Book: Terminus Rising
Terminus Rising An Adam Cain Adventure
The Human Chronicles Saga
Copyright 2019 by Tom Harris Creations, LLC
All rights reserved, without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanically, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. *
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Novels by T.R. Harris
The Human Chronicles Saga
The Human Chronicles Box Set Series
REV Warriors Series
REV: Retribution (coming soon)
Jason King – Agent to the Stars Series
The Drone Wars Series
In collaboration with George Wier…
The Liberation Series
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Adam Cain is an alien with an attitude.
1. …aboard the Arya in the Milky Way Galaxy
4,629 years ago
2. …aboard the Sansa in the Milky Way Galaxy
4,569 years ago
3. …at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
3,219 years ago
4. …at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
1,243 years ago
5. …at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
603 years ago
6. …at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
7. …at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
8. …within the Aris base
14 years ago
9. …aboard the Aris space station
10. …approaching the Aris space station
11. …at Terminus Base
12. …approaching Terminus Base
14 Years Ago
13. …aboard the Klin Colony Ship Behemoth
14. …in a medical bay aboard the Behemoth
… later that day
The Last Aris
Author Notes and FREE BOOK OFFER
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Novels by T.R. Harris
noun: terminus; plural noun: termini; plural noun: terminuses
a final point in space or time; an end or extremity.
Adam Cain is an alien with an attitude.
His story continues…
Having learned of a potentially catastrophic disaster facing the universe, Adam Cain and Company are in a desperate race against time to prevent a creature from Panur’s past from bringing about the end of all existence. The being Te’moc was used to create the immortal mutant genius and he has the power to destroy him. The problem: Panur has been tasked with finding a solution to a crisis which is rapidly building to Armageddon. Without him, the end of everything is a certainty.
Te’moc is also on a quest to collect all the Essence of J’nae, and therefore achieve infinite power. But most of the essence has been absorbed by the ancient Aris, giving them the immortality they need to keep universes from colliding. Take away their immortality and you destroy our universe.
And to top all that, Adam must save Summer Rains from certain death at the hands of Te’moc. The evil alien wants what’s inside her—J’nae—who has deceived Summer into helping the entity achieve her selfish goals, no matter the cost. And now Adam Cain not only has to protect Panur and Summer from the deadly duo of J’nae and Te’moc, but he also has a universe to save.
It’s a lot of pressure on our hero, this whole saving the universe thing. But it is Tuesday, and Adam Cain always saves the universe on Tuesday.
Prologue 4,685 years ago on the planet Kor
The Eternal Queen watched as the wizened alien was wheeled before her, his body too weak for him to stand on his own. Even seated, she could tell he was tall, taller than the Sol-Kor tending to him, his boney knees pointing up at her as he scrunched in the seat. However, even in his withered state, she saw the intelligence in his clear, blue eyes. Seven hundred years of life did that to a creature, providing strength of mind, if not body.
She also sensed there was no fear in the alien; he would not last much longer. He knew she could do nothing to seriously impact his future.
The Queen was about to prove otherwise.
“You would be the creature known as Panur’Akenon,” she said confidently in the language of the Hal’ic. Through her own genetic makeup—as well as her nine hundred years of existence—the Queen’s intellect was beyond compare within the Sol-Kor Colony. Foreign languages were not a challenge for her.
The aged alien did not respond. Rather, he cocked his narrow head from side to side on an impossibly thin neck, taking in the Grand Hall and those of the Court in attendance. Several of her advisors had come to witness the anomaly, the ancient being they’d heard of even before the start of the J’nae invasion.
“We share something in common,” the Queen continued. “We have each lived longer than any before us. However, my longevity is the result of who and what I am. As long as I provide for the Colony and produce the required offspring, I am sustained. And although my body possesses a form of cellular regeneration, I still receive replacement organs should I need them along with the finest medicines and diet my civilization has to offer. You, however, are an oddity, a mutant, an abomination. The Hal’ic are known to live three hundred years or more. But seven hundred? Never. Until you. And while I survive through providence, you survive by accident.”
Again, the alien did not respond.
The Queen moved closer until she was towering over him, forcing his head to lay on the back of the chair to look into her piercing eyes. “Have you nothing to say?”
“I will speak when there is something to say. Until now, your words have been a preamble. Please make your point.”
There were gasps from those in the chamber, not only from the insolence of the statement but from the fact that it was in the Sol-Kor tongue.
The Queen smiled. “I see from your brief exposure to the Sol-Kor you have already mastered our language. That is a sign of the great intelligence you possess; another trait we have in common. It is also one of the reasons I brought you here today.”
She slid back to her original position; a stained section on the marble floor where she spent the majority of her time, when not in the laying room.
“You want me to state my reason for bringing you here? I will. I wish to save your life.”
The ancient alien smiled. “Save my life, even as your ravenous hordes commit the wholesale slaughter of my race? And for what purpose do you exterminate the Hal’ic and the A’nor? You seek not territory nor natural resources. Instead, you have come simply to feed. It is such a barbaric and pointless act that you would destroy an entire species for the momentary satisfaction of your hunger.”
“It is what the Colony does,” replied the Queen unabashedly. “We conquered and consumed the other colonies on Kor, and now we require more. Although your world may be the first we harvest, it will not be the last. But let us not debate this issue. The Hal’ic no longer qualify as a civilization. You are the only viable member left. And now I bring you before me to offer a new path, one of great benefit and for which your vast intellect and natural abilities will be rewarded.”
The Queen looked at the two Sol-Kor to her left. They stood ramrod straight, an air of superiority in their posture. “For the past two hundred years, I have been shepherding a great scientific endeavor, using multiple generations of technicians to further its advancement, with each new participant screened at birth and raised to work exclusively on the project. It has the highest priority and unlimited resources. I wish you to join this project, to become its leader.”
The alien in the wheelchair expressed humor at the reaction of the Sol-Kor scientists next to the Queen. For this meeting, they’d been given a position of prestige and respect near their living god, only to have their status suddenly downgraded in favor of an outsider, an alien. They grumbled with one another.
“And what is the purpose of this project?”
“It is the pursuit of an immortal being.”
The smile vanished from the old alien, replaced now with a deeply furrowed frown. “As in the search for such a creature amid the varied worlds of the galaxy?”
“No, as in the creation of such a being by artificial means.”
Panur’Akenon’s head bobbed on his thin neck. “I do not see how that is possible. Have you made progress in pursuit of this folly?”
“We have, to a degree. We understand much of the process, yet there appears to be a limiting factor.”
The Queen saw that the intellectual curiosity of the alien was piqued.
“It is with the genetic material from which we work. Since all life on Kor shares a common ancestor, everything on the planet is related. What we seek is a unique ingredient—indeed, more than one. With the natural longevity of the Hal’ic, coupled with your mutant abilities, I see the potential for a breakthrough. Combined with my regenerative abilities, as well as the genetic material from a variety of other species we have found, the creation of an immortal being is not only possible but probable. However, the intelligence of my scientists is hampered by their limited lifespan. You do not have such a handicap.”
“Even so, I cannot see how it would be possible, at least not in the creation of a true immortal. Perhaps an extension of lifespan to thousands of years; that could be possible. But to be truly immortal and impervious to death, one must constantly regenerate, and not only select parts of the body, but the body total, including the brain. Also, you are not immortal, although you say you have regenerative abilities. So the quest must go beyond simply accelerating and expanding this regeneration. You would have to create something that has never existed before.”
The Queen smiled. Already the mutant was working on the problem.
“Let me clarify, Panur’Akenon, it is not I who will create such a being; it is you.” The Queen hesitated, sending a nasty frown at the still-fidgeting scientists. They froze in place.
“With the demise of your race, you are left with no loyalty other than to yourself. And although you are nearing the end of your incredibly long life, there is more remaining than the average Sol-Kor worker. I also sense energy within you. Use what you learn from us to save yourself, to attain eternal life. Live on to learn more, to learn everything. This is what I offer you, Panur’Akenon of the Hal’ic. I offer you … eternity.”
The alien stared at her for a long moment before giving a single nod. “I will lead your project,” he said. “And you may call me Panur; that is my preferred greeting … my Queen.”
For all their talk of creating immortal beings, in Panur’s opinion, the Sol-Kor lacked a certain sophistication in their technology. Take, for example, the chair he was sitting in. It was a simple process to attach a motor to the wheels to allow him to guide himself. Instead, a Sol-Kor worker pushed him along the corridors and down the elevator to the deepest reaches of the M-1 pyramid, the capital building of the Colony.
There were other indicators, as well. The aliens had a rather advanced space drive, capable of reaching speeds over three-quarters the speed of light. However, when they attacked his home planet of J’nae, they came with heavy ballistic weapons and bombs to subdue the population, rather than something more advanced. Even the Hal’ic possessed a form of plasma energy weapon, an invention of Panur’s from his early days as lead scientist for the A’nor sect. However, even possessing slightly more advanced defenses, the Hal’ic proved no match for the Sol-Kor. The aliens controlled the high ground of space, and with no desire for long-term occupation of the planet, they ravaged the land and cities, accepting no surrender, only the death of the natives.
Even as he was wheeled to the end of a long passageway and through a set of double doors, Panur knew he wouldn’t be the last surviving Hal’ic, contrary to the Queen’s belief. The flesh-eating invaders wouldn’t find everyone; that was impossible. And unless the Sol-Kor rendered the surface uninhabitable through irradiation or some other method, many of Panur’s people would survive. Would that be enough to repopulate the planet, Panur didn’t know. His only hope was that if they did manage to survive and multiply, that they wouldn’t advertise the fact. Being the closest inhabited planet to Kor meant that the aliens could return at some future date for a second serving of Hal’ic flesh.
As he entered the laboratory of the mad Queen, Panur pondered whether she honestly believed she could create an immortal being, and if so, for what purpose? The Sol-Kor were not interested in long-term planning unless it involved their endless quest for food sources. There had to be another reason.
By agreeing to be part of the project, Panur would occupy his mind while preserving his life a little longer. He was also desperate to learn more about this alien race which appeared in the skies above his homeworld without warning to harvest an entire planet of its native population. The motivation for such a horrific action had to go beyond simply the quest for food.
Panur mentally shrugged. Perhaps not, he thought. The Queen has a life-preserving duty to provide for the Colony, and the Colony must feed. Whatever purpose this grand experiment served, it had less to do with the welfare of the Colony, and more to do with that of the Queen herself.
The two disgruntled scientists from the Grand Hall appeared in the sterile-looking work area, dressed in matching one-piece uniforms of light brown. Panur studied the aliens. Sol-Kor were a little shorter than Hal’ic, yet stockier, with tiny scales covering their skin. Their flesh tone was to the darker shade of grey and their features were similar to the Hal’ic, with two eyes, a nose and mouth. Tiny skin flaps served as ears.
The scientists introduced themselves as First-Intellectuals Warress and Kanc. Panur still detected resentment in their voices, but also caution. He was the new favorite of the Queen, and the natives knew it. They would be careful around him.
However, from what he knew of the Sol-Kor, this attitude toward him was strange. Each member of the Colony had a predestined function to perform. There was no competition, no questioning, no jealousy. They served a unified purpose to preserve and grow the Colony, along with an instinctive devotion to their Queen. The reaction from the scientists had to come from the fact that he was not of the Colony and never would be, no matter how much the Queen favored him. This attitude was something Panur would have to endure during his time working with the aliens.
“Are you truly close to a breakthrough in creating an immortal being?” Panur asked Warress.
After only a slight hesitation, the alien responded. “We have made many breakthroughs, yet I would not say we are close to creating that of which the Queen seeks.”
Panur surveyed the equipment in the room. The Sol-Kor had computer technology and appeared adept at electronics. That meant data files and records. He would need to study two hundred years of research to make himself familiar with the project. For him, that was not a problem. But for now, he was content to let the scientists present their reluctant briefing to their new alien leader.
As related, the Sol-Kor were taking a chemical approach to the problem, working on a mixture of genetic material which would propagate the properties they theorized must be present in a being to make it immortal. With the addition of Panur, they would now integrate his genetic material into the mix and hopefully discover that secret ingredient the Queen had mentioned. Although the project appeared to be progressing through a series of guesses, Panur believed the plan to be reasonable, at least until he got a better grasp of the problem. However….
“How is this mixture administered, and into what?” he asked, his curiosity overriding his patience.
This prompted the scientists to wheel him into another room. Along the wall were eight glass chambers holding identical grey figures. They were about a meter-and-a-half-tall, hairless, and with only basic features such as eyes, nose and mouth. They were naked and with male genitalia, which Panur found to be both incongruous and superfluous.
“These are the master receptacles we have created to serve as test subjects for the refined formula,” Warress explained. “They have life, yet only basic brain function to sustain that life. The essence we give them provides additional cognitive and biological abilities.”
“I see they are male. I find this strange if there are no matching females.”
“All Sol-Kor are male, all except the Queen,” Kanc explained. “When masters are created, we make them anatomically correct, although basic in form.”
“Are Sol-Kor males … functional?”
“About a third of us. Our contributions are required to fertilize the eggs laid by the Queen. She produces approximately twenty thousand per day—” Kanc noticed Panur’s startled reaction. “The Colony currently numbers approximately forty billion individuals, and hence our need for a continual source of nourishment.”
Kanc met Panur’s eye with a steady gaze, showing no remorse regarding the fate of the Hal’ic—their current source of nourishment. To the Sol-Kor, Panur’s race was nothing more than food stock, and not living, intelligent creatures with thoughts, feelings and emotions.
“These are the creatures you have been injecting with the essence—as you call it?”
Again, Panur noticed a hesitation. Warress answered. “The masters are not injected. But to answer your question more directly, no, these masters have not been infused. Not yet.”
“Where are the subjects that you have infused?” Panur asked, using the scientist’s word for the assimilation process. He was anxious to see the results.
“None have survived.”
“The process killed them?”
“Not the infusion procedure, but the extraction,” Warress explained. “Each batch of formula requires a period of incubation within the host. It is then extracted and refined even more. We theorize that for the refined formula to work best it must be reintroduced into the original subject, working through a series of residual adaptations. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do this consistently because the extraction process generally kills the host.”
Panur took a deep breath. He was getting more information than he needed at this point. After studying the past research material, he would have a better understanding of the project. But he did have one question his curiosity wouldn’t let wait.
“How is the formula administered into the host—and as a corollary—how is it extracted?
“Come with us,” Warress said unexpectedly. “We will show you.”
Panur eyed the creature, feeling uncomfortable in its unblinking stare, watching his every move. There was an intelligence behind those eyes; emotion, as well.
Panur’s exposure to alien species was extremely limited. He knew of the Sol-Kor, as well as two other races they were in the process of harvesting within the local star cluster. But this being was not of any of these races.
It was a tall, slender creature with red eyes and smooth, bronze skin, athletic and imposing.
“This is Te’moc,” Kanc announced, his voice low, almost fearful, as he spoke the name.
Not knowing if the creature could speak, Panur addressed Warress. “Of what race is it?”
“Te’moc is not of a race. He is a creation of ours—more correctly—of the Queen.”
“The Queen created him? I did not realize she is personally involved in the project.”
“Our Queen is our intellectual superior in every way. It was she who created the masters, and Te’moc as well.”
“What is his function?”
“Te’moc is what makes the experiment possible,” Kanc answered cryptically.
“I will explain,” said Warress. “Te’moc is a unique individual, able to merge his flesh with that of others. This ability comes from a refinement of the Queen’s regeneration process and is a key feature of our research. Without him, there would be no project. It is through Te’moc that our formulas are refined, incubated and distributed. His body processes the essence without it fully integrating with his system. This allows him to pass it on to the hosts without contamination. Once he merges with a master, the essence is disbursed, where it continues to be processed. Once this is done, he merges again with the host. The essence bonds with his cells, and when he withdraws, the essence goes with him. However, as mentioned before, the extraction process is much too stressful on the hosts. They are given whole life, and then suddenly it is removed. Their bodies are not strong enough for the shock. All except two have died, and the ones who survived were no longer viable for the experiment.”
Panur wheeled himself closer to Te’moc. He studied the creature for a moment, caught up in the wonderment of his miracle creation and abilities. Here was an artificial being, genetically engineered for a specific purpose—and except for a few kinks in the system—it … lived. Perhaps the technology of the Sol-Kor wasn’t as backward as he first thought.
He smiled up at Te’moc’s emotionless face.
This is something I can work with.
…aboard the Arya in the Milky Way Galaxy
“You killed Adam Cain!”
Summer Rains was so upset she didn’t bother with the mental link between her and her phantom presence. Instead, her screeching voice echoed off the metal bulkheads of the Arya, returning to her ears as if the ship itself was making the accusation.
Technically, we killed Adam Cain, came the voice in her head. I may have guided your actions, but it was your body that threw him from the spaceship and into the launch bay before we departed.
“I didn’t know you were going to do that!”
He was trying to stop us. Do you wish to have me removed from your being or not? It was necessary.
“But it was Adam Cain, the greatest hero in the history of the Human race.”
You are exaggerating, grossly. He was hardly that, except in your sexually-overactive imagination. I always sensed you had feelings for him.
Summer was shaken. She had never fully analyzed her feelings for Adam. Now she wondered: Was it true?
“He’s … he’s old enough to be my father. That’s disgusting.”
However, he is not your father.
“Stop it! It doesn’t matter anymore. We killed him. Now we need to go back.”
That is impossible. I jumped the Arya at random, and by doing so, I lost the coordinates for our departure point.
“I don’t believe you.”
Then you are welcome to attempt a transition on your own. You have a rudimentary understanding of trans-dimensional travel. Just beware, you will be jumping into an entire universe. You could end up anywhere.
Summer moved to the forward viewport, seeing the tears flowing down her cheeks through the reflection in the glass. How could she have let this happen? Was she that selfish?
It was true, Adam Cain was trying to stop the co-joined pair from returning to the Milky Way. And if what J’nae said was true, this creature Te’moc was the only chance she had of removing the essence of the evil Sol-Kor creation from inside her body. Stealing the Arya was the only way to make that happen. Otherwise, she was destined to carry J’nae with her for the rest of her life. And according to the phantom, Summer’s life may be extended beyond that of normal Humans, which created more angst in her emotions.
But was it worth the life of Adam Cain?
Summer slumped down in a nearby chair. She knew she was the only person in the trans-dimensional starship, but she didn’t feel alone. Unless she found a way to remove J’nae from her body, she would never be alone again.
The damage is done, J’nae said in her mind. We have no choice other than to continue. Once you are free of me, you can make amends in whichever manner you wish. But unless we are successful, the sacrifice of Adam Cain will have been in vain.
“I didn’t need to hear that. I know. And how do I make amends for what I—we—have done?”
Summer let out a long breath. Either that … or by dying. If she did, then J’nae would be trapped in her useless body for … forever? She didn’t know. What would become of the essence when her body withered and turned to dust? She was tempted to find out.
“So what do we do now?” Summer asked the empty room. She could have communicated with J’nae exclusively from within her mind but hearing the sound of her voice was somehow comforting. It made the process less … freaky.
We must determine our location in the galaxy, said J’nae. Now that I am back, Te’moc can detect me. He will come to us.
“Panur and the others won’t let that happen. Although Adam is dead, the others will come looking for us, and they’re going to be pissed. You also say Te’moc is mortal. I don’t think Riyad and Sherri would hesitate a moment to kill him. You heard what Panur said about you and him getting together. They’ll be out to stop that from happening and at any cost.”
You are correct, yet like us, they have no idea where he is.
“They’re resourceful; you know that. They’ll find a way.”
Then we must get proactive.
“What do you mean?”
Since Te’moc could track us before we transitioned to the other universe, there is a probability he tracked us to the AD-14 star system. Although the signal disappeared, he may still be there trying to reacquire.
“So where are we in relation to the star?”
Take me to the navigation station. And you will have to give me control.
Summer stood up, arms at her side, clenching her fists.
“No way! I’m learning to hold you back, but once I give you control, you can do whatever you want!”
What I want is to find Te’moc and remove myself from your body. I thought you wished the same.
With her fists still in balls, Summer stomped her way to the station. She was getting a better feel of how the thing inside her worked, and from that understanding, she was able to keep J’nae at bay. But by dropping her mental defenses, it gave the entity control of her body. It was a traumatic experience, since Summer was still aware of what was happening, even as she was powerless to affect the outcome. What she lacked was more skill at forcing herself back in command. But to practice, J’nae had to be in control. Letting her survey the nav computer seemed like an innocuous way of gaining experience.
A few moments later, the voice spoke in her mind. We are three thousand, five hundred forty-eight light-years from the Kidis Frontier and AD-14. With the TD drive of the Arya, we can be there in six days. I suggest we proceed immediately. I agree the others should be in the galaxy already, and they, too, may have deduced the same information. It is now a race to see who can find Te’moc first.
4,629 years ago …on the planet Kor
He was making progress.
Fifty-six local years had gone by since Panur joined the Queen’s ambitious project to create an immortal being. And as she had told him, the project had the highest priority and unlimited resources. This pleased Panur to no end, as he used the time and technology to experiment in a variety of fields, even beyond the quest for the immortal.
His first great innovation came when he learned how to create miniature singularities in the laboratory. He’d been working on a similar experiment back on J’nae, before the invasion. Now with the resources of the Colony at his disposal, he made the required breakthroughs. Immediately, he saw the possibility of adapting the technology to a space drive, creating a faster-than-light engine without the need for propulsion in the traditional sense. Instead of being pushed to higher and higher velocities by conventional engines, his ships would fall into the gravity-well created by the series of microscopic blackholes. These powerful singularities would always be created at the same distance from the generators, allowing the vessel to exist in a region of space just inside the event horizon where the laws of nature ceased to exist. Mass did not increase with speed, nor did the energy requirements to move an object. In addition, space along the line of travel contracted, drawn toward the singularity, warping space to a fraction of the original distance. The result was travel time between star systems being cut by a factor of a thousand or more, opening the galaxy up to the ravenous hordes of the Sol-Kor.
As a reward for this development, the Queen ceded more of his time to ancillary projects, realizing what an incredible asset he was to the Colony.
His next advancement was in the field of mind suppression.
With the invention of the gravity-drive, the Sol-Kor had full access to the galaxy, and as a consequence, were discovering hundreds of worlds with their food of choice: the brain matter of advanced life forms. But the struggle to subdue these pesky aliens was proving problematic. Some of these species possessed technology even more advanced than the Colony, resulting in the death of millions of Sol-Kor in the wars that followed. These massive conflicts degraded the crops, ripping apart flesh and leaving corpses to rot before they could be salvaged.
Panur chose to address the problem of how to more efficiently subdue mass populations by circumventing the need for battle altogether. He studied the minds of advanced creatures—his included—searching for a way to suppress motor function through the use of a radiating ion beam that could be effective in both the vacuum of space and within an atmosphere. As usual, his efforts proved successful, resulting in his suppressor pulse beam.
Only recently had his latest innovation been put into operation, and already the results were beyond impressive. Whole populations could now be subdued without a single shot being fired, and with special shielding, the Sol-Kor were able to operate within the effective zone of the beams as they collected their harvest. Within the Colony, the supply of food stock overflowed, resulting in a corresponding population explosion.
And with each innovation, Panur gained more favor with the Eternal Queen. But still, she pressed him on the immortality project.
Early on, he zeroed in on the regenerative property of both the Queen and Te’moc, believing this to be one of the keys to immortality. These were slow processes, but they worked. Panur was successful in grafting regenerative cells to his, and soon his aged body began to regain much of its earlier vitality. He no longer needed a wheelchair to get around, and even his mind expanded, becoming more effective. He was still a long way from creating an immortal being, but at least now, he had the time to work on the problem.
As the years passed—and he lived on as the Sol-Kor scientists around him died off—the legend of the mutant genius grew. As a result, Panur could do no wrong and attained such power that none of the Sol-Kor opposed him. He could do what he wanted when he wanted. Also, the Queen, Panur and Te’moc began to spend more time together, as these unique entities were the only living constant in the Colony. All-in-all, life was good for Panur. But it was still a life with limitations.
That was when he had a startling epiphany. If he were right, it would change everything.
It came down to energy, the energy required to sustain life as an immortal.
Beginning with single-cell organisms, Panur was able to extend the lifespan of his test subjects to infinity by modifying the organism’s means of creating energy to sustain life. Converting food to energy through biological processes proved to be ineffective over the long-term. But this was how all life existed, with death often resulting from the strain placed on the body during a lifetime of conversion. He needed a simpler way of powering a system, a more direct method.
It took forty-eight generations of hosts before the tiny grey masters could utilize the direct intake of energy. This mutation also had the secondary benefit of making the hosts tolerant to Te’moc’s extraction process, allowing the life essence within them to be recycled, resulting in the breakthrough they’d waited so long to reach.
And this advancement led to the next.
The Sol-Kor relied on a chemical mix of genetic material to advance their immortality project. The problem with this approach—as Panur saw it—was that the mixture had no substance. It was a mish-mash of ingredients with little practical application. Even as immortality was attained through this method, it simply created immortals out of the hosts. But it couldn’t convert an already living entity into one.
As Panur had realized long ago, this was the real goal of the Queen. As the pair grew closer, she told him how she needed a way to convert her body into an immortal. She wanted to exist forever at the helm of the Colony. She was already a god to them, but she wanted more.
Panur could create an immortal being. What he didn’t know how to do was create one out of someone else.
At this point, his challenge grew exponentially more difficult, and for all intents and purposes, the project came to a dead end.
…aboard the Sansa in the Milky Way Galaxy
Adam Cain felt like death warmed over.
He was still healing from the effects of his near-death experience in the freezing launch bay of the Aris space station. Although no one mentioned it—at least to his face—he looked like something out of a horror movie, complete with flaking sheets of rotting skin and decubitus sores over parts of his body. The emergency layer of protective skin his subconscious created as a defense against the cold had saved his life. But now it was peeling away, and in places where the damage extended deeper than this barrier, bloody and seeping wounds appeared. His body was healing—better than it would normally have—thanks to the residual effects of the recent mind-meld with Panur. But in the meantime, he looked like someone’s hideous nightmare. That someone was, well, everyone aboard the Sansa, himself included.
A few hours before, the TD starship had transitioned back into the Milky Way, appearing very near to the planet Sasin. It was the last known location of Te’moc, and even if he wasn’t there, the team might get a line on TeraDon Fief. He was Te’moc’s main contact with the Cartel; they should know where one of their top lieutenants could be found.
Monty and Tidus weren’t anxious to return to the hellhole of Sasin. Neither was Adam, for that matter, but he felt a familiar confidence knowing that Sherri, Riyad and Copernicus were with him. The band was back together, and it felt good.
J’nae—with Summer in tow—had jumped the Arya to a random location in the galaxy for the express purpose of throwing Panur off the scent. It worked. At the moment, Adam and his team had no idea where she was or how to find her. But since she was also on a quest to find Te’moc, locating the alien creation made the most sense. Eventually, J’nae would find him, and Adam intended to beat her to the punch.
Even so, Adam hated missions like this; it wasn’t how SEALs operated. Rather than having a concrete plan covering every aspect and contingency of the operation, he was flying blind. He didn’t know the location of either the Arya or Te’moc, nor did he know the true capabilities of his targets. According to Panur, Te’moc was mortal, which meant he could be killed. That was good. On the other hand, J’nae was immortal, although being trapped inside Summer’s body meant her powers could be neutralized. Of course, that would mean killing Summer, which was something he wasn’t prepared to do, at least not yet. However, if it came down to that or the destruction of the universe, it was a no brainer. But that was a choice he didn’t have to make at this time, if ever. His priority was keeping the Arya out of Te’moc’s hands. If the alien managed to acquire the vessel and learn of the Aris and their assimilation of the Essence of J’nae, the operation the Aris had underway to contain the rip between dimensions would be in jeopardy. His other goal was to keep Te’moc from killing Summer while extracting J’nae’s essence from her body.
Killing Te’moc first would achieve both of his objectives. Unfortunately, saving Summer was a secondary concern, although he would never tell that to her father, Monty Pitts.
“So what’s the plan, Stan?” Sherri Valentine asked Adam as the members of the team crowded onto the bridge for a pre-mission briefing. “We’re one ship against an entire base of Cartel assholes. This could be fun.”
Adam didn’t know if she was serious or being sarcastic. Knowing her, it was probably a little of both.
“Let me help,” offered Riyad Tarazi before Adam could answer. He flashed his trademark white smile at Adam. “While you were away making porno flicks with the vivacious Arieel Bol, Sherri, Coop and I were learning all the ins and outs of this fantastic piece of machinery,” He patted the console in front of him. “Even a fully-stocked Cartel base shouldn’t be a problem for the Sansa. The only question is how much of the place do you want to leave standing?”
“I say level the whole goddamn place,” Monty Pitts grumbled.
“I concur,” said the Juirean, Tidus Fe Nolan.
Adam grinned, which broke a crusty piece of a scab from his bottom lip. A trickle of blood appeared. He felt it; the others—all battle-hardened veterans—turned squeamish at the sight but said nothing. Sherri handed him a cloth with one hand while pointing at her lip with the other. Adam got the message.
