In those final seconds, I thought of Xanshi and Katma Tui.
I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was afraid of failing. I promised myself I would never fail someone who needed me again. That’s when I heard it. A low sound, slow, something part music, part song. It had rhythm and it was connected to Green Power as my enslaved ring began to beat in time to the music.
“No. No more gambits for you. Now you die.” The Entity’s black bubble began to squeeze me into a smaller ball. As the ball grew smaller, the song grew louder. It was all around us. I noticed the Entity looking around casually at first but when his bubble didn’t immediately crush me, he became more frantic. My ring began to take over his black energy and return it to the green color.
That’s when I saw them. They had mastered the Ring. The five scientists each with their helmets off, and a green hovering display before them, they floated as a group toward us, Faran alb Dine in the front. She wore the copy of the ring I gave her.
The black bubble flickered and the giant form of the alien shrank down to seven feet. His glow faded. My ring was down to two percent. Two percent was enough. I drained my ring leaving only enough for life support. Two percent of a power ring meant I could lift a destroyer and throw it into orbit. I opted to unleash the energy as a massive wave of pure destructive energy, akin to allowing a sun to appear on the surface of the planet. He went down and stayed down, this time.
What most didn’t understand about the Oan power ring was it had an infinite power because it was linked to the Great Battery. But there was a limit to how much could be used by any individual, and that limiter was decided by the Guardians. This kept Corps members from roaming the galaxy enslaving the people they were supposed to be protecting. Having left my battery on Oa, what I had with me was supposed to last until I got back or called for reinforcements.
I took the third option. I recruited a new Lantern and gave her a portion of my power. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Hopefully there was something left for me to bum a charge.
“Faran alb Dine and company. You certainly know how to make an entrance. Thank you for the timely rescue.”
“It is our pleasure John Stewart. It was as we expected, we were certain we could interrupt his access to his energy by disrupting the power interface within his body. Since the power he used is similar to the energy technology we use, we created a dampener with this copy of your ring.”
“Not my ring any more. It is yours, if you will have it, Faran.”
“It is not a decision I can make singularly. My family must be consulted.” Faran turned to look at the rest of the scientists still monitoring and tweaking their construct equipment. All nodded in assent.
“Good, we are in agreement. Now I need a favor, as a provisional Green Lantern, I need to pull rank on you and bum a bit of a charge to phone home and take our prisoner back to Oa. Tell me you aren’t using up everything I left behind with you.”
“We would like to say that, but it wouldn’t be quite true. It took a greater effort to master the ring than we thought and we squandered quite a bit of the energy. We have sufficient to continue dampening his powers, but not much more than that.”
“Anything is better than nothing. I am running on fumes here.” Faran held out her ring and the two rings touched exchanging a measured amount of energy.
“Anomaly detected. Emergency protocol. Power reserves at eight percent.” The ring reawakened reported its status. An arrow pointed toward our unconscious enemy. I grabbed the rock below the ground and shaped it into a cage, and extruded it onto the surface sealing him within it. Without powers, he should be safe there for a minute.”
“He is not the anomaly, John Stewart. It lies below.” Farad pointed to the original crater created by the first antimatter explosion. A tiny spear of light had formed in the center and was growing brighter.
The Entity stirred within his cage. His blows shook the stony walls, each blow stronger than the last.
“Are you still dampening his powers?”
“Yes, but our scans detect he is changing the focus of his abilities. He is decreasing his projection of his powers and increasing his physical capacity. It will take a few minutes before he is able to break through your fortification. But only a few minutes.”
“Then let’s wrap this up. Ring, open a channel to Oa. This is John Stewart, 2814-3 requesting immediate, priority one support on Dirne IV. Please respond.“
Nothing. “Ring clarify you have a connection and repeat message.”
“Connection cannot be established. Our signal is being blocked. Attempting to compensate.” I looked at Faran and her look said no, it isn’t the Entity. The cage was starting to shake and fractures were forming. I didn’t like where this was going.
“Without access to his interface, is he vulnerable to direct applications of the ring?”
“Are you asking me, would you be able to kill him?”
Faran responded with a tentative “Yes.”
“Before you pass judgement, Master Builder, would you like to hear the entire story. My brother left out several very important parts.” The spear of light from the crater grew brighter and wider until it filled the entire crater. A beautiful Dirne female floated out of the pit, wearing flowing robes of black smoke.
“No family resemblance.”
“We are brothers and sisters by adoption, not by plasm. Will you stay your hand?”
“Tell him to stop doing that. It makes me nervous.”
“Release him, you will come to no harm. You have my word.”
“How much is that actually worth? I am standing on a dead planet which used to have fifty billion people living here. How do I know you won’t just vaporize us with the same powers he used?”
“I don’t have those powers. My gifts lie elsewhere. He will be still and your apprentice still binds his abilities. Well done, young one.”
No distress call, no cavalry, no more tricks; nothing but good will and rapidly diminishing power supplies. “Good will it is, then. I’ll let him go.”
