We walked toward a doorway opposite our entry point, and I'd just raised my hand in preparation for a question when the world trembled beneath our feet. Despite the huge mass of this mighty ship, something grabbed it like an unseen hand and shook it several times, violently enough to throw most of the bridge personnel to the floor. The lights flashed erratically, then came back up at reduced intensity. Megan's console was singing with alarms.
Kalen stood quickly and helped Megan to her feet. They half-ran to the platform. While she was silencing the alarms, Kalen stabbed the com button.
Kalen repeated the call. The comm remained silent. Megan switched on the ceiling viewscreen. Outside the ship, only the dim glow of emergency lighting remained, with the hangar reduced to ominous shadows.
"Base control, this is Kalen-Li. Respond at once, please." This time an oddly weak and garbled signal came through.
"We're trying, sir, but the main computers are in memory standby mode... we're getting reports from the surface that several scouts have crashed due to power loss... Copernicus is on a laser link with us. They're unaffected, but there's nothing on their screens. They've sent a scout squadron to investigate, and the beam's apparently emerging from hyperspace less than 500 feet from the surface. The crashed ships were under it when it came out. It appears to be aimed at and limited to PlatoCom."
"How about the base screens?"
By now the ship's systems were back at full power, and one by one the alarms were resetting. I looked from face to face and found in them a uniform confusion and helplessness. The unknown had hit them right in the gut. As I tried to offer unspoken encouragement, an idea was born of years of employment in the electrical trades.
"How much power's available in these ships?"
Megan answered, "On your world, I think it's called an umbilical. That ship was maintaining position on base power during routine system checks. It switched back to internal when the outside feed was lost."
"Proposition. We have 24,000 megawatts of power in these three ships. Subtract 2400 for overhead, and we've got 21,600 invulnerable megawatts hanging down here doing not very much. Suppose we back-feed it through the umbilicals into the base power grid. Can the umbilicals take it and can it be sent up to the screens?"
Within seconds, Kalen had a conference call going with the comm, and he talked rapidly with base control and the other ships. A moment later he said, "It will be marginal, but it can be done. I've given the orders." A soft thump rippled through the ship as the extending pneumatic ram impacted the hull and our umbilical locked into place.
Kalen returned to the comm. After an excruciatingly long wait during which not a word was spoken to break the tension, a series of short, crisp acknowledgements crackled through the speaker. He stabbed the button, gave a couple of orders, and the ship's interior lights dimmed. In the viewer, the next ship's umbilical was beginning to glow a dull red as enormous power surged into the hangar circuits.
An eternity later, a voice hissed from the comm. "Defense level. The screen generators are phasing in now. We're doing a synchronizing sweep... just a moment... and... GOT IT!" Outside, the lights began to switch on sequentially as the hangar's fusion power reactors assumed the load again. A moment after that, the comm announced in a loud, clear voice, "The screens are established at ground level. Base power is returning... the screens are on Level One power. You're clear to drop the feed."
"Thank you, control," Kalen said with a loud sigh of relief.
"No explanations are needed, brother. We're just grateful that so often you seem to be in the right place at the right time, and we never cease to wonder at your ability to analyze and find answers to unforeseen problems with apparent ease." The Master's praise was causing me much discomfort.
"Who isn't the question. There's not the slightest doubt that Omegan technology has taken a dangerous leap forward. Where they are and how they did this are definitely points that need quick answers. I suggest that we get back to base control." With that, we bade farewell to Megan and retraced our steps to the shuttle bay. We exited through the iris and headed upward toward a landing deck near the top of the hangar.
When we touched down a moment later, we were met by a security transport vehicle bearing pulsating blue and yellow lights. When we were seated, it took off through the corridors with alarming speed, and in less than two minutes we were entering the base's main nerve center on Level Two.
When we arrived, the tension was oppressive. Clusters of people were gathered around consoles, excitedly discussing what they were seeing. As we walked quickly toward the center, Base Controller Master Relda-Kim Trepol and four senior officers joined us. We went together toward the Command Station, while Relda-Kim filled us in on the latest developments.
