Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Laury Hubrich, on her blog, His Mercies Are New. Laury should hopefully have the Linky tool up by the time you get there.
This week, the plot thickens in Maelstrom’s Eye, Part 3. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’m enjoying the rewrite.
Dissidents gathered today around the so-called “Cult Crater” located near Keseechewun Lake in the northern Saskatchewan region. The protest, scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the destruction of the separatist cult compound by Maelstrom four years ago, was not authorized by Western Coalition officials. Security Forces, sent in to disperse the demonstration, reported minimal resistance from the assembled dissidents, although a few needed to be physically subdued. Citizens are reminded that the Keseechewun Crater is off-limits to unauthorized personnel, as Coalition scientists are still studying the long-term effects from the impact of the 35 meter projectile on the region.
Carl stepped into the house and glanced around. The basic layout was a mirror-image of his home, but the similarities stopped there. While his walls were a bare, neutral sand color, the Santos home sported copious photographs on pale blue walls. Some were of Celia and Guillermo, and another young woman that he assumed must be Catalina. Other, much older photographs were mingled among the obviously more recent images, and offered a tantalizing glimpse into a family history he could only guess about.
While his living room contained a plain couch and end table, the Santos living room was surrounded by a couch, love seat, and several chairs. More photographs stood in frames on the end tables, and a large Bible rested open in the center of the coffee table. A basketful of toys was tucked back into one corner, and a ceiling fan spun over the center of the room. The overall effect was warm and welcoming. Once upon a time, I lived in a home, too, instead of just staying in a house.
Celia came through the doorway to his right, wearing a brightly colored, full length apron. “Ah, good. You made perfect timing,” she said. “We’re just putting dinner on the table. Would you prefer water, tea, or coffee to drink?”
“Water, please,” he answered. “Coffee and tea just keep me awake all night.”
They entered the dining room, where Guillermo handed the box of tomatoes to Celia. She took the box into the kitchen, and returned a couple of minutes later with a handful still showing drops of water from being freshly washed.
She indicated a chair. “You can sit here, Mr. Anders.”
He sat down, and scooted closer to the table. “I can understand if you prefer to keep things more formal at work, but for tonight, could you just call me Carl?”
She smiled. “Of course, Carl.”
Guillermo poked his head into the kitchen. “Catalina, come out and meet our guest. Sé cortés, mi’ja.”
The other woman entered the dining room, carrying a covered dish with oven-mitted hands. “Sí, Papa. I kinda have my hands full, though.”
“This is our neighbor, Carl Anders,” Guillermo said. “Carl, this is my other daughter, Catalina.”
“Hi,” Catalina said, just before disappearing back into the kitchen.
Carl turned at a nudge from the side of his chair, and found himself staring into a small, grinning face. “Uh, hi,” he said to the boy.
“This is my grandson, Jimmy,” Guillermo said, with a beaming smile. “Jimmy is Catalina’s son.”
“You are the man with the funny legs?” Jimmy asked.
“Jimmy, no seas grosero,” Guillermo said.
The boy looked sheepish. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay,” Carl said. “Yes, I’m the man with the funny legs.” He pulled up one pants leg. “Do you want to see them?”
Jimmy dropped down to look. “How’d you get them?”
“I got them when I lost my real legs in an accident.”
“What kind of accident?”
“A construction accident.”
Jimmy popped back up with wide-eyed wonder. “You were in space? Like an as’ronaut?”
“Yeah, like an ‘as’ronaut.’ We were building something in orbit.”
“What were you building?”
He sighed before answering. “Maelstrom.”
“Jimmy, that is enough questions. Go wash your hands for dinner,” Guillermo said. His voice was low and serious.
The little boy looked disappointed. “Sí, abuelito.” He ran out of the dining room.
“The questions really didn’t bother me,” Carl said.
Guillermo kept his voice low. “How could you have worked on that, that thing? That monstrosity?”
Celia stared at him with a look of confusion. “You never told me,” she said.
“It’s not exactly my favorite memory,” he said.
“It is nothing but a killing machine,” Guillermo went on. “Is that the kind of man you are?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Then why? Why would you work on something like that?”
He closed his eyes and swallowed. I knew I should have just stayed home. “It was a job.”
“A job building an abomination.”
“We didn’t know.”
“How could you not know?” Celia asked. While Guillermo’s tone had turned accusatory, hers seemed perplexed.
“We weren’t supposed to know. The less we knew, the less chance we might say something that wasn’t cleared to be released.” He took a deep breath. “I went to vocational training after High School, and when the course was just about finished, this corporate recruiter showed up and offered those of us who had done well a chance for additional training. He promised us the training would be covered, and we’d get a paycheck during the training period as well. If we completed the training, we would have a guaranteed job for three years minimum, at nearly four times the pay we could expect from any other job we were qualified for otherwise.” He shifted in the chair. “All we had to do was follow directions, and respect that we couldn’t be told too much about what we were working on. At the time, it seemed like a reasonable condition for a job that was beyond anything we expected.”
Guillermo looked doubtful. “You must have had some idea what you were building.”
“We knew we were building an orbital station of some sort for the Security Forces, but they kept the various crews isolated from each other, so that we couldn’t compare notes and maybe figure out more than we were supposed to.”
“So, how do you know it was Maelstrom?” Celia asked.
“It’s the only thing in orbit that big,” Carl said. “The accident ended my involvement about a year before it was completed, but I don’t think any of us had a clue what it was until they turned that little settlement in Saskatchewan into a kilometer wide crater without warning.”
“There were families in that settlement,” Guillermo said. “Hundreds of children lived there.”
“I know,” Carl said.
“Bastante,” Celia said. “Papa, let us have dinner in peace.”
“I should probably just go home,” Carl said. He started to stand up.
“Please, sit down; you are our guest.” She looked at her father. “It is not for us to hold you responsible for the decisions made by the government, is it, Papa?”
The older man appeared to deflate just a bit. “No, of course not. Forgive my rudeness, please.”
Jimmy ran back in with the front of his shirt wet, and hopped into one of the chairs. His mother came in with a sippy-cup, and placed it in front of him before taking her seat.
Guillermo took his chair at the head of the table, and waited until Celia sat down opposite Carl. “Celia, mi’ja, would you say the blessing tonight?”
“Yes, Papa,” she said, and bowed her head.
Carl stared at the empty plate in front of him, barely hearing the words she prayed. Guillermo’s words echoed louder in his mind. Hundreds of children lived there.
He swallowed back the emotions. Hundreds of children died there.
to be continued...