In the Shadow of Heaven [ORIGINAL VERSION]by
Chapter Seventy-Eight - Condemned to Repeat Forever
Condemned to Repeat Forever
“To be in love is to exchange power with another person. They gain control over you, you gain control over them. Keep that in balance, and don't make it transactional or conditional. Having that power is not a problem, if it's understood and respected. […] Trusting someone to keep your heart safe is a beautiful thing, and being trusted is even more wonderful.”
-from The Alien's Guide to Human Affairs: A Rulebook for the Rest of Us by Ryon Davis
Sandreas didn't seem angry when he met with Kino and Sid in a private room aboard the Impuse. He probably should have been, but his mouth was a tight line and his eyes were distracted rather than furious.
They were in the small meeting room that Kino and Sid used as their staging area for their operations aboard the ship. They hadn't quite decorated it, but there were remnants of their previous mission stuck up along the walls with pushpins, charts and photographs that had been printed out. They sat around a table for twelve, just the four of them, with Sandreas and Halen on one side, Sid and Kino on the other.
For all that Sandreas wasn't angry looking, Sid still felt like he was a bug under close inspection.
“I was originally only going to send Kino, you know,” Sandreas said.
“What? Why?” Sid glared at Kino, suddenly angry for this offense.
“She has more experience with both the Adversary and real military interventions than you do,” Sandreas explained. He propped his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers.
“Yeah, like, one experience,” Sid said angrily.
“Calm down,” Halen said. “Against my better judgment, you both can go.” It was clear from Halen's expression that he meant that neither of them should be going.
“Thank you,” Kino said. From the size of the text on Sid's glasses, she must have been almost whispering the words.
This wasn't a fight that Sid had even half expected to win. In fact, it hadn't even ended up being a fight. So all the energy that had been building up inside of him had nowhere to go, and he felt deflated and angry at nothing and no one.
“I've missed you both,” Sandreas said. “I was looking forward to having you back with me.” He stared out over the tops of the apprentices' heads as he said this.
“We haven't been gone that long,” Sid said.
“We'll be back soon,” Kino said. “All three of us.”
Sandreas smiled a tight smile. “I pray to God that that is the case. But you'll be gone at least another month. It's fifteen days there, fifteen days back, and then there's the time you'll be there. I somehow doubt that will be less than a tenday.”
Sid nodded. He should send a message to his family before he disappeared again, but then again, it wasn't as though he was in the habit of regularly contacting his family. They could figure out well enough where he was if they just watched the news most of the time. Kino was lucky in that she didn't have anyone she had to be responsible for keeping informed, Sid thought.
“Time will go by as quick as ever,” Sid said.
“For you, I'm sure.”
“Why are you letting us go?” Kino asked. She had torn off one of the buttons from the sleeve of her cassock, and she was sliding it through her fingers with the power. Sid hadn't seen her fidget like this since that very first day they had met, outside of their interview with Sandreas, so long ago.
“Because I can't go myself,” he said. “Because you would hate me if I didn't let you go. Because I think if there's a hope of rescuing Yan, she'd want you to be there. Because when--” He stopped short. His eyes flicked between Sid and Halen for a second. What was it that he could be nervous about saying? Sandreas? What did he have to be nervous about?
The answer came to Sid, of course. The Emperor.
“When what?” Sid asked.
“Because of what happened when I was an apprentice,” Sandreas said finally.
“What did happen?” Sid asked. The two dead apprentices who had been in his position how many years ago (thirty?), clearly haunted Sandreas.
“It's not something that I'm going to get into right now. But suffice to say, I am attempting to rectify some of the mistakes of the past.”
“And what does the Emperor think of that?”
“When it comes to personal matters,” Sandreas said, “sometimes it's easier to ask the Emperor's forgiveness than permission.”
Sid smiled a tiny bit. “Is this a personal matter?”
“What happens between me and my apprentices does not yet concern the Emperor,” Sandreas said. “So, yes. But we didn't come here to talk about any of this. I need to work out what you're going to do when you get there.”
They made plans, discussing what the various scenarios could be. It would be difficult to quantify what a worst case scenario could be. For Sid, emotionally, the worst case scenario would be any where Yan was dead and gone. Politically and militarily speaking, however, there were infinite permutations of bad things that could be happening. If the Adversary was indeed working with pirates, and even indirectly with the Trade Guild, that would be a security breach of unprecedented proportions.
They were fairly sure they would either find a station or nothing in this sector of dead space, so they discussed strategies that they could use to take a station without killing everyone aboard. All of this would also have to be talked to Captain Wen about, but Sid enjoyed this small time that they had, where Sandreas treated him and Kino like the capable adults that they were, where he listened and respected and shared ideas. Perhaps because the distance was so great and the stakes were so high, he simply had no choice but to trust his two apprentices to do the right thing.
