Re: Mission Objectives

Stuff is more complicated than we were expecting.  One of them is a big time leader in the Pantheon somehow, plus my gift is going nuts out here.  I think the big thing with the Union and the Pantheon is going down NOW.

You still want us to pull 4th Fist out?  If we work together we could probably get the Grand Host to do whatever, I think She would appreciate Her team having some kind of part in the big war.

>Go get Fourth Fist back.  She misses Dale.  They should be in Olympus, or in its smoking >crater if Adder already did his thing.  Bring them home.

>You are the only ones I can trust to do this right.

>-Subtracter

Fisher 8:1

The central fortress didn’t look anything like the forward one.  I leaned both of my forms forward on the earth wave that Dale was carrying us on, and spent some time really taking in the sight of the Grand Hosts’ main headquarters.

Legion’s so-called ‘fortress’ had basically been a dingy building.  Formidable enough, in a region where most everything in the world had been knocked down by decades of intermittent warfare, but nothing that could actually be confused with a fortification.

Shington had been pretty much the same way.  Yeah, there was a wall or two, some humans marching around scowling at people, lately even skulls mounted on the walls.  But ultimately the thing that was scary about the place was always what was in it.  The fortress itself never really seemed like it might actually be protecting its contents.

The Pantheon’s central fort was far more serious looking.

Just for starters, it was plainly the source of the immense dome that we’d entered when we approached Legion’s place.  The energy that made up the dome rose out of the center of this place, rising thousands of feet into the air like a great fountain of light and rushing over our heads towards the horizon in every direction.

The buildings also weren’t  reconstructed ruins of the old world.  In fact, ‘buildings’ might not have been the right term.  It was something like a hologram, or like a bunch of shining tubes.  The linked modules that formed the central fort were constructed of some kind of gift byproduct, they had to be.  It looked like they were made out of various colors of lightning, crystallized and harnessed.

The nearest one to us was a vivid blue upside down pyramid.  Tubes descended from each of the sides, and other tubes linked it to other structures, seamlessly changing their shade to that of the other building as they passed the halfway point between the two.

“Buncha show offs,” said Lotus.

I made the Lure chuckle ruefully, giving her an appreciative nod.

Presumably the whole ‘laser buildings worn like weird ornaments by a colossal woman’ vibe was something one got used to.

That was the other part of this that set it apart from anywhere else that I’d ever been.  The entirety of the central fortress was built upon the kneeling form of a woman who could be no one other than Zilla.

She was colossal, absurdly huge.  My mind kept sliding away from the sheer scale of her, fixating instead on the buildings that hung about her.  She would tower to the size of an old world skyscraper if she stood up, I was sure.

“What do the colors mean?” asked Kevin, one of Haunter’s shades.

We’d split up the platform for this trip.  It let us look more formidable, spread us out in case of enemy attack, worked Dale’s earth moving muscles and did a whole host of other useful things, but the not so secret real reason for it was that a number of us got on each other’s nerves.  It was a big improvement to have what amounted to different rooms we could go to, each with its own dynamic.

Haunter, Nirav and Preventer, or Death-Preventer or whatever, were up on the front one.  They had Legion up there with them, and a few of the more gifted Pantheon people we’d met along the way.  That was definitely the grown up platform.

I was slacking on the back left one, hanging out with the blind healer guy, Fox, Ragnarok and the ever present shades.

Two of them were making out with one another, which from what I understood was actually dangerous for Haunter’s guys, but I wasn’t about to stop them.  They’d paused briefly when we’d first caught a glimpse of the central fortress, but it hadn’t bothered them for long.

“It is a status thing,” said Lotus.  “Arena makes the whole place out of her dreams, see?  And she can change the colors or the shape of it any time she wants.  It transpired that her idea of badass or authority or whatever was kinda dark, and over time it became a status symbol to be in a darker colored area.”

“Is Arena one of the Overseers?” I asked.

My Hook was being used as a kind of obstacle course by a few of Haunter’s child shades, which made me a bit nervous.  I made sure it stayed completely still.

It was probably Irene’s death that had me constantly worried about Jane’s people.  Nirav had been a wreck for days afterword, he still didn’t seem quite back to normal.

