Chapter 1- Nia
A flurry of explosions dotted the landscape of stars. Echoes of light, so blinding they should make one flinch, were now a common occurrence, like blots of paint splattered across a canvas with such frequency that barely any of the white underneath could be seen.
After three Earth years of constant warfare, the Anti-Spirals were on the defensive.
It had long become apparent that the lone Spiral Tribe that rebelled against them now was not of the same caliber as those that had been defeated in the past. Even destroying their home planet had done no good in the end, instead only making them stronger, more desperate, with less inhibitions and less compromising to ideals.
Their leader in particular was the greatest threat. He was different from the others. Not only in level of power, but also in confidence and the sheer force of will that fueled his exploits. Every time they were driven to a corner, this man alone would break them out, with such ease that it would seem it took barely any effort.
Yet worst of all was the fact that he would go to any measure, regardless of the harm done to his surroundings, to keep his small crew alive. Entire star systems became tools of war as he manipulated them like the conductor of a mad orchestra, and other Spiral races fell victim to his raids to accumulate resources. And as more time passed, the damage caused to the universe grew more devastating.
The Anti-Spirals now considered this man the Spiral Nemesis incarnate. And this only drove them further to put an end to him. They had already realized that merely stopping their attacks would solve nothing, for this man would still keep fighting, with a relentless fury that at times even frightened his own crewmates.
In their efforts to protect the universe, the Anti-Spirals had created a monster.
But this was of no concern to the Anti-Spiral Messenger. She only did as she was told, following orders with no complaint, mute and obedient as a computer. Though recently, her role had been expanded. She now led the fights herself, appearing before and during battle to taunt the Spirals, attempting to intimidate them.
It no longer worked, unfortunately, but this time would be the last anyhow. She had been given command of the main ships, and this time she appeared before them not as a hologram, but physically right within their own ship.
The humans gasped aloud when she warped onto their main bridge, all except for the captain, who merely raised an eyebrow and waited for her to speak. And so she did, looking him straight in the eyes.
"Give up, humans. You shall now meet your end."
"We've heard that how many times now? Please, just send your ships. I'm getting bored," the man said, crossing his arms in a sign of impatience.
"Fall to despair," said she, and sent the ships forward. They warped in uncomfortably close, with canons aimed and ready. They fired half a second later.
"Shields!" shouted the man simply. The crew responded accordingly, but they weren't the only ones to hear.
The Messenger turned her head slightly. Suddenly, before hitting the shield, the beams of light began flying around the outside of the ship like a cyclone of fireflies.
"What are they doing?" wondered the aide.
The captain only wordlessly watched the display. After a moment, he gave an order. "Shoot them down."
To fire their own canons, the ship had to first raise its shields. It would leave them defenseless for a few seconds, but that short interval was usually enough to shoot down all the enemy missiles.
But the Messenger heard this order too. As soon as the shields were lifted, she nodded, and the beams of light scattered. Then the Anti-Spiral ships put up their own force fields.
The Spiral ship launched its canons. The beams, having lost their targets, bounced off the force field and came tearing back to their own ship. At such a close distance, and completely surrounded on every side, the Spirals had no way to escape.
The impacts rocked the ship, knocking many of the crew to the floor. Only the Messenger and the captain remained standing upright. She continued staring into his eyes. A small frown creased his face.
The operators began shouting out the list of damages from their computer panels. The man ignored them. The aide ordered for someone to track the enemy beams, and the operators shouted back that they had disappeared in a warp. Amid the confusion, the Messenger moved her head again.
Seeing this, the captain barked at once, "Shields!"
The instant he said this, the Anti-Spirals launched their second volley. The beams hit the shields harmlessly.
The captain ordered to respond with an attack. But as soon as he opened his mouth, the Messenger raised her arm, and at the very same moment the shields were lowered, the Anti-Spirals' first volley warped back and pummeled the ship.
As the crew regained their balance again, and more damages were announced, the captain's aide mused out loud. "It's as if they are reading our minds…"
"Not they. Her," said the captain, nodding towards the Messenger.
So he figured it out so soon.
The man smirked. "From this close, she can see and hear everything I command. This is a test of speed. Unless you all can read my mind, she will have the advantage."
"What should we do?"
The man did not reply. He met her gaze now. They stared at each other as if daring the other to move first, her eyes cold and motionless like the water at the bottom of a forgotten well, his bold and intense as a sunspot.
Indeed, this was a test, but one that he could not pass. Even with all his unlimited power, he was still human, and thus his commands were transmitted on waves of sound. She, on the other hand, was a virtual life form connected to a great hive mind. Her orders were given and received instantly. The victor was obvious. Finally, this war would be put to an end.
But the man continued staring, his gaze trying to detect something in hers. Was he trying to read her mind? Foolish Spiral.
To show him the pointlessness of his effort, this time the Messenger ordered for an attack without moving at all. The Anti-Spiral ships fired. But just when she expected him to order for the shields, the man did something completely unexpected.
He came running toward her, fist raised and swinging directly at her face. Only in the last split second did she manage to warp to safety a few feet away. At the same time, the Anti-Spiral beams hit the ship. The man wobbled on his feet.
