My Journey

I got the bug to write, so I’m letting you suffer through the felgercarb. :yum:

Note to the Mods: I forgot to think of what section to put this in, so if it fits better somewhere else, I’m fine with a move.

This will be my excuse to express myself about the joys and GRAH of this crazy, wonderful universe Team Mercury has afflicted us with. It seems like someone did something like this before, but it’s been a while so I’m not sure. There may be a few spoilers, though I’m not sure many are left. And original thoughts, so some of this will be fantasy, sheer speculation, wishes and the like that I haven’t actually experienced. So, without further ado… let’s go.

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Entry 000:

It happened again.

Again… it… this whole experience I’m enduring… what is IT? WHAT happened?

The universe has changed. Almost everything is different. Even with only the vaguest of memories, I know this universe is different somehow. It’s a vexing partial amnesia, as there are recollections just out of reach, and those that aren’t, convey a sometimes starkly different reality than the one I’m in. I would fear I was suffering senility or some kind of madness, but the few who will open up to me are enduring the same misfortune.

The universe has changed. Some changes are obvious, glaring. Planets are different from what I remember through the fog. The lush world I used to call home, the name which escapes me, has gone through significant changes. I no longer have a home, an outpost to call my own. The emeril mines are gone, the caves filled in. The Mordite farm has vanished with the base, with its rows of planters which enabled me with months of work to amass a small fortune. The helpers which sought me out for employment are gone: the Vy’keen, the Gek, the Korvax. I have no idea what happened to these people who became friends. I was so disturbed, I left for another world to call home, until the same thing happens again.

The universe has changed. My freighter is huge. It’s amazing that I have one to start with, but I recall something about the freighter being swarmed by pirates, and coming to its aid when the other fighter pilots were unable to fend them off. A Vy’keen commander was so grateful, he gave me his ship to command, and some terse communication with his fleet of support ships transpired as they disagreed with the decision, and they went their own way. But there I was, with a freighter, a huge freighter, and a crew to support. So right now, my home is the DSE-9 Infineon II, as I renamed it. The Vy’keen name for it was too much trouble to pronounce, and it is my vessel now. And after spending substantially on upgrades, the range is incredible. I have a feeling that range will become crucial.

The universe has changed. Those in The Know call it a Reset. ATLAS is to blame. It always comes back to that preternatural, somehow connected series of anomalous spaceborn monuments, and the mega-quantum computers secluded within. Why? How is it responsible? All I know for certain is it has command of the ever-present Sentinels lording over us in their robotic tyranny. But if it has a direct connection to the very fabric of time and space, to alter it whenever some sort of conditional trigger or artificial whim strikes it… that’s a terrifying prospect, because it has no known master. Unless it’s the long lost Fourth Race, the Ancients which might not be the same people, or something even more unsettling, a Being beyond this reality. Regardless, no one knows any way of controlling ATLAS, never mind convincing it to consider the fate of countless lives at its mercy. I happened upon some information, speculation or whatever, which is both illuminating and worrying. And I’d rather not think about that right now. Maybe later, when I’m calmer or intoxicated.

But this begs the question: why bother doing anything? Why expend any effort, when without warning, the universe will be RESET, and anything we accomplish could all be erased in a moment? I’ve encountered a couple of people who have given up, faced with that gloomy dilemma. But I can’t. I recall some thin wisp of memories, either of a previous existence in this universe, or perhaps another. I know that I’m a Merican, that’s the word that stuck in my mind. A proud, ambitious nation full of people who were often full of themselves. But they were filled with determination; to succeed, to know, to do, to build, to create, to explore. For many of us, it was a burning desire, and drove us to journey into the space around our world as far as we could go. And never satisfied, kept pushing outward. I still have that ambition. I’m alive, in a universe which is full of potential. And even if I never learn what the Truth of it all is, why ATLAS exists, why the Sentinels control us with their emotionless, relentless, logic-driven martial law, why this universe is thickly peopled with three unlikely races which seem to be expending a lot of effort to do very little… I will still keep searching until my last day. The universe has changed, but I never will.

My ship seems to be calling me. It’s time to explore.

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Entry 001: Encounter

Day one. The first day after RESET… that set the tone for the rest of it.

I have another name. Besides “interloper,” the people of this universe call me a Traveller. I recalled that on my first New Day of this New Life after the Reset. And I’m not the only one. Evidently, there are a number of Travellers scattered around the systems, perhaps millions, perhaps more. And strangely, we’re considered a people, even though we seem to have many races. Some are even robots with their own sentience and free wills. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, considering that the Korvax are a strange melding of organic and electronic life, androids or the like. But it was quite a revelation.

They call us that for a reason: we travel, all over the universe, exploring, learning, collecting information. Like an association of Mericans, we seem to be driven to scour the universe for knowledge. For its own sake, like scholars? I’m not sure, but many of us don’t seem all that scholarly. I know I’m not; more of a seat-of-the-pants explorer, seeking adventure, and the Truth. I ponder deeper things than mere science or information, and I know deep inside that there is Something to Know. My foraging for technology, minerals and wealth are more means to that end than anything, and it keeps me occupied. I need to be occupied to keep from thinking about Resets, and why they happen.

I met a fellow Traveller at the Tiamat-Tuur station, and it brought back a strange collage of memory-impressions. He was one of the electronic beings, and sounded depressed. He tried to shake my hand, fascinated at the way our matter passed right through each other, though I expected as much. He seemed to be nothing more than a hologram. He said to me, “Fascinating. I wonder if we are in the same reality, or simply able to perceive each other due to a juxtaposition of unknowable factors.”

I told him that I was as lost as he was, and asked what he was doing in his travels. He shook his head. “I am sorry to say, I have given all of that up. The exploration, the search for knowledge… I can find no reason for it now. We were born too late to make a difference. I see no point in going on. If anything matters… if history will simply sweep away all our accomplishments, as if we had never existed.” He lowered his voice and added rather darkly, “The Reset will come, it will happen, again. It is inevitable.”

The way he said it sent chills all through me. This was the first indication that I wasn’t alone in my worries. But being who I am, I tried to encourage him, to assure him that there was still an entire universe to experience, that even if life will end, it’s worth living now. He returned a rueful smile, thankful for my attempt at comfort. “I’m sorry… just ignore what I said. I’m in a strange mood… after all, these are the Last Days, are they not?”

While I didn’t really need the reminder, I was anxious to know what he knew, what that meant. Surely there wouldn’t be a Reset to Oblivion, would there? He told me, “My search for knowledge was ended too soon. The Reset wiped much of it to nothing. But I will give you what I have left of it.” He began to hand me a data cartridge and I reached for it, before we both realized the futility of it. That was a truly discouraging moment, as I was sure that some real treasure dangled just out of reach. “I’m sorry… I forgot that there can be no contact between us. But I can give you some currency for your troubles, at least. I will not be needing so much of it now.” He touched a virtual button on his tablet, and my suit pinged the transfer notification… some thirty thousand units. I began to say that I was already quite wealthy and needed Nanites far more, but I thanked him politely. Then he added another strange remark.

“I wonder sometimes if we were truly born, as others are. All I knew from the beginning was this crashed ship… it must be mine, but I failed to recognize it. And then… all this happened, culminating in our meeting. Isn’t that strange? Born to a life of accumulating and trading, of prospecting and the search for knowledge, without any true beginning or end… and we Travellers, existing but not existing, unable to touch, to love each other…”

I fell silent, sure after a moment that he wasn’t making an overture to me, but the thought was poignant. He chuckled. “I’m sorry, I seem to have upset you. Just forget the unpleasasnt parts of this conversation. Have good travels.” I wanted to brush it off casually, but he walked away, and I’m not sure more could have been said. I noticed a few of the other station goers eavesdropping, but turned away when I looked to them. I wondered how different life was going to be, after the Reset, how difficult. I couldn’t remember a thing of the last one, as if this was the first.

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Entry 002: A step on the Road

Day 14.

It has been two weeks since my last entry, because I’ve been wrestling with so much to ponder. The fact that weeks are a measure of time here is itself a curiosity. There is no astronomical basis for it, and yet every race has adopted it. Some wisp of memory suggests that we Mericans are responsible for this. It will be interesting to learn of the validity of it. And this is my dilemma on what to document: a universe holds almost infinite amounts of information. What is important, what is significant? What contributes to an understanding of the Big Picture? I need to find scholars, and libraries. There is no sense in wasting time with trying to solve such impossible conundrums, when much of the work has been done by greater minds.

Looking back in my ship’s logs, I saw the entries of the planets I had come from. The first were from a world called Bejangelad-Sker Anony in the Yuvintar V system, in a region called the Nujemir Terminus. It wasn’t that far away! Some two thousand light years, but I could do that with the potent hyperdrives powering my ship in a few jumps. Commander Grondo, the Infineon’s captain, urged me not to go, and he didn’t need to elaborate. The Reset… any number of Resets… what would be left of any sign I had been there? But I had to know.

After some sort of Awakening, which it seemed every Traveler experiences, I recalled dimly that it was a desert world, and hot. If I spent too long in the sun, I would have to scurry to shade of some kind to let my suit cool down. Evidently, all my gear had been damaged, and worse, ill-equipped to deal with the conditions I found myself in, which left even more questions. What fool goes to a harsh environment without the proper equipment? Or… did I go? Hopefully the trip would result in some answers.

And… it didn’t. I appeared in the sytstem of the yellow star. The desert planet was there before me, and it was still torrid. But scaners revealed nothing. What am I saying - scanners never reveal anything but the planet’s name and basic conditions! What the hell is wrong with them? I can fly within sight of a building of any sort, and scanners will often not even pick them up. I’ve taken to flying inverted so I can get a good look at a planet’s surface, but I can only do so much of that before I suffer headaches or nausea from blood rush and disorientation. I need to talk to a technician about them, if there is any sort of upgrade to where scanners will actually work as expected.

I wanted to talk with one for another reason: this wasn’t my original ship I awoke to. That would be the YF04 Horizon, and it was a decent ship for exploring and ship fighting. I traded it in on a snazzy fighter, the S17 Nerimaba, which I still own. It cost a good number of units, but it was my vessel for much of my time in that Reset. I transfered over the cargo and data logs, but when I poured over them, I saw nothing beyond simple entries of systems visited, data collected of flora, fauna and a few other discoveries, and distance markers. I know there has to be more. Data of the Horizon, and how it wound up on that hot dusty rock, why I went there… something.

Anyhow, I saw nothing recognizable. The only crash site was of some ship suffering a catastrophic failure of some kind. I remembered a surface littered with red crystal plutonium outcroppings, and green emeril shards, but I saw no sign of either. But then, they take diffrent forms now, after Reset. That damned word again…

I had to go somewhere, anywhere, and I did. I didn’t bother with going to the space station, where I most likely would feel lost and frustrated, but went as far as my fuel would take me towards the center of the Euclid galaxy. I wound up in the Aluwachen system in the Komedesi Anomaly, a charming name for a star cluster. It sounded familiar, and when I went to the station, I had another flashback. I caught myself looking for a substance called omegon. And other names came to me; murine, calium, radnox… and none of them existed in this universe. I asked a Vy’keen trader if he remembered them, and he scowled at me. “Why do you ask about stuff from dead dreams!” While his ire was startling, what he said grabbed my attention. That was a curious way to phrase it, and it struck me as something rich with hidden meaning.

I saw a Korvax trader eyeing me curiously, assuming they have eyes anyhow, and I approached him, asking if he overheard my exchange. He nodded, but was reluctant to say much. The Korvax are a particularly private race, and don’t let other peoples into their circles very often. I urged him gently to share any wisdom he had on the matter, and he finally opened up, just enough to leave me hungry for more. “The foundations of this reality are subject to fluctuations. Reorganizations. New Instances. The cause is unknown, the reasons unfathomable, but the source is the ATLAS.”

