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The Letter
by Tara O'Shea

The courier looked nervous. In fact, he was nervous, and he had every right to be. He had never been in 47G before, it was a hell of a lot more upscale than the section of the Stations where his unit was located. Potted plants, the real thing, not synthetics, lined the carpeted corridor lit by rows of small soft lights set into the ceiling. The doors were spaced far apart, and he could only guess at the size of the quarters beyond. Even the air smelled fresh, as if it didn't come from the same refining and circulation systems as the rest of the Station.

He rang the bell, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he waited for some kind of answer. He was surprised when the door opened, and an older woman appeared, her white hair swept up in a neat chignon, blue eyes clear and the mind behind them bright and alert as she looked him over. Her scrutiny made the poor Level 2 acutely uncomfortable, and he fairly blushed.

"Can I help you, young man?"

"Yes ma'am. I mean, I'm here to help you ma'am." Somehow he had gotten himself all turned around, and shook his head slightly as if to clear it. He held out an envelope. "I was instructed to deliver this to a Ms. Heller?"

"Well, you've completed your mission admirably then." She accepted the envelope, and waited for him to say something. When he didn't, she closed the door, and opened the sealed packet.

A data chip fell into her palm. Frowning, Jennifer Heller walked over to her terminal and slipped the chip into the drive.

Information scrolled across her screen... and the words slowed, and finally stopped. Jennifer gasped, and sank into the chair, the hand she raised to her mouth in shock shaking as she read the words her daughter had written a lifetime ago.

Dear Mother,

I know this is probably the last thing you expected, to hear from me. I'm not quite sure where to begin, really. And there is so much I have to say. Things I should have said a long time ago.

Before you read the attached files, there's something you should know. I have broken with the Council.

You must understand first of all that I believed in the Council. At least, I believed they worked for the greater good. Perhaps that was naive. But Mother, I have learned so much since then. And the Council has done things that I wouldn't have been able to imagine. I don't know how much of this you already know, and frankly, that alone disturbs me.

If they told you I was dead, they were lying. Blalock planted a bomb on the Advance ship, but we jettisoned it. A neural implant in an Ops crewmember made sure that the Advance ship crashed on G889. We managed to survive, almost intact anyway. That was when the first seed of doubt was planted.

The "Watcher", Reilly, informed me that it had all been a horrible mistake. I shouldn't have believed him, but I wanted to. I wanted to the believe that the Council meant to save humanity. I wasn't naive enough to believe it could be done all at once, but I did believe that it could be done, that G889 would become a new Eden not just to the Syndrome children, but to all of humanity back on the Stations as well. I had a duty. And you certainly always made sure that I was aware of my duty.

The "Watcher" is nothing more than a computer on a satellite, there are no Councilmembers here. The last Council visitors to this world died two years ago, a victim of their own creation. And they died feeling betrayed. They died trying to get back to the Stations and warn the Council that this world couldn't be controlled, not the way the Council wants to try and control it. Elizabeth Anson was the best and the brightest of her generation, and she died alone and among strangers twenty-two light years from the place of her birth.

What frightened me was that she was so like me... We could have been twins, she and I. But I'm not alone. I'm not. And I never will be again.

The Council has been using G889 as a penal colony for some time, more than decades that much is for certain. The attached files are recordings made by Devon Adair's Yale, a man we now know was inducted into the Yale program because he went against Government procedure, and spared lives he was supposed to have taken, as well as my own logs. We've met people here who have been here thirty, forty, fifty years. And those who survived the company of their fellow killers and criminals were hunted by ZEDs, ZEDs engineered by the Council specifically to gather information about the colonists interactions with the natives of this world, and then kill them one by one. Penal colonists children had been experimented on, their pineal glands harvested, and Reilly ordered me to do the same to Ulysses Adair. This amounts to torturing the innocent, and I would have no part of it. And for that, I was told I would die running.

These are not the actions of a benevolent government. And I thought you should know about it. They can't control this world. And that frightens them, I think. I broke with the Council because I realised something very important about myself that I had been hiding from all these years. It wasn't just that the Council used and hurt people. It was something much more personal. You can call it petty if you like.

I had to chose between my loyalty to the Council, and my loyalty to Eden Advance. You have to understand, these people... they have given me more than I can ever put into words. I'm not just a doctor to them. They have become my friends, my family, the family I never had... I don't meant to hurt you, but it's true. You may have given me life, but you were never my mother. And the Council was never my family. To you, and to them, I was just a genetically engineered machine, I wasn't a human being. At least, that's how I felt. The Council didn't own me. I wasn't a thing to be owned. I wasn't Doctor Heller. I was Julia. For the first time in my life, it was all right to just be Julia.

There is a man here who loves me. I never knew what that could be like. And as frightening as it is, he makes me feel like I'm ten feet tall and can run forever. I don't expect you to understand. No, that's a lie, I don't know if you understand. I don't know if you ever felt this way. I was always afraid to ask. But if you never have, then I pity you. And I thank the stars and God above that I've been allowed to feel it, even if it doesn't last, just for a little while.

I had to write this letter because I should have told you how I felt before I left. I knew I'd never see you again, but I didn't have the courage then. Mother, I loved you. I would have done anything to make you smile, to hear you say "I'm proud of you, Julia."

"I love you, Julia."

That's all I wanted, but you never seemed to notice. As long as I followed in your footsteps, that's all you cared about. Did you ever see me? Or did you just see a shadow, someone who would carry on after you when you were gone? Another member of the Heller line to do the Council proud?

Why, mother? That's all I want to know, really. Did you ever realise what you were doing to me? Did you ever realise that all I wanted was to know that I was more to you than chromosomes, a doll you could dress up in labcoat and diaglove, and a legacy? That maybe I wanted to know that there was something beyond creating a doctor for the council when you decided to have me.

