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AND … <3
You never minded giving us the stars
Then showing us how blind and unaware of You we are
You painted me a picture and showed me how to see
Though I just won't behold it
Unless it pertains to me

—ancient Jarclayvian lyric.


∞ – u6e7bf581a1fa
– Earth


Arties Cimerreau, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews, stood with his back to an empty lecture hall for the eighth straight class of the semester and contemplated the blackboard. Few young scholars, it seemed, exhibited an appetite for entropic philosophy at the macro scale, but, as a tenured professor, his course continued to be offered whether or not the seats behind him filled up with warm bodies. Required reading were oldies but goodies like Delia Schwartz-Perlov’s Transdimensional Tunneling in an Eternally Inflating Multiverse which succinctly and playfully begins:

“Eternal inflation and string theory describe a multiverse in which new born universes are created, grow and in turn give birth to other baby universes. For roughly three decades the Coleman-De Luccia formalism has provided a framework to calculate the rates at which 3+1 dimensional baby universes nucleate, one within the other...”

Not to be discounted was Ribal-Tegmark’s likewise required Exponential Cascade Faults Amongst Desegmented Multiversal Nodes or, as he liked to joke with his equally theoretical students, Yet Another Reason for Existential Dread., which starkly opines:

“Energy state plateau collapse amongst supersymmetric universe clusters portend a cascade event via Kamzi’s Ion-Planck pathways to orthogonal nodes pursuant to shared holographic geometries. Here we will apply set and chaos theories to form and evaluate a predictive model of potential complete energy state collapse to a zero probabilistic baryon environment of the multiverse via individual and multiple cascade instigators.”

The semester before he had two students.

One withdrew and left a note on his desk that read, “Your have driven me to despair. I cannot continue. I have decided to leave University and become a Sunday school teacher. I pray you find hope, yours truly, Emily.” The other student was found washed ashore along the delta of the Eden River.

∞ – u7ce123ce09cd
– Earth


Kell stared at himself in the mirror, lifted up a straight razor, and slit his throat.

Somewhy, he thought it should hurt; that he should feel something; that he, perhaps, deserved to feel pain. Instead, the face that peered back at him was impassive, his two brown eyes flat and lightless and his features set to the same blank expression he’d worn for ages. In it, there was something vaguely sad, as though he wasn’t completely dead within. He was like a house, once full of joy and laughter, long since abandoned. No, not like a house, but like a picture of a house, except he was entirely mediocre and forgettable on the outside. Not painted by a master nor crude enough to merit criticism. Nothing on the inside; rather, no inside at all—that was the commonality.

The only hint of emotion was in the blood that gushed from the gash and cascaded down his neck and over his new t-shirt. Its presence was warm. As he looked at the swollen Rorschach superimposed over a field of white cotton, he harbored light-headed thoughts of life.

Inevitably, such fancies of the impossible drifted away.

A knock struck the door once, twice, a pause, and a third repetition before reaction contorted his face theretoward, dogged by the impulse of his trunk as it proposed to answer; yet, obstructed by an agent his ken forsook in pursuit of the irrelevant, that impulse failed to bring the door nearer much less consummate the gesture lent toward the awaited revelation opposite the planks, splinters, ocher paint dull and flaked, and four beveled rectangles that colluded to coax forth iconography of an ancient vice as a barrier between either redemption or release from the fulfillment of a cause Kell understood no more than he desired. Covered in dessicated cracked imitation nickel plate, like the Harlequin flesh of his deceased fraternal sister, the knob suddenly rattled. He presumed to lurch back in horror, but that, too, failed to transition primal instinct to physical action; much the better, for, he decided, the withheld specter remained none the wiser to his presence.

Maybe, Kell mused, it was, rather than a door, the entrance of a cave that loomed atop a verdant lea of drenched peat and fermented honey illumined by a sliver of light unhindered by the dense cirrus cover.

The door opened, he thought crossly, his trance interrupted by the barrier’s departure. No, that was wrong. It ceased to exist. Instead, there was void. Not light, nor dark, nor an intervening value. How does one ascribe color to absolute emptiness?

Into that bewildering catechism, Kell collapsed. He fell, yet struck no bottom. There was no bottom; instead, the void enveloped him—a chaotic brume of virtual particles that devoured the unguarded edifice of his nascent consciousness.

What is not can death be denied.

. . .
∞ – u6bfa51f3cf04
– Brindle, Ta


Hardly anyone in Brindle knew another soul in the small seaside town. Certainly the proprietors of the port, hostel, and market were essential exceptions; likewise, the autocrats and bureaucrats, roles shared by a coterie of wealthy landowners who, rather than live among the riffraff, possessed estates deep in the wooded hills that wreathed the din of labor and odor of industry mingling in the town’s vertiginous epicenter; and, naturally, the loyal dogs of such who enacted oppression as necessary to secure societal order and their personal comfort. While many passed through Brindle, most were tourists who wished to peer up at the towering colony ship’s remains that still provided shelter for the bulk of the town’s inhabitants. That vessel, the Bannlyst, was part of their history: the tri-column metal anther from which their ancestors pollinated a not-quite-virgin world of Ta. Yet, with fewer pilgrims every year, the Bannlyst, and, as such, all of Brindle, were in severe disrepair.

Entropy was not an issue considered worthy of correction, for the rich reposed in their mansions and the poor retreated to the same virtual worlds that, ages prior, served their forbearers as variegated sanctuaries from the madness of space. For the latter, it was arduous enough to awaken to the light of true reality, then trudge through the banality of work, consumption, and performance of the crucial idles of life.

Not so for a youthful band of ruffians dubbed “the Rats,” a pejorative they wore as though it were a mantle of honor. Rejects of the virtual helmet of oppression, they embraced reality as it was, from its hardships and hungry nights to its beauties and warm summer breezes. Unlike everyone else, they stuck together. They stole to eat and dwelt in the wreckage of ancient buildings. Amongst that sly band of orphaned hoodlums was a particularly ingenious sharp-nosed rodent who went by Kerala and was endowed with more than her fair share of moxie. Her signature garb included goggles and a scarf pilfered from the corpse of one of those elites. Friendless in his estate, none, save his lawyers, knew nor cared of his passing, which involved the failure of his pleasure aircraft and its subsequent crash in the adjacent jungle.

Lately, Kerala occupied a small nest at the very top of one of the Bannlyst’s propulsion towers. Anything but elaborate, it included just a few blankets, some cans of food and other childish oddities, and an ancient long-distance telescope. From within this hideaway, she often gazed down through the reinforced plastic sheet that served as her floor and attempted to make out the bottom of the thousand-meter fuselage. Even the time she dropped a chemical torch down she couldn’t see the bottom.

Tonight was wonderful and atypical, for with her was a friend. A boy half her age named Tooh whom she was instructing on the art of astronomy. As they gazed through the telescope, she noticed something odd about the night sky. At first, it was ordinary, and she enthusiastically recited from an old star chart she devised the names of constellations and heavenly bodies—the Rainbow Nebula, the House of Light, and so forth. In the midst of her exposition, there was a bright flash. A sustained flash that began brilliant ultramarine, but transitioned to a red so deep it dissipated against the backdrop of the night. Perhaps a new type of survey craft? As she blinked back her night vision and again ventured the telescope’s aperture, she noticed something amiss—the stars were there, but the wrong stars. A cloudless, moonless night, and yet not a single star was visible in the night sky where it ought to be. Many were missing, many were new, and several were out of time and place.

“Did’ja see’th dat, Tooh?” she cooed.

“Da light, ja’mean?” he wondered, his voice slurred with mild frustration over his inability to instantly master the stargazing contraption.

She briefly shook her head left to right in jerky articulation and corrected, “Neh, da stahs.”

He pulled away from the eye piece, plopped down on a pillow, and shrugged, “Dey just stahs. Ima freezin. Snug?”

“Sure, com’er’n snug,” she agreed, plucked a patchwork blanket off a hook, pulled him close, and wrapped it around their shoulders. It was a particularly cold night. Many would freeze to death. Even under her pile of stolen blankets she felt a chill. Warmth flooded from her heart when he leaned innocently into her bosom her and sucked his thumb through a hole in his threadbare orange-striped leather glove. Meanwhile, her arm wrapped around Tooh’s shoulders, Kerala stretched her neck and resumed her awed observation of the night sky.

. . .
∞ – u3d5af5fbc47e
– Kah’myros


A bee settled on me, a sentient flower abloom in a field with a billion others of my kind. The local star warmed my face. I was happy, which was the emotional consensus of my demesne. The bee departed. A breeze cooled my petals. All was well.

I felt, then, a peculiar presence. I couldn’t see it, although certainly I owned faculties akin to sight; neither could I smell it, touch it, nor taste it. I merely knew, however tenuously and traumatically briefly, that queer yet unshakable sensation of being the subject of an unseen observer. All such things were, in our experience, predatory. For a moment, collective silence, caused by fear, possessed me and my kin. Then, more swiftly than expected, it—whatever it was—passed us over. Darkness followed on its heels, an unexpected and inexplicable failure of light. It wasn’t the result of a cloud, but a total temporary abatement of our star’s rays. Such was easily discernible from the sudden drop in temperature.

Not soon enough to quell our fears, light and warmth touched again our faces. We whispered quietly amongst one another, an aria of wind and soft caresses as we bent with the currents of air, but arrived at no conclusion as to what transpired. Fear, we decided, as usual, was pointless, for against an unknown there is no defense. We chose, instead, to forget and bask in the joy of moment and day. However, my roots could not forget. I felt, through my siblings and bond to earth, change in the pace of time, the distance between atoms, and the colors of space. The hills and the mountains, in their ancient wisdom, concurred. Something was fundamentally and irrevocably altered in the composition of the universe in which we dwelt.

. . .
∞ – u256f532ae217
– Doné Clar, Ahridihm


Frustrated and weary, Sefosifer stalked on all fours the sandy fringe of Doné Clar’s coast. He had no destination in mind. How could he, as a stranger in a strand land? With everything so new and at times frightening, every turn and change of scenery, no matter how slight, crushed him in under a mountain of indecision and doubt. The nigh-ethereal thinness of the dry air made him feel parched. The odd way the world brightened as its ceiling glowed hot white made him feel exposed. The queer way every grain of sand on the beach inexplicably clung to his footpads and tail as he miserably plodded onward made him feel filthy, grimy, and contemptible.

Worse, more than by the air, the light, and the sky, he was afflicted by his earlier lapse into animalistic savagery.

He scowled at the memory. To think, that plant-wrapped bundle was, in fact, a baby animal and not a novel form of roughage. No, that was an excuse. He knew what it was from the moment he saw it, but let his hunger overwhelm his scruples. Even if only for a short while, he relished the madness—the taste of its hot blood as it trickled down his forked tongue and the mother’s pitched screams of loss as they echoed throughout the forest in the predawn hours.

