First Contact short (re-write)

After grabbing some necessary feedback, I decided to re-write this particular piece of work.  Gotta say, I’m fairly pleased with the result:

Captain Rhodes frowned, his hands folded and resting against his mouth.  He watched the slow swirl of the clouds that covered Neptune pass lazily by his viewport.  Behind him, the wall was closing to conceal the viewscreen he took private messages on.  Today, he didn’t like the news that had come in.  He had just been ordered to kill the only living extraterrestrial Humanity had ever found, and to destroy the Temple he’d been living in – with no explanation as to why.  Sighing, he reached across his desk and grabbed two glasses and a glass bottle of a caramel colored alcohol.  Once they were closer, he reached out and pressed a button on his desk, and listened as a female voice responded.

Yes, Captain?”

“Send Lieutenant Sumner up to my office, please.”

Right away, sir.”  The comm clicked off, and Captain Rhodes sat back in his chair, letting out a heavy, audible sigh.  He removed his hat, setting it on the desk and running his hand through his hair.

As he looked out the viewport again, he could see the Temple – a Narelhen structure left when they resided in the Solar System over three thousand years ago.  Thinking about it always made the Captain’s head hurt.  These beings were cruising through the stars when the Roman Republic was just finding its feet.  The Temple itself was a mixture of Mayan, Egyptian and Roman-esque architecture.  That usually brought up the question of whether the Humans of that era had influenced the Narelhen, or if it had been the other way around.  He smiled absently at the thought, and a sharp knock at his door snapped him back to reality as quickly as he’d sought to leave it.

“Come in.”  The door hissed softly as it opened, and a soldier dressed in the all-black uniform that was common among the infantry of the USN entered.  The long-sleeve black jacket buttoned at the neck and at the wrists, and a zipper ran the length of the torso, black canvas pants were slightly baggy, and had pockets sewn everywhere, and the pants were tucked into black combat boots, laced tightly.  His hair was cropped short – by no means a requirement, but most infantry did it anyway – and his steel grey eyes looked to the Captain as he entered, snapping a salute and standing at attention.

The Captain returned the salute as he stood from his desk, resting his knuckles against the surface.  “At ease, Lieutenant.”  He spoke as the door closed behind the Lieutenant, clicking as the two halves met.  “Have a seat.”  The Captain motioned towards the chair at the other side of his desk and sat back down.  The Lieutenant, without saying a word, stepped over to the desk and sat down.  The two considered each other for a moment, before the Captain spoke again.

“Drink, Lieutenant?”  He reached for a glass and the bottle of alcohol.

“No, thank you, Sir.”  The Lieutenant raised his hand, and sat slightly straighter.  The Captain chuckled, and poured the alcohol anyway.  “You may need it after what I have to tell you.”

Ten minutes later, Lieutenant Sumner was looking at the ice at the bottom of his glass as he finished the alcohol offered by the Captain.  As he drew the glass away from his lips, and set it onto the surface of the desk, he asked, “Why?”  The Captain could only shrug, holding his own glass in his left hand as he sat back in his chair.  “Your guess is as good as mine, Lieutenant.  But, as you well know, orders are orders.”

“So why choose me, sir?”  The Lieutenant sat forward, focusing on the Captain with those steel-grey eyes.  The Captain answered with a grin, leaning forward and tapping his pointer and middle fingers on the folder that was resting on his desk.  “Because I’ve read your record.  I know why you were stationed here, and I know that I can count on you to get the job done, regardless of what you’re personal feelings are.”  The Lieutenant nodded, shifting his eyes to the folder.  He knew what was there.  It said that he’d followed every order ever given, regardless of what they’d had him do.  His full background, especially since joining the military.  And then there was also the one time he’d disregarded an order.

Before that, his record was mundane – just a standard grunt in the USN infantry, destined for a life of service and nothing spectacular.  Then the skirmish in Europe happened.  Most people thought that once the United Earth Coalition had been formed and the United Earth Navy had been commissioned that war was over for Humanity.  Of course, that would never be the case.  A large group of militants had decided that they didn’t like the way that the UEC was directing things, and wanted to break away.  The UEN was sent in to handle the problem, and several weeks of skirmishes had begun.

