Convergence – Book 4 of the Eye of the Ocean Series (excerpt)
This novel is in first draft stage, so please excuse typos and general oddness. I’ll post updates as editing progresses. Right now, I’m doing a substantive edit, moving things around and adding chapters from the point of view of my ‘framing’ character, Yilli, who starts the book off in Chapter 1.
Without warning, she felt space around her unfold, the short veils that kept her wrapped into the smaller dimensions tearing off with the force. She bloomed into normal space, crippled.
She was too close to the planet and her longer seeker veils unfurled to move her away, sluggish from leaving folded space so abruptly. Then, from the planet, she sensed shapes growing like curls at the edge of the red storm eye directly below. A seedmate pack, she realized just as long strands of their seeker veils touched her much slower ones, sending disrupting energy surges into them. In moments, a leading tendril of veil had pushed through into the ice layer, and down alongside the threads to her core. She felt the tendril begin to change the shape of the energy surrounding it, the consciousness of the invader like a weight pushing in. Like mating, that was as violent, but this wasn’t a sharing.
Another leading tendril – another of the seedmates – pushed through nearby and the membrane between them split. Atmosphere vented explosively, followed by ice sheets and fragments of high leaf. Deeper leaf moved to wall off that area. In her , she glowed like a star along the margins.
Then the energies coming from the veils pressing against her changed again as she felt the seedmates join in purpose. Now three, now four, now five. States of chance slowed as the fields coalesced. There could be only one reason – she was being boarded. Ribbons of atmosphere and controlled pressure, pockets of life for whatever creatures lived within the five seedmates.
Rage cut though the fear. Deep inside her, in an area as yet unaffected, a Gsta opened his eyes from sleep and blinked, his mind full of wonder and purpose. The change she needed was part of this Gsta’s genome, the sequences only needing to be triggered. Deep in her core, she began the release of a special energy field, sending it up through the neural tissue that ran alongside the venting tubes in the thread. All around the creature, pulsing lights quickened and changed color.
From a pouch strapped around his chest, the Gsta eased out the palm knife. Lines carved in the wood matched those cut long ago into his flesh. In the dark, the lines in the knife glowed blue and then green, pulsing at first then steadying.
I am born new, he thought. He was the knife. Seelia. His name.
His mate still slept, curled against him. He didn’t waken her. One of his own claws, the longest, dragged against the skin as he sliced across his belly with the knife, scratching a second, shallower line. Blood spilled over them both, soaking the mat they slept on, and beneath that, the living wood of their home. The wood moved as though scalded flesh, and a moment later, high above him, leaf mass flared, the sudden light penetrating even to the bore hole that was their home. The last he heard was the murmur of his mate as she woke.
Even through her pain, Amber felt the Gsta die. Minutes later, her side opposite the gas giant exploded, knocking loose two of the pack and sending her and the three still attached spiraling faster towards the planet. They were past the shadow line by then and into the full light of two suns, the planet below a blinding mass of reds, greens, blues. And rising to meet them, a finger of atmosphere. The Hij.
Impact was more than a whisper of icy gas. Space twisted as all the probabilities in all the dimensions she could sense moved to a certain end. Trapped in that certainty, she was thrown back into folded space. The screams of the pack members died to nothing as the force knocked them away from her and the only sound in the universe she could hear was the sound of her own slow death.
Deep wounds extended to her core in places. Debris circled her. The last Gsta died, and even in areas she managed to keep mostly intact, many other species died, they lacked the needed genetic resilience to adapt to even minor changes. An uptake of new life had been long overdue. She’d grown complacent. Without the Gsta, she was limited in what she could access and used what ready reserves she had to rebuild her neural network. Several areas proved resistant to the neural regrowth and she wondered if invaders from the attack had survived
Her veil systems were too damaged to even use for navigation, much less come out of folded space under her own power, and there was little in this kind of space she could feed on. Finally accepting that she would die, she let long-stored sperm fertilize a cluster of five eggs in the center of her core, pushing her resources into their development instead of repair. They could cannibalize her mass for the time it took for their veils to develop and they could reenter normal space.
Over time, her consciousness faded as she fed memories along with energy into the developing seeds, inherited memory as well as that shared with her by the others of the padqui she had mated with. As the five seeds grew, they rose to the surface of her core, pushing the anchors for the base threads to one side, creating a void above each.
Space rippled again, unfolding suddenly. She was out. And in her near dreaming state became aware of what she had missed the first time this had happened just before the attack: remnants of the patterns that had manipulated the space around her. The song of the Hij. They had pulled her out the first time practically on top of one of the gas giants they inhabited, and then allowed, or – the thought startled her – arranged the attack, only to push her back into folded space. And to come out again, here.
