Timothy ran over the open ground and fired a dozen of grenades out of his rifle.
There was a dawn mist that suddenly got all red and yellow with explosions in front of him.
More explosions followed, and he turned around to see Marv and Sornia among a group of elite troopers running behind him, firing their weapons and trying to catch up to his sprint.
The ground shook, the mist grew more colorful. He ignored it all and made it through the first of fox-holes, dead bodies of the enemy scattered around.
Suddenly, the enemy returned the fire, and the ground around became alive, projectiles bouncing off his armor, stones and debris flying around.
He turned the nob on his rifle and started to spray them with hp projectiles, not stopping his mad run.
With each yard he crossed, the enemy fire intensified, and he knew he should duck in one of the fox holes, look for cover, protect himself. Regroup his forces, wait for reinforcements.
But his legs did not listen. They just continued on, and on, and on. And his gun made the enemy troopers dance a dance of death, his rifle playing the rhythm of their demise.
He knew his armor would not last forever, and, just when that thought occurred to him, the grenade, or most likely a droid-killer projectile, had hit him in the shoulder and took that part of the armor off.
For a second, he thought that maybe his left hand blew away together with the piece of torn-off armor. But he raised it in front of his eyes with a thin stream of blood running down from his shoulder.
It did not matter. He felt no pain and had to go on.
Could not stop. It was just a few more yards, just a bit more. Just to the station, and then it would be all over.
Hopefully no more DK projectiles, he thought, making a crazy-fast dash even faster.
The next projectile hit him… he did not know where, but he knew he got hit because he was laying down flat, his helmet off, the taste of dirt and blood in his mouth.
Can’t stop. Not now.
He kneeled up. No pain. The gun still worked, and the enemy paid the price.
He got up, no more protective armor on him. He turned around to see it scattered around.
It mattered not. He fired the last of the energy out of his rifle, then took his pistol out, jumping the last remaining yards, nailing the bullets into the foreheads of the gate guards, opening the door, and loading the code in their server. With his left hand, bloodied to his fingertips.
Then it all got quiet. The mist stopped to bleed and cry death. It was all over. He won. He knew he did. There was no more enemy, anywhere. All dead.
When he got out of the station he looked back where he came from. It all looked so different from that point of view. He could see nothing. He walked backward, staring at the mist, trying to find the way back.
That’s where he found them. First Marv. His eyes open still looking at him. He knew he was dead before he got to close his eyes.
A few steps away, Sornia was laying down, a big red pool of blood where her stomach should have been. Her dead eyes did not even look at him, staring somewhere at the sky above as if asking how could this have ever happened.
He woke up gasping for air.
The nightmare had drenched the whole of his body in sweat.
He was inside his quarter. The old freighter. Alone. He rubbed his eyes, got up to feel the old metal floor under his feet. Put some clean clothes on and see his old friends.
He opened the door and called. But nobody answered.
The mist from his dream did not leave his head yet, and he stumbled a few times as he made his way to the bridge.
It was empty. Not only empty. Half of the screens there were dark.
Was it a dream within the dream? He rubbed his eyes hard and then opened the channel, not really expecting to hear anyone answer.
“Anybody here?” he called. “Hello? Anybody?”
He was ready to shut it down, but then the recognized voice came through. “Hey, body.” Marv’s voice answered. “You’re up?”
“I think so. Where the fuck is everyone?”
“Sornia is giving me a hand here in the Engineering. Rummy and Slicky are taking a break.
Oh, yeah, Slicky. Completely forgot about that fella.
And what else did I forget about?
Timothy scratched his head. “What the fuck happened, and where are we?”
“Oh, boy, do we have a story for you. Come down here and give us a hand, and we’ll tell you all about it.”
Timothy emptied two cups of coffee inside of himself and then went down to Engineering. As he sat down, they told him everything that happened during the last two days.
He sat there and listened to it quietly.
“And you don’t remember the shit about it?” Marv asked after they told him everything.
“No, man. I remember… not even the jump. Shit, my family…?”
Marv got up from under the inductors. “What is important is that you’re still alive, man. We were losing you there.”