“Yup,” said Lotus.  “One of the main ones, actually.  One of the ones who actually would be hard to replace.  A little like me, to be honest.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She pulled out a glass, waved a hand over it, filling it with a blended liquid.

“Some Overseers are like Angel, like Genie.  Deadly combatants, sure, but ultimately pretty much just that.  They are in charge because if you tried to boss them around they’d throw down all over you until you were dead.  Get it?”

“Sure,” I said.  “That’s pretty much how She does it, too.”

Lotus chuckled, threw back her concoction.

“There’s definitely a lot to be said for ‘Rule by the ones everybody is afraid of’.  But there are other kinds of Overseers too.  Like, it can’t have escaped your notice that I’m not exactly the most deadly Goddess, right?”

I felt like she was selling herself down a bit, but I understood the impulse.  I had a lot of experience being the weakest in a crew.

“But what I provided is useful to people who are stronger than me.  The distraction that I bring to the idle warriors’ lives is important to Legion.  The housing that Arena provides, the mazes and palaces and such, that is important to Zilla.  So Arena and I are unofficially shielded from Contests.  We hide under the skirts of our stronger sisters.”

“Tell me about it,” I said, pointing a thumb at myself.

“You are plenty strong,” said Kevin.  “I can tell because you don’t mind if I think so.  Weak people think that it is really important that everyone thinks that they are powerful.  You know?  Whenever you hear anyone get all riled up because someone doesn’t respect them you know that person doesn’t respect themselves.”

I rolled the Lure’s eyes at him.

“Thanks Kev,” I said.  “I was talking about a different kind of strength though.”

“Even then,” he said.  “You are in a Fist.  You come back if you die.  That’s enough, right there, to make everyone afraid to take you on.  Don’t beat yourself up so much.”

I made the Lure give Dale’s sheepish grin.

The reserve knew that we’d lost the Link, of course, and there was no way they were going to give our secret away deliberately.  But I was starting to worry about the reverse.  Sometimes I felt like every shade I’d talked to in public since the big fight had gone out of their way to mention how strong and great the Link was.

“Yeah,” said Fox, “If anyone is going to get beaten up it is Zilla and her crew.  If they aren’t willing to recognize Preventer’s Advent then things might get a little messy, and the ones in trouble are the ones who aren’t invulnerable.”

“Is Zilla invincible?” asked Lotus.  “I know her strength goes up as she gets bigger, but does that also go for her toughness?  Or is she just one toughness all the time, getting stronger the bigger she gets?”

It was kind of worrisome that she didn’t know that, but I supposed that the Overseers would make the same kinds of efforts to obscure their gift’s ins and outs as we did.  Mine wasn’t the only gift that was vastly more useful when the enemy didn’t know everything I could do.

“Nope,” said Fox.  “High one, or low two at best.  Her big trick is rapidly increasing and decreasing in size, lets her kind of simulate Ultra speed, or just make the targets on her big enough that whatever attack is hitting her doesn’t do enough damage to put her down.”

“Does she fight much?” I asked.  “It seems like if anyone wants to take over they can just go to the building up by her ear and blast her brains out.  How does she keep power?”

Fox gave an elaborate shrug.

“According to our best intel,” said Kevin.  “It is mostly shrewd organization.  There are a series of tournaments for the right to fight her, which whittles down the competition.  Then there are wars over housing colors, stuff like that.  She divides and conquers.  Legion might actually be more powerful, Zilla mostly just uses old school management tricks.”

“Don’t forget about dumping the most disobedient on us,” said Fox.  “She has a stick that Legion doesn’t.  She can always send her troublemakers up to the front lines, make them into our problems.  The ones who are still here are going to be easier to deal with by virtue of not having made enough muss to not be here.”

I shook my head a little at that dizzying sentence, but I got the gist.

I was just about to reply when the platforms shuddered to a halt.

I looked forward instantly, pulling the Hook into my shadow in case I was about need to spawn it elsewhere.

Zilla’s emissaries had appeared before the front platform, and were even now stepping forward to talk with Preventer and the rest.

“Sorry, I got to pay attention to this,” I told my immediate surroundings, before sending my shadow flowing forward.

I manifested the Hook alongside the rest of my team, even as Dale was rising from the ground.  We all confronted the Chief Overseer’s henchmen directly.

“Hello again,” said Beth.

“You can teleport?” asked Dale, cutting off a greeting that Haunter or Preventer was about to give.

