What was most terrible about the appetite of the Leviathan, was its cruel subtlety.
It ate in volume, but that was after a sustained and cruel period where individual ideas disappeared down its gullet like a gourmand before a plate of oysters. A barely perceptible incident, a half remembered dream were digested and disappeared with no more consideration than a weightier repast, such as the concept of manned flight or a knock knock joke that brings two people together. An impulse to stop at a convenience store and talk to the girl behind the counter disappeared without incident, but its impact would not go unmourned.
It is important that such things do not escape notice.
It had been as glorious as it had been futile. The Law Society had been decimated, not by death or destruction at the hands of their enemies, but by the death of several key ideas.
The alien scientist had forgotten the equation that predicted the inevitable destruction of his home planet, and in turn, not bothered to send his first born son to safety.
The bat did not fly into the orphan’s bedroom.
The millionaire weapons designer did not figure out a way to prevent the shrapnel from reaching his heart.
Velocity Jones had watched these men who had been her brothers and sisters in arms fade from view. What added to the insanity of the situation was that she had seen the same thing happen to the men, women, intelligent apes and artificial intelligences who had kept them busy for the better part of decades.
She had fought back tears when the malevolent genius ape looked around him with eyes made dull with confusion, tearing away his bow tie with an irritated grunt and dropping his plasma rifle in a final fit of pique. When he started to fling his own excrement in hot, sour dollops against the walls of the secret lair, she had wished him goodbye and left him to his own devices.
So, rather than wait for the inevitable, Velocity had kissed her friends goodbye and decided to do what she did best.
Velocity Jones ran for more than her life.
She tried to warn the liquid metal collective of Oliwu, but they bubbled their disdain in shimmering domes of mercury and aluminium before she wished them luck and started up again.
She stood before the Council of Macabre, bent over their scrolls and lit by candles sculpted from human fat and pleaded for them to prepare, but their inherent nihilism won out over their self-preservation. After all, they had been predicting a variety of apocalypses for their entire existence and it was a relief that for once, they knew something was going to happen. Velocity could not understand their delight and the way that their facial protuberances danced from beneath their hoods in a repulsive, vaguely sexual glee. After all, they had been dealing with the ongoing fight against happiness and self-actualisation for as long as they could remember.
The sad thing was that they did not get the glorious orgy of death and destruction that had formed their culture and literature, instead they simply forgot their sadness and despair. They sat in their caverns and breathed in fetid air, weeping until their reason for that disappeared into the Leviathan’s belly.
Velocity ran and she warned, and she ran some more. What was a constant was the inability to picture such a lower case ending to existence. Plague, the living dead, bombs and robots, even a brand of high protein yogurt that gained sentience and started feeding on its consumers were all accepted and survived, even celebrated but Velocity found that trying to explain that the death of ideas was coming, always fell on deaf ideas.
She had torn her left Achilles tendon, and when she rested, she needed the kind of medical regimen that would have made the average touring funk band blanch and tell her she needed to slow down. She had dreamed of glory, a life that made sense, to save others and in doing so, meet the dreams that had haunted her adolescence with a toothy grin and a left hook.
This, as noble as it was, was rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. What started to break her was that she could not remember what the Titanic was anymore. She tried to outrun the slick ball of nausea that sat in her gut when she considered that she had not escaped the Leviathan at all. She shovelled down a handful of pills and kept moving.
President Johnson had believed her, and she found that the crush that she had developed when he used to wrestle had deepened in the years. Her happiness had soured when she realised that he was not going to be able to save her. They took a photo together and he had shook her hand, before going to assemble Congress and give another speech that inspired the country and upped the birth rate, this time though without victory being possible. She had already forgotten the name of the movie franchise he had been in, the one with the cars, and the guy who had died.
It was a week later that she had forgotten her brother’s name.
A day afterwards, she had to start writing down the magic word that gave her the means to think at quantum speeds, folding space to outrun something that had already started to eat away at her identity.
She would write down her real name, above her magic word and look at it with a fondness that made her weep for what might have been. She stood in the gas station washroom, looked in the mirror and wondered when it would be time to stop running and rest. The pills started to do their work and she knew that she did not have long.
Cara lamented that women were so much more difficult to persuade into bed than men, but still less difficult than the Asdrian warrior poets of Ur-5S, she had decided to try getting one drunk when the pretty, but exhausted woman staggered into the Heavy Bastard Weapons Bazaar and Poetry Salon.
She always had a soft spot for the pretty but exhausted ones. It was between her thighs, but still, it made her empathetic towards men because goddamnit a lot of her adventures started under the influence of her gnawing need for sexual variety and validation.
The woman, clad in a skintight suit of liquid metal clutched at her, babbling about the end of things, asking if she knew her and Cara dropped the prepared line about wanting to, awaking the part of her brain that had seen her through glorious and terrible times since she had left the Silent Academy all those centuries ago.
She listened until the woman stopped speaking.
Then she held her as she died.
Velocity Jones was interred in the living forest of Bliss, where Cara had always hoped to be buried someday, underneath a soft spoken Elder Tree who spoke in a southern lilt and promised to care for her until she decomposed into minerals and nutrients.
Velocity Jones had a lifetime of memories, outran them all but she had, in the end, passed the one idea that mattered to the one person who had the will, arrogance and capability to do something about it.
In the end, Cara did not go for a big eulogy, she knelt before the mound of mosses, caught the piquant scent of the amino acids starting the work of reconstituting Jones down into soil and whispered the quote from the human anthropologist Margaret Mead that had been a source of comfort to her when all had felt desperate before.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Mead had lived and died and inspired without knowing that Cara needed to apply such a sentiment on a scale that would have sent her into a paroxysm of confused wonder, but that was Cara’s way. She got up, blew the grave a kiss and called her ship into orbit.
She needed the group, now.
TO BE CONTINUED.