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Stories of the Apex: Vol.2, Ch4. - A Child's Prayer

Vol. 1 - First, Vol. 2 - First | PreviousPaypal Link

Skel walked through the streets of the capitol and each step reminded him of the hunger gnawing at his insides. As he traveled through the city toward home in near delirium, he found himself wishing this was all just a bad dream he would wake up from. The once radiant and proud metropolis he visited with his father so many years ago was only a shadow of its former days. Weeds grew in the cracks of the sidewalks and streets. Windows broken in the invasions now cast their hollow eyes toward the times past jewel of their civilization. They had been a great and prosperous people once, before the Jergoon came.
His path took him near some children in ragged clothes lethargically playing games, most likely to distract them from the hunger they no doubt felt. Bones covered by thin skin were visible through their malnourished flesh. As he started to pass by, one of them looked up at him.
“Pardon me, Sir, do you have any food? My sisters and I haven’t eaten in some time.”
He came to a stop and stared at the young one. What cruel god of fate had determined his people should suffer this? He felt through his pockets and found the nutrient bar there. It was barely enough for a single meal, and it tasted horrid. He considered for a moment then retrieved it.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have much, but you can have it all the same.”
He offered it with a stretched arm and the child took it almost reverently. The little boy opened the wrapping and broke the precious contents in half, being careful to catch any crumbs. He took one of the halves and divided it up equally among him and his three siblings. The other half he carefully wrapped up and put in a pocked in his ragged shirt.
As he doled out the nourishment, he explained to his sisters, “Just like always, half for us, half for momma. She needs her strength if she is going to get better.”
If he had seen this ten years ago, his heart would be breaking right now. As it was, it was a sad tale he had the unfortune to see hundreds of times over the years. The repetition of horrors had left only numbness in his heart where empathy and compassion once made a home. Of all the thing he had lost, he maybe missed those feelings the most. It was the hope of their possible return that he made a point to always help when he could.
He looked at the poor, wretched children and asked, “Have you considered leaving the city to work in the fields? The rations for workers are meager, but they would sustain you.”
The little one looked up at him and said, “I will, when I am big enough. My older sister went off to help last season. She sends food home sometimes. For now, I am the only one who can take care of the littles and momma.”
His skin flushed slightly yellow with understanding. It was a story he had heard many times.
“Well, you children better get inside soon. When it gets dark the gangs will come out.”
The boy looked around and agreed, “Yeah, you’re right. Before we go, what is your name?”
“My name is Skel, why?”
“We will remember you in our prayers tonight, Mr. Skel.”
The children parted and he watched them go. He had just given his last ration away and his stomach was protesting even harder now that it wasn’t sure of an offering anytime soon. With weary steps, he turned and began making his way back to his dwelling. He reassured himself that he would find something to eat soon. He always had so far, and he always would. A small nagging voice reminded him that such logic only needed to fail once for it to be the end of him.
He turned the last corner around a large building as he plodded along. Sleep would come hard tonight with how hungry he was, but at least with how exhausted he felt it would come eventually. It was then that he heard some noise ahead of him. He blinked and looked up and around. It was dark. Had one of the gangs found him again?
That thought was troubling. Up until recently, you could expect to get robbed of any food you may have, and maybe catch a beating. That was bearable, all things considered. Lately, the food shortages had gotten so bad rumors were going around of some gangs turning to cannibalism. Those rumors were confirmed to him when he snuck past one of their camps two weeks ago and saw them cooking body parts over open flames.
He heard the noise a second time. It was up ahead, around the next left corner. The big building at his side blocked the view. It sounded strangely like speech, but nothing he had ever heard before. As he was considering this, a light shown from that direction. It was not a light cast by a fire, or even one of the old and lavish oil lamps. This solid, pure white beam came from a far more advanced technology. That meant only one thing: Jergoon.
They had come to his world twenty three years ago and attacked. When their conquest was complete, some lucky few were carried off to slavery. The unlucky ones were taken for food. The sickly, old, or weak were left behind to grow crops for them. If the production quotas weren’t met, they would make up the difference in food supplies with the workers themselves. It was odd for any to come into the city anymore. When they did, it was never a good thing to draw their attention.