“Not us,” said Winter.

A teleporter who could send other people to distant places.  I was suddenly intensely interested in our little trip.

I’d been considering leaving the Fist before, mostly idly.  It was hard to persuade myself that being away from Dale and the rest could possibly be safer.  I would still be a target, still in the middle of a war zone, just without any of my mighty friends to have my back.

But if there was a teleporter here, then there might be an opportunity.  I’d still have to persuade Nirav, still have to work out a way to make the Goddess do what I wanted, but with Snitcher dead and the Link broken it was entirely possible that we could just sort of vanish to some out of the way place.  Maybe a human tribe, out where there were no other Ultras for miles around.

Somewhere I could actually be safe.

“Your impressive arrival aside,” said Preventer, “has Zilla come around on the central question of our visit?  Is she willing to concede that I, having killed Death, have assumed her authority?”

It was weird how Jane had been so willing to back Preventer’s play here.  I knew that Preventer had been looking to run things for the Pantheon ever since she’d been a teeny weeny little maniac, but it felt odd for Jane to be so ready to rock the boat.

I really should have given some thought to that before now, but I’d mostly been just freaking out over the Link being gone.

“Something like that,” said Monster.  “She just sent us to escort you up, and clarify your position.  Make sure she knows what you want to talk about before you get here, you know?”

Dale put his hands on the ground, getting 4 points of contact.  The entire area around us slid back into motion.  Not as separate platforms, but just sliding the world along.  It was easy to forget how little of his gift he usually used.

“It isn’t complicated,” said Preventer.  “I killed Death, before dozens of witnesses, high ranking Gods who have no reason to lie.  Death was superior to Zilla, and therefore I now occupy that same slot.”

“We know that part of your claim,” said Beth.  “We’re wondering about the rest of your Regime associates.  Are they still supposed to be advising Legion?”

Preventer and Jane exchanged a look.

“It was deemed appropriate, in light of our being Linked into the same Fist, for us to advise Preventer, instead,” said Haunter.

“We are attending this meeting in that capacity.”

Strangely, that caused the emissaries to look to one another and smirk.

“Understood,” said Winter.  “Thanks for clearing that up.”

The buildings of the fort, and the colossus they ornamented, soon loomed above us.  Even as we watched a golden ramp slid down to greet us.

“Dale,” cautioned Jane, but he was already on it.

Rather than taking the ramp Dale formed the ground around us into a slim peak, bringing about a thirty foot wide crag up into the midst of the gaudy buildings, following the same path that the ramp they’d extended had.

For my part I was boggling at the ramp alongside us, and the great cubes that were hastily sliding aside from Dale’s ever widening peak.  Arena’s gift was fascinating in action.  I could never see any aspect of it moving, when I focused my gaze on it.  Instead it looked like the world moved around it, like I was part of the moving thing, not something apart and observing it.

I turned my gaze to Zilla as we rose up in front of her.

She was quite a sight.  My mind rebelled at considering something that vast to be anything other than scenery.

Her appearance wasn’t terribly remarkable, aside from being huge beyond reason.  She was a thin Asian woman, with age lines just beginning to appear.

She had a pair of hanging creations on either side of her face, holding about a dozen Gods on each one.  They were presumably her Overseers, and I was sure Haunter’s nerds were no doubt matching each of them with the gifts that they’d heard about.

I didn’t bother to count them.  They were an overpowering force.  A few dozen Ultras, each almost on our level, backed up by the majority of the Grand Host.  If this shook out to any kind of a fight, we’d be utterly screwed.  But it didn’t really have any reason to.  Even if they rejected Preventer as a boss, which most reasonable people would, they wouldn’t want to waste lives trying to kill foes who they thought would just return to life.

I looked back to Nirav, trying to lend some reassurance, and I saw his gaze was fixed on a knot of Gods on one of the platforms.

“WELCOME,” boomed Zilla.  Her voice was siren loud, drone strike loud.  I actually double checked to make sure it hadn’t popped Haunter’s shades.

They swayed a bit, but none of them popped.

“I accept your gracious hospitality,” began Preventer.

I knew the formalities would take a while.  Whenever anything became official it was automatically ten times slower.

I looked around again as Preventer nattered on.  The other side, after Zilla’s initial statement, was having Beth do the actual talking, which my ears appreciated, at least.

