THE 3RD CLUSTER
By Dave Chaffey
I am banished. In my memories is where I reside. I soar through the emptiness of space with my beautiful daughter held close. My precious nanos protect us and propel us. The shiny metal orb growing larger is striking against the backdrop of blackness. We approach my hollow homeworld to continue our most ambitious mission.
I will start, though, from when the cracks began to show in the spell of ignorance and lies from within the stale cocoon of my homeworld.
On the night that it commenced, I had fallen once again into that which had been preached to me as sin. This ‘forbidden’ pleasure had been my most valued secret. The smell of my pillow would always arouse me as I climbed into my simple, wooden bed and savoured the thought of that which was to come. Under the crisp, white sheets, I would lay flat on my stomach with my right arm wedged between the mattress and my body. My fingers would explore until I wanted to scream with pleasure, but I had trained myself to remain completely silent. This was how I would relax most nights before I fell asleep and I could never understand why this was forbidden by the Makers. As yet, no one had found me out and I intended it to stay that way.
As I drifted off to sleep on this night with my fingers still down there, I heard an almost imperceptible voice that seemed to originate from within my head. This voice startled me so that initially I did not comprehend the words uttered. I naturally thought that I had been caught by the Elders, who would often visit huts in the night to ensure that the Makers’ will was upheld by all. After seeing my best friend Mary receive the mark, and then be taken away for her sins and her hut razed to the ground, I had been even more careful to stay quiet and show no signs of my own sinful behaviour. My heart was racing and my stomach filled with dread as I waited for the Elder to drag me out of bed, but nothing happened. I turned slowly onto my back so that I could gaze around my room, but all was dark and I was alone.
I wondered from where this voice had emanated as my heart rate slowly returned to normal. On this night, the voice did not return and after an eternity of worrying that I might receive the same fate as my friend, I finally managed to fall into a light sleep. The dreams this night were of my greatest fear – the Snatchers taking me away. There were many stories regarding the Snatchers appearance, but I imagined them as tall, slender, floating, black shadows. They would paralyse you so that you could not resist and you too would float away, never to return. It was at that point that my dream would always come to an abrupt end, as I would awake in a cold sweat and lay there until I could hear the sweet calling of the morning birds.
The new morning always brought hope to my heart; hope for the future; hope that the Elders would bring to me a little one of my own to raise. I had been waiting for five harvests now since my communion and I thought that my time should be about to come. It was, however, solely up to the will of the Makers.
As I eased myself out of bed and peered out of the small window, I could see one of the Elders approaching. He had tied up his magnificent black horse and was strolling gently down the garden path to my hut. I quickly removed my long, white nightgown and dressed for the day in my plain, blue blouse and long trousers. Farming was my allocated duty and I had been trying to grow wheat successfully to help nourish my fellow villagers with bread. Though many of the other farmers’ yields were higher, the Elders would not call me out as long as I did the best I could.
As I pondered about Ishmael’s business, the door opened and he entered my hut with a most generous smile on his face. He wore his long, grey beard and black coat with dignity and was proud of his status as Elder. He was one of the oldest men in the village and it was his duty to communicate directly with the Makers and pass on their judgements and edicts.
“I bring good news to you this fine morning, Rachael.” Ishmael was my favourite Elder and I waited with gleeful anticipation.
“In one harvest’s time, you will receive a little one of your own! She will be from the line of Rebecca.” His caring, old, bearded face beamed with kindness. He seemed as pleased as I did with the news.
“Thank you, kind Ishmael. I give thanks that I will have the good fortune of raising a new one to be an obedient and chaste servant of the Makers.” This was, up to that point, the happiest moment of my life and I was willing to do anything to ensure that I would receive a little one. Rebecca had passed on before the last harvest. She was a most kind person and had helped me out on many occasions. It would be my honour to be entrusted with the caring of the next Rebecca.
Ishmael ended with, “Of course, you must continue to prove that you are worthy of this most sacred of all tasks.”
After I assured him of this, he left to continue his morning errands. This was the moment that I had been waiting for and the smile did not leave my face. I felt the pure happiness that the Elders spoke of and embraced it. I made a pact with myself to try to stop my nightly sinning. I would make this personal sacrifice for my new little one.
After calming myself down from this wonderful news, I prepared for a day in my fields. I put on my wide-brimmed, straw hat and gazed around my room. The hut in which I lived was almost identical to all the others, including the Elders’, containing only the necessities to live. Excess and vanity were forbidden by the Makers and as such, my hut contained only a small bed, a table with two chairs and a stove. I thought about the wisdom of this edict as I stepped out into the morning sunshine.
The day in my fields had been quite productive. As I finished my day’s work, I looked around and scanned all the fields that I could see from the hill upon which my small hut stood. I never tired of the view of the verdant checkerboard of fields with interspersed oval lakes of deep blue, and the large area of dark forest on the other side above me. In one glance, I could see everything that I had ever known; indeed everything that I wished to know. As the sun dimmed to a pale, cool blue each evening, huts all around lit up with lamplight as the people of my village prepared for the evening meal.
Each night the village would assemble for dinner in the main hall. We would thank the Makers for bringing us to this perfect place and protecting us from the darkness before we began our meal. Each farmer would contribute their produce for all the villagers to enjoy.
There existed a real bond in my village. I would always marvel at how well we all coexisted. Unlike many of the others, however, I somewhat kept to myself, for I did not wish to replace my best friend Mary. Nevertheless, I most certainly did feel part of my village. Perhaps it was partly because we all looked so similar. We all had the same short-cropped hair and blue clothes so that no one would be susceptible to the evil of vanity. Only the Elders, who all wore long beards and black coats, had a different appearance from the rest.
Following dinner, the Elders would often orate tales of the time before we were brought to this place. The stories had been passed down through the generations to teach us how to lead a humble and chaste life to ensure continuing prosperity. The way of the Makers was one of permanence and never again would wicked times befall us if we all kept to the path.
All the others were delighted by my news of the little one. As was the custom, after dinner, I stood up and they all sang the Carer song to me, a long monophonic verse about how to raise a child according to the will of the Makers. I was radiant. I thanked them all for their continued kindness and asked them all to help me stay on the path. After dinner, there was some singing and dancing, and I joined in the fun, laughing as I stomped my feet in time with the others.
After washing and changing for bed, I brushed my hair whilst sitting on the bed and looked down at myself in my loose, white nightgown. I sometimes wondered how others perceived me. Some of the Elders would often look at me with an expression that I did not understand, but I enjoyed their attention and yearned for their approval. As I was pondering this, the voice from the previous night returned.
Again I panicked at the sound of the voice that I did not recognise and did not understand. I had never heard sounds like these before. On this occasion, it continued for some time and after my initial shock, I searched the hut, inside and out, to locate the source and owner of this peculiar voice. No matter where I stood, the deep masculine voice resonated in my head. I was terrified, and thought I might have been losing my sanity. I clutched my hands against my ears, but it made no difference. The voice would not leave me. I dared not tell anyone of this for fear of threatening my future Carer role. I kept repeating to myself that this would pass. I must simply ignore it. I found solace knowing that this could not be the sign of the Snatchers, since I had not been marked. Nevertheless, it was deeply disturbing.
With all my strength, I extinguished my lamp and pulled down the sheets to crawl into bed. The voice then began to blare in my head. I shut my eyes and tried desperately to fall asleep by thinking of my future with the little one. Her first word would be Rachael and she too would have black hair.
“Sorry, I must have frightened you! Your language is extremely difficult to master. I know this could jeopardise my chances, but I wanted to talk with you first before making a decision. Hello Rachael. My name is Samya.”
With difficulty, I could now understand the voice, although some of the words I had never heard before. What was this? Could this have been what had happened to Mary, prior to receiving the mark? I wanted this to stop. I felt a little angry at the voice’s audacity, forgot myself, and started to respond.
“Stop this immediately!” I pronounced. “I lead a chaste life.” For some reason, something in my head had decided that this echoing voice could be stopped by directly addressing it.
“Fantastic! It works. I’m so pleased that I have the chance to talk to you before we meet. Please do not inform your leaders about this. Let’s keep it our secret; otherwise we may not get to meet.” His voice was bellowing with nervous excitement. Although some of his words sounded strange, there was a calming nature in the timbre of his voice. I had never spoken to anyone like this before. Except for little ones, I had never met anyone for the first time.
While I pleaded for him to stop, he kept trying to calm me down. He assured me that I had nothing to fear and that we would be together soon. This I did not understand. What did ‘together with someone’ mean? He stated that he could not explain fully but I would find out soon enough. He also emphasised that he was not like the others, though this too meant nothing to me. He concluded by explaining that he could only communicate with me when I was near my hut.
All this had left me disturbed, and I again pleaded with him to stop so that I may sleep. While he finally heeded my request, deep sleep eluded me that night.
Next morning I was awoken by the sound of Samya’s voice again. He wished me a great day and to not be afraid of that which was to happen. I was deeply perplexed by it all and once again pleaded with him to leave me in peace.
“Don’t worry, I’ll arrange it all. You will be amazed by the things I’ll show you. We will have a wonderful life together.” His overt energy seemed unwavering. What did he think was going to happen? I still did not even know what or who he was, but there was something in his voice – a gentle kindness and verve that reminded me of Elder Ishmael.
“Can you see me too? I am about to change for the day ahead and I wish you to leave me alone.” It was forbidden by the Makers to see anyone undressed.
“No, it’s okay. I cannot see you, though I would like to! Are you as beautiful in real life as in sim?” I had no idea about what he was talking. Why would he like to see me changing? I did not understand.
“What are you?” I asked, hoping for a response that I could comprehend.
“I’m your future!” he exclaimed.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll find out soon, I promise. Thanks so much for talking to me. I feel that we’ve really connected. There is something between us. I know it!” The spirit in his voice was a little contagious, but I would not allow myself to succumb.
“I do not understand what you are saying. I am going out to the fields and will return tonight without your voice in my ear!” Though I will admit I was intrigued, at that time I wished to return to my life of farming whilst waiting for the arrival of my little one. I quickly changed and leapt out of my hut into the warm, bright, morning sun. Samya’s voice did not disturb me for the day while I was out tending to my crops and I managed to enjoy a most peaceful time in the fields. I was almost able to clear my head of the recent disturbing events.
At dinner that evening, the Elders Jacob and Job had their eyes fixed on me the whole time. They had grins on their old, bearded faces and were laughing amid their conversation. These Elders had often looked at me strangely; staring into my eyes and making me think most sinful thoughts. I knew that I needed all the Elders to support me in the future, so I smiled back at them, trying to mimic the way they were looking at me. I raised my eyebrows and grinned at them and this made them even more excited than before. I, of course, had no idea what I was doing.
As I entered my hut after dinner, I called out Samya’s name. Although I had told him the night before to leave me alone, I now wanted to speak with him and to hear his soothing voice, but he did not answer. What was I thinking? I readied myself for bed, but while I was washing my face, I was having strange thoughts of Samya performing the most sinful acts on me. I could not help myself, moved my fingers down my chest, past my stomach, and settled them between my legs. As I was giving myself this forbidden pleasure, I was thinking about his fingers replacing mine. I completely forgot myself and moaned softly while I brought myself to a climax of an intensity that I had not ever experienced before. This all brought great anguish to me when I finally regained some composure. Tears welled up in my eyes as I lay in bed and drifted off to sleep.
My dream that night was completely different. For the brief part that I could remember, I was completely paralysed in my bed and the Elders Jacob and Job were touching my body. Their grinning faces and laughter were the same as always. I was crying from the pain but could not yell out.
When I awoke that morning, it was late, my head ached and I was sore in my throat and between my legs. “What kind of dream could do this?” I thought to myself as I attempted to get out of bed. My legs were not working and I almost collapsed to the floor. As I walked gingerly toward my clothes rack, I rubbed my face to attempt to alleviate the pain. As my palm touched my forehead, what I felt was unmistakable. THE MARK!
I fell to the floor and began to weep uncontrollably. I could not gather my thoughts at all. This was the end for me. All who were marked were taken; it was that simple. What had I done? The Elders would soon come and pronounce my misdeeds to all the villagers. They would level my hut, burn my possessions and proclaim that my name should not be spoken of for ten harvests until the Makers sent the next Rachael. “But this only happened to those who were caught sinning,” I thought to myself. No one knew of my own transgressions, did they? Was Samya somehow involved with the Elders to seek out those who were to be marked? It was, of course, useless asking these questions. I was doomed and that was that. My soul would be taken from me and given to another.
After being shunned by my fellow villagers whilst paraded around by the Elders wearing the black robe of the Marked, I was carried to the forest on horseback to await the Snatchers. The Elders announced that they had proof of my sins. Jacob and Job claimed that I had touched them indecently and everyone believed them. They were Elders, after all, but this was not right! I had thought that this only happened to sinners and I certainly was not one of them! Why would they accuse me of such a thing?
The entire village abandoned me there to be taken. Some of the little ones approached, and stared at me for a while, but no one came to my aid, not even my former carer Ruth. But of course, I had not helped my friend Mary in this situation either. It simply was not done. Those who came to the aid of a marked one were severely punished.
I had to wait the whole day in the forest since the Snatchers would only come at night. My hands were tied behind my back and the rope then looped around the Snatching Tree. This huge, gnarled tree was the only place where the Snatchers would come. It had, on its trunk, the same mark that was adorning my forehead; a cross within a circle.
I sobbed, I cried out, I struggled, but all of this was absolutely pointless. As the sun grew dim, I accepted my fate. I was a sinner. I deserved the prescribed punishment for my transgressions. As I waited for the Snatchers to come, it was instead one of the Elders who came to me astride his horse.
“I’m terribly sorry about all this, Rachael.” Ishmael’s voice was sounding as gentle and kind as ever.
“You do not understand now, but this is how we survive. Some must be taken so that the rest may prosper. If you promise not to run, you can ride with me instead of the Snatchers coming to drag you away.”
“Yes, Ishmael. I accept my fate. I am a sinner and need to be punished.” I truly believed that which I said.
“Dear Rachael, you have a great many more experiences ahead of you. Do not fear. This is not the end, though you will never be able to return here. I am terribly sorry about what Jacob and Job did to you. I will try to find a way to punish them one day for their indiscretions.” Ishmael untied me and I climbed up behind him on his horse. We rode further into the dark forest. I had no understanding of that which had happened or was about to come, and had lost all hope as I believed Ishmael when he said that I could not return here. My only remaining wish was that the next Rachael would be a more obedient servant of the Makers.
As I slowly awoke from my deep sleep, the dream from the past night flashed across my mind and left me quite disturbed. In this dream, I had seen the Snatchers, except that, unlike my previous dreams, they were just people who wore strange, garish clothing. They were talking about how I had been damaged and must be taken away and I was crying but could not move.
With my eyes still firmly shut, I attempted to calm myself and found that I was rubbing where I had promised the Elders I would not. It still was tender and sore to the touch. After some time, I managed to collect my thoughts and prepare for the coming day. As my eyes slowly opened, I saw a most terrible sight in my room.
Someone had placed reflecting glass next to my bed and, as I sat up, I was staring directly at myself for the first time. Such items were banned by the Makers since they would lead to vanity, but all I could think of was why the mark on my forehead had been removed. The memories of the previous days engulfed me and left me gasping for breath.
“If I had been banished, where was I now? And where had the mark gone?” I thought to myself. I reasoned that Ishmael must have given me something to put me to sleep before the Snatchers had taken me.
The hut in which I now found myself was hauntingly similar to my old one. I decided that I must have been placed in a village not unlike my own. Maybe that was what happened to those who were banished, I pondered, in which case, I would be able to meet my best friend, Mary. I quickly jumped out of bed, grabbed the mirror to bury it and ran outside to see who else was in this place. I passed out as my legs gave out from that which I saw above me.
Upon regaining consciousness, my eyes opened to see an emptiness of blue and white. In my own world, I had never seen the sky before and was more than a little frightened by the sight of it now. I felt like I was going to fall upwards. I lay there for an eternity, clutching the grass, too afraid to move. This certainly was not merely another village where those who were banished were sent. It was all somehow different. There were sounds and smells I had never before experienced. The trees and plants were all unfamiliar, and there were no other people anywhere. It seemed that I was alone in this place, wherever this place might have been.
I grew content after a time laying there on the ground, trying to relax and attempting to acclimatise myself. The white bodies that I came to know as clouds, were continually changing shape and mimicking familiar objects. I was ever so slowly losing my fear of my surroundings, as it seemed I was in no immediate danger. Intense panic would however once again befall me before this day was over.
