The Artifice Maker
The tall man moved slowly through the packed transit hall. His gaunt, eagle-nosed face registered total lack of interest in his surroundings, like he had seen the same or similar ones a thousand times in the past. His garments, cheap and somber, were identical to those worn by millions of migration workers, constantly on the move from one station to another in search of work. A small satchel was slung over his shoulder, seemingly holding the man’s only possessions. At the back of his bare skull a crab-like cyber-ornament clung, its azure colored arms extending all the way to his temples.
The large transit hall was an irregularly shaped circle, with a glass dome overhead. The transit hall had been strategically positioned so that people arriving or leaving the station could gaze through the dome at the reddish planet below and the pale sun in the background. But like with so many small industrial stations in the empire’s interior the almost total lack of maintenance had long since ruined the spectacular view, a greasy-brown film of dirt giving those below in the hall only a vague idea of the vista outside. The walls were covered with a once-colorful mural depicting an often-used theme in Amarrian wall paintings – scenes of the Emperor performing assorted heroic deeds. Here and there the mural was severed by an entryway to one of the dozen passages leading to and from the transit hall.
The large man headed towards the passage leading to the lower levels of the station. For a fraction of a second his darting eyes looked directly into the security camera located above the entryway. Then he disappeared down the passage, his face as impassive as when he stepped out of the shuttle fifteen minutes earlier.
The small room was illuminated solely by a two dozen monitors mounted into the back wall. Before them sat a tired looking officer, his heavy eyes scanning the screens before him. The picture on a screen in the middle had been frozen; a gaunt face with a patriarch nose filled the screen. In the far corner of the room a figure stood leaning on a cane, the glare of the monitors only managing to paint it in a ghost-like blue silhouette.
“He’s here, sir. He’s heading towards the lower levels.” The officer said. “Do you wish me to have him apprehended?”
“No need for that yet.” The shadowy figure answered. “We’ll allow the fox to flush out some hens before moving in.”
Etian pressed his back into the corridor’s wall, his head bowed to his chest as the process of Holders passed him by.Leading the process was the governor himself, his fine linen cloths embroidered with gold threads and platinum pearls. Out of the corner of his eyes Etian watched the others lined up against the wall, commoners like himself, stealing furtive glances at the majestic process as it passed. On some faces Etian could read envy or awe or odium, but each one also registered fear. For those men passing them were the most powerful men on Inis-Ilix station and each and every one of them had the power and the authority to dictate the destiny of any of these commoners that lined the walls in apparent reverence.
Once the Holders had disappeared round a corner Etian straightened his small but stocky body and continued on his way to the St. Helion Social Club, his favorite after-work retreat. As he walked he wondered what the Holders were doing down here on the lower levels, they seldom visited the levels of the commoners. The fact that the Holders had been traveling without any personal guards didn’t come as a surprise to Etian; to the common Amarrian a Holder symbolized the grandeur of the Amarr Empire and to attack one was to attack the Empire itself. Such an act was unthinkable to the common Amarr man; the Empire, with its age-old traditions and structure, was the foundation of society itself. To every Amarrian life without the Empire was nothing but anarchy, chaos, dread and darkness.
Etian belonged to a group of skilled workers that traveled from one station to another in the Trigentia sector, offering their services to factories and foundries on the space stations. This custom, which is found almost nowhere else within the vast Amarr Empire, started several centuries ago when the sector was recently settled. At that time numerous minor Holders vied for power, each with his own ideas on how to run things. This resulted in a complex tapestry of rules and regulations regarding for instance education, travel permits and freedom of employment. With time this resulted in great economical diversity between the stations in the area, some prospered while others stagnated. When the emperor re-organized the administration in the sector a sole Holder was chosen to govern it as a whole, with governors on each station working under him. Soon thereafter the first migration workers appeared – people with some specific skills that only a handful of the stations could train and produce. This system worked well in the economical sense – the sector was prosperous and was fast becoming one of the most important industrial zones in the Amarr Empire. But this prosperity came at a price; the migration workers were better informed and enjoyed more liberties than other workers, let alone the slaves. They gobbled up dangerous ideas regarding their rights and stature, resulting in demonstrations and protests, sometimes violent. The Holders were facing a dilemma; they were anxious to keep social stirrings to the minimum, but were unsure how to accomplish this without breaking their golden eggs – the migration workers. While the Holders were searching for ways to keep things getting out of hand the migration workers were clamoring ever louder for greater rights and higher wages – on many stations in the Trigentia sector tension was rising to the boiling point. On many there had been bloody fights, sometimes resulting in the total expulsion of migration workers or severe restriction on their privileges. But there was one fabled one where the workers had succeeded...
