The man sat on the beach and watched as the bright blue star settled on the horizon. He had no name because such things were superfluous when you were the only intelligent life in existence. When he had to give himself a label, it was usually that of “brown”, a characteristic of his highly tanned arms and legs.
The last of the fiery blue disc sank and the sky began to grow dark. Soon small points of light began to speckle the entire sky, the tiny dots forming patterns the man knew so well. He was unaware of when he had begun to notice the patterns. The man was also ignorant of how or when he had gotten here.
He knew the schedule of this place perfectly, so when the huge moon crept above the horizon, he wasn’t surprised. He could see lands and seas when it was illuminated by the star, but this time the disc was dark on the side that faced him. This allowed the man to see bright lines forming irregular shapes and strange geometries.
Growing sleepy, the man decided to return to the squat little hut that was his home. He covered the distance quickly, the luxuriant sand giving way to fine grass, the grass to pebbles, the pebbles to a slope covered in larger stones. He had no trouble finding his way, even in the dark, for he had covered almost every square mile—if not every square inch—of the planet. The man knew it all, and knowing the shape and size of his entire world gave him peace of mind.
When he finally reached the hut, he ducked through the low doorway and entered the one small room it contained. The structure was only three meters to a side, but it was large enough for all his needs. The man remembered when he had lived in a nearby cave, but after building the hut, he now only used that for food storage.
Stretching out on the springy fronds that comprised his bed, he closed his eyes. A light breeze stirred the large leaves that formed the hut’s roof, lulling him to sleep. He had no dreams. His night was peaceful.
It wasn’t until the star rose again that the man awoke. He got up, did the small amount of cleansing necessary, and left the hut. It was a beautiful morning and it appeared the weather would be pleasant for the rest of the day. He decided, on what seemed the spur of the moment, to walk around the planet. It had been awhile since he had completed a circumnavigation and he deemed it was time.
It was possible to complete the trip in the course of a single day, but it would require him to push himself. He had no desire go that hard, so he opted to make it a two day affair. He would stop for the night in the opposing hemisphere.
The man knew he wouldn’t need much in the way of supplies. The planet was fertile and had plenty of food if one was industrious enough to harvest it. Many of the plants were edible, tasty even. Almost all the small wildlife produced excellent meat, delicious when cooked with the right spices. The man rolled up his frond sleeping mat and stashed it and a couple of small hunting tools into a roughly sewn leather bag. He slung the bag over his shoulder and was ready to leave.
His bare feet had long ago grown accustomed to the different types of terrain found on the planet. The hot sands of beach and desert, the jagged rocks of the mountains, the grassy fields of the plains: all were enjoyed and cherished for their pristine beauty and solitude.
As he set out on his journey, he rejoiced. The trip would take him through lush forests, across mountain tops, along a beautiful beach, and then end with a short swim across one of the planet’s oceans. His heart felt as light as his feet.
Maxwell Dent—Captain Maxwell Dent to the men he commanded—stood on the command deck of the United Enclaves of the North cutter class ship “UENN Wake Darmekus”. It was a shiny new vessel Captain Dent was more than happy to command, even if it was only just a system ship. He wished it had been named something more fearsome, but since it was honoring a mythical hero, he couldn’t complain too much. The name didn’t really matter to him in the end. All that mattered to Captain Maxwell Dent—Dentist when he and his wife were alone—was the Cause, the Mission, and his Men.
That’s what was bothering Dent at the moment. He had his Mission and his Men, but where was the Cause? Picking up a science experiment off one of the ultra-elite pleasure moons didn’t seem worthy of such a glorious ship and crew. Weren’t there ships in distress that needed saving, starving colonies that needed food dropped to them, or space pirates that needed captured? All of these he had done before, but now he was stuck with this corporate transport job. How did Nex-Delta get the UEN to dispatch us? he wondered, wishing he hadn’t drawn this assignment. Dent had it though, and he, along with his men, would do the job in record time and to the best of their combined abilities.
“This pleasure moon isn’t very big. Why is it taking so long to find the target?” he asked, a hint of frustration entering his voice. They had circled around the small moon several times, but had yet to see any sign of the subject. After a moment of thought, an idea occurred to him. “According to the briefing, there is no way this guy could have gotten off the rock, so he must be underground somewhere. That’s the only explanation for where he went. Set the equipment to probe under the surface. We could probably see through the whole damn rock, but that might return false positives. Set the resolution for a depth of twenty meters for the time being. See if that returns any results.”
The ship’s communications officer configured the equipment with the appropriate settings and the ship began making passes. After a brief time the officer hailed the captain and told him a lone figure had been found in a cave five meters below the surface. Dent was angry with himself for not performing the depth scan earlier. The guy had seen or heard the ship, gotten spooked, and run to the nearest cave to hide.
