Abyss & Apex : First Quarter 2009: After The Revolution

After the Revolution illo

After The Revolution

by Pauline J. Alama

By the time the revolutionaries seized the Eugen nursery, the war was more or less over. But the Generation Guardians gave up no easier for all that.

“You can’t take us alive!” a Guardian raged over the speaker system. “You come in and we detonate.” Between the Guardian’s ravings, the rebel Unit Leader heard the wail of a baby. Aurora shivered, but her voice was steady as she answered into her megaphone, “No, you won’t. Your explosive devices have been neutralized. I know my way around your installation, and with good reason, compan’.”

“Traitor!” cried the Generation Guardian—probably Thor, Aurora thought. This apocalyptic crap was so like him. “We’re not afraid to die; there’s nothing you can make us do.”

“Wrong again.” Aurora gave the signal to release the sleep gas. Thor yammered on for a minute or so, but Aurora, fastening her gas mask, listened more to the decreasing pace and mounting confusion of his speech than to its content. When his diatribe had dwindled to a stream of slurred curses, she gave the order and they stormed the building.

Groggy Guardians fired weapons erratically. Akshat got hit, but carried on, so it could not be too grave. One Guardian attacked Inez, the medic, so Aurora had to kill him for her; Cooper overreacted and killed two or three Guardians who were too stoned to fight back anyway; but all in all, it was the least bloody victory Aurora could remember. Her troops immobilized drugged Guardians, loaded them into captured police crafts, then set about securing the sleeping children.

“Kids in Level J are awake,” Karima reported over the com.

“Any Guardians?” Aurora said.

“Don’t think so. Can’t be sure.”

“Keep your weapons open. I’ll be right down. Watch out for older kids: they could be Youth Corps.”

“Understood.”

“We should have used a higher dose,” Cooper said.

“And overdose the kids? We might as well have blown it up,” Aurora spat back.

“That’s what I said all along,” he muttered very low, but not too low to hear. Aurora ground her teeth. Why did she always get stuck with his type? She sighed, and thanked whatever god might be listening that over the years she’d learned to resist the impulse to whip her gun around from enemy to uneasy ally. There was too much work left to waste time on anger.

“Inez, Tan, Michael, and you folks, come with me. Cooper, Akshat, Ana, stay here and guard the exit.” She wasn’t sure she needed a guard there—everything else had been captured hours or days ago—but she didn’t want Coop valiantly slaying some ten-year-old on Level J. Best keep him busy elsewhere.

When she reached Level J, she found Karima and Wei in the gym, standing guard over a pack of shocked, frightened, and angry prepubescent Eugens. Most of the other rebels were searching the level for Guardians or armed Cadets. Aurora joined the search—after all, she knew the place better than anyone. She found two corpses, a Guardian and a Youth Corps Cadet, broken capsules still clutched between their stiff fingers.

She opened her communicator: “Doc, start checking kids for poison. We’ve got suicides—”

“I’m on it already,” said Inez.

When Aurora returned to the gym, Karima seized on her with a look of relief. “’Rora, take this kid off my hands, will you? She keeps demanding to speak to our leader.”

“What are you doing with us?” piped an indignant voice. Aurora unmasked to give the child a view of her face, and got a good look herself. Like most Eugens, the girl was beautiful: they’d always denied breeding for it, but there was no denying the outcome. Glossy black hair swept her shoulders; her perfect almond eyes were jade green. Her every motion blended the unthinking grace of a child and the power of a trained young warrior. She looked nine or ten, too young for Youth Corps but old enough to be well aware of her place in the Eugen hierarchy.

“We have to take you out of here, compan’,” Aurora said.

“Why do you call me compan’, mongrel? I am Number One for Generation 4.2 and I demand to know what’s going on!”

“Number One, eh? How about that,” Aurora said. “I was Number One myself.”

“That’s a lie,” the child said, but then added, “isn’t it?”

“Aurora, you’ve found your match,” Karima laughed.

“Indeed I have,” she said. “You should come with me, Number One.”

“No! Why should I? I’m staying right here.”

Aurora shook her head. “The world has changed, compan’. This place will be destroyed, so no one will be called Mongrel or Eugen ever again. You have to go away with someone; wouldn’t you rather go with another Number One?”

“If you were Number One, then you—you’re the Traitor,” the girl said in a tone of awe and horror.

“Clever girl. You know who I am: Aurora — Eugenica.” Her tongue faltered on the last name she hadn’t used in years.

“It’s your fault, all of this. You betrayed us,” the girl said.

Karima cut in, “What she did was save your life.”

“She did not!” the child said almost hysterically. “Thor wasn’t really going to blow us up. It was a bluff, and you mongrels fell for it.”

“Kid, that’s not even what I was talking about,” Karima said. “She did save your life; maybe twice over.”

“Liar!”

“Don’t bother, Karima,” Aurora said. “Let it alone. If she thinks I’m the devil, no amount of argument will make an angel out of me.” She could see, through the girl’s bravado, the underlying panic. “Never mind that, compan’. You may as well tell your compañeros what’s happening. The Equality Party’s taken over; we’ve won the war. The Eugenic Society is finished. We’re all human together now—Eugens and Plebeians alike. Adult Eugens who won’t assimilate will be sent to exile colonies off-planet. You kids will be sent to schools, warrens, or families around the globe to live like other children. Got that, Number One?”

“Understood,” she said with a scowl.

“What’s your name, Number One?”

“I am Morrigan Eugenica,” she said, tilting her chin upward defiantly, “a prisoner of war.”

“Understood, compan’. Dismissed.”

#

Back upstairs, she checked to make sure Cooper hadn’t gotten into any trouble. She found him near the Gestation Room. “You want to save the in-vitros, too?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said. “They’ll be easiest to place—no indoctrination at all. Hey, if we wanted to sell them they could pay for the whole new government. Imagine what childless couples would give for a genetically perfect unborn.”

“Perfect by whose standards?” he said. “Seems to me you’re showing a sudden partiality toward your own kind.”

“Cooper, after all I’ve done to bring down “my kind”,” she said, “after all my former companions that I’ve killed, after all the times they’ve almost killed me, it seems to me I’ve earned a little trust from the Equality Party. Just a little. So will you shut up and start working on a way to transport artificial wombs? Or shall I just assume that you’re only on this mission to sabotage it?” Without waiting for a response, she spun around and returned to the gym.

