Chapter 9 Bitter Exchanges
Darkness filled my vision; not a sound could be heard. Even Mary had ceased crying. It was as if a shadow had been cast over my soul. I felt nothing, save emptiness. Just who was this girl standing before me? Surely it couldn’t be my sister? No, Edith had become something entirely different, just as I had after the war, but what had caused her to change? Was it by my hand? Did I cause her to become this monster?
Edith continued staring down at me, her gaze unrelenting. She felt so distant when in reality I could have reached out and touched her. I was thankful when Mary stepped in front of me so that Edith no longer stared at me with those piercing eyes.
“You were,” she sobbed, “my closest friend.” Her voice quavered with anger and sorrow.
“I poured my heart out to you and you did the same for me! Now, you’ve destroyed everything! How could you do this to me?” She grimaced in horror. “How could you do this to your own brother?”
Mary struck her jaw, causing Edith to stumble backward. She leaned against the wall for support and glared at Mary, her expression no different from before.
I finally rose to my feet. “Enough of this!” I shouted, stepping between them. I looked at Edith, trying to hide my anger as best I could. “Why did you do it, Edith? Whatever your reason, know that you have sealed humanity’s fate with this act.”
Edith smiled as she returned to her calm, cheerful self. “I did it for you, Conrad.” She breathed.
“Oh, please!” Mary scoffed.
“Silence!” I demanded. “Explain yourself!”
Edith frowned and shrugged her shoulders.
“Gael told me that if he reached the Omega Point, he could open your mind and return your emotions. I told you that I was willing to do anything to get my brother back. I will wipe out humanity if I must.”
“You monster!” Mary yelled, shoving me aside. “Did you actually think that Conrad wanted you to do something like that? Can’t you see that he’s accepted his fate? He’s perfectly content with me,” she glared at her, “or is that really why you did it? Could you not stand it that your brother had broken free from the chains you bound him in? You were just too selfish to be happy for him—happy that he’s in love with me and is moving on with his life!”
“Enough!” I yelled hoarsely. Their attention quickly turned to me. “In a matter of weeks, perhaps merely days, the four of us will be the only humans in existence. We cannot let our quarrels blind us to our duty. We have to stop Gael before he reaches the Omega Point. Mary, do you remember the coordinates for the Gaelturi’s headquarters?”
“You can’t be serious, Conrad!” She exclaimed, outraged. “You’re taking her side? The war was finally over and she—”
“Made a mistake.”
Mary’s eyes flashed with anger.
Suddenly, I thought back to how Edith had said that it would only take one mistake to make us enemies. Had she been planning this all along?
“She made a mistake? She doesn’t seem to think so!” Mary yelled, crossing her arms.
“If we are to have any hope of stopping Gael, we must stay united. I will not ostracize her! Now, give me those coordinates!”
“How can you be so callous?” She asked, her eyes filled with tears. “She took my mother and my sister from me! Before long, she’ll take you as well! I know it!”
“I had expected someone who had a great deal of foresight for this tragedy to have been steeled for it. Those who willingly embrace pain and sorrow do not warrant pity.” I rasped coldly.
Even Edith portrayed an expression of surprise upon hearing my cruel remark. My anger was directed toward myself more than anyone, yet only Mary received the sting of my volatile rage. I was furious with myself for allowing this to happen. It would have been so simple to prevent, but neither Mary, her sister, nor even her mother took any action against the disaster that they knew loomed over them. Did we deserve any less for our apathy?
Mary stared at me. Even the engineer could plainly see that her heart was breaking.
“How can you say that . . . and within these walls we built with our own hands?” She clenched her teeth. “I poured my love for you into every formula! I thought that you had done the same!”
“Mary, presently, our vessel is in danger! Now, enter those coordinates before the Gaelturi fleet detects us!” I demanded.
“Let them come! You could surely find a place among them, you heartless monster!” Mary cried and ran off into the back room.
I released a heavy sigh and returned my attention to Edith who was staring out the port window at the Gaelturi fleet.
“Do not think for a moment that you are innocent in this, Edith!” I said and firmly grasped her shoulder. “I understand that you might not have foreseen Gael wiping out all of the Maidens, but that is what happened and you are responsible.”
Edith laughed and shook her head.
“I was counting on it, Conrad.” She breathed.
“Oh? Were you hoping to grant the Gaelturi their freedom so that we would have the entire universe to ourselves?” I asked mockingly. “Did Mary and Daiva just happen to be with me when you made your move?”