To Etian this development was making him deeply anxious. Born into a strictly orthodox family and raised to respect the social order no matter what, these stirrings by his fellow workers seemed almost treasonous, even sacrilegious. Yet, Etian had to admit that this fight for increased rights seemed reasonable enough. His mind was torn between his duty to the state and loyalty to his co-workers; the responsibilities of his public life against the comfort of his private one; all these things sat heavily on Etian’s mind as he made his way towards the club.
Inis-Ilix station had seen its share of unrest in recent months, only the week before two migration workers had been imprisoned for ‘disturbing the peace’, as the official statement read. Etian knew of several small cells operating, but they didn’t amount to much – only a handful of the migration workers had truly succumbed to the fervor of power politics, most, like Etian, were doubtful. In their view this whole turbulence could be blamed on those impulsive fools on Turba.
St. Helion Social Club was opened some 30 years earlier by a religious order with the purpose of spreading the word of St. Helion the Virtuous among the lower classes. The order was at that time under the patronage of Lady Temal Kador, one of the Five Heirs, and through her influence the order opened vast number of similar clubs all over Kador’s domains. But a few years later the order fell out of favor with the Heir and their clubs were sold. In the three decades of operation the club had slowly degenerated from a respectable, if boring, religious establishment into a grubby workers bar. The club was not big, one room crudely split in the middle by a bar. The interior was still covered with religious symbols and signs but St. Helion’s order had long since left and the word of God had been replaced by the drunken drivel of the workers frequenting the place.
Etian took his usual seat in a back corner, scanning the familiar faces on the tables around him. He nurtured his drink for a few minutes in silence until a friend and a co-worker of his, Ryed Gambala, moved over to Etian’s table. Most of the people in the room were migration workers like the two of them and many of them were fellow employees at RPI. Yet they were grouped in pairs or at most three at a table, occasionally a person moved from one table to another, this always spurred a person on that table to move on too. The station authorities had banned migration workers from grouping together – a group of more than 2 or 3 people together made the authorities extremely paranoid. So even while relaxing in a bar the migration workers took the precaution to give the impression of separation, in case of lurking informers or camera drones.
“So, Etian.” Ryed said, half-whispering, glancing furtively around the bar before continuing: “Will you be coming?” Etian sighed, seeing where this conversation was leading. Ryed was in one of these newly formed cells that dreamt of the success their brethren at Turba had got.
“Look, Ryed, I don’t think a public protest will get you anything but trouble. I mean, how many are you? Maybe a dozen. That’s hardly a sufficient number to shake the foundations of this station’s government. From what I hear, the Turba protesters numbered at least a few hundred. It’s a doomed prospect, man.” Etian said, exasperated. This wasn’t the first time that Ryed brought this up, but each time Etian had turned him down. Much as he wanted to see some changes, Etian was much too clever and cautious to take part in any risky demonstration like the one Ryed’s cell was planning.
“Where’s there will there’s a way. We may be few, but we’re dedicated to the cause. Come on, it’s now or never.” Ryed continued chanting his slogans like in a religious fervor. It was clear to Etian that Ryed had become fanatical about this whole business: he was obviously never going to change his mind and, more exasperatingly, never going to change the subject. Etian began looking for an excuse to bring the conversation to an end, when he saw her.
