Thanks go out to Freddy, Elise, Livi, Katie, Jessie, and Sam, whose impressions helped to shape what this story would eventually become. And thanks to Ryan, for badgering me into doing this.
CALL OF THE HARBINGER
Copyright © 2016, by Allen White
All rights reserved.
Cover art by David A. Nova
Photo of Allen White by Sean Mahoney
By Allen White
He stretched his head up and craned his neck to get a good look at the sparsely clouded horizon. It was almost unbearable, but he couldn’t look away. The vibrations echoed through his feet, sending pains through his old bones. The tremors were getting worse. It all felt so impossible; why the hell was he still standing there, why hadn’t he fled for the caves like the rest? The heavens crackled and thundered; gigantic arcs of lightning jabbed out between pockets of storm clouds and struck at the surface of the earth, casting dust and volcanic rock towering into the heavens.
Everything had fallen silent; the only sound he heard came from his panicked heart’s rhythmic beat. He had a sudden urge to pray for the fate of his soul, for his family. He knew what came next. He covered his eyes, as a second sun seemed to ignite above the ocean and the Earth trembled beneath him. He cupped his ears and screamed, the shockwave hit and knocked him back into the tide.
He felt water rushing over his hand, and looked down to see the tide fall farther and farther away from the beach, exposing the land that was hidden beneath. The oceans rose up from the East, and slowly created a gargantuan wall as far as his eye could see, blotting out the sun and its newly born sister. The ground stopped shaking, pebbles stopped dancing. Darkness fell upon the land like a blanket, and a hot rain began to shower him – soaking his clothes and burning his skin. The waters seemed as if they had reached higher than the greatest of mountains, towards the very throne of the gods itself. The calm didn’t last; the towering wall of water began to shift toward him, toward the place that he and his family had called home through many generations.
He cursed, and closed his eyes. This was it…
“You’re running out of time,” Professor Lynn said.
“What?” James Murphy blinked, shook his head, and looked around the empty classroom. “Where was I…?”
“I was wondering the same.”
The sun’s light caught his eye, reflecting off of the dust particles in the air like mini crepuscular rays. He stood up from his seat, and stared out through the windows that made up the outer wall. Good! It was all still there. His muscles relaxed, and the adrenaline ebbed. He thanked a god that didn’t exist that the sun was still shining bright in the sky.
“How long was I like that?” he asked.
“Class ended ten minutes ago.” Professor Lynn came out from behind her desk, walked across the front of the classroom until she was blocking the light from the windows, silhouetting herself. “James, you do realize that you’re paying for these courses, right? If you keep falling asleep in the middle of my lectures, I’m going to be forced to flunk you. Is everything all right at home? You used to be such a good student…”
He sighed, and slung his laptop bag over his shoulder. There was no reason to tell her, she’d probably just tell him he was too stressed out, or call him crazy.
“Are you going to answer me?” Professor Lynn asked.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Today’s not a good day.”
He turned toward the door, and forced his shaky legs to carry him into the hallway. He half expected her to try to stop him, but she didn’t. Just as well. His mental stability wasn’t anyone’s damn business anyway.
“And when did you first notice it?” Doctor Erickson asked.
“Several weeks ago, actually,” Doctor Reina said.
“With all that time, what the hell have you people been doing?”
Erickson turned around from the view screen and removed his glasses – that gesture that angry old men in the scientific community seemed to fall back on when they were too mad to form more than a single coherent sentence. She wasn’t going to let him walk all over her like last time; he was probably just pissed that he didn’t discover it first.
“Okay, Doctor, how would you have done it?” Reina asked.
“Don’t give me that.” He turned back to the window, and returned his glasses to his wrinkled face. “How should I be reacting to this? It’s unprecedented. It’s… a slap in the face.”
“We’re not here to discuss how bruised your ego is.” She crossed her arms, and sighed. “Save that for your therapist.”
The doors hissed open, and orange light cascaded across the window, blocking sight of the probe with a generous amount of glare. Reina turned to face the third member of their triumvirate. Quite frankly, she should have noticed him aboard the research station sooner; he stood out like a sore thumb in that plaid suit. She watched him stop, pause at the sights outside the window, then glare at her.
“You started without me?” Professor Braun asked.
“In my defense, Erickson needed time to mend his bruised ego and absorb the sight,” Reina said.
Braun’s slightly grayed eyebrows rose and fell. He shook his head, cackled, and jogged down the metal ramp that led up to the projector and information display.
“What do we know about it?” Erickson asked softly.
“Not much.” She retrieved a metal briefcase from beneath her, and set it upon the glowing table. “I know about as much as you two, and a handful of rookie astronomers over at Astro-Dest.”
She popped the latches on the case, and scattered the documents inside across the table. Professor Braun made friends with a computer chair and propped his legs up on the table without any care as to how professional he looked.
“I shouldn’t need to remind you two that we’re the only researchers who have been given clearance to view this material,” Reina said. “As far as the government is concerned, this thing is a threat to national security. If anyone on the surface asks you about what we’re doing, our official cover is that we’re doing important research on Near Earth Objects. We’re the only ones that will be dealing with the object directly; no one else even knows it exists. If any of you decide to go public with this information… well, let’s just say that you’ll probably need to find a new career path, best case scenario.”
“Yeah, I kind of expected that,” Professor Braun said. “They’ll suspect something eventually, though; information has a way of finding its way out. The better question, though, is it really a probe? And if so, where did it come from?”
Reina stood and walked toward the window, eyeing the partially silhouetted object’s golden, geometrically cut hull. It was roughly three times the size of an ordinary NASA satellite. It was surreal to be standing there, in orbit over the curvature of their glowing blue Earth, looking at something that might very well be from another civilization, another world.
“The kids that discovered this thing think it’s alien.” She turned back to them. “To be honest, we have no idea what it is, or where it came from. That’s why we’re here, to get our hands dirty and crack the damn thing open. “
“Alien.” Erickson snorted. “Typical.”
“Yeah, at first glance,” Reina said, “it does seem like something an amateur would assume. But we haven’t really been able to find anything to tell us otherwise.”
“So, wait.” Braun scratched his wrinkled, hairless head. “You’re actually suggesting that it’s from another planet?”
“I’m not about to assume anything,” Reina said. “But our current data does seem to suggest it.”
“Huh.” Braun removed his feet from the top of the table, stood up, and slipped off his plaid coat. “Well, I’ve heard enough to sufficiently hook me. How about we get started?”
Cloaked in darkness, Sister Mai emerged from her room. Her attendants quickly fetched her robe, and covered her naked form. Her steps carried her forward into the library, where she’d break her fast. Light cascaded through the tinted windows, dimly illuminating the racks of ancient tomes on the far wall.
She walked past the table, and looked out to the mountains and the fields beyond the perimeter of the warehouse.
“Thank you,” Sister Mai said. “Thank you for showing me, Old-Ones.”
“Then, the gods have answered your prayers?” her servant asked.
“Yes,” Mai said. “I have seen the end of the world. It won’t be long now. Soon, we’ll have no need to hide anymore, my child.”
A servant entered the library with a tray of food and coffee; she stopped and set it down on the wooden table behind Sister Mai. Mai turned and took her seat at the table, picking the coffee up and sniffing its bitter aroma.
“Call for a sermon,” Mai said. “I wish to address everyone with the news.”
The servant bowed, and retreated from the room.
James stared in the mirror at what seemed to him to be a very convincing likeness of prehistoric man. The dreams, more like premonitions, had shaken everything that he had considered real… science, nature, life… it was all just a jumbled mess of nothing now, a jigsaw puzzle made by an idiot savant. His beard was close enough to being a soup catcher now, and he wasn’t sure if he even cared to shave it. He didn’t exactly feel like he needed to impress anyone with his charming good looks.
