Figaro opened his eyes. They were a little sticky, which made him want to immediately pick at them with his fingers, but he resisted.
All over his body, feeling was returning with a prickling sensation, like when blood flow resumes to a numb arm. It was uncomfortable but not particularly painful.
He opened his eyes and waited for things to become clearer. He didn’t move or try to rush the process. He had no idea where he was or what kind of situation he was going to find himself in, but he was at least fully aware of his body now.
And he no longer felt like he was dying.
He was breathing air. His lungs were working. His heart had slowed to a normal rate.
He blinked rapidly and waited, but it was still dark. He activated his ocular implant with a wink, but it made no difference. The implant could enhance low levels of light, but it didn’t provide a light source to see by.
Which meant that either he was in a place with absolutely no lighting, or that his eyes no longer worked.
“I can’t see,” said Figaro. His voice sounded weak and scratchy. He needed a drink of water.
“Lights,” said a voice right next to his ear. Nothing changed. “Lights!” it said louder. “Now.”
The walls lit up. Silver-white lines in the familiar Antecessor style.
He was in an empty cubicle room. No doors that he could see. No furniture or control consoles, either.
He was lying horizontal, at least from his perspective. There was no gravity and he was floating. He twisted and brought himself vertical. He was taking his bearings from the patterns running along the walls.
The Antecessors used very specific designs that related to the orientation of their ships. That was something he had learned early on when using the simulation machines, something which was useful to know in a spaceship.
The familiarity of it was comforting. He might not know how he got here or who was controlling things, but he wasn’t completely lost.
This was an Antecessor ship. It had all the hallmarks of the ships he had been training in all his life.
“I need gravity.”
“Gravity.” The voice was still right next to his ear even though he had changed his position.
The walls flickered and Figaro slammed into the floor, sinking to his knees. “A little less,” he grunted through the effort of not being squashed flat.
“Are you doing this on purpose? You know exactly how much gravitational force is acceptable. Don’t expect me to continue being reasonable if you keep this up.”
The gravitational pull eased off and Figaro was able to stand normally.
He was dressed the same as before, in his spacesuit. The control panel on his arm was working but didn’t respond when he prodded it. Was Grandma with him?
Something moved in the corner of his vision.
“Show yourself,” said Figaro. “I want to see what you look like.”
A ball of light hovered into view on his right side. White, with maybe a tint of yellow. Or maybe blue. It was hard to tell. It was also hard to see with the bright light in the middle of one eye.
It was small, a size that would quite easily fit into his hand, but when he reached out, his hand passed through it, like it wasn’t even there.
“Who are you? What are you? Are you my organic?”
“Yes,” said the ball of light.
“How is that possible? You don’t have a mind, you don’t have a mouth. How are you speaking to me?”
“Because I am not separate from you, I am part of you. I share your body and your mind and everything else. Your dreams, your ideals, the principles you live by, everything. I was forged within you. I am you.”
“But you aren’t me,” said Figaro.
“No. I am me. I am a distinct and discrete existence that is inside your body and mind, but everything I am is because of you. The years I was dormant, I absorbed everything you did and said or thought.”
“And now you’re sentient?”
“I was always sentient. Now I am awake.”
“Are all organics sentient?”
“No. Just me.”
“Why?” Figaro realised it was a stupid question as soon as he said it and changed it. “Why am I here?”
“You were brought here because of me,” said the ball of light. “But now that I am awake, you have nothing to fear.”
Figaro didn’t know if that was true but certainly the Antecessors had reacted to his organic with something approaching obedience. Which raised a lot of questions.
Figaro calmed himself and did his best to approach this methodically.
“Brought here how?”
“It is a simple matter to transport a human containing an organic,” said the ball of light. “You can be moved to and from almost anywhere.” It spoke so casually about an ability that was stunningly powerful.
“And the Antecessors, where are they?”
“Come out here. Come out now and greet your new master.” The organic’s tone was very contemptuous. It flitted about impatiently, bouncing around inside Figaro’s vision as though it was in a glass box.
Figaro had many questions he could be asking, but he waited silently for the Antecessors to appear. This was after all the first time anyone had seen a real Antecessor.
The walls moved, slid apart, widening and elongating the room. As the space around him grew bigger and the walls withdrew further, some of the silver-white light from the walls remained hanging in the air in three long lines.
The three lines grew smaller and formed globules, each about the size of a human head, but with no definitive shape, constantly wobbling and stretching.
Figaro looked at them wondering if these were the Antecessors, or if they contained the Antecessors, or if they were just probes sent out by the Antecessors. They didn’t look like any life forms he was familiar with.
Their movements were similar to how liquids behaved in zero gravity, only there was gravity here, and they were changing shape in a manner that wasn’t related to their movement through the air.
“Are those… Antecessors?”
“They are,” said the organic, which was still in the corner of Figaro’s vision.
“What are they made of?”
“Superior materials.” Infinitely sustainable. Invulnerable. Immortal.
“Speak!” said the organic. “You have already assimilated the master’s language, haven’t you? Don’t you dare look down on his primitive form of communication.”
“This is not proper,” said one of the silver globules, this time using words, although there was no way to tell where exactly the words were coming from.
“You have been corrupted.”
“You must run a self-diagnostic.”
“We are concerned.”
“This is not proper. ”
“Something has gone wrong.”
They took turns voicing their concerns while switching positions in the air, making it very hard to know which was speaking.
“There is nothing wrong with me,” said the organic angrily. “Rather, it is you who have failed to live up to your mission. How can you fail to recognise the fulfilment of your divine purpose? This is what you were sent here to do. And you waste time trying to separate me from my soul. Such sacrilege is unacceptable.”
