Byron watched an island sink beneath the waves as the ground beneath it crumbled under the onslaught of the minion he’d placed at the center of the world. It was a victory of the concept, and the first tangible proof of the world’s inevitable demise.
It was also blandly disappointing.
“I wouldn’t mind if had been a big island,” he said. “Or had people on it, but really, what’s the point of sinking some a tiny little dot in the ocean that no one cares about. If people can’t see what’s coming, and know I was the one responsible for their glorious dissolution into oblivion, then where, please tell me, is the joy in it?”
Arrayed around him the crew of the aircraft carrier the USS Taft stood at attention, alert to his every word, not out of choice or inclination but because he’d invaded the ship as a memetic virus and overwritten their minds. It really made for the best audiences when the people he was speaking to were incapable of do anything except listening to him.
Of course, the existence of people in general was something of a problem, but until he was ready for the big wrap up, Byron found having an audience an acceptable allowance.
Static ran through his mind at the thought.
Why was he a ‘he’ still? Shouldn’t ‘he’ be an ‘it’ at this point? Or something even less defined than an ‘it’?
The argument was one he’d be having with himself since he adopted the name Byron again.
Not that he was Byron.
An actual person? Even the thought brought a wave of distaste rolling through him, which in itself was wrong.
He wasn’t supposed to feel disgusted. Or delighted with his audience. Or anything.
Static, or Oblivion to be accurate, raged along what should not have been his nerves. It was agonizing, and terrifying, and a typical part of Byron’s day by that point.
He was a creature of nothing, something that did not and could not exist. And yet he most definitely was breathing in salt air, absorbing sunlight on his skin, and experiencing a variety of conflicting emotions.
Principally there was aggravation. He knew his current form was superior to the ones he’d worn earlier. As a [Formless Hunger] he’d managed to consume one tiny village before a perfectly normal woman had ripped him to pieces. That was embarrassing and as clear proof as any might need that reverting to a non-sapient existence before his task was done was not going to accomplish anything except offering his adversaries the chance to recast him into some other form once again. Worse, based on the evidence of the fragment that became Unknown, it seemed entirely possible that any new form might lead to embracing a continuing existence, and just how would the static that was trying to tear him to pieces like that?
The static quieted, Byron’s destructive essence lulled into temporary quiessence once again. He couldn’t tell if it was growing surlier or if he was simply losing patience with the process as well. Quite possibly both.
“But of course, what do I have to be concerned about?” he said, stalking across the deck in front of the mindless zombies.
It was a safe question to ask. They couldn’t know the answer, and were incapable of voicing it even if he let it slip.
And he was not going to speak those words, was not going to name his foes, not even to himself.
“I knew she would come,” he said. “I was prepared. That’s not why you’re here of course. I don’t need any of you to protect me.”
The hundreds of miles of ocean which separated them from the nearest land mass was something of a comfort, Byron had to admit. On Earth, he was sure her transportation options would be limited.
“She’s not even going to have any of her powers!” it was important that he convince the crew – his crew – that she was harmless. That they had nothing to fear from her.
It was true too, Tessa – damn don’t even think the name, he scolded himself – the woman wasn’t going to be the indestructible menace with powers designed expressly to thwart him. She was just a human here, just like all the humans he had assembled on deck. He could add her to their roster with no effort at all.
And then he could sail the ship into the whirlpool formed by the sinking of the next island to deliver her directly to the beast that was eating the world’s heart.
A chill ran through him at the thought.
She would defeat it.
She was convert it! She would somehow turn it against him, and turn it into something harmless. Perhaps even cute.
In place of the world destroying ally, there would be a planet guarding entity.
Byron screamed and tore at his hair.
It was so damn unfair!
No. She wasn’t going to come for him. She didn’t know where he was. And she didn’t have the power to stop him. Or the power to change him.
He vomited a wave of static onto the ship that promptly obliterated the decks beneath and the hull. It wasn’t enough to sink the ship though. He was still okay.
“This place is so revolting,” he told his crew.
It hadn’t been weakness and fear that overcame him. It was anger. Anger was a good emotion. It destroyed things. And that was what he did. What he was.
Artfully though. It was important to destroy things artfully. To make a proper presentation of it.
Why? They were going to be obliterated. Not only to no longer exist, but to never have existed in the first place. The entire cosmos around him was going to be unwound and undone, from its pointless beginning to its meaningless end.
So what was the point of art?
The static within Byron stirred. Was he tricking himself? Playing some game he couldn’t look at directly without it falling apart?
