Hegatonic is what they called the language of the Eidolons. There was an ancient book, its stitching rotted away and its pages yellowed and crumbling, that was kept in a small box filled with inert gas that was the original dictionary. The front-page contained one word: Hegaton, and so the language had been given its name. There were scholars, a small minority, who argued that a Hegaton was actually a measurement, the amount of explosive required to kill an Eidolon. Since no-one had ever succeeded in killing an Eidolon though this theory was largely ignored.
The classroom where Hegatonic was taught was dark and hot. The room itself was a cube, four metres to a side, buried inside a grain silo and accessed from an underground tunnel. There was a single electric light bulb that contributed to the heat, an elaborate ventilation system that sourced air from three different directions in case any were blocked, and a pneumatic tube down which incriminating material could be flushed in the event of discovery. The walls were plain steel, though there was a chart of basic letters taped up on one of them. The chart was made from tissue paper and there was a bucket of water nearby to dissolve it in if needed. There were four desks and seven chairs, and several solid-state sonjeu with white earphone cords. Three people occupied some of the chairs, and a fourth, Milady Beth-Rachel was standing at the chart, her fingers pressed against her throat as she practised making the sounds that the letters represented.
Serjeant Thomas removed earphones from his ears and touched the sonjeu, a palm-sized black plastic device. The front of it lit up, showing icons for recording, playback, pause and stop at the bottom, and a list of audio tracks above them. He pressed stop and the screen went black again.
“I hakegh gha,” he said, and stopped and coughed. His fingers massages his throat before he tried again. “I hate this language,” he said, his voice a little scratchy from repeating sentences in Hegatonic.
“We all do,” said Milady Beth-Rachel. “But we have to learn it, Tom. You have to learn it. There’s no other way for us to know what the Eidolons are up to.”
“They tell us what they’re up to. That’s what Court is for, that’s what the newspapers report!”
“Hah.” There was no amusement there, just a strong sarcasm. “No, Tom. Court and the newspapers tell us what the Eidolons want us to believe and do. They are instruments of the state. The Eidolonic state. What the Eidolons say to their instars is what they are actually thinking and doing, what they say to each other when they talk is what they are thinking and doing. That is why we learn their language.”
Milady Beth-Rachel looked at him now, her hand falling from her throat to her side. “You don’t know what an Instar is?”
“Never heard of them.” Serjeant Thomas shook his head to emphasise his words. He’s dark hair tousled up immediately and Milady Beth-Rachel thought he looked like he’d just got out of bed.
“They’re related to the Eidolon, I think,” she said, suddenly realising that there was a lot she took for granted about the Instars but didn’t actually have any supporting evidence for. “They’re not children exactly, but they kind of fill that role. If an Eidolon dies then an Instar will grow into a new Eidolon. I think.”
“When has an Eidolon ever died? And what happens if an Instar starts to grow before an Eidolon dies?”
“I don’t know, and Eidolons die occasionally. There was a war, decades ago, because an Eidolon died and another Eidolon tried to take over from it. There’s a book somewhere that tells about it.” Milady Beth-Rachel wiped her forehead, feeling the heat of the room intently. She didn’t like talking about things she wasn’t complete certain of. Serjeant Thomas looked interested now though and had put the sonjeu down on the table while he talked to her.
“There was an Eidolon war? Then we know how to kill an Eidolon?”
“I don’t know, really Thomas. I only know what I read, and that was a few years ago.”
“Oh.” He looked downcast, and his fingers started tugging at a little scab on his wrist. Then he looked up again. “Have you still got the book?”
“It wasn’t mine.”
“Oh.” He worried at the scab again. “I suppose I’d better get back to practising then,” he said.
“Well… look, I think I remember who I borrowed the book from. I can ask them if they’ve still got it,” she said. She wiped her forehead again; she thought she knew who had had the book, but she didn’t like the risk involved in asking for it. Learning Hegatonic was illegal enough, and there were always people who preferred the rule of the Eidolons, but actively seeking out ways to kill Eidolons was probably the highest treason.
“That’d be fantastic!” Serjeant Thomas was smiling broadly at her, and she could see the gaps where he’d lost teeth. It was ridiculous that they had had all this medical technology and science, and now the Eidolons made them suppress it and live like it was the Middle Ages. Thomas definitely wasn’t her type, but even she could see how stupid it was that he had to lose teeth when they could be regrown; why they had to worry about every cut and scratch when they could have applied healpax. Why they had to do everything the Eidolons said instead of living their own lives for themselves.