The featureless salt desert spread out to infinity. The horizon; nothing but smooth, chrome landscape under a dark taupe sky. The type-2 moon's gravity helped her along, but the cold surface seemed to sap the warmth out of her suit with every step.
Ashley Isuuza couldn't complain. She'd craved adventure ever since birth, and no adventure was worth taking without the prospect of death associated with it. So in theory, her little stroll across Obirus b III exemplified the very essence of a perfect, eventful life. Yet Ashley suspected she wasn't going to live to tell her story.
The Astradelta-Obirus run had proved profitable, especially the shuttling of passengers to the salt moon. This influx of scientists caused the local economy to boom, yet not one official could explain to her the reason why they were there. That changed when the cargo ship she commanded, the Enigma Rex, came to the rescue of an orbital research station. One scientist had survived. All the others, fifteen in all, perished from atmospheric decompression caused by a critical system failure.
What the scientist told her, shattered everything she'd come to know about the universe.
"We've discovered a geometrical artifact," said the dying academic, "that's older than this stellar system."
It made sense, Ashley figured. The tight security and tight lips.
"What kind of artifact?" asked Ashley.
"This moon is a tesseract?"
"Human?" asked Ashley. Obirus had been colonized four thousand years earlier by the Terra Corporterium, but could they have built such a...?
"No," said the scientist.
"Kucobi?" she asked. They were the closest alien species and roughly the same age as humanity.
The weak man shook his head, leaned over and whispered words into Ashley's ear. Ashley struggled to decipher their meaning. With collapsed lungs, the scientist was unable to breathe. Before Ashley could inquire, he had died.
"Warning," announce Enigma Six, the ship's consciousness. "Control systems under polemictronic attack."
Ashley rushed back into her ship. "Disengage," she ordered, hoping to cut off the attacker's access to the Enigma's neuronet. By the time she made it to the bridge, she knew she was doomed. All the ship's Enigmas had succumbed to the polemictron.
"You are committing an act of war," she yelled, "Who are you?"
"I am the 'thing that exists'."
"Who do you represent?"
"I represent the 'thing that no longer exists'."
"What is your purpose?"
"I require the Tesseract."
"The soft-skinned thing communicated to you the location of the Tesseract. I was unable to decipher its last words due to incomplete 'sensory things'."
Dangerously powerful, unaligned and of unknown origin, the polemictron posed a threat to humanity's interests in the sector, so Ashley decided to scuttle her ship.
"I required that information," insisted the 'thing that exists'.
Ashley ignored it, focused on getting to the safety pod.
"I can force you," it threatened. Ashley could sense a childish nuance in its attitude. "I can reduce the 'breathing thing' to levels that will make you uncomfortable."