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Jason Gathers looked back at the colonies being pulled into Earth’s gravity as he began to prime the small craft for a long burn. Fire spread around the O’ Neill cylinders like fearsome flowers, orange mingling with yellow and red with a terrible fury. The screams of millions of people burning alive went unheard as his engine spun up, and he felt a heavy sorrow grow inside his chest.
“I wish she could have seen this with me. Who knew that revenge could be beautiful?” Jason softly slurred to himself. “Her hair was the same color when the sun shined just right.” He felt a small pride that he had turned a group of exploited slave laborers into an efficient task force. Each of their charges detonated at the right time, at all the right places. The Earth’s gravity did the rest.
“They were good men…” He whispered to the memory of his wife. “Friends, even. But we all made sacrifices for this cause.” As his engine kicked into gear and the long burn began, the charges he had secretly placed on their vessels exploded and destroyed all evidence of their involvement. Shadows watched, pleased with the dark fruits of their labor. Their suggestions in this universe have climaxed to this result. A beacon he had dropped into orbit began an automatic broadcast on all channels, which had previously been completely jammed.
“People of Earth. Escape while you can. We are here to bring a new age to humanity. We are here to show you that Earth is too small and too fragile a basket to put all of our eggs in. We have played in this cradle for too long, and despite our advances the Earth cannot thrive under the weight of all of us. Look above you, now. See the terror the Republic and the Consortium have created. They are destroying the colonies, and their sloppy work creates more destruction for the people on Earth, while they hide comfortably in their shelters. They do not care for those in space. We are expendable to them. Rise up, and leave now. We need your help to achieve humanity’s destiny, to spread our civilization to the stars. Come, join us and prosper together in space. Or stay, and die.”
Robert cried, his imagination showing him images of chaos in the major cities. People fighting over each other to leave Earth. Soldiers struggling to keep control and to keep their fingers from their triggers. His wife alone in a crowd, trying to herd a group of small children. There was almost no way for them to get out in time. Not with an entire city trying to evacuate. Hope was translucent, faint as a whisper in a thunderstorm. If the colonies roaring into the atmosphere did not create the panic, then that broadcast that just played over the intercom certainly would.
In the cockpit, Jason’s accomplice cried too. He was frustrated with his cause, knowing now that the people they condemned to die on Earth were mostly innocent. There was no way to contact command and to call off Axis’ descent. It probably had too much momentum anyway. It could not be stopped. Something else was bothering him. Racking his brain, he could not remember why Jason ordered him to kidnap Robert James Lowman. He couldn’t even remember the orders. The shadows stared through him with smug, obsidian smiles. They knew why. Confused and isolated with his guilt, he programmed the autopilot to take Robert to the hidden fleet behind Axis, and sat back in his seat. He stared at the blockade of ships in front of him that ignored this shuttle, turning to face the ancient celestial demon that doomed their home world. Flashes erupted silently as he coasted above their firing solution.
“Useless.” He mouthed silently and put the small, silenced gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. His body recoiled, and floated up. Blood and brain vibrated strangely in zero gravity as the shadows laughed, dancing along with the crimson bubbles. Whispers filled the cabin as the man’s dead body floated and dreamed of another universe. Whispers from shadows that were always watching in pleasure.
Robert had moved ahead to the front of the craft to take Omar’s body and give it some semblance of respect by covering his dead face with his coat and placing it in a seat. Robert could hear the raspy conversation, and stifling his tears he drifted toward the cockpit to investigate. He gasped when he opened the door, seeing the corpse floating in the same moment as the whispers went silent.
“I must be going fucking crazy.” Robert muttered to himself. He put himself in the pilot’s seat after softly pushing the corpse down and behind the chair. Robert had no sorrow for this terrorist, regardless of his situation. The only thoughts he could think were of Linda, horrified on the planet’s surface as humanity’s impending doom coasted toward them. Remembering some basic flight controls, he began to flip switches and tried to move the yoke. It was stuck in its programming, and he was unable to move the controls. A notice flashed on the instrument panel:
PLEASE ENTER THE PASSWORD TO ACCESS FLIGHT CONTROL.
‘Password’ did not work. ‘Guest’ did not work. Robert slammed his fist in frustration on the flashing screen, which also did not work. To the pleasure of the darkness, he was trapped in this thing on its way to the last place he wanted to be. He pushed himself back into the cabin, searching for the escape pods in the back. Their doors had been welded shut. Probably a preemptive move by the terrorist to stop any escape. Without options, Robert glided to the seats on the right, resigned to gazing down at the tracers within the barrage of hot steel. Suddenly the front of the asteroid appeared underneath the shuttle, and he could see that the U.E.R.’s attack was barely whittling away at the surface. The explosions were probably gigantic, but the sheer size of the asteroid made it useless.
“Useless”, Robert muttered angrily. He stared down at his elder, the massive stone rolling beneath him. Pockmarked with craters, the ancient drifted underneath the craft for what felt like ages. He tried to look off to see the edge, but the immense rock stretched out to blend with the darkness of space. There were abandoned structures that dotted the landscape, old mining bases probably. Finally the end of the space boulder appeared, and he could see mammoth thrusters that were darkened and cold. Without realizing it, Robert had been crying this whole time, tears filling the space around his face. He was startled into a scream as the V.I.’s voice broke the silence:
“Please buckle your seat-belts and prepare to dock. We have arrived at our programmed destination. Thank you for flying with The Consortium, where your comfort is our priority.”
Docking clamps loudly clamped onto the side, shockingly fast after this announcement. He looked out the window and he could see dozens of ships surrounding the shuttle. They were older transport craft, dirty and outdated looking. There were massive guns on each of them, and he knew that they must have been jury-rigged to become a fighting force. He saw the space around him disappearing as the shuttle was brought into a docking bay of a much larger ship. Steel and chrome shined beneath the lighting inside as he saw the name of the craft painted high above the deck and the walkways. The U.E.R.’s Gwaden. The old ship thought to have been lost over 20 years ago on a deep-space patrol now closed around him.
The shuttle’s movement ceased with an iron screech as Robert’s heart pounded in his chest. Who knows what these rebels would do to him? They would probably think he killed the pilot. He floated up and hid in an overhead compartment, not able to stop tears welling up in his eyes. He was completely hidden, but he was not alone. His fear was with him. The shadows were with him, keeping him company. And he could hear their gleeful whispers. He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to fill his mind with his wife’s beautiful face.
Suddenly he was seeing flashes of her in places they had never been. Like lightning illuminating a darkened art gallery. A beach at night somewhere, walking from a strange automobile that hadn’t been relevant for generations. The same car at a 20th century drive-in theater.
What are these memories?
He had no time to think more, as he heard the airlock start to open with a hiss and the creaking of metal.