In the shadow of the stolen light
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
The walls and the vaulted ceiling of the spacious hospital hall consisted of multiple sleek video panels. They were normally snow white, but once a visitor appeared, they would immediately display panoramic views of all kinds. It could be tall mountains with dark forests at their foot, endless plains stretching beneath cloudless blue skies or ocean waves reaching the shores. Similar panels with exquisite nature views were hardly a rare thing to see on Titanium. However, only here in the total solitude would Lora truly feel as if she had found herself on Earth, where she could hear the real sound of waves crashing or leaves blowing in the wind, and enjoy the warmth of the sun while walking barefoot on the sand.
The sound of her name jolted her out of the dreamy thoughts about Earth.
“My name’s Dr Borshchevsky,” said a grey-haired elderly man. “Are you here for patient number sixty-four?”
“Yes… Sixty-four? I thought the wards were empty…”
“Well, ten hours ago we picked up some refugees from Taria. They are sixty-two Tarians and a diplomat from Titanium. They have suffered great stress and a little anoxaemia due to the life support system’s failure on board their spacecraft. They’re going to be fine.”
“But what had happened? Why did they have to flee?”
“I’m sorry, Ms Marion, I was too busy taking care of them and had no time to ask about what had happened on Taria,” answered the tired doctor. “The majority of the doctors are away at a seminar, so we have a shortage of staff.”
“Yes, I understand,” nodded Lora. “Can I help somehow?”
The man shook his head.
“The specialists have been called in and are going to be here in fifteen minutes. So everything is going to be back to normal. As for patient number sixty-four, we have neutralized the preservative without injecting the antidote. The truth is, to identify the chemical substance and devise a neutralization method took more than three hours. That’s why we hadn’t been able to give you any details earlier. Before that, the total scan had shown malnutrition in some regions of his brain. I’ll probably repeat myself by saying it’s malnutrition, not total cessation. So there’s a 70% probability that his nervous system functions will recover after proper treatment.”
“How long will the rehabilitation process take?”
“It’s difficult to trace any improvement in such a short time; however, despite a long coma, he has a very strong immune system. Lucky man! The capsules were well protected from the radiation. Oh, yes, and something else… His blood contains antibodies to a virus unknown to us. I have sent the full report to the Council. This man poses no biological threat to the citizens of Titanium. My colleagues are getting ready to start the autopsy of the second body.”
“Thank you,” Lora touched the middle of her chest with her palm as a sign of sincere gratitude.
“Always happy to help you,” the doctor said smiling, with his palm touching his chest like Lora’s.
Lora left the hall and hastily walked to the teleport.Her next destination was the ‘Unity’ premises, where the Council was located.
“Aren’t you early today, Lora!” Jean Preqeaux, one of the seven members of the ‘Solar Flotilla’ Council, greeted her.
Smiling, she placed her palms together in front of her chest and bowed slightly.
“How was yesterday’s meeting? Was my report on the Lactians any good?”
“Good, very good! Also, the report was remarkable! I’m sure we’ll sign several agreements with this race and install three powerful telescopes on the two satellites of their capital planet.”
“That’s great news!” nodded the girl, taking a seat opposite the councillor. His round-shaped office in the ‘Unity’ building was dimly lit and a storm was raging silently on the walls, lightning striking and rain pouring over an endless meadow. “So what happened on Taria? I was at the hospital; there are sixty-three injured including our diplomat…”
“A sad story,” Jean’s face became sorrowful. “The planet is on the verge of civil war. Taria’s leader’s authority and ability to govern a planetary system are in serious doubt. He has a strong opponent, a hostile man planning to militarise Doht. He is haunted by the imaginary enemies, and Titanium with ‘Solar Flotilla’ is no exception.”
“What are we going to do?”
“As always, Lora, we adhere to a laissez-faire policy. We have no right to adjust other civilizations to our own liking. They have their own unique path. We‘re all strangers here, able to offer some help in scientific research and world’s welfare, but when it comes to war, taking sides and fighting for others’ values, we stay out.”
“But how about all the innocent lives lost in a war, lives of those who were against fighting from the very beginning?”
Jean sighed heavily and, stroking his thick grey hair, approached the holographic interface in the middle of the office.
“Look here,” he said gesturing to Lora to follow him. A large image of a star map appeared there. “Our astronomers and the central computer have developed a new voyage route. The spaceship engines have been improved which spares us the need to stay close to liveable planets. Thus, our search speeds up dramatically.”
“Considering the situation on Taria, the Council has an assignment for you.”
“What is it?”
