Valley of Dying Stars: Part One
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 19 January 2007, 3:26 am
How could so much happen in only six months?
Time was a hard thing to judge for Michael Taylor in this place. He knew it to be half a year by the changing of the seasons and the calendars, but had he been asked without the aid of these universal pendulums he might have said that just one month had passed, or perhaps twelve. It was hard to keep one's perspective, waiting to die.
As the end approached, time seemed to become more marked. Maybe it was because he monitored its passage more closely now that so little of it was left to him. He looked at the white markings on the wall beside him, counting the dying days, and followed them as they gradually became half markings, and then quarter markings. If nothing else, a numbered life gave one a greater appreciation of time, even if most of it was spent lying on a thin mattress staring at a dark ceiling.
He found it difficult to recall and replay in his mind all the events that had led him, inexorably, to this moment, and so he did not try. They had done their work well upon his body and his mind; remembering brought too much pain. He knew only that he was going to die, and he desperately did not want to.
And lead us not into
How could it have come to this?
For Thine is the
The door to his cell unlocked noisily, the sliding of the rusty bar heralding his final moments. Taylor turned his head to see, being all he could do in his state, and saw two uniformed men enter the cramped space.
One of them beckoned him forward. "It's time."
He tried to swing his legs off the bed, using the force to right himself, but getting to his feet without the use of his arms was exceptionally difficult. At last, tiring of the feeble sight, one of the guards approached him and hauled him to his feet by his elbow. Blistering pain streaked from his shoulder to his spine, but he internalized his scream and uttered little more than a grunt. He would not debase himself before these people.
Walking was difficult, but he managed. He looked to either side of him, at the men—no, they were not men—at the boys who helped him along. These pretend soldiers, toy soldiers, who for months had cut on his flesh and laughed at his cries, were quick enough to aid him in his final steps.
How could they do this to a human being?
He stumbled along, was carried along, to the light beyond the doorway.
Six Months Earlier
Michael Taylor watched the little boy trace the raindrops as they slid down the immaculately clear glass of the skywalk. His tiny fingertip followed one drop from the multitude as it fell to join the torrent flowing in the street below. When it floated out of view he would find another, one that stood out from the rest and descended in a zigzag pattern, so that it could be traced longer. So much water, falling from the sky.
The monsoon season had always held a fascination for Taylor as well. Summer on the colony of Trento brought three months of constant downpour on its capital Ravenna. It affected every aspect of the lives of the people, and defined the very city they lived in. In the summer the sidewalks were abandoned in favor of the intricate network of skywalks; storm drains were cleared of debris to prevent the Mira River from flooding; adults complained while their children celebrated. The monsoon was an aberration—change frightens the old and delights the young.
At length, the boy's harassed looking mother took his tiny hand and pulled him along. "Stop falling behind, Shaheen," she told him sternly, managing two other children she had in tow. "Mommy has to get to work." She wore an expensive suit and carried herself with the air of someone of marked importance, no doubt taking her kids to her workplace's daycare—like so many other parents these days.
"Your coffee, sir," the woman at the counter prompted him.
"On second though, throw in one of those muffins with that," he asked, and laid his charge card on the granite top.
He continued along the skywalk, passing the familiar retail stores and cafes as they slowly awoke to a new day. It was only seven in the morning; what light the rising sun afforded was obscured by the dark clouds above that showed no signs of dispersion. Only the lights of the corridor and the city outside fended off the darkness that would now enshroud the Ravenna River Valley for the next three months.
Without realizing until he reached the door, Taylor came upon his own workplace. The United Nations Colonial Administration office; a small, squat building, the bottom of which was occupied by an electronics store and a seedy bar and grill. About its only charm was its spectacular view of the Miran Bay, though even that saving grace would be lost in the rolling fog today.
Upon entering, he caught the eye of a man watching the morning news from a television on the empty desk of the office receptionist. He smiled wryly when he saw him, and turned back to the set. "A little late this morning, Taylor."
"I got held up by the weather." An old joke.
"Right," he laughed. George Leventis was officially liaison to the Trento Central Authority, though unofficially he was the office's everything man. He was tireless, equally adept at the mundanity of the endless bureaucracy his position demanded as with the delicate social touches of diplomacy. He seemed to be at the office at all times, for Taylor had yet to arrive before his colleague. For this reason, any semblance of a hierarchy had long since been allowed to evaporate; a somewhat easy thing among only three executives.
"Damned season's come early this year," Leventis complained.
Taylor joined him by the screen. Intercepted messages from the Battle of Reach were being played and panelists were trying to piece the fragments together to determine exactly what had happened there. "You say that every year."
"That's because it's true."
"If it were true it would be monsoon season all year round."
