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Gideon woke to the calm sound of a heart monitor. He could feel the soft warm bed beneath him. He felt ancient, at least eighty years older. Sore, fatigued, and stiff.
“The test. The Empire of Dusk.” Gideon thought. He opened his eyes to a large white room. The Hospice. His was the only bed to occupy the room. It was filled with terminals, devices, Gnats, and several Anforms. Father was sitting by his bedside. He noticed Gideon’s waking and spoke,
“Gideon. My son.”
Gideon turned to father to see a mix of fear, apprehension, disappointment, and anger. Another voice joined in off to his right.
“Gid… You’re awake.” Anna said.
Gideon turned to look and saw her mouth was pinched and her eyes were red with crying. She was trying to keep it together still. Gideon tried to comfort her.
Anna slapped him in the face with her unmodded hand. It wasn’t hard, but enough to make a point.
“You were drinking! Of all the days to… To!” Anna couldn’t continue.
She quietly burst into tears. Gideon held out his arms as she fell into them, weeping into his shoulder.
“You terrified us, Gideon. We all thought the Empire of Dusk did something else to you.” Abigail stated.
She strode forward, her six hands clasped over one another at her waist.
“How you could have been so… Foolish!” Abigail barked.
Gideon squinted his eyes in recoil as Abigail got closer. He didn’t like the idea of a three-handed slap.
“Do you know what was done? How close you were?” Abigail continued as she pinched the bridge of her nose with one of her hands. She looked tired.
“Abby, I…” Gideon tried to say, but Abigail interrupted him.
“Galen, show him the report.”
White pixelated light formed together to show a tiny man with an oversized head wearing a doctor’s coat and head mirror. It’s simple ASCII face had a pleasant look, despite the circumstances. It spoke with a soft voice.
“Of course, detailing medical report.” Information streamed inside Gideon’s head.
Liver damage - repaired; continue monitoring Heart damage; minor - repaired; Spinal cord stress - repaired Kidney damage - repaired Vascular lesions - repaired
“Jesus…” Gideon swore.
“Do you understand now? Do you?!” Abigail continued.
Anna got off the bed and went over to her side.
“Gid. If they weren’t fast enough, you might not have survived. I didn’t know and gave you the maximum stim dose. I-it was my fault, I…” Anna sniffed.
Abigail hugged her.
Father spoke up and everyone turned to look.
“Gideon, you had no idea you were to be injected with stims, otherwise you would have protested. Anna, you had no idea Gideon was trying to relieve the stress of his first test flight today, either. The shock of the Empire of Dusk hangs over all of this.”
He turned his gaze to Gideon, the heavy stare of a wounded father.
“Gideon, how long? The libations?” Father asked.
“Three years,” Gideon stated plainly.
Father looked down in thought. The room was quiet for a time. Gideon foolishly spoke, trying to justify himself.
“I’ve always been stuck in the shadows. I could never display myself as anything more than mediocre, to be married off to some-”
“It’s not about you!” Father roared.
The room felt as if it was suddenly decompressed to the blackness of space.
Father continued softly.
“It’s not just about you. It’s about the family as a whole. The Lineage. The Empire. You could have said something. Spoken up. Yet you let these cancerous thoughts run away from you; let these insecurities fester. Marry you off to some governor’s wench? A Mars Tech Anform? Be a ruler of a small moon, to languish away like an ill-kept toy?” He was staring straight into Gideon. An intense look Gideon knew well. Gideon couldn’t match it and looked away.
“No,” Father stated.
“You compare yourself to your brothers, as if my love is dependent on the number of battles won or women wooed; tech invented or sales made. Like your life only amounts to the galactic yearly profit variables!” Father kept going.
“Do you know why I accepted you to this grand test flight?”
Gideon was silent as he looked back at father.
“Because I want to involve you into my craft. I want to find your passion and build on that. I want to know what you love and what you don’t. When you asked about this project and was curious about it, I was more than happy to give you this assignment.” Father was getting more excited.
“And do you know what? The people like you. They enjoy your company. Your questions. You’ve worked hard at piloting and control. Even Baxter appreciates you.”
“Baxter loves anyone!” Gideon countered.
“Not just anyone. He speaks the most to the one he trusts the most.”
“Baxter, come,” Father ordered.
There was a loud yawning and clacking near the bed. Baxter was asleep on the floor, waking only at the thought of getting attention. Gideon could see the peeking of ears over the bed as Baxter stood short. Father gently picked him up and placed him on the foot of the bed. Baxter tried to sit, but his wiggling rump prevented that.
“Gid. Are just OK now? I was worried but now you are OK. Can we go fast now?” Baxter chuffed.
He was happy to see Gideon healthy again.
“I’d love to, Baxter, but I’m not sure anymore. I may have lost flight privileges.”
“Denied. The doctor tells me you’ll need a few days to rest, but we shall continue the flight.” Father rejected Gideon’s self-chastisement.
“Oh boy!” Baxter barked in excitement then paused, “Wait… A day and a day? Oh boy...” he let out a whine as he realized the timeframe.
He slowly fell over in a dramatic fashion, plopping on Gideon’s feet.
“What? Really? Even after…” Gideon murmured.
“Speak of it no more. However, no more decanter.” Father added.
The room lightened up with the news. The flight would continue in fifty-six hours.
“Abigail, Anna, Baxter. Come, let’s leave Gideon to rest.” Father left the room with everyone to let Gideon sleep and think.
Gideon pondered back on the drinking and self-doubt he struggled with. He pondered heavily on his father’s words. His mind went to an idle memory of he and the rest traveling to Karmmrak. It was a long and arduous journey to make. What should have been a few days turned into a month and a week. It took several days for the planet to align perfectly with the FTL window so that the vessel would exit inside the planet’s shadow and to immediately enter the planet’s AMC881 alloy hangar bay doors before the sun baked them to instant slag. Even then, the shields were maxed out even inside the shade. In the end, they had all made it safe.
He felt shame at his secret being revealed, his struggle was now out in the open for others to judge. It would hang over him as a weight, ready to drop at any moment. For people of Gideon’s status, vices were looked down upon. The royalty, or in his case, son of the CEO emperor of Primetech, his reputation not only had to appear spotless but be spotless. With the Galactic Nebula, anything he did could potentially end up appearing on a thousand planets within seconds, the quantum entanglement of q-bits allowed instantaneous travel of information without a delay regardless of distance. A terrible act could plunge shares for Primetech in an instant, similar to plunging your favorite capital ship into a black hole out of a heavy drinking habit made public. Gideon felt he was safe as his father would write it off as the stress and shock of meeting an Empire of Dusk Being up close. Not to mention here inside Karmmrak, no information left the planet. This was a massive missed shot across Gideon’s bow. He would most likely never have this opportunity of grace again.
The last time he ended up on headlines for the Galactic Nebula was the reason he carried at all times. It was why he trained religiously at the firing range. He stopped himself from thinking too far into the past and drifted off to sleep.