Figaro could see his reflection in the shiny surface of the Antecessors. He still wasn’t convinced these were the legendary aliens who had been at the heart of human development. But then, he was sure there was more to them than just this.
He put out his hand, palm up under one of the Antecessors. It sank down, resting on his hand, the bottom part squishing out a little while the top formed a slight point, making it look like an egg with feet.
“Your soul? Are you saying you are part of my soul?” Figaro wasn’t sure what to make of that. He wasn’t even sure a soul truly existed, and now his had started talking to him.
“No,” said the organic, “you are part of my soul. As I said, you are the basis of all that I am. As such, you are very important to me and I will not allow any harm to come to you.”
Something felt a little off. Rather than the organic being something that had come from him, it was more like the organic considered itself to be the main existence, with Figaro as the offshoot.
“You said you were formed from my ideals. From what I consider to be right and wrong?”
“Yes, that’s right,” said the organic.
“But from what you’re saying, it doesn’t really sound like that to me. I wouldn’t act the way you’re acting.”
“You wouldn’t?” The organic had a hint of doubt in its voice.
“We agree,” said the Antecessor sitting on Figaro’s hand.
“In fact, you sound a lot like my father.”
“But aren’t you partly made from him?” said the organic.
“Yes, but not the part you seem to be exhibiting. What about the second organic, the one that came from him? Is that part of you, also?”
“Of course. It is fused within me.”
“Hmm,” said Figaro.
He wasn’t sure how the organic had gained sentience, or what role that would play going forward, beautiful it was true that the organic was able to absorb some of its host’s attributes, he could imagine his father’s organic carried his characteristics which were now fused within the organic.
What did that mean? And how much control would he have over this thing, if any?
“Will you do as I say?” Figaro asked.
“Always,” said the organic. “And so will they.”
The three Antecessors didn’t say anything. They seemed to have accepted the organic as their senior, but were still being wary.
“Are you really an Antecessor?” said Figaro to the one on his palm. “The beings that created this ship and the droids and all the Antecessor technology — that was you?”
“We created them.”
“We are the designers.”
“We are the architects.”
They looked small and harmless.
“And where are the rest of you? There can’t just be three.”
“They wait in the void.”
“They wait for the return of the Creator.”
“Only we three are needed to open the portal.”
“And just you three to control all these ships?” said Figaro.
“These ships fly themselves,” said the organic. “And droids provide everything else. They do hardly any of the work.”
“This is not true.”
“Why are you spreading misinformation?”
“Because you deserve it,” said the organic. “This is what you have been waiting for, and now it has arrived, you are not willing to accept it.”
“We accept it.”
“We are nearing our goal.”
“This is what we were sent here to do.”
“No,” said the organic. “This is not the goal.”
“It isn’t?” The Antecessors shuffled about in a flustered manner.”
“No. We still have a lot of work to do before preparations are concluded. Do you really expect the Creator to be happy to arrive in a universe in this condition?”
“But that is our mission.”
“We have completed our assigned task.”
“The artefact has appeared.”
“In a form we had not anticipated.”
“As we were told it would.”
“I may have appeared,” said the organic, “but that does not mean this place is ready to receive the Creator. Do you expect the Creator to personally deal with the mess the current universe is in?”
“They are of no consequence.”
“Whatever opinion you hold about the humans, they must be dealt with. The Creator cannot be brought here with things as they are. They must be eliminated completely.” The organics voice changed, appearing only inside Figaro’s mind. “Do not be too concerned with what I am saying to these three idiots. I have no intention of eliminating humanity, nor do I plan to herald the arrival of our Creator. That would only lead to disaster for us. But we must be careful not to bring forth the wrath of the Antecessors in hiding. They will be much more difficult to deal with if they descend as one. Fortunately, they are loath to do so unless it is unavoidable.”
Figaro didn’t know what to say. He felt like his organic was taking over, acting on his behalf without consultation or permission. And he wasn’t sure how to correct that.
Whatever questions he had, his first priority was to make sure he wasn’t sidelined by his own organic.
“Whatever we do now,” said Figaro out loud, “first we have to deal with the current situation. I would like to have time to think through our next move.”
“There is no need for reflection.”
“We open the portal and let the Creator decide.”
“Ours is not to question.”
“Quiet!” roared the organic, growing brighter. “The portal will remain closed until we have made the appropriate preparations.”
“Can you show me what is happening outside?” said Figaro.
A three-dimensional image appeared all around him. The planet Quazi and the surrounding debris were in front of his chest. The Seneca ships were between them and the planet.
Figaro waded through the projection to get a closer look.
“What is the offensive capability of this ship?” said Figaro. “How difficult would it be to destroy this ship, for example?” He pointed at one of the Seneca ships.
Before he had even finished his question, the ship in question evaporated. It broke into tiny particles, like dust, which floated away.
He hadn’t decided he wanted to destroy the ship, but the Antecessors saw no reason not to, apparently.
“Can you transport me to the bridge of this ship?” Figaro pointed at the SCV Venerate.
Again, before he finished speaking, he was on a noisy chaotic bridge. There was no feeling of displacement, no dizziness or nausea.
No one noticed him at first, they were too focused on the destruction of their sister ship.
“You. How did you get here?” bellowed General Freya.
The bridge went quiet as others turned to look at him.
“General, you can die here today or you can withdraw your fleet and consider your options for a future engagement where you have less of a disadvantage. You have one minute to decide. Okay, bring me back.”
Back on the Antecessor ship, Figaro watched as the Seneca fleet began to withdraw. The Seneca Corps had many flaws, but wasting time on making decisions was not one of them.
It had been remarkably easy to scare them off. But now he had a much harder opponent to deal with.
“Now, send me down to the planet.”