Despite the hushed cough of the gun, the sound echoed faintly in the empty room. The bullet that left Tristul’s gun went straight through Krestean’s chest, lodging itself inside of a screen behind her. The nycomb lowered his gun slightly, seeing that his target was not being a problem.
Krestean, on the other hand, put her arms up to cover up the gaping hole by her heart. She could feel the warm, apricot blood leaking from the ruptured veins, spilling out onto her fur and robe. As quickly as the pain had come, it stopped – replaced by the pleasant tingling she learned to associate with Drakian’s energy doing work.
“Did I miss the heart?” Tristul asked with a seemingly caring tone, seeing that his victim wasn’t falling to her knees. “No worries, I’ll end the sufferin’ quickly,” he said as he lifted his gun back up. “A good ol’ lead to the head always does the trick”
“There is no need to ‘end my suffering’. I’m fine,” Krestean raised her arms as proof showing that, in the center of the bloody patch of fur and cloth, there was no longer a hole, but rather a bald patch of skin with barely visible fur starting to grow out of it. “Besides, your gun doesn’t work anymore,’ she added, praying to herself that the limited knowledge she had on sidearms was enough to break the trigger.
Confused, Tristul looked at the nonexistent hole in Krestean’s chest. He could still see the cracks made by the bullet in the monitor behind her, which ensured him he didn’t imagine firing the first shot. Without a word he calmly steadied his gun, pointing it right between the eyes before pressing the trigger.
The trigger hit against the grip of the pistol without any of the usual resistance. The weapon didn’t fire, nor did it give off a signal that it detected an issue. “How did you…”
“-Know?” Krestean ended for him. “Well there are two options. I either know the future, or I’m able to disable your gun at will. And one of these is more likely than the other.”
“They both seem pretty unlikely to me,” he said, taking a step back as he eyed suspiciously Krestean and his gun.
“Well, I can’t see the future so that leaves one option,” she slowly walked over to the monitor with the bullet inside of it, inspecting the damage. “So now consider that I could’ve prevented your earlier shot, yet didn’t. What does that say about me?”
“That you’r’ a fool.” The nycomb dropped his weapon into its holster and stretched out his arm. Instantly, the plating on the glove he wore started to move, extending into a blade-like extension of the forearm. “There’s always the old way of takin’ care of things.”
“That’s an impressive blade you got there,” Krestean said calmly, trying her best not to show her surprise. “Wouldn’t want it to melt down, would you?” Tristul gave her a look of confusion, but instead of elaborating, she moved off to the side, holding the earlier fired bullet in her hand. She made sure the nycomb saw it before placing it flat on her palm and melting it, letting the red-hot lead spill around her hand as if it was no more than flowing jelly. She let it sprawl so that the nycomb could see, but before it spilled over the side of her hand and landed on the floor, she evaporated it, leaving behind only the signature amber sparks.
Tristul stared at her speechlessly, taking another step back and lowering his arm. Instead of saying anything, Krestean turned to the broken screen and put a hand on it near the hole, purposefully not covering it up. She concentrated for a moment on how the screen was supposed to work, before letting amber light fill in the damage the bullet had done. After a few seconds, the screen started to flicker, and then stabilized on an image of a camera, as if nothing ever happened to it.
“I knew somethin’ was off,” he said angrily, folding back his blade. “All this aint real,” he made a wide swing with his arms. “You’re holdin’ us in a simulation, ain’t ya. All this’s fake, in our heads, isn’t it?”
You have no idea how a simulation works, do you, Krestean thought to herself before saying aloud “Don’t be crazy, you could see this station from the outside, couldn’t you? There is no way I could make you see things when you’d be so far away.”
“Then you started the moment we landed,” the nycomb hit the ground with one of his hooves, as if to strengthen his point. “What you do is nigh possible in reality, lady – only option is that this ain’t reality then.”
“I would not be able to control all five of you simultaneously, and the power needed for that greatly exceeds anything I can conjure! Be reasonable here.”