“You are to go to Misgran, the closest populated planet to us that belongs to the Lactian Empire. A Lactian diplomatic mediator is going there too. You are to negotiate all the terms and conditions of our stay on their territory, and our further collaboration within the framework of our peace agreement.”
“I was hoping to stay here on Titanium,” Lora frowned.
“I thought so when I received the report about the findings from Earth. But you are the only one who knows so much about the Lactians and have met with them on several occasions.”
The girl nodded in agreement. Councillor Preqeaux was right.
“It will only take a couple of weeks. As far as I know, the survivor from Earth is in a very serious condition and his rehabilitation will take a long time. I don’t think you’ll miss anything if you set off right now. Besides, I will recommend the Council to entrust you with this project. I’m sure upon your return you will be happy to lead a group of experts who will investigate what has happened to the Earth transport.”
“Thank you,” Lora nodded again. “That’s exactly what I wanted to ask you about.”
The councillor smiled, satisfied with their mutual agreement.
“Now, let’s see the results of the interim report, shall we?”
“Yes, of course,” Lora shook her head fending off sad thoughts about a sudden departure. “The doctor told me about an unknown virus…”
“Councillor Preqeaux, you have a call from the Universe Exploration lab,” his secretary announced calmly.
“Thank you, Kelly. Switch the image onto the holographic interface, please.”
“Good day, Councillor! Hello, Lora! ” a 3D image of Jane Forest, hovering over the projector, was greeting them by joining her hands in a welcoming gesture . “We have a small report about the object delivered on Titanium 10 hours ago.”
“We were just reading the medical report.”
“Well, their report is probably the most detailed. The IT department will need more time than we had previously thought to reconstruct all the data. So far, they have been able to define the exact date of the ship’s departure from Earth, it’s the 13th January, 2077 according to the Earth calendar. The spacecraft with the rescue capsule on board was travelling at super-light speed for a long time and, initially, its trajectory was almost the same as ours… We can suggest that it was deliberately trying to follow the ‘Solar Flotilla’; but, for some reason, it was jolted out of hyperspace before reaching its goal. The reason why the rescue capsule subsequently separated from the mother ship remains unknown.”
“This is very interesting…” mused the councillor.
“Unfortunately, we can only speculate about the events, basing our conclusions on assumptions: not facts. The biggest problem is that we don’t have the mother ship that carried the capsule.”
“Thank you, Miss Forest. I’d appreciate it if I received all the details electronically.”
“Of course, my report is ready.”
Jean rubbed his chin thoughtfully and turned to Lora.
“How’s our guest doing?”
“Not very well. The life support system that has been keeping him alive all these years is far from perfect and eventually caused brain malnutrition. Doctor Borshchevsky sounded hopeful, but didn’t give any accurate prediction about the length of the therapy.”
“I see. So all we can do is wait. Did you say something about a virus earlier?”
“Yes, the doctor said that he has discovered some kind of antibodies in the blood of this man. We can check the report…”
“Of course,” the councillor swiped the sensor panel with his hand, causing the holographic interface to display a series of pages.
“From the look of it, he acquired these antibodies while already in flight,” said Lora, studying the notes carefully.
“It’s an unknown disease. It hadn’t existed before our launch from Earth, but we also haven’t encountered it on other planets. The causative agent could’ve appeared much later…”
“The origin of the virus is still unknown…” added Lora.
“We still only have very meagre information. We can only guess whether the infection was present in the ship from the beginning of its launch or it appeared while in flight, causing the rescue capsules to detach from the mother ship…”
The girl shook her head thoughtfully.
“What if it was an attempt to ask for our help? What if an unknown epidemic struck the people, threatening them with total extinction, and those two were the only survivors?”
Jean raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“Your assumptions are impressively fatalistic.”
“You’re so right. I don’t understand what’s been happening to me…”
“You just attach great importance to what’s gone on…”
Lora looked at Jean, puzzled.
“How can I not?”
“What do you mean? How can anyone not think so much and not assume the worst?” the councillor asked her calmly.
“It’s not about my assumptions, though the finding has been really haunting me. It’s just that we are talking about Earth! Our home!” the girl realized that she almost shouted the last words.
“Calm down, please,” Jean put a fatherly hand on her shoulder. “We’ll sort it out. In the end, the man who needed our help is safe now. He has you to thank for that. It was you who urged Doctor Blake to rescue him.” He paused and Lora nodded in agreement. “Please, be a little patient. Although, patience is a virtue you’ve never really possessed,” he smiled.