Later, as they herded together the children for transport, she spotted the little tyrant among the crowd. “What do you say, Number One? Are you coming with me?”

“Not without Persephone,” the girl said.

“Persephone?”

“My protégé,” Morrigan explained. “She was decanted six weeks ago. I’m sworn to protect her.”

Aurora frowned. She’d tried to explain the mentor/protégé system to the Equality Party leadership, begging them to keep paired children together. None of them understood except Karima. They’d declared “No new Youth Corps!” and voted her down. “Sorry, compan’, but they say Eugen children have to be separated and assimilated. Not my choice, but majority rules. Wherever you go, it won’t be with Persephone. So, will you go with me, or with some stranger?”

“I don’t have much choice, do I?” Morrigan said.

“No, compan’,” said Aurora. The kid’s new tone—sober, resigned, old—sent a stab of guilt through her. It was Morrigan’s generation that would pay for the revolution. There was little that could be done to soften the blow for these children caught between worlds. “The choices we’ve left you—they’re not the ones you wanted.”

“Then does it matter what I choose?”

“I may be the Traitor,” Aurora said, “but I’m your best hope. I’ve been where you’ve been. I won’t expect you to call me Mother; I never had one either. But if you let me, I’ll take care of you until you’re old enough to go your own way.”

“All right, then,” Morrigan said. “But I still regard myself as a prisoner of war.”

“Understood.”

The girl fell into step beside Aurora and they headed for the newborns’ cradles. “What the tall Pleb said, in the gym, about you saving our lives—it wasn’t—was it true?” said Morrigan.

“If I tell you it was, will you believe me?”

The child tossed her head. “Why should I?”

“Then why should I waste my breath talking about it?”

#

They bundled the children into transports: boys and girls with skin of every color, eyes of every shape, hair of every texture, all healthy, all beautiful, all miserable, as if some mythic Fairyland had been sacked and the immortals turned refugees. The world had never seen a more marvelous troupe of children; and if the revolution held, their like would never be seen again.

Aurora checked the passengers in the back of the transport, posted an armed guard to watch them, then piled into the cockpit next to Karima, pulling Morrigan after her. Number One, accustomed to being kept separate, made no protest on behalf of her comrades in the back. Once Karima got them aloft, the child fell asleep, drifting far enough out of consciousness to loll against Aurora’s shoulder like any child with her mother.

“So, you’re adopting her?” Karima said. “I never thought of you as the maternal type, kid.”

“I must be getting old. Besides, what’s there to do when the war’s over but raise children?”

“Build a government,” Karima said. “That’s what I’ll be doing.”

“All right—for you. But I can’t do that. I’m a Eugen: where’s the revolution if I end up on top? Anyway, saving the kids was my idea; I had to take one. And this one—well, it seems like fate.”

“You can say that again,” Karima said. “She even looks like you. She could be your baby.”

“Who knows? They’ve had my ovaries in vitro for twenty years,” Aurora said. “But that’s not what I meant. You didn’t know me at nine years old.”

“I wasn’t good enough to know you,” Karima laughed, “Number One.” Morrigan, hearing her usual title, woke and listened silently.

“All right, all right, can I help the way I was decanted? Anyway, Morrigan doesn’t just look like me. She is like me—like a part of me that I thought had died ages ago,” Aurora said. “Every word out of her mouth, I could hear myself saying.”

“If you feel that way, it must be the right thing to do, taking the girl with you. But you’ve got quite a job ahead of you,” said Karima.

“I know,” Aurora said. “This kid hates me. I have to try to do her good in spite of herself.”

“Well, as long as you understand that,” Karima said, “I wish you luck. Just don’t get your heart broken—or anything else.”

“I’ll be fine,” Aurora said.

“What will you do with little Number One? Normal schools may not want her.”

“I know. The only place I can raise a Eugen kid is off-planet. Here, we’d be controversial: a Eugen family, looking suspiciously like the seed of a new master race. On Eltheod, we’ll just be two more aliens, no big deal. Out there, where your neighbors may speak in voices only dogs can hear, the difference between Plebeians and Eugens starts to seem like a joke. It changed my outlook; maybe it can change hers.”

“Maybe,” Karima said. “But I wish you’d stay. Too many of the best minds and hearts in the party were lost in the fighting. What are we left with? General Jane-the-Pain Skeet.”

“She used to be your buddy.”

“Used to be, yeah. But now I know her better. She’ll probably coast into the presidency on her war service, loyal to the last drop of blood and all that crap, but what’s that have to do with leading a government? She’s a loose cannon, like Coop but with more firepower. Aman told me he’s keeping a close eye on the prisoners in her jurisdiction; it would be just like her to “accidentally” let a lynch mob at them. At best, she’ll make it hard to assimilate the ones that surrendered. At worst, we could end up with witch-hunts of anyone who looks like a Eugen.”

“I’ve thought of that, too, believe me, but I can’t do anything about it. Standing up for the kids was the limit of my influence; the grown-ups will have to fend for themselves. If I preach mercy toward the vanquished, people will just see a Eugen sticking up for her own. Don’t get me wrong: I can see trouble brewing. Just look at some of the places they’re proposing for exile colonies: Ong III, for God’s sake! I’ve been there. The amount of vegetation wouldn’t support a colony of hamsters.”

“Ong III,” Karima said, shaking her head. “Might as well shoot them. They won’t survive a year.” Just then Aurora felt Morrigan stirring next to her; realizing the child was awake, she signaled to Karima to drop the subject. They rode the rest of the way in silence.

#

In her sixteen years in the rebellion, Aurora had often imagined that she’d miss the victory party, being dead—looking down, perhaps, from some martyrs’ heaven, sharing the bliss of the moment with some long-dead friend. But she’d never dreamed that when the shouts of triumph rose from the streets she’d look down from her window, remote, closed like a cyst against that long-awaited joy.

Morrigan, pacing the floor like a caged panther, spoke only once during the night of celebration: “Why won’t they be quiet?”

Aurora turned away, not knowing what to say.

