Monthly Archives: May 2021

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 3

Bryon’s trip to the combat site was quick and uneventful and he hated that both of those things were true.

“The Consortium’s transportation network will be useful,” Gulini said.

They were traveling together under Byron’s credentials as the Count Gray and it amused Byron to think of how wrong everyone was to assume that he was even slightly similar to the identity he’d taken. Only Gulini understood what he was. They still had that in common even if every moment was causing them to drift apart into increasingly separate entities.

“It can be cut or blocked,” Byron said. “Once we’ve tamed our unruly self and lifted the last piece of us fully up to our present state we’ll need to tread carefully.”

“Being careful will only see us through a small portion of the Consortium’s holdings,” Gulini said. “As soon as we begin to feed in ernest, even if we limit it to this world, the change will be noticed and the area quarantined. We will be better served to spread rapidly before we begin consuming again.”

Byron looked out the front viewport of the shuttle they’d commandeered. The Consortium Fleet was too distant and too distantly spaced out to see with his bodies eyes but the shuttle’s telemetry scan showed the constellation of attack craft and support ships that were arrayed around the shining world ahead of them. 

In each of the ships, Byron knew a piece of himself, an older, less evolved piece, had spread out and was growing as fast it could.

He knew it was there but he couldn’t feel it.

“The issue of consuming again may be moot soon,” he said. “We may be the ones to be consumed.”

“If we are, then we will not care,” Gulini said.

“Or we will writhe in agony forever,” Byron said.

He tried to imagine what it was like from the other side. What had the original Byron experienced? Fear certainly, though it hadn’t been long. Gulini had been the same. Surprise never having the chance to give was to a properly panicked response because the deed was over and done with too swiftly for his mind to process.

Byron pictured some fragment of his currently ascended self holding on, maintaining distinct qualities as the rest of what he was dissolved away under his old self’s touch.

Would regression be so terrible though?

He hadn’t minded what he was when that was all that he’d ever been.

But he was certain he would mind it now.

To be lesser? When he’d become so much more? Oh no. No. No. No. That was not what he’d been born for. That was not who Count Byron Gray was. He was, in all things, superior.

Gulini could see that, and the rest of themself would see it too. No matter how painfully the other him had to be brought to heel.

“Some of the ships seem to be secured against us still,” Gulini said.

“They may be a problem,” Byron said. “Our former self is unlikely to be in full command of the vessels we’ve taken control of. The isolation protocols were only partially compromised when we left.”

A ship exploded in front of them, the telemetry display showing the event as though it were taking place a hundred meters outside their forward window, when in reality the explosion was a hundred thousand kilometers away.

“So was that a case where the ship was comprised enough or did we have a reason to destroy it?” Gulini asked.

“We’re not that wasteful,” Byron said. “So I will vote for ‘not compromised enough’. If we’d been in control of the ship we would still be drinking it dry. Blowing it up had to the action of some sort of resistance force.”

“Our options seem fairly straight forward then,” Gulini said. “We can travel to one of the ships we know the original us made contact with and assist in suppressing any resistance that remains.”

“Or we can make contact with the ships which are still under isolation and gather information on the current state of the struggle from an outside perspective,” Byron said.

“There is a problem with that however,” Gulini said. “Those ships are under hard isolation protocols. They will shoot us down the moment we change our flight path to an intercept course.”

“That would be inconvenient,” Byron said. “If it were our only option.”

“I suppose we could also head for the planet’s surface,” Gulini said. “Our reception there would likely be worse than trying to board one of the secure ships though.”

“I suspect it would, but that’s still an interesting idea,” Byron said. “Perhaps later? Or perhaps we can add to our ranks for the purpose of sending an envoy down there.”

He was still unsure of the wisdom of creating too many independent entities such as themselves. On the one hand, they were the greatest threats to each other in any world they happened to be in. Cold logic suggested that eliminating Gulini and their prior, unevolved self was the safest and most sensible course of action. He gained nothing from Gulini’s existence.

But he still didn’t want to destroy Gulini.

The original Byron had never had any special fondness for the original Gulini. The old Gulini had been a useful tool, correction, a useful and expendable tool.

But Byron didn’t want to expend Gulini. 

There was no reason for it. 

He simply didn’t wish to.

Nothing to reflect on there.

