This week’s short story is the thrilling conclusion to “Beyond the White Stars.”
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“Beyond the White Stars, Part 3” by Adam Casalino
The deafening silence was first broken by the sound of pinging metal. Small particles were pelting the cruiser. Henry was still in utter darkness. After a few minutes he let get go of his gun and tried the ship’s computer. It came to life. He had no control over the engines, but he was able to activate the navigation maps. The captain stared at the maps in confusion. He was outside known space.
Henry shook his head and closed the console. A light outside the ship appeared. It was a small circle of white that grew slowly, illuminating the entire chamber. He was in a great warehouse-sized room. The walls were of a smooth, dark metal. Shelving lined them and were filled with unfamiliar-looking machinery. Some of this moved off the shelves unassisted, and circled the cruiser. Henry assumed they were scanning him for some purpose.
A current of air that had been encircling the ship ceased. For the first time he realized he was floating in the center of the chamber. Slowly the cruiser began to move. It descended and came to rest on a small platform. The hatch opened and Henry tightened his oxygen mask.
“Please remove the helmet. The air is quite safe.”
Henry looked around, but could see no one.
“Do not be alarmed,” the voice said. “I am projecting my thoughts directly into your mind. This releases us of the burden of translation.” The sound of the voice was calm and soothing. It urged the captain to relax and lower his guard. Henry did not buy it. “You may exit your ship and approach us. We mean you no harm.”
Cautiously Henry removed his oxygen mask and climbed out of the ship. On the floor appeared a trail of light that went down the length of the room. He followed it until it ended at a large, raised dais. Standing atop the dais was a tall figure. Henry could not make out the being. Although the entire chamber was illuminated, the figure seemed just beyond the light’s reach, shrouded in darkness. All he could see was that it was draped in a long robe.
“You mind telling me who you are?” Henry said aloud. “And why you’re invading my planet?”
“Such a bold species,” the voice said in his mind. “To attack an enemy it knows nothing about. To wage an entire war in ignorance.”
“Hey buddy, you’re the ones who started this war two years ago, when you attacked our space station.” Anger flared up in Henry when he thought of the event.
“Such rage when you think of this!” replied the voice. “But why bicker over the past? We are in the Now and it is only Now that was can possess.”
“You brought me here to philosophize?”
“Then why am I here?”
“Ah, a question worthy of asking at any Time. You are a leader among your kind. You were the only one to attack our vessels. Separating you from the rest would assure their immediate downfall.”
“Is that all?” Henry asked. “You didn’t have to bring me here. You could have blown me up—I was dead in the water!”
“That may have been what you wanted, but we have another purpose for you!”
Henry stepped back, his hand on his pistol. The figure did not move; it seemed to only sway in the darkness.
“We have a purpose for you, Hank, and we need your full cooperation if we wish to achieve it.”
“I don’t intend to cooperate.”
“Really?” the voice took on a mock sympathy. “What other choice do you have? Your planet is in grave peril. Your fleets by now have been completely eradicated. We know there are no other forces capable of repelling us. Soon our carriers we be in a position to dominate every city and nation. But you can stop it.”
The words rung in his mind like a gong. Images of his home falling to ruin streaked across the back of his eyes.
For the first time the figure on the dais appeared to move. It was a sudden jerk, as if it was trying to restrain its excitement. “We need a spokesman to your species. Someone they can trust and believe. You will return to your planet and convince them to surrender.”
“Your species cannot survive unless it ceases this meaningless warfare. Your planet must submit to our control. You will persuade them to do so. In return we will reward you with power beyond your imagination. Anything will be at your grasp. You will be able to turn back the pages of time, even pluck life from the clutches of death!”
“Yes…” the voice dripped with venom. “We know her, Hank. We know Samantha. She was taken from you, but we can bring her back!”
“Back?” Henry’s voice grew desperate. “You can bring her back?”
“Of course we can, Hank. She is merely beyond the veil of life and death. Beyond the white stars of our universe. We know how to penetrate this wall. Nothing is impossible.”
