This was originally written for an e-book which, sadly, doesn't look like it'll see the light of day. Hopefully someone will pick it up again and it'll get linked with all the other awesome stories which were written. The story takes place on the fictional planet of Aeolopilis, a planet much like Earth.Enjoy!
The Pale Blue Marble
Copyright: Rae Gee 2013.
Home: A pale blue marble floating in an ocean of black nothingness. For so long, the citizens of this planet had believed that they were alone in the vast emptiness of space. For a while, they were alone. Alone with nothing but their thoughts and with each other.
That is until a strange signal was plucked from the air. A strange signal which would herald a brave new world.
Tommy Butler tugged the greasy cap from his head, mopped his brow and glared at the great machine above him. Its four claw-like feet were planted on the ground and its massive propellers lay silent. From beneath its curved metal body, guns and cannons pointed to nothing, muzzles already blackened with the promise of death.
Sweeping strands of damp hair from his eyes, Tommy stared along the lines of flying crafts and groaned. Hundreds upon hundreds of the killing machines sat waiting to be fixed, all hidden in miles of bunkers which spread beneath the rolling hills of his fair land. Sooner or later, the huge machines of death would be called into service, their giant props taking them to space and beyond, to go and fight enemies he had never seen, yet heard about every day. When that happened, the giant hanger would fill with other deadly machines, all of them needing Tommy's care and attention to send them back out to fight the good fight.
The wars had been raging for nigh on fifty years, ever since the signal had been received from the ether. Slowly, but surely, the citizens of the pale blue marble had signed up to the global army. Promised fame, fortune and new worlds to call their own, they had taken to the skies in their droves, on crafts bound for the strange new planets.
Some of the planets had surrendered easily, working with the Alliance, the single world government which oversaw the pale blue marble. Others had taken longer with the loss of many lives. Some worlds had been used merely for what could be mined from beneath their crusts while others were colonised, places for their new owners to call home.
He was a simple man who just wanted the simple things in life. A kiss from the girl he was courting, a decent pit of ale and a place to rest his head at night. Instead, while up to his elbows in hydra-grease, Tommy found himself speculating on all that had been and all that was to come.
The signal, he'd heard from his father, his mother and every newspaper worthy of reading, had been picked up by the clever sods in the East. Using their strange Voodoo magic, they'd created a massive receiver which lay hidden in the mountains. Apparently, if the new fangled photography plates were to be believed, there were no mountains left, just a huge bowl shaped expanse where the mountains had once stood. Wires were strung over it, capturing the invisible sounds which rampaged through the universe. And the clever gits with their Voodoo-Hoodo had snared the very first one.
It had, Tommy had been told, been a message from a distant planet. Strangely, it was meant for them, having been spoken in the pale blue marble's native language and conveying a message of peace, love and harmony. From what Tommy had read in the 'papers and the penny dreadfuls, that particular planet was no more, having been blasted to nothing by their starships.
So why were they out there? Why did they keep sending their men up? Was there not enough for them back on their home planet?
Tommy tried to understand it but found himself failing. He hadn't volunteered for the army and, to stop himself being dragged before the courts, and possibly a hangman, as a deserter, he'd signed up to work in the hangers, fixing anything which came his way.
And a lot came his way. Battered starships and ruined weapons. Massive space cannons with slugs jammed in their muzzles. Their current batch of starships (three hundred and fifty at last count) were destined for the furthest reaches of their theatre of war, to go after and execute a strange race of beings who, if the gossip were true, liked to feast on the eyes and tongues of lowly humans before taking their skin as trophies. They were, Aeolopilis' prime minister had said, “a credible threat to the continued existence of our entire race, both here and further afield.”
A klaxon sounded through the great hanger and, with a sigh of relief, Tommy wiped his hands on a dirty rag, patted the giant machine and made for home.
Above ground, the sun was just breaking through the smoggy sky. Blinking, Tommy rubbed his eyes, the grit of the hanger being replaced with the grime of the city. Even at such an early hour, the streets and skies were bustling. Walking machines and iron carriages thundered along the central lanes of the street, spewing smoke from their engines. Trams, horse drawn carriages and the monolithic quadruple decker omnibuses ambled along the outer ones. Everyone was rushing, as if it were their last day alive.
Perhaps it was.