Deep down, a primal part of him wanted to be a predator—a monstrous dragon of the watery abyss he and his kind, from ancient times, were known. That is what Sefosifer refused to think about, and, for the hundredth time, guilt formed an uncomfortable knot in his bowels. He paused and shook his head, as though that act would shake the concern from his mind. It didn’t work. Punishment was what he he needed, he resolved. Pain, a remedy so easy to come by. He need only open his eyes just a little wider. Instantly, harsh, unfiltered light from the incensed atmosphere poured painfully into his pupils and overloaded his nerves. He flinched, shook his head, and did it again, and again, and again.

Eventually, the pain subsided and the activity no longer lent itself to his cause. Although his vision was still somewhat indistinct, he was able to make out shapes now just as well as when the world was dark. To his left, the ocean he longed for but was cursed to abstain; to his right, the forest, before him, the beach, although there was something strange just ahead. A flat piece of wood nailed to a post, much like the masts he saw in shipwrecks on the sea floor. It was marked with symbols that called to mind those etched on the monument of Mentes, although these were different. They seemed far less ancient.

Knowledge, Sefosifer decided, was a good occupation. He moved slightly inland, into a declivity of bushes and tall grass, and there, concealed, tried to make sense of the inscriptions. For what felt like ages he sat and turned the symbols over in his mind. There was obviously a context to them, perhaps tied to the shape of the slab of wood, or its prominent and orderly display, or the change in color and uniformity of the line of ground beneath it that ran from the sandy coast and into the forest.

More time passed, yet he saw no luck in his quest to decipher the sign’s message. The Lett was now high in the sky, the atmosphere melted to a translucent veil, yet all he could conclude was that it was the name of something. What that name referred to was beyond his ken. Then he saw people approach the sign, make strange noises and gestures, and proceed onward along the path and into the forest.

With a flick of his tongue, he decided to follow them.

The path was decidedly easier to walk along and the shade the trees provided made it easier for his unaccustomed eyes to see.

As he continued his leisurely chase, Sefosifer became bolder, drew nearer, and when they stopped in a patch of light to talk he nearly bumped into them. They pointed up at the sky, which, inexplicably, turned pitch-black; no Lett, but instead the light of a myriad of stars, pierced the still-gaseous world canopy. Then, after a moment, a mantle of burning radiance crashed down on them. The Lett, auspiciously, returned. Blind and horrified, he dashed into the forest, a scream caught in his throat and senses whelmed. There, he shivered until his sight was restored. When he looked up, it was night again. An unfamiliar night that exposed nothing through the solid metalloid atmosphere.

What sorcery, he pondered, could vanquish and, moments later, restore the Lett?

. . .
∞ – u1b0a365f61d6
– La Cantina, Eqiko-4, Su-laria Galaxy


Boomslang shuffled through the pressure chamber of the bar, his claw lazily scraping the metal wall as if to remind himself he still existed. On the opposite side hung a handful of dubious looking pressure suits for those who required such. He didn’t, so he just waited for the airlock to cycle and practically tripped outside when the hatch gave way beneath his weight. He was certainly not at his best, as even a synthe could use stims and he was completely intoxicated. Still, even in his current state, he felt better off than at any point in his past where he was a cog in the Cizran bureaucracy, even though their idea of giving him his freedom meant, by way of their circuitous legal system, that he was technically the property of another synthe. Out here on the fringe, none of that mattered. Unless he ran into a member of the Av’sti, and then his paperwork better be in order.

Once they went intergalactic, he wouldn’t even need that anymore.

After an ungainly recovery, he turned around and took in the interstellar hanger. Exposed to vacuum, it perched high atop one of the space elevators that protruded from one of Eqiko-4’s many summits. Next to the entryway slumped Kukull. It was the only one they ever interacted with, so that is what they called the basically friendly pile of animated rocks that was presently well on its way through the concrete light craft docking platform.

“Kukull,” Boomslang barked, “you’re gonna get us another fine! C’mon, don’t we feed you enough? A metric ton of shalam every time we set down. That stuff ain’t cheap!”

As usual, Kukull shrugged. It never did have much to say. Instead, it stuffed a jagged slab of gray into its face and gazed lazily up at the stars. Without atmosphere to dim them, monitor to interpret them, or glass to smudge them, they were brilliant. For whatever reason, Kukull loved to look at them. Almost as much as it loved eating. Almost impossible in its lethargy, its jaw ground down its meal in a noisy slow churn.

“Bah,” Boomslang exclaimed as he plopped down next to his travel buddy. The hole made was deep enough for the small synthe to swing its legs down in into without hitting anything. “Looks like another cut and run,” he further groused, not that anyone was listening.

Then, without precedence, there was a vibrant flash. Boomslang covered his eyes reflectively. Kukull just stared, dumbfounded and unconcerned. Even that momentary exposure to too much light made Boomslang want to vomit, one of the empathy coroutines added to his model to make them better interrogators. He couldn’t imagine how the pile of rocks felt. Probably nothing, he realized in retrospect. For a moment, Boomslang figured it was just one of the light towers looping around from an observation platform. Those things always annoyed him, especially when his senses were on the fritz from too large a cocktail of pleasure nanites. Then Kukull pointed upward.

Boomslang’s mouth dropped open in shock.

Not a single star in the sky was in the right place. And far off in the distance he saw a rift. A pulsing white gash in the fabric of space that corresponded to no known anomalies and beyond which he partially glimpsed through the veil the half-hewn silhouettes of beings beyond enormity. He was prepared to snark about the quality of his chems when, auspiciously, the rift snapped shut.

“Eti,” Boomslang boomed into his subvocal communication relay, “we have a situation!”

“Whaaaat issss iiiiit, Tobbbbb?” Eti slurred back.

“Just get out here,” Boomslang shot back irritably, “And don’t call me Tob,”

A minute later, Eti Naris, Epit'li, and Kirri—the latter cavalier as always—stumbled out of the cantina. Almost instantly, two of the three realized what was wrong. They didn’t immediately say anything until Kirri accused, “You dragged us out here for what? I don’t see anything and I was just about to win a galactic freighter load in that game of Black Aces.”

“You were down more than your share of our quarterly haul,” Eti absentmindedly contradicted, changed course, and, forgoing the subvocals, demanded of his spaceship’s artificial intelligence, “Ruzgar, verify our position on Eqiko-1 with starchart Su-laria.”

“According to my scan, we are no longer in the Su-laria galaxy,” the Tabris Ruzgar reported jovially into all their comms.

“What!! Then where did you take us when I instructed your autopilot toward La Cantina, Eqiko-4?”

“Precisely where you requested. La Cantina, Eqiko-4, Su-laria Galaxy,” the Tabris Ruzgar answered, ever eager to accommodate.

“And where are we now?” Eti challenged.

A pause.

Then, pleasant and upbeat as always, “Well, I guess I don’t know! This is definitely Eqiko-4 and this is definitely not the Su-laria Galaxy. What an unexpected turn of events! Isn’t it exciting? I mean, okay, so it seems a little off-putting, but look at it this way: the Cizran astronomers back on Cizra Su-lahn must be going mad!”

∞ – u6651aedef050
– the ‘Rancor’, Fides, Gnaritas System


Aboard the stardestroyer Rancor, Kaito Stone was exhausted and not even near relief. A recent graduate of Fides Military School for Conscripted Youth and on his first assignment as an Airman Basic, the daunting task of relocating hundreds of pallets of ammunition from loading bay, to depot, and to each ammunition types’ respective armament installation confronted him. All blank charges, as he was too green to be trusted with more, were to be used in the day’s inevitable military exercise. Every crate opened, every slug counted, every form completed, and every signature approved by the Staff Sergeant—those were the interval periods in his existence. The rest was pure drudgery. Only a third of the way in and he dripped sweat from places he didn’t know pores existed.

The lights dimmed and the e-lights activated.

<< Black Alert – Repeat, Black Alert >> blared and cycled every ten seconds to the obnoxious prelude of a klaxon.

Kaito paused, crate in hand. Even in partial-g, it was heavy and cumbersome. Situation assessed, he set the crate back on the pallet, secured it, activated the half-loaded power dolly, and sought out the Staff Sergeant. Of course, the Sergeant’s office was vacant, stacks of papers scattered haphazardly on the floor around a collapsed wall desk. Nonplussed but determined, Kaito picked up some familiar forms and proceeded by rote to the first relevant combat station.

As soon as he entered, he was accosted.

“You have that ammo for us, A.B.?”

Once he observed the tech sergeant’s rank, Kaito stood his ground, back straight, eyes forward, and distinctly enunciated, “All I have are blank charges, Sir. I have not been apprised of the situation, Sir.”

“Nobody has, A.B. It’s a clusterfuck, that’s what this is. Go get us some real fucking ammo.”

An order. He lacked the security clearance to access to the live ammo stored in the depot. An order impossible to complete. The black alert sounded again, which provoked a series of expletives throughout the battle station. The situation demanded he unquestioningly obey.

How did that saying go?

Adapt. Serve. Survive – be an ASS.

Kaito observed, from his hesitance, he was about to receive a stream of profanity straight up his own ass, and intercepted,

“Tech Sergeant, Sir, request a clearance authorization badge to secure live munitions, Sir.”

He saved himself from being read the riot act and earned a nod of approval. No verbal reply was given; instead, a badge was thrown his way, and the sergeant accosted someone else. Kaito secured the badge, pulled a sharpie from his pocket, wrote blanks in large block letters on one of the crates on the dolly, then high-tailed it to the depot.

Mid-step down the a-frame corridor, he couldn’t move. Everything stopped except his rapid train of perception, which careened forward at an ever-accelerated rate. He saw motes of dust bond eternally in bands of light, felt the vibration of the klaxon’s horn pause midway through his marrow, realized his blood was still in his veins, and then—then everything returned to normalcy. Except his nose, which profusely leaked blood from when he crashed face-first into a bulkhead. Dazed, he picked himself up. He couldn’t recall that event, yet it transpired. He glanced around. At some point, the e-lights ceased their rhythmic undulation in the directional stripes along the walls. The alert no longer threatened a calamitous unknown. The badge—where was the badge?

He searched his pockets, all twenty of them. Nothing. He retraced his steps. Nothing. An officer passed him in the passageway, her pace unhurried and unconcerned, and frowned at him suspiciously, as though he were a lunatic. After that, Kaito reconciled himself to fate and muttered,

“Well, fuck.”

∞ – u
– Glaceria, Val’Gara Space

[ A continuation of The Sorceress’ Nemesis ]

Kor knew not how long she lingered imprisoned in the endlessly vast labyrinth of her aethenium, alert to any receipt of her plea. Therein, it became to her, albeit gradually and stalled by her reluctance to rely on instinct after what she accepted was a disaster of preparation, apparent that the threat imposed on her life relaxed its imminence, perhaps as a consequence of her rambled exposition of the acts of treason wrought by the assemblage of usurpers she described as the fish, the ghoul, the demon, the gunslinger, and so forth, although other explanations were likely more viable. With few certain ways to be sure of her safety from within the confines of the library, immense though it was, and wary of the possibility of a trap, she contrived to craft a proxy that would become her eyes in the weird world beyond her door—for she was not ready to abandon her pet just yet.