He spoke of it reverentially, which left me feeling unsettled. I recalled dimly that the Korvax have a unique and mysterious relation to both the ATLAS and its servants, the Sentinels. I wasn’t sure just then if that was a good thing or not, but I hoped to be able to take advantage of this fact. And what he said… “instances” is a software term, and the notion made me quiver. I asked him in a way I hoped wasn’t too pushy, “This reality… this Instant, what is the foundation of it? An energy matrix? Or… code?” I didn’t know if it was an absurd leap of logic to ask such a question, but I was burning with curiosity, and ever impulsive.

He spread his hands in a way which seemed dismissive, and it was. “I feel unqualified to discuss such mysteries so casually with an outsider. But you are a Traveler. I will give you an avenue of assistance in your quest. We have many priests which often travel, and sages which do not. Speak with them when you see them in your journeys, and one of them will surely provide you with answers. At least some of them. Our homeworld, Korvax Prime, was destroyed, so we are all itinerant fellow travelers, after a fashion.”

“Destroyed?” I exclaimed. It seemed that this was another one of those cases of amnesia which would bother me throughout my travels.

He was quite surprised at my reaction. “You have not heard this? Fascinating. But then, we have just suffered another Reset. Yes, it is a sad fact of life, but we are without a world to call home. We live hopeful, regardless. Now, I am aware that you have a good reputation. If you maintain your Walk properly, you will find favor with the Korvax, and aid with your quest for knowledge.”

I recalled a fact about the Korvax which I hoped was correct, that they lived in a connected hive mind of sorts. That may be overstating it, but there was something of a shared experience with them all. “But your people… you share a connection, some sort of mind link. Don’t you all know of me, the priesthood as well?”

Something in his demeanor conveyed a smile, and he nodded. “Ah, you have some sound memories. Yes, while your understanding is rather basic, the essence of it is true. We live in a Convergence, and we are all aware of your ambitions. Keep in mind that we are a rather private people, and do not welcome outsiders so readily, even a Traveler of some repute as yourself. Be patient with us, and you will be rewarded for it.” He turned to go, but hesitated, speaking to me guardedly. “One more piece of advice for you… not all Korvax are connected. Seek the Anomaly.”

My mind blazed with urgent excitement. I almost had a fit, I was so overwhelmed with emotion. Something important, some shred of memory… it was just out of reach! It was infuriating. Unfortunately, I was so lost in my conniptions that when I turned to beg more from the Korvax, he was nowhere to be seen. And again, I was met with furtive stares from the others in the station. I wondered what sort of reputation I was developing.

To my dismay, there were no more Korvax at the station. Being a Vy’keen system, they dominated with just a few Gek around. The toady merchants wanted to talk business and had no time for an interloper interested in non-profitable trivia, and the Vy’keen scoffed at me. “Why do you want to find an awful ATLAS place! Stay away from them.” But… I had to follow this trail of knowledge. I asked if there was a library, or some sort of information repository nearby. One of the Vy’keen pointed at an angle at the floor. “A Colossal Archive… that way, I think.” What kind of answer was that! I was clearly frustrated, so he shrugged me off. “That’s all I know.”

A Colossal Archive… I had never heard of them before. Was this some sort of new manifestation of the new Instance we were in? I asked if scanners would pick it up, and he shrugged again. “Maybe.” Oh, this was ridiculous! I asked if there was a station which offered proper scanner upgrades, so they worked more than sporadically. He informed me, “Scanners are stupid. That’s just how it is. Sometimes, your eyes are better finders.”

Well… with that half frustrating encounter, I left. In roughly the direction the warrior had pointed was a planet, a garden world called Rigangkanqa-Nemi. Resigned to the usual outpost hunt, I flew over the surface inverted, jabbing that scanner button before it was fully recharged, and not a single Archive pinged. Neither did a Trading Post, but I spotted one, landed, and inquired to the friendliest looking Vy’keen I could find. He clawed his fingers in the air as he tried to remember. Naturally, he pointed off into the distance. “That way, I think.” And how far that way, I demanded, growing impatient. My facial expressions must be quite transparent to them, as he scowled at me. “A long way, interloper. Go fly and find out!” It seemed a polite Vy’keen way to tell me to go to hell.

Well, what the hell? Off I flew. Of course I had no idea, even assuming he was correct, that it was the right direction, so I gained some altitude and began zig-zagging my way across the world as I worked the scanner hard. I came upon a Minor Outpost after a quarter hour of searching, and decided to get another bearing. The Vy’keen manning the place confronted me hotly, and I wondered what I had stumbled into. Was he on the lookout for some whiny interloper making inane demands? But rather, I fell victim to one of their warrior customs. “Grah! Interloper weakling! Show me your strength! Give me your best challenge!”

Scrambling for some sort of recollection wasn’t serving me too well in my agitated state, but I knew they only respected bravado, so I bellowed at him at the top of my lungs that it didn’t matter how big and strong he was, that I wasn’t going to take crap from such an average warrior, and to stuff himself. His hand shot out and struck me with his palm, knocking the wind from me as I fell. I wondered fearfully if I was in store for a good pummeling, but as I began to clamber to my feet, he was laughing, and helped me up. “Interloper! You may be weak, but inside, you are strong! Such spirit! Here, I will show you some favor.” For my trouble, he gave me a pretty substantial Multitool upgrade.

After sharing a good laugh at providing him some entertainment to break up the boredom, he was more acommodating to my inquiry, and told me that the Archive was still a ways off, but he gave me a marker chip for my guidance system. This was a godsend, and I offered to pay him handsomely for it, but he refused. “No, you weaklings need every advantage you can have. You do not need to make yourself weaker for this. You have been good sport today!”

I asked him what he knew of the Anomaly, and at that he became rather grim. “Do not speak of it, and do not seek it. The ATLAS is not something to visit. It can make you mad. We do not speak openly of this, but our Korvax friends are fools for worshipping this oppressive… thing. It controls the hated Sentinels which nearly destroyed the forces of Hirk, and our people entirely. Other people too. Do anything else, but stay away from the evil of black and red. Disturbing it could cause… the Last Days.” His pronouncement was sobering, and I nodded in glum agreement. I didn’t tell him of my intentions, but what he said, I added to the pile of things to consider.

Thanks to the chip, I could see the marker for the Colossal Archive a quarter of the way around the world or so, which after lifting out of the atmosphere got me there in less than a minute. It was a sight to behold; a towering structure of gray trimmed in blue, like a three bladed spear tip thrust hundreds of feet into the sky, and swarming with ship traffic. There were six landing pads, and they were quite busy, so I had to orbit the structure for a while with the other ships. It gave me a chance to give it a good look, and it seemed that some of the structure was new, such as the shop area with its glowing signs, and the landing pads, while the main structure itself appeared to be quite aged. What did it mean for a newly appearing relic to look old like that?

Finally, my turn came to land, and then running up to the commerce area, I could see a massive system ahead in the center of the structure. I had no time to waste on the merchants hawking their technology, and ran for the upper tier. But then I had another wait while the Archive doled out information to those who arrived before me. A few were Gek, another bunch were Vy’keen as this was their world, but almost half were Korvax.

I had a lot of time to think pensively about this place, and the information it contained. What kind of reality was it that manifested a structure like this out of the blue, and filled it with archaic lore? Or was I completely wrong, and we had all simply forgotten that places like this existed? Or was it only me that forgot? But no, I had caught snatches of conversation from others of this same experience. The Resets really had altered the universe in ways that were unnerving, and messed with our memories. And there was the matter of my quest. I was consumed with a desire to know… everything, why the universe was the way it was, why ATLAS existed, and seemed to have conrol over the very fabric of time and space, why it dominated the galaxy with Sentinels which would deal cruelly with those it deemed to be breaking whatever laws they were driven to uphold. While strangely, it seemed that no one else could be bothered over such a glaring mystery. A lot of it could be that I was a Traveler, an interloper without a history and a world to call home. Were the other Three Races simply dealing with this bizarre situation sensibly? Why bother with trying to advance anything, further civilization, if a Reset would undo much of it? I couldn’t submit to such a fatalistic outlook, even with that prospect. But the other races knew something I didn’t, and the term Last Days held some dire meanings.

My turn came and I practically jumped to the available terminal, but I was stopped short by a sobering message.

WECOME TO THE RIGANGKANQUA-NEMI PRIME ARCHIVE
ONLY THOSE OF VY’KEEN BLOOD OR THOSE FRIENDS OF VY’KEEN ARE GRANTED ACCESS

Well… that was unexpected. I hadn’t been paying attention to see how everyone else logged in to such a system - it hadn’t occured to me. Fortunately I caught someone giving a gruff answer to the prompt across from me, so I repeated in a coarse voice, “I. Am. Friend. Of. Hirk.”

After a tense moment, the screen gave a welcoming message: ACCESS GRANTED.

I was poised and ready for some serious data mining, but I was dismayed at the limited range of knowledge presented to me. It seemed to be the basic histories of the Three Races, and the focus of this Archive was on the Vy’keen, which being a Vy’keen world made sense. But I wanted to know so much more than that. What about our history, that of the Travelers? I entered a query, and this was presented to me.

-{{ It came to pass that the Great Monolith awoke. It heard the challenge of Hirk. Five times Hirk called upon it and was met by silence. On the sixth cry it awoke. }}-

-{{ The Great Monolith spoke to Hirk of the Travelers. Their coming should not be met with fire. Their coming was but one Dream in an infinite Universe. Their reach would be that of the endless. When Hirk asked of the Sentinels, the Great Monolith said nothing. Hirk was troubled by its silence. }}-

That word again… dream. What did it mean in regard to this reality? I saw that the first entry was titled The Dreams of Hirk. This was baffling. All it did was spawn more questions. I should have gone to a Korvax world, as they were the true scholars of the Three Races, but I might as well try to take advantage of this opportunity while it was available. I queried Korvax Prime, and read this.

-{{ The Vy’keen licked each other’s wounds during the Silence of the Sentinels, while the dishonorable Gek First Spawn chose to destroy Korvax Prime. The Vy’keen condemned this crime, but lacked the strength to fight. The Gek Empire flourished. It spread its empire into the depths of the cosmos. The Vy’keen victory in pushing the Sentinels back from the Outer Edge gave rise to Dominion of another. }}-

-{{ No world, moon, or race could have opposed the Gek onslaught. The brutality of the Gek First Spawn called back the automatons that were hiding in the darkness. Their forces had grown. Their technologies had developed. The foolish Gek beckoned the monster back into the places where our nations might have dwelt in strange harmony. True Sentinel domination of the Outer Edge began. }}-

-{{ Within a single lifetime the Sentinels had returned. They came to dwell on every world we knew. Every world we went on to discover. The pathetic, idiotic Gek had doomed the Outer Edge to aeons of their rule. The dominion of the Gek First Spawn crumbled. They fell apart through idiocy, and through the unchanging will of the beings they enslaved but could never understand. Their power is but a memory. Their crimes forgotten by so many. }}-

-{{ The Gek changed. They became peaceful. Their spawning pools bred in the name of commerce. They Vy’keen accept this peace, but we do not forget as the other beings of the Galaxy are so keen to do. }}-

-{{ Dishonor is unchanging. Crimes marked in blood do not fade. We do not forget. }}-

Oh my… something deep within told me that I already knew this, but it was a startling re-revelation. Those cute little toads… brutal conquerors? Destroying Korvax Prime, enslaving the survivors? Still, cute little toads in great numbers armed with powerful weaponry could wreak havoc. And then to my alarm, when I tried to inquire about the ATLAS, it flung a message in my face: ACCESS ENDED.

