The fourth planet spun slowly around the JQ8519, fifteen light-years from Earth. Most of the planet was a desert, so the large oasis in the northern hemisphere stood out like a sore thumb. Several small buildings nestled at the center of a lush forest, on the shore of a large, placid lake. Chet Rickman set the shuttlecraft down in a nearby clearing. He waited in the shuttle while Mothram, Marah and Malone made the short walk to the cluster of buildings. As they approached, a man emerged from one of the buildings and came to them. High in the treetops many-colored birds chirped excitedly. The man was naked save for a cloth wrapped around his hips. Tall and slender, muscles stood out on his wiry frame. Marah smiled with exaggerated appreciation, but Mothram ignored her. The man looked to be in his early thirties.
"So you've finally come, have you?" he asked. "You've found the place, and it's accepted you. Is she with you? My wife?"
"She who?" Malone asked. "I don't know what she calls herself these days," the man said. "Been centuries since I last saw her."
"No," Mothram said. "She's not with us. She's dead. 99% of humanity is dead. Who are you?"
The man's head had fallen when Mothram mentioned HER death. Tears welled in his eyes, quickly stanched. "Just an old, old man."
"You don't look much older than me," Malone said.
The man laughed, staring at the Science Officer.
"I'm older than you can possibly imagine. Or believe, perhaps."
On a sudden hunch, Mothram called out, "Adam."
The man's head whipped around. "Yes, that's one of my names." He laughed again at the shock on their faces. "I was there at the beginning, and I'm here at the end as well. She died before she told you the whole story, didn't she? I can tell by the look on your faces that she did. She loved keeping secrets." He shook his head with regret.
"Look," Mothram said. "I don't wish to be rude, but we don't have time for riddles. We need clear explanations so we can decide what to do next. Every minute we sit here brings the Banshees a minute closer to us."
"Banshees?" Adam asked.
"We were created, millions of years ago, to be soldiers," Adam said. The four of them sat on the sand of the lakeshore, sipping the juice Adam had given them. The lake stretched out before them, reflecting them and the surrounding trees like a giant mirror.
"Soldiers? Whose soldiers?"
Adam took a sip of his drink. "Our universe, our reality, is `sandwiched' between two other universes. The universe of the creatures you call the Banshees, and the universe of the Shiw'a. At least that's what we called them in the beginning. We couldn't communicate with them very well, you see, and they withheld a lot of information from us. But I'll tell you what I know. The Shiw'a created us. To fight a war against the Banshees."
"But why?" Mothram watched as a strange-looking bird swooped down onto the lake and began walking across its surface.
"Because the Banshees are doing something which is destroying the universe of the Shiw'a. The Shiw'a would attempt to stop the Banshees themselves, but they can't touch the Banshees' universe, just as the Banshees can't touch the universe of the Shiw'a."
"Then how are the Banshees doing something that is destroying the other universe, if neither species can influence the other's universe?" Malone asked.
Adam shrugged. "I don't know. Tapping some form of power maybe? I don't know what it is the...Banshees...are doing. As I've said, communication with our creators was most difficult, and what we learned almost raised more questions than it answered."
"We who?" Marah asked. "You keep saying `we,' but I don't think you're referring to us." She chuckled.
"I mean the `we' who were there at the beginning. Your ancestors....she who was my wife."
"Marina Farrakhan," Mothram said. "That was her name in the end, was it? She and I were the last."
Malone asked, "But why are you still alive? Why and how have you stayed alive since our...creation?" Malone was clearly having a difficult time assimilating the truth. "Why didn't you die?"
"Because I wasn't made to die. I'm a failsafe, you see. My DNA, and my wife's, has to be compared to your DNA, the DNA of present day man, before we can fulfill our destiny." He shook his head. "Our destiny to fight someone else's war."
"The city on J359," Mothram said. "The spike that took a sample of Duncan Norbert's blood."
"Right," Adam said. "You see, the reason we were created in this universe, and not in the universe of the Banshees or the Shiw'a, is because our universe is a hybrid of the two. Both universes are able to touch our universe, in a limited manner. If you think of the other two universes as discrete mathematical sets, our universe is the intersection of the two, the numbers which the two mathematical sets have in common. Every point in our universe is contained in a single, separate point in each of the other two universes. The Shiw'a manipulated THIS universe to give rise to us. All these millions of years that we've existed in this universe has been an incubation period for us. Our DNA has been evolving until it reached a certain point where, with the aid of the machine on...J359, did you call it?...we would evolve into new creatures capable of transcending all three universes, able to move at will between the universes, thus allowing us to destroy the Banshees to ensure the survival of the Shiw'a's universe." Adam paused to wet his throat with juice, then continued. "My DNA must be compared to that of present-day man to make sure that the Banshees haven't tampered with our evolution, made us into a weapon which will strike the wrong target. There are markers in my DNA which would have been passed down through the generations, provided that your DNA wasn't tampered with. If it has been, the markers won't be there, because they're impossible to duplicate. So I've stayed alive all these years to be a control, to be with you at the end--or the beginning, whichever way you look at it. But," Adam said, a look of inexplicable delight coming into his eyes, "we also need the DNA of a founding female. And since...Marina...is dead, I guess none of this matters."
