An hour later Pentyl had floated over to the Sentinel Fortress insisting that it could not be worse than going faster than light. I found my self alone in the bridge going over my navigational charts concentrating on them trying to ignore that the spaces that Pentyl had left open were being slowly filled by the absence of Kira. It was not the time to be overcome by those shadows. They would only drag me down leaving me unable to move. And then? How would I ever find out what had happened to Kira? So I focused on the course ahead slowly fading out the burning pain inside of me.
I was going to go first and once I had arrived in the One Hundred and Eight Auspicious Gates system I would use a special signalling beacon the Fortress had twisted into my ship to contact it and they would twist after me. The beacon was a black strange looking cylinder that was uncomfortable to look at. Something about the way it looked was wrong but my mind was not able to put a finger on it. It was not that it was slowly expanding and contracting in a steady rhythm. It was that when ever my eyes moved a bit or I blinked somehow the form of it had shifted. It was very hard to see where the surface of it started, where it ended or how large it actually was. This was made worse by the constant drift of colour. It rippled in variations of black ranging from something that looked like glossy varnish to a matte black so dark that it appeared to simply be an opening into an endless space within the device.
The Sentinel Fortress had told me to touch it to build a connection between us. I stepped forward one tiny step after another trying to get in range of the cylinder without running into it. I had to close my eyes after short time as moving towards it while looking at it caused a deep feeling of nausea and revulsion in me. When I opened my eyes again the device was suddenly much closer to me than expected. Its black shape for a moment reminded me of the contracting black pupil of an enormous eye that was suddenly focusing its attention on me. The hair on the back on my neck stood up my body flooding with a feeling of mortal fear. I suppressed crying out producing a tortured squeal forcing me with all might to stretch my hand towards the artefact.
I couldn't do it. Everything in me screamed to run away. It took all my will power to not scramble away screaming.
The cylinder expanded.
It touched my hand.
It felt warm and... hungry?
I was still inhaling to let out my most primal scream that would warn all Terranoids within hearing range of the mortal danger I had encountered when suddenly the feeling of terror ebbed away.
The voice of the Sentinel fortress flowed into my mind. "James. Do not fear. Everything is OK. Sorry about that. My technology has that effect on most sentient species. Now that we are connected the beacon knows you and you mind knows it, there will be no fear any more."
There was still a good amount of fear left. Run of the mill base line fear of the mind numbing other. It was far better than the spiritual level of terror that it had replaced.
"You could have warned me." I said watching my hand touching, hovering over, vanishing inside the cylinder at the same time.
"That would have made it worse." said the Fortress. No idea why but once a sentient knows about such an artefact they will feel its presence and will try to avoid it at all costs.
"Do I even want to know why this effect is hard-coded into so many species?" I asked, not able to turn away my eyes from the point where my hand and the device intersected.
"Even if you did, I haven't got the slightest clue. I do have various hypotheses but that has discussion has to wait I think." while the Fortress talked I could start to feel the fundamental reality of the cylinder seep into my arm, growing through my body entwining itself within me like a fungal growth.
"What is happening?" I asked forcing myself to breath while at the same time fighting very hard not to hyperventilate.
"I am establishing long range contact with you. This way I we will be able to interact with each other even when we are not in range of conventional communication."
"And we could not have simply used the communication relay of the Void Dancer?" I asked already knowing the answer. The feeling of the foreign thing inside my body slowly subsiding.
"If you know how to interface my technology with yours sure..." said the Fortress with a tiny hint of sarcasm in its voice. "Almost done. All you have to do now is to invite me into your ship."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You need to invite me into your ship for the link to become fully operational."
"Do I look like an engineer to you? I have not the slightest idea. I do know however that I won't be able to interact with you once you move out of range if you don't and if that happens we will have to go through the procedure all over again." the Fortress said.
I decided to go for the deeply unsettling option instead of the world-view shatteringly terrifying one. "Come on in then?" I said.
"It has to be a bit more formal than that. You need to state your name, the name of your ship and my name." said the Fortress.
"What is you name anyway?" I asked.
"Sentinel Fortress will do. That's what everyone calls me these says."
"Right." I cleared my throat. "Well then. I Captain James Steiner Gutierrez invite you Sentinel Fortress aboard my ship the Void Dancer, I welcome you as a friend and guest," after I short pause I added, "in this realm of mine." Might as well be a bit melodramatic.
"I the Sentinel Fortress accept your invitation aboard your ship Void Dancer, captain James Steiner Gutierrez and accept your generous offer of hospitality."
The cylinder in front of me expanded for the fraction of a second so far that it filled out the entire room, then collapsed into a point where it had become practically invisible before returning to its original size range again. Slowly expanding and contracting as if nothing had happened. I felt most of my fear fall away replaced by the feeling of the presence of a friend nearby.
"Very good." said the Fortress with something very close to enthusiasm in its voice. "We are ready to go now I would say. You just go ahead. Pentyl and I will wait here for your signal and will then follow you to back you up."
"Right." I said wondering about the situation I was getting myself into.