“Sir?” A soldier stood at parade rest in front of a large screen, a well-decorated man sitting behind a desk on the other side.
“Kill the alien, and destroy the temple.” It took the soldier a moment to comprehend the order. “Do you understand?” The man added, more than a little irritation creeping into his voice. The soldier roused himself from his daze and snapped a salute.
“Y-yes, sir!” he replied.
“Good.” The man had grown impatient and turned the screen off. The soldier noticeably relaxed, despite having been ordered to destroy the only sign of intelligent life humanity had come across. Sitting down at his desk, he stared out the viewport at the temple, shadowed against the blue-green swirls of Neptune. The soldier would have to send down a group of soldiers, enough to do the job and contain the research team working in the temple. He’d have to give the order to just do it, rather than notifying the research team of evacuating.
He sighed, reaching across his desk for a bottle and two glasses. Next, he placed his hand on a button, listening as a female voice responded.
“Get me the Lieutenant for the marines stationed with us.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll send him directly to you.”
Five minutes later, a knock echoed through his office.
“Come in.” The soldier was standing at his viewport, his back to the door as the Lieutenant entered.
“You wanted to see me, Captain?” The Lieutenant saluted as the Captain turned around, returning the salute.
“At ease, Lieutenant.” He moved behind his desk. “Drink?”
“No, thank you, sir.”
“You may need it after what I have to tell you.”
The Lieutenant looked at the bottom of the glass, and the last bit of alcohol among the ice. He tossed the rest back quickly, swallowing hard.
“So I’m just supposed to take a group of my soldiers into the temple and put two in the things head?” He set the glass on the Captain’s desk. The Captain nodded, refilling his glass and offering to the Lieutenant, who declined. “What about the research team? Surely they’ll want to know what’s going on? This is a major, lifetime achievement for all of them.”
“If they know, they may take matters into their own hands. This order comes from the top.” The Captain shook his head. “No, best to simply be done with it. Obviously they’re not going to like it.”
“You’re damn right they’re not going to like it.” The Lieutenant frowned, folding his arms across his chest. “They may even take action against my men. What do I do in that case?”
“Bring enough people down there to contain them!” The Captain was growing impatient, banging his glass down on the desk. “They’re scientists, not soldiers. Just get it done. Dismissed.” The Lieutenant snapped a salute and the Captain went back to the window as he turned to leave.
Four figures went about their business in the temple. They were all human, and each had their own tasks to complete. A fifth sat on the floor, cross-legged, in front of another figure. The other was clearly not human. Mostly smooth-skinned, patches of scales formed a natural armor down the center of its face, along its forearms and other areas hidden by robes – flowing white and drapping around him – as he sat in much the same position. One feature that caused him to truely stand out was the four bony horns protruding from the sides of his head. They were each about a foot long.
The two sat in serene concentration, clearly oblivious to the world around them. They were, in fact, communicating; One able to read the thoughts of the other. Two of the other humans were able to replicate the feat, though the leader participated the most.
“What do you think they talk about for hours on end?” One of the male scientists stood next to one of the females.
“They’re ambassadors for entire civilizations, Zander,” she answered. “History, culture. Some of it tragic, too. For the Narelhen, I mean. I’ve seen Jormand crying when he’s like that.”
“Does he share any of it with you, Krys?” she looked at Zander in surprise.
“Why would he do that?” She asked, her cheeks turning red, “Besides, I don’t think we’ve got that trick down yet. I don’t think he wants to hurt either of us.”
“I just wish that he’d –” A sudden crash outside the main hall drew his attention away from the conversation. A few moments later, thirteen marines burst into the room – fully armored and armed – with the Lieutenant in the lead. Zander stepped towards them.
“What can we do for you, gentlemen?” He folded his arms across his chest.
“Here to see the thing.” The Lieutenant responded, looking at the pair at the other end of the room.
“They’re occupied.” Krys replied curtly.
“Then unoccupy them, or I do it for you.”
“You can’t just nudge them awake. Their minds are intertwined. You could end up effectively killing them both.” The Lieutenant sighed, placing his fingers against the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. A few seconds later, he opened them, dropping his hand back to his side.