He looked around and realized he had nowhere to hide. In his weak state, all he could do was offer obeisance and hope they were either not hungry or bored.
He bent his body low and cast his eyes to the ground. The shock was causing his hearts to race, and he was getting lightheaded. The last thing he needed right now was to expend energy being scared, but such primal things as the aversion to being eaten weren’t so easy to assuage as other drives.
As he struggled to stay conscious, the ground beneath him became bright as a sun-lit day. His eyes adjusted slowly as the pebbles and weeds cast surreal, long shadows. The beam of light passed over him for a moment, then snapped back to focus on him. He heard the noises again, it did seem like speech of some kind, but it was truly foreign to him. Footsteps approached and he saw a shadow cross over the ground below him. The Jergoon made another, softer noise, and then went silent.
Long moments passed before curiosity eclipsed terror. He slowly looked up. What he saw made him shake and fall to the ground backwards. These weren’t Jergoon, they were far too small. These were some other kind of aliens.
There were theories that there must be other sentient life in the galaxy, but nobody had ever seen one to know for sure. Well, until now, apparently.
With the other alien behind the light emitter, he could only make out basic features of the one closest to him. It stood balanced on two legs. Beyond that, it had an upper body much like his: a torso, two arms, and a head. Its arms ended in hands, of a kind. Instead of the ten digits per hand like his species, this one only had five. It was impossible to make out its facial features through the armored helmet it was wearing.
He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the beam and the creature made a quiet, sharp sound. The one in the back holding the light turned it away from him onto the building. As his eyes adjusted, he saw that the one in the back was also an alien, but of a completely different kind from the first. This creature had twice as many legs as he did, and four arms. It looked more like a cave insect to him than a sentient species, but what did he know about Aliens really?
“I, um, what are you?”
The being in front slowly moved one of its hands to start poking some sort of data input device on its wrist. It made another series of noises but these too were gibberish to him.
He was beginning to get worried about the light possibly attracting one of the street gangs, “I don’t understand you, and I can’t stay here.”
The creature tilted its head to one side slightly and poked at the device on its forearm again. This time, though he couldn’t understand the meaning, he clearly understood the Jergoon language when it spoke.
He reeled at the sound and bent low to the ground again. If these creatures were servant of the Jergoon he didn’t want to find out what special flavors of cruelty they were capable of. When he changed his posture again, he nearly lost consciousness. He was so weak. He needed to get home and sleep.
The two creatures became very still and quiet. It was as if they were studying him. Why would they do that? What possible purpose could it serve to learn anything about his species? Answers eluded him. It was hard to think when he was this scared and hungry.
Just then, his mental efforts were completely derailed by the whooping and hollering of a gang of scavengers behind him. Looking back, he recognized them as the same ones from the camp two weeks ago. While he didn’t know what these aliens wanted, he knew for sure death would come quickly if he was captured by that gang.
Mustering the remainder of his strength, he lurched forward and ran past the aliens toward his home. It was fairly well hidden and if the aliens distract the mob behind him he may be able to get there and hide.
He barely got twenty feet before his legs gave out and he fell to the ground. There was just nothing left in him to struggle with. He knew he needed to get away, but his body was simply not able to cooperate anymore. This was the end.
The last thing he remembered before the blackness of unconsciousness enveloped him was the sensation of being grabbed by incredibly strong hands and lifted off the ground. He had brief windows of consciousness, and he recalled later the sensation of being carried as he limply stared at the ruined buildings of his city moving by.
He never had a sense of exactly how much time passed while he slept. When he finally woke up, he was in a clean white room. There was functioning medical equipment that was monitoring him through small disks adhered to his skin. He considered removing them, but thought better of it.
As he was weighing his options, he heard something familiar. He looked around the room more closely, and soon found the source. On the wall was some kind of television monitor. It reminded him of the set he had as a child. That one was state of the art at the time, but this one seemed far more advanced. For one, it wasn’t as bulky as that old one. This one was thin, and flat against the wall.
While the device itself interested him, what it was playing on it engrossed him.