Ignoring the hustle and bustle, Tommy boarded the 54 omnibus, its eight horses gasping in the dry heat. For a single penny, it would take him south of the river and to the boarding house where he laid his head. He would have some stew, write a note to his Ma, and get his head down for some well deserved sleep. For, at the stroke of six, it would all being again.
Paying his fare, he took a seat on the uppermost deck and stared at a sky scorched by smoke, steam and sin.
Tommy had been raised properly by his Ma, with manners and morals. He didn't believe in what the single world government were doing. Why did they have colonise the universe when they had all they needed here? Why did they have to fight with other species? Especially as many had come in peace and wanted little more than to extend the hand of friendship across the dark ocean of space.
Sitting on the floor of his cramped room, he pulled a placard from beneath the bed. EQUALITY FOR ALL SPECIES was emblazoned across the white surface. Come the Sabbath, he would be marching the streets with the best of them, a pint of ale in his belly, a song on his lips and a fire in his soul.
He barely saw the other men with whom he shared the house with. They all worked the swing shift and, as he was leaving, they were arriving home, too weary to talk. It was the way he liked it.
In the hanger, Tommy kept his head down, working hard and thinking of the comrades he'd meet at the protest. He spoke to no-one and, as far as he knew, no-one other than his landlady and employer knew his name.
The voice caused him to jump and he cursed as he head made contact with one of the ship's guns.
Turning, Tommy peered through the forest of metal, his eyes focusing on a man roughly the same age as himself. With black hair falling across his face and eyes sparkling in the hanger's glowing lights, the roguish young man grinned.
“You goin' to the war protest on the Sabbath?” The man's eyes never left his own.
Tommy's heart turned to stone. He'd heard of such people, planted by the Alliance to weed out those who disagreed with them. Shaking his head, he turned back to his work, long fingers nimbly recalibrating the gun.
“I ain't a government weasel if that's what you think.”
Tommy ignored him. An Alliance man would say that.
“Name's Will. What's yours?”
Feeling his way along the long barrel he looked over his shoulder. “What's it to you?”
The man shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets. “Just tryin' to be friendly. I'm new here, lookin' to meet a few new comrades and kick the system a bit.
Tommy looked him over, trying to read him. It had been so long since he had spoken to someone that he had forgotten the sound of his own voice. The man – Will – looked a little forlorn and lost. Surely an Alliance mole wouldn't look as pitiful as he did?
“Where are you from?” he finally asked. Best to try and do his research before handing over valuable information.
Tommy whistled. That was a good two thousand miles, several days journey by even the best air-steamer. Will didn't look like he had the money to travel by the mecha-pack horses let alone an air-steamer.
Will nervously looked around himself. “Do you know The Wise Man?”
Tommy nodded. It was the place where the abolition of war comrades met and discussed what they would do. Not that he'd been yet. He'd always been too weary to fight his way into a crowded public house.
“Meet me there when we get out.”
Then Will was gone in a flurry of greasy hair and gangly limbs, his grubby grey uniform blending with the machines.
For the rest of the shift, Tommy pondered Will and his proposition. Was it wise to go to such a meeting before the protest? And what did Will want with him? Why had he been singled out from the thousands who worked in the twilight subterranean world?
Tommy's stomach turned when the klaxon sounded. Scores of men were downing tools and making for the exits and grubby sunlight. Some would return to their families, some to their boarding houses. Many would go and drown the gun-metal monotony in the pubs and gin houses.
The Wise Man took up nearly the entire length of Queensbury Road. It was rumoured to be the largest pub in the city, if not the country. It was also the perfect place for clandestine meetings of those who wanted to halt the Alliance.
The noise of the pub swept over Tommy as he entered. Every available table was taken. Clockwork creatures flew overhead, carrying written orders to the bar, while smaller versions of the planet's flying craft ferried filled orders to their owners. The bar was lined, twenty deep, by patrons without numbers, all jostling for attention. How he was supposed to find Will was beyond him.
A hand clamped to his shoulder and he swung around, ready yo slug it out with his potential attacker. Instead, Will grinned at him.
“Come on!” he called over the din. “We've got numbers.”
Pushing through the swell of people, they made for the far end of the long room. Men clustered around a knot of tables, straining to listen to the figure atop them. Dressed in a patchwork frock coat, the man strode back and forth, gesturing wildly.
