Bensu watched on anxiously as Xylion and Hopkins set up a cylindrical device that the chief engineer had retrieved from the runabout, while the control room continued to rumble underneath his feet.
Xylion’s theory regarding the nature and location of this odd, bubble-shaped, control room, seemingly floating through a dark and unknowing void had been that it was located in yet another, deeper pocket of subspace, physically separate from the ring-shaped supercollider constructed by the subspace aliens. And yet it seemed difficult to argue that the control room itself was not somehow connected to the superstructure which, by all indications, had once more commenced firing immeasurably powerful molecules at each other in order to fulfill its apocalyptic purpose. How else could one explain how every single surface in the room seemed to vibrate with increasing intensity?
“What exactly is this device?” Bensu found himself asking, after having held out for as long as possible to avoid breaking Xylion or Hopkins’ concentration.
Nora joined him by his side. “It looks like a pattern enhancer to me.”
“It is,” said Hopkins as she looked up from the device that now stood vertically on the floor, perhaps a meter in height with a bright, cone-shaped light at its tip and on top of three slim metallic legs. “But with some significant modifications.”
The security chief appeared confused and Bensu didn’t entirely understand either. “How is a transporter enhancer going to help us stop this thing from wiping out another universe?”
To that Hopkins had no immediate answer, and instead, she shot the science officer a pained expression.
Xylion, apparently having finished his work on the device, stood up straight to face the others. “We have made some hastened adaptations to the enhancer, designed to support and enhance the stability of another mind-link.”
“How?” Bensu said.
“Yeah, Commander, how exactly is this going to work?” said Hopkins who apparently wasn’t quite so convinced of what he had proposed.
“The design of the circuitry is loosely based on an ancient Vulcan technology known as a psionic resonator that was primarily utilized by ancient Vulcans to weaponize psionic energy.”
The security chief, as well as the two Niners, perked up at hearing this, either out of concern or curiosity.
“Theoretically, the modifications we affected will allow the device to strengthen any psionic field we will create. This will be crucial since we only have three individuals with psionic abilities to attempt and stop the subspace creatures from fully deploying the particle collider,” Xylion continued.
“How theoretic are we talking here?” said Nora.
Xylion’s uncharacteristic hesitation probably told Bensu more than it did the others, after all, he had spent decades in that man’s mind and therefore understood his nuances better than those of any other person he could remember. “Psionic resonators were immensely powerful and complicated devices and I have to admit that my knowledge of how they functioned is limited. And with the limited amount of time available to us, this device is likely not a close approximation of the capabilities of the technology it is based on.”
“Just so I have this straight in my head,” said Nora Laas, taking a small step closer. “You’ve just jury-rigged a transporter enhancer to resemble an ancient and powerful Vulcan mind weapon in under thirty minutes?”
Xylion raised an eyebrow in a manner, Bensu was sure, was a response to what he considered to be a compliment of his technical ingenuity. “That is correct.”
“No offense, Commander, but that sounds like a very dangerous proposition to me. What are the chances this thing will blow up and incinerate us all as soon as we turn it on?”
If Xylion had been offended by Nora’s concern, he knew perfectly well how to hide this. “As I said, this device has very little in common with the resonator and I ensured to add a safety mechanism that will disable the enhancer should it malfunction. Additionally, Lieutenant Hopkins will be able to monitor it while it is in operation.”
Nora offered the chief engineer a sharp look but Hopkins merely shrugged in response. “It should be safe.”
“Well, that’s reassuring,” Diamond, the lead SMT operative said, doing little to mask the irony in her tone.
The force of the vibrations all around them markedly increased again.
“The fact remains that we have few alternatives and little time. It will be necessary to take some risks if we want any hope of success. I suggest we defer the conversation regarding the safety of the device for the time being and instead focus on attempting to interrupt the particle collider.”
Nora uttered a little sigh. “I guess we’re out of options.”
“Indeed,” Xylion said and then glanced first at Bensu and then at his fellow Vulcan. “Please take your position around the enhancer.”
Diamond spoke to Ivory before she could follow the instruction. “Are you sure you’re up for doing this again?”
The Vulcan woman considered her fellow operative. “I would be dishonest if I said that I was comfortable with joining another mind-link after our previous experience. But I understand it is necessary.”
Bensu thought that he had never heard the taciturn Vulcan say so many words at once.
Diamond nodded reluctantly. “Not sure if I could go through that again.”
Ivory knelt in front of the device and he and Xylion positioned themselves by her sides so that they formed a triangle around the enhancer before they each took hold of each other's hands. If the situation had been less dire, Bensu would have thought that this may have made for a good setup for group meditation or perhaps some sort of bonding exercise.
“We follow the same process as before. Close your eyes and focus your mind, your energy, your entire being onto the collider. Ivory and I will lend our thoughts and psionic energies to support your efforts. You will have to guide us again. The enhancer, in theory, will make it easier for us to lend you our strength and allow your mind to remain clear on the task before you,” Xylion said and making Bensu feel as if what he had asked him to do was the most ordinary and routine task rather than finding a way to prevent the annihilation of an entire universe by thinking very hard.
