The chamber sat at the heart of the beast. I could see this because we moved past great organs that my mind saw and some distant part of my brain unlocked, scanned, rearranged, and told me their function. Gas synthesis, transportation, the hands of great old architects arranged in quiet prayer that their methods and meanings would not be lost or useless against the great things that lurked between stars.
The passages we walked through could transport fluid or people, and throbbing hollow bones that once created and transported supplies and interchanges to the living hull of the starship, embedded and hidden under layer after layer of void hardened flesh could serve just as many purposes.
It could not grant it the ability to survive re-entry, even though large parts of the structure remained intact. As Williams walked in front of us, I caught Jay watching the various parts with no small amount of dismay, as if the full spectrum of how much larger the universe was than this rotting planet was coming to play in his mind.
Selfish mortals atop a small blue marble daring to dream that they could be as great as the species that had already traveled the void. Here, inside of a mere remnant of one of their empires, perhaps the Crow understood just how far below we had been.
It made me understand just how close we had been, perhaps. An ache behind my abstracted eyes, a rummaging in the number of birds that made up my mind (they wished I did not feel such distress, their mottled feathers smearing thoughts together.
Down the tunnels of flesh and mire, across dusty hallways undisturbed by William’s steps, but very disturbed by the steps of our party, across dim doorways which the soldiers religiously checked, and finally, through a great chamber supported by bones, mottled endless arrays of ancient sinew and gleaming biological metals.
Then and only then did we come to a room flooded with seats, larger than a football stadium, a progression that made my eyes hurt to squint at the very far side. Williams flickered as she passed seats graced with holes and torn flesh, scars emblazoned upon even those before finally stopping, her figure freezing in place before disappearing. She appeared on the stadium floor, gracing us, for once, with the semblance of security.
“So,” Jay said.
“That happened,” Isaac muttered.
“Think we can trust her?” I asked.
“She can hear whatever we say,” Isaac said.
“I know,” I said.
“This is a bit much,” Jay said. “What even is this room?”
I flicked my eyes around. “Ritual site,” I guessed, but it was less of a guess so much as it was a certainty. “The heart of the god,” I corrected.
“Correct,” Williams said. “If you would join me on the floor? We can see exactly what we have to work with here.”
The grounds weren’t made of grass. It didn’t crunch beneath my feet, but it reminded me of walking across my highschool field to get my diploma, eyes alight with the possibility of being something greater than I’d ever been before.
I’d gone farther than I’d dreamed, but there I was again, a teenager in robes pretending that I’d become god.
The apparatus was built into the very center. Skeletons rested around it in a great field, intertwined and warped bones with no earthly analogues, cast and thrown to the side of the great platform, a boil with carven bones.
“I believe this is where a last stand took place,” Williams said, glibly from the very top. “Some last attempt to wrest control and awaken their god.”
“Why haven’t you cleaned up?” Isaac asked, taking great care to not disturb a single body. Jay was having similar troubles, but the soldiers didn’t much care, xylophone chords in a field of the dead.
“The Kind Lord did not want to forget their failures,” Williams said, dryly. “And I do not have permission.”
“What can you do?” I asked. I winced when my foot came down wrong and crunched through something hollow.
“I don’t want to have this conversation with my spare. Get up here already.”
“Don’t talk to her like that,” Jay hissed, feathers puffing up.
“You’re a lord-damned bird, will you even listen to yourself?” Williams rolled her holographic eyes. “I can do whatever the hell I want with her. She’s me.”
“You’re a bitch,” I muttered, climbing up the stairs.
“I’m you,” Williams pointed out. “But better.”
“Definitely worse,” I said. “I don’t recall exterminating the entire planet for a stupid fucking plan and-”
“We didn’t have any other options,” Williams said, looking down at Isaac. “Isn’t that right?”
I looked back at Isaac, raising an eyebrow. He looked at me, then at Williams, then back again, frowning. “I…”
“What’s better? Saving everyone, or just- just standing by and letting the entire world get erased because some stupid omnigod died and the only things that exist anymore are those who are being observed by some stupid hyper-intelligence?” Williams asked. “That’s the horrible truth we were stuck with. That’s why we’re here.”
“She’s right,” Isaac said.
“I thought you were against bringing everyone back,” Jay pointed out.
“Not while we don’t know what modifications Bismarck made,” Isaac said.
“We don’t have to worry about her if we just get what we need from my spare,” Williams said.
I frowned at her. “You don’t-”
“I don’t what?” Williams said, face twisting in anger. I recognized myself there, prickly and hollow.
“You don’t have permission to force me,” I said. “You’ve been leading us along.”
“I-” Williams clicked her holographic teeth together. “I took precautions to prevent myself from having too much power.”
“That sounds like Jess,” Isaac muttered.
“Shut up your sycophant,” the hologram hissed. “I was worried that one of us would be compromised.”
“We were,” I said.
“So I was right,” she replied, triumphantly. “I can’t activate the program without outside permission. Even if we had all of the parts.”
“Are you allowed to lie?” Jay asked.
“I am,” Williams said. “But I’m not lying.”
“How do we know you’re not lying?” Jay asked.
“Because if I were allowed to force you into the damn program I’d’ve shot your entire escort to pieces and dragged you bodily into the system,” she pointed out, dry as the bones littering the arena floor. “Now, we can keep dragging this out, or we can see exactly how much of a problem you’ve caused me by turning yourself into a flock of fucking birds.”
Jay shot me a look and gestured at Williams. Isaac rolled his eyes. “Just let her scan you.”
“Fine,” I said. I walked over up to the top of the column and for a moment I thought I felt the eyes of thousands upon me from the rows upon rows of angled stairs. I wondered what sort of creatures had created the kindlord, had fed their minds and souls into the deep recesses of it and trusted it to keep care of them during the longest of voyages. How many legs had they had before they started?
