This was…too much information. She felt like she was cracking up on the inside, like heronce great psyche was finally turning to dust. Then Joseph held her, and theworld stopped spinning. Only for a few seconds.
“It’s—”he trailed off. No, technically he stopped, but Sally didn’t pay any attentionto it. He was still holding onto her, his arms still around her back, hisfingers locked safely and securely against her shoulders. Until safe and securestarted to become a little too hard.
Hetwitched. Just once. It might have simply been passing muscular tension. Sheknew more. Her eyes widened, and she tried to pull away, but she couldn’t.
He lockedhis arms around her harder. And one by one, he opened his eyes. She saw Caxus’smalice glimmering behind his gaze like drawn swords.
Sheattempted to shove him back with all her might, but he wouldn’t let her.
“How…Joseph?” she screamed.
“The boy’sgone. He opened himself up too much. He became too damn weak. He’s dead,” Caxusspat.
Sallycould’ve given in to that obvious lie. Joseph had survived Caxus once, so hemust’ve survived again.
But hewasn’t in control of his body right now, and that’s all that mattered.
Caxusfinally let her go. It was just as she shoved with all her might. It meant shefell hard on the floor. A rattling shake pushed up into her coccyx then throughher hips.
Shesimply gritted her teeth, then turned. Where exactly was she going to run to,though? She stopped, shivering on the spot.
Hechuckled. “That’s right. You just figured it out, didn’t you? There’s nowhereyou can possibly go, Queen. You are trapped.”
Thefuture box was just there.
Whatwould happen if she activated it? She knew from experience that it would breakdown the bridge between this realm and the next. She wasn’t so sure if shecould believe Jerry – that it would somehow allow her access to the purequantum realm of consciousness. She didn’t even know what that meant. But shecouldn’t pull her gaze off the glimmering box.
She hadher back to him. By the sounds of it, he was busy staring down at Jerry.
She couldfeel his anger.
It wasclear he wanted to rip through Jerry’s medical stasis field and end it. But hedidn’t. For it was also abundantly clear he needed the Observer.
“Be agood girl. Just stand there until I need you,” he hissed at her.
She stoodthere, but her gaze was still locked on the future box. If she activated it…would she be able to use her newfound telekinetic powers to defeat him? Maybe,but she wouldn’t be able to win. But the least she could do was damage the shipand slow him down.
She edgedtoward it.
“Staythere, or you will be dragged back into the pillar of light where you belong.Just wait until I’m ready.”
“Readyfor what? Ready to inhabit me as your host?”
“Youheard the truth. How unfortunate. I would’ve preferred you not to know untilthe very end. There is something delicious about keeping the Queen ignorant,isn’t there? Something you did to all of your other hosts for so damn long,” hehissed.
Italmost… sounded as if he had experience with her.
Sallyunderstood they must’ve known each other. But this sounded like they had a fargreater connection than mere acquaintances.
Shewouldn’t let that tear her attention off the box. It was just there. She knewexactly how to open it. You didn’t just touch it – you had to reach out to itwith your mind.
Caxuscontinued to fuss over Jerry. And by fuss, Sally meant hold himself back fromkilling him.
Herounded his hands into fists. She could hear the skin practically popping fromhere. As for his subspace energy, it crackled over his knuckles, darted downhis feet, and sank into the floor.
He couldburn the metal plating easily. But Jerry wouldn’t be able to take anothersingle attack.
SomethingCaxus finally figured out. He turned. “Enter the pillar of light. You can walkthere on your own, or you can be dragged there.”
“I chooseto be dragged,” she said in a haughty voice.
“Youalways choose the hard path, don’t you? Or do you think that I can’t do it?”
“Perhapsyou can’t do it. Why is it that your mind – which is meant to be so great – can’teven take over the simple body of a spacer?”
That gotto him. He growled, all right. It sounded like he’d trapped every single bearin existence down his gullet. “You have no right to comment. You’ve spent allthis time believing you are so strong, Layra,” he hissed. “In reality, you arenothing more than a weak parasite who refuses to die.”
“Fine, I’ma weak parasite who refuses to die. That doesn’t change the fact you are not asstrong as you think you are. If you do not have the psychic ability to overcomea spacer’s mind, then do you really think when you come into this host body,you will have a chance against me?” It wasn’t just Sally speaking now. It wasthe Queen and every mind within her. She let the force rise up and filterthrough every word.
