While Plango fled, Ec-shavar rose—not to glory, but, unbeknownst to himself, through the interstice of fate that led to ignominy.
Motes of rage confused the former clarity within the labyrinthine complexity of his empathic organ, in which Ec-shavar felt what his mind refused to countenance. Fueling it was a vicious truth that lingered and mocked his futile denials, tore at the ligaments of his psyche, and scorned the raison d’etre of not merely himself but his entire species. It was a fact intolerable to the extent it was unthinkable—that an unworthy wa’ali prognosticated such an auspicious occasion while he, the epitome of billions of cycles of evolution, stood impotent and irrelevant before that which he beheld. Worse, it became apparent that more unworthies than Xo’pil were availed prescience to the calamity, for even the Quish were safely sealed within the catacombs beneath Zold’nach and likewise the wildlife within their burrows.It hardly matters now,
he bitterly abnegated.
Invisible, the psychic tendrils of his mind wound round the planet’s electromagnetic shield, constricted in an upward wave of paroxysms, and brought him through and above the city’s forcefield and into the stratosphere. There, his senses unimpeded, he observed clearly. Greatly altered, Q’ab barely resembled his recollection from mere days prior. It hummed with a frequency that threatened the fragile molecular bonds of life. Beneath him, clouds and the seas assumed strangely repetitious patterns reflected inward until the mind became frustrated by its impulse for closure. The shalam glowed eerily, its radiation piercing soil, stone, and flora in an earthy aurora that cast the continents, for a moment, in a mantle of scintillating green. Inexplicably, the terrain muted in reaction to the exquisite dissonance and ultimately sharpened until it, like the oceans, blazed the purest blue; even the variegated hues of Q’ab’s vegetation were reordered and inevitably capitulated to the sapphire regime.
Futilely, his mind sought for a shred of historical precedence, yet, in spite of the long Cizran occupation of Q’ab, no similar event revealed itself.I fear no unknown,
Ec-shavar blustered. Fear and rage were distractions. Focus was required. It was his moment. He would be transformed. He would be reforged and reborn as a god.
Brazenly, he bore himself to the power that surged from Ajana to Q’ab and willed it to acknowledge him—recreate him. In reckless abandon, he burned in the halation of its majesty. Even that proved to be beyond his strength to reconcile, for it rent his armor and introduced disorder into his carefully devised genetic blueprint. Senses successively blunted and his will perverted, his hold on Ganaxavori’s kukull’s faltered and the world below whorled into an indecipherable muqarnas of lapis lazuli.
passed by Ec-shavar without notice.
Crestfallen and the tatters of his attention unable to follow the cosmic aberration, Ec-shavar returned his mind to Ajuna, the molested and unstable star. With effort, his mind pierced its volatile plasma eruptions, coronal mass ejections rife with heavy elements, and contorted magnetic bands. It was violent and dangerous. All of Q’ab was in imperiled by unbridled blaze. Then he sensed yet another presence. From behind the star emerged a peculiarly familiar malevolence nearly identical to what was carved in stone in his office by the ancients of Q’ab. Its likeness likewise appeared in temples and tapestries all over Cizra Su-lahn. A black blemish of absolute evil, revealed in the other being’s wake, bled darkness over the canopy of starlight and awoke in him nightmares of the calamitous era before he splintered from the whole.
At last Ec-shavar comprehended that the forces that confronted him were beyond his ken. The gods he longed to join were manifestations that succored on on the effluence of stars and supernovae. In comparison, what was he who subsisted on mere vanity? Less than nothing and, soon, mere dust lost in a maelstrom of power. All he beheld overwhelmed him, as it would any lone Cizran.
In earnest, he cast aside the barriers erected around his connection to his brethren—he flung wide the floodgates of his soul. For the first time in a millennia, he basked in the kinesthesia of long severed relationships. He felt the vitality that burned in Plango, Domnik, Silexies, and more; moreover, they felt him. A beacon that burned brightly throughout the empathic galaxy of his people, he conveyed in an instant a threat—not to himself, but to his people—via the instrumentation of their unique, unbroken, and inimitable bond.
