The whirls and beeps formed a sort of music that lulled Daphne deeper toward sleep. For so long, the background noises of life on a space station had been a constant drone, something comforting and ever present that she'd once always ignored. Now, George said that when they reached earth, she wouldn't hear the ever-present purrs of the working engines, and Daphne, sure that she would miss the sounds, tried to memorize their rhythm before she fell asleep.
With a whoosh that would have been imperceptible had Daphne not been concentrating on the sound, the door lifted, creating a small rectangle of light, which illuminated the entire quarters. George stepped inside and looked over the four bunks, which were bolted to the walls. He saw that Daphne had selected the lower bunk on the right side of the room, and selected the one across from her. "Hello, George," Daphne said quietly when the door slid shut again.
Silence, then he asked, "Did I wake you?"
"No. I was still awake," she replied. She'd almost lost the sound of the engines, and she strained until she could make herself hear the murmur again. Confident that she would waste no time not hearing, she asked, "If we're both back here, who's steering the ship?"
"It's on autopilot," George answered. His voice provided a raspy counterpoint to the efficient, steady hum. "Do you know what autopilot is?" he asked, and when Daphne didn't answer, he clarified for her. "It means I told the computer how to fly the ship. For a few hours, we'll be all right, and I'll get some sleep." How strange to be given information freely.
Daphne didn't say anything; she was concentrating on the humming. Even the novelty of George's words couldn't move her. She wanted to hum along with the ship, so that when the music stopped, she could mimic it herself. She didn't make any noise though, because she didn't want to keep George awake.
After a while, he said "good night." Daphne didn't respond.
The candles dimly illuminated her room. It was elegantly decorated with gauze, which covered the windows and walls, and canopied her bed. Daphne felt as she was in a fluid, soft, immaterial world.
Father Seth, the high priest of the church of Na-Sa, lit a seventh candle while he chanted the holy prayers. "We humbly bring our meager offerings before you, almighty Na-Sa/Words cannot describe your greatness, oh Holy One . . ."
Daphne chanted the prayers with him until all twelve of the candles were lit. Then, he set aside his taper, walked around the candles, and sat cross-legged before her. Taking her hands, he asked, "Daphne, do you know why I am here with you tonight?"
"I asked you to come," she said uncertainly. Why would he ask her such a simple question when he already knew the answer?
"And why did you ask me to come?" Father Seth prodded, squeezing her hands. "Why wasn't your daily worship enough? Why did you find it necessary to have the high priest of the church of Na-Sa lead you in personal lessons?"
"I needed help," Daphne answered. She felt Father Seth loosen his grip, and she dropped her hands. "I love Na-Sa with all my heart; I want to change and be a better person, but I can't. I'm always seeking out new knowledge, and asking questions that I, as a mere mortal have no right to ask. I can't control my inquisitive nature, and needed help from one such as yourself."
"Exactly," Father Seth said. Daphne bowed her head, and he lectured her. "Curiosity is not as ugly a vice as lust or greed, but it is a vice nonetheless. The danger of curiosity is the usefulness that lies within it. All of us need to know things to better serve Na-Sa. You must know how the station works so that you can, as a member of the tech crew, fix any malfunctions that may come. Your problem, however, is that you seek to learn secrets that you have no need or right to know."
"I'm sorry, Father," Daphne sighed. She blinked as tears accumulated behind her eyes. She knew that she did wrong in her search for knowledge, but she couldn't bring herself not to ask her questions. She thought of ideas that she knew were wrong, and that she would never share with Father Seth because of their disturbing nature. She couldn't make herself stop thinking, though.
"Don't apologize to me, my daughter," Father Seth said formally. "I am not concerned with your mistakes and sins. I only wish to guide you and bring you closer to Na-Sa. I seek to help you form a more personal relationship with Him, and the first step is to ask him for forgiveness."
Pressing her folded hands to her forehead, Daphne began to cry. "I'm sorry, Almighty One."
Once again, Father Seth took Daphne's hands. He closed his eyes and bowed his head in a gesture of meditation, and Daphne did the same. "Let us pray," he said. "Almighty Na-Sa, ruler of the universe, creator of all that is good and pure, hear our humble prayer. Please watch over Daphne's lost soul, and guide her back to your true path. Purge her of the Evil One's influence, and no longer allow his temptations to lead your child astray. Be with her tonight, and all the future days of her life so that she can grow in faith and be blessed once again. In Your name I pray, Amen."
When morning came, George was already gone. Daphne walked in circles through the sleeping quarters, unable to find a shower. Finally, she emerged into the larger section of the craft, where George ran the controls. Sure enough, he was already there.
His back was to her, and for a moment, Daphne felt anxious enough that she wanted to retreat back into the sleeping quarters and pretend not to exist. She could listen to the sounds of the engine, and forget that she'd changed her entire life and risked her eternal soul for a man she'd barley known for more than twelve hours.
For several moments, she stood in the doorway, considering her options. George most probably wouldn't seek her out if she remained quiet and didn't trouble him. She could so easily retreat from his world . . .
Quickly, she concluded that she had nothing to gain in avoiding George. She'd already made her choice, and it was too late to change her mind now. With a resigned but determined sigh, she strode forward, and took a seat beside George. He made no move to show that he realized she had even joined him
Daphne was well aware that she was a sinner of the worst sort. At first, it hadn't seemed quite so bad. Her teachers had seemed proud to report that she was a bright student. At the young age of only twenty-two, she'd been given a job in one of the most highly regarded teams on the station.
As a member of the tech crew, only the priests had more power than she did. She learned secrets of how the station was run, and had access to all parts of the station. After all, one never knew where the next technical failure might come from, and she had to be prepared. She'd hoped that with such a high-profile job, her appetite for learning would be satiated and she could finally be content, but with every secret she discovered, she only wanted to learn more.
As Father Seth had said, however, her constant search for knowledge was one of the worst sins she could have committed. When Almighty Na-Sa had created the universe and placed His people upon his space station, He had given them all the knowledge they needed. Any good adherent to the faith of Na-Sa did not seek more than he needed to know.
