I’m writing a series of novels: the Seeking Scylla series. Some characters dance on the edges of the narratives. Some never make it in. In Beyond Scylla blogs, I share stories and vignettes about these characters.

Graduation with Honors

Kiara’s cold fingers tremble as she clips her pin to her collar.

Cold? Nervous? Both?

The pin seems like an extravagance in a bleak time, but they insist. Uniforms, badges, stripes, pins. Graduating with honors.

“You’re going places!”

What places? Kiara asks herself. There’s nowhere left to go?

Today she’ll find out.

“All positions are honorable,” they drill into all the trainees’ heads.

They drill this and other Academy truths in their heads because, “Truth is your armor! Place the helmet of truth on your head!”

Some trainees confess in whispers, the truth is some positions are more desirable.

Kiara’s safe under her helmet (truth, honor, duty…), wearing it since she was… was I three when they took me?

Kiara’s memories of that day are vague —Was I four? Five?— but she remembers trouble.

“Every child is precious!” the officer informed Kip and Pilarna as they wrested Kiara from her mom’s arms.

Kiara’s memories of her mom tremble, cold and jittery. She remembers some things: her parents’ resistance, the rifle butt that slammed across… was it her mom’s head or her dad’s? The butt of the rifle swung close to Kiara, so close to her “precious child” head that the whoosh of it carried the smell metallic oils to her nostrils.

“You are our future! Every child is precious. Every child must learn the truth.” Drill, drill, drill.

The memories are slippery.

Dad, he doesn’t let me forget.

“Have you been in touch with your parents?” they demanded on two occasions. Twice she answered no, her shaky fingers hidden behind her back. Her response wasn’t accurate, but it was true.

Helmet of Truth

The bells sound outside. Kiara has never loved the Academy campus, but it’s all she knows. Her small suitcase is packed and sitting next to the clean folded sheets.

Someone new will move into this space she shared with five trainees. She and her roommates are all graduating today, all except Demetria. She won’t graduate this year, probably never will. Alia says she heard Demetria was sent to the chambers, indefinite torpor.

At the last minute, Kiara thought to retrieve fresh sheets to leave on Demetria’s bed.

“Fresh sheets and a truth you learned at the Academy.” That was the tradition. Kiara leaves the same truth on Demetria’s bed that she wrote for hers. She knows the proctors read all the notes, so she’s cautious.

Through our obedience and works, we will heal the planet.

Kiara believes there is some truth in it.

The first time, her dad pulled her into the dark utility closet, spoke quickly and firmly. The meeting shook her. When he left, she marched straight to the rector to report him, stopping just outside the door. Kiara had already been to the chambers as a student-trainee. She’d already seen what they do.

Will they send him to perpetual torpor?

“Have you been in touch with your parents?”

How could they know? I never spoke a word to him, so, “No, sir!”

Kiara’s encounter with her dad stunned her. She wasn’t sure what to do with it, so she tucked it deep. She had almost forgotten about her secret when it happened again, a different place this time. Fast, firm, hurried words, even more this time.

I have a sister and a brother? but only to herself.

Then he named it. The CUUE.

Crack of Truth

In 14th-year history class, the Academy teaches about the center established by the resistance, a community of revolutionaries, thick book of photos showing deplorable living conditions, starving resisters, now prisoners, no escape, atrocious experimentation.

Kiara wondered how she could have a brother and sister in such a place, why her mom would keep them there. Selfish! For a moment in those minutes that stretched for kilometers, she hated her dad.

His words were fast, furious, determined.

Rejuvenation, restoration, abundance, energy field, flowers, forests…

This time he had pulled her into a supply room with a small window, enough light to see his face. Her eyes adjusted the memory of his face to the face just centimeters from her own.

Greenhouses, neighborhoods, playgrounds, future, technology…

There it was. The dirty word. Technology, the root of all evil. The reason we are losing the planet.

Your mom and I won’t give up on you, Kiara. You have to believe me. We won’t. 

Kiara hated the confusion in her head. The helmet of truth had hardened and become thick over the years, comfortable, safe. Which word cracked it? Brother? Sister? Your mom? Tiny slit of light. Was it forests? Flowers? Abundance? A beam of questions flooded through the hairline fracture.

The bells ring again. Kiara’s four companions line up at the door, cases in their left hands, ready for their victory march to graduation.

Kiara wraps her cold fingers around the handle of her case. Dread sinks with a thud in her belly.

All positions are honorable. But what if mine is aimed at resisters, at resisters like Pilarna and Kip?

She pauses outside the supply closet, wishing for the whoosh of his whispers in her ear, the directness of a voice from the other side.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021