Author's Note: It's probably bad luck to end a story on chapter thirteen, but alas, I must. I'd like to repeat how sorry I am for neglecting this story for so long, and I hope anyone who's still reading this will forgive me. Also, I think I have another Andromeda fic which has never seen so if it does indeed exist, I'll get the first chapter of that uploaded before bed.
I think there's a ref' in here… gold stars to whomever finds it! Oh, wait, after re-reading, there are two.
Chapter Thirteen (the last):
One good thing that came out of the Genite slaughter, though no one put it quite that way, was the mass rally of the Known Worlds to the only remaining source of hope, the fledging Commonwealth and the Nietzschean Alliance. Harper had Perseid science and Than resources at his disposal, and he would need all of it to find a way to destroy the Worldship. Beka received a message from one of the chairmen of the F.T.A., an unpretentious title for the men and women who directed the Free Trade Alliance, bestowing upon her the title of High Ambassador and transferring credit to her bank account as retroactive salary from the time they had first approached her. She wanted to protest that she hadn't done anything for the F.T.A., but Telemachus assured her that they were paying her for her mere association with the Commonweath and through her, their place on the signatory treaty.
Charlemagne's First Wife came to visit him, a point of particular amusement for Beka. The haughty, beautiful woman couldn't understand why Beka could barely keep from laughing every time they saw one another despite the contempt Elsbett made no attempt to hide of everyone who was not Nietzschean. She wasn't used to people laughing at her, and her inability to cow Beka infuriated her. The latter was convinced that Charlemagne relished seeing the two of them in the same room, and in passing he once whispered to her, "Quite a specimen, isn't she? Spirited but completely unoriginal."
One night, after Elsbett had been especially unbearable, Andromeda held a huge party on the Obs Deck, and Beka took her silent revenge on the woman by playing R-rated footsie with her husband. When he caught her eye, she lifted her glass, and he laughed appreciatively. Elsbett turned to see what had amused her husband, but Beka was speaking quietly to her neighbor at that moment, and the Nietzschean woman contented herself with flirting with Dylan, whom she believed to be Beka's lover.
But most of the time was spent less pleasantly, building up a massive fleet and preparing battle plans. Beka was shuttled from one camp to another and lost track of the Maru's crew for days at a time. Weeks passed too quickly, and long before she was ready, Beka was called back to the Andromeda, where the three Triumvirs - one newly elected -announced that the fleet would leave within the week to face the Worldship.
The night before they were scheduled to leave, Dylan called a conference with the Andromeda's crew just after the last battle drill. No one had left their battle stations when the Captain's voice echoed over Andromeda's ship-wide comm channel.
"Good work, people. You've made incredible progress since you first came aboard, and I want you to know how proud I and your Triumvirs are of each of you. You honor the restored Commonwealth with your undaunting loyalty in the face of the horror we will meet tomorrow. We're setting off at 0700 with one of the largest assembled fleets in the history of the Known Worlds, but you will be at the battle's center. The information I am about to share with you is known only to the leaders of our allied governments, but I believe you deserve to know danger we will face.
"With the help of Captain Valentine, Chief Engineer Harper has worked tirelessly with our Perseid associates to create a weapon capable of destroying the Worldship once and for all. Each of our allies, including the Nietzscheans," he added with a dry chuckle, "has agreed to serve as a mass distraction and protection for the Andromeda Ascendant while we launch the weapon.
"This is bigger than us, but you already knew that. As long as one of us remains alive, the Commonwealth will survive. I have utter confidence that you will perform tomorrow at the best of your abilities. Together we hold the line against the night, and we will hold that line tomorrow. Hunt out."
Command was silent, as was doubtless the rest of the ship. Beka was lost in thought, recalling the struggle she had endured to convince the Nietzscheans to agree to Dylan's plan. Tyr had proved particularly stubborn, refusing to sacrifice the entirety of his people - if it came down to that - for a weapon that should work. He had watched his people serve as target practice for the Knights of Genetic Purity and would not present them as cannon fodder for another mad human.
Beka had attempted to force him to see that not a single Nietzschean would remain if Andromeda failed, but he countered that no one knew if Harper's bomb would work and that he could not count on a technobabble miracle to save them. He was immoveable until Beka had asked the others - Charlemagne, Telemachus, and four Nietzschean generals - to leave them alone for a minute.
