by David F. Daumit
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Frieden walked into the living area and sat down with a sigh. From the bedroom, Guerre called out to her. “Are you done for the day?”
She heard ice tumble into glasses, followed by slow, smooth pouring. With eyes closed, she smiled. He entered the room and pressed a drink into her hand, then sat.
“Thank you,” she said.
He sipped, while she finished hers.
“Should I get the bottle?” he asked.
“No, thanks. After this, I’ll go back to tea.”
“How did it go?”
“We talked as much about your report as mine.”
“I told them you and I had talked about it.”
“Did they have a problem with that?”
“No,” she said. “They encourage peer discussion.”
“That’s what I thought. So, are things okay? Are you okay?”
The earthlight crossed over her face, as she turned to gaze out the portal.
“During my mission, we made archeological contact,” she said.
“Not as ‘wow’ as first contact, but still noteworthy, yes. We were investigating a dead planet that we thought had gone through natural, environmental upheavals. As we gathered data, we found two vitally important things: the ruins of a once living world, and the unnatural cause of its demise.
“Our discoveries created quite a stir, and we delved deeper into what happened. Our findings pointed us to another world, which had been similarly destroyed. The evidence was compelling that it had met its fate by the same unnatural force. That data led us to another world where we found the same thing. And from there, on to another world. And another, and another. World after world full of living beings, completely destroyed.”
“And the cause of destruction?” he asked.
“We never came upon whoever did it. Only saw the remnants of what they had done. But the pieces told a story of remorselessness, of complete and thorough disdain for all life other than their own.”
“Do you have any idea where they might be?”
“Everything we found was ancient,” she said. “Nothing indicated whether or not the perpetrators still exist. Half of my teams think they do, and the other half disagree.”
“What do you think?”
Saying nothing, she looked at him, then turned back to the portal.
“Now I see why you’re upset,” he said.
“In any case, we sent out a lot of probes. We’re looking for them. And Command will be sending out ships to further the search.”
“Oh, wow. This is a big deal then.”
“That’s not all of it.”
“No. None of this is unrelated.”
“What do you mean?”
“Before the meeting,” she said, “I told you I was concerned about an unrelated situation. As you told me about the angels, something bothered me. And when you showed me the map, it bothered me a little more. I hadn’t connected everything together then. But now I have. It’s all related.”
“What? You think the angels caused all that destruction?”
“No, they had nothing to do with it. They’re on the other side of the galaxy. It’s... it’s about balance.”
“I don’t follow you,” he said.
“In the same time frame that you found beings of pure good and peace, I have found their polar opposite. Their balancing force. Devils to your angels.”
“That’s an intriguing coincidence.”
“But balance isn’t coincidental. It’s the way of the universe. Black holes pull everything in, while white holes spit it all out. Action and reaction. Matter and anti-matter. Birth and death.”
“I can’t disagree that there are balancing forces in the universe. But if you take the very human, very personal perspective away from these situations, I think they still amount to coincidence.”
“There’s more to it,” she said.
He heard the weight in her voice and saw the tension drawing her face tight.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean to argue. Please go on.”
“Thanks. Here, let me show you.”
She activated the viewscreen and ordered an upload of her mission report. Then she asked him to do the same with his first contact data. In a moment, everything was there.
“Your angels have visited worlds all along this path from the edge of the galaxy to your meeting point.”
“I’m seeing 247 worlds, all supporting life, with three of them supporting sentient life.”
“They left those worlds unharmed. In most cases untouched, except when they deemed it appropriate to preserve or protect.”
“And now, in the course of due time, they will come to Earth, having been led here by you.”
“My devils,” she said, “have a similar pattern. We explored 51 worlds they had destroyed. From those, we extrapolated a course taken prior to reaching the first one we found. You can see that path leads here: another entry point into the Milky Way. Further calculations based on the time and distance between those worlds indicate they probably hit between 230 and 260 total.”
“Right in the range of 247. I’m starting to understand your concern.”
She accepted his acknowledgment with a quick nod, then continued.
“Extrapolating in the other direction, their path leads here.”
“They would be years away yet, but still... coming.”
“All right,” he said. “I get it. All the available data indicates a relationship between our newfound angels and devils. But do we have all the data? How do we know there isn’t more, or some perspective outside our own that would refute or alter what we see here?”
“We don’t know. None of this is certain. But it’s a possibility that we can’t ignore.”
“Okay. And we’re not ignoring it, right? You said Command is investigating it.”
“But that doesn’t assuage you.”
“Not entirely, no,” she said.
“Why not? Aren’t we doing all we can do?”
“I feel that Command is doing everything it can. They’re taking this seriously, and they’re acting accordingly, based on both analysis and speculation.”
“What else is there?”