She, for the hundredth time, ascended a steel petaled spiral that climaxed at a crystal sphere and, there at, relieved it of its silk mantle. Unlike before, this time she clung to a small bit of vellum. At first the device presented itself as merely glass, but she activated it with a binding word and with the established mental yoke directed its sight to Val’Gara space. As in the last several ventures, all that manifested in its pellucid compass was an indecipherable and malevolent darkness. No doubt what remained of her barrier was turned against her and its fissures reinforced by her foe.

That she was determined to change.

From her eye she plucked a single lash. Wrapped in the vellum, she released that small piece of her above the orb. As it fell, she called out, “Ignica os teton!” Ensorcelled in fire, soon only cinders descended—not onto a surface, but into an interior. As the dying light whorled within, Kor placed one had over her sinister eye, on the back of which was painted the same mark as scrawled on the now-fulminated reagent, and closed the other.

Rather than merely her aethenium, her perception extended over the moon Glaceria, which she beheld through the eyes of a conjured Aljisivian Condor. Much of her barrier remained in place around the icy sphere, but an extensive jagged cavity was inundated by that sinister organism and, for the time being, her jailer. Midgarðsormr, her dauntless mount, lay prone, drowned by the archfiend’s dark nectar. Struck by the horror of it all, Kor averted her gaze, which shifted from the frozen moon to anticipated darkness beyond. Yet, instead of void, she beheld the millions of the dark general’s army as they deposited the spoils of their conquests. In the midst of that space, formerly occupied by their god-star, Sal’Chazzar, brewed instead another, albeit smaller, celestial body. Its green light cast an ominous pallor over the scene. As it swelled, fed by the regurgitations of countless dreadnaughts, she felt the space contort around her and the distant stars twinkled as though their light spilled into an ever-cavernous abyss.

Suddenly, her condor twitched. A black limb had stealthily extended from the moon’s surface and ensnared her surrogate. Then, trasmundanely joined to her enemy, she heard its voice speak into her mind,

<< Look upon our mighty works and tremble! Relinquish self. Enjoin to unity with the all-mind. >>

“Never!” she shouted back in defiance even as despair welled up in her core.

<< Already it is begun. Behold your beast of burden … >>

The grim mist dissipated and she was forced to observe Midgarðsormr, Lord of Worms, contorted in an aberration that metastasized its former glory to a mélange of primal madness.

“Stop!” she pleaded, “He is all I have!”

<< Why? >> an acrid condescension oozed back.

“Barter. I can offer you knowledge. I can tell you who despoiled your home, where they dwell, and how to defeat them. I can tutor you in the arcane arts. You have seen what my knowledge is capable of, despite the frailty of my form. Imagine the strength of such spells when channeled through you overwhelming greatness!” Its silent skepticism crept coldly into her, so she pushed harder and faster, “Observe the creatures in the pools of Gathix and how, through my ministrations, they have attained greater utility than the crude evolution blindly wrought by time. Look upon these worlds and ask yourself, ‘who held them in orbit in our absence?’ It was I whose spellcraft gravitationally bound the tatters of your home and gave you something to which you might return. Did not my barrier intrigue and frustrate you, if only for a moment? All I ask in return for such knowledge is my life and my companion.”

<< The key. >>

Confusion gripped her, but then she felt it manifest in her mind’s-eye. The door to her aethenium, a barrier that was beyond even this being. It wanted in. It wanted the knowledge to enter and, more than that, the knowledge contained within.

“That is a place of learning. Once inside, you will be unable to harm anyone. Even you.”

In answer, the obscuration withdrew from Glaceria and settled into an orbit around the moon. Then, in a threat that openly mocked her position, it decreed,

<< Mend your companion. If you succeed, your offer is accepted and your life is your own. >>

It proved a difficult labor, but she was up to the challenge. Under Tsathoskr’s watchful ire, she purged Midgarðsormr of the virus’ incomplete infestation and reversed its detriments. Once awakened, with a portion of the mana channeled from its considerable consumption of ice, she further solidified her value in her tenuous truce and enveloped all of Val’Gara space in a veil of imperceptible night. None from without would behold the satellites in orbit within. Then, all but satisfied in the integrity of their agreement, she did the hardest thing of all, and opened the door to the aethenium.

Kor kept her promise. She poured her lifetime of knowledge into Tsathoskr.

Tsathoskr, in return, allowed her to live and remain, as she wanted, a pathetic creature with only one friend in the whole of the verse—her pet worm.

Once his education concluded, he, for a while, departed. She in darkness lingered and considered flight. Midway into her dilemma, he resurfaced in an uncharacteristically dramatic display. Scintillating portals pierced the deceitful fog her enchantment brewed around Val’Gara space, such that it likened to a film of smoke rings. From those unprecedented apertures emanated beams of ultramundane energy, utterly alien to her and, she observed, even as on them she sensed Tsathoskr’s taint, distinctly not Val’Garan.

The portals widened, space seemed to contort in dimensionally inconceivable ways, distant starlight penetrated the guise, planetoids in nearby space warped away before her eyes, and then, as a beam lanced through Glaceria, she saw it—she saw Earth-f67x.

. . .

The Multiversal Fault

. . .


[ A continuation of Unsolicited Invasion ]

Unleashed from damnation, Tecrolys surged down a thread of the Spider Queen’s web to a stray wisp that dangled lazily from her handiwork. There, awe-struck, he peered through a sea of at least a trillion cataclysm to glean some semblance of place. The act was autonomic, for he knew, through the psi-link, his precise place in the multiverse. Above him lurked the Spider Queen, higher still hung Brobdingnag, and all around them swam the whole of the Val’Gara—all bathed in the light of their newly-awakened god-star. Thus juxtaposed, he, a vaguely feline fog of dense black smoke, was as visible as he was important. It hardly mattered, for his every cell pulsed with the roar of the psi-link. Not even while bathed in Sal’Chazzar’s light, an ages-old experience, was the intensity so grand. Within such complete unity, his individuality attenuated to the will of the collective and, at last, was utterly vanquished.

He was not unique in that regard.

He—all of them—felt their amassed presences; Idea’s mighty sons—Brobdingnag, TerraCrusher, Leviathans, Sentinels, Behemoths, Dreadnaughts, and more; the Heralds of Idea’s will—SMD’P, Tsathoskr, the ‘Collective’, Megalodon, Thane, the ‘Slut’, Caorthannach, Amphiprioninae, Anathema, Disciple, and others; the worlds Idea created—Gathix and Glaceria; the tools Idea left them—the other ‘Collective’, Belial’s Toybox, and the Conqueror’s Eye; and the nigh innumerable cataclysm—drones, assimilators, guardians, demolishers, devesators, wraiths, devourers, brainscramblers, witchdoctors, skitterers, riflemutants, corpsefeeders, clickings, bloodlances, billies, nudibranch, scourgebearers, and more too variegated to enumerate.

Personal agendas and opinions faded into the instinct of the whole. They were one, all of them, and it was with animalistic pride that Tecrolys, for the first time, felt the power surge from him to the whole of his brethren and bequeath upon them the ability to make brittle and even shatter, through the collisions of dimensions in superposition, the very fabric of space-time.

Earth-F67X, a cold temptress, hung in the sky like a sapphire. She had spurned the Val’Gara once, but would not do so again. Their vengeance, however, was delayed, for the cataclysm were hungry and set on a greater prize. A vast rift in space just beyond the orbit of Neptune, a gateway to the Faultverse, revealed to them a well of bioforce larger than any other before encountered. Individually weak, the cataclysm were ravenous, and the combined will of so many overwhelmed the psi-link and compelled the Val’Gara’s undecided leadership to an accord. First all would consume, then convert and control.

Earth space and Val’Gara space temporarily danced, although their contrary trajectories and velocities steadily increased separation. Amongst the Val’Gara were chunks of Soran, rent from the planet to accommodate the Heralds thereon whence the portals spawned by Tsathoskr merged the far-flung spaces.

As they poured into the Faultverse as one, the Val’Gara civilization was like a universe unto itself, insulated from the wiles of the space they penetrated by the synergy of dominant traits—time, space, and the veracity of reality would, for each and all, remain stable so long as the Heralds who lent such strength survived. It was then that Beramode—if he was present—would, perhaps, behold a former plaything in Brobdingnag, glibly acquired in its hour of greatest despair and isolation and eventually abandoned due to it's sullen and truculent manner. Now, amongst it's own, it was no longer weak, but of a strength that eclipsed that of most gods.

. . .


It was Keichii’s fault.

The child’s rampage of destruction left a macabre froth of annihilated universes in his callow wake and compelled Ender to act.

Throughout the Faultverse, an aurora, first quite tenuous, undulated over all the cosmic microwave background’s local analog. A diaphanous celadon sheen, the wave defied explanation as it, with vibrant hue and confidence increased, danced dulcet on night’s all but starless mantle and, in fact, obliviated what lie beyond its reflective film. It was beautiful, even as dead planets, holes black and white, and fissures to other dimensions disintegrated at its gentle caress.

“Why …”

Unassuming, unaccusing, morose, a voice boomed throughout the structure of spacetime, cascaded frigidly against the forms of those present, and with them shared its awed dismay at the havoc so utterly and senselessly wrought. Its source, from that inquiry, became evident: not the Faultverse’s now-inaccessible skene, but a vision perfected at its exact center. There flickered holographic simulacrum of a trillion species’ idealized self-perceptions, majestic terrain, achievements in philosophy and science too tersely depicted to capture, and all the intangibles hallmarked by inherent good. To behold it was to peer into a pool of pure joy and watch the constantly expressive surface billow with time’s ceaseless passage and elucidate, with each reflection and ripple, the undeniable poetry of the great and incomparable Verse.

Then, acutely lachrymose, it whispered, “Of course …”

The curvature of spacetime abruptly altered as its holographic geometry collapsed to a lower energy state. Gravity intensified until quarks hissed sub-planck waves. Orthogonal universes rotated, mirror universes tarnished, and neighboring universes recoiled—all toward unattainable remoteness. Even the Verse itself became an unreadable story, a cryptic memory, a faint premonition of love lost to the ravages of a time-crippled mind—reduced, for all intents and purposes, to existential cessation.

Then an invisible palm of dark matter, as massive as the large quasar group written of in a reality now beyond reach, dashed across the mouth of the preeminent white hole.
Although Autun expertly ignored people’s petulant and prudish demands, something definitely irritated him. At last, even as Apollo urged him to intervene, he extraneously exclaimed, “The little bugger is really starting to itch!” and plucked off his cockring. Aloft between his thumb and index finger, he observed it sizzle and crack with psionic energy and its minuscule individual segments writhe to a veritably prurient tempo. Rather than engage him in his analysis of the object, Apollo demurred with disgust and again urged Autun to address the jellyfish on the horizon.

Autun tilted his feathery head to the side, closed his eyes briefly, and tapped his foot.

