Those We Were
It's the last time I'll leave the safety of my ship, and the first thing I hear is the blare of sirens. Not a good sign. This is why I dont like getting out of bed. I hear explosions sound off in the distance as fighters roar overhead. Eden soldiers rush in all directions mobilizing to counter what I can only assume to be an attack. The Geiger counter clicks and I see warning signs flash across the helmet's HUD. The radiation is off the charts. It's unlikely my suit will protect me for long. The sky above should be blue, but I see waves of color that dance throughout, a kaleidoscopic aurora. More than that, The Great Attractor fills the sky, a menacing thing seen from high above and stretching well beyond the horizon. I hear the crack of rail rifles firing not far from our position. We follow the Eden soldier across the desert sand, walking along the edges of black metal buildings. Our destination is a landing pad where an Eden destroyer sits waiting for us to board. I can hear the engines prime well before I see the ship itself. The ship is beautiful, the hull painted white and highlighted in gold, much like Viritine is… was? The frame features several sharp angles, and some make it almost look like the ship has wings. When we approach, the Eden soldier stops. They gesture for us to do the same and we obey. They scan the area as if confused. It takes a moment but soon Fray and I pick up on it as well. Where is everyone? Minutes before, I could look in any direction and see at least one soldier. It's like they disappeared. "Someone should be here to keep watch." The soldier says. "I haven't seen anyone since we left our ship," I reply. The soldier nods and we carefully work our way to the airlock. We turn the corner and just outside the entrance of the ship are two Eden soldiers, their bodies torn open in what appears to be a violent rage. Something towers over them, a hairless, humanoid beast standing at nearly 8 feet. It wears nothing with alabaster skin. With the desert sun, it was almost blinding. While it looks to be a monster, the way it studies the dead implies intelligence. It crouches down, its knees bending at an unnatural angle. Slender fingers wrap around one of the Eden rifles. After a quick glance, it tosses the weapon aside and turns to face the airlock door. The Eden soldier advances, stepping away from the ship and opening fire on the creature. The crack of the rifle echoes off the hull. I hear the rounds land, a repeating thump as they dig deep into the creature's back. It turns to face us, Black blood oozing from exit wounds across its chest. The wounds are smaller than they should be, the dense muscle somehow negating what should have been lethal damage. It glares at us with golden eyes, its face remarkably human in appearance. It speaks, a jumbled stream of nonsensical sounds my translator can't seem to decipher. It lunges forward with impossible speed, closing what must be at least a fifty meter distance in less than two seconds. Before we can act, the creature lifts the Eden soldier from their feet and drives their hand straight through their chest. It tears the soldier apart, the black ichor spewing across the sand. Fray raises their rifle, aims, then fires. The round lands perfectly between the creature's eyes. At first, neither of us were sure of the kill. The creature stares vacantly, as if unsure of what happened. It takes a few careless steps toward us before stumbling to the ground. The fingers curl up. Its arms and legs twitch, the final motions of an otherwise lifeless body. "What was that?" I ask, staring at the creature with wide eyes. "Hmm," Fraeia shrugs and studies the body with passing interest. "Lebhni."
The Lebni were the first, their name literally translated as "Those we were." They are the ancestors of all Lebha, and yet, are more genetically diverse than the Lebha have ever been. The lebhni are so diverse, each member of the species may as well be a species in and of themselves. No two are alike. Each lebni is sculpted in their own image, a work of art only able to be fully enjoyed by the one who built it. It was long believed that the Lebha were once a cloned species that outlived its creators. Maybe the lebhni can prove this theory, or perhaps they show just how little we know to begin with.
The Eden, at least as I know them, still exist. The Lebha in all their various forms still exist. Moreover, their language is largely unchanged. My translator would be millions, no billions of years old and yet I can still understand every word they say. Their technology is much the same. Fraeia can still log in to their systems and connect to their networks. We managed to connect to their archives, a wealth of information that can shed some light on this strange place in time. It's almost like they did it knowing it would be essential. Eden ships are said to be ancient and yet are the most advanced ships they ever built, ships from this future serving in the distant past. It stands to reason that their culture would do the same.