A play of eternity danced before Henry’s eyes. Exploding suns and spinning galaxies folded back. He saw her. Her raven hair was bathed in light. She twirled around him in a moment that seemed forever. Then she was gone.
“What do you say, Hank?”
For a moment Henry was gripped. The reminder of Samantha’s face nearly sealed the deal. Then he remembered where he stood. Feelings of love were washed away by the past two years of bloodshed and pain.
“Nothing is impossible,” he replied, “for the ones who took her from me in the first place.”
“Hank…” the voice began, “do not dwell in the past.”
“Had you not destroyed that station, Samantha would still be with me. I will never hand over my home to her murderers.”
He turned and began to walk back to his ship. A strange, gurgling growl arose and was quickly stifled behind him. The voice returned.
“Don’t be a fool, Henry!” all kindness was gone. The voice was a creaking, hissing sound. “We know you don’t care about that planet. Your selfishness is what drives you. You’ll never find her after death, we’ll make sure of that! Give up earth and just take what is yours!”
Henry didn’t bother to reply. In a flash his gun was in his hand and he was firing. The shot hit its mark. The figure stumbled back. Smoke rose from a gaping whole in its robe. A harsh and alien voice echoed through the great chamber. The docile white light turned crimson. A piercing alarm began as Henry ran to the cruiser. The alien voice growled again. Henry was violently knocked to the ground.
He rolled onto this back and gazed up at the hulking creature that stood over him. Its long, lumpy body was covered in a dark membrane. Countless, pointed limbs sprouted from its torso. A face that was all too human looked down at him, its eyes seething an incalculable rage.
A single line was screaming in Henry’s mind. “You’ll never get out of here alive!”
“Well,” he replied, “neither will you!”
The captain unloaded his gun into the creature. Its middle exploded as it fell back. The lower half of the body was still twitching as Henry got to his feet and rushed to his ship. He leapt into the cockpit. Whispering a prayer he kicked on the thrusters. The cruiser did not move.
A new voice filled the hall, screeching the same villainous language. Scores of the monsters filled the room. Their black bodies slithered down the walls and made for the ship. Henry closed the hatch as the first of the creatures began to pummel it. The cruiser slid across the room, crushing many of them in the process. They swarmed chaotically over him, the light blocked out by their frames.
Captain Henry turned on the console computer and hastily ran the diagnostics. His cruiser’s functions were being jammed by the carrier ship. As he rolled about the chamber he forced the console’s power to his weapons. Then he opened fire.
The alien cries were heard through the sound-proof titanium. He cut through the mass of creatures and aimed for the dais. It erupted in a ball of fire which quickly ignited the entire hall. As its light faded the cruiser came to life. Henry slammed on the thrusters.
The carrier crumbled away as he emerged into the familiar black of space. He was still within the solar system, merely miles from the battle. He streaked towards the other vessels, firing at anything that crossed his path. A small remnant of his fleet was still fighting. He flicked on his mic and shouted over the com.
“Fight to the last man! Don’t let these bastards near earth!”
A chorus of shouts filled the com. The cluster of cruisers and warships reformed around Henry. At the sight of their flagship in flames, the enemy quickly fell into panic. The carriers began to fall back as the captain led the fleet against the remaining fighters.
A voice piped over the main com. “Hank? Hank, is that really you?” It was Rebecca.
“Yeah, Becky. It’s me.”
“We had lost contact with your ship. It completely disappeared from our system!”
“You know you can’t get rid of me that easily.”
A glint of light appeared across the earth’s surface, as a convoy of ships arrived at the scene of battle. The fleet was gathered and escorted to a base on the moon’s surface. As Henry reluctantly submitted to a scan by a medic, Rebecca stepped off one of the transports. She immediately ran to him. Before she could gather her wits she embraced him.
“Ah, excuse me captain.” She quickly let go, mortified.
“It’s alright, engineer,” Henry answered with a smirk.
“So what happened up there?” Rebecca looked intently into his eyes.
“I was given a choice: life or death.”
“What did you choose?”
“I chose life, Becky. I always choose life.”