Ajuna scorched Q’ab.
The bond evanesced.
A great deluge soothed.
Obliterated, first was he, last of his breed, Ec-shavar, never to eternal dwell in the Cloud of Ghot.
. . .
Kirri never was aboard the Dira var-sha.
Cizran were wise and cunning. They defended against the unknown, allowed for the unexpected, and permitted no exposure of unnecessary risk. Prisoners were secured in neither ship nor structure, but confined where they could do no harm—self-harm included. Rifts emergent from dimensional vortices at the bottom of a black hole designed by Silexies were where the unwanted were sent, access to which was facilitated by ad-hoc generation of wormholes that bridged encrypted spacial coordinates. If one escaped, decamp to a region of insignificance and solitude occurred. As Eel Sermonde and Eti Naris both could have attested, they never felt the crude embrace of manacles; instead, space, sensation, and impulse were constrained. Against such, brute force was utterly impotent.
On par with Cizran intellect was their perception, so keen as to avert deception. Schemes unfolded only as pretext warranted, as was true with Eti Naris’ charade. To Ec-shavar, the synthe’s prohibited mods and conspiracy with Potan Mul were known, the intended occupant of the Vepsis Dol’s sankul foreseen, and Plango’s role as his replacement comprehended. Venial deeds such were so long as relief from exile remained within reach; thus, rather than punish, he isolated, controlled, and exploited the affectation of innocence to his advantage.
Kirri lacked these especially Cizran qualities.
He and his ilk were mentally deficient, evidenced by the haste with which he, exemplar of his species, succumbed to phrenic distress after mere translocation into standard haloportal confinement. His visions were not prophetic, but pathetic byproducts of hopes and fears distilled in synaptic discord. For him, there was no door open, no bar to bend, no chain to break, no shackle to unbind—those were mere chimeras extrapolated from his cultural bias. Any analogs to such archaic contrivances were obsolesced by the Cizran Empire millennia prior.
There was no spiritual journey; no bold rescue by his hero, Aredemos; no repudiation of Nenegin, who never would have permitted an unknown quantity aboard his spacecraft; no menagerie of queer aliens with origins outside of known space—only Kirri’s mind projected against the interior of a fold in space.
Millions of light years physically separated Kirri and the Dira var-sha.
Aredemos was not
on his way to both.
. . .
Desert, jungle, and valley defined Kilamara, a once-planet in the Su-laria galaxy’s edge once protected by the Cizran Empire. An expanse of sand sharpened by translucent red spires divided its sole continent as well as the sexes of its most conspicuous inhabitants, the Kilamarans. A place of contrived norms, its opposites were ultimately mirrors where jungles abutted oceans, rivers careened down gorges, valleys accentuated mountain ranges, and a cyclic abundance of primal urgency and consumption were ever and conspicuously manifest.Once
From atop Mount Initãra, Aredemos scorned the fractious symmetry of his homeworld. Still visible in the distance blazed a symbol of Cizran might, an orb of frenzied light and excited particles. It would have been his funeral pyre were it not for translocation to his present vista. The residue of the orbital bombardment involved a rod smaller and lighter than the tumescent form Aredemos assumed in his wrath and, accelerated to a percentage of light speed, contained enough kinetic energy to eradicate the Hellseed incursion, engulf a spherical kilometer of terrain in plasma, and unleash a wave of destruction across a vast, but uninhabited, expanse.
This, indirectly, was why Mount Initãra was on what was Kilamara.Was.
