I had never imaged that metal could voice its own fear of destruction. The back wall vanished in flames, wailing like a dying man.
People howling. My own screams suppressed every other sound, leaving only wide-open mouths on grotesque, silent masks that I could never forget. I probably looked the same to them.
Fewer people howling. A pressure wave wrecked the space ship, cracks running faster than people. All my instincts vanished in that tiny moment, leaving behind a human bag of flesh and skin, pushed in the opposite direction by the shock of the explosion. I had no fear. No, that is misleading; to be paralyzed is rather different to being fearless.
“We lost the engines, commence evacuation.” The captain’s miserable voice filled the speakers. “I repeat, commence evacuation.” As if he really needed to say anything. Debris was floating chaotically between human bodies, some of the people still alive, speaking louder than any words. Brainless, I pushed, pulled, grunted, contorting myself like a distressed snake, between the flying fragments – some instincts had found their way back into the flesh bag. I really don’t know where our instincts live; there was nothing useful left in my mind, apart from short bursts of an inner voice shouting at me: run! Maybe that was enough; you don’t need too much in the way of philosophy to run.
Like deadly snakes, gases hissed out from broken pipes, expanding down the corridor, colorful and poisonous. Sirens blared morbidly. On my left, a flying bird took shape. Beautiful. Sometimes my mind recalls it: the pocket of gas bursting from the broken pipe, forming a pair of imaginary wings – a surreal dream. Wrong. Death is by no mean surreal. The other end of the corridor was my unique goal; the escape hatch was there, almost closed. In a moment, the ‘bird’ had embraced a girl moving a few meters ahead of me. It looked so gentle. Having no mask, she reached out desperately, trying to grab onto something that could save her. Too late. With a last spasm, she became a body, still moving under its own momentum, until a flying table intervened, a blow turning her white, frozen face towards me; her wide, unseeing eyes staring at me: black, black, black.
“Move!” someone growled, and thrust me up against the girl’s thin body.
“Nooo!” I cried, trying to escape, her white skin suddenly pressed into my face. Another blow stopped my cry. At the door, a tall, red-haired woman grabbed my hand, pushed me into an emergency capsule, and closed the hatch, expelling me into the void just seconds before the ship exploded. There was no time for fear; with a terrible sound, a flash burned my eyes. Silvery white, mixing with the white of the girl’s fading face, her black wide eyes staring at me, the last thing I remember before the darkness fell, and the world became soundless.
That is all I remember of my entire life; everything else was erased by shock and burns. The doctors worked hard to reconstruct my body, but they never could recover my memories. Even the fact that the red-haired woman was my mother returned to me from the news; her picture and mine bound together by something waiting to resurface.
Cold, coming from far away; the light gently passed through my closed eyelids, switching on a part of myself that was slumbering outside time. Somewhere, in a corner of my mind, explosions still drummed in a strange, frightening rhythm that made me keep my eyes tightly shut: boom, boom, boom…! Vivid images burst inside, erased by flashes, before a new one would emerge again – a fragmented movie. It ended as fast as it came.
That color is wrong, I murmured to myself. The light inside the emergency capsule should be blue. The light around me was white, as white as the face of the unknown girl… The flash…
“It was not an accident.” The voice sounded worried, and not without effort, I realized that ‘he’ was worried about me.
Some things became clear in that moment, some much later; my vocabulary was limited by the memory loss, but my new mind was ready to absorb, memorizing everything. Until that second, I was neither dead nor alive. Not that I have any memories about my deep coma, but medical knowledge suggests that second should have come much later, after my brain had been fully rebuilt. The machines were still growing neurons and whatever else was needed for my recovery, a benign process with one drawback: pain. My sudden spark of consciousness failed to control my body; some essential parts of my brain were still missing so my mouth remained shut. The doctor was convinced I was still an inert body, and I could do nothing to change his view.
You stupid doctor! I am awake. Help me! Heeeelp! I howled hard, from both pain and frustration, yet it happened only inside my head.
“The ship was destroyed by a missile,” the voice continued, reminding me that I was lying in a hospital bed because of it. A touch of curiosity made the pain bearable, but it never stopped. “And of all the emergency capsules, only one was destroyed. His.”
Without seeing, I realized that he was pointing at me. Why am I so important?
“Who did it?” someone shouted, yet something in his voice told me that he already knew the answer. Later, I found that it belonged to Doc, the doctor taking care of me. The owner of the first voice seemed to be different.
In the sudden silence, I hated them for killing so many people. At the same time, in a parallel string of emotions, excitement flooded my mind. The word still existed in my memory! It was followed by a short definition: ‘friendly aliens that help us’. They helped me to die. Friendly.
“Then we have a mole,” Doc said, in a low voice. “Somewhere… Armin, we need…” His words lost their fluency, and he stopped not really knowing what to say.