"I was afraid this might happen," Beka said when they were alone, "and that I might not be able to make you see reason. I guess I do understand Nietzscheans pretty well." She retrieved a disc from a pocke and fed it to her wrist computer unit. "There was only one person I could think of who might succeed." She stood and moved to sit on the armrest of Tyr's chair.
He didn't bother to ask her what she meant but waited for her to reveal her ace. His face was stone, until the disc began to play, and then the sole sign of emotion he showed was a widening of his dark eyes.
"Greetings, husband. If you are seeing this, the Genites have succeeded in the slaughter of my Pride." From the tiny screen, a woman with striking features spoke more strongly than her thin figure and hollow face suggested possible. Beka sneaked a glance at Tyr to see his eyes riveted on her and felt her heart lurch. Would anyone cherish her memory this way if she died in the coming battle?
"I am certain that, though I've not survived, you have saved our son and will continue to save him until he steps into his destiny." The image shifted to a rough cradle and the child inside. His dark eyes, so like his father's, focused on the viewer for a brief moment. "Everything for him, Tamerlane Anasazi, out of Freya by Tyr. As long he lives, so will hope for our fallen people," she finished in an eerie premonition of Dylan's speech a few days later.
The scenary changed, and a face familiar to Beka, an older face with little in common with the first figure beyond premature wear and deeply penetrating eyes. "Freya asked me to keep her message for a day, a need that would make itself known. I considered showing it to you before now, but I am glad I followed her instructions. Freya knew you better than anyone else, I believe, and knew that one day you might be called upon to choose between the present and the future.
"There is no shame in faltering, for yours is a burden few have borne and even fewer borne well. Yet I believe that you will choose as you must and as Freya cold have wished. Your Captain Valentine has explained the quandry you face, and I will counsel only this: many Nietzscheans will die soon, and it is your curse to decide whether they will be warriors with their eyes open or a child who cannot defend himself against the demonic horde that would consume the universe." The scene faded to blackness.
"You think this emotional blackmail will sway me?" Tyr finally asked, his voice deadly quiet.
"No. I think cold Nietzschean logic will. Like Olma said, the present or the future. You might save enough Nietzscheans to retreat to an isolated world and survive there for the months or years it would take the Magog to traverse the Known Worlds. But you'd just buying time, and you know it. You can condemn you son to a slow death that way or you can condemn your soldiers to death in a few days' time, so the Andromeda can with a single stroke annihilate that horde."
Their eyes locked.
"You'rea far harder woman that I suspected, Rebecca. I should have been honored to call you wife and mother in another universe. Very well, I agree to your Captain's scheme." In silent exchange for his concession, she handed him the disc. The others allowed themselves to be persuaded after they were that Tyr supported the human's plan.
"We none of us deserve you, you know," Charlemagne said to her as they separated. He pressed something onto her hand, and when she opened it, she saw a disc. For a confused moment, she thought it was Olma's recording and couldn't do anything more than blink at him in reply. He leaned in and kissed her chastely on the cheek. It was the last time she saw him.
When she returned to her ship and played the disc, she discovered it was one of the music discs her brother had lifted off her years ago. To anyone else, it would have seemed a paltry gift from a man with so much at his disposal, but this had been a part of her father's collection, a stash she had come across on the Maru a few months after her died. Ignatius must have hidden it and forgotten about it, or it would have been pawned during those last terrible years. She played it as she returned to Andromeda and remembered a father who had laughed and loved.
People began stirring again in Command, and Beka forced herself to focus on the present. Later that night she was to have a little party with her crew - she would always think of them as her crew no matter what the future brought - and she was content to think that they knew each other so well that they wouldn't need to put on their brave faces. They didn't even have to think of inspiring 'in case we never see each other again' speeches. They knew what they meant to one another, and that was enough.
The next morning, every eye in Command was bright and alert, even if it had not shut a minute in sleep the night before. Beka piloted the Andromeda through a slipstream route she was beginning to know very well, this time with thousands upon thousands of ships at her back. This time, it was not her but the Magog who should fear her arrival.
