In the center of the cavern, Jeanne’s eyes snapped open to the sight of a gleaming, kaleidoscopic world viewed through the facets of hundreds of small gemstones that covered her face. She screamed as nearly a thousand voices invaded her head at once, each begging to be understood. Some cried out for release. Others sang praises of their own achievements. They told stories of love, war, faith, and a desperate effort to survive in the face of certain death. Trapped within the shell of living gems, Jeanne screamed again as the fractured world before her resolved into the image of armed men in the hall raising their guns as Oliver threw something at them, the black object arcing through the air in slow motion.
Please help us, Jeanne thought. Do not let us die when we have just found you.
/How can we aid you?/ the chorus replied. /You are still among the living. We must remain here, forever suspended in our indeterminate state, safe from harm and yet unable to experience./
The camera landed in a slow motion skid, bounced twice, and came to rest between the foremost of the armed men.
You shaped this place. You preserved yourselves. You looked into my mind and learned to speak with me. Surely you can stop those men from harming me or my friend.
The chorus rose in a tumult of debate as the voices began to speak all at once, their myriad disembodied minds trying to determine the best course of action. Jeanne heard many who advocated helping her. Others who protested harming any living person. Still others who looked into her mind and saw the terrible destruction that could be wrought with a single firearm and quailed at the thought of what it might do to their collective.
At the doorway, Oliver raised his gun and tensed his legs, preparing for the assault.
A majority formed. Most of the dissenting voices were quieted. Those which refused to agree were ignored. The collective had survived for over two thousands years of human time. It knew how best to dal with the naysayers within its ranks.
The camera flash triggered, blooming a brilliant white light to fill the corridor. The mercenaries, already scrambling back away from the object that had been thrown into their midst, cried out as the intense light blinded them. One of them raised his gun and his finger tightened on the trigger, just as Oliver dove across the opening, raising his gun to shoot.
The shell of gems covering Jeanne burst, flinging a crackling shrapnel cloud of glowing stones outward and across the chamber at nearly the speed of a bullet. A swirling storm of gems and wind churned down the passage, knocking Oliver to his knees. Dozens of stones slammed into the face of the mercenary who had been preparing to fire his Kalashnikov, knocking him backwards and sending his weapon to the floor. The torrent of gemstones and energy poured past Parker, the captain, and the remaining mercenaries, then assembled themselves into a shining wall of crystal.