First Chaos – Seventh Chapter – Kymele

Posted: August 18, 2013 by Eden in Chaos #1

Previous: Chapter Six by Elise || Next: Chapter Eight by Kella

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Today the corridors seemed endless.  The same doors, the same white paint with blue trim for what seemed to be klicks… 4.3 klicks exactly according to her measurements.

That wouldn’t have bothered Huntwoda if it hadn’t been the seemingly endless procession of the same faces too.  Or rather, the same face…

Hers.

She tried to look directly ahead of her and walk as if she caught up in her own thoughts.  Most everyone else was doing the same, of course.  Her thoughts were no different from anyone else’s, or rarely were.  Like all her siblings, she was careful not to attract Mother’s attention in her non-working periods.

At last, she reached the door she needed.  Pressing her hand to the sensor at the side, she waiting as the lock analyzed her id and compared her presence to the schedule on the main system.

The screen turned a soft yellow. |Reader Huntwoda, not on schedule| the ubiquitous electronic voice that droned on in the lifts, the terminals, even her medicine cabinet, said.

She had expected this, of course.  “I know that.  I asked for extra allowance to study an anomalous reading I received yesterday.”

|Reader Huntwoda, not on schedule| the voice said again; its androgynous tone more annoying for the repetition.

The screen turned blank grey.

Huntwoda pressed her hand against the screen again.  Mother Herself had always told them to pursue anomalies to the fullest.  She was only doing what was required.

Again the yellow screen, the electronic drone… not on schedule.  Huntwoda did this twice more before the screen turned not yellow, but red.  Instead of the electronic drone, a voice, a real voice came over the speaker.  |Huntwoda, what are you doing?  You are not scheduled for Ember Reading for two lossbreaks.  Go to the GreenHalls and rest or get some food from the commissary.|

She had been expecting the shift supervisor to answer her this way, but the voice sounded more like her enclave aide, Milund.  She felt her resolve quaver a bit.  Then giving herself a small shake, she placed her hand back to the sensor.  If her aide had gone to the supervisor’s office, then the supervisor already knew the anomaly existed.

Even if Milund considered her a bit obsessive about her work, the man couldn’t dispute that her job was to follow all anomalous readings to their logical end.  The project was too important to ignore the possible presence of the stochastic.

A stray thought brushed through her head.  Random happenings were what this whole project revolved around—the constant study of ergodic states.  Readings were merely to record the random happenings so that the statisticians could later analyze the data and devise adjustments to the habitat and terrain that would decrease the number of anomalous records.

It had worked.  The project had not experienced an anomaly in almost ten years.

That had been when Huntwoda herself had first been brought onto the project as a Reader.  She’d only left her training cell for less than a week at the time, not even long enough for her skills to be considered and directed.  Nevertheless, she still remembered the rules she’d been taught in those first days when the anomalies had overwhelmed the Reading Enclaves.  The anomalies–the deaths, she reminded herself, drawing up once more Mother’s lessons about the care and consideration all Readers must exercise in their duties…  Essential parts of the project or not, objects of study or not, the ember readings meant that a life had been ended, that one of the aboriginals on one of the study worlds—in this case VX376—had died.

She didn’t even know the planet’s name, only that the anomalies from yesterday and ten years ago both came from VX376, and that she was sure the incidents were related.

Huntwoda almost let her hand slip from the sensor in her distraction.  Though no one had yet opened the door, she was sure that someone would soon, if only to get her to stop making the alarm ring in the supervisor’s office.

As if in answer to her thoughts, the door slid open.  Standing before her, preventing her from walking in, were both the supervisor and Milund.  Both were frowning.

Huntwoda smiled to herself.  She had always liked the way she looked when she frowned, so serious and thoughtful.  Though the expression didn’t work as well on masculine features as feminine ones, she decided, having both to look at now.

Jaw is too heavy…  Huntwoda stopped the idle thoughts as best she could.  Time to deal with the matter at hand.  Ignoring her aide, she directed her attention to the supervisor, Fortanine.  Though a younger clone than she was, Huntwoda couldn’t deny that Fortanine had a talent for working with people and keeping her office running at peak efficiency.

“Supervisor Fortanine,” she said, making a point to show the woman proper respect with the bow of her head.  She may have annoyed the woman for the last several moments with the door alarm, but she had not done it to cause problems, but rather to prevent them.

“Reader Huntwoda,” the supervisor said with an extra soft tone.  “You should not be here.”

