(Copyright) 1997 - 2006  G. Dallman
December 12, 1997 Version 2.0
Revision Date 05/21/2006


The Gift that keeps on Giving

Upon arriving at the practice chamber, Ripley found his Teacher was already there, standing in a relaxed, loose-limb Feline manner, every muscle at perfect ease. Behind him and slightly to his left, the ominous form of a FieldSurgeon floated soundlessly about a meter above the floor, its manipulator arms folded tightly against its cylindrical, metallic body. Without moving anything but his eyes, the Sasskal priest invited his Student to approach and stand before him.

"My Student, what do you fear most?" asked Heffnss as he regarded Howard with an expression the Human was unable to fathom.

"I don't know, my Teacher," Ripley replied. "There are many things I fear. Though there are two things my species fears more than all else."

As Howard spoke, Heffnss approached until he was close enough to easily reach out and gently trace the length of Human's sternum with one dark claw, almost a caress.

"And those are, my Student?" the Sasskal prompted, holding Howard in his compelling, emerald gaze. The Human shuddered almost imperceptibly at the touch of the razor-sharp claw.

"Death and the Unknown, my Teacher," replied Ripley, not at all sure where the priest's line of questioning was leading.

"My Student, there is one thing you must always remember. There are many things far worse than death. Death should be thought of as a gift. A gift so precious as to make any merely physical boon seem shallow and without real worth. Death is the single Mercy in an otherwise merciless Universe." The Feline continued to hold Howard completely in his gaze, like a trapped prey creature. "Never, my Student… never fear death."

Far faster than the Human's eyes could follow, Heffnss drew his Scholar's Blade and struck. At the fleeting sensation of a light impact, Howard looked down to see the Sasskal's sword embedded in his chest. He tried to speak but while his lips formed a surprised 'O', no sound came forth. There was no pain, only the cold sensation of metal touching places that were never meant to be touched. Intuitively, Howard knew twenty centimeters of steel protruded from his back. With amazing swiftness, darkness filled him and he felt his body falling, falling forever into the realms of Eternal Night.

The Feline looked down at the fallen Human, gently pulling his Scholar's Blade from Howard's crumpled body. Taking the prescribed two paces back from his Kill, Heffnss slowly licked the bright blood from his blade before returning it to its magnetic scabbard at his back.

"Death, I have given you. The Unknown, you now face for yourself," he whispered.

As Heffnss took another pace back from the still form on the floor, the FieldSurgeon moved to take its place over the dead Human.

/It is a strange lesson you teach, Heffnss. How may the Living learn while dead?/ asked FS as it established a stasis field around the body.

"Death is relative, number six. Will he not live once more when you are finished?"

/Within a tenth part of a SubCycle the damage you have so lovingly bestowed upon your Student will be repaired. Yes he will live again./

As the FieldSurgeon spoke, its fractal-form manipulator arms were already fanning out, probing the gaping wound in the Human's chest, repairing torn and ruptured tissues, blood vessels, nerves and bone at the cellular and molecular level.

* * * *

Howard floated in darkness, unaware of anything save his own Being. There were no sensations at all. Time did not exist. Dimly, he remembered the last few seconds of his life and his Teacher's final words. 'Never fear death.' As he examined his feeling, Ripley discovered that in truth he may not have ever feared death. It was the second Unknown that he did fear. A great Unknown was facing him and that frightened him. In his state of non-existence there was only the eternal Now. Being unaware of time, he didn't know if he'd been dead a few seconds or millions of years. But dead he was. In a way, it reminded him of his experience in the non-existence of the 'Valleys of Forever', being in a state of Potential, balanced in superposition between physicality and oblivion. It then occurred to him that being dead was incompatible with a fear of the unknown. For something to be unknown, it must exist in a future to be experienced. In the gray non-existence of death there was no time, thus no future. Death was indeed a gift, as it offered perfect clarity of thought, without distraction. Too bad it was so permanent.

* * * *

As promised, the FieldSurgeon completed its repairs in the allotted fifteen minutes. Collapsing the stasis field, it scanned its patient one last time, checking its work. With a final flourish, the device transformed one manipulator into a fair semblance of a Human arm and pointing, Jehovah-like, at the Human's chest, sent a brief surge of electrical energy through the still form, causing it to jerk violently.

With a start and a gasp, Howard brought his head up and opened his eyes, clutching at his chest, expecting to find a mortal wound. Nothing! As his vision cleared, he noticed Heffnss standing over him, hands on hips.

"Wow! That was strange, I thought I was dead!" Howard exclaimed with a relieved sigh, allowing his head to sink back to the floor.

Without a word, Heffnss again drew his blade, squatting down to hold it close to the Human's face so he could see the dried blood coating most of its length. Ripley once again put his hand to his chest, as though disbelieving the evidence of his senses.

"What do you fear, my Student?" whispered Heffnss.

"Only you, my Teacher," whispered Howard in return. "Only you."

Raising to his full height, the Sasskal turned away so his Student would not see the rare smile that parted his dark lips. "Your life upon your small, happy world has ill prepared you for your existence to come. Fear there shall be. Fear that causes even one such as me to quaver at the thought. In the Universe you shall inherit, there are things the likes of which would send the bravest gladly leaping into Death's cold arms. You made no effort to avoid the blow that cost you your life."

"But my Teacher, I didn't even see it coming," complained Howard.

"You saw, my Student, you just failed to believe that I, your Teacher, would do such a thing."

"Yes, my Teacher. I see your point. If you would strike me down without warning, then why should I expect different from any other being," theorized the Human.

"That is a wonderfully paranoid, but basically correct point of view. Now get up, my Student."

* * * *

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