Ethereel

Kendrin adjusted the utility belt of her high-pressure hazmat suit and locked the helmet on her head as she stared at the individual in the mirror staring back at her. The facial expression may have been that of a girl who was about to embark on the most challenging mission of her life, but the darkest corners of her heart could feel the agonies of the past through her eyes.

She turned to face a grey-haired staunch lady slowly making her way in with sure and steady steps. Clothed in a navy-blue nanotech tunic over black trousers and knee-length boots to match her silvering strands, she looked like somebody who commanded respect. The lady walked towards her and, with a small smile, adjusted her collar and gently placed her palms on either of her shoulders.

“Are you sure about this?” Muris took a deep breath as she dusted off the suit.

I am,” Kendrin pursed her lips grimly, “I have to!”

“Isn’t it better than-” Muris began to say.

“No,” Kendrin sighed and gritted her teeth, “We have been through too much!”

“You think I don’t know that?” Muris shook her head, trying her best to hold it together, “We all have seen it, even before the apocalypse destroyed the world and left the hopeless remnants behind. This solution is not worth it!”

“It is, for the ones who still have hope, for the ones who still survived,” Kendrin answered back, “We cannot give up on the ones who are giving this planet a fresh slate to begin on!”

“You mean the humans who adapted to the hostility of the planet or ‘Evolved’ as they like to call themselves and are tearing the planet to the point of no return? If that is what you mean by ‘a clean slate’, then that is a very sick definition!”

“You know very well that this is not what I had meant!” Kendrin took a step towards Muris and glared at her in defiance, “You know that it was not always like this. Even after the Apocalypse, our world still could be salvaged and it could still turn back into something beautiful. And, the beginning of hope was possible only because of the Evolved.”

“Oh, by Evolved, you mean those humans who adapted themselves and changed themselves enough to sustain on either one of the four universally existing elements? Sustaining is fine, but they have learned to control it, and look at what they have done!”

“Yes, that may be true, but they have not been themselves lately,” Kendrin frowned, “Something is wrong here, which is why I have to go!”

“Something ‘wrong’?” Muris gritted her teeth, “Everything is wrong here! Have you seen what is outside? Or are you too comfortable, stuck inside this tall fortress that shields us from what is outside?”

Kendrin was about to reply, but she stopped short of her own words. She slowly walked to her window and gave the world, on the other side of the glass, a glance. She knew what to expect because this was her view for years. Rocky lands, devoid of fertility and riddled with burning fires the height of skyscrapers, waters gushing within the fires, stubborn to put it out, while the winds worked hard at killing two birds with one stone, or for a better explanation, killing two elements with its own essence. Rocks kept hurling against the waters and fires and stubbornly held themselves together in the presence of the ever-rough winds that had begun to spin at a massive speed while enveloping the Earth and shielding it from the skies with the waters that it had captured, in the form of thick grey clouds, hued with shades of orange from the tall embers below.

But instead, the only difference was that there were no Evolved in sight, just the consequences of their ongoing war. She knew that it was only a matter of time.

“There seems to be nobody in sight,” Muris grunted, “and this looks like a very good day!”

“Maybe, they have retreated,” Kendrin shrugged, “Maybe this buys us some time…”

“No,” Muris replied, “These Evolved who can control Air, Water, Fire, Earth or as they call themselves, Skyrixes, Hydraxes, Pyrods, Terrixes, are up to something else.”

“Which means, it is time for me to begin,” Kendrin nodded and walked out of the observation room and walked towards the chambers, “The only reason that we Elders, who survived the apocalypse, are not directly affected by the war, is that we are not governed by any element. I think this will be the key to saving everyone!”

Muris ran after Kendrin and stopped her in her track as she gently held her shoulder, “What if you don’t? What will… How will… ?

Kendrin hugged her tight, “Have faith…”

She left a teared up Muris behind, as she walked towards the operating center of the chambers. Larroe, the Operations Head of the mission greeted her.

“This chamber was built at the beginning of the war when travelling to space became impossible. Instead of the physical body, the human mind is stretched beyond the Earth’s limit. So far… you being the oldest of us… you are the only one who can successfully do that without losing your mind.”

“Ma’am,” he continued, walking towards his system, “the data of the strange energies that you had collected do match any of the parameters of Earth, which could mean only one thing…”

“Outer space…” Kendrin’s voice drifted off grimly.

“That is not the worst part,” he said and gulped nervously.

“Larroe, what is it?”

“This energy,” Larroe creased his brows, “Is coming from the centre of our galaxy!”

“That is not right,” Kendrin frowned, “There is a black hole there!”

“It seems to be,” Larroe nodded, “But, somehow, the energy signatures are a bit different… Maybe…”

“I understand,” Kendrin nodded, “Time for me to enter the chamber. Is everything prepped up?”

“But,” he sighed, “Nobody has ever gone there before and these energy signatures are unchartered waters. It is not advisable…”

“I am not giving you any options,” she said, stepping into the chamber. The technicians strapped the sensors to her mind and her limbs, as she gave Larroe the nod.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, as a worried Muris joined him, “Initiate sequence…”

“She closed her eyes and focused her mind. At first, all she could see was black. And then…

One speck of light. Then two, then three and four. Each starlight began to brighten her vision, bathing her mind in countless bright colours. She could feel the weight of space within her very being, as she travelled towards the source of the energies. Slowly, the stars came closer and closer, clustering together and brightening her visible cosmos. This was the fire, the light that she longed for, the fire that shone with its true beauty and shared it with the universe, not the one swallowing her planet whole.

The aurorae of the nebulae passed seamlessly through her, making her smile for the first time in years. This made her miss the Earth as it used to be. She wished she could go back in time and change all that. But it could not be done.