I cried out in dismay. I wondered if I had made a forbidden entry, but then, it seemed that everyone had a limit on their access dictated by time. A Vy’keen standing behind me made a gruff noise letting me know I was impeding progress, so reluctantly I stepped aside.

But I saw a lifeline; a Korvax wearing some noble looking garb. Could this be a priest? I waited impatiently for his session to end, and approached him as humbly as I could manage. He replied graciously, “I am indeed Priest-entity Polemi. And you are the Traveler I have heard so much about?” I nodded, doing my best to contain my excitement, asking what he could explain briefly about the nature of this universe we lived in, why there were Resets, and how ATLAS figured into all of this. His reply was rather disappointing.

“Well. Such curiosity among those not of the Korvax is refreshing. But you ask some weighty things which cannot be explained briefly. What is more, they deal with matters of some delicacy and confidentiality among our people. Our tennets are held in sacred regard. May I ask what it is which moves you to seek such knowledge so avidly?”

I had to think for a moment. My drive to understand the mystery of this strange universe seemed self-evident, so I hadn’t tried to nail it down logically. “I have to know why things are the way they are. Why this universe goes through such weird, drastic changes in these Resets. I need to know that there is a a future for all these people which is good for all of them - that there is a future for us. People keep mentioning the Last Days, and I have no real idea what that means. I know there is some sort of great Truth to be learned… I have to know it. And these Resets, the amnesia… it’s driving me crazy. Please tell me what you can, and where I can go to learn more. This place is too constrained. I need time to learn, lots of it.”

He nodded, looking down thoughtfully for a moment. “You have not entirely recovered from this Reset, I see. And your ambition, your appearance… you are an American Traveler, are you not?” Something inside me jumped… I had almost remembered the word completely, and it sparked a few other faint memories to emerge from the gloom of forgetfulness. I also looked down in reaction to the word Traveler, examining my hand to make sure I wasn’t some phantom, but my form was still substantial and present. I nodded. “Ah yes, that explains why you are filled with such determination and hunger to know all this. Your kind is never satisfied.” He seemed to be scrutinizing me, and asked, “Your form carries a curious vibration. An emanation. Have you seen—?”

I did. I saw it. The Red Orb. It was wonderful. And the most horrible…

I found myself on the floor, shaking with dread, and the Korvax kindly helped me to my feet. What had just happened? What had he asked me? I begged him for an explanation. “It appears that you came upon the ATLAS in one of its many Stations. Your encounter was unique, but the Reset has clearly wiped all memory of it from your conscious mind. This is most interesting, though further inquiry of you does not seem to hold much promise.” I worried that I might have done something wrong to offend the overpowering entity. He shook his head at my question. “I cannot imagine such a thing. Anger, offense, revenge… these are not qualities of the ATLAS.”

I felt a little better about that, and after all, why would it keep me around if I was so much trouble? I had even less desire to return to an ATLAS space monolith than ever, but I wanted to know about something related. “Someone mentioned that I should find the Anomaly.”

He seemed to blink at me. “I take it you do not mean ATLAS, but… something else.” I waited expectantly as he mulled over an answer, as he seemed to know of it. Or someone who did. “There is a sage, Priest-entity Asrial. He lives in a shelter near a Celestial Archive in the Nistov system, on planet Etsiop Rade. Here, this will help you.” Before I could stop him, he reached for my head with his right hand, a small thin bit of metal extending from his thumb like an injector. There was a sharp sting—

And I knew. Knew where the system was, and the lush blue-green world, as if it was my home. The location of the Colossal Archive, and the little shelter within walking distance of it, as if I had been there many times. “Do you see?” he asked, hoping I would acknowledge, and I nodded. “It is approximately six hundred light years off. Will your vessel be able to reach it?” I nodded again. “Good. Tell him that I sent you. He will want verbal confirmation. It is our custom.”

I remembered that their minds were connected in some fashion, so this was a curious bit of knowledge. I had to ask him, “Priest-entity Polemi, I have learned that you have a sort of group mind, and you share thoughts and experiences, such as our talk, some awareness of who I am. Will I be able to count on your people for help?”

He seemed to smile in appreciation, and clasped my shoulder. “You are a different kind of person, a different sort of Traveler. I can tell that you are a friend of the Korvax, of all people. Your care is genuine. Yes, if you continue in this Way, and need assistance, you can rely on our help.”

I gave him a warm smile and clasped his arm back. “This means a lot to me, and I’m thankful.”

He nodded and drew away. “It is gratifying to know that this meeting was beneficial for both of us. I must go, but if you need to contact me, you should also remember my credentials.” And it was true. I had a feeling that only a Reset could wipe it away, and perhaps not even that.

He wished me good travels, and we parted company. While the sun was just beginning to set, I had been up for nearly twenty hours. Doing a flight when fatigued wasn’t wise, so I asked where there was a vacant shelter, and one of the Vy’keen offered me a bed just a few leagues away, a short hop in my fighter. The location was fairly flat, providing a good landing, and the shelter was clean enough. While I wasn’t sure I could sleep from pent up excitement, it wasn’t ten minutes until I was dreaming away.

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Entry 003: Life gets in the way

Day 15.

“INTERLOPER!”

I nearly fell out of the bed at the outraged voice blasting from my communicator. It was Commander Grondo - I need to start calling him captain, since I’m the Infineon’s commander. He was tired of being ignored in my Hunt for Truth. “You have a freighter full of crewmen playing with themselves because we have nothing to do! Our supplies will begin to run low! Do your job unless you want me to do it for you!”

Actually, I had left orders and an itinerary so he could do my job for me, but he was letting me know they might mutiny. And right now, the Infineon was my home, and having a freighter, particularly a long range freighter, was a valuable resource itself, even if it needed a good budget to run. So I went prospecting, and came across some great finds. Lots of copper and emeril. I also learned a few more details about my past.

My gear was all heavily upgraded. Looking through my tech tables, I found that the Multitool upgrade the Vy’keen gave me was marginally better than what I had so I swapped it in, but my tool was already a potent device. My ship was loaded with weaponry, and both it, my suit and the Infineon had massive cargo space, so I could store incredible stock of resources. I could dimly recall getting my last suit space opened at a drop pod on some world, and the crazy amount it cost, hundreds of thousands of credits. I was also stunned to see that I could transfer cargo directly to the Infineon, even though it was in another star system! I couldn’t believe it at first, but reasoned that there must be a tie-in through the Teleporter system linking space stations, which as far as I knew had no limit. What a fortunate revelation that was. If only I could build a Teleporter in my freighter.

I also made another discovery just then. Going through my base support units, I came across a Signal Booster, which I realized was a locator beacon in my portable tech list. Of all the things to forget! And it didn’t need much to fabricate, so I crafted one right up and tried it, and found to my chagrin that it only worked three tries, then quit, and it found a Shelter, Transmission Tower and Observatory. Not a single Minor Outpost, Trading Post or the nearby Colossal Archive. But, we can have quark-perfect teleportation across interstellar distances. The tech available in this universe was downright irrational.

The suit scanner though worked like a charm, and I spotted a ruin within a short jaunt. My suit was equipped with a lot of assists: I could run for a good quarter-kilometer, and jetboost for half, so it wasn’t very long before I happened on it, but it was a disappointing wreck. No Tablets or Obelisks, just a collapsed mess of stone. Still, something had pinged on my scanner, so I searched, and underground were several returns. I dug some of them up, and discovered Ancient Keys, which came in handy, because in the center of the site was some sort of crypt. Digging my way down to it, the keys were needed to unlock the ancient relic, and with some effort I got it open. Within was a truly archaic looking tome, a massive book with writing I could barely make out. It seemed to have some ages old lore of the Vy’keen in it. The scanner gave me a ballpark estimate of its value at several hundred thousand credits. Wow. I didn’t really need the money, but who was I to say no to a find like that?

I went ahead and summoned the Infineon to give the crew something to break up the monotony, and transfered some cargo to them to take to a nearby system where we could sell it for a profit. I did some shopping at the Archive and I found that they sold Planetary Locators, which were good for finding outposts, ruins or crashed vessels. I filled up two suit slots with the first two. I also found terminals where I could sell ancient artifacts, though the book didn’t seem to register on it. I sold it on the Trade Terminal for a nice bit more than the estimate.

To my surprise, when I flew up to the Infineon, there were a couple of other freighter fleets parked near the station and I got messages from the captains. They wanted to trade cargo, and hey, why not? They were impressed with the Infineon’s massive bulk and substantial cargo capacity. Going aboard one, I was surprised to see a Traveler at the ship’s mission terminal, a female feloid, and I found her attractive. Very attractive, and I realized something.

I was a single man without a homeworld, without a people, without much of any kind of cultural or social foundation. I would want to get married at some point, or “join lives” as the Three Races put it, and this meant joining with an alien. And I wasn’t put off by the idea. I’m not a racist, but people tend to want to be with those of their own kind. This looked to be impossible now. I had come across no information of any other American or “Human” as I recalled my race’s name, so I was faced with the prospect of choosing another race or die a bachelor. The thought of being with a Vy’keen seemed… rough. The bird-beaked Gek were too toady, and the Korvax, who I would otherwise find to be quite compatible, were essentially androgynous machine folk. But she seemed… nice. Still, I couldn’t recall ever making overtures to any being, so I was a bit lost on how to greet her. Maybe being a fellow Traveler would be enough of an ice breaker. I approached her, noting her eyeing me as I came up, and introduced myself.

“I am… busy,” she replied a bit coldly, and I withered, as she seemed to simply be standing at attention.

“Pardon my interruption. I won’t bother you,” I told her, and began to walk away.

“Nigel,” she said, and dust seemed to come off of another old memory. My name was Nigel Fox, which I rarely used. Our suits apparently handled much of our introductions for us, displaying names of those we meet when we looked directly at them. Hers was Kyleen. Maybe the similarity to “Vy’keen” made her seem more tolerable to the leathery warriors. While I hoped she would want to talk further, she merely said, “I will remember you, and your credentials.”

Well, that was something, anyway. But then as I went to speak with the captain, I noticed the features of the bridge showing through her translucent body, and it struck me that she wasn’t even tangible - she was a Traveler! I was so caught up in potential ardour that I completely forgot she wasn’t exactly “there.” The lament of that first encounter with one at the station came back to haunt me… no love for a Traveler. Well, grah…

The trade deal was a blur, as I was feeling rather glum over my romantic prospects. What would I do? I didn’t recall even a hint of another Human in the galaxy, and all I knew of sentient beings were the Three Races, none of which appealed to me. I tried to cheer myself up with thoughts of my Truth Hunt, which I was anxious to get back to.

I got another communication as I went to space, and this time it was from one of the frigates. “Interloper-Traveler, I offer you my services. You have no fleet! A freighter needs frigates to support it, and our ship will bring you glory!” I examined its statistics, and it was a Support ship of some capability, and had some trade experience. They wanted two million some-odd units to hire, and I was good for it. So I transfered the money over, and the captain clapped his hands in delight. “You have chosen without regret!” Right after that, I got several more calls. I was evidently making something of a name for myself. The Infineon was a Capital Class vessel, S ranked, and they weren’t very common. Not to mention, commanded by a Traveler, so I found a number of recruits. Two Vy’keen Fighters, two Korvax Explorers, a Gek Trader and another Support vessel. I was beginning to feel like quite the little emperor.

Captain Grondo then sent me a message which I didn’t want to hear. “Interloper-commander! I have plotted a course to a nearby system which reports precious stuff, uranium and other things. We should go there while there are good deals to be made!” He wouldn’t listen to my attempts to put him in charge of all that, insisting I need to improve my prestige. And thinking about it, it may well be a good idea to work on that. A Traveler of some repute might have advantages dealing with reluctant scholars, among others.