“Although I feel the same about the Cartel base as you, Master Chief, we can’t do that, not yet. We need information. First, we need to find out if Te’moc is still there, and if not, then where can we find this TeraDon character?” He winced as he tried a wider smile. “After that, then I say go for it. Burn the stinking place to the ground for all I care.”
“Do you think anyone would notice?” Monty asked. “It would just look like any other neighborhood in Yanish-kas.”
Adam ignored the gruff Navy master chief and turned to his friend Riyad instead. Riyad was right; Adam hadn’t received the training as the others had on all the wonderful innovations Panur and Lila put into their super starship. He’d barely scratched the surface of the Arya’s capabilities when he left Sasin the last time, thanks to what he later learned were the efforts of J’nae working through Summer. Even then, it was pretty damn impressive: beam weapons and blossom burst defenses. As the Arya’s sister ship, the Sansa had matching systems. And this time, there would be a trained crew at the controls.
Adam nodded. “I defer to your superior skills, Mr. Tarazi … and the others. You have the con.”
With laughing eyes, Riyad looked at Sherri and then Copernicus. “It amazes me how Adam always assumes he’s in command—of everything. Where does he get such an ego?”
“And looking at him now,” Coop began, “the only thing he’s in any condition to command is the Zombie Apocalypse Homecoming Parade.”
“We said we wouldn’t go there,” Sherri said with a wink. “The guy’s got to be in enough pain as it is. To make fun of his ghoulish good looks is just cruel.”
“Knock it off,” Adam ordered. He looked at Monty and Tidus. “See what I have to put up with in every book? You would think by now they would know I’m the main character.”
“I count fourteen ships in port,” Riyad reported from the weapons station. He and Sherri had taken the dual seats, one with control of the starboard batteries and the other the portside. Being the best pilot aboard, Copernicus was at the flight controls. Tidus assumed co-pilot duties while Monty sat at the nav scope. That left Adam lounging at the back of the bridge in an observation seat, with nothing to do.
This was going to be strange; he not having a vital role in the upcoming battle. But he would lead the ground assault. The team was already dressed in battle gear, with their weapons clipped to the rear bulkhead, ready to grab on their way off the bridge. Besides having a few MK-47s with them, they were going in with deadly M-101 assault rifles with three hundred rounds carried by each team member. Monty still hadn’t completely healed from his encounter with Kracion’s evil henchman so he would stay with the ship. Besides, he didn’t have an ATD like the other Humans. The hull of the Sansa still vibrated from his profanity-laced protests when given the order to stay behind. The bull-of-a-man had sat on the sidelines for far too long. He was ready for some action.
He calmed down when Copernicus showed him the triple set of heavy flash cannon the ship had mounted on turrets above the bridge, designed specifically for ground assault coverage. It seemed the mutants had planned for every contingency. Monty was now anxious to try out the weapons, and he would use any excuse to do so. Riyad cautioned him to make sure the team was clear before he opened up. From his mesmerized stroking of the firing control stick, Adam wasn’t sure he heard the warning.
Adam gave a final word of caution as the Sansa began her run on the Cartel’s land base outside the sprawling metropolis of Yanish-kas. “Remember, we can’t waste the whole place. Otherwise, we’ll spend the next month sifting through the rubble looking for Te’moc’s body. We need some of these assholes alive. And don’t let any of the ships escape. He could be on one of them.”
“Aye, aye, Captain Obvious,” Copernicus said from the pilot seat. He was relaxed at the controls, his experience making the task of piloting the starship in battle seem almost blasé. “Get ready. I’m banking left; going to catch those Cartel bastards flatfooted. Get ready for the fireworks.”
“Roger that,” Riyad said from his weapons station. “Readying the diffusion bloom. The thing’s designed to be used in space to knock out enemy missiles, but it should also do a number on the grav generators in the ships on the ground. Not sure what type of blowback we’ll get, so hold on. We’ll be too close to the ground for inertial compensators. It could get a bit bumpy.”
The hull of the Sansa heated up to fire-engine red as Coop sent the ship diving through the atmosphere. He was coming in much faster than any conventional ship was capable, trusting in the genius of the mutants that their specs were right. In the blink of an eye, he was racing a thousand feet above the reddish-black surface of the planet, heading for the spaceport of the Gradis Cartel’s land base.
To the right was the cluster of eleven buildings that made up the compound. Between that and the spaceport were three kilometers of open ground, now dotted with dirty, off-white canvas tents housing volunteers for the Cartel’s recruitment program. Very few of the recruits would be armed, and therefore not a factor in the coming ground operation. The team wasn’t required to take and hold any real estate other than the main administration building, and just long enough to beat the information they needed out of some of the higher-ups. That’s when the op would transition from the sorta-planned stage to the play-it-by-ear phase. Both parts of the plan would involve a lot of dead aliens.
But first, they had to take out the spaceport.
Riyad triggered the diffusion bloom a heartbeat before the Sansa passed over the parked starships in the large open field. Adam had seen this new type of defensive weapon in action when he, Summer, Tidus and Monty were racing away from Sasin with a small squad of Cartel ships on their tail. Ten guided missiles were closing on them at the time, and the bloom shield spread out around the ship with an enormous electromagnetic pulse and accompanying shockwave. All the missiles were disabled, and the Arya got away unscathed.
Now the blast radiated to the ground, sending the fourteen spaceships parked there bouncing away, caught in the shockwave. They didn’t appear damaged to any great degree, but sensors aboard the Sansa showed the standby energy signals for all the ships had dropped to zero. The EMP fried their internal circuits, not only for the gravity drives but also the controls to the chemical jets. None of the ships would be lifting from the port any time soon.
But then the shockwave rebounded off the ground and radiated back toward space, catching the Sansa in its wake before the ship could get far enough away. The EMP was no longer active, but the mass of compressed air sent the ship surging skyward, pressing all those aboard into their seats and gasping for breath.
The main drive burped, losing power for a moment. The Sansa fell toward the surface, reversing the previous force on the crew and sending them straining against their seat harnesses. A chorus of grunts and groans filled the compartment until the engine came back on and the ship raced away on a level course.
After catching his breath, Copernicus swung the Sansa around, this time slowing and heading for the complex of oddly-shaped buildings. Pure blue breaking jets flared out from under the hull, scorching the already black soil of a large field outside the tallest of the buildings. The ship didn’t drop to a landing, but skidded instead, churning up mounds of the moist, moldy soil. Coop was out of his seat even before the nose angled down, coming to a rest in one of the huge piles of dirt.
The rest of the away team were already unbuckled and running for their weapons packs. Monty slid into the weapons station just vacated by Sherri and gripped the controls to the ground assault cannon. One of the screens on the bulkhead already displayed the front of the admin building and the dozens of panicked aliens running for cover. He opened up on them, aiming at those on foot, but leaving the building intact.
Adam was out the side exit hatch a moment later, cradling an M-101 in his grip. He was followed by Riyad, Coop and Sherri, with Tidus bringing up the rear. M-101’s have excellent range, firepower and accuracy, superior to any of the stray flash bolts coming their way. Already, the team was cutting thin-boned aliens in half with rapid bursts from the semi-automatic carbines.
Adam recoiled from a powerful flash cannon blast hitting the ground close to him and the others. He glanced back at the grinning face of the Sansa, with its darkened viewport looking like sunglasses and the pile of black soil a thick black mustache.
“Dammit, Monty!” Adam yelled through his throat mic. “Give us some room.” A moment later the cannon fire shifted forty degrees to the left.
As they ran across the field toward the building, Adam noticed Tidus falling behind. He wasn’t nearly as fast as the Humans, and he also wasn’t familiar with the M-101, reacting wildly to the slight recoil of the weapon. He was a sitting duck.
“Sherri, go cover Tidus! Help him to the building. Riyad and I will clear the entry.”
She dropped back, spraying a group of aliens to the right with a steady stream of hot lead. She dropped a magazine and slapped in another. Tidus joined her, doing his best to target the stray Cartel members with the heavy metal weapon. Although Juireans seldom showed emotion on their long faces, today Tidus was an exception. He was not a happy camper.
Although most of the Humans had ATDs, in the heat of battle, it wasn’t practical to break concentration to defuse the couple of hundred flash weapons they could detect. A few of the most critical ones, sure, but not all of them. Besides, they had superior weapons and rate of fire. They could handle most of what the Cartel soldiers were sending their way.
Even so, both Adam and Riyad caught level-two bolts to their battle vests, while Coop made the sprint to the headquarters building impact free. The trio now raked the single-door entry with heavy slugs that tore easily through the polyurethane foam construction, taking out a dozen more Gradis hiding on the other side of the wall, The door was barely a door when Adam dropped a shoulder and barreled into the interior.
There were dead or dying aliens littering the floor everywhere, requiring the Humans to step over and around them. Sherri and Tidus showed up a moment later.
“The bosses wear nicer clothes,” Adam yelled to his people. “Find me someone to beat on.”
“What’s nicer?” Copernicus asked, looking around.
The area around was rapidly clearing. The remaining aliens on the ground floor were debating whether there was a future in working for the Cartel any longer. Most were turning in their resignations and running for safety, failing to return fire against the savage invaders.
Adam sprinted up one of the open stairways. On the upper floors, there was even less resistance. These were the bosses, and they seldom pulled their weapons anymore. However, a few did, and they paid the price.
With his improved eyesight, Adam spotted something familiar down the hallway as it ducked into a room on the right. He followed, again shattering the door almost before it had a chance to close fully. Someone was knocked back, landing on the floor in front of a utilitarian desk. It was a Rigorian.
During the brief time he’d been a prisoner of the Cartel, he hadn’t seen very many of the huge, lizard-like creatures. The only one he knew was named Aligart. Adam’s problem: all Rigorians look alike. Adam wasn’t sure if this was Aligart or not.
“Adam Cain! Please do not shoot,” said the writhing beast on the floor. Adam stood over him, the short barrel of his M-101 only inches from the foot-long snout. “It is I, Aligart.”
Riyad and Titus came into the room, while Sherri and Coop took up sentry positions outside. Adam could hear an occasional blast of M-101 fire as they kept the curious aliens at bay.
“I’m looking for Te’moc!” Adam growled. He was caught up in the energy of the battle, sweat covering his brow, his eyes intense balls of blue glaring down at the alien. Normally, he felt trepidation around the huge lizards—not this time.
“Pardon me, but you look different, Adam Cain. Are you molting?”
The Rigorian was referring to his peeling flesh and open sores.
“No, I’m fine. Where’s Te’moc?”
“You do not look fine. You look to be in pain.”
“Forget about me! Just tell me where Te’moc is!”
“Te’moc? The creature in the metal skeleton?”
“That’s the one … I think.” Adam had never actually seen Te’moc. He’d only heard about him. “TeraDon’s client,” he said for clarification.
“That would be him. He is not here.”
Adam’s hopes crashed. Shit! “Where is he?”
“I do not know.”
“What about TeraDon Strife?”
“You mean Fief?”
“Yeah, I guess. Whatever his name is. Dammit, where is he?”
“You may call me what you wish, but I would tell you if I knew where he is. All I know is that TeraDon Fief and the other creature followed you off the planet. Their ship never returned.”
The Rigorian was having trouble concentrating. His yellow eyes shifted their attention from Adam’s torn up face to Riyad and Tidus, each of them with their M-101s also aimed at the big lizard. No one in the galaxy liked Rigorians, that was common knowledge. Aligart saw the hate in their eyes.
“Did we destroy it, TeraDon’s ship?”
“No. Those were Confed ships you destroyed. TeraDon’s ship never returned to Sasin.”
Riyad leaned close to Adam. “Panur said Te’moc could detect J’nae. You don’t think they followed you to AD-14, do you?”
“That’s a possibility. He couldn’t go as fast as we could in the Arya, so we were already gone when he got there.” Adam turned toward the door. “Dammit!”
“Yes?” Aligart responded.
Adam looked at the lizard, not comprehending. He ignored him and turned back to Riyad.
“We could’ve jumped right back there. As it is now, it will take us nine days or more to get there, even in the Sansa. Let’s get out of here.”
“What about this one?” Tidus asked.
Adam turned back to the terrorized Rigorian. The creature had kept his word when he helped Adam before. And he’d helped him again.
“Get out of the building,” he said to Aligart. “Go out the back way and then just keep running. You don’t want to be anywhere near here in a few minutes. Now go!”
Aligart was off the floor a moment later. He squeezed by Riyad and Tidus and then navigated gingerly past Sherri and Coop. It was a fair bet he’d never seen so many Humans in one place before. He was terrified. He ran down the hallway to the nearest stairway leading to the back of the building and disappeared.
The team was gone a moment later themselves, again not bothering with disarming the aliens with the ATDs, instead, ripping them apart with impatient shots from their rifles. They were all pissed and taking it out on every stray alien they could find.
Back at the Sansa, Adam stepped up to where Monty sat at the firing controls.
“Let me in. I need the practice.”
Coop was in the pilot seat, and within seconds the Sansa lifted off, blasting away a cloud of dark grey dust into the eerily quiet field.
Adam aimed with the flash cannon and began to strafe the buildings, sparing none from his wrath. He never did like the Gradis Cartel, and especially the Cartel on Sasin. Sherri took the seat next to him, and after sharing a pair of matching grins, joined in ripping the lightly-built structures apart.
Riyad leaned over Sherri’s shoulder and took his turn with the beam weapons. These were meant to take out heavily-shielded starships, not buildings made of hardened foam. Five minutes later, there was nothing left to shoot.
“Okay, I feel better now,” Adam said to the room. “Get us out of here, Coop. Set a course for AD-14. Our fun is just beginning.”
4,569 years ago …on the planet Kor
The impasse lasted sixty years, during which time Panur worked sparingly on the immortality project.
The breakthrough came when he found a way to distill the essence of a living being into the necessary form which Te’moc could then process within his body. Panur called this distilled essence a freeform embryo. Once refined, Te’moc would take the embryo into his body and transform it into something that could be transferred to a host. In most cases, it was a straight-line process: distillation, Te’moc, and infusion. There was no need for multiple infusions and extractions to refine the material. It was already refined.
The experiments proved successful, and with the host’s ability to absorb energy directly, the embryo could be brought to maturity almost instantly once infused.
The major drawback to this process was that the original body was destroyed in the distillation process, which caused an insurmountable quandary. The process would work, but not for the Queen. Her unique physiology was required to produce the thousands of eggs per day needed to sustain the Colony. Simply placing her essence into another body wouldn’t work. Unless a host body was created that mimicked all the functions of her current body, she would never be able to attain her goal of immortality. To do otherwise would be to remove her from her position while sentencing the Colony to death. She wasn’t willing to do that.
That was when Panur realized he wasn’t wedded to his current body, not like the Queen. His vessel was old and withered and reaching the end of its usefulness. The process wouldn’t work for the Queen, but it would for him. Also, he had neither vanity nor ambitions to be a great physical presence. He would settle for one of the generic grey masters if it meant his mind would live forever.
Of course, this raised another concern. Even if the transfer was possible, it could only be accomplished through Te’moc, as that was the only way to guarantee complete integration of the embryo. Panur worried whether or not the creature would agree to the procedure. Te’moc was a thinking, emotional creature, and although he wasn’t immortal himself, he had an extremely long lifespan thanks to the regenerative properties he received from his creator—the Eternal Queen. While he tolerated Panur, he was completely devoted to the Queen. Would Te’moc see Panur’s experiment as a benefit to the Queen and the Colony, or simply a way for Panur to become immortal? Te’moc would have to be convinced that what Panur was proposing was for the good of the Queen. It wouldn’t be easy, and it would take time for him to lay the groundwork.
Panur faced another dilemma when considering the procedure, this one personal. Distilling his essence would involve destroying his current body. And this wasn’t simply another host. This was his body, something he’d lived with for over eight hundred years by this time. And if he did this, there would be no going back. Either the procedure would work … or Panur would die. Also, once he was distilled and fused with Te’moc, he would be at the mercy of the creature to carry out the infusion. Was he willing to take the risk?
It turns out he wasn’t, at least not then.
It took another six years before he built up the courage to try, and that came about more from necessity than courage. He’d developed a serious heart condition that even his regenerative cells couldn’t cure. Panur was on death’s bed when he permitted the technicians to begin the distillation process.
There was no sensation of time. He simply closed his eyes and opened them again. His mind was fuzzy on the details, but soon he remembered what he had done. Did it work? It had to. He could see, he could think.
But he couldn’t breathe.
Panic swept through his body, and he gasped, desperately sucking air into his lungs. But nothing helped. He was suffocating, while his mind kept telling him there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
However, consciousness remained. And remained.
The realization hit him like a rock. He wasn’t breathing … because he didn’t need to.
He lay on the recovery bed, staring up at the distant ceiling and lights of the incubation chamber, feeling an overwhelming flood of relief. He was alive and encased in a host body. The transfer worked.
But was he immortal?
It turned out he was, and to his surprise, it infuriated the Eternal Queen, sending her into a screaming rage when she found out.
This alien—this mutant not of the Colony—had become what she could never be. Immortality was something beyond her reach—and nothing was beyond the reach of the Queen. Nothing, except this.
It made her mad.
The Queen closed down the immortality project after that. Te’moc was placed in hibernation, as she couldn’t gather the willpower to destroy him. He was her special creation, and she would preserve him on the off chance something might change. What that something might be, she couldn’t predict, which only made her madder.
With regards to Panur, she vented her frustration at him, while also acknowledging the miracle of his new form and existence. She found it odd looking down at the unimpressive grey body, so unlike that of his other, more familiar form. He would live forever, and with a mind beyond even that of her own. He was a one-of-a-kind entity, and although she felt betrayed and insulted by his transformation, she was determined to use him for the good of the Colony, almost as punishment for cheating her out of her dream. Even so, she didn’t have to keep him at Court.
She exiled him to a secret pyramid in the snowy southern mountains of Kor designated as M-34 and gave him a small staff. He would continue to innovate for the Colony. And after his humiliation of the Queen, he felt an obligation to do so. Whatever he could do to impress her, he would do. But from where the next great breakthrough would come, he did not know. So he kept his options open. After all, he had all the time he needed … and then some.
…at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
Te’moc had been at the abandoned Aris base for twenty-two days, during which time he learned an incredible amount about these amazing creatures. Like everyone else in the galaxy, he knew of the Aris, but mainly about them being the native species of the evil Kracion. Te’moc came to the Milky Way about the time the Mad Aris began his campaign of death and destruction, yet very little else was revealed about his race of origin other than they were rumored to be ancient.
At first, it was believed the Aris came from another universe, as evidenced by Kracion’s arrival through a trans-dimensional portal within the Dysion Void. However, it was Cartel agents infiltrating the Human military complex that provided Te’moc with more information, culled from buried after-action reports going back several years.
As it turned out, the Aris were native to the Milky Way, an ancient race which the reports said had vague connections to Panur and the Formilian mutant Lila Bol. This was interesting, particularly for the mention of Panur, a creature Te’moc knew well. The mutant was well-known within the Milky Way galaxy, with his name mentioned in the eventual demise of Kracion. Another name circulated with that event was Adam Cain. Curiously, it was Adam Cain who rescued the Humans and Juirean from Sasin, the event which led him here.
Adam Cain was also the evil creature who killed Te’moc’s beloved Eternal Queen. There was too much coincidence to let the relationship between Panur and Adam Cain simply be. He had to dig deeper.
That’s when Te’moc noticed an obscure notation in one of the reports about a creature named Jane. He realized that had to be a bastardization of the word J’nae. The data was sketchy, but the word immortality was also mentioned in the briefing documents. The report’s author didn’t see any correlation between the subjects; it was beyond his understanding. Not so for Te’moc. Still, it wasn’t much to go on, but it did prove that J’nae had once been in this universe, confirmation of the Sol-Kor belief that Panur brought her here after stealing her away from the Colony.
What confused Te’moc at the time was why he couldn’t detect her? His documented ability to sense her presence was the reason the Sol-Kor resurrected him, piecing his segmented body back together with a sophisticated exo-skeleton and other linking attachments. They wanted their Queen back. They needed their Queen back. And Te’moc could find her. Or he should have been able to.
His first year in the Milky Way came up dry, with no trace of J’nae. With the help of the Gradis Cartel and their loyal representative, TeraDon Fief, Te’moc crisscrossed the galaxy, avoiding Kracion’s terror while searching for any trace of J’nae. There was nothing.
The only logical conclusion to his dilemma was that J’nae was no longer within this universe. But where had she gone?
And then one day … she was there.
And the signal was strong, meaning she had returned to this galaxy. She was back, but from where, he had no idea.
Once Te’moc had the scent, he and his Cartel servants made a mad dash to recover her before she could once again depart the galaxy. A chain of events followed, all of which led him to this isolated star system, where he lost the signal.
However, it was here that he discovered the lost Aris base … and the drop of J’nae’s essence.
It was a small part of her, left lying on a concrete floor. If not found, the drop of immortal lifeforce would have remained undisturbed for years, until the walls of the underground complex collapsed upon it from the ravages of age. However, now that he found the drop, much was revealed, mysteries resolved. With the help of the Aris computers—as well as considerable deductive reasoning—Te’moc began to piece together the puzzle that was J’nae, the missing Queen of the Sol-Kor—along with her association with the Aris and the Humans.
During his examination of the Aris base, Te’moc found recently uploaded data files which revealed that the Privileged sect of the Aris had achieved immortality by assimilating portions of J’nae’s essence into their ancient bodies. How they accomplished this feat was not detailed, just that the procedure was successful. Te’moc was confused. He knew of no way to extract the essence from a host other than through him, yet, somehow the Aris did it, which was not surprising considering their history and level of technological sophistication. After that, the infusion process to introduce the essence into a new host was fairly simple. Extraction was the hard part.
From J’nae’s essence, fifteen of the Privileged class became immortal. However, most intriguing was the reference to a surplus supply, from which the sixteenth Aris—Kracion—was able to achieve his immortality. This meant there was a cache of essence somewhere, possibly hidden within the base. Te’moc spent over twenty days scouring the facility for the lost vials but to no avail. They were no longer here, which led Te’moc to believe they were moved to another universe, the same universe into which J’nae had disappeared.
On the trip from Sasin, TeraDon had briefed him on the creatures they were following, including what the Cartel knew of the mysterious Human female he now believed was J’nae’s new host. Could she have been the recipient of the bulk of the fluid which produced the lone drop? It was a possibility.
What he found most disturbing was that Adam Cain was involved. He was one of the creatures who killed the Eternal Queen of the Sol-Kor which prompted J’nae’s elevation to the position of Queen. According to copious reports available from multiple sources through the Galactic Library, the Human Adam Cain was neither a genius nor immortal, yet had played critical roles in several crises facing the galaxy, including the recent solution to the Kracion problem. He was also known to be an associate of Panur, as well as the father of the immortal mutant from the planet Formil, Lila Bol. How one mortal creature could be involved in so many galactic affairs was beyond belief. However, the records backed it up. His chronicles were well-documented.
What part he would play in the recent events surrounding J’nae remained to be seen.
It was also during Te’moc’s study of the Aris that he discovered the reason he was unable to detect J’nae’s presence during the time Kracion carried her essence within him. Aris bodies could absorb energy directly, just as Panur and J’nae. The purity of energy could mask any detectible trace of the essence. But the Human female is a biologic and had no such masking ability. Te’moc now surmised the exact time this creature known as Summer Rains assimilated J’nae. It wasn’t long ago, so whatever was happening within the Human host was still in process.
This revelation answered a myriad of questions that had perplexed him, such as why, when his Cartel servants boarded the alien spacecraft on Sasin, they found the Human female instead of J’nae. He excused his shortsightedness. They had indeed found J’nae aboard the vessel; he just didn’t know it at the time.
And now another event was taking place within the galaxy that prompted his recent summons of TeraDon Fief. The slender alien entered the office where Te’moc was scanning yet another amazing data file. It seemed the enigma of the Aris went back much farther than he could ever imagine….
“You summoned me?”
“Yes,” Te’moc confirmed. “I have reacquired the presence of J’nae.”
TeraDon didn’t react one way or the other. Te’moc knew the alien did not care for him, and that he was growing bored with his current assignment for the Cartel. It had lasted over a year with not much happening, save for the few tense hours on Sasin with the Humans and their incredible trans-dimensional starship.
Te’moc was momentarily distracted, thinking of the vessel. He knew Panur had created such craft for the Human incursion into the Sol-Kor universe. And if J’nae had been hiding out in another universe, obtaining such a vessel would be crucial to his mission’s success.
“Do you wish me to begin preparations to leave?” TeraDon asked when Te’moc didn’t continue after making his statement.
“There is no need. J’nae is coming to us.”
The last statement got a reaction from TeraDon.
“We must depart immediately. If she comes in the Human ship as before we have nothing to match it. Does this facility have defenses that could ward off an attack?”
“It was not a Human starship we encountered at Sasin,” Te’moc corrected.
“What matter is that? It is still superior to anything we have.”
“Calm yourself, TeraDon,” Te’moc said. “It is too early to consider this a threat or prepare for an evacuation. Besides, I am not certain she even knows I am here. And as for the base, it has no real countermeasures against an outside attack. It was built long before the Aris seeded the galaxy with advanced life forms.”
Te’moc had learned much about the Aris over the past twenty-two days. TeraDon had not.
“I do not understand?”
“It is not your place to understand, but rather to accept what I say as fact. Suffice to say; the base does have an asteroid defense system that should be able to neutralize any foreign spaceships if we attack unexpectedly.”
“That is hardly a guarantee. I have five Cartel ships and crew for which I am responsible. I will not risk their lives on a gamble.”
“Again, calm yourself, TeraDon. As a concession, leave two of your ships on the surface, as a signal to J’nae. Send the other three to hide nearby in space. If they are needed, they will arrive unexpectedly.”
“That is little consolation.”
“If J’nae arrives at the head of a fleet, we will engage the asteroid defenses and seek retreat. However, if she comes alone, let her land. There are more defenses within the facility than without.”
“Why would you not destroy the ship in space with the asteroid defenses and then salvage the body afterward, as you have ordered us to do so in the past?”
“It is as you have stated. If she comes in the same ship as before, I would wish to preserve it. It is a remarkable vessel and would be a valuable asset. Surely, that is obvious, even to you.”
TeraDon bristled at the insult. “Not if it has the potential of destroying my squadron.”
“All will be fine. And recall, I can detect her location far in advance. Now make your preparations. At the rate of approach, she will be here in six days.”
3,219 years ago …at a Wormhole Communications Station
The instantaneous wormhole communication device he’d invented had the effect of shrinking the galaxy. And at the time, the galaxy was definitely in need of shrinking.
The Sol-Kor now ranged throughout their home galaxy, having harvested one thousand, forty-eight planets to date. The yield sustained the Colony for a while, but with more food came an ever-growing population. They needed a new food source, and as usual, the Queen turned to Panur for a solution.
At first, he tried substitutes. He modified various lifeforms and came up with a line of sustainable livestock. But nothing satisfied the Sol-Kor. It had been easy for so long that the Colony wished to continue doing what it had always done. Fresh brain and developed flesh—harvested from compliant populations dulled to a stupor—was what they desired. Nothing else would do. It was at this point that Panur realized this was more a cultural manifestation than a nutritional requirement. The Sol-Kor loved the idea of the harvest, which meant Panur would have to find more places for the Sol-Kor to satiate their needs.
For his part, Panur was surprised at the scarcity of advanced life in the galaxy. After all, there were billions of planets with a wonderous variety of life upon them. But as far as finding advanced life forms similar to the Sol-Kor, this was a rarity, defying all the calculations.
The solution to his problem lay a million light-years away, in the nearby galaxies. There were four of them within that distance; however, even with his most-advanced gravity-drive, it took hundreds of years to reach them. The Sol-Kor didn’t care. They were of a single mindset and were willing to invest the time it took if it was for the good for the Colony. Panur organized massive expeditions which reached into the void between galaxies to build huge gravity generators in stages until the great star islands were linked. After that, fleets of beamships and harvesters invaded these foreign galaxies. Unfortunately, just as it was with their native galaxy, advance life was rare. Within another six hundred years, entire galaxies were stripped of their advanced life and left barren, until the slow crawl of evolution could replace that which was lost.
Beyond the four local galaxies, the distances were too great to provide a viable solution to the problem. Even so, multi-generational caravans of Sol-Kor currently moved through the void. Eventually, they would reach their destinations. Panur did the calculations. By then, the Colony will have starved to death.
Panur now stood before a large monitor in the control room of a wormhole communications station, scanning the lines of data streaming by. His Sol-Kor assistant—a tech named Yinnish—stood patiently nearby. He couldn’t keep up with the information displayed, but he knew Panur could. At some point, the tiny grey mutant would issue orders, and Yinnish would obey.
“There, bring the focus in two degrees,” Panur announced suddenly. Yinnish went to work. “The wormhole has expanded. Readings are stable.”
On his screen, the tech could now decipher the data. He nodded to Panur.
