It was chilly on the roof, even though the house was only a few stories high. There was little in the way of shelter up there: a few receivers and antennas, and the metal railings of a fire escape attached to one wall. Most of the buildings in this part of the station were like this; spare, low and nondescript. If more people moved into the area, new stories would be slotted onto this one like a combination toy. It wasn't quite the poor section, but it had even less personality.
A young woman lay on the roof, on a small blanket, looking up at the station dome. It was high enough that it couldn't easily be glimpsed in the dusk, and most of the lighting came from massive advertising screen in the distance, the reflection of their flickering images rendering the sky full of multihued moving images, like rainbows taking on a strange life.
The woman sighed.
There was a noise from the fire escape. The steps were metal through and through, and even in the night-time hiss of busy life, the clanging reverberations of feet stomping determinedly down could easily be heard.
The woman sat up, frowned and looked to the escape.
After a while, two wrinkly hands could be seen gripping the top railings, followed by the ascendancy of a head of grey hair. An old woman came up the stairs, one step at a time, and crossed onto the roof. She was wrinkled and thin, but her footsteps didn't waver, and she walked assuredly over to the young woman with a set, unsmiling expression.
"... Gran?" the young woman said in amazement.
"I'll thank you not to hang out on any roofs in the future, young miss," Gran said. "I went to the university grounds, and even tracked down that place where you're always talking rebellion with those tattooed nincompoops, and nobody knew where you were."
The old woman brushed herself off and straightened her dress. "I'd have lost you outright if one of them hadn't mentioned your little hangout here, though I won't ask why he knows about a thing like that, or what you're doing bringing boys up here with you." She regarded the young woman with a mix of annoyance and barely concealed amusement. "Your mouth's hanging open, dear. Do close it before ships start to dock."
The young woman's mouth snapped shut with a click. "Gran, you shouldn't be up here," she said. "If you fall, or if something happens-"
"It'll hopefully teach you to talk to your Gran first before rushing off to nowhere parts, though it's better than that hideout of idiotic chatterboxes you usually hang out with." Gran said. "Your mother was getting worried about you, Beliah."
"Don't mention her, please," Beliah said in a firm tone. "I couldn't go to the RU because I was too furious to talk to anyone, and it's because of her. And I'll thank you not to speak about the political and sociology students like that. They've got a lot of interesting things to say about rights and rebellion."
Gran walked up to her and slowly sat down on the blanket, grunting and sighing. Beliah scooted over to give her room, and decided to press on. "Do you know what kind of a state we're in, Gran? Everyone's talking about revolution. Karin Midular's losing support, while blind Maleatu Shakor is gaining it, and there's no love lost between those two. It's Shakor that my friends look up to, the one who isn't always giving way with the Amarrians. I admire Midular, I really do, but we're not a people that are easily led, and I think - my friends at RU think - that he's our only real hope out of this mess."
Gran had been sitting quietly, catching her breath- which Beliah found a little overdone, seeing as how the old woman had just scaled three stories without apparent effort, but didn't comment on - and now said, "We'll leave be for now those wise young students of yours. You know, dear, it's because of your mother that we're even on this station. She spent all her savings to get here."
"And we're practically in the Rust quarters," Beliah said, feeling petty for saying it.
"Then it's your job to work your way out of it, and not waste all that time babbling about revolutions."
Beliah got up, brushed off her legs and started walking around, though she didn't stray too far from the blanket. "Look, I can't stand it any longer. You know about the Amarrian?"
"I do, dear."
"She's dating an Amarrian!"
"Yes, she is."
"Look, all I'm saying, it's just not right. Not with the battle that's going on."
"Battles of all sorts always have two sides, Beliah."
Beliah stopped, and looked at Gran. "Yeah, they do. Right and wrong," she said.
Gran got a stern look. "I'm not your real grandma, of course, so I don't have any say in over what you do or don't do."
Beliah relented a bit at this, protesting, "No, I'm sorry. Look, you're as close to one as I ever knew."
"No, no," Gran said, "Your real grandma lived down on the planet below. And she lived through the rebellions there. She could've told you stories."
"I don't doubt it," Beliah said, relieved to change the subject, even if it had to be through a bit of passive aggressiveness. "I know she had some rough times. And I still think a shame that none of the rebellions succeeded."
Gran's look changed from caution to something Beliah couldn't quite define. The old woman said, "I don't know about that, dear."
Beliah stared at her. "You'd rather we remained under the heel forever?"
Gran slowly got to her feet. Beliah moved to help her, but the old woman waved her away. She brushed off her skirt, walked over to the edge of the roof and leaned on the parapet, looking over. After a moment, Beliah came and joined her. They stared at the sparse traffic for a while: people below, going about their lives, either in motion or standstill. Eventually, and keeping her eyes on the distance, Gran said in a quiet voice, "You really think the Amarrians are that bad? That you'd not even let your own mother find happiness in whatever way she can?"
"Don't put it like that," Beliah said.
"Then how do you want to put it?" Gran asked.
"I just wish the rebellion had succeeded," Beliah said. "Do it once, get it over with, and never think about revolution again."
Gran sighed. Beliah made to speak, but Gran interrupted. "No, don't say it. Whatever it is. Let me tell you something." She turned to face Beliah. "The kind of people who start a revolution aren't always the kind of people who can finish it."
