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My name is Oichi Angelis, and I am a worm. I exist in the outer skin of the Generation Ship Olympia, and I spend most of my time squeezing through its utility tunnels, doing work for the Executives. I am partially deaf, dumb, and blind. That I am not entirely so is my greatest secret. It is the reason I was able to kill Ryan Charmayne two hours after curfew, inside Lock 212.
Don’t feel bad for Ryan. He was there to commit murder, too. He thought he was going to bump off a rival who was using Lock 212 to rendezvous with a mole from his inner circle. The fact that Ryan didn’t know who the mole was may have been the reason he didn’t order someone else to do the killing, but it wasn’t the only reason he came in person. Ryan enjoyed the dirty work. He just couldn’t afford to stoop to it as often as he would like, considering his lofty position in the House of Clans.
Curfew doesn’t apply to Executives, so Ryan roamed at will. His brethren rarely had business in the tunnels where we wormy folk live; he felt sure no one would see him. He hardly seemed to mind that it was cold enough to make his breath condense into mist as he marched through the tangle of narrow corridors.
I felt a grudging admiration. If only his character were as fine as his sense of direction.
The air locks in Sector 200 are massive; they were built to accommodate cargo ships. They possess an odd, almost Gothic beauty because of their vaulted ceilings and curved outer doors. They’re the only wide-open spaces most worms can access on Olympia. Their grandeur inspires me.
Air locks inspired Ryan for a different reason. He had used them (sometimes secretly, sometimes with official approval) to kill people. Lock 212 was a bit too grand for his purpose—after all, you just needed something big enough to spit someone into the void—but it had the advantage of being isolated. Olympia hadn’t received a cargo ship in many years, so Executives had no reason to come here. And it wasn’t the sort of place they liked to slum. The worms were all in their burrows, so he had the place to himself.
He slowed his pace when he saw the inner door. It was open, which is against regulations. If the outer door suffered a catastrophic breach, depressurization would occur until the emergency doors spun shut. The inner doors shut within ten seconds under those circumstances, but that was all it would take to suck a bunch of people and equipment out the door. Ryan didn’t give a damn about the potential loss of life, but if there’s one thing that will piss an Executive off, it’s a broken rule. Disapproval was clear on his face, until it gave way to curiosity. After all, he had two goals: to kill the rival and to find out who the mole was. They must be somewhere inside, plotting, and that also must be why they had left the door open.
I wondered why he didn’t smell the blood. I smelled it from my position. I’m a Servant, and the Executives believe they control everything I see and hear. All worms share this modification; it’s implanted into our brains. But for some reason, they never thought to control what I smell, taste, or feel. I would have been able to smell the blood even before I entered the lock, but he didn’t react until he saw his rival’s body.
He looked surprised. Then his mask of Executive serenity slipped back into place. I’m guessing that he wondered if the mole wasn’t working both sides—maybe the traitor had decided to stick with him after all. But he couldn’t trust a guy like that; he needed to know who it was. He had hoped to find his rival and the mole together.
And he had, though he didn’t know it yet. Because I was the mole.
I wanted him to come farther inside the lock. His curiosity warred with his caution, but I had gambled he would be fascinated by the wet stuff. My bet paid off.
The lock was so huge, you could have fit several hundred people in there. Giant machines sat on claws and treads around the periphery, and cables hung from the ceiling. He paused and listened for a long moment. Unlike mine, his hearing was normal. But in this case, that was his undoing, because I’m modified to be as silent as a statue.
Finally he walked across the floor, the heels of his fine boots sparking echoes. He knelt beside the body of Percy O’Reilly, his former best friend and nemesis, and placed his finger on Percy’s throat. A casual observer might have thought he was feeling for a pulse. He was merely touching the blood. His expression revealed disappointment, not triumph. He wanted to have been the one who killed Percy, and to have enjoyed taunting him as he did it.
He regarded the smear of blood on his finger. Perhaps he wanted to taste it, but I didn’t give him the chance. I closed the inner door.
Ryan jumped. He made a halfhearted attempt to run to it, but gave it up as futile. Anyone else would have run to it anyway. They would have tried to work the controls to get it to open again. But Ryan had played that game with his own victims. He knew the door wouldn’t open for him.
