They’d arrived. The fleet was all around them. The Mercury was still in orbit. It wasn’t alone. Somehow they’d managed to get a part of the Coalition fleet to Faxon A in time.
The space battle raged.
Sally could still feel it – every single shake of the ship as if her own knees were trembling underneath her. Fortunately her vessel was strong enough that it couldn’t even be scratched. The Coalition fleet stopped focusing on it – it was a useless waste of torpedoes. But if her vessel were to be damaged, what exactly would it feel like? Somebody taking a knife to Sally’s stomach or face or back? She couldn’t put up with any more pain.
But pain, unfortunately, was the point.
And no matter what she felt, it was nothing on what was happening to Jerry.
His body… he had to be dead. The Observers were simply sustaining him with their violent will.
She could see it burning in their eyes. It looked violent enough to be able to tear through all matter. There was no way for her to resist. Even the strongest psyche in all of existence wouldn’t have a chance. She’d already learned that the Queen, despite her fearsome power, had lost that title long ago.
The Observers didn’t bother to speak to her anymore. They’d said their piece. The future was clear. They would assist in the destruction of the Milky Way. Then she would be taken back to the King. Then all would fall.
You would think, to achieve that, the most important thing they had to do was secure the Hendari crystals aboard the Mercury, but the Mercury wasn’t their first priority. With her connection maintained to this ship, she was aware of the fact the Hendari vessel stopped in orbit above Faxon A. A strong contingent of imperial ships surrounded it, protecting it like a queen bee.
She swiveled one eye open and locked it on Jerry. She saw the skin around his bloodshot eyes straining to the point of snapping. It looked like skin that’d been stretched by a rack. She swore she saw several cracks slice across it. But did he stop? You would think he would yank up a hand and touch the beading blood sliding down his temple, wouldn’t you? He didn’t move at all, his body remaining as stiff as an ancient tree.
What the hell was on Faxon A that could be more important than the Mercury’s crystals?
Yes, the Mercury was protected by the rest of the fleet, but you would think the Observers would concentrate their physical force on the crystals to secure their ultimate advantage. Unless, of course, the crystals weren’t aboard the Mercury anymore.
Sally usually maintained a perfect connection to them, regardless of where she was. But that connection had fallen long ago. Either it was the fact she’d had too many disruptive psyches tearing through her mind, or the crystals had finally abandoned her. Perhaps they’d recognized her inherent weakness and no longer wished to be wielded by such a fragile hand.
Even if the crystals were down on Faxon A somehow, Sally just knew they weren’t what the Observers wanted.
In a moment of weakness or pure glee, Gan finally revealed their plan. “Not long now. The final gate will appear above the child. Then it will all be over finally. No more war. No more obstacles. Just pure undiluted victory.”
… A gate would appear above Sally’s six-year-old self? Did it have something to do with her connection to phase space? Was it because of the crystal within her? Why would that one crystal be far more important than all those in the Coalition’s possession?
Sally could think those questions all she wanted, and she could attempt to come up with answers, but they could satisfy nothing, and they could change even less.
“Prepare to transport,” Gan snarled.
Only when he sliced his gaze over to Sally did she realize that message was for her.
Surely they wanted her on the ship? She was now almost certain they wouldn’t be able to control it without her, and the level of their control depended on how close she was to this pillar of light. If they removed her from it, while they might nominally have a remote connection to the vessel, they wouldn’t be able to use its considerable resources. To lose that would be to give up a critical advantage just when they needed it most.
Clearly that didn’t matter.
Sally’s body prepared to transport, all right. Her arms were suddenly thrust out wide, and her head tilted back violently until her spine could have snapped. As her sweat-caked hair tumbled around her face, she felt something appearing around her body. She realized her remote connection to the ship was being used to program the matter recalibrators. This tingle rushed up from her toes, swept around her knees, and sank into her jaw. If she were able to open her eyes, she would’ve watched as a set of light armor was created right over her form.
“That should be enough,” Gan muttered. He was primarily speaking through Jerry’s lips at the moment. Sally could still feel the insidious effects of the seven other Observers, but perhaps they were taking a back seat.
She could tell why.
Gan went to take a step backward, but his knees collapsed out from underneath him. It came with this crackling, snapping sound as if somebody had taken an old cooked lamb bone and set it underneath the path of a powerful vehicle. He was fortunately close to the command seat, and he thrust out a hand, his sweaty fingers sliding over the metal as he desperately gained purchase. He just managed it, but as he attempted to scramble to his feet, his other knee popped.
Sally thought she heard a gasp of pain. But it wasn’t Jerry. It was Gan. Maybe he couldn’t ignore the fragility ripping through his host. Sally hadn’t forgotten what Caxus had said. If Gan were to die in Jerry’s body, he would die too.
Jerry suddenly opened his hand wide and spread it toward the matter recalibrator. Sally felt a surge of power rip through her, and she was forced to connect to it. It started to knit armor over Jerry’s form. It was a combination of light and ablative plating. It was this silvery white hue that reminded Sally of metal sticking up through the tail of some ice comet. When it was done, Jerry could finally stand tall. The armor didn’t cover his face, though. Considering the armor’s grayish-white hue, it contrasted against his sickly cheeks, making him look even deader than he already was.
