The dainty flares around him became solid once more. The distant stars gazed at him as his warp tunnel came to an end; the motionless surrounding void became tangible once more as the warp bubble collapsed, and yet, he heard not one sound. Tobias shrugged his delicate Intaki features.
He ran a quick ship diagnosis: Everything in order, but not a single sound. He always made sure that the ambient simulators were working correctly before leaving a station, he just couldn't bear the mindless, morbid silence of the cold. He admired pilots who did. He kept telling himself it was a sign of weakness, of a frail mind unable to grasp the grandeur of space; a mind not fit to be a capsuleer...
He was drifting again! He rushed to check the subspace communication beacon signal. Nobody in local. He throttled the engines and his heart, aligned to the star and engaged the warp drive. This time he “heard” the boom of the warp tunnel opening. He knew it was a lie, a cursed illusion that shackled his insanity by shocking his temporal lobes, and yet, he smiled inside his pod.
A few days ago his autopilot computer got stuck with a destination so distant from Empire, that he had only heard about it in legends. He turned his camera drones to the streaming pink star. That was a lie, he had heard about it, seen about it, dreamt about it in the past; and now that he was here, he was as always, disappointed in himself. There was nothing here except, as he was often told by his father, his own ineptitude and sadness.
From the first time he came across a CONCORD registry about this forgotten dreamland, far away from the empires´ grasp, he had fallen in love with it, with its dull stars and verdant promise. Yet, right now it felt incomplete somehow.
He relaxed his suspended body and set his ship to an impossible orbit around the massive sun. In the distance, his camera drones scoured the infinite, looking for... hope.
He first wanted to touch the stars to escape the voices he compelled to his head, to run away from the phantasms he thought chased him when he walked amongst earth-bound souls...
He felt a slight shock in his neck.
What a fool he had been, wanting to run away from the echoes of The Messiah.
With exaggerated motions he reincorporated, plunging his sensors into the endless horizon around him. They were here again. These thoughts that were not his, this nailed Will that accompanied his own. “Him”... was there. Tobias knew what to expect: perfectly normal scan results, nothing around him except for the perennial celestial objects. A testimony to his insanity...
He was wrong.
A powerful electromagnetic disruption wave hit his systems, making him shake inside his pod. All his sensorial brain regions were flooded with trash data. He crashed into a devouring abyss of interference. At that moment, he mustered all his might to activate his cloaking device; and for the first time in his sempiternal existence, it failed.
He could feel the displaced liquid as he closed his fists. His body trembled as he used all his focus to harden his shields. He had never been good at it, instead he prefered to rely on hulking armor plates to keep his ship in one piece. This time, he would need them both.
As soon as a camera drone came back online, a flash of yellow light flared against the hull of his ship. He felt his shields vaporizing, his heart shrunk as always. Countless more lasers began ravaging his helpless vessel, and the few hybrid charges he fired, went stray among the massive enemy fleet.
He could feel the laser beams striping away entire sections of his ship as if it was his own body that was being brutally mutilated. Suddenly, the enemy flotilla shut down its lasers; “it” had arrived.
Tobias felt a fist crumpling his heart right before his onboard computer had to compensate for the gravity field that the monstrous new ship generated. The last thing his camera drone received was the gigantic black hull, whose green-tinted probe lights invaded his destroyed ship, and the spikes. The sea of uneven, shadowy spikes that surrounded him, that nailed into his ship, his body and his mind...
He screamed! He screamed in pain like never before. He was breathing air and his limbs were strapped down to an operation table. His eyes covered with some heavy garment. He couldn't see or hear anything, but he could feel the myriad of wires jacked to his brain and sense the ominous movement of a mechanical contraption hovering above him.
Suddenly, some alien sort of tranquility overcame him. “It is all well, my child.” Tobias could hear an omnipresent voice, it was inside his head and in his ears; so close to him, so fraternally close, that he could feel His warm. And as the voice spoke, the pain subsided. “I, have saved you from yourself, capsuleer.”
Tobias was breathing heavily; he could feel his bones and flesh being stripped away from his body, yet there was little pain. Instead, he felt a rush every time a new bio-mechanical augmentation was connected to his nervous system.