As I settled into the ship bay, a Fighter landed next to me, and it was a sharp looking craft. A Shuttle landed behind him. The pilots got out and came up to me, wanting to deal. This day was becoming quite the dealmaker. It hadn’t occurred to me to think of another Fighter, Shuttle or whatever, but I had the funds. Looking them over, the Fighter in particular was rakish and capable, and S Class, with room for improvement beyond what Nerimaba offered. Thirty million credits later, I had two new craft. The pilots entertained themselves in the lounge while they awaited a ride, and I had the Vy’keen chief tech help me transfer over my upgrades to the new Fighter, which I re-christened Scimitar.

I had a feeling that if I told the captain I would jump over to the next system myself, he wouldn’t have it, so I went to the console and set course - I am the Commander, after all - and after the colorful light show of hyper-tunneling to the next system, we emerged with the blast of space being ruptured. It’s always an amazing sight when ships jump in with the blaze of light, and a schockwave carried by even the vacuous stellar wind.

But there was another shock as alarms began to sound with a loud claxon and flashing red lights. Captain Grondo bellowed, “Pirates attacking a cargo fleet! To defense stations!”

I had the best defense station of them all, and wanted to see what the Scimitar had over Nerimaba. The crew watched as I dashed to the landing bay and hopped into the new Fighter, doing a quick launch. I wasn’t sure what I was heading into, but something always drives me to defend others. I quickly familiarized myself with the new control scheme while I boosted towards the obvious site of the battle. A group of Freighters in the distance was being hounded by enemy ships, streaks of energy beams gleaming over the faintly colored nebula beyond. Their targets ended up being a rather motley bunch of craft, Fighters of various kinds mixed with a few Shuttles, but evidently heavily armored as the other Fighters chasing them seemed to be having a tough time of it. Red pippers marked the bad guys for me, and when I was in effective combat range, a lock indicator seized on the closest one. Seeing a new opponent, the pirate fired on me, but the shields held against the few shots that landed. I returned fire, doing my best to angle away from the friendlies, and was gratified to see the hooligan’s craft erupt in flames and explode. The wrecks of dead fighters littered the nearby space, so I had no sympathy for these miscreants.

Evidently one of them caught this quick dispatch of one of their fellows, which earned me the attention of three others, who set on me. They quickly caught on that I wouldn’t fire with friendly vessels behind them, and set up their patterns accordingly. But they also couldn’t fly too close or the ship’s turrets would catch them, so I managed to get behind one and dispatched him in short order. But this left me open to the other two who fired on me good, and I watched the shielding gauge nervously, but thank God they were high order materials, and self healing. The Scimitar shrugged them off well and I pulled an immelman to get behind one, which tried to shake me off but I led him slightly, guided by an advanced combat computer, and fired through the center of his ship, chewing it in half.

His friend didn’t like that at all and evidently called for help from his comrades, because after I did him in it seemed like I was the center of attention. Fortunately, the other Fighters were enough of a nuisance that I wasn’t completely at their mercy, and a few that I had weakened fell to the defenders. I could hear radio chatter from the friendly ships amazed at the combat prowess of this unknown interloper. I tagged a friendly with a few shots, which earned me an angry call, and a green arrow showed over his craft. Wonderful.

But now I had a real fight on my hands. Behind me, I could hear metal sizzling, and a red glow lit up my cockpit as the leader gave me a good raking with Phase Beams. My shields were being burned away at an alarming rate. I made a desperate maneuver, nearly running into a friendly, as I fought to get him off my tail, but he was a pilot of high marks, and he switched back to Photon Cannons while his Phaser cooled. I had one trick left up my sleeve, and put the engines in full reverse, which had my head snapping forward and my eyes bugging out. If this worked, I would have to recover quickly. I was counting on him having enough sense to swerve around me, and he was an experienced dogfighter and missed me handily, but now I had the advantage as he zoomed past. Still, he didn’t give me many clean shots, making sure to place himself between me and the Freighters, and then to my chagrin, flew in close over the hull of the vessel, away from their turrets. This wasn’t going to be easy.

I did have one card left to play, and switched to missiles. They weren’t very strong, but their accuracy was near perfect. I launched a few salvos, and they caught him in the engines. He had enough and pulled up sharply to head to empty space. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the others following suit as their quick pillaging run had gone badly. But I wasn’t about to let him get away to pirate another day, and boosted after him. He was already trailing smoke and couldn’t push his ship too hard, so he was easy prey. I almost felt sorry for him, almost, as those fallen ships testified of their ruthlessness, and blasted him to oblivion. None of them bailed out, which made me wonder just what sort of people these Pirates were. I had a feeling that P should be capitalized.

My headphones rang with jubilant Vy’keen cries at their salvation by this unknown savior, and as I idled down, heading back towards the fleets huddled around the Space Station, I got a call from one of the captains. “Interloper! You show no signs of weakness. Such fighting spirit is worthy of a Vy’keen! Come aboard my ship. I want to reward you.”

I signaled my assent, but then swallowed nervously as a Fighter formed up alongside me, with a green arrow over his ship. Oh great, the one I inadvertently shot, and he was looking at me intently from his cockpit. But a few tense moments later, he waggled his wings and I breathed easier, briefly, as we were both headed for the Freighter. No doubt, I was in store for a talking to. And sure enough as we touched down in the landing bay, he tromped up, removing his helmet. “Interloper! You shot my ship! Be more watchful when you enter a fight which is not yours!”

Something told me that I was evidently a fighter pilot in some previous instance, perhaps even in the American Space Force, and I knew a thing or two about combat. “When a fighter is on a hunt, you KNOW what his focus is! YOU need to be more careful than to wander into the attack!”

He scowled at me for a moment, but with a hard punch to the chest he burst out laughing. “Well spoken! An interloper with the heart of a Vy’keen! I will remember you and make your name known across the stars!” Nigel the Fearsome, or something… it had a ring to it.

I proceeded to the bridge, and to my surprise the captain offered me his Freighter. I knew it was a good ship but he wanted a trade, and the Infineon was too great a vessel to ever let go of. I waved him off as politely as I understood Vy’keen etiquette to be. “It was a small deed. There is no need to be that generous.”

He laughed with what seemed mixed emotion. Maybe I had the reputation of an adventurer who managed to find himself in the midst of some good troubles. “Then take this as reward. Those clods were letting those Pirates have their way with us!” He authorized the transfer of 450 units of Chromatic metal, which was a nice prize.

I was curious about them, and asked what he could tell me about these Pirates. “Ohh… that nuisance! They prey on us sometimes, and cause a few deaths. The Sentinels try to kill us if we step on a flower, but when real evil is happening, they do nothing! Hirk was right in wanting to destroy them, even if it cost us to a handful of people left standing. In this Reset, they seem to be a bit more trouble. What a strange Dream to wake up to.”

Dream… that word bothered me, because it indicated a world which wasn’t real. I asked, “Why do your people refer to this world… as a Dream?”

He blinked at me, clearly surprised at the question, but gave me an answer that sounded politically disposable. “Oh… that is just what we call it. Whether Hirk started that tradition, or the Ancients before us, we do not know. We know the difference. It is just a word.” I had a funny feeling though that it wasn’t.

I had things to do, and thanked him before departing. “Keep up this Walk, Interloper-Traveler! You will carve a bright mark against the stars worthy of Hirk!” That, I knew, was some high praise. I was learning that I was making quite a name for myself, Nigel, the undaunted Truth Hunter.

I received a few more offers from Frigates as I emerged from the ship’s bay, and collected a couple more Fighters, Explorers, Traders, Industrials and a Support. This reputation thing was beginning to pay dividends, but it was also increasing the cost side of the budget, so I would have to take this position of mine more seriously. I’m sure the Gek would be apalled at the careless disregard of my little empire, and the captain seemed likewise inclined. I also noticed that my ship had been queried, and the identity of the inquirer was an ominous question mark.

I would have to think about that later, as I had a task set ahead of me, so down to the surface of a promising planet I flew. It was an M Class star system, a red star, and those worlds tended to be rather inhospitable. This one was, Gruvos-Mrnul, a radioactive world I intended to spend as little time on as possible. My shielding was superb, but I knew it wasn’t perfect, and wanted as little radiation damage as possible. Still, there were a lot of minerals to collect. There was also some morbidly twisted flora which netted me some nice units when scanned, and some strange creatures, all of which looked ghastly from enduring such a miserable environment. One in particular worried me; a small crab or spider-like critter that scurried up to unsuspecting prey and bit them. The hapless victims tried to run off, but quickly succumbed to what must be a venom. What on Earth kind of poisons could be festering in such a creature on a rad world like this? The scan was a bit disturbing.

Name: Scorpiadis
Gender: indeterminate
Weight / size: 29kg / 62cm
Behavior: ruthless stalker
Diet: blood and flesh of prey
Venom: radioactive, highly toxic

Lovely.

I was mining an iridium outcropping when I felt a sharp jab on my leg, and jumped when I saw one of those little monsters chittering angrily at being denied an easy kill. My suit had defended me, but this was a startling surprise and out of pure reflex, scorched the little freak with my Mining Laser. I had to leave because a nearby Sentinel sounded like it disapproved, and jetboosted to the other side of a hill. Fortunately I got a good bit of uranium, gold, indium - I had mistaken it for iridium, yet another vestige of a previous world, no doubt, and a few other finds. Some intriguing items popped up on my scanner, but I had to abandon them. This world gave me the willies, and some kind of an annoying rad storm was brewing that was raising the radiation levels alarmingly. The captain mocked my early departure. “Some radiation? A scary bug? Maybe I should have the cook make cookies for you, Interloper! Maybe we should do this work for you, if small troubles frighten you!” He liked the cargo I had, though.

I flew to the station for a decontamination and a check on prices in the region, when I caught sight of another Traveler. He was a robot, and having some sort of discussion with a Vy’keen, so I waited for an opening. As usual he was glad to meet me, and as usual, it resulted in a weird exchange, though this one was the strangest yet.

“Ah, fellow Traveler! Have you been figuring things out?” I was more curious to hear his side of that story, and inquired. “Don’t you understand it? Why we cannot meet, why we find only hollow shells or corpses? There is only one of us for each Iteration - a single Traveler, sent out to explore its vast Creation. That we are speaking at all, that the boundaries have only crumbled as much as they have - it should fill you with terror, not with hope.”

This was a mind-boggling encounter, and he had thrown an awful lot at me in just a few sentences. I tried to grapple with some sort of priority, and asked him about these boundaries first. He replied, “The Boundaries are all that separate Concept from Concept, Instance from Instance, possible world from possible world… the Sentinels ever policing their anomalies and breaches. If the Boundaries were to fall, everything would collapse into everything, an endless bonfire of causation, burning in the Abyss.”

That was indeed terrifying, and the two Vy’keen standing nearby edged away, not wanting to hear any more of this, but unable to completely leave it. Was this what caused the Resets? I asked what he knew of this, and how. “Isn’t it self-evident? The universes, the Instances, are all in an unstable state, in constant flux to one degree or other. The evidence? The Sharded planets, with their corrupted, contrary physics where sometimes even gravity misbehaves. The merged worlds, where two planets are joined sphere to sphere, where only one should own that orbit. The Resets which afflict us all periodically to various degrees. The very nature of we Travelers, meeting but never truly able to meet, or bond in love.”

While that bothered me, that was the least of my troubles. I refused to believe that there was only one Traveler per Instance, and was rescued from this dilemma with a memory that Travelers had journeyed together, built bases together, made discoveries and achieved things together. Still, that was a thin comfort, because it could have merely been a juxtaposition of unknown factors, as my first Traveler had mentioned. It made me lonely, and I didn’t want to deal with that just then. The problem of a universe in a perpetual state of decay was truly disturbing, but then, what was the solution to that? Was ATLAS the only answer, a fickle computer with its own computational agenda with no consideration of the countless beings who needed a stable universe to live in? And there was the question of what he said, something about being sent out to explore its Creation. “Well… are we creations of ATLAS? If so, why does it want us to explore its creation? I don’t see the point, if it made the whole mess of Instances, and populates the universes with Sentinels which are constantly scanning every damn thing.”

