He had captured a golem three thousand years ago and encased it in a block of condensing rock vapor. Over the millennia he and a partner drilled its data banks trying to extract data on the enemy’s plans. It had been largely futile. Golems were exceedingly sophisticated. However, when the deviant from Terra entered the scene, and the gate opened, things changed. He was able to connect the golem to its network to bring in fresh information. Sadly, that information included updated self-destruct code. The golem did not survive. His partner perished. And he nearly died too.
However, Orin was able to capture a sliver of video of the last thing the golem said before it detonated. As he sat in his office, he played the recording on a loop over and over again. He stood and walked around the video, examining the golem from different angles as it mocked him. Sighing, he stopped in front of it and activated the loop again, crossing his arms as he watched.
“You can’t stop it, Orin,” the golem said, smiling broadly. “The savior is here. He will reshape the universe and the Sadari will be free at last.”
That was it. That was all he was able to salvage before the golem destroyed his lab and centuries of data and effort. Orin closed the video and returned his computer to a pouch under his cloak. He needed a fresh perspective. He needed the company of his confidant. Closing his eyes, he saw that Larisa was on duty maintaining a gate. In an instant, he was on her platform on Toros.
“They have approved it. The deviant is going to Syagria,” Orin said as he walked past Larisa’s post. It was awkward for him to return home, but a personal visit was needed. Larisa opened her eyes from her meditations and passed off the Gatekeeping duties to another Keratian Gatekeeper as she smoothly stood. Even with the high gravity of Toros, she was still graceful. Orin took her hand as they walked out of the meditation chamber onto the living bridges that crisscrossed the interior of the Toros Temple.
After a moment of thought, Larisa nodded. “I know, Guildmaster.” She glanced at Orin. “Syagria is walking a very dangerous path with this deviant.”
Orin shook his head angrily. “How can they be so blind? Have they forgotten Rholling so easily? Senin? The two most dangerous enemies of the Cooperative are rolled up in that one deviant monstrosity.”
“They are drunk on the prestige of having their own deviant pet. They refuse to see the Sadari connection or that it is still a deviant.” Larisa scowled. She walked to the edge of the bridge and jumped off. Orin followed. They landed on another bridge with a solid thud several dozen feet below and continued their walk.
“It has executed an Awakening.” Orin glanced at Larisa. “Three. It was instantaneous, Larisa. And the deviant only touched one.”
Larisa nodded, looking down. “That has never been done before.”
“The Sadari have been experimenting on Terra with latents. We know what they intend with it now.” Orin scowled. “They want to wake their latents all at once.”
“The Terrans would not survive an Awakening.” Larisa looked sharply at Orin. “Their genetics are too primitive.”
“We’ve seen some of the modifications the Sadari have infected Terrans with,” Orin said thoughtfully.
“It’s still not enough. Most will die.”
“And the rest? Our latents can already produce deviants without Awakening. Terrans seem to have escaped that curse but surely Awakened Terran Gatekeepers could produce deviants if they mate. Especially since they have been contaminated by the Sadari.” Orin shook his head angrily. “An army, Larissa. That is what they are building.” He scowled. “Worse if they are sentient, like Steven.”
Larissa walked in silence for a long moment. “We are barely withstanding the few deviants we chase now, and they have no sentience.” She looked at Orin, her eyes wide as the threat sunk in. “We would be overrun. We would lose all our Gatekeepers.”
“The Cooperative will not be ready. Not so long as some are courting their pet deviant. They must be made to see,” Orin said shortly. “It’s no longer suitable to terminate it outright. They must see their error.”
“How can we do that? They’re tripping over themselves to gain its grace.” Larissa said, looking at Orin.
“Show them the deviant that it is,” Orin said, nodding. “We’ve seen it break before. We know it is still vulnerable.”
“But it never went too far. The deviant always seems to bounce back.”
Orin looked at Larisa as he considered their options. “There are some things it might not so easily bounce back from. Did you see the Archive about its catastrophic nightmare?”
“Yes. It was defending Asherah.”
“And nearly destroyed the Terran system, defending Asherah.” Orin grinned wickedly.
