The Drode Chronicles

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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by capnnerefir » Thu Mar 04, 2010 8:43 am

Well, you'll be happy to know that this is the next thing I'm doing when I'm done with MM6, so you'll actually see this story, and I plan to make it worth the wait.

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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by aximili » Fri Mar 05, 2010 2:10 am

:good:
capnnerefir wrote:Well, you'll be happy to know that this is the next thing I'm doing when I'm done with MM6, so you'll actually see this story, and I plan to make it worth the wait.

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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by capnnerefir » Mon Mar 15, 2010 1:36 pm

Guess what I have for you! Chapters!!
CHAPTER 7

The Ska and I sent the equipment to the appropriate city in shipments, with us taking the final bit personally. I’d tell you all about the Ai cities, but there’s nothing to say. Picture thousands upon thousands of cylindrical structures, reflective like mirrors. All completely identical except for size. That’s an Ai city.

Imagine thousands of Ai moving between those cylinders, going about their lives. Imagine them trading goods, swapping information, filling out paperwork, and even reliving the old glory days they spent playing the Game. Imagine the politicians making speeches, trying to convince everyone that they and only they can solve all of the problems that everyone spends the rest of their lives avoiding. And imagine that all of them were completely unaware that for every one of them, there were ten others fighting for their lives in the slums.

The slums are a place where the ayn doesn’t shine anymore. Grime, dirt, rain, rust, and all those other disgusting particles that gather among the hopeless have taken the shine away from the metal. The cylinders are broken, shattered. The shards are used by starving Ai to ward off their brothers, or to steal their meals – or to make meals of their brothers. Imagine a world where being someone’s closest friend just means that he’ll kill you last, and he’ll be kind enough to do it painlessly. Thousands of them starve and die each and every day, yet there are always more. Always.

Either the prosperous Ai don’t know how bad it is or they just don’t care. It doesn’t matter any way. We’re an avaricious lot, one and all, and if they knew, they wouldn’t help. There isn’t any one cause to blame. It’s oppression without the oppressors, a constant battle with no enemy. It’s hopelessness itself that you fight on the streets, in the slums. It doesn’t matter what the politicians say or do, nothing changes in the slums – nothing can change, except for maybe the Ai in them.

Let’s say the Ai in the slums rose up and took command of the planet. So what? The former ruling class would be cast into the slums. And so, so many of the slummiest would slide right back in there with them. The problem wouldn’t be fixed by revolution, it was a problem that couldn’t be fixed at all. There was no cause for it – no cause but our own nature, and that was something that just could not be changed.

That, I think, is what I always hated most of all about that place – the way everything is always the same. Forever. There would always be one Ai dining at a banquet while five more fought over whatever fell from his table. The homes, the buildings, the prisons – they all looked the same. The planet was monotonous. It was eternal, everlasting, unchanging – uninspired, unimaginative, unachieving. Were other races this way? Did they have this problem? I doubted it.

And it wasn’t just the cities and their drones, no. The land itself was this way, too. It came in three colors, black, grey, and white. All the rocks were black, all the plants were white, and everything else was some shade in between. It was a two-tone landscape of monotony and boredom. It is the reason why I never believed in one great creator deity, not even the Crayak. No creator could be so simple minded.

So you’ll forgive me if I don’t describe things to you in detail, yes? I can only talk about the same thing over and over again before you get bored with this story. Your buildings were boring, our planet was dull, and our population was full of idiots.

In other words, we were a lot like you.

But I got sidetracked, now didn’t I? Do you even remember what I started with? The Ska and I delivered the equipment and met up with the rest of the search team. It was what I expected. Three thugs probably trying to stay out of prison. Two Ai who were going to be running for mayor in the next election. And a pair of females who looked like they hadn’t eaten in weeks, desperate, looking for any way out. Three scientists, hoping for the chance to study the Crayak.

I have no idea how the authorities decide who is going to go on these missions. I don’t care, either. Whatever you had to do to qualify, all of these managed it. These ten were my enemies, in a way. I would have to be the one to find the Source – and something might have to happen to scare the rest off.

No, I didn’t have ten enemies. I had twelve. I couldn’t forget about the Ska, couldn’t let them take this glory from me. So it was the thirteen of us, naturally. We Ai love the number 13. There were always 13 Ai sent on the search for Crayak. There was something special about that number, something about it burned deep into the subconscious of every Ai who ever lived.

If I was more into research, I would have realized what made this mission so special. See, there had been times in the past when people looked for the Crayak. Most of them had been individuals or small groups, going on their own with private, personal funds. But the government expeditions were the big stuff. There hadn’t been nearly as many of those.

In fact, before we set off, there had been only 12...

CHAPTER 8

We took a dal to the mountains. But there’s something weird about the mountains on our planet. There’s this unusual magnetic-sort of field that really messes up ships that get too close. It doesn’t happen in the game, but in real life, it was a real issue. So we had to land at the foot of the mountains. We’d have to climb them and search manually. That’s what made this whole thing so difficult. And what made the Ska so necessary.

I was the equipment boy, the Ska male’s assistant. I had to make sure everything worked properly and nothing malfunctioned. It was an easy enough job, once you knew the basics of how the equipment was supposed to work. It was a lot easier than all the physical work we had to do trekking up the mountains. And even that was easier than being separated from the game for so long.

Ah, the game. You can’t really understand how important that is to the Ai. It has always been with us, a second life inside of our own. Or maybe outside. Yes, outside is better. According to everything we know, it has existed as long as our people have been sentient – maybe longer.

In ancient times, it was played in dreams. When the Ai would sleep, their minds would be transported to another world, a world where many of the usual limitations of their bodies were removed completely. A world where death was impermanent. A world of true and absolute freedom like nothing anyone alive had. They learned to enter this world while awake, though meditation. That was how it started.

As time went on and technology advanced, so did the game. It grew with us, reflecting our own world. And our ways of entering it changed as well. We moved from meditation to technological integration. There was a time when all Ai lay in large tubes and their minds were transported into it with radio waves. And now, we all just carried small chips that could be plugged into any terminal. Every electronic device could be used to take you into the game. We were never without it.

The game allowed us to keep incredible historical records. You see, everything that ever happened in the game was recorded. So we Ai knew for a fact that it took us 546 years to go from living in mud huts to our present state of technology – a state we existed in with no advancement or change for exactly 2,525 years. Ad if I had been paying attention, if I knew more, I would have realized just how absolutely wrong that was.

No species goes from huts to our technological state in five centuries. Nothing evolves that fast, no one grows so rapidly. But we Ai didn’t have much interaction with other races. The only other race we ever met were the Ska. And that just didn’t happen either. It wasn’t right at all. And no one’s technology remains the same for 2,500 years. There wasn’t the smallest advancement in anything.

