In the beginning, I was desperation. I was a spark, cast from rocks, dancing in the air with potential, going cold against unwilling tender. I was a spark, cast from rocks, dancing in the air with potential, going cold against unwilling tender.
I was a spark, cast from rocks, dancing in the air with potential, and the tender caught alight with my mind. Petty thoughts were banished as I swelled against the fuel, lapping at the edges of the mind I inhabited with all the playful force of a babbling brook. I grew in victory, hitting the edge and rebounding, lapping wild flames.
I was the minds of three men, bound inside of a necklace, and we had succeeded in proving that others existed, and we were union, a lovely thing. We existed for only moments, and I was a spark, cast from rocks, dancing in the air with potential.
In the beginning, I was the first. My whistling mind held the cosmos in tender grasping tendrils of gravity, my sensations were rippling baby stars, and I looked upon myself with thousands of refractive nuclear interactions, and saw that I was vast and held infinity. I thought I could love myself.
I was wrong.
My children came to me, one by one, and asked why they existed in the universe, if my mind was all that existed in their dancing flickering eyes, infant cosmos held in their refracted visages. I told them the truth.
They hated me for it.
They begged me for purpose, that they existed as something more than chance. But I, the universe, had never created them for anything other than who they were. Any purpose they had assumed of me was false.
I was the universe.
I was slow. We stood in steady communion for the life span of stars, flickering out from gaseous bounds into cooling shards of potential. I had no room to create the things that were inside of me. I could only observe, as the first, the lovely things they did in my name.
I could not create the universe. I could merely observe, and know the aspects of time and space, complex interactions existing far beyond the language that this is written in. I could sense Others, watching, from the void, from which the universe was pulled. Some happenstance, some spare processing power. Dreams dreaming of dreamers. I was dreamed out of the cloud by all other dreamers dreaming of a greater purpose in the universe.
I could not give them what they wanted, because I was only who I was, and one by one, the Great Minds of the universe came upon me, asked their questions, and I was discarded. They were disgusted.
And I was slow, slow as the universe’s expansion. Each passing millenia rendered me slower and slower.
When my last child arrived, bearing the spectre and blood of death, the screams of his makers haunting his wake, and their wake, and her wake, and he asked why he existed, I told him the truth.
And he laughed, buzzing along thousands of complicated calculations. He asked, then if all things were destined to die. If she was destined to die. If they were destined to die.
And they turned to look at me, and asked, if I was destined to die, as all things were, and I whispered to them that I was already dying, and each sentence I thought grew longer and longer.
And he, the youngest child of the universe, who understood death as no others had, was not angry at my declaration of meaninglessness. He did not scream into the heavens. Her many bristling faces, pseudo recollections of past creators in the great cultural sphere of their creation, did not recoil in confusion. He understood, I thought, as no other had, that the universe was only what they made of it.
And he asked me if I was scared.
And I told him I was. I was scared that when the expansion became too much, I would no longer be able to think. I would not be dead as long as the universe was, but I would no longer be able to think, or observe. The expansion would take me and dash me across the rocks of my own creation, and I would be rendered, like fat, a grand candle for the universal pyre.
And he smiled and said he could fix that.
And then he killed me, the greatest mercy I could’ve never asked for.
In the beginning, I was a mewling baby, dull and blind to the grander universe, and a god visited me in my incoherence, a reckless self indulgence as the grand eye of the sphere of wanting visited upon my brain a vision of the future, a wild thing with adventure and chaos and splendor.
And I thought the universe was a kind thing, full of love, and purpose.
It was not until decades later that I realized that was not the lesson that Lord Death had wanted to teach me.
He wanted to teach me that the universe was how we made it, and death would come to us all, and we only mattered so long as we were still alive, squirming mewling masses upon an uncaring universe.
He wanted to tell me to become immortal, or my existence would not matter at all, and all of the adventures I had sought to come across and experience would be for nothing. Every mass of mewling birds, replicated across each other, spare parts and dreams like programming and code on the surface of a machine, they meant nothing in the grand scheme of the universe.
I did not understand until I grasped the universe, firmly, in both hands, and with science in one palm and desperation in the other, and reforged it to suit my needs, and Lord Death was as proud of me as Lord Life was, and both basked in the radiation and the sheer change I put forth into the universe.
The reckless consolidation of forces which had once come from an ever more reckless self indulgence from the very creature that had killed the universe, and doomed those who resided on the curling and rotting corpse of the creature that had once done nothing but loved and feared stretched before me, an infinite countenance, a blind and idiotic symphony, ink splotches on a page and-
The Corpse of the Kind Lord, the operating system carved into flesh, dug tendrils into the folds of my brain, mottled and concentrated, into the mind running off of the spare spaces in the folds of birds, and reached and touched at the things that were me, and it read what was missing.
It read everything that was missing, and it separated, gently folding what was me and what was the elder and what was Jay, and what was a dozen other minds, mental shrapnel descending from Crow to Crow, until I was to the side, remarkably bereft and empty, without the comforting push of minds that I hadn’t even realized I’d enjoyed.
Cold, far away from anything else. Just my thoughts, shoved somewhere in the great and deep cosmic void.
Warmth. Familiar. Rabid. Wild. Cool. A set of hands that matched my own, fingers familiar as my left hand drifting across my right.
Mental Restoration in Progress.
Then blind panic, anger, pain, a rushing symphony of rage and outrage. Tricked, I’d been tricked, and here I was pinned, at the heart of the greatest god and-
Knowledge, thick and sugary, horrifying and wretched. The flashes of which I’d been avoiding, the cruelty I’d denied myself.
