She was certain that one of her hosts had seen caves exactly like this before. It was the specific scent – and the exact look of the dappled gray stones.
She reached out a hand, letting her fingers trace over the undulating surface. Then she turned quickly.
Joseph looked in control – but overwhelmed at the same time. She wondered if it was the same for her. Everything was happening so quickly. She still hadn’t had a chance to process the fact she wasn’t even human underneath. It would be worse for Joseph, right? He was essentially three people. He was the Omega guard, Tyler, and the spacer who they’d been spliced with. That meant there were a heckuva lot of different sources for his combined psyche to be drawn from – a heck of a lot of different histories that had to sum to make him up.
He turned hard on the spot, frowning. He’d clearly just detected something. “I don’t know where we are, but I thought I just heard the hum of ships from above. I might be making this up, but we seem to be in the heart of some kind of mountain. But the ships—”
It was her turn to tilt her head up. She narrowed her gaze and desperately attempted to grasp hold of the memories flitting past through the Queen’s consciousness. Once upon a time, she’d been able to remember every single one of her hosts – drawing upon the recollections as easily as somebody reaching toward a photo book on a shelf. Now she had to struggle, grind the equivalent of her mental teeth, and force herself forward through a cloud of mental fog.
Make no mistake, Caxus had done this to Sally. How, she wasn’t sure, but she just had to keep fighting until finally the recollections rose.
“I think we are in one of the central imperial worlds. Somewhere close to the imperial homeworld. This… it’s some kind of shipbuilding yard.”
“We’re inside a planet. Every race I’ve ever learned about has shipbuilding yards out in space. That’s where you test them in their natural environment, anyway,” Joseph spluttered. “Plus, there just isn’t the space inside a planet for that kind of technology.”
Sally knew she was right.
She turned around again, looking for a way out. But here’s the thing – there wasn’t one. They were in a closed-off cavern.
So she looked right at Joseph.
He blinked and quickly realized what she wanted. He tilted his head up. “I don’t like transporting blind. I have no idea how much rock is above us.”
“Then cut your way out.”
“If you’re about to say that you will waste subspace energy, Joseph, you have a lot more to draw on now.”
She looked right into his eyes, hoping he’d get that message, hoping he’d actually start to accept what it meant.
Joseph, despite all of his humor, his charming personality, and his capacity to reach out to other people, still kept himself small. His ego was almost like a set of restraints for his dreams. He couldn’t let them get too big – always had to remind himself of who he’d once been and everything he’d lost.
Joseph winced. With a sigh, he clutched the future box against his chest, turned, created a subspace sword, and experimentally slashed it down against a small section of the jagged stone wall. It worked, all right. It cut right through half a meter of it, the stone having nowhere to go and instead disintegrating into chunks of dust and superheated wisps of smoke.
“Right. Here goes nothing.” Spinning the sword around, he jolted upward. He started slashing at the ceiling. “We still need a plan though, Sally. If we really do encounter shipyards up there, what are we gonna do? Just blast through all resistance? I might be making this up, but I think I can detect—”
“Minds up there. You’re not making it up. There are about,” she tipped her head to the side and concentrated, “350.”
“That’s practically a small army. What are we going to do?”
“We’ll get there and see what we can do. Even if we can’t find the future box up there, we will do as much damage as we possibly can.”
She didn’t know if Joseph rejected that plan or had every intention of enacting it. He concentrated on blasting his way through the ceiling. It worked, and soon enough, he created a hole. Sally could feel the new air rushing into the small cavern. She became far more aware of the minds above, too. They were easy enough to detect, because their emotions raged out in front of them like shockwaves. Most of them were the same. Just concentrated rage. But it had an undercurrent of fear.
From her time with her Scarax host, she remembered it. It was the very nature of the Scarax Galaxy. It was completely controlled by the iron fists of the gods. Any lesser creature was essentially nothing more than a rat. Just vermin there to do the real work while the gods played amongst the stars.
