Inertial Anomalies, Archeons book 6, chapter 1
Excerpt from Inertial Anomalies (Archeons, book 6), by James L. Steele
Available wherever books are sold
1: Dangerous Thoughts
2: Dangerous Experiments
3: Dangerous Solutions
4: Inertial Observer
5: Inertial Catalyst
6: Inertial Anomalies
Rive opened his eyes and stretched. The summer air in the house told him Crystal was already awake and hard at work in the front room. He rolled to his stomach, the wooden floor creaking under his weight. The room was small, meant to conserve heat, and the bed was of a style not seen since Charles Dickens’ time. Crystal was too old to sleep on hard wood, so she often slept up there. Rive was too heavy for it, so he was content with the floor.
He rose to his feet and walked to the bathroom. A tan body stared at him in the mirror, almost exactly how he appeared before the disaster tore him apart. His body hadn’t aged a day since he met Crystal. In fact, it had become more efficient.
He’d had long talks with his metal over the years, sometimes lasting for days at a time. The first thing he had done was convince it that heat was good. He then showed the Multitude how to mimic the texture of his scales. Now instead of grey metal contrasting with his light brown scales, his body was a uniform color again. The metal imitated his scales so well he couldn’t see where it ended and his skin began. It felt and looked more natural as well. It still smelled like metal, but appearance was all that mattered on this world. Years ago the Multitude had tuned his vocal cords closer to his original voice as well. It felt so nice to sound like himself again.
Rive straddled the toilet, maneuvering his slit over the bowl, and urinated. He preferred to do this outside, but sometimes indoor facilities were more convenient. Given how little blood he had to filter, he only needed to do this once every couple of days anyway. He flushed, deliberately leaving the seat up, then walked through the house.
It was ancient by human standards, as was this Siberian town, which was tolerable during the summer months. The people would not breathe a word to outsiders that an extraterrestrial still lived on Earth. He and Crystal were known enemies of the United States, so the people here figured they must have done something right. It was remote enough that the town would often go years without meeting another outsider but not so remote that it lacked electricity.
Crystal sat on the couch in the front room, typing on her laptop, papers and cassette tapes stacked around her. She recorded all of the interviews she did both digitally and on tape as a backup. Modern computers made it possible to have multiple recordings playing at the same time, which made cross-referencing much faster. Rive often listened to the interviews she conducted and made notes of who said what and where it was on the recording, which saved her hours of source-checking. If the interviewee did not speak English, Rive also translated, which by itself saved an enormous amount of time and money.
He climbed onto the couch. It groaned as he lay on the cushions, but it held him. He nuzzled her cheek. She reached up and draped an arm around his neck.
“Where are we going today?” he said.
She smiled, looked away from the screen and met his eyes. “We’ve been going where I want to go for weeks. Don’t you want to go anywhere?”
Rive reached over with his hand and shared a smile with her. “Here is just fine.”
“You want to watch me work all day?”
“Maybe a movie? In English this time.”
Crystal shook her head as she turned back to the computer, rubbing his fingers. “That’s all you ever want to do these days. How can you lay on your belly and watch screens when the world is falling apart?”
Rive laughed. “You haven’t taken a break in months.”
Crystal brought her hand back down to the keyboard. “I seem to remember you telling me raptors are instinctive homebodies. It was their foxes who pulled them away from their families and made them go on adventures.”
Rive bumped noses with her. “In the absence of a fox, a human will do just fine.”
She smiled. “You’re getting too local. I kept my last husband from becoming a drunken couch potato and I’ll be damned if I let you become one. We should go somewhere offworld.”
Rive clicked his claws. “Good idea. I’ll start working on a way. We’ll leave tomorrow. Any requests?”
“Pick someplace warm and with a coastline. I’d like to walk on a beach again.”
“So would I.”
Rive stepped off the couch and walked to the other computer. He used a proxy server to log into a proxy server to hack into their bank. He initiated fund transfers from a few multinational corporations, added the data to the log files, created some false permission codes, then logged out. As long as he didn’t do anything extreme, the bank would not scrutinize, and the company he stole from would not notice a tiny fraction of their profit had gone missing. As a rule, he never stole money from people. Only corporations.
