He managed to do it, actually managed to pull the King into phase space. It was one of the most horrendous moments he imagined anyone anywhere had ever experienced. Maybe that was hubris talking. Whenever people faced trauma, they tended to think it was worse than anything anyone had ever faced before. But Joseph was certain of this fact. For the King still assailed him with every single terrible vision it could.
Joseph somehow moved. He didn’t think about how hard it was to enter phase space this time. It came naturally. Maybe it was because of his fear, or because he was finally aligning to the Omega guard. Or hell, perhaps the universe was simply smiling upon him. But smiling wouldn’t last. Luck never could.
He pulled himself right into the middle of phase space. There were probably a few levels that were higher than this and a few that were below. It meant the images of the broken Hendari world beneath him could no longer affect his mind as easily. He wasn’t drawn in by the impossible view of the stars and what it meant about Hendari ambition. The only thing that mattered was that the King still had a hold of Joseph’s ankle.
He tried to yank it back, but the infection simply wrapped around him harder. It appeared as this great crackling black wave. It kept trying to seep into his skin. Somehow, his combined energy was keeping it at bay. For now. His defenses would crack. He was certain of that. Just as the King was. As it writhed there and attempted to shove in harder, he could tell it was simply biding its time. For there was clearly nothing – not a damn thing – that could ultimately stop it now it was all but open.
Joseph let out a roar. He uselessly created a subspace blade and went to slash it against the King, but blistering energy just rose up to meet his attack. It rushed around the blade, holding it in place. Then it yanked it right out of his hand. For a moment, Joseph forgot he created those blades with his own energy. He was almost like a soldier who’d just been deprived of his last means of attack. He screamed. But then the King climbed higher. It reached Joseph’s knee. Those debilitating flashes of violent visions only got worse. They hammered him from all sides. He would challenge even the greatest mind to withstand them. Hell, he doubted the King could. It might be able to dish this out, but it sure as heck couldn’t receive it.
The Hendari minds that made it up were weak, regardless of the fact they thought they were the epitome of strength.
They had sought total control. The only kinds of people who do that are those who simply can’t put up with uncertainty.
If Joseph had bothered following that thought through to its root, he would’ve realized it gave him an opportunity. He couldn’t think now. All he could do was kick and scramble madly. He created another subspace blade, but he couldn’t find the chance to slam it back down against the King. Another blast of force reached up, yanked it back, and extinguished it as easily as someone throwing a cigarette butt into the vacuum of space.
It now reached the top of his thigh.
There would soon come a time – in a second or two – when Joseph would have to stop fighting. His resistance would be ripped right out of him like someone grabbing hold of his organs with a transporter beam and yanking them right out of his torso.
He screamed once more. The King rose higher.
It reached his stomach.
Joseph could feel himself sinking. The King started to pull him out of phase space. No. The King could… it could kill Joseph, but it couldn’t remove itself from this realm. Everything was riding on this. Sally needed the King here. So did everybody else. As soon as the King came back into the real world, he would just expand and attack every psyche out there.
“Come on,” Joseph hissed, likely the last words he’d ever be able to say as his jaw froze and his lips turned to ice. “Please.” He shoved a hand up. He didn’t know what he was reaching for. There was nothing above him. His fingers still stretched, his wrist shaking with the effort.
He began to drop. He descended right through the lower realms of phase space until he could glimpse the Hendari homeworld beneath him.
It would all be over. He—
Out of nowhere, like a flare on the darkest of nights, he heard Sally’s voice. It managed to punch through his dread more effectively than someone shooting through a paper screen.
It held him to the spot, threw back the King’s force for a moment, and made him believe in nothing more and nothing less than pure hope.
“Sally,” he screamed.
Her words came at him in waves. They weren’t this one continuous message as was usual with ordinary vocal communication. He picked it up, word by word, but they were scattered around like a broken puzzle. He gathered them together and clutched at their meaning. She was heading back to Faxon A. He had to go there too.
Could he… drag the King with him?
Could he even… scrounge the impossible force required to move?
He was dragged back down through another level of phase space. The King was relentless. The way it moved made Joseph feel as if he was at the foot of some great god and he was nothing more than a puny human dying at its feet.
He struggled. He shoved that hand up higher. He pushed his fingers out. There was precious little to grasp in phase space. Trust him, there were no handy ladders here. That was until he realized he didn’t need rungs to climb. He didn’t need someone else’s hand to shove out of the nothingness, grab him, and pull him up. He just needed a mind that could do the same.
Joseph Lance let out a scream. It didn’t sound out loud – didn’t shake too far from his frozen lips. It meant something to him, for it finally threw away his fears.
He shoved that hand out harder now, the fingers rising higher like unstoppable trees reaching for the sun. He not only put his physical might behind it – he used his considerable mind like a sword to divide everything that dared get in his way.
He didn’t just rely on his Omega side. Didn’t even just rely on Tyler. Joseph himself, despite the inherent weaknesses of a spacer, had learned how to fight with his mind, perhaps better than anyone else.
He found something to grasp hold of. Because he created it. He forced his thoughts to become a ladder just a level above him, and he clutched hold of them with every concept of might he had. Then he climbed.
The King was still seething around the lower half of his body. Trust Joseph – it hadn’t stopped. And now as Joseph started to pull them resolutely higher into phase space, the King only tried harder to drag him down. But with his teeth clenched and blood sliding down from one of Joseph’s numerous wounds, he finally did it.
He pulled them back to the same level they’d originally ascended to.
The King wasn’t idle. He kept screaming and sending blasts of force against Joseph. None of them counted.
For they couldn’t until Joseph yielded again.
He clutched Sally’s words against his chest as if they were a proxy to embrace her.
Faxon A. He had to… he had to drag the King back there.
Joseph hadn’t suddenly turned into some kind of heavy cruiser. He didn’t even have a crew behind him. But he could… he could do this. Focus, he thought to himself. Focus and let nothing get in his way.
He drew up a memory of Faxon A. It was soon bombarded by thoughts sent by the King. The King knew exactly what Joseph would do and intended to stop him. But Joseph just made his focus count. He made it harder than the King’s, faster, brighter, hotter. He put every single imaginative faculty he had behind it until his mere attention could travel through the stars like the most powerful vessel there ever was.
With a roar ripping out of his throat and going nowhere and everywhere at once, he finally focused on Faxon A until he created a gate.
Did he hear screams? Phase monsters and other creatures that’d been infecting this realm for eternity? Yes. They surrounded him, in fact. He could hear them porting through from various regions of phase space. They would be attracted by the King’s power, by the impossible ripple he’d sent out through this realm.
They just made it even harder to win.
But there was hard and there was impossible, and over the past several days, Joseph Lance had taught himself one very important fact. There was a way to do every single thing in this universe. You just had to believe.