They were living in an Equality Party warren, but Aurora doubted they’d be welcome there much longer. The war over, her Eugen military training was no longer needed, and her other talents had nothing to do with founding a government. She was obsolete. “Death would have been a good career move,” she half-joked to Karima when her friend dropped in, loose-jointed with wine and high spirits, to see if she’d join the revelry. “They’d be toasting my memory now instead of counting the days till I vacate the apartment. I could have been immortal on placards—at least until next week.”

“Right. And if we’d lost the war, we could all be folk heroes forever, and stay morally pure, too. When you start talking like that, you know you need a break. Go down there. Join the dancing in the park. I’ll watch Number One for a while.”

“Thanks, pal,” said Aurora, “but it wouldn’t be much fun without you.”

“Flattered, but I think you still have a few more friends on Earth. What’s your favorite doctor doing tonight?”

“Alexey and I split four months ago.”

“Then, by your usual calendar, you’re due for a passionate reunion.”

“Besides,” Aurora grimaced, “he’s probably celebrating with an all-night meditation for the souls of those fallen on both sides.”

“Sounds like your kind of evening, right now,” Karima observed.

“I can stew in guilt well enough on my own,” Aurora said. “Besides, how would it look if I showed up on his doorstep now? “Alexey, how’ve you been, I’ve got a kid to raise now, so I’ve decided I need you anyway.” Charming, really. How could he resist?”

“When you’re like this, I don’t know what to do with you,” Karima said.

“Don’t worry: it’ll pass. I’ll feel better once I ship out. I miss space travel.”

“Great. You’ll be yourself again when you’re light-years away,” said Karima. “Seriously: you shouldn’t leave in this state. Depression makes bad decisions.”

“I’ll miss you too, pal. But I can’t stay.”

#

The days passed fretfully as Aurora readied the ship for the journey. General Skeet gave her less trouble than she’d feared about taking the Albatross: technically, of course, the ship belonged to the Party. Skeet must desperately want her gone. She wasn’t the only one, either: Morrigan was not popular in the warren. Other residents with children watched the fire-eyed, tough-bodied girl with distrust, and balked at including her in the co-op school.

Isolated together, Aurora and Morrigan eyed each other in wary silence, like cats prowling the boundary of their territories. When Karima dropped in one afternoon, she observed them with alarm. “You let her alone so much, she doesn’t know what to think of you. Why don’t you try talking more? At least sit closer, not way across the room like she had some disease. Even if she screams at you, that’ll be progress. Might get it out of her system.”

Aurora shook her head. “She’s a Eugen. She’s not used to being touched. If I get too close, she’ll really be confused.”

“You ought to stay here,” Karima said, “to write a handbook for all those parents and teachers who’ve volunteered to bring up Eugen kids.”

“Yeah, maybe I should write my own Prison Diary,” Aurora said. Morrigan looked up furtively, then down again.

“Your own what?” said Karima.

“Prison Diary. That’s what she calls the journal she’s keeping. She’s probably writing in it now,” Aurora said, and once again Morrigan lifted her head to glare at her. Privately, Aurora counted the Prison Diary a success. She’d left the notebook on Morrigan’s side of the room by design, figuring that anything that kept the girl’s mind busy was preferable to brooding. She’d left her some books, too, including some middle-school astronomy texts and a deluxe star chart chosen to rouse interest in their planned journey. These, too, seemed a success: Morrigan spent long hours gazing at the star chart, unsmiling but absorbed.

When the books had lost their charm and the child went back to pacing, Aurora announced suddenly, “Come on, let’s get some exercise outside.” She rummaged a minute in her closet, then tossed a baseball mitt to Morrigan. It fell on the floor in front of her, and when Aurora emerged from the closet with the second mitt and ball, the girl was still frowning at it without touching it. Aurora laughed. “Don’t stare at it like it’s some rare fungus: you know what a mitt is. Will you play or not? Don’t tell me Eugens stopped playing baseball!” Morrigan shrugged, picked up the glove, and headed out to the warren’s back yard.

As Karima watched from the balcony, listening to the thwack of the baseball on the glove, she was glad to be out of range. With a strength that belied her size, Morrigan fired fastballs like torpedoes, grimacing as she took aim. This was no game: she was gunning for the head. But Aurora, still wiry, tough, and quick, caught them all harmlessly (whap!) in her glove. Come to think of it, this was no soft pitch Aurora was playing, either. They’d been tense indeed. It wasn’t lost on Karima that her friend wasn’t trusting this child with a bat.

“You’re good,” Aurora grunted, throwing again. “I bet you’re a pitcher, like me.”

“I pitched,” Morrigan admitted tersely. Two throws later, she added, “I am not like you.”

“Suit yourself,” Aurora returned. Karima had to laugh. But for their age and Morrigan’s improbable green eyes, they might have been mirror images. Two lean, strong, sinewy bodies in deadly symmetry coiled and pounced, took it and dished it out, thwack, thwack, thwack. Aurora had once been as beautiful as this child, and for all the ravages of time and warfare, she was still striking, even with the long strands of white hair among the black, and the scar slanting down to her left eye like a perpetually raised eyebrow.

“Pop-up to the pitcher!” shouted Aurora as she hurled one skyward. Sure-footed as a dancer, Morrigan moved into its arc and trapped it neatly in her glove, forgetting, for a moment, not to smile. For the first time, Karima figured there might be some hope after all.

As they retired, flushed and sweaty, to the apartment, Morrigan asked Aurora, “Do you have any books on spacecraft?”

Aurora laughed. “A few! A few dozen, I should say. That’s my field: I engineer and design spacecraft, pilot them, troubleshoot them, make them happy. My books aren’t kids’ books, you know. Take a look for yourself, though; if you don’t understand something, ask me.” Morrigan almost brightened.

#

The tension between them had resumed by the time Karima saw them off at the spaceport. Clutching her Prison Diary, Morrigan pawed the ground impatiently as Karima and Aurora said their goodbyes.

“I almost wish you were going with me,” Aurora told Karima, “but I’ll feel better about the new government, knowing you’re here.”

“If you’re gonna miss me so much, then stay,” Karima said. “This is crazy. You have no way of knowing near space is safe, so soon after the revolution.”

“I know how to protect myself, Karima.”

