Superheated water shimmered and rippled as it rushed out of the colossal geothermal vents, keeping the benthic depths of Gentra warm and full of life. Sherubite crystals, with their hexagonal facets thrusting upward from the ocean floor, emitted luminescent hues of pink, purple, and pale blue. The dwellings, attached to the sides of these massive vents, were constructed of highly reflective minerals, which made them seem to glow from within.
Large schools of gelatinous fish darted amongst the tall undulating beds of grasses. Sea worms retracted colorful plumes into their protective tubes as the fish swam by. Sea stars, numerous thin arms winding side-to-side, crawled across the ocean floor.
A lone Gentran made his way through the water on an errand for Master Ferrok. His orange bell pulsed rhythmically from top to bottom, much like the bells of the deep-sea jellies that lived amongst the expanses of sea grasses.
Morka, Ferrok’s head servant, was the only one Ferrok trusted for this particular errand. Many Gentrans were about their duties despite the early hour. He swam faster, using his four tentacle-like arms to help propel him through the water. His breathing increased, and his breath blew out of the siphon on his back, increasing his already quick pace.
He arrived at the dwelling that had become home to the four who held a unique title given to no other Gentran in history: Guardians. Morka was the only Gentran, besides the Masters and the prophets, who was even aware there of anything special about these young Gentrans. What he didn’t know is why they had been singled out. He shook his head to stop his pondering. It was none of his concern.
He stopped short of entering the room where they waited. The four were hovering in front of the windows, both pairs of arms crossed over their chests, brows lined with worry. Mirka’s bell was shot through with streaks of pure white, indicating her sadness. Morka thought for a moment that none of the others had noticed, but just then Brok took her hand and squeezed. She looked at her friend and comrade gratefully and turned back to view the Gentran landscape.
“We will see our sires and litter mates again.” Brok said softly.
Mirka gave him a reproachful look. “I know what you are trying to do and I thank you for it. No, don’t.” She held up one arm as Brok tried to interrupt. “What we do is important. I will do my duty, even if it means I must sacrifice my life to save my Chosen. But I have the right to wish for things that can never come to pass.” Mirka glared at Brok, daring him to disagree.
Brok smiled and pursed his lips. He understood his friend’s frustration. All of them had been taken from their families as younglings, to be trained in secret in the home of the prophets. They were not allowed any outside contact, as it might have serious repercussions for the future. The Guardians studied the four new planets that would become their temporary homes. Here they would live, until the time was right to bring their Chosen to the portals and back to Gentra.
Guardians Gerok and Forka hovered on the other side of the room. They turned from the window.
“Where is he? He should be here by now!” Forka gestured in frustration.
“He will arrive soon. Master Ferrok and the others won’t allow us to be late.” Mirka said. “Are you anxious to begin our journeys? I certainly am not.” She turned once again to the window.
“Anything is better than sitting here, waiting. I would rather get it over with.”
Brok shuddered as he recalled his past journeys through the portal. The unimaginable, excruciating pain as his atoms were pulled apart, his familiar form being changed into something strange and alien. He cringed at how awkward it was during those first few moments after emerging. It was not easy to walk upright on two limbs on solid ground, especially when one was used to swimming. Wishing to feel more at ease, he went through a mental checklist and reassured himself that all of the necessary steps had been taken to acclimate quickly. On the last trip, he and his fellow Guardians had hidden food and clothing. He knew they were all ready, but it didn’t prevent the chill in his heart at the thought of having to travel through the portal again.
Morka could clearly see that the four young Guardians were apprehensive. He cleared his throat and entered the room. “It is time.”
The Guardians and Morka left the dwelling and made their way to the building that housed the portal chamber. They passed several pens of scrago, whose long sinuous bodies and many dangling appendages swayed simultaneously with the minute movements of the water. The scrago’s large dark eyes were half closed as they fed.
The five Gentrans swam over several plankton blankets. Suddenly, the ground fell sharply beneath them. Mirka looked at the yawning black maw of the trench and gave a slight shudder. She glanced at her fellow Guardians and saw in their eyes a fear matching her own. The deep trenches were virtually unexplored. No one knew what lived down there. Parents often used tall tales of young Gentrans being thrown in the trench, weighted with stones, to frighten their children into obedience. Now, as she gazed into the inky blackness, her heart raced as she saw her life as one deep, dark, unknown rift of danger and uncertainty.
Her fear of the trench was soon forgotten, however, as the group neared their destination. Following Morka, the Guardians passed through the entryway of a long hallway. The Guardians crowded closely together, allowing their bells and arms to softly brush up against one another. They found themselves gripping an adjacent hand and giving an occasional squeeze of comfort and encouragement. Morka stopped before a dark doorway and turned to face the Guardians. Down his bell were rows of colorful cilia which pulsed rhythmically, a rainbow of rippling, fine hairs. The bell undulated slowly to keep the escort stationary. Clasping both pairs of his arms, he exhaled a deep breath through his siphon. His large violet eyes touched upon each of the Guardians, as he measured their collective composure.
“On the other side of this doorway, lies your destiny.” The squeaks and clicks of his speech were given with such force that they echoed between the walls of the dark hallway. “Do not be afraid. You are ready for what awaits you.” Bowing to each of the four Guardians, the escort moved aside. With a collective, respectful nod, they swam past him and entered the chamber.
The portal chamber was lit by glow rods hanging from the ceiling, which gave the room a bright, cheerful look. Directly ahead was the activated portal. It was rectangular in shape and was surrounded on all four sides by strange symbols, from the simple to the inordinately complex. Six Masters flanked the portal, three to each side. The Masters to the left were female, their bells trailing behind as long trains. Their arms and finger-like appendages were smaller than those of the three male Masters who hovered to the right. The bells of the males were broad and darker than the females.