"We have an analysis of the energy beam. We've never encountered anything like it before. Apparently, it disrupts activity at a nuclear level, effectively shutting off fission, fusion and matter-energy conversion. It's damnably efficient."
"May I suggest," I offered, "that it might be a good idea to provide a separate shielding system around the Level One defense generators, and don't turn it off." The comment drew nods of agreement, and one of the base officers jotted something on a pad in his shirt pocket.
We arrived then at the Command Station. Several red lights pulsed insistently, indicating the continuing Highest Alert. Nobody seemed particularly interested in lowering the status.
Copernicus Control was on the comm when we arrived. "Master Relda-Kim Trepol, this is Daler-Gerik. Respond, please."
"... At range 8.4, nothing to report... at 9.3, still negative." We allowed the transmissions to continue in the background, as Kalen offered his hypothesis of what was happening.
"Apparently, they were testing this device, and if it's other than a prototype, the Alliance is facing immense danger. It represents a technology well beyond what we've seen to date from the Omegans. I'm forced to assume that the Syndicate is now providing them with far more than moral support, and that's an escalation that poses a peril beyond words."
"They've now discovered that we're able to negate their beam, and that information will be invaluable to them in refining it. How long our screens will be able to shield us from it is a matter for conjecture. The intelligence behind that weapon won't be deterred for long by our simple impediment, and..."
"... Something's out here with us... range 17.6... all squadrons, it's heading this way... S127D to control, I'm almost on top of it, switching to visual now... do you see it?" As one, every head spun toward the main visiscreen, and as one they gasped as plainly visible markings on the strangely-shaped probe's hull signalled...
"Kalrans!" Kalen jammed the comm button and barked, "Destroy it RIGHT NOW!"
"Targeting..." A fiercely white blast of energy hissed out of the probe and filled the screen. The image instantly dissolved into visual noise as the sub-space signal vanished.
"... S127D destroyed... S129D and S131D severely damaged... 131 exploded... 129 is lifeless... all squadrons are firing, no effect on the thing... strong shield... it's not firing back, it's moving away and accelerating rapidly... heading outward toward Pluto... S219C to control, I've got a lock on it, I'm following it... S237C, I'm going with 219, I want this damned thing... It's jumped, we're going in after it..."
"Copernicus Control to all squadrons, hold position until we receive more information. Maintain War Alert."
Intolerably long moments later, a very weak, noisy signal forced its way through background static. "... Jump out... Pluto... fleet on Plut... hundreds of ships... we're spotted... can't run, too late... going down for...oser look... Omegan command ships... least twenty... all lifting off... they're fir..."
We were silent for a moment as the words of those two brave warriors died away. After a moment, Kalen switched on the interbase comm. "Portal section, bring them home."
The words hit like sledgehammers. Total silence followed for fully a minute, as some unashamedly wept for their fallen comrades. Kalen-Li and Relda-Kim were outwardly calm, but their faces laid bare the horror and grief that both were feeling.
Lin-Erri's eyes met mine, seeming to search for an answer. She spoke softly, hesitantly. "How do your people live with this, hour after hour and day after day, lives being lost so futilely to hatred and violence? Even when we know of the elevation of our two brothers to a higher life, we can't contain our grief and anguish. Your world suffers this without end, and you don't have even the comfort of knowing that life goes on. How can your people live with this?"
I thought about that for a long while, not certain that she really expected an answer. Finally, when the others had turned to me as if anticipating my reply, I spoke from the very depths of my soul, the words flowing as though they weren't my own.
"No, dear friends, unlike you we don't know for sure that life goes on after death. However, we once had another visitor from outside our world. His name was Jesus, and He gave us hope for eternal life. To the person that accepts Him, that's as good as knowing. We call it faith.
"As to why we kill each other, I don't have a good answer. In fact, I don't have any answer. The Omegans have made things worse here, but it's been a failing of humanity for centuries. Maybe it's precisely because we HAVEN'T embraced Jesus and His words.
