copyright © 1995 Sally Rogers-Davidson
All rights reserved
First published in Australia in 1995
By Cardigan Street Publishers
copyright © 1995 Sally Rogers-Davidson
All rights reserved
First published in Australia in 1995
By Cardigan Street Publishers
The old and somewhat mildewed tome was delivered by official messenger to Albert Lomax early on a morning that Albert had expected to be routine. His work as translator in the historical document section of the Royal Archives on Glome was unexciting at best. Albert’s dreams of one day coming across some Empire-shattering document were mostly forgotten, but something about the ancient-looking book made Albert’s heart leap in his chest. Could this be the document that would take him from obscurity to universal renown?
The note clipped to the intricately worked leather cover read:
Attention Royal Archives, Empire City, Planet Glome.
Enclosed please find alien document B134, found by Anthropological Survey Team TA492 on Planet 2 / System 1036 / Sector 627 / Alpha Quadrant.
Please note: Planet A627/1036/2 is a small ‘M’ class planet in the early Cenozoic Era of its development. It has, however, a small colony of non-indigenous humanoids* believed to have migrated from the ancient world of Terra Sol (B363 /0269 /3-ext.) The colony has devolved into a stone-age culture with no evidence of literacy. Document is therefore believed to be alien in origin.
Albert Lomax drew in a deep calming breath. Could this be the document the Empress had directed his section to look for? The one she was so anxious to recover?
He held his breath as he read the footnote.
* For further information on non-indigenous humanoids see Anthropological Survey Report—The Maurani of the Planet Volca Nouveau Solaire. A627/1036/2.
Albert let his breath out in a series of spasms, thanking the Powers that this document had arrived during his shift.
They’d finally found it! The legendary planet Volca! The birthplace of the Lady Rayonner!
Which meant this almost certainly had to be the document.
He tried not to think of the reward the Empress had posted for its recovery… he would be a rich man if this really were the one.
Albert closed his eyes and pleaded with the Powers to let it be so. He reverently opened the stiff leather cover to reveal the fly page.
The language he recognized as a modified version of ancient Terran English. It was still in use amongst the natives of some of the more recently conquered Gloman worlds. It was one of the languages in his field of expertise and he had no trouble translating the short fly-note. It read: This is the journal of Polly Meridian, citizen of Delta Station, Earth colony. Committed to print so that the universe might one day know of the heinous crimes perpetrated upon me by the Gloman Empress.
Albert Lomax was shaking so much with excitement that he started to feel faint. He fumbled in the bottom drawer of his desk for the flask of Malovian brandy he kept there for such emergencies. His being a mostly very routine life, the only other time he’d used it was when he’d been unpacking a consignment from the swamp planet Creorthe and a rather large and very animated arachnoid life-form had sprung out at him. He’d been forced to squash it under a volume of the laws and bylaws of the Gloman Empire: Post-Federation. It had been volume ten, and even after a thorough wiping down with industrial-strength detergent there was still a rather nasty stain on the back cover.
Albert had drained the entire contents of the flask before he started to feel composed enough to contact the Empress. He’d never actually met her in person but it was his duty now to bring the journal of Polly Meridian to her ‘personally, immediately, without delay or further perusal of its contents.’ The instructions were that specific.
Albert was sorely curious about its contents but to read it was more than his life was worth. Who knew what might happen to him if the Empress even suspected he had dipped into the journal’s pages… Nope, best to get it to her without delay.
Albert brushed his hair and sprayed himself with cologne. He wished he had time to go home and change into robes more befitting an audience with her Most Regal Majesty, but these would have to do. He gathered the journal reverently into his arms, and set forth.
The Imperial Palace was not far from the Royal Archives in distance, but it took several googol-cubits of red tape, and mega volume of explaining for Albert to gain an audience with Her Majesty. Finally he stood before the doors to her private chambers. Albert felt especially privileged and exponentially nervous. Only the most important ministers and VIPs were permitted a private audience with Her Most Imperial Majesty.
The guard at the door was expecting him and ushered him inside without delay. And so it came to pass that Albert Lomax, lowly archivist/historian found himself face to face with the most powerful being in the galaxy… perhaps even the entire universe!
Albert fought the swoon that threatened to descend upon him. He tried telling himself that she was just a human being, nothing supernatural, and indeed she had the aspect of a human woman. He knew that she was ancient but she was astoundingly well preserved for her age. Her face was like chiselled stone. She was tall, straight and slim. Who could put an age to her? She was timeless. Her eyes were like steel, and her long flowing hair was the same startling silver-white colour that it had been at the time of her birth. She was even more impressive than he had dreamed she would be and yet she greeted him with a warm smile and a welcoming hand.
‘Is it true?’ she asked, coming towards him, her gaze intent on the book in his arms. ‘Have you really found the journal of Polly Meridian?’
Albert held it out to her. ‘Yes, Your Majesty… at least, I believe it to be authentic and it has her name on the flyleaf. Of course, I haven’t examined it any further than that. Your instructions were to bring it straight to you.’ He was apologetic. He had an awful feeling that he’d erred in some way. What If he was wrong about the journal’s authenticity?
‘Calm yourself, Lord Lomax,’ the Empress said, smiling. ‘You’ve conducted yourself with perfect discretion. I’m very grateful to you for the judgement you have shown and for the speed with which you have carried out my instructions. I can assure you, you will be rewarded for your part in this.’
‘Just to serve you is all the reward I could ever dream of, Your Majesty,’ Albert said nervously. The strangest thing, he realized, was that at that moment he really meant it. His adoration for his Empress overpowered him. She was as close to a Goddess as any living being could become. Just being in her presence was a near religious experience for him.
