As time had passed the distribution of stars in the viewing window of the bridge had dropped off dramatically. After two days of continuous travel the scene had turned almost completely black with just a handful of stars scattered haphazardly about. Shayara had intentionally avoided the Votheen colony worlds that had fallen just in case the mythological beings had a shoot on sight approach around such worlds. They therefore hadn’t seen the full extent of a dead world until they reached the very last site. Shayara looked upon the orb and wondered whether it had once been a lush garden world with similar land masses to Earth. Now it bore no resemblance. The sapphire oceans had given way to dusty orange flatbeds and the green continents had turned a mucky brown. The readouts confirmed what they already suspected. No ozone layer to protect from solar radiation, recently burned off atmosphere and no suitable gasses that could support life. “I don’t think I want to look for the people that are capable of doing this,” James said very flatly. Shayara couldn’t argue with him, she thought the same. She’d expected to find a defeated planet. Signs of orbital bombardment mixed amongst hotspots of ground invasions but this was something else. The colony was now more lifeless than Mars which had undergone a little terraforming as humanity experimented with the new technology. “Nothing on the scanners yet,” R051E added quietly as if in anticipation. Shayara knew the AI was desperate for her plan to come off. It might give her leverage when the Confederacy pulled her in to be examined due to her exposure with a hostile program. If they survived that is.
“Move us passed the planet and keep pushing to the edge of the galaxy, activate the distress beacon. We need to bring them to us otherwise who knows how long we might be looking for. It might already be too late,” Shayara ordered nervously although she masked the emotion. She did it rather well until a new star blinked in the horizon. Her anxiety went through the roof as her stomach spun up a storm, stabbing her painfully. R051E modified the viewing screen and zoomed in on the anomaly. The star’s source was a swirling pool of white light that electricity flowed across, arcing this way and that. It built in size and momentum for some time. The now enormous entrance of the slip space rupture was only just large enough to accommodate the huge cylindrical dreadnought that tested its borders. The vessel was a brilliant white that seemed to radiate with the same energy as the portal. The long thick cylinder flowed back to two huge crescent moons that were fixed to the top and bottom of the craft horizontally. Several interlocking bands spun at intervals down the hull which seemed to be responsible for the energy surges. “If I prayed to a god I’d be cursing him right about now.” Jarner gasped but no one heard him, Shayara was momentarily indisposed. The ship pivoted quicker than a ship of that size should have been able to and headed straight for the Pariah. R051E warned of an energy spike from the dreadnought and Shayara decided to throw the dice for better or worse.
“Drop the shields,” Shayara commanded much to the astonishment of everyone aboard.
“Are you crazy?!” shouted James not believing his own ears.
“They’ll know we’re not hostile and against something that big, our shields won’t be much help if they decide to open fire anyway…” she presumed. R051E complied with the bold request and didn’t voice her reservations like the doctor had done. The imposing craft closed the gap, refusing to yield to Shayara’s act of good faith. The ball of energy rippled up the body and formed at the tip in a large pulsating ball. “Shay…” hesitated Jarner as his worry got the better of him. She didn’t get chance to back down as the orb hurtled toward them. As it hit, the Pariah shuddered violently and was encapsulated in an intense glow. Shayara felt light, strange and disconnected. Too numb to register pain and unsure whether she was still even alive.
The feeling subsided as the glow dulled. She felt different but not what she imagined death to feel like so she took small heart in that. Shayara still felt which she presumed was a positive sign. She could feel movement and hear noises. She breathed, another welcome sign, and it felt oddly refreshing and cool. She dared to open her eyes as they re-adjusted to the brightness of wherever she was now, it was not the Pariah. The clinical whiteness of her surroundings would have made a more religious person think they were at heaven’s door but the new alien looking over her snapped her straight out of that romanticised idea. It looked strangely human, taller with a creamy sort of skin pigmentation. Angelic. It had pointed ears similar to that of a Sarcurian and feline eyes identical to that of a Caliterrian. “You have not been harmed, Human. You have come here to answer to our Emperor.” It spoke with almost harmonic resonance. Shayara looked around and found Jarner to her left, frozen as if still at the point of impact.
“You opened fire…” Shayara managed, confused by the whole matter and considered whether she was actually dreaming.
“A way to transit you from your vessel to ours,” the creature informed without trying to explain how exactly it worked, Shayara was thankful for that. Jarner began to move and took a while to gain his bearings. “You have both not been harmed long term. The distortion and dizziness should pass after a time.” Without specifying how long the alien led them out of the room of portals and out into a grand hallway. The roof Shayara could not see and it was so wide she assumed the Pariah would likely fit sideways. The floor had the effect of white polished marble and everything seemed a not-all-too different shade of the same colour. They made their way passed a number of the aliens similar to their guide, all looked ageless and strong. The alien explained they’d left one individual aboard the Pariah as they didn’t require two representatives of the same race. Shayara was at the moment glad they’d picked her but was unsure as to whether that might change. The creature kept redirecting their questions and told them to wait for their audience. At the very end of the long hall were two very muscular individuals dressed in silver ceremonial armour and armed with double-bladed white polished staffs which they held in their hands closest to the door they were stood sentinel on. They didn’t give the aliens on their ship even the slightest glance which led Shayara to believe they had seen Humans and Sarcurians before. They passed onto the bridge where it was slightly more decorative, yellow coloured holographic terminals dotted around specific areas breaking up the restricted colour palette. The Captain’s chair was far more simple than that of the High Senate thrones but Shayara could tell it was no less important by the five honour guard that stood at its base. The alien in the seat wriggled his nose slit inquisitively as the group approached. His armour was brilliant white with black tracery. “Administrator,” welcomed the guide to the man on the throne as he bowed. “The two aliens from the rogue vessel wish the council of the Emperor.” The Captain hummed contemplatively and nodded his head which lulled down into his chest. When it returned his eyes were solid black and glazed over.
