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   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.


He sought dominion over all. Poor fellow, he was small and space vast.


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