5 - Sundown
Tauri 31st, Year 55 - Black Sun
Only a name: Isha. Maybe hers. She was bothered by the fleet of ladies in waiting and servants who gravitated around her, annoyed by their obsequious attention. Some brushed her hair meticulously; others adjusted her dress to fit perfectly. Such beautiful dress ornamented with gemstones! A masterpiece of lace and velvet, decorated with pearl-black feathers and onyx stones, sewed for a queen. She took a look at her surroundings, mesmerised by the beauty of this place, luxurious museum filled with priceless artworks. Majestic paintings that glorified the conquest of the galaxies by the Empire overloaded the walls. Her feet sunk into the fluffy carpeting weaved of silver and gold wool. Speakers attached to the ceiling played chamber music in the background while maids titivated her to her fingertips.
But whom she saw in the mirror was an ordinary-looking woman dressed up like a princess from a dystopian fairy-tale. It made her feel uneasy. She whisked away these concerns in a blink. She should not let her guard down. Everyone's gazes were set upon her every action. Moreover Ophideus kept her on watch from the threshold, armed to the teeth, ordered to shoot on sight if she attempted anything to escape the Palace.
- You may come in, His Highness the Almighty One is waiting for you.
His reception hall was even more colossal. Its fabulous columns of black marble were imposing. Closely escorted by Ophideus she admired in awe the hangings embroidered with intricate cosmic designs while she crossed the pathway to the throne. The Emperor himself was sitting under a canopy, hidden by a curtain of silk. A satisfied grin curled his lips as they approached:
- Good job Ophideus!
The lizard-man nodded with compliance:
- I just followed through your orders Your Highness.
- I was expecting no less from you.
The reptilanoïd dipped into a bow and left the room backwards, then the monarch focused his attention on the goddess of beauty standstill in front of him. Drilled on her forehead his lightless pupils were skimming through her memories from her early childhood to her life in Society, including her years in college. He had not the right to intrude her mind she thought at the realisation his mind-reading abilities allowed him to know everything about her. It no longer mattered to her that much either. She was starting to lose track. It felt like this distant past that kept harassing her was carried away from grasp bit by bit, until it vanished.
People, whose faces lingered on in her mind, whose names she had forgotten, were waiting for her return. Where to? She reached out to them as their silhouettes disappeared one by one. She was left alone. From now on she was nobody but the sovereign's property. She no longer belonged to anywhere given that she had nowhere to go back to. Her identity, if she ever had any, had been wiped out.
- I bid you to become mine and only.
The sound of his reedy voice throughout her mind snapped her back to reality. He held her chin in the curve of his palm. Took by surprise she thrashed about to break free only to realise she had no longer the ability to move. She was trapped. Her arms and legs under someone else's control were no longer responsive. He tightened his grasp. Her lungs gasped for air. She nearly choked up. “There is no escape” he conjured between his teeth chuckling deviously. He drew her closer to him and pressed his lips against hers for a forced kiss, his fingernails clawed into her skin:
- Outside death awaits the reckless.
On position near the threshold he had witnessed the whole scene from a distance. He harboured an emotionless face like his colleagues to conceal his true feelings. He pitied her condition. During the time they spent in prison, he got to learn more about Earth and attain a better understanding of its inhabitants. They had fought to save their planet until the end, united in their misfortune. Her had a fulfilled life to look forward to: dreams to accomplish, marriage plans to make after the disaster, a career to take further. She was passionate, courageous and caring. She used to be in a relationship with someone she held in great esteem. Her love for him knew no boundaries despite the fact they were going to be forever separated. He was surprised to find out that Judge was the lucky one. A zero rather than a hero, he remarked. The ways of Fate were so impenetrable: he was definitely not cut out to endorse the charge of Judge.
Anyway he thought about it, more he thought about it more he felt obligated to help these two thrown across the wild universe without any knowledge of the current going-ons, unaware why and how they got implicated in the raging conflict between the Empire and the Insurrection. He cleared his throat and bowed slightly when Ophideus walked past the door. He should be more careful. He would get arrested and sent back to jail for having these unleashed thoughts.
