SYNOPSIS: A young man makes his way out to a long forgotten town, and discovers that he should embrace life and love, rather than let all of it slip away.
I don’t know what was going through my mind when it happened. I was walking the same route I always took towards the train station which would lead me to university. The bag was swung over my shoulders; my wallet was in my pocket. My dark hair was blowing into my eyes, the wind picking up speed as it always did around the shadowy corner I walked by. And there all of a sudden it was; a bright blue bus which pulled up beside me at its intended stop.
Now, I don’t know whether it was because I’d never seen it before, or because I knew I’d never get a chance to ride it again due to the death sentence hanging over my head, but I suddenly had the urge to deviate from my usual schedule.
Now, I’m not a man who normally takes risks, but all of a sudden, instead of walking on I decided that I would ride the bus. I didn’t care where at this point in time; I just knew I wanted to be sitting on one of the luxuriously furnished chairs positioned across the interior of the strapping vehicle before me.
After purchasing a fair from the driver I made my way down the centre of the bus and sat down on one of the farthest seats from the front, placing my bag atop of my chest and resting my head against the soft backing of the chair. My eyes began to droop and sleep came over me as I felt the bus beginning to pull back onto the road.
I don’t know how far I’d travelled, but by the time the bus driver woke me the surroundings outside of the bus had drastically changed since last I’d seen them. Instead of a city made up of metal and bone I found a country atmosphere greeting me from my window, not a single thing reminding me of home. I yawned before rising to my feet, hanging my bag over my shoulders as the driver said ‘end of the line.’
‘Where am I?’ I asked, staring outside the window, a radiant sun beating down onto the metal hull of the bus, while a light breeze carried leaves across a dirt road, small estates located across the dry terrain around me.
‘Townsville’ said the driver, nodding for me to exit.
‘Is there really such a place?’ I asked, scratching my head.
‘Must be son, ‘cause you sure as shit are in it’ chuckled the driver as I made my way off the bus, watching it disappear in a cloud of smoke and back up the dusty highway from whence it came.
I stumbled across the road before making my way across a small dusty trail which led to a rundown hotel with white paint peeling off from its exterior. I sighed before walking through the creaking door which swung upon loose hinges, a bell ringing above my head to signify my presence. A minute passed before a rather stocky woman made her way out from the back. She wore a dirty white apron over a blue and white striped shirt, her face appearing to be as run down as the hotel she resided over.
‘Ah’ I began, before proceeding on. ‘Forgive me for asking, but where exactly am I?’
‘A few miles away from civilisation’ said the woman in a croaky voice as she lit up a cigarette. ‘And that’s exactly the way we like it.’ She looked at me inquisitively before continuing. ‘You’re not from anywhere around here, are you?’
‘If I knew where here was that would be greatly appreciated’ I said.
‘I already told yer’ expressed the woman. ‘Imagine wherever you were before arriving here. This place, is a long way from that.’
I looked at my watch, noticing that one and a half hours had gone by since I had made my way onto the bus.
‘What, you gotta be somewhere?’ guffawed the woman, before extending out her hand. ‘Name’s Trudy Watson.’
‘Ryan Shields’ I said, taking her hand in mine.
‘Okay Ryan, perhaps you could start by telling me what yer doing here’ began Trudy, ‘then perhaps I could help you out.’
‘I honestly don’t know’ I said. ‘I just had this inkling to get onto the bus; and so I did. Suddenly, hey presto, I’m here.’ I sighed before going on. ‘Ah, perhaps it’s because I felt that I should not continue living the way I was used to and try something a little different, especially since I won’t be around for much longer.’
‘What are yer talking about?’ asked Trudy. ‘You’re a young man. Me, I’ve got cancer and you don’t see me doing anything that ain’t what I’m used to. So what could possibly be prohibiting you from living till the age I am now?’
‘My liver’ I said. ‘When I was younger I contracted Hepatitis A through food. That taught me not to eat at a restaurant, that’s for sure.’ I gave a weak chuckle before continuing. ‘Anyway, it damaged my liver and over time it has gradually become worse and now it’s inoperable. The only way to fix me up is to replace it entirely, but I’ve been warned that the risks are too great. I’m booked in to have the surgery in two weeks time. I did however sign a DNR.’