Computers were simple to learn, and they made it easier than ever for money to appear and disappear, but it was often less suspicious to play Robin Hood. Rive spent months researching companies, figuring out where they held their money. He identified profitable companies that were automating, cutting staff, pushing more work onto fewer people, moving jobs overseas, and then using all of it as an excuse to squeeze local workers even more. He then calculated how much money those workers should be making and moved money from the offshore holdings into one of his many accounts.
He saved some for himself and Crystal and then random people working for that company would find their mortgage or car loan or student loans paid in full. It had yet to make the news anywhere in the world, and Rive hoped it never would. If people noticed, he would no longer be able to do this.
It did not fix the underlying problem, and he could do little to help the people in other nations who bore
the brunt of the physical labor and pollution, but it helped thousands survive the aftermath of the economic crash a few years ago.
Rive spent a few hours extracting a few million from companies that were merely hoarding it, and then gave it to the people who worked to make it. The whole time Crystal typed away on her laptop. He always looked forward to reading over everything she wrote each day, committing it to memory in case something happened to the text, as he expected, given the direction technology was going.
Crystal released her own work under several different names. The internet made it so easy to publish, while at the same time even easier to drown in the ocean of information. She had more than a dozen books on the internet available for purchase on various outlets because that made them legitimate, but she herself released them onto piracy websites for anyone to download.
They had spent this past month traveling the world and interviewing various people willing to talk to them about the company once known as Crescendo. It had been bought out by another company, which had in turn been bought out by another and then another until now only three biotech companies remained, all of which cooperated but released nearly-identical products to give the illusion of competition. The stories those former employees told had been scary. It wasn’t just C-Corn anymore. DNA from the alien plant had been incorporated into other industrial and consumer products, from dental fillings to plastics to engine oil, purely for the sake of owning a patent and controlling a market sector.
Studies had been done on some of these products, all of them discredited along with the scientists who performed them. Crystal had been interested in talking to the people involved, and Rive had made the portals that took her wherever they wanted to meet. Those studies showed how unstable the products were, how they were hurting people and animals and even the oceans, and yet they were taking over.
Some months Crystal researched biotech companies. Some months she investigated NATO activity. Once she investigated the Davos convention. WTO activities. Drone strikes. Political funding sources around the world. The impact of trade deals. Extraterrestrial Terror Day. No topic was off limits, and she had the time to research all of them. It amazed her what she was free to do now that money was not a concern.
Crystal pursued whatever interested her without having to worry about transportation, passports, or the United States catching up to her. The government knew she was out there and had quietly passed a law making it illegal for any US business to work with her. Recently, the United Nations had passed a resolution making it a “violation of human rights” to associate with persons guilty of treason in any nation. Crystal felt proud to have had international policy passed just for her.
In the sixteen years since the US government convicted her of treason for willfully handing US citizens over to extraterrestrials for the purposes of creating passive livestock for their own blood-lust, as the official verdict read, she had been digging through the dirt and getting to the roots of modern civilization. Rive helped her research all of those books, translated them into every known language on Earth, organized the interviews, and assisted in making sense of the sheer amount of information out there.
She had given interviews around the world about the topics she researched, which were never broadcast anywhere in the English-speaking nations. Only ever to countries who dared to say something critical about what the United States was doing to people all over the world—nations either ignored or demonized in the US media. The few times the news in the United States mentioned Crystal, it was always in the context of how far she had fallen. Once an upstanding senator, now a traitor whose only audience was tiny countries with biased, state-controlled media.
Rive never allowed himself to be seen with her. Only a handful of people knew Crystal was not alone. The CIA knew though. Rive had hacked a few classified databases and read through hundreds of screens of information while inside. The current strategy was to continually discredit her in the media, and it largely worked in nations friendly to US interests. For everyone outside of broadcast range, however, they heard her, they read her, and they knew what she said jibed with what they experienced every day. Rive had read the CIA was trying to persuade other nations to repeat the propaganda discrediting not just Crystal but everything she was saying in the hopes the people of other nations would hear the refutation several times before they heard her even once.
