Following The incident on planet Catriea I had my assets separate from the ECF. Buchloren’s knowledge of Dufour being in command of the ECF had led me to suspect that there might be leaks in their organization. These suspicions turned into something bigger when me and my sister were almost killed. Too many things had lined up for it to be a simple enemy operation in my opinion. The locals were too heavily armed and way too organized. If it had been an assassination attempt by Dufour then it had been a damn good one where he had done an adequate job of sowing reasonable doubt. That was his specialty after all. For every insanely over the top murder he had committed two or three others that had been subtle enough for him to avoid detection and prosecution.
Now I know what you are thinking. “If the admiral of the ECF wanted me dead then why would he have two of his own staff at risk of getting killed too?” Well, Carlen Dristang and Drurian Sunweil were what I think qualify as acceptable losses. Oh sure, by human standards they would have been an incredible loss. But Eutopians hold themselves to higher standards. Their deaths would have eliminated two troublesome crew members and deflected suspicion away from their boss.
I simply couldn’t go into battle with an ally who I suspected of having tried to have me killed. As their ships drifted away I was a bit surprised to see my sister was going with them. Not continuing the hunt with them. But boarding a Bounty Hunter class light cruiser that was due to head back home. Following the Catriea incident Linda came to my stateroom and told me.
“I just can’t do this anymore. It’s too nerve wracking. I can handle the occasional dirtbag trying to hurt me. But this is too much! I don’t fit in on this ship. You have a well oiled machine here and I’m just an extra part.”
“Okay Lin, I understand. You know better than most that it’s a good idea to have a few extra parts for your machines lying around.”
“Thanks Katy, but this is your world not mine. And you know it.”
I nodded and got up from my chair. I hugged my sister and she whispered in my ear with a trembling voice. “You end this damn war, you hear me. You come home safe.”
“I will try. I can’t promise anything yet.”
“Seriously, you come home safe!”
I nodded, there was nothing else left to say.
So I took my Montana, and a few ships of the Auxiliary Fleet out to the unknown. I let the Semblance, the USAAC ships and most of my other heavy hitters go off with the ECF or to the hottest spot in the war. The Sagaglog system, where the Russians and my marines were about to start their first major ground campaign. I figured that they would do more good there than on my hunt for the rotten heart of the Galaxy. At the same time I was not going to take an unarmed. Or even a lightly armed ship like a Neptune class ship off into the unknown. There were monsters in the familiar spots on the map. I didn’t even want to contemplate what lurked in the frayed edges and blank spots.
The voyage went on for months. Every new star system had to be charted and examined before we could continue on. This was work that the Montana was ill suited to. She was a war machine, not a surveying instrument. Occasionally we would be assisted by ships and crews from the Neptune Corporation. But their mission was not finding the Root. They had their own priorities, to look for potential sources of wealth or worlds that could be settled. They helped out where they could but the Neptune Corporation had their mission and we had ours.
Months went by as we explored the four remaining suspect systems and every terminus in between those stars. Following the Web-Way down pathways to solar systems that had not seen ship traffic since god knows how long. Oddly enough, in a navigational sense we were heading slowly back towards Earth in this ongoing hunt for something I couldn’t comprehend. A couple of weeks into this mission and I felt profoundly lost, even though I knew exactly where I was. I suspected that we were going in the wrong direction. That this had turned into a treasure hunt. Which had already cost more treasure than I had to spare. We were getting farther and farther from any sign of enemy forces. Or even civilized worlds. Every solar system we visited was unoccupied by any kind of intelligent life. There were a few random bits of technology. Left to ruin by whoever the heck built them. Rusting away on worlds with little or no atmosphere. Sometimes they might have had the baseline ingredients for some marginal kind of life. Now and then we would find ruins of civilizations long since fallen or perhaps just moved on to more productive locales. Moreover there were no signs of admiral Buchloren or his minions out here in galactic hill country.