To Beka's horrified surprise, the sun at the center of the Worldship seemed to have returned to its former size. Trance had warned her that whatever drove the Magog was evil, and now she felt the reality of it. To add to her foreboding, the Magog did not wait decently until the opposing forece was organized to send out the first wave of fighters. They destroyed a ship just emerding from slipstream, a Castalian whose intent training had served for nothing, and so fell the first casualty.
"This is it, people. Everyone knows the plan, so let's bring it." Not the most inspiring opening words, but they served their purpose.
Because the allied fleet was fresh and the Magog depleted from their combat with the Genites, the battle turned to the alliance's favor until the Magog were pushed back to the Worldship. To Beka's frustration - though of course she had known all along it would be so - the Andromeda was always accompanied by another fighter in rotation. They didn't want to tip off the Magog as to their intentions before they were ready, but neither could they risk severe damage to the Andromeda.
The Nietzschean-trained humans weren't brilliant fighters, but they functioned as a tight, disciplined unit, and they were responsible for much of the death dealt to the enemy alongside their genetically-engineered, generally-despised cousins. One of the great strengths of the allied fleet was its diversity of style and tactics, so the Magog's experience against one ship was little use against another. Dylan had recognized this advantage and left most of the coordination of individual ships up to the generals to whom he had explained the broad outline of his plan. And the Andromeda had the distinction of killing the most Magog of any single ship in spite of her protection and Dylan's insistence on relative caution.
"This is it," Harper shouted over the ship-wide comm. "The bomb, christened Athena by our goddess of obscure Earth trivia, is ready for her maiden and only voyage, but we need to get a lot closer or Tina's just gonna kill a lot of Magog but leave the Worldship. The Genites got the thermal exhaust port, if you will, now we're gonna bring the bitch down." Beka wasn't sure what the meant by the thermal exhaust port business but didn't doubt it to be another ancient Earth reference. In any case, the import of his words was clear enough.
From the station where he and Telemachus coordinated strategy with dozens of other commanders, Dylan located the nearest clump of allied ships and requested an escort. He muttered something, then looked up at Beka. "Arch-duke Bolivar told me to tell you that he rides to earn his lady's favor. It must be some kind of message to one or all of his wives." He sounded puzzled but forgot it in the next minute as he returned his attention to his station.
Beka swallowed and gripped the controls until her knuckles were white. "We should be in position within half an hour at our current rate," she announced in what she hoped was a neutral tone.
"I'm getting an urgent hail," Rommie shouted. "I don't know who it is, but he claims to have worked with the Genites at the highest levels and to have escaped just now from the Worldship. He also says he knows Trance."
"Let him in," Dylan replied. "I'll make sure he's covered."
As if she'd heard her name, Trance dashed into Command just as Dylan gave his order. "Can I talk to him alone just for a little while? You can't spare anyone else, and it's very important that I see him."
"Go ahead, Trance. I'm not going to waste time asking how you know that you know this person." With that, he dismissed her, and the girl ran off.
In her absence, Harper left his station in Engineering to await the final countdown in Command. Nearly five minutes passed before Trance returned with the escapee, a youngish-looking man with silver-blue skin and Trance's tail and pointed ears. Her looked pinched and nervous, while Trance at his side looked tenser than Beka had ever seen her.
"He's demanding to speak to you, Dylan, but I suggest you ignore him and ask one of the 'bots to throw him out the nearest airlock, if they can."
Beka's attention was distracted by this uncharacteristic speech from Trance, but a burst of Magog fire pointed her focus back at the viewscreen. She kept her eyes glued ahead and her ears open.
"Forgive me, Captain," the man began, "for coming without warning like this. You must not launch you weapon, not from this distance."
"Who are you to give these drastic orders," Telemachus demanded.
"You may call me Oracle, but that isn't important right now. You must know that the one you call Trance has certain abilities beyond the ordinary. You might call it clairvoyance in the most literal sense of the term. Have you thought to ask her what she believes will be the outcome of this struggle?"
Dylan looked between the pair, and his gaze settled on Trance. "No. Make it quick, Trance."
"There's a chance everything will work out, but, okay, it's a pretty small one. A lot of things have gone wrong already."
"What she means is that this isn't the right place and time for most of you. She's known this for a long time, but Trance is something of an optimist. To her credit, she did all she could. She brought the right people here, but her love for her friends has prevented her from taking them to the last step."
