The flower hit the surface of the water with a gentle sound, sending ripples outward towards the bank of the small pond. The reflection of the white-haired young man, his face gentle but sad, was rippled and distorted, giving his expression a countenance far too grim for the quiet peace of the afternoon.
He sat leaning against a tree, turning another of the small white flowers in his hand. The young girl with him leaned against a tree opposite of him, her deep brown eyes regarding him with concern.
"Did I say something wrong?" Miriala asked, pitching another flower into the pond. They were grouping together as they floated out to the middle of the pond as the ripples subsided.
"No," Omega said, pitching his in. "It's just a difficult question for me to answer. I don't remember much from when I was your age, and the first thing I remember is kind of grim."
"What was it?" She asked. "I really want to know."
"Pain," Omega said quietly, looking for another flower to toss into the pond. He gestured to the blue markings on his shoulder and his chest. "The first thing I really remember is having these markings put on me. It was for my own good, they said. But it still hurt."
"That's so sad," Miriala said. Omega looked at her, grateful for her uncomplicated compassion. Had it really only been a month or two since they'd met in the woods of Eden ? Since she'd conquered the fear he'd seen in her eyes the moment he ran across her?
"It's okay," Omega said. "They haven’t done anything like that again."
"You keep talking about this "they," Omega," Miriala said. "I want to see the place you come from sometime. In my village, there are so many stories about that citadel on the hill you come from."
"It's not very exciting," Omega said. "It's cold, most of the time. Do you know, I'd be curious to see your village just as much as you'd like to see where I come from?"
"Why?" Miriala said. "It's so boring."
Omega smiled. "Well, not to me, it isn’t. That's the kind of life I've always wanted. Simple and uncomplicated."
Miriala giggled. "Then you can come do my chores," she said, rising to her feet and dusting off the simple brown clothes she wore. "I'm late back at the farm."
Omega smiled. "Well, I don’t want to get you in trouble, so you'd best be going. I should get back too, before I'm missed."
"Are you going to be here tomorrow?" Miriala asked.
"I can be," Omega said. "I have nothing but time, really."
"Okay," Miriala said. "I'll see you then?"
Omega nodded and smiled and she jogged away from the bank. He waved as he watched her run back to the small village from whence she had come. Omega had seen the village before; it lay in a valley to the south of the citadel. Miriala's people eked out a simple existence, living off the land, building their homes with trees, growing and cooking their own food, in nearly the perfect antithesis of the life Omega led.
"I'll see you then," a voice from above mocked. Omega watched as a young woman, younger than Miriala flipped down from the tree branch she'd been perched on. She landed on her feet, dusting off her white red and black clothes with hard slaps.
"I wondered where it was you were playing hooky," she said.
"Am I not allowed to leave the citadel, Kyra?" Omega said, looking at the flowers floating in the pond. The ripples had grouped them together, but now they were starting to drift apart.
"You’re allowed," Kyra said. "I'm just trying to save you some grief. They're not like you, Omega. They're bad people."
"Miriala's not bad," Omega said. "Her people seem nice . . .they live with nature."
Kyra laughed a cruel hollow laugh. "They seem nice, do they? Omega, do you have any idea why they came to Eden in the first place?"
Omega shook his head.
"They were looking to be free. Free from the technology that they feel has the human race in a stranglehold. Free from an Earth government that oppressed them every single chance they had. But mostly, they wanted freedom to practice the most stifling, puritanical religion conceived."
"I don’t understand," Omega said, looking at the pond.
"They believe technology is a disease, and it withers their faith away," Kyra said. "And so they deny the sick medicine, deny themselves anything that might make their lives easier. And they resolutely dig life out of the mud in the name of being holy."
"What's wrong with that?" Omega said. "They're . . .allowed to believe what they want to believe, and people are free to live how they want to live, aren’t they?"
"We're talked about this, Omega," Kyra said, her dark eyes locking on his. "Beliefs like that are what's holding the human race back. It's an error I've told you . . .over and over again . . .that you were conceived to correct."
"But Miriala . . ."
". . .will grow up just like them," Kyra said. "Browbeaten by a young life of deprivation and doctrine, she'll become just as rigid and inflexible as her parents, and she'll pass it along, like a virus."
