In the shadow of the stolen light
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May you live in interesting times,
may you find what you are looking forÖ
We have no knowledge about what happened to Earth. Having left our planet a long time ago, we have been travelling through the Milky Way in search of a new abode for two hundred and fifty years. We avoid talking about it, but I sometimes think that no matter how great the Universe is, we will never find a place that we can truly think of as Ďhomeí.
From Lora Merionís diary
Twentieth day, fifth month, year 2270 according to the Earth calendar
A subtle alarm buzz and a dim light, that turned on softly afterwards, broke the quiet cosiness of the room. A young lady, who had been sleeping peacefully and tucked up in her bed just a second ago, winced discontentedly. She opened her eyes, her glance resting upon the light colour ceiling. A moment before she could feel a light wind caressing her skin, warm sun rays getting tangled in her dark hair; while a soft floral scent fascinated and intoxicated her mind. But it was only a dream, nothing more. Lora got out of bed and stretched her arms. She then reached a small control panel on the wall, making it flash many colourful lights.
ďGood morning, Lora! I hope you slept well!Ē a warm female voice greeted her.
ďYes, thanks,Ē answered Lora, somewhat indifferently, to the computer programme.
ďYou have no new messages. Todayís schedule of the Council meetings is already on your personal communicator. Your breakfast will be ready in 10 minutes. Have a good day!Ē added the electronic voice and stopped, leaving the room in total silence.
Lora nodded and then froze for a moment. A picturesque landscape from her dream was still haunting her, so she shook her head confusedly in an attempt to get rid of the pleasant hallucination and to finally come back to her small flat. Her eyes swept the interior: transparent furniture of nude colour, deliberately made in order not to limit the already tiny space of the flat; while the soft light reflecting off the milky-white floor was never meant to hurt the eyes.
ďSwitch on the video panel,Ē said Lora quietly, looking into the space in front of her. ďDisplay a sunrise over a lake.Ē
In response to her words, a rainbow flash lit the walls around and, a second later, she could see tranquil waters of a mountain lake under a sky as clear as a bell. Following the first rays of sunrise, a warm gentle breeze burst into the room. It softly touched the girlís hair and she smiled dreamily.
After having a shower and putting on a lightly-coloured uniform, Lora sat at a small table on which she found a glass of orange juice and a fresh sandwich waiting for her. Finishing her breakfast quickly as usual she fastened the Universal Communication Device (UCD), an absolute must-have for information exchange and communication between people, to her temple before reaching for a transparent tablet the size of her palm from a shelf.She activated it by pressing her thumb on the sensor and nodded in response to the message that flashed on the screen ďPersonal access codes have been updatedĒ.
ďPower off,Ē said the girl. The video panels went black, plunging the room into darkness for a short while before one of them moved aside silently. A dim blue light of the space city slipped through the opened window and Lora said quietly, ďGood morning, Titanium!Ē
Lora had already been working on the report for over an hour when she heard a familiar voice.
ďHi! I knew I was going to find you here!Ē Paul sat next to her on the bench and adjusted his slightly dishevelled blond hair. ďYou still donít like working at the office?Ē
ďHi! No, I prefer a more spacious environment!Ē
The girl glanced at the cosy little garden. Since the time she had started working in the Council, this garden with neatly clipped bushes, bright flowers and benches nestling in the shadows of small trees, had become her true treasureÖ
ďYou do realize that you are on the forty-seventh floor of the ďUnityĒ building?Ē chuckled the young man.
ďI keep forgetting,Ē admitted Lora, honestly smiling and looking into his kind grey eyes, and added, ďIím glad to see you!Ē
ďSame here! When did you get back?Ē
ďYesterday. And, the truth is, I missed Titanium.Ē
ďNo kidding! After a month away in the Lactian capital! How do you like our new allies?Ē
The girl shook the transparent tablet in the air. ďItís all here! Howíve you been?Ē
ďIt depends,Ē said Paul, avoiding the straight answer.
