This story was published by Ultraverse in 2004
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By Brent Knowles
Wrudox watched the Armada bombers skim Remembrance’s hazy skies giving birth to their gaspod offspring. The pods burst as they hit the lower atmosphere, the gray gas they contained spreading its poisonous vapors across the pale green, dying jungles. John Aldan, Earth hero and captain of the First Landing on Remembrance stood by Wrudox’s side.
“I watched the towerships land,” the blind man said, “Such beauty the hand of man is capable of. Each ship a work of art, they fell with precision from that violet sky, spinning as they danced into the earth. They were beautiful. You wouldn’t remember, not really, I suppose.”
“The All remembers,” Wrudox whispered softly, uneasy with interrupting the ritual, “Through the All I see the sky give birth to the same city that now lies dead before us. John Aldan, I watch this dance you speak of and it is beauty. I mourn the loss.”
Only the burned husks on the horizon remained from the First Landing — human and mthilx both victims to the bombs of the Second Landing. Wrudox knew something of the loss John Aldan’s words carried. And other losses, he reflected as he looked for a moment at the sapphire ring he wore on the chain about his neck.
“If this planet falls,” John said, rubbing the back of his hand across the scarred and pitted ruin that was his upper face, “Saul Sterr will bring his Armada against Earth. Earth must be made to realize this!” Wrudox nodded in agreement.
John wore only the white robe that Wrudox had woven with his own hands and a slender chain supporting a St. Christopher medallion. It promised safe travels and Wrudox hoped it would work. Most promises of human faith fell far short. “You are ready, Wrudox?”
“Yes John Aldan. And you?”
John sighed. He laid a hand on the smooth, white arrowhead-shaped starship, which floated centimeters above the jungle clearing beside the two men, aliens to each other but bonded. The ship was their last hope. John had named it Vengeance. “The blockade will be difficult to break. It should be me piloting her.”
“In a way-” Wrudox began but a rustling noise stopped him. He stepped away from John and saw the People assembled on the edges of clearing. The humans wept and the mthilx moaned.
“Soon my Samantha,” John said and Wrudox bowed his head. John’s wife had been taken with the pilot’s sight when the bombs had first fallen.
The rustling grew louder and the first vines erupted into the clearing, thick and fleshy with veins of purple coiling about green stalks. They wrapped themselves about John’s legs and knocked him to his knees. Other vines looped about his arms and pinned them behind his back. The entry sphincter of the starship opened and thin, slender, young vines erupted out of it. Wrudox bowed his head in recognition of John Aldan’s pain.
The vines coiled around the hero’s neck like snakes and squeezed.
“Give them hell Wrudox,” John said as he died and his memories bled into the soil. The vines sucked eagerly and John joined all who’d ever drawn their last breath upon Remembrance.
“The All you become.” Wrudox whispered the holy words, for his people were all mystics, from childhood to death. If John Aldan cried out in that last moment of life, Wrudox never heard it. John Aldan was a hero.
Saul Sterr’s Armada stretched across several star systems, the black starships floating like sharks through the oceans of space. The bulk of the Armada surrounded Remembrance, the fifteenth planet of the system and its flagship the Fist drifted contently while in its bowels Kyran Sterr slept and dreamed truth.
He loomed over her. Again. Long, squishy fingers jabbed and pinched her like a fat aunt prodding a baby. Her companion smelled of dirt filled chambers, of warmth and life, so unlike the sterile, filtered corridors of the battleship. He studied a small object in his massive paw-hand, gestured with it towards her, poked her with it. She turned her head and stared instead into the algae-illuminated cavern pond at their feet. She knew this alien and her lack of fear towards him frightened her.
She stared at her reflection, her face pale and almost sickly, her skin stretched tightly across her skull while the ebony face of the alien beside her was many folded, with sagging skin that hung like soft fruits. His entire body was segmented, the folds between segments visible even through his white robe. He took her hand in his and she leaned against his shoulder, remembering now how he had saved her from the sinking escape pod. How long ago?
She quivered in her sleep. Jake, her nanny looked in on her and grumbled as he stepped over to her bed.
