Welcome to the tenth part of our re-read of The Evolutionary Void! This week we're tackling Justine: Year Forty-Five, Chapter Ten, and Justine: Year Forty-Five, Day Thirty-One.
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Justine: Year Forty-Five
We join Justine as she awakens from her suspension and starts to get her body moving and back normal after so long – fifteen years since her last check on the Silverbird. As she settles down in front of the sensors she sees that the Skylord is taking her directly to Querencia, and they are nearly there.
Her longtalk reached out for the Skylord. “I thank you for bringing me to this world. My ship can fly and land by itself now.”
“I can take you closer,” it replied magnanimously.
“I would feel happier if my ship landed by itself. I am here now. I am content, for which I thank you.”
“As you wish,” the Skylord said.
As the Silverbird begins its descent Justine gets the replicator going, making items she thinks she’ll need before it stops working altogether. The ship makes its way across the planet until it finally reaches Makkathran, and with the Silverbird’s efficiency dropping by the minute it finally lands in Golden Park:
“Houston,” she said solemnly to the silent cabin. “This is Golden Park base. The Silverbird has landed.”
* * * *
We join Araminta aboard the Lady’s Light where she has stood on the observation deck since the pilgrimage began. She is still sharing with the gaiafield, and the sadness she feels from her other body shows on this one as tears roll down her face. Ethan finally comes to see her about the truth, that she is multiple. He asks her intent, and she tells him that she will take them into the Void regardless of their motive, that she will not judge those that wish entry. They discuss her motives, and Ilanthe comes up in conversation, Araminta telling Ethan to question her motives, or would she not tell him?
The gaiafield was awash with confusion and dismay. Her followers needed her to explain what was happening, what the Dreamer Inigo was doing.
“You’ll see,” she assured them. “In the Void there will be truth.”
Mellanie’s Redemption emerges in a suitable star system for their purpose of powering the wormhole to the Void boundary, with Troblum preparing for it to happen. On the flight there Justine’s latest dream had come through to them, though Aaron admitted that her being in Makkathran triggered no alternative options in his mission. As they are talking about going to Querencia and Makkathran we follow events between Ethan and Araminta from Araminta-two’s point of view, with everyone there applauding her following the exchange. With only five minutes left until the device is powered up a visitor appears in the star system: the Cat. She tells them that they are going to take her into the Void, and despite the fact that they may be stronger in there than her they are deeply worried. But yet another ship arrives, this time between the two, and immediately opens fire on the Cat.
“Oscar, get the hell out of there,” Paula said. “Leave the Cat to me.”
“Go,” Oscar screamed at Troblum.
For the second time in an hour, the Mellanie’s Redemption fled into hyperspace.
With Paula and the Cat now locked in a battle to the death it’s starship against starship, and it looks like the Cat is getting the upper hand. With exotic weapons, quantumbusters, and hawking m-sinks, Paula is left struggling to fight back with moons exploding all over the place. As this goes on the Mellanie’s Redemption arrives at the star and deploys the planetary FTL device:
“How long?” Aaron demanded.
“Ten minutes to initiation,” Troblum said. Catriona was back at his side, her beautiful face tragic with concern. “Establishment will take longer. And no, I don’t have a fucking clue how long. Nothing more I can do. We just sit and wait now.”
Meanwhile Paula and the Cat’s battle has moved into the cloud layers of the gas giant, Paula moving to hide from the weapons against her. Oscar calls her to ask if Qatux can do anything to help with the warrior Raiel seeing as Troblum’s ship won’t stand up against them, and while she tells him she’s a little busy (hah!) she’ll see what she can do. With that now asked and the Planetary FTL device ready Troblum opens a wormhole 28,000 light years long and takes the Mellanie’s Redemption though…
The Cat is waiting above the gas giants cloud layer, trying to track Paula’s ship but not having much luck. It is then that her sensors pick up something strange coming out, something large and solid:
High Angel cleared the unstable cleft in the hydrocarbon ocean, shedding a tempest of seething smog.
A communication channel opened without any authorization from the Cat’s u-shadow. “Hello, Catherine Stewart,” Qatux said.
“Fuck.” She sent her starship into a seventy-gee climb, not even able to scream against the abysmal force crushing her body. Bones snapped; flesh and membranes tore.
“You don’t remember my wife, do you?” Qatux asked.
“Your wife? No!”
“Nor will you ever.”
Exovision showed the Cat an energy pulse blasting straight up from the High Angel. It struck her starship—
The shot was powerful enough to warp spacetime in a very specific fashion, so that although the starship was blown apart in milliseconds, time within the explosion stretched on and on and on … To the Cat the utterly excruciating instant of her death lasted for hour after long terrible hour. Though she never realized it, it was exactly the same amount of time it had taken Tiger Pansy to die one thousand one hundred ninety-nine years ago.
* * * *
The Mellanie’s Redemption comes out of the wormhole 9,000 light years from the Void boundary, and they start preparing, hoping that Paula has managed to get Qatux to clear them a path….