Sumner, having grown up in the Baltic states had been stationed relatively close, and so when the fighting broke out he was among the groups to be sent in.  He had been placed in charge of a squad – “Showed potential as a leader,” that’s what the Sergeants had said when he asked why he was being given the position – and deployed to take out a group of insurgents in a small town.  He’d taken to the task as he had everything else, with an unparallelled singular focus.  He found that he enjoyed it, leading his own men on the missions given to them by the UEN leadership.  And so he’d been allowed to keep the position, after displaying that he was capable of handling the responsibility.

For two weeks, his group had been one of the more successful squads sent out on missions.  They boasted having never lost a man, always coming back at one hundred percent of their fighting strength.  Maybe that’s why they were chosen for that particular mission.  Maybe it was the ability to follow orders that Sumner possessed.  To this day, he still didn’t know.  Either way, they were given a mission to go deep into enemy territory and take out a major munitions warehouse.  It was thought that if it went down, that the insurgents would lose a large part of their fighting capabilities.  So, they went.

The task was easy enough.  Nine soldiers were small enough to go unnoticed as they snuck through the countryside.  They’d decided to go in at night and catch the insurgents off-guard while the UEN attacked a more heavily-fortified position to the north.  The feint had worked, and observation drones had seen a large number of infantry and armor moving to reinforce the northern position.  However, as Sumner and his men came to learn, the enemy had still left a considerable number of men behind.

They went through with it anyway.  The gains they made in taking the warehouse were few and far-between, but when they did, they were substantial.  Each victory they took in the battles emboldened the soldiers, made them feel as invincible as everyone made them out to be.  So when the order came across to get out, that the north had been taken faster than anticipated and now the force stationed there was retreating towards the warehouse, Sumner and his men were disappointed.  The day didn’t end there, though.

His men wanted to finish the mission.  Felt they could still do it.  Said – no shouted – as much over the gunfire as they were trying to reach the point where they were to set up the explosives.  Sumner did, too.  He felt they had already come too far to turn back and retreat now.  Besides, the insurgents were still at least thirty minutes away.  That was plenty of time to blow the warehouse and get out.  So they continued.  And true to their reputation, they got the job done.

As they made their move to leave, though, the insurgents that had gone north to aid the larger base returned sooner than expected.  The nine men were surrounded as the warehouse went up in a massive ball of fire.  They were captured, and taken to a new installation where they were questioned and tortured for days.  Despite one after another dying, they never gave up any information.  When finally it came Sumner’s time for questioning, he was brought into the room where one by one his men had been taken, and he’d seen what had become of them.  

Each one was chained to the walls, bloodied, beaten… dead.  The team he led so proudly, all killed.  All because he decided to stay instead of retreat.  Because he decided to disobey an order.  He was chained in the center of the room, as he imagined the rest of them had been, and subjected to the same torture.  His nose was broken, his body battered and bruised, but he, like the others, never broke.  Just when he thought it was over, when he felt that he couldn’t continue anymore and he would die just like the rest of his men had, the installation fell to the UEN and the war had ended with a simultaneous and overwhelming coordination of force against the insurgency.  Sumner had been rescued.

Despite having disobeyed orders, he and his team were commended.  The UEN recognized that they had been trapped too deeply to simply retreat easily, and so they took his course of action as a correct one.  Sumner knew that to be false, but no one seemed to care.  He was given a medal – that he kept to this day, despite his desire to destroy it – a gold star surrounded by eight silver stars with a blue ribbon.  His nose had never healed properly, and would show signs of having been broken the rest of his life.  Along with the scar he carried across his face.  On that day, he made a promise to the eight men who’d been killed that he would never disobey an order from the UEN again, never lose another solider under his command.

“Lieutenant?”  The Captain’s voice snapped Sumner back to reality, out of the memory, and he realized that he’d absent-mindedly moved his hand to run his fingers along the scar on his face.  He blinked once, and looked to the Captain.  “Yes, sir?”

