There is no memory that will make this easier; no beachfront sunset, or painting, or passionate night that will sum up my life and make this death mean anything that it already doesn’t. However, the war was not the first memory that I would have chosen to swell to mind as I faced the barrels of the firing squad, it was a final reminder of a life I never wanted to live.
Memories of aliens screaming in voices that would have shaven asphalt off of pavement, and human soldiers fall like snow on dense rainforest worlds that had never seen winter.
I try to shut all of this out, to forget what my life became. I try to concentrate on the image of her face. On those stainless blue eyes, and high cheeks. I feel that if I focus hard enough things will begin come back to me.
No face had ever been so important, and so I force out all other thoughts and close my eyes to imagine Vanessa’s pale face; or is it her face? It was so long ago, and so distant. Where her eyes really that blue, her hair that tussled? In my memory she is standing beside me, our feet planted firm on conquered foes.
The details are slipping through the cracks of my mind; did I imagine her eyes paler, that her hair that was short, or a more upturned nose? I don’t recognize the face swimming in my vision. Could I have imagined ever being happy with this woman? Did my fevered brain, old and distorted with fear and self-doubt, construct a life long ago when we were alive together?
I try to recreate her again; but the proportions are wrong, the colors are awash. Even so, I cling to this approximation of love, if I lose it then I have lost her forever.
Now the memory is the color of a screen tuned to static, grainy and wrong. I barely hear the firing squad assume their positions, so obsessed with gathering the features of that haunting face.
The memory is lost again, swallowed by my battles on mankind’s once unconquered territories. I remembered spending weeks bleeding and baking in the desert before I was found. The ragged boys who rescued me, equal parts disgust at what I'd done and awe in meeting the man from the recruitment posters. I remembered losing the person who meant most to me in the universe. I remember losing my mind. But I cannot remember her face.
These dark memories formed solidly, unhindered by misgiving for my current predicament, as for a brief moment I felt the pains and horror of my wasted life as new.
The firing squad deftly hefted their weapons, preparing to put another traitor to an end.
I barely remembered the color of Earth’s sky (was it blue like her eyes, or darker?) but I could recall with perfect rigid clarity every sunscorched inch of Everest’s deserts. I remember how I felt the day we arrived, like something sick had crawled into my chest and died.
I remember telling myself that this would be the last world, that after one more massacre I could return home. These flashes slide through my fevered brain in the moments before the barrels before me fired, and I would be blown apart still wondering why.
In my memory a camera lens flashes, capturing an image that would become famous, the three of us young and unafraid before the stark wilderness of Everest. It would find its way into every home, adorn every recruiting office...
"Take to the stars" it would say, but to "take from them" became our ravenous task. That image, stark and undiminished by years, bubbles un-summoned to the forefront of my mind. It recalls another life, another man. Not me, not now, sobbing and babbling, a creature of nothing but appetites and fears clinging futilely to a face that swims just out of reach in the haze of my vision.
This isn’t the way we should be. There should be robots and heroes and worlds to explore. There should be crystalline cities as high as small moons, ships that slip through space and time with all the suddenness and ease of a magician’s coin disappearing from view, and a universe where death itself has been cured. Not this brutal empire of man, conquering world after world in the lust for power.
I try to picture her one last time, and all I can see is a limp and lifeless body tumbling into the dirt. All I can sense is madness.
There is a sound, distant thunder.
Whatever there was in me of the soldier, the writer, the explorer, the helmsman of vast space-tunneling crafts, whatever obsessions ate at the dark edges of my mind, whatever yearning I had ever felt for nameless places faraway, whatever desires swept me far from home, whatever simple hope for a better world, remnants of boyish longings to fly, dreams of dark spaces and alien heights, fantasies of noble deaths, and her perfect face, whatever human qualities brought me to this moment swelled, expanded, and burst with that sound. The sum of my life exploded into focus in the instant before the trigger was squeezed, and then faded with me.
Now it is dark. I am expecting someone. I think it is a woman, and I can almost picture her face in my mind. I know I told her that things would be better, that after one more bloody battle we could have our lives back the way that they used to be.
She is gone. I am slipping away. Lost to the desert again.
I can’t do this without her, this isn’t the way that the story goes.
Things are fading so quickly.
Please, someone, help me. I am alone.
I am frightened.