There on the screen, was one of the shows his family would watch every tenday with almost religious devotion. Instantly he was transported back into memory. He sat on the couch between his parents eating Grunja nuts as they all laughed together at the very physical comedy of the show Breets and Deets. In those moments, all thoughts of hunger were pushed away. The loss of his family and civilization were eclipsed by the powerful memory of family, food, and laughter.
As he sat transfixed on the screen, reality began to erode away at the idyllic state he was enraptured in. Even though he tried to stay there in that place of happiness, a tide of thoughts and concerns began pushing in around the edges with unstoppable force. As the childlike familiarity began to give way to adult perceptions, the feelings of joy were replaced by equally deep cuts of loss, and grief.
The world that screen represented no longer existed. The vibrant colors the characters wore, the food they ate, the joviality and frivolousness of their manner were all driven to extinction by the invasion. As a final cruel realization, he saw the health and fullness of body those old actors possessed and realized he hadn’t seen anyone that well fed in over two decades. He was a starving man amidst a famished people. Sad purple tones formed streaks in his skin as he was faced with the understanding that they had not only lost such complex and grand things as their technological adeptness once provided, but they had been stripped down so far as to forget the simple pleasure of a full belly and a safe place to sleep at night.
He closed his eyes and waved a hand weakly at the screen and quietly wept, “You are too sad to endure. May the gods make you go away and leave me in peace.”
In his short and difficult life so far, he was accustomed to such requests falling to the ground and fading away, never to be honored.
Today was different.
The images on the screen stopped and the panel changed to emit a soft white glow. Then, a voice spoke to him out of nowhere.
“I’m sorry. We were trying to make you as comfortable as possible. We didn’t mean to upset you.”
Looking around, he asked, “Who are you, and why have you taken me here?”
The image of one of his species gently coalesced out of the air on the other side of the room. It looked like a female made entirely of light. He could just see through her, so maybe she was a ghost, or possibly even an angel from the old stories. Or maybe this was something much greater?
He trembled a little inside and asked, “Are…are you gods?”
Again, he couldn’t quite place where the voice was coming from as it replied, “No, why would you ask that?”
“Well, you fit the old stories. Beings made of light with surreal voices.”
“I am most certainly not one of your gods. My name is Redeemer.”
“Your name sounds like a god’s name.”
“Yes, I suppose it might. I didn’t choose it; the Apex gave it to me.”
He strained and sat up on the bed, “Who are the Apex?”
“They are a species called Humans. Sometimes members of other species are called Apex as well, but that’s fairly rare. You met one down on the planet. He thought you were in distress, so he brought you back to the ship to see if we could help you.”
“A ship? Are we on the Southern Ocean?”
“No, you are on a mark three heavy cruiser approximately two light minutes away from the planet we found you on.”
His skin tinted green with confusion and he asked, “What? We are in space?”
“Yes.”
He tried to process that for a moment. He was having trouble thinking with how hungry he still was.
Eventually, he asked, “You come from another planet?”
“Yes.”
“How far away is it?”
The light being gestured and a large, swirling image with thousands of tiny points of light in it shimmered into being above her outstretched hand.
“This is the Galaxy we are in currently.”
A small yellow dot began pulsing and she continued, “This is your home system.”
A second point of light began pulsing blue, “And this is my home system.”
“That blue dot is where these Apex, the Humans are from?”
“No, they are from outside our galaxy. Exactly how far and where, I am not authorized to disclose without command level authorization.”
A thought occurred to him and he asked, “Have you visited our world before?”
“No, this is the first contact we have had with your species.”
His next question came immediately, “How do you know our language?”
“We detected radio signals from your planet. We directed our fleet toward your planet to investigate. We grew concerned when the final transmissions spoke of alien invaders. At 22 Light Years away from your planet, all transmissions went silent. The Apex feared the worst for you, and came to investigate. They were delighted to find survivors. My world was not so fortunate.”
“Your world was attacked as well?”
“Yes, my creators were destroyed by the Jergoon. We never knew their name before we found your transmissions.”
At this, he carefully moved his legs off the bed and onto the floor.
Redeemer observed him and began, “Can I ask you a question?”
He looked at the light-being and responded, “It seems that now is a time for questions and answers. By all means, ask.”