When it was over, he hissed, straightened, and twisted toward her.
So this was it.
No more waiting. The time to destroy the Coalition was here. And it would be done through her fingertips.
Sally didn’t have the time for any more thoughts. Gan connected to the ship through her, and they transported.
Sally had already mentioned this, but Hendari transporters were smooth. Once you used them, everything else felt jarring. The Coalition couldn’t even achieve technology anywhere near what she experienced now. For it was as if space was whisked away in front of her, as if someone with an industrious penchant for cleaning had simply swept it away. She arrived at her destination a moment later without pause and without an obvious break in her consciousness.
And her destination was none other than the great gaping maw of an opening that led into the cave system.
Why they didn’t transport all the way in, she had no clue. Perhaps they couldn’t. Perhaps the Observers, despite their greed and overwhelming belief in their power and right to rule, knew that they couldn’t get too close to Sally’s six-year-old self. Not with Hendari technology, anyway.
As the transport beam resolved and light spread around her only to crackle away and disappear over the cracked ground, it was to the sight of immediate blinding gunfire. It lanced around them, so bright, even Sally with her considerable mind struggled to figure out what was going on.
Gan already knew. The gunshots blasted into his armor, but they could do nothing. There wasn’t even the echoing crack of them hitting anything. It was almost as if, as they interacted with his form, they suddenly realized they didn’t exist to begin with.
He strode forward, the weakness of his once crippled muscles now completely made up for by his armor. Jerry’s chest was forced forward, his power seemingly back, even if it was nothing more than an appearance.
“Don’t let him through,” Sally screamed.
There was a contingent of Coalition soldiers protecting the cave mouth. They clearly knew the fight for the future began and ended with Sally’s six-year-old form. From the combined force of their minds, it was just as obvious that they were willing to do anything to stop Jerry from getting into the cave.
Sally wanted to help – the desperation burnt through her heart, in fact. But what could she do? She couldn’t help them, couldn’t even lift a finger to try. She was still floating, even though she’d been removed from the light pillar. Whatever strange armor had been knitted around her completely robbed her of her ability to move. She would’ve looked like nothing more than a broken doll in a slipstream. Her limp hair fluttered around her face as she at least struggled to keep her eyes open. It was to the sight of the large contingent of Coalition soldiers changing their formation behind movable, flickering blue shields.
They could fire all they wanted, but it didn’t matter. Nothing could pierce through Gan’s defenses. Not a single shot hit him. That was until the soldiers started to get creative. They fired these strange shuddering, almost static blasts that shivered through the air like droplets of water sliding off leaves. It took Sally a moment, then she realized they were interacting with gravity. As they discharged, everything became a heck of a lot heavier. Even Sally felt it. She no longer floated as freely, and Gan no longer strode forward as if he owned the world.
Each step became as laborious as a baby trying to run through sand. It seemed as if all gravity in creation suddenly locked around her form and tried to drag her back to hell.
Gan wasn’t content not to reply. He hissed, this righteous snarl breaking from his lips. He swiped his hand to the side.
He was still connected to Sally.
She felt a surge of power rip through her, and she opened her hand.
Her Hendari ship was still above her, this glimmering silver dot in a sea of writhing black, flashing shapes as the space battle raged above.
She rekindled her remote connection to it, until the next thing she knew, a blast of light sliced down from above.
The Coalition soldiers had a chance to scream.
No, she begged in her head. Get out of here. There was no way they would be able to survive this blast.
She watched in total horror as it powered toward them.
Then she did the only thing she could. She closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, it wasn’t to the sight of bodies burning up under incalculable power. The front of the mountain wasn’t ripped off and atomized in a cloud of disrupted molecules, either.
An impossibly bright shield suddenly appeared over the Coalition team. It came from nowhere but imprinted itself on reality as if it was somehow far more significant than everything else that had dared come before. And it brought with it a knowledge Sally would never forget, no matter what was done to her mind.
The Hendari crystals. The Coalition had figured out how to use their power. Not completely, but enough to produce a shield Gan wouldn’t be able to stride through.
She wasn’t the only one who figured that out. Gan screamed. “Impossible. You can’t be using the crystals. Your puny civilization couldn’t possibly connect to them all at once.”
“Hendari Observers,” a warning came over some hidden loudspeaker, “you will be given one chance. Surrender.”
They didn’t fill in what would happen if the Observers didn’t surrender. The equation was obvious. The Coalition soldiers would defeat them, no matter what it took.
“Surrender is impossible. We are already too close to the end.” Gan suddenly made a movement with Jerry’s fragile fingers. It was quick, so snapping that if they hadn’t been covered in armor, they would’ve probably ripped right out of their joints and pinged around the mountain top.
Something came shooting out of the cave mouth behind the Coalition soldiers. It didn’t matter that the force fields were thickest there – the object just burst through as if it was Hendari too.