The Holy Books were filled with stories of people who had pridefully chosen to ignore Na-Sa's commandments and will. The Evil One tempted good people with promises of wealth, knowledge, and long life. Docked in the space station itself, small craft tempted the unwary. Daphne had heard of the days before she'd been born, when foolish heretics had taken craft away in search of the hell known as Earth.
Daphne had not realized her own problem until her chance for redemption was almost lost. Her friends had always commented that she asked too many questions, but Daphne had believed them only overly cautious. She'd never entertained notions of skipping the daily worship service or leaving the station, and if she did not exhibit these warning signs, nobody should have had any reason to fear, or so Daphne had believed.
Her friend, Brad, had saved her soul. He'd spoken with Father Seth of Daphne's problem, and the two of them had cornered her one day as she'd finished her work and was preparing for worship. Daphne had seen them approaching, and had ignored them until Brad had gently touched her arm and said, "Daphne, Father Seth and I would like to talk to you. We think you have a problem."
Confused, Daphne had looked to the holy man and her dear friend, and Father Seth had said, "Now, Daphne, your friend has told me some very disturbing things about you. He says that you've been asking questions that nobody can answer, and speaking of knowledge that Na-Sa has decreed no mortal should know."
Scowling at Brad and feeling betrayed, Daphne had answered as honestly as she could have. "I believe Brad has been exaggerating a bit. It's true that I have been attempting to learn more about the station, but you must understand that as a member of the tech crew, my duties include understanding how the station works so that I can fix any malfunctions. I haven't actively sought out anything that is expressly forbidden, nor have I thought or said anything heretical."
"That's not entirely true," Brad had said softly to Daphne. Standing just behind the two, Father Seth had listened with a grim interest. "You do ask some things that relate to your work, but more often, you've asked things that nobody else has asked, or thought to ask. You haven't spoken aloud of heretical thoughts -yet- but you've caused many of us to worry."
"Then you worry needlessly!" Daphne had snarled, violently pulling away from Brad. She'd felt hurt that her friend could believe that she would turn away from the true faith, and threatened by the presence of Father Seth. Defensively, she'd cried, "I'm not a heretic!" Later, she would be embarrassed to think of all the attention she'd attracted with her shouts.
Father Seth had fixed the situation and calmed Daphne with his soft voice and well-chosen words. "I believe you, Daphne," he'd said gently. In a show of respect for the high priest, Daphne had taken several deep breaths to calm herself.
Seriously, Father Seth had continued. "I do not believe that you have any intentions of turning from the faith of Na-Sa, nor do I think you intend to cause controversy. However, if I do nothing, it will do little for the morale of those who have been troubled with what you do. I fear that for a few days, at least, I must require that you do not work as part of the tech crew. I think it will do you good to be separated from the temptation of asking about the mechanical workings of the station, and if you are not required to work, it will give you more time to reflect on the greatness of Na-Sa."
"What?" Daphne had cried in alarm. Forgetting the veneration owed to Father Seth, she'd claimed, "You can't forbid me my work. I must work, it is of utmost importance that I continue to serve the people of the station, and-"
Suddenly realizing what she'd said, Daphne had cried out in fear and shock, then bowed her head in supplication. Father Seth had said aloud what all three had been thinking. "Do you hear yourself? You would put your own selfish desire to learn forbidden knowledge above any efforts to improve your relationship with Na-Sa. Do you now see your sin?"
"I have done evil, Father," Daphne had said, sinking to her knees. "I have been prideful, asking questions I should not, and seeking knowledge I have no right to know. I pray for forgiveness from Na-Sa, and confess that I have been avaricious in refusing to see what depravity I have demonstrated." Looking up at Father Seth, she'd said, "Thank you, Father, for showing me the error of my ways."
Father Seth had placed the palm of his hand upon her forehead in a gesture of benediction. "I only do as I do to better serve Na-Sa. It is his work in your heart that truly has allowed you to see what evil you have done. He has blessed you, by allowing you to recognize your sin and be redeemed. Do not toss aside this chance, which Na-Sa has so generously given you."
"I won't, Father," Daphne had promised. Still kneeling, she'd looked up to him and said, "I will not be so prideful as to believe that I have the strength or will to resist the Evil One. Please, Father, will you guide me?"
Daphne stared out the front screen, watching as stars slowly approached. She'd thought that a life in space would be exciting and eventful and, despite George's evidence to the contrary, sinful. Instead, it was simply boring- one long, monotonous trip to an unknown destination.
Daphne sighed loudly, and without warning, George spoke to her. "Look," he breathed.
"What?" Daphne asked, stepping forward and peering through the front screen.
George pointed to a star that was brighter than all the others. "See it?" he asked. "That's Earth." Wistfully, he sighed before he returned his attention to the controls. "That's where home is going to be."
Daphne's heart beat a little harder when she looked at the tiny point of light that was supposedly a planet. All her life, she'd despised the idea of an Earth more than anything else. Now, she traveled toward it, and would never see her home again. She'd chosen this life.
"I can't wait to see it," she lied, trying to imagine what the mythical world would look like once they arrived.
A week had passed since Daphne had been relieved of her tech crew duties, and she almost felt a sense of withdrawal from her inability to work with the machinery. She would walk through a hallway, and pause momentarily to touch a wall with a communications unit embedded in it, or notice the small projects going on in dark, empty corridors, and wish she could join her fellows in solving problems. Then, she would remember her duties, or rather, her lack of them, and continue.
Nearly every evening, Father Seth joined her in her rooms to preach to her, and lead her through her nightly prayers to Na-Sa. As much as she begged Him to release her from the Evil One's torments, however, she still felt the temptations to learn more. She didn't voice her urges, of course, but she was overcome with guilt every time a new idea or question entered her mind.
Perhaps Father Seth was intuitively aware of her ongoing battle, or maybe he only told the same stories he told all others in Daphne's position, but at night, she was tormented by nightmares of what had happened in the past. Father Seth had told her grotesque stories she had never heard, and they remained with her every moment she spent fighting her curious nature.