In the ‘Unity’ building, Lora sat at the desk in her small office and dropped her head on her hands, feeling tired. She had just returned from Misgran after three weeks of constant negotiations, and immediately started preparing to leave again. Titanium and ‘Solar Flotilla’ were getting ready for launch from the Taria’s orbit. The unrest on the planet was constantly growing. The new leader’s aggression left no chance for reconciliation with space travellers. Despite the fact that they had spent more than one Tarian year on the planet’s orbit working closely with the previous government, the new authority wished no further contact with aliens. Lora sighed sadly – it was the first time in her life that they’d had to leave a populated planet so urgently. Before this moment, their ships left other races’ territories of their own free will after their cooperation, technology and resources exchange had exhausted itself. Besides, the citizens of ‘Solar Flotilla’ never forgot that they were only visitors. In search of a new home, they had been examining one planetary system after another. But every time they were ready to settle on a planet, they encountered intelligent life there.
“Hey, what’s the sad face for?” the matte glass office door slid open and she saw Paul in the doorway.
“I’m not sad, just tired. The new Tarian government refused to fulfil some terms and conditions under our agreement…”
“No wonder! They can’t wait for the day they get rid of us!”
“You can say that again.”
Lora’s UCD beeped quietly and a green light of an incoming call flashed.
“This is Doctor Borshchevsky,” Lora explained taking the call, “Yes, doctor, what can I do for you?”
“Good day, Miss Merion! Great news! Our patient, the only one left in the hospital, has regained consciousness! Would you…”
“I’m on my way!” Lora jumped from her seat, her fatigue disappearing instantly.
“I’m waiting for you,” replied the doctor and the green light died.
“What did he say?” asked the captain curiously. The communication device transformed voice messages into a number of electric impulses and transferred them directly to the hearing nerve of the receiver.
“The rescued man has come around!”
“I’m coming with you,” decided Paul in a flash, leaving the premises together with Lora.
“It’s been three weeks since we found out about the civil war on Taria,” noticed the young man on the way to the closest teleport. “You?ve been working very hard from dusk till dawn ever since. You need some rest.”
“Well, yes,” said Lora. She was still walking very quickly, barely escaping a collision with the passers-by and not being able to tame her growing excitement.
“Did you even hear what I was saying?”
They entered through the teleport glass door.
“Hello! Please state your destination,” announced the ever-polite voice of the local teleportation programme.
“Central hospital,” answered Paul quickly, still piercing a confused Lora with his stare.
“Thank you,” uttered the electronic voice and the doors closed shut.
Just then, through the whirlpool of her own thoughts, Lora understood what he meant by that.
“Look, I’m not so tired to need an urgent vacation. The evacuation is in full-swing and I’d like to be a part of it.”
“Welcome to the Central Hospital,” announced the programme and the doors slid open, revealing a spacious brightly lit hall to their view.
“What about this story with Earth? It also requires a lot of your energy and attention. You’re risking losing all that if you continue working at such a pace.”
The girl sighed deeply; Paul’s concern for her was so predictable. Ever since they had become close friends as small kids, they had been constantly caring for each other like brother and sister.
“OK, let’s begin by seeing how our patient is doing,” Paul nodded apologetically.
They passed through the hall, which flashed with images of a beautiful sunrise and soon they entered the doctor’s office.
“That was fast!” the doctor smiled, welcoming them inside.
“Thank you for telling us immediately,” nodded Lora gratefully.
“So, I need to warn you that the patient is still very weak. Furthermore, his memory has been tragically letting him down. I think we’ll be able to restore it, but it will take quite some time.”
“I get it.”
“Does he remember anything at all?” asked Paul when they stopped in front of the ward door and, looking through the glass, saw a motionless man in bed.
“He remembers his name, Derek… I have firstly conducted the biological tests to examine his physical condition. A psychologist is on his way.”
“May we go in?” asked Lora, not letting the patient out of her sight.
“Of course. The quarantine has already been lifted. But please be careful with information as he is still suffering greatly from post-traumatic stress.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
“After you,” he smiled politely in response.
Lora slowly entered the ward and approached the bed. The dim lighting inside didn’t prevent her from examining the rescued earthling. Still very pale he was lying on the pillow, with his eyes closed. He had a thin face with harsh features, and his breath could hardly be noticed. If not for his dark hair, he would be invisible in the whiteness surrounding him in this dimly lit ward.
“Is he sleeping?” whispered Lora.
In response to her question addressed to the doctor, the patient moved and Lora stopped talking, frightened.