That maybe, just maybe, you loved me. That I was important to you. That I was a person. Not a trophy, not a tool, not a wind up toy.

I know I'll never know. But you see, I should have asked a long time ago. The paradox was, I didn't question until I got here. I didn't question until these people's trust changed me, and their love made me realise what had been missing from my life, from me.

I didn't write this letter to accuse you. I just wanted you to know that I've changed. That I'm not the woman you said good-bye to on the Stations. And I wanted you to know exactly what this world is. It's so beautiful here, I learn more about it every day. You deserve to know the truth. About me, about the Council, about this planet. I think the truth may be the only this that really matters now, after all the lies. If the Council does want to relocate humanity, they will have to understand it will not be on their terms. It cannot be. By the time you read these words, over twenty years will have passed since I set them down, and I don't know what those years will bring. But I know what I have now. I have a confidence in myself that I lacked, I have a purpose beyond the purpose I was created for. I have Alonzo's love, which is so much more than I ever could have dreamed for myself. And I have the knowledge that I made the right choice, at last. I learned from my mistakes, and I can only hope that you may learn from them as well.

The screen beeped as she reached the end of the page. The names of the attached files blinked, waiting for her to open them, but she didn't see the screen. Though her eyes were fastened on it, her mind was halfway across the universe, and her heart struggled to follow it.

Sheila Willis paced. Since arriving, she had seen these four walls and nothing else, and it was starting to make her a little stir crazy. Port Authority had locked the returning colonists and crew up tight, like bugs in jars. They said it was decontamination purposes. Willis knew that was the party line, there had not been one drop of news on the 'Nets about their return, and somehow she had a feeling there never would be.

Not if the Council had anything to say about it.

The door beeped, and then slid aside, revealing a slim woman, her face barely lined with the years her eyes spoke of. There was enough of a family resemblance to make Sheila smile.

"Ms. Heller, I presume. I must be pretty important to rate a member of the Board of Regents."

"I haven't been that in decades, Ms. Willis. And this visit is of a personal nature. May I come in?"

"My cell is your cell, by all means," Sheila made a sweeping gesture, and tried not to look stricken when the door hissed shut once again.

"They told me that you asked for me by name, and that it was you who carried the data chip from the planet."

"I didn't know if they would give it to you."

"I am surprised they did. But then, two generations have passed since I was on the Board. Things are very different now."

"They don't seem that different from my end, I'm afraid. From my point of view, the Council tried to blow me up two weeks ago. It takes a little getting used to, realising it's actually been almost fifty years."

"Yes. It does at that." Jennifer Heller stood, back ramrod straight, not a silver hair out of place, and started at the blank wall of the detainment centre cell as if it held the answers to the mysteries of the universe. "Do you have any idea how old I am, Ms. Willis?"

"No, ma'am, I can only guess."

"I am ninety-four years old. That is without the benefit of cold-sleep runs. I lived every second of those years. I'd like to think that they made me wise. Vanity aside, it may just be that I am an old fool. I lost my daughter long before she set foot on that ship. I never really had her. I thought I did, but... well, the time for regrets is long past."

Sheila remained silent, knowing there was nothing she could possibly say right now. There were simply no words.

"You will be released tomorrow. You all will."

"You seem pretty confident of that, ma'am."

"I may not have the power I once did, but I do still know where all the bodies are buried." Jennifer Heller smiled grimly, and straightened her shoulders. She started for the door, and then stopped, slowly turning back to face the pilot. There was an uncertainty, a fragility in those ice blue eyes now that Sheila had not seen before.

"You saw her, spoke to her. Please, was she... was my daughter happy?"

Sheila grinned, and she could see the waves of relief wash through the woman even before she spoke. "Yes, ma'am. She sure seemed to be."

Heller's smile was genuine then, and melted away the sorrow of fifty years. "She deserved to be happy. She deserved so much. So much more..." she shook her head, and keyed the door.

This time when the door slid shut, it wasn't the final, chilling sound it had been. Tomorrow would be interesting, Sheila decided as she lay down on the padded bench that doubled for her bed. Definitely interesting.


Alonzo Solace rolled over in his sleep, and his hand reached out to close on empty space. His eyes flickered open as he stroked the warm sheets where Julia had lay, and he sat up, running his fingers through brown hair now touched with grey at the temples.

She stood at the window, light from the moons edging her nightgown and hair with silver. He padded over to her side on stocking feet and slipped his arms around his waist, following her gaze to the stars above.

"Couldn't sleep?"

She shook her head, her long braid swinging with the gentle movement, and he kissed her temple.

"Today's the day, isn't it."

"Mum?" a child's voice broke through their reverie, and Julia turned to see twelve year old Adrian Solace-Heller rubbing his eye with a fist, framed in the doorway.

"Hey kiddo, it's past your bedtime." Alonzo tousled his son's dark hair. "Jamie's coming tomorrow, you want to be awake to see your sister, don't you?"

The boy nodded, and Julia bent down to kiss his forehead. "Off to bed, we'll come in a minute to tuck you in."

"Will you tell me a story?"

"I'm going to tell you a very special story," Julia promised. "About your grandma."

The boy scampered back to his room, and Julia smiled. "He has her eyes. I wish she could see us. I wish she could know..."

"She does. She's your mother. She knows." Alonzo kissed her softly, and she hugged him tight.

In her quarters, Jennifer Heller looked out at the silent stars, and a single tears traced a path down her pale cheek. "I love you, Julia," she whispered, touching the cold glass. Twenty two light years away, her daughter smiled in her sleep.