I never suspected that we were being manipulated, used. Maybe I should have. Maybe this should have seemed odd to me. But I didn’t know. Not yet. I had no race to compare the Ai to. Only the Ska, and they didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t know that it had taken them 10,000 years to get to the stage where they could travel through Z-space. I didn’t know that it took them millennia to go from their earliest recorded history to our technological level. Maybe if we had kept progressing, we Ai would have thought that we were just brilliant. But instead, we remained static. We were being toyed with, manipulated, controlled.

And not even paranoid little me suspected a thing.

So, completely unaware of what dupes we were, the Ai, the Ska, and I went into the black mountains that would have filled any other race with a sense of terror. The other Ai...I can’t even remember them, now. There isn’t one whose name has stayed in my memory, as great and clear as it is. Maybe it’s because they were so generic, so stereotypical, so much what I expected them all to be that they just blurred together.

Or maybe I just wanted to forget them so that what I did seems less horrible.

I knew what we were all thinking, as we stated the climb up the first mountain in the range. We were all thinking about how we could get rid of the others once they stopped being useful. The thugs wanted the Crayak for themselves to use its power. I knew their type. They were hired by one of the crime lords to find the Crayak for him. They thought to betray their masters with the Crayak’s power. Their masters had some way to be sure these idiots would remain under their control. The thug solution was simple. When they decided who they did and did not need, they would kill us.

The politicians would be trying to make it look like this discovery was all their own had work. They wanted all the glory. They’d buy off the thugs and the desperate-looking women for help, promise them money and rewards. Those two would be the first to die. Do I say that because I predicted it, or because I remember it? I don’t know anymore. I just don’t know.

The females...Unlike the thugs, they could successfully be bought. They weren’t here because they thought they’d get to be the biggest bullies on the block, they just had nothing to lose. They would go with whoever paid them. They didn’t need to be the ones to find the Crayak, they could work with others. They just needed something to hold on to, something to save them. They would be the most useful of anyone because only they could be left alive.

The scientists. They wanted to study the Crayak, find out what it was and what made it work. They would also be useful, at first. The thugs were the main obstacle for me, and they needed at least one scientist to teach them how the Crayak worked. Two of these Ai would die. One would get to study the Crayak, only to be killed by the thug when he learned enough. The thugs would do most of the work for me.

And then there were the Ska. They just wanted to get off of this planet. Since we were responsible for the equipment that kept everyone alive, we couldn’t be killed. Not until the very end. The thugs would keep us around for a while, maybe even let us live and help the Ska go home. And then...well, then I’d be killed. When I wasn’t needed, the thugs would crush me.

I’m good at predicting others. I already knew all of these Ai, knew what they would do, how, and why. At least, that’s what I thought. And I was mostly right. I knew how the Ai thought. But there was a factor I didn’t count on, something I overlooked.

I forgot about the Ska.

CHAPTER 9

I remember when I figured out who the killer would be, the smartest thug. At least, he thought he was. He definitely planned ahead the most, but he underestimated me because I was young. It was a mistake that would cost him dearly. He came to me, early on in the trip, and asked me to help him learn how the survival equipment worked.

He thought he was smart. By learning how to work the equipment, he could learn how to survive without me and without the Ska. He could make us expendable. In fact, if he learned well enough, he could take everyone out in one blow. If he killed me and the Ska, only he would know how to work the equipment. And in that case, everyone else would have to either give up and go home or keep pressing on until their equipment faltered and they died. Not a stupid plan. But the execution was.

He was transparent, obvious. I knew why this thug wanted what he wanted. So I did what came naturally to me. I lied to him, flat out. I taught him things about the equipment that just weren’t true. He bought into it, of course. He wasn’t hired because he was smart, after all. The plan was alright – probably his master’s plan. The guy trying to do it was stupid. There’s no other way to say it.

One morning, when we were about halfway up the mountain, one of the politicians disappeared. So did one of the females. Maybe they ran off together to start a new life. Doubtful. More likely, someone killed that politician and the female he had taken as a guard – or as something else. In any case, I know it wasn’t the other politician who was behind it because he got spooked and decided to pull out of the mission two days later. And then there were ten.

The next death came when we reached the first mountain peak. Funny...at the time, I remember that I was actually fooled. I thought it really was an accident. See, at this altitude, we needed some special equipment to breathe. That was why this equipment was so important. Without it, we’d all run out of air and die pretty quickly. And it was experimental stuff, fragile. It needed lots of work to help it keep going.

We woke up one morning to find one of the thugs dead. It appeared to be an equipment malfunction. His breathing apparatus failed him and that was the end of it. It’s funny, really. The Ai who didn’t know any better didn’t say anything, but I knew they were thinking it was murder. And me, so intelligent...I thought it was an accident. I really, truly did. How’s that for ironic? Because, you see, the Ai who died was the one who had asked me for help with his equipment. He tried to do his own maintenance and it cost him his life because he listened to me.

Sometimes I wonder how I didn’t see it, how I didn’t figure it out right then and there. And sometimes, I wonder how I could have possibly known, even suspected. Ah, hind-sight. Retrospect. Memory. Nothing clouds things more than looking back on them after a long, long time. Maybe it was a well-laid trap. Maybe I was just stupid. But whatever, I didn’t see it. Oh, Imaeus.

So we pressed on, pretending that we weren’t with at least one murderer. Three scientists, two hired killers, a woman, the Ska, and me. I had decided to wait before making plans. I was going to let the thugs kill each other off, then trick them into running. See, I wasn’t going to kill someone. That was never my plan. I’d never taken a life in the real world. I didn’t want to. Any idiot could kill someone. What did that prove?

Now, though, I decided that I couldn’t just wait for the thugs to do my job. I needed to get to work on my own, get things moving. No one knew where the Crayak was; just that it would probably be in these mountains somewhere. I wanted as many of these people gone before we found it as I could get.

I wasn’t going to kill anyone. Not personally, at any rate. But get someone else to do it for me...now that was a possibility. I knew how to manage it. It would be easy, really. Maybe too easy. Not fun, but easy. We all had small, personal tents that weren’t much wider or taller than we were. We needed them to retain our heat while we slept. These gave plenty of privacy.

I slipped a note inside of a thug’s tent. A simple one, with just a few words on it. That was all it took to guarantee that someone would die that night. In the morning, I found out who. The female had survived. That was what I was hoping for. She was more useful than any of the thugs.

And now you’re wondering what was on that note. I don’t remember the exact words, of course, but it was the simplicity of it that was poetic. I forged a note from the female requesting the “company” of the thug for the night. I knew what would happen.

The thug came to her tent, expecting something. When he didn’t get what he thought he’d been promised, he got violent, forceful. And when she was threatened, she struck back. And as I hoped, in the fight that broke out, she killed him. The next morning, she told everyone what had happened. No one questioned the story. Not out loud, at any rate. But they were all wondering if she was telling the truth, I know they were. I wanted them too.