"What can I do for her?" Omega asked.
"Not a thing," Kyra replied. "It's too late for her, and it's too late for them."
"I don’t understand, Kyra," Omega said. "You keep talking about how I'm supposed to save the human race . . .and well, Miriala's my friend, and she's human. Why can't I save her?"
"She's a prisoner of her beliefs, Omega," Kyra said, picking another of the flowers. "All of them, in that valley are. Sick in many ways, but mostly afflicted with the plague of religion. A malignancy that propagates with every generation. It's like a cancer. Your only options are to burn it and cut it away."
"No," Omega said. "Isn’t there another way?"
"You've seen the same things I have," Kyra said, pitching the flower into the pond with disinterest. "The warning signs are there. I need you Omega. We're close now, and we can't afford to lose our resolve. Let Miriala and her backwards village go, Omega.
"In the long run it’s the kindest thing," she said. She walked past him, taking his red-gloved hand in hers and leading him back to the citadel.
* * *
A few hours later, night fell on Eden . Omega watched it from the balcony in his room, thinking over what Kyra had said.
"You're not human, Omega," he recalled her saying. "Never forget that. You’re not only above them, you were created to save them from themselves. But to do that you can’t afford to get too attached. They are corrupt and weak, and you have to be strong for them."
For as long as he could remember, Kyra had been there for him. She'd held his hand through the pain, calmly assuring him as the needles injected nanomachines and subcutaneous capacitors into his flesh that it was for his own good, that if he could endure the pain an agony, he would be better.
"You're powerful," Kyra had said. "It's got to be kept under control until the proper time."
Even restrained, Omega was powerful. Far stronger and more durable than humans (or so Kyra had told him) Omega had also found, if he concentrated, he could unleash destructive forces by force of will, a power human beings couldn't even conceive of.
It was exhausting to do so, but Kyra insisted it was necessary he hone it.
"Control, for now, is the most important thing for you," she'd explained.
All this power I have, Omega thought, looking at his red-gloved hands. And more bottled up inside me, and I'm not able to save my friend.
He looked out at the setting sun.
Not able, or not allowed? Over an over again Kyra tells me I'm supposed to "save" the human race, but I've never been permitted to help anyone. I've never even been permitted to meet other humans. I only met Miriala by sneaking out.
No, he thought. There has to be a way. At least for her. I won't accept not trying to help at least one of them.
* * *
Kyra Jenolan Sandoval sat behind the blue-skinned man at the workstation, turning a lock of her brown hair through her fingertips. Omega found her to be an enigma, and he wasn't alone in that assessment. Kyra was an unsettling person to be around. Partly because she seemed to know things before they happened, and rattled off the future in the bored detail of someone who'd seen it all before.
The other, more disturbing element was her age.
How many seers were still eight years old after twenty years, after all?
"Is something bothering you?" the blue-skinned man said, peering through a microscope while simultaneously scribbling notes down with his left and right hands simultaneously.
Kyra looked over at him. "It's Omega. He's befriended one of those Luddites from the village below."
The man looked up from his microscope, setting his pens down. "And this is a problem?"
"I was hoping to see him through his life without getting overly attached to humans, Reficul," Kyra said. "If he hesitates at the wrong moment, when we reach Earth, everything will be lost." She sighed raggedly in frustration. "We moved him here so we could work on him in isolation. Now those backward fools have ruined everything."
"You think this will cause him to hesitate when it comes time to put our plan into motion?" Reficul asked.
"I think so," Kyra said, sitting in the large chair behind her desk so large she seemed to disappear within it. "Had I known that village was here when we'd set up here I’d have destroyed it beforehand."
Reficul leaned back in his chair. "With respect Miss Sandoval, I think there is another option. Perhaps you are not seeing the opportunity disguised in this problem."
"Explain," Kyra said.
"It seems that a simple group of fanatics, hidebound by mistrust and superstition, could be manipulated into doing your work for you," Reficul said. "You need not convince Omega of anything. You only have to show him everything you have said is true, and once proven, he will see things your way."
Kyra nodded slowly. Something in the back of her mind was brought into clearer focus by Reficul's words. "Show, don't tell . . .in other words?"
