Wormhole Island - Interior.
It was quiet and the only light came from Ramon Ollo’s suit. Ramon’s eyes moved up and down the wall as he slowly walked from one side of the large room to the other.
The squiggly lines, the symbols, they all felt familiar but they weren’t the same as the Antecessor pictograms he had studied for almost his entire life.
They were different. And revelatory. This was an entirely new language. Or a very old one.
If he could understand what was being said here, he would be able to gain a completely new understanding of what the Antecessors had been about. So many mysteries would be solved in an instant.
This was the missing piece he had been searching for. The key to everything. If only he had the time to study it properly.
He stopped as he reached the open doorway into the inner chamber, where his son had been taken. There was a cold blast of air seeping out. If he held out his arm, he could feel it pushing his hand back, numbing his fingers. He couldn’t force his way in.
He was too weak. Even now, he felt the pressure bearing down on him, reducing his powers to an insignificant level. He was just a man with only his wits to rely on.
Ramon took a moment to think. His suit glowed brighter. He looked around the frame of the door, looking for matching symbols, anything to give him the start of an interpretive matrix. If he could find a repeating pattern...
He squinted and leaned back and forth. He tilted his head, first one way, then the other. There was a vague match in one column of symbols. A similarity to something he had seen on an old Antecessor ship he had encountered long ago. It hadn’t been much of a find, an old derelict floating in space, well out of the way of any of the busy space lanes. It had little in the way of treasures, but a remarkably robust defensive array.
His memory grew stronger as he focused on it. His ability to recall details from the past was exemplary. The human brain was able to store a lot of information and then lock it away so it didn’t clutter the mind. But it was all still there, if you had the ability to sift through it.
The symbols he was remembering now had been on a beacon several kilometres away from the ship. They had assumed it was a piece of the ship that had broken off, although the ship had shown no signs of damage to the hull.
The conclusion he had come to was that it had been a warning, although there had been nothing in particular to be wary of. The symbols had been different to anything he had seen before but they were always discovering new things back then. They had never seen symbols like that again. Until now.
If this was the same language, or similar, then was this also a warning?
No need to wonder what the warning might be about in this case. But who was being warned?
Ramon took out the pieces of broken bracelet from his suit and carefully opened it just enough to get his finger in. He placed it on the wall and slid his finger down. The small amount of fusion gel on his fingertip barely produced a smear.
The wall lit up where his finger had passed, the markings filling with a gentle purple glow. He stepped back, but nothing happened. He put his hand out and felt the restrictive airflow still in place.
This much he understood: he could activate the walls with the power of the gel. But without knowing the correct instructions, the order, the placement, it was just a matter of luck. He didn’t have the time, or the volume of gel, to be able to work it out by trial and error.
What had the boy said? Something about the passive effect of the pool of fusion gel in its raw state being enough to power these symbols. It didn’t sound correct. In its raw state, it was inert. Deadly, but inert.
He stood there for a while, thinking. A passive effect. Could it be that simple?
Ramon took out more of the gel, as much as he could scrape out, and spread it on the palm of his glove. He could feel it tingle through the material. Then he spread his hand over the wall, not caring what he covered, just covering as much of it as he could.
Around the door, retreating far enough to go around to the other side and repeating it there. He used the grooves to climb up and smear the top over the door.
It spread remarkably thin, leaving a sheen everywhere his hand went, until the door was framed in a very dim, purple glow.
The wind ceased. He moved his hand up and down to make sure it wasn’t just a small window. If it was this simple to overcome, what kind of warning was it? What kind of prison?
He leaned in with his head. Through the gap between the two doors, he could now see another room. It was dark and gloomy around the edges, so difficult to gauge its size, but there was a light in the middle, coming from the suit worn by his son.
Figaro was standing with arms folded so his hands touched his shoulders, his head bowed. It was an oddly funereal pose. He wasn’t moving at all.
Ramon let his eyes roam around the full area he could see and then stepped forward.
Nothing untoward happened as he slowly made his way through the doorway. Once he was on the other side, he walked a little faster. Not rushing, just moving with purpose.
The wall behind Figaro was different from the rest. There were grooves carved into it, but not like the walls he had seen so far. These were straight and horizontal. All of them.
Ramon walked up to Figaro, who didn’t move. He was standing about a metre from the wall behind him. All around them was a curtain of darkness.
“Figaro,” Ramon said quietly.
There was no response.
He turned up the bioluminescence on his own suit. The wall behind Figaro went all the way up to the roof and the markings went up with it. The walls to the sides were still shrouded in darkness.
He put his mouth closer to his son’s ear. “Fig—”
Ramon’s body went stiff as he felt it invade his mind. He paled but didn’t resist. He knew of a number of defensive strategies to a mind probe but he doubted any of them would do him good here. He found he couldn’t swallow but he could still breathe through his nose.
A frigid force swept through his body, seemingly investigating every bit of his physique, inside and out.
“Do you have something you need from me?” Ramon asked.
Figaro lifted his head, his eyes closed. “Little one, what could I have need of from you?” The words came out from between barely moving lips, but behind him, the horizontal grooves lit up with coloured lights, rising and falling in stacks, as though responding to the sound of Figaro’s borrowed voice.
“Naturally, I have little to offer, Fourth,” Ramon replied flatly, hesitating for a moment before saying, “but there is perhaps news of the outside you would be interested in?”
“What news?” It wasn’t so much curious about current events as wondering what could possibly be of any interest to a being such as itself.
“Information on the state of the galaxy during your absence. The state of the Antecessors, their progress, their proximity to their goal.”
