[Inaius] The Shadows Fall

Esplandia

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PURGATORY
The Last Man - Clint Mansell


The machine finished its work. He then applied the drops to his eyes. It would help with the healing process, but it would also keep his eyes moisturized.

He climbed carefully out of the chair. Everything was still a blur, but now there was definition to some of the shapes. A desk with a console on it, a high backed chair, a bed in the alcove to the back. He held out his hands and made his way to the edge of the desk. Three dozen more treatments. That’s how many he had left before his sight was renewed.

It could have been worse. It wasn’t much of a comfort. He’d been at ground zero. He should have been incinerated. And yet he’d survived, only his vision taken.

He lowered himself carefully into the chair, one hand on his desk for support, the other on the back of the chair so he didn’t miss. He turned the console on, feeling around for the right switch. It buzzed to life.

“Continue in reduced vision mode?” the machine asked him. He didn’t even acknowledge, he just clicked the correct button. Information ran across the screen, nothing but blurry colors like a rising curtain. The computer read them out to him.

The extent of it. It was beyond his projections. The reaction had been massive. He guessed it had spread out over hundreds of star systems, maybe beyond the local cluster.

“The collapse seems to have followed the open subspace tunnels. Subspace energy waves seemed to have dissipated the further away it spread from detonation site. However, the energy field is not collapsing as you thought it would.”

He put his hands in his head. He tried to weep, but there were no tears. The ducts had been damaged in the detonation. The computer continued to drone on about the impact the device had done, the sheer amount of destruction. And it was all his fault. He had done this.

“Researcher Karpali,” the computer interrupted his dark thoughts. “I have run simulations on the possibility of surviving the initial energy blast.”

He lifted his head up. “Percentage>” he asked, his voice horse from lack of use.

“Very low, but not impossible. If anyone made it to underground bunkers they could have survived the initial output of subspace energy.”

Karpali didn’t even bother to hope. Anyone who had fled underground would have been targets for the Faceless. He knew the energy wouldn’t destroy them. They could survive almost anything but extreme heat and radiation. All he’d done was guaranteed the extinction of his species.

“Would you like to readjust course?” the computer asked. “Khodes seems to be the most likely spot to have survivors.”

“No,” Karpali answered. He closed his eyes against the strain using them caused him. “My course is set. All I can do now is follow through.”


His Wyomna woke him from sleep by placing a kiss on his forehead. “Karpali,” she said softly, “the morning dew will be dry soon. You will miss it.”

He pulled her in close, feeling her shape, her warmth. “I would miss it gladly for another hour of sleep beside you.”

She laughed, pulling herself free. “The Central Authority would not be pleased their head researcher wasn’t there for morning devotions.”

But he didn’t move. He knew this was only a memory. “Stay with me, Wyomna,” he said. “The end is nearing.”

“What nonsense is this,” she laughed.

“The Central Authority will call me away again,” he pleaded. “And this time I won’t return. Everything will be wrong. Please stay here with me.”

But she faded away, along with the bedroom and the warm bed he was laying in. He now stood in a corridor, lit by bright glow-lamps. He stood outside a door and beyond he could hear the voices of outraged and terrified Archons. He knew what they were discussing. He knew that he would make his case, and they would be shocked and disgusted at what he proposed. But they would eventually accept there was no other way.

A messenger would arrive and tell him that Helgadae had fallen, that the faceless would soon arrive on Archaeus. The war was lost. The outer defenses were gone. Wymona and their young pup were gone. Archaeus would fall. His home would fall.

“I can’t,” he said, turning away. He couldn’t relive this. Why was he forced to relive this? Why did his dreams hate him so?

He turned and he was now facing the fiery and angry eyes of Special Consul Arsul. “My way would have worked,” he roared. He reached out a cybernetic hand as if to grasp at Karpali’s neck. “We could have stopped them!”

“Your way killed my wife,” Karpali shot back. “My son. All of Archaeus.”

“It stopped them,” the cyborg said. Even as Karpali watched more and more of his limbs were being replaced. His legs were now robotic, his chest machine. And his eyes were now cold, dead and lifeless.

“You burned the holy world and still the faceless came.”

“We should have burned all the outer worlds. Cleansed them. Left nothing for the faceless.” Now he was completely machine and he turned and fled through an archway, shadows moving to follow.

Karpali closed his eyes. This is a dream. I must wake up.

He opened his eyes and saw only the top of his sleeping alcove, still blurry but clearer. He pulled himself up, checking how much time had passed. He’d only slept for a short time, not enough to be rested.

“How much longer until we reach our destination?” he asked.

“Thirteen years, forty days, nineteen hours.”

He closed his eyes again and this time felt the tears come. The machine had been healing his sight and now he could cry again. This was his purgatory. He had to pay for what he’d done.
 