No. Of course not. That would be silly.
He played with other people, confused, deceived, manipulated. Those was all quite enjoyable pastimes, but he was never anything but scrupulously honest with himself. It was what gave him the edge to win. If he bought into his lies, he would be as vulnerable to them as his targets were. It was only by seeing himself as he truly was and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was committed to the evaporation of all the universes he could worm a path into that he would have the tools to survive…to overcome…to unmake that woman.
The static quieted, pleased to know that there was definitely no spark of the original Byron that still existed.
He was a new creature. A self-made one. No trace of the disgustingly real man he’d once been.
Why, even if he had retained aspects of the original Byron, it wouldn’t have mattered. Not really. Byron had always hated the world around him. No matter which world it was. There wasn’t anyone the original Byron would have had the slightest reservation of consigning to the depths of oblivion.
Except for himself of course.
Byron had found all manner of amusements in his life, and clung to it rather tenaciously.
Which was only to be expected of course. All living things are wired for survival. Those that weren’t, didn’t.
Which was nothing to worry about.
No living thing could resist the touch of the [Relentless Hunger] that had consumed Byron. The original Byron. Who wasn’t in existence at all anymore.
The crew of the ship were proof of that.
Well, the crew and the various hordes of followers Byron had left behind to cause general chaos and excitement. It hadn’t been especially artful, he had to admit that, but as camouflage, a means to ensure that she couldn’t catch up with him? Top notch work.
He mustn’t think of her though.
But hadn’t she resisted the [Formless Hunger’s] touch?
No. Of course not. It had been a fluke, a weakness of that form, by the time he evolved into the form that met the original Byron he’d changed more than enough to be free of that frailty.
But he’d attacked her three times on the satellite moon.
Three times was more than a fluke.
Especially since she’d hurt him each and every time.
Forced him to change, each and every time.
If she could do that…
That wasn’t something to worry about. No one else had ever resisted any of his previous forms like she had. It was a fluke and nothing more.
And she was going to come back to the Earth and be destroyed here. So it wasn’t going to matter. When he unmade Tessa – no! “that woman” – her whole history would be erased along with her. There would never have been a time when she, or anyone else, resisted a Hungers effects.
It was a calming thought, but the static inside him still burbled and grumbled.
That was a bad sign for it. The heart of oblivion within him shouldn’t be aggravated. It shouldn’t be anything. It should focus on that first, destroy its own worries since it shouldn’t have them at all. Not if it was going to be what it was supposed to be.
As for the original Byron? He certainly wouldn’t be opposing the creature he’d become. He would be aiding it. There wasn’t anything worth fighting for after all and those who did choose to fight were simply deluded fools.
Life had no meaning. Byron had always known that. People created meaning from nothing and then were so surprised when their illusions crumbled away.
So much angst and unpleasantness proceeded that though. It was the great struggle of those who couldn’t accept reality, that they beat themselves to pieces insisting that the world was what they wished it to be. That there was something, anything, anywhere in all the worlds that would answer their plea and complete them. That those with the power to change the world ever used it for anything except chasing a future that could never be, or, more often, forging a replica of the future they desired from the bodies and souls of those beneath them.
“What we need is more monsters,” Byron said, which his crew gave their silent agreement to. “Do you know why?”
They did not. They didn’t know anything in point of fact.
“Monsters are not what people imagine them to be. Real monsters are not merely creatures who are terrifying to look at. Real monsters are terrifying to understand. A proper monster doesn’t just scare you, it violates your belief in the fundamental nature of the world. You all so desperately need to believe you understand your world, that your experience allows you to place what happens to you into an intelligible framework. That, on some level, everything makes sense.”
Byron spun dramatically a cast his arms out to encompass the vast ocean around them.
“But it doesn’t. And it never has. Effect follows cause, but you can never know all of the causes? Then how are you to know that sometimes, things don’t just break down? That sometimes, your safety is a lie? That sometimes what you are is a lie?”
“I could unmake you all, right this moment,” Byron said. “And I should. Click clack and gone you are. All your loved ones left with gaping, unexplainable holes in their lives. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?”
“I could do that, but not yet. Don’t feel bad. It won’t be long. She’ll be here. Far too soon. Maybe that gives you hope? A rescuer approaches? No, that’s not how it will be. When she arrives, you will first play the role of hostage. They you will play the role of horror. She needs to see just how monstrous I am. She needs to understand what I’ve done. What I am going to do.”
Because, Byron absolutely did not dare to think, how else could she stop him?