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Morning chill

Meha sat by the warmth of the boiler before the suns rose. She knew the orange sky lay somewhere up above the glow of the mist, and the Burnt Sea lay somewhere below it. Pulling her knees closer to her chin, she remembered flying before.

It had been a righteous cause, everyone knew it, or at least acted like they did. She remembered wondering how God could be that bad to someone He loved. However, their Red Seraph, the sum of all beauty, had shared in excruciating detail, how He had betrayed their intimate union, leading to her heartbreak. Her dark rage became their dark rage, her hatred of God became their hatred, and they had vowed to fight for her whatever it took.

Meha shivered, not from the cold, for the heat from the metal radiating at her back fought that off, but she shook from the memory of boarding one of the great engines of destruction, an Emotion Amplifier as big as a city. The ground had shaken as it moved into position with the shock troops and support staff crammed on board. Standing on a box she had moved behind others, she had strained to see their beloved Seraph. All she had been able to spy, though, was a fountain of red energy emerge from where the Red Seraph stood, as Meha’s world faded from view and everything moved sideways.

Then everything stopped with a jolt as she lay gasping for breath inside the hull, ringing like it had been struck by a gigantic hammer. She’d never traveled through the Divide from her beloved Hades to another realm before. The whole brief experience shocked her, body and soul. Others had started to move around her, some lay deathly still. Someone helped her up, and her training had kicked in as she moved towards her assigned area.

Later, they had gathered together in a vast hanger bay within the Emotion Amplifier structure. Rows of airship transports, with their H-shaped frames capped with ________ engines, lined the walls. As many as could fit stood before and under the transports, squeezed in so tightly that the ventilation system had become overwhelmed, the air stifling in the heat generated by their bodies.

Their leader, a big man in full battle gear, had stepped up onto a platform, surveying the army of Hades. She remembered his moving words.

Fellow Hadites

“Men and women, fellow Hadites, you face a blistering ordeal, one that will test the metal of all who stand here this day. We have landed on Hala, on a shallow shelf of their Great Sea, which our engines of dark energy have displaced into the null void. Halans are mind talkers. If they come within 500 feet of you, they will walk through your minds and you will slit your own throats by your own hand. From beyond that distance, they are still formidable foes, skilled with the bow. Do not underestimate them or you will die.

“However, through the genius of Her Majesty, we have landed where the enemy never expected and the element of surprise is ours,” he had continued, changing direction on the platform. “And it will take them some weeks to mount defense. In the meantime, our forces will set a perimeter and ready the Emotion Amplifiers for our advance on their Seraph’s Sanctuary in the north. Logistics will support these efforts. The Tech Wizard’s mind shields will protect us within a limited range of our generators, but do not venture beyond the perimeter set by your captains.”

Pausing dramatically, he had looked hard at all those who gazed up at him, until no one could take the baited moment any longer. Then he shouted, “Serve Beauty well and live!” His voice made their blood run hotter than the red stone beneath them. “Avenge Beauty’s honor with your lives!” Lifting up his arm and fist he had shouted, “For Beauty! For Hades!”

Everyone then, swept up into a frenzy of patriotic passion, their chant reverberating off the walls of the huge hanger, had shouted again and again in unison, “For Beauty! For Hades!”

How blind

How wrong they’d been, how blind.

It took nearly three weeks, instead of one as they had been told, for the heat to dissipate enough to even set foot on the sea bed, which had turned into volcanic basalt. After finally being able to disembark, they had barely a week to prepare before the first of many attacks came. As they worked outside setting up support facilities, the sky had darkened and a sudden shower of arrows had fallen upon them like the wrath of God. Meha remembered the pain as a razor sharp bolt grazed her face and another gashed her thigh, causing her to scream and buckle, blood flowing. Others ran, screaming and dying all around her, as she’d limped towards the nearest vehicle and slid underneath it, while others looked up, wide-eyed, at death raining down from above. Having crawled further underneath the wheels of the transport, Meha curled into a tight ball and cried as she bled. Somehow, she had taken her belt off, tying it around her leg above her wound, pulling it tight as her teeth ground hard.

The great generators, the engines of the Emotion Amplifiers, had roared to life as those that had been able to took shelter underneath them. Slowly, the two huge machines rumbled over the newly-created stone of what had now become the Burnt Sea, rolling forward as the soldiers sang the Song of Fire, the Song of Beauty.

It took hours for the two great lumbering machines to fade from her view. By that time a medic had found her, zipping up her wound with their med-tech, shooting her full of pain suppressant, and she had gone back to work.