“Welcome, Human and Sarcurian. I am pleased to see how your races have matured, working collaboratively in a common cause despite your differences brings me hope in the redemption of this system.” It spoke with many voices at once.
“Who is it exactly that we are speaking to?” Shayara requested politely, unsure at what exactly was going on.
“Valoris Thal’Khar, Emperor of the first citizens of Atribula. I use this Administrator as the conduit of my will.” Shayara then assumed the Atribulan could harness telepathy like the Selin but over vast distances and more powerfully, seemingly able to possess a host subject. Maybe all Atribulan could do it or maybe it was just the Emperor. Maybe even a device he possessed.
“We come as friends, Emperor. The Votheen have declared war and are currently laying waste to our worlds. We have evidence suggesting that you have had dealings with this race before. We are losing and have come to plead for your assistance,” Shayara said as a grumble of discontent sounded. She wasn’t sure at what. The Emperor made the Administrator smile wryly.
“The troublesome spawn resurfaces,” the Emperor contemplated. “What do you know of the Atribulan?”
“Admittedly not much, all I know is that we share a common enemy.” It was a stretch Shayara knew it, maybe the Atribulan just didn’t like people coming near their territory. They may not even care what happens within the galaxy’s centre. The Emperor resonated an amused laugh more friendly than intimidating.
“The Atribulan have no enemies, Captain Ventii. That would be to assume we have an equal. We are the seeders of life. Wardens of the living and executioners of the warmongers. You exist because we commanded and allow it. The Votheen attempted to break the rules set for them. Leaving this galaxy and contemplating genocide. This was not our will. They had to be taught this.”
“What do you mean you seed life?” Jarner questioned finally finding his voice, confused at the claims the alien before him was making.
“Humans, Sarcurians, Caliterrians, Selin and Votheen are all examples of life we have engineered. We allow you to prosper and guide your evolution as we see fit. You have restrictions placed upon you, of course. You must stay within your designated galaxy and not interfere with the progression, in a negative sense, of any other race.” Shayara’s world rocked. This alien in a couple sentences had rewritten Human history, he’d rewritten Milky Way history. There had been no creator god, forever watchful and almighty. There had been no natural selection or natural Darwinian evolution. The big bang, all of it, had been engineered by a race of aliens. Advanced for sure but mortal and not divine.
“So who created you?” Jarner requested trying to piece it all together.
“And why do you create life?” Shayara requested, her head spinning and feeling very vulnerable if these aliens had half the power they claimed. The Emperor sat back down and folded his arms as his smile broadened.
“We are the children of the Lord Builder. He gave us life and gave us the gift to spread his power. We seed life for many reasons. Because it is our duty. Because others can accomplish what we cannot. Because we enjoy observing. This is the way of the Atribulan.” The Emperor took a breath and moved from his seat, past his guard to the two specimens of his exhaustive work. How he was pleased to see the once dirt dwelling organisms flourish into something mimicking civilised sentiency. “I admit the Votheen have been troublesome. They continue to defy us and the will of the Lord Builder. A resulting factor of the hostility of their birth, no doubt. A learning curve for sure.” The Emperor looked off into the distance as if recalling a memory long forgotten. Considering the ramifications of aiding in the Milky Way’s war. “I must think upon this. I would ask that you be our guests until a decision has been made. I will see to it that the good doctor and your ship are brought aboard,” he said with no inclination on how long it may be for his mind to be made up. With that he was gone and the Administrator returned, beady eyed and humbled. Shayara didn’t question the hospitality as she didn’t get the feeling they had a choice.
Their guide led them away from the bridge back past the disinterested door guards who refused to stir once more. The main corridor, that Shayara could swear ran the length of the ship, didn’t have any lifts or stairs. Instead portals, similar to that the dreadnought had appeared, granted access to the other areas of the ship. Shayara didn’t even want to know what happened when the power failed and you were moving through one. The transition period was short, a few seconds of blinding light and then you were someplace else. Alien symbols were scrolled on the wall next to each portal and one could see the other side through the centre. With the sensation of up and down and direction taken away they didn’t know where on the ship they were. It was dizzying. “Do you require a domicile in close proximity?” the guide asked as he took a hard right into a colossal room that was full of stacked ovals.
“We’ll share,” Shayara instructed much to the surprise of Jarner who blushed ever so slightly. The alien keyed up the holographic display out of nowhere. One row of ovals, each the size of a shipping container, cycled as if loaded on a spindle. He ushered them in as the walls unfolded out. He left them as the walls closed around them like a flower bud and recommended conversing with the ship board AI if they required any further assistance. The room was as clinical as expected and contained a bowl at hip height suspended by nothing, containing what she assumed was water. An AI podium and a simple double bed completed their very humble dwelling. Shayara assumed the organic nature of the room could manifest anything that the occupants may need to settle in. “You could have subtly asked me to pop over if you needed company,” Jarner joked with an innocence and nervousness Shayara had never noticed before.
“There’s no way you're leaving me alone on this ship, that’s all, don’t get excited.” They sat on the edge of the bed trying to fathom the complexities of the day’s events.
“That’s a shame.” Jarner sighed as he leaned in and kissed his friend on the cheek. “I expected a better reason.” He smiled playfully but with a fear in his eyes that told her he was unsure if they’d survive. In that moment all the troubles of the galaxy fell away as she kissed him slowly and passionately on the lips. For the first time in years Shayara lived in the moment.