The launch had been the most violent moment of Lian’s life.
Even after three years of intense training, drug therapy and psychological conditioning she had still been shocked by the immense forces that had played on her body, and by the fear that had gripped her mind.
But now she was experiencing the most serene moment of her life.
It had only been a minute since the main engine had completed its burn, but already she felt calm, at peace, and lighter than a feather. She was in orbit; the first being of her world to travel above the atmosphere and out into the void of space.
The thought of where she was exhilarated her, scared her, aroused her and depressed her. She felt like she had never felt before.
Outside the forward view-port she could see the oceans and continents of her world, laid out before her like a mosaic of blue and dull green. The curve of the horizon was obvious. Finally she knew without question that the world was round. The crusty old scholars at the Great College of Fanatical Beliefs would finally be silenced; their ‘Everything’s Flat’ theories declared a load of intestinal discharge at last.
Lian smiled. She hated those scholars, with their badly groomed beards and well-stuffed midsections. It would be good to see them publicly ridiculed by the images her spacecraft’s cameras were sending back.
A blue light began blinking on a panel in front of her – a message. Lian pressed the button marked ‘receive’.
A voice, shrouded in static, spoke. “Lian? This is ground control. Please respond.”
Lian replied. “Ground control, this is Lian.”
“Thank the creator! We thought you hadn’t made it. Why did you not follow procedure and contact us as soon as you made orbit?”
“Sorry, ground control. I forgot.”
“That is not an acceptable excuse.”
Lian resented the intrusion from ground control. It was contaminating her remarkable experience. “You’d understand if you were seeing what I’m seeing. And feeling what I’m feeling.”
“Professionalism must be maintained at all times. And procedure must be followed at all times.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“I hope you do, it’s almost time for your de-orbit burn.”
Lian looked at her mission clock. Ground control was right. Her short leap into space was due to come to an end. “I think I should stay up for another orbit or two. We now have proof that the world is not flat. We should take this opportunity to gather more images.”
After a moment’s silence ground control responded. “Permission has been denied.”
“But look at the images already gathered! We must…”
“Enough! Scholar Mutcer is here. He is demanding that you return. Prepare for de-orbit burn.”
Lian frowned. Of all the scholars, Sanus Mutcer was the most irritating, and the most repulsive. He was always interfering in science projects, modifying them to prevent the archaic teachings of the Great College from becoming nothing more than sources of humour. He was even present at her most intimate health examinations to ‘ensure her cleanliness’. She shuddered as she remembered his clammy touch.
Before Lian could respond the control panel in front of her flashed to life. Ground control had activated the automatic systems. A regular beep accompanied the countdown to ignition.
The anarchic side of Lian’s personality kicked in. She tried to cancel the countdown and return the controls to manual. The override switch was not functioning.
The blue light began blinking again. Another incoming message. Lian pressed the receive button. “I see you’re trying to switch off the automatic systems. It’s no use trying. The manual override switch has been disabled.”
Lian was furious. “What if the automatic systems fail?! There would be no way for me to pilot my way home!”
“I’m sorry. That’s the way it has to be.”
“Because Scholar Mutcer says so, I presume?”
“Scholar Mutcer’s advice must be followed. You know that, Lian.”
Lian snapped. “When I’ve publicised the images, Scholar Mutcer’s advice will be ignored and ridiculed!”
A different person responded. He sounded old, and every word rasped. “You will publicise nothing.”
Scholar Mutcer’s voice was unmistakable. Lian swallowed, but remained defiant. “As a scientist I must report my findings to the wider intellectual community. You know that, scholar.”
“Only if such findings are truths that adhere to the strict guidelines of revelation laid down by the first scholars of the Great College. Your images do not adhere to those guidelines.”
“Why not? They are clear and unblemished. They reveal the…”
The scholar snarled. “They are blemished with lies – lies that will destroy the cohesion of our society!”
“They will do the exact opposite, scholar. They will enlighten the populace. There will no longer be a need for people to fear the oblivion beyond the edges of the world, as there are no edges. My images prove that!”
“They prove your heresy, nothing more!”
Lian shuddered at the mention of that word. “Heresy? No, scholar. I am simply trying to reveal the truth about…”
“Scholar Mutcer has left, Lian.”
Lian sighed. “I see.” She looked over at the countdown. Twelve seconds to ignition. “I guess I should prepare myself for correctional treatment when I return.”
There was a short pause. “There will be no need. I’m sorry, Lian.”
Lian was confused. “Sorry? Why?”
“Scholar Mutcer advises it. That advice must be followed. Goodbye, Lian.”
The blue light on the communications panel went out. Lian flipped the panel’s switches but nothing was reactivated.
The countdown reached zero...