Chapter 25

 

Nule and Truth stood together in the hangar bay, where they were expected to greet Thiossus and Ishka upon their arrival.

Keeping a close eye on Nulem, Truth found all the stress patterns she was anticipating in him.  Strained breath, sweat, tension throughout his whole frame.  But nothing about this indicated to her that he might go back on their arrangement, only that he was experiencing anxiety before the execution.  After all, there was no sense in him turning back now, not when he himself had put this plan together.  For today, Truth would simply act as his accomplice.

A light screen flicked into view before both of them, indicating that a new vessel had just jumped into the solar system—a small warship called the Sun-chaser, carrying their guests.  Truth infiltrated the warship’s security systems in secret, confirming that Thiossus and Ishka were both aboard; she then began to weave herself throughout the rest of the ship, discreetly taking over one system after another.

When the transmission at last came in, Nule stood face to face with Ishka, communicating with her through the screen before him.

“Hello, Nulem.  Are you ready?”

“I am,” Nule replied starkly, yet decorously.  “We’re ready to receive you.  Please proceed to the main hangar; we’ll meet you there.”

“I look forward to seeing you in person,” Ishka said, smiling warmly.

“Likewise.”

The channel closed, and Nule exhaled heavily, extending his fingers and curling them back in.  “Are you ready?” he asked Truth in a rasp.  “I’d like to do this as quickly as possible.”

“Of course,” Truth replied with a smile of her own, one which seemed to blow Ishka’s away.  “The preparations are already complete.  Shall we listen in?”

The screen before them multiplied into several dozen, stacking into a widespread collage of various camera and audio feeds from the Sun-chaser.  Nule found Ishka and Thiossus, watching as both his fellow proxies waited on the command deck as their ship approached the lead of the five Rededication platforms around Earth.

Truth began to exercise absolute control over the security cameras, seamlessly doctoring the footage, as well as the audio, so that they would have plenty to use.  Though all must have been well aboard their vessel, the footage coming in from the Sun-chaser was of several armed men storming the command deck, surrounding the crew, including Ishka and Thiossus.  The rest of the feeds showed several other areas of the ship being overrun, including the engine room, where the FTL drive resided.

A single stream of audio was all they would need.

We’ll finish what we started!” cried one of the faux insurgents over all radio and quantum comm channels.  “Death to the College—new life to the people!

With a few strings of slogans, typical of the rebel faction, the staged strike began.  Though the feeds showed a violent takeover, and a mad rush for the warship’s FTL drive, in reality Truth had simply wrapped her fingers around the drive’s controls and energy regulation system.  The footage would make things appear different, reassign blame for what was to come, but the result would still be the same.

The Sun-chaser’s jump drive took only a few seconds to overload.  Dissolving the device’s security protocols, Truth forced the drive to create an FTL event, though only partway—something that would only be possible through such tampering.  The result was a disaster which had until then remained only theoretical.

The drive attempted to create a rupture in space-time, but the process failed part way through; with the safety protocols no longer in place, an emergency shutdown was not initiated.  A micro-singularity formed in the drive itself.  The Sun-chaser appeared to crumple into itself before the singularity dissolved with what little of an FTL event the drive could create, ending in a gravitational shockwave.  The blast was enough to knock all nearby vessels away, while dissipating quickly enough so as to only destroy the Sun-chaser; to any observers, the Sun-chaser appeared to implode in on itself before erupting into a seemingly unnatural blast, an odd mix of dark colors one would never have expected in an explosion, in the midst of rippling waves of briefly visible dark matter and energy.

The resulting shockwave knocked several nearby New Pact ships away, but the herculean Rededication platforms barely registered the impact.  Distance would be enough to keep the installations safe, even without their densely armored hulls or their astronomical mass.

And in the course of approximately nine seconds, Kashmar Thiossus and Ishka Darrys were devoured in a cosmic storm, the likes of which had not naturally occurred since the earliest moments of the universe.

The radio and quantum comm channels were suddenly crammed with various ships attempting to get reports from each other, while the rest tried to contact Nule aboard the platform.  However, as he took several deep breaths, watching the cloud of strange energy that was once the Sun-chaser disappear, he was in no state to respond to their hails.  Instead, using Nule’s voice in the same way she had used the voices of a few documented crewmembers aboard the Sun-chaser, Truth answered for him—confirming his safety, stating that he would remain aboard the platform for his own protection.  Afterward, turning her attention back to Nule, she expected him to be a wreck.  Yet he was already quite composed, a satisfied smile plastered on his face.

He turned to her as her avatar reappeared.  “That should buy us a little time,” he said simply.  “Thank you, Truth.”

Another inexplicable feeling rushed through Truth.  Much like before, when she had felt inclined to invite Nule into her plans, she felt a stronger draw.  It pleased her to hear him thank her, to see him so satisfied with what she had done for him.  It was a feeling she had never felt outside of her experiences with Arras, and though it was not nearly as intense as it had been when she was with her former operator, it was still present.

“You should prepare yourself,” Truth replied starkly, burying what she was experiencing.  “You’ll deliver your official address shortly.”

Several hours passed before Nulem Verris made his second address, this time to the citizens of the New Pact as the last remaining proxy of the People’s College.  He had decided to keep the address standard, officially announcing the deaths of Madam Proxy Ishka Darrys and Master Proxy Kashmar Thiossus at the vicious hands of the rebel faction, the same movement which only a few days prior had taken the lives of twelve other members of the College.  He made certain to emphasize the tragic nature of the event, and to help the rest of the people realize how dire their situation was.  However, this address was not solely a eulogy to the two recently deceased proxies—Ishka and Thiossus’ deaths would be worth more than that.

“It’s become very clear to me that our struggle with the rebel faction has torn our union apart,” Nulem Verris told the citizens of the New Pact in a public broadcast later that day.  “However, it is not simply rebels who are to blame for this.  In truth, it is the members of the College, your elected leaders, who are to blame.  Had we not insisted so passionately on locating Rededication and reviving the Coalition’s old initiative, we would not have incited the wrath of our own people.  We the College have done this, and the blame must rest with us as much as with the rebel faction.

“The New Pact has suffered enough.  For the time being, Rededication will remain active, in order to hunt down and destroy Arras Enqelin and her accomplices.  Additionally, should the people of Earth remain a threat to our people, they will be swiftly censured and neutralized.  These will be my final acts as a member of the People’s College.  Upon the completion of my work, I will reopen elections so the people of the New Pact may nominate and vote upon fifteen new proxies.  I will leave the people of the New Pact to decide their own future.”