He chuckled ruefully. “That is the question, is it not. There is something within us that drives us to pursue this quest for knowledge, to explore, to experience. It is relentless. But we have no real origin. You don’t recall any family or upbringing, do you?” That was another troubling question. Though I did, it was something that seemed to belong to another universe entirely. I didn’t know how to answer. “See? I awoke on a world which I did not fly to, besides a wrecked ship which was mine but with no memory of owning it. I suspect you had the same experience.” The look on my face said it all. “It is the Awakening shared by all Travelers. There is some unique Cause which is our Source. The Ancients, if they are the Fourth Race, or actually the First… I cannot ascribe this kind of power to them, as they are gone. Or at least beyond our reach. The other Three, they are merely bystanders in this story… this Dream, as the Vy’keen put it. They may well be right in that, but it is hard to say. Research of that level is beyond my capability.”

My mind was burning with questions, and I had little time to get to them. I had to know more, so much more, and demanded, “How do you know all this? I need the resources you have access to.”

Somehow, I could see a smug look on his face. “I have no single source for you. You must ask of all you meet of all Three Races, and you must build up your reputation among them. You will gradually accumulate all kinds of information. Some of it won’t make sense, some of it is fecium. But the more data you gather, the clearer the Truth will become to you.” He leaned closer, and added guardedly, “I will say that while all Three Races have a bias, the truest knowledge will be found with the Korvax, particularly the priesthood.” What was with all the conspiracy with these people? Was this kind of knowledge a closely held secret? Then again, the Korvax were definitely that way. He went on, “You must accept their missions, their challenges, and you will garner standing with them. Higher standing will naturally result in more openness and acceptance, and they will more readily share their wisdom.”

“Yes, a couple of them have spoken to me about staying on the Walk,” I informed him.

This impressed him. “If they have mentioned The Walk, then you must already have a reputation with them. Our Vy’keen friends are all buzzing about you, thanks to your latest rescue of their fleet, and they usually don’t gush so enthusiastically.” I looked to the two warriors a few paces off, and they nodded with a thumbs up. He noticed with a metallic smile. “In that case, you may not have to mess with their Mission Stations so much, though it is a good idea to take a mission once in a while to show you still covet their favor.”

I nodded, and tried to pat him on the shoulder in vain. It’s hard to keep that intangibility in mind when they seem so present. “Thank you very much. I truly appreciate this terrible conversation.”

He gave me a good natured laugh, though I didn’t see the humor in his reply. “Enjoy this universe while you can, before the Last Days befall us. Oh, and take this. It will do no good, but you will need it.” He played with his tablet, and a ping sounded in my suit. In my manifest appeared a new item: sanitized pheromone bottles. What the hell… and just what did he mean by that! But he was already departing, and had used the station’s Teleporter before I could get an answer from him. A nearby Gek chittered in some mirth. “Travelers. What a mystery they are. If you are baffled also, then you are a strange one indeed!”

Seriously. I was beginning to feel like the entire universe was punking me. I had to reach that sage!

I wasn’t very talkative when I came back aboard, and Captain Grondo didn’t know what to make of me. He knew that we Humans were a moody race, rather like Vy’keen were a grumpy race. We both let our emotions have a lot of control, but ours were all over the place, and he wasn’t sure how to handle a dour commander when I would be expected to be so upbeat after a successful run. And I wasn’t sure what the captain would make of a Freighter commander who wanted to galavant across the Euclid galaxy willy nilly in an unprofitable and unglorious search for Truth. After pestering me for a while in a way that seemed gentle for a Vy’keen, I decided to throw a dart in the dark with him. “Why do Vy’keen call this world a dream?”

It was such an off the wall question out of the blue, he wasn’t sure what to make of it, though it seemed he was beginning to read me. He looked uncomfortable. “Urrgh… I don’t care about such stuff.”

“I do,” I replied curtly. “It has to do with the Resets, doesn’t it?”

It wasn’t really a question. He seemed evasive again. “…Maybe.”

“Maybe? I think you know…” He looked displeased at my beginning affront, and I decided to try a Vy’keen angle instead. “You hate the Sentinels, don’t you?”

His eyes opened wide. “Hate? Hirk’s Blood!” He spat, and pounded the table with his fist. “With all my guts I hate them! They are a PLAGUE! Those damned Gek brought them back after Hirk drove them from the Outer Rim! We could have ALL owned this galaxy if not for those dumb frogs!”

“And the ATLAS?”

“Even WORSE!” he bellowed, and I heard similar cries out in the hall from the crew. “ATLAS is to blame for everything! The Sentinels are its ENSLAVERS! This universe is a dungeon because of it! And it won’t give us a good Dream that lasts!”

“I know.” I put my hand over his fist lightly. It was one of the ways that tended to get his attention, to be meek after one of his tirades. “I know… Lord how I know. I feel the same, sort of. I’m as worried as you are angry.”

“Worried?” He almost looked startled at my admission, as he knew I meant it for the universe and all its beings. “Why? Nothing can change it. This Dream is what it is. Just enjoy it while you can, because the Last Days may come.”

That term really worried me, because no one seemed to use it interchangeably with Reset. There just couldn’t be an end to Everything. I shook my head. “I can’t accept that. Anything can be changed, if you just know the way. I have to try.”

He studied me in silence for a moment, wondering about this being that stumbled into his life, who almost singlehandedly takes on hoards of Pirates and wins, but is afraid of bugs. He finally smirked at me. “Bah. You want to walk like a god, but even Hirk couldn’t. You are no Hirk.” He went to the door, lingering in the threshhold. “But… you have spirit, and determination, like Hirk in his youth. Show me that you can be Hirk in his strength, Interloper.”

I gave him a nod, to which he grunted and left. Hirk was an impossibly big legend. This was an impossibly big challenge. But if I failed, what would be the difference?

Challenge accepted.

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Entry 004: Life intrudes, mysteries deepen

Day 18

There were an annoying three days between me and the Korvax sage, though life in this universe is what it is, and I should be glad to experience anything of it. Living in the Last Days… who knows when it could end? And if this time, it might be The End?

More prospecting on inhospitable worlds. I soon learned that I needed to upgrade my sensors, as well as make sure the systems on all my vessels were up to date. On one dying world the Sentinels went berzerk, attacking me immediately. Killing them in self-defense didn’t matter to these robotic despots, and I soon found myself faced with an escalating force, culminating in a face-off with a Walker. I was alarmed to find that my A Class Multitool couldn’t dispatch it, though I recalled a previous Instance where one was felled without too much trouble. None of my weapons proved effective, and my Exosuit’s shields were being burned away to the point I could feel the sting of its attacks. I had to do something desperate or I would die here.

I made a mad dash to the Scimitar through a hail of fire from a hoard of the monstrosities, lifted off, and raked the entire valley with the ship’s Photon Cannons. Even with several runs that damned Walker held up, until I finally picked its armor away and blasted its internals. I could hear its death cry inside the Scimitar. I heard a ploink, and found that my ship had scavenged its brain, of all things. Another wave appeared, another Walker, but I was growing used to the erratic behavior of my ship at such low levels and this went faster, and netted me another Walker brain. Then I got a new system alert, and this was one I didn’t want to hear.

WARNING: SENTINEL CARRIER DISPATCHED
ARRIVAL IN 99.90 seconds

This would be no fun whatsoever, and I recalled dimly that I had to run from the last such debacle as that one was unwinnable. I shot into space and raced to the Infineon as the captain wondered what in the name of Hirk I had done. Alarms blared as the Sentinel Carrier appeared practically on top of the ship. I didn’t answer until after I punched in an emergency jump to the closest neighboring system. I related it all as best I could on the way, the damage to my suit bearing testament to the ordeal I survived. He grunted, “They call these abandoned worlds. Sometimes, the red freaks go mad. Whether from our wars with them or what, no one knows. They attack on sight. We need to upgrade our systems to detect this kind of thing.” I put that in the mental To Do list while I had my suit repaired.

I was annoyed to find that the station didn’t have the required tech for sale. The Gek merchant informed me, “You must seek high tech systems, high tech, and with good economy. You do not have this capability on anything?” That was the point, I grumbled, and he chittered at me. “You are a rookie Traveler, or your memories are poor.” He informed me after that slight, that there were sensors which could detect the data of star systems’ standings from vast distances through the Space Stations Network. He gave me the location a system with stocks of high tech upgrades, which was a fair distance away, and I made him happy with a thousand units. Gek always love money.

This was another point of contention I had with this odd civilization. “Units” were a measure of currency, storage space and velocity, all three. I don’t know it it was a translation issue and our common language was to blame or what, but this was another thing that vexed me. First System problems, I suppose.

Remembering what the Traveler had told me, I stopped by the Gek station representative and learned that I was in very good standing with them, the best, a Friend of the Gek. He gave me a gift of more than a hundred Nanites, for which I was quite grateful.

I got some tips from traders of good mining prospects on the way there, so I wouldn’t be making such a long unproductive trip. As I made to depart, I saw a great looking Fighter land, sturdy and mean. A quick scan showed the name to be Hirk’s Dagger, and an S Class ship. I didn’t recall seeing a ship of that class before, outside of my Freighter. It had the aura of a combat ship with every upgrade imaginable and of the highest caliber, along with full cargo and tech expansions, befitting the name.

Half the pilots I came across were up to making trades or sales, but this Vy’keen wasn’t one of them. He stroked the hull fondly. “No, my second wife and I will never part until we are both shot to pieces.” He carried himself like a veteran of many battles, so that likely wouldn’t happen any time soon. He explained that high tech systems sold the best upgrades, and the very best were usually found on Korvax worlds, which made sense as they studied everything. “We are second best, but we buy them up quickly. Gek have more, but those Nanite hungry frogs want too much.” That was something else I kept forgetting, that dealings for upgrades were always handled in this mysterious alt-currency, and I needed to scavenge a lot more of that. My memory gaps were so big and so many, I might as well be a rookie.

Returning to the Infineon, Captain Grondo introduced me to Ensign Navigator Atush, and I was informed why. “We now have enough Frigates to send on missions.” Fine, I said, see to it. The ensign waggled his finger at me. “Interloper-commander, there are two issues. You must make mission decisions, take responsibility for your crews yourself. And to manage them, you need to build Mission Stations. We have space for five, but we need more Frigates to justify five missions at once. You should build them now, or your ships will sit idle and the crews restless.”

And they would depart for fleets which would actually use them, at least the Vy’keen. I was learning quickly how things worked in this universe. So schematics in hand, I opened up the idle chambers and constructed five Mission Stations which I could use to check progress and debrief after mission completion. With my travel plans shared with the ensign, he set up a selection of five possible scenarios. Explore, trade, industrial… so this was why Freighters had a constellation of sister ships. I had enough vessels for two missions which sounded profitable, and off they went. I had a brief thought that Kyleen was likely a Mission Specialist, but I tried not to dwell on that. It made me lonely.

Captain Grondo was delighted to be on a mining run on course to this high tech system, and I netted a good twenty-eight million units between mineral and life scans. On garden worlds, I could make a quarter of my profits scanning flora and fauna. I once more found myself searching for substances which didn’t seem to exist anymore; nickel, titanium, aluminium, iridium and others. Instances… it was irritating having to think in terms of universes past versus present. Was there no end to this madness?

One other boon to the voyage was that in each stop, more Frigate captains messaged me, requesting to join my growing fleet. My reputation was spreading faster than I would have thought.