They had a little bit of time, while hastily procured supplies were being loaded onto the Impulse, for Sandreas to stay and talk. Sid saw, perhaps for the first time, how much was weighing on Sandreas: between him and the Emperor, between Yan and the political implications of her kidnapping, between the present and the ever-mysterious past. He appreciated that Sandreas was trying to do right for the two, three, apprentices. From the way he spoke it seemed as though his own mentor, and the Emperor, had done no such thing.
In the end, though, they had discussed everything that there was to discuss with the limited information that they had. Sandreas needed to return to Emerri, and the Impulse needed to depart. Before Sandreas left the ship, they stood in the hallway, still in the gravity section. There was no one around but Sandreas's Fleet escort, who pointedly ignored the personal business that Sandreas was conducting.
“I'll pray for you,” Sandreas said. “Do your best.”
“I promise,” Kino said. She looked nervous, but when did she not look nervous? Her tattered sleeve hung limply around her arm, and as she stood there in front of Sandreas, she looked remarkably small and still for once. He put his hand on her shoulder for a long, long moment. They stared at eachother. Sid could tell that Sandreas was sending her a message in the power, but he was not privy to it. Not for the first time, he wondered what it had been like for them on that trip they had taken together.
As Sandreas was communing with Kino, Sid looked to Halen.
“I trust you,” Halen signed. Although Sid knew that Halen could sign, being a former pirate, he used it so rarely that Sid was always surprised when he did. Sid had no response other than to nod solemnly to Halen.
And then it was his turn to talk to Sandreas.
“Sid,” Sandreas said, and put his hand on Sid's arm.
They were about the same height, though Sid was always under the impression that he was shorter than Sandreas, so they looked straight across into eachother's eyes. Sandreas's face was lined with wrinkles, under close inspection and his dark hair was touched with grey. He and Sid looked nothing alike, but at the same time, being so close to him was like looking through a dark mirror into the future. Sid could see it stretching out before him, and he realized that he never wanted to be in Sandreas's position, having lost an apprentice. Perhaps he simply wouldn't take any apprentices. How would the Emperor like that?
Sid's thoughts came crashing back to reality when Sandreas spoke to him through the power.
“Sid, it's very hard for me to tell you how much I care about you and Kino. I don't want to send you out because I don't want to lose you. But you're going, so I'm pleading with you to stay safe.”
“What did happen to the people who were apprentices with you?” Sid asked through the power.
“They died. It doesn't matter how.” Accompanying the words was a swirl of vague images, faces that belonged to the two long dead apprentices, and scenes that were clearly imaginings of what their final moments had been like. It was as though with such a subject, Sandreas couldn't control which of his thoughts passed to Sid. He mentally shook himself.
“You are not obligated to learn from old mistakes, but neither are you condemned to repeat them,” Sid said mentally. It was a phrase that he had read in a book once, and it had stuck with him for his entire life. He was glad to have an opportunity to trot it out.
Sandreas smiled thinly. “Sometimes I feel like our whole lineage is designed to repeat the same fate over and over. We're all trapped in it.”
“I'll get Yan back, I promise.”
“Don't make promises that will break you to not be able to keep.”
“I'll do everything I can, then.”
“I know you will.”
There was a moment of mental silence between them. “I'm proud of you, Sid,” Sandreas said, and lifted his hand off of Sid's arm before Sid had a chance to respond.
Sid wasn't sure what there was to be proud of, but he wasn't going to let go of the warm feeling that had lit up in his chest.
The Impulse was underway, and the feeling from the crew was rancorous. It was one thing to spend a month in space when it was in the middle of their trip; it was another thing entirely to be almost home, then snatched away into the unknown. Sid, for his own part, could understand the animosity directed towards himself and Kino, but didn't change his behavior either way. He was certain that everyone was still required to be polite to him, due to his station, and even if they weren't, the two sensitives on the ship (the only people who could truly hurt him) were career officers who were less affected by this change in plans.
Everyone was required to be polite to him, that is, except the one person he desperately wanted to talk to. Cesper had been deliberately avoiding him. Even when they ended up on the bridge or in the officers' mess together, he turned away and refused to acknowledge Sid's existence.
Sid should have been angry. If anyone else he knew had been acting like this, he would have been. If it had been his sister, or Kino, or... To be honest, Sid didn't know very many people his own age now that he was out of the Academy. Regardless, he would have been angry at any of them.