“I am, there ain’t no other way you’d be able to do that,” he pointed at the fixed monitor ”I’m no science guy, to me this’s lookin’ very possible.”
“You’re not… But Cercatul is, isn’t he?” After she got a hesitant nod from Tristul, Krestean turned to the camera array, trying to find where the rest of the nycombs went. “We’ll find him, and talk with him. Maybe he can persuade you.” Eying her suspiciously, the nycomb crossed his arms and let out a huff of disapproval, but stood still in place – like a statue that was split between being angry and annoyed.
As the other nycombs entered the elevator, they could hear the faint sound of a gunshot reverberate through the corridor. Fercila was the first to turn around, followed by Cercatul “Was that-” she started, but before she could say anything more, Cierla raised up her feathered arm, in a signal to stop.
Being slightly behind, she walked up to the other two before saying anything. “Do not think about this too much. I’m sure Trist will report in with the results of his…. discussion with our host soon enough. But for now, let us not interrupt.”
“Discussion?!” Cercatul pushed Fercila aside and stood in front of Cierla, his eyes challenging her. “You know damn well that Trist’s ‘discussions’ never end well. The only hope I have for Krestean is that he’s not dragging her body out of that room…” He wanted to end with a ‘yet’, but didn’t want to think about that possibility.
“That is no way to speak to your commander,” Cierla responded, puffing up the feathers on her arms slightly as she placed her hands where her torso emerged from the rest of the body. “As it is no way to treat your lady. Now stand down and we can forget this happened. Otherwise, I will bring it up with Admiral Berlu.”
The nycomb stared at her as if a bucket of icy water had been poured onto his head. “Yes ma’am,” he said, bowing down as he retreated. He apologized to Fercila as the trio went back to the elevator, despite her reassurances that he did nothing wrong. He pressed the button for the living quarters, and the group stood in silence as machinery carried them up.
As the elevator stopped, Cierla stretched out her arm, blocking the other two from exiting. “Let’s go somewhere first,” she said as she pressed the button for the highest floor on the panel. The screen asked for confirmation, so she swiped her card which, to no surprise, was accepted, closing the door. The other two shared a confounded look, but neither said a word as the elevator continued its journey up.
They came out in another empty corridor, the walls of which were clean and empty, just as rest of the station. “Why here?” Fercila asked, not able to hold it in anymore.
“Two reasons. First of all, Krestean’s office is in here. If we truly have full access, Monsele should be in there right now.”
“But I thought she-” before Cercatul could finish, a door down the hallway opened, with Monsele sauntering out of it and heading towards the group.
“Secondly, the power room is on this floor. Smart design to be able to easily access it if something should come up, but gods only know whether it would be to repair the power or to cut it off. Either way, I want to have a look,” she finished as the other nycomb approached, turning towards her. “So, have you found anything of interest?”
“Nothing. Her office is basically as empty as the rest of this ship.”
“I thought you didn’t want to explore the ship?” Fercila spoke up as the group headed off, following Cierla.
“I didn’t, but we’re not here for our pleasure,” she responded without looking “Cier sent a message showing where the office is, telling me to look. So I obeyed.”
Cierla nodded in approval, continuing in silence as they passed a handful more doorways. Before long, they stopped in front of a large metallic door, which stood out in comparison to all the others. “She’s obviously not trying to hide it,” Cierla murmured as she swiped her card, opening the doorway.
They were greeted with a large array of lights, spread in a regular pattern on a rectangular wall in the center of the room. About a quarter of the lights were red, while the rest glowed bright green. As they watched it, one of the red lights turned green. “Is this loading something?” Cercatul asked in confusion as he looked at the panels under the lights. “Never seen an engine room like this…”
“That’s because she’s not using an engine,” Cierla said as she went around the wall of lights. Equal parts curious and confused, Cercatul followed her. The back wall was lined with various screens and buttons, none of which held a clear purpose. Above them was a window that spanned the entirety of the room, looking into the center of the station. “Any idea what this is?”
