The price is the price.
PATOR IV – MATAR
I had seen him there only a few hours earlier, looking around furtively, making sure nobody saw him enter the massage parlour. I couldn’t blame him for wanting to come to this place; “Tip & Top” was famous for its hot rock massages. I had followed his adventures through the holovids for months, and couldn’t believe I was in the same place at the same time as Colonel Roc Wieler. I called all my friends immediately, telling them what was going down, telling them to meet me at the massage parlour right away. We all knew we were too young to get into the parlour, but they would be as thrilled as I was when they saw the surprise I had waiting. If we were lucky, we might even get his autograph.
Almost an hour later, there were over thirty of us. Some of my friends had called their friends; some of their friends had called theirs; and so on. I guessed all my secrecy had really built up the hype. I felt a little shy about it really; I had read how much the Colonel valued his privacy. I hoped he would be in a good mood still when he saw all of us waiting for him outside the parlour.
Churney turned to me from our lookout less than a block away. “So what’s going on Reyft? What’s with all the shush?” Churney had been my best friend since I was four; that was almost seven years now. He could see the excitement in my eyes, and knew it must be something big for me to be so secretive. I liked surprising him; he was such a good friend to me.
I pointed to the massage parlour. “Any minute now, you’ll see. C’mon, let’s get closer.” The Colonel’s massage appointment should’ve been finishing soon. We scampered across traffic, making our way to the building the massage parlour was in. I looked around me and smiled; we almost looked like a thug gang. They weren’t seen much around here, this area of the city was too nice and too well patrolled.
We waited outside the massage parlour anxiously for my hero. Not everyone thought soldiers were celebrities, but we did. We knew how amazing they were. I had read all about Capsuleer technology, and knew that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. To be able to serve the Republic in such a way was the highest honour any of us could ever hope for, and we were about to meet a living legend. It gave my skin gooseflesh.
The Colonel exited the building, no more than ten feet from me. We all started cheering, chanting his name, screaming for his autograph, suddenly very much the children we were. He stopped midstride, taken aback, but an awkward smile crossed his face, and I knew we had gotten lucky.
I pushed forward amongst my friends, a portrait of him I had downloaded from the interweb in hand. “Colonel Wieler! Roc! Please may I have your autograph sir?” I yelled towards him. I couldn’t believe I was so close to him. He was much shorter than I expected.
He patted himself down, looking for a pen. I handed him mine. He took it with a grin. “Sure kid,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“My name, my name is Reyft, sir.” I stammered out nervously. He chuckled at my awkwardness, but not in an insulting way. I actually found his laugh soothing. He scribbled on the picture and handed it back to me. I snatched it from his hand, holding it close, reading what he had signed. To Reyft, Fly safe. Roc. I smiled from ear to ear; I had the signature of my hero. I was oblivious to my other friends as they closed in around him, each of them begging for his autograph, straining to touch him.
“And the one true God shall free all the ignorances and prejudices of our people. Only by surrending ourselves to His will shall we ever achieve lasting peace between all His children.”
I looked up to see what was going on. There was a man standing about fifteen feet away from us, dressed in a robe. He was yelling about God or something. I had read about these guys in the newsvids. They were some sort of cult that came from Amarr. I hissed. I hated the Amarr even though I had never met one. They were the bad guys. They were evil slavers. I ran over to the man, screaming at him with all my strength.
“Shut up old man! The Amarr suck! They make slaves of us! They don’t know the gods!” I was so angry at him. How could a Matari like the Amarr after all they had done to us? Every child knew the stories of the Amarr. Every child was afraid at night that the Amarr would come to get them in their sleep.
The commotion near the Colonel had died down, as they all turned to watch this preachy guy. The smile the Colonel had on his face only moments before had been replaced with a scowl.
“From the mouth of babes comes forth the blasphemies of our ignorance and shame! Be warned, a great purge is coming! Those who stand against the one true God will surely fall!”
I don’t remember what happened next exactly. I remember I was going to yell at him some more. I wanted the Colonel to see I was brave. I looked at him for approval, but I saw his face grow afraid. Why would he be afraid of this man? He was Roc Wieler! He was afraid of nothing and nobody.
He started yelling at my friends, telling them to run. I didn’t understand why. I turned back to the preachy guy, to yell at him some more. I was even going to use some swear words I had learned.
His robe had opened. He had stuff on his body. It was blinking.
Everything went white at that moment. I felt a loud ringing in my ears. My body felt numb. Even over the ringing I could hear screams. I could see the building beside us falling apart. Not falling apart really; falling outwards. There were pieces shooting from the building like little meteors, small hot rocks in the sky. There was dust everywhere.
That was three hours ago.
I’m telling you this story because I just woke up. I can’t move. I’m buried beneath a lot of stones. My body isn’t numb anymore; it’s in so much pain I can’t even scream. One of my eyes isn’t working. I can see Churney. I can see parts of Churney. He’s dead. Many of my friends, and many strangers around me are dead. I think I might be dying. My hand is still holding my picture of Roc Wieler. It’s burned at the edges. I can’t see him anywhere.
Everything is getting dark.
Please, can you tell me what kind of God wants his people killing others? What kind of God would make a man want to blow himself up, killing innocent people around him simply because they don’t believe what he believes? That doesn’t sound like any god I’ve ever been taught about. The gods I learned about are loving. Sure, the god of war kills people, but only the enemies of the Republic. He is loving too. All the gods love us.
I miss my mom and dad. I miss my friends. I want to cry, but I can’t.
Everything is getting darker.
I feel something moving by my legs and look to see what it is. It’s the Colonel! He’s moving rocks away. I can barely see him. He looks sad. He looks scared. He looks like a normal man. He’s talking to me but I can’t hear what he’s saying. He stops moving rocks and comes very close to my face, holding my head in his hands. His glasses are gone. He is crying.
“Hold on, kid. Medvacs are on the way.” He sounds so gentle, so caring. I try to tell him it’s ok, but my mouth isn’t working properly. He makes a shushing gesture, a nice one, and just holds my head close to him. He’s still crying.
“I…” I begin, focusing very hard on my words. “I want to be a capsuleer, just like you. I…” I can’t make any more words, everything is getting too dark.
I can hear him scream. It’s loud and sounds like he’s in pain, but it’s not scary. I open my eyes to look at him again. He’s looking at me like my father would. “You are a capsuleer, kid. You are braver than any pilot I’ve ever known.”
I try to smile, but can’t. Everything hurts so much. Everything stops hurting altogether. I breathe out a long breath, everything going dark for the last time.
Before I fall asleep I hear him say “Fly safe pilot.”
It’s ok now. I can sleep.