This piece of story is the first in three. The submission at Brigit’s Flame was limited to 2,500 words this week and I found it nearly impossible to relate this chapter within the word count.
[edit: this is a second draft – the word count has gone from 1,730 to 2,610 – 1/31/16][edit: I am changing the spelling of the character’s name. It’s not Saran like plastic wrap but Seran like the gas.]
“A Doomed Moon” is another installment in my novel Adrift. This was written fresh for the Brigit’s Flame October prompt Darkness. Stay tuned for more.
Word count 2,610
Genre: Science Fiction.
“Darkness is not just a thing of the sky, but a thing of the heart. Within the dark heart dwells the ruination of man.”
Lady Saran Stellaluneia recalled the line as she studied the distant surface of Phobos. The markings and severe craters of what passed for a moon locally seemed more like unkempt smudges and signs of abuse than the lacy mara that gave character to la Luna of home. She turned away from the window, still hugging her shoulders against the chill of the conference room. Though the wake-up call had only been a few hours ago, the day felt long and Saran’s nerves stretched to their limit.
She crossed the floor, contemplated sitting in one of the chairs that surrounded the table, then crossed to the wall nearest a door. When Aryal came into the room Saran wanted to be free to move and embrace her.
A small butterfly in Saran’s stomach fluttered nervously. She had not seen Aryal in thirty-five years. Thirty-five years. Saran shook her head and the butterfly found a friend.
When her daughter was just six-years-old the Corp had removed the child from Saran’s custody. By the time Aryal was seven, the Board had decided Saran’s daughter would never return home. The corp packed Aryal away inside some distant protective program, to raised as a ward instead of a child. The Board’s decision left Saran with an empty hole in her arms. She had longed to fill it with a child again, but fate had other plans…
Saran hugged herself and shuffled the worst of her thoughts to the back of her head. The important part of the day would be the reunion. Secondary to that, would be the mission – revealing to the world an event or discovery that would change everything.
Greaves had told her almost nothing of this wonder that would transform the world. It was likely some bigger, better engine or a method for creating water out of air. The thing itself would be hyped ad nauseum to increase profits. Maybe, just maybe, it could be a real game changer. Saran smiled wryly to herself — Aryal was involved so it should be wonderful. After all, it was part of the prophecy her church was built on – that the blessed second daughter of the Moon would be the catalyst for great change in the world. Admittedly, Saran and her team of writers had created the prophecy on a whim…and it was her declaration of said omen, in the early days of The Fellowship of Lunarian Evanescence, that set a disturbed man to hunting Saran’s daughter and nearly killing her ex-husband Rafferty.
Saran twitched a guilty shoulder at this thought and absently smoothed the robes over her stomach. There’s no accounting for murderous zealots. It wasn’t her fault that the man had a broken mind, but she had certainly paid the price for it. A steep price indeed.
The priestess shook her head and felt her jaw clench. Damned Greaves had stood against Saran before the Board.
Greaves! Coming to her now with the promise of reuniting mother and daughter as though he were not the instrument that tore them apart.
“Tool,” Saran growled low and flexed her jaw. In those bright times that turned so grave, Greaves was the man in charge of Saran’s household security. And when the madman started his campaign of trouble that boosted Saran’s ratings, it was Greaves who had encouraged Saran to play up the death threats because they stimulated devotion within the infant fellowship.
“Stimulated devotion.” Those were Greaves words before the shooting, but after – in front of the Board – he got stuck on the sound bytes “addicted to adulation” and “irresponsible parenting”. His union rep deflected each statement Saran made regarding Greaves culpability with a short clip of her demanding – out of context – that Greaves “follow my plan and stop whining about the rules.” They turned it around so it appeared Saran had endangered her child despite his warnings for Aryal’s safety.
Saran flicked open her fisted hands to return circulation and watched the small arcs fade from where her nails had indented her palms. One thing that Lady Saran had learned in the past thirty-five years was control. She would not let Greaves taint her reunion with Aryal. His time would come, but first her daughter must return to her arms and the world must receive its promised boon. Saran returned the window, barely noticing the glow of Phobos standing out against the night as her thoughts turned inward on the dark corners of her past.
