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In my place of work, I labor on a project. On this day, I create a new race, raising them to sapience from common grubs found on a world in a dying galaxy.

Tendrils of living hyperplasm deftly flick toggles on a console of light, as displays of the species’s genetic material show its multi-helix structure, highlighting likely points of change and suggesting options.

Yes. I think I’ll tweak the code just a bit for the adult form, influencing the development of neural ganglia toward formation of two complete brains—one at each end of the body. The larval stage comes first, of course, but most of the design work goes into the thinking stage—that of the adults.

I glance in six-dimensional clarity at the sample vials and quickly assembled habitats for the larval form. They are simple forms, really, living in small mounds of a peat found only on their world. A grub emerges from its burrow, looking warily about, then focusing on me before contracting and quickly retreating into the soil.

I am the King of Shards, a hyperdimensional being with a penchant for making things. Never mind how I got my name, as even I remember not. But this race, this new order of beings, I create as the servants of myself, and of the other eight of our little clique, the Nine who are One. It is a race that will shake the universe, in this, our Grand Civilization.

I look at the virtual console. I think I’ll make them bigger, much bigger in the adult stage. The larval form is simply too small for the kind of brain mass and architecture I have in mind. I flick the appropriate genetic switches. This, I say, is how to take evolution into one’s own hands. I then actuate the change made in all the sample grubs.

I step back as if it were possible for one such as myself to take steps without feet, and look at the habitats. More grubs are emerging to the surface, all of them with the new genetics, all gathering for the final stage. They squirm and writhe about as they pile onto each other by the thousands. I step back again, observing my handiwork. Each of the grubs loses cohesion as the squirming mass undergoes biological fusion, a form of metamorphosis into a single organism. Other habitats in my workspace show the same thing. I shall have several adults to teach.

Glorious.

Random aggregations of larvae form distinct body-portions; sensory limbs; limbs for speech; and limbs for movement. Displays track the development of the brains in each of the new beings. Coming along nicely.

After only minutes, metamorphosis complete.

Their brains are fully developed, but empty of knowledge. They struggle to stand upright on their limbs. They make sounds without words, confused by what their new senses are telling them. I upload the very fundaments of their learning into their minds. The rest they must learn through personal instruction.

“Mas-ter…” One of them pipes and slurps as it directs its nine sensory limbs at me. I smile, the only way one of my status can smile, as my handiwork slowly rises to its nine feet, emerging from the habitat where its larval stage lived. Others like it crawl from their habitats and circle about me in obeisance. “Fa-ther…Mo-ther…” they say in unison, bowing low before their creator. Before me.

I look around at them, this time from the perspective of only five dimensions, as I direct my hyperspatial thought-streams toward them and say…

“Listen my children, for you are the dawn of a new species. I have created you, and henceforth you shall be known as the Suthidruu. Listen, and heed all that I tell you…”

I say that, only now noticing in some of them just the slightest twinge of fervor, of worshipfulness, perhaps of madness, and for the life of me can’t escape the thought of a flaw in my new creations.

And it makes me a little uneasy.


I am Priest Acolyte Ephel***rhaa***d. I stand before the Holiest of the 268 billionth Squorium, bowing low, sensor limbs averted, speech limbs silent, manipulatory limbs still.

I’ve been honored to receive the Holiest’s blessing to conduct the consecration ceremony for a newly discovered species in the Western spiral arm of a recently surveyed galaxy. They are suffering, this new species, like all life in this universe of terrible and horrific evil. We must rescue them from their suffering.

Once I receive sacrament, I rise and ask permission to speak. It is granted. “O, Holiest,” I say, in my species’ characteristic speech of sound and olfactory cues, “The species we are to meet knows not of us. Our technology would surely overwhelm them, but they will be bemused and frightened for as they seem strange to us, so must we to them. Is there not a way to deliver them from evil without their knowing?”

“Young Priest Acolyte,” The Holiest begins, “Our race has for billions of cycles scoured the universe for species to succor with the mercy of our gods. They know it not, but by their very existence they cry out for salvation, for deliverance from evil and suffering. Fear not for their own fear, for better things are in store for them when our job is done. Now, go in peace, and in love, for all life. Prepare yourself. Even now, our ships emerge from the Maelstrom. We must do our holy duty in this star system, and to do our duty effectively, they must know of us. Now go.”

