CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – Almost Annihilated

I awoke in a glass tube. Lying on a bed within this tube, half rings lit up around me, scanning me as they move up and down. I remember the sound of wind filling my ears again and this gentle heat warming my skin. I realised I was naked in this tube and had a ring of Tuhingan standing around me looking at pads and looking at the displays attached to the tube. When I first awoke, they didn’t notice me. But that soon changed. 

“Ahh, he’s awake! James, you have given us quite a scare!” 

Panicked about Periclum, I felt I should ask, “Where’s Periclum!?” I demanded to know. They all looked at each other, looking as though they were unsure how to tell me something. 

“James, Periclum has been annihilated.” it was the same Tuhingan that spoke the first time. This time, speaking in the softest tone possible. I looked at him confused.

“What do you mean? Can’t you materialise him?” 

“We could… But he would be dead. We only just saved you.”

I was shocked at that moment. What were they talking about? “But, I saved him, I figured out how to scan us and get us here.”

“James,” he said in the softest possible way. “That is why he was annihilated. You scanned him when he was dead.”

“Can’t you just re-materialise him from a time when he was alive?” 

“It doesn’t work like that. His file was overwritten, updated. We lost the previous version of him.”

“What!? Why would that happen!” The other Tuhingan began backing away from the tube. Scared of my outburst.

“It’s the law James, only one of us can exist at any moment.”

I was still confused, “What? Isn’t that just for us in our physical form?”

The Tuhingan took a deep breath. “We rescued you, kept you alive. Later you can tell us what happened.”

“Let me out and I can tell you now.” I said to him in frustration.

He did this weird clicking sound and could see his eyelid twitched for a moment. He looked as though he was very stressed. “You contracted a virus. It’s an aggressive one and you cannot come out of this tube yet.”

I laid my head down and stared at the EMC turrets attached to the ceiling. I turned my head in the opposite direction. The Tuhingan that were standing there had now moved far enough away for me to see another tube with a Tuhingan inside. He looked at me as if he was furious. I focused on him and noticed it was the same one that was in the corridor with me and Periclum when I first materialised back.

“You idiot!” he said as he stared at me. “If we were out of these tubes, I would rip the bum flaps right out of your ass!” 

“I very much doubt it, Opifex! You run even when there is just a fly in the room.” the other Tuhingan said.

I couldn’t help but smile a little at that moment. But I still felt sick to my stomach about Periclum’s fate. I looked at the Tuhingan that was now staring at the pad he was holding. “How long do we need to be in these tubes?” I asked.

He looked at me looking as though he was constipated. “I don’t know. We haven’t ever dealt with an aggressive virus like this. We do not understand how to tackle this.” 

“But you can’t just keep us in these tubes for long! It’s cramped in here!” I heard Opifex say. 

“You have your BCI Opifex. Play those games you love!” the Tuhingan with the pad said.

Opifex seemed to ignore the comment and then continued. “I don’t want to be stuck in the same room as this Rehew wannabe!” 

“I’m human!” I felt I should announce across the room for all to hear. Just to make sure they knew that I was not Rehew or wanting to be anything like the Rehew.

Opifex just stared at me for a moment and then continued, “you have to let us out!” 

The other Tuhingan looked at him and said, “No, you know why we can’t!” Opifex looked frustrated at the response and fell silent as he sulked inside the tube. 

I looked at the Tuhingan standing next to my tube. I asked him about Periclum and wondered if there was any way to get him back. He looked at me and told me it wasn’t possible. After these crazy emotions running through me, I forgot that was naked in this tube. My body on show like some museum piece. I asked for clothes and they were soon materialised onto my skin. 

“What are we going to do while we are in the tubes?” 

Opifex replied to that one, “Play games, watch movies…”

“Write a book?” I said as I felt like it should have been the next thing he should have said. 

“Ugh!” I heard Opifex complaining.