A slight change in the air prompted Saran to shift her gaze from the view of Martian night to the reflection of the room behind her. Greaves stood framed in the doorway, the notched muzzle of a rifle visible over his shoulder. Saran shook her head slightly and rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. A formal guard was posted at the door armed with rifles. It was over-the-top to bring that kind pointless firepower into the close quarters of the hallway. Any bullets fired would be doubly dangerous considering the lethal atmosphere one unlucky bullet could introduce to the building. Pistols of inertial scatter shot or tranq darts would make more sense.
Saran slipped into a quick daydream in which she sauntered slowly up to Greaves – smiling broad, arms thrown wide, his guard with their backs to the room – when Greaves came in close for the offered hug she would slip a sharp blade into his crisp uniform…feel it meet the resistance of tender flesh. Would it feel like a pop as the blade won out and slipped between his ribs? If it was sharp enough, maybe thrust into his back, he might not feel it. Greaves would figure out he was dead when he got dizzy and the floor came up to meet his head.
Saran turned from the window, still smiling at the thought of his warm blood slick on her fingers. She reenacted the offer of a hug from her musings. Would he let her get that close?
A look of surprise flickered across his face, but Greaves opened up for the embrace and pulled her in much closer than what was appropriate. Saran felt his hand slide from her shoulder to mid back. She pulled away to avoid misread body language – like invitations or reproach.
“I could kill him,” she thought. “He believes I’m weak or incapable. The man has no consideration for what I could do to him.”
Under any other circumstance, being underestimated would have infuriated Saran but this situation with Greaves…his arrogance was a gift.
Thirty-five years of hate can motivate even the kindest person to extreme methods of vengeance. Saran was not a kind person.
“I’m so glad you’ve warmed up to this,” Greaves commented, kissing her on each cheek. “Are you excited about meeting Aryal or nervous?” Greaves motioned for Saran to take a seat, his hand pressing gently at the small of her back.
“I will say I’m nervous.” Saran stiffly acquiesced to being led to a chair. “But I’m feeling so many things at once, no other emotion is taking shape long enough for identification.”
Greaves nodded and folded into the chair beside her. He turned his body towards Saran — leaning forward, knees wide in the classic everyman pose. Greaves took her hand, resting his own palm up on Saran’s thigh. The intimacy sent an instant flare of nausea to Saran’s senses. Saliva welled in her mouth as she fought the urge to retch.
“Sari, we need to talk about Aryal and how to behave when you meet her.”
“Please call me Saran, or address me as Lady Saran. That other name belonged to a girl I barely remember.”
“Saran. Of course. We are both older, better tempered…” He stroked circles into her hand with his thumb and smiled in a way that had once dazzled the impressionable Sari. Then he sighed heavily. “Aryal is also nervous about meeting you. I’m sure there are many emotions working their way through her brain right now, but the most immediate is a concern that your greeting – in front of all her colleagues – will cross the line of professionalism that she wishes to maintain.”
Saran imagined slicing into his thigh with a whisker-sharp boning knife and smiled, nodding with an understanding that seemed appropriate. She honestly couldn’t decide if the blade should be sharp or dull — the one that would hurt more.
“Your daughter has become a celebrated scientist in her own right. Aryal is one of the most highly respected Xenolinguists in her field. So you can imagine how it would be for her, seeing you again at forty-one, in front of her colleagues and peers. There is a valid concern that you might gush — comment on how much she’s grown, how beautiful she is…. You see where I’m going with this?”
“Aryal wants our meeting to be sanitized and emotionless?”
“Just professional. Because her colleagues will be there. It is a business meeting and a very serious subject.”
Saran pictured a moment of frenzy in which she stabbed Greaves repeatedly with knives in both hands. “Is this too much gushing?” that other self screamed at him.
Instead, the composed woman in the room told Greaves, “This is exactly why I wanted to meet with Aryal when we arrived last night. A private reunion where neither of us would have to worry about the embarrassment of tears or overlong hugs.”
Greaves waffled his head back and forth, then added another hand to the pile forming in her lap. “That was an unfortunate bit of timing. Aryal’s husband Jain is a test pilot. He returned last night from a six-month run to a nearby star system testing a new long-range propulsion drive. The two had been looking forward to a quiet evening behind closed doors when I sprung our arrival on Aryal. She said she needed processing time to mentally prepare for seeing you again, and I suspect that Jain was a bit greedy about sharing her attention for the night – even with you. The two are still very much in love.”