She found herself unconsciously clawing her nails into her leg as she waited for Joseph to give the all-clear. He transported beside her, paused, grabbed her hand tenderly, and transported again. All the while, despite the fact her consciousness was momentarily interrupted by porting, she thought of the horror that was the Scarax Galaxy. And what was it essentially but a realm made to resemble the Hendari?
Observers had crafted the Scarax Galaxy from the beginning to make it resemble Hendari space. And the gods clutched at all scraps of Hendari technology, believing it was a gift from the divine, one there to help them solidify their power, one there to ultimately justify their cruelty.
They arrived up in a smaller cavern above. This one had infrastructure. Storage boxes and a door, to be precise.
The cases were made out of a white, bright metal.
There was no light in here, but Joseph was still pulsing with subspace energy, and a few crackles scattered over the smooth surfaces of the closest crates.
The boxes were stacked up high toward the ceiling. There was only a small path between them. Joseph strained his neck, his eyes widening as he took in the entire sight. Then, without pausing, he sliced right through the closest box. The contents spilled out in front of him.
They were weapons.
He had a chance to stare down at them, then there was the sound of the door opening. Some lock un-clicked, and she thought she could detect the energy of a powerful force field retreating. Then there was footfall, heavy, dull, ringing out like an ominous drumbeat.
“Gather the weapons. The next ship is ready to go,” a truly gravelly voice announced.
“We haven’t calculated the guns’ gravity yields yet. They could rip right through space, creating permanent holes in the space-time fabric wherever they are shot unless we are careful.”
“Irrelevant. The Milky Way will bear the scars. As long as we win, that is all that counts.” That gravelly voice sounded like dripping poison. It had this shaking, eerie quality like a growl right behind you in a deep forest.
Sally could see Joseph. It was hard not to watch the tension marching around his cheeks and fastening his lips together. Then he twisted his sword around. He blasted through yet another case, and the guns fell at his feet.
The footfall stopped. “What was that?” that gravelly voice asked haltingly.
“My scanners are not showing….” Whoever was with him trailed off quickly as no doubt his scanners warned him of the spacer and phase creature hanging out just behind the stack of boxes to their left.
Joseph didn’t wait. He twisted his sword around. He opened his hand, created several pulses, and then let them rip right into the pile of guns at his feet. Sally could tell it was an experimental attack. Though he was strong, those guns were clearly shielded. But Joseph’s power was sufficient. It ripped right through the guns, tearing them to shreds. They looked like nothing more than glowing strands of straw by the time he was done with them.
A massive, eight-foot warrior suddenly came barreling into view. He was only half wearing armor. It covered his legs but nothing else. His chest was bare. There was a circle of light at the front and a smaller one on his back. Though it had been a long time since the Queen had been here in the flesh, she understood it was the Light of the Gods.
It charged around his body, suddenly illuminating channels that were carved into his skin. The guy had a fearsome face. He had a large mouth adorned with many yellow, pointed teeth. But everything was there to focus the intensity of his gaze. His eyes only became brighter and far more dangerous as those lines of light charged up his neck, pulsed across his cheeks, then sank into his eyeballs.
The guy opened his hands wide, and a blistering charge of the Light of the Gods shot forth.
Joseph just ported out of the way.
Sally was smart enough to duck behind a crate of guns. Joseph appeared right above the guy again.
The guy’s eyes bulged wide. “Spacer?”
“No. I’m way worse than that,” Joseph growled.
While he was busy fighting off this guy, the other smaller Scarax technician was hardly idle. He scooted to the side, every jolting movement of his small body desperate. He wasn’t wearing armor – or at least not combat armor. He was in some kind of slim-fitting exoskeleton clearly there to help him lift up heavy objects. Which is exactly what he did now. He tossed two crates to the side, treating them as if they were nothing more than leaves, then grabbed the third one beneath them. His prying fingers soon sank into the white metal surface, ripping it back as if it was nothing but a sheet of crumbling pastry. Inside, there was a gun – a massive one. It looked like the grandpappy of all of the guns that were now spread at Sally’s feet. It was so big, Sally could actually hear his exoskeleton groaning as it took up most of the weight.