“Unnecessary. You see—ouch! Little bugger bit my finger. Settle down, SMD’P!”—the name, while spoken glibly, sent many round-about into paroxysms. Were it uttered by Brobdingnag, they’d be dead. “Anyhoo … if you attack, they will too,” Autun concluded, “so it is best to order a stand down.”

Apollo gazed at him as if he were insane.

“Your scientists can confirm the astrometrics. The Val’Gara aren’t aligned with Earth. They’re chasing after your operative, Max, who went into that big glowing slit out past Neptune,” to which Autun again pointed to one of the screens in the monitor that showed the perspective of a radio telescope.

“You guys have an antimatter nuke test vault; right? I need to borrow it. This little menace is getting out of hand and could use a time out.”

. . .


Suddenly, [Czes] was elsewhere; a place he dubbed Spiritus Infra Terrarum. It was not the spirit world, but a plane below where the shades of souls wandered with features dimmed and animus bared [… There] he sojourned and at last came to Allure City […where...] in sharp contrast to the variegated images Spencer supplied, he saw an absence of diversity that intermingled merely drudgery and control. It was the former he sought to incite and the latter to dismay. Particularly the latter that were too similar, too singular, too much copies of the same. The mouthpiece that promised peace on Earth’s airwaves before being auspiciously silenced. Into that corrupt unity, he spoke a prahelikā of division that manifested as a vermin swarm on which danced the carriers of an astral plague that would flow from soul to mind and lay waste to the whole that was many.


A third of Allure City perished as the Platinum army along with Idereen and her extensions of self were rent from their mortal coils by Czes' sorcery. At least, from the perspective of a slaver. Instead of death, free will, independent consciousness, and total self-determination were foist upon whose able to accept such. The rest would die. Of course, that meant relative blindness for Idereen as she relaxed on her divan and closed her eyes. Perhaps she would enjoy the tranquility of solitude and, for the first time in her life, partake in an actually pleasant and uninterrupted nap. As for the Platinum army, their auspicious disarray and dismemberment made them easy work for Earth’s military forces.
As Apollo attempted to make his way tempestuously from the chamber, a hand smacked him collegiately on the back and a voice as familiar as it was unwanted cheerily prognosticated, “When this day is over, you’ll be able to take solace in the certainty that it was your absolute worst.” As if to exacerbate the point, a tanned limb extended past his periphery and gestured to a security monitor that, for whatever reason, displayed satellite footage of Earth from the perspective of Luna. Apollo was absolutely certain the owner of the arm and voice was stark naked, so he welcomed the excuse to look elsewhere. The screen appeared to show two Mobius-designated super suites adrift in space. Next to him, he heard, “That is the feed from satellite UAF-719. Delay is approximately eight seconds due to interference.”

. . .


‘Lionheart’ descended from orbit to Earth’s surface so forcefully, Tethys’ signal connection to Tristan’s coworker’s artificial intelligence unit—ANITA—lapsed. “You can count on me,” Tristan spoke into the lacuna, but as soon as he said the words they felt hackneyed and probably false. Momentarily, the connection was restored, but he didn’t repeat himself. He hoped, in retrospect, that his comment didn’t make it through the channel. Too much was probably different in the years since his departure for his show of support to mean much. Still, as he gazed down at the womb of humanity, a whorl of thin white over a great expanse of color, his heart ached, and he knew that despite that indescribable gap he could somehow elevate the phrase beyond empty idiom and make the thought actually count.

Tethys, can you summarize the ground situation or, better yet, patch me in to Ops mainline and get me an assignment?

> Patching now ...

<< Prototype U-9 model 934.c, identify. >>

> Pilot Tristan Singh recently from Jadis is requesting assignment. Uploading secure key now.

> GlzIGRpc3Rpbmd1aXN ...
> 4gb2Yga25vd2xlZGdlLZ ...
> ... BwbGVhc3VyZS4=

<< Secure key validated. Records indicate operative is— >>


Suddenly, comms and visuals decayed to violent static, their order dispersed into disarray as a branch of the Galactic Engine’s beam lanced through its multiversal prism and, on its way to the epicenter of Allure City, enveloped Tristan. While Tethys and his carbon nanofiber skin protected him from the beam’s more lethal qualities, it still penetrated deep into his system and caused his second black-out in as many days.

. . .


Behind Tristan, Tsathoskr lurked, a temporary fission of its primary mass that protruded midway through a spacial shunt. While the portal made possible the brevity of its passage from Jadis to Earth, it went beyond mere thoroughfare; it was sublime and subtle, an instrument of stealth that effectuated the undetected surveillance of great civilizations such as the Cizran Empire and Golden Technocracy—all one might expect of a Colossal Spawn’s thousands of years experience scouting systems and assessing their ripeness for harvest. Altogether, the phenomenon seemed a spec of indecipherable darkness, indistinguishable from the matte black of space and obscured from extraordinary detection measures by a field of probabilistically-induced anti-photons and quantum foam that fulminated chaos along the tunnel’s brim.

Suddenly, Tsathoskr lunged forth fully from the breach. In perfect synchronization, a thousand motes manifested in weird order that mimicked the constellations beyond. For a moment, they dilated, a brief twinkle in the void that betrayed their presence, then pierced the fabric of space and cleaved to their respective destinations beyond. All stilled, constrained by the same camouflage as their predecessor. Then Tsathoskr invariably and carefully blossomed into a multi-faceted chrysanthemum of black shards with a single aperture in its midst.

The horror’s metamorphosis resolved itself just as the beam of the Galactic Engine struck.

. . .


A nightmare played out on the dim canvass of Tristan’s unconscious mind. Every nerve was aflame, but the fire provided no light. Instead, his observation flickered like a strobe. He saw what he perceived to be his essence, an emerald mote adrift in a vast void and encoiled by two chains, one red and another white. Each trailed off in opposite directions while he swung haplessly in the middle. Then, a great torrent of astra flooded the scene. In its wake, arcs of energy danced throughout his translucent core and coursed along both chains. Steam rose from the red chain’s surface and made the scene rife with malevolent obscuras that hissed and howled in tormented torpor. Even as he recoiled, his mind’s-eye followed the electric dance downward in an effort to scry the agony’s source. Eventually, the steam burned away enough for him to observe its distant termination through a chitinous slit. It was on fire, steadily eviscerated by the cosmic energy until it morphed into a fiery maw.

To Tristan’s horror, he gazed into the very pit of Hell.

Not only did he recoil, but compelled himself to focus on the source of the white chain. Similar to the other, energy cascaded along its surface until it reached what appeared to be an impasse. However, neither smoke nor screams emanated from its surface. Instead, it was calm. Far away, he thought he saw it vanish into a radiant white keyhole. There, the energy twisted and writhed. Finally, he heard a click. The door flung wide and an incomprehensible force urged him onward. He felt the red chain snap and wither. He felt his heart palpitating and his body exploding. Yet, within, he felt peace and, strangely, an internal harmony and wholeness greater than at any point since awakening.

. . .


The beam’s transmundane energies coursed along the tether that bound Tristan to eternal damnation and opened within him a nine-dimensional vortex to Hell. Twisted to celestial radiation, it rained down on the place where time was lost and splashed into the Phlegathon’s bloody torrent like a rain of meteorites. Roused from his tormented slumber, Brobdingnag peered up, through the fiery hail, and to the pinprick of hope at the apex of its prison. Already, a host of evils ascended on crooked wing, Nessus amongst them. With titanic effort, the first Son sloughed off the coagulated vitae that ensnared it under the crimson tide, shook away the river’s burning flow, and likewise, with its slain brothers, ascended to freedom.

Brobdingnag’s great mass, encircled by a host of minions, easily eclipsed the sun as it appeared suddenly in orbit around Earth-F67X opposite and somewhat beyond the moon's ovalular trajectory.

. . .


While the bulk of the beam passed through the hole in Tsathoskr’s midst, the remainder refracted into space and, with ominous precision, onward toward the portals newly born. Many were conduits into what remained of Val’Gara space. Through them the beam, divided, traversed and achieved its manifold destinies in Glaceria, Gathix, the Collective, and the churning mass of bioforce at the system’s core that hung in Sal’Chazzar’s stead and preserved the dance of the god-star’s orphaned satellites. Last and largest of the celestial bodies, the pubescent star was the culmination of Tsathoskr’s eons of laboriously harvested and deposited bioforce. Struck by the beam, it awakened. Once awake, it spoke. What it said was heard everywhere. What fracatures of the beam that weren’t routed to Val’Gara space reached their targets in Caorthannach, Megalodon, Amphiprioninae, Thane, The Slut—all living Val’Gara Tsathoskr knew the locations of. All heard what the newly-awakened star said as, whence landed, the beam triggered the Herald’s psi-minds and, for a sufficient handful of moments, brought them into perfect synchrony.

Ever the prime directive persisted loudly and undeniably in their consciousness. Convert, Consume, Control, it proclaimed. It was never that which was missing. Rather, it was consensus on where and when it applied. The beam, tainted by its contact with Tsathoskr, overrode their presumption of self-determination. The portals were open. The lines between spaces blurred. Val’Gara space was Earth space and all of Idea’s children turned their attention to a long sought-after target:

Earth-F67X

Then something erupted from Earth into the Faultverse. Something that offered such an abundance of bioforce as to be irresistible.

. . .


> Tristan, I am glad to detect a stabilization in your neural activity. You are conscious.

He winced, tried to open his eyes, but the light was too bright. Instead, he thought the obvious. It was an instinctive thought, but one easily answered. Where am I? What happened?

> An unidentifiable energy changed your astral physiology. You are no longer a threat to Earth. As such, I was able to activate my internal beacon and teleport you to a secure medical center in Tel Aviv. Your vitals have checked out. Now get up, you already have your assignment. Opening a comm to General Millheiser now.
While not the strangest African settlement known to Ndakala, Marange certainly struck him as the most spiritual. There was a oneness with the land here that tightened the bond of his soul to the blood of his ancestors. Perhaps it was some ambient psychic resonance of the crystals in the cavern ceiling, but he certainly felt more belonging here in a place hitherto unknown than in the monotonously familiar Aldi at Cape Town.

In addition to his connection to the soil, there was an abundance of individuals whose possessed, in his view, capabilities beyond those belied by a casual glance. How else would dirt and stone deftly morph into tunnels before his very eyes? Certainly, given what was before him, they lacked technological means to do so, thus their capabilities emerged from elsewhere. Moreover, the array of stone, metal, and fiber structures that loomed around him were clearly the product of imagination, not tools, not efficiency. That unsettled him far more than the vast amount of weaponry, most of it, he deduced by a brief survey of what was on proud display round about, pilfered from Xanathan, but some acquired through illicit trade.

“Thank you for your hospitality, General Assad,” Ndakala said with deferential caution.

His pretense of respect was dispelled by an acerbic chirp from the American woman, “A hot meal would be hospitable.”

