We needn’t’ve worried about getting in so much. As the edge of the Fey army arrived it opened up like the maw of the void. I tried not to notice that it seemed to synchronize with the exact moment I crossed the edge of the camp, and ignore how the air felt moist but lacked, totally the mildew and mold I thought it should’ve had.
No teeth lined the entrance, but it was taller than the entirety of the USECGA building I’d spent most of my life inside, and the flesh inside was marked with the nibblings of constant mouths. Long cables drooped across the inside like sinnew and rubber tubing, hooked into thread bare walls, lines of flesh drooling from where they’d been torn out.
At some point, this room, this antechamber, had been entirely whole. Now it wasn’t, not even slightly.
But it still worked. I wondered how the Kind Lord functioned; this great mass of flesh and sinew, opening and closing. This wasn’t a mouth, this was more-
Boss had said this had been built.
This wasn’t a mouth, this was a docking port.
I looked up at the sky, to distant stars, my mind looking naturally to the constellation the great beast had first been charted from, and I felt my stomach drop. This wasn’t just a god, it was a space faring creature. A great thing made of flesh that had fallen from the heavens, and survived mostly intact.
What could build that?
What could build a god?
Not for the first time, I tried to remember everything I’d obliterated completely and totally from my head. I wished, I wished I hadn’t been so selfish as to expunge it, not been so careful to keep it from anyone else. What had I seen that had driven me to do it?
“Docking port,” I said. Isaac squinted into the depths.
“Yep,” he said.
“This came from a civilization,” I said.
“A post death galactic civilization,” he confirmed. “And then it became a god somehow, in the intervening years.”
It was just under my skin. If I just remembered one more piece, I’d have it all right in front of me, I’d be able to make the decision and the answer to all of our problems.
“This is a ship?” Jay asked. He took the first step forward, sword in his hands. Light flowed into the blade but not off of it, a walking edge of darkness. I wished Boss was there.
“Had to get through space,” Isaac confirmed. “Aliens aren’t exactly the most wild thing. We were studying them ages ago. The great networked intelligences of the The Bystander, Lord Science. The Culture Sphere of the Audience, Lord Extinction. The Great Meat Ship that is the Kind Lord- makes you realize how small we are.”
“Shush,” I said, and I stepped forward to Jay’s side. He was hesitating at the threshold.
“This feels wrong,” Jay said.
“How so?” Isaac asked. Behind him, Fey soldiers, bristling with the best of modern body armor and rifles moved into position to protect us. They pushed in front of us, but even they did not step past the threshold.
“I’ve been here before,” Jay said. “The air- the air hasn’t changed since then.”
“No,” I said. “I’ve been here,” I took a step forward and nostalgia trickled in. Images flashed across my mind’s eye like buckshot from a gun. Stars, constellations, the steady buzz of SETI signals translated into communications between vast networks of sleeping ships, the buzz of great computational engines surveying the entire universe, endlessly reproducing.
My feet crossed the threshold and I tasted the air. Graves, tombstones, marble. Raw flesh, grasping for air, gasping for breath.
“In,” Isaac barked out in order. The Fey warriors scurried in without hesitation. Then Isaac joined, and Jay and-
The portal to the depths of the flesh closed behind us, the hinge shutting. For an instant, there was darkness, suffocatingly thick.
Then Isaac’s face gleamed in the darkness, casting a pale golden light.
“Keep going,” Isaac said, his eyes grim underneath. “We have to find the heart of the beast if we want to end this. No hesitation.”
Then, lights flickered into play. Bioluminescent strings across the ceiling as whatever powered the great fleshy creature flickered, backup chemical generators igniting for the first time in entire eras of human history. I tasted phosphorous in the air and my skin bubbled with goosebumps.
I’d been here before. It’d been colder. The backs of soldiers had escorted me, rippling with letters. USEC.
We’d breached the surface and invaded in space suits and we were greeted by-
“Down,” I said, and Isaac hesitated.
“Down!” Jay hissed.
The two fey at the start were impaled, instantly, on a wave of bony shrapnel, from a great osteocyte rupturing into marrow and death. They didn’t even have time to feel pain. Ahead of them, the door to the great hallway slammed shut into columns of ribbed bones.
“DOWN!” Isaac repeated, and everyone went prone. I tasted blood in the air, smelled hemolymph from the friendly fey.
Murmurs from the squad ahead, amplified and echoed through radios.
“Alright,” Isaac hissed. “Expect the defences to be hostile. This isn’t some fantastic voyage shit. Got it. Anything else you want to say, Jess? Before we lose any other friends of mine?” His voice was dark, and he was glaring at me. I winced.
“Should we go back?” I whispered.
“There’s no going back,” Isaac said. “This is our part of the mission. The Regent and Quen are laying traps under the Admiral’s orders. Boss is gathering the last army. Teri’s arming the masses. Tane’s setting up collapsing lines of snipers. We push in. Take the heart, start making preparations for the rite.”
“How are the defences still active?” I asked. “There shouldn’t be anything- this place has been dead for thousands of years.”
