by Charlotte H. Lee
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Four engineers trailed her out of the medbay when at last she set to the task ahead of her. Demeter hadn’t asked for volunteers, she hadn’t needed to. She wouldn’t let them leave the ship with her, of course, but they could help her suit up.
Demeter blocked out all doubt, holding fiercely to the memory of her crew’s devotion. Armed with their love she would be invincible against fear’s sneaky attacks.
In silence, the four helped her suit up at the main airlock. Demeter accepted the helmet and inhaled the rosemary scent of the air tanks. A smile tilted the corners of her mouth, and she gave her engineers a thumbs-up. They backed out of the airlock and swung the hatch closed with a bang. The wheel swung around, and the face of the senior engineer appeared in the viewport. Demeter’s suit responded to the tug of atmosphere being drawn out, puffing out as the pressure dropped. If only her fear would dissipate into the infinite vacuum as effortlessly.
Demeter fixed her gaze on the engineer as the minutes passed then gave a responding thumbs-up to his when the airlock’s control panel showed zero atmosphere. With a conscious effort to keep her breathing even, she turned on her heel to face the only barrier that stood between her and the frozen void.
The speaker in her helmet clicked on, and Larissa spoke, “Demeter, please give us a voice check.”
Demeter clicked her speaker on with her chin and responded, pleased that they were following protocol, even with her. She’d created the protocol for their safety, never believing she’d ever have to follow it herself.
Demeter spun the outer door’s wheel, her palms slicking when the bolts slid free of ceiling and floor. Gripping the bar beside the door to hold herself steady, she gave the handle a tug. For the first time since Zeus had freed her and their other siblings from Cronus’s belly, she was face to face with the vacuum of space. She’d forgotten how clear it was. Each star’s light passed through her and her baby on its endless voyage through time, reminding her that not even the gods were eternal.
“You are clear to exit the hull, Demeter. All engines cold.” Larissa’s light, clear voice dragged her attention back to the task at hand. “Safe journey, my lady.”
A richer, deeper timbered voice spoke next. “Demeter, please aim for nine eight by eight three for three point one eight six kilometers.”
Demeter acknowledged the course Cleon gave her and aligned herself to the dotted line that appeared in her heads-up display. Careful not to hold down the button too long, she thumbed a burst on her suit’s thrusters. She didn’t fancy smashing against the unforgiving surface of the station. As much as she resented Poseidon’s tricking her, she couldn’t bear the thought of losing the product of that union.
The clock ticked up while Cleon counted down her distance. He’d pointed her true, no course corrections required. Demeter was relieved to see the deeper black outline of an airlock grow as she drew closer.
Demeter tapped a quick burst on the reciprocal and grunted when the strength of that force was stronger than she expected. At three meters she gave another tap, slowing her progress still further, and sighed relief when she was able to grasp a safety bar and use only her arms to come to a gentle stop.
“I have made contact with the station, safety line attached,” Demeter said, suiting action to words. Cleon’s acknowledgement gave no hint of relief, and she was gratified that he had such faith in her. Space was not her element, and she would be glad to be out of this rig. Her scalp itched terribly from the stretchy cap covering her hair.
Demeter opened the control panel and studied it. Hephaestus’ standard design, thankfully. She pressed the raised switch to unlock the hatch, and watched as it swung it open.
It moved smoothly, and Demeter forced herself to let her breath out slowly. Clutching the hatch’s inside wheel, she unclipped her tether and swung herself into the airlock, reaching for the safety bar next to the inner door. She flipped the toggle to close the outer door, blocking the comforting view of her ship.
She bared her teeth in an expression that could narrowly be described as a smile as she flipped the atmospheric equalization switch. The hiss of rising atmosphere grew in volume from barely perceptible to uncomfortably loud in under two minutes, then tapered off when the status pane switched from flashing amber to green. Another few seconds and the hissing stopped completely, the green light now shining steadily.
Reluctant to take any chances, Demeter swung open the inner door and stepped through without cracking open her helmet. She looked both ways down the empty, echoing corridor then closed the hatch before releasing the clasps on her helmet. The air in the station was cold, antiseptic, missing any touch of anything living. Or dead, for that matter. Just as empty and sterile as Hades’ heart and soul.
The gravity was slightly below Olympian normal; getting out of the suit was easier than getting into it had been, despite the awkwardness of her swollen belly. Demeter unhooked the wireless transmitter from the shellsuit’s belt, and clipped it onto her bodysuit’s belt loop. She wished she could remove the cap, but the ear bud and microphone were sewn into them. She had to settle for just rubbing at the itching through it. It didn’t do much; the itches just travelled elsewhere.
“I’m in the corridor, and out of the shellsuit. The corridor appears to be empty. I’m making my way to the lift shaft doors approximately two hundred meters on the starboard side of the hatch.” Demeter didn’t even look for any lift shafts to the port, Persephone lay, still sleeping, three kilometers to starboard and six decks up.
The lift’s call button lit up in red when Demeter pressed it. Part of her hoped to encounter Hades before she made it to Persephone, but it was an idle thought. All that mattered was getting her daughter back. Once they were both safely aboard her own ship, Demeter could plan retribution against all three of her brothers.