“I don’t have time for this.” He nodded, and the marines sprang into action, moving to restrain the four scientists. Zander attempted to fight back and was met with the stock of a rifle. The blow struck his cheek and split the skin, blood dripping to the stone floor. He dropped to his knees. Krys knelt beside him, placing her hands on his shoulders while four marines surrounded them. “Now –”
“What’s going on here?” A voice, deep and smooth, rang through the hall. Jormand was awake and striding towards the group. The Narelhen had awakened as well, and was drinking something from a cup near where they were sitting.
“Glad you’re awake. I needed to speak with him.” Jormand laughed.
“You’re a terrible liar, Lieutenant. Or had you forgotten?” Jormand tapped the side of his head. “Did you think we’d let you waltz in? This is too important to listen to the xenophobes on the Council.”
“Orders are orders.” The Lieutenant crossed his arms against his chest. “Regardless of personal feelings.”
“Listen.” Jormand placed his hands out in front of him, pleading with the Lieutenant. “You have to know how important this is.” His face grew grim, dropping his arms. “You know you’d have to kill the five of us, too. We won’t just let you.” The Lieutenant took his handgun from its holster, looking it over.
“That’s a shame. I thought I’d just have to lock you all up for a day or two.” The gun was pointed and rang out a single shot in the blink of an eye. Jormand grabbed his shoulder, momentarily losing his balance and dropping to one knee. Krys screamed and the third male scientist struggled against the marines who moved to restrain him forcefully.
The world seemed to move in slow motion. Jormand looked up to see two more shots fired at the Narelhen. He knew they were fatal, could feel the connection severed. All the knowledge he’d yet to obtain, to share. At that moment it was all gone. Something snapped in his mind, or maybe it unlocked, and he looked toward the Lieutenant.
In real time, the second shot from the gun had barely impacted the Narelhen before the Lieutenant’s arm twisted at an impossible angle. He screamed in agony, dropping the gun and letting it skitter across the stone floor. Everyone looked to Jormand who stood slowly, gripping his shoulder, his hand red with his own blood. Something surrounded him – the best way to describe it was the distortion caused by heat radiating from asphalt. The other marines tried to assault him, thinking that one could not possible stand against twelve. They’d been given orders to kill no one, regardless of the situation.
Jormand closed his eyes, concentrating on the marines before him. Most dropped in the first few seconds of the psychic assault, so wracked with pain that they fell to their knees, clutching the sides of their head. Those that were less affected pressed forward, trying to stop the noise.
Jormand ‘grabbed’ one of them, flinging his body head-first against the nearby wall. There was a loud crunch, followed by a squish, and the body lay limp. The next target had his knee twisted grossly to the inside of his body, collapsing just a few feet in front of Jormand. Two managed to reach him, and they tackled him. His back hit the ground hard, knocking the wind from his lungs. His rage, and by extention the burst of psychic energy, had not abated. He pushed against the first assailant, throwing him up with a force greater than should have been possible. The other, he did the same, but against a wall.
He was on his feet in seconds. He felt someone near him, but his rage clouded his mind. As he turned to blast his next target, nearly unleashing a new flourish of psychic energy, he recognized Krys in front of him. He stopped cold, adrenaline clearing – his mind sobering from the rage almost immediately.
“How did you…” she whispered, reaching toward his shoudler. Her eyes darted to just over his shoulder and she gasped sharply. “No!”
Mentally exhausted, Jormand did not see the Lieutenant retrieve his handgun and get behind him. The next feeling was a sharp pain followed by a numbing sensation. Unable to remain conscious he passed out, crumpling to the floor. The Lieutenant dropped the handgun and looked to Krys, reaching to support his mangled arm.
“What the hell was that?” His eyes followed her down as she knelt beside Jormand, checking him.
“I don’t actually know. I’ve never seen anything like it.” She looked behind her, at the bodies of the marines. Some, most, were dead – blood running from their ears or noses. The one wth he broken leg was coming to, and the solider against the wall was the greatest mess, his blood pooling in his armor and oozing out across the temple floor. Krys shook her head, shaking slightly. “I didn’t think we wer capable of this.”
“You sure it isn’t just him?” The Lieutenant walked over to the body of the Narelhen, nudging it with his foot. “Or was it something theydid afterward?” He frowned at the blue-green blood on his boot.
