Prologue

When all is said and done,
every human being on planet earth
wants exactly the same thing …
just to love and be loved in return …
to creatively work with their own two hands
and offer undying hope to their children.

. . . for Ruth and all the lovely hobbits . . .

D O W N S T E P

All I have done and left undone

now weighs upon my soul.

Who am I?

A fragment of Creation?

A self conscious hologram?

For the last time,

the illusion of fear.

My old enemy.

My old friend.

Oh . . . the lovely faces.

Deep into the unexplored territory of space the lightship Chrysalis plunged wildly toward the blaze of an unnamed sun.

“Shut it down! Shut it down!” L-5 cried from below.

The robot struggled frantically to energize a patch for the ruptured tachyon tube.

“There’s still no response!” shouted Helaah, struggling to mentally entrain control over the Chrysalis through the hand grooves.

He wiped the sweat off his face, took some deep breaths, and looked at his three human crew members, so thankful now that this one time, this only time, he had left Pheledra behind. That ridiculous argument … stubbornness. I acted like …

“Sevret, report on the condition of the rim field.” Noctera’s voice was shaking.

Sevret stared at the monitors overhead, her eyes wide with terror. “No power control. No direction control! We’re headed into that sun! The stray tachyon waves from the explosion are eating up the rim on the starboard side!”

Suddenly the craft changed course.

Payra tried frantically to recalibrate the balancers. He shot a quick glance at Helaah. “Did you do that?”

“No, no! We’re completely out of control!”

Payra quickly rolled over to the output indicators.

Helaah ripped the cover off the hand controls to examine the insides. “Did that direction change help us any?

“No, we’re curving back around,” replied Payra.

Helaah probed the circuitry with a testing tool. The problem is not here. L-5, how are conditions down there?”

“Bad!” answered the robot, “I can’t neutralize the stray energy from the ruptured tachyon tube … shock blending may start at any moment!”

Oh no,Helaah whispered.

“What are the droids doing?” Sevret demanded.

On the power deck below, L-5 glanced over at the brilliant multicolored lights flashing back and forth. “There’s nothing they can do! They’re in conference trying to come up with something . . . frustrated and desperate!”

Helaah fought the panic with every inner resource in his being and quickly began to run his hand over the pulse generator to prepare for density shift.

“Payra, can you calculate our arc so we can form a portal?”

“Yes, if we don’t suddenly shift directions again.”

“Do it quick.”

“Okay, okay … upcoming coordinates … forty seven … ninety two … seventy eight … thirty three … everyone together. Let’s sing!”

The entire crew began to mentally entone the gate frequency for an energetic boost to the light ship�s neurological processes. A bright blue light appeared in space off the port side of the Chrysalis.

“Oh, my spirit,” said Sevret, as the blue light opened like a flower from its center with boiling white clouds.

“There it is!” exclaimed Noctera.

“But can we intersect it?” Helaah sounded doubtful.

“It’s moving away from us as we approach it,” said L-5 from below.

“Damn!” Payra exclaimed, “I was afraid that might happen!” He was almost beside himself. “The strong gravitational vortex won’t let us pass through the filter curtain.”

Helaah opened his hands in a gesture of surrender and calm acceptance. “We’re stuck … we can’t upstep through the vortex portal. L-5, send Amber up here immediately. I want to preserve at least one droid in case the entire power deck becomes compromised.”

Amber flew up to the control deck. “I’ll just stay out of the way until you need me.”

A terrific explosion resounded from below and everyone went sprawling to the floor. Undulating electromagnetic rainbows crackled in and out of existence from every direction. Helaah scrambled back to his station. “L-5! L-5! Answer!”

“There goes the last tachyon tube,” replied the robot, “I’m shaken but still operating. However, the droids were completely toasted from the magnetic pulse. Fortunately, my shields were up. Is Amber still okay?”

Helaah glanced over his shoulder as Amber gave a thumbs up. “She survived. The pulse must have been localized.”

“Payra, what is our critical ETA?” asked Noctera as she looked through the wide angle scope.

“We’re way passed it,” Payra said, trying to sound calm.

Everyone sighed almost at the same time as the grim reality hit home.

“All external monitors out.” Sevret said getting out of her seat. “I’m going outside to inspect the damage. Maybe there’s still some way to get us headed away from that sun!”

The lightship gave a sudden lurch, changing directions again, then again, then again returning to its fatal plunge. Helaah took a deep breath and started to shake his head but thought better of it. “Sevret, be sure to turn up your field generator so you stay with the ship.”

Sevret snapped on an EV belt, which would produce the survival bubble around her, and quickly entered the lock. Once outside she hung close to the saucer and made her way around the rim.

“The stray energy pockets are bouncing everywhere on the starboard side,” she reported. The edge is completely dissolved away and the deterioration is progressing laterally.”

“How fast?” Noctera asked, trying to stay in control of herself.

“Who knows,” replied Sevret, “jerky … irregular … Wow! Those tachyon bolts almost fried me!”

“Get back in!” shouted Helaah.

“Right away!”

A strong vibration began. It quickly grew stronger making it difficult for anyone to see the instruments. Sevret couldn’t get the outside hatch open to get back inside, so she moved vertically up the dome where she could re-enter the ship through the soft chamber. She only had to activate the quantum structure change and pop herself through to the observation deck.

She was just about to key her EV belt when the first shock blending occurred. The pain and mental distress was indescribable as all material particles flew apart at the speed of light then contracted back in. Sevret saw that her leg had become embedded into the metal of the lightship. She panicked and broke her hip trying to get free.

When the vibrations decreased, Helaah was sick to his stomach and trembling. “Report in,” he said weakly.