I would have run for one of the utility lockers. They’re full of pressure suits, and we worms make sure their air tanks are full. The outer door takes sixty seconds to respond to an order to open if the lock has not been depressurized first, and he could have made it to the lockers by then. He could have shut himself inside one of them, or in one of the machine cockpits. But I know that because I’m a worker.
Ryan could only think like an Executive. “You’re messing with the wrong man,” he barked as he turned in a circle, searching for his hidden enemy. Then he heard me descending from the cables, and he looked up.
The anger in his face gave way to wonder. I was plugged into Medusa, and I’m sure he had never seen anything like her. No one is supposed to know how to activate her, and no one is supposed to have the modifications for the brain interface.
I knew how. I had slipped inside her suit and had her tentacles stretching and flexing as if they were made of flesh instead of biometal. I hovered over Ryan until Medusa’s face was inches from his. What I saw through her eyes was far more than what I could have seen with my own. What I heard through her ears was the wild beating of his heart.
“Who are you?” he asked.
I didn’t answer, though I had things I wanted to say to him.
“I think I need to offer you a job,” he said. “I’ll make it worth your while. I could use someone with your talent.”
That was nonsense, of course. Ryan’s grandmother, Lady Sheba Charmayne, had written the Right to Work Rules. Only the Executive clans were rewarded for their work. Everyone else worked for just enough food to survive, just enough heat not to freeze.
I activated my voice. It was a voice Ryan knew well, because it was his favorite.
When I serve the Executives, they don’t control what I say, but when I’m in their presence, they control what voice I use. They can make me sound any way they want. They have a variety of voices from which to choose. The one Ryan likes best is the Magic Kingdom voice. It is remarkably cheerful.
“You must be that new girl from Shantytown,” I said.
He frowned. I think he felt insulted because he thought I was calling him a girl. I was disappointed that he didn’t recognize the very speech he had delivered to me not long after I began work as a Servant. Granted, he had said it to me six years before, and a lot had happened since then. But I had hoped he would recognize the derogatory term. Shantytown was the name he and his fellow Executives had used for Olympia’s sister vessel, Titania. Titania had once been as grand and glorious as Olympia, until Ryan’s father, Baylor Charmayne, pirated as many of her supplies as he could get his hands on—and then blew her up with two hundred thousand people aboard.
My parents were among the people who died on Titania. I wasn’t there, because I had come to Olympia to work as a Servant. I was attractive enough to please their eyes, and I was willing to undergo the modifications. I had hoped to earn enough credits to move my parents to Olympia.
Those first cycles as a Servant, I stood behind the banquet tables in the home of Baylor Charmayne and reacted instantly and smoothly to the needs of his uber-privileged guests. My face was deadened so I couldn’t show any expression. That’s so I wouldn’t offend them or make them uncomfortable by looking shocked, grieved, angry, amused, or annoyed by anything they said or did when I served them. If we are serene and our voices are pleasant, they can concentrate on the very important work they do. They can relax during their leisure time and forget about the multitude of responsibilities with which they are burdened.
Ryan behaved himself while his clan elders were watching, but he eventually cornered me in a service tunnel after one of my work cycles. He believed himself to be handsome, because he was tall and athletic, and he had lustrous black hair. The Charmaynes were well known for their great hair. But his charm did not persuade me, so he was forced to pin me against the wall. He couldn’t grope me, because my uniform was too stiff, the material too thick. So he bit my lip until it bled.
While a doctor was patching my lip, I used one of my secret modifications to link in to the communication network and call my parents on Titania. That’s when I found out Titania wasn’t there anymore.
Six years later, I held Ryan in my tentacles among the shadows in Lock 212. I placed my gloved hands on either side of his face. It must have felt like a caress—the gloves are supple, though they can withstand void conditions. “How about a kiss, little Shantytown girl?” I said with my Magic Kingdom voice. “You’re not going to say no, are you? Shantytown girls who say no can find themselves on the wrong side of an air lock.”
There was a glimmer of understanding in his eyes. He might not remember that those were the exact words he had once said to me—it was one incident in a lifetime of fun he had enjoyed at the expense of people who couldn’t fight back. But he wasn’t stupid. When I said Shantytown girl, I gave him a clue about my status in life. He seemed hopeful he could use it against me.
