The sound of small, shuffling feet roused Penthesileia from an uneasy, troubled sleep. She rolled to the other side of her bed and slowly opened her eyes; she saw Heraclea standing by the bedside in the dim blueish light of the glowstrips. The child's face was pale white and taut with fright. Her mouth was half-open, as if her scream had been sucked into the silent void.
"Hush now, child. Hush and worry not. I'm here now," whispered Penthesileia in her daughter's ear, her arms wrapped around the little girl like a warm coccoon.
She felt Heraclea's shallow breath and her fragile body's tremors; chills ran down her spine.
There's no end to the nightmares, she thought.
"Where is father? I want to see him," said Heraclea stifling a sob, barely able to contain a rush of tears. She rubbed a runny nose against her mother's chest and looked at her with heart-melting innocence.
"He's in orbit my love, you know that already. Come, lay beside me and nothing will hurt you, I promise," said Penthesileia but her eyes grew distant suddenly. She stared at a pot plant behind her daughter's back. It had large drooped leaves and creamy rose buds; it served no purpose other than beautification. It was contraband.
A thought entered her mind unbidden: He could be frozen stiff, floating outside an airlock. Nothing will hurt you, Hera.
"Father promised too," said the child, her voice fading away crestfallen.
"Your father loves you more than anything," said Penthesileia and swallowed hard. She added hastily, and even tried to smile reassuringly:
"He's coming soon, Hera."
She heard her falsetto voice through her own ears; the lie pierced her soul like a blade made of glass, shattering inside.
She closed her eyes and grabbed Heraclea from her shoulders, as if trying to fix her to the floor:
"Your father and I love you more than the stars in the night sky; more than the galaxy and the universe itself. Do you understand that, Hera? Remember that; more than life, love."
What is life worth anyway on this forsaken rock, she thought and kissed her daughter's forehead, feeling the cold taste of dried sweat. The child looked at her expectantly, fear creasing her brow:
"I love you too mother. But I'm scared."
"That's alright, Hera. Everyone's scared. We're only human," said Penthesileia with a slight sigh and looked outside their small window pane; the moons were fading away, while a trio of suns came rising spectacularly, the horizon an unearthly rainbow of golden-hued colors.
"What do you mean, mother?" asked Heraclea puzzled, the fear subsiding.
"Nothing love. Come here now. Lay on the bed, close your eyes and think of riding the sail."
Think of merrier times, she thought and shuddered. For the child's sake or for my own?
"And father at the helm?" asked the little girl as she climbed eagerly on the bed, a carefree smile sheepishly forming on her mouth.
"Always, my love," said Penthesileia. She clutched her daughter in her arms like a hawk-mother and felt a tear ran down her cheek.
She looked through her window at the rich, crystal clear horizon. The break of dawn was at hand; she saw the Hyperion shining brightly, moving slowly across the sky like a star with purpose.
How can a star be so unforgiving?
She felt Heraclea's nudge; the child inched closer to her bosom. In moments, she felt her breathing settle into the easy pace of sleep.
How can my child live in this world?
Penthesileia carefully moved away from her daughter and slid out of bed. She planted her naked feet on the floor and felt the warmth of the ground radiate into her legs. She used to love that warm feeling of connection with the earth.
Only this isn't Earth, she reminded herself thoughtfully.
They had come for Philetus while they were fixing the sail. He had promised Hera to take her on another ride out on the Fields. 'To learn to see beauty where there seems to be none, ' he had said with a gentle smile. They had all the sigils stamped on the codas; they recited a long, hurtful list of accusations: inciting rumours, rousing suspicion in the hearts of the citizens, demagoguery, abusing the State's charter, spreading lies. 'The Pedagogue who turned Demagogue', on of them had said with sickening, mocking pride.
What of their own crimes? Traitors to mankind, every last one of them.
She walked towards the window and watched the Hyperion fly past the horizon, towards the east. She stared at the ship that shone like a star passing over the Tower, its multitude of beacon lights, superstructures and metal support grid marring its otherwise perfect symmetry and features.
We turned to the stars with all the naivety of children. How could we have known?