Esplandia

Factbook Addict
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THE WATCHER BEYOND
Holy Dread! - Clint Mansell

There was sensation. A thousand different pinpricks. A flash, an irritation, and then it was gone. Like a gnat, a quick sting, soon forgotten about. This went on with barely a consideration. Whatever these things were required no consideration, no action. There and gone, naught but momentary interlopers.

The consciousness, infinite and timeless, had no thought for things so small. It’s own mind was a universe. It existed completely in its universe. It was its own universe. And so it had been since the beginning. So it would be until the end.

But then something changed. Those small bites, once barely a momentary annoyance, became a permanent and lasting pain. No longer fleeting pin pricks, but the burning pain of a needle driven deep into flesh, if the consciousness could be said to have flesh.

It reacted, the first time it ever had to, but it was ineffectual. This pain was caused by life forms outside its existence. It’s powers, great and terrible within its own universe, had no effect on these interlopers. And so it turned its great consciousness upon this new life which had burrowed into its domain.

And it was patience. To a being that was timeless, the wait was short. The needling pain was only a hole, a burrowed tunnel out of another universe, through its being, and then back into the other. A shortcut for them.

Was that what all those small stings had been? Something passing through its being as a shortcut in their own universe? The thought intrigued it. But the thought also infuriated the consciousness.

Eventually it perceived the small beings passing through their tunnel. Hundreds of them, thousands. Passing through in less than a blink, an infinitesimal blink. And so, it eventually plucked one out of its tunnel. It did not survive. These creatures, so small and insignificant, could not exist in its existence. And yet they dared to use it as a shortcut across their own.

It continued to study, plucking more out, but also trying to change them so they would survive. And when at last one did, floating terrified and alone in the blackness of the consciousness’ existence, all of this things knowledge and memories belonged now to the consciousness.

And it saw a great universe, alien and infinite. A universe that to consciousness was wrong. It was an abomination of existence, one of micro consciousness. An empty and directionless existence. A place bereft of anything like it.

So the consciousness pondered how to correct it. It needed a great consciousness of its own, this it saw plain. Something great and infinite, as it was.

It plucked more beings from their tunnels. And it reshaped them. These new creatures would be designed such that they would infect others, destroy the corruption, and spread and spread until they filled the whole of this alien universe. A consciousness of its own, made from micro consciousnesses until they reached critical mass and became a great macro one, as it was.

It sent the changed beings back, and like a virus they spread, using the interloper's own tunnels against them. The consciousness, with its infinite patience, needed only to wait. But then there was a pain, greater than the pin pricks, greater than the stabbing tunnels. It was like a great fire opened up in it. It tore at its existence, the pain muddled its consciousness. A great wound was opened up, a tear in its existence that lead to this other universe. And it could feel its power, it’s energy, it’s existence, leaking out, a trickle into the other universe.

In its agony the consciousness swore it would bring destruction to this abominable and empty universe. It would endure the pain. It was patient. It began to consider what it would do next.
 
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Esplandia

Factbook Addict
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ISOLATION AND DESPAIR
Tree of Life - Clint Mansell


Ten years passed in his purgatory. And no company save for his thoughts and the capsule's computer interface, truly nothing more than a simple response program. Just capable of call and response, not true conversation.

He’d come to loathe every meter of his prison. Every bulkhead, every pipe, every wire. His day was spent at his desk, or in his bunk. There were few other places to go aside from the living compartment or the waste compartment. The small control room at the front where navigation input could be put, only a cramped compartment. Or the machine room below the deck, a space so small he had to squat to move around, and the noise of the machinery was deafening.

The capsule provided nutrition via an organic paste that was stored in tanks in the lower compartment. It sustained him, but he came to loathe the bitter greens taste, and the mushy fibrous texture. He’d go for the span of a week without eating due to his disgust, until the computer reminded him to maintain nutrition.

At first he had diligently kept a log, and that turned into more of a memoir, his thoughts and experiences, before it devolved into the mad ravings of a truly isolated individual. Eventually he gave up on it, the last entry made more than two years ago.

And so he passed his time, suffering the quiet solitude, his mind a turmoil of guilt and desperation. Perhaps there would be a redemption from all this. That had become his mantra. There will be salvation at Ximballa. The hope of it, of finding peace, of making his choice have more meaning than stopping the faceless, it was all that kept him going.

He read the data the capsule collected on their trip, and he began to understand what had happened. His weapon, the subspace bomb, had worked. He had detonated it precisely where it needed to be, right at the confluence of all the subspace tunnels, collapsing them all in one go. The unforeseen effect had been that it had torn through space-time, into the layer of subspace beyond, causing a rift from energy exploding outward. And all of this happened as the tunnels collapsed, pushing energy out along them, creating smaller additional ruptures. Where once had been a quiet corner of the galaxy, now a great mass of energy swirled and crashed through space in a maelstrom display of energy.