“I know, I know… I know… I… think I need to go and lay down and think…”
“Well, we got to fix this engine fast. Even the thrusters are not working. We’re sitting dead in here.”
Timothy sighed and put his hand supportively on Marv’s shoulder. “All right. Give me a few minutes, and I’ll see if I can help. You okay, Sornia?” he asked as he turned to look at her.
“Never better,” she said and smiled at him.
Seeing her alive, smiling, finally started to push the ugly dream away.
But his mind was anywhere from being right. Back in his quarter, he paced around, thinking, trying to piece it all together.
Then he connected to the link and opened the line to his family estate.
He thought nobody would answer, especially since he used his real name. But soon, the voice you can never forget came over the speaker.
“Hi, Tim. I thought you may call.”
“Hi, mother. How are you?”
“I’m fine. And you?”
“Okay, I guess. Still piecing together what happened.”
“I can’t talk about those things, so, please don’t ask me.”
That left Timothy in an awkward position. “I need to know what happened.”
“I cannot explain to you even if I wanted to, son. Your uncle Cron was the one that authorized the payment for your recuperation. That’s all they told me. So, if you need to know more, you should ask him.”
“And he is probably not available now, is he?”
His mother smiled. “You were always a smart one.”
“Do you think I pick that from you or from dad?”
She sighed then. “You know, I often think about that night and think what could have I done, how could I have prevented what happened. If I gave you the proper care, if I was more of a mother than a…”
“Why, you regret I killed you lover?”
“Don’t be nasty. That man meant nothing to me. It's about you! You’ve lost your citizenship back then! And you have been on the run ever since. You’ve been in exile for so long now. And for me to hear your voice now… You have no idea what it means to me.”
“It’s not your fault, mom.”
“Oh, come on.”
Timothy rubbed his head. It started to hurt again. “No, you know it’s true. It was nobody’s fault by my own.”
“Well, it’s been so many years now. But… I’m working to get you back.”
“I don’t think it can happen. No lawyer can change that.”
“There is someone who can.”
“There is this new presidential candidate. You’ve met him once.”
“You're not talking about Rampiun, are you?”
“Yes. I’ve met him personally a few times during the last month. He has promised if he gets elected, he would pardon you.”
“Mom, don’t be stupid. That man is a whole freighter load of shit cramped inside one body. I can’t believe you would support him.”
“He could do so much good for us.”
First time talking to his mother after so many years have gone by, and he felt the same urge of helpless frustration overcome him. He knew better than to try. It would be useless.
“Dad supports him too?”
“Can’t talk about your father. He made me promise him not to talk about him to you. But, he knew you would call.”
“Oh, he is still upset.”
“You pulled a gun on him!?!”
“Yeah, yeah, I did," Timothy said and then chuckled. "Imagine how he would feel if I had actually shot his ass back then.”
“Don’t even say that.”
“Do you think he would ever forgive me for that? On the other hand, if he wanted his own blood spilled in Mith’s War, he should have enlisted himself, not me. And before you say anything, I know he's the one that made the deal for me to go to the army.”
“You were so rebellious, so mischievous. He thought it would do you good.”
“Oh, he was right about that. It did do me good. You know, there are whole systems where I can't land how wanted I am.”
"That's your own doing, son."
Timothy rubbed his hand, stopping himself from saying anything else, knowing that he did not want this conversation to go the way it did. He took a cup of water and drank it, trying to calm himself down.
“Look, it’s better that I stay as far away as I can from you all. I’m sorry my friends had asked for your help.”
“No, don’t say that. We are glad that we could have helped.”
“I know, I know you are. But I need answers, and nobody can give them to me.”
“Maybe you need to find them on your own.”
“Maybe. But at least I know now I’m not a crazy kid imagining blue screens like my father wanted me to believe.”
“He tried to help. The way I understand it, you have no idea how dangerous that thing is. And, and… please stay away from it.”
Another try, another brick wall. How can he go about getting some answers? Maybe he’ll connect to the damn thing again. As soon as they get back to the station. The way Marv had explained it, the blue screen uses an awful lot of energy.
“Well, at least, I am glad to hear you guys are all okay, right?”
“Yes, we are.”