‘DNR?’ questioned Trudy.
‘Do not resuscitate form’ I said. ‘My lawyer looked over it and confirmed everything was in order. So if I flat line during the procedure, I stay that way’
‘Why would a young man such as yourself want to go kill yourself for?’ asked Trudy.
‘Everyday for as long as I can remember I’ve lived a life of regret’ I began. ‘I’ve only managed to accomplish half of what I wanted and I know that if I do survive the operation, nothing’s going to change. I’m not going to have a sudden epiphany and do everything I never would have. Including asking the girl I’m infatuated with to go out with me.’
‘Girl?’ asked Trudy. ‘Wow, if you’re willing to kill yourself to ensure you don’t have to talk to her she must be something special. What is her name?’
‘Cassandra’ I said, taking out my wallet and showing her the picture I carried around with me. It was a photo of me, Cassandra, and three others within one of my classes during a group exercise. Cassandra however stole the lime light. Her light brown hair shone brightly in the camera flash, which preserved her physical beauty forever in the image.
‘The ideology I live by however is; what’s the point of intimacy when you’re already dead inside?’ I stated, sighing to myself.
‘I think I know why you’re here’ said Trudy, handing me back the photo. ‘Everyone in this town is here for the exact same reason’ she said, taking off her apron and beginning to make her way out from behind the counter. ‘Follow me, I want to show you something’ she said, before beginning to lead me back out into the open.
We slowly walked along the dirt trail before stopping outside a small cottage a few metres down from the hotel. ‘Here lives Mr. Bristol. He arrived here about eleven years ago. He’s an athlete who never believed he was good enough to attend any of the major events, and when given the chance to compete believed he wouldn’t succeed, so instead, came out here.’
Trudy slowly began to continue up the trail before stopping outside a small metallic house on the opposite side of the track. ‘Here lives Mr. Sall. He’s an artist who never believed he could cut it. When his wife died of Leukemia her only wish was that he would allow others to see his paintings. He however failed her, as he did himself and retired here not twenty years ago.’
Once again Trudy began to make her way back up the trail as I slowly followed behind, the track becoming steeper as we stopped outside of a double storey residence which was constructed from pine. ‘Mrs. Smeath lives here. She used to sing in a church choir group. When a man she had always loved came up to her and asked her to accompany him with his band as they toured the country she agreed. On the day she was to meet him however she felt that he would not like her if he were to hear her sing once more and instead came out here. That was sixteen years ago.’
Trudy took a deep breath before slowly moving a little further up the trail to a house which had a jet black coat of paint draped across its exterior. ‘Mr. Turtletaub resides here. He was engaged to be married to an incredibly beautiful Turkish woman, but a few days before they were to be wed he left, believing their relationship would not last because he felt he was not going to be good enough for her. He arrived here eight months ago. Like everyone else here, he ain’t ever going to leave.’
Trudy sighed before making her way a little further up the trail, the wind billowing before us as we came to stop in front of a thinly crafted double storey residence made from a metallic substance. ‘Mrs. Valdreski lives here. She’s a woman with a Croatian background who fell madly in love with an Anglo Saxon woman. She however never confessed her feelings because she believed that she would be not only be rejected, but completely humiliated as well. On top of that, she thought a blending of different cultural backgrounds would not go down to well with either parities parents, and so instead came out here. You’d think that the hate people have for homosexuals would be yet another fear which corrupted her sensors, but no, it was not funnily enough. For fourteen years she’s been living in this house. You might recognise the woman she fell in love with. She’s now the leading woman behind a homosexual movement in Melbourne.’
