Day 62. 27 pages, 8,516 words.
Willing her hands not to shake, Predericon ran through the data packets. She knew the other two would be more interested in the Demon and the nature of the platform’s call for help, but she felt there was just as much justification for checking the log data regarding the rearrangement of the matter in the immediate volume.
Both Lelhmak and Gyden, naturally, saw through it.
“Looks like you were right,” Gyden said wryly. “The Four Realms were taken apart and rebuilt into ballworlds in a matter of seconds.”
“Three of them, at least,” Old Man Lelhmak added, poring over the information keenly. “Don’t really have anything solid on Heaven. But look,” he tapped at his interface, switching and highlighting some information on the others’ systems. “There’s so much more to it. The volume we’re in has increased massively in size, this should overlap a huge volume of Four Realms, The Face, and Castle space. The near arm of Cursèd’s Playground too, really – at least. And the matter involved in creating all these ball – these planets, not to mention that star…” he shook his head. “This solar system wouldn’t look out of place in Cursèd’s Playground, but there’s no room for it down near the Rooftop.”
“Not to mention the fact that the Playground vanished at the same time the Castle did,” Gyden added, “and this whole new set of stellar groupings showed up.”
“Which means you were right too,” Predericon said. “This solar system is clearly set against some sort of simulated backdrop.”
“Probably,” Gyden and Lelhmak said together, and Lelhmak grunted. “Probably,” he reiterated, “but unless just this moon is solid and all of the solar system is fake, there’s still not enough space for it. And according to this, the main reconstruction of flatworlds has happened on planets further inside this system. That means either this solar system is real, or there’s even more complexity to the fake backdrop to add in all this orbital distance and the gas giant and everything. Which – well, to be honest I don’t know which possibility is less possible.”
“Either way, it looks as though the Firstmades just built a solar system and made Castle Void go away,” Gyden said. “From the inside that’s how it looks, anyway.”
“All without sufficient planning to warn vessels in the area or dock the Elevator at The Godfang’s Landing,” Predericon added. “If the Landing is even there anymore.”
“Which is either classic Firstmade, or else something else that they had no power over,” Lelhmak remarked. “And we’d really better be hoping for the former.”
“Looking at all of this together,” Predericon said, “and with due acknowledgement of the fact that this is a completely preliminary guess … I’d say that it’s a bit of both – the physics of it, I mean. I couldn’t even start to guess about the origin. The flatworlds have been rolled into a solar system, which has been augmented with additional matter and then folded into some sort of pocket subdimension which either contains, or looks like it contains, a whole galaxy. Or maybe more. So it’s a physical reconstruction and a simulation. Probably,” she added before the others could.
“All in the little gap between the Four Realms and the Rooftop,” Lelhmak said.
“Assuming we haven’t actually been moved,” Gyden reiterated.
“That’s really beginning to feel like the more plausible explanation,” Predericon admitted.
“Well, it’s not something we can solve with the Elevator’s data,” Lelhmak declared, “or verify in any way unless we actually get off this moon. Now let’s look at the other packet.”
“What was it the Elevator said?” Gyden said as Predericon unpacked the information and moved it in streams to the interfaces she, Lelhmak and Gyden had taken up for efficiency’s sake. “‘My crew and passenger manifest is fortunately zero, owing to a timely rearrangement of resources. No lives were lost in the process of landing’?”
“Technically all true,” Predericon pointed out, “but worrying.”
“You’re damn right it’s worrying,” Lelhmak said.
There was not much in the way of additional information about the Demon – or there was information, but no supporting information. According to the data packet, it had appeared unexpectedly in heavy freight gallery 7 and attempted to gain control of the platform. ‘Fortunately’, human operators were required to facilitate this and the human crew had all been ‘timely rearrangement’-ed to shreds, and the Demon didn’t actually count as human.
“It ‘appeared’,” Gyden frowned. “What does that mean?”
“A specialised form of transportation available to diabolised undead,” Lelhmak opened out a separate sub-packet that was even thinner on details than the rest, and again highlighted it onto the researchers’ interfaces. “Unstable and dangerous, but it allows them to cross distances at speed. Apparently it used this ability to just … jump across from the inner planets to here.”
“Can Angels do the same?” Gyden asked.
Lelhmak shook his head. “Apparently God cares about them too much to let them do it,” he said. “I may have been understating how dangerous that description makes it sound.”