Her kind used folded space to jump from one area of normal space to the other. She could sense down several dimensions from the four she normally lived in, and by manipulating the quantum states in the microtubules that made up the mass of her short veils, insinuate herself into the near ones like folding up very small. Matter was closer together, more joined the further down you went, time condensed. She suspected the Hij sensed all the dimensions, down to where all matter was one, the moment before the universe had started to expand. When time began. The entirety of existence.
She had her bearings now. A different galaxy, a bar spiral, sister to the one she had been in, and in a void region but close to the nearest arm. Circling her were ships, and following their trail, she saw the station they had come from, half her size. From the energy signatures, an Empire station, so she had to be in Empire space. Small padqui lived there she had heard, the very fabric of space altered to suit what else lived there. Reaching out with the remnants of her long veils, she felt the change in the shape of space, but not as extensive as she would have expected from the very old memories she had access to.
The ships left and no more arrived. More time passed as she drifted, subtly modifying her course to take her towards the galactic arm, targeting a yellow star with planets, she saw them by the way the star moved. Eventually, she risked a small jump, barely more than a breath of folded space. Even with the changes, the jump worked and she felt herself captured by the star’s gravity, drifting in the dark jumble of rocks and ice outside the orbit of the last planet. Not a whisper of other padqui, no territorial markings, no energy pathways through the rich feeding grounds. No Hij either to interfere with this last small jump and she wondered why.
In-system was as rich. Asteroid belts in the system plane and around the gas giants. Several worlds with complex ecosystems based on liquid water.
She was going to live. Five seeds being born at once would kill her and as she fed, she drew all of them back down below the surface of the core, but left the level of maturity high, the memories that had already been shared, intact. If needed, seed rise could be rapid, one or more, or all of them at once. The Hij might not be done with her, and she wanted options, including that of living on through her offspring.
The third planet. On the night side, running a long fragment of her newly regrown long veil into the atmosphere, she took samples, concentrating on areas where there were settlements of sentient bipeds, the energy from their fires guiding her. They weren’t unlike her Gsta. With minor changes to her – and to them – they could live in what she already was. Limited genetic variation, they were that recent a species, but showing signs of still undergoing rapid evolution. Adaptable. Moldable.
She began the changes that would match the turn of the leaf on the high thread plateau to their native planetary light cycle, made slight changes in the air, the temperature, the gravity at that level. They wouldn’t survive deeper, not yet.
As the flitter slowly settled the last few meters to the surface, the Spann pilot presented Yilli with the journey condensed into moments and seen as though the hull tiles had been transparent from the moment they had left the parent ship. The spreading out to invisibility of their escort vessels, the weight of the planet over them, the surface expanding hugely as they flew up into it, the upside-down lines of the canyons, the expansive plains of amber streaked with the black shadows of the mesas. A sudden turn and the sky was sky again and they were the ones falling to meet the streams of dust rising between the scattered rocks on the surface.
Mirrored in the dust was the energy signature of the hull, an arc with seven lines sheltered under it, the lines jumbled together as though they were joss sticks thrown before an altar. The signature of the First of the eight of the Spann Protectorate.
Quickened time slowed to normal as an answering wind swirled the dust signature into a whirlpool, the flitter at its epicenter, and then quickly settled to form another shape as though the dust was heavy as falling rain. Three nested half circles, each set off slightly from the others. An ancient form meaning Eye of the Ocean.
If she were a Spann prayer dancer, the recording of the journey would be offered to the family–the dancers had no use of it. As a memstrife, she had her own recording of the trip, the full trip. She had been on her way to Castralsqua, not Rusmata, but the jump gates were blocked, and on trying a free jump, had come up short, the pilot citing the warning beacons. They had enough power left in their crystals for one more long free jump as long as they targeted a jump complex for the exit. Take me home, she’d said. The Spann ship had met them in orbit around Pitsana.
With a formal sign of thanks, Yilli cut the net communication link to the pilot. Her instructions said simply that a map of the caves leading to the world altar would be provided – it had been — with a path that someone with only two legs could manage.
Once though the mouth of the cave, the light from outside faded, and as her eyes adjusted, she could see the soft glow of the web all around her, wrist-thick cords laid over and across each other, some strung from wall to wall. There was no order in their arrangement that she could see, although she knew there would be patterns, if only apparent to those who had spun them.
Night blown silk caught in the dew of morning. Journey over.
