“What do we have?” the surgeon asked as the gurney sped into the triage area of the field hospital.
His uniform was marred with the blood of other soldiers whose lives he had fought to save until the bitter—inevitable—conclusion. It was the kind of hellish nightmare that only people in our line of work could understand. War was its own torture device, making prey of both sides, and reveling in its disastrous certainty.
“He’s with the Messenger Corps, sir.” I said. “They apparently dismembered him in an attempt to extract the latest message from the Court. My men found him about twenty minutes ago… alive.” I shook the bloody images from my mind. Each messenger was given a surgically-implanted chip that held information about military formations and other logistical data. It was the kind of information that would get you killed if caught. Few survived to deliver their message.
“Dammit, I’ve never seen them go this far before,” the surgeon said as he inspected the body for other injuries beyond the obvious. “It used to be just the hands, now those monsters take each limb and leave the torso to die. This war has brought out the worst of their kind.”
He continued to mutter while my mind drifted. Our own side had also carried out horrific deeds in order to preserve a government that should have ended a couple of hundred years ago. “It takes all kinds, sir,” I said, hoping he had taken my awkward silence for shock, exhaustion, or whatever one called the empty feeling and frayed nerves associated with this kind of work. “If you need me I’ll be on deck standing watch. Let me know if he pulls through.”
I left the surgeon and nurses to prepare the body for whatever life-saving operation they could manage on a man better off dead and headed for the exit at the end of a gleaming white passageway. The makeshift field hospital was state of the art, big enough to hold a triage center and recovery wing as well as house its staff, all on a mobile platform hovering five meters off the ground.
The technologically advanced native Daliqians had been instrumental to our survival as a human race. Problems crept in when the Daliqians and humans began to cross-breed and a new race known as the Hybriums made an appearance. That was about a thousand years ago. Civil war wiped out most of the Hybriums, the rest were driven underground. Strife is the only common thread between our two races now, the two purest life forms on the planet each fighting to preserve something that never should have existed in the first place, one’s racial dominance over the other.
The piercing light of the moon reflected its silver sheen over the colonies, looming in an amber sky that stifled all but the closest stars in our galaxy. The moon cast a glare nearly as strong as the twin suns that fed the daytime sky their warmth and illumination. The burning shades of violet swirls that emanated between the two sparring partners were a sight to behold when the sky was clearest.
Unfortunately those days were scarce due to the war or wars as we’ve come to know them. I leaned against the railing that guarded the port side of the medical craft and looked at the dirt field below me. I could still see the remains of the town that centuries ago had dominated this landscape. Clumps of gray ash were scattered like millions of mice frozen in time, devoured then expelled in a whirlwind of destruction. This place was now a ghost town, and it would forever be this way, regardless of whatever foreseeable future lay ahead.
“Sir,” a woman’s voice woke me from my thoughts.
“Yes?” I responded as I turned to look at her.
“We lost him, I’m sorry,” she said sincerely, with a hint of familiarity, if I noticed correctly.
“I understand. The surgeon did all that he could?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t enough. The messenger had lost too much blood. We can only spare a few pints per patient and the doctor had to take that into consideration as well.”
“I’m sure he made the right choice,” I said, not meaning to sound cold, but the loss of life caused little dread in our world anymore. We were a people with little purpose, and nothing more. The only quickening of my heart came when I gazed into her stare. The brown irises of her eyes drove into me like some kind of beautiful ornate piercing I had never experienced before. I was paralyzed by wonder as I beheld her. Her dark hair contrasted against her pale flesh, like night against day. Everything about her being carried over into her eyes, they were the gateway to her soul. It was not as if I had never seen a woman before, but she captured my attention.
I extended my hand towards her. “What is your name?”
“Coralene,” she said through ruby lips and perfect teeth. “You?”
“Gresham, May Gresham,” I said, perhaps a little redundantly. I was not used to first names in the Corps. I felt the need to clarify that my first name was not Gresham, not that it really mattered.
“May? That’s a beautiful name,” she said.
“Thank you; it was my grandfather’s name.” Our hands made contact with each other briefly, but I could tell that her skin was soft and warm. I was enraptured by her and did not want to be released from my captor. I felt like prey being seduced by my predator. I knew that I was in trouble, but I didn’t seem to care. All that mattered were those eyes, and that skin, and that smile.
I wasn’t sure how long I was staring into her eyes before the shockwave occurred, a concussion effect that seemed to emanate from underground. It was a sickening sensation much like falling to your death, or watching the blade of your adversary swing like a one way pendulum straight towards your face. I felt nauseated, the feeling kept spreading, and I was certain of asphyxia approaching as the heat evaporated the moisture in my throat. I watched as our bodies repelled from each other like oil and water poured violently into a cavity. The despair that I felt in my heart was unlike anything that I had ever imagined. The numbness of solitude had never bothered me in my life before. I was not prone to attachment, even to my next breath, but I was confounded and angry that my last thought drifted away from her.
Just as suddenly as the sensation had washed over me I found myself standing in front of her again, albeit with a certain recoil in my legs to keep from falling over. She looked immaculate, as if nothing had happened at all, and I could see the expression on her face move from puzzlement to acknowledgment as I collected my thoughts.
