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Literature / Kea's Flight

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Kea's Flight is a 2011 science fiction novel by John C. Ricker and Erika Hammerschmidt. In the twenty-fifth century, humans have learned how to detect genetic disabilities in utero. Abortion is outlawed, so unwanted embryos are removed, cryonically preserved, and sent away on starships staffed by convicts and robots to colonize new worlds.

Karen Anderson, aka Kea, was rejected for having genes associated with Asperger's syndrome. She has spent her whole life on a ship nicknamed the Flying Dustbin, which will arrive on the planet New Charity III when she's twenty-one. The ship is run by oversimplified, draconian rules, and the kids are allowed almost no freedom or privacy. But at age 14, Kea befriends an autistic boy named Draz, and the two start to communicate in secret. Over time more and more kids are added to their circle, and as they grow older they fight to gain control of their fates.

Two sequels, Kea's Landing and Kea's Migration, are being written.

Kea's Flight contains examples of:

  • Abandon the Disabled: A prenatal example.
  • Acting Unnatural: While the chess club is preparing to break into the engine room and change the Flying Dustbin's course, Kea tries not to look suspicious.
    I became painfully aware of how unnatural I looked when I was trying to act natural. Anyone who was on the lookout for someone suspiciously nervous-looking would have nabbed us in a second.
  • Artificial Gravity: The Flying Dustbin consists of two cylinders stuck together that spin rapidly to create gravity.
  • Bedroom Adultery Scene: Brandon walked in on his wife Caitlin in the arms of another woman. The other woman was executed for homosexuality; Brandon convinced the board that Caitlin was an innocent who had been led astray, but Caitlin was voluntarily put down the next day.
  • Big Guy Rodeo: Kea temporarily disables a robot's camera by reflecting its blinding light back at it, then jumps on its back and ties up its arms one at a time.
  • Blinded by the Light: When the rems misbehave, robots flash bright lights in their faces to blind them, then carry them to an isolation chamber.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: When Kea and her friends are communicating through chess, they make sure to have some vocal conversation, make a few meaningless moves, and occasionally pretend to capture each other's pieces so nobody will get suspicious.
  • The Captain: A BG named Brandon is in charge of Monarch, the optimizing computer, which controls all the other computers on the ship. Brandon controls everything from navigation to food production to the atmosphere to the artificial gravity.
  • Character Tics: Blaro constantly adjusts the left side of her bangs with her right hand due to Tourette's.
  • Condescending Compassion: This is how the staff treat the disabled kids.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Two BGs who rebelled against the board were punished by being put through the recycling machine and cut to pieces alive, instead of being given a lethal injection first.
  • Desperately Craves Affection: Gabria Laud, one of the rems, was one of the slowest students on the ship. She had to watch the smart kids get praised while she was yelled at for not trying hard enough. Desperate for approval, she spent years working to improve her academic ability and figure out what the teachers wanted from her, only to realize that her hand-comp was broken, so her grades would stay abysmal no matter what she did. She becomes a hacker, hoping to gain acceptance by helping the teachers with computer repair, but they won't hire her because of her grades. She turns rebellious to gain Draz's approval, but he thinks her messages are tricks from the BGs, and she's quickly caught.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: When Kea first meets Draz, she's wandering around the dormitory, wondering why so many humans want to fly. She doesn't realize she's talking to herself until Draz replies to her.
  • Eyes Always Averted: Eye contact makes Kea fidget and clench her stomach.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Kea occasionally does this at Draz's malapropers.
  • First Friend: Before she meets Draz, Kea rarely talks to anyone except her bunkmate Stacy Baker, with whom she has little in common.
  • Free-Range Children: Beep, the son of two BGs, is so neglected that nobody notices when he stops going to school.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The staff are called BGs, which is supposed to stand for Benevolent Guardians. The rems come up with their own names, like Butt Gasses and Bad Guys.
  • Future Slang: The disabled kids are called "rems," which is short for "removals."
  • Gaia's Lament: When the Flying Dustbin left Earth, the planet's environment had already been so badly damaged that Kea wonders if life still exists there.
  • Gang of Bullies: A group of boys who call themselves the Gang like to stand in doorways to block other kids from going through. Kids who kick up a fuss about it get sent to re-ed while the Gang go unpunished.
  • Geek Physiques: Draz is fat, while Kea is scrawny.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: When Brandon tries to interrogate Kea, he threatens her and her friends with harsh punishment over the loudspeaker, then turns sickeningly sweet as soon as he enters her room.
  • Hates Being Touched: The staff regularly invade Kea's personal space, which infuriates her.