Translated into Pinnet from a Spann poem. A prayer, but most everything Spann was a prayer. The cave tunnel and growing number of cords reminded her more of the nest of a trapdoor spider.
She had thought she’d be able to do the journey to the world altar in one go but had to stop to both rest and collect herself. Nestling into overlapping cords, she covered her lap with the quilt from her bag, the hand-drawn paper map over that. Too much sitting in meetings, she thought, annoyed with herself. She needed a hobby that included exercise. It wasn’t a new thought.
More light would have helped her mood, but the small glowglobe she’d brought with her wouldn’t respond even with the instructions routed through one of her crystals. She didn’t expect nodes for a net system to control the globe, not at a world altar.
From the map, the rest of the way should take her only a dozen more minutes, and then the ritual bath another five if she kept it short. And then the world altar and whatever awaited her.
At the bottom of her bag, rattling around with the useless glowglobe and the case for her crystals were three ceramic flasks, always the last things packed by her steward and carefully rolled into the lap quilt, so they stood upright and waiting. With the quilt out and being sat on or wrapped around her, the flasks always ended up at the bottom of the bag, clanking against each other with every movement. She liked the sound.
Selecting the red topped flask, black in the dim light, she opened it and sipped gratefully. Pepper water, wonderfully hot and spicy.
She had expected to hear the dancers by now, eight hard pointed feet thumping on rock, but there was only this deep quiet. With the toe of her boot, she pushed at a white mound encroaching on the path to find narrow lengths of a dark mottled material underneath. A Spann exoskeleton. The legs. With the mold disturbed, the dank scent grew stronger and under it, a rancid butter smell that caught in the back of her throat.
Rubbing her back with one hand, she sighed. There were dancers here. When the Spann prayer dancers couldn’t dance any longer, they died where they stopped, and were eventually digested by the mold.
On the map, the location of the ritual bath was shown by an elaborately drawn ideograph, the reality was two shoulder-high boulders for privacy and a bucket of water that was fed by a drip, drip from somewhere high above. The only luxury was a large sea sponge imported from Pitsana, the Pinnet home world, the export company’s tag still attached. No brazier or heating coil and she made do standing on her discarded pants and tunic and sponging with the cold water, trying to ignore the devastation around her for as long as it took her to complete a shortened version of the ritual and dress in the formal robe she had brought.
Afterwards, she felt neither clean nor spiritually renewed. Bodies of the dancers were everywhere. As a memstrife, she couldn’t help but note how the mold progressed in stealthy fingers across the chitin, fastest along the thin legs as though there was something in the underlying flesh of the heavier thorax that repelled it. Perhaps the wet tissue inside the hard exoskeleton had to dry first? At the question, her Spann memory implants withdrew to a silence that felt more alien than usual.
The head is always enveloped last, she told them. Did you know? The eyes dark and staring after the rest of the body was covered.
She felt several of the Spann memory implants stir at the challenge and pushed them down to a new silence, but a silence controlled by her. Answers need an end, she thought. And questions, their primary function was to control the answers.
The altar was a clear space in the tangle of white cords, secretions of the Spann themselves and only produced during one molt phase of their lives. A single Spann was huddled at the center, eyes dark against the white chitin. No color, no movement. Except for a frayed ochre robe, the creature looked all too much like the mold covered dancers. Most Spann who lived that long chose to die before the last molt, at the white horizon as they called it.
Sinking to her knees, Yilli dropped the carry bag beside her, the sound of the flasks loud in the silence. Holding her hands in the shape of an open query, she waited.
Finally, the Spann stirred, motioning to her bag with one forearm. “You have pepper water,” it said in Watic. “If you would indulge an old man.”
Of all languages, why Watic? A joke? The Spann had used the inflection on the word man that the Watic would use when praying to Poss’altic, the empress. If the emperor were male, the small creatures would call themselves female.
“Do I look Ri-born? And a priest?” she said in Pinnet as she uncorked and offered the flask, holding back the long sleeve of her formal robe with the other hand.
“Indulge me please,” it replied in the same language. A sip, mouth parts clicking against the lip of the flask, then the flask cradled in the two forearms. “With the memories, do you find yourself craving the pleasures of the species they came from?”
A moment, then, “Would I admit it if I did?”
Clicking sounds that were Spann laughter. “You were seventeen when you journeyed to Castralsqua, to the Memstrife school there, to train. Old to start such training, and yet you survived. Of the students who started that day, nine lasted the first year, four the second and only two eventually completed the training.”
“Why you? Besides your age, such an unlikely candidate. A daughter of farmers, a child of the moment, running headlong into each day. You…”
“Grew up,” she interrupted. “Who are you and why am I here?”