‘I believe that you are an honest and trustworthy soul, Lord Lomax,’ she said, ‘and I am absolutely assured that you will reward my trust and gratitude with your loyalty and confidence - that having brought this document to me, you will put it from your mind. You will never breathe a word of it to any other living soul, or set a word of it to paper. Your compliance in this matter will be well rewarded.’ She did not add that any indiscretion on his part would be equally punished, but it was understood.
‘Your Majesty,’ Albert gasped. ‘Never in a million years would I dream of betraying this confidence. I’d sooner cut off my own head and plunge into the river Tybriss to float forever damned and lost with the crocodragons of hell chewing at my flesh…’ He realized that in his passion he’d gone rather too far. He blushed profusely and bowed his head in shame.
The Empress laughed. ‘I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Lord Lomax. Your word is all that I require.’
‘You have it, Your Majesty,’ Albert assured her.
When the archivist had left, the Empress carried the book to her desk and settled herself into her overstuffed Baldorian leather chair.
She regarded the book. Finally it had been found.
Opening the cover, she read the inscription on the flyleaf. She’d learned the obscure language long ago… no translation was necessary, and she was in no doubt of its authenticity. She gave instructions to her staff that she wasn’t to be disturbed, and turning to the first page of the journal, began to read…
Once upon a time there was a massive and beautiful space station. Many people lived in this space station. Including me. I’m Polly. Polly Meridian, which is how I got the nickname ‘Polymer’. I’m not overly fond of it personally, but you know how it is, somebody called me it once and it caught on. Such is life!
Once upon a time I thought that we were each the leader of our own destiny, but I’ve since revised that opinion. You revise a lot of opinions as you get older and wiser. It’s funny how you start off being so confident about everything and how, slowly, one by one, the things you take for granted are pulled out from under you. What started out as a solid base supporting you gets more and more holes in it until, instead of walking down a neatly paved road, you’re skipping precariously from one loose paving stone to the next. In some places the paving stones are gone altogether and where there was once a solid block of reality, there’s just a void.
Life can be like that… in my experience.
I remember a time when I had a nice group of friends. We’d go to school. Then after school we’d go down to the mall and see a holo-flic or play a game of ‘Fazaar’ or ‘Questor’. Then we’d go home and have our rest period until the next day. Life was sweet. Predictable and maybe even a little dull, but sweet all the same.
Then I graduated.
It should have been the happiest day of my life. I was graduating with honours in literacy and visual perception skills and my parents were buying me a really nice studio so I could devote my life, or at least, my mornings, to art. The afternoons I planned to spend in much the same way as always, down at the mall with my friends, the main difference being we’d be allowed into the adult clubs instead of just the youth ones.
Life would have been really pleasant if aliens hadn’t invaded the Stations. My plans were completely destroyed. It was terribly inconvenient.
The day of my graduation at least started off as the happiest day of my life.
I slept in, since there was no need to get to school until the afternoon. Unlike some Stations, ours worked on a simple day/night cycle with the rotation of the planet we circled. There was only one work period each day since we weren’t a spaceport or anything, so there was no need for rotating shifts. Nor was there a problem of overcrowding like in other Stations, our population was actually decreasing, which in fact says something about our society, but I didn’t understand that at the time. I just thought it was nice that there was plenty of room for everyone to have their leisure together…
When I did finally roll out of bed, I strolled to the bathing module to have a long soak in the luxuriant waters of our spa bath… the other nice thing about our Station was that it had a really efficient water-recycling unit, and since it was far from overloaded we could use as much water as we liked…
I loved our bathing module. Mother had it done out like a volcanic cave pool. There was a sauna and spa and a swimming pool. In the morning I would usually have a spa with a liberal dose of soap crystals. Then I’d have a swim to get my muscles in shape for the day. Then I’d wander to the shallow end of the pool and stand under the hot waterfall to warm up again. Then I’d step into the blow dryer and deodorizing unit…
I didn’t even know how good I had it. I thought everyone lived like that. I mean, we weren’t rich or anything, everyone on our Station lived that way, and the other Stations around our planet were basically the same. I never even considered the rest of the galaxy. I guess nobody did…
I dressed in my snazziest outfit.
Shopping was great on our Station. We got stuff from all over the known universe. Everything was imported. The only industry on our planet was mining and that was all done with machines. Nobody actually went down to the surface. It was pretty to look at from orbit but a terrible place to spend your time on apparently. We only settled here for the planet’s mineral resources.
I’m not an economist so I can’t tell you the details of how our economy was based on selling raw minerals to other societies that had mined out their own planets, but I did do history, so I knew all about how our ancestors had set forth in huge colonisation ships to search the galaxy for a new home planet when the old one became too polluted and barren from overpopulation. For many decades they searched but could find nowhere habitable that wasn’t already colonised by other humanoids or alien races.
They had despaired of ever finding a home of their own until they realized that they didn’t have to actually live on the surface of a planet. They’d survived this long on the colonization ships, why not continue on that way? All they needed was something to trade for the rest of the supplies they needed for survival. They had initially dismissed our planet because it wasn’t habitable, but they had recorded that it was unusually rich in just about every element and mineral there was. Being aware that most of the habitable planets they’d come across were running very short on these minerals, they’d come up with the brilliant idea of parking their colonisation ships in orbit and going into the mining business.
What had started out of desperation became the richest mining company in the known universe. We traded our minerals for everything we needed, and plenty besides. The colony ships had grown into magnificent space stations, and since machines did all the real labour, only a few people actually had to work at the mining and trading of the minerals. The rest of us were free to indulge the higher calling of art and literature.
We’d actually developed a secondary company to distribute art and entertainment to the universe. We exported our music and holo-vids, and our games were the best in the galaxy. Of course, we just developed them, we didn’t manufacture them, there weren’t any factories on the Stations… we contracted out for that. We also had several theatre companies that toured the galaxy. I could have joined one of these, following in the footsteps of my older sister Celeste… but I didn’t fancy roughing it in space, so I’d stuck to art.
