Today I post the second chapter of Thunder Gods, my original story inspired by Quintessential Doll’s song of the same name.
Solara and I set up camp: two identical blue tents, two hanging lanterns marking the entrances, a spit to heat up the food the colonists will surely hunt for us and give us as an offering. Solara is very, very worried. I am curious.
We break open our ration packs as we wait. I light an old-style campfire, for warmth as well as nostalgia. Enough calories in those damned ration packs to last us for months, even though we only need to be here for a few days. Far less delicious than an offering, though. We sit in uncomfortable camp chairs, staring at an oddly half-familiar night sky. Constellations not quite like at home, not quite different enough to quell a pang of unease. We do not speak.
The tri comes by, alone, a while later. I wonder where the other two of her unit are. Still out hunting? Back at their house? They have this wooded area for free roaming. Their territory. The other two could be anywhere. Bow and quiver of sonic arrows slung across her back. A small animal, already dressed for cooking, dangles from a bit of what I identify as homemade rope.
“Squirrel,” she says, throwing it unceremoniously at my feet. “Not large, but I hunted this one alone. It will feed you and your companion sufficiently. You seem to have enough to eat already, anyway.” A sardonic tone. She turns on her booted heel to leave.
“Wait. Stay,” I call out and hasten to stand up. “What is your name? You asked mine, but I did not ask yours. I was rude.” I already know her name. I know all their names. I am a Thunder God.
“Yes, that is not my assigned designation. I have decided to exchange designations with the one known in the documents as Samantha. She liked my name better, and I preferred hers. She is now a They. They are now Rowan.”
“Rowan has started having tri feelings, and I have always cultivated femininity. Since the three of us were a unit, we decided it would be only fair to effect the switch. It will not affect anything biologically or reproductively this way. Our unit still contains all three of the required genders: male, female, and tri. We have violated no rules.” Samantha, this Samantha, has a stellar command of the technocratic language my colleagues have taught them. Since I am new to the project, I still have much to learn. Solara and I exchange wary glances.
Solara, the brilliant researcher. On the project together with the older Gareth since its beginning two decades ago. She had started when she herself was not much older than the waif standing before us now. Solara the prodigy. A very awkward-acting human being. Anything but awkward-looking, though, and exactly my type, though she has so far repelled every single advance I have made. Still relatively young, not much over forty. Strong frame, pale hair in golden waves pulled back into a low knot. Extremely attractive in her station uniform.
“Rowan, dear,” Solara says soothingly as she stands up and moves toward the young adult before us, “whatever do you mean? You were named at your inception ceremony. You retain that name for life.” She hesitates. “According to galactic law, you may of course apply for a name change, but it is a legal process. You cannot…” a small, involuntary gasp. “You cannot simply trade names with your friend.”
“They are in my unit. They and I and Garston care for each other very much. Besides, you live in the Abode of the Gods. You have no time for the small matters of the people down below.”
“You are our charges,” Solara insists, reddening “and we have time for you. We are here for you, Rowan.”
“Samantha,” corrects Samantha.
“I cannot call you by the incorrect name,” insists Solara.
“Why are you calling me Rowan, then?”
Solara is lost. I can see it in her face. So she does the single least useful, most outrageous thing she could do. She falls back into her role as Thunder Goddess.
“You did not make your offering properly, Rowan. You must do it again.”
“Do it again, right this time!” commands Solara.
This has never happened before. The conventions, the ceremonies. No one has ever refused to participate in a ceremony honouring the Thunder Gods. I confess I find those proceedings terrifically degrading. I cannot see how presenting oneself as a god and demanding obedience would help form a functional colony. Once more, I feel a pang of guilt for having joined this project, for having traded my ethics for adventure and money. Yet I say nothing. Solara is reeling. She sits back down in her camp chair. Perhaps we should have made them thrones instead.
“I will not offer to you. But I may kneel to him.” She looks at me. “You have proven yourself an unworthy Thunder Goddess, Solara. I will try my chances with the one who looks like me. Perhaps he can ascertain my needs better. She faces me and kneels, then bends her head toward the ground upon which she rests her forehead.