“Success!” Yinnish exclaimed. “The opening is large enough for passage of a starship.” He then frowned and leaned in closer to his screen. “However, the interior, it is … shallow.”
Panur saw this in his data, as well. He was confused. The hole was open, but it was leading … nowhere. There was a secondary screen nearby that showed the three massive towers outside the control building. Symbolically, Panur looked above the towers, to the region of space far above that now stood open, but open to what? The experiment was designed to create a navigable wormhole between comm stations many thousands of light-years apart and capable of transporting starships instantly across such distances. Theoretically, it should work. Panur’s communications system worked this way, yet on a microscopic scale. By enlarging and stabilizing the wormhole, Panur would open the universe to the Sol-Kor, negating the mind-boggling distances involved and enriching their food supply without limit.
So far, the experiment was only half a success. The gate was open on this end, but not the other.
“Are we in alignment with the receiver?” Yinnish asked.
There was a matching comm station fourteen thousand light-years away working a similar experiment. Panur nodded. All indicators showed the systems were in alignment; to be sure, Panur sent a test signal through the comm relay. Using the traditional equipment of the station, the signal came back a moment later. If an electronic message could pass through the link, then why couldn’t something more substantial?
Something wasn’t right.
Panur leaned back in the seat, his tiny grey body dressed in the light brown uniform of the technical class of the Sol-Kor. He had to think, to study the void above them, to learn of its properties. Already a possibility was nagging at the back of his mind.
“Place a pressure monitor on the void,” he commanded of Yinnish.
There were four techs at other stations. Yinnish set them to work aiming laser beams at the opening. A moment later, the readings came back.
“Steady pressure, yet slightly elevated from the space surrounding the void,” Yinnish reported.
“The pressure should be the same,” Panur mused.
Yinnish suddenly leaned in closer to his screen. “The monitors have measured the depth of the opening. It is only microns thick. This cannot be correct. Even wormhole communications create openings through space light-years in length, although of microscopic width.” He pulled away from his station. “I regret to say this, but it appears your experiment has failed. Even with the size of the void, there is no link.”
Panur continued to study the data. On the surface, Yinnish was right. They had not established a link with their brother station. But still, there was an opening in the fabric of space. Why wasn’t it allowed to go deeper?
A thousand possibilities flashed through Panur’s genius mind. It would do no good to feed his hypothesis into the computer for analysis; his mind worked faster than the hardware. A moment later, he sat up in the chair and began isolating lines of data on his screen to confirm his conclusion. He smiled when the calculations verified his belief, not from the satisfaction that he was correct, but from the fact that only he would realize the full consequence of the discovery.
Remote cameras highlighted the thin white boundary of the void in space, itself a confluence of incredible energies that held the gap open. There was nothing to see in the dark void, not even the distant stars that had been in the background before the void was created. Panur sat mesmerized, locked on the monitor, and staring into the darkness. Yinnish stood nearby, confused at the mutant’s unblinking trance.
“What … what are you looking at?” the tech finally grew the courage to ask.
A thin smile stretched across Panur’s near-featureless face.
“What I’m looking at … is the surface of another universe.”
In his enthusiasm, Panur did something he didn’t normally do with the Sol-Kor: He tried to explain what he meant. Now—as in the past—most of what he said went over the heads of the techs. After rambling on for a few minutes, spouting calculations and hypothesizes, he made the declaration.
“The experiment was not a failure. We did open a portal, but not to another relay station. Instead, we have created a tear in space, revealing the membrane of a neighboring universe.”
The Sol-Kor techs were familiar with the concept of the multiverse, although few believed it. Even if it was true, how was this knowledge applicable to the Colony and their quest for food? In their opinion, it wasn’t.
“If that is true, then why are we not linked?” Yinnish asked, humoring the mutant.
“I suspect it is because there is a buffer zone between the universes that prevents unilateral puncture. There would have to be another portal on the other side for the universes to link. And then there is the matter of pressure. The membrane is exhibiting a slightly higher pressure differential than our universe. That was my first clue. Also, I see a danger in links between dimensions with radical variances.” Panur’s mind wandered off.
Yinnish took a deep breath before returning to his console. “Shall I inform the other station of the experiment’s failure and dismiss the staff? You will need another idea for the wormhole concept to work. Your discovery of a dimensional membrane is interesting, yet of no direct benefit to the Colony. What is needed is a modification of the original experiment.”
Panur looked up at the much taller alien, nodding his head. “Yes, a modification,” Panur agreed. “I shall work on that immediately. And in light of your astute observation, I now agree that the experiment has failed to achieve its desired goals. You and the others may leave. I have much thinking to do. Assign your assistants to the trans-stabilization problem for long-distance wormhole links. Increasing link time will allow for better communications over greater distances, and that would be of benefit to the Colony.”
Panur sat patiently, waiting for the room to clear. The techs would be of no use to him at this point, not for the next set of experiments he was about to run. Possibilities were exploding in his mind, and he was anxious to get to work realizing the true potential of this—his greatest discovery.
…at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
Seven days later, Te’moc stood before a mirror in one of the utility rooms of the Aris base. It was a start, but not enough.
With the help of a small army of Aris maintenance robots, he had managed to replace the external scaffolding that connected the segments of his legs with biological joints constructed from the remains of several dead Aris he’d discovered in a vast hibernation chamber within the complex. When the Sol-Kor reconstructed his body, using metal parts, they had no idea what it meant to his abilities. Te’moc was able to merge his body with others, to either infuse life essence—something Panur was fond of calling lifeform embryos—or to extract it. To do this, he had to fuse completely with the host body. In his current state, he could fuse with the subject, yet when he withdrew, his body would fall apart, having left the metal attachments behind when he entered the body. The Sol-Kor couldn’t be blamed for this since they had not resurrected him to do infusions and extractions, but simply to locate and return J’nae to the Colony.
However, Te’moc had other plans, and unless he could become whole again without the use of metal attachments, his goal was unattainable. By replacing the scaffolding with flesh and bone, his regenerative properties would eventually integrate the connections into his being. It would just take time. So far, his legs were complete, even if the flesh had not fully meshed at this point.
During the painful work on his legs, Te’moc often grumbled, wondering if this was Panur’s plan all along? Had he foreseen this happening? If not, then why the dissection? One day he hoped to ask the mutant that question directly.
There was a room within the underground base designated the command center by the Cartel soldiers which contained a variety of monitoring and control stations. As mentioned, the ancient Aris had no true enemies at the time the base was constructed, presiding as they did over a near-lifeless galaxy, and over time, the need for upgrades had never become a priority. The Aris had nothing to fear. Therefore, the room was more an operations facility rather than a military command center.
Te’moc was in the room, watching a monitor as the alien spacecraft neared the planet. TeraDon was there as well, along with four other Cartel members, each of different races. Two ships sat vacant outside the entrance to the base, in plain sight, willing to be sacrificed if need be. Another three warships were stationed in a nearby asteroid field as a backup force.
Only a single starship was detected entering the system, and according to its transit signature, it was the same trans-dimensional vessel that Te’moc had monitored before. This excited Te’moc, while TeraDon was nervous. The ship was also on a direct course for the planet, bypassing the other two semi-habitable worlds in the system. J’nae was coming here specifically; she knew Te’moc was at the base.
But how was that possible? As far as Te’moc knew, she did not have the ability to detect his presence as he did with her. And his identity wasn’t widely known, even within the Cartel. Te’moc could speculate all he wanted. In a few minutes, he could ask her directly—or more correctly—he could ask her new host, the Human known as Summer Rains.
Although six hundred years had passed since last he and J’nae were in a room together, Te’moc had spent nearly all that time in a state of frozen unconsciousness. He had no true understanding of the passage of time, so the memories were still fresh in his mind.
His most recent hibernation period was not like his first, when for almost five thousand years, he maintained a flicker of awareness throughout the millennia, haunting him with persistent dreams. He wasn’t sure if his semi-consciousness had been intentional or not. It did not matter. He still suffered, continually questioning what he had done to the Eternal Queen to deserve such punishment? It was one thing to be locked away in a canister for millennia. It was quite another to be aware of each passing hour.
Even after he was revived, the answer was never revealed. He was sequestered away in Panur’s secret pyramid to work on the J’nae project, with no contact with the Queen. As far as she knew, he was still a locked away in the suspension pod, forgotten, which only made it worse. How long did she expect him to suffer? Even to this day, when he speculated on the answer, he felt angry and betrayed.
“Let them land,” Te’moc said. His command was unnecessary. Even if the Cartel soldiers wished, no one in the room except him knew how to operate the asteroid defense system. He made the statement to calm their nerves. He’d learned long ago that Cartel soldiers weren’t the bravest of creatures. They came to the organization primarily out of desperation, as a way to escape whatever Hell they were currently living. They would do their jobs, but only as long as things didn’t get too dangerous. After that, their loyalty was in question. They would fight, but not for a cause, which limited their courage in times of stress.
Senior personnel—such as TeraDon Fief—were a little more reliable, but not much. Even they were subject to moments of second-guessing their decision to join the Cartel. Te’moc had to be constantly on guard.
He checked the other monitors, scanning through those displaying the entrance corridor into the facility. Along this path, he set other defenses, utilizing some of the remarkable technology of Aris. He was familiar with the Sol-Kor suppressor beam yet was truly impressed when he discovered the Aris interphase field. Unlike the pulse beam, interphase went far beyond simply turning a target into a mental vegetable. It had the effect of removing the target from normal space altogether. Although they would remain fully conscious and able to communicate with this dimension, subjects would be completely isolated and ineffectual. Even J’nae couldn’t resist such a weapon.
He felt sadness at the thought. He should have no fear of J’nae. However, after six hundred years—along with her recent assimilation into a foreign host—he couldn’t trust that she was the same J’nae he had known before. Their prior affiliation had been intense and built over a series of infusions and extractions. When fully integrated, they shared more than any other pair of individuals was capable. He helped form who she was, as well as who she would become. There could be no closer bond.
He thought back to Panur. That had been different. All Te’moc did was serve as a vessel, first to receive the essence of the mutant’s old body and then infuse it within a host. Panur had not been built from scratch, but J’nae was. And it all happened within Te’moc.
The fact that she was coming to him meant she remembered. But until he could verify exactly what the memories entailed he would be cautious.
The sleek, one-of-a-kind vessel landed near the camouflaged entrance to the base, guided there either from foreknowledge or the presence of the Cartel ships sitting on the grey, barren landscape outside. There was evidence that the host had been here before. She had introduced herself through a video link with Te’moc on Sasin as a Human named Summer Rains. J’nae had also been at the base at the time, yet in a different state of existence. How familiar the Human was with the facility was an unknown.
To his surprise, only one space-suited figure left the ship. Where were the famous Adam Cain and the others he helped escape from Sasin? Te’moc reasoned that if they were aboard, they would not have allowed the tiny Human female to venture forth on her own. She would have come with an escort. So, what happened to the others?
Te’moc noticed the Cartel soldiers around him relax. He’d heard their discussions regarding Cain and the Humans. They had well-established reputations throughout the galaxy, and none of the soldiers seemed shy about expressing their fear of these creatures. However, with the ship on the ground and only a single figure approaching the facility, TeraDon and his crew felt more secure. After all, how much trouble could one tiny Human cause?
Te’moc let them have their moment. The truth would have only rekindled their fears.
Once through the airlock, the figure removed its helmet. It was indeed the tiny Human female. J’nae would be inside her; Te’moc could sense her presence.
He activated a series of corridor lights, guiding the Human forward and to a meeting room near the control center. After she entered, Te’moc signaled for TeraDon to accompany him. He couldn’t trust the others not to trigger the interphase field prematurely, catching both he and the Human in its influence. With TeraDon along, the soldiers might think twice. Maybe.
The Human was frightened, as displayed in her round eyes and trembling lips. She looked at TeraDon, her gaze resting on him for a moment, a sign of recognition. The two had met before, in the cellblock of the Cartel building on Sasin. His presence relaxed the Human. Unfortunately, her demeanor signaled to Te’moc that she was in control of the dual personalities within her body, and not J’nae. This seemed strange. Hosts normally didn’t have the mental strength for such dominance, at least not the generic hosts. However, this had been a fully-developed being before the assimilation. The dynamic must be different.
Te’moc approached the nervous Human with caution.
“Is J’nae present?” he asked evenly, without demand in his voice. He did not want to appear threatening.
The Human nodded as she spoke. “Yes, she is. She wants to talk to you, but I’m, I’m not so sure. If I give her control, she might not give it back.”
“What has she told you about me?”
“Not much. Just that you can get her out of me … and without killing me. Is that true?”
Te’moc sensed he had to tread carefully with this creature. If she could control J’nae, then she had more mental power than expected. If he frightened her, she could repress J’nae even more, keeping her from coming forth.
“That is correct. It is my function, the reason I was created. You can trust what J’nae says.”
Nervous blue eyes shifted again, flitting between TeraDon and him.
“Is that true?” she asked his Cartel representative, seeking confirmation from a familiar source.
Te’moc tensed. TeraDon was a variable he had not foreseen.
“Whatever he says,” TeraDon said, smiling. Te’moc sensed an easing of the Human’s stress level. There appeared to be sexual tension between the aliens, something Te’moc had not expected.
But still, the female hesitated. The workings of her mind were exposed through her eyes and other subtle body language; a relaxation of her shoulders, the soft sigh of her breath.
“Okay then, if you say so. Let’s get this over with. Do what you have to do. Get her out of me.”
Te’moc was caught off guard, first by the Human’s sudden willingness to surrender to him, and then by the reality that he was unable to perform a melding in his current state. When he hesitated, the Human tensed.
“What’s wrong? Can’t you do it?” Her voice strained from panic.
“I can, however—”
“However, what? Will it kill me?”
“That is not the reason I pause.” Te’moc took a step back and then waved his hands at his external metal skeleton. “I cannot proceed until I have replaced these metal accouterments with biological replacements. I cannot enter your body to remove the essence of J’nae until that is done.”
“How long will that take? You can do it, can’t you?”
“I can, but there is a process.”
“What do I do in the meantime? I want this bitch out of me!”
“I am sure J’nae feels the same. If I could speak with her, then I could use her genius to help speed the replacement procedure. Let her come forth.”
The Human shuddered, a visible shaking of her body. Now she stepped away. Humans—Te’moc was discovering—were a distrusting race.
“Bullshit! Something’s up. You just want her to take over. I can see it in your eyes.”
The female turned toward the exit. TeraDon rushed to the side to block her way. Standing a head taller and thicker in build, Te’moc imagined TeraDon would have no trouble restraining the much smaller Human.
He was mistaken.
With lightning quick reactions, Summer Rains smashed a fist into TeraDon’s exposed chest, sending him staggering back, wide-eyed and gasping for breath. A second blow to the side of his torso sent the Cartel leader to his knees, writhing in pain, which only served to place his head within easy reach of the Human’s balled fist. A moment later, TeraDon lay unconscious on the floor as the Human sprinted down the corridor in the direction of the station’s exit.
“Activate the interphase field!” Te’moc yelled, knowing the room and hallways were monitored from within the control room. A second later, Te’moc, TeraDon—as well as the fleeing Human—were all encased in shimmering balls of light blue film, locked in place and unable to move except within their individual bubbles. It took far longer than necessary for the Cartel soldiers to realize their mistake and reverse the fields holding Te’moc and TeraDon, leaving only the squirming Human as the lone captive. Her screeching voice echoed throughout this part of the Aris base, the sound of a trapped animal, ferocious and savage.
Te’moc was taken aback by the translation he heard coming from the Human. They truly were the beasts of the galaxy, and he wondered how they managed to survive this long while displaying such explosions of temper? Surely there were species in the galaxy who did not tolerate such behavior from these primitives. Or did all others have the same fear of Humans as did TeraDon and his Cartel soldiers?
Te’moc rushed into the corridor, leaving the unconscious TeraDon to his forced slumber.
“Let me go, you ugly fucking son of a bitch!”
Much of the translation conflicted with his understanding of Human emotions. Was everything with these creatures of a sexual nature? Te’moc moved closer to the shimmering bubble.
“Let me speak with J’nae. Once I do, you will have more understanding. Otherwise, you will remain in the field until you calm down. You are helping no one with your attitude.”
The Human sat down and crossed her arms against her chest.
“I will not, not until you let me go.”
“Then you will stay there until you starve, at which point J’nae will still live, and I will extract her from your lifeless body. The choice is yours.”
Te’moc didn’t know why he was negotiating with the Human. He could just as easily kill her now, eliminating the problem. However, that would create another. He needed to learn of J’nae’s present mental state before he assimilated her. And the only way to do that was to speak with her through the Human. He was also truthful when he said she could help with his removal of the attachments. She was much more intelligent than he and would find a way to speed the process. He could do none of that if the Human died.
TeraDon staggered into the hallway, blood draining from an ear. “Please agree,” he said to the Human. “Do not sacrifice yourself for this. All Te’moc wants is J’nae. He has no interest in the affairs of the galaxy. Trust me; I have worked at his side for a year. I know his intentions. Once he has her, he will leave.”
Te’moc looked at TeraDon. His words rang true, even if they were not entirely accurate. All TeraDon knew of Te’moc’s intentions was what he wanted him to know. Even so, the words were affecting the Human.
“All right,” Summer Rains mumbled. “But just to let you know, I can hear everything that’s said or thought. And I’m learning, learning how to take back control. If you fuck with me, it’s over.”
Again, Te’moc recoiled from the strange incongruity of the translation. The words had meaning, although he was sure it was not what the Human meant to convey.
As Te’moc stared into the blue eyes of the alien, he noticed a change in facial expression. Gone was the red-faced emotion, replaced now by an even countenance.
“Te’moc … I am here.”
He moved closer to the boundary of the blue shimmer. “Is it safe to remove the field?”
“It is. The Human has relinquished control, yet it is as she said; she is learning how to pull me back. With the proper mental intensity, it is possible.”
Te’moc turned to TeraDon Fief. “Tell your people to remove all interphase effects.”
A moment later, J’nae stood up and moved closer to Te’moc. She studied his body, taking particular note of the exo-skeleton.
“I see you have replaced the leg sections. Is there much pain?”
“There is pain, but tolerable. Even now, my flesh is merging with the replacements. Within hours, the effects will be gone. With your help, I will soon be whole again.”
“It has been so long,” J’nae said in a whisper.
“For you, perhaps. For me, I was asleep.”
“I am sorry we failed. Otherwise—”
“Otherwise none of this would be happening. You should be ruling the Sol-Kor with me at your side.”
“Not as my servant, but as my equal.”
Te’moc felt his body shudder. “Where is Panur.” His voice was cadenced and cold.
“He is with the Aris.”
Te’moc took note when J’nae failed to elaborate. The Human was listening; they had to be careful not to spook her. There was more to be told, but not at this time.
Te’moc was relieved. From this brief encounter, he learned what he needed to know. J’nae was still … J’nae, and the sooner he could repair his body, the sooner they could merge, again. Te’moc gave a mental shrug. At that point, the Human Summer Rains would be superfluous. It mattered not; she would never have survived the extraction process anyway.
1,243 years ago …within the Sol-Kor universe
Four universes and nineteen matching trans-dimensional portals. Panur smiled at the success he’d experienced since his accidental discovery of the multi-dimensions and the means to link with them.
Although the Queen didn’t grasp the significance of his discovery right away, she was smarter than the average Sol-Kor, and after Panur detected signs of the first foreign TD-portal, she bought into the program completely.
At that point, Panur moved beyond the use of modified wormhole comm systems to an array built exclusively for trans-dimensional surveys. He found that the distances between universes were only an atom’s width in diameter—a hydrogen atom, the basic building block of matter throughout all universes. By changing the focus of his beams, he was able to penetrate through dozens of dimensional buffer zones, contacting the membranes of other universes from a single research station. He learned to analyze the subtle pressure differentials, identifying safe universes from those more dangerous. Pressure was the key and needed to be within a narrow range for links to be considered safe. Too much pressure and an alien universe would spill into the other. Less pressure and it would be the Sol-Kor universe doing the spilling.
He was also able to detect faint disturbances in the membranes—dents, per se—which signified the presence of trans-dimensional portals in other universes built by advanced intelligences. Once he knew a portal existed, he could target the location with exacting precision, eventually opening a doorway to the foreign dimension.
So far, he’d discovered nineteen portals in four universes. All except two were the result of experiments done to wormhole comms, such as in Panur’s case. Two were units built specifically for TD travel.
Panur remembered vividly the first contact the Sol-Kor made with another universe. It was hard to forget.
In typical Sol-Kor fashion, the Colony anticipated an advanced race had built the array, so they came prepared. When the portal opened, a fleet of beamships poured through, saturating local space and the nearby planet with suppressor rays. The natives weren’t even given a chance to introduce themselves before the Sol-Kor were loading the fresh crop into reaper ships for processing and return to the Colony.
Once a foothold was made in a universe, crops were harvested at a fever pace. Panur was surprised to find that all nineteen of the portals he detected were in different galaxies within the four universes. No galaxy had more than one portal, giving the Sol-Kor nineteen additional hunting grounds to strip clean. As before, advance life was extremely rare, no matter what universe the Sol-Kor invaded. Even so, the vast number of galaxies meant a steady supply of food for the ever-growing Colony.
Although Panur often cringed as one advanced civilization after another fell prey to the ravenous Sol-Kor, he still felt a strange sense of accomplishment. His innovations had shaped the destiny of his adopted race for thousands of years. And now they dominated not only galaxies but universes. Vicariously, Panur felt paternal pride in the Sol-Kor, even though he was not of the Colony, and never would be.
Long ago, Panur had regained the favor of the Queen, as well as the tacit approval of the race. His use of TD travel allowed the Sol-Kor to instantaneously slip from one universe to another, from one galaxy to another. No longer were excruciatingly long inter-galactic journeys needed to open new fields. The Sol-Kor were prospering and growing as never before.
And then the inevitable occurred.
It was in U-4, the fourth universe Panur opened for the Sol-Kor.
Panur always believed there had to be a race somewhere that could stand up to the Sol-Kor. That race was the Qan. They maintained a sophisticated galactic empire in U-4, spanning six hundred worlds. They were both civilized and warlike, and their skill at battle meant they quickly identified the Sol-Kor suppressor beams as the only true advantage the invaders had over them. Once a deterrent was developed, a long and bloody war resulted, the first the Sol-Kor had fought in over thirty-five hundred years. Before Panur could devise new weapon systems to counter the threat, the Qan managed to invade the Sol-Kor universe, sending hit squads to Kor with the express purpose of eliminating the Eternal Queen. Fortunately, they failed, and eventually, the Sol-Kor gained the upper hand in the war. The Qan were defeated, harvested and consumed, to the particular delight of the victors.
Even in victory, however, the episode left an indelible mark on Panur. Although his Sol-Kor cohorts wouldn’t admit it, the Colony had come precariously close to annihilation. If they lost their Queen, the consequences would be devastating.
The Colony had always had a Queen, although ancient studies—when this was allowed—showed that the Sol-Kor began life much as every other organism, the product of gender births. This changed throughout their evolution until a single Queen became dominant, with the males assuming a subservient role. Through this arrangement, the Sol-Kor spread across the surface of Kor, creating millions of smaller colonies. Eventually, they began to prey on one another, until a single gigantic Colony remained, along with only one Queen.
The Queen is a unique being, the sole source of genetic material that sustains the Colony. All offspring are male and would remain that way unless certain conditions warranted the creation of something else. That something else was the Zygotes. They were a small brood of females born when the Queen felt threatened. When this happened, an extremely rare enzyme was released in her body that turned a few male eggs into female. More often than not, not even the Queen realized this happened until the Zygotes emerged. If the Queen was truly in peril, the Colony allowed the Zygotes to mature; if not, they were destroyed.
In the case of surviving Zygotes, they would reach a point in their development where they would fight among themselves for dominance until only one survived. The winner would become the new Queen.
Surprisingly, Zygotes were born quite often, the result of either external strife or from medical conditions suffered by the Queen. However, as the Colony stabilized, and the food source became more secure, the conditions for Zygote creation became less frequent. Panur’s Eternal Queen came to power over five thousand years before and was now the longest-living Queen in the recorded history of the Sol-Kor.
But that wasn’t good enough for Panur. After studying the war with the Qan, he realized there was always the possibility that the Queen could die prematurely before she could produce the Zygotes. And even if they were birthed before her death, the Zygotes were themselves vulnerable. With the species’ exposure to thousands of advanced races throughout multiple universes, it became a matter of not if, but when, this tragedy would occur.
And without a Queen, the Sol-Kor would simply die off from attrition.
It was at this point that Panur began to look for an insurance policy to ensure the survival of the Sol-Kor race.
That insurance policy was named J’nae.
…at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
With J’nae’s help, Te’moc was soon free of all his artificial joints and attachments, including the collar connecting his head with the rest of his body. That had been the most delicate of the procedures, as the biological insert had to be attached with precision and care.
The operation was a success, and now he had no artificial devices within his body. Even so, he would have to endure another five hours—plus an incredible amount of pain—before he could risk a merging. His regenerative flesh needed time to form permanent connections before attempting the stress of an infusion.
To pass the time, Te’moc went to the trans-dimensional starship to marvel at its technological wonder and to lament about his past.
Although Panur had used such technology before within the Sol-Kor universe, he did not develop it there. That was something he reserved for the accursed Milky Way Galaxy. Even so, the Colony scientists had never been able to produce similar technology, even knowing that it was possible. That was the genius of Panur and why the Eternal Queen tolerated his idiosyncrasies. If the Sol-Kor had developed such technology, the huge, stationary portal arrays would have been unnecessary. Entire fleets of beamships and harvesters could simply jump to any point in any universe, including the rebellious Milky Way Galaxy.
Since the death of the Eternal Queen—followed by the subsequent support the Humans gave to the Hal’ic during their war with the Sol-Kor—a vast majority of the Colony continued to despise everything having to do with U-5 and the Milky Way in particular. Numerous teams were devoted exclusively to developing revenge strategies should there ever come another invasion of the galaxy. And although the war continued with the Sol-Kor’s enemies within their home galaxy, if the Queen situation could be resolved, the Colony had every confidence that they would one day return to the Milky Way, this time with nothing more than its total annihilation as the objective. Even the quest for food would take a backseat to their desire for revenge.
Te’moc smiled. With a vessel such as this to learn from, the Sol-Kor would be that much closer to making their dreams of revenge a reality.
He moved throughout the ship, calling up files and learning her secrets, while his thoughts kept reverting to how this technology could help the Sol-Kor. He had to catch himself; it was as if he was still loyal to his former masters. Of course, it was what they believed, otherwise they would never have rebuilt him and sent him to the Milky Way in search of their stolen Queen. Even now, he played his role so convincingly that he had difficulty at times separating the deception from reality.
Yes, this vessel would be of immeasurable benefit to the Sol-Kor; however, they would never see it in action. Not until it was too late.
Te’moc frowned when he saw the size of the file. It wasn’t encrypted, and it was massive. Out of curiosity, he clicked on the button and opened the directory. The computer tried to detect his species to provide the proper translation, but since he was a construct—a one of a kind—it failed to find a match. The data was in the ancient Aris language, something he’d learned since arriving at the base, so he simply had the computer proceed. Although he wasn’t a genius of Panur or J’nae’s category, he still had considerable ability. The language was simple to comprehend.
He scanned the files, and as he did so, his breath began to come in fits. This was amazing material, and through its detail, Te’moc found answers to many of the mysteries that had been piling up in his mind.
Chief among them: He found the lost immortal Aris.
They were in another universe, with the jump coordinates programmed into the ship’s computer. He’d already learned from the base computers that fifteen surviving Aris of the Privileged class had used J’nae’s essence to attain immortality, but until now, he had no idea where they’d gone. He also learned there was another cache of approximately twenty vials of her unused essence. Immediately, plans began to form in his mind.
He didn’t need all the missing essence to achieve his goal, but it wouldn’t hurt. Each segment of J’nae’s lifeforce was enough to energize a full being but combined, the power would be incredible. And in combination with his own latent abilities—the possibilities were staggering. But would it be enough?
He began to extrapolate, thinking that if he acquired a surplus of the essence, he would be willing to offer a portion of it to a new master host, giving J’nae what she ultimately desired: independence. He was sure that was her expectation following their forthcoming merging. But until he could return to Kor and Panur’s secret laboratory, there were no qualifying hosts available, those with the ability to absorb energy directly. She would remain within him until that time.
Neither of them would find that union an inconvenience; however, it would never be more than temporary. Even with the closeness they felt, it was impractical for it to exist within a single body.
He thought back to a distant time, which in his perception was only a year or so ago, yet in reality, was over six hundred. As he and J’nae merged progressively during the incubation process, they grew closer, developing a deep understanding of one another. They understood their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the missing ingredient they were denied. Over time, they formulated plans, plans that did not include the current path others had set for them. That meant dealing with Panur. He had his agenda—to create an alternative to the Eternal Queen as insurance against a catastrophic event that could threaten the survival of the Colony. The mutant had no idea what that event might be or when it would occur, so J’nae was to be held in reserve—a polite way of terming it—until such a time as she was needed, if it came at all.
