In the shadow of the stolen light
The Titanium Central Hospital was a quiet lonely place. The residents of the artificial planet rarely got ill due to their inner balance practice, a result of Andre Mendes’s philosophy. Therefore, the medical workers indulged more in scientific research than in medical practice. After having met another civilization in a planetary system similar to the Solar system many decades ago, the voyagers from Earth ceased to think about intelligent life in the Universe as something extraordinary. In the period of over two hundred years of its space travel, ‘Solar Flotilla’ – a fleet of five spaceships launched from Earth – has established a lot of new contacts with the inhabitants of other planets. The earthlings’ technological advancements happened to be higher than those of the other living beings, which helped them to make collaborative partnerships for mutual benefit. On the one hand, to get supplies for the spaceships and, on the other hand, to provide the aliens with new technologies, especially new custom-made medical medicines.
The walls and the vaulted ceiling of the spacious hospital hall consisted of multiple sleek video panels. They were normally snow white, but once a visitor appeared, they would immediately display panoramic views of all kinds. It could be tall mountains with dark forests at their foot, endless plains stretching beneath cloudless blue skies or ocean waves reaching the shores. Similar panels with exquisite nature views were hardly a rare thing to see on Titanium. However, only here in the total solitude would Lora truly feel as if she had found herself on Earth, where she could hear the real sound of waves crashing or leaves blowing in the wind, and enjoy the warmth of the sun while walking barefoot on the sand.
The sound of her name jolted her out of the dreamy thoughts about Earth.
“My name’s Dr Borshchevsky,” said a grey-haired elderly man. “Are you here for patient number sixty-four?”
“Yes… Sixty-four? I thought the wards were empty…”
“Well, ten hours ago we picked up some refugees from Taria. They are sixty-two Tarians and a diplomat from Titanium. They have suffered great stress and a little anoxaemia due to the life support system’s failure on board their spacecraft. They’re going to be fine.”
“But what had happened? Why did they have to flee?”
“I’m sorry, Ms Marion, I was too busy taking care of them and had no time to ask about what had happened on Taria,” answered the tired doctor. “The majority of the doctors are away at a seminar, so we have a shortage of staff.”
“Yes, I understand,” nodded Lora. “Can I help somehow?”
The man shook his head.
“The specialists have been called in and are going to be here in fifteen minutes. So everything is going to be back to normal. As for patient number sixty-four, we have neutralized the preservative without injecting the antidote. The truth is, to identify the chemical substance and devise a neutralization method took more than three hours. That’s why we hadn’t been able to give you any details earlier. Before that, the total scan had shown malnutrition in some regions of his brain. I’ll probably repeat myself by saying it’s malnutrition, not total cessation. So there’s a 70% probability that his nervous system functions will recover after proper treatment.”
“How long will the rehabilitation process take?”
“It’s difficult to trace any improvement in such a short time; however, despite a long coma, he has a very strong immune system. Lucky man! The capsules were well protected from the radiation. Oh, yes, and something else… His blood contains antibodies to a virus unknown to us. I have sent the full report to the Council. This man poses no biological threat to the citizens of Titanium. My colleagues are getting ready to start the autopsy of the second body.”
“Thank you,” Lora touched the middle of her chest with her palm as a sign of sincere gratitude.
“Always happy to help you,” the doctor said smiling, with his palm touching his chest like Lora’s.
Lora left the hall and hastily walked to the teleport. Her next destination was the ‘Unity’ premises, where the Council was located.
“Aren’t you early today, Lora!” Jean Preqeaux, one of the seven members of the ‘Solar Flotilla’ Council, greeted her.
Smiling, she placed her palms together in front of her chest and bowed slightly.
“How was yesterday’s meeting? Was my report on the Lactians any good?”
“Good, very good! Also, the report was remarkable! I’m sure we’ll sign several agreements with this race and install three powerful telescopes on the two satellites of their capital planet.”
“That’s great news!” nodded the girl, taking a seat opposite the councillor. His round-shaped office in the ‘Unity’ building was dimly lit and a storm was raging silently on the walls, lightning striking and rain pouring over an endless meadow. “So what happened on Taria? I was at the hospital; there are sixty-three injured including our diplomat…”
“A sad story,” Jean’s face became sorrowful. “The planet is on the verge of civil war. Taria’s leader’s authority and ability to govern a planetary system are in serious doubt. He has a strong opponent, a hostile man planning to militarise Doht. He is haunted by the imaginary enemies, and Titanium with ‘Solar Flotilla’ is no exception.”
“What are we going to do?”
“As always, Lora, we adhere to a laissez-faire policy. We have no right to adjust other civilizations to our own liking. They have their own unique path. We‘re all strangers here, able to offer some help in scientific research and world’s welfare, but when it comes to war, taking sides and fighting for others’ values, we stay out.”
“But how about all the innocent lives lost in a war, lives of those who were against fighting from the very beginning?”
Jean sighed heavily and, stroking his thick grey hair, approached the holographic interface in the middle of the office.
“Look here,” he said gesturing to Lora to follow him. A large image of a star map appeared there. “Our astronomers and the central computer have developed a new voyage route. The spaceship engines have been improved which spares us the need to stay close to liveable planets. Thus, our search speeds up dramatically.”
“Considering the situation on Taria, the Council has an assignment for you.”
“What is it?”
“You are to go to Misgran, the closest populated planet to us that belongs to the Lactian Empire. A Lactian diplomatic mediator is going there too. You are to negotiate all the terms and conditions of our stay on their territory, and our further collaboration within the framework of our peace agreement.”
“I was hoping to stay here on Titanium,” Lora frowned.
“I thought so when I received the report about the findings from Earth. But you are the only one who knows so much about the Lactians and have met with them on several occasions.”
The girl nodded in agreement. Councillor Preqeaux was right.
“It will only take a couple of weeks. As far as I know, the survivor from Earth is in a very serious condition and his rehabilitation will take a long time. I don’t think you’ll miss anything if you set off right now. Besides, I will recommend the Council to entrust you with this project. I’m sure upon your return you will be happy to lead a group of experts who will investigate what has happened to the Earth transport.”
“Thank you,” Lora nodded again. “That’s exactly what I wanted to ask you about.”
The councillor smiled, satisfied with their mutual agreement.
“Now, let’s see the results of the interim report, shall we?”
“Yes, of course,” Lora shook her head fending off sad thoughts about a sudden departure. “The doctor told me about an unknown virus…”
“Councillor Preqeaux, you have a call from the Universe Exploration lab,” his secretary announced calmly.
“Thank you, Kelly. Switch the image onto the holographic interface, please.”
“Good day, Councillor! Hello, Lora! ” a 3D image of Jane Forest, hovering over the projector, was greeting them by joining her hands in a welcoming gesture . “We have a small report about the object delivered on Titanium 10 hours ago.”
“We were just reading the medical report.”
“Well, their report is probably the most detailed. The IT department will need more time than we had previously thought to reconstruct all the data. So far, they have been able to define the exact date of the ship’s departure from Earth, it’s the 13
January, 2077 according to the Earth calendar. The spacecraft with the rescue capsule on board was travelling at super-light speed for a long time and, initially, its trajectory was almost the same as ours… We can suggest that it was deliberately trying to follow the ‘Solar Flotilla’; but, for some reason, it was jolted out of hyperspace before reaching its goal. The reason why the rescue capsule subsequently separated from the mother ship remains unknown.”
“This is very interesting…” mused the councillor.