Father Seth had told her of a man who had believed that Na-Sa was not God, but some sort of spirit or historical person who had built the station, and that all the people who populated the station were only Na-Sa's children. He'd been very vocal with his heretical ideas, until eventually, the man had lost all sense of sanity, and had killed himself.
There'd been a woman as well, who had believed in heretical views. Father Seth had known the woman when he was young, and now knew that she had searched through ancient records forbidden to all those who weren't priests, and had concluded that Earth was not the Hell it was made out to be. She'd preached of a beautiful, magical place in the sky where the ground was covered with plants, like those grown in the botanical bay, and there was no need for artificial lighting, or even walls to contain the air.
She'd actually gained followers. Their numbers were small, but they were a threat to an honest way of living life, and for the good of Na-Sa's people, the priests had been forced to make an example of the woman. Historically, few people had been sentenced to death, but this woman doubtlessly deserved it. Daphne liked to think that in her last days, the woman had turned back to Na-Sa, and had been redeemed before death.
Of course, everyone knew the stories of the Lost. The Lost were those who were lead too far astray by the Evil One to be redeemed. Like Daphne, they began to entertain heretical ideas, and in time, sought even to escape from Na-Sa's station.
Hidden away in the deepest recesses of the station, ready to tempt the unwary, bays filled with shuttlecraft waited to transport the dammed to their deaths. Nobody was certain where the shuttles had come from, and even the priests feared to go near the bays. Because nobody dared to rid the station of the shuttles, they remained, waiting for the next heretic who sought to escape. Not even the bravest guards would go near the bays, meaning nothing stopped those who wished for escape from achieving their goal.
Perhaps it was for the better that they could leave so easily. The Lost were all dissidents and servants of the Evil One, and when their kind left the station, less risk existed that they might taint the good people of Na-Sa.
The stories of heretics and the Lost had always frightened Daphne as a child but they were especially disturbing to her as an adult, especially when she considered how close she'd come to becoming one of the hated, feared heretics. Before, she hadn't even realized how close she'd come to being truly lost, and now was eternally grateful to Brad and Father Seth for showing her the truth. She wondered how far she would have gone if they hadn't saved her.
Until she was stronger, and more certain of her faith, Daphne would accept her fate. She would avoid anything technical, or anything that might tempt her to seek out forbidden knowledge. She would prevail, with Na-Sa's help, of course.
Daphne shifted her weight, trying to find a more comfortable way to sit in her chair. It didn't work, and she felt as if she was squirming a great deal. She knew that she could stand and walk around, but was bored with her limited options of entertainment. Even examining the space ship had become boring. She couldn't even access information, because she didn't know how and she didn't want to disturb George.
She sighed irritably, and George heard her. He glanced at her, then asked, "Is something wrong, Daphne?"
"No, I'm fine," she lied. She crossed her legs, then uncrossed them again. Just for the sake of making conversation, she asked, "Remember the first time we ran into each other? It was almost as if fate ordained that we should meet. I was sneaking into a room to listen to a conversation, and you were already there. What were you doing?"
"Listening," George said unhelpfully. Daphne didn't press him for information, but he offered it anyway. "I knew I'd been spotted, and based on what little information of your society I'd gathered, I knew I wouldn't be well-received. When I heard about the meeting, I tapped into the communications controls and listened in on the conversation. Technology has evolved considerably over the past few centuries, but it's still similar enough that I figured out how to do a little bit of spying."
"Why did you come to the station in the first place, anyway?" Daphne asked, her curiosity piqued.
"I found it," George answered simply. "As far as I knew, that section of space was relatively empty. You know, everyone these days is interested in deep-space exploration. Supposedly, everything close to home has already been found. I guess your station proves that you can loose anything you find."
Daphne leaned to her right, and George continued. "When I saw the space station that supposedly didn't even exist, I had to take a look around, even I'm technically not a real explorer. After all, it was obviously an Earth station, and I didn't think humans posed any threat to me."
If Daphne had been raised differently and was more prone to cursing, she might have said an unpleasant word then. Instead, she commented, "I know I'm not responsible for the ills of society, but I have to apologize. You put yourself in unnecessary danger because you didn't realize how different my people are."
George shrugged away Daphne's guilt. "Even if I'd known what you were like, I would have probably checked our station out a little anyway. I may only be a trader, but even as an merchant you can't travel through space without having even a small urge to explore in you."
Shifting her weight to her left, Daphne said, "I see. You wanted to learn more." The prospect was a familiar one, and yet, in another way, it was entirely alien.
Although Daphne knew she should follow Father Seth's instructions to the letter, she occasionally broke a few rules. While she wasn't supposed to participate in any of her tech duties, she still occasionally listened to the tech communication channels. She didn't respond to any calls- even if she would allow herself to, her colleagues most likely wouldn't accept her help anyway. She didn't intend any harm, she was only curious as to what she was missing.
She'd committed a few other indiscretions as well. She wasn't supposed to use her benefits as a member of the prestigious tech crew, but she still took advantage of her ability to enter areas of the station that were forbidden to ordinary people of the station. She didn't mean to be disrespectful to Na-Sa or to Father Seth, but she felt she was justified in breaking the rules.
If she didn't have a way to escape from the bustling crowds of the station, Daphne doubted she would have the strength to overcome the temptations. Even her bed quarters weren't insulated from the noises of the people outside, and Daphne needed her privileges to find those rare sections of the ship where few people could go.
Even consciously, she knew she was struggling to find justification for her actions, but Daphne believed that if she didn't find a way to get away from everyone at times, she would have difficulties maintaining her sanity, let alone her soul.
One evening, she sat alone in a closet, far from where the common people of the station could find her. The entire corridor had been shut down for repairs, and Daphne had easily slipped through the security system with her access code, and had found a small corner where she could meditate in peace. Unable to focus on Na-Sa, after a while she grew bored and set the communications unit to the tech frequency to listen to what was happening elsewhere on the station.
She was lucky to have decided to listen at that particular time, for the frequency was abuzz with chatter from everywhere on the ship. She recognized the voices of her friends whom she usually worked with, and even a few priests. This in particular caught Daphne's attention more than anything else. She could think of few situations that would give priests reasons to speak on a tech frequency.
