Alan sat naked in his darkened holding cell. The bench felt cold to his skin. He listened to the hum of the force wall, its noise similar to the small insects from home. He smelled the stale air of the station brig. It reminded him of his one-time visit to Earth. He looked at his arms. Telltale signs of burn marks littered his skin. Outside his cell, there was another bare room. There was no light. Straining, he could make out a single chair sitting in the middle. He wrapped his arms across his chest. He shivered. The cold was getting to him.
He remembered waking up in the stem cell chamber, surrounded by Republic marines, all with their impact rifles pointed at him. They didn’t even give him enough time to dress before tossing him in the brig. With all the shouting he heard outside, he guessed that they were also imprisoning many of the station’s inhabitants. He thought about that desperate run down the hallway with Nalia. He remembered the searing heat rushing up behind him, licking at his back. He pondered what Warlord Batu had told them.
A door slid open, snapping him out of his reverie. The lights switched on with a burning intensity. He heard the hard pounding of boots crashing into the concrete floor beyond him. In stepped Admiral Vendrian, his white beard gleaming in the hard fluorescent light. Alan felt his body begin to shake. His face flushed in anger. He stared at the admiral as the latter sat down on the chair, took off his hat and laid it on his lap. Vendrian steepled his fingers and leaned forward.
“How are you doing, young man?” the admiral asked in a casual voice.
Ten seconds passed. “I have nothing to say to you,” Alan spit out. He rubbed the side of his head as he felt the anxiety rising inside him.
“Come now,” the admiral said with his head raised. “Don’t be like that. It’s unbecoming of a soldier of the Republic.” Alan wished he had some clothes on. He felt too vulnerable. He stared at the admiral, willing himself not to look away. The admiral sat, in his dress uniform, staring back at him, his piercing blue eyes accentuating the cold Alan felt. Alan crossed his legs. “You’re probably wondering why you’re in this situation.” The admiral laid his hand on his knees.
Alan looked down at the floor, saying nothing. A pair of pale feet stared back at him.
“I apologize for the unnecessary roughness, but the marines value efficiency most of all. They can be quite ruthless. And loyal.” He paused, as if gathering his thoughts. “I will tell you the truth. This business with Atranas and the Kenzenkens. Quite troublesome. And your conversation with the warlord. He told you many things. Things without context. Things that put us all in danger. I had to take matters in my own hands.” The admiral drummed his fingers against his thigh. “Alan,” he said in a gentle tone. “No matter what you may think, I do care about you. I found that spark within you and raised you up. I allowed you to pass the tests even when they said you didn’t have the right disposition. You would be nowhere without me. So stop playing the ungrateful child. I need your help. But there are some things you must understand.”
“What, what did you do?” said Alan in a hoarse voice.
“Simple, I used the authority granted to me and took control. The others put up a protest. But I did what I had to do.”
“So you discarded them like you discarded me.”
The admiral cleared his throat. “Look, Alan. I know that you are angry with me. I understand that. But understand one thing. I saved you back then. You were on a path to self-destruction. Your flight performance ratings were crashing. Your yearly psych profiles put up all sorts of red flags. I should have looked for the warning signs. I had the first inklings when you began your relationship with that freak of nature.”
Alan uncrossed his legs, then looked up again. His eyes narrowed as he looked at Vendrian for a few seconds. Then, he rushed at the force wall, his hands extended, ready to choke the life out of the older man. The inverted gravity reacted against him and pushed him back. He landed with a hard thud on the concrete floor. His back grew sore.
The admiral shook his head. “I thought you would have learned something these past few months. It appears I was mistaken.”
Alan stood up, shivering again against the cold. He sat back down on the freezing bench and cupped his hands together. “Enough of this,” he answered. “What do you want?”
Vendrian laughed, a coarse and guttural sound harsh against his ears. “Want? It’s not a matter of wanting. It’s a matter of survival. The survival of the human race.” He paused, and tapped his fingers on the side of his head. “There’s a reason why I sent you here, Alan. You are special, indeed. And you will be the one to save us all.”
“Not only are you an asshole, you’re insane.” Alan coughed as his throat constricted from the dryness.
Vendrian raised his right hand before Alan could say anything further. “Let’s not fight. Hear me out. Then you can decide what to do.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a crystal, the same one that the warlord had thrown to Nalia. “This. This right here is the future. This is where we will find salvation.”
Alan shuddered. “Thousands, maybe more, died for that trinket.” He clenched his hands together. “Whatever it is, it’s not worth it.”
