Nov 21, 2022 • 13M

Ithaka: Chapter Five

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Welcome back to The Listening Room for a reading of “Ithaka”.

In chapter 4, our investigators landed on the desolate planet of Helios. Anaella’s strange encounter with Minos lingers while the pair find a hidden colony and meet a stranger.


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5.

Anaella, Kane, and Tory descended a series of platforms to the ground below. The tiny humps they saw from the crater edge were homes formed of the planet’s earth and water constructed into oblong dwellings with doors at each end. At the side of each pod was a small chute that emptied into a locked receptacle. Between them was a pipe with a biometric pad affixed above it.

“Why does each apartment have its own bin?”
“So they can search it.”
“Who is ‘they’?”

Tory pointed to an illuminated sign at the corner, perched atop a thick, sturdy spine of gray metal. Inside it’s border was a lowercase I with a sloped top and floating orb above it.

“What is that?” Anaella asked.
“Icon. They own everything.”

Tory pulled a twisted piece of metal from their pocket and scurried beside a locked bin, their eyes darting in all directions. They slipped the metal into the lock and wiggled it from side to side, slowing advancing it in. With a final loud click, the door fell open and it’s contents fell onto the lid. Anaella sifted through crumbled food wrappers and cups.

“We should be able to get DNA. We can at least find out if he has family here,” she whispered.
“Do you have some water we could take with us?” Kane asked.
Tory nodded. “Just don’t touch the scanner.”

A solitary drop dangled from the spigot. Kane quickly pulled out a tube to catch it. Another drop swelled and fell in.

“Quickly!”

Kane lightly tapped the pipe and a few more drops labored in.

“Let’s go!”

They snuck back into the shadow of a nearby tool shed, though they’d seen no one except Tory the entire descent. They ducked through passageways and down the sides of eerily quiet streets as Tory led them to the outskirts of the village.

Rising like an imposing sentinel at a far end was the glittering straw-colored wall of the quarry where they extracted the metal from stone.

The group snuck through a service door and into an abandoned section of the mine with a walled off railway track. They sat on a ledge near a hanging, caged bulb. Tory removed their gloves and suit to reveal a lithe body draped in tattered shades of gray.

“It’s called zelium. Comes out of the mine in sheets. The biggest deposits so far have already been removed. We’re doing finer work in some tunnels to the next major crater.”

“Why are you helping us?” Kane asked.

Tory chuckled and let their head fall to one side. They peered out of narrowed eyes.

“I’ll be caught at some point for impersonating a guard. You came up on the sensors just as I was headed out there. I would have made my way out and caught a ship to your planet. At least that was the plan.”

Tory’s dewy face glistened under the single bulb. They looked up at it in silence, then to Anaella and Kane.

“I don’t know if you can put an end to this. It seems like humanity always ends up this way: one man’s life force feeds another’s children. And his sons feed the children’s children.”

They all sat silent listening to the distant clang of machines.

“We’re many here on Helios. I don’t even know how many. All kinds of people from anywhere you can imagine. We work day and night with just enough sleep. The routine keeps us focused on the routine.”

“Was our man part of the routine?” Kane asked.
“Yeah,” Tory said, with a fondness in their eyes.
“Do you know why he died?”
“No. Not really. I just know he was on the verge of something big.”
“Come with us, at least. We’ll take you to Minos. People have to know what’s happening.”
“No.”
“No?!” Kane cried.
“Just tell Earth what’s happening.”
“Why Earth?”
“Icon made a promise that they’d find a suitable planet since Earth was becoming uninhabitable. The US government poured billions in to pay for that innovation. Other countries followed. There’s a lot in between I don’t know. I was too young at the time to understand the stories the old folks were telling. I’ve lived my whole life out here. All I know is that as a show of good faith, they brought back some soil from the mines and it flourished on Earth. Did you see it?” Tory smiled.

“We did. Around where the body lay.”
“Well, that was enough to convince people to keep it going. Icon came out here and secretly colonized your planet—“
“It’s not a secret we’re here,” Anaella said.
“You think so? You’re part of the lie.”
“What is being built with this metal?” Kane asked sternly.
“Warships. They’ll invade Earth under the banner of an alien invasion and the whole planet will surrender to the single company that saved them.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I learned it from the man who’s unclaimed body is on your planet. Let’s get you his name.”

The pair were led through an underground labyrinth of tunnels and low lying passages until they reached a riveted metal door.

In a few minutes, the lock was undone and Tory led them inside a room with aisles of file cabinets. Inside each alphabetized drawer were records of the many past and present residents of Helios.

Tory scowled. “They can never help themselves. Psychos always keep trophies.”
“If you need to hide something, put on a single piece of paper no one can find,” Kane mused.
“Here,” Tory called. They lifted out a file.
“Cyrus K. Miller. 37. My god,” Kane said breathlessly.
“Says he died in a mine collapse. That’s not true. Why would they even bother fudging the record?”

The crunch of gravel silenced them as it approached. They stared at each other and held motionless. The footsteps grew closer and louder, halting in front of the door. Just then, the echo of falling rocks boomed in the walls of the mine. The steps clopped away steadily until silence descended once more.

Each stared from one to the other with knowing glances. It was time to go.

Their chartered craft sputtered along to Minos. Kane fell into his seat and exhaled deeply.