“A heart full of love and ten credits will buy you a weak cup of coffee,” Saran stated bitterly, almost to herself. “I’m her mother. Why does this have to be awkward? She’s not meeting me for the first time…like a stranger. The girl came from my womb.”
“That’s part of the problem Saran. She is a woman, not the six-year-old girl you once knew.”
Saran waved her free hand. “I know that. I know. And I understand about the professionalism. I won’t embarrass her.”
Greaves nodded with a smile. “Good. I will reassure Aryal that the meeting will be a formal and respectful one. I’m glad to put that bit of unpleasantness behind us.”
“Is Aryal on her way now? I’d like to have some refreshments brought to the room. Tea perhaps? It will give me something to do with my hands.”
He patted her thigh in a slimy gesture of reassurance. “Aryal and her team are still hard at work on the course-altering event. They will be locked away for the next few days finalizing…everything.”
Greaves leaned in closer and tucked one hand into hers, the other resting over her wrist. “Saran,” he started in an almost breathy tone, “I want you to have dinner with me tonight. We’ll be in a holding pattern for a few days, but the wait could be a blessing; it could give us time to get reacquainted. I think you’d agree – there are so many things we should talk about.”
Saran twisted her hand a bit to reclaim it. “I don’t want to have dinner or any other meal with you. I didn’t come here for you. Besides, Redemption Night is in a few days and I usually fast. I will return to my rooms and spend the next few days in meditation.”
Greaves regripped her hand sternly. “See…I knew you were harboring ill-will. There is a wealth of anger between us and I would like to make a fresh start. Lighten up, Sari. Push all of that he-said-she-said nonsense out of your head.” Greaves stroked her thigh with two fingers. “Just sweep it all out of the way. We really meant something to each other once.” He whispered.
Saran pulled back. The chair arm caught on a table leg so the resulting exit was limited to five inches, but it was enough to put some distance between Greaves’ unwelcome caress and an old priestess’ thigh. Greaves gripped the chair arm and yanked to pull her back to him.
Saran pushed back in the chair again and half-stood. “Greaves, much like Aryal is not the tearful child I had to give up, I am not that vulnerable girl you toyed with so many years ago –”
“I still see that girl in you, Sari. Together we can be an unstoppable team. I know you want that as much as I do.”
“You can’t believe that Greaves. If so, then you are delusional –”
Greaves ran a hand down her upper arm. “Come to my suite this evening, Priestess, and let me properly atone for past sins.”
Lady Saran finally dropped the mask and let her revulsion show. “I long for the reunion with my daughter – for that I tolerate playing civil with you – but it is as far as I am willing to go.”
Greaves gripped her shoulder painfully. “Aryal will not available for that reunion any time soon. You will have dinner with me tonight or you will not be allowed out of your rooms, except for meetings, for the entire length of your stay. If you do not learn to do more than tolerate me, I will make sure the security team at Mars’ Base treats you as a potential spy – every communique reviewed in and out, no allowance to move about freely even for interviews. You will have an escort parked in your sitting room who takes note of your every move.”
“I can accept that level of scrutiny. It’s far better than the alternative of being groped by you.” Saran awkwardly pushed passed the knee that Greaves had been using to pen her in and walked to the closed door.
“Saran, we are here on more important business than your personal reunion. I did not want to tell you this…Aryal has no interest in seeing you again. They practically had to sedate her when she got my message that I was bringing you to Mars. I’ve been encouraging her to set aside that dark history with you and accept a more personal meeting, but it is not imperative to the business at hand that you be reunited at all. I could send you back to Earth right now with standard copy scheduled to follow. Your whole announcement can be derived from second hand AP lines and Mars backdrops superimposed on green screens. Don’t force my hand on this.” Greaves stood behind Saran, kneading her stony shoulder. “I need you to relax and go with the flow, babe. We can have a nice reunion of our own…or you can go home with your hands full of wasted time.”
Saran had not forgotten how to play Greaves’ game but this time, the victor would get revenge. She smiled thinly while agreeing to dinner. Saran’s smile warmed to something more genuine as she pictured putting a pillow over Greaves’ face and pushing a knife through his heart.
Adrift by t.s.wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.