by Serena W. Sorrell
Pitch Black. The absence of light. A flash of red. I return to the void of nothing. Once more the blinding red reappears. It continues like this. A steady, slow rhythm, like a heartbeat. I know it’s happening quicker than I presume: the flashing warning lights, the choking noxious smoke filling the cramped corridors, the screams and cries of my crew, all of it happening so quickly. Yet, nothing has ever been slower. Death creeps. Their anguished faces more like a jester’s pantomime. Gases spewing from the damaged mechanisms on board make a slow, rolling storm cloud at our feet, hiding bodies and blood.
Silence. Overwhelming silence. I know these faces, contorted in pain, are making terrible noises. I know these sirens are blaring alert after alert, reading out damage reports, and telling all remaining personnel to head to the nearest escape chute. I know the soldier at my foot begs me for help as he chokes, tears streaming down what remains of his face. I know it, but I hear nothing. I feel nothing. I can only watch the horrific scenes unfold. Helplessly watch a madman paint the final moments of these men. My crew. My soldiers. My brothers.
Is this what it feels like to die? It isn’t so bad. I have time to recount my life’s events. How little I accomplished. I suppose the soldiers I’ve held in my arms over the years, as they lay dying, told the truth. Everything does slow down to an oozing crawl when Thanatos comes, which is most annoying to a man of war, of action, of killing. You reap what you sow, my father would say.
How annoying. The only gods who actually work with any timeliness are the ones who oversee death and suffering. Cursed Fates. They must be cackling in their dry, raspy coughs as they clutch my thread. Snipping at it, filament by filament. They deny me a swift end. Damned hags.
Can’t a man die in peace? Violently, clumsily, I roll my head and search for the intruder of Death’s great masterpiece. Two hands grasp my shoulders. Orion. Ah, how long have we’ve known one another? Let me think, it’s almost eleven years. My good friend. Yet, I’ve never seen him making these expressions. Strange, blood has never offended him before.
“Prince Demetrios, you’re heavily injured!”
I try to laugh. Blood gurgles in my throat, a sound like someone choking on wine. It disgusts me.
“No, Orion. I’m almost dead. There’s a difference.”
The extent of my predicament comes to his eyes. His blood-drenched glove grips the shoulder which was neighbor to my arm. That isn’t even the worse of my injuries. Blood floods my insides, sinking me.
“You and your damned jokes! Come on!”
He raises what remains of the nub over his own shoulder. I teeter and smash into the wall. A deep, wet crimson body-made brushstroke paints the pristine white of my chariot’s walls.
We move. Orion moves me, as best he can, down the corridor. Relief floods what little senses I still cling to. At least a quarter of my crew made it out, and those who didn’t are, at least, dead. No more suffering, men. You served Halinnoc. I shall meet you in the Elysian, my brothers.
“Lord.” Orion shakes me from my reverie, “We’re at the escape chutes.”
A truly good man…
…who owes me nothing at all…
…but seems to think he does…
…because of some ancient kindness.
Going to be alive tomorrow–Orion.
Not going to die for some prince–Orion.
“Go down first, please. I’ll follow.”
I may be missing a hand. My left arm is–Zeus only knows where. My thigh is near severed, and dangles by a scrap of flesh. I have a piece of–what is that–a lever?–lodged in my abdomen. But my eyes see clear. And, I can count.
There is one dinghy at the bottom of this chute. Charon was not made with many. She was supposed to be unconquerable. And what Halinnoc fears Death?
However, it doesn’t take a medical genius to guess who will survive the trip back to Halinnoc between servant and master. Why, I’m sure that cut on his face will heal without even leaving a scar.
“Kak!” More blood dribbles and froths over my lips from the wrenching cough. I double over and Orion loosens his hold on me. As I knew he would.
“Demetrios!” He is ready to catch me. Always loyal, ever diligent- and easily fooled by a fake cough- may the gods bless him.
“I’m sorry, Orion, I can’t keep all those promises.”
My name dies in the air when I hit his center of balance with all the power left in me. He tries to balance, and instead overcompensates. How many times have I told him not to overcompensate? With a shout more beast than noble prince I swing my dangling leg into his armored stomach. The leg comes free from the momentum, or the impact, and Orion sails down the chute clutching my lost limb.
Nonetheless, it did the job. The door seals as he plummets into the pod. From there the ship will be on autopilot. Back to Halinnoc, or the nearest fleet admiral’s ship. It doesn’t matter. I watch from the floor. My friend’s dinghy jettisons away from this wreckage of death glad his face is hidden behind the black orb of his capsule. I don’t wish to see the face of someone I admire contorted in anger, or worse, sadness. Lysander too, he will grieve me more than he will be able to bear. I apologize to my heart’s heart.
I am alone, at last.
It’s a difficult task to stand in my state. The pain is easy to ignore, it’s the physics of having one leg where there had been two, but Halinnocs do not acknowledge pain. Though, recalling the faces of my crew, I suppose we do. Maybe I don’t care about the pain. All I can think of now are the amber oceans of grain, wind caressing the field’s bounty. The clean, crisp zephyrs as they stroke Halinnoc’s seas. The deep smell of our soil after a fall of rain.
I will never see my home again.
I will never breathe its sweet air again.
I will never touch the grass as I walk through the fields again.
I will never taste the sweet cassis wine again.
I will never hear the muses sing their melancholy tune at twilight again.
There are more regrets, but time is fleeting.
I regret promises made, which will die with me.
The floor morphs under foot. All that blood really is mine–was mine. I see beyond the window. Beautiful black, speckled with violets and azure, emerald and ruby, in every direction. It is as though some mad painter dropped ink into night, here and there, pricks of a billion white, serene lights mottle the edgeless canvas.
“Zeus. Poseidon. Hades, even! I don’t care which one of you hears me, but I know full well you do. Help me finish it.”
Vertigo hits swiftly, and knocks me into a support beam. The lights are shutting off. My Charon has no more power. She’s dying just like me. It’s somewhat beautiful isn’t it, Charon? You, of all things, to be yet by my side. Dying, alongside me, to ferry me where?
“I don’t care who hears me. If I become a heretic, I don’t care! If it means a future for my people, then damn my gods! Damn every god of every world! Damn my family! Damn my name! Damn the cosmos themselves!
“I don’t care.
“If there is any god; good or evil; wise or foolish; of creation or destruction. Any god who can just give my promise life, I’ll worship them. They may feast on my flesh, rend my soul from its case, and I will worship them.”
My mother would agree with such blasphemy. I had always imagined I’d see her at the end. Yet, we will never see each other. She belongs in Elysian. As for me, I damn myself if it means saving life.
My balance fails. My eyelids are heavy, and heavier still. Charon gives a final lurch and I am on the floor once more.
Tears sting the gashes on my face. If any god plans to hear my plea they best hurry.
All is quiet.
My men lie dead around me.
My great chariot falls in the star-filled void.
My blood, the color of Halinnoc’s flag, pools around me.
And, my eyes finally close.