Trudy smiled weakly before beginning to make her way up a little farther to a small house on what appeared to be the outskirts of the little town I’d discovered. ‘And here, the crème dela crème of all bad cases is where I live. I came up here twenty four years ago because I couldn’t face my family. I’ve a daughter who I’ve lost touch with. She hates me, or so I believe and personally I feel that if I were to ever see her she would not even bother attempting to make conversation with me.’ She sighed before continuing. ‘I guess the point I’m trying to make here Ryan is that I don’t want to see another person wind up here. All of us are here for the exact same reason. None of us could ever face whatever it was we wished to accomplish with our lives. I only hope that you can go back to civilization and do for all of us what we couldn’t do for ourselves and live God damn it, live.’
I found myself back in university the next day, my class coming to an end as I began to leave in the same manner I always did, completely avoiding Cassandra on the way to the door. Before I could stop myself I had stopped in front of where she sat and had opened my mouth to speak. ‘Excuse me’ I began, Cassandra looking directly up at me, my heart skipping a couple of beats.
‘Yes?’ she asked. ‘You’re Ryan, right?’
‘Yeah’ I managed, surprised she even knew my name.
Cassandra smiled. ‘Is there something you wish to tell me?’
As for what I said, I doubt I have to write it down, for you know, just like Cassandra does now, exactly how I feel for her. She stood by me during my operation and now we’re engaged to be married this August. As for every other man out there who’s in the same position I once was I ask only one thing of each of you. Find the one thing that you need and hold onto her forever.
Synopsis: A synthetic super soldier, accompanied by a team of space marines, goes on a suicide mission to assassinate a renegade militarised leader.
‘I lost my entire team. It was then, under the fluorescent moons and the tranquil stars that it happened; I truly became a ghost. Absent of life, love and soul. Then, as I felt something inside me wither and die, I felt nothing at all – but pain.’
August 10th, 2291, 15:47p.m
Space Station Acquilous, orbiting planet Morta
‘We have an assignment that requires your immediate attention’ barked Commander Frankes as his deployment team stood to attention before him, each dressed in dark blue military uniforms.
His face was heavily lined from age, his eyes looking weary yet still full of life, with a massive scar placed across his left eye that made its way to the side of his mouth.
‘You will descend to the planet under the cover of an asteroid bombardment and eliminate renegade parliamentarian Joseph Welsh. We have tracked him to an isolated part of the planet, but numerous enemy troops have been detected in the area. Safe to say this is a covert exercise. If you are spotted, you are subsequently on your own. You do however, have a late arrival to your squad’ continued Frankes as Captain Rawlings grunted ‘perfect.’
‘And this new addition we might add is a synthetic’ said Frankes, the team breaking into an argumentative uproar.
‘But sir, the synthetic program was disbanded’ said Church in a Spanish accent. ‘They were believed to be dangerous.’
‘They were bred to be dangerous’ explained Frankes as the synthetic dressed in full body armour which shone under the pale light of the fluorescent moons outside the station walked out beside him. A metallic helmet with a glistening visor prevented all from seeing the new addition’s face.
‘A fully operational biologically augmented super soldier in the flesh!’ cried Ross as though all of his dreams had just come true at the sight of the individual before him.
‘Don’t get too attached’ grunted Rawlings out from the corner of his mouth, his eyes narrowing as he spoke. ‘He’ll only be with us on this one operation before he gets shipped out to the other side of the universe, right?’ he asked, giving his commanding officer a dirty look as Frankes nodded at him. ‘Good riddance I say’ continued Rawlings with an angry grunt. ‘Synthetics are trouble and that is the one thing that we do not need on this operation.’
‘You speak as though from experience’ said Church. ‘Speak your mind with us boss.’
‘I worked with a synthetic on one of my first operations back when I was with a former squad’ grunted the Captain with a facial expression that clearly signified he did not want to be re-living such a memory. ‘We were tasked to take out a nuclear reactor that was being used by pirates to fuel the battle cruiser they were using to threaten the local planetary settlements. However, during the mission we were spotted and forced to lay down cover fire. The synthetic managed to successfully enter the reactor whilst we created a diversion and planted the explosive charge. Although this could be seen as a decisive victory for us, it certainly was not for me. I lost my entire team that day and that synthetic did not show an ounce of emotion when it happened. He did not flinch, he did not break; he did not say anything. He just moved on with his life.’ Rawlings took a deep breath before proceeding onwards. ‘True, they are good to have in a battle, but they are completely unreliable when it comes to complex human feelings. They simply just don’t have ‘em. They are cold and unemotional. Basically, they are walking, talking ghosts.’