The guy stood there for a fraction of a second as if he was calculating some devastating set of odds. It was clear his fear soon won out. Then in a blisteringly quick moment, he crammed one of his large stick-like hands down on the base of the gun. Sally was aware as the tip lit up. It looked as if she was staring down the barrel of a new star being born.
She didn’t have time to get out of the way. Just as the blast rocketed out of the muzzle, Joseph ported in close, grabbed her by the middle, and ported out of there. Sally still saw that bolt, watched it grow right in front of her face before she disappeared.
As they ported up into the air, the shot continued on its merry way. It struck a stack of boxes, ripping through them like a bowling ball to a stack of pins.
It did more, though. It started to tear holes in the very fabric of space.
“Careful,” the larger of the Scarax guards roared, his deep voice echoing out loud. While it could punch out with the force of a heavy cruiser’s exhaust, it couldn’t change the fact that tear in space ruptured with yet more frightful force and expanded. First, it was no larger than someone’s finger. Then it became the size of an arm, then the size of a person. For now, it was only a few feet up off the floor. Then it started to jolt about, almost as if it could travel wherever it pleased.
Sally caught sight of Joseph’s face, of his fear-filled expression. There was knowledge behind the fright tearing through his eyes. “I… I don’t know what that is, but I know we have to get the hell out of here right now.”
He went to port away, but the big guard wasn’t done yet. He thrust toward Joseph. He suddenly grabbed something from the holster behind him. It looked like nothing more than a simple flat disc. That was until he sent it spinning toward Joseph. It stopped about three meters away and created a net. It was formed by these massive shivering tendrils of light. They paused – for a microsecond – then expanded and shot toward Joseph and Sally.
Joseph tried to port, but he couldn’t. Perhaps the net did something to disrupt his energy, or maybe it just made space around him sticky.
Those strands suddenly squeezed down around him and Sally, tying them both up without ever actually creating anything more than a debilitating glow.
As soon as the light sliced against Sally’s skin, she screamed, this shaking, pitching shriek that came up from her stomach, shook into her throat, and felt like it would split her organs into handy portions for a predator.
Joseph wasn’t much better off. His subspace energy might be protecting him for now, but this was a debilitating experience for him too. That was proven as he shook so badly, he could’ve turned his joints to dust. He still at least had his sword out. His fingers might’ve trembled, and chaotic blasts of subspace particles might’ve charged over his body like far-off lightning in the clouds, but as he clenched his teeth, he still managed to slice forward. The tip of his blade cut through one of those strands. Sally could tell he put his all into the move, but that didn’t matter. He only disrupted a single damn strand. And there were countless – thousands, maybe even millions. They kept replicating, too, forming this prison that was pushing harder against Sally and Joseph.
But the Scarax guards were hardly idle. That massive one took a step forward. The fact he wasn’t wearing full armor meant that Sally could see his expression, watch the fervor burning in his eyes, practically tearing down his cheeks as if they were nothing more than plaster in the way of his marching emotions. The other guard still held the gun, though fortunately he didn’t use it. One blast had been plenty. That rip in space still shivered there, moving occasionally, but thankfully not darting around the entire room. It stayed within a several-meter radius. That meant that several meters became… not meters. If that made any sense. The entire meaning of distance became irrelevant. Because space began to implode in on itself. These tiny little dark fractures appeared, almost like someone burning through a black and white photograph.
Then there was the sound of this distant moaning. It was as if it was the heart of creation and that gun had somehow ripped a hole right through to it.
The moaning did something to Joseph. He stiffened even further, despite the fact his body was already enduring a hell of an attack. He got this wild, truly flighty look in his eyes. He momentarily resembled the old Joseph – the one who constantly fought demons in his mind.