In the dream land, the creature beside her growled and Kyran watched as his mouth opened, a gaping maw of blackness erupting with crooked and cracked teeth. The sound of heavy shuffling filled the dank cavern and somewhere someone screamed loudly. She could not turn her head to see the creature beside her but only watched as its reflection turned to her. Her hand dissolved in his as he crushed it. She began to shriek.
Jake smiled and took his gloved finger away from the inside of Kyran’s slender wrist and watched the yellow capsule dissolve into her flesh.
She began to wake, screaming wildly as the nightmare blossomed, and she only quieted when he slipped into the bed with her and slid inside of her.
Then Kyran slept peacefully and dreamed no more.
Wrudox moaned a throaty, vibrating cry that echoed throughout the starship.
He inhaled deeply of the plant-recycled oxygen and tasted the mushy vegetative scent of his abandoned planet. A forlorn glance out of Vengeance’s side-window at his beloved jungle planet, with its proud Neyrk trees — vine covered and moist — rising gracefully out of the wet soil, caused his hearts to swell with sorrow and fondness.
His stubby fingers danced across the controls as the engines whined to life and the gravos pushed the craft away from the planet at a breakneck speed.
Wrudox’s fingers grasped the flight yoke tightly as the force of the ascent pushed him against his seat, flattening him like a many-wife might squish Neyrk fruitcakes with her palms. A moment later he found himself in deep space for the first time in his life. He began to hyperventilate, his chest rising and falling rapidly.
“Without the All, we all are nothing,” Wrudox whispered the popular saying.
the All whispered in Wrudox’s mind and a human smile spread across his face as he felt the presence of the All penetrate his mind.
To the starship’s aft the engines floated in a coral sea, various roots and plants of Remembrance spreading out from that fertile font of life and throughout the starship. Soft, musky soil covered the ship’s floor and blue dusk-moss blanketed the walls. A brilliant, white light so like Remembrance’s ivory sun illuminated everything, dimming and brightening on the same cycle as the planet. Roots dangled and floated everywhere, fiddling with dials and pressing buttons as needed. His copilot, his captain, his food, his air — this was the All.
For the first time in all of eternity’s memories, a fragment of the All had left Remembrance. Many mthilx had been taken from their home as slaves since the Second Landing, but never the All. Breaking the blockade called for desperate measures and many sacrifices.
Tendrils stroked his cheeks and comforted him, as the many-wife he never had, might. As he prayed Kyran might. Her ring felt heavy around his neck and reminded him of his many responsibilities. He could still remember her smell — river mist and human woman’s musk — and he quivered with the memories.
“It is not that easy,” he whispered.
The radar revealed them clearly and a green button on the control pad flared to life — the spacecom. He pressed it and heard a static-filled voice fill the starship.
“This is Armada Squad Commander Jenners. Unauthorized starship, you are violating Armada space. I repeat-”
Wrudox cut him off and replied, “Violating? A human speaks of violation to a mthilx? You should understand your words before your tongue spills them from you.” He clicked the green button again and terminated the communication.
The three Armada fighters formed a combat triangle and closed in on him. Be with me John Aldan, Wrudox whispered to the All. John’s memories flooded into his mind, an outpouring of insight.
Wrudox engaged all eight fore lasers and toggled them to cyclic mode — it took only seconds to blow a hole through the lead fighter’s fore-plating.
The rest of the ship tore itself apart. While Wrudox waited for his fore lasers to fully recharge, he turned the Vengeance in a long sweep and teased several shots across the second fighter’s side. The third fighter fell into step behind the Vengeance.
The Vengeance rocked slightly as its pursuer let go with full force.
The shields held and Wrudox smiled — he wondered what his opponent thought of a vessel as small as the Vengeance being loaded with a full shield array.
I will earn my death or my people’s salvation this day, Wrudox swore.
Truth. Wrudox fired a shatter-missile and watched it explode in front of his prey and breached the vessel’s hull. The aft shield lights began to flicker ominously as the pursuer continued to pummel the Vengeance.
