Return to Alpha Star
I awoke to immeasurable pain.
It was the caliber of agony that I guess must only be known upon gruesome death, when life is thwarted at blade's tip or purged on the glowing ambers of ashen coal. Yet I was not dead, and if my misery ushered the living from my body I could not tell it, though utmost suffering coursed through my system like the waves of a tumultuous sea, its intensity fluctuating rapidly throughout the ends of my being.
I quickly came to realize, through my anguish and brazen cries, that I was bound, my limbs held rigorously by some immovable force. Though I fought, I never moved. Instead I remained suspended – hands raised overhead, legs spread slightly apart and locked into unbending position. I struggled like a man insane against the forces that held me, my every joint and muscle beseeching rest to no avail. I believe, all things considered, I would have preferred death.
And then there was the light.
It trained on me like the great unwavering eye of some celestial being – never blinking, never faltering – its heat burning deep into my skin and blinding me to everything but it's source, forbidding me the ability to open my eyes.
Beads of sweat escaped to freedom down my face from their source on my forehead. What must have been a mixture of tears, sweat, blood, and saliva exploded from my lips as I labored to breath and attempted to survive my unknown excruciation.
Gradually the light relaxed, the pain decreased somewhat significantly – though still my every nerve screamed its disapproval – and a few hazy shapes came into focus.
In time, my wounded eyes revealed to me a great vaulted room filled with various contraptions of design and usage unknown to me. Most seemed suited for the human form, though from the look of them their purposes would be ill received. At the back of the room, towards the far wall, there stood a handful of men in dark gray cloaks and strange masks, all absorbed in the glowing devices at their front.
My observations of the unfamiliar scene around me were suddenly and stridently interrupted by the menacing hiss of an antagonistic voice.
"You believe to have proven your strength, traitor, but only your foolishness remains unquestionable hence."
My eyes fell to the floor below where a dark-haired, pale-skinned woman stood holding a man as equally shambled as I must have looked by the collar of his coat. His face was swollen with welts and bruises; blood seeped from his many wounds, ran its course through the gnarled hair of his beard, and dripped to the cold ground below. His hands were bound behind his back by some sort of thick metal contrivance, and he rested on his knees at the woman's feet. He gazed at me knowingly from the corner of his eye, and gave me a look that I think I was intended to interpret.
The woman continued.
"Perhaps we will prolong our exercise until we have destroyed you, traitor – that is your wish, is it not? No, I happen to believe you can be broken still, though I'm starting to believe our tactics need adjustment."
She hardened her grip on the beaten man's collar.
"If you will not cooperate with us, you will cause your compatriot a certain amount of…unpleasantness."
Though the man seemed to know me, I could summon no recollection of him. My mind raced for explanation, yet was blank. I frantically tried to understand what had come to pass, but could decipher nothing.
"Do you not value the life of your friend?" She glared at me with unabashed hatred in her eyes. "Make no mistake – he is your only friend. Will you not tell us what we wish to know and save his miserable, treasonous existence?"
I could think of nothing to say and so made no reply. Confusion was quickly being trumped by rising panic, panic that gained speed through my veins like a massive cascading river.
Suddenly, the man on his knees began to laugh, though for my life I could not comprehend why. And yet at the sound of his mirth I could feel the rising tide of terror inside me dissipate. His laughter, even his voice, felt somehow familiar and greatly appeased my battered spirit.
Unfortunately and to my chagrin, the woman quickly diverted her full wrath towards him. After tightening her grip on the frayed collar of his coat, the dark woman delivered to him a blow of unwavering ferocity with the rigid guard of her long, black-bladed sword. I watched helplessly as the man identified as my compatriot fell to his back and, teetering on unconsciousness, spit a mixture of blood and teeth to the ground at his side.
Powerlessly, I observed her as she planted one of her booted feet onto his heaving chest and held the point of the black-bladed sword only a wisp away from his throat.
"His life is in your hands," she said to me without looking. "Will he die? Or will you speak?"
Her voice resonated with an iron quality that weighed heavily upon my soul. I frantically searched the depths of my mind to try and ascertain what it might be that this dark woman would wish to know. But, as before, I found nothing.