J’nae was not anxious to live her immortal life as a prisoner of the mutant, never knowing if—or when—her predetermined destiny would be fulfilled. And as for Te’moc, he had only been revived to help create J’nae. Once that was accomplished, Panur would lock him away in a different type of prison, to lie eternally in state on the off chance he might be needed again.
Neither J’nae nor Te’moc was willing to accept their fate as Panur had determined. Once J’nae’s essence was perfected and infused in a host, they would act. After containing Panur—he could not be killed—they would be free to choose their destinies, their fates.
Unfortunately, the mutant anticipated their revolt. And now six hundred years later, J’nae and Te’moc were ready to restart their plans. But what J’nae did not know: Te’moc had since modified his. He would extract all the J’nae essence he could find, but only as a means to a greater goal.
And that greater goal was Panur.
If he could assimilate the mutant, Te’moc would be the greatest being to ever exist—in any universe—stronger than even J’nae.
As he scanned the files before him, Te’moc absorbed all the information. He knew where to find the Aris. He even knew the location of Panur, as well as the location of the Apex Being, a creature the Aris spent three billion years creating. Could she be also assimilated, he wondered? He had his doubts. She was a true biological immortal with no separate essence infused in her body. Only through a distillation process—such as Panur had undergone—could she be converted into the required form. He shrugged off the question. Panur would be enough.
He paused to look around at the bulkheads and appointments of this magnificent starship. It was the final piece of the puzzle. In addition to all he’d learned, he now had the means to put his plan into action. He had a trans-dimensional starship, the only one of its kind in the galaxy—
A comm device chimed on his belt.
Frustrated at the interruption, Te’moc snatched up the unit.
“Why are you calling?”
“This is important,” TeraDon said on the tiny screen. His face displayed annoyance, something it was prone to do often. Throughout the year they’d worked together, the alien had never bowed to Te’moc’s superior intelligence or unique pedigree.
“What is it?”
“We have detected another ship entering the system.”
“Dispatch your vessels to deal with it. I am busy.”
“You may want to take note. The signature of the vessel indicates it is a trans-dimensional starship. And it is on a direct course for the base.”
“A second TD ship? Are you certain?”
“Absolutely. We know the signature. It is unique.”
“How can there be another? We tracked this vessel’s signature before. The ship that brought J’nae is the ship from Sasin.”
“We tracked a TD signature; the one approaching is identical. This ship could be carrying Adam Cain; you questioned his status before. And unless you are willing to risk the vessel you currently possess in a battle with another of equal capabilities, I recommend we evacuate the base. My ships would not survive a confrontation. We have no choice.”
“Of course, we have a choice. Would it not be better to have two TD starships in our possession rather than one? Prepare for his arrival. Remove your ships from the base entrance. Make it appear as though only J’nae is here. And just think, TeraDon, if this is indeed Adam Cain, he will make for a satisfying trophy kill, something for you to boast about to your Cartel colleagues.”
“Many before you have made similar assumptions. I would prefer not to fall into the same mindset. It would be safer.”
Te’moc’s face turned to stone. “We will not leave. Do as I say. We are in an Aris base containing incredible technology. There are defenses within we can set against invaders. And if Cain holds off long enough, he will face not only your Cartel forces but the combined abilities of J’nae and me. He will not stand a chance.”
By TeraDon’s expression, Te’moc could tell he wasn’t convinced, but he nodded anyway.
“I will follow your orders. However, should we survive this encounter, consider the Cartel contract fulfilled. You will have acquired J’nae, which was our original charter. Adam Cain was never part of the contract.”
“Once you dispatch the Human, I will see to it that you receive a sizeable bonus from my Sol-Kor masters. Will that satisfy you?”
“Only if I survive.”
The comm screen when dark.
603 years ago …at Panur’s secret laboratory on Kor
Panur hadn’t used the M-34 pyramid as a site for his experiments in two thousand years. Although the Queen knew of the facility’s existence, she was under the impression it was no longer in service. Panur intended to keep her believing that.
Panur had faced many challenges in his five thousand years, but this one was his greatest. He had tasked himself with saving the Sol-Kor race by changing the very basis of its existence. But he had no choice. It was becoming too dangerous for them to exist with everything riding on the welfare of a single being. With their migration into multiple universes, it was only a matter of time before catastrophe struck. One tragic act could spell the end of the race. Panur was determined not to let that happen.
As it had been at the beginning, the function of the Queen was unique in the hierarchy of the Colony. To change that, Panur would have to alter the role of the Queen altogether. And that was why his activities had to remain a secret. The Queen would not appreciate knowing Panur was planning for her eventual replacement.
The first thing he had to do—and something that hadn’t been done in several millennia—was to create a series of master beings. However, unlike the generic grey forms from before, these would have to be more physically compatible with the race. The new Queen of the Sol-Kor would have to be accepted by them as their leader. Therefore, she had to look like them. Also, she would need the ability to produce prodigious amounts of eggs, with the added feature of gender selection. In the early years, she would be required to produce nothing but females. If he were going to transform the Sol-Kor race into traditional mating pairs to guarantee their survival, there would have to be a lot of females available. His plan would take time to implement. The Colony now numbered over a trillion individuals. It was a foregone conclusion that a large segment of the male population would be sacrificed before the genders reached parity. But that could be a good thing. The voracious quest for food couldn’t continue, despite Panur’s best efforts. With a smaller population—along with a new way of thinking—the Sol-Kor could stop stripping entire galaxies of their best and brightest species. The need for food was endemic in all living creatures, but did it have to come from the top of the food chain on thousands of worlds? Panur was also determined to modify this behavior in the Sol-Kor, along with so much more.
His goals were ambitious—even revolutionary—and as such, he knew he would meet stiff resistance. He was prepared. But it made him sick knowing that everything he planned for the Sol-Kor rested on the cooperation he needed from a single being.
Once he created the masters, Panur sought out the hibernating body of Te’moc. He’d thought about creating another creature with the same abilities, but with everything else he was working on at the time, it was best to see if Te’moc would cooperate first. If not, then he’d make other arrangements.
To his surprise, Te’moc became a willing participant in his experiments. As it turned out, he’d retained a trace of consciousness during his long sleep. This vague awareness gave him the chance to contemplate his fate at the hands of the Queen. He didn’t consider being placed in suspended animation for thousands of years a form of grace on the part of the Queen. Rather, he considered it punishment. Panur brought him to M-34, and the pair began working diligently on the creation of a new Queen, a better Queen.
The storage center for the masters was deep in the bowels of the pyramid, away from prying eyes. Panur employed several hundred Sol-Kor technicians, who operated under the impression that they were part of a secret project known only to Panur and the Queen. Panur divided their tasks into segments that never hinted at their true purpose. The workers remained in the higher levels, respecting the secrecy Panur imposed. In the true laboratories far below, it was only Panur and Te’moc working tirelessly for several years.
With pride, Panur surveyed the eight masters held in the hermetically sealed chambers. They were identical, looking very much like an adult Sol-Kor, yet with distinctively female features. She was nothing like the current Queen, who was a massive blob of a beast, unlike anything else in the Colony. J’nae was designed to stimulate a long-dormant sexual drive in the males, as would her female offspring, with the proper pheromones included. Even so, Panur wasn’t leaving anything to chance. He had already developed a drug that would be introduced into the Sol-Kor diet once the females became more pervasive. The males of the population would accept their newfound desire as simply an act of nature and with ebullience would do their part for the good of the Colony
In a fit of nostalgia, Panur named his creation J’nae, after the homeworld of the Hal’ic. Although his body had gone through many transformations throughout the years—making him more a hybrid than a pure-blood—he still felt a connection to his primary species. He also felt a certain dichotomy each time he thought of them. They were the first race to be harvested by the Sol-Kor, setting the entire chain of events in motion. And although he wasn’t responsible for what happened to the Hal’ic, he was certainly an enabler for the Sol-Kor. He hesitated considering the alternatives if he hadn’t helped the Queen and the Colony back at the beginning. Where would they be today if he hadn’t? And how many civilizations would have been spared?
Perhaps if he succeeded with the J’nae project, it would begin to make up for all the death he helped foster….
He shrugged off the melancholy thoughts. This was to be a momentous occasion, the time when the final version of J’nae became infused with the most-compatible master. In a few moments, a second immortal would be born, another creature capable of direct-energy intake and possessing the genius potential equal to his own. So much of himself had gone into the J’nae essence. More than ever before, Panur felt like a parent on the eve of his first child’s birth.
Unfortunately, he was the only one today who would take joy in the event.
Te’moc entered the storage chamber when expected. He towered over Panur, although the mutant knew he remembered Panur as he once was when Te’moc helped transfer his freeform embryo into the generic grey body now standing before him. There was a particular glow in Te’moc’s eyes, evidence of the maturing lifeforce within. The incubation process was over, and for the fourth time, the essence of J’nae would be introduced into the host.
For her part, the host had gained a fair amount of personality and intellect of her own, the result of the prior infusions. Her mind was learning, achieving the mental capacity of a five-year-old. In a few moments, however, all that progress would become moot.
Panur opened the door to the container and led the naked figure to the center of the room. The infusion procedure was no more elaborate than that. In a moment, Te’moc’s flesh would fuse with that of the host, and over the next few minutes, the Essence of J’nae would flow from one being to another. Then using the pure energy within the master, J’nae would activate, her consciousness racing to assume complete control of the host before becoming an entity all her own.
There was nothing more for Panur to do.
His J’nae was perfect.
Panur moved back as Te’moc surged toward the host, like an animal pouncing on prey. He wrapped his arms around the defensive creature, squeezing tight. There was a moment when both bodies formed an almost unidentifiable mass, before the host regained form. A series of violent spasms rocked the body, and the skin appeared to vibrate. Panur had gone through such a transfer himself; however, but there was no recollection of it from within the host. He couldn’t tell if the process was painful, although it seemed so.
The spasms continued until the blob formed again and the two entities began to separate. Another two minutes and the transfer was complete. Te’moc was momentarily drained from the procedure, while the host appeared energized. The figure that was now the final version of Panur’s greatest creation turned toward the mutant, her eyes aglow with an inner light. A flash marked the moment the host became J’nae, full of awareness and intelligence.
A thin—almost sinister—grin stretched across her face.
Panur took a few more steps back. Te’moc was recovering from the ordeal, and as he did, his attention also focused on the mutant. It would happen at any moment.
J’nae was the first to react, jumping forward on enhanced leg muscles at Panur. A blue glow filled the room between attacker and target, a sharp crack of electricity throwing J’nae back. By then, Te’moc was already committed to the charge, and he hit the diffusion screen in full stride.
Panur wasn’t taking any chances. He’d set the invisible shield at maximum to ward off the coming attack. It worked, at least enough to repel the deadly pair the first time.
Now a cascade of liquid fell from hidden reservoirs in the ceiling, dousing his attackers in a freezing cloud of white fog. Panur jumped to a nearby ledge to avoid the flood of boiling nitrogen on the floor. The cold would affect him, as well.
Te’moc and J’nae writhed on the floor, not completely overcome by the shower, but not fully functional either. Panur had to complete his defense before they recovered. The mutant removed a remote control device from his pocket and instructed a pair of robots to enter the room with canisters of more liquid nitrogen. They moved unaffected through the cloud and sprayed Te’moc and J’nae point blank, covering their bodies until there was no further movement.
J’nae’s outer skin was frozen solid, trapping her consciousness in a self-contained prison. Te’moc didn’t have the same rapid regenerative properties of the immortal. The cold penetrated deeper. To save him from death would require a major surgical procedure to remove the now-dead skin. Panur would do that, after introducing drugs that would control the creature.
As the deadly liquid quickly evaporated in the warmth of the chamber, Panur hopped down from the counter and approached the pair, who lay in fetal positions on the cold concrete floor. The robots, having fulfilled their duties, stood passively by, the nozzles of their metal canisters still pointed at the targets.
J’nae would be able to hear him; Te’moc wouldn’t. He was unconscious and near death. Still, Panur addressed the pair.
“Your machinations were expected,” he said. “I sensed the desire in you as the experiment progressed. With my assimilation, you expected to gain supreme power and intellect, and together you would rule the Sol-Kor and all the universes they dominate. It was an ambitious goal; however, you, J’nae, should have known I would suspect such an attempt. After all, you are so like me. I worked through the scenarios and made preparations.”
He looked closer into the frozen eyes, held open in a still-frame of … of anger. At the moment of J’nae’s defeat, she wasn’t frightened, but furious. Not at Panur, but at her own shortsightedness.
“Now you are wondering why I have gone through such effort to subdue you at the very moment of your awakening. It is because I still believe in the objective. The Queen is vulnerable, as is the entire Sol-Kor race. Change must happen, and you will be the catalyst of that change. But only when called upon. I will now lock you away, your immortality affording me the luxury of doing so until the time comes for you to fulfill your destiny. I know not how long, but the time will come. I will place hidden recordings in the computers of the Sol-Kor leadership, which will lie dormant until the time comes for them to learn the truth. In that recording, I will reveal your existence and your purpose. I know not where I will be at that time, but I know the Sol-Kor will have no choice but to initiate my plan. Loyalty to the Colony will override any concerns they may have. J’nae, you will become the Queen of the Sol-Kor. Fortunately, you will become the last of that title.”
He looked to the grey form of Te’moc. “And you, my friend,” he said, knowing the creature could not hear him. “After saving your life, I will preserve your body, but in pieces. As the Eternal Queen before me, I cannot find the courage to destroy you. Your existence is so unique that it would be a disservice to science to do so. But you will be retrieved only under my direct supervision—and control.”
He turned to the robots. “Follow your instructions,” he said to them. “Preparations have been made to receive the pair. Execute.”
…at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
Te’moc left the TD starship without an environment suit and returned to the base, his regenerative cells allowing him to tolerate for brief periods the minus sixty degree Celsius temperature and thin atmosphere. Entering the underground complex, he passed several agitated Cartel soldiers, their frail bodies dressed in environment suits, racing to their vessels outside.
Word was circulating that this creature—this super-being Adam Cain—was on his way, and it was having an effect on them. Te’moc couldn’t understand their concerns. Cain was a Human, a mortal, nothing more. During his tenure, Te’moc had affiliated with the most powerful beings ever created, including J’nae and Panur, being instrumental in their evolution. He feared no mortal creature.
However, Te’moc was aware Adam Cain was one of the Humans responsible for the death of the Eternal Queen. That spoke of exceptional ability and fortitude. And now this same Human was deeply involved in this current crisis. Te’moc might be wise not to underestimate Adam Cain.
But still, he was just a Human. He could die.
Te’moc considered his current course of action. He had anti-asteroid weapons at the base—powerful energy bolts that could undoubtedly destroy the incoming vessel if the attack came suddenly and without warning. The second TD ship would be lost, but so would the threat posed by Adam Cain. And Te’moc would still have a trans-dimensional starship capable of tracking the Aris—and Panur.
As Te’moc’s rapid mind contemplated the alternatives, it was his innate curiosity that settled the matter. He had to see this super-Human in action. But just in case, he would have an escape plan in place.
J’nae was in the main medical suite, resting. More correctly, it was her Human host doing the resting. Once control had been turned over to J’nae to assist in his restructuring, the body had worked around the clock for two local days. J’nae wasn’t fatigued, but the host was. When J’nae relinquished control back to the Human, the body collapsed from exhaustion. Now Summer Rains was taking advantage of the lull in his regenerative healing to recover.
TeraDon joined him in the medical suite, along with his second-in-command, a green-skinned creature named Zaccs. Each had flash weapons around their waists and worried looks on their faces. They had fourteen Cartel soldiers within the base, along with five warships—two hidden on the planet and three in nearby space. Still, they felt it wouldn’t be enough.
Te’moc brushed off their concerns. At the moment he was debating whether or not to tell J’nae of Cain’s arrival, not sure how her Human host would react. That’s when he realized Summer Rains would view Cain as a threat. She had assisted in the theft of the TD starship in a desperate attempt to rid J’nae from her body. Now Cain was coming to stop her, having surely been briefed by Panur as to the deadly consequences of the extraction process, as well as the dire circumstances of a union between him and J’nae. Fortunately, J’nae had convinced the Human she would survive the procedure, and if she truly believed that, would she let Cain stop her now?
Te’moc shrugged, realizing that in a relative few minutes, his body would be strong enough to exact his will upon the host, with or without her permission. In the end, it mattered not how she would react.
He roused the sleeping Human.
“What … what is it?” The creature had trouble comprehending reality for a few moments, which was another weakness Te’moc did not possess. He never slept. It was a waste of time.
“Another trans-dimensional starship has entered the system and is proceeding in this direction. It is believed to be carrying Adam Cain.”
Te’moc was taken aback by the look of utter shock and pain that came to the Human’s face at the news. Why such strong emotion?
“That’s impossible,” Summer Rains mumbled.
“Because Adam Cain is dead.”
Te’moc looked over at an equally shocked TeraDon Fief.
“How do you know this?”
“Because I—we—killed him.”
“J’nae did it when we stole the Arya. I wasn’t in control at the time. I didn’t know what was happening. If the Sansa is here, then Riyad Tarazi is in command, not Adam Cain.”
Te’moc recalled the name. Tarazi was the other Human responsible for the death of the Queen.
“What is the Sansa?”
“It’s the name of the second TD starship Panur built.”
Te’moc tensed from anger. “Why was I not told there was another vessel?”
The Human was tired and dejected, still suffering from her confession to the death of Adam Cain.
“It never came up. But it makes sense that Panur would send them. He thinks this extraction thing will kill me.”
When Te’moc didn’t respond, the Human tensed, her eyes staring unblinkingly at his towering figure. He could feel the strength growing in his new joints and connections. It was nearly time. It mattered not if she knew the truth.
“Look at the current state of your body, Human. You are a weak species. Your body would never survive the extraction process, no matter what others may have told you.”
You lied to me! Summer cried out in her mind.
J’nae was there; she was always there.
Of course, I did, you naïve child. Why would you believe anything I say? It has always been so. You were merely granted a slight reprieve as Te’moc’s body had to be transformed. Otherwise, the extraction would have happened the moment you entered the base. There is nothing you can do to prevent your fate.
The body slumped to the floor; Summer had difficulty calling it her body anymore. She was possessed by the Devil herself. Still, she fought to keep from passing out; that would allow J’nae to take control. Then she wearily shook her head. What difference would it make? Te’moc was hovering nearby, counting the minutes until he would be strong enough to merge with her and rip J’nae’s essence from her body, leaving a corpse in his wake. J’nae was right. There was nothing she could do to prevent it.
A comm sounded on TeraDon’s utility belt. He answered it.
“Cain—the TD ship—it is here!”
“So soon?” Te’moc questioned. “At last track, it was halfway across the system.”
TeraDon pursed his lips. “It is a TD starship. They must have calculated a short hop. The ship is now within the asteroid shield, and my units are not ready.”
Neither am I, Te’moc thought. He sensed that his body needed more time. To attempt a fusing too early could kill him. He would have to deal with the starship first. But without Adam Cain aboard, perhaps TeraDon’s concerns were overstated.
“Have two of your soldiers guard the Human,” Te’moc said to the Cartel officer. “Then go to the command center and prepare the interphase field.”
“Are you not coming?”
“I have my own agenda. Now, do as I say.”
Te’moc glared into TeraDon’s eyes. He could see the Cartel officer wasn’t anxious to sacrifice his forces against a superior opponent. His loyalty was now in question. Te’moc looked to the other Cartel officer—to Zaccs—searching for any such resistance in his demeanor. There was none. He would follow orders.
“Trust in me, TeraDon,” Te’moc said, hoping to pacify the alien. “I have a plan.”
Reluctantly, TeraDon began to bark commands into this comm unit. A moment later, armed soldiers entered, their weapons drawn, aimed at the drained Human female still huddled on the floor. TeraDon and Zaccs then rushed from the room, on their way to the command center.
Te’moc headed in the opposite direction, toward an auxiliary control room he’d found during his search of the Aris base. From there, he would monitor the coming events. As he said to TeraDon, he did have a plan; however, it had nothing to do with saving the Cartel soldiers and was more about saving himself and the TD starship. Even J’nae’s fate was in question.
“All I see is the Arya,” Riyad said as he scanned the hi-rez monitor. “There are hotspots on the ground nearby, indicating recent liftoffs, but no ships on my scope.”
“They’re out there,” Adam deadpanned, his tone defeated.
With the Arya—as well as Cartel ships—at the base, it meant Te’moc was there. Were they too late to save Summer? Adam chanced a glance at Monty Pitts, seated at the number two weapons station. He was staring straight ahead at the monitor before him, looking but not seeing. Everyone on the bridge knew the implication of Riyad’s statement.
“The activity was recent,” Riyad continued, yet not so enthusiastically. “The quick jump must have caught them off guard. They left only a few minutes ago.”
“But the Arya is still there, so that means so is Te’moc. Keep all defenses on high alert,” Adam said unnecessarily. This time, no one questioned his command authority, even in jest. “WEPS, target the Arya.”
This got Monty’s attention. He spun around in his seat. “She might be onboard!”
“Are you willing to bet the fate of the universe on it? I’m sorry, Master Chief, but we can’t let Te’moc keep the Arya. There’s too much riding on it.”
“We should at least check it out,” Sherri said from the second weapons chair. “Since the Arya didn’t leave with the others, it means Te’moc is still in the base and not on the ship. He has to have a reason for not leaving with the others. Summer is probably in the facility.” She left the last statement open to interpretation. “I say we man the topside flash cannon and keep an eye out for any movement from the Arya. If the ship attempts to lift, we blow it to pieces. We owe it to Summer—and Monty—to at least take a look, both in the ship and in the station.”
Adam knew she was grasping, but it made sense. He debated the situation. Denying Te’moc the Arya would keep him from accessing the other universe. However, the fact that he was in the base meant he had unfinished business inside.
“All right, we’ll do it your way,” he announced begrudgingly. “Sherri, Tidus, stay aboard. The rest of us, get into environment suits and gear up. Coop, land us near the Arya, not too close, but someplace with a clear shot.”
Everyone moved, including Monty. Adam didn’t try to keep the big master chief aboard the Sansa. He was going to find his daughter, and no one was going to stop him.
The Sansa landed on a low hill overlooking the entrance to the base; her nose pointed at the Arya, which sat about fifty meters from the concrete platform that served as a shuttle elevator into the facility.
Tidus didn’t complain about staying aboard the Sansa, but Sherri did. Adam laid it back on her. If she wanted the flash cannon aimed at the Arya, then she should stay here and do it. She grumbled but accepted her role.
The rest of the team set out for the Arya. Adam, Riyad and Coop had ATDs, which helped with communications. Monty was ATD-less, so out of courtesy, the men used their throat mics to stay in touch. They each carried trusted M-101s and plenty of magazines. Although they were supposed to believe that only Summer was at the station, they knew better. But how many Cartel soldiers were inside, that would take more analysis. The ATDs picked up several flash batteries moving throughout the complex, but nothing else was detectible related to the Aris base. The electronic controllers used by the ancient aliens were invisible to the mental detectors. All the team could do was affect the Cartel’s bolt launchers.
The hatch to the Arya opened with a thought from Adam. The ship was built entirely from Formilian parts aboard the Behemoth—the new name for Adam’s Klin Colony Ship. Everything within the vessel was accessible to their ATDs.
They spent a couple of minutes inside, verifying that the ship was empty, before moving to the Aris base. The electronic controls to the entrance airlock had long since been ripped away during previous visits to the facility, giving them unfettered access to the chamber.
From ATD scans, they knew the corridor on the other side was clear of any Cartel soldiers. Adam knew what that meant: Te’moc intended to use Aris technology against them, including interphase fields. Fortunately, Panur was fully aware of the technology, having installed a version of the field in the arsenals of both the Sansa and the Arya. As a consequence, he’d constructed countering devices which the team now carried on their utility belts and was sure to come as a big surprise to Te’moc and his Cartel allies. The team set about deactivating the firing circuits of the MK weapons they could sense. Now with their weapons dead and the interphase field ineffective, the Cartel didn’t have much to send against the four Humans, who were now parading confidently down the center of the wide central corridor, daring anyone to challenge them.
Adam smiled. This was going to be fun.
However, the problem for the team was that the base was huge. Adam spent time here a few months ago, but he didn’t get a chance to explore. It could take a while to search all the various wings and compartments for Summer and Te’moc. Fortunately, they could use their ATDs to locate the largest concentration of inert flash weapons. This would eventually lead them to the Cartel bosses—and Te’moc.
About two hundred meters into the station, Adam felt the first effects of the interphase field. Although the unit on his belt kept the field from completely forming around them, its effects were still felt. They turned dizzy and slightly disoriented. The field was struggling to close, scattering the trans-dimensional signals in all directions in the process, penetrating their bodies. If the bubble were allowed to close, they wouldn’t be feeling any discomfort, although they’d be separated from this reality. As it was, they were able to operate, but the microscopic interference with normal space/time was annoying. Monty vomited.
Through his ATD, Adam sensed a number of the Cartel members leaving a central gathering area and running to intercept the team, their indicators showing the interphase field failing to stop the Humans. Reinforcements were coming, ready to blast them with their flash weapons. That would be the soldiers’ second rude awakening.
The heads of a variety of aliens poked their way around corners, the barrels of flash weapons aimed in the team’s direction. Confusion erupted when the launchers failed to launch. Voices rose up in a panic.
Adam turned to his men. “Save some of them for interrogation. We need to find Summer.”
A moment later, the sharp staccato of suppressed M-101 fire echoed off the metal walls of the corridor. Any exposed body parts of the Cartel soldiers were ripped to shreds, spilling more bodies onto the floor, writhing in pain. The Humans did the courtesy of putting the wounded out of their misery.
Then suddenly, the team was hit with hard metal objects coming from behind. They turned to see a dozen wiry Aris robots lobbing anything they could carry from their containment rooms at the Humans. Dodging the incoming, Adam knew Te’moc had hacked into the Aris computers to take control of the robots. He wasn’t comfortable with the idea the alien could do that.
The team spent a few rounds turning the robots into scrap metal, which allowed time for the panicking Cartel members to run deeper into the complex.
Adam pursed his lips. This wasn’t getting him any closer to finding Summer.
…at the lost Aris base in the AD-14 star system
Te’moc was confused—yet impressed. It had to be Panur. The mutant must have found a way to keep the interphase effect from forming. And then the flash weapons. Impressive. Now the Humans were making a game out of killing Cartel soldiers. The robots had been a last minute idea, never intending to be a factor in the one-sided battle. TeraDon and his people had nothing to counter the Humans. At this rate, the four defiant creatures would simply stroll uncontested throughout the base until they found J’nae.
It was at this point that Te’moc decided to set his backup plan in motion. He had no choice. He could never make it back into the main part of the base to get J’nae without risking his own life. He took up a comm unit.
A stressed face came on the screen. “Where are you?”
“It does not matter. I can see your situation is untenable. Order in your ships to evacuate your troops and then attack the base. Leave nothing intact.”
“The TD ships?”
“Let me worry about them. And one other thing: Kill J’nae’s host.”
“The Human? Why? Do you not want her with you?”
“I doubt that will be possible.”
“But if you do not believe I can get her out, then you also believe I will not survive.”
“You see what you are facing. The prospect of extricating J’nae is questionable.”
“So why kill her now? Let the Cartel ships destroy the base and her along with it.”
“I order this so I can be sure. I cannot risk the chance of the host’s survival and J’nae turning against me to assist the Humans. The female appears to have been lying with regarding Cain’s fate, and now I see he is living up to his reputation, although I believe he has very little to do with what is happening at the moment. I believe we have Panur to thank for that.”
“So you want me to sacrifice myself … and to kill the Human as my last living act?”
“If afterward, you manage to escape, that would be fortunate. But kill the Human first.”
TeraDon’s light brown skin was turning darker by the moment as anger and frustration consumed him. Impatiently, Te’moc waited for him to make a decision.
“As you wish!” the Cartel officer barked. “But you should know I will survive, and when I do, I will expect you to fulfill your obligations to the Cartel—and to me. If Adam Cain dies in the base, I want the bonus you promised me.”
“Kill the Human female and Adam Cain first; then I will honor my obligations if you survive. Now follow my orders.”
Once the screen went blank, Te’moc switched the monitors to outside the Aris base, scanning the gray, barren landscape before focusing on the second TD starship, the one that had landed only moments before. There was a hidden emergency exit from the Aris base located a short distance from the ship. That would do nicely.
Leaving Zaccs to coordinate the retreat of the surviving Cartel troops, TeraDon moved quickly to the medical bay; his mind firmed to what had to be done. It was the only way.
The Humans were continuing their relentless march through the complex, coming ever closer to the command center. How they knew where to find it was another of the myriad of mysteries clouding TeraDon’s mind. Why had so much gone so wrong so quickly? There was no explanation.