While he worked, Rive began a way to Kronia. He hadn’t checked in with Sorven in years, so he wondered how his video wall was holding up, and if anyone had heard from Deka, Sonjaa, or Kylac. He was sure Crystal would like to meet Sorven again before going to the beach. The Krone had become a different person since Stephen and Norh had synchronized, and the change had been welcome—the best of both the human and the Krone.
Vacation, for them, meant leaving Earth to catch a glimpse of life on another planet. Crystal enjoyed meeting other Archeons and learning that not everyone was like Rive. People asked Crystal if she was Rive’s fox or his mate. She sometimes called Rive her husband, but Rive never felt comfortable calling her his wife. Many human languages, including English, had a strong possessive case relative to Relian, so to imply he now possessed her ran contrary to how the relationship actually felt. Rive had never found a reason to clarify. He liked this relationship exactly as it was. To define it would ruin it. All he wanted was to be wherever she was.
Several years ago, he had taken Crystal on the path Stephen had taken with Deka, Kylac, and Norh through the contacted universe. She had met so many people in that month, and along the way they met quite a few of the humans who were part of the Relian group now. Most Relians had a human with them, and she saw what was happening.
Years back, Rive had taken her to something that hadn’t happened since the disaster. The Relians had no homeworld anymore, so they gathered on Tavax, which had been the most comfortable for them since they lost their planet. There they had allowed the children to mingle and play, and Crystal watched young raptors and foxes pair off. He told her that the pairing would last for life, and the raptor would know how to tame a fox’s animal nature.
Now humans were among them. Crystal watched over these few days as the young boys and girls became part of a Relian group. They were confident the young raptors would do for the humans as they did for their foxes.
As they continued following in the steps Stephen had taken across the contacted universe, Crystal had asked what would happen now. Rive had told her that once a raptor and a fox had paired off, the parents would play a smaller role in raising them. The young Relians were old enough for the contacted universe to bring them up now, and they would be mostly free to explore it as they wished.
Crystal had wondered if a six-year-old alone with an immature raptor and fox would be a good thing. Rive had laughed and told her stories of what he and Friend did in those years, all the places they had been, all the people they had met, things they had learned, and the danger they had put themselves in. Others in the contacted universe would look out for the young ones.
Last year he had taken Crystal on the same path of planets Deka, Sonjaa, Kylac, and Sorven had taken through the contacted universe while chasing the antifox. Sorven had told them everything they had done. Rive took great pleasure in showing her these wonderful planets, how they had recovered from the events.
Neben had captivated her. The crystal life forms had learned how to tone down their voices so they could share weak brain signals with others, making direct communication possible now.
The people of Magor had determined the invasive trees were in fact a single organism which extended across the continent. It was unintelligent but nonetheless fascinating, and wherever the plantlike animal’s body had been excavated from the soil it drew visitors from all over the contacted universe. There was much discussion as to how it evolved and how long it had been waiting to sprout.
On Fusina, Cilitrus had returned and told everyone about the new form of life that had made contact with her. Compressional waves as living beings. They lived within a gas giant, not too far from the core, inside the superfluid. This kind of life was not uncommon deep inside gas giants, and it had only just now become aware of solid life forms thanks to portal physics. Venturing into the deep oceans for them was like the vacuum of space to a carbon-based creature, but they could survive for brief periods of time. Cilitrus could not stop talking about it, and neither could the other offworlders.
Rive had even taken her to Gaow and showed her the plant that had become an Earth company’s intellectual property.
Sometimes he let her take him somewhere. The contacted universe had been open since Deka, Kylac, and Sonjaa disappeared on Labccr, so they walked from world to world easily. Each one had a story. Each story connected to hundreds of other planets.