Larisa looked at Orin curiously as she held out her arms. A black mist enveloped her and coalesced into a cloak that she wrapped around her white shoulders. Orin did likewise and picked at his robe as he contemplated his next move. He looked out across the landscape of Toros.
“This is where things are going to get muddy for us, Larisa. The sacrifice will be nothing short of cataclysmic,” Orin said quietly. He looked at her. “I do not require your participation.”
Larisa shook her head. “You do. You are Orin, Savior of Legracia.” She hooked her arm under his. “I’m a nobody.”
“You’ll always be someone special to me, Larisa,” Orin said. “I fear my reputation might not be good enough.”
“Then we will journey together,” Larisa said, resolute.
Orin nodded. He looked out through a gap in the wall of the Temple again, soaking in the Toros vista that stretched out before them. Herds of Rodan grazed on the prairie that surrounded the Temple, and Orin admired the bucolic scene. “I don’t come here enough.” He looked at her. “But…”
“I know. It’s painful. On the other hand, I find it impossible to leave this place,” Larisa said. “It’s like they’re still here.”
Orin sighed. He looked at her. “We need to visit the rock.”
“I’ve already taken the extra mesh there,” Larisa said.
“That’s not what I meant. But we’ll need that too. All too soon, the deviant will be among us. We need to confront that likely reality quickly if the Cooperative is to survive this.”
Larisa looked at him, perplexed. “The armory there hasn’t been used in three thousand years.”
“Sadari technology does not age or fail,” Orin said, looking back out over the landscape. He could see his old family tree in the distance. It was a massive conical tree that towered into the sky over the prairie. He had been reticent to return there since the fateful day so long ago. Perhaps defeating the Sadari once and for all and sealing the gate to the Forbidden Planet forever would be the therapy he needed to finally face the death of his family. “It is time for me to personally go to the Forbidden Planet and collect our asset.”
~ ~ ~
Lohet paced, walking around the kitchen table. Lorei sat cross-legged on the table, looking down at her hands. Steven and Asherah sat on the back of the couch, likewise subdued. “Orin knows?”
“Everyone knows,” Lorei said quietly, glancing at Moringa. “It was broadcast.”
Lohet almost winced. He briefly glared at Steven. “His mistakes are proving a severe complication.”
“It’s not like I did it on purpose!” Steven bristled. Asherah squeezed his hand and he sighed and looked down. “Isiris was happy about it.”
“She is unaware of the implications.” Lohet squinted at Steven. “We suspected you had a connection with the Terran latents here. Otherwise, your parents would have been sufficient. Any Gatekeeper can perform an Awakening. But only one at a time. And it takes hours if it actually works. You…”
“It was just three of them,” Steven said quietly, looking at his fingers.
“Unintentionally. Your power is beyond comprehension, Steven. It is entirely possible, if motivated, that you could Awaken all the latents on Terra at once.”
“Most would die, Lohet,” Lorei said, glancing at Steven.
“I’ve seen the modifications, Lorei. You have my reports. The Sadari have been busy these past thousand years.”
“Three thousand years if Aliya’s golems had anything to do with it,” Sirel said.
Lohet looked up at the diminutive Faerie who remained perched on the ceiling. “How far have they come? Can they succeed?”
Sirel looked at Lohet, glumly. “Since when have they failed?”
“Terra is quickly becoming unsafe for the dev…for the boy,” Migalo said gruffly. Lohet glanced at the furry Camdyn.
“He has a waiver on Syagria, but Orin will press this. He is not accepted by the Cooperative yet.”
“But, I saved Senin! Doesn’t that count for anything?” Steven protested, standing up this time. “Just what do I have to do to prove I’m not a monster?”
“You nearly destroyed Terra, Steven,” Lohet said carefully.
“I was sick. You guys fixed that.” Steven glowered at the Keratian. He sighed and sat back down. “I’ve not had an…” He stopped. ”I’ve actually been sleeping at night now. No more nightmares. Asherah is having more trouble than I am now.”
“Be that as it may, there is still cause for concern in the Cooperative, Steven. But it is not completely hopeless. You have won the Faeries over. I find that significant since they had every reason to hate you.” Lohet sat down on the table next to Lorei. Sally handed him a mug of Rodan blood. Lohet regarded Steven’s adoptive mother solemnly for a moment, then returned his attention to Steven.
