Chapter 7

A waking dream that appears by night, singing slyly like starlight. It leaves behind a crystallized data fragment to mark its passing.

I am diminished. I know this. It behooves a Queen to be honest with herself, even if such truths are hidden from advisors and subjects. Leaving the Distributary was not a mistake—and, in fact, it was the only possibility, for the expanding wake of the Collapse must someday find that safe haven too—but there are days I regret it.

Celestial bodies still spin. Most of them.

I touched the mind—the being—of that terrible distant force but once, and that was more than sufficient. Even I, Awoken and Queen, strength of my people, felt inextricably mortal in that moment.

I have stared into hard vacuum with nothing but my will to keep the breath in my lungs, and never feared a moment. This?

It disquiets me. I should not be afraid. I must not embrace fear. So I turn it over, again and again, picking through the pieces of that one fragmented impression for something more. To look at my own weakness, time after time. To understand something is to drain the killing fear out of it. That which is known can be disassembled.

(There was a version of me that was grateful… no.)

Yet the more I analyze, the more I ponder, the less I understand. A cacophony, an overwhelming weight of presence and thought and intent. A person, but not a person. More than that. Imagine if that first place where we the Awoken came to be had been nothing but screaming chaos.

In the noise, in the oppressive weight, I learn pieces as delicate as spiderwebs, as scattered as stars. I lay them out along each other in my thoughts. Here is purpose—not a singular thesis, but the idea of purpose, vicious and brilliant and driven as I ever was. Here is a shape—I see it as a sharpness, like a starless cutout against a distant galaxy, made clear in the negative space. The thoughts of the Hive, I might guess, but it is not quite the same. Purpose and sharpness are discrete from each other here. Darkness, and the sword—no, Darkness BUT the sword.

Here is a stillness—I breathe, and it shatters, but the idea of that perfect quiet ending remains, lingers into dreams. I think sometimes if I dream long enough, I will understand this Witness better, the Voice not of the Darkness, yet in it. But I do not have the time to spend in dreaming.

To understand this listless scavenger that claws through our world and cherishes the destruction it leaves as transcendent…

Risky, as all valuable things are.

I know one other thing from the Witness, garnered in those bare moments I touched it. Not a why or a how, no home or treasures to point at weakness. Only this:

Beneath all else, that being cradles rage enough to burn the stars themselves to cinders.