Nic sat alone and half-naked in the Truth Chamber. Unable to move in his chair, his mind ran wild as the reality of his situation began to sink in.
I shouldn’t be here! He fretted, I told them everything! I’m a good Officer. What blasted truth do they want?
He gripped the arms of the chair and tried to wriggle free, but it was useless. The thick metal clasps around his wrists and ankles felt cold on his bare skin, yet the leather of the seat felt warm and clammy. A leather strap across his forehead pinned him back, and he was sweating profusely.
There was an old monitor hanging from the ceiling in front of him, a steel door behind that, and black walls loomed close to the sides.
He tried to scream, but his mouth was stuffed with a clench guard. It was held tightly in place by metal wires that felt like icy razorblades wrapped around his cheeks.
After a few minutes, a skinny old man in a long white coat entered and shuffled to Nic's side. He was wearing a stethoscope around his neck and carrying the fat bureaucrat’s manila folder. His eyes were like black pits, and his long prune-like face looked serious as he thumbed through the pages.
Nic had never seen a man so old. He was sixty at least.
Then, the Doctor raised his eyebrows and let out a soft chuckle, before turning to face Nic.
‘Well, well, we can’t have this now, can we?’ His gravelly voice quavered, and he pulled a small flashlight out of his pocket and shone it into Nic’s eyes,
‘You have quite the imagination, my boy.’ He grinned and softly tapped Nic’s cheek. ‘We’re going to set you right.’
Nick grunted and squirmed.
‘OK, OK, Calm down,’ the Doctor said, almost mockingly, ‘do you have something to say?’
Nic’s muffled attempts at speaking became more desperate, and the Doctor’s grin became wider.
‘I think you’ve said quite enough already, Lieutenant!’ He chirped, ‘but don’t worry, you’ll have your chance to tell me something more appropriate soon enough.’
An orderly entered pushing a small trolley and placed it beside the chair.
Nic saw an array of shiny needles, scalpels, and miscellaneous metal objects that glistened under the white light. His body stiffened, and he tried to recoil, but it was no use.
The Doctor became gleeful at Nic’s reaction, and he reached for an instrument from the tray.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said menacingly, ‘hopefully, we won’t need them all.’
He held out a thin silver instrument about the size of a matchstick and made sure Nic could see it. Then, with the thumb and forefinger of his free hand, he forced Nic’s left eye wide open, before wedging the small implement between his upper and lower eyelid. There was a strange buzzing sound, and Nic felt a transparent screen stretch across his whole eye that blurred his vision for a brief moment.
He winced, and when he tried to blink, a searing pain shot through his eyelid and rocked into the back of his head. He tried to wail, but his screams only came out as a muffled yelp.
‘There, there,’ the Doctor said softly, ‘thank the General that we can use this marvellous technology nowadays,’ he paused and stared at Nic earnestly, ‘we used to just slice off the eyelids and switch on the monitor.’ He laughed wickedly and inserted a second device into Nic’s other eye.
For what felt like hours, Nic watched video after video on the micro screens, his unblinking eyes unable to avoid their glare.
Footage of Privates working in the tunnel, Officers commanding their squads, the epic scenes of the Grand Visigoth’s arrival, and the baying crowds, as he landed in his shining blue orb. The General was there too. His image flashed between the scenes, almost subliminally, although his face was always unclear or blurred. He was standing proudly at the podium, and medals adorned his chest. The videos highlighted the wondrous progress the Company had made over the last century. According to the montage, it had grown from a seed of despair at the end of the world into a blooming technological marvel, and its citizens were almost ready for its metamorphosis. The transition into an intergalactic society and the Grand Visigoth’s most noble crusade were waiting just around the corner.
Nic was dizzy from the onslaught. Moreover, every time he slowly felt his weary eyes beginning to close, searing pain shot through his head and jolted him awake. He could feel the saliva leaking from his mouth, running down his chin, and dripping in soft splashes onto his chest. His body was limp and only held in its place by his restraints.
Eventually, the Doctor reappeared beside him and switched off the screens.
‘Hmmm,’ he said, as he inspected Nic’s eyes once more, ‘I think that should do it.’
Nic could barely muster a grunt, and he sat there broken, his unblinking eyes unable to meet the Doctor’s. He wondered how a man who looked so frail could strike such terror into his heart.
