“Not gonna happen. Not on my watch.” My ring echoed my resolve and I could feel it repeating the transmission to the Oa. Help wasn’t going to arrive in time, and I knew it.
The Caretaker looked up at me and while I could sense her hesitation, I also felt her steeling herself for a potential confrontation. “You don’t understand, John Stewart. Without them, your people, your galaxy is at risk. How can you deny us what we have created, nurtured, bred, and cultivated for our use?”
“These aren’t dairy cows. You aren’t milking them. You are harvesting sentient beings and turning them into what? Punch cards for your cosmic computer? You have already killed billions? You expect me, us, to stand here while you finish up? What’s for dessert?”
The more malevolent of the Caretakers apparently aware of the loss of his bonds, began to glow again. I cautioned Faran against doing anything yet. I had to ask a few more questions before more fighting started. The next time we fought, someone was going to die, so I wanted to have exhausted every possibility.”
“John Stewart, do you know why we requested you for this mission?”
“Yes, we made subtle suggestions to the Green Lantern who received our request that you be assigned. He will have no memory of this but you were chosen.”
Okay, I’ll bite. “Why did you call for me specifically?”
“Because you were once the only human to ever have the responsibility of a Guardian, of a Caretaker, to be responsible for billions of lives to live or die because of your decisions. I chose you because I believed you would understand our dilemma.”
Faran alb Dine put her hand on my shoulder and I wasn’t sure whether it was to comfort me or to steady me. The memories of that time were part of the chronal disturbances, partially from another continuity, maybe part of this one, I could no longer remember. Only those with the consciousness able to transcend time and perceive of multiversal existences were even aware of this. I was there and I was a Guardian. The only Human Guardian to ever exist.
I hated it. The responsibility of all those tiny squabbling beings dependent on me to make decisions that affected entire societies on the Mosaic. I loved it. Something outside of the shadow of Hal Jordan. Something he hadn’t done. A road less traveled. Something I was suited to, something where violence wasn’t the only solution to the problem. That’s what was wrong with the Corps right now, we believed every answer came blasting out of the center of a power ring.
“How many of the Dirne remain in their outer colonies?”
The male Caretaker took a moment and then replied, “Of the four hundred billion existing on twenty different worlds, only eighty billion remain. I have already…harvested… the rest.”
Faran and her chorus gasped and her ring flared reflexively blasting a green energy beam at the Caretaker and his casual tone. He didn’t even bother to deflect the beam, he allowed it to splash harmlessly against his renewed aura.
I turned to the chorus and put my hands out. “I know you are distressed, but if we are to save your people, we have to concede this is a battle we cannot win with violence. What I need from you is your genius and most of all, your hearts. We need something that can save everyone who can be saved. I promise, I will do everything in my power to protect your remaining people. Will you help me?”
No one spoke. Not even a nod. Their tension was palpable. I guess I was going it alone.
“Why do you need the remainder to complete your computation? Isn’t there another way to finish what you started without harvesting the rest of the Dirne?”
“Do you have a computer available that can handle transtemporal calculations, multi-universal deformations caused by fractures in space-time, factoring in dark matter gravitational constants and inflation ratios since the Big Bang?”
“The Dirne have twenty highly sophisticated planets capable of communicating in real time, each a world with advanced computational capacity capable of maintaining their society. Won’t that do?”
The female Caretaker responded as if she had already considered this answer in great detail, “No. We have already included the calculation capacity of the Dirne World-Networks, it amounted to less than twelve percent of the calculation capacity necessary. This includes every possible computational service they have ever created. Utilizing their genome, fully would complete the computations, transformation energy and buffer resources to allow all of my people and their accumulated knowledge to be transferred to our final destination and allowing us sufficient energy to re-establish ourselves without depending on any particular level of resources on the other end. It must also be effective at masking our eventual location, making it impossible for our kind to ever find us, again.”
“What about us?” Faran’s shout surprised me and both of the Caretakers seemed to be a bit shocked as well. “Are we nothing more than a beloved science project, something your people did for a few million years and then once finished, you break our species down into computational matter and leave, for more auspicious waters? What about our hopes and dreams, what happens to what we wanted to become. You may have altered us, but unless you are saying otherwise, we have always had free will, the ability to make our own choices and destinies?”
“You did. We did not alter your ability to make choices. We did not make your sciences, mathematics, art or ambitions. You are as you were intended to be, as your natures intended.” The Caretaker’s voice was calm and almost comforting. The first time he had said anything that spoke of a sense of understanding of his atrocity.
“Then we are your children. How could you do this?”
The female Caretaker strode forward and stood before us. She had taken on the same giant mein as her companion so she had to kneel to touch Faran and I. “Because we have no choice. We are out of time. Behold what we see when we look to the skies.”
The visions filled my head senses I never had, sight beyond sight, sounds beyond my ability to interpret them. I could feel the Caretaker’s mind taking control of my senses, extrapolating the information, mapping our primitive senses to what she could see and hear. She had fourteen senses, she could see matter, energy, dark matter and dark energy, the underpinnings of our universe, the folds of space time, ripples in temporal causality as clearly as I could see my fingerprints on my hand.
I remembered this feeling. And I remembered why I ultimately rejected it.
Then I saw them. A galaxy. Trillions of stars, moving against the flow of the Universe. My God. They could move their stars!
Then she sharpened her focus, ahead of their galaxy was a fleet. Billions of ships.
Ahead of them, robot drones flew forth, seeking…us. Heretics, beings who threw off the yoke of the Battle. The reason we were believed to exist. We cannot go back to this and we cannot bring this to your galaxy.
Do you understand now? Our former allies would burn your galaxy as kindling if it would move them to their next objective. We must not be here, when their probes arrive. Two are already on their way here. Are here, will be here, have already arrived. I must release you, lest your brains burn under the images you have seen. Forgive me.
All six of us were on the ground clutching our heads as our senses reordered themselves. I could still taste the bitterness of the cosmic ether, the folds of space, the ripples of a galaxy moving in unison by the will of the creatures living there.
“I understand, but I still don’t condone what you have done. Nor will I be a party to it. But I do know where we might be able to find a computer powerful enough to allow you to complete your computations.”
“There is no one in your galaxy who could provide us with the computational capacity that would be willing to do so. We have already petitioned the warlords of Colu, whose computers are some of the finest in this galaxy and they refused. Who else can match them in this time sphere or any future one?”
“The one group who would absolutely never help you and who you would never think to ask. The Guardians.”
“They would never agree to help us. They saw us for what we were millennia ago and warned us to stay away from other species in our new home. To avoid their wrath, we have done just that. Now you would ask them to help us?”
“Who said anything about asking…”
“HERETICS OF THE PRIME, PREPARE TO BE JUDGED.”
Two of the alien probes that were leading the alien fleet we saw began to phase into position above Dirne IV.