The Eleventh Chapter
Once it is known what is not Truth, only Truth will remain, shining brightly amongst the skins its enemies have dressed it in. – Ichor.
As Deicide made his way toward the great tree where the Machine Mother abided, he watched this pleasant ecology form back into the twisted architecture of the Machine. Growths that appeared to be great roots were actually thousands of cables packed tightly together, running into and out of the broken and warped metal decks. The soft blue grass gave way to the fields of shallow graves marked by rifles, rivers of shell casings and shattered swords ran between them. He felt as though he had stepped through another Gate, the artificial sun overhead was now a crimson glow that bled onto the landscape beneath it. Deicide crawled over the cables that had warped this land with their unchecked growth, climbing higher and higher until he began to see evidence of there being life beneath his feet.
The beautiful village he had left behind was no more. Mountains of corpses burst from the blood soaked soil surrounding him, all groaning and scratching, cursing his name as he passed, crushing their bones underfoot, mostly by accident. They wailed and screeched as Deicide pulled his heels away from their filthy claws; cloudy sunken eyes squirmed inside of partially collapsed skulls. He stopped as he came to a patch of familiar faces, blotched and tallow skin pulled tight across bony heads. Deicide crouched down to meet the animated corpses of people he once knew. As they attempted to speak, they vomited black vestige material as they gurgled through the mess. It spewed from their eye sockets and oozed from their nasal cavities; one dug a gnarled claw into its mouth and slapped it against Deicide’s face, leaving a black oily smudge.
His enemies and friends were stacked on top of one another without care for allegiance or rank, though not his doing Deicide was embarrassed by the ridiculous shrine. The trembling skulls parted as another rose to the surface, it was the disfigured face of Rodela, and the top quarter of her skull was missing, replaced by quivering vestige. One of her dead brown eyes had been replaced by a yellow one that was too large to match the other; it rolled around in her grimy socket until it found Deicide. Boney claws emerged from beside her head, latching onto Deicide’s face. He lacked the strength to break her grip and he was pulled close until their foreheads were touching, a common gesture amongst eaters who were close. She caressed his head, brushing back his antennas now flashing rapidly with panic.
“This is all that God sees,” Rodela said. “This is all that God eats. Do not complete the circuit, father.” Then she opened her jaws wide, allowing her stomach and intestines to rise through her throat and bulge from her mouth, spewing their contents on his face as the entrails burst open. Deicide had finally wrenched himself free and scrambled over the field of immobile, screaming zombies, sprinting as he never had before. In his ears were the drums of battle, the smoke from burning corpses found his nose, as a war child he was well acquainted with the smell, he himself had turned legions of men into a living funeral pyre for the emperor at their center. He was left wondering exactly what all the carnage and terror had been for; no one who mattered seemed impressed by any of his victories. He recalled thinking to himself that if enough people were killed surely a true God would intervene, but no one came. As he ran he almost thought he could outrun his sins; that if he could escape this ship, that he would somehow be absolved of the slaughter which he had enacted upon countless worlds.
With his sharp fingers he dug into the cables at the base of the tree and thrust himself skyward, taking hold of the nooks provided. Quickly reaching the top, he found two pairs of large feet. He gazed up to find two giants staring down at him. Their hair was greasy and stringy, their bodies were pink abominations; each looked as though they were each other’s aborted conjoined twin. They ducked and met his eyes on an even plane; and though their eyes were shuttered with thick cataracts they could still recognize their Captain. Long pink limbs reached out to grasp Deicide, their grip mighty, but loving, leaving Deicide squirming between their wrinkly, saggy bosoms trying to figure out who they were. They set him down and ushered him to the dais which held the Machine Mother. He waded through oceans of cable and wire, dim and cracked displays hung on bent mounting brackets. He pushed aside a web like curtain to behold the Machine Mother, lounging in her throne, from the back of her head and spine ran millions of tiny wires and umbilicals.
She raised her hand slightly, motioning for Deicide to approach. He was lost in her eyes, so much like the glow of the morning sun. He kissed her soft gray hand and knelt beside her, then ran his fingers through the tiny black umbilicals that many would mistake for hair. She tilted her head and examined the fresh scars on his body. With his hands on her face Deicide moved forward to kiss her, and then noticed the hulking monstrosities were watching them both. He noticed that one never moved without the other, as if they were bound together by some invisible chain.