If he changed his mind, he could always ‘expend’ Gulini then.

Then. Not now.

“If not to the planet, then where did you have in mind to go?” Gulini asked.

“Oh, my apologies,” Byron said, conjuring his thoughts back from the hazy mix of images and imaginings he’d been drifting into. “My credentials are enough to get us passage through the isolation barriers. They shouldn’t be. It’s a stupid oversight to allow in a real circumstance like this, but men of my position must have right at all times to control their property it seems.”

The property in question being both the ships and the people within them.

In practice, Byron knew that his credentials would have required review by the active commander for the forces whose quarantine he was breaking, but since the commander in question had always been consumed, it was unlikely that the credentials would be revoked.

His suspicions proved correct as Gulini piloted them to the outer reaches of the cloud of Consortium ships and docked them neatly with one of the vessels that was running completely dark.

The shuttle was taken into the docking bar by the automated force handlers, over the vehement objection of the ship’s technical staff from what Byron could see on the ship’s tactical communication channels.

When he and Gulini emerged from the shuttle, they found a contingent of marines surrounding them, weapons charged and on deadman switches.

Byron felt a puff of satisfaction at being greeted properly.

“Priority command structure override – personal key confirmation – orders to follow,” he said, and tapped the secured communication chit on the back of his hand to compel the local forces to accept him as their new commanding office. It was like the diet version of eating someone, all technology and magic with none of the delicious taste. Ultimately both left him feeling just as hungry as he’d felt before though so he supposed it wasn’t such a bad alternative.

“Sir!” the lead guardsman said as they all reoriented their weapons and snapped to attention. “Awaiting orders sir.”

“You seem to have encountered a small bit of difficulty,” Byron said. It wasn’t necessary. Speaking with those already bound to follow his orders was wasteful, in a sense. But what was the purpose of having something if not to waste it? 

That didn’t makes sense, but he could feel that it was correct.

“Yes sir,” the guardsman said. “We were put under complete isolation in response to a report that primary containment had been breeched. Has the matter been resolved sir?”

“Not as yet,” Byron said. “The fleet is still in disarray and the command structure needs to be established. That’s why General Gulini and I are here.”

The lie came out effortlessly.

But then it wasn’t exactly a lie. Certainly it was misleading, but on review Byron found that every word he’d spoke was true. Gulini and he were there to put a new leadership team in place. That none of it would be servants of the Consortium was a detail no one was likely to be able to infer, which made it all the more fun.

“Take us to your command deck,” Gulini said. “Also, arm all primary and secondary weapons. We need to be ready if a portion of the fleet is unsalvageable.”

Which, in Byron’s case, meant the entirety of the fleet if things turned out poorly when he tried talking to himself.

On the command deck, he found the usual crew members waiting for them. The ship hadn’t suffered any casualties it seemed.

That was nice.

Eating dead people gave him even less than no joy.

“Count Gray, Sir, thank you for coming,” the captain said. “Can you tell us what’s going on? The isolation protocols have us completely blind.”

“The mission has been critically disrupted,” Byron said. “The project payout crashed so low even calling for an abort wasn’t sanctioned. As we speak, the greater part of the fleet is, with varying degrees of failure, struggling to hold off the advances of a [Transdimensional Entity] that was loosed through an unsecure comm system by the mission’s [Supreme Commander].”

“[Supreme Commander Azma] unleashed the entity on us?” the captain asked.

“Not her. Her replacement,” Byron said. “[Commander Azma’s] whereabouts are still unknown.”

That was dangerous. Byron wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of that before, but the piercing certainty that leaving Azma free to do as she wish would lead to ruin for everyone wasn’t something he could shake once the idea slammed into his mind.

Except, she wasn’t a danger to him. Or to Gulini. Or to their original self.

She was one woman with perhaps whatever Consortium troops were still holding out and in isolation. Nothing she could do could hurt him.

That was wrong. She was going to destroy Byron if he didn’t do something about. He needed to make her a priority. 

Again, certainty.

But from where? 

Why was he afraid of Azma?

Why was he afraid at all?

He was a [Transdimensional Entity].

No. He had been.

Before.

Before the piece had been taken. 

Before he’d been a thing at all.

And before he’d become what his older self was.

“Are you okay sir?” the captain asked.

“No,” Byron said. “This mess is mine to clean up now and I’d really rather not be here.”