Sally was still enduring hell. Wherever those strands of light touched her, it felt as if her body was being burnt, then frozen, then burnt again in this endless treacherous march toward death.
She had to… do something.
The only thing she could do was help Joseph. This wasn’t a fight she could win with her mind. So Sally crunched forward. Even though it brought her hand closer to those strands and her skin bubbled and blistered as badly as paint attacked by a blowtorch, she grabbed Joseph’s palm, just under where he was gripping his subspace sword. Then she thrust it forward with all her might. Even if she could only cut through a few strands, it would be enough to wake Joseph up.
As she snapped some more of that net, Joseph finally jolted. The moaning was still there, and she knew he was still haunted by it, but it no longer controlled his actions.
“Dammit,” he spat. Then he put all his effort behind his subspace sword. With nothing more than a thought, its energy doubled, then tripled in intensity. She knew for a fact he could create two subspace blades, and sometimes he could combine them. But what he was doing now was far beyond that. With nothing more than his thoughts, it was as if he could feed his subspace blade with pure power. It was finally enough. It cut right through that light net.
It was to the sight of the larger guard charging with more Light of the Gods. But make no mistake, he was terrified at the fact they’d broken free. Fear marched over his cheeks, straining the skin, making it look as if it was plastic getting ready to crack. But the light around his chest and back only burnt even brighter.
Sally’s skin was charred, and it was hard as hell to see through her pain. But her eagle gaze still locked on the guy’s chest. Her skin wasn’t the only thing that was blistered now. She watched as these bubbling black scorch marks spread across the guy’s massive, muscly torso. He didn’t even flinch. It was as if he was actively offering his body as a sacrifice. He did scream, though, and the pitching cry filled the room – aside from that ever-present, undermining moaning.
The main guard used another blast of the Light of the Gods, but this time, it was clear that Joseph had no intention of sticking around. He ported right behind the guy and smashed his sword into the man’s back. Sally thought that Joseph’s blade – considering its unrivaled power now – would be able to cut right through the guy. But it couldn’t. It encountered the Light of the Gods, and the man’s growing power stopped Joseph’s blade in place.
“What?” Joseph spluttered in surprise.
The guy turned, got down to his knee, and sliced towards Joseph. Joseph was floating, and even if somebody cut his ankles out from underneath him, it wouldn’t undermine his position. But you know what could undermine him? The idiot with the gravity gun.
It was clear the other guard here wasn’t good with combat. Clear his fear was gonna get the better of him again. Sally knew what would happen just as he yanked his gun up. He aimed right at Joseph.
“Joseph,” Sally screamed. She jolted forward, reached him, and crumpled her hands around his body.
Then she did it. She slipped into his mind. At least into his power. She momentarily accessed his ability to port, and she grabbed hold of it with a desperate, shaking grip.
She got them out of there, just in time. She ported them to the furthest end of the room, and they were damn lucky she did. Because as that idiot fired the gravity gun, it did something to space. Maybe it was the fact there was already a rip in this room, and it was only getting larger. Or maybe the guy accidentally turned the gun to full power. But as that blast shot out from it and sliced into the air where Joseph had been, it created this vortex. It was one that quickly sucked in the large guard, then the small one too. They didn’t even have time to scream. They existed one moment, then didn’t the next.
And the room? That started to shake. That distant moaning became all the louder.
It shook Joseph to the core again, and he froze, sweat sliding down his brow.
So Sally just locked her arms harder around Joseph. “Sorry to have to do this again.” She concentrated.
Joseph might not like porting blindly, and she could understand why. A spacer could arrive in a wall, and it wouldn’t really matter. But if they arrived inside a person, they could kill them.
Yet Sally could detect the minds above. Her senses were becoming sharper, regardless of the fact she was now very injured. She used her psychic field like a scanner, a terribly effective one. She grabbed hold of Joseph’s ability to port, and she took them right out of this crumpling room and right up into the shipbuilding yard above.
