From Andromeda Prime, I set off for Oneiros, the moon of Djevika 9 deemed uninhabitable by every publicly available star chart. Since Djevika was and continues to be an underdeveloped system, there was no transwarp relay, so I had to strap in for a 9 month journey in stasis. I could only imagine that everyone who’d followed the trail of clues, as I had, endured the same pilgrimage.
I hate stasis. The persistent, unending dream. Most people pipe in some reality from VENTURE and spend that 9 months running a reality where your dead dog is alive, you can fly and surf rainbows, your AI girlfriend is real. I can’t do it. Not with the things I’ve seen. When I close my eyes, all I see are war victims. Burnt bodies. Surprise amputations with no anesthesia. The reality is etched into me. It doesn’t make sense to play auto chess with a talking cloud. I can’t take it.
Three weeks into the flight I turned the damn thing off. I want to see it. I want to hear their screams. I want them to know, somehow, that I remember. With a journey of that length, though, if you’re not in stasis, you’ve got to cut all the nonessential systems and dial the life support down to zero. Basically stasis anyway. Lay on your back and watch the ceiling, try not to breathe. Take in nutrients through the IV. Prolonged isolation like that tugs at the seams of the human mind.
A couple months of that, days start to blend together. Reality, dreams, it all starts to sort of blend into one, and the hallucinations start. It happens. I started hearing footsteps. Figured it was just some unsecured cargo rattling against the hull somewhere, maybe something in the ventilation getting churned around by the fans. Checked all around and couldn’t find anything. Went back to my thoughts. I kept thinking about the first time I saw war.
In Tideyr, just before the war, when Earth was still trying to claim jurisdiction over the Andromedan systems, I was stationed on Tideyr 5, the most erratic planet anyone ever deemed livable. Extreme winds, low gravity, high tides, constant earthquakes. The topography of Tideyr 5 changed on a daily basis. The spin was so fast days and nights were only 45 minutes long. They used to say if you jumped off a high enough mountaintop, you could circle the entire planet from the windspeed alone if you didn’t have anything to weigh you down.
These days they sell Tideyr 5 as an activity destination for thrill seekers. Back then it as an outpost for the SDF to protect the business interests of Earth’s invested parties. Tideyr 5 had two jewel moons, one made of condensed carbon and the other made up of a majority of cobalt. Diamond and cobalt. SDF set up an orbital station to launch from and connected it all together with space elevators. I was down there to secure the landing zone for miners, escort them from the station to their destination elevator. Andromeda separatists were active in the area, hidden among the settlers.
A couple months in, I was out on R&R at one of the colonies with a few colleagues. Handful of hover rovers pull in, a squad of separatists pours out, and they just start executing everyone. We fought back, but we were outnumbered. We had to fall back. When we came back to retake the area, the whole thing was just sacked and razed. Nothing but corpses and burnt tents. We couldn’t understand why at first. The colonists were Andromedan civilians. They weren’t aligned with SDF. But the reason became clear soon enough.
The elevator connected to the diamond moon blew, and a chunk of the moon blew off with it. It was a distraction. Two days later the same thing happened to the other moon. Brass abandoned the station. We went home. Now Tideyr has two jewel moons and a blanket of valuable space glitter spinning around it. The Primacy won’t let anyone touch it. They call it a war memorial. They say SDF blew it up, but I was there. It was valuable enough to murder a couple dozen civs with hopes and dreams, valuable enough to blow the miners off into space. Ended up being more valuable for some politician’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
Those colonist’s faces are just one of the many horrorshows I see when I close my eyes.
I kept hearing the footsteps on and off for several weeks. Occasionally I’d hear talking and whispering. I asked The Adroa AI if anyone else was on the ship. It said no. I knew what it was. It wasn’t something in the ventilation or crates bouncing around in the cargo bay. I recognized those whispering voices. The cocky kid who joined our unit on Alpha Centauri fresh out of basic who got his left side disintegrated by an orbital bombardment. At the end he was clutching at our lieutenant like it was his mom just asking “Is it bad? Is it bad?” over and over again. All those whispering voices just wanted to know why they had to die. I didn’t have an answer for them.
I heard a giggle that cut straight through the noise and pushed everything else into the background. I knew that giggle. The giggle, footsteps coming closer. I knew what was coming. Felt the color drain out of my skin and I shook as the door to my cabin slid open. The little girl stepped into view. Missing eye, decayed flesh. Cut up from torture, scarred from white phosphorous. Blonde, still wearing that blue dress from the day she died. The same one she’ll wear for all eternity in my head.
She stood right at the foot of my bunk and watched me, carrying an unspeakable aura of anger and menace. She raised her gnarled, gangrene hand and pointed at the bullet hole right in the middle of her precious, innocent little forehead.
“Yeah, I remember,” I said. “I put that there. I had to.”
“The way I found you,” I said. “There wasn’t any coming back from that. A quick death was a step up from where you were.”
She started shrieking. Felt like my eardrums were going to burst. Felt like the ship was going to break apart. That’s that, though. It’s what I deserved. A little mild PTSD induced schizophrenia never hurt anyone. Better off than she was. I started trying to explain why I did it to her.
“Alice,” I started.
But as soon as I said her name, she was gone. The chill was gone from the air. Just sat there, for the next couple of days, staring at the spot she was in, rolling around in my bunk. Not sure if I was awake or asleep. I popped a diazepam.
Next thing I knew, the AI chimed on through the com.
“Hello, Adam. We’re currently entering the vicinity of the moon Oneiros, orbiting class D planet Djevika 9,” it said, in its programmatically pleasant, focus group-tested computer monotone.
“Show me on the screen in my cabin,” I told it. “I want to see how anyone’s living on this rock.”
The image appeared on my screen. Looked like the starmaps all needed an update. Oneiros wasn’t a decrepit space rock at all. This thing was terraformed like nothing I’d ever seen. It was chunked into pieces, held together by some kind of hyper-dense core. A bunch of lush, green floating islands, waterfalls pouring from each to the next. A perfectly rich atmosphere.
“You’re being hailed, sir,” the AI buzzed.
“Yeah, let’s hear it,” I told it.
An image of a young woman appeared on screen. 18, maybe 19 years old. She looked incredibly polished and put together. Auburn hair laying in a braided pony tail off to the side, one side of her head tightened into corn rows, light brown eyes eyes. Excessively petite frame.
“You found us,” she said sweetly, with a joyful, welcoming smile. “I’m Lyra.”
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