Original Fiction (Sci-Fi): On Angels’ Wings (Part 3)

And here is the third and final installment of “On Angels’ Wings”! It’s also the longest part. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to share this around if you like it! (I’ll also be posting a full version of the story in the coming days, for reading convenience.)

 

Aren was awakened by Snap re-entering the training room. “Rise and shine, Colt! Graduation day! Sort of.”

Aren roused himself quickly, and pushed himself to his feet. He’d slept soundly, despite strange dreams probably caused by the previous day’s activities. As he followed the suspiciously energetic Snap to locations unknown, he reflected on their last conversation. Only two things remained in question: Snap’s real name, and the true nature of what he felt for her and she for him. Aren didn’t know what to think. He’d been attracted to her from the start, that much he knew. But the initial attraction had been purely superficial; the woman was gorgeous, after all. Since then, however, it had become something more. The mind sharing had only made things more confusing.

“In here,” Snap said as an unusually large door slowly opened in front of them.

As he stepped inside, Aren could only stare. The entire room, which was larger than any of the others he’d trained in, was one giant, elaborate obstacle course. “We have to run it while linked, don’t we?” he asked.

Snap flashed him her characteristic grin. “Of course. Haha. Of course we have to run the course!”

“If I hadn’t already been inside your head, I’d say you were definitely crazy. Actually, even then I’m not completely sure.”

“Well, you’ll get another look, Colt.” She laughed again, as if at a joke. For the first time though, Aren had an idea of what she found funny. “Let’s try it without touching this time.”

Aren nodded, and as he embraced the Penumbra realized that he was looking forward to sharing his mind with her. Perhaps because of that, or because of the practice, it went smoothly. As her mind became visible, Aren found himself wondering how they lived with only a single set of thoughts.

“Welcome back. Glad to be back.” Snap said once the link solidified. Aren quietly sent his agreement.

With Snap guiding them, the pair got suited up, and before Aren knew it, they were standing at the entrance to the obstacle course. “We have to make it through the course intact,” Snap said. “To ensure we’re properly in sync, there are several sections where we each must do an action at precisely the same time. I’ll take the lead, but we both have to get it right, move as one.”

“Got it, let’s go.”

“I like your attitude. Bet I beat you to the finish line!” Was that a bit of affection he—she—was feeling?

Before he could further dwell on it, they darted into the course as it came to life. There were no words Aren could think of that described the feeling of running at breakneck speed, intimately connected with Snap, taking down targets and avoiding obstacles using equipment, physical abilities, and the Penumbra. For the first time, he truly felt like an eidolon. And at the same time, it was like revisiting an old pastime. He—and Snap—almost starting giggling like children.

The only problem came near the end, where they—their bodies at least—had to completely split up while under fire and activate two complex locks at precisely the same time. They were off by milliseconds.

Immediately, the sharp feeling of frustration flooded in, and Aren was surprised when Snap didn’t berate him for messing up. “No need to be as harsh now, seeing as I know you’re competent. And besides, no new team has ever done it on the first try. I’d know; I’ve been half of all of them,” Snap stated, answering Aren’s unasked question.

“Again?” he asked.

“Again.” There was definitely some affection then.

“Don’t get sentimental on me, Colt. You won’t be getting any of this if we don’t make it back,” Snap said, including an image that made him feel quite uncomfortable and caused her—them—to find it all hilarious. “So easy. You have to stop getting embarrassed so easily. I don’t like the feeling.”

“I’m sure. Let’s do this already!”

They ran the course again and again, without pause, for hours. Like the previous day’s training, it felt like little time passed. Aren decided to blame Snap’s mind for that. At least he wasn’t blaming himself for it, he thought before becoming aware that it was not his thought. Were they reaching the coveted point where they couldn’t distinguish their thoughts from the other’s?

Well of course they would have eventually. But reaching that point so soon was a great accomplishment.

Suddenly, the course shut down and a monitor nearby began to beep. Important call incoming. Aren and Snap quickly made their way to it, arriving at precisely the same time, and activated it.

“Good afternoon, eidolons,” said the fleet admiral, who stood at the head of a group consisting numerous officer of varying ranks. “I trust your preparation has gone well.”