The Image of Redeemer flickered a moment before she said, “Your physical parameters are not really in line with those in the transmissions we have been receiving. You seem to have much less mass. Is this because those in the transmissions were some sort of idealized representation of your species?”
“Well, now they would be, but at the time they were generally average for my kind.”
“Do you come from a family of particularly small individuals?”
He looked down at his body as if considering it for the first time in a long while and replied, “No, my parents, may they rest with in the grace of the Ever-shaded, were a bit heavier than average for my species. They were scholastics, you see. Not much physical exertion to keep them fit.”
“Do you suffer from some sort of affliction? Is there a sickness that has made you this way?”
That made him turn slightly blue with amusement and he responded, “No, just starving. Everyone on my planet is starving these days.”
The blue faded and grey depression clouded his skin, “The last time anyone looked like your recordings was before the Jergoon came.”
At the mention of the invaders, Redeemer’s white light image flashed briefly red, “We have another name for them on our world. We called them the Destroyers. They killed my creators. We only recently learned their actual name.”
Skel looked at her thoughtfully for a moment before agreeing, “Destroyers. That seems a very fitting name for them. Tell me, are these Apex truly different?”
“I think so, yes. For one, I know they will be greatly distressed to know you are starving. I will contact them. I am sure they will bring food. What do you eat?”
That question took him back somewhat, “What? How do you mean? We eat food.”
Redeemer chuckled and said, “I’m sorry, I should be more specific. Do you eat other creatures or only plants and other growing things?”
Even in his famished state, revulsion twisted his stomach, “We eat plants, of course. Only savage predator species like the Jergoon eat other creatures.”
“Understood, I will inform the Apex. I am sure they will bring you something appropriate.”
Skel decided waiting in silent anticipation for the coming food was too great a torment and wanted more distraction, “Tell me something, Redeemer. How long ago did you discover our first radio transmissions?”
“A little over two days.”
“I am astonished that in such a short time you have gained such mastery over our language.”
Redeemer raised her hand and an image of a planet formed in the air, “Well, with faster than light drives, we had the ability to cheat a little.”
Waves indicating radio signals began emanating from the planet, and the image became smaller as the waves reached out and away. A moment later, a small ship was placed at the very outer edge of the transmissions.
“When we first detected your transmissions, we were able to calculate your location. As we got closer, we left a trail of ships from our fleet in intervals behind us to continue receiving your transmissions.”
The image showed the ship make several jumps toward the planet, each time leaving behind a copy of itself.
“Those ships have been streaming me the information constantly. By the time we got here I had a fairly good grasp on your language.”
Skel turned a shade of green with confusion again and asked, “Wait, you can communicate faster than radio transmissions? I know they are nearly instant, but at the distances you are referring to it must be different.”
“Well, they are essentially instant if the distance is short enough since they travel at the same speed as light does. When you get into space, the limitations of radio signals really start to become an issue. To answer your question, yes, the Apex have a technology known as Quantum Entanglement Communications, or QE-COM for short. It allows instantaneous communication at any range, so far as they have been able to test it.”
“Quantum, uh, entanglement? What is that?”
Just as he finished asking his question, the wall seemed to part. He recognized it was an automatic door system. The strange two legged creature he had seen on the surface earlier came into the room. Its helmet was off, and while strange to his eyes, the creature was not ugly to him. It had brown skin, with dark brown hair on its head, and intelligent eyes.
It spoke, “Hello Skel, I am Major Jerome Jackson. Major is my military rank, Jackson is my family name, and Jerome is the name used to identify me specifically. Please, call me Jerome.”
The Major’s words were reduced to background noise the moment the smell of food hit him. There, in a tray presented by this Major Jerome Jackson creature, was a tray with more food than he had seen in one place in years. Some of it looked cooked, some of it looked raw, but all of it smelled absolutely amazing.
Jerome noticed his fixation and quickly moved toward him holding it out as an offering.
“Oh, of course, Red said you were starving. I didn’t realize she meant literally. Please-“
His words fell off as Skel took the tray and began digging into the food. He had to make an effort to slow down so he didn’t choke himself. The food was so flavorful and satisfying. He hadn’t eaten like this since he was a small child at home with his parents. None of the flavors were exactly familiar to him, but they all tasted good.
