Welcome to our final part of The Evolutionary Void re-read with the last two chapters, Chapter Eleven and Chapter Twelve.
The Lady’s Light has now reached the Void barrier, and Araminta asks the Skylord to reach for them, to bring them inside. As the boundary ripples and extends for them Ilanthe reveals herself, and they all enter together. Now with the Void’s abilities at their command Araminta sees how much malice Ethan has for her, and that a simple pistol is hidden in his robes. As he tries to use it Araminta instead uses her third hand to lift him and throw him across the bridge, causing broken bones on impact. Despite this he still goes for a heartsqueeze, though easily warded off by her.
“You were right,” she said to Aaron. “I did need to practice. He’s a sneaky little shit.”
She then uses domination on him, turning his feelings of her to adoration, thankful that she has bought them into the Void. With that she tells the others present to take him to sick by.
Because she could show no weakness, Araminta watched them with a passive smile. Over in the Mellanie’s Redemption, Araminta-two was puking his guts up at the atrocity he’d just committed.
Ilanthe releases the inversion core from the ship in order to study the fabric of the Void, and learn much about its composition and the power required to run the abilities it offers.
“The doomsayers were right,” she told Neskia. “The pilgrimage animals would have wiped out the galaxy with their reset demands.”
As Skylords approach Ilanthe observes how they fly through space and tries to apply the same technique to the inversion core, but not to much luck. But by using what she learnt from the Last Dream she moves away from the ship towards the Skylords, all of whom are being frantically warned about her.
“I am fulfilled,” Ilanthe told the Skylord as she approached it. “Please take me to the Heart.”
“I do not know if you are fulfilled,” the Skylord responded. “You are closed to me. Open yourself.”
Instead Ilanthe gets the Skylord to open to her as she devours it, ending its existence and absorbing its knowledge. With that done she applies the techniques and flies towards her destination at point nine lightspeed: the Heart.
Araminta is distraught at this event and feels the guilt for bringing Ilanthe into the Void. She then decides that she won’t take the pilgrimage fleet any further, but Aaron will not have that. He tells her that she must seek help from the Skylords to take the fleet to Querencia, that she can’t abandon all the Living Dream followers like this. Despite his memories returning he knows that this is what she must do, not because of her mission, but because it is right.
She faced the front of the observation deck again, focusing on the bereaved Skylords. “We seek fulfillment,” she told them calmly. “We seek guidance.”
The Delivery Man is in the Last Throw as it descends through the photosphere of the Anomine star on its way to the power siphon they identified, and he isn’t happy:
“This is really disturbing you, isn’t it?” Gore said over the TD channel. “Your emotions are hyping up the gaiafield. Why don’t you play some soothing music.”
He finally reaches the siphon and extrudes sensors to have a closer look at it. With that he tells Gore that it should be possible to hack, but that there are some workarounds they need to do in order to get it to work.
The Mellanie’s Redemption is now approaching Querencia and getting ready to go into orbit before making its way to Makkathran. Araminta-two wakes Oscar from suspension and tells him that Aaron is having more and more trouble, and as a result is spending more time sleeping. And the Void’s psychic abilities aren’t helping him at all. Oscar experiences one of these himself, unable to believe the strength and pain behind them. They worry that he won’t make it to Makkathran for the next part of his mission, but Corrie-Lyn tells them she know he will. They then wake up everyone else in preparation for landing…
Gore is with Tyzak at the elevation mechanism when he checks on the Delivery Man. He’s told that everything is ready, and Gore just needs to tell him when to go:
“Initiate the wormhole and start the siphon power-up sequence. We’re going to need that energy soon.”
“Oh, crap. Okay, I’ll try.”
“Thanks. For everything.” Gore closed his eyes, opened his mind, and watched the sky.
A sonic boom sounds out above Makkathran as the Mellanie’s Redemption comes through the atmosphere, and Justine is finally going to have company, and she uses the tunnels below the city to get quickly to Golden Park in order to welcome them to Makkathran.
There were nine of them standing together on the grass as she approached, a surprising number for a ship that size even if they’d used suspension. Then their farsights perceived her, and they turned to greet her as she jogged over.
Oscar is the first to her, hugging her before introducing her to everyone else in the party. It’s then that Corrie-Lyn asks Aaron why they’re here.
