Yowzers, I did not expect to get that long winded. To cut a very, very, very long story painfully short... Lije Olivaw is a member of a race that, until this last year, was enslaved in brutal mines. After a catastrophic natural disaster, Lije showed a moment of heroism, but in the act, was horribly wounded. When rescue ships arrived, they liberated the slaves, and reconstructed Lije using cybernetics. His acts of selflessness have become somewhat of a legend, and to further the efforts of a government organization to expose the race that enslaved Lije's kind, he goes on tour to talk about his experiences. It is implied that he is beginning to fall for the person that offered him this opportunity to tour and share his stories.
I'd never even considered the idea that I might someday be a celebrity. Even that statement gives too much credit to the concept. A year ago, I didn't know what a celebrity was.
In the Eta Carinae Mines, no one knows more than what they need for maximum efficiency. The Benefactors made sure of that.
Built in the Eta Carinae nebula, the mines were constructed to extract the sorts of heavy elements that are left behind by supernovae. I had no idea, but the sort of things I mined each day represented unimaginable fortunes. 10kg of gold in one day was just barely enough to keep you off the lottery for the weekly Motivational Seminars. My mother had become pregnant with a seventh child, and her productivity had declined in the eighth of the thirteen months of gestation. She and twenty-four other failures, most of them very young children, the very ill, or the elderly, were lined up before a firing squad and cut down before an audience of thousands, as was the usual procedure at the Motivational Seminars. I remember being sad that I'd lost a friend, but I hardly had the time to feel any more than that.
The closest I ever came to celebrity was the one week I won the Highest Regional Production Award. Such luxury for those five days: double water rations, 10% boost in protein rations, and freedom from the threat of neuroducer lashes. I would have had all seven allotted days, were it not for the Collapse.
90% of the workforce (I've been told "population" is a better term, but old habits die hard) was killed instantly by the massive cave-ins that rolled through the mines after the Eta Carinae stellar remnant destabilized, sending shockwaves and gravitational disturbances through the asteroids and planetoids in the immediate vicinity. Most of the remaining 10% were horrifically wounded, the majority dying within minutes or hours. I'd been truly lucky, being one of the few that were in the small nodes of ultra-dense geological formations. I managed to save a few dozen of my co-workers (again, "fellow victims of slavery" is apparently what I should call them), though many of them perished in the coming days. I suppose I can be glad that I made sure that their final breaths were full and deep, rather than shallow, pinned beneath stone. I had demanded that among those that I unpinned, the ones who could still walk were to carry those that couldn't to the nearest uncompromised shelter zone and not return. I'd been eating better than any of them because of my award; I was more capable of uncovering the wounded, dead, and dying.
This went on for a little more than an hour before the secondary shock hit. It wasn't nearly as severe as the first, but it was enough to shift the already loose rubble. The pain of having nearly the entire right side of my body crushed into pulp was indescribable. Again, my survival was ensured by luck. As the nearby plasma conduit overloaded and exploded, the fire that engulfed me cauterized my wounds, guaranteeing at least a few days to exist as a barely living, half pulverized, half charred corpse. I was a bit less lucky in that one of the pipelines that carried the aerosol stimulant used to keep the workers perpetually alert had burst, making sure that I never quite lost consciousness.
A few days of near death was all I really needed to endure though. The rescue ships arrived four days after the collapse, and I was one of the first to be pulled from the carnage, despite my desperate, incoherent pleas for a swift end. At least they were merciful in giving me the gift of unconsciousness via a needle in the forehead. I had wondered why they went for such a vein, until it had been explained that all the usual places for a needle were buried under crackling, blackened flesh, or simply didn't exist anymore, having been crushed to the point of uselessness.
When I awoke, there was no pain. It was explained to me that nearly six months had passed, my condition so severe that the initial sedation I'd received had pushed me into a coma. I had been totally shocked that I had survived at all, brought to tears by relief, then by the overwhelming grief and horror from the memories of the sights and sounds of what I'd been too focused on action to really see and understand. These emotions didn't last long though, replaced by mind-numbing panic as I watched a foreign, vicious looking set of claws leap towards my face just as I meant to wipe my tears away. It took some serious convincing by the doctors to make me realize that this appendage was my own arm, or rather what took my original arm's place.
Right eye, right ear, right arm, right leg, right lung, half of my ribs, half of my skull, my heart, three other miscellaneous organs, several small patches of cerebral tissue, my larynx, 73% of my skin, and every hair. All cybernetic replacements.
The Bureau of Ethical Labor Practices and Investigation, or the BELPI, was the organization that stepped up and really reached out to my people. We'd only really been able to maintain an oral history, so we had some basic idea that there were other races besides us (Kaeri) and the Benefactors (who are apparently known by the rest of the galaxy as Parthigens), and we were vaguely aware of the fact that we'd been working in the mines for six or seven generations. But the BELPI showed us things that absolutely stunned us. Apparently, we'd always had a very small population, but at one point, we'd been able to wander the stars just as so many others could! It had been a small, quickly forgotten mystery when we suddenly vanished. Nomads. Travelers. It wasn't too much of a stretch to think we'd simply moved on. Finding us again, living so differently than we had before, had been the biggest news story in years. Many Parthigens have been working very hard, pouring as much of their unimaginable wealth into quieting the tale as they can, but it seems that the BELPI is finally getting a foothold on the road to holding them responsible for... It still seems to strange to me. To think that my entire life, the only thing I've ever known, was cruelty of the most heinous kind. Honestly, just having the time to feel and express more than basic emotion is rather a new concept.
