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Footprints: Chapter Twenty-Seven - The Collective

...The entity flickered briefly in what might have been a smile. “That is correct. I am not going to explain why we have chosen to involve ourselves on this occasion. Time has no meaning for us, Jonathan Edge. Generally, beings such as your race have little understanding of time, although we have noticed an uncommon level of comprehension and enlightenment in your remarkable mind. Remarkable, that is, for one of your race....

Jonathan encounters "beings'' which call into question the meaning of life, and the universe.

Brian William Neal, whose imagination seems limitless, continues his epic sci-fi adventure story. To read earlier chapters please click on Footprints in the menu on this page.

Jonathan blinked in confusion as the cover of his cryosleep chamber lifted and he began to come awake. Remembering the drills he had practiced with Cal and the others, he lay still until full consciousness had returned, then slowly tested his limbs and extremities. When he was satisfied that all seemed well, he gripped the sides of the chamber and sat up.

Looking at the other chambers, he saw that Dennis, Arnold, and Julia showed no sign of awakening. Warily, he looked around the interior of the shuttle. All was quiet, nothing was moving, the stars were visible through the viewport, and the only sound was a slight hum from the bridge consol. The engines were silent; obviously, the fuel had run out, and now they were coasting through space. He didn’t know how long they had slept. Rubbing his face didn’t help much; beards grew slowly in cryosleep, but his felt quite thick, so they must have been traveling for some time.

He climbed out of the cryosleep unit and looked around the shuttle. Nothing looked out of order, so why had he awakened from his induced sleep? As he watched the stars through the forward viewer, he began to see a wavering in the air, as though something was attempting to ‘beam’ itself onto the shuttle. A light began to grow in the middle of the open space between the sleep modules and the bridge, and Jonathan watched as it became brighter.

As the light intensified, he thought, I’m dying. The light increased in intensity, and grew unearthly and translucent, shimmering in several distinct shapes, all of them rapidly growing brighter than the light around them. Is this the famous ‘tunnel of light’ he thought, with loved ones waiting at the other end? O Lord, receive me into Your embrace.

The brilliant glow slowly diminished, and the shapes gradually dimmed and resolved into iridescent humanoid figures, standing in a semi-circle facing him. He felt himself being lifted, although there was no one near him. He settled into a chair, and one of the figures stepped forward. It looked at Jonathan for a moment, then it spoke in Jonathan’s mind, its “voice” clear and serene.

“We are the Collective. We have decided to intervene in your affairs, although it is not our custom to do so.” The figure paused. “This is difficult for us, Jonathan Edge, so you will have to be patient. We are not accustomed to…apologizing to an inferior race, but we have decided that the entities who placed the dimension portals on your world have upset the balance of the universe.”

Jonathan frowned, swallowed, then found his voice. “My affairs?”

The being inclined its head. “I refer to humanity’s affairs,” it said. “The human race. The entities’…dabbling has been tolerated because they held humans to be of little account in the great scheme of the universe. However, in the light of some of your race’s accomplishments, in particular this most recent event, we feel they may have… overstepped, and perhaps not only on this occasion. We began to feel that they were paying you too much attention, more than a race of corporeal beings warranted. This has been the cause of some unfamiliar apprehension among us…”

Jonathan frowned again. “To my recollection, we have only met the once, on our original voyage when we passed lightspeed the first time. You spoke to only one of us that time, and gave her precious little information. And although we have passed lightspeed many times since then, we have not seen you again, until now.”

The entity flickered briefly in what might have been a smile. “That is correct. I am not going to explain why we have chosen to involve ourselves on this occasion. Time has no meaning for us, Jonathan Edge. Generally, beings such as your race have little understanding of time, although we have noticed an uncommon level of comprehension and enlightenment in your remarkable mind. Remarkable, that is, for one of your race. But of time, I will say only this:

All of existence occurs in one eternal instant, and we are able to travel through it as easily as you travel through corporeal space, on your species’ first steps towards the stars. But even we cannot see all the way to the end, or even if, in fact, there is an end. Nor can we discern all possibilities, for they are also infinite. But as far as you and your race are concerned, in this time, we feel that the entities have…erred. Therefore, although normally we do not interfere, we will make an exception here. By doing so, we hope to re-establish a balance, and make up for some of their excesses with others of your kind.

“The universe must always be kept in balance, Jonathan Edge, and that is not always something that happens naturally. If you think harshly of us, try to remember that we of the Collective are constantly striving to maintain that balance. It has been tipped now, and some of our kind are to blame. Therefore, we must set it right.

“Who are these entities? May we at least know our enemy, should we encounter them again?”

“You will not see us again in this life, nor will your race see or hear from the errant entities. Their contact with humanity is at an end. Perhaps they are wrong; perhaps your race will evolve to our level, just as we were once at yours. Time will tell. Because, Jonathan Edge, at the beginning and the end of all things, time is all there is.”

The figures began to fade; Jonathan tried to call out to them, to bring them back. There was so much he wanted to ask them, so much…but it was no use. In an instant, they were gone, and Jonathan was alone on the bridge of the shuttle, his three companions asleep in their modules. He sighed, and turned away from the port to look at them for a moment. Then he noticed that there were not three people asleep in their modules, there were four. Four!

He ran to the module which had been empty when they had last entered them. The figure within was asleep, like the others, and his face had several weeks’ growth of beard, but it was unmistakably Steve Chappel.

Jonathan sank onto one of the chairs and looked in wonder at the miracle that had been wrought by the alien beings. Oh, Lord, he thought. How wondrous are Thy works. Then he moved to his own unit and entered it, lay down and set the controls again. The quick glance he had given the shuttle’s instruments had showed they were still more or less on course, so there was nothing he could do; he might as well join his friends. It would be a long time before they were anywhere near home. Still thinking of the strange beings, and miracle of God they had performed, he lowered the cover on his unit and slipped into the near-death of hypersleep.

As sleep stole him away, Jonathan had the fleeting thought that he could see the shining beings again, gathering around the sleep modules. He tried to cry out to them, but the cryosleep field was too powerful to resist, and he slipped into unconsciousness with their images fading from his retinas. Then there was only the blackness, and the tiny ship sped on.

* * * *

As Jonathan slept, the iridescent figures assembled around the sleep modules again. Communicating by a method higher even than telepathy, they weighed the merits and demerits of what their leader had proposed regarding the corporeal beings before them. Finally, they reached agreement, and turned their power to their task.

Outside the shuttle, space changed; stars shifted, systems changed and moved, and the shuttle was transported instantly to another place. Then, satisfied that by their actions they had redressed the balance of the universe, the entities faded into the realm they occupied.

Had any of the sleepers been awake, they would have been astonished at the sight visible from their shuttle’s viewport. They were passing a small planet, reddish-brown in color, with two small moons circling it. Approaching them from one of these moons was a large ship, the Federation logo visible on its sides. It matched velocity with the shuttle and hove to alongside, capturing the smaller vessel in an attractor beam. When the shuttle was secured, the master of the larger vessel sent a small crew over to investigate.

No shuttles were supposed to be here; certainly, none had been reported missing, and this one had odd markings on it, letters he did not recognize as being from any ships serving on or around the Mars mining facilities. When they boarded the shuttle, then they would no doubt discover what ship it was from.

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