The Doctor turned to the tray beside him and picked up a syringe containing a murky brown substance. He very slowly attached a six-inch needle that he held, very deliberately, in front of Nic’s eyes. Then, he flicked it gently, and a single droplet glistened under the fluorescence of the room and fell onto Nic’s chest. The Doctor didn’t break eye contact as he jabbed the needle into Nic’s arm and pressed the plunger. He looked almost giddy as Nic’s eyes began to roll back into his head.
Nic didn’t wonder any longer, as the murky liquid began coursing through his veins. He knew him for a sadist. The same joy the Privates felt at digging the tunnel was the same joy the Doctor felt now. The more agony Nic felt, the more the Doctor’s face beamed.
‘That should loosen up that mind of yours,’ the Doctor muttered, ‘now let’s see what you have to say, shall we?’
Nic felt light-headed and the pain in his eyelids was gone. He still couldn’t blink but it didn’t seem to be a problem any more. He felt a rush of euphoria. His mind felt open, like a long-closed door had been opened and light was flooding a room once enshrouded in darkness. He tensed in his chair and focused his eyes on the Doctor.
The Doctor unclipped the wires around his cheeks and removed the clench guard from his mouth.
‘What… do ….you ….want …from …me?’ He gasped as air filled his lungs.
‘We want the truth, Lieutenant,’ he said sarcastically, ‘this is the truth chamber, after all.’
He picked up two small metallic discs about the size of a small coin and attached them to each of Nic’s temples. They were adhesive and remained firmly in place. He then picked up a small rectangular controller that had a circular dial on the front of it and held it in front of Nic.
‘This will help you see sense, my boy.’ He said matter-of-factly, before pressing a button on the controller. An image appeared that Nic recognised. It was security footage from the mess hall several days before, when he had first met Odessa. He watched again as she casually strolled across the hall and killed the two guards in the doorway.
‘You see!’ He yelled, ‘that’s her, that’s the Alphan-’
Without warning, the Doctor twisted the dial on his controller ever so slightly. Electricity surged through Nic’s temples, and he squirmed in pain at the unpleasant sensation. He dug his fingernails into the arm rest.
‘What’s that Lieutenant?’ The Doctor held his hand to his ear. ‘Did you say something?’ He was practically licking his lips as he spoke. His brittle voice belied the venom behind his words.
‘It’s… the …girl--’
The Doctor didn’t let him finish.
Nic heard the Doctor grit his teeth together as he turned the dial a little further this time.
So painful was the shock that Nic wailed. His arms and legs twisted. They were red raw from the clasps, and he could feel the warm wetness of his own blood running over his hands and feet as he desperately tried to free himself.
The Doctor laughed wickedly as he turned the dial back to zero.
‘Now Lieutenant. What do you see?’
This time Nic could see images from the tunnel. A Trooper’s perspective. Out of nowhere, a flash of bright white light and a shielded Odessa blasted from the shadows. The Trooper fell, and with the camera askew, Nic saw an upside down image of Odessa blasting through Troopers with orange energy beams that came out of her fists.
The image cleared, and Nic looked at the Doctor. He was smiling and waiting patiently.
‘Her… name… is… Odessa,’ he panted, ‘and she--’
‘She is no-one!’ The Doctor screamed, ‘how utterly ridiculous that such a creature could exist in our world! She’s a Private,’ he sneered, ‘and a drillpod pilot. Her fate will be the same as yours.’ He turned the dial three quarters of the way and held it for what felt like the longest twenty seconds of Nic’s life. Nic shuddered violently in his chair and writhed in pain. His hands and feet were soaked in blood.
‘Let’s try that again, Lieutenant,’ he patronised. ‘Tell me what you see.’ He played the same video and then looked at Nic.
Nic lifted his head and met the Doctor’s eyes.
‘I… see… nothing,’ he panted, ‘nothing at all.’
The Doctor stood up straight and beamed.
‘You see, lieutenant,’ he chirped, ‘it’s not that hard, is it?’ He chuckled softly. ‘There’s just one problem though.’ He paused, leaned in close, and whispered in a soft staccato, ‘I just don’t believe you.’ He spun the dial to maximum and cackled as Nic writhed in unimaginable pain and lost consciousness.
Nic felt like he was floating. In a dream-like state, he was surrounded by a white light that slowly faded, and the land in front of him came into focus. He was standing in the middle of a barren field of earth that spread out in front of him for hundreds of metres in every direction. There were Privates all around him ploughing the field, and they were sweating under the heat of the midday sun. Nic wiped his arm across his brow and the moisture of a day’s labour wet his sleeve. He crouched, scooped up a handful of coarse earth, and watched as it slowly slipped through his fingers and vanished into thin air.