Even Father Seth was advising people over the unit. Sifting through all the discussion, however, Daphne was unable to discern what all the commotion was about.
At least she knew where to find everyone should she choose to investigate the strange communications. They all spoke of something mysterious they'd found in Bay 3- a storage unit that had once been a shuttle bay.
Decades ago, a few brave servants of Na-Sa had removed the shuttles and converted the giant area into an equipment storage unit. Unfortunately, superstition still prevailed and few people braved to store anything in Bay 3, but just enough equipment was stored to make the bay too valuable to close off.
As Daphne learned from listening to the others talk, a guard had been routinely patrolling the room when he'd noticed something unusual- and apparently shocking. Still, nobody said what.
Daphne was left with a choice. She shouldn't have even been listening to the private frequency. And yet, judging from what she'd heard, some sort of emergency situation had developed in Bay 3, and even Father Seth would have to acknowledge that even her help might be needed, if events were as serious as the people's words seemed to suggest.
Quickly, she made her decision. If she responded to the situation, perhaps she would help her soul. If she isolated herself from the rest of the tech crew too well, she would never know if she had the strength to resist temptation. As soon as she regained her position, she could sink into the same sin as before. Really, she could do nothing but find Bay 3.
As Daphne hurried from her hiding place, she knew there were inherent flaws in her logic, but she was too concerned with knowing what might be developing without her to care.
Daphne's head shot up when she heard George mutter something under his breath. From the tone, she concluded that he'd exclaimed in surprise or awe although she was unfamiliar with the terminology he used. "What is it?" she asked, hovering behind him.
"I don't know," George answered, manipulating his instruments. "There's something floating out there- but it's very small, and from the way it appears on my instruments, it's too smooth to be natural. I'm tempted to call it debris, but we're still too far from Earth for it to be anything I'm aware of, unless there's a very small undiscovered station out here."
His voice trailed off, and a few moments later he said, "It's moving, or at least drifting. It wasn't here the first time I passed through here.
Daphne furrowed her brow as an idea occurred to her. She didn't like the thought, but the scientific, inquisitive part of her mind already was formulating several theories to explain the object. "Let's see what it is," she suggested.
When Daphne reached Bay 3, she stopped short in astonishment. She'd expected to find a large crowd of people gathered together for the spectacle, but what she saw caught her unawares. All of the machinery that had once been stored in the bay had been removed, and the vast space had been filled with people, most of whom were priests, although there were a large number of tech members there as well.
While she stood in awe, Brad walked past her and caught her eye. After a double take, he crossed the room furiously, and when he drew nearer, he hissed, "What are you doing here, Daphne? Of all the places you could have turned up just now, this is about the worst."
"I heard the news, and had to know what all the commotion was about," Daphne explained shortly, taking in all the sights and sounds around her in an attempt to discern exactly what was happening. "What's going on?" she asked.
Brad betrayed himself, glancing to the right. She should have known; that was where everyone else had congregated. She turned her attention back to Brad for a second, and found that he was scowling at her. "You should get away from here- for your own good," he suggested.
Daphne shook her head, then pushed past him, walking toward the crowd. Maybe Brad pursued her, or maybe he left her to her own devices. She wasn't particularly concerned with what he did at that time. She approached the crowd of people, and felt her breath catch in her throat as soon as she realized what had caused all the commotion.
The ship was sleek and aerodynamic, whereas those on the station were mostly box-shaped. While the station's shuttles were a yellowish-gray color with a small square of red and blue coloring, this ship was entirely black, down to the tinted view windows in front. Obviously, this ship had not originated on the station, which meant it belonged to the evil space outside. It had been inserted on Na-Sa's station by the Evil One or one of his minions.
Her first urge was to begin praying to Na-Sa. While her knees began to shake with shock and her breathing became more shallow, Daphne mentally prayed, "Please, Na-Sa, give me the strength I need to deal with what I see before me. Guide me and your people so that we may resist this taint, and be with-"
She screamed with surprise when her prayers were interrupted by a rough hand seizing her shoulder and spinning her around. A few people glanced at her, and Daphne blushed to find that the man who had grabbed her was none other than Father Seth.
While she cringed with embarrassment, he practically shouted, "Daphne, what are you doing? Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for you to be here with this . . . this thing?"
"I can resist it, I know I can," Daphne insisted, speaking quickly. "I know I'm stronger than this, and I want to help, for those who can't resist. Please, I didn't mean any harm by coming here."
"You may not have meant it, but you've placed yourself in an incredible about of danger by coming here!" Father Seth cried. "Just the fact that you took the risk of coming here suggests that you don't have the self-control to resist the Evil One's ploys! I don't want to have to exert authority over you, Daphne, but I will if that is what it takes to save your soul."
"Don't worry about me, I can control myself," Daphne insisted. She noticed some men inching toward her, and realized that Father Seth intended to have her thrown out. Wanting to preserve what little dignity might have remained, Daphne backed away, saying, "I'll leave now, but I want you to know that I can help, and if you don't let me, you'll be risking Na-Sa's disapproval by not using every resource available to combat the Evil One."
At that, she turned around, and marched out of Bay 3. Her pursuers didn't interfere.
As the mysterious object drew nearer, Daphne felt herself grow tense. It was visible on the front screen as only a shadowy object in the distance and she didn't know what it was that they drew nearer to, but she was overcome with a sense of foreboding.
"I don't want to do this anymore," she said suddenly. "You can explore later, but now, let's just concentrate on reaching our destination."
George turned to her in surprise, well aware of her fear of returning to Earth. "Daphne, what's wrong?" he asked. "Do you know what's out there?"
"No," Daphne admitted. "But, whatever it is, I don't want to see it. Can't we just forget about it for now?" Even as she spoke, the shape in the front screen grew larger as they approached it. Although Daphne was uncertain what to expect, she doubted she would be glad to have discovered it.
"You don't have to be afraid, Daphne," George said, surprising her. "I know that for most of your life, you were taught to distrust new things, but we're away from those who would punish you for seeking out knowledge. You don't have to be afraid of what we find out here."
Daphne squirmed in embarrassment, but lied, saying, "You're right. Let's see what's out there."