The Tuhingan that was talking, standing beside my tube, told me his name is Meden and I can contact him anytime. He transferred his contact to me and just before he left he told me, “Opifex can help you with anything you’re confused about!” then left. 

“I hope you don’t ask too many questions!” Opifex continued. I just looked at him.

Me and Opifex were in those tubes for a few days while they experimented with us like lab rats. They tested us with one medication after another. All failing. Then they began a painful procedure involving genetically altered biological robots that were designed to destroy the virus. I hated it and it just made me feel like I had the flu. I felt awful during that period. 

On the positive side, it was great to submerge myself in the virtual reality they had. I accessed it through my BCI and it felt like I was in the places it was showing. I watched many Tuhingan movies that were 3D and felt like I was right there with the characters, walking around them. Walking up to them, I could even smell them. But I couldn’t touch them, or any object. Only the environment was solid and when I attempted to walk in the wrong way, it would make it so I could walk but wasn’t moving. 

It was fun to try some games. Although many of them were about fearing something invisible and then having to run. They had clever puzzles that challenged you while your fear was at the highest. Puzzles, I had to figure out to eliminate the invisible thing that was chasing me. I noticed in a lot of the movies and games, there was never any direct confrontation between characters. It was more of them trying to sort things, then talking behind their back. Or they would find an alien trying to kill them, but their Tuhingan enemy would come save the day and block the aliens path. 

I always felt the need for some combat, some way of fighting myself out of a situation in the game. But most of the time, it was puzzles and running to get out of the way. I tried fighting, but it often went against the game mechanics. After one hit from the enemy, I respawned somewhere else on the map. 

On the night before I slept, I thought of all the stuff that had happened. I was missing Periclum and could not accept that he was gone. Especially in this world of magic and wonder. I knew that there had to have been a way of getting him back and I would stay up for hours thinking about it. 

One day, I wondered why Opifex was stuck in a tube next to me. He could have just materialised himself into the previous version of himself. I turned to ask him what was going on when he came out of the games he was playing.

“Why are you here, Opifex?” he looked at me for a moment in an angry but serene way.

“I’m not scared of dying.” he said to me. It confused me. He glanced at the ceiling. “I’m not afraid of dying, it’s weird.”

“But you are afraid of other things?”

“Who told you that! Tell them they can go sit on a pole!”

“Woh! I’m just trying to figure out what you are telling me?” 

There was a moment where he looked at me with fear and then relief. He took a deep breath and continued. “I am afraid of most things. Don’t you dare tell anyone else I will rip your bum flaps off!” 

“I don’t have any!” Researching what the Tuhingan bum flaps were earlier, I had found out that the Tuhingans have these flaps they poop out of. They can get disgusting if they are not cleaned and can smell bad. They can be sensitive to any touch and therefore have been used as a way of insulting each other for millennia. It was Opifex’s favourite way of insulting someone.

“You don’t, then what do you poop out of?”

“A hole.”

“Wow.” Opifex just stared at me at that moment like I had just said something revolutionary. Then something seemed to click in his mind. “Does it hurt?”

“No.” I said to him “But can you please tell me why you are in this tube?” 

He took another deep breath as if reluctant to continue. “I can face anything and defeat it! I’m not scared of anything.” he looked so much like a child saying that.

“I’m sure!”

“But a virus is a virus, it doesn’t scare me. I can just be re-materialise if this goes wrong.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked him, getting frustrated at his riddles.

“The Galactic Union wants me here. We can’t ethically infect anyone with this virus and we’re not sure how it is transmitted. But the Galactic Union wants data and we are its test subjects.”

It still confused me that he would do anything so noble. I only knew him for a few days at that point but felt I knew him enough to know he wouldn’t do anything for free. “What do you get out of it?” I asked him.

“It’s out of the goodness of my heart!” I stared at him after he made that comment. “Okay, okay, the captain promised me a lot of energy credits. Enough to make my own spaceship if I wanted to.”