Reficul rose from his chair, reaching for his obsidian cane. He nodded. "Omega is kind, and apt to believe the best in people, despite all the indoctrination you've tried to give him. Ultimately, he must be shown for the lesson to be learned."
Kyra smiled thinly. "I think you may have solved my problem Doctor," she said. "Yes, I think you have. Thank you."
Reficul nodded and ambled to the doorway. He looked at the ceiling then over his shoulder at Kyra.
"He is a good man," Reficul said quietly. "And they are always difficult."
* * *
The next afternoon, Omega waited by the secluded bank at the usual time, waiting for Miriala to come and speak with him. An hour passed, then two. The setting sun turned the water over the pond into a golden glaze.
But still no Miriala.
Omega leaned against the tree, looking down at the flowers at his feet. No sign of her, he thought, trying to control his anxiety. Was Kyra right? Was she punished for sneaking away to see me? Why? I never meant her any harm.
"She's not coming, Omega," Kyra said. She walked into the clearing by the edge of the riverbank, her expression grave. In her mind an old song about a magical creature that waited by a tree for a young friend who never came drifted through her thoughts and she fought to suppress a thin smile.
"I'm afraid she's taken ill. The entire village has. It's a plague."
"Oh no," Omega said. "We must help them."
"They won't accept our help, Omega," Kyra said. "And their medicines--what little they allow themselves, anyway--won’t stop the plague. So as I understand it, they're relying on their faith in God.
"And apparently this is his day off, because ten have died already, according to our readings at the citadel. The irony of it is that the cure's a simple one. Every space colonist gets the vaccine in their first course of injections."
Omega frowned. "Do we have any of this . . .vaccine?"
Kyra reached into her pocket and held out a small pocket injector. "There's enough there for ten people, and I can have more brought to the village."
Omega snatched it from her hand. "Then I'll go and give them the vaccine."
"They won’t accept it, Omega."
"I have to try!"
Kyra nodded. "Yes. I suppose you do," she said. "I'm just saying . . .be prepared to see how ungrateful human beings are, even at their lowest ebb. When you return . . .we can talk about what you saw."
"You’re not going to stop me?" Omega said.
Kyra shook her head. "Reficul says you need to see for yourself, and I've come to think he's right. Go. Heal them. And weigh the gratitude of those whom you save against what I said."
Omega took a few steps past her, following the well-worn path to the small village. He stopped suddenly. This didn't feel right. Not for Kyra.
"I don’t understand why you hate them so," Omega said. "You’re a human being, after all."
"Yes," Kyra said, watching him charge down the path to the village. The difference between us is that I know them, Omega, she thought. Just like you soon will.
* * *
Omega tore through the village at a fantastic speed, and even the sentries, weak with the plague, gave him a wide berth. His blue eyes were crazy with a determined frenzy. In the back of his mind, he felt shame for terrifying these people, but he reassured himself.
I 'm here to save them, Omega thought. And I will. All of them .
"Miriala," he said to a man in soiled rags, crouched at the edge of the main thoroughfare. "Where is she kept?"
The man weakly pointed to a farmhouse at the end of one of the lanes. Omega charged in, past her parents, whose skin was already turning black with the final stages of the plague. Omega found her bedroom.
Miriala lay on her bed, sweating profusely. The black patches that nearly covered her parents were only beginning to form.
He pressed the injector against her neck and hit the button. The chemicals suffused her, dispelling in her bloodstream. She began to cough as the color returned to her.
"O . . .Omega?" Miriala asked. "What . . .are you doing here?"
"I came to help your people," Omega said. "I need your help. Can you stand?"
Miriala swung her feet over to the edge of the bed and got to her feet with such steadiness that it took her by surprise. "Yes . . ."
Omega smiled and helped her to her feet. "Good, I need you to help me calm the villagers down while I give them this," he said, gesturing with the injector. "Come on, we'll start with your parents."
* * *
Omega waited at the center of town with the injector, but no one came. Miriala hid behind him, holding on to his pantleg, as if she knew something he didn't.
"There they are!" A voice called out.
Omega turned in the direction of the voice just in time to hear a rock whizzing just inches from his face. Another one zipped lower, and clipped Miriala in the shoulder.