“You’ll pay for this,” he said. But I guessed he was talking about what I had already done. He still hadn’t realized what I was going to do. Not until the alarm for the outer door sounded.
I held him tight—I didn’t want him to fly out the door. Medusa’s tentacles locked us both in place as the air rushed past us, taking Percy O’Reilly with it.
Death by exposure to void takes less time than you might think. Air will immediately vent from the higher-pressure environment of your lungs, out your nose and mouth. Because of that, you lose consciousness pretty quick. So Ryan didn’t struggle that long.
I held him that way for a while. The light of the Hella system poured into the air lock, lending the scene a sacred quality. To me, it was sacred. Those grand air locks were the only places where I felt the presence of God. I wondered if Ryan had felt him, too.
I took Ryan’s body to the open door. With my modified vision, I could gaze directly at Hella Major. I had never seen a sun that close—in person, so to speak. It didn’t look like the big yellow sun I had often seen in tutorials about the Homeworld. We were over 9.0 astronomical units away from it, yet it still looked like a sun instead of a distant point of light. Unfortunately, Hella Major was between Olympia and its binary partner, but it was still a glorious sight. Only one star rivaled it in the field visible through that grand lock: Charon, a third companion to the Hellas, influenced by them but distant enough to host its own planets. Within the next couple of years, Charon would dominate the view, and the Hellas would recede.
I turned Ryan to face Charon and gave him a big push. He and Olympia were going the same speed, but their paths diverged as Olympia continued her journey to the star toward whose system we are faithfully bound.
He must be floating there still.
I no longer have my natural eyes, so I generate few tears. But I shed one as I closed the outer door and bade farewell to Medusa, who went back to her lair. I didn’t cry out of pity for Ryan, but I couldn’t say it was for joy, either. I think it may have been for the sheer terror and beauty of what I had seen—and done. The music that played in my head then was Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
Its theme could have been sung by a monk raising his voice to heaven in a lonely cathedral, but it was written to be performed by two string orchestras. The first few notes are plucked on the strings; they sound like dawn spreading its arms over the edge of a world—something I have dreamed but never seen. And when those strings are played with bows, they evoke the voices of a celestial choir. Soloists emerge from time to time to lend the music a human quality, and then the other instruments join together again in a swell of passion that transcends mortal limitations.
I’m sure Ryan would not have understood how I felt when I listened to the Fantasia. My father was the chief advocate for the preservation of classical music from our past, and my father failed in that mission.
Or he seemed to fail. Because when I immigrated to Olympia, I brought more than my toothbrush. I brought technology entrusted to me by my parents. That technology is the reason Ryan Charmayne had to die.
Perhaps you think I killed him for revenge? Not at all. Ryan died because he was trying to shoot down Lady Charmayne’s Music in Education initiative. Music was a tool of discipline, not inspiration, according to Ryan. He wanted to make the point that his father, Baylor Charmayne, was a wimp who was afraid to defy a mother who was long dead.
Ryan had never heard a note of that music. But that didn’t matter to him—or to me. His stupid obstruction of the bill mattered. That opposition died with him, and Lady Charmayne’s (posthumously stated) will prevailed.
I returned to my duties, though I had long since stopped posing as a Servant. I spied on Baylor Charmayne and his cronies. I was watching when he learned that his son had disappeared. He eyed Clan O’Reilly, and they returned the favor. The Executives have very good reasons to suspect each other of murder and treachery. But no accusation was spoken out loud.
Within ten rest–work cycles, Baylor rallied the House to pass the Music in Education bill, dedicating it to his son’s memory, and every child on Olympia was implanted with the vast library of classical and folk music that my father had so lovingly compiled and preserved. The Executives congratulated each other for their foresight, never suspecting what else had been implanted along with that noble music.
No one will ever know how hard my father worked to preserve the music he truly loved, that he believed to be one of the truest connections to a past that was lost to us. He would have done so even without the communication biotech hidden inside that database. Everyone will believe Lady Charmayne designed the music education program, even though that idea never would have crossed her mind. She knew little about music. Her true ambitions were utterly heartless.
She was the chief architect of our misery. But if I have my way, no one will remember her that way.
No one will know what she was really planning.
Copyright © 2018 by Emily Devenport