I happened upon some unique situations. More ruins, and another archaic book, among some other relics. This tome seemed particularly ancient, or at least the subjects were, touching on the very foundations of the Three Races from what I could make out of the delicate work. The value displayed in all nines with an asterisk: potentially invaluable. I could see why, and intended to hold on to this one.

I had another surprise to add to the list on planet Dabayl: a crashed Freighter. This was at once amazing and terrible, as I thought of all the lives lost in such a disaster. It seemed to have happened many decades ago, or that would be my guess in a universe without Resets. Landing nearby, as I expected the ship had been mostly picked clean. I still found a few items to make it worth the stop, bits of technology and scraps of equipment here and there. The bridge had been almost completely gutted, the ship’s systems scattered on the ground below its massive shell. But scanners revealed that the non-essential electronics were still mostly intact. Deploying a portable power unit, I fed it some current, and after isolating a few sections shorting out, I managed to get the ships logs to come up, or so I thought. It was in bad shape after sitting out in the elements, but I pieced together some of what the people on board had to say of the days before disaster befell it. I say “people,” because this was some diary entry, and likely not meant for others to read.

ERROR: YUSHU-ZAMA SHIP’S LOG CORRUPT
ALTERNATE DATA SOURCE LOCATED
DATA INTEGRITY, APPROXIMATELY 10%

These Korvax really are something, aren’t they? We tried !#$%^

What made it tick? What was the point? It just !@$$ stared at us.

We made a great deal of profit in the last port. We asked the Korvax what it wanted us to do with its share. It told us something I didn’t expect. It said !(&!(&!#(

The Korvax showed me a secret. To earn that level of trust is quite a boo&#@ There is not long to go, now. We must head for the centre. We must !((^@$(_

I feel like we’re being used by these beings. Korvax are thought to be incapable of deception, but after ((#^% I’m not certain of anything anymore. Something tells me to pull out at the next port, to simply disappear, but the lure, the promise of that kind of #$%^((

Or is it the Korvax I should worry about? The funding is undisclosed, and the Korvax aren’t the kind of people to engage in (!#( and the nature of what we're dealing with, the possibility of !((^#(

I didn’t know what to make of that right then, and those errors would have to crop up at the worst points. If only I could read the other ninety percent! I tried to recover more, but it only seemed to degrade further. I had to wonder, though, if I should share this with a Korvax…


A day later, we arrived in the Narubbayessue system. It was a Gek system so I was betting on having to wrangle the price on my upgrades, but I was treated fairly by the merchants there, for an interloper, and only paid slightly more than the trader prices for the tech available. They had S Class upgrades, which I wasn’t sure I would see. I couldn’t afford much, so I settled on a Plasma Grenade, two hyperdrive and a Photon Cannon upgrade. After seeing that Vy’keen with his rakish fighter, I wanted to get one like it because of the increasingly more difficult threats I was encountering. After loitering quite a while, I was disappointed to see only three average types land at the station, as the commercial-minded toads were more driven by profit than offensive prowess. If I wanted to see many new capable fighters, I’d have to search in Vy’keen systems.

I heard that the dangers only increased as we approached Galactic Center. This was yet another mystery. Why was this such a magnet for the young adventurers, and spoken of in such awe and dread? It had its own mythology, filled with all kinds of tales and rumors. The strangeness and dangers of the worlds grew worse the further in you journeyed. The Mad Traveler, as I had taken to calling him, was set on a trek to the Core. Looking at the charts of my travels, it seemed that I was too, which gave me pause. Some Thing was pulling me that way.

I met another Traveler, another one of those electrical beings with what looked to be a Gravitino Orb for a head, and I readied myself for an interesting time as I met him. I wasn’t disappointed.

“You. I’ve seen you before… met you. I’d swear it. Do you remember me?” A blank look was clear on my face, so he continued with another strange revelation. “You don’t, do you? Perhaps you’re not even the same as you once were. All of us, we’re shifting, bleeding into and out of worlds… but, perhaps a vestige is lodged in your memories.” He looked to me hopefully, but pensive.

I had to be honest, as there would no doubt be more questions I couldn’t answer. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I would enjoy knowing anything you can share about our past, though.”

He gave a melancholy chuckle, and more conundrums to vex me. “That’s alright… sometimes we have different names. Sometimes different faces. The ATLAS, it endlessly reconfigures, distilling everything that has ever been. But our past… it isn’t a happy one between us, I’m sorry to say. I’m afraid I let you down, abandoned you when you needed my help the most. I wasn’t ready for what Fate had thrown at us so harshly. But you… I was proud of you, and look at you now! You seem to have done alright for yourself in this Iteration, this Dream. Here, take this token of our past. It’s the least I can do for what you had to endure.” He offered me something and I reached to take it reflexively, forgetting that he wasn’t truly there. But something happened. A wave of dizziness swept over me, as if the whole universe tilted upside down. I had to catch myself, blinking and unsteady for a moment. He was looking at me with a mixture of curiosity and concern, and asked if I was alright.

I felt okay, but I had to wonder what just happened. “I get the feeling I was about to reach into your reality.” I looked around the area, but there was no sign of any boundaries to cross. What was going on? “Listen… I seem to be the only Traveler who doesn’t know a thing about the state this universe is in. What you said about ATLAS, about these Iterations, and Dreams… these Resets are maddening… memories are erased or half gone… what’s the Truth about all this? Tell me anything you can.” A Korvax wandered nearby, seeming to want to eavesdrop on the conversation.

He seemed to blink at me in surprise. “You don’t remember, after the discoveries you yourself made? Well… I don’t have much time, and that’s a strange concept in and of itself when it comes to this reality which torments us with its mysteries. I must admit that my information is spotty, and distilled from numerous sources and discussions. I’m afraid to taint anything further you might learn, because you have a knack for digging up nuggets of Truth no one else can.”

I gave him a rather heated glare, and leaned forward. “Don’t do this to me, Rucester. Being ignorant isn’t a good state to be in either!”

He edged away in reaction. “W-well… it’s not just that, but I’ve never been very good about collecting my thoughts at the moment, and this isn’t a small matter to discuss.” He gave a faint nod towards the Korvax, which baffled me, and reached for my arm to urge me off to the side. I could feel that sensation again and flinched away, but followed a pace off. He led me to some vacant seats with no one in the area. "I’m afraid that boiling things down won’t satisfy you, nor will what I have to admit, which is that almost everything we know is a guess or supposition. This is why I’m reluctant to talk about it.

“I will say that our Korvax friends are the best ones to learn the greatest truths about the nature of reality, but they’re also a problem. They’re a particularly close knit bunch, and essentially worship ATLAS as some kind of deity. As a result, they aren’t too inclined to reveal anything which to them is closely guarded dogma. The other two races know a thing or two themselves, but all they have learned isn’t much better than what we Travelers have accumulated, though they can surprise you. Unfortunately, warriors and merchants make poor sages, so if you can manage to befriend a Korvax, he would be your best bet for cracking through that ring of mystery.”

I was glad that I was on a trek to do that very thing, and informed him of it. His lower half-ring opened in a comical smile. “We were constantly amazed at what you were able to accomplish, Nathan.” I blinked at him in surprise, but he did say that a lot of things changed in these Resets. “I suppose I am holding you up from your mission, then. If there is any way to contact me, I hope you will relay any new information. Oh, and we Travelers intend to collect in a stable cluster one thousand light years out from the center to share our discoveries, on a Sentinel-abandoned world so we can build a new city center. A home for Travelers to meet, join, and hopefully settle down in families when we retire. Assuming this universe will allow us to retire.”

“That’s a great idea!” I wondered to myself why they hadn’t thought of it sooner, or if someone had. Another thing I had to find out. We really needed some central locations to meet up and share information, especially if there was some way to stop the Resets.

“Well, we both have things to do, especially you. Good hunting, and have good travels,” he said in the usual parting as he rose. I was thankful he didn’t offer his hand. Then I watched in astonishment as he turned, walked right through a black wall and disappeared. I jumped up and ran my ungloved hand over the surface, but flinched away as I felt a tingle of energy. I left for the security of the Infineon, having had enough of weird science that day.

I had way too much to think about, and I was just getting started. Instances, Dreams, universes in flux, Travelers which knew me as different people… it was enough to make a sound man question his sanity. I began this diary as a way to combat Reset amnesia, and it was becoming a handy resource to collect my thoughts. But it was as much blessing as curse, as very little of it made sense. The Big Picture was eluding me. I needed to get to that sage as soon as I could.

I began to mark a course to the next system and register it with Traffic Control when Captain Grondo stopped me, reminding me that we still had expeditions out in the wild. I had completely forgotten, and was a bit gruff with him. Just as I was getting schooled on the the way the universe worked, he was learning my quirks and asked, “What did you do now?”

Or ‘what happened?’ No doubt, we were both learning the intricacies of inter-species communication. But what did I tell him? I decided to be honest, as it would explain my mood. He grunded understandingly. “It happens… it always happens. You must be a new Traveler. With enough Resets, you get used to it.” But how in the world do you get used to the thought that you were once someone else?

I wanted to get going, and told him I’d transfer funds to the expeditions if they needed more fuel to catch up with us. Even though it wasn’t all that much, he was surprised at how casually I would spend money I didn’t have to, and his demeanor changed. I wondered what was up. “Interlope - commander… I wish to speak freely. We have served you well since you took command of this ship. Would it be acceptable to have some more money?”

So, the rich owner threw some cash around, and he wanted a raise! It hadn’t occurred to me to think of rewards, or even of payroll too much. I found that a lot of things were handled automatically, such as my account auto-linking to the Infineon’s financing. It was a good thing I was well off before this happened. If I’d taken command when I had just a few thousand units, or tried to, I’m sure Captain Grondo would have kicked me right back off his ship, assuming I would even be authorized. I told him I’d look into it. Fortunately, there were a lot of basic facts available on the interstellar networks, and I learned of the usual payment levels for ship crews. I knew better than to be too generous with this people, but I figured a ten percent raise would make them super happy. I made it retroactive, giving everyone a nice bonus to boot.

I made five jumps over the course of the next few days, and garnered more Frigates as I went. Playing the game of the rich young entrepreneur was the exact opposite of what I wanted to be doing, and it was getting on my nerves. I didn’t really need an income after striking it rich on the lubricant market, which was what that Mordite farming was all about, in some past Instance. However, my Vy’keen crew were heavily tradition driven beings, and trading was its own kind of warfare to them. It was expected of me to play this role, of conquering a small bit of the market, becoming richer to gain prestige and reputation, and so the crew could be a little more honorable and richer themselves. Like it or not, I had to treat my search for Truth as a hobby while I played the role this universe forced on me. But I also had enough sense to know that my little Side Project could require astronomical sums of money, and something in the back of my mind worried me that a number of people might also be relying on me at some point, such as if there was a disruption which caused at least a partial collapse of society. If these were indeed the Last Days, who could say what might happen? It amazed me that civilization picked right up after the Resets rather than collapsing, and this was another issue I would be mulling over along with everything else.

Environments on the worlds I went to were becoming increasingly weird. One desert world I came across, Ulotrascenie, had temperature swings between day and night that went from a blistering 135F to an almost arctic -100, and the wildlife there were particularly aggressive, likely to feed the metabolism necessary to survive such temperature extremes.

Another, Efnisachl Dolfb, looked to be a beautiful garden world. The coloration of the flora was a bit wild, with a lot of orange grasses and red-leafed trees. While there were a few predators, most of the fauna were nonchalant about the presence of a stranger digging through their world with an energy weapon. But as a storm threatened from the west, I found myself alone. The animals all ran for caves… from a change in the weather? That worried me. Double checking, the planet was listed on its database as usually mild, but I found out that there was a significant caveat the chroniclers forgot to mention as the storm hit like a squall, and then my suit warned me as the temperature shot up drastically.

