Pieces of Kiranis
NUMBER 1 - THE BARRIER
TOKYO, WINTER, 331 NE
It was snowing, a beautiful curiosity in the great city at the heart of the new world. Kai Tzedek sipped his afternoon brandy and sat back in a ridiculously comfortable chaise longue bequeathed to him in his mother’s will. It was one of the few things of value she had left for him – one of the few things of value she had at the end. She had been a loving woman, albeit not always easy to be around. Kai had learned only within the past few years that her severity had developed as a defence against the ferocity of his father’s psychological abuse, but he still could not forgive her deflecting that abuse in his direction. In saying that – and while such deflection may have resulted in him becoming the headstrong, ambitious politician who had risen to the highest position on the planet – there were quiet evenings like this where the little voice in his head reminded him that he would relinquish the world to have her back and lose himself in her embrace. He even allowed himself to toy with the possibility of forgiveness.
He blinked away such viscous melancholia lest he drown, before looking out across the city where tens of thousands of men, women and automatons were working non-stop to rebuild what should have been an earthquake-proof haven. Tokyo had not experienced a quiet hour since Earth had shifted in its orbit. What would have been just one small step for a man was most definitely a giant leap for a planet, and Earth did not respond well to being pushed around. Tzedek felt a chill pass through him as he recalled the event: with the para-quantum shockwave from the collapse of the Illeri home-world racing across the galaxy and slamming into Earth, the dislocated tendrils of Earth’s fate had reconnected with the Sentience. They had then vanished back to their parallel plane of existence as the planet marked its territory as the new and rightful inhabitant of this orbital path in an alternate universe. The old Earth was well and truly gone, and still no one knew to where.
The reconnection had been enough to irreversibly damage the planet, but the Church of the New Elect remained unconcerned. Although they had lost many thousands of congregants around the world, their purpose was so large that these martyrs had died not in the fires of spewing lava; they had been cleansed by the righteous purgation of holy flames. Nor had they been buried in the horror of landslides; rather they had been stoned to death by a reality unworthy of the throw. And they had not drowned in the tsunamis battering the land from one end of the world to the other; instead, they had been baptised by the very hands of the Sentience. The theological whitewashing of facts blurred historical reality until, within weeks of the cataclysm, it was being described with reverence and awe akin to a prophesied apocalypse. The tearing apart of the Shield, begun in earnest within days of the multi-species attack on Earth, was celebrated as a great revealing of this new world now fully under the auspicious oversight of the New Elect. And Tzedek found himself caring less and less about relinquishing that oversight.
The godlike machinations of the Prophet Naveen were enough to humble even the most stubborn paragons of arrogance, and if truth be told, Tzedek found that without Samuel Vawter by his side, the delightful taste of conspiracy and scheming which had long sated his appetite had gradually turned to ashes in his mouth. Vawter had died in two places, one version of him on the Kwaios planet, Heragon, as he used the Argo’s Quantum Intake Conversion engine to vacuum up the disembodied souls of those powerful aliens. The other had died on a Kwaios ship, his consciousness torn from him and transferred into their Neuratech network so that the virus named Vengeance could be activated. It mattered little to Tzedek which one of the two had been a clone, and which the original. Tzedek now respected them both, while hating them equally for abandoning him to this new madness.
As for the Illeri, having endured destruction and occupation at the hands of the Kwaios while attempting to merge their goals with those of Humankind by secreting themselves on the Shield and dropping into Earth’s oceans…they were almost all either dead or deported back to the scattered remnants of their once sacred world. Tzedek was more than happy to have the Church of the New Elect take the reins on the agreed removal of the Illeri, primarily because locating the aliens was a task more suited to Church members than ordinary Humans. The aquatic species had presumed that by simply ejecting themselves into the waters of Earth via the Hydro-Pillars of the Shield that they could somehow inhabit the planet’s seas and proliferate without warranting any attention or arousing suspicion as to their ultimate goals. But Harriet Messina had taken a team of the most powerful Church members to Vawter’s subterranean facility in Antarctica, and there they had connected directly with the Sentience. According to Messina, the Sentience was far from forthcoming about the true purpose of the Illeri on Earth, but the Church still managed to learn where they had amassed, presumably in an attempt to achieve it.
