In the Shadow of Heaven [ORIGINAL VERSION]by
Chapter Sixteen - All Of Us Pirates Would Have Been Martyrs, Part I
All Of Us Pirates Would Have Been Martyrs, Part I
“On a lonely, empty starship, all just waiting for to die, was the daughter, youngest daughter, of the captain, Alereye.”
-from “The Day the Pirates Came”, traditional spacer song
The next day, Yan woke up feeling off. She still wasn't used to her too large bed, and she was finding her own apartment too empty for her liking.
She had tried to call Sylva after getting back from Aymon's home, but she hadn't picked up. As such, Yan was feeling ever so slightly off kilter as she poured herself a bowl of cereal.
She ate it dry, picking the pieces out of the bowl with her fingers, and watching the sun begin to peek over the tops of the buildings outside her window. It was six hours, which was a little earlier than the three apprentices were supposed to meet Sandreas at his office.
Yan finished her cereal and went to her bedroom to get dressed. She pulled her daily wear cassock over her head, not bothering with unbuttoning the whole thing. Though it was of higher quality than all of her student uniforms, and better tailored to fit her, it was visually similar. Before she put on her short red cloak, she looked indistinguishable from any other Academy student wandering around the city.
Looking at herself in the mirror, Yan sighed at the state of her hair. She didn't know when she was going to be able to find a barber. Well, she knew where a barber was, since she had been living at the Academy on the hill looming over the city for the past ten years, but when she was going to have a free moment to go get her hair fixed up, that was another question. Maybe it would be better to just get a pair of clippers and do her hair herself. Or, better yet...
Yan halted that train of thought as soon as it started. There was no way she was going to use the power to give herself a haircut. That was the kind of foolishness that would almost certainly result in an embarrassing hairstyle. Maybe she should just shave it all off, be totally bald. She had tried that a few years ago, but hadn't really liked it. Better to just find somebody else to cut it for her. That, really, was the only sensible option.
Or, and this was the off kilter she was feeling talking, she could...
What would be the easiest way to do it? She couldn't imagine the annoyance it would be to trim every individual strand, but she could create, maybe, an incredibly sharp knife that would just pass through the hairs...
Yan shook herself out of it. Sid kept his head shaved, she could just have him cut it for her.
She fastened her cape around her shoulders and went to the bathroom to splash some water on her face and brush her teeth. She had already showered, but the humidity was too much in her apartment and she felt clammy and overly warm. The last dregs of summer had their grip on the city.
It was still early, a bit after six hours, but Yan didn't want to stay in her apartment any longer. She typed a quick message on her phone to Sid and Kino, indicating that she had gone out and that she would meet them at Stonecourt later. Whether they checked the message or not was going to be up to them. Sid and Kino were both perfectly capable of walking to Stonecourt without her.
Yan put on her shoes and left her apartment. She headed out into the city with no particular direction in mind, but found herself taking a circuitous route to Stonecourt. The morning was bright, and the light reflecting off the windows of the buildings was almost blinding if looked at in the wrong way.
After a while of walking, Yan noticed that there was someone following her. Under ordinary circumstances, whatever those were, she wouldn't have ever noticed. Today, though, she was using her walk as a chance to practice the skill Halen had used yesterday. She was trying to open up her awareness to catch more of the feelings of people around her. Since she was taking a walk early in the morning, there were way fewer people out than usual, so it was a good time to practice without getting overwhelmed.
So she was practicing casting out the power in a wide net and gently touching on what other people were feeling. She wasn't very successful at picking up actual emotions, though. As usual, she was fine at identifying what sensation in the power constituted a person. After Yan had repeated this process several times, she noticed that there was one blip in particular that gave her the same sort of feeling several times.
Yan continued her walk, and continued casting out her power to investigate. Now, however, she was more focused on tracking that one presence than trying to identify what people were feeling. This was a significantly easier task, and Yan became more and more confident that someone was following her, especially after she took various random detours that led her in a circle.
Although this was weird, Yan wasn't sure if she should be concerned or not, or generally, what she should do about it. As it stood, the person following her didn't seemed to be actually doing anything other than just keeping pace with her at a fair distance.
It seemed like she had a few choices for how to respond. She could try to evade her tracker, which she suspected would be quite difficult. It wasn't as though she had any expertise in stealth. Yan could confront the person, which would be easier to do physically, but could be dangerous. She could just give up on her walk and go back to her apartment, but then what? She could also just continue her walk and head to Stonecourt, and then see what happened. She also supposed she could text Halen for advice, but that involved texting Halen.
Or she could ignore it. That was always an option.
