The Sentrillren

Episode 5: Destiny’s Howl

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Alone in his quarters at nightfall, Jet Topeka, former captain of an EarthGov starship, sat on the edge of his regulation bed and tried to assess reality. Trouble was, he still had faint memories of his former reality, in which he’d witnessed the destruction of an Earth colony. He also remembered his next reality: A Tellurian prisoner about to receive a mind-crushing mental probe. And that was aside from the reality after that, which had cast him as a high-ranking officer in the Terran occupation force on Telluria.

But surely, the mishmash of memories that haunted him was just a half-remembered dream like the barely audible, hissing voice that hovered at the edge of his consciousness. Wasn’t it?

His eyelids heavy, he fell back on his bed and snuggled into its soft blanket. It was, thank goodness, reassuringly real. He’d tucked it into his bed that morning, with the practiced hand of a weekend Reservist. Now its softness reminded him of the warmth he’d soon come home to.

“Daria,” he whispered.

The thought of his wife eased his back muscles until at last he could sink into the mattress and breathe. easily. The day’s grueling drill had left him exhausted and achy, but with good reason. Reports of renewed fighting in the Orion sector meant the cease-fire was broken. Worse, rumors were flying everywhere that the Hakrelia had swept in from deep space to support the rebels. At the moment, the scope of the crisis was unclear. Were the Hakrelia merely scavenging opportunists?

Or were they the greatest threat the Earth/Telluria Alliance had ever faced?

Jet turned on his right side and nestled into his pillow. If he didn’t get up soon, he’d miss mess call, his last chance to eat until morning, when the transport left for Aldrin Interstellar Transfer Station. But the bed’s embrace was irresistible. In the quiet, semi-darkness, his realities wove themselves into a soothing, logical matrix. What did he care about a hazy, undocumented past?

“Be good to get home,” he muttered.

Daria would be there, but also the guys at work. Android maintenance wasn’t the genius work he’d dreamed about as a teenager, but it paid OK. Or it did before the rebels hacked the credit exchange and crashed the interstellar market. Between pay cuts, shift reductions and layoffs, the impact on the Alliance had been devastating. Jet had kept his shift, but Daria’s start-up vertical farm had lost every last investor within a month of the crash.

Joining the Reserves hadn’t appealed to Jet, but enlisting was way better than borrowing from the Credit Pool. Miss a payment and you’d end up a wholly owned subsidiary of a conglomerate in the Sirius sector. Besides, when he enlisted, word was that the rebel fleet was fading. Plus, news of atrocities were all over the newsnets and the support the rebels enjoyed among a cynical elite was waning.

Then came the Hakrelia. During a decisive Alliance battle, at the extreme edge of the Heisenberg star cluster, a fleet of sixteen massive ships had simply materialized and opened fire on the entire Alliance formation at once.

“So Command takes it out on us,” whispered Jet. Still, he couldn’t complain. His shift was over and it was time to eat. He swung his legs over the side of his bed, stood up and shuffled out of his barracks toward the mess hall. Technically, if the tide didn’t turn soon, Command could actually deploy him in the field. That was a chilling thought. The Hakrelia, it was said, had developed a nanobot weapon that could rewrite the genome of every living thing in its path. As Jet’s buddy Malik had told him yesterday:

“Six hundred Tellurians at a strategic, lunar military base were changed into aquatic mammals in seventy-two hours. Not a drop of water anywhere. Guess what happened next.”

By now, Jet had entered the mess hall. The enticing smell of hot, replicated meals wafted through its broad dome. It was time, he decided, to put the war out of his mind. Sure the news was bad crazy bad. But a sensation in the back of his mind told him his people would find a solution.

What was it: A dream or a scene from a video game he used to play as a kid in Kansas,?

“Like a force of nature,” he thought, “telling me my life will balance out.”

So when the mess hall’s PA system announced that field deployments would begin in the morning, Jet’s only thought was getting a message through to Daria. There’d be tears, from both of them, but they’d get through it.

Thankfully, the longer they talked, the fainter that hissing voice in his ears became. But the important thing was knowing Daria would be part of his reality forever, weird dreams or no. He closed contact and returned to his barracks, where the Quartermaster was already outfitting each solider with the necessary equipment. Master Sergeant Jolie Magnussen’s scowl was there, too.

“You ready for this, Soldier?” she snapped. “Stop daydreaming and get your gear packed.”

Meanwhile, in a remote region of space-time, bounded by dimensions no mortal could perceive, a nebulous Entity howled into the solar wind.

“Acceptance!” it shrieked. “They have achieved Acceptance! I cannot continue. I cannot. I.”

The Setrillren’s dissolution sparked a new beginning. From then on, humanity was on its own. But of course, there would be consequences.


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