are basically part of the same space. The bathroom upstairs is pretty much the same as the downstairs. That bit of greenery you can see in the bedroom is what they call a garden closet -- kind of like a giant terrarium. By this point in time, the cultivation of plants has spread throughout more of the Lacuna, and Sargasso Base probably has the most of it after Supply Base Bounty 3D3N itself.
Here's a good look at some green space in the Agora.
The Academy Club, inspired by ancient Greek customs, uses a tree motif in its lounge with a bar and viewscreens. This opens out into a work floor, and the office has a conference room and a swing room similarly decorated with greenery. Meeting rooms and breakout pods are among the accommodations for neurovariant people. Among the more creative furniture are these mushroom seats.
The Flask of Phlegethon is a popular tavern. The lighting may go brighter or dimmer, and can change colors.
Placemaking is the art of using communal processes to create great public spaces. Appealing places have plenty of things to do. Markets such as the Agora don't just give people a place to buy and sell necessities, but also to gather and form community.
Sky roaches look similar to this neotropical cockroach found in the rainforests of Guyana, only these are about a foot long.
Asexual and/or aromantic people can have relationships too. They may call the relationship queerplatonic and each other zucchini. V is asexual and aromantic, uncertain on the topic of long-term platonic relationships. I don't think Astin has even pinned down that much, but xe is curious to explore the connection with V that has been slowly growing for a while now.