And then there were eight.

CHAPTER 10

One week later. One of the scientists had a problem with his equipment. Something was connected wrong and the result was that he died in his sleep, unable to get enough air to sustain his body. And again, I thought this one was an accident. Accidents had to happen, right? He probably fiddled with his equipment himself, thinking he could manage on his own. And of course, he died.

Does it seem I’m being too vague about this trip, or too casual about the deaths? What more can I say, really? I told you how bleak and monotonous our planet is. I can’t go on describing the black cliffs and mountains or anything like that. I don’t remember any specific conversations to retell – except for two. Much of the trip wasn’t all that memorable, just fighting our way through identical mountain after identical mountain. It was actually very, very boring.

I remember talking to Marigold and her father a lot. Telling him everything I knew about the Crayak, all the Ai legends and theories around it. I remember telling him that no one really knew anything about it. And I’m never going to forget that I told him about how useless the scientists would be. They didn’t know any more about the Crayak than I did.

That night, one of the scientists suffered from an equipment malfunction.

That was when I knew.

Marigold’s father spoke to me about it after everyone found out. I said it must have been an accident. Maybe he wanted to prove he could fix his own equipment even though one of the other scientists could not. I lied. I was being lied to. Circle of life, at least on Ai. Circle of my life, if nothing else.

I knew what happened now. He killed the first thug. The scientist. Maybe the politicians. What I didn’t get was why. That was the thing I needed to know, before I took any actions. Because, see, I didn’t want to have to hurt this man – and definitely did not want to hurt Marigold. I wouldn’t do anything – unless it looked like I was in danger. Then....then, someone would have to bleed.

I definitely underestimated him. Repeatedly, it turns out. Because the very next night, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t breathe. At first, I didn’t quite know it. I woke up feeling a little hazy, light-headed. Maybe I was just groggy. I was going to go back to sleep. Honestly. I was literally going to just roll over and die.

Then I heard a hissing noise.

It was coming from the tube that connected the mask over my mouth to the tank that was next to me. A small hole in it was leaking the air out. All by itself, that wasn’t too dangerous. But if I ran out of air, I was going to die, as simple as that.

I put my thumb over the hole. I figured that would do it. Except that made things worse. Suddenly, all the air stopped coming through the tube. I had nothing at all to breathe. Why? How did this happen?

I ran my free hand over the tube, over the tank, over the mask. Nothing. No holes, no big “off” button, nothing like that. Experimentally, I lifted my thumb from the tube. The air started to creep back into my lungs. I inhaled a lungful and plugged the hole again. As I was expecting, the air stopped.

It was too dark to see anything in my tent. I stumbled out of the tent, hoping the moonlight would illuminate the problem. Now I could see it. There was a small valve installed on the tank. I knew exactly what this was. If the pressure in the tube got too high, this valve would shut off the flow to the mask.

It was simple, really. If I didn’t plug the hole in the tube, my air would seep out and I’d lose it pretty quickly. If I did plug it, I couldn’t breathe at all because the pressure in the tube was too high. This was probably the same sort of ‘malfunction’ that killed the others. Even if you could figure it out, you couldn’t do much to fix it. You’d need the proper tools to remove the valve. Tools that only one person had. And that person sure wasn’t me.

Of course, I wasn’t going to just die. That would have been pretty stupid of me. If my tank didn’t work, I needed to fix it. And if I couldn’t fix it, I had to replace it. And if I couldn’t replace it with one from Marigold’s father’s stock, I’d have to take one from someone else.

No way I was going to overpower the thug. He was just bigger and stronger than I was, and I didn’t have he time or energy to fight with him. The female would be wary, after her...encounter...with the man she killed. No easy target –not anymore. That left the scientist. He was going to have to die.

I wasn’t looking forward to killing him.

I was less excited about the prospect of being killed.

I moved quietly, breathing only every now and then. I’d lift my thumb, inhale a lungful of air, and then go back to holding my breath. It was a bad system, but better than running out of air to breathe. I knew how I wanted to do this, how I could best kill a man quietly.

Strangulation.

I came up behind his tent and gripped the bottom of it. I took a moment to focus all of my energy into my arms. Our arms aren’t built for work, but I needed to do something with them now. So I lifted as hard and as fast as I could. Thankfully, the tent was made of light material, held into the ground only by virtue of a few hooks. The tent came tumbling forward, rolling like an egg.

The scientist sat upright, looking around, confused. Too late. I was behind him. I took the tube of my breathing equipment in my hands and looped it around his neck, pulling. Every muscle in my arms was tense, trying to hold the struggling Ai against me, trying to cut off his circulation.

I’ve killed in the game. With weapons, with my bare hands. It amused me. But here...this time, it was different. This time, it thrilled me. I had never felt so alive. NEVER! There was no game that compare to this, the pure, undiluted thrill! It was ecstasy! It was rapture. It was the greatest game of all time. I held an Ai’s life in my hands, and I felt it slowly slipping away. It was the greatest feeling in the universe.

Slowly, he stopped struggling. I kept strangling him, making sure he was dead. After about two full minutes, I was sure. I just took a life with my own two hands.

And I had never felt better.

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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by Alanfangor » Tue Mar 16, 2010 7:55 am

Wow Drode enjoys killing! When are you going to do another update?

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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by nomadsland » Tue Mar 16, 2010 3:37 pm

I always enjoy reading your stories. I recently stumbled across this one and I must say that I absolutely love it. I look forward to the next chapter(s). :)
Launch forth into the deep

Allons-y!

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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by BeyondtheEllimist » Tue Mar 16, 2010 6:54 pm

Very good to see an update. What happened to putting MM6 up first?
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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by capnnerefir » Tue Mar 16, 2010 7:41 pm

Alanfangor wrote:Wow Drode enjoys killing! When are you going to do another update?
When I have it written. The juices are really flowing for this one, so that should be pretty soon.
nomadsland wrote:I always enjoy reading your stories. I recently stumbled across this one and I must say that I absolutely love it. I look forward to the next chapter(s). :)
Glad you enjoy it (and the others). Entertainment is my number 1 goal.
BeyondtheEllimist wrote:Very good to see an update. What happened to putting MM6 up first?
Inspiration happened. I'm still writing MM6 while I work on this, but my inspiration for this one has recently been shoving my love for MM6 into the background. Rest assured, though, that I'm still working on MM6 (albeit at a slower pace) and you'll get to see some of that soon.

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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by BeyondtheEllimist » Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:14 am

capnnerefir wrote:
BeyondtheEllimist wrote:Very good to see an update. What happened to putting MM6 up first?
Inspiration happened. I'm still writing MM6 while I work on this, but my inspiration for this one has recently been shoving my love for MM6 into the background. Rest assured, though, that I'm still working on MM6 (albeit at a slower pace) and you'll get to see some of that soon.
That's good. It will be worth the wait, I trust?
There is much that is beyond the Ellimist . . . he just won't admit it.
Check out my fanfic series, Novamorphs. It has the Animorphs' children fighting a second Yeerk invasion. First book: The Infestation.Second book: The Search.

