Nika Veresk
In the shadow of the stolen light

“I’ll tell you what I believe in,” calmly said the girl, “I believe that everyone has the right to life and freedom of choice from the day they are born. These are the highest values. And I believe that if a human being or any other living creature doesn’t value his life more than anything, he won’t be able to truly value the life of others. And, to make it clearer for you, I’m ready to offer help to those who need it, but for me helping anybody is a display of generosity, not a moral duty.”

Paul’s team completed the mission on Gron, bringing more than thirty refugees to Titanium. The moment their shuttle was within the protective field, the passenger ship, that was trying to hide from the fighters behind it, was quickly destroyed in cold blood.

Before ‘Solar Flotilla’ left Taria’s orbit, a lot of Titanium’s citizens gathered at the viewpoint to watch their departure. Lora, Derek and Paul were not an exception.

“Look how many people have come here!” noticed Paul. “Is one of the councillors going to make a declamation?”

Lora nodded. Behind the panoramic windows Taria gleamed with its greenish-blue glow in the pitch black Universe. What had once been a hospitable haven for ‘Solar Flotilla’ was now somewhat of a hostile civilisation, caught in the wicked flames of a civil war. “Greetings to all the Titanium citizens!” a loud voice resounded in the hall. The humming of conversations died down and everyone was now attentively listening to the announcement from the loudspeakers. “This is Jean Preqeaux speaking. All ‘Solar Flotilla’ ships are at the launch positions ready to leave the Taria’s orbit. Today we have no possibility, as before, to personally thank the inhabitants of the planet for a fruitful collaboration and mutual help. But we are leaving their world with sincere gratitude in our hearts. Safe journey to all of us, dear friends!”

The voice in the speakers went silent.

Derek snorted with resentment, while Paul looked at the sad face of his female companion watching the planet disappear in the distance.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked her quietly.

“It’s not even just a case of what I’m thinking but of how I feel. And I feel so much that I struggle to put it into words. My common sense is telling me to agree with the Council, we really don’t have the right to interfere, we are strangers here. But my heart just isn’t in it at all…”

A few minutes later, Titanium accompanied by the five satellite ships smoothly slid into the open mouth of the hyper tunnel and darted through space leaving Doht and its domain behind. Once again, a whole new world was waiting for ‘Solar Flotilla’ – the Lactian Empire – intricately made up of around a thousand stellar systems and dozens of habitable planets.

Chapter 6

After arriving at Vistana, the Council was much occupied with the collaboration issues with the new allies for some time. This gave Lora, Derek and Paul an opportunity to prepare a well thought-out plan of an Earth expedition. And despite the fact that the shuttle captain had more doubts about the necessity of such a mission than the others, still he put every effort in place to make it look solid in the eyes of the councillors. Meanwhile, working closely with the earthling, Lora realized ever their difference in viewpoints, and she couldn’t help but realize that the human civilization split had been inevitable back then. Once, soon after the ‘Solar Flotilla’s’ arrival at the Lactians’ capital planet, Lora had the chance to be all the more persuaded in the idea that the earthling and herself were far from mutual understanding. On the instruction of the Council, Lora was sent on a mission to Barkan, one of the inhabited planets in the Lactian Empire. In fact, the purpose of the trip was cultural exchange, so without hesitation Lora invited Derek to join her. This assignment was a good chance to have a change of scene by visiting a planet new to them. On Barkan they were welcomed by an official Empire representative, Kumimago Hoto. He belonged to the original Lactian race, although it was the representatives of other races, united under the Empire, which often occupied high political and diplomatic posts. The Lactians were humanoids, but looked very different from people: their average height exceeded the people’s height two and a half times, and it was simply impossible to find a plump Lactian as they were all slim and lank. Their blood vessels could be easily seen under the thin skin of golden shade, while their long snow-white hair was always scraped into tight buns at the nape; making their huge transparent blue eyes look even bigger. The three pairs of hands, which they managed with greater dexterity than humans do with just one, were often hidden under loose colourful capes and could be seen only when it was necessary. Traveling in a huge flying chariot, the Lactian representative and his companions were having a tour around Barkan when Derek noticed a spectacular construction towering over a mountain. It consisted of several very tall semi-circular arches placed in a row one after another. Their incredibly high tops sparkled in the sun like mother of pearl, blindingly bright.

“What’s that?” asked the earthling.

“It’s the Gates of Life, a gift from the Lactians to the Barkan inhabitants.”

“Gates of Life?” asked Derek again, watching an endless procession of pilgrims climbing up a narrow winding path on a steep slope to the top. “Is it some kind of a ritual?”

“You could say that,” Kumimago smiled. “A long time ago, when my race lived on our native planet, we had an incredible technological boom in all the areas of science-in medicine, as well. Our doctors learned to treat the majority of illnesses. However, with time, it became obvious that in spite of all our efforts to stay healthy, every subsequent Lactian generation was weaker than the previous. Just as we found a new vaccine against one virus, another more deadly one would appear. Initially effective treatment methods were turning out to be useless after years, while illnesses became chronic. The doctors had scrutinized over this problem for a long time until a truly genius scientist Armesteh created the Gates of Life. This machine, the prototype of which you can see on the mountain, could renew all the body cells completely, except the nerve cells. After this scientific breakthrough was made, the vaccines, antibiotics and surgeries seemed to become a thing of the past.”

“Apparently, it had some drawbacks,” said Derek quietly, noticing his companion’s glance grow heavier.

