A reliquary in which the religious artifacts are ALIVE




....VIVIQUARY.... A Dragon Science Fantasy Series




Mike Voûte



Another flash of deep-blue light briefly illuminated the cavern hundreds of kilometres deep under the Northern Hemisphere of our Earth. An eerie inner light was emanating from something on one of the long row of ancient consoles, and seemed to scan the expanse for a few minutes. As it did, the light appeared to trigger several other consoles. Like an ignition pulse along blasting cord, multihued illumination burst forth from the pedestals and fanned along transparent piping running high along the ceiling. Only then, might an observer have seen the true scale of the place- vast corridors stretching to dots in the distance, the halls that branched from them filled with strange, alien technology.

That the place was old would seem beyond question- that it still worked was miraculous. The artefact on the console looked much like a shattered piece of flint arrowhead in a museum case, rotating slowly, driven by some unseen mechanism. Our observer might even have had a brief look at the raised symbols beneath it on the sloping crystalline consoles, a message inscribed there in haste and sorrow. Those who had written it were long dead, the message meant more to be felt rather than read by the travellers on the ship. And, it was not meant to be accessed yet. No, the Shard's data now guided the World-ship to a destiny the occupants themselves knew only in legend. The message could wait- wait for the moment the travellers would Wake at their destination. They were only children after all... and they were not human.

Then, the flash extinguished all to dark dormancy. And soon after, the planet rumbled and quaked in its orbit, moving ever so slightly further away from its star. A mid-course correction was to be expected- in millennia of time, there were bound to be errors.

1. Reuen

Reuen Svara sat on a low hill, basking in the waning deep-purple energy from the sky as night fell, eyes deeply focussed into the heavens. The familiar linear constellations of stars winked at her on their graceful lines out to the end of the universe they knew- Aeons ago, her race had moved every one. Averil... Gyrel... Felyze... and of course, the tiny blue speck at the distant end she herself had named in honour of her mate- Ziel Aion. Her frequently absent Ziel, who never liked to use his brood name- just as she had requested the same of her spouse. Both lines of influential parentage had only brought the two of them grief. And so, Reuen had met Ziel here on Haven Prime, far away from the worlds where their parents had governed.

It was lonely out here on the hill, so far from the others on her world. Yet, looking up at all the occupied worlds in the universe above her, she could not feel alone. Lone-ness was a forced emotion Reuen held in homage to her mate. It was difficult enough as it was, her spouse having been assigned early on and so completely indifferent about having offspring. Perhaps that was the difficulty of living so long- procreation had become mostly obsolete for her kind. Most simply splurged the energy required to produce a hatchling- their allotment used quickly in pleasure or in the acquisition of material wealth. Reuen had reserved her allotted energy ration for a very long time. Difficult...

Ziel had only been gone for a short time and already, Reuen missed her spouse terribly. It was not his first trip to that desolate corner of the universe (only a short trip this time, my dearest...) but Reuen could see little use in exploring what they already knew was there. Her haunch twitched and she swatted away one of the annoying little bolts of electric spritz that leap-frogged between the tiny spires of metallic grass under her feet. Turning her winged body towards the crystal dome barely visible in the distance that she called home, her muzzle turned one last time to the heavens.

Ziel was up there- just to the side of the bright blue pulsar of his namesake star. She certainly never envied his work- all that controversial science about the limits of their universe! Ziel and that scatterbrained Theorist Haro Esker had disputed over it for as long as she could remember. Truly, her mate had not made himself popular by bucking the established principals of their kind's knowledge.

Yet life on board a ship and the adventure of it somehow both intrigued and repelled her. Perhaps that is what attracted her to her spouse in the first place. And Reuen was not certain if that hindered or helped her own career. She herself had fallen into the easy routine of Consular work, simply by the association of heritage.

Whisperings in dark corners of the Council hall had several times suggested that she was kept close to Council only to keep an eye on what Ziel was up to. Whatever Ziel had discovered up there certainly did not seem very important to the Council considering the ridicule some offed openly. And yet, others continually supported her mate so he could "observe the barrier."

And of what use was that?? The barrier had always been there. It was a part of their universe beyond which there was nothing... absolutely nothing! And nothing could go beyond it. Their science had known this since time began.

If only Ziel would settle down... just for a short time. He had promised her he would! Was he even thinking of her? She couldn't feel any telepathic return- probably too busy running that science experiment he called a ship! Would she EVER have the life she dreamed of?

Reuen was getting no younger. She was allowed one hatchling, after all... her family dowry of energy had been set aside for that since her adolescence. Ziel had promised! After this mission he'd have the necessary Council approval to father a new youngling on their world- something rare enough these days that Reuen would wait for as long as it took.

