Hinterlight Abbey

spaceship on the horsehead nebulae


hinterlight, n.

1. The area surrounding the flight vector of a faster-than-light spaceship. Also applied generally to visible emissions from a generation ship in space.

* * *

The abbot pinged my cell a mere two hours into my sleep shift, leaving me cranky even before I heard his message. Sister Ursula required my assistance with a new oblate; report to the novitiate immediately; blessed are the hintermost. Involuntary novices were not part of my regular duties. But as soon as I saw the hysterical preteen, being carefully restrained by the mistress of novices, I understood.

The oblate was family.

I queried the genship via my tablet, which displayed two faces that were close enough to identical that I couldn’t decide which of my twin nieces stood before me. “Bronwyn or Blodwyn?”

The girl twisted against Sister Ursula’s grip. “Like you care!”

“Bronwyn,” Sister Ursula replied, torquing the girl’s arm a bit further.

“I don’t care,” I told her. “Don’t you know? The only thing more common than fraternal twins in our family is selfishness.”

Bronwyn gaped at me, then blurted out, “You’re the twin.”

The way she said it – reducing me to an epithet as if my relationship to her mother was the beginning and end to my identity – made me laugh. And not nicely. “They’ll be calling you that too, soon, if they aren’t already. Welcome to the Abbey.”

* * *

Bronwyn calmed down enough to be released, now that curiosity had given her the motivation to focus on something other than self-pity. I took her to the chapel, where we wouldn’t disturb our sleeping or working brethren, and encouraged her to vent her outrage. Instead, she peppered me with questions.

“Did you know, growing up, that you would be given to the Abbey?”


“Did you hate my mother for inheriting the family’s citizenship rights?”


“Not even after she got cancer?”

That one gave me pause – no one had ever dared ask before. “I admit, it occurred to me that Sulwyn’s death would let me inherit the family’s citizenship rights.” Only one child per family had the right to citizenship – to reproduction – but parents could give those rights to another child if their first choice died childless. The situation had been obvious to everyone, including Sulwyn.  Especially Sulwyn.

“But she got pregnant.”

Thus guaranteeing that I could never inherit her citizenship. The Ship Guard forced me into the novitiate the hour she registered her pregnancy. “Was that a question?” I raised my eyebrows at the girl.

“She knew she was going to die and she took the citizenship anyway,” Bronwyn was growing outraged, now.

“I told you, our family is selfish.”

“It’s not fair!”

We weren’t talking about me anymore. “A lot of things in life aren’t fair. Including the fact that I have to deal with you on two hours of sleep. So – out with it.”

“It was supposed to be mine!” Bronwyn stamped her foot. “I’m the eldest by two minutes and Daddy promised!”

“Didn’t get it in writing, did you?”

Bronwyn’s glare could have melted steel. “Of course I did.”

There was only one thing that could allow a parent to overturn a written declaration of intent. I choked down laughter at her twin’s audaciousness. “She got pregnant? You’re twelve!”

“Almost thirteen!”

“If it’s any consolation, you got the better end of the deal.”

“Oh, yeah?” Bronwyn did withering scorn as well as any preteen.

“Yeah. The Abbey isn’t just about population control.” I tapped a command into my tablet, and the walls of the chapel lit up in brilliant technicolor as the screens relayed an image of the hinterlight not ten meters beneath our feet. “We work directly for the genship. They teach you anything about the visible effects of FTL in school?”

From the way Bronwyn’s eyes widened, that was a yes. “Are we slowing down!”

I laid my hand on the nearest wall, watching as the streaks of hinterlight undulated around us. The static images we produced for educational purposes were nothing compared to the beauty of the almost-real thing. I was going to miss the hinterlight. “You have six years to learn the skills you’ll need to survive our new world.”

Bronwyn tentatively laid her hand next to mine. “No one else knows.”

“The breeders don’t know,” I corrected her, with a sly smile. “But they won’t be the citizens there. Blessed are the hintermost.”

My niece began to laugh – and not nicely.