I bow once more and hurry to my post, eager to do the work of the gods as commanded in our scripture all these eons of wandering the universe. To love all life as though our own. And we shall. My hearts swell with joy as we approach the new world. They’ve barely discovered space travel. More of our ships emerge from the Maelstrom, moving into position for the consecration of this wonderful new species. Just look at them down below, I muse as I see them looking skyward at our ships in orbit, such amazing, beautiful beings. All is ready. I stand at the altar as the communication channels are opened to the people below. This world is suffering, in the terrible pain of a universe gone wrong. The choir music begins, the lights brighten, and I clear my throats as I steel myself to conduct the Rite.

The Last Rite. The ships’ weapons systems awaken to consecrate the planet below.

My people can free them from misery, rescue them from terrible pain. We can help where before there was no help, we shall send them to the land of our gods. We shall send them to paradise.

One orbital cannon blast at a time.


   A bright blue nimbus of light flickers, and the Suthidruu are here. The Elder Worms. Ancient, powerful, insane, and heavily armed the bunch of them. The sane ones are always culled from the gene-pool, leaving only the mad, the zealots, to survive and thrive.

   Theirs is a society run like a strict authoritarian religious hierarchy which crushes all dissent by killing it before it spreads. Terran sectarian fanatics would be envious at the apparent success of this model. It’s also stagnated their science and technology for billions of years, even as advanced as that is. Oh, Cosmos.

   My blood suddenly cools by several tens of degrees. There, among the Worms, is a familiar sight. Dasaelos Gurao. Well, no, that’s not his real name, just the best approximation possible with human vocal equipment. Add a bass rumble to the vowels, a staccato boom on the hard consonants while simultaneously coughing and hissing like an angry cat and crocodile performing a duet, and you have something close to how it’s really pronounced…


I am Thraad4 and I am not a happy Technic.

I’m a member of Broogh fleet Magzichoolud-242563756, personally assigned by my God-Thegn to command a flotilla of vessels on a rear-action scouting and punitive mission.

For a Technic, I’m said to have unusually good command and tactical skills as well as my caste’s drive and knack for research. This is a serious mission. My God-Thegn does not dole out such tasks lightly, and failure to get results is simply not an option.

Broogh vessels are all sub-luminal velocity craft, though my species has always had a peculiar brilliance in the field of gravity manipulation. There is our fearsome gravity-bomb, capable of harnessing the might of a black hole to destroy an enemy fleet.

There is even talk, in hushed whispers, of using that same principle to generate controlled wormholes for quick interstellar jumps. So far, such attempts all end in catastrophic failure — so my species is condemned to flow across the galaxy only slowly in our massive, ancient, and powerful fleets.

The Flow, every fleet of our race not compromised by the suicidal Infection hounding us, driving us onward in fear, has found new species, smallish beings the size of my own caste, and found them to be worthy foes. Others are simply destroyed, their star systems and Oort clouds stripped and cannibalized for resources before moving on to the next target.

My species has been at war for so long that we have forgotten any other way of life. It is only with great difficulty that I even imagine other modes of being. Other species may be warriors, but we are War given flesh, bone, and mind.

I rouse myself from my reverie as I focus on the task at hand, to find the source of the Infection that forced the annihilation of a rival fleet.

We are in the target region.

I order the flotilla to raise gravity-bubble screens, and to initiate passive scanning for any telepaths within ten light-hours. We shall find our quarry.

Telepaths are dangerous to my species, and those born with the talent are quickly purged from the gene pool. The Infection began with a Broogh telepath, and I silently pray to my God-Thegn that it will end with one as well. We must use machines to pick up telepathic signatures, and to locate their source precisely.

We are not disappointed. Telepathic lock-on begun. There’s a signature from within two light hours, powerful, malignant, on one of the outer worlds in this system.

The current source of Infection. Already a group-mind, minds afire, brains overwhelmed by the insane power of an idea. We learned a word for that from captive humans — a meme — and this idea drives its hosts to destruction.

It is an idea, a living, thinking ideology that can in time transcend its source.

A transcendent meme. The Transcendent Meme.

And it was my species that has revived it after billions of cycles, may the universe cleanse us of our dishonor. It follows us everywhere. It hounds us. It is the one thing we fear, the one thing we are on the run from.

My vital fluids run cold in my four-fold circulatory system as I look at the projected readouts coming from the source we’re scanning. The signature builds quickly as we approach the Infected world, meme leaping from brain to host brain, triggering the Talent as it goes, gaining in strength to a critical mass of linked minds.