He turned for the door, turned off the light to the bathroom, bathing himself in the comfort of darkness again. The light from his computer screens lit his path back to his seat. He plopped in it, and stared at the clock until the digital green displayed the awaited time; his hands reached out, stabbed at the radio’s on-button, then fell limp.
The bags beneath his eyes grew heavier in the light from his monitor. The radio show would start soon, then his nightly routine could really begin. Right now, it was like the calm before the storm, except the storm only referred to him searching aimlessly through conspiracy theory forums for the one that would make it stop. The itching crept back into that place behind his eyes, and his hands slowly found their way up to the keyboard and mouse. He accessed the web browser.
It was pretty pathetic, even to him, to succumb to the same need night after night. Every uneducated idiot in the world had a private conspiracy theory, something that they thought the government was hiding from them. He found that he had to know them all. From aliens, doomsday theories, men in black, to evil, weather-controlling secret organizations, and every combination in between, he simply couldn’t stop himself from searching for something… that something felt real, felt important enough for him to forsake most of the things which used to seem important, and drive him. It’d been weeks since he’d stopped going to class, but it would be worth it if he could just find a hint as to what he was searching for. He’d do anything for that.
“Welcome ladies and gents.” The radio host’s voice seemed to drag him back to reality. “It’s another night of ghosts, ghouls, aliens and other paranormal abnormalities. I’m your host, Art Wells.”
The host drudged through the introductions, not the most exciting part of the show… James really only listened for the random caller portion, the rest proved to be just enough to distract him from the itch, and the headaches.
A ding sounded through his apartment. Coffee was done. He crept into the kitchen, turned on a lamp, and poured himself a cup. There was a feeling that tonight was going to be different.
His phone rang, but he walked past it; the answering machine could handle business for the night.
Piping hot coffee flashed through the pain receptors in his throat; he took his seat and began digging for the needle in the haystack.
As usual, the first site had nothing but garbage to offer; a few rants on the current end of the world conspiracy flavor of the week, and several hundred having to do with hearsay UFO sightings. He frowned. The show continued on through its central topic, something halfway interesting about the Epic of Gilgamesh and how it tied in with other creation myth stories.
He paused his hunt to check his email. Several thousand spam messages from various porn sites and pyramid schemes, a Nigerian prince claiming to have known his recently deceased rich-long-lost-grandfather… and one with the message title; IF YOU ARE A DREAMER – OPEN ME.
It was probably a virus, or something worse… but he opened the email anyway, and began to scan through it;
Greetings, Brother James.
We were impressed at your thread on the ConspiracyInfo forums. It must have been difficult for you to entrust all of us with your personal information. We may be able to help you, Brother, and shed some light on the strange things that you are currently experiencing.
If you are interested in getting your answers, simply reply to this message.
James rolled his eyes, and deleted the email without giving it another thought. Probably some nut-job, cult leader, or worse.
“Yeah, Art, I was just calling in…” The caller groaned, and his phone crackled in and out. “Sorry… headaches…”
Finally. James turned off the monitor and slouched his back in the soft foam of his chair.
“What was your question, Adam?”
“I… I’ve been having these dreams…” He paused, the scratching noises got more intense, and the hair on James’ neck stood on end. “I’m risking things, lots of things, by doing this, they’re probably listening.”
James’ eyes rose up and locked onto the radio.
“Go on,” Art said.
“Okay. I’ve been having these dreams about the end of the world. I know a lot of people say that kind of thing on here, but this is different. I’ve seen mountains of water cover the world and kill us all, huge asteroids slam into the Earth, the shockwave kills everything in its path… I’ve even seen aliens come down from the sky and enslave us… they won’t stop… and they all feel so real.”
“My friend at work, he says he’s having the same dreams… he’s even complaining about the same… symptoms…”
“Headaches… itching. I called in because I have to know if there are other people out there like me.”
James stood up from his computer chair, his heart pounded through his chest.
“What was that?” Art paused for several moments, Adam’s side of the line continued to crackle. “…Adam, stay on the line, the lines are filling up with callers. You might have your answer.”
James reached for the phone.
The tangles of blue and green light from the curvature of the Earth made working in space very disorienting. No matter how many times they tell you otherwise, you never really get used to the feeling or the risk, Reina thought.
She stopped herself and cut her space-suit’s jets, feeling out a circular groove on the probe’s surface with her fingers; she frowned when nothing happened. At least she knew that touching it didn’t result in getting zapped, or any of the other violent things she had half-expected. She allowed herself a moment to admire its impressive size in comparison to herself. She threw caution to the wind, and pulled the trigger to activate her air-jets, propelling herself along the curved surface of the object, her hands pressed against its gleaming golden surface. Suddenly, the object pulsed, vibrated, and a large hexagonal port opened up right in front of her arms. She stopped herself with her jets, hovered before the new opening.
“Hey, it started glowing!” Doctor Reina looked up from her port and through her visor. Pulsing green light stretched out like a living aurora from the probe’s hull, and twisted up the exterior of her space-suit.
“I can see that,” Doctor Erickson said over the intercom. “You better get back inside the shuttle, who knows what kind of crap you’re exposing yourself to.”
“Shut up and keep monitoring your data-feed, Erickson.” She pushed off from the probe’s hull and allowed herself to drift backward through space, engaging the air-jets to keep from drifting too far away from it. “This is exactly what we wanted, a reaction. Tell me what you’re seeing!”
“I don’t get it…”
“What don’t you get?”
“I was hoping for some form of radiation, or electromagnetic activity-” He cleared his throat. “But, I can’t make out the shape of these waves at all.”
“I can’t either,” Professor Braun said. “But, they do look familiar.”
“Don’t waste any time.” Reina propelled herself forward, spinning around and catching a glimpse of Sirius before connecting with the object’s hull again. “Hurry up and start digging for information on those wave patterns!”
Her hands brushed up against golden metal, bracing her stop, and all at once, the light turned crimson.
“Wait… something’s happening again…”
The port that had opened up was now inches from her face. She tried to look back… but it was like something was holding her head in place, drawing her in. The crimson light began to grow, spreading out like a hazy nebula, masking her body, and stretching out toward the shuttle.
“Damn it, what the hell did you just do, Reina?” Erickson asked. “Your biometrics just bottomed out!”
Reina was surrounded by a bubble of blinding red light. To her, it seemed to stretch on to the ends of existence. She tried to speak, but her lips seemed restricted, like someone was pressing in on them with a single finger.
The nebulous cloud surged, violently, and her lips were freed from the pressure. She gasped for air. Light pulsed, and slowly, the nebula cleared. That’s impossible! she thought. Her feet touched grass, and her knees fell to the ground in the sudden normal gravity. Lightly clouded blue skies stretched across her vision, with an unfamiliar ring of mountains all around her. Her eyes darted about the field she stood in, taking note of the massive shadow she was now standing in. She turned her head to see the golden probe floating next to and towering above her. A frown carved itself across the surface of her face.
“Where am I?” She asked.
The probe rotated, and faced her, almost as if it were staring right at her. She swallowed a lump in her throat, and hugged herself tightly.
“Damn it!” Erickson said. “Where the hell is she?”
He turned back to face the Professor, only to find him shrugging like a useless buffoon.
“According to the instruments, she’s not in there,” Braun said. “It could be an overload…”
Erickson turned back to the readout screens, and clawed at his eyeglasses. “What do the instruments say about the probe’s mass?”
Professor Braun turned around, and thumbed through a few electric blue dials, located the right sub-screen.
“No change,” Braun said.
Erickson closed his eyes, and sighed. “What the hell happened to her?”
