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"Do it now!" First Helmsman Brandon Hamilton yelled across the deck of the Excalibur.

The crew floated weightlessly among the robotic angels, hopelessly outnumbered by the invaders. Alarms blared. Panels sparked and hissed. Wide swaths of torn metal had been cut through the walls, and charred black and glowing red marks surrounded on all sides.

Erin Locke's hand hovered just over the console display. The biometric identification system displayed a palm print, and with it the ominous text: SELF-DESTRUCT SEQUENCE ARMED: AWAITING AUTHORIZATION. The robots surrounded on all sides.

"Blow the ship!" Hamilton shouted. "It's our last chance!"

Erin held up her hand towards Hamilton, signalling for silence. "You hear that?" She looked left and right. The chaotic sounds of the melee had stopped. Aside from the alarm and sparking machinery, the ship had become suddenly silent. "Something's changed." She took her hand from the console. The robotic angels, once an aggressive flurry of motion, now floated motionless in place. The glowing tips of their energy spears darkened. The robots deactivated their weapons, turned back towards the door, and filed out.

"They're leaving," Erin said.

Irfan Levy, floating amidst his flowing robes, opened his eyes and awoke from his trance.

"Irfan -" Erin floated towards him, pushing off from the console "- what's happening?"

The crew watched dumbstruck as the last of the robots left silently from the deck.

"We've succeeded," Irfan said, awkwardly twisting in the zero-gravity.

Erin held out one hand to Irfan and, with her other gripping a chair, pulled Irfan down from the air. "Can we get some gravity in here?" She shouted back over her shoulder.

"Aye aye, captain," Katherine Fisher replied. "Prepare for gravity," Fisher announced through the ship's communication system. A loud tone sounded, then the crew were pulled down simultaneously, feet landing solidly against the floor as gravity returned to the ship.

"Rolland's reprogrammed the prison?" Erin asked Irfan.

"No," Irfan answered with a broad smile. "It's much better than that!"

"What do you mean?" Erin raised an eyebrow. In the distance, through the damaged door, she watched the robots disappearing from the halls.

"We've defeated them," Irfan answered.


"The alien Zoojin," Irfan said, "he's taken control of their army."

"But how?" Erin asked.

"The prisoners on the Sepulchre," Irfan started, "their minds were trapped inside the simulation. But we didn't just free them, we empowered them. They all joined in the fight together, all of their combined mental energy. And together they defeated the Catechumen."

"I'm not quite sure I understand," Erin said. She glanced towards the halls, now emptied of the robotic invaders.

"Their willpower" -Irfan emphasized with his hands as he spoke- "their conscious energy. Psychic force. Call it what you will. They're using it from within the Sepulchre. Focussing it through the alien Zoojin. And he's used it to defeat the Catechumen."

Erin took a deep breath. She looked no less puzzled after Irfan's explanation. "Let's get a visual on the fleet." She turned to the viewscreen.

The shimmering armada of cross-shaped vessels floated peacefully all around.

"You're telling me that they're under his control?" Erin crossed her arms and watched the receding sea of twinkling angels, their forces retreating back to the Catechumen vessels.

"Yes," Irfan answered. "And the prisoners are all safe."

The crew was silent as they watched the invaders shrink into the distance.

Erin paused, breathed deeply, then looked back to the viewscreen. "Status report," she ordered.

"We've got fourth degree structural damage over ten percent of the hull." Katherine Fisher's eyes tracked the data on her display. "Core's down. Primary systems all down. Doesn't look good."

"Check for casualties," Erin ordered. "Get medical attention to whoever needs it. I also want a full status assessment. Our top priority is the core, ECLS, thrusters and T-drive. Let's see if we can't get this ship back in working order. In the mean-time," Erin added, "Put Alita on the comm'."

"Captain?" Kristina Alita's voice came through the communicator from the shuttle bay.

"The Dragoon stealth ship we captured," Erin started, "the Invictus. Was it damaged in the attack?" Erin knew the long range stealth ship was equipped with a tunneling-drive. With the wormhole map provided by the mercenaries, it could be pilotted straight to the Avalon. Contacting them with a warning message would be trivial.

"It wasn't damaged," Alita's reply came through the communicator. "I'm lookin' at it now."

"You think you can pilot it?"

"Theoretically, yeah. I could fly it."

"Good," Erin replied. "Get ready for a trip. I'll send you the coordinates along with your orders."

"Aye, aye."

Erin closed the communication link.

The Catechumen fleet surrounded them on all sides, a panorama of shimmering vessels through the viewscreen. Hundreds of gold and silver crosses adorned the blackness of space, hanging silent and peaceful. Once symbols of terror, now stripped of their menace, the armada could be appreciated for its beauty: a constellation of jeweled artifacts draped across the darkness, a celestial chandelier of gliterring gold and sterling sheen.

The vessels began to move, like a cache of treasure given life, flocking towards the distant stars. Halos of light followed each accelerating ship thrusters drove them ahead. Helmed by the alien prince Zoojin, the Catechumen armada carried a bounty and promise for the future. Released from the soulless grip of its robotic commandments, the mechanical legion could perhaps be directed by more noble aims.

The twinkling light of the Catechumen fleet faded into blackness. The Excalibur was alone, surrounded by blackness and the stars of NGC 6822.

Erin exhaled as she stared towards a tiny, swirling mass of light hidden among the stars: the milky way galaxy, more than one and a half million light years away, and within it, Earth.

"Let's go home."





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