by Charlotte H. Lee
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Demeter’s ship hovered at the rim of the Underworld, where five super-massive black holes were doing their endless dance around each other, spinning through the infinities of time at the edge of space. Only the gods had ever solved the puzzle of the course through the maze of gravitational pulls and eddies. This hell is where Hades had decided to make his home. A place only he and Death could love; a place that drew in life and energy and gave back nothing. Oblivion.
Anti-social, surly, and jealous as Hades was, Demeter had not tried to see him once the six offspring of Cronus had dispersed. Even as children, Demeter and Hades had not gotten on well. His dark, brooding silences had only been broken by cruel taunts and pranks. The majority of his jeers he had aimed at Demeter, jealous of her ability to make everyone around her smile and laugh. He was a petty god, determined to ruin all things good for her, and his latest act was the cruelest of all: stealing her child, the sole light of her life! The light that kept her heart full enough to share with all of space and time. Except here. Nothing got past these gateposts, in or out. Even the Titans could not come and go with impunity. And Hades hadn’t asked her to come.
She narrowed her eyes, tapping a well-oiled fingernail against her teeth. To keep her crew safe from the lethal radiation, even now leaching through the bulkheads, she’d ordered them all into sleep tanks. The cryogenic tanks would protect them from the radiation, but she would miss the many conveniences the crew granted her.
A deep sigh escaped her. Hades would have been preparing for her invasion since long before he stole Persephone away. There would be traps laid, hidden and cruel, to stop her at worst, slow her down at best. Well, she would not stop.
Demeter leaned to her panel and closed her eyes, fingertips a hairsbreadth away from the course entry keys. Moving cautiously, she cast her thoughts out, finding the balance between each of the prisons of light and matter, riding the rivers of gravitational waves.
Many times she had to begin again when she ran into dead ends. Styx was the most massive, but Phlegethon was almost as strong. The twinned ones, Acheron and Cocytus, spinning around in a dance of their own within the larger dance made the timing of slipping between them and Phlegethon as dangerous as Lethe’s random, sleepy movements below them.
There! Demeter found the path to the star bound in the centre of them all, balanced with a god’s artistic touch between the five behemoth singularities. Thirteen rocky planets, all able to support life, though Hades had never asked her to give it, circled that star. Countless moons orbited those planets as well. Thanks to Helios she wouldn’t have to hunt each astral body. She knew where to find Hades’ base of operations.
Demeter’s fingers blurred as she keyed in her course, her breath deep and even, a tingle of sweat beading her brow before she was done. At last, she opened her eyes and collapsed back into her chair, exhausted but pleased with the effort. A final check on the crew’s status and she fired the engines to full speed before engaging them.
* * *
Beyond the viewport, the matte black of Hades’ shielded space station spun lazily on its axis. Somewhere in that monstrosity, her daughter was hidden. Demeter bit her lip. These were definitely the coordinates Helios had given her, but finding Persephone in that labyrinth would still rival one of Heracles’ tasks. She hadn’t thought to ask Helios to see exactly where she was, either, because she had never dreamed the station would be so massive. The habitation ring alone must be hundreds of kilometers in diameter, with forty decks or more in the ring. The gaping maws of countless docking ports studded the centre fuselage that anchored the habitat.
Despair pierced through the armour of hope she’d built around her heart, and tears pricked her eyes. A sob caught in her throat and she bowed her head. If it weren’t for the child within her, she’d just give up, leave through the docking hatch and let her body be pulled into the star holding the station in its loving, deadly embrace.
A soft sound at her elbow brought her into the present, and she saw Isadora kneeling beside her, sadness and concern paramount in deep brown eyes still slightly unfocused from cryogenic sleep. The woman had only ever known life aboard this ship, serving faithfully from childhood through adulthood. Now her tasks were reduced to those suitable for the aged.
Soon Isadora would pass on into death, giving her soul to strengthen Demeter’s, helping to bring life to fledgling planets. Such was the cycle of life, though Demeter had not granted new life to a planet in nearly an Olympian half-century. Life aboard the ship had carried on, each death being replaced by the birth of a new child. Each departing young adult was also replaced by a new young adult to keep the gene pool viable.
Demeter wondered when the last time a new child had been born, and she couldn’t remember. A dozen years? That was a long time to go without the laughter of little children. Her son would need playmates. Once Persephone had been found, she would address the lack. She reached out to stroke Isadora’s cheek, the old woman’s skin rough against her palm. “What is it, darling child?” she asked.
“Please, my lady. What can we do? How may we serve your search?” Isadora, spokesperson for all the crew as the oldest aboard, covered Demeter’s hand with her own. “We hate to see you grieve so, and we wish nothing more than to have Persephone back with us. We miss her terribly. Our grief cannot be greater than yours, but we share it. We ache to have her among us again.”
Touched by the love shining from the woman’s eyes, Demeter felt hope rise in her breast again. She was not alone in this. Sixty-five human souls were also aboard this ship, all anxious to have Persephone’s light returned to them. Hades stood alone against her and hers; the dead gave him no fealty. He would not be able to keep her out, despite the best shielding Hephaestus could devise.
“Oh, dearest, you have given me such hope. And with this hope has come a thought. I will need all the crew’s strength to join with me to get past Hades’ barriers, but it can be done. If the first effort fails, we can rest and try again. We will try as many times as needs be until we find my daughter.”
Demeter straightened in her chair, scrubbed away her tears with the back of her hand, and swung to the left of her plotting panel.
“Please Isadora, return to the medbay, . Ask everyone to take to their beds so I may join you to me. Hades is in for a surprise if he thinks me finished!”
The creaking of old joints was followed by the swish of robes as Isadora did as she was bid. Yes, her crew was worth more to her than an entire planet of humans. They were loyal, generous, and without fear in her care. Their love for the girl joined with hers would break through any shroud Hades could have prepared. Best he learn that right now! She drew her lips back in a snarl, anger replacing grief and determination replacing despair. How dare he try to separate a child from her mother!
She executed the final instruction, banged on the enter key, and hurled herself into the chair’s cushions. Around her, the air began to vibrate, a hum filling the whole ship as the combined energy of her crew sought to fuse with her own. Drawing them into herself, she felt every pore in her skin expanding, stretching. Every crevice in her mind filled with the rich golden light of their love until it burst from her, and channeled through the ship’s sensors.
The matte black of the space station’s skin peeled away before her eyes, and she could see all of it at once. A speck of light shone in the murky grey of the exposed corridors and shafts. She focused on that speck, racing to it, zipping through corridors faster than she had ever travelled before. The light grew in her vision, and joy filled her to bursting. Persephone! She’d found her daughter! Safe she was, sleeping peacefully.
The location of Persephone’s cabin seared into Demeter’s mind, she withdrew, anxious to retrieve the girl. She let her crew go, feeling smaller, frailer, and lonelier as they drifted away. So much love they had! And they’d given it to her without restraint. Awe filled the open spaces their retreating strength had left, and she wept again, this time in gratitude. No other god had ever received a gift like this. She would not waste it.
Demeter levered herself out of her chair and strode to the medbay. A few of the older mortals were still lying down, their chests heaving from the exertion, but most sat up. Weary, loving eyes watched her as she went from bed to bed, thanking each and every one of them. There was no way to repay this gift, so all she could give was her thanks and this she did unstintingly.
Whether she succeeded in getting Persephone back or not, this crew had earned their places in the stars. Forever would their souls light the darkest reaches of space, she promised them. Forever she would cherish them.
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Charlotte H. Lee