Thursday, October 2, 2014

CH1: Unlikely Revolutionaries, Part 6

 “Tell me what happened, in your own words.”

Mara sat in the middle of the room. She'd never been in this room before, set at the very deepest end of the underground habitat, lined with racks of servers and file cabinets. MuniPrin Lee Ludei and his trimind companion sat behind a desk, while Ermon stood in front of her, questioning her.

“I was beginning my reexamination of the latest Mercury imagery,” she began.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Why did you flag this pic?” Ermon demanded.

“Infrared spike on the crater rim-”

“That's sunlight, you psyching moron. The terminator's only a few klicks from the crater; the top of the wall's illuminated. For spirit's sake, a pre-prentice wouldn't make this kind of mistake.”

“Sorry sir-”

Shut up. Just shut up. Spirit help me, if you think you can test for the Sensologists when you make this kind of screwup! Check them again, the whole thing.” And with that he stomped out of the viewing cubicle.

Mara waited a minute for her heart beat to come back to normal. The blue glow from the false-color image on the big screen made her face seem ghostly in the subterranean darkness of the viewing room. She deflagged it and clicked back to the list of images she was supposed to screen for anomalies.

She sighed and leaned her head on the monitor. Rechecking the entire list would be the work of many hours, and she didn't have time to do that, not with everything else she had to do.

Then she heard the first scream.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Were you aware that Academician Pol was in the viewing room at this time?” Ermon demanded.

“No sir.”

“Before entering the viewing room, did you check if the 'no entry' light was on?”

“Yes, sir, I did. It was off.”

“Are you sure?”

“Enough,” MuniPrin Ludei growled. “It doesn't matter. Go on.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It was unintelligible, no words, simply a horrible cry of anguish. She bolted upright – it was coming from one of the cubicles next to her – started towards the cubicle exit – and then the words started –

Oh Spirit! He sees me! That great burning eye!”

It was coming from cubicle #3 – she ran towards it, wondering where everyone else was – the scream died to a keening moan, a whine of infinite anguish –

Academician Pol Vigili was curled up in the fetal position, foam flecking the edge of his mouth, his fists pounding the stone floor ineffectually. She caught a momentary glimpse of something horrible and vast on the monitor, but some instinct shut her eyes and she reached for the power button, groping along the screen until she found it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“You closed your eyes, then turned the monitor off?”

“Yes sir.”

“Did you see anything on the screen before you closed your eyes?”

“I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Something... big. I can't really describe it.”


“I... I really don't want to.”

Ermon humphed. The MuniPrin coughed. “Just go on.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

She opened her eyes. Someone outside hit the overhead lights, and she could see again. She crouched next to the Academician, who was still pounding the floor and keening. “Sir? Sir!” she shouted, but he paid her no heed.

Dee was at the cubicle's entrance. Mara looked up, into her eyes big as saucers. “Get the first aid kit!” she shouted, and Dee vanished around the corner, leaving her alone with the sobbing scientist.

There was a book on the desk, she realized, an antique made of paper, a thick thing the size of a tablet with a title written in careful print – Observations of Earth – and her blood ran cold, realizing in an instant what it meant. Acting on instinct, she stood and stuffed it behind the viewing cubicle's screen.

She felt hands on her legs, and looked down to see him staring up at her, his eyes wild but momentarily clear. “Run,” he hissed, his voice hoarse and raw. “Run, before He sees you too.”

Then Dee was back, with the medical kit, already pulling the sedative hypo out, and Ermon behind her. Dee knelt and jabbed the stick into the Academician's neck, and he went limp.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Why did you conceal the book?”

“It is contrary to our charter,” she said, picking her words carefully, “to make observations of the Earth-Moon system.”

“Did you read any of its contents?”

“No sir.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

We do not need a telescope to see what must be done. Earth can be seen with the naked eye, a jewel hanging in the void. It was ours once, and it will be again.”

Mara lay in her bunk in the Orphans' quarters, the blue glow from the tablet making her face ghost-like in the darkness. She had read the text – Preliminary Observations of the Solar System, by MuniPrin Lee Ludeithree times by now, the conclusion perhaps forty or fifty. The words were burned into her memory, but she reread them almost every night.

It was late, and there was no shortage of work tomorrow; she needed to sleep. She flicked the tablet off, stowed it under her pillow, and turned to sleep. But, before she drifted off, a voice from under her bunk broke the silence.

“Mara? Are you awake?” Yat hissed.

“Yeah. What?”

“You're on the scope crew.”


“Is what we're doing... dangerous?”

“What do you mean?”

“Last week” – they'd had a furlough last week, gone back to Elysium for a few days – “I saw Jehn, from my creche. He said people were mad, since that text was pubbed, about the telescope. Said we might call Them” – no need to specify who – “down on us, if they see us looking. Might bring Them here.”

Mara thought. Yat, she felt, deserved an honest answer. “I don't think it's dangerous,” she said carefully. “I don't know for sure, but I trust the MuniPrin. He's a wise man. And I do know that it's important, what we're doing.”

Yat didn't reply for a minute. Then: “Do you think... Do you think we'll ever take back Earth?”

“Someday,” Mara whispered. “Someday.”

Eventually they fell asleep.

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