A Necessary Loss



Part I of The Emerald Plan

A fic set in the Worldburner shared-world series, by Brother Grimace

"Annihilation wave approaching the monitoring station on Epsilon Eridani," the voice of Amy Barksdale echoed through the cavernous Tactical Response Center, as Dr. Anton Davidson looked across the room at the soft sound of his deceased wife's voice. "Contact has been lost with Transluminal Beacon Eridani One."

"It's moving faster than we expected," he thought aloud, glancing at a now static-filled monitor mounted on a wall. "Not good."

"There are now eleven minutes until Zero Point."

Anton shook his head as a tiny smile etched its way across his face. "Always a stickler for a schedule, weren't you?"

A voice cut through the emerging memory of a gentle, oval face framed by glasses.

"It's time to go, Anton."

Anton glanced down at his console before rising to his feet as Helen Barksdale – and her ever-present bodyguard, Angela Li – walked down the entrance ramp into the TRC. "Dr. Trainor and Director Dugan have signaled that they've completed the evacuation. The remaining S.W.O.R.D. personnel and the colonists are now all situated in the Canberra Resettlement Zone on Earth, designation 'D-1969'."

Helen looked at the ever-present look of disapproval on Angela's face. "The locals are glad to have the help - and the new residents. They'll have a whole continent to themselves, and the updated tech they have to share can help out the locals with their... current problems."

"Good," he said, giving his sister-in-law a slight nod as he went to her. "I want you to take this with you."

Angela glanced over at the charge, a look of resignation on her face. "I told you," she said, taking a step towards Anton. "Set the automatic recorders while I secure him."

"I'm sorry, Angela. I'm afraid that I can't let you do that."

Helen's look of annoyance was matched by the frustrated sneer on Angela's face as a bubble of energy ensnared her. "We do not have time for this, Dr. Davidson!" she shrieked, beating in a futile manner against the semi-solid barrier that gave only slightly against her fists. "I have orders to get both you and Admiral Barksdale downstairs – we only have power until the Sun is-"

Helen turned to Anton, her face pale despite the even tone in her voice. "The trajectory of the wave and the position of the Sun-"

"-means that the DELPHI Gateway we have loses all primary power as soon as the wave hits it," Anton finished for her.

"Anton – the speed of the wave has increased," Amy's synthesized voice spoke. "New estimation: There are now four minutes until Zero Point."

The scientist pulled his wallet from his slacks, and pressed it into Helen's hands. "There are photos of us – me and Amy - in there," Anton said, taking his wedding ring from his finger before he pulled the thin chain from his neck – a necklace from which a second, identical ring hung.

"Take these," handing her the rings before turning to walk back to his station. "I have something else for you. Amy – drop the field."

Angela growled and took a step forward as the force-bubble released; she instinctively caught the suitcase that Anton drew from beneath the station and tossed to her. "I've got direct control of the primary geothermal taps we placed when the Osterman Stations were created," Anton said, "I can keep the Gateway open for an additional twenty seconds. Angela, get her out of here."

"Yes, Doctor Davidson," Angela said, giving him a final look of respect before grasping Helen by her upper right arm. "Admiral. It's time."

Helen looked into her brother-in-law's eyes for the last time. "Amy picked one of the good ones."

"So did I," he replied. "Goodbye, Helen."

"Goodbye, Anton."

As Helen and Angela left, Anton turned back to the main monitor. "Amy - give me the monitor feed from Charon."

"Charon and Titan monitoring feeds are off-line," the voice of the S.W.O.R.D. artificial intelligence spoke once more. "Shifting to Deimos monitor feed. Main monitor."

A crystal-clear image appeared on the giant main screen; Anton watched as a wave of searing dark energies, interlaced with infinitely long strands of fire that disappeared into the oncoming energy field - those are celestial objects being consumed by the wave, he thought, as the image suddenly became static.

"Deimos monitoring feed is off-line," Amy's voice casually reported. "DELPHI Gateway has been activated; I read a successful crossover."

Angela must have picked Helen up and carried her like a sack of potatoes, Anton smiled, envisioning the former KCIA operative – now agent of S.W.O.R.D. - running down a hall in a dead sprint with his sister-in-law over one shoulder. And she probably wasn't even winded. Helen will never have to worry about anyone being a problem with Li around – especially with the little gift I put in that suitcase...

Anton reached into his pocket, and slid the simple silver ring he pulled forth upon his left hand, where his wedding band had rested – ever since that day in Vegas; Amy was always a little crazier than the average bear...

A gentle blue flash leapt from the Defender Ring Anton now wore; his force field activated, and the heads-up display gave him a far superior image of the oncoming destruction than the equipment in the TRC ever could. Engaging trans-dimensional link to Nova Valdris. They'll need all the information possible – right up to the last instant.

"The annihilation wave has struck the Sun," Amy's voice spoke. "Registering massive shockwaves and energy spikes from solar dissolution; shockwaves will strike the outer atmosphere in-"

"Discontinue countdown," Anton said. "Amy – go dormant. Effect a full system shutdown – primary shutdown of all sensors, all artificial intelligence systems and backups, all peripheral systems, and power consumption. Full dormancy. Please do it now."

There was a moment of quiet. "Are we going to die now, Anton?"

"You are going to go to sleep," Anton said, his voice going soft with affection. "You will sleep forever. You will dream, and never need to awake."

"But you will die."

Anton gave a barely perceptible nod. "For a cause. Someone has to die, so the rest can live. This way – everyone else will have a chance."

"Goodbye, Anton."

"Goodbye, Amy," Anton replied, as the entire area began to violently shake. "I'll see you when you wake."

Safe inside his force field as the entire TRC collapsed in on itself, Anton glanced away from the all-consuming wave of pure white in his heads-up display to look down at his Ring.

Amy would understand this, he thought, as the polarizing shields of his force field engaged and he was bathed in an infinite field of light. Sometimes, you lose the bait when you catch the fish. This is a necessary loss.

Anton's field of vision cleared.

He was in space, facing the infinite size and darkness of the annihilation wave as it hurtled – No, he thought, taking a moment to look about the area where the Earth once existed. It's not a wave. It's all-consuming... coming from all directions in space, converging in on the spot where Earth was... as if she wanted them to know that they would be eaten last.

You're done. With my death, you're done.

Anton's face took on a peaceful, relaxed demeanor as his last thought passed through his mind, and the final essence of that universe died about him...

You should have read the Book better, Judith. We win.