They blinked into existence high in the air.
She was already aware of all of the people in the room before both she and Joseph appeared and everything became silent.
She had a fraction of a second to appreciate the scene, and what a majestic one it was. There were massive ships in this cavern. And the room itself looked as if it was the size of a city. These light pillars connected to the roof above, holding it in place. Everything shimmered with this glossy, almost wet effect. It took her a while to realize it was further structural shielding. For this cavern would need everything it could get to ensure the ceiling didn’t fall down. Not only was it massive, but equally huge ships were being crafted in here. In that fraction of a second as Sally stared around, she watched maintenance crews tirelessly working on the vessels’ exteriors. They all possessed hover packs, and they rose up and down, looking like flocks of birds as they welded panels to the outer hulls.
But work stopped as Sally and Joseph appeared. An alarm split the air. Shaking, piercing – the kind of pitch designed to stop everyone in place and get them to pay attention.
That fraction of a second passed, and someone picked up a gun. The firing started.
Sally didn’t know if it was the fact she’d gotten Joseph out of that room, or if his senses were finally realigning, but he gasped.
Locking one hand on her shoulder, he transported of his own volition. They headed further into the shipbuilding yard, behind one of the huge hulls of those vessels.
But that didn’t save them. There were enough people here that other crews spied them. The shots continued.
“We need to—” Sally began, about to tell him they had to get out of here.
But clearly Joseph had other ideas. “Do as much damage as we possibly can.”
Sally suddenly yanked her head down. She knew exactly where they’d come from. Her sense of distance was unrivaled. But she didn’t just need to use that faculty. She could connect to the minds around her, knowing where they were and what the blueprint of this area was. So she knew precisely where that storage room had been. It was directly under their feet. More importantly, it was directly under the feet of one of the largest cruisers in the middle of the room.
“We don’t have to bother, Joseph. Those spatial rifts are going to do it for us. They are already undermining the floor. Look.” She pointed down just as a blistering blast of light sliced past her and Joseph and he created a subspace field to protect them both.
Joseph yanked his head down and watched as these fissure lines started to appear in the floor. They were innocuous at first, almost looking like nothing more than a leak from a tap. But as they grew, the dust didn’t just fall down through the cracks. It stopped existing.
Suddenly the alarm changed pitch. It was far, far more insistent.
“An anomaly has appeared below the shipbuilding yard,” a computerized voice echoed out. Sally understood fully. After all, one of the Queen’s hosts had been from the Scarax Galaxy.
Either Joseph understood too, or he bypassed the voice and used his eyes.
That crack continued to grow.
“We need to get out of here,” Sally spluttered.
Joseph went to port again, but he froze. “The future box. There’s one around here.” He twisted in the air. Despite the fact a full-blown spatial anomaly was appearing in this room, crews were still firing at Joseph and Sally as if they were worse.
Joseph still had his subspace shield. It crackled and held for now. But every single blast it took was one that it wouldn’t be able to take later. Joseph still wasted time, his eyes wide as he clearly searched for a future box.
“There. It’s inside that ship.” He pointed to the largest ship in the room. The one that just so happened to be right above the spatial anomaly.
Sally knew how these things worked. Spatial anomalies started off small. But they could grow, unpredictably and suddenly. You could have a single crack in space that abruptly expanded to be the size of an entire planet. If Joseph was suggesting they go into the ship to find the future box, Sally simply didn’t think they had the time.
But she also understood how important this was.
“God,” she muttered just as Joseph threw himself toward an open section of hull.
One of the maintenance crews tried to get in his way, but Joseph just created a subspace blade and cut right through the guy’s gun. The muzzle crackled and burst into sparks that flew down the side of the ship, illuminating the other holes in the hull. Then they struck the floor. And they just ceased to exist. They were swallowed up by that growing dark crack in existence.