ďOh! I know that voice!Ē Lora hastily put the tablet away into a case on her belt and looked at her companion with genuine curiosity. ďTell me!Ē
ďI guess I should create some suspense,Ē the young man lowered his voice and went silent for a second.
ďCome on, donít keep me waiting!ĒLora was pulling at his sleeve, showing her impatience.
ďOK! Here it isÖ Our Laboratory of Universe Exploration has received a message from the inhabitants of a distant planet that we collaborated with about half a century ago. Our location systems on their orbit have been receiving information all this timeÖĒ
ďOK! I got it! To cut a long story short, they have discovered an object of Earth origin drifting in space.Ē
ďIs it something from Earth?!Ē Loraís eyes became wide with amazement.
ďA number of tests have been carried out and the majority of them confirm that fact.Ē
ďWhatís in there?Ē Lora did not understand why she was whispering now. The city had no secrets. Any information about absolutely everything Ė be it about space finds, negotiations with whatever races, or discoveries Ė was stored in the central computer and was available to everyone.
ďA Rescue unit, an arkÖ Something like that. The distance is more than five light-years away, thatís why the information is not detailed enough. Theyíd never have noticed this piece of metal if the signal it transmitted didnít look so much like the SOS signal. Its frequency band sounds very much like the one transmitted from our ships.Ē
ďAn ark?Ē Lora could hardly hold back the avalanche of questions that was about to befall her friend. ďAre there any signs of life?Ē She was nailing him with an intense gaze.
ďDoctor Blake thinks that the ark probably holds a cryogenic capsuleÖĒ
ďThat means thereís a human being inside!Ē Lora jumped from her seat, ready to run and do something, but she knew not what exactly.
ďHey, calm down!Ē Paul was a bit shocked by this wild outburst of Loraís emotions. ďHave a seatÖĒ
ďItís just that itís so amazing!Ē said Lora, trying hard to breathe normally and getting back to her chair.
ďYou give too much importance to that,Ē the young man was trying to calm her down. ďEarth is many thousands of light-years away; besides, the objectís energy resources are meagreÖĒ
ďYou canít know for sure! Whenís Doctor Blake going to send a team to the place where the object was discovered?Ē
ďHe has no reasons to hurry.Ē
ďAnd what if there is a human being? What if he or she is dying?Ē
ďPlease, calm downÖĒ said Paul again desperately. ďIíll talk to Doctor Blake. My team has no immediate tasks for the next three days. We are in reserve so there is a big chance that weíll be able to quickly organise a small expedition thereÖĒ
ďNowĒ said Lora more calmly and confidently this time, ďTalk to him now.Ē
ďAnd Iíll come with you.Ē
ďIf the operation is approved, the level of personnel competence shall be A-4,Ē clarified her companion.
ďI have A-2, it is more than enough.Ē
ďWhat about the project? Werenít you writing a report about the Lactians?Ē
ďItís ready!Ē Lora was grinning contentedly. ďThereís nothing that can keep me back!Ē
The expedition team of five was quickly appointed by Doctor Blake. Three of them were Paulís crew members accompanied by an expert from the Universe Exploration lab and, finally, a junior Council member, Lora Merion. In only a matter of hours, all of them set off on a journey in a small shuttle.
Having entered the coordinates of their destination, Paul switched on the autopilot and slightly stretched his body placing his hands behind his head.
ďAre we entering hyperspace?Ē Lora glanced at the panoramic view opening from the front part of the shuttle, dashing into the endless darkness of the space.
ďYes, without the speed of light it would take forever to get there,Ē chuckled the young man.
ďI see,Ē the girl nodded, ďI just canít waitÖ I want to know who or what is in there so much! Itís been more than 200 years since we last contacted home.Ē
ďYouíre probably the only one who calls Earth Ďhomeí,Ē grinned Paul.
ďI canít help it,Ē admitted Lora honestly.