In the distance, I saw a figure approaching wearing strangely colourful clothing. As I had never seen a stranger before in my world, I felt terribly fearful, ran back into my hut and shut the door and windows. As everything was alien outside, at least this hut gave me some comfort due to its similarity to my own. Perhaps the figure would ignore me, I thought, but then I could hear his voice calling my name!
Once inside, I huddled up in bed with my hands over my ears and my eyes shut. At that moment, I could think of nothing except my impending doom. As his voice kept bellowing in my head, it dawned on me that the owner of this voice was Samya. As he had said, we would meet each other again. This knowledge, though, did not help to calm me at all.
My fear turned to anger as I yelled at him from the false safety of my hut. He did nothing but apologise, in the kindest voice, for what I must be experiencing. He said that he was trying to ease me into it slowly, but may have made a mistake by trying to meet with me too soon. He would return in time. He told me that he had placed everything here that I required to live and that I had nothing of which to be afraid.
While my fear caused me to confine myself to the hut for almost two days, eventually I needed to venture outside to fetch water and find some food. Samya did indeed keep his promise by not returning to my hut. He did, however, speak to me in my head briefly each night to check up on me as he had done so back in my old village. I would only respond initially that I was okay, but gradually we began to speak to each other civilly.
After several more days, I managed to become somewhat more comfortable with what I would later learn was called ‘the sky’ except for the fact that the sun moved from side to side each day. The solitude, though, did affect me and I was pleased when he told me that he would return the next day. He had been most generous in giving me all that I needed to live, with only a few unwelcome surprises, such as colourful clothing and ornaments. If this place were my punishment for sinning, then I would accept the solitude, continue living as a farmer and meet up with Samya when he wished.
When Samya did finally return in person, he arrived on foot as he had done so the first time. I had not yet explored outside the field that I had been given and there were no other huts around so I had no idea from where he came. I was preparing myself for another day working in the field when I heard his voice calling my name. With a little trepidation, I stepped outside to find him walking towards the hut. His colourful clothing shone brightly in the morning sun and he seemed to radiate something that made me feel drawn to him. I wondered to myself why the Makers allowed him to wear such clothing. Samya looked about the same age as me, but it did not appear that he had ever worked in the fields. In fact, he looked quite different to any of the people from my village. His skin was much more yellow than mine and his large, blue eyes left me mesmerised. The thought crossed my mind that he may be a Maker who had come to punish me.
“I must again apologise for all that you’ve gone through. I trust that you have grown accustomed to your surroundings and will accept my company.” His kind face had a certain warmth to it, but I sensed some nervousness in his voice. I accepted him into my hut and offered him a chair and some refreshment. I still believed that I was being punished for my sins and had decided that he was a Maker, although I found his nervousness quite confusing.
“I now accept my punishment. I give thanks to you and your fellow Makers for ensuring that my suffering has been minimised by coming to this place. I am not worthy of caring for a little one. Please reinstate the mark on my forehead to remind me of my misdeeds.”
“Yes, well, there is no easy way to explain all this to you. I will not bombard you with too much as you may once again panic. For now, you must know that you are not being punished. You have done nothing wrong. And although I would love to be one of your Makers, I’m just plain human like you with a few enhancements that your people disapprove of. The Elders chose you to help your people and they entrusted me with you. I will take good care of you and give you whatever you wish. Looking at you now, I’m so glad that I told the Snatchers that I still wanted you.” How could I accept that which he had said? Those that were banished were punished.
“But why have you placed forbidden items in my hut? There are colourful clothes and glass through which I can see my reflection. The Makers forbid the use of these items.” I had already buried the mirror and clothes, but the Makers would still be displeased.
“Ah, there’s no easy way to explain this. Let’s just say that all your old rules and customs work well in your village, but will not work in your new world. You may do as you please in this place. If you want anything here to change, please say so and I’ll make it happen. But remember that I’m not a god or Maker.”
“I do not understand the meaning of your words. I am content to tend to my crops and live my life here as I did so back in my village. I will happily accept your company when you wish to visit and I must thank you again for taking care of me.”
“I knew this would be hard on you, Rachael, but you need to accept that you cannot stay indefinitely in this place. I put you here temporarily to help you in your transition. Before I leave, I will give you a companion to help you with your work. He will be able to answer many of your questions and follow your commands, but although he may look human, he is merely a machine. He will teach you much of what you will need for your future outside this place. Learning to speak and read the common language will be most important. What would you like your companion to look like?” Samya still was having trouble with the fact that I knew nothing of the outside world and I could not distinguish technology from the power of the Makers.
“I will accept company but how can one choose the appearance of another? How are you able to achieve these feats if you are not a Maker?” I was confused, yet I found myself beginning to trust him.
Samya’s expression suddenly changed and he quickly took his leave and promised to return. He informed me that my companion would be outside my hut waiting for my command. In addition, he said that I could contact him at any time by calling his name. He raced outside and I sat there dumbstruck for a while trying to comprehend all this new information.
This time I made it outside my hut but was once again delayed by the sight of that which I believed was Samya. I asked why he had not left, but he explained that he was not Samya. He had been given his appearance so that I would not be alarmed at the sight of another stranger. Listening to his voice and peering into his eyes, he seemed lifeless. This machine could not reason and had no emotions but was able to answer many of my questions and also teach me about the places outside my village. I decided to call him Adam, as Samya had not given him a name.
Adam was a great help to me and I had to make sure that I did not grow lazy by making him do all my work. Samya had set him up in a hut beside my own and Adam would greet me each morning with a cooked breakfast. While I initially refused being waited on, it did not take long for me to grow accustomed to it. The food that Adam cooked for me was much more varied and tasty than the food of my homeworld. I wondered how it was possible to create such flavours and Adam told me that in time he would be delighted to teach me.
On several occasions, Adam walked in without knocking to find me touching myself in bed, but he did not react at all. I grew accustomed to the fact that I could do anything around him without consequence as no punishment had yet befallen me.
As we worked the field together, I would ask him many questions. When I queried him regarding our location, he answered that I had been placed here temporarily in this artificial world so that I could gradually become accustomed to living outside my own world. He explained that when Samya returned, he would take me from here to join him outside the simulation. I must not be afraid and should be happy to have been taken from my home. Unfortunately, it appeared that Adam was somewhat restricted in the answers he would offer, nevertheless he was a great help. He also managed to teach me the common language. It was perplexing at first but he was a persistent and patient teacher.
I asked him about my best friend Mary, and where she was. As I did not understand what was meant by an artificial world, I thought that she too might be nearby. He explained that I may be able to meet her but would need to ask Samya about it. I asked about my world and the Makers and he informed me in a tone that did not befit the conveying of such shocking information, that my world, which he called Haven, was safe but that the Makers had died long ago. The Makers did indeed create my world as I had been taught, but the Elders had invented imaginary gods based on the real Makers to help comfort the people, give meaning to their lives and encourage them to follow their rules.
Adam had a way of stating things bluntly: Many other societies had created deities to help the people lead fulfilling lives. My society was as valid as the others were because it allowed the people to live in permanence and peace. All this greatly shocked me as my world with the Makers as gods had been all that I had known. Adam had to reiterate it many times before I began to understand. I could do nothing but try to accept that which he had said. I was indeed outside the influence of the Elders in this place and after some time I did feel a yoke lift from me. I still retained a belief in a kind of Original Maker for I reasoned that something must have created the first people.
While I still wished to stay here and farm according to my old customs, I no longer had a constant fear of punishment. All the rules and doctrines of my past had vanished in an instant and I would often have to remind myself that the Elders were not constantly watching my every move. Although Samya had trapped me in this artificial world, for the first time in my life I felt truly free to do as I pleased. As a result, I began to freely explore my body without guilt and managed to grow comfortable with my appearance in the mirror that I had retrieved from the garden. In my old village, it was dictated by the Elders that hair must be kept short, but I had sometimes fantasised about letting it grow long. Now I could do as I pleased and decided to not cut my hair. I also began wearing some of the colourful clothing that Samya had provided me. I gained some of the pride that the Elders constantly warned against, but it did not feel like I was sinning at all. It did, in fact, give me a great deal of joy.
One evening after my nightly reading lessons had concluded, I sat eating a fine dinner with Adam and I plucked up the courage to ask him if I could touch him. This feeling had been growing in me and without the ever-present watch of the Elders, I felt free to do as I wished. He explained that he would do as I wished as he was created for the sole purpose of caring for me. My hands trembled as I reached out to touch his face over the table. His eyes were still lifeless, but this helped me to lose my inhibitions as I felt that I was not doing this with a real person. This would provide me with some practical experience and training for what I felt was to come in the scary new world that I had found myself. Adam’s skin felt different to mine with the whiskers on his face. I stood and walked over to his chair. I grabbed his hand and moved it to touch my face.
This excited me a great deal and I told him to touch me all over. I drew him up to me in an embrace. After leading him to my bed, I told him to remove my clothes and touch me between my legs. I decided to reciprocate and touched him too. Although I knew about the physical differences between men and women, I had never before seen what happened to men when they were touched and was rather shocked. I asked him to explain to me how this all works and he did in graphic detail by showing me. It hurt at first, but he was incredibly gentle and constantly made sure that I was not uncomfortable or wanted to stop. How had the Elders prevented people from doing that which seemed to come so naturally?
Lying on top of him, I gazed into his eyes but the lifelessness of before was gone. He told me to not worry in a way that I knew could not be Adam and I froze as I realised what was happening. Samya had somehow swapped himself with his copy and I was horrified by the deception.
As I was screaming at him, I hurled myself off him and began to run. I had never explored far from my hut and soon found myself lost in the dark, surrounded by strange trees. After collapsing from exhaustion, Samya appeared in front of my eyes out of nowhere.
“I’m so sorry for doing that to you, Rachael. I don’t know what I was thinking. I thought that you had grown attracted to me through my copy and would prefer the real thing. I promise that I will not do it again. Can we please return to your hut and talk some more?” He seemed genuinely worried about me but I did not care.
“Get away. I do not want to see you or Adam ever again! I wish to be alone and away from your influence. You have evil powers!” I surprised myself by my harsh shriek.
“Okay, I will do as you wish. I will give you a different companion and will not watch you any longer.” His calming voice did nothing for me at this point.
“You mean you were watching me the whole time! I thought that I had been freed from being judged from above. How are you able to watch me like a Maker?”
“Perhaps I should have explained sooner, but I wanted Adam to gradually bring you up to speed so that you would be able to understand. In the same way my copy is a simulation that I can control and program, so is all of this” He waved his arms about and we instantly appeared in my hut. Samya had turned night into day and changed the appearance of everything around us.
“Then turn it off. I want to see where I really am! I do not want anyone to control me by means of an illusion anymore.”
Samya did as I wished and all turned to black around me.
As I came to, I could hear a most unusual low rumbling noise that was strangely comforting. Samya told me that it would take a while this first time to readjust and that I had to be patient. I was still angry with him, and had no choice but to wait until my eyesight and movement returned.
Samya continued to explain in his low reassuring voice what I would see when I was able to open my eyes. We were on a spacefaring vessel travelling between worlds. He would be able to explain more clearly with the use of a display so we waited for my eyes to grow accustomed to the light. To pass the time, Samya told me of the first time he saw me. He knew that there was a connection. He explained at length about how attractive he thought I was, especially my green eyes. Flattery regarding my appearance was a new experience for me.
As my eyes gradually began working again, I could see that I was seated in a strange chair in a similarly alien silver room that had no doors or windows. Samya was standing beside a large table with a sheepish look on his face. He kept apologizing profusely for causing me such angst.
“Before we begin, how would you like the room to look?” I did not understand Samya and must have had a confused look on my face so he showed me what he meant. The room changed appearance completely from a field to a solid orange colour then to a homely setting similar to my old hut. I told him to turn it off and leave it as it really was and he obliged.
The display on the table had many floating balls on it surrounded by a black mist. Samya was manipulating them with his hands and explained where we were and to where we were travelling. He also showed me the hollow world that I was from and I was completely awestruck. Those that I had called ‘the Makers’ had built these worlds to isolate themselves from the rest of humanity. They were constructed with small machines that most humans had in them, but no one now knew how to manipulate them directly. The Makers who did know how to exploit them had died in the great wars that brought in the current age. These tiny machines were called nanos and lived inside our bodies but in the past they had also been utilised to build great worlds and civilisations. I knew nothing of this since all machines had been banned by my Elders because they believed that they caused people to lead unnatural and sinful lives.
After explaining all this in detail while I attempted to understand at least some of his words, Samya gestured at the wall. It instantly seemed to dissolve to reveal blackness with small bright lights that he called stars. Samya pointed to the star towards which we were now travelling and he explained that he had some special goods to deliver there, as the people of that world were unable to produce it themselves. He also tried to explain the immensity of it all, but I could not fathom it. It would take the equivalent of three weeks to reach our destination, whereas on my world I could see its entirety in one glance. By this point, I had become almost completely desensitised to the amazing technologies that seemed to me indistinguishable from magic. The sky had made me pass out, but the stars set against the blackness were for some reason comforting. The thought that near each of them lived an entire civilization was truly mind-blowing.
It was then that I looked into his eyes and my anger toward him melted. How could he have told me all this without me panicking? He had deceived me in my simulated hut, but I had secretly grown rather fond of him. His deception was borne out of the fact that he too was attracted to me.
His appearance outside of sim-world was subtly different, but he still had the eyes and lips that drew me to him. He was more attractive than any man from my homeworld and his garish clothing suited him well.
I told him that I would forgive him as long as he promised to deceive me no longer and to take me to Mary. I needed to know she was okay. He admitted that there were still matters that he had not divulged but the time was not right now, as my mind could not cope with any more information. As for Mary, he promised to do his best to search for her. I reluctantly agreed and offered him my hand. I felt an urge to move towards him, we embraced, and he kissed me gently on the cheek. It occurred to me that this man would do me no harm and I would be wise to stay with him, as he was the only person helping me in my new life outside Haven. Despite the fact that all the people from my village had shunned me, Samya would be there for me.
“Now, would you like to meet your fellow shipmates?” He asked somewhat excitedly as a panel in the wall dissolved to reveal a narrow corridor. Samya seemed pleased that I had accepted him as my guide to this new life.
Meeting new people was still an intimidating experience for me and it was with more than a little reluctance that I stepped out of the room and followed Samya down the corridor. There could not have been more of a contrast between the greens and browns of the natural environment of Haven and the artificial silver and black of this ship. Surprisingly, the ever-present hum of the engines had a great calming and soothing effect on me. After walking some distance, Samya stopped in front of the wall and it dissolved to allow him to walk inside the mess room. It was only later after my reading ability had improved that Samya would explain to me how the patterns on the floor revealed where all the rooms were.
When I entered the room, two of the people there were playing what appeared to be some kind of game, which involved changing the patterns on the floor by assuming various strange positions. I would later learn of all the activities on board that the crew undertook to help make the passing of time more enjoyable. I must have looked quite bemused by it all because they stopped and asked me if something was wrong.
“Well she’s never seen anything like this before, has she?” One of the others said to the two players. Adam had taught me enough of the language so that I could understand most of what was spoken. With everyone now suddenly staring at me, I wanted to run out of the room, but Samya put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me.
“Rachael, this is my crew. Firstly, the two playing Booboo-boogie are Scrartchar and Alander. The one who just spoke to you is Lexy and the two sitting at the table are Fang and Gung.” It would take me a long time to remember and be able to correctly pronounce their names and become comfortable with their strange appearance. Samya continued to explain that Lexy was the pilot of the ship. This naturally confused me as I wondered who was controlling the ship now, but I was too overwhelmed to speak. Scrartchar kept the ship maintained and running in good order. Alander was a little one and was helping Samya with his research, although I had no concept of what research was. Fang and Gung were machines like Adam and they helped to protect the crew and perform other duties that the others were unable or unwilling to do such as carrying heavy objects and cleaning.
A ‘hello’ was all that I could manage to blurt out. Lexy looked at me with a reassuring smile and told me to not be scared and that they would all take good care of me. I uttered a ‘thank you’, but no more.
I could not quite come to terms with how different each of these people looked. On Haven, all the villagers wore the same clothes and kept their hair in the same style, but my new crewmates seemed to have total freedom to look as they pleased. I suddenly felt self-conscious that I was still wearing my farming clothes, which appeared incredibly dull in comparison.