Wrudox took a deep breath and filled his mind with the remembrances of the dead. John Aldan knew the way. A dozen battles flashed through Wrudox’s mind before he saw what he needed. He channeled power from his aft thrusters to his fore brake-thrusts and Vengeance shuddered and suddenly turned upside down, the fore lasers pointing towards the pursuer.
John would have had a clever battle cry but Wrudox knew none so he set his lips in a grim line of determination and squeezed the trigger. The enemy ship became a metal coffin, destined to drift forever through the universe unless captured by scavengers or pulled from its dead orbit by gravity.
Wrudox disagreed with a honk. “Their blood will wet the empty cosmos and bleed forth a new beginning.”
The All stroked and caressed him but still he felt nervousness for it was time to put the plan into effect. A galaxy away, fresh-faced university students might debate on a theoretical level what he would now attempt to put into action. Something no human pilot would attempt, but it was a tactic the greatest of all Earth’s space jockeys had dreamed up. Wrudox trusted John Aldan.
The history of hyperspace was well known, even to the mthilx, for the humans of the First Landing shared their knowledge freely. And all school children, regardless of origin, knew that to enter hyperspace required a minimum amount of one light year distance between source and destination. And one had to ensure that the destination space was clear of any potential collision matter — planets, meteors, or starships.
“Let it unfold,” Wrudox said and initiated his first jaunt into hyperspace.
Into the Armada, far closer than one light year away.
Kyran lunched with her father while Jake stood by the cafeteria exit.
“So many mistakes,” Saul Sterr said. Kyran looked up at him, sitting across the oval, plastic table from her, as he floated an archaic novel in herdirection. She glanced at its cover and smirked for it was old and badly kept.
“Aldan and the other colonists believed we would find either a noble, godlike race when we crossed the stars or some horrible, evil horde of aliens hell-bent on invasion,” Saul said, stroking his white goatee. His suit, neatly pressed as always clung to his body well and even his white hair was neatly trimmed and only added to his charisma.
“Were they truly so wrong, father? I suffered at their hands and the worms, to me are truly monsters.” She shivered at the memories, so vivid, so real still even though it had been years.
“Monsters perhaps but with less brains between the lot of them than a dog.
Savages.” Saul pressed his lips together firmly, moistening them and continued, “If not for the first colonists, the worms would have caused us no trouble at all. Earth and its meddling. We live on scraps when we could be harvesting Remembrance!”
Kyran humored her father with a smile. The Armada was far from beggarly.
“Soon daddy and the worms will be but mindless beasts as their plants wither and die. How long then will the First Landers survive, when the worms turn on them?
Saul smiled at his daughter proudly. “Yes, my Button, the gas will choke the life out of the plants. And then the worms will become what God meant them to be — animals, for harvest, slaughter, whatever that we decide.
Without you, we might never have known about this, what do they call it — the All?”
Kyran nodded and then looked away for a moment and stared out into the vastness of space through the porthole beside her. The Nebula II, an escort destroyer, drifted by.
“At least some good came of my torment.” Kyran said, “They spoke of those vines and plants and fungi, the All, like a god. They didn’t even think to hide it from me.”
“All our enemies are fools, which is what makes us right,” Saul said.
“Earth wars with itself as it always has, safe in the false security of their orbital defenses while all their colonies have fallen to us. We sit here, king and princess of the cosmos. School children write essays about you and me. Remembrance will become a memory.”
“Our enemies shall fall and we shall rise,” Kyran quoted her father’s favorite saying.
“We shall rise,” Her father said, “You truly are your father’s daughter.”
She smiled at his praise but noticed his quick glance towards Jake.
“And you sleep well?”
She shrugged. “Some nightmares.” He asked her this too often. She stared into her father’s gray eyes and tried to fathom what he sought in hers.
“Anything else?” Saul asked as he rose to his feet, his gravboots clanging softly against the metal floor as he walked deliberately to his daughter’s side and kissed her forehead.
“No Father. Why?”
“Old men worry, that is all Button.”
He patted Jake on the shoulder as he left the room and stepped onto the conductor, letting the floor slide him towards the battleship’s control tower.