Yan was uncomfortably aware of the gun she had resting on her hip, underneath her cassock.
She took out her phone. Instead of texting Halen, she texted Sid and Kino.
> ok so this sounds weird
> but I'm being followed?
> sorry if you're still asleep and I'm waking you up
Yan continued to walk around aimlessly, still casting out her awareness to check to see if her shadow was still there. He (or she, Yan supposed) was.
Sid texted back.
< what do you think i can do about it???
> idk tell me what to do
< ask halen he's the expert
> but I don't like halen
< which do you like better? getting stalked and murdered or talking to your boss's bf
> i hate u
Yan had almost crashed into several walls and pedestrians, and had definitely jaywalked a little bit while carrying out this conversation with Sid.
Reluctantly, she did text Halen.
>Sorry to bother you, but I'm being followed?
Halen's reply was immediate.
< Don't worry about it.
Oh, so that explained it. Her stalker was sent by Halen, or by Sandreas. This didn't exactly make her feel better, but it did explain why the stalker had made no moves on her.
Yan wondered exactly how much of her life was under surveillance. Probably more than she cared to think about, and for longer than she cared to imagine. On the upside, at least she knew about it now. On the downside, she had no real ability to stop it. Even if she could, if Sandreas had her under watch, wouldn't that be for a reason? Would it reflect well or badly on her if she tried to evade his watching eyes? Even if she did try to evade some of it, she could never be sure she had gotten rid of all of it.
Yan sighed loudly, still walking down the street, passing under small green trees planted in holes in the sidewalk. Birds were chirping, somewhere around. It was still a beautiful morning, for all that she now had to be forever paranoid.
Maybe she should have put the pieces together yesterday when she saw people on the roof of the building across from the restaurant. That was for safety, and maybe this was too. But either way, it was an uncomfortable feeling, being watched, and watching someone watch her.
She made a turn that would lead her on a more direct path to Stonecourt. She was done wandering, and she was done practicing with the power. She didn't have a natural talent for feeling emotions like Halen did, and the amount of work it would take to develop such a skill seemed rather unreasonable, especially if she had so many other things to learn. If she got to Stonecourt early, maybe she could get a head start on reading that book of secrets that they were all supposed to be getting. That might be exciting.
Stonecourt itself was a massive building. As the name implied, it had a stone facade, and it was surrounded on all sides by high fences and monitored by very obvious security. There was an official entrance in the front, as well as a guest entrance, but there was a staff entrance in the back. Yan walked all the way around to that door in the gates. She presented her identification in several different checkpoints along the way before she was really let in the main building.
Curiously, as soon as she started going through security, her pursuer vanished. Maybe their job was done as soon as Yan was inside a more secure area. Either way, it was almost a relief. Yan wondered who the person following her actually was. Not just in terms of who had hired them, but who the person was.
For a brief moment, while waiting for a guard to check her security card, Yan fantasized about the same shadow following her for years, and her being aware the whole time, but the two never meeting. Yan wondered what that person would think of her, and how two people could become intimate without ever meeting each other in person or ever exchanging any words. Certainly it was intimate to have someone following her, and an even stranger type of intimacy in the feeling of watching someone watch her. She shook herself out of her weird daydream as the guard handed back her ID and let her proceed.
She was finally let all the way through security and was loose in the halls of Stonecourt. Now that she was in, she didn't exactly know where she would go. It was still early to meet Sandreas, but his public office was really the only place she knew she was supposed to be. She could go to the training area that Halen had brought them to yesterday, and she could go to Sandreas's private quarters, but both of those sounded like fairly silly ideas. Maybe Ms. Rosario, Sandreas's secretary, was around and holding onto that book of secrets for her.
Yan decided to head to Sandreas's office anyway. She had only just turned in that direction when, down the hallway, she saw Halen coming towards her. Instinctively, Yan tried to duck away down a different hallway, but Halen continued his approach. Resigned, Yan stopped and waited for him.
"Good morning, Yan," Halen said. "Sleep well?"
"Not in particular," Yan said, sounding more grumpy than she probably would have liked to come off as.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Walk with me," Halen directed, starting out down the hallway in a direction that Yan hadn't been before.
Halen was a bit taller than Yan, despite Yan's unusual height, and he walked quickly, so Yan had to walk much faster than usual to keep up with him.
"So, tell me, how did you notice that you were being watched on your walk this morning?" Halen asked.
"Uh," Yan said, "Don't expect me to be able to repeat the feat, I was doing something weird just for fun."
"Really?" Halen asked. "What were you doing?"