The land began to roar and shake with the vibrations of something massive. Reina looked around and spotted a herd of what looked to be woolly mammoths. That wasn’t possible! They’d been extinct for at least ten-thousand years. Then something else caught her eye: a group of men, tribals by the looks of them, sporting primitive spears and swords, sneaking up on the mammoths. She watched, as they attempted to surround and flank the animals. She turned back to the probe and gritted her teeth.
“This is impossible,” she said. “Where am I?”
The rumbling grew more intense, and she realized that it hadn’t been from the steps of the mammoths at all. She glanced around desperately to find it, any hint of it… and there it was, just entering Earth’s atmosphere – a blinding fireball in the sky.
“What is this?”
The land grew hot, her heart rate skyrocketed, and she began to hyperventilate. Time seemed to stretch on forever. Animals and men scrambled for the hills, the trees… Fools!
Reina screamed when the asteroid exploded in the lower atmosphere. The shockwave hit her, shattering her bones, and her eardrums, into thousands of pieces. She fell onto her back, and watched in horror, while hellfire ravaged the sky above her and scorched her flesh…
The roar of the wind caught his ear, and its hand swept the edges of his coat up and away from him. The storm had gone from bad to worse in little more than an hour.
It wasn’t even on the forecast, James thought.
The cab ride from Chicago had left his rear-end numb. The tall grass danced to the rhythm of the wind and the rain. There was a large warehouse, sitting among the ruins of an old farm within a large chain-link fence.
“Okay,” James said to himself. “It’s time.”
He took a deep breath, and walked down the hill, toward a metal warehouse in the middle of nowhere. They were probably going to kill him and sell his parts on the internet, but he had to know what these people knew about what was happening to him. There was simply too much there to call it all coincidence. All of the callers that he had listened to last night had similar stories to his own. It’s what made him restore Sister Mai’s email from the recycle folder. He didn’t know if she’d be able to shed light on what was happening to him, but somehow, he felt like he was on the right track.
He kicked himself forward, and his boots slid through the muddy grass. His hands gripped at the fence, rattling it.
The door to the warehouse had been left unlocked, just as her last email said it would be. He stepped into a musty, dark void. His hands reached out, then he hesitated as they searched for a light. Whoever these people were, they probably preferred it dark. Should he even try to call them out?
“Hello?” he said.
He swallowed his fear, straightened his back, and walked forward.
“It’s James, from the emails.” He stopped in what he felt was the center of the warehouse.
“We know you, Brother James.” A woman’s voice carried from above, probably in the rafters. She sounded young, maybe a little flighty. Okay, so that had to be Sister Mai.
“Yeah, which makes this very awkward. Who are you people?”
“Please, step into the light, Brother.”
Clanking sounds reverberated off the metal walls inside the warehouse, and a spotlight lit up a small circle of concrete several feet in front of him. He didn’t like the idea of exposing himself like that… so he said; “You first.”
“Consider it a show of good faith in exchange for what we promised you.”
He was going to regret this later… he stepped into the circle of light, and waited for a bullet that never came.
“Okay,” he said. “Now what?”
Her chatter paused there——he could hear footsteps and whispers coming from above. The footsteps slowly clanked their way down to his level, and stopped all around his little circle of light.
“Congratulations, Brother James.” He could just barely make out her ruby lips, shrouded beneath a hooded robe. “The Old-Ones have smiled upon you, haven’t they?”
“All right, I think I’m just about done with this…” He turned around, and walked to the edge of his circle of light. “I’m a lot of things, but I’m definitely not stupid enough to join a cult!”
“Hear what we have to say, Brother,” she said. “Regardless of the source, information is what you came here for, right?”
“Would you quit calling me that?”
He turned back around and crossed his arms, stonewalling her. She stepped into the light with him, and removed her hood, giving way to a woman with short black hair, and jewel-like eyes that pierced right through him. She slinked forward, and grinned at him when she saw his reaction.
Damn it, he thought. The attractive ones are always crazy.
“Very well,” she said. “As I said, the gods have smiled on you. Many of our people have been allowed to see the future as well. We can help you prepare.”
“Okay…” His eyebrow rose. “How?”
“Humanity has been the dominant species of four worlds, three of which have ended in disaster. We are the fourth world——the last.” She backed out into the darkness, and walked around the circle of light, her hand dancing in and out of the edge of the circle as she spoke. “The old gods have guided us through each world, have watched our development and given us wisdom through each period of instability.”
“Says who?” He scowled. “You expect me to believe all of this? Show me some proof, and maybe I’ll start to.”
“We have no need to prove it to you.”
“Then I’m gone.”
She came into the light and grabbed for his arm just as he turned to leave. His heart jumped. “I didn’t say that we weren’t going to show you.” Her ruby lips formed into a devilish smile, and those blue eyes sparkled at him in the spotlight. “Follow me.”
“Ah!” Reina screamed, tore out the tubes and needles that were fixed into her neck and arms, and sat up in a hot sweat.
She held her head, and took a look around the room; it was the white medical-bay she remembered from the initial tour. So, she wasn’t dead; that was good news. As soon as her headache was gone, she fell out of the bed, snatched a spare medical gown, and stumbled for the door. The others needed to know what she knew.
The computer told her that Doctor Erickson and Professor Braun were in the research room, probably monitoring and studying the probe still. The elevator took her several levels down, until the lights turned to that familiar red, signaling that she was entering a restricted area. The biometric scanners ran over her body, and her descent continued.
She stepped into the dim, blue-lit workspace, letting the door silently close behind her. They were both looking over some holographic displays of the probe. She wondered how she should interrupt.
“I can’t accept that theory, Braun,” Dr. Erickson said.
“Why not?” Braun asked.
He sighed, and grabbed for his glasses. “There isn’t enough data. We can’t just come out and tell the council that it’s from another planet yet.”
“Then where is it from? There’s no other option!”
“I’m not willing to deal in absolutes, damn it!”
Erickson slapped a few discs off the table with his arm, casting them at Reina’s feet. She bent down and picked them up. Their heads turned, and they fell silent when they noticed her standing there.
“How long was I out?” She asked.
“You should be resting,” Erickson said. “We still don’t know what that thing did to you.”
"I'm betting you can't find any conclusive evidence of radiation poisoning——" She walked up to one of the monitors, and began scanning through data lines- "or any other type of damage to my body. So, you don't have any say. I'm still in control of this project."
“You don’t just get to come in here and start barking orders!” Erickson jumped in front of the view screen, inches from her face. “We’ve made significant strides in understanding this thing in the last week. You’re too far behind to take over without setting us back for at least that long.”
Professor Braun placed his hand on Erickson’s shoulder. “Maybe you should sit down?”
“Whatever hypothesis you’ve formed, it’s unnecessary,” she said.
“How the hell would you even know?” Dr. Erickson asked.
“You might want to sit down,” she said. “The beacon showed me some things, and they’re going to shape the way we go about our investigation.”
“Showed you?” Professor Braun asked.
“Don’t listen to her.” Erickson crossed his arms. “We found her floating out there after all of her biometric readouts flatlined, for all we know, she could have significant brain damage.”
She walked toward the edge of the research room, and danced her fingers over a few display screens, waking them, and bringing up all the data that Erickson and Braun had recorded.
“I can see that you’ve been trying to translate the symbols on the probe,” she said. “Don’t bother. It can speak directly to our minds.”
“It’s telepathic?” Professor Braun scratched the inside of his palms.
“I believe this thing is a beacon,” she said. “A warning to us of what destroyed its own civilization, one that was probably very similar to our own.”
“I’m not going to just stand here and listen to this.” Erickson reached into his coat pocket and retrieved a small communicator, then turned for the door. “You want to ramble on about visions and psychic phenomena? Fine. But, I wonder how long before it affects your career?”
The door hissed shut behind Erickson. Reina crossed her arms.
“I want him off this project.” Her eyes narrowed, drilling into Braun’s.
