Pattern of Infinity - Part XII - The Ultimate Significance of TimeBy J. Kel
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The Ultimate Significance of Time
THE PATTERN OF INFINITY
By J. Kel
The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you've gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?
Know that I am Time, that makes the worlds to perish when ripe,
and bring on them destruction.
-- the Bhagavad Gita
Alone in the chamber, her shrine, beneath the projected night sky, Servalan watched transfixed, the whole of the ceiling one vast window into the eternal night. Here, if only in illusion, she was far away from the Earth of burning skies, of crushed cities, of towers cracked and buildings broken to steel splinters. The planet was becoming a nuclear bonfire, but the defenses of her city still held. Searing needles from the ground punched through the force fields, vaporizing the projectiles raining down, deflecting everything thrown at her. Far above, Earth's defenses continued to return fire relentlessly against the attackers. It would be close, but victory delayed would still be victory. For it past midnight. The release of the pathogens had begun.
She clutched the prayer book close to her. She had killed Li. She had seen the woman twist in her sight at the sound of her name, watched the face turn from her in terror. Servalan had shot true. The wound had been deep, as deep as the one that had been inflected on her soul by that woman. Li had fallen, the look of transfixed agony on her face to savor for all time.
But she could not continue like this. The hand of fate had not yet clenched into a fist to smash the galaxy. Avon had escaped. It was beyond her comprehension how he could have betrayed her to this degree. She had been so sure he was beaten. Now she would have to follow. For the prophecy would be fulfilled. To ensure he was cut down, all the power of time itself would be summoned and forged within her. With Li's body pitched in his face, she had undoubtedly hurt him. But it was not nearly enough. With a force like his, purpose would be regained, the power he held not yet evaporated. Only the fulfillment of the prophecy could free her. Only then would she at last gain the title of Messiah.
She had ordered the Combined Fleet to converge on Terminal. Avon would be intercepted there. There would be losses, but what a laughable concept now. Her only worry was that they might not be quick enough. If the pathogen destroyed her fleet first, oh bitterest of ironies that!, then what?
She looked a mess. Outside the chamber lay the ruins of ORAC, her last friend. "We're both wrecks. How, I appreciated your company when it was needed."
To anyone but her, the choice would have been destruction or victory, but she demanded both. To be the empress of a tomb was an honor she would gracefully accept. But still she dreaded the physical loss of her city. Servalan City had been the site of cities blasted to oblivion before and there should be a meaninglessness attached to yet another annihilation. But the danger looming was the dropping of a mine. If that happened . . . to move to the final phase, the end of all that was human, all that was Auron, the next step must be the total emptiness of the galactic grave. The visions drawing her in must come to pass. But the mine must not fall.
She removed the protective foil cover of her book. If there were ever a time it had to speak to her, it was now.
She had entered this room with the vision of that clown Vila unleashing the final outrage. The image had fused in her mind. She had screamed when she dreamed it. Now she shuddered. It was the impossible, a contradiction never to be resolved. Vila unleashing total destruction upon her city -- a mine slicing down from the sky, reddening as it entered the atmosphere, aimed directly at her. Where could such an image come from? There was a mine-layer, it had two mines, the pilot was . . . Well, they were unsure. The possibility remained that perhaps she was simply going mad. She was aware of that possibility.
There was no time to ask why. Whatever the future was, it would be as foretold, for by knowing the future, she controlled it. Time, like blood, coursed through her; part of her being. Time itself would die without her, the universe perish when she did. Her's was the greatest power imaginable. Others had sought it, others had claimed it, but only she had accomplished it. She opened the prayer book.
They had entered her mind. They could sense her thoughts, desires. They spoke in her dreams. She would think and they would respond. A final prayer to Evil itself was enough to bring her joy. She felt the pressure inside her mind as she spoke the words, each one clashing within her:
"I humbly beseech thee . . . She spread her arms slowly.
Mercifully to look upon my infirmities . . . She fell to her knees
And for the glory of thy Name turn to me now those evils that I most righteously have yearned. She bowed her head.
And grant, I may put my whole trust and confidence in thy mercy and evermore serve thee, to thy honor and glory.
There was shrieking on all channels of her black corsage communicator. She turned it off, threw it away. So it was true, she realized and accepted. The vision of the ultimate absurdity could not be denied after all. There were only seconds left. The mine had begun its descent. Energy beams from below played upon its surface, but to no affect. It was far too fast; much too strong. The outer skin shed, so many glowing protective layers stripped away, unveiling at the core a monstrous destructive device. The city swelled before it; the horizon curved around it.
She lifted her head. Before her was a small sphere, a dot like a black marble. It grew until it engulfed almost the whole of the room. It was an opening beckoning, a tunnel without end. She stood and stepped into it. She could see nothing. She held the book tighter, walking forward hesitantly, then more quickly. She felt a wind blowing behind her, pushing her in, pulling her in. She hurried. She fled into the maw, falling down into it, as it closed and curled around her.