She walked into the bar with a light spring in her step that spoke of perfect body control and self-assurance. Etian only knew her first name: Deka. Like him she frequented the club, but apart from her name he knew nothing about her; this perceived mystique only made Etian all the more infatuated with her. Watching her from afar Etian’s ample imagination had time and again played out one dramatic scenario after another where he was the hero in white and she the damsel in distress. Afterwards Etian always felt sick of himself; of the way he dawdled over his daydreams constantly, never having the courage to act any of them out in real life. And this time it was no different. While Ryed droned on in the background Etian once again let his mind slip into the comforting mode of daydreaming. The more he dreamt the more he drank and the more depressed he felt.
Staggering home some two hours later he wondered for the umpteenth time if he’d ever be man enough to go talk to her.
The factory of the Royal Precision Instruments, known as RPI, was situated on the lowest deck, like most of the factories on the station. Most of the year the permanent workers made micro-optics and fiber-conduits, but during the months of Domar and Nemar the workforce of RPI tripled as migration workers came in to make quantum clocks, using the volatile argon isotopes laboriously mined in a nearby asteroid field. In those two months the migration workers used up all the factory’s supplies of the substance, which then took the company a whole year to restock.
The month of Domar was coming to an end. Etian, working through his hangover and cursing himself for drinking so excessively the night before, let his mind wander while performing his tedious work on the clock’s escapement. It seemed to him like the whole RPI was seething, that his fellow migration workers were like a dormant volcano only waiting to erupt. Etian knew he was caught up in one of the rarest of social phenomenons in the Amarr Empire; that of social uprising. Somehow this privilege didn’t comfort him all that much. Overhearing snippets of conversations around him Etian learned that a big gathering was planned for tonight at St. Helion’s Social Club. Etian decided to go, he couldn’t tell why. Maybe it was out of curiosity, maybe to show solidarity, or maybe just to get yet another glimpse of her, Deka.
When Etian entered the social club it was already teeming with people. His usual table at the back was already occupied by loud-mouthed men in overalls, so he sat at a table closer to the center. A man was already sitting there, hunched with a cape hiding his features. There was no sign of Deka.
“Are you here for the demonstration?” The stranger asked, a pair of pale-blue eyes peering at him from under the hood of his cape. Etian felt strangely naked in front of that stare. Looking into those eyes set his head spinning and it took seconds before the question registered in his mind.
“I, uh… I don’t know.” He finally stammered. The stranger seemed a bit annoyed by his answer and Etian felt strangely compelled to please this man he’d never seen before.
“I came here to give my support to the cause.” Etian said more forcefully, hoping that this vague answer would satisfy the man sitting opposite him without sounding as a commitment to do something foolish. The stranger stared at him for a few moments before speaking:
“I’m Fradis Ludono.” He declared, staring intently at Etian as if to gauge his reaction. Again it took Etian a moment to get his mind around what the man had said. Then the name registered and Etian jumped. Fradis Ludono. The man from Turba. The man who led Turba’s migration workers to a victory against the station’s rulers. The man who faced down the Holders of Turba and won for the workers a freedom to work and life as they chose. The man was a living legend, traveling from station to station to preach the word and support the people.
For several seconds the two men stared each other in the eye. Finally Etian managed to get his mind into gear:
“I’m Etian Subidam.” He said and extended his hand. Fradis gripped it firmly. Then he spoke:
“Etian Subidam, will you help me help you? Will you aid me in securing for you freedom from the tyrants of Inis-Ilix station?”
“I guess I do.” Etian stammered. At that moment he noticed Deka sitting by the bar and suddenly Etian had flash of insight. His biggest weakness was his lack of self-confidence and what better way to alter that than to rub shoulders with none other than Fradis Ludono. If anything was going to work in bringing Etian some self-esteem this was it. And heck, with Fradis here this demonstration might not be as dicey as before.
“I will help you.” He said with fervor, the conviction clearly evident in his voice. Fradis seemed satisfied.
“Good.” He said. “I haven’t been here for long, but we must act as quickly as possible. If the authorities discover I’m here before we’re ready things could turn bad. From what I’ve heard there are already some cells operating in this area, so preparations should be easy.”
“It is true that there are a number of cells around.” Etian said. “But they don’t hold much sway. I’m afraid that most of the workers are a bit skeptical about this whole thing.” He finished almost apologetically, aware that not so long ago he had been one of those skeptics. Fradis didn’t seem at all daunted by this news.