“No. Everything went accordingly.” Edith said with a smile. “Gael did not wish for his sister to perish and Daiva’s part in his plan is crucial. That was all he said, and that he could help me restore your mind.”
“Help? You’ve done quite enough help!” I yelled. “Perhaps if you share his plan with me, I won’t turn you over to the Matriarchy once this is all over.”
“What? Brother, please listen to me! I did it all for you!” She protested.
”Brother? You have no right to call me that! Let go of the past, Edith! I’m not the brother from your childhood and I never will be again! Why can’t you simply move on instead of harming others with your own selfish desires?”
She laughed, trying vainly to refrain from shedding any tears. “Let go of my past? Right, just like you did! Well, you still have your revolver, don’t you?” She asked, indicating my holster. “Why don’t you shoot me in the head so I can forget everything and be a mindless machine like you?”
I glared at her and placed my hand on my revolver.
“Keep at this treachery and I may have no choice but to do just that.” I said, holding back none of my malice.
Edith’s entire body shook with fear. I had never seen her so distraught.
“Mary was right . . . You are a monster.” Edith whispered, her voice quavering.
She stumbled and fell to the floor. On instinct, I reached to help her, but she smacked my hand away and ran back into the hold.
I stood in front of the door and laughed to myself.
“Only one mistake and you would be my enemy . . .” I sighed. “That’s what you said, right, Edith?”
She cried so fervently when she realized that and rightfully so, for it was true. If I could, I would have cried then as well. How long had she been devising this scheme? She knew how I would react, so why did she do it? Is she willing to suffer this much to help me?
I sighed and flopped down into the pilot’s chair. Daiva quietly walked over and stood next to me. She gave me a critical look. We didn’t have to speak for me to understand her.
“I know.” I removed my hat and ran my fingers through my hair. “I accused them of wasting time with arguing and proceeded to only heat the dispute.”
Daiva frowned and looked out the observation window at the Gaelturi fleet.
“Well, if Mary won’t give me those coordinates, I can at least get us away from that fleet.” I said, reaching for the controls.
Daiva abruptly grabbed my wrist.
I furrowed my brow. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to save our lives.”
She did not speak, but promptly entered a set of coordinates into the navigation chart. A small planet with an azure glow appeared on the view screen.
I gasped when I observed it more closely.
“Haul?” I paused. “I assume this is where they’re hiding? Strange . . . This planet has no star close enough to provide any heat. How does it support life?”
Daiva stared at me, displaying a puzzled look.
“Can you even understand me?”
“Hm-m-m. I will have to see to it that you are taught English or German.” I said, taking mental notes of what words she would have to learn in order to infiltrate Gael’s headquarters.
“Communication is vital if we are to defeat Gael. Still, I am amazed that you knew where to find them. Has Nerys’s power given you some prescience on the Universe? Will we ever be able to understand that plane of existence?” I smiled. “I suppose you do, of course.”
I laughed pleasantly and engaged the engine. We eventually reached full impulse and were on a steady course for the planet, Haul.
“Hopefully it will have some other means of heat . . . That blue glow is mysterious. A shield perhaps?” I said speculatively.
I stood up to face Daiva. I decided it would be best to introduce myself. I held out my hand and she took it without hesitation.
“Conrad,” I said, indicating myself.
“Conrad,” she repeated.
I nodded and she pointed at the door to the other room.
“Edith and Mary—friends,” I said pleasantly.
She glared at me. Obviously, that wasn’t what she meant.
“I suppose I should apologize . . .” I sighed. “We can’t let our feelings stop us from saving humanity, and perhaps I was quick to judge them both. Who knows what Edith could be going through right now, and after I threatened to kill her . . .” I leaned back in the chair and stared out the observation window. As for Mary, she already knows what she will have to face. I’m a fool. I should be spending as much time with her as possible before her fantasy ends.”
I walked into the main hold. The door slammed behind me, echoing throughout the silent chamber. Edith was seated at my desk while Mary lied on the bottom bunk. She was pretending to sleep, though I could hear her faint sobs.
I walked over to Edith and laid my revolver on the desk.
“I’m sorry, Edith. You know that I could never hurt you.” I said sincerely. “I’m just confused. I don’t understand why you would help a man take so many lives just to restore my emotions and I doubt I ever will . . . Though, if it brings you any comfort, I will entrust my revolver to you, but do be careful. It only has three rounds.”
Edith looked down at the revolver and then up at me.
“Why are you apologizing?” She whispered hoarsely.
