Chapter 13: Phenomenon

In Citadel Central Hospital, the doctors moved Lorik from the operating room after a 2 hour surgery into a small private room in the recover ward. The high caliber bullet caused massive internal bleeding that required extensive repair. But it was nothing the doctors couldn’t fix. Lorik was lucky, he’d make a full recovery. Other children on the Citadel during the attack were not so lucky. Cerberus casually slaughtered men, women and children, and they seemed to favor killing non-humans more. Now Lorik’s family joined him in the room during visiting hours. Lorik awoke to see his mother and father sitting next to him. His brother and grandmother were on the other side of the bed standing. As his sleepy eyes adjusted to the room his mother Emily planted a kiss on his forehead.

“Mommy?” Lorik said.

“Good morning sweety.” She said.

“Mommy where are we?”

“We’re in a hospital darling.” She fought back the tears that threatened to make her cry again.

“Why are we in a hospital?”

Marcus felt responsible, “Because daddy screwed up.”

“Marcus!” Emily protested.

“It’s true. I should have brought you home. I shouldn’t have taken you to the movies.”

“Marcus it’s not your fault.” Emily said.

Lorik started to remember the day before, “Mommy’s right. Dad it’s not your fault. You were a hero. The other boys said you were.”

“Who said?” Marcus asked.

“The little boy on tv this morning.” Martha said. “You don’t watch the news but I do. He was at the theater, next to Lorik when you saved the day.”

Lorik remembered, “We were running away. I got hurt.”

“Yes, you got hurt.” Marcus felt ashamed.

“But you saved me.” Lorik said. “You carried me to the hospital.”

Marcus couldn’t look at him.

“Dad, you saved me.”

“The doctors saved you.” Marcus said.

“No dad. You did.”

His son’s words were convincing.

“Lori’s right. You’re a super hero.” Little Adrien said.

Marcus felt better. “I don’t know if I’m a super hero. But thank you, thank you both. I love you boys.”

“I love you too.” They both said at the same time.

“You may not be a super hero but you’re my super hero.” Emily said and kissed Marcus.

“You’re my super hero too daddy.” Adrien said.

“Me three.” Lorik added.

“Me four.” Martha said.

“Thank you. I don’t deserve that.” Marcus said. “It’s too bad I have to leave soon.”

“You have to leave?” Adrien forgot his dad’s explanation of shore leave.

“I’ve got to.” Marcus said.

“But I don’t want you to go.” Lorik said.

“If I could I would stay. I’d never leave you while your sick or hurt. But I don’t get to choose. My Captain does.”

“But I don’t want you to go.” Lorik repeated.

“I don’t want to go.” Marcus held his son’s hand. “Believe me, I don’t want to go.”

“It’s ok honey,” Emily said to Lorik. “Mommy, Adrien and Grandma will be here the whole time. Ok.”

“But I want dad to stay.” Lorik insisted.

“Can’t you ask for time off from your Captain?” Martha asked Marcus, “I’m sure he’d understand.”

“No, not from the war. Not one as large as this.” Marcus said. He looked at the time, it was past due for him to leave. “I’m sorry son. I have to go. My ship leaves in an hour.”

“Right now?” Lorik asked.

“Yes, right now. I’m already late.” Marcus stood up and kissed Lorik on the forehead. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye dad.”

“Goodbye Adrien.” He lifted Adrien into his arms for a hug, “Goodbye daddy.” Adrien said. Marcus kissed him on the cheek and set him back down.

“Marc, wait up in the hallway ok?” His wife Emily said.

“Ok.” He nodded and left the room.

“Mommy’s gonna go talk to daddy real quick and I’ll be right back.” She said to Lorik. Emily cautiously left the room, her eyes stayed on her son the whole time. She met up with Marcus in the hallway. She looked concerned. Marcus could tell she had something big on her mind.

“What is it?”

“I want you to leave the Navy.” She said.

Marcus was shocked. “I can’t do that.”

“I want you to leave. I don’t care what we have to do or where we have to move. I can’t lose you.”

“It’s in dereliction of duty. Emma I can’t leave in the middle of a war.”

“Before you say no, I want you to think of your sons. They still don’t even know about Grandpa. Imagine if two days from now I have to walk into that room and tell my son, who’s not even out of the hospital yet that his father who we all love so much, is dead!” She cried, “Could you do that, cause I can’t do that. I just lost my dad, I can’t lose you!”

Marcus put his arms around her. He put his hand on the back of her head stroking her hair as she cried into his shoulder.