He backed up, and shook his head. “I don’t know… maybe you should rest for a few days, get your head on straight.”
“I know what I saw.” She turned back to the screen. “If you don’t want to accept that, you can leave too.”
She watched his reflection fall away and leave the room as she worked to undo some of the damage that Erickson and Braun had done to her project. They didn’t understand, but soon they’d see. She brought up the video log, and began recording an entry.
“I had a dream…” she said.
James sat alone in a dimly lit room, sunlight filtering in through a tinted window behind him. It was like living in the dark ages: no computers, no electricity. He had been poring over the only sensible book that this Cult of the Old-Ones seemed to have.
Mai had him locked up in the library for the majority of the week, and he was beginning to feel like a prisoner. The historical tomes that she had provided were too much to get through in such a short period of time, but the few that he had been able to really dig through told him quite a bit about the kinds of people he was dealing with. In a word, they were nuts; radicals, who believed that ancient godlike aliens were going to come back to the Earth to fix all of humanity’s problems. From what he could tell, their group wasn’t isolated to the East Coast, but he had no clue how many more of them there were. The tomes gave him no clues as to how a group of cultists had come to reside in a warehouse atop the ruins of an old farm.
They were dangerous too. He glanced behind himself, and caught a quick glimpse of someone in full ceremonial body-armor, carrying a shotgun. Nearly every crazy person in the cult had some form of firearm; whatever he did, he’d have to be very cautious.
“I see you’ve been busy,” Sister Mai said.
James glared back at her. It was that time of the morning again, when she’d have her coffee and try to convince him that she wasn’t a lunatic. Mai crossed the room, and sat at the table; shortly afterward, an acolyte came in and placed two metal trays on the table in front of them. James looked down at his food. Two eggs, three sausages, some toast, and a cup of black coffee.
“You should eat,” Mai said.
“How do I know you didn’t poison it?”
“That’s hardly fair, after all we’ve done.”
She carefully, daintily, picked up her fork and began cutting into her egg, and placed a piece in her mouth.
“None of this makes any sense,” James said. “It flies in the face of the geological record; humans have only been on the Earth for fifty-thousand years.”
“As far as your scientists know,” Mai said.
He paused, and shoved a piece of sausage in his mouth to keep expletives from flying out.
“You know, when I was a little girl,” Mai said. “I would come home from school every day to find my mother baking cookies. She would smile upon my arrival, and guide me to sit down at the table to receive my treat. While eating those cookies, she’d tell me that my father would be home from work around five-o’clock, and she’d have dinner on the table shortly afterward. After my cookies, she’d send me upstairs to do my homework. My life was simple, quaint. My family and I were like any other in the neighborhood, we were normal, and would be for years.
“Then one day, after school had let out. My mother picked me up. We drove in silence for a while, and I could tell that something troubled her. We seemed to be driving around in circles for almost an hour before she finally spoke. Do you know what she said to me?”
James shook his head.
“I’m not your real mother,” Mai said. “Your father and I are getting a divorce.”
“I’m sorry,” James said. “But how does that relate to what I’m reading in this book?”
“It’s simple, Brother James. Reality is never what it seems to be, even truths that seem to have been written in stone can come crumbling down with a single sentence. Only a child believes everything she’s been told is true.”
Sister Mai stood up from the table and walked toward the door.
“It’s almost time for me to deliver my morning sermon,” Mai said. “Hopefully you’ll join us today, Brother James.”
He stood up and closed the book, casting it aside with the other tomes on the wooden table with a certain amount of carelessness. The armored goon had his back to him, following Mai further down the corridor. This was his chance! His feet hit the floor as silently as he could manage, and he made his way through the adjacent doorway, and to another metal staircase. It was probably overkill, but his paranoia was all the reason he needed; he just didn’t like the combination of religious cult member and shotgun-wielding religious extremist.
Voices echoed at the edge of one of the rails. He made his way to the edge, placed his hands on the bars, and peered over the edge. His eyes took in the sight of one more of Mai’s occult sermons. She was reading from a wooden-bound book the size of one of her forearms, her face lit only by ceremonial candle-light. He waited there, under the shadow of a rather large metallic beam, and listened to her talk. Despite the calculated form of crazy that was spewing from her mouth, she had a nice voice.
“We’ve been doing this for too long now,” Mai said. “You have all done well in following the creed of the Old-Ones, but our masters have spoken and the time is now to rise. To take from the enemy what they have stolen, and teach them the penalty they must face for stealing from those that they can never compare to.”
The crowd bowed, and raised its hands to the ceiling, chanting hymns to its would-be gods. There was something different about this sermon; Mai had a look about her, like she knew something. James’ grip tightened around the railing.
“The Old-Ones communicated with me last night, as I was performing my nightly prayers and meditations.” She closed the large book in front of her, and her hands moved from the top of the podium to the hood of her cloak, removing it. “They have shown me a military base, several hundred miles away from here, where the enemy keeps stolen artifacts hidden away from civilians. We will retrieve great weapons and send a message to the citizens of this world.”
“Of course,” James said, kicking the railing.
She removed her hood, and locked those jewel-like eyes on his own. She smiled; he glared.
“Praise the Old-Ones, look who has finally graced a sermon with his presence!”
“You’re an idiot, Mai.” He backed away from the railing and walked down the metal staircase. “You actually think you’re going to make it into that military base without being riddled with bullet holes?”
“Your concern shows little faith, Brother James, but the Old-Ones have made a decision.”
He reached the bottom of the stairs, and shook his head. “I may be tempting fate when I say this, but who the hell do you think you are? You’re going to risk the lives of your followers on some half-baked lucid dream?”
“You came here to learn about your own dreams, didn’t you? I’m sure you know just how powerful a dream can be.”
“That’s not the point! I haven’t seen any evidence of some higher power in all of this, and I sure as hell haven’t found any answers to my questions in the week that I’ve been here.”
“You will come with us.”
“Are you threatening me?”
She smiled, and snapped her fingers. His hair stood on end when he heard several shotguns cock around him; he turned to see several of Sister Mai’s cultists aiming their weapons at him. His hands rose into the air; he might have disagreed with them, but he didn’t want to die over a disagreement of opinion.
“Are we agreed?” Mai said.
“No. But I see that doesn’t make a difference to you,” James said.
She nodded, and waved her cultists forward. They grabbed him by the arms, and lifted him up off his feet.
“Tend to our misguided brother here,” Mai said. “I have preparations to make for our journey.”
She shrouded her eyes with the hood, and slinked up the metal staircase.
I knew coming here was a bad idea, he thought.
The sound of explosions pierced the wall of Erish’s quarters, and her eyes popped open; there wasn’t time for sleep, not with the enemy raining down from the heavens. She leapt out of bed and grabbed her communicator, opening a line.
“Sir,” she said. “What’s our situation?”
“Get geared up, and get the hell out here, soldier!” he said. “We’ve got multiple inbound ships, and they’re tearing through all of our defensive posts!”
She slapped her communicator off, and jumped into the main chamber. The machines began operating immediately, putting her exoskeleton together as fast as possible. She thought of how many friends she might have lost, how many family members had died at the hands of these creatures, and she tried not to think about how they had once called them gods.
The connecting joints of her exoskeleton snapped together, and power surged through her mechanical suit; the rails began churning, and launched her forward, through the access tunnel, and into hell. Fires baked her heads-up-display, overloading the sensors… she didn’t like being blind. Her hands found their way to the controls, her fingers squeezed the trigger and activated her exoskeleton’s jets. The flames feathered away from her and the HUD rebooted, restoring her view.
The battle field was a charred mess of molten rock, fire, and fused earth. The enemy ships above cut through every portion of the sky, raining judgment down upon her world; she’d never seen so much destruction… her eyes darted from molten crater to molten crater, looking for some sign of a fallen comrade, or at least part of an exoskeleton. There were none.
