That Kenzenken device was marvelous. They had not even set off the anti-intrusion measures on the ship. It did not stop me from finding them. Their grid signatures burned like shining stars as they boarded. Two groups of marines. One heading to Power Control. One heading to the bridge. Two persons accompanied the latter. I felt a tinge of anticipatory energy. The candidates were here. Our meeting was at hand.
When I reported this to the Advisor, he told me to wait. I concurred, no point in stopping them now and risking their scattering. The admiral planned a greeting party for their arrival at the bridge. I cared little for the theatrics, but it would save time. The Advisor ordered me to intercept the marines attempting to disable the ship. A small gift for the admiral, whose stomach quailed at the act of sending men to their deaths. With my returned memories, I pondered refusal, but the equation ruled against me. I needed to see Alan and I could not risk the Advisor putting me back in the stasis pod. I would stop the marines, but as a more gentle butcher. The irony was not lost on me.
Activating the stealth field and gravity generator, my body became enveloped in the skin suit. The black coating hid my features. Not that they would remember much of me anyways. I ran through the metal corridors of the flagship, the sounds minimized by my light steps. Through tubes and vents I went, approaching them like a spider towards its prey. The squad approached the main entrance to Power Control the same time I did. I prepared to manipulate the gravity fields around them. They breached the door with a loud bang and the corridor filled with grey smoke. The smoke did not affect my suit optics. I followed them in.
I heard shouting as they secured the technicians. One marine brought a large electronics kit to the main control console. I raised my hand to manipulate the gravity around her. One of the marines saw me and shouted commands to shoot me. The others took cover near the door, pointing their weapons. Before any could get a shot off, I decapitated the one accessing the power with a gravity projection. The technicians fell to the floor, seeking cover from the coming battle. Bright yellow bolts exploded on my shield with a soft glow. I gravity-jumped, going forward at high speed, landing between the rest of the interlopers. I made sure their ends were quick and merciful. Blood pooled on the ground near me. The cold air in the room made me shiver.
The smoke cleared. The technicians looked at me with horror. They ran out into the hall. I did not care. Finding what I assumed to be their leader, I tapped into their communication network. “B Team, report!” A voice, slightly on edge, crackled through the communicator.
I took on the voice of the recently deceased squad leader. “Position secure. ETA 5 minutes before we have full access.”
“Copy that, we’re now entering the objective area,” the voice answered. Good, I had time to make it to the confrontation. I accelerated my movement, as I made my way toward the bridge.
“We’ve been expecting you, captain,” the booming voice of Admiral Vendrian registered as I walked into the bridge. My sensors detected no signs of weapons discharge. It appeared that the admiral’s methods were much cleaner than my own. A group of security guards surrounded the last marine squad. And the two candidates. Alan and Nalia. They were kneeling on the floor, hands restrained by plastic cuffs. Their weapons had been taken away. All were alive, and Vendrian looked relieved.
The Advisor saw me and greeted me with a small twist of his mouth. Nalia stared with defiance at the admiral. Alan gazed at the ground. My poor, sweet, sensitive Alan. I deeply regretted the pain I would inflict on him in the next few moments. Nalia noticed my approach. Her eyes grew wide.
“You should have let us handle the intruders,” the Advisor said, staring at his fingernails.
“Silence, Vargas. I’m not a murderer.” The admiral’s voice was hard. He looked towards me. “You didn’t need to kill the others.”
“You seemed distracted. I thought we could help,” the Advisor answered.
Nalia shifted her gaze to the Advisor. “Vargas, I knew you were involved. There was something slimy about you the moment I saw you.”
He laughed. “Guilty as charged! You were always observant, Miss Sargire. However, you shouldn’t call people slimy. That’s offensive to people-pleasers such as myself.”
“Enough,” Vendrian interjected. He looked towards the two candidates. “You should have stayed behind, both of you. I left you alone on Danube for a reason.” He glanced at Nalia. “Alan should have told you what I told him.”
