Author: David Barber

Over the generations, many scoundrels had sat in the Pilot’s chair, though folk said this one was the worst, presiding over the scandal of the dark decks, and the blight years of algae and roachcake. Now the corridors echoed with angry voices.

Men wearing the red sash of the Law guarded the Bridge, a show of strength in these troubled times. The Navigator, here to complain about the Church of Denial vandalising her telescope, was made to wait.

No one would guess this stern, clever woman had burst into tears when she realised it was the splintered mirror crunching beneath her feet.

Eventually she was shown into a room big enough for two families, where the Pilot lounged behind a desk. Navigator was an honorary post, of little importance, and he didn’t waste a smile on her.

Yes, he’d heard what happened.

She was so angry she hardly knew where to begin. Did he know that in the years since the remote telescope failed, the smaller instrument in the observatory – a barely adequate Cassegrain – had been their only means of observing Centauri?

The Pilot lost interest. He and this fusspot would be long dead before telescopes mattered.

“What do you want from me?”

That stopped her. Mirror grinding was a lost art. She’d wondered about binoculars, family heirlooms perhaps. But she’d come to complain and hadn’t finished yet.

“You promised a guard for the observatory,” she began, when the door burst open and Lawmen bundled a man into the room. He’d been roughly handled and there was blood on his face.

This was the Denier Prophet, who’d promised to lead his followers outside.

The Lawmen could barely restrain him. Instinctively she drew back from such passion.

The Pilot studied the man. “So you’re the one who claims this is a prison, and we’re trapped here by lies.”

He gestured at the Navigator. “And that telescopes are blasphemy.”

“While you promise we land in paradise tomorrow,” raged the Prophet.

The Pilot waved the Lawmen away.

“All that claptrap, yes,” he shrugged. “You know there are too many of us, that we barely manage. Do rules not apply to you?”

“Render unto…”

It was too much for the Navigator. “How can you preach the stars are just lamps hung in the dark?”

The Prophet turned his blazing gaze on her. “You wear the blue sash of Crew and are well fed. Peering down your telescope has made you blind. Look around you.”

“Madness to think all this is a trick…”

“A greater madness to believe you are imprisoned on an endless journey.”

“I could have shown you our destination,” she said bitterly.

A sly look crossed the Pilot’s face. “Lead your flock outside then, if that is what you believe. I can open the cargo lock.”

The Navigator was not sure why she trailed the Prophet and his jubilant followers to the vast cargo bay. She normally avoided these teeming shanties.

Outside, the faithful would find freedom and everything that was lacking here. This is what the Prophet preached. The huge inner door swung wide and the waiting crowd surged into the lock.

At his desk the Pilot shrugged. Fewer troublesome mouths to feed. At least it bought more time.

The Navigator was sure the Ship would arrive one day, that there would be a last auction of birthrights, an end to blights and dark decks. She believed in all that claptrap, though it would not happen in her lifetime.

As the door began to close, she could hear joyful singing. For a moment she envied them.