By the time Beth came and got me for dinner, I had been absorbed in the journal for several hours. It had belonged to Diana, the daughter of Danaë, the original Chronian. She spent several chapters just describing her mother and those twelve years Danae wandered through time as the Prime. The sparks, as it turns out, were a reaction only Danaë had felt- when Hyperion had attuned the heart-stone to her as he built the Estate. The connection afforded her a degree of control over the Estate, which had me curious if the same would be true for me and the Pleiades.
Diana’s recount of Danaë’s adventures consumed me, and as I left for dinner I slid the diary into the desk incase it put itself away while I was gone.
“There are a few more things I need to teach you. Anna left soon after I transitioned and there was so much I wish she had taught me straight off the bat. I don’t want to leave you in the lurch like that, this life is not for the faint of heart or the ill prepared.” Beth sat me down on an old stool at the island bench in the galley.
“I don’t understand, how is there an overlap? I thought you said new Chronians were only picked when the old one was at death’s door?” I watched as she pulled several containers out of the fridge.
“I don’t know the mechanics of it, some of the more scholarly Chronians have speculated it has something to do with Danaës husband and his attempt to break the curse. Suffice to say there is usually enough time to impart the necessary survival skills to the next Chronian before disappearing.” She served up two plates of noodles, a mystery white meat and a pile of salad greens.
“Oh. Right. What is this?” I poked curiously at the white, meaty substance with my fork when she slid a plate in front of me.
“Crocodile. The last place I Shifted was in a group of South Pacific islands, crocodile is a staple there. They showed me how to hunt with spears and this meat was from the first croc I hunted successfully on my own.” Beth grinned victoriously.
I placed a small chunk in my mouth and chewed gingerly, half expecting her to drug me again. It didn’t taste at all like I was expecting, more like pork than fish, and no detectable poisons. It was a little tough, but not unpalatable.
“You’ll have to get adventurous with your food if you want to survive. You can go months before getting to a place with the food you’re used to, and even then there is no guarantee you’ll have the right currency.” Beth said, dipping her meat in a bowl of sauce.
We ate the rest of the meal in contemplative silence as I drifted off into my own little world. The last few days had been mostly a blur and, all things considered, I thought I’d been taking it all rather well. I had yet to process most of the things Beth had said, there was just so much I had to learn and so quickly after arriving it hurt my head to think about it all. Beth had admitted that she was keeping me slightly sedated, she didn’t know how violently I might react to the situation, and in a way I was grateful that the meds were dulling my emotions to a manageable level. The anger and frustration I still felt was churning furiously away under the surface, I had wondered why it wasn’t spilling forth in a frothy fury. Intellectually, I understood. It would be months, maybe even years, before the situation made sense in my head and I wondered if I would be able to cope with it all.
So far, Beth’s story about the unique mythology surrounding the universe was the biggest, most intriguing part of the whole situation up to that point.
••”It’s a little convoluted.” She said when we had chatted earlier.
“Isn’t all religion?” I asked jokingly.
Her pause said it all.
“The thing is, religion is a human construct. Man will always need a higher power to blame when things go wrong or to excuse their behaviour, and it’s not like there isn’t a bunch of them to choose from either. The most important part is that they are all true; every single god and goddess exists, just not the way we imagine it. Christians have it partly right. God and his trinity ARE the center of it all, but that’s not the whole story. Every single religion stems from reality.” She watched my face as I tried to wrap my head around that bombshell.
“What?” I didn’t mean for my voice to go that high and scratchy.
“It’s complex, and trying to understand it all fully might just give you a complex.” Beth chuckled.
“No kidding.” I choked out.
“Let me try to make it simple. The Norse people had the Universe thing right. Our reality breaks down into five branches, or layers, one above the other. The middle layer is humanity – Midgard, for lack of a better term – and has the hundreds of millions of alternate universes that we cycle through as Chronians. Above it is the Elysian Fields, where the undeserving cursed live. It was where Hyperion built the Estate. Above that is Heaven, for the deserving dead. Below us is Tartarus, for the deserving cursed, and then Hell for the undeserving dead. It is presided over, for the most part, by the Hosts — both Holy and Unholy. Neither are truly what we mortals have come to view as Angels and Demons, they’re each just as bad as each other.
There are three tiers for the Holy Host; The Arelim make up the top-tier, they are soldiers, protectors of the Planes. The second tier is the Seraphim, guardians of Mortals, which is where all the religions in our many universes stem. Greek, Roman, Norse, even Japanese and Korean deities are all based on the Seraphs. The third tier, the lowest of them all, are the Cherubim. They are essentially gofers and errand boys. The Unholy Host run the same way; with the Acheri soldiers at the top, the Inferi in the middle class and Faeri, who make up the lowest tier.” She explained calmly.
“Fairies are demons?” My forehead scrunched in confusion.
“Fairies, as in the little winged people? No. Those are Fae not Faeri. Faeri are the lower class demons, such as Daevas.” Beth shook her head.
“That’s not confusing at all.” I snorted.