James urged us on. He insisted that according to his information that we were approaching the rotten core of all this. The thing, whatever the heck it was that was responsible for the madness of so many people. Or at the least keeping the Singers out of the war. I grew tired of indulging this project. I had a war to end. With every day that went by I thought more that eliminating the toxic energy should wait. Perhaps keeping the Singers out of this conflict was for the best. They had told us that if they engaged they would exterminate the enemy. Since that enemy was a distant relative of humanity perhaps they might get a little overenthusiastic and wipe out the slave populations on the occupied worlds.
Amidst the boredom of this mission more and more my thoughts turned to Sasha. In time those thoughts grew into obsession. I wanted to go back to Earth so badly I could almost taste it. As we were coming out of a terminus four months into this search I told James.
“This is the last of the five, if there is a habitable planet here we will stop for provisions. But we can go no further.”
His eyes lit up. He looked overwhelmed with joy. I had never seen him so happy, yet serene. In a calm yet otherworldly voice he announced. “We won’t need to go any further Katy, we are right where we need to be.”
Before us was a beautiful shining blue, green and purple planet. Wasn’t more than an hours flight away, it looked positively inviting. James Harding had a certain look on his face. The look of a man returning to his lover after being gone for years. I had seen it many times when I had brought the Montana back to Billings. When I saw crew members go running down a gangplank, back to their families.
We came down in a big freshwater lake near what looked like some humongous stone ruins. There was too much thick forest land and jumbled rocks to come down on land. The local geography traced out a huge fractal spiral pattern which was distinct. Yet somehow not unnatural. As we were coming in to land we could see that trees and other plant life covered ruins in all different colors and shapes. Sketching out a beautiful, impressionistic design, as if the entire planet had once been the canvas of some impossibly powerful alien artist.
The lake was at the center of this fractal design. I could hear the sound of the hull creaking as it settled in the liquid. A sense of relief passed through the ship. It was as though the ship was alive and enjoying it’s cooling dip in the water. Sensors indicated that the local environment was friendly to human life. So the hatches were opened and we all went out on deck.
It was beautiful, but holy moly did this planet look weird. Crazy looking ruins stretched out in all directions covered in greenery. It was impossible to tell where the ruins ended and nature began. This area must have been a city at some point in the far distant past. A damn big one.
Hoses went over the side and the ship started taking on drinking water. The propeller was spun up and we began to gently scoot towards the shore. There was a monolithic stone which would make an excellent pier. Just past that was a small grassy field which would be just perfect to set up camp on while we looked for food. The foraging parties went off in various vehicles and I went down onto the land.
The air tasted sweet, it was great to finally be out of an oversized tin can for a day or so. The body of water we had landed in was deep, dark and showed no signs of contaminants. Not even silt from runoff. James was staring off into the forest, I asked if he knew what he was looking for. He replied that it was looking for us now. That sounded odd, but I wasn’t too worried about it. This place was a paradise, it didn’t seem like it could be the rotten core of anything.
Different stars and different atmospheres meant that the light shining down on some inhabited planets could be dangerous over the long term. When ultraviolet readings came back at slightly below average by Earth standards I told everyone to get outside and get some sunlight. I took off most of my uniform and did some sunbathing on top of the bridge while much of the rest of the crew dove off the side. Into the inviting water. By the time I was done I was pretty well cooked, burnt really. That’s a price you pay for yourself to sunlight after living like a sardine for so long.
As I got up I noticed some suspicious movement in the distance. It looked like something was stalking us from the tree line, then moving into the long grass. I probably noticed this first because of my elevated position. I yelled for everyone to look over at the trees and bushes, but as soon as I did a hundred primitives with spears in full warpaint, and not much else exploded from the shrubbery.
Weapons were activated. The 20MM guns should have been enough to deal with them but the main guns came up too. The natives had another 200 yards to cover before they got us. But standing between them and us was James, he was going to get vaporized if the savages didn’t skewer him first. I was scrambling to get off the top of the bridge without breaking a leg when I saw him stop the advance of the natives. They were gathering around him, putting their hands on him in reverence.
As I went ashore I had 12 marines surrounding me, the rest of the marine contingent were escorting the crew back from the beach. It didn’t look like there was going to be any trouble today, but better safe than sorry. As usual I had my revolver. I asked my friend.
