Proximity alertSomething just dropped out of warp near my ship. I can't get up. I wouldn't want to even if I could. It's fine. My ship is cold, dark, and lifeless. They might attack, board my ship, or maybe they'll just pass me off as another derelict. My cot is a fold out bed bolted to the hull but it feels like soil. I'm bound to it. It's as if I'm growing roots. I don't know how long I've been here. Gibraltar is gone and the failure leaves me broken. I can barely think, my shattered mind scattered like shards of glass. I hear vibrations reverberating through the hull as I pull the covers up to my chin. I guess they decided to board my ship. I could fight back but what's the point? Would it matter? My life's ambition, my vengeance, is now just a pointless dream. There's no power in the galaxy that could change it. Worse still, Gibraltar couldn't even be bothered to finish me off. I can't help but be reminded of my position, humanity's position in this great wide unknown. An indifferent universe is the worst kind. If the universe hates you, at least it cares enough to do so. We come into this uncaring, unfeeling place kicking and screaming. We fight against it all our lives and die just as insignificant as we were when we arrived. Why bother? The airlock opens. They hacked the panel and now someone's on board. I feel a brief moment of panic, yet I barely move. The roots run deeper than you know. This emptiness is just so damn heavy. I'm not even sure I want to defend myself. I hear footsteps, calm and quiet. They slowly wander about the vessel. They're cautious. They know there's someone alive on board. My body heat would be easy to detect, even if it wasn't so cold on the ship. I turn my back to the door. I don't want to see it coming. When the door opens I flinch. It's the last bit of survival instinct I have left. Fraeia's voice calls out to me, "Amber?" When I refuse to turn and face them, they take a cautious step forward. "Are you alright?" I shake my head. Speaking would take far too much energy. Fraeia takes another step and lets out a sigh of relief. "You're alive. Good. We were worried." I scoff in reply. "We should go. Gibraltar could arrive any moment." My voice is dry when I speak, the words breaking, "It already came and went." "You survived?" They ask. I nod. "It refused to strike my ship and left." I sit up and rub my face as if to wipe away the fatigue. "I see." They look me up and down and ask, "When was the last time you ate?" "Just last…" I stop. I honestly can't remember the last time I ate. "I have no idea." I try to stand, to rip myself up by the roots. The bones and joints snap and pop, straining against the movement. I haven't stood up in a while it seems. "What's wrong?" "Hmm?" I turn to them and cock my head. It always takes me a minute to realize that this isn't exactly normal behavior. "Oh, not eating? I forgot." Their jaw drops and It makes me laugh. They narrow their eyes and ask, "You forgot to eat?" "Yeah. It's not that strange." I reply with a shrug. "It's a need for survival. How do you-" they pause and cross their arms. "I don't understand." "My brain's broken, nothing to worry about." I finally manage to stand and take the opportunity to change the subject, "Why are you here?" "For you. We had second thoughts about letting you face Gibraltar alone." "That's sweet. A little late, though." After a moment of silence I manage to put the pieces together. My eyes light up and I ask, "Are you saying you know what can kill that thing?" Fraeia shakes their head. "We don't even know what it is. We have bounties on it dating back thousands of years. Not even our weapons can kill it." The fleeting moment of hope fades as quickly as it came. My head hangs low as I speak, "So you came to talk me out of it, not to help." Fraeia doesn't even bother to hide it. "Yes. I'm sorry. We-" They pause and reach for their ear, turning their head to the side on impulse. They smile and nod. "I'll let her know." "Me?" I ask. Fraeia nods. "You left more of an impression than you think. Let's get you fed, first. After that, we can discuss what comes next." We walk to the kitchen and I sit at the table while Fraeia ventures back to The Viritine. When they return, they hand me a nutrient bar wrapped in cloth. It's homemade, a densely packed and tasteless brick of pure nutritional value. I unwrap it and stare, my stomach churning at the thought. "Do I have to?" I ask. "Your going to need it." "For what?" Fraeia chuckles and shakes their head, "The black signal, a ceaseless broadcast that's been the same for eons? It's different now. Something changed." My eyes go wide and I force myself to bite into the bar. It's filling, a pleasant experience despite how tasteless it is. It hits the pit of my stomach like a hammer and suddenly I'm starving, ravenously digging into it with little care for manners. I look up to Fraeia who sits across from me, careful not to watch me eat but anxious to learn more of my encounter. I pause and ask, "Do you guys just have food meant for humans stashed away somewhere?" Fraeia shakes their head. "No. My people have known how to make this for a long time. During the siliue purge, we used it to help the starving on their journey to Safeharbor." Within minutes, I can't bear to eat another bite and wrap the rest of the brick for later. "You said the signal changed. What does that mean?" "Exactly that," Fraeia replied. "Originating from this region of space is a signal of the same origin as before but it's different than before." "You think Gibraltar has something new to say?" I ask. They stand up and nod, slowly walking toward the airlock. "Do you want to find out?" I couldn't jump from my chair fast enough. I follow behind, nearly catching Fraeia's heels with my feet. I enter The Vhiritine and the goddess hovers above in the multicolored water just as majestic as before. I open my mouth to speak but she beats me to it, "Welcome back. It's nice to see you well, Amber." I smile. "Thank you. It's nice to see you too. Sorry about before." "No need. I assume you want to hear about the signal?" "Yes," I reply with a nod. "We want to help," Fraeia says. I tilt my head and they continue, "The black signal is ancient for us. This change could be a massive development for my people." "How can you justify that? This ship is important." Fraeia nods. "Yes. Avatars are symbols of our culture. This is a culturally significant change." "How?" I ask. "I grew up with stories of the signal. It does impossible things, and many of my people have spent their lives searching for its source. You found it, and happen to be the one person who can decipher it." Viritine calls out from above, "we have mutual goals. Why not achieve them together?" I'm beaming, my smile stretching from ear to ear. "I- thanks. Yeah I'd love some help. Where do we start?" Fraeia gives me a heartfelt smile. "We return to Fever Breach. You should get some sleep. Let's find out what this thing wants you to see." "Wouldn't I already be affected? I slept..." I pause but still cant quite decide how long it's been, "...a lot. If there was something new, I would have seen it by now." Viritine replies, "This new signal is less than an hour old. It began shortly after we arrived." "Wait, that means-" "It means that in spirit, at least, Gibraltar never really left."