“Emily, honey baby it’s ok. It’s ok, nothing’s gonna happen to me. I’m gonna be fine. I promise you. But I have to go. I have to fight for you. I have to fight for all of you.” He put his finger underneath her chin carefully lifting her head up so she could look into his eyes when he said, “Even if I could. I wouldn’t leave. When I first met George that night in the restaurant, he told me that he joined the Alliance to see the galaxy and fight for humanity. But then when you were born, his one and only daughter. That all changed. He had someone to fight for, more than himself. He finally had someone to live for.” Marcus’ expression turned serious, “And you know that if he could, he’d say today that you were worth dying for… Emily. When Lorik and Adrien were born, I felt the same way for them.”

Emily wiped the tears from her eyes.

“If anything does happen to me.” Marcus continued, “You can tell them what he told me.”

Emily gave Marcus a great big squeeze for a hug.

“I love you.” She said

“I love you too honey.”

***

Jack walked back in the kitchen, Chesterton prepared an excellent breakfast and set the table with everything. He’d already cleaned up the dishes he had used but he’d waited for her to get out of the shower. In addition, he’d brewed a pot of coffee, about the only thing he did keep in stock at the apartment. Jack had a towel over her hair, she shook it through to dry.

“Your blow dryer’s dead.” She said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever used it.” He said. Chesterton had one of those hair dryers built into the wall of the bathroom.

“The food looks good, I’m starving.” Jack sat down.

“Help yourself.” Chesterton started eating, he set his plate, he was just waiting on her.

Jack started to put food on her plate. But she already had a lot on her plate, so to speak. “So I’ve been thinking.” She said, “About what you said yesterday. In the bar.”

“I thought, you’d forgotten about that.”

“Sorry, no luck. Uh, it’s been bugging me.” Jack looked uncomfortable.

Uh oh, Chesterton panicked. Here it comes, she wants to break up. God! I screwed up big time. Maybe the food was too much. She can tell. She stayed over, I made breakfast it’s not casual anymore! She wants casual. I’m a fucking wreck, I moved too fast.

“You said you had feelings for me.” Jack continued, “Well… when I woke up I rolled over in bed. And you weren’t there. It freaked me out… and I couldn’t tell why at first. I’ve been dissecting it all morning.”

Chesterton relaxed, it wasn’t what he expected her to say.

“I uh, I guess I realized that I’m starting to have feelings for you too.” She said. “It’s not usual for me to do that. Not so quickly. And these kinds of feelings do take time. I’m not ready for anything serious. But… and that’s a big but, I can’t help it right now.”

Chesterton slowly chewed on a piece of bacon. “You said you had loose strings.” He said.

Jack sighed, “I do. Ok, so don’t expect anything. But you’re here, now. And those strings are old, they’re not here right now… I don’t know what to say.”

“Ok.” Chesterton said.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is. I like you. I really like you. And I want to trust you and that’s not easy for me.”

“You can trust me.” Chesterton said.

“Trust takes time, it’s not something you can say and it happens. But I want to trust you.” She said.

“So its a start.”

“Yeah, it is.” Jack got it all off her chest. She felt like a weight had been lifted and she began to eat.

“Wow, this food is fucking good. It’s really, really good.”

Chesterton smiled, “I’m glad you like it.”

Jack took a sip of the coffee. She spit it out, it tasted rancid.

“Fuck. How old is this coffee?”

“It’s old.” Chesterton said.

“Yeah, like dinosaur old.” She said.

“I’ll throw it out.” Chesterton got up and took her cup and poured it down the drain. He took the pot from the table and did the same.

Jack took a sip of orange juice and continued eating. “So when do we ship out again?” She asked.

“Our ship doesn’t come in for another day.” Chesterton answered.

“That’s nice. More time on leave.”

“You could use it with your injury.”

“It’s almost healed up already. But it was kind of a big mission. I wouldn’t mind another day.”

Chesterton relished the thought of another free day with Jack, “Neither would I.”

***

“Commander, glad to see you made it.” Captain Kathonn welcomed Marcus back aboard the bridge of the Indomitable.

“I’m glad to be back sir.” Came his usual reply, although he delivered it with much less sincerity than usual.

“I’ve got good news. Navigator Rigen found our mystery object in the Hades Gamma cluster.”

“That’s good.” Marcus said.

“A beacon snapped a picture of it on the way through the Antaeus system. Its last location pins it heading for the Dis system. We’re gonna track it down.”