“What the Alliance are doing is little more than verse-wide barbarism! Their actions harken back to times we should have moved on from. We live in the Industrial Age, not the Dark Ages. We should be sharing our knowledge, not command and conquering those who come in peace. The Alliance are dragging themselves backwards. Is this how we want to be remembered?”
A roar went up from the gathered crowd and Tommy felt the excitement rise. The words pumped through him, feeding his soul.
“Grand Herdsman.” Will stepped forward. “I bring you Tommy. He works on the Alliance's air fleet.”
The man – the Grand Herdsman – looked down at them, a wolfish grin on his aging face. “Step forward, Tommy of the engine room.”
With his heart in his throat, Tommy stepped up to the table. The man's frock coat and battered top hat were adorned with with red and yellow ribbons. The ribbons – the colours of the Comrades for the Abolition of the Interstellar War – were wrapped around his wrist. Steely eyes peered over coloured spectacles, studying him.
“What can you bring to us, Tommy of the engine room? What skills do you possess?”
He wanted to reply that he had none, and that all he wished to do was march upon the parks and streets, screeching the message to the unhearing Alliance.
Instead, he replied with, “I understand how their weapons work.”
The man threw a hand in the air, ribbons fluttering around his arm. “Fabulous! You shall join young William. Good luck to you, Tommy of the engine room.”
Hands grabbed him and pulled him from the Grand Herdsman. Ribbons were twisted around his arm and pamphlets were thrust into his hands. Songs were sung about bringing down the Empire and ale was poured down his throat.
By the time he left, Tommy had been initiated into the ways and life of the Comrades. It was time for him to begin his new life.
Grasping the micrometer, Tommy gazed up at the starship. In just two days, they would return to the sky and to whatever battle they found. His orders had been simple; alter the starships so that, upon leaving Aeolopilis' fragile atmosphere, the starships would come to pieces, killing all on board. It was, he had been told, a message to the Alliance. A message that the wars were not needed and that they should, as the original message had proclaimed, look for peace among the brothers and sisters of their universe.
Guilt scratched at his soul, but Tommy knew that he had to follow his orders. He had not followed the orders to sign up to the armies, his conscience not allowing him to. Now he had other orders to follow, orders to kill. His conscience cried at him for what he was about to do. But it was for the good of the planet, the good of the universe. The wars were wrong, the rampant killing of species they had never met a travesty against any right thinking democracy. They needed to be stopped before the entire universe was nothing but a rotting corpse.
Dropping the micrometer into his tool box, Tommy shut the lid and tossed it onto the starship's hold. Scrambling up after it, he grasped the metal box and began to make his way through the huge craft. Opening the cockpit door, he placed the toolbox on one of the padded seats and looked at the array of controls.
Every conceivable lever, switch, button, light and throttle was laid out before him. Two yokes sat before the two padded seats and, behind him, was the place for the navigator. In the bowels of the ship sat the gunners, a row down either side, one in the tail, one beneath the cockpit and one above it. The ship's pilots also had weapons. It was a dangerous craft to mess with. For now, on this single day, he had to figure out the slight changes they would make before reporting back to the hanger's other comrades.
During a meeting at The Wise Man, he had discovered just what was being planned. A message had been sent to the Alliance that many men in the hanger were spies, intent on wrecking havoc on their fleet. A list of names had been given to the Alliance and the men had been fired. In their place, men from the Comradeship had been enlisted, unwittingly snuck in beneath the nose of the Alliance. They had been supplied by an organisation affiliated with the Comrades, making sure that all the paperwork the Alliance needed was correct and in place.
It had worked. In less than two days, the hanger was filled with Comrades, all of them ready to make the changes to the ships. And once those ones were airborne, they would get to work on the next shipment either until the entire fleet was destroyed or their presence was alerted to.
Tommy suspected it would be the latter. Already his bags were packed in case of having to flee in the middle of the night. He loathed to do it but knew that he now had to support the cause. No longer could he sit on the fence.
Crawling beneath the yoke of the captain's seat, he lay on his back and stared at the array of pipes and wires. He had surveyed the blue prints and, amid the tangle of metal and cloth insulated cables, was a pipe. This pipe ran through the entire craft, feeding the engines with heated water. By making a minute hole in the pipe and attaching another to it which returned the super heated steam to the boiler, he had worked out that the pressure would, over many days, build until the craft exploded. There were, Tommy knew, easier ways to perform such a task. But he had been told that the crafts needed to be destroyed when they were many miles from Aeolopilis' atmosphere.