How many after?
Had the arena ever been full before?
Jay stepped up next to me. He slid from foot to foot, his form rippling with indecision, and I gently reached out and touched him. His crows warbled at mine, some minor intercommunication that stopped the worry from flourishing.
“After our brother?” Williams asked. I glared at her. She glared back at me. “Have a seat.”
She gestured, and the floor parted, rippling flesh revealing a stool of bone. Long nervous tendrils slid off of it, draped as if they were but ivy, breaking down into points so small that my eyes could barely see them.
“That?” I asked.
“Yes!” Williams hissed. “We’ve already done it once. Don’t be such a coward.”
“I can see why we ran through so many lab assistants,” I said, drily.
“You mean, apart from killing them,” she snorted right back.
“What should I do?” Jay asked.
“Sit next to her. Hold hands, I guess,” Williams dismissed. “The predecessors lay across this on their stomachs, so the process isn’t precisely exact, this is a god after all. It does what it does because that is what it was made to do, and the specifics have died.”
“Is that how that works?” Jay asked. “Why the rites then?”
“Rites are for mortals,” Williams said. “The gods can be as vague as they want. They decide what reality is, after all.”
I sat down on the chair, and the tendrils of ivy and nerves started to move. Jay’s hand wrapped around mind, and my mind sang in unison, half forgotten and fragmented memories resonating with one another from the close proximity. It felt good.
It stopped feeling good with the nerves bonded with mine and the entire world became fire and lightning and-
When explaining the cosmology to students and agents, Dr. Williams lied on occasion. She made simplifications to get around the rigamoroll of specificity that came with studying the very organisms that created reality as they understood them.
She lied to them and said that the Lords did not think in ways the average person could understand. She understood this was a lie, because she believed otherwise.
After all, the Kind Lord had reached out to her all those years ago, and though her mind had been full of static and information and her migraines had doubled, she had gleaned something from it.
She had gleaned that the Kind Lord was not only a god, but that it was big.
Bigger than she was. Her mind was tightly compacted, could fit easily within a fishbowl. The Kind Lord’s mind lay across hundreds of miles of tightly bound passages, had distinct neural organs and nodules dedicated to specific tasks, and more importantly, it was large. It ran into problems with thinking from that sort of largeness. The human brain could communicate with every other part of the human brain in under a second.
The Kind Lord’s brain communicated slower, relaying through junctions of specific function in order to improve the flow of information.
It was not that the Kind Lord did not think in the same ways that humans did that was the problem. It was a problem of scale.
I understood this in the mere milliseconds after the nerves lay contact with me, and my thoughts stretched across miles and miles of abandoned neural currents, inhabited only by rigorous and created and manufactured heuristic patterns with makers marks of alien peoples and Williams herself. She resided in three or four different nodules, interpreting herself as existing and in communion in perpetuity to support her existence. My own mind was-
All at once, wider than mountains, as tall as the atmosphere, a great agonizing burning sensation from re-entry, and also it was sadness, and it was grief, and it was all of these things stretched together in several million tons of cooling and still dying god. My mind reached out with tendrils and fingers, questing, questing, questing.
The main brain of the creature I knew as the Kind Lord had been removed long ago, hollowed out in order to protect it from manipulators, but the backup systems were just as complex, organic nodules of bone and neural circuitries, and in and amongst the specialized organs I felt Jay’s mind brush acrossed mine, his crows fragmented into a swarm as great and wide as the skies, who wings might very well block out the sun.
And I realized that I too was a swarm, a swarm I was greedily keeping to myself, and I spread my many wings and flew along those neural circuits, pulsing with long forgotten life. Long dead organic fusion reactors hummed with energy that would be present for billions of more years as the sheer scale of the god came to roost. Wider than mountains, older than our planet, as great and mighty as the universe itself.
We alighted, settling down from a flock of thousands into a flock of dozens inside of the empty shell of the creatures brain, and Williams greeted us, a mere scanned thought pattern with cold eyes like diamonds and a smile that never finished. She gestured, but it was not as if she had arms so much as she beckoned with neural connectors towards the great ending, the finale to Planet Earth’s very long and somber odyssey. What was five thousand years to a dead god? What was five thousand years to a memory, etched in a system, perpetuated by thousands of thousands of generations of militantly successful biological repair systems?
The scan took mere moments. The technology that Earth has mustered was elegant in it’s bluntness, in the same way that most scientific instruments started, and I saw it in brilliant red-blues and hues of pink, thousands of lines of code, buried inside of my very being- beauty encoded in my thoughts, and I recognized myself in it.
My god, I thought.
I was the code. Inscribed were my hopes and my faith, my experiences and my desires. Written across them, angled in and amongst them lay the execution and commands, written in languages only the Kind Lord knew. The Command Tongue shone like a resonance, and the savior of humanity was a book, written in my soul, undying in rabid fire.
A book that was missing pages. Chunks of code were missing, smeared with my own blood. Where 0s and 1s ought to be lay birds. Where variables should be there was the memory of my own death.
Jay’s mind too was stretched in front of us, and I saw his experiences, and I saw what remained of his mind, and I wondered at the corruption furiously licking at him and knew, in the same moment that the Kind Lord knew, and that Williams knew, that we did not have enough of the puzzle.
Tendrils of the Kind Lord’s dead power roused to life, trailing lines of ancient security commands written in the flesh and heuristical functioning of the great ship’s body excited for a task at once.
Repair? The great organic computer god ship asked.
But we did not know what it ought to look like. How could we? It was only my soul. It was only Jay’s soul. It was only Morrigan’s soul, smeared together with all the artistic integrity of a toddler covered in paint.
And yet I said yes.