Whenever they returned to Earth after one of these trips, Crystal was full of life and eager to dive into something she had not researched before. Crescendo was her default project, but often she would begin researching it and end up pursuing something else. This had yielded a dozen books on various topics, all of them interconnected. No matter where she went, she explored, she analyzed, she documented. Rive enjoyed taking her to places on Earth as much as he enjoyed taking her across the contacted universe.
The only thing Rive needed was time to sleep and communicate with his metal. The Multitude had learned a lot over the years and was confident in Rive’s plan to save their mountain range. But a strange thing had been happening. The more they understood of reality, the more they wanted the rest of the mountain to become metal explorers with other biological life forms and experience the universe in this way as well. Rive discussed the possibility with them, but progress had been slow. They were still new to a reality outside of the one they created within the neural net of their mountain range. It had taken them years to understand the concept of heat and why creatures such as Rive needed it, so it would take even longer to help them understand other basic things.
Crystal had once laughed that here he was teaching an alien life form about the universe and had plenty of time to take her to Israel, or Somalia, or France, or somewhere else to interview someone about NATO, or political funding, or some other thing that was so trivial compared to the scope he worked with. Rive only had to reassure her once that everything she did affected billions of people, therefore it mattered.
As Rive moved modest sums of money around the world, he recalled the people he had talked to who had read her books. Many of them were conspiracy theory enthusiasts. Rive understood their affliction, trapped in an environment they didn’t understand, desperate to break out of it, mind reaching for connections. Crystal’s books gave order to the chaos, backing it up with facts instead of leaps of logic.
Among the other people who read her books and listened to her interviews were individuals who thought they had everything figured out, but the longer they lived, the more they wondered about what they had heard in the press since the year two thousand. They had seen the videos the news had broadcast purporting to show that Rive was still on Earth and very much working to bring the United States down, but now they wondered why the videos of Rive looked so grainy and unclear in a digital age. Why did videos of Rive keep surfacing that showed him speaking in Arabic? Why would Rive use aggressive portals to take down sixteen buildings all over the world in the first place. Why did this version of Rive just so happen to stage mini-invasions in the Middle East, and why were United States military forces the only army in the world capable of repelling extraterrestrial invaders?
In some ways, Rive felt as if he were helping. It was indeed a rare thing for someone to have the freedom to investigate the events that shaped history. People were increasingly caught up in a cycle of never-ending work and debt they had no time to pay attention to their environment, or to question why things worked this way. It wasn’t just in the United States; this trend had been engulfing cultures all over the world.
Rive finished moving money. He had used imaginary money to pay off imaginary debt, thus freeing a few people from the pressure of keeping up. He wished he could help them all. He wished he could change things, but he knew even if he did change something, it would start all over again. The instinct to dominate slept inside every human being, and without a companion species the same system they fought to bring down would eventually rise back up.
Rive let go of the computer mouse and walked to the door. It was time to hunt. Reindeer, elk, rabbits, and other creatures adapted to cold weather lived here, but other than bears, the game did not interest him. He preferred large animals, either predator or prey, that challenged his strength. He wasn’t used to having a preference, or hunting for himself. He was becoming a new person without a fox, and he liked this new raptor. Rive wrapped his fingers around the doorknob.
The door exploded in his face. The house became shrapnel and swirled around him. Roaring filled his ears. His vision blanked. Pain lit up every square centimeter of flesh and metal. Wood, ceramic, plastic—all of it pounded his scales. Fire. Heat. Tremendous, skin-melting heat.
Exactly seven seconds later, he lay under a pile of splintered, burning wood. The metal was in complete panic, sending him images of his body as they now saw it. Much of Rive’s skin had been blasted off or burned to the bone. His arm was missing from the elbow down. His flesh-and-bone leg had been severed at the ankle.
Rive communed with his metal, telling it he had been attacked. Rive had always known they were not safe anywhere with drones flying in the skies, but he never imagined the Russian government would allow a strike over their soil. He wondered if it had.
He told the metal to shut his pain receptors off entirely and help him get out from under the rubble. Rive’s metal parts were the only things on him that worked now, and he pushed the wood off of himself with one arm and pulled his shattered body out of the wreckage. He smelled burned human flesh and hair.
