The smoke-like entity was all around me. It obscured the stars in a way nothing ever had. I had used my power ring to look through nebulas using neutrinos for a light source. Whatever this was had less substance than that. Yet, I could not see through it using any technology I knew of.
A few seconds later, it vanished. A broad spectrum sweep revealed nothing. No energy, no matter, no signature that it had ever been there. The stars returned and the subspace corridor entry points reappeared to my enhanced senses.
There was nothing but a floating graveyard to ever prove anything was there. And the echo of its pronouncement.
“An incoming signal from the planet is detected on a low frequency wavelength. Translating. Message repeats.”
“…this is an automated distress beacon from Science Station, Toleph, requesting support. Containment has failed. Biohazard threat level is high. Recommend hazardous materials support.”
How convenient. No signals until after the monster left. A trap.
Okay, I’d come this far and still didn’t have any answers. I’d play along. “Erect hazardous material biofilters for all known contagions. Unless otherwise noted assume no planetary materials should come in contact with me. Maintain shield posture.” Shaping my ring aura, I tailored it for maximum efficiency as I sliced through the atmosphere. The temporary heat bloom passed as I appeared over one of the main megacities.
A twenty minute flight into the atmosphere of the Dirne IV did not make me feel any better. I could see the scars of aircraft that tore into the surface of the planet as they fell from the air. Some of the ruins were still smoking. Beyond that, much of the planet’s automated power was still active. The machines of this world lived even if the people didn’t.
There was something that bothered me but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Atmospheric scans didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary. No pathogens as compared with previous atmospheric surveys. Previous scans of the people of Dirne IV would have had no problems from this current atmosphere. Then I realized what was strange.
I wanted to have a sample of the current citizens and I realized there were no bodies. Not a single one in this city. A circular scan revealed not a single person on the surface of the planet. Broadening the sweep a second scan below the surface revealed isolated pockets of biomatter but only in places with dense materials around them. The closest was from the city right below me.
The biosignatures were from seven kilometers below ground. Even though the atmosphere scans said they were clear, I didn’t want to expose these survivors to whatever killed everyone else on the planet.
“Ring, I want fifteen constructs to find the closest, fastest route to the survivors. I don’t want to have to break any walls, or disrupt any infrastructure that might be protecting them. Get me as close as you can.” The ring responded flaring brightly and shooting fifteen small fireworks out that streaked across the surface attempting to penetrate the ground before disappearing from sight. Looking into the ring, I could see the three dimensional paths each beam took as it moved into the undercity. Only three beams were able to reach reasonably close to the survivors, the others winked out of existence as they failed to get closer.
Scans revealed they were part of a geothermal power team in a hardened underground facility. Sealed during operations and within biosuits to deal with the increased temperatures and pressures, they were twice protected. I could barely scan for them. Which meant whatever killed Dirne IV may not have known they were there.
I ceased my scans. But not in time.
I saw the trailers of the smoke rising from the ground, the same light absorbing vapor I detected in space. Then the ground beneath my feet began to rumble as a massive earthquake tore through the area.
“Quake detected, capacity to destroy hardened underground facility possible in three minutes.”
So much for being subtle. Whatever the hell this stuff was, it wanted everyone on this planet dead. Launching myself into the air, I envisioned a reinforced tunnel straight to the powerplant. Something that grew stronger as pressure increased on it; something Buckminster Fuller could appreciate. The chamber formed below me, I used the power of the earthquake to my advantage since it was destabilizing the planet, I didn’t have to tunnel so much as simply wedge it open and keep it that way. I saw the structure necessary and built it, reinforcing it as needed. A second tendril small and fast maintained a lock on the technicians. They were running to a transport system hoping to outrun the quake.
Not gonna happen, gents. Somebody wants you dead.
We raced through the crust of the planet. It was all around me, but it didn’t attack. It’s focus was solely on the Dirne below us. I couldn’t keep using its disruptions. I was already pushing my power, six kilometers into the surface of the planet, the pressures were immense. But whatever I was racing had not let up it’s assault. My ring detected quake forces at eight point five and climbing. The engineering of the Dirne must have been fantastic, because the site was still holding up. But no matter how good they were at building, most materials began to tear themselves apart at forces above nine point five.