In any case, the reason I'm where I am today I suppose comes from my actions during the Collapse. Stories began to circulate among my kind, starting out as reasonably accurate descriptions of what I'd done; despite being a bit below average in size and build, I'd managed to get a good number of people to safety, and while I was at it, very nearly died. The stories escalated and ballooned, just as any rumor does. It wasn't long before legends of a petite man, able to lift boulders twice his size and carry five wounded men to safety at a time, began to bounce around, totally out of control. Some human caught wind of the story, and asked for this hero's name. "Lije Olivaw, Bite-Sized Hero of Eta Carinae!"
When they finally tracked me down, I was almost certain they would be disappointed. Yes, I'm short and lithe in comparison to the average Kaeri man, but I'm still 6'4". And no, I didn't save 500 men, women and children. I pulled maybe 30-ish people from the rubble, many of whom died anyway, and then I got mashed and fried. But that was good enough for this human, a BELPI agent.
For a year now, I've traveled with and served the public relations department of the BELPI. They've taught me so many amazing things... Money seems so exotic to me. It's like an extra, intermediate step in the bartering process... One serves a Benefactor (no, no... "employer") not just to survive, but to earn this money. I'd never been exposed to anything like it, but I forced myself to learn all about how it works, seeing as I often have four whole digits of it at a time. There are no water rations, and with all this money, I can buy nutrition that I could never have dreamed of before. I've nearly doubled in weight. Supple, soft lips and cheeks now make it almost impossible to see the details of the skull beneath. My belly is flat, no longer the gaunt cave I had thought was natural for my kind. My ribs have been hidden, swaddled in a thin layer of silky fat and dense muscles I would have considered supernatural not so long ago. My gums and lips have ceased to bleed, my head only throbs with pain on occasion, and my bones no longer groan and buckle under stress.
Now, I'm the face of the Kaeri. To be more specific, I represent, as the final words of my cue to go out on stage say, "what the Parthigens so selfishly and cruelly kept hidden from the rest of the galaxy. Every race has beauty to offer and heroes to honor. We've shown you the incredible artistry of the Kaeri people, and now, we give you their hero. Lije Olivaw!"
As I step out into the blindingly bright spotlight, I give an admittedly nervous wave to the largest crowd yet to gather at one of these 'awareness rallies.' Ten thousand
people. There are a few hundred more people here today just to see me than there are Kaeri still alive. Though my nerves are driving me to the brink of panic, I manage to give my well-recognized smile. It comes so naturally to me, yet it's been called 'smoldering,' 'heroic,' and even, to my immense embarrassment, 'undeniably sexy.'
As the applause dies down, I open my mouth to introduce myself, but the only sound that comes out is a dry, empty gasp. The sound of irreparably damaged vocal chords leaps from the speakers and washes over the crowd, and everything grinds to a dead stop. A deep jade flush of shame glows upon my snout, and I turn from the microphone both to hide my embarrassment and to adjust my collar. Long, agonizing seconds grind by in painful silence as I struggle with the synthesizer, until finally, just as someone is inches from coming from back stage to help me, I feel the buzz of a successful connection between the collar and the implant in my throat. I throw up my hand to let the aide know that I've got everything under control, and we exchange a quick thumbs up. I finally turn back to the crowd, and realize that hot tears of frustration and shame have begun to gather on my left cheek, the right tear duct having given up long ago.
My earpiece springs to life, and the voice of the agent that chased me down and offered me this opportunity speaks softly. They give me gentle words of comfort and encouragement. Nothing overly complicated, but just enough. They always know what to say. I can't thank them enough.
I wipe away the moisture upon my cheek, and finally begin to speak, the artificial recreation of my voice speaking in an absolutely truthful tone, quivering just as the one I was born with would have. "Hah... I'm... Sorry, ladies and gentlemen. I'm sure you came here to see the towering, invincible Olivaw." I give a nervous chuckle, which earns a few sympathetic laughs. "But ah... He's not here. In fact, if you want to meet him, I'd like to direct you just outside the front doors to this theater, on the right, two blocks down. You'll see him on the cover of every tabloid for sale at the news stands." Oh, thank god. Some genuine laughter at that joke. "No, that Olivaw doesn't really exist except as sort of a legend. Goodness, it sounds so terribly cliche to say it out loud, but it really is true; I'm just a man." I throw some extra, melodramatic bravado into the last phrase, finally getting some good, rolling laughter out of a slowly warming audience. "As awful as that little moment was, I think I'm glad you got to see it. That's real. I'm not
the Great and Wonderful Olivaw. I'm Lije. I struggle with little inconveniences and the large scale anxieties just like anyone does. Don't... Don't think I'm somehow special. More than anything, I've just been lucky, and I've managed to make the most of that luck." I pause for a moment, taking a few seconds to breathe, before I begin my story.
"...I'd never even considered the idea that I might someday be a celebrity. Even that statement gives too much credit to the concept..."