It took half a second for his mind to catch up to the impossible scene, but that was already too much time to waste.
There was Admiral Forest with a team of Coalition soldiers. A massive, beautiful flickering force field covered them as they fired everything they could. Forest had a case full of the Hendari crystals, and in gut-wrenching recognition, he realized that amazing force field was being produced by them. Though the Coalition had nominally been able to connect to the crystals previously, they had never achieved anything like this.
It didn’t matter. Jerry was only a few meters away, his hands spread wide, Sally behind him. She spun on the spot, and around her, like a gathering storm, grew the King.
Somehow the Observers were using her mind remotely to open him up.
“Sally,” Joseph bellowed.
He appeared behind the group, and as his desperate scream ripped through the air, it alerted everybody to the fact he was here.
Forest whipped her head over her shoulder fast. A few strands fell from her bun and cut over her pale cheeks. It framed her wide eyes and jerking lips as she screamed his name.
“Impossible,” Jerry screamed. It wasn’t just with one voice, though. Joseph was certain he could hear the keening cries of many other Observers in there. What, had all of the remaining bad Observers in Hendari space crammed themselves into Jerry’s small head?
Joseph had seconds to react. He could feel the gathering power of the King. If it was allowed to get even just a fraction stronger, it would tear through the rest of Sally’s mind. Then… everything would degrade.
Joseph couldn’t go there, couldn’t imagine precisely what horrors were waiting for him. But he didn’t have to. His Omega side suddenly pulsed and rose. Joseph had ignored it for most of his life, but now it was impossible to push back. His whole body shuddered with the knowledge the entire universe now rested on the edge of a cliff.
So he shot forward. He still had the five future boxes in his arms.
Technically when Caxus had left this cavern, he had activated a future box too. The effect of it had already disappeared. Joseph now knew they degraded over time. He also knew why. Nothing could last long next to Sally’s six-year-old self. Her body had an incalculable effect on phase space even the future boxes couldn’t rip through for long.
If Joseph activated another future box now, he would essentially be wasting it. Its effects would soon be canceled out. But it would give him the advantage he so desperately needed.
Joseph was done questioning if he was a powerful psychic and why he could interact with psychic sprites. He now knew the answer.
And he now embraced the reality.
He dumped one of the future boxes by his feet, letting his fingers slide over the smooth surface as he did.
It opened, and that moment of exquisite silence spread. Then the light bled out as if he had stabbed the heart of some throbbing star.
“Joseph, what’s going on?” Forest barked.
Joseph just thrust a hand forward, his fingers straining.
He was still in a Hendari light shroud. It crackled brightly. It interacted easily with his subspace particles. As they charged over his fingers, they leaped into the shroud, blasted across it like ripples in a stream, then shot forward.
He sent a charge toward Jerry. But Jerry just punched a hand out. He was in some kind of fancy hybrid Hendari armor. It was a combination of light and some form of sophisticated metallic ablative plating. Joseph had never seen it, but he knew it was powerful enough to withstand his simple subspace attack.
Yet it couldn’t withstand what happened next. Because as the future box opened, it enabled Joseph to interact directly with matter with nothing more than his mind.
He called on his Omega side until he felt this furious power rise up within him like a plume of unstoppable fire.
Joseph’s lips spread open, and he screamed.
In a fraction of a second, he connected to the floor beneath Jerry’s feet – it would be a moment he would never forget, one that would be carved right into the center of his brain. It was like the most perfect realization in a lucid dream – the recognition the conscious mind could interact with the vision around it. But make no mistake – this was no mere vision.
Joseph roared again, and he carved out a perfectly circular chunk underneath Jerry’s feet. He sent it hurtling toward the ceiling, and Jerry was forced to lock his knees down on the undulating rock. His eyes opened wide with fear, and as he screamed, once again Joseph heard the keening cries of multiple Observers.
But their fear wouldn’t stop them from fighting back. They flattened their hands on that chunk of stone, and with a shudder as they gained control of it, it started to descend.
Joseph had to fight to grab hold of the stone again. All the while, he stared at Sally out of the corner of his eye. He hoped like hell she’d be able to break herself out.
The King was already coming through her mind. Joseph could practically feel this point opening up between her brows. It was like somebody was digging at it with a knife, removing her flesh and bones like a greedy gardener churning through unwanted weeds.