But he was mostly just sad. It made the first few days of the trip much more depressing than they should have been. Not only did he have plenty of time to work himself into knots wondering about the future and about Yan, he also had ample opportunity to think about what he could have possibly done to offend Cesper. Clearly, it had been something.
He had to know. He had to do something about it.
But every time he saw Cesper, and wanted to ask, something stopped him. Either there were too many people around, or Sid chickened out, or Cesper got away before Sid could approach. It felt unfair.
Maybe Cesper didn't owe Sid a reason for avoiding him, but Sid wanted one.
So Sid looked up Cesper on the ship's directory. He found his official schedule, and his room number. It was all public information.
And then, instead of doing anything with that information, Sid sat in his room and moped on it. If he had done something to make him angry, maybe he should apologize? But how could he if he didn't know what he was supposed to be apologizing for? Maybe Cesper just didn't want to be with him, and there wasn't any other reason. Maybe he had miscommunicated something, but when had they even talked? Sid was driving himself in circles. Even his usual distraction technique, drawing, wasn't helping. He kept ripping sketchbook pages out and throwing them away. Waste of paper.
Maybe he should make something for Cesper, to apologize. A gift. Would that come off badly? Whatever. He was going to do it.
The Impulse, like all ships, had a workshop to repair various pieces of shipboard equipment. After all, when out in space, if something broke, the ship had to be able to either fix it or go without it. Especially Fleet ships on exploratory missions like the Impulse, they needed to last for months or years at a time without resupply or contact with the inhabited galaxy. Additionally, because of the prolonged boredom that space travel often created, the workshop had a section where crew members could come and work on their own small projects. It was to this area that Sid went, though he wasn't planning on using any of the lathes or saws or mills. He only wanted material.
Yan had told him once about how spacers had access to basically any raw material they wanted, since they transported it. Her family had apparently given one of her friends a gift made out of gold in exchange for just cantoring for them for a few months. It seemed crazy to Sid, and he was fairly relieved to find that the material offerings aboard the Impulse were far more humble: aluminum, brass, tin, steel, iron, glass, plastic... He helped himself to the aluminum. It was his favorite metal to work with, aside from gold, of course.
When he had made his final project at the Academy, he had been allowed to work with gold. There was a material library that students had access to, so long as they returned everything at the end. It had almost been a relief to haul his project back to the library and melt its shining face down in the furnace to return it to the stock.
Sid brought the chunk of aluminum back to his bedroom. With the power, he could make anything he wanted. He should have been an artist, he thought. Then he wouldn't be here obsessing over stupid Cesper.
What did he even like? Math? But no, he had quit math in order to go into the Fleet. The ship? But he wanted a planetside posting.
The fact was, they didn't actually know eachother that well at all.
Sid thought back to that first real conversation they had shared. He could still imagine the smell of the orange that Cesper peeled, all in one piece, then drew out the familiar continents of Emerri.
Sure. Sid could make a globe. He sketched out his idea on a scrap of paper, then pulled out his computer to model its interior mechanisms, just to be sure that it would work. That took a good few hours of trial and error, but he eventually got it beaten into shape. He could have worked on it more and then simply sent the digital file down to the workshop to have it made on the jet cutter, but it would be faster and easier for him to use the power.
Using the power to make things was so easy. He closed his eyes and held his block of aluminum in his hands, cupping the cold metal until the heat from his fingers warmed it up fractionally. He could picture exactly what he wanted in his mind, and he used the power like an invisible knife, to slice through the metal faster and cleaner than any waterjet or laser or blade could. The edges of his rectangular aluminum fell cleanly aside, leaving him with a perfect sphere. He divided it into sections, like an orange, then scooped out most of the interior, leaving a thick shell. On the inside, he used some of his sliced off scrap to form a simple mechanism, one that would allow all the sections of the orange to hinge open simultaneously. It would look a little like the petals of a flower unfolding.
The nice thing about working with the power was that he didn't have to bother with welding anything back together, he could just use the touch of his mind to fuse what needed to be fused. Aluminum didn't weld very well anyway.
Along the outside of the orange, he very carefully inscribed the continents on Galena. He had to open his eyes and consult a map for this one; his memory and mental imaging were good, but they weren't that good.
He carefully buffed and polished the outside of the ball until the aluminum was as shiny as it was ever going to get. He set it down on his desk, petals of the orange pointing downwards and open. It rather resembled some sort of spider, when placed like this. He picked it up and tossed it from hand to hand. It had a pleasant heft.
On the inside, he debated about inscribing a message. In the end, he just put Cesper's name. He couldn't think of anything to say. That was going to be a problem when it came to delivery, but he would fly that starship when it arrived.
