It was when he was cutting through more monsters that he heard the call. It seemed to ripple out on every single frequency, through every form of matter.
Through his heart, through his mind, through his psyche. Through everything.
It brought with it a sense of the Coalition. Pure and undiluted. Not the mistakes it made, not the things it couldn’t do. The things it would always stand for.
Despite the fact he was currently slashing at several monsters, he suddenly paused and stood tall. Even the phase monsters stopped, likely realizing a massive disruption had just shot through this realm.
Joseph stared to the side, and he was aware of the cavern. Hell, he could use his unique Omega senses to pierce further through and glimpse the rest of Faxon A, even up into the Coalition ships in orbit.
Everyone had the same moment. They stopped. They felt what it was to be the Coalition.
And they turned.
Not physically. Hell, this wasn’t even a mental thing.
They turned to the part of them that couldn’t be crushed, that couldn’t have its beliefs destroyed, no matter what was thrown at them. And they turned that toward the King.
Joseph let his subspace blade glow.
The monsters no longer attacked him.
Sally was finally doing it.
She was finally breaking through.
Unlike everybody else who was being activated by the Coalition crystal, he could appear right by her side, so he did.
He arrived right behind her.
He could only just glimpse her body. Eddies of the King’s power raged all around her.
“Sally,” he roared.
She turned over her shoulder, her hair whipping over her face. It framed her eyes.
And that just framed her will. He could try to describe the exact color of them, the exact force. It would simply be a useless distraction. The way she looked out at the world – at him – was all that counted.
As he locked his hands around her, he felt that force pulsing in her mind. She had full control of the Coalition crystal now.
“You don’t stand alone,” he hissed.
Still looking at him, her gaze never shifting once, she whispered, “You don’t stand alone, either.”
So they stood together.
The King continued to rage, finding force from somewhere. It clearly recognized this was it. It either had to blast through the Coalition’s combined attack, or it would fall.
They didn’t scream. Sally and Joseph remained perfectly quiet.
All they did was open up. On every level, throughout every part of themselves.
The Coalition wasn’t the perfect place. No place is perfect. But its guiding principles led to openness, kindness, and faith.
It might not know every secret of the universe. It might not have the intellectual power the Hendari had once possessed. But when you are thrust into the blackest night, the facts you know can’t light a path forward. You must instead walk together with whoever is at your side into the darkness.
“One last push,” Sally screamed.
Together, they accessed the power of the Coalition crystal. It wasn’t just them. It was every single person under the Coalition flag. Everyone who’d been touched by their hope and power.
Joseph thought he could see Willis and James on the Mercury. Then he saw the cadets at the Academy. Everyone, no matter their rank, no matter their position, fought equally. This was what it truly meant to fight together.
The King couldn’t withstand it.
While the hive mind technically worked together, it did so in a different way. What it stood for was control. As control slipped, its hopes and dreams degraded, the minds that made it up going next.
Sally remained exactly where she was, and it was only because of her strong stance that Joseph could hold on. With his arms wrapped around her, they did it. One last attack. One last try.
Both of them screamed, and as one, their voices arcing up high, the King finally cracked.
Joseph assumed that every single mind that made it up would just disappear. But they started to split. They were like a fracturing cloud.
But until and unless those minds were destroyed completely, they could gather back together again. Which is what happened right in front of Joseph’s eyes. He might’ve just called on the greatest power in his soul – and the Coalition might’ve done that with him – but the King simply started to regrow.
“This isn’t the end yet. We’ve broken it apart. But it won’t stop until we give each mind within another way.”
“It’s time to let go of the Queen for good.”
“Thank you for protecting her, Joseph. But I have to do this bit on my own.”
Sally momentarily clutched his hand. Then she forced herself forward into the chaotic storm of those split-apart minds.