Reality is a cruel mistress, and to me falls the dubious honor of being her herald.
– From The Skulkers in the Void, by Amoxtli.
Martin and Gutiéres approached awestruck and fell back once she opened her eyes. “My lord,” she purred, “welcome to your birthright.” With that, she left her apparatus and hugged Martin.
Martin, flabbergasted, could only muster, “You are – a machine?”
She leaned back and looked into his eyes. “I am this ship’s AI, given form to welcome you. Without having been fully awakened by familiar sights and sounds, new lords tend to react best to aesthetically pleasing members of the opposite sex. As to your question – yes, I am a machine. But this distinction, the one between the living and the nonliving, machine and life-form, is not so strict as the lesser beings think. It is mainly a question of complexity and energy usage. Is me being a machine contrary to your will, my lord? Transitioning from being a mere Mechanism would be easy.” With that, she turned warm and soft to his touch.
Gutiéres, still not sure what to make of the situation, spoke up. “What is that? How do you speak their language?”
The girl looked at Gutiéres with pure disdain. “I won’t question your decision my lord, but this creature is offensive to me. What does it say?”
“Can’t you understand him? The language he speaks is English.”
“I shall endeavor to learn it, my lord. Scouring local data nets…done.” Then, in English, she added, “Is this better, my lord?”
“Who are you? What is this place? And why are you calling him ‘My lord?’”
“Quiet creature. Your voice defiles this holy place.”
“I would like these questions answered myself.” Martin felt lightheaded and disoriented. A dreadful realization lurked just beyond his conscious mind.
“All shall be revealed soon, my lord. Follow me into the communication chamber.”
With that, she led Martin and agent Gutiéres to a smaller, though still gargantuan, chamber filled with swirling blue motes of light. When Martin entered, those motes came together and formed a room full of people sitting in a half-circle, waiting. Following an intuition, Martin asked the girl to translate into English. He already knew that the language these people were going to speak was going to be the same hissing he mysteriously understood.
A strange but beautiful figure rose from its seat and approached, growing bigger in the display of light. At first, Martin thought the figure was male, but he soon realized it was a woman, albeit one that, while being barechested, lacked breasts and areolae. She was also completely hairless, with oversized irises and feathers on her arms which seemed too long. While her skin seemed flawless at first glance, as she grew bigger on the display, it was revealed that she had small hexagonal scales.
She smiled at Martin after an irritated look at Gutiéres, revealing a double row of sharp fangs. “Welcome child. You must be confused and disoriented. When our faithful servants contacted us, we were pleasantly surprised with the speed at which the cycle on ‘earth’ concluded this time. Ask whatever questions you have. You must prepare for the journey.”
“First, who are you to me? I know you – but it can’t be.”
“No surprise there. I am Akkara, your paternal grandmother. I am in charge of the cycle on earth. One of our servants impregnated your mother with a sample of my son’s DNA, thus proving that the cycle once again nears its conclusion.”
“What is the cycle?” Martin knew the answer before she spoke, and also realized his own place in it, in all its terrifying significance.
“I am sure you know by now. The cycle is the meaning and purpose of the lesser beings. We seeded a sterile universe with life, but recognized long ago that interstellar distances would make social cohesion impossible, even with the possibility of faster than light travel. Trying to control colonies would be a waste of resources. No, we limited ourselves to the cradle of our birth: Aztlan. We mine the universe for resources with robotic drones. But after a first conflict with our creations, the lesser beings, we recognized that we had, in mere utilitarian pursuit during our misguided colonization programme, created something worthwhile.”
“We made adjustments to our robotic servants in place of the now inhabited worlds and began to guide their evolution to our own ends. We, as you must have realized by now, have a trait that no lesser being shares – access to ancestral, genetic memory. You must feel it inside you, now that you have seen and heard so much. By promoting certain evolutionary milestones, we made sure the genome of the lower beings is compatible with our own. Once a hybrid is born and verified, we come to end the cycle, harvest the potential genetic memories of the lesser beings, and use them in pursuit of our perfection. The survivors are made into quasi-slave servants. They serve alongside our robots and are indoctrinated into the faith from various other lesser beings to speed up the repeating of the cycle. I believe you have encountered some of the survivors of the first cycle on earth.”
“No! No! It cannot be!” Martin fell to his knees, feeling a rush of emotion and knowledge. Despite his protests, he knew it to be true, knew the struggles of his mother once she had discovered that she had been made a guinea pig in a million year eugenic’s programme to birth the harbinger of doom for the human race, knew her parent’s childhood growing up like his own, and their ancestors beyond that, stretching to nebulous prehistory. And he felt the other side of his parentage, sublime, intelligent, wise but cold, alien and cruel beyond belief.
His lamentations were interrupted by Agent Gutiéres, who grabbed him by the neck and threw a punch to his face, sending Martin sprawling to the floor. A moment later, Gutiéres was on top of him, throwing punches and intermittently crying out “You monster! You are one of them! I am sorry, this is the only way.”
With that, Gutiéres began strangling him.
Follow along from the beginning!