If Aredemos’ unfamiliarity with an ancient Kilamaran shrine hinted at lack of kinship with his people and ignorance of his own history, the haste with which he obliterated his own planet bellowed volumes about his recklessness. A scientifically illiterate boob, repeatedly he displayed a prejudice towards brute force as the solution to his problems. It never occurred to him the kinetic energy present in the orbital bombardment was orders of magnitude less than the equal and opposite force necessary to reach Kirri or, as he imagined, chase down a superluminal spacecraft. The instant he kicked down and accelerated to multiples of light speed, he atomized Mount Initãra, splintered the planetary crust over its entire surface, agitated the mantle into an unstable brume thrice its natural volume, and pulverized the core. Momentarily unbound by gravitational pressure or an external shell, the superheated interior expanded to a gaseous nebula that incinerated and sterilized all life that clung to the debris field once known as Kilamara.
In future Cizran science classes, this would be an example of why kinetic energy was never to be used to achieve great speeds in short time frames while near anything of value, although such was within their power; it was inherently pointless and self-destructive. Instead, they elected a harder path that preserved and maximized the resources available in the worlds they controlled.
With Kilamara gone, the delicate gravitational balance of its star system was disrupted and an asteroid field stretched along the path the planet once circumnavigated. On Deimobos, mountain-size impactors of burnt rock and semi-solid magma weighing exatons rained in torrents and would do so for millennia. In the fallout, the moon’s surface was battered, subterranean lairs ruptured, history eradicated, and all but the hardiest macro-level life annihilated. As the debris field spread, it wrought havoc on all worlds, from the primordial to the domains of the Aptosites, adrift within the belly of the galactic beast known as The Cradle of Life
. . .
En Route To
Aboard the Dira var-sha
, calm prevailed. The bridge was, as usual, minimally staffed. Anything more was unnecessary while under faster-than-light conditions, where threats assumed a disposition different and diminished from the ordinary. Even in situations where a full complement was required, the presence of crew was ceremonial—a holdover from a bygone era kept in place by bureaucratic inertia. For modern vessels, like the Dira var-sha
, all importance systems were fully automated, from defense, to propulsion, to life support.
Gazing through the viewport at the gray miasma that superluminal travel presented was the first officer, Lieutenant Commander Qigar, a Zanifeen slave with a velvety trunk for a nose. Despite his title, he had no real authority and served as a reminder to the crew of Nenegin’s conquests. Instead, like most denizens of the Cizran Empire, his role was relegated to relaying information between parties. After all, it would be absurd for the ensign manning the communication network, a low-caste synth, to address the admiral directly.
Thus far, the distress signal from the Vepsis Dol
went ignored; even the volume of the alert was reduced to the absolute levels permitted by protocol. While the proper reports acknowledging its receipt were filed, the standing order—or lack thereof by the requisite authority—was that it was a matter that could wait, preferably for someone else to address.
At any rate, they would be in orbit around Cizra Su-lahn within the hour.
Suddenly, a second alarm blared and shocked the occupants of the bridge out of their reverie. Its tone and color indicated it was of a much greater priority than the first. Qigar gazed with irritation at the synthe as he waited for the information to be relayed. A second later, the synthe practically jumped out of her station and the atmosphere on the bridge transformed from one of quiet professionalism to excited chatter. Not an excitement born of dread of fear, but of astonishment. “Lieutenant Commander Qigar,”
the synthe exclaimed, her words rushed as as she plucked herself up off the floor and took her seat, “Kilamara is .. it is gone!”
Agitated by the news, the hairs along his snout puffing out, as if electrified, in a ridiculous and off-putting fashion. This would not be received well by Nenegin, but it was best to pull the admiral in as quickly as possible. Before he would do that, Qigar wanted a bit more explanatory data to work pass along up the chain of command.“Synthe xb-83-r, compose yourself! Now, what do you mean by gone?”
demanded the first officer.
The synthe paused and pressed her fingers to her temples for a moment, took another glance of the data feed, and, her voice trembling with excitement, elaborated, “Sir, it appears a several xenna joule kinetic impactor, centered around Mount Initãra, blew off the crust, lanced through the core, and effectively surrounded the planet in a fiery gas cloud.”“Aredemos, that imbecile,”
muttered Qigar, “kicked the planet so hard it ruptured. Why?”“Sir?”
the synthe articulated, unsure of what to do next.