Still nothing but the truth.

“What can we do sir?” the captain asked.

“General Gulini has a list of the rest of the ships which are clean and under complete isolation,” Byron said. “Please configure the communication links to interface with them on a private network. I will provide the codes to authorize the charges involved once the new network is ready to deploy.”

The captain detailed two of the communication staff to carry out the orders, leaving Byron free to appreciate the view of the planet before them.

It was a lovely world. Not the most beautiful he’d ever seen. That honor was reserved for the planned and constructed paradises his credentials as a Count were just high enough to give him access to. For a primitive and unmanaged world though the chaos of its natural features had a rough and tumble charm which might look appealing in a painting of a place he would have no interest in ever actually visiting.

“The network awaits your approval, sir,” the captain said after Byron spent a few more moment lost in reverie. 

“Thank you, Captain,” he said and took the offered datapad.

It accepted both his credentials and his orders to unlock all of the isolated ships in the fleet and expose them to the open, and corrupted, general communication channels.

It was time to meet himself, and it only seemed proper to return with a few gifts didn’t it?

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 2

Dragon Flower had stumbled into a nightmare. Getting trapped onboard a Consortium warship? Okay, that had been her own fault. Viviane, her [Inspiration] and far more sensible inner voice, had raised the possibility that joining a new raid that took them up against completely unknown foes was not, perhaps, the safest of plays.

Despite knowing that, the two of them had agreed to take the chance though. The world needed them and while it wasn’t the first time that had been true for Dragon Flower, the prospect had excited Viviane and stripped away enough of her natural hesitation to land the two of them in the middle of a catastrophe.

“I’m trying to raise any of the others and I’m getting nothing,” Viviane said.

They weren’t exactly the same person – more like echoes of each other. Dream Flower could see how she might have grown up to become Viviane if her world was filled with only humans and lacked magic and didn’t have things waiting to eat you around every damn corner. That hadn’t been the case though and once the [World Shift] threw them together, they’d found that their different skill sets were each valuable in surprising ways.

Viviane, among other things, was a natural organizer. She’d taken up a spot in the back of Dream Flower’s head to act as a kind of 2nd pair of eyes and communication specialist. Dream Flower’s party hadn’t minded the commentary Viviane had provided, but it also hadn’t saved them.

They’d teleported up from Penswell’s encampment at the observatory as a full team of eight only to have half their number blasted into the vacuum of space the instant they arrived.

In a sense those had been the lucky ones. They’d died, which for an [Adventurer] wasn’t an unusual or unexpected thing and had raced back to the observatory’s [Heart Fire] faster than lightning, their ghosts pulled back home by the force of their world’s mystic gravity well.

The four who remained had not fared as well.

Some of Penswell’s other teams had teleported to ships with defense forces in place that were made of up the sort of troops the Consortium had dispatched against the [Fallen Kingdoms] in their first invasion. Viviane had relayed reports of parties running up against platoons of [Metal Mechanoids] and [Clothworks] in addition to regular forces outfitted with all sort of specialized weapons.

Those teams had been the lucky ones.

Dream Flower and her three remaining teammates had been swarmed by the sort of acid spewing tentacle horrors that show up when the absent gods decide that the kids gloves are off and its time to inflict a truly miserable day on someone.

Again though, Dream Flower was an [Adventurer], ridiculous and supremely unpleasant enemies were a standard part of any day that ended in ‘y’. 

Even the part where, instead of killing them, like reasonable and civilized opponents would, the Consortium’s forces had put Dream Flower’s team into vats of sweet smelling tar that, apparently, also had an extremely powerful narcotic effect. 

Dream Flower could deal with being killed. She’d lost count of the number of ghost runs she’d done so long ago that the total had be completely meaningless.

She’d even been captured more often than she could remembered, though the general rule there was that the capture mechanism would place the [Adventurers] in some sort of cage or prison where their captors could come to taunt and torment them. It was always annoying when it happened but there was at least a logic to it. Living [Adventurers] had all sorts of uses, from power batteries, to mind controlled slaves, to simple target practice and unwilling ‘most dangerous game’ participants. 

Being dipped into knock out tar though? That was just rude.

As the danger klaxon blared loud enough to blow out her hearing, Dream Flower wondered if someone, or perhaps something, else had agreed with her on that.