But itdidn’t have the desired effect. Caxus just chuckled coldly. Was there fearthere? Not at all. There was the strength of somebody who knew nothing couldstop them. “You have no clue, Layra. And you won’t have a clue until the end.”
She hatedhis note of control. Though she wanted to pretend this was just bluster and hewas attempting to undermine her, he was usually see-through.
But nowthere was nothing to see.
He knewhe was right.
He took astep toward her.
Sallycouldn’t take it anymore. She wouldn’t be dragged back into the pillar. So she acted.She shot forward.
He portedbeside her, but he was a fraction of a second too late. She reached out to thebox with her mind just as she reached out with her hands. Her fingers slippedacross it. It started to open. In an exact replay of what’d happened back downon Faxon A, there was an unholy pause for a few seconds. Silence spread out.Then? The bridge came down.
Caxusreached her. He wrenched her back.
He couldn’tthrow her into the pillar of light yet.
Thebridge to the quantum realm started to break.
She feltthis shudder pass through him. She didn’t know what it was, but Caxus’s mindmomentarily felt weak. It was like he was becoming thin for a fraction of asecond.
She drewon all of her combat training, elbowed him in the chest, and shoved forward. Itactually worked. He was thrown back.
Shereached the box. There was no point getting closer to it. She’d already openedit. And it was already having its incredible effects on space.
Everythingstarted to change around her. That wasn’t to say the bridge demonstrablyaltered. It was to say the feel of it became almost alien. It was like therealm she’d been inhabiting for most of her life was swept away and she wasgiven a glimpse of something far more basic to reality.
She feltthe effects on her mind.
Forstrong psychics like the Queen, the mind was her home, her fortress, and herhope.
Now allof those came alive.
Caxusrocketed back up to his feet. He called on a subspace blade.
His angerwas too great. He might accidentally cut through Sally without realizing it.
She didn’tback down. Instead, she turned around. She opened her hand wide.
Thetelekinetic objects had fallen from her long ago. She had remembered thelessons of wielding them, and she called on them now.
When she’ddesperately run through the caverns down on Faxon A, it had been like learningto play with fire.
And nowshe wielded every flame.
Withnothing more than her mind, she picked Caxus up and sent him shooting towardthe wall. Before he could smash into it, he spread his arms, and he ported. Heappeared right behind her.
She wasready for him, and she fell down to her knees and rolled. She spread a handagain, capturing him with her mind just before he could call on anothersubspace blade. She had a moment where he was paused right above her and shewas on her back, staring up into his face. His leering expression was closeenough that if it’d been carved out of fire, it would’ve burnt her and meltedthe floor.
“You can’twin against me. Not in this realm. Not when you’re so weak, Layra.” With thatsatisfied snarl, he let go of his sword and just pulsed a hand wide in front ofher face.
That’swhen something gripped her, a force unseen but one unstoppable.
Itrocketed into her back, spread through every muscle, and made her spine arch.It felt like she was gonna spit her lungs out. Her lips spread, almost flappingover her teeth as if she’d shoved her face in a wind tunnel.
Hecontinued to sneer until it soon turned into this whooping, satisfied laugh.
Her backarched further. She couldn’t… she couldn’t put up with the pain.
She kepther own hand spread, and she pumped all of her energy into it. She just had to…buy herself one last chance.
“There’sno way for you to fight me. You don’t have my power.”
“I… amthe Queen. I’m the strongest—”
“Psychicin the universe? Your people were nothing but psychic children before you metmy race. And you will return to being weak children when we’re done with you.”
“TheHendari… were the most powerful mental race out there,” she spat, actuallychanneling a memory from her childhood. There was a touch of pride in hervoice, even though there shouldn’t be. Dammit, she’d been spending her entirelife trying to wipe away the poisonous legacy of her people. Now she wasattempting to hide behind it?
He justlaughed in her face, the move brutal, his lips snapping wide and spittle flyingover her cheeks.
A bit ofit landed, but the rest of it was suspended in her power. She’d never spreadher fingers wider. It felt like the knuckles would be pulverized.