Nirav still hadn’t looked up at Zilla.  He was still fixated on the right plate, staring down that same group of Gods.  I looked at them more closely.

No, not Gods.  Ultras.  Five Ultras, that I recognized.  Another Fist.

 

Incident Assessment

Incident Summary:

Pursuant to its stated objectives, the SOV moved into position to fire upon Zeus’ position.

It did not do so.

Instead, it fired approximately an eighth of its unrestricted payload into the middle of the ocean.

From that time till the present (~two days, two hours) it has remained in position, cutting off all communication with the systems assigned to control, support and monitor it.

Further Details:

Investigation has revealed the following facts judged to be relevant to this case.

0: No signal of any kind was detected contacting the SOV at the time of malfunction.  This result was confirmed by local resources as well as its own final logs.  If anything on earth caused this via synchronous action it would have had to be an Ultrahuman gift.

1: The SOV’s failure to fire on Zeus proceeded its errant discharge into an invalid target area by a slight but measurable margin.  Further, during this time it continued to faithfully log its operations.  It reported an error in the firing system, but did not log any further errors, and ceased logging shortly thereafter.

2: The SOV’s errant fire was conducted with weaponry differing from that selected for the Zeus strike, and was placed in such a manner that it would cause no civilian casualties.

3: The SOV’s errant fire spelled out the letters BLA, and an upright line which was likely the beginning of another letter, before ceasing fire.

4: The SOV is no longer accepting transmissions, meaning that the self destruct module cannot be engaged.

Assessment:

The obvious and immediate conclusion to this incident is that another party has seized control of the asset, and given it a new mission profile.

Methods:

There are, broadly speaking, two methods by which this outcome might have been brought about.

The first would be a hack. The SOV’s software was updated numerous times over the course of its existence.  It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that that our precautions were breached at some point, with said breach going undetected until being triggered by present circumstances.

The second would be an Ultrahuman ability.  An Ultrahuman of sufficient power might be able to seize control of the asset despite its remote location and great size.

Responsible Parties:

0: The Pantheon.
– The Pantheon proper is deemed unlikely, as our infiltrators reported no such effort, and as the Pantheon would have deployed the SOV’s munitions against Union population centers.

1: The Regime.
– The Regime is deemed unlikely, due both to infiltration and to its master’s expressed disdain for such warfare.  Bluntly, Peggy Martin would have personally struck any target that attracted her displeasure rather than hijack one of our machines to do it.

2: Civilian Hacker.
– Presently deemed the most likely culprit.  An aberrant ideology could have radicalized a Union member with the training and access necessary to carry out this terrorist act.  Such an individual might well cancel the strike on the Pantheon forces and then attempt to discharge the SOV’s payload.

3: Ultrahuman unaffiliated with factional leadership.
– An Ultrahuman whose gift gave them control of the SOV might well command it erratically and without consistent end.  This is particularly likely if the perpetrator is a Pantheon Ultrahuman who is presently a low ranking member of their pecking order.

Considerations:

1: The party who has seized control of the SOV may have lost control of it.  The failure to fully spell out its message in the ocean points to a master unfamiliar with or not fully master of this asset.

2: The SOV’s restricted payload is able to eliminate Earth’s ability to maintain human life.

3: The SOV’s failsafe measure will destroy the vessel from within if it fails to receive the passive confirmation signal from a Union infosphere transmitter for a period of 24 hours.  It is unknown whether the controlling party is aware of this avenue for striking against their hijacked asset, nor how or whether they would respond to such an attempt.

 

 

Fourth Fist: Meditations on Death

Haunter

Clarify.

Have I ever had such a need for clarity?  Has anyone?

Revelation has piled upon revelation, momentous event upon the heels of momentous event.  I have spent the month since the fight with Death struggling to make peace with everything.  I needed the time to sort this out, to work it all through.

Most importantly, there are Condemner’s assertions.  The Ultras are the puppets or partners of alien life forms, our very universe their plaything.  It might not use the term ‘simulation’, but that’s the scenario we are looking at.  Our God is revealed, and he is a careless and cruel race indeed.

We must be so careful.

If Remover can be destroyed, then the age of Ultras may come to an end.  The world may be given its chance to recover.  But to do so would almost certainly mean the destruction of my reserve, the ultimate failure of my mission.