With his heart in his mouth, Tommy made the incision. Reaching behind himself, he felt around in the tool box and drew out a length of pipe and a small, hand-held welding device. Quickly and quietly, he joined the pipe to the tiny hole before finding the one which fed air into the boiler. Again, he made a tiny incision and pulled the pipe across, joining the two.
Crawling out, he sat on his knees and admired his handiwork. The new pipe he had put in was perfectly hidden. No one would think to look beneath the control console to search for any imperfections. It would work, would do the job the Comradeship had asked for.
Collecting the tool box, Tommy exited the ship and looked at it. Pangs of guilt crept in. People would die because of what he'd done.
But as the Grand Herdsman had said, they were people willing to take the risk and go to the far reaches of the universe for riches and fame. They were little more than low lives and bounty hunters, people who thought nothing of others and the destruction they were causing. They were wiping out other races, citizens of the universe they had yet to meet.
Wiping his hands on his trousers, Tommy collected his box of tools and walked away. It was time to return to The Wise Man and report his findings.
The Grand Herdsman had ordered all the hanger workers into a room above The Wise Man. Gas lights beamed from the walls, throwing shadows and heat around. They sat in neat rows, all staring at him, all clutching tankards of drink. Tommy had never spoken to a crowd before and he could feel the perspiration on his palms. Picking up his beer, he took a sip, stalling for time.
“Please.” His voice sounded hoarse and dry. He took another drink and stared at the collected men before him. In the sparse light he could see that they were all dressed in the dreary uniform of the hanger; stiff grey shirts, greasy grey trousers and a leather apron.
Licking his lips, he began again, voice a little more confident, “Please look at the blueprints you've been handed. Under the main control console, you'll find two pipes. The one marked in red carries steam from the boiler and to the engines. The one in blue takes air to the boiler.”
Meticulously, Tommy explained what he had done, detailing the link between the two and the exact tightness of the welds. Despite being such a simple solution to their problem, he spoke for nigh on two hours, answering questions and explaining everything in minute detail.
Eventually, as the great clock in the lower barroom struck midnight, the men stood and melted away, disappearing into the depths of the night. A strange pride sat with Tommy, the feeling that he was doing something right and good. Something which would, at some stage, make his family proud.
During his next shift, Tommy watched as men crawled into the bowels of their ships. All clutched tool boxes, the blue prints secreted away. None of them would know if the tiniest of changes would work until many months in the future at a time when the ships stopped sending transmissions to Aeolopilis. Shortly after those transmissions ceased, the ships would put out a distress signal, an indicator that someone should take to the skies to find them. But with hundreds upon hundreds of such signals, the Alliance would not know where to start. What they would know was that someone, somewhere, had sabotaged their ships. By that time, Tommy knew he would be elsewhere, secreted away by the Great Herdsman. Because that was what had been promised to him.
For two weeks they worked, finishing the jobs of the previous workers and making the slight, but deadly alterations. Finally they were done and, standing in a special blast chamber, they watched as the crafts fired up their engines and left the planet.
With the warm feeling of a job well done, Tommy left, making for the main entrance. The Wise Man called to him and the Great Herdsman drew him closer. He was going to find out where he would be sent next, what assignment he would be given. No longer to the guilt of earlier days torment him. It had long been washed away by the leader of the Comradeship.
A long, white washed corridor linked the hanger and the main street above it. Slogans were painted neatly on the walls. Through Work Comes Faith. Work Is Beautiful, Freedom Is Divine. Tommy had never really liked them, the words causing him more than an iota of fear. He had supposed that was what they were supposed to do; thinly veiled promises from those in power.
As he neared the door two grey suited men stepped from a door, blocking his exit. They both looked alike in their neatly pressed clothes, with close cropped brown hair and tightly knotted black cravats. Both wore top hats, which they removed as Tommy closed in on them. A cold chill ran down his spine and Tommy stopped before them.
“Thomas William Butler,” the one on the right addressed him, “your presence has been requested by the owner of the Moore Street hanger. If you would care to follow us.”
The two men turned to leave but Tommy remained where he was, watching their retreating backs.
“But why?” he demanded. “I've done nothin' wrong. Why does he want to see me?”
The men stopped and the unspeaking one turned.
