Ravens of Eternity -
Chapter 429 - 429 The Center of the Galaxy, Pt 4
429 The Center of the Galaxy, Pt After many minutes of traveling through the planet-sized station, Thanatos eventually reached the inner core. It passed through the atmospheric shielding and pierced through to the inside.
But it wasn’t quite hollow like Freya thought. It was yet another layer of nanite soup, much like the surface. She watched as a fully-formed hangar bay materialized all around her, as the soup created a hangar bay just for this occasion.
It dawned on her that deep in here, they could be overwhelmed with nanites and turned into soup in mere moments. But they weren’t already, which meant there was some sliver of trust to be had.
She docked Thanatos at the only docking collar protruding from the far wall. And as she neared the walls, they protruded outward and filled the space between. It made Thanatos fit snugly in the docking collar itself, which felt incredibly satisfying.
At that very moment, Freya wished that every station had that capability.
Down below, the Spirit of Amelia touched down on the only landing pad, which was sized perfectly for the hardy old corvette. Her bottom cargo bay elevator lowered after a few moments, which revealed both Raijin and Claire on it.
They stepped off and walked towards the only exit from the hangar bay. Right in front of it was the same Administrator who they had been talking to. She waited patiently for the two of them to approach, and for Freya to come down via gravpad.
Once they all converged, they hopped on Freya’s gravpad and traveled down another massively long passageway towards what seemed to be the absolute center of the inner core itself. The passageway itself was a kind of nanite soup that formed as they traveled further.
It felt to Freya like they were traveling on a bubble across a massive, dark field.
Raijin felt completely differently. She looked at the nanite sea all around her, pierced through the surface with her scanners, and observed the inner core with impunity.
What she found was a kind of anachronism.
Sure, the inner core seemed just like the layers above. It was filled with countless modules and systems and databanks and nodes and circuits. But a technologically inferior kind. The nanites were the same design as everywhere else, but not the modules they made.
At least, not down here.
After a while, she realized that she had much more in connection with the station than she realized. She was doing the same thing, after all. She had her own cloud of nanites recreate her biological body’s internal organs, exactly as they were before her merging.
More than that, she actively maintained them, even though she was fully aware of their limitations and flaws.
It would have been easy enough to implement improvements and make iterations to her design over time. But for whatever reason, she opted to stick to the old machines that made her.
Of course, it wasn’t just due to sheer sentiment that she kept it. She had long since come to the realization that if she ironed out every flaw in herself, at what point would she lose who she was? At what point would it have turned her into a mindless drone, devoid of the last physical semblance of her humanity.
She had determined that the flaws introduced chaos, which itself invited life itself. And through that came to the conclusion that her consciousness was vivid due to those flaws, not the lack thereof.
Seeing the anachronistic designs in use here made her think of her own philosophies, which were mirrored in the station all around her.
“You aren’t at all what I expected,” Claire told the Administrator.
“She still is not what you expect,” added Raijin. “She is not actually there.”
Claire spun towards Raijin with an arched eyebrow.
“What do you mean by that?” she said.
The Administrator answered for her instead.
“Your compatriot is correct,” she said. “I am merely a projection.”
“A projection? But…”
Claire reached out and touched the Administrator, expecting to pass right through her, as like with a holoprojection. But she instead felt something physical. It even felt like fabric on skin.
“We are here,” said the Administrator. “Please, follow me.”
The gravpad came to a stop in front of an open doorway which led into a hemispherical room. The dome over the room itself appeared to be one massive display that showed all kinds of reports and live feeds and data from across the galaxy itself.
It was all laid over what seemed to be a galactic map of the entire Milky Way.
Like it was some kind of planetarium sky theater, but for someone in command rather than a mere show.
All the room had in the very center was a large array of terminals surrounding a chair. Also surrounding the chair were countless screens facing towards it in a hemispherical shape.
None of the terminals and screens were alike. Some were very finely made and positioned, while others seemed patched together and hung by wires. Others looked old and dusty while some seemed brand-new and barely-used.
And whoever was seated in it was too engrossed on what was on the screens themselves to bother about anything else around them.
Not even as the team hopped off the gravpad and neared.
“The Benefactor, finally,” muttered Freya. “...Well, aren’t you at least gonna say hi?”
But there was no response.
She stepped forward with a soft ‘hmph’ in irritation, as though they were being played with. Then stopped midway the moment she saw who was actually in the chair. Her throat went dry almost immediately.
It was a desiccated corpse. 𝑖𝑛𝗻𝐫𝗲𝙖𝐝. 𝘤૦m
Its skin was dark, shriveled, and dry. More than that, it was partially translucent, and she could see some bone just beneath. Long white hairs stuck out from the top of its head, and fell down in a few directions, like a mop. The corpse also had the remnants of a beard. This too was long and wispy.
The corpse itself seemed so fragile that she feared it would crumble at her touch. So instead, she backed away from it.
“I… I don’t get it,” said Freya. “The Benefactor’s dead? Like long dead. Decades dead. Or centuries dead. I don’t know, and I can’t tell. But a long time. How could he have orchestrated all this?”
“The Benefactor?” the Administrator said quizzically. “That is not the Benefactor. No, the Benefactor is a fabrication, a convenience, a mask used for intragalactic communications and negotiations. The Benefactor is not a real entity.