“Uh, James, what’s with the painted face people? Have you met before.”
He hushed the primitives surrounding him and announced. “These are the last of the Yonth, this planet was the other end of the web-way link when the Tuareg experiment began. This is where the bulk of the Yonth civilization was dropped.”
“Well, if that’s the case then they certainly don’t look like they put all this together.”
“I have only just met them, but it seems like they suffered some unspeakable cataclysm at the hands of the Drankmastarians. That’s who they thought we were at first, but they figured out that we weren’t them. Their big ships don’t land. If they thought we were the imperials they would have attacked the moment we landed. Listen Katy, I can either explain what little I know or try to learn more, so be a dear and go back to the boat okay?”
“If you think I am just going to leave you here?…”
“I’m not giving you a choice, now take your little marines and go back. They are getting quite nervous with all your guns.”
I did notice that the primitives were eyeballing us anxiously. Quite opposed to the deference with which they were treating James. So we backed off but I made it clear that if they tried anything I was going to let fly.
By the time the foraging parties got back the sun was setting. James and the primitives were still talking. They talked well into the night, then the sun came up the next day, and they were still talking. I allowed the crew to go back and have fun on the beach as the crowd of primitives had dispersed, there was only a dozen or so of them left. I walked over to them, they were still speaking, James didn’t dismiss me with the wave of a hand. But I didn’t hang around long, I couldn’t understand a damn word they were saying. Mandarin Chinese was an easier to understand language than Yonth.
Later that evening James came back onto the ship, he said that he had all the information he needed to go ahead. However he really needed to sleep, so I let him sleep and I went back up on the top of the bridge. Towering above any primitive aggressors I could hear the waves lapping at the hull of the ship below. I rolled out my mattress and slept under the stars. It took awhile for me to fall asleep, the stars burned fiercely above this planet, there were no lights to obscure them. Not to mention the air was spiced with countless delicious odors. I still did not understand how this lovely planet could be the source of toxic energies that overwhelmed a huge chunk of a galaxy.
The next morning I looked down from the bridge and saw that the natives had set up a little camp about a half a mile from the Montana.
I thought and went and got some breakfast. James was still sleeping as I went through my morning briefing. The antigravity drive had been running continuously for months so it was time for overdue maintenance. 2 Guns in turret A were being worked on since their targeting had not been up to baseline standard in the last combat drill. The life support system and dozens of other systems that had been operating continuously for months had been shut off for repair and inspection. Local foods had been tested and most of them had been found suitable for human consumption. The ships astronomer believed she had found the source of the energy that powered the Web-Way root. A mere light year over from this system was an electroweak star. A theorized type of star that produced a veritable sea of exotic particles that powered the Web-Way Root.
I jogged down to the end of the monolith and onto the beach, I waded in the water a bit, then ran back to the boat. Then I set about making sure that the ship was in good shape for any looming battles. By the time the day was half over James had finally woken up, as soon as he did he came to me and arranged a meeting between me and the local elders. They wanted to tell me the story about how they came to be a bunch of Stone Age primitives. But he couldn’t tell the story yet, it had to be at night. Naturally I asked.
“Why does it have to be at night?”
“You know the old saying, speak of the devil and he shall appear? These people have their own variation of that. If the Imperials do come it’s easier to see drop pods and shuttlecraft falling through the upper atmosphere at night.”
That night I sat down with James, and a couple of natives at their settlement. They were decked out in various items. Bones, feathers, the usual sort of tribal nonsense you saw in pictures and films about places like New Guinea. They looked like they ranged in age from 35 to 50. Elderly compared to most of the rest of their population. The scene was lit with a central fire and a bunch of torches, they passed James a pipe, he took a huge draw off of it and started singing along with the natives in a very odd sounding voice. While the 2 natives began to sketch out designs in the sand beneath us.