“Well enough,” they replied, though only Snap spoke. “By tomorrow, we’ll be more or less ready for your suicide mission. Maybe we’ll even make it back to tell you how the weather was down on there. Unless you’ve decided to come along for the ride.” The image of the older man fighting vellak suddenly appeared in their shared mind, and Aren found himself grinning too.

“Unfortunately,” the fleet admiral said, ignoring Snap’s inappropriate comment, “your task just got more difficult. Our scouts have just alerted us that the enemy discovered our ruse. Our attack is already in motion, but it is not a fight we can win. We must insert you immediately, while we can still give you enough cover to make it to the surface. There is no time for debate. Report to docking bay seventeen in ten minutes. Your ship will be ready.”

The monitor shut off, and emotions began to swirl around their consciousness; nervousness, anticipation, excitement, frustration. Of course the idiots would find some way to make their lives harder! Did they not understand what preparation meant? Did they want the mission to fail? They hadn’t even managed to properly complete the course!

But whatever the circumstances, they had to go, completely ready or not. “We have a decent shot at success, Colt,” Snap said as they jogged through the base. “Now that I think of it,” she continued, speaking so quickly after the thought came to mind that Aren didn’t have time to pick up on it, “you need a new callsign. Not smart to see you as a rookie while we’re in combat.” She stopped speaking for a moment as name ideas raced through her mind, which caused Aren to start thinking as well.

As they passed the guards that stood in front of the hangar, Aren saw Snap look at the small infiltration ship they’d be taking while his own eyes scanned the rest of the room. “You’ve earned your wings, Seraph. Now it’s time to take the leap out of the nest. Or Heaven. Or whatever high point you like.”

The name definitely fit better than Colt. It also cleverly referenced the visual image he used to connect to the Penumbra, and—he should probably stop before his name was changed to ‘Overthink’.

Point taken, they boarded the ship, double-checked their equipment, and prepared for departure, all without having to speak a word. What was the point, when they had a superior form of communication?

The ship was small, and consisted of two sections. The front contained the cockpit and their gear, and the rear contained the engines, boarding ramp, and escape pod.

Aren sat down first, in the copilot’s chair, and began running the pre-flight checks while Snap made sure their equipment was properly stowed. As the computer announced that all was in order, Snap leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek “I’ve heard it’s good for luck. We’re going to need it, Seraph.”

She sat down and began the takeoff sequence as Aren sat still, simultaneously shocked and amused. Having access to both sides of the exchange was really confusing.

Focus quickly returned to the mission, however, as their ship departed the hangar and soared out into space. Aren entered the jump coordinates, and space stretched as the ship went into hyperspace.

The journey was short and quiet, both of their minds focused on what was to come. Why couldn’t they have had more time? What if those few days would be all they had?

It was worth it, though, having those days. It wasn’t every day you met your idol and started falling for her. Aren glanced over at Snap for a moment, then back to observing both his and her displays. Thirty seconds to realspace, where they’d be flying into the middle of a battle.

As the ship began beeping to alert them, Snap did something unexpected. “It’s Eris, by the way. Just thought you should know, in case we don’t make it. The only other people who’d know me by that name are family.”

Eris. It suited her. And it didn’t suit her. She should still be referred to by her taken name, but Aren deserved to know her true name, the last major mystery, before their mental link would be put to the test. Whatever happened, in a way they were family now.

The ship shuddered as it exited hyperspace, and alarms immediately began blaring. They’d flown right into a warzone. The ship’s stealth properties would make it hard to spot, but they would have to fly through the crossfire to get to the vellak planet.      At least the fleet engaged them here.

Flying through a hail of fire. Should be fun. Would be terrifying. Would be done. Snap’s hands tightened on the controls, and the ship accelerated into the fray. Just a few minutes, and they’d be safely past everything.

Everything was fine at first, even fun, maneuvering the ship away from weapons fire and past debris, the feeling of control with the ship in his hands, Snap’s hands.

Then they took the first hits, minor ones, which pinged off their limited shielding. Nervousness finally reappeared, probably Aren’s fault. They were so vulnerable, though.

But the ship held together, and the vellak fleet drew nearer. They were going to make it!

Suddenly, the ship shook violently, and they lost control. The mental volume rose as they struggled to regain control of the craft. Then another explosion rocked the ship. It swerved completely out of control, then lost power as it continued to spin; only the seat restraints kept Aren and Snap in place.

