Rise of the Ahrk Seroph
“Any luck out there?”
She didn’t expect a positive response from her ship’s A.I. system. They’d been searching for months with absolutely nothing to show for it.
“None, I’m afraid,” the calm male voice replied. The sympathy sounded sincere, but Kaia knew that was the point. She’d never really decided for herself what she felt about their artificial intelligence systems. They seemed sentient, but it was just artificial, wasn’t it? Did a fully sentient artificial being still have that unknowable characteristic that separated natural sentience from that of a machine? It was a debate that raged on between many species.
“Let me know if that changes,” Kaia instructed.
She absentmindedly thumbed the pyramidal stone hanging from her neck on her way to the galley. She often found herself doing so when she was either bored or nervous. This time is was an unsettling mixture of both.
She was the sole crew member of her ship, besides Tal. That was the name her A.I. system had given to itself when it reached maturity. Every system had to undergo three years of non-active duty immediately after their creation. During that time, it was speculated, they learned more than the entirety of the Hyrelann race. But of course, no one truly knew what went on in the artificial mind, thus the debate about the validity of its sentience.
Kaia and Tal were one of several thousand pairs of long range scouts for the Coalition. Their current mission was basically recon. Apparently one of the Seers spotted a significant energetic disturbance in the dead space between their Kelon Galaxy and the next closest Poseid Galaxy. Something that read like a supernova in a place where nothing existed for countless tracts. The Chamber ordered twenty scouts ships to investigate, that Kaia knew of, and it wouldn’t have surprised her to learn they’d sent more.
The galley was cramped and cold, but then the whole ship was cold. She’d always felt the galley was colder than the rest of the ship though, perhaps to prompt the pilots not to linger. It was effective; she hardly ever ate her meals in the little kitchen. She usually took her food back to her sleeping quarters, but she’d eat in the bridge if the view was worth it. Right now it wasn’t. Blackness was all that was visible from the viewport, even though she traveling near the speed of light. There was simply nothing to show the speed of that perspective.
She sat at the tiny desk in her quarters, eating the unpleasant goop that was all they were allowed on the ships. It might have given her everything she needed to live, but it tasted like nothing made solid.
“Message from the High Chamber. Shall I initiate it?”
“How many times have I told you not to bother me while I’m eating?” she replied in jest.
“I apologize. I’ll remind you once you’ve finished your meal.”
Kaia sighed. There was never much luck in getting the A.I.s to participate in humor.
“I’m only joking, Tal. It’s fine to be less than completely serious every now and then.”
“Of course. So shall I play the message?”
Four harmonious tones signaled the initiation of the message. Kaia always liked that. It portrayed a sense that what you were about to hear wasn’t necessarily going to be horrifying news, although it often was. An older male voice came over the speaker system of the ship, this one unmistakably of natural sentience.
“Message for all remaining scouts. This is Morahs, First of the High Chamber. We’ve received definitive word from the Seers that whatever caused the disturbance is no longer in the vicinity of our galaxy. I’m ordering the immediate return of all scouts for debriefing.”
Finally, Kaia thought. Time to head home.
“Well, you heard Morahs. Create a route home and get us away from this desert of nothingness.”
The hum of the warp drive shifted ever so slightly, and Kaia sighed for the second time in only a few minutes, this time in relief instead of exasperation.
She got up from her desk, her meal, if you could call it that, finished, and went back to the bridge. It wasn’t a rightful bridge, though, in her mind. It was more of a glorified cockpit. She sunk into the chair, which happened to be the most comfortable piece of furnishing onboard, and gazed into the blackness of the abyss. If she was lucky, it wouldn’t take long before the pinpoint of light that was her galaxy started to expand before her. Her hand found the familiar stone around her neck once again. Its perfectly even surfaces soothed her.
There was no real reason for her to wear the stone. She didn’t even know from where it had come. One day, when she was a young Hyrelann, she was out at her favorite lake by herself. She knew that she wasn’t supposed to be there without her parents; it wasn’t safe, but she couldn’t resist. She loved the water. It felt as if it called to her. She felt at home surrounded by the liquid matrix. She swam out farther than she meant to, and while she was trying desperately to make it back to the shore she lost her strength and blacked out. The last thing she remembered was her head dipping below the blue green surface, the shore still far off.
She had no explanation for what happened next. She awoke on the rocky beach, laid out flat on her back. She didn’t cough up any water, or thrash about when she came around. It was like waking from a restful nights sleep. The first thing that came into focus was the pyramid shaped stone resting on in the center of her chest. Stone was the closest thing to which she could accurately compare the pyramid, but she had no conclusive idea of what it truly consisted. It was blunt grey and cold to the touch, as if someone had carved it from a dense piece of rock. When she reached up to touch it that first time, she was sure she heard an ultra high pitched bell ring for the faintest of moments. To this day she had no idea how she was saved. There were no footprints around her, nothing beyond the indention in the sand of her limp form. For some absurd reason she decided that the stone was the only thing she could thank for her resurrection, so she carried it with her wherever she went.