A moment, then, “You’ll know one from the other.”
Not letting go of the flask, the Spann used one foreleg to push loose grit and dirt from the cave floor to reveal something beneath, a crystal, quartz perhaps. Larger than her head, the tip badly chipped. Six facets, Inclusions like foam.
Yilli ran the tip of one finger over the edge closest to her then pulled back quickly, body and mind. Whatever else it was, it was a recording crystal with built-in linking capabilities. “Natural?” she asked.
“Interesting. How big?”
“We’re in the center of the geode.”
She looked to the walls and up for evidence of any crystal formation, but beyond the faint glow of the layers of white cords strung in every direction, there was only darkness.
“Here,” the Spann said. “Put your hand over mine.”
Yilli did, her fingers cold over the warm chitin. The soft wool fabric of her formal robe draped over both their hands, hiding them. Unlike before, there was no immediate connection with the crystal.
“I’ll show you all that you need,” the Spann said. “I’ve followed your career with interest. Here at end of history, I’d like to give you the fulfillment of your work.”
“End of history?”
“As there is no ambiguity left, I will be nothing but clear. On an Altasimic world, far from here, the fate of the Unity is being decided.”
She hesitated, startled beyond questions.
Clicking noises, then: “The start and the finish.”
Spoken in old tongue. Mirror words. “You promised clarity,” she said. “Use plain Spann or Pinnet. Trade-basic even.”
A Spann shrug, but she could tell it was amused. “Very well. Do you know the padqui?”
Spoken in Pinnet and she followed suit. “I’ve heard of them. Immature forms can be used as station centers, as the power core. Castralsqua has one.”
“They have been bred for that purpose, but those are more rightly called padsqua. The extent of their existence is limited to what we need from them.”
“And the padqui? How are they significant here?”
“Only one is significant. There are padqui in Empire but small ones, bred like the padsqua to be stupid and docile. This one wasn’t small or tame or stupid. Or young, but an old female approaching the end of her natural life.”
Ah, the point to this, Yilli thought. “Not from Unity space then.”
Under the Spann’s touch on the crystal came the images: a ball-shaped organism, the surface made up of thousands of hexagons fitted tightly together, and deep in the center, a solid core. In-between the surface hexagons and the core were branching threads, each tens of kilometers across at the base.
Where the threads thin out near the surface was the bulk of the loose friable leaf mass, able to absorb, store, and release energy. The thread that reached the surface connected with the two sets of outer veils of the padqui, translucent sheets, the matrix always in motion and reassembling at need. Only the glow of the energy carried in them was visible.
For a moment, she was on the padqui’s surface, a blue and white world before her, long reaches of the veil sparking against the atmosphere. Then she sank down through the outer membrane to an ice layer, and below that, into what had to be leaf mass, and then laterally as though circling a world. In her mind, time passed quickly, dark to light to dark, the scale close then far, she barely had a sense of how the energy release worked then she was falling again, slowing at a cluster of three plateau with narrow twisting thread rising from their surfaces. There was life on the plateau, plants and animals.
Then, a sense of time passing, and there was a Pinnet military settlement there, and only three rising threads left, all capped.
“The padqui was called Amber,” the Spann said. “Not in its own language of course, but by the humans.”
Past tense? Humans? On an Altasimic world, the Spann had said. The fate of the Unity, the beginning and the end.
“The humans were a recent addition,” the Spann continued. “The Gsta, Amber’s prior sentient race, lived as far down as the mid-plateau; the settlements of the human People never reached below the larger tertiary ones. The Pinnet outposts, only half that far in. Our technology wasn’t appreciated.”
“By the humans?”
“Would you read the end of the story first?”
“This is history, not a story.”
“Not everyone thinks so.”
“Your being here is clarity enough.”
“Am I here to play games?”
“You aren’t being generous.” When she didn’t reply, the Spann continued with a motion of allowance. “Because of what we learned on Amber, five thousand years ago an Altasimic priest of our choosing became empress, replacing Emperor Donotat by challenge. She set in motion what is happening now.”
“Except that Empress Poss’altic replaced Donotat at the nexus change.”
Yilli gave herself a moment before responding. Nothing this ‘man’ said would be insignificant and she didn’t dare let herself forget that.
“Why Watic?” she finally asked. “Why ‘man’?” She echoed the prayer inflection back.
“Ah, better.” The Spann removed its pincer, leaving her hand directly on the crystal. “Do you pray?”