“What would you do with a spaceship?”

“Nothing, but I know many people who would love one. Or at least a few credits.”

“Ahh!” I said as I understood.

“It’s not like I don’t want to be here!”

“Sure!” I said as I didn’t believe him. 

“I am very patriotic. I will be annihilated if The Liberty needs me to be.”

“Sounds very patriotic.”

“Yeah.”

After that there was a lengthy silence, not sure how to respond before I settled down and went to sleep. I announced it and was bidding him goodnight. He tried to explain that he really was noble and then I had to say I believed him so I could settle down to sleep. 

Every night, when I tried to sleep, I felt like I had nightmares. If it wasn’t nightmares of what had happened to me, it was nightmares where I felt like something was trying to take control of me. Sometimes I woke and struggled to understand what reality was. I also screamed out in pain as Opifex was swearing at me and telling me “shut your rotten mouth!” I swore with the ‘F’ word, but he did not understand what I was saying.

More days passed and I began feeling very bored. I was still well groomed since the EMC machine could clean us and cut any part of us that needed to be cut. We had pipes leading in to our tubes where we could suck up “liquid food”. It didn’t taste so bad, but I was missing solids. I had this huge craving of just getting out. But then, on the sixth day of being in the tube, I had a surprise visitor.

“Hello James.” She said while smiling at me. A smile that melted my heart and made me feel I had to move to hide something else it was doing to me. She was wearing a tight black dress with black boots. Her hair looked amazing and she looked so beautiful. It was Caroline. It surprised me to see her.

“Caroline?” 

She smiled, “yes James, it’s me!”

“But the Tuhingan’s couldn’t get you back!?”

“No, but the Galactic Union integrated a core into The Liberty.”

“What?” I said in a confused manner. Not knowing what to make of the situation. 

“There was no other way of bringing the Companion’s back. Now The Liberty is a Galactic Union Ship. They signed the papers just yesterday. No one told you?” She stood over me like a caring goddess, looking worried about me. I was flustered and was struggling to continue with the conversation.

“Ehh… no. No one came.” I struggled to formulate my sentences. She was the only human like person I had seen for what must have been weeks at that point and I was so glad to see her.

“You know, you can follow the ship news through your BCI!” Opifex broke in “Find the news feed and it will tell you all you need to know about what is happening on the ship!”

“Good to know!” Caroline said in response.

“Always happy to help!” he said in a way that clarified that he wasn’t sincere.

At that moment I felt more anger towards Opifex but tried to show to Caroline that I remained calm. I was thankful for when she continued.

“I heard you went back to the Cargo Ship?” She asked me.

I took a deep breath before I began remembering how I lost Periclum. “I did.” I said, trying my best to keep a smile on my face.

“It must be hard to have lost a friend like that.” she said, seemingly knowing how I was feeling and what I was thinking.

My smile faded and I could feel myself feeling upset. Tears formed and I couldn’t keep them back. After everything I had been through, after all the hardcore things I had done. Here I was, crying like a baby at the thought of a lost friend. It wasn’t until that moment that I realised how much of an exceptional friend Periclum had been to me. I was sad to know that he was gone. Caroline waited patiently for me to finish. She didn’t seem to offer me comfort in the traditional sense, she just looked at me. It was as if something was telling her to sit there and say nothing. Her waiting until there was the right time to speak. 

I settled my crying down and looked at her. “Is there no way to get him back?” 

She looked back at me with smiling eyes, “tell me what happened?” and so I did. We spoke for hours about it. I told her the entire story, even about when I first arrived on The Liberty. Occasionally Opifex would cut in with some sarcastic remark, or how he has experienced worse. But it felt like me and Caroline successfully navigated around him to continue telling the story. She listened and looked as though she was deep in thought most of the time. I could tell she was very much interested and it felt good to talk about it all with someone I felt I could relate to.

