Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The priest wheezed on the other side of the confessional screen. It wasn’t uncommon. Cryogenia malathusmia. Freezer lung, we called it. Or the holy cough. Most people that traveled by cryo in the sleepships ended up with it. That meant that the priests had it.

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been six weeks since my last confession.” I started. I heard the priest let out a rattling sigh and shift position.

The priests believed that transporters stripped a person of their soul. When a body is transported, it is completely destroyed and then reassembled on the other end. Technically, you die. All holy men only traveled by cryoship. Popesicles, my dad called them.

“Twice I disobeyed my father this week and willfully looked the elder settler statues in the eye in the town’s main square. I have had wanton thoughts about two of the miners that came here for work. I was approached by the whorehouse manager and turned him down. He said he’d ask again on my fifteenth birthday. I was scared but also excited.”

I’ve never been anywhere except here. Newgodsville, Tantalina, Zeta-2KB7. A rock big enough for one town, my daddy used to say. Before he was killed in an evac when I was 8.

The priests wouldn’t hear the confessions of workers that were brought here by transporter which meant he didn’t hear a lot of people. We were far away from most systems but rich in tungsten ore. Mostly ‘porters with a few dollars to stake a claim came here, not sleepers. I’d heard that to get here, he’d been on one ship for nearly fifty years, sleeping in the cold. And I’d heard that this was his fifth posting. I’m not good at math but that meant he might be two hundred and fifty years old.

I found him handsome. That should have been part of my confession but I couldn’t ever tell him. That’s why I kept doing bad things so that I’d have to confess.

“I took the lord’s name in vain twice down by the river when I lost the washing. And I stole a toffee stick from the general store on my way here.”

Mustering up my courage, I stuck the toffee stick out and around the divider into his booth. After what seemed like half an hour, he took it. I heard him laugh on the other side of the screen and I heard him sigh as he put the toffee into his mouth.

“Thank you my child.” He said. “Say three hail marys and come back to see me whenever you want.”

Smiling, I pushed my curtain back and left the booth. I stepped into the green twilight of our never-dark night, Tantalina’s rings sweeping across the sky.

I skipped home.


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