“I’m okay,” said Noctera catching her breath. “Poor Sevret.”

“Intact,” said Amber.

Payra moaned. “I’ve dislocated my shoulder.”

“Sevret … report in!” Helaah was worried. He could hear her crying.

“L-5, are you still with us?” Noctera’s voice was tense.

“Ahhh … you might say that,” he said, “I now find my left side mingled with the bulkhead. For that, there is no known cure … but I’ve still got all my wits.”

Helaah shook his head. “Sevret, report if you can!”

He could hear her crying but she didn’t answer. “I’m going out to get her.”

Helaah was shaking badly and fumbled desperately to put on an EV belt. It took him way too long but he finally made his way out through the lock. He was in terrible shape from the shock blending and it had been a long time since he’d experienced the vastness of space up close in a survival bubble. He was disoriented. Particles of dust and tiny meteorites whizzed around him, diverted by the protective field. A cloud of particles pummeled the survival bubble and he almost lost his grip. He turned up his field generator, calmed his mind and looked around. Behind him a trillion stars gleamed, as if a single brilliant light was shining through holes punched in the fabric of space-time. In front of him, the fiery mouth of the monster beckoned. He tried hard not to panic or throw up, took a deep breath and carefully made his way around the rim and up the side of the dome where Sevret was struggling and writhing in pain. He quickly bathed her in a numbing ray and saw that she was in serious trouble.

“Sevret, the shock blending has caused your leg to become molecularly bonded with the ship. I can’t get you free. I’ll have to amputate.”

“It’s no use Helaah. My protective field has already been compromised. It will collapse in a few microns.” Sevret became very calm. “No one lives forever.”

“Oh Sevret …” Helaah closed his eyes. “What can I do for you? What can I do for you?”

Sevret winced in pain, then managed a smile. “If, by some miracle, you live through this, tell Pheledra how much her wonderful friendship strengthened me and got me through my doubts. Tell her … I died happy … and so in love with all of you.”

“Oh Sevret …” Tears streamed down his face. “I … I can’t leave you like this.”

Her eyes had a far away look. “I want to go now … into the beyond. Tell Pheledra … promise?”

“I promise … but please …” Before he could finish his sentence, her survival bubble collapsed and she died instantly. “No … no Sevret,” he sobbed, but it was too late.

He felt the vibrations starting up again and knew he must work quickly. This precious soul deserves the utmost honor and respect. With his laser he carefully cut through her trapped leg and gripped the body. He wanted to get her back inside but without the survival bubble to deflect the meteorites and space trash, her corpse was quickly shredded apart. A sudden shower of particles ripped her body out of his hands and she was gone. Frustrated and angry, he slapped the side of the dome with his hand as the tears streamed down his face. His heavy heart dampened the fear as memories of the long and wonderful friendship flashed before his eyes.

He found the soft chamber and activated the quantum structure change, allowing himself to slip through the wall of the dome and emerged onto the observation deck. He switched off the survival bubble. The vibrations became erratic. Another shock blending took him away. When it was over, he was completely disoriented and it took several microns to recover.

“Everyone report.” he finally said through the communicator.

“Payra and I are coming up now.” Noctera sounded out of breath. “The tachyon radiation is too strong down here.”

“I’m not damaged,” said Amber, flexing her mechanical arms.

“Still functioning.” L-5’s voice sounded far away, “but it�s hell down here on the power deck. My machinery is frozen up. Most of my circuits are damaged beyond repair. I can’t move at all … but I still have all my wits.”

Noctera was just helping Payra up through the hatch when another burst momentarily blew everything apart.

When Helaah came to, he found himself lying upside down across one of the observation chairs. He rolled off onto his hands and knees and saw Payra’s head and upper body protruding from the floor. “Oh no!” Noctera’s face was embedded in the wall. She was obviously dead. He quickly checked himself and was thankful to see that his own body was intact.

“I took a hard hit,” said Amber. “Now conducting self-examination.”

“L-5, speak to me.” Helaah’s voice was desperate.

“I still have all my wits. … I still have all my wits … I still have all my wits.” He obviously didn’t.

Helaah crawled over to Payra. He was in shock and slowly dying. A big pressure blast knocked him flat and at the same time he heard Payra’s neck snap from the force. “Payra? Payra?” Then, all power and lights went out. The terrible sounds made it clear that a portion of the ship had blown away. He shouted into the blackness. “Amber, Amber, are you still functional? Can you seal us off?”

“Trying … trying … yes … I can still generate some energy fields but my inner light is growing weak.”

“Seal us off, scan the ship, assess the damage and open up transparency in the dome!”

“Okay … just a micron … observation deck isolated. All crew dead except for you and I. Most of the power deck, all tachyon tubes, the two recon saucers, four droids and L-5 gone for good, control deck smashed and unusable … dome transparency activated.”

Fiery light engulfed the observation deck. It was too bright to look up. Now, there was no more vibration. An eerie silence prevailed for a moment as the suns gravity accelerated them headlong toward oblivion. The atmosphere inside the ship was getting hotter by the moment. Then a high pitched whine and violent shaking ensued.

Helaah lay face down on the floor with his hands clasped behind his neck. The back of his head felt like it was on fire. His body was soaked with sweat. He looked up a little and quickly shaded his eyes. “Tint the transparency, Amber.”

“Aye, aye sir,” she said. The dome clouded over. He rolled onto his side and remained still for a moment silencing his mind and preparing for death. As the whining vibration and heat increased, he flopped back and forth from one side to the other, his heart pounding as searing death drew near. “Pheledra … Pheledra … love of my soul … forgive me …”

CONTINUE: 1) – THE MISSION

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