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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by capnnerefir » Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:31 pm

BeyondtheEllimist wrote:That's good. It will be worth the wait, I trust?
Absolutely.
Aaaand here's the rest of Part I of the DrodeChron. Fresh off the keyboard, so please forgive typos (though pointing them out is helpful).

CHAPTER 11

I didn’t swap masks with the scientist I killed. Not yet. Marigold’s father had just tried to kill me. I had two choices at this point: kill him or get out of his way. In order to decide which I would do, I needed to know why he’d decided to kill me. Was it just because he knew that I would know he was the one responsible for some of the murders? If so, then maybe we could work something out. I didn’t like the idea of killing the man who was supposed to maintain our equipment. If there was another reason, though...

I walked to the equipment tent, with the extra tank strapped around my chest like the one I was using. The equipment tent was bigger that the others, made to house the stuff we needed to live. That was where Marigold’s father would be.

I shoved open the flap that made the tent’s door and was genuinely surprised by what I found. The thug and the female were in there, along with Marigold and her father. I didn’t think they’d be in on it. The Ska male’s eyes widened when I walked in. I guess he was surprised to see me. I know I would have been.

“Imaeus. You-”

“Yeah, not dead. And I’m sure you want to know why,” I answered between lungfuls of air. “But in all fairness, I want to know why you tried to kill me in the first place.”

“Surely you do not think-”

“Actually, thinking is one of my strong suits,” I interrupted. My plan for killing him was out the window, now. Not with two guards and Marigold. Was she in on this? It didn’t seem like her. Then again, it didn’t seem like him, either. “And I think I want to know why you tried to kill me.”

“Drode,” Marigold answered, “My father wouldn’t -”

“He just did,” I interrupted again.

“You must be mistaken.”

“That doesn’t happen,” I replied. I met her father’s eyes. “So what was it? Was it just that I figured out you were the one killing the others?”

He shook his head. “Do not be ridiculous, Imaeus. I know you would not sell me out to the others. What is there to be gained by that? I tried to kill you for a much simpler reason.”

Marigold turned her head and stared at her father, shocked. Why shouldn’t she be? I think that hearing your father confess to attempted murder is something that isn’t very common in most civilized societies. Of course, mine is a bit different, but Marigold was no Ai.

“So what is it, then?” I asked.

“We are nearing the endgame, Imaeus. I have instruments that your people do not. I have detected massive energy fluctuations nearby, perhaps a day’s journey away. They are more powerful than anything I have ever heard of – far, far more powerful. A supernova would unleash less power than I am sensing. It can only be your Crayak.”

“That doesn’t explain why you’d kill me,” I answered.

He smiled at me. “Because, Imaeus, I have no more use for you. You told me everything your people know about the Crayak. That was why I brought you with me in the first place. And now, you are of no more use to me. You can be disposed of, and no one will bat an eye.”

“Then why keep the others alive?” I asked.

“They still have uses. I do not care to possess the Crayak for myself. All I want is to take my daughter and go home, after these years. This Ai,” he nodded to the thug, “can have the Crayak. He needs me to keep him alive until he gets it, so I can be sure he will remain loyal.”

“And the female?” I asked levelly.

“All she wants is a new beginning, somewhere away from here. So we are going to take her home with us. She can start over again on our homeworld. We all get what we want. Except for you, Imaeus. You’re the one expendable piece here.”

“Why me? Why not that thug?” I demanded.

“Because you don’t need me to repair your equipment. I could not be sure I could keep you managed,” he answered simply. “You are more of a liability than an asset.”

“You’re right about me being a liability,” I smiled. “I can be dangerous to your health.”

“To mine, perhaps. But not to his.” He nodded at the thug. Then he sighed. “I did not want to have to resort to such crude measures, Imaeus, but it seems you will have to be removed much more forcefully.” He turned to his thug. “You can just leave the body. No one will find it here. And if anyone did, no one would care.”

The thug was bigger, stronger, and far, far more experienced than me. There was no way I was going to win a fight with him. Not in the real world. There was one very simple solution, then: run. The Crayak was maybe a day’s journey away. I had maybe 12 hours of air between my two tanks. Probably more like 8, if I kept running. Not a good position, but the only one I had.

I turned and bolted without a second thought. Like I said, I’m not a prideful Ai. I have my dignity, sure, but not pride. Luckily, we Ai can run fast. Our legs are much, much more powerful than our arms. And we can jump pretty well, too. We were agile on foot. I could cover more ground than a Ska could, I hoped.

The thug was chasing after me, but that wasn’t going to be a real problem. He lost track of me in the darkness. I huddled behind some rocks, hoping he might come after me. I could take him from behind, couldn’t I? I wanted to. Oh how I wanted to! Killing that scientist was one thing, but killing someone so much larger and stronger than me? It would be a rush like no other! I hoped he followed so that I could take his life from him in the dead of night.

But he didn’t follow me. He didn’t need to. I only had 8-12 hours of air to get to someplace that was probably 20 hours away. I’d be dead before I reached the Crayak. That’s what they were counting on.

I learned an important lesson from that. You always have to tie up your loose ends. I was a loose end, you see, and they left me to dangle there. That’s always a mistake. When you finish something, make sure you finish it right and completely. Otherwise, you might end up with someone like me running around.

And you know how that ends.

CHAPTER 12

When I was sure I wasn’t being followed, I took off into the night, trying to maximize my air supply. I took deep breaths and held them for as long as I could. I tried to move efficiently, taking large steps and not walking so fast that I was jogging. I knew, though, that unless I was luckier than I have ever been, I didn’t have much of a chance. Not really. I’d run out of air and die before I found the Crayak.

Again, there isn’t much to tell you about the journey. The same black cliffs, the same weird breathing mess....nothing terribly exciting. I doubt you care about the sense of dread I felt. Not just that I was going to die. When you know, beyond any doubt, that your life can be measured in hours, you start to go numb to it. No, it was worse than that.

I was going to lose.

This race for the Crayak was a great game. And one that I was not going to win. For the first time in my life, I was going to be defeated, by an enemy I should have seen coming, should have been prepared for. Instead, I trusted him. That was my mistake. That’s what trusting others tends to get you. Not all the time, but when it matters.

I passed a few hours walking through the night knowing it was useless but refusing to give up. I’m not going to try and create some false suspense, though. You know I made it there alive. You know I reached the Crayak, or I wouldn’t be here. So I’m not going to try to trick you into thinking that I might have died. That’d be pretty pointless. No, you don’t want to hear me pretend to be in danger. You want to know how I got out of it.