"Please…" The sound of my own frail voice startled me. "I…I do not understand…what is it you wish to know?"
For an instant she stood immobile, every cell of her body locked in killing position.
"Please," I continued, my voice shaking. "Spare him."
She swiveled her ravenous gaze towards me.
"You will tell us then?" Her eyes set siege to my own.
"I…what is it you wish to know?"
"I believe you know, Master Endrake." When I did not reply and I think she saw the confusion in my face, she continued forcefully. "The way to Alpha Star."
She seemed even to wait with utter cruelty, and again my mind raced, though this time no more successful than the last. I could summon nothing from memory that had not taken place mere moments ago.
"Of what do you speak?"
"You would mock me, then??"
She stood for a moment, seeking, I think, to impel me with her seething eyes. A moment later and a dark cloud of hatred had come to shroud her pale face, and in an instant she acted. The black-bladed sword rose and fell in the span of a breath, its menacing point lurching downward and piercing the broken man's throat with malevolent power. When the intrusion of the blade was removed, the wound welled with crimson blood that slowly seeped down the sides of his neck to the metallic floor. The broken man coughed and wheezed heavily under the oppression of her boot until finally his body trembled with the pangs of death.
Seeing the life gone from him, I bowed my head in shock and felt the flowing warmth of new tears – tears not of pain, but of sorrow and confusion. I could not consciously recollect anything of the man I had just seen die, and yet something in my being indicated to me that we had known each other. Perhaps we had even been friends.
"I will accept nothing from you, traitorous Endrake, save what I wish to hear. If you do not soon divulge to my colleagues and I the way to the Alpha Star, I will subject you to torment the likes of which you could never have imagined. And, mind you, your survival would be most unlikely."
She had made her way to where I was suspended inside an orb of buzzing energy, and now reached the still blood-soaked tip of her sword through its barrier. She held its dark, razor-sharp edge only a hair's length from my face.
"Tell me what I wish to know and I will end your suffering." Her voice had lost some of its cold hatred; still, my ears met it with maximum menace. "Give us the plotting coordinates and you will be executed quickly and painlessly."
"Omnate, a word if you please."
The voice came from behind the woman. I looked up to see that it was one of the men in the gray cloaks, the men who had been laboring ever so diligently at their stations in the room's outer recesses. Lady Death was not pleased.
"You are interfering with a line of questioning!" she hissed, her voice regaining its killing chill. "You are to never interfere when I am engaged in of a line of questioning."
The man in the gray cloak stood silently, but did not back away.
"What might be so worrisome that it requires my immediate notice?"
"I would not meddle if I possessed other choice, Omnate," the man stated while bowing his head in a quick but respectful manner. "Humbly I beg your forgiveness, but there is an urgent matter of which you must be informed."
She stood immobile once again, as she had done only a moment ago before killing my supposed compatriot, then whirled around with an oath and retreated to address the man in gray.
I could ascertain very little of their conversation over the steady buzz of the energy field that held me captive, though their debate looked intense. The woman seemed to be quite animated, several times pointing her long bony finger in the man's face, other times swinging her arms in grand, sweeping motions. The man in gray, by contrast, remained expressionless – arms always at his sides, every muscle on his face relaxed; his eyes firmly fixed on the woman titled Omnate.
During this time I observed many things through my wounded eyes, not the least of which was the bleeding body of the man killed only moments ago. He laid as tranquil as a fallen tree upon his back, his arms held behind him by the clamping device, his tattered coat soaking in the circular puddle of his spilt blood.
I wondered privately what I could have done to prevent his demise, what I could have said that would have stayed the Omnate's hand. For all my guilt and grief, I could surmise nothing, not a single word or piece of information within the walls of my tattered mind that could possibly have alleviated her quest for death. This knowledge, however, did nothing to ease my belief that I should have done something, and I remained there hanging silently and with broken spirit, chained to nothing but immobile still inside the buzzing orb of blue energy.
After a time, the woman sheathed her menacing black-bladed sword and strode malevolently towards where I hung in my glowing prison. She stood for an instant at my feet and sought once again to bore a hole through me with naught but her venomous hatred. And then she spoke the last words I anticipated.