I was going to have to take the lead. My ring was already pushed to the limit and I felt the feedback common to reaching one’s limits. Pinpoints of sweat formed on my forehead. Fighting with constructs in space is easy. Nothing to get in the way. Tunneling through planets at kilometers below the surface was a completely different experience.
You had to keep track of the matter, the forces, the shearing stresses and create a means to compensate for them. I knew this math intuitively being an architect, my ring translated my knowledge into reality as I add a second beam to the tunnel, blasting through the crust with a drill construct, grinding up the matter and using it as a power source to push faster than the planet disrupting shockwaves of the Entity.
I was slowly moving ahead of it. I was six seconds, seven seconds, eight seconds ahead. The power plant was underneath me. My power broke through the ceiling of the plant and I targeted the Dirne below. My drill became a spring loaded grapple shooting out to grab five of the six. One of them had already managed to make it the underground tram and was about to leave his fellows behind.
Couldn’t reach him in time and save the others. Made my choice.
As I pulled the others back toward my tunnel, I could feel the creature arrive on the scene and black smoke speared toward the tram. It tore through the metal and grabbed the Dirne. It swirled around him as if seeking weaknesses. I pulled the other survivors up the corridor allowing it to collapse behind them. I left only the tiniest bit of my green power behind to observe the Entity. The rest of my will was focused on maintaining the environmental conditions necessary to keep the Dirne from being overcome by the rapid change in pressure. I surrounded them in a bubble which acted as a decompression chamber. I depended on the ring to provide the metrics to keep them alive while I focused on collapsing the tunnel.
With the fragment of my consciousness remaining, I viewed the last Dirne as the smoke penetrated his suit and stripped the flesh from its internal skeleton. Seconds later, it consumed the skeleton and the suit behind it to escape. Then the form coalesced from around the room and then speared toward my sensor and the path created by my will. I didn’t intend to be here when it reached the surface.
Pulling the environmental bubble behind me, I put some distance between the surface and the Entity. I could feel the life energies of the survivors through the ring’s feedback. They had questions, but I didn’t have time to answer them. I reshaped their life support field into a superfast aircraft. Hal might be able to do this faster, but right now I was motivated and I kept several designs in my ring for just this occasion. Seated in the center of the ship construct, I punched it and headed toward the distress signal on the next continent at twelve times the speed of sound. Only inertial dampening kept us from being crushed like bugs on a windshield.
Instead, it felt like a boot from a giant.
The city vanished below the horizon in ten minutes. I altered course since I wasn’t sure whether the Entity had any idea of where I was going next. I kept my signature low and reduced my power output until I could shield us completely and reduced our output signature. We became a ghost in the air, using no more ring energy than necessary.
Once the Dirne were properly pressurized, I ditched the environmental bubble, but told them to keep their suits on. I replenished their air supplies and had the ring repair any damage to their suits. To keep our energy output low, I landed in the snow and created a sled big enough to carry us and the accompanying dogs necessary to drag us where we wanted to go. We moved fast and below the radar. I didn’t reduce speed until we were near the facility.
Unlike the megacity, this appeared to be a tiny outpost at the polar cap, a nasty environment, too. Below zero temperatures, strong winds, and blinding snow. I didn’t think we would be able to see anything until we got close to the site.
We were wrong. Fires raged across the landscape and glowed brightly through the falling snow. A black smoke speared scattering Dirne-shapes in the light of these fires.
Pinned to the ground, their screams were cut short as they were turned into piles of black ash.
We were too late. The smoke coalesced and shot off into the distance. Toward another location I detected earlier. It used me.
I hated to be used. Being a Green Lantern meant we liked to take the high road, remain civilized, and resolve difficulties between species in a civil fashion.
I was so past that.
“Who here wants a little payback?”
I waited for the ring to translate. Some ideas didn’t translate well and you ended up getting responses from amusement to outright confusion.
Standing around in the burning facility with piles of ash where Dirne used to be, must have added the right context.
Five hands shot up.
I made the fastest ship I could think of.
Jump to Rebirth (Part 3)
Rebirth © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
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