My parents were pleased with my decision… life in a touring company wasn’t at all predictable. Sometimes we went for years without hearing from Celeste. She’d only been back home a few times since my tenth birthday. She was eight years older than me so I’d never relied on her for companionship. Even so, on her rare visits I was always sorry to see her go.
The last we’d heard from her, the company had been planning a tour of the frontier planets in the Magellan quadrant on the edge of the galaxy. That had been three years before my graduation, when I was fifteen.
I walked through the park to school, since this was a special occasion and quite possibly the last time I’d go there… to school, not the park. I loved the park. It was the biggest open area on the Station and when you were in amongst the trees you could imagine you weren’t in space at all but actually on the surface of a planet. I’d never been on the surface of a planet and I often fantasized about it. I planned to travel one day, when I’d saved up and could do it in style.
In many ways Delta Station wasn’t really so different from a planet. The main living area of the Station was essentially a large valley with parklands and a lake running down the centre of it and buildings running all along and up its sides. The big bonus of Delta’s valley was that if you walked in a straight line down the centre you’d eventually arrive back from where you started.
If you’re not familiar with space stations, imagine living inside a huge hollow doughnut, or the inner tube of the tyre of a massive wheel attached by spokes to a central axle. The wheel rotates around the axle, providing the gravity for the Station through centrifugal force, which is the force that results from the swinging of an object pushing its weight outwards from the centre of the swing. Inside a wheel, ‘down’ becomes the outside of the tyre where the tread is and ‘up’ is the axel.
The ‘valley’ therefore runs along the inside of the tyre’s outer tread. Beneath the valley, under the ‘ground’, are the bowels of the station. All of the workings of the Station: the pipes and cables and transit tubes are located in the bowels. Nobody goes down there but maintenance crews and the odd, curious adolescent. The dome that covers the valley faces inwards to the hub. When you look up through the clear carbon glass of the dome, not only can you see the blackness of space and the brightly-coloured disc of the planet, but also the central axial hub and the other side of the Station.
Can you picture it? It is kind of hard to describe. Just as it’s difficult to convey the beauty and magnificence of the place where I spent the first eighteen years of my existence. My delicate and precious Station… my home… I do miss it…
But I digress…
By the time I got to school most of the others were already gathered in the auditorium for rehearsal.
The auditorium looked great! It was all done out in the motif we’d decided on for the dance: ‘The ocean of space’. The roof was covered in holograms of stars and planets, and swimming between them were imaginary space fish that we’d designed ourselves. When the dance was on, the holograms could be lowered to the floor. Wild!
Everyone was helping with the last-minute preparations: getting the seats in place for the graduation ceremony; organizing the refreshments; all the stuff that goes with a function. I didn’t have to do any of this because I was going to sing. I could have been a professional singer, but as I said, I didn’t fancy touring in a theatre company. Art was much safer and far less inconvenient.
Suzie Vancouver was struggling with a stack of seats. Rather magnanimously I strolled over to give her a hand.
‘Hodie Girl,’ I greeted her.
‘Hodie doe t’ yo’ toe,’ she said. That was our lingo at the time. We revised and updated every now and then, just to keep everyone on their toes. If you wanted to be in the ‘In Crowd’ you had to keep up with the fashions.
‘How’s all?’ I asked.
‘All’s well, as you can see,’ she gestured around the hall.
‘Such a hive of activity,’ I sighed. I was beginning to feel a touch forlorn. ‘You know, I think I’m going to miss the old place.’
‘Yeah,’ Suzie said. ‘I have to admit to the odd twang of nostalgia. Who knows what awaits us out there? What dangers may befall us in our quest for a brave new future? What trials and tribulations will be sent to test our souls? Will we, alone and afraid, be able to keep abreast of the latest fashions..?’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah…’ I interrupted her. I tried to laugh it off, but I was beginning to feel a discomforting sense of dread. I guess it was a kind of premonition of the disaster that was coming. But unaware as I was of the malevolent alien armada that was even now coming out of hyper-space somewhere on the edge of our solar system, I brushed the feeling off as nerves. It was, after all, a big night for me, with the graduation ceremony and singing in front of hundreds of people.
I left Suzie and went in search of something to keep me occupied until it was time to get ready for the festivities.
When I think back on that evening, I remember it – after that initial pang of dread – as the happiest time of my life in the Station. It was the culmination of all those years of study and dedication. It was the night when I was a star. It was my turn to be one of the important people… one of the somebodies. In the dark times ahead, I clung to the memory of that night as a beacon of hope, a remembrance, not of what was lost to me, but of what could be again… of what was possible… life could be that perfect… I’d seen it… I’d experienced it first hand, and although the knowledge sometimes caused me to despair, it also gave me something to strive for. If you believe that life holds nothing for you but an endless stream of misery and desperation, there’s no reason to prolong it. You might as well end it and hope for something better in the next life. I never let myself become a fatalist, I always clung to the hope that one day things would get better. One day I would regain at least a measure of what I once had. I guess that’s why I survived when so many others didn’t..
By the time the parents arrived for the ceremony, everything was perfect. The front of the auditorium was filled with proud onlookers, clapping and cheering as we graduates strode up to the podium to receive our diplomas. I sang our graduation song. The ceremony was televised to the whole station so I felt like a holo-vid star knowing that so many people were watching me – more people than I realized. After the ceremony the parents started drifting away and the fun part of the night began.
I sang more numbers with the dance group, then I danced with the rest of them. The punch was spiked and things got pretty wild. All I can remember after that is light and colour and music.