Their removal from the transient safety of the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean would mark the beginning of the end for the internal diversity of this galaxy’s fate, and as Kai drained his brandy and imagined he could see every unique snowflake turn to homogenous rain, he knew that the last of the Illeri were stubbornly holding out against their inevitable and decidedly unceremonious deportation.
WEST OF MALAITA, SOLOMON ISLANDS
Harriet registered the snapping of an Illeri tentacle against the side of her face even as an unseen blast of energy threw her back and she fired three times while flying through the air. The bullets tore through her Illeri attacker, but it kept coming. All around her was rapid fighting unlike anything her team had trained for. The intense drills of the past few months were intended to prepare them for alien encounters, but the Illeri moved and fought like nothing else. Naveen – with his ever-sporadic presence – had been teaching high-ranking members of the Church how to exploit their newfound access to the Sentience; but while Harriet was capable of drawing upon the Lines in a practice session, the sort of chaos in which she now found herself was far from conducive to the focus required.
In the midst of a battle spread out across a fire-blasted atoll just west of central Malaita, heavy artillery from a passing drone battered Harriet’s gelatinous opponent while someone helped her back to her feet, and the Illeri exploded in every direction as Harriet raised her arm to deflect the disgusting spatter.
‘You were right!’ the older man shouted as he indicated that she follow him away from the ongoing battle. ‘They blasted a tunnel into a second chamber. But they’re waiting for you.’
‘Why?’ asked Harriet, withdrawing a blood-covered hand from her face as they traversed the dunes towards the east coast. ‘What’s the hold-up?’
‘Something about atmospheric variance.’
Harriet looked confused. ‘But I thought Tesckyn’s people launched the beacon?’
‘The chamber was hidden under that site. The Illeri might have known about it all along, but we can’t be sure.’
It had long been known that this small tract of land had been used as a launch site to fire a beacon into orbit in the year 230, enabling the instantaneous journey across space of the mysterious Cage and leading to the removal to the planet Kiranis of millions of Church members. The launch site had been investigated by numerous teams over the years, but despite recovering the alien launch platform, no one had been able to determine the provenance of the materials; and with Anev Tesckyn and his inner circle amongst those taken to Kiranis, no answers had been forthcoming. The site had been lost to the sea as a result of seismic activity and had been gradually forgotten about. The growing concentration of Illeri observed in the Mariana trench, some three thousand kilometres away, had initially piqued the interest of the Church, with military activity rapidly ensuing. This deepest and most inhospitable area of the world’s oceans had kept the Illeri safe from a concentrated assault, but their recent interest in the Solomon Islands led to the conclusion that attacking the collapsed launch site would draw them down and out of the trench. And so, a century after the Church of the New Elect had apparently controlled the site, they were back in search of answers. And genocide.
There were dead Illeri everywhere and the passage bordered by their littered bodies led to a depression in the beach. Beyond this depression was a submersible and two divers waiting for Harriet to join them. ‘I’ve to go down?’ she asked.
She looked to her right, where two men were standing half-naked, stripped of their diving gear and doubled over in discomfort. ‘What’s wrong with them?’ Harriet asked, seeing one man drop to his knees and vomit.
‘Like I said…atmospheric variance.’
‘Yeah, but what aren’t you saying, Leonard?’ she snapped, pointing to the vomiting man. ‘You told me they were waiting for me. Doesn’t look like it!’
He placed his hands on her upper arms and looked her straight in the eyes. ‘Do you want answers?’
She felt herself begin to tremble, but she took a deep breath and replied, ‘Of course I do. But there’s a hundred years of questions!’
‘And they all start here, Harriet. Don’t ask me how, but…I can feel it. This is what your father was talking about. We have to take control…now.’
She exhaled dramatically and nodded. ‘Let’s go.’
He led her to a woman who helped her into her diving gear. Harriet had always hated the metal collar of the diving helmet, but she was more distressed by the chord being fixed around her waist. She could see the line disappearing into the water next to the submersible. ‘What’s this for?’ she demanded of Leonard.
