1 At the Threshold of the Gate
The lieutenant retired to his quarters, removed his tunic, and tossed it across the arm of a chair. He threw his weary body down on the bunk. The collection of bones, ligaments, and tendons in his left knee made a cracking sound as he stretched out the lingering injury. A feeling of anxiety troubled him. He could not adopt the captain’s levity about the situation. The captain had played the role of a man on the brink of Vassalage for so long now that he was, under most circumstances, incapable of gravity. The lieutenant’s position was different. He was young, full of spirit, and most of his life was still before him. He had a lot to lose. He could not dismiss the dread he felt about an uncertain future clouded by civil war. For all he knew, Hande could make good on her boast to raise millions to oppose the Commander, whether through the utility of her foot or more practical means.
His eyes refused to embrace the serenity of sleep. He tried swallowing a sleep aid but it had no effect. His mind raced like a tornado in the lonesome prairie of his quarters. What had the prophecy about the Commander meant? The implications were disturbingly obvious. And because of this, and many other things, the lieutenant could not rest. The lights eventually rose to simulate daybreak within the artificial environment of the ship. The bright light caused the lieutenant’s eyes to momentarily water. An alarm sounded throughout the ship. The lieutenant quickly rose, threw on his tunic, and exited the quarters. He methodically proceeded through the metal corridors of the ship to the bridge. He entered and saw the captain was already there, standing erect among some of the crew gathered about him. The great armada had remained poised throughout the artificial night, holding its position just beyond the invisible boundary formed by the lunar orbit. Other soldiers soon pushed past the lieutenant onto the bridge. One could sense their eagerness, their desire for events to unfold however as they would, rather than continue to bear the strain of this static pause. A sense of anticipation afflicted every person on the bridge. It was reflective of the thoughts and emotions assaulting every member of the crew on every ship of the armada at that particular moment in the drama.
The crackling sound of an incoming transmission caused everyone to turn towards the center of the bridge. They watched as the light of a hologram slowly flickered into existence, as if arriving from some faraway place and unknown time. The hologram materialized into a shape. It was the image of a woman, larger than life and towering over everyone. It seemed apparent this image was simultaneously appearing before everyone on every ship of the armada. The woman was almost painfully beautiful. Her skin was paler than normal for a human, her eyes were a lush dark green, and her lips narrow but inviting. About her shoulders spilled a mane of curly black hair, which miraculously appeared both unkempt and meticulously groomed. There was something eternal about the vision of womanhood before them. One could easily infer by her dress that she was a Marineris priestess. The sheer garment she wore displayed the nubile shape of her lithe body without revealing any details of the concealed flesh. The woman’s appearance silenced everyone. Now, the low rumbling of the engines powering the ship was the only thing that could be heard.
She raised her right hand to her face and, with her middle and forefinger extended, gracefully touched her forehead and then lowered her right hand to her heart, which she also touched, thus completing the accepted manner of greeting in Marineris ritual; tracing the ‘path of the spear’ from head to heart.
Once completed, she opened her mouth and began to sing. The melody she sang was of pure joy. A joy unlike any of them had ever experienced or even before dreamt. It was a very old song. She sang in a dialect long forgotten to most humans. The translation of the song was:
Exultation, lovely flame of God, Sons and daughters of Mars, We enter fire empowered, Heaven our reward!
Embracing that Destiny, Share your kiss among the stars, Brothers in arms and soul, A loving Father, your true north!
Can you sense this time, brothers! Seek salvation in the valley, Above the stars, you’ll dwell.
Embracing that Destiny, Share your kiss among the stars,
Sisters in arms and soul, A loving Mother, our constant!
Can you sense this time, sisters! Seek salvation in the valley, Above the stars, you’ll dwell. The priestess continued to sing by repeating these verses but then the chattering voices of the soldiers articulated thoughts into words. Phrases like ‘the Creator is with us’ and ‘the Holy Mother blesses our path’ escaped their lips. Another voice rose above the others, “Ran’s hand will strike down our enemies with the force of God!” Several of the soldiers fell to their knees in an almost violent manner to worship before the image of the priestess. The hologram slowly began to fade. The song also began to drift away. The lieutenant continued to watch until the last moment when the image at last vanished from their view. The vision of the woman dissolved into an electronic mist as if consumed in a cloud of smoke. Once the image had completely disappeared, an echo of the song hung briefly in the air. For a moment, many believed they could reach out and capture the dying embers of that song to prevent its escape. A few even reached out their hands in contemplation of the attempt but the song then faded into oblivion. There was silence.
The captain began to bellow orders. “The order is given! Proceed into the forbidden zone! Man your stations or get wherever you’re supposed to be!”
There was a moment of quiet and then the entire bridge burst into frenzied activity. Crew members returned their attention to the stations in front of them. Ordinary soldiers exited the bridge. All had now accepted their roles in the coming drama, each according to their own talents and beliefs. After the song of the priestess, it was clear the crew and soldiers were suddenly triumphant in their demeanor and determined in their purpose. The entire weight of the mighty armada slowly edged forward in united action. So began the fateful crossing of the Moon’s orbit into the forbidden zone around the birthplace of the Sovereignty. Ran had begun his thrust into the very womb of humanity.
The captain made his way across the bridge. He stood beside the lieutenant and whispered like a conspirator with a wry grin on his face. “Some trick of the Commander’s, I suspect.”
The lieutenant merely nodded his understanding.
Was it? Or were the mystics of the Marineris Sect intervening in this great drama on behalf of the Commander? Were they blessing the path he had dared to tread in pursuit of glory and honor?
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Genre – Science Fiction
Rating – PG13