Daphne walked through the cafeteria, selecting various foods for her dinner. Her choices were the same choices she'd been offered every day of her life: vegetables and fruits grown in the bionics bay, bread, dried strips of a nutrient-rich manufactured food called meat, and the mandatory vitamin and mineral supplements.
Daphne had always wondered why everyone needed to take the pills. Na-Sa supposedly provided His people with all he or she needed on the station. If that was true, however, why were supplements needed? Why couldn't He give them all they needed in their food? That, of course, was one of those questions Daphne had deemed unwise to ask aloud.
She carried her tray back to her table, and noticed that everyone seemed to be looking at her. She would have liked to dismiss the sensation as paranoia, but she'd never been one to worry about such things before. Everyone really was watching her, and they seemed to be whispering about her as well.
Daphne was relatively certain she knew what they were talking about. She'd gone to Bay 3 against everyone's recommendation, putting her own immortal soul at risk, and potentially bringing Na-Sa's wrath down on the entire station for her own indiscretion. After hours of mediation and contemplation as well as a visit from Father Seth, Daphne was well aware of all the harm she'd inadvertently done earlier that day.
She took her seat and began to pick at her food. It didn't seem particularly appetizing to her, and she couldn't very well eat when philosophical and theological questions concerning her own eternity loomed in her mind. Why did she continue to do such sinful, dangerous things, even when she knew they were wrong? Was she destined to be dammed?
Daphne swallowed her supplement with a quick drink of water, then rose from her seat. She had walked halfway across the large cafeteria when a warning began playing over the communications system. Immediately, everyone stopped conversing to listen to what was said.
"In the name of Almighty Na-Sa, whom we all love, respect, and revere," the message began, just as all messages began. "At the request of Father Seth, we ask that all currently active members of the tech crew report to the chapel for an emergency meeting. All other personnel, please remain calm, and do not interrupt those at work. In the name of Na-Sa, Amen."
A few people rose to rush toward the door, but the majority of those in the cafeteria remained in their seats. Daphne bit her lip, nearly moved to tears. The messages had never before specified that only active members of the tech crew report, usually they'd just generally called for members of the crew. The meaning behind the added words was subtle, but Daphne understood it well; nobody wanted her to come to the emergency meeting.
Daphne sprinted to the other side of the cafeteria, dumped her uneaten food into the trash disposal unit, then ran toward the door. She would respect Father Seth's wishes, and more importantly, Na-Sa's law by staying away from the chapel, but she still wanted to know what was going on. With her somewhat immoral expertise in the many technical aspects of the ship's functioning, Daphne believed she could easily eavesdrop on the meeting through the communications unit.
It didn't take her long to find her secluded room, and because the hallways were mostly empty of people, she didn't even need to sneak around to get to it.
Daphne pushed the door open to what she'd come to think of as "her" room, and jumped back, startled, when she discovered a most unexpected sight. A man was already there, doing just as she'd intended to do. She could easily see by the way he manipulated the communications panel that he was trying to hear something, and that he was relatively familiar with the system. The next thing she noticed was that he was not a member of the tech crew, or at least not one she recognized.
Feeling slightly hypocritical but defensive, Daphne growled, "Hey, what are you doing in here? This room is for authorized personnel only, and you're not a member of the tech crew!"
The moment the man heard her, he jumped, startled. When he saw Daphne, he immediately lifted his arms into the air as if to imply that he was being falsely accused, and cried, "I'm not hurting anything, I promise! I just want to learn about how this all works- to better glorify Na-Sa!" He pronounced the holy name oddly.
Daphne knew better than to believe that there was any other person on the station who would resort to the same unethical practices as Daphne just for the sake of knowledge. Even more importantly, she knew that no one would admit to such a crime; not even an irrational person would claim to act in such a way to glorify Na-Sa.
"You lie," she said coldly.
The man's eyes darted wildly about the room, then he cried. "You're right. Now, don't be angry, I'm sure this will come as a bit of a shock, but I'm not lying. You'll just have to trust me. You see, I'm here to help. I'm not from the station, I'm from-"
The man continued to speak, but Daphne heard nothing else he said. Instead, she screamed, and shouted something along the lines of, "Stay away from me, unholy demon!"
Fearfully, she began reciting a familiar prayer Father Seth had taught her, then turned and ran out of the room. She didn't stop running until a man caught her. Daphne didn't know who he was, but she at least knew that she'd seen him in worship, and that he was a follower of Na-Sa. She fell into his arms sobbing.
George sighed, or moaned. Daphne couldn't be sure which. She wanted to do the same, or react even more violently. She knew what she saw, and she wanted to cry or scream or pull her hair out of her head by the roots, but George would probably think the wrong thing, and she'd find herself locked in the back room again. Instead, she bit her lip, and said the only words she could. "The Lost."
There was no other explanation for what they saw. She'd seen shuttles such as this one filling the bay back on the station. George had confirmed his suspicions, thinking aloud without realizing what the sight meant to Daphne. "This is old," he'd said as soon as the shuttle was visible. "It's from about the same time period as your station." He'd glanced back at Daphne, and hadn't said a word since seeing the look of shock on her pale face.
Minutes had passed, and they'd slowly approached the shuttle. Daphne knew that if they were to peer inside, they would find a body within. Some poor misguided soul had set out to find Earth, with no assistance from new technology or electronic maps, as George had. The person had never stood a chance, but at least his or her ship remained in space to testify that at least one pioneer had been on the right course before he or she had died.
Daphne had lost all sense of time, but after hours or moments of quiet reflection, she took a deep, calming breath, then spoke to George. "There's nothing to be gained here," she said. "Let's get going again."
Father Seth looked thoughtful, but Brad simply looked angry. Daphne imagined that she must have been quite the unusual sight- her eyes puffy and read from crying, her hands shaking in fear, and her face was probably still pale from the shock. Calmly, Father Seth asked, "Daphne, you say that this man admitted he was not from the station?"