“Joseph, we don’t have that much time,” Sally screamed with shaking certainty.
“Then let’s take every single second we have,” he stammered back.
They burst into the ship.
It was quite a sight.
Suffice to say, things had moved on since the time of the Queen’s last host. And yet, they hadn’t moved on that much. It was true the Scarax Galaxy had fearsome technology. Almost all of it was based on the Hendari, though. And almost none of it was understood. The Scarax Galaxy simply didn’t have the technical sophistication to be able to comprehend what they were wielding.
That meant that enough was familiar for Sally to realize where they were. “We are just in a maintenance corridor. Important things will be held at the rear of the ship.”
“Won’t they be in the center?”
“No, in the rear, roughly toward the middle. I—” she went to explain it, then realized she didn’t need to.
She gripped Joseph’s hand, ready to control his porting function again, but she froze. A specter rose in her mind, one that told her this was Joseph’s body, and she had no right to momentarily control it, regardless of the situation. She wasn’t someone like Master Deus, and God knows she wasn’t somebody like Caxus.
“It’s okay, Sally. My power is your power. Take us to where we need to be,” he said with a throaty rasp.
She nodded momentarily. Then she grabbed hold of his energy and used it.
She kept in her head the knowledge from her previous host.
Most Scarax imperial cruisers had the same general layout. Not because it was the most efficient. Because it was tradition. Truly important assets were held at the back within the middle of the ship. It was believed to be the equivalent of the base of somebody’s spine. And when the Light of the Gods permanently inhabited a host, the root of the infection was usually there.
She transported them, and it was a heck of an ask. She had to simultaneously be aware of every single mind in the ship, even as they came and went.
Maybe the tech crews somehow knew what Sally and Joseph were after. Or maybe they were removing the most important things from these ships in a last-ditch effort to save them from the growing rift beneath them.
Blasts of gunfire kept slicing through the corridors. One came so near to them, it took off a half soldered metal plate that broke around Joseph. It didn’t even touch his shoulders – there was that much energy pulsing off him. His subspace particles rippled across it. His eyes widened.
She could tell something was up. “Joseph, what is it?” she stammered.
“That rift is growing. We’ve got seconds now.”
She didn’t want to believe anyone would be able to accurately predict the time left when the very ground you stood on top of was seething with a growing spatial anomaly. But if anyone could do it, it was Joseph.
He re-gripped her hand.
Sally focused on everything she knew and finally ported them directly to where they needed to be.
She was right, and the most important armory was roughly in the middle-back of the ship.
It was quite a sight. It was far larger than those Sally was used to.
It was very clear it had been custom-built to gather the greatest weapons the Scarax Galaxy had to take them on their revenge mission to the Milky Way.
For a fraction of a second – because that’s all she had – Sally stared agape at everything below her. Gleaming silver-white cargo boxes were stacked up neatly at the sides of the room. Not everything was contained in cases, though. Some things were suspended in shimmering blue and yellow fields that sent light playing all over the floor and up to the ceiling high, high above.
Sally didn’t know if it was something to do with the nature of the cargo being kept here or if it was just grand architecture to underline how important everything was, but the ceiling was so high, even her panting breath echoed out like drumbeats. As it punched from her chest, she turned around quickly, trying to figure out where the future box could be. She wasn’t the one who was ultimately connected to them.
Joseph spent a single second shuddering there, his eyes tightly pressed shut until the skin around them looked as stretched as plastic wrap. Then he shot forward. He let go of her hand, though he was close enough that, with nothing more than a thought, he could come back and they could port away again.
They had seconds. Sally could feel it now. She didn’t know if it was because as a creature of the phase she was also connected to spatial anomalies at their heart, or if this was just very good guesswork, but she could bet the spatial anomaly had just reached the base of the ship. While it might take a while to get to where they were, it didn’t need to reach them directly. They were hardly standing out on open ground right now. You couldn’t have the entire lower section of the vessel undermined and just hope that every other level would be okay. Sure enough, these keening crying alarms split the air, the likes of which she’d never heard. They were the most insistent this ship would have. Because what other threat could be as serious? Right now, the lower sections of this vessel would be warped and mutilated as they were sucked further into the growing anomaly.