Kathonn forwarded the orders to the navigation helm. The dreadnought’s pilot set a course for the mass relay leaving the Widow system and the Citadel behind. Marcus watched the Indomitable take him farther and farther away from his sons. He was beginning to have second thoughts about his wife’s unusual request. Less than a minute later the ship entered the approach vector of the charging relay and in a matter of seconds the relay shot the Indomitable across the galaxy and into the Antaeus system.

Marcus started to snap himself back into gear. He was on duty from here on out. The dreadnought popped out of the relay jump and the receiving relay in the Antaeus system brought it down to sub-light speeds. The ship’s helm brought it around banking to port and in a brief moment the ship’s engines roared to life as the mass effect core prepared the jump to FTL. The journey to the Dis system lasted a couple of hours.

As they approached the edge of their destination, Marcus started to get a very bad feeling in his gut. It seemed wrong. They were chasing after the unknown and in the depths of space anything and everything could go wrong. The Indomitable slowed out of FTL, navigator Rigen was excitedly watching the first scan of the sensor sweep.

“There it is!” Rigen said.

“Put it on the holo-screen.” Kathonn gave the order. Rigen directed the images of his scan to the holo-emitters replacing the galaxy map. On the large holographic representation in the center of the bridge about 3 meters high and wide in scale, Phenomenon 60-35 was shown in stationary orbit of the star Dis.

“What the hell is it doing?” Kathonn’s expression showed complete astonishment at what he saw with his own eyes. The increadible sphere was leaching energy from the dwindling star, collapsing slowly inside the crushing force of a mass effect field.

“I’ve never seen anything…” Rigen began but the sight left him speechless.

If Marcus needed any proof that this mission was more danger than he’d bargained for this was it.

“Aft sensors still can’t get a read on the device.”  Rigen said looking at his console.

“We need to know more about what it’s doing. Bring us in closer.” Kathonn sent the orders to the helm.

Marcus stood up in protest, “Sir, with all due respect. I believe we should leave immediately.”

“Why do you say that?” Kathonn asked.

Marcus wasn’t sure he had a reason, other than his bad feeling, “Because the star is unstable, it could go supernova.”

“The Dis star isn’t of sufficient mass to explode.” Rigen said looking at the hologram. “Even less according to our readings. That mass effect field is greatly reducing its size.”

Marcus scrambled to think of another reason, “It’s still unstable, it could rapidly age and enter the red giant stage. The ship is in danger sir. The event horizon could still envelop us.”

Kathonn tried to put his mind at ease, “We’re only going a little bit closer. I’ll forward to the helmsman to stay out of range if the star grows into a red giant.”

It was only a partial concession to Marcus. The Indomitable came to a stop just outside of range of the radius the Dis star could expand to, if the star went into red giant at all. The instability of fusion in the core made it more than possible. The sensors on the ship started to pick up additional readings from the closer proximity. It appeared that the sphere was extracting energy from the star’s fusion core. This greatly powered up the planetary sized machine. But the limits of its energy core seemed to know no bounds. Marcus checked the other sensors and the radar. The ones that Kathonn didn’t have focused on the sphere. The system was devoid of any life. Usually mercenaries and criminals populated the Dis system filling the abandoned mines on the planets with stolen goods and contraband. But they all fled. There was no life in the system. Only ghosts and shades of what was. Then an alert caught Marcus’ attention. From in the bowels of the ship, inside the cargo bay. The skyfall artifact the turians recovered sprang to life.

“Sir, we’ve got unusual activity in the cargo bay. Could be a fire.” Marcus raised his voice.

Kathonn reacted, “Take a response team down there with extinguishers. Put that fire out.”

Marcus ran straight for the elevator but he wasn’t sure it was actually a fire. Kathonn wasn’t either. It finally occurred to him that the device and the phenomenon they witnessed were somehow related. This didn’t scare him however, it excited him. Kathonn left the bridge soon after Marcus exited the elevator on the subdeck.

“You have the bridge Rigen.” Kathonn said.

The subdeck was on the 6th floor below the bridge and contained the cargo hold and the shuttle bay. Marcus rounded the corner with the emergency alert team armed with fire suppressors. Kathonn wasn’t far behind. The doors to the large cargo hold opened. Instead of smoke and flames they saw a blinding blue light and the high pitched whir of the ancient machine.

“What the hell is this?” Marcus exclaimed. He was unaware of the presence of the device.

“If you’ll settle down I can explain.” Kathonn shouted ahead, catching up to Marcus and the crew.