"Captain?!" shouted the crew, alarmed.
"Think for yourselves, everyone!" said the man, sounding almost gleeful, as he swung another fist at the Messenger's face. Again, she teleported, and just as quickly as she reappeared, he was already sending a kick to her side. She avoided this too, and in her mind, ordered for another attack before reappearing again.
They danced across the deck in this way. The good thing was that it kept him occupied, as he chased her around with a grin on his face, the tail of his coat whirling like a whip with every sharp turn. But the problem was it kept her occupied as well. Meanwhile, the aide took over as second-in-command, issuing orders in his captain's place.
The Messenger had no second-in-command. Even from such short a distance, even with all her mental capacity, it took an effort to continue escaping the man's physical assaults, ordering the ships to attack, and listening for the aide's orders all at the same time. The man had found a flaw in their plan, and in doing so, turned the human disadvantage into an advantage.
"What do you think, Messenger?" the man laughed as he swung at her again. "Strength in numbers! Comes pretty handy, eh?"
She had no time to answer. Fifteen of the Anti-Spiral ships had just been destroyed. She needed to concentrate harder on defenses or they would soon be wiped out. She listened hard for the aide's next order, hearing one word before warping, and catching the end of a word after reappearing. Not enough information. Were the humans trying a new tactic? Would it be wiser to attack or defend? No time to analyze the odds. Another thirty ships destroyed. Perhaps she should defend half of the remaining ships and send the rest to—
Her thoughts were cut short by the man's leg tripping her feet. Before she could realize what was happening, the Messenger fell to the floor on her back. And suddenly he was on top of her, pinning her arms and legs to the deck, breathing heavily in her face. "Finally caught you!" he announced triumphantly.
The Messenger narrowed her eyes. As if something so simple could keep her from—
The ship rocked from another series of explosions, but this time they were merely aftershocks from the destruction of the remaining Anti-Spiral fleets. The aide ordered "Shields!" and the ship was spared the worst of the damage.
The Messenger's eyes widened slightly in what was, to her, an expression of shock. The man smirked at her, and drew in closer, so close their noses almost touched, and whispered teasingly, "Fall to despair."
Those words sparked something inside of her. It was a feeling (a feeling? what is a feeling?) of frustration (is that what it's called?). A feeling she hadn't felt in years, no, a lifetime ago. A feeling so foreign to herself as she was now that she could only lie there reeling from it, staring up at the man speechlessly. Soon even he found it strange that she was not teleporting away, for the battle was already over.
His grip on her wrists loosened, but she still lay there beneath him. Giving her a quizzical look, he asked, "What? You like it here?"
Another flash of feeling, this one she couldn't identify. She didn't know how to respond (don't know? why don't I know? there's so much I don't know…). She opened her mouth, but no words came out, only a tiny sound as quiet as a newborn infant's first breath.
The man blinked and leaned in close again, trying to hear. (trying to hear? trying to hear…what? me? what do I have to say to him?)
But before she could figure this out, the hive mind issued an order: Return. Return. What is taking so long, Messenger?
And without saying anything more, she disappeared.
The Anti-Spirals retreated again that day. 'Retreat.' It was a humiliation. As soon as they had finished analyzing the data in her body, the upper legions returned to planning the next attack and assessing resources.
For a while, the Messenger had nothing to do. Usually she would stay in stand-by, waiting for the next order. But for some reason, this time her thoughts returned to the battle, and the man, the enemy of the universe, who had triggered that…that feeling in her.
It was an oddity. An impossibility. But this man was well known for making the impossible possible.
She concentrated on him and now saw him in her mind. He was still on the main bridge. Most of the crew had left, with only a few operators remaining. All of a sudden, he looked up, as if he'd noticed her watching him. Calmly, he turned around and spoke to the operators.
They looked up in surprise. Hesitantly, they left the bridge. Now he was the only one left.
She revealed her presence then, floating down from the ceiling to land softly before him on her feet. "You saw me," she said.
"I felt you," he corrected her. "I get a chill down my back every time you appear. Now, what do you want? Are you here to talk more about 'absolute despair' or have your leaders decided they want a truce?" The final line he said with a trace of amusement, as if thinking he wouldn't agree to a truce anyway.
"I have not come to deliver a message," she replied. And said no more.
"All right. Have you come to kill me then?"
"To sabotage my ship?" he guessed again.
He seemed to be at a loss for words. "…Don't tell me you came here on your own free will?"
"I do not have free will. I am the Anti-Spiral Messenger."
"Yes, I know. But you didn't come here for a purpose?"
Truthfully, she was just as puzzled as he. "I was not ordered to come here."
He gave her a curious look, dragging his eyes up and down her body. He stepped closer. "Let me ask you a question. Why do you take the appearance of a human?"
"My appearance is a mere remnant of my former self. But it is not who I am."
He ignored the last part. "Wait, are you telling me you were once human?"
"Yes. I was born on Earth as a human, but in my DNA were hidden the Anti-Spiral genes that awoke and took over my body when the human population reached one million."
