Monday, October 4, 2010

Issue #1

From a distance the dogfight was beautiful. The ships were barely visible, but as the weaponry flashed, fired, and danced about the stage, they glistened. Short but powerful beams of light emanated from moving points circling large silhouettes in the stars. The larger ships were dimly lit by glowing orbs that traveled slowly, seemingly crawling to reach their target. Balls of light trailed deadly warheads, invisible to the naked eye until they reached their targets pounding flares of energy into the enemy’s hull.

In the midst of combat, however, there is no splendor. The beauty of this spectacle was lost on Charlie. The vibrations turned into blasts as his ship’s shields dissolved and the armor was naked. The enemy was in close range. They had encircled him, gone for his legs and had crippled him, and were now moving in for their kill. He could feel the armor take hits that the structure wouldn’t stand. He knew this, because it had happened before. At any second a flash of white light would overtake him, turning Charlie’s body into nothing.

Charlie sat idly. Staring into the cup in front of him, he winced again at the sound of metal striking metal. The man in the grey suit paced ferociously, flicking the cap of his lighter back and forth in furious frustration. He was making him mad, and Charlie knew it, was almost delighted by it. He was somewhere in his third month of rehabilitation, a process which should have taken a few hours. Even the pilots worse affected by resurrection only required several days at most. Charlie, however, was a special case. He wanted to satisfy the man in the grey suit, he wanted to be done with his treatments, his psychological analyses, his neural scans, the plethora of tests, examinations, briefings, debriefings, visits from doctors, scientists, even researchers and inventors came to examine him. He couldn’t stand it and in that way he wanted to give the man in the grey suit what he wanted. If only he could remember.

Charlie gazed out of the window at the nebula in the distance. He longed to get back to his ship. His ship, he thought, not exactly. It would be an exact replica of his previous model, now drifting as wreckage in a deep pocket of space, or every last bolt salvaged by the pirates who ambushed his fleet. The suit stopped pacing. He flicked the lighter closed for the last time, palmed it, and turned to face Charlie. He looked at Charlie with a thwarted expression. It was with the type of curiosity that one might look upon a dog who keeps urinating indoors after it had been house-broken for years.

“That fucking suit…” He thought to himself. Charlie looked back at his cup.

“Again.” Said the man, beginning a slower pace.
“We were on patrol in system. Our mission was to scan the asteroid belts for any signature of pirate…” Charlie stopped mid-sentence as his interrogator slammed the lighter on the table.

“No, not the fucking debrief again! I want to hear it! I want to hear from your own fucking lips what happened!” He paused and clenched his jaw, the lighter squeezed tightly in his grip. The veins in his neck pressed firmly against his collar.
“All I have is what I’ve told you. What was written on the fucking debriefing form, what was given to you from the ship’s computer and what you saw happening 1000 clicks from the point of action.” Charlie paused abruptly as if he meant to say more, but feared treading the ground.

“I’m not talking about the mission. What I want to know is what you remember. What you told the nurse who worked your recovery. She said that the first words out of your mouth were ‘where is she?’ I want to know who she is. I want to know where ‘she’ came from.” The suit wasn’t letting up, and Charlie could tell this wasn’t going to end well for him.

“Every day for 90-odd days you’ve woken up, put on that suit and thought to yourself, today is the day. this rotten little shit will finally remember. Finally be able to give us all the answers… Well today isn’t your day my friend, not today and probably not tomorrow. I don’t have all the answers. Fuck, I don’t have any of them.”
The man stared at Charlie blankly, not in an unknowing or astonished sense, but rather waiting for an honest answer.

After a minute Charlie replied, “There was a girl.”
“On your ship?”
“In my head, well… in my dreams.” Charlie watched the suit pull a cigarette from his pocket and hand it to him. Charlie lipped it and the man lit it. After a few drags from his smoke, Charlie continued.

“I don’t know anything really. I don’t… remember who she is. I can see her face and I can hear her voice. There are pieces… pieces of pieces.”

“Tell me everything. Anything will help.”

“I can’t make out what she’s saying.” Charlie strained himself, closed his eyes tightly and gripped his forehead. An image appeared in his memory, a flash of the side of a girl’s face, maybe a young woman. A naked shoulder and thin lips followed by black fingernails and a tattoo on her neck. Each image flashed too quickly, too blurry to comprehend fully. Charlie felt like he almost had it. His mind was always so close to remembering but so far from understanding. If only he could see her face, he knew that he would be able to remember, hopefully understand.

“Charlie, unless you can help us know what is going on, unless we can solve this… we can’t put you back in the air.”  words felt almost comforting. This was the first time he had treated Charlie like a person, but Charlie knew that he couldn’t help him. He hated him for that.

Charlie lifted his head, “What does it matter that I don’t know who she is! What does it matter that I said anything at all! You heard the doctors, it’s just a side-effect, just a dream during recovery!”

“You know Charlie, in all my time working recovery, I’ve never had a patient like you. I’ve never seen a single patient dream or hallucinate during resurrection and we’ve certainly never made any exceptions. The reason we clone you, the reason we invest so heavily in your training is so when you die, you can be reborn. You can learn from your mistakes and keep your training intact. You retain your life, and we retain a pilot. You’re a soldier Charlie, a Caldari soldier. All memories before the war academy were erased the first time you were KIA. Yet, here we are on your third recovery and this time, you remember a girl. What does that say Charlie? What am I supposed to tell the Navy? That I let a pilot back in the air who might be psychologically unstable? What if these flashbacks happen in ship, in combat? That would put the entire State at risk.” The suit looked at Charlie, glanced at his profile on the table and closed its cover.

“I’m sorry Charlie, but I can’t let you fly.” He turned and left the room.
His logic was sound and Charlie knew he was making the right decision. The Caldari State doesn’t make mistakes. The needs of capital come before the individual and Charlie knew it. He believed it. There was nothing the suit could do and there was nothing Charlie could do. His entire career was gone because of a simple, incomplete memory, because of something he mumbled at the wrong time.
“Aw, hell.” Charlie groaned. He stood up, finished his drink then dropped his cigarette in the cup. As Charlie left he could hear the ember slowly fizzle out.