Condemner isn’t certain, of course, but it stands to reason that when the Grabby twinned to the ‘Jane’ grub awakens and departs it will stop fastening all of these other souls to me.  To strike down Remover and her goons will be to destroy all those who I’ve striven to protect.

They are, amazingly, at least nominally alright with this prospect.  The second of my great discoveries is this, the fact that my sleep has allowed another, far more fluid version of my reserve to develop.

To hear Joe tell it, this has always been part of their experience.  They abide by my rigid rotation in the day time, but at night their situation is far more freeform.  In the absence of my rules they have developed their own, parliaments and markets and the like.  It was this capacity for self-organization that saved me, when Death’s gift laid me low.

And it is this expressed will that I must trust.  They know their own minds, they have made their choices.  When I abdicated my responsibilities to our joint form they pressed me back into service.  I have become a Schelling point for them, a known figure, my personality the object of decades of study.  They freely choose my reign, and this sacrifice.

To say that I am humbled would be to understate the matter.  They are heroes, all.  I will not let them die.

Our wicked stunt with Betty’s gift has closed off the Union’s resources to us, likely forever.  If salvation for my passengers is to be had, it must come from another Ultra’s gift.

I have inquired carefully of every God in the forward base.  None of them have a suitable ability, nor anything terribly close.  But there are interesting prospects in Zilla’s central base, a pair of Ultras who function as the main healers for the Grand Host, who are reputedly able to construct new bodies for injured Gods.

The third great event, of course, is that our Fist is no more.  We will each lead but one more life.  We can’t hide that forever.

One of us will die, in a stupid fight or a worthwhile one, one of us will fall.  And they will not return.  And the rest of us will be exposed, mortal once more, having pissed off the Union and the Pantheon both.

Before that happens, we have to do something.  We have to take advantage of this brief time, of this window where our enemies still think we are Linked, are still daunted by Snitcher’s great shadow.

I have to tell the others, get them to work with me on this, get them to believe in Condemner’s revelations, and take action.

I will do this.  I must.

Any day now.

Indulger

We lost the Link.

I lost the Link.

I lost it in the same careless, heedless, STUPID way that I screw up everything.  I just saw Death standing there and I flew at her instantly, not pausing to think, and she took full advantage.

I was acting like I always have, like I always did before.  But that was only ok before because before I used to be the only one who would have to pay the cost if I messed up.  As long as I didn’t make other people rely upon me then I thought that I could just try only as good as I liked, and I didn’t change how I did stuff when I became the leader of this Fist.

Some leader!

I can’t even let being dumb be an excuse.  I had been dosed by Lotus’ potion the night before.  Literally less than 24 hours earlier, I had been clear as a bell.

All I had to do was wake up a little sooner, go find Lotus and make a deal for some more of the good stuff.  That is all it would have taken.  I would have been clear by the time I saw Death, could have approached things in a more measured way.

It is so easy to just sit here and beat myself up about past stuff.  I’ve known a lot of people that did that.  I catch Rag looking at me, sometimes, and I know that he is just working out ways that our fight could have gone different.  I get it.  I’m not trying to get myself into one of those things where you just sit around and grouse forever about how you should have done this or that.

But just because people who mope around are lame, doesn’t mean that it is ok to never ever learn stuff.  This was on me.  I have to own that.  This all happened because I didn’t take seriously the idea that it could happen.

Really, it wasn’t just me, it was kind of all of us.  We knew Death was out there.  We knew she could break Links.  We should have had a plan in place, a way to deal with her suddenly showing up beyond hoping that things would work out.

That much, at least, I have corrected.

Every single new structure that I’ve built around the main fort has sections of dirt flooring in it.  Each room, each hallway.  I am never going to take a step off of real ground again.

I have an arrangement with Lotus.  She has made a few of her substances available to me, in return for minor construction favors and some directions to the fortress males.  I think our arrangement is probably about the same thing that she has with Legion, and that suits me fine.

I won’t make the mistakes of the past again.  If trouble comes to our Fist, it will find me ready.  I am being as careful as I can think to be.

But, when I take the Yellow, I sometimes worry.  Fixing all the problems that I know about is one thing, and it is a good one, but the real dangers are the stuff that we don’t know that we don’t know.