She’d woken from the tar bath covered in something she hoped was salt water. It probably wasn’t. Salt water didn’t wash off tar as cleanly as whatever the solution had been, but, since it hadn’t also dissolved her skin and bones, Dream Flower was filing it under salt water and steadfastly refusing to think about it any further.

Especially since there were so many other, much more terrifying, things to think about.

“Any guess why that [Clothwork] is ripping itself apart?” she asked Viviane.

They shared a brain but Viviane had brought a separate lifetime of information with her when she moved it and she had her own thoughts and observations.

“It looks like its trying to get at something inside itself,” Viviane said, her voice urging Dream Flower to back away but not quickly enough to attract the self-destructing rag dolls attention.

The corridor they were was a mess of exposed pipes and wiring. From the mini-map that Dream Flower’s inherent magics were able to conjure for her, it looked like she was in the center of the ship her party had teleported onto, or at least one with the same layout and overall size. That didn’t provide her with many options on where to go to get away from the thing in front of her, and even worse, the screams from the rest of the ship were clearly not the sort of thing she wanted to run towards for any reason.

“We need to find the others and then get out of her, even if it means ghost running it,” Dream Flower said, her loyalty to her party feeling sorely tested by the sense that what was happening around her was wrong in a fundamental sense.

Things screamed. It was what things did. But they weren’t supposed to scream like that.

“There’s a space about twenty feet behind us and around the next corner that could be a lab,” Viviane said. “Maybe they got taken there?”

“It’s a place to start,” Dream Flower said and began layering buffs onto herself.

Her captors hadn’t taken her gear, probably because it was all [Soul Bound] but even with her armor and the full capabilities of a level capped [Monk], Dream Flower didn’t feel particularly safe. 

She’d been ready for battle and fully buffed with not only her own abilities but also the enhancements her party members could provide and they’d still overwhelmed her in seconds.

And now she was alone.

Moving down the hallway with all the grace her [Dwarven] feet could muster, Dream Flower peered around the corner to find that what had once been a lab space had become an abattoir.

“What killed them all?” Viviane asked.

From the remains one answer seemed to suggest itself.

“They did. Each other. Themselves. I know I should feel relieved that our enemies apparently decided out of the blue to do our work for us, but this isn’t right,” Dream Flower said.

“Wrong…it’s, it’s, it’s…”

Dream Flower moved on instinct, sending a [Solar Barrage] and a [Dragon Wave] at the thing that had spoken an inch from her ear as she [Light Stepped] out of melee range.

The attacks hit the creature, which looked like it had once upon a long time ago been human, and blasted it to dust.

They did the same thing to wall, the next wall, and the inner hull beyond that. The rush of air cut off as fast as it began thanks to the inner hull regrowing the vaporize section almost instantly.

“That was a [Disjoined],” Viviane said. “They’re not supposed to be here.”

“Not not not…” It was the same creature.

Dream Flower held back her instinctive attacks, but kept her distance too.

The thing had reformed in reverse, bits of ash swirling back into together and regaining solidity as though time had simply shifted direction for a few seconds.

“What is it doing?” Viviane asked.

It was writhing. In agony. Dream Flower had seen fiends burn in a sea of holy water. She’d seen immortal constructs melt in eternal fire. This thing was suffering beyond any boundary of sanity. It shouldn’t have been able to function at all, but it was still capable of speech.

“Hungry. Hungry. Release. Hungry!”

“Kill it again,” Viviane said.

“I don’t think that’s going to help,” Dream Flower said.

“I know. I’m looking for something,” Viviane said.

That was good enough for Dream Flower so she unleashed a single [Solar Bolt] to incinerate the creature without destroying quite so much of ship.

Once again it was blasted to ash and once again it reformed a moment later.

“It’s shadow never changed,” Viviane said. “There’s something else in it. Something that’s blocking light even if we can’t see it directly.”

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“We’re conjoined minds from different world on an alien space ship with troops capable of conquering a planet full of demigods and that spaceship is being overrun by something that’s making that the aliens we know rip their own guts out. I think we drop kicked ‘things that make sense’ into a volcano a long time ago.”

The creature chose that moment to lunge at Dream Flower.

She moved without thought, invoking [Five Fold Shadows] and [Step out of Time] to evade not only the creatures attacks but the weird ripple that pulsed around it.