Qigar paused and concluded speculation on that matter was above his rank. Instead, he demanded, although he could have easily guessed at the answers, “Information delay? Casualty rate?”“1.3 seconds before the alarm—the time it took for our communication network to process the data. As for casualties, everyone. Our satellite detects no life forms in the wreckage. A likely outcome, as the impact vaporized the planet’s molten core, which would have sterilized surrounding masses. Uh … on the subject of Aredemos ...”
The synthe paused.“Well?”
Qigar practically snarled through his flared proboscis.
The synthe pressed her palm against the side of her head as if trying to concentrate. In a way, the image was accurate—she was exchanging a great deal of information with the communication network in that moment and all her cognition circuits were active.“Sir, we’ve isolated the aberrant being’s course. He is heading toward sector c-xv-209-r7, the gravity well at the bottom of an artificial black hole.”
Qigar rolled six of his nine eyes.“He thinks he is going to rescue Kirri, as in that twisted space lie many of the sub-dimensional vortices where prisoners of war and other undesirables are isolated. Kirri’s imprisonment codex, when activated, opens to a rift to a dimension therein. A fool’s errand, as the tidal forces of that space, both physical and spiritual, will stringify Aredemos both body and soul. If he survives that, he will be trapped in a rift and, if he is anything like Kirri, subjected to fantasies of his mind’s own making. A better fate than the fratricidal brute deserves, if you ask me.”“Enough speculation,”
Nenegin appeared and silenced the chatter on the bridge. Normally, a Cizran of his rank and experience would have an apprentice instead of a wa’ali. His, however, was recently promoted to commander and reassigned to her own ship. Instead, he, the only Cizran aboard the Dira var-sha, suffered a fool for the sake of his vanity. Qigar’s musings were of a top secret nature and not something meant to be prattled about on the bridge where anyone could hear it. That matter would be dealt with appropriately. In the meantime, everyone stilled. The only noises were the two alarms and muffled breathing. The only changes in scenery were the intermittent flashes of alert lights. His gaze swept the chamber and settled on Qigar who awkwardly shrank back in fear beneath the admiral’s inspection. “I’m aware of the situation. We’re changing course. Acknowledge intent to render aid and set a course for the
Vepsis Dol’s distress signal.”“Yes, Admiral,”
Qigar stammered.“Also, relay all prisoner confinement codexes to Gereza, priority one off maximum. We may need the space for some new detainees and Silexes will be able to observe more actively than we. Once that is complete, resequence to free confinement zones. I’ll prepare a memo for the warden to accompany the request”
Horrified, the first officer blurted out, “Resequencing without physical hand-off and authorization at Gereza Proper will mean abundantly more paperwork! Plus there is the matter that our codexes lead to military and espionage zones, not standard penal zones!”“A little paperwork never hurt anyone,”
Nenegin threatened, turned, and left. He had his own paperwork to file.
Even so, in Nenegin’s mind, he knew he would rather do anything else. Likewise, he would rather attend more important matters than assisting a stranded vessel, but he was desperate to put off standing before the Si’ab reporting on how he let a submoronic insect on steroids destroy a planet under his protection that was cultivated and veritably ripe for konul harvest and mineral extraction. It was a waste of resources that put him at risk for demotion or worse.Well, at least the konel deployment was partially implemented,
thought Nenegin with an inaudible inward sigh.
Back in his quarters, he felt the ship briefly drop out of faster-than-light to undergo the course adjustment. The walk allowed him to gather his thoughts, although all decisions were already made. It was simply a matter of execution at this point. Satisfied, in the hyperbolic sense of the word, Nenegin articulated the indicated message and passed it along to the bridge. “To the acting warden at Gereza Prison Compound,
Greetings from Admiral Nenegin zar-Taliļ.