“Keep the scan going and let me know if he moves. Bring the ship in as quietly as possible so he won’t get more spooked than he already is. This guy has been up here by himself for a long time, so it will be a bit of a shock when he sees us. He is considered valuable data and is not to be damaged, even if he resists. Is that understood?” All the crew nodded and gave a hardy “Yes, sir,” in answer.
A mantra of fear ran through the man’s head. What was the large thing that had just floated across the sky, near the horizon? Seeing it brought up a strange feeling of foreboding, a remembrance of something his mind fled from. If it was a moon, it was unlike any moon he had ever seen. It traveled in strange directions and changed course in unexpected ways. Its very presence raised many disturbing questions. The feeling he was being watched did little to ease his troubled mind.
Doing what came instinctively, he hid in a nearby shallow cave. Crouching against the back wall, he tried not to think about the moon that was not a moon. Perhaps it would go away and he could resume his trip around the planet. His favorite parts were just up ahead. As he thought about the rest of his day, a strange, throbbing sizzle of energy filled the air. It crackled and tingled. The hair on his body wave as if in a breeze, yet there was no wind in the cave. His heart began to thud and fear slamming back into his gut.
The man hated the sensation of the airless wind. Maybe could get away from it outside. Perhaps the moon that was not a moon had left and he would be safe to continue his journey. Cautiously, he stuck his head out of the cave’s mouth.
In the sky, directly over head, was the moon. The man’s knees began to shake so hard he almost fell back down the cave entrance. It was massive and very close. Its bright surface had magnificent, graceful curves unlike anything he had ever seen before. He knew it had been looking for him, had seen him. Now it was going to hunt him down.
The man froze with indecision. If he went back down into the cave, he would be trapped. Running away was equally dubious because the moon was very quick.
Just as he was about to decide between hiding and fleeing, the choice was taken from him. Several black shapes came rushing out of the scrubby undergrowth. They circled the spot the man stood on, cutting off any escape. At first he thought they were animals, but then he realized there were no creatures like this on the planet. Just before the forms reached him he realized they looked much as he did, with the requisite arms, legs, hands, and feet. Although he was filled with terror, the man felt a kinship with them.
“Sitrep,” Captain Dent ordered, his voice steady and demeanor calm.
“Sir,” a junior officer said, turning to face Dent. “DNA has positively confirmed the man’s identity. The doctors have run all tests ordered by Nex-Delta. Currently, the man is being held in a secure room in the infirmary and is still sedated.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Dent replied. The officer snapped a quick salute and turned back to his station. Well, that’s some good news at least, Dent thought. There had been a bit of a situation when they had tried to take the man off the pleasure moon.
The ground team had done a good job on the pickup. Dent supposed “capture” was probably the better term in this particular situation. The guy had tried to run, but the team reacted quickly and had taken him into custody. Thankfully the UENN Wake Darmekus was able to get underway quickly after his capture and would be planet side before their deadline.
Captain Dent let out a sigh of relief as the vessel continued to accelerate. He would be happy to get this guy off his ship and into someone else’s custody. Perhaps his next mission would be something he could really pour his heart into, something more honorable than being a taxi service.
The man awoke inside a cold metal cave, his head groggy. What is this place? he wondered, unable to control the ever present fear that now defined his life. The confinement and the abnormality of the situation ran against everything he knew.
A portion of the wall moved to the side and a man walked in. He was in drab, unfamiliar clothing. Before the man could resist or flee, the newcomer stuck him with a needle, forcing a bluish liquid into his body. The man jumped back, nervous the newcomer would try to stick him again.
“That’s the last injection. You’ll be on New Terra soon.” The newcomer’s voice was flat, inflectionless. “Try to be calm.” The man was shocked he could understand this other human. He wondered if he could speak back, but decided against trying. He’d used his voice in wild singing on the planet, but outside that, he’d always been silent.
After a short time, the newcomer left and the man was able to relax slightly. He looked around, seeing a small hole in the side of the cave. He walked over to look at it and was amazed to discover the moon he had seen every day was beginning to grow closer and closer. This caused a small measure of comfort to blossom. He understood the moon, it made sense. Soon, the large amorphous shapes began to resolve into tall, tightly packed structures with small wedges speeding all around them. Those are transports, he thought losing his reassurance. How do I know that? The sense of foreboding he’d had when he saw the moon that was not a moon returned. It was never a moon, he thought, despondent, it’s a starship.
The air felt cold and foreign to the man as he was lead down the ship’s ramp. It violated him, crawled along his skin in a way that made him feel sick. He was in shock, all the sensory input from the past few hours overwhelming him. Once at the bottom of the ramp, he was taken to one of the transports.