“I lost you there for a moment.  You alright?”  The Captain sat forward, setting his now-empty glass on the desk.  Sumner nodded.  “Yes, sir.  Sorry, sir.  Didn’t mean to drift off like that.”  He dropped his hand to the arm of the chair, sitting back.  “Don’t worry about it.  Must’ve been hell.  I’ve read the report more than once on that room they found you in, how your men…”  The Captain trailed off, deciding that it was better not to finish that sentence.  “There’s another part of the mission, Lieutenant,”  he started, switching subjects.  “There’s a group of researchers down there.  They’ve gotten pretty attached to the alien.  Learning a lot from him, or so they tell me.”  Sumner looked to the Captain, locking the man’s eyes with his own.  “Do you want me to handle them, too?”  He questioned.  The Captain looked at him, slightly surprised.  “What?  God no.  I just wanted to make you aware.  They may resist.”

“And what am I to do should they resist, sir?”  The Lieutenant questioned, continuing to watch the Captain.  The Captain sighed.  “I don’t want them harmed.  Just bring enough men to detain them if need be.  They don’t have any weapons, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem if it comes to it. There’s only five of them.”  Sumner nodded.  That was good.  “Is there anything else, sir?”  He asked, standing.  The Captain stood as well, responding.  “No, Lieutenant, that will be all.  Good luck.”  The Captain saluted, which Sumner returned and then turned on his heels and left the room.  The doors hissed open and then clicked shut behind the Lieutenant.  Once he was gone, Captain Rhode’s eyes returned to the lazy swirling of Neptune’s clouds.

The research team had set up most of its equipment just outside the airlock door that allowed the shuttles to attach to the Temple.  Zander was working with his AI to translate some of the plans that they’d found in the Temple.  It was his idea to decode them and store them so that the USN could analyze and adapt them later.  Antonio and Krys were assembling some of the more complex equipment over in one of the corners.  Meredith was watching Jormand as he ‘worked’.  She found their new powers fascinating, and had done all she could to pour over the files provided from the Asteroid Base that related to what had been done to them.

Jormand sat cross-legged in the center of the great hall, facing opposite a larger figure they identified as one of the Narelhen.  They were bathed in the white-blue light projected from Neptune that filtered in through several windows around the room.  The two had their eyes closed, deep in a serene concentration and they seemed to be completely oblivious to their surroundings.  They were communicating; one able to share the thoughts of the other and vice-versa.  This had been going on for weeks since the discovery of the Temple and contact with the Narelhen.  Meredith and Zander had even participated a few times, though the Narelhen seemed to prefer conversing with Jormand.

“It’s always eerie to see him like that.”  Meredith whispered to Zander.  She’d knelt beside him, gazing over at the pair in the center of the room.  “He looks dead in that light.”  Zander shook his head, laughing.  “You think too much.”  He handed another design to his AI, who immediately went to work on decoding the text.  The AI seemed to actually enjoy the work.  He sat back in his chair, looking down at Meredith.  “What do you suppose they talk about when they’re like that?”

It was Meredith’s turn to laugh.  “They’re ambassadors for entire civilizations, Zander,” she answered. “History, culture, maybe even technology.  Some of it’s tragic, too.”  She quickly clarified, “For the Narelhen, I mean.  I’ve seen Jormand crying when he’s like that.”  Zander turned his attention to the pair at the center of the room.  He had to admit, it was a little creepy seeing his best friend in that light.

“Does he share any of it with you, Meredith?”  Zander asked.  She looked at him in surprise.  “Why would he do that?”  She replied, her cheeks flushing red, eyes looking to the floor.  Zander didn’t notice, he was still watching the pair.  “Besides,” she added, “I don’t think we’ve got that trick down yet.  He doesn’t want to hurt either of us.”  Zander nodded slowly and handed a new set of files to his AI, who immediately began processing them.  He let out a sigh, “I just wish that he’d -”

A sudden rush of air caught all four scientists by surprise, and they all turned to the airlock doors.  They had opened early, letting a rush of slightly more pressurized air into the Temple.  As the doors locked into place, nine marines stepped out of the airlock and into the main chamber of the Temple.  They were fully clad in body armor and armed, though Lieutenant Sumner was using that more for show.  Two of them carried a large object the size and shape of a footlocker.  Zander stood up and moved quickly to stand in front of the Lieutenant.