“We have to regain control! Salvage the operation!”

            “If we can restore power—”

After what seemed like an eternity of frantic manipulations of the ship and the Penumbra, Aren finally felt the ship’s thrusters come to life. He and Snap, working together, carefully fired them to so that the spinning stopped and the ship became still.

Then they had to regain their bearings. Snap checked the monitors as Aren looked outside, and there was both good and bad news. The good was that their spin had taken them out of the direct line of fire. The bad was that they were no longer lined up with where they had to land, and much of the engine was gone.

They still had the escape pod. They could use it to get back on course and land. It would be louder, but there was no other option. Snap left the cockpit and to check on it while Aren tried to get a better view of the damage. Before long, he spotted a problem.

They couldn’t open the hatch to got to the back, because the ship had been nearly split in two. The half with the pod was floating outside, only still connected by a few cables. This was bad. Their hands—Snap’s hands—tightened on the door handles.

There was only one choice. They would have to go outside.

Immediately, Aren felt himself, both of them, seized by near panic. But he’d never been particularly scared of going out into space. But he had been, or rather Snap had been.

Space was nothingness. There was no control, no escape, no way to live.

But we can survive out there with our equipment, and we can use the Penumbra to maneuver.”

“No.” terrifying facts began to fill his mind as Snap spoke. “You don’t understand. Space is emptiness, nothingness. The Penumbra is not. Being out there drains it away quickly. There is no control there. I don’t want to go.”

            Aren didn’t either. In the blackness of space, eidolons became mere humans again. They should not. But the mission…there was no choice. He felt hands begin to hurt as they clamped down even harder on the door handles.

Aren moved himself back toward Snap. He gathered and secured all of his gear, then snapped on his helmet and connected the oxygen. “We have to do this. We are one unified will. We go together or not at all, and our only way out of here is that pod.” At least it was if it was still intact. It hadn’t looked damaged, but what if—no! It had to be.

“Please, Snap, Eris. You are the bravest person I’ve ever known. I need you with me.” Slowly, Aren felt their grip on the door loosen, and Snap prepared herself while Aren glanced through the equipment locker for anything else useful.

Thank God, he nearly exclaimed as he spotted a handheld propulsor meant for use in space. They would have control of their movement.

He felt the oxygen connect as Snap secured her helmet and tied herself tightly to him with a strong cord. Everything was ready. “Out into the void.”

He and Snap each grabbed one of the door handles, and pulled it open slowly. Air quickly rushed out, and they were in complete silence. Except they weren’t, because they had each other’s thoughts. Small comforts. They pulled it further open so they could get out, stubborn door vibrating with every inch. Then Aren floated outside, followed by Snap, who gripped his hand tightly, determination overpowering fear.

Once outside, she moved closer and held him by the waist, so she wouldn’t get flung around as they maneuvered. Then Aren fired the propulsor, and they shot toward the severed half of the ship, which was straining against the last connections it had to the front of the ship.

They moved faster than they would have liked, and it became clear that they’d have to grab the pod’s handle as they passed. Every moment was precious, so missing was not an option.

As the pod grew closer, Aren felt strange, as though he was losing focus. The link. They were losing it.

Then the pod was right in front of them. Aren grabbed for it, and missed. But moments later, he jerked to a stop. He…had it?

No, Snap had it. She pulled him to the hatch, opened it, and they made their way inside, hearts racing as it hummed to life and re-pressurized. It worked. Moments later, focus returned as the link strengthened. “We did it.” Snap clapped him on the back. “Thank you, Seraph.”

Now they just had to get to their target.

They separated from the remains of the ship, and Snap guided the craft back in line with their planned landing site. There was some advantage to having a smaller craft; they were harder to hit. Still, she and Aren were tense until they passed the vellak fleet and began their descent.

As the planet’s surface grew closer and the flames outside the pod grew brighter, they focused on the plan of attack, as prepared by Snap and innately understood by their shared mind. It should be simple; everything they’d need to blow up a weapons production facility was already there. All it needed was the spark.

The ship began to shake as it descended. They tried not to dwell on the fact that it wouldn’t get them back off the planet. Once down, they’d have to improvise.

