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Flame Arrow Publishing

Brins d'éternité #46

Brins d'éternité #46

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First Chapter Look Inside

Every breath is agony and the wait, unbearable. For a moment, the man seems to be free of his illness, but at the last second, he gasps in a large gulp of air, as if he were about to drown.

Skyler monitors his patient’s irregular vital signs closely.

The Fairies have been relentless with their victim this time. They are unpredictable, and especially cunning. They will now enrapture the man by luring him into their invisible realm. It’s a one-way ticket. First, the Fairies induce dreams of a world where anything is possible, where the Flood never happened. The dreams are a little longer each time, and then the harrowing of hell begins.

There is no shame in being tempted. Even Skyler would like a second chance.

But fairies do not exist, of course. 

The pungent stink of solvent wafting off the patient is Skyler’s cue to prepare the procedure. Everything must be ready before the man slips to the other side. It’s a swift process, only a few minutes, and every second is crucial.

Skyler leaves the man momentarily to gather what he needs for the next step. He makes his way through cases of pharmaceuticals—mostly painkillers—to the back of the circular room, where sits a recessed cabinet. He holds his breath and drags open a large, heavy cabinet drawer, its worn metal screeching, where a dozen remaining spheres each lie on its cushion, asleep, waiting for a host. The missing spheres are already buzzing with life in the Archives. Skyler makes a mental note to hit up the warehouse of the Medical Bay soon and replenish his supply.

He smiles at the gentle coolness of transparent glass in his palm. This is a victory that will change the course of history.

He closes the drawer, taking care not to damage the remaining spheres. They are invaluable, the result of many years of research and heated debates with his mentor, Dr. Nazar.

Skyler walks back to the dying man as Mira scribbles a few notes. His colleague’s skin is strikingly pale, her freckles almost invisible in the stinging overhead light that dissolves all color in its path. Delta Division should have taken care of the ward’s poor lighting by now, but just as with every other request aboard the Ark, Skyler would have to be patient.

He fits the sphere into the depression that feeds into the encephalogram at the head of the bed: Its integrated touch screen lights up with interlocking curves. Skyler prepares the calibration by checking the signature of the host’s brain activity: an array of unique frequencies, much like a fingerprint, that the system recognizes.

“I’m not sure I understand,” Mira says to Skyler as she moves closer to the monitor, pen in hand.

“Make sure you adjust the sphere to the brain’s maximum and minimum frequencies,” he explains, pointing to numbers on the screen. “If you want any chance of encoding all their memories, be as accurate as possible. Averaging the data out won’t do. You must scan all the data from the last twenty-four hours.”

“The system’s measurements aren’t good?”

“It tends to leave out sudden variations. But even minor variation is important to storing all the memories. If the range of data is too wide, it introduces too much interference, making it impossible to tell one memory from another.”

“Good to know.” 

A muffled moan draws their attention. The man is in critical condition.

“Get ready.” 

As always, the wait is unnerving, but also deeply sad. Even though they were trained to remain emotionally distant from their patients, Skyler can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness for Francisco. The poor man has no one to spend his last moments with. No family to care for him.

When the Fairies do their work, though, the victim doesn’t feel regret. Quite the opposite; it’s all blank looks and blissful smiles; a hollow happiness towards death.

A long, hoarse sigh brings a sickening acrid smell. Francisco is no more.

“Now!” Skyler says firmly. He supervises Mira as she initiates the transfer.

Four minutes. It only takes four minutes to extract the entirety of someone’s lived experiences. It doesn’t seem long enough, but it can be done.

Sparks escape from the center of the awakening sphere. They become long, hair-like strands that diffuse into the water, twisting and entangling as they swirl counter-clockwise.

If only the many who died before Francisco could have had the same chance. The life experiences of every Archean are invaluable to those who will repopulate the Earth. Their ancestors fought to survive, but what has become of their joys, sorrows, fears—their stories? What made them human? 

Forgotten. Every last one of them.

The swirling finally slows, and the emitted glow deepens, which means the transfer is complete. The sphere fills with a scarlet light, a hallmark to the disease’s victory. It is the individual’s electrical frequencies that determine the light’s hue: a biological signature unique to each individual, one that cannot deceive. However, the Fairy Syndrome alters this signature, although no one knows why yet, but Skyler intends to find out. On his own, of course, since the Delta Division will never get involved—they have other priorities.