It was my first encounter with a blistering storm. I jet-boosted for where I remembered a cave opening, though it was hard to see twenty feet in front of me. I found it as one level of heat protection drained, and I dashed inside, my Boltcaster at the ready in case a predator took issue with my intrusion. But as with many cases of natural disaster, there was an uneasy truce between predator and prey while they huddled in the darkness, waiting for the world to become sane again. When my systems alerted me to the storm breaking, I hightailed it outside rather than wait to see if that truce held. No doubt, Captain Grondo would give me a little ribbing for running from a mere shower. He did.

I also came across another abandoned Outpost. These buildings were wrecks, and almost seemed cursed, overrun with some kinds of disturbing fleshy growths. Some even harbored those tentacle organisms hanging from ceilings which attacked if you happened to wander underneath. Their terminals seemed to hold mostly unified messages detailing the journey of someone who sounded like a Traveler, though it was a dark voyage with unsettling themes. Clues leading him to the center of the galaxy gradually became an obsession, driving them to make risky choices that almost sounded like a man possessed by some demon. The worlds they came across were increasingly dark, twisted, and began to sound so outlandish as to be documented by a mind unhinged. They also spoke of data encoded into files they came across, which made me suspect my own hoard of information.

Each Outpost is slightly different, but all bear the same weird infestation, as if some corruption of nature infected it, as if to take the whole structure as a host body. Mounds and masses of weird, dripping, sputtering flesh, joined by tendrils were all over the insides. Some systems still fought to work, and as usual, I managed to scavenge a few Nanites. I went to the terminal, gripped in some monstrous claws possessively like many others. I always get a chill of fear when dealing with these things. I used a rod to clean away some goop, and with a bit of prodding, the case snapped open with a disgusting rasp. I never cared for that starting message which appeared every time, hoping it had no meaning.

Returning user identified
Entity logged in
Terminal now active
Unlocking data log for continued analysis

"When there is no explanation for a phenomena, it is a natural progress for intelligent beings to fill in the missing gaps of their experience. On some worlds, the Sentinels are still worshipped as avatars of an all-seeing deity. Drones are considered sacred, sent by an unseen God to ensure that they live in enforced harmony with the environment around them. There is a disturbing commonality to many elements of their theologies; a recurring visual symbol of a crimson sphere and the promise of an end time soon to unfold.

"I know it is true, because I saw it.

"I glimpsed the Crimson Orb between the clouds. A vast and baleful eye, unblinking and monstrous. Fear turned the blood in my veins to ice. I was so afraid it would see me, but then the clouds moved and it was gone. I was no longer certain if it had ever been real.

"Perhaps the fungal deposits from the last world I visited are still clogging my Exosuit vents. Affecting my cognition somehow. I have cleaned my filters six times now. Yet I still feel it inside me.

"But that cannot be the cause. This cannot be a mere affliction, a common symptom of some alien infestation. In my travels, I have heard too many whispers of similar sights. Of travelers, and Travellers, who spoke in hushed tones of ruined worlds caught in shears between realities. Of a world made of glass which is not silicon, sharper than any razor, which will drink your life away. Of a world with green skies, and an ebony moon, and That Crimson Orb, ever watchful, all seeing, disecting us to the terrible depths of our being. Of an ENTITY which can make any person, any world… any universe cease to exist without trace or memory. God, or Devil… who can say?

"I wish that I had never been foolish enough to pursue these outlandish rumors, to learn such horrible things. And yet, I am unable to tear myself away from this journey. Something compels me. An inner Voice which has seduced me. I cannot resist The Call.

“If YOU are reading this, I am afraid I may have cursed you with the same Doom. Turn away. Read no more of my chronicles. Do not follow. Pursue happy dreams. If you can.”

The message completed and the terminal snapped shut on me, and I was glad to be done with it. In an uncanny way, he seemed to be speaking directly to me.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this Dark Chronicle, or the one making it, but I knew that to ignore them would be a grave mistake. One way or another, I knew I was on the same journey. But as I reached the ruined doorway, I heard another queasy shnik behind me. I looked back to see the terminal open again. I thought that maybe the thing was malfunctioning, replaying the same entry, but I knew better than to presume that. When I saw the message, my whole body clenched.

// YOU WILL FIND US, WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT //

// 16 16 16 16 16 16 16 //


I decided to wrap up here. My discoveries were beginning to disturb me, and all after just eighteen days of this new life. But I had to read back over this stuff, see if it might jog a memory, or have a flash of inspiration to make sense of this mad mess. Besides, one more jump, and I would arrive at my destination. What on Earth was this going to mean for me, and the universe? For better or worse, I knew I would eventually find out.

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Entry 005: Destination reached, journey just begun

Day 19

I’m not sure I was more nervous in my life.

It’s silly, really. Why be worried about the Truth? The unknown was filling my mind with all sorts of paranoia. But what if the truth was bad news? What if there was no Truth? But in a universe this weird - a multiverse, built on such strange principles - there had to be Something to Know.

I brushed up on what I had come across in the past two weeks, and it was a perplexing mess. It was a lot like a dream, a wild, strange, mess of a dream which would be exciting, if it was a dream. Condensing my diary to a list of bullet points, it seemed like a random hodge podge of conflicting nonsense. And outside of inquiring about ATLAS, the rest had all sorts of vectors. How was I going to present myself to this well regarded scholar without sounding like a blithering idiot?

In any case, I had arrived at the Nistov system, on the second world, Etsiop Rade. It was a verdant world with a lush, vibrant ecosystem, and perplexingly, blistering storms. What in the world was up with the weather in this galaxy? I flew unneringly to the location of a little outpost, thanks to the memories of the Korvax priest, settling down in an open area nearby. It was uncanny how familiar it all was. I wondered if there were other ways memories could be shared, other times they had, other reasons. What they were.

I went to the door and pressed the visitor indicator, and waited. And waited. It seemed to take forever, though most likely it was only a short while before an electronic welcome came over a speaker. “Greetings. Please state your business, traveler.” I had a feeling that was meant lower case.

I declared, trying to keep the butterflies from my voice, “I am Traveler Nigel Fox. Priest-entity Polemi sent me to you.”

There was a pause. “Yes.” Another pause. “I see.” An even longer pause, and it made me nervous, as Korvax were usually quite punctual. I hoped he was merely sifting through echoes of memories gleaned from the Convergence. And perhaps he was, as the door opened at last with a more succinct, “Welcome to my residence.”

I entered with the feeling he hadn’t been tidying up from a late night party. I stifled a chuckle at what rousing events those must be, like open topic night at a university. But the university professor impression remained true, as the place was spartain, spotless, functional but comfortable, decorated with the sorts of things one would expect to find at a scholar’s abode. There were a number of intriguing artifacts; skeletons of small animals on plaques, ancient looking weapons, as well as cabinets with all manner of oddities. While this universe didn’t have books lying around, in this place there was quite a library of musty old tomes in a number of shelves. He stood there, waiting patiently for my eyes to stop wandering like an awestruck schoolboy. And he was the least interesting element of the place, looking like the average Korvax I had seen thousands of times in my travels, though I could sense something more under the skin.

We shared slight bows, as handshaking was reserved for more familiar acquaintances, and he said, “I am Priest-entity Asrial. I understand you have questions. I will do my best to answer them.”

“Boy, do I,” I remarked as I took an offered seat in front of an uncluttered desk off to the side.

After taking his own seat, he asked inquisitionally, “Can you provide with some specifics?”

He would put it like that, and I prayed he was patient with organics. “I hope you can indulge me, because I want to know as much as I can about this universe… its nature… the Resets and the reasons they happen…” I was beginning to feel foolish already, and held my hands up in a hopeful gesture. “I have a feeling that what I’m asking, basically, is to be your student. I want to know everything there is to know.”

He seemed to blink at me. “Asking this entity to condense the historical and scientific knowledge of this universe into concise statements is, as your kind puts it, a tall order. Does this inquiry have anything to do with Reset Anmesia?”

So, that was a thing, was it? “Well… that may tie into it, but not for me. I want to know why Resets happen in the first place. What the nature of this reality is. I mean… there are elements and substances I remember clearly that to my knowledge don’t exist anymore. The base I had spent a lot of time and effort to build is gone. This universe is different from what I remember, and I don’t think any of my memories are false.”

He sat there in silence for a time, seeming to play chess with potential threads of discussion. “You are correct in that what you require is a scholarship. You surely understand that what you ask is to absorb the collective knowledge of a multitude of scholars and philosophers gleaned from millennia of studies over innumerable lifetimes, and this cannot be accomplished in a single sitting.” He went on quickly, seeing my expression, “But I sense that you have an inquisitive mind which will not be satisfied, which is commendable. I have not seen this level of curiosity in an organic lifelorm in many cycles. But before we begin, I ask for an indulgence, if you may. I have need of a few sanitized pheromone bottles. Do you have some you are willing to spare, or are able to acquire some easily?”

I blinked in surprise as the words of the Traveler struck me like a slap. These will do you no good, but perhaps you will need them. I produced them, murmuring a bit weakly in my amazement, “As a matter of fact, I do…”

He wasn’t sure what to make of my tone of voice, saying, “If this is a bother for you, I can compensate—”

I waved him off. “No no, it’s nothing like that. It’s just… quite a coincidence.”

“Oh. Well, this is a much appreciated coincidence. I often deal with Gek merchants, and trinkets like these are good for smoothing over first greetings.” He put them away, saying to me, “Now, to your visit. Perhaps we could begin with questions you wish answered the most.”

I knew this would be a touchy subject, but I thought it would be good to start at the crux and work from there. “Does ATLAS control the universe, down to its foundations?”

He looked to be taking a breath. “Well… you do not waste time, do you? As far as we understand such a matter, yes.”

I waited a moment, but apparently I was going to have to pursue this more diligently. “Do you have any further knowledge on that, or speculation you would be willing to share?”

He gazed at me in a way which I couldn’t quite read. “I believe we should have a more complete relationship before I divulge matters which are fundamental to the Korvax and our beliefs. Perhaps you could inquire of subjects… less fundamental.”

Well, that was worth a shot. So, moving down the list… “Is the multiverse based on quantum principles of energy, matter, space time… or code? Some combination…?” I hoped I wasn’t sounding too naive.

He cocked his head at me curiously. “What a question. This is one hypothesis which some of us have been pursuing, the concept of a simulated universe. But this is a matter fraught with ontological uncertainties. How does one discern the difference between positive / negative energy states and computer code with any assurance? And how can we study beyond the bounds of this reality to the Higher Realm where the computer containing any such simulation would exist? To date, we can only scan with uncertainty across parallel dimensions, or Instances, which would lie within the same simulation. The only hope of sensing into any such Hyper Reality we are aware of is on the cusp of the singularity of black holes. But the dimensional folds around the singularity, the Manifold, are perilously close to the singularity itself, and the Information Loss Paradox remains elusive. We simply do not know of any way to determine with any certainty such a proposition to be true or false. So, as to the universe as simulation, even a video game… we can only speculate.”

Fortunately, I was educated enough to know most of the terms he was using, but the thought of living in a simulation was unsettling. Simulated… for what reasons? And that was a weird thought: a video game? What sort of beings would be ‘playing,’ and what would the point of this Game of Life be? But I couldn’t waste time speculating myself, especially with only notions to drive me. The clock was ticking. “Do you know why Resets happen?”

It was sometimes like pulling teeth, trying to dig information from this sage. I’m not sure why he was reluctant to divulge very much to an organic, whether this had anything to do with the Gek destroying their homeworld and enslaving them, and the Vy’keen being reluctant to aid them; I mean, why would that be an issue to a half-electronic people, right? I didn’t know, or if it was because of some form of elitist racism for them. Perhaps as a Traveler told me, it was a part of their doctrine which wasn’t up for discussion. But as he seemed to grow comfortable with me, I managed to crack open the door a bit to their treasure trove of wisdom.