“Great. So, I just have what, Senin and Syagria on my side?”
“And Endard,” Moringa said timidly, waving a colorful hand.
Steven glanced at her and looked down, chagrined. “Sorry. Endard too. It just seems that, no matter what I do, people still…” He stopped and scratched the back of his head. “I have three planets that don’t hate me. Out of what? A thousand? More?”
“It is enough!” Asherah stood up angrily. She glared at Lohet and Steven. “Syagria is a core planet. The others will accept you too.”
“Asherah,” Steven started but she squinted her eyes angrily at him and he looked away.
Asherah returned her attention to Lohet, who remained silent as he regarded her with aloofness. She shook her head and sat back down, exasperated. Then stood up again. “You are acting as if Steven is just going to go Wake them all up.”
“Have no power over Steven!” Asherah grabbed Steven’s shoulder. “Aliya has had him how many times? Even in her ships? And nothing!”
“She never does anything without a reason. The Sadari plan things centuries ahead.”
“And Steven surprised her,” Asherah interrupted again. She was furious and Steven grimaced as Lohet cocked his head at her.
“It doesn’t matter that he can do this, that he is able to…” She stopped, shuddering with frustration. “He is not a killer!” Asherah put her arm around Steven’s shoulder. “He’s had good reason to kill many times, and he didn’t.”
“They could find a way to motivate him, Asherah.”
“He would rather, rather,” Asherah stopped again, wiping her eyes, and sitting down next to Steven. “You should know more than anyone what he is willing to do to avoid hurting others.”
Lohet looked down, unable to respond. The two of them nearly died together to prevent a global catastrophe.
“I didn’t mean to,” Steven said quietly. “But I know now.” He sighed and looked down. “Lisa’s a latent. I couldn’t bear to kill my best friend’s sister.” He glanced at Moringa who smiled fleetingly at him.
“You know. Do you really?” Lohet leveled a cold-eyed glare at him. “Lorei showed me. The trigger was not identifiable.”
“I’m not going to do it again!” Steven stood up, nearly knocking Asherah over. He shook his head angrily. “I’ll find out what did it. It’s not going to happen. No one dies because of me, Lohet. No one.”
“I admire your determination, Steven. But determination might not be enough.” Lohet stood up and looked at Lorei. “We must settle this. If he is going to gain acceptance in the Cooperative.”
“Once again I’m a monster.” Steven sat back down, sullen.
“Not remotely. You’re just…”
“What am I supposed to do? Hide? Find a hole somewhere and bury myself?” Steven sniffed. “Maybe build a hut on the Elder’s planet and be a hermit?”
“A hermit?” Lohet looked at him quizzically.
“You know. Fella who lives all by himself, and talks to a volleyball.” Steven waved a hand impatiently. “You’ve been here for what, twenty years?”
“Our focus has not been on hermits, Steven,” Lohet said patiently. “Isolating you from Terra would not be a bad option, however.”
Steven sighed. “Well, I’m supposed to go to Syagria anyway. If they’ll still have me.”
“They will!” Asherah looked at him sharply. “I’ve, we’re getting Blessed. And it’s going to be perfect.”
Steven nodded, sheepish. Syagria had agreed to bless their bond. In essence, the two of them would be viewed as a single entity and accepted as such into Syagrian society. “I’m sorry, Asherah. I just, it seems I’m always doing something to screw things up.”
“Isiris didn’t think so,” Asherah said, softer this time. “Her parents and friends, they didn’t think so either.”
Steven looked at her and smiled wistfully. “They are very forgiving people.” He frowned. “Or they’re still scared of me.”
“There is no doubt a measure of trepidation even on Syagria.” Lohet nodded as he put his hand on Steven’s shoulder. It felt to him as if a bronze statue had grabbed him.
Steven looked down at the white hand and sighed. “That really bothers me, Lohet. I mean, they’re,” he shrugged, “aliens. Ancient. Special. I’m just me. A nobody. And they’re afraid of me?”
“We’ve been over this already.” Lohet squeezed Steven’s shoulder then let go.