Appalled, particularly by how unimpressed she seemed by the environ, he was nevertheless use to such behavior from foreigners, and interjected, “Miss Benson means she is grateful for the safety you provided. Were it not for you, Xanathan soldiers would have filled our bodies with bullets.”

Assad nodded sympathetically then frowned. It seemed as if guilt momentarily etched finely into the lines around his eyes. In a measured voice, he replied in Xhosa, “I fear that, were it not for us, there would not have been danger for you to be in.” That said, his eased the jeep to a stop in front of a large structure built into the cavern wall, a protrusion of metal sculpted in the likeness of a close forest path comfortably illuminated by celadon photoluminescence. There, he switched to English, “You will be well looked after, I assure you, but for the moment I must leave you two here in the care of another.”

He pointed to the opening.

Ndakala helped himself and the lady out of their transportation, which by then they were weary of. It felt good to stretch again. Miraculously, despite the many hours between here and Johannesburg, the lady’s parcel remained with her and undamaged—it was, after all, the same jeep in which they initially departed. On it was a cross that indicated medical supplies. What did she say it contained—vaccines? No doubt useful.

“Makemba!” shouted Assad, then drove away without waiting for a response. He took their vehicle with him, but without opportunity or will to complain, Ndakala merely sighed while Lydia clutched wrapped her arms around herself in fearful irritation. Soon, a woman materialized in the archway and gestured with flour-covered hands for them to come inside.

“Welcome,” Makemba warmly brought them into a room with a cozy fireplace girded by several chairs. “What brings you to Marange?”

Lydia sat down and moaned, “Fate! Terrible fate! I was at the seaport in Cape Town awaiting my journey home when all world travel was suddenly suspended. I heard over the radio in the executive lounge that Spain was gone—how does a country go missing? With no way off this accursed continent until God knows when, I decided to extend my trip and visit the children in Phalaborwa my charity provides for when we came across the most dreadful carnage on the road. I don’t want to think about the rest—it is all so horrid.”
Samarra, Cizra Su-lah

Nostalgia threatened to manifest as tears as she plucked her coffee cup from her desk, a place ineffably imprinted on her heart and on the white slab in the form of a brown ring. Commonplace though it was, the act felt bittersweet, for it was, for her, its final performance. Resolute, she dismissed her memories, for she knew within minutes of her departure even the ring would be gone; expunged by process and bureaucracy. I’ll cry later, she affirmed, then steadied her nerves, exhaled, and inspected her keepsake. While her eyesight lacked the keenness of youth, her mind retained its edge; she did not need to see her mug to know, after countless washings, that it no longer boasted a vibrant red gloss and the embossed skull lingered on as only a vague blotch.

No other trinkets cluttered her workspace. Enclosed by the drab walls of her cubicle were only a white slab, which served as her desk; her console, for the last seventy-eight years her only aperture into the broader universe; a bin, a translucent plastic affair delivered by sanitation drones soon after she arrived for her shift, empty, for she possessed nothing to fill it; and a large binder prepared for the Av’sti.

“Is there anyone you would like to say farewell to?”—apologetically, from behind, the voice of her supervisor penetrated her reverie; a new hire, only twenty-three years employed.

Two prehensile tails elevated JAS-397 until she peered above her cubicle. Artificial lights desaturated the cruelly-ordered environment, glinted harshly off the metal frames, but went unnoticed. Unmoored by personal bonds, her gaze drifted in a perfunctory and futile survey until she lost track of time and place.

“Well?” urged the voice.

It occurred to her, wearily, that she didn’t know anyone. All of her friends were gone, most of them discovered lifeless at their work stations. Experience, fear, and cynicism dispelled her desire to form new friendships. It was too dangerous. Everyone informed for the inquisition. All too often, workers vanished; particularly the gregarious; especially the gossips. Whether they were actually auditors, she wasn’t sure; it might have all been theater—a sick manipulation.

Still, reality stung. In her mind reverberated the emptiness of her career, but landed hallow in her heart, poisoned by the toxicity of her former work environment.

It was simply too dangerous to care.

“No,” she replied, her voice wistful—husky. After a final glance, an effort to engrave the moment onto her core, she lowered herself to her paws and plucked the binder from her slab. Then, as she turned to leave, she caught sight of herself. On the bin’s vaguely reflective surface she saw her face—flat, like a mask with dull black ovals where eyes ought to be and mouthless ever since the zar-Taliļ Incident.

Reflexively, she repulsed the memory. After decades of service, her discretion was absolute. To them, that didn’t matter. They took her voice—her mouth. Life was a luxury she retained only due to the value of her future testimony.

“It is time to go,” her supervisor sympathized.

Androgynous, brief, and porcine, it pointed her down the hall, followed her to an elevator, but declined to accompany her aboard. When the doors opened, a massive kukull confronted her. Despite its stature and course appearance, its aura soothed and a firm, yet gentle, touch managed to calm her nervous spirit. Silently they watched as the numbers on the elevator register went up, far higher than ever before permitted to her or, she speculated, anyone of her caste. Inexplicably, she felt honored. More than that, she felt nervous with expectation and noticed not the surgical collar, suffused from the kukull’s excess substance, as it encircled her neck.

Many hours of corridors, stairways, and doorways paraded by; many creatures, a few she suspected might even be Cizran, caught her attention until, in her frenetic desire to observe and internalize everything, she focused her gaze on another. Finally, she arrived in a room with an exquisite Ganeshan statue, whiter and purer than any of the architecture that surrounded it.

The kukull paused, reduced, temporarily, to a mountain of debris. JAS-397 almost didn’t notice, given the silence of its collapse. Instead, she peered in astonishment at the statue as it undulated and directed itself toward her.

“I am Nirak mul-Siyé,” the statue intoned with words that flowed over JAS-397 as intimately as a loose gown. “You are the auditor who reviewed the Dira var-sha’s admiralty and personal communications at the time of the zar-Taliļ Incident. We have concluded that you will not live long enough to provide useful testimony at the trials related to that incident. As such, you are to be placed in suspended animation until you are needed as a witness. Place your documents on the floor and proceed to cryo-suspension. My kukull will guide you there.”

Stupefied, JAS-397 lifted a paw to her face, but was further amazed to feel beneath her fingertip the thin line of a mouth for the first time in decades.

“You will need that for your testimony,” the Cizran observed, as if the auditor’s mind was completely exposed. JAS-397 believed such well within Nirak’s capabilities, given how her own physiology was altered with little more than a thought.

Green tears coursed in twin rivulets down her flat white face, but she cared little about what any might think of her emotional display. For the first time in decades, the flame of happiness burned in her bosom. Without delay, she eagerly complied with Nirak’s request. The kukull resumed its role as guide. More corridors, streets, and structures blurred to a solid, but mostly unnoticed, phantasmagoria as she was escorted through the halls and boulevards of Samarra. Her first time seeing it, the city was beautiful, replete with architectural marvels and gardens as far as her limited vision allowed. Finally, her sojourn ended, and she entered a chamber full of translucent vessels almost as variegated in size as manifold in number. Within them she beheld the faint outlines of hundreds of different species. All too soon, she occupied her own. The container closed, cold air fogged the interior, something pierced the side of her neck. Then, instead of blissful rest, her worst memory awakened and paralysis abruptly censored her scream.

For her testimony to be fully utilized, they wanted her to remember every detail.

. . .

Beckoned by a callous will, darkness strangled her cry and aroused, through a nebula of unnatural and fitful slumber, memories she, for years, struggled to repel. Garishly visceral and, in a way that utterly unnerved her, more real than real, she relived them in a cruelly awakened existential clarity that her mind was barely equipped to parse. Nightmares that recurred over the decades, they, in this grand finale, were bolstered by knowledge gleaned in her career as an auditor, such that even the smallest detail loomed rife with nuance and pregnant with unsolved intrigue.

JAS-397 was justifiably excited, as work ushered in her second once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a mere decade after her first. When she resumed her audit routine in the aftermath of Silexies’ unauthorized prisoner release, she assumed she was done with excitement forever. Instead, she stood, pale face lit by a magnetically-levitated console. Behind her, her tails nervously twitched and belied her stoicism—even as they indicated to her colleagues the criticality of the work on which she embarked. Her coworkers never learned that this was not merely a routine review nor an ordinary validation of protocol, but, instead, a top secret investigation into potential Cizran malfeasance.

Methodically, she analyzed what she knew or, more accurately, suspected. Interrogation of the former warden’s cronies exposed his plot to obtain a heretical text. Desperate to secure lenience, he invented a co-conspirator in the person of Admiral Nenegin zar-Taliļ. Circumstantial evidence in zar-Taliļ’s unexplained possession and subsequent transfer of the tome to Gereza certainly merited an audit. That was her role—to seek out evidence of conspiracy. Future recall tinged the facts, and she peered down the whirlpool of time to where the Admiral’s actions were judged as negligence that culminated in several lost konul harvests, an overturned Liars assessment that devastated the career of his protégé, and ultimately crescendoed in his ignoble discharge from public service.

Quite the fiasco.

Officially, ‘exceedingly poor judgment’ was the verdict rendered by the Si’ab and Noama for the admiral’s forced retirement. Were it not for an exemplary military record and familial connections, the consequence of his decisions, which remained inexplicable, would have terminated in a quiet sankul banishment. As Cizran war hero, she suspected his preference for that over his public evisceration in the Ja’Regia.

With fastidious dedication, she collated information pertinent to her superiors. While she observed no evidence of criminality, those in power gleaned from it what was convenient. However, she believed bureaucracy always prevailed and fixated her mind on the data feeds. In fixed-width block letters, she observed the feed summaries culminated from extensive log filtration. As she parsed them, information flooded her synapses. More than saw, she felt the emphatically-transcribed contents synchronize with her soul.

Nenegin’s inner mind, exposed in the memory transcripts of his admiralty logs, crystallized within her consciousness. He regretted his desire for personal involvement in the fate of Kilamara’s surreptitious visitors and was concerned for both his legacy and the safety of his away fleet. Especially in the interval where contact between the Dira var-sha and the Zara vi-Pol ceased. Once it resumed, Nenegin and The Liars encouraged Ezkshi to unleash the totality of her vessel’s destructive capabilities on the Aptosites. Cizran High Command disagreed and, in their report, concluded that the fleet should have remained hidden as the Bahá-cizr was sufficient to annihilate the enemy, additional strength mere hubris, and the outcome ultimately disadvantaged the Empire in potential future embroilments.

Nenegin further recognized that while the partial harvest of Kilamara and his response to the Vepsis Dol’s distress signal were perhaps serendipitous, they were inadequate. Still, he reflected, what were the odds that, after decades of mundane idleness, an incursion would occur at the exact moment of his departure; that Aredemos would, through idiocy, inflict genocide on his own race and homeworld; and that he, admiral of the fleet in patrol of that sector, would be absent?

He knew it didn’t matter.

He was not at his post. That is what mattered.