“There,” Joseph said, the words punching out of his constricted, tight throat. He transported to the edge of the room. There was an innocuous silver case. Yet, if Sally had been paying attention, she would’ve noted that while all of the other silver cases were stacked neatly at the edges of the room, this one sat on its own. It also had a certain kind of presence about it. If you stripped back the simplicity of its casing, it felt as if you stood right in the middle of the road of history.
Joseph didn’t waste any time. Opening his hand wide, he grabbed a subspace sword and shot forward. As his gaze focused like a laser, he cut right through the case. The metal melted, pooling into a neat pile over the glimmering floor. It started to erode it in patches. It wasn’t like much could hold on to its initial state when it was attacked by a true subspace blade.
Though the outside case lost its integrity, spinning within was a still-functioning orange force field. It protected the future box that remained perfectly stationary inside it as if it was naught but a photo in an album. Though Sally could only catch a glimpse of it from here, she got the impression it was a strong shield. Maybe even one Joseph wouldn’t be able to cut through with ease. And trust her, he needed ease right now. That keening cry somehow managed to ratchet up yet another pitch. It felt as if it was going to melt Sally’s brain. She clutched one hand over her ear and whispered to herself, “Hurry.”
Joseph went as fast as he could, all right. He smashed his sword into the shield. It spun once to the left then to the right.
But his blade didn’t penetrate it.
“Come on,” he roared, his breath a throaty growl.
He did it again, ramming the sword down, but once more the shield withstood.
They didn’t have any more time. Sally’s growing awareness of the spatial anomaly told her it was soon going to take over key areas of the ship. If it undermined enough structural integrity, then the whole vessel would simply crumple as easily as an empty cockroach carapace crushed by a boot.
Sally didn’t really know what she was doing. She just went with the growing desperation fluttering through her heart like a wild bird desperately trying to fly one last time. She shot toward Joseph, skidding in close and grabbing his arm just as he slashed at the shield again.
This was a long shot. A stupid one, too. But when Sally had connected to Joseph’s energetic system and allowed them both to port, she’d felt other realms of power within him. Realms that maybe he was aware of some of the time, but not most of the time. Joseph would be a lot like her. Yeah, during an ordinary fight, they were fine. Because they were only asked to draw on normal amounts of power. But when it came to extraordinary feats, their opaque, tortured psyches often hid the true realms of their force.
Now Sally used what little hope she had to try to pierce through the veils of Joseph’s consciousness. She searched for that last scrap of his ultimate power. She hoped this wasn’t equivalent to Master Deus scrounging through his energetic system like a voracious miner looking for every last scrap of gold in an already empty mine. As she tried to scan through his mind, she hoped it was a gentle, freeing experience and not like fresh chains around his throat.
She knew this was the very last chance they’d get.
Joseph fortunately didn’t shrug her off. But he brought his sword up in one terrified last twitch and went to slash it down, sweat glistening on his brow and splashing into his wide, impossibly focused eyes.
Sally finally connected to him. She wouldn’t say she managed to carve a path right down to his soul. For a man as complicated as Joseph, with as many intertwining histories, you would never simply be able to open one path down to who he truly was. Because he was, at heart, too many different people. She did connect to something pulsing right there in the middle of Joseph’s psyche, though, and she fed it her power.
It was just enough just soon enough.
In a moment she’d never forget, the warning alarms hit this truly unique pitch then just stopped. It was as if somebody ran at full pelt only to have their legs cut out from underneath them at the last hurdle.