“It’s the Twins,” Nott said. Deicide turned back toward them, peering into the horrible, twisted faces under the greasy black hair. In disbelief Deicide shook his head, the pretty things he had watched become intelligent women, had been ravaged by some unknown ailment, driven out of proportion, and they each possessed a great arm that looked more like a giant’s club and a withered, feeble one to match it. They no longer possessed mouths, instead Destra and Sinistra communicated to Nott through the umbilicals flowing from their skulls. They looked as if their bodies had tried to mimic the towering anatomy of an Abstrusian with horrible results; the genetic adaption to this world had left them sorry, misshapen beasts. Without leaving the pair Deicide called back to Nott.
“What happened to them?” Deicide said, caressing the twisted backs of the twins.
“They couldn’t hold their shapes. The body of an immortal will morph to fit the need. Remember my lecture on personal evolution?” Nott said. Immediately and selfishly Deicide thought how he might look after trillions of years, embarrassed by the thought he dashed it away, knowing that Nott might have intercepted it. He returned to wife’s side, smiling, unable to hide his joy.
Nott rubbed his cheek with a tiny gray hand. “I knew you would return,” Nott said.
“You have to tell me what happened. This place, this can’t really be the Aeolipile,” Deicide said.
“Truly, it is. All dimensions, including the half worlds are bleeding into one another,” Nott said, “and now the Aeolipile spreads across many spans of time as well as space.”
“But how?” Deicide said.
“Your choices have brought this upon us,” Nott said. “There will be only one time, flowing toward a fateful end.” Deicide slouched against her throne, clutching her legs as if they were the key to solving his problems.
“Show me how to fix this,” Deicide said, watching the Twins as they sat in front of him. As they and all of his own children had gathered in his office long ago to hear fables of his exploits. Never would he have believed he would do something to harm his darlings, but even if the open graves surrounding the tree were some sort of delusion, the suffering he had witnessed was real.
“Tell me what you saw before you entered this place,” Nott said.
“Horror; one massive grave for anyone I ever touched,” Deicide said.
Nott gestured to the surrounding landscape. “If the world is so, then it is what you desired,” Nott said, pausing to lift his chin with a finger. “But, you are not bound by time,” she said.
“Then what will I do?” Deicide said.
“You will kill the pretender that much is certain. I can only see that event play out one way,” Nott said. “However, you have but a single choice before you. Complete the circuit and you and the Aeolipile will sail forever devouring everything until there is nowhere, where she is not. Or do not complete the circuit and dissolve the partitions keeping our dimensions from merging and all vessels from warring.”
“Could we not live in peace?” Deicide said.
“What have I told you of the Corridor, once merged all would become aware of the Corridor and what is at the end of it,” Nott said.
The only true world lies at the end of the Corridor, and what could be more beautiful than Truth, Deicide’s mentors had told him. They imagined that beyond the corridor was what the ancient people had called Heaven, where the true gods resided, without want, war or destruction they lived out their days advancing themselves into a higher form of being, much more than a Constant, who really was just a half-god, a human that had merely beaten his own biology, even the lobster could live forever, why not a man?
“This mission is more than just revenge,” Nott said. “You slaying the pretender is but a small part of a much larger focus.”
“Why was I not told of these things,” Deicide said. “Why was I not prepared?”
“You were created to fight my love,” Nott said, “And truly, I’m afraid that it would take much too long for me to explain everything to you, but I believe great thinkers were on the verge of discovering purpose.”
“Life,” Nott said.
“I was always taught that our purpose was what we made it to be,” Deicide said. “Even you taught me this.”
“No my love,” Nott said. “Your purpose is to kill the pretender god, and lead the new children through the Corridor. All unnatural creation has purpose, and you are unnatural.”
Deicide tried to find the meaning in her words, but she seemed so distant to him now, as if she was on the verge of tossing her body aside and living as omnipotent spirit. The Twins rose to allow arms of strange machines to move closer to Deicide.
“Can you accept this truth?” Nott said, tears rolling down her gray cheeks. “Can you accept that you were created to replace the man who failed?”
Hurt began to squeeze Deicide’s heart, but this was only from witnessing the pain in Nott’s face. He knew little about the stock he had been taken from, as a child it was forbidden to read or watch the archived footage of the man’s life, but also the father that had bore him. All that Deicide did know is that both of these men were not born with the powers that he possessed. And neither was born with hair-like antennas.
“Your wants and dreams are not your own,” Nott said. “Your goals have been given to you, but what is it you truly desire?”
After taking some time to think Deicide finally spoke. “I wish to converse with the God Constant.”
“The God Constant could never be a thinking creature, only an occurrence, like the weather of a terrestrial planet,” Nott said.
“Then I desire to witness this occurrence,” Deicide said.
“Though we never gave you this body to chase phantoms, it is yours to do with as you wish,” Nott said.