"He announced it without shame," Daphne replied. "He looked surprised to see me, but once the initial shock wore off, he said he wanted to help me. Of course, as soon as I realized he was an evil creature from space, I screamed and ran away, so I didn't learn more of his nature. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Father Seth said quickly. "You made the right choice, Daphne. Remember, your place is not to ask questions and learn new things. You discovered this demon for us, and you've done all you could or should have done. The rest will be left up to us."
"I still don't understand what you were doing back there, Daphne," Brad said, sounding more than a little angry. "You know that area is off limits, even to some active members of the tech team, and even more importantly, you were not supposed to go to such places where you would be tempted! Even if it were not for the existence of this demon, you put yourself at considerable risk simply by going to an off-limits corridor alone!"
"I know, and I'm sorry!" Daphne cried, tears streaming from her eyes. "I understand how wrong I was now. The fact that a demon now roams over the station, tempting good people is probably all my fault. The Evil One saw how weak-willed I was, and thought that he could tempt me away from the true faith. I'm sorry!"
She sobbed into her hands, and neither Brad nor Father Seth made any move to comfort her. After a few minutes, Father Seth asked, "Have you at least learned your lesson? Will you allow yourself to put your soul at risk by going places you are forbidden to go, and by seeking out forbidden knowledge?"
"No, Father, I will be careful from now on," Daphne said, trying to stifle her sobs. "I promise."
Father Seth nodded, then asked them all to kneel in prayer. "Let us pray," he began. "Almighty Na-Sa, ruler of the universe, creator of all that is good and pure, hear our humble prayer. We thank you for bringing us together today to be made more aware of our shortcomings and to attempt to improve ourselves so that we are more pleasant to you. Please guide us so that we can distinguish between what is good and what is evil, and unite us together against the Evil One's forces. With your assistance, we have faith that we will prevail. In your name we pray, Amen."
Daphne lifted her head, and met Brad's eyes. A moment later, Father Seth said, "Brad, please escort Daphne to her room." Turning to her, he added, "Do not believe that I distrust you. I simply fear for your safety, especially after a demon specifically sought you out."
"I understand, Father," Daphne said before she and Brad turned and left.
All Daphne could hear was the sound of her own breathing, and the soft, nearly indiscernible hum of the engines. George didn't hum or sing while he worked, and Daphne found his silence almost disconcerting. More to make noise than anything else, she said, "I know that my religion probably doesn't exist outside the space station, but I'm curious. Without the religion of Na-Sa to guide you, do you believe in God?"
George looked up in surprise, then returned to his work. "I'm what you'd call an agnostic," he said after a moment. "I don't actively choose not to believe in God, but I'm not entirely sure if he exists. I guess you could say I'm still waiting to make up my mind."
These words surprised Daphne more than any others could have. "Are the other people of Earth like you?" she asked.
"If by like me, you mean are all people agnostic, no," George said. "Some are, some don't believe in any God, and there are all sorts of different religions. You've got Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Muslim, Hindu . . . . You could say there's something for everyone."
Daphne struggled to understand the concept. "You mean, there are no laws dictating what a person must believe?" she asked. "There's nothing to make sure people are good, and don't hurt one another? Nobody patrols to ensure that everyone attends worship at appointed times?"
George actually laughed at her question. "Nobody has to believe anything they don't want to," he said. "In some obscure areas of the world, some creeds are persecuted and some are enforced, but since the beginning of the twenty-first century, we've been trying to eradicate the use of force in terms of faith. There is no official Earth religion."
Daphne considered the idea. Nobody could force her to believe or not to believe certain things. Nobody could claim one moral was more important than another, and nobody would have any reason to be accountable for their own actions.
"Maybe it really is Hell," she muttered.
Daphne couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned in her bed, remembering the incredible, almost fantastic events of that day. She thought of the ship that had appeared in Bay 3, and the demon she'd found, and how endangered she'd felt when Brad had walked her back to her room. Daphne trusted Brad, of course, but she wondered how much help he would be against a real servant of the Evil One.
In many ways, Daphne felt as if she was a character in the stories she'd heard about when she was young. Now, she only hoped this story would have a happy ending.
After what seemed like hours of tossing and turning in bed, Daphne rose, and began to pace back and forth in her quarters. Walking back and forth was not much better than rolling around, and as she stepped around her desk and peeked out her window, she was painfully reminded of the many nights she'd spent pouring over data she'd illegally gathered about the station. At least now she'd seen the error of her ways, and would never again spend the night figuring numbers.
Yet, her work seemed to call out to her even then. Daphne was well aware that she had half finished mathematical equations that she could probably figure while she couldn't sleep. Surely there was nothing sinful in equations, just like those taught to children while they were in school.
On Daphne's bedside table sat several diagrams she'd drawn long ago. While she wasn't supposed to actively seek out new knowledge, Na-Sa certainly wouldn't judge her for discovering more efficient ways for the station to run. He wanted His people to be happy, after all, and Daphne could think of nothing that would make people happier than if she improved their lives through technology.
Realizing where this sort of thought would lead, Daphne ran from her quarters, not even bothering to change into her clothes. Stepping into the hall, Daphne heard her door ominously shut beneath her, and realized she was completely alone and exposed to whatever evils roamed during the night.
There was only one place where she felt safe. True, she'd found evil there before, but still, it seemed to call out to her.
When she pushed open the door to her secret room, Daphne was only moderately surprised to find the demon-man already there, as if he was waiting for her. Instead of screaming or fleeing, Daphne faced him bravely stepping into the room. "I thought I'd find you here," he said.
"You don't know me," she argued defiantly.
To her surprise, he shrugged and said, "You're right, I don't." Without warning, he extended his hand to her, and Daphne backed away. She'd heard that the touch of a demon could corrupt a person, and didn't intend to let herself be drawn in by this man. "I'm George," he said, sounding almost charming.
"I suppose you already know my name," Daphne said, not wanting to willingly offer any information to a confessed servant of evil.
George looked surprised by her comment. "You'll have to forgive me for my conduct earlier," he said. "I only understood a little of your culture when you found me, and I'm really not used to this sort of situation as it is- you know, discovering new people. I guess I got a little excited and started blurting things out. I didn't mean to startle you, though."