He climbed three paces through the burning wood and emerged into the air. His other leg was indeed half gone. It did not bleed anymore, the metal having spread to the wounded parts and plugged the blood vessels.
He stood on the smoldering rubble that was his house in the center of a ruined, smoking town. Bodies lay scattered everywhere, most of them on fire and in pieces. Houses were still falling over and spreading more flames.
Crystal’s arm stuck out of the rubble. It had been severed at the shoulder, and part of the collar bone was still attached.
Rive screamed. He fanned his claws and scraped the burned flesh from his body. Bones became visible underneath the charred scales. He yanked blood vessels from the stump where his flesh arm had been. He pulled shattered pieces of bone from the wounds and dug pieces of wood and metal out. All around him the fires raged. He reached up and clawed his skull free of debris. He was aware he was touching bare bone, and his claws were very close to his real eye, but none of that mattered now.
When he had cleaned out as much as he could, he faced where he calculated the missile had come from and told the metal to spread out and remake the missing parts. The metal liquefied and flowed over and through him. Metal that had once been inside of him, part of his phantom circulatory system, now filled in the new gaps in his flesh and bone. Metal flowed through his arm and remade the hand, joining it to the small piece of skin that still existed. It flowed into his leg and remade the missing flesh. It then formed the foot again, complete with claws exactly as they had been. It moved up through his skull and covered the bone. It didn’t have time to mimic the texture and color of scales, so he stood on the burning house, his skin reflecting the flames and destruction all around him.
Rive braced himself on two metal feet and screeched into the sky.
He saw another missile approaching. He screamed at it, hoping whoever was watching saw what happened next. The missile slammed into the ground three paces in front of him. The explosion threw Rive backwards thirty paces. He rolled into the dirt and held on with his hands, yanking himself to a stop. The missile had done little damage. Rive stood again and thumped his metallic chest as he screeched into the air.
Three more missiles hit, two on either side of him and one just a pace behind him. The explosions threw him in three directions at once, making him spin in the air and crash to the dirt. What remained of his skin was on fire.
The Multitude told him something was trying to invade the cells in his brain and spinal column. The structure reminded it of the concentrated C-Corn pollen that almost killed him back when the Relians were on Earth. It sent Rive chemical and genetic analyses. Rive snarled. This was a genetically modified virus, and he was the first test subject. He told the Multitude to kill it before it did any damage to his neurons.
Rive climbed to his feet, claws fanned and raised, mouth open and metal teeth on display. He faced where the missiles had come from and gave whoever piloted that drone the middle finger, then the two-fingered salute, then bit his thumb—every insulting gesture he knew in the human cultures, past and present. No more missiles came.
Rive looked around, dropping to his knees as he screeched for the people of this town. And Crystal. He knew this day would come, but he had hoped he could stay ahead of them forever.
He continued working on a way to Kronia. He wanted to be at a computer again so he could hack into a database and find the details of this strike.
Intangible fluidic particles ceased as the four Relians tumbled through a barrier. They became aware of reality forming around them—enveloping and making room for them as they changed to accommodate it.
Kylac lay on his side, gasping. He had only just entered the Lake, and now gravity had pulled him to a solid surface again. He rolled to his back, looking up at a black sky. No visible stars. His Archeon mind was attempting to probe the universe as his senses took in all the variables around him. Temperature, atomic vibrations, wind speed, atmospheric composition—all of it hit him at once. Something was wrong. He couldn’t open a portal. Neither could he open a sphere beyond the universe and into the Lake.
He was breathing methane.
Kylac raised an arm into his field of vision. It was not covered in fur, but his skin still had the same red and black pattern his canine body once had. He sat up, looked down at himself. He was not a fox, but some sort of creature he had never seen before. Bipedal, with limbs that started off small at the shoulders and thickened to double their circumference at the forearms and ankles.
Heat radiated from the ground itself. Volcanoes glowed in the distance, providing the primary source of light, large enough and bright enough to illuminate the land for thousands of paces as they spewed toxic gasses.
