Wormhole Island - Interior.
It was dark. And quiet. It reminded Figaro of being dead. His father had induced death for him a number of times. So he was familiar with the sensation of nothingness. Wasn’t afraid of it. This was similar, only less comforting.
Figaro was alone. He couldn’t even feel the presence of his organic. An existence he had shared his body with since he was a child. Fighting him, hurting him, trying to conquer him… and now even it had abandoned him.
Not even Dr Yune’s restraining bracelets had managed to suppress it this thoroughly.
It was still there, of course. It was bonded to his DNA, so it wasn’t going to suddenly disappear, but the Fourth had crushed any aspiration it might have had of taking over. By taking over first.
The darkness was wrapped around him like a cocoon. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t see through it.
Figaro had been told that when one stared into the abyss, the abyss invariably stared back. It was meant to be a cautionary epithet. A metaphor about the danger of confronting the unknown.
Of course, as the son of Ramon Ollo, abyss-gazing was just another part of the curriculum. Whether it was facing monsters in the shadows of your psyche, or actual monsters in the shadows of a derelict spaceship, the expectation was to give as good as you got.
But now that he was actually deep, deep inside the abyss, it was more than abundantly clear that there was no one here to stare back at him.
The silence was especially unnerving.
He didn’t know how long he had been in here. A minute, a week, a hundred years… He had recently (as far as he could tell) made it to the surface of his consciousness, and his father had very firmly pushed him back down.
The switch from wanting his son to choose his own path, to wanting his son to keep quiet and do what he was told, had not gone unnoticed. Which meant that something had changed. Something had superseded his father’s concern for his son’s journey into manhood, and undoubtedly that thing was the Fourth God of the Antecessors.
Figaro understood his father’s fixation on this brand new source of answers to many of the questions he had been trying to solve his whole life. He had seen how obsessed his father could get when dealing with a potential treasure-trove.
He would immerse himself in his work.
Rivet his focus to the subject.
Block out all distractions.
From now on, there would be no thought of removing the Antecessor from Figaro’s body. Best place for it. Easy to keep an eye on. Always within reach. Could be folded up and put in a box for transporting.
Figaro was aware of his father’s concerns, but they weren’t his concerns. He wanted his body back. Whether it was the most efficient way to extract information from the Fourth or not, he didn’t care.
Bold thoughts. Brave, even. His father would not approve. But Figaro was forging his own path, with or without his father’s permission. Without it actually made the whole thing feel more legitimate. Approved rebellion didn’t really cut it.
He already knew it was possible to regain control. He wasn’t sure exactly how he had done it, but remaining loose and not pushing too hard had something to do with it. He had only managed it for a small amount of time, but it was possible.
And it required a little luck, that was for sure. A little help from those who were on his side, a little mishap from those who weren’t.
His unwanted guest had the upper hand for now, and a far stronger will. A better grasp of the environment. A keener understanding of the situation. And knowledge… all the knowledge.
But there were moments when the grip on his higher consciousness slacked. If he could retake the controls then, even if only for a few seconds, and instigate some kind of escape — running away would probably be his best bet — he might be able to get to the others. And they would have the rest of the plan all worked out, wouldn’t they?
Being stuck in the dark was making him a bit muddled. There was no way to measure the passing of time and you couldn’t rely on your body clock when you didn’t have a body. He had to do something, but was it too late or too soon?
What he needed was for someone else to create a diversion, to cause enough trouble to keep the Fourth preoccupied. And he knew of one person who was excellent at causing trouble, although who he caused it for never seemed to be consistent.
Still, Figaro felt if he waited for an opportunity, he would get one. In the meantime, he would practise swimming back up to the shallows, ready to act.
Until then, his only company was the darkness. He really had no idea why people feared it so much. It had little to offer apart from emptiness and boredom.
Which made it all the more surprising when the abyss said, “Hello.”
Figaro jumped. Not physically, but his thoughts made a leap from dozing adrift to high alert.
He tried to look around his location, but that did very little in practical terms. The foreground and the background were all part of the same void.
“Rest assured, I’m not going to kill you for the moment.” The voice belonged to the Fourth. Figaro knew that, once his heart stopped racing, which it wasn’t since it no longer reflected his state of mind.
“For the moment?” Figaro would have raised his eyebrows if he had access to them still.
“Let me ask you something. You must answer honestly. If I’m satisfied with your answer, you will benefit,” the voice said coldly.
“Please ask,” Figaro replied calmly.
“Where did you find the crystal heart?”
“What you call an organic. The one you host in your body.”
Figaro saw no reason not to share what he knew, limited as it was, and replied truthfully. “It belonged to an ancestor of mine. He—”
“Yes, I can see that much. Where did he obtain it from?”
“I can’t say for certain. The story is that he—”
“Found it on a dead planet. But that is not possible. A dead planet would not be able to sustain it.”
It was as though it could read his mind. “Can you—”
“Yes. The information you have stored is incomplete. I hoped you might have core memories shielded from scrutiny — unlikely, but your kind are proving resourceful.”
“You mean the others?”
“Tell me, have you ever tried to merge fully with it?”
“No,” said Figaro. “I have been preparing to do it for most of my life. For some reason my body is able to contain it — better than others, at least — but I have been unable to refine it fully so far. The ‘crystal heart’, you’re familiar with it?”
“Yes. It is no more than excrement in its current form, the waste product of my master’s exertions.”