Once the man and his escort was inside the transport, they flew quickly through the tightly packed buildings. The speed terrified the man. It seemed at any moment they would crash into another transport or the side of one of the towering buildings. He wished he was back to his planet, walking on the sandy beaches. Finally, the transport jolted to a halt in front of a towering structure. It was an ugly building, but at least it had some grass and trees around it.
After he was taken out of the transport, the man was escorted through the building. His group was stopped many times to verify their credentials. After he was through all these stops, he was placed in a small room—Confinement once again—that had two chairs and a dim light hanging from one of the dank walls. In a way it reminded him of a cave, but without the snug feeling of comfort.
The wait could have been minutes or hours. Without a view of the star it was impossible for him to gauge how much time had passed. He hadn’t grown extremely tired or hungry, so he inferred a full day had yet to pass. The man couldn’t comprehend why all this was happening to him.
Just as he was deciding to sleep on the hard, uncomfortable floor, the single door opened and another man walked in. He was tall and lean with pale limbs and a yellowed complexion. Something seemed familiar about the newcomer, and the longer he looked at him, the more hatred welled up inside the man.
“My name is Sunderson,” the newcomer said, his voice slow, as if speaking to someone stupid. “Do you understand me?” As he asked, his already buggy eyes popped out even more.
“Yes…yes I do,” was all the man could offer in return, his voice was hoarse and rough around the edges. Where do I know him from? And why do I hate him so much? He cringed slightly as Sunderson sat down in the chair across from him, his popping eyes closer than ever. The man could see that Sunderson was enjoying the moment, savoring his discomfort.
“You wouldn’t know this, but your name is Gaul, John Bosemer Gaul. You also have no idea why you are here, or how you got on that pleasure moon.” The words were said with confidence, no hint of question.
The thought of not knowing his origin caused a queasy feeling to swell in the man once known as John Bosemer Gaul. He didn’t like the sensation and he didn’t like Sunderson. How did I never think of my past? He quickly searched his memory and found it lacking for anything about his origin or how to deal with Sunderson. He didn’t know what to do, so he just blurted out the first thing that came to mind: “How did you know I was on the planet?”
Sunderson looked puzzled for a moment. This made his popped eyes look even more grotesque and Gaul flinched away from him. Sunderson seemed not to notice and began speaking again. “Your skewed view of the cosmos had me slightly confused for a moment. Congratulations, that doesn’t happen very often.” After a slight pause he continued, “You, Mr. Gaul, were on the moon, while we here on New Terra were on the planet. You seem to have your labels confused. We knew you were on the pleasure moon because we put you there.”
Gaul was shocked, not so much because of the revelation itself, but because he couldn’t remember it being done. That was scary. He could have wept in frustration and confusion, but he held himself back because some deep part of him knew Sunderson would get a kick out of it. He couldn’t give the pop eyed man the satisfaction.
“You’ve grown awfully quiet. Don’t you have any questions?” The buggy eyes bored into him for a moment and then Sunderson continued, “I’ve given you quite a shock I see. I’m sorry.” Sunderson’s voice sounded kind and gentle, but the look on his face proved otherwise.
“As a matter of fact,” Gaul replied, his voice steeled with determination and resolve, “I do have a few questions.” He then paused for a moment to take a deep breath that belied his bravado. “Tell me why I was placed on this pleasure moon.”
“In order to explain that, I’ll need to go way back,” Sunderson said, his eyes bulging with excitement. “I’ll need to brief you on certain historical points. Of course, your full memory will be restored to you quite soon which will make all this information quite superfluous, but we have nothing else to do until the techs get the mental model downloaded, so why not?.” His eyes seemed to pulse in and out with the anticipation of his coming monologue.
“New Terra’s population has been growing exponentially. The wealthy can’t keep the poor population out of their sectors, no matter how hard they try. There are just too many people on this planet. Those who can afford it want to get off world, but the closest habitable planet is too far away for their convenience and nearer worlds would be too expensive to terraform. Nex-Delta, a leading corporation, has created a solution.
“Towing asteroids to New Terra orbits was costly. The process of creating atmospheres, landscapes, and ecosystems was even more so, but Nex-Delta, believing in the profitably of the venture, never balked at the expenses.
“Once the asteroids were nearly finished, Nex-Delta began advertising these perfect locations. Many of New Terra’s wealthy flocked to lease space on one of the six newly created ‘pleasure moons’. Before anyone was able to begin building though, the U.E.N. stepped in and put a halt to the burgeoning enterprise. Citing numerous regulatory laws with dubious ties to such a venture, they mandated the moons could not be habited until they had been extensively tested and proven safe. The truth was U.E.N. officials wanted moon properties, but couldn’t afford them. So they used extortion tactics. Nex-Delta said they would rather go through the testing process. It would take more time, but would be cheaper in the long term.