"They tried," Beliah insisted. "They did the right thing."
"Did they now?" Gran said. "Is that what you're taught in that place? What were those right things?"
"Well, they amassed an army. Liberated supplies of Vitoc. Fought their way through various areas and held control points for a while."
"Then what?" Gran asked.
Beliah frowned. "Then they were betrayed, like people always are by the ones closest to them," she said with a hint of bitterness, "And it all fell apart."
Gran said, "Let me ask you something, little bird. Is this all you've learned in those palaces of wisdom you've gone to for most of your life? And don't tell me it's because the media is Amarr-controlled, because you're not too old for me to spank you."
The young woman smiled. "They don't teach much about it," she said. "Not in detail. We're given a timeline of all the uprisings that took place, and told a few generalities about the final rebellion, and that's it. It's hard to find data, but I've never wondered much about that. It's history, and I need to know it, but I need to know a lot of things in the present."
Gran sighed. "This is true. Sometimes, mind, I wish they'd teach you the rest, even if it's not for children."
"What do you mean?" Beliah asked, and added, "I'm not a child anymore, you know."
"You've never heard about the daughters of the revolution, have you?" Gran asked, watching her sharply.
Beliah shook her head.
"You're sure? Not from anyone?" Gran said.
"I would remember."
"Yes," Gran said, reaching out and stroking a wisp of dark hair back behind Beliah's ear. "I believe you would, little bird." She sighed again, and turned back towards the traffic below. Someone was arguing with someone else, their hands moving about a lot. The words didn't reach up to the roof, but the noise did.
"The reason the army failed wasn't because of a traitor," Gran said. "As I said, these things have a way of falling apart, particularly if they're being held together by the same people who started them. And if you've never wondered why this revolution, which was incredibly successful for some dirty meaning of success, has been glossed over, then it's for the best. It's something everyone would rather forget."
"Were you there?" Beliah asked. "It happened in your lifetime. I've never asked you this, for some reason."
"I wouldn't have answered, likely than not," Gran said. "If you weren't getting so muddleheaded about your mother doing what she wants with her life then you would never be told this. So listen, and remember, and keep it to yourself." She closed her eyes for a while, then opened them again and looked skywards, towards the reflected lights of the ad screens. "Slave army, yes. Managed to get a hold of Vitoc. They knew it wouldn't last; even if they got control, the Vitoc would eventually run out. So they were riding high on their luck, but they were never going to rule the planet. They were good with their words, and good at getting people excited, and they only wanted to lash out, like some young people do without heeding the consequences when they don't know anything else." Gran gave Beliah another look, but the young woman kept quiet.
"And they did so in terrible, terrible fashion," Gran continued. "They went through the land, destroying everything they saw. Anyone who tried to stop them was automatically a sympathizer with the Amarrians, and was dealt with as such. If it was men or boys, they'd be shot on the spot. If it was women, or even girls, well, there's some things we don't talk about.
"And at some point, one of the rebel leaders got the bright idea that they needed to change tactics. They called it polluting the enemy, I hear, but what I call it is stupid men with guns deciding they don't need to play by any rules anymore, and giving their souls to the devil. So instead of leaving the sympathizers on the side of the road to die, they started to round them up, and they built camps. Men were made to work, and women were made to do a different kind of work."
Gran took a deep breath. "Eventually something happened, as it always does, and the rebels were trapped, caught and shot. It was a better ending than they deserved, the poor fools, and their bodies were quietly buried in unmarked graves. But they'd left their marks. There were a lot of babies born later on, and most of those babies were shifted away to foster care of some sort, to them's as would have them. Your mom was lucky, because she was taken in by a family and not an institution, ad by the time she was old enough to work, slavery had fallen out of favor in that part of the world. But she suffered for it. Oh lord, she did. A daughter of the revolution," Gran said, spitting out that last word.
"So here's your lesson, little student" she said to Beliah, who had tears in her eyes. "I didn't come along until later, to sit for the family. They were good Matari who did their best, and money was never scarce, but your mother's scars run deep, and in the end she had to get away from them before she could turn them into the monsters she sometimes sees in our people. So she ran." Gran stroked back her own hair, which the strengthening breeze was playing with. "I'm not sure she's ever stopped running. I kept working for the family, but much later, after I'd long since left, your mom tracked me down and invited me up here. I expect it's to make up for leaving her adopted parents, who'd already died in some calamity or other. She's a hard worker, your mother, but no master at personal relations."
Beliah nodded silently, and Gran went on. "Your father, for example. Not a bad man, but he did lose his temper a few times, and that's all she needed. She will not abide that, and in truth, I'm not sure she ever would be with one of our own people unless he was unstable enough for her to eventually leave him. She's got a hard core, looking for something to aim at. Like some people I know," Gran said, with a little smile.
Beliah nodded her head, giving a trembling little smile.
They looked at the traffic for a while. The argument below had stopped, and each person gone quietly to wherever they were headed.
Eventually Beliah went back to her blanket, folded it, and started walking towards the fire escape.
Gran said, "If you think there's right and wrong, little bird, it's before you now. Are you going to your mother's, or to the university?"
Beliah stopped, but didn't turn around. "Neither. I'm going to get something to eat." She stood stock still, looking at the massive screens in the distance, and added, "And then I might buy some flowers." She turned and gave Gran another brittle smile, then walked away.