My head didn’t begin to clear until some time later when Daniel and I were in the park. We’d found a soft patch of grass in a secluded area of the woods. There were others from the dance, hidden from us but near enough to hear. It was a time of innocent pleasure. I literally didn’t have a care in the world, physically or mentally. I had no grand passion for Daniel – I wasn’t in love with him, but I did love him. He was beautiful, and not a bad lover. We were a couple and had been for almost the entire senior year. It was the longest steady relationship that I’d had – we were practically engaged. I probably would have married him if our lives hadn’t ended there… I’ll always remember Daniel fondly, even if it’s only to wonder how any relationship could be so easy and uncomplicated.
There was a bright light, and a terrifying sound like all the screams of the damned escaping from a rent in the walls of hell. The Station shook with the violence of the initial attack and then even more ominously an unnatural breeze began to stir the leaves on the trees.
There were screams and cries from the woods.
‘Gods! What’s happening?’
I jumped to my feet and pulled my clothing back in place. Outside the dome we could see flashing lights and we could feel the rumble of explosions.
‘The Station’s under attack!’
We couldn’t believe it. Nothing like this was supposed to happen. Then the sirens started up and we realized we were in terrible danger in the open. ‘We have to get under cover,’ somebody yelled.
We’d had drills on what to do in the case of the outer skin being breached but nothing like that had ever actually happened. We weren’t prepared for it. We didn’t move fast enough. Before we got anywhere near an airlock there was another explosion, far worse than the first. The sonic boom made my eardrums bleed and for a moment I thought the whistling was in my head, but it was all around me. The wind was sucking everything toward the hole in the dome. I screamed as I felt myself being lifted from the ground. I was going to be sucked into space. I was going to die!
Everything went slow motion. All around me were small birds and flowers. They were flying faster than I was, their bodies offering less resistance to the swirling tornado. If I could have caught my breath, I might have screamed some more, or cried, but it was a struggle to even stay conscious.
It’s all a jumbled blur of images after that. By some miracle I managed to latch onto one of the massive supporting beams under the dome. With the superhuman strength of utter desperation I clung to it even though my hands were bleeding and slippery. I pulled myself into it and wedged my body in and around the cross beams.
I was so close to the hole in the dome that I could see everything being pulled through it: only small things at first, it wasn’t a large crack; then there was one of my classmates, a girl in a bright pink dress, I couldn’t see who it was, but then right behind her was Daniel! I tried to reach him with my hand. I can still see his face begging me to help him. Then he was gone.
It was too awful to be real. I squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t watch any more of my friends being sucked to their deaths. I couldn’t hear their screams above the howling roar but I knew they were there. Each time a body was pulled through the slim crack, the wind subsided, just for a moment. I prayed for strength. I knew I couldn’t hold on much longer. Any moment I knew I would follow them into the void.
I don’t know how long it went on. Probably only a minute or two, but it seemed like an eternity. Just when I knew I couldn’t hold on any longer, there was a loud clang and then a moment of perfect silence… a plate had been placed over the crack from the outside… the Station’s automatic defences had finally come to my rescue… In the silence I opened my eyes to see everything that had been flying toward the crack stop for just that moment in eternity before they started their fall back to the ground. More were killed by the impact. Wedged into the beams of the dome, I remained suspended three hundred fathoms above the ground.
I’d survived the vacuum, but would I survive this new predicament?
Outside, the battle had ceased as suddenly as it began. There was no need for the aliens to cause any more damage, we couldn’t resist them. Our galaxy was at peace and our only defences were against natural disasters, like meteors. The mining company had operated for a thousand years without the need for weapons of destruction, but these invaders were from another galaxy. They were conquerors, sweeping across the universe destroying or taking control of everything in their path. Of course I didn’t know all this at the time. All I knew as I clung to the beam was that in less than five minutes my whole world had been turned upside down and nothing was ever going to be the same again.
I guess I was stunned at first, in shock. I waited there, drifting in and out of consciousness. Then I began to notice the amount of pain I was in. I was losing blood from my hands and various other scratches over my body. The pain increased as my head cleared. I started to wonder how to get down. I guessed from the amount of chaos the attack had created, it could be a very long time before I was even noticed up here, let alone rescued. Help might never come, and the longer I waited the weaker and stiffer I would become. I had to move now before it was too late.
I decided that if I was very careful I could crawl along the beam all the way to the ground. The beam was basically two step-wide strips of metal, one against the dome, the other a step below it and connected to it by cross beams along its edges. There was plenty of room to crawl between the cross beams. If I’d been uninjured and dressed for it, it would have been easy.
I began to pull myself into place between the cross beams, and it was then that I noticed the hem of my dress was caught on a protruding bolt. This was how I’d managed to catch hold of the beam! My party dress had saved my life! I ripped it clear of the bolt and started the painful crawl back to the ground. I tried not to look anywhere but straight ahead. I wasn’t exactly afraid of heights, but I wasn’t all that fond of them either. Especially under these circumstances.
The beam was fairly level at first, then slightly downhill. I had to cling to the side beams to stop from sliding head-first. When the angle grew too steep for me to hold myself back with my injured hands, I had to turn around so that I could climb down the beam like a ladder. It wasn’t easy, but somehow I managed it.
When I finally got back to the ground I guess I was expecting to be greeted by a cheering crowd who would carry me to the hospital and make everything better. I was disappointed however… I was quite alone and the park was deserted. My incredible feat of survival had gone totally unnoticed. I collapsed onto a clump of grass and passed out.
I often longed for the comfort of my bedroom in the dark days ahead. My bed was so warm and soft, my room was quiet and friendly and filled with things that meant something to me. My beloved possessions: objects that reflected my reality; told me who I was… You don’t realize how much you rely on things until you lose them. Now I’ve learned never to take anything for granted… I didn’t rescue even one possession from my room, not one thing I could have kept with me to remind me of the time when I was happy and safe. Maybe it’s just as well. I would only have lost it or had it taken from me at a later time, and it would have hurt even more. Better to make a clean break.