“Take me to my quarters,” Kyran commanded Jake.
The heart of the blockade, crowded with Armada warships, cruisers, tugs and research stations was the last place in the universe that a starship would jaunt into. The slightest contact between two vessels while one of them rocketed through hyperspace would utterly destroy both them and anything nearby. Only the foolish or desperate would attempt it.
A gigantic pretzel-shaped Wellship floated beside the Fist and created a field of force that prevented hyperspace travel out of the blockade sphere it formed with its network of sixty-six planet-hugging satellites. But this elaborate blockade could not stop someone from jaunting into it.
Wrudox closed his eyes, shuttered his auditory membranes and merged completely with the All. Warships were but silver light, flaring on both sides of him as Wrudox and the All guided the Vengeance through the packed space. Sharp zips and zaps, zigging and zagging, 90 degree turns, turned nauseatingly upside down then rightside up. He avoided the research station by almost smashing into the destroyer, dodging down only to leap left.
All the while the Vengeance discharged its special cargo — small space mines that magnetically attached themselves to the hull of the Wellship.
The blockade must break.
It took him moments to move his hand across the controls and disengage the hyperdrive. Abruptly, he was yanked out of hyperspace as easily as a child might snatch a handful of pollen from a windswept sky.
The sublight engines flared to life, tediously slow compared to the hyperdrive. Warships turned their broadsides to him, yet they did not dare fire for fear of striking their companions. He was a fly slipping through the giant’s fingers.
The Fist floated to his side, the massive battleship twice the size of any other ship in Saul’s fleet. Somewhere aboard that ship Kyran stood, maybe even watched him and the fighters that spilled out of the warship’s bellies.
He whispered a silent prayer for the civilians on the Wellship and then flicked an unmarked switch. The Wellship shattered violently as the pretzel pieces snapped apart, spinning rapidly away as the field of force blocking hyperspace travel dissolved.
Memories of Kyran unexpectedly flooded him. He remembered sitting with her in a small warren, as she handed him her mother’s ring and promised to fight for the freedom of Remembrance. What had happened to that promise? He remembered her eyes, so passionate and compassionate. But what had her promises brought his people? He tried to force himself to concentrate, but he found his hands obeying his hearts, not his head. The Vengeance began to drift towards the Fist.
The All chided him but it felt unconvincing, half-hearted, the words of a young and inexperienced elder. The All did not know the passion stirring in him and though he felt the All’s displeasure, it spoke no more to him as it read his motivations and understood his decision. He had to see Kyran — he did not even need to speak with her but he wanted to know that she existed still.
He turned the spacecom on and ignored the first flurry of chatter as captains screamed at him. Off on the inward edge of the blockade, two cruisers had collided when they tried to avoid Wrudox’s reckless hyperspace jaunt. He smiled, announced his surrender over the spacecom, and powered down the Vengeance’s weapons.
Please let them be curious enough about the ship not to destroy us outright, Wrudox thought as he climbed out of the ship through the top hatch, wondering of the many brothers and sisters of his who had done similar when forced on Saul’s spacewalks to construct this very fleet. The flaps of flesh on his body could hold large amounts of oxygen — a few hours worth — as well, a mthilx’s entire body was covered with small, water filled sacs.
A useful mechanism to survive during the dry season on Remembrance, when the mthilx used to dig themselves into soil homes and hibernate. The water sacs gave some measure of protection from the radiation in space and provided limited nourishment. But all the slaves had eventually died and their bodies and memories had never returned to Remembrance. John Aldan had told him this. And in that moment as he crawled, amoeba-like across the hull of the Vengeance, to move to its underside, he realized that for the first time in all his life he could not hear the rustle of the All, either through his membranes or in his mind. And like his unknown, enslaved brethren he cried out in sorrow at the loss.
Calm yourself, he thought, as the tug floated towards him, escorted by at least two-dozen starfighters. Isolation madness takes months, even years.
The tug locked onto the Vengeance and both ships bounced as the magnetic couplers attached. The tug began its slow crawl towards the cavernous belly of the Fist as Wrudox held tightly to the underside of the Vengeance.
