Sanctuary by Noeleen Kavanagh

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Extract from ethnographic study conducted on JB-035/4906713V[1] from 2270-2273 USD[2] inclusive.

Cultural Responses to Planetary Constraints

The planet NDUG was divinely ordained and therefore, any problems local levels of radiation[3] pose for human life are part of the divine plan. As a result, any form of gene-splicing is rejected as being blasphemous as it attempts to subvert divine will.

Many of the life-threatening mutations may end in miscarriage[4] very early in the pregnancy. Post-parturition, all newborn infants are not considered human (souled[5]) until after they have been declared free of all visible forms of mutation in a process known as First Ensouling. Second Ensouling is carried out at the age of five years[6] when it can be ascertained that the child has reached all early childhood developmental stages at an appropriate age. Third Ensouling takes place at ten years old and the Final Ensouling after the onset of puberty[7]. Those who do not pass an ensouling are deemed to be marked by the divinity as not fully human and are thus removed from the gene pool. This most frequently occurs immediately post-parturition. This infanticide of newborns[8] is accepted as necessary to ensure the survival of a healthy gene pool and is generally euphemistically referred to as “accepting God’s will,” “being forged in the fiery furnace” and “not straying from the Path of Righteousness.”[9]


[1] Official local name- The Free and Democratic Republic of New Dominions Under God (NDUG)

[2] Universal standard dates

[3] The Inner Levy Radiation Belt which surrounds the planet NDUG as well as NDUG’s proximity to its sun results in levels of radiation which are harmful to human life, including an increased mutation rate when exposed to them for extended periods of time.

[4] NDUG’s miscarriage rate is believed to range from 23-38%.

[5] For a fuller explanation of this concept, see Section 6b, Core Religious Concepts.

[6] Standard Sol 1 equivalents

[7] No effective deviation from the human norm.

[8] For the wider psychological impact of this on the host society, see Section 8, Psychological Consequences of Living in a Low Affect Society.

[9] From conversations with Elder Berscul. For full transcript see Appendix 3.


Sanctuary by Noeleen Kavanagh
Illustration by Sue Babcock

“Another busy day, eh, Sarge?” Keeley stepped forward into the scan zone and the scanner swept over him, retina, prints, all the usual. “Corporal Keeley reporting for duty,” he confirmed. The scanner beeped to indicate that he’d been correctly identified.

He looked around him. The enlisted troops had changed shift with Barras and Perkasa on duty now. Yep, the recruitment hall was still empty; no queues of youngsters, no lines in front of the comsoles, no scuffling, gawking or craning at the enlisted troops, no under-ages trying to sign up, no weeping families—nothing except the broad, featureless sweep of the hall. “Busy, busy, busy.”

“Shut it, Keeley. What’d you expect?”

“Some sort of interest. There’s always at least a few.” He exhaled noisily. “Day two and still nothing. This’s going to be a slow one.”

“Always at least a few.” Sarge snorted, rocking back on the legs of his chair. “What’d you know about always?”

Keeley kept silent, suddenly interested in a hangnail. Nothing like silence to get information out of old fellahs like Sarge.

“NDUG. What a dump. You been here before?”

“No, Sarge. What about it?”

“New Dominions Under God.” Sarge was quiet, unusual for him. “Still a dump.” He pulled his legs down from where they’d been resting on the table. “You brought up religious?”

“No, culturally Reformed Catholic though.”

“There’ll be no-one. Never is. An irradiated dump, but no-one wants to leave. That’s religion for you.” He stood up, stretched, exhaled.

“Why are we here then? If there’s no-one that wants to sign up?”

“Because we’re entitled to, that’s why. Don’t you read the briefings? Apparently not.” He gathered up his overcoat. “NDUG is an Independent, but allied to the Federation. So the Federation has no planetary jurisdiction but is still entitled to recruit here. We get sent here to show that we’re entitled to be here.” He shrugged into his coat. “And they’re entitled not to sign up. So here we are, Corporal Keeley, sitting on an irradiated dump.”

There was a stirring at the front of the hall, the grind of the old-fashioned doors being manually slid, the screech of metal wheels in metal grooves. They turned to see the harsh light of NDUG slicing in, a sword of white through the air. As they watched a person stepped in, right-footed.

