Clara thrust the shovel into cracked, gray soil. As the cold air chilled her sweaty brow, she struggled to withdraw the blade from the ground. Mother, she reflected, had never dug graves.
Gasping, she looked to where the two icy moons blazed in the sunless sky. A frigid wind blew through her heavy dress.
A footfall sounded. "Mama?"
With a tired sigh Clara turned from the shovel. "Haven't I told you not to leave the house, Moya?" she asked. "You know your nose will bleed."
"Yours is bleeding," her daughter said brightly.
Touching her nose, Clara withdrew red fingertips. "So it is."
She gathered her thin, frail daughter into her arms. As she put Moya's brow to her lips, she looked over her daughter's soft, sweet hair, to the darkened domes: the remains of the first Earth colony ever to leave the Sol system.
"I wore my slippers," Moya said.
The black sight was haunting, frightening. "Even so," said Clara, turning to their dark house, "You must obey me."
"Daddy said to only obey him."
Clara fumbled through her house's darkness until she found Moya's bed. "Mama," Moya begged as Clara lay her upon the sheets, "Why do I always have to go to bed? You haven't let me out to play for so long!"
"It's for your own good. Here, I'll sing you a lullaby."
She sang for a little awhile, and her daughter drifted to sleep. Clara tucked the blankets under her daughter's pale angel face. "My, my," she whispered, "You almost look dead, like them."
Rising, she moved through the house. Beyond the door window she saw the shovel posted between moons. She walked to her son's room, and lay her hand upon its cold threshold. The chill was measured by the thermostat which glowed across the room.
"Never my children," she said to no one.
Clenching her fists, she left the house's relative warmth for the freezing wind. She wanted to scream.
"Never my children!"
The High Priestess' face was angry and thin. Through a nearby window Clara saw the colony's domes, and people bustling among them. "Yes," Clara answered.
"And thus believing, will you take the knife?"
She found this question the most difficult. "Y-yes."
From a curtain shrouded doorway Sandra appeared, holding a small dagger. "Be careful," she warned. "Its tip is poisoned."
Clara accepted the dagger gingerly. "Just one stab," said the High Priestess, "And he will die." With that the High Priestess rose and left.
"Are you sure you can do this?" Sandra asked.
"I have no doubt," Clara replied.
"But. . .to kill your own husband. . .that's murder."
Clara licked her lips. Sandra would not understand, she was unmarried. Yet then why had she joined the Cult? "How old are you, Sandra?"
"Oh. Has your father always been kind to you?"
Sandra's voice became softer. "No."
"Does he beat you?"
"All men are pigs," Clara said matter-of-factly. "It's time they all died."
"You really think so?"
The question was foolish. After all, had not Clara joined the Cult? What was the point of the Cult but to kill men?
Still, Clara hesitated. "Y-yes," she said finally.
"What are the chances that this would happen?" Sandra asked. "That all men should become bad men? My mother--she talks of the day when her husband was kind to her. . ."
"That's rubbish," Clara snapped. Her own husband had never been kind to her. . .except once. . ."No. Never."
"Do you think that back on Earth there were kind men?"
Clara studied the small, cross-shaped dagger. She had often pondered Sandra's question. The myth was that two generations ago, when the colonists had come to this new planet, husbands and fathers had been kind and good. "Probably not," said Clara again, as if she knew.
Sandra started crying. Clara frowned; Sandra should know that all men were inherently evil. "I'm sorry, that's just the way it is." Clara said.
"You don't know that!" Sandra shouted. "There was a time when they were good, I just know it! How do you know that maybe--"
Clara slapped her. Sandra gasped, but did not stop. "Maybe there was something on this planet. This is a relatively unexplored world, after all--maybe something in the environment made them change!"
"No," Clara said firmly. Ever since the colony had lost contact with Earth, there had been endless speculation about the men, especially among old wives. "It couldn't be true. Men are evil, Sandra. If this 'change' of yours was somehow documented--"
"But when I watch the old holo-shows," Sandra persisted, young and impudent, "The men on them make me feel good. Some make me feel. . .different."
Clara turned away, disgusted. "Feel attracted to a man?"