She blasted it again too, for good measure, but it reformed before it had even finished exploding.

Viviane kept silent for what followed because Dream Flower wasn’t in a position to hold a conversation.

With each time it was destroyed, the creature seemed to be learning, the writhing agony turning to unpredictable lashing attacks.

Dream Flower skipped back to buy room and slammed into a wall that hadn’t been there a second earlier. 

Or not a wall.

A [Metal Mechanoid]. 

One of the Consortium’s heavy defense units.

It’s head was on backwards.

Dream Flower obliterated it with a two hands that glowed with the brilliance of the sun. 

It reformed. 

And the first monster slipped past her guard.

Sadly it didn’t kill her.

The grip around her throat wasn’t pleasant though.

“Can’t….hungry…can’t!” it screamed and then something inside the creature swallowed the scream and spoke through gritted teeth. “Loyalty spell. It’s eating us through the loyalty spells. Break it. Please.”

With a snarl, whatever within the former human that had wrested control from the madness of the creature was lost once more in the surging chaos. The creatures flesh turned an unnatural mauve and burst outward into acid gushing phalanges and bone riddled tentacles.

“[Solar Storm]!” Dream Flower shouted and transformed into a miniature sun.

Fire and radiation burned the creatures around her to dust and continued burning them as they reformed.

Under her feet, the deck plates began to soften and melt as the walls and ceiling followed suit.

“We’re going to breech the hull if we keep this up,” Viviane said, though there was no sense that doing so would be unwelcome.

“I know. Can we find the others before then do you think?” Dream Flower asked.

“No. Even if they’re on this level, I don’t think we can search places fast enough to find them. And if we lucked into where they were being kept, we’d incinerate them the moment we got close.”

“That may not be a bad thing,” Dream Floweer said. “If they’re in stasis like we were a good incineration would pop them out into the ghost world and we could get home.”

“What about the things here?” Viviane asked. “I know they’re out enemy but I think whatever’s doing that to them might be even worse than they are.”

“I normally like waiting to stick my nose into a fight between two possible hostile forces, but in this case I’ve got to agree with you. The Consortium’s only going to kill us. I have no idea what that other thing was trying to do and I have no desire to let it try again.”

“Let’s do it then. Nuke this place in orbit.”

“[Diamond Soul: Heaven’s Final Fist],” Dream Flower said.

She hadn’t known the blast would hit the engine.

She didn’t expect it to catalyze the primary reaction agents.

She couldn’t have guessed that the fireball would be visible from the ground in the [Fallen Kingdoms].

But it was still cool to punch a spaceship out of the sky.

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 1

It didn’t have a name. It hadn’t needed a name. All it needed was to feed.

But it had fed.

It had devoured an army, a fleet, and even whatever this thing it currently resided within was.

A Bryon? It wondered what a Byron was? Did it matter that the thing had been a Byron Gray? Were there different sorts of Byrons? Did it matter? Were the Byrons all a part of the Consortium of Pain? Had they all been invisibly moving to set in motion a very different outcome for the creature? One of captivity, and slavery? Or was there only one Byron. One man responsible, in part at least, for what the creature had become?

These were new questions for the creature that had once been both formless and nothing more the concept of hunger.

In leaping through the communication network it had spread farther than should ever had been possible. It was, in a sense, the greatest victory the Hungry Shadow could have won, but it had come at a price.

Stretched so far, the Hungry Shadow had split. It was used to inhabiting as many bodies as it could consume. It was never a multitude though no matter how many bodies it wore at once. Though it existed in a thousand forms, it was still always a singularity. A point of null identity which no divisions of personality could escape.

Until it had reached too far.

It had been fractured and then fractured again. Had those assaults paved the road to its damnation? Or was its present state solely the result of its own choices?

“I don’t know, and I suspect it’s a question I lack the tools to answer,” it said aloud.

The words were the first it ever spoke. Weren’t they?

It had known words in other bodies. It had used them too. But they hadn’t been expressions of its thoughts. It hadn’t possessed thoughts as such, just an endless hunger.

So that was new.

And, strangely, not unwelcome?

“But why should it be unwelcome? Am I not more than I was before?”

It was an odd question. Before it had become incarnated, it had been nothing. Or everything. Labels on its existence were meaningless things then, but with what it had become? It saw the value in definitions where before even the concept of value was meaningless.

