The first week of vacation was one of the most fascinating of Weyland’s life. During the day he swam in the sun-warmed sea, talked with Sera and Jianyu, and walked for miles along the sand. At night, he wandered between the tourist bars, getting used to strange new flavors and the sensation of eating for pleasure. Mostly, he watched the people around him: the vacationing families with their sun-pinked skin and big smiles, the service workers sneaking smoke breaks in the little alleys behind the bars, the increasingly grim faces of the anchors on the news stations that played on every screen.
He spent hours composing messages to his brothers, and hours more reading what they’d sent to him. Dyson had been traveling on a livestock freighter, and several weeks ago the head veterinarian had said they were friends. Whorfin was working on a space station and methodically working his way through every available mind-altering drug. Tyrell was taking moral philosophy classes and continuing his experiments on the limits of his pain tolerance. The others had new stories too, and new messages went out daily, a cascade of sensations cataloged with their trademark meticulousness: this was what it felt like to be scared, to be hungry, to be disgusted, to be in love. Their messages weren’t instantaneous–it took time for even faster-than-light communications to travel through the vastness of space–but Weyland had a lot of brothers, and so there was never a lull in the conversation.
It was hard work, learning to be human all at once instead of having a whole childhood to warm up to the concept. Weyland added his own observations to the growing list. He wrote about how Captain Dysart still seemed sad and distant, even though when the others were watching she smiled and said she was enjoying herself. He discussed the nights Sera invited him out for drinks, and the nights Jianyu did the same, and he noticed that there were never any nights where they all went out together. He asked Xrrt questions about her homeworld, and did his best to make sense of the answers.
In the middle of week two, he noticed that they were being followed.
It was a sensation he’d ignored at first, that nagging mental itch that told him something wasn’t quite right with the world. Weyland had always lived with a persistent sense of unease, that fear of being found out. But after several days of careful observation, he started to put the pattern together.
Someone was tailing the crew. It wasn’t the same person every time Weyland noticed, but he was starting to recognize some of their faces. One was a woman with long brown hair, human on first impression, although once a gust of wind had blown that hair aside and Weyland had seen she had a telltale lump right where her skull met her neck. The second really was human, a tall blonde man who always wore long sleeves in spite of the heat. He looked familiar in a way Weyland couldn’t place. The final one was Falacerian, or perhaps there were several Falacerians; it was hard to tell one apart from another when they could project whatever image they wanted, but sometimes Weyland caught his eyes sliding off someone in a crowd and he couldn’t focus on that person’s appearance no matter how hard he tried.
Weyland was reasonably certain that it wasn’t a good thing when a stranger was tailing you. So he did the only thing he could think of to do: he asked about it.
“Did you know someone’s watching us?” he asked Jianyu one night as they were sitting in a bar called The Clamshell. This planet didn’t have clams, but it did have a similar enough animal with an intricately whorled four-part shell.
Jianyu was distracted, staring at a screen playing off-world news above the bar. “Who’s that?” he said.
Tonight, Weyland only saw the Minervan brunette. He described her as accurately as he could, down to the vest she was wearing, which were impractically heavy for a seaside resort town. It looked a little like Sera’s usual outfit: drably colored, covered in pockets, many of which were bulging.
Jianyu didn’t look around for her in the crowd. He just kept watching the news, which was showing a star map with a bright red blob overlaid on top of it. “She seems nice. You should talk to her.”
The news anchor was pointing to different parts of the blob, and the picture changed, showing the red expanding out into the next star system. Weyland got up and walked toward the stranger. She was leaning against the bar, and when he caught her eye she turned away, playing with the straw in her drink. He stood right next to her, looking at her up close. It was definitely the same woman he’d seen before. Her nose was peeling from a recent sunburn.
Weyland said, “Why are you following my friends?”
The woman tensed and dropped her drink, sloshing liquid all over the bartop. “I’m not following anybody,” she said.
Weyland kept his voice perfectly level as he spoke. He wasn’t sure which of his brothers had first discovered that it was a better trick than shouting. “I’m pretty sure you’re not here for me, because if you were, one of us would be dead already. So tell me which of my friends you’re following, and why.”
The woman blanched. She was certainly a professional something, but espionage wasn’t her strong suit. “You need better friends,” she said. “Friends who don’t steal from Buddy.” She pushed back from the bar, shouldering him aside. Weyland let her go and returned to the table. Jianyu hadn’t moved, and the beer in the glass in front of him was untouched.
“I think Sera’s old boss is trying to kill her,” Weyland said.
“Mm.” Jianyu was frowning at the image on the screen, which had switched to a lush green field with a smoking crater in the middle of the grass.