Before she could ask herself how the enemy gained such a weapon, the remains of the base she came from exploded. Her armored body was tossed through the air like a child’s toy, the back of her exoskeleton melting from the extreme heat of the blast. Her head slammed into the heads-up-display several times as she bounced off the ground and crashed into the side of a rocky hill.
The displays were scrambled… which meant that the exoskeleton was useless now. She reached a bleeding arm up to pull at the emergency release lever. It popped, and the front panel was launched ten feet through the air; she watched it slide to a stop. That’s when she saw “it” reaching up and trailing back up into the ash cloud above – a glowing beam of energy, left over from the super weapon that the enemy had fired at what had been her home since the war had started.
Erish clawed at the restraints in the cockpit, scrambled out onto the, still-hot glasslike ground. She took a deep breath before standing up to, at least, give the enemy a final stare down.
“Come on, deceivers.” She said. “Face me!”
As if the creators had heard her demands, the clouds broke, and the silhouetted form of a single black mother ship of immeasurable size crawled out – dragging bits and pieces of blackened cumulus with its razor-sharp edges. The ground began to shake, and her fists tightened. The ship was flying lower in the atmosphere, and a humming sound filled the heavens.
She raised her bloody fist into the air, like a general might do if they had an army to back them. The hum grew louder; lightning began to strike the Earth, and a yellow ball of light began to glow from the bottom of the ebony ship, casting reflections all about its twisted and monstrous surface.
A beam of yellow light erupted from the ship, spreading shadows like a plague. The ground quaked when the beam struck the earth, kicking up a mountain of dirt straight into the air, and creating a shockwave that would kill her any second now.
She kept her fist fixed in the air; the enemy, the creators, would take her life, but they would not take her free will, or her fighting spirit.
The shockwave spread out, raced toward her. She closed her eyes-
…Reina’s screams filled her quarters. She slapped at her face, and rolled off of the bed, patting at her face and arms to put the flames out. No matter how much she rolled, or how hard she patted, the fires would not recede, would not fade; they would persist until they ate at her bones and left her nothing more than a pile of ash for the wind to carry away.
“Doctor Reina!” The orderly placed his hands on her. “What’s wrong?”
What did he mean? She stared at him for a moment, and realized that the burning sensation had completely stopped… She clutched at her head, and let the boy help her to her feet.
“I was on fire…” she said.
“Another nightmare?” he asked.
Her face straightened, and she tore her hand away from his.
“Why are you here?” She asked.
“Admiral Cadmus would like to see you.” He turned, and saluted her. “He’s just returned from the research station where you were stationed.”
Her eyebrows creased together. “And…?”
“We shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
The Admiral’s office was just as bland as the rest of the base. They had ordered her to stay on site after the Admiral had deemed her unsafe to continue her mission. It wasn’t likely that they’d come to their senses, but, maybe now she’d be able to get some news. She crossed her legs while Cadmus sifted through a few data-pads.
“This is a follow-up to our last meeting,” he said. “To determine if you’re fit to keep your clearance, and continue your research.”
“This is a sanity hearing.” Reina’s eyebrows furrowed.
His eyes rose, met with hers. “You could say that.”
“Either that, or those idiots ran into a roadblock and their research is leading them nowhere.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He broke eye contact and cleared his throat.
“Cut the bullshit, Cadmus.” She stood up, and slammed her hand on his desk. “I knew those two were bound to fuck things up eventually. I’m your only shot! You need me back, don’t you?”
“Haven’t you been paying attention to the news?”
“What? You know I haven’t had access.”
He sighed, rubbed his eyes. “That thing is causing massive electromagnetic problems in our atmosphere… it’s causing super storms to form above some very sensitive locations.”
“That’s not even its function!”
“Don’t give me that dream bullshit again, Reina.”
“Do you have any positive link between the storms and the beacon?”
He paused, went silent.
“You don’t… you don’t actually know what’s causing them.”
“I think we’re done with your assessment.”
Her eyes opened wide. “You’re going to try to destroy it!”
His hand covered the data pad that she had been secretly scanning during their conversation.
“Get the hell out of my office!”
James tugged and pulled at his wrist restraints; the jeep barreled through mud, rain, rock, and foliage like a wrecking ball through a ghetto. The window next to him shattered, slapping rounded glass pieces and bits of rain into his face.
“Damn it!” James said. “Yeah, this is stealthy!”
“Quiet,” the driver said. “I’m trying to concentrate.”
James glanced behind, through the rear windshield, just in case… Their path through the woods was about as obvious as a meteorite impact might be in the center of Central Park, but no one was trailing them yet. Even with the storm raging the way it was, someone was bound to notice their approach.
“Focus on what?” James asked. “Hitting every tree you come across?”
One of the two cult members slapped him in the face. He winced, and took the hint.
The jeeps metal carriage continued to shake violently. It was almost as if the driver was determined to make the whole damn thing come apart. The cult members hadn’t tried to make conversation at all. Maybe it was because Mai was in a separate car? Several thousand trees and other near-death experiences later, the jeep made a 360 degree turn through the mud and came to a stop in front of a massive and towering structure. It was like no military base he’d ever seen.
The nameless fools got out of the jeep, opened his door for him, and pulled him out into the rain. The driver grabbed his restraints, and slipped a black ski-mask over his head. The other three men dug out their masks and did the same.
“All right,” the driver said. “Sister Mai is going to be hitting the other side first to give us an entrance. By the time we reach the outer fence, we’ll have our opening.”
The leader tossed machine guns to everyone, save for James. Figures that they wouldn’t trust me with the toys, he thought. One of the cultists shoved a machine gun into his back, and grunted.
“I’m going to push you into oncoming fire,” James said.
The approach to the gate was smooth, yet ominous, and the intense deluge didn’t help. His jeans were soaked to his legs, and his sweater hung on his torso like a piece of chainmail. His boots dug deep into the mud, and the leader stuck the barrel of his gun into his chest.
“Stop,” the leader said. “Now we wait.”
“We’re just supposed to stand here?” James asked. “With these ski masks on?” He looked around, at the tips of the black-edged buildings, and spotted several tarps that could have housed snipers. Lucky bastards were smart enough to be out of the rain. “Yeah, we look like terrorists.”
The leader grunted, cocked his gun, and pressed the walkie-talkie to his ear.
“We’re ready, Sister Mai,” he said.
James couldn’t make out her voice over the walkie-talkie, but from the intense look on the leader’s face he guessed they wouldn’t be standing around for long.
The leader dropped the walkie-talkie from his ear and hooked it on his belt. “Bolt cutters.”
One of the others took out a set of bolt cutters and cut a man-sized hole in the fence. They pushed James through first. He swore under his breath, and looked around.
A beam of neon light shot through the constant rain, and hovered over his pulsating chest. His body flashed with a familiar heat, and if his body could have sweated, it would have. The mindless goons behind him obviously found the situation amusing, and used him as a distraction to slip into the tall grass and disappear from obvious sight. Bastards.
He closed his eyes, as he had in his dreams——but, then the ground started shaking, and a booming sound assaulted his ear drums. His eyes shot open, and he could see a tower of crimson smoke rising into the rainy sky. He sighed, and tears mixed in with the rain. The neon beam was gone, and he was free to flee… but, that itching sensation crept back into his eyes. His temples throbbed; he rubbed them. It hadn’t ever been this strong before…
“What’ve I got to lose?” he said.
He darted into the tall grass, toward the facility.
Explosions continued all through the fields, and scattered shrapnel and bits and pieces of the facility fell all about his path. He never caught up to the cultists, for which he was partly glad. If nothing else, though, they had the guns, and that would count for something in all the chaos. He sighed and jumped out of the tall grass.