And so he stood outside of Cesper's room, anxiously readjusting his cassock and clutching his orange globe wrapped in wax paper that he had also acquired from the workshop (he hadn't been able to find wrapping paper, so he figured this was the next best thing).
He didn't want to knock on the door, but he couldn't keep standing in the hallway like this either. He knocked.
He obviously couldn't hear anything happening behind the door, so he wasn't sure if Cesper was there or not. Sid waited a long minute. A generous minute. Then he knocked again.
There was still no immediate response, but he had come this far, so he wasn't about to leave. Probably Cesper wasn't there, but he had to stay to be sure.
Sid was about to knock again, but then the door swung open.
“What?” Ervantes asked. He looked slightly disheveled, as though he had been sleeping. He was only wearing an undershirt and boxers.
“Did I wake you up?” Sid asked. He didn't actually know what time it was, or when Ervantes typically slept. He had gotten pretty lost in his project and had come as soon as he had finished.
“No. What do you want?”
“I brought you something,” Sid said and held out his parcel.
Ervantes looked between him and the wrapped object Sid was holding. Sid's hand shook a little. Ervantes at first made no move to take it, but then something seemed to fold in his posture, and he reluctantly took it.
“Can I come in?” Sid asked.
Wordlessly, Ervantes held the door open and let Sid inside. The room was tiny, the same size as Sid's guest quarters, but that was to be expected. The bed was unmade. Despite what Ervantes said, it was clear that he had been laying in bed, if not exactly sleeping. His uniform was hung up on the side of the tiny closet, and he had a couple posters on the wall of abstract art. The place was dim and almost stiflingly warm; he liked the heat cranked up, apparently.
Ervantes sat down on the bed, and Sid stood awkwardly in the doorway until Ervantes gestured to the chair at the desk. Sid sat, nervously smoothing his cassock over his knees.
“What do you want, Sid?” Ervantes asked. He looked tired, but maybe that was just because he was. Sid glanced at the clock on his desk and saw that it was the middle of the night. He really had gotten absorbed in his project.
“I want to know why you're mad at me. And to say sorry, I guess.” He attemped to sound stoic, but knowing himself he probably just came off as pathetic.
“I told you it felt like a mistake to be with you. I don't want to be with someone who will use their position to get me ahead. I want to succeed on my own merits.”
“What?” Sid was utterly confused. “What are you talking about?”
“You told First Sandreas about me.”
“Obviously,” Sid said. “You saved my life!”
“So he wants to give me special attention. That's not right,” Ervantes said.
“That has nothing to do with this!” Sid said, frantically gesturing between them. “He would have done the same for anybody.”
“I somehow doubt that,” Ervantes said.
“Besides, even if it was, it's all because you actually did do something. You did--”
“I did what anybody else could have done,” Ervantes said.
“But they didn't and you did. Even Hernan didn't, and Hernan's only job is to protect me. I'm just saying that maybe that is succeeding under your own merits.”
“And you kissing me had absolutely nothing to do with you mentioning me to First Sandreas?”
“You're making it so that I can't win,” Sid said, bunching his hands in the fabric over his legs. “Yes, I did ask for you to be transferred to Emerri because I like you. Is that a crime?”
“You can't just decide my future for me,” Ervantes said, face still. “You can't do that to people.”
“But that's what you wanted. You said so.” Sid was insistent.
“I shouldn't have to watch what I absentmindedly say in casual conversations because I'm worried that you'll use that to decide the course of my life,” Ervantes said. “I didn't know you before. I can't say if the power's gone to your head, but this isn't the way that normal people treat eachother.”
“So you came here to apologize when you didn't know what you were apologizing for. Now that you do, all you want to do is defend your own actions.”
“So I want you to think very carefully,” Ervantes said. “Do you want to be my superior, or do you want to be my equal? Because you can't be one and the other.”
Sid stared at him. Clearly Ervantes had been preparing this little speech for a while. The words looked rehearsed, and the way he delivered them without so much a twitch on his face or a stutter made Sid think he had been practicing in the bathroom mirror.
“I just thought that I wanted to be with you,” Sid said, really pathetic now. “I didn't realize that you didn't want this.”
“I can take it back,” Sid said. “Have you assigned somewhere else.”
“The ship left the dock on that one,” Ervantes said. “Can't un-say what's been said. And that's still just you controlling my life.”
Sid looked at Ervantes, who was still holding his wrapped package in his hand. He was sweaty and his hair was a mess, but Sid still liked him. He tried to think of what would be best to say, the thing that would smooth this whole mess over. Sid was bad at smoothing. He was much more abrasive. Maybe he just needed to tone it down, become like a fine-grit sandpaper. A polishing cloth. A burnishing wheel.