"Death by violence is all but unknown to you, and you love each other so deeply that something like this rips you apart inside. I don't think that any Terran could understand how you suffer when it happens. We on Earth have known the pain so often that maybe it's hardened us. We're willing to accept it. Our people die in wars, in crime, in accidents, and we go on as though it's none of our business, because it wasn't us or a loved one.
"I'm one with you now. You gave me that precious gift. I know your happiness, and I know your sorrow. My only regret is that all of us can't feel this with you. Maybe we'd be less inclined to kill if each of us could join you for a few moments and absorb your love of life and peace, and the pain you feel when one of your loved ones is taken from you this way.
"Yes, my dear friends, I'm sad for my people, not because we kill, but because we still haven't learned that there's another way." With that, I sighed heavily and slowly scanned their faces, reading in them a deep appreciation of what I'd said.
After a minute or two, Kalen-Li reached out to me with both hands, and I offered mine. When they touched, I felt an overwhelming rush of compassion surge through me, and then a powerful sensation of companionship and unity. The bonds that had been forged were now complete. I was one with them, forever.
In turn, each of them repeated the gesture, and each contact only strengthened my love and admiration for them. And then, it was time to return to reality. A question arose in my mind about something that the portal technician had said on the comm. "Exactly what is interphase?"
"Putting it perhaps far too simply," Kalen answered, "during the period of transition when a teleport occurs, the mind, or the soul, if you will, exists outside the physical universe within the all-encompassing oneness of the Ultraconscious, which is a bridge, so to speak, between the physical world and what can be called the spiritual.
"There's a time limit of about four minutes during which the soul or mind can remain a discrete entity within the Ultraconscious and transfer back into a physical body. While the mind is free, it can direct the Ultraconscious on a fundamental level to access either the physical world or the higher realm, which offers a bit of explanation for what you call out-of-body travel and near-death experiences.
"Elder masters attain such a level of ascendancy that they can cross the boundary into the higher plane at will, remain for indefinite periods and return without harm. This is how regular communication is maintained between here and 'over there', although on many occasions the Masters from the higher realm elect to come over to us to bring information.
"For the rest of us, after interphase expires, the mind or spirit is elevated to the higher plane, and at that point death is final unless the Masters who govern the 'etheric realms', as your people call them, have some special reason for sending the individual back, which is well within their power."
"Is this what our religions call Heaven," I asked out of immense curiosity.
"To an extent. There are several levels or planes of spiritual being, culminating in what we interpret to be Heaven as your faiths profess. At this ultimate plane is union and communion with God. We have no direct knowledge of this, and rely on the teachings of Ascended Masters within the spiritual world. Here we are as much creatures of faith as your people.
"The teachings say that this highest level is the destiny of all, after service in the lower realms is done. Reincarnation is simply an individual requesting rebirth, perhaps to continue an unfinished work, or to be a guide or teacher on a world where the Masters deem it necessary.
"Also, if for some reason an individual hasn't completed the requirements for being elevated to the higher plane, they're sent back to continue the process. There's a grain of truth in the concept of 'karma', although a long series of lives is not the case, nor is the next life a punishment for misdeeds in a former one. It's said that some have lived as many as three times, but usually this is due to lives being cut short."
Much of this information was amazing, because it didn't seem from previous experiences with the Korendians that they were particularly interested in the spiritual aspects of life. Indeed, the nature of our situation at that moment made it even more astounding that the Master would go out of his way to offer such a lengthy discourse on the subject.
Yet, in the wholeness of the hour, it was appropriate, because it appeared that this understanding of what lay beyond was guiding their actions and reactions. I sensed the presence of those great beings from the higher realms. It was at once deeply moving and strangely disquieting. Perhaps with the contact of Kalen's hands I was endowed with a sensitivity to the reality of these other levels of being.
