Chapter 03: Atonement

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Allan Gray sat on a transport vessel hurtling through the galaxy at faster-than-light speeds and tried not to think of mass murder.

And how he had committed it.

He still had his suit of armor on. It had been two days since the incident at Lindholm had ended in catastrophic terror. He'd spent most of the first day scanning the area, trying to determine if anyone had made it out. A handful of other ships had escaped the surface. They'd either been coming or going, and had managed to get to open space before the planet had been sucked into the local sun. After running these scans and listening to the comm chatter between the survivors, (he couldn't bring himself to try and get in touch with any of them), a Spec Ops ship had suddenly arrived in the system. They'd honed in on him and took his vessel into their hangar.

Allan remembered bright lights and how he'd given up any and all weapons, but demanded he keep his suit on and intact. He'd been still sane enough to agree to de-polarize his faceplate, allowing them to see him. He had no idea where they were going or what would happen to him. He no longer cared. He was still thinking about Lindholm.

After an hour in the infirmary where they had discovered he had remained almost completely intact during the incident, he was then taken to a briefing room and sat down. A stern-faced man with a shaved head sat down across from him and began asking him questions. For the next several hours, Allan had laid out everything that had happened. Beginning with the call to investigate the outpost and ending with the final, harrowing escape. The man sat and listened, asking questions occasionally, then he'd made a copy of Allan's database. One thing he'd nearly forgotten was that there was a camera built into his helmet. It digitally recorded and stored mission footage. It had been turned on when he'd started the mission briefing and he hadn't ever turned it back off.

From there, he'd been given some stark quarters that didn't resemble living quarters so much as a prison cell. He'd laid down on the uncomfortable bed, unable to take off even his helmet, and fallen immediately asleep.

When he'd woken up, the bald man was standing in the doorway to his cell, clearly unhappy. He told Allan, tersely, that his story checked out and he was being transferred. When Allan asked 'to where and with whom?' all the man had said was, 'The Galactic Alliance would like a word with you.' And then he'd been escorted onto the transport ship he was presently on. That was an hour ago. No one had spoken to him since.

He took a moment to look around the cabin again. The ship he was on was small, little more than a cockpit and passenger cabin, with an FTL drive stuffed into the back. He was alone with just his thoughts in the cabin.

Abruptly, his radio clicked on.

"Hello Sergeant Gray, my name is Director Hawkins. I work for the Galactic Alliance. How are you feeling?" a gravelly voice asked.

"Alive," Allan replied after a moment's contemplation.

"Well, that will have to do for now, I suppose. I was hoping to have gotten to the situation on Lindholm before it became...untenable. I had hoped my Special Operations unit would have been able to handle it but the situation was more dire than I had originally anticipated. I've just watched a summary of the events that befell you and I have to say, I'm extremely impressed. In about an hour's time, you'll be docking with my ship, where you'll meet some other extraordinary individuals. I'm going to offer you all a job. I just thought you'd like a bit of a heads up and some idea of where you were going," Hawkins explained.

Allan thought about it for a long moment. He realized he really did not care what happened to him. If anything, he wanted to be punished. He'd just killed easily a million people, perhaps two million, he couldn't remember the population of Lindholm off the top of his head, but the number was high enough to make him sick.

"Thank you," he said finally.

If this was some sort of ruse to lure him into the hands of some higher authority bent on killing him, they didn't need to bother.

He'd come willingly.

"We'll get this all sorted out in no time, you'll see."

The radio clicked off.

Allan settled in and continued his wait.

* * *

Allan glanced up as they decelerated from faster-than-light speeds. He looked out through the windows that ringed him ahead and behind. Nothing but space, a blanket of obsidian and multicolored pinpoints of impossibly distant light. Then, suddenly, the hull of a vessel leaped into view as the ship began moving alongside it. Allan managed to catch the name of the ship as they drifted towards the docking bay.

ATONEMENT

It was painted onto the hull in thick, black lettering, scarred and, in some places, chewed up from microscopic dust and space junk that populated the vast gulfs of nothingness between the systems. But the word was still there. It struck something deep in Allan, and he sat back, considering the thoughts it dredged from somewhere far below in his dark psyche. He'd been feeling guilty for a long time now. Suicidal, even.

Along the way, he'd lost a lot of people in his life. He didn't have much family to begin with, and his parents were still alive, still on that damned planet, Frontier. But he had no brothers or sisters, and neither had either of his parents, so he'd come to rely heavily on friends. But friends had a tendency to die on you when you had a job like he did. Any friends that weren't other Security-Investigations tended to fall away after you spent enough time on the force.

So Allan had kept on living. First, he'd been angry at the deaths, and he'd sought revenge in the only way he knew he could get away with: working the cases and bringing the jerkoffs to justice. Then there'd been a dark half-year where he'd worked off the clock and dispensed some vigilante justice all his own. But after one near-death experience that was a little too close to home, he gave that up and stuck to working back on the clock.

Anger became frustration. Frustration became depression.

Ultimately depression became apathy.

When he'd arrived on Lindholm, he'd been miserable and bottoming out. Allan had still been operating under the basic idea that he just needed some time to get his life sorted out, get his head right. But that clearly wasn't the case...and even if it had been the case, no amount of relaxing or easy assignments would get him thinking straight now. If he was stuck like this, and he was, he realized, because he could never forgive himself for killing an entire planet, then what did that leave? What, exactly, was his best option?

Suicide is what he'd originally been thinking.

But seeing that word, atonement...the meaning was not lost on him. Even if he thought his own life was meaningless, he knew, for a fact, that one man could do a lot to better society. Even if he could never balance the books of his own life and soul, wasn't doing some good better than doing no good and just dying?

Yes...atonement.

Allan sat back, feeling something not entirely unlike comfort and peace settle over him, as his transport ship locked into place.

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