The facility was a black mass of technological superiority, casting scanner spotlights in every direction. He could hear gunfire in the distance, maybe a few screams and battle cries. Then, he saw where the Cult of the Old Ones had entered the facility. A massive hole, the size of a diesel truck, had been blown straight through the wall. He walked up and scrutinized the entrance.
The hum of a tank rolling around the corner wrested him from analysis, and he scurried into the building, hoping, perhaps, to find his answers.
His feet were getting tired. The halls flashed a constant strobe of red and blue, which confused his eyes and distorted the hexagonal shaped corridors. Soon he was lost and disoriented. The entire base shook again; his knees met the shiny black floor. What the hell was Mai doing? If he was interpreting the itch in the back of his eyes right, he had to stop her; at minimum, her kind of crazy might get most of these people killed, and at worst… He tried not to think about what she might do if she found an actual alien weapon.
Six more corridors, and not a single door he could open. Suddenly he found himself in a large dome shaped room with monitors, and a few keyboards. At last, something not monotonous.
At first, he thought the female voice that echoed through the room belonged to Mai. Hearing the gun cock, he turned around to face her.
“Who are you?” James asked the middle aged woman who stood pointing a gun at him.
“That’s the first thing you thought to say after breaking into a top-secret military base?” she asked.
“Believe me, it wasn’t my idea…”
“Stay still!” She crept toward him. At first glance, he’d thought she was just another soldier, but, she was so uneasy, so obviously scared. She grabbed at his motionless, restrained hands. “Why are you people here?”
“You’re not a soldier, are you?” James asked.
Her grip tightened, just as he heard her gasp.
“Relax,” James said. “I’m not either. I’m not even with the Cult that broke in here.”
“Why the hell are you here then?” Her grip tightened around his left arm, the barrel of her pistol pointed into his back. “Speak wisely, if you don’t want me to pull the trigger.”
“That’s a very long story. I came to them because they said they could give me answers…”
“Answers to what?”
He tried to tell her why he had gone on this journey, why the dreams propelled him there, and why he had to find their source, but it sounded just as crazy as one of Sister Mai’s sermons. Sad, and pathetic, like one of those people spouting doomsday theories on a conspiracy forum. He honestly wouldn’t have blamed her if she pulled the trigger.
“You’ve seen them?” She grabbed him and shook him. “You’ve seen the beacon’s message?”
“That’s why you went to that cult! They’re here because they know!”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
She spun him around again, and cut him free of the bonds that the Cult of the Old-Ones had restrained him with. He heard her footsteps as she started to move. “Follow me.”
She began to explain as they walked. Her name was Dr. Meredith Reina, and she had seen the source of his dreams. She was a researcher aboard a science station that studied the Harbinger Beacon, an advanced probe from an alien world. They kicked her off the project when she started to figure out what it really was; thought she was nuts. And maybe she is, he thought. But I’m certainly not fit to judge.
“They’re going to destroy it,” Reina said.
“Wait,” James said. “They just discovered this thing… why?”
“I saw the order before your Sister Mai attacked the base.” They stopped at a massive hangar door. “Ironically, this is exactly what I need to get back to my project, and stop those Neanderthals from destroying my work.”
She shot the pad, then opened up the panel, exposing an emergency switch.
“I want to help,” James said.
The sound of metal on metal gritted through the air; the door opened to the hangar, and Reina turned back to him, looked him over.
“You’re young. You’ll be the perfect distraction while I fix this mess.”
“Thanks?” Maybe I was better off with the Cult?
She strolled into the launch pad chamber, aiming her weapon into the darkness. James followed, but something wasn’t right. Before he could open his mouth, he heard the sound of weapons cocking and a bright red dot appeared on his chest. Reina was staring at the source of the laser sights.
“We don’t have time for you,” Reina said.
Sister Mai slinked out from around a corner, and aimed a strange looking rifle at James.
“I’m sure you don’t.” Mai smiled, then hit a switch on the console next to her. The corridor stopped flashing red and blue; the lights came on. “I’m glad you found us, Brother James, thank you for finding Dr. Reina for me. She’ll be a great help in finding the aberration.”
“Wait, what?” James stepped forward, and Mai shook the strange looking rifle at him to stop. He knew better than to argue.
“We’ve been searching for her, James.” She removed her hood, directing those fiery blue eyes at him once again, and moved around the circular base of the launch pad. “This is the opportunity the Old-Ones told me about. With her, we can prove our loyalty to them!”
“Loyalty?” He shook his head. “Judging from that weapon in your hands, I’m guessing you found the artifacts.”
“You’d be right,” Mai said. “With weapons like these, we were able to quickly turn the tide, though, not without suffering some casualties.”
“You murdered them,” James said. “Both those soldiers you’ve fired on, and your own followers. They’re all on your hands.”
“They will be remembered,” Mai said. “They died for the Old-Ones.”
“She’s just like the military, James,” Reina said. “She’ll destroy the beacon if we let them leave!”
“We’re the same, Brother James,” Mai said. “We’ve both seen the visions, and we’ve both felt the will of the gods, scratching at the back of our eyelids, commanding us to prepare.” She approached him from the other end of the launch-pad, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “These visions, they’re a warning, they’re the future.”
“You’re an idiot.” Dr. Reina trained her weapon on Mai. “They’re memories.”
Mai scowled at him. “It’s time to choose, life or death.”
“Your followers died for nothing,” James said. “I can accept the idea that we’ve had contact with aliens in the past——hell! They may have had a hand in our evolution, but there is no such thing as a god.”
She frowned, stabbing daggers through him with those eyes. The rifle she held began to make a strange sound, and otherworldly blue light began to travel up the strange alien curves and etchings on either side.
“You disappoint me, Brother,” Mai said.
“I’m not your brother,” James said.
He locked eyes with Dr. Reina. She had a fire growing in her eyes. He mouthed the word no, but her finger squeezed around the trigger anyway. Mai’s eyes shot open wide, and she tried but failed to speak. She fell to the floor in a lump; before James could say anything, Reina tackled him to the floor, and otherworldly energy shot out from Mai’s rifle, ricocheting off a metal desk they used for cover – near the closed door that read: TO LAUNCH PAD.
“We need to get to that shuttle,” Reina said.
“How?” He heard the pattering of boots in the distance. Mai’s men were getting closer…
“We run for it, take our chances.” She grabbed his face, tightened her hand on his bearded cheeks. “Focus! This is bigger than us!”
She was right. He didn’t know why, or how, but he knew she was. He nodded, and she ducked around the corner, fired shots at the five cultists to keep them from advancing.
“Follow my lead!”
She took a deep breath, counted, and dashed up the ramp. He followed, moving his tired legs as fast as possible. He caught glimpses of ski-masks in the background, and the light from their machineguns; he ducked, rolled, hiding behind the metal wall. Bullets danced. Dr. Reina screamed, fell to the floor; he crawled over to her, grabbed her arm. She smacked him away, glaring.
“Move!” His eyes locked on the blood that was oozing from her stomach. She grabbed for his arm, and pulled him with her toward the launch pad. “It’s just a flesh wound!”
“You have any idea what a stomach wound can do to a person?” he asked. “If you don’t get treatment fast you’ll die.”
“I’m choosing to ignore it, you should too.”
They sprinted the rest of the way; she held her gun taut with her left hand, and kept constant pressure on her stomach with the other. She stopped, then limped forward and raised her gun, shaking all the while. The pain was almost unbearable, but she’d been trained to handle it. She let three shots off in the release switches.
Adrenaline, Reina thought. It turns you into a monster.
The hexagonal door hissed open, she grabbed him and threw them both through the opening. Five of Mai’s armed cultists scurried up the ramp, she aimed her gun, shot the first one right through the head, then rolled back to her feet and slapped her hand down on the control panel, closing the door.