The Lebha of this time sought to maintain the loop. They seek to ensure its existence, or rather to ensure it ends up existing in the first place. This future time and place seems in flux. The Lebha are here, at the end of time, to ensure the passing of events altering the entirety of reality. The entire timeline, from beginning to end, relies on what happens here. The lebhni reject the loop. Much like the breakers of chains, they seek to break it. Based on what we've learned from the archive, the lebhni seek to stop the key events leading to the loops creation. Exactly what those events are remain a mystery.
A seat in The Rainbow Orchard
The lebhni were the first, and arguably the most complete. They broke into heaven. They came to The Rainbow Orchard and set forth the chain of events that created the loop in the first place. Wherever they did, it caused a schism among their species. Some wished to perpetuate the loop, to continue toward their great ambition, others wished to end the loop, unaware at the time that the loop can never truly be broken. They linger, fighting against the inevitable, but what does that mean? What is it they are actually fighting against?
A secret origin
If the lebhni were the first, how did the Lebha, and even the lebhshi come about? We are standing at the end of time, and given another few million years, there will be nothing left. The lebhni who sought to continue the loop amassed a great fleet and sent it into the great attractor. They sought to elevate themselves beyond the four dimensions of our reality. The only way to break free from the loop would be to ascend to such a heightened state of existence, that it could no longer touch you. They altered themselves using other species they encountered, further diversifying their genetics believing that life itself was the key. This led to the Lebha, and those who somehow managed to ascend would become the Lebhshi. They spread themselves across time and space, traveling back to the first steps of the first species ever to exist. They continued to exist, an entire species racing to attain godhood. This is how the loop began. This act is what truly cemented the loop into existence. Once done, it could never be undone.
A false ambition
Those who became the lebhshi discovered a single truth. These entities, gods in their own right, discovered that even they were bound by the loop. The loop transcends all dimensions, not just time and space. Even those capable of tapping into multiple timelines, 5th dimensional beings, couldn't escape it. They persevered. They sought understanding we meager creatures couldn't comprehend. Perhaps the sixth dimension would offer escape… the seventh? The eighth? I wager they knew the answer. The loop binds us all. There is no escape. Then again, I suppose their continued growth and ascension made it easier to pass the time. These living gods continued to live. They existed from the beginning of time to the end only to travel back and begin the story of existence once more. No wonder they put so much value in dying.
We enter the ship and it's just as beautiful as the outside. The white walls and floors are lined with golden filigree, intricate designs weaving down its halls. We rush to the bridge. It's only then I realize how little I understand Eden technology. I jump into the pilot's chair, eager to begin launching sequences. I find myself staring at projected images hovering in the air before me, unsure of just how the ship works. "Fray?" They stand on the other side of the bridge. They turn to me, tearing their eyes from projections of their own. "Yes?" "What do I do?" "Oh," they reply. They step forward, analyzing the projections. They walk me through the process, their words slow and as concise as they can make them, "Engines are ready, so all we need to do is switch off grounding protocols." "Oh how did I miss that," I say with a smile. "Of course. Just gotta raise the anchor." "Sarcasm?" They ask. They return the smile and shake their head. "Not a good time for that, I think." The projections detect every selection, my finger passing through the image to indicate each command. The ship shakes gently and rises, just as any ship would. I'm excited. I dont think a human has ever piloted an eden ship before. My smile stretches from ear to ear. Fray laughs when they notice. "Shame you have to wear the helmet. It seems like such a waste of a smile." "Don't worry," I reply. "Give it ten minutes. Once the radiation clears up I can take it off." I check the readings and sure enough, the radiation is decreasing. I notice something else though, something I've never seen before. "Speaking of my helmet…" "What?" I see a notification, a warning. The HUD on my suit is capable of selecting targets, but it's just me and Fray here. Why is it showing an enemy presence? My silence did not go unnoticed. "What's wrong?" Fray asks. "My helmet must be malfunctioning. I don't… wait." I cycle through the various settings on my HUD. I search the room using Infrared, UV, and even microwave imaging. There's nothing