Nalia said in a soft voice, “I know that you’re on some sort of mad quest to bring peace to the galaxy. That you think that whatever it is out there will save us all. And that you wanted Alan to abandon us.”
“Nalia,” the admiral countered. “I apologize for my harsh words, but it was necessary so that Alan wouldn’t be… distracted.”
“Think about what you’re doing, admiral. We know about the key. We know about its power. Think about what you’re unleashing!” Nalia pleaded. The admiral didn’t respond.
Alan stirred. He forced himself to look in the admiral’s eyes. “Sir,” he asked slowly, “I want to ask you something.” He paused. “What led you to this point? What was that moment that turned you?”
The admiral clasped his hands behind his back. He paced to his command chair, and looked at the tactical holo showing the position of his fleet. Vendrian sighed. And then he rambled. He told them about his guilt and fear. His shame and salvation. He talked of the war and the toll it took on him. It was a self-serving and maudlin speech, but that was all one could expect from someone with just a limited mindset. In the end, men such as him could only think of themselves.
The admiral continued his explanation. “It was a slow thing. A slow realization for me. I didn’t understand until the Battle of Haven. And that was it. The damage so great… the carnage so devastating. I lost everything right then and there. I needed to find an answer. I talked with so many people. I read philosophy and treatises. All useless. I looked high and low, until the answer found me.”
“We approached him with a proposition.” The Advisor stepped in. “We would come in and end this pointless cycle of hatred. All he had to do was open the door.”
“And they showed me a vision of the future. An eternal alliance. Humanity united forever. No more hatred. No more vendettas. No more bloodshed.” The admiral’s eyes misted.
Nalia tried to stand, but was pushed down by a guard. “But, sir! How can you trust these…people? You don’t even know the first thing about them!”
“Because we must. They showed the most wondrous things, things that only existed in our dreams. Access to every star in the galaxy. Space habitats for trillions. We just needed the right resources: the energies below us.” He clenched his fist.
“The grid?” Nalia asked. “They would do something with it?”
“Yes. Although their knowledge of it is much greater than ours, they still need our help to utilize it.” He pulled out the Gate key. “With this, we will allow them to enter real space. We will make a pact to ensure human immortality.”
A moment of silence passed. Alan turned his head up. “And what about me? What was that talk about me being an ambassador?”
“Because you were chosen by me.” I stepped forward before the admiral could reply. The Advisor looked at me in confusion. I removed the covering over my head. Darkness briefly filled my vision, and then the glow of the bridge lights restored my sight. I saw both my friends clearly, without the interference of the HUD. “Hello, Nalia. Hello, Alan.”
Alan gasped, a choked sound escaping through a clenched throat. Nalia and Vendrian looked at me in shock. “M-Mihaela?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Impossible,” said Nalia.
“What is the meaning of this?” shouted Vendrian. The Advisor stepped between him and me.
I walked toward Alan and kneeled before him. He refused to look at me. I cupped his face in my hands and looked into his terrified eyes. His well-defined chin trembled. “We need you. You and Nalia.” I caressed his cheek. “I want to tell you so much, but we don’t have much time.”
“This wasn’t part of the plan… Irwin, where have you… What…” the admiral protested.
“I’m afraid we didn’t tell you everything. Eventually, we would have, but my associate seems to have plans of her own.” The Advisor clucked his tongue.
“I don’t… I don’t understand,” Alan whispered. His dark brown eyes reflected my green ones.
My right index finger began burning bright. “I will help you understand,” I said. I jammed it into his forebrain. He struggled against me. I temporarily paralyzed him with a strike to the spine. Memories rushed into my mind. This time my purpose was not to take, but to give my mind to his. Familiar times and places passed us by. A rooftop enveloped by fireworks. A bright blue sky over a rocky coast. A campfire on a cold night. Those memories burned into flashes and tendrils of white. Voices of the Consciousness whispered louder. They drew his memories to them, like stretched out moths to a flame. They molded those moths and spoke to him of glorious peace. He started screaming. My heart fell into my stomach as his pain increased. The whispers became louder. They spoke of the perfection that they would achieve, how he would come closer to understanding the universe. I felt myself losing Alan. They would soon recreate his mind and make it part of them.