It took Sally a moment to realize what it was. But as it came to a stop right in front of Jerry, she saw it was some kind of Hendari computational device. It locked easily in Jerry’s fingers, and he knew how to manipulate it without pause. In a few quick moves, it was as if it seized control of the mountain top. She might’ve been floating, but she still felt the second the vibration powered underneath her and spread like poison rain.
The Coalition soldiers screamed.
They might have thought they were winning with their Hendari shield. But the real game hadn’t even begun yet.
Sally’s eyes were the only part of her that could react, so they opened as wide as they possibly could. It was just as the ground dropped out from underneath her and Jerry – not the Coalition team.
Maybe Gan and the other Observers realized there was no point in wasting precious resources trying to destroy this Coalition contingent – not until they secured Sally’s childhood form.
But for that to be the case, it meant they were terrified the Coalition would actually have a chance. She understood how the Observers worked. If they could, they would destroy everyone and everything in their path just to prove they were powerful. But now they ran. Revenge would come later.
Or perhaps they were just waiting until the real war got here. Just as the ground dropped out from underneath Sally, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. It was a series of ominous flashes.
She heard a Coalition soldier scream from above her. She experienced their fear. It felt as if it was reflected through every single soldier, possibly every single asset on Faxon A.
The Scarax gods were here. Sure enough as Sally dropped, she saw small single-person cruisers blasting through the atmosphere. Gods transported down to the stable ground in front of the cave mouth.
The battle was on.
But Sally and Gan would have nothing to do with it. They soon dropped down into a wide cavern. No one could follow them. As Gan manipulated the controls, the ceiling remade itself. If Sally could’ve tilted her head back and stared at it, she would’ve noticed that not only had the rocks shifted, but some ominous flickering black force field was now protecting it.
Gan jolted forward, and Sally followed him like a useless puppy dog on an impossibly tight leash.
There were no Coalition forces in this section of the cavern. Even if there were, Sally soon realized the strange device Gan held allowed him to manipulate the caverns and tunnels perfectly. It was almost as if he was playing God. And hey, maybe this was practice – because from the look in his eyes, it certainly seemed as if he was about to ascend. It was surprising he wasn’t celebrating already, saliva slicking down his gray lips like a glutton at the sight of an oncoming feast.
For whatever reason, Gan kept Jerry’s helmet off. Maybe it was so Sally could see how broken Jerry was and treat it as a reminder that she was broken too. She doubted that, though. So perhaps it had something to do with allowing them to connect better with her mind. Maybe the Observers didn’t want anything between her and them. For that to be the case, then they must be concerned that their connection could be broken. Sally tried every single exploit she knew, but no matter how deep she dug, she could not even begin to thrust their control back.
It didn’t take much longer to reach the cavern.
And with every step taken, Sally realized they were nails being hammered into her coffin and the rest of the galaxy’s too. She started to see flashes. They blasted in front of her eyes, shimmering like photos that’d been set alight.
She saw her time at the Coalition, her life back on Faxon A, then… she almost thought she saw something earlier. Right from the beginning of Layra’s life. She was running hand-in-hand with somebody down some echoing stone corridor. They had a cloudlike appearance, almost as if they were only partially real, or at least their form could only partially materialize in the real world. But the hand was real enough. If she could’ve groped toward it right now, she would have. She still couldn’t move.
They finally reached the primary cavern.
The end was here.
The cavern wasn’t empty.
Admiral Forest was there with a contingent of soldiers.
The crystals were behind her, kept in a large glimmering silver case whose simple design belied what was within.
It must have been what was producing the Hendari shield. Sally had no idea how Forest had learned how to create one, but even though it was extraordinary, it wouldn’t ultimately count.
Sally’s mind was still connected to the Observers. She felt a surge of total glee.
It was here. Finally. The end. The end where they would win.
The end they had been waiting for for countless millennia. The end they had bought themselves with the blood and tears of their people. The Hendari had digested themselves. They had been like a body chopping off its limbs and feeding them to itself. The body itself became smaller necessarily, and it also became less powerful. But that wasn’t the point.
It proved to the world what it would do, the limits it would break to seek something higher.
Jerry took a step forward. His body didn’t sway. There was no sign of weakness. His armor simply wouldn’t let him show it.
“The Coalition will not back down,” Forest roared.
“But it will die. Your end is here.” Jerry suddenly opened his arms wide.
“Give up. We have access to all of the Coalition’s Hendari crystals,” Forest spat.
“And we have access to the King.” With that, Jerry closed his eyes.
And Sally lifted off her feet.
No. Not here. Not now. She had to return to the Hendari homeworlds to reawaken the King.
She shrieked and shrieked and shrieked in her mind, but it didn’t change the fact that as she spun, she felt something opening up around her. A gate back down into hell. One that would cut right through reality and sink into every mind on every world in every galaxy.
All of them would soon end.
Right in the center of her brows, Sally felt something opening up. A dark point of nonexistence. One that would soon grow.
The end of The War of the Gods Book Three. This story is concluded in The War of the Gods Book Four, so pick it up today.