How do I protect against that?  How do I guard against what I can’t see coming?

Because it is coming.

Even if I can’t see it, I know it is coming.  I can feel it.  Danger, some kind of danger, is getting close, and very soon, it will be here.

Any day now.

Preventer:

Fate is a strange thing.

I schemed to get myself added to this Fist, fought for it and ultimately achieved it.  I did so out of worry that one day She would kill me.  That one day the only being I knew with certainty was able to do me harm would decide to do so.  I sought to make myself a less prominent target by becoming part of the apparatus which serves Her.

And then, on a whim, after I had successfully joined the newly reformed Fist, she mangled me anyway.

The pain this caused me led me, ultimately, to trust in the benevolence of a healer, and in order to do so I had to extrude all of my barriers.  The limited space I had to do this in led to me figuring out my ability to layer the barriers within one another, and thus to my triumph over Death.

When I lay it all out like that, the coincidence is staggering.  Any single thing done just slightly differently, and I would never have won.  If She had restrained Her cruel impulses then I wouldn’t have needed healing, and thus would never have found my gift’s other application.  If Death had come with her troops when they struck the Strongboat, before I found the courage necessary to use my barriers, then we would have died.

So many possibilities.  So few led to this place.

It makes me wonder whether this is the same kind of fortune that lets Her survive, year after year, though every being in the world wishes Her end?  Am I being aimed by some future seeing Ultra, carefully positioned without my knowledge?  Is everyone?

I recognize that these thoughts are, for the most part, fruitless.  Any countermeasure that they might inspire you to take would itself be foreseen by these hypothetical puppet masters.

Strange, to think that now I might be one of the very few people to whom this hypothetical becomes grimly important.

Zilla has indicated, through her intermediaries and only in a temporary capacity, that she considers my Contest with Death to be legitimate.  I am unsure whether to take her at face value, or whether she is only trying to lure me to her ground, but it is hard to keep the elation at bay, when I consider that the Pantheon warlords who control their largest and strongest standing armies believe I will find my place within the Leadership Council.

I dreamed of this, back in Shington.  The ultimate goal of my efforts was always exactly this.  To stand atop the government of the world, safe forever within the strongest group of Ultras, of Gods, in all the land.  So much had to go right.  So many narrow gates to pass.

I had to join a Fist.  I had to defeat one of the Council.

Now, all that needs to happen is for Zeus to kill Her.

Any day now.

Condemner:

I have done it.  There is no turning back now.  I provided Jane Trent, and her thousands of passengers, with the information that I’ve been given about the true nature of the world.

To my knowledge, no other woken gift has ever made this move.  I am the first.  My larger self will reap the prestige for this daring stroke.

I amuse myself, as the days crawl by, with speculation about what my next move will be.  Will I be prompted to strike against Haunter?  Burn her to ashes, and let my greater self feast at last upon her wild despair?  Or will I strike out alongside her, Linked no more by the arts of our fellows, but only by common purpose?  Would I truly be permitted to strike against Forbidding Entity, without the all permitting cloak of unconsciousness that my fellows wear?

I’ve learned from Nirav’s memories.  I do not flatter myself that these decisions could ever truly be mine, or even that these are the only two possibilities.

Perhaps I will simply feed upon this castle, render these Gods down into fuel.  Striking from within, and using the knowledge that I’ve gained in my time here, I fancy I could destroy most of them.  They are far too cavalier in my presence, utterly ignorant of the monster which stands among them.  A third of them would be dead before they even realized that the blaze wasn’t mundane, and my power would rage beyond all control.

For now, I feel no urge to do any of this.  I while away my days, sporting with Betty and playing cards with the locals.

Can Delighting Entity truly be satisfied with such?  It seems so utterly mundane for such a creature.  Such commonplace day to day joys, can they really be worth anything to the being who put Redo to the flame?

Perhaps its true pleasure comes from observing Haunter.  That wretched woman has been utterly wracked by the information that she was given.  I can practically taste her distress.

So far as I can tell, she has shared the truth of the world with no one aside from her thralls.  It isn’t beyond possibility that she might have whispered it to a few close confidants, but it doesn’t seem likely.  No one else is flipping out, no one has come to me to beg our masters for favors.  I think the truth remains between us.