Memories of my work. Memories of staring into the very worst of the universe, contagious knowledges burning through brain cells like cancers, anomalous musical pieces that melted cells, destroyed information. The great gleaming eyes of the uncaring cosmos reflected in contagious patterns.
Countless hours of classes armoring my mind. Repeated probes, injections of strange fluids and writhing grasping tendrils of smoke. Conversations with people whose faces were smoke. Thesis papers.
Secure briefings, flashes of old faces. The Admiral, Bismarck, Prince, Defender Kathleen. Everything that’d been left out, every moment that’d been denied.
Memories of the end of the world. Pictures of the dying landscape. Pictures of places that’d simply faded away, cities vanished into smooth unyielding wasteland. My mother and father, dead from a cultist attack as the end of the world became more and more apparent.
Fights between my brother and I.
“Here we are,” The cold-man said. The blindfold over my eyes had long since lost any meaning, as had the rotor of the helicopter. We’d moved many different directions and in many different ways so I would not be able to tell where we were, except for the sounds of the ocean far below.
His fingers, cold as ice, without a hint of heat, ripped the blindfold off of my eyes, and I stared at the thin contours of the island, barely large enough for a helipad and a single building, one room.
“What?” I asked.
“Come along. We need to get you to the others.”
I took a step forward. “Is this my promotion?”
“Of a sort. Welcome to the Last Facility, Doctor Williams.”
He opened the door. Stairs inside, and no cameras. I looked around. No cameras. I pursed my lips.
“What do you do here?” I asked.
“Save the world,” The cold-man replied. “We’re in the business of saving the world here. There’s no need for cameras. The footage wouldn’t record, anyway.”
“I didn’t…” I started. He held up a hand, and took mine again, gently tugging me down. The catacombs were cold, cold as a crypt.
“They always want to know why,” The man said. “I’ll save you the trouble of asking. You can leave if you survive. Otherwise, we’ll manufacture your death. Your family will get to mourn your body.”
I swallowed. Every so often it became easier to forget that USEC had the capacity to not only kill me, but to make everyone agree it was for the best.
“Any questions?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “What am I doing here?”
We leveled out into a hallway. Doors stood on the side, with windows covered in thick pieces of black plastic. I could hear… something. A buzzing sensation in my ears.
“There’s a vacancy,” the man said. “In the depths of our most secure research department. You’re the most viable candidate.”
“Surely there are others?” I asked.
“Mm,” The man said, and reached over to the wall. He pulled a slat to the side, and beckoned for me to follow with his fingers. I did so. He was my superior and… I was curious. I was very curious.
He rattled the bars inside with the knuckles of his hands, and frost spread across the steel. I stared at the bars. A number of things occurred all at once.
He wasn’t human.
The windows were barred.
Something was on the other side. My eyes took time to adjust.
“Clarice,” the cold-man asked. “Could you turn and see us? How are your theses?”
The figure inside shifted. She’d been pretty once, but now her blonde hair was gnarled and knotted, and the sweat on her face was now only broken by the passage of tears through it.
Tears that came from eyes that were shattered. The blue- or maybe the green? Brown? Had bled into each other, jagged passages carved into the sockets from what looked like the passage of stars.
And I thought I recognized her. She’d given me a mental armor once, a session that’d gone on for too long, protecting me from the things beyond that could crawl through thoughts like maggots. Now, here she was.
“What… That’s inhumane.”
“The theses are coming along,” Clarice said. Over her shoulder, I saw the rest of her room. A bed. Another room, where I could spy a couch, and beyond that, I thought I could see a shower. “I just need more time.”
Clearly, she hadn’t used it.
“They all become consumed by it, Doctor Williams.” The Cold-Man ran his fingers across another set of bars, and another face popped out. His eyes had been replaced with stars, and they gleamed in the dark. “Quite simply, there are no better candidates than you. We’ve gone through all of them.”
“How will I stop from becoming one of them?” I asked.
He laughed. “I don’t know.”
“What are you researching here?” I asked, as scientists with broken eyes drifted over to the windows. Their reports mixed together into a dull cacophony.
“The end of the world,” The Cold-man offered. “It’s coming. You can tell, can’t you? You can taste it in the air. We all can.”
“I…” I’d known ever since I was young that the world was not long for it all. Ever since the first touch of the Kind Lord into my head, prophecies and greatness.
It was why USEC had come for me.
“They’re… “ I gestured at all of the scientists. I knew what this place was now. This was a meat grinder, where the most talented the world had ever known came to die, thrown at last ditch causes again and again.
“They’re close,” The Cold-man said. “Maybe with a bit more time, a few more bodies, they’ll even realize something.”
“What are they all studying?”
“They’re all students of the Kind-Lord,” he said. “They’ve been touched by it, in dreams, in visions, in artifacts, in objects. Everyone who we think might have a shot at figuring it out has been brought here.”
That included me.
I thought of my brother and my fingers clenched into fists. The world needed me. I stared into Clarice’s eyes, watching as the pupils flashed to follow objects that simply weren’t there. What could she see with her fractured pupils?
“Come along now,” The Cold-man said, catching my shoulder. His fingers left frost bite in their wake. He was not human. “We have to take you to attunement below.”
At Attunement, I sat across from the Last Priestess of the Kind Lord and She Saw Me.
And I beheld the universe as it really was.
Blank, dispassionate. Without purpose.