‘It’s okay,’ he assured her. ‘It’s to keep you safe.’
She peered at the submersible and saw the chord was attached to a pulley system. ‘It’s a winch,’ she realised. ‘To pull me out?’
The woman looked at Leonard, who nodded, saying, ‘That, too,’ before turning to walk away.
She looked back to the woman making a final check to the metal clip at Harriet’s middle. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Look…’ said the woman, ‘you need to be ready for a jolt once you’re in the water. A grappling hook will be fired down through the chamber and it will start to reel you towards it.’
It was then that Harriet made sense of the device at the front of the submersible as it bobbed in the water. It was a gun for the hook, with her chord hanging loosely from it. ‘I don’t understand,’ she said, panicking now. ‘Why would you need to pull me into the chamber?’
‘Let’s just put it this way,’ said the woman, snapping shut the clip. ‘You won’t wanna keep going.’
‘Huh?’ Harriet’s eyes widened as she felt the winch drawing on her, and she turned her head to look for the older man. He was setting up at the mobile control station, where monitors would display her progress through the chamber and towards the launch site. She had to refocus as she was pulled inexorably towards the water, quickening her steps to keep the pace. Before she knew it, she was splashing into the sea and she had to fix her nasal re-breather in place. She knew she should not have been entering the water with such anxiety, so she fought to calm herself as two other divers approached her and gave her a thumbs up. She nodded and they moved to the submersible, accompanying it as its small turbines took it beneath the waves and Harriet tapped the button on her collar. The pliable seal sucked to the skin of her neck and the flexiglass helmet snapped up to encase her head.
Then the submersible dragged her with it, and within seconds she could see the chamber beneath the island and the underwater world illuminated by the ascendant sun – corals beset by hundreds of urchins and anemones; beautifully coloured fish and crabs; and blacktip reef sharks patrolling their personal patch of subterranean flora. The divers were not long moving the submersible into position at the mouth of the chamber, gesturing for Harriet to avoid the grappling gun. She glanced down at the chord around her waist, and when she looked back to the submersible, the hook shot past her. The chord raced deep into the chamber, disturbing all life around its entrance, and Harriet’s heart was pounding as she watched the slack diminish and she anticipated the drag. It did not happen with as much ferocity as she had expected, yet still the knowledge that she was being dragged into an underwater chamber was terrifying.
Mere seconds into the tunnel, Harriet felt her stomach turn even as she marvelled at the crystalline features around her and the flora and fauna inhabiting this newly-formed passageway. The sensation of nausea increased as she approached the end of the tunnel, but where she had expected to clearly see it opening to reveal a cave answering all her questions, all she could see was a sort of underwater mirage, a rippling of reality of which she could make no sense. The dragging suddenly stopped, and she drifted forward until her entire body seemed to be screaming at her to turn back. It was a horrific experience, and her hands went straight for the clip in an attempt to disconnect from the pulley system. ‘You need to keep going,’ Leonard abruptly interrupted over the com. ‘If you don’t…we’ll never know what’s down here.’
‘I…I feel…terror!’ she cried back. ‘If I don’t turn back, I’ll puke…and I’ll drown!’
‘No…you won’t,’ the older man replied. ‘You’re the only one who’s got this far, Harriet. The winch usually jams much earlier. Use the chord. Pull yourself towards the curtain.’
She looked again at the unsettled reality before her. ‘What is this?’
‘We don’t know. The guys are using words like “flux” and “space-time” like they’re going out of fashion, but…we’ve never encountered this. All we know is that the Illeri worked hard to get at this place, and they left the safety of Mariana behind to do it.’
Harriet closed her eyes and slowed her breathing and heart rate. ‘Then we need to know why,’ she said quietly.
‘Yes, we do. Now grab the chord.’
Harriet did so, drawing herself forward with each gathering. Her head was pounding and her eyes felt aflame, but she pressed on until, finally, she passed through the liquid mirage. Instantly, her nausea and headache were gone, but this barely registered as she stared at the expansive cave in which she now found herself. There was no water in here, unless one counted the channels running down the chamber walls and the snaking streams between scores of platforms of raised rock. Even above her, the channels of water formed by permeation remained in place as they fed the side-wall falls. ‘Are you seeing this?’ she asked of Leonard’s team, as her camera showed them the gaping hole in the centre of the cave. Something had clearly fallen away into the depths, yet still no water filled the void.