Kylac saw Deka, also sitting up and examining himself. His skin resembled the same dark blue of his former theropod body, including a red stripe beginning at the tip of his nose, moving over his head, down his back, and ending at the tailbone. He had the same type of body Kylac had. Neither reptilian nor mammalian, it resembled a mixture of crocodile and primate with thick, rigid skin. Kylac sensed this species shed its skin much like a reptile because it was too thick to grow gradually. It needed to be this way to survive in a volcanic, methane-rich environment. They also had sloth-like claws as long as their forearms. The fingers were articulate but permanently formed into a grasping position.
Deka met his former fox’s eyes. “Kylac?”
Deka looked to the side. A green body with light yellow stripes running up her fingers and neck lay still on the ground, curled up in a ball.
Friend lay next to her, rising to a sitting position and scanning the land. “This is another universe! It’s just as I thought! There are thousands—perhaps billions of them moving through the Lake. I was not aware of the passage of time once we left our universe. Does anyone else feel no time at all has passed?”
Deka moved his legs and rose to his feet. He stood like an ape on Earth, with his knuckles acting as forefeet, claws folded under him, and yet his fleshy skin and crocodile snout could not have looked less apelike.
“Friend?” Deka said.
The formerly reverted fox took a breath. He rolled to his hands and knuckles.
“I’m... I’m fine. I don’t feel any scent anxiety.”
Kylac rose, standing naturally on his hind feet and knuckles. “I don’t feel it either. The equations have stopped. The variables in this universe are different.”
Friend turned in place, looking in all directions. “Yes, exactly! We are in a universe in which the laws of physics are different! We have yet to figure out how to open spheres here. I wonder if anyone has discovered portal physics. It’s so wonderful not knowing.”
Deka bounded on his feet and knuckles and slashed Friend across the snout. Friend recoiled and fell to the ground, muzzle smacking the dirt. Deka sensed that this species’ claws could not harm one of their own. Their skin also resisted lava for short periods, and fire for long periods. They were not scent-based creatures, and he was aware the name of this species was Anaxa, with the plural being Anaxan.
Deka reached down and slashed again and again, but his claws did nothing. The former raptor raised a foot and tried to gouge Friend, but his body lacked such claws on the feet. Seeing the futility of his own attacks heated Deka’s anger, and he attacked again and again. Friend lay still, seemingly impassive.
Finally Deka had exhausted himself thoroughly. He merely stood over Friend and screamed at him.
“After everything you put us through, you’re going on about physics!” He tried to hold his claws as a raptor would. He just now realized he was speaking in a language he had never heard before. “You nearly destroyed the universe! Again! You killed hundreds of people and ended civilizations just to push Kylac to come to the Lake! You almost killed him to steal his control over his animal nature just to prove other universes exist! Well look at you now. You’re back in a body and can’t make portals. We’re on equal terms again, so it’s time to answer for what you’ve done.”
Friend turned and faced him, still lying on the ground. “I’m fine. I think I’m really, finally fine. I can’t open ways. I can’t even move my conscious mind into the Lake. Something is blocking me, and I think it’s the new physics.”
Deka pounded the ground with his knuckles. “Fine? Nothing is fine! You are not fine! You caught a glimpse of something outside the universe, and you’ve been chasing it ever since! You had the ability to kill everyone in the universe just to reach it, and you tried to do it!”
Friend slowly rose to his feet. He hadn’t been hurt by Deka’s claws at all. “I already answered for what I did when you killed me on Reyno. I saw the universe as a reality contained inside something else. A scientific discovery. A chance to make theory real. No more spending entire years living inside theory with Rive, pondering what it might be like to live inside a gas giant or how life might evolve as a faster-than-light particle or something. I could go to one of those mysteries, so I explored it.”
Kylac slowly approached them, keeping his voice quiet. “‘Help me do what? Keep my mind weak so I can’t think about anything but sex? Keep me docile and obedient and never leave me alone for even one breath. Never let me do anything myself? I found out what the old ways really are, and I like them. They’re power.’ You said that to Rive on Reyno just moments before we killed you. That didn’t sound like science to me.”