The tower rose majestically towards the morning sky, a sleek obsidian arrowhead the size of a mountain, tall enough to scrape the few daring clouds. It reflected light with a sharp glint, as well as every other kind of energy and radiation; immaculate, mysterious, alien in origin.
Empty. Void. Useless. So they said.
Philetus had told her it reminded him of a tall, grandiose building back on Earth; a tower where people flocked to simply enjoy the view. 'It might as well have been just that, ' he had said and kissed her when she least expected him to. She touched her cheek out of instinct, waiting vainly for a warm, gentle hand to embrace her own.
The Tower: where the rejects, the outcasts, the lawbreakers and the unlucky are slaved to the machines.
To re-educate them. To teach them. To learn them to conform. To become productive members of society.
'To be never seen again, ' she said with a whisper, just like Philetus had told her first. The painful memory froze her face in a sad, bitter smile.
He shan't ever kiss me again, I know.
Heraclea rolled in her bed, somewhat agitated, troubled. The nightmares were coming again; she mouthed in her sleep, her voice shallow and strained:
"Choose father ... You have to choose... "
Hyperion (TDS-1), in low orbit around HD 85512 b
"They say you speak heresy, Philetus."
"I speak my mind, that is all."
"They say your tongue's as dangerous as any gun or sword."
"Did they say to whom?"
The guard, a burly, grey-haired man, chuckled and drew his chair closer to the small holding cell. He was wearing simple grey overalls, a utilitarian garment. No badge of office, no insignia or any other kind of decoration. He peered at their surroundings momentarily, as if he was standing there for the first time. He spared a few glances at the ever-pervasive optical sensors arranged throughout the cell block; as if making sure someone was watching him.
The clinical white, cold finishing on every surface failed to bring to mind dungeons, chains and torture; still, the metal bars of ancient times had given their place to a barely visible, hair-thin, kinetic force barrier the slight color of the sky.
The guard looked at Philetus inquisitively before cocking his head sideways, as if trying to peer past some sort of mask. The bright crimson prisoner's uniform that Philetus wore stood out impressively, though it was otherwise equally mundane as the guard's suit. It wasn't the suit that gotten the guard's attention.
"You intrigue me, Pedagogue. You're a peculiar man."
"And you're strangely inquisitive for a simple guard, I'll grant you that."
"Head of the Guards," corrected the man, raising a finger and grinning thinly.
"Head? Correct me if I'm wrong, but there are no guards in this place except you. Do you fell you're rising up in the world then?"
"What if I am? A man can only hope for the best."
"Hope was my crime as well," said Philetus and shot a vacant look beyond the guard to an empty cell behind him. The guard sighed and straightened his back.
"I merely entertain my time, Pedagogue. Save your words for the Tribunal."
"I find it strange that they haven't yet gagged my mouth."
"Say what you will now that you pose no danger to children."
The guard did not shy away from showing his contempt. He stared at Philetus as if his form were hideous, his mouth a source of plague. Philetus stared back evenly, before asking the guard in earnest:
"Since I pose no danger to you, would you listen to what I have to say then?"
The guard gave it some thought; he scratched his chin and looked ponderous for a few moments.
"I've heard madmen and heretics muse about the end of days and the fall of the firmament before. I sometimes think back to some of the things people say when they're about to die; most of it is so crazy it brings a smile to my face. But as you can see, it is an otherwise unfulfilling job," he said with a sigh, showing the blank, featureless walls in a somewhat demure way.
"Allow me then."
The guard shrugged, nodded and sat back on his desk's hovering chair. From across the hallway, a man in a holding cell cried out hysterically:
"He's a demon! An alien if I've ever seen one!"
"If that's true, our work here is done, isn't it?" said the guard with a playful voice.
"He'll boil your mind away with his words! I've seen it, I have!"
"Right next to the miners you spaced, I'm sure. Save it, Barabbas," said the guard and flicked a switch on a desk panel; no other sound came from Barabba's cell. He yelled and shouted and threw himself around the cell until he realised it was a futile effort; no-one paid him any attention. He sat himself down once more and went about muttering to himself.
.... There is more of this story ...