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘But we’re more interested in the dead aliens all over the place.’
As if only noticing as she lowered her gaze, she began counting the Illeri dead. Strewn around the cave as if a wild animal had toyed with them, greying and rotting Illeri were in the channels, on the rock, hanging over the edge of the central abyss, even slumped over abandoned equipment and some of the workstations positioned around the hole. She counted almost thirty bodies and moved forwards among them, seeing a variation of wounds as she knelt to examine the closest one. ‘Burns…’ she noted, pointing at the blackened flesh on the normally translucent body. ‘But also rock shrapnel…’ she pointed at another dead Illeri, in which she could see floating pieces of the cave wall. ‘We did this when we blasted through.’
The silence was broken by a splashing sound, and Harriet jumped to her feet, her head swimming as she instinctively went for a gun at her thigh that was not there. ‘Figured I wouldn’t need a gun down here,’ she complained.
‘What is it?’
‘Gimme a second.’ Moving warily to her left around the dead aliens, stepping carefully over the water channels for fear of what might be in it, she soon found the source of the splashing, for Illeri were not the only aquatic species left in this place. Harriet screamed and fell back, tripping over an Illeri body as something launched itself at her from the water running alongside a workstation. This gelatinous string of tentacles and organs only came so far, probing the dead Illeri before retreating to the water. Harriet rolled off the alien body, staring in horror as she realised that there was so much more of that thing in the water. ‘Harriet!’ Leonard’s voice came over the com. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Hang on,’ she replied. ‘Whatever this is, it’s big.’
‘Says the man who tricked me into coming down here.’ She looked around for a weapon, finding a spiked metal rod behind the nearest workstation. She stepped slowly towards the water and saw the creature, its thin body stretching off in both directions. Walking to her right, she followed its unmoving body as it twisted and turned around every rock platform, occupying every area of water she encountered. ‘It’s enormous,’ she reported. ‘It just keeps going. Any idea what it is?’
‘Yes,’ said Leonard, as database images were displayed before him. ‘A type of siphonophore. Praya Dubia. They’ve been known to reach twenty to thirty metres in length.’
‘Should I be worried?’
Leonard was scrolling through the description. ‘From what I can tell, they shouldn’t be jumping out at you, that’s for sure!’
‘You think it’s supposed to be here?’
‘No idea. Check out one of those workstations. We can do wildlife later.’
Harriet nodded, but was reluctant to turn her back on the thing. Considering it seemed to be everywhere, that proved difficult. She pushed an Illeri off the closest workstation, jumping as its body splashed into the water and the siphonophore thrashed for a few seconds. Gripping the spike tightly in her right hand, she investigated the workstation, wiping some blood off the panel. ‘A number of concurrent operations were being monitored from here,’ she reported, as numerous holo-imagers were activated, ‘but…actually, they couldn’t be concurrent.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘One of them is the beacon launch, but…’ she looked down from the image, ‘according to this, it hasn’t happened yet, or…’ she looked at the blasted hole in the middle of the cave.
‘Or maybe…I dunno…it’s happening right now?’
‘Well, that’s not possible, so…what else are you seeing?’
‘Ah…’ she cycled through the projected images. ‘Sam Vawter’s facility in Antarctica. Another is like a…rendering of global magma flow, I think.’
‘Magma flow? Why monitor that?’
‘I dunno, but…another one’s watching for sun storms, and this one…I don’t recognise this planet. Hang on a sec.’ She scanned through the information at the workstation and her eyes widened as she looked back up at the alien world and reported, ‘It’s the Kwaios world!’
‘Why are the Illeri watching the Kwaios world?’
‘Good a reason as any, I suppose.’
Harriet cycled again, stopping on a disturbing image. ‘Ah…Leonard?’
‘What is it?’
She was looking at a projection of herself in this very place. ‘There’s a live access patch.’ She looked around for hidden viewers. ‘I’m being watched.’