“Please get up, Samantha. This isn’t necessary,” I say hastily. Solara shoots me a glare that could burn a ship in atmosphere. The tears prick the corners of my eyes.
“You called my by my true name, Trent.” She clambers hastily to her feet, regards me with a cool self-composure that seems to leech energy from Solara by the second.
“I called you by the name you want to be called,” I answer helplessly.
“Thank you, Trent. I would wish to speak with you alone.” Solara’s eyes widen in alarm. Don’t go with her, her expression seems to say. I ignore her. I have known Solara all of two weeks, and I have found her harsh, abrasive, brilliant. Not a good way with people, and I wonder again why she has made creating and forming people her life’s work. I gesture to Samantha to lead the way. Nothing could possibly happen. She turns on her lantern and begins walking down a path. I follow the guiding lantern’s light. Finally, I work up the nerve to fall into stride beside her. She is extremely fast for someone so petite. The project intentionally engineered the colonists to be small and agile. Fewer caloric requirements. Bodies resistant to the elements.
“Why do you look like me, Trent?” she asks suddenly. “I believed those stories for most of my life. Oh, I believed, though I had doubts. We had educators. They looked like you too. I asked. But we were told they were of us. Of the colony. Not Thunder Gods. Then one day, they all left and the gods entered our lives more prominently. With all the scientific knowledge they cram into our heads down here, all that astronomy and astrophysics and chemistry and mathematics, how could they expect to hide their secret?” Then she stops and eyes me with suspicion. “Are you one of them?”
“I am with them, Samantha,” I answer carefully. “I look the way I do because… because out there,” I gesture all around, up at the sky, “there are all sorts of different people. A huge variety! I just happen to look similar to you. But what secret do you mean?”
“The moon, of course,” she answers. “They tell us we are not on Earth. They tell us this is a new land, a new planet, that we are colonizing. We are learning how to live with the terraformed surface of the world. The proof of this not being Earth is that there is no moon.”
“There is no moon here, Samantha.”
“But there is. I see it swooping by. Oh, it’s absolutely tiny. You’d think it was a meteor. But it is most definitely there.” She’s spotted Fall Station. Small wonder: the thing shines like a fiend in the night. I can see it now, making its way like an errant star against the tapestry of lights behind it. Her head turns in that direction. “You see, Trent? It’s there. Therefore, we are on Earth. The colony is a lie.”
“That’s our station, Samantha. You’re right, it orbits the planet. But it is not a moon. It’s a… a construction. People can live inside it.”
“People? Or only gods?”
“Only gods,” I admit. “For now.” Curse this world. Curse the lies. Curse the approach. So corporate and technocratic and utterly doomed to fail. Give them all the tools to find out and they will find out, you can count on it. They have civil liberties and freedoms enough, as long as they play by our rules, group themselves into their handy pre-assigned units, are docile and yielding. How could I have taken this assignment? Everything about it is wrong.
“You are not a god,” she asserts. It is most definitely a statement, not a question.
“I am not.” On a wild impulse, I add, “and neither is Solara.”
“Oh, I know that. I’m not slow,” she retorts. “It’s only that I kept up the game. I’m not sure how much the others know, how much they take on faith. Faith has been stressed here as an effective counterweight to logic. In all our study materials, the religion you crafted for us has equal footing with scientific fact. I do think Rowan and Garston still believe. I have not enlightened them. I do not wish to take away their best chance at happiness.”
“Ignorance is bliss?”
“Indeed. They know their purpose is to properly colonize this world, to make use of it, to produce children. They know we must work hard on the land, advance our society, and collaborate with the other units. They do not resent that we are a rural unit. I do resent it, though. I like space. I would like to be assigned to Fall Station.”
“I thought you just said you had discovered we are on Earth.”
“I was just throwing you off balance. I know the space station isn’t a moon. I learned astronomy. I wish to live in space and be assigned to Fall Station.” She pauses, then a moment later, “I hacked your files.”
The station. She knows the name of the station. She has our files. She would like to create her own future. To take part in events she was not destined to take part in.
Staggering, I run, run until I cannot run anymore. She has not followed me.
CHAPTER 3 to follow.
Story and photo Copyright © 2015 Clio Em.
Song © 2015 Quintessential Doll.