Author : Martin Berka
‘Ebra drifted down the hallway, the candle hanging by a string from her wrist. It gave no warmth, a blessing: even in the far-ship’s state of efficiency, ambient heat was plentiful. It barely gave light either, which was fine by the bearer, but since this was fading to nothing, she would have to get more, or be blind. By its weakening glow, she checked the last stasis pod in the corridor, and via the hub, moved to the sun-room. In ‘Ebra’s shaded mind, dull revulsion sparred with a rare excitement.
She pulled herself along through a sharply-angled, ever-narrowing maze of bulkheads and emergency shutoffs. The candle had served well, but it died now, leaving the watchkeeper in darkness. Fortunately, she now saw the light of the sun-room. Creeping along the wall, she turned on every filter in her goggles and made sure her block was holding up. Half-gripping, half-sliding along the wall, careful not to damage the ubiquitous solar collectors, she approached the single heavily filtered window to the outside world.
Tenebra peeked out at the world below, visible as the barest curve of the here-sun’s light, fleshed out by occasional flickers on the surface. Up close, those flickers would hold one’s attention for the rest of a short life: the here-planet was fierce, wild, as far as such living adjectives could apply to a body of nearly-molten rock, and made Venus seem tame, as far as such a domestic word could apply to the home-sun’s renowned probe-killer.
Yet from orbit, the here-planet’s dull, red inner glow was overshadowed by its horizon, so bright that ‘Ebra had already turned away, covering her eyes with one arm and using the other to propel herself backward, out of the sun-room. Despite her precautions, the after-image of the here-sun’s rays, searing light along a dark arc, filled her vision for a few dozen rapid heartbeats.
No one had told Tenebra exactly what went wrong with the far-flight; her darkness was the solitary sort that never sought attention, that never bothered brighter sparks. The far-ship was suddenly in need of fuel and repairs, using a twilight orbit around a death-planet to draw maximum energy from a bright-star, while avoiding radiation. The batteries were charging, the robots were on the here-planet, somehow staying ahead of attrition, and the far-seekers could be on their way in a few years, if enough energy could be harnessed. Almost boring, until they ran out of spare stasis pods.
Tenebra returned to deeper parts, the candle at its brightest in weeks. A few seconds of the here-sun’s light, even so greatly reduced, were always enough.
She thought back: she could have done the job without looking, without the sheer brightness. Even the home-star’s light had burned her too-bright skin, driving her to the dark of space. But she had risked the pain, now and every time before. Ideas were defined by their opposites, and darkness needed light to know itself. Now, back to the solitude of minimum power and light, sufficiency, watching over a ghost-ship. As others rested unconscious, to pass time, Tenebra also rested, having the time of her life, in darkness.
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