“The entity seated in front of you is the Engineer, and I am merely his Administrator. I act in his stead.”
“So… you’re the Benefactor?” Freya asked with hesitation.
“I play that role, correct. As noted, in the Engineer’s stead. I am sure you can note, he is unable to act on his own accord. His physical body long since extinguished. Not merely centuries, but for millennia.”
Freya glanced back over to the corpse. She tried to comprehend how many thousands of years it sat there, doing nothing. Then she attempted to comprehend what he was like before that.
She wasn’t very successful with either.
“As the Administrator, do you have a designated name?” Raijin asked.
“An Ki is the label that the Engineer assigned to my home circuit,” the Administrator replied.
“And that must mean that you are the station itself, neh?”
“Partially correct. I manage the station directly. This projection is merely my primary communications interface. As the Engineer preferred and programmed, of course.”
Raijin hovered over to Anki and observed her from up close. Then she moved over to the terminal array, and the corpse seated in the middle of it all.
She took a good look at all of the equipment, as well as the corpse’s condition with great interest.
“This technology is thousands of years old?” she said. “Which means you are yourself thousands of years old.”
“Correct again,” said Anki. “I have been active for twelve thousand, four hundred seventy-nine years, six months, nine weeks, and three cycles. Of course, the station and the Engineer have been around for far longer.”
“I honestly find it hard to believe that a twelve thousand year old being would want to parley with any of us,” Claire suddenly interjected. “What is it you’re hoping will happen here?”
“I’ve noted previously, I must preserve the station at all costs, at the Engineer’s command,” Anki replied. “This is hardcoded into my programming, etched deep into every line. If there is an option for survival, I must take it.”
“So then, what are you offering?” Claire countered. “Are you gonna stop this war? Or at least stop trying to advance it?”
“It could be an option, yes. If it means the preservation of the station, then I have the authority to make that choice. But it will be a difficult option to negotiate.”
“It is a matter of lifespans,” Raijin interjected. “Promises are more easily broken when no-one remembers a long-distant past. Anki could easily design a ceasefire. But it would only last as long as people remember the accord in the first place.
“But I exist, as does Freya and Azrael and so on. We have long memories, and that’s a problem, correct?”
Anki nodded with a serene smile.
“For the third time, yes, correct,” she said. “The station’s survival requires anonymity from the galaxy while maintaining absolute integration with it. I cannot have anyone out there at any time with knowledge of my existence.
“As such, I have calculated numerous potential outcomes, some of which we could come to an agreement or understanding.”
“You mean keep any immortals imprisoned,” Freya spat out. “Or just outright killed. In exchange the galaxy gets a little peace. At least for a few hundred years then it all spins up again. Did I get that right? Is that your ideal middle ground?”
“Those are valid options for us to take,” Anki replied. “Though I also acknowledge and expect that negotiating for them would be difficult.”
“You’ve missed my point. You’re basically saying that the killing won’t stop no matter what. There’s no option on the table where these wars and conflicts end permanently. Only temporarily. I don’t think that’s an honest position to negotiate from is it?”
“As self preservation is a primary directive, so too is my need to preserve galactic balance. I cannot go against it, at the Engineer’s command.”
Freya was stunned at everything she had seen and heard thus far. The desiccated corpse’s age, the Administrator’s absolute subservience to it, and the madness of ten thousand years of this kind of “work”.
She initially imagined that they would stumble on some secret cabal with sweeping galactic power. They would likely have been defended by 5 meter tall behemoths that she and everyone else would have to destroy.
But instead, they found a dead old man and his omnipotent doll.
In a way, she found this far worse. For one thing, she couldn’t fathom being this deeply obedient to anyone or anything and having no will of her own.
The thought crossed her mind that the station simply didn’t know any existence otherwise. If she was programmed from birth to reap countless lives for the sake of “balance”, would she even understand any arguments against it?
“But why?” Freya asked. “Why do all this in the first place?”
“As noted, the Engin-”
“Yes, yes. We all get that you’re stuck on Engineer duty ensuring this flimsy idea of galactic balance. You can’t help it because he said so. But why did he decree it in the first place? What motivated him to cause all this insanity all around us? All this senseless death and destruction and loss?
“All our lives could be so much more peaceful, so much more pleasant. Filled with beautiful moments one after another. Instead, we’ve got fire and ash and scars galore. What’s the point?”
Anki looked at Freya as though she wanted to explain. But didn’t want to.
“It is exactly because of that,” she replied. “It is to prevent continual peace and pleasure. This is simply because such sedentariness leads to softness. It produces a generational inability to combat future problems.”
“What, you mean people become too stupid to live?” Claire guffawed. “That sounds awfully reductive for numerous galactic civilizations.”
“No, not stupid,” Anki said. “Comfortable is a much closer word. Passive. The Engineer personally witnessed countless civilizations fall because of it. Count however many people you’ve seen die, and multiply it by several powers.
“Too often civilizations were soft, unmoving. Only focused on their own culture and pleasure. They didn’t produce enough, or build enough, or amass enough. And as a result, they always crumbled under their own weight, or by some unknown cosmic force they never bothered to discover.”
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