The Suthidruu remain. They’ve seen the whole thing, silent, evaluating the success of the winner. Their champion has fallen, while I, bloodied and scratched up, pop my joints, stand up and turn to meet them. I look like a wreck, and feel like one, too.
The Holiest stands there on five of its limbs, four in use to operate hand computers, six of its sensory stalks swivel to scrutinize me with a cold gaze evoking worlds long gone for billions of years, whole galaxies sterilized.
The Suthidruu say that the universe is a place of suffering, and it is; that it is a place where nothing lasts, and it is; that it lacks any apparent meaning of its own except struggle and sorrow. Well, that remains to be seen. But they draw on their mythology to provide their meaning; the commands of their gods, especially their Creator, the King of Shards; they ignore the vast, cosmic majesty of the universe, and that we can, and often must, give ourselves meaning and purpose. But the Suthidruu aren’t like other species. They are born into faith, not merely inculcated. It’s imposed on them from the very beginning. And despite the eons, their first commitment still holds:
“Thou shalt love all life as though it were thine own, and do all within thy power to prevent its suffering. At any cost”
Even at the cost of extinguishing that life to alleviate its suffering in a reality of pain and sorrow. I turn, facing the Holiest, lowering my arms, palms facing it, and say…
“I have a message for you. I didn’t know it at first, but within the last month, I’ve found out what my ‘shard is really for, who built it, and what It told me to tell you. It’s a message from the King of Shards himself, and it’s important that you grant me audience to receive it.”
Silence for a moment. Then the Holiest extrudes a speech-limb and responds in tones that sound like slurps and musical piping, in a liturgical language not heard in this galaxy for the last three billion years. Then, a strange thing happens.
I stand paralytically still as an image appears from nowhere, without an apparent source, a chaotic flurry of images, images from my dream scene, shapes flowing, one after the other, impossible to make sense of…Is this what the King of Shards looks like? Cosmos, this is madness. I get a deep sense of utter wrongness.
It gets worse. The shapes become more distinct, insane chittering sounds, strange non-smell associations like the odor of burning brass, slurping and fluttering noises mixed in with what sounds for all the world like screaming, the universe tearing itself apart…and then I black out, just after realizing that it’s me who’s doing the screaming.
I wake moments later, just in time to see the Suthidruu leave, their teleport nimbus aglow as they go home.
The ‘shard displays a readout indicating the Suthidruu fleet leaving orbit. What do you know…It worked…But first, a shower, and a new suit are in order. It’s time to head back to the ship. Wait till I tell Imegaa about this! I grin like an idiot as I rise skyward, no teleporting for me. The ‘shard’s probability field rides the gravity-well into orbit, where home now awaits, and sleep is desperately needed, preferably without nightmares.
And, as a search for truth begins with a question, so it continues with one, this time different: “Where to now?” and with or without an answer, what’s most to be treasured is the love of the question itself.