Fortunately, they were good at that; every mission they—Snap—had been on had required it.

Two minds. One will.

Aren engaged the ship’s thrusters to slow their descent, then watched as the ground drew closer.

He had never visited a vellak world before. Snap had, but had never been here. It looked very arid, like a mountainous desert; there didn’t seem to be much flat, open ground. The buildings reflected the landscape, and if it weren’t for the marks of technology on the outside of the massive factory and other structures, they could have been mistaken for natural formations themselves.

With nothing else to do, they gripped the pod’s controls tightly as they came to a hard landing. The pod landed on a ridge that led to the factory and skidded dangerously close to the edge before stopping.

Time to go, before anyone came to investigate. Aren was tempted to use the Penumbra to cloak, but it was pointless, as the enemy would not find them visually anyway.

Two minds, one will, was the focus as they gathered their gear and readied themselves. This was it, the moment that Aren had been trained for, to help save their species from destruction.

He felt the hard metal panel as Snap slammed it to open the hatch, and a moment later, they were outside.

They came under fire almost immediately. How could they have been spotted so quickly? And had their ruse already failed?

Aren fired at the first vellak he saw, and while the hit wasn’t fatal, it took off one of the creature’s spiky legs, and it dropped its weapon. Another shot to the head finished it off. “Aim for the head,” Snap advised as she moved her aim from the now dead vellak to its nearby partner.

But there were simply too many, firing all around. Strangely, however, they didn’t immediately start to swarm around them and the ship, nor did they use the Penumbra to attack—apparently intelligence on the vellak had been accurate regarding their abilities. “We have to make a break for it.”

As he felt Snap’s agreement, the first vellak contact was made. They didn’t understand what the vellak were saying, however; all Snap could decipher was that it was a question, and they kept using the words old or new, or something like that. What should they reply?

New, Snap decided. Who’d want to be old, anyway?

Their answer didn’t change anything, however, and the firing continued. It was time to run. They created shields with the Penumbra, then ran out from their cover, Snap in the lead. She used the Penumbra to hurls bits of rock everywhere as she shot at anything in their path, covering one side while Aren took the other, though they both were truly watching both.

They were pursued by some, but, again surprisingly, not all of the vellak. As curious as that was, however, they couldn’t dwell on it; they had to get away.

More of the spindly, insect-like vellak began to crawl up the ridge and ask the same question. Snap and Aren responded by killing whatever blocked their way to the factory complex.

The entry would be complicated, they realized as the main entrance came into view. There were several vellak guarding the entrance, and there was no time to find another way. Fortunately, the door was open.

While they lacked any heavy weapons, Aren and Snap had something better. Working in concert, they blasted the guards out of the way with a concussive wave and sprinted inside, their path guided by their helmet displays. Without it, they would’ve quickly become lost in the winding hallways.

Unfortunately, their entrance had not been quiet, and the vellak were not deaf. Within moments, seven pairs began to quickly approach while another group came in the same entrance Aren and Snap had used.

Then the shooting began, sparks flying as weapons fire impacted around them. They were cut off from the hallway they needed—“Just run!”

Running blindly did create some space between them and their pursuers, but they were in an area they didn’t know. “Dammit! What a fucking mess!” Snap exclaimed as Aren barely held back voicing similar feelings, though she of course knew he felt the same way.

The skittering of their pursuers drew closer, and they had to make a snap judgment. They had to move.

“This way!” he shouted and led them around the next corner.

As they ran down the hallway, something sped past them, and a split second later the ceiling ahead of them exploded and large chunks of debris rained down, completely blocking their path.

“Not good.”

Aren and Snap spun around as their vellak pursuers, dozens of them, appeared opposite them. There would be only one way out of this now. They blocked the hallway with a shield and prepared to fight. But there were so many…

“We have to call for help. Something, anything!”

Snap agreed, recalling the evac from her last, failed mission. She activated their transmitter, which showed that their direct link to the Admiralty was still functional. Something was going right, at least.

Snap made the call as they felt the shield they’d used to block the hallway start to buckle.

There was no answer. Snap tried again. Still nothing. “The fucking link is good!” she exclaimed. She tried again. “Why is there no damn answer?”

            “We’ve got a more pressing problem,” Aren reminded her as their shield failed under heavy fire. There was a moment of quiet, then the vellak began to advance.