Due to unusual and unprecedented circumstances, I have elected a remote codex transfer to relay access and responsibility of our detainees to the authorities at Gereza. I apologize in advance for the additional processes and protocols this will necessitate and have included an addendum on the various forms and procedures that must be adhered to. Additionally, please be aware that the codexes for the
Dira var-sha’s confinement zones are designed for military and espionage operations and therefore differ from those of which I am aware operate in Gereza and as such there is a high likelihood of the need to transfer the contents to a secondary zone following processing. I’ve attached as much information as we’ve gathered regarding the detainees, but ...”
Despite its great detail and length, the full text of the memo largely reiterated the summary.
A lot of words for something so simple.
Such was the Cizran way.
. . .
The Aptosites“That’s quite enough, thank you,”
spoke a dim presence.
Compliant, the sumptuously vivid portrayal of Nenegin zar-Taliļ condensed to an acidic fog. Too heavy to remain aloft, its constituent droplets struck the deck mere meters from Karzar and Snil. Venomous hissing poisoned the aghast silence as the corrosive substance splashed, sizzled, and sated itself on all it pooled upon. Discrete, the miasma inevitably thinned and revealed a hovering black orb with a single point of white light in its midst. Once, twice it blinked. Then it exploded sharply—darkly.
Queued for destruction, the mock manifestations of Aredemos and Kirri likewise persued the pattern of deliquescence, revelation, and eruption.
Distant, invisible, but likewise trapped in the so-called Cradle of Life
lurked the Zara vi-Pol, a vessel, one of many, left to patrol the sector recently vacated by the Dira var-sha. Largest remaining, it, a battleship, readied itself for combat under the direction of Ezkshi, the fleet’s admiral pro tempore. Not one for honorifics or grandiosity, she prepared her retaliation in the soft, thoughtful, orchestral manner that typified her fame.
Deliberately, she shifted her thoughts away from her enemy’s repulsive display of arrogance. Eagerly divulged by the Aptosite leadership to a simulacrum, enough was now known of their intentions. Now she concentrated on the preservation of her fleet and the exquisite destruction she would mete out upon her adversaries.“Bodhi languors on complacency’s shore,”
she acknowledged, a terse refrain that highlighted the peril of security wrongly presupposed and an understatement of her present circumstances. None of their predictive models hinted at the possibility Aredemos would be so absurdly idiotic. Yet there it was, a matter of historical record, and here she was, adrift with a dozen other cloaked vessels secreted in the debris field of the demi-god’s former home planet.
The shock of that audacious act, she concluded, was what blinded her to the cosmic imprisonment that enveloped the chaos of which they were a part.
That given, opportunism made herself an ally to all who saw her value and the counterintelligence arm of the Cizran Empire was inordinately robust. Amongst a multitude of other Aptosite machinations, the scheme to kidnap Nenegin was known to Ezkshi, so she improvised. An unusual endeavor, to be sure. Even so, the enemy’s expectation of guests culminated in covert access to their facility by three of her drones and marked the dawning of her riposte. Armed with intercepts from the unnecessarily lengthily observation of Zeptir’s failed spy-craft, she was confident that …“Engage phasic battery—target areas dense in population,”
Ezkshi ordered, the time for speculation concluded. It wasn’t relayed to the other vessels in the fleet nor conveyed via her empathic organ. They were on an absolute silence protocol, all bands, and widely dispersed. Still, the commanders of the other vessels were wise enough to observe her havoc and follow suite. Cizran destruction was, after all, rather distinctive. “Have we isolated the metalogical choke-points of this thing that swallowed us? Excellent. Unleash a volley of slipstream decomposition pulses through the virtual arteries of the quantum foam. Don’t give the parasites anything they can analyze until we open up a communication channel to the grid and receive authorization to unload some real magic.”
. . .