Somebody finally found me in the grass. They’d come in search of those who had been outside when the dome was breached. I don’t really know why it took them so long. I hate to think it of them, but I believe it was because they were too afraid for their own safety. Huddled inside the buildings, they were too frightened to venture out, afraid of being caught in another attack. The injured were left to suffer and die.
I was one of the lucky ones. My injuries weren’t life threatening. A few bandages and time to heal and I would be as good as new. Suzie Vancouver, my childhood friend and constant companion, died because my people were cowards. I saw her there at the hospital. By the time they’d come for her she was too weak to recover. I held her hand and watched the life drain out of her. First Daniel, and now Suzie. It wasn’t real.
They interviewed us, our conquerors, to decide our respective fates. Bandaged and bruised, my party dress ripped and bloodied, I stood before a man who I knew to be an alien. Still in shock, I wasn’t really sure what was going on. He asked me a lot of silly questions.
‘Where are my parents?’ I asked. I hadn’t seen them. Those in the hospital had been rounded up first to be assessed. I hadn’t been able to go home and get changed, or see if my parents were okay. I hadn’t been allowed to communicate with anyone. I supposed that my parents had survived the attack, but they wouldn’t know that I had. They probably thought I’d been sucked into the vacuum of space. It hurt so much to think of them thinking that I was dead…
‘I want my parents to know that I’m okay,’ I said.
‘You will answer my questions,’ the alien demanded.
‘Get dented,’ I told him. I wondered about his fluency in our language. They must have been studying us for some time to know it so well. I wondered who they were, these strange aliens.
He was speaking at me, but I ignored him. I know now that it was very bad strategy on my part. If I hadn’t been so uncooperative he may have been more kindly disposed toward me. As it was, he took great pleasure in assigning me the most unpleasant duty that he could find. I didn’t understand the alien mentality, that there were people who could derive pleasure from the suffering of others. I was so naive.
I was shuffled out of his office by another alien dressed in black. This one didn’t speak English. He barked at me in some ugly, guttural dialect, and manhandled me when I didn’t immediately respond to his commands. I wasn’t at all impressed. I hadn’t yet realized just how serious the situation was, but I was about to.
We were still in the hospital. The alien had set himself up in the office of one of the hospital administrators. The guard was taking me through a ward of elderly patients, when I noticed a black-uniformed Invader standing with a med-tech at the head of one of the beds. He was holding a gun on the med-tech, forcing him to disconnect the life support systems. They were killing the old people!
I was horrified. I had to stop him. Before my guard realized my intentions, I screamed and ran at the Invader, trying to wrestle the gun from him. It was utterly hopeless of course. He was twice as big as me and solid as a rock. He found my attack more entertaining than threatening. He was actually laughing when he knocked me to the floor.
My guard grabbed me by the hair and dragged me to my feet. The alien I’d tried to assault said something to my guard. They laughed. I was furious and tried to hit out at him, but my guard restrained me. ‘You fucking bastards!’ I screamed at them.
The killer of geriatrics shook his head at me and said in perfect English, ‘Now, is that any way to speak to your betters?’
‘You’re nothing but murderers!’
‘You need to learn manners,’ he said, raising his gun toward my face. I struggled in the grasp of my guard without success. I was terrified inside, but I was too angry to let him see I was frightened. I wanted to show him that we weren’t all cowards on the Stations.
He ran the cold muzzle of his gun down my cheek. His hard, almost unnaturally flawless face was so close to mine that I could feel his breath on my skin. He had the wild silver eyes of a wolf and his hair was short and spiky and silver-white. His pigment could have been that of an albino, except that his skin was tanned from some planet’s sun. He was the first person I’d ever encountered who truly frightened me. He was powerful and untamed, like the wolf he resembled. I felt that he could devour me with one snap of his perfect white teeth.
I didn’t like the way he was looking at me. I hadn’t seen any alien women so far and I wondered how long these soldiers had been in space. I’d read enough history books to know about the soldier mentality, so before he got any ideas I decided to give him something to think about. With all the strength and swiftness I could muster, I sent my knee up into his groin. I was gambling that their anatomy was similar enough to ours for it to have some effect.
I had never felt so close to death – no one had ever directed a look of such intense fury at me before. I knew immediately that I’d made a big mistake and it didn’t help that my guard found my action extremely funny. The man-wolf made a move toward me but, to my great relief, my guard decided to do his job. He swung me out of the way just in time and said something that pulled my adversary up in his tracks.
The wolf man was furious and caught me in his steely gaze. ‘You’ll live to regret this,’ he promised me.
I wondered briefly if an apology would help. I decided it probably wouldn’t. My guard dragged me away, saying something to me in ominous tones. I didn’t understand the words but I got the message. He was telling me that I was in serious trouble. For my own good, he kept a strong hold on me for the rest of the walk.
I was taken to another part of the Station where the aliens had set up their headquarters. None of them were speaking English so I didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on, or why I’d been singled out for special attention… there didn’t seem to be any other Stationers there.
I found myself in another office, facing yet another alien across a desk. Unlike the first, who had obviously been some kind of alien public servant, this one looked a lot more important, and dangerous. He was wearing the black uniform of the soldier elite and, from the medals and insignia that decorated it, I guessed he was someone powerful. My initial shock and anger had mostly worn off by this time so I wasn’t feeling recklessly brave any more. In fact, as I stood there under his scrutiny, I felt extremely insecure. Some people have an aura of power and authority about them. You know instinctively not to cross them. This was such a man.
My guard handed him a note that he studied for a while. My legs were shaking. I had to concentrate just to stand still. I would have liked to sit down, but even if there had been a chair available, I wouldn’t have sat in it, not without his permission. I was finally waking up to the danger I was in and I wasn’t going to do anything stupid this time.
He took his time. My guard and I stood in silence, but I could feel his tension – he was afraid I’d do something silly. Once when I shifted my weight, his hand shot out and caught me by the arm. I gave him a reassuring look, trying to convey to him that I’d learnt my lesson. I think he understood – he let go of me and stood at ease.