ďWe lost our home,Ē said Jane Forest, the lab expert, who sat next to Lora, compassionately patting her on the shoulder. ďThe time will come when weíll find a new home; a†place where we can live in harmony and build our future without fear that someone may encroach on our way of thinking, abuse our knowledge or use it to their profit.Ē
ďBut people on Earth could also change for the better,Ē objected Lora confidently, ďWe havenít heard from them for so long!Ē
Jane shrugged her shoulders.
ďFacts of our history are very obstinate. Earthly civilizations appear and perish, one after another. Throughout the thousands years of human history, our kind failed to tame the energy of destruction. Except us.Ē
ďBut if we could, it means others can, too!Ē
ďAndre thought so, too,Ē Oleg Butoff, who was sitting silently till now, joined the discussion. ďHe died with this belief in his heartÖĒ
Lora remembered a video recording of the clash shown in their history lessons and her hazel eyes filled with sadness. It happened a long time ago.
Back then the ĎSolar Flotillaí was only one of the many scientific projects developed by the ĎUnity of Oppositesí society, founded by Andre Mendez. Within ten years, a small group of his followers who accepted his philosophy turned into a movement of people able to control the energy of self-destruction, inherent to their consciousness and, thus, able to increase the creative power of the mind. Their great scientific discoveries in energy-saving technologies, ozone layer recovery, treatment of deadly diseases and the revival of the endangered species of plants and animals were made for the good of the people and the whole planet. However, harmony and equilibrium in the society were not easy to sustain in a world where politicians strive for power, industrialists crave super profits, and religious leaders try to manipulate minds. Sometimes facts really are obstinate things.
ďOur voyage wonít last forever,Ē added Jane. ďIím sure about it.Ē
Lora nodded, staring out the window. The blue glow of Titanium and bright contours of Taria, the planet orbited by the space city, vanished in the pitch black space and her eyes got lost in the dark, as if pierced by silver-blue threads, endless hyperspace.
The autopilot was confidently leading the shuttle to its destination. The majority of the crew members were sound asleep except Lora who could not really understand why she was the only one waiting for this encounter so restlessly. Since 22nd July, 2025, the day when the ancestors of the contemporary Titanium inhabitants left Earth on board five spaceships made by the ĎUnity of Oppositesí society, their descendants never looked back; never sought any information about their home planet. There were many reasons for that.
ďArrival to the destination point in two minutes and thirty seconds,Ē uttered the autopilot quietly.
Then there was a light jerk and the shuttle slid out of hyperspace.
ďOleg, assume the manual control,Ē ordered Paul. ďChris, start preparing to seize the object. Jane, what do the scanners show?Ē
ďThe object is drifting in the open space. Its coordinates and the images are displayed on the holographic interface,Ē answered the girl.
Paul approached the monitor on the bridge, while Lora froze looking at the panoramic front window. At first, she didnít see anything in the darkness that swallowed even the light of the distant stars. But then, in that obscurity, a small dot appeared, which grew bigger and more distinct with every moment.
ďAccording to the data, itís a rescue unit: spherical in shape and 32 tons in weight. No external marks, it has been heavily damaged by the meteorites. The inside is filled with air. The scanner shows thereís one biological object with weak signs of life.Ē
ďThereís a human being inside!Ē Lora looked at the hologram and jumped from her seat, pointing at the pulsing red light in the corner of the single deck.
ďThe arkís too big for the cargo compartmentÖĒ said Paul rubbing his neck. ďBut, from the looks of it, the shipís sheathing allows for towing in the hyperspaceÖĒ
ďWait!Ē exclaimed Lora, grabbing the young manís hand. ďWe cannot tow a ship in the hyperspace with a dying human being in it! What if thereís some kind of malfunction?Ē
ďWe cannot dock to the unit, its technology is outdatedÖĒ said Oleg shrugging and pointed at the hologram. ďBut itís possible to moor closer to it and throw out the flexible bridgeÖ Hereís the trapdoor, as the scanner shows, and behind it there is an airlock. Letís get there and seeÖĒ
ďWe also need to assess the level of biological and other threats,Ē added Jane.
