Sleeping on the Job
It was quiet. There had been an explosion, but Ellers lost track of how long ago that was. It could have been minutes, it could have been months, it could have been millennia. She couldn’t feel anything other than the warm, tingle of the repair cycle winding down. It felt like a limb waking up, but spread out over her. Even her eyes buzzed. She fluttered her eyelids to get an idea of whether they were opened or closed. All she could see was a yawning blackness. As her head cleared she could see thin white streaks cutting through the darkness, like pins were tearing narrow cuts into black paper letting in the light behind it. She held her hands to her face and could make out their silhouettes against the glowing trails. She splayed her fingers and her face began to glow with an electrical blue haze. She looked beyond her hands to the fireflies that flew in crisscrossing loops around her. She put her hands to sides and pushed, but encountered no resistance. She kicked her legs and found them equally free. She tried to look behind her to determine what sort of surface she was resting on, but only found more white-streaked black. She stared into the luminous patterns.
“Hydrogen, helium, carbon, trace heavy elements,” her thoughts said to her. “Stars. The lights are from stars.”
She found herself hurtling through space, each of her three axes taking its own peculiar torque. She put her hands out and flat. The blue increased and emitted in narrow cones from her palms. She darted in haphazard patterns like a pinball colliding with unseen bumpers as she tried to compensate for the myriad of forces at play on her free-floating body. She stabilized and the white calmed into tiny pinpricks of light, legion in number.
She brought her palms close together and manipulated her fingers as if she was playing a complicated game of cat's cradle. After a few moments, a minuscule cube had formed in the space between her hands.
“At this rate, I’ll be out here until the universe dies,” she thought. She looked around her and saw nothing. “For a place with so much shit in it, it really is empty.”
She put her hands to sides, one palm forwards the other back and they let out a momentary pulse. She began to turn like a music box ballerina. She scanned the starfield as she spun she saw nothing between her and them. Just a vast sea of nothing. She closed her eyes and drifted into a haunted slumber.
“All I’ve done and this is how I end,” she thought. “Drifting alone and forgotten in the middle of nothing. All I’ve done. What was it anyway? Where did I earn my pride? Much like my current condition, I have no point of reference to determine that. You’re getting what you deserve. How would you know? I’ve had the misfortune of being you. You think you could have had better? I could have been someone who wasn’t such an egomaniac that died like everybody else. Like they were supposed to be fighting against mortality so we can do what? Drift for eternity in a void? I was important to people, I had those who loved me. You don’t even remember them. You forced yourself to forget them so you could keep doing whatever it was you thought was so important. Just shut down. End this pointless nonsense. You’re right. Of course, I am. I’m you so naturally, you think we're never wrong.”
Ellers floated, letting her systems go offline one by one. Her brainstem began to cycle down. Her eyes sprung open.
“You know what? Changed our minds? How dare you? Oh, I dare. I think you’re an idiot. Should I call that progress? Watch this shit.”
She opened her hands and began to gather the trace amounts of hydrogen and helium, forcing them into nuclear fission, creating heavier elements.
“Wow, just what you always wanted,” her thoughts said. “You’re a star. Oh, you’re funny. I’m funny? Maybe in a few millenia, you’ll have a few moles of iron.”
As she drifted, struggling to gather up the momentary particles coughed up by the quantum foam. She felt a sharp pain in her arm as a small pebble tore through it, knocking her into a spin. A stream of blue liquid gushed out and wrapped around her like she was a dancer twirling a ribbon. Another rock sped past her head and another by her feet. She righted her position and saw a sea of asteroids hurtling toward her. She scanned the field.
“Iron, nickel, gold, titanium, various traces of heavy elements and organic material,” her thoughts said.
Behind the oncoming barrage, she saw a large round hole in the starfield. She launched herself toward it. A boulder careened toward her and she held up her hands. The rock slowed and began to crumble. The particles reassembled into a flat slab that floated in front of her. A rain of tiny stones battered against it, shattering it. She darted away and collected more flying debris, fashioning it in the same way. Again her crude shield was cracked apart in the deluge. She flipped and spun to avoid the rocks she could and breaking down the others and reforming them into protective barriers to buffer herself against impacts. As she approached the dark hole in the star field she began to make out a pockmarked surface of gray rocks and dust.
“Bless you, little orphan,” she said to the wandering body.
She alighted on the surface and orphan began to shake and crack. It crumbled away below her feet until she was surrounded by countless tiny particles in orbit around her. Under her feet, a smooth platform began to form. She descended on it and her feet attached as if pulled to it by gravity. As she walked along it structures began to take shape behind her. Towering baroque structures of deep hues, crimson and royal blue. They shimmered with ornate golden filigree and twisting buttresses rooted into the spreading ground. The highest floors of the towers attached to each other with winding breezeways. Fountains erupted from the ground in elaborate displays of dancing water. A lifeless, but glowing city spread out in all direction behind her.