“Your master?” Did gods have masters? Or was it referring to the Creator they spoke of sometimes, the being they — or some of them — wished to resurrect?
“The master is gone, he won’t return for his offal. You may keep it.”
At least it sounded like he wouldn’t be killed, for now.
“I won’t kill you. In any case, if I did want to kill you, I’d be able to do it no matter where you were on the ship.”
Being able to read his mind made any ideas about escaping impossible to keep secret.
“I’m merely making conversation. I haven’t spoken to anyone for over a million years.” There was almost a sigh at the end of the sentence.
“Have you stayed in this ship for all that time?”
“That’s right. The other three conspired against me — a thing forbidden by our master — in order to protect his legacy. They failed to see the irony. They couldn’t harm me, so they pulled my teeth and left me stranded.”
Did Antecessors have teeth?
“Yes, we have teeth,” the Fourth said.
“May I ask you a question?” Figaro wasn’t convinced that there wasn’t some ulterior motive behind this sudden geniality, but since his captor was in a conversational mood, why not try to get a few answers?
“What is it you wish to know?”
“Who are you? Who is your master? Why are you here? Is leaving really not possible?”
There was a long pause and Figaro was starting to think he might have gone too far, too quickly.
“How to describe it in your language,” said the Fourth, “I am... the God of War.”
Was it using human terminology to make it easier to understand, or was he claiming to be an actual deity? Were the other three Antecessor gods Famine, Pestilence and Death?
“No,” said the Fourth in response to Figaro's unspoken query. “We each had our area of expertise. I created weapons and trained soldiers. But the wars I fought weren’t against an enemy, they were against the nature of the universe. We were tasked with reformulating the substance of reality. We created our followers to assist us, as our master created us. Naturally, our creations saw us as gods. In simplistic terms, that’s what we were.”
“You were to prepare for your master’s return,” said Figaro.
“Indeed. But his return also meant the end of our purpose.”
“And you didn’t want to relinquish your power?” It was a provocative question, but it wasn’t like Figaro was putting himself in any worse a position — he was already at the Fourth’s mercy.
“I wanted more time. A few billion years passes by so quickly. The crystal heart was hidden, not destroyed. At the right moment, it would be found. But... “
“The others didn’t agree and banished you. But then why didn’t they reclaim the crystal heart. What happened to make them suddenly disappear and allow us to take over?”
“That I can’t tell you. I have been trapped in here. But they are coming now. They will be here soon, and then you can ask them.”
“I don’t think they’ll be taking questions, they’ll just want to take this thing in me, won’t they?” Figaro could almost feel his body chill at the thought.
“They cannot separate it from you. They will take you whole, and then attempt to convince you to do their bidding.”
“They can’t take it out? But it used to be in my ancestor.”
“They could remove it by killing you, but then it would be of no use to them unless they found another compatible host. You are rare in being able to sustain life while carrying the universe’s end in your blood.”
Figaro pondered for a moment before replying. “They need me, but I don’t think that alone gives me much leverage. I think they can probably get what they want by using force. I don’t think I’m strong enough to resist.”
“If you think it’s too difficult to handle, you could always take your own life.”
“If you are against them, why don’t you take my life?” said Figaro. “It would slow them down.”
“Not for long enough. No, I would rather see you thwart them.”
“By claiming the power within you.”
“But I… I can’t. I don’t know how.”
“Because you only have one half of the equation.”
“There is another half?”
“As there are to all organics. Your people use barely a fraction of the full power of the organics so crudely grafted onto their genetic code. Were you to bring both halves together and fuse them into one…”
“Fuse them together?” Figaro was stunned. The idea of mixing organics had long been proven impossible. You couldn’t fit more than one organic inside a human body. “But how do we insert a second organic?”
“You have two different types of power within you. In order to use one, don’t you have to suppress the other?”
“Yes.” This was the basis of all organic activation. You had to suppress expression by your human DNA and allow the organic to take over. That was why it was so important to have a high CQ, otherwise how could one substitute for the other?
But what was the Fourth telling him? That the second half was human DNA. Were humans also organics? Did that mean they were creations of the Antecessors too?
“If you can fuse those two forces together, the effect will be many times greater than either on its own.”
Figaro felt like he was having his eyelids pried open and his head forcibly turned to look at something that had always been there but which he had overlooked.
Organics had always worked in a binary fashion; either/or. It was the path of least resistance. No one had ever thought to combine them when they worked so well as a replacement.
“Can you tell me how to fuse them?”
“How would I know anything about that? I am only now learning of your existence. Find a solution on your own. But from what I’ve seen, you are the only one of your people who has the suitability and the appropriate type of organic to make it possible.”
Figaro smiled bitterly, even without a mouth or lips. He was being goaded into doing something — probably for a reason he wasn’t being told — but he wasn’t being given any practical way of achieving it. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because they will be here soon, my fellow gods. The higher your strength is at that time, the greater their surprise. I look forward to it.”
Figaro felt the presence leave. He was alone again. It was obvious that he was being guided in a particular direction. This place was meant to be his incubator. He had no idea what was needed to fuse organics, but there were probably the optimal conditions.
He had no doubt the Fourth wanted him to attempt it for its own purposes, but did that make a difference? He had no other options. If he succeeded he might have a chance, or he might become an incredibly powerful pawn.
To try or not to try?
Well, he was still an Ollo. Not trying wasn’t an option. He stilled his mind and let his thoughts drift away from him. Not towards the surface, but in search of his organic.