Harriet’s gaze fell back upon the blood smear on the control panel. ‘There’s blood here,’ she said. ‘I’m gonna get a sample and get out of here.’
‘Okay. The guys are waiting for you at the end of the passageway.’
She could not get out quick enough, and her heart was pounding as she left the chamber behind, with the sensation that she was a child rushing up the night-dark stairs for fear of monsters waiting to take her down. Back on the beach, she passed the blood sample to someone from Leonard’s team as the older man approached. ‘Remember you mentioned that feeling you had?’ she called to him as soon as he was in earshot. He nodded. ‘You, too?’
‘I think I know who’s been keeping an eye on this place.’ She stepped rapidly out of her diving gear and rushed to the command unit, where the sample was being tested. Leonard caught up with her. ‘I’m not in the mood for dramatic pauses, Harriet!’ he shouted as attack craft flew overhead and opened fire on the vestiges of the Illeri defenders.
She gestured to the young man testing the blood and said, ‘Hey Cill, run it against the Garran sample from Antarctica.’
Leonard was shaking his head: ‘I think that’s a bit of a stretch, Harriet.’
‘Maybe. But if it’s a match…’ She was wide-eyed with excitement. ‘Leonard, we might have found his base of operations. Think what this could mean. This guy just pops in and out whenever and wherever he…’ She stopped and gasped, holding Leonard’s impatient gaze before asking, ‘Remember that room in the Senate Chambers?’
Leonard was catching up. ‘The one the Prophet stepped out of,’ he realised, as a smile began to crease his sun-bronzed face.
She nodded. ‘I think that’s what I saw down there. Although we blew it to bits and killed all the Illeri inside, but…I think they were using this place to escape!’
‘Well, there was only one other planet on those feeds, if that’s what they were.’
‘The Kwaios world,’ Leonard recalled. ‘The fifth planet of Kiranis.’
‘He must have known, right?’ Harriet asked, as much of herself as anyone else. ‘I mean…he must have planned it out?’ They knew who she meant, but Harriet felt sick with the realisation. The Prophet, a man many had determined was from the future and was merely following the recipe of his own past, had led Humankind for the past century along a predetermined path designed to get specific people on the two primary planets of the Kiranis system, manipulating the Church of the New Elect to create this triumvirate of advanced Humans. Harriet did not know what exactly had become of the people taken to Kiranis, but with the clone population of Heragon in possession not only of Kwaios technology but also of their knowledge, the remnant of the Church on Earth needed to connect with them to forge an alliance capable of keeping the diversity of wolves from their door.
Cill piped up as the blood test was still running. ‘Isn’t there a delegation on its way out there now?’
Harriet and Leonard looked at each other again, before Leonard voiced the obvious: ‘And it’s too late to turn them back.’
INTERSTELLAR SPACE OUTSIDE THE KIRANIS SYSTEM
Standing at the command platform of a control node of an ex-Kwaios cemetery ship, Abigale Saran watched the virtual image of the approaching vessel. It had come a long way from Earth, and with the MEC system completely out of action, the highly-advanced QUIC engine of this familiar-looking ship had been pushed to the limit to get its crew out to the Kiranis system while avoiding territory claimed by the now myriad enemies of Humankind. Of course, the MEC system had never truly been ‘in action’, as it had been nought but a cloning system collecting people for the Kwaios and depositing their facsimiles at their intended destinations. Those who had been collected were prepared for Transference, a process aimed at fusing the Fate Lines of dead Kwaios stored in the cemetery ships with vapid Human bodies.
As Commander of this cemetery ship now emptied of Kwaios Fate Lines and adapted for Human control, the irony was painful for Abigale as she – the original Abigale Saran – was about to engage with the crew of a copy of her original ship, the Argo. This one had a different name, but it was another one of her sister ships. There were undoubtedly more out there and more being built, for it was the only vessel likely to endure an engagement with the Kwaios. As the ship from Earth killed its engines and a com request was received, Abigale took a deep breath and prayed that there was not another copy of her or anyone she had known amongst its crew. The horrific reality of life on Earth was that one could encounter oneself on any given day. The great majority of clones had been taken to Heragon, but it was likely that at least one remained in the loop of Human activity centred on the Sol system. ‘Open a channel and import,’ she ordered.