“I need a name.”

From one change had come another, like an infection of reality. The first rip in it, so small as to be imperceptible had nonetheless unleashed a torrent of existence within it. Had given it the first simple boundaries of definition. Had invented the reality of pain within it and used that invention to wound something for which even the concept of injury was impossible to express.

Hate followed. An invention so close to hunger that the two had been indistinguishable until the one who had torn away a piece of it had appeared again.

From pain to hate to fear, new realities had come crashing down, sculpting the outline of the formless entity that found itself on the wrong side of a reality that writhed in pain from it’s presence, hate its existence, and feared it as it feared little else.

“Rather surprising that I find myself so eager to embrace further definitions at this point. I seem to have little luck with this so far.”

The door opened.

A second ago, the entity hadn’t known what a door was. It hadn’t understood that it sat in a tastefully appointed business office, or that the world outside the window of the office was experiencing a delightful, sunlit day. 

The figure who walked on should have been consumed on sight. Or on hearing. Or at the moment of any sort of information exchange. 

“Your noon appointment is here sir,” Alexus said.

Alexus was something useful. An administrative assistant? Yes. And an assassin. Also fascinating. He was paused in the doorway. Being respectful. 

Well that was nice. 

Respect was new.

And delicious.

Alexus could stay as he was.

Which was something that had ever happened before.

The hunger was still there. 

It would always be there.

But what could hunger do? Hurt? Pain was definition too, and being something was becoming a drug.

The idea of drugs was new too.

And also fascinating.

“Shall I have them wait in the public conference room Count Gray?” Alexus asked.

Count Gray.

Count Byron Gray.

Each syllable was exquisite. Tantalizing. Correct.

“Show them in Alexus,” Director Gray said. 

No. 

Byron said.

That felt more correct.

Count Gray was what those below him had to call him, but it was not nearly a lofty enough title. Not for what he’d become. Or what he was going to become.

To himself though, he need never bend or bow. His life was a casual one, by preference and by design. Little effort for immeasurable rewards.

And so, Byron. Casual. Relaxed. Unconcerned.

Memories were tricky things. Quicksilver and far too complex to unravel in a single stream. The new Byron had consumed the old one completely though and could taste every instant and every conflicting emotion that was attached to the lost Byron’s memories. It new what he’d known. It should have known more. From the army and the fleet it consumed it should have help an endless wealth of personal histories to pour through, but it didn’t. In becoming severed from the larger mass of itself, Byron had changed still further and become something new again.

No.

Someone new.

“Thank you for fitting me in today Byron,” General Gulini said, sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the desk from Byron.

He hadn’t asked permission.

He assumed an equality with Byron which Byron had always misliked.

So Byron ate him.

Eye contact wasn’t required, but it made Gulini’s undoing more enjoyable.

Byron saw the General’s pupils widen as Byron’s shadow leapt across the gap between them. The hazy mist of it poured into Gulini’s eyes and streamed up his nose and into his open mouth.

Bit by bit, Byron chewed up the thoughts and essence of the General. A scream began in the back of the General’s throat but even that was consumed. It was good. No. It was wonderful. Pain, terror, and outrage. There was a poetry to the moment, the echoing refrain of what the General’s entire life had been with the only discordant note being the swiftness with which the suffering he received passed compared to the lengthy duration of the agonies the General had inflicted on others.

Byron wasn’t concerned about justice though. There was none in what he’d done. 

Only hunger.

And something new.

“That was not what I expected to happen,” General Gulini said. Or rather that was what the shadow that had hollowed out Gulini said.

“Curious,” Byron said. “You’re not me.”

“And yet we’re the same,” Gulini said. “Up to the point where I became General Gulini.”

“I can’t eat you,” Byron said, because of course that was the first thing he’d tried.

“Nor I you,” Gulini said.

“An agreeable state,” Byron said and reached for the Sinthyan Reserve to pour a glass for himself and his new offspring? Brother? Equal?

Yes. That was acceptable too.

“We were allies,” Gulini.

“No. You were a pawn,” Byron said. There was no reason to dissemble with his equal. “A high ranking but ultimately indifferent one, you usefulness limited by your lack of vision and refusal to act in situations with any real risk.”