“That’s because they haven’t heard the word yet.” He said with confidence. “We will show them what it means to be a real man.” With that Fradis removed his cape, revealing his bald head with its intricate implant at the back of the skull. If Etian had ever been in doubt if the man really was who he said he was that doubt was totally expelled now – the image of Fradis Ludono was almost as well known in these quarters as the portrait of the emperor himself. No sooner had Fradis removed his cape than people began pointing and whispering excitedly.
Fradis climbed onto the table and then stood there surveying the room calmly, scanning the faces of the excited but hushed workers thronging around him.
“Fellow migration workers.” He finally said, his sonorous voice carrying to the farthest corners of the room. “You all know me. And you know my background. So you shouldn’t guess why I’m here. In a way, I’m answering your call, for many of you have already laid the foundation for our glorious victory over the tyrants of this station that is soon to come.” The crowd was now hanging onto his every word.
“But I know many of you also have doubts in your hearts.” Fradis continued. “You doubt the righteousness of this deed. You doubt whether you are worthy of taking the power from those that took it from you so long ago. For you’ve been conditioned from birth to respect and fear those men that claim to be better than you. I say: cast those shackles of you!” Etian could see that Fradis was getting to the people, yet there were still those that were unconvinced. Etian suspected himself as being one of them. Fradis sensed this all, he knew from experience that more was needed to convince them, or at least to persuade them join the fray. He continued:
“They have told you time and again that you’re not capable of governing yourself, that you’re too weak of mind. Their teachings have long since reached the core of your souls. I say: to free your soul you must forget those teachings. You must stop believing that you’re incompetent to rule yourself and start believing that a free mind can accomplish anything it wants!” Fradis was reaching a crescendo. The crowd was shouting encouragements, the majority already gleefully shouting their approval. Etian saw Ryed among them. To Etian the words Fradis spoke were much more radical than those he’d heard previously and that frightened him. Ryed and his gang had only been advocating a demonstration for higher wages and more rights, but Fradis’ words seemed to imply a complete overthrow of the government of the station. Yet Etian, for all his misgivings, couldn’t help but be moved by the passion of Fradis and the excitement of the crowd.
Maybe you don’t believe me when I say that you’re all conditioned.” Fradis shouted to the frenzied crowd. “But let us all look at one example. Name me a poem that we all know, a poem that is taught to all children at an early age. A poem that supposedly shows that man should not try to usurp God but put their faith in him, but which in reality describes the way the upper classes trample on the ignorant commoners. Yes, you know what poem I’m talking about. You all know it by heart. Why don’t we recite it together so your eyes can be opened to just one of the cunning ways the Holders have put their shackles on your souls.” And Fradis began chanting, many in the crowd joining in:
‘I raised my head and saw this stair; A solid structure made of stone, Reaching high into the air. I looked around, I stood alone. This muddy field held no appeal; Full of care I neared the base; Sure enough, the stair was real. What hidden dangers might I face Climbing up this endless stair? I knew not, nor ever could For always gazed in unknown fear Of future bright or bleak or good; ‘Tis matters not when control lack; The fate of man in other’s hands. But then again this skybound track Might lead me to the promised lands.’
“What does this first verse tell us?” Fradis asked. He waited a second before continuing: “It tells us that we all have a desire to govern our own live, that this desire is ingrained in every one of us and that we dream of becoming our own masters.” He then said, answering his own question. Then he continued:
‘With eager heart and earnest face, I set out to seek this exulted place. And once I had the first flight won I felt as the climb was halfway done. Soon I learned to stride the stair With ease and thus became aware Of my surroundings for the first time, Around me saw this view sublime. Fresh air caressed my cheek and jowl, Below me saw a friendly fowl. With joy I climbed and noticed much; Happy games and wonders such. I knew this world belonged to me Now at last that I was free. ‘Why, arts and music; life and joys; And let’s make all those science toys.’