“That’s where you come in my fine friend,” Sunderson said as he got up and began to pace around the small room. “You were the test. We wiped your memory—we certainly can’t have you thinking all those old, dirty thoughts while in such a beautiful place—and then we let you live there for a while. You soaked it all in. The moons stayed in a stable orbit, there were no natural disasters. You were happy and fit, living in one of the few uncrowded and unspoiled areas known to humanity. We brought you back and saw how you were functioning. We tested you for radiation damage, along with a lot of other diagnostics. Apparently, you are doing quite well, at least from what the doctors on the U.E.N. ship tell me.” He stopped pacing and resumed his seat, bug eyes staring directly into Gaul’s own. It took all of his willpower to continue to stare back.
“At any rate,” Sunderson continued, leaning so far back in his chair that Gaul thought it would tip over, “you were brought back early. Those morons up at the U.E.N. Regulatory Commission changed a law in a last ditch attempt to extort Nex-Delta. We can no longer test on convicts and all experiments involving convicts must immediately cease. Thankfully, we’ve already gathered enough info between you and the other five subjects that we should be able to force the U.E.N. to allow us to start building residences. There is nothing harmful on the pleasure moons.” Sunderson glanced at Gaul as he continued to talk, and look of astonishment on the Gaul’s face made him to stop momentarily. “Please forgive me,” he resumed, his voice not conveying any type of regret. “I keep forgetting you have no long term memories. The convict reference will be explained shortly, after your memories are returned.”
Just then, the single door opened and a short man in simple white clothes walked in. “We are ready for him,” he said, his accent strange to Gaul’s ears.
“Time to go,” Sunderson exclaimed, voice brimming with a happiness that made Gaul feel sick. Sunderson then stood from his chair and motioned Gaul to walk before him. Ultimately, he knew he had no real choice, so he went obediently, trying to stay as calm as possible. The strangely accented man proceeded them, leading the way.
Their journey wasn’t far, just a couple doors down from the room they had previously occupied. On the way, Gaul noticed a large logo on the wall for Nex-Delta. Underneath it, a smaller sign read: “Special Projects Division”.
Once they entered the new room, Gaul noticed several more white clothed men stationed at various types of equipment. “Sit, sit,” Sunderson said expansively. “All we be explained soon.”
The chair Sunderson was motioning at was quite simple, but it had some type of halo on top that Gaul found unnerving. Once again feeling he had no other option, he sat and the white clothed men attached the halo device to his head.
As soon as they finished, Gaul began to feel sick. The room swam and his vision blacked out. He could still hear what was going on around him. The men chatting and laughing, talking about their plans for that evening. His head felt as if it were growing and shrinking convulsively. Gaul had no idea what was happening, but before he could analyze it further, his vision returned in a blinding flash of light.
For a brief moment he remembered everything. He recalled how he had been taken out of the prison and told by the Nex-Delta representatives he was being transferred. He would be alone. He would be in paradise. Pushing into even older memories, he recalled how the girl had screamed, bled, and died. He remembered how they all had. But then he felt something, a nagging twitch in his brain, as if something was being plucked from him.
He blinked. Why did they take me out of my cell? He blinked again. How did I get in this chair?
The lack of windows in cell block 7 gave Del Markum nothing to look at, unless you called the drab walls interesting, which he didn’t. He had no idea how long he’d been in the block, but he knew he would be here until he died. Everyone in cell block 7 was there till they died. That was just the way things were.
Time dragged on in the block, a slow, painful drudgery that drove people crazy. Yesterday was different. They had brought back old John Bosemer Gaul, Butcher of Nine Points. Markum could remember when Gaul had left the block, skin white and pale, limbs thin and gangly. Now he was fit, his muscles rippling under tan skin. The time between Gaul’s leaving and his return was so boring that Markum couldn’t remember any of it. It was like Gaul had never left. He was glad they had brought back the Butcher, because now he had something to watch. And they had placed Gaul in the cell directly across from him. Didn’t get much luckier than that.
Night and day, the Butcher cried. Big sobs racked his body, making him look like he was having seizures. It was unlike his old hard-as-synth-diamond self. Markum liked it though, and hoped it would never end. Pain, no matter what form it took, never lost its savor for Markum.
One thing he couldn’t understand was the meaning of the Butcher’s words. The man kept sobbing, relentlessly saying: “It’s gone. it’s gone.” He would repeat the words as if they were a mantra, tears flowing down his sunken cheeks. “It’s gone, it’s gone. My utopia is gone…”
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