Authors: S.K. Falls
Tags: #glimpsing stars, #s.k. falls, #world of shell and bone book 2, #world of shell and bone novella
Glimpsing Stars Novella
© 2013 by S.K. Falls
All rights reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner
whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the
use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover Art by RBA
of Ursa, New Amana
moon is our planet’s only natural satellite. It is why my mother chose the name
the time of my birth, she was hoping for some sort of miracle. My older sister,
Neptune, was already disappointing at five years old. She was born what Mother
called a “pre-War thinker.” Neptune didn’t understand the concept of following
orders—she was always questioning things, the way people did before the 2013
War of the Nations. Her questions, defiant, inappropriate, and ceaseless, set
Mother on edge. Or so I am told.
I was born, Mother wanted something different. She wanted a child who’d be born
obedient as she had been, a child who shared her love for New Amana and
everything for which it stood.
believes that women named after manufactured satellites are inferior. It might
sound ludicrous, but she does have a point. After all, these satellites were
put in the air by men when the world was in their charge, and look how that
turned out. She’s always said she doesn’t understand why mothers would name
their daughters after celestial objects created by the very people we now
dominate—for their own wellbeing, and ours. According to her, they were just
asking for their daughters to turn bad. A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.
she thought naming me after Earth’s only natural satellite would make it so I’d
never be tempted by the dissidents amongst us—the Radicals—to turn on my
country. Or perhaps she hoped I’d be the one to fulfill what she’d once thought
was her destiny—working for the Bureau of Transregional Affairs. Clearly,
Neptune, even as a toddler, was not going to be what my mother had wanted. When
I was born, my path through life was already carved out. All I had to do was fit
myself into the groove and let go.
of Ursa, New Amana
mother sips her tea, her small, shrewd eyes never leaving my sister’s form. Neptune
sits at the table with us and yet she’s apart somehow, not quite on the same
plane. Her gaze is distracted, her tea forgotten. She doesn’t notice Mother’s
attention. It seems to me her thoughts are turned inward, as if she is already
planning her escape. She has only been here thirty minutes.
what are you doing today, Neptune?” Mother asks, her spoon clinking dully
against the sides of her tin tea cup.
My sister’s voice is steady, but she doesn’t meet my mother’s eye or mine. Her
fingers flutter on the tabletop as she plays a silent melody.
is how Neptune always is around our mother; fidgety, restless, unaware that I
am there, too. But it doesn’t bother me much to be ignored this way. I’m used
to my mother’s burning glare as she observes my every move, waiting to see if I
will follow in Neptune’s subversive footsteps.
am thirteen years old. I have five more years of this before I can move to my
own government-assigned apartment, like Neptune did last year.
be honest, I prefer not to be seen at all these days. The moments when Neptune
visits, when Mother’s focus is on her and not on me, feel like a reprieve. It
is as if a tight binding around my chest has been loosened, allowing me to
finally breathe. Sometimes it makes me guilty, that I am thankful for Neptune’s
suffering. But then I remind myself that she doesn’t live here any longer. She
doesn’t have to endure the scrutiny as I do.
Mother stops stirring, finally, and sets down her spoon. Picks up her cup.
Takes a sip. The slurping thunders against my eardrums.
has never been able to please my mother—not that she’s ever made it a priority.
As far back in my memory as I can remember they’ve been this way, always
repelling each other, magnets with like poles. And while they’ve tossed barbs
at each other, my mother trying to inch forward through Neptune’s defenses,
I’ve stood outside, just beyond their awareness, watching and learning.
smiles at me, a tight-lipped thing that barely moves her mouth. “We just
received uniforms at the factory that must be dyed purple. We mix the blue and
red to do it. It’s fascinating to watch the colors merge to create the right
makes a noise halfway between a snort and a sigh. “Dyeing uniforms—a ridiculous
occupation. If you’d been smart enough to apply for a job at BoTA, like I told
you, you’d actually be doing something useful with your life now.”
unknown reasons, Neptune rejected the idea of working at the Bureau of
Transregional Affairs—commonly called BoTA—outright when Mother suggested it
last year. Mother never did forgive her. She says Neptune’s job at the factory
is demeaning, a job for people with little to no intelligence.
myself cannot understand why Neptune would choose to work in a place with no
windows, where the din of machines must make it impossible to speak to another
darts a look at her. Her voice dripping venom, she says, “Perhaps there is more
to a person than what they do for a job. Have you ever considered that?”
glares, her hands clutching her tin cup tight. I wonder if she will leave
fingerprints in the metal. “
there more to you, then, Neptune? Do you
do things our government doesn’t know about?”
stare at each other across the table. I know what Mother is thinking. She believes
Neptune is likely a dissident, that she purposely chose a job where the
government would have no reason to keep close account of her activities. Mother’s
become more and more convinced of this in the last year, after Neptune moved
into her own apartment. I do not agree with her speculations. I think Neptune
is simply tired—very tired—of following rules. But you never know. That’s the most
important thing I’ve learned in school. People often aren’t who you think they
are. Everyone wears masks.
not too long after she began work at the factory, Neptune came over to keep me
company when Mother was working a night shift. We sat on the sofa, speaking of
nothing much, until she turned to me with a suppressed shine in her dark eyes.