“Do you have any more questions?” he asks, dropping the still-warm sphere into a cushioned carrying case he’s pulled from the cabinet.

“I think I’m okay,” she replies, while she finishes jotting down some notes. “I just need to try by myself next time.”

“You’ll be all right,” he says with an encouraging smile. “You’ve always been one of the most competent people here.”

“Is this even worth it?” snaps a voice he wishes he hadn’t heard. Chris. The son of the Paragon general of the Theta Division, Duke Kay. Top of their class, he was spoiled for choice; he could have joined the ranks of an army ready to answer to him at the drop of a hat, but instead, he makes their lives a living hell in Med Bay. No doubt his father couldn’t handle him either.

“I mean, going to all this trouble for a bunch of average people who lead mind-numbing lives?” adds Chris, who crosses his arms, his perfect face warped by its usual sneer as he glares at him. Despite being in his early twenties, his cheeks are still as smooth as a child’s, giving him a deceptively innocent look.

“And your life is more worthy?”

“My knowledge of modern medicine will be useful for future generations. As for him,” says Chris, pointing at the dead patient with a disgusted look, “the Syndrome has already affected his brain beyond repair. Do you really want future generations to remember his bouts of madness? What’s the point?”

“What if it’s the key to saving us? All of us?” asks Skyler, his fingers clenching the box of Francisco’s memories. Chris snorts with an amused half-smile.

“Don’t take your dreams for granted. Just because Dr. Siria supports your ideas doesn’t mean they’ll make any difference.”

“At least I’m trying to make sense of our work. For all of us.” Chris gets close enough that his breath grazes Skyler’s chin.

Skyler doesn’t flinch. Chris has been the same ever since he can remember and Skyler avoids him as much as possible, ignores him even, but working together complicates things. Why does Chris go to such lengths? If he put as much work into caring for his patients as he does for himself, no one would have to work overtime.

A glint flashes through Chris’s eyes. Is he enjoying himself?

“You’re wasting your time,” Duke’s son scoffs. “This Syndrome is a fate that we must accept. It is a fair response to our sins.”

Mira blinks and stares at each of them. Chris thinks he has the answer to everything—a trait he borrows from his father—but if anyone should spend more time in the sanctuary pondering his sins, it should be him. Has he ever actually been there? That would be a surprise. His family is not known for its piety. Even his own mother didn’t have a proper funeral.

“How would you know?”

“It’s not rocket science, Sky. You disappoint me. You really do. I thought you’d be more perceptive, but by the looks of it, sympathizing with these weaklings has affected you.”

“I don’t have to answer to you, so get out of my way. I’ve got work to do.” Chris thinks, blocking Skyler’s path, for a long while—so long, in fact, that Skyler considers pushing him out of his way. But then Chris steps over ever so slightly.

A missed opportunity. There will be more.

“Somehow, I understand Dr. Nazar,” Chris says thoughtfully as Sky heads down the hall. “I would have given up too, just to avoid listening to your grumbling.”

“Yeah, whatever,” says Skyler, his back turned, ready to leave. Mira asks Chris to stop, but Skyler doesn’t dwell. It’s always the same with Chris. He’s been opposed to this project from the beginning, arguing that the memory spheres should be for those who truly deserve them. Well, that’s not for him to judge.

Everyone deserves a chance.

* * *

The harsh lighting of Med Bay gives way to the dim light of the corridor, which mimics the amber glow of dusk—or at least dusk as it’s described at the Academy. Skyler rubs his burning eyes, another telltale sign that the ship is contaminated by poorly filtered underwater oxygen. His father often complains about the problems with ventilation and high humidity that he and his colleagues in the Delta division, the Ark’s largest division, have to deal with.

Skyler narrowly avoids a puddle as he enters the nearest elevator. The condensation beads lining the doors glow dimly in the evening light. He takes a seat among a few civilian Archeans, decked in Delta uniforms, chatting quietly. Deltas are found almost everywhere, given the considerable burden of maintaining the ship and its equipment. Skyler gently releases his grip from the case he has been carrying, his hands sore and fingers stiff from clutching it so tightly. He brushes over the numbered buttons on the elevator with his fingertips. Those for the dining room and cabins are faded, but number seven is clearly visible, shiny even. He presses it.