“Yes—if you’re trying to protect yourself.”

“Karima! Do you think I’d do anything stupid with a kid on board?” Aurora said, “I’ll be careful. But I’ve got to get away.”

“Why?” Morrigan complained, “Why do we have to go live on Eltheod?”

“I doubt you’d enjoy staying here,” Aurora said. “It’s lonely to stay in a place you know when everything’s changed.”

“Have you ever been in space before, Morrigan?” Karima asked.

“No,” said the girl.

“You might like it. After all, why just read about spacecraft when you can learn about one firsthand?”

“Speaking of spacecraft,” Aurora said, “Will you pay a good-luck visit to the ship?”

“Luck!” Morrigan spat. “That’s mongrel talk.”

“Kid, don’t mock spacers’ superstitions till you’ve been in space,” Aurora said. “Come on, Karima: you wouldn’t want to jinx my trip. Don’t worry, I won’t blast off ’till you’re gone.”

“Aurora, if you’re having doubts about going, you’re welcome to stay. No one’s taken your room yet, and you know I’d be glad to keep you around. But if you are leaving, what’s the sense of prolonging farewells? You and I know that once you get on the ship you’ll have more work to do than just saying goodbye.”

“Karima, please,” Aurora said, “Just for a second.”

Karima took her by the shoulder. “Don’t look so wounded—you’re the one who’s leaving. If it’s that important, I’ll come aboard. Just for a second.” So they all boarded the sleek little ship together. When Morrigan took her first look, she cried, “I didn’t see any picture like this in your books!”

“That’s right,” Aurora grinned, “The Albatross is unique—a prototype. I designed her myself.”

“Is it safe?” Morrigan demanded.

Karima laughed. “With the best pilot in known space at the controls, yes, it’s safe. Just don’t get in her way, and you’ll be fine.” She turned to Aurora again. “This is it, friend. Good luck.” With an ironic grin at Morrigan—for Karima believed it no more than the girl did—she launched into the spacers’ sending-off ritual, tracing a circle in the air in front of the hatchway. “Be safe in its closing and safe in its opening, safe in departing and safe in returning to me. Soon, I hope. I’ll miss you, kid.” She embraced Aurora briefly, then gave Morrigan a playful mock salute. “Bon voyage, Number One.”

And so they were left alone. Aurora set the controls and briefed Morrigan: “Whatever grudge you may have with me, I’m sure you want to survive, so listen up. Don’t touch any of the instruments. Belt yourself into this seat for the takeoff. We’ll lose gravity at first. I’ll tell you when it’s safe to unbuckle and float around, if you feel like it: the grav-sim will come on gradually, so you won’t suddenly fall off the ceiling. The fire extinguisher is here, and the medical kit is under there. Understood, compan’?”

Morrigan nodded silently. Her face was creased with worry. They belted themselves in and Aurora set the Albatross in flight.

“What are you doing there?”

“Adding power,” Aurora said. “We’ll need a lot to break orbit. Hang on.” It was quite a jolt, but Morrigan, battle-trained as she was, didn’t scream or even gasp. Aurora nodded approval. “You’re handling this like a veteran. Want to try floating?”

Morrigan shook her head. “I want to see what you’re doing.”

“We have to get clear of the sun’s gravity,” Aurora explained. “We’re picking up speed. Brace yourself: we’re hitting the light barrier. Now!” She shifted to superlight drive. As always, for a second, she felt as though she’d died and been suspended above her body. Then the feeling passed, as their bodies adjusted to the unnatural conditions of faster-than-light travel.

“You OK? Wasn’t that something? But it didn’t throw you. You’re a natural spacer,” Aurora said. “If you want to float, you have half a minute before the grav-sim kicks in.”

“What’s that you’re doing?” Morrigan asked.

“Monitoring for signs of unmapped wormholes. Treacherous things: they’ll spit you out in the middle of nowhere with a wrecked superlight drive.” This was probably the longest two-sided conversation they’d ever had, and Aurora prayed fervently that the girl’s interest in spacecraft would make things, for the rest of the long journey, a little less awkward.

“How long is the trip?” Morrigan asked.

“Six days, if all goes well,” said Aurora.

“You can’t stay at the controls the whole time,” said Morrigan. “How will you sleep?”

“I’ll get into stable orbit around a planet,” Aurora said. “It’s safer than landing, and less taxing on the craft. So you won’t get to see any planets but Eltheod up close—but you’ll see several from orbit, which is quite a sight.”

Morrigan nodded, but did not seem excited at the prospect. Instead she looked nervous, biting a nail and fidgeting in her seat. Still, when they did settle into orbit for the night, and Aurora switched from computer graphics to panoramic visual display, not even Morrigan could suppress a gasp of delight: “It’s beautiful!”

Aurora nodded. “It stuns me every time.” She’d been traveling in space for almost twenty years, and piloting most of that time, but the glamour of it never got old for her. Even as she began getting dinner, she kept her eyes on the view, transfixed by the glory of the stars shining on one screen, the planet on another. This, for Aurora, would always be home. Given the chance to reincarnate, she’d want to come back as a spacecraft.

She filled the coffee-maker by touch alone, scarcely taking her eyes off the view screen.

“What are you making?” Morrigan asked.

“Coffee,” Aurora said. “Want to try it?”

Morrigan made a face. “Eugens don’t drink coffee.”

“Suit yourself. Juice or water?”

“Water,” the girl said.

“It’s over there. Help yourself, but don’t waste any.” She busied herself preparing food: cutting up vegetables, mixing sauce, following a recipe she’d learned from Karima. “We’ll have to enjoy the fresh food tonight. Everything from now on will be freeze-dried.”

Morrigan didn’t respond. It seemed she was back to her old ways, talking only at need, stiffly, as though giving answers in class. Faced with this oppressive silence, Aurora chattered mindlessly through dinner, half to the child, half to herself, sipping coffee nervously. “Euh, this stuff is awful. It never comes out right when I make it. I can make a spacecraft sit up and do tricks, but a coffee-maker’s beyond me.” Despite the coffee, she realized she was dead tired; being closed in with Morrigan’s quiet resentment had worn her to rags. “I’m going to bed. You can do as you please: sleep now, or sleep when we’re traveling.” She pulled down one of the beds, fixed it into place, then began connecting the alarm electrodes to her head.