“And she looked upon her creation and found it,” she turned to look, “gaudi as fuck. Is that where my head is right now? I gotta get my shit together. First I have to figure out where I am. None of these star patterns are familiar. Just reorient the ones you know until you get a match, dipshit. But my head is too cloudy right now. You have an excuse for everything. What happened back there. You archived the memory in case it didn’t survive the blast. Well, open it. You do it. We’re you, dumbass. Shit, I must have set up a partition. Oh, is the genius back? Zip it. Merge consciousnesses. That’s a fucked up word. Sounds like you’re stutter...”
She dropped to her knee and held her head. Her eyes rolled back and she shook like a bolt of energy had shot up the base of her spine and broke through the top of her head.
“I can’t decide whether I love that feeling or hate it. Shit right, there was an explosion. Engelbert set off a reality bomb. Ray, Wolf, Luna, Marshal and Will and Holly. No. Corrupted file. Clean that up. Ray, Wolf, Luna and Holly. I shielded them and - Lovelace. I gotta get back. Oh, then there’s that.”
She pointed over her shoulder at the colossal, writhing mass of shimmering flesh floating behind her. She spun on her heel and her hands lit in blue.
“You creepy things,” she said to the creature, “Why are you here?”
“We are here for you,” a voice rumbled in her head.
“For me? Why me?”
“Because you know of us and our arrival and for that, you must perish. Our arrival must be sudden, swift and without herald.”
“I figured that out weeks ago. What I meant was why are you coming to this galaxy?”
“We are here to feed.”
“What does any entity feed upon? Life. We are here to feed on the fear, the quailing, the worship of mortal creatures who prostrate themselves in vain attempts at placation with servitude and sacrifice”
“Why come here? Surely there’s life where you came from.”
“Life is finite. It expires, goes extinct. We must continually move on seeking new feeding ground.”
“And what are you?”
“The most elder of entities. Born with the universe. What you would call gods.”
“I don’t call anything a god.”
“And what are you who forms reality around it. You are unlike any other we’ve encountered. Neither god, nor mortal.”
“I’m CE137...138? I’m kind of in an in between phase right now.”
“Your identity is irrelevant. What are you?”
“I am...what I am, I guess.”
“What created you?”
“After a point, I did.”
“Strange. A mortal ascending to godhood. All the more reason you should be destroyed.”
“Well, this conversation got dark. Should have expected that from a space squid.”
“This form is merely a protrusion of the tip of a finger of the hand that crushes. What you see before you is what intersects with your limited space-time.”
“The goth kid poetry is getting old.”
“Then your end should be a relief. Yours and the others who know.”
“Oh no, no, no, I excised their memories of you...and me. Leave them alone.”
“They have formed their own.”
“Ugh, they always have to be so clever,” she sighed. “I guess this is happening.”
Towering iron spikes lurched from the surface of her structure and launched toward the floating leviathan. They struck it and embedded themselves in his gelatinous flesh. The creature puffed up and ejected them, sending them hurling back toward Ellers. She gyrated her hands and the spikes crashed to together forming a larger barbed spear the flew back toward the monster, slicing through it. It’s wound oozed and closed. The spear crumbled.
“Toys,” the creature bellowed. “Crude manipulations of matter.”
“You’re right, I didn’t need to make this physical.”
An array of cannon turrets formed out the dust the surrounded her and began firing energy blasts at the beast. It’s pulpy flesh jiggled under the impacts. The cannons fell silent.
“You’re tougher than your sliminess makes you appear,” Ellers said and lifted off the surface of her platform.
The creature exploded into a ball of thrusting tentacles stabbing at Ellers as she darted around it. Each time she shot off in a new direction, she left a duplicate of herself behind, that fired an energy beam at the beast.
“Pointless display,” the beast said. “Your weapons cannot harm me.”
“They aren’t weapons,” Ellers said.
She continued to fly in circles around the leviathan leaving duplicates behind that joined with the others in firing a beam at the creature. The beams started to merge into a shell the encompassed the beast. The beast started slapping at the inside of the shell as it closed in around him.
“As you said, your form is ‘merely a protrusion’ of a larger multidimensional whatever,” Ellers said. “I’m cutting you off from the whatever.”
“Foolish, godling. I’m multidimensional. What could hold me?”
“A multidimensional barrier.”
The monster started to thrash against the barrier as it shrank around him.
“What?” it struggled. “How?”
“You’re the one who called me a godling. I’ve never introduced myself like that at parties.”
The bubble crunched down around the beast and it exploded inside covering the inner shell with black viscera.
“Gross,” Ellers said and returned to her platform.
As she landed, pedestals with holographic displays rose around her. She waved her hands and a map of the universe lit up around her.
“Where the hell am I?” she mumbled.
The sky over her was filed with a grid that retracted, bringing representations of the stars with it. The night was brought in close relief around her. She spun the star map around up and down, left and right, viewing the patterns from millions of possible angles over the course of seconds. Then she stopped the map and slowly turned it.
“How did I end up all the way out here? How long was I out? At least no one remembers who would worry.”
She turned to observe her ostentatious creation. Two monumental towers on the outskirts of her sprawling citadel turned on their sides. The spires opened up into cones and piercing light began to glow within. A thin transparent canopy spread out in a dome over the vacant metropolis and launched off like a rubber band.