Entering the room, he approached the two guards watching the Human. Each had comm units and were fully aware of what was happening outside the medical bay. The evacuation order went out a few minutes ago, and now the guards were anxious to join their companions in finding a safe way past the Humans.
Summer Rain glared at TeraDon. She had recovered from before and was standing near the hospital bed, too angry to sit.
“What now? Are you going to take me to your master—”
TeraDon pulled a short knife from his utility belt, and in a smooth, choreographed move, slashed the throats of both guards before they could react.
The Human’s mouth fell open, and her eyes grew to round orbs.
“Come with me if you want to live.”
“We must find your companions. They are sweeping through the complex. We must get to them before the Cartel ships arrive. There is not much time.”
“As I said, my ships are—”
“No, why are you doing this?”
“I never cared for Te’moc, and when he ordered your death, I could not let that happen. Not to you.”
He ordered your death! J’nae screamed in Summer’s mind.
Summer looked up at the handsome face and piercing blue eyes of the alien. “You’re saving … me?”
“Yes. Although I do not wish to save the entity within you, I do not have a choice in that regard. But you do not deserve what is happening. Come now. We must warn your friends. The Cartel ships have been ordered to destroy the base and all inside. There is nothing I can do to stop it. We must leave.”
Te’moc wasn’t immortal, but his slowly regenerative cells helped preserve his body against harsh elements, including the hostile environment outside the Aris base. The planet had no native life, so the thin, cold atmosphere was made up mainly of carbon dioxide with only trace amounts of oxygen. The temperature was just as uninviting, hovering around minus forty degrees Celsius during the day to far below a hundred at night. Both these conditions Te’moc could tolerate for brief periods. He wouldn’t need to for long.
He passed through a small airlock embedded in the rock face of a hillside. The single long breath he took in the lock would sustain him for several minutes, long enough for him to accomplish his task.
He hiked down the steep slope, dislodging a small avalanche of rock that cast off small clouds of dust that hung suspended in the light gravity and thin air. He had to hurry before the Cartel ships appeared. After that, chaos would ensue.
The spaceship loomed large before him, about forty meters away on a flat plateau overlooking the other TD starship and the entrance to the base. It was an identical twin of the other and would do nicely for what he had planned. He approached from the aft section, sliding along the smooth hull to the side hatch. Security was off, allowing for a quick return by the Humans. He triggered the portal, and the panel cycled into the cobalt-blue hull.
“The side hatch just opened,” Tidus reported from the pilot seat.
Sherri was at one of the weapons stations, her eyes locked on the Arya and the entrance to the Aris base. There was no guarantee Te’moc wouldn’t somehow get to the Arya without her noticing. What she would notice was if the ship attempted to lift off. In that case, she would be ready.
Sherri accessed her ATD. Adam, have any of you come back to the Sansa?
What are you talking about? We’re knee-deep in the base. If not for the fact that we’re guys, you might even say we were lost.
Seriously, someone just opened the outer hatch.
She sensed a tightening in the mental connection between the two. It wasn’t us. Lock the ship down!
I’m way ahead of you.
And she was, but not by traditional means. While still using her ATD, Sherri closed the pressure door to the bridge and locked out the controls.
Tidus heard the door close.
“Did you do that?” he asked. Although he and Sherri were not part of the away team, they still wore flash weapons on their waists. The powerful bolt launchers were safer to use within the confines of a starship; less risk of hull puncture than from a ballistic weapon. Tidus had his out and aimed at the door before Sherri could answer.
“It’s not the team. Someone else is in the ship.”
Sherri began to manipulate the keypad in front of her, calling up the security cameras that covered most of the ship. That’s when she saw him. She had to assume it was Te’moc; although she’d never seen him. He was tall and slender, with red bands around certain exposed parts of his body, including his neck. She wasn’t sure if these were natural or not. It didn’t matter. He was looking into one of the cameras, a smirk on his face. He said nothing before turning aft and heading toward the engine compartment.
As a trans-dimensional starship, the Sansa didn’t have large gravity generators, so the engine compartment was much smaller than that of a traditional vessel. Even so, there were plenty of circuit boxes and other components with ready access, both in the compartment, as well as along the passageway at the aft end of the ship.
Through the cameras, Sherri and Tidus watched Te’moc as he removed the covers from a series of panel boxes and studied the interior components. After a few moments, he set to work reconfiguring the circuits. He did this in rapid succession to six of the junction boxes before spending time at the gravity generator. Neither of the observers could tell what he was doing, but it didn’t look good.
“Should we go out there?” Sherri asked. “I don’t think he’s immortal; perhaps we can kill him.”
“He came aboard without an environment suit,” Tidus pointed out. “Killing him may not be that easy. But you are welcome to try; however, one of us should stay locked on the bridge, just in case.”
“In case I’m wrong?”
Sherri gnashed her teeth. She didn’t have a choice. She had to do something. The alien’s actions were purposeful; he knew what he was doing.
She moved to the door.
“Get ready,” she said to the Juirean. “I’ll open and close the door with my ATD. No matter what happens, don’t let him in. And if he tries, destroy the Arya. We can’t let him get away with it, no matter what.”
“Perhaps he wishes to take the Sansa instead.”
“Then what the hell is he doing in the engine room? Get ready; I’m going out—”
“Wait!” Tidus yelled, his focus glued to a monitor. Te’moc was moving forward, through the common room and back to the airlock. “He’s leaving.”
“And this is good?” Sherri asked. “What the hell did he do to the ship?”
Ten seconds later Te’moc was outside and in the hostile environment of the planet, lost within the craggy gullies and ruts lining the hillside.
“Do you see him?” Sherri asked as she and Tidus took up stations and began manipulating the exterior cameras.
“I do not. Where has he gone?”
“I don’t know, but let’s run a diagnostic to see what he did to the ship.”
“And how is that done exactly?”
Sherri shook her head, but then she accessed her ATD.
Copernicus! How do I run a diagnostic on the ship’s systems?
Eh, what? Hey, tone down the intensity, sweetheart. You just about gave me a stroke.
Te’moc came aboard and did something in the back of the ship, with the engines, maybe more. We need to find out what.
Copernicus turned serious. I’m not sure how deep it will run but try accessing the Control K function in the main computer. There should be a menu for the various systems. Check for any warning indicators. There will be a number of them.
Coop was the resident starship tech and repairman, even if the Sansa was far above his paygrade. At least when Panur and Lila went through the training sessions, Copernicus understood more of it than Sherri.
Okay, I see it. Damn, there has to be a couple of hundred systems. I don’t see anything wrong.
Scan for the warnings.
Oh, I see them now. I didn’t notice at first … because nearly every damn system has a warning light! I think this thing is rigged to explode!
Get out of there!
We will … but first.
Sherri moved to the weapons station and grasped the control stick for the topside flash cannon. The weapons were already lined up on the Arya. She wasn’t about to let the fucking alien get away with the ship. With a wicked grin on her face, she fingered the trigger.
She did it again … and again.
Tidus began tugging on her arm. “Come! I see a charge building. We don’t have any more time.”
Sherri glared at the targeting screen and the static image of the Arya, resting two hundred meters away, a sitting duck—if the weapons worked.
She noticed a movement on the screen. A tiny figure appeared from around the Arya, walking slowly toward the entrance hatch. Te’moc paused for a moment before entering, looking back at the Sansa. The image was too small for her to notice, but she was sure he was still wearing that sickening smirk on his face.
Sherri and Tidus rushed for the airlock. They grabbed a pair of environment suits and portable oxygen masks from the wall but didn’t take the time to put them on before rushing from the ship.
It was as if they hit a brick wall, as the most godawful cold either had ever experienced slapped against their bodies.
Sherri gasped and shivered, feeling her throat begin to freeze before she could place the mask over her nose and mouth. Juireans were more tolerant of cold, but not much. The face mask helped, but the cold stabbed at their bodies, like a million stilettos, stiffening joints and causing them to stagger over nearby boulders heading for the edge of the plateau on which the Sansa rested. They tumbled over the sharp edge, numb bodies banging against frigid stone.
Then the ship exploded.
An incredible wave of scorching heat swept over them, sucking the nearby atmosphere into the torrent and dropping the temperature more from the speed of the rushing wind, even while intense flames raced overhead. It was a strange dynamic, wind chill below and fire above. Fortunately, the cliff face protected them from much of the flying debris, even the parts that now rained down from above. They huddled close to the jagged rocks, Sherri screaming through the maelstrom while Tidus let out agonizing moans.
A few moments later, it was over. The heat from above was welcoming, but short-lived. Now the unbelievable cold returned.
Sherri looked around for her environment suit. It was gone; she’d lost it in the confusion. Tidus had his. He handed it to her.
“Put it on. I can withstand the cold better than you,” he said through chattering teeth.
“Not enough. We have to make it into the base.”
“It is too far. Please, just do it.”
“Wait, I have an idea.”
Sherri took the suit and slipped it on as fast as she could. Once it was zipped up, she activated the internals, and an almost orgasmic sensation filled her as warm air circulated inside.
By then, Tidus was in bad shape. His pale green skin was almost pure white, his eyes barely moving, nearly frozen in place. Sherri leaned closer, placing her hands out in front of her in a grasping motion. A moment later, the light began to gather.
Tidus noticed the flickering light, and he shifted his head slowly toward the source. It took more than thirty seconds for Sherri to form a sizeable ball of static electricity with the help of her ATD. The sphere gave off a considerable amount of heat, heat which Tidus gravitated to like a thirsty man to water. Sherri took her much smaller form and moved it against the taller Juirean. Residual heat from the suit, combined with that of the static electricity ball, was helping. He was safe for the time being. Even so, it wouldn’t be enough for the long-term.
Just then, Sherri was distracted by a brilliant flash of light from behind her. She turned to see the Arya lift off on streams of bright blue flame. The ship transitioned close to her and Tidus, bathing them in another temporary wave of heat before it was gone, zipping away toward outer space.
Sherri sat for a moment, overcome by the tragedy of the past few minutes. She hesitated making contact with Adam. What would she say? The team was somewhere deep in the Aris base and by the time they found their way out, Tidus would be dead, and possibly she, too.
And now Te’moc had the Arya, along with all her secrets.
Sherri snickered. If Te’moc did what Panur said he would do with the Arya, none of them had much time left anyway. If he disrupted the Aris efforts to hold back the merging universes, it would all be over in a flash. Everything.
It might be better just to let the cold take over. After all, from what she understood, freezing to death was a painless way to go.
She blinked as she once again saw her shadow in stark relief on the rock wall, lit by another bright light source behind her. She turned again to the area just off the elevator platform to the base. A ship was coming in for a landing in nearly the same spot as the Arya had just vacated. Was Te’moc returning?
No, it wasn’t him. The flames of the chemical landing jets for this ship were yellow and white, and not the pure cobalt blue of Panur’s high-efficiency landing system. This was someone else.
A second ship then appeared in the sky. It was also coming in for a landing, but further toward the open plains below the hillside. These were Cartel ships coming to evacuate the survivors if there were any.
Sherri extinguished the static electricity ball before its light gave away their position. If the plan she was developing in her mind worked, they wouldn’t need it any longer.
Tidus had recovered enough to stand, but he wouldn’t stay that way for long. Out of desperation, Sherri removed a small knife from the suit’s tool pouch and cut a slit in the fabric of her right arm. She tucked her arm into the front of Tidus’s one-piece jumpsuit, letting the escaping air carry heat close to his body. It was a temporary fix, which also compromised the integrity of her suit, allowing the biting cold to begin seeping through the fabric.
The pair began to hobble toward the closest Cartel starship. The vessel was a gangly looking thing; an older passenger hauler with half a dozen gun turrets welded to the hull in no particular order. It flew, and it was armed, making it a typical Gradis Cartel warcraft.
The side hatch opened as five Cartel soldiers in environment suits left the ship and made their way to the entrance to the base. Sherri and Tidus moved up against the hull. The Juirean let out a moan as he soaked in the residual warmth the hull held from the landing. It was just what he needed.
Sherri used her ATD to scan the interior of the ship. She detected over a hundred flash battery sources, but only six were moving, the rest being weapons stored in the armory. She methodically worked through each device, severing the firing circuits.
She looked up at the Juirean’s thin face through the oxygen mask. The greenish tint had returned.
“Are you ready? Their weapons have been disabled, but once we get a couple of them, I’ll get ours working again. There are six of them, two on the bridge, and the other four amidships.”
“Sorry. At the middle of the ship, right inside the airlock. Let’s go.”
The hatch opened easily, but they still had an airlock to cycle through. Sherri watched the energy signatures with her ATD, seeing if anyone was taking notice. Two of them did. They were in the dressing room outside the lock, curious as who was inside. When the door opened, they got the shock of their lives.
A Juirean and a Human walk into a bar…. Sherri didn’t have time to finish the joke before the Cartel troops reacted. Weapons were drawn and targeting computers engaged. Sherri and Tidus didn’t wait for the customary moment of discovery when their opponents realized their weapons didn’t work. Instead, they pounced on the soldiers, Tidus’s towering figure leveling one of the aliens while Sherri used her Human strength to crush the larynx of another. They scooped up the MKs while Sherri mentally reattached the firing circuits.
Forty-five seconds later, the ship was theirs, with six dead Cartel members stinking up the place.
“Toss them outside,” Sherri said to Tidus. “I’m going to the bridge. I’ve been itching all day to shoot a starship from ground level, and there just happens to be one sitting a couple of hundred yards away. It’s not the Arya, but it will have to do.”
She activated her ATD.
Adam! I need to give you an update. You’re not going to like it.
…within the Aris base
Sherri was right; Adam didn’t like it, not at all. In fact, it made him sick. Not only was the Arya gone—taken by Te’moc—but the Sansa had been destroyed, taking away their only means of getting back to the Aris and the mutants to warn them of Te’moc.
And to top that off, they were lost within the maze of the Aris station. They hadn’t seen any of the Cartel for several minutes, and what survivors there were must have dropped their broken weapons before leaving the base. He couldn’t even use the signals as a way to guide them out.
But then he noticed one lone weapon nearby that was moving. The bolt launcher wouldn’t work, but the powerpack was still charged. And it was coming toward the team.
“Get ready,” he said to the others. “Someone’s coming. Don’t kill him. We need him to find a way out of here.”
Summer clung close to the much taller alien, following him through a myriad of identical-looking concrete corridors. She had no sense of direction but assumed TeraDon must be leading them to the exit. But from the number of workrooms and huge energy modules they passed, it didn’t seem like it. The place was getting more complex the farther they went.
“Freeze!” said a voice in English.
TeraDon placed a long arm against her, using his body to push her behind. His MK was in its holster, but he held the stiletto at arms-length out in front of him. She struggled to look around the huge body. She was sure she’d heard a Human voice.
Peeking through TeraDon’s armpit, she recognized the dark face and hair of Riyad Tarazi. Relief flooded her emotions. She pushed past TeraDon, rushing into Riyad’s arms, his eyes wide and bright from surprise, even shock. Tears flowed from Summer’s eyes as she swamped the man in a powerful bear hug.
“I am so sorry! She lied to me!”
“It’s okay, really,” Riyad said, patting her on the back, his M-101 pressed between them, the bolt latch poking painfully into his chest. “What are you doing here?”
She broke away, seeing Copernicus with his rifle locked on TeraDon. She moved in front of the alien.
“It’s okay; he saved me. Te’moc ordered him to kill me, but he could do it.”
“Is J’nae still inside you?” Copernicus asked.
“Yes, but she’s under control—I think.”
There was a disturbance around the corner, and a monster of a man came rushing toward her. Monty slipped his weapon around to his back before lifting Summer in a tremendous bear hug of his own. Summer welcomed the pressure, although she choked at one point, gasping for air.
“It’s okay, Daddy. You’re crushing me.”
Monty set her down.
“Sorry,” he gushed. “I just never thought I’d see you again.”
“Same here.” Summer looked around at the trio of men. “I really fucked up this time, didn’t I? And Adam. I don’t know what to say—”
“Did someone mention my name?” said a familiar voice from around a corner. “You better watch out, I had it trademarked a couple of years ago. You can’t use it without paying me royalties.”
Summer’s knees grew weak, and Monty had to use a little more pressure to keep her upright. Adam Cain stepped forward, smiling broadly at her before shifting his gaze at TeraDon Fief. The smile vanished.
“We—I—killed you!” Summer exclaimed. Her eyes fell on the peeling skin and sores on his face. He was alive but injured.
“You should know I’m pretty hard to kill, although J’nae made a noble effort this time. So she’s still inside you? What happened with the extraction?”
“Te’moc couldn’t do it until work was done on his body. He’s well now, so that won’t happen again. Where is he?”
Adam looked at TeraDon. “Your boss has abandoned you. He’s taken the TD ship and left.”
“I anticipated that,” TeraDon said. “But you must hurry. The Cartel ships have been ordered to destroy the Aris base and all inside.”
“You mean the three remaining ships?”
“What do you mean? There are five of them.”
“We have control of one, and another was blown up on the landing pad.”
TeraDon shook his head.
“Three is still enough. We must leave.”
“We would if we knew the way out.”
“I can lead you.”
Adam looked at the alien and frowned. “Who’s side are you on now?”
“I will be honest; I am on my side. Te’moc was untrustworthy and unreasonably cruel.”
“Please trust him, Adam,” Summer pleaded. “He saved my life.”
Adam stared at Summer, his gaze anything but nice. The reunion was over.
“You have a bad record of trusting aliens,” he snapped. “But we have little choice. If he gets us out of here, then I’ll consider giving him a pardon.”
“Please, we must go now. The two ships you mentioned before were the ones hiding on the planet. The others are coming from space. It will take them longer to get here, but by the time they do, they will be ready for battle. You will not take them by surprise.”
Adam waved the barrel of his M-101 at the tall alien. “Then lead on. And by the way….” Adam reached forward and took the knife from TeraDon. “A little basic, isn’t it?”
“It worked. Summer Rains is alive, is she not?”
TeraDon pushed past the Humans and set off down a side corridor. Reluctantly, Adam Cain and Company followed.
On the way out, Adam contacted Sherri by ATD and gave her the latest news, after which she sent Tidus to the main airlock to the base was a pair of extra environment suits for Summer and TeraDon. She set the early warning system to max and watched the sky for any sign of the three Cartel warships. Coming from space, they could send bolts of plasma energy raining down on them with very little warning. Sitting on the ground made her captured Cartel ship an easy target.
The minutes crawled by until Adam and the team appeared at the airlock entrance. A few minutes later, everyone was aboard, with Tidus at the controls of the commandeered Cartel ship. It bolted for space on a shallow gravity-well, dispensing with the slower, yet less disruptive, chemical liftoff jets.
Transiting to space only served to close the distance between the team and the incoming alien spaceships. Bolts lit up the upper atmosphere even before Sherri’s ship reached the boundary of space.
The alien TeraDon Fief stepped onto the bridge and moved up to the pilot station. “I have much experience piloting this ship. May I take over control?”
Tidus glanced over his shoulder at Adam. The Human shrugged. “Go ahead. Saving his own hide saves us as well. Let him have the seat.”
Copernicus and Sherri took up the weapons stations. These weren’t the modern and sophisticated consoles as found on the Sansa, but their basic layout made them simpler to operate. Return bolts lashed out, slowed down by the thin atmosphere above the planet before speeding up in the true vacuum of space.
“Everyone strap in,” TeraDon ordered. “The compensators are not the most reliable. It could become fairly erratic.”
The problem: There were only six stations on the bridge with safety harnesses, and there were eight passengers aboard. Monty, Summer and Tidus moved aft, finding seats in the central common room just off the bridge.
The ship began to spiral, corkscrewing through space as bright balls of plasma slid past it on either side. There was a sudden jolt, and the vessel began to spin on its central axis. They were hit, and not on a diffusion shield panel, but directly on the hull. Alarms sounded.
“I must lock off the aft engine compartment. We are leaking atmosphere,” TeraDon reported.
He righted the ship and cranked it over hard to the left, heading for one of the tiny rock moons of the unnamed planet. It wasn’t more than a captured asteroid, but it would provide a modicum of cover.
Sherri watched her target board. The three trailing Cartel ships were spreading out, covering a much wider arc of space, keeping her stolen ship from making any more radical course changes. To do so would open them up to broadsides.
The flash cannon patch-work of the Cartel warship wasn’t designed to provide even coverage of the surrounding space. Most were placed forward on the hull, providing more offensive firepower, rather than defensive cover to the rear. The other ships knew this and sought to approach their target from the tail.
“This can’t go on much longer,” Sherri yelled into the room. “We have no way to keep them off our ass. Can you turn us around so we can bring our main guns to bear?”
“The forward shields are inadequate to defend against such a move. Our only chance is to run away.”
“But we’re not making any progress!” Coop yelled from his station. “Sherri’s right; this can’t go on much longer. Eventually, one of their bolts is going to hit something vital in the engines, and then we’re dead.”
“I can help.”
Everyone turned toward the voice coming from the bridge doorway. Summer was there, her arms held to either side, braced against the doorframe.
Adam twisted in his seat. “What are you talking about?”
“It is I, J’nae. I can help.”
Sherri saw Adam and Summer/J’nae lock eyes.
Monty appeared over Summer’s shoulder. “Let her try. Her reactions and targeting are better than ours. She’s saved our asses before.”
“Trust me; I want the host to survive as much as you,” spoke the slightly deeper voice of J’nae. “Let me have the firing controls.”
Sherri looked at Adam. “Make a decision, buddy! We’re all about to die!”
Adam nodded, and Summer/J’nae rushed forward, replacing Sherri at the weapons station. Copernicus eyed the diminutive woman, seeing only Summer and not the alien presence inside her.
Sherri joined Monty at the rear of the bridge, each holding onto stanchions rather than moving aft. They had to see what happens next.
“TeraDon,” J’nae said, “reverse course on my count. Sweep negative forty degrees before coming back up. I have weapons control, all batteries.”
Copernicus pushed away from the console as he felt the targeting stick begin to move on its own.
“TeraDon, begin your maneuver … now!”
Those not strapped in fought against the g-forces through the intermittent effects of the inertial compensators. After a moment, it was all they could do to hold on.
Sherri could see the targeting screen at Summer/J’nae’s station. Locking dots flashed on it before streaking to another spot, leaving solid red lines in their wake. The ship began to buck, as flash bolts erupted from gun barrels. J’nae rotated the firing between the batteries, allowing each to recharge before being used again. Sherri gasped when she saw the bolts contact the streaks from the incoming fire.
How can she hit flash bolts with other bolts? That’s impossible.
But the impossible was happening. And more than that. While J’nae countered the incoming bolts, she was directing additional fire at the enemy ships. The weak diffusion shields of the stolen ship were preserved even as the vessel went on the offensive.
Three bolts struck one of the Cartel ships, the first of the three to take fire since the attack began. They were concentrated on a single shield panel which dropped a split second later. Another three bolts followed the first barrage through the breach, blasting a gaping hole in the forward section of the attacking ship. Light from the subsequent explosion filled the bridge.
“Come to minus nineteen degrees, accelerate to maximum,” J’nae ordered.
They closed on a second Cartel ship, managing to approach from a position below the vessel and slightly aft. As with their ship, the enemy vessel was not designed for defense. J’nae laid out a line of brilliant bolts at the underbelly of the Cartel ship, ripping through secondary shields and perforating the hull. TeraDon had them angling over toward the remaining vessel even before the explosion filled this part of space.
The last Cartel warship no longer had the stomach for fighting. It turned about and raced away. But TeraDon and J’nae weren’t content to let it go. Exposing its vulnerable tail to the pair was too great an invitation. Bolts spit out, and a moment later all three of the Cartel warships were nothing more than clouds of debris drifting in space.
TeraDon straightened out the course of the stolen ship before leaning back in his chair, a heavy sigh escaping his lungs. Summer/J’nae stood up and faced the rest of the people on the bridge.
“I am not your enemy, but simply a victim of circumstance,” she stated.
“Were you the victim when you threw me out the airlock of the Arya and then took off, leaving me to freeze to death in the launch bay?” Adam said as he unbuckled his harness and rose to his feet.
“Yes. I have always been a victim. Everything that has happened to me was beyond my choice.”
“Summer’s, too,” Monty growled from the bridge doorway.
“That is true,” J’nae agreed. “Yet she was voluntarily fed my essence without her permission or desire.”
“So I’m to blame for saving her life?” Adam barked.
“Your act may have been well-intended, but the consequences have been tragic. You set everything in motion by your impulsive act.”
Adam took several steps toward the … the what?
“What are you going to do?” J’nae asked. “Throw me from the airlock? That will kill my host. Calm yourself, Adam Cain. As I said, I am not your enemy, especially in light of recent events. Te’moc abandoned me. He ordered the Cartel to destroy my host, which would have condemned me to an eternity of no form, no real consciousness. At one time, I thought we had an understanding, a common purpose for existing. No longer.”
“What is he going to do with the Arya?” Sherri asked.
“As you suspect. Te’moc will seek out my other portions. You must realize, the memories he has of me—and I of him—are six hundred years old. They are a part of my essence, part of all my essence. He can redeem the relationship from any of them. But he will not settle for just one. As he acquires more, he will build on my powers. He does not need them all, but he will seek them. The Aris are not safe, and neither is Panur.”
“What does Panur have to do with this?” Sherri asked.
“Panur is the key. His assimilation has been our goal all along. It has been such since the time I was created. Te’moc can do it without my powers, but that would be difficult. With me, it becomes possible, even probable. He must be stopped.”
Sherri saw Adam’s shoulders slump, the fight draining from his body.
“I’m afraid Panur and the Aris are on their own. Te’moc has the Arya, and the Sansa has been destroyed. We have no way to move between universes to either warn them or to help. We have to count on Panur being one step ahead of him.”
“And how will we know if that happens?” Monty asked. “He’s in another universe, and we’re stuck here?”
“We’ll know … when the universe doesn’t blow up.”
14 years ago …at the trans-dimensional portal array
It bothered Panur that the Sol-Kor now required a fifth universe to satisfy their insatiable hunger. This wasn’t to say the contacted galaxies in other four universes were stripped completely of food stock; just that the Sol-Kor tore through the most-accessible crops quickly, leaving the outliers safe, at least for the time being. U-5 offered fresh hunting grounds, as evident by the four TD portals already detected within four new galaxies.
After studying the membrane of this universe, Panur found U-5 to be a curiosity, and the first galaxy contacted was of particular interest. Most of the indicators were inconsistent with past data drawn from hundreds of galaxies. So either the scouts weren’t reporting accurately, or there were mysteries here that required his direct attention.
By this time, the invasion and conquest of galaxies had become routine for the Sol-Kor. Even overlooking the tragedy of the Qan in U-4, the process of entering a new galaxy to begin the harvesting process was fairly well-established, and therefore, Panur didn’t feel the need to visit every galaxy, having lost interest in the process over the centuries. However, this galaxy would be the exception.
First off, the advance units were reporting the discovery of not hundreds, but thousands of advanced species. In none of the previously harvested galaxies had more than one thousand eighty races been identified. Panur was sure there were a few stragglers within these galaxies, but with how easy it was for the Sol-Kor, they didn’t feel the need to explore every corner of a field in search of that last, elusive race. They took the path of least resistance, grabbing only the most obvious and accessible before moving on.
But this galaxy was offering thousands of potential harvests, and all in plain sight. This fact alone was enough to pique Panur’s curiosity. Why so many?
The other curiosity was that when the Sol-Kor linked to the solitary TD portal in the galaxy, they came through the opening fully expecting to find a vibrant race nearby operating the portal. Instead, they found the facility on a barren rock in the middle of nowhere. It was functional but unmanned.
To Panur, this meant the builders of the array were expecting something like the Sol-Kor to come through—a threat—and until they understood it better, they would remain anonymous. This spoke of an intelligence and awareness never before seen throughout four previous universes.
But it was after Panur made the jump to this new galaxy that the mysteries became even more interesting.
The membrane signature of the isolated TD portal was easy to detect. What wasn’t were the tiny jump traces he noticed in the fabric of space/time once he arrived. He’d never seen signals like these before; a series of microscopic rips in the membrane crisscrossing the galaxy. This indicated individual transiting portals—as one would find in a space-drive capable of inter-dimensional hops.
It took a lot to shock Panur, but this did it. Here was evidence of mobile portals, capable of linking to dimensions without corresponding portals in the other universes. Even he couldn’t see how that was possible—not without putting a lot of thought into the problem. But for Panur, just knowing a thing was possible gave him the incentive to study the subject more, and soon he had a working theory.
But this only made the mystery more puzzling. Panur found evidence of thousands of transits across the galaxy using this new technology. However, what he also found was that this technology wasn’t new, at least not for this galaxy. He detected tracks of ever-lessening intensity. He knew the healing rate of the membranes due to TD interference, so he knew these tracks went back thousands of years. And those were just the ones he could detect. He had no doubt the signals went back millions of years, if not more.
The reality of his findings was startling. A species had developed TD technology long before any race discovered so far, his included. This spoke of a superior intelligence never before seen in any of the universes Panur had visited.