“Is that a recruit, Sarge?”

“I doubt it. Probably lost.” But he didn’t look away from the small dark figure picked out against the blaze of light.

About half-way up the hall, the light fell behind and the figure passed into the shade of the hall. Base human form. A woman. An NDUGGer, thought Keeley.

She came to a halt in front of the desk, a couple of metres back from it. Tall, thin, a pale, sharply-angled face, short hair. Dark, baggy clothes. No enhancements or mods or even tats that he could see to liven up the drabness of the base human form.

She glanced from one to the other, focused on Sarge and said, “Sir, I would like to sign up with the Federated Army.”

“Really?” said Sarge. He sounded suspicious, like someone was playing a trick on him, but he recovered well for an old geezer. “Well, take a seat.” He started to log back in, all notion of knocking off abandoned. “Corporal Keeley here will answer any questions you may have.”

She turned to him, pale eyes sliding over him, alien and disinterested as a cat’s, before returning to Sarge. “I have no questions, sir.”

They got through the prelims easily enough, I.D., name (Elian), health checks (basics up to date), gene repair (none, an unmodified human- freaky), education (almost none) and all the relevant verifications mined without a hitch from the planetary database.

“Section preference?”

“Infantry, sir.” Just as well, thought Keeley. With that little education, she’d be unlikely to get in anywhere else, unless she scored freakishly high on the fluid I.Q, chronometry or spatial tests.

“Length of contract?”

“Life, sir.”

“Life? Are you sure?” Old as Sarge was, he wouldn’t have signed up too many lifers and Keeley had never even met one. Was that even an option anymore?

“Do you understand what a life contract means, Elian?”

            “Yes, sir.”


“I am contracted for the duration of my natural life, however long that may be.”


“The Federated Armed Forces own my genetic material.”

Sarge worried at a hangnail on his thumb with his index finger. It made a tiny clicking noise in the quietness of the hall. “There’s no need to go for a life contract. You can sign up for a five-year stint, see how you like it and go from there, you know?”

“I want a life contract, sir.” Was she mad, thought Keeley, who’d want a life contract? No re-negotiation, no opt-out clause, no end to it except by dying. He looked at her more closely. Maybe she was a psych case. That happened from time to time, especially on back of nowhere planets like this with primitive medcare.

“What about having a think about it and coming back tomorrow?”

“I’ve already thought about it, sir.”

“Alright then.” Sarge gave up trying to be helpful and started working the console. “Stand right there. On the circle, yep. Life contract. Infantry. Recruit Elian. Okay.” He stood up facing the recruit and began talking in his official voice, following the script. “The following exchange will be recorded. Elian, do you wish to enlist under a life contract with the Armed Forces of the Unified Federation of Planets?”

“I do, sir.”

“Has it been explained to you what this involves?”

“Yes, sir.”

Outside Keeley could hear a bunch of raised voices, angry shouting. The recruit was restless, shifting from foot to foot.

“Are you doing this of your own free will?”

“I am, sir.”

“A Life contract will last for the entire duration of your natural and extended life.”

“Yes, sir.”

The shouting outside stopped. Keeley glanced at the two enlisted troops. Perkasa had the familiar, slightly vague expression on her face of data streaming in. Keeping an eye on things outside.

“Your genetic material will be owned by the Armed Forces of the Unified Federation of Planets, for purposes including, but not restricted to cloning, gene splicing and all forms of nano-genetic hacking and reformulation.”

“Yes, sir.”

Perkasa and Barros stepped around and forward, to dominate the space between the recruiting desk and the door, helmets, suits and weapons clicking to active mode. What the hell was going on? Then the door was slid wide open in a screech of metal, the light flooding the hall, wide enough for a group of people to enter. Raised voices again and pointing and the knot of them milling and gesticulating.

They made their way up the hall at a fast clip. All men, older with lined faces. More dark, old-fashioned clothes, but with a strange array of headgear: small hats of different colours.

Sarge continued with his script, taking his own sweet time, without so much as a blink out of place. “Upon signing a Life Contract, you are stripped of all pre-existing citizenships and attending rights, duties and legal obligations all of which are henceforth replaced by the Military Code of the Armed Forces of the Unified Federation of Planets.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Recruit Elian, do you understand and agree to these conditions?”