He had hoped at first that it could be reversed, that the rupture could be sealed. His hopes faded the more he began to understand the data. The hole could not be sealed, not from this side at least. He pondered the possibility of entering subspace to fix it, but that thought went nowhere. Subspace did not behave like real-space, and he had no way of navigating on the other side. And he knew that something lived beyond, on the other side of the rupture, and that it had manifested itself on this side as the faceless plague.

And so he fixed his attention onto the energy leaking out. How it reacted with real-space became his obsession. The creation of energy storms that travelled at faster than light speeds across space, and the exotic radiations it left behind. The data left open the possibility of the survival of life within the subspace energy cloud. Outside on the edges the forces at work would scrub worlds clean, but closer to the source, where the subspace energies had not completely interacted with real-space forces, there could be the possibility of life.

“Could other Archons have survived somewhere?” he wondered aloud, for a moment a spark of hope rising in him, that he was not alone. An Archon community could have survived on a world the faceless hadn’t reached.

“Survival of initial blast is low, but unlikely,” chimed the computer thinking the question was directed at it. “However, Archon physiology would be negatively affected by continued exposure. Any survivors would likely be left sterile and start manifesting deleterious effects from DNA degradation within just a few short years.” The computer then launched into a long list of what could be expected from these long term effects.

Karpali listened only for a short time, then left his desk to collapse into his bunk as the computer continued to drone on. He would not eat or get out of bed for the next three days.
 

Esplandia

Factbook Addict
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THE PAIN OF HOPE
Stay With Me - Clint Mansell


The Archons did not believe in a god, but Archaeus was holy. It was the world from which they came. The mother world. A garden of lush green forests, of dark jungles, of towering mountains and wide river valleys. They had spread to the stars and decided to tear down the old cities and let nature reclaim the planet. Aside from the City of Ar-Athraebus, the planet was a rural world.

Karpali and Wyomna had built a villa on the shores of the Gray Sea after they married. She tended the garden where she grew pamolets to sell at the market. He travelled to Persephae for work at the Central Authority, often being gone for days at a time. She knew his work was important, that he was well respected, so she endured the nights alone. It was worth missing him just for the time they did spend together.

Their times together were growing shorter and more infrequent. He was head researcher and there was always something keeping him away. And this time when he came home he spent most of his time in silent contemplation. Something was bothering him.

“You seem distracted,” she said, pouring him a glass of Uolz juice.

He looked up from his thoughts. “It’s nothing,” he assured her, but he knew she wouldn’t buy it so he told her the truth. “The Central Authority is worried. Something is happening on the outer worlds, and little communication about what’s happening.”

“We have a no work-talk when at home policy,” she reminded him.

“I know,” he said apologetically. “It’s just the entire Cooperative seems on edge and they expect answers from me. But for you, I’ll relax and talk about your garden.”

She kissed him on his ear, and he held her in his arms, stroking her long red and brown hair. After dinner they sat out in her garden, watching the waves crash against the shore. She held his hand, and her grip would grow firm around his hand, before she’d sigh and loosen her grip. A few times of this passed before Karpali spoke. “Is something bothering you, my love?”

She gave him a pained smile. “There was good news I was to share with you, but now the news is not so good.”

He took her hands and stared into her eyes. “What is it?”

“I was going to tell you I was pregnant,” she said.

“That’s wonderful,” he beamed.

But she shook her head. “I went to the physician yesterday for a check-up, and it seems most of the embryos were not viable.”

“Were any of them?”

“A few,” she bemoaned, “but he was not certain they would take.”

Karpali held her hand. So many emotions rushed through him; love, fear, sadness, frustration. “We have been trying for so long,” he said.

“There’s still hope for this litter,” she assured him. “I haven’t given up hope. Just one must take. That’s all I wish for.”

He held her close and stroked her hair as they stared out across the waves. He hoped and worried for the future.


He took a few more days off and went with her to the next appointment. They held each other as they waited for the results of the examination. The physician called them into his office and gave them the news.

“You have quickened,” he told Wyomna, and they started to cry together in relief. “Only one embryo took, so this won't be a litter. A single embryo pregnancy doesn’t mean things will be easier though, there are a couple of risks.” He spoke to them for a while and they listened as best they could, but they were so excited. A child. They had been waiting and hoping for one for so long.

That night in the villa they spent the happiest night of their lives together. They could expect a pup in the spring. The next morning she woke him to go walk among the dew for devotions, to give thanks to the mother world.

The Central Authority would send a messenger that day to bring him back to Persephae for an emergency meeting. A report had finally returned from the outer worlds, and the news was horrifying. She begged him to stay, just for another day, but he had a duty to perform and so he left, kissing her on the cheek and promising to return as soon as he could. The pup would be born in the spring, a girl child, but he would never see her, never hold her. The faceless horde would wash across the Cooperative and, even before the pup’s first moon, all would be lost.
 
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