Finally the Commander turned his attention back to us. He told my guard to leave and I found myself alone with him. If I hadn’t been nervous already, I was now.
‘You’ve been bad,’ he said with a smile.
I felt myself relax, thinking hopefully: Maybe these aliens aren’t so bad after all? My guard had seemed a fairly decent bloke, really. He hadn’t let that maniac in the geriatric ward hurt me.
‘Prefect Kralman says here that you are uncooperative and have a bad attitude. He is of the opinion that if left at liberty there is a high possibility that you would become a dissident. He recommends you for slave duty on one of our mining asteroids.’
I didn’t feel very well.
‘I’ve had another complaint about you also,’ he said
These aliens aren’t very forgiving, I thought.
‘Captain Nemo of special security…’
Maybe because I was so disturbed, the mention of a Captain Nemo seemed extremely funny to me. Involuntarily, I let out a snort of amusement.
‘Have I said something amusing?’ the commander asked.
‘N!’ I coughed. ‘No sir.’
‘I assure you there is nothing for you to be amused about.’
He didn’t seem at all nice now.
‘Captain Nemo of special security has recommended you for execution.’
My knees went out from under me and I had to catch hold of the desk to stop myself from falling. I had a good idea of who the man with the amusing name was. The maniac wolf man.
‘What have you to say in your defence?’ he asked.
‘He was killing the old people.’ I was finding it very hard to talk. My throat was constricted. It was all I could do to stop from bursting into tears. I gave myself a mental kick. The last thing I wanted to do in front of these aliens was cry.
‘And what about your behaviour toward the Prefect?’
I couldn’t say anything for a moment. I took a deep breath and tried to relax. It was no good though, the minute I spoke the tears started running down my face. I’ve never been able to speak when I’m upset without bursting into tears. ‘I’ve had a really bad day,’ I said, brushing away the tears and sniffing.
He looked at me appraisingly. I hated myself for letting him see me cry. I finally managed to make myself angry enough to stop the tears by thinking of Daniel and Suzie. I made a promise to myself that somehow, one day, I would avenge their deaths. I felt the strength returning to me. For the first time since entering his office, I was able to look him in the eye.
‘Ah!’ he said. ‘Now I begin to see something of the rebellious nature that Prefect Kralman commented on.’
‘Am I supposed to thank you for killing my friends?’ I asked.
I couldn’t read him at all. He terrified me. One moment he seemed almost human, the next he seemed more dangerous than any of the Invaders. He was a true leader, the kind that inspires both fear and loyalty in those around him. I’d read about such men and women. The kind that can get people to do anything for them. I couldn’t help being in awe of him. I had to keep the images of Daniel and Suzie’s dying faces in my mind to keep my resolve. I had to be strong. I couldn’t let him see my fear and confusion.
‘I see we’ve made an enemy,’ he said.
‘I don’t see how you can be in your line of business and not make enemies,’ I said reasonably.
To my surprise, he burst into laughter. I guess he wasn’t accustomed to people talking back to him. I’m not saying I was being extremely brave, I was just being realistic. He was either going to have me executed or he wasn’t. Nothing that I said or did would change his mind. I was damned if I was going to beg. Besides, if it was a choice between slaving on a mining colony, or death, I thought I’d rather have it over with quickly. I didn’t like suffering and life was never going to be the same anyway. There didn’t seem to be anything to live for. I wished that I had been sucked out of the dome, at least my suffering would be over already.
‘Tell me why I shouldn’t have you executed.’
I didn’t really want to die, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to beg him. I looked at him and tried to say something – something wise, or astute, or at least sarcastic, but I couldn’t think of anything. My mind was so filled with contradictory thoughts it was simply impossible for me to settle on one thing. Finally I just shrugged and said nothing.
‘You won’t say anything to save yourself?’
‘What can I say? You tried to kill me once when you holed the dome. Maybe, since you didn’t succeed that time, you’d like to have another go? I guess that’s your prerogative, isn’t it? You’re the one with the power of God. You’re the one who decides who lives and dies. Since when have gods been merciful? Why should I expect any mercy from you? I’m nothing. A nobody…’ I realized that I was babbling and was angry with myself again. I don’t know why it mattered to me so much what he thought of me, but it did. I didn’t want him to think I was a coward. ‘Do what you will,’ I said looking down at my feet. My party shoes were a total mess and my tights had holes in them. I presumed the rest of me wasn’t in any better shape. I must have looked a real skag. Suddenly that seemed more tragic to me than anything.
‘What skills do you have?’ he asked.
I looked up at him and tried to seem relaxed. ‘I graduated with honours in visual perception and literacy.’
‘Visual perception?’ he asked.
‘I’m an artist.’
‘Oh.’ He was unimpressed. ‘Do you have any useful skills?’ he asked hopefully. I think he wanted to find an excuse not to have me executed.
I tried desperately to think of something I could do that they might value. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any accomplishment that would impress a race of warriors. ‘I can read and write,’ I said. I knew there was a lot of illiteracy in the galaxy. It might help.
‘Our language?’ he asked. Of course it was a rhetorical question. He knew I couldn’t.
‘I could learn,’ I offered, without much hope.
‘Anything else?’ he asked, also without much hope.
‘I can sing, and I can play almost any instrument.’
He didn’t seem to think it would be very useful.
‘Can you pilot a shuttle?’ I suppose he expected that anyone who lived on a satellite would at least know how to do that.
‘I’m afraid not.’ It was rather depressing. I was getting desperate. Surely I could come up with something? ‘I can shop,’ I said. It was a joke. I knew it wouldn’t help, but at least it got a smile out of him.
‘You don’t leave me with much choice, I’m afraid.’
Oh dear! I thought. He’s going to have me executed, and I can’t come up with one reason for him not to. ‘I’m going to die then?’ I tried to sound brave, but I don’t think I was very convincing.