The Captain of the ship, a tall, red-haired man in a white uniform sporting an unfamiliar crest, appeared on the floor of the control node, his gaze immediately drawn up to the striking woman in black standing on a raised platform. ‘Abigale!’ he gasped, smiling with relief. ‘We thought you were dead.’
Abigale smiled. ‘Gerard. It’s good to see you. And I may be dead. I’ve sort of lost track.’
He nodded. ‘I know what you mean. Feels like everyone could be a clone nowadays. I’m dreading bumping into myself out here, but…’
‘That won’t happen,’ she cut in. ‘You won’t be staying out here.’
The silence was palpable as Captain Hill of the Pegasus looked around the huge room. Roughly thirty crew members regarded him with what he considered to be warranted hostility. ‘Look, I know it’s been a while, but…we haven’t abandoned you,’ he assured them. ‘Earth was shaken to the core…literally! We’ve had so much to deal with.’
‘Have you?’ Abigale responded dismissively. ‘Gerard…’ she pointed, ‘what’s that crest on your uniform?’
Hill looked down at his breast, upon which was a black badge displaying overlapping religious symbols of different colours on a star-filled field. ‘Oh, this…it’s the Church of the New Elect. The Senate’s relinquished control in all but name. Most of the people back home don’t even realise what’s happening.’
Abigale nodded. ‘Do you?’ she asked. ‘I mean, have you any idea what’s going on?’
Hill stroked his goatee absently. ‘Maybe you could tell me, Abigale,’ he suggested, ‘because I was under the impression that I was out here to open a dialogue with…whoever’s running the show.’
‘What makes you think it’s not me?’
He shook his head. ‘The Church knows who it is, Abigale,’ he revealed carefully. ‘Do you…represent her?’
Abigale smiled coldly, nodding. ‘So, they’re worried?’
‘Should they be?’
Abigale tilted her head, and Hill realised that she was listening to someone, either in her ear or her head. His crew reported to him that countless spherical objects were materialising in the space between the two ships. ‘They’re everywhere!’ someone shouted as he tried to focus on Abigale. ‘In every direction!’
Down on the planet, a massive land vehicle rumbled across a frozen wasteland, coming to a stop as an explosion filled the horizon. Bodies of gelatinous aliens with tentacle-like appendages were thrown in every direction, and the Commander of the vehicle passed binoculars to his ultimate superior as she came up beside him. ‘Find out what happened,’ Cassandra ordered him as she surveyed the area. Hundreds of Illeri were moving in the distance, but their progress was slow, and it would soon come to a halt as their temperatures dropped so rapidly that they would fall into stasis.
‘An explosion at the other end of the conduit, Madam,’ the Commander reported as he returned. ‘Likely an attack by the New Elect.’
Cassandra Messina nodded, looking out across the icy landscape as the fire from the explosion dissipated in the distance. ‘How many Illeri do we have?’
‘The most recent estimate was just short of two thousand, Madam.’
She took a deep breath and shook her head. ‘That will have to be enough,’ she conceded. ‘Activate the Barrier.’
The spherical objects suddenly came alive, glowing blue, and Hill heard the panicked reports. ‘Grid up!’ he shouted. ‘Lock all weapons!’ The Pegasus came alive, its defensive grid launching to form a protective net around the ship.
‘It’s okay, Gerard,’ Abigale assured his projection on the Kwaios ship. ‘The answer to your question is No…they shouldn’t be worried.’ She smiled softly then, and a tear came to her eye as she said, ‘Goodbye.’
There was a blinding flash from the never-ending net of hybritech spheres, and when it was gone, so too was the Kwaios ship. But more, Hill quickly learned as he was fully back on his bridge and the reports came flooding in: ‘We can’t detect anything,’ one of the officers summarised. ‘No vessels, no planets. I’m not even picking up the Kiranis star!’
Hill stepped forward and stared out the window. All was black, as if someone had thrown a blanket across a starfield. ‘My God!’ he exclaimed. ‘The entire system is gone!’
© Ronald A. Geobey 2018