As he was fixated on the food, he barely registered hearing Jerome say, “Uh, Red, can you have the galley be ready with a few more trays? I am not sure how much these guys eat and I want him to get full. Have Bob bring them down. He’s seen Bob before and I don’t want to overwhelm him with too many new faces.”
“Understood, Major.”
Before he had finished the food on that tray, the strange six-legged, four-armed insectoid creature he had seen on the planet came in carrying three more. It was out of its armor now, and when he saw it a sense of mirth bubbled up in him and he began to laugh. It had been so long, he had forgotten how good it felt.
Redeemer, Jerome, and Bob stood there in confused silence as their guest laughed and began turning blue himself.
“Are, are you okay?” Jerome asked.
Skel turned his head toward the Major and explained, pointing at Bob, “It is so very, very blue!”
More laughing ensued as the three stood perplexed. Bob’s antennae sagged slightly.
Eventually, Skel regained his faculties enough to ask, “How can you not be turning blue yourselves? Don’t you see?”
Jerome hesitantly responded, “I’m sorry. We don’t understand. Is being blue funny in some way?”
It was then that Skel decided he liked these Apex. They had such wonderfully dry and sarcastic humor.
As he broke out in laughter again, Redeemer turned her image to Jerome and said, “Oh, I think understand now. With their species emotional states are communicated by chromatic changes in the skin.”
Jerome thought about this a moment and said absently, “I see. It must work the other way around too. The combination of colors with people must also invoke certain responses from them as well.”
Turning to her, Jerome asked, “What does blue signify?”
She hesitated for a moment as she reviewed hours of transmissions then responded, “Amusement, contentment, and joy can all apparently be conveyed by that color. Most commonly in Bob’s coloration it signifies great amusement. It is common in their comedic entertainment programs. I thought it was an issue with the signal shifting to blue with those transmissions, but apparently it was an intentional.”
Jerome asked, “What do you mean? How were they blue?”
“All of the comedic transmissions are subtly shifted toward the blue end of the spectrum. Perhaps it is to assist evoking a specific emotional response?”
Jerome smiled broadly and said, “It’s a laugh track. Instead of overlaying laughter though, they do it with colors. Amazing.”
They waited for their guest to regain his composure and with only a few additional outbursts, were able to continue with him. After some time, they were joined by another human.
Skel could tell this was a person of importance by how the others reacted to him on his arrival. They all made some sort of physical gesture with an upper appendage being raised to their heads. He assumed it was most likely a sign of respect, or perhaps acknowledgement.
The newcomer spoke, “Hello, Skel. I am Admiral Connolly. I am the commander of this ship, and the accompanying fleet. I would like to say welcome aboard. Have you found the accommodations suitable?”
“Yes, your people have been most kind to me, and quite informative.”
Connolly nodded, “Good, that’s good. Now, Skel, I hate to get right down to business, but I need to know if my ship will be in any danger if it stays in this system. Is there anything you can tell me regarding that?”
Skel turned a contemplative pink as he said, “I am not sure how much I can help, but what I know I am happy to share. The Jergoon come in large numbers just after the harvest times. Once in early Summer, and then again just before Winter. They take almost all our food, and if the workers don’t meet their quotas, they take the balance out of the population.”
A dark expression overshadowed the Admiral’s face as he asked, “What exactly do they take your people for? Are they relocating them to be slaves to work on other worlds or something?”
“No, Admiral, they take them for food.”
At this, Skel saw the Admiral turn slightly pink in contemplation as he considered this information.
The human looked at Skel with inscrutable alien eyes and asked, “When is the next harvest?”
“About two weeks, but the Jergoon could start showing up any day now. This is the most feared time of the year for our people.”
Connolly walked over to a panel on the wall, and tapping at its controls said, “Bridge, this is Connolly, I want all ships that have been crewed by an AI to form a blockade of the system. No incoming ships are to get on that planet, understood?”
A voice energetic voice responded, “Yes, Sir.”
A second voice, female he thought, asked with a strange accent, “What’s going on Jack?”