Before another shot was fired, however, they saw several vellak get thrown against a wall as a hail of weapons fire was unleashed. Within moments, they were all still, silenced by a weapon or something that could only be the Penumbra.

A few seconds later, fourteen vellak came into view, weapons ready in their clawed hands. Aren and Snap opened fire, but their weapons only impacted on Penumbra-created shields, and the vellak did not return fire.

Then they heard the voice in their mind. “Your leaders turned on you as well?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Snap asked. What were the vellak saying?

“We sensed your frustration, humans. We felt your call for help, which was unanswered. Please, cease fire so we may speak.”

Snap’s initial response could be best summed up as “screw that,” but Aren prevailed on her to do so. They had to hear what the vellak had to say. If they did open fire, there would still be a moment to react; the enemy’s shields showed no signs of weakening anyway. At worst, it bought them some time.

“You may wonder why vellak fought vellak here. We can explain, but there is little time. Our hold on this sector is limited.”

“And our patience is wearing thin,” Snap added. Were they really going to let the enemy talk to them? Yes, if it gave them a reprieve from the fighting.

“It is a great betrayal, that has turned vellak on vellak, and will turn human on human. “You, like us, are capable of accessing the full potential of the Shadowfield. Our governments have formed a secret pact to eliminate all of us; they fear our power. You were sent here to die, which would prompt our leaders to deploy us in retaliation, ultimately ending in all of our deaths. We discovered the plot, however, and rebelled. Now we warn you. Apart from our words, we can regrettably offer little evidence, but you will see it when you return to your people.”

            “Bullshit,” was their initial response. But after some thought, Aren and Snap could not easily discount the notion.

Snap tried the emergency transmitter again. Still the signal was strong, with no response. They were being ignored, left for dead. Aren recalled the heavy presence of disruptors back at the base, the fear in the admirals’ eyes, and he felt both his and Snap’s blood run cold. It added up. These vellak were clearly more powerful manipulators of the penumbra. They could’ve killed both Aren and Snap easily. But they hadn’t.

“Do we trust them?”

            “Can’t believe I’m saying this, but yes.”

“What do we do now?” they asked the vellak. What could they do?

“We will get you off world, give you a ship with which to return to your people. A plan is in motion for us to eliminate our leadership, which is sheltering in our flagship. Yours is doing the same in yours, observing this battle. We will not tell you to eliminate them, but if you believe us and wish to survive, you will.” They detected no deception in the vellak.

A decision had to be made, quickly. If the vellak were somehow lying, Aren and Snap would be traitors. But the alternative…

“And we do need a way out of here.” That was certainly true, and the mission to blow up the factory was clearly a failure.

“Very well. Thank you for helping us.”

            The vellak sent feelings of acknowledgement and comfort. “Follow us.”

They quickly followed their vellak escorts onto a ship that had just arrived, and were led to a shuttle hangar. “When we reach the fleet, you will depart and return to your people,” the lead vellak pair said. “Do what you must. If we succeed here, you will have friends among the vellak. We only hope that after this we can end this bloody conflict.”

            “Thank you,” Aren and Snap replied. There wasn’t much else they could think of to say; they’d had to take in so much in so short a time, and now they were going back to people that wanted them dead, to commit treason and kill them.

“I’m about ready to get this day over with,” Snap said as the vellak departed and they boarded the craft, which Aren noticed had been hurriedly outfitted so they would understand the controls.

They soon received clearance to depart, and steered the craft out in concert; the ship appeared to have been designed for only a linked pair to fly.

Then came the question of what to do next. There was no way of knowing how deep the conspiracy ran; they had to warn the other eidolons somehow. But long-range communications would be nonfunctional during battle, as both sides would be jamming the other’s transmissions.

Maybe a message beacon would work, as it would broadcast for hours. This battle couldn’t last much longer, especially considering that it was a front to begin with. More lives wasted just to kill the eidolons and the vellak equivalents.

Aren wondered what would happen after they killed the admirals, if that was indeed what they’d end up doing. What repercussions would that cause? What would keep the vellak from attacking human worlds, even if the new leadership was friendly toward the eidolons?

That didn’t matter, they—Snap—countered. With this betrayal, they only owed loyalty to themselves. They would survive, whatever it took. On that count at least, they were united.

