Ville’s chapel was a small stone building in the northwest corner of town. Kaelyn pulled her wagon over the threshold and passed through the shadowy entrance into the sanctuary. The wheels clattered over the stone as Kaelyn walked past the wooden pews. Sunlight filled the room, tinting the white walls ever so slightly pink. Ahead of Kaelyn was the altar, covered in white cloth and candles standing on either end. A large cross of wood and bronze hung on the wall above it.
She knew this place well. Her father was one of the masons who built it. It had changed little since she was last here – the day of her father’s funeral. The realization unsettled her. Standing in the sanctuary conjured memories of her father, ones that had turned bittersweet with the years.
“Hello? Reverend Andret?” Kaelyn asked the chapel. Her voice filled the room without any effort at all.
A silver-haired man wearing khakis, a blue button-down shirt, and a priest’s collar stepped through the doorway. “Kaelyn!” Andret greeted her. “What a surprise. How are you?”
“A bit stiffer every day, but I’m getting by.”
Kaelyn hugged her mentor. Andret was one of the few people her father called friend outside of his work crew. Kaelyn and her father came to this church every Solis they were in Ville to hear Andret preach. When her father died, Andret helped Kaelyn start an independent life. She was only thirteen at the time. He introduced her to the farmer whose land she now lives on. He was the one that suggested Kaelyn take up salvage diving in order to earn money. She doubted that she could ever repay him.
“You should talk to the doc about that,” Kaelyn said.
“It’s just old age. Nothing more. So what brings you here?”
“I was diving in Lake Mitchell yesterday, and I found something – weird. The Mayor wants it, but I can’t let him have it. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“Of course not.”
Kaelyn lifted the tarp and pulled out the light sword. She held it at arm’s length, told Andret, “Stand back,” and began rotating her wrist. At last, the light blade appeared.
“Wow,” Andret whispered, awe in his voice.
“Whatever this is, it’ll go straight into the armory. Coltan will find a way to use it, and…” Kaelyn fought back tears and struggled to find words. “I couldn’t live with myself if that happened, knowing…”
“You were the one who found it.”
The light disappeared on its own. Kaelyn nodded yes, wiping away a tear.
“I understand, and I agree. This is far safer in your hands than his. We both know the Mayor too well.”
“We’re assuming it’s some kind of weapon, but I don’t know for sure. I just want to know where it came from and how it got in the lake. You know a lot about history. You’re the only person I know would could help.”
Andret was silent for a minute, then he said, “I may have the answers you’re looking for. Leave your cart up here and follow me.”
Kaelyn put the light sword back in her food crate and parked her wagon in front of a pew. She followed Andret into a side hallway. He took a lantern off the bookshelf, then a ring of keys out of the pocket of his khakis. “No one comes down here but me,” he said. “Your dad didn’t even know about this place. And I’d like to keep it that way. So please, will you keep my secret?”
“Of course. You’re keeping a big one of mine.”
He unlocked the door at the end of the hallway. It opened onto a dark stairwell. He turned a knob on the top of the lantern, igniting its icy white light. “Watch your step,” he warned Kaelyn as he descended the stairs. Kaelyn followed close behind, feeling the inner wall as she climbed down the steep, narrow stairs.
After a few minutes, they reached the bottom. The lantern’s light revealed a room as big as the sanctuary above, with as many shelves as there were pews. The shelves reached floor to ceiling, and every one was filled with books and papers. “Woah,” Kaelyn whispered. She had never seen so many books in one place before.
Andret led the way down the center aisle. “I have plenty of records on Lake Mitchell – from the war, from the colony days, even some fragments from before Mars was terraformed.”
“Before terraforming?!” Kaelyn was shocked. That was easily a thousand years ago.
Andret ducked into a row and ran his fingers over the books on the shelf. Kaelyn could believe some of these books were from the war and the colony days. They looked that old. But the others looked fairly new and handmade.
“So this is your secret?” she asked.
“Why? This place is incredible.”
Andret smiled. “The Mayor wouldn’t agree. He placed a bounty on all books as soon as he conquered Ville.”
“Bounty? He wants to destroy them? Why?”
“Maybe the gangs want to perpetuate a myth of how they were always in charge and things have always been this way. Maybe they don’t want anyone getting bright ideas about rebellion. Or maybe the Mayor is just scared of people who are smarter than him. All I know is that if he ever discovers this place, he will burn the whole church.”
At last, Andret found something. “Yes. Here are local accounts of the war. These will have what you are looking for.” He set the lantern down and started handing Kaelyn books and stacks of loosely bound papers.
With their arms full, Andret led Kaelyn to a table at the back of the library. In a shadowy far corner, she spotted a large machine with gears and levers and two boards that could sandwich something between them. “What’s that?” Kaelyn asked.
Andret glanced over his shoulder. “Oh. That’s my printing press.”
“Bookmaking is a hobby of mine.”
Kaelyn slid out a book from her stack, one of the newer, handmade ones. “You made these?”
“About a dozen of them, yes. I’m working on the journal of the first human exploration of Mars. The crew was starting their descent into Valles Marineris where I left off. It’s fascinating.”
Kaelyn and Andret got to work reading through the books and papers. She easily found a full account of the battle of Lake Mitchell which was pieced together from recordings of army radio chatter – back when things like radios still worked. The enemy was only identified as “the others.” Even though their best estimates said that the whole enemy army died, Ville never assumed victory. According to the account’s epilogue, Ville’s generals even feared retaliation, but it never came.
“Any idea who these ‘others’ are?” Kaelyn asked Andret.
“Others?” he answered.
“That’s all they say about the enemy. ‘Others who came from the northern hills.’ Nothing about who they were or what they looked like. Nothing.”
“That’s strange.” He turned back to the papers in his hands. “The military being vague is one thing, but these civilians aren’t saying much either.”
“I’d always heard that we fought against aliens. The extraterrestrial kind. But some people are saying that wasn’t true – that the aliens were just some lost colony.”
“Why are you laughing?”
“I’ve heard that theory too. I just find it hilariously proud.” Kaelyn said nothing, not understanding what Andret meant. “I can pull out three dozen books of records from the colony days, some going back to Ville’s founding. None of them say anything about a second colony in the northern hills. It’s all people making up stories for themselves to replace the ones their parents and grandparents told them.”
“How’s that proud?”
“People don’t want to believe there’s something out there that’s better than us. Something we’d be powerless against. Something we don’t understand.” He flipped a page and his face fell. “I think I just found your answer,” he said, sliding the stack of papers across the table to Kaelyn.
The words at the top of the page described the enemy’s one tactical advantage over Ville – “a range of energy and plasma weapons.” The drawing below was credited to “an unknown sailor.” The weapon had a familiar, cylindrical handle that was shaded dark. The long blade was left white, and there were tiny lines radiating from it. This was the artist’s way of showing that it was glowing.
“Holy…!” Kaelyn covered her mouth before she could offend the priest. This was the light sword she had in her wagon upstairs. “I was right?”
“Just as we feared.”
Stunned, Kaelyn stared at the drawing for a few moments more. “What do I do?”
“Hide it somewhere that no one will find it again. Somewhere that Coltan will never look.”
“I know just the place.”
©2019 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.