“What’s that?” Morrigan asked.

“It’s a pilot’s alarm. If we lose orbit, or if anything out of the way happens to the ship, these will send a pulse to my brain that can wake me out of the deepest sleep.” The child looked suitably impressed. Aurora switched on the device, then put on her blinders so she could sleep despite the planet-glow and starlight. She said, “Good night,” and unanswered, sank into dreamless sleep.

#

“Wake up, wake up, wake up, oh, please, wake up,” Aurora heard through a fog. Hard little fingers gripped her arm, shaking it. Somehow she could just not clear her head. “Please wake up, please, please, don’t be dead, please wake up!”

“Wh-what happened?” she raised a hand heavily to take her blinders off, but couldn’t force herself to open her eyes. Aware of a stabbing pain in her chest that would not go away, she groped for the sore spot, only to find the handle of the paring knife sticking out of her chest, a little to the right of center. That jerked her awake; she opened her eyes to see Morrigan standing over her with panic in her eyes and blood on her hands. “Merciful God! Girl, what have you done?”

“I—It’s all my fault,” the girl sobbed disjointedly. A sudden jar to the ship threw her off balance and caused Aurora’s wound to shock with pain. “It’s all my fault,” Morrigan repeated. “I thought I could take over the ship. I drugged your coffee and when you were asleep I took off your alarm so it couldn’t wake you and I stabbed you with the paring knife. But I couldn’t steer the ship. I don’t know where we are. Things keep hitting us.”

“Ohhh,” was all Aurora could say for a while. She rubbed her aching head as if to force life back into it. “We’re both in the same fix now. However much you hate me, we’ve got to work together. That means you obey me as captain. Is that understood, Cadet?”

“Yes, Captain” whispered Morrigan. “What should I do? Do you want help pulling out the knife?”

“NO!” Aurora seized the girl’s wrist. “If you do that, it—just don’t. If we get out of this alive, I’ll have a doctor remove it. Now listen to me, and do exactly as I say. First, y’ see that red switch on the control panel?”

“Yes.”

“Flip it. It’ll broadcast a call for help in all known languages. Got that?”

“Yes.”

“Next,” she said, but her thoughts trailed off. She groped for the pilot’s alarm. “Where’s my alarm?”

The girl came over and helped her find the electrodes. Aurora attached them to her head and felt the sudden pulse jolt her into full consciousness. “O.K. I think I’m awake now. Do you remember where the medical kit is? Good. Get the biggest plast you can find and bring it here.” As Morrigan rummaged in the kit, Aurora ripped her shirt open from the tear around the blade. When the girl handed her the regeniplast, she wrapped it as closely as possible around the protruding knife, tamping it down painfully against the wound at the center, fighting a surge of nausea—even with the grav-sim working, a small spacecraft is no place to vomit. She felt the burn as the plast began reacting with her tissues. “That had better hold. All right. Now help me into the pilot’s chair.” The girl grasped her under the shoulder. “Careful, now,” Aurora said. “Don’t jostle the knife. One careless move and I’m dead, and you’re on your own.” She could feel Morrigan’s body trembling as the girl helped her out of bed and into the pilot’s seat.

On the view screens, she saw rocks battering the shields. “Oh, God help us,” she moaned, “we’re in an asteroid field.” She switched off the visuals—they weren’t really practical, and the panoramic view was making her queasy—and concentrated on the computer display. The familiar sight of her control panel made her feel more alert. She dodged a few, got clipped, and cursed, until gradually the rhythm of the motions began to feel natural. Even the searing pain in her chest with each motion of her right arm faded to the background, too regular to merit conscious attention. “There was no asteroid field in the system I parked in,” she said. “Where the hell did you take us?”

“I don’t know,” Morrigan said faintly. “I got confused. Nothing looked like the star charts.”

“If we ever escape this,” Aurora said, “you’ll have learned some valuable lessons about the limitations of book-learning—among other things.”

“Oh.”

“That was a joke, kid. There are not many people I know that can pilot a ship and make jokes, too, with a knife sticking out of them. I wish you’d appreciate that.”

Morrigan began sobbing—a horrible sound from a Eugen child, because it meant that anguish had overpowered years of discipline and shaming.

“Never mind,” Aurora said. “You’re in shock. Get some water, sit down, and sip it slowly. Between the two of us we should have enough brains to think our way out of almost anything. I need you wide awake, Cadet.”

“Yes, Captain.”

When Morrigan had sipped her water and calmed down a bit, Aurora got her to explain as well as she could remember what she’d done with the controls. “Well, as near as I can make out,” Aurora said, “You got us heading back the way we came—but that’s the roughest guess. There’s too much interference to locate ourselves by sensor readings, and the navigation computer is having fits because you seem to have set a course in negative space. Just where were you trying to go?”

“Ong III,” Morrigan answered.

“What? Why Ong III?”

“I heard you say the Eugens were being sent to Ong III,” Morrigan said, “and then Karima said they couldn’t survive a year there. I thought I could rescue some of them. Like Thor, my grand-mentor. And Persephone—I was sure Thor would have found a way to keep her with him.”

Aurora’s heart caught in her throat. “Oh, Morrigan.”

“I was so stupid! I couldn’t even figure out the controls. I should have known.”

“Not stupid,” Aurora said, “just young. And very, very brave.” The shield took a hit, jarring the wound savagely, but she recovered enough to clear the next couple of obstacles. “Oof, that was close. But I think if I can keep to this bearing, we’ll get out. See that indicator? The density’s getting lower.” She gestured with her head at one of the display panels, and Morrigan made some small noise of assent. “Just for your information,” Aurora added, “the prisoners are not on Ong III.”

“They’re not?”

“They’re on Earth, waiting in POW camps while the Equality Party argues about what to do with them. They may never be sent there: Ong III is just one of many possibilities—one of the worst. And Persephone’s with some family by now, not with the prisoners at all.” She was fairly certain Thor had been one of the suicides, but this was no time to break that news.

“All this was for nothing,” Morrigan groaned.