- You are here, because Master is your destiny. -this new voice echoed through the room. It was a real voice, yet gray, devoid of any emotion or intention.- Because he is destined to all. His Promised Land is an impending future and you are here to serve in its forging; for where others saw failure and incompetence...” -for a moment it seemed to Tobias it was his own voice talking- “.. Master saw potential and hope.”
Tobias tried to talk back, but all he did, was a cough of blood before the monotonous dull voice that filled the room returned:
- Don't be a fool. The only reason for which you can hear me, is because Master told me to ask you a simple question: It is not whether or not you want to serve Him, it is whether you will do it willingly... You see, Master knows all of your secrets, he was there for you when no one else was. Every time you cried and cursed the universe, he was there, comforting you with his cold hand. Remember your father. Do you remember what you were to him?
Tobias entered some sort of trance, he wasn't sure if the wires were making his memories feel alive once more, or if it has his anger that was making them feel material; but he was there, in front of a bearded man who wore the Federation Navy uniform and who was yelling at him like no one else had ever done. In the old man´s jacket “Cptn. Tobias King” could be read in golden letters. His father was in front of him once more:
- You are a disgrace to this family name! You failed every test, every goddamn exam you somehow screwed! Even the physical one! Do you know what they told me? DO YOU know what they freaking told me? That not even the most advanced neuro-implants could make you a semi-decent capsuleer. That you would be an impediment to the navy, and that if you were to apply again, they will just put you away on sight. YOU failed to me! Your mother would cry every day because of you... -the man stopped and pulled a deep breath.-
- I´m ashamed to call you my son. -the gray voice pulled Tobias out of his nightmare- That is what he told you, isn't it? That is what made you so sad and so angry, and that was the first time you heard Master. Don't tell me you thought that you were alone when you pulled the trigger later that night. Please, Master was there guiding your aim, covering you with his cold ruthless stupor, taking the role of your father as the blind man died, and Him who could see the truth in you, embraced you as his own.
Tobias felt how the sterile contraption above him moved into position to work in his chest. He panicked. He began to struggle, trying to break free from his bounds or kill himself trying. But as quick as it appeared, the panic was pushed away... Once more he felt that warm soothing, as if Him were whispering again, but Tobias could only hear the cold mechanical voice that continued talking next to him:
- And later, when you altered your own test results. Did you really think that it was your amateur informatic skills what got you away with it? -there was a short silence, as the surgical machine began making savage yet painless incisions in his thorax- Master is good with his children. He grants us many favors, and above all, he makes us perfect...
The precise laser cutting began to slowly fade away, Tobias could hear the machine cooling down and moving away from him.
- What your father said, was a lie. Master, your true father, has made you perfect. He endowed on you the gift of boundless technology. We erased what was wrong in your body and made it complete, as it is meant to be...
Cold hands clasped Tobias´ head and removed the blindfold from his eyes. Red tears of blood fell to the gridded floor, as his new mechanical iris adapted with surgical precision to the room´s light. Close to him, a tall standing figure moved with mechanical coldness. As if unaware of Tobias´ gaze over him. When he finally saw the figure´s face, he wished he could have closed his eyes. A bizarre amalgamation of man a machine stared back, as if a dead body had been fused with a wrecked ship. An unproportional mechanical helmet replaced his head from the forehead back and unsurprisingly, his stare was devoid of any emotion.
The surgeon came close to him. Descending what seemed to be a powerful laser right above his skull.
- Do you want to leave behind the lie that was your life? -asked the surgeon with unchanged tone- Are you willing to take part in the shaping of the universe? -the laser began building up charge- Or do you want to be a mere slave?
Before answering, the surgeon added one last detail.
- Don't lie. Master doesn't like children who lie.
- I want revenge. -Tobias´ voice held now little difference to that of the surgeon; he felt artificial, yet alive as never before- I want revenge on the fools that held me back. I want revenge on them who could not appreciate who I was.
- What else?
- I want to take part in shaping Master Sansha´s Promised Land. I want to help him build it up from the ashes of those who are blinded to the truth.
- What truth? -Tobias could suddenly see, the smile of Master Sansha in his head, as clearly as he had seen his father before-
- That Sansha is unstoppable. That the nation is here, and that its greater than ever.
The surgeon turned off the laser and loosened Tobias´ restraints and as he sat in the table, he heard His voice, one last time.
“Walk my child. For your True life begins now...”