Inevitable as a somnambulist coerced into lockstep with caliginous night terrors of their own design, her consciousness descended into the final data feed. Initially, it imposed mere visual theater—an ante room of the Vepsis Dol. Unadorned, the vault-like entrance to the huge vessel was silent, still, and gray; a dreary environ with few creature comforts, not unlike her sparse work habitat numerous levels beneath the Hall of Records.

Other senses awakened. Her focus on mere appearance became less important. Instead, in diametric opposition to her self-perception, she, for the first time, felt burgeon within herself raw power and undeniable poise. It emanated effortlessly from zar-Taliļ, through the feed, and into her core. Stoic and composed as he seemed externally and unreadable as the false eyes grafted in the apertures of his basalt mask appeared, internally his mind churned in a tangle of distraction and worry. Even the task at hand he pushed aside in favor of an internal dialog, as he was fully confident in the adroitness of his mechanics and aptitude of his honor guard to restore the transport vessel to proper function. As they worked, he pondered the queer events and chaos that stirred inexplicably in his wake. It felt, to him, as though an inexorable fate teased him and tempted him onward to disaster; one impossible to mitigate even were he able to observe its approach.

As if executed by his milieu, two presences suddenly vanished from his awareness. Merely a tinge at the corner of his mind, they nevertheless snapped him back to the present. His guards, gone. Reactively, he queried their biosignatures, but they did not manifest within his techo-empathic compass. Exasperated, he activated ship-wide comms.

“Where are units c-x9 and c-x12?”

“Ambushed, Sir,” quavered, in his mind, the voice of his lieutenant, “We’re trying to contai—aaaah!”

Fully alert, Nenegin shifted his mind-state to the video feed of his away team and synchronized his surveillance augmentation with the ship’s security system. Everywhere, it seemed, bodies and their siphoned screams reverberated off the walls, reduced to mounds of gore. In one chamber, he saw a sanguine mass of sinew, shrouded in a brume of black flecks, as it writhed through the vanes of an air duct and into the ventilation system to affect its egress. Those who yet expressed life were too far gone to merit aid and choked their last words out into a miasma of spores that permeated the passageways in the wake of the thing.

Nenegin detected it through one security camera after another as it slunk and churned its way around the vessel. Eventually, it dripped like raw sewage through an exhaust vent in the ceiling of the medical ward. Below, an arachnid patient in temporary bio-stasis convulsed in helpless tactile horror, its lidless eyes seized in dread preternatural. A quick cross-reference of the manifest confirmed the unfortunate as Ulu’gol, an artisan whose plight brought him to Q’ab and, finally, here. Atop its paralyzed prey, the mass coagulated along the dorsal joint of Ulu’gol’s carapace, leered down, and erupted with maniacal laughter. “Ulu-ulu-ulu-uluuuuuuu—” it cackled as its physique clarified. Intensity mounted, then its being vibrated erratic until suddenly it seized and flopped to the floor beside the stasis pedestal in a viscous puddle.

A moment later, it was back on the move.

“Units, search for survivors and avoid engagement with any threats,” Nenegin ordered.

It took a mere moment to skim the ship’s recent errata and confirm the layout, another to activate the automatic quarantine protocol—which hermetically sealed every zone and inhibited gas and liquid flow—then he was in pursuit. Semi-translucent halls and bulkheads blurred in a kaleidoscopic array of colorful zone indicators embedded in the floors, ignored in favor of the spectral signature he developed ad-hoc to associate with his prey. Ominously quiet, his trek went nearly unimpeded, his only obstructions the bodies of his soldiers and his only distractions their plaintive cries for relief. Moments swelled to minutes, but he eventually corned the thing in a cargo hold. In retrospect, he felt lured there—its twisted intelligence enjoined, in some ultramundane fashion, to his own ironic fate. Across the chamber idled, unaware of danger, two synths and a kukull—Tob “Boomslang” Ydrian and Eti Naris, he confirmed.

Guards and soldiers were expendable, but at least one of the unaware trio he was required to safeguard for the inquisition. Unless—there was another passenger unaccounted for. A political servant of Plangó Felho'Te-vesztø charged, as indicated by the manifest, with heresy.

Xo’pil, an Azot.

So this is the product of Plango’s crimes against the Well, Nenegin inwardly sneered.

Too late, he understood. It lurched down from the ceiling where it clandestinely clung and latched itself on to his mask. A whirlwind of howls beat against his crystalline exoskull. The psionic pulse with which he countered did little, if anything at all, to dissuade its onslaught. Instead, the thing—Xo’pil, he was certain—scraped and gnawed at his armor while its shrieks filled the gaps in the milliseconds betwixt its physical assault. Nenegin improvised, his chemistry altered, and his exterior slickened with oil that gushed from newly-formed pores. His chitin glowed white-hot, and the oil ignited. This, for the while, was effective. Xo’pil recoiled, gathered itself on the floor away from him, a weave of exposed muscle and storm of spores, then dashed away.

“Get off the ship,” Nenegin instructed the two synths, who gazed on slack-jawed and shocked, “yellow line. Now!” then was back on the hunt.

The aura of its seared flesh he followed easily enough. It teased him deeper into the Vepsis Dol, through propulsion, engineering, and finally into the sankul chamber. With only one way in or out, Nenegin sealed it and himself within.

Eventually, he emerged, victorious but damaged. What transpired in the interval was beyond his ability to frame in words the Av’sti believed and beyond JAS-397’s capacity to observe. It broke her as assuredly as it wounded him. As a precaution, he remained on the Vepsis Dol and sanitized every micro-angstrom of the vessel. He sanitized every molecule of his being. After over a dozen rounds and a hundred sweeps, he remained unsatisfied that the thing was eradicated.

Eventually, his power to make that decision was revoked—an incredulous high command demanded his return to Cizra Su-lahn.

. . .

Station X-b, Gereza

Thoroughly and uneventfully processed by Gereza civility enforcement drones, Kirri was ushered to a transport vessel and shuttled from the penitentiary to Station X-b, a large and dated spaceport in orbit around the prison planet that served as something between a halfway house and a melting pot. There in the hangar, his bonds dissipated in a nanite fog. Most of them, anyway. The civility-enforcement programming to his neuro-pathways remained intact, but would decay over the course of a year. Such was standard rehabilitation protocol, but was further beneficial as with it Kirri could comprehend the languages of the local species.

Around him, the hangar was a churn of chaos, a veritable tent city rife with kiosks, haggling, and raised voices. Occupied by riffraff with nowhere else to go, refugees, ex-cons, and people who were finally free of enslavement and wanted to get as far from Cizra Su-lahn as feasible, it was the perfect place to disappear into or come into power, relatively speaking.

If he played his cards right and fell into the right company, Kirri would be fine.

. . .

La Cantina, Eqiko-4

Boomslang and Eti-Naris perched atop stools in a dive bar on planet in the outer rim of the Su-laria Galaxy while their kukull friend hulked outside. No doubt it was stargazing, as it was its wont. They, meanwhile, enjoyed pints of MILK and quietly discussed future plans.

Mostly scrap metal, the establishment was quite worn, filled with fumes, suspicious characters, and soft voices. The only thing in good shape appeared to be the large wall screen behind the bar that projected a century-old documentary on Cizran Imperialism. They mostly ignored it, although some bits filtered into their consciousness. Extremely nationalistic, the documentary extolled the greatness of the Cizran Empire and its manifold conquests. At the moment, it was on their most recent, the Aptosite’s doomed invasion and subsequent rout. Disclosed was public domain knowledge of the Bahá-cizr’s capabilities and how it, alone, eliminated the threat without the necessity of an active response; how it, so briefly, debilitated the Cradle of Life and reduced to ashes the enemy’s galactic web. Mentioned also were the ruined careers of those who misappropriated Empire resources and reduced an exquisitely perfunctory victory into a gaudy and supercilious overexposure of power.

“Hey, look, we know a celebrity,” Eti opined, a claw pointed at the screen. To a narrative of his poor judgment, it displayed the simultaneous demolition of statues of Admiral Nenegin zar-Talil located in the Cizran Fleet Academy and the shipyards of Zo.

Boomslang rolled his eyes and replied, “Yeah, a bright shining star. You really piled on the misfortune, too.”

Eti nodded wistfully, “Yes, but it got us our freedom and it got me my ship. Free and clear. The news of Ec-shavar’s death didn’t hurt either. I mean, yes, I lost the estate to a greedy comer-up, but would you change anything?”

“You mean go back to being property? Hell no,” Boomslang snorted and, in exclamation, slammed his pint down on the bar.

. . .
. .
.

Tsathoskr and Ua, Plango and Ec-shavar, Nenegin and Silexies, Zeptir and Snil, Aredemos and Kaan—all came and went, egos confident, for a sharp glint in the corridor of time, of their personal dominion over the cosmos, but in the end bureaucracy endured and demonstrated that in the Cizran Empire it was no god's sky.
THE END
Shock gripped Ndakala and, to a far greater extent, the delicate sensibilities of the lady in white, although her pristine linen garments were now an ochre-tinged memory. He, meanwhile, found respite, briefly, in his ancestors’ native tongue. How the determined young woman knew it—amongst an abundance of other languages that dripped from her tongue as drops off a boaboa tree after a monsoon, several of which he was certain died with their last speakers a generation ago—was, to him, a riddle not well-suited to a solution. Najwa Moghadani’s linguistic artistry aside, he was not prepared for what followed whence he sat in the driver’s seat of the jeep, started the engine, and pressed down on the accelerator—neither was his captive, Lydia Benson. No, we are both refugees of fate, he justified as guilt hung in his chest, its intensity inflected more sharply in recognition of the deception he undertook.

This is necessary to our survival.

Was it, really, though? Half-thought, the malformed question cast a shadow on the wall of his mind. Why should he believe anything the wild girl—a stranger—said? Because she put him at ease by speaking Xhosa? Xanathan would have to conclude they were harmless passersby,; Lydia Benson alone on her name recognition as an interfering philanthropist.

Still, there were the rumors. No, not just rumors. Reports from those he trusted. Images seen by his own eyes.

When they felt the situation called for it, Xanathan were brutal.

Ndakala’s mind drifted a moment to the XSF convoy and he knew, without a doubt, that whoever did it were just as brutal; moreover, he sensed this young woman was somehow involved.

“Fate guide us safely on our journey,” he recited, decision made.

The jeep lurched forward and, inexplicably, downward. The ground gave way beneath them, not with violence, but as easily as one succumbs to water having given up their last breath. Darkness enveloped them, and he clicked on the lights. They were filthy, coated in dust from the hours driving across sun-hardened savanna and rocky terrain, but nevertheless served their purpose. The tunnel around him illuminated, he drove in grim silence without taking even a moment to glance at his passenger—still in shock, although her breathing was less frenetic as time went on—lest some momentary lapse in attention result in his personal peril.

An hour later, the harsh glint of the afternoon sun stung his eyes as jeep emerged from the unnatural tunnel and into the midst of a strange compound. Armed guards were standing at the ready, waiting for him. Young men with eyes that were older than they ought. The eyes of those who were prepared to kill. The only reasonable thing to do was cut the engine.