‘Introduction’s all around’ smiled Frankes, interrupting the Captain before he had the opportunity to continue. ‘This is Captain Rawlings’ he said, nodding at a man with graying hair whose eyes were immersed in the colour black. His nose was oddly positioned upon his face, looking as though it had been broken numerous times in the past and had been quickly repaired on the battlefield by a corpsman rather than an actual trauma surgeon.
‘Church’ he noted, indicating a short female with dark flowing hair, a scar over her right eye. Even with this imperfection she still looked beautiful, her lips having a delicate shine to them. She appeared like all women were meant to; gorgeous and gentle, but underneath all of that you could tell there was a distinct danger lurking beneath her skin in the thing you could have once called a soul. It was her eyes that gave her away. They looked as though she had seen an awful lot in her time as a soldier; seeing things that nobody should ever have to; the kind of things that can alter ones perception of reality forever.
‘Tommbes’ he said, nodding at a giant black man with a shaven scalp. His skin was a light brown in colour and he had an overly large forehead. His eyes seemed rather small in comparison to the rest of his face, but unlike the other team members he looked more like a gentle giant rather than a heavily trained killing machine.
‘And Ross’ he said, pointing at a shorter male with white eyes. His hair too was the exact same colour, with a great, toothy smile plastered across his face. He looked more like a comedian than an actual soldier.
‘The code name given to your new synthetic team member is Ghost’ concluded Frankes.
‘Sounds appropriate’ muttered Rawlings under his breath as Frankes gave him a look that suggested he was through with the commentary on the subject of the synthetic super soldier.
‘I would have expected more from you Rawlings’ said Frankes in a stern tone of voice. ‘A person like you does not become squad commander lightly. So how about you quit all of your whining and mutterings and speak your mind out loud for all to hear.’
Rawlings looked at his team who each shrugged and moved their bodies in odd positions as though the each of them were at a loss for words. ‘Great’ grunted Rawlings, finding himself in the one position he did not wish to be – alone, in a room filled with his fellow comrades. ‘No offence sir, but I don’t need a babysitter’ grunted Rawlings.
‘You don’t have one’ shot back Frankes. ‘The synthetic will assassinate the target; you just need to keep ‘im alive.’
The team looked about to explode into a confrontational argument once more before Frankes barked ‘that’s an order! Now move out!’
With that, the team made their way down the hall to where numerous pods were positioned across the walls, each soldier entering their assigned pod before being jettisoned from the station. They flew through the cold darkness of space, a great asteroid field orbiting around the turquoise and jade coloured planet.
Whilst passing through the sea of asteroids, Rawlings’s pod was suddenly without warning clipped by a small meteorite fragment. Smoke began to protrude from the engines as his oxygen supply became grossly limited, his vessel going off course by a few degrees before plowing into a large piece of rock. The pod exploded on impact, his body flying out into the cold blackness of space.
Church cried out in anger as she saw what happened, the remaining pods being pulled in by the planet’s gravitational field towards the surface below.
August 10th, 2291, 16:29p.m
Surface of planet Morta
Church’s pod fell open as she crumpled to the moist ground beneath her, rising to her feet with a groan as she held her aching head. She looked at the luscious rainforest canopy surrounding her, taking out her Personal Data Assistant and scanning for the nearest team members. Picking up her sub-machinegun from the ground she slowly began to hurry in the appropriate direction.
Around her were plants; all of which were the likes that she had never seen, many comprised of colours that she had never believed plants could ever be made from.
Travelling for a few minutes, Church managed to discover Ross beside a glistening swamp. ‘Have you seen Tommbes?’ questioned Church. ‘His signal is coming from somewhere around here.’
‘Somebody get me out of here!’ cried out a muffled voice, Church turning to face the swampy lake before her. Tommbes’ pod was located in its centre, the suction slowly pulling the pod under as both Church and Ross looked at one another.