At that time, I did not have the words to fully describe the appearance of the others in the room. The two bots were the least garish looking. They were the largest people or bots that I had ever seen and their sheer size overwhelmed me. I was, however, primarily drawn to Lexy, as she was extremely beautiful and wore clothes that revealed a great deal of bare, pale skin. I wondered whether I too could someday look like that. Scrartchar, on the other hand, sported many marks on his body and looked completely alien to my eyes with his deep brown skin. Alander, the little one, looked about ten seasons old and had gone back to playing his game. I guessed correctly that they were all originally from different places and wondered whether some of them had been banished from their homeworlds as I had been.
“I’ll show Rachael to her room now, but please try to remember that she’s from Haven. I am trying to ease her in to the outside world, so do not scare her too much. And remember that she’s still learning to speak common.” The others looked at Samya as if they had heard this many times before and yelled in chorus “Yes captain” in a disingenuous way. There was no one inside Haven who would dare answer back to the Elders like that!
“So, do you like the outside or do you want to go back to Haven?” The little one enquired. He was still playing his game and seemed to be asking for no other reason than to get a reaction from the others.
I did not know how to respond to this as there was no way that I could ever return to my village. I wanted to say that I would need some time to become accustomed to the new experiences, and was trying to become more adventurous, but I was dumbstruck.
“Has Samya told you how mummy and daddy made me?” Alander asked with a grin on his face and Lexy instantly looked at him harshly. I reasoned that she must be his carer, but did not know the meaning of the words ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’. I would have to ask Samya how people received little ones of their own, as I still wanted to raise one. I had no idea at the time that this was a question with a completely different answer outside Haven.
“We haven’t made it that far yet Alander, but can you imagine how much you would have to learn if you came from Haven?” Samya made the little one think and a rather confused look came over his face.
They all wished me a good sleep as Samya and I left the room. I was greatly relieved that I had now met all the people on the ship and that I felt that I could trust them all. As we walked along the corridor, Samya explained some of the facilities on the ship, but he stopped himself, realising that I could not cram anything more into my head until I had rested.
Samya had been thoughtful when setting up my room by trying to replicate my old hut inside Haven. He had even made it look like there was a window looking out on my village. At this point, I was ready to dispense with many of my old ways, but I thanked him nevertheless. After he taught me how to control the surface displays, I turned off the illusion and returned it to silver and black.
My bed was my most important possession from my old hut and I wondered how he had managed to reproduce the look and feel, and even the smell of it to perfectly match my own. He explained that he had convinced Ishmael to spare it when my hut was razed. Without thinking, I hugged him in gratitude. He reciprocated by holding me tightly and I felt his excitement grow. I was not ready to be physical with him yet, so I released myself as he tried to kiss me. He did not seem to mind too much and told me that we would have much time to speak before arriving at the next world so there was no rush. I kissed him on the cheek. He wished me a good rest and told me to say his name out loud if I needed him for any reason.
I was exhausted and fell asleep the moment I lay my head on my pillow. My own bed was a great comfort to me and I could not thank Samya enough for trying to accommodate my old ways into my new life.
Upon waking the next morning, I began to fantasise about Samya and what he would do to me if I allowed it. Touching myself was exhilarating as I was comfortable in my old bed with the new sound of the ship’s hum and no fear of being caught by the Elders. As I reached climax, I yelled out Samya’s name and he responded to my call and asked if I was okay as it sounded like I was in pain. I smiled to myself and exclaimed that I was great. I explained that I must have been dreaming and then asked him how I turned on the lights. He taught me the code to speak before making a request to the ship. This was necessary because otherwise every time you said lights in conversation, the ship would not know whether you were making a request. There was so much that I needed to learn. I could not even turn on the lights in this place!
When I explored the room, I found many different clothes that Samya had placed in the closet for me. I was somewhat dumbfounded by choice, but eventually chose a shiny blue dress to wear on this day as I liked the colour. I felt quite embarrassed by the amount of skin that this outfit left bare, but remembered that it was still far more modest than the clothes Lexy had been wearing the night before. I found a black shirt and trousers to put underneath the dress and felt much more comfortable. Samya had forgotten to supply me with any underwear so I would have to ask Lexy about providing some.
Samya entered my room and noticed my old underwear hanging up to dry. He apologised for forgetting and would see what he could do. Samya seemed rather pleased with himself this day; perhaps it was because I was finally settled in and we could relax on the journey to the next world. He complimented me on my choice of dress, which pleased me a great deal. I hugged him, but quickly released myself, as I did not want our physical relationship to escalate yet.
On the way to the mess room, he continued to bombard me with details on how the ship worked. He explained that the bots and the ship itself did all the menial tasks, which I thought was strange, as my old life had been filled with nothing but what these people called menial tasks. I told him this and he responded by saying that I could do as much as I wanted. If I wanted to cook and do my own laundry, it was not a problem; I only had to inform the bots. He joked that there was not enough room on the ship to farm, but I could visit the sim-room at any time and create whatever reality I wished. I had not the imagination to fully fathom the fact that the sim-room could turn anything that one could imagine into a simulated reality. I decided that I would set up a farm to help keep improving my skills.
The bots served me up a delicious meal for breakfast that I instantly recognised as a variation of Haven’s food. Samya explained that we had picked the food up for the long journey to the next world. Although I was in an alien ship, at least I had my own bed and familiar food to help soothe the longing for my old life. Lexy joined us for breakfast and we began talking about clothes. Samya did not look too interested in the conversation and stated that he had something important to do and would return after the meal. Lexy laughed at this but continued speaking. She explained of her own joy when she left her homeworld and found out about the diversity of colours and textures. On each world that she visited, she collected clothes and make-up. She would often make her own combinations that no one else would have ever worn before. I asked what make-up was and she suddenly grabbed me and rushed me to her room. She sat me down in front of a mirror and applied unrecognisable powders and creams onto my face. When she was finished, I was impressed by how she had enhanced my own appearance. She said that she did not want to scare me by going too crazy. While I did enjoy this, I thought to myself that this was never going to give me the same degree of excitement as it obviously gave her.
Upon looking around her room, I noticed that the bed was large and strewn on the floor were Scrartchar’s clothes from the night before. I asked her about it and her tone suddenly changed.
“Samya, is it okay if I explain to her about sex now?”
“Yes, but be gentle. We don’t want to scare her off the whole idea!”
Being able to communicate with anyone in the ship at any time was quite useful. It would have been great inside Haven to be able to chat to people while I was out alone in my field, I thought.
“What’s the best way to do this, I wonder…” Lexy had a long think as I admired myself in the mirror.
“Well let’s start by talking and then I’ll show you more on the display. By the way, if you ever have any questions, the ship should be able to help and will speak to you and display information to help answer. Please try it out now. Remember to say the code word first.” I was so envious of Lexy’s brashness that I hoped that some of it would rub off onto me.
“Tingzaula, how do I get a little one of my own?” The ship started to explain but Lexy quickly stopped it and said that it was better coming from her first.
“Alright, here goes. You know how you got physically intimate with the bot you called Adam in the sim-room? Well, that is how you get a child or little one as you call it. But don’t worry, that was merely a simulation.”
“What? How does that work?”
“Well, when the man is finished and he ejaculates inside you, he may impregnate you. A little one grows inside you and then comes out as a baby. Alander is my child and Scrartchar is the one who impregnated me. We are a family. I can’t imagine what this must be like for you.” At this point, I must have looked shocked and confused.
“I know, this is a completely alien concept to you, but you must understand that that’s the way humans have always been doing it. It’s only on some worlds such as Haven that all intimate contact is banned. Women on your world still had their periods every month, right? What did your Elders tell you about that?”
“They taught us that we bled painfully because women were more sinful than men and needed to be regularly reminded so they could attempt to lead a good life” As these words came out of my mouth, I sensed that this was yet another lie that the Elders had propagated.
“I mean no offence, but I’m glad that I didn’t grow up on your world! Fortunately, you will no longer need to suffer as you did. When you are ready, you may ask the ship to show you how it all works. I will understand if you are not up to it yet. Would you like Samya to show you around the ship? I should check up on Alander.”
I decided to finish it once and for all, and asked the ship about making babies. What I saw was, to me, the most bizarre and disgusting sight that I had ever experienced. Lexy excused herself as I watched it again to try to come to terms with it. It was a lot less traumatic inside Haven to receive a child! Was this what I wanted to do? I would need to think long and hard and ask Lexy more about it before going through with it.
When I had met Alander, I had noticed that he looked similar to his carers, but did not understand why. The base explained about something called DNA. Alander had a unique combination of his parent’s DNA and as such shared many of their attributes. His broad shoulders and build were similar to Scrartchar’s while his face bore a striking resemblance to Lexy’s. The colour of his skin lay about halfway between Lexy’s paleness and Scrartchar’s darkness. I pondered on the appearance of my child.
When Samya walked in, I felt uneasy about touching him at all. Fortunately, he was sensitive to this and did not come too close. When I asked him if I had a real mother and father, he explained that most certainly I did. They, however, could have come from anywhere and unfortunately, there was no real chance of finding them. I was taken from my parents and put inside Haven to live my life. This was how my homeworld worked and it had been like this for a very long time. As I sat there, mulling this over, Samya attempted to relieve my mind and said he would show me around the ship after which I could do as I pleased.
The ship was truly extraordinary. All the habitation rooms were arranged around a ring that spun around so that gravity would be simulated. Samya explained briefly what gravity was and that spinning was how Haven simulated it. Unlike Haven, on the ship you could see all the stars around you. The ship was called Transporter 7, but Samya had nicknamed it Lunya after his mother. When I asked about his family, he quickly changed the subject and continued speaking about his ship.
The ship was as intelligent as the bots were, so it could pilot itself for the most part with Lexy only giving it instructions and making decisions when it was unable to make them itself. Scrartchar also had to communicate with the ship, but only when there was something that needed to be fixed or optimised. Hence, for the most part, there was not much that either of them needed to do. Pilot-less transport ships also operated in the Cluster, but when the cargo was important, the worlds always requested that there was a crew on board to make sure that it arrived safely.
“Now what do you think happens when there’s no gravity or we’re not spinning around to simulate it?” Samya sounded excited at what he was about to show me.
“I suppose you would float about.”
“Let’s see if you’re right!” We then entered a small padded room that moved upwards toward the centre of the ring. As we travelled upwards, I gradually felt less and less heavy until there was no weight at all. I pushed my legs to jump and floated into the ceiling. That was the purpose of the padding, I thought to myself. Upon reaching the centre of the ring, the door dissolved and we entered a large room that was completely empty. There was no specific purpose for this room that I could see so I asked Samya. He explained that apart from being fun, it was necessary to become accustomed to zero gravity to repair the ship and check on the cargo. The front and rear walls of the room were transparent giving us an amazing view of the stars around us. Trailing behind the ship was the cargo for the next world, which was comprised of large, shiny, metal blocks. Behind the cargo was a bright light that Samya explained were the engines that propelled the ship. These engines were similar to the sun that shone in the centre of Haven, and they also powered all the lights and devices on the ship. This was the most breathtaking feeling that I had ever experienced. We jumped around and played for quite a long time. I was smiling and laughing the whole time. I could not remember having this much fun before. It was also a sign to me that the person who had once passed out by the mere sight of the sky was no longer. I felt that I could now challenge myself to anything that the Cluster had for me. I did not know why, but from that moment I was a changed person.
As we floated towards each other, our eyes locked and we came together. I felt rather bold in this new environment and asked if we could have sex without me getting pregnant and he instantly grew excited and I could see the bulge in his pants. He explained quickly about contraception, as I do not think he wanted to delay our physical intimacy.
Samya also put on some music to enhance the mood. I thought it was the most beautiful sound that I had ever heard. He would later explain that he did not know exactly what it was but that it was ancient music that he had found in some ruins on an old world.
Sex this time was definitely better than my self-pleasuring had ever been. My practice with Adam helped a great deal when it came to the real experience. Zero gravity sex was quite different, as you had to make sure that you held onto each other at all times. Quite a few times, when Samya was inside me, we would forget and begin to float away to opposite corners of the room. It was amazing that here I could now make as much noise as I wanted unhindered by the ever-present watch of the Elders. I think Samya was surprised at how loud I was. After what seemed like a quarter day of ecstasy, we managed to climax together, which felt extraordinary.
As our heartbeats returned to normal, we held each other tightly and kissed each other gently. I thanked Samya for getting me out of Haven so that I could experience sex without the fear of punishment. It would take some time to collect all our clothes, as they floated about the room. Samya explained that we could do this as often as I wanted, but that generally people only did this with one other person. The two bots could also oblige when he was tired or busy. In addition, there was the sim-room where I could freely try out any fantasies I might have.
As we floated together, we spoke about many subjects. I told him of my idea that there must be Makers for all of this space around us. He said many people that belonged to open societies agreed, but most did not think that the deity intervened in the affairs of the Universe. Samya did point out that if the Makers made the Universe, who made the Makers, and I would ponder on that thought without ever finding a suitable answer. While we were discussing such big issues, I also asked if it was only my world that believed in reincarnation. When someone died or was banished inside Haven, their soul was transferred by the Makers to a little one who was given the same name as their predecessor. As I told Samya this, I again sensed that this was not true either. I then asked him what happens when one dies and he broke the news to me that most people thought that that was the end. There was simply no reason why an afterlife or reincarnation should exist. Fortunately, with the nanos in our bodies, people were able to live extremely long lives, so most people were content to die when the time came. A few open worlds still held on to the belief in an afterlife, but most thought that it was probably merely wishful thinking.
As Samya drifted off to sleep, he explained that night and day had no meaning on this ship, as there was no real sun. You could sleep when you wanted, but he recommended that I should stick to roughly the same routine as that of the world in which I had been raised as this was what I was accustomed to. After Samya fell asleep, I kept floating around for a while and spent some time thinking about my experiences since leaving Haven. I now definitely did not wish to return to my homeworld. The only minor problem was that now I did not quite know what to do with myself, as this was the first time in which all I could see ahead of me was free time.
The next few weeks passed slowly for me as I came to terms with the relative drudgery of life on the ship. It was quite disconcerting that there was absolutely nothing that I needed to do. While I refused to let the bots do everything for me, which gave me a few chores to fill in my day, there were no real goals towards which I had to aim. Everything was taken care of by the bots or by the ship and I felt more than a little useless.
The first time I re-entered a simulation, I was shocked by the tubes that were inserted into all my orifices from the sim-chair. It made sense that they were necessary so that one could remain in sim and it was not painful. I did continue my old farming lifestyle in the sim-room, but I now knew it was not real. I asked Samya to help me in my farming sim to keep me company, but he did not seem at all interested. I could not blame him, as he had never known a life without all the comforts that he felt were necessary.
Samya did, though, show me a few weird things in the sim-room that I would never even have thought of trying. One could exist as a tree, a star, or even a creature in a fictional universe. The experience is impossible to describe in words. The other crewmates spent time in sim playing characters from stories of romance or heroism. I attempted these myself, and while they were fun for a while, I yearned to interact with real people.
When Lexy and Scrartchar were working with the ship, this was how they interfaced. They plugged themselves into the sim-room and sort of ‘became’ the ship. Their eyes and ears were replaced by the ship’s sensors and their body was replaced by the ship itself. I could not quite comprehend the idea so Samya let me ‘be’ the ship for a short while. I picked it up quickly enough and was stunned by how natural it felt. I thought that I might be able to talk with other ships in the area, but Samya explained to me that the signal could not travel fast enough. Even if there were an emergency, it would be days or weeks before anyone could respond. Space, Samya told me, was a rather lonely place.
While playing in the sim-room was quite amazing, the lack of other people to interact with left me feeling empty about the experience. Samya told me that everyone in the next world that we were to visit was able to connect into his or her sim-world. Many almost never left and had no interest in the real world. Their nanos were able to keep their bodies functioning normally. I was intrigued and a bit excited to visit this world and experience a real community in sim-world.
Day-to-day life on the ship did not particularly stimulate me. Samya had told me that it was possible to be placed in long term hibernation between worlds. The others had long ago become accustomed to the great excesses of free time. Lexy had her clothing design, Scrartchar his music, and Alander and Samya had their research.
I managed to cobble together a bit of a daily routine for myself during my time on the ship. As I was still learning to read, the bots patiently spent time teaching me all the subtleties of common. They were amazing teachers, and it was not too long before I could read all the signs on the ship. I enjoyed expanding my vocabulary and would always consult the bots or the base for meanings and usages for the new words that I came across. The nanos aided my memory greatly and I had no trouble recalling words that I had heard only once. The vocabulary on my homeworld was incredibly limited due to the relative simplicity of life there. Words such as sex, genitals, love, mother, dissent and star were completely absent.