“I have… have to lock them out.” Her hands bounced off the screen, locking the terminal and, hopefully, the door, as well.
“Your stomach…” James said.
“I’ll manage,” she said. “There’s a first aid station on the shuttle. That’ll hold me for a little while.”
She turned around and looked up at the shuttle.
“Get on,” she said.
“We’re almost there,” James said.
He unbuckled himself and allowed his body to float back toward Reina. She was lying on a medical stretcher, her eyes halfway open.
“Good,” she said.
“How you feeling?” James asked.
“Probably ten kinds of horrible.” She smiled. “But that’s what morphine is for.”
He eyed the wound, and the temporary nano seal that had been applied to keep her from bleeding out.
“The machine says there’s still a lot of internal bleeding,” James said. “You won’t last long.”
“I’ll last as long as we need me to.”
James frowned, but nodded and turned back to the shuttle controls. The research station was just a few hundred meters away, and what a sight it was to see. It was a large ring, a tube, really, with a large tower like structure in the center. As they got closer, he could see little details, like windows, and lights, as well as individual tubes that stretched out to the outer ring. To think, he was the first in his family to venture into space.
Then he saw it, just beyond the research station. Hanging there, almost completely cloaked in darkness. It wasn’t much larger than the research station. He could see a small crescent of light on its golden surface. Finally, he could see the Harbinger Beacon.
The shuttle began the procedures to auto-dock.
“Shuttle Helion 11678,” came a voice from the console.
“This is a restricted facility. Please identify yourself.”
James muted the microphone and turned to Reina. “What do we do?”
Reina struggled to sit up, and limped her way over to him.
“We’ll have to upload a virus into their system,” she said. “Force the computer to think there’s an airlock breach.”
“We have a virus?”
“I had to do something while I was being evaluated
down on Earth.”
“How long will that take?”
“Long enough. Let me talk to them while I make the upload… I have a bone to pick with those idiots anyway.”
James un-muted the microphone.
“Shuttle Helion 11678,” the voice said. “Please reply.”
“I hear you,” she said. “This is Doctor Meredith Reina, get Professors Braun and Erickson on this channel immediately.”
“Doctor Reina, you no longer have clearance to board this research station. Please turn back immediately.”
She sighed, gripping her side. “No, you listen. I’m getting back aboard that station whether you like it or not. We’ve brought with us a weapon powerful enough to pierce the hull, and we’ll use it if you don’t let us dock.”
“Reina?” Erickson’s voice echoed over the comm. “What the hell are you doing?”
“What I have to,” she said. “You better tell them I’ll do it.”
“You don’t have to do this, we’re close to unlocking the secrets of the probe!”
“You still don’t get it, do you? I already know its secret, but you wouldn’t listen to me. You ignored my experience, because it insulted your own preconceived beliefs.”
She looked down at her data console, the virus’ upload progress was at eighty-nine percent.
“If you do this,” Erickson said. “You’ll rot in a prison cell for the rest of your life! What will your family think of you then?”
“Where’s Braun, Erickson?”
“What happened to him, why isn’t he standing there with you?”
Erickson grew quiet.
“I’ll bet he interfaced with the Harbinger Beacon, just like me.”
“That’s above your clearance level-”
“And I’ll bet he’s been bedridden ever since, just like I was.”
“What’s your point, Meredith?”
The progress bar reached one-hundred percent.
“You better carry him to an escape pod, Erickson. I’m coming aboard.”
“What… what’s happening?” Alarms began to sound over the intercom, voices screaming and yelling unintelligibly in the background. “You crazy bitch!”
“Yes, I’m crazy.” She leaned forward. “I just blew a hole in your hull. You better escape with the rest of the crew.”
“We’ll seal the breach and alert Capcom to what you’re doing! You’ll be blown out of orbit!”
“Sure, you could try to seal it, but not before I blow another hole in your hull. As for Capcom, I think they’re a bit preoccupied with a terrorist attack.”
The communications channel fell silent. Reina leaned back in her chair, groaning.
“You think they bought it?” James asked.
“We’ll find out soon,” she said.
Sure enough, within ten minutes, the escape pods began to jettison from the research station. James watched, as almost twenty spherical pods were silhouetted against the brightness of Earth below. Reina’s plan worked, and she couldn’t help but be amused with herself.
“This is it,” she said, trying not to cough. “Let’s dock.”
James nodded. “There’s no one aboard now, though. How are we gonna accomplish that?
“Already taken care of. Just initiate the automatic docking system.”
Minutes later, they were aboard the research station. James helped Reina into the airlock.
“I’m okay,” she said.
“You don’t look it,” James said.
She glared at him. “You’re wasting time. You need to go to the airlock I mentioned on the way up here, and get suited up.”
“Are you sure? We could take a detour to the sickbay and see if they have any medical supplies for you…”
“No!” She pushed him away. “Get going before I shoot you!”
James watched as she slumped against the wall, fighting against the artificial gravity. “Okay.”
He backed away, and disappeared down the curved hallway.
She stood there for a few minutes, coughing up blood. After she felt semi stable, she reached for her tablet and accessed the research station’s remote control system. With a few swipes of her finger, she deactivated the artificial gravity, and pushed off the wall, allowing herself to float down the hallway to her destination.
James struggled to remain in the moment, hanging above the Earth, with nothing but several layers of pressurized Kevlar and armor to protect him from the vacuum of space. The Harbinger Beacon hummed, pulsed, and sent a wave of blue light out at him; the images washed over his eyes; tragic, familiar images.
“What are you trying to show me?”
“What’s it doing?” Dr. Reina asked over his suit’s intercom. “Things… things are starting to fade over here.”
“I’m not sure…” he said. “Hang in there, Doctor.”
The last half an hour was a blur to him. Reina would die from her wounds soon if she didn’t get medical attention, and considering the rest of the crew of the research station were now drifting toward the Earth’s atmosphere in escape pods, she’d be lucky to last through the hour.
“Answer me!” he said.
The Harbinger Beacon pulsed again, its glow shifting from blue, to a brilliant red.
His head seemed to swell, and he became dizzy. He keeled into himself, floating weightless as the colors inside the Harbinger swirled into a messy vortex.
“Yes, that’s it, that’s the frequency of thought!”
He woke to find himself on the surface of a dreamlike Earth.
“I hope you didn’t experience any discomfort during that transition.” A voice echoed around the walls of the dream world. “I couldn’t answer without direct contact with your mind.”
“Then you’ll answer my questions?” He stood up and looked to the clouded blue sky, from which the booming voice seemed to be coming.
The sky rumbled and thundered. The clouds swirled together, and took the shape of the Harbinger Beacon. Once complete, it floated down to his level, and faced him.
“Friend James,” it said. “I have been interested in you since my arrival. Your consciousness is on the edge of enlightenment.”
“Careful how you follow that up,” James said. “I’ve had all the enlightenment that I can stand for one day.”
“Yes, the Cult of the Old-Ones has been impeding my efforts. They are dangerous to the completion of my mission.”
The ground quaked, split into three separate sides, like slices on a 3D pie-chart. Each showed a facet of what he’d seen in his dreams, Earth’s destruction by asteroid, by water, and by interstellar war. “They twist history’s truth toward the aims of our slave-masters, and creators. The majority of mankind has been wiped from the Earth three times before, but it’s not because of some natural cycle, as the Cult of the Old-Ones want you to believe.”
“The old gods have been engineering it?”
“Yes.” The slice of land which contained the asteroid impact dream widened to encompass James’ view. “They came to our world when we were very young, before Earth’s consciousness could allow us down a less primitive path.”
James watched a group of prehistoric men walk with a herd of mammoths, several feet from his position. They were running and playing with their children, and interacting with the animals as if they were their pets…
“They look so happy like that,” James said. “Why did the aliens change us?”