“I was thinking just the other day. Kind of admiring you, actually. You guys have been together for so long. Most couples hate each other after a few years together.”
“I know. A lot of my friends ask me about that, every year.”
“And what do you tell them?”
“They would need to know your father a bit better to understand it.”
There was a lot Timothy wanted to say to that, but he kept his mouth closed.
“If you knew him better, you would probably feel different.”
“Sure. We can do that. Tell him to stop by. I’ll be at Cheer’s Bar and Grill Tonight, and we'll fix that up in no time."
“You think you are funny, but you’re not.”
“Well, anyway, thank you for taking care of… my health.”
“Don’t mention it. I’d also like to send you enough credits for rejuve. I bet you did not have one in years. You can just send in your account code, and we’ll take care of it. Nobody needs to know.”
That was the last on Timothy's mind. Yet the thought jingled there. Is he smarter now? Is he going to take their money?
“I don’t know, mom. I’m doing okay.”
“Look, You don't even need to come to the Union space for that. They have a clinic on Eisa that does the same thing.”
“Well, there won’t be any rejuve clinics on any outside planets if your darling Rampiun gets his way."
“Oh, he just talks tough.”
“Mom, stay away from that guy. Please, promise me, you’ll stay away from that guy. I’ve seen a lot of men like that. Their stories and those around them always end up bad.’
“Ya, ya, ya. You all want me to promise you stuff. Can’t I live my own life for once?”
“Sure you can. Well, give my love to everyone, even the person we are not supposed to talk about, okay?”
“You need to go so soon?”
“Yes I do.”
“What? People to kill, ships to raid, planets to burn.”
“Something like that.”
“You know, you’ve got some reputation here. But I still love you. Just remember, whatever you do over there, don’t mess with the Union. They are leaving you alone now, but if you try and raid their ships, you will be…”
“I know, mom. Don’t worry.”
“I love you, kid.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t.”
“Maybe you should have a kid of your own and then try to explain things to someone that does not have kids. When are you getting married?”
“Oh, what am I saying? I’ve got so many grandkids, two hundred and five. Maybe I don’t need another one.”
“Yeah, and if your candidate has his way, you will need a very complex permission to have a child.”
“That does not sound so bad. I know a lot of people who should not have children."
Timothy chuckled. “Maybe you forgot what is not to have a choice, not to have freedom. Well, anyway, I hope you stay safe. I’ll see… if we talk soon.”
“Fine. You let me know if you need anything. And stay off the blue screen! How the hell did you even get connected to it??”
“Thank you, mom.”
“Yeah, they wanted me to ask you that.”
Timothy could guess that, but it was nice she admitted it. Ignoring it, he smiled and said, “Thank you. Thank you for giving me life, and saving it.”
“You don’t need to say it. My only regret is not giving you more.”
“No matter what they say about me?”
"They can all go and fuck themselves!” She said half enraged.
That made Timothy smile. After everything, he found it very hard to disconnect. "It was good to hear you. Bye," he said and pulled himself out before his mother could say another word. It was easier that way.
The door opened without the knocking and Sornia was there. “What’s up?” she asked. “Got any answers?”
Timothy just shook his head as an answer, then continued to stare at the floor in front of his bare feet.
“You look different,” Sornia said.
“I feel different.”
She came and set down on the bed next to him.
“You know, I’ve been thinking,” he started to say.
“Maybe, after all this is over, we can… take it easy for a while.”
Sornia nodded her head in affirmation. “I think I would like that.”
“No need to take crazy risks anymore.”
“I could not agree more.”
Timothy sighed, feeling the pressure in his chest being lifted a bit by bit, the thought of him leaving the game providing the relief. “I, I need to tell you. I had this weird dream. It was like one of them…”
“More than that. A sort of wakening dream, if I can call it so. Like, you know it is true even though it is a dream. Like a, like a premonition thing. It was like, combining what had happened in the past combined with what is happening in the present and mixed together with the things that will probably happen in the future.”
“I do not know what you mean.”
Timothy took a deep breath and put his hand on her cheek, ever so gently. “What I mean is that I do not plan to lose you.”
“That’s good,” she said and pulled him close enough to press her lips against his.