They stood ankle-deep in the crimson soil, beside the Great River, alone and safe from the vanishing scoutplanes on the horizon. Her hair blew behind her, whipping to and fro like a flag, but she laughed.
“Such peace.” Her hand was held tightly in another’s, her doing not his.
“My father must be… will be stopped. I can convince him. If I return.
These weeks I’ve opened my eyes for the first time in years.”
She turned to look at him but the wind picked up and lifted the sand around in a brilliant red swirl that hid his face. He dropped her hand and turned his back on her. His body drooped in sorrow.
“For this,” she said, gesturing to the wind and sand, to the water and life surrounding them, “It must be done.”
A loud alarm blared and Kyran turned, screamed, “They come!” as she woke in her own bed. Groggily she remembered that she was aboard the Fist and listened as the emergency alarms cried. Jake knelt beside her on the bed, a large yellow capsule held in one gloved hand, his other hand holding her left wrist.
“What are you doing?” she mumbled.
“You were having… a nightmare,” he said, his face only slightly flushed, pocketing the capsule and rising to his feet, “but you are awake now.”
“I am not certain. They just began.”
He lifted his com to his mouth and began asking questions. Kyran stared up at him and wondered what had been in the capsule.
The All remained silent as the vines wriggled from under the belly of the Vengeance. The moment the starship had landed upon the sterile landing pad and the cargo-doors had sealed themselves shut, several orifices had opened on the Vengeance and a steady stream of roots had leapt from them.
Wrudox had been almost knocked down by the process as he hid behind a large loading crate towards the edge of the landing bay, a short crawl from the Vengeance. He stared down the hallway before him and saw the evenly spaced handholds. Hand over hand he began to crawl down the hallway. He did not understand what the All was doing — but he had his own mission now. He paused for a moment beside a viewscreen in the empty hall and watched as a prerecorded image of Saul Sterr with snowy hair and fiery eyes appeared.
“As Director,” he said, “it is my belief… my desire to unite the Universe under one Just and Beneficial government. I desire an end to conflict between humans. The threats of the mthilx are just the beginning. The human race needs to be United, needs to stand firm against the alien onslaught that is only now beginning.” And then, most surprising Kyran appeared beside her father, her soft blond hair trailing down her shoulders. His hearts stopped and he listened with horror.
“The worms must be eradicated. Not just for what they did to me but for what they would do to you, to your children if their vile scourge is allowed to spread across the galaxy-”
Wrudox pushed himself away from the viewscreen, his body shaking with horror. How could Kyran say such lies? The All’s absence burned painfully, a raw ache growing rapidly but this betrayal from Kyran hurt more. An empty sorrow rushed through him.
“You promised,” he whispered as he stood there, clenching and unclenching his fists.
Wrudox turned, his fingers wrapped tightly about the metal handhold to see four marines pointing weapons at him.
Jake finished speaking with Saul through the communications system and said to Kyran, “We must get to the bridge.”
“What is going on?”
“We captured a ship breaking blockade… a worm escaped from it. The ship is infecting our systems, like some kind of virus. It has overridden several systems.”
Jake tugged her along. Kyran did not understand how this could be happening. The Fist was safe. Safe from the aliens and safe from the Earthlings. Her safe place. They could not find her here — daddy had promised her that. Jake opened the door and she let his rough tug lead her right behind him but then he stopped abruptly and she bumped into him.
Wrudox noticed another soldier (without the bug-helmet the marines wore) step out of a room behind the squad. He looked slightly startled as he turned around and pushed someone back into the room. Wrudox’s quivering and flattened nostrils caught the slightest whiff of river mist and woman’s musk in the recycled air.
“Kyran,” Wrudox whispered as he crawled rapidly towards the squad.
Just as the first weapon fired, Wrudox threw himself from the handholds and rocketed towards them. Two shots hit him painfully as he bowled into the men, but their gravboots kept them rigid like statues and he did not knock them to the floor as he had hoped, so instead he grabbed for soft flesh.