"Stop it!" Omega cried. A crowd was beginning to form. More accurately a mob, and an angry one at that. Their faces were knotted with rage as they were blighted by the plague.
Another rock flew, but Omega caught it in time, and closing his fist around it, crushed it to powder. He wrapped his arms around Miriala, trying to shield her from the flurry of rocks.
What are they doing? Omega wondered. Are they mad from the plague?
"Stop it, I said!" Omega shouted. "I'm here to save your village. You've all been infected with some sort of plague. I have a cure. There's no reason for this!"
"Heretic!" A villager shouted, throwing a larger chunk of rock at Omega. "Our faith would have cured this plague, but by interfering you've doomed us all!"
"Are you mad?" Omega said? "I'm trying to save you!"
"We don’t want your salvation!" Another voice called, throwing another rock that bounced harmlessly off of Omega's back. "Leave and give us the girl. We'll deal with her as we did her parents?"
Omega blinked, turned and stood up. His blue eyes suddenly became cold. Angry.
"You murdered this girl's parents?" Omega demanded. "Why?"
"They were unclean, thanks to you," the man said, reaching for another rock. "And we'll do the same to the child, and then we'll be saved."
"You are mad," Omega said. He raised his fist and hesitated for a moment.
I can’t let them hurt Miriala, he thought. But I won't hurt them as I do it.
He gestured, summoning just enough of the power that burned within him as he needed. He closed his fist, and flicked his fingers outward.
A wave of force, barely visible, surged out in a perfect bubble, knocking the villagers off their feet. Omega leveled his hand, keeping himself between Miriala and the angry mob.
"I don’t want to have to do that again," Omega said. "Leave this child alone. If you want me to go, I'll go, but you will not harm her!"
"You go to hell!" the head villager said, firing another rock in their direction. Omega wasn't fast enough to get his hand down and catch it, and it struck Miriala across the forehead.
Omega turned and caught his friend, watching in horror as the gash above her head started pouring blood. Miriala looked into the eyes of her friend, but her look was different. Her pupils didn’t seem to be focusing properly.
She's hurt, he thought as more rocks came raining down on them. Hurt bad. What have I done? I only wanted to help. Why couldn’t they see I just wanted to help them?
Miriala blinked painfully, and Omega could see she was slipping away, whether out of consciousness or for good, he didn’t know. All he knew was the rage and grief within him were too much for him to contain right now.
* * *
Kyra watched the spectacle from a promontory overlooking the village, balancing her binoculars in one hand while she cradled a small device in her other palm.
I wonder if I went too far, she mused. I wanted him to see humans at their worst, but these villagers are exceeding my expectations.
I mean, killing one of their own children to prevent medicine interfering with their god's ability to heal them . . .
Oh well, it doesn’t matter. The whole incident was staged for Omega's benefit anyhow. They're expendable.
Through the glasses she could see Omega set aside the child and confront the villagers. A thin smile crossed her lips, as she set aside her binoculars. Everything was going as planned. Not only would Omega sever his connection with the girl, the experience would eliminate his compassion for humans entirely.
She extended the antenna on the small device and pressed a button on its face. Once she pressed the second button, Omega's restraints, the carefully crafted siphons and shackles that kept his incredible power at bay would shut down.
And then they'll see something, Kyra said, smiling. She pressed the second button and raised her binoculars again, far enough away from what would happen next to avoid any harm, but close enough to enjoy the show.
* * *
Omega's eyes glowed with energy excited by rage that he didn't even bother to control. He took a step towards the mob, now much less eager to hurt stones at him. An aura of power began to envelop him and the air seemed to crackle with it. Every step he took fused the dirt below to glass.
"She was right," Omega said. "You are evil. ALL OF YOU!"
He raised his hands, summoning the full measure of his power. For a moment all the sound and air seemed to be sucked from the town as did the color of everything around them. Then, it seemed, the bubble burst and the sound returned.
The buildings in the town were blown apart even as every timbre, window, occupant, and piece of furniture was demolished molecule by molecule. The mob were lucky--the leading edge of Omega's energy wave disintegrated them on contact and reduced them to ashes, darkening the sky as Omega continued his rampage.
