By Martin Greening
[as mentioned, this is a very rough first draft shared to show how awful they can be]
Aron had been a Sineater aboard the starship Heroditus for 270 earth years. It felt longer than that. As if it were more than a dozen centuries, yet only the sins of thirteen generations filled him, consumed him. But without his power, without his guidance, the starship was doomed to fall prey to the whims of its crew.
A small light in his confessional cut through the gloom and interrupted his reverie. The door opened to permit a slender man dressed in a blue jumpsuit to step inside. The man closed the door behind him and sat across from Aron, his gaze cast down at the floor. The man clasped his hands together and began to rub them as if washing, but there was no water here.
“Welcome Brother,” Aron said.
The man had been quivering, but froze at Aron’s words. He continued to look at the floor.
“Are you ready to be free of your sins?” Aron asked.
The man nodded.
Aron pulled back the heavy sleeves of his robe and placed his hands on the man’s temples.
The man resumed quivering. Droplets of sweat began to form on his skin.
Aron closed his eyes and began to chant the linking rites. A chant he had memorized long ago. A chant that took on a life of its own when vocalized. A chant that filled him with dread.
Upon reaching the climax of the sacred chant, tingles of electricity coursed their way from Aron’s fingertips, along his arms, his neck, and to his head. They grew stronger with each passing second. The feeling had been nauseating the first few times Aron completed the rite, but he no longer succumbed to their sensation. He let the growing pain push him into a trance-like state, one in which he could be numb to whatever evils might pass from this man to him.
The man’s thoughts and memories trickled along the currents that linked them. Aron began to sort them, to find the time of his last confession, then to find those sins that had been committed since.
Aron peered around a hallway corner to look at a woman. Tall, long black hair. She stood next to another man in a red jumpsuit. Her hand rested on his bicep. She leaned towards him and stretched to her toes to kiss him. Aron felt his body heat rise and he ducked back around the corner.
The image clouded and was replaced by another memory.
Aron sat by himself in the mess hall. He looked up as two people entered, the man in the red jumpsuit and the black haired woman. His grip tightened on his spoon, to the point where the color blanched from his skin and the spoon nearly drew blood. Aron rose from his seat and gathered his tray. He fled to the other side of the hall and sat with his back to the couple, then consumed his meal.
Aron held the wrench in his hand and waited behind a large pipe in the water treatment plant. Sweat covered his body, more from anticipation than from the heat and dampness of the machinery. He peeked from behind the pipe the see the man in the red jumpsuit approaching. Aron hid behind the pipe again and waited as the footfalls on the grating drew near. The man passed his hiding spot. Aron stepped out and raised the wrench. The man halted and turned, as if he had just remembered something. He looked at Aron with surprise and said hello. Aron had already lowered the wrench and returned the greeting. The man excused himself and Aron watched him walk back down the passage.
The images cleared and Aron found no more sins in the man. He pulled his hands from the man’s temples.
“Your sins are yours no more, Brother.”
The man had stopped quivering at some point and sat with his back straight. He tried to look Aron in the eyes, but the heavy robe cowled over Aron’s head prevented any such contact.
The cowl saved the man from unnecessary horror, but Aron turned his head to the side anyway.
“Go, my Brother,” Aron said. “And may peace be upon you.”
The man stood and bowed his head quickly, then left the confessional.
The light turned off leaving Aron alone again in the gloom. Alone with his new sins.
Aron lay in his bed until he admitted defeat to thoughts of the black haired woman. He rose from the bed, stepped to his closet and donned one of his robes. Aron left his chambers and paced through the halls of the Heroditus.
He had seen the woman before, many times. Most often in the thoughts and images of the ship’s crew, but sometimes in person. Her sins were like any other: lust, greed, pride. Especially pride. They weighed on Aron, but were a tiny fraction of the tons that pressed down on his shoulders.
Several crew members passed and greeted Aron in the halls of the Heroditus, but he paid them little attention other than to nod in return. The black haired woman was not one of them.
He soon found himself outside the communications center. Was he drawn there? What made him stop?
Unable to answer his questions, he stepped inside. The crew, two men and a woman with blonde hair, looked up from their posts to see who had encroached on their domain. The men turned back to their consoles.
“May I help you Brother?” the woman asked.
The dim light in the room made her hair appear black for a moment. Aron blinked and her hair returned to its natural lighter hue.
“Brother?” she said.
Aron paused to clear away the black haired woman’s image. “Yes Sister,” he said. “I need to communicate with the Temple. Can you arrange a link?”
“Yes Brother.” She manipulated the display on her console before pointing at one of six narrow doors on the back side of the room. “Your link is open in communications room one.”
“Thank you Sister.” Aron walked across the room to the small door, opened it, and stepped into the cozy room. A padded bench that seated two confortably was embedded along one wall. Flanking it was a large screen that flashed the words “Initiating Communications Link.” Aron sat on the bench and waited for the channel to open.