In the empty space inside of the torus-shaped station, a small red orb was rapidly moving, growing and shrinking in size, with abrupt and violent rotations without any visible pattern. All within a cage that looked as if it was made of endless lightning, encasing its prisoner. The entirety of it was connected to the station by multiple beams of white energy, split across three rows – one across the top, middle, and bottom of the station – each of which had eight rays equally spaced out along the perimeter.
“Not gonna lie, this looks like some kind of a super weapon from a sci-fi film,” Cercatul spoke as he scanned all the controls underneath. “Maybe that’s what is being loaded via those lights but… what happens when it finishes?”
“Nothing good I bet,” Cierla said quietly, as she stretched her hand to touch the panel in front of her.
“Are you crazy?” Cercatul jumped to grab her hand. “First rule of being in a control room that may or may not control a death ray of some sort: Don’t touch things if you don’t know what they do. Who knows what you could’ve caused.”
As if to confirm his words, the panels gently flashed red, followed by a loud clunk of machinery coming from the walls. In a blink of an eye, the white rays turned blue as the orb in the center calmed down.
“Uhh, one of the green lights turned red,” Fercila said, still standing by the entrance to the room. “That busts the idea of this loading something, unless it loads in reverse.”
“It kinda does. It’s a battery,” Krestean’s voice came from the doorway as she came in with Tristul by her side. “The energy source we use doesn’t provide a continuous output, so we store excess energy in case of moments like this,” she pointed at a panel on a wall, which had a red box on it with a timer counting up. “They’re usually short breaks, no more than a minute, everything should be returning to normality soon.” Everyone moved towards the window and waited.
A panel flashed green, and all of the rays turned back from blue to white. After getting over the surprise of seeing that Krestean had made it out of the ‘discussion’, Cercatul was the first to speak up. “So… this is just a power core?”
“No ordinary power core but yes, the one and only thing powering this station.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little… I dunno… exposed?” Cierla said sarcastically, pointing towards the open space visible out the window. “It’s bad enough on its own, but considering where you chose to settle did it never occur to you that someone may try and destroy this place?”
“Of course it did, the protection I’ve put around it is military grade if not better.” Krestean’s watch flashed white as she pointed towards a stray asteroid that, as if by chance, was flying from beyond the view of the window, heading straight for the core. As it neared the perimeter of the opening in the center, it seemingly flattened, whilst being disintegrated by the surface of an invisible sphere. “You could fire an anti-matter missile from point blank and it still wouldn’t go through.”
“Sure it wouldn’t,” Tristul said, coming up to Krestean, grabbing her wrist in a single swift move. “Just as that rock wouldn’t happen to be fake, would it?” The other nycombs looked at him in confusion, trying to figure out what he meant. “I saw this lightin’ up, as that rock magically appeared. Call me crazy, but that ain’t no coincidence.”
“You’re right, it’s not,” Krestean calmly stated, trying to free her arm. Feeling the grip tighten up slightly, she abandoned the idea, explaining herself instead. “Yes, I created that rock. But no, it wasn’t an illusion, merely a demonstration,” seeing the still confused looks, she explained further. “After our talk in the security office, Tristul now believes this entire ship is but a simulation. Cercatul, please tell him that to control all of you wirelessly I would need otherworldly amounts of energy, and that’s besides the fact that you saw this ship on your way here – no way I could’ve fabricated that.”
“I mean…” Cercatul said hesitantly, turning around to face the power core. “You do have an otherworldly source of energy. I have no clue how much you could take from this… Heck, I don’t even have any clue what ‘this’ is.” He paused seeing Cierla give him an approving nod. “But you are right that we’ve seen this station from way too far to be in range of any mind control device,” he added, earning himself an eye roll from the commander.
“Crazy theories aside, you said you created that rock?” Fercila commented before Cierla could open her beak. “How would you do that?”