I must hurry, I thought. I must show him the path. Those words reverberated in my mind. I pulled from my memories a final gift to Alan, one that would save him and the others. His screams started coming out in ragged gasps. Then suddenly, something fast and hot coursed through me, disconnecting my mind from his. I hit the wall with a loud crash. My vision grew dark. The voices raged at me in confusion, but they faded as the auto-repair systems kicked in.
Internal systems quickly brought full power to regeneration. I opened my eyes and smelled burning flesh. My flesh. I found myself lying on the ground. The admiral had discharged his pistol on me. He now pointed it at the Advisor. The guards stood by, confused. Alan writhed on the floor in the midst of a seizure. Nalia yelled something.
“Medic! Get a medic now!” Vendrian shouted. “Vargas, you son of a bitch! You lied to me. You said he would be protected!”
The Advisor took a cigarette and lighted it. “You shouldn’t have interrupted the process, admiral. Now, I’m afraid he might be permanently damaged.” He took a drag.
The medic ran in and quickly administered a sedative to Alan. It knocked him unconscious and his body slumped to the ground. The medic began examining him. “He needs to get to a med bay, fast,” she said.
The admiral’s face fell. “I’ve… I’ve made a huge mistake. This wasn’t supposed to happen at all.”
The Advisor laughed. It sounded hollow and empty. “Vendrian. Surely, you understand that everything comes with a cost. The Buddha didn’t achieve enlightenment without suffering, after all.”
“Admiral, you can stop this! Stop it now before more get hurt!” Nalia shook as she spoke.
Vendrian lowered his pistol and shook his head. “It’s too late. It’s already begun.” He was right; we fired the missile moments before their ill-fated attack. The Gate would activate far before anyone could do anything. He nodded to the guards. “Free them,” he commanded. The guards removed the handcuffs from Nalia, Alan, and the marines. They, with the exception of the still form of Alan, looked at him in confusion.
Vargas stepped toward the admiral, but every guard pointed their rifles at him before he could get close. He stopped and shrugged, the smile never leaving his face.
A shout came from the front of the bridge. “Admiral! We’re detecting a massive energy discharge from the star!” announced one of the crew. The nearby brown dwarf started collapsing in on itself. Its surface became impossibly hot, as heat and energy burst from a hole generated within. Spouts of fire and force spread from it.
“Get away,” Vendrian said to the medic, which she did at once. Nalia and one of the marines took Alan by the arms. He faced Nalia. “Get back to your ship and get out of here. Warn everyone! And take this.” He tossed the crystal to Nalia, which she caught with her free hand. She hesitated. “Go!” he shouted. Nalia and the marines left, dragging Alan with them. He dropped the gun to his side. The ship shook from the star’s shockwaves.
Most watched the viewscreen in stunned silence. The Advisor took a long drag from his cigarette. With one final expulsion of gas and flame, the star blinked out of existence, not even leaving a particle. In its place rotated a massive circular structure, almost the same diameter as the former star, its smooth surface gleaming blue and white on the external cameras. It consisted of four separate quadrants, all held together by the might of pure thought. Surrounding it, giant clouds of grid energy crackled with intensity. It spun faster and faster. Thousands… millions of lights blinked in, heralding the arrival of the Consciousness into the real. The tactical holo filled with yellow indicators.
“Multiple contacts! Unknown configuration!” reported an ensign. The external cameras focused on the nearest presence of the new arrivals. They showed large spherical vessels of various sizes surrounding and spreading throughout the First Fleet. They undulated in hues of every color of the spectrum. The mysterious ships stopped. We waited in anticipation. I heard the admiral draw in his breath. The spheres started firing, angry ghosts made corporeal by their war machine.