there. Finally I select the final setting, stygian blue, a setting now made standard given what happened during the revolution back on Safeharbor. When I see it my heart jumps to my throat. "Fray." I stare at an invisible form, a faceless humanoid with four arms. It's armed too, holding a rifle aimed directly at my head. It doesn't seem to realize I've noticed it. I slowly reach for my rifle, my eyes staring down the barrel. It's taller than I thought it would be. Then again, the sin eaters were supposed to be dead. I hear fray speak, "Amber, what is it?" "We have a problem." I reply. There's no way I can manage this. I'm dead. This is it. My mind races back to the Morning Star. I remember my mom rushing me out of the ship, with creatures just like this one in hot pursuit. "A problem?" "Yeah. We have a stowaway." I raise the rifle, but it's too late. I hear a loud crack as the creature fires the rifle, the sound like a whip echoing throughout the bridge. It's fast, the best kind of death. I hear the glass visor shatter, the rush of air as the suit acclimates to the air outside of it. My ears pop and nearly burst. I feel the small cuts made by the shards of the visor as they scrape my face. I feel warmth as the round passes through my head, my brain. The rainbow trail follows behind it, dissipating as my body goes limp. At least it doesn't hurt much. Barely a second passes and I'm stuck wondering why I'm still here. I expected a dark void, emptiness. Gibraltar may be gone, but I partially hoped something would interfere like before, a reset where I can change the events as I see fit. I blink, exhaling the air trapped in my lungs. Am I not dead? I hear the rifle fire once more, a rush of warmth passes through my chest, followed by another. Fraeia fires back, using the rainbow trails to determine their origin. The rounds pass through the creature with ease. I see a form appear, along with a blue mist where the rounds exit its body. They appear out of thin air. Fray cries out, "Amber?" I wonder if I can still speak. "Yes?" I reply through labored breaths. I lean forward, barely able to move. I'm dazed, unable to gather my bearings. "I'm okay?" I feel Fray working my helmet off my head. when they see me, they let out a sigh of relief. Despite this, the look on their face scares me. Their eyes are wide, their mouth left open. Their hands quake and tremble. I can tell just by looking at the helmet as it slips from their fingers and falls to the floor. I feel myself drifting, as if I'm about to pass out. Fray finishes the launch sequence and the ship rises to the sky. They help me out of the chair, practically carrying me all the way to the infirmary on the other side of the ship. I feel the blood, warm streaks dripping down my face like tears. "Are you still awake?" Fray asks. "Yeah," I whisper back. The infirmary reminds me so much of the clinic back on the vigil. It's sterile and only has a single bed. "I don't like it here." Fray lays me down and searches for tools, nearly tearing the room apart in their desperation. They come back and start picking shards of glass out of my face and neck. Fray's hands are shaking. They pull the tweezers back and pause to take a deep breath. "I don't know what to say." I don't reply. The room's spinning, but I start to feel again. The air is cold. The cuts on my face burn. Fray pauses again and let's out a long full of air. "The rounds passed right through you." It takes me a moment to understand their words. I can't die. I turn from Fray and stare at the ceiling, my face burning as I frown. "God damnit."A BreakthroughIt's been hours since they left. Amber sleeps while Fray keeps watch. While fray could imagine a million other things that need to be done, it's a nice reprieve. It gave them time to properly process all that's happened, to put together the final pieces of the puzzle. The humans call them sin eaters, but how could one survive so long? If Viritine lives, perhaps Nergal does as well. This isn't even the main concern. A human reaching Somnihein? Fray scoffs at the idea, but can't deny what they saw. The planet, Follvanger, is under constant assault. Ships of all shapes and sizes land on its surface. Why so much hostility and why now? The pieces aren't fitting as neatly as before. They're missing something, and without guidance, there doesn't seem to be any clear way to progress. The ship hides in a small cluster of asteroids. Safe from the fighting, which since their arrival only seemed to grow more intense, they wait for a signal that will probably never come. Did Viritine intend on telling them what to do next? Another hour passes. Fray stares into a screen, their head tilted and eyes narrowed. The feed from outside the ship shows the strange creatures like Gibraltar dragging asteroids and hurling them at the planet. Why? They fight among themselves, gods tearing each other limb from limb and unaware of the ships caught between them. These species are divided, and some of the factions aim to destroy the planet? Fray's eyes widen. Finally, a breakthrough…