He closed his eyes anyway and began to follow his instructions, trying to once again find the psionic threads, swirling all around him, that would connect him to where they needed to go.
“Lieutenant, please activate the enhancer.”
Bensu had not enjoyed the sensation of opening up his mind to the psionic forces at play within this subspace pocket. On the contrary, it had been a greatly disturbing experience every time he had attempted to probe it.
Once again, he almost immediately felt a hundred thousand needles piercing his body. Or at least what he’d imagine something like that would feel like.
Intellectually he knew this was all just in his mind, but then, of course, it was in the mind that sentient people were truly able to experience anything at all.
And those needles weren’t just content to prick and stab him, no, they were pulling at the same time as if attempting to push him into a hundred thousand different directions at the same time and into the countless psionic paths that appeared to crisscross the unseen layers of the control room.
The disturbing sensation didn’t last long. Soon after he had heard Xylion give the order to activate his makeshift psionic amplifier, things changed quickly. He suddenly found himself awash in a warm and not at all unpleasant glow and could sense the presence of two others with him, giving him all their mental focus and energy.
It remained a challenging task, like trying to count every single blade of grass in a lush and expansive meadow, but it became easier with every minute, as he was able to feel his way through the psionic channels, first one-by-one, then eventually dozens and hundreds at a time, each of them leading to places unknown, other universes, or perhaps other moments in time, the past, the future, he couldn’t be sure and it wasn’t his task to find out.
Instead, he located the conduit that he believed would take him to where he could take control of the collider and its awesome power, where they had a chance to make the most difference.
Once he was reasonably sure he had found what he had been looking for, he allowed his mind to follow its twisted path.
He had never been exposed to the frightening experience of explosive decompression on a spacecraft but he figured that the sensation had to be similar to what he experienced at that moment as his mind raced through the channel, far worse certainly than what Gary Seven had put him through not too long ago.
He opened his eyes again when the sudden rush of traveling at speeds seemingly beyond what was deemed physically possible suddenly came to an end and he could feel and smell the air around him had changed.
He was outdoors, or at least his mind told him as much. He stood on a grassy hill next to a river that progressed down the hill at a steady current. It was nighttime but the two moons in the sky reflected enough sunlight onto the surface to keep the gloom of dusk at bay. The air was fresh but not cold and the slight breeze felt good on his face, even if he knew it wasn’t real. And yet it was more so than any holodeck fantasy he had ever visited.
“Where are we?”
He turned to see that Xylion and Ivory were with him, standing just a few meters away. The Vulcan SMT had asked the question.
Bensu looked back up towards the night sky. The two moons had already made him suspect their location but the visible constellations confirmed it. “We’re on Celerias. My homeworld.”
“A representation of your homeworld. Created from the memories in your subconscious mind,” Xylion said.
Bensu nodded slowly. “Yes. Peculiar how so much of it has been coming back to me lately.”
“None of your memories were ever truly gone. Merely buried.”
To his right, Bensu found a large wooden wheel, constructed horizontally on top of a short column. The wheel was at least two meters wide with thick spokes and handholds mounted on the outer ring at chest level, clearly designed for manual operation. He could see the entire contraption was connected via a mechanism to a massive wooden door in the river that functioned as a sort of dam. Presently, because of the current of the river, the wheel itself was spinning slowly.
He took a step closer to the contraption. “I think I recognize this. It’s a device from ancient Celerias, long before the industrial and electronic age. It was designed to attempt to divert rivers to allow settlements to be built alongside their fertile deltas and reroute the water towards agriculture. This looks like one of the earliest such machines. Not very sophisticated nor all that successful.”
“Fascinating,” said Xylion as he joined him by the wheel. “You appear to recall cultural and historical facts of your people that must have been ancient even when your world was destroyed.”
“Once we had developed synthetic bodies, thousands of years after this, we were an extraordinarily long-lived species. Perhaps I was a scholar of culture and history.”
“That is certainly possible.”
“Why have you brought us to this specific place?” Ivory said.
Bensu shook his head. “I wish I knew.”
Xylion studied the wheel in closer detail as it kept spinning around its axis and then towards the river where the wooden wall did little to impede or divert the flow of water. When Bensu followed his gaze further downriver he could see small settlements in the distance along the river banks that were beginning to be flooded due to the failure of this poorly designed dam.
“We have to assume that what we are seeing is in some form connected to the particle collider we are attempting to stop even as it is in the process of powering up,” said Xylion.
“It’s allegorical,” Bensu said with sudden clarity and then continued when Xylion and Ivory considered him with curious looks. “My mind created something from my subconscious memory that somehow fits our present circumstances. Don’t you see? The river is the collider and those settlements down the river, they represent the universe that is threatened by it.”
Ivory glanced towards the wheel. “You are implying this wheel may stop the collider.”
Bensu nodded. “That’s why the ancient Celerians built this. To protect their settlements from destruction,” he said and then grabbed hold of one of the large wooden grips, pulling against the spinning wheel to attempt to stop it. “I can feel it slowing down but this is not a one-man job,” he said, looking at the others.