Something that Lexy had noticed and pointed out was my antiquated speech and accent. I had adapted my own language patterns into common and as such, it sounded quite unusual to the others. I decided that I would keep some individuality by deliberately retaining it and the others soon grew accustomed, although Alander would sometimes laugh at my choice of words.
Samya also spent time with me each day teaching me about the Cluster. While I could receive most of the relevant facts by asking the ship, Samya seemed to know many details that the ship did not. I had no inclination of why this was so, but was fascinated by his stories of the rulers of the Cluster. For the most part, the Cluster Overseers stayed out of the way, and only intervened when societies were out of balance. Luckily for the Cluster, although there was no one to police them, the Overseers were mostly benevolent.
Samya also taught me about many of the societies that we visited regularly. It was astounding how many solutions there seemed to be for a sustainable society. However, like my homeworld, many of them involved the imprisonment or indoctrination of its people. Samya pointed out that I only had issue with my society after leaving it, but it did not seem right to me. Samya explained that the question of right or wrong was unanswerable. The societies of old that were completely free had all destroyed themselves. In order to survive, sacrifices had to be made and it was usually better if the populace was unaware of the freedoms taken from them.
Another daily routine I began on the ship was exercise. This was something new for me as there was no such concept inside Haven. We all spent the day in the fields hence had no need for it. On the ship, you could stay inactive most of the time. Even though the nanos in my body kept me at peak condition without any physical activity, I took to walking around the ship as I started to feel uneasy remaining sedentary. There were exercising machines and games that the others sometimes used, but I preferred to walk. During my walks, I would listen to the ship’s computer base, which would teach me about the Cluster. There were so many basic principles that the others took for granted. I attempted to learn the basics of physics and other sciences but subjects like political theory piqued my interest. I did not accept the fundamental governing tenets of ruling a population and thought a great deal about how it could be better achieved.
Although Samya told me that it was all in my head, I felt healthier after I began walking. He told me it was only because of the nanos. I would now most likely never fall sick as, unlike inside Haven, there were only a few illnesses that I could contract now. People inside Haven suffered needlessly, I thought. I began wondering whether there was a way to change Haven for the better, but I kept these thoughts to myself.
In order to fill in the rest of my time on the ship, I decided to learn more about the lives of my fellow shipmates. I would, though, learn the least from Samya, when naturally he was the one that I wanted to know about. He would always change the subject, or distract me by touching me in the right place. Learning about and having sex frequently was the one highlight of the journey. I became highly adventurous with it and Samya and I somehow managed to reach new heights each time we were together. When we were in each other’s arms, I completely forgot about everything else and could focus on the moment. It felt like we were the only two people in the Universe. Lexy had also advised me on the best way for me to climax and Samya was more than willing to oblige. The only shame was that it could not last longer. And as for Samya’s life story, I guessed that, in time, when he felt comfortable, he would tell me.
Lexy on the other hand was completely open in speaking of her past. I sometimes felt drawn to Lexy, but could not decide whether it was simply out of envy for her brashness. Besides which, Samya had told me that I could only have sex with one person at a time. After following so many rules in Haven that suppressed my desires, it was familiarly comforting to have at least some rules here.
Lexy’s life was both tragic and triumphant. She had managed to overcome a great deal of hardship in her life, but wanted no admiration from anyone for her accomplishments. Beneath her brash and perhaps flippant nature lay a strength and steadfastness that made me admire her even more. This woman controlled the ship. She was really the captain despite the fact that Lunya was Samya’s ship. He was quite adept at negotiating with the leaders of the worlds and keeping them satisfied, but it was Lexy who was in charge. I did not discuss it with anyone, but I did notice that Scrartchar did not obey Samya’s instructions. However, he would never question Lexy when she gave him an order. Lexy was my first role model of a female leader and, in time, I would attempt to emulate her skills.
In her own voice, which had the slightest of lisps, she began telling her story by explaining how she was born into slavery. While not practised in most societies, there were some that flourished because of it. I reminded myself that I too was imprisoned in Haven similar to a slave, but I did not serve a master and was not beaten or abused the way that Lexy explained that she was. She was to be a sex slave for one of the richest masters on her homeworld. When she reached sexual maturity, she would be there for no other reason than sexually pleasuring her master. Once her master grew tired of her, she would be executed so that no other man could have her. Her master had up to fifty sex slaves at any one time. The mere thought of this disgusted me, but I kept listening out of a strange curiosity.
She continued to explain that her master gained sexual pleasure from beating his slaves. She showed me some of the scars that still marred her body. The flashes of her bare skin excited me a little, but I restrained myself from touching her. During a particularly violent encounter with her master one evening, in a fit of rage and against her nature, Lexy retaliated and stabbed him in the neck. He lost too much blood for the nanos to save him and he died. Lexy hid his body and cleaned the blood so that she could attempt to escape.
Sex slaves on her world were well placed in the hierarchy, and she managed to convince his servants that she needed to borrow her master’s ship. She never doubted she would escape one day so she had been secretly learning how to fly. Upon reaching orbit, she never turned back and travelled to a trade world where she met Scrartchar who taught her how to earn a living from piloting ships.
Lexy explained to me about how much she loved Scrartchar, but I did not yet understand the concept fully. I was greatly attracted to Samya, but we did not yet have the relationship that Lexy and Scrartchar had. They had been together for almost 12 seasons. Around her neck, Lexy wore a gold, heart-shaped locket, which contained a charming photograph of the three members of her family. She showed it to me with great pride.
During our chats, Lexy also helped me to find a look of my own. I could not completely lose my traditional style and decided to use it as the basis for my new outfit. I was trying to show that although I was now sexually liberated and free, I still identified somewhat with the humility and self-control taught by the Elders. As such, we took my dark blue farming clothes, made shorts from the trousers, cut the top’s sleeves and lowered the neckline just a little. To this, we added some scarlet tights. Next were the shoes. Lexy wore heels that were ridiculously high and I tried to become accustomed to wearing them, but kept falling over. I instead chose purple ankle-high boots. I loved the variety of colours that I had available, and would change the colour scheme regularly.
I decided to keep the simple make-up style that Lexy had first given me. Lexy agreed it suited me the best. I craved approval from Lexy, and was delighted that she spent so much time with me. The second last decision to make was to choose the hairstyle. Mine was still short, but had grown a little since my banishment. Lexy had taught one of the bots to style hair and he had become amazingly adept at it. For me we chose blonde spiky hair with bright pink highlights. It was a huge departure from my old short brown hair, but it looked fantastic.
Accessories were a completely new concept for me. We tried many different combinations, but I chose a simple silver star-shaped pendant hanging from my neck. Lexy joked that I liked it because it highlighted my breasts, which embarrassed me, but she was probably right. I had spent my whole life hiding my sexuality and now I could show others who I was by my chosen appearance.
Upon finalising my look, I called Samya to come and see my new look. He almost fell over in surprise at the sight. What he particularly liked was my new spiky hair. Sex that night was reignited with passion.
I learnt that I could gain much power over others simply based on my appearance. Samya, for instance, began treating me more like an equal since it appeared to him that I had grown fully accustomed to my new life.
By the time we reached Secondia, I was ready for something new. I had become a little uneasy on the ship, mainly due to the lack of interaction with many other people. Samya and Lexy were the only ones that I had spoken to on a regular basis. Scrartchar never paid me much attention. It was not that he was rude, but I thought there must be some reason why he chose to avoid me. I sometimes played games in sim with Alander, but he was always so busy with Samya doing research. They would lock their lab for hours on end and not allow any interruptions. Samya told me that he wanted to keep the research secret for now, but he did reveal that there was huge potential in what they were trying to achieve. He spoke of creating new permanent worlds and expanding the Cluster.
The games that Alander and I had been playing in sim involved being placed into awkward situations that Alander found immensely amusing. One of the scenarios was Alander entering Haven and pretending to be a Maker. I would act as the head Elder and bots would form the populace. Alander would thoroughly relish informing the people about his new decrees. In one scenario, he forced everyone to hop rather than walk. I did not find it particularly entertaining and he would accuse me of having no sense of humour. I attempted to explain about humour on my homeworld, but he was not at all interested. When Lexy found out about Alander’s behaviour, his punishment was no more sim games. She told him that he had to learn to be tolerant of different types of people and civilisations.
I had been watching Secondia approaching from the zero-G room and was awestruck at how a real world looked from afar. This was not a constructed hollow world like mine, but a planet that had condensed from a disc of matter over hundreds of millions of seasons. I had learnt all this from Lunya’s base.
Lexy had safely piloted the ship into orbit. This was no easy task, but the ship did all the difficult calculations. Lexy only had to make sure that that nothing arose that the computer had not allowed for. Lexy said that the fully automated ships would often burn up in the atmosphere after over-running their orbit. I was quite bemused by the fact that the old civilisation that had created the nanos and been able to construct new worlds had not been able to make bots as intelligent as humans or even able to translate between different languages. Samya thought that any concept of a soul that imbued humans with consciousness was nonsense. It made sense to me but he insisted that there was nothing special about us. The ancients may have chosen not to develop the technology for a valid reason.
I must have stared at the planet for hours from the zero-G room once we were safely orbiting. I had never seen anything on this scale before and had trouble grasping the fact that millions of humans inhabited this globe. Samya had explained to me that the populace did not know about the Universe outside their planet. This kept everyone satisfied for the most part since they had their amazing sim-world and a mythology based on an immortal man who had saved them all from the wicked age preceding the current one. He had left the world in order to seek out other civilisations and they were awaiting his return.
The inhabitants of Secondia were able to stay in their sim-worlds for extended periods and only had to leave it occasionally to help maintain the infrastructure of the world. Samya continued to explain that we could not actually speak to the populace. We could interact with them in the sim-world, but only as beings without the ability to communicate by voice. Nevertheless, we could join the elites’ sim-world. The elites knew the truth about the Cluster since they needed to trade with the other worlds. This was the reason we were here. This world did not have the ability to power their sim-machines and the society would soon crumble if not for the deliveries. I asked Samya how the world could survive if they could not power their machines and he explained that some redistribution of goods was required to keep most worlds liveable and to prevent the more endowed worlds from trying to conquer their surrounding worlds. Samya’s skill was in negotiating with the leaders of the world so that trade could continue.
Once in orbit, Lexy positioned the ship to dock at the station that orbited the planet. Beneath the station, a huge long cord trailed off into the distance down to the surface. Samya explained that the blocks that we had brought would be transported down the cord. In exchange for this, we were to receive sim-machine parts and food.
The enormous station looked to me like it did not belong. Its construction reminded me somewhat of the blocks that the little ones played with in Haven except these gigantic blocks were all beige in colour. Like many of the structures we encountered, it stood as a symbol of the old civilisation. It amazed me that no one seemed bothered that the technology had been lost.
In this ancient structure, we needed to wear space suits. This was the first time that I had experienced firsthand the fact that one could not survive unaided in space. It was a scary thought that, if the ship broke down, we would be stranded and would slowly die.
As the metal containers were transferred to the dock by some of the station bots, we all entered the dock in order to connect with the planet’s sim-world. We could not connect from our ship since the elites had to be ever vigilant that the populace would discover the secret that bound their society together.
I had hoped to be able to walk around while in the dock, but unfortunately, there was no artificial gravity. There were rails all over to which we tied ourselves. They enabled us to move around. The others donned small handheld thrusters to aid them, but I decided to exercise my arms. The interior of this station was huge. This must have once been a bustling place, but it now was almost completely lifeless and empty. After thoroughly exhausting myself, we entered one of the central rooms.
“Greetings!” one of the elites bellowed. He looked over all of us, but paid particular to attention to me. Samya had warned me that I might attract some unwanted attention from some of the elites who were accustomed to manipulating others according to their whims. This elite had an air of power and I wondered how benevolent he was to his followers. Samya broke the uncomfortable silence by offering our cargo. I stood there and waited for the formalities to conclude so that we could enter the sim-world.
My experience as a rabbit was the furthest I had ever felt from being human. In Secondia’s sim-world, one could turn down consciousness to attempt to truly simulate the brain as well as the body of other forms of life. On Lunya, when I was a tree, I knew that I was really human and was frustrated by the fact that I could not move. In this sim-world, though, when I was a rabbit, I did not know any different. My memory of the experience is without language and therefore only a pastiche of images. It was a highly sociable experience, but upon returning to reality, I decided to instead enter the elite’s sim-world so that I could communicate with others. The avatar that I chose was an exact replica of my real self with my new style.
I was far more comfortable as a simulated human and gazed over the sea of elites as they chatted to each other in small groups. The one enhancement on reality here was that merely by looking at a particular elite, I could find out their basic details and also whether they had any interest in speaking to me or not.
I expected to enter a room or field of some sorts, but instead was surprised to see a backdrop of absolute nothingness. There was no gravity either. With one’s will, one could traverse the emptiness. Most groups, for some reason, did not wish to interact with me. Upon approaching a group that did, my first question regarded the hostility of the others. I was a completely different person now and was no longer intimidated by new people or experiences. Lexy had been a great influence on me.
This group’s response highlighted the diverse attitudes of the elites of this world. Some of the others did not like outsiders and refused to accept that trade was a necessity. Some almost believed the mythology that put them above all others. They did not wish to be reminded that there was nothing special about them. There were many other reasons too. I had only encountered hostility once before; when I was banished from Haven. This time it was more polite but I could sense that many here did not want my presence let alone my conversation.
“Don’t worry about them” one of my group exclaimed, “The others aren’t worth knowing anyway.” I felt immediately drawn to this group of people. Like me, they also did not look like they belonged. There were two men and two women in the group and they were dressed far more colourfully than the others. They were also the only ones who did not have a completely shaved scalp.
I spoke to them at length about much that troubled me about their world. They agreed that it did not seem right from an outsider’s point of view, but you had to remember that this society had persisted without famine or war. This group helped with the resistance movement. This did not make sense to me as all dissent was quickly quashed inside Haven, but they told me that keeping elites infiltrated in the resistance movement kept them from going too far and gaining too many followers. I had trouble accepting this, but could not fault their reasoning. I thought it somewhat ironic that they actually felt sorry for me that I now had no home and had been expelled from my own permanent world.
When the conversation reached a lull, three of the group excused themselves and I was left alone with one of the men. He called himself Tarquar and I was drawn to his delicate, almost feminine features. He had a quietly spoken confidence that I admired. He was concerned that the past few weeks had been overwhelming for me. He also warned that there was more to come, but would not give any details because it was up to Samya to divulge.
In the midst of this conversation, the leader whom we had met at the station interrupted in a way that showed how important he thought he was. He ordered Tarquar to leave as he had something to discuss with me. He leered at me as if I was an object and I looked to Tarquar and pleaded with my eyes for him to help me.
Tarquar acknowledged with a small nod and promptly advised the leader to cease his unwanted advances. He initially resisted, but Tarquar managed to succeed and the leader left with his eyes to the ground. When I asked Tarquar about it, he replied that being part of the resistance gave him a deal of leverage as he could make it rather unpleasant for the other elites. While I wished that I had the strength to confront the leader myself, I was thankful. I could not stop staring into Tarquar’s eyes. He touched his hand to my cheek and told me that he also was attracted to me but would dare not disrespect Samya any further. The elites had all been ordered by him to not be intimate with me. I wondered why Samya should have such authority.
“I shouldn’t tell you this, but Samya’s done this before!” As Tarquar whispered this into my ear, Samya appeared in the simulation and whisked me away back to the station. He was a little forceful on my arm, but I dared not resist. Tarquar had disobeyed Samya and I had allowed it.
As we unplugged ourselves from the sim-machines, I could see that Samya was angry at me. I naturally wanted to understand the meaning of Tarquar’s words.
Samya stared at me. I asked him if he was waiting for me to speak.
“I’d like an apology Rachael.” The anger was seething in his voice.
“I am sorry that you misinterpreted someone being kind to me. Tarquar helped me ward off the trade leader, who was intent on having me.” I was surprised by how I had managed to stand up to Samya. “You should apologise to me.”
Tears began to fill his eyes which took me totally by surprise and made me feel sympathy for him. “I’m sorry Rachael. I simply do not want to lose you. I have grown deeply fond of you. Many people have run away from me in the past.” He was a little hard to understand due to his emotional state. We embraced in silence for a while. He was still sobbing. I began crying too. This was an emotional release for both of us and, once we had calmed down, I decided to ask him the questions that I had for him.