I ask you a question?” she’d asked, her hands folded tightly together.
shine and her energy made me nervous. Neptune’s questions were always difficult
to answer and even harder to consider, verging as they almost always did on Rad
territory. But I was curious, so I nodded.
you believe the regime really is feminist? That they really do work for the good
of every female in New Amana?”
spite of expecting something outrageous, I was startled to even be asked such a
question—I couldn’t formulate a response. I opened my mouth and closed it again.
I was afraid someone would walk past the apartment and hear us; I was afraid
the Escorts would come bursting in, sensing the disobedient thoughts hovering
over our building. They’d drag us off to the gas chamber, snuff our terrorist
lives out without a thought. Or perhaps just as bad, what if Mother came home and
I said, “Of course. Of course I do.”
leaned back and lit a cigarette, a relic from years long past. She got them
from le marché noir, the black market, and smoked whenever Mother wasn’t home.
It was another thing Mother would point to as evidence of Neptune’s Radical
leanings. “I’ve been hearing things from the other workers at the factory. Some
of the women there say there was a time when
feminism was about
asking questions, about challenging the people in power when they undermined
women’s freedoms.” She blew out blue smoke, obscuring her face for a moment.
“There was a time when a woman’s worth wasn’t dependent on the children she
shook my head slowly. “But...but the rules are made for our benefit. The regime
would never ask us to follow an order that might hamper New Amana’s progress.
Healthy children are how we’ll repopulate our nation.”
have you never considered that being gassed might be too harsh a punishment for
being unable to produce one? Or perhaps that each woman should be allowed to
decide for herself whether or not she wants to be a mother at all?” Neptune’s
face was hard, her eyes glittering with something I’d never seen in her before.
couldn’t quite grasp what she was saying or why she was saying it. It was as
though she’d forgotten everything we’d been taught from when we were old enough
to understand: that all good citizens strive to do what’s best for the
collective, not for the individual. Had she learned nothing from the mistakes
of the men who came before us? “You can’t...be serious.” I managed the words
falteringly, unable to think of what else to say.
reached forward and grasped my hand. “You could come with me one day, meet some
of the women I work with. There are other ideas out there, Moon. Other ways of
living. We don’t have to believe everything they’ve told us.”
pulled my hand out of hers, feeling sick and feverish. I didn’t know what had
come over my sister or why she was saying things that could get us both killed.
But before I could respond, we heard Mother’s key in the door, and Neptune
rushed to put out and hide her cigarette. We never did finish our discussion;
Neptune never mentioned it to me again. To be honest, I was quite thankful. The
thought of meeting other women who share Neptune’s wild ideas scared me.
at the table, the tension between Mother and Neptune is so thick I feel it
pressing down on my shoulders. Finally, Neptune smirks and looks away. She
doesn’t say anything, doesn’t defend herself against Mother’s insinuation.
pushes back her chair. “I need to use the washroom before I go. Excuse me.”
hard gaze follows her as she walks out.
sister has disappeared from view, Mother turns to me, her small brown eyes
fevered and bright. Her thin hand clamps down on mine with surprising force.
a Radical. I feel it in my bones.” A glob of saliva flies from her mouth and
lands on my arm, warm and wet, and I cannot hide my shudder of revulsion. She
does not notice. “We must find out for sure so we can report her. For the good
of our country, Moon. For New Amana.”
know why Neptune doesn’t visit us very often. She is only here today because it
is my mother’s birthday, and I asked her to come. My mother’s fever, her hunger
to uncover Neptune’s supposed lies is like a thick cloud that makes breathing
difficult. It suffocates even me; I cannot imagine how it is for Neptune.
years ago, Mother was denied entry into her choice of career with BoTA because they
said she lacked initiative and the required passion for her country’s future
success. So, instead, she was assigned to be a Maintenance custodian.
loathes her job, spending time looking after a group of brutish Maintenance
men. She’s told me before that she’d much rather be in a quiet office, typing
up reports on machines amongst other women. Mother says she lacked the
requisite number of reports of suspected Radicals that BoTA employees are
supposed to have under their belts before they are granted employment. I
imagine she is making up for lost time now, reporting all those she should’ve
reported when it would’ve made a difference. And the one person she is burning
to report most of all is her eldest daughter.
was as though something inside Mother, some last thread of patience, began to
wear thin when Neptune refused to even consider joining BoTA. With every
passing day that my sister goes to her factory job and my mother goes to her
joyless one, that thread wears thinner and thinner. It’s as if Mother thinks
Neptune intentionally disrespected her by choosing not to apply for the position
she’d wanted so badly all those years ago. Mother sees Neptune’s disobedience
as an attack on her. And she hungers to retaliate.
mother’s hand clamps harder and an electric bolt of pain sears my nerves. I
realize she is still waiting for an answer, so I nod, though I have forgotten her
question. It doesn’t matter; when Neptune is here, the only thing we discuss is
unearthing her treachery. Right now, I need Mother to stop touching me, to stop
burning me with her gaze.
check on Neptune.” I push my chair back and hurry into the back of the