Reaching into the rock, I reshaped its structure and released the Entity. His posture was one of attack and the body he wore appeared to be made of the rock I made into his prison.
“My brother told you of our origins, but he neglected to tell you everything. What he told you was designed to frighten you. The truth is more terrifying.” She floated down to her brother, placing her hand on his shoulder. They spoke softly for a moment before her telepathically augmented voice was heard again. “We are from a super-galaxy very far from here and we are members of a species who are bred from birth to death to engage in mortal combat with any and all comers.”
Her brother’s eyes shouted rage to me and I floated to be by Faran and her family. I set down on the ground letting the sound of their song, which had never stopped flow over me. It soothed me and centered me. She continued “We left our galaxy millennia ago, sickened by the war and the waste. Consuming our last conquest, we utilized their computational capacity and found a way to leave the galaxy for someplace where we could live quietly in peace. My brother’s people did not want this.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We are a symbiotic species. In our galaxy, warfare was our ecosystem. Species eventually evolved, shared genetic, technological, social and cultural ideologies until the symbiotes became an entirely new species or collection of species. Among our people, I alone realized what this meant. Eventually, our galaxy would evolve into a super-organism nurtured for conquest of all in its path. It would take billions of years but if our species were to continue, it would be inevitable. My parent species wanted nothing to do with this ultimate development and we fled. Our partners, of which my brother was one of, disapproved but lacked the cachet to prevent our choice. We found ourselves here in your Milky Way at the end of our journey.”
Faran spoke up with the next logical question, “Why do you look like a Dirne but call yourself an alien?”
“When we came to your galaxy a billion years ago, the Dirne were a primitive species on a planet that had been struck by a cosmological natural disaster. We suspected it was our transition into the material universe which disrupted a comet and caused your world to be hit. Our transition took thousands of years and when it was complete, the Dirne planet was nearly lifeless, the proto Dirne mutated and dying. Trying to find a new way of life, we infused ourselves into the planet, cleaning up the air, the water and the lifeforms. We slowly augmented the dying Dirne until they would be able to survive on their own. This took millions of years and many of our brethren decided to stay and become the Dirne. They had come to love the peaceful world, the songs of the aquatic Dirne, the simplicity of their lifestyles and slowly we lost ourselves forgetting what we once were. Except for my brother and I. We were the Caretakers.”
“Were you hiding or had you become the Dirne?” I was intrigued despite myself. This may explain the Guardian edict to avoid this star system.
The Entity spoke next. “We had become the Dirne and they were us. There was no separating the two because without us the Dirne would die. A congenital mutation had occurred and would have killed the Dirne without our continual intervention. My sister was the intellect, I was the muscle. She would map and alter the genome of the Dirne and I would implement the changes across the species. We had another motive. We thought one day, others from our galaxy might come here looking for us. Your galaxy would offer them no sport, so they would likely pass it up, unless they detected us.”
“The Guardians and the Corp would never allow rapacious aliens to destroy the galaxy, no matter how powerful you think you are. Now with the Legions of Light out there, we would be a force to be reckoned with.”
“It is good that you are here protecting your galaxy, Master Builder, but if my kind were to come to your galaxy, all of your Legions and all of your Guardians, powerful though they may be, would last one hundred of your years, maybe less. Each member of most of our races are as powerful as your Kryptonians or Daxamites and this is before they utilize our version of the Oan power. Rampant genetic technologies make every one of our people incredibly powerful and destructive. I have weakened considerably over the centuries in my current duties. You would be no match for them. It is your weakness which protects you from our kind.”
“Unless they found you here.” Faran added ominously. “I suspect they have, haven’t they?”
Then it began to make sense to me. “You are destroying the evidence, aren’t you? Erasing any trace you were here…”
The Female hung her head for a second and whispered to her Brother quietly before continuing. “We were concealing our presence but there was more than that. We were using the genome of the Dirne as a computational matrix for the complicated jump necessary to leave your galaxy. The bulk of our people still lie in stasis below the surface of our planet. Though millions of us became Dirne, billions did not. They wait for a day where we can truly be free of our kind who may follow.”
“Let me see if I have this straight: You are liquidating your “project” for its DNA so you can use them for a nav-computer to a new home far from others of your kind. Is that about right?”
“Yes, that would be the sum of it.” The Entity spit while staring daggers at me.
“And how many of the Dirne did you need to complete your computations?”
“Our goal was to relocate to the other edge of the observable Universe, so far from our kind, there would be no chance they could follow.”
“You heard the lady, how many did you need?”
“You don’t get to sit in judgement of us, John Stewart. The Dirne were ours to do with as we pleased, without us they would have been dead millennia ago!” The Entity’s stony eyes glowed brightly as he grew more excited.
“I’m not talking to him. I’m talking to you, Caretaker. Answer the damned question.”
Her robes blew around her and her head hung low. Faran’s chorus stopped singing, perhaps sensing the answer before she spoke.
“All of them.”