And then the mystery grew even more confounding.
None of the deformations in space/time he detected were more recent than four thousand years before, none except the lone TD array that first brought the Sol-Kor to this galaxy. It was as if four millennia ago, the technology was lost—or repressed.
Panur bubbled over with excitement as he began his study of this strange galaxy. It held so many questions for the mutant genius. He thirsted for something to challenge his intellect and his powers of deduction. This galaxy would be just what he needed.
Since there had been no inaugural species to harvest, the Sol-Kor were required to sample the individual races they encountered as they spread out around the portal array. Although the facility was on a desolate rock, there was still an abundance of starships transiting the area, and curiously, of multiple designs.
The beamships proved effective against these vessels, and the initial testing of the quality of the food stock was extremely encouraging. Samples were processed and sent back to Kor for analysis, after which a full-scale operation was mounted. The stock was of superior quality, especially that of a race identified from ship’s computers as Juirean.
But then an even richer strain was discovered.
And this was when Panur intervened.
He suspected there was a superior master race in the galaxy, one that might provide the answers to his questions, and he didn’t want it harvested before he had a chance to study them personally. Whether or not this richer strain they’d just discovered was his mystery race, he couldn’t take the chance. So when a ship containing several of these creatures was captured, Panur had it diverted to the portal array before the crop could be processed.
The mystery deepened when it was discovered the beamship transporting the captives was itself being followed. Only by tracing the unique gravity signal of the Sol-Kor vessel would such a thing be possible, indicating a superior level of technology and deductive reasoning from the crew of the chase vessel. Panur allowed the beamship to be tracked until just before it reached the trans-dimensional array. There it was subdued by a beam attack.
When Panur and the Sol-Kor boarded the tracking vessel, his curiosity was rewarded. The three creatures aboard the ship appeared to be immune to the effects of the suppressor beam, although they hid this fact from the Sol-Kor. But not from Panur. Out of all the universes he’d traveled, this was a first. No advanced species was resistant to his suppressor pulse until now. Was this the race that built the portal array, the same one that had been using TD technology for untold centuries? Would they give him the answers he sought?
To find out, Panur had the threesome moved to his laboratory aboard the Sol-Kor flagship for further study. And that was when his destiny changed forever.
…aboard the Aris space station
Panur looked with interest at the datapad Lila set before him. It contained the results of the latest test they’d conducted on the mock-up. The data were encouraging.
“The rate has slowed,” he announced. Lila smiled sweetly. She had already scanned the files. “I have always said pressure is the key. If both universes were of equal pressure, there could be no blowout. So the question becomes, how do we reduce the pressure around the breach? We now have the answer.”
Lila took a seat at Panur’s desk. They were aboard the huge Aris space station, having worked tirelessly on the problem since the Sansa left in search of the Arya. The seven remaining Aris contributed as well; however, there had been a secondary rupture near one of their sentry posts. The Aris sentry was overwhelmed, with his containment center torn apart and his body cast away into the void between universes. He would survive, but his body was gone forever.
This meant the station had to be rebuilt and another Aris brought in to serve as the circuit, channeling the unbelievable energy produced by the transfer back to the host universe. The process was an amazing feat of technology. Each sentry post was a hundred-kilometer-long tube of conducting material. Through a combination of unbalanced valences, energy from a vast amount of surrounding space became warped toward the tube where an Aris was held within a coil of conducting wire. His instantly regenerating body formed a circuit breaker for the incredible flow of dark energy entering the tube before being sent out the other side and back into the originating universe. The tear wasn’t healed, but the pressure for this part of space was equalized, keeping the damage from growing. There were eight such stations placed at intervals along the light-year-long breach. Although the energy flowing between the points was invisible, the warping drew in stray particles from surrounding space, exciting them to the point of illumination. Million-kilometer-long-arcs of yellow light met at the ends of the tube, like threads in fabric, the tighter the loops, the smaller the rip.
Panur and Lila found a way to allow the loops to close, essentially forming a suture on the wound.
But for it to work, they needed to relieve the pressure around the tear. Panur knew what was needed.
“We can use the lightship.”
“Will it be big enough?” Lila asked.
The egg-shaped, trans-dimensional starship was the pair’s personal transport vehicle, invented by Panur several years ago and used exclusively by the mutants. It was called the lightship because of the radiant glow it produced when underway, the effect of the engines being built directly into the hull to conserve space.
They brought it to the Aris universe in the hold of the Sansa but removed it when Adam took the ship in search of Summer Rains.
“It will work perfectly,” Panur stated. “It has the most-concentrated warping system of any ship. With it, we will not have to make our punctures as big in the neighboring universes, just enough to relieve the pressure.”
“We will have to be precise. Otherwise, we could create a duplicate of what has happened here.”
“I realize that. That’s why the lightship is our best option. The holes will be small, but deep, breaching the membranes to a point where they will naturally heal, but not for some time, allowing our own tear to repair itself.”
Lila nodded, grasping the concept immediately. The pressure around the major tear was keeping it open and forcing it to grow incrementally. By opening holes to other universes, the nearby pressure would be reduced. The Aris sentry stations could then increase their fields, bringing the separated fabric back in close enough contact that natural healing could take place. A weak point would always remain in this vicinity, but that couldn’t be helped. There were already countless leakage points between every universe; that was just the nature of existence.
Panur recalled back to a time several years ago when he first read how Human scientists were perplexed by the unexpected expansion of their universe. By all accounts, it should have been contracting, but it wasn’t. It was expanding, causing everything within to accelerate.
What the scientists didn’t realize was that the universe was expanding from the constant inflow of new material from adjoining universes, such as what was happening now, but on a smaller scale. He found it simplistic for them to believe that all matter arrived at the moment of the so-called Big Bang. That was just the major event. Being a relatively low-pressure dimension, dark matter still leaked through the membrane constantly, adding volume. More volume pushed everything away, making it appear as though galaxies were speeding up as they raced away. In reality, all that was happening was space was still growing, increasing the distance between objects. The universe of the Humans was destined to eventually become a dead universe, perpetually expanding until all the objects within were beyond detection by any other.
What the mutants had to do now was relieve the pressure in the universe they were currently in so the influx of dark matter at this breach point could be slowed or stopped. After that, the Human universe would have to be monitored, searching for evidence of artificial weak points created by the overuse of trans-dimensional space drives. Fortunately, not too many races possessed such technology. Not yet. It was a technology which was its own worst enemy, something that could be used, but only in moderation and with care. Knowing the consequences for its misuse would help if the users took responsibility. If not, then another blowout was just a matter of time. Panur and Lila were determined not to let that happen.
The mutants revealed their plan to the Aris leader, Nunki, who embraced it with enthusiasm. With only six Aris left outside the sentry stations, he would leave two at the space station to work the larger computer system onboard while everyone else made the journey to the planet that served as the base for the monitoring equipment and construction site for the sentry posts. There they would plan the next phase of the operation.
The site was called Terminus Base, and it was where an army of Aris robots constructed the conducting tubes and circuit chambers used by the sentries. Panur and Lila took their tiny TD starship and began transits to a number of the universes with the most direct contact to this dimension, checking pressures and access points. They didn’t have to go far; the closer to the breach, the more affect their punctures had on the pressure of localized space/time.
As the days passed and progress more was made, there came a mood of optimism filtering throughout Terminus Base. If the plan worked, two universes would be saved from premature destruction. And then, with enough foresight, something like this would never happen again.
…approaching the Aris space station
The signal was strong and constant, with the target directly ahead. Te’moc was traveling between two gigantic star clusters, their gravity influence warping this part of space in a cosmic game of tug-of-war. He’d studied the data files aboard the ship and knew of the crisis being faced, understanding that this particular area of the space/time continuum was already weakened by the tremendous tidal forces of gravity. It made sense, that with a little artificial stimulus—like that from a series of TD transits—a breach would form. And now the Aris and the mutants were making a valiant effort to stop a full-scale blowout.
Te’moc huffed. And that is just what Panur would do, he thought. The mutant had always felt he alone could solve the mysteries of the universe—any universe—all universes.
He may be right, but Te’moc did not care. This wasn’t Te’moc’s universe, and neither was the universe of the Humans. And with the TD starship he was piloting, he could return to his dimension at a moment’s notice, safe from the catastrophe about to take place here … and elsewhere.
But first, he had unfinished business with Panur.
He was surprised when no challenge greeted him as the vessel the Humans called the Arya neared the Aris-built space station. But what did the Aris have to fear? The transponder was for a ship that was within their catalog and would be returning after the completion of its mission to the Human universe. Those within the station would welcome its arrival and the news it would bring.
Once jumping to the coordinates found within the Arya’s computers, it had taken Te’moc three days to follow the track to the station. That was enough time to complete his healing. He was ready for extraction fusions, his only regret being that he did not already have a dose of J’nae essence within him. It would have made his task a little simpler. J’nae was an immortal, and her assimilation would give him substantially more resistance to injury, although not complete immortality. Unfortunately, he wasn’t like Panur, or even the hosts the mutant built for J’nae. He wasn’t even like the Aris, with their ability to absorb energy directly. This prevented him from acquiring all of J’nae’s abilities, not without a vast quantity of the essence, if even then. But with Panur inside him, he would be complete.
Te’moc had to marvel at the ingenuity of the Aris. From what he’d learned at their base, they were not naturally capable of absorbing energy directly, but early in their evolution realized that would be the most efficient way of preserving their bodies over the long term. Biological processes ravaged the body through the conversion process, limiting the lifespan of such creatures. The Aris always had a fanatical fascination with longevity, so they began a centuries-long experiment to modify their bodies, first through the use of mechanical attachments, and then through gene manipulation. Eventually, they acquired the ability to absorb energy directly through their skin, and from a variety of sources, even from the air itself.
Because of this, J’nae’s essence was able to easily merge with their bodies, giving them what they sought—immortality through instantaneous regeneration.
For Te’moc, even with the assimilation of all of J’nae’s lost essence, he still wouldn’t be immortal, but he would have an unbelievably long lifespan. The only caveat: He could still be killed by natural forces.
But he had a solution to his problem.
He would go right to the source.
Panur was the key. His body was unique—Te’moc would know; he helped create him. The distilled essence from his original body had once been inside Te’moc, and if he had had the wherewithal at the time, he would have never transferred his essence to the host. But that was a time long ago, and Te’moc had learned much since then.
He wouldn’t make the same mistakes again, at least not concerning Panur. If he had the chance to fuse with the mutant, he would take it without a moment’s thought.
The Aris station loomed large in the viewport, with directional beacons guiding him to a landing bay. Te’moc knew only fifteen Aris survived to become immortal, with eight of them sequestered in the vast apparatus currently employed to keep the universes from merging. That left seven to deal with … plus the mutants.
He thought for a moment about Lila Bol. She was unlike anything ever created. All other immortality came from artificial manipulation of life essence. However, Lila was a natural-born immortal, the only one of her kind, although it was naive for anyone to assume she was the only one in any universe; existence was too big to make that assumption. There could be others. Still, Te’moc wondered what she would be like, and what her reaction would be to his assimilation of Panur and the Aris? It was a given she would not stand idly by while Te’moc in effect destroyed two universes. Even so, he could not let her interfere with his plans. He had to assimilate Panur first. Then he would deal with Lila Bol.
As the Sansa slipped through the static gate of the landing bay and atmosphere was added, he prepared for what was to come. He had no weapons; his body was his weapon. The Aris would be easy. He’d seen their bodies—even had parts of them filling his once severed joints. They were frail creatures. Only their immortality and intelligence made them powerful.
The mutants were another matter, so the sooner he assimilated the Aris, the sooner he could take on his real challenge. It wouldn’t be easy, but he’d waited five thousand years for this moment. He would face it head-0n and with stubborn determination. He would not be denied.
A pair of spindly robots greeted him as he left the ship. He ignored them and moved through a small airlock into the space station. At the first computer terminal, he accessed the station’s files, using his knowledge of Aris systems to help him. Within seconds he was scanning the layout of the station, committing it to memory.
He was working the computer—searching for a location program to track the occupants—when the first Aris approached from down the corridor.
There was a moment when both parties simply stared at one another, waiting to see what the other would do. The Aris wasn’t frightened, just confused. It was obvious he had no idea who or what Te’moc was, and that suited his purposes perfectly. He pounced.
Without the restricting metal attachments as before, Te’moc was free to exercise his purpose for existing. Even before reaching the Aris, his body was mutating, turning viscous, less defined. He didn’t actually strike the Aris with his form as much as he splashed against it. But it wasn’t an out of control splattering. His body enveloped the smaller creature, spreading to every centimeter of the being before appearing to be absorbed by the Aris’ skin.
That was exactly what happened. Te’moc was now part of the alien, filtering his body through every cell, every membrane, every nerve. Instantly, the essence that was J’nae began to separate from its host, bonding with Te’moc’s cells on a molecular level. It only took a few seconds for this to happen since there was so little essence to extract.
At that point, Te’moc removed himself from the Aris. The extraction was much more traumatic than the fusing. The Aris deformed into something completely unrecognizable as confused cells sought to reform. This state of transference was temporary, and the elevated energy levels within the Aris allowed his body to survive the extraction event. The body reformed.
His Aris victim collapsed to the deck, conscious but drained. Where once J’nae’s essence gave the body vitality, what was left was an exhausted, emaciated shell of a being, with red eyes and sallow face.
Sad, sickly eyes looked up at Te’moc, who now lorded over the aged creature with an evil grin.
“Why?” the Aris mumbled.
“Because I can,” Te’moc answered.
The Aris now had only mortal life within him, with the extraction process subtracting additional decades from his lifespan. He was already old at the time he received J’nae’s essence, and in a matter of seconds, the years caught up to him. He died a minute later from extreme old age.
Te’moc was still looking at the withered body of the Aris when he noticed a strange sensation within his body. More correctly, it was something he didn’t notice: a presence.
Through his years of processing the essences for Panur and the Sol-Kor, he could still remember the distinct feeling of each one. His body could hold these lifeforms separate from his own, preventing them from being overtaken by his lifeforce. But this felt … different. There was something there, but not complete.
His recent experience with J’nae in the form of the Human female revealed just how dominant both host and subject could be. They constantly fought for supremacy. But in the case of the generic hosts from Panur’s lab, the outcome was never in doubt. The essence he would infuse the hosts with became dominant almost immediately. Freeform embryos, distilled from previously living creatures, were even more dominant. Summer Rains had received the same dose as the Aris, and the phantom inside her was as real as she was. However, with the Aris, that was not the case. Why not?
Te’moc couldn’t dwell on the problem while standing in a corridor with a dead Aris at his feet. Surely others were aware of his presence by now and would take precautions. But did they realize the once-immortal creature on the deck was no longer immortal—or alive? The answer was yes. Panur would have warned them of his abilities, and if it was one thing Te’moc understood, it was an immortal’s desperate desire to stay immortal.
Through the computer system, Te’moc hadn’t found a way to track the Aris aboard the station. They could communicate telepathically, so there was no need for such a system. With no other option, he began the tedious task of searching the entire station.
He did have information he could use. Summer Rains and J’nae had spent a brief period aboard the station, and as J’nae helped him replace his mechanical attachments, she dropped subtle hints about the Aris and their mission to save the universe. Eight of them were relegated to sentry duty, committing their bodies to incredible cosmic forces to keep the rip in space/time from expanding. These eight Aris would be a none factor until the time came for them to be assimilated. That left seven active Aris—now six after the demise of his first victim.
And then there were the mutants. They were a different matter altogether, with the greatest unknown being the creature known as Lila Bol. He would have to be cautious as he moved about the space station.
Fifteen minutes later, Te’moc was still treading the passageways, passing ambivalent service robots who paid him no attention. The dead Aris must not have put out the mental warning before being assimilated. That was good. But although he knew the layout of the station, Te’moc was still walking blind. And why had he not run into any more Aris?
He made his way to the bridge. The Aris would have to be there.
He was right. There was one.
He had his back to Te’moc when he entered, but even then, Te’moc could sense the tension in the creature’s frail shoulders. He was ready when the Aris suddenly turned, pressing his palms forward and unleashing twin bolts of hot plasma energy.
From his studies at the Aris base, he knew these ancient creatures had such weapons implanted in their hands, capable of channeling some of their internal energy into deadly bolts of electricity. Te’moc jumped, stepping on a command console before hopping quickly between several others. The Aris tried to follow his rapid movement with his hands, but there was a slight pause between recharges, enough for Te’moc to time his leaps. He closed on the desperate alien before one final step, landing behind the Aris and grasping his wrists, holding his arms to the side.
Te’moc was much stronger than the Aris and had no trouble keeping his palms pointed away from him. Even still, bolts flashed out, striking bulkheads and service stations on the bridge.
Eventually, the Aris calmed down, realizing the futility of his efforts.
“Who are you?” the Aris asked.
“You do not know me?”
“There is a probability you are the creature Panur calls Te’moc, but I will need confirmation.”
“You are correct. I am Te’moc. Now tell me, where is Panur and the other Aris?”
“I will not tell you.”
Te’moc pulled tighter on the short arms of the alien. “Yes, you will. You will have no choice.”
Te’moc looked at the opening to the bridge, expecting reinforcements. The Aris could contact his companions telepathically; there was nothing Te’moc could do to stop that. And if they came while he and the Aris were fused, he could be vulnerable.
Because of that, he tried a different approach.
His body began to change, softening, becoming more pliant. His gripping hands merged with the Aris’ wrists. Normally, this would be painful, but the immortal felt no pain. Next, Te’moc leaned down until his chin came in contact with the top of the Aris’ smooth grey head. A moment later, Te’moc stood headless, having melded his with that of the Aris. He could now see through the alien’s eyes while reading his thoughts. It wasn’t a complete merging in pursuit of essence, but something a lot less pervasive.
While watching the doorway, Te’moc began to probe the memories of the Aris. Although he’d fused with one earlier, this was a different experience, and it left him in awe and wonder.
There were so many memories, going back thousands of years, during the waking moments of this creature, between billion-year-old periods of sleep. Te’moc could spend years within the Aris’ brain and only scratch the surface of his life. But that was not why he was here; however, the complexity made his task more difficult. He had to work his way through the intricate maze searching for the most recent memories.
It took an hour, during which time no one entered the bridge except a pair of maintenance robots who came and went without acknowledging the presence of either Te’moc or the Aris. When finally he found what he was looking for, he was disappointed.
The other Aris weren’t here.
Only two were aboard the huge space station; one was dead, and the other soon would be. But Te’moc did learn where the others were, including Panur and Lila Bol. It was a place called Terminus Base.
The Aris had the coordinates committed to memory; everything he ever saw or did was locked away in his incredible mind. If Te’moc had been any other creature, he would have felt remorse at what he was about to do. Instead, he allowed the rest of his body to fuse with that of the Aris. The tiny body fell to the deck, where it remained for a few moments before Te’moc withdrew.
This extraction only confirmed his earlier suspicions. There was something wrong with the Essence of J’nae.
With no other Aris aboard the station, Te’moc now had time to ponder on his discovery. The essence was the same as from the first Aris, meaning both were taken from the same batch. Records at the Aris base in the Milky Way indicated J’nae was distilled in a single process and her essence divided into thirty-seven equal vials. The Privileged Aris used fifteen portions, the Technician Kracion one, and the Human Summer Rains another. That left twenty-one remaining vials, the ones Panur took from the Aris base.
But what this also meant was that each recipient received the same essence. There should have been no difference between the vials. This left Te’moc with only one conclusion: The Aris bodies had somehow corrupted the essence they carried. This would explain why J’nae’s lifeforce in their bodies was much less dominant, while in Summer Rains it fought for control.
This raised a serious question. Could the Aris essence help Te’moc with his challenge of Panur, or was this a waste of time?
He carefully analyzed the changes his body was going through with the addition of two doses of J’nae. He did sense a change, just not nearly as much as he was expecting. He extrapolated further. If he had all the Aris essence in him, would it give him the power he needed?
It would be close. He was feeling stronger, more resistance. But even if he assimilated all the essence at full strength, he would never attain full immortality, which was the one thing he needed to guarantee victory over the mutant. In the end, Te’moc was still a biologic creation. He did not have the ability within him to become immortal. Not unless he assimilated Panur.
He shrugged. He didn’t need guarantees. All he needed was opportunity. Even as he was now, if he could fuse with Panur before the mutant could resist, it would be enough. Te’moc smiled, knowing that Panur knew this as well as he. And because of that, this great and mighty being feared Te’moc. Knowing this fact gave him strength and courage. He thrived on the fear of others.
Te’moc returned to the Arya, but not before stopping to make certain modifications to the engine components of the huge space station. He could not leave it intact; Panur and Lila Bol could use it to build weapons and deterrents against him. He would cut off their resources as he went. Perhaps if it came down to just him and Panur, he could prevail. All it would take would be an unguarded touch, just enough for Te’moc to gain entry. After that, Panur would be his.
…at Terminus Base
Terminus Base was located on a rather pleasant world with a favorable atmosphere and lovely terrain. But that’s not the reason the base was here. The Aris chose the planet for its proximity to what they called the Terminus Anomaly, part of which lit up the distance night sky with what looked to be a huge solar prominence frozen in space. If one was to move closer to the spectacle, a streaming million-kilometer-long loop of fire would be seen, which narrowed to a point that was invisible until one drew closer. At that point, a hundred-kilometer-long-cylinder would be seen which both received the fiery tumult and ejected it out the other end.
On the Terminus planet, Aris robots constructed a modest living and work facility for the immortals, along with a much larger industrial complex which constructed the channeling cylinders, as well as the means to place them in space. With the recent stabilization of the anomaly, no further sentry stations were needed, so most of the facility was shut down, its army of robots stacked idle until needed again. Hopefully, that time would never come.
Every evening, the incredible spectacle of Terminus rising in the night sky was an awesome sight to behold. The primitive species that called the planet home came to worship the fire in the sky, calling it their new god. If only they knew what danger it posed, they would be casting spells to make it go away rather than worshiping the spectacle. And at the same time, they would be building monuments to the Aris, as well as the mutants, Panur and Lila Bol. Without them, the planet—and everything else—was doomed.
“We have surveyed the nearby universes and determined our puncture points,” Lila said to Nunki. “We will leave immediately to begin the drilling. Already the test holes have extended the life of your efforts by several thousand years. Ninety penetrations and the pressure will be relieved enough for the sentries to pull the fabric together and heal the tear.”
Aris do not normally show emotion, at least not the Privileged class. Even so, Nunki was having trouble containing his excitement. Lila knew he’d taken a chance allowing her and Panur into their project, trusting they would see the seriousness of their efforts and choose to help. The mutants were vagabonds, with no real ties to either race, galaxy or universe. They were also unique, and as such, could make a home anywhere they went, including universes not destined for destruction.
However, they embraced the problem with full devotion, and in a relatively short time, had not only found a way to extend the life of the project but to repair the rip permanently. Lila realized the contribution they’d made, not out of ego, but simple logic. She smiled, thinking of a quote from her Human heritage. ‘Veni, vidi, vici. They came, they saw, they conquered.’ Very succinct and to the point, as were most things Human.
“And Panur is in your vessel?” Nunki asked.
“Yes, making final preparations. I must go now. The tour will take several days. We will return when we are finished.”
Nunki nodded his aged head; aged but immortal. Lila thought of that dichotomy as she observed the ancient creature. The attainment of immortality had been the racial goal of the Aris for billions of years. They achieved it, but at the end of most of their natural lives. As a consequence, their bodies were preserved at the last stage of their lifecycle. Immortality didn’t give back the years; it only added to them.
“I thank you for your noble efforts,” Nunki said. “Since almost from the moment we became immortal, the Aris have struggled with this dilemma, never having the opportunity to fulfill our true destiny of eternal learning. If this works, we will be … free.”
“Perhaps your destiny has been to save the Milky Way from destruction. The Aris put so much effort into making the galaxy into what it has become. You should be proud.”
Nunki’s sad eyes glassed over. “Our proudest achievement … is you, Lila Bol. I still find it overwhelming to be standing here, speaking with the Apex Being. I am glad you survived. Looking back now, I would not have enjoyed taking your lifeforce as our own after seeing what you have become. You are such a valuable addition to eternity.”
Lila blushed; she was capable of such emotion, being the product of a biological union. “I appreciate your kind words, Nunki. And I, too, am glad I was not sacrificed for your common good.”
Lila left the room a moment later and made her way to the work chamber where the lightship sat, open at the centerline, with Panur’s tiny grey head sticking out.
“He has been informed,” Lila said.
“Then we are ready. Climb in. Let’s go save a universe.”
“Two, actually,” Lila corrected.
Panur smiled. “Of course, but who’s counting?”
…approaching Terminus Base
The Terminus base was not far from the Aris space station. As Te’moc brought the Arya in close, he could see one of the sentry posts glowing in nearby space. There were seven more, invisible from this location due to the considerable distances involved. The rip in space was a light-year in length. If the Aris had not caught it in time to retard its growth, it would be a hundred times that by now and expanding exponentially. Prodigious amounts of dark matter and energy would be pouring through, the result of the divergent pressures between the universes. This planet—along with all the other systems within a thousand light-years—would have long since been sucked into the Human universe, converted into stray atoms in the process. And the effects would only multiply until entire galaxies joined the flow. And the effect would be the same in the other universe, as a tidal wave of material flooded in, pushing everything that had once existed out of its way. It would take millions of years, but eventually, the pressure would stabilize. By then neither universe would be recognizable.
Te’moc realized this, and he didn’t care. This was the lifecycle of universes, although this event had been exacerbated by the artificial influence of trans-dimensional interference. Again, it made no difference to him. All he wanted was the remnants of J’nae’s essence and then a confrontation with Panur. If greater minds could then save the universes, so be it. He would be long gone by then.
There were four Aris at the base, with another eight locked away in the sentry stations. Undoubtedly, Panur and Lila Bol would be here as well. He would have to be cautious.
He landed the Arya out beyond the huge expanse of the assembly zone rather than bring it in over the command complex. He’d receive no challenges on the way in. Could the Aris and the mutants feel that secure that they would not be aware of an approaching starship? He had to admit, since his entry into this universe, he’d detected nothing with regards to alien technology capable of star travel, at least not in the general vicinity. He would take his chances and hike overland to the main facility.
The atmosphere of the planet was compatible with his system, and he made good time transiting the vast fields of construction equipment, cranes and launch pads. The assembly area was quiet at this time, with only a few maintenance robots keeping the grounds clear of overgrowth and insects that could degrade the equipment. They ignored his presence.
Although corrupted, he still felt more powerful with the two doses of essence within him from the now-dead Aris. With each new portion, he would only grow stronger. His objective was to extract as much essence as he could before encountering Panur.
One of the welcome consequences of the essence he now carried in his body was that he could detect the presence of J’nae in the local Aris. He had to be right upon them for this to happen—within a kilometer—but this ability came in handy. Because of it, he knew where the Aris were within the facility.
There was no barrier between the assembly grounds and the command complex, so he simply walked up to the main building and scanned inside with his senses. The Aris were distributed evenly throughout, and none appeared to be moving very fast, as would be expected if they were aware of his arrival. This was good. He could now plan his assault more carefully.
The closest Aris was several meters away within the building. Te’moc moved along the concrete wall until he found an entrance. As expected, there was no lock on the door, just a latch. He stepped inside, and after finding no surveillance cameras, calculated his approach to the unsuspecting Aris.
They met at an intersection of corridors. He had to act fast to prevent a warning from being sent mentally. He came from behind, wrapping his already vibrating flesh around the Aris before he knew he was there. He started at the head, overwhelming the mental capability of the ancient alien. This suppressed his ability to send a signal to his companions. A moment later, the creature lay exhausted on the floor, attempting to crawl away on feeble limbs.
Although extremely old at the time of their transition to immortality, the Aris were still mobile and healthy. The extraction process took most of that away, leaving them withered and disabled. Te’moc considered killing the Aris, rather than let him expire naturally. He checked the location of the remaining three. They were far away, and the chance of the dying creature raising the alarm was virtually nil. Te’moc decided to let him suffer. He had no reason to do so except out of some strange sense of revenge. But the Aris had never done anything to Te’moc or the Sol-Kor, and from his understanding, J’nae volunteered to be their means to attaining immortality. They hadn’t forced themselves upon her.
Then he realized it had more to do with his hatred of Panur than anything else. The Aris were recipients of his greatest creation—of Te’moc’s J’nae. And for that reason alone they must suffer.
Te’moc left the Aris alone on the floor to die as he continued his hunt.
He couldn’t detect the mutants, so he moved through the building with extreme caution. Two of the Aris he was tracking met at a location and were now stationary. He would save them for last; he’d never assimilated two beings at a time. He didn’t know how that would happen. He may have to wait until they separated.
The third Aris was nearby. Te’moc entered a room that appeared to be an observatory, with a huge electronic telescope aimed through an opening in the ceiling. It was daylight outside, but he reasoned the instrument was focused on the anomaly. An Aris was seated at a station, manipulating controls.
