The sentinel dropped into the dirt, clouds of dust showering up into the air. The air inside the cabin of the SRV seemed to compress, like a spring being coiled, then a shockwave hit me in the chest as a blue shockwave boomed out across the surface of the planet raising yet more dust. Linka, sat on my lap, collapsed forward, slumped against the instrument panel. Her head hit the light switch plummeting us into darkness and, in an instant, all was quiet again.
The stars glittered above in the darkness, a darkness so pure that it was stifling and terrifying. Humans are programmed to fear the dark and my brain was running that program line by line. The occasional light flicked on and off from the still sentinel, it was still alive. I dared not move, dared not switch on the light. It was irrational, all indications were that these things had excellent night vision. I reached over Linka's shoulder and pulled her back. She was like a marionette with its strings cut, completely floppy and dead weight. Only the murmerings from her mouth told me that she was still alive. As she flopped back onto me her eyes suddenly snapped open and se gasped in a huge breath.
She scanned around us in panic, looking for the treat. Her eyes darted left and right, her breath shallow and rapid, her moves more like that of a bird than a human. I eased the SRV backward, the movement startled her and she grabbed onto me so hard that I couldn't move further. I needed to free myself a bit in case the sentinel recovered. Which it did.
The lights on the sentinel sprang into life and it rose from the dirt, hovering there menacingly. Dust showered into the air all around it and, as the sun rose behind the sentinel, glinted like glitter as it rose then bloomed out across the immediate horizon. Slowly it eased backwards, like it was scared of us, like an animal that has been wounded. Like a wounded animal I felt that this made it more dangerous, so I eased Linka's grip and slowly eased the SRV backward in the direction of the ship. As we moved a tower rose from the dirt to our left, extending section after section like a telescopic pole. The sentinel was startled by this and turned to face it, realised what it was, then turned back to face us. Something at the top of the pillar started to glow, I recognised it from the literature that I has as an ancient relic. If I'd had cargo space I could have collected it.
The sentinel rose up for a second and my index finger tensed over the trigger. I'd had it targetted for a while and the auto aim was tracking the guns at it. All the while I slowly inched backwards, the sound of the ground beneath the wheels crunching. I wasn't going to shoot it if I didn't have to, that seemed ilogical. Linka moved forward against the glass and whipered "Stop" to me. I stopped, the SRV jolting against an opportune rock. She leaned forward and placed her hands on the glass of the cockpit, tilted her head forward and closed her eyes. I looked out at the sentinel, it stayed where it was then, suddenly, backed off a little. For something unable to express emotion it really looked surprised. A noise, sort of like a hum but with weird clicks, started coming from Linka's throat. It resonated in the air and filled the space around us like warm milk. The sentinel started coming forward then stopped, almost peering in on us. It turned and started gliding back into the ruins.
Linka sat back and opened her eyes. She smiled at me, sort of a weak yet innocent smile, like a child that has done something outrageously amazing and yet has no comprehension of the enormity or significance of their actions. "It's OK," she said. "It will leave us alone now. We can go further in."
"Do you want to go further in?" I asked. She nodded, "Yes. Please. It's calling me."
"What is?" I asked, feeling a bit creeped out.
"The monster." She said, as if by saying "monster" she meant "teddy bear".
"Yes," I muttered under my breath. "Let's go find the monster."
I eased the SRV forward as the light from the star illuminated the ruins more. Linka pointed me in the direction she wanted to go and I started moving forward with a little more speed, my eyes scanning for threats. I felt heartened by the encounter with the sentinel but was still alert. We trundled forward, the SRV jolting as we rode over the rocky surface, until we arrived at a set of columns, about twice the height of the SRV, lined up in two rows. As we approached there was a noise outside, hard to describe other than to say that something knew we were there. One of the columns started glowing a light blue colour, triangle patterns etched into it. I pointed the SRV at it and drove towards it. "Stop." Linka said. I complied.
She reached forward to the glass again and closed her eyes. The SRV hummed gently as all went quiet again. For what seemed like an eternity we waited there, sort of in a strange stand-off, until eventually she opened her eyes again. Just ahead of us and to the right I saw another pillar, this one larger than the previous one, rise from the ground in a great cloud of dirt, the sound of the machine crunching and grinding its way up. Instead of the top glowing as before a column of light shot up into the sky, pointing at a star in the vast expanse of space. We both looked up and saw the blue dot glinting like a sapphire, twinkling like a gem. "We need to go there." she said. Not knowing the name of the star made it harder, I estimated that it was close, perhaps 10 LY away. I looked out across the horizon to find the galactic plane, it was off to the left, rising at about a 40 degree angle, thick and yellow. The star was about 30 degrees to the horizontal, slightly to the left. I opened the galaxy map and tried to work out where it was.
I centred the map on our location then turned it so that the plane was as it looked to us. I had never found a system this way and it was going to be very much hit and miss. From the colour it looked like a blue-white or, more likely, a neutron star, so I looked for one of those at more or less the angle that I was seeing. There were a few blue-white ones, but only one neutron star. That felt like the logical place to start. I bookmarked it as "WTF SYSTEM" and we headed back to the ship. It was going to be needle in a haystack time, I reckoned, as we rolled across the uneven ground. We boarded the ship and then, back in the crew area, I simply said, "What the hell happened out there?"
She looked at me as if to say, "You know what happened" then relented. "When the defender arrived I felt the presence of the monsters in my dreams. There were more, though. They looked like giant flowers filled with energy."
I looked at her, shocked. "Thargoids?!" I asked.
"What is a Thargoid?" she asked. I went to the computer and looked up "Thargoid" in the Codex. She looked at the picture and then nodded her head. "Yes, that was what I saw."
I didn't really understand the relationship between the Guardians and the Thargoids, all I knew was that pilots went to Guardian sites to get goodies to make weapons to beat the Thargoids. Humans had surmised that the Guardians were the enemy of the Thargoids, that in ancient times they had fought wars with them in the same way that humans were now doing. I had heard tales and seen video footage of pilots who had tangled with the Thargoids and, in an unarmed exploration vessel, finding one out here didn't feel too smart.
"The Thargoids are dangerous," I said, "and I don't fancy dying all the way out here."
She thought for a second. "I don't think that they are here, the vision at the column was that of--"
"There was a vision at the column?" I cut her off.
"Yes. I saw a great conflict, all across the galaxy. Wherever mankind is there was conflict. But it wasn't with the Thargoids. It was with something else. Something I did't understand." She trailed off as she thought some more. "I saw a golden wheel, with six spokes in the centre. Each wheel had a symbol that I couldn't decipher at the point where it touched the rim. It was there, in the vision, that I saw the defenders and the Thargoids battling against the wheel. When I saw the wheel I felt evil, destruction."
I sat down. This was getting complicated. I had to ask the question playing on my mind. "How are you able to communicate with these things?"
She looked at me. "I don't know. I just can. It's like receiving a call and answering it..."
I sat back against the bulkhead of the ship thinking then suddenly remembered where I was and what was out there. I headed to the cockpit, lit the fires and headed off planet. I told Linka to hold tight and engaged the FSD, transitioning into supercruise. I aimed at open space and left the Asp X cruising. I headed back to the crew area and we sat across from each other in silence. "Something is coming," she said. "Something evil and dangerous and a threat to all life in the galaxy. And it's coming soon."