Chris’s jab has dampened his spirits. If only Chris could stop making his life insufferable… He lost Skyler’s trust in the past and his snarky remarks only make it worse.

The metallic creaking of the elevator is not exactly reassuring, but life on a century-old Ark isn’t without its flaws. 

He becomes aware of a baby near him crying, a bitter reminder of how uncertain their future is. Not only might this shabby elevator never make it to the top, but they might never make it out of the ship alive.

Upon reaching the seventh floor, Skyler follows the hallway towards two large glass doors and crosses two Paragon agents on silent patrol, their electric batons in plain sight, who pay little attention to him. He is asked to identify himself by a computer-generated voice and scans the wristband he’s worn since birth. He’s immediately granted access and the doors slide open, emitting a cool breeze that gives him shivers.

Welcome to the Archives of Humanity. May you be granted salvation.

If only it were that easy. Machines have an uncanny ability to take words intended to be comforting and render them meaningless.

The lobby of the highly protected Archives flaunts a swarm of surveillance cameras and concealed doors. There is a sacred feel to this place that houses everything the Archeans know about their ancestors’ world. It bathes in a diffused light with a simple corridor leading to a spacious circular room, where an equally spacious and circular reception desk marks center stage. The other employees do not notice him, apart from the young girl who usually prepares his Nave. They exchange a smile, but nothing more.

The Nave is blinking at him, but he’s already used up all the time allotted to him this month. Taking in the fragments of the lost world in these private cabins can be an intoxicating experience. Limiting their time is a silly rule, since hardly anyone comes here, but the Naves are few and should be available to all authorized personnel.

Skyler walks closer to the dark, slightly raised granite counter lit by a bluish backlight against a dark background which is not what you would expect for a place like the Archives. It contains no physical books, since most of them were washed away. Those that were digitized before the Flood remain in servers stored here while the rest is lost forever.

Dr. Siria is not here, but, knowing her, she can’t be too far.

He crosses the large room and slips through the dark hall that leads to a seemingly invisible corridor; due to some optical illusion, black on black, it perfectly deceives prying eyes. A faint light at the end is all that guides him as he passes through.

A smell of newly heated plastic wafts through the air of the room specially equipped for his memory spheres project. The spheres are stored and decoded here. For now, there’s nothing too impressive, just a terminal and a repository that collects the spheres, which can reveal the memories of past existences. At least that’s what Nathan claims, the Delta engineer breaking protocol to help them.

“So soon?” Dr. Siria greets him, her gaze shifting from the terminal screen to the box. “Had I known there would be so many, I would have reconsidered your request.”

“Should I just stop everything now?” he replies defensively, Chris’s jab still hurting.

“Don’t take it the wrong way,” she laughs as he opens the box over the receptacle.

The threads within the sphere spin lazily, casting a glowing waltz of reddish light that dances on the walls of the dark room. Dr. Siria stares yearningly at the sphere, mesmerized, and moves in to take a closer look.

“I would have better prepared, that’s all. It is a great privilege to add these to the collection.” The glow casts curious shadows on the face of Valentina Siria, the only doctor daring enough to support his project from the beginning. Although Sky likes his mentor, Dr. Nazar has been skeptical, and Dr. Siria had to convince him by assuming all the risk.

“At least these people won’t be forgotten,” he says, reluctantly leaving the fragile globe in the care of his patron, who places it into the receptacle which swallows the sphere whole. The room loses the warm glow that gave it life and only the cold remains. 

“We will soon have to make sure our efforts are not in vain,” adds Skyler, breaking the contemplative silence that had settled. “Though how we might do so eludes me.”

“We must not lose hope,” she answers, a faint smile on her lips. “If our ancestors had given in to despair, we wouldn’t be together here today discussing this.”

How much longer will they have to hang on to hope? Repopulating is unlikely at this time, and the memory spheres are still in their infancy. Not to mention the resilience of the Syndrome taking hold. 

How can you defeat an enemy that does not exist?

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