“Let’s get back to that roommate. The Headley. You said something about the library.”“It’s probably nothing.”
“C’mon Nae,” Kane pressed.
“He knows something. He told me the first time we met, but I was… distracted.”
“What’d he say?”
“He joked he was heir to all his family’s holdings. Are there any other families with as long a history as his?”
“I don’t know of any. When you meet someone with that name, there’s no mistake.”
“Yeah. And we thought they faded into obscurity. Now one of them shows up and is my roommate of all people. You think his family is connected with the mines?”

Kane shrugged and shook his head. He held out his arm and she scooted in close to lay her head on his shoulder. She shuddered and tucked her legs beneath her.

“We’ll be back in a few hours. Can you keep it together?”

She vigorously nodded, wiping away welling tears and closing her eyes.

Anaella came home to Minos’s closed bedroom door and a still apartment. She slipped off her boots and tiptoed down the hall to the bathroom. She glanced back to the living room and only heard the faint buzz of the kitchen bulb. She turned toward the bathroom and was met face to face. She screamed and leaped back.

“You have to stop doing that!”
“You look a little… windswept,” Minos said, squinting his eyes at her and closing the distance between them.

She held up her hand to stop him. “I’m fine. It’s just… I had a long day,” she said, avoiding his gaze.

His eyes were fixed on her boots as she quickly scurried to the bathroom.

“I was thinking just salads tonight,” she yelled over rushing water.

He threw open his bedroom door, sat on the bed, and folded his hands in his lap. He lingered in his room and did not answer. She finishing washing off her boots and left them to dry in the laundry room. She came upon Minos sitting with his lips pursed and his face chiseled in contemplation.

“Hey.”

His eyes brightened and he turned to her, smiling.

“Did you hear me?”
“I didn’t.”
“Just wanted to plan for dinner.”
“I’m not hungry right now, but I could go for a ride.”

They stopped in front of an abandoned lot of old passenger and small crew ships. A long faded and creaking sign stood at a flimsy gated entrance. Beyond a patchy field was a shallow valley.

“You wanted to come here?” Anaella asked.
“Yeah, it’s a cool place. Lots of history. It’s right up your alley.”
“I haven’t been out here since I was a kid. Someone got crushed by a falling piece of fuselage so we weren’t allowed to come out here. Besides, it’s a graveyard.”
“No, it’s a garden,” Minos said with an air of reverence.

They strolled along the valley of ships with models of all shapes and colors rising toward a bleak sky like hovering giants.

One small craft, tucked behind a walled off area, more a crumbling ruin than partition, was not similarly coated with years of dust, but it’s cockpit windows were nearly glistening. The thrusters had long cooled but charred dust lined the outer rims.

“This has been…flown.”
“Looks like,” Minos said nonchalantly.

Anaella stared at him, suddenly fearful and bewildered as she noticed a familiar logo on the upper corner of his shirt: a lowercase i. She fanned out her arms and teetered backward, frantically looking around. Her breath quickened as she tripped over a protruding portion of trash. Minos casually rounded the craft, letting his outstretched hand catch the contours of its hull. Anaella was still moving backward, unsteady and shaking with her vision fuzzing and tunneling, transitioning to snapshots of his cold stare before collapsing into a heap.

Anaella jolted up from the couch, partially covered by a chenille blanket. Her head hurt.

“You’re heavier than you look, you know.”
“That’s not a compliment, in case you were wondering,” she shot back.
“Whoa. Okay,” he said laughing.
“What happened out there?”
“Seemed like you fainted. I don’t know. Dehydration, stress, your burning desire for me…”
“Hardly,” she scoffed. She leaned back onto her elbow, examining her hands for some clue.
“Drink something.”
“I’m fine,” she said, pushing the glass away. “I just need a shower, then I want to go to bed.”

She stubbled toward the bathroom and sat on the floor just behind the door. She let her head rest against the smooth grain of the wood and could faintly perceive the controlled breathing of Minos on the other side.

“What is your position at Icon Multimedia Corporation?” Senator Dana Crowley asked.“Founder and Chief Executive Officer.”
“Mr. Headley, why do you want to colonize another planet? What’s the motive?”

Charles paused before answering. His response would be critical to the initiative presented over the last two days. The world was watching. He knew this. And he made them wait.

“Quite simply? Preservation. We have failed this planet and like any member of the animal kingdom, we are fighting for our survival. This new world may hold that promise.”

The audience leaned forward in anticipation.

“We have an opportunity to preserve humanity through a cooperative effort. This is not merely a mission of curiosity, but reconnaissance. I know everyone has been expecting this to be said, but we are boldly going...” Charles broke into a wide and wonder-filled smile with starry eyes as some in the crowd finished the line.
“We’ve stood long enough in inaction. We need to strike.”
“Strike where?” Crowley said.

“Out there!” He gestured. “Beyond our solar system to another planet that will offer Earth a second chance. If we can be funded to go there and sustain ourselves, we will be sure to find treasures in this galaxy and the next that may revive this planet. We might yet be able to save Earth!”
“What do you hope to find out there?”
“New life, however small. Things we have never seen that are stronger or faster than anything we’ve seen before. We hope to find solutions to what ails this planet.”
“I mean, some would say humans are what ails the planet.”

The audience brimmed with amusement.

“No, we are it’s keepers and have a responsibility to find an antidote.”
“And you want to create a special initiative along with full government backing and use of resources to do so?”
“Yes,” he said casually.
“And what will we get in return?”
A knowing and sinister smile crept over his face.


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