She hadn’t connected to the spatial anomaly for a few seconds. Which was a mistake. Because in those few seconds, it had swallowed the first two decks of the ship. It had also reached life-support. You might not think that was much of an issue. It wasn’t like a spacer required oxygen and a stable temperature to live. But other things occurred to ships when life-support went down. Specifically, the crew who’d be desperately trying to save this vessel would cease to be effective.
It would probably take a few more microseconds before this armory they were in was either swallowed up by the anomaly, or crushed under its own weight.
But as Joseph’s sword slashed down into the box, it finally happened. In a blast of almost unholy light as Sally helped Joseph reach the depths of his power, he smashed right through that spinning orange force field. The sound of it as it cracked was almost unimaginable. There was nothing Sally had ever heard that was remotely like it. Glass? Too simple. Cracking bones? Didn’t have the same poignancy. It was almost… like someone had taken a sheet of reality, the thin film of veneer that most aware creatures looked through – then they had shattered it with the force of a thousand explosions.
Joseph wasn’t blasted back. But that was only because he brought his hand up, created a black flickering shield, and hid behind it. Power arced out around him, smashing into some of the boxes that were stacked to his sides and tearing them down as easily as a wolf ripping through a flower.
Finally he got to the future box. It was just in time. He grabbed it up and turned around.
Sally might have helped Joseph access the depths of his power, but she watched as his desperation helped him access more. As he grabbed her close, locking his arms around her as if he’d never let go, she felt something shattering in his chest, something blasting up through his limbs and shaking through his every muscle.
Technically, as an Omega guard, Joseph should be able to access phase space whenever he wanted to. It would be the same as an ordinary person opening a door to their bedroom. But neither of them had their true memories yet. That didn’t matter to Joseph right now. She felt as phase space opened for him as easily as curtains fluttering back in front of a violent wind.
“Just hold on,” he spluttered in her ear. It was just as the floor below them started to seethe.
Sally was aware of it as Joseph grabbed her up and floated in the air, a phase gate opening all around him.
She was taken in by the sight of the armory falling into that spatial anomaly. It was there one second, then it was almost as if it forgot to exist the next. The floor disappeared. Then the boxes followed suit. All of it was just erased like a painting pulling off its color and form to return itself to a blank, boring canvas.
“Here we go,” Joseph screamed.
And there they went. The gate opened around them fully, and they were pulled in.
Sally couldn’t concentrate. She hoped like hell Joseph was focusing instead. Her mind was pulled sideways, pulled and pushed, opened and closed almost as if she was dough being kneaded by a frantic baker. Though she’d already traveled into phase space, this was worse. Blame it on the fact she was already pulsing with fear, but she felt the gate more like it was hands, and more like those hands wanted to rip her apart to find what was within.
Maybe they were a little like the mind. Sometimes it felt like an unstoppable predator. When it came across something it didn’t understand, it ripped it apart, breaking it down to its constituent parts until it finally figured out how everything worked. And if it liked what it found, it groped for more.
If Sally were broken down right now, she would never remake herself again. Breaking in the real world was one thing. But on the edge of reality, she would never be able to crawl back to normality.
She let out a throaty scream.
If she’d been paying attention, she would’ve realized the trip through phase space was different this time. It was much longer and far more circuitous. Black energy waves still broke around them, but they fluctuated in and out, becoming seriously powerful only to dim again.
Joseph’s grip on her hand was complete, until all of a sudden it wasn’t. His fingers started to slip backward. She shoved close, trying to grab them harder, but he wasn’t technically leaving her alone. It was almost like… he was ceasing to exist.
“Joseph,” she screamed. She clutched at him again, but there was nothing there. The image of Joseph was starting to twist sideways.
Sally shoved a hand out as hard as she possibly could until her shoulder shook and convulsed. “Joseph,” she screamed once more. But the feel of his fingers disappeared, and the image of him was erased by those swirling eddies of black force.
Sally was alone. When she’d found Joseph, she’d known this moment would come. She might’ve connected to him for a time, but at the end of the day, Sally Winters traveled on her own.