An acolyte in white robes appeared on the screen. He looked to be no more than fifteen years old. “Brother, may I help you?” he asked.
“Please tell Father Kass Brother Aron needs to speak with him.”
“Father Kass?” the acolyte said. “I’m not sure he’s available.”
“Find him. It’s important.” Aron said.
The boy nodded and said he would return as soon as he could find the Father.
Aron was nearly ready to concede the boy’s failure after a half hour when Father Kass’s elderly figure filled the screen.
“Aron?” he said. “What is it? Has something happened on the Heroditus?”
“No, I mean yes.” Aron said. “Sort of.”
Kass’s bushy eyebrows slanted. “What do you mean sort of? Has something happened or not?”
Aron hesitated to answer. How could he tell his superior that he could no longer fulfill his duty? That he had failed Father Kass and the crew of Heroditus.
“Well?” Kass said.
Aron’s stomach felt tight and he cleared his throat as best he could. “I fear I have failed the Heroditus.”
“Come now Brother.” Kass’s eyebrows returned to their normal horizontal state. “I’m sure there is nothing to worry about. You serve the Heroditus well, as you have over the last two and a half centuries.”
“You don’t understand. I cannot bear it anymore. I cannot hold all this inside me.”
Father Kass began to speak, then appeared to reconsider his words. “You are a Brother of the Word. You can do what you were born to do. You must.”
“I’m sorry, I cannot.” Aron paused. “Perhaps Travin-“
“Your acolyte?” Kass said. “Absolutely not. He is too young to take on what you carry. It is your burden. Yours alone.”
Father Kass appeared to morph into the image of the black haired woman. Aron looked away towards the floor and whispered. “I can’t.”
He stood and left the small room.
“Aron? Aron!?” The calls trailed behind him.
Aron found the black haired woman on the observation deck, although there was very little to observe when moving faster than the speed of light. Stars, planets, and entire galaxies appeared a multi-hued streaks on all sides of the Heroditus. Perhaps she simply enjoyed the colors.
Cyntha was her name. It was unusual that he remembered. He was trained to not remember names, only take on sins. Yet he remembered her name.
She leaned against a large window, her hair loosely hung down her back. Tight pants clearly displayed the outline of her thighs and calves.
Aron’s pulse quickened. He imagined taking her under the intergalactic kaleidescope. The thought moved his feet and he walked towards her.
She turned when Aron was only a few steps away. She gasped and said, “Hello Brother.”
He blinked and looked around. There were other crew members on the observation deck. He had not noticed them before.
“Yes Sister. Cyntha is it?”
“Yes.” She looked puzzled. Probably because she had never heard Aron speak her name before. The thought made Aron pause.
“Are you here to watch the lights Brother? I find them soothing.”
“No. I mean yes. I felt like seeing them,” he said. “Would you like some company?”
“I am waiting for my fiancee,” she said. “Ah, here he comes.”
The man in the red jumpsuit approached them. The recent confession floated to the surface of Aron’s thoughts. His fist clenched as if holding a wrench, just as in the memory.
The man smiled at Cyntha and kissed her on the cheek before greeting Aron. When Aron did not return the greeting Cyntha asked if he was all right.
Aron felt his fingernails dig into his palm. He unclenched his fist and said, “Yes, yes, I am fine.”
The couple said goodbye and left Aron on the observation deck. He stared into the changing lights for some time before heading back to his chambers.
Aron peered around the large pipe. The man in the red jumpsuit walked towards him. Aron ducked back into his hiding spot and held the wrench in a tight grasp. The man walked past and Aron stepped out behind him. Aron raised the wrench, ready to strike.
Was this real? Am I dreaming?
In the second the questions took, the man continued down the hall unaware of Aron’s presence. Despite images of Cyntha flashing before him, Aron lowered the wrench. Only two ways to find out if this is real. Either follow the man and kill him or go to his own chambers and see if he would wake.
Aron dropped the wrench and walked down the hall in the opposite direction of the man in red. He did not look back for fear it would change his mind. Thoughts of Cyntha dogged his every step to his chambers, but he pressed on fully expecting to see himself asleep.
When he reached his door, Aron paused before opening. What if he was not in bed? A chill passed through his body. He opened the door. His bunk was empty.
Aron sat in his chambers next to his small reading table, his robe flung on his bunk. An image of Cyntha in the robe flashed before him. Then another, the robe on the floor, Cyntha standing naked before the bed. Aron clenched his eyes shut.
He grabbed a holopad from the table and threw it across the room. “Leave me alone!”
The pad broke against the wall and lay in pieces on the floor. Its destruction prompting Aron, he stood and walked to his commode. In a drawer lay an ancient blade used for shaving. It was a gift from Father Kass when Aron departed the Temple to join the Heroditus.
It would do the job.