The Council! Haven's rulers- of course there was always energy enough for their pet projects, but when it came to pro-creation, 'energy is so scarce, my dear'. While the Council insisted on their wait-list, their whole species dwindled in numbers to extinction. What if some disaster hit? Yes- they would have energy then. But, there would be none left within their universe to use it.

Reuen flicked her tail in irritation and flattened the growth behind her into a sheet of blue sparks. Somehow, causing the damage made her feel better, and she stomped a few more times into the coppery growth under her footpads. Here and there, an organic machine hopped or crawled out of the way- some artistic whim of a youngling of her kind. A part of Reuen's mind detected a tiny vacancy in the spectrum of energy coming into her mind- she had obviously damaged one of the things with her tail. Immediately sorry, she regarded the organic remains and carrier fluid sticking to her tail. They have efficient program storage, she thought, but are far too weak and short-lived.

But in an instant, the idle distraction passed and her dark thoughts returned. When WOULD he call to her? I am so ALONE!! And yet, still no reply came to her mind. URGHHH!

Turning in frustration, Reuen made her way back to the path that led in an arc to her domicile. As she strode over it, the glassy rock of the path seemed to flow and magically carried her forward. The very air around her shimmered with energy, yet she knew the energy she absorbed just being alive exceeded the raw power of her environment ten-thousand to one. She did not dwell on the fact--she was oblivious to the incredible technology commonplace in her universe--the universe they called 'Haven'.

Her 'home' was rarely used as a 'dwelling'- more accurately, it was a place to feed and Dream. And Dreaming was to her kind a form of wakefulness. Reuen could easily have travelled anywhere on her world she wished, but it was not necessary. Her thoughts did that for her- and Reuen needed to get those thoughts away from missing Ziel.

Perhaps a swim would bring peace to her thoughts? The beautiful mix of two simple elements had been one of the delights of her youngling world. Reuen ached to swim in an ocean- but there were none left where she lived now. Water had once been plentiful in their universe- until their race became greedy for its inherent energy storage. Thus her kind had almost drained it completely away but for the voices of a few wizened elders who had managed to convince Council to conserve a portion on the neighbouring world of Haven-Secundus. That meddling body of pseudo-governors! A little late! And... It was THEY who were responsible for sending Ziel away from her!! To no avail, she did her best to withdraw from her ire, but it seemed her mind was set on being angry.

So, at home, she inserted her mind into the massive telepresence network and whatever she wished, became her reality. Blinking her great eyes instinctively against the virtual ocean around her, she felt the imaginary lunge of a huge wave drive her deep under the surface. Her wings folded themselves, her muzzle needlessly configured itself for sonar and electricity danced across her mineral skin, a throwback to the drag-reducing field they had always used when submerged. Belting out her sonar-pulse 'voice', Reuen called for her aquatic companions. Beside her instantly, four dolphin-like swimmers appeared, pixellated immediately by her thoughts.

Rolling in glee in the turbulence of the simulated waves, the pseudo-mammals now chased Reuen, daring her with quick approaches to grab their tails. And Reuen did, again and again, leaving her distress as far behind as the shore of the imaginary ocean. Reuen had programmed this construct just as she remembered her youngling days on Haven Secundus. It was a memory of which Reuen would always be fond, she sitting on the edge of the artificial sea and the swimming creatures some genetic artist of her world had likely created coming right to shore and eating from her talons. A youngling had so little to worry about... Reuen had passed that stage of her life many millennia ago.

Reuen was a gigantic creature- to us, a dragon. Her environment was as foreign as familiar could be. It looked like our world- to them; but we would not see it that way... after all, our limited senses could only detect a fraction of the spectrum they could.

Her race could only be loosely translated in our language- Beings. In their recorded history of Aeons of time, their species had been the only occupants of the universe they knew. And, it was not our universe.

2. Ziel and Surille

Still in the zero-G pod, Ziel's mind recoiled suddenly out of space. Deity NO... not again! A mere instant ago, he'd almost stood out amongst the scattered few stars as if he could reach out and grab them. Now the telepresence link unceremoniously cast Ziel's mind back to the reality of the flight deck from where the probe had been operated. Impossible! The probe SHOULD have returned, not imploded! Could I have launched too early again?

Ziel glumly reviewed the ship's data feed. His mind was fed in painful detail the view of their last exploration probe collapsing into a spiralling plume of reddish gas. Yet again the probe was wasted. Yet again, there was nothing left but a cloud. And... Yet again the ship's sensors detected a mass signature out there. It was but a fleeting blip on the status feed, but definitely there. Something did not add up.

