All the Children Shall Lead: Prologue
by C. Marry Hultman
Wouldn’t it be great, if there was always a warning,
something simple as a Red Sky in the morning.
– Red Sky, Mark Chadwick
Sgt. Yasmin Singh watched the lights blink on her dashboard flash on and off in a kind of serene rhythm. This was her fourth tour in orbit around the blue planet, and as always, she found it most relaxing. Several of her comrades in the platoon detested patrol duty, and would more times than not be found sleeping at the controls but it was the only time she could settle down and be with her own thoughts. Maybe it was because she was out of her family’s gaze. Back at base, they would contact her several times a week, begging for details regarding things like if she had found a nice young army man to wed or how long she estimated she would remain in the military. Her parents couldn’t, however, reach her out here. Communication with the public was strictly prohibited. Space was nice and quiet, and the sole human interaction she had came at three-hour intervals when she would check in with Thatcher, the closest Commonwealth star port.
“Observation Pod Elvis Costello, this is the S/S Jeff Lynne. You should have us on visual in fifteen.” Her radio barked, and woke her from her rumination.
“Roger that, S/S Jeff Lynne,” she replied. “This is Sgt. Singh aboard O/P Elvis Costello. Nice to hear from you again.” She had never understood why the Commonwealth named their crafts after old classical musicians.
“Always a pleasure, Sgt. Singh. That time of year again,” Captain Kennedy replied. He was the one constant in Yasmin’s life out here.
“Field trip time again, I see,” she answered in coy fashion.
“The older kids always find this part a drag but the young ones love seeing The Birthplace.”
“It’s important to remember where we came from, Captain,” she said without a hint of sarcasm in her voice. It was a privilege lost on these kids that they might come this close to the once blue planet. Most people only saw pictures of the sphere pre-Exodus, and could not fathom the concept.
“I will keep an eye out for you,” she continued. “Until then, Captain.”
“It’s a living thing!” Kennedy answered back before the static from the radio turned to silence.
Yasmin had also never understood the custom the Commonwealth Captains followed when it came to quoting the namesakes of their ships. She had never once signed off or on by saying Radio, Radio or Veronica but her colleagues always did. Sighing, she turned around and glanced back at her blinking dials. She thought back to when she was at boarding school. The boon of having wealthy parents, combined with being puro, had given her all the advantages in life.
Those memories always lived with her as a wonderful time. At home, she was under the constant watchful gaze of her father, and there had always been a sense of decency and propriety. At St. Odo of Canterbury too, there were rules—and mentors to enforce them—but there was also a modicum of freedom. It was an unspoken rule that the students policed themselves to some extent, and this led to many of them being able to experience or learn things prohibited at home. Yasmin had kissed her first boy at ten. Had she lived at home, she would likely still be un-kissed. His name was Geoffrey McIntosh, a kid from a rich Irish family who had made their fortune in beer. He might have thought they would be a couple the remaining time at school but she was only ever in it for the experience.
She turned from her dials, displaying both her vitals and those of the Observation Pod, and swiveled her command chair to the large window overlooking Terra. Some days, she would catch herself staring at it, fixating on a spot and trying to imagine what it had been like all those years ago. The sun hid behind it now, giving it a halo like some ancient patron saint in one of those stained glass windows her parents had installed in their receiving room. Her patron saint. It felt odd to think along those lines. Her family still followed the ancient traditions of Hinduism but true to form, once the Commonwealth had emerged, the religion incorporated both Christian and Muslim doctrine and figures. It was an ever-changing melting pot, just like the old Indus Valley.
Now, the S/S Jeff Lynne was coming into view. The school vessel was huge. It carried hundreds of privileged students on a voyage that took just about a month, and still needed to entertain and teach all forms during that time. It had, therefore, a full crew comprised of caterers, tutors, and maintenance personnel. She had been on that ship herself every year from ages six to 18, and while the voyage had become increasingly dull as she approached graduation, it was still always something to look forward to more than going home to live under her parents’ watchful eye during the holidays.
The ship became larger as it came closer to her position, and as it did, a light became brighter and brighter. At first, she thought nothing of it but blinked a few times because she couldn’t focus anymore. She shielded her eyes with her hand but whatever the source of the light was would not diminish. She let her gaze leave the ship to wherever it was coming from, when without warning, a white, intense light obscured her entire field of vision. It was so painful she was forced to look away and close her eyes but it didn’t help. The light seemed to bounce off the walls inside her little station, and she cried out in pain as it continued to bathe her whole existence.
To Be Continued …
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C. Marry Hultman is a teacher, writer and, sometimes podcaster who is equal parts Swede and Wisconsinite. He lives with his wife and two daughters and runs W.A.R.G. – The Guild podcast, dedicated to interviewing authors about their creative process. In addition to that, he runs the website Wisconsin Noir – Cosmic Horror set in the Dairy State where he collects short fiction and general thoughts.