Castle Rock Compound, Colorado, Earth
She’d been dreaming of flying through space, the stars blurring and stretching as she flew. She’d dreamt of this before but this time it felt real. The cold of space didn’t hurt her while intangible, but she knew it was out there waiting for her or anyone else who made the mistake of phasing into reality.
That was one of the other differences from past dreams. In the past, she’d suspected that others were there too and even thought she’d heard voices but this time she knew it for sure. The voices were as clear as anyone’s she’d ever spoken to.
“Come with us,” they told her, their sound as empty as the dark space they flew through. She knew they weren’t talking. They were in her head.
“We need you. All of your people need you—the hidden Artificer needs you, your brother and your friends need you, and the other humans too.”
She’d said, “I don’t know you and I’m not going anywhere until I know more. If you want to talk, talk. I don’t want you in my head until I’ve got a solid reason to allow you in.”
That was when she’d woken up alone in her dark dorm room, her chest heaving. Grateful that she had her own room this year because it meant that she only woke herself up, wishing she had someone else to talk to at the same time, she considered texting Tara. Then she shook her head. It wasn’t worth waking her up for a dream. Tara deserved to sleep and so did the other upperclassmen she knew best—Travis, Rod, and Samita.
She turned on the light, realizing that she was not alone in the room.
A being of hazy light, it had a woman’s shape and a hint of her grandmother’s face as well as her own. Its whiteness against the red stone walls made her think it ought to be in a Patrick Nagel painting.
All she said was, “Whoa. You’re real.”
The being of light met her eyes. Its eyes had no white. They were black but sprinkled with stars. “We are real. Come with us. You are one of our descendants. Come with us and save your brother and your friends.”
She looked it up and down. “You already said that. How can I trust you?”
It held up its hands. “You know us already.”
She considered that and the dreams she’d been having practically since Nick left, all of which featured glowing figures in space. If she were honest with herself, she had to admit that this made a degree of sense and that she didn’t have much choice but to trust it. Given Nick’s track record, she found the idea that he’d found trouble out there in the stars entirely too believable.
“What do you want me to bring?”
It did nothing, appearing to consider the idea. “Yourself. Nothing more is needed. Phase out and we will show you the way.”
“Nothing?” She barely thought about that before throwing off her pajamas and putting on her utility belt, feeling her costume spread out and cover her body. Grabbing her gunbelt—which included two guns and magazines of ammunition—she added, “No clothes? What about a toothbrush? Shampoo?”
“All will be provided.” It paused. Then, “Are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” she said and phased out, grateful it hadn’t somehow forced the issue before she put on her costume. There’s no way she was going to perform a rescue wearing Snoopy pajamas.
The Fringe of the Issakass Alliance
Lee stood on the surface of the small moon, grey dust sticking to his claws—all of them. He wondered if he’d lost his pursuer and doubted it, but if that were so, he had things he needed to do. If not, well, he had other things he needed to do.
Halas appeared in front of him, looking worse for the wear even though he, like Lee, could repair his body as needed. He wore the form he’d used when they were traveling across the multiverses when they were young, an inchoate cloud of dust.
To Lee’s eye, the dust seemed tired. It had always moved and swirled, almost ready to take form, but here it was just a cloud.
Lee wore a form he called the “multi-dimensional dragon,” a form that to creatures capable of seeing only three dimensions appeared to be stretched and wrong with too many limbs and bodies or not nearly enough.
“Well,” Lee said, “it appears that you’ve caught me again,” and waited for the next part. He knew what was coming.
“Caught you,” Halas said. “No, I’ve killed you. Remember our mutual friend Bakanan?”
Lee did. Bakanan had never been as good at fighting, but made up for it with his strength. Even as Halas finished his sentence, Bakanan materialized above them, all claws, teeth and scales in his own version of the multi-dimensional dragon.
Their struggles broke the moon.