“Something we can do for you, gentlemen?”  He asked, and the Lieutenant looked around at the main hall of the Temple, taking in all that surrounded them.  “Quite a place.”  He finally spoke, ignoring Zander’s original question.  Only then did he look to Zander, locking his steel eyes on him.  Zander took a deep breath and asked again, “Is there something we can do for you?”  The Lieutenant nodded and pointed to where the Narelhen and Jormand were sitting.  “Here to speak with the… thing.”  Sumner never could pronounce the alien species’ name.

“They’re occupied.” Meredith answered curtly, walking over to stand next to Zander.  The Lieutenant eyed her, grinning slightly.  He slid the assault rifle slung over his shoulder into his hands as he spoke.  “Then be so kind as to unoccupy them, please.”  Meredith’s voice remained cold, “It’s not that simple.  Their minds are connected, intertwined.  If we just shook them awake you could effectively kill them both.”  Well, that would have worked for the Narelhen, but Lieutenant Sumner had been ordered not to harm the scientists.  “How long can we expect before they wake up?”  The Lieutenant asked, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“It’s hard to say.”  Meredith folded her arms across her chest, meeting the Lieutenant’s annoyed stare.  “Sometimes they go for hours.  We should be coming up on one of their breaks, though.  The process is still taxing for Jormand.  Takes a lot out of him, he needs to eat something.”  The Lieutenant nodded at that information.  “Then we’ll wait.”  Meredith opened her mouth to protest when a new voice, deep and smooth, rang clear across the vaulted hall.

“That won’t be necessary, Lieutenant.”  Jormand spoke as he approached the group of soldiers and scientists.  His was adjusting his uniform, showing the wrinkles where he had been sitting for so long.  Meredith turned away from Sumner and hurried over to Jormand’s side.  Their glances seemed to exchange their words, and he nodded.  “I understand you’re here to speak with Asvald.”

“With who?”  The Lieutenant shifted his eyes from the Narelhen, who was now drinking a liquid from a ceramic cup near the center of the chamber, to Jormand.  Jormand laughed slightly, “The ‘thing’, as you called him.  Though you’re here for much more than that, aren’t you?”  The laugh died away, and he grew more serious, standing before the Lieutenant now.  “No, just -”  The Lieutenant began to answer before Jormand cut him off.  “Come now, Lieutenant.  Surely you didn’t think you could get past three psychics with that weak reasoning, did you?”  Zander and Meredith looked to each other, curious as to what Jormand had meant.  They hadn’t ‘heard’ anything from the Lieutenant contrary to what he’d stated.

“You know I won’t allow you to do that.  There’s too much at stake here.”  Jormand shook his head, taking a few steps backward and raising his hands.  “There’s more information here than you can possibly imagine.  It will fast-forward our technology by decades, maybe centuries if we can harness it.”  The Lieutenant folded his arms across his chest, staring at Jormand as he spoke.  “Orders are orders, Commander.  Regardless of personal feelings.  Now, are you going to let me complete my orders?”  Having listened to the exchange between Jormand and Sumner, one of the other scientists, Antonio, spoke up – his Common having a slight Latin undertone to it.  “Jormand, what’s he talking about?  What are they here to do?”

“Would you care to tell them, Lieutenant?”  Jormand focused back on Lieutenant Sumner, giving him a few moments to answer before he answered the question himself.  “They’re here to kill Asvald.  Though they don’t know why.  They’re just following orders, as the Lieutenant said.”  The other scientists immediately turned to face the group of marines, who were growing more tense.  “Is that true!?”  Zander shouted, though he knew the answer.  “Yes, we’re here to kill the alien and destroy the Temple, under orders from USN Command.”  The Lieutenant answered, reaching for a pistol strapped to his side, shouldering the assault rifle again.  “And I’d appreciate it if you allowed me to do my job without jeopardizing my second order.”  

