Part 6

The previous two days had been fascinating beyond measure for Evelyn. First they’d seen the angelic technology work, and she’d been shocked to realize that they seamlessly used magic and technology together, which had allowed them to revive Esress’s arm as they rebuilt it and her armor around it, as well as the hole in Fiona’s shoulder. After that they’d arranged several meetings with Helen, and Evelyn had tried to learn what she could about the angels.

She’d managed to garner that they hailed from a planet called Heaven, one with immense concentrations of mana, and that they’d had conflicts with demons over the millennia, a similarly advanced species from the opposite side of Coalition space, but that the two had signed a peace treaty a few millennia ago. She’d also learned that they were highly advanced, far beyond what she’d ever thought possible, and had colonized well over a hundred worlds, though the exact number was something that Helen had been reticent about.

The angel had been far more open about the Ravagers, as they called the alien species. She had explained that they’d come into contact with the Ravagers about twenty years before she went into stasis, and they didn’t really understand the other species. They knew the aliens could take advantage of their wormhole gates even when deactivated, which was why they destroyed the gates in systems the Ravagers took, and that the species seemed entirely unable to use magic. That was fortunate, since the Ravagers technology exceeded that of the angels by leaps and bounds, and only their use of magitech gave the angels an advantage, one they needed since they were outnumbered by the Ravagers.

Unfortunately, all of Helen’s information was centuries out of date, and Captain Kalper had spent most of the previous day in negotiations with Helen, trying to convince the angel to share some of their technology with the Coalition in case the Ravagers came their way. From the way the felix man had snarled at everyone after returning to the Lightseeker that evening, Evelyn suspected he’d been less successful than he’d wanted. Since Helen seemed to like her a little more than most of the others, the captain had ordered her to come down and speak with the angel today.

That was why she found herself standing in front of the doors to the command center of the temple, doors which looked more like wood with gold filigree, though her scanner claimed that it couldn’t sense anything beyond the surface of the door. Since she sensed a great deal of magic imbued into the door, Evelyn suspected that it was stronger than the Lightseeker’s hull.

“Alright, here we go…” Evelyn murmured, and reached out to touch the door, then jerked back as the door split into four pieces and retracted into the walls like flower petals.

It opened to reveal a room that was an exercise in contradictions. It was almost as broad as the golden dome atop the temple, and white pillars were at regular intervals around the corners, and a breathtaking hologram depicting the star system danced in the space above the room. Several consoles that weren’t that much different than those aboard the Lightseeker were set around the room, facing crystal screens set into the walls, most of which showed devastated portions of the planet outside. The chairs were a little different, being designed for creatures with wings, but all of it was familiar, even if they were more elegantly crafted. In the center of the room was a crystal platform several feet across, and Helen was floating above it, not quite bobbing in the air as she faced the ephemeral figure of the avatar.

“If genesis is invoked, how long will it take for the world to be ready for the children of light?” Helen asked in angelic, her tone filled with exaggerated patience that Evelyn had realized came of the odd syntax with which she had to address the avatar.

“Eleven pillars were lost to the infidels, so it will take a century and a third for this world to thrive once more,” the avatar replied calmly. “Less, should the pillars of genesis be forged once again.”

“That is unlikely to occur in the present days. Proceed with the rites of genesis.” Helen replied, and she gently beat her wings once, sending her drifting backward, then to the floor again, then turned to face Evelyn, nodding as the avatar’s image vanished. “Evelyn, it’s good to see you again.”

The angel really was beautiful, Evelyn reflected, though the darkness in her eyes, and the obvious exhaustion was worrying. The woman had been up at all hours ever since they’d rescued her, at least if the notes she’d seen from the scientists were anything to go by. It didn’t help that Evelyn had always been fascinated by the pervasive images of angels from ruins across all the Coalition worlds. She’d just never suspected that the angels of legend were another alien species.