"Well, that's what it feels like. Inane bullshit!" Leventis angrily shut off the television and walked down the narrow hall towards his office. "I should pick up and move to one of the nice northern islands, where you do not melt in the heat or in the rain."
"You say that every year too," he said, following. "Where's Eyal?"
"He was here when I arrived. Must have been here for over an hour by now."
Taylor cocked an eyebrow. "News from Earth?"
"Could be." When he reached his office, he turned to face him. "If it is, you'll know before I, deputy director." With that, he closed the door. George enjoyed his privacy.
Taylor entered his own office further down the hall. The modest sized room was filled with jammed filing cabinets and overflowing bookcases, with loose papers littering every surface. His desk, positioned along the back window, was so covered in stuffed file folders that his computer monitor was scarcely visible. Simultaneously the sight exhausted him and made him feel right at home.
He shed his trenchcoat and lowered himself gently into his chair. He took a long sip of his hitherto untouched coffee and shook his head vigorously as the caffeine coursed warmly through his veins. Placing his guilty breakfast on one of the few free spaces on his desk, he turned his attention to the mound of work that lay dauntingly before him. He tried not to think too hard on the day that these papers promised for him lest he be discouraged to comatosity. Overcrowding schools. Crime in the north end. Massive military spending. All the myriad issues that consumed his twelve hour daily stints in this place.
He turned his chair around to face the window that made up the back wall of his office. Rivulets of water and a thick mist made the usually stunning vista a rather bleak affair this morning. In the distance he was briefly able to spot a formation darker than its surroundings before it was enveloped once more by the murky haze. It was an artificial island built many years ago when United Nations contractors had mined the shallows around Ravenna for its abundant natural resources, bringing great wealth to the new colony. It was a comforting sight throughout most of the year, reminding him of the authority of the UN; reminding him of better days. The driving rain and rolling fog brought no such comfort to him this day.
When he turned back around he realized he was no longer alone in his office: Eyal Dayan, the UNCA's director on Trento, stood in the doorway.
"Eyal! I did not hear you come in."
As he stepped forward, Taylor saw the director's face was paler than usual and that he walked with a tentative gait. His eyes, especially, spoke volumes; usually so confident they now had trouble finding a place to rest.
"A beautiful day, yes?" he began.
Taylor ignored the trite comment. "Is it Earth?"
The fluttering traces of a false smile faded from Dayan's lips. "Yes. They've found it, Mike. The Covenant have found Earth."
He felt his stomach reposition itself in his body. "How bad?"
"Fleetcom reported the Covenant had begun orbital bombardment. The transmission ended there."
Taylor was silent for a moment, weighing the impact this had upon him. "That is it, then. We must send word to the UN. We must determine whether or not Earth has been glassed."
"Absolutely not," Dayan said vehemently. "The situation has never called for more care. We must now assume that Trento is the last human world left, and we must also assume the only reason for that is because the Covenant did not think there were any colonies this far out. If we send a message to Earth and they'll track it right back to us."
"I know, Eyal. I know."
"Of course you do. You've been been the one to convince me more than once. Besides, what would it change?"
Taylor eyed him. "You know exactly what it would change. Trento holds on by a thread, and this administration loses influence with every glass ball the Covenant puts between us an Earth."
Dayan shrugged. "The good of humanity trumps all other concerns."
He was tired of that banal truism and so pursued a different course. "What does President Franks have to say about this?"
The director gave a short laugh. "The one benefit of our position is that we are privy to all UN communiques before he is."
"He will find out sooner or later."
"He might finally shut us down."
Taylor frowned. "So what now?"
"Carry on as usual. Nothing can be done about it now."
Dayan made to leave, but at the doorway he turned back again. "Tel Aviv, Michael; I wish you could see it. The sun casts a golden light and the Mediterranean sparkles like a jewel as far as the eye can see. And at night, the city itself becomes its own sun. It never sleeps."
"It is not too late to see it again," Taylor said.
Dayan merely smiled emptily and walked out of sight.
Taylor turned back to his sightless view. It must have been even harder on the director, a man Earth born and stranded on a backwater colony for over twenty years. Being unable to communicate with his family when he had the capacity to do so—even to let them know that he was still alive. And now to learn that Earth faced annihilation, or was annihilated already
it would be enough to drive a man mad.
But then, this was not where Taylor had pictured himself at forty when he was a young man. He had always envisioned himself moving to Reach, even Earth, and entering politics. It had never mattered what position he would reach, only that he would make some tangible difference; for the UN was the place to make a difference. To see what it had been reduced to on Trento, three paper pushers and beggars of reluctant colonial dollars, brought him to great depths of despair.
He took another drink of his coffee. It was going to be a long day.