Tauri 31st, Year 55 - Somewhere in the universe, far and beyond our galaxy
A roller coaster of shapes and colours flashed behind her eyelids when she recovered consciousness. Her head ached violently. Dizzy Alys looked at the world around with astonishment when she got accustomed to her surroundings, She was retained in a spacious yet denuded and windowless cabin without any ornaments except an imposing LED screen. She was held prisoner by nerve-stimulating shackles that suppressed her ability to move. It forced her to keep calm and composed even in compromising circumstances for her survival. A scar could be seen on her right elbow where a syringe filled with strong sedatives had pierced deeply her skin to the blood. Her empty stomach craved for food and water. Alys felt extremely exhausted as if she had just run an Olympic marathon. She groped for her bearings inside this unfamiliar environment. Just plain walls of stainless steel built in one piece and a huge LED screen on sleep mode hung at the wall. Suddenly, crackling and drilling sounds awakened brutally the young woman from her state of drowsiness with a start. A humanoid assemble of rusty gears associated with the finest nanotech to this day popped in from nowhere, carrying a tray filled with unknown fruit species and colourful test tubes which Alys stared at with a melt of stupefaction and disgust.
- Bobbi Bot at your service. He was told to keep an eye on you. Ask him anything you need.
Alys wondered if she was going to take part in a crazy adventure to save the world again She would like to lead a relatively quiet life far from the major concerns of a decaying society after everything she endured wishing to reach someday happiness. Make a successful career in journalism, marry the one she truly loved to raise a family, enjoy life to the fullest like there was no tomorrow. Reality stroke when a shadowy silhouette wrapped in a dark cloak took shape near Bobbi Bot and switched on the screen in a finger snap. He picked up a pink-reddish coloured litchi from the tray, harbouring a friendly grin:
- Glad you're awake milady, you've made it to the fourth millenary successfully!
Puzzled he stared at her from head to toe: “ But choosing you of all candidates, the ways of destiny go beyond understanding!” Clueless about the situation, the concerned had not spurted a word out yet. She began to admit the drug injected inside her body must have seriously altered her ability to reason with lucidity. It seemed that she had been transported to the thirty-first century without her consent. She remembered to have been abducted meanwhile she went back to bed in the middle of the night. Then she recalled to have been tossed in and out an endless tunnel like a bundle of clothes in a washing machine. Thereafter her mind went blank.
Pensive, the being standstill in front of her was munching on his genetically-modified litchi with content. He had been glaring at her with stupefaction for several minutes, which she found especially ill-mannered. Intrigued she took a closer look at him. His skin looked sunburned as if permanently damaged by long exposure to UV rays. Silver-white strands peeked out from his hood. Slender fingertips peeled another of these pinkish fruits carefully to appreciate their slimy texture. Alys shot glance at him to make her presence known.
- Why me in that case? she queried.
He spitted out a few litchi stones:
- Truth is you have been entitled as the wielder of a special ability out of many people who have once survived a NDE, thus why us Guardians must give you our protection.
- All right, why don't you set me free to begin with?
- I shall explain you a few things.
- It would be very much appreciated if you could tell me where I am and what the current year is.
- Don't fret too much about it, all things will come in good time.
- Let's introduce each other to begin with. I go by the name of Taurus, Second Guardian out of twelve. Yours is Alys, right?
- Even if it were, how did you find out?
-By skimming through your memories, I was able to carry further investigation about you. You were born somewhere in the Western Hemisphere during the Era of No Return, which is how we nowadays nickname the twenty-first century. You and your companions got accidentally involved in the first Traumatism trying to prevent the explosion of the Shovel of Death from happening. In the end you only made it worst for future generations who had to survive during a never-ending cycle of chemical wars generated by the hands of Pitsbulk's followers later known as the nationalist party! They reigned over the Aftermath Republic for the next forty years before the rebels took them down the throne. During that time they cut their ties from the rest of the world: the country was ostracised by the United Countries Committee from the worldwide union, shattering to pieces the hopes of citizens yearning for democracy. All because of you!
- We used to think it was the best solution to make society change for the greater good. We were revolted by how turned out the construction of the new world, how the government took advantage of the events to assess their leadership at the risk of compromising people's freedom of speech.