While Samya did admit that I was not the first woman that he had ‘rescued’, he would not give me any further details and changed the subject to that of his father. “My father cast me out after my mother died. He saw me as a reminder of her and wanted nothing more to do with me. My family is on the ship now, and I desperately want you to be part of it. So there it is.” I felt much closer to him from that moment. I told him of my anger towards my homeworld for being lied to. I asked if there was not a way to free them of the lie. He once again explained about persistence and what he called the benevolent lie that bound a society together. Besides which, while the Cluster Overseers stayed out of local affairs, it was strictly forbidden to disrupt stable societies and one would be stopped. In addition, most worlds had force fields or some kind of impenetrable barrier surrounding them to prevent any disturbance.
Sex when we returned to the ship brought me the closest that I had ever felt to another person. We chose the same location where we had been intimate the first time. The music and the stars heightened the experience as before.
After we had climaxed and were floating in a delicate embrace, I admitted to Samya that, whether I liked it or not, I was bonded to him and would follow him wherever he may go. He spoke of love, but I still did not fully understand the concept. I had studied the ship’s base and could see that Lexy and Scrartchar were in love, but I wanted to wait until I felt that Samya and I were equals. Perhaps I was in love with him, but I still felt in his servitude.
I asked him why I had no tasks to perform on the ship and he told me that there was nothing else that needed to be done. If I wished, however, I could do some of the bots’ tasks and we agreed that I would gradually take over the food preparation. The bots would teach me all that I needed to know. This would give me some purpose and I felt pleased that Samya had given me some responsibility. I would take on this duty with passion and dedication.
Fang and Gung showed amazing patience with me. I had only cooked simple dishes inside Haven and was astounded by the complexity of the meals that the bots prepared for us. I began by watching the bots at work and gradually took over. When I was not cooking, I spent hours on the ship’s base studying. I also experimented in the sim-room where I could easily compare subtle variations and decide which was best.
My crewmates were glad that I had found something that gave me a purpose. They even pretended to enjoy the first few meals that I prepared, except, of course, for Alander. Fortunately, I did improve. My favourite dish to make was noodlumla, which originated on a planet that I had only seen on the base. When I asked the bots why most of the dishes had unfamiliar names, they explained that they were from worlds where the language had changed greatly from common due to their isolation. Haven was a perfect example of this.
I enjoyed being quite playful with the bots. Samya did not become jealous of them. I pretended that they had emotions and were real humans, although their voices were emotionless. Lexy thought it was amusing that I spoke to them as if they were human.
We were travelling now to a large asteroid called Cretus, which had low gravity and consequently the people there looked totally different to those born with full gravity. I practised meeting them in the sim-room so that I did not stare at their elongated appearance when meeting them for real.
Through the recent events that I had experienced, I had completely lost track of time. I realised that it had been a while since I had had my period and I asked Lexy how long it had been since I was taken from Haven. When I explained it to her, she said that I might be irregular due to my recent traumas, but we should check.
She led me to the sim-room. One of the chairs also functioned as a medical scanner. After the machine had finished, Lexy told me to speak to Samya as it was up to him to tell me the full story.
“What do you mean? Is there something wrong with me?” I asked, getting worried now.
“You are fine! But Samya has some news for you.” Her compassionate voice helped to allay my fears.
When I spoke to Samya, he said that it was now time to tell me everything. He had not told me yet because he was afraid that I would reject him. There was simply no way to say this without me becoming hysterical. He started by emphasizing that he loved me and was thankful that he had decided to pick me. I was still in the dark about the exact reason why I had been banished from Haven. In hindsight, I probably should have been able to work it out myself but some of the key details had been blocked in Lunya’s base.
“I’m so sorry that I couldn’t tell you everything. I thought it would have been too much for you. I was trying to find the best way, but I can’t wait for that now. So here goes. Your world needs to import babies since your population is small and sex is banned. The women that are banished have done nothing wrong. Men take them as partners, and may keep them as long as the first two children are returned to Haven as little ones to maintain the population. This is the sacrifice you must make for your freedom and for the future of your homeworld.”
I did not fully understand, but what I did disgusted me. My homeworld was wrong and certainly had no right to be permanent. I was sick of this word. The suffering that everyone had to endure for this principle was breathtaking. My babies would be taken from me to Haven, enslaved and lied to!
Once I stopped screaming at Samya and crying, I asked the obvious question of why we could not merely flee and keep my babies. Samya stated that we would be hunted down. I was willing to take this risk, but Samya still wanted to do that which he thought was right. It was the only way that worlds like Haven could remain viable. If I did not give my baby up, I would be robbing another woman of the joy of being a carer.
Samya continued to reveal to me what really happened to me before I left Haven. It made sense now that I had been violated by the two Elders. I told Samya all I could remember. I must have been drugged so that I would not have struggled and due to complete ignorance of sex, I would also not have understood what had happened to me. Jacob and Job could have done this many times before without retribution or punishment. Fortunately they had not impregnated me. For some reason, this violation of my body made me angrier than Samya’s deception.
“When I arrived to pick you up, the Snatchers looked most concerned. I could see that you had been injured, but only realised the extent after Fang had scanned you on board. I am angry about what happened but there is nothing that can be done. And there was no permanent damage.”
The affection that I felt for Samya made me try to understand why he thought he was acting correctly. However, I simply could not and made a pact with myself that I would somehow find a way to keep my baby.
Samya was surprisingly talkative at this time and continued to explain why he chose to take me. He said that he was relieved that he had finally been able to end the deception.
“I wanted to find someone who wouldn’t judge me. You have been so kind for getting to know me for who I am. Your beauty first attracted me to you, but there is so much more to it than that now.” I wondered what he meant by that, but did not probe further.
Samya finished by telling me about a comm device that all the crewmates used to communicate with each other. Samya had been waiting until I too could use it. One could speak with anyone on the ship whenever one wanted. It was always on, but you could choose to unplug whenever you wanted.
In giving me access to the comm, Samya had implied that he had finally revealed the major facts of my banishment. I felt like a true member of the crew now. I was still quite angry, but I did not know at whom. It was the entire Cluster, I guessed, a system where kidnapping and deception were seen as the best way to keep the balance. Although humans had not always lived this way, according to the base, the current era had been the longest and most peaceful. I could not come to terms with this, as my baby was to be taken. I had yearned for a little one inside Haven, but now it was my own baby growing inside me. It should be my responsibility to care for and raise it. Lexy and Scrartchar looked so happy raising their son and I was going to be robbed of this right.
When I discussed this with Lexy, she too apologised for not telling me sooner. I asked her how she had managed to escape her world without being pursued. Luckily for her, on her planet, it was a terrible embarrassment to be killed by one of your sex slaves and it had therefore been covered up as a natural death. This was hard to believe with the nanos protecting everyone, but the consequence was that no one cared where she had gone. I, on the other hand, was not so lucky and definitely would be chased. Haven depended on this baby trading for the population to be maintained. It did not matter whether I thought it was right or wrong, the Snatchers would chase me down. Samya had told me that I had been implanted with a tracking device allowing the Snatchers to find me wherever I may travel. I was overcome by my emotions and could not help crying every time I thought about my baby being torn out of my arms.
Until we landed on the next asteroid, I mostly moped in my room. I wish I could say that I had been carefully planning my escape but I could not see a way out of it. Could I possibly reason with the Elders? I also wanted to avenge my rape. It was a terrible mixture of emotions that I felt.
I did not bother to leave the ship at the next place at which we stopped. Samya explained to me about how, in this society, they had banned children because no one ever died. He continued to discuss their beliefs and way of life; however, I did not care.
Samya and Lexy had been trying to cheer me up all this time but to no avail. Neither of them was willing to help me keep my baby. Lexy pretended to help plan my escape, but she was only keeping me in check. As we were all on the comm, there were no secrets.
After we had left the asteroid, Samya promised to take me to a place nearby where some people from Haven lived. He thought that they might be able to shed some light on my predicament and explain why my baby must be taken from me. This world was one of entertainment where travellers journeyed to for some excitement. It was comprised of two giant spinning discs joined by a tether. The two discs could not have been more different and I was horrified by the obscene, depraved acts that occurred on the dark world; the likes of which I told Lunya’s base to never show me; enjoyed by people who did not enjoy the sim-world and wanted the real experience. Luckily, we were only briefly visiting the light world.
Samya managed to convince me to leave the ship and meet these people. He said that I would probably know some of them as many had been banished from Haven in my lifetime. He was right. I was about to be reunited with my best friend.
The world of light was thematically composed of a white colour scheme. It was bright everywhere with giant illuminated signs advertising the services. This world had no brainwashed populace. Everyone here had to know about the Cluster since none of the customers was bound by a benevolent lie. These travellers would trade their possessions or use currency for certain services. While not used on most worlds, the electronic currency allowed patrons to pay without trading goods. I never fully came to terms with this system, but Samya explained to me how well it worked. The services offered were highly varied; music shows, conversation, sports and sex. All the darker services were only available on the dark world. There were no violent or depraved services on the light world. Most travellers only visited one of the worlds, but some of the wealthier ones would try out everything. Although there was no deception here, that did not mean that all the inhabitants were here of their own free will.
Upon leaving the ship, I was overwhelmed by the variety of people that were visiting this place. Whilst my crewmates all looked human to me, there were people here of all shapes, sizes and facial features. Samya had explained to me that the people of many worlds had chosen to alter their appearance to varying degrees as part of their culture or their beliefs. The Elders of my world had chosen to keep our people as pure as possible and hence Samya told me that the ancients may have looked similar to me.
After the sights, that which next struck me was the sound, comprised of a rich cacophony of different accents and languages. To me, this experience was stranger than anything that I had experienced in sim.
While Lexy, Scrartchar and Alander enjoyed the music shows, Samya took me to visit the ex-Haven inhabitants. Their establishment offered sex and used the selling point that the workers here were all ‘pure’ since they came from Haven. The building was a greatly enlarged version of the traditional huts from my homeworld, except that it had been painted white. When we walked in to the reception, all the staff came out to greet Samya. They said it had been a while since he had come to pay his respects. I would have asked what they meant, but was astonished by how many familiar faces I could see before me. At first, they did not recognise me, then a wave of familiarity washed over some of them and they greeted me warmly in our native tongue. Although my first thought was all the sinful acts that I believed they had performed, I quickly recalled that all these ‘sins’ had been lies fabricated by the Elders.
They were all greatly concerned for my well-being and asked how I had been coping since being banished. It was great to see some familiar faces and we spoke for hours about our experiences. They told me that Mary was here too and she would be coming soon. While we spoke, Samya excused himself. I asked him where he was going but he did not respond and walked out.
“He has not told you, has he?” one of them asked. I shook my head and they began to explain. Before I was born, Samya had taken another woman from Haven whose name was Angela. Unfortunately, she had not been able to cope with life on the outside and had killed herself. Samya had tried everything to help her. He had left her at little Haven in the hope that by being with her own kind she would be able to slowly acclimatise to the Cluster. The others had done everything they could, but unbeknownst to them, she had chosen to end her life. Since her nanos would remove any drugs or poisons, she resorted to extreme measures to end her life. One of the patrons to Little Haven, believing that it was her right to commit suicide, helped her to acquire the parts for a small explosive device. She had walked off one day and not returned. Samya still mourned her death.
I asked the others if they were not angry that Haven had taken their babies. They answered that it was better to be out of the claustrophobic delusion that was Haven. The price to pay could not have been higher, so better not think too much about it. I asked them if they ever thought about freeing all of Haven from the lies. They explained the logistics of doing this. It was fanciful to think that it was even possible. Then it was back to the subject of ‘survivability’ of which I had grown tired.
I decided to leave and find Samya. The others had given me directions and I found him sitting under a tree on the outskirts of the built-up area. He looked lost in thought, so I sat down beside him and held his hand. After some time, he began to explain about Angela.
“I still can’t fathom it, but she believed that death was the only escape from her predicament. I loved her and would have done anything for her, but I could not take her back to Haven. And there was no sim that would suffice.”
He continued but I told him that the others had already explained enough of the details. I felt sorry for him and this drew me closer and deeper in love with him. I told him that I would not leave him and would sacrifice my first two babies so we could stay together. We would have another of our own after that. While Angela had decided that killing herself was the only solution, I had decided to follow a different path.
We returned to little Haven and I told them that I would cook for them all. As I prepared, Mary walked in. It took me a while to recognise her as she had changed her appearance. Mary, though, had more trouble realising who I was. With my make-up and spiky hair, I looked like a completely different person. As I cooked, Mary told me about her experiences after leaving Haven. Her owner had a harem of women from there. When he had grown sick of her, he had dumped her here. The worlds of light and dark were a dumping ground for indentured women. I asked her if she thought that Samya would leave me here when he wanted someone new. She responded that Samya was not that kind of a person. He would take care of me. As much as I hated the fact that my babies would be taken from me, I was a lot better off than many of the others from Haven.
I did realise that there was a power imbalance between us, but I had fallen in love with him and knew that he would treat me well. If only I could survive the birth and kidnapping of my first two babies, I could then start my life anew. It was madness, but I had to rationalise it in my mind somehow.
I then asked Mary if she wanted to come with me to keep me company. She said that her life was here and that I could come and visit whenever I liked. I thought that she would hate the fact that she traded her body for the necessities of life, but she replied that this was the best place for her in the Cluster. They all treated her well here and the business was successful. She told me that if something happened to Samya, she would always have a place here for me.
After some further conversation, we bid farewell to the inhabitants of little Haven. They all rather admired Samya. This instilled in me the idea that, though I may not like it, I was acting in my best interests by staying with him.
Over the course of my pregnancy, as my belly grew, we kept delivering goods and I continued to cook the meals on the ship. Each new world brought new ingredients with which I could experiment. The edible plants and animals were completely different from one world to the next. Upon arrival at each of these worlds, we would be offered many of the delicacies that the elites enjoyed. I was then free to mix and match as I liked and created combinations that had never been tasted before. Meat was not eaten on my homeworld and it took me some time to become accustomed to the taste. The bots were helping me less and less, and the others, including Alander, seem to appreciate my endeavours very much. We would always eat together for one meal a day. This helped the group to stay harmonious. Even Scrartchar began to speak with me. When I asked Lexy about it, she replied that he was always slow to warm to people and he had thought that I might run away. He had suffered a great deal of loss in his past so he was always afraid of getting close to people.
When I first had laid eyes on him, I did not have the words with which to describe him, but I had finally grown accustomed to his appearance. His most striking feature was his tattoos. They consisted of a mixture of swirling colours and adorned his entire body. I guessed that they were applied as part of his coming of age ceremony on his homeworld but he would not discuss it. As for his clothes, he was usually dressed by Lexy but would baulk at her more outrageous creations. My favourite feature about him was his ultra-deep voice. It was much lower than Samya’s. Scrartchar was the largest of the human crewmates and stood a full head height above Lexy.
Scrartchar would not talk about his past so we would mostly speak about his music. Similar to me being a collector of ingredients, he was a collector of musical instruments and recordings. Most recordings were already stored on the base, but he would add to it whenever we visited a new world and he found something new. I was amazed by the variety of music throughout the Cluster. Almost all worlds had some kind of music and almost all of them were more interesting than the monophonic drone of Haven’s songs. My personal favourite was still the first piece that Samya had played me in the zero-G room. Scrartchar explained that the instrument was lost, but he had been able to recreate an imitation that made a similar sound in the sim-world. I attempted to play it but soon decided that I was best concentrating on my cooking skills. It might be my next challenge, I thought. Scrartchar had become quite adept at it but still could not match the sound from the recording. It was a beautiful instrument and I asked Scrartchar if it would be possible to make a real one. He told me that there was a person he knew that could probably build it and we could ask the next time we visited her homeworld.
Through the course of my pregnancy, I learnt all about giving birth from Lexy and Lunya’s base. Without the nanos, it was extremely painful, but the nanos controlled the pain and helped with the dilation. It looked terribly unnatural but Lexy assured me that everything would be fine. The scans of my baby showed that it was developing normally and that it was a girl. Merely by looking at the scans, I felt a tight bond with her. It would destroy me to have to give her up, but I simply had no choice. Lexy was kind enough to make some maternity clothes for me when my normal clothes would no longer fit. They were similar to the outfits I normally wore except they had elastic built in which allowed my belly to expand. I thought my body looked hideous during this time but Samya and Lexy assured me that the pregnant body was most beautiful.
