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Chapter 10 - Olive Branch

The human brain is powerful, that’s been known for a long time. Within it is the sum total of our existence. What our brain tells us is all we know. Whether the world outside our minds really exists is a mystery. After all, if it wasn’t, how would we know?

The only thing anyone can ever truly know exists, is themselves. Our own memories may just be constructions created in the present moment. I want to remember that a certain event happened, so my mind creates the event and timestamps it into the past. Even other people, how could I ever know that they have experiences as separate and as rich as my own? They may all be reflections of myself, like the people that populate my dreams. Every new moment could just be a facade created in that instant.

Our brains filter everything that we experience and convert it into something understandable. But who is to say that what is filtered through our minds bears any resemblance to true reality? Perception is reality, because perception is all we know and all we can know. Am I just electricity tethered to carbon, living one illusion after another? I don’t know. But if I am to live in a perpetual dream, then why not make that dream a pleasant one? Why question when something good finally happens?

Those are the questions I ask myself when I hear that voice. That dreadful, beautiful voice. I don’t ask any questions about why I’m hearing his voice, or how it’s possible that I am. I just accept that I am, and am grateful for it.

To hear his voice is absolution, to fulfill every promise I made. I’m here Clay, I may not have come back for you, but we can be together again, like I promised, and that’s all that matters. Hearing his voice gives me hope that I’ll hear another. That I’ll get to fulfill my promise to Avery too. I unbuckle myself and stand.

I stare out the cockpit window and down the aft launchpad, too afraid to turn around, to find out it isn’t real. But then I hear it again, more insistent this time. “Dad?” Do I answer? Do I dare? It feels too fragile. To make any move here feels like it would be the same as jerking awake from a dream that was too good to be true. And yet, I have to move eventually, to confront either what will surely be my greatest joy, or most profound disappointment.

I close my eyes and turn my head slowly, as if sudden movement will scare him away. But when I turn around and open my eyes, I’m greeted by the sight of the dropship’s empty passenger compartment. Until my eyes look past the lowered ramp and see something that steals my breath. It’s him, the son I thought was forever lost. His back to be specific. He’s walking away from me and covering an incredible distance. By the time I process the sight, he’s already disappeared around a corner and out of the hanger bay.

A wave of panic washes over me. What if that was the last time I see him? I can’t let that happen. It would break me beyond repair. I take off running after him, afraid that if I let him get away, he’ll disappear for good.

I follow the trail left to me with diligence. It’s clear that I’m being led somewhere, but that concern hardly even registers. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of him before he disappears around a corner, or hear the padding of his little feet. Sometimes I hear his voice beckoning me to follow from somewhere ahead. In the back of my mind, I recognize the path I’m following as the way to the reactor.

Turn after turn I run, my son always just out of reach. Until I make the final turn that leads onto the bridge connecting to the reactor access platform, and see… it. The embodiment of all my hatred is floating there, in the middle of the precarious looking bridge. Of course it is. It was all a joke wasn’t it? Do you even understand humor? Because I’m not laughing.

I wait for a response, fuming at the indignity. I know it can invade my mind, that it can perform the most intimate of violations and intrude upon my very thoughts, so why doesn’t it respond? Why not answer my questions? Does it even understand me?

I should be scared of the pain I know this thing can inflict upon me, but I just don’t have the energy for fear. I feel so drained, so empty. I can barely muster the will power to keep hating it. “What do you want?” I croak out in a voice hoarse from neglect. Nothing. It just stares at me with those big, pensive eyes. I glumly notice that the injury my plasma pistol caused during our first encounter is gone without a trace, apparently healed.

I’m about to just walk away, when I feel a throb of pain in my head. All too familiar with what that means, my hand twitches down to my side to reach for a weapon that isn’t there. Still, not willing to meekly accept whatever fresh hell the creature has prepared for me, I settle for a verbal attack. “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” I’m surprised by how my words sound coming out. Even to my own ears, they sound like a desperate plea, not a stalwart demand. Even so, my words remarkably have the desired effect. The faint pain leaves and I feel something, a presence, recede. It feels like a space in my head that the throb occupied now lies empty. So… you do understand.

“Go away,” I say. “Leave and never come back.” Nothing again. Great, now what? My question is immediately answered by the throbbing in my head again. “STOP! PLEASE!” I shout. This time, it is a plea, evidenced by a panicked tremble in my voice. Moments ago, I was fearless. But now that the adrenaline has worn off, the memories of how completely this thing can ruin me return, and bring a heavy dose of caution with them.

I take two steps back in concern at what is happening. It all seems so strange now. Did this thing really use my son’s image to lure me here? Why? To kill me? It could have done that anytime and anywhere. No, this is about something else, something that apparently doesn’t involve my death.

My exacerbation is compounded when the creature moves. It makes me flinch, which causes the same reaction in the creature. A chain reaction of nervous twitching between me and the creature ensues. I’m sure it would have looked rather funny to a third party, but I’m in no mood to laugh.

The creature seems to compose itself, then, ever so slowly, lifts one of its seven appendages and touches its tip to the spot between its eyes. Then, to my horror, it moves the tentacle off its forehead and points it in my direction. I understand its meaning with growing apprehension. Is it asking permission to… read my mind? Why? It can force its way in whenever it wants. Why bother with this farce? Could it be trying to be nice? It seems stupid to read so far into the psychology of a creature so different from humanity. But if it’s going to impose itself into my mind, best to let it in on good terms, right?

This is so surreal. I can’t believe I’m even considering this, but what other choice do I have? Decline, turn around, and die in my cabin bed in a year from malnourishment? Fly down to Margo’s surface and die of starvation?

Distantly, I remember that I had a plan once. Get back to Earth. That plan grinded to a halt when this thing stopped me from finding out what was wrong with the reactor. Somewhere along the way, I forgot about my goal. I stopped acting to get to the reactor so I could fix it and more to kill the monster living there. Maybe I can still salvage my situation here and get back on track.

Since being confrontational with the creature didn’t work, maybe it’s time to try diplomacy. With all the willingness of a man walking up the gallows stairs, I raise my finger and point to my forehead. Then, move my finger until it’s pointing at the creature. Then, I wait, hoping my compliance has been communicated.

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