Xylion hesitated only a second or so before joining him at the large wheel, grabbing another handhold and when Ivory took up position as well and added her strength to the others, Bensu could feel the wheel slowing significantly. Glancing over to the dam, the wooden wall was starting to show almost immediate effect, diverting the river into numerous small man-made channels that were branching off from it and thereby slowly lowering the water levels beyond the dam. “It’s working, we are making progress.”
No sooner had those words come over his lips, an ear-splitting thunder roared across the sky above them with such force, all three of them momentarily let go of the wheel before taking hold of it again.
Within moments heavy clouds moved in above as if somebody had drawn a curtain to the previously clear night sky and it opened up with a tremendous downpour, soaking all three of them in short order.
Bensu could already feel the ground under his feet beginning to turn into mud and his hands starting to slip from the wheel.
“This is a curious development,” said Ivory.
“Agreed,” said Xylion and looked towards Bensu, still working the wheel. “Was this part of Celerias prone to such rapidly changing weather patterns?”
“I don’t believe so,” he said, half-shouting now to make himself heard over the continuously roaring thunder that had come out of nowhere. “Certainly nothing on this scale. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky a minute ago.”
A bright lightning bolt struck a tree nearby, causing the ground to rumble and Bensu to flinch hard from the sudden brightness and energy that had been released. A new memory was quickly asserting itself in his mind. “The Worldtaker.”
Clearly, his two Vulcan companions didn’t understand.
“The Worldtaker was a powerful deity whom the ancient Celerians worshipped. Or rather feared. Among other things, he controlled the thunder he would unleash on the people that had angered him and on those who had failed to pay him proper tribute.”
Another lightning bolt struck, this one even closer to the wheel. Bensu slipped in the thickening mud and was nearly hit by the still moving wheel before he could recover. Lightning strikes were now erupting with increasing regularity as far as the eye could see, creating a steady earthquake that made it more and more challenging to stay upright. “My memories of Celerias are still muddled but I don’t think this storm is like anything I’ve ever experienced,” he shouted to the others.
“It is no coincidence,” Ivory responded.
“The most logical assumption is that the subspace aliens have learned of our intention and found a manner to counteract our efforts,” shouted Xylion.
“Which means we are on the right track. We are actually shutting down the collider. We need to redouble our efforts,” he called out and then focused all his strength against the wheel.
The others mirrored his move but it was quickly becoming obvious that it wasn’t going to be enough. Bensu’s feet were now in ankle-deep mud and he was slipping with every other step, the wheel itself was becoming as slippery as ice, and the constant lightning strikes, seemingly creeping nearer with each impact made it difficult to focus. To make matters worse, the wheel’s resistance was also growing, perhaps the torrential rain was increasing the river’s volume and current, but it almost felt as if something else was fighting against them, increasing the pressure they were up against by the second.
“We have to keep going,” Bensu shouted from the top of his lungs, his sweat now freely mixing with the heavy rain streaming down his face.
Lightning struck just a few meters away from the wheel, closest to Ivory who was pushed back from the force of the strike.
Not a moment later Xylion slipped in the mud and as he went down a thick spoke of the wheel struck his head.
“No,” Bensu screamed as he found himself all by himself at the wheel that had built up so much pressure, he was no match for it at all.
Even as his muscles bulged as he tried his absolute best to slow its spin, he could hear the loud creaking of the dam in the river. It broke just as the wheel slipped out of his hands and he too went down.
Although in tremendous pain, he managed to pull himself up slightly from the mud just to see the settlement in the distance, lit up brightly by the constant barrage of lightning strikes, steadily being consumed by the merciless watery force of the freed river, feeding on the river banks like an unleashed wild animal.
Whatever connection his mind had created to this place of the ancient past collapsed and Bensu felt himself once more sucked through the psionic channels until he was back where they had started, sitting in the control room around the psionic amplifier.
Although everything that had transpired had been a construct of his mind, he could still feel every last bit of physical pain he had experienced and he slumped in on himself the moment his mind and body reconnected once more.
Both Xylion and Ivory had already collapsed, Nora seeing to the science officer and Diamond to her fellow SMT operative.
“What happened?” Bensu asked.
Nora looked up at him. “We had to deactivate the amplifier when your vital signs became erratic.”
“How are they?”
“Alive,” she said as she tended to Xylion again. “But not in great shape.”
Bensu tried to stand but his strength left him almost instantly and he fell back to the floor which he realized was still trembling underneath him.
Nora left Xylion’s side and helped steady him. “I suggest you take it easy. You faired slightly better than the others but you’ve also suffered traumatic distress,” she said as she referred to her tricorder. “Or so this darned thing is telling me.”
He didn’t have the strength to argue, nor in fact, to try and attempt to stand again. So instead, he found Hopkins who was looking over the holographic displays at the center of the room. “What about the collider?”
She looked up from the alien displays. “Most of what I’m seeing here is still completely nonsensical to me. But I’d say that whatever you did bought us some time.”
The chief engineer’s dour expression pretty much said it all. “Not nearly enough, I’m afraid.”