“Explain it like I’m five,” said Ellie.
Jordan sighed, then said, “I used math. How isn’t important.”
“Based on the speed and trajectory of the satellite, combined with what we know about the size of this planet and the distribution of the Rings, I am almost certain that satellite was launched from Pyongyang.”
“Shit,” said Ellie.
“Shit,” said Monica.
“How did that isolationist regime survive?” asked Hutch.
“I think you answered your own question,” said Ellie.
“There’s more,” said Jordan. “Ever since the machines turned on, the transmissions from the satellite have increased. Something is about to happen.”
The sphere floated in the air, bobbing slightly. Lajos set his crystal tipped arrow and drew.
Beneath the sphere, Eberardo crouched. He held his spear, also tipped with crystal. When Lajos whistled the signal he tensed, ready.
Lajos’ arrow found the narrow gap with perfect precision. Electricity flashed and popped and the sphere dove toward the ground. It glowed with an angry light. Eberardo found the wide crack Lajos had made and thrust. He released the spear and hurled himself away.
The explosion shook Lajos’ teeth. He held his breath until he heard Eberardo laugh and then he laughed, too.
The tent was a mile from the Ring. Inside, Hyong stared in silence at the screens that displayed the drone feeds.
The machine approximated a humanoid shape immense in scale. Data overlays measured it at nearly a kilometer in height.
Length, rather. It lay in the snow severely damaged. Much of what would have been its back and most of both legs were missing, sheared off precisely and cleanly. It remained operational despite the damage and appeared to be crawling away from the Ring.
Captain Kim said, “It is emitting a signal.”
“Yes,” said Hyong. “It has woke the rest.”
The throng chanted. Genet tried to speak but his voice crumpled against the admonition of the masses. Finally he retreated from his balcony.
“Enlightened One, the guardians are ready,” said Turiq. “Just give the word.”
Genet paced. How could they have turned against him? Did they not see that the heresy of Ajani and Jazarah was to blame? Did they not understand what was at stake? Could they not feel God’s wrath?
Genet nodded. Turiq raced off to give the order.
Minutes later the sound of gunfire erupted. Screams. Prayers. Genet remained stoic. He knew God’s will flowed through him.
Hutch kicked the heptahedron and then threw the control unit. “It ain’t doing shit!”
“Okay, okay” said Ellie evenly. “Now we know.” She looked sidelong at Luiz who only shook his head.
“Well, they aren’t rolling through the Ring in a takeover, so that’s something,” said Ellie.
“Yet,” said Hutch.
“If they were going to do that, why did they wait until now? It’s been years.”
“Hell if I know.”
Luiz looked up from his book. “Something’s different. Whatever changed it was right after someone launched that satellite.”
Ellie nodded. “Yeah. We need to know who launched it, and why.”
“Something has happened,” said Miss Ryu.
Her image pixelated and her voice warped. Hyong slapped the tablet to no avail. “What happened?” he asked. Her response was inaudible and then the signal was lost.
He took a moment to compose himself then stowed the tablet. He zipped his parka and stepped out of the shelter and into the cold.
The Ring loomed in the sky, backlit by aurora. Its immensity made it seem just out of reach.
Captain Kim dashed over and said, “You need to see this, sir.”
“The machine. It isn’t like the others. And it’s operational.”
Jazarah disappeared into the Pit. The crowd roared jubilantly. Turiq walked away from the edge of the pit, nursing his scratched face.
Genet stood silently, not smiling. Then he raised his hands for silence.
“My sister,” he said evenly, “was brought to wickedness by the liar Ajani.” The people hissed in response. “And their blasphemy has brought danger upon us all.
“You see,” he boomed now, “How this heresy has angered the Lord God? Fear Him!”
Genet swept his arm to indicate the strange machines that now lined up as if ready to march, roll or fly through the Ring.
Ellie said, “Something has happened.”
Monica responded, “No shit.”
The hundreds of alien machines tamed by Deaver City were no longer responding. Instead they sat or floated in formation, pointed at the Ring.
“What happened?” asked the Mayor.
Hutch shrugged. “No idea. One minute everything was fine. Then they just lined up like that.”
Luiz added, “We got a spike on the radio. Some kind of signal.”
Ellie saw the question rise in Monica’s face and said, “Unknown. The signal registered as just noise.”
“But it wasn’t just noise,” said Monica. She looked up at the sky. “It was them.”
The Sentinel waited, its attention entirely on the Ring. The Envoy waited, too.
For the thousand thousandth time the Ring activated. The Sentinel saw the frozen plains on the other side of the Ring and sentinel absorbed every sliver of data those few milliseconds allowed.
In the same moment, the Envoy acted. It rushed forward. Its timing was imperfect. The Ring went dark. The Envoy collapsed and remained with the Sentinel.
Only after collating and storing all of the Ring data did the Sentinel realize that something was different this time: only approximately thirty nine percent of the Envoy remained.
Hyong sat in the back of the plane amid soldiers and technicians. Despite the parka he wore, the cold sliced through him. He resolved to accept it. Whatever shelter had been built at the Ring site would be no warmer.
He was glad Miss Ryu remained back in the city. He would not like to see her so cold.
He fell asleep only briefly during the long flight. He did not remember the dream but it had woke him in a sweat despite the chill. Hyong did not believe in premonitions but could not shake the feeling of doomed inevitability.