The first soldier’s neck snapped and he fell forward, his boots popping off the floor as he floated away. Another taser burned his flesh but Wrudox gripped one man’s gun arm for leverage and lashed out rapidly with arms and feet. One by one the tasers spun out of lifeless hands.
Blood covered him. His left side tingled and the scorch marks from the tasers scraped painfully as he began crawling towards the room where Kyran hid. He must have looked the sight — a lumbering whale of a humanoid, crawling hand over hand down the weightless hall towards the small doorway.
He got to it just as it opened — the guard peeked his head out.
Wrudox grasped him by the throat and began choking him as the man raised his taser. Smack. Wrudox tossed the man against the metal doorway with such force that his head cracked. Thick blood floated upwards from scalp and mouth. The dead man’s boots slammed him upright to the floor and the corpse swayed and jetted blood. Someone screamed hysterically. Wrudox crawled forward and looked into the room.
Her hair was longer than the last time he had seen, her, thick blond curls almost down to her waist. She wore a blue gown that matched her eyes perfectly and her fingers were bare of any ornamentation. A necklace of diamond stars embraced her smooth neck. She held a com in her hands and was screaming into it.
“He’s found me! Daddy he’s found me! Oh, god, oh god.”
“It is Wrudox, my Kyran. Your friend. I am not here to hurt,” he said.
“You killed Jake,” Kyran whimpered, “please don’t hurt me.”
“What has been done to you?”
She would not answer, but she begged for mercy with her eyes.
“I’ve come to save you.”
“Save? Me?” she stared at him as if he were crazy, “No, this is just a nightmare. Just a nightmare!” He reached out for her but she slapped his hand away.
“The crash, don’t you remember any of it?”
She flinched. “Yes. That’s when it began.”
She began to tremble violently and she would have sat down he thought, if not for her gravboots. “Please don’t hurt me again. Please. No more burning, no more beatings, I cannot bear it-” She was crazy: wild-eyed, trembling and sweating. He wanted to hug her but feared she would die from fright if he did.
“Kyran, something evil has been done to you. Memories rightfully yours have been stolen. I can help,” he said though he had no idea how, “you must come with me.”
“I will never go with you!”
“But you must.”
Light faded for a moment until red emergency lights flared to life. The intercom came alive, a powerful and stern voice shouting for order,
“…all crews report to your emergency stations. This is an evacuation order.”
“Daddy!” she tried to rush past Wrudox but he grabbed her by the arm.
What had the All done? He could feel the ship groan as it turned abruptly.
Kyran stumbled against the table. Wrudox reached for her, ignored her screaming and squirming as he hoisted her overtop his shoulder.
“For you, I do this Kyran,” Wrudox said the lie even as he began to doubt his own truth.
Kyran cried as she watched the pale blue discus of light tear the Fist apart, shattering it into a million pieces. The two large Bulwark engines blew free, one smashing through a flight of several starfighters, destroying half of them before it resumed its spin into infinity. The other penetrated the side of the Nebula II escort destroyer and both dissolved.
“Daddy,” she whispered as she watched the flagship of the Armada buckle inwards to oblivion. She wrenched at her bindings but could do nothing.
She inhaled shallowly, the thick, plant smell overwhelming and full of memory.
Tiny black bugs crawled along the vines that bound her across the waist to the bench. She slapped at them when they walked across her legs. She watched her captor, her father’s murderer, pilot the ship, his body undulating to the same rhythm as the gentle vibrations of the plants.
Daddy would never kiss her forehead again, would never hold her tight and call her Button. Daddy was dead. So was Jake. She sucked in more wet, warm air, just enough to breath. She felt light-headed and tears streaked her face. She looked down for a moment and when next she raised her eyes she was staring into the worm’s face. The roots moved across the control panel as the starship leapt into hyperspace.
“I am not afraid to die,” she lied, her jaw set at a stubborn angle and her eyes flaring defiantly.
“Why would you die Kyran Sterr?” the alien asked in his frighteningly gentle voice. He seemed so familiar to her and she knew it meant that he was one of her captors, one of her torturers. And now he mocked her fear. He laid a hand on her shoulder and she tried not to tremble more.
