“The portal is ready, Kyan — wait, why aren’t you in your costume?”
Startled by the sudden opening of her office door, Kyan turned to face her colleague, Beryl. His presence was always anxiety-inducing, since it either meant more work or bad news.
Or both. She was just about to take a sip of coffee from her “world’s best boss” mug when he barged in. It would be a shame if she dropped the precious cup.
“What portal?” She asked, dumbfound. “There’s no scheduled portal opening today, I don’t think. Also, what costume?”
“Well, check your calendar again. The Moongate project just got an update,” Beryl tapped his hologram wearable, looking agitated. “Never mind, the launch window is in just under an hour. We have to get you ready. I’ll brief you along the way.“
Kyan sighed, putting down the coffee and got up. It was then she reconsidered her life. The mug was a mere souvenir from a trip back to the 21st century. She was no one’s boss. She was just another lowly employee at C.I.C.A.D.A. Level 3 in the dimension-spanning organization’s hierarchy. Anyone could order her around.
“What is this update about?” She asked. They walked down the labyrinth of white corridors. Judging by the scenery, she knew they were heading toward the launch hall. “Start from the beginning.”
“Fine. You know the trip we planned for the Eyaithen Ceremony? When their entire planet gather to pray to the goddess Yaeshene? What’s worse, the sun of their system just had an unpredicted flare event. Which means they are holding the ceremony *now*. We aren’t ready, but someone must go.”
Well, fuck. “Do we not have a Traveler on call?”
“No, we do not. Kyan, I cannot stress enough how important this job is. They are going to ask for the Yaeshene’s blessing on their new spacecraft launch. Our analysts calculated a 62% chance of them discovering Milky Way on their next expedition. That was two months ago.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” Kyan said. “I’m supposed to have my afternoon off.”
“The percentage is now eighty-seven. We need to put it under twenty. 10% or under would be even better. Take a look at this,” Beryl pushed a tablet into her hands. “A report from Lark.”
A shaky footage of a devastated hellscape. Kyan faintly recognizes the architecture style to be of Earth. A middle-aged man showed his ash-covered face in the frame, as he turned the camera toward his tattered self.
“Level 6 Traveler, codenamed Lark, reporting a Class A event from the year 2487…” He coughed. Blood seeped from between his fingers as he covered his mouth. His augmented left eye was hanging out of its socket. The footage was glitching badly. “To any agent seeing this, take a look at Point Sigma-Beta-Echo-Four, to Echo-Seven. Something went wrong…there. Requesting…intervention.”
“Let me guess,” Kyan gave Beryl back the tablet before the footage cut off. “That’s the timeline where we didn’t stop the Eyaithens from waging war on Earth. Not good. Everything goes to shit. The stakes are high. You can’t find a good Traveler, so you find me.”
“You aren’t taking this serious enough.” Beryl made an angry gesture, as if he wanted to smash the tablet on the wall. “Do you think I wanted to come to you? The Traveler we are training for this mission is sick. Something she caught on her last trip. I don’t have a choice.” He stopped abruptly. “We are here.”
Gate Hangar 9. Kyan sighed. She was really doing this.
“Tell me, at least there’s someone to go rescue Lark.”
“Of course. He’s a valuable agent.”
In the changing pod, Kyan changed into the gray protective armored suit. She held the helmet under her arm when she stepped out. The space opened up.
In front of her was the heart of Project Moongate. The site was styled like a hangar, with tall ceilings and maintenance crew walking on levitated platforms. The most eye-catching subject was the circular gate in the middle. Four pairs of metallic arches held it steady, taking up most of the space. The actual gate wasn’t that big. It could only let in the smallest spaceship. The Moongate was humming even in pre-activation mode. The steel platform vibrated beneath Kyan’s feet.
“Is this necessary?” Kyan eyed the four-person costume crew as they crowded her. They were dressing her up in Eyaithen fashion, attaching ready-made white cloth stripes to her suit. The material felt like silk.
Beside them were crates of artifacts, collected by other Travelers on their previous journeys.
“We don’t have time for makeup,” one of the costume crew members said. “A mask should do.” They discussed among themselves, and decided to take her helmet. The crew was working in terrible efficiency. They put it through the handheld 3D printer and sprayed it gold.
When Kyan got it back, the helmet had two branching horns attached to it. It was also shaped like a goat’s face, with a complicated engraved pattern on the sides.
Kyan turned to look at the holo screen she saw them referring. It was the Holy Text of the Eyaithen people. She could barely recognize the language, let along speak it. Guess that’s why the crew attached a voice filter to the built-in translation device in her helmet.
She wasn’t close to an expert in the Eyaithen. As a Traveler, her specialty was in time travel, not planet-hopping. She did remember one report about this alien species. They were devoted believers, even though C.I.C.A.D.A. has not found out if their goddess actually existed.
“Your mission is to impersonate the Eyaithen goddess, Yaeshene.” Beryl approached Kyan just as the crew was putting on the finishing touches.
“Are you serious?” Kyan glanced at the complicated costume. Dozens of fabric stripes dragged on for a few meters behind her, acting like tails. “Alright, I kind of saw that coming. What am I going to say? Should I say anything at all?”
“A few words would be fine. Yaeshene is not a chatty god.” A beat. “Don’t say anything stupid.”
“I’m a professional,” Kyan said.
“Sure. There will be twenty drones surrounding you in a crescent formation. Sixteen of them are hologram effect projectors, making quite a light show. Four have speakers attached, so don’t be surprised when your volume is booming.”
“Got it. Anything else?”
They were walking slowly toward the bridge. Crew members helped carry her tails.
All around them, the engines were powering on. The noise echoed in the Hangar 9. They have to shout to be heard.