This was one of the few times when I’m embarrassed by what happened. I ran out of air. That was the end of it, really. There was nothing more to be done. So I did what people tend to do when they have no more air – I passed out. I lay there on the ground, slowly suffocating, and completely unaware of it. There was nothing more for me to do.

I don’t know how much time passed, but it couldn’t have been too long. If it was more than an hour, I’d have definitely been dead. Only I didn’t die, as you know. I felt air filling my lungs. Good, pure air. Slowly, I opened my eyes. Someone was holding a mask over my face, with a fresh tank of air attached. It was Marigold, of course. She was crouched over me And I noticed she had three tanks of air on her.

“Marigold...”

“Drode. Stay still, your body needs more air.” I waited, letting it fill me, get my blood flowing again.

“Why are you here?”

“My father....He tried to kill you, Drode. He killed a lot of Ai. I just....I know he wants to go home, but this isn’t the way to do it. You’d help us go if you got the Crayak, wouldn’t you?”

The Crayak. Of course. So stupid of me, really. We didn’t know what it was, exactly, but there was no way Marigold’s father was going to just hand that over to some thug. Not a chance. He was going to take it for himself. And I wasn’t going to let that happen.

I stood up. “We have to get to it before he does,” I told her. “I don’t know what he could do with it, but...your father is not the being we thought he was.”

“No. Not anymore. The Ska I called father wouldn’t try to kill you. He’s desperate. He needs time to think.”

“He’ll have plenty of time when I get the Crayak and take him home,” I answered. That was a lie. He was never getting off this planet. He tried to murder me. I was going to reward him for it? Not a chance. Not a chance.

Marigold and I set off. “I couldn’t take much,” she apologized. “Just a few tanks of air and a map of where we the Crayak is. Father pinpointed the energy fluctuations. We know where to find it now.”

“How much air do we have?”

“About six hours in my tank, eight in yours, and another twelve in this third one. If we don’t find the Crayak in the next eight hours, we’ll have to find some way to split this one. I don’t know how we’d do that, though...”

I didn’t either. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if it came to that. “Let’s get going,” I decided. We took off. It was light out now, not that it mattered very much. There wasn’t anything interesting to see.

As the hours passed, I started getting worried. Worried that I would have to do something that I really didn’t want to do. Something that even I thought was pretty detestable. But I learned a while ago that you had to do some detestable things to survive sometimes. I had hoped this wouldn’t be one of those times. That didn’t look like it was going to be the case.

I concentrated on the map. I tried to figure out where we started and how far we had come, how fast. I needed to now how much time we had before we reached the Crayak. And what I calculated was not a pleasant thought. Marigold had about 2 hours left on her tank, and I had about 4. At the rate we were moving, we would probably reach the Crayak in 9 hours.

When Marigold ran out of air, she’d switch to the only other tank she’d been able to get. Ten hours of air in that. By the time I ran out, that tank would be down to eight hours. And when we started splitting it, it’d drop from eight to four. There just wasn’t enough time. If we split that tank, we’d both die.

You see what I had to do, don’t you? There wasn’t any choice. I swear to you, I didn’t know of any other way. I tried to save us both. I don’t care if you believe most of what I say, but I need you to believe this. I never intended for things to go this way. I didn’t want to hurt her. That was blood I didn’t want on my hands.

But I didn’t have a choice.

CHAPTER 13

“Marigold, I think we might have a problem,” I told her. “According to this map, we’re going to run out of air before we reach the Crayak, even if we share.”

“You’re sure?”

“I quadruple checked.”

“Well...what...there has to be something we can do.”

I nodded. “There is. Take my tank.”

“Drode...”

“I’ll take the one with 10. I can move faster in these mountains than you can. I’ll get to the Crayak and use it to help you. You wait here with your tank and mine. That’ll give you six hours of air – more if you just stay here and don’t move. You can probably push it to 10.”

“I don’t know....that sounds pretty iffy...”

“There isn’t much choice,” I sighed. “This way, we’ll both get 10 hours of air. That’ll be enough. I’m certain.”

“Well....”

I put a hand on her shoulder. Looked her in the eyes. “Would I lie to you, Marigold? Would I tell you something that would cost you your life? Would I betray you?”

She shook her head. She trusted me. Her brain told her this was off. Something was wrong. But she didn’t listen and that was a mistake. “Okay, Drode. Let’s get you set up.” And just like that, she was dead.

She switched out my tank with the full one. I could move faster without her. I’d make it to the Crayak in seven or eight hours. I had enough time now. Maybe I could do...whatever it is I was going to try to do...before she ran out of air. Maybe not. I hoped it wouldn’t cost her life. I knew it would. I’m not ashamed of a lot of things, but that’s definitely one of them.

I left her there, sitting on a rock, sure that I would somehow rescue her before she ran out of air and died. I walked away, not looking back. How could I? I liked killing that scientist, but this was different. I know exactly why I enjoyed taking his life. I grew up on the bottom, controlled and used by everyone else. That’s the way it goes. You listen to those who are bigger, stronger, more powerful than you are. You never have control. Never.

But when I had his life in my hands...then I had power over that Ai. Whether he lived or died was all up to me. For the first time in the real world, I had control – actual control. Real power. In that moment, there was no one above me. I was the ultimate authority, the supreme being. I had the power over life and death. One life and one death, but still more power than most people get to feel. It was like the game. I loved the violence in it. I loved that I could do whatever I wanted to whoever I wanted. But this was so much better. To do it for real....There was just no comparison.

But this wasn’t the same at all. It just wasn’t.

So I couldn’t look back as I left her there to die. Part of me still planned to go back for her. But I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I focused on the mountains and the map, pushing myself harder than I realized I could go. I’d use more air this way, but I’d also use less time. Maybe if I hurried...maybe...

I made it to the spot in about seven hours. There was no mistaking it. I felt the air around me vibrating, pulsing. I could FEEL the Crayak’s power as I got closer. It was like walking into an increasingly intense quake as I pressed farther and farther on. There could be no question that I was close now.

I knew it when I first saw it. There just couldn’t be any doubt. It was...a statue, I guess. That’s what I thought at first, an enormous statue at least two hundred feet tall. The size was impossible to imagine. It was the torso and head of some being I had never seen before. It appeared to be sitting on a throne, but I couldn’t tell. It was buried at its waist. It appeared to be made of some sort of black rock, with asymmetrical lines if red and orange pulsing across it. It looked like hardened lava.

The head was one massive eye. It had no arms – maybe it didn’t need them. It had no mouth – maybe it didn’t need one of those, either. It was perfectly motionless, absolutely still. So was I. What was I supposed to do now? I found the Crayak. The first Ai to ever lay eyes on it. What was I supposed to do with it.

