By Lucas Jeffrey
Artwork by Alli Rowe
I am not meant to speak. And they would have my tongue if they knew what I said.
Our space station is meant to monitor the colonization and development of the fifth planet from the Sun. I am not permitted to know the name of this planet.
I do know, from whispers I’ve overheard, that the planet is meant to be a government base. I do not know for which government, as there are many on the planets I’ve been.
My superiors know which government; my superiors know who will inhabit the planet. Thus, my superiors do not discuss it. They are expected to know, while I am expected to stand back; to sit still, quiet, and ready to serve if I am called upon.
I only know what I overhear. Which is why I listen for everything.
It is the seventh sol since I’ve arrived on this station. My previous posting, somewhere dark in the mines of the second planet from our star, has been mined raw. Consequently, I was sent here, to the fifth planet from our star.
It is the seventh sol. I begin my day like most others—rising well before my superiors, preparing their clothes, their meals, taking their agendas from the planners and holding them ready. When, eventually, my superiors wake, they take breakfast without thanking me. They discuss the days’ plans without a glance at me. I stand in the corner, ready to serve if called upon.
“I asked her why we haven’t completed even one building on the surface,” says one of my superiors—the tall, amber-skinned woman with the orange pin on her jacket. (I am not permitted to know the names of my superiors.) “She told me there’s been multiple problems. Equipment’s gone missing.”
Another superior—short, hair cropped, a green pin on her jacket—waves her hands around in translation. (I am not permitted to know what language is spoken with her hands.) Once she has finished, a third superior, male, dark-skinned like the first, also wearing an orange pin, nods. He waves his hands around in response.
“She doesn’t think it’s purposeful,” says the female orange-pin. “There might be organic life down there we didn’t notice before. Animals. They could be stealing the equipment.”
The green-pinned superior translates. The male orange-pin shakes his head and says something more with his hands.
“It isn’t a military target. Not yet, anyway.” The female orange-pin takes a long sip from a glass in front of her and then continues. “The people we’re posting there are kept secret, so Eirene is safe for the moment. It’s got to be organic life stealing the materials. Back on Canis Major, I dealt with extensive…”
I do not continue to listen to the female orange-pin, because the name Eirene has taken my attention completely. It is the first name I have ever heard my superiors mention. My nameless superiors. But they must have names. Eirene, then. Who is Eirene?
My superiors hurry through the rest of their meal and disperse for the day. I am assigned to help the male orange-pin, who retreats to his office and points to a spot square on the floor. This is where I am to stand until called upon again. I may not speak. I may not find relief in food or rest.
The male orange-pin begins reading on a glass slab. I presume it displays information, though I am not permitted to read. Nonetheless, the male orange-pin can, and his eyes are soon entrenched in the slab’s colors and symbols.
I find myself with nothing to do.
I have been trained to keep still and silent while on an assignment. And, after six thousand, two hundred, and twenty-two collective sols, this is easy to do. I tense my knees, then relax them, settling into a comfortable stance, and press my tongue firm against the roof of my mouth. I am not to speak. I am not to speak. I am to be still. I am to be still.
The name wedges into my mind again, and I realize it’s been there since the meal, hiding below my attention until it found the time to be right. Eirene. I want desperately to give thought to it; to peel through my memory, six thousand sols, and pinpoint when I have heard it before, but I have been trained to keep still and silent. I have been trained to pay attention. My superiors may need me.
It is the least I can do, then, to fixate my gaze on the window behind my superior’s desk. It is glass, thicker than the cots my superiors rest on, and surrounded by grey metal beams. I have seen many greys—it is the color of andesite, a rock I often carried during my posting on the second planet from our star—but this grey is deeper, more uniform. It is the color of this space station, and it houses the glass window.
I have been trained not to look beyond the glass. It is not what I am meant to do. But the name pushes me—Eirene—to move my eyes up—Eirene—against my will, against all I want to do—Eirene—and I find myself looking outside into space.
It is not desolate blackness, as I have heard my superiors state. Instead it is violet, the color of my uniform, and deep enough to drape over my eyes even when they are closed. Punctuating the violet is white, like the palms of my hands, and it hurts to train my eyes on. I realize it is the same fiery white of our star.
My gaze is pulled away from this violet, because beneath it all is the fifth planet from our star. The planet with a name I am not permitted to know. It is beautiful, as I know beauty to be—my superior once called himself beautiful, said his new uniform was beautiful, said it matched the color of his eyes—and this planet is the same color. Blue. Rich and wet, enough to drown me as I have heard can happen. It is not grey. Grey was not beautiful. Blue is beautiful.
I am pulled back when I see the male orange-pinned superior wave his arms in my face, and I realize I have neglected my purpose.
For the following eleven sols I am reassigned to polishing each superior’s slab with a cloth and a chemical that rubs my fingers raw. Eirene. Though I try to keep my mind from it, I cannot help but entertain thoughts of leaving behind my polishing materials. Eirene. When I idle between cleaning one slab and the next, or when I happen a glance at a passing superior, I consider what it would be like to go down to the planet below.
I am not meant to consider these things.
On the twelfth sol of polishing slabs, an alarm bounces through the space station, though I am not meant to pay it any mind. The only thing I should consider is the way I polish the slabs. Circular motions, around and around, until it is thoroughly cleansed.
The alarm, however, pierces my ears in a way I can’t ignore. I find it increasingly difficult to focus on my task, to rely on the training I’ve received—
I am not meant to look up. I am not meant to address any superiors, unless I am being reassigned to a different task.
I find myself looking up anyway. In front of me is a staggering woman, nearly seven feet tall, dressed in plain robes held together by a gold pin. I have never seen a gold pin. I am not meant to wonder what a gold pin is for, let alone speculate, and yet I feel the thoughts creep in regardless.
“I’m here to staff my post,” the woman continues, like I have not just broken several rules by looking up at her. “Could you help me find the way down?”
I say nothing.
This puzzles her. “Can’t you speak? I’m only trying to get to Eirene.”
The name, of course, shocks me out of my stupor, and I recall the reason I have been assigned to polishing slabs in the first place. I am meant to follow orders. I am meant to polish slabs. I am not meant to fraternize.
I am not meant to speak.
“Who is Eirene?” I ask.
“Who?” the woman asks, and she laughs, a sound long and hearty. “Eirene is the planet we’re orbiting. It’s the new government base. I’m stationed there.” Now she steps closer, and I am once again staggered by her size. She is taller than any superior I have ever seen. “What’s your name?”
“I don’t have one,” I manage to say.
Her face softens. “One day that’ll change. That’s why I’ve come to Eirene. I’m going to make things better for people like you.” She gives me a pat on the shoulder, a touch I’ve never felt in all six thousand sols I’ve worked, and then leaves.
She heads down to Eirene.