“It comes back to balance.”
“I’m not understanding why balance matters,” he said. “If the devils still exist and are a threat to us, then we need to address that threat. Do they have to be a universal counterweight to the angels for us to worry about them?”
“They don’t have to be. But I think they are.”
“You really do?”
He let her statement, her belief, circulate through his mind, along with everything they had discussed. “There’s still more to why you’re upset,” he said.
“It’s not just the balance between your angels and my devils. I do believe they represent universal opposites, and I do believe it is absolutely no coincidence that their paths have taken them first towards us, and now directly to us.”
“Fair enough. I don’t know that I agree, but I respect your beliefs.”
“I also believe that, as you found the angels and led them in peace to us, I have my role with the devils. I have already found them. Now, I must lead them away from us, in war if need be.”
He started to respond.
“Please don’t try to convince me,” she said, “that my logic is flawed or that there are other possibilities. This isn’t about what is provable, it’s about how I feel. All the pieces fit together for me. I see what has happened, what I have done, and now what I have to do. Is that harder to respect?” She gave him a hopeful smile, which after a moment he returned.
“No, it isn’t harder to respect that,” he said. “But it is harder to accept it.”
“I’m not asking you to accept what I believe, just that I believe it.”
“And so I will.”
She turned off the viewscreen, and the room gently, bluely brightened to the Earth outside.
“Does Command know how you feel?” he asked.
“Yes. When all the facts were presented, they asked me.”
“And did it affect their decision?”
“That’s a good question. I don’t know, but I’d like to think it did.”
“Why is that?”
“Because they assigned me as captain of the flagship,” she said. “I’m leading the first investigative mission.”
Again he went silent. He stared outside, lost in it all. She watched him curiously, but without expectation. Eventually, he felt her gaze.
“This is a tremendous assignment,” he said. “Congratulations are in order.”
“Many wishes from you would be in order, but congratulations aren’t among them. It means the world to me that you don’t want me to go.”
“It means the world to me that you’re here.”
“But now it has to end. All to satisfy — whether it’s real or not — your cosmic parity.”
“The devils may be mine, but the balance is ours. Let’s make something of it.”
She rose into shadow, moved to him, and then eased back down into earthlight. As they no longer watched through the portal, the world turned.
* * *
The bridge shook, as the first explosion rumbled through the ship’s hull. A second explosion followed immediately. This time, as the bridge shook again, a support pylon groaned and then buckled. One of the few remaining officers turned towards the command station, ducking sparks that rained down from disgorged mechanisms.
Guerre took his eyes from the front portal and met the young man’s gaze.
“Get to the boats, Lieutenant. There’s nothing more we can do.”
The officer relayed the command around the bridge, then began herding the others to the exit. Guerre stayed where he was. The ship lurched under another explosion, and the lights sputtered out. There went an engine, Guerre noted. It wouldn’t be long now. A second pylon strained to uphold its borne weight. Inorganic guts flew forth from burst components, and open flame erupted.
Guerre had no desire to die. But he had made his choice, just as Frieden had made hers. What he didn’t know, not even now when it was far too late to matter, was if he believed in what he was doing. He knew all too well that his opponents did not believe, and they had done all they could to stop him.
Through the portal, past the fire and ruins of his bridge, he watched and hoped. A small, dead planet took up most of the view. Several specks hung motionless above it, and upon these he focused. If it didn’t happen soon, he wouldn’t see it. He had no time left.
The specks moved. Almost imperceptible at first, they quickly gained speed. Then, in the next instant, they disappeared from sight. He sighed, almost collapsing from relief.
He didn’t know if he believed Frieden. He couldn’t say for sure that her concept of balance had any validity whatsoever. But he understood that if it did, then her devils still existed. They would march onward to threaten Earth with devastation, even as the angels approached it bearing gifts of friendship and peace.
So against both military and diplomatic orders, he had arranged to meet the angels again, here at the point of first contact. He had gone against directives and sabotaged efforts supported by an entire world, in order to come here to send them away.
In no uncertain terms, he had told them they could not encroach any further into the galaxy. Nor could they initiate contact with human beings again. He had advised them to turn back, and he had demanded that they never again come within 20 light-years of any human ship or world.
The angels had listened. Their simple response was to leave, as he had just seen, as he had long hoped. Now it remained to hope that, in perfect parity, the devils would follow suit. It would happen only if Frieden had been absolutely right. If she had been, then the loss of great benefit and opportunity he had wrought would also mean an avoidance of immense destruction and misfortune.
Frieden filled his last thoughts. By her thinking, they were opposites: him a bringer of peace and her a bearer of war. Now he had changed his role. He hoped as he died that she would live to find her own role changed. He hoped there would be that balance.
Copyright © 2012 by David F. Daumit