Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. I never had the chance to take for granted the innate ability of other Golani to create vibrations with their larynxes, proliferating through the air to activate the auditory pili protruding from the periphery of their skulls, activating the electrochemical impulses terminating in their auditory cortexes which facilitate oral communication. I understand the mechanics perfectly well. Yet, my pili are purely aesthetic. I was born with a rare condition called Pillaphasea. My pili have no neuronal connections to my brain. I have never even heard my mother's voice, and now I watch her writhe helplessly in terror as the oxygen evaporates almost instantaneously from her blood, imagining how her screams might sound for the first time in my life.
As I watch her die in paralyzed anguish through the viewport of the Brightpath, I see the diffuse light emitted from our navigation console undulate on the bulkheads above the metaglass.
Someone is behind me.
Before I can turn, I have the wind knocked out of me from behind. I ricochet off the airlock door and crumple to the floor. I try to stand but I am forcibly flipped onto my back. As I gasp for air, Wraithe steps over me and grabs the lapels of my lab coat. He pulls me close then releases my left lapel and punches me in the face with his right fist. My world goes dark for a moment as blood erupts from my broken nose and mixes with the tears on my face. I’m thrown back to the floor as Wraith stands up straight and pats the dust from his coveralls. He waits for me to open my eyes and face him before he looks down on me, sneering, as his lips slowly and emphatically trace the word “traitor” for me to see.
He walks over to the console, removes his blood-drenched tactical gloves, throws himself into the pilot’s chair, and turns to face me. We are alone now. My mother is dead. Jaunt, my lab technician, is in a coma if Wraithe hasn’t pulled his life support yet. The rest of the crew is MIA on the surface of Belara-139, or dead, bodies strewn throughout the ship.
“You blasting runt.” Wraithe screams. “I knew you and mommy were hiding something. I blasting knew it. But, by Haven!! I never imagined you and your blasting insects…” He laughs in disbelief.
Wraithe starts entering commands into the console. Coordinates. He’s taking us back to Golan and leaving the rest of the crew to die on the surface.
“You’re the traitor, Wraithe.” I manage through the blood pooling in my mouth.
My words don’t convey the typical garbled sound of my condition thanks to 7 cycles of corticovocal therapy. I never thanked my mother for that. The therapy is excruciating. I resented her for her inability to afford the neurogenesis procedures I needed, forcing me instead to endure those painful stim sessions. But now the resentment is gone, replaced by the shame of only now grasping the complexity of her reality. Now she’s gone and her murderer sits in front of me as we orbit the jungle planet.
“Maybe, Javi. Maybe.” But you won’t be around to hear how this all pans out.” Wraithe chuckles after a moment at his unintentional joke.
“I’ll be sitting quite pretty once I deliver your little bugs to my fencers. People will be parting with generations of wealth to get their hands on our special delivery.”
“They belong to all of us, Wraithe.” I yell as I try to find my feet.
“Sit down.” Wraithe pulls an ion pistol from his thigh holster and aims it at my head. I sit.
“I’m not talking about your worms, Javi! I know what you and Jaunt found. It took me a few clicks to figure it out though, I tell you. I kept wondering why we couldn’t just leave with your maggots in tow 3 months ago and end this Haven-damned mission…How you were able to know what I was gonna do before I did. But those blasting critters of yours are going to make me very, very rich. Don’t worry, Jav! I’ll give you the credit for saving what’s left of Golan. But, after all that I’ve been through, I’m taking the crab and selling it to the highest bidder and there’s not a lick you can do to stop me now. Put these on.” Wraith tosses a pair of binders onto the floor in front of me.
“You can’t, Wraithe. The Cerebite is dangerous. We don’t know what effects it has on people yet. Jaunt is in a coma!”
“Cerebites!?” Wraithe snaps. “Haven, is that what you’re calling those, those…mind crabs? In any case, I should be thanking Jaunt. If it wasn’t for his little nap I would never have figured out what you were doing with that thing. How does it work, Javi?” Do they lay little eggs in your skull or something? How do I know that some alien insect isn’t going to erupt out of his face and assail me in my hypersleep? I should end Jaunt now.”
“No! They don’t lay eggs…Well, we don’t know how they procreate. We think…”
“I said put on the binders or I’ll burn a hole through your skull!” Wraithe bellows.
I put them on. They warm slightly as they activate and my hands magnetically sinch together.
“I should have taken the mission home months ago. There’s blood on your hands because of your little secret experiment! We had the worms, Javi. But you, your ma, and the rest of your little science nerds kept making up stories, keeping us on this blasting jungle while Golan starves.”
There’s truth in that. We could have left months ago, he’s right. The “worms”, as he calls them, are necessary for restoring the terra on Golan. Without them, the planet’s biospheres will not be able to produce enough food to sustain even a fraction of the population. Millions have already starved and billions more will soon follow. It was beyond stupidity to stay here, but the Cerebites may be the most important discovery in Golan’s history. Wraithe is only beginning to understand one aspect of what they can do. There is so much more. That might be my only way home now.
“You can’t kill Jaunt.” I say.
“Why is that, Jav? And don’t blasting lie to me. I happen to know how to tell if you’re speaking the truth, thanks to you.” He winks.
“We don’t know what else the Cerebites can do yet. They could be more valuable than you think, and Jaunt is connected to one of them. He’s in a coma but his brain activity is extremely abnormal. It’s as if he is conscious. Plus, we only have one left alive. What if it dies on the journey home? Then you have nothing.”
Wraithe ponders this for a moment then angrily slams his fist into the wall.
“I knew I kept you alive for good reason, Javi!”
Wraithe presses a button on his bracer and my binders magnetically affix themselves to the floor. He turns toward the navigation console and cancels his previous coordinates. I feel the G-forces change as the Brightpath begins to break orbit. We are heading back down to the surface to collect additional Cerebites for Wraithe’s payday. But it buys Jaunt and I time.
As the ship begins to descend, a wave of emotion cascades throughout my entire body. The loss of Thera, my mother, elicits a sadness I have never before felt. Tears begin to stream down my face and drip to the floor, tinted with blood. But underneath my sadness is something else. Something burning. Rage. Fury. Boiling under my skin. I sit, bound to the floor, staring a hole through the back of Thera’s murderer. I can barely breathe.
Wraithe will die screaming, and it will be the first scream I ever hear.