  • Hero of Another Story: There are four other starships for disabled kids, headed for planets called New Charity I, II, IV, and V. There are also about a dozen planets for normal kids whose parents didn't want them called New Hope, and a few planets for kids with criminal genes called New Faith. The protagonists speculate about whether the kids on the other ships went through any of the same things they are. They imagine the New Hope ships are much more sturdily built, while the New Faith ships are full of robots and re-ed rooms and secretly built to fall apart after a few years.
  • House Rules: As an adolescent, Kea becomes obsessed with chess. She invents dozens of sets of rules for between one and eight players. Nobody wants to play House Rules Chess with her, so she spends hours playing by herself.
  • Human Popsicle: After Draz and Kea become the new optimizers, Monarch has Brandon put into cryonic sleep.
  • The Klutz: Gabria Laud, one of the rems, has such poor motor skills that she almost loses her balance every time she changes direction.
  • Language Equals Thought: Draz wonders about this trope when Kea tells him about Spanish genders.
  • Living Motion Detector: The engine room robots in the maintenance layer have weak sensors. They can detect color and shape up to one meter away and motion up to five meters away. Whenever one gets close, the protagonists have to move a safe distance from it, then hold as still as possible until it goes away.
  • Logic Bomb: Draz can use these to shut down some of the simpler computers. They have lines of code that are supposed to prevent crashes, but Draz can get around those with a virus.
  • The Lost Lenore: Brandon, one of the BGs, still desperately misses his wife Caitlin, who died shortly after the voyage began.
  • Malaproper: Draz is prone to these, like calling a blanket a tramangle.
  • The Mole: Beep's father, Mark Smith, was sentenced to the Flying Dustbin for programming Monarch, which was originally a censorship computer, to conclude that censorship was illogical. Monarch is still used on the Flying Dustbin because it's the only optimizing computer powerful enough to get all the others to work together, while Mark Smith was brought along because he's the only person who fully understands how to use Monarch. He's under such strict surveillance that he can't do anything against the rules with Monarch, but he can get away with using some of the other computers to help the rebels.
  • Meaningful Name: The Flying Dustbin is an "Island III"-type space station that looks like a giant, flying garbage can. It's also a prison.
  • No Periods, Period: All the rems are on birth control that prevents the girls from menstruating.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Draz plays up his social awkwardness and speech difficulties around the BGs so they'll keep using him as a hacker without suspecting him of rebellion.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Most of the main characters.
    • Karen Anderson, aka Kea
    • Zachary Drazil, aka Draz
    • Lucille Carlson, aka Lefty
    • Erin Blartner-Lowell, aka Blaro
    • Benjamin Parker Smith, aka Beep
    • Todd Nealson, the chairman of the Board, goes by Nail, because he connects the Board to everything else.
  • Organ Theft: Has been known to happen to earth women who go to back-alley abortionists.
  • Power Outage Plot: At one point, the power goes off on the rems' side for an entire day. By the time the problem is fixed, temperatures have plunged to well below freezing, and some of the rems have died of hypothermia. The BGs claim this is to allow the rems to get used to the weather changes on a planet, but the protagonists see right through that argument.
  • Repressed Memories: Kea notices a weird dent on the floor of the lounge and points it out to Lefty, who suddenly regains a repressed memory of an explosion when she was a young child that destroyed the part of the dormitory where the lounge is now and killed a bunch of toddlers.
  • Rip Tailoring: A group of bullies who call themselves the Gang rip holes in their clothes to make themselves look tougher.
  • The Runaway: Beep ran away to the rems' side of the Flying Dustbin because he thought something terrible might happen when the Flying Dustbin got to New Charity III, and he felt safer with the rems.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Draz is surprised to find that a hacker who messaged him is a girl.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Kea is attracted to Draz and no one else.
  • The Singularity: A long time ago, people predicted this would happen, until the planet was taken over by a theocratic dictatorship that suppressed all technological advancement that didn't benefit the government.
  • Sleep Deprivation: While researching ways to save everyone aboard the Flying Dustbin after New Charity III is discovered to be uninhabitable, Draz loses so much sleep that he starts getting into arguments with everyone.
  • Stealing from the Till: Brandon was the CEO of a company until he was sentenced to the Flying Dustbin for disguising an illicit personal fund as a non-profit organization.
  • Talking through Technique: Kea and Draz develop an elaborate code consisting of chess moves. At first each move stands for a letter, but they soon invent a move for each common word. They create variations for other board games, like Chinese checkers and mancala.
  • Their First Time: After Draz figures out how to temporarily turn off some of the surveillance cameras, he and Kea have awkward sex on a blanket in the hydroponics lab.
  • Time Dilation: More than a thousand years pass on Earth during the Flying Dustbin's voyage.
  • You Remind Me of X: Brandon becomes fond of Blaro because she reminds him of Caitlin and makes him think of the daughter he wanted to have. Blaro is even a lesbian, like Caitlin.