“Do you still want me?” Sid asked. “I don't want to step on you anymore. I'll go away, if you want. I'll leave you alone. Your choice. I promise.” The words came out choppily. He restrained his hands, keeping his natural physical exuberance under control.
Sid didn't have a lot of examples of people not being controlling. After all, he was somewhat convinced that Halen was suffering from kidnapped kid syndrome, and it wasn't as though his own mother wasn't totally dominating at home. Over the past few months, maybe he had grown a little too used to watching Sandreas order things, and then having them happen. As far as he knew, he was the only person who had actually dared to defy Sandreas recently, and that hadn't turned out very well for Sid.
He waited as Ervantes thought it over.
“What is this?” Ervantes asked, holding up the little package.
“You can open it,” Sid said. “It's for you.”
Ervantes untied the string that was holding the wax paper around the sphere, revealing the segmented globe underneath. He held it up in the dim light, and the ridges where Sid had engraved the mountains and oceans of Galena caught the red light from the clock. He peeled open the segments of the orange, revealing the tiny interior mechanism and the carving of his name.
“It's mostly decorative, but you could keep stuff inside it, I guess,” Sid explained. “I just, er, thought you would like it.”
“I do,” Ervantes said. He was silent for a long, long time, opening and closing the segmented globe, rotating it around in his hands. Sid watched him. “I do like you, Sid. But I don't trust you.”
“That makes two of us,” Sid said.
“Not exactly a comforting thing to say.” The corner of Ervantes's mouth twitched upwards.
Sid tried to change the subject a little, and ask a question he had wanted to know the answer to for a while. “Why did you get assigned to work with Kino and I?”
“Captain Wen though that we would probably have a lot in common, since we're the same age, and, you know...”
“He should've chosen a woman for Kino the ice queen,” Sid said. “Probably would have made my life less confusing.”
“The way you talk about Kino makes me think that you talk about me like that behind my back,” Ervantes said.
“Kino knows exactly how I feel about her. I think she'd take that as a compliment,” Sid said. “Besides, wasn't your whole problem that I was being too nice about you behind your back?”
“Sid, I don't think you get it.”
“You have to make an actual effort here.”
“I'm doing my best!”
“You!” Sid leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. Ervantes ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. Sid took deep breaths, trying to get himself under control. “Sorry,” he said. “I shouldn't be like this.”
“I'll go.” He stood up, pushing in his chair. Ervantes made no move to stop him. “Have a nice night.”
“You too.” Ervantes looked more deflated than anything, and he rolled the globe back and forth in his hands as Sid walked the few steps to the door and headed out.
Sid felt horrible. Really, really bad. He couldn't even explain why. Well, he knew why. It was because he liked Ervantes Cesper a lot, and Ervantes Cesper was tired of him. Or at least was tired of him behaving the way that he did, which was inextricably tied to who Sid was.
He began to trudge back to his own quarters, angrily scuffing his feet on the ground. Probably was making a horrible squeaking noise in the corridor, but he didn't care. Sid had made it about fifty meters when he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He whirled around.
Ervantes was there.
“What?” Sid asked, trying not to be hostile.
“I accept your apology,” Ervantes said.
“I didn't even make one.”
“I didn't mean to kick you out.”
“Oh.” Sid's brain wasn't exactly working, but if this was Ervantes changing his mind, Sid was more than willing to accept that. Something happy stirred in his chest.
Sid nodded, slowly, and tentatively followed Ervantes back to his room.
Inside, the light was completely off. Ervantes kicked the door shut. Neither of them sat down.
Ervantes was a bit taller than Sid, and was long and spindly besides. They didn't quite know what to say to each other, or at least Sid didn't. He felt like he should apologize more, but that would ruin the moment. He thought he should ask Ervantes to kiss him, but he didn't want to make any demands. That was what had gotten him into this problem in the first place, kinda.
He was feeling unusually timid. Let Ervantes do what he wished, rather than Sid climbing all on top of him.
And then Ervantes did. He leaned slightly forward, and placed his hand on Sid's cheek, slowly nudging his glasses up off his nose towards his forehead. Sid pulled the offending object off his face and tossed the glasses onto Ervantes's desk. At least in a world of silence, they couldn't exactly argue with eachother.
Sid held his breath as Ervantes leaned in towards him, and they kissed. Sid tried not to let his hands wander. He didn't want to be too pushy, but he couldn't help looping his arms around Ervantes' neck. From the way that Ervantes put his hands on Sid's hips, he didn't seem to mind all that much.
Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].