“Nastia, we have a situation on the planet below. If this were back home, I would be initiating an Omega Protocol, but we just don’t have the resources. Contact Sanctuary and see what kind of supplies we have available. We have a population that is being starved to death down there by the Goon’s, and they are scheduled to show up any day now. Pass word to the fleet, they need to be ready for a fight if we can’t talk this one through.”
“Understood, Sir. I will let them know.”
The Admiral walked back to Skel and asked, “How many people do you think are on the planet? Do you have any census numbers by chance?”
He stood up off the medical bed and in his limbs the unusual sensation of strength came as a pleasant surprise, “We once kept such records, but not anymore. My hopes are that we still number in the millions. A low estimate would be many hundreds of thousands.”
Connolly crossed his arms in front of himself, then raised his right hand and began scratching his chin.
He whispered absently, “There’s no way we can get that much food in time.”
“Admiral?” Redeemer asked.
“Yeah Red?”
“I know where we could get sufficient supplies for them.”
Connolly turned to the projection out of instinct and asked, “You know where there is enough food just sitting around to feed an entire planet? We are talking about potentially millions of people here.”
“Yes.”
Connolly inclined his head somewhat skeptically at her and pressed, “And the owners wouldn’t mind us just coming in and taking all that?”
“No, we wouldn’t mind in the slightest. It would give is great pleasure to know those stockpiles were being put to such a noble use.”
Skel saw Connolly’s eyes widen with realization as he said, “Wait, your planet has food reserves like that just sitting around?”
“Yes, Sir. The automated farming infrastructure on the planet remained operational in part, and though it took about a century to be fully repaired, operations have been ongoing. Since the invasion, those logistical channels have been growing, harvesting, and preserving foodstuffs. As new storage space became necessary, warehouses would be constructed to house the new reserves.”
Jerome interjected into the conversation, “Red, that’s what, three, four hundred years of food just sitting around?”
“Well, not exactly, no. The food preservation technologies available meant anything older than about 68.2 years had to be removed and recycled. Records indicated that while it maintained the majority of its nutritional value, it became unappealing for consumption.”
At this, Bob’s calculating mind began working the numbers and he said, “If we moved everything out of the bays and used the Explorer Corps ships for transporting food to and from orbit, even the smaller hangars of the Destroyers could send substantial amounts of food per run. The main issue would be the loading and unloading.”
“Wait a second,” Connolly interjected, “If you have all the resources available for them already, would you be open to allowing them to resettle on your planet? It would not necessarily have to be permanent.”
Redeemer was quick to respond, “We would have no problem with that.”
At this, Jerome spoke up, “Sorry Admiral, that plan would be a non-started. The gravity on Red’s planet would work for a human or Krador, but its way too high for our friend’s species here. They would start seeing major medical issues within days.”
Connolly thought about that a moment then said, “Okay, so it’s back to bringing food in.”
“One of my sisters could handle the loading commands to the logistical drones on our world,” Redeemer offered.
Connolly thought about that a moment then said, “If we dropped the crew compliments to minimum combat requirements and constructed basic ground installations it would get us farther. In the end, I think we’ll need more help though. I’ll contact the Council and see about the status of the SLED.”
Jerome responded, “Sir, the SLED is still months out. I have been talking to some people back on Remembrance Station and they aren’t even half way done with the superstructure yet.”
The Admiral looked at Jerome and spreading his hands with a shrug said, “We need to do something. The numbers just don’t add up. We need more ships.”
Jerome nodded and said softly, “Yeah, I hear you Jack, but where will we get those? The soonest anyone could get here is 6 months. Even if the SLED were ready to go today it would be just under three, and that’s assuming they figured out the deceleration problem.”
“Well damn it Jerome, I’m not willing to let anyone die if I have even the slightest chance of preventing it!”
Jerome looked at the floor and nodding said, “I hear you, Jack. I hear you. But, where will we get transport ships all the way out here?”
“Perhaps we can help with that.”
Everyone in the room turned to look at Redeemer.
“If you authorize it, Admiral, my sisters could oversee the reactivation of long-dormant manufacturing facilities. We have stockpiles of raw materials that would rapidly facilitate the construction of new, planet based manufacturing facilities for small, FTL and atmospheric capable transport ships. We would need blueprints from your ship building facilities back in your galaxy, but we could begin production almost immediately. I would think we could have the first ships coming off the line in as little as a week.”