The brown earth, the blue sky, and the yellow sun in his vision slowly melted in front of his eyes and the colours merged together in swirling psychedelic patterns. The colours blurred together and after a few seconds a sea of red sand emerged from the colour palette.
He saw a lone rocky outcrop jutting out of the sand about twenty metres in front of him. Odessa was sitting on the grey stones with her back to him, and Nic could see that she was leaning forward, cradling her face, and gently rocking to and fro. Beyond her, Nic could see the skyline of a great city far in the distance. Skyscrapers stretched along the horizon, and the three red suns of Odessa’s home planet lurked above. They slowly descended and kissed the glistening skyline.
Nic approached the rock. As he reached Odessa, he gently placed his hand on her shoulder and she turned. Her long red hair whipped through the air to reveal that her eyes appeared almost empty. The vibrant shades of orange and gold they had once held had diminished into insignificant specks. Her sunken eyes were bleeding, blood stained her lower eyelids, and claret teardrops streamed down her gaunt face.
‘Finally,’ she croaked. Her voice was a hoarse whisper.
‘What is this place?’ He asked.
‘The subconscious realm is…’ she paused, ‘…interesting. If you have the means to use it.’
She reached a hand toward Nic’s face, and she strained her eyes open as wide as she could.
Nic leant forward, but instead of bumping into her, a void opened in front of him. He fell forward. He fell toward the tiny orange specks that he had seen in the pit of Odessa’s pupils. They grew. Slowly at first, into swirling concentric circles, and then faster and faster as he approached, until he could almost feel the scorching flames on his face. As he was consumed by the orange and yellow, the red and golden rings of the fire, he woke in a city, familiar but not.
He was surrounded by throngs of people looking up at the sky. A great vessel hovered to a slow stop above them. The base of its navy blue hull stretched for hundreds of metres in every direction.
They were standing in a massive central square five hundred metres across. At the back of the square stood a giant palace. Its ornate facade was draped in flags of orange and gold.
The people chattered together in wonder at the sight.
‘The Pioneers have returned!’ They cheered.
‘It’s been a century since they went home!’ Said another, gobsmacked.
‘Oh, how wonderful! Our Terran cousins!’ Enthused a genteel old lady beside him, ‘I was but a child when they left.’
From the centre of the vessel’s underside, a giant hologram was beamed in front of the palace to audible gasps from the crowd. The image was so clear and defined that it could have been real, had it not been for the fact it was a hundred feet high.
The Grand Visigoth looked fresh-faced and youthful. His cheeks had a rosiness that was absent in Nic’s own memories. It was unmistakably him, though. The hook of his nose and the vibrancy of his eyes, those familiar shades of green and blue, left Nic in no doubt.
There was something in his face that bothered Nic, though. Something was not quite right, and it bothered him that he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
The Grand Visigoth was standing tall and proud, his chest thrust forward, his authority unquestionable.
‘People of Alphania!’ He bellowed and held out both his hands.
The crowds waited in awe.
‘A thousand years ago,’ he began in a friendly tone, ‘a group of scientists known as ‘the Pioneers’…’
The crowd roared at the mention of the name.
The Grand Visigoth motioned for calm and continued.
‘These Pioneers came here on a mission of peace. They bestowed gifts of technology and knowledge, and your primitive society thrived and grew!’
The crowds cheered again.
‘In just one millennium, your world achieved what took us on Terra five hundred!’
They roared in delight.
‘While, in the face of such a breakthrough, our great Order, the Order of the Search, was mocked and pilloried.’
The cheering became muted as the people looked at each other in confusion.
‘Outdated, they called us. Irrelevant.’ His tone had become sombre.
‘Your Pioneers,’ his tone changed, and he spat the name, ‘had forsaken our great quest - The quest to find the creators of all life in the galaxy. Instead they committed our greatest sin…’
The people, confused, began to panic, and worried murmurs swept through the crowds.
‘…For they had decided to become Gods themselves. When they returned to us a century ago with news of their achievements. We knew we must put an end to their heresy.’
Outright panic had taken over the crowds as people began hurrying away and leaving the square.