Occasionally his mind met with one or other of his ship-mates who were apparently quite amused by the whole thing. Everyone knew that the universe ended here- physical law stated that travelling further simply required so much energy that any object would stall and 'bounce' back. The probe was destroyed- as everyone had expected. Ziel must finally be ready to give up on this fool's errand- everyone could go home.

Yet, they had remained a little longer in respect alone for Ziel- his scientific work may be controversial, but he had managed enough Consular support to keep them all employed. Ziel had reasoned quite logically, his theory based in the very philosophy of the word 'barrier'. After all, it was a matter of faith... if there is a barrier, then something must be on the other side. Ziel had been so sure of it! Yet now... unless he had made some kind of error...

"Ziel?" The gentle mind-voice of Pilot Surille Yanthos joined the data stream coming into Ziel's mind. "I do not believe you did anything wrong. Your efforts were simply not possible to achieve."

"Yet they lead us to questions we cannot answer, my friend." Ziel knew he was now forced to abandon his work- without having answered the most basic of questions.

"Does the obvious require an answer? You cannot go any further- it is simple physics, Ziel. Trying to go further than the matter in the universe is impossible- everything tries to pull it back in! Beyond the barrier is simply... space."

"And, space is exactly that, Surille." Ziel still hoped against hope to discover some error he had made. "It is an area with nothing in it, correct? How can that be- absolute nothing? Besides, our sensors clearly show that there is mass here."

"Indeed. I do not have an answer for you- perhaps there just is no answer," Surille gently pointed out. "Sadly, we have run out of probes. And, my friend, we are out of resources."

"I know, Surille," Ziel put in with heaviness in his heart. "I know. Thank you for your patience with me all this time. I suppose there is at least some joy in the return to Haven Prime. My Reuen awaits eagerly. I wish I had better news to give her. A failure of this magnitude will do little to influence the Council to increase our energy ration. Ahhh, the humility of it all..."

Then, he had no more time for self admonishment. Third officer Felyse Degen inserted himself into the link between Ziel and Surille. "Ziel? Surille? Pardon the interruption, sirs, but you should examine the monitors. Something very strange is happening where the probe was destroyed!"

The interruption was immediately interrupted in turn by a multitude of ship's alarms and data streams forced into their minds. "Dear Deity, Ziel!! What in Chaos..." A stabbing fear issued from all over the ship, the amused complacency abruptly shattered. Ziel did not have much time to think, but years of piloting and drills had readied the mental outburst Surille was already issuing forth. "EMERGENCY STATIONS! EveryBeing to emergency protocols! Do it NOW!"

A wavering fluctuation began in the ship's hull and all around the ship's interior, flickering bands of light appeared to float in the air. From all sections of the ship, calls of concern added to the incessant status reports from systems all over the vessel. Not possible!

On the flight deck, ten pods burst open, the fluidic atmosphere spilling out in clouds of orange vapour. Ziel forced his body out onto the deck, disregarding the re-energization normally required to exit the pod. Blinking the vapour out of his huge eyes, he watched his ship literally lengthen and break into tiny fragments, the effect fast approaching the place he kneeled. Under his talons, the deck was already breaking apart and then... the extremities of his wings... his body... his fore arms... his muzzle!

Ziel had time only for a brief moment of panic and a flicker of scientific curiosity. At least they may yet find out why the probe had imploded! Reuen... I feel you there... I am so sorry...

3. Agora

Reuen knew. She always seemed to know. She halted her virtual glide through the waters of the ocean so abruptly, the four aquatic mammals beside her streaked past and fought to turn back to see what had happened to her. Reuen could hear their thoughts- 'Reuen? Why leave so soon- some inner calling?'

Their concern calmed her anxiety somewhat. She called back, "something is happening on the ship!" Reuen knew the swimmers were network constructs, imaginary things given life and character only because she so wished. Yet they were so close to real it may as well have been true. And Reuen knew the simulations served to provide the companionship she so badly missed, but it was not a fact to dwell on.

"We can feel the ship's alarms... true," the simulations agreed, "but Ziel's ship appears intact. He is fine. As you know, he has used up his last probe."

The simulation had as much information as she had, of course. And the constructs offered a calculating second opinion, free of emotional inconsistencies. "Ziel has little to fear from the barrier, Reuen. How often have you Beings tried to go beyond it? The ship will merely 'bounce' back, just as in every other exploratory venue."

"I am not sure what it is..." Reuen's mind was aching to receive any data the network had on Ziel's ship now. "The last time I felt something like it, Ziel almost didn't make it back. But it is not a ship malfunction this time... I feel... danger... He is in danger! I must go..."