“Apparently the platform was able to put up some kind of interference preventing the Demon from teleporting back the way it came,” Gyden was also reading the material, “and then … huh.”
Predericon was reading too. It seemed, in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous attempt to subdue the Demon using Flesh-Eaters, the Elevator had been forced to improvise. With her crew dead, her more vulnerable – and, for the Demon, useful – key systems were accessible only from deeper inside the platform’s structure. She’d left a path open to those systems, or at least a series of levels through which the Demon had been able to tear.
Once it was down there, the Destarion had disabled or re-routed the systems the Demon was after, and initiated a specialised form of lockdown. This, it seemed, was something the Demon couldn’t simply punch its way out of. And with its teleportation blocked, it was trapped.
The only problem with this was that the lockdown would not last forever, and as long as it was active the platform couldn’t initiate full, and safe, stowage-standby. That meant that it was still possible for the Demon to get loose, and gain control of some very dangerous platform systems before the Elevator could disable them.
“So she needs something to kill the Demon for her,” Predercon concluded, “before it gets free, so she can shut down safely.”
“I’m not sure what help we can be,” Gyden said, “if the Flesh-Eaters got beaten so easily.”
“There are ways for the platform to destroy a Demon,” Predericon read, “but she can’t bring those measures into the containment she had to hastily construct. Those same safety measures and treaties that limit her actions also prohibit her autonomous units from handling those sorts of weapons directly,” she frowned. There was more there, she was sure of it. Something enormous, between the lines of innocuous data the Elevator had shared with them.
“We might be able to, though,” Gyden said. “Is that really what she’s suggesting?”
“We may not have a choice,” Lelhmak told them. “The Elevator might be capable of helping us get to the inner planets of this system. And sooner or later, if we just sit here, the Demon will get out of containment and then who knows what will happen?”
“We don’t have a choice,” Predericon said, suddenly certain.
“What? Why?” Lelhmak studied her, eyes narrowing. “What do you see?”
“I don’t know,” Predericon said in frustration.
“Step back,” Lelhmak urged her. “Look bigger.”
Instead, Predericon found herself drifting, her mind’s eye returning to the sculpture in her cabin. Reality had changed in some indefinable but fundamental way. And it wasn’t just the flatworlds they’d been studying being torn apart and remade into planets and moons.
“Bigger,” she murmured.
“Akmet,” Old Man Lelhmak snapped.
“I was wondering, earlier, why the Pinians didn’t have more information about these things,” Predericon said. “The Demons. They were just footnotes, subfolders within subfolders, and it made no sense. It occurred to me as I was watching the Flesh-Eater’s logs that things had gone far more horribly wrong than I’d originally assumed, but I didn’t know why I was so certain of that.”
“Go on,” Lelhmak said.
“A Demon can punch through a Godfang’s hull, and apparently teleport itself across a solar system,” Predericon said, “and just to contain it, a Category 9 Convoy Defence Platform has to basically sit on it and call for help. And it seems like most of these powers, if not all of them, were known already. Which means the only reason Demons were considered harmless before was because there were so many other powers to counter them. Angels. Archangels. The Pinian Disciples. God. That whole cocktail-party attitude that Kedane was talking about before – they have it because they could afford to have it.”
“And now it’s attacking,” Lelhmak said softly.
“And now it’s attacking,” Predericon agreed. “Because there’s nothing in this pocket subdimension to stop it.”
“Except us,” Gyden said.
“Exactly,” Predericon nodded. “Because the Demons aren’t going to want to go back in their box after this. And there are two more somewhere in the inner system, and they’re not being sat on by the Elevator. What if one, or both of them decide to follow their friend? They’ll take control of the Godfang and then this … whatever it is, this whole solar system experiment … will be theirs.”
Old Man Lelhmak, looking greyer than ever, leaned back and nodded. “Alright then,” he said, “but I want it on record that we are the worst Demon-hunters in the entire urverse.”
“I’ll note it in the log,” Predericon promised.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark after work.
Damn, that’s pretty fucking sweet, mate!
Also, “Don’t really have anything solid on Heaven.” And how! LOL
Hee, well quite.
Just gotta add, again, you’re the writer I’m most excited about, consistently, when anticipating future books, etc. And this short story has gotten me really psyched for the next one, for sure!
Aww, well I always love to hear that! And don’t worry – and don’t let the cheeky “The End’ fool you. We’ve got a ways to go on this baby yet!
Well shit, and here I thought all we needed was a bow to put on it XD