“No. It was just an unfortunate accident. His innate ability to communicate with The Field should have been dormant for another year or two. That’s why we asked the Resistance to send him away from your main planet; so he could be trained on a remote station where the Travelers cannot monitor the space as effectively.”
Your planet? Is he an alien too? Armin’s voice was quite normal, or at least this is what I thought at that moment.
“He reached into The Field while he was traveling, and a Field Crawler reacted. It’s easier in space,” Armin said as if it was the most common thing in the galaxy, and I tried to remember something about that reaction in my mind. Nothing… “We recorded a burst of communication with The Field, in Traveler-controlled space. They acted fast.”
Acted…? They killed me. As good as.
“Anyway, we could do nothing; the ship belonged to your main planet, and the Travelers are the masters there. You know this.”
They destroyed their own ship…? No, it was our ship. What does master mean?
“They will come after him.” Doc’s voice again; he was still worried. “There are ten million people here.”
Where am I? There was only one place with such a large population that wasn’t the main planet, but with so much memory loss, my question was completely normal.
“How can we stop the connection between his mind and The Field? There must be a way. It’s a common practice there.” Doc almost spat ‘there’, and I presumed that he was talking about the main planet.
I lived there, I realized suddenly. Why does he hate my home?
“Genetic modifications. More like mind castration. There’s no need to do that. The Travelers already know he is here; we could not hide that we changed the course of his emergency capsule, to arrive in your proximity. The energy signature was too high.”
“We learned that a bit later.”
“Well, the delay allowed you to be clean when the Treaty was invoked against you.” There was a slightly amused tone in Armin’s voice.
“They will come after him,” Doc repeated, without realizing it.
“That will be in breach of the Treaty,” the alien answered in a gentle tone. It was probably a nervous gesture from the doctor that made him to add in haste. “But I agree with you. They will come… You must be prepared.”
“We don’t have space ships. We don’t have missiles. We don’t have artillery,” Doc complained. “We have nothing … to protect ourselves. The Treaty has left us helpless.”
“The Treaty has left you alive. We will double the number of sensors around your station.” I am on a station. I am still in space… “They will not invade; just infiltrate some commandos to … find him. Move him to Deep Blue.”
Not to find me. To kill me…
“What else should we do?” Doc asked, his voice squeezed between anger and the sudden panic that was mounting in him, a panic that was transferred to me too.
Don’t kill me!
“Heal him. Train him. First-stage training. Don’t tell him anything, yet. We will gather a council when his time comes,” Armin said in a thoughtful tone.
The door opened, and someone else entered the room, making a slight noise, on the floor. The quiet of my closed eyes forced my brain to rely on hearing and smell, enhancing their acuity. Smell was useless; all I could sense were the chemicals in the medical facility and the typical metallic odor of a space station.
“Good to see you again, Armin,” said the new one, in a tone both happy and concerned. “I wish you had contacted me before coming here.” He took a chair, and I was surprised at how well I could follow his movements.
“You were underwater, Erun, and time is short,” Armin stopped him. “Your control tower was notified as soon as we could do it. I presume that you heard our discussion.”
“Yes, I heard it,” Erun sighed. “And many other people on the station were connected to this room as well.” There was a suggestion in the man’s voice that things like this should have been kept private, but that it was already too late.
“What makes you different from the degenerate rulers of the main planet is that you are the president of an open society. I know,” Armin laughed, “in some ways, things are much easier for them than for you, but in the long term, they will pay the price.”
“The Net is full of fear. People are frightened that we will be attacked. And we will be.”
In that second, I realized that Erun was deliberately exacerbating the tension, in order to prompt a new assessment that would calm the people connected to our room via the Net. Later, I checked the recordings: ‘just’ 70% of the population had been connected, meaning almost all the adults on the station.
“A commando raid doesn’t mean a full attack.” Armin returned the ball to Erun.
“One, two… We might be able to handle them.” The attacking force was suddenly reduced to a few soldiers. “Do you see anything in the Lines of Time?”
“They are still preparing their New Field.”
“Bloody Field, it will destroy us.” Erun was no longer faking his irritation, and his hand struck something that sounded like angry metal to me. “I know that the ship’s destruction is not covered by the Treaty, but can you use it for something?”
“The Observer in charge with this system was informed, but it’s too little to make a case.”
“The Observer!” Erun shouted. “The Travelers’ tool. When was the last time we had a neutral Observer? All the ones I have known were chosen from the Faction ruling this system behind the scenes.”
“Many Observers in the Galactic Council come from the Celestial Faction. We have to live with that.”
“We, not you.”
“You have to live with that, if it makes you happy. Train him well,” Armin said again, and he left the room, followed by everybody else.
Doc! Don’t go. Help me. Help!!! I howled because of the pain, like a wolf calling a full, bloody moon. Nobody answered me, and after four horrible hours, I fell back into a coma, but I still remember that pain. I will remember it all my life.