They sat on the bridge: Marah, Mothram and Adam. The entire bridge crew studiously tried to ignore the stations of those who had been murdered by the Banshees. The stations had been cleaned thoroughly, the bodies of Malone and the CO respectfully rendered to the cold depths of space. The only blood that still spattered the stations was psychological. But it was there, and the officer who'd drawn duty to replace Malone picked at his controls carefully, touching them no more than absolutely necessary with a look of nausea on his face, as though chunks of flesh decorated the keyboard.
Chet Rickman, whose melted skin had been repaired by the medical officer, turned his glossy-smooth face to Mothram. "Coming into range of J359 now sir. Only it's obscured by...." He punched a button, throwing an image of the approaching planet onto the main screen.
A dancing, flickering ball of light hid the planet. The Banshees had surrounded it, anticipating the humans' arrival. There must have been millions of them, swarming theplanet like moths around a light on the darkest of nights.
Mothram nodded at Marah, sitting at his side. He stroked her hand. She was frightened of what the future held; he was afraid for her. They'd talked about it long hours into the night, locked in one another's arms, and had decided it was the only way. But she wouldn't face it alone. "Take the helm. We'll drop from hyperspace as close to the planet as possible. After that it's up to you to punch a hole through that wall."
She nodded her head, her wide eyes fastened to the flickering globe filling the viewscreen as she stood and walked over to replace Rickman at his station. She tried not to think about the future.
Exeter dropped from hyperspace moments later.
The ship shuddered and creaked sickeningly as Marah righted it, halted its tumblingand brought it to a relative stop, a few hundred miles above the planet. The wall of Banshees through which Exeter had just burst raged at the invisible barrier which blocked them from their prey.
The screams of the crew faded away into ragged gasps as their agony ceased. They picked themselves up from the floor. To them their pain had seemed to last for hours, even though the Banshees had only penetrated the ship for milliseconds before Exeter was through.
Marah put Exeter into a stable orbit, then returned the helm to Rickman.
They didn't have long to wait. Marah had just settled into her seat when a Banshee suddenly flickered into existence at the front of the bridge. It was strangely distorted from the other Banshees they'd encountered; the light it cast about the bridge was dim by comparison. And no nausea swept over the crew, no pain speared them.
Mothram and Marah stood in unison. Adam remained seated, gazing curiously at the Banshee.
"It's been attenuated in its passage over the gravity shelf," Mothram said.
Marah nodded, not really listening to him. Her complete attention focused on the Banshee. It merely floated at the fore of the bridge, pulsing weakly.
Best to get it over with quickly.
With a deep breath, she stepped forward. Mothram whispered something in a low voice, meant only for her ears, but she didn't quite hear it.
She pushed herself into the Banshee like a diver breaking the surface of a freezing pool. She felt a wetness oozing over her skin and into her pores, and then blackness as she fell into the dark corners of her mind.
Marah swam in a sea of darkness. A powerful undercurrent swept hre along a dark river inside her mind. Suddenly a presence appeared in front of her, and grew rapidly as she was drawn toward it. She stopped and faced it. It was a wall a million miles high, directly in front of her.
She'd reached her computer core, and faced the Banshee that had invaded her. She sent thoughts at it, attempted to converse with it, but it didn't respond. Or rather, its response was unintelligable to her: a blaring cacaphony of white noise. Still, she sensed somehow that it could understand her.
So she explained the situation to it, and the chance at peace humanity was offering. You've lost, she said. We're leaving this universe to meet with our makers--she cringed at the thought--and soon we'll step into YOUR home universe. And we'll kill you.
She sent humanity's terms. Leave us alone in this universe. And you'll come with me to negotiate with the Shiw'a.
The Banshee in her mind cycled through what she perceived as various stages of emotion: rage, agitation, curiousity, laughter, rage, and finally--sorrow, whether for what its kind had done to humanity, or because it had lost, she didn't know. And then, aqcuiesence, which came as a shiver of pleasure which rippled through her body, induced by the Banshee.
Mothram watched as Marah stepped into and was engulfed by the Banshee. Seconds later it began to fade, seeming both to dissipate and be drawn inside her body. When it had vanished altogether, she stood swaying on the deck with her eyes closed. Every eye on the bridge was fastened upon her, waiting tensely.
Seconds passed, then her eyes flew open. She surveyed the bridge crew with the gaze of one newly awakened. Mothram gasped when that gaze came to rest upon him. He saw Marah in those eyes, and...something more.
"They have agreed," she said wearily.
The wall of Banshees on the viewscreen behind her abruptly vanished. The stars glittered in the cold blackness of space.
Mothram, Marah and Adam stepped from the shuttle onto the cold metal surface of J359. In the distance a serrated metal skyline was etched against the stars. Marah looked at it all with a sense of deja vu; she had been here once, seen it all through Duncan's eyes.
Without a word, the three of them began walking toward the distant buildings.
Somewhere in the sky above them Exeter was leaving orbit, heading off into the beckoning scatter of stars to search for remnants of humanity, and to begin rebuilding civilization.
They entered the buildings and wormed their way through the warren of tunnels.
Mothram surveyed the place dispassionately, without wonder. There was no longer anything mysterious or fantastic about this place. It was essentially a huge, planet-sized barracks, to house soldiers on their long journey to a battlefield.
Would he ever regain his sense of wonder?
He felt Marah brush against him, and he took her hand, gripped it gently. He smiled at her, and she returned his smile. So he hadn't lost his sense of wonder after all, he decided.
Finally they came to that enormous room at whose center space had been warped. The perfectly level floor seemed to become a steep slope as they entered the room. They got onto their hands and knees and carefully backed toward the warp.
Several minutes later the warp expanded to engulf the planet. J359 wavered, and then vanished from the universe.
And so, carrying its three human ambassadors and one Banshee, the planet began its long journey into eternity. It moved in a nameless direction, toward destiny.
Scott can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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