To my great relief however, he smiled and said, ‘No. I’m not going to have you executed. There is something you can do for us. I’m afraid you won’t thank me for it, though.’
He seemed to regret having to make this decision. I wondered what it could be. ‘Are you sending me to the mining colony?’ I asked with horror.
I sighed with relief. ‘What then?’
He seemed reluctant to tell me. ‘Can’t you guess?’
I thought about it. What could I be useful for? I didn’t have any skills that they valued. I couldn’t speak their language. What duty could I perform that would serve a fleet of warriors? I certainly wasn’t warrior material myself, and anyway they didn’t seem to have any women soldiers. What then…?
I suddenly felt rather ill. ‘Not…?’ I couldn’t say it. I was too horrible to contemplate.
‘Maybe you’ll like it,’ he said. ‘Many do. After all you’ll be paid for something most women do for free.’
‘You can’t mean…?’ I couldn’t believe that he’d even suggest it. It was too disgusting. ‘No way. I’d rather die!’ Even as I said it I wasn’t sure that I really meant it. Death was pretty final after all.
‘It wouldn’t be forever,’ he said. ‘Just until you earn enough credit to buy out your contract. Then you’d be free to go where you please.’
‘Are you saying I’d be a slave?’ These people were really barbarians!
‘We’re all slaves, one way or another,’ he said ‘There’re a lot worse duties for slaves to perform. You should be grateful that you’re young and attractive You’ll have plenty to eat and drink, and comfortable quarters.’
‘But…’There was something to be said for food and comfort. I’d read enough history books to understand what he meant about the life of a slave. I suppose it could have been worse.
‘What would it involve, exactly?’ I asked. I might as well find out the conditions before I made up my mind. Not that I had any choice… well… I supposed I could always commit suicide. ‘Would I have any choice about who I actually did it with?’
‘Well, I suppose so. I’ve never really thought about it. I’ve never known a woman not to be willing… Of course, the more you work, the quicker you can buy out your contract.’
‘And how long would you say it takes for that?’
‘You do ask difficult questions,’ he said with a smile. ‘Well… Let me think… I’d say, the average girl would have to stick around with us for about… Oh… Five years?’
‘Five years!’ It sounded like a lifetime. Then I realized that years were subjective. ‘Five years in whose time scale?’ I asked.
‘Well, ours, of course.’
‘How long are your years?’ I asked.
‘Well, how long are your years?’
I could see that we weren’t getting anywhere. ‘Well, how many days are in your years?’ I asked. Surely their days would be fairly close to ours in length.
‘Five hundred and forty two,’ he said.
‘Oh frib!’ I said. ‘That’s pretty long.’ I was trying to calculate how many of our years that would make, but I never had been very good at math. Still, I knew it was considerably longer than five of our years. Unless their days were really short? I didn’t imagine they would be, though. Human races tended to require a day that was somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-six hours in length. Any more or less caused metabolic changes, and these aliens seemed pretty human.
‘Well, I guess I’ll give it a go.’
His smirk wasn’t lost on me. But I knew I didn’t have any choice. I think he quite liked me. I didn’t know why his approval pleased me so much. I should have hated him for forcing me into prostitution, but I believed that he would have found something better for me if he could have, and he could have had me executed. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I wasn’t really feeling very optimistic, but where there’s life there’s hope and all that.
He called my guard back in and I was dismissed.
When he found out my destination, my guard said something to me in his guttural dialect. I didn’t understand his words but his tone made me cringe. This new role of mine was going to take some getting used to. I wondered if there was any other way of buying out my contract. Maybe I could get into black marketeering or something on the side? I’d have to look into it.
I was surrounded by aliens. Aliens in black uniforms. Aliens in grey uniforms. Aliens in white uniforms. All of them uniform. Not an individual in the lot of them. They all had the same closed expression on their faces and went about their business with cold concentration, but as I learned to look beyond their uniforms, to their faces, I noticed that they didn’t appear to all be of the same race. Slaves? I wondered. All working to buy out their contracts? Or maybe when they bought out their contracts they stayed on as free workers? Their homes would have been taken over by the conquerors. They would have no other life to return to.
What would I do when I bought out my contract? I wasn’t naive enough to believe that there would be a home for me to return to. Was I then condemned to a life of prostitution? Would there be anything else for me once I had served my time?
It occurred to me that the conquerors wouldn’t stop at the Stations. They would continue on in our part of the galaxy until they controlled every planet and colony. All the free worlds would become part of this enslaved warrior empire. Where would it end? Was their anyone out there powerful enough to stop this brutal regime?
The aliens weren’t wasting any time in processing their captives. They did it all with the efficiency of vast experience. Divide and disseminate. While we were all still in shock they were sorting us out and sending us off to the far reaches of the universe. By the time anyone thought of resisting, it would be too late.
I thought about my parents. They would never know what happened to me. I imagined they would assume that I had been sucked out of the dome with the others. Maybe it was better that way. They could grieve for me and put me to rest in their memory. They wouldn’t be always wondering what had happened to me, where the aliens had taken me, or if I was alive or dead. I had no such comfort. I had no reason to assume they had died in the attack.
My guard led me to a kind of corral where other Stationers were gathered, awaiting transportation in one of the shuttles. He handed me over to the corral guard with a comment that made them leer at me. I guess it was about then that I started coming out of shock. My head began to clear and I started wondering what I was doing placidly going along with this plan of theirs. It was like I’d been under some kind of hypnotic suggestion which I was only now managing to overcome.
I realized that I had to escape. Now was my only chance! Once I was taken onto the slave ship I would truly be their prisoner, but while I remained on the Station, I would have the advantage over them. After all, they were strangers here, whereas I had lived on the Station all my life. I knew every nook and cranny, every ventilation shaft, every rubbish chute, every obscure store room and access tunnel. I could hide for weeks without them finding me. It may not make any difference in the long run, but at least it was worth a try.
