The Steward looked down silently from his glowing orb at the helpless mass of sailors below. Shots rang out, a flare was fired, but nothing seemed to faze him. With no vocal chords and no telepathic human to channel his words through, he just stared at them with cold black, pitiless eyes. Then, with a sound like a creaking metal door as loud as a fog horn, the Titan above shifted. The Steward looked up. The deep hum, which had been growing steadily, swelled to a climactic volume. Then parts of the sky began to descend in huge modular chains forming many equally spaced paddle-like structures on all sides. They hardly looked mechanical, but almost resembled the wide, flexible fins of a whale, each covered with a network of octagonal mirrors. These were thrust into the sea at a great distance away, like twenty enormous fingers extending from a massive central palm which lowered above them. Then the fingers began to contract, surging beneath the water on all sides. Soon, the gaps between these shafts closed, while still almost a mile away. That’s when the ocean heaved and everyone could feel themselves and millions of tons of salt water being hoisted upward. They watched, awestruck, as the distant horizon, which they could still see through the translucent barrier, dropped away and they were lifted up, in what could only be described as a city-sized fish bowl!
The Steward vanished and reappeared with a zap, some distance away. Then he zapped to another location, then another, and still another. His movements became erratic, even frantic. Then with a sound like thunder and the look of a lightning bolt, he struck the barrier encircling them all. One of the octagonal mirrors flickered for an instant, as if slightly damaged. The Steward returned to his previous position and rocketed into the wall a second time. The thunderous sound of his attack was almost deafening.
During all this, Petty Officer Jared was shouting to the men to paddle back toward the rest of the life rafts. By the time the Steward had impacted the barrier a third time, Jared had climbed back into the raft where Alethea lay. She was no longer writhing and whimpering in her sleep, but seemed rather serene, except that her right hand was now lifted, and held in a peculiar shape, as if she were grasping a golf ball.
“Alethea, ma’am!” Jared wasn’t sure how to interpret this strange gesture from an unconscious woman. He reached out tentatively and squeezed her shoulder. “Alethea” he called to her as if from a distance. Then he took hold of her upraised fist. The instant he did this, her eyes popped wide open and she gasped. Jared’s eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed next to her, gripping her hand tightly. Both of them were now comatose. Or at least that’s how it appeared to those looking on.
Jared found himself spinning through space head over heels, dizzy and shouting from fear. A hand clasped his tightly and brought him to a stop. It was Alethea! The rafts, the ocean and the Titan were gone. It was just the two of them, suspended in a murky expanse. There were no discernible walls, or a floor or ceiling. Just blurry drifts of darkness and distant light as of lightning flashing behind thick clouds. Jared’s eyes were unable to focus on anything except Alethea herself, and his own body.
“No time to explain,” she panted. “I need your help!” And she thrust her arms wide, drawing into view a three dimensional image of the enormous fish-bowl apparatus. Here before them, it appeared the size of a soccer ball, and was glowing brightly against the ethereal darkness in which they floated. Jared needed no explanation. Somehow he instantly knew, that they were inside the Fractal Nexus. He leaned in and could see the tiny cluster of orange rafts near the center of the soccer ball. Above them, he could see the Steward, now the size of a flea, darting against the interior wall of the structure.
“We have to stop him!” Alethea prompted.
“How?” Jared exclaimed.
“I don’t know, I just know I can’t concentrate on much besides holding this thing in place. You need to come up with something. Just focus on what you want to do, and make it happen!” With a mixture of confusion and uncanny intuition, Jared took hold of the glowing spherical image and pulled outward, enlarging it to about six feet in diameter. Then he simply reached inside and tried to grab the tiny, flying creature. But he was too fast! The Steward darted like a hornet around Jared’s arm, and finally attacked him, stinging him near the elbow.
Meanwhile on the water, the sailors watched in amazement as an enormous tentacle had descended from the uppermost reaches of the sphere in which they floated, and began swaying back and forth, nearly swatting the Steward out of the sky. When the Steward retaliated by striking it with a lightning bolt, the tentacle retracted back up into the mass of the Titan above.
Jared withdrew his arm and tried to shake off the sting, “Owe!” he yelped, not expecting to feel pain in this dreamlike environment.
“Stop complaining and do something. He’s been stinging the inside of my palm for ten minutes now!”
“Ok.” Jared huffed, and he took a deep breath and steadied himself. He bent all his attention on the Steward and continued to breathe deeply. It was as if time slowed down inside the sphere. The quick movements of the little glowing creature turned into slowly meandering paths of green light, tracing their curvy path here and there, like a lazy fish inside a fishbowl. Jared calmly reached inside and took hold of the creature. He could feel it wiggling in his palm, like the frogs he had caught when he was a child, at the edge of his grandfather’s pond. Jared peered at the little being in wonderment. At the same time he was overcome with dread at his own power in that moment. How helpless a thing did he hold in his gentle clutch? How powerless this living being now seemed.
“Now crush him!” barked Alethea. But Jared could not.
“Crush him?” he responded, as if the thought had never crossed his mind.
“Crush him!” She repeated.
“But, it doesn’t seem right. He’s so helpless now.”
“Crush him now! He’s like an insect!!” Alethea was almost frantic.
“Insect?” Jared said, “If we use this power to do the same things he did, are we any better? What right do we have to play God?”
“We have a duty. He’s a murderer, a trafficker. He’s a monster and you have the chance to put an end to him. You have to!” pleaded Alethea, who could hardly believe what Jared was saying. The sailors below watched in wonder and confusion as the tentacle held the Steward fast in mid-air. A moment earlier they were cheering as the appendage swatted after his evasive movements, but now it merely held him in place. What was happening in the mind of the behemoth?
“We have this power now,” reasoned Jared. “What if we could use it to make peace?”
“Kill him! That’s the way to make peace. If you don’t, he’ll just go right back to his work. This is why we were given this power! You have to use it!”
“Exactly! We were given this power. We’re not helpless anymore. We have the Titan now,” continued Jared. “He’s no match for this thing. We could banish him, or imprison him. Like the other one said, this Titan could be used to defend the Earth against him and his kind.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Others of his kind will come. If you let him live to call for help, he would only bring another Steward, and maybe even another Titan down on our heads!” Alethea retorted. Jared couldn’t argue with her. Though he wanted to believe there was another option, the Steward’s death seemed like the only way to prevent the conscription of more children into the Nexus. He looked at the tiny alien in his palm, torn between pity and necessity. He began to slowly tighten his grip on the being.
That’s when the voice of Keruso suddenly resounded within the ether.