ďOK, letís do that,Ē agreed the captain. ďTime for preparation: 30 minutes.Ē
ďIím coming too!Ē Lora dashed to the compartment with the space suits.
ďNo; Oleg, Jane and I are going. You and Chris will be watching the monitors and following any changes on the scanner.Ē
ďIím in charge of this expedition, LoraĒ Paul interrupted her.
The girl sighed resignedly.
ďThatís better. Weíll be in touch.Ē
The airlock could hardly be called spacious; nevertheless, it easily accommodated three members of the crew.
ďEverything is so old hereÖ I canít even remember this technologyĒ Oleg reached for the adaptable control panel and connected it to the lifeless console on the wall. A minute later the air was filling the surrounding space with a characteristic hiss. ďOxygen level is normal; we can enter the ship,Ē he pressed some more keys and the portal door creaked and moved aside revealing the dimly lit deck.
ďHow do you like the picture?Ē asked Paul to the ones left back on the ship.
ďItís clear, the signal is strong, the majority of the machines are switched off and itís interference-free. Thereís no trouble,Ē reported Chris.
ďYou can say that again! The shipís in the minimum energy consumption stateÖĒ Jane looked at the screen of the portable scanner. ďThe signal of the biological object is on the right.Ē
ďAnd on the left there is some kind of an engine roomÖ Oxygen level is stable around the entire perimeter,Ē Oleg added.
ďOK! Letís split,Ē ordered Paul. ďOleg, check the engine room, while Jane and I will assess the condition of the biological object. Stay in touch.Ē
ďGot it!Ē sounded the young man and the beam of the one of the flashlights went sliding further down the narrow corridor, going to the left of the airlock.
ďGive me some light here,Ē the captain pointed Jane towards a small control panel at the entrance to the next compartment.
ďItís broken,Ē said the girl sadly.
ďWeíll short-circuit it,Ē decided Paul.
After a couple of simple moves, the portal door slid open. Behind the door it was completely in darkness as well; the attention attracted only by a tiny flickering green light in the corner.
ďCaptain,Ē Olegís voice could be heard from the earphones. ďThe preliminary diagnostics have been performed; the ship supplies only the life-support systems of the biological object. I wouldnít risk providing it with energy from our shuttle, itís too dangerous.Ē
ďConfirmed, I agree with you. Itís pitch-black in hereÖĒ
ďI think heís there,Ē Jane started, slowly moving towards the signal.
ďHowís the air test?Ē
ďThereís no biological danger, but the ship was a long time in the open space so there are traces of radiation everywhereÖĒ
ďHow long could it have been flying?Ē
With the help of the flashlights they could see lifeless electronic panels on the walls and the central control panel, as well as two large horizontal capsules standing parallel to each other.
Jane approached one of them and, bending down, called the captain with her hand. She wiped the shining dust off the surface with her glove.
ďCan you see what we see?Ē Paulís words resounded a bit louder than was expected in the absolute silence.
Under the thick clouded glass there was a man, though his image was obscured by the glare of the flashlights.
ďSoÖ we see a manÖĒ answered Chris.
ďIs he alive?Ē Loraís voice trembled with excitement.
ďThere are weak signs of life. This used to be his data display, it seems,Ē Jane touched a small screen above the manís head. ďItís not workingÖ Thereís nothing we can do to help him, he needs to be hospitalized.Ē
ďWhat about the other object?Ē asked the captain, nodding in the direction of the other capsule behind Jane.
She turned away, scanned the capsule and shook her head.
ďI see. Oleg, is it possible to take this capsule out of the ark and transport it to Titanium in the quarantine compartment? Weíll tow the empty ark.Ē
ďYes, Iíll be right there.Ē
After six hours of tireless work, the team finally connected the capsule to the mobile energy source and took it on board their shuttle with the help of the mini transporter operating on electromagnetic pillows.