Friend stomped away, shouting at the sky. “This is not about instinct! Why does everyone keep saying that? No matter what a fox does, it’s always instinct! Feeling irritable, he must be reverting! He’s upset—he’s about to revert! Don’t let him go too far on his own or he might lose control! I was looking at a new discovery that changed our understanding of reality itself! I saw a glimpse of something outside the universe, and I had to touch it! It was an itch! Kylac, you saw the math, you know it’s true! Someone had to leave the universe, and I wanted it to be me! I wanted it so much, but then my old ways held me back! I could’ve had the solution on my own if not for this thing inside me.”
Deka tried to snarl at him. The most he could do was shake his reptilian muzzle while pounding the ground with his primate knuckles. “Rive kept you from becoming that thing. We chased it all over the contacted universe, and now it’s in you again. It’s exactly what you are. A fox acting on instinct. The people you killed could attest to that.”
Friend turned back to them. “That thing doesn’t belong in me, and Rive was no help. I saw a glimpse of the math, and something made me panic and kept me from figuring it out. If I could be rid of it, everything would be perfect, but no, something happens every time I’m close to figuring out the equation. It should be easy, but I keep failing.”
Deka felt better now. He lowered his attempt at a theropod attack stance. “Now we’re in another universe. You nearly destroyed everything just to come here. Was it worth it? Was it worth destroying me, Kylac, Rive—!” Deka gasped and turned. “Sonjaa!”
She lay curled up on the warm ground, shivering. Deka bounded to her and lowered himself on his knuckles. He shook her gently.
“Are you all right?”
She turned her eyes up at him. “Deka... Help... It’s... I can’t think. It’s like the Lake.”
He reached down and helped her to her hind legs. She reached around him and held herself up. They both looked around.
“Molecules,” she said. “They’re everywhere. I can see them. Below them are... Everywhere. They won’t stop. I can’t think! Make them stop! Please stop!” She hung her head and screamed.
Kylac rushed over to her and nuzzled her snout as best as he could. Even Friend turned and regarded her.
“Don’t focus, Sonjaa,” Deka said. “Your subconscious is gone. Your mind is accepting sensory information with no filter. Your brain will learn how to process it.”
Sonjaa screamed again and dropped to the ground, curling back into the egg. “Help.”
“You’re an Archeon now,” Deka said. “I tried to prepare you for this, but there wasn’t enough time.”
“I can’t hear you. Everything is too loud. Too loud! I can’t hear myself!”
Deka dropped to his side and curled up next to her. She held him back.
“It’s supposed to happen gradually with training. We’ll help you adjust.”
She held Deka as she tried to shut out the universe. Friend stood over her. He hesitated a few times and then rested a hand on her shoulder.
Deka wanted to growl at him, but his vocal cords did not work that way anymore. “Our hatchlings are dead because of you. Entire civilizations gone because you had an itch. The sooner you accept that, the better off everyone will be.”
Kylac didn’t look at Friend as he nuzzled Sonjaa where she lay. “Relian canines have an instinct to get away from everyone. To be the only scent around. Friend, you’ve been acting on instinct since the beginning.”
Friend turned and pounded the ground in fury. “This has nothing to do with instinct—I am so tired of people telling me how dangerous I am just because I’m a Relian canine! To hear it coming from another fox makes me loathe my entire species! I left Rive because he wanted me dead! When you see something outside the universe, you’ll want to go there, too! That’s discovery! That’s science! That’s what I wanted! And now we’re here. It’s all true. Other universes are out there. I’m overjoyed. Just think of the possibilities. So many wonderful new places to explore. The implications it has for portal physics and our understanding of existence.”