Now they needed a plan. Once inside the ship, they’d have to get the beacon out while keeping the admirals from escaping. That would require splitting up. Aren in particular felt a chill at the thought. In truth, however, they would never be apart.

They prepared a message to upload into the beacon, then broadcast to the fleet that they were eidolon operatives returning from a mission on a stolen craft. It would be rather anticlimactic if they were shot down now.

They quickly received a response, ordering them to dock at some cruiser. Aren plotted a course for the flagship instead as Snap affirmed the directions. Now the fun began.

The requests for course correction came quickly. Snap smiled and ignored them. Aren located an open docking bay on the flagship and accelerated toward it. Then a call came over all channels, marking them rogue agents.

“They turned on us too soon,” Aren noted. This was proof of the command staff’s intentions, ordering their deaths so quickly. He raised the ship’s shields and readied weapons, just in case.

Thankfully, interceptors arrived too late. Aren fired at the closing hangar doors and the ship crashed through, reverse thrusters firing once they were already inside, and gouts of flame bloomed along both sides of the ship as it skidded to a stop. Fortunately, the hangar was large.

“Time to go, Seraph. Don’t take long. We both have to be there when we go after those idiots. They were scared of us? We’ll show them what fear truly is!”

Aren took her hand for a moment, felt her take hold of his in return. “I’ll see you soon.” She knew how he felt. They would both survive, or neither would.

They cloaked using the Penumbra and separated, darting past several disoriented crewmen as they left the hangar. They let them live; they’d have to kill too many before this was done.

They both knew where they needed to be; Aren at the emergency communications center, Snap in engineering. Fortunately, their helmet displays were able to bring up a map of the ship. His destination was nearby; Snap’s was anything but. She didn’t consider that a problem.

By the time Aren reached the communications center, however, the ship was on high alert. Sentries guarded the room, and more security guards were patrolling. He took aim at the sentries, but hesitated. He’d never killed another human.

“It’s us or them, Seraph. Don’t hesitate!”

With the extra dose of will, Aren opened fire, and the sentries dropped to the floor as security opened fire toward where he’d been standing a moment earlier. Aren smashed them into the wall with a concussive blast, forced the door open, and ran inside. He let Snap guide his actions as he methodically cleared the room while he guided her through the halls of the ship.

“Thank you.”

“Anytime, Seraph.”

Now alone in the communications center, Aren found a console and uploaded their message into the ship’s remaining emergency beacons. As he entered the launch commands, the ship shook, reminding him that the it was still in combat, and the crew could no longer solely focus on that.

His job done, Aren went back out and made his way to the only place the admirals would be able to run to assuming they couldn’t escape the ship: the emergency bridge, which was located securely in the center of the ship and heavily guarded—but fortunately near engineering.

Aren would go stake it out while Snap finished disabling the ship, a far more dangerous job at the moment.

As Aren saw Snap’s arrival at her destination through her eyes, however, he felt bad for the security staff. Without disruptors, they had no chance. No such pity came from Snap though, as those men had orders to shoot her on sight—that thought was foremost in their minds. But the funny thing was, they couldn’t see her because she was cloaked!

One down, two down, two more from an explosive, another’s heart stopped with the Penumbra. The sight was at once exhilarating and terrifying. The power they wielded…was it any surprise the admirals felt threatened?

They would’ve been loyal, though. It was the admirals who were the danger.

Things got more complicated once they—she—was inside the engineering section. She had to make sure the hangars wouldn’t let anything out, then disable all other systems that could allow for escape. Of course, a competent crew could repair enough damage to allow for escape fairly quickly. Fortunately, that wouldn’t be fast enough.

Snap threw herself from a balcony and fired at security forces as she used the Penumbra to soften her landing. From there the energy went to her shield while her hands accessed a console. Aren winced as he felt her shield take impact, though it held firm.

But he had his own problems. Dozens of security guards protected the path to the emergency bridge, and they were setting up a large disruptor. He had to engage.

It was very risky. He felt Snap’s concern; she was more worried about him despite the fact that she was actively taking fire. But they both knew the danger of disruptors.

Aren unleashed a blast of energy at the assembled soldiers and began shooting as he made his way to the disruptor, methodically taking down each one. Thankfully, their helmets hid their faces, which made shooting them easier—made it possible.