The mine broke through the city's force fields and touched the top of the towers. It exploded, sending a disk of white and red fire hundreds of kilometers in every direction, incinerating the atmosphere, flattening and scorching the land, burning mountains, lakes and sky as it vaporized the city and the surrounding plains. The disk became a wall of hell flames, turning everything it touched to superheated steam and ash, disintegrating a continent in microseconds.
Then towering above the remains of city, a column burned the sky orange, mounting upwards from ground through air to space like an enormous flaming sword that had plunged into the entrails of the dragon.
But she was safe, fleeing down the tunnel to where she knew not.
Avon tried not to think about Earth, about the fighting that still must be going on, about all whom they had abandoned, the desiderata of war, the endless details of blood and death for which there could never be a proper accounting. But think he did. This was nothing to walk lightly away from.
For Avon it was possible to recover. A lifetime of preparation had taught him not to dwell on unproductive emotions. This did not imply he did not feel the enormity of this events. It was simply that what had been done, could not be undone. If there was value in making an emotional assessment of the past, then it would be a task for others. If a judgment were to be made against him, it would likely be severe, but he was used to severe judgments. They had all known from the beginning that a mission of this nature could not possibly be achieved without high costs. Tarrant and Cally were dead. Li was dying. A part of him did indeed hope it were not so, but the reality was not to be denied, now or ever. The whole of their lives had led up to this and now they would live out the consequences.
He glanced around him. Jenna was still very much alive -- he would have bet on that. So was Dayna. And one other. He had given the order, Vila had obeyed. The instruments confirmed Vila was on board.
He had attempted to reach the man, but from the teleport room there was no response. Vila was not saying anything. Incredibly, Vila was ignoring him. He would release Dayna shortly to investigate, but not quite yet. There was an immediate problem in the Bucephalas. They were now far outside of Earth's orbit and the mine layer with its thousands of ill and dying was falling behind. The Liberator would have no trouble evading pursuit, but this ship was too slow, too easily tracked. Vengeance dictated the Federation would not let it survive. And the state of the war dictated that the allies had no reserve capacity to divert to its protection. The odds of getting the ship to Terminal were nil.
Even as he watched, the Federation ships broke off the pursuit of the Liberator. Futile as their pursuit had been, the act could only have been the result of her order. He should have been elated but was not. He would, as always, proceed cautiously. He did not trust the alliance either.
"Dayna," he asked -- for obvious reasons, he preferred to deal with her over Jenna, "Contact whoever is in command on the Bucephalas. Tell them to find a nearby star and turn off their drive engines. Have them go into hiding."
Dayna tried contacting the ship, but could get no answer.
"Telemetry?" he asked.
"Yes," Dayna replied. The ship was still alive, though the signal was very weak. Tarrant, Avon conceded, had done a good job at least in that regard.
"We can't protect it."
Dayna looked at him appalled, but in agreement.
"We will have to get to Terminal as quickly and there plead our case," he said with no particular conviction. Then he realized: with no one in pursuit of the Liberator, the Combined Fleet would likely have been ordered to Terminal.
But only Terminal could save then now. That had been the bargain. Get the children out; return them to Terminal. Then this ultimate power would be waiting for their use.
They had not kept their end of the bargain.
"Is there anything you want me to relay? The link is fading."
"Tell them we are going on without them. I don't know when we will be back. We will try to retrieve them later. Nothing else we can do. If it wants the children . . ." but he could not finish the thought.
"And the Federation. . . "
"It is possible the Federation is no longer factor. The Combined Fleet is another matter, however."
On the main forward monitor the Federation ships were gone. Dazed, filthy, more tired than they could acknowledge, they accepted what he told them. He wondered if it was time to tell them all he knew -- what he had told Tarrant of Servalan's plans for the whole of humanity. It might yet serve to impart a sense of urgency and meaning to what they were doing. Something more that sheer force of will to move them on. Yet he could not do so. He could act, but the thrill of purposeful action, the power of mind and body he had brought to so many situations, was gone. It was no longer possible to assign value to either victory or defeat. He could only move, one plodding step at a time, into a future unknowable and meaningless. If in a sense the stars themselves were being murdered, if their universe were ending, how would he convey any order in the face of those facts that made sense?
When Dayna had finished relaying his instructions to the Bucephalas, and she was uncertain they had been received, she asked to attend to Vila. He granted the request. When she was gone, he turned to Jenna. He told her the background of what had happened, trusting she would believe him. There was no drama or emotion or urgency he could impart to the facts. No possible conclusion except to just keep moving. On Terminal there might be an answer, a hope, something to fend off the annihilation of an entire galaxy. But he doubted it. To Jenna's credit and his lasting respect, she said nothing but simply continued intent upon her piloting duties. She did not ask to be relieved, though to anyone else but him she would have admitted she had gone as far as she could.
He sat at his station, watching on the main monitor the stars flicker, trying to think.
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