Beryl side-stepped to avoid stepping on the tails. “Double-check your jet thrusters,” he reminded.
“Already did,” Kyan was putting the mask on. It was a heavyweight on her head. “Wouldn’t be a convincing goddess if I fell from the sky, would it?”
The translator inside her helmet was projecting her words into a different language. A slow and rusty sound.
The Moongate powered on. The boom made Kyan glad for the helmet to dampen the noise.
Kyan stared into the gate. It was swirls of white light and nothing else. She took a deep breath, waved back at her colleagues and gave a thumb-up.
The Traveler took a step into the portal. The drones followed after her.
King Alqovoh stood at the top of the tower. Below him, his royal subjects knelt. The air smelled like a hundred or so flesh burning, or some kind of herb.
The bells chimed in the wind.
“Lit the pyre,” he spoke. His servant cut the string. The embroidered signal flag rolled out. Under the tower, ten soldiers dressed in silver armors held the torches to the pyre.
The King moved his gaze toward the horizon. A crimson cloud was forming, casting shadows over the land of sand. Not an ideal weather for the launch, but the craft’s departure should not stray from the schedule.
Lightning flashed across the sky, making his subjects cower. Still, the King stood tall.
“The ceremony must continue,” he spoke, even as his servants trembled.
That was until the booming thunder rolled over the hills. He felt the presence before he looked up. The sky opened up. A circular ring of light. Energy crackled like a storm. The sharp wind shook even the firmest joints of the tower. He looked up and saw the celestial being descending in the glow of golden light.
His subjects knelt once more. Each of them must have been shivering worse than he was.
“The Gate of Thantonia,” he heard himself muttering in awe. “Just like the Holy Text… ‘a ring of pale fire burns…’ The Goddess has not abandoned Eyaithen, after all.”
“Do not abandon your homeworld.” The Goddess spoke. Her voice was calm, gentle even. The voice echoed through the sand plain. “Those who reach for the stars will not receive my blessings.”
“But — ” That was not what the King had expected. He could not bear to look straight at her radiance, as he spoke in rebellion.
“Forgive my bluntness, but we have to search for a new homeland. This world is…We are running out of resources, and our kins — ”
One of the Goddess’s lightning orbs struck the ground, causing flames to flare up. The divine act installed fresh fear in his people.
The King tried to keep calm under pressure. According to the Holy Text, the Goddess Yaeshene was not a merciless one. The spell she cast was merely a warning. The explosion did not injure his subjects, even though they were dangerously close.
Indeed, the Goddess seemed to lean down, closer toward him. He risked a glance up.
“I entrusted this land to you. Use it wisely.”
As if it was all in a dream. Yaeshene disappeared into a blinding ray of light. The pyre was out, leaving only ashes and smoke. The King searched the sky, but not a single trace remained.
The ceremonial ground was holding a collective breath. King Alqovoh was in deep thought, then he broke the dead silence.
“Burn it.” He pointed at the craft. “Burn it for the Goddess.”
The Moongate spat Kyan out and powered down. The Traveler fell onto the bridge platform, less ceremoniously than she expected. She stood up, as the machinery whirled. Platforms folded to box her in. The decontamination process began.
“Woah, now that’s a nasty headache.” Kyan’s head felt like it was about to split open, but the pain only lasted for a few seconds.
When she stepped out of the pod, the crew helped her get out of the costume.
She exited the decontamination pod. The project manager and his inner circle was there, waiting. Kyan froze. What did she do to warrant this?
The meeting concluded with the project manager satisfied with her answers. Kyan still had paperwork to do but that was as expected. She was at the coffee machine when her wearable beeped. It was Beryl.
“Welcome back, Kyan.” Beryl was among them, also the only one who looked glad she was fine. “The project manager wants you to explain this.”
The tablet he was holding was showing a page from an Eyaithen book. A history book, as far as she could tell. It showed a sketch of something that looked…faintly, like a broken drone.
“Only nineteen out of twenty drones came back through the portal.” A crew hurried over and reported. That wasn’t helping.
“A drone flew too close and I accidentally knocked it down. It fell and crashed.” Kyan explained, as professionally as she could manage. “I didn’t know where was my arms with that stupid helmet on.”
“What!” Beryl was scandalized. “That goes against everything a Traveler stands for. You should never leave anything unnecessary behind, ever. Is this affecting the timeline?” He turned toward the analysts.
“Not much. The likelihood of the Eyaithen leaving their planet within the next five centuries is 6%,” the analyst said. “To be honest, their spacefaring technology is shaky at best, at least at this point in time. The likelihood of them discovering the drone’s real use is close to zero.”
“See, I would consider that as a success,” Kyan said. Even as she said it, she realized how much of an excuse it was. However, she was exhausted and sweaty because the suit didn’t have proper ventilation. She just wanted a shower and sleep on her day off. She was going to get a day off after all this, right?
Beryl nodded. “We achieved the goal, no matter how.” For once, he was agreeing with her.
The meeting concluded with the project manager satisfied at her answers. Kyan still had paperwork to do but that was as expected. She was at the coffee machine when her wearable beeped. It was Beryl.
“Wanna grab a drink after work?”
“Sure, why not. It’s been a long day, after all.”
In a distant world where the sandstorm washed against the scorched land, fragments of celestial origin sat on a golden pedestal behind the throne. The relic was metallic in color and smooth to touch. The Shards of Divinity, it was called.
According to C.I.C.A.D.A. analysts, the cost of sending an agent to retrieve the broken drone outweighed the risk of humanity’s exposure. So, they left it like that.
It would remain there, for the entirety of the reign of King Alqovoh the Entrusted, and long after.