“Countless aeons ago an experiment was attempted, project Tuareg. This was an attempt to forge the very fabric of the universe into matter useful to the Yonth. The experiment was a disaster, and their race was dispersed among the stars, these stars. [He started making dots on the ground.] Many of them were dropped right here on this planet. An attempt was made to build another version of the Tuareg experiment with the lessons learned from the first attempt. To perfect the experiment and create a way back to Earth. To create a true interstellar empire from their failures. This planet was transformed from a primordial planet into a grand complex of interconnected cities, machinery, farms and other great works. This work took almost a century, they were nearly finished. Then the Drankmastarians came in their stolen ships.”
He pointed down, the seemingly abstract swirling of shapes he and the natives were sketching in the dirt had resolved themselves into a horrible design. An image of Drankmastarian ships dropping asteroids on settlements, cities being destroyed along with the bodies of men.
“It seems that after this disaster the imperials stole whatever technology was on the planet for their own devices. They used these broken fragments of this technology to perfect travel through the Web-Way and completed their empire. Since this planet is so far from their home-world and most of the productive planets of their empire they abandoned it and what was left of the people here. To survive the terrors they had left behind, to remember what they had once been, and to hope someday to return to what they were.”
He took another hit off of the pipe and sang some more.
I asked, “so, all this is interesting, but there’s something that is bothering me. Human beings are naturally creative, we are constantly coming up with new technology and new ways of using technology. Why is it that all the humans in this part of the galaxy are so primitive, or trapped in a state of cultural and technological stagnation. Why did everyone here go backwards at full speed?”
“No one reason, some of this technology affects the mind in detrimental ways. There is little to no incentive to change anything. These Yonth decided, after the Drankmastarian attack to go without. If advanced technology was what drew their enemy here then they would not attract them again. [Takes another draw off the pipe] they decided to live with no technology more advanced than a few metal tools and they have felt little need to improve anything. Why bother to build up your possessions when some big nasty thug in the sky is waiting to swoop down and steal it.”
“Of course what they didn’t know until I told them is that the reason why the Drankmastarians haven’t come back is probably because they already took everything they needed from this planet and they don’t want to fight it out with an aggressive native population. The Drankmastarians could come back and wipe them out completely. But it would be like us trying to get something out of a hive of fire ants. Too much work for not enough payout.
I asked if there was anything on this planet that was worth our attention.
“The locals want to fight, some of the younger generation badly want revenge for those ancient crimes. They wish to volunteer warriors for our campaign. There is also something they want me to see about 30 miles north of here. They don’t know what it is, everyone who knew how it worked got killed a very long time ago. They refer to it simply as a place of power. It sounds like an operational piece of technology. It could be important, it could be an old kitchen. Still it sounds like it is worth a look.”
Before the sun rose the next day I was ready to go. I had Travis Fallon’s team escort myself and James to the complex the natives told us about. We flew out to the rumored place of power in a shuttlecraft. I had actually noticed it as we were landing. From above it looked just like another part of the vast spreading fractal pattern that made up the planets surface. As we came at it from the side it turned out to be something different. It was a giant machine, everyone could see that it appeared to be made up of truly colossal parts. I couldn’t begin to guess what the function of the device was though I couldn’t help but notice.
“Um, James, that thing is floating!”
He corrected me.
“Parts of it are floating, some parts are connected to the ground.”
“Okay, would you care to explain how parts of it are still floating then?”
“Residual energies retained in the machine I guess.”
“Must be some energy if it is powerful enough to make something bigger than the Montana float.”
We descended through the central part of the machine. The further down the weirder it looked. Light seemed to pour through the machine. It also seemed to be coming from the ground somehow. James spied something that looked like a landing pad leading to a network of tunnels.
We checked our weapons, flashlights and other gear and started walking into the tunnels. Being sure to leave a line tied to the shuttle to lead us back to the surface. As we descended further and further the tunnels gradually turned from mossy rock into a kind of gallery of all manner of artwork. Statuary, paintings, carvings, smoothly integrated into the walls. All of it was beautiful and looked indescribably reassuring. Still I couldn’t help but anxiously grip my M3. Thoughts of some kind of ambush set up by some counterpart of the Venusian Core danced through my mind.