“It’s an artifact. We discovered it on Menae.” Kathonn rushed to explain, “A sovereign class reaper was clawing away at a crater. We fought it off, but when we investigated we found this.” Kathonn said, drunk with power he continued, “It’s incredible. I read one of the Alliance reports on the device. You won’t believe what it can do!”

“The Alliance sent you a report?” Marcus asked.

“No, I paid an information broker for the knowledge.”

“You paid an information broker for it?!” Marcus couldn’t believe it. That kind of activity was highly illegal.

“Oh, don’t be naive. That information was going to be sold to somebody. Might as well be me.” Kathonn said. “But listen. This device might be related to that thing out there.” He spoke about the sphere. “I had Rigen run a scan for any signals in the known galaxy that matched this device. It led us to Ontarom.”

Marcus remembered the unusual conversation Jack and Chesterton had on the shuttle in front of him:

“We dropped the artifact off at the ship and came back for you.” Chesterton said.

The mention of the artifact grabbed Marcus’ attention.

“And the ship’s gone. Am I right about that?” Jack asked.

“It’s completely off our records.” Chesterton said.

Jack hit her head against the back of her seat, “So we don’t even have what we came here for!”

Chesterton swallowed, “That’s correct.”

“You gotta be kidding me.” Jack said.

Kathonn continued, “And I’m willing to bet you, the Alliance team we recovered has at least one too.”

All the alarms in Marcus’ head sounded off, he reacted by grabbing the artifact from the floor, “Sir we’ve got to eject this thing out the airlock!”

“What? No, are you kidding me?” Kathonn protested.

“Sir, I overheard the Alliance officers talk about the artifact.” Marcus ran towards the trash ejection chambers in the cargo bay. “They returned the device to the SSV Paulo Alto before returning to rescue their stranded member.”

“And your point is?” Kathonn asked.

“When we entered the system the SSV Paulo alto underwent a core breach. Everyone on that ship is dead.” Marcus dropped the artifact in the large tube and closed the door.

“Marcus, step away from that console!” Kathonn said. By now the device was too valuable to him to destroy. “I’m ordering you not to eject it.”

Marcus disobeyed the direct order. He ejected the artifact in the midst of overloading.

“No sir. I respectfully disobey that order on the grounds that it puts the safety of this ship and its crew at unnecessary risk. I’m sorry but, it’s done.”

Kathonn was angry, he spent too much time close to the device to be influenced by its mind control. “Commander I’m relieving you of duty. You’re to spend the rest of this voyage in your quarters!” Kathonn yelled.

“I can’t do that sir. Because I’m the Captain now. You’re actions have put this ship in grave danger and it is my duty as first officer to relieve you of duty.” Marcus restrained his Captain.

Kathonn fought back. Marcus got hit in the nose with a punch. His face started to drip with blood. The crew who had been standing by watching idly finally decided to step in, in favor of the Commander. Marcus made a strong case and it occurred to them that he was right. The artifact scared them. Being in the Dis system alone, scared them. And their Captain wasn’t exactly acting like himself.

“What the hell are you doing? This is Mutiny!” Three officers carried Kathonn kicking  and screaming from the cargo bay toward the brig. One officer stayed behind with Marcus.

“Commander. Are you absolutely sure that what you remember is accurate?” The lieutenant asked him.

“I’m positive. I recorded the conversation on my omni-tool.”

Marcus’ defense was inscrutable. He played the recording for the lieutenant. Later on the bridge they confirmed with Rigen that what Marcus said was true. But for now they weren’t completely convinced. The immediate danger was over. But soon the Indomitable and its crew would have another problem on their hands. Ten minutes after ejecting the artifact the device exploded with great force. Like a 50 megaton nuke, it went off in space far from the ship. The shock-wave ripped across the Indomitable’s shields draining them completely.

After a brief moment of surprise Rigen said, “If that had been on board. We’d be dead.”

Captain Marcus looked back at him and said, “I know.”

Chapter 14: Aeon

Navigation: Chapter 1: Resistance Earth, Chapter 2: Grissom AcademyChapter 3: A Knife in The DarkChapter 4: Smoke and ShadowsChapter 5: Cold Revelation, Chapter 6: London Crypt, Chapter 7: Ghosts From Shadows Past, Chapter 8: Skyfall, Chapter 9: Apparatus Deus, Chapter 10: The Devil Within, Chapter 11: Hades’ Dogs, Chapter 12: Transhuman, Chapter 13: Phenomenon,  Chapter 14: AeonChapter 15: EndgamesChapter 16: FracturedChapter 17: ClosingEpilogue.

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