“Hmmph.” A snort brushed past Figaro’s lips. “I have seen all I need to see in this one’s mind. They have yet to make contact with the creator. And as long as I have this one, they will not be able to.”
“But they are coming here to claim him,” said Ramon, “and if I am correct, you will not be able to stop them from taking him.”
“Indeed,” said Figaro. “Your assessment is correct. But they will not find what they are looking for here. They do not have the complete key and I will ensure they do not get it. Rejoice. Your worlds will survive a little longer.”
Ramon slowed his heart rate and controlled his breathing. He hadn’t expected to strike up a conversation this easily. The casual nature of the dialogue was something he had never encountered from any previous Antecessor interaction. There was much he could learn here. He just had to be careful he didn’t cause his prey to turn on him.
“May I ask, why did they leave a source of power to boost the efficacy of organics? Is it that you are unable to utilise their power yourself?”
“Good. You are correct. Just as you are suppressed by this power, so am I. The organic, as you call it, inside your body is of a particular strain that originated with me. While it is powerful against other organics, it is weak to the power you feel permeating my ship. If the suppression were to be removed, then I would be able to express myself more freely. But it is nothing compared to my true potential. They could never accept how much more powerful I was than them, those three fools. They thought their organics were going to save them. Please the master so he would not consume them. Hehe. Such fools, such fools. A creator only respects another creator, not a tinkerer. They could not match my inventions. They could not allow me to present my machine.”
The lights on the wall behind Figaro all lit up, from the bottom, rising almost to the roof, blasting light into the chamber, and then collapsing all at once, like a fuse had blown.
“This machine?” asked Ramon, looking at the dark wall.
“Yes.” Lights flickered up and down again. “My creation engine. They refused to allow it to power up fully. They feared they would never be able to turn it off.”
Ramon nodded, taking in this information. “My ability, it is similar to yours?”
“Similar, yes. A feeble, weak, pale imitation.”
“So it could be said I am a descendant of yours.”
A short laugh burst out of Figaro’s lips. “You claim a position by my side a little too quickly. You are nothing more than dregs of my once great army of enforcers.”
“Against the dregs of the other Antecessors, it is quite effective,” said Ramon.
“You are an optimistic one. It is a poor trait. There is no point in thinking ahead, the others that came with you will not succeed and there will be no chance for you to display your feeble efforts.”
“They cannot succeed in turning off the sigil?”
“Not with their power.”
“Then you sent them to…”
“To see how far they can get. It will be interesting to see if they have the potential this one thinks they do. He too is an optimist. A family trait.”
“My optimism is only in myself. My son has faith in others. He gets it from his mother’s side.”
“We shall see who is the greater romanticist,” said Figaro. “The organic in his body is a burden. It will eventually kill him. Yours is its opposite, its antithetical twin. How is it none of you have yet combined your organics?”
“Combined?” said Ramon, feeling quite shocked on the inside while maintaining a look of calm on his face. “It is possible to combine two organics inside one person?”
“Obviously. Fusing two forces together will lead to greater power.”
“Fusing them together? How?”
The Fourth God’s words had opened up a completely new world to Ramon, causing him to become excited.
“How would I know anything about the requirements for your frail little bodies. That’s your business, find a solution on your own. Whether you are able to accomplish this or not is up to your own efforts.”
It seemed odd this ancient Antecessor would reveal such things so easily. Did it just not care? Or did it wish to see humanity grow stronger to offer more of a fight? Whatever its reasons, it would make no difference if they remained here.
“What if I can release you? Allow you to leave this place, unrestrained? Would you offer your guidance then?”
“You are talking nonsense. I had thought you above this kind of prattle.”
“Indeed, but there is no harm in discussing terms. If I fail, you lose nothing.”
“It is beyond your power to release me, or even yourself.”
“You cannot leave as you were,” said Ramon, “that is true. But in the body of my son… You don’t wish to gamble?”
There was a pause before Figaro spoke again. “Such a thing… it would be difficult. I would need to subsume this one completely. The level of assimilation, it is something I haven’t even considered...”
“I know of a process to make it possible,” said Ramon. “The chances are, as you say, slim, but not impossible. Not impossible at all.”
Figaro’s jaw tightened, then his head shook and tilted back. His eyes snapped open. They flashed different colours before going clear and a different consciousness faced Ramon Ollo.
“Father, you must leave this place.” The wall didn’t light up.
“Figaro, calm yourself. There is nothing to fear. You are perfectly safe.”
“Safe?” Figaro shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “I can’t hold on much longer. You have to leave here while I have him distracted.”
Ramon was impressed. His son had found a way to fight his way up from the depths of his subconscious and temporarily regain control of his mind. Even if he couldn’t maintain it for long, it was still a remarkable feat.
“You don’t have to worry, Figaro. I am in no danger while I can be useful to the Fourth God.”
“It needs help from you?” Figaro was dumbstruck. “What does it want from you?”
“Trust me for now,” said Ramon. “Conserve your strength for when it’s needed. Rest.” He placed a hand on his son’s temple and pressed gently.
Figaro gritted his teeth and then his face went slack. His head dropped forward as he relinquished control.
It was truly astonishing that his son had been able to resist for as long as he had just now, but it wouldn’t be enough. Far better to allow the Antecessor to use his body as a vessel. There was so much more he could achieve with a god beside him than a mere boy, even if that boy was his own flesh and blood. He knew Figaro would agree.
He waited for the Fourth to reinstate control. He had so many more questions to ask.