“I do, sir.”

“Recruit Elian has been imprinted and is now entered onto the relevant databases. Action completed. Log out.” A moment’s pause while that was confirmed. “Congratulations, Private Elian. You are now under Life Contract to the Armed Forces of the Unified Federation of Planets.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” She smiled and it lit up her face, a smile of some strange triumph. She stepped forward and turned to face the men coming up the hall, Sarge at her back and the troops to the left and right of her.

The NDUGers came to a halt, glared and muttered and extended their spokesperson, the only one among them with both hat and robe.


“Sergeant. Sergeant Pillai, civilian.”

“I am Elder Nonnatus, Sergeant Pillai. We are here to demand the return of the heretic and apostate.”

“The apostate?”

“That…that woman.” He indicated her with a jerk of his chin, rage and contempt sliding across his face.

“That is not possible. Private Elian is a member of the Armed Forces of the Unified Federation of Planets.”

“You have recruited a murderer to your precious army. Did you know that? Did the apostate mention that she slaughtered an elderly man? In cold blood?”

“Fuck you, Nonnatus, fuck you.” Private Elian’s hands were balled into fists and her jaw was clenched. “I’d do it again.” She spat in the direction of his feet to emphasize her point.

“You heard that, Sergeant Pillai? She admits murder. And the intention to repeat her foul sin.” Elder Nonnatus extended his hands to the side, open in supplication. “Are those not grounds for her application to be rejected?”

“Private Elian is under the jurisdiction of the Military Code of the Armed Forces of the Unified Federation of Planets.” It’d take more than allegations of murder to shake Sarge.

“Fuck you, Nonnatus. And your lies and your garbage.” She took a step forward, the veins in her neck visible. “Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. Elder Berscul’s life in payment for my brother’s.”

“Foul blasphemy,” replied Elder Nonnatus. “Only the souled are human. How can you doubt that?”

“It was an error. It must have been. How else could my brother have been ensouled once and failed the second?”

“Stand down, Private Elian,” said Sarge.

“There was no error. The path of righteousness with all its windings is not for you to question.”

“The pride of your heart has lifted you up, but you will be cast down.” Her voice trembled with rage. “Cast down for your sins.” She took a step forward.

“Corporal Barros, Corporal Perkasa. Private Elian is confined to barracks.” Sarge didn’t take his eyes off Elder Nonnatus. “My section.”

Barros and Perkasa hustled and within seconds she was gone.

“Removing a problem does not solve it, Sergeant.” There was a murmur of agreement from the men at his back.

“There is no problem.”

“Really? Your superiors will be pleased that you have recruited a murderer to your ranks?” No answer from Sarge. “It was all captured, you know. You can access it from the planetary database. She murdered poor Elder Berscul in a public place before fleeing here.”

“So you say, but higher than me will decide that,” said Sarge. He frowned.

“You refuse to release the murderer to us, Sergeant?”

“I wouldn’t release a stray dog to the likes of you.” And with that, Sarge sat down again behind his desk. He looked up at Elder Nonnatus, still standing there and said, “If you’re not here for recruitment purposes, then you need to leave, elder.”


The wall of sound hit Rahman the second he crested the last step of the stairs—hit him like a living thing as it rose up from the stadium. Everyone around him was on their feet, fists in the air, making the stadium tremble, shivering the air.

“In-Fan-Try! In-Fan-Try! In-Fan-Try!”

There was a woman on the vidscreen, her face at an angle to the camera, a flash of infantry blue at her neck.

“….yes sir.”

“And how do you think you’ll do in the race today, Lance Corporal Elian?”

“I’ll win, sir.” She paused for a second, faced the camera dead-on and stared out, dark cropped hair, a pale narrow face of planes and angles. No trace of a smile. “12th, first, last and always.”

And then they were on their feet again, Rahman among them, whirled away like a leaf in the storm of sound. In-Fan-Try. In-Fan-Try. In-Fan-Try. Stamping, pounding, the stadium itself trembling and swaying under the impact of their feet. Eventually, the chanting tailed off and dwindled to an occasional shout. He sat down.