“Your protestations certainly mean that you are guilty of something. If you were not, you would have followed us willingly. For you do not know why we have come for you as we mentioned nothing of the sort.”
Tommy's heart dropped, suddenly turned to stone. The fear grew, cold and gnawing, eating away at him. He wanted to flee, to escape to the normal world above ground. But there was nowhere for him to run to.
“Come,” the man said. “We do not have all day.”
Silently he followed in their wake, their identical coat tails moving back and forth. They had replaced their hats, tiny badges now evident to Tommy. The badges held an emblem he had only heard about, rumours and gossip passed around the The Wise Man.
They were no ordinary men. They had been sent by the Consortium, a group of men who, in terms of ranking, sat just below the Alliance. They were as dark and as secretive as the Alliance and people who fell into their clutches were never seen again.
Tommy began to panic. He could feel the redness rising to his cheeks as he was lead along a series of interlocking passageways. Naked flames gushed from the walls, sending shadows dancing over the white floors and causing Tommy's fear to rise. Their trek never seemed to end and, at every turning, he looked for a way to escape. But, at each corner, stood more of the grey suited men, all watching him with steely eyes.
Finally they reached a nondescript wooden door. It would not have looked out of place in a home or office. One of the men knocked and, from beyond the wooden barrier, came a curt call for them to enter.
Opening the door, the men stood to one side, allowing Tommy to enter before closing the door behind them. The office was far larger than the exterior implied. Dark wood paneled the walls and an impressive desk sat before a roaring fire. Gas lamps, encased in sweeping green shades, grew from the walls. Shelves, covered with books, and what looked liked framed accolades, lined the walls. Tommy could not decide if the heat he was feeling came from the fire or the emotions which coursed through him.
Standing before the desk, Tommy watched the hunched figure which sat behind it. A pen was clutched in their hand, occasionally dipping into a ink well before continuing its scratching journey across the paper. His heart raced, mind a-whirl with what was to come. He had the feeling that they were making him wait, punishing him before anything had even been said.
Eventually, they returned the pen to the desk and looked up. A stunned silence hit Tommy as he looked into the dark eyes of a woman. Dark hair was closely cropped to her face, her features sharp and gaunt. Her pale lips pursed as she looked him up and down.
“Tommy Butler.” It was a statement, not a question. “I've asked for you to be brought before me as there are allegations that you have been sabotaging the ships. How do you plead?”
Frowning, he looked at her, unsure of how to take her strange question. “Not guilty, ma'am.”
She looked at him, drumming long, neatly manicured fingers against the desk. “I suspected you would say that.”
Despite the warmth he suspected came from the fire, Tommy suddenly felt cold. The woman leaned toward the desk and pressed a concealed button.
“Take him away,” she hissed.
“No!” Tommy protested. “I didn't do anythin'.”
The woman just looked at him, eyes narrowed and dark. She said nothing as the door behind him opened. His arms were dragged behind him and cold, steel bracelets were locked around his wrists. Tommy screamed and kicked, fighting whoever held him.
He was dragged from the office and along the passageways. All the way he protested, anger riling through him, directing towards the company, towards the Alliance, towards the Comradeship. They were the ones who had ordered him to do such a thing and now, because of it, he was being hauled to an unknown future.
A door opened onto an anonymous yard, a black, windowless carriage sitting in the centre. He was tossed inside, the doors slamming and locking shut behind him. Lying on the floor of the carriage, he howled with indignation.
The prison, he knew from walking past it, was a huge building which rose many feet in the air. All manner of prisoners were held there, many for petty crimes. Many never saw the light of day again, held indefinitely as enemies of the state. Even saying muttering something to someone in passing was classed as a crime if the person had them reported. It was a great, grey, soulless place, designed to destroy.
It was with a heavy heart that he found himself being unloaded in the one of the prison's courtyards. He did not know where else he would have been taken. To a police station perhaps. Or a smaller, holding prison. Instead, he would be locked within the soul of the cloudscraper, to wait and to die.
Looking up, Tommy saw a small patch of sky, miniscule in comparison to what he normally saw. All around him were sheer walls, their faces bare of any windows. Deep inside himself, Tommy could feel himself dying.
He was locked in a windowless cell. All around him he could hear muffled noises, the sounds of the thousands upon thousands of other prisoners. Water dripped down one wall, leaving a slimy trail in its wake. The only light came from the gas jets in the narrow corridors. A bucket sat in one corner and a bare, straw mattress was his bed.
