The Last Mistake

Adan deliberately ran his hover-car aground and jumped off. The twin moons were the closest now that he had ever seen them, just a hair’s-width above the horizon of the planet. They seemed to be kissing, and perhaps that was why they had been named Helen and Helios, those legendary characters with their tragic ending in flames. There would be no such ending for him, but only a slow, withering neglect, as everyone he knew had turned away from him. He would have put an end to himself as well, if not for the social stigma associated with suicide, to say nothing of his ethical disagreement with taking his own life. His family was not blamed at all for his mistake, but a suicide would change that. It was unthinkable.

He had to take what was coming to him, no matter that he hadn’t intended to do it. It was done, and nothing could change that now. A whole ship full of people—men, women, and children—gone down in flames, and all because of his faulty directions.

He had gotten the coordinates from a Tyrosian, a member of a race known to be liars, and that alone was enough to hang him, figuratively speaking, because he had trusted his source. There was no death sentence on Mantara, the planet of his birth, in the system Antares, and no penal colony. There were such things in the Federation, but the Mantarans did not believe in them. Social consensus was thought to be enough of a penalty, and rightly so. After all, the shunning was complete. He could continue to live his life, as best he could, seeing that not one soul would ever speak to him again. He could even buy his necessary food and equipment, but without any personal contact or verbal communication—not one word. He would have to input everything on his tablet and have it delivered while he was absent, picking it up later. Of course, he had had to move out of the city and build a new abode, a hovel really. There would be no contractors assisting him, and his portable tractor beam was too low powered to do more than erect the lightest walls. There were only the solar storms, when a person needed an insta-dome to protect against the cosmic rays. That was light work for his tractor beam.

Adan walked away from his hovercar and sat on a boulder, gazing still at the twins. He couldn’t help replaying the event in his mind, as well as his efforts to atone for his wrong. He had revealed the identity of the individual Tyrosian from whom he had gotten the coordinates—a woman, and a spy. He supposed that he wouldn’t be the last man to have been taken in by a beautiful female with a special agenda, but it was his responsibility to set the correct course through the field of meteors around the planet Tyrose. He could have consulted others. And it did no good to say he didn’t know that the ship carried the Tingaran ambassador, who had traveled incognito on a mission of utmost importance and secrecy. His death had brought the Federation to the brink of war, which, of course, was what the Tyrosians wanted. It had only been narrowly averted. The fact that Adan had beamed to the planet moments before his engineers went into the meteor field was the last damning bit of evidence against him. He couldn’t tell them that he had been lured there by the spy, for a secret assignation.

But what did any of that matter now? What could he ever do in a world where there were no second chances for capital offenses? Yet, it was his home and he had long ago accepted as right all of the provisions of law. Everyone did; it was the only way that things could work. Before that, they had been on the point of extinction, everyone living by his own idea of right and wrong and everyone’s hand set against his neighbor, and then the law-givers had arisen. This was also the time that the Federation came into being, as the concept of law spread. And this was why it wouldn’t help Adan to go anywhere else; the treatment would be the same throughout the universe—or as far as the Federation extended, for a thousand lightyears in any direction.

Adan noticed the slightest twinkle in the night sky, not much different from any blinking star. And yet, it was different. His years as a starship navigator allowed him to immediately perceive that this twinkle appeared where no star should be, in fact in a so-called “dead space” in the galaxy. And there it was again! This was nothing other than a starship coming out of interspace drive, dropping into the near space of the planet, though still many thousands of miles away. No friendly craft would ever approach Mantara from that direction, let alone drop out of interspace there.

In a flash, Adan realized both the threat and his course of action. When he had revealed the identity of the spy, he had inadvertently set in motion the disclosure of a web of deceit and corruption at the highest levels, even extending into the Federation. There were people who worked within that great organization who were not pleased with the rule of law and wanted the old times back. He knew it; everyone knew it. Or, at least, everyone had heard the rumors time and again, which had gradually assumed the status of myth. Because no one could prove it. Some of the member planets had threatened vengeance against Mantara because of what Adan had revealed. But there was a more important reason that they would want control of Mantara. The diamonds of fire, otherwise known as Carmelite—stones that had the power to drive starships, and also could be used in weapons. They were only known to exist on Mantara, the leaders of which had given them freely to the Federation for their ships. They had also forged their own weapons, in the event that a people ever wanted to take them by force. But, if they were surprised before they could bring the weapons to bear…

That would be a tragedy greater than any that Adan had ever witnessed, but one he could prevent. Maybe no one would talk to him, but he could speak, even though the penalty for such a thing would be the forced removal from Mantara. There was another planet in this system, where only the worst went, and he had almost gone there. The vote had been close. To Adan, there was no question what he would do. He ran to his hovercar and jumped in, slamming his hand against the thruster controls. The car lurched upward, almost too far, and then he moved his palm over the forward thrusters and it headed for the city. Adan went to the central communications tower, where he would be able to speak to the whole planet at one time. It was always heavily guarded and they would not be likely to let him approach closely. They could shoot him down. It was a chance he had to take. After all, even if his family had not lived here, he loved his home world more than himself.

Adan decided to go into the exhaust vents because that side of the tower was never guarded; the façade was impervious to enemy fire and faced the desert, where the sand monsters would stop all intruders. The vents were large enough for his craft, although they could destroy it if his timing wasn’t perfect. As he neared them he began to time the hot blasts of air and other gases, which were the end products of the conditioned air which supported life within. “One, two, three…now!” He slammed down the accelerator and was rewarded by being pressed back into the seat. Fortunately, he had thought to put on his safety harness. Into the opening he flew, with the sides of the port no more than ten feet from him. He landed in a shower of sparks, skidding off the metal floor. He had no time to congratulate himself on his skill but hopped out and used the jet propulsion on his suit to quickly fly up the center of the tower. In here, there was nothing in his way but hot gasses. He felt his temperature going up, and the suit began to chime—a warning. “It might melt,” he murmured, but still he continued up the chimney-like structure. On every floor all along the sides of the tower, ports bellowed their gasses in his direction, but finally he reached the top.

“Nothing to do for it but bust right through,” he thought, aiming himself at the wall of the tunnel where he judged the outer wall of the control center to be. He had been there before, but not from this direction. He covered his face with his arm as he hit the wall.

Adan didn’t remember much after that. He must have told the people who came for him what was going on, and they must have looked at their screens to verify what, by then, was a surer sign of the coming invasion, although it was still hours away. In any case, it was enough warning, and the city easily shot down the forward ships of the invasion fleet, so that the others gave up and retreated. As for Adan? The planet did what they had never done since the law had come: they reversed a shunning decision. Adan was free. His wrong action had cost some lives, but his right action had saved a planet. There was forgiveness, after all. His last mistake turned out to be his redemption.

December 05, 2020 04:56

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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