“So far away from everyone else,” Kylac continued. “So far away from your raptor. ‘It smells better without all those scents around. It feels so good to be myself. To do something myself. All my life, people have been telling me to be afraid of the old ways. To be afraid of what I am. To be ashamed of it. Now we’re proving that we don’t need to be. We can embrace our old ways and allow them to be part of us instead of letting their fear and shame turn us into something else.’ You said that to me on Suum, after using portals to kill everyone upwind of us. It made you feel better. You could think more clearly about the problem without all those scents bothering you, and it only got worse from there. Listen to us, Friend. Raptors have kept us from becoming this for generations. I’m grateful for what Deka did for me. You resent what Rive did for you, and you don’t care that people died.”
Friend was about to turn and meet his eyes, but they heard someone approaching.
She paused at territory distance, which for this species was about four paces away. To venture into
another person’s territory was rude to these people. Only siblings were allowed to be so close. Even mated pairs would only come together to couple, and then they would then separate for the rest of the season.
The former Relians were family now. Brothers and sister.
“Your break is up,” said the Anaxa standing at a respectable distance.
Instantly information rushed into them. Sonjaa cringed at the intrusion but the others simply became aware of it.
The Anaxan organized themselves into a hierarchy similar to primates on Earth. This species had a symbiotic relationship with a particular set of trees, and the dominant family directed the others to make the trees grow. They did not grow on their own; they required constant pruning and physical encouragement to bear fruit, the Anaxan’s only food source.
This was a matriarchal society—the ability to lay eggs was more valued than the ability to produce sperm, so Deka, Kylac, and Friend had very low positions. They had taken a break from tending the trees to help Sonjaa, who had fallen ill. None of this was true until they landed here, and now it had become true retroactively.
“Beg pardon, matriarch,” Kylac said, lowering his head. “Our sister is still not well. We’re not sure what happened.”
“Leave her with the medics and return to your tree. Your quota will not be adjusted for this time.”
The Relians remembered that the extent of this species’ medical knowledge consisted of convincing the afflicted they had committed a sin against the ruling family and to beg the volcanoes for forgiveness and lift the illness.
“She is sick,” said Deka, lowering his head as well. “I won’t leave her.”
“Then your brothers must make up for both of your quotas.”
Kylac and Friend knew what that would mean. It did not sound enjoyable, or even possible.
“Deka is protective of our sister,” Friend said. “We will return to work without her.”
Deka turned to him and tried to growl. “You do not speak for us!”
“I am the eldest.”
Age was a major factor of rank for this species, and between members of the same family, it meant everything.
The matriarch looked on impassively at this apparent act of sibling rivalry. “I expect you at your tree in five.”
She turned and walked back across the field. The smog from the volcanoes obscured the trees, which only grew in intense sulfur and carbon dioxide air. The trees absorbed these gasses and converted them into methane. As a reward for helping them grow, they also produced fruit.
Deka turned to Friend. “Why did you tell her that?”
Friend faced him. “We’re doing what Sonjaa did when she was trapped in the Lake. We changed reality around us to give us a place in society. While we’re here, we must blend in. I’m sure we’ll figure out what’s different about this universe soon. I promise this is a desire for knowledge and discovery. No animal instinct is controlling me.”
“It seems we know everything about this species,” Kylac said, “but not the universe or the planet.”
Sonjaa slowly rose to her feet and hands. She spoke much louder than she needed to. “I know where the medics are. I’ll get some answers from them. I’ll be fine. I’m sorry about my quota. I’ll make it up... later.”
She hobbled away, perpendicular to the direction their matriarch had gone. Deka huffed as he watched Sonjaa leave.
“She’s becoming an Archeon! I should be there!”
“Not our fault this is how society works,” Friend said.
Deka tried to bare his teeth at him but this culture had no such gesture. He huffed at Friend. “We’re equals again, so I won’t put up with you anymore, and I don’t care what your excuse is. You’re a reverted fox. Satisfying your instincts is all you cared about before, and it’s all you care about now. You can talk about scientific discoveries all you want, but that’s what you are to me, and at the first chance I get, I will serve justice on behalf of our former home.”
He and Kylac led the way to their tree. Friend followed seven paces behind.
<end sample of Archeons book 6>
Series available wherever books are sold.