A ping announced the arrival of the lift car, and she stepped to the side before the doors opened. She peered inside, alert for any movement, either in the car or in the corridor. Nothing. She stepped into the lift and pressed for deck twenty-seven. The computer’s voice startled her, echoing off the walls and drowning out the soft hiss of the closing doors.
Impatient, Demeter rocked on her heels, watching the floor indicator creep up. A flutter under her feet was the only warning of arrival before the door opened into a hallway of mirrors. Yes, traps he’d lain. But whether they were for her or for Persephone she’d have to discover.
Squaring her shoulders, Demeter stepped into the corridor. She raised a hand to avoid walking into a mirror face first, and set off in what she thought was a straight line. She had to blink rapidly to keep the kaleidoscope of her reflections from dizzying her. Perhaps a dozen paces down the hall, her palm connected with a mirror.
On her first full circle, only her reflection taunted her. Demeter flared her nostrils wide, sucked in a deep breath and expelled it in an angry growl. She whirled back, sinking into a half-crouch to face the direction she’d come, arm out and fingers spread wide to grab. Hades was standing there, dressed in simple brown robes.
“Give me back my daughter, Hades,” Demeter demanded, straightening from her crouch when he made no other movements. “You had no right to take her against her will. No right to force her to stay where she does not wish to stay.”
“Sister, it is not as you assume things to be,” Hades said. His customary sneer was missing. In fact, he stood simply in plain clothing, his head bare of adornment, hands clasped before him. Jet curls swung along his sharp cheekbones as he gave her a half bow, never taking his eyes from hers.
Those eyes, almost as black as his hair, were clear of guilt, anger or pride. Guilt she had hoped for but not expected. It was the missing anger and pride that gave her unease. This was a game he had never played with her before. She shifted on the balls of her feet, uncomfortable with the unfamiliar.
“Did you take her without asking, Hades? Did you hide her away from all of Olympus?” Demeter hurled the questions at him, but answered her own questions before he had time to speak. “Yes, you did; things are exactly as I assume them to be.” She could feel her lip curling into a sneer. She didn’t bother trying to stop it.
“Demeter, I love her. I have loved her for a long time, and the longer she’s with me, the deeper that love grows. She is my perfect mate. My true equal.” He raised a hand to her, palm up. “Please, hear me in this. Persephone has grown to love me, too. To take her from me would cause both of us great pain. You would never willingly do anything to cause her pain, would you?”
Rage towered up within Demeter and throttled any words that might have come. Her mind was a seething, writhing mass and coherent thought was impossible for several moments. She wanted nothing more than to close her grip around Hades’ throat and choke the words from his lying mouth.
Of their own accord, her hands rose up before her chest, and a swirling ball of lightning formed between them, crackling and pungent in the sterile air. With a great heave, she shoved the orb at his image. The lightning passed through his image, and she had to turn away, shielding her face with her hands. The splintering glass battered her and the surrounding mirrors. The bare corridor walls did not stay exposed for long; new glass sprouted, blocking the bulkheads from sight again.
“I speak the truth, Demeter. Persephone has taught me how to love.”
Demeter spun on her heel to face his image inches from her back. She smashed at it with her bare fists, the violence of her rage sending sparkling bits of glass skittering down the corridor for hundreds of meters. She strode after them only to be forced to a stop as another reflection shimmered into existence, barring her way.
“Smoke and mirrors, Hades! That’s all you have to stop me? I will break each of them as easily as a thirsting panderi breaks through late spring ice. You had better keep your distance from me, too, or I will gut you just as fast. Give me back my daughter!”
Demeter lifted her fists in time with her rising voice, but the mirror dissolved back into smoke before she could strike its surface. Simple, bare gray corridors surrounded her once again, and she swept forward, her boot heels striking sparks from the steel decking in her anger.
Mirrors bloomed along the wall to her right, and Hades kept pace with her, at first silent, but then pleading with her to see for herself with an open mind. Several meters ahead, a mirror floated, images of Persephone laughing, delight and joy shining from her eyes, surrounded by rich tapestries and sumptuous feasts. Scenes of her wearing fine clothing, rich with embroidery in gold, silver, and copper wires, cut to flatter her well rounded figure. The final insult was Hades dancing with her to unheard music, their gazes locked on each other in adoration. That Hades could love Persephone was entirely believable, but Persephone loving him in return? Impossible!
Demeter took her bearings without breaking her long, swinging strides. Satisfaction burned within her. Persephone’s cabin prison was only meters away, and Hades had done little to actually stop Demeter from reaching it. He had not tried to hurt her; he must be aware of the price he would pay.
It would mean the end of their house if Demeter didn’t bring life to the planets Helios found for them. Without that expansion, their house would be swallowed by the others, all seeking to extend their glory. Hades must have realized that even he would fade away into oblivion, forgotten, if he succeeded in killing her. These attempts at persuading Demeter with his own fantasies would do nothing to change her mind, his pathetic desperation obvious.
Triumph suffused Demeter when she reached the cabin hatch. She pressed the intercom buzzer, bouncing on the balls of her feet and rubbing her belly in her impatience for this last barrier to be removed. A click, and her heart thumped painfully in her chest when her daughter’s sweet voice carried through. Demeter’s throat closed tight against any sound she tried to utter.
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Copyright © 2018 by Charlotte H. Lee