Lora restlessly waited at the glass wall separating the snow-white quarantine compartment from the deck.
ďCan I watch?Ē
ďOf course you can. Just let Jane finish with the anti-radiation treatment. Oh, and put on the protective coveralls.Ē The young man could not help smiling at her impatience. ďThereís nothing unusual there, just a man-sleeping, so to say.Ē
ďDo you think heís from Earth?Ē
ďThis was Dr Blakeís preliminary assessment. Chris is now analysing the data from the onboard computer. Weíre going to find out soonÖĒ
ďIf only it was that easy!Ē Chris joined their chat.
ďWhat do you mean?Ē
ďAlmost all the data is a total messÖ Itís as if their computer went crazyÖ ButÖĒ he paused knowingly and smiled.
ďButÖwhat?!.Ē Lora was listening to that small report holding her breath.
ďBut I can say for sure that the mother ship that carried this ark was launched from EarthÖ Around two hundred years ago!Ē
ďSo itís true!Ē Lora forcefully grabbed Paulís arm, like a child who had received a long-awaited present for her birthday. She looked at all the crew members with excitement. ďHalf a century after our departure from Earth, others also learned to travel into the deep space!Ē
ďThe technology resembles ours. I reckon they used the designs developed at the scientific department of the ĎUnity of Oppositesí, abandoned back on Earth. And, finally, they were able to implement the interplanetary spacecraft project,Ē clarified Butoff.
ďThen what happened to the ship itself?Ē frowned the captain.
ďUnless I sort out the madness of the onboard computer, I will not be able to give you a definite answer.Ē
ďIím going inside,Ē Lora smiled.
ďIím coming with you,Ē Jane had already put on the coveralls. ďLetís scan the man for illnesses or diseases. Two hundred years in open space and God knows how long he was inside this capsule.Ē
ďWhat happened to the second capsule?Ē asked Lora when they were left alone.
ďI think the onboard computer switched it off by itself. Having compared the state of the organisms in the two capsules, it chose the strongest one. I have read about that system, just a mathematical calculation; nothing more.Ē
Lora shook her head regretfully. When they entered the compartment, Jane started filling data in a medical form, while her companion bent over the clouded glass, breathless. She could see a pale face, with skin that seemed almost transparent and dark hair that contrasted with the whiteness of his suitís and the capsule itself.
ďHow does the capsule really preserve life?Ē
ďI think a kind of preservative is injected in blood which neutralises later on. An old technologyÖ It is highly dangerous to the synaptic connections in the brain.Ē
ďCan something be done in order to bring him out of this state?Ē
ďItís preferable to leave him as he is now till our arrival on Titanium. One wrong move could cause the antidote to be injected into his blood, and then who knows how our guest will be feeling when he wakes up and what kind of help he might need!Ē
ďWhy do you think his spaceship has travelled such a long way? Was it just a scientific expedition? Or, is it possible that they might have been looking for us?Ē
Jane shrugged her shoulders.
ďWho knows. Letís hope that when he comes around heíll tell us the whole story.Ē
The Titanium Central Hospital was a quiet lonely place. The residents of the artificial planet rarely got ill due to their inner balance practice, a result of Andre Mendesís philosophy. Therefore, the medical workers indulged more in scientific research than in medical practice. After having met another civilization in a planetary system similar to the Solar system many decades ago, the voyagers from Earth ceased to think about intelligent life in the Universe as something extraordinary. In the period of over two hundred years of its space travel, ĎSolar Flotillaí Ė a fleet of five spaceships launched from Earth Ė has established a lot of new contacts with the inhabitants of other planets. The earthlingsí technological advancements happened to be higher than those of the other living beings, which helped them to make collaborative partnerships for mutual benefit. On the one hand, to get supplies for the spaceships and, on the other hand, to provide the aliens with new technologies, especially new custom-made medical medicines.
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