Sandra grabbed her left hand, and Clara felt a sharp, shocking prick. Wrenching her hand from Sandra's grasp, she discovered blood welling above her knuckles. She looked upward to see Sandra clutching a tiny hypodermic. To Clara's shocked gaze, "I'm sorry I had to do that to you,"she whispered. "But I just know you're wrong."
Her hands were bleeding. She had stooped to pawing at the dirt to dislodge the shovel.
The wind had gained power. She put her bloody hands under her arms and shivered. There had to be some other tool with which she could dig this blasted grave. A gust of wind hugged dress to body. Through the flying dust she could barely see the domes; through the storm she thought she could hear the voices of everyone she had killed.
She had to dig graves for every one.
She faced him beside the bed, feeling sick. He swallowed her in his arms. Was it possible to actually enjoy this, she wondered. Sometimes she almost did. Perhaps Sandra was right, and men were not inherently cruel. Yet right now women were planning to kill all the men in the colony. Sometimes Clara yearned for men as Sandra did. Was it Clara's fault that her husband was like this--was it because she had ever really loved him?
Suddenly she kissed him, longly, deeply. It was something she had never done before.
He bit her.
As she tasted her blood, he ripped open her nightgown. "I didn't say you could kiss me," he grinned. His slap dimmed the world. "You just lie on your stomach like always--"
He flung her onto the bed, and she winced at his crushing weight. "Please," she begged. He had never been this rough--"Stop it. . .stop--goddamn you-damn you. . ."
She screamed. With rage.
With a sigh, she clutched her white, icy cheeks. In the pit of her stomach she felt the restless worry which came from leaving her children alone. What would she do if something happened to them--they were all she had left--
Perhaps she could protect them for ten years. If she could save, she could die in peace.
The toolshed was dark. She braced herself and willed the emergency lights to activate. The mental comlink was still fuzzy--it took a moment for the computer to respond. In the weak light the shapes took form, revealing faces with lips frozen in soundless screams. She tried to avoid their gazes--
Picks, post-hole diggers, ground boring lasers--everything looked so useful. She wondered why she had not gathered them before. She took one, and remembered: everything was so heavy. The pick dropped from her grasp. Groaning, with stiff, aching fingers she started to gather the tools. . .
Then she had to pass the bodies again. The eyes stared at her, eyes red from the burst veins, like angry, frozen demons. The pick fell again, landing on a face with a sickening thud. She cursed--
The tool shed's door slammed open and the air blasted her with its searing cold. Beyond the door bodies flew through the wind, carried like leaves in the screeching storm. She screamed. The distant shovel was blown like an arrow straight at her house--
She heard a thin, distant scream, slight but unmistakable. The tool shed door slammed shut.
"Moya," she said.
"Moya!" she screamed, and ran to the door: it was stuck. Beating it with her frozen hands, *"Moya!"*
Slowly, Sandra nodded. "Yes, High Mother. We will be able to continue the race."
"A race cleansed of the unnecessary sex!" The High Priestesses eyes blazed. "Come sisters, thank God for Her technology--now a woman shall have children using genes from another woman, and *No more men!"*
Recently, the High Priestess' passion had begun to unnerve Clara. "We should still run some tests," Sandra mumbled, "And try to impregnate someone, see if it takes hold--"
"Clara?" The High Priestess waved at her. "You like having children. Let her test it on you."
Clara hesitated. There were hardly any children in the colony. The number of pregnancies had been dropping drastically for years. Women blamed the men, and the men, women. Clara was one of few who had any children at all. So the idea of being pregnant again enticed her.
"Okay," she said softly. "Um--High Mother? Once the plan is carried through, I propose we hold a service, a vigil if you will, to honor," she said with difficulty, "Honor the memory of our men."
Slowly and clearly, the High Priestess said, "Poppycock."
"After all," Clara faltered, "They do make us food. . .build the houses--they do provide for us, High Mother, and we should--"
"Have you lost your mind!" the High Priestess screeched. "We shall leave them in the snow, so that we might *spit* upon them!"
"Why don't we just drug them, and then move them across the planet?" Sandra said suddenly.
The slap the High Priestess dealt Sandra rang through the room. Clara was on her feet, "That was uncalled for!" she shouted indignantly as she gathered Sandra in her arms.
