Day 89. 79 pages, 33,429 words.
Predericon sat in the softly-shifting light, her legs dangling down the slope, and sifted idly through the seam of ancient, extinct, semi-mythical and “cancelled” species.
The Paralithic Knidophile of Lost
World of Detréa, pre-chelonian
Life-form known to have existed as late
As the last decade of the Second Age.
Detréa was destroyed in the Practice
Of Cruelty that began Nnal’s Second
Dominion, but breeding pairs survived in
Private zoos. Newborn offspring was much prized
As a delicacy. Known as ‘Poor Man’s
Glutha’ by Master Races. See Glutha.
The “cancelled” category was new to her, and was apparently a classification specifically required to describe species that had ceased ever to have existed as a result of Time Destroyer activity. How the information had survived here was beyond her ability to guess, but apparently it was the Pinian Brotherhood’s duty to record everything, and they had taken that extremely seriously.
Her hunger was a high and distant thing now, only noticeable when she withdrew her senses from the archives and let them languish in her body for a short time between dives. Before long, she suspected, her body would begin to atrophy to the point of rendering physical movement impossible, as her active faculties sought nutrition wherever they could.
Some time ago – a week, maybe more – Old Man Lelhmak had shuffled forward and let himself slide into the black funnel of the passage from Segment Twelve to Segment Thirteen. Gyden had sat on the edge of the hole for a short while after that, weeping listlessly. Predericon had noticed how gaunt and feeble her friend looked, and imagined she looked the same. Probably even worse, in fact – she was fairly sure that Lelhmak had snuck some of his own rations in among his daughter’s, during their final days with food. She couldn’t begrudge him this small irrationality, even if all it had really meant was a more prolonged death for Gyden.
After her grief had run its course, Gyden had pushed off and fallen into the darkness as well.
Predericon was alone now, except for the Bookwyrm. The last time she’d looked around – and this had been at least two days ago – the Bookwyrm had been perched on one of the smooth blocks that decorated the lower archives chamber like furniture that had been sheathed in melted wax. Resembling some sort of strange scavenger, it had simply crouched with its legs folded and its arms hanging limp, watching her one-eyed with its head canted to the side. She hadn’t tried to engage it in conversation. Wasn’t even sure if she would have been capable.
Soon, she knew, it would be time for her to slide into the funnel after her companions. She would need to do it while she still had the physical strength. She didn’t know what would happen if she died here, but there were no other physical remains to be seen – aside from Odium’s, and they might not count. It was possible the Bookwyrm threw them all into the darkness, or that they rotted away to cellular waste and were absorbed into the enamel. She couldn’t find it in herself to ask.
Part of her insisted that she – that all of them, in fact – should have jumped into the darkness and taken their chances weeks ago. Dying here, or dying in some unknown segment of the platform while they still theoretically had the strength to carry on and maybe find sustenance, didn’t seem like a difficult choice. Certainly, she berated herself vaguely, once Lelhmak had taken the dive and demonstrated that it was possible to leave the lower archives, she should have followed Gyden.
But something had stopped her. Some cold, crawling terror that by all rights she should have lacked the energy to send slithering through her system. An instinct that had never found an expression or purpose in her ordinary life, now encountering its sole and defining reason for being: to keep her out of that dark pit.
She’d lacked Lelhmak’s fatalism, lacked Gyden’s emotion. And pressed between these opposing forces, she had remained. Locked, and increasingly listless, as the permanent lull of starvation stole over her.
She dipped back into the archive.