Joseph couldn’t remove the King from her head now. Only she could.
“You cannot win,” the Observers roared, their multiple voices somehow being transmitted from Jerry’s single throat.
The Observers once more gained control of the stone beneath their feet, but Joseph just spread his hand wider. He could activate the rest of the future boxes. Maybe as their master, they would give him the advantage – or maybe they had no master. The only way to win this would be to pitch his mind against the Observers and actually believe he had a chance.
As he gave in to the surge of the Omega guard’s power within him, it gave him this… sense of perspective. Though it was hard to believe, Caxus had been right. The Omega guard had fought like that back in Hendari space because he’d known that every sacrifice he made would make a difference in the future. Maybe not in his future, but in someone’s.
It was one thing to fight to win in the present. Your goal was immediate, your reward just there. You could reach for it, see it, imagine it. But when you sacrifice for something far in the future you will likely never personally experience, it is completely different.
It puts your life and your actions in the greater perspective of the rest of the universe. It makes the ego feel insignificant, and it takes a truly strong personality to fight regardless.
Joseph wanted to believe he fought for other people. But maybe he fought for the reward of seeing them saved. He wanted to experience the actual immediate joy of winning. Not a far-off one he’d never see.
Now was different.
Joseph’s mind expanded, and he found a new way to fight.
He could lose. The Observers could blast through his control. But Joseph would… keep fighting. Even if he was thrust back into the furthest reaches of his mind, even if he was broken and lost in phase space, he’d find a way to keep fighting.
He… as an Omega guard, he was different. The King would never be able to control his mind, not if he fled to phase space. It gave him hope.
Not a hope for now. A hope for later. For in the future, for centuries, for millennia.
Could he actually imagine that? Yes, because the Omega guard had already fought tirelessly for that long and longer.
The Omega guard had never backed down in all of his long years of existence.
Sally continued to spin on the spot. She started to get faster. Her hair whipped around her face so wildly, it was a surprise it didn’t cut her cheeks.
“Sally,” Joseph called out to her fruitlessly once more, but it didn’t break her out of her prison. Nothing could.
Her head tilted all the way back until he could see the long lines of her trachea pushing against her neck. Her mouth opened wide in a breathless gape as if she was a fish that had died on some dock.
But there in her eyes, he still saw a fragment of the Queen staring back.
“You’re stronger than this, Sally. Don’t fall. You can push the King out. No one else can.”
She couldn’t reply. Even if she’d been momentarily able to move her lips, she would’ve likely told Joseph he was wrong. It was over. Time to give up. No more fighting. No more anything but accepting defeat.
Sure enough, the Observers suddenly thrust both of Jerry’s hands forward. There was this joint-popping sound. It was accompanied by stones suddenly ripping out of the walls behind Joseph. They shot forward and tried to pin his arms. He shrugged them off, calling on a subspace sword momentarily to turn them into dust. But that just distracted him when he needed it least.
The Observers screamed, their righteous cry filling the cavern. It somehow managed to get control of the air. Joseph wasn’t making that up. It suddenly rushed toward him, pulling him off of his feet. He looked exactly like Sally as he was spun around.
He clenched his teeth and tried to fight, but there was nothing to hold on to, let alone anything to destroy.
He couldn’t cut through the air with his subspace blades.
Forest and her people were still there. But what the hell could they do to help him? They weren’t psychics, and the moment he’d stupidly opened that future box, believing it would help him, he’d sealed everybody’s fate, including his own.
“Joseph,” Forest screamed. Joseph was only just aware of her. His head started to fracture. He didn’t mean by that that an actual crack appeared in his skull. It was just like his psyche was pulled underneath a pounding jackhammer.
“Fool,” the Observers screamed. Their cries joined together. Whenever they reached this pitch that combined their voices into one shaking cry of terror, it did even further damage to the room. Now it ripped right through the ceiling. This massive chunk came down right above Joseph’s head.
No. He hadn’t come this far and tried this much to fall now.
“Sally,” he cried one last time. “You’re stronger than the King. I’m not talking about the Queen. I’m talking about you, Sally. This all started with you. You just have to remember what you are. Remember what you are and rise.”
With that, Joseph Lance fell, and the ceiling crushed him.