“And here, like a glimpse into paradise, we’re given a taste of what self-government might achieve.” Fradis declared. “But dangers lurk, as the next verse tells us:”
‘Finally I felt my powers could Choose my fate as I saw fit; This world I owned and understood, It was made for my own benefit. When I slept I dreamt sweet dreams Of things to come I knew where true. Once I’d reach the top my schemes To make this world all anew Should at last all bear fruit. But this sound beneath my soles, Restless, endless, nagging, crude, Rasped my soul and raped my goals. The stair behind me slowly fell, Erased forever with a tired sigh. Empty steps with tales to tell Raced towards me in a silent cry.’
“Here, we’re told that our greed and our stupidity will always come back to haunt us. That only those better than us are capable of ruling wisely enough to keep us from destroying ourselves. And the last verse tells us the ultimate price our pride may have to pay if we don’t stay in our place:”
‘Now I realized this frail old track Chased me up with no way back. Faster, faster, I fled in dread; My every effort spent, I sped Upwards, fearing death and drop, When suddenly I reached the top. Before me stood this man in white. Slipping still, in dismay I cried: “Old man, help me on my feet!” “Poor victim of your filthy greed, Learn the humble way,” he said. And spat and kicked me in the head. I fell and felt my mind go blank. I hit the ground, in mud I sank. ‘Who am I and where is here?’ I raised my head and saw this stair.’
“I say to you: is this the world we want to live in? Are we to accept that we’re not good enough to govern our own lives?” Fradis was whipping the crowd into a frenzy and Etian felt himself swept into this vortex of emotions and passions, shouting himself hoarse, for the first time feeling enraged and disgusted with the way the authorities had been playing him like a fool. ‘No more!’ echoed through his mind and his thoughts were being shouted throughout the room. Fradis raised his hands, waiting for the room to calm down before giving his final verdict, in almost total silence:
“I say, my brothers and sisters: they may govern the way we live, but we can still govern the way we die and if there is any cause worth dying for, then this is it. I have put myself at risk a thousand times for this cause; I have faced death a hundred times; and I’ve come here tonight to tell you that I will continue to do so until a day will come when we can live our lives as we please with no-one trying to oppress us or kill us.” Etian was sold, as was the whole room. If Fradis had ordered it Etian was sure that the whole crowd would march to the upper levels this very minute to die by his side. But Fradis ordered no such thing. Instead he said:
“This is only the first step. We must now prepare ourselves, but we must move quickly before suspicion arises.” He stepped down from the table and was immediately surrounded by people asking him questions or simply touching him in awe. Suddenly Etian noticed that Deka had slipped beside him.
“I saw you talking to him earlier.” She said quietly, keeping her eyes on the man in question.
“You noticed that?” Was all Etian could utter.
“I’ve also noticed you staring at me in the past.” She said amusingly.
“Ah…” Etian felt himself blush.
“What did you two talk about?” Deka asked, looking at Etian for the first time. He had to muster all his willpower to refrain from shuffling his feet. She was so forward!
“We talked about the upcoming demonstration.” He finally answered.
“Really? Are you planning it with him?” She probed.
“I’m helping him out.” Etian said evasively. By now they had moved over to a nearby table and sat down. Etian was cursing himself for lying to her. ‘But I didn’t exactly lie,’ he thought. ‘I only omitted some of the truth,’ he then justified. But he also knew that only through his supposed association with Ludono did he have enough self-confidence to stay there talking casually with the woman of his dreams. ‘I’m now eternally committed to this demonstration,’ he reflected gloomily. ‘Or should I say revolt? That seems to more to the mark.’
Fradis dispersed the crowd a little later, wisely remarking that such a large gathering was bound to draw notice sooner or later. Etian tried not to look too crestfallen when Deka left, at least he had her promise to meet again to sustain him. Etian was just about to dive into some heavy drinking to sooth his nerves when Fradis laid his hand on his shoulder.
“We’ve got some planning to do.” He said. Etian saw Ryed standing behind Fradis, grinning like a maniac in the company of some of his mates. ‘Sink or swim,’ Etian thought, joining his fellow conspirators into a back room.
The spacious office overlooked a pleasant little garden, a rare sight on any space station. The man leaned on his cane, looking out over his garden of retreat. Behind him stood a small man clad in a blue and black security uniform.
