February 22nd, 2013
Author : Matthew Wells
Clink. Clink. Clink.
Aden’s chains struck the floor like bursts from a lazy pulsar. The voices from the other side of the clear partition, chaotic and full of rage, were strangely mute. He saw the crowd without really seeing it, and he knew only the sounds of his chains.
Upon some unseen signal, the inflamed gathering reluctantly took a seat while he was fixed to a steel chair.
As he looked, two faces in the front row stood out. He knew the family. They had testified at his trial. Thru a fluke, they were the only ones to have directly survived the disaster. Today, a young man with black hair sat between them.
Members of the gathering, a small selection of families of victims, took turns lashing threats and oaths, rebukes and rancor into the microphone.
To be fair, while the accident was a devastating catastrophe—a colossal failure, it was wholly unintentional. He had set fire to a star. The Deep-well Boson Cascade, his experimental magnum opus, had burned a solar system to ash.
After the poisonous words ebbed, he was given the chance to speak. Instead, he hung his head and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” came the soft reply.
Aden looked up, surprised to see the young man with black hair standing at the microphone. The crowd behind him watched dourly. His father looked baffled. The young man observed Aden without malice.
“You survived the blast too, didn’t you?” Aden said.
“Yes. My name is Bo,” he said softly. “I know you didn’t mean to do it.” No one challenged the young man. As the only survivors, his family held a unique status among the families of the victims.
“No, I didn’t. But, it was my fault.” The entire project board was indicted and the corporation assets seized, but he naturally took the fall. And, he embraced it.
Bo looked down at his shoes, then up again at the prisoner. “May what happens next be a reminder. Though, I believe this guilt is too much for one man.” There was a meaningful pause, then, “I forgive you.”
An angry murmur arose in the room as Bo returned to his seat. His father looked anxiously about the livid faces; his mother had gone white.
Aden’s heart had paused for a full second following those words. Emotion washed through him. Forgiveness had seemed unimaginable. Yet, here it was.
The chair began to swivel and the wall behind him opened. A stiff, ocean breeze shook the plank as it extended over fitful waters a thousand feet below. The sea was red under the coral sun. He wobbled involuntarily. The wall closed behind him, but they would be watching, millions of them, as they had twice before over the past decade.
His breath held and his heart quickened. He sensed the moment was now. In the brightness of full day, a brilliant flash filled the sky—his star, annihilated all over again. His arms pulled against the chains, his neck strained until he vomited over the rocks below.
It was some time before his pulse slowed and those imagined cries grew quieter. In silence, he gazed upon the shining suns. He would be left on the plank for days while the light faded. But, it no longer mattered. Near the pain, a renewed sense of purpose began to grow. What would it take to build a memorial the size of a star? Over the next seven decades, as he was taken from world to world to relive this event again and again, he would find a way.
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