“By manipulating energy so that it forms matter,” Krestean said, extending her free arm and forming an amber cloud above it as her watch lit up with white light. The sudden appearance earned her a distrustful glare from Monsele and Cierla, a gasp from Fercila and a wide-eyed stare from Cercatul. And even though his face didn’t betray his emotion, Krestean could feel Tristul’s grasp loosen a little.
“It’s not easy, and not everyone can do it, but the effects can be spectacular. Case in point…” she started as the cloud above her hand started collapsing in on itself, solidifying into a shining crystal that gently fell into her open palm. “…this entire ship!” She clenched her fist, crushing the crystal into a fine powder that she let fall to the ground as she made a wide swing. The nycombs were shocked with disbelief, which she used to free her arm from Tristul’s grip. “It took us a while, but I think it was well worth it.”
That explains how it appeared out of nowhere, Cierla thought to herself as she stared back out the window. “Us? Just you and that friend you mentioned, or were there more?”
“Just the two of us,” Krestean responded as she focused on the tiny bits of crystal spread all over the floor, willing them out of existence. “Lost track of time, so I won’t tell you how long it took, but it was a fair while.” She turned around to face Tristul, creating a platinum coin – the highest valued currency in places where they still used it. “This is why I said I don’t need your resources. If I want something, I can just make it.”
“Then why’re you here, eh?” Tristul asked as he crossed his arms on his chest.
“Because I want to help,” Krestean explained calmly, handing the coin to Cierla. “See for yourself that it’s not an illusion. Now as to how I want to help, you mentioned you’ve been raiding some spaceships, didn’t you?” Tristul nodded. “Well, they’re meant to be more of a scare tactic, so I’m sure those raids produce things you don’t really need. I also know your race used to trade a lot before…” She paused, unsure of how to refer to the accident, but got a nod of understanding that asked her to continue. “Either way, I was thinking that since you have the goods, and know the trade, all you’d need is a safe place to do it at. And since you already live in a region outside of galactic laws, all that was missing was a location.”
Cierla looked at her, consumed by thought “You are aware that our ‘goods’ aren’t going to be… easy to distribute, right? We’d need to manufacture similar products to hide them, which is problematic if not impossible.”
“That would be true if you were pretending to be legitimate. But you’re already known as pirates and, well, I never said anything about how legal this whole operation should be.” Krestean explained with a smirk.
“Ar’ you proposin’ we create our own black market?”
“As much as I like that, I still ain’t trustin’ you,” Tristul untangled his arms and turned towards the exit. “But at least now we know all we need, so we can go and discuss it.”
“We’ll stay here and rest,” Cierla announced to the group. “And tomorrow we can go and report our findings.” The rest of the nycombs agreed and started heading out, Krestean following behind them until an unexpected hoof landed on her tail, pinning it to the ground. She paused, certain that she saw all five leave, but when she turned around Monsele was standing there, her face ostensibly angry, holding up a finger to her beak, indicating for Krestean to remain silent.
After the rest of the group left the room, seemingly not noticing anyone missing, Monsele lifted her hoof, freeing Krestean’s tail. She brought the scaly appendage up to her chest, wincing at its sensitivity.
“You’re a liar.”
Confused at how certain the nycomb sounded, she tried to defend herself. “I assure you that the only intentions behind this station were to-”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” the pirate cut Krestean off, turning around and moving back to the window. “This… This is a Heart, isn’t it?”
Krestean blinked a few times in surprise before coming closer to the window herself. “Yes…”
“And you said that that watch of yours uses its energy? Yet a planet’s energy is pure, and yours is tainted.”
Wondering just how much this nycomb knew, Krestean became cautious not to back herself into a corner. “What do you mean?”
“You’re not natural, your looks only support that,” Monsele turned towards Krestean, scrutinizing her from top to bottom. “As good as it looks, the combination of fur and scales is unlike any species in the galaxy.”