“We’re here so that you can bring Him forth,” he said hoarsely.
“What?” a startled Inigo asked. “Oh, sweet Lady! You are joking.”
Aaron tells them that this is the plan, and while he initially thought that would have to reset the Void in order to meet him, but now they don’t need to, and it is Inigo that they must have to do this as he has the true memory of this.
“The Waterwalker is gone,” Inigo said with infinite sorrow. “He is a dream now. Nothing more.”
“You can bring him back,” Aaron said. “You have to.”
—to land on the ground at the foot of the Eyrie tower. His ankles gave way, and he stumbled, falling forward. Strong third hands reached out to steady him. But there was no crowd as there always was, as there should have been. No family. No Kristabel.
Edeard thinks he has misjudged the reset, that he is not where he should be this time – he senses nobody in the city other than the nine people standing in front of him. As he prepares to strike out with his third hand one steps forward:
Edeard’s third hand withered away. “No,” he whispered. “This cannot be. You are a dream.”
The man smiled. There were tears in his eyes. “As are you.”
“My brother.” They embraced, Edeard hugging the man as if his life depended on it. Inigo was the only thing that made sense in the world right now; he was the anchor. “Hold me,” Edeard begged. “Do not let me go. The world is falling apart.”
“It’s not, I promise. I am here to get you through this.”
They talk of the dreams each shared, and Inigo tells him that the world Edeard saw is real outside the Void. They also tell him that this reset attempt was the last one, that following this he lived the perfect life and achieved fulfilment with his friends and was guided to the Heart by the Skylords. They tell him of what happened following this, that all humans on Querencia finally accepted guidance and left the world behind. But Edeard tells them that they choose the wrong one, that he is not worthy to help them.
“I chose you very carefully. You are exactly the Edeard I need.”
“Determination,” Inigo said simply. “This is the you who resolved never to let anything beat him no matter what. You, the you of this day, are the best Waterwalker there ever was. This is the moment your triumph was built upon.”
Aaron then approaches Edeard to tell him what needs to be done – that they need him in order to get to the Heart so they can try to talk with whatever controls the Void.
“What would you say to it?”
“You’re killing us. Switch off.”
Inigo’s arm went around Edeard’s shoulder again. “This is going to take a while to explain,” he said gently.
After Edeard and Inigo talk and Inigo reveals that he shared Edeard’s life with many people, and that Edeard feared even Kristabel would think him insane if he mentioned his dreams, Aaron asks one more for if he can take them to the Heart. But his memories are slowly decaying and the trauma taking over, and Tomansio tranquilises Aaron in order to try and help him. With talk of this ongoing Corrie-Lyn realises that it is the soul that is guided, but Araminta-two asks the Skylord, through her other body, if it will guide them in their ship while they live: it will. Before they go any further with this Justine takes them to the Lady’s Church where her dream of Gore is waiting to meet them:
I’m Gore. Pleased to finally meet you, Waterwalker. You’re a very impressive man.”
Before talking of the Heart Gore tells Tomansio that they must keep Aaron under, that he won’t be able to function. He also explains to them what Aaron is, that Gore had to do whatever he could to clear his memories, to help at his request, that Aaron is a partner to Gore. As they return to talk of getting to the Heart Justine starts to talk about how they’ll get there in the Silverbird and Mellanie’s Redemption:
“No,” Gore said. “Take this ship. Its fully acclimatized to the Void now, so functionality shouldn’t be a problem anymore. And we’re probably going to need some serious badass firepower if we run into Ilanthe.”
Gore gave her a pitying look. “What do you think you’re standing on?”
With that Edeard becomes excited that he finally knows what Makkathran is, and he reaches for its thoughts and shares with everyone there. They talk with Makkathran about trying to talk to the Heart, but it tells them there is no hope, that its kind died in the thousands trying to get there. But they tell it that the his species still live on the outside, and that they must try this last time before Ilanthe does something even worse.
“I did not expect change to befall me ever again,” it told them. “I did not expect to be shown hope, however small. I did not expect to do what I was born to do: to fly against the greatest enemy once more. You have brought this to me. For that I should show thanks. If the galaxy is to fall, then it is fitting that I should fall with it. I will take you.”
“Thank you,” Edeard said.
“Thank you,” the others chorused.