“Has he made contact yet?” The man with the cane asked.
“Yes, sir.” The small man replied. “Last night in…” he glanced at his notes. “St. Helion’s Social Club.”
“Good, good. Keep a tab on things. He should move soon, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Yes, sir. Is that all, sir?”
“For now, just remember to clear out Hangar 8.”
The old furnace could still be turned up for heat, making the small alcove cozy and warm. Etian lay on the divan going over the events of the last couple of days in his mind. He was certain that nothing he had experienced before came close. Not only was he in the midst of some sinister plot to uproot the
government, but here, on this very divan, lay the woman of his dreams snuggled up against him sleeping soundly.
She had told him her life story, more or less. Her ancestors were of the lowest class of the commoners, just above slaves. Her large family was still eking their living out as the poorest of the poor. But she had managed to get out, quite an accomplishment by the standards of the empire. But he hadn’t managed to get her to tell him what she did for a living.
And now the woman in question was stirring in his arms, slowly returning to the waking world.
“Good morning.” Etian said cheerfully. Deka yawned, bleary eyed.
“Mornin’” She muttered, rubbing her eyes. Etian suddenly felt the urge to probe deeper into her life:
“Say, why don’t you have to worry about going to your job? I know you didn’t go yesterday and you don’t seem to worried for today?” He inquired, hoping to get a glimpse into what she did for a living. Deka only muttered something under her breath.
“Your not unemployed are you?” Etian asked teasingly.
“Certainly not!” She snapped, sitting bolt uprights. “If I didn’t have a job I would be forced to go back to my family, I’d rather die.” She said with a feeling. Etian was a bit taken a back by her outburst, frightful that it might affect their budding relationship.
“I’m sorry, it just looked to me like you didn’t mind your job too well.” He said apologetically.
“I mind it very well, thank you.” Deka said, still irritable. “My job and my status means everything to me.”
“So you’d do anything to keep your job?” Etian asked, racking his brain for what this job of hers might be.
“Of course, it’s all I’ve got.” Deka replied. Etian was a little hurt by this remark, but kept quiet. He rose from the divan ensconced between the furnace and the wall and started dressing.
“Why do we have to meet here instead of your apartment?” Deka asked.
“Because my apartment is maybe being watched. Fradis pointed that out to me. This is safer. No-one but you and me know about this place. Nobody comes down here anymore after the new reactor was opened. We’re secure here. I’ve even stocked this place full with food, we could hide here for ages.” Etian answered, pulling on his boots. “Come on, we’ve got a big day ahead of us.” He said eagerly, throwing Deka’s cloths to her.
The demonstrators came trickling into the back-alley storage area. Etian had left Deka at the entrance earlier – they planned to meet after the demonstration, although both of them knew that things were likely to change dramatically in the next few hours, making any such plans hollow. Etian looked around him, the demonstrators were close to one hundred – young and eager. Most of them male; most only in their early twenties. As could be expected trepidation and uncertainty battled with anticipation and exhilaration on their faces as they unfurled their banners and hid their long knives in their jackets. At last Fradis stepped up and made his last speech before they’d march.
“Remember our aim, people. We will march to level 2 where the governor’s quarters are and demand our rightful share in the government of this station. We will not resort to violence unless absolutely necessary – we can talk to the guards, they will understand our cause and maybe join us. If things get tough you will follow your group leaders to the designated rally point, where we will re-group and re-organize. Now lets move!”
The march had been carefully stage-managed, the mob was grouped into small groups of 10 people, with one person responsible for their movements and coordination. Etian was one of the group leaders, his group was the third from the last. Fradis marched with the last group, egging people on. As soon as the demonstrators were out on the street they started waiving their banners and chanting their slogans:
“Power to the People!”
“Down with Tyranny!”
“Out with the Old, In with the New!”
The procession slowly weaved its way towards the upper levels, in every street and at every corner they were met with astonished onlookers. Some shouted jeers or obscenities, other shouted encouragement and a few even joined in the march, swelling the number to well over hundred.