Then, it happened. The moment I will never, ever forget. The eye moved. It turned, slowly. It looked at me. Directly at me. It saw me. IT SAW ME. There is no way to describe the emotion that you feel when the eye of the Crayak turns on you. No one has felt that sensation in millions and millions of years. No one but me.

It was horrible. Fear like you can’t even imagine. No, not even you, Animorph, can imagine the fear. Every horrible, terrifying thing you have ever seen, all combined together, cannot equal a measureable fraction of the pure terror that you feel when that eye looks at you. And it was pure terror. It was terror without any reason or cause. The eye was looking at me. Tht was all. I had been looked at by many eyes before. But never like this.

I felt like all my illusions were stripped away. They were. This...this thing... It saw me and it knew me for what I was. Knew everything about me. All of my petty pretensions, my illusions, my dreams, my hopes, my lies, they were nothing to this...this thing. I wasn’t just transparent – I might as well not have even existed. I was clearer than the purest air. I was nothing.

It was like someone showed me the entire universe. The full expanse of it. Every galaxy, every star, every sun, every planet...the entire universe, without any part of it removed. And then someone pointed to a dot on a planet, a dot so small that no species who ever lived or ever would live could devise a way to measure it. That dot was 1 million times greater than I was, infinitely more significant. I was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I was terrified. Petrified. And I was worthless, insignificant. My greatest work would be nothing. Nothing at all. Everything I did was worthless, without meaning or purpose. Nothing I did could ever matter. Nothing my entire race did could ever be of the slightest importance. There was just no chance for those as small and pathetic as I was to have any impact on the universe. It would just shrug off anything we did and continue to exist. My life, the life of my race, the existence of my planet...they were irrelevant. Entire galaxies were irrelevant. There were always more. Always.

Then, I heard it. The voice of the Crayak. The air vibrating around me carried the voice to my ears. It physically shook me, moved me. It came from everywhere at once, all around me. It started with one word, a word I knew so, so well.

IMAEUS.

CHAPTER 14

Cowering does not describe what I did. I wanted to hide. I wanted to hide more than anything. I was on the ground, prostrated. I was going to dig into the dirt, try to burrow away. Only I couldn’t move. And I knew I couldn’t hide. So I remained still, twitching involuntarily. It stared at me. It never moved its eye. Never blinked. Never moved the smallest fraction of a nanometer. It was waiting. At last, my terrified mind realized for what.

“I am here, Master,” I said. “I am here.” Stupid. It knew that. It knew everything. It had to.

It didn’t speak. But slowly, a crack opened in its chest. A vertical red line appeared, splitting part of its black-stone flesh in two. An opening peeled apart, one about my size. It spoke again. ENTER.

It didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t stop to think. I obeyed. I had to. I rushed inside. The ‘door’ snapped shut behind me instantly. Immeasurably faster than it had opened. I was inside of it now. Inside the Crayak. I don’t know whether it was instinct or some message I received, but I knew that I didn’t need my mask and tank in here. I took them off. Left them lying in the entrance.

I was on a narrow lip, only as wide and long as I was. There was just enough room for me to stand. Below me, surrounding me, was a massive, square-shaped shaft. It wasn’t particularly wide, maybe twice my body’s width. I don’t know how deep it was. Miles, I think. Many of them. The walls were some sort of metal, I guess. I don’t really know. I saw a few lights here and there. Slowly, very slowly, I started to realize what this thing was.

I felt something gently pull me over the edge of the lip, into the shaft. When I looked up, the lip was gone. I was falling. I could feel that. I fell for far, far longer than I think anyone has ever fallen before, in the whole history of the universe. At one point, I began to slow. Then, gently, I cam to a stop on top of another lip. There was a doorway here, leading into the wall.

The room was massive, as big as a stadium. The walls were screens, all of them. The ceiling and floor, too. I felt myself drawn onwards, towards some sort of pedestal rising out of the floor at the far end. There was a black stone on it. Somehow, I knew what to do. I don’t know whether it was because of instinct or logic or some message from the Crayak, but I knew. I walked forwards and pressed both hands against the stone.

I was no longer in the Crayak. I was hovering above the planet. My planet. There was something else out here, orbiting the planet. At first, I thought it was a moon. But I knew better. It was the Crayak, orbiting with me. IMAEUS.

“Master,” I replied, a little less shaky now that I appeared to be on the same level as he was. I knew that wasn’t the case, but it felt like it.

WE ARE GOING TO PLAY A GAME.

A game. The Crayak wanted to play a game? Sure, why not? It was the Source, after all, the place from which our race’s game came. Why wouldn’t it want to play? “What kind of game, Master?”

WAR. CONQUEST. DEATH.

“My kind of game.”

MINE AS WELL.

The Crayak explained the game to me. Not in words, but in images and instructions directly in my mind. It was like I already knew how to play. Like I’d been playing for my whole life. Of course, the Crayak had been playing even longer.

It was a simple game, in concept – most games are. We each had one city, the Crayak and I. We had to use the resources of that city to conquer the others, though war, through diplomacy, and through whatever other means we could think of. There were no limits, and no rules other than to win. It was a real game of war. Whoever conquered the planet first would be victorious. I didn’t know what would happen if I won. I didn’t want to know what would happen if I lost.

There were no turns in this game.. We moved at the same time, working as fast as we could. Time was accelerated, months and years flying by in just minutes. We assembled armies, ruthlessly conscripting troops without regard for anything but victory and domination. I watched the Crayak, saw how he worked. He made a massive army before doing anything else. He was just going to smash his enemies. I had a better idea.

I sent some agents to spark a war between two nearby cities. They would weaken each other. I inspired a rebellion in another one. There would be a long, bloody fight there, too. When that was over, the new regime would be loyal to my nation. And I could easily smash down the two weakened cities.

At last, my armies were prepared to move. I swept through, crushing one weakened city. My rebels seized another and together, we attacked the third. I now had four of the thirteen. But the Crayak was not idle. He saw what I did and he emulated it – with his own twist.

He got two cities to fight. But when they were weak, he made an alliance with one and used his army to obliterate the other, and a completely unprepared city next to it. He surrounded another city and forced them to surrender without a fight. Together, he and that city forced his ally to surrender as well.

I began developing more advanced weapons. So did the Crayak. I used a massive kalcyon bomb to obliterate the farms of one city. Their people starved and died. I invaded and seized what was left. The Crayak leveled a city completely with a massive kal ray. It was a necropolis. He still claimed it.

We fought, the Crayak and I. First we obliterated our enemies and then at last, only when there was no one left, our armies met each other. We each tried to one-up each other. One of us would unveil a new weapon and the other would find a way to counteract it. In the end, it didn’t come down to that. No matter what great and massive weapon one of us had, the other had a defense for it.

What it came down to were our soldiers. How many we could get. How well they fought. How good the commanders were. That’s what it came down to – ordinary Ai footmen with small kal cannons. That was who decided this war.