“Miss Benson, this is the end of the road for now.”

“This isn’t Phalaborwa,” she protested, but it was a defeated type of whine, a sighed exclamation wherein she recognized she would not make it to where she wanted to go, at least, not on a timeline of her choosing.
Moments after the transmission from The Liars, Ezkshi decided on her KTmA battle plan; a personally-devised fusion of several complex scenarios concocted at the Cizr Armada Academia. An opportunity such as this was too tantalizing to resist and would likely not come again for a thousand years, legacy be damned if the Liars’ prediction proved false. With a telepathic prompt, she placed all crew within visual proximity of her in temporary catatonia, withdrew from her benighted corner, drifted through the command deck, and entered a secure area. While the crew recovered, the door quietly morphed shut behind her. Sufficient lookahead protocols were in place for the command deck to function, however briefly, without her active direction. Besides, what she intended to do was more important—in both personal and collective terms—and demanded the entirety of her concentration.

Physically, she was alone in an unlit chamber adjacent to the command deck—a place that opened and responded only to her and other empathically pure Cizran officers. In spite of its ostensible simplicity, via the miracle of neuro-connectivity, it transformed what her senses beheld into something miraculous. It truly defied the science.

As immediately as the door sealed, she was enrobed in the shimmering astra of cyclically-harvested potential. Around her whorled a simulation of the interior of the konul she intended to manipulate, trillions of motes layered in manifold strata, each uniquely defined by the flavor of their reaping. Then, as a seer gazes through tongues of fire, she peered deeper than what her mundane senses allowed and beheld the battlefield. From a distance, she saw the utter vastness of the light-flecked cosmos; closer still, the faintly-blue spiral of the Su-laria galaxy as it swam through the heavens; even nearer, the sector of incursion where the great beast was butchered by the incessant onslaught of the Bahá-cizr; within, a conflagration of destruction and Diamobos burst like a clot of dirt-rife slurry against the interior bowels of their cosmic prison; and, finally, the Aptosite ship wherein Snil and Karzar stood before the fading phantasm of their would-be captive.

With a gesture, she ripped the Aptosite ship in twain from bow to stern. The groundwork was already in place from the explosive cocktail of nanites, chemicals, biologics, and femto-responsive quasi-mineral-organics—all of which burrowed into the enemy vessel’s hull as soon as the curtain was drawn back on their masquerade as Nenegin zar-Taliļ, Aredemos, and Kirri. Soon thereafter, the infection proliferated throughout the extent of the ship and its complement.

Unfamiliar as she was with their anatomy, Ezkshi did know few things fared well without atmosphere and she imagined the ruptured vessel would suffer a multitude of casualties.

Even so, she was not finished with her work; in fact, as far as konul manipulation went, she wasn’t even started.

Again, her consciousness expanded. She saw the whole of the strange being that interjected itself into the domain of the Empire. It swam in what was open space. Was, until she shaped her vision, and the whole fell into a box—one inundated with flashing MASERs, bursting LADAR, fulminating fusion reactions, would-be Cradles of Life, and genuflecting magicarp. The box compressed, like the interior of a trash compactor, shank, and cramped what was in it. The vision wasn’t hers alone, but it manifested in reality beyond her mind. What she did in this moment, her manipulation of the konul’s harvested potential, affected reality.

The box shrank into a nothing, and then was no longer in or part of the Su-laria galaxy. It had, instead, been all pushed into a microscopic dimension.

It was … inner space.

The cell she balanced on a talon contained the wreckage of Kilamara and Diemobos, the Cradle of Life and its pillaged worlds, and the Aptosite invaders. She had been careful to mortar the gaps precisely so as to plot an escape for her fleet and the nodes of the grid.

With a disgusted gesture, she flung it away; it skipped like a pebble across the trillions of light years of distance that separated the Empire from the slums of the verse. Then, without a second thought, she went about the restoration of this sector of Cizran space.

Beams of light and tunnels of time channeled through the colorful layers of strata, reshaping and reversing the photons of the star around which they orbited. An evolution seemed to be taking place, as dust coalesced, gathered into rocks, and further accumulated into a planet and a moon strikingly similar to Kilamara and Deimobos. Verdant and fertile, the planet boasted a single continent with a great central desert separating two vast jungles. There were no mountains, only deep fissures in the otherwise vaguely undulating landscape. Meanwhile, the volcanic moon became darker and colder as it aged. Life spawned, but, just as before, it was not intelligent. However, this time, she ensured it lacked the strange dynamic that allotted them possession of a power by which they could destroy their own world.

The sector was restored to what it was meant to be.

Another cycle.

Another subservient, mindless harvest that would one day be reaped and, after several cycles, restore the effort exerted on behalf of their redemption.

. . .


Meanwhile, on Cizra Su-lahn, outside the Av’sti’s headquarters, a scandal was playing out in polygraphic polyglotic polyamorous majesty.

“Butina cyp-Mariia, we have reasons to believe there are recordings wherein you colluded with the enemy—licentious treason wherein you and Zeptir wallowed in untold heresy! What have you to say for yourself?”

She struggled against her restraints, spit at the ground, and insisted, “No collusion! This is a witch hunt! It is the Av’sti, their deep-state strangle hold on the Cizran Empire, that is to blame! I did nothing wrong! See how big my hands are? SEE? LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME, YOU SPECIPHILES! The chemtrails are reaaaaaaaaaalllllllll!”

“Silence, sTRUMPet,” barked one of the guards, “soon you will be PUT IN a cage and left to rot!”
WIP - I'll finish this eventually. :) Otherwise, feel free refer to it as an example group.
The Cizran Empire

. . .


About

The Cizran Empire rests along an isolated filament of The Verse and sprawls throughout an entire galaxy. Many intelligent and heterogeneous species reside within, but the Cizran subjugated their rivals ages prior and their rule is absolute. As a consequence of a conflict-free era, bureaucracy, decadence, and ritual usurped further cultural maturation. Even so, technology is advanced and, through it, disease, death, and want are almost absent. Much less commonplace a solution to the universe’s difficulties is magic, regulated and relegated to state-sponsored objectives such as interstellar missions.

The Kr'Nalus—a cataclysm from beyond known space that splintered their hive mind and brought them to the brink of annihilation—marked the beginning of the second Cizran galactic expansion. Suddenly individuals, they were compelled to regroup, rebuild, and reconquer. While no specifics of the Kr'Nalus remain, it nevertheless influenced cultural resurgence, intertwining government with a peculiar brand of religious philosophy. In such, the gods, believed to dwell in houses set amongst the stars and threatened by the power of the Cizran whole, sent Heralds to dilute their strength. Over time, as secularism came into vogue, physical manifestations of divinity diffused to abstract concepts like beauty, acumen, and power. Many sites, such as the Space Temple and Shrine of Tsathoskr, were constructed in respect of these intangibles.

  • Leadership—There is no official figurehead; instead, society is governed by members of the Av'sti, which is the religious, legislative, and executive branch; the Noema, which is the bureaucratic oversight branch; and the Durantaza, which is the judicial branch.

  • Technology—Age and momentum birthed an era where subjects enjoy effective immortality, nigh-perfect health, and vast leisure time. Magic is almost unnecessary and money is the artifice of lesser beings. Instead, laws and regulations limit an individual’s impact on society. The Empire possesses colony-size spaceships, terraforms and destroys worlds, and harnesses almost all the energy of local stars. Superluminal travel is incredibly expensive, its price the spiritual energy of hundreds for a single jump, and as such is limited to gargantuan transports and military vessels.

  • Magic—The transmutation of arcana into power, magic drains the life of the caster and indeed weakens the whole. As a consequence, it is forbidden aside from that officially mandated by the Si’ab. Likewise, high priests seldom cast spells during their lifetime, but instead rely on a system of misinformation, manipulation, sankuls, and konuls to isolate and transfer the heavy cost of magic from society to individuals.

  • Religion—Jaded and sure of their place in the cosmos, Cizran religion is relegated to ritual and historical remembrance where gods and goddesses still exist, as do the millennia-old shrines erected in their honor, but they serve as symbols of intangibles that defy explanation or acceptance and as icons of mysteries beyond the scope of scientific knowledge.

  • Inequality—Compared to a Cizran, other species possess few rights, holdings, or power. Especially on Cizra Su-lahn. Power begets power, and niceties of state are bestowed on the basis of knowledge gleaned. Yet inequality yields satisfaction of place, and beneath them are castes lower still, those of artificial life, that which is grown, that which is machined, and, at the bottom, that which is animated.

The Divine Animal

Throughout the vastness of the cosmos, in intelligent minds, lurks a tao of dread and desire that life on other worlds strives against its own unlikelihood with familiar tenacity and diversity of form. On most, it fails, for nature’s demands on evolution are harsh and unpredictable. Yet, on a few, life prevails, flourishes into civilization, and contributes to the timeless poem of creation its own transcendent verse. Species emerge from sea, earth, fire, or sky; worship nature, ancestral bones, or the intestate and unthinkable expanse of light-pricked night; then foment war and inevitably devour another in the frantic climb to the acme of ambition.

Occasionally, this chaos yields culture, but even then life is a volatile affair relentlessly hammered into shape and structure. The shapes it takes are innumerable, many weak while only a handful are strong. Amongst all these, there must exist an expression that is the ideal sum of its many facets. Somewhere there must exist the perfect form and a divine animal that embodies it.

With that form in mind, Cizran flesh became a holy book; scripture waiting to be written in the blood of the divine animal. Across the many systems of their empire, rare is it that two Cizran share the same physiology. Few even remotely reflect the form that was forged on their homeworld. They elected new bodies, and over time a greater number degraded their flesh for the sake of gaudy fashion and to flaunt their wealth and power. Most forgot the quest that sent them into the far reaches of space. Fewer recognized that, one day, the excess would be shorn if they are to adorn that sacred form.

Critical Points

  • Samarra—see Territories.

  • Shipyards of Zo—see Territories.

  • Gareza Prison Complex—see Territories.

Territories
Cizra Su-lahn

( Diplomacy ) Bathed in weird orange glow of the star, Bukan, is the birthworld of the Cizran Empire, the planet Cizra Su-lahn. Tranquil and clement, the entire world is a garden cultivated by an army of kukulls and slaves. No non-native species is permitted unattended outside the capital; indeed, most "inferior beings" are segregated to space stations in orbit around the planet or enslaved as pets and side-shows in villas. The remainder of the planet is sacred and has been utterly dominated and domesticated, everything the eye can behold is owned and by prominent Cizrans.

  • Samarra—on either side of the river Sirnak sprawls the seat of galactic government, the city of Samarra. Within is the Ja'regia, where, over the course of centuries, bills become law; the Hall of Records, where homage is paid to bureaucracy and every moment transcribed; and shrines to various gods.