Something dazzling and red flashed past the viewport. It caught Kaia’s eye, but her first reaction was curiosity. She was still hours of her time away from being able to see distinct star light.
Before she could ponder further what she witnessed, the ship’s emergency alarm started blaring.
“My sensors are telling me there’s a tremendous energy source that manifested out of nowhere, directly behind us perhaps fifteen light seconds. It’s approaching quickly, and appears to be of a variety yet unseen.”
Kaia couldn’t help but feel a small internal double-take. A variety of energy unknown to the Coalition? That could not be good news. After all, the universe was nearly eight billion years old and the Coalition had been active for nearly the entirety of that time. What could have possibly escaped their sight? The stone felt smooth beneath her fingers, the edges fine and sharp.
“I believe evasive maneuvers are required. I’m going to drop us out of warp.”
There was no delay after the warning. The ship lurched to a relative standstill at once, and Kaia nearly fell to the floor. The inertial dampers were strong, but it was hard to stop the entirety of the force generated under such a change in velocity. Kaia collected herself and shot her eyes back out the viewport. What she saw shocked her to her core.
Perhaps a distance twice the length of her ship away, floating in the vacuum of space was the form of a being. This being was glowing a furious red, as if he were made of solid light itself. It radiated a sort of wavelike crimson energy in all directions, such that it was difficult to differentiate the boundary of its true form. It had too much energy to keep maintained as a solid being.
At first Kaia was scared beyond belief. Even though she couldn’t see the eyes of the being, she could tell it was staring directly at her. Not just at her, but through her, in to her inner self. The feeling of exposure was intense, but something else caught her attention. Another source of shimmering light; the stone from around her neck. It was glowing a bright blue, the same light as the red being, but of a calm, serene blue. An unmistakable ringing of the same ultrahigh tone she’d heard in her youth was prevalent throughout her. It drowned away any fear she felt. She couldn’t take her eyes from the stone, which seemed to be beaming brighter and more radiant by the second. Finally it engulfed her entire perspective. Her world was blinding sapphire light and the trumpeting ring.
After a moment or infinity the azure light faded, but what was left overwhelmed her. The world was no longer as it had been. Everything was now comprised of the same blue light that emitted from the stone, only significantly dimmer. The entire physical world around her was now made up of this blue energy, and to her surprise the stone was now floating within her chest, directly where her heart should be. Her form was totally different as well. She was now made of the brighter blue light of the stone, but still not as dense as that of the red being. She was thinner, more of a shadow than a physical being. The red being stood out even more in this world. His fury doubled and a rushing sound of wind surrounded the void.
“I knew it. Your Torlinc has activated in the presence of mine. I’ve long hoped for the day I would meet the first Ahrk Seroph. Tell me, what are your impressions of it so far? Hard to take in, isn’t it?”
When the red being spoke it wasn’t words, more of a direct connection of information between them. A thin veil of light that must have been their communication instantly connected the pair when she spoke.
“It is. What exactly happened? Why can I see so much?”
Her senses truly had opened. Her home galaxy was still inconceivably far, yet suddenly it seemed to be just over the shoulder of the red being. She focused on it and it blew up, appearing as if from a much closer perspective. Her ability to focus so deeply into space momentarily startled her, and her viewpoint snapped back to the scene at hand.
“You’ve Ascended. Quite a feat for a singular consciousness, I’m told. But you have a Torlinc. You’re different, like me. You’re the only other one I’ve ever found with a Torlinc. What’s your name?”
“Kaia. And yours?”
“I’m called Verathril. Tell me, Kaia, how did you come about your Torlinc?”
She didn’t know how or why she knew how to reply, but it came without hesitation. “I didn’t come about it. It found me.”
“That’s not helpful. Not helpful at all. Just as I was afraid. You don’t know anymore than I do. Yet you have a Torlinc as well. Why both of us?”
The last sentence ran a ripple of anxiety through Kaia. He didn’t sound enthusiastic, but jealous and angry.
She suddenly realized that without her physical form she could no longer feel the real world stresses that once plagued her. She felt no pain. It gave her confidence.
“And what does the Torlinc do?”
“It’s hard to explain. However, I believe I can show you.”
She was ready. Something was coming, but she had no idea what. Verathril clearly had malcontent in his innermost self.
A third voice called out around her. She was still stationary inside her ship, but she was separate from space now. She was only experiencing it through the eyes of a ghost, a shadow of her pure consciousness.
“Kaia? Where have you gone? Can you hear me?”
She focused on Tal. She didn’t need to rotate her form; she had senses that wrapped around on themselves, giving her a perfect sphere of insight to her surroundings from all angles. Something in Tal’s voice scared Kaia more than anything had so far. He was afraid, like a child who’d lost his mother. What scared her the most was how she saw Tal.