His words were, to say the least, confusing to Daphne, but she didn't intend to ask any questions. It was by asking questions that she'd originally brought this problem upon herself. Instead, she hissed, "You will not tempt me away from Na-Sa's faith. I suggest you leave now."
George shook his head. "You don't understand," he said. "I don't care about Na-Sa or religion. I'm here to tell you the truth- something that I don't think is available to you. Would you like to learn?"
Although Daphne knew the truth of where George came from and what his intentions were, she was still tempted by his offer of a new truth. The Evil One truly did know her- and he knew her weakness. Not trusting herself to speak, she began to back away, as if she could escape from his offer.
When she finally trusted herself to speak, she'd barely opened her mouth before she heard a new voice. "Daphne, what's going on?" Brad asked, and she spun around to see her friend gaping in the doorway. From the way he looked at George, Daphne knew he recognized him, and had probably jumped to the worst conclusion.
"It's late," Daphne said, rising from her chair. "I think I'll go to bed."
George was still at work, which baffled Daphne. The ship supposedly could pilot itself, but from the way George focused his attention on it during his waking hours, she would expect that the ship needed constant care and attention. He said nothing as she left the main room.
Beside her bed, Daphne genuflected, her arms stretched before her so that she was as humble and low to the ground as possible. She closed her eyes, and tried to think of what words she should say. Then, she realized what she was doing, and sat up again.
With all the evidence that had been presented to her of late, she knew that the god she'd once called Na-Sa didn't really exist. Her whole life, faith, and all that she'd held dear was a sham. Even a familiar ritual such as praying before bed was useless. Na-Sa didn't exist, and if there was a God, He wasn't interested in her prayers. She didn't even know the proper way to pray.
Daphne rose to her feet, and crawled into bed. She tried to sleep, but spent hours tossing and turning, feeling as if she'd neglected to do something very important.
George wasted no time. He crossed the room in three giant steps, and pushed Brad to the ground. Daphne screamed, well aware of what would happen to Brad when the demon touched him. George struck her friend across the face, and to her horror, Brad dropped to the ground.
"Come on, we have to get out of here before someone finds us and learns what we've done," George cried suddenly. As if compelled by some evil spell, Daphne did as George had commanded her, leaving Brad behind and following him as he sprinted down a hall. While she fled, Daphne only felt fear, not only that George would do something horrific and irreparable to her, but also that they would be caught, and that she would be blamed for the attack on Brad.
Perhaps she ran with George because she didn't want to have to explain what she'd done. Father Seth would certainly blame her for returning to her room after she'd so adamantly promised never to go there again, and Brad, once he was awake, would testify that she'd been meeting with George. Daphne suddenly was certain that the truth wouldn't matter; Father Seth would punish her severely no matter what she said. If Daphne was lucky, she would be imprisoned or exiled, but she was more likely to be executed for her crimes against Na-Sa.
George slowed down, and to Daphne's amazement, he began to work on a panel in the wall. "You know about this station?" Daphne asked in amazement. She'd always believed that Na-Sa's holy station by nature befuddled evil. Perhaps a demon could walk about and tempt good people, but George should have known nothing about the technology itself.
"I know a lot of things that would surprise you," George said, shocking Daphne even more than the other events had. A moment later, a door opened that was usually locked, and off-limits even to some members of the tech crew. George had broken the lock that had supposedly been forged through Na-Sa's guidance.
Once they were safely inside, George turned to Daphne. "Listen, I'm sorry about that man, and I'm sorry to get you into trouble." He glanced at the door, as if he expected it to open any second, then he continued, "I thought you knew the truth, and I'd just help you escape from this . . . this place." He glanced at the door again. "What will they do to me if they catch me?"
"Most likely, they will execute you," Daphne replied. For some reason, the thought didn't make her happy, although she knew death was a just end for an evil demon, especially one who would tempt her as this one did. "This situation is hard to predict, as I've never heard of a demon actually being caught before."
"I'm not a demon," George snapped. "I'm just an explorer who happened to stumble across . . . well, something unexpected." Once again, he nervously glanced at the door, holding his breath as if he expected to hear a mob of people just outside. Daphne heard nothing, and knew that unless someone was waiting for them, just as Brad had waited for her, they were unlikely to be caught at night. Only the unluckiest of guards and the heedless dared venture into the corridors at night. Brad must truly have been concerned for Daphne's wellbeing to seek her out.
George spoke up suddenly, nearly making Daphne jump. "I'm going to need to leave for my own safety. I'd thought I could explore a little more, but now I see that it would be too dangerous." He looked up at Daphne. "Do you think you'll be all right alone, especially now that your friend has seen us?"
Daphne considered her options. She didn't doubt that she would be executed after Brad woke up and testified against her, but she also didn't believe leaving the station could ever lead to good. Out in space, demons lurked and the Evil One held sway over even the firmest believer. Daphne didn't stand a chance.
Of course, did she have anything to gain from death? If she were executed, would she have a chance to repent her latest mistakes? If she left with George, did that necessitate damnation? Daphne remembered stories of people who had made deals with the Evil One. Those tales had never turned out well, but suddenly Daphne wondered if she could outwit the being she'd hated for so long.
Suddenly, the idea occurred to her that perhaps George wasn't a demon. Maybe he was a descendent of one of those who had left the station generations ago. Daphne knew the idea was particularly ridiculous, but she also felt hope. If she left with him, she stood a chance for life. It wasn't much of a chance, but it was more than she would have if she remained on the station.
"If I stay here, they'll kill me," Daphne told George. "I want to go with you."
"We'll be there in a day or two," George observed. Daphne shivered, but said nothing. Suddenly feeling restless, she rose from her seat and began to pace. Oblivious, George observed, "You've been pacing a lot. Are you nervous?"
Daphne would have liked to dismiss her feelings, but she knew quite well that she wasn't a good liar. "I don't want to go to earth," she declared. "I want to go home. Don't make me come to earth with you."
Looking more concerned than Daphne had ever seen him before, George rose from his seat and approached her. "You don't have to be nervous," he told her. "I know what you've been told, but I've been to Earth, and I guarantee that everything you've heard is lies. You don't need to worry, I promise."