The worlds that we visited during this time as always were varied and unusual. It was amazing how many different ways a civilisation could be permanent. One of the societies had chosen to live like the most ancient humans. This was how our distant ancestors had lived before the invention of technology. There was not even any farming. Our delivery was seen as a visit from the Gods. No one now knew of the outside Cluster or the common language, as the knowledge had deliberately not been passed down the generations. There were strong taboos against any advancement of technology. The inhabitants wore clothes made crudely from animal skins and were adorned with marking on their bodies and jewellery in their noses. The many tribes who would normally fight each other all came together for the receiving of goods from the Gods. Samya ensured that all tribes received an equal share. They all looked savage and frightening to me, but Samya pointed out the subtle differences between the tribes. It seemed like a terrible short and nasty life, but once again, the society had survived.
The other worlds that we visited were, with few exceptions, permanent and involved some kind of ‘benevolent lie’, as Samya had called it. From an outsider’s point of view, some of the worlds were almost comical. The extremely extravagant headdress of the elites of one of the worlds made me laugh aloud. They were so heavy that they would occasionally fall over. They believed that the hats were necessary to receive messages from the Gods. The elites knew of the outside Cluster but still retained a belief in gods and thought themselves the only chosen ones. My world probably brought a similar reaction to many outsiders so I felt a bit guilty when it was all so serious to them. Alander commented that it was the first time he had seen me laugh.
The most barbaric of the worlds were the harvesting asteroids. Slaves were taken from their homeworlds and brought to these places to work without their consent. Without them, Samya explained that many worlds would not be able to power their technology and the Cluster would most likely crumble. Helium-3 was the main resource of the Cluster. It powered our ship, it powered the sun of my homeworld and it powered much of the technology. I asked Samya how long this resource would last since without it the Cluster would soon perish. He assured me that although he did not know the answer, the supply would probably last longer than the Universe itself. He spoke of something about heat death, but I did not understand or feel the need to.
At any time, there were always a few worlds that had become unbalanced for some reason or another. We witnessed the Cluster Overseers stepping in on one of these worlds. Its leader had decided to invade neighbouring worlds and when the Overseer forces arrived, they were ruthless. All the elites were executed and a new caretaker leader installed to return the world to one of permanence and balance.
On the ship, Samya and Alander continued their research. When they were working, they shut down their comms, so we did not know exactly what they were doing. I constantly quizzed Samya about it since I did not like him being secretive anymore, but he said that for now it was safer that I did not know. He did admit, however, that they were making progress and were possibly nearing a breakthrough.
My pregnancy progressed without incident, which was a welcome change from the tumultuous time after my banishment from Haven. The only problem was that I wanted my first two pregnancies to be over as quickly as possible. I asked Samya out of curiosity, but he informed me that I could not enter hibernation while I was pregnant. I resolved to instead occupy myself and enjoy my cooking, my studies and the interaction with my shipmates.
My baby was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Childbirth was regulated by the nanos and hence the pain was kept under control. The delivery took a long time and Lexy was helped by Fang and Gung. I found it to be an extremely strange experience and upon seeing her perfect little face, I knew that I would grieve for the rest of my life over the loss. We named her Fayla, which meant hope in Lexy’s native tongue. While I bonded instantly with Fayla, Samya completely fell in love. He was obsessed with taking care of her and was a great help to me. Although there was substitute milk available, I chose to breast feed. Once again, the nanos regulated the initial pain and I found it to be an amazing bonding experience. I would have done anything for her. In a last ditch effort, I asked him if he would be able to give her up to Haven and, after a long silence he simply said “no”. Upon hearing this, my mind began racing. Samya was the purveyor of that which was best for a permanent Cluster. For months, I had experienced much angst over preparing myself for the separation. It had broken my heart, but I had come to terms with the situation. Now Samya had turned everything on its head!
We decided to sleep on it before doing anything rash. The next day, we assembled the crew together in the mess room to pass on our news. A long debate ensued between Lexy and Samya about our options, while Scrartchar and I sat in silence. Lexy explained in length the implications of keeping Fayla.
“Unless we can think of something, we’ll be chased by the Snatchers and destroyed. You have a tracking device that cannot be removed without the code held by the Elders. Even if we do manage to remove it, the Snatchers will never give up and will intercept us at one of the worlds that we visit. It is highly likely that we will cause a lot of suffering and death if we proceed with this. I don’t wish for Fayla to be taken, but I see no choice.” Lexy was concerned and clearly had mixed emotions.
I felt that it was my turn to speak and I interjected.
“Perhaps I can reason with Ishmael, my favourite Elder. He may be able to give us a pardon or arrange something. He is most kind.”
Samya added that we could communicate in the same manner as he had done to me, using the communicator that he had designed. We would need to move fast, as the tracker would have sent a message to the Snatchers that I had given birth. We would have to get in and out fast before the Snatchers could catch us.
After much deliberation and planning, the others all agreed on our course of action. Lexy and Scrartchar still looked worried, but there was still the spark in Lexy’s eye that gave away the fact that she was secretly looking forward to the adventure.
On our journey back to Haven, Samya spent all the time he could trying to crack my tracking device. It had to be done perfectly because a wrong code or move would result in instant death for me. We loved Fayla so much that we would have willingly sacrificed ourselves so that she could live, but the tracking device had copied itself and transferred into her so they would still find her. Samya tried in simulation to remove the device, but we did not know enough about it to simulate it correctly. Samya also attempted to interfere with the signal but the device could easily adapt. Giving up was a painful decision, but Samya concluded that the only way to crack it was to procure a device from a Haven inhabitant who had died. While I thought that the graveyard on little Haven was a possibility, Samya explained that the device was removed after the second child had been taken to Haven.
Lexy was incredibly supportive during this time. She desperately wanted me to keep Fayla, but was worried that we may cause great suffering. She knew of no one escaping before and Lunya’s base concurred.
I continued my cooking duties throughout the journey, which the crew appreciated. Over dinner, we would discuss the possible scenarios that might eventuate. None of them ended with me keeping my baby, which saddened me greatly. I also tried to discuss whether the future of the Cluster could not be different and freer for all. Samya responded by finally revealing the goal of his research. He previously did not want to say anything as what he was doing was banned. The nanos that were in all of us must not be tampered with. If the Cluster Overseers found out, they would destroy all the people and equipment involved. However, Samya did not like the fact that so little was known about them. He had been tinkering with his nanos for longer than he could remember and was finally getting somewhere. Samya intended to try to improve the nanos so that they may be able to once again build new worlds as they had done in the previous age. The key was to keep the permanence of the existing worlds, and send people with the new nanos to the far reaches of the Cluster to set up and build new permanent worlds. The Overseers would of course need to carefully monitor the new worlds, but it would be worth it. Samya intended to present his findings to the Cluster Overseers and hoped they would agree to his plan. New worlds brought more trading opportunities for Samya, more foods for me, more music for Scrartchar, more clothes for Lexy and a stronger Cluster overall for everyone.
This was a bold vision from Samya, one that I did not know he had in him. He was a contradiction, and I pointed this out to him. He was so adamant about maintaining the permanence in the Cluster yet he was trying to develop something that had the potential to cause great instability. He justified himself by explaining that the new technology would need to be handled correctly but the potential gain easily outweighed any negative consequences.
The comm device that Samya had designed to pierce the shell of my world had only a short range, so we needed to get close. We approached with a great deal of trepidation. This was the first time that I had seen Haven for real and I was still amazed at the fact that I had known nothing of the outside Cluster for most of my life. From a distance, the shiny orb looked like a small drop of water, but as we approached, more features became visible. The docking station jutted out oddly and the surface consisted of a fine lattice. The world was distant from the system’s star so could not draw much power from the surface panels. The civilisation of the past age must have been great indeed to have been able to construct an entire world with an internal sun from nothing.
Samya scanned the world to find Ishmael’s location. I did not know how his comm device worked but Samya had tried unsuccessfully to explain it to me. Samya managed to contact Ishmael as he was preparing himself for bed. At first, he simply stated that, unfortunately, all unsolicited communication with the outside world was forbidden. Nevertheless, we were not going to take no for an answer. He still would not respond so I began telling him about my experiences since leaving Haven. It was my hope to persuade him to help. I spoke to him at length trying to explain to him why I thought I should have kept my baby.
“How do you expect women to cope with the trauma of losing their own babies? There are women who chose to end their lives rather than live with their loss. How can our society be a utopia when kidnap is deemed a necessary sacrifice? I do not believe that it is right and want to fight it!” I hoped that my impassioned speech would sway him.
When he eventually did speak, he sounded a little sympathetic but still maintained the stance that I had to give my baby up so that Haven could survive.
“You must understand that it has been this way for a very long time and our world has survived. It is not perfect, but how can you expect that I do something that may jeopardise its future?”
I grew quite emotional and he sensed I was distraught. I thought that I could sense in his voice some discomfort with what had to be done for Haven to survive.
“How can you think that Haven is worth fighting for? You promised to do something about the two Elders who raped me. Tell me if I am wrong, but they are still getting away with it now, are they not? If you had to murder in order to guarantee the survival of Haven, would you? If I cannot change your mind, we will try to run, even though we will most likely be caught.”
I hoped that there would be some way that we could come to an agreement without the Snatchers becoming involved. I spoke of Samya’s tantalising dream of starting new worlds in the far reaches of the Cluster. Ishmael told me he had secretly dreamed for a long time about leaving and starting a new life somewhere. Ishmael had never travelled far from Haven, but he understood the potential. I told him that we would need great leaders for these new worlds. He could set up a world any way he liked. We would love to bring him on board to help us, but in return, I must be able to keep Fayla. I believed that I had succeeded.
My crewmates had been listening to the discussions and wanted a guarantee from Ishmael that this was not simply a trap. He would need to switch off my tracking device before we would take him on board. He could also bring nothing but much needed food supplies with him.
Ishmael agreed to the terms, but would only switch off my tracker after he came onto the ship. Otherwise, we could simply leave without him. I was naive and believed him, but my crewmates were sceptical. He would need to be watched at all times.
We manoeuvred to the Haven dock and waited for him to arrive. The others were expecting the Snatchers to show up at any time, but they did not. I was so desperate to keep Fayla that I thought the risk was worthwhile. I did not fully understand the potential consequences of our actions but Samya and the others did. They were willing to risk everything, for which I was greatly indebted.
It was unfortunate that Jacob and Job would be left in Haven to continue their misdeeds. Ishmael had not banished them and there was no other way of ridding our world of them. It would remain an issue that saddened me. I dreamed of somehow having them banished, but I reconciled with the fact that it was the responsibility of the remaining Elders.
Ishmael arrived as he had promised, boarded the ship and disengaged my tracker. As agreed, he was generous enough to bring much needed food supplies. When I had a chance to take a thorough look at him I noticed that he had not aged since I had last set my eyes on him. Samya had explained to me about time dilation, but the nanos in Ishmael’s body had prevented him from aging. He had told me that all the Elders had nanos implanted to ensure permanence on my homeworld. The Elders all looked old so that the populace would respect their authority.
Samya scanned me for any signs that the tracker was still engaged, but could find none. I now thought we were free and the Snatchers would not chase us but the others did not believe it would be that easy. Samya scanned Ishmael too thinking he may be tricking us. Samya and Scrartchar would take shifts to watch Ishmael so that he could not send a message to the Snatchers.
With the food that Ishmael had brought, I cooked some variations to the Haven meals of my own creation. He was deeply appreciative of my cooking and was amazed at how I had enhanced the traditional fare. I felt that I needed to give him something extra in return for disengaging the tracker. As we sat around the table, the others were communicating their distrust of Ishmael through their body language and veiled comments. I had no reason not to trust him and we spoke like old friends of the various goings-on in Haven. His descriptions made my homeworld sound like a bizarre dystopia though it was once that which I thought was normality. Some people became Elders, others were banished and yet others received little ones from the outside.
After the meal, I told him that I did not hold any grudges against him for banishing me. Ishmael had only done that which he thought was right. It was also great that he would help us create new worlds. His heart appeared to melt when I showed him Fayla. I told him that he would be a great role model for my child. He spoke of the difficulty that he had had in the past with taking babies from their mothers. He promised that his new world would be different.
Now that the tracker was disengaged, we resumed our previous schedule and travelled to a world to collect goods for trade. At this time, I felt extremely content with my life. I had Fayla, a loving partner, great friends and my favourite Elder with me. Both Ishmael and Samya helped me a great deal to take care of Fayla. When she smiled for the first time, I was so happy that I cried.
My baby was growing to have a striking resemblance to Samya, especially in her eyes. I also adored her smell. I loved to think about her growing up and wondered what she would choose to do with her life. She had no homeworld. Her home was the ship.
Samya continued his research and was approaching the big breakthrough that he had promised. Until that time, we would continue our trading. I asked Samya what he would do if the Cluster Overseers denied his request and he replied that he did not know but needed to come up with a plan. For now, there was no rush, but Samya was still waiting for Ishmael to betray us. I simply did not believe that Ishmael would do such a thing.
When the tracking device switched itself on again, my heart sank.
Samya had been continuously scanning the tracker in case Ishmael’s intentions differed from that which he had told us. When he informed me of the news, I began to sob. The realisation washed over me that Ishmael had lied to us and there would be no escape from the Snatchers. After I regained my composure, Samya and I discussed at length about our plan. Firstly, we must put Ishmael in the sim-room. Samya suggested that we do this while he was sleeping and place him in a simulation of the ship. We would pretend that we had arrived at a world so that he would not need to interact with simulations of ourselves. We would tell him of delicate negotiations on the world so that he could not join us. It should have worked to our advantage that he did not know he was in the sim-room. We would attempt to find a way to call off the Snatchers as he had apparently only given us a temporary code to the tracker. If there were a nasty situation, it would be contained in the sim-room.
During our conversation, Lexy and Scrartchar joined in over the comm to discuss our options. We had to assume that a permanent code did not exist and we came up with a plan. We recommended splitting up, but Lexy refused, saying that we were in this together. Samya came up with the idea of developing more devices that matched the tracker output signal. He was greatly annoyed with himself that he had not come up with this solution before. If there were enough of the dummy trackers, the Snatchers would never be able to find the ship. We would abandon their trading duties for now and attempt to stay one-step ahead of the Snatchers until Samya’s research breakthrough. Samya would call in some favours to obtain food and supplies from other ships.
I told Samya that I would speak with Ishmael in the sim-room and attempt to reason with him. When I confronted him, he was overly apologetic. He said it was never easy doing this, but it was necessary. There was no permanent deactivation code for the trackers. Haven was a beautiful world that deserved to continue. I pointed out that the sexual repression and lies disgusted me. He made the valid point that when I was in Haven, I was happy and enjoyed my life as did the vast majority of the populace. Ishmael believed that a little ‘sin’ kept the populace happy. However, with no rules outside Haven, the thrill of sin was gone and therefore people would try out more and more extreme acts to achieve the same level of excitement.
I also asked him why he had not simply taken Fayla when we were docked outside Haven. His response was that he wanted to ensure that the baby would remain safe and he had found over time that this was the easiest way. I was not wholly satisfied with this reason, but he would not divulge any further.
I still believed he was a caring Elder. I told him we had decided to return to Haven. We confined him to his quarters in sim, until we travelled to the outskirts of the Cluster. Once again, we thought we had solved the problem. I could keep my baby and we may be able to create new worlds together. A great weight was lifted off my shoulders. It felt similar to the sensation of going into zero-G. My crewmates were satisfied too that we had finally succeeded. This, to our knowledge, was the first time that anyone had escaped from the clutches of the Snatchers.
We continued our travels after firing the dummy trackers that Samya had built. We completely revised our itinerary and life settled back down to normal on the ship.
Samya and Alander finally claimed the breakthrough that they had long sought after, but wanted to work on the nanos a little longer before presenting their findings to the Cluster Overseers. Samya injected the enhanced nanos into himself to test them out. He would not allow anyone else to do it in case they proved harmful. He began training himself to utilise the nanos to their full potential. After some practise, he could release them from his body and build small objects. It looked amazing to watch. The black mist could assemble blocks and other simple shapes under Samya’s control. With further training and more people injected, entire worlds could be created this way. The nanos also had the ability to destroy so they needed to be used with great caution. The Cluster Overseers would need to control the technology and ensure that nothing went awry. I felt a great sense of hope that we would be able to make the Cluster a better place.
Lexy continued with her fashion and made me several new garments which I adored. She had such an exquisite aesthetic taste. Scrartchar and Lexy would babysit Fayla whenever I needed a break and Lexy taught me everything I needed to know about raising a child. Fayla was getting more control of her body and was starting to seem more like a person every day.