He stalked through the few buildings remaining intact, walking slowly to the end of the thoroughfare. There was a building at the very end of the road, larger and different from the others. Engraved on the doors were some kind of symbol, the same symbol that decorated the pinnacle of the building.
Omega blasted the spire off the building with a wave of his hand and with the other, blew the doors off the hinges. He stepped inside the darkened structure, walking past row upon row of benches. On these benches lay more of the villagers, sick and dying of plague. At the end of the aisle was a man dressed in black, holding a book of some kind.
"You are not of this village," the man said nervously.
"No," Omega said. "And very soon, your village will be gone. You don’t deserve it anymore."
The man clutched his book to his chest, muttering something Omega no longer cared about.
"Did you bring this plague to us, spirit?" The man said, holding the book at Omega's eye level. "Have you come to punish us?"
"I came to save you," Omega said, the energy arcing off his body striking the wooden benches and leaving black searing marks. "But you wouldn't take it. And now I come to destroy you."
The man sank to his knees, his hands folded around his book.
"Oh God, we have been wrong," the man said quietly.
Omega's eyes blazed with anger at the mention of it. Once again, all sound and color seemed to drain from the room, and the only thing that disturbed the awful stillness was Omega's voice:
"Make sure you tell him that when you see him."
* * *
Omega's walk from the church was as destructive as his walk to it had been. Any sign of humans, whether it be one of them suffering from the plague or so much as a house or tree planted offended him and with a wave of his hand it was dispatched without a second thought.
The only thing that stopped his wrath was the sight of Miriala, lying in the thoroughfare by herself. Omega blinked, and fearing the worst ran to her.
No, he thought.
He shook her, looking for some sign of life. No breath, no response from her eyes to the light.
Tears flowed from his eyes.
Oh no, he thought. What have I done?
I wasted all that time punishing the damned villagers. Time I could have spent getting her to the citadel and maybe healing her. Or at least not leaving her alone to die like this. All to make the people who'd done this to her pay. And none of that would bring her back.
I 've failed her.
Omega cradled her in his arms; unable to control his grief at the loss of the only friend he'd ever known, lost in the must futile, foolish way possible. Around him, once again came the colorless silent bubble, shattered this time by a scream of sorrow and rage that wiped the Miriala and the rest of the village away in a wave of destruction.
* * *
Kyra waited a few minutes before she walked into the village, or rather, where the village had been. From the promontory she'd seen the village erased--for on mile in a perfect circle, everything was gone, and what remained in its place was hard to see from the smoke.
Eden is now sure to have a scar, she thought as she made her way down the path to where the village had been, idly trampling the flowers at the riverbank as she did.
The question is has Omega learned the right lesson from this little exercise?
She came to the lip of an enormous crater that still belched smoke and ash into the sky. She coughed as the thick smell of fire invaded her lungs, carefully sliding down the black glass inside the crater. It was hard to see anything through the smoke and ash. How much of it was dirt and how much of had once been people she didn't dwell on, because in the end it didn’t matter.
Only Omega mattered.
He was on his knees in the center of the crater, arms folded over his chest. It looked to Kyra as if he'd been holding something or someone before he'd annihilated the entire town.
He looks so pathetic, Kyra thought.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly, carefully walking over to him and putting a hand on his shoulder. Even through her gloves, she could feel the heat radiating off her skin. "I had my suspicions . . .but I never wanted this to happen."
"They killed her," Omega sobbed. "One of their own, and they killed her."
"I knew they were bad, Omega, but I never wanted you to see them like this," she said gently. "I'm so sorry."
"No," Omega said quietly. "You were right."
Kyra sighed, keeping her elation subsumed.
"Miriala was so kind . . .so gentle," Omega said quietly. "How could she have come from people like this? And why was she the one who was corrupt? Why was she killed for it?"
"I don’t know," Kyra said. "I wish I could tell you why."
Omega said. "They're insane," he said. "You . . .you were right. You were right about them Kyra. I'll help you, if it means people like Miriala will be saved and people like this will be stopped."
"It will," Kyra said. "I promise you'll never suffer like this again."
Kyra reached for his hand and Omega rose to his feet and took it. Together they walked out of the smoldering crater, out of the scar on Eden , back towards the growing darkness outside.