The ground shakes, the Iguru Plains and Lyot Sea parting, and the ground turning to rubble as Makkathran’s massive mind exerts its wishes on the Void. And with that:
Makkathran, last survivor of the Raiel armada, soared back up into the sky it had fallen from a million years ago and headed for the clean emptiness of space.
Gore is finding the going tough with his mind split into two, one focusing on the Anomine homeworld, the other in the quicker temporal flow of the Void. The Delivery Man calls him to let him know they’re in and have control of the siphon. Gore asks if there’s any sign of Marius, but not yet – Gore warns him to keep an eye out because he won’t be happy if he sees they may be able to stop Ilanthe.
Makkathran catches up with the Skylord that brought Mellanie’s Redemption to Querencia, and with Gore becoming worried and events outside their control, Justine tells them they need to ask the Skylord. Edeard reaches out and feels the confusion in its mind, of the loss of its fellow, and of the spaceship that approaches.
“I know this city now,” the Skylord replied. “Its kind brought ruin to this universe. We have found no minds since they threw the planets of life down into the stars they orbited. None have emerged here other than your own species.”
Edeard asks if he is fulfilled and if he can be taken to the Heart. The Skylord agrees that he is, and that he can travel there in his physical form before allowing the Heart to decide whether they will accept him like that. Gore tells them that they need to go faster despite them being at the Skylords top speed. They ask Makkathran, and it exerts its will on the Void and goes FTL.
As Gore continues his work on the elevation machine, infiltrating its structure, Tyzak observes that others have come to watch: the Silfen. As he looks at them the infiltration packages report a problem, and it’s one that may well alert the AI controlling the mechanism…
Gore pressed his golden lips together. “Oh, shit; here we go.”
Marius has been observing the Delivery Man as he rendezvoused with the siphon station, and has also been watching Gore’s dream in the meantime, sure that there is something else going on that he can’t quite put his finger on. He then drops his stealth to get a full scan of the Delivery Man’s ship before trying to decide on what weapons to use…
Makkathran arrives at the centre of Odin’s Sea to a spectacular view, and to a sense of peace and friendship emanating from there. Edeard then tries to talk to the Heart, but has no luck. Instead they suggest that he simply frees himself, letting the Heart see his fulfilment. As the Heart opens Edeard’s physical body starts to lose cohesion as the Heart draws him in, but everyone manages to warn him to stay in control in time. Then Gore comes forth:
“Edeard, is there anything you can sense in there that’ll talk to us?” Gore asked. “A single coherent mind?”
Edeard had to laugh. “The Heart is bigger than worlds. It is universal; it lies behind everywhere in the Void. And still it grows.”
“Fuck it,” Gore snarled. “It’s grown so big, it’s lost cohesion. All right, Edeard, it wasn’t always like this. I need you to go back to when it was smaller.”
“Get into the memory layer, trace it down to the origin. Come on, son, you can do it.”
Edeard does this, going back eons through the Void’s memory, witnessing the addition of all the minds to the Heart, each adding to it but not achieving what was intended. Finally he comes to a time near the beginning where the Heart is connected to individual minds, to those of the Firstlifes – Edeard manifests one in the square for them to talk to.
Then something moved in the nothingness outside the dome. A dark sphere beset with deep purple scintillations slipped smoothly overhead.
“What are you doing?” Ilanthe asked.
Marius observes the group via Gore’s Dream but will not let Gore and the Delivery Man enact this part of their plan – he fires two quantumbusters into the star to divert energy at the Last Throw. A borderguard emerges close to Marius and destroys the quantumbusters before they can do their work..
“Shit!” Marius discarded the dream altogether and sent his starship hurtling toward the borderguard at thirty-seven gees. Weapons locked onto the garish nimbus. He opened fire.
Gore is losing against the elevation mechanisms AI and as a last ditch effort he gets the Delivery Man to activate the wormhole, but it it ultimately futile, for the AI will not be beaten.
“You’re killing us,” he screamed into the night. “All I needed to do was show the Heart, that’s all, just show the fucker there’s an alternative, prove it can evolve.”
He then tells the Delivery Man to leave...
Marius is fighting the borderguards as they keep on coming in, with only hawking m-sinks doing any good against them. It is then that his sensors pick up the wormhole opening between the planet and the station the Delivery Man is at and he knows – is certain – that it is for the elevation mechanism. With that he jumps to the star and launches two novabombs at it before jumping into hyperspace and fleeing the system.