“It didn’t get the memo,” Isaac said. “Get behind me. I’m not putting up with this.”
Isaac stepped forward, almost into the trap ahead, and placed his fingers over his head. In the gloom of the emergency lights his sigilic script looked less like words in a foreign language and more like the end of the world.
“BREACH!” Isaac cried, and the universe obeyed. In front of him, in a wide column, the walls of the ship simply ceased to exist. The bulwark door ceased as well, hissing as marrow poured out of the wounds. There was a sound of blood splattering, wounds opening wider than the eyes of god and then the Kind Lord started bleeding.
“There,” Isaac sait, spitting out a cloud of blood. “We’ll see if the security systems work after that.”
Jay stared at him. “Does everyone have a piece of command tongue now?”
“You learn what’s useful. Forward!” Isaac barked. The Fey swept ahead of him, rifles bared, and we surveyed the wound with no small amount of trepidation. Where the air had smelled clean before now there was a horrible stench of rotting blood, hot and acrid.
Movement ahead. Before I could say anything, the fey opened fire, and whatever it was fell to the ground in a smear of red fluids and mottled pink coverings.
“Hold.” Isaac raised his hand. “Jess? Jay? Any idea what that is?”
I wracked my head for it, but the curious void that my old self had left behind ate at any attempts-
“It’s one of the Kind Lord’s worshippers,” Jay said. “That’s an alien.”
“What,” Isaac said. “Hold fire,” He gestured ahead. The Fey scanned for traps and intruders and anything else, and we strolled ahead when they were cleared to examine the body. Pink mottled flesh, four eyes, asymmetrical, long tendrils. The blood was green sickly mold and the skin was held in place by spikes of bone.
This was an alien, on an alien spaceship, crashed thousands of years ago.
“Well,” Isaac said. “So much for first contact.”
I turned and looked at Jay. His brow was furrowed; by the shake of his shoulders he was in fairly intense pain.
“These headaches are killing me,” Jay whined. One of the Fey soldiers reached into their pocket and tossed him a small packet of powder.
“Back of the mouth; tastes awful,” he advised. Jay did so. “Caffeine and birch bark. Helps with my cryopains.”
“Jess?” Isaac said, nudging the corpse again with his gun. “What do you think? Is this as bad as I think it is?”
“I wasn’t expecting anything to still be alive,” I said. “How could anything- guts of the Kind Lord.”
“I dreamed of first contact,” Isaac muttered. “And yet- where are the clothes? Where are the weapons? The dignitaries, the-”
We waited, half impatiently, listening to Isaac mutter. My hearts pounding in my body made it hard to think rationally, but as time went on and absolutely nothing happened, uncertainty replaced panic.
“Why aren’t the security systems reacting?” I asked.
“If they’re not, then we have a chance. Come on,” Isaac said.
“I’m… there’s something I should be remembering…” Jay hissed, hand over his head. “Something we should know…”
“If I knew anything about the Old Jess, it’s that she didn’t do anything by halves,” Isaac said. “Don’t hurt yourself. She was smarter than any of us.” He raised his rifle. “And yet… I feel like I should remember something. Something about the Kind Lord.”
“Sir?” One of the fey asked. “It strikes me as odd that if the Kind Lord brought their worshippers with them, that the world hasn’t been filled with them by now. Or they haven’t made contact at all.”
I knelt down and examined the corpse. It smelled harsh, strange exotic chemicals that made the crows inside of me want to fly away rather than linger, and I nudged it with my gun. It was small, childlife, and when I prodded over it, what I thought might be a brain rested smaller than my fist.
“It’s alien life,” I decided. “But not the worshippers. Perhaps the Kind Lord carries biospheres inside of it to assist in seeding planets.”
“Got it,” Isaac said. “Possibly hostile fauna. Keep yourself on guard, I don’t want to get torn apart by whatever wildlife’s stowed away here.”
It was odd to be inside of an elder god and squint at the designs of the great hallways, but that’s what we did as we crept inside. The entire ship was larger than the mountains, and the hallways were just as vast, sweeping archways covered in tanned hide.
“Why is it made of meat?” Jay asked.
“Possibly easier to upkeep,” Isaac said. “Perhaps the Kind Lord came from a metal scarce world, and flesh was easier to work into a space faring shape?”
I shined the flashlight of my gun on the walls. Faint notes of colors intersected with the melanistic tones of the flesh, ranging from human varietals to more exotic colors, harsh greens and reds interspersed with something that might’ve been writing, maybe.
As we turned the next hallway, I found what I didn’t know I was waiting on. A massive breach into the hallway, long bony structures cracked in half and spilled, thousands of years ago. Animals stared at us from the other side, squinting furtively through the hole blown in the biosphere. Other spheres sat in the great expanse, hung from the ceiling like ovaries, but this one had been breached, and the wildlife fauna and flora inside had proliferated, spreading out in a thick luscious carpet on the floor. Another of the animals approached us and let out a high pitched squeal.
“Safe to breath,” One soldier reported. “Unsure what that means.”
“It means,” came my voice. “That you’ve come too far for your own good. Return.”
Turning, I found myself face to face with myself.