This Aris was quicker than the others. He noticed Te’moc’s reflection in the monitor and fell to his side just as Te’moc closed on him. But with three doses of J’nae within him, Te’moc was much quicker than the elderly immortal.
A single hand placed on the Aris was all it took. Te’moc merged with the creature, becoming one with the body. Even so, he detected a mental warning being sent out to the others. Te’moc grimaced. This would surely alert the mutants as well.
Te’moc pulled the helpless Aris to him. Another hand melded into the alien, but Te’moc held back from a complete fusing. He needed information and didn’t have time to scan the billions of years of memories to find it.
“Where are the mutants?”
Te’moc could sense the alien trying to resist, but he couldn’t, not now. Instead, truth poured from his chapped and wrinkled lips.
“They are not here.”
Te’moc’s spirits both rose and fell with the answer. He did not have to fear a chance encounter with Panur or Lila Bol, but neither could he have his ultimate engagement.
“Where are they?”
“Unknown. They have moved to other universes.”
Te’moc found the statement even more confusing than the first.
“Have they abandoned the project?”
“No. They will return, although I have no timetable.”
Te’moc nodded. This will give him time for more extractions, to grow more powerful. Even so, it would not be enough, not with the spoiled essence from the Aris. He would need more.
The cooperative Aris on the floor would be one more step in the right direction. A few moments later, Te’moc left the near-lifeless body to his fate as he set out after the two Aris who were warned of his presence. He could see their movements, and as long as they stayed within a kilometer or so, they could run, but they could not hide.
Two hours later, Te’moc was back at the Arya, having assimilated the last two Aris and learned the locations of the sentry stations. He wished he felt more confident with six portions of J’nae within him, but all these extractions did was confirm his suspicions. He would need the unfiltered essence from either Summer Rains or the missing vials Panur had hidden somewhere. He wrote off the vials; Panur would never let him have them, not until after the final encounter between the two, and only if Te’moc was victorious.
He would make his rounds of the sentry stations while he was in this universe, but then he would have to return to the Milky Way. He could detect J’nae within the Human; that was a bonus. But could he get near her? There were ways. In the meantime, he bolted his starship away from the base planet and made the short hop to the nearest sentry station.
He was curious to see these posts in operation, in awe of the tremendous cosmic forces channeled through them. He was also apprehensive about what the process was doing to the Aris standing the posts and how it was affecting the essence within them. Was it having a deleterious effect, or was it strengthening the essence? That was wishful thinking on his part, he acknowledged. He would know within a few minutes.
The hundred-kilometer-long station was a truly inspiring work of technology. The blindingly bright energy that flowed in one end and out the other was another wonder of natural forces. Te’moc marveled that this point was the confluence between universes, where the mass and energy from one was flowing into another. The station served to channel the inflow back to the source in a continuous stream, keeping one universe from overflowing into another. How this was possible was something Te’moc could not comprehend. Suffice it to say it worked, and the body of an immortal Aris was what made it possible.
Te’moc set the Arya directly on the surface of the gigantic construct, at a service lock that allowed him to step into an elevator that moved him to the interior.
Within the tube, the noise was incredible; the result of vibrating metal at a high-frequency harmonic. Te’moc didn’t know if this was part of the operation, where sound helped channel the forces through the tube. It was also very hot. The immortal Aris were not concerned with such inconveniences, but Te’moc had to be careful. If the environment grew more hostile, he would require a suit for protection. Even then, it could be too much.
Fortunately, the internal environment remained within tolerances, and soon Te’moc was at the central point within the long metal structure. He now gawked at what he saw.
The Aris was enclosed within an open spiral of copper-colored tubes, which themselves were radiating incredible heat. The creature was aglow with energy—on fire in fact—and Te’moc could see the flesh of the alien being burned away at the same moment it reconstructed. This was what Te’moc imagined an immortal would experience within the center of a star, never disintegrating completely before regenerating in the same instant.
Te’moc couldn’t approach the inferno without his body turning to ash. Out of desperation, he looked around the room. He couldn’t merge with the Aris in his current state. The station would have to be shut down.
But how was that possible? Surely, the mechanics were unbelievably complex. Te’moc set to work analyzing the station. He only had to figure out how to shut down this one sentry post to learn the secrets of all of them. He called up computer programs and began his study. The heat within the chamber was incredible. Even with his enhanced body, he wouldn’t last long enough to find his answers.
Precious time was lost as he returned to the Arya and donned an environment suit. Such adornments were foreign to him, but he found it necessary in this case. He returned to the control room and went back to his studies.
A day later, he had the shutdown procedure figured out.
The Aris hadn’t put too much thought into the sequence, knowing the station had to remain operational for a million years or more. If the station became unnecessary, the cosmic forces being channeled through it would simply evaporate, and the station shut down automatically. Premature termination wasn’t something the Aris considered.
But still, the facility could be closed down, even if Te’moc had to invent the procedure on his own. He began the sequence, and within two hours, the huge fires raging in space around the station began to fade. The energy being directed through the tube was never visible in the first place; it only became so from the excitement of surrounding matter. Now the light faded, along with the unbearable heat.
Te’moc removed his environment suit; he couldn’t merge with the Aris with it on. He entered the coil chamber just as the Aris regained awareness. He stared at his unexpected guest.
“Is the universe safe?” was his first question and only utterance.
“No,” Temoc answered in the Aris language. “It never will be.”
A moment later, the Aris was dead on the floor. He didn’t survive the extraction process, his immortality weakened by the ordeal his body had gone through.
J’nae’s essence, however, was just as it was from the other Aris, no better, no worse. This left Te’moc with no option other than to return to the Milky Way in search of Summer Rains.
He felt some degree of frustration, but it wasn’t debilitating. He was familiar with the Human and the J’nae within her. He also had the Gradis Cartel to assist him. They would do anything for credits. And if he reached his ultimate goal of assimilating Panur, he would have whole universes to offer the Cartel. Not the Human universe, of course, for that universe would be gone, but others.
He set the jump coordinates for the next Aris sentry post. He would make quick work of the remaining Aris and then stage his semi-triumphant return to the Milky Way galaxy.
He smirked. He would welcome the end of the troublesome galaxy, not only for the death of its insolent Human population but also because he thought the name of the galaxy was stupid. What exactly did Milky Way mean? He would be glad to see it go.
Seven days later, the tiny lightship returned to Terminus base.
Immediately, the mutants knew something was wrong; the giant loop of yellow flame was gone from the sky; the implications of such were devastating.
They landed the ship at the base and quickly made a quick search of the main building. All the Aris were dead, except one, each having their immortality ripped from them. Only Nunki survived, and that wouldn’t be for long. They found him in the observatory, his body having aged decades in only the past few days.
“It was Te’moc, as you have surmised,” he strained to say.
“We are so sorry,” Lila said, holding his head in her lap.
“The others?” Nunki asked.
“The flame is gone from the local sentry post,” Panur informed him. “I assume the others are gone as well.”
This was the last straw for the dying Aris. He let out a long sigh.
“Don’t go yet, Nunki,” Panur said. “Our efforts have been successful. The pressure has stabilized between the universes.”
“But it will not remain so,” Nunki whispered.
Panur shook his head. “No, it won’t. But the tear can be repaired in the meantime.”
“Not without an Aris?”
Panur knew he was right. They had a narrow window of opportunity, but it would still require an immortal Aris to make it happen. Even Panur’s body wasn’t compatible with the Aris method, not without an entire reworking of the technology. There wasn’t time for that. And Lila’s body was also different. Only an Aris could repair the damage in the time they had.
“Kracion. You must employ Kracion.” Nunki stated.
“He is mad,” Lila said. “He would never agree to help.”
Nunki’s eyes fluttered shut for a moment before reopening. “He may surprise you. But at the moment, he is your only hope. I will tell you where to find him.”
Panur looked at Lila. “There is nothing to lose.”
“Except … everything,” Lila disagreed.
“We have to try.” Panur turned back to Nunki. “Where can we find Kracion?”
“He is in the Milky Way galaxy.” Then with his last dying words, Nunki told them where.
14 Years Ago …aboard the Sol-Kor flagship
“The pulse will be deactivated momentarily,” said one of the Sol-Kor guards. He and the others still wore the black shielding uniforms, protecting them from the effects of the suppressor beam. “Do you wish us to remain for the time they recover?”
“Not necessary. I see the prisoners are well-restrained. I will be safe; you may go.”
Panur’s three test subjects stood blank-faced in a small cluster at the center of the work area. When the beam faded, they reacted with blinking eyes and audible sighs. The act was over, whether they wanted it to be or not. They looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. Panur admired their devotion to the charade. They were very good actors.
“Where are we; what happened?” one of the males asked, trying to sound as convincing as possible. He was tall and slender with light-colored, short-cropped hair atop his head and bright blue eyes.
Panur looked at him and smiled.
“Excellent!” said the mutant. “I am impressed. You did a fine job pretending to be under the influence of the pulse. I commend you.”
“I don’t understand,” said the other male, this one with thick, black hair on his head and covering most of his face. “Who are you? What did you do to us?”
“Please, Humans, I know better.” Panur had learned the name of the species from the Sol-Kor Noslead, a pretentious creature named Vosmin. “And be calm; this room is shielded from monitoring. We are alone.”
Panur didn’t react when the first male jumped close to him and yelled, “What the hell are you doing to our people? You’re eating us as if we were cattle.” Panur stood his ground, even in light of the threat from the much taller—and highly agitated—alien.
“I do not know what a cattle is, but I assure you, I am not the one doing the eating. That would be the Sol-Kor.”
Panur was amused as the alien began to work the metal of his cuffs. Did he honestly believe—
To Panur’s surprise, the metal began to bend. This creature is stronger than most. Interesting.
Muscles strained as the defiant alien stared at the mutant with anger-filled eyes. Panur calmly watched the exercise, raising no alarm or taking precautions. The metal twisted back and forth until it suddenly snapped. In the same motion, the Human leaned forward, clamping his powerful hands around Panur’s thin neck.
The mutant was pressed back against the edge of an exam table, again offering no defense. Instead, he produced a thin grin, which only infuriated the red-faced alien more, causing him to squeeze even tighter, hoping to elicit some reaction from the mutant. Panur remained upright, alive, and impervious to the attack.
Panur tried to speak, but his throat had become so deformed by the choking that only mumbles came out.
The exasperated Human released him; Panur’s neck remained scrunched in knots for a few moments before returning to normal, at which point he was able to speak clearly again.
“I asked if you were through? I must say the pressure you exerted was quite impressive. I’m afraid my Sol-Kor partners will be in for a surprise if ever they engage you in a contest of strength.”
“What the hell are you?” the blue-eyed Human gasped.
“I wish I knew.” The reaction from his attacker spoke volumes. It was obvious the emotional Human had no experience with pliant flesh or other leaps in technology one would expect from a race with the intellect Panur suspected these creatures possessed. He began to doubt these were the builders of the portal array. And if not, then who?
Panur decided to try honesty with the Humans; he had nothing to risk by doing so. If afterward, they proved to be problematic, Panur was confident the Sol-Kor would willingly take these creatures off his hands.
“I will explain my previous statement,” Panur began. “I was once of a species called Hal’ic, and from the subsect A’nor, although I was a unique form of my species,” Panur explained cryptically. “I now refer to myself as a mutant, although that would imply a mishap of some kind in my development. Fortunately, this uniqueness has given me the ability to withstand nearly all physical abuse … among other things. But the bigger question: What are you? More specifically, how were you able to resist my pulse beam?”
The Human ignored the question, reaching down instead to fumble with the shackles around his ankles. These were of thicker metal than the wrist restraints. Panur wasn’t worried. In the meantime, the other male was now free of his wrist cuffs and was helping the female with hers.
Watching the trio go about their efforts grew tiresome, at which point Panur produced the key, holding it out in a tiny, gray hand. “This will release the restraints; I grow weary of your struggle with them. The sooner you are free, the sooner we can commence with the analysis.”
Once free, the males ran to the door of the laboratory, one taking up a measuring rod as a weapon and the other a glass flask. The female lifted a sonic meter from the table, holding it in a cocked position aimed at the mutant. Panur continued to smile at their futile efforts.
“I must ask that you concentrate,” he said. “We haven’t much time. When the ship arrives at the array, there is a possibility it will go straight through, and I will have to do my analysis on the other side.”
“The other side of what?” the female asked.
“The other side of the portal.” Panur frowned. “I sense you are not the builders?”
“The builders of what?” the female continued.
“Of the array, of course. What else are we talking about?”
“I don’t know what we’re talking about.”
Panur’s earlier belief was confirmed. However, if these beings were not the creators of the array, then what role did they play in the galaxy? And why were they resistant to his suppressor beam?
“Then perhaps you should listen, instead of waving those ridiculous objects around as if they would cause me harm.”
“Is the door locked?” asked the light-haired alien. His arrogant attitude labeled him as the leader of the group. “We won’t be having any of those giants come storming in here, will we?”
“The door is locked. We are alone, and it will remain so until our arrival at the array.”
“What is this array you keep talking about?” the female asked as she set the meter on the table.
“The array that creates the portal.”
“The portal? You mean like in a door?”
“Exactly … a door. The language files we attained from the large warship have been integrated into our translation mesh, so I can understand what you say, even if I do find your English to be quite limiting; however, you appear to embrace it smoothly, so I will continue to use it.”
“Thanks. Now, how about a little more detail about this portal?”
“Of course. It is a portal—a doorway—to another universe. To my universe.”
The reaction from the aliens was further confirmation that they were not the superior intelligence in the galaxy. And although this was his first encounter with the species, their body language wasn’t difficult to decipher. He could read their truthfulness.
“You … you can travel between universes?” the female gasped.
“Obviously. Now please, if you’re going to ask questions, make them more than simply a repeat of what I just said.”
“All right, smart ass,” said the frustrated leader, his attitude apparent once more. “Just who the hell are you? You do have a name, don’t you?”
“Aboard your ship you heard Noslead Vosmin refer to me as Panur. Do not pretend any longer. I know you were conscious at the time.”
“You’re not like the others,” the leader stated.
“Again, stating the obvious, and again a repeat of what has already been established.”
“All right, so you’re Panur, a mutant of the A’nor race, and you come from another universe. I got it. So who are these other creatures you hang out with?”
“Ah, a quaint colloquialism. Even though your language is basic and primitive, I do enjoy the way you create images through its use. Hang out, as in to associate with, yet on a more informal basis. To answer your question: I hang out with the Sol-Kor. They represent the Colony of Kor, which is in turn ruled by the Eternal Queen. They are simple creatures, who for the past five thousand years, have enjoyed the fruits of my intellectual endeavors to dominate tiny fractions of four universes. Yours will be the fifth. Even as they consider themselves superior beings to all within a dimension, they have little comprehension of the insignificant impact they make. After all, how big is a universe? How many worlds does one contain, and how many intelligent species are there? The Sol-Kor do little to impact a universe, and yet they insist they do. And in the instances where this is true, it is only because of my inventions, my genius.”
“If they barely scratch the surface of each universe they visit, why do they bother with others?” asked the dark-haired Human. “Isn’t one universe enough to keep these Sol-Kor amused?” He had teeth of exceptional brightness, of which he was prone to display often.
“It should,” Panur answered.
“Wait a goddamn minute!” stated the light-haired alien.
Again, the leader spoke with unrestrained passion. Stress was building in him. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be a repeat of his previous behavior.
“You said these Sol-Kor characters have been doing something with your intellectual whatever for five thousand years. What exactly does that mean?”
“As you suspect; I am over five thousand years old.”
Panur recoiled, fighting for comprehension. It frustrated him when he could make no sense of a word, even an alien word. “That is a strange response, seemingly completely out of context.”
“It means you can’t be five thousand years old! That’s impossible.”
“Alas, I am. Now accept what I say so we can move on. As I was explaining, the Sol-Kor engage in exploration for the sole purpose of acquiring new food sources. They care not for the thrill of discovery or the diversity of life in the universe—in any universe. All they seek are more numerous and bountiful crops. Hopping between universes is a simpler way of achieving this than conserving what they have or journeying the vast distances between galaxies.”
“You don’t sound too pleased with them, Panur,” said the bearded Human. “That’s your name, isn’t it: Panur?”
“Yes, it is, and it is also true that I have grown weary of the Sol-Kor. Although the Queen and I have a special relationship, beyond that, I am often treated as just another drone within their Colony.”
“Special relationship?” The female stepped forward. “You … and the Queen?”
Panur smiled. She was referring to a sexual relationship, the idea of which was not only repugnant but physically impossible. “It is not what you suspect. She and I have lived for a similar time, although she slightly older than I. A Sol-Kor Queen can live for many generations, as long as she provides for the Colony and they for her. When the Sol-Kor came to my world to feed, my unique abilities spared me from the harvest.”
“You mean your longevity … and the fact that you’re damn hard to kill?” The Human leader was unquestionably the most emotional of the three. He was also the most violent, as had already been demonstrated.
“That was part of it. I was seven hundred years old at the time the Sol-Kor arrived on my homeworld and was considered an oddity even among my race. I had some notoriety on my world. However, as I continued to live, I also learned. I have near perfect recall, and if given enough time, many of the mysteries of the universe I can solve. I was working on a new propulsion system at the time of the invasion. The Eternal Queen took notice, seeing in my research a means of expanding her feeding grounds. She saved me and then provided for my research and prototypes.”
There was no reason for Panur to be completely honest about that part of his past and the real reason the Queen spared him. Besides, it would sound ridiculous to these primitives—the quest for immortality—and would probably only invoke another discordant word or two of disbelief. He still pondered the significance of the word bullshit to the discussion.
“And that was your blip-type drive, the one we followed here?” the female asked.
“Oh, no, that came much later. What I developed back then was a version of your primitive gravity drive. It sufficed for a long time until I made something better. I must admit, my jump-drive is not as fast as your system, yet it consumes vastly less energy, allowing for the use of larger ships and longer journeys between refueling.”
“And you also invented this inter-dimensional portal thingamajig?” she asked.
“I did indeed, although thingamajig is not what it’s called.”
“So why do the Sol-Kor keep asking if someone in this universe built the array? You just said you did.”
Panur studied the dynamic between the trio. Although the light-haired one was the leader, the others did not seem constrained to speak. Socially, they appeared to be of equal status.
“No, I said I invented it, not that I built it, at least not in this universe. I constructed the major arrays in my dimension, yet for a portal to work, there has to be a mating facility on the other side. So far, four detected have been detected, including yours.” In this universe, Panur failed to add. Perhaps with time, he would be more forthcoming with the Humans, if they don’t become food stock for the Sol-Kor beforehand.
“You’re saying someone in this universe built the array that allowed you—and the Sol-Kor—to come here?” the female stated incredulously.
“I must ask that you not repeat what I just said. However, for clarification, that is correct. Some entity within your dimension built the array of which we are en route.”
“And you don’t know who it is?” the leader asked. Panur watched as a sly smile crossed the alien’s lips.
“However, you do!” Panur exclaimed. He moved from the table and approached the Human. “Who built it? I am quite anxious to meet this entity.”
“I don’t know for sure, but I have a pretty good idea.”
Panur took a step backward. “Why? Why what?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Because I asked.”
“That’s not good enough.”
Panur shook his head. “I am at a loss as to why you have suddenly developed this hostile attitude with me. I thought we were having a pleasant conversation.”
“You mean after I tried to strangle you?”
“That was an object lesson you had to learn for yourself. What I mean is about everything else. I have been very forthcoming with you. I would expect the same.”
“Why would you expect the same from us? We’re your prisoners, not your friends. And to the people you hang out with, we’re just food. Unless there’s some benefit for us, I don’t see any need for cooperation.”
“Ah! I see now; you are negotiating!” Panur smiled widely. “This is an incredible moment. You must realize there is no negotiating with the Sol-Kor. They are of one mind and one purpose. They seek food and nothing else. Either provide it—or be it—those are the only options. I help provide the food, so I survive, and as a result, I have never had to negotiate for anything during my affiliation with the Colony.”
“Now you need information, information that has value,” the leader said with a trace of humor. “That’s the basis of negotiation, bud. You want something I have, and I want something that you have.”
“What do I have that you want?”
The Human displayed shock through a raising of his eyebrows. “Really? You have to ask? We want not to be eaten. And along with that, we want to be free. And while I’m making a list, we also want to be safe from any threat from the Sol-Kor … or you for that matter. Is that plain enough?”
Panur furrowed his grey brow. “I see. And how are negotiations expected to proceed when most of what you ask is beyond my ability to provide? Is that when negotiations break down, as I understand it?”
“That’s when we seek solutions to our mutual problems.”
“I have no problems.”
The Human smiled. “Of course you do. You’re tired of being treated like shit by the Sol-Kor, and now you’re looking to make a break. You believe the builders of the array might help you with that. However, as long as the portal is operating on this end, the Sol-Kor can come looking for you. You’ve lived for over five thousand years with nearly all of it under the thumb of the Sol-Kor. You’re a genius beyond compare, yet you’ve never been given the credit you deserve. You believe that in this new universe, you will find a more welcoming environment, but you need help to make that happen. You’re intrigued by the Humans, as well as the other lifeforms in this universe. That’s why you brought us here for a private meeting, and why it was probably you who convinced the Sol-Kor not to kill the Humans on the other ship. You’re in the middle of a dangerous gambit, and you believe the Humans—the three of us—might be able to help. Does that more-or-less sum things up?”
Panur was impressed. Most of what the alien said was true, but not all. It was time to play to his ego, to make him believe he’s discovered some special insight into Panur’s mind. Beings such as this were often susceptible to such manipulation. The mutant nodded.
“You gathered all that from the very brief time we have been together? I am very impressed. That speaks of a level of intuition and logical thinking I have never experienced with the Sol-Kor, nor any other race to date. It is obvious I could never consider you a true equal, yet I can offer you my respect. What is your name?”
“I’m Adam Cain,” he answered before turning to the other Humans. “The female is Sherri Valentine, and the other male is Riyad Tarazi.”
“I am quite pleased to meet you. And as for the female, you must understand the Sol-Kor Colony consists entirely of males, with only one female, the Eternal Queen. Other species emulate this arrangement, yet I have yet to encounter one as advanced as the Sol-Kor, comparatively speaking. The vast majority of species are gender-based. And concerning gender, I find it refreshing to meet a female who shares the intelligence and physical capabilities of the male while being treated as an equal, at least one that is not treated equally on the Colony’s dining table.” Panur wasn’t sure if the Humans would see the humor in his statement. Even so, he thought it was funny.
The female—Sherri Valentine—turned to her companions. “See, that’s how you compliment a lady, dickheads.”
The Human leader shrugged off the comment, narrowing his intense blue eyes at Panur. “So, do you see a compromise in our negotiations, or are we at an impasse?”
“Adam Cain, solving problems is my passion, be they cosmic in scope or interpersonal, such as between us now. I will have to think on it for a moment; however, I’m sure a compromise can be worked out. That’s how these things are resolved, is it not—through compromise?”
“In most cases.”
“Good, then we have an agreement. I will work towards meeting your goals, and you will work towards meeting mine.”
“What guarantee do we have?” Riyad Tarazi asked, displaying his brilliant teeth at Panur again. In many cultures, such an exhibition would signify a challenge for leadership.
Panur could not let the question go unasked. “I see a marked contrast in the color of teeth within the Human strain. Does the brilliance of yours cause you to be ostracized by others of your race? It can be most distracting.”
“Actually, the whiter, the better.”
“No jest. Now back to my question. What guarantee do we have that you’ll help us?”
“Because I said I would.”
Panur looked at the faces of the three Humans. “I don’t understand. I said I would help. What more … oh, you believe I have lied! I know of the concept. It is obvious your race is very suspicious of others. I assure you I have not lied. I do not need to lie.”
Panur was amused at how easily he could lead the Humans. This knowledge would come in handy during any future contact he may have with this race.
“If you help us, you may be called upon to lie to the Sol-Kor,” said Riyad Tarazi. “And if you always tell the truth, then how can you deceive them while helping us?”
“I said I understand the concept of lying, and yet you do realize there are two types of lie? One is the blatant misrepresentation of facts. The other is the omission of vital information from the narrative. I have quite often withheld data from the Sol-Kor, and for a variety of reasons. I will continue to do so. And in the case of a misrepresentation of fact, since I am aware of the concept, I’m fully capable of this deed as well. In fact, I may find intentional misrepresentations to be quite the entertaining game to play with the Sol-Kor. I would be anxious to gauge their reaction to my misrepresentations—my lies—and to study the consequences they bring about. Thank you, Riyad Tarazi. Already I’m finding our affiliation to be most stimulating and beneficial.”
Positive reinforcement will ingratiate me to the Humans. This is almost too easy.
“Glad I could help. And if you need any further guidance in the finer points of misrepresenting fact, please consult the vivacious Ms. Valentine.”
Sherri Valentine pressed her lips together as she stared at Tarazi. He answered the glare with one of his offensively-brilliant smiles.
“I detect the skillful application of a disguised insult,” Panur said. He couldn’t appear completely naive of the dynamic taking place. He had to convince them he could still be surprised.
“It wasn’t that disguised,” Sherri Valentine snapped.
“So what’s next?” Adam Cain asked, getting back on topic.
It took Panur a moment to break from his study of the non-verbal battle taking place between Riyad Tarazi and Sherri Valentine, yet when he did, his manner was serious.
“Noslead Vosmin is under the suspicion that my pulse beam is not working properly, or that it is not effective against certain races within this universe. That is the reason I kept your condition a secret—by the omission of certain data I had in my possession.” Panur burst out laughing. “I lied!” Regaining his composure, he continued. “I know the capabilities of my beam, and I have seen it work on other Humans. So why are you not affected?”
The Humans looked at each other, communicating non-verbally again, debating the release of privileged information to their new friend. Panur would soon learn if he had gained their trust. With slight nods, permission was granted.
The leader—Adam Cain—held out his hands, splitting the distance between him and Panur. The mutant was confused—until a small ball of light began to build in the space between his palms.
“An accumulation of static electricity, drawn from the air. But how?” Panur was truly impressed. He knew instantly what it was, but not how the Human created it. Indeed, these Humans did possess talents which surprised the mutant.
The sphere was about half the size of the alien’s hand and seemed alive with tiny streaks of blue and white electricity, crackling faintly as it radiated a fair amount of heat.
“We—the three of us—have devices embedded in our bodies that link with our brain waves and allows us to control compatible electronic devices in the area. Since your ship was built using different technology, I can’t find any devices to control, yet I’m still able to gather stray electricity from the air and form it into a ball.”
“And you believe these embedded devices spared you from the effects of my beam?”
“We felt the effects, yet we were able to function in spite of it. Our Artificial Telepathy Devices—as we call them—may have absorbed or counteracted the beam.”
“That makes sense. The pulse does affect the electrical functioning of the brain, slowing processes and dulling the senses. Your device may have served as a buffer to filter the effects. How many Humans are equipped with such devices?”
“You’re looking at it.”
“That is regrettable. The Sol-Kor are soon to call in a reaper fleet, and it would have been beneficial to have a sizeable force immune to the beam to stop them. I must study this device. I am sure I can find ways to make it more efficient.”
“I’m sure you can,” Adam Cain said. “But what about this other fleet? You called it a reaper fleet.”
“Yes, that’s what it’s called.”
“What the hell is a reaper fleet?”
Panur nodded. “Forgive me; now I understand the question. Once the Sol-Kor find the source of an alien strain they wish to harvest, they bring in a very large fleet of vessels for the task.”
“To kill an entire population?” Sherri Valentine asked.
“The population of a planet or group of planets. It is quite efficient. The pulse beams they use are of enormous proportions. I invented the process, you know. Yet be calm. For the time being the Sol-Kor are more interested in the strain from the first large ship they attacked rather than the Human homeworld. Although I must admit, once the analysis is complete, I have no doubt the nutritional value of the Human brain may be just as compatible.”
“The Juireans?” exclaimed Sherri Valentine. “They like Juirean brain better than they do Human brain?” The female appeared insulted. Was she aware of the ramifications of this revelation? This should have come as welcome news.
“It is as I have said, Sherri Valentine. Your brains may be compatible, in which case the Sol-Kor will be just as interested in a Human harvest as they are a Juirean harvest. Does this relieve your concern?”
Adam Cain spoke before the female could reply. “How about we all work to make sure there’s no harvest, not on any world, at least not in this universe. Does that sound like a plan?”
Everyone nodded, including Panur. “We may need new allies in the struggle to come, Adam Cain, others who are more technologically advanced than any of the strains I’ve encountered so far.”
“You mean the builders of the array, don’t you?”
“It sounds like something they would do; build a device that can link universes, on the off chance that whatever comes through can help them.”
“Who are they?” Panur pressed. “Is it not an individual; someone like me?”
“No. I believe it’s a race called the Klin.”
The Klin. Excellent. Panur had a name.
“And what help would they be expecting?”
“Help in defeating the Juireans … and the Humans. You see, we don’t like each other very much.”