“No, he isn’t. He’s just too weak. Every move demands a lot of energy from him. Sound and light seem too strong. But there is no doubt that his young body will be able to cope with all this.”
A quiet voice pierced the silence of the ward.
“Who are you?”
Lora approached the bed and turned to see the doctor. He nodded in agreement.
“My name is Lora,” she said quietly, and carefully touched his hand when he turned his head to see her.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in a hospital. This is also Doctor Borshchevsky and the shuttle captain, Paul Stones.”
“Shuttle? I’m in a shuttle?”
“No, you’re on…” she hesitated not sure whether to tell him about the artificial planet. “You’re on board a spaceship. Do you remember anything? Do you remember what had happened to you before?”
The young man winced.
“The lights are too bright here.”
“Reduce the lighting by 30 percent” said the doctor to the space in front of himself and the ward lighting became very dim. “Is it better like this?”
“Yes… a little…”
“I’d suggest that you wear protective lenses,” added Borshchevsky.
“Will I be able to open my eyes then?”
“Well, you could at least try.”
After the patient nodded lightly, the doctor carefully put a pair of sunglasses of some sort on his eyes.
“Everything is floating…”
“This is temporary,” Borshchevsky reassured him.
“If you find it difficult to talk now, we can come later…”
“No!” the young man moved his fingers and touched Lora’s hand. “Don’t go. Silence is more deafening than sounds.”
“Alright, just take it easy.” Lora tried to calm him down. “Is your name Derek?”
“I think so. That’s the first thing that came to my mind when I was asked. But what ship is it? How did I get here?” the patient tried to turn his head but stopped wincing in pain.
“We’ve found your rescue unit in the open space not so long ago. You were in stasis. We also know that your ship was launched from Earth.”
Millions of questions troubling Lora were about to burst out, but the realization that this man was too weak and probably didn’t know the answers even to one tenth of them helped her control her emotional avalanche.
“I remember Earth… But everything is so vague. Like flashes, different disconnected pictures…”
“Try to relax,” said the doctor. “You’ll remember everything. Just give yourself some time.”
“Also, I remember that I have very little time…” added Derek quietly.
The next day a truce was announced on Taria allowing the ’Solar Flotilla’ to slow down the evacuation pace and to give a break to all those involved.
“The hospital is not the most suitable place for a man in his condition,” said Doctor Borshchevsky confidently when Lora showed up at his office the next morning.
“Does he need anything special in order to get better?”
“He needs company,” clarified the doctor. “Thanks to our know-how, his physical condition is improving incredibly quickly. In the last 24 hours he has shown unbelievable progress. However, his memory and some brain functions’ recovery is a more complicated process. Medicine plays an important role, no doubt; but in my opinion, his integration back into the society will prove to be even more significant. Unfortunately, we’re unable to return him to his normal life, which is the generally accepted method… But what we can do is to accommodate him in an apartment, show him Titanium, tell him about the life of ‘Solar Flotilla’.”
“But what we have to show him may shock him.”
“It’s quite possible, but keeping him in ignorance of it all can be even harder. I think it’s best if we tell him the truth, but carefully.”
“I see. I need to discuss this issue with the other members of the Council.”
“Of course. But I don’t think they’ll be against it.”
The top floor of the ‘Unity’ tower, boasting a high dome with bright blue sky and a few slowly floating clouds, housed the ‘Solar Flotilla’ Council. Year after year the seven members of the Council meet in this spacious hall and make the most important decisions on behalf of all Titanium citizens. On the one hand, they managed the collaboration between different key departments such as Universe Studies; Medical Technologies; Engineering and Innovative Solutions; Chronology and Education; as well as Spaceship Services. All these, in turn, consisted of a number of laboratories and other services, which altogether provided for all the needs of ‘Solar Flotilla’, during its travels. On the other hand, these seven people were in charge of foreign policies with alien races and their unions.
“So the doctor suggests helping our guest adapt to life on Titanium,” clarified Councillor Bella Groster calmly, after Lora had finished her short report on the results of the new project.
All the seven Council members were present around the table in the middle of the brightly lit colonnaded hall.
“Exactly. Derek’s quarantine has been lifted because he poses no biological threat to us,” noted the girl.
“Well, what about other types of threat?” asked John Simps, fixing Lora with his steady wise glance.
“What threat can a young man pose with severe memory loss, weak physical state and unarmed after such a long and dangerous journey?” Lora shook her head perplexedly. “It’s true we are still unable to say exactly why the earthlings had launched that ship. However, keeping the only survivor locked and in quarantine until all the details are clarified is, I believe, really cruel.”
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî