In the shadow of the stolen light
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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.
ďMy nameís Dr Borshchevsky,Ē said a grey-haired elderly man. ďAre you here for patient number sixty-four?Ē
ďYesÖ Sixty-four? I thought the wards were emptyÖĒ
ďWell, 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 systemís failure on board their spacecraft. Theyíre going to be fine.Ē
ďBut what had happened? Why did they have to flee?Ē
ďIím sorry, Ms Marion, I was too busy taking care of them and had no time to ask about what had happened on Taria,Ē answered the tired doctor. ďThe majority of the doctors are away at a seminar, so we have a shortage of staff.Ē
ďYes, I understand,Ē nodded Lora. ďCan I help somehow?Ē
The man shook his head.
ďThe 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. Thatís why we hadnít been able to give you any details earlier. Before that, the total scan had shown malnutrition in some regions of his brain. Iíll probably repeat myself by saying itís malnutrition, not total cessation. So thereís a 70% probability that his nervous system functions will recover after proper treatment.Ē
ďHow long will the rehabilitation process take?Ē
ďItís 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 elseÖ 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.Ē
ďThank you,Ē Lora touched the middle of her chest with her palm as a sign of sincere gratitude.
ďAlways happy to help you,Ē the doctor said smiling, with his palm touching his chest like Loraís.
Lora left the hall and hastily walked to the teleport.Her next destination was the ĎUnityí premises, where the Council was located.
ďArenít you early today, Lora!Ē Jean Preqeaux, one of the seven members of the ĎSolar Flotillaí Council, greeted her.
Smiling, she placed her palms together in front of her chest and bowed slightly.
ďHow was yesterdayís meeting? Was my report on the Lactians any good?Ē
ďGood, very good! Also, the report was remarkable! Iím sure weíll sign several agreements with this race and install three powerful telescopes on the two satellites of their capital planet.Ē
ďThatís great news!Ē nodded the girl, taking a seat opposite the councillor. His round-shaped office in the ĎUnityí building was dimly lit and a storm was raging silently on the walls, lightning striking and rain pouring over an endless meadow. ďSo what happened on Taria? I was at the hospital; there are sixty-three injured including our diplomatÖĒ
ďA sad story,Ē Jeanís face became sorrowful. ďThe planet is on the verge of civil war. Tariaís leaderís 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 ĎSolar Flotillaí is no exception.Ē
ďWhat are we going to do?Ē
ďAs 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. WeĎre all strangers here, able to offer some help in scientific research and worldís welfare, but when it comes to war, taking sides and fighting for othersí values, we stay out.Ē
ďBut how about all the innocent lives lost in a war, lives of those who were against fighting from the very beginning?Ē
Jean sighed heavily and, stroking his thick grey hair, approached the holographic interface in the middle of the office.
ďLook here,Ē he said gesturing to Lora to follow him. A large image of a star map appeared there. ďOur 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.Ē
ďConsidering the situation on Taria, the Council has an assignment for you.Ē
ďWhat is it?Ē
ďYou 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.Ē
ďI was hoping to stay here on Titanium,Ē Lora frowned.
ďI 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.Ē
The girl nodded in agreement. Councillor Preqeaux was right.
ďIt 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 donít think youíll miss anything if you set off right now. Besides, I will recommend the Council to entrust you with this project. Iím sure upon your return you will be happy to lead a group of experts who will investigate what has happened to the Earth transport.Ē
ďThank you,Ē Lora nodded again. ďThatís exactly what I wanted to ask you about.Ē
The councillor smiled, satisfied with their mutual agreement.
ďNow, letís see the results of the interim report, shall we?Ē
ďYes, of course,Ē Lora shook her head fending off sad thoughts about a sudden departure. ďThe doctor told me about an unknown virusÖĒ
ďCouncillor Preqeaux, you have a call from the Universe Exploration lab,Ē his secretary announced calmly.
ďThank you, Kelly. Switch the image onto the holographic interface, please.Ē
ďGood day, Councillor! Hello, Lora! Ē†a 3D image of Jane Forest, hovering over the projector, was greeting them by joining her hands in a welcoming gesture . ďWe have a small report about the object delivered on Titanium 10 hours ago.Ē
ďWe were just reading the medical report.Ē
ďWell, 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 shipís departure from Earth, itís 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 oursÖ We can suggest that it was deliberately trying to follow the ĎSolar Flotillaí; 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.Ē
ďThis is very interestingÖĒ mused the councillor.
ďUnfortunately, we can only speculate about the events, basing our conclusions on assumptions: not facts. The biggest problem is that we donít have the mother ship that carried the capsule.Ē
ďThank you, Miss Forest. Iíd appreciate it if I received all the details electronically.Ē
ďOf course, my report is ready.Ē
Jean rubbed his chin thoughtfully and turned to Lora.
ďHowís our guest doing?Ē
ďNot 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 didnít give any accurate prediction about the length of the therapy.Ē
ďI see. So all we can do is wait. Did you say something about a virus earlier?Ē
ďYes, the doctor said that he has discovered some kind of antibodies in the blood of this man. We can check the reportÖĒ
ďOf course,Ē the councillor swiped the sensor panel with his hand, causing the holographic interface to display a series of pages.
ďFrom the look of it, he acquired these antibodies while already in flight,Ē said Lora, studying the notes carefully.
ďItís an unknown disease. It hadnít existed before our launch from Earth, but we also havenít encountered it on other planets. The causative agent couldíve appeared much laterÖĒ
ďThe origin of the virus is still unknownÖĒ added Lora.
ďWe 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 shipÖĒ
The girl shook her head thoughtfully.
ďWhat 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?Ē
Jean raised his eyebrows in surprise.
ďYour assumptions are impressively fatalistic.Ē
ďYouíre so right. I donít understand whatís been happening to meÖĒ
ďYou just attach great importance to whatís gone onÖĒ
Lora looked at Jean, puzzled.
ďHow can I not?Ē
ďWhat do you mean? How can anyone not think so much and not assume the worst?Ē the councillor asked her calmly.
ďItís not about my assumptions, though the finding has been really haunting me. Itís just that we are talking about Earth! Our home!Ē the girl realized that she almost shouted the last words.
ďCalm down, please,Ē Jean put a fatherly hand on her shoulder. ďWeíll 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.Ē He paused and Lora nodded in agreement. ďPlease, be a little patient. Although, patience is a virtue youíve never really possessed,Ē he smiled.
In the ĎUnityí 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 ĎSolar Flotillaí were getting ready for launch from the Tariaís orbit. The unrest on the planet was constantly growing. The new leaderís aggression left no chance for reconciliation with space travellers. Despite the fact that they had spent more than one Tarian year on the planetís orbit working closely with the previous government, the new authority wished no further contact with aliens. Lora sighed sadly Ė it was the first time in her life that theyíd had to leave a populated planet so urgently. Before this moment, their ships left other racesí territories of their own free will after their cooperation, technology and resources exchange had exhausted itself. Besides, the citizens of ĎSolar Flotillaí 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.
ďHey, whatís the sad face for?Ē the matte glass office door slid open and she saw Paul in the doorway.
ďIím not sad, just tired. The new Tarian government refused to fulfil some terms and conditions under our agreementÖĒ
ďNo wonder! They canít wait for the day they get rid of us!Ē
ďYou can say that again.Ē
Loraís UCD beeped quietly and a green light of an incoming call flashed.
ďThis is Doctor Borshchevsky,Ē Lora explained taking the call, ďYes, doctor, what can I do for you?Ē
ďGood day, Miss Merion! Great news! Our patient, the only one left in the hospital, has regained consciousness! Would youÖĒ
ďIím on my way!Ē Lora jumped from her seat, her fatigue disappearing instantly.
ďIím waiting for you,Ē replied the doctor and the green light died.
ďWhat did he say?Ē 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.
ďThe rescued man has come around!Ē
ďIím coming with you,Ē decided Paul in a flash, leaving the premises together with Lora.
ďItís been three weeks since we found out about the civil war on Taria,Ē noticed the young man on the way to the closest teleport. ďYou?ve been working very hard from dusk till dawn ever since. You need some rest.Ē
ďWell, yes,Ē 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.
ďDid you even hear what I was saying?Ē
They entered through the teleport glass door.
ďHello! Please state your destination,Ē announced the ever-polite voice of the local teleportation programme.
ďCentral hospital,Ē answered Paul quickly, still piercing a confused Lora with his stare.
ďThank you,Ē 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.
ďLook, Iím not so tired to need an urgent vacation. The evacuation is in full-swing and Iíd like to be a part of it.Ē
ďWelcome to the Central Hospital,Ē announced the programme and the doors slid open, revealing a spacious brightly lit hall to their view.
ďWhat about this story with Earth? It also requires a lot of your energy and attention. Youíre risking losing all that if you continue working at such a pace.Ē
The girl sighed deeply; Paulís 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.
ďOK, letís begin by seeing how our patient is doing,Ē Paul nodded apologetically.
They passed through the hall, which flashed with images of a beautiful sunrise and soon they entered the doctorís office.
ďThat was fast!Ē the doctor smiled, welcoming them inside.
ďThank you for telling us immediately,Ē nodded Lora gratefully.