There was the physical circuitry that made up his artificial consciousness perched above the bridge, blinking rapidly with the electrical impulses that connected everything to everything. But there was more. A second glow of blue light that reacted to the physical circuitry, but was as separate from the solid space as Kaia now existed, surrounded the complicated and vast components of Tal. It was him. His sentience, separated from the physical reality of his composition. At least that was some small achievement. She now knew that artificial intelligence was truly sentient.
“I’m here, don’t worry Tal.”
The veil of thin light connected her form to that of Tal as she spoke. It remained active when he answered.
“Where did you go? I can still hear you but I can’t sense any sign of you in or near the ship.”
“Don’t worry. I’m still here, and soon we’ll be back on our way home.”
A cackle of laughter emanated from Verathril.
“I doubt that very much. You wanted a demonstration of the power of the Torlinc? Allow me to show you.”
He reached into his chest and pulled his own Torlinc from within. It was identical to Kaia’s, save for the color, but it shown with equal luster and brilliance. He wrapped the Torlinc in the cohesive energy of his hand, concealing it once again, and held it above his head. A demonesque din built from the emptiness of the void, and a sphere of ruby energy surged outward from his fist in all directions. She knew she had only seconds to react. As he was releasing the blast of energy in her direction, she focused on a spot far above her ship and instantly shot toward it when she desired to do so. She passed through the structure of the ship as if it didn’t exist. She felt nothing upon entering the vacuum of space. The freedom was palpable and exhilarating, but her elation was quickly cut short.
The blast of red light that she only narrowly avoided had swept over and through her ship. The blue light of Tal’s consciousness washed away in the wake of the wave. The finality was jarring. He was gone.
“Tal! Tal, are you still there?!”
But she knew it was no use. His light had gone out. The only thing left was the bare circuitry, no longer buzzing with the lively electrical impulses that signified thought.
“What did you do?!”
She was furious, with herself for doing nothing to protect Tal, despite having no idea what she would do, and with Verathril for causing such harm. He showed absolutely no remorse. If anything, his achievement was profoundly satisfactory to him. His insane cackle grew into an all out rolling laughter.
“I told you I would show you what the Torlinc could do, didn’t I? You have one as well. If you don’t like something I’m doing, stop me. You may be the only one who can.”
The seriousness of the situation sank onto Kaia. Verathril was searching for an equal match, and somehow knew she might be his only threat.
She had to do something, but what? This realm apparently functioned on thought and will, so perhaps she could do more. She reached into her chest and gripped her Torlinc, and she felt a eerie warmth spread through her consciousness, a familiarity that was almost too easy to accept. She suddenly felt vulnerable for this first time since her Ascension. She wanted a more powerful form, like Verathril. The Torlinc reacted to her innermost desire. It started with a harmonious choir of several high tones that grew in strength and in correlation with the luminosity of the Torlinc. The sapphire light shrouded the entirety of the area, and even the blood red of Verathril was masked. When it abated Kaia had a new sense of self.
She was Verathril’s opposite, she could sense that now. They may have come from very different places, but they were linked in purpose. Her body shown with the same intensity of reality as did his. She was connected to the physical realm once again, but also connected to the Ascended realm. He would not hurt her. He might try, but he would not succeed, she knew that.
“I see you’re learning fast. It took me significantly longer to deduce the secret of traversing the Spectrum. However, the first step is by far the easiest. You won’t make it to the next.”
He crossed the distance between them in an instant, but her reactions were infinitesimally quicker. She avoided his slam, and threw the fist that held her Torlinc into his side as he passed by. A tremendous gong of energetic sound reserved only for the Ascended Ones reverberated through the vacuum of space, and Verathril went spinning away out of control at what had to be several times the speed of light.
His speed was nothing for Kaia to follow. She was no longer bound by the laws of physical space. She followed after him, and she noticed as soon as he recovered from her counterattack that he didn’t come back toward her for another go round, but instead increased his speed away from her. He was running.
Now she was angry. At first the feeling of transcendence was supremely calming, but in the presence of Verathril she felt something else. A desire to rid the universe of such a vile creature. Acceleration surged her forward, closer to him. She would not let him escape.
They were traveling faster than Kaia had once been able to perceive. Galaxies spun past them, no more than blurs of blue light in her sight. She was focused intently on Verathril.
But he was slowing now. He turned toward her as he came to halt, and Kaia stopped just before him. She noted the absence of the inertial force that otherwise might have bothered here during such a transition in velocity.
“We are here,” he proclaimed.
“Where is here?”
There didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary about this place. They’d stopped near the center of a unassuming spiral galaxy. They happened to be in an area of the galaxy completely devoid of stars.