“And it’s good to see you, Helen. Though I do wonder if you’ve rested recently, based on what I’ve heard from the others.” Evelyn replied, frowning as she added. “You look exhausted.”

“If I rest, I’m going to break down for a few days at the least, and possibly more. I’ve lost more friends in what was effectively the last week than I had in the previous millennium.” Helen replied bluntly, shaking her head. “And the nightmares… no, I want to put them off for as long as possible. I can last for another three or four days until I have no choice but to rest, but that’s more than enough to do what I have to.”

“Wait, you haven’t rested at all? It’s been two days!” Evelyn protested, taken aback.

“No, I have not. I’ve been reviewing what information your expedition has chosen to share with me, speaking with the civilians to take responsibility for my actions and to inform them of their options, and answering questions and meeting with your ship’s crew.” Helen said, shrugging as she continued. “I’ve kept myself busy.”

“That doesn’t seem healthy.” Evelyn said, growing even more worried about her task.

“It isn’t. Neither is destroying a star system and everyone I couldn’t save.” Helen said, then sighed and continued. “Now, what is it you’ve come for? I know it isn’t to check on my health. Your captain wouldn’t have sent you down in a shuttle alone for merely that, not after our meeting yesterday.”

“No, he wouldn’t have.” Evelyn admitted, flushing slightly. It was strange that the air in the temple smelled so much fresher than that of the ship, but she liked it, even if it made it harder for her to hide her feelings. She reached up to run her fingers through her hair, then continued, looking down at a dark lock as she did so. “He decided that since you seem to like me the most, I’d be the best one to ask about getting a boost in technology.”

“Giving your people technology isn’t going to happen.” Helen replied absently, shaking her head as she turned away and looked up at the hologram above. “That’s simply a disaster waiting to happen.”

“But if the Ravagers come after us—” Evelyn began to argue half-heartedly, but Helen raised a finger to interrupt.

“I said I’m not giving you the technology. I never said that I’m not willing to help.” Helen said, looking over at Evelyn again, and there was something about her gaze that made Evelyn go still, and she listened as Helen continued. “If we give you the technology, you won’t understand it, you’ll just use it. You’ll come to rely on it, and you won’t make the advances that you so desperately need to make. An example is how much your people have grown since we withdrew from your worlds. In a millennium you made more progress at integrating your species and advancing in technology than you did in the previous seven.

“That’s why I don’t dare simply give you the technology. What you need are teachers. And what my people need, those that are left, is a home.” Helen’s tone trembled at the last, taking a deep breath, then letting it out. “I don’t know what is coming, not really, but the people here… did you consider that they might be the last of our species, Evelyn? That the Ravagers might have wiped my people out entirely?”

Evelyn’s breath caught in her throat, because she hadn’t considered the last thought. The idea that such an incredibly advanced species might be dead was something she hadn’t really thought was possible, not with the confidence that Helen had spoken with during their initial meeting. So she swallowed and shook her head before replying softly. “No, I hadn’t. You seemed so confident that the fight must be ongoing that I just…”

“I don’t blame you. I still believe that, but our ships are faster than yours. It would have been easy for them to send out a single cruiser to rescue the handful of us centuries ago, and they haven’t. I have to assume the worst, it’s the only responsible thing to do.” Helen said, a ghostly smile flitting across her lips. “That’s why, with the full agreement of those who’ve taken refuge here, I would like to send the people here to your Coalition to found a colony. They will have the tools they need to build an appropriate technology base, and they have the skills necessary to help your people learn to defend yourselves.”

“That… I don’t imagine that there will be an objection to that, but it’d likely take a fair amount of negotiations. I—” Evelyn suddenly stopped, realizing what Helen had said, and her eyes narrowed as she looked at Helen. “Wait just a moment. What about you? You’re talking about sending the others and the technology with them, but nothing about you.”

“That’s because I’m not going with them, if that’s what is chosen. If your people don’t agree, I know of a remote world I can take them to, one which should be safe for them to rebuild, but such would set me behind.” Helen said, flicking a finger, and the planetary system was replaced by a sector map.