Reuen bid her aquatic companions a hasty farewell and parted company instantly. Something was very wrong on Ziel's ship now- and the thin line of thought she always kept with him became her full reality. For a time, she had felt almost happy at Ziel's failure. He would be coming home.

But now... Reuen's mind keened at the danger Ziel must be in. Reuen could tell that Ziel felt her presence and was taking strength from it, but he was far too busy at the moment to focus on her mind's presence. Reuen shared in every moment of the ship's sudden lurch out of position. The alarms. The crew calling orders. The sucking, lengthening of the ship and the sickening fear of everyone on board. Her own fear adding to the intensity in the air. The looming anomaly ahead pulling them inexorably within...

Then there was silence. Reuen's mind recoiled from the Link with a shudder. It was like a return from some nightmare. And... and for Ziel, the nightmare would be real. The ship had imploded... just like the probes! Ahhhh, DEITY, NOOO! What could she do?

Panic! No... calm the thoughts... consider the possibilities- the possibility Ziel would never come home! Panic again! I must tell the Council... yes... I must do it now! But... likely they would already know by now?

And she did Link her mind to the Council network. The instant she met the data stream, the confusion in the Council proved they had already found out. What it also did was provide her with some genuine unshielded thoughts from the Councillors themselves.

They were not surprised!! Indeed, not! They had expected Ziel would fail from the start and were now deciding how best to spread the prepared statement that Ziel had been a fool and his pointless quest to go beyond the edge of the universe was proof positive that the Universe curled around on itself. NO one could pass beyond the edge!

The blow to Reuen's spirit was devastating. Not only was Ziel gone, she would be branded with Ziel's legacy of stupidity. Reuen could not take any more. She pulled out of the Link and rushed out of her home into the ruddy landscape of the hills. Spreading her wings, she commanded the energies to lift her high over the ground, ready to dash her body to the ground. She closed her eyes and began to pull into the steep dive to oblivion and then... discovered she was not alone.

"I lost my mate once..."

Reuen pulled out of the dive and spread the wings that acted as antenna for the forces that lifted her body up again. How could her intentions have been so transparent? "Councillor Agora?"

"Ahhh, spouse of my friend," the huge Being some distance behind her 'pathed, "are you so certain your mate is gone?"

"Whatever do you mean?" Reuen halted in mid air and looked back at the familiar form. In the gradually brightening energy of the morning, Councillor Agora Anze's form shimmered, her age showing in the slight fading of her purple coloration. Reuen huffed, if this is some Councillor's attempt at consolation... especially from this one!!

Agora pulled up short with an audible groan. "Uhhrrrgh! That was quite the dive! Not everyone in Council feels the same way about your mate, Reuen. I tell you only what I truly think."

Reuen barely hid the pang of embarrassment as Agora fended off Reuen's sarcastic query of her motive. Obviously, the Councillor had read Reuen's jab of irritation with long-practised diplomatic skill.

"You disliked me because of my continued support of your spouse's work. You felt I was responsible for always leading him away from you. But my support was genuine and not merely for political advantage as some of the others have done. And I DO count Ziel among my friends. See for yourself..."

Agora lowered the mental barrier so well practised in a Being's mind and continued. "I had a feeling how you might take the news and that is why I rushed so quickly in search of you. You can see in my mind how I admired Ziel and how he and I often philosophised on our existence! So. You now know I always wanted to believe your mate's theory, but obviously had to keep that to myself. You see I do not share the same acid scepticism Councillor Theos Searattus and his followers love to cast about. Sensibly, noBeing openly countermands the well-trodden theories of science we have held true. Yet our esteemed Theorist Haro Esker himself has told me on occasion he hopes Ziel is right. I can tell you too- that many a private venture just itches to follow Ziel's progress. Truly, there are many of us who are beginning to wonder if, perhaps, we have missed something. And now, it is conceivable that Ziel was proved right after all..."

Reuen's huge eyes opened wide for a moment. She had not considered that. "Proved right?? But then... then you think Ziel is alive?? That he actually travelled out of our universe? Is that possible?"

"I know something of the feeling of loss, Reuen. But I believe in my heart that he lives. And... mate of my friend, remember this. No matter what happens, Ziel DID prove something unusual happens out there. Our science may have been wrong for Aeons. There IS something beyond the Barrier! Your mate is a hero."

4. The New Space

Join the Beings as they discover our universe! Email the author for the rest of the story... click on the contact link, or email kvoute@dccnet.com.

Viviquary / 'viv-e-,kwer-e / n defn:


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