“And what’s that!?”  Zander shouted.  “Not harming any of you.”  The Lieutenant answered coolly, staring at Jormand.  “How about it, Commander?”  Jormand shook his head.  “You know I can’t allow that.  Won’t allow that.”  He stood firm between Sumner and the Narelhen, who by this time had moved to watching the shouting match in a language he did not understand.  “Fine.”  The Lieutenant raised the pistol and let one shot ring out.  The casing hit the ground with a soft ring as Jormand dropped to one knee, gripping his shoulder.  Meredith shouted, and moved to try and reach Jormand but the marines had moved as the gun was leveled to restrain the other scientists.  She struggled against the marine who grabbed her, and Zander tried to break free, earning himself a rifle butt to the face.  He went down, his cheek split, and two marines stood over him.  Antonio attempted to struggle, but eventually gave it up.  Krys simply stood by, watching Jormand.

The Lieutenant took the opportunity and pointed the pistol once more, this time at the Narelhen.  Two more shots rang out, and what happened next – no one expected.

The connection was gone.  Jormand could feel a part of his mind being ripped away, as though a great clawed beast had reached into the back of his head and torn out a chunk of his brain.  The blood dripped slowly down his hand as he gripped his shoulder tightly, suddenly completely unaware that he’d been shot moments before.  The feeling of emptiness was overwhelming.  His eyes closed tightly, and the world seemed to stop.

Avenge him.

For a moment, Jormand was in his own world.  He had grown so accustomed to the second voice in his head that his mind seemed to compensate for it.  Jormand withdrew into his mind, shutting out the world for a few precious seconds.  He needed quiet, he needed to be whole.  His personality almost seemed to shatter in two, as though he were looking in a mirror, and suddenly the mirror-image was another him.

You have the power.  Avenge him.

The voice spoke again.  Jormand opened his eyes slowly, looking up at the Lieutenant.  A calm fell over him, and he watched as the man lowered the weapon he’d used to shatter Jormand’s world.  Jormand took a quick sweep of the situation.  In the time he’d been shot, the marines had moved to restrain his team, his friends.  Zander had been struck, he could feel a part of the pain from his best friend as Zander wiped blood off his lips.

AVENGE.  HIM.

The voice persisted, and Jormand finally ignored all else.  The emptiness was replaced by something else.  A fire that he couldn’t explain.  It tore through the empty space devouring all it could, cauterizing – hardening – his mind.  Something clicked and Jormand found himself again.

I will.

He answered himself, and Jormand focused on Sumner.  Before the Lieutenant could lower the pistol back to his hip, it was suddenly wrenched free as though something had grabbed his wrist.  The gun skittered across the room and came to rest against one of the stone walls of the hall.  Sumner’s arm was suddenly twisted into an impossible angle, muscle tearing and bones shattering from the sudden torque.  His eyes went wide, and he finally realized what had happened as he screamed, blood seeping down his arm and soaking his uniform sleeve.  All eyes were on Jormand now, and he stood slowly, still gripping his shoulder.  Something now surrounded him, what was best described as the distortion seen when heat rises off asphalt.

The marines immediately forgot about the other scientists and moved to restrain Jormand.  For him, though, the world still seemed to move in slow motion.  When the eight marines simultaneously moved to engage him he took in a deep breath and screamed, balling his functioning hand into a fist as it fell from his injured shoulder.  The scream impacted on a much higher level, boring into the marines’ minds instead of just assaulting their ears.  Those of weaker will passed out almost instantly, gripping the sides of their heads as they fell.  Three were able to withstand the sonic assault, and continued to press forward against this alien foe.  Jormand lashed out with his hand at one of the marines, and he was halted – floating – before Jormand threw his arm to his side, the marine flying and impacting the wall of the Temple with a loud crack followed by a sickening slosh, and the body lay limp on the ground, a trail of glistening red tracing from the point of impact to where the body came to rest.