"I am an old woman," the High Priestess said, staring searchingly at Clara's face. "I founded this Cult. I know about men." Her face was pale, and her lips trembled, spastically. "I know about men."
With a sudden swirl of her robes, the High Priestess left. "She's our spiritual advisor?" Clara asked.
"You're hugging me," Sandra said wonderingly.
Clara realized that she was. Quickly she released Sandra--"I'm sorry," she said.
"The injection worked," said Sandra.
Suddenly Clara felt cold. No matter how many slaps she had dealt Sandra, she had never revealed what had been in that damned hypo--"Your experiment work, Sandra?" she demanded caustically.
"Come with me. Please. I want to show you something."
Sandra made Clara wince by grabbing her hand, but she suffered herself to be dragged through the colony until they reached the laboratory. Once there Clara was impressed; she had not realized that the High Priestess had wrangled such a high security clearance for Sandra. "Here it is."
A huge, sprawling laboratory, with every conceivable piece of lab equipment. There were even animals in cages. "This is where I do the work the High Priestess assigned me," Sandra said, "Like the woman-to-woman fertilization device. It's only because it took me so long to understand the book that the Plan wasn't implemented months ago."
"Did you take long on purpose?" Clara asked.
Sandra carefully looked away. "But it was here that I made the real discovery. Clara, we've got to stop them." Sandra squeezed her hand. "It isn't the men's fault, Clara. It's the air. See--"
Sandra lead her through the laboratory, into the midst of the caged animals. Clara flinched, ready to avoid being bitten. Sandra smiled and shook her head. "They're docile."
"All our animals are tame."
"No. You see, the lab works from its own air supply. We are completely self-contained, cut off from the outside world. In the lab we're still using the InfinOxy tanks from Earth to supply the our air."
"In here we breath Earth's air, Clara."
"Are you saying. . ."
"In here, Clara, men--males--are as they are supposed to be."
Gingerly, Clara turned to one of the cages. Inside was a male dog, something always to be avoided. Yet inexplicably, Clara raised her fingers and thrust them into the cage bars. The dog happily licked her fingers.
Dizziness swirled over Clara. "My god," she gasped. She had never seen such a thing. "It's all, it's all been a nightmare."
Sandra nodded. "You got to help me stop them."
"Does it only affect men?" Clara asked.
"No," Sandra said forcefully. "It affects both sexes equally. Women are supposed to be more gentle than we are."
"Gentle." Clara shook her head. "How could we be more gentle?"
"I'm not sure--but I think that maybe women are acting like men, and men are acting like, like--monsters. You would think it would even out. After all, here we are the gentler sex compared to the men, and thus you'd think we'd get along. Yet on Earth, women as a whole usually forgave men their injustices. Here, we never do."
Sandra's last words made Clara uneasy. "Only one thing's wrong with your theory," she said. "Your injection hasn't made me feel any different."
Sandra frowned. "That injection I gave you was an antigen. It nullifies the effect of the outside atmosphere. The problem is that I have developed very little antigen for women, and I am still working on one for the men." Sandra drew her close. "Another colony ship is due here in ten years. I have launched a probe which will tell in incoming ship my discoveries and my formulas. The new colonists will be safe. But I don't have the necessary equipment to produce enough formula for the entire colony."
"You mean we have to wait for the ship?" Clara asked. "They're not coming!"
Sandra looked startled. "I know we've lost contact with Earth, but--"
"Earth is gone," Clara said. "Don't you remember? The men destroyed it!"
"That's just a fairy tale!" Sandra cried. "There's no proof! Of course Earth still exists!"
"It's what my mother told me ever since I was a child!" Clara snapped. "It must be true. Men are evil! Evil!"
"The antigen takes awhile to work," Sandra whispered. "I am already noticing its effects. It just takes time--"
Before them stood a young, smiling, sandy-haired man. Instantly Clara tensed and put a protective hand on Sandra's shoulders. Sandra shrugged her hand away. "You don't need to do that. That's Billy, and he spends all his time here, too."
Clara eyed Billy closely. He neared with an outstretched hand. "Hi. What's your name?"
She took his hand cautiously. "Clara."