Paula visits Qatux in his chamber aboard High Angel to talk, relaying Oscars request, to which Qatux responds that he will asks, that is all he can do. Paula asks where they’re going next, and Qatux tells her that they are heading back to the Commonwealth, not out of the galaxy, at least not yet, and he offers to show her the galactic core defences in action, should she wish to see them, and if they’re needed…
The Delivery Man is now hooking up the new equipment to the Last Throw so it can withstand being so close to a star, and Gore is still talking to Tyzak, trying to get him to talk to the elevation mechanism for Gore. He’s not having much luck, and the philosophical disagreements are frustrating to him. He still persists though, and after much persuading Tyzak finally gives in to asking the machine to wake for Gore to communicate with. As the Delivery Man walks over to them he sees a Silfen down the valley riding a quadruped and dressed magnificently, but it is gone before Gore can see it. The elevation machine awakens to Tyzak’s request and Gore talks to it, ultimately going round in circles with the refusal to lift anyone but Anomine to the next level of existence. With the conversation done Gore has mapped the routines of the machine, but unsure if he can hack it, and certainly not willing to attempt it now. He does, however, tell the Delivery Man that they need to be ready once everyone in the Void is in place.
“Everyone in the Void? You mean the Pilgrimage ships?”
“No. I’m expecting an associate to arrive.”
“An associate? In the Void?”
“Justine will let us know.”
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Now that they are within reach of the boundary stars a Raiel warship is keeping track of them as they edge closer. They decide that it is time to make contact to ask if they can pass through.
“We are the human Dreamers,” Araminta-two told the Raiel.
“Yes. You are two Dreamers. The third of your kind is a long way from here. And part of you is elsewhere.”
“That’s correct,” Araminta said, mildly surprised by the summary. “We seek to travel into the Void. We believe we may be able to prevent the final devourment phase.”
“We know this. Qatux has spoken with us. You may pass through.”
With that they thank the warrior Raiel even though it tells them that it will not let the other ships through. They understand, and ask for them to be on the lookout for Ilanthe and to stop her if they can, which they agree to. As they then approach the boundary Araminta-two reaches for the Skylord to ask if it will bring them in:
“When we come, we need to be near the solid world where humans lived.”
“There were several such worlds,” the Skylord replied.
Inigo gave Araminta-two a shocked look as her concentration faltered briefly.
“Shit,” Tomansio muttered.
“I thought there was only one,” Oscar said out loud.
“There’s more than one?” an incredulous Corrie-Lyn said. “How many were there?”
Well that’s a bit of a surprise for them! But still, Aaron tells Araminta to be specific, to ask for Querencia where Justine was taken. It knows the world, and the Void open to take them in where they can immediately use the powers they’ve only ever seen in the Dreams. A Skylord comes to them to take them to Querencia, but Araminta is feeling strange with the split between her multiples – one part of her seeing time passing quicker than the other.
“Temporal rate difference,” Troblum said. “You are conscious on both sides of the Void boundary, which means you’re living at two different speeds. It will be hard to reconcile.”
While suspension is the best option for here she refuses, adamant that she will be awake the whole time. So along with Troblum and Aaron, Araminta decides to stay awake for the three month journey.
The Commonwealth is preparing for a worst cases scenario, with Higher worlds fabricating starships for an exodus if need be, and people worrying about what will happen. With much going on Paula and Qatux watch as the Raiel warship close on the pilgrimage fleet, ready to take it out if it won’t stop. But despite all the weapons at their disposal, they fail – the sol barrier technology resistant to everything they have. And there is no sign of Ilanthe. Qatux now tells Paula that they are preparing their last ditch effort: containment by use of the DF spheres. As the spheres move into position and start drawing on the power of supergiant stars Qatux tells Paula that he has no idea if they will work, and that there are only two outcomes: the will work, and the Void will die when it runs out of energy, or it will fail and the Void will consume the galaxy.
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Justine: Year Forty-Five, Day Thirty-One
Justine awakes to another day in Makkathran having made her home in the mansion Edeard created in Sampalok. As has been her routine, Justine has breakfast and then makes her way out into the city to look around. While there is not much to find, there are still some metal items here and there, but little else to show that Makkathran was once a thriving city home to thousands. On this day Justine is wandering towards Eyrie and the Lady’s Church, especially as she has already visited other places of note from Edeard’s life. As she enters the church she is sure she spots something moving, but it’s not there when she looks closer. Justine makes her way towards the marble statue of the Lady that is still present, and as she does two figures emerge into view:
“Hello, darling. Glad you made it here. Not that I was getting worried, but …”
He smiled his half smile, the one that was so familiar and welcome that she just wanted to rush over and hug him. However—“Is that an Anomine?”
“Yep. Meet Tyzak. He’s slowly showing an interest in our story.”
After a talk Gore tells her that she’s where he needs her, and that others should be joining her soon. She tells him that she thought of trying to speak to the city mind, but he tells her there is no point. He promises to fill her in properly soon, but does reveal that Ilanthe is with the pilgrimage fleet, and that she needs to be careful about her. With that he leaves, until the next time. But Justine thinks over what he’s said as she starts to walk through the Church. As she finally reaches the statue of the Lady and looks up a dawning realisation hits her:
“Oh, no.” Justine’s eyes began to water as the sheer emotional power of recognition engulfed her. “It is, isn’t it?” Her shoulders started to shake, and she giggled. “It is you. Holy crap, it’s really you!” Giggles gave way to hysterical laughter; she actually had to hug her belly it hurt so much. She couldn’t stop. This was the Lady, venerated and worshipped by two separate civilizations. The epitome of dignity and grace. “YES!” she yelled out, and punched the air. Then the joyful laughter made her double up again. She waved her hands helplessly, trying to wipe the tears away.
Well, what do you know, the universe has a sense of irony, after all.
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Next week is our final one, with Chapter Eleven and Chapter Twelve to be read. Buckle up, it’s going to be quite a ride…