"Let me decide that. What alternatives are you offering?"
"The weapon must be delivered within the sun's corona, or it will but temporarily slow the Magog, just as the Genite weapon did. I believe he can confirm this." Oracle nodded at Harper.
"What, no! I mean, we'll be more than close enough in a little while. It might increase the effect if Tina were dropped closer, but none of our calculations and simulations could say for sure."
Oracle shook his head. "This is going to be difficult, but it must be said. The weapon will strip the star of its envelope but not reach its core with sufficient strength if it is dispatched from the Andromeda. I doubt you wish to subject you entire crew to deadly levels of radiation poisoning. Only an expert pilot and an engineer sufficently acquainted with the weapon will be able to release it at the necessary moment. Nor can an automated drone or your formidable AI, and up close, the sun would blind mechanical sensors."
"There is nothing," Telemachus roared, "to support your claims. I will not send two of our best to certain death without something more concrete, and you have failed to provide that. Captain, I request that you order this man removed from Command."
Oracle laughed quietly. "You search confirmation of my words? Look into the eyes of Trance Gemini and Seamus Harper. They know that I speak the truth. Ask your ship."
"Like Harper said, that's all conjecture. I-"
"It's okay, Rom-Doll."
Beka whipped her head around, ready to yell at Harper if he said what she feared he would, but their eyes met for a long moment. She gave him a tiny nod and then looked ahead and continued piloting towards the sun.
"We did think of this early on, but none of the simulations showed conclusively that it would help." Harper smiled faintly. "But Rommie conducted all the simulations, didn't you, darlin'?"
"Of course I did." Her voice shook. "I didn't alter any of the data, if that's what you're implying."
"But you suppressed a little."
"Stop it, Harper!" Trance said sharply.
"It wouldn't have made a difference! The chances of two organics positioning the weapon correctly was infinitesimal, and the probability manifested itself in one sole simulation." By the time she finished, Rommie was pleading, tears welling up in her eyes. "Don't do this."
"I know it is painful, but you must set aside emotion for a minute, Captain. You have the evidence before you."
"Captain, we're a few minutes from the drop," Telemachus declared. "Remove the doomsayer and let us proceed as scheduled."
"I can't order to people to death like that, Oracle. I'm a soldier, and I accept casualties in war, but what you propose amount to an execution. On the other hand, it is my duty to sentient civilization to maximize the changed of eliminating the Magog. Therefore, I leave the decisions to anyone who would shoulder this burden."
"Then I volunteer on the condition that I go alone," Telemachus said immediately.
"Sorry, Admiral," Beka called from her station. "Tina has to go in the Maru; he's the only ship we can spare, and you don't know him like I do. No one knows him like I do, and I'm the best pilot we have."
"And no one knows Tina like her creator," Harper added. "It'll be like old times."
"Ahmayid!" Beka shouted. "Take over for me." She stepped away from the controls. "Like I told Tyr, it's the present or the future."
"Beka, Harper, please don't listen to him. I'm not blinded by anything, and I can see what he's trying to do. You two are very, very important, and he just wants to get rid of you so the future fails." Trance tried to rush to her friends, but Oracle blocked her with one arm.
Beka grasped Harper's hand. "We're going, Trance. It can't hurt - everyone's said so - and we have to seize any possibility that we'll get these bastards for good."
"And hey, we've got Rev on our side, so we're guaranteed safe passage when we're done," Harper quipped.
The combined protests of Trance, Rommie, and Telemachus could do nothing to sway Beka and Harper's decision, and the quiet approval mingled with grief in Dylan's eyes reinforced it. The pair left Command amid the desperate cries of their friends. Beka yelled over the din a request that someone would tell Rev good-bye for them, and Dylan nodded.
The corridors were still despite the chaos raging outside. "Khalid, change of plans," Harper said into his sub-dermal communicator, a new update to his dataport, "Get Tina into the Eureka Maru's cargo hold. The lady requested a change of carriage. It doesn't matter why, the Harper says so. Ten minutes is too long... yeah, five minutes ago is more like it."
Beka grinned. "Did you teach them the old 'multiply your estimates by five' trick?"
"Nah, it's instinctual to all engineers. So whaddya think of all this?" His smile was genuine, but his eyes shone too brightly.