The last two marines quickly closed the remaining distance before Jormand could react and tackled him to the floor.  His back thudded against the hard stone floor, and the wind rushed outward from his lungs.  He felt dizzy.  Black haze clawed towards him at the edge of his vision, and he fought to remain conscious.  His mind swam, and he shook his head.  The haze slowly dispersed, and he brought his arm up just in time to catch the fist of one of the marines trying to put him out.  He pushed forward, and the two slid backward across the floor as he sat up slowly.  The marines were almost immediately back on their feet and rushing toward him again.  Jormand wouldn’t let them get a second opportunity.  He pushed his arm out from his body, and the nearest marine’s leg twisted awkwardly at the knee.  The man went down hard, clutching his knee and writhing in pain.  The final marine was tossed against the opposite wall, though only hard enough to knock him out.  He slumped against the wall, his head lolling from side to side before he lay still, unconscious.

Jormand stood slowly, and so blinded by his rage and the flow of psychic power that he did not see who his next target actually was, only that they were near him.  In all the action, Meredith had gotten near him, and it dawned on Jormand who it was right before he unleashed another psychic flourish on her.  He punched to her right, causing a huge depression in the stone floor as the kinetic energy crashed against it.  The power vanished nearly as quickly as it had manifested, and he suddenly felt drained, empty.  She just stared at him.  “H-how did you?”  She whispered, reaching tenderly for his shoulder.  Before he could answer, though, her eyes darted over his shoulder, going wide.  “No!”  She shrieked.

From the battle, and being mentally exhausted after the last release, Jormand hadn’t seen Sumner recover his handgun and get behind him.  Sumner growled and brought the handgun down hard on the back of Jormand’s head.  The blow brought back the black haze, and Jormand was unable to fight it off this time.  He slipped into unconsciousness and crumpled against Meredith, who lowered him to the floor.  She knelt beside him, looking him over frantically.  Sumner threw the pistol down, letting it skitter again across the room before looking to Meredith.  “What.  The hell.  Was that.”  His breathing was ragged, and he reached to support his shattered arm with his good arm.  She didn’t even acknowledge him until she’s found signs of life from Jormand.

“I-I don’t actually know…”  She stammered, trailing off, keeping her eyes on Jormand.  She wiped away a tear before she stood up slowly.  “I’ve never seen anything like that.”  She wrapped her arms around her body as she looked around the main hall of the Temple.  Most of the fallen marines were bleeding from their ears or noses, killed from the first psychically-amplified scream.  The marine that had been thrown against the wall was the greatest mess.  His blood had pooled in his armor, and began to seep out all over the floor, slowly running along the cracks in the stone.  The marine with the broken leg was finally starting to come-to.  She was visibly shaken by the scene, and trembled slightly.  She shook her head, wanting it all to be gone.  “I didn’t… Didn’t think we were capable of anything like this.”

“You sure it’s not just him?”  Sumner looked down at Jormand, and then to the body of the Narelhen.  He slowly stepped over to the corpse, and nudged it with his boot.  “Or something that he did to him?”  He frowned slightly as blue-green blood now covered the toe of his boot.  Meredith shook her head again.  “We’ll never know, now.”  She took in the entire hall one more time.  “Was all this,”  she motioned at the scene before them for emphasis, “really necessary?”  Sumner was walking toward the case that the marines had brought in with them, answering her as he walked.  “It was orders.  I don’t disobey orders.  I certainly didn’t think I was bringing a majority of my squad out here to die among a single alien and five researchers.”  He knelt in front of the box.  “Get him up.  The rest of you, get your gear and get to the shuttle.”

Zander had walked over to where Jormand lay, as had the rest of the team.  “Why?”  He turned, the right side of his face and his shoulder streaked red from his blood.  “The second half of my orders were to level this place.”  Sumner answered, checking something within the box before closing it and moving to drag it with his good arm towards the center of the Temple hall.