Steven looked at him and furrowed his eyebrows as he pointed at his temple. “Knowing that here, does not change it here.” He pointed at his heart. He looked around the room. “I mean, I’m surrounded by all you guys, you are just.” He sighed. “How can I even compare?”
“By saving Senin,” Sirel said sweetly.
Steven looked up at the Faerie. She looked all of a budding young girl, even though she was so ancient no one knew how old she was. Another special alien, who deigned to grace an unimportant and common Steven with her time and companionship. He licked his lips and looked down. “I don’t really know how I do that. Did it.” He played with his fingers. “I moved some energy around. That’s all.”
“That’s all?” Sirel shook her head. “A dead planet now lives thanks to you.”
“Yeah but it wasn’t like, it was like I just pushed a button and let something else do all the work.” Steven grimaced, wincing as electric sparks filled the room. When he opened his eyes, Sirel was floating in front of him, eye to eye.
“Do not belittle your act of compassion, young Steven. No matter how easy you think it was.” Sirel touched the tip of his nose and his hair stood up on end as static electricity cracked among his follicles.
“Yes, ma’am.” Steven gulped. He had seen Sirel angry before. Annoying her was not without great risk.
Sirel regarded him for a long, uncomfortable moment, then seemed to soften as her effervescence returned. She smiled sweetly, revealing her shark-like teeth, and slapped his cheek a couple of times. Steven winced, expecting her to shock him again. But she just kissed his cheek. Steven wiped the little spot of blood and smiled wistfully. Faerie kisses almost always drew blood. She took his hand as she settled down on her feet and stood before him. “Just be aware of this, young Steven. As exotic as you think we are, so are you to us.”
Steven gulped and nodded. He glanced at Lohet then looked down. “I won’t do it, Lohet. I haven’t. And Aliya has had me more than once. If she could have made me do it, don’t you think she would have?”
Lohet frowned and returned to the table, looking at Lorei as he circled it. “No one can possibly fathom what her actual plans are.” He looked at Steven. “She seems confident enough to leave you with us.”
“Because she couldn’t possibly contain me.” Steven scowled.
“She does not operate like that, Steven,” Lorei said. “I was on one of her ships, too. Remember?” She slid off the table and padded gracefully over to him. “She is a master of manipulating entire environments. She doesn’t even have to directly influence you.” She grabbed Asherah’s hand. “All she has to do is set the ball rolling, and let the hill and gravity do the rest.”
“This ball isn’t going to cooperate, Lorei,” Steven said. He stood up. “You know I surprised her more than once. The almighty Sadari. I’m not going to play her game.”
“Regardless, we should limit Terran contact while you remain here,” Lohet said. “You want to leave anyway, don’t you?”
Steven opened his mouth then closed it. Terra had worn out his patience thanks to the organizations that ruthlessly hunted him. He glanced at Asherah. Hiding her and their future furry children on Terra would be an unreasonable burden on them all. She had already been shot in the woods by a hunter. What if the next time was fatal? “Yeah. No. But yeah.” He scratched his arm. “This is home. But, everything has changed.” He looked at Asherah. “What if they don’t like me? Or if I screw things up again?”
Asherah grabbed his face and put her forehead against his. “You’re not screwing anything up. I’m going to show you the Cooperative that has been my home. Not the, the…” She took in a breath and looked away.
“The Chasers? That’s hardly your fault,” Steven said, trying to comfort her.
“They’re my people, trying to kill you.” Asherah wiped her nose. “That’s not the Cooperative I want you to experience. We’re better than that.” She looked at him, her eyes flashing yellow as she got resolute. “I’m not going to let that happen again.”
Steven looked at Lohet. “If I’m there, I’m not a threat to Terra.”
“That would be the logical assumption.” Lohet nodded. He picked at his robe. “Even if you’re limited to three worlds, it’s still two more than what you’ve had access to most of your life.”
Steven sighed. “Yeah. But I wasn’t able to see all of them like I do now. It all feels so small all of a sudden.”
“Perhaps some additional training will take your mind off it.” Lohet grinned sadistically.
Steven looked at him and groaned. “Not Migalo again.”