Et Responde Mihi
I was enveloped by the darkness once again. The coolness was almost soothing despite those last words ‘Answer me if you can’ were echoing in me. I glanced at the chronometer but it was flickering. I then checked my oxygen supply. The gauge was still in the green and indicated I had used merely three minutes worth since I was… out. I felt like I was gone for three hours.
I looked around and found that familiar row of stars which crossed another line of stars. I was relieved that it seemed I didn’t move much during that time. All mobility functions on my suit were out. The debris amongst which I was drifting I recognized as my own work; at least partly anyway. My head felt heavy and it was probably another minute before I even activated the distress beacon.
Many in my situation would have simply caught up on some sleep while they waited for rescue. Given my position, it would have been maybe a two-hour wait at most. But I didn’t want to close my eyes; and for once, it wasn’t just her face, it was everything else that I had just witnessed.
“Maybe I should try to rest anyway,” I muttered to myself. “After all, I might actually need it.”
And then I was surrounded by that mist again. However, it was not red this time. It was purple.
“You know, you never answered the question,” said a well-known voice. I turned to see that it was Ralphy, but he was in our old school uniform.
“Why am I here?” It was more like a plea than a question and we both knew it.
Ralphy warmly smiled at me, “It has to be here, my old friend.”
“But I don’t want to be here… this nebula… or wherever we are.”
Ralphy raised an eyebrow at me.
“Please return me to where I was.”
“Is that where you truly want to go?” It was that grand voice again, gentle but firm and I trembled nonetheless.
“Let me deal with him,” an affectionate voice entreated. It was my mother. “My dear son, why are you so downcast still?”
“Look up and ahead, not back,” another voice bluntly cut in. Not surprisingly, it was my father. I knew he meant well, of course.
“What do you think I’ve been doing all these years?” I answered back.
“We know what you’ve been doing,” my father replied.
“Hey, hey, that’s enough,” Dr Frio almost shouted as I squinted my eyes, his bedside manner as delicate as always. The good doctor had lowered the shields and the rays from the star, although partly eclipsed by a nearby planet, speared into the sterile room. “You’ve been out for more than two hours.”
“Yeah. But there’s nothing seriously wrong with you apart from some mildly anomalous brainwave patterns. It could simply be that slight knock to the head.”
“I felt like I was gone only a few minutes just then…”
“Oh, nothing,” I dismissed as I rolled my eyes.
“The Aurea picked you up about an hour after detecting your signal while the Celeste pursued the pirates.”
“What happened to the pirates?”
“They won’t be needing any medical attention,” he casually replied with a slight curl on his lips. “But the boss will want your report on what happened once I declare you fit.”
“I don’t know. They did take me mostly by surprise.”
“Anyway, Tom said that the Celeste is in the area collecting the debris and investigating. You can join them later. For now, I wanna run a few tests with you awake.”
“Don’t worry too much about it. What’s important is that you didn’t let the Space-Bridge fall into the wrong hands. We’re all very appreciate of that.”
“Thanks doc.” Little did they know how easy it was for me to not let that happen.
I didn’t fly out to the Celeste once I was discharged. I merely dragged myself back to the lab and established a data-link to the ship. Along with the telemetry I did manage to save, I continued my work and made new calculations. It looked promising so I ran more simulations. It got to the stage where I started the Lab-Space-Bridge. The power built up as usual, then the eye of the gateway flashed and-
I was floating within the purple again.
“My son, why are you here now?”
“I didn’t come here, I don’t want to be here, mummy.”
“And yet, you are always here. Why? If you cannot answer my questions, then at least answer this one about yourself,” the great voice sounded and I shuddered.
I turned and it was her. I felt my heart, my whole self, contract but I managed to touch her little hands. I tried to hold back my tears as I felt her warmth.
“You look a little older than I remember,” I said as I felt my tears burned my eyes and skin.
“You look the same to me, daddy. Listen, why are you here?”
“You’re here so this is where I want to be too.”
“Yes, but I wasn’t here before and you were still here.” My little girl smiled sweetly at me. “But daddy, you shouldn’t be here and I think you know it.”
All of a sudden, the purple mist stirred and coalesced to what appeared to me as random forms and even rushed towards me. I shivered as I felt cold and heat almost simultaneously wash over me. I soon recognized the formations as the engineering deck of some vessel. Yes, it was the Esperanza and yes, it resembled that scene which I have replayed in my head all too often.
My Sara stood on the upper deck, where the chief often stood. My little girl, our little girl, was right beside her. “My darling, you shouldn’t be here anymore.”
I hauled myself up the steps toward her, “I was brought- ”
But Sara held up her hand as she smiled lovingly at me but also frowned a little. Her eyes then darkened slightly as if they looked… deeper.
“All these years, whether you know it or not, you have been helping others, and helping us too,” she said plainly, her deep eyes fixed on mine. “And now, my love, let me return the favour in a small way: let me remind you that it is all not for nothing.”
I sighed and glanced down at the steps momentarily.
The eyes of our little girl glistened and she beamed as she added, “Daddy, you work so hard… to help people move and bring people together but you never moved yourself. But don’t worry, we will help you, along with grandma and grandpa and your old friend Ralph and others too. We will continue to help you and you will continue to help others.”
“Are you answered?” I shook as that grand, interrogative voice pierced me. And I said nothing.
A hand touched my shoulder and I turned to see Tom, his glazed eyes skimmed over me and then the screens.
“Hey, you alright?”
“Yeah. Did you get all the debris?”
“Most of it. Your self-destruct was fairly… destructive. From the logs, we noticed you reduced the countdown and shortened the stabilizer. You were fortunate your stunt didn’t spread your atoms through this corner of the galaxy.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I remarked politely as I resumed studying the data on the screens.
He then pointed at the Lab-Space-Bridge. The outer frame was rotating at a constant speed and the gateway was glowing mildly and steadily. “Wow, looks like you did it again. That distance is phenomenal. I’m still amazed that you actually got all this to work. It won’t be long before you finish it.”
“I hope so. Thanks for your vote of confidence though.”
“By the way, when you repeat this test out there on that other big one, what destination are you gonna set? I’m only asking because I noticed you sometimes seem to pick locations at random,” Tom quizzed as he pointed at the colourful navigational control holograms.
I didn’t really know but I hit a few keys and several holographic star charts blossomed from the projectors.
“How about that nebula there?”