But how was I going to manage it?
In my fluorescent party dress I really stuck out. In the docking bay everyone else wore the drab uniforms of the aliens. Even the other hostages were wearing normal clothes, brighter than the uniforms, but nothing like mine.
There was also my comfort to consider. My dress wasn’t made for scuttling down ventilation shafts.
I had to get out of the dress.
I sidled over to where the guards stood. They paid little attention to me. They were more interested in the goings on in the rest of the bay.
‘Excuse me,’ I said. I didn’t know if this was the best of plans, but it was the only one I had. ‘Do any of you speak English?’
One of the guards looked at me, a female and quite human looking.
‘I speak English,’ she said. I realized that she too might be a descendant of old Earth, taken in a previous alien invasion from one of the many other colonies scattered through the universe. On the other hand, maybe she’d just learned it like the others.
‘Um…’ I swallowed. My throat had dried up. My heart was beating so loudly I was sure she could hear it. ‘I was wondering if there was somewhere I could get cleaned up a bit. Maybe get something a little more practical to wear?’
She looked at me. I was sure she was going to tell me to go away, but then she suddenly took pity on me. She actually smiled and said, ‘You do look like you’ve seen a bit of action.’
I smiled back at her. She seemed quite nice. I started to think that maybe all these aliens weren’t so bad after all until I remembered the last alien I’d thought that about. He’d assigned me to a brothel on a mining colony. ‘I was in the dome when they… when it was holed,’ I explained.
‘And somehow you managed to survive,’ she said. She seemed a little sarcastic. I didn’t understand her attitude.
‘I was just lucky,’ I said, afraid of what she might be thinking.
So that was what she meant. She thought I was unlucky to have survived! I felt really ill. I wished more than anything that I would wake up and find that all this had simply been a bad dream. I felt tears begin to well up. Taking a deep breath I willed them away. I had to learn to control my emotions.
She made a decision. With a word to the other guards, she took hold of my arm and led me out of the corral and over to one of their ships. I balked at the prospect of boarding one of the alien vessels, but she dragged me inside.
It wasn’t like the inside of one of the station shuttles. It was grey and stark, totally utilitarian. No thought of aesthetics had gone into it at all. What an awful race of people they are, I thought. They could really do with my expertise, and yet to them I have no use other than as a whore! ‘You people sure don’t like colour, do you,’ I said.
‘We don’t think much of anything but war,’ my guard answered. From the way she said it I couldn’t tell if she thought it a good or a bad thing. Perhaps she didn’t have any opinion on it. I didn’t imagine they’d be encouraged to have too many opinions. Like good soldiers they just did as they were told and kept their thoughts to themselves. I decided it would be a good idea for me to do the same, at least for now.
To my surprise it turned out to be a medical shuttle. There were a few aliens inside being treated for minor injuries by white-uniformed medical technicians. My guard put me in the charge of one of them and told me she would be back for me in a while.
The med-tech gave me a cursory examination before leading me into some kind of decontamination unit. She didn’t speak English, but I understood her simple instructions. She told me to strip off my clothes. Then she closed the door of the unit and I was bombarded by some kind of invisible ray, or maybe it was sound waves… Anyway, they seemed to vibrate all the dirt and sweat from me. It was like having a really thorough wash without having any of the enjoyment of a hot shower. I longed for my lovely bathroom at home.
When this was done she handed me a light-grey uniform like the ones the alien workers were wearing. Perfect! I thought. Now I’ll be able to blend in with everyone else. The only difference I could see between my uniform and the ones the aliens were wearing was that mine had no identifying insignia, and this wouldn’t be obvious from a distance. Now I just had to slip away, somehow.
The med-tech sat me on a bench and told me not to move until my guard came for me… or something to that effect. She was busy and left me to get on with her other duties. It gave me time to consider my plan of action.
I combed my hair with my fingers and plaited it at the back. None of the aliens seemed to have golden hair like mine, but many of them were wearing caps. If I could get a cap I could cover my hair well enough. There were caps lying about with the spare uniforms, so when the med-tech turned her back on me I grabbed one and shoved it in my hip pocket. It made a bulge, but I kept my hand in the pocket to make it less obvious.
I waited anxiously, wondering how long it would be before my guard returned. When would be the best time to escape? Now, while there were only med-techs guarding me? Or later when I was taken back to the corral? If I escaped now my disappearance would be discovered, if not immediately, then as soon as my guard returned. But if I waited until I was taken back to the corral I might lose my opportunity. The corral hadn’t seemed all that secure but the guards might be more vigilant than they appeared. And what if a transport had arrived during my absence? I might be taken straight aboard it before I got a chance to slip away!
If only I was wearing my Haematite crystal! I thought. I needed something to calm my nerves. I wasn’t used to this kind of stress. I was scared stiff.
Suddenly there was a loud explosion and a terrible commotion in the docking bay. Without a thought for guarding me, the med-techs and their few patients all raced out of the shuttle to see what had happened. I was left alone.
It was my opportunity! I couldn’t pass up this chance of escape.
My heart was pounding and the surge of adrenalin made me dizzy as I jumped to my feet and raced to the door of the shuttle. I pulled my plait up onto my head and slipped the cap over my hair. The med-techs were all racing to the site of the explosion and I was able to slip out of the shuttle without anyone seeing me.
I was surrounded by aliens but none of them took any notice of me. I tried to look as inconspicuous as possible as I sidled around the back of the shuttle to the access ports at the rear of the hanger bay. If I could get to the stairwell I could slip into the maintenance tunnel behind it. Once inside the maintenance tunnels I’d have access to every part of the Station. They’d never find me.
It would have worked, too, if the dissidents hadn’t arrived there ahead of me.