Aren had just reached the disruptor and was firing into it when he noticed movement in the corner of his eye. Seemingly of its own accord, his arm lashed out, and as Aren turned he saw a guard, rifle partially raised, impaled by seemingly nothing—an energy blade. But he hadn’t—Snap had.

“You missed one,” Snap replied. Then, she added, “Oops,” and Aren heard an explosion.

On the bright side, the job was done. On the dark side, there was a fire near the engine core. They should finish and get out as soon as possible.

Aren finished destroying the disruptor, reloaded his weapon, and waited outside the sealed door that led to the admirals. Wouldn’t be long now.

Soon enough, Snap arrived. It was time to move. She stood in front of the door for a moment, then let out a shout as she hammered at it with more raw power than Aren had ever seen used. Not even the reinforced door could stand before her, and she quickly made it inside. Aren cast a glance behind him, just in case, then followed.

The narrow hallway was surprisingly empty. Had all of the guards remained outside? Surely the admirals would have more protection. Unless they were as dumb as Snap thought they were.

At the end of the hallway was another locked door. Beyond it was the emergency bridge. “Together?”

“Together.” They each extended a hand, blasted the door into the room, and followed it inside.

Half the room was empty. In the other half, behind a portable shield generator which would prevent both normal and Penumbra attacks, huddled the admirals and a dozen elite soldiers.

“You made a big mistake, admirals,” Snap said, taking a step closer while Aren used the Penumbra to find a weak point in the field. “Plotting to kill all of us eidolons, then not even trying to convince us that we were making a mistake? I thought you clever enough for that, at least.”

Aren found a potential opening, and began trying to breach the shield.

“An…unfortunate mistake,” the fleet admiral replied. “One made in panic. But it doesn’t matter, Eris. We’ve already won. True humanity will prevail. Do you think only you thought of beacons? Before your grand entrance orders were dispatched to eliminate the rest of your traitorous kind. They will arrive before your warning. Our vellak allies will take care of the rest.”

“You had the possibility of ending this war,” Snap replied. “Instead, you prioritized plotting the extermination of people who your military pulled from their lives to fight for you! You have no right to call us a danger. Also,” she continued, and Aren could feel her smile grow over her anger, “we know something you don’t.”

Aren pressed harder against the weak point in the shield, and it began to give way.

“The vellak who are like us discovered their leaders’ plans, as you might have guessed. By now, they will have seized control of the vellak forces. You should’ve seen it, almost a full-blown civil war. We will have the allies over there. You’re finished.”

Aren finally breached the shield, and a quick strike destroyed the generator. They’d done it!

Before they could make another move, however, Aren and Snap heard a click, and they collapsed to the floor with pain surging through every cell in their bodies, doubled by their link. It was all they could do not to drop their shields, the only reason they were still alive.

“You aren’t the only ones capable of attacking the body with invisible force,” the fleet admiral said as Aren felt a disruptor come online and begin tearing at their link to the Penumbra. Once they lost it, their shields would be gone and they would die. Already he found it hard to focus on new actions with the Penumbra.

“Once again, human ingenuity triumphs,” the fleet admiral continued as Aren felt the soldiers get into position above to shoot once the shields dropped.

The pain intensified, and he and Snap both screamed in agony, drowning out whatever else the old man was saying.

It couldn’t end like this, he tried to say to Snap as he felt his grip on the Penumbra slipping further.

But what could they do? The pain was only growing worse, and it was all either of them could do to stay linked. Neither of them could do anything. For the first time, Aren’s anger matched Snap’s in ferocity.

They hadn’t made any mistakes, and still they’d failed. Aren remembered Snap’s outburst mere days ago, where she’d told him why they couldn’t afford mistakes: things went wrong anyway.

Somehow, Snap pushed herself up onto one knee, which gave Aren the will to do the same. At least they would die with dignity. They reached out and grabbed each other’s hand, each movement agony. It was starting to be hard to think at all, but at least they were together.

Together. One unified will. And still their control was failing, their shields growing unstable.

Then Snap’s mind, Eris’s mind, which had all but surrendered to pain, had an idea. “The shields, Aren.”