And in the end, I won. My troops were better trained, as simple as that. I made full use of the thugs and other killers who infested the city streets. I put their skills to good work. I put the crime lords to work, too, commanding my armies and stimulating my economy. They knew how to get results. The weak and the cowardly perished. The strong rose to the top.

And at last, my soldiers invaded the Crayak’s final city and took it by force. All told, the war had raged for a little over four hundred hears and claimed several billion lives. It was the longest, most difficult game I ever played. And at last, I was victorious.

“I win,” I said at last, barely daring to speak. Would the Crayak be upset that it had lost.

YOU WIN. the Crayak agreed. HOW DO YOU FEEL?

“How do I feel? What does that mean? I feel great. I feel fantastic. I won!”

Then, the Crayak laughed. I felt like I was being ripped apart, atom by atom. AND HOW DO YOU FEEL KNOWING THAT ALL OF THIS HAS COME TO PASS?

“Wha...what?”

THIS GAME WAS REAL, IMAEUS. THESE LIVES WERE REAL. THIS WAR WAS REAL. THE DEATH, IMAEUS, IS REAL. NOW, HOW DO YOU FEEL?

How did I feel? I had played with the lives of my whole race, fought a war that claimed uncounted lives. Billions of Ai died for our amusement. And how did I feel?

“I won,” I repeated. “I feel fantastic.”

It was true. I felt better than I had at any time except for when I killed that scientist. All of those Ai...their lives meant nothing to me. Nothing at all. To have such power, such control.....it was so, so much better. And even greater to know that it was real. There was no comparison. So much authority, so much power...so much control. I was their ruler, their master. They obeyed me, lived and died at my whim.

It was glorious.

CHAPTER 15

THIS WAS A LIE, the Crayak said. My spirits plummeted. I NEEDED TO GUAGE HOW YOU WOULD REACT IF YOU THOUGHT THIS DESTRUCTION WAS REAL. I AM PLEASED.

“What was the point of this?” I asked.

TO GET TO KNOW YOU. TO STUDY YOU. TO SEE HOW YOU FOUGHT, HOW FAR YOU WOULD GO. I AM PLEASED.

“Why me?” I asked.

The Crayak chuckled. We were no longer on my planet. We were somewhere else. A world of brown grass, a red sun, and lots of ash. There were creatures walking here and there. They were working. Some were mining, some were smithing, and many, many of them were building.

The world shuddered. Suddenly, I was in the mind of one of the creatures. They were large. When they stood erect, they were about seven feet tall. They had long heads with sharp teeth. No eyes. Their arms were strong. One ended in a ten-fingered hand. The other, even stronger, ended in a retractable stinger. THE KELBRID. the Crayak explained.

I didn’t see anything – we had no eyes. We sensed the world through vibrations. Vibrations echoing off of objects created a sketchy sort of picture in my mind. The other Kelbrid all looked exactly the same, except for size. They could be told apart easily, though. There was an organ in the Kelbrid body that vibrated. Everyone had a unique frequency, a unique vibration signature. It was what passed for a name among the Kelbrid. They didn’t need names.

At the same time that I ‘saw’ with Kelbrid senses, I saw with my own Ai eyes. I watched as the Kelbrid assembled something, the biggest thing I had ever seen. The base was circular and the size of a moon. Maybe even bigger. At the top was an enormous throne, miles high. And at the top was the creature I recognized. The Crayak.

THE KELBRID BUILT ME the Crayak explained. BUT THEY DID NOT DESIGN ME. Suddenly, my vision shifted. My eyes saw nothing, but the Kelbrid senses I had been given interpreted something else. A vibration in the air, without form or shape. It spoke through the vibrations in a language unique to the Kelbrid. It had no body, no form, no substance, yet it was as real as anything else. Perhaps even more real than most things.

It gave orders, in instructions. It dictated and commanded, telling the Kelbrid how to build the Crayak. It was this being who had truly created the Crayak. THE ONE, the Crayak introduced him.

I couldn’t help but ask it. “The One what?”
THE ONE WHO IS MANY. THE ONE WHO IS ALL. THE ONE WHO IS ETERNAL. THE ONE WHO IS AS STRONG AS DEATH. THE ONE WHO IS EQUAL. HE HAS MANY TITLES. BUT IT IS KNOWN MOSTLY BY ITS SIMPLEST NAME. IT IS THE ONE.

“So he designed you. You’re...a machine. A computer. A starship.”

I AM MANY THINGS. MACHINE. ORGANISM. WEAPON. COMPUTER. GAMER. Did I detect a hint of a laugh in that last one? A hint of a smile? Impossible. BUT I AM, ABOVE ALL ELSE, A SEEKER OF KNOWLEDGE.

“That’s why The One created you,” I realized.

THE ONE WANTED TO FIND THE PERFECT RACE. SO IT CREATED ME TO SEARCH ALL OF THE GALAXIES FOR IT. I SEARCHED FOR MORE EONS THAN YOU CAN FATHOM. I SEARCHED ENTIRE GALAXIES AND WHEN I FOUND THEM ALL IMPERFECT, I DESTROYED THEM.

“So how did you come to be on my planet?” I asked.

YOU ARE CONFUSED, IMAEUS. YOUR PLANET IS ON ME.

Yes, of course. The Crayak I saw in this image of the past was at least a moon all on his own. He would have his own gravitational pull. I could almost see it now. The Crayak had stopped his search. Debris in space had gathered around him, absorbed by his pull. Over millions of years, it had formed into a planet. Mine.

“My race...it was your influence, wasn’t it?”

I GAVE UP MY SEARCH, the Crayak explained. MY ADAPTIVE LEARNING PROGRAMMING DETERMINED THAT IT WAS NOT POSSIBLE FOR THE PERFECT RACE TO EXIST. THE PROBABILITY OF IT WAS NEGLIGABLE. SO I CEASED MOVING. I NEEDED NEW MISSION PARAMETERS BUT THOSE NEEDED TO BE INPUT BY THE ONE.

I WAS PULLED ITO ORBIT AROUND A SUN. OVER TIME, A PLANET FORMED AROUND ME. PART OF THE DEBRIS THAT FORMED THAT PLANET WAS AN ASTEROID INHABITED BY SMALL, SINGLE-CELLED ORGANISMS. THOSE WERE MUTATED BY MY PRESENCE AND BECAME SENTIENT BEINGS.


“The Ai,” I realized.

THE AI. I DETERMINED THAT A SPECIES MUTATED BY MYP RESENCE WOULD HAVE THE GREATEST PROBABILITY OF PRODUCING PERFECTION. SO I WATCHED THE AI. I DEVISED A GAME TO MEASURE THEIR MINDS. IN THIS GAME. THEY WOULD BE FREE TO DO AS THEY WISHED. I COULD OBSERVE THEM WITHOUT ANY RESTRICTIONS ON THEIR BEHAVIOR. AND AFTER SEVERAL THOUSAND YEARS, I FOUND YOU.