Vendrian blinked his eyes and gave him a hard look. “In the grand scheme of things, the billions of years that the universe existed, the grand cycle of extinction and rebirth, those deaths will be meaningless, micro-blinks in the edifice of time. This is our chance to achieve greatness.”
“I don’t believe you. You’ve never cared about anyone but yourself!” Alan could hear his voice shake. He willed his anger to ebb. “Why did you abandon me?” he added, whispering. His hands opened and closed.
“Why do you think it was me who made that decision?” the admiral answered. “It was all within your power. That first shot. That was all under your control. You opened the door.”
“Make sense! I’m sick and tired of this bullshit!” Alan almost shouted. He breathed deeply to calm himself down. “Say what you want, then leave.”
The admiral stroked his beard, then he extended his arm forward and opened his fist. “You must understand my position. We’re in an extremely delicate stage right now and my allies are wary. This little rebellion has complicated things. There are too many out there who are short-sighted and ignorant and we cannot let them jeopardize the future. I must know whether you are with us.” He stood up and started to pace. “We’ve talked about this many times, Alan. We’re a fallen species. And we’ll fall further because humanity is stuck in a cycle of revenge. Some wrong is done to one group. Generations later, this wrong is returned seven-fold to the children of their oppressors. And so on and so forth. We’re a bunch of stupid monkeys and this last war is just the latest example of that fact.” He held up the crystal. “But we can end that. With this we never need to worry about our tragedy ever again.”
Alan grabbed his knees to quiet the thudding of his heart. “Why, what’s so important about that thing?”
“Immortality,” the admiral whispered. “In the dark clouds of gridspace, there awaits an entity… a consciousness… they… it will open the door to our destiny. Our tragic misunderstanding with the Kenzenkens will finally be over.” He took a breath and looked at Alan. “I want you to be our emissary, to be our connection to this consciousness. They want you to be an emissary. You have all the qualities we need. You can help it understand us.”
Alan sat without saying a word, staring at the floor. After a while, he almost thought he could hear voices. They whispered inaudible and forbidden things. He heard the door slide open. The admiral turned. A man in a green and black suit stepped in. He recognized him from the admiral’s office. He took a quick glance at Alan, and then walked up to Vendrian. The man’s footsteps echoed on the floor. The man leaned down and whispered something in the admiral’s ear. The man took out a cigarette, lighted it, and smoked it while regarding Alan with a silent expression. The acrid smell of the smoke hung in the air. He then left the room.
“Friend of yours?” Alan asked.
The admiral ignored the question. He stood up and put on his hat. “Whatever you think, whatever they say, I do this out of love for humanity. Let go of Irwin. Let go of Sargire. They distract you from your true purpose.” He pocketed the crystal. “And take some goddamn responsibility.” Turning his heels, he headed toward the door, which opened and closed with a hiss.
Hours passed. It was difficult to stay conscious. The fluorescent light gave him a headache. Alan shivered again. He wondered what had happened to Nalia. He wondered how he could have put his trust in a man such as Vendrian.
Before he could have another thought, the room shook as shockwaves from explosions emanated outside. The chair in the empty room fell to the ground. He heard the death-whisper of needleguns and distorted discharge of impact rifles. After a few tense seconds, it grew silent. Someone kicked the door open with a crash. A Kenzenken soldier ran in with his gun raised. He yelled out in a language Alan couldn’t understand. Three other soldiers in combat infiltration suits also marched in. Behind them, a young man in some sort of dress uniform stepped into the light. He walked over to the force wall and took out a card. He touched the card to the wall, causing the gravity barrier to dissipate. Finally, he looked at Alan.
“Alan Vuong, I presume?” The man sniffed, as if in disdain. “I am Fleet Colonel Miyashiro Kenichi. I’ve been sent by Admiral Atranas to take you out of here.” He looked over Alan again. He nodded at a nearby soldier who tossed Alan a pile of dirty clothes. “I’m afraid I couldn’t find anything more formal for your meeting.”
Alan quickly put on the clothes to escape the cold of the room. “Thank you,” he said.
Miyashiro didn’t respond. He nodded at a nearby soldier who shoved Alan out of the room. At first, Alan could not understand their rudeness. Then it came to him. Of course, he thought, they were angry over the refugee incident. He would have to answer for his crime for the rest of his life. His inverted fan club just kept on growing. He could have laughed at the absurdity of it all. The group moved on into the darkness.