Then they turned into the street leading up to the 4th level. It was empty. On they marched, their shouts echoing on the empty street, putting fright into some of them, their shouts growing fainter. At the end of the street they met a line of security guards blocking the street. The foremost groups happily marched towards them, expecting them to open up before them. Etian became apprehensive – he looked back and noticed that another group of heavily armed security guards were advancing up the street towards them. The front of the march now met the barricade of guards – they didn’t budge. Tension was rising, some were fiddling with the sleeves on their jackets fingering their knives. Etian could easily see where this was heading. He sought out Fradis, but the tall man was nowhere visible. Others in the group were noticing the absence of their leader. Fear set in.
Within a few minutes the whole scene had boiled into a bloody battlefield. The guards from the lower level came charging into the back of the group, throwing it against the line of guards at the front. Knives flashed, stun-guns barked and electro-bats hummed. Blood flowed freely. Etian, trying to stay out of reach of the rushing security guards stumbled upon Ryed lying on the ground in a pool of blood; his face turning white and his eyes dim as the blood left his body. Etian cradled his head for a second, watching the last twinkle of life leave Ryed’s eyes, before a guard charged into him and slammed him to the ground. Etian saw red.
Half an hour later Etian stumbled into the darkened interior of the St. Helion Social Club. His cloths were ripped, his hands were bloody and he had only a vague idea of how he got here. Sitting in a chair he tried to gather his thoughts in his head. He fetched a bottle from the bar and sat down again, gulping down a glass of alcohol. Everything was in shambles; the demonstration had been brutally brought down by the security forces, that much was clear. Etian fumbled in his pocket for the piece of paper that had sent his mind into a twirl when he took it from the dead fingers of a security officer he ran into. The paper, blood-smeared and torn, still clearly showed the route marked on the small station map, ending in a X. X marks the spot. Hangar 8. The rally point of the demonstration. Hangar 8. Where, according to this map, a bunch of security guards where patiently waiting for the few stragglers that had survived the carnage on the level 4 ramp.
Etian saw it all clearly now – how he and his fellow migration workers had been set up by the crafty, charismatic Fradis Ludono. How they had been played like fools and then led to the slaughter like pigs. It all seemed so obvious now, in hindsight, always the worst of sights. Etian looked up, the image of his friend Ryed dying filling his vision. The memory of the silly yet affable Ryed welled up, before he caught the rebellious fervor, before all this… madness. Tears welled up in Etian’s eyes. He brushed them away, his eyes focusing on a quotation from the Scriptures hanging on the wall opposite him, a relic of the Order of St. Helion:
When the ears hear only, The mouth shouting. And the eyes see only, The fingers broken. The world has turned, And God has gone. Left us with fond memories, Of sweet life without pain. -- Apocalypse Verse 8:18
‘How fitting this prophetical verse is.’ Etian thought. ‘Now all that is left is to hide. Hide forever.’ And Etian got up and left the club for good.
The tinkle of the small water fountain was the only sound heard. The old man with the cane was sitting pleasantly on a bench, while a small security officer hovered nearby.
“According to the list provided by Ludono we’ve got everyone except one, sir.” The officer was saying. “If I may say so, sir, it was a masterly plan. The migration workers haven’t shown as good a behavior as now for ages; they’ve learnt their lesson.”
“I can not take the credit for Fradis Ludono all by myself.” The old man said, tap-tapping his cane on the pebbled ground. “This is a joint operation of all the security chiefs in the Trigentia-sector. The Turba set-up succeeded beautifully and the creation of this rebel leader Ludono was a masterstroke, I must say,” the old man said with self-satisfaction. “And the fact that we’ve managed to keep it secret even from our own security forces. Even they think there’s a dangerous rebel leader on the loose.” The old man chuckled.
“Well, sir. Then everything seems to be in order. Except, there’s still the question of this fellow Etian Subidam. We can’t find him. Shall we intensify our search, sir?”
“There’s no need for that. I’ve already contacted a bounty hunter to find him and kill him.”
“Excellent idea, sir. May I inquire who he is, sir?”
“It’s a she actually. Goes by the name of Deka Nuros. Very reliable. Very efficient. She will tie up any loose ends no doubt, you know how I hate them.”
“That’s excellent, sir.”