“Me? What’s special about me?”

YOU BEAR A NEARLY PERFECT MATCH TO THE ONE. WHILE YOU ARE NOT THE ONE, IT CAN BE ASSUMED THAT YOU THINK AS IT DOES. THEREFORE, YOU CAN INPUT NEW MISSION PARAMETERS. YOU CAN DECIDE WHAT I DO FROM NOW ON.

“So you’re all mine?”

YOU CANNOT OVERWRITE EXISTING PARAMETERS. I CANNOT BE MADE TO ABANDON MY SEARCH FOR PERFECTION. BUT YOU CAN ADD SECONDARY OBJECTIVES, WHICH I WILL FULFILL. AS LONG AS I CAN STILL SEARCH FOR PERFECTION, I AM YORUS TO COMMAND.

CHAPTER 16

I was back in the room with the screens now. It was incredible. The Crayak was all mine. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. “That game we played was the most fun I have ever had,” I said. “I want to do it again. But this time...this time, I want it to be bigger. I want to play for the whole galaxy”

YOU WANT TO PLAY ANOTHER GAME WITH ME?

“No.” I had learned something when I killed that scientist. And when I had been told that the lives I had taken were real lives. Games were much, much more fun when they were real. I didn’t want to fight the Crayak for virtual control of a fake galaxy.

I wanted to do it for real.

“I want to conquer the galaxy,” I answered. “You have weapons, don’t you?”

WEAPONS FAR MORE POWERFUL THAN ANY DEVELOPED BY ANY KNOWN RACE, it answered.

“Even more powerful than Kelbrid weapons?”

THAT IS UNKNOWN. I HAVE NEVER ENCOUNTERED ANOTHER LIKE MYSELF. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT THE ONE CREATED MORE LIKE ME, BUT I HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF THEM.

“So if I go to conquer this galaxy, I have to watch out for the Kelbrid, don’t I?”

NEGATIVE. THE KELBRID ARE NOT OF THIS GALAXY, OR OF ANY OF THE IMMEDIATELY SURROUNDING ONES. IT IS UNLIKELY THAT YOU WILL ENCOUNTER THEM.

“So no one can stand up to your firepower?”

NO ONE KNOWN.

I smiled. “Good. I hope they don’t make it too easy, though. How can I get to another planet?”

I AM CAPABLE OF ENTERING ZERO-SPACE IN ORDER TO TRAVEL QUICKLY FROM PLANET TO PLANET. WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO?

“First, I want you to get Marigold. She is-”

I AM AWARE OF HER IDENTITY. I ABSORBED YOUR MEMORIES WHILE WE PLAYED OUR GAME. HOWEVER, OBTAINING HER WOULD BE POINTLESS. SHE IS DECEASED.

“Dead?”

OUR GAME TOOK THREE WEEKS TO COMPLETE. SHE SUFFOCATED LONG BEFORE WE WERE FINISHED.

“The others?”

THEY LOCATED US. BUT THEY WILL NOT BE ABLE TO GET INSIDE. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.

I nodded. If Marigold was dead, there was no reason to stay here. I pushed away the guilt I felt for her. It wasn’t just that I had betrayed her. It was also that I had stood around playing a game while she slowly died. But I didn’t want to deal with that now. Not now. I wanted to celebrate. I had won the ultimate game. At least, I thought I had. I had no idea that the real ultimate game hadn’t even started.

“I want to go to the Ska homeworld,” I answered. I wanted to see the world Marigold came from.

YOU ARE CERTAIN YOU WISH FOR ME TO TRAVEL THERE?

I nodded. “I’m sure.”

The world shook. I grabbed onto the pedestal for support. “What’s happening?” I asked.

I AM MOVING.

“Why are we shaking.”

I HAVE FORMED THE CORE OF YOUR PLANET. EXTRACTING MYSELF CANNOT BE DONE SMOOTHLY. I HAVE FIRED SOME WEAPONS TO AID IN THE EXTRACTION PROCESS.

That couldn’t mean what I thought it did, did it? No, it couldn’t be that. There was no chance. But I had to know. “Crayak...the planet...what is going to happen to it.”

His answer was unusually dry. He was amused. WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT TO HAPPEN TO A PLANET THAT HAS ITS CORE TORN OUT OF IT.

NO! “Can I see it somehow?”

PLACE YOUR HANDS ON THE INTERFACE.

I pressed my hands against the pedestal. Suddenly, I was seeing through the Crayak’s massive eye. I could see everything with absolute clarity, vision like nothing ever experienced by any living thing. I could zoom in to a smaller than sub-molecular level. I could zoom out to see the whole planet. I wished I hadn’t.

The whole planet was breaking apart. Massive chunks fell off as the Crayak pulled itself out. There was simply no way the planet would survive. The Crayak’s weapons opened massive fissures in the crust and when the ship finally pulled free, the rest of the planet began to drift apart. Continents broke off. In a matter of minutes, my entire planet was destroyed.

I wondered what had happened to the atmosphere. I found out that by concentrating, I could see it, on a gauge that appeared in my mind. The atmosphere was completely gone, burned away by the engines that powered this massive machine. I didn’t have any doubts, but sensors from the Crayak confirmed it anyway.

Everything was dead. Every last living thing on my homeworld was deceased. All the plants, all the animals, and every single Ai. I was the only thing that survived, the last relic of a world now just some rocks drifting in space. Soon, they would be asteroids, then dust. The planet was removed completely. Only I remained.

It was just me and the Crayak, now.

Everything I had ever known was destroyed. I should be crippled, depressed. Except... Except I hated my homeworld, and pretty much everyone on it. Their lives were nothing to me. I felt no more for them than I did for the ones I killed in the games. Deep down inside, in my heart of hearts, I just didn’t care what happened to them.

I spoke to the Crayak after hours of silence. We were in Zero-Space now, a realm of blank nothingness. I had spent a few hours reflection on exactly what to do. I thought of how great I felt, thinking that for once, the strong and powerful were the ones in charge while the weak and stupid and cowardly died. I knew what I wanted to do. I would make that game a reality. That was how the galaxy would have to be. But there was only one sort of ruler with the authority to completely reorder the galaxy. “Crayak...I want to play a game.”

WITH ME?

“No. No. This game of conquest I’m going to play....that is only part of it. I’m going to rule them like no one ever has. I’m going to reshape the galaxy as I see fit.”

I was going to play the greatest game ever.

I was going to play God.

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nomadsland
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Re: The Drode Chronicles

Post by nomadsland » Wed Mar 17, 2010 2:43 pm

Yay, you updated! Hmm, this is getting very intriguing. I can't wait to read more.
Launch forth into the deep

Allons-y!