“That’s right. The machine worked without causing any side effects. However, for some reason there were Lactians who were able to retain their newfound health for the rest of their days, while the old illnesses were returning to the others after a while. After having carried out a great deal of testing and research, Armesteh and his colleagues found the reason. It turned out that every illness leaves a mark on the subconscious of the Lactians. And the subconscious as a part of the nervous system could not be healed by the machine.”

“But you said that some of your compatriots were totally healed,” said the earthling surprised.

“Only those whose wish to live let them cleanse their consciousness from the true source of all illnesses: fear, and its constant companions – anger and hatred. The humaneness of our society wouldn’t allow denying medical treatment to those who fell sick a second time. These Lactians were coming to the Gates of Life again and again, and by marrying those who were totally healthy, they transferred their illnesses to the new generations. With time, the energy system of our planet became exhausted; a disaster was looming and threatening to extinguish the whole Lactian civilisation. Bordering on extinction, we realized that we couldn’t afford to be weak or nurture the deadly illnesses from generation to generation by healing the bodies of those who were ill in their souls. Our government passed a new law: everyone wishing to be healed by passing through the Gates of Life had to undergo a test in order to prove their vitality: to get rid of fear and to fill their mind with love. This very path is the test. The ill person has to walk it alone without anyone’s help. You see the only way to a real cure… Some, however, choose to walk the path differently. Instead of getting rid of fear and hatred, they fill themselves with anger, grow hard and deplete their body and spirit while overcoming the obstacles. Sometimes it works and they make it to the Gates, exhausted physically and spiritually, but full of furious determination. Nobody stays on their way; it’s their choice after all.”

Lora had seen the Gates of Life before, but now she was interested to know what Derek would say about the policy of the Lactian Health Ministry. The earthling didn’t make her wait long to satisfy her curiosity.

“It’s pure genocide…” he whispered quietly when they went back to the shuttle and were getting ready to travel back to Titanium. “Who gave them the right to decide who to be healthy and who to die of illnesses?”

“What are you talking about?” the girl glanced at him in surprise. “Every Lactian had and still has a choice. No one stays on their way to salvation, no one kills them! And you’re calling it genocide?!

“But, in fact, their government took the life of millions of their compatriots in order to create a more perfect race! The old humaneness turned out to be a relic of the past, an obstacle on the way to preserve the Lactian civilization!”

Lora shook her head. Her disagreement with Derek’s words was obvious.

“You are justifying their actions?” He asked, in disbelief.

“I don’t see anything that needs justification,” she answered. “Moreover, Andre Mendes’s philosophy is very similar to that of the Lactians.”

The young man raised his eyebrows in amazement.

“When our founder revealed his knowledge to the people of Earth,” Lora started explaining, “Many came to him to learn. But his teaching was useful only to those who were ready to change, to rethink their lives and only through self-knowledge and forgiveness to gain strength, wisdom and health. Not everyone was ready for such a strenuous task. Not everybody wanted to spend time on a spiritual quest. The majority just wished to get to the final result, overlooking the very way the Lactian representative was talking about.”

“But some simply might not have had enough strength!” said Derek indignantly.

“If someone does not have enough strength to fight for his own life, why should others rush to save them?”

“Because people should help each other!”

“Help was never denied to them: Andre’s knowledge was, and remains to be, accessible to everyone – the Gates of Life as well.”

The young man sighed deeply.

“How can your ideas be so rational and simultaneously so contradicting with everything I believe in? All this philosophy is totally void of any compassion!”

“It’s not true,” answered Lora calmly. “Compassion and help are not foreign to our society. However, any conscious living being must take responsibility for his life.”

It took more than a month for the ‘Solar Flotilla’ to settle on Vistana’s orbit. Lora and her friends patiently waited for the Council’s affairs to go back to normal and asked for a meeting.

Soft dim sunset lighting in the councillor’s office didn’t prevent Lora from feeling fresh as if it were early morning.

“The Council is meeting tomorrow at eleven,” Jean sat in an armchair and looked intently at the girl opposite to him, “We’ll consider your suggestion, but you must be ready to provide strong arguments in its favour. The distance to Earth is quite long; moreover, the lack of information about the current events there doesn’t guarantee the safety of such an expedition.”

“I’ll get ready for the meeting. I don’t think the Council will be against Derek and Paul being there? Our guest has his own reasons…”

“… And the shuttle captain will tell us about the technical details of a possible expedition,” the councillor finished her thought.

“That’s right.”

“You’re already quite well prepared! Alright, let’s see what the Council will say.”

Excited with the appointment, Lora immediately headed for Paul’s apartment. When she went inside, she saw him working on the holographic interface of the central computer. Derek was holding a thin transparent tablet displaying data from the archives.

“How did it go?” asked Lora. Both men simultaneously took their eyes off their work.

“I’m almost done with the calculations,” answered Paul.

“And I got to learn about the history of the ‘Solar Flotilla’ voyages in more detail,” added Derek. “Any news from the Council?”

“Tomorrow at eleven we’ll have an opportunity to present all our arguments to them. We’re all going to attend the meeting, no exceptions.”

“That’s great!” replied the earthling. The news seemed to give him somewhat of an energy boost. He briskly stood up from his seat. “I completely forgot that I have to make it to Doctor Borshchevsky on time.”

“Let’s get together in the canteen an hour before the meeting,” suggested Paul. “And discuss the details.”