We’ve purged the fleet that was here before, but we are too late to simply burn this world and kill the Meme. My four hearts sink as I stare at the readouts in disbelief. Life signs on the target world are fading fast. The Meme has finally transcended, that terrible threshold of minds achieved once again. And we are heading right for it.

It no longer needs a body here, to exist, think, and act, and it will use us to carry it back to our fleet. It is the closest thing physically possible to a disembodied mind.

I make my choice. We have no other. We cannot allow the Infection to spread, so perhaps we can trap it here.

I order the fleet to drop gravity-bubble screens and begin countdown as the seconds pass. We cannot fight it, so we shall deprive it of minds to infect beyond ours.

Eight seconds until fleet self-immolation…seven…six…five…

May the God-Thegn save our genetic templates and birth us anew.

…zero.


Things come into focus as I open my eyes, pupils adjusting for daylight vision. I look at my left arm, expecting disappointment, yet another failed surgery. I’m surprised to see a fully-formed hand where the stump would end, fingers flexing, all four of them, thumb included. I’ve never had a hand there before!

I look to my right arm. Still the same. The same one I’ve had since hatching, now with its mirror-image twin! Elation fills me as I bring both hands together, joining them, clasping them and then spreading my fingers.

I wonder what other medical wonders the nanosurgeons have wrought. Am I dreaming?

“You’re awake, boy.” A familiar voice, my father, my beloved, terrifying father. “Try to get up, then stand. I won’t have my son lying in bed like an invalid, not after all I’ve spent on this.”

No, I’m not dreaming. That would be pleasant, and pleasant things are for weaklings. I obey my father, rising from the gurney, to stand before him. He looks so small now that I can stand. He comes up barely to my chest. A wave of disgust makes itself apparent, but tempered by a lifetime of obedience through fear. He looks piteous, so fragile from this height. I suppress a strange and sudden desire to strike him down, reveling in the newfound strength coursing through me.

My chest. I look downward at myself, barrel-chested, massive arms, thick, ropy muscles flexing, my legs and feet no longer crippled, no longer disfigured by my genetic misfortune. Armor plates woven under my skin, beneath my scales. I tower over the attendants and servants, standing tall, like a living mountain.

I feel like a god. Yet I know that I’m not. I know better.

I’ve now a body to match my intellect. My matchless intellect. The same that designed the nanosurgeons. The same intellect that has finally overcome my deformity, my weakness, my unworthiness in father’s eyes. Always, I strive to please my father. I strive to be strong. Now, I am.

“Father.” My now bass, rumbling, thunderous voice resonates in the recovery room. What is it I seek? Approval. All I want is approval. Just that. My father is a military man, a courageous man, and all my life I’ve sought his approval. I’ve never had it. Perhaps now? I meet eyes with him, hoping…

He spits blood in my face. I suddenly remember a lifetime of beatings. My mother’s death.

“Weak! Still weak! My son, the giant cripple! The freak! I’m still here, still alive! You know you’ve wanted this moment for years, after your mother’s execution! Do it! You never had the guts to make it as a soldier, and you still don’t. Weak! Stupid! You disgu—”

The hole in his skull from the particle strike smokes a bit as my father’s now lifeless body crumples to the floor. Funny. I designed that better than I thought. The particle weapon shifts back into being my left hand, material flowing like liquid metal, but still quite solid on the nanoscale.

It’s all so sudden. It’s over now. He’s dead. After a lifetime of terror and abuse, he’s finally dead.

No. It’s just begun. I look at his face again as the servants remove his corpse. I wipe the blood from my face. He looks so still. So at peace. But there’s something else. In his glazing eyes, there’s a look I’ve not seen before except after a successful mission by his combat unit. There’s the hint of…a smile? My hearts swell, all three of them, and skip beats as I see what I’ve always wanted to.

I know now what I’ve shown him in striking him down as I did. He must have seen it coming before I, he a trained soldier anticipating what was mere impulse to me. Yet he let it happen. He let me kill him. I’ve shown him my strength. I’ve finally made my father proud.

I won’t disappoint. I think a silent prayer to the Gods of our caste in thanks. This day I am a soldier, and I’ll be the greatest my species has ever seen. It’s just begun, as I take the heirloom that’s been in our family for generations, a strange ring of transparent metal, originally a museum-piece found on a dead world, and slip it upon my finger.

Servants surround me, taking measures of my proportions, fitting me for my new uniform as I draw my plans. There shall be rivers of blood. For I am Dasaelos of caste Gurao. I am a warrior, and my business is war.

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