Panur found this information incongruous. If the Klin were the builders of the array, they would be vastly more advanced than any race in the galaxy. Why would they need help in defeating a much more primitive enemy? Did the Juireans and Humans have abilities beyond what Panur has seen? Panur shrugged. There was the case of the Artificial Telepathy Devices. That did signify a technological sophistication not yet witnessed. And yet only three Humans had the devices, which raised another question: Where did they get them?
Panur turned serious. “You suggest this race—the Klin—built a portal to another dimension, expecting to enlist the assistance of whatever superior race would come through in a struggle against localized enemies? Why would they assume this race—any race—would be so inclined? That would be an extremely risky assumption.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” said Adam Cain. “The Klin are pretty conniving. They may have a plan to turn any aliens coming through the gate against their enemies, while they sit back and watch. It’s what the bastards do. The Klin are the technological masters of the galaxy and extremely patient. If they have a plan, I wouldn’t dismiss it too quickly.”
Panur had his answer, or at least a good start on one. He was anxious to learn more about these Klin and how they developed TD technology so long ago. And beyond that, what have they done with it since then? Surely, the Klin must have spread to other universes, and if so, why had he not heard of them? There was more to the enigma of the Klin—
“And now you say the Sol-Kor are interested in harvesting the Juireans for food, and may very well add Humans to the menu,” Sherri Valentine added, interrupting Panur’s mental musings. “To me, it sounds like the Klin’s plan is working perfectly.”
As was Panur’s.
And now he had to find the Klin to learn if they truly were the builders of the array, or simply the inheritors of much older technology? Was there something else at work here, something much more ancient? And is the fact that there are over ten thousand advanced species in this galaxy related to the TD signals he detected going back millions of years?
Moments before, Panur thought he had his answer; all he had now were more questions. Mentally, he smiled. The prospect of seeking answers to this new array of cosmic questions excited him to his core. It was what gave his life purpose, and it had been a very long time since he’d felt this way.
Panur considered his next step. Perhaps it was time for another of his periodic sojourns of discovery? He’d made them before, leaving the Colony to venture forth on his own. And each time he did, the Queen sent her minions to bring him back. She would do it again. She knew his true value to the Colony—and to her. It was through his efforts that she’d lasted as long as she had as Queen, providing for a flourishing Colony of which she took the credit. She couldn’t afford for him to be gone too long.
But this was a galaxy like no other, full of interesting species and mysteries begging for his attention. He had to learn more.
He looked again at the three Humans, feeling a sense of curiosity, of almost paternal attachment; seeing children in the process of discovery. Although they were an emotional and primitive race, they were also fun to observe and easy to manipulate. Studying them would be … stimulating.
Considering his upcoming quest for understanding, Panur was aware he would need a guide—a muse, of sorts—and someone with a lay of the land.
He focused his attention on the light-haired Human.
Although he was short-tempered and impetuous, it was his volatile temperament that made him the most interesting of the three. Yes, the alien with an attitude would do nicely. Panur smiled.
Adam Cain was about to become his new best friend.
…aboard the Klin Colony Ship Behemoth
It took nineteen days for the team to make it back to the Formilian star system and the Behemoth aboard the stolen and damaged Cartel warship. During that time, Adam got to know TeraDon Fief better, hearing his hard-luck story of a misguided youth that landed him in the clutches of the Gradis Cartel. Luckily for him, his intellect identified him as management material, keeping him away from the galactic crime organization’s more nefarious activities. He was more an organizer than a foot soldier.
For that, Adam gave him a reprieve.
Besides, the women would have hung him from a yardarm if he harmed the gorgeous alien. Summer was infatuated with him, and even Sherri was caught eyeballing TeraDon when Copernicus wasn’t around.
And he did save Summer’s life. That went a long way of canceling out most of his misdeeds.
Adam and the alien were in Landing Bay Six aboard the huge Colony Ship, working on repairs to the Cartel ship. It had suffered extensive damage leaving the Aris base planet, and for the past nine days, Adam and the Formilian crew let TeraDon have free reign of the bay and all the repair equipment he needed.
TeraDon’s mood was one of melancholy. It was a given that he was no longer a member of the Gradis, having helped destroy four of their ships and kill a fair number of their soldiers. He had some credits stashed away, but not a lot. And to top that, he didn’t know if the Cartel would put a bounty on his head? The alien was adrift, not sure what he would do next once the spaceship was repaired. Adam felt sorry for him.
Adam and TeraDon were on the bay deck, the last two in the chamber at the end of the workday, tending to a troublesome pressure hose. The ship was just about ready to go, with just a few loose ends to tie up.
A voice came in Adam’s mind, an ATD communication from Sherri.
You’re not going to believe this, but we just got a comm link from Panur and Lila. They’re just about to the Behemoth, coming in their little lightship.
No shit! That’s great—I think. Did they say anything else?
No. I directed them to your landing bay. They should be there in a couple of minutes.
Got it. We’ll be ready.
Adam called TeraDon over and gave him the news. They moved through the airlock then turned left and climbed a flight of stairs to the control room overlooking the bay. The atmosphere was dumped, and the bay doors opened, ready to receive the egg-shaped trans-dimensional starship.
Adam didn’t know how to feel about their arrival. Everyone on the team was still agonizing over the loss of the Sansa and the Arya, along with their inability to warn the mutants about Te’moc coming their way. It was one thing to verbalize confidence that Panur and Lila could take care of themselves and that they would protect the Aris. It was another to let the doubts nag at the back of the mind, keeping one awake at night. Adam was particularly affected. He didn’t like feeling helpless. He was a control freak, and being out of the loop was driving him crazy.
The tiny starship entered the bay in a streak and came to a sudden stop next to the Cartel ship, settling on the deck with hardly a thud. Either Panur was that great a pilot or the flight computer in the starship was of incredible capability. Panur built the ship, so it was probably a combination of both.
Adam closed the bay doors and filled the vast chamber with atmosphere, after which he and TeraDon reentered the bay. It was freezing inside and would take an hour or so to reach a bearable temperature. TeraDon stood shivering next to Adam.
The glowing starship lost its luminosity and a centerline split, cracking the vessel open like, well, an egg. Panur and Lila stepped out.
Adam’s daughter stepped up and gave him a welcoming hug. He could tell by her expression that she was troubled.
She looked back at Panur. “He will explain. I wish to see my mother.”
“She’s in the bridge section,” Adam told her. Arieel had come aboard within a day of the team’s arrival.
“I know,” Lila said.
Of course she would know, Adam thought. They could communicate telepathically, even without Lila having a ‘Gift,’ an ATD. She rushed off, annoyed that the airlock took so long to cycle through, even with an atmosphere in the chamber. It was a safety feature; both doors had to be closed before one would reopen.
Adam turned to Panur.
The mutant nodded. “He attacked the Aris space station and then the Terminus Base. Lila and I were in the lightship, working within surrounding universes to relieve the pressure around the anomaly. He then systematically assimilated the Aris sentries.”
“Our efforts have reduced the pressure around the Terminus Anomaly, but it won’t last. We made surgical penetrations into other universes small enough so they would heal quickly. Once they do, the pressure around Terminus will increase. And with nothing to hold it back, a blowout is inevitable.”
“What are you going to do?”
“There is a way to stop a blowout and to repair the tear before the pressure increases. But I need an immortal Aris for the plan to work.”
“You just said all the Aris are dead?”
“All except one.”
Adam was stunned by the implication. “Hell, no! Even if you could find him, he’d never help. Kracion is insane.”
“I know where he is, and he’s in the Milky Way; Nunki told us just before he died. And I think he will help. This galaxy is the Aris’ legacy. If the universe goes, so does it. And now he’s the last Aris. He can redeem a lot of the Aris legacy by helping.”
Adam was shaking his head. “I can’t see it happening, but what choice do we have?”
“None. And we don’t have much time.”
Panur looked around the landing bay.
“Where is the Sansa? I know Te’moc has the Arya—”
“Te’moc destroyed it.”
Panur was silent for a moment, which was an eternity at the speed at which his mind worked. He looked at his tiny lightship.
“We need equipment and personnel moved to Terminus. I will have to modify a larger ship for TD capabilities.”
Adam, TeraDon and Panur looked at the ugly Cartel starship.
“Not that one,” was all Panur said before he headed for the airlock. “Hurry, we must get the others. There is a lot of work to do and very little time.”
They reached the airlock and waited for the door to open before stepping inside. Adam hesitated at the entrance, looking back for TeraDon. He wasn’t behind him. Oh well, he probably went to his ship. I wouldn’t want to stick around either after hearing what Panur just said. Adam stepped farther inside, allowing the sensors to trip the door controls.
Both doors were now closed.
Adam noticed Panur staring at the control panel. He followed his gaze to a steady red light on the panel.
“That’s not right—”
A thick cloud of white fog formed at the ceiling, moments before Adam felt as if a thousand red-hot torches were burning his flesh. But it wasn’t heat he was feeling … but cold. A cascade of bubbling silver liquid poured from vents in the overhead, dousing both Adam and Panur in the debilitating cold. That’s when Panur crashed into Adam, knocking him face down to the floor and covering his body with his, shielding it as best he could from the deadly rain. The deck was already covered in the liquid, so Panur’s noble gesture was short-lived. A moment later, Adam Cain lost consciousness.
TeraDon zipped up the front of the environment suit while guiding the electric cart to the door of the airlock, an extra canister of liquid nitrogen riding in the bed. He couldn’t believe his good fortune! Panur and Adam Cain! He had originally rigged the airlock to catch Summer Rains, but now it had caught an even greater prize.
Five days before, TeraDon was aboard the Cartel ship when he received a coded message from Te’moc. The creature was back in the Milky Way and located just outside the Formilian star system. He was in desperate need of the J’nae essence from within the Human and offered a royal sum for Summer’s capture and delivery to him. At the time, TeraDon was in the process of contemplating his bleak future, if he had one. On the trip to the Klin Colony Ship, the Humans spoke of the mission taking place in another universe to prevent the destruction of eternity. It seemed so farfetched that he didn’t believe it at first. But they did, and they were worried that Te’moc would disrupt the efforts of the Aris and bring about Armageddon. When Te’moc contacted him, he told TeraDon that was just what he had done. But now Te’moc was offering him a planetary fortune, and one to be awarded in another universe—the Sol-Kor universe—where, with his new powers, Te’moc would rule as King. The offer was too good to pass up.
He began preparations, using the resources he had available for the repair of the Cartel ship. It wasn’t that difficult, and now the airlock held not the frozen body of Summer Rains, but of Te’moc’s ultimate goal—the mutant Panur. And as a bonus, Adam Cain lay frozen inside as well, his mortal body surely dead by now.
TeraDon triggered the controls, and the bayside door to the airlock cycled open. A cloud of white steam billowed out and evaporated, giving TeraDon his first look at his prize.
Panur’s body lay hunched over Adam Cain’s, both unmoving and glistening from their icy coatings. TeraDon took a long crowbar into the lock, prepared to pry the bodies from the deck … and each other. He worked it between Panur and Cain and the smaller creature broke off and slid to the floor.
TeraDon guided the cart inside, and then after considerable effort, placed Panur’s heavy body on the bed. Considering how hard that was, he knew lifting Adam Cain would be impossible.
So be it, he thought. Cain is dead, and that is all Te’moc needs to know.
But just to be sure, TeraDon stepped closer to the body and drove the crowbar through Cain’s back. He heard and felt the impact of metal on metal as the rod penetrated all the way through.
Returning to the cart, TeraDon hurried away to the rear cargo ramp of the Cartel ship. He’d already prepared a freezer to receive Summer Rains. Now it would contain Panur. Again, joy filled his mind. Such good fortune! He placed the body inside the metal container and set the controls. It would keep the body frozen until he could meet with Te’moc.
He left the cargo hold and closed the outer door, then still wearing the environment suit, he moved to the interior control panel for the bay. A moment later, the atmosphere was evacuated from the chamber just before the huge doors slid away.
He reentered the Cartel ship through the side airlock entrance and raced to the bridge. The ship slid out of the bay on a gentle cushion of flame before entering the cold of outer space. An agonizingly long three minutes later he was far enough from the Colony Ship to engage a deep gravity-well. The Cartel ship disappeared, bolting for the edge of the Formilian system.
In another hour, Te’moc would have his unexpected prize, and TeraDon Fief would be a very rich Bazusean, even if his home planet of Bazu would soon be destroyed, along with everything else in this universe.
…in a medical bay aboard the Behemoth
Adam Cain’s grey, lifeless body lay on a cold metal table in one of the Behemoth’s many medical bays, surrounded by his devastated and tearful friends.
Sherri wept openly, while Riyad let out whimpers of grief. But it was Arieel who showed the most emotion, as she was prone to do. When Adam’s body was first delivered to the room, she ran to it, wailing uncontrollably over the corpse and beating on the body before Lila could pull her away.
The crowbar had been removed, leaving a large gaping hole in his chest. There was no blood; his body was still frozen, but slowly thawing. Doctors came in and left a few minutes later. There was no life, no hope. There was nothing the doctors could do.
There was nothing any of them could do.
It was Copernicus who broached the subject first.
“What do we do now?” he asked. “Adam’s dead and Panur is gone. And to top that, Te’moc has ruined the Aris plans to save the universe, and …” His voice trailed off before punctuating his statement with, “That fucking TeraDon.”
Security video clearly showed what happened, and now Summer sat on the floor at the far end of the room, her knees pressed against her chest, slowly rocking back and forth and mumbling to herself. She felt responsible. Because of her TeraDon was aboard the Behemoth. She also felt guilty about the feelings she once had for the alien, although she never carried through with her fantasies. The idea of an interspecies hookup was a little more than she could accept at the time. Now the thought made her sick.
“Everything is my fault!” she kept chanting after the team gathered in the room to view Adam’s body. At first, the others tried to console her, but after a while, they let her have her guilt. It was what most of them were thinking anyway but thought it too cruel to admit. Now she sat away from the others, consumed by her grief.
Lila addressed the team.
“Panur and I have developed a plan for sealing the breach at the Terminus Anomaly. But it will require Kracion’s help.”
They’d heard this already, so it wasn’t news. It also didn’t lift their spirits.
“Good luck with that,” Riyad muttered.
“The problem is we will need another TD starship to get the proper equipment in place, and unfortunately, Panur was the master at TD construction. I can do it, but not nearly as fast as Panur.”
Lila tried to hide her emotions but to no avail. Her father was dead, and Panur was gone for good. Te’moc would know how to assimilate his essence; it may have already happened. And although the loss of her father was tragic enough, Panur’s symbolic death meant the fate of the universe—of two universes—was sealed. She would do all she could, but she also knew her efforts would fall short. There just wasn’t enough time.
The room turned quiet; even Summer’s wailing went silent. Internally, each person reached the same conclusion. Hope was lost.
That’s when Sherri suddenly jumped from an unexpected clanking from behind her. She turned … and nearly fainted, as did everyone else in the room.
Adam Cain was sitting up on the table.
Te’moc didn’t wait for Panur’s body to be transferred to the Arya. Instead, he boarded the ugly Cartel warship and raced to the cargo hold with TeraDon, having already been apprised of the unexpected turn of events.
Te’moc was ecstatic. He’d assimilated fourteen of the remaining Aris, and even with that much of J’nae’s essence within him, it wasn’t enough. The power operating within the aliens had degraded the essence to such a degree it was hardly worth the effort. Their bodies were advanced enough that all they needed was the immortality feature of the lifeforce and nothing else. That they got, and essentially let the rest of J’nae go to waste. Te’moc was different. He didn’t convert power directly, so he needed it all.
That’s when he realized he needed the uncorrupted essence within the Human Summer Rains. He would have to return to the Milky Way galaxy.
Another frustration came from the fact that through all his research, he couldn’t find any clues to what became of the vials of pure J’nae essence Panur took from the Aris base. Had Panur destroyed the essence, casting it into a star somewhere along his journeys to keep it from Te’moc? And if not, then as long as it remained frozen, he couldn’t detect it. And now, throughout two universes, there was no trace.
But that was a consideration for another time. He needed what was inside Summer Rains if he was to go up against Panur and survive. And he was willing to do anything to get it, including promising a galaxy’s worth of wealth to TeraDon for the Human’s capture.
However, all that effort was but a means to an end. And that end was the eventual assimilation of Panur.
And now his frozen body lay in a container in the cargo hold of the Cartel ship.
This was beyond Te’moc’s greatest expectations.
He pulled back the lid, and using protective gloves, removed the frozen body, placing it on the metal deck. It would have to thaw before he could fuse with it, so he brought in equipment to speed up the process. Panur would be aware of what was going on but powerless to do anything about it. That made the moment even more satisfying for Te’moc. And then just before Panur regained complete control of his faculties, Te’moc would move on him. Their fusing would be like all the others, and once inside the mutant’s host body, his essence would be his.
TeraDon stood back, watching as Te’moc paced the room. Te’moc could see his joy was as palatable as was Te’moc’s. The assimilation of Panur would be a momentous event for both of them.
It was a strange dynamic.
Although Adam was sitting up and looking around—a blank, confused look on his pallid face—no one rushed to embrace him. Instead, they stood back in apprehensive shock. He still had a gaping hole in his chest, and although he was thawing, still no blood appeared at the site of the wound. His eyes were a uniform grey, his lips white and cracked.
To Sherri, he still looked to be dead, and by all indications, he was.
All indications … except for the fact that he was sitting up and moving his head.
Lila approached him. Sherri mused; being immortal gave one a certain amount of natural courage. For her part, Sherri would wait to see what happens next.
Adam’s blank stare watched his daughter approach the table. There was no recognition, no curiosity, just instinct following motion.
“Can you speak?” Lila asked.
Adam’s mouth fell open, but no words came out. He tried again, still nothing.
“Try breathing,” Lila suggested.
This time Adam’s brow furrowed. He understood, and it seemed such an odd question to ask. His head bent forward as he looked down at his bare chest. That’s when he noticed the hole. A shaky, pale arm lifted his hand to his chest. He placed a finger inside the wound and a moment later withdrew it, as a mass of bubbling, red and white mush filled the opening before forming a thin coating on the surface, merging with the rest of the skin.
Seeing the gross mass of flesh bubble from the wound almost made Sherri vomit.
Lila took a sheet and covered Adam’s naked lower torso.
Then she smiled.
Te’moc was growing more agitated as the time neared. TeraDon watched the alien, wondering if he could time the fusing perfectly enough before Panur thawed completely. Would the mutant be capable of fighting off Te’moc at that point? He didn’t know. It seemed unlikely since Te’moc was much bigger than Panur. Either way, TeraDon knew the time was near. Panur’s flesh appeared softer, greyer, and his eyes had begun to shift in their sockets.
“It is now!” Te’moc proudly proclaimed.
TeraDon had never seen the fusing process before. Now he stood in shock as Te’moc’s body began to vibrate, creating rippling waves in the flesh that grew more pronounced by the second. Soon, his body took on a violent demeanor, as if it was about to explode. Instead, Te’moc fell forward, draping his vibrating mass over the much smaller alien. Panur disappeared, until a moment later when what remained of Te’moc’s body began to fade away.
TeraDon couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was as if Panur’s body was a sponge and Te’moc’s water, being absorbed through every pore, every cell. Soon, it was only Panur on floor.
TeraDon wondered if something had gone wrong. Did Panur prevail and now Te’moc was assimilated within the mutant … and under his control? Would Panur suddenly bolt upright to take out his revenge on TeraDon?
He moved toward the exit, anxious to reach a safe location where he could dump the atmosphere from the cargo hold and possibly prevent the catastrophe he saw in the making.
But then Panur’s body began to shake uncontrollably, writhing on the metal deck, making gyrations that should have been impossible. Then his skin began to vibrate, with brownish-red matter bubbling from every pore. This putrid mass continued to grow until it was easily twice the size of Panur’s body. Then the masses separated, like cells dividing, yet on a much grander scale.
Legs formed and soon a body took shape.
TeraDon was relieved to see Te’moc once again standing on the deck, his manic red eyes staring down at the now lifeless grey body beside him. His arms trembled, and his hands balls of white-knuckled fists. He continued to glare at Panur’s body as he gave out tiny yelps of … of anger?
“What is wrong?” TeraDon built the courage to ask.
The fierce red eyes locked on TeraDon, causing him to step back from fear. He’d never seen Te’moc this out of control.
“It … it is not there!” Te’moc bellowed.
“What is not there?”
“The essence! Panur’s essence is gone.”
“Can you hear me, Panur?” Lila asked sweetly.
The question hit Sherri like a sledgehammer. Everyone else in the room reacted in turn. Summer jumped to her feet and rushed to the table.
“Panur … he’s in Adam’s body?” she gasped. “Like J’nae is in me?”
Adam’s eyes locked on the tiny blonde. A smile invaded his face.
“Not quite the same,” an anguished voice said through Adam’s lips.
“Take your time,” Lila said as she placed a hand on Adam’s—Panur’s—bare shoulder. “The transition process must have been traumatic.”
“Wait a goddamn minute,” Copernicus said, as he pushed his way through the others and up to the table. “You’re saying Panur had taken over Adam’s body? Is Adam still alive or not?”
Adam’s body took several deep breaths, and with each one, color returned to his skin. Even his eyes were turning blue again.
“To answer your question, Mr. Smith, yes he is,” said Adam’s body.
Almost immediately, the real Adam Cain spoke. “Oh, hell no!”
“Is that you, Adam?” Summer asked with desperation.
“It sure is!” The voice was strained as once-frozen vocal cords fought to regain their elasticity.
Sherri looked at Lila. “What happened … how did this happen?”
“The fusing process is quite simple. I would assume that to save both their lives, Panur transferred his essence into Adam moments before they both froze.”
“But Adam is going to be okay, isn’t he?”
Adam gnashed his teeth. “If you mean if having some mutant presence in my body is okay? I repeat: Hell, no!”
“Welcome to my world,” Summer mumbled.
“Are you fully aware now, father?” Lila asked. “I am overjoyed to find both of you well. We feared the worst.”
Hands now reached out to pat Adam, smiles everywhere.
“This is different than it is with J’nae and me,” Summer stated. “Panur can speak when he wants to?”
“Yes, I’m different than J’nae,” Panur confirmed. “And because of this, Adam and I will share this body equally.”
“For how long?” Adam asked in almost the same breath.
Sherri laughed. It was weird watching Adam carry on a conversation with himself.
“Until I can find another compatible host and a way to extract my essence from your body. I’m sure Te’moc would not be helpful in that regard.”
“You can do it though, can’t you?” Sherri asked.
“That remains to be seen.”
Adam—the real Adam—wasn’t satisfied with the answer. “That remains to be seen! Really? Admit it, you don’t have a clue how to reverse this, do you?”
“I will eventually, but it will take time.”
“So what do we do in the meantime?”
Adam/Panur looked around at the anxious faces in the room. “In the meantime?” He grinned. “Well, let’s see. It is Tuesday. How about we go save a universe?”
… later that day
Riyad turned to Adam. “So what do we do now? The universe is about to explode, Te’moc is still running wild, the Sol-Kor are waiting on the sidelines, and both you and Summer have aliens living inside your bodies. I know it’s Tuesday, but it still sounds like an impossible situation.”
Adam laughed. “Relax, buddy. Have we ever run into a challenge we couldn’t overcome? Have faith. The powers-that-be will find a way.”
“So what do we do in the meantime? I know what Panur said, but what about you?”
“I say we go find The Last Aris.”
“Kracion? And how do we do that?”
“It’s actually quite simple. Just go to Amazon.com and pre-order The Last Aris by T.R. Harris, the next book in The Human Chronicles Saga.”
Riyad flashed his trademark white smile. “Nothing like some blatant self-promotion, my friend.”
Riyad nodded. “When does the book come out?
“The end of July 2019.”
Riyad pursed his lips. “I hope T.R. gives me more lines in this next one. It’s been all about you and Summer lately. Hey, I’ve been around since The Fringe Worlds, and I’m feeling a little neglected.”
Adam shook his head. “Your agent should have negotiated that upfront. But until your contract comes up for renegotiation, just be happy you have a job as my faithful—if quirky—sidekick.”
Riyad extended his middle finger and scratched his temple. “I got your sidekick right here … my friend.”
“Just keep it up, Mr. Tarazi, and I’ll have T.R. kill you off. I’ve had him kill characters off before; I can do it again. After all, I’m the famous Adam Cain. The dude owes me for all the money I’ve made him over the years.”
What Riyad said after that will have to wait for another day … and an R-Rating.
The Last Aris Book #29 in The Human Chronicles Saga
Author Notes and FREE BOOK OFFER
Really, so what will Adam and the team do next?
The rip between universes is set to burst in a very short time and the Mad Aris Kracion is the only hope of stopping a cataclysmic blowout that will destroy everything. And if that wasn’t enough, Te’moc is still hungry for some juicy Panur and J’nae essence, and the Sol-Kor are not going to just sit back and let their Colony die off.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that both Adam and Summer are possessed by aliens.
I know, it sounds crazy. But crazy is what I do.
The Lost Aris is coming out at the end of July 2019 and is available now for pre-order. Not that I’m suggesting anything, but….
Terminus Rising is the 28th book in The Human Chronicles Saga, and I don’t why, but I seem to just now be hitting my stride. However, I am about to make some minor changes (gasp!).
After The Mad Aris, I’m planning on breaking future Adam Cain adventures into three- or four-book mini-series, allowing new readers to join the party without having to go all the way back to The Fringe Worlds to understand what’s going on. Some people like a long, in-depth, never-ending saga. Others don’t, afraid that if they commit to the early books they’ll never reach the end of the story. (Hey, we still love James Bond even though his story never ends!) But I understand. So I’m willing to compromise.
For the long-term fans of the series, I thank you. It’s been a thrilling seven-and-a-half-year ride. And for anyone new who comes in once I make the adjustments, they will still have a wealth of story waiting for them if they’re interested. But be assured, the die-hards will see no difference. It will still be Adam and Company kicking alien ass and saving, well, everything. After all, these books are pure escapism, meant to be fun. (As well as an allegory on today’s social mores and … excuse me, I just threw up a little in my mouth.)
And speaking of fun (we were, weren’t we?) I’m working on a short parody of the series, something around 25,000-30,000 words long. Imagine if The Human Chronicles was a TV series and the characters had lives outside the story. Just a little fun thing I’ll make available pretty soon. (If you haven’t noticed, it’s hard for me to stay serious for very long. Humor turns me on.)
And now, a little promo for my new Facebook Fan Group. This is where I’m allowed to let my crazy side run wild. The people there are crazy, too. It’s a good fit. So, if you’re crazy—and not afraid to admit it—come join us. The details are below.
And about the REV Warriors Series and Jason King: Agent to the Stars. More books in both these series are coming. It’s just that I only have eight fingers and two thumbs. And unlike some authors I know, I write all my own books (no co-authors or ghostwriters, which seems to be the big thing these days. Now, that’s not to say I won’t partner with someone someday. I did it with George Wier a while back and that was fun.) But for now, it’s just me writing these things, so be patient, please.
So until next time, I hope you enjoyed Terminus Rising and will pick up The Last Aris. I’m on a book-a-month schedule now, so there will be plenty more Adam Cain adventures to come. Enjoy.
And in other news…
(From past Author Notes)
If you don’t know already, I have started a new Facebook Fan Page, appropriately titled:
Fans of T.R. Harris and The Human Chronicles Saga.
(FYI: I was the first person to sign up. After all, I’m a big fan of, well…me.)
In all seriousness, I invite all my readers to join (it’s a private group). I try to post there every day (when I’m not under a deadline). It’s a fun group where my fans and I can interact more frequently. I try to give insights into my books, the characters and the process, as well as the writing business as a whole. We have some real characters over there, and I’m proud to call many of the members friends, as well as fans.
You should check the group. And by the way…it’s FREE!
I also want to remind you to sign up for my email list, if you haven’t already. It’s free, and just for signing up, I’m giving away three of my books…
The THREE FREE BOOKS are the first two in my Jason King: Agent to the Stars series, as well as Captains Malicious, a novel co-authored with my friend George Wier.
These aren’t in either my Human Chronicles or REV Warriors series, but I’m sure you’re enjoy the story, the humor and the action that infect all my novels. (It’s like a disease. Incurable, by the way.)
Just click on the sign-up form at either the front or back of any of my novels to be included.
That’s it for now. Talk to you again in a month. Until then … Hasta la vista, baby!
T.R. (Tom) Harris
Sign up for my Email List
Please sign up to be included on the master email list to receive updates and announcements regarding the series, including release notices of upcoming books, purchase specials and more, please fill out the Subscribe form below:
See the Author Notes with details to my FREE BOOK OFFER, as well as news about the Human Chronicles short story I’m working on, soon to be released exclusively to those on my email list.
Novels by T.R. Harris
The Human Chronicles Saga
The Human Chronicles Box Set Series
REV Warriors Series
REV: Retribution (coming soon)
Jason King – Agent to the Stars Series
The Drone Wars Series
In collaboration with George Wier…
The Liberation Series
Available exclusively on Amazon.com and FREE to members of Kindle Unlimited.