Nic awoke to the sound of hushed voices murmuring behind him. His face was sore, and he had the metallic taste of blood on his lips. He tried to move but found his arms and legs were bound to the chair. As he tried to gather his bearings, he looked around his cell and noticed the wall in front of him was partially composed of rock. There was a vent at the top of the wall to his left, and the sound of the a.c system was deafening. He tried to speak but could only muster a muffled yelp. The gag in his mouth was tight, and he couldn’t shift it with his tongue. The voices in the room approached and became clearer.
‘Looks like he’s awake.’ Nic recognized Bagon’s voice. ‘Let’s see if he wants to talk.’
‘She told us to go get ‘er when he wakes up.’ The second voice was unfamiliar. ‘She said she wanted to speak to ‘im first.’ Nic listened as a set of footsteps shuffled away. He heard the creaking sound of a door opening and slamming shut, then Bagon sidled around in front of him grinning that familiar black smile. He was dabbing at the blood that was still running out of his cracked nose with a dirty rag. He looked Nic in the eyes and spoke.
‘Allo Lieutenant. ‘ope you’re comfy. How’s your face? That don’t mean we’re even, no end. My bleedin’ face ‘urts like ‘ell!’ Bagon’s beaming smile didn’t break, and he stared intently into Nic’s eyes. He called me Lieutenant! Nic wondered how this simple creature, a pick swinging private with twelve years in the same unit, had so easily fooled him. The game was up before Nic had even arrived. “When our lady gets ‘ere, we’ll find out what’s in that ‘ead o’ yours.’ Bagon chuckled, and Nic made more muffled attempts to speak, but to no avail. ‘Don’t worry Lieutenant, we ‘aven’t all gone bonkers down ‘ere.’ He leant forward and pulled the rag in Nic’s mouth down over his chin.
‘Bagon! What the hell are you playing at? In league with that devil woman.’
‘She ain’t no devil, but she got one ‘ell of a fire in her eyes! Bagon laughed hard and leant back slapping his knees. ‘Ooof! And her bleedin’ temper, I ain’t seen nothing like it in me life!’ Bagon’s laughter was loud, but not loud enough to be heard outside. Not over the racket coming from the A.C system. He’d need to stall for time.
‘Bagon, listen to me. This is no joke.’ Nic frowned as he spoke. ‘They’ll take you to the truth chamber, Bagon. They’ll drain your mind, and the jellied mess that’s left will fry!’
‘They can bleedin’ well try. Our lady will save us Lieutenant. She’s opened our eyes.
‘Opened your eyes! Bagon, what of the search? Our purpose? We must join our comrades in their search for our creators!’ Nic’s voice became almost frantic. ‘Come to your senses my friend. You know we serve the greater good!’
‘Ha! Good one Lieutenant. I see you’re a true company man. Greater good, my arse! You’ll see. Anyway, how’s your ‘ead by the way? ‘ad any ‘eadaches lately?’ The question took Nic by surprise, but before he had the chance to respond, the door opened and a gentle voice came from behind him.
‘Bagon, my dear. Didn’t I say to wait for me before ungagging him?’
‘You did, my lady’ he bowed his head in a supplicant gesture. ‘But I just wanted to ‘ave a word too.’ He looked up and grinned again.
‘I guess free will has its drawbacks.’ She muttered and sauntered in front of Nic. ‘Leave us’ she commanded. ‘I want to speak to our guest.’ Bagon turned to leave and then swung his head back.
‘Don’t forget Lieutenant.’ His grin was broader than ever. ‘Whatever ‘appens, I still owe you one. My face is gonna be sore for a week!’ He laughed again and left the room.
The girl with the fiery eyes stepped in front of Nic.
‘You did a good job on Bagon’s face back there in the mess hall. And I thought you guys were friends.’ She let out a soft chuckle. ‘You were supposed to be Privates in it together. Although I think we both know that’s not true.’ She looked intently at Nic as he tried to get the measure of her. Her face was narrow with ghostly skin, and she spoke with a solemnity and grace that befit her elegant posture. Her magnificent eyes were now but orange specks across the room, yet he hadn’t forgotten how they had held him in stunned silence long enough for the butt of the blaster to crack open his nose. Nic had to choose his words wisely if he was going to get out this.
‘Where are you from?’ He looked into her eyes again. ‘I’ve never seen anyone who looks like you in all the great free city of Hallogen.’