As far as they could determine, the universe, in fact the multiverse, was in an unstable condition. Why, was still a mystery. Such instability could mean nothing for epocs, or it could mean a Reset in only a few years. Dimensional boundary erosions, where things like Travelers interacted like holograms, were a sign of these. Resets seemed to be a way for ATLAS to maintain order and dimensional integrity, that and the Sentinels, which essentially forbade much development of any kind. As a result, civilization ground to a halt, and those thriving cultures and expansive cities in the galaxy had disappeared long ago. For many, consensus was that these were the legendary Ancients, a cosmopolitan group of races which existed, after countless conflicts and wars, in a sort of harmony. Whether they were responsible for the creation of ATLAS, or some other civilization, he was unwilling to speculate, or divulge. But rare finds hinted at a very advanced, powerful group of beings. I wondered to myself if Resets were also a way to keep people confused and more easily controlled, though I wouldn’t dare say such a thing, yet.

The Three Races which still exist are mostly a result of the Gek First Spawn, which overran almost the entire Euclid galaxy and erradicated numerous cultures, though the unenlightened Vy’keen of the past had a hand in some of that as well. Indications were that one of the early Korvax leaders, Aon, sued for peace with the Vy’keen, exchanging knowledge for peaceful coexistence. The Gek were clearly not so inclined. While enslaved by the warlike First Spawn and their homeworld destroyed, the Korvax taught those Gek willing to listen about ATLAS, and its shepherding of the multiverse through countless Resets. It took much time and patience, but ultimately their counsel took root, and there was a revolt against the ancient order of the First. The Gek became fairly peaceful merchants, and while a bit miserly, are fuelling much of Euclid’s economy. He steered away from troublesome subjects, and in particular, why there were Korvax criminals and pirates. I acquiesced, not wanting to get into many controversial discussions so soon.

The references to reality being a Dream are one of the Korvax’s curiosities. Whether from one of the sayings of Hirk, the grumblings of the Gek figure Sarsin, or the speculations of Aon, no one was quite certain, though it has given rise to sayings such as “Life is but a Dream.” That tugged at another ancient memory of mine that refused to fully surface.

The Travelers were a confounding enigma. No one knew of their origins, why they were regarded with such awe, or why they seemed to re-exist after death. That was a startling revelation, and hearkened back to that encounter with the Traveler speaking of them changing, bleeding into other universes, however he put it. Could we be surviving Ancients? They were of many races which seemed to have long vanished from the galaxy, perhaps the universe. Could we be projections of the Ancients into the future? Possibly, but for what reason? And why were we driven to explore, ever explore, seemingly for its own sake? The speculation of our kind, even put as delicately as could be for a Korvax, left me feeling like the subject of an experiment. The thought of being the last Human had me in quite a lonely mood. It seemed we were the ultimate endangered species.

I was so wrapped up in our discussion, hours passed without my notice, until finally a storm nudged me back to reality. My suit notified me of another scalding storm, and I dimly recalled having a few such notices I did my best to ignore. I pointed to a window clattering from the deluge and said, “And that. I want to know why the weather is such a hazardous mess now. The environments of most planets couldn’t withstand years of that, never mind thousands.”

He spread his hands resignedly. “You are astute. This is another mystery of the current Iteration. The possibility exists that these are a consequence of universal forces disturbed by the latest Reset, and will subside with time. If not… the environments will manage to adjust.”

Even with his typical monotone Korvax demeanor, he didn’t seem very confident of that. What would it mean to the ecosystems of the worlds in this universe if it was true everywhere? If things grew worse further into the galaxy, would there be many good environments left? And would it cause yet another Reset, and so soon? Those were chilling thoughts I tried unsuccessfully to dismiss. Fortunately, Asrial gave me an avenue of distraction. “Traveler Fox, if you would be so kind, I would like to seize the discussion, and ask if you would answer some of my own questions. Surely you have come across information of your own in your travels. And pardon me while I recharge. It is entirely possible I will require full capacity, depending on what you have to share.” Understandably, this was like having supper in front of me without offering a meal in kind. And the lights on his being did seem slightly dimmer.

I hoped he would appreciate my attempts at candor, because I couldn’t possibly match his clinical dissertations. I basically told him, at length, of my existence after my own re-Awakening. While wordier and based on emotion almost as much as experience, he didn’t ask all that many questions, which was encouraging. I was afraid I would seem like an adolescent compared to such a scholar. And then came some of the more delicate subjects, which I still hadn’t decided how far to go. “I came across this, on a Space Station on the way here.” I held up my tablet. He reached for it, but I diplomatically drew back, and he relented. But this entry, I gave him the whole of it. I had recorded all of the Traveler’s conversation with me, after the first one startled me so much.

“Don’t you understand it? Why we cannot meet, why we find only hollow shells or corpses? There is only one of us for each Iteration - a single Traveler, sent out to explore its vast Creation. That we are speaking at all, that the boundaries have only crumbled as much as they have - it should fill you with terror, not with hope.”

At the end of our exchange, the sage tapped his fingers on the desk pensively. “I cannot see how this can be true. There are countless Travelers. They are all manner of races, species, a multitude of differences. There could not be that many boundary breaches simultaneously. This one was a robot. Could he not see you clearly?”

I gave him a shrug. “He sure seemed to.”

He nodded, deep in thought for a moment. “A discrepancy… I must consult deeply with my knowledge base. Do you have more such events to share?”

I put my tablet away, wondering just what to tell him. “I might, in time. It depends on how things go between us. Some things… I’m not sure what you’d make of them. I’m not sure myself. And you haven’t been entirely forthcoming with me, either.”

He nodded again resignedly. “That is true. But let me ask, have you come across any artifacts? Any ancient books? Documents, data files?”

I had almost forgotten my discoveries, and produced the ancient book I had come across. He was practically ecstatic for a Korvax, and took it from me with avarice, leafing through the delicate pages for a few moments. “This is marvelous. If my cursory reading is any indication, this may, with a certain amount of verification for discrepancy, add valuably to our understanding of the foundations of the Current Age. Or dare I say, the years leading up to its founding.” He spoke it with such emphasis, it must be quite significant. “You must bring back any such ancient documents you discover. This information is truly invaluable.”

I felt a twinge of guilt at that, admitting, “I, uhhm… sold a similar book on the open marketplace at a Coloss - Celestial Archive.”

This was the closest I’ve seen to a Korvax looking appalled. “That… is unfortunate. How long ago was the sale? On which world?”

Trying to remember names of anything was a lost cause, so I consulted my tablet, looking through the recent transactions, and did my best to remember the proper pronunciation. “Rigangkanqa-Nemi. I got over eight hundred-thousand for it. If it sold to a collector already, maybe they would part with it for a good profit.”

He didn’t seem too hopeful. “But… that could be well over one million—”

“Listen, I wanted to hire you anyway. Without libraries around, just these Colossal Archives with snatches of old lore which are a pain to find, I need the services of a good scholar. I figure if you’re recommended by a priest, you must be a good one. How about… fifty million?”

It was rather charming, seeing this Korvax become flabbergasted. “W-well… if you can afford… but, of course you can. I have been ignoring just who it is I am addressing. If you say you can afford that much, then it is true. I do not mean to put this in business terms, but I believe this relationship can be of mutual benefit. My traveling days are finished, so knowing a Traveler is a boon for me. I can provide you with… I believe you call them tips, to locations of historical and scientific significance. We both avidly seek knowledge and truth. You have the advantage of firsthand discovery of answers to your questions. I can partake secondhand in them, and share your discoveries in turn with the universe. Does this sound acceptable?”

I gave him a smile, and held my hand out. “Very acceptable. Put 'er there, friend.”

“Friend?” He gazed at my offered hand for a moment, but his demeanor became quite welcoming, and he shook my hand with some warmth. “Yes, I accept the term. Friend.”

I hoped I wasn’t being too forward with him, putting him on the spot, and murmured, “Well… you are aware of all my dealings with your people, right?”

He nodded. “Yes, indeed, from many years ago. But one must be certain. Just a word of advice, but over the course of Resets, people can change, particularly organics. One can stray from The Walk.”

Perhaps you’re not even the same as you once were. All of us, we’re shifting, bleeding into and out of worlds

The words of the Traveler came back to haunt me at Asrial’s declaration. I wanted to know the truth of that, I really did, but… not now, not yet. Maybe not for a good long yet. I was adamant that The Walk begun by Nathan would be completed by Nigel, or die trying. As much as an oath to myself, I said, “Not this Traveler.”

Asrial’s lights took on a warm golden glow. “It pleases me to hear words of such determination. And let me say that this has been a truly fascinating discussion. I have met very few organic beings, and a non-scholar, with such rapacious desire for knowledge. You are a unique person, Traveler-friend. And there is something I can do for you, as unless you are extremely fortunate, I doubt that you have accumulated much in the way of Nanites.” I watched with curiosity as he drew out a data tab from his desk, but rather than insert it into a tablet or computer, I was stunned as he drove it into his arm. After watching an indicator on it for a time, he drew it out, rubbing his sleeve a bit gingerly. “Here. Twenty thousand Nanites.”

I was incredulous at what this meant. “Nanites are… Korvax blood?

He nodded. “After a fashion. It is not common knowledge, so I would appreciate your discretion. Otherwise, more Korvax might be disconnected.”

I gave him a vigorous nod. “Cross my heart. I mean… absolutely.”

He sat there for a moment, as if drinking in the events of the day all over again. “I feel as if a celebration is in order, but it is growing late. I do not mean to be brusk with you, but if you have nothing more to ask of me, I have this ancient treasure to catalog before it deteriorates further, and another storm will be arriving soon. I am certain we will have many more discussions in the future, and more time for them. I will give you my credentials, both for communication, and to gain access for you among my people, and the other scholars of the galaxy.”

I gave him a big grin, knowing how I was with a new goody to fawn over. “That would be wonderful. I can’t think of anything right now, but you’ve given me a lot to think about. Oh! If you could forward to me some documents, articles and such which have to do with all this, it would be greatly appreciated. And for public consumption, please. I tend to nod off if the subject is a little too clinical.”

He seemed to be holding back a chuckle, assuming the Korvax even have a laugh reaction. “I will see what I can find for you.”

He showed me out, giving me a rather Human wave as I made my way to the Scimitar. I wanted to celebrate, myself. Most likely, this would be fraught with as many dangers as my usual pursuits over the past two weeks-plus. But now, instead of stumbling across finds, or mostly stumbling across finds, I’d have a treasure map of sorts. Captain Grondo would no doubt want nothing to do with this, but if I bagged a few million units worth of minerals and loot along the way, who would complain?

I was feeling so generous when I returned to the Infineon that I sprung for a party on the local Space Station for the crew. The Korvax in particular were surprised by this, as I had essentially taken them all for granted. For just a bit over two weeks, but if the captain noticed, I’m sure at least a few of the crew felt the same way, so this was good insurance for the cause of commander-crew relations. Naturally, I was in for some ribbing from the Vy’keen captain, and when I wouldn’t get as hammered as the other warriors, he joked, “If there was a Korvax woman, you would drink like her!” As if the Korvax weren’t right there. But looking to them, they shrugged it off as a Vy’keen thing while the rest enjoyed a laugh at my expense.

Then as I was nursing a drink that tasted pretty okay, if a little strong, I noticed a Gek off by the railing overlooking the landing bay, talking on a mini and casting furtive glances in our direction, before signing off and hopping to the floor below. At least, I was pretty sure he was a Gek. A few moments later, a ship took off. I had a feeling the subject was me.