‘Now, our great war has ended,’ he raised his hands, ‘your Pioneers and their supporters have been wiped from the face of our planet, and our noble Order has emerged victorious.’ He clenched his fists and cheered. ‘Our great struggle has finally been rewarded…’
Our struggle has been rewarded…
Nic had heard it before. He froze as the memory resurfaced. The day at the podium.
The General? He thought, and he scoured his memory for the General’s image, his face. But he couldn’t. It was always clouded or blurry or something was in the way. He focused and concentrated.
The day at the podium.
He focused his mind, not on the Grand Visigoth, but on the General, and slowly it came into focus. The snarling grin, the hooked nose, and the eyes, a thousand shades of green and blue.
That’s not the General!
The revelation hit him with such force that he reeled inside his vision. That’s the Grand Visigoth standing behind a projection! He couldn’t understand it. He had no idea how it was possible, but it was unmistakable.
That shield has been operating for a century! Odessa’s words on the hill came back to haunt him.
Chaos had broken out among the crowd, and people were running in every direction now.
Nic looked up at the hologram, which was still in full flow.
‘…For a thousand years, you,’ he pointed an accusing finger towards the palace and crowds, ‘have leeched our planets resources to develop into the gleaming monstrosity you have become. No More!’ He hissed, ‘our planet suffered while you thrived. Our people died while you lived. Their Project Alpha.’ He spat it with pure hatred. ‘This place you call home. This stain on the galaxy must be cleansed from the very fabric of space. We must end this ridiculous charade you call existence.’
He brought his hands down to his sides in a chopping motion, and a great red rift streaked across the sky. It slowly separated to reveal the emptiness of space. An armada of giant battleships emerged and descended towards the planet.
‘Now prostrate yourselves before me and beg forgiveness,’ he ended with a flourish, ‘for this day…,’ he paused, ‘is the day you die!’
The hologram vanished, and a single blue bolt of energy screeched from the belly of the ship and exploded into the palace. Nic watched as the flames engulfed the crowd and advanced towards him, and he could almost feel the heat, as everyone around him turned to smouldering ash.
Nic came to on the rock and found Odessa lying face down beside him. He crouched beside her and turned her over.
Her skin was ghostly, yet her eyes were jet-black and shining like obsidian. She lifted a feeble searching hand towards Nic. She was blind.
Nic took her hand in his and touched it to his face.
‘Do you see?’ She whispered.
‘What does it all mean?’ Nic held his head in his hands.
‘It’s time to wake up, Nic,’ her voice was barely audible, and as her eyes closed, she muttered, ‘I’ve opened your eyes, Lieutenant. Now I need you to come and open mine.’
Nic jolted up in his chair to the sight of the Doctor. He was standing directly in front of Nic and slapping his face. He had removed the devices from Nic’s eyes, and Nic blinked several times as he gathered himself. He had never before thought that having the ability to blink was something for which he could feel such joy.
‘Excellent,’ the Doctor said, his voice brittle, ‘I thought we’d lost you there. You were out for a good ten minutes.’
Nic’s head felt heavy, but he could feel a sense of liberation in his mind.
‘Let me out of this blasted chair,’ he yelled. Adrenalin was pumping through his veins now, and he wriggled and squirmed, but nothing had changed. He still couldn’t move.
The Doctor laughed and moved towards the tray. He lifted a six-inch serrated blade and held it under the lights.
‘I guess we’ll have to try some more traditional methods.’ He said, and a broad grin stretched across his face.
He pressed the blade into Nic’s left cheek and sliced slowly downwards. Nic could feel the blood running down his face as the Doctor held the blade in place and looked him in the eyes.
Suddenly, the door swung open and cracked loudly into the wall.
The Doctor jumped at the sound dropped the blade. It clattered off the chair and hit the floor.
It took Nic a moment to focus on the image in the doorway, and as the shadowy figure stepped forward, Nic could have almost cried. Bagon’s rugged face and beaming grin came into view, his assault blaster poised and ready.
‘ello Doc’, it’s a pleasure to see you again!’ His unmistakable baritone echoed around the room.
‘What’s the meaning of this!’ The Doctor demanded.
‘I’d love to stay and chat, Doc,’ he chimed, ‘but we got ourselves a rebellion to foment!’
Nic watched as the Doctor’s face turned from a sadistic grin to utter bewilderment, before the orange bolt of energy smashed into his chest and thrust him backwards. Nic was almost reduced to tears of joy at the bone-crunching thud, as the Doctor hit the wall behind him.