I also visited Ishmael often to try to keep the appearance that everything was normal. He seemed happy enough and took care of a bot version of Fayla. I told him that the research was progressing well and we hoped to present our findings very soon. Ishmael would have his new world to mould as he wished.
As I was playing with Fayla and laughing, Lunya located the signal of the snatcher’s ship as it approached. There was nothing that could be done. In hindsight, we should have placed Ishmael in permanent hibernation, but I chose to keep him in the sim-room. While in sim, he had managed to hack into Lunya and send a message to the Snatchers. We had stupidly assumed that he had no knowledge of technology.
The Snatchers’ ship was small, sleek and metallic black. It had been designed to transport human cargo and, unlike Lunya, was able to land on worlds. One look at its menacing exterior, and all hope was lost.
The Snatchers disengaged Lunya’s engines, docked and boarded. We huddled together awaiting our fate as the power and gravity slowly faded. Samya had sealed the mess room, but it did not take long for them to break through. Scrartchar and the bots tried to charge at them as they entered, but to no avail. They were shot with powerful weapons that killed them instantly. The guns made no noise. The Snatchers then turned their weapons onto Samya, Lexy and Alander. The lives of those closest to me instantly dissipated. It all felt like a dream in slow motion where one could not move. As they snatched Fayla and me, the last image I saw was my dead crewmates floating in zero-G bathed in sunlight from the window. I was numb with shock. In a few short moments, I had lost everyone that I loved. Before I could react, they rendered me unconscious and placed me in hibernation on their ship.
When I came to, I found myself once again in a simulation from which I could not escape. The setting was similar to Haven but quite different to Samya’s creation. I stayed in bed for an eternity and cried. I did not care why I was here. It did not matter. I had lost everything. It was most unfortunate that I did not have any of Ishmael’s abilities to interface with the sim program from within.
I would have gladly stayed in my simulated bed forever, but was interrupted by one of the others that had been imprisoned here.
“Hello there. What is your name?”
I did not answer at first but could hardly keep ignoring her when she started to shake me.
“My name is Rachael. Please leave me alone as I do not wish to talk to anyone.” She must have sensed that I meant my words.
“Very well, but I will return later to check up on you.”
For several days, I did nothing but stay in bed. My deep shock left me unable to gather my thoughts or function. I believed that I had nothing to live for.
As promised, my fellow prisoner returned and dragged me out of my bed. She insisted that it was the best option for me and I had not the energy to resist.
There were about 20 women here and they all had their own unique story. It appeared that those banished from Haven that could not adapt to life in the Cluster were placed here. Despite my recent trauma, I was not the most emotionally distressed of the group. I had known some of the older ones in Haven, but their personalities were completely different now. They all appeared to be the same age so I guessed that they all must have had nanos implanted and that their sim appearance matched their real appearance. The clothes and hairstyle were of our homeworld, which made me feel rather uncomfortable.
Many of the women had completely lost their mental faculties. Some never spoke, while others spoke total nonsense. Not one of them was violent, not that it would matter in simulation. I felt sorry for them all since the misery in their lives seemed to far exceed mine.
In a real-world prison, there was always a possibility of escape but not here. There was no need for guards since we were trapped in our own minds. There was nothing I could do. After some time, I decided that it would be less painful to try to forget about my past blissful life and live here, as I would have done inside Haven. I could farm, cook, and pretend that I was not in a sim-world. I would match the daily routine I had in Haven, including the communal meal at the end of the day. I managed to keep a brave face, though, at night time when I stopped to think, I still cried myself to sleep.
I befriended the woman who had first dragged me out of my simulated bed and had been most kind to me. Her name was Beth and she was always one of the most cheerful people back inside Haven. It was saddening to see her in her current fragile state. We began to speak of our experiences since leaving our world. She had become violent to her owner and had been dumped here. I was lucky in that I now knew about how the Cluster worked, but she was still in the dark and still spoke of the Makers. She asked what she had done to deserve banishment. I attempted to explain it to her, but unfortunately she held on to her primitive beliefs. My greater knowledge, though, had not given me any more happiness. We were both quite miserable.
By trying to help Beth, I managed to feel a little less depressed. Nothing would ever replace the life that I had, but at least I had experienced true joy for a short time. It seemed that most people were never that fortunate. Samya, Lexy, Scrartchar and Alander lived on in my memories and I would often imagine myself back on the ship. We had been simply too arrogant and naive to believe that we could escape when it had never happened before. Given the choice, I would have conceded that it was best to give up Fayla, but there was no point dwelling on it. I still would have been miserable.
I grew quite fond of Beth and we spent most of our time together. She was more adept at farming than I was and taught me how to improve my skills. I taught her about the Cluster and she was totally amazed.
In the mornings, it was usual for me to walk to her hut to eat breakfast, but one morning, Beth was not there. I called her name and searched the area, but she was gone. Since this was a simulation, we could be taken out at any time without a trace left. I had thought about the purpose of this place, and when Beth returned, my suspicions were confirmed. She was inconsolable and looked like the life had been drained from her body. It reminded me of when I was raped by the Elders. I did my best to comfort her and told her that everything would be alright, even though I did not believe that it would.
Days passed and I reciprocated her actions toward me by dragging her out of bed and forcing her back into the simulated world. We continued our routine for a long time. It was this daily routine that kept us occupied and prevented us from falling into deep misery.
One night, something changed within us. Our eyes locked and I started developing intense feelings towards her. The dim light from the window cast a golden tinge on her face.
“May you permit me to touch your face?” I asked in my softest voice.
Beth did not answer. Instead, she began tenderly stroking my cheek. Without words, we both allowed ourselves this pleasure. This night we held each other and drew comfort from the embrace. This small amount of happiness was a gift in this inescapable prison.
Samya was dead so I was not betraying him. This was a sim-world but the feelings that I had developed were real. We were not in love, but had found some strong and meaningful companionship. We started sleeping in the same bed and holding each other as we drifted off. We also began exploring each other’s bodies. Beth had the best figure I had ever seen. Coming from Haven, she had no idea how attractive she was. Her frame was fuller than mine, which made her look more womanly. My body was seen as ideal on Haven, but after seeing many worlds around the Cluster, I preferred Beth’s. Her beautiful face drew me to her like a magnet. It was great comfort to have someone to hold. We grew separate from the others, preferring our own company. We did not know how long it would last. In the few months that I spent there, women arrived and left with no explanation, but they were all greatly traumatised when they returned.
When the moment came that I was taken out of simulation, I prepared myself for more misery. My life had been unpredictable and yet again the scene before me when I opened my eyes filled me with a sense of disbelief.
Before my eyes were Samya and Fayla! My first reaction was that this was another simulation and the Elders wanted to torture me some more. However, this was not a sim-world; it was real. Tears of joy streamed down my face. It did not matter at this point how this was possible. We held each other and wept. I did not want this moment to end. I had been reunited with my family!
Fayla had grown and changed so much. She looked healthy and happy and was dressed in traditional Haven clothes. I had missed her first steps but fortunately not her first word. She was comforted when I held her so I was elated that she seemed to remember me. Our bond had not been broken. Samya also looked different. The tragedy that we had experienced was somehow etched into his face. Gone was the enthusiasm and youthfulness of the past. Our love had not waned.
After a time, Samya began telling his story.
“I’m so sorry but I couldn’t bring the others back. When I came to, the others were beyond saving. Lunya also could not be salvaged. They’re all now resting somewhere in the black void.”
Samya had woken up on the ship to see the others frozen and floating. He had tried to use his nanos to save them but it was futile. He had stayed on the ship while he recovered and had slowly learned to harness his nanos for travel between worlds. His enhanced nanos were able to harvest interstellar particles and expel them to produce propulsion. He also transferred the enhanced nanos to me and explained their use. As long as the nanos received enough starlight to charge, they would keep us alive. Since they were amazingly powerful, Fayla would receive them when she was old enough to control their power.
Lexy, Scrartchar and Alander had all chosen to help us and their sacrifice would not be in vain. Samya and I now had the opportunity make the Cluster a better place.
“I saved this for you.” Samya placed Lexy’s locket in my hand. It would remind me of that which had been sacrificed to fight for my baby. I continued to weep with mixed emotions.
Samya had not known my location so had travelled to Haven to interrogate Ishmael. His nanos were powerful enough to break into the thick metallic shell encasing the world. He had surveyed my village and had taken Fayla from her new carer. I realised that this would have been traumatic for her, but Fayla was mine. I would explain it to her in time. I would also find out in time the repercussions of Samya’s visit to Haven. He would not say how he had obtained my location from Ishmael but I assumed that it involved some kind of threat.
This prison world was bleak. It was a small asteroid with a tiny facility for the sim-machines. There was also a birthing room. Samya accessed the base to find out more about this place. The staff of this facility travelled here only as needed. They organised the mates for the women and helped with the deliveries. What I had suspected was true. For those who did not wish to take a mate as Samya had done, they could come here to impregnate one of the women. The trade was that the first two babies belonged to Haven. I questioned Samya on why he had not heard of this place. He showed me the exclusive clientele that were allowed to visit. Leaders of other worlds would come here where there were no rules and complete secrecy, which was something that the pleasure worlds could not offer. I felt so disgusted by the depravity of it all.
As Samya was checking the base, he found my name. This base kept records on all who were born here. My mother’s name was Elizabeth and she had been one of the prisoners here. Over her life, she had given birth over one hundred times. Even with the nanos implanted, the body had a limit on childbirth and she had died. The image of my mother being raped countless times with her babies harvested made me angry and sad. She had been given no chance of happiness. My father was part of me and he had violated my mother. I asked Samya who my father was but the base did not keep records to maintain secrecy. It was probably better that I did not know because I had no desire to meet him. I had a family now and would not want him to be part of it.
Samya and I discussed our options. I desperately wanted to save Haven. This sounded contradictory when the world had persisted for hundreds of generations, but at what cost to the young women and to personal liberty? Samya suggested that we could simply leave for the far reaches of the Cluster, which was quite an attractive notion. We both agreed, though, that we did not want any more people going through this same trauma. We decided to stay in Haven long enough to rehabilitate it and then leave the populace to take care of themselves. We would then be able to travel to other repressed worlds to help them. The Overseers would be most displeased, but if the worlds could reach a new equilibrium, they would not intervene. Despite the fact that it was a bold plan, we were optimistic. We were fortunate enough to have the additional tool of our enhanced nanos to help us. We desperately hoped that they would be powerful enough.
Our first task was to release the other women. Many of them were emotionally unstable and would need a great deal of guidance to integrate back into society. Samya removed them from sim. Many were completely hysterical. The noise was deafening. I noticed that Beth’s belly was full and I vowed to help her with her baby as Lexy had helped me. Her baby would be born into freedom and would not suffer the violations that her mother had.
I never told Samya about our companionship. He did not need to know and in all probability would be greatly hurt. He sensed that we had a close friendship but did not accuse me of anything. Now that Samya was back, he was the only person with whom that I wanted to be intimate. And as I later found out, with his enhanced nanos, he was a better lover than ever. His stamina was extraordinary. My life had swung again back to happiness and contentment. Except this time, we had a cause for which to fight. We would rid the Cluster of injustice!
In order to transport the women, Samya refashioned the prison facility into a ship. It was evident that his nanos had grown immensely powerful. As he was preparing the ship, I also began practising with my nanos, but it took a great deal of time to master the novice powers of building small objects and unaided space flight. The feeling of using the nanos was exhilarating. The black mist that escaped from my arms and hands was like an extension of my body. I could pick up small objects that were far away. It felt completely natural and I could sense that, with practice, I would be able to move and build entire worlds. The power and the possibilities were endless.
The trip back to Haven was a short one. The prison had been built on one of the moons orbiting the same planet as Haven. Beth’s pregnancy was almost full term so she would be the first woman to give birth inside Haven! It would greatly shock the others, but their eyes would be opened as mine had been.
Before entering Haven, Samya and I discussed our plan. He admitted that the people had been scared by his appearance when he had arrived to take Fayla. Some of them had yelled, “Maker! They have returned!” He had not answered them or clarified who he was because he only cared about Fayla and me. Fayla’s new carer had also become quite distraught when Samya had taken her. I would need to explain to her why Fayla was mine.
This time we would have to deny the Maker accusations but that which was most important was to do something about the Elders. They would vehemently fight back although they would be no match for Samya. We decided that the best option was to communicate with the Elders before entering and inform them of our plan. They had little choice because any resistance would result in them losing their Elders status.
When we informed them about what was to happen, the Elders made various threats against us. Samya explained that there was nothing they could do and it would be best for Haven if they followed us.
“Can we do this?” I asked Samya as we stared at the hollow ball. I felt strangely nervous about entering the world from which I had been banished. The populace would not embrace me with open arms as they had been taught that I was a sinner that would never return.
“Yes we can and must. This will be the first step in our quest.” He held my hand tightly as we docked the ship.
Our arrival inside Haven was a strange experience. The Elders had split into two groups. Some believed that Samya was a Maker or god of some sort while the others were ready to enlist the Cluster Overseers to banish us and return to that which they believed was an idyllic utopia. We flew in and received adoration from the first camp. They welcomed us and knelt to worship us. Samya was quick to deny that he was a god, but this did not prove effective at all.
Samya had prepared a speech for the populace. He floated in mid-air and utilised his nanos to amplify his voice. The nanos had given him quite a deal of confidence and he was convincing as a new leader. He addressed the whole population; a sea of blue traditional clothing. They all looked so uniform and conservative; there was no individuality or flair.
“People of this glorious world, a new age is upon you. You will learn to lead lives of freedom.” My people looked perplexed and in awe. He continued to speak of a new Haven; one in which the people were not sheltered from the rest of the Cluster by lies. There was much to learn and it would take a lot of adjustment, but we would succeed. He continued to explain about the women who were baby factories for Haven. The world had been permanent, but at too high a price. Too many women had been violated. There were so many important concepts that they did not understand. I remembered my own shock at hearing about human reproduction. Samya did not divulge too many details for now.
Samya also explained the Cluster visually. He had worked out how his nanos could project giant images. How could the people not think that he was a god? They continued to worship him and there was nothing we could do to stop them. His technology was like magic to them.
He ended his speech by implanting nanos into all the inhabitants. The fine mist surrounded the crowd and gave them the gift of near perfect health and longevity. There would now be no more needless suffering on this world. I felt immensely proud of Samya; he was now the leader of New Haven.
After his speech, on the way to a meeting with the Elders who wanted to banish us, one of the dissidents lunged at Samya intending to harm him. Before he got near, Samya’s nanos had stopped him in his tracks. He kept struggling and Samya asked me what we should do with him. The others around us yelled banish him. I had to think fast. I told Samya that we would set up a place to help rehabilitate those that could not integrate with society. Many of my fellow ex-prisoners would also require rehabilitation. This was a completely new concept inside Haven, but many other worlds did it with varying degrees of success. Banishment was a widely utilised technique to maintain cohesion within worlds.
The Elders that wanted us to leave realised that there was not anything they could do due to Samya’s immense power. We discussed our vision of the future of New Haven with them at length. The populace would need to be helped to understand and adjust to the changes. We told the Elders that they would need to apologise for deceiving them. The people would also have to learn that banishment was not the panacea for society. All those that had been banished would be welcome to return. Those Elders that did not agree with our direction would be stripped of their position and imprisoned if necessary.
During our meeting, news came that Beth was about to give birth. I gave my leave and went to help. The birth did not proceed smoothly, but I was able to utilise my nanos to help her deliver. This child was to be the first-born inside New Haven and would be the personification of the new world that we were helping to bring about. Beth named him Scrartchar, which was my suggestion. He was the last from his homeworld so it was fitting that the new Scrartchar would be the first from New Haven.
We presented the baby to the people and they were shocked, as they had never seen a baby so young before. Samya explained to all that procreation was not a sin. It was natural and the way that the world would remain permanent from now on.
Ishmael was the last person we needed to convince when the meeting reconvened. We desperately wanted him on our side, as it would make the transition far easier. He did not threaten us but warned that we did not understand the full consequences of our actions. We told him that with his guidance we believed that we could make the new Haven work. Realising that resistance was pointless, he advised us that the best course of action for now was to make an example of some of the Elders. That would help to restore cohesion within the people. Jacob and Job were the perfect candidates. We would not banish them, but they would lose their position and be isolated from the people. As for our plans for natural procreation, Ishmael vehemently opposed this and warned of overpopulation. We were adamant that the populace, given their freedom, would not overpopulate.
The meeting lasted a considerable amount of time but, at the end, we believed that we had most of the Elders to the point where they were not going to continue any rebellion.