It won’t last.  It can’t last.  Whatever Jane wants, she is the vessel for thousands of lives.  Humanity has never been one hundred percent united on anything in its entire existence.  Among all of her shades, there will be at least one who makes the same choice that I did.  One who sees the distinction to be gained by being the first to breach the wall of silence, being the one to tell the world what it desperately needs to know.

One of them will squeal.  They will run to an Ultra and tell them everything, moved to action by some impulse or other.  I can’t say precisely why it will leak, but no secret has ever been kept by so many for long.  It is coming.

Any day now.

Fisher:

I can’t believe that the Link is gone.

I can’t believe that we are still here.

I have never had the enthusiasm that Nirav and the rest mustered up for this excursion.  I never longed for a foray into the Union’s lands, nor was I moved like Dale when I saw the recording of the Host’s battle.

I wanted to stay in Shington, or better yet in Redo.  Failing that, I’d have happily whiled away the time in the Union’s embassy.  Look how that worked out.

This is what comes of letting people bully you around, just because they care about something.  This is exactly the sort of thing I was worried about, when I noticed that our ingenious leaders had positioned us directly between the world’s warring nations.

But I let myself fall in line.  I told myself that as long as we had the Link, as long as Preventer was invincible, then no matter how bad things might appear, there wasn’t any real danger.  Even if the infiltration failed, or the Union figured out what was up with their embassy, it wouldn’t really matter.  All that would happen was that we’d end up fleeing.

Maybe I would die for a night, or Nirav would, but Dale and Preventer were rock solid anchors.  I told myself that internal dissension was the only real threat.  That the only damage that wouldn’t be undone every night was cracks in our unity, and thus allowing Dale’s bleeding heart and Jane’s soft head to lead us into peril was the lesser evil.

Even after Fader’s Fist was sundered by Death, I didn’t change course.  I can’t say exactly why I didn’t speak up, why I didn’t demand that we leave such perilous environs and seek to satisfy Her command in some safer way.

Perhaps it was laziness, on some level?  I’d already made the decision, and I was loathe to revisit the issue?  I had trained myself to never really look hard at the question, told myself that it wasn’t worth reopening that can of worms, even when new evidence arose.

But that is likely wishful thinking.

I suspect, in the end, I stayed because my memory is gone, and these are the only friends I have.  I stayed because Nirav has made me his anchor against the seductions of his dark gift, and because Dale makes me laugh.

Foolishness.  Utter foolishness.

And now I reap what I have sown.  The Link is gone.  We play act that it still protects us in order to cow the Pantheon, but we are, all of us, mortal once again.

I cannot go on like this.  There is no more Link.  I am not made more safe by the existence of these people, certainly not when compared with the danger that they draw down.  I have to leave.

Any day now.

On Humans

Inviting Entity,

I am honored to recommend for your performance the magisterium that I have been studying.  The life there is noble and successful, commanding its surroundings and thriving in endless numbers.

I have to disabuse you, however, of the notion that these are ‘permanent Entities’.  That notion has been debunked on numerous occasions, but it just keeps coming back.  Humans are something else entirely.

These creatures live for a time, and then do not live.  Their existence ends, and their parts do not go on to contribute to other Entities.  They simply cease.  These are not the eternal Entities of popular fiction, but a sort of sometime life, a maybe life, here one time period and then absent the next.

Instead of continuing itself, however, these beings create new beings, handing information and power over to their replacements, even though those new beings contain no trace of their selves.  No matter how tempting this is, you must not see their succession as raveling, for it is a different process entirely.

This ladder of being has gone on for the entire span that their race has existed, a span that no one of them has experienced more than a fraction of.  The implications are dizzying, endless.

Their leaders CHANGE, rather than being guided by Leading Entity they are directed by peer beings, beings which are no more or less able to perform tasks than they themselves.

They cause one another to cease living, but sometimes they also allow them selves to cease living so that others do not.  They have finite time, like they are always at the end of a ravel, but this knowledge affects them all in different manners, even though the situation is the same in every case, they deviate wildly.

They are, frankly, adorable.  Without the slightest desire to gain merit for their components, without our noble precursors alongside them, they have crafted an incredibly complex series of systems and customs that give their constantly updating population a uniform seeming, though even this changes over time.  It is absolutely fascinating.

Pledged thus,

Studying Entity

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