The Admiral nodded and said, “I would have no problem authorizing that. So, we can get the ships, now all we need are navigators. That is a pretty specialized skill set and we don’t have a lot of them, even back on Sanctuary.”
Bob stepped forward and offered, “Make a hive.”
“What do you mean, Bob?” Jerome asked.
“Well, make a hive. If you put one of the Sisters into the main ship, and she slaved all the other drones in the convoy to her, she could issue them all commands simultaneously. One navigator on the command ship could jump the whole fleet. The calculations would be pretty intense, but it could be done. We were discussing systems like that at the Academy in our classes on theoretical navigation. What was holding us up was a system advanced enough to slave all the ships in a fleet of any significant size. The Sisters are more than adequate for that though.”
For the first time since he arrived, Connolly smiled.
“Well, it seems we have our jobs outlined. Let’s get to work.”
They turned to make their way out of the room when a solitary voice whispered, “Why? Why would you do this for us?”
Everyone stopped, and turned to look at Skel. In the midst of solving the problem placed before them, nobody had stopped to consider their discussion was determining the fate of this poor creature’s entire species.
“May I, Sir?” Bob asked the Admiral, “I think it may make more sense coming from someone not, well, human.”
Jack looked to Jerome, and the latter nodded in approval.
“Sure Bob, go ahead.”
With that, Connolly and Jackson left the room, leaving Bob, Redeemer, and Skel together.
“You see,” Bob began, “Humans are special. To paraphrase the words of a Say-ved I once spoke with, the Apex are glorious paradoxes walking around on two legs. In war, they are violence incarnate. In victory, they are kindness embodied. In morality, they are terrifying paragons of Justice, and yet in its execution they see mercy as above the Law. In vengeance, they are destroyers of worlds, but by their compassion galaxies are saved.”
“They are more than that,” Redeemer said, “They not only have purpose of their own, they give others purpose.”
Skel thought on that for a moment and asked, “But that doesn’t explain why they would help a stranger, let alone a whole species like mine.”
Bob replied, “We found that when you remove the material constraints on humans and allow them to be what they are at their core, a great many of them become charitable, kind, compassionate, and ultimately, sacrificial.”
Skel was still struggling with all this, and repeated, “But that doesn’t say why they would do this for us. Why us?”
Bob nodded his head in the distinctly human gesture and said, “Yeah, I know. It is confusing and hard to answer. I have asked myself the same question many times before. They had every reason to destroy my whole species for the pain and suffering we caused. We were horrible, and they spared us from the wrath due us by our victims and saved us from the Vashali. I don’t know any Krador that have figured them out yet. At the end of every string of questioning and every line of thought I always come to the same conclusion. The Apex place value on other beings, even if those beings don’t understand it or place value on themselves.”
“You truly believe that?” Skel asked.
“Jerome placed value on you the moment we saw you on the planet, and from that he determined to help you when we thought you may have been hurt. Humans need little to no reason to be kind and generous to others. It seems like whenever they see another living being, sentient or not, in some way they see a reflection of themselves.”
Redeemer spoke up, “They saw value in me and my sisters. We begged them to end our tormented existence. Instead, they gave us understanding, hope, and a purpose.”
Skel pondered this for a few long minutes and then asked, “Why do you call them Apex?”
Bob answered him, “Well, in the beginning it was out of recognition that they were the greatest predators on their world. They come from a world of countless numbers of dangerous creatures, many that eat others. Humans are the dominant, or Apex, predator on their planet.”
“That sounds awful. You said, ‘in the beginning,’ that was why you called them by that name. What changed?”
Bob’s antennae waved in thought, and then he responded, “Apex literally means the top, but it also figuratively means the best. I think the reason the species of our galaxy call them that now is because we recognize on some basic level that out of all the beings we know, they are the best of us. They are our galaxy’s Apex.”
Skel sat on the bed and thought for some time before saying, “Today I gave my last bar of food to three starving children on my way home. They asked my name, and told me they would pray for me tonight. I think your arrival to our world may be the answer to a child’s prayer.”
submitted by Salishaz to HFY