Then we came to a dead end. James looked almost ecstatic though. He told me to come closer to him. He beckoned me until we were almost hugging. Then he started singing. I was just about to ask him what he was doing when a great glass tube erupted from the ground beneath us and we went sliding down to the bottom of whatever this thing was.
My senses were completely overwhelmed. Every color, noise, and smell I could ever imagine and quite a few I couldn’t hit me all at once. Then I went unconscious. When I came back I looked around and saw an environment which was strangely familiar. It took me a while but I realized that it was very similar to the great glass core of the Venusian ziggurat. I reached for my M3, it was still there, reassuringly slung to my chest. Then I saw James. He was levitating in an ecstatic state. I was concerned that all I had done was inter him in a different computer core. But he came back to the ground and announced. “Idiots, the fucking idiots!”
“Uh, what fucking idiots?”
He ran around the room. Fiddling with controls, examining everything. Moving so fast that I had trouble keeping up with him. He was speaking even faster.
“The Drankmastarian’s, they fucked everything up. This machine took the Yonth three generations of work to build and they wrecked it in a week! Did they really think that they could control the grandeur that is sacred science? That by speaking a bit of Latin and knowing a little history that you had access to some profound, sacred wisdom? Morons, you have to go back farther, much farther. This knowledge may lie deep in the hearts of man and in the very fabric of the universe itself. But you can’t just make brief reference to a few shreds of knowledge and call it the truth! To say that you understand it. You understand less than nothing. You speak of the fallacies that were spewed by a fallen civilization and try to control their empire. The first great human civilization. The one time in history when we were permitted to live as many. Though also as one, Neanderthal, Sapiens, Machine! The true greatness that is self guided evolution brought to its peak of power! They smashed it, they smashed it all. Ashes for wood. Stone where metals stronger than titanium once stood. Alcohol in place of the true sacrament of universal knowledge. You have to embrace it fully. For all it is and all it will be. You cannot afford to limit it, to lock it in place. It’s like a leopard, you lock it in a cage and it will die. It is energy, constantly changing. Always on the move, life itself, existence itself, it must be free. And by God it is not a weapon! It simply is. These fuckers tried to forge the very fabric of the cosmos into a weapon! Oh you are going to pay. You and your precious little egos are going to pay. I will unleash a vengeance that will be spoken of for a hundred thousand generations on your candy asses.”
His tone transitioned from hyperactive gibberish to a cold rage.
“I am going to tear them a whole, new, galaxy!”
Harding sounded like he had jumped off the razor thin edge between coherent scientist and madman. So I asked, “care to explain this in terms that the rest of the class can understand professor?”
He sighed and took a deep breath. In a much slower and somber tone of voice he explained.
“The Yonth colonists who came here built all this to perfect their experiment. The Drankmastarian empire seized this place and tried to make a weapon out of it. All they managed to do was profoundly and deeply break the fabric of reality itself. No, that’s not the right word, I should say wound reality. This is the cause of all the trouble that has been distracting us from the great work for the past 20,000 years. It’s all because of this planet, this whole place is the great rotten core of the galaxy. All the energy of the Web-Way is funneled through here. When it gets here it turns nasty, distorted, out of balance. Then sent out to everywhere else. All the way to Earth, though it gets a bit diluted by the time it gets there. This thing has caused more damage than you can possibly imagine. All because a bunch of thugs were screwing around with something they could barely understand.”
I asked in a state of increasing comprehension.
“Okay fine, but why did you suck us down here and leave my marines behind?”
“I brought us down here because I need to turn the machine off. I left them behind because there was only one transit tube still operational and we don’t need them. They would just get in the way.”
I somewhat understood what was happening, still I had to ask.
“There is something I don’t understand. If this thing creates negative waves, or whatever, why aren’t we all acting like a bunch of maniacs?”
“It’s not discharging its energy everywhere all the time. The energy is spread all across the web-way. It is randomized, but it is building up to expend another charge. If I don’t disarm it or we are whooked. At this proximity we probably won’t become intelligent psychopaths like the Drankmastarian’s, we will probably be reduced to utter savagery.”
“Well that’s just spiffy. How much time is this going to take?”