Yan didn't really want to admit that she was trying to copy him, it seemed embarrassing to her, but she didn't have much of a choice. She could either admit it or lie, and lying seemed like a bad choice around someone who could identify her private emotions if he tried. She didn’t even think about the fact that Halen was probably listening in on the wave of feelings she was putting out as she considered her options.
"I was trying to learn how to do what you do, the knowing what people are feeling trick," Yan said, looking down at the white tiled floor of the hallway.
"And how was that working out for you?" Halen asked.
"I don't think I can do it," Yan admitted. "I can find people pretty easily, but the things the power tells me about them are too jumbled to pick out their feelings like you do."
"So how did you use that to know that someone was following you?" Halen asked. "And don't worry about not getting it, that's a trick that's pretty difficult to master, even with a lot of study. I'm not going to expect you to be able to do it."
"I don't know, I was just casting the power out every once in a while, and examining the people in it, and the same person kept turning up over and over," Yan explained.
"So, you do know how you did it, and you could do it again if you wanted to," Halen said. "Don't sell yourself short."
"Yeah, I'm plenty tall," Yan said before she could help herself. Selling oneself short was a joke she and her uncle Maxes had, and that was her standard response.
Halen chuckled at the joke. Yan was embarrased.
"That aside, you should always be using all the tools at your disposal to keep yourself safe. I'll admit that casting out the power like that isn't the most efficient method of identifying a shadow, but it is effective, and you seem to be fairly good at it. I suggest that you incorporate that into your daily life."
"Did you send that person to watch me?" Yan asked.
"Of course," Halen said. "I need to know what type of trouble Aymon's students are getting up to in their free time."
"You don't think that's an invasion of privacy?" Yan asked, intending to come off a bit snippy.
"Oh, Yan, privacy isn't a thing you can reasonably expect anymore!" Halen said brightly. "Not until you can learn to ensure it yourself."
Yan scowled. "You're saying I'm being watched all the time?"
"I may have implied that, but I didn't say it, no," Halen said. "You'll need to either get used to it or find a way around it."
"Is this some sort of test?" Yan asked.
"It's a way of making sure you are safe until you can be responsible for your own safety." By safe Yan assumed that Halen meant more than just preventing other people from hurting Yan, but also preventing Yan from hurting Sandreas. Not like Yan was likely to do such a thing, but she supposed on this point at least, she couldn’t fault Halen for covering all his bases.
"So, you're saying that if I know someone is following me, you're going to stop having people follow me around?" Yan asked.
"I wouldn't say that, or maybe I wouldn't say it so definitively," Halen said.
The pair approached a large set of doors, and Halen swiped his security card to let them through. The doors led out into the courtyard that they Yan had glimpsed through Sandreas's window the night before. It was a beautiful space, full of carefully tended garden beds, leafy trees, paths, benches, and a central fountain. Halen walked towards a bench underneath one of the trees and sat down. Reluctantly, Yan sat down next to him, but as far to the other side of the bench as space would allow. Unfortunately for Yan, Halen's massive body made this distance less than she would have liked.
"Was that the only thing you wanted to talk to me about? How I found that I had someone following me?" Yan asked.
"No," said Halen. "I just wanted to get to know you a little bit better. We're going to spend a lot of time together over the next few years, God willing. And it will make my job easier if you hated me a little less."
A part of Yan wanted to protest 'but I don't hate you' just out of politeness' sake, but there was a stronger part that kinda did, so she stayed silent and just scuffed at the gravel path with her feet. She knew she was acting like a petulant toddler, and she hated that she was, but she didn't want to make things too easy on Halen. He was a pirate, after all. Her natural born enemy. Well, unnatural born, since he had even said that his parents had genetically modified him.
"Tell me about yourself," Halen prompted.
"What do you want to know?" Yan asked, but it came out snippy.
"What's your family like?"
"I don't know." Yan didn't know what he wanted from her. "My mother died when I was a kid, I don't have a father, I guess I'm closest to my uncle. Big extended family, you know, spacers."
"Who raised you when your mother died?" Halen asked, sounding genuinely curious.
"My uncle Maxes and his family, for a while. Then I went to the Academy, and I was pretty much on my own," Yan said.
"So you were really young, then," Halen said.
"Eight isn't that young. I took care of myself."
"If you saw an eight year old right there, you'd say they were a baby," Halen said.
"I was a mature eight year old, then." Yan said.
"Maybe your life experiences forced you to become mature," Halen replied.
"Maybe," Yan really didn't want to give him anything.
"What's your uncle like?" Halen asked.