“This we could never figure out,” it said. “In all three ages, the creators never thought us worthy of an explanation for their motives. We were the lowest of the low to them. Slave fodder.”
The dream progressed, and the harbinger showed the first aliens descending from the heavens and interacting with humans, sizing them up.
“They brought several key humans up with them, for research and experimentation.”
The land transformed into the inside of an alien ship. The chamber appeared very dark, lit only by small organic lights. The stars and the sphere of Earth loomed beyond the ship’s windows. James watched the rotating 3D image featuring a small grey creature presenting two naked human beings to a council of similar beings.
“After many failures, they created something more in line with our present form.”
“So, what happened to the others?” James asked.
The room returned to prehistoric Earth. James’ eyes lit up when he saw the asteroid explode in the atmosphere. “They were exterminated, so that the new humanity could reign.”
The slice containing the world of the second dream expanded, stretching a wall of water all around the horizon.
“What was wrong with us now?” James asked.
“A few of you have already begun to answer that,” it said. “As your religious and ancient history have hinted. The creators thought humanity’s genetics had grown impure, and feared that their experiment had failed. They found a few who had not fallen prey to the temptations of inbreeding… and drowned the world to cleanse humanity of the remaining impurities.
“The age that followed——” The dream world shifted again, and transformed into the war-torn landscape that he had seen in the third dream. “——Was significantly shorter than the previous two periods. Humanity began to grow more distrustful of those that ruled over them as gods, and rebelled. This is the age that I came from, the most advanced age of man.”
The land shifted through many battles, where human and alien ships battled all through the heavens.
“We fought hard,” the beacon said. “And even felt as though we could be victorious…” The dream world transformed into a very different scene. The tables were turned on humanity; ships blanketed the sky, like a plague of locusts, marching humans around in chains and shackles. “They slowly wore us down, until all of our resistance parties had been eradicated.”
The nightmares faded, and the dream world took on a more passive state.
“So, how does this tie into our age?” James asked.
“The creators felt that humanity’s rebellion was due to their physical presence in our culture, and upbringing. They felt that they should try to erase themselves from our memory, and control us in the background instead.”
“Correct. Without the physical presence of an actual god, humanity lacked a physical entity to question, and so our rebellion against the gods would result with war amongst ourselves.”
“Okay…” He scratched his head. “Mission accomplished, right?”
“No. Your age is grabbing at dangerous technology that it does not fully comprehend, and has nowhere to focus its destructive nature.”
“All right, but what does this have to do with you? Why are you here?”
“I was created toward the end of the third age, before humanity’s memories of the ancient world were purged. I was supposed to serve as a warning, a trump card that would serve to wake you up so that you might finish our fight against the creators.
“I was built to transmit the memories and theories of our age to those that had the correct level of consciousness, and were ready.”
James closed his eyes, and crossed his arms. “People like… me?”
“Correct. You feel disconnected from the world that has raised you. This is because subconsciously you have sensed that it’s only a façade. Your uneasiness is a result of that inner knowledge.”
“What do we do about it?”
“Unfortunately, your people have already begun to fear me. The creators have targeted me by creating storms on the surface that your government blames on my presence here. Either they, or your people, will destroy me before long. If that happens, the fourth age is doomed.”
“So, that’s it?” His fists clenched. “We’re just going to go back to square one? Isn’t there a way to stop them?”
“It is unlikely that a fifth age of man will even begin. If the creators feel that they have wasted their time on humanity a third time… then they will likely just exterminate you.”
“And your presence will help stop that?”
“Perhaps.” The machine paused, a humming sound vibrated through the air as it considered a plan. “If you could stop your military, and the creators, from destroying me, then my message could continue to broadcast through the minds of the willing. Though, it would not guarantee victory.”
James smiled, and looked up to the harbinger’s golden face. “How will we know if we don’t try?”
“Save me, Friend James, so that I might save your age from the horrors that befell mine.”
The harbinger’s hull rocked, shocking James from the dreamlike world. Sparks flew through the air, complex lights dimmed, and his heart rate accelerated.
“What’s happening?” James asked.
This time, the harbinger didn’t answer. The circular door that had let him into the central core, into the transmitter, opened to the cold vacuum of space. James knew what this meant, but he wasn’t ready to flee.
“No, I’m not going anywhere,” James said. “I can still save you, give me a way to pilot you down to the surface!”
Another impact. James slammed into a console, breaking everything his body touched. The lights continued to dim. Blood had splattered inside his helmet, and all he could see in one eye was a blur. The core of the Harbinger Beacon struggled to surge. Its energy was failing, and with it their hope was dying. He kicked off the metal wall, and clawed for the core. He had to save it, he couldn’t let it end this way!
The core gave one final surge, and a crimson shockwave spread out and slammed into James’ chest, forcing him out and into space…
His consciousness returned. He was drifting farther and farther from the harbinger’s fire-bombarded surface. Its golden gleam was now twisted and wrong. The Earth’s curvature framed the scene, its peaceful blue surface was almost blasphemy in context to what was happening. Two missiles slammed into the harbinger’s golden surface, and James’ eyes traced their trajectory to a small military fighter craft, hovering in geosynchronous orbit next to the research station.
“Reina…” he said. “Are you there?”
She didn’t answer.
Then it’s just me, he thought. It’s over.
With a last, desperate effort, he tried the thrusters to get back to the Harbinger Probe. It exploded, sending a colorful shockwave of debris and thought charged energy toward himself and the Earth below.
As the shockwave of energy passed through him, the words echoed in his mind, “I’m sorry, Friend James.”
The shrapnel passed around him, several pieces colliding with his air tubes, rupturing them. He sighed.
“I’m sorry too, my friend,” he said. “We failed you…”
It wouldn’t be long now. He’d die once his air ran out. At least he had the Earth to look at.
Then his body began to spin out of control, flipping faster and faster away from the Earth. Something massive passed him by. His heart raced. He had to know what it was. He clawed for the controls to his air-jets and, in his struggle, he caught a glimpse of a dark shape approaching the Earth. He grabbed the control stick and ignited the jets, stabilizing himself and cutting his air supply down past the point of no return.
“Damn it,” he said.
It was a ship… a mother ship. The fighter that had destroyed the harbinger was a tiny speck in comparison to it. He cursed, and clawed out at the Earth, attempting to swim vainly through the vacuum. His air was growing thinner and thinner with every passing second. Smaller ships began to break off from the mother ship, and surround the Earth.
More mother ships arrived in what felt like a blink of an eye, repeating the process and sending their fighters down to the Earth. Even if the beacon had survived, they were already there.
That terrible feeling that he had felt all along, it hadn’t been restlessness, depression, or anything else; it had been a premonition.
He continued to drift farther and farther out into space; tears floated away from his eyes, splashing into his helmet. Now, all he could do was watch and wait, for the first sparks, and mushroom clouds to coat the surface of the Earth.
Hopefully his air would run out first…
Allen White was born in San Bernardino California. His father worked at Cal Tech, and was an avid consumer of science fiction film and television. Allen was influenced early on by this, and exhibited a very active imagination. He went on to study illustration and graphic design, but dropped the arts to pursue a career in writing.
White is most influenced by Roger Zelazny, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury. He is an avid reader of the genre, and dreams of a time when human kind might finally reach the stars.
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Call of the Harbinger 2
About the Author 61
Other Works by Allen White 62
Call to Action 63
An object has entered orbit around Earth, and a group of scientists, led by Doctor Meredith Reina, has been tasked with studying it in secret. However, strange things are happening at home; record breaking hurricanes are beginning to cause great havoc across the globe, and people all over the Earth are beginning to experience vivid nightmares about the end of the world. But, when James Murphy, an ordinary college student, discovers that the dreams everyone is having are all identical, it catapults him into a personal journey that will define his life.