“That is why… why you wish to bring me to Earth, so that those cruel planet-locked bastards will hang me. Don’t deny it.”
“Kyran Sterr, my name is Wrudox. I do not lie. I bring you to Earth, but not as a prisoner. You are… my friend. For I love you deeply.”
And then Kyran understood the deep violet shade to the worm’s eyes and his nervousness. It reminded her of the fawning puppies that her father used to throw her way, in the hopes of marrying her to some powerful general or bureaucrat.
“Love me?” Kyran said, “Either you joke cruelly with me, or one has been played upon you.”
“Everyone knows that worms cannot love, for love must be centered from the self and the mthilx have only the group. You can’t love me. It isn’t in your genetics.”
“Can you deny my dreams? My pulse now as I sit across from you races!
If I close my eyes I see you. If I were a poet I’d sing a thousand songs of your grace, of your beauty.”
“Worm,” Kyran spat, “There is no love in you! Your people are bugs. You have no imagination, no dreams, no love.” She quivered with anger, her face flushed red and her hands balled into tight fists at her sides.
Wrudox stared at her for a long time before retreating back to the cockpit.
“Lies,” Wrudox hissed, unable to contain his anger. His people could care, but bonding-love was impossible. It was not in mthilx nature but somehow it was in his!
“Those days spent beneath my sun, Kyran Sterr, you deny me those memories too? Our conversations, learning of each other’s universes. The scent of bat blossoms on the air and the silken flow of the river in front of us as we sit along its crumbling red mud banks. A gentle wind that tousled your hair as you close your eyes and sit there, letting my world kiss you. You deny it all?” As a human might, he tapped the side of his head, his fingers pressing into the soft flesh with some force.
Kyran’s face whitened further and though he longed to wrap his arms about her and let those tears that he saw marshalling in her blue-green eyes fall on his shoulders, he knew he could not. His presence frightened her.
Could her own father have been cruel enough to modify her memories? Wrudox thought of the vid-ad he had seen in the Fist’s corridors and wondered what effect Kyran’s return from capture had had on the people of the Armada.
“They happened, maybe,” Kyran allowed and for the first time since he captured her, his hearts trilled with excitement. “I remember what I remember but I remember what you say as well. But not in the way you remember them — we may have sat by a river, maybe even as friends, but nothing more. There is no love between us. I just want… want to go home… but I can’t, can I, because you killed them all.”
“They were the enemy,” Wrudox said. He knew as he spoke how weak his words were.
“Enemy?” Kyran said and the white in her face reddened. “You hypocrite. You came here to stop the slaughter of your innocent people… but what of my innocent people? And the soldiers that all died here, how many war widows have you made?”
Wrudox did not have the words in him. Kyran lunged at him, slapping with her sharp fingers and he winced. He raised his arms to ward off the blows and she screamed at him.
“What is real here worm? What is real! My weeks of torture… do you want me to describe what I remember you doing to me, oh, you, my stalwart rescuer. What foolish lines of ill-whispered poetry do you remember hearing from my lips? I remember the torture and the fear and yet the fear is only a memory.”
“It was not me… we have been tricked. Your father, the All somehow-”
“The All? What do plants know about guile and trickery? That is a human thing and it seems that we had the misfortune of passing our sophisticated cruelty onto at least one of you savages.”
Wrudox said, “The mission was to avoid the Fist and the other starships. I was to go to Earth, to get their support in our fight for freedom. The All wanted more… they made me remember you.”
Wrudox hissed the vines into silence. Kyran said nothing, her tirade fading with the flush in her cheeks.
“I landed on the Fist to rescue you.” And Wrudox knew then the source of his confusion. If the All could transfer the life memories and experiences of one mthilx into another, with sufficient training or intervention what else might they accomplish? Kyran saw something shatter in Wrudox’s tiny eyes.
“There is more. Something else.”
Damn you John Aldan. For who else could have led the All down this path? Wrudox knew it meant his people’s survival but he could not hide his anger and the All felt it, the vines slipping away from him and the false sun dimming, casting the ship into the gloom that both Wrudox and Kyran felt shrouding them regardless.