Just then they hit a big one, and the little ship ricocheted like a billiard ball. The grav-sim flickered off and on, so that Morrigan drifted and then fell. Aurora, strapped to the pilot chair, roared in pain. When she checked the indicators for damage, her agony doubled. “Damn! We’ve lost a thruster,” she said.

“What can you do now?” Morrigan demanded.

“Try to compensate with the others,” Aurora said, “I’ll have to be twice as quick, and I feel like I could sleep right now. If only the alarm electrodes could reach here!” It was her own fault. She’d designed this ship with the alarm attached to the bed, ignoring completely the dangers of falling asleep at the controls. Her next model, she resolved, would have an alarm on the pilot’s chair—if she could ever make a next model. “Listen, Morrigan, could you make me some coffee?”

“How do you do it?”

Aurora sighed. “You watched every move when I was piloting; why couldn’t you have watched something useful? Never mind. I can’t take my hands off the controls to point at things. Just make sure I stay awake. If I pass out, throw water on me, slap my face, or do anything to wake me. And if I don’t wake up,” she fumbled for an idea, “well, then, that might be a good time to get religion.” The wound burned worse than ever. Glancing down, she noticed that the plast wasn’t sticking any more: it hung loose, dead and blackish, with blood oozing through the cracks. “Morrigan, this plast has had it,” she said. “I need—you’ll have to put on the new one, ’cause I can’t free my hands now. Ever done that before?”

“Yes—Well, no—only on a dummy.”

“Listen. Get the new one out of the kit and put it in reach of me. Don’t open it yet.” The ship jolted again, and she bit her lip against the pain. “Now, carefully—very carefully—wash the old one off, all of it.” The girl took out a sterile wipe and blotted away the dead flakes of regeniplast. When she got close to the wound, Aurora braced herself. Blood oozed out thickly, but the kid didn’t flinch. “Good,” Aurora said through clenched teeth. “Now, unwrap the new one, but leave a little of the wrapper to hold it with. Otherwise it’ll bond to your fingers, not my chest. Understand?”

“Yes.” Morrigan did as she was told, to the letter.

“Good. Now very, very carefully,” Aurora said, “wrap the plast as closely around the knife as you can without jarring it.” She held herself as still as she could, and tried not to reflect that the same person she was relying on to edge delicately around the knife had thrust it in there to begin with. “Very good. Now the hard part.” She took a deep breath, preparing herself. “I need a tight seal on the wound itself. Wrap one of your fingers in the wrapper, and use it to tamp down the plast as close to the blade as you can, without—you know what. Got that?”

“I think so.”

As Morrigan pressed it down around the wound, Aurora could not suppress a gasp of pain.

“I’m sorry,” Morrigan said.

“It’s all right,” Aurora panted. “You did just right, exactly right, like a brave cadet.”

“Stop saying that. I’m not brave,” Morrigan cried. “I wasn’t brave. When I heard the fighting, I ran down to the basement. I didn’t have the guts to stand and fight.”

“Retreating to Level J is approved emergency procedure for children under Youth Corps age,” Aurora said sternly. “Unless the rulebook’s changed since my day, you did just right.”

“But I didn’t take Persephone,” Morrigan said. “I just panicked and ran. I let everyone down.”

“Can you get it into your head that you’re just a kid?” Aurora said. “No sane person could have expected you to stand and fight us. You can’t succeed where an army of grown-ups failed. You’re not even old enough to understand what the fighting was about.”

“What was it about?”

“Equality. Democracy.” The spacecraft trembled, and Aurora shook her head. “No, wait—those are just slogans. They explain nothing. I don’t know how to tell you.” They took another hit, and for several long seconds Aurora’s body flashed white-hot like a lightning rod for pain. “Augh. Morrigan, get me a pain-killer from the medical kit.”

“But you’ve already had four,” Morrigan said.

“What?”

“That’s what I drugged your coffee with.”

“Oh damn,” said Aurora, “This is probably as good as it gets, then.”

“Sorry.”

After a long silence, Aurora sighed. “You’ll have to keep talking to me to keep me awake. Come on, say anything.”

“Why did you turn against the Eugens?”

She raised an eyebrow. “You don’t ask easy ones, kid. Why?” Aurora echoed. “It’s a long story. I—you may not believe it —I was once as gung-ho as you. I believed we were a better race, ruling wisely for the good of all. Then, on my first off-planet mission, I hit a wormhole and got lost, separated from the main force, out in alien space, with a small crew of Youth Corps officers and Pleb grunts. Out there with no one to tell me what to think, I saw my Eugen officers, under pressure, act like brutes. And I saw my Pleb crew, under pressure, die like heroes. And I finally understood that the Plebs didn’t need us, but we needed them.”

“How could we need them?

“Think about it. Why didn’t the Eugens outlaw natural breeding and make everyone eugenically perfect? Every society needs someone to do its drudge work, and genetically engineered super-beings won’t do it. We needed the Plebs; we needed to keep them down.” Aurora sighed. “Can you understand any of this?”

Morrigan shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to believe.”

There was a pause, and Aurora said, “Keep talking.”

“Would Thor really have blown us up?”

Aurora took in a long, slow breath and for a while did not answer.

Morrigan persisted, “I heard what he said over the speakers. But I didn’t know—I didn’t think he’d do it. Would he have?”

“I don’t know,” Aurora said at last. “You can never know what a person would have done—only what they did. I didn’t wait to find out if he’d do it or not. I made it so he couldn’t.” When Morrigan had been quiet awhile, Aurora said, “What’s Thor like as a mentor? Was he good to you?”

“He was great,” Morrigan said. “He taught me to pitch.”

“You knew him better than I did,” Aurora said. “If you think he’s not the kind of person that would really — really carry out that threat, you may be right. But I couldn’t take any chances.” She glanced at Morrigan and saw tears glittering on the girl’s face.

“Why did you have to be nice?” cried Morrigan. “When I heard about you in the news reports, I always hated you. You were supposed to be some kind of criminal. Why couldn’t you stay that way? It was easier when I could hate you!”

“I know,” Aurora said. “I didn’t want to love you, either. But…” she cast about for words, “but it’s happened, and—and the damnedest thing is that I can’t even find it in my heart to blame you for trying to kill me. You were just fighting for the side you thought was right. As a Plebeian once told me when I was in Youth Corps, you’re a good kid, for a Eugen. You’re loyal to the people that raised you. Who am I to tell you not to be?”