Suddenly, Aren’s mind felt clear, pain receding, as Eris’s screams grew louder. She had somehow taken his pain to her, to give him a chance to do something.

The shields. Suddenly it seemed so obvious. He grabbed at the Penumbra with all his will, pulled Eris close, and turned the shredding shields into blades, which he sent flying out away from them uncontrollably.

Then everything was still and quiet. Aren felt himself topple back onto the floor, his breathing heavy. All he knew was that he and Snap, Eris, were still alive.

She rose first, and he saw through her eyes what he’d done.

The room around them was shredded as if a steel rain had hit everything surrounding them; men, machines, everything. Only the link kept him from gagging.

“Two minds, one will.” He said aloud.

“Certainly earned your name, Seraph,” Eris said as she helped him up, “just replacing fire with invisible energy. Less flashy, more effective.” She kicked at the nearest body. “Serves them right.”

Then the ship shook violently. “Your fire, I think,” he said.

“Probably. Time to go.”

            “But where, Eris?” Aren asked as the walked quickly out of the destroyed room, and noted that she didn’t object to his using her real name.

That’s right, they’d made sure no one could escape the ship. That left only one, awful choice. An airlock. They tensed at the thought, but as the ship shook violently again they began to run.

As they reached an airlock, Aren could see small explosions down the hall and walls starting to collapse. They had to go, now.

Without time to properly seal and unseal the airlock, they checked their suits, hit the switches that activated their air supplies, and used the Penumbra to blast the outer door open just after Aren grabbed a propulsor from a rack on the wall. At the same time, a fiery explosion erupted just outside the airlock.

They were blown out into space far more violently than expected. Aren lost his grip on the propulsor after it clipped the doorway, and they tumbled out into empty space. Despite his attempts to remain calm, Aren found himself hyperventilating as they spun out of control, their arms wrapped tightly around each other to at least stay together.

The only upside to that their violent ejection from the ship was that they were far from it when it finally exploded in a spectacular fireball, which they watched as they used their dwindling connection to the Penumbra to stop their tumble.

As the void of space stripped their power from them, Eris gave them one last shove toward the vellak fleet, and Aren sent out a cry for help via the Penumbra.

Then it was gone, along with their mind link. It was an empty, isolating feeling, as if everyone around had suddenly vanished.

But Eris was still there, arms and legs wrapped around his. “Don’t you dare let go,” she said through their helmet’s communication system.

“I had no plans to.” Aren checked his air meter. “I only have an hour left. I wasted too much air breathing when we were flung out here. I’m sorry.”

“When you run out,” she replied, “I’m venting what I have left. Whatever happens, we go together, Aren. No arguing. I still sort of outrank you.”

Aren knew better than to argue. He realized a moment later that she couldn’t hear his thoughts anymore. “No arguing, got it.”

“I don’t quite know how to say this,” Eris said a few minutes later. “We’ve only known each other for a few days, but you’re the only person I’ve felt truly close to since I left home. I don’t know where that would’ve led, had we survived, but I wanted to be sure you knew that.” She laughed. “At least I saw you naked through your memories.”

Aren had to laugh, even as his face grew warm. “Whew. I was worried you became different person for a moment, all sentimental.”

“Hey! I’m allowed to have touching moments. Unless you’d rather I punch you instead.”

“No thanks.” He paused for a moment. “You already know how I feel, Eris,” he said. “but since we can’t share thoughts any more, I wanted to tell you again that I’m grateful for every moment we had together, and that I think I’m in love with you. I’d ask you not to vent your air when I run out, but I don’t fight losing battles.”

Eris tightened her grip on him. At least Aren thought she had. As they floated in silence, no rescue in sight, Aren closed his eyes and rested his helmeted head against hers. All he wanted was more time!

For what felt like ages, they floated alone in the blackness, but not really alone. Aren felt himself begin to grow light-headed, his breathing more difficult, as his body’s oxygen level dropped. At least it wouldn’t be painful; just like falling asleep, unless the peace he felt didn’t last and he panicked. I’m sorry, he wanted to say to Eris, sorry we didn’t make it.

Over the next few minutes, Aren drifted further away. As his eyes started closing, he saw a bright light wash over them and they began to move, like one of those mythical angels had found them and taken them on its wings, away from the dark void. Whatever this was, another adventure awaited, somewhere.

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