The following is another short story that I wrote recently as part of an ongoing writing prompt exercise with a fellow writer. The purpose of the exercise is to give us both a chance to practise writing prompts and stories. The original prompt text is in bold.
This week, we’re heading into space…
It was at that point he realised that everything in his life was leading up to this point, and in this moment he could not be less prepared…
The Academy training should have prepared him, but right now, in the moment, it was hard for Jared to recall a single word his instructors had spoken to him during those five long years. He breathed deeply, sucking in the hot, stale air and looking down through the centimetre thick armoured glass at the blue and green of the world spinning silently below him.
Ship air always had a weird taste to it, and Jared was never quite able to forget that he was breathing the same air that hundreds of other people had breathed before him. He closed his eyes, trying to centre himself and forget about the planet below him, and the infinite abyss of space beyond that. He thought back to when he had been selected for the Empathic Academy; he remembered his proud parents and Mila, his oh-so-jealous sister. She had wanted to go to the Academy so badly, but in the end he had been chosen and she had not. Jared had often wondered if it was the fact that she wanted it so badly that had led her to fail. His family could bask in the reflected glory of Jared’s selection for the next few generations, but he knew that someone else’s glory would never be enough for Mila.
To get accepted into the Empathic Academy you had to be a very special person with a very certain and pronounced type of empathy. That was key; every other aspect of your physical and mental abilities could be trained or enhanced, but not empathy, not for this purpose. If it was not natural then it did not work. Jared was one in a hundred thousand. One in a thousand thousand. Someone worth extensively testing, and sifting and waiting for.
And now, here he was, looking down at the planet from space, hanging in his isolation chamber beneath the hull of the ship; a barnacle on the belly of a whale. Jared felt that the weight of responsibility for what he was about to do would crush him if he wasn’t in a zero gravity environment.
Ping. An audible warning chimed softly and the light in the chamber shifted, the crimson glow of a ‘ready’ light reflecting from the windows and giving the world below a bloody hue. Jared’s hand began to shake – almost imperceptibly – with adrenaline. He was suddenly aware of every little detail around him; the smell of hot electronics in the air, the taste of his own sweat, the tiny distant wisps of white cloud floating high over the sapphire seas far below.
There was a gentle click as the headset for the 2-Empathetic-Black detached from its moorings. At last Jared felt his training kick in, his uncertainty evaporating into the recycled air. He put the helmet neatly onto his shaved head, ensuring all the electrodes had good contacts. The helmet was connected to the chamber wall by a snaking umbilical. Jared pictured the path of the cables, worming their way through the chamber wall and up into the bowels of the ship above, connecting his mind to the vast 2-Empathetic-Black device, a device that took up the majority of the leviathan craft. Sensing a good connection between Jared and the helmet, the ready light changed to an anticipating amber. There could be no communication with the rest of the crew now. No distractions. The light went green and Jared began his work.
At first all he could feel was the deep bass thrum of the 2-Empathetic-Black, but then he began to sense other things too, just like his training had taught him he would. A presence, distant and unseen, like someone joining him in a dark room. He focused on the planet below, thinking about the population, feeling their presence. Jared began to become aware of them – each of them – like a tiny point of pressure. But the pressures was not on his skin, it was in his mind, yet still somehow distant, far far removed. The presences he felt followed the map of the continents beneath him; greater in cities, sparser in deserts and mountains. As the machinery in the ship above gained in power, so too did the points of pressure in his mind become more distinct as individuals.
Billions of individuals.
The empathy that made Jared a one-in-a-million recruit suddenly came to the fore. He could feel their emotions: love, trust, joy, pain, hate, fear. It was like a towering wave and a deep well all at once. But he had to experience it all, he had to touch each of the sentient minds below. In the frozen north he experienced a mother’s love for her child, in an equatorial desert he experienced a desperate journey in search of water, in a city he experienced the sour taste of a business deal gone bad, and in the steaming jungles of the south he experienced raging hate.
The vibrations of the 2-Empathetic-Black device were coursing through his body now as it built to full power. In that moment not only was Jared aware of every single thought and emotion on the world below, but the people below were finally aware of him too, sensing his pride, duty and, above all, his love for them. If any of the population in the western hemisphere had looked into the sky, they may have seen glint of sunlight reflecting from the spacecraft of their new, empathetic god.
The green light blinked. Once, twice, three times. Auto injectors stabbed into Jared’s body, pumping his veins full of a potent neurotoxin. He died then, instantly, synapses dissolving, with not even enough time to register the cold needles that had punctured his skin. If he had then he wouldn’t have minded; he had fulfilled his years of training. He had done his duty. As his mind died, his thoughts fading to blackness, so too did the mind of every sentient being that he was connected with on the planet below.
Hundreds of metres above Jared’s silent, floating body, the Admiral Hawne watched the status screens dispassionately. The Admiral was a small island of calm in amongst the bustle of the ship’s bridge. Once this process of the 2-Empathetic-Black device had awed him, but now it was just so much machinery at work. Pawns moving on a board. Boxes ticked. Satisfied that the task was complete, he began to issue orders.
“Let the mission log show the indigenous population was exterminated at chrono-mark 12:43/2. I didn’t catch the name of the species, but if there’s nothing in the scout unit logs then make something up. Tag the planet as cleansed in the astrogation records and flag it for follow-up terraforming and colonisation. Another great leap for the expansion of Humanity. Housekeeping teams proceed to the isolation chamber, retrieve Graduate…” Admiral Hawne paused and looked at a data-screen “…Graduate Jared. Jettison his body with full honours, then summon another Graduate from the barracks and get them installed before we reach our next target.”
“Will that be all, Admiral?” queried his adjutant as he typed Hawne’s orders into his tablet.
“Let me know when we achieve orbit above…” he consulted the data-screen again, checking their scheduled mission route, “…Fomalhaut-4b.”
The Admiral turned and walked sauntered away towards the exit from the bridge.
“I’m going to see if I can scare up something for lunch.”