All six had the same eyes: deep, dark, and full of wisdom and mystery. Their penetrating eyes scoured the Guardians as they approached. They fanned out and stopped a short distance from the six Masters. The middle female and the middle male Master glided forward toward the four hovering before them and bowed deeply.
“You first came to us as the Elected. You leave now not only as Guardians, but also Masters, sent forth to guide and protect the Chosen.” The female Briska stated.
“Time is short. The danger the Mekans pose to the galaxy grows with each passing day. The fate of the entities that inhabit our galaxy depends upon you, and your ability to keep the Chosen safe.
“You have been instructed as to the signs and portents that will appear when the time is right for you to take your Chosen, travel to the portals, and bring them to Gentra.” When Briska finished, she glided back between the other two female Masters and fixed her gaze upon Master Ferrok, who now stood alone facing the Guardians.
“Gerok, from this moment forward you now hold the title of Master. Go forth, and meet your destiny.” Ferrok declared. Gerok swam toward the portal, and after a moment’s pause, passed through.
“Brok, from this moment forward you now hold the title of Master. Go forth, and meet your destiny.”
The same declaration was repeated for the other two Guardians, Mirka and Forka. After the four Guardians had passed through the portal, the Masters exited the chamber except for Master Ferrok. He remained behind, facing the portal, lost in thought. A slight vibration in the water behind him interrupted his uneasy deliberations.
“Do you still doubt what we have done Ferrok?” Master Briska asked.
“I do not know how I feel,” he sighed suddenly aging before her eyes. “We rely on the scribbling of the prophets. Scribblings that speak of the Mekan danger, the four planets the Chosen call home, and the signs signifying the proper time to reveal the location of the portals to the Chosen and to tell them of their destiny. If we interpret the prophecy correctly, the Guardians are to be sent to their planets to watch for the signs. The prophetic scrolls say nothing at all about the Guardians watching over the Chosen and begin-ning their training early without their knowledge. They are not supposed to have contact until the signs appear. Will our interference change the outcome of the upcoming conflict with the Mekans? Have we already changed it? Irrevocably perhaps?” He raised two arms and placed them over his eyes. “I just don’t know if we have done the right thing.”
“We alone have the knowledge to save the galaxy. We have no other choice. Remaining idle while the other species are destroyed by the Mekans is intolerable! As long as the Guardians do not disclose the prophecy to the Chosen before the signs appear, then we will not be interfering with fate.” As Briska finished she reached out and laid her arms upon Ferrok’s shoulders, feeling his tension.
“I hope you are right, Briska. We have done all we can. The fate of the galaxy now lies in the hands of the Chosen.”
They arrived at dawn, their immense size blocking out the light from the small triple suns. People looked at the sky, curious about the nature of the objects. All daily tasks ceased as the people began to congregate in larger groups. They had a sudden and overwhelming urge to be close to others. They shared uneasy glances as the things drew closer. Each person privately wondered if these visitors descending from the sky would be friend or foe.
The largest of the objects drifted over the city, sending up clouds of dust, choking and blinding the townsfolk. The rumble of its many engines shook the buildings and shattered windows, which rained glass down on the people who stood frozen in the streets. The citizens, becoming frightened, ran to find their families, desperate to be with them. The noise of the metal monstrosities became deafening as more of them descended from the sky and moved overhead. Such was the roar and power of the engines that the walls and foundations of the buildings and homes began to crack and fracture. When the first structures collapsed, panic spread throughout the community like a wild fire. People scrambled to flee the city. The unfortunate ones who fell were crushed underfoot by those who ran, in order to avoid being pulverized by falling debris. Although the people were desperate to escape, the machines were wholly unaware of their presence.
The chief machine had come to rest on its bulky legs, demolishing the buildings and homes beneath it, and killing all those unable to get out. The others fanned out and landed in various places, within a radius of several miles. When the hatchways opened from the sides of the largest of the machines, small recon droids the size of the people’s houses rolled down ramps and drove off in all directions. When they came across an obstacle in their path, they either drove over it or demolished it before moving on. The recon droids would stop at regular intervals and take readings of the ground. Once the survey was complete, they returned to the larger of the machines and disappeared inside.
These larger machines began to dig at the areas the droids had marked. Drills slid down from the center and chewed up the earth at an incredible rate. They also had large arms with buckets on the ends that carried the dirt and rocks, piling them into mounds taller than the buildings in the city. The smaller droids would sift through these mounds of dirt. While some of the material collected was placed inside the bellies of the machines, the rest was thrown off to the sides, with little consideration for the unfortunate people below.
When all attempts at communicating with the machines failed, the city’s leaders made the decision to use extreme measures in an attempt to stop the destruction, but their plasma rifles, missiles, and bombs had no effect. The sheer size and the thickness of the metal skins repelled each attack. Desperate, the leaders asked their best fighters to make the ultimate sacrifice; they were asked to fly their largest fliers into the heads of the machines. Hundreds of brave souls lost their lives, but to no avail. It seemed nothing could stop these metal aliens. The cities were evacuated.
The metal monstrosities mined and excavated the entire planet of its useful minerals and ore within a decade, wrecking similar havoc wherever they landed. Many attacks were made but all failed. When one particular attack crippled one of the machines, the people began to celebrate, believing they had found a way to destroy them. However, the machine simply had another of its kind repair the damage, and the mining continued unabated. The depths to which they delved resulted in numerous earthquakes and massive volcanic eruptions, destroying the planet.
They left much as they arrived, their shadows darkening the ruins of this once beautiful and vibrant planet. The noise of their engines, while still stirring up huge clouds of dust, no longer caused discomfort for the people.
There wasn’t anyone left to hear.