“Are you all right?” she asked, but I sensed that she already knew the answer. She knew because she was the cause of whatever the hell it was that had just happened.
“What did you do to me?” I asked sharply.
“I did nothing,” she said as she draped her hand over my shoulder. “It was merely a glimpse into the future, May. Nothing more.”
“A glimpse? I thought I was dying!” I struggled to regulate my breathing as the images reconnected in my mind.
“One of many possible futures. It is the gift—”
“Gift? Are you mad? That was not a gift,” I said, cutting her off. I rubbed my ashen hand over my eyes and pushed back the thoughts digging deeper into the crevices of my mind.
“It is a gift, only because it is triggered by a soul’s match.”
“Soul’s match? What are you talking about?” I asked, annoyed at my weakness, annoyed because I longed to look strong in front of her.
“My gift is to know predisposition. The future is already written based on the decisions we make. You can make any myriad of turns in life and yet the outcome of each is already known. Do you believe in fate?”
I hesitated. I had never given much thought to fate, something predetermined by a god or council of gods who toyed with us like puppets on a string. “I can’t say that I do,” I answered.
“I understand. Life has been hard for you, stripped you of any hope for faith,” she said sadly as she looked down at her hands, her fair skin reflecting the light of the suns in a shimmering kind of way.
“What if I could show you your fate?”
“Will it be as painful as what I just experienced?” I asked nervously.
“Perhaps, but you can endure it, I know that much.”
“Then show me,” I said. No sooner had the words escaped my lips than she was on me. With her arms wrapped around my body and her face shoved into my chest, she gripped me with a strength that I did not know she had. It took a moment for the vision to come, but when it did it was paralyzing. The craft on which we stood was engulfed in flames as a swarm of Daliqian bombers rained ordnance onto the area around us. The already ashen landscape was once again in flames, and I could see people much like myself scurrying to find relief from the heat that radiated around us.
My skin burned at the image that she was putting into my mind, it felt so real, so immediate. My mind could barely contain every nuance of detail, from the smell of charred flesh, to the sound of creaking metal that warped as the fires raged. Everything was alight with fire, and yet it felt cast into darkness at the same time, like I was watching the world burn from some faraway place.
Coralene’s grip on me eased and I looked down on her. Tears flowed from her eyes, eyes that seemed tinged with red, as if her tears were mixed with blood. I realized why a moment later when I looked at our surroundings. The images imparted by her gift were now a reality. I could not gather my thoughts on what to do quickly enough. An explosion ripped the deck apart beneath our feet throwing us in opposite directions. The dull sensation of the concussion made it feel as though time were standing perfectly still.
I was airborne for what seemed like years, even the feeling of my body hitting the deck of the craft was numbed by the sensation that could only have been the result of Coralene’s hold on me.
I scrambled to get to the nearest weapons depot to help guard the craft. I knew it was all for naught, everyone was going to die regardless of my actions, fate decreed it. Apparently fate did have a hold on our lives after all.
“Coralene!” I screamed, hoping she could hear me over the blasts erupting around us. She descended beside me almost immediately, her feet barely touching the deck beneath her.
“Now do you believe?” she asked, but I was too involved with defending the craft to answer.
I pulled the trigger and watched as the Daliqian bombers exploded in the air from each projectile I sent their way.
“Do you believe?” she asked yet again.
I turned my burning eyes toward her and could see a fierce intent in her eyes—I could tell she needed to hear that I believed her. I looked away like a coward and maintained my position, each pull of the trigger jarring my body as the recoil moved through me until Coralene placed her hands on my cheeks and turned me to face her.
“Do you believe?” she asked.
My eyes watered as the heat of the flames scorched the air that surrounded me. The only beauty in all of the chaos that surrounded us was the woman that I was looking at. Her eyes bore into me and tore at my heart in a way that I had never experienced before.
“Yes, I believe,” I gasped and realized that I choked down sobs as I spoke. “I believe.”
She wrapped me into her arms one last time as I felt the quake of destruction boil over us. I could not feel the pain as much as I felt the motion of falling. There was no fear, only expectancy. Life was over, and I had lost everything.
I heard her voice and felt her hands over my body. Everything felt like it was on fire and my eyes burned as I opened them. It wasn’t from the flames, but from the violet canopy under which we lay beneath the heavens.
“It’s all right, I’m here,” she said as I blinked and flinched, trying to figure out what had happened.
“What happened? I thought we were dead,” I said sharply.
“We would have been, had you not chosen to believe,” she replied, her hand rested on my chest. The violet hue lit up her face and I could see a bit of the landscape through the transparent parts of the canopy that she had created.
“What is this?”
“This is the power of belief. This is what has saved us. Our love and our faith.”
“How could this be? We should surely be dead.”
“We should, but we are not. Fate has given us a second chance to right the wrongs of this world.”
“How can we do this?” I asked. The concept of righting a world so full of hate seemed impossibly daunting.
“By teaching acceptance, by rewarding peace. That is our fate.”
“Surely you are mistaken,” I said. “This world does not crave peace.”