"And that was when you appeared in front of us for the first time?"
The man continued looking at her, taking this in. At last, he said, "Who were you?"
"It does not matter any longer. My life as a human died that night."
"I don't care. Humor me."
She met his eyes. "I was the daughter of the Helix King Lord Genome."
His eyes widened in the first genuine look of surprise she'd seen on him thus far.
Of course he would know of Lord Genome. The man who had once been her entire world, but who she now regarded merely as a failed, insignificant Spiral Knight. The same man he'd fought and killed when he was a child.
Finally he spoke again. "I thought all of Lord Genome's children had died."
"I was the last. He left me for dead, but a beastman, one created to take care of me, found me and broke open the box that held me. He lifted out my frail body, as I was barely alive, and slowly nursed me back to health for a year. From then on we lived in a small cave at the bottom of a canyon, taking all we needed from the river nearby."
"Just you and the beastman? Alone?"
"He wanted to protect me. The only human we had ever known was my father, who abandoned me. The beastman saw all the dangers that you humans faced daily, and decided to raise me in the relative comfort and safety that we found in the cave."
The man shook his head in disbelief. "No wonder. You don't know anything about humans, do you? You'd never even met one besides your father."
"I do know about humans. You are a Spiral race, and as all Spiral races, live only to evolve and grow more powerful, consuming everything in your path."
"That's only what the Anti-Spirals have told you."
"It is knowledge based on data collected over many millennia in the past, transmitted to me upon my awakening. It is undeniable fact."
"That still doesn't mean you know humans." He smirked. She couldn't see what was funny.
He then raised his hand toward her, slowly, and placed it on her shoulder. She glanced at it, not sure what he was doing. He didn't seem intent to harm her this time.
"For instance…" He brushed his fingers over the skin of her shoulder. He spoke softly. "Do you know how it feels to lose someone you care about? Someone you thought you couldn't live without, and then knowing that it was your fault he'd left you?"
A feeling rose within her. This one she'd felt often when she was a human. "…Yes," she answered. "I know."
He nodded. "Then do you know how it feels to love someone…" He slowly moved his hand across her shoulder. "…and think they might love you back…" His fingers reached her collar bone, pressing lightly at the base of her throat to feel her heartbeat. "…only to find out that they didn't, and then nothing was the same ever again?"
For a reason she could not identify, she gulped. "…No. I do not."
He nodded again. But this time his eyes darkened with a look of…contempt? Bitterness? Guilt? She sifted through the list of words available to her via the Anti-Spiral mind link, but none of them seemed to fit exactly.
"…I thought not," he said. "See? You don't know me at all."
Then he brought his hand up to her face, touching her cheek with his palm. The sensation shocked her, like a sudden jolt of electricity, something she knew she had no reason to fear, but she fled anyway, teleporting out of his grasp and reappearing a few steps away. He did not follow.
Cautiously, she put her own hand upon her cheek, still feeling it tingle. But why did her hand feel so much colder than his?
But…no. This was only a trick. He was treating her as a human, trying to make her feel sympathetic. Another pointless effort. She lowered her hand.
"Perhaps you are right. But 'love' is a concept that pertains to evolution. You love only by instinct. I have no need for such a thing other than to know that it is a threat to the universe."
He smirked again. "Instinct, eh? Maybe you're right. No, you are. You're exactly right. It's all instinct. Everything I do is instinct."
He turned away, his coat swishing behind him, and faced the limitless expanse of space, with all its celestial lights glowing incandescent. "You know, I really don't give a damn about the universe. I don't give a damn about preserving humanity either. Maybe they do, but I don't. Most of it is dead now anyway. All I know, is that there is a power inside of me, so strong, so powerful, that I feel I might explode if I don't let it out."
His speech became quicker, less composed, almost manic. "I-I can't stand peace. I can't stand it. It eats away at me, makes me think too much, and no matter how much I dig, it won't go away. This power. I have to let it out. It was smoldering inside of me for so long, and now it can't stop, I can't stop, I have to let it out. Do you understand how that feels? No, of course you don't. You're just a drone, who came to see me for no goddamn reason, who hasn't even fucked a man in her life."
He paused, then glanced back at her. "What do you care if the universe is destroyed anyway? Are you enjoying it? Do you enjoy living in it? Do you have anything to lose? No? Then what do you care?"
"It is not a matter of whether I care or not. I am only programmed to do what I am told. It is what I was born to do."
"'Programmed to do,' eh? Isn't that the same as instinct?" He turned to face her again, and putting his hands in his pockets, passed by her, heading for the entrance. "Then maybe we're more alike than I thought."
That seemed to be the end of the conversation. The Messenger remained standing there, processing the data.
The man stopped in mid-step behind her. "Oh, one last question. What was your name, when you were still a human?"
"That does not matter any longer. I am the Anti-Spiral Me—"
"I don't care. Humor me."
"…It was Nia."
"Nia," he repeated, as if tasting it. "All right, Nia. You'd better leave the bridge before the operators come back in. Wouldn't want to cause a panic, now would we?"
The entrance opened, and he left the bridge.
She still did not know why she'd come.