“Why am I apologizing?” I asked in amazement. “I threatened to kill you, my own sister!”
“You may have threatened me, but I took lives, Conrad, billions of them!” She cried, rising to her feet. “I betrayed you, insulted you, and worst of all, I tore you and Mary apart!”
I shook my head. “The words that broke Mary’s heart came from my foul mouth, not yours.”
“Why can’t you just stay angry with me, Conrad? How can you ever trust me again?”
I smiled and wiped away her tears.
“I can trust you because you’re my sister, Edith, and like I said, I know that you would never harm me.”
“Stop, Conrad, please stop! Don’t forgive me! I am going to harm you and it will hurt more than any physical pain you could ever experience!” Edith cried and embraced me.
I smiled and caressed her back.
“Then,” I sighed, “I will trust that whatever pain I withstand on your account will be to strengthen and not destroy me.”
“Oh, Conrad! I should have known you’d say something crazy like that.” Edith laughed. “May I call you brother again?”
“Of course, Edith! I will always be your brother no matter what may come between us!” I assured her.
She smiled uneasily and nodded.
Just what could she have planned?Whatever it is, I’m certain that it will bring her much more sorrow than it could ever bring me.I could see the dread in her eyes. How it hurt me to see her this way! She looked so desperate! Did I truly mean that much to her? Whatever she had planned, it was so unethical that she couldn’t even tell me.
No. I have to trust her.
I silently walked over to Mary and sat down next to her on the bed. I placed my hand in hers and she looked up at me.
“There’s no need to apologize, Conrad. I should be the one apologizing.” She managed a smile. “You were right. I was wrong to act the way I did because I know that everything will be fine.”
”Fine? What exactly does that entail?” I asked.
“Listen to me, Conrad. I wasn’t angry at Edith for what she did. I’m angry with Edith because I know what she’s going to do to you! You’re going to experience a lot of pain before you return to your Reich. All I want is to help you through these dark days that lie ahead.” Mary whispered, being certain that Edith could not hear her.
“Thank you, Mary. I place my trust in Edith as well. She also warned me of what is to come.” I frowned. “We cannot decide our own fates. Whatever darkness looms over me, I will face it, and with you by my side, I can rest assure that we will overcome it.”
Mary looked away, bearing an expression of guilt.
Does she know Edith’s plan? I suppose she would tell me if I asked.
I reached out to touch her shoulder but she quickly drew away. How can I ask anything of her after all she’s suffered for me? Either way, it would do little to change my fate . . . or would it?
“Will you listen to me, Mary?” I asked tenderly.
She stared up at me, her eyes swelling with tears.
I paused and pulled her closer to me.
“Conrad!” she exclaimed. “Your sister is—”
“I asked you to listen.” I said flatly.
She stared at me, our faces nearly touching.
“After I am gone, I want you to remember this: I love you, Mary.” It was a lie and I knew it. Despite all that she had done for me, I felt nothing, or, better said, I had no idea what I felt. It is true that Daiva had taught the engineer joy, but love was still unknown to him.
Mary smiled brightly, though it only made my heart sink. She embraced me. It felt so empty.
She laughed pleasantly. “I must say, Conrad, you are an outstanding liar!”
I had been so sincere! How could she tell I was speaking falsely?
“How did you know I was lying if I’m so great at it?” I asked shamefully.
“Do you honestly think you wouldn’t be conscientious enough to write in your journal that you lied to me?” She asked, trying to contain her laughter.
I smiled and shook my head. It pleased me to know that she understood me so well.
“What disgrace! I suppose I can’t keep anything secret from you.”
“That isn’t true. I’m sure you didn’t write everything in that little book.” Mary said suspiciously.
I gave her a confused look.
“Mary, are you not furious with me?” I asked in shock. “I just falsely claimed to love you.”
“That’s fine, Conrad!”
“Oh, now don’t you lie to me!”
“I’m not lying!” She exclaimed. “I’m getting to live my fantasy, Conrad! All throughout my life, I’ve dreamed of meeting you. It’s all right if you don’t love me.”
Now I was certain that was a lie.
I furrowed my brow and took her hand.
“Mary, how does it feel to love?” I asked with more desire than I ever had. It was what I had sought throughout these past four years of wandering in darkness, blind to everything around me.
She paused and stared down at our hands.
“How does it feel?” She whispered. “It’s . . . more than a simple feeling. Love isn’t just something you feel, Conrad. It’s something you do. You sacrifice yourself for someone and you give them all that you have. In turn, that person does the same for you. That is love.”