I couldn’t relate to some actions that Caroline took because she wasn’t completely human, so I suppose I was extra sensitive to her reactions. Often I would feel she was a superb listener but would discover that she didn’t understand how I felt. She understood the story, its implications and what happened. But didn’t know how to deal with my emotions. I have felt that many times before back on earth, from many people. But this felt different. Like she didn’t have any experience to draw from. Like she was struggling to understand herself, so how could she ever understand me? 

We came to the end of the conversation and she had to leave for bed. She told me she will come back the next day with the doctors and she will assist with the research. Opifex also received news from her that they decided that he would get a Companion in the morning. Opifex looked shocked at the news.

“What do I need with a Companion?”

“We think you need the company through this tough time.”

Opifex turned to me and spoke with a raised voice. “It’s only because the Galactic Union wants to spy on us!” he turned to Caroline, “I don’t need one and will never take one!”

“The Galactic Union has promised the captain an Entangled Reactor. Meaning The Liberty will get an enormous boost of energy. It wouldn’t take much for me to convince the captain to raise the amount of energy credits you will get for your service to the Union.”

Opifex stared at Caroline for a moment. “If you get me one thousand more energy credits, I may accept it.” It surprised me how quick Opifex accepted the offer. But I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by anything Opifex does.

“I’ll see what I can do.” Caroline said with the skills of a master salesperson.

“Good!” Opifex replied and then falling into an awkward silence. 

Upon hearing the news I was thinking about what was happening, I thought it was time I attempted to find out. I broke the silence that had filled the room for what felt like an eternity. “Caroline?” I said inquisitively.

“Yeah.” She turned to me with a broad smile that just made me feel relaxed. “I just want to know what is happening? I mean, I don’t feel that bad.”

“You have an aggressive virus in your system. One that seems to change your physiology. It took a while for the Galactic Union to believe the results the Tuhingan were showing them.” Caroline was telling me.

“My physiology?”

“Your DNA James, it’s attempting to make subtle changes to your DNA. We are not sure what it does to its hosts yet.”

“How did I catch it?” Caroline looked at me like she was concentrating on what to say next.

After a brief pause, she responded, “We don’t know. You haven’t been many places, but still we don’t know. For sure.”

“Oh, come on! You Galactic Union types are always playing it safe. Investigating every cause. It’s from the Myrmekes and the Stilla. How else would you explain the Stilla’s odd behaviour and the Myrmekes leap into technological advancement?” Opifex said as he seemed frustrated by Caroline’s answer.

“Conspiracy theories don’t solve the issue! Scientific research will reveal the problem and solution for us!” Caroline answered.

Opifex just made an annoyed clicking sound at the response. It sounded so alien to me as the click was at a higher pitch than any human could produce. He breathed in and then I could see him choosing his next words carefully. “Think what you want! I am telling you it’s that damn Myremekes and you should be hunting it down!” 

“We tried, it seems to evade us every time.”

Opifex seemed even more irritated by that comment. “Can’t!? You have so much firepower that you could wipe that blob out of existence!”

“Not until we know more about what is happening!” Caroline responded.

“You’re all the same! Softly treading around the Galaxy. Afraid to offend any species. Trying to keep your precious Union together even when wars break out. We’re Tuhingan, we run when there is trouble. We barely have the technology to survive, let alone fight. But you, you guys, you could do whatever the hell you want. Why don’t you?”

I could see that Opifex had just let out a lot of frustration about the Galactic Union and I could see that it had caught Caroline off guard. She stood there stunned for a moment before responding. Desperately changing the subject. “Your new Companion can talk to you about this!” Opifex didn’t seem pleased at the statement. He made another clicking sound and then rolled over. An awkward silence once again filled the room. Caroline smiled down at me. “I’ll see you tomorrow, James. I should get going now.” I smiled back and told her goodnight and hoped she slept well. After which I closed my eyes to get some rest myself.

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