Aron opened the blade and held it over his right forearm. A quick slice will end everything. The sins will haunt no more. He pressed the blade to his skin. A prick of blood spurted from his vein.
A knock halted the blade’s progress.
Blood pooled at Aron’s wrist and dripped to the floor. His grip on the blade loosened. It followed the droplets and fell from Aron’s hand.
Another knock at the door.
Aron wrapped a small towel around his wrist. “Just a moment,” he said, then pulled on his robe.
He opened the door to find Travin standing in the hall.
“I heard some commotion,” Travin said. “Are you all right Brother Aron?”
The young man wore his white acolyte’s robes, but all Aron could think of was what was beneath. He grabbed Travin’s arm and pulled him into the room. “Come in Travin.”
“Brother Aron!” Travin stumbled towards the bed, then turned to face Aron. “What has gotten into you?”
Images of Travin on the bed filled Aron’s mind, but the room was different. It was not Aron’s room. He stopped advancing on Travin.
“I…I…” Aron said.
“No, you can’t,” Travin said.
Aron began to apologize for letting the sin control him when he followed Travin’s gaze at the commode floor.
“You can’t do that Brother Aron.” He pointed at the blade as if it were a snake ready to strike.
Aron stared at it for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he said, then slumped into his chair. “I can’t take it anymore.”
“But that,” he gestured at the blade, “cannot be the answer.” Travin paused. “Do you remember the Sentonius?”
The Sentonius, yes. He had received news about that ship from the Temple long ago. Their Brother had committed suicide, releasing all the sins he carried back to the ship’s crew. It was only a matter of days before the crew destroyed the ship, and themselves.
Travin came to Aron’s side and placed his hand on Aron’s shoulder. “Ours is a terrible burden to bear Brother Aron. But it is a burden we must.”
Aron looked up at Travin. “Perhaps you could ease the burden.”
“Just some of them,” Aron said.
“I could not. It’s not possible. Is it?” He removed his hand from Aron’s shoulder.
“I don’t know,” Aron said. Thousands of sins passing between Aron to Travin would probably drive the boy insane. “No, it probably would not work.”
Travin smiled. “Everything will be fine Brother Aron. You are a strong Brother and have served this ship well. I’m sure you will continue to serve well until your natural death. The sins will go with you then.”
Visions of Travin and Cyntha swirled before Aron. They threatened to pull him into their grasp and never let go. But then, yes! Perhaps there is a way.
“Brother Travin.” Aron stood. “Kneel.”
Travin looked confused. “What?”
“Kneel and receive the title of Brother of the Word.”
“But I’m not ready. And…and…”
He looked at Aron and saw his seriousness. Travin knelt before Aron and listened to Aron intone the sacred rite.
“Rise Brother Travin. Rise as a full Brother of the Word.”
Travin stood. “I don’t understand Brother Aron. There are never two Brothers aboard a starship.”
Aron placed his hands on Travin’s shoulders. “I know Brother Travin. May you serve the Heroditus well.”
Aron carried another crate of foodstuffs into the escape pod. “I am leaving,” he said.
“You can’t leave. What about your duty?”
“Brother Travin will assume my role aboard the Heroditus, Captain.”
The man scoffed. “He is merely a boy!”
Aron stopped his work to speak directly to the Captain. “He is Brother Travin of the Word. He will take on your sins now.”
“And what of you?” the Captain asked.
“The pod can’t take you far and there are no inhabited systems about.”
“That is not your concern Captain.”
“Everything on this ship is my concern.”
“Not everything Captain,” Aron said. “Not everything.”
Aron returned to loading the escape pod. The Captain took the hint that the conversation was over and left.
A few minutes later, Travin arrived carrying a small box. “I thought you might like some Dasic Wine.”
Aron accepted the box from the boy. No, young man. “Thank you Brother Travin. I have sent word to Father Kass of your elevation. And my departure.”
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Travin said.
“It’s the only way,” Aron said. “The only way for the Heroditus to continue its voyage.”
“I know. It’s just that…”
“Just that what?”
Travin looked pensive for a moment before answering. “It’s just that it might be a while before another starship passes through this lane.”
“Hence all the provisions Brother,” Aron answered. “I’ve enough to last several years if need be.” Fifty years to be exact.
The answer seemed to be acceptable to Travin. He said, “Farewell then Brother Aron. May we meet again in the afterlife.”
Aron knew better than to instruct Travin on what was in store for the both of them. He shook Travin’s hand. “Farewell Brother Travin.”
Aron finished preparing the escape pod and notified the Captain he was ready to depart. The Heroditus slowed to less than light speed so Aron could launch his pod. As he did, he thought he saw Cyntha looking through the porthole on the escape pod hatch. He searched for a control to turn the pod around, but there wasn’t one. The pod thrust away from its mothership quickly, then light gathered around the Heroditus and it vanished from Aron’s sight.
Aron waited for two days after the Heroditus resumed its journey to switch off the emergency beacon.