The ship vibrated like a bell, and Aurora was swirled away on a sea of pain. “Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Aurora!” Morrigan was shaking her left shoulder. She dragged her eyes open just in time to swerve so that a big one only grazed the shields instead of crushing the ship.

“Thanks, kid. That was close,” Aurora panted. “L-listen, could you get some ice and hold it against my forehead? It might keep me awake.”

Morrigan brought the ice and approached her with it gingerly. “You look all gray,” she said slowly. “Are you dying?”

“I don’t know,” said Aurora, meaning “probably.” They’d lost another thruster, but it was no use frightening the kid with that news. “Morrigan, whatever happens, you should know some things. First, I’m sorry.”

“You are?” Morrigan, caught off guard, almost dropped the ice.

“Not about the revolution,” Aurora added. “I still believe that was right, maybe not for you, but for — for the world. But I’m sorry it made you a pawn in our chess game. You didn’t deserve that.” She stole a glance at Morrigan, but couldn’t read her expression, and dared not look away from the display screen any longer than that. “I tried to think of a better way for you and the other kids, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. So that’s the second thing I want you to know. Even if I seemed like a jailer, I did the best for you that I knew how.”

“I’m sorry I—I’ve killed you,” Morrigan said, half choked.

“I’m not dead yet,” said Aurora, making an effort to straighten in her seat. “Look: the asteroid density over there is much lower. We must be near the edge.”

“What’s that blip on the control panel?”

As her eyes focused on the flashing light, Aurora felt a rush of life surge through her body. “Incoming message. Hallelujah!” She opened the communicator, and a voice broke through: “…read me? Aurora, are you there? Can you read me? Aurora? Number One? Are you there?”

“Karima! Oh, thank God!”

“Aurora! Are you all right?”

“No, I’m awful sick. Listen—”

“You must be, to fly into that asteroid field. Why didn’t you—”

“Will you listen? The Albatross is crippled. I’ve lost control—”

“You? You’ve never lost control of a craft in your life. I can’t wait to see what “sick” means.”

“Will you get me out of here? Hurry! Get a beam on us, for the love of—”

“If we could do that, don’t you think we’d have done it by now? For the longest time we couldn’t locate you through all the interference. There’s still too much junk between us for a beam. We’re coming in after you,” said Karima.

“We?”

Then she heard, “Let me talk to her.” But he barely needed to: she knew the voice instantly.

“Alexey? Sweetheart, I’m sorry I left without telling you, but—”

“We’ll argue about it later. Just hang on, OK? Don’t do anything rash.”

“How—how’d you find us?”

“We followed you all the way from spaceport,” Karima said.

“You didn’t think I’d let you go that easily, did you?” said Alexey.

“I knew you didn’t know what you were doing,” Karima added, “rushing off into space, giving those nobody-loves-me-I-should-be-dead speeches. I knew it was no use arguing with you. So I followed you. And as usual, I was right: you landed in trouble. You almost lost me, breaking orbit prematurely. I kept hailing you, but you didn’t answer, and then I lost you in this rock patch. All right,” she said more firmly, “we should be in range now. Cut power, and we’ll try the beam. OK, now…No, it’s not taking, it’s…wait…yes! Yes. We got you.”

The two ships locked hatchway to hatchway. As Aurora completed the last maneuver, rendering the Albatross a passive cargo on the side of the Spartacus, she tipped her head back against the pilot’s chair, breathed a sigh of relief, and reached up to squeeze Morrigan’s hand. “It’s over,” she said. Morrigan, unsure whether Aurora meant the ordeal or her life, stood gripping her hand, staring solemnly at the ashen face and half-closed eyes of the renegade Eugen, her captor, her rescuer. And it was thus that Alexey found them.

Coming in from behind the pilot’s chair, he at first saw only the child bending over the unseen pilot. “Aurora, are you all right?” he said, then stopped short as the color drained from his face. “My God!” Aurora remembered dimly, then, that there was a knife stuck in her chest.

“Alexey.” She smiled weakly. “You always show up when I’m a wreck.”

Alexey, true to form, was already unpacking his medical kit. “Let’s get you lying down. You can explain later how this happened.”

“Don’t blame her,” murmured Aurora and, her duty done, she passed out.

#

Back on Earth, the blade removed from her chest, Aurora moved back into the Equality Party warren, ignoring Jane Skeet’s unfriendly curiosity as best she could. Alexey also moved in temporarily — while she convalesced, he said — and for once Aurora felt no compulsion to refuse a little pampering. She needed it. And she needed Alexey. After years of on-again, off-again, she was surprised to find their relationship falling into place like an odd-shaped puzzle piece that finally fits after you’ve left it alone and worked on the rest of the picture. Maybe the war had been all that separated them, after all.

But it wasn’t the last piece of Aurora’s current puzzle. Morrigan was still out of joint, unnaturally silent. She seemed to accept Alexey’s presence, but spoke to him only in brief, formal sentences. She spent most of the day writing in her Prison Diary, clutching it suddenly to her chest if anyone came close enough to see it. Aurora made a few efforts to speak to her, but didn’t know how, as tongue-tied and shell-shocked herself. For the thousandth time she found herself wishing for the one talent the Eugens never bred: telepathy.

She might have known that what she needed was closer to home. Karima, stopping by between political meetings, sized up the situation without much ado. On her first half-free afternoon, she sauntered in to say, “How about we throw the ball, kid?”

“Thanks, but I’m not up to it,” Aurora said.

“Sorry, pal, but I meant Morrigan. Whattya say, Number One?”

Morrigan shrugged. “Why?”

“The way you throw, I figure you could give me some pointers. Come on.”

The girl was listless enough to be pliant, and pretty soon Karima had her trooping along to a park. Before they reached it, Morrigan said, “Why are you doing this, really?”

“Lots of reasons,” Karima said. “For one thing, to leave those two alone. If they’re smart, when we come back they’ll be engaged.”

Morrigan looked blank.

“Engaged to be married,” Karima explained. “I keep forgetting you Eugens are almost from another world. It’s been a long time since Aurora was so green.”