With a half-grunt, half-scream, she slammed the pick-axe into the door. Her body burned with sweat. A few minutes later she squeezed herself through the hole, sobbing at scratches the jagged edges inflected on her body.
The wind had calmed somewhat, yet it still raised great clouds of black dust. She shrieked as the wind buffeted her, the dust roaring over her like a cloud. Blindly she ran for the house.
The open door was intact. Her daughter lay not far from the shovel. There was no blood, yet Moya had a dark bruise on her forehead. Clara touched her, her heart pounding. "Moya?"
Moya's eyes slowly opened. Clara breathed a huge sigh of relief. "Oh, Mama. . .my head *hurts*."
Clara hugged her fiercely. "Moya, I told you not to go onto the porch. Thank god you're all right!"
"Mama. . .it's cold."
Clara willed the door to shut. The distant computer sluggishly replied, and the door slowly closed. Rising, she walked through the hallway, to her son's room. She opened the door.
In the cradle was her son, crying. Leaving him alone for so long had tormented her. Now, to hear his cries tore at her gut. She set Moya on the floor and ran to him, raised him to cuddle to her breast. He was greedy, and she closed her eyes, feeling his strong lips.
"You two make it all worth while," she said, laughing a little as his lips tickled her. "I did it all for you," she said sweetly. "They're all dead for you."
"I stay here almost all the time," he told her, as he showed her the lab. "It helps me avoid my father. If I stay around him for too long, I become really angry, so I stay here with my sister." He smiled. "Been cooped up here for almost two years."
"Do you know Sandra's theory?"
Billy nodded. "Yes. You see, my father beats me, sometimes."
"Do you want to kill your father?" Clara asked.
Billy looked startled. "What? No! What an idea!"
For the first time, Clara suddenly doubted herself and her righteous anger. Maybe Sandra was right.
"What happened to your face?" Billy asked with concern.
Billy suddenly looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
"No. . ." Clara felt touched by the quaint question. It sounded like something a character in the old holo-shows would have asked. Most people would smirk at such a touchy-feely question. People always had bruises, what else would one expect when they hit each other all the time?
"Does it hurt?" Billy asked. When she gaped, he looked away. "I'm sorry--I didn't mean to embarrass you--"
She seized him and kissed him, hard.
When she broke and gasped for breath, "Why did you do that?" he stammered.
"I-I don't know." His grasp round her waist was soft, not crushing, and his hands trembled, as he unconsciously raised his hand toward her--"I'm, I'm sorry if I did something wrong--"
She kissed him again. When he responded, she tensed.
He did not bite.
And then she could not stop kissing him.
Moya would have to eat soon. She had been being almost cruel to her daughter, forcing her to sleep all the time. Yet she had to try and keep Moya occupied until she had buried all the bodies.
When the power had stopped, all the food in the house had ruined. The yeast plant had still been trying to generate food last she had checked. Closing her eyes, she consulted the implant, reaching to the computer for data. At last, some good news--the plant was working.
She suddenly realized her ravenous hunger. She would have to brave the cold, and leave her children. Yet hesitating, she realized that there was something more important. She woke Moya gently. "Moya, child," she whispered, "I have to go to the lab."
"Mama. . .I'm so hungry."
"I know, I'll get food. . .but first I have to get something."
Kissing each gently on the lips, she left.
Her husband lay on the bed. His face was blotched; someone had beat him recently. "Come here, baby," he lisped.
She stood by the bureau, trembling: The dagger lay before her. All day she had been at the computers, programming the mind-link implants. These computer links would become necessary once the men were gone, as there would be too few people to manually maintenance the camp. As a consequence, she was dead tired. Yet he did not care.
The idea of killing him sickened her. It had seemed so pleasant once, a necessity, even. Yet now she saw him in a new light. Perhaps, underneath all those bruises, was a kind. Did not that men have a right to live? Did not all men? She knew that even on earth, men had been cruel to women. Yet if Earth women could forgive, why not her, too?
Damn Sandra and her little hypo, she cursed bitterly. She could not harm him now. There was no will for killing in her. It had all fled, like the regular blood of her "weaker" sex. "Harry," she said slowly, softly, "I'm pregnant."