"It's a bitch, but it's better than a Flash overdose or a Nightsider hit for dropped cargo."
"Or cholera or Magog infestation."
"You got a thing for slow, agonizing death, kid?"
They continued in silence until they reached the Maru, comfortable in each other's quiet company. A young Nietzschean stood at the hatch and saluted Beke and Harper smartly before leaving.
"Good ol' Khalid. Between him and the Admiral, I may have to reconsider my stance on Nietzscheans."
"Harper," Bek said as she strapped herself in, "no last-minute confessions of undying love, okay?"
Returning from his check on the bomb, Harper laughed. "Gee, boss, are you sure you don't want to hear the epic poem I wrote in your honor? Okay, well, it was more of a limerick. There once was a bug from San-Ska-Re-"
"That is the second time in recent memory someone's offered to recite me poetry, and the answer is the same. NO. Andromeda, permission to leave the table?"
"Permission granted. I - goodbye." Andromeda's simple farewell threw a lull over them.
"Beka, can I make a confession of undying love if it's not the lovey-dovey kind?"
"Ah, Harper, I love you too."
She left the airlock and conversation was suspended as both needed full concentration in their respective tasks - Beka's keeping them alive long enough to die at the right place and time, and Harper's making sure it they didn't die in vain.
"Almost there, boss. Dylan's got us covered, so it's straight on till morning. It's essential that you reach these coordinates, or it's gonna be really awkward when we go back."
"No going back this time."
The Maru groaned under Beka's defensive flight pattern, but he held together like he always did when it counted. Alarms sounded when they approached the sun and Beka ordered her ship to let down the shades. The temperature shot up as they sped towards the star, and Beka felt nausea and dizziness rise in her in an overwhelming wave.
"We made it, Beka," Harper croaked. "Tina's away." He groped his way through the cockpit to stand at her side. He leaned over the edge of her seat and lay his head on her shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her. She grasped his hand, and Tina transformed the sun into a fiery blossom in the night.
Trance brought her fists crashing down on the rough-hewn table that held her miniature tree. She screamed, but at an unexpected noise behind her, she quieted. "You will not succeed," she spat without turning around to identify the source of the noise.
The silver-blue creature, sometimes called Oracle, stepped into her field of vision. "How very strange. I believe I just did, in fact."
Trance laughed then, a terrible sound without a trace of amusement. "That's where your master is mistaken. Oracle is a fitting name for you; all you will ever be is a false prophet for your god of nothingness." As she spoke, the potted bonsai withered, died, and regenerated a tiny shoot.
"Your quaint metaphor is as predictable as your attachment to your pawns. Do you not wish peace for them? I have granted it to them, the Abyss has granted it, and you will insist on tormenting them to infinity."
"Peace? No, I do not wish peace for them or anyone. I wish chaos and mess and life for them and the universe. Spare me your nihilist propaganda."
"Very well." With a startling speed, Oracle seized the clay pot and shoved it over the table's edge, so it crashed on the stone floor beneath them. "I think you will find it difficult to rebuild your future without your precious metaphor."
Trance took a quick step forward and grabbed Oracle's throat in one hand. "That wasn't very nice."
"Killing me will only serve to send me to my master's loving embrace, meddler!"
Trance laughed again, and in the midst of his triumph, Oracle shivered. "I'm not going to kil you. I'm going to show you the punishment I've thought of for you, and then you're going to help me." She released his throat and entwined her fingers in his navy-blue hair, pulling his head down to her eye level.
A second passed, and Oracle saw eternity in Trance's glittering eyes. He began to writhe in her grasp as her fingers dug into his scalp. Thick, mud-colored blood seeped from his scalp and drip down his body until it reached the floor and spread around the shattered pot. Oracle howled and arched backwards so that blood sprayed across the table.
Trance wrinkled her nose at the sight and dropped Oracle at her feet, suddenly unconcerned with him. The clay was damp with blood and malleable enough that she was able to reform it into a pot into which she scooped the fallen soil. She gently tucked in the unharmed bonsai sapling and smiled. Oracle moaned, and Trance turned the force of her smile on him. A high keening escaped him as he dragged himself away from the unbearable agony of the girl exuded.
"Don't worry, Pronoia," she cooed to the shoot. "Trance will make it better. She always does."