    • Shrine of Tsathoskr—this holy abode concealed no corner suitable for quiet contemplation. Instead, it was simultaneously awful and exquisite. From its interior dome and bowed walls luminiferous flora assaulted the visual and olfactory senses with the story of creation, neither wholesome nor pleasant, but possessed of vivacious honesty and bewitching brutality. Each scene punctured the mind with its loud awakening and to refuse intimacy brought a mad cacophony of thorough debauch. Nature awaited no consent to mold life and, later, consciousness. Rather, time and the elements lustily collided and birthed from their orgies all that would ever be. Scenes of ravenous rape and devour flushed in wild juxtaposition to raw canvasses of stark birth; creatures fed their offspring the young of other species; storms surged, volcanoes erupted, and supernovae shown. Notably, not a single depiction of conventional romance presented itself in the decor. The place was one of singular purpose. It served as a reminder of all that wrought civilization, indifferent to modern contrivances. Life, mollified neither by elaboration nor banality, was thrust upon those who dared enter.

      Such a scene splayed across one of numerous panels boasted millions of colorful carnivorous plants that writhed a presentation, with lifelike clarity, of two bears rutting. It emitted all the noises one might conceive: wind teasing the meadow grass, distant birds chirping, and each grunt, snarl, and howl of bestial union. With this colluded the musk of their mating, the dew on the verdance, and a vague essence of pine colluded and lanced directly into the viewer’s sensory cortex.

      Just one of a thousand depictions.

      Worship of such a deity requires to embrace with fecundity one’s base urges.

  • Space Temple—in orbit around the planet, here alcoves can read somebody’s mind and virtually link them to that location, often far-flung spiritual sites or places from which they have been banished. It serves the purpose as a neutral territory where any sojourner might take sanctuary and feel the presence of their fellow believers as they virtually stride the grounds of their elected shrine with neither the labor nor consequence of a physical manifestation. This is done by linking their mind via a psylink powered by divine force.

  • Cloud of Ghot -- blah blah blah.

Alcazar

( Trade ) A moon of endless astroblemes bearing enormous rifts in all direction as far as the eye can see.

  • Gareza Prison Complex—isolated from the riff-raff of Alcazar is a heavily-militarized prison complex that houses both Wa'ali and Cizran alike. Here, every inch and moment are recorded and subject to audit. The more dangerous the prisoner, the more heightened the security, with a range of group cells to dimensionally-isolated sensory deprivation chambers.

Ganax'ab

( Production ) On the outskirts of the empire, this system is governed by Ec-shavar and comprised of two planets.

  • Q'ab -- a verdant world and cultural seat of the Ganax'ab, most of its sapient denizens take refuge in the capital city of Zöld'nach.

  • Ganaxavori -- a harsh and barely habitable world where the handful of the natives still live in caves and the atmosphere is toxic, it is here that Ec-shavar's flagship set down as a symbol of his dominance over these worlds.

Killimara

( Military ) Blah blah blah.

  • Deimobos -- blah blah blah.

  • Shipyards of Zo -- blah blah blah.

Politics

Located in a relatively isolated area of The Verse, the Cizran Empire stretches across a whole galaxy. Within, relatively few species were sophisticated enough to challenge the might of Cizra. These were crushed. The dominant civilization for several thousand years, they are decadent and gaudy, often cultivating lesser species for entertainment and, ultimately, to harvesting their spiritual energy.
Allies

N/A
Enemies

N/A

Group Characteristics

Empathic Organ—What remains of the Cizran hivemind in the aftermath of the Kr'Nalus, a cataclysmic event that reduced a collective to individuals. The organ, a mineral structure, enables Cizrans to sense another's presence, communicate telepathically, identify members of their species in spite of physiological modifications, and assess the depth of the collective well.

The Well—All Cizrans have access to a shared life source, known as the common well, which may be manipulated and coerced in what is only describable as magic. Heavily regulated, this resource is not used casually, for each use weakens the whole.

Genetic Remapping—Expert geneticists, Cizrans are able to modify their physiology at will. This is the cause of their vast dissimilarities in appearance. With little more than a thought, a Cizran may sprout wings, grow armor, and so on. The possibilities are limited by only imagination, energy, and a comprehension of what changes will result in what forms.

Members

OOC Leader—there is no official leader; we just discuss the plot and our ideas in a Skype chat.

@Circ as Eti Naris, Nenegin zar-Taliļ, Nirak mul-Siyé
@Gattsu as Domnik, The Kukull
@apathy as Xo'pil, Plangó Felho'Te-vesztø
@Liaison as Silexies, Kaan, Eel Sermonde, Cigány Cnidaria
@Alucroas as Kirri, Aredemos, Zeptir

Appendix I - Characters

  • Ec-shavar—governor of Q'ab and Ganaxavori, he is a powerful Cizran and member of the upper-caste. His exterior like basalt, dark and rough, it is only broken by veins of variegated luminous crystal that shift in hue in accordance with his temperament. Concentrated around his skull, it is this crystal organ that facilitates his empathic bond with other Cizrans and allows him to draw from the common well of spiritual energy. He stands four meters tall, supported by four powerful legs while another quartet of mantis-like limbs serve as arms, ready to strike at a moment's notice. His head lacks eyes or ears, but boasts a powerful mouth, clenched like a bud until it blossoms with concentric rows of translucent teeth.

  • Potan Mul—Cizran assassin employed by the empire's high inquisition; owner of Eti Naris.

  • Eti Naris—synthetic companion and spaceship pilot; owned by Potan Mul; looks like a red panda in a gunslinger costume.

  • Nenegin zar-Taliļ—Cizran admiral charged with patrolling the sector of space containing Killimara and other planets; is large, white, and has eight legs.

  • Ulu'gol—arachnid artisan; he exists for comic relief.

  • Bajaga Garul and Tarhara Maka—echinoderm artisans working on a commission for Potan Mul; Ec-Shavar didn't appreciate Potan Mul's gift and murdered the pair of artisans.

  • Nirak mul-Siyé—Cizran member of the Noema and information conduit, she seldom moves, much less departs the Ja'regia.


Appendix II - Terminology

  • Konul—war device deployed in orbit around a planet that drains the spiritual vitality of the inhabitants.

  • Sankul—coffin-shaped device that restrains heretical or criminal Cizrans and separates their spirits from the common well; their vitality is then drained and channeled towards the execution of high-level magic, such as FTL travel.

  • Kukull—spirit-infused matter, much like a golem or an elemental, bound to a Cizran's will and purposed for specific physically-demanding tasks, such as farming or mining.

  • Kr'Nalus—the splintering of the Cizran hive mind that led to their new culture, need for bureaucracy, and subsequent re-expansion across the galaxy.

  • Ci’zaria su-to Tóth—sacred tome deemed heretical and officially banned within the Cizran empire.

  • Xo'Xan—a Cizran still alive from the time shortly following the Kr'Nalus who sought to use genetic modification to achieve deification; these are now deemed heretics.

  • Av'sti—inquisition branch of the Cizran religious arm of government.

  • Av'llys—member of the Av'sti.

  • Si'ab—highest body of the Av'sti.

  • Noema—head council of the Cizran bureaucratic arm of government.

  • Wa'ali—inferior species.

  • Durantaza—an hierarchical caste-structured system of courts.

  • Shalam—an atheractive and radioactive mineral.


Appendix III - Species

  • Cizran—although typically just under four meters tall, there is no end to Cizran variety and morphology due to their obsession with genetic self-modification. The only unifying factor is their empathic organ, a crystalline mineral substance that allows them to recognize one another and pull spiritual energy from the common well.

  • Killimaran—These insectoid aliens stand at 2.5 meters, their skin is a mixture of ruddy orange and sandy brown that allows them to blend in well with both the rainforests and desert. Their heads are somewhat squid-shaped, with black, ovular eyes set nearly on the sides, their mouths are horizontal insect mandibles, and their arms feature short retractable as well as regrowable spikes that curve upwards along the humerus and downward along the forearms, possessing a second pair of vestigial limbs near their hips. The nails on their fingers split in two small extensions which aid in a variety of tasks from gripping, piercing, and tearing into the objects of their desire.

  • Q'ush—between 1.5 and 2 meters tall, these are lizard-like in appearance.

  • Azot—a bipedal monkey that stands around 1.5 meters tall.

  • Alakast—arachnid beings with a hard carapace and as many eyes as legs, these stand around 1.5 meters tall.

  • Echinomorph—one-eyed, under 10 centimeters tall, these ambulate on five tentacles and reproduce by spores (similar to starfish) that fall off their sexually dimorphic bodies.

  • Ganaxan—the submoronic rift and cave dwellers of Ganaxavori, with their course hides and bulky bodies these blend in quite readily with the rocky landscape they call home.
In the wake of Ua’s corporeal manifestation, ignition of the galactic engine, and abrupt egress, Ajana, the star on which the divinity succored, waxed unstable. Knots of plasma and magnetic snares danced wantonly on its increasingly spotted surface. Within hours, the inevitable took place, and it discharged a multitudinous bevy of solar flares. The largest clusters thereof careened toward defenseless Q’ab and Ganaxavori. All surface life was threatened, but, serendipitously—if such could be claimed of a routine and predictable matter of cyclic fate—the lethal heat struck just as planets drifted into a haze of cosmic ice. That moment was the great deluge recorded of in ancient lore where, instead of burned or frozen worlds, ostensibly disconnected events rejuvenated the stellar system and only those arrogant enough to dare the highest reaches of atmosphere suffered for their hubris.

The native Q’sh were safe and, for the while, unencumbered by interlopers or oppressors; Ganaxavori yet imprisoned its celestial form; and whither went the engine’s transformational discharge mattered neither to either sphere’s time nor space.

All seemed calm.

Then, behind Ajana reared the lurking blight that smudged the further lights in the star’s penumbra to utter darkness. Black as coal and lit by an infernal internal fire, it shimmered with malevolent radiance and vibrated a chakra of mounting hostility as it unfurled into a ring-like structure of incredible breadth—a praxis archetypal in the Ouroboros. When the extremities mated, the shadow was illumined by a mist of cyan aether. Therein, space warped, and for an instant shone exposed the star of an alien galaxy, until it was eclipsed by an army of shades that erupted as a plague of equals parts madness and horror. Billions of Cataclysm descended on Q’ab to plunder its bioforce-rife surface; meanwhile dreadnoughts, leviathans, and sentinels encircled Ganaxavori and prepared to devour the flesh of a so-called god. The local node of Bahá-cizr, only just restored to order by Ec-shavar, posthumously relayed the late Cizran governor’s warning, but failed to activate defense protocols before being overwhelmed by the enemy swarm.

It took but hours to harvest the hibernating planets of Ganaxavori and Q’ab. Even the self-fashioned god, that imprisoned celestial and foe of Ua, was made short work of as Tsathoskr paralyzed its will and drained it of its every ounce of astral marrow.

Glutted on victory, the flotilla vanished from whence they came—through the hole pierced in space. Once all disappeared through the yawning portal, the jet span that circumnavigated the ominous center writhed in a diminishing spiral and vanished into its own dissipating fog.
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