"I want to turn around," Daphne insisted. "I want to go home."
"They'll kill you back home, remember?" George asked. "Trust me, Earth isn't as bad as you think. You'll love it, I know."
Daphne doubted what George told her. He didn't know her, and he had no way of knowing if she would like Earth. Daphne knew she would hate it, but more relevantly, she knew that no amount of protesting would dissuade George. She took a deep breath, then apologized for her outburst.
George smiled, then turned and walked back to his place. Their journey toward Earth continued.
When Daphne and George reached Bay 3, it was closely guarded by more guards than Daphne had ever seen in one place at one time. Looking at their stern, serious faces, Daphne knew that no plot she or George could come up with would fool them into letting them escape to the frightening ship. Suddenly, she was certain that they would be caught, and she would be executed.
George, however, had a plan. While Daphne gaped at the guards surrounding the ship, he was already creeping around a corner. When she noticed that her companion had disappeared, Daphne peered around the corner to see that George was working on one of the comm access panels. Once again, Daphne was amazed to see that someone who was unfamiliar with Na-Sa's station could so easily manipulate the controls.
"Let's imagine that I'm an administrator, and I want to call all those guards out of that room," George suggested. "What exactly would I say?"
"It won't work," Daphne informed him. "Even if they were called, the guards wouldn't leave their station until their replacements arrived."
"We'll find something to say to them," George replied. "What if it was urgent? We'll tell them that there are some men down, and that all they should all abandon their posts immediately to gather together in one place. What do I say?"
Daphne sighed, certain that the advice she was about to give would spell her doom, but told him what to type. George programmed the comm unit, and after a few seconds, the electronic voice broadcast throughout the station. "Urgent. All members of the guard crew report to room 392. Do not wait for further instructions or replacements. Urgent. All members of the guard crew . . ."
Daphne and George remained around the corner and just out of sight while all the guards ran out of Bay 3. Surprisingly enough, George's idea had worked.
Time would tell. Either they would reach a burning Hell or a place the likes of which Daphne was unable to picture. Which life was preferable? Daphne didn't know, but George merrily whistled as they drew nearer to doom.
The interior of the ship was unlike anything Daphne had ever seen. Four seats faced the front, where a giant glass screen allowed the occupants to see the space outside, or in this instance, the interior of Bay 3. "Sit down," George ordered Daphne, and she leapt into the nearest seat.
George took one of the front seats, and began pushing the various buttons before him. To Daphne's amazement, Bay 3 warped around them, opening a door. Daphne shook her head, astounded, then asked the question that had weighed on her mind since she'd first seen George. "How is it that you, a servant of the Evil One, can manipulate Na-Sa's station?"
George sighed, then said, "I'm not a servant of the Evil One."
While Daphne had always believed the Evil One's servants were untrustworthy and liars, but for some reason, she believed what George said. "What are you, then?" she asked.
George concentrated on his work so intently, Daphne believed for a few seconds that he hadn't heard her. Just as she'd decided to ask the question again, the ship began to move, and George answered. "Are you sure you want to know?"
The ship pulled forward, and out of the bay, and the doors closed behind. Daphne idly wondered if the people of the station were aware that she and George had escaped. Gazing to the side out the screen, she saw the station from the outside for the first time.
All her life, Daphne had been told the station was gleaming white, shining throughout space so that the Evil One and his servants would recognize Na-Sa's chosen people. Now, seeing the station's true nature, Daphne couldn't help but feel disappointed. It was old and dirty and gray.
"I come from Earth," George said. I know you've been taught that Earth is a place like Hell, but it's not. I think the people of your station originally came from Earth, but I'm not sure. You see, we never even knew that you existed. This will be quite the discovery once we get back."
Daphne knew she'd asked for the truth, but she had difficulties grasping what George had said. "What do you mean Earth people don't know we exist?" she asked. "Don't your holy texts of Na-Sa tell you of His chosen people who live alone on the station?
"Daphne, we don't have holy texts of Na-Sa," George said. "To be quite honest, I don't know where this religion came from, but I have my own theory. Centuries ago, a group existed called NASA, which stood for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Basically, NASA funded explorations into outer space, and built space stations like your own."
"There are other space stations?" Daphne gasped.
"Many," George answered. "Now, I'm not sure what the story is, but I'm assuming that centuries ago, maybe more, something went wrong. Your ancestors must have lost contact with NASA in the distant past, and eventually forgot about your origins. Myths must have arisen about NASA, or Na-Sa, until they grew into a religion."
"Do you realize the implications of what you're saying?" Daphne cried. "My entire life has centered around the worship of Na-Sa! Now you're telling me that my God is nothing more than a group of ancient explorers from a place I've always abhorred and considered Hell?"
"I'm afraid so," George said. "You're probably lucky I came along when I did. I don't know about you, but I'd hate to live a lie."
Daphne wasn't quite as nonchalant about the experience as George was. "Lies!" she screamed, raking her fingers through her hair. "It's all a lie! How can you leave everyone else to live out the lie without the truth?"
Later, Daphne would remember little of what she'd said after that. She'd dissolved into hysterics, and George, unable to return to the station, needed to confine her in the back room until she'd calmed down.
Daphne stared at the floor. She saw nothing interesting on the floor, but she had nothing left to hold her attention. She didn't even want to reflect on what had become of her life, because she couldn't even bear to imagine what her life might be like on Earth. She preferred to stare at nothing and let her mind remain a blank.
Suddenly, George sighed, and Daphne looked up. She saw a shadow filling much of the screen, but not much else. "There it is," George said.
"There?" Daphne repeated, confused because she knew George referred to the shadowy world. "Were is the fire? I can't hear the wailing of lost souls."
"You're not going to, around here," George replied. "I told you, the real Earth is nothing like what you've been taught."
"I never imagined," Daphne replied. As they drew nearer to the planet, a glimmer of light illuminated a vast expanse of blue. Daphne had never seen a color so pure or bright, not even in the temple of Na-Sa. It illuminated the entire screen, and nearly caused her heart to stop with joy. "It's beautiful," she sighed in all honesty.