“Set you behind on what?” Evelyn asked, her suspicion growing stronger.

“I didn’t tell you my full background, mostly because it wasn’t important. I’m retired, but I gave many oaths when I was younger, and I have not renounced those oaths.” Helen said, shaking her head. “What I did was in service to them, and I will not allow myself to let the sacrifices be in vain. I have an evacuation ship beneath the temple, and I’m going to take it and recover those who were left behind in each of the other systems you detected explosions from, then I will check the other three systems which were to be evacuated.”

Above them, fourteen stars started glowing red, three of them in a softer green color. It took Evelyn a moment to make certain they were the same ones they’d detected the explosions from, considering how different the map was, seeing it in this style. She considered, then asked. “And after that?”

“Then, I’m going to see if the empire has fallen.” Helen said simply, looking at Evelyn again. “I know where the core of the gate network is, unlike almost anyone else in the empire. If anywhere is still defended beside Heaven itself, it’s there. And from there I could reactivate the gates hidden outside your Coalition worlds, either to grant additional aid or to warn you of what might be coming. It’s the only thing I can think of that might make a difference.”

Evelyn blinked, a little startled about the idea of there being a gate near their worlds, but when she thought about it, it made sense. If there weren’t one, it would have taken far too long for the angels to move too or from their planets. But she frowned at Helen and asked. “You’re going to do this alone?”

“Alone? Possibly. Especially if they changed the gates to allow a remote detonation.” Helen admitted, her gaze slightly haunted. “I don’t know if they’ve done that, though it’s possible. I intend to do this, one way or another, and it’s not right for me to ask innocent civilians to follow me on what may be a fool’s errand.”

“That… that sounds lonely.” Evelyn said, swallowing hard. The idea of someone going out on their own like that, for something that might end with nothing but rubble at the end of it… it made her shiver. It had been bad enough being awake with only a dozen others at a time aboard Lightseeker, but being alone, completely alone? That was a terrifying thought.

“It might be. I can’t go into stasis, since the ship doesn’t have an avatar and the one from the temple won’t transfer over.” Helen admitted with a sigh. “I think it it’s necessary, though.”

“Then don’t go alone.” Evelyn said, and as she did, an idea formed in her mind. It was risky, possibly even foolhardy, but at the same time the idea excited her, and she smiled at Helen. “I’ll come with you.”

“What? Why would you possibly do that?” Helen asked, looking at Evelyn incredulously. “You’d be going into the complete unknown, and even if the empire hasn’t fallen, I doubt there are that many other mortals you’d encounter.”

“And? I’m a xenoarcheologist! I’ve loved seeing other cultures since I was young, and no one goes into the field if they aren’t willing to take risks. The chance of seeing your culture up close… it’s worth it. And if it helps save the Coalition, even better.” Evelyn retorted, her decision growing firmer. “No, I think I truly want to go with you, Helen.”

Helen simply stared at Evelyn for a long moment, then asked. “Won’t your captain object?”

“He can cough up a hairball, for all I care. I’m a civilian, and I signed on to check out this system. Well, it’s checked out, so I’ll quit if I have to.” Evelyn said, grinning broadly.

After a moment more, Helen laughed, the first sign of real amusement Evelyn had seen out of her. The angel shook her head and smiled in return. “Well, that would be a sight, wouldn’t it? We’ll have to see how things go, but if you’re crazy enough to want to come along, I guess I’d welcome the company. It’s going to be a long, boring trip, though.”

“It was a long, boring trip coming out here. What’s another one?” Evelyn retorted, and she offered her hand.

“Fair enough.” Helen conceded, and she reached out to take Evelyn’s hand.

This would be interesting, Evelyn thought. Now she just had to convince the others.

The End(?)

Just to clarify, this is the draft of the original Second Contact. I hope to turn it into a full novel someday, but for now it’ll remain available for you to read. I hope you enjoyed it!