“48 Hours, at the least.”
“Okay, I think our supplies will hold out that long. But if I think you have gone insane and/or been taken over by another malicious machine consciousness. I’m going to use this gun to cut you out of the machine then I will put you down.”
All of a sudden he glowered at me, with a ferocity that I had never seen him display before. In an impossibly deep voice he growled. Then worked his way up to a snarl.
“You silly children with your ridiculous toys. Do you really think that your moronic games of destruction have any bearing on the workings of this galaxy? That the laws of physics care even slightly about your petty whims. This device has been a knife at the heart of this region of space for tens of thousands of years. Once it is disabled things will change in ways that your, pea brain cannot imagine. Now be quiet and let me work.”
I bowed out of his way. He levitated up into the machine and left me to myself.
While he fiddled with the machine I tried to get my mind off of the fact that I might be trapped under a billion tons of rock, forever. Watching a guy whose brain had been fiddled with more than a Stradivarius try to turn off the biggest and most broken down machine I had ever seen in my life. I had fifty books on my slate computer that I had been meaning to read but never had the time to. Well I had plenty of time now.
Sometimes I would glance up to look around the chamber we were in. It had the typical absurdly high ceiling that the Yonth seemed to like so much. It was bigger than the Venusian central control room. Decorated with what appeared to be countless gemstones in all manner of patterns all over the place. It seemed ridiculously gaudy until I realized that these were just decorations. Something nice for the people who worked here to look at to improve their mood and get higher quality work out of them. It probably wasn’t intended to be gaudy anymore than the rest of this machine was intended to be big. It had to be big to do the job that it was created for. Form follows function.
James worked continuously while I read, or occasionally tried my radio. It was pointless. There was no way a radio signal could get through such a mass of material, exotic energies and who knows what between me and the surface. It was frustrating, I felt completely helpless and useless. More so than any other time in my life. I tried not to think about it, but it proved impossible. Hours turned to days, the reassuring tick of my watch was the only noise thing I heard down there besides my breathing and the occasional music file on my slate.
Finally after 71 hours straight of work he descended out of the machine. He was so completely exhausted that he couldn’t even stand. He whispered, “I think I did it, I had to bypass everything. It was all damaged. Just pull the central control rod completely out, rotate 180 degrees. Then let it go back in, and we are done.”
He pointed to a handle sticking just out of the floor nearby. Looked like it was made of graphite. Standing right in the middle of the chamber. I squatted over it and started pulling. It budged ever so slightly, but I didn’t think I could move it. I shrugged and said, “sorry, I don’t think I am strong enough.”
“Okay that’s fine, though you should know we are not getting out of here until that thing is reset.”
I got my second wind, I started pulling and it seemed to move a bit easier now. As I pulled the thing I couldn’t help but grunt. “Damn it James, next time, don’t, leave, the marines behind!”
The central control rod was a weird looking structure. Very complicated, it glowed green. As I pulled it out further I could see light starting to come into the dark chamber. With a resounding crack it broke free from its repose. Then I rotated it halfway around and returned it to the floor.
The chamber rumbled as the walls exploded with light. James rolled over to where I was standing over the control column and the two of us started to rise. Levitated by some force I did not understand. He was groaning in pain as croaked out.
“It’s over, it’s all over.”
He passed out, just as we were about to hit the ceiling. I shook him, “what have you done? What’s over? Were going to be crushed!”
We rose through a portal in the ceiling. Then through the inner workings of the machine, faster and faster. After a short time the patterns I had seen all over the ceiling gave way to the fractal structure of the machine itself. There was no way to escape what was about to happen. Though I was oddly at peace with it. We continued to rise until I had a magnificent view in all directions above the machine. I could see the Montana, not too far away. I grabbed my radio and tried to call them, but the radio was useless, too much interference. Then something else started happening.
I double checked to see if my headset was still recording. Then I activated the camera in my slate. Whatever this was I had to film it. The whole countryside was moving, like feet under blankets. Or muscles flexing under skin. The impossible machine was moving. It was absolutely incredible, the forest came to life with the sounds of every animal in it running for safety. Then it started to glow, the whole damn planet began light up. The shapes of the planet started to resolve into one complete pattern. No more clashing of forms, all was one.