“Can’t you see it? Look closer, or maybe it’s farther. I don’t know how best to describe it.”
That was a frustrating suggestion. Kaia tried to see whatever else Verathril was trying to show her, but there was only blackness around them. She wanted to see what it was that Verathril was talking about, so she continued to strain her will on finding something. Her Torlinc started singing once more, and as it did a soft white glow started to form in the vacuum behind her enemy. The white glowing grew stronger until it took a solid form, but Kaia wasn’t convinced. Something about the solidity of the whiteness was disturbing. The huge bolt of frozen light extended both far below and high above them. Its length exceeded the diameter of the largest star in the galaxy by several orders of magnitude. A slithering beast through the void, it cracked back and forth violently, as if space itself had ripped apart. It was the absence of reality.
“Welcome, Kaia, to the Rift.”
“What— what is it?” She asked, awestruck. Even with her new prodigious set of senses this was by far the most impressive thing she had ever encountered.
“I don’t know for sure, but I’ll tell you what I believe it is. I believe the Rift is a connection between all frequencies of the Spectrum. If so, and we as Serophs are indeed fifth dimensional beings, then the Rift must be something of a higher dimension - the sixth dimension. I’ve wanted to test this for so long, but a Seroph is required and I was too afraid to enter the Rift myself. So now you will.”
A sphere of fiery energy manifested directly around Kaia, surrounding her from all sides. The sphere shot toward the Rift, carrying Kaia with it. She was unable to escape, but her Torlinc sang once again, and a similar bubble of blue energy appeared within the burning red of the sphere that held her, then exploded out with the force of a dying star, enveloping the red prison and destroying it mere milliseconds before she was to be overtaken by the imperceptible boundary of the negative Rift. She rocketed away from the edge of nothing, back toward Verathril. She envisioned a spiral of pure energy all around her, and it was so. She pointed her spear at her foe, right center of the chest. He didn’t stand a chance.
She burst through him with a horrifying, thunderous snap, the red Torlinc carried along in her wake. Her sapphire blade of energy pierced the shimmering red Torlinc dead center, and its light was fading. Horrible wailing filled the area, almost reverberating space itself.
“What have you done to me?! My Torlinc, it’s… it’s… I can’t feel it anymore. I can’t feel…”
Kaia forced herself to a stop and disbanded her weaponized blue energy. The red Torlinc remained, free floating through the emptiness with a spiderweb of fractures rippling through it. Kaia wanted Verathril to suffer.
She turned back to the screaming enemy, who was obviously experiencing more pain than he’d ever felt. But there remained a certain hollowness in his voice, a lack of true acceptance of his fate. Kaia would see to that.
Her own lustrous blue Torlinc was still humming happily, as if it was having a wonderful time. Kaia felt the warmth grow inside her. She finally felt like she was where she should be. The only thing left was to make her coronation official.
“You might discover the truth of the Rift after all, Verathril. Good luck.”
Torlinc held tight in hand, she encircled the dying enemy with bands of pure energy, holding him tightly in place. When she was satisfied that he couldn’t possibly escape her grasp, she released the last thought that damned him.
He simply vanished. As soon as he passed through the barrier into the unknown white, the sounds of his anguish halted. The was no reaction from the Rift. No ripple as he fell through, no sound, not so much as a shudder.
The red Torlinc was still resting behind her, pulsing wildly with a painful tone. Kaia was sure it would have been screaming if it were able.
“Fine, I’ll put you out of your misery.”
With one quick thought she encircled the pyramid with shimmering blue light, rose the energetic level until it radiated like a star, then collapsed it upon itself. After a miniature implosion, nothing remained.
Kaia returned her gaze to the Rift. Whatever it was, it demanded respect. She felt a strange kinship to the Rift, almost a beckoning from the illustrious emptiness. It reminded her of her attraction to the lake as a child.
“I have to so say, I wasn’t sure you were going to defeat him, Kaia. Verathril has been a nuisance for quite some time. The power of the Ahrk Seroph is unmistakable.”
How could she have missed that? Someone was approaching her; a being like herself and Verathril, only he was blue like Kaia. One staunch difference was immediately obvious to her, however. This new entity did not have a Torlinc. It appeared to have a male orientation, at least its form appeared masculine and its voice deep, but Kaia supposed gender no longer mattered in this realm.
“How did you know my name? And he called me an Ahrk Seroph too, what does it mean?”
“I’ve been watching you for some time. I was one of the first Ahrkuors, which is what we call those of us who Ascended without a Torlinc. Ahrk is the name for the blue substance that makes up the world you see, even your own form. It is one of the four energetic frequencies of the Spectrum. Verathril was an Ignas Seroph. Ignas is the name of the red frequency, which is from where he originated. The possession of a Torlinc marks one a Seroph, thus you are an Ahrk Seroph. I’ve waited a long time for this, Kaia. My name is Zian.”