The promised land they bragged about when the Traumatism occurred, meant to welcome survivors after the tragedy, seemed at first an undersea paradise where one could restart a living from scratch six feet under the surface. Only then, as the years were passing by and society was slowly reconstructing itself, it appeared that appearances had fooled the layman's eye and it became very hard not to get prosecuted by governmental officers who spied on your every movement and your every action in order to kill any form of opposition in the egg. Thus you had to submit wholeheartedly to their authority for your own safety, otherwise be shunned from the community and sent to jail after you had been tried before justice for the supreme crime, acting against the President.
- I object, it did not allow you to come back to the past on attempt to prevent the first Traumatism from happening. I assume you know the almighty rule that legislates the space-time continuum, don't you?
- Yeah, I know.
- To make it short you have been brought here by the whim of destiny, he said.
- Great! I guess I will have to complete a special mission or something before I can return to my time, won't I?
- You get it right. Well, except the fact that you will never be the same person again, in many ways.
- What do you mean?
- Whenever someone survives a NDE long enough, they no longer belong to the mortal world. Which means you've reached what is called eternity. For the better or for the worst, semi-immortality is not necessarily the afterlife mankind has been longing for.
- Does it mean... I am dead?
- Yes, somehow. Better go on and leave your past behind to alleviate the pain of loss.
Wearing only a soft silk shirt over her bras and light jeans gave her the chills, which alarmed her interlocutor who ordered Bobbi Bot to get her some warm clothes at the laundry.
- What if I decide for myself that I refuse to get involved in this... intergalactic war?
- Laughable, you don't have any choice once you've stepped in battle you know. Whether or not you volunteered for it.
- Heck if I knew that I would lose my life so easily for a cause that greatly overwhelms my understanding!
Taurus pulled out an heavy sigh: "You whimsy earthlings are quite annoying peeps."
- What makes you think so?
- By his deeds this troublemaker of a judge has not redeemed my opinion of you all!
Bobbi Bot's entrance cut short their argument. He bowed to Taurus with respect:
- Bobbi Bot has found a wetsuit and fresh pants for the young lady as you ordered him.
The Guardian did not look away while Alys was dressing up. She blushed of embarrassment. Was it insane curiosity or carefulness? He surely had not been taught how to treat ladies like a gentleman: "Who do you think you are?" she growled between her teeth as he glared at her in an offhand way. "I have been told to keep an eye on you at all times. As a matter of fact, I will ensure that you won't intend anything to escape until we've arrived to destination."
- Hang on a minute... are we moving?
- Silly, you've embarked on our spaceship!
- Wait, where are we going then? Alys exclaimed.
- Ready for a return to your origins?
Behind his back the screen lighted up to show a crown of shattered planets revolving around a wide black hole that concealed any ounce of light. Looking closely it appeared to be a gigantic spaceship established at the centre of an ancient galaxy, protected from meteorites and asteroids by a thick magnetic field. "It used to be your so precious solar system." Taurus declared. "And this is the Black Sun, den of the Black Knights who rule over the Confederation".
Speechless Alys stared at the remains of the Milky Way for a handful of seconds before she burst in tears, unable to believe the impossible. " You asked for explanations, you get it." Taurus commented. "Come to your senses, there is no reason for you to cry!" Alys did not speak as if she had been emptied from inside, lifeless. Then Taurus pointed a fingertip at a conglomerate of gas, rock and ice floating amidst the chaos. It apparently had strong volcano activity at its surface. An unwelcoming territory, Alys thought.
- Not quite, Taurus retorted arms crossed over the chest.
Confused Alys raised an eyebrow, caught off guard by his remark.
- I can read your thoughts, the Guardian replied. Let's get back to topic, shall we? Its name is Calisto, one of late Jupiter's moons that was looked upon as a potential motherland for extra-terrestrial life by scientists a couple of centuries ago. However it has not been proved ever since that Calisto is soon to be inhabitable.
He made the picture spin to a different angle. A three-floors cruise ship the same size as, if not bigger than the Black Sun stood in the middle of the Jovian system, where was previously located the queen of the planets. Smaller aircrafts popped in and out its holds equipped with long-shot weapons. Taurus nodded at its robust architecture:
- This is Odyssea.
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