The glow grew brighter and brighter, it was like the burst of energy given off by a dying Singer, but much more powerful. It was happening all at once to everything on the planet and it was not a hallucination. It was real, it was undiluted, undivided reality restored. A boundless reality, the eternal unified whole. Driven by unlimited energy, constantly changing, constantly renewing. It was conscious, it was indescribable.
I was reduced to tears, then the whole thing exploded. Ten thousand years of pent up toxicity released and cleaned to burn, dissolve, disintegrate and be reborn across the galaxy. The light exploded out in all directions to realms unknown.
I was reduced to tears, staring at this unimaginable beauty. In time it began to dissipate and the planet started to look like a planet again instead of a magnificent ball of living starlight. I looked around for James, he was hovering above me his eyes wide open. He was in a symmetrical prayer pose. Of the kind at I had seen Drakous demonstrate. He smiled at me and whispered.
Then he passed out again as we started slowly descending. The marines were waiting for us next to the shuttlecraft inside the machine. They had gone back to the shuttle to wait for us. They looked beaten up, and quite shocked to see us floating above them. I asked what had happened to them, Fallon replied.
“It was something we had no control of. About an hour after you left us we all started getting angrier and angrier until we started fist fighting. It took every ounce of control not to use weapons. It’s a real mess back on the Montana, there’s a dozen dead and 42 critically wounded. We would have all killed each other if the effect hadn’t gone away when everything exploded.”
“So you guys have been waiting for me to come back since then.”
“Yes sir, if you hadn’t fixed the thing we would had to have started digging.”
“So you saw massive burst of energy we just had?”
“What did you think of it?”
“It was…. Familiar.”
“Like using 5meoDMT?”
“Yes, very very interesting.”
“So the microcosm and the macrocosm are all one and the same?”
“Hey, you’re the one who sees the big picture. I’m just a trigger puller.”
He was screwing with me. He was playing a part, the part that his ego had made for him. He and his squad all had that distinct look in their eyes that said that their minds were completely awake with the fires of consciousness. Being around eight people in such a state was a bit overwhelming. So I asked them.
“Get a stretcher out for mr Harding, we have got to get back to the Montana and the fleet. Tell them that we are all together again and get the engines spun up. I want to be off this planet and heading towards a fight A.S.A.P.”
The shuttle was undamaged despite all the moving around that had just happened. Thank god, I suppose it would have been possible for us to climb out of the machine. But it would have been quite an adventure. After a short flight we were all back aboard Big Blue. When everything got moved around the Montana had been swirled around a bit in the waters of the lake but she was otherwise fine. The crew was another story entirely. The temporary effects of the machine had caused them to do an awful lot of damage to each other. If James hadn’t disabled the machine when he did they would have probably all killed each other and the Montana would have been stuck on this planet until a replacement crew could be brought aboard, nasty scenario. Once I was back in my chair I performed my little ritual of checking my M3 and placing it back in its box. Once it was secure Captain Hoover asked, “orders sir?”
“Set a course for the Sagaglog system, best possible speed. We have a war to finish.”
On the way back to the conflict another odd thing happened. James slept for sixteen hours straight. Occasionally waking up to use the bathroom or gnaw on some snacks. When he finally woke up and stayed awake I was told that he was seeking food with a ravenous hunger. I was on watch at that moment so I had the XO relieve me while I dashed back to the officers quarters.
James was in the mess, eagerly feasting on several different kinds of foods. I walked up to him cautiously and asked. “So, how do you feel?”
He swigged down a cup of butterscotch pudding, looked right at me and replied.
“Forgiven, everything that happened, happened and there’s nothing I can do about that. But I made up for it.”
I was so relieved to finally see that he was over his obsession with the Core. The next day we were back in contact with the fleet. I sent a message back to Earth, that I believed that the phenomena that disabled the Singers had been neutralized and that they were welcome to rejoin the campaign. It was time to end this war.