Deicide was viscously snatched upward by robotic arms from the overhead and thrust into an orange gel that hung weightlessly above; it burned his clothes and skin away. He flailed as the intense burning grew to an unbearable sharpness. His wife watched from below as did the Abyss, both seemed unaffected by Deicide’s sufferings, their mustard yellow eyes gazing with indifference. The robotic arms began their grotesque work, quickly pulling the bones away from his tendons and muscles, cutters ran through him like sandwich meat. Deicide wondered when this would end, more and more was pulled away from his carcass, the muscle fibers untwined in puffy red strings. A few more moments passed before his world went black before him, the membranes which had shielded his eyes had been eroded away and his eyes had quickly followed. Here in this darkness he felt nothing, yet he was aware of his being. He was an accumulation of memories and experiences stored on the gargantuan crystalline disks of his external memory.
Now his body was to be recast with substances and technologies only available in a time that had yet to come to his present. His mind developed and honed trillions of years in the past was now being merged with a body designed trillions of years in the future. His skeletal frame was a composite of remarkably rare minerals; his bones could withstand the pressures at the center of a black hole. Cords of muscle flowed in and began to wrap around his bones, the machines fused tendons to his skeletal frame, while his organic systems were reengineered, and his physical brain was properly fitted to handle calls between the Amanuenses. He was reborn, constructed to have no equal, he looked down at his body, if he were to recognize the design; he would know it was a carving by an Abstrusian artist who lived thousands of years before the society’s collapse. This sculpture was a symbol of an ancient Abstrusian theology, the Last Child, the Axis; a godlike entity forged by the scientific advances of the entire race. It was believed that when the Axis emerged all of the greatest secrets of the universe would be known to all.
Deicide opened his eyes, finding Nott sitting next to him. He was lying on a stone slab; alter-like, as if he were being sacrificed to a nameless god, perhaps to himself. He looked on his surroundings with fresh eyes; he could see all of the dimensions folded into one, all crowding him. Machine elves began to belch replicas, he was amused by their alien structure, and he poked at their soft angles with an umbilical. His umbilicals were wrapped in a thick skin like textile, which were completely fused with his body, and the mechanisms at their tips connected them through time and space to the main engineering plant, always functional, it was the single space not affected by this melting of dimensions. He looked to Nott, trying to grasp the concepts of this higher level of Existence.
“How is it?” Nott said.
“This is the world that God sees,” Deicide said, eyes wide, trying to take in as many signals as his mind could process. He drew a slow breath through his nose, as the filter membranes had been replaced, he could smell the vegetation and death that surrounded this place, and then he allowed himself to breathe through his umbilicals, which was more comfortable. He began to receive a flood of voices in his mind that were not his own, they were quick and clear, all thinking with frightening uniformity like that of a massive computer array. He began to send them a multitude of queries at once, they broke down the torrent of questions, each for a smaller group, almost instantly he received back answers, hypotheses and theories were argued and scrutinized back and forth with amazing mental speed. He was notified that the Amanuensis’s were further backed by the ship’s array of supercomputers. Immediately he began to draw on the ship’s archives, he pulled every deck log, astonished at how fast he could process the information, all erroneous data was tossed aside and sifted by the Amanuensis Array.
Deicide swung his legs over the side and grasped his wife’s hands, face beaming, for the first time he could understand how his wife saw the world. If he focused and peered mentally through his Amanuensis and over the coldness of the quantum computers, he could see his wife’s signature signal through the Intranet onboard the Aeolipile. Over the partition that separated Deicide’s mind from all of the rest of the ship’s systems and archives he could see that Nott was everywhere. Her influence inside the ship’s network was godly. He watched as the address marking her signal operated trillions of switches in nanoseconds, routing information and data with maximum efficiency. On the network existence, all revolved around her, she could simply take a few jumps of data to make him or a piece of equipment more efficient or route the information into an eternity of roads, never to reach its target, or cut the connection all together, severing life support of any system or individual connected to the Machine.
Nott caressed his face and brushed her fingers over his rows of edged teeth. Deicide pretended to bite at her and clasped her in his firm grip; he now dwarfed his petite wife, but he still did not equal the height of the twins. He enjoyed the pure air being pumped through his umbilicals and into his lungs; the halcyonic cider abated his cannibalistic hunger and the Abyss began to regain her size as the black oil she consisted of seeped through the pores of his umbilicals. He wondered now if Nott thought he was worthy of his name just before his view began to blur. The scent of oil and fuel drifted into his nostrils, he could feel great gears turning over in the distance, millions of cylinders fired in unison all around him. He wanted to ask Nott so many questions before he drifted away from consciousness, but she shook her head and laid him back on to the slab, gently closing his eyes and kissed his still scarred lips.
“Kiss the children for me,” Nott said.