Over the next couple of uneventful months he bumped into Strangle a few more times. Strangle politely kept his distance until circumstances – or more accurately Magdus – permitted him to engage beyond the odd exchange of grumbled greetings. They both apparently liked spending time in the expansive set of melded levels that was the garden, and it was from there that they struck up their mutually curmudgeonly friendship.
“I never caught your name,” Strangle said. They were strolling along the frosty outskirts of the uppermost garden terrace – a fanciful name for it – where there was a pleasant row of little dining stations a safe distance from the garden’s edge. The garden itself was long since inert, but there was and always would be a margin of uncertainty in that.
“Magdus Foylaa,” Magdus introduced himself.
“Ah, foylaa. The objectivity that comes from belonging nowhere,” Strangle gave one of his common, and very charming smiles. “Yes?”
“I guess,” Magdus allowed. He’d chosen the name during his First Prime, changing it legally in the Fleet registers when his parents fell afoul of an Earth-contact-related protest that left them skinswitched. It had been silly and melodramatic and he considered the four-and-a-half thousand years lived without changing it again to be a fitting punishment. His kotu aar, his long regret for youthful foolishness, had been suitably long … but it beat the alternative. “What’s your name mean?”
“My name?” Strangle spread his upper hands as he settled himself opposite Magdus at a table. Almost as an afterthought, but his movements crisp and seeming oddly rehearsed rather than natural, he placed his lower hands on the tabletop in the alignment that indicated he was not an unaugmented Blaran, and it was safe to engage in a social exchange. Blaren could make the signs fraudulently, of course – but if this happened, Magdus would be blameless. Stansgaard was, despite his unusual stature, a Molran. Or a very skinny Bonshoon. “Not terribly interesting, I’m afraid. I was named Stansgaard after a friend of the family. Our family name harks back to a crazy old legend about a person who freed a Dark God from prison.”
Magdus grunted. “Karl and the Angelic Prison?”
“No,” Stansgaard chuckled. “I’m not that young.”
“I was starting to wonder,” Magdus said. “Since we’re getting all deep down in each other’s personal lives … you do seem awfully young to be on board the Shoo.”
“You know, I am,” Stansgaard replied. “I may actually be the youngest flapper on board.”
Magdus lowered his ears in surprise. There were of course some Fergunak on board, none of whom topped forty or fifty years of age although it was said some of their cybernetics were much older. There were a few human communities, most famously a branch of the extended family of Zylantæ Hart, formerly of Northern Deschau. Most of the Harts had become honorary crew on the Enna Midzis following Zylantæ’s decision to join the Five Species Fleet some fifty years previously. They were actually some of the first Fleet humans, and Zylantæ herself was ancient for a monkey, so it made sense that they had found their way here. She’d been involved in the First Feast after winning an invitation by lottery, and the Fleet had felt beholden to her and her progeny as a result.
Zylantæ, and many others of the Hart clan, had opted to remain behind on the Shoo, and continue looking sadly down upon the snarling remnants of humanity, when the Enna Midzis had turned her nose back towards the stars. No small number of Harts had gone with the Fleet, but a community had remained.
Oh, and Big Shooey was home to two of the four aki’Drednanth still left in orbit, if you could call it ‘orbit’. There may have been others left behind on Earth, but Magdus didn’t know about that. Not his altitude, information like that.
Still, Magdus had a hard time counting the so-called brief species as actual residents, even the almost superstitiously awe-inspiring aki’Drednanth. They were just so fleeting. You barely had time to get to know a human before they were gone. And some would argue that a human was impossible to get to know anyway. At least with a Fergie, you knew everything you needed to after a couple of hours.
The youngest Molranoid they had on board was in fact a Blaran, Ignafi ‘Jalaña’ Do Fansis. And she had earned her nickname in respectfully humorous reference to the Child Goddess Jalah. Do Fansis was three thousand, eight hundred and seventeen years young, and everyone on the Shoo knew it. If someone younger had turned up, everyone would know that.
“How old…?” Magdus forced himself to ask the awkward question. It wasn’t such a social faux pas – only humans really got sensitive about their ages, and that was by no means a hard-and-fast rule – but it wasn’t really something Molren cared about enough to even have a conversational toolkit for it. Except in this very specialised context.
“Three thousand, six hundred and fifty-three,” Stansgaard said, “and I’m deeply disgusted by it all.”
“Oh yes?” Magdus asked in amusement, even though his first response was shock. Strangle was the youngest Molran on board, and by a wide margin.
“Yes. I planned on achieving immortality long before now,” Stansgaard declared. “Every hour I spend dragging this big old carcass of mine towards its Last Gasp is an almost personal insult.”
“How did you manage to avoid becoming the fossils’ mascot as soon as you arrived?” Magdus marvelled.
“Oh, that. Well, Ignafi is so invested in being the youngster of the crew, and I didn’t want to rob her of the title. I’ve kept to myself, stayed out of the limelight. I’ve chatted with a couple of other Primers who are just as interested in spreading gossip as you are.”
“First-name basis with Jalaña, eh?” Magdus was unable to keep a disapproving tone from his voice. It wasn’t truly proscribed for a friendship, of sorts, to exist between Molran and Blaran. But old habits died hard.
“Never met her,” Stansgaard said promptly. “My apologies for the implied familiarity. It’s a … Bosskra Lowdecks thing.”
“Aha,” Magdus said. “So you came over from the Stick?”
Stansgaard inclined his head. “Only recently, and I wasn’t on the – ah, the Stick very long either. I shipped there from the Silent Midfrex when they headed back towards the Playground. I’m going to stay near Earth just as long as I can, and Big Shooey was the expedient way to do that, and the Bosskra was the best way to get here.”
“So you’re from the Midfrex originally?” Magdus asked.
Stansgaard Strangle ordered a pair of Qastrians from the catalogue, and put them on his personal crew goodwill tab. Magdus nodded appreciatively, but with due consideration for the fact that his new acquaintance hadn’t answered the question.
“I hope these aren’t pushing the Social Code too much,” he said seriously. “I became fond of Qastrians spirit on the Bosskra, along with a certain relaxed attitude towards some of the older cultural observations,” he raised his upper hands. “Don’t break me over your knee like a bundle of dry twigs.”
Magdus chuckled. It was easy to forget how Final Prime Molren appeared, especially to those in their deep fade between Second and Final. He didn’t feel different, but that was just because he’d forgotten how he’d felt before the Gasp came on him. “Maybe not this time,” he said. “I’m partial to the occasional Qastrian myself. Reminds me of my childhood.”
Stansgaard lowered his ears. “That there sounds like a story.”
“Sure,” Magdus raised his glass. “But you first.”