“Give in,Queen. You are ultimately nothing more than a gate.”
“You arethe perfect psychic gate to open up the mental realm. You are a tool, a drill –but one that must be wielded by a greater master.”
“You’re…going to be that master, are you?” She had to struggle with every second tokeep him suspended there, 30 centimeters above her, his leering face like agrowing storm. She didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to force her mindinto the task. It was taking more psychic energy than she’d ever used in therest of her life combined.
She didit. One second after another.
But assoon as he snapped through her control, it would be over.
For justa glimmer, she saw the fear in his eyes. Was Joseph there behind it, ready tosnatch his body back?
“That’sit. Think the things that make you weak,” he growled.
Josephdidn’t make her weak. He made her strong. But the thought still got to her. Orat least opened her up. And that’s precisely what Caxus was waiting for. With awretched scream that could have broken any mind in close proximity, he finallyovercame her telekinetic grip on him. He fell right against her, head-buttedher, then rolled off. By the time he crouched low beside her, he was in controlof her body. She floated up, as weak and incapable as a marionette on strings.
The onlything she could control was her head. As blood slicked her brow, trailed overher lips, and splashed over her chin, she stared at him through her ferociousgaze. “It doesn’t… matter. I will still continue to fight you. I will win oneday.”
“It doesn’tmatter if you win once, Queen. You must continue to win. One’s mind must nevershow any weakness. For the second they do is the second they are controlled.”
In areplay of what he’d done to her down in the cavern, he started to send herscooting through the room. She was shunted over to the wall. But he didn’t lether smash into it. Instead, he enjoyed throwing her around like a carcass beingtorn apart by vultures.
She didn’tscream once.
As shewas thrust this way and that, her hair tumbling around her face and bloodcontinuing to splatter from her lips and the gash in her head, she trieddesperately to regain her telekinetic control. She couldn’t. Caxus was in now.
He letout another rumbling laugh. It was so unstable, she quickly went back torealizing that while it was Joseph’s body, that was nothing more than atechnicality. With Caxus in it, it was like he was a different person entirely.But Joseph… he still had to be there, right?
“That’sit,” Caxus chortled darkly, “let me in further. You know, every single time youthink of him, I am aware.”
“You… can’tread my mind,” she spluttered, more blood oozing out of her lips andsplattering down her already torn collar.
“You’reright. The actual contents of your mind remain hidden from me. But that is anirrelevant fact. When you think of him, you open up. And that is a dangerousthing for a psychic, isn’t it, Queen? That is precisely what you taught mebefore you infected me,” he spat.
Twolittle words. Two little words that made absolutely no sense. Infected me? No.While the Queen couldn’t remember several hundred years of her existence, sheknew every single host she’d ever inhabited. Because they were in her, theirmemories there to bolster her every moment.
She hadnever and would never inhabit somebody as baseless and cruel as Caxus. Yet ashe said that, something… almost rose.
“Youstill can’t remember, can you? You’re blocking yourself off from it because youdon’t want to believe the monster that you are. But you infected me, Queen. Youtook over my mind like a parasite takes over its host. And now you think youhave the right to fight me? Worse, you think you have the power? You taught mewhat it is to take somebody over. You taught me what it is to weaken them,thought by thought, memory by memory, then overtake them with all of the easeof a cruiser speeding toward a snail.”
On theword speeding, Sally shot toward the pillar of light. No more playing around.She was pushed into it.
As soonas she entered it, it clasped hold of her again. It wasn’t a violent move, wasin no way greedy. But it was desperate. It was as if the ship knew what wasgoing on, but it couldn’t do anything. It could at least hold her in this pillarof light in an attempt to keep her safe. But nothing could prevent Caxus fromsinking his control further into her body. Her arms opened wider, her headtilted back, and her mouth parted as if her lips were going to swallow theship.
“You madethe mistake of infecting me all those years ago, Queen. In doing so, you let mesee the light. So now, I’m going to let you see it too.”
Withthat, Sally screamed. For, with that, Caxus pushed into her mind. His controlwas complete, his grip one that could encircle the entire galaxy.
As herhead tilted back even further, she heard something snap in her neck. She feltsomething correspondingly break in her psyche.
Her mindwas his, her body now an afterthought.
Caxus wasready to rise once more.