Sitting against the back wall, knees hunched to his chest, Tommy stared through the bars of the cell. Occasionally, a guard would walk past, never glancing at him. Rarely did they answer the cries of those locked up.
He wondered what would happen to him next. Would he ever see daylight again? Would he ever sleep in a proper bed? He had come to the big city to make his mother proud, to send home the money he had left over at the end of every month. There were no jobs in the tiny village he had come from. So it had been the big city or nothing. And his family needed the money, especially with three sisters all waiting to be married. Even they had little hope of finding a husband in the village. At some point they would have to pack their belongings, kiss their mother goodbye, and make the long and winding journey to the devilish clutches of one of the planet's many cities. He just hoped and prayed that none of them would leave Aeolopilis.
Rocking back and forth, he thought back to The Wise Man, to the people he had met there. What would become of them? Would the others from the hanger be brought to the prison? Did any of them notice that he was missing? Would they even come for him if they did? Or was he expendable, just another gear in their war abolishing machine?
The anger towards them came and went in red hot waves. Tommy battered his hands against the floor, not caring for the pain, as he screamed obscenities which they could not hear. Blood trickled from the wounds, mixing with the water and grime on the cell floor. No one would come for him, no one would care. Even his mother would never find out where he was. Like a lamp with no oil, hope began to die in the depths of Tommy Butler's mind.
Time and again, grey suited men came to the cell. They screamed at him, interrogated him, tried to draw information from him. They wanted to know if he had sabotaged the ships and how he had done it. They claimed to have proof yet showed him none. Tommy was determined to never break, never give up what he knew. Even if the Comradeship had abandoned him, he would not give up their secrets, would not tell what he knew. The suited me beat him, humiliated him and promised him the world. Still he did not break. They could, he had decided, do what they wanted and still never get what they thought was so important.
During those dark days a letter arrived. Unsigned and with no return address, nor any indication from where it had come from, it read:
We have heard of your plight and, from the depths of our beings, we are sorry. We are thankful for your silence, for not betraying us. You have our utmost respect and we are currently working on plans to rescue you. What we did was not supposed to come to this. No one was supposed to know and we have no clue as to who passed on the information. Never fear; we are here for you and shall do everything within our power to release you.
Yours in truth.
Tommy suspected the letter came from the Comradeship and a small flame of hope spluttered to life. They had not forgotten about him. They were grateful for all he had done. Soon he would be free to walk the streets and he would leave, finding a new place to restart his life. That much they had promised him.
Finally, the men in suits came to his cell in what he assumed was the dead of night. The lamps outside the cell had been dimmed and the noises, the voices, the cries for help, had all faded to nothing. Walking in, they hauled him to his feet, chaining his hands behind his back. A strip of leather was forced between his teeth and buckled around his head. Tommy felt the panic begin to rise, making him shake and groan. The hands of the men just tightened around him.
“The courts have found you guilty. The punishment is death.”
A cry caught in his throat and he struggled against his bonds. The men held him firm, dragging him from the cell and along the passageway. He kicked and cried around the gag, a hundred different things whirling through his mind. This was not how it was supposed to end! The Comradeship had promised to have him released. He was supposed to go home, to see his mother and sisters. Instead he was going to die, going to leave the planet and no one would know. None of them would ever find out and they would assume he had faded away, not caring for any of them.
Through passageways and down stairs he was hauled, the hammering of his heart growing ever louder. It screamed in his ears, the blood rushing through his body as if it knew it would sooner be no longer needed. Soon his body would be cold, thrown into the ground and hidden from view. Tommy could feel his skin growing hot and time felt as if it were slowing down. He refused to resign himself to his imminent death, refused to go without a fight, forever feuding with those who held him.
He had given them nothing. No information, no names. He had not said a word. And yet he was still guilty. It should not have surprised him, not with some of the crimes which could see you locked away for life. But still it scared him. Despite all he had done, he was being dragged to his death.
Still he screamed, his voice somehow managing to escape the now sodden leather gag. Saliva soaked his chin but Tommy no longer cared. All he cared about was doing as much as possible to prevent what was coming.
The passageways became wider, opening into long, white corridors. People, those who were not prisoners, were beginning to join them, all walking in the same direction. Finally, they approached an open doorway, the large, double doors thrown open. The people in the corridors streamed through them, turned left and right. He was lead straight through them and, when he saw what was before them, Tommy stalled, his body becoming a leaden weight.
