Font size: - +
Aitkin fell hard against the cold floor, landing badly. Behind him he heard the cell door slam closed, shutting out the light to leave him in darkness.
He lay still, letting the pain of his landing ebb away and his eyes adjust.
This was it.
He groaned as he pulled his arms close and rolled awkwardly onto his back. He stared up, his mind painting the black above with images. They were confused; out of order, disconnected.
He shivered, still naked as he had been when they took him from the chair. The air was cold against his skin, raising pimples in his flesh.
He lay still, not trying to curl up or hug himself to give the illusion of warmth. There was no point. There were no more illusions.
In the darkness a sick smile twisted his lips. No more illusions. How would he know if that was even true?
The empty corridors of the station floated before his eyes, morphing into the bright spaces of the halls he had fled through. Their shining white surfaces dulled as he watched, staining with blood that faded from darker patches into bright crimson.
He blinked his eyes.
The chamber of GS-114 was in front of him now. Silent. Still. Wrong. Then it was the core. Bodies littered the ground before him. Some wore armour, some wore hazard suits. All were still.
A face flashed into focus.
He was smiling wide; grinning like he always did as if all of life was some great joke that only he understood. As Aitkin watched the smile faded. The face slackened, the eyes lost focus, staring blindly into the black mystery beyond life.
It wasn’t true.
It couldn’t be.
Aitkin wanted to believe that, but he didn’t know if he could. How could he tell the real from the imagined? How could he know the difference?
Johs’ face faded into the black and Aitkin saw pinpricks of light appearing. A shape slid into focus; cylinders and circles, shining in the light of the sun.
GS-114. The mission.
His Company were aboard. His friends, his brothers and sisters. Johs. Itona.
As he watched explosions erupted across every part of the station. Its sections began to crumple in silence, pieces breaking away to merge into the debris field surrounding it. Bodies spilled out into the void. Tiny specks that he knew were the people he’d served and trained and bled with. They were falling away. Left to spend eternity circling the dead planet below like all the poor unfortunates that had died in the blockade hundreds of years before. They were gone. Every one of them.
He closed his eyes, desperate not to see any more.
The darkness now was no less complete. On the inside of his eyelids a new face appeared. A welcome face. A face he would give everything to see again.
He reached out, hoping to touch her skin, feel the softness and the heat of her flesh. She smiled, her eyes sparkling as she turned in the light of the rising sun, her irises shining gold.
The light grew, becoming painful to see and her visage broke into a million glittering pieces and scattered in the sudden gale that blew through his mind.
Aitkin cried out, his pain overwhelming.
They couldn’t be gone.
Was any of it true? Was there any reason left to hope or was he as lost as they had led him to believe?
Something inside him stirred. Something that had been quiet for too long, so long he’d almost forgotten it was there.
A feeling that brought with it a hard certainty.
She wasn’t dead.
The knowledge hit his mind with unbending clarity. He could feel her, somehow. Aitkin couldn’t explain why, but for whatever reason he knew without doubt Itona was alive.
The sureness of that thought galvanized him. It was a rock to cling to. A line of sanity holding out against the tides of madness. He had to hold on.
It meant they had lied. It gave him a point of reality to measure all other assumptions against.
It meant not all was lost.
Aitkin dragged himself to a sitting position. His muscles ached from the atrophy of disuse, from all that time bound and immobile while Mylus’ knife had carved away at his resolve.
He had failed. He had let them down, but he was still alive and so were they. That meant he had a chance at redemption. He had a chance to make up for his mistake.
He had a chance.
Aitkin looked around. The cell they’d cast him into was dark, the lines of light around the closed door casting the walls into shadow and hiding more than they revealed. There was no sound from inside or out, but the still air had the feeling of space to it.
He was alone. Naked, unarmed but alive.
He had time to think, time to parse the real from the imagined and the lies. He had time to plan.
A noise caught his attention and he swivelled, bringing himself up to his knees ready for… what?
The darkness at the back of the cell took on a shape. He saw the reflection of the dim light on skin and his fingers curled into fists. The shuffling of bare feet approached and Aitkin pulled himself unsteadily to stand. Someone was coming out of the shadows, coming closer. Someone else was here.
Aitkin prepared himself to fight, unsure of how effective he would be but determined not to be defeated.
He was alive, naked and unarmed.
But he was not alone.