“I did tell you.” Her tablet beeped and she looked away to deal with it.••
It wasn’t until Beth pulled my empty plate from under my nose that I came back to the present.
“Time to see how well you do with weapons.” She said, scraping off the plates and stacking them beside the large sink.
“What kind of weapons?” I hadn’t picked up any weaponry outside of video games since primary school camp archery lessons.
“We have dozens of kinds of weapons in the armoury. Everything from the medieval era to the four-hundred-and-sixth century.” We headed towards the armoury and I tried to memorize my way.
Halfway there I gave up.
“Are there maps anywhere on the ship?” I asked, trying not to get too turned around.
“In the receiving room, and the ballroom I think, but not anywhere else.” Beth replied after a moments thought.
“Do you think we could pop some up soon? I have the worst sense of direction.” I grimaced.
Beth said nothing and opened a door marked with a pair of crossed swords using a keypad beside the handle.
“This is the armory.” She said, sweeping her arm wide.
The room was wide and deep, a display of various weapons taking up the front half of the room, with four massive shelves in the back stacked to capacity.
“The door code is 5842, you can change that on the central computer on the bridge. It’s also the code for the ammunition locker.” She led me towards the back wall.
“Can you show me how to do that later?” I asked, running my hands over the shelves.
“This is the training simulator.” She pointed to a box mounted on the ceiling.
“Don’t we need a firing range or something?” Curiously, my fingers were dust free as I lifted them off the shelves.
“Not with this. This is a live fire key.” Beth held up a cylinder that had a sensor attached by a wire. “It’s inserted into the barrel of the gun, and the sensor goes behind the trigger. It measures accuracy and simulates recoil without expending any bullets. You will need to conserve those.”
She opened one of the wall cases and pulled out a small hand gun.
“This is an ACP 1911.” She handed it to me.
“It’s pretty light, I thought it would be heavier.” I commented.
“It’s not loaded.” Beth smirked.
I spun it around my finger by the trigger guard and pretended to holster it, I’d always wanted to do that.
“It was a standard U.S military service weapon for a while.” Beth proceeded to show me how to screw in the sensor and turn on the simulator.
The controls for the simulator were in a wall mounted touch screen, and I could set it to pretty much any scenario I wanted. We drilled firing and safety for a few hours before calling it quits for the night. The only thing I knew before we started was what the safety looked like and how to turn it off/on, and the credit for that could pretty much go to all the action movies I had ever watched. Beth taught me the different classes of weapons, the basics of dis-assembly and cleaning, and how to shoot. I was pretty impressed with my accuracy, normally I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a beach ball. Before we left, Beth opened the ammunition case and talked me through identifying caliber.
“For the 1911, you can use the 9mm Parabellums, the .460 Brownings and the 9×23 Winchester rounds. Don’t waste them if you can help it. Tomorrow, I’ll go over some basic self defence and blades with you.” Beth closed the munitions case while I unhooked the simulator key and set the ACP back in its slot on the wall.
Beth led me to a bedroom and I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow. I hadn’t realised how tired I really was, though I guessed some of that could be attributed to the drugs Beth had pumped me with initially.
I dreamed of rifles with talking barrels.
In the morning, after a breakfast of cereal and buttery toast, we returned to the armoury for more training. This time, Beth selected a pair of swords from a ladder mount on the wall.
‘These are O-wakizashi, or ‘side-inserted sword’. They are Japanese folded steel. The O means that they are the longer version of the blade- sixty centimetres. These came from a sword smith I worked with briefly in feudal Japan, in 1492.’ Beth explained as she handed me one of the blades.
The sword hilt was a gorgeous glossy black wood, with soft silver filigree working its way up to the hand guard and the sheath itself. A tiny jade dragon embedded in the hilt of the sword made the filigree look like it was fire breathed by the tiny creature . The sword Beth held was the complete opposite, a bone white wood with jagged gold filigree erupting from its own tiny jade dragon.
Beth refused to let me unsheathe the blade, and instead we sparred with bokken. I was a little disappointed, but when Beth demonstrated how sharp the blades really were I figured it was better I not lose any fingers this early on.
After lunch she showed me some simple, easy to remember self-defense techniques. She left me to practice with the simulator which produced a holograph of a randomized assailant while she did whatever she normally did when she left me to my own devices. The wall cases were bullet proof and the shelving sat behind a magnetic field that stopped any movement travelling faster than two kilometres an hour, so it didn’t matter if I practiced with unsheathed blades or live rounds. The holograph randomized itself into a new opponent every ten minutes, and it was fascinating. When using a blade the resistance to each strike felt real, the ring of metal on metal sounded crystal clear even though my opponent was nothing but pinpoints of light. It was incredible technology.
When I emerged close to dinner time, Beth was nowhere around. I assumed she was somewhere I hadn’t been yet. After freshening up I checked the bridge and the archives, she wasn’t to be found though. I prepared dinner for the both of us, a vegetarian stir-fry using most of the leftovers from the previous night. At nine she still hadn’t turned up, and I went back to all the places we’d been in the past few days. It was well past midnight by the time I made my way back to my bedroom, and I hadn’t yet found her.