I decided to speak with Ishmael in private about my parents to see if he could shed some light on my lineage.
“Your mother’s sacrifice helped bind the Cluster and keep our world safe.” He explained about my glorious mother who had given birth to a great many of the Elites from around the Cluster.
“Her mental illness was never treated. She was locked away and violated for the gain of others. She was never given a choice. And I do not even know who raped her to create me.” I had a completely different opinion and voiced it to Ishmael.
“These records are not kept and the staff is sworn to secrecy.” Ishmael was having trouble readjusting to the new ways, but I had no desire to interrogate the prison staff who were merely performing their duties. I decided to not pursue this matter any further. I would not want to meet him in any case. I would make a difference for the next generation and make sure that Samya and I gave as much love to Fayla as we could.
The people were not happy with the return of the imprisoned women. They believed that it was simply wrong, which was understandable since it was one of the cornerstones of their society. Their souls had been removed upon leaving the world according to the teachings of the Elders, so that essentially made them less than human. I tried to educate them that it was simply too easy to simply banish anyone who was a problem or had different ideas. Those that had been banished were treated as second-class citizens by the others. They were forced to live separately from the others, which caused me great consternation. It was my personal goal to re-integrate them into society as I too was treated differently. Some of the women had no interest in this and chose to live separately. It was unfortunate that the society fragmented, but it did lead to a bustling world that was highly diverse. Conflicts inevitably occurred, but Samya could always step in if matters escalated. Many people secretly believed that Samya was a Maker even though he fervently denied it at every opportunity. It was hard for people to dispense with their prior beliefs. Most of them needed to believe in something whether it was organised or not.
The populace seemed to despise me and worship me in equal measure. I even heard word of a myth that had been created that I was an evil temptress who had seduced a Maker and forced him to help destroy the world. This disheartened me immensely. I could not fathom how people could propagate mistruths that gave simple explanations for complex events. There was nothing that we could do to quell these myths. We had created a free world so it followed that the populace was free to believe anything regardless of its factual basis or logical consistency. There were even some that awaited the return of the real Makers to restore balance to the world and banish us.
During this time, Fayla began to speak. Once she had learnt the concept of language, she began making her own words and names but her first real word was Dad. She would call for him all the time. He was often extremely busy with his civic duties so she would cry out for him. I could see my child following in his footsteps. She too could be a leader of worlds.
I am not proud to say that I enjoyed getting revenge on Jacob and Job although I did manage to hold back from killing them. We publicly stripped them of their Elder status and some of the women told their stories of what they had done to them. We kept the old tradition and razed their houses but not before we found basements that they had built for the purpose of torture. I care not to describe the horrors that we found. After the ceremony, we placed them in our newly constructed prison. Samya had constructed a transparent barricade around a group of houses and fields. The inmates could live normally but they were to be isolated from the general populace. Men and women were also separated. I believed that this was punishment enough. With their power stripped, Jacob and Job were quite pathetic. They would plead to be released and promised to never reoffend. I wanted to believe that people could change but they would need to being isolated for many seasons to pay for their crimes.
Punishments were metered out at the whim of Samya and I. Whilst in prison, the inmates were counselled and taught about better choices to make in their lives. This was a great challenge for me, but I believed that I could make it work. The prison was like a refuge to me, since I was not treated with total respect elsewhere. We released some of the inmates long before the populace wished it but they were closely monitored. I helped them as much as I could to re-integrate and many of them were successful.
Samya was powerful enough that we kept the society mostly in equilibrium. The one aspect, however, that Samya could not control was the increasing population. Many of the women wished to have many children, which was of course their right, but New Haven was small. No one was dying now since we all had nanos. We did not want to impose laws that forbade the women’s right to bear children. The people were free to leave of course, but this was their home. Samya attempted to explain the long-term ramifications of overpopulation, but the people lacked the ability to understand.
While the populace still did not believe that I was entitled to rule them, most of them doted on Fayla and were already obeying her orders. This worried me a little, as I thought it was not healthy for my child to think that she could always succeed in getting her own way. Unfortunately, I always seemed to be the one scolding her.
Part of my quest to reintegrate all the former inhabitants of New Haven necessitated my travel to little Haven to attempt to encourage them to return. I brought Fayla with me to show her the Cluster. She had begun communicating and expressed herself quite well. She was able to comment in her own way about the huge difference between inside and outside Haven.
Fayla and I travelled to little Haven without aid of a ship and arrived to the astonishment of onlookers. My friends were welcoming as always and I informed them about my experiences since our last meeting. They seemed pleased that we were trying to change Haven for the better but did not wish to return. This was their home now but they promised to visit when the opportunity arose. I wondered whether this was an empty promise but at least I knew now that they were here of their own free will. They adored Fayla and were so happy that I was able to raise her.
After they had all seen Fayla, Mary and I spoke some more about how we perceived the present state of the Cluster and about what the future may bring.
“Living here you hear many stories of attempted change. Many of our visitors have been the victims and even the perpetrators of acts against the permanence of the Cluster. I hope that you will succeed, but I think that which is most important is to keep your family safe. I wish that I was as lucky as you to have a loving partner and adorable daughter.” Much time had passed on this world since last time I had visited and Mary had grown wise. She was different to the girl that I had known, but so was I.
“I believe that we are doing that which is right. I see so much needless suffering and we are in a position to stop it all.”
“Please remember that there will always be people that will not fit in to whatever model of society you enforce. I think you should visit more worlds and gain more experience before you attempt to change everything.” It was hard to accept advice from Mary, as she had been my junior. I told her that I would try my best to visit regularly to speak and learn more of the latest events occurring in the Cluster.
As we bid them all farewell and left their small piece of Haven, a group of visitors to this world encircled us. I did not recognise from where they came, but guessed that they were soldiers of some kind from their uniforms and weapons. The leader of the group explained that they needed access to our technology and would employ violence if necessary. I warned them that they would regret taking any action against us but was a little scared since I had not been practising using my nanos enough. Nevertheless, luckily for us, I was able to build a field around us that they could not penetrate. They lunged at the field but were forcefully repelled. We then launched into the air and flew home. We would have to be very careful travelling outside New Haven from now on as we had technology for which many would kill. Fayla asked why those men had tried to do bad things to us. It was impossible to explain to her, as I did not understand myself why people commit evil acts for their own selfish gain.
I spent the trip back teaching Fayla of the Cluster. She was fascinated by how it all worked. I passed on the knowledge that I had gained about the stars, planets and other celestial bodies. The stars in the Cluster all harboured life around them. Outside the Cluster, the stars were much further apart and none sustained life. The previous civilisation had built it all. I wondered to myself why more was not known about them. We lived in their Cluster and utilised much of their technology, yet nobody studied the events leading to their demise. Fayla asked many questions that I could not answer such as why the Cluster was so large. I told her that when she was older, she might be able to find some of the answers herself.
As we approached our homeworld, I saw the ship of the Snatchers. My heart raced. I felt an immense urge to reduce the ship to stardust. They had killed Lexy and her family but I did not wish Fayla to see such violence. I boarded their ship and ordered them to never return. It took them some time to understand my message, but once I began to shake the ship they promised to not return. Fayla asked why the Snatchers were not allowed in and I explained that they had taken away some of our family. I opened Lexy’s locket and showed Fayla the photo inside. She wanted to understand, and I told her that she would when she was older.
Samya was worried when I told him what had happened. He said that the Snatchers would complain to the Cluster Overseers so we would have to justify our actions and explain how Haven could be made permanent. We would need to think fast for the population was about to explode. I had missed three seasons by travelling to the light world and back. Samya could build another world but this would take a great deal of time. I decided that the population would eventually balance itself and convinced Samya not to intervene. It would just take some time. The Overseers would need to be convinced that we should be given this time.
New Haven was now a sprawling centre of knowledge and innovation. Samya had encouraged the development of new tech so that we could find a replacement for the trade of women. The first target was better artificial intelligence for bots and the sim-world. Samya knew that this could be dangerous so he carefully controlled the development. The current bot technology included rules for protecting humans and preventing violence but Samya needed to reinforce this as more intelligent bots may have attempted to alter their programming.
Samya introduced bots slowly into the world. He was now powerful enough to build them with his nanos. It was another tenet of old Haven that anything that reduced the need to perform menial tasks was considered evil. The bots were of great help to me when the prisoners required restraint to prevent them from harming others. As bots were slowly integrated into society, many people created new jobs for themselves since they no longer needed to farm. There was a real sense that our world was exciting and vibrant and would improve in the future.
I discussed with Samya the possibility of implanting our nanos into all the people, but Samya thought that it was not a sensible idea. He reiterated that more controls were necessary. And as leader, he would lose his ability to govern effectively. I quipped that we had created a divide between the leaders and the people with technology rather than with knowledge. I did acknowledge that I believed our world was superior, as we did not need to employ deception. Samya insisted that our world was an experiment that had yet to prove successful. The question for us was whether our new model could be shown to achieve a permanent society.
Another state of mind that was prohibited on the old Haven was anything that could be construed as vanity. It was great to see the variation that had developed in the appearance of the people. The sea of blue had become a rainbow.
The dissenters of Samya’s leadership were few. I felt that my role was to ensure that he stayed on his course of benevolence. I attempted to rehabilitate those that could not adjust to the new ways. Despite my efforts, there were some who would never integrate with the society. Similarly, with the ex-prisoners, many were beyond integration. But it was our responsibility to care for these people and prevent them from causing harm to themselves or others.
I was extremely pleased with my world now. We were now a vibrant community of individuals who lived in complete freedom. There was some work yet to be done before trying to free other worlds, but we were almost there.
When the Cluster Overseers did come, it was the leader that arrived. Without any words of greeting, he led Samya to his ship, and I was ignored. I returned to counselling one of the prisoners. She had tried to kill her partner for cheating on her. She could not control her rage even now and had to be isolated from all others. It was most unfortunate and I did not know how to help her, as she seemed unable to be rehabilitated. Nevertheless, helping her was better than simply banishing her.
As I looked over the world that Samya and I had remoulded, I was deeply content. This was no utopia but it was a vibrant world that felt alive. I dreamed of this world becoming the model for a new, free Cluster.
When Samya returned, he looked as if a part of him had been ripped out. He told me that he would address the people with the news. I demanded that he tell me first, but he refused. This angered me but I still believed that he would do that which was right.
The contents of his speech left me feeling hollow inside. All that we had fought for was gone. Samya exclaimed to all that he was indeed the Maker. He had merely been testing them. A spontaneous cheer erupted from a section of the crowd. They were elated that the falsehoods they desperately wanted to believe in were true! This made my heart sink.
Samya explained that he was happy with those that had chosen to live the old way. They were the truly righteous ones and would be the new Elders. All the old laws would return with the following exceptions. Men and women would now volunteer to sacrifice themselves and leave the world to bring in little ones. Sex was only allowed between life partners but all would be contracepted. Banishment would not return; however, the prisoners would not be rehabilitated or reintegrated. All nanos will be removed from the Elders as they were poisoning the society.
Samya continued but I could not contribute any further. I thought about taking Fayla and leaving, but I loved Samya and pleaded with him. Why had he done this? I desperately tried to encourage him to reverse his actions. He was still more powerful than I, so I had to be careful.
After his speech, I yelled at him unrelentingly until he explained to me what had happened. He responded that the first thing that I needed to understand was that the leader of the Cluster was his father. That was the only reason why Haven had not been destroyed. Samya claimed that he had been forced to carry out his orders. I asked why we could not merely leave but he replied that staying on as leader was part of the arrangement.
“But you are powerful”, I told him, “Why do you have to listen to him?”
“The Cluster Overseers keep many of the secrets of the ancients. These secrets destroyed them and the Overseers did not want a repeat of this.” Samya replied.
They would use these powers to stop anything that Samya or I attempted. Samya had dabbled in the ancient tech but he was ordered to stop developing any further and could not give anyone else his super-nanos. I could keep mine but Samya would modify them so that I could no longer travel between worlds.
Samya’s father had brainwashed him. I told Samya that he could not do this. There must be a way we could fight the Cluster Overseers. I asked why we could not move New Haven away from the Overseers’ sphere of influence but Samya was not interested. He replied that we were being monitored and risked killing the entire population. To me, the old laws were like a waking death. Samya did not agree. Many of the populace did not share our vision of a new world.
It was at this point that I grew tired of talking and could no longer control my emotions and began to attack Samya with my nanos. Lexy, Scrartchar and Alander had died for nothing. Samya had made it sound like I had brainwashed him into disrupting the balance in the Cluster. This action was not in my nature but something inside me had decided to make a stand for that which I believed in.
Without further words, we rose and battled in mid-air. Many of the populace crowded beneath us to watch. Some of them yelled their support for me, but most of them, including my daughter, screamed for their Maker. As I fought him amidst a black swarm of our nanos, I was able at first to hold my ground. For a brief instant, I actually thought that I might have a chance, but it did not take long for him to overpower me. His nanos invaded my body to ensure that there were no traces left of my enhancements. Unconscious, I fell some distance toward the ground but Samya must have caught me before impact.
“I’m so sorry to have to do this, but your nanos had made you drunk with power. I had no choice.” When I regained consciousness, Samya informed me that I would have to be isolated from the population and placed in solitary confinement. I was far too great of a threat to the survival of the Cluster to be allowed to leave New Haven. The mark was once again placed on my forehead to remind the populace of the old ways. At the centre of my solitary prison lay the banishment tree. Samya had reinstated less powerful nanos in me so that I would remain as a symbol. As Samya’s nanos disallowed self-harming, I could not even kill myself as Samya’s previous partner had. I was not allowed any technology and my nanos could not construct complex machines.
Fayla continued to speak with me through the barrier to the prison for a while, but eventually, all the vicious lies of my bad influence on Samya permeated her too.
“Why did you try to hurt daddy?” This question made my eyes pour with tears and I had no answer. I could not explain to her that I had performed a sinful act for the right reasons, as she would not understand. I had lost all hope that someday she might dream of a world in which personal freedoms are a right for all.
The populace easily readapted to their old ways. They viewed the new ways with terrible disdain now claiming that the world had almost been destroyed because they had strayed from the path. I had arrived as a test and they should have known to not trust a soulless banished one. They all obediently returned to their uniform lifeless blue clothes and accepted Samya’s decrees to destroy all bases, information and all lies about the outside Cluster. Even those who had visited other worlds were convinced that it had all been a deception. Samya even began to ban newly introduced words in an attempt to control all dissidence.
Samya settled too easily into his new leadership role. He apologised to me for the terrible lies about me that he needed to make the populace believe in order to keep the society together. I believed him when he said he still loved me, but what did this even mean? He also apologised for locking up Beth and all the ex-prisoners because, according to the belief, they had no souls and could not live as citizens. They had gained nothing by being freed. I yearned for Beth’s companionship, but Samya refused my request.
Ishmael still visits me regularly. Although Samya has forbidden rehabilitation, I think he is trying to save me. He wants me to understand why I acted wrongly. He is now Samya’s second in command. He seems to strictly follow whatever the power structure may be. He is still deeply sympathetic and caring toward me, but I have grown tired of how deceitful he is. I will never accept that I am fighting for the wrong cause, but this fuels Samya’s use for me.
I often gaze at my locket to remind me of the happiness that I once enjoyed. Lexy, Scrartchar and Alander had all sacrificed themselves for my family to remain together. Fayla was now being brought up in a regime even worse than the previous one. Samya is raising her in his own image. She will become an obedient servant of the Cluster.
Samya now even chooses to execute those that do not belong. Jacob and Job had caused me great pain, but they did not deserve to die. Samya is no god. Who is he to choose life and death? All that I have fought for now seems lost.
The one joy that I have left is my music. With great difficulty, my nanos have built an instrument that reproduces the sound that Samya first played me in zero-G. I spend much of my time trying to perfect it and I have almost managed to emulate the recordings. The deep, sad and sonorous sound that it produces reflects exactly how I feel. Through it, I can express what my own words and thoughts cannot. The music is the language of my mourning and the only friend that keeps me company. I often imagine an audience listening to me play. The music opens their hearts to my plight. When the sound stops, only my despair remains. I long to vaporise my body and leave behind no trace.
According to their belief system, I have now become the epitome of everything evil. Samya and Fayla have turned their backs on me. Samya has kept me alive merely as a symbol for his own ends. Over the next thousand seasons, I will slowly die here, cloistered behind these invisible walls. The Cluster will maintain this waking death indefinitely and I am powerless to change it. I am banished. I am alive only in my memories…