Their Intrigues Foiled
Within her usual place on the steps of the Ja’Regia, the Watcher sat. Chaos adequately described the vast chamber on any given day, but the recent rumors of war transformed it into absolute bedlam. A cacophony of words and a whiteout of papers made it unlikely any but the most astute observer heard or saw anything of substance. The shouting, stomping, flinging of vellum, and further accentuations to the absolutely unnecessary din were hardly where the insanity ended nor the possibility of war its direct cause. Many, the more ambitious and younger parties of the assembly, relished the idea of open conflict after centuries of stagnation. Even more desired and conspired to seize the moment of confusion to advance their political agendas. At present, they argued about whether a hold should be placed on peace legislation; whether a battle council should form and, if so, who should be seated; and whether they were even at war or should be concerned by recent events. Most accepted the need for a council, but then bickered over the details of its theoretical size, roles, oversight, and limitations. It hardly mattered where Nirak focused her mind, for everywhere alliances were forged, broken, and reforged; massive guardian kukulls were deployed to prevent or dissolve the numerous fights fomented by the most vociferous parties; cold proxy battles ensued, rife with blackmail, intrigue, and armies deployed to the borders of their respective holdings.
If she tried hard enough, she could pierce through to the center of the Ja’Regia’s torrent of manuscripts. There, a cerulean projection of Su-laria, the galaxy in which their holy planet resided, slowly rotated in multidimensional splendor. Two anomalies were highlighted in neon orange. The first, on the edge of a galactic arm, was an incursion that, already, snuffed out the Kilamara and Chandoo systems. Its manifestation was incomplete, for it was only partly within the galaxy and only partly observed by their satellite network. Nevertheless, they reasonably estimated the length of its cross section on the order of several light years. The second was harder to describe. Initially manifesting in the Ganax’ab system, it was a being that defied classification, one moment organic, the next metaphysical, and the next mechanical.
For the most ancient amongst them, memories long forgotten stirred. Buried emotions and lore that went as far back as the Kr’Nalus.
Nightmares and rumors aside, there were fragments one could piece together. Take, for example, the spy Zeptir. Unlike any other Cizran alive, this being, who alleged to be of their species, lacked both his empathic bond and family name. Nobody knew him, which was not only unheard of for a Cizran—it was impossible. Every member of their species, no matter how unimportant or obscure, did not exist without the requisite paperwork! There was also the matter of how bad at spying he was—the threads he left behind were highly reflective and detected by surveillance as soon as they were put into place. Moreover, her connections in the Noema and Av’sti assured her of his fraudulence. She further became aware of their counter-intelligence operation, where they fed him lies, provided fake organs for his experiments, and otherwise manipulated him to their advantage. They learned, by intercepting his communications, that he belonged to a space-faring species from a galaxy beyond the Cizran Empire. Things known as the Aptosites. Given his communication frequency, they eventually managed to crack the encryption and even the alien language. Really, it didn’t take long for a civilization with quantum computers thousands of years old and 10^7,000,000,000 FLOPs of processing power.
. . .
A Rescue Impeded
The dreadnought fell out of superluminal velocity and slid into position next to the stranded Vepsis Dol
. Constructed in the renown shipyards of Zo and amongst the largest craft of the Cizran armada, it appeared as little more than a mote of diminished silver light that hovered nigh-indiscernible and minuscule when set alongside the massive black hull of the transport. Yet, in spite of its relatively small size, it contained the power necessary to vanquish whole civilizations and hold steady against cosmic anathema.