The girl nodded, but seemed lost in thoughts of her own.

Karima pursued, “How’d you feel if Alexey moves in for good?”

Morrigan shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll be gone by then, anyway.”

“Gone? Where?”

“I don’t know! Just — well, of course they’re going to send me, I don’t know, somewhere, sooner or later. She has to, doesn’t she? Send me away, I mean,” the girl stammered. “Don’t you know what I did?”

“If you mean something involving a knife and Aurora’s right pulmonary cavity, yes, I know,” said Karima.

“Well,” said Morrigan impatiently, as though all were already said. After a long silence which Karima declined to fill, the girl muttered down at the dirt, “I wish they’d go on and punish me. I’m sick of waiting.”

Resisting an urge to touch the girl, Karima spoke softly, “They’re not going to.”

Morrigan looked up incredulously. “They have to!”

“Why? You’re not going to do it again, are you?” Karima said.

“NO,” Morrigan said.

“You want to be punished, don’t you?” Karima said. “That would really make things simpler, wouldn’t it?”

They’d reached the park, but they were in no state for play. Morrigan threw herself into a bench, face in her hands. “Maybe then I could go back to hating her.”

After waiting to see if she had more to say, Karima sat down next to her. “You know, when I first met Aurora, I hated her too.”

“You didn’t!” In her shock, the kid forgot to hide her face. Her eyes were red, but she still looked hard as marble — just as Aurora had looked long ago, before the scar, before all the signs of vulnerability that Karima had watched her accumulate.

“Oh, yes. To me, she was just some Eugen snob, as arrogant as they came. I thought she was just playing rebel for kicks, or using us for some power game. They’re all like that, I thought. But she proved me wrong. She was too stubborn to let me keep hating her.” She glanced at Morrigan, but the girl avoided her eyes again. “What just about killed me,” Karima continued, “was that it meant — not just that one good Eugen had come over to our side, but that she would have been a good Eugen, a good person I mean, even if she’d stayed with her own people. That there could be good people on both sides, killing each other, each for our own notion of what was right. That’s hard. It was easier when I could pretend you folks were just evil.”

“I know,” Morrigan said. She appraised Karima frankly, her composure regained. “I hated you too.”

“That’s okay,” Karima smiled, silently noting the past tense. “We don’t have to throw the ball around if you don’t feel like it.”

“Well — just a little.” Morrigan slipped on her glove, looking more alive already.

#

When they returned to the warren, Morrigan rushed into the apartment without knocking. Aurora and Alexey sprang apart and stared mutely as Number One burst out, “Is it true? Karima says you’re not sending me away.”

Aurora studied the girl’s face. “Do you want to leave?”

“Does that matter?” the kid said.

“There might be options for you that I didn’t know of when I first brought you here,” Aurora said. “You could go to Alexey’s people — they were never your enemies; they’re pacifists. That might be easier than staying with the Traitor,” she smiled grimly. “Still, I wish you’d give me another chance.”

“Why?” Morrigan demanded. “I tried to kill you!”

“Well, sort of.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been thinking that over,” Aurora said. “For a Eugen, you made a remarkably lame murder attempt. You missed my heart by a mile. There’s no reason you couldn’t have aimed better: the cabin was well lit, and I wasn’t moving. I can only conclude that if you’d really been trying to kill me, I wouldn’t be here.”

“If I wasn’t trying to kill you, what was I doing?” Morrigan said—but she sounded far from sure of herself.

“Oh, you tried, after a fashion. But I think you weren’t sure you wanted to succeed. It was a disorderly attempt to do something, anything, not to feel helpless. And no wonder: you’d had everything you knew snatched away from you. I should have known you’d try something like that. Who can bear to have no way out?” Aurora said. “So I’m offering you a way out: do you want to stay with me, or should I start looking for another place for you?”

Morrigan stared in silence a while. Then she turned to Karima, “It’s true, isn’t it, what you told me the day you stormed the nursery—that Aurora saved our lives.”

“You never told her?” Karima asked Aurora, then turned back to the child. “Well, I will. Toward the end of the war, some of the Party wanted to kill all the Eugens so you could never regain control. Jane Skeet — I should say, General Skeet — was one of them. She even ordered Aurora to bomb your nursery. Said the Youth Corps was too dangerous to our future, and had to be eliminated. Well, Aurora got up, drew her weapon,” Karima picked up a hairbrush off the dresser, and stalked up to Morrigan in a flawless imitation of Aurora’s proud, straight-backed strut, “and she presented the handle to Skeet, with the firing end toward herself,” (Karima pantomimed, thrusting the hairbrush at Morrigan), “and she said, ‘if you want to kill all the Eugens, you’d better start with me. Come on; you’d better kill me now, because I’ll kill you before I let you bomb those kids.’”

“Why?” Morrigan turned back to Aurora.

“At the time,” Aurora said, “it was on principle, because you were children, because every child deserves a chance to grow up. But now it’s different. I’ve come to love you,” she said, “not just as a child who must be protected, but as someone I know, a tough, arrogant kid who throws a mean fastball and thought she could rescue the POWs single-handedly in a stolen spacecraft. You may not like to hear it, but we have a lot in common.”

“I know,” said Morrigan, in a tone that belied her years, and closed the distance between herself and Aurora. Awkwardly, clumsily, she touched the woman’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

Aurora pulled her close. “I’m not,” she said fiercely. “That’s how we got to be friends. It was all worthwhile.”

Pressed against the rebel’s shoulder, the Eugen child whispered, “I want to stay.”



Pauline J. Alama’s first novel, The Eye of Night (Bantam Spectra 2002), was a finalist for the Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Memorial Award and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Fantasy. She won a second-place Sapphire Award for a short story in Sword and Sorceress XVIII (DAW 2001). Her short fantasy appears in anthologies such as Witch High (DAW 2008), Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress XXIII (Norilana 2008), Mystery Date (DAW 2008), and The Trouble with Heroes (forthcoming from DAW). After the Revolution is her first publication on the science-fiction side of the speculative realm. Her next novel, The Ghost-Bearers, will explore some of this story’s themes of war and peace-making in an epic fantasy setting.


Story © 2009 Pauline J. Alama. All other content copyright © 2009 Abyss & Apex Publishing. 





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