A long, long moment of silence; she waited, full of hope for a joyful response. He had been happy last time, until he had discovered that she bore a daughter.
"I didn't want to have another kid right now, Clara. I've been using the birth control. I haven't been producing any sperm."
She nodded, slowly. "Oh."
"Yeah." Another silence, "Whose the father, Clara?"
She swallowed. How stupid could she have been? "Maybe you, you missed a pill."
Suddenly she felt rage, white rage. "Don't you talk to me like that," she shrieked. "I'm your wife, your wife! Don't I get any respect from you! You have no *right* to treat me like this!"
"You damned whore!"
The book he threw hit her--she stumbled, fell, knocking stuff from the bureau. He had risen from the bed, and now lorded above her. His slap literally rocked her world. He did not speak, did not curse. He was undoing his pants. She watched, eyes full of tears. She thought of Billy, so gentle, so kind. She had never known that such gentleness was possible--he had been like a dove, like warm, warm water, lapping until she had felt waves. . .
"I forgive you," she whispered. "I forgive you."
"Shut up." His second slap made her see stars. By the overturned candle, she spotted the dagger.
And he never saw it.
Suddenly he lay darkening the floor. Her hand was trembling; the blade was bloody and stained. "I, I," she stuttered, staring at his wide, shocked eyes, "I, I, I. . .love you, Harry, I, I. . ." her reflection in his fading eyes, his eyes. . .
She vanished from them.
"I'm free," she said. Suddenly she felt giddily happy. "We're all free. We're all free." She raised the dagger, tears dripping from her eyes--"Free at last! Free at last!" She sounded insane, even to herself--"God almighty, all women we're free at last!"
As she returned from the yeast generator, she found them scattered across the compound, twisted and broken. Many were familiar. There was Sandra. There was the High Priestess. There was her husband.
She knelt beside him. It seemed that in his open eyes, she could still see the shock, the betrayal. What if Moya saw him?
"It wasn't your fault," she whispered. "It was this damn planet, this goddamned planet."
And Billy, where was Billy's body? She looked round, but could not find him. Billy and she had made love many times, even after all the other men were dead. She and Sandra had kept him hidden, like an endangered species. "I killed you two," she said bitterly. "I had to--it was all or nothing, all or nothing--"
She slammed her fist to the soil, pounded that unyielding ground, until a bone in her hand cracked. She screamed in agony at the two moons floating on freezing wind.
Eventually she rose to find the shovel.
The pain was dulled by medication, yet the effort was great. "It's coming--I see it--"
She groaned aloud, perspiration dripping into her eyes, stinging--"Here it is!"
Sudden, powerful relief: she gasped and slumped onto the bed. "Oh, it's so beautiful--take the scissors, Marianne--" snip "--Oh, oh, it's--"
She slowly opened her eyes. "--it's--" She heard a collective gasp.
The High Priestess's face was stark in the dim light.
"No," Clara said. "No, not my son."
"We can't let this problem begin all over again. Women are experiencing the first real peace they've ever had--"
"That's crap," Clara said bitterly. "They fight amongst themselves. And they must work in the fields all the time. Some have died from the strain. They are only getting angry and bitter. I think Sandra was right, there is something--"
"We'll put it to a vote." The High Priestess smiled.
The implant in her skull sent a beep into her fragile brain. She jumped. Sounds like that could kill.
The emergency link told her the details of the failure, but she hardly understood the techno-data it rattled. There would be no warmth in the house. Her children would--
The hole was deep enough. Digging was easy once one found the right tools. One by one, she dragged the bodies--
They took away her son as if he were a rabid pet. They all agreed--having a male around only invited trouble. "Why do you want to bring us another man?" they asked her. "Don't you remember what they did to us? You hated them, too."
What defense did she have against those words?
"Every man I knew but one, beat me, spit at me, treated me like crap--and we weren't the only ones. All through time, women suffered. But we have to forgive. . ."
"We forgave and forgave and forgave," said another woman. "But when we fought, we became free."
"If you can't forgive the innocent, you're not a woman!" she cried.
"We made a choice," said the High Priestess, in a loud ringing voice. "We made a choice to escape the torment of our selfish, evil men. We made a choice." The High Priestess turned to Clara. "I thought you made a choice, too."