Thirty seconds before they detonated, Marius was already outside the Anomine system. The nova would eliminate the power station, then go on to wipe out the Anomine homeworld minutes later. Gore would never reach postphysical status now. The Accelerator objective was safe.
Edeard is standing in the plaza as he watches the Firstlife, Ilanthe, and the group around him, while Gore is full of anguish at failing at the one mission he needed to complete. The Firstlife then questions them, asking who they are, and while the group struggles to explain in a way that it understands Troblum steps forward to tell it that while it may have been the first to evolve in the galaxy, it was not the last and now many different species populate the stars. They tell it that the Void is destroying them with its expansion, that it must stop to save everything outside. Ilanthe, meanwhile, tells it to adopt her inversion core that will take the Void’s fabric and transform the universe outside to the same properties so everyone can experience what the Firstlifes intended. Ilanthe and the group argue, with her continuing to try and persuade the Firstlife to give it the Voids governing parameters. But then…
“Wait!” Gore demanded. “I think my alternative just became available.” He lifted his golden head and gave Ilanthe a sweetly evil grin. “And guess who made that happen.” And he dreamed of his life back outside the Void.
The Delivery Man sees the quantum signatures of the novabombs and flings the Last Throw into hyperspace to escape the nova. Gore asks him what’s happening and the Delivery Man tells him: the star is going nova, and he’s coming to get him. On the planet Gore apologises to Tyzak, telling him that humans did this, but Tyzak does not blame him. As this happens the Anomine city comes to life and Anomine start appearing all across the plaza in their hundreds, then thousands. Gore tells the Delivery Man to go home, shuts down all links except the dream.
His dream showed him Justine with an expression of alarm spreading over her beautiful face. She knew.
Tyzak called for the elevation mechanism.
“I feel you,” the elevation mechanism said. “You are Tyzak.”
“Do you wish to attain transcendence from your physical existence?”
Justine is clearly upset at what she knows is about to happen, and as it does Gore shares all experiences of his elevation to the Firstlife, who in turn shares it with the Heart. Edeard then tells it that it must choose.
“We do,” the Firstlife replied. “We choose evolution. It is why we created this place; it is what we aspired to so long ago. Anything else would betray all we were, all we aspired to. It could never be any other way.”
The Firstlife offers them all to come with it, but they don’t want to.
Justine rubbed the moisture from her eyes. “No. It’s over. Let’s go home.”
As the containment shell closes around the Void and the Raiel’s monitors continue to observe the Void, Qatux and Paula watch on as it begins, as the Void extends to use the stars to power its final task.
The entirety of the loop was taken, absorbed below the boundary. The ridge began to retreat. Then the Void itself was shrinking. Gravity, the boundary’s primary enforcer, lessened. The impenetrable cloak that had defeated nature for so long fell away, and the Void lay naked at the core of the galaxy.
“Oh, my,” Paula said in wonder.
The Void reached transcendence.
The Raiel warships move in to see what was left: virtually nothing. No light, radiation, or nebula.
Right at the center they found a single star shining bright, with a lone H-congruous planet in orbit. And one of their own.
Paula and Qatux teleport aboard a Raiel warship that has come to the High Angel. It has Neskia on board, and Paula wants the deactivation code for the Sol barrier, but she’s not entirely forthcoming given that once ANA is released she will face trial by it. As Neskia tells Paula that what Ilanthe wanted was not what she wants as an Accelerator she gives some conditions to releasing the code, which Paula counter-offers with, and they come to an agreement.
Oscar has returned home to be greeted enthusiastically by his life partners.
Anja finally got her moment with him. “So this is what you really are? Some kind of galactic superagent?”
“Some of the time,” he admitted. “Not very often, thankfully.”
The Mellanie’s Redemption comes in to land and Oscar tells them that Troblum is his new business partner, the business of searching for other human colonies that have been founded outside of the Commonwealth. Troblum had also made Catriona real in the last moments of the Void, an impulse decision that was perhaps the most human thing he had ever done.