“A mthilx embraces all equally,” Wrudox said, the words sounded hollow yet rang true. He wanted to weep. He wanted to crush Kyran against him and kiss her with a human’s passion.
“Did you torture her? Is that real?” Wrudox screamed at the All, the center of his universe the god of his people. Were her memories true?
“They say your memories were made false.”
“And you believe them? What did they do to you — they made you love me.
They made a worm love a human. What else are they capable of? They made you steal me away-” Tears flowed shamelessly down her face.
“I do love you though, Kyran, no matter its source,” Wrudox said, slinking to the floor at her feet in a half crouch. “I can barely live with this love. You once thought… warmly of me. You gave me this ring, your mother’s.” He took the chain from his neck and handed the sapphire ring to her.
Kyran’s mouth opened in a small o. She took his offering but her features hardened, once her fingers closed over the ring. “This is nothing, means nothing. You probably stole it from me.”
“Your words are cruel.”
“You are a worm. I am human. How can I look upon you without disgust? Whether my nightmares are fabricated or not matters little now. I am what I am now. Just as you are.” Wrudox’s eyes darkened and Kyran shut her mouth and turned her gaze from him to stare out the small star port.
“If you take me to Earth, they will hang me and call it war’s justice.” The thought of her swaying beneath the lonely sun of Earth filled him with such sadness that he near burst.
“I will protect you.”
“You, who are all Fool and Knight and Murderer rolled into one disgusting bundle. You either joke with me or you are as stupid as my father believed.”
“Then we will go elsewhere. Anyplace you desire.”
“I want to be with my father,” Kyran said and she touched him, a painful jab to his chest with her outstretched finger. “Can you arrange that?”
“Kyran,” Wrudox said, “My hearts are filled with sorrow at your loss. I cannot take back what we did. I only offer you a future.”
“That I have no doubt of worm, but what I long for is an impossibility. Fly us into a sun and our pain will disappear, for though you think you love me it is a false love, and though I hate you I feel some pity for you. Let us both die.” Kyran cast her gaze upon the floor.
The pain was unbearable. Wrudox had left all that he had known, watched a good friend sacrifice himself and now this. Had there ever been a more hollow victory?
Wrudox whispered aloud, “And what of Kyran?” She looked up at the mention of her name.
“Reward!” Wrudox raged and rose to his feet again. He wrapped his meaty fists around one of the vines. “I’ll reward us all!” He tore the vine in two.
The mthilx knew not how to weep. They could not love. They had little emotion but the raging beast within them that always rode far under to the surface. Only the All kept it buried. That was why the space walkers had died, for without the All they had become savages, tearing each other and their human masters apart. The All gave sanity and reason to mad animals.
“Forgive me,” Wrudox whispered and wished that John Aldan had not died.
That John Aldan might still be the hero to him he once had been. “But you played me cruelly. So very cruelly.”
He wailed, a loud song like that of mourning, but different. The angry song of a human, a mthilx and a monster.
Kyran wept for Wrudox and herself in the shattered hull of the Vengeance.
Wrudox sat in the pilot’s chair, the destroyed remnants of the plants scattered everywhere. Liquid oozed out of the broken coral cases. Dead bugs were trampled under foot. She floated, crouched in a ball, her hair spilling out behind her like she was a sun without an orbit. Dead things floated everywhere. The starship smelled dead.
Wrudox screamed, his savagery and insanity increasing with each new link to the All that he slew. When she looked at him she saw the true monster that a worm might be. She wept freely. Wrudox had spoken true of those times by the river — she could remember those. Her father had given her the nightmares, maybe but he could not erase the pleasant memories. Jake had twisted her dreams, she supposed, drugging them into nightmares. She rubbed the sapphire ring on her finger. But she could not tell Wrudox that now. It was too late.
Now the two of them would die.
“They say,” he growled, rising from his seat, “that the madness takes weeks, months to… tear away this veil of sanity. I think Kyran Sterr that they were wrong. For me the madness covers me. I love you. I hate you.”
Wrudox began to crawl towards her.
And Kyran screamed as all her false nightmares became reality.
© Brent Knowles, 2004