"We've got a sample of her blood on board the Exeter," Mothram said. He watched as several fish leapt from the water of the lake and arced through the air for several feet before plunging back in.
The delight left Adam's eyes. "That's just like her," he mumbled. They watched the lake in silence for several moments. Mothram studied Adam. Here he was sitting on an alien beach, drinking juice with a man millions of years old. Chatting about the fantastic, disturbing reason for humanity's existence while the corpses of most of humanity lay rotting on fifty worlds scattered throughout space. Why did Mothram feel no wonder, or perhaps horror, at the situation? How could he accept it so nonchalantly, he wondered. Perhaps he'd passed beyond wonder, beyond horror, into....into what? He looked at Marah and Malone, wondered if they felt the same. A bird called from somewhere in the jungle behind them.
"Do the Banshees know what they're doing to the other universe?" Malone asked. "They must, and they must know why we exist. That would explain why they've just practically wiped us out."
"Why don't you tell me everything about these Banshees," Adam said. "The last time I was among humans, no one had heard of these Banshees." Man had known about the Banshees for six hundred years, Mothram thought. Had it been that long since Adam had been among humans? Mothram told the little that was known about the Banshees.
"Ah," Adam said. "You think the Banshees have tolerated your existence up until now. Actually, time flows differently in the other universes. A year here is merely nanoseconds there. If time has any meaning at all, there. I'm not even sure a truly accurate explanation of their universes can be given in terms we'd understand." He shook his head. "Anyway, your contacts with the Banshees were at first few and far between because they must have been `getting the feel' of our universe. Your contact with them has been sporadic and far between, timewise, while they've been learning their way around. But for them only minutes have passed. They finally got used to our universe and so have finally destroyed us." He took a sip of juice. "These ghost-beings you know as Banshees are only intrusions into our universe by higher beings. I doubt the true `Banshees' bear much resemblance to ours. If you think of our universe as the inside of a sagging balloon, and the Banshees' universe as the outisde, then their appearance in our universe is akin to someone putting their fingers on the outside surface and pushing in."
"So the Banshees do know what they're doing to the Shiw'a, and they know why the Shiw'a created us, else why would they want us destroyed?" Malone said, rephrasing his earlier question. "So why don't they stop? Why would they want to destroy the Shiw'a? Especially when the two know nothing about one another, since they can't communicate?"
Adam shrugged. "I said I didn't have all the answers."
"What does the artifact on J359 fit into this?" Mothram asked.
"That was built for us, as a home during our journey to the universe of the Shiw'a," Adam said. "When all of humanity arrives at J359, the planet will pinch itself off from our universe and translate itself to the Shiw'a's universe, where they're to train us to fight the Banshees. That translation will take over a thousand subjective years. We'll live and have children on that voyage. We'll be modified, our evolution accelerated, on that voyage, as well. You'll be made immortal like me, among other things. With the other modifications, by the time we arrive we'll be able to move at will between all three universes."
"Wait a minute," Marah said, shaking her head. "If President Farrakhan knew all this, why did she pretend ignorance, and why did she even bother sending Duncan to J359? Why not send us all there at the same time?"
"Because we had no way of knowing when humanity would be ripe, so to speak," Adam said. "She's been covertly sending people to J359 for the last thousand years, letting the spike there check to see if we're ready. Each time they've come back because you weren't ready. Then she covered up the evidence for a few hundred years, until it was time to send more."
"President Farrakhan has had the power to do that for a thousand years?"
Adam nodded. "She's had a lot of power on Earth for a lot longer than a thousand years. A lot longer. But not as Marina Farrakhan, of course. We've switched identities many times over our long lives."
"So why are you here, on this backwater world?" Mothram asked. "Why haven't you involved yourself in Earth's affairs?"
"For a while I did. But it grew wearisome, and recently I'd begun to be repulsed by the close company of humans. So I left and came here." He motioned with his hands, taking in the lush forest, the wild cries of animals, the melodious cacaphony of life raging at them from all sides. "Back to the garden." He smiled a small smile, as though at a private joke.
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