It was a gentle tugging at first, which slowly increased into an inescapable force that she could not resist. She felt herself being pulled towards the force.

Her vision began to blur and her mind began to feel heavy. She could slowly feel her being slip into unconsciousness as she embraced the oncoming force taking over her consciousness.

Back on Earth, Kendrin’s body spasmed into violent fits, setting off the danger alarms around the fortress of the Elders. 

“Talk to me,” Muris said urgently, “What is happening?”

“Her vitals…” Larroe answered in agitation, “I told her that this mission was risky and there could be no turning back. She…”

“Try to get her back!” Muris said.

“I can’t,” Larroe said dejected, “It is up to her now…”

Kendrin woke up with a heavy mind. She tried to push her consciousness ahead, but she had found herself to be stuck in place. She looked down at the Galaxy Positioning System Device on her belt and found the indicator turned green. The energy signals matched perfectly.

She had reached, which raised the next question…

How was she even alive?

The black hole should have shredded her, even her consciousness, yet she was still here. There could be only one explanation.

Larroe was right. It was not a black hole. This was something else.

 You are wise, Kendrin!

Kendrin was thrown off-track with the voice suddenly speaking from the void. “Who is this?”

“I think you know!”

“Are you the cause of what is happening on Earth?” Kendrin shook her head, looking around her, even though she could not turn much.

“Yes, and no,” it said. She could almost sense the voice smile.

“What are you?” Kendrin sighed. This was going to be a task.

“I think you know,” the voice chuckled again.

“You know what? I do not!” Kendrin started to raise her voice into the endless void, “So why don’t you tell me who you are and why you are doing this?!”

“You say that you and the other Elders are not governed by anything,” the voice laughed, “Who do you think brought you here?”

“Oh no…”

“Yes,” the voice said, “I am the fifth element. I am Ether and I govern all life forms in this Universe. From every planet, I choose a group of the most evolved species who have the strongest minds and claim them as my own. And every time the planet needs to evolve, I poison their minds, enough to poison the planet. I keep repeating this till the planet is strong enough to withstand me, becomes my equal. Your planet is nearing that point. It just needs that one last purge, which the Evolved are resisting at the moment, fighting each other and leaving destruction in their wake!”

Kendrin was shocked and found it too overwhelming to even wrap her head around that unrealistic idea, “So, you are telling me that, you make us your minions to bring on apocalypse after apocalypse till the planet does not need another, so can you can move on and do it to the next planet with life?”

“Yes,” the Ether said, “I made the Evolved war, using your minds as energy outlets so that I could give Earth one last apocalypse, but they are not ready to stand down. Now, I know why!”

Kendrin pursed her lips.

“The Elders themselves are resisting me,” the Ether’s voice boomed, “You have to let me in!”

“Not a chance!” Kendrin said, “leave us alone!”

“You cannot cut me out!” The Ether answered.

“We can,” Kendrin answered, “We will!”

Kendrin willed herself with all her strength to leave, but she found herself suffocating even more. “Don’t you see? The more you struggle against my embrace, the faster you will die!”

Kendrin stopped her limbs to tired and aching to move anymore if a mind could even feel fatigued at all. She was about to give out when something struck her mind.

Maybe… Just maybe, this could work…

She slowly let herself loose and let the ether tighten itself around her.

“There is nowhere else to run,” the Ether said, as it began to suck on her life-force. She did not resist, which made the Ether easier to consume her. Kendrin gave a smile, as she breathed her last.

Back on Earth, her body began to convulse violently, tossing itself all around the chambers. The technicians tried to enter the chambers, but it was on lockdown and there was no other way to enter.

“Override the airlock!” Muris shouted.

“The mechanism is jammed!” Larroe shouted back.

“Let’s blast it, let’s-“

Muris stared at the glass window overlooking the chambers. Kendrin’s body was still and her breathing had stopped. Muris looked at her vitals and they all flatlined.

“No…”

“Yesss….” A voice boomed through the chambers. They all turned to see Kendrin alive and breathing. They all smiled in joy…

…only for it to turn into horror.

Kendrin removed the sensors and threw them on the ground. She walked towards the pressurized airlock and left, unharmed. Slowly, she walked into the Operations room and stood, smiling at everyone present there.

“What is going on Ken-“

“Kendrin is gone!” The Ether’s deep voice boomed, “I am the force that drives you Elders, yet I am the one who can save your planet. All you need is one more Purge. You Terrans have resisted me, fighting for what you cannot save. No more!”

Kendrin inhaled, as her body began to glow, bathing everyone in a light brighter than the sun and the tall fires burning outside. It was as if time stood still and their doom was closer. She gave out a loud shriek when she stopped mid-sentence.

“Wh-“

The light from within her faded away as quickly as it built up. The Ether-possessed Kendrin began to clutch her stomach tightly.

“You… can… not…” The Ether’s voice faded.

“Yes, I can…” Kendrin’s struggling faint voice gave a heavy breath, as she walked towards the window, “You may be… an ethereal being… out there. But… this is Earth… with only one rule. For… ev-every soul… you need… a body.”

“And…” she said, with her last breath, “There is… no you… without me!”

And with a loud cry, she jumped off the window, to her evitable doom, but more than that, to the inevitable doom of the Fifth Element and stop it from causing more pain to other lives in the universe.

As soon as Kendrin breathed her last, so did the war, leaving ones left behind in deafening silence.

Because, the cost of saving the universe from the most powerful element, was the simplest one.

A soul.

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Olinda Braganza

Olinda is an engineer by profession and a writer in the shadows. The only way for her to get over her imagination is to pull it out of her head and into her stories. She loves animals and hopes that she can one day contribute to the solution, rather than the problem.

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