“Here. Thirsty work.” The man next to him groped beneath his feet and tossed a beer to him.



“Yeah, Rahman.”

“12th . Giemza.” He was a small block of a man, blond-stubbled head and face, with curiously blue eyes. He waved to indicate the men and women around them. “All 12th here, Rahman. Same as Elian.”


Giemza jerked his chin to indicate the vidscreen. “Lance Corporal Elian.”

“….and by now the first of the runners should be through the Magline Tunnel…,” said one commentator on the vidscreen, leaving the other to finish triumphantly, “…and so it’s time to get back to the race.”

“Has it started already?” asked Rahman.

“Have you never been to Base Camp? Don’t let Signals out much, do they?” Giemza smiled, but kept his eyes on the vidscreen. “The First 100. One hundred klicks through the Farley Mountains from Delta Camp to here. It started at 0500 this morning. Not too much longer now.”

“You think she’ll win, like she said?”

“Win?” He snorted. “Them other poor fools have no idea. They’ll be ran into the ground.”

The camera panned out from high above, moving slowly from the leaders to those behind. Giemza elbowed Rahman in the ribs. “See. See. There’s Elian now.” Then he was on his feet roaring. “She’s making her move.”

Back on the screen, Elian had speeded up and was gaining on the slowest of the frontrunners, a man in artillery grey, the white dust of the road on his face streaked with sweat.

“Slow-moh-foh. Slow-moh-foh.” This was a new chant now, aimed at the artillery stands to the left, interspersed with jeers and laugher. “Slow-moh-foh. Slow-moh-foh.”

Rahman felt a moment’s pity for the artillery runner, with Elian perched on his shoulder like a guilty secret, like a sin. And then she was past him, blank-faced, relentless as time, inexorable as change.

“She’ll pick off the rest, one-by-one. There’s no-one that can get up to and maintain a 16 klick pace at the end of a race this length.” Giemza laughed, his eyes crinkling in joy. He sat back down. “They’re buggered, but they don’t know it yet,” he said, jerking his chin at the vidscreen.

And so it was. One by one the other runners were consumed by the speed and left flailing in the dirt of the road.

“She’s coming back. Nearly home now,” said Giemza. Everyone was on their feet again, craning out over the seats, facing east like ranks of solar panels. “Last lap through the stadium itself. Let the rest of them see who pulled them off their pinnacle.”

There was almost silence then, waiting for her arrival, till she passed through the shadow of the tunnel and into the light of the stadium. And still that steady rhythm, running, right, right, right. With a wall of sound flung against it. A full-throated roar and the booming pounding of feet that fractured the air and splintered the sky, set the stadium beneath his feet to trembling, reverberating in the bones of his chest, his face.

Far below, a solitary small figure in blue ran on, heedless, regardless.


Dear Mr Gry

The results of your research request are encrypted. Please use Standard Encryption 684d.

Given the scope and nature of your original research request, it is probable that further information is available regarding your query, but that information is currently restricted, unarchived, unrecorded or otherwise inaccessible to our researchers.

Thank you for thinking of Hanjee Research and if you have any other research projects in the future, please let us know.



Refugee File APN-BAVOL-DG10483AJ

Date- 06/01/2285

Name- Daithi Gry

Gender- Male

DoB- Unknown

Age- Approximately three years old

Place of Origin- Believed to be Bavol

Genetic Markers- Attached


Corporal Elian- Missing in action 18/3/2285 in the vicinity of Less Chapi, Carhullan. Presumed dead.

This part was familiar to Daithi. Its blandness and lack of details made it almost meaningless now. He first saw this twelve years ago. That was back when Ewa was pregnant with Casamir, their first-born. In the face of that potential new life, he was consumed with curiosity as to where he came from. Back then, this was as far as he got. Missing in action. He could still remember the bitter disappointment. Missing in action. Presumed dead.

The same photo too. A sharp-featured woman, looking slightly sideways to the camera. Infantry blue. He stared at it again. Expecting to read something from the expression on her face, learn something from the set of her jaw, a question that could be answered by the planes and angles of her face. Anything that’d trigger a memory. But still nothing.