‘I’m not going in there’ said Church, folding her arms.
‘Who pulls me out if I get stuck?’ retorted Ross, just as a crunching sound was heard behind them, both soldiers pointing their firearms in the direction of the noise.
The synthetic appointed to their team suddenly came crashing through the undergrowth, sniper rifle in hand as the soldier took one look at Tommbes’ pod, before strolling straight into the swamp. Grabbing hold of the pod’s door, the synthetic ripped it from its hinges, throwing it across the swamp before picking up Tommbes by the scruff of the neck and throwing him onto dry land.
‘Did we all make it?’ cried out Tommbes as he crumpled to the ground.
‘No’ said Church mournfully. ‘We lost Rawlings.’
‘The mission is our only priority’ said the synthetic in a deep throaty voice, walking out from the swamp and swinging the rifle over the broad shoulders of its person, beginning to walk deeper into the wilderness after accessing the necessary co-ordinates from its PDA.
The remaining team members watched the synthetic, before Church began to gradually nod, now being bumped up the chain to the level of commanding officer of the team after the death of their beloved Captain, the each of them beginning to follow the synthetic super soldier.
After what felt like an hour, the team came to a standstill overlooking a cliff edge, the perfect vantage point to assassinate the target as the synthetic set up the sniper rifle and crouched down low, looking through the scope.
‘I hope he knows what he’s doing’ grunted Church.
‘Hey, he saved my life’ said Tommbes. ‘The least you could do is cut the guy some slack.’
‘I only meant it in relation to the mission’ shot back Church. ‘It would suck to have him spotted and killed this far into enemy territory.’
‘Were it so easy’ grunted the synthetic, listening in to every word they said whilst zooming in with the scope on the target’s location.
A large militarian outpost was positioned a few kilometres away, a menagerie of grey metallic buildings situated across the encampment with numerous soldiers patrolling the exterior of the installation. In the centre of the base was the parliamentarian they had been sent to neutralise; addressing the military formation standing before him as they cheered in appreciation for what he was saying. He had a dark moustache covering his upper lip and wore a blue militarian hat atop of his head, screaming at the top of his lungs whilst thrusting his hands in the air like a militarian dictator.
Squeezing the trigger, the synthetic fired a single round, the bullet after a few short seconds slamming into the head of the target. Striking him with more force than a magnum pointblank, the parliamentarian’s head was pulverised beyond recognition, blood showering the soldiers before him as an alarm was raised. Ghost quickly swung the rifle over its shoulder, the four soldiers beginning to pull out.
It wasn’t ten minutes later as they were escaping that Tommbes was suddenly clipped in the leg by a bullet, falling to the dense undergrowth as he groaned in pain, blood seeping from the wound. The others went to ground, attempting to find the enemy. With one shot, Ghost neutralised the enemy combatant. Moving towards Tommbes, Ghost was suddenly shot in the head, spinning around and ripping off the damaged helmet, throwing it to the ground before drawing a pistol, the team shocked by what they saw.
Standing before them was a blonde haired woman, her facial features surprisingly smooth, her eyes an ocean blue in colour which were instantly filled with fury as she fired on her attacker who crumpled to the ground. Ross made his way out into the open to help Tommbes, a bullet connecting with his head as blood profusely spilled out everywhere, his body falling over backwards.
‘We need immediate cover fire!’ cried out Ghost, her voice being silky and feminine, no longer the animalistic growl which had being heard through the helmet. Ghost helped Tommbes to his feet as the remaining three soldiers opened fire on the enemy combatants who were surrounding them. Bullets flew through the forest as trees became pulverised, the cries of animals running for cover echoing through the brush.
Ghost was hit in the chest by a round, the bullet ricocheting off from her armored suit as another bullet hit Tommbes in the neck, blood spurting out from his jugular as he collapsed onto the ground with a sickening cry of pain.