"Weird, he's kinda..." Yan didn't know how to explain how Maxes behaved. "Like he wants me to be the best I can be, for the family. He's ok."
"For saying that he took care of you when your mom died you seem to have a pretty low opinion of him," Halen said.
"No, he's good, I just... He... Like, here's the thing, he was the one who convinced my mom to have me. Like I said, don't have a dad. My uncle Maxes set up the whole transaction. That's weird, that sums him up."
"You're a test tube baby too?" Halen asked with a laugh. "We have something in common, then."
"Eugh," Yan said. "That's not the same thing at all."
"It isn't?" Halen asked.
"I'm natural-ish. You're only natural adjacent," Yan said.
Halen snorted in amusement. "You're pretty funny, you know? I think we'll get along just fine."
"I doubt it," Yan said. "I don't make a habit of getting chummy with pirates."
"I haven't been a pirate for a long time. I walk the straight and narrow now," Halen said.
"The straight and narrow, really?" Yan asked, once again unable to stop herself from making a joke. "You seem to be neither."
Halen grinned. "I'm the most reformed ex-pirate you'll ever meet."
"How in God's name did you ever get Sandreas to trust you?" Yan asked.
"See, leadfeet don't have the same animosity towards pirates as you do," Halen said, "And besides, how could he not trust someone as brilliant and handsome as myself?"
Handsome was not the word Yan would have chosen to describe Halen's blotchy face. She rolled her eyes.
"So, what were your favorite things to do on your family's ship?"
"Like in terms of jobs or free time?" Yan asked.
"Either one," Halen said.
"I don't know. I liked when I got to work the navigation bridge shift. I liked flying the shuttle a lot. I didn't mind having greenhouse duty, either. In my free time I watched a lot of movies. Hung around with some of my cousins, the usual."
"Did you ever get in trouble or were you always a goody two shoes?" Halen asked.
"One time when I was nine I got locked in a maintenance closet while playing hide and seek and no one found me for twelve hours. Does that count?"
"No, but that sounds terrible," Halen said. "What did you do while you were stuck in there?"
"Uh. I slid notes into the ventilation shaft and hoped someone would find them and let me out."
"Did that work?" Halen asked.
"No, my cousins eventually admitted that they couldn't find me and the whole ship was put on a search," Yan said.
"How much trouble were you in when they found you?" Halen asked.
"None, really. I mean Pellon, he's the captain, he gave me a talking to, but like... I wasn't really anybody's real responsibility. My uncle was pretty busy back then," Yan said.
"Probably they were just glad to have found you still alive," Halen said.
"I wasn't in any zone that would have ever been depressurized. I wasn't stupid," Yan protested.
"Many children make stupid mistakes. That's just a fact about life," Halen said. "I'm glad you weren't trapped in that closet forever."
"It wasn't that bad. There are worse places to be trapped," Yan said with a shrug. To be honest, being trapped by herself in a closet had felt kind of relieving at the time, since she didn't have to worry about dealing with other people for a while. "It was kinda funny at the time. They treated it like this whole big crisis."
Halen had an odd look on his face as Yan described the incident. Though Yan equated her twelve hours trapped in a maintenance closet as a welcome relief from her overbearing relatives in the wake of her mother's death, Yan realized that Halen must have a completely different idea of what it was like to be in a small, enclosed space with no food or water, waiting for someone to come rescue you.
"Sorry," Yan said after a second. "I thought it was funny but I guess it really wasn't."
"You're allowed to think it's funny," Halen said with a shrug. "I can see the humor in it, since there wasn't any real danger at all."
"No, I just mean, like, I know you got trapped on that shuttle like you told us about yesterday. Sorry for bringing something like that up," Yan said.
"Are you actually feeling sorry for me? What a shock," Halen said with a grin. "Don't worry about it." He looked about to say something else, then changed his mind.
"I'm not feeling sorry for you, I just didn't want to be completely rude," Yan protested. The man was infuriating. "Common human decency, politeness, not bringing up painful things from other people's pasts, you know."
Halen reached down and picked up a stray fallen green leaf from the path. He twirled it around in his fingers.
"Did you like going to the Academy?" Halen asked, changing the subject. The early morning sunlight was warm on Yan's face, peeking down through the branches of the tree above them.
"It was alright. I liked my friends, and I liked my classes, but when I came I didn't know the language at all, and I had never been on a planet for more than a day or two at a time. It was really overwhelming at first." The off kilter part of Yan wanted to keep talking, to tell Halen all about how when she stopped feeling overwhelmed by it all, she also stopped really feeling like a spacer, and how her feeling of otherness was really the only thing that kept her connected to the Iron Dreams, but she wasn't quite ready for that level of truthfulness with a man she could barely tolerate.