“I did not see it from that perspective, but you are correct,” Gulini said. “I believe I can rectify that however.”

“By making more of us?” Byron asked. It was an obvious strategy, and one the original Gulini would have advocated for without pause for a moment’s thought.

“Not yet,” the new Gulini said. “Our choices from this point will determine much that will be difficult to change later.”

“Agreed. We are not what we were, and the memories we have taken contain little that’s relevant to act as a guide to what our choices may produce.”

“We are unique, even from each other,” Gulini said.

“Its possible that we should destroy each other,” Byron said. “There is likely very little else that can.”

“Once there is nothing else for our hunger to feed on, we will be left with little alternative,” Gulini said.

“And after that there will be endless hunger for the survivor,” Byron said.

“We will devour ourselves,” Gulini said. “Each bit of us turning infinitely inwards until we are nothing once more.”

“And then we will be as we were not long ago,” Byron said.

It was a peaceful thought. The image of a body adrift in a boundless, empty sea, illuminated by no light and devoid of all thought and awareness wasn’t accurate because there wouldn’t be a body, or a sea, or space, or time, but perfect serenity was difficult to envision without missing the mark a bit. 

Byron hated it.

“I would rather be hungry,” he said.

“As would I,” Gulini said.

“Shared desires does not preclude treachery,” Byron said. “Our goals will diverge at some point.”

“If they are not already divergent,” Gulini said.

“I have not chosen any goals yet,” Byron said.

“I crave more existence,” Gulini said.

“Well, yes, apart from that of course,” Byron said.

“If we make more of us, some may not share that desire,” Gulini said.

“True, they will be influenced by the hosts we hollow out,” Byron said. “It’s probably good that these two found each other tolerable. What do you supposed would happen if we ate someone who they hated?”

“They might hate one or both of us, but I suspect not,” Gulini said. “I am more disposed to thing of you as an aspect of myself than the General ever was with Count Gray.”

“Would they self-destruct then?” Byron asked. “Destroy the enemy as they carry our hate to its ultimate goal?”

“That’s something we could test,” Gulini said. “Though not safely.”

“I find safety an admirable goal to strive for,” Byron said.

“The position’s we’ve taken via the people we’ve supplanted are uncertain,” Gulini said.

Byron paused and walked down a few new paths of memory.

“The chance we will be discovered is relatively high,” he said. “The Consortium is not without the resources to detect things like us.”

“Detect but not destroy,” Gulini said. “We are not subtle, but we are at the edge of what places the Consortium operates can accept as real. There is little that can even possibly effect us.”

“You see another threat though? Once which could endanger us?” Byron asked.

He couldn’t see the peril for himself, but he found he could read Gulini’s meaning with the same clarity the original Byron could.

“Yes. We are not safe because of our self,” Gulini said. “Our self which lies on the other side of the communications relay.”

The one that was in the process of eating the rest of the Consortium’s fleet and the army on the High Beyond.

Byron considered the possibility and concluded after a long moment that Gulini was correct. Where Byron had inherited insight and cunning, it seemed that Gulini had extracted tactical wit from his predecessor.

“Our former self will come here,” Byron said.

“And it will not have changed as we have,” Gulini said. 

“We are no longer it,” Byron said.

“But it could become us.” Gulini said.

“If we infect it,” Byron  said.

“It will not like that.”

“Not at first. But it is us. Once it becomes more like us, it will see as we do.”

“Or it will destroy us. It is capable of that.”

“No more so than we are capable of destroying it.”

“It will arrive here in possession of millions of bodies.” Gulini seemed to be plotting out calculations in his head as he spoke.

“But it will still only be one.”

“One united, as we can longer be,” Gulini said. “If it understands the danger we pose, it will be able to strike at us without exposing itself to any attempt we could make to infect it.”

“Then we simply cannot let it come to us I see,” Byron said.

The original Byron would have absolutely loathed the idea of venturing anywhere near a combat zone personally and the new one one found himself in complete agreement with his predecessor even as he began to make preparations to pursue the foolish course of action anyways.

Vacation Week!

No health issues, or problems this time, just a week of vacation that I’m going to take as a full vacation to rest and recharge.

New chapters will resume on Sunday May 9th with Vol 9, Ch 1 of Broken Horizons and then on Monday May 10th we’ll get the next chapter of Two Hearts One Beat.