With the move, the Spann’s allowance for her to access information about the padqui vanished, but she hardly needed allowance, or physical contact with the crystal at all. Still, she kept it to a passive access, little more than what she had already been allowed. Camtown, the Pinnet settlement there. The slow passage of time, who and where and when.
None of the names she was picking up held any meaning for her, not as individuals and not as associations. And then one did.
Sitting back on her heels, she tucked both hands into the opposite sleeves to warm her cold fingers, to hide that her hands were shaking.
“Of course, I pray,” she said at last.
“You aren’t particularly religious though. You attend only the public ceremonies you must, and in your association-based groups, the ones you belong to by default, your participation in prayers is, for the most part, passive.” When she didn’t respond, the Spann continued. “This lack gave me pause, but I’ve come to believe it an indication of purity. You come to this…”
“You promised to come to a point,” she interrupted. “Should I start praying that you arrive at one soon?”
Had she gone too far? Attack, retreat, flatter, ignore, and always, always, circle. Still, there were risks in pushing the Spann too hard, too fast. But here, now? What risks were left? A change in reality? She had known there was one. And she hadn’t known, not really, not as something that affected the now of her life.
“Do you have a choice?” she added softly, and pulling her hands free of her sleeves, made a sign that meant negotiations were over. Rudely so. “In this place with only me and you? I see no choices.” She gestured to the dead Spann surrounding them. “Only mold.”
The lights in the Spann’s eyes dimmed, the equivalent to a human closing them. Then slowly in the velvet darkness, sparks of multicolor lights appeared as though rising from a depth. Green and blue primarily, multiplying, circling, swarming. There was a language in that as overt or as subtle as facial expressions could be for a human. Resignation. Acceptance of the parameters she had set.
She had to remember how to breathe.
The Spann followed with a hand sign that said the same. “Through prayers from such as these…” a motion towards the bodies surrounding them, “…a profound new reality is being created, and when finished, it will be as though the Unity had never existed.”
“And you believe that?” Keep up the pressure, she thought. She hadn’t expected capitulation. Didn’t believe it.
“I could show you the events, some remembered only in dreams, but also actual recordings brought through from one reality to the next. And the people…”
At the Spann’s words, a new record rose from the crystal, then fell away, heavy as the dust on the mesa had fallen out of the energy signature, unnaturally so.
“You don’t need to see that. We have agents at the Altasimic world altar and are content with them and that our prayers have been heard. Lives and prayers.”
And her life? “Why me?” she asked.
“Because the Pinnet were involved as well as the Spann. Here…” The Spann brushed at the dirt, reveling more of the crystal. “…this all started outside the Unity…”
“With the padqui Amber?” Despite the new block, information still rose, like clouds in the sky, so simple when viewed from a distance. As a child, she had seen rabbits and smiling faces in clouds.
As had the Spann dancers lying dead around her. Or not rabbits, not on Spann worlds. But grown, they had seen enough in clouds to die for.
Instead of answering her question, the Spann poured a small amount of the pepper water over the crystal face just cleared. Where the liquid hit, what looked like blue fire rose from the crystal and then spread out in a ring, passing right through them, vanishing into the dark of the walls.
“What was that?” she asked, startled. She hadn’t felt anything.
“I thought this world altar preferred mold-digested Spann.”
A moment of silence and then, “It’s a crystal. The ecology of our prayers concerns it not at all.
Yilli knew she should apologize but repeated her question instead. “Did this start with Amber?”
“No, with the Hij.”
“I don’t who or what they are.”
“No reason you should. There are none in Unity space, at best echoes left behind.” The Spann touched the still wet face of the crystal. “Here, look.”
The arc of a gas giant, twinned stars rising over the planet. An image seen as though floating in the crystal. Yilli moved her hand to brush one finger over top where the Spann had touched a moment before, the scent of the pepper water rising still. The motion focused the content she was receiving, and she was there, an old padqui whose name was and wasn’t Amber.
The attack by the seed pack, the directed push into a jump, Amber’s unlikely survival, her taking on the Altasimic humans. What had taken centuries, Yilli experienced in moments.
“Interesting,” she said, sitting back. “Still, why am I here?”
“Because you remind me of her.”
Shock ran down her arms and legs like lightening. The name she had recognized. “I was right,” she whispered before thinking. Stupid of her. This wasn’t the time to show vulnerability.
Spann laughter. “You would not have been allowed to be wrong.”
Could this be the same Spann who was involved all those years ago? Or, a Voice for the Spann, a memstrife as she was, and with Kalsil’s memories predominating? “Are you?” she asked in the definitive inclusive. The Spann would know what she was asking.