"Yes, it's all simply a matter of honor," they muttered amongst themselves.
"Honor!" she bristled. "That's man's talk! Only men ever used their honor as an excuse for war and hate! Women forgive!" she almost screamed. "We forgive, forgive! *That's* my choice!"
"It wasn't your choice then," said the High Priestess.
The words stabbed her like a knife. Of all of them except Sandra, she was the only who might have known what a woman was supposed to be. And even so, she had killed. . .
"We've forgiven for too long, for almost forever," another woman said. "Women have done too much forgiving."
"But he's my son," she wept. "He's my child. He's a human being. I know I hated men, I know I wished them all dead. But he's my son, and I could forgive him anything. . ."
"That's the danger," they said. "Too much love is dangerous. You can have a nice, female baby--this one we'll kill painlessly."
They filed from the meeting hall. The High Priestess smiled. "So that's why you wouldn't let Sandra examine you, when you were pregnant. You were worried we might discover a boy."
Clara was struggling to control her tears. "Once I only cared about my daughter. Now that's not true, I love my son: I am going to stop you."
The wind rustled the High Priestess's skirts. "This damned wind," the High Priestess said casually, "Does it ever get warmer?"
"You feed off this air, you frigid bitch!" Clara screamed.
The High Priestess laughed.
"Oh, by the by, Clara--just how are you going to stop us?" The High Priestess smiled. "I'll kill him with the knife you used on your husband. It makes poetic justice that way. Shall we call it a circumcision?" Laughing, the High Priestess walked from the square.
The computer warned her that her children were freezing. The link transmitted their cries. She stood above the one, mass grave, pouring oil over the bodies. She saw every face: each had a comlink implant.
It had been very simple to rewire the computers, and cause the implants to emit sharp, sonic bursts. The sound had drilled into their brains, like screams piercing their consciousness, destroying the fragile gray matter, driving them mad, killing them.
It had been an all or nothing solution. They had given her no time. The High Priestess fell dead, dropping the dagger she held--They had all died, Billy, Sandra. She fingered her neck, touching where she had stabbed herself to destroy her implant. Inserting the new one had been an experience in agony.
Entering the house, she stepped into her son's room. Her daughter ran to her--she had the baby in her arms, the blessed girl. Tiredly, she lay her hands upon them one more time.
"Moya," she said, "Do you love your brother?"
"Of course, Mama."
"Good," she said with relief. "I wanted to hear you say that, before I gave you this." From her pocket she took a hypo, and pressed it into Moya's arm. Her daughter cried, and Clara shushed her, removing the second hypo from her pocket. "Oh, Sandra," she sighed, studying it. "It was almost the last thing you did."
She injected the hypo into her son's arm. The baby cried as the antigen filled him. "Now you're both truly my babies," she sighed. "Truly human." She smiled sardonically. "Come."
She took them to the grave. "You see all these faces?" Moya nodded. "They all died for you and your brother. Each and everyone."
"Forgot what, Mama?"
She stared at the two ghostly moons. Even in this freezing air, amidst all this death and all her guilt, somehow she could still find warmth in Moya's voice, find love, a mother's love.
"It means that someday, to be a woman. . .no, to be a human being, means that someday you'll have to find a way to forgive someone. That's what it means to be human. That's the most important thing I can think of, at least right now." She faltered. "Maybe someday maybe you'll forgive me for killing your father."
Moya hugged her mother. Yet Clara simply could not stop crying about being human. She never was able to.
Finally, she took a lighter and tossed it into the grave. The flame sprang like a cry to heaven, and was soon a fiery gate, passing on the bodies. There, Clara, her daughter, and her son huddled for warmth.
Time passed. Eventually, the wind died, the moons dimmed, the fire waned. The sky began to shimmer with the dawn.
"Look, Mama, look!" Moya pointed. "The sun's rising!"
Biography:"D.K. Smith is a green, heretofore unpublished young writer raised in L.A. by loving parents and cartoons. (S)." Aphelion is proud to have been the venue of his first published stories. This is his third story to be published in Aphelion. We hope to bring you more of his work in future issues. He can be E-Mailed at:email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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