“Make no mistake about it, May. We have a bigger purpose here than destroying the world. Otherwise I would not have been sent to find you.”
“What do you mean you were sent to find me?”
Coralene sat up and the canopy warped to allow her new position to maintain cover. She looked up at the sky before speaking. “I am not a Hybrium; I am a messenger of the heavens.” She looked down at me with tears in her eyes. “I was sent to protect you in hopes that you would spread the word of peace across the land or else this entire world will die.”
Her story sounded too fantastic, too unreal. No one was ever chosen by the heavens. No one ever even spoke of the myths of heaven that had once circulated our world thousands of years ago. “Are you talking about the God of Heaven?”
“No one speaks of those myths anymore. Most of our history has been destroyed and condemned as lies.”
“He is aware, but that bears little on the truth.”
“Can you prove to me that this God really exists?” I asked.
“I thought I already had. You would not be breathing now if it were not for His existence.”
That was debatable given my recollection of the truth.
“If I can’t see for myself then I can’t believe,” I said hesitantly.
“You already believed. You told me so.”
“I meant I believed in what you showed me, not in some higher power.”
“What I showed you was a higher power,” she stated, clearly hurt by my doubt.
What had changed? I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt betrayed. I felt condemned to something that I was powerless to control and I needed, no craved that control.
“Are you going to prove this God’s existence or not?”
“If I show you then you will die, it is as simple as that.”
With every ounce of my will I wanted to cry out that she was toying with me, or it was toying with me. “Then let me die.”
“You don’t mean this.” She placed her hand on my shoulder. Her touch was cold at first but then it began to burn.
“I do,” I said as I grasped her wrist and pulled her hand away from me. I made eye contact with her one last time before the violet canopy dissolved, allowing the radiation and fire to fall onto my skin and scorch what was left of me. I strained to keep my eyes open, the pain welling up deep inside my damned soul. I knew that the end was coming, but I did not welcome it, instead it was regret that etched its name into my heart.
I should have believed, I should have had faith in what Coralene had to say, but I was faithless. I knew too much pain to want to know the truth. Ignorance was bliss, and far less painful.
My lungs burned as I breathed in the ashy ozone that had befallen this world. Predestination was not a choice. It was the cold truth that coursed over a world hell-bent on destruction, for there is no turning back—we would have all died whether I believed or not. It wasn’t a self-edifying truth that I finally realized the harsh reality of our peril. It was self-depraving acceptance. I was to die without knowing love, to end my time without knowing the essence of faith. I was to go about eternity as the ash beneath the feet of the victor.
My own shallow hell. My own shallow choice.
In those last moments of life, as I looked up at the shiftless form that was my Coralene, I noticed the imperfections scrawling across her skin. They began as small fractures that seeped a blinding light from the cuts that spread across her body. It reminded me of a marble form straining from the stress fractures that occurred over time. I was no longer breathing, but I could still see her fall to pieces like a paper doll caught in a flame. Her body fell away as my belief faded into the ash that now smothered my body.
An empty form of faithless woes, caught in the tumult of the end. Should I have believed, and basked in the shelter of a predetermined fate, or was I right to have shunned the concept all together? How do you come to terms with the end? How do you reconcile the vile, and the wretched, amongst a shadowed concept of its opposite, veiled by your peripheral vision, hidden in the deepest parts of your soul that cries out for what it does not have?
How do you live with the consequences of either?
“Time of death, 17:35,” Dr. Trive said to the nurse standing beside him.
I tried to blink my eyes but I could not. The triage room was filled with light that was much darker in contrast to the light above me. I looked up, then down, before I realized that I could see each perspective simultaneously. The nurse, Coralene, laid a gentle hand upon the forehead of what had been my body, torn to pieces by the Daliqian rebels, all for information that would have led to a peaceful resolution to the wars.
I felt a pain in what I had known to be my heart, yet it no longer existed. I no longer existed. My soul had been torn from my body and I had not yet passed over. According to the myths that surrounded death it was only a matter of time before my body breathed its last. I felt Coralene place tokens over my closed eyes, payment for the transfer to the other side. I felt it without having the sense of touch. I smelled the scene around me without having the sense of smell. I had no way of explaining it, but I just had a sense of being, of knowing.
Coralene pressed her beautiful lips upon my body’s own lips and kissed a final goodbye. She had been my nurse, but even more than that, she had been my wife. Now I was gone, the war had taken me away from her. She had told me at our wedding that she did not care about the fact that we were not of the same race that love was deeper than that. Love was a thing that dwelt and breathed deep in another’s soul. She had been my soul match.
The tears fell from her eyes, and her body gave a gentle quiver as the sobs welled deep inside of her. She placed delicate fingers along the ring that I had given her on our wedding day—it held much meaning to her. It was the only symbol of faith that I had ever shown her. A faith that I had not shared, but she had shared with me. She was right, she was always right, I thought to myself. I longed to kiss her goodbye as I felt the weight of the world around me fall away and I began to drift up and away.
My perception was changing yet again, but I kept sight of my Coralene.
All the way to the end.
Thank you for reading my story. If you liked it then I hope you will share it with your friends. You can find more of my work here.