“We’ll never know now. Was all this,” she waved with her hand at the entirety of the main chamber for emphasis, “really necessary?”
“It was orders. I didn’t think I was sending my squad to their deaths among a single alien and five scientists.” He turned to her. “You really believe all that nonsense about the empires?”
“I’d have to have spoken with the Narelhen. We very rarely did. He didn’t seem as interested as with Jormand. Maybe historian kindred spirits.” She grinned slightly.
“Well, guess we’ll never know. Get him up.” He started marching. “You others, get your gear and get to the shuttle.”
“Why?” Zander had gottn to his feet, the right side of his face and shoulder stained red.
“Order two.” He pointed to a large locked container in the doorway of the main hall.
“No, no, no…” Zander stepped towards the Lieutenant. “Killing the Narelhen was bad enough. But destroying the temple? We haven’t finished here!” The Lieutenant shook his head.
“Don’t care. There’s a reason the Council wants this place leveled, and I don’t plan to question it.” Someone stirred on the floor, and the Lieutenant jogged over to him, grabbing him by the forearm and pulling him to his feet. “Good to have you among the living, marine.” The marine gave him a half-salute. “Help these people get their gear back to our shuttle, and help our wounded. Can you do that?”
“Hell of a headache, but I’ll get it done, sir.” The Lieutenant clapped him on the shoulder, which earned a wince from the marine, and went to collect the explosive from the container.
“This is unacceptable, Lieutenant.” Zander kept after him. “You can’t destroy this temple.”
“If I don’t, someone will.” He spun on Zander, pointing with his one good arm. “You think the next will allow you to collect your research? Give it ten minutes. I’ll prove you wrong.” He unlocked the case and began taking out pieces of the device. With one arm, he sighed and started dragging the crate.
“There’s too much information here -”
“Information the Council doesn’t see a use for!” He exploded, balling his hand into a fist. Then, he pointed to Jormand, still unconscious. “Go and see to your friend. He’s getting locked up when we get back. He’ll be lucky to see the light of day again. This is happening. Whether you like it or not.” He laughed to himself. “And before you get – or attempt – the idea of overpowering me, remember all the marines still on the ship.” Once he brought the crate to the center of the room, he began unpacking the pieces of the bomb.
Zander shook his head, looking to Krys, “This is wrong.” She smiled grimly.
“We can’t stand against the Navy, Zander. I hate it as much as you do, but right now we’ve got to take care of Jormand.” She had torn her uniform’s sleeve to wad up and press against Jormand’s shoulder. She was kneeling against it as Zander joined her to check on him. “We have to do what we can so he’s not locked up.”
“Fine.” Zander stood again and went to assist the others in loading gear. It didn’t take long, an soon he and the other male scientist, Antonio, returned.
“He okay to be moved?” Antonio asked, and Krys thought for a moment before nodding. She stood, stepping aside and letting the two carry Jormand to the shuttle.
“We’re finished.” She called to the Lieutenant coldly. He was silent, save for a few clicks and beeps from the explosive. Then he stood, turning to her.
“As am I.” He collected his handgun, holstering it and leaving the temple’s main chamber.
The mood on the shuttle was somber. No one spoke. The scientists sat as far away from the viewports as possible, Krys sitting near Jormand who – despite her protests – had been handcuffed. He was still unconscious, and Krys suspected he would want to remain so through this. The Lieutenant sat with his two remaining marines, watching out the window as the shuttle sped back toward the Odyssey, the vessel that had carried them out to the temple. He pulled out a small device from his pouch, and held it in his hand, looking down at it for a few moments before flipping it open. It began to glow, charging until it was green. He looked away from the viewport, and pressed the button on the top. Closing his eyes, the world shifted from the blue-green of Neptune to a sickly mix of blue-green and orange. The temple broke itself apart a few moments later, some pieces being pushed by the explosion down towards Neptune where they would eventually crash into the clouds, and some were pressed outward, where they would be captured by gravity and set into orbit as a strange cloud of dust and debris. It was finished. The temple was destroyed, and the Narelhen killed. However, the Lieutenant had no idea that he had set in motion with three bullets a bloody new chapter of Humanity’s history…