Ghost continued to fire rounds from her rifle, removing the empty clip and shoving in a new one, watching the enemy fall like flies before her as bullets were continuously released from the breach of her weapon. As the enemy converged on their position and continued to be depleted, Church thought for a second that they might be able to hold out long enough for a transport vessel to evacuate them to safety. But this hope of hers however was instantaneously destroyed as a mortar slammed into the ground beside her, blasting the landscape into oblivion as her world turned to black.
August 10th, 2291, 22:04p.m
Surface of planet Morta
Church lay in the embrace of Ghost’s arms, blood flowing gently out from her torso as she tried to raise her head. ‘Don’t move’ said Ghost firmly. ‘I’ve called in air support. They will come and pick us up in the next few minutes. Just hold on.’
Church looked up at Ghost, her features scarred with a few cuts and bruises, but ultimately she seemed to be in perfect working order. Church again attempted to raise her head, getting a glimpse of her body, one of her legs having being completely blown off in the blast. Pieces of flesh and the remnants of veins were all that remained of a once proud limb, the blood being stemmed by a health pack that Ghost had apparently used whilst she had been unconscious. Church lay back onto the ground and groaned in agony, looking up at the dark sky above. ‘Ghost, look at the stars’ said Church. ‘I never realised, but they all look so beautiful.’
‘Don’t talk’ replied Ghost.
‘Your codename, Ghost, what does it mean?’ asked Church.
‘It was a name, assigned to me at the moment of my initiation into the synthetic program’ replied Ghost. ‘All synthetics are given an identifiable name upon being recommended for combat duty.’ She said such lines as though reading them off a script.
‘I’m sorry we couldn’t protect you’ said Church. ‘We should have done better. But ultimately, what did you think of us, our performances on the field?’
‘You fought and died with valour, the way marines should’ answered Ghost. ‘You’re a soldier.’
‘And you’re a ghost, aren’t you?’ noted Church as Ghost looked at her in surprise. ‘That’s why you were given the name because of how cold and unemotional you are in the making of every decision.’
‘Don’t talk’ replied Ghost. ‘Conserve your strength.’
‘I won’t need it’ said Church, Ghost looking down at her in shock. ‘You know as well as I that I won’t make it. But you will and you will need all the strength you have for what I am going to ask of you. I want you to put aside all of your training and your overwhelming strength and promise me, that you will try to do the bravest and most daring thing of all; that you will try to do what we no longer can – that you will live, for us, the way any human should.’ With her last breath Church fell backwards into Ghost’s arms, her eyes rolling back into her head as she lay motionless in the presence of the synthetic.
As Ghost looked down on her, she felt a tear well up in her eye and fall down her cheek as she laid Church’s body to rest on the ground. She tore a cluster of flowers out from the ground and placed them onto Church’s chest, moving her deceased fingers into a cupped position atop of them. She looked remarkably at peace.
Over the radio Ghost heard a voice say ‘we will reach the extraction point in t-minus two minutes’ as Ghost rose to her feet, a feeling she had never felt before welling up inside her. Perhaps it was a long lost figment of humanity that had once been with her before her instigation into the synthetic program. Perhaps it was an incredibly strong emotional backlash from the words that Church had just said to her, words which had hit home; had hit hard. It was uncertain where such a feeling was coming from. All Ghost knew was that the feeling was there; and it was tearing a hole right through her.
Taking a small red container out from a pouch on her back, she gripped it tightly in both hands, remembering what Frankes had said to her;
‘If you or your team are captured, use this. It’s a miniature nuke, which will completely eradicate you, your team, and anyone else in the vicinity for a few thousand miles. We can’t allow any of you to fall into enemy hands. But you must promise me that none of your team members find out about this. If they knew they were going on a suicide mission, none of them would have signed up for it.’
Ghost swallowed as she spoke into the radio. ‘I lost my entire team’ she began, taking a few steps forward.
‘Ghost, what the hell are you doing?’ cried a voice over the radio after she had finished speaking, hearing the sound of enemy reinforcements converging on her position. Taking off the gauntlet on her right hand, she pressed her palm onto the screen of the device which instantly registered her fingerprints and instigated the weapon. ‘I’m going home’ she said, just as an explosion rocked the entire planet, the world of Morta descending into silence.