Love isn’t a feeling? Then, have I loved her this entire time? I would certainly sacrifice anything for her, including my own life.
“I understand what you said, but if that’s so, then how do you feel towards me?” I asked.
She laughed pleasantly. “There’s a difference between admiration and love, Conrad.”
“Ah, I see.” I murmured.
Then was she only admiring me this entire time? How could I even tell if she loved me?
Mary jumped up in revelation.
“Oh, the coordinates! I’ll go enter them for you!” She said excitedly and began walking toward the door.
“Actually, Mary, Daiva already entered them.”
She abruptly turned around.
“Oh, of course . . .” She said embarrassedly.
“If you’ll excuse me, I believe I will go and speak with her.” I said and rose to my feet.
She nodded and stepped aside. I promptly returned to the pilot’s chair where Daiva awaited, standing by the observation window. I decided to teach her as much English as I could before we arrived at Haul. She took to the language with astonishing speed. I suspected that perhaps some of her memories, such as dancing and language, had survived in her subconscious.
Several hours passed before we reached the planet, Haul. I spent this long respite teaching Daiva as well as writing in my journal. Finally, the planet came into view. I gazed in awe at its dark surface that possessed a faint glow of blue. I saw no star within range to provide ample heat. I had no choice but to trust that the planet’s core provided enough energy to support some amount of life.
Edith and Mary entered the main hold and joined me in my observations. Daiva, however, did not seem the least bit interested.
“Do you know any details about this . . . body?” I asked inquisitively. “It can’t be called a planet without a system. The thing is completely stationary!”
“All I now about it is what I read in your journal. We’ll survive . . . for awhile at least.” She said, crossing her arms.
“And how long is awhile?” I asked sternly.
“Do you remember how you and Edith nearly died when you first arrived? It’s similar to that, only not quite as drastic. Your bodies had absolutely no tolerance for seren, so we had to put you both in a controlled environment and administer it to you through small, stable doses.”
“I suppose that this planet has a great deal more seren than Earth, and our bodies won’t be able to function for long under such conditions?” I speculated.
“To put it simply, that planet is no different from Daiva. It possesses a limitless wealth of the crystal; it is a part of Nerys that entered our plane of existence—ground zero for seren.”
“How intriguing!” I exclaimed. “Though, I must know if you have an estimate as to how long we will survive.”
“Who can say?” She shrugged. “A year? A day? Perhaps one would simply become like Daiva if they took up permanent residence.”
I sighed. “Well, if the three of us perish, then at least Daiva will remain to carry on the fight.”
“No! You cannot die!” Daiva yelled and embraced me.
“She can speak?” Edith asked, pleasantly surprised.
“I taught her some terms I felt would be necessary on this mission.” I said and put my arm around her. “Hopefully, I will be able to continue her lessons. What else do you know, Mary?”
“That’s the only danger we will face until the Gaelturi returns. It is devoid of all animal life, however, a wide variety of plants are able to thrive on the seren’s energy. I doubt that food will be a problem, and the Gaelturi won’t be able to detect our vessel’s seren output.”
“What about new clothing?” I asked indicating their outfits. “I doubt that you and Edith will want to wear those dresses out in the wild and Daiva is still in her medical gown.”
“I’m sure we could find some wild cotton. We could also raid a Gaelturi outpost for supplies.” Edith suggested.
“If we find an outpost we’ll definitely take what we can.” I smirked. “I doubt any of you would appreciate my humble tailoring.”
Mary sighed. “Anything would be better than these ball gowns. I suppose we will use the Rhiannon for shelter?”
“If what you said is true, that they won’t be able to detect us, then yes.” I said pleasantly. “We will have to use it when we make our assault as well. We’ll be able to watch the radar for Gael’s fleet,” I indicated the currently silent device, “but are you certain that they will even return to Haul?”
“Yes, they will have to come here in order to initiate the ritual that will allow them to reach the Omega Point. With all of those souls Gael recently acquired, I’m certain that they’re ready.” Mary said and gave Edith a skeptical look.
“Of course. If we destroy the crystal, will that be enough?” I asked hopefully.
“I suppose that would stop them, but it would be much easier to just kill Gael.”
“Kill him? He’s your brother, Mary!” I exclaimed.
“That monster is not my brother!” She yelled. “He took the lives of billions just so he could run away! My mother and sister had faith in him that he would change and look what their mercy earned them! Take whatever chance you get to kill him.” She crossed her arms. “If you don’t, then I will!”