ďSo, I need to warn you that the patient is still very weak. Furthermore, his memory has been tragically letting him down. I think weíll be able to restore it, but it will take quite some time.Ē
ďI get it.Ē
ďDoes he remember anything at all?Ē asked Paul when they stopped in front of the ward door and, looking through the glass, saw a motionless man in bed.
ďHe remembers his name, DerekÖ I have firstly conducted the biological tests to examine his physical condition. A psychologist is on his way.Ē
ďMay we go in?Ē asked Lora, not letting the patient out of her sight.
ďOf course. The quarantine has already been lifted. But please be careful with information as he is still suffering greatly from post-traumatic stress.Ē
ďThank you, doctor.Ē
ďAfter you,Ē he smiled politely in response.
Lora slowly entered the ward and approached the bed. The dim lighting inside didnít 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.
ďIs he sleeping?Ē whispered Lora.
In response to her question addressed to the doctor, the patient moved and Lora stopped talking, frightened.
ďNo, he isnít. Heís 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.Ē
A quiet voice pierced the silence of the ward.
ďWho are you?Ē
Lora approached the bed and turned to see the doctor. He nodded in agreement.
ďMy name is Lora,Ē she said quietly, and carefully touched his hand when he turned his head to see her.
ďWhere am I?Ē
ďYouíre in a hospital. This is also Doctor Borshchevsky and the shuttle captain, Paul Stones.Ē
ďShuttle? Iím in a shuttle?Ē
ďNo, youíre onÖĒ she hesitated not sure whether to tell him about the artificial planet. ďYouíre on board a spaceship. Do you remember anything? Do you remember what had happened to you before?Ē
The young man winced.
ďThe lights are too bright here.Ē
ďReduce the lighting by 30 percentĒ said the doctor to the space in front of himself and the ward lighting became very dim. ďIs it better like this?Ē
ďYesÖ a littleÖĒ
ďIíd suggest that you wear protective lenses,Ē added Borshchevsky.
ďWill I be able to open my eyes then?Ē
ďWell, you could at least try.Ē
After the patient nodded lightly, the doctor carefully put a pair of sunglasses of some sort on his eyes.
ďEverything is floatingÖĒ
ďThis is temporary,Ē Borshchevsky reassured him.
ďIf you find it difficult to talk now, we can come laterÖĒ
ďNo!Ē the young man moved his fingers and touched Loraís hand. ďDonít go. Silence is more deafening than sounds.Ē
ďAlright, just take it easy.Ē Lora tried to calm him down. ďIs your name Derek?Ē
ďI think so. Thatís the first thing that came to my mind when I was asked. But what ship is it? How did I get here?Ē the patient tried to turn his head but stopped wincing in pain.
ďWeíve 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.Ē
Millions of questions troubling Lora were about to burst out, but the realization that this man was too weak and probably didnít know the answers even to one tenth of them helped her control her emotional avalanche.
ďI remember EarthÖ But everything is so vague. Like flashes, different disconnected picturesÖĒ
ďTry to relax,Ē said the doctor. ďYouíll remember everything. Just give yourself some time.Ē
ďAlso, I remember that I have very little timeÖĒ added Derek quietly.
The next day a truce was announced on Taria allowing the íSolar Flotillaí to slow down the evacuation pace and to give a break to all those involved.
ďThe hospital is not the most suitable place for a man in his condition,Ē said Doctor Borshchevsky confidently when Lora showed up at his office the next morning.
ďDoes he need anything special in order to get better?Ē
ďHe needs company,Ē clarified the doctor. ďThanks 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 functionsí 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, weíre unable to return him to his normal life, which is the generally accepted methodÖ But what we can do is to accommodate him in an apartment, show him Titanium, tell him about the life of ĎSolar Flotillaí.Ē
ďBut what we have to show him may shock him.Ē
ďItís quite possible, but keeping him in ignorance of it all can be even harder. I think itís best if we tell him the truth, but carefully.Ē
ďI see. I need to discuss this issue with the other members of the Council.Ē
ďOf course. But I donít think theyíll be against it.Ē
The top floor of the ĎUnityí tower, boasting a high dome with bright blue sky and a few slowly floating clouds, housed the ĎSolar Flotillaí 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 ĎSolar Flotillaí, during its travels. On the other hand, these seven people were in charge of foreign policies with alien races and their unions.
ďSo the doctor suggests helping our guest adapt to life on Titanium,Ē 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.
ďExactly. Derekís quarantine has been lifted because he poses no biological threat to us,Ē noted the girl.
ďWell, what about other types of threat?Ē asked John Simps, fixing Lora with his steady wise glance.
ďWhat threat can a young man pose with severe memory loss, weak physical state and unarmed after such a long and dangerous journey?Ē Lora shook her head perplexedly. ďItís 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.Ē
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