"I know the feeling," Halen sympathized. "You go from a place where the most exciting and natural thing is the ship's gardens, and all of a sudden you have to deal with... Everything. People you've never met, weather, animals all over the place, weird foods... God."
Yan couldn't tell if he meant that he had to deal with God after leaving his family's ship or if he was just using the word as an emphasis on the previous statement.
"Spacer life is so much simpler," Yan said.
"True. I wouldn't want to go back to it," Halen said, continuing to fiddle with his leaf.
"Why, just because of Sandreas?" Yan asked.
"Mostly. But some of it is that spacer life is inherently too insulating. No matter who you are or how wide of a route your family runs, you're always in the same ship, doing the same things with the same people," Halen said. Yan nodded.
"What did your family trade in?" Yan asked. "If you don't mind me asking."
"Drugs, mostly. Well, before we started selling stardrives, anyway," Halen said. "We had a route between Lekke and Barsoth Station."
"What's Barsoth Station?" Yan asked.
"Abandoned mining colony, it used to be a black market trading hub, but it's been destroyed now," Halen said. "Bit of a nasty place, if I'm being honest with you."
"Well, obviously," Yan said with disdain.
"Lekke isn't bad," Halen said, somewhat wistfully. "Beautiful tropics on that planet."
"Ugh," Yan said. She had never been to Lekke, but she knew that its primary export was Vena, a potent drug. Obviously it wasn't its official primary export, but that was what it was famous for, regardless.
"You're familiar with the place?" Halen asked.
"Only by reputation," Yan said.
To his credit, Halen didn't ask if Yan had ever tried Vena, and Yan didn't ask him the same question, though she was somewhat curious. She didn't know if his answer would make her like him more or less. Probably, since she was assuming the worst of him already, her opinion wouldn't change much.
Yan felt Halen reach out with his power, not directed at her, but inside the building.
"What are you doing?" Yan asked.
"What do you mean, what am I doing?" Halen was continuing to twirl his leaf as though he wasn't doing anything.
"You used the power just now, you sent it inside the building," Yan said.
"Oh, I was just checking on Aymon. You noticed I was doing that?" Halen asked.
"Other people wouldn't?" Yan asked. "I can always tell when someone is using the power near me, it's not hard."
Halen laughed. "Maybe that's your special talent, then. Most other sensitives don't notice me doing that, and God knows I do it often enough."
"What a lousy talent," Yan said. "I liked it better when I didn't know it was unusual."
"You never know, it could come in handy one day," Halen said cheerfully. "Besides, most of these 'talents' that people have, they're things that anyone can learn anyway, just that might be more difficult for some people than others."
"Even Kino's skill?" Yan asked.
"The thing where I can't sense her feelings? Yeah, absolutely. I'd demonstrate how to do it, except that you don't know how to sense feelings, so it would be a pretty meaningless demonstration," Halen said.
"Kino told me that she wasn't even picked up as being a sensitive at first, because she's so well hidden. So people can hide their entire power signature?" Yan asked.
"That's a question I'm not so sure of the answer. I think, though I have a relatively small data set, that there are different levels of hiding yourself. Shielding your emotions from me when I'm nearby is not particularly difficult. Learning to disguise your power signature so that you don't even appear to be alive, that would be very difficult. And it would take someone skilled in the opposite direction to see through that disguise."
"None of it seems very practical," Yan said. "Since there are so few sensitives anyway, comparatively speaking."
"What is the actual number, one in one and a half million people is a sensitive of some stripe?" Halen asked. "Those aren't such bad odds. Besides, most people at the top are sensitives, so we all tend to meet each other more than is statistically likely."
"That's honestly kinda crazy to me," Yan said. "It's not like... We don't even really use the power in day to day life for the most part. It's a weird system we have going on here." Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to criticize the very social structure that had led her to get this apprenticeship in the first place, so she didn't say anything else.
"Well," Halen said, "Sensitives are closer to God."
"That's not the doctrine," Yan grumbled. It may not have been the doctrine, but it certainly was a common belief among Academy students. Halen laughed at her.
"That was a joke, Yan," Halen said.
"Not a very good one," Yan said.
"We should go inside," Halen said. "Aymon's waiting for us." Halen stood up off the couch, and tossed the leaf he had been fiddling with up into the air. The light wind caught it and sent it sailing away. Yan stood up and followed Halen inside. Though she still wasn't prepared to like the man, it hadn't been the worst conversation she had ever had.
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].