Vped file AVX3016-ARC-739a

The figures were blurry, jerky. The lighting was all wrong. Daithi couldn’t even tell if it was above or below ground. The army must have had some fear of disciplinary action for this to have been recorded and then archived. Was that even Elian?

He zoomed in. It was. It was her. Strange to see her in motion, not just a still image. Her face gaunt and black with crusted dirt of Haapaen ground in, teeth a shocking white in contrast, red rimmed eyes, helmet gone, just goggles left hanging around her neck, white circles where they’d been. A dark blue dermasuit. Big army pack on her back. He stared and stared, but nothing.

“………. you do then, Private?”

            “Gathered up what civilians I could and retreated, sir.”

            This must have been almost immediately after the attack on Bavol, the one that triggered the war. The city decimated by long-range droids and drones. Less than 2,000 survivors. Daithi among them. How the hell did Hanjee Research manage to get their hands on a confidential Fed Army file like this?

            “What civilians?”

            “I lost them on the way out from Bavol, sir. In the killing fields. Mines and heat-seeking drones.”

He zoomed in, zoomed out, tried looking at it from different angles, froze it, his eyes closed, open. Nothing. Still no memory of that room, that place. It might as well have happened to another person. How could anyone forget so much?

“How’d you get out of Bavol?”

            “Randomized evasive action, sir.”

            The images trembled, wavered, as if in protest at this questioning, then steadied again. In the background he heard a steady booming noise, a percussive background beat. Drone shields?

            “On foot?”

            “Yes, sir.”

“And from Norch to here?” The captain was a suspicious type. Yes, footnoted and linked. One Captain Glora.

            “I went on foot to Gradum.”

            “Troops were withdrawn from there immediately after the assault on Bavol.”

            “Yes, sir. Once I realized that, I made my way across the Kliptoman. Following the supply tracks till I was picked up by aerial scouts.”

            “Over 200 klicks?”

            “I don’t know, sir. The area was blanked out and my suit comms were down.”

“On foot? This is incredible, Corporal.”

The captain turned aside, listened to an aide, turned back. “The meds are on their way.” 

“Yes, sir.”

Oh dear lord. A stirring in the pack on her back. Some motion that drew the eye of everyone in the room. A whisper. Oh dear lord. Replay. Replay. The pack on her back moving, shifting. How’d he miss that before?

“Elian. Elian! Are we there? Are we there yet?”

A high-pitched child’s voice. A hand, an arm poking out, gripping the mouth of the backpack. Everyone in the room standing frozen. Two small hands clutching the fabric. A child’s head rising up, poking out. Dark hair plastered to his head with sweat. Brown eyes. About three years old.

“Are we there?”

“Yes, we’re there now.”

A grown man, he put his face in his hands and wept.


The sky on fire above, a tempest of screeching, flaring madness. The dazzling white flares of drones. Droids lancing and howling. The earth torn up and ripped apart. The city behind naked and cowering in its own destruction, devoured by fire.

If you’re fast enough, something can be snatched from the hand of destruction, endure enough and it can be kept safe.

This time it’ll be different. This time the child will be kept safe.


[1] Official local name- The Free and Democratic Republic of New Dominions Under God (NDUG)

[2] Universal standard dates

[3] The Inner Levy Radiation Belt which surrounds the planet NDUG as well as NDUG’s proximity to its sun results in levels of radiation which are harmful to human life, including an increased mutation rate when exposed to them for extended periods of time.

[4] NDUG’s miscarriage rate is believed to range from 23-38%.

[5] For a fuller explanation of this concept, see Section 6b, Core Religious Concepts.

[6] Standard Sol 1 equivalents

[7] No effective deviation from the human norm.

[8] For the wider psychological impact of this on the host society, see Section 8, Psychological Consequences of Living in a Low Affect Society.

[9] From conversations with Elder Berscul. For full transcript see Appendix 3.


Author Bio: I am an Irish writer who predominantly writes science-fiction and fantasy. My publications include short stories in the Silver Blade, Another Realm, Moon Drenched Fables, Aurora Wolf, Swords and Sorcery, Misfit Magazine, Sorcerous Submissions, Fiction on the Web and the Luna Station Quarterly. I recently returned to live in Ireland after over twenty years abroad and am currently working on my first full-length novel.