Justine and the Silverbird return to the Tulip Mansion, and she had brought Kazimir out of the creation layer to return with her. As they walk in talking and reminiscing, Gore is standing inside in, his personality reanimated by ANA after his bodyloss on the Anomine homeworld. He doesn’t have any memories after leaving on the Last Throw, and will talk to the Delivery Man to fill him in. He then asks Justine if she’ll be returning home to ANA now…
Justine draped an arm around a very silent Kazimir’s shoulders and gave the golden man a defiant look. “Not just yet, Dad. There’re a few things I have to finish off out here. They might take awhile.”
Marius has ended up back in the Commonwealth, but orbiting the Leo twins while stealthing his ship. With ANA having suspended the Accelerator faction and representatives out tracking down and agents. It’s then that his starship is yanked out of hyperspace, its systems failing:
A link opened to his macrocellular clusters. “You’re under arrest,” Admiral Kazimir informed him.
“For now,” Marius retorted. “She’ll be back.”
“She won’t. None of them ever come back.”
Araminta has returned to Viotia, to Mr Bovey, worried how he may welcome her. But she has nothing to fear, for he is as relived to see her as she is him. As she returns the body she borrowed from him she can’t help but tease him about what fun she had with the creation layer, and he does sound disappointed. But she has a surprise for him:
Mr. Bovey watched with incredulous delight as fifteen identical Aramintas walked across the garden to hims.
“That conversation we had about what types of mes I’d have when I was multiple?” she said. “I decided there’s not much wrong with this one.”
“This one is absolutely perfect.”
“Good. So now all of yous can take all of mes to bed.”
The Last Throw lands in Holland Park and the girls rush to greet him, with Lizzie standing at their door:
“I’m back,” he told her.
“Yes,” she said. “And boy, have you got some explaining to do. Don’t you ever, ever—”
The Delivery Man kissed his wife.
Araminta and the Tomansio have arrived at the Silfen with Aaron, an insistence of Araminta’s to give him a place to heal properly.
“You did well,” Bradley said. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for believing in me.”
“In your case it came easy,” Clouddancer said, his circular mouth fluting out to laugh.
They tell her that his path cannot be foretold, but she is sure he will find his way. Bradley goes over to see Tomansio ‘before he explodes’, while Araminta makes her way over to another human woman, dancing to the rhythm that the Silfen are creating.
The woman beckoned her over with both hands. “I’m Mellanie,” she called above the music.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Of course you do. I’m proud of you, Araminta.”
“Thanks. That really means a lot.”
“It’s all over now, so let’s dance.”
Paula and Qatux visit Makkathran as it’s in orbit around Centurion Station’s star, with Raiel arkships and warships all coming to the system to meet their old relative.
“What’s going to happen next?” she asked.
“We will decide together,” Qatux told her. “The change will come hard for us, I expect. The Void gave us purpose for so long; it is a part of what we became.”
Qatux says that there have been a few thoughts on what the Raiel will do, and their responsibilities to the species living in the arkships – maybe they will spread to other galaxies as was their plan. They reach the Lady’s Church where Qatux wants to see the statue of his wife, and explains to Paula that she was re-lifed following her death at the hand of the Cat, Qatux providing all the memories of hers he had and shared. It was her that Makkathran called out for as the colony ship travelled away from the Commonwealth:
“And the Void did the rest. As it always does.”
“Yes.” Qatux extended a tentacle and stroked the statue’s cheek. “Goodbye, my beloved.” He turned and left the church.
Paula couldn’t resist one final over-the-shoulder check just to make sure she wasn’t mistaken. For an instant she could’ve sworn the statue was grinning in that ridiculous carefree way Tiger Pansy always had when she was happy. But it was only a trick of the light.
Salrana stands looking out over the devastation of the Iguru plain, confused at what she sees, when Edeard makes his presence known along with Burlal. He tells her that there is much he needs to explain to her, but he knows which Salrana he has choosen:
“We are no longer dreams, my love. We are as genuine as can be. And out here, in this time, I chose you over everyone. I chose the you from now because you are still the real you. My brother taught me that trick.”
Lionwalker Eyre walks down from the mountain to speak to them both, telling Edeard not to mess it up this time, and he promises he won’t.
“Well, I’d best be off. I expect you two have a lot to talk about.” He started walking briskly down the road.
“Wait,” Edeard called after him. “Where are you going?”
“Onward,” the Lionwalker replied with a wave. “Always onward.”
And that’s The Evolutionary Void re-read complete – many thanks for joining me on this journey!