‘Ha! Free city.’ She sounded incredulous. ‘Why is it that despots and dictators all over the galaxy ascribe their lands as ‘free’ or ‘democratic’ or some other adjectival misnomer?’
‘I’m not sure what you mean’ Nic replied. ‘We owe our lives to The Company. We are free of the tyranny which raged after the bombs fell, free of the radiation that has engulfed our planet, and have since been blessed by the arrival of our intergalactic comrades, who are, in due course, going to free us from the very constraints of the planet...’
‘Yes, yes, I know, I know. After you finish the tunnel, right?’ The lady interrupted sarcastically. ‘The greatest search the galaxy has ever known!’
‘That is the plan.’ Nic’s announced proudly. ‘As agreed by our great General and the Grand Visigoth of the Fourth Order of the Search approximately four years ago. But apparently you know that already.’
‘Of course. So, tell me Lieutenant, what do you know of this Grand Visigoth?’
‘A blessed visitor from a distant star system’ he enthused. His people are human. They were planted, as we were here, on their planet many millennia ago and now devote all their energies into finding their creators - the architects of all human life throughout the galaxy!’
‘It sounds like a most noble crusade.’ She responded caustically. ‘And how do you know it isn’t all just a big fat lie?’
Now it was Nic’s turn to sound incredulous.
‘They have enriched our lives with technology and methods that can only benefit us. They have completely unified our cause, that is until you showed up. Why give us so much if it is all just based on a lie? How ridiculous that sounds!’
‘I suppose when the rest of them arrive’ she interjected. ‘They will take the resources they need from the core and take all 10million of you along with them. Is that correct?
‘It most certainly is.’ Nic’s reply was indignant. ‘It is the greatest honour the galaxy can bestow.’
‘It’s a familiar story I’m afraid.’ She said it with a sorrowful tone. ‘One, I’ve heard many times before.’ Nic looked at her quizzically. ‘Tell me Lieutenant, have you ever wondered why it is that you have to dig this bloody great giant hole? As she said the words, Nic felt a piercing sensation in his temples as his body tensed in pain. ‘I mean they have all this technology, so why can’t they do it themselves? Nic tried to speak now but couldn’t. He wanted to double over in pain but was held in position by his restraints. ‘Now Lieutenant, or can I call you Nic? She waited for a response that didn’t come as Nic groaned in agony. ‘So, Nic, don’t you think it’s rather convenient that the Grand Visigoth showed up just as The Company was on the verge of the collapse?
‘What do you mean, collapse?’ Nic eked out a response as the pain slightly subsided. ‘The Company has gone… from strength ….to ….strength.’
‘Ah yes, the conditioning, how could I forget.’ She theatrically motioned a pretend slap towards her forehead, stood from her chair, and approached. She cupped his face in her hands and opened her eyes wide. ‘Look at me Nic. This is going to hurt for just a sec longer. Then you will finally know peace.’ Nic stared back at the dancing flashes of yellow and orange brilliance that were shining from her eyes again. He felt an intense pain in his mind as the walls of reality came crashing down and his thoughts and memories became blurred. It felt like a thousand blades were piercing his mind and the pressure building behind his eyes was going to pop them right out of his head. At the moment the pain appeared to reach its peak, he crossed the threshold and was filled with a serenity he’d never known. He saw a blinding white light that slowly came into focus to reveal a vision of a great city. There were thousands of gleaming skyscrapers towering above the clouds. Shimmering light reflected off the windows and revealed a bustling metropolis below. He diverted his gaze upwards where he was confronted by the sight of three suns streaking waves of glowing orange light across the city and then slowly turning red as they descended over the horizon.
Several hours passed before Nic came round. His head felt fuzzy, and he was disoriented from the psychedelic experience. The lady was still in front of him, and he reached out a hand to touch her as she leant forward. He was no longer restrained and lost his balance as he moved forward and landed on the ground with a thud.
‘The first time you experience a telepathic episode; it takes a while to recover.’ The soft assurances came as the lady helped him back to his chair. ‘You’ll be ok in a few minutes.’
‘Tele – what? Who the hell are you?’ As the fuzziness starting clearing, Nic remembered where he was. ‘What the hell have you done to me?’ He started getting agitated. ‘My head is throbbing.’ He bent forward and held his head in his hands. Then he remembered his mission.
‘It’s nothing much, I’ve just started to undo a bit of that conditioning they put in your head. It’s a real mess in there, so we’ll have to have another few goes. My name is Odessa, and I’m here to save your planet.’