She couldn’t remember how many died that day, no one bothered to tell her. She just knew she never saw many of her friends again, ever.

Wanting the change things

The Forest Warden, Komae, had been trying to be nice to her for weeks, but Meha distrusted her motives. Why had the tall Halan spared her in the first place? After what her people had done to the Halans’ planet? Their beloved forests? She had decided that Halans did not, in fact, eat the Hadites they caught, that much was plain. It made no sense, though, Komae’s story about wanting to change things. That was-

“Good morning, Meha,” Fallon’s voice surprised her as she walked up the ship’s deck towards her.

Meha looked up at the sweet face of the Edenite. Why can’t they all be like you? she wondered. “Hello, Miss Fallon.”

“May I sit by you? It’s cold this morning.”

Scooting over, Meha watched the young woman sit beside her, rubbing her hands together.

“Brrr. . ” Fallon said, her arms folding around her legs, pulling them, like Meha, close to her body. “Who would’ve thought that a planet with two suns could be so chilly?” She chuckled, looking over at Meha. “Have you had breakfast?” she asked.

Meha shook her head. Her stomach was still upset and she had not wanted food today. “I don’t like flying.”

Silent for a moment, both women looked into the sky as the first sun began to rise in the east, its pale light making the mist brighten.

“Can I ask you a question?” Meha ventured.

“Sure,” Fallon said, turning to look at her.

Tell me about Eden

“What’s your home like, Eden?”

“Well, now,” Fallon sighed, “that’s a question ’bout as big and wide as a prairie morning! There is a lot that I don’t know. The earth – uh, Eden – is so big! But, I can tell you some things I do know about.”

Meha sat and listened as she chattered about slow, winding rivers, churches, birthdays, the prairie, rainstorms, peach pie, and babies.

“What are ‘babies’?” Meha asked.

“You know, babies, little people when they are first born,” Fallon said.

“No, I don’t know. Hadites don’t have babies.”

She watched Fallon’s face go from a wide-eyed disbelief to a look of shock when she apparently realized Meha was serious.

“Then…” Fallon asked slowly, “where did you come from? Who’s your mother and father?”

“We don’t have those, if you mean what I think you’re saying. Animals have young, but we don’t. We were all created very long ago.”

Fallon fell silent, looking at her, then back out to the sky, then back at her, making Meha wonder if she’d said something wrong.

“So, you were never small?” Fallon asked.

Meha shook her head. She looked out into the orange sky as it began to brighten above her. Eden sounded like a good place, better than here, and Fallon said the sky was blue! Even though it seemed kind of animalistic, she actually liked the thought of babies, small people that loved you. “How do you get a baby?” Meha asked, now becoming very interested in this baby thing.

Fallon stared at her, eyes wide, “Well,” she said, clearing her throat. “When a man and a woman love each other…” her voice trailed off.

“Yes?”

Baby talk

Taking a deep breath, Fallon explained what happened when two people coupled, and how that produced a baby.

Meha understood coupling, she experienced that all the time. In this horrible Hala place, it had become just something you did to survive, especially if you were a woodcutter and wanted to eat or have a place to sleep for the night. After the war, the surviving Hadites on Hala had split into warring tribes. Women had become the property of the tribes, so anyone who wanted a woman was free to have her on demand. When it happened, you had to be appreciated, given money or something else of value. Most men were quick and efficient, but she disliked the female acolytes of the high priestesses and their painful rituals. “Yes, then what?” Meha inquired further.

“Um…” Fallon pulled her legs in closer to her body. “Well, the baby grows inside you. Your belly grows to be about this big,” She stretched her legs back out and made a round motion with her hands, outlining how large a pregnant belly could become.

“Wow. Just like animals. How long does it take for you to make one?”

“Well, about 9 months.”

Stunned, Meha asked, “It stays in there all that time? How does it eat?”

“I’m not sure,” Fallon said. “I just know that it gets all it needs from you, the momma, until it comes out, then you feed it on the outside.”

“You mean meat?”

“No, um, you feed it milk – from your breasts. Your breasts make milk and the baby nurses here,” she said, resting her hand on her breast.

Meha marveled. She thought about horses and their colts as she sat still digesting the new information, replacing her chin on her knees, realizing what Fallon was saying. Funny, she’d never even considered the whole subject before now, but even though it seemed strange, it began to make sense to her. Looking at Fallon, Meha said, “I would like to have a baby.”

Fallon laughed a little and smiled, resting her hand on top of Meha’s. “Me too,” she said, “me too…” as they both watched the second sun rise over the ship’s railing into an orange sky.

Hymn of the Cherubim by Sergei Rachmaninov

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