A knock sounded on Nenegin’s chamber door. It was, as he anticipated, Qigar, his first officer. With a mere glance, the ornate metal door dematerialized in a shimmer of blue and permitted the lieutenant commander’s entry. Punishment for the Zanifeen’s gregariousness already dolled out, he entered meekly, prostrate himself before Nenegin, and waited until the cabin was secure before speaking. “Sir,”
he began in a pained, gravelly tone. It was clear that every utterance was agony. Still, he continued, “Aredemos is—”“Not here, no longer a threat, and of little consequence,”
Nenegin mused. “Alive,”
Qigar, tersely as manageable, completed his thought. “Imprisoned.”“As expected,”
acknowledged Nenegin. Prior Qigar’s summons, he requested and reviewed the situation report. Given the projection splayed out in the haloportal in which Aredemos ensnared himself in his ultimately futile attempt to free Kirri, the demigod imagined a great victory. The fool actually thought he could force his way onto the Dira var-sha. The idiot actually thought Cizran technology so antiquated as to use manacles and chains—to lock detainees up within close proximity of expensive infrastructure, as if that wasn’t a lesson learned and a problem solved well before even the Kr’Nalus. Arrogant, myopic, primitive, and uneducated competed in Nenegin’s mind as appropriate descriptors of the would-be god, but ultimately he settled on nuisance. He pitied his subordinates who would have to deal with all the paperwork involved in the fiasco. Still, there were now other, more present, matters to focus his efforts on.“Now, concerning the transport,”
Nenegin segued, “Prepare a boarding party in the event we have to take on guests. See if we can figure out why its propulsion systems were compromised. I’m sure you can—”
Suddenly, a third alert sounded—it was of the highest priority. The entire interior of the ship was bathed in an eerie red light. Relentless, it flickered in with an asynchronous oscillation pattern that focused the mind as much as it disquieted the soul. Horrific, unseen for a hundred years or more, it indicated the inconceivable. It meant war, although such would only be made official in the Ja’Regia.
Qigar, ordinarily a rich brown in color, even after his chastisement, struck Nenegin as rather ashen. No doubt there was some error or a surprise drill from high command. If not, what else could it be? Who or what might be capable of escalating a conflict to the level this alert indicated wasn’t at all clear to Nenegin. Unless … no, he didn’t want to imagine the old stories were true. Whatever the case, he intended to discover the facts of the matter as expediently as possible.
Without waiting for his first officer to recover from his terrified stupor, Nenegin opened a channel to the bridge and demanded, “Verify with central command whether this is or is not a training exercise,” then, to the entire ship, “As of this moment, we are at war. As of yet, we do not know the disposition of our enemy, but all personnel are to immediately head to their posts and ready their stations. Until we receive further orders or information, our priority is to get the freighter operational and escort it to safety.”
While in the process of that, he split his attention to the communication network to directly glean information. This was too urgent for formalities. His access credentials applied, he perused the highest levels of information available. Incrementally and inevitably, his mood soured.>> Galactic system diagnostic reporting failures in Kilamara, Chandoo, and Ganax’ab.
>> Triangulating unresponsive nodes.
>> Kilamara, Chandoo nodes missing.
>> Perallis node reporting incursion of mega-spacial anomaly—existential risk imminent.
>> Perallis node reporting distress signal from sector fleet.
>> Perallis node reporting sector fleet missing.
>> Network-wide combat systems online.
>> Ganax’ab node unresponsive.
>> Initiating override reboot sequence on node: Ganax’ab.
>> Ganax’ab online.
Even for Nenegin, the quantity and content of the information was alarming.
Assuming it was a mere system malfunction that he could briefly peruse, he decided to review the Ganax’ab report first.
Very quickly, he realized just how terribly wrong he was in his assumptions.
Tampered with by Ec-shavar, it was soon abundantly clear why it was, of late, so laconic. Both its combat and surveillance subsystems were locked down by the governor’s authorization codes and only now, overridden by the reboot sequence from high command, did the information collected by the node flow freely throughout the network. It came like a torrent. Much of it Nenegin cared nothing for, such as the assassination attempt and subsequent schemes amongst Ec-shavar, Potan Mul, and Plango.
