When it came to the war, he was, as far as he was concerned, neutral and he was quite happy to sell weapons to either side for a fair price. Okay, so the Alliance had the most money and more than enough weapons as it was, but he had bills to pay. His ship wasn’t top of the line and something always needed replacing. He also took pride in his work. He could enter and re-enter the supposedly-but-never-really neutral sectors undetected and if stopped, his small craft contained so many secret compartments it was unlikely the opposition would find his illegal cargo. More importantly, he worked alone. You couldn’t be too careful who you entrusted information to in a time of war.
So how did it come to this?
He was sitting at the edge of a swamp. To his left was a creature of reptilian countenance. Its violet eyes weren’t on him, but instead stared intently out towards the snow-capped mountains beyond, lost in thought and every time it breathed its leathers, or possibly its muscles underneath, creaked. To his right was an equally well-muscled human sat atop a rock, absent-mindedly flicking pebbles into the turbid waters of the marsh. Neither of these two guards were what was most unnerving about the situation, despite the number of weapons littering their persons. What scared him to his very core was the female he could feel staring intently at the back of his skull. She didn’t have any weapons, she had a look and he had a strong feeling she was, in all likelihood, inside his head reading his every thought.
Their ship had attacked as he came out of the Perseus sector, on his way to the Alliance with another shipment of weapons and other armoury. They had been waiting for him. It had taken him only a few seconds to realise he was hopelessly out-gunned and he’d had no choice but to obey the command to set down on the prairie bordering the swamp. A smaller vessel than the one that had attacked him had landed alongside and his three current companions had alighted. As a last stand, he had drawn his weapon at them, but nobody had flinched. The female had approached him. The look in her eyes, those big blue never-ending eyes, suggested any further insubordination from him would end unpleasantly and he had re-holstered his gun. Maybe he had done it himself, or maybe she had done it for him. He wasn’t sure of anything any more.
The charge was simple. He had been providing weapons to the Alliance and those weapons had killed innocent people from races that had no ability to fight the oncoming hordes. Unsophisticated races, with basic technologies, that had yet to reach for the stars had found themselves erased or enslaved and he was responsible. “But what of the other gun-runners?” he’d asked.
“They are all answerable,” the female had said, “and their time will come.” The verdict was guilty and he had received his sentence. “You have a choice, either join with me in righting your wrongs or choose death.”
A simple choice, he’d thought. “And how long will I need to stay with you until my debt is paid?”
“For as long as I see fit. Your life and soul will be mine to command. Five years, ten years, perhaps even a hundred, no one can say but me, but then I will not tell you. Only when I feel you’ve paid for you crimes against the innocent will I release you. You will do as I say, go where I say. Your existence is no longer yours and you will stand with us against the Alliance.”
It wasn’t just her words. Her eyes had drawn him in. They were blue. There was nothing but blue…no iris, no white, just blue. They glowed with an internal light and he could’ve sworn he had felt her in his mind, testing his thoughts. There had been a notion, in the deep dark recesses of his brain, that if he said the wrong thing he would feel pain. He had felt as if he was poised on the edge of a mental abyss, the leap from which either leading to eternal repentance or a cavernous agony that, whilst instantly swift, would feel like it burned for a lifetime. “Just out of interest, how many choose death?” he’d asked, with a strained nonchalance.
“The majority. Precious few have displayed the strength of soul to kneel before me.”
So there he was, sitting on his boulder…debating his fate. Apparently, death was the easy option, although how it was going to happen was a matter of question. What of the other option, a hundred years of servitude, or more? He was in his forties and he had lived quite enough years already. In fact, it was miraculous he’d survived for so long in a war-torn galaxy. Especially in the rust-bucket he laughingly referred to as, “his ship”.
Nevertheless, the ancient brain part of him liked living. It clung desperately to life, just as the monkeys of old had clung to the trees while the lions circled underneath. It was the old survival instinct kicking in. The part of him that drove his adrenalin, always keeping him a step ahead of either battle line, screamed at him to run. Metaphorically or physically, it wanted to run, to live, to exist…but his existence would not be his to choose. She would choose.
The oppressing silence continued. They were on a neo-world and no animal calls could be heard, just the sounds of stones hitting the water’s surface and creaking muscles. With little to distract him, his brain did the impossible, or more likely, the inevitable; it began to address the subject of; what he’d been doing. Undeniably, pretty much all the weapons he’d trafficked had gone to the bigger side and it was obvious to him they hadn’t really needed them. Then there was the question of the primitive cultures they had wiped out. People who’d only ever beheld the night sky and seen just tiny dots of light had ended up subjugated at the end of his weapons; subjugated by races inhabiting the solar systems around those distant, unassuming stars. Species destined for unknown greatness had vanished, their evolution cut short by conquest and slavery. What he definitely didn’t know was, whether these thoughts were his deliberations alone, or whether she was guiding them.
The trouble was, unlike many smugglers, he did have a conscience. It was there, albeit buried deep within his psyche. Sometimes the thoughts raised their ugly heads, but a nice lump of precious metal pressed firmly into his palm could usually quash them. Unfortunately, there was no sign of precious metal on the horizon and knowing he had nothing to suppress them, the thoughts hammered on the inside of his skull in a desperate bid for freedom.
He eventually made up his mind. He didn’t know if there was a specific way to voice his answer, so he plunged forward with the first words that came to him “Alright…I’ll join you.”
She finally smiled. “Good. Come with us.”
His beloved rust-bucket remained on the planet’s surface, its molecules entwining with the planet’s young life.
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