Argus just stared, her eyes wide as she pondered the possibilities as well as the struggles. Diavae waited patiently. They didn't expect a straightforward response. There would be questions, self-doubt, maybe even denial and disbelief. "You're serious?" Argus asked, scanning Diavae's face. Maybe they were trying to pull off a prank? "I'm being allowed to take a vigil?" "Not a vigil, the vigil. You've been approved to join the ranks of the Lebhan Chroniclers." "So all six? They want me to take all six vigils? I can't-" Diavae held out their hand and shook their head with a nurturing smile. "You can refuse. I won't be upset." "What?" Argus asked, her voice rising before it could be forced down. "I don't think you understand." "Clearly." Argus didn't hear, her mind already jumping about to analyze the problem from every possible angle. "Like this is huge. No human has ever been allowed to take a vigil. If I accept, I'd be representing my species in the eyes of a hundred others." Diavae nodded with their arms crossed as Argus continued, "But if I say no, I'd be passing up a huge opportunity. I'd be a disappointment to you and my species." Diavae's smile disappeared. "Absolutely not. You assume too much." "Sorry, It just feels like a lot of pressure, regardless of the choice I make." "You have plenty of time. All of time, in fact. There is no deadline." Argus toyed with her fingers as she spoke, "Okay. Just give me a little bit to think about it." Diavae nodded and stood up. "You know where to find me." After a long embrace, they left. Argus stared into an empty corner of her room for hours, occasionally raising a hand to nibble at her fingernails before forcing it back down. The vigil, a series of grueling trials on six different worlds. It was a test of might, of mind, body, and soul. The self doubt came then. She didn't believe in the soul. Even if she did, the best among the eden rarely complete each trial. How could she expect to do better? She would say yes, naturally, but it took time to convince herself of the fact. The potential was just too much to pass up. If she succeeded, she'd decide the fates of old gods, and possibly orchestrate the birth of others. Who could pass that up?
Time is a curse. Even when waiting to fall asleep it seeks to make the wait as painful as possible. I stare at the ceiling to pass the time, just another chunk of metal hull. While excited, I'm also terrified. I can't imagine what waits for me when I finally manage to drift away. It happens sooner than I think. I blink but my eyes fail to open. There's a brief moment of darkness, then the visions come in waves. I see The Fever Breach, the red radiating from the same spotted forest as before. I see a man; a human I've never met but hes more like me than I know. I then find myself entering a vast complex of stone and metal with the sounds of war all around me. Shrill cries of pain and rage fill the air. The complex is alive, but dormant. It waits like a hunter for its prey. I stumble through its rocky caverns, beyond rows of steel sarcophagi filled with lifeless bodies. I find myself faced with a console. Words appear on the screen, the translator quickly deciphering them. Access requested: Name I see the lens of a camera embedded in the black stone. It watches me hopefully. As if I'd refuse. I nod and a wave of heat passes through my body. It's hacking the hardware, scanning my mind for something, anything it could use for a name. A name appears, one I didn't expect, "Caesar." "Caesar?" I say with a laugh. "If that's what you want to be called." I can hear the entire complex slowly preparing. It's about to take its first breath in a long time. Gears turn, machinery springing to action after millennia of gathering dust. Before I can wake it up, I hear a voice from behind me. "Stop." I know this voice. I shake my head, my body freezing in place. "Of course they sent you." "Move away. All I need to do is give the trigger a squeeze." "I need him," I say, my voice breaking. "You can't trust it." "It has a name," I scream. The voice screams back, "I don't care." "Do you have any idea what was taken from me? Again and again, I still can't seem to win. No more." The voice is calming, like a mother's voice should be, "I can't even imagine. I'm sorry, but this isn't the way." All the pieces are in place. I just need to press one button. It's funny how it always comes down to one button. "He knows something about Gibraltar. Shoot me or don't. I need to speak with him." I let my hand fall, and the moment the button is pressed, I dodge to the side. Space warps around me and I find myself nearly twenty feet from where I was. Eden tech really is the best. She hesitates. She fires far too late and the bullet ricochets off the stone. My attacker cries out but is cut off by a far bigger voice echoing throughout the complex. Caesar speaks, and his words filter through the translator with ease. "Thought Grave operational…" The last thing I see before I open my eyes is a massive fleet dropping from warp. The ships are varied in design and origin, a Dhitol armada. Within moments their weapons are primed and ready to fire. It's then that I realize what Gibraltar is trying to tell me. This isn't random. This isn't some incoherent message beyond comprehension, it's a warning. Dhitol is on the move, and they aim to take Fever Breach...