The first implants were discovered during an autopsy. He was a seven-year-old boy, who had died unexpectedly while playing with his brothers. He didn’t bump his head or break his neck. He just slipped into a seizure in mid-sentence and collapsed. The family was understandably devastated. The doctors, understandably perplexed. Two nodes were discovered behind each eye, one in the brain stem, another between the lungs and heart, and four more in the outer extremities. Around each node, a cluster of small tumors had appeared only moments before death. It was years before scientists realized it was a feedback pulse that had killed Troy, the first known Mediator.
“He says there is no way to remove them.” Keruso gritted his teeth and blinked rapidly. The Steward’s telepathic utterances were overpowering. The leather straps on Keruso’s wrists where beginning to chafe. He shook in his restraints as the Steward flooded his mind with horrific images. Enormous machines roaring and lunging in brutal combat—blood and fire and billows of smoke. Titans crushing cities under their knuckles. Monolithic beasts disemboweling each other. This was the war of the Fractal Nexus.
“…ssssssstop!” He pleaded.
“Shut it down!” barked Anderson, the XO. A sailor reached for the lever to shut the lead door between Keruso and The Steward, but Alethea grabbed his wrist and shouted, “Wait!”
The Steward seemed to be relenting. His “dreadlocks,” as the staff had come to call them, eased their movement. They were actually seven muscular limbs protruding from the back of his large head, used to generate a telepathic field in which he could merge his consciousness with almost any other being nearby. The lead door was ready to fall into place in order to block his telepathic ability. Keruso’s shoulders relaxed. Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he turned to Alethea and the other observers behind the glass, which was lined with a copper mesh designed to inhibit radio frequencies. In an unnatural tone, he began speaking the words channeled through his mind by this creature of immense intellect.
“Does a tree say to a woodsman, ‘why have you made me into an axe?’ Does metal challenge a blacksmith for making it into a blade?”
“Rhetorical questions, from an arrogant extraterrestrial,” thought Alethea. The Steward continued,
“Even from your limited vantage point, you must understand that if I cease my work, they will send another. I have been a gentle Steward. The next one may not be as gentle as I. Humans are such small creatures after all. You are like insects. What rights could you possibly claim in this universe? And yet I have afforded you the benefit of ignorance. Release me now, and I will continue my work with minimal risks to your young. I will not retaliate against the Mediators if you release me now.”
Keruso shook violently as his eyes returned to normal. Then Alethea pulled the lever. Clang! The door descended and the interrogation was over. Twenty minutes later, after Keruso had recovered from the melding, he and Alethea were arguing with Anderson.
“You heard what he said! We are livestock to them!” contested the XO.
“I know there’s more he’s not telling us. If we just pressed him more, we could discover some weakness…” Alethea pleaded.
“You’re right that he hasn’t told us everything,” interrupted Keruso, “But I think we’ve already discovered a weakness. He’s obviously not omniscient, otherwise, how could he allow himself to be caught. And he’s not completely infallible either. If he was, he would have been able to prevent, or at least resolve, whatever is causing the feedback pulses that have been killing the Mediators…” At this Alethea halted,
“Don’t call them that. Don’t you dare call them that! They are children, human children! And I am a person, and there are hundreds of others like me, being used! We are slaves, not mediators! Conscripted against our will into a conflict that has nothing to do with us!” Keruso put up his palms in a defensive posture.
“Ok, ok! I’m sorry. All I’m saying is that something has happened… recently… to weaken him somehow. The feedback pulses didn’t start occurring until, what, three years ago? Troy Barker was the first to die from tumors caused by the implants right? I think this could mark the beginning of the end for The Steward. He’s been implanting and monitoring the…” Keruso searched for a word that wouldn’t offend Alethea, “…the conscripts… for what, thirty years now? Alethea, if I had to guess your age, I’d bet you were probably one of the first, and you’ve never had any adverse side effects. I think something has changed, or else there is some fatal flaw in the Nexus. Whatever it is, The Steward can’t maintain the implants anymore. There’s a breakdown in the system somewhere.”
“All the more reason to kill him now,” reiterated Anderson, “to prevent him from going out there and fixing whatever’s gone wrong with his little intergalactic Wi-Fi network!”
“We can’t do that,” sighed Alethea, closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose to abate the oncoming migraine, “If it isn’t fixed, more children will die. And besides, you heard what he said. If he’s prevented from doing his job for too long, they’ll just send another Steward.”
“You’re not actually suggesting we release him! He’s a trafficker! A hostile alien being who sees humans as an expendable resource,” Anderson blasted. Alethea replied,
“No! I’m not. But I’m just not sure how much longer we can keep him here.”
Then Keruso added,
“So the question is, how long is too long?”
“We’ve had him for eleven days, and no one has showed up yet,” reasoned the XO.
“…That you know of!” asserted Alethea.