by Ethan Bailey
Consciousness discovered him. Slowly, he awoke from a darkness into which he did not recall falling.
He tried to move. He couldn’t. His body seemed unwilling to cooperate. He felt perfectly ready to fall back into the abyss, but it seemed his environment, wherever that was, had it’s own plans.
It was the clamour, an awful ringing, which hauled him out of his slumber, but it was the stench that kept him from falling back inside. A perverse malodour struck at his senses, causing him to gag. Whatever it was, it seemed to emanate from nearby. He fought to control his stomach.
He attempted to open his eyes, but the pain was too much. He didn’t need to reach out to know that they were hideously swollen.
Where the hell am I?
With great difficulty, he forced his eyes open, trying his best to ignore the pain that followed. Slowly, his left eye responded.
The world around him began to form. A complete blur. Shapes without defined angles. Consoles of some kind. All of it dark and obscure. But as his eye adjusted to the dim light, he realised where he was.
He was aboard some kind of space-frigate. That explained the rumbling.
Something ahead caught his attention. In the shimmering onyx of the ceiling under which he lay, he saw a man he did not recognise. Staring back was a small, thinning man, utterly wild in appearance, his beard amok and face ashen. Seeing more clearly, he realised he was looking at a reflection of himself. The pallor of his gaunt expression was adorned with the fusion of a purple-black protrusion, the colour only a horizon should exhibit.
Within him sparked recognition. From recognition came memory. Memories of her.
That smile. Eyes that saw the faceless, the nameless, the hopeless. Sepia skin flushed with carmine cheeks. Cerulean eyes amidst sable falling tousles.
Where are you, Sapphia?
They were to meet. Escape together to the stellar-port. But the night before he’d been followed. Her fathers men, he was sure. So he’d changed the location. A minor amendment, just to throw them off. She’d concurred. 3 hours earlier, new platform.
They had also agreed, beforehand. With the gravity of their rebellion, they had to be sure. If at any point she had any change of heart, he’d begged her, she must not come. He had so little to lose, but she….she had everything.
Now he remembered. Of course…She hadn’t shown. He’d waited for her, but she did not come. In his heart, he really had believed that maybe, just maybe, she would.
He looked back at his reflection.
“You pathetic man.” he whispered through gritted teeth, the pain resounding throughout his face.
At last the sirens stopped. A static hissed, introducing a voice.
“Mr Finnus Mandon.” it said passively. The voice had a spectral quality that sent a shiver down Finn’s spine. “Upon your capture, you were bought aboard for your transgressions against the Kerala family. Your ship is on-route to the Vydessian System. You will be delivered to its only habitable world, far out of the reach of Miss Kerala. You will be…compensated. But you must not attempt to alter your course, nor must you ever attempt to see her again. Her safety depends on this, as well as yours. Do you understand, Mr Mandon?” the voice threatened.
Finn barely noticed.
The realisation sparked in his mind, a live-wire bringing both hope, and yet a terrible sadness.
She doesn’t know I waited.
The thought blockaded his mind, casting everything else aside.
How could he not go back now, when she didn’t even know?
His heart sank. Clearly, they had intercepted his message. The love of his life had waited, alone, hours after he’d been taken, having never received his word.
Nothing could be harder for him to stomach than the thought of her not knowing. She thought he left her. And she would never know the truth.
“Mr Mandon? Do you understand?” the voice repeated, a wave of impatience breaking his monotone.
“You’d never hurt the Consulate’s daughter, you sick bastard. Never. Even he wouldn’t allow that.” Finn spat out defiantly.
“There is so much you do not know, it seems.” the man said, sighing. “Her father cares little for her safety, only her worth, and the family’s legacy.”
The way he said ‘worth’ made Finn seethe.
He had to go back, yet if he tried to deviate from the ship’s path, she would be punished.
“You bastards. This is all just a game, isn’t it? We’re nothing but pawns.”
“Miss Kerala is a pawn, I myself am a pawn, I suppose. You, Mr Mandon, are merely the board over which we walk. Let me make this quite clear. The girl is only worthwhile in marriage. Her father has a match. If she is seen anywhere near…you, again, it absolves her worth. The other family’s sympathy for her passing would be worth more to him, and far less embarrassing.” he sat flatly, still conveying no emotion despite the enormity of this revelation.
I can’t do this. I can’t go back. What if he really meant that?
He was in despair. He couldn’t return, could he?
You selfish bastard. She deserves better.
How could he consider going back at all?
She had said to him before, Together we have hope. Hadn’t she?! Finn could hear the impatient sigh from the communicator, waiting for his answer.
An anger flashed through him, embroiling him in a defiance he could not temper. In his fury, he ripped the wires from the microphone.
I won’t sit back and let you walk over us, after everything we’ve built.
He would never leave her to their sick games.
Pulling himself over to the deck, exhaling through gritted teeth, he removed the onboard computer’s maintenance casing. Need to engage emergency protocols to override the system.
Carefully, he pulled the necessary wires from their modules. A sudden silence descended upon the ship. After what seemed an eternity, the terminal lights flickered back online. He was in.
He began to reprogram the system as the central terminal flickered, revealing a dim apartment.
She sat gazing at the city outside, her hands clasped. His heart sank further still. Seeing her now filled him with the overwhelming guilt of his decision.
A light in the apartment switched on. Confused, Sapphia turned around, a look of fear upon her face. She sat frozen in her seat.
Slowly, a figure moved into view, a hooded bulk of a man, a visible firearm held firmly in his hand.
“Sapphia! Sapphia!” Finn yelled in despair, though she would never hear him.
A flash flickered throughout the room. Finn’s entire world fell into disarray as he witnessed her fall to the ground, cerulean eyes gazing lifelessly.
“Mr Kerala would have preferred to have kept his investment. Your changed course is responsible for this loss of capital, and it shall serve you poorly. We will see you soon.” the communicator went silent, yet Finn barely heard the words spoken.
Finn’s hate deserted him in an instant. The fight left him, leaving behind the stupendous jolt of reality.
Without thought, he moved to act.
His hands went back to the module underneath the deck. Pulling more wires free, the emergency prompt opened, allowing him access to the system. He shut down the electrolysis generator, ejecting all pressurised oxygen storage tanks.
We won’t ever be part of your game.
He gasped for breath, heaving as more air left his body than he could inhale back in. But he welcomed it. His chest felt as if it was rupturing, yet he felt peaceful. His thoughts became sluggish as he fought to control his memories.
That smile. Such sweet kindness.
He fell into a stupor as the remaining pain dulled, dropping into a numbed and placid rest. His eyes grew heavier. He longed for the darkness that would allow him to see her face again.
He’d made the right choice. Now he would see her. He managed a weak smile.
A voice began to speak, whispering his name. He knew the voice, somehow. It’s usual softness broken, crackling with tears. But he knew it. It spoke into the darkness, questioning it.
“Why didn’t you meet me, Finn?”
With the last of his strength, he lifted his eye back open. Upon the screen, he saw her. Clearer than before. Alive. Curled on her bed. Safe.
It wasn’t her before. The apartment…it was staged…A fake.
“Saf-“ he stammered. He couldn’t get it out. His throat was tightening. His energy had faded.
I didn’t leave you. Sapphia, I didn’t leave you. I was always there, waiting.
Of all the pain he’d ever felt, knowing she would never know was the worst. The knowledge followed him into his final slumber, while the truth would evade her forever; a lasting fissure upon their memory.