“No, no, no…”  Zander started walking after the Lieutenant.  “Killing Asvald was bad enough.  But now you want to destroy the Temple, too?  We haven’t finished here!”  The Lieutenant shook his head.  “Don’t care.  Someone on the Council wants this place leveled, and the USN Command passed that order down to me.  I don’t plan on disobeying that order.  This place never existed.”  The final marine began to stir against the wall, and Sumner jogged over to where he’d fallen, grabbing his extended forearm and pulling him to his feet.  “Good to have you among the living, soldier.”  The marine nodded, attempting a half-salute before dropping his arm back to his side.  “Help these people get their gear back to our shuttle, and help Bryant.  Can you do that?”  The marine gave him a short nod.

“Hell of a headache right now, but I’ll get it done, sir.”  Sumner clapped him on the shoulder, nodding in approval with a slight smile.  The hit earned him a wince from the marine, but the marine went to assist and the Lieutenant walked back over to the crate, continuing to drag it.  Zander continued to hound him.  “This is unacceptable, Lieutenant.  You can’t destroy this Temple.”

“If I don’t, someone will.”  Sumner answered, kneeling before the box as he finished dragging it into the center of the room.  He stood, spinning on Zander and pointing with his good arm.  “You think the next will allow you to collect your research?  That’s not a part of my orders.  Give it ten minutes, and I’ll prove to you I can destroy this place.”  He knelt back down, opening the crate and slowly typing commands into the console.  A soft hum originated from the crate as the explosive began to power up.  Zander persisted. “There’s too much information here -”

“Information the Council doesn’t see a use for!”  Sumner finally exploded, balling his hand into a fist.  “This is happening, whether you like it or not.”  He pointed to where Jormand still lay.  “Go and see to your friend.  He’s getting locked up when we get back.”  His face grew grim.  “He’ll be lucky to see the light of day again after this.”  He turned back to the device, and then – as if another thought crossed his mind – he laughed and spun again to look at Zander.  “Oh, and before you get – or attempt – the idea of overpowering me?  Remember all the marines on the ship.  One’s not going to make a difference.”  He returned to entering the codes into the console, and a device in the center rose up and began to spin slowly as the humming intensified.

Zander shook his head, and walked back over to where the rest of the group was.  He looked to Antonio this time.  “This is wrong.”  A smile crossed Antonio’s face, though it was grim.  “We can’t stand against the Navy, Zander.”  Antonio responded, “Believe me, I hate this as much as you do, but right now we need to take care of our friend.  We need to get Jormand out of here.”  Meredith had torn the sleeve of her uniform off and pressed it against Jormand’s shoulder.  She had placed her knee against it to apply as much pressure as she could.  As Zander knelt to look him over, she looked at him.  “We have to do what we can so he’s not locked up.”  Zander nodded, standing again quickly.  “Fine.”

He took Antonio and went to load their equipment onto the shuttle.  It didn’t take long.  They’d only decided to save what was currently being worked on.  The research came first and foremost.  Any equipment used for analysis could be replaced, the source material couldn’t.  Once it was all loaded, Antonio and Zander returned to where Jormand was laying.

“He alright to be moved?”  Antonio asked.  Meredith thought for a moment, and nodded slowly, standing and stepping back so that the two men could carry Jormand to the shuttle.  Krys stood with Meredith as they took him out, and Meredith turned her head to look at the Lieutenant.  “We’re finished.”  She called to him coldly.  He didn’t reply, and the only noise from his direction were the occasional clicks and beeps from the explosive.  After he was sure it was set, he stood, looking to them.  “Same.”  He shouldered his rifle on his good arm, and collected his pistol, thrusting it back into its holster.

The mood on the shuttle was somber.  No one spoke.  The scientists sat as far away from the viewports as possible, Meredith sitting near Jormand.  He was – despite her protests – had been handcuffed to one of the railings in the shuttle.  He was still unconscious, and Meredith suspected he would have been glad he was unconscious for this part.  The Lieutenant sat with his two remaining marines, watching out the window as the shuttle sped back toward the USNS Odyssey.  He pulled out a small device from his left knee’s pocket 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 – despite his orders, he didn’t want to see the explosion any more than the research team did.  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.  The shuttle rocked for a few seconds as the shockwave passed over them.  Meredith kept watch on Jormand while Zander looked down into his hands and Krys buried her head in Antonio’s shoulder.  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…

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