“I requested the extra time to study an anomaly, Supervisor.  Surely you were given my request by your assistant.”  Normally she wouldn’t have been so blunt about the possibility of failure on the part of the woman’s aide, but with her own standing behind the supervisor with a self-righteous expression, she knew she needed to make a point.  She looked back up to meet the woman’s gaze.

Supervisor Fortanine nodded.  “I was given the request.  That is why I asked your aide to show me your records of the Readings from yesterday, Huntwoda.  I saw no anomaly in the Reading.”

Though she knew she should stay calm, Huntwoda felt her muscles contracting with anger.  Until she had finished the recording and had the time to store the ember-soul safely, no one should have touched her work.  The risk of contamination alone was unacceptably high.  The risk of lost information was even higher.

“Perhaps you wouldn’t have missed the anomaly if my aide had not taken it upon himself to analyze the incomplete Reading for presentation,” she said, knowing her tone was sharper than it should be, but feeling unable to help herself.

The supervisor’s brow rose slightly. “The record is incomplete?  According to the timestamps you started work on this…”  The woman glanced back to Milund.

“Geneth, Supervisor Fortanine.  The reading is of a male aboriginal of the name Geneth.”

The supervisor nodded again then turned back to face Huntwoda.  “This Geneth’s ember reading came in at the beginning of your shift.”

Huntwoda nodded slightly.  “Yes, Supervisor, it did.”

“One Reading on one young male took your whole shift, and you still have an incomplete record, Reader Huntwoda?”

She’d expected this question.  Fortanine had asked it earlier in the interview than Huntwoda had expected, but at least she’d considered her answer well.  It still might sound obsessive, but being obsessive about doing one’s work well could not be a bad thing.  Could it?  “Yes, Supervisor.  There were outside elements in the ember reading.  Other presences, as if the death was one of many, but the only one recorded.  I spent my shift trying to filter the extra elements.  The record I had prepared so far was clean, but it was only part of the original ember transmission.  Would you like to see a copy of the original Reading for comparison?”

Supervisor Fortanine’s brow furrowed.  The woman’s gaze focused straight ahead of her suddenly, a sign that she was communing with Mother Rell.

Huntwoda held her breath.  Sure as she was about her actions, she still found the idea of drawing Mother’s attention to her choice uncomfortable.  She watched for the supervisor’s expression to change, wondering if Mother would wish to speak to her directly to see her memories of the Reading.  Would she have to clear her mind for the examination?  She’d never had to submit to a testing before, though she’d known others in the RELL who had.  They’d survived and stayed on the project by luck and Mother’s mercy, or so they’d claimed.

Before she fully registered Supervisor Fortanine’s focus on her, the other woman’s eyes changed color as the visualization chips in the woman’s corneas came online.  Huntwoda tried not to flinch under the silver gaze.  “Mother Rell,” she said, again bowing her head with respect.

Despite the stories, she felt no invasive presence within her head.  She felt nothing, save the discomfort of knowing that Mother Rell had been disturbed from Her work to attend to a scheduling issue.  But Huntwoda had done her job according to the regulations.  She’d been careful to ensure an accurate recording.  She’d asked for extra time with the proper forms.  She’d even….

Suddenly it occurred to her to wonder why Milund was there getting extra time on the schedule and not her.  Had he requested time too?  What project was he working that she didn’t know of?

The supervisor’s gaze turned toward Huntwoda’s assistant as Mother Rell assessed the situation through her.  Milund’s expression shifted from unconcerned to uncertain.  An expression close to sickness took over his features.  He swallowed and looked away.

Huntwoda watched, wondering what it meant.  She was left to wonder as the supervisor gave a slight shake and Fortanine’s connection to Mother ended.  All that Fortanine did was wave her into the Reading Enclaves room.  “Your extra time, Reader Huntwoda, has been granted for the remainder of the cycle.   Friend Milund, you will wait in my office until the Guardians come to retrieve you.”

After giving the supervisor another quick bow, Huntwoda hurried in to her assigned enclave, not even willing to think about what she’d just heard.  She busied herself gathering measurements of the data stream, offering a sample of her blood and attaching the testing electrode to the sensor by her temple so that her biorhythms could be read.  When she realized she had spent several moments comparing her biorhythms with those from yesterday as opposed to actually starting work, she sat down at the edge of her reading chair.  She didn’t lean back, not ready yet, despite her earlier urgency to start work as soon as she’d rested and eaten.