“I can assure you, I was born as naturally as-”
“And you met an amber beast, didn’t you?” Monsele sighed as she sat down on the floor. “’It’s probably the one that brought this Heart here and helped you get all of this ready, only to be conveniently gone the moment we arrive.”
Krestean let that suggestion process in her mind, casting a shadow of doubt on her fresh trust in Drakian. Taking her silence as a sign of understanding, Monsele continued with a sigh. “You probably don’t know where it went either, do you?”
“No, he didn’t want to say,” she paused, realizing how suspicious it all sounded. “But he means no harm! He delayed his plans to hide out on some rocky planet just to help build this thing.”
“Hide? And what would he want to hide from?” The nycomb asked in surprise. “From what we gathered there is nothing that can be a fatal threat to his kind.”
“They may be unkillable, but they’re still beings that can be trapped. The Galactic Council has been looking for any and all Type 0’s, putting them in special prisons to avoid any future disasters”
“Don’t get any ideas,” Krestean said as she sat down in front of the nycomb. “Having spent some time with Drakian, or the beast, I can tell you that they’re not what we make them out to be.” Monsele looked at her in a mix of curiosity and disbelief. “They’re extremely powerful and can’t die, true, but they’re still just… beings. They make friends and enemies, as well as mistakes they learn from. They’re not omnipotent gods, simply a very powerful race.” Krestean waited a short moment before asking a nagging question “How did you know?”
“I’m what you’d call a Type 2 myself,” she instantly replied, as if expecting the question. To back her claim up, she created a small shimmering orb of energy between them. “This place felt peculiar since we first landed, now I know why,” she stood up and leaned against the panel, gazing out the window. “I’d ask where you got this Heart, but I think I know the answer.” Krestean stood up as well, but instead of leaning on the panel beside Monsele, she went over to the wall with the array of red and green lights, kneeling down underneath it to mess with its insides. “And if I’m right, I should be angry, but I’d like to think that rather than it being trapped, it’s able to give life in a different way…” hearing the clinking of metal, the nycomb turned around and looked with surprise at Krestean. “What are you doing?”
“Just… checking something… real quick…” Some more sounds came from the oversized junction box, as well as a short-lived buzz of electricity, before Krestean emerged. “I’m sorry, I wanted to see if I could hook up another one of these,” she pointed at her watch. “Since you understand how energy manipulation works, and aren’t against this whole plan, I wanted to give you one.”
“Huh? Is it actually-”
“Yes,” Krestean cut her off, suppressing her own energy as she forced the watch to make a white sphere between them, just as the one Monsele made earlier. “I use it to make things easier for myself, but it’s absolutely self-sufficient.”
“But why give one to me?”
“The obvious reason is that it benefits you, and hopefully gives you some trust in me, which benefits me,” Krestean stated plainly, locking the junction box behind her. “But more importantly, I want to show that I’m here to help. Giving access to the entire ship is one thing, but allowing you to use it’s very core is another. Obviously I can’t connect too many beings or the station itself wouldn’t have enough power, but just you and I should be fine.” Monsele gave her a bewildered look, unsure of what to say. “Sadly though, I can’t connect it right now. It’ll take me a few hours, and while I could do it while you all sleep, I think it’s better that you don’t go out with a strange device strapped to your arm. Especially since I haven’t yet figured out how to extend its range far beyond the station.”
“That’s fine,” Monsele said gaily, suddenly holding Krestean in a warm embrace. “Thank you.”
“It’s the least I can do. Your race deserves better.”
“You may be the only one that thinks that-” the nycomb said with a sad smile as she wiped her eye. “-but at least you mean it.”
Krestean smiled back at her, the feathers coming out of Monsele’s arms making it too difficult to return the hug. “Now that it’s settled, you should go and rest. If I know the Types correctly, you still need sleep to function properly.”
“I don’t need it, I simply don’t have enough power to afford to go sleepless every night,” She responded cheerfully, heading out the door. “I guess that won’t be an issue in the future, if all goes well.”
“Indeed it won’t,” Krestean said with a hopeful grin.