What concerned him greatly, however, was the wave of metaphysical energy that erupted from the Ganax’ab star like a torrent. The halographic projection of the event showed a massive beast emerging from behind the star, orbiting it with a sinister grace that sent a chill down Nenegin’s spine. He watched the horror feed on Ajana, the local name for their system’s luminous body. It swelled, a bloated terror of a composition he could not even begin to comprehend. Machine, flesh, aether—it hardly mattered as the apparition perversely and ambivalently cascaded through a multitude of physiognomies and self-representations while its voracious consumption caused it to dwarf the burning body it so eagerly consumed.
Quickly, it became clear to him why the Vepsis Dol floated helplessly alongside his vessel.
. . .
So Begins the End
Formed by multiple galaxies, the Cizran Empire sprawled a million light years in diameter. Billions of worlds, habitable and inhabited, orbited in its expanse while trillions more spheres, once barren, were retrofitted as outposts or colonies. More numerous were their ships, manufactured in a cavalcade both ceaseless and efficient at the mineral-hungry shipyards of Zo. Vaster yet in number and reach were the nodes of the grid, each constituent member of its nodular clusters seldom more than an astronomical unit apart.
Whatever fate culminated thus was no accident.
Instead, it was deliberate, evidenced by the undeniable order, efficiency, and communication preserved across the mind-boggling expanse. In the tens of thousands of years of their expansion, they dauntlessly stared down a endless stream of existential threats from within and without, subjugated worlds stronger in magic than Kilamara and more technologically mature than the Aptosites.
Against grim odds and by a deliberate progression of evolutionary cycles, the Cizran Empire prevailed. While still yet broken, they resurged from the cusp of extinction in an alien harvest recollected in the annals of the Kr’Nalus, a tome named for the galactic empire’s collapse first and only. In spite of their splintered collective and the sudden limitations imposed on their magical acumen, they achieved even greater conquests than before. While flawed, decadent, and bogged in bureaucracy, they were equally wise, earnest, introspective, and pragmatic. Experience made them even more adroit. Battle-hardened, they reconquered every lost colony, every civilization and alliance that rose up against them in their moment of weakness; they broke down every barrier and expanded beyond the borders of their galaxy of origin to worlds beyond the void.
One factor in their success was the grid.
While not a formal name, the grid nevertheless elevated Cizran control over their empire to a degree once attributed to only gods. Within the empire’s subjugated galaxies, it was omnipresent, with each world invisibly accompanied by a nodule cluster; likewise, it was omniscient, for it observed all within its territory and proliferated critical information onward to Cizra Su-lahn; and, lastly, omnipotent, for it was augmented with an array of highly lethal instruments designed to counteract all manner of incursions and uprisings, no matter the size, disposition, or spectrum.
Lesser civilizations simply referred to it as Bahá-cizr
—the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful Cizran god.
Within nanoseconds of the enemy encroachment, artificial intelligence activated the grid’s combat coordination contingencies. All around the Cradle of Life, the grid’s offensive capabilities were on full display. Even the two nodes within—Kilamara and Chandoo—sought to penetrate the apotheosis’ innards and restore contact with their counterparts. In constant communication, they instantaneously, via quantum interlinks, informed Cizra Su-lahn of every detail.
High energy gamma pulses interspersed with radio bursts destabilized and vaporized the arachnid web throughout the empire—as a result, the Cipher never received the order from Karzar. Simultaneously, along multiple frequencies, from the astral, to the psionic, to the energetic, to the ultramundane and beyond, they probed for and exploited weaknesses in the incoming anomaly’s armor. Within minutes, the nodes estimated an optimal disassembly pattern, self-arranged for geometric efficiency, activated their beams, and diced the Cradle of Life into enormous cubes. Statis fields were projected all along its surface, locking the mind-boggling amount of damage in place so that it couldn’t heal. It was like a dog thrown into a wood chipper, a cat stuffed into a meat grinder, a babe reduced to hunks of gore by the downward press of a razor wire fence—it was astronomically larger.