Now, she admitted, she needed to process all that had happened at the door.  Mother Rell had given her extra time for some reason.  A lot of extra time…  The cycle had just begun two rest periods ago.  In all her experience as a Reader, she’d never heard of a single Reading being assigned that much attention.  Moreover, Mother had demoted her assistant from an Aide to a Friend—a Friend who was being taking into custody by the Guardians.

What she found?

What did this Geneth have to tell them about the status of the project that her Aide hadn’t wanted them to know?

Huntwoda settled herself as best she could.  Before leaning back to allow the Readings to come to her, she glanced up, as was proper, to the placard over her seat.  The sign of the great stones, the ring of eyes… the dream of place that it meant for all the RELL.  She saw it every day.  Every day she received the chance to work with the bringer of a Reading, she looked at it and hoped.  Would this Reading be the one that would end the project?  The one that would let them know they had been successful?

She closed her eyes, the image emblazoned in her head.

“May you help us find our new home, Geneth,” she murmured.

Something akin to laughter filled her head.  Stunned, she fell back into her chair, helpless as the remotes took over and attached themselves, pressing into her head, filling her with the life of dead Geneth from VX376.

***

Altair had originally intended to have Jenng and his men handle interrogations in the ruins of the village.  When the men had finished the survey and come back with only a child and a withered specimen of a native who had been hiding in the brush near the clearing, he’d already changed his mind.

He felt especially glad he’d reconsidered, given how his Eltari prisoner responded to the presence of their new captives.

The woman looked first at the child.  She said nothing.  The old one she spit at before looking back to the child again.  “You shame yourself, child.  The fire is there.  Run to it.  Let it take you to Rell’s embrace and cleanse your soul of his touch.”

The old geezer in Jenng’s grip said nothing.  He made no attempt to wipe the spittle from his face, letting it dangle off as he looked at his feet.  The child looked at him, and though one of Jenng’s men held him solidly, the child drew back from the Eltari ancient as if suddenly repulsed.

Thing of it was…  Altair recognized the man.  Ten years had done the man no favors, but then, they hadn’t done him any favors either…

But if Tris’ great-grandfather was still alive, then perhaps things hadn’t been as bad as he feared.  Granted, the man was no more popular with the villagers than he’d been then, but they hadn’t killed him, as the man had feared would happen back then.  And Tris had proven to him for years enough now that these people were not simple barbarians.  Bad feelings or not, if they could talk, they could find peace.

If this self-righteous witch would let him talk without resorting to insults and personal attacks

Instead of dwelling on his female prisoner’s behavior, Altair motioned for Jenng to bring the old Eltari to him.  “Hadfar?” he asked.  He was pretty sure it was the man, but just in case…

The man blinked slowly, looking up from where he had been shuffling weakly beside the corporal.  “You know me?”  Rheumy eyes took their time focusing on him, then widened in surprise.  “Captain Altair!”  He gasped.  A look of horror filled the man’s weathered face.  “You came back?  You cannot come back!  You must leave here.  It will be the end of all of us if you stay.  Leave now, before it’s too late!”

“Humph!” grunted his female prisoner.  “Why does it not surprise me that you two monsters know each other?”

Hadfar looked back over to the woman, his expression turning pleading.  “Misa, child… You…”

The witch spit in their direction again, pulling fiercely at the bindings that held her.  Despite her clear age, her struggles were making headway.  “Quiet, Monster!  You have no right to speak my name as kin may!”

Altair felt his brow rise.  Even as he considered the name, things became clearer….  Tris had once spoken of her sister, Misa—more than once, really—and how much she missed the woman.  He motioned for Jenng to let go of the feeble Hadfar.  “Make sure her bindings are tightened, corporal.  Be as gentle as you can about it, but don’t let yourself get hurt.”

The corporal nodded and stepped off to do as he’d been told.  No salute again…

Altair sighed.  There was trouble coming from that man.  In Al-Terne’s name, he prayed it would wait until they were safe on the ship.  The last time Hadfar had warned him of trouble, he had ignored the old man, thinking him too old and weak-minded to know what he was talking about.

He was not about to make the same mistake again.  He reached out gently to clasp the old man’s arm.  “Come with Hadfar.  I want to know what is happening.”

 

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Previous: Chapter Six by Elise || Next: Chapter Eight by Kella

 

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