The room, like the prison, was colossal, more of an amphitheatre. Seats lined the walls, going ever higher until they almost reached the ceiling. All were rapidly filling, people seating themselves and staring down in to the centre.
There, before them, stood a court room. A judge, dressed in black with a small black cap upon his head, presided over the gathered people. And, on a stage before him, stood a tall, wooden device.
Tommy felt faint at the sight of the guillotine. No matter what he had, about that it was painless, no one had survived to tell the tell. Nor had any of the mystics ever gotten a response from any of the decapitated heads. He wondered if his would be the first.
Slowly the men lead him to the centre of the room, hooking their arms around his elbows to heave him up the steps of the stage. Standing beside the monolithic execution device, they faced the judge. Tommy felt weak and sick, his vision swimming. He wanted to vomit as he looked up at the smartly polished blade.
Please let it be quick, he thought. Please don't let this go on for any longer. If they're going to kill me, let it be over in an instant.
“Tommy Butler,” the judge began, his deep voice booming around the theatre. “You have been accused of, and found guilty of, tampering with the Alliance's ships. What you have done will cause the loss of many lives as they travel across the universe in search of new life and new worlds. Your tamperings are classed as treason and, as such the punishment is death.”
Falling silent, the judge gave a short, curt nod and Tommy felt himself begin to sway. The end of upon him and would be delivered by a cold, metal blade. His arms were lifted and he was tugged toward the machine which would bring about his death. Within him, the fight had died, fading to nothing, just as he would in a moment's time.
The men were joined by others, lifting Tommy and lying him face down on the bench before the device. A wooden yoke was fastened around his neck while straps were tightened around his body. Looking down into the basket, Tommy took a few deep breaths. Although immaculately clean, a few spots of blood still remained around the rim.
For a few moments, it felt as though every one of his senses had become heightened. He could hear every noise, feel every breath, smell every scent which lingered in the room.
Come on. Get it over with.
A scent of flowers filled the room, growing stronger with every passing second. Tommy tried to lift his head but all he could see was the bench of the judge. His skin tingled as a warm wind began to blow. From somewhere close by a voice spoke, as soft and as gentle as a summer's rain.
“My name is Thallo. I am the queen of Horae, the tribe of peace and love. For many years you have tormented our kind. You have killed and pillaged us, all in the name of progress. The man you hold prisoner, the one whom you intend to kill, has done more for us in mere hours than you will all do in your lifetime.”
Tommy felt a sudden sense of elation take over him. The warm wind lifted and, as if by magic, the straps unfurled from around his body and the yoke was lifted away.
“Arise Tommy Butler, friend and companion of the Horae.”
Shaking, he slid from the wooden board and to the floor, collapsing onto his knees. Lifting his head, he looked up at a sight he would never forget. Beside him stood a beautiful being. Tall and yellow skinned with bright, flaxen hair which flowed around their head like the waves of the sea. A soft, angular face turned and the soul from another world smiled down at him. A long, four fingered hand was held out to him and he took it, allowing himself to be helped to his feet.
Tommy could never describe what happened next. The courtroom faded around them, a bright light replacing it. For a moment, he was weightless, the light encompassing him. Still holding onto Thallo, he walked through the warmth and into the new life he had been promised.
The new world, he was told, was in the far reaches of the universe. Many had already been plundered by those from Aeolopilis and the survivors had all gathered on one of the few remaining worlds. Tommy could not understand what the prime minister had been on about when he had said that the creatures of the universe posed a threat to them. The Horae were a tribe of beauty, of love, and of peace. They accepted him as if he were one of their own, settling him into a house in the trees and teaching him about their ways. In return for their hospitality, he helped them as much as he could, repairing the beautiful houses, nurturing foods and helping the young. He taught them about the ways of Aeolopilis, about how their ships worked so that they too could help stop the rampaging. Once, when he had mentioned that he missed his family and wished he could tell them he was alive, they had shown him the beacon. Across the empty miles of the universe, it sent messages, recorded in the language others could understand. He had sent them a message, telling them that he was happy. Telling them that he had found his true calling in life. One day, he had said, he hoped that they two would be able to join him upon the beautiful planet. One day, he said, they would find a ship which bore the markings of friends, and bring them to the place he called home.
~~ The End ~~