I nodded solemnly. “I understand. Now, let’s head to the surface and get our bearings.” I said, taking the pilot’s chair.
As we entered the atmosphere, I immediately felt the changes in the concentration of seren. It was a strange sensation, resembling a stimulation more than a sickness. I wouldn’t describe it as unpleasant but it was far from comfortable. I hoped that my body would adapt to it within time. I glanced at Mary and Edith who bore unsettling expressions. Daiva remained stoic, obviously feeling no internal changes. As we approached the surface, I noticed a large lake, illuminated by plant life beneath the water. It seemed that the vegetation glowed with the same light-blue candescence of the seren.
We landed in a clearing about half a mile away from the lake in order to better conceal the Rhiannon. I deployed the ramp and we stepped outside. The pressure from the seren changed dramatically. It felt as if my body had been submerged several fathoms.
“How can we live in this, let alone fight?” Mary grumbled, leaning against the Rhiannon’s hull for support.
“We’ll adapt . . . I’m going to survey the area. You three can stay with the ship if you’d like.” I said as I trudged off into the surrounding forest, the leaves of the trees shimmering in the dark.
“I be following you!” Daiva exclaimed and ran after me, her movements effortless.
“Thank you, Daiva.” I said, managing a smile. Her English still needed quite a bit of work, but it would suffice for our mission.
I decided to walk to the lake first since it would be the most crucial part to our survival. I just hoped that the water and vegetables didn’t worsen our condition.
“This place . . . It is looking like—”
“A nightmare?” I managed to say through my weakness.
She frowned. “No, nothing like that world in my nightmares . . .”
Of course. I had forgotten that Daiva’s mind entered Nerys during her sleep. She had mentioned before that it was a dark place where screams of agony were constantly heard—a perfect resemblance to this world. It was utter misery on Haul.
I suddenly stumbled, for I was disoriented. Daiva caught me and I fell into her arms. What strength she had! She helped me to stabilize myself and leaned me against her shoulder. I was thankful that we were the same height.
“I’d wager that you’re stronger here than you were on Earth!” I laughed amusedly. “I must look so pitiful . . .”
“Would you like to be returning to your ship?” She asked concernedly.
I looked at Daiva and smiled. It was strange yet pleasant: I could see my mother in her. My memories of her were faint, but I had managed to keep them even after my injury. That calm, tranquil voice, those loving eyes: why does she care for me so?What have I done for her?Did our dance really mean that much to her? Her mind had regressed so far and yet I knew she would be essential to our survival. Perhaps I would have to raise her as I did Edith . . . I wouldn’t mind that.
At last, we reached the lake. Its phosphorescence made it appear as if some machine was submerged beneath its waters. Daiva helped me to kneel down in the grass that also shone brightly around us. I dipped my hand into the water.
“It’s warm!” I exclaimed. “It will be perfect for bathing!”
“Bathing?” Daiva asked, tilting her head.
I stared at her, agape.
“You really can’t take care of yourself, can you?” I sighed. “That will be a problem . . .”
She looked at me, crestfallen. Perhaps I should have kept that to myself. I had to remember how sensitive her mind was in this state.
“I cannot, but you will be taking care of me, won’t you?” She asked shamefully.
“Of course! If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask!” I assured her.
She smiled and nodded.
“Will you help me with this bathing?” She asked curiously.
I laughed embarrassedly. “Oh, you’ll want Edith and Mary for that.”
She tilted her head “Why would I be of wanting them?”
I paused and looked out over the lake.
”Bathing is when you clean yourself, Daiva. You don’t wear clothing while you do it.” I explained meticulously. “Do you understand?”
This woman is a child! She’s completely helpless! I cannot raise her and fight the Gaelturi! I was in a state of utter desperation.
“I’ll explain this as simply as I can, Daiva . . . You and I are very different, but you, Mary, and Edith are not quite so different.”
“How are we being different, and what is that having to do with bathing?” She asked anxiously.
I smacked my forehead in frustration.
“Look at yourself, Daiva, and then look at me.” I said quietly, trying to remain calm.
She looked down at herself for several moments and then back up at me.
“You have nicer clothes?”
I debated drowning myself, but I knew that she would stop me. I cupped my hand and drank from the lake, hoping that it would kill me. I didn’t die, of course, but I suppose it was worth some consolation that it caused me to fall unconscious, thus escaping that dreadful conversation.