As this is written, I have had no "psychic" experiences as we usually define them, but the awareness of things beyond our limited existence has remained. I have come to know it as a source of comfort and strength. For this I am eternally in the debt of my Korendian brothers.
When Kalen had finished his lecture on the spiritual understandings of the Korendians, and the personnel in the area had returned to their less than etherial tasks concerning our immediate predicament, we recalled almost simultaneously the observation made by the scout pilots before they were destroyed.
"I wonder," Orii said, "just where they were going when they lifted off. There's been not a word from the fleet since the two pilots jumped, and Copernicus hasn't said anything." In response, Relda-Kim punched the comm switch.
I decided to stab at it. "If I were their commander, heaven forbid, and I wanted to launch an assault, I'd first station my forces away from the line of defense, preferably by hitting the enemy from the rear. May I point out that they're heading toward spatial south, whereas Korendor and the primary Alliance areas are toward spatial north with respect to the solar system.
"From the south, they attack with any Alliance forces that much farther away and in front of them. On Earth we call it CYA, short for Cover Your... posterior, shall we say. I'd venture that it's time to send out the troops."
"Your advice, my good friend," Kalen said a moment later, "is as usual well-reasoned and logical." He turned to Relda-Kim. "Order Highest Alert upgraded to War Alert. Tell Copernicus to maintain that status, and man everything they have. We'll do the same here. Notify Korendor to have a fleet sent here as soon as they can get them moving."
He turned to us and was silent for a long time, and then, with resignation in his voice, said to no one and to everyone, "And so it begins. May the Infinite One forgive us."
And so it began. I left shortly thereafter at my own request, to permit them to give their undivided attention to the events that would follow. The outcome of that tragic day is now a part of Alliance history. I know the outcome of that sad conflict. There were no winners in that war. There are no winners in any war, only victors.
In this one the Alliance succeeded, but at what cost? Millenia of peace and love were forced aside by an unavoidable contest with a force that sought only war, and nothing so much as war with the Alliance. While this little world of ours went about its mid-July affairs, in the blackness of space a battle was waged that unleashed powers undreamt by us.
Beyond the night, weapons in comparison to which our most modern implements of destruction are little more than stone knives were unleashed by both sides. In the end, the Alliance's superior devices of war prevailed, but this gave them no satisfaction, no pride, no consolation.
When the last shot was fired, the last explosion faded into infinity, the last ship was destroyed, and the last life was lost, the people of the Alliance knew only sorrow, frustration, despair, anguish. They didn't revel in their victory, because they felt that they hadn't achieved one.
The enemy fled into the depths of beyond to lick their wounds and plot their next assault. The Korendians knew only too well that their foes would return, and the violence and horror would begin anew. Such is the way of the other side that they cannot accept defeat. They suffered a setback, only that. War is to them not a means to an end, but an end unto itself. They do not fight to win. They fight merely to fight.
Such is the philosophy of the Kalran Empire. Into the struggle with the Omegans a new and far deadlier element has been added. The Alliance has realized perhaps too late that animosity between the various aspects of darkness can be set aside by the common bonds that unite all forms of evil.
We of Earth can offer no more than our moral support, and our prayers that in this valiant struggle, the powers of Light will prevail. Our small, vulnerable planet is at the mercy of this deadly influence, but more than that, the galaxy that arches across our skies faces that same peril.
We of Earth can do so little, but we must do what little we can. Our resistance will not be in the streets of the cities but in the minds and hearts of humanity. If we fail to carry the Light to all mankind, then the darkness must surely consume us.
Perhaps it's time that we realized that our ancient penchant for violence and war that has kept us in bondage and fear for so many centuries is at last no longer tolerable. Perhaps if we know that in our quest for new ways to bring death to our brothers, we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction at the hands of alien forces of darkness, this knowledge will make us new.
Here is where we live, and here is where we're needed. Our fate is the fate of all. Our brothers and sisters from the stars are doing their part. Let us now do ours. May the Light guide us into the New Age. Peace and love, my brethren.
© 200 Robert P. Renaud -- all rights reserved