Alternative Alternative History

The Sounds Of New York City, Circa 1920 : The Two-Way : NPR

An intro story intended as a direct reference to Robert Chambers’ The Repairer of Reputations. I do recommend the original, provided you can overlook one or two references to attitudes that are justifiably no longer acceptable. Beyond that, though, in the niche of literature that Lovecraft and Derleth came to dominate decades later, The Repairer of Reputations stands out as a particularly subtle example among weird fiction’s supremely un-subtle enclave, with its portrait of a shining, futuristic 1920s New York (from the perspective of its 1895 publication date!), seen through the eyes of Hildred Castaigne, a megalomaniacal but only understatedly unreliable narrator. It also has suicide booths.

The original leaves the open question of how much Hildred’s insanity has affected his perception. There are clear, “onscreen” arguments over whether Hildred’s combination safe is, in fact, a breadbox, or whether the crown he keeps inside it is simply a piece of trash, but those allude to the arguments no one has: How much of the ordered, tranquil, pomp-and-circumstance New York of the future can be real if we are seeing it only through his distorted gaze. It’s an elegant ambiguity, one I ignore entirely in the below. My story is not elegant, and where Chambers’ work was meant to stand alone, mine is intended to introduce an aesthetically similar but larger and (by modern standards) much more conventional interweaving of characters. My version of Chambers’ setting is meant to be unambiguously real (because I like it), but I hope it will pique your interest anyway. The tags/categories are relevant, of course.

Toward the beginning of the year 1920 the government of the United States (and, newly, of Britannia) had practically completed the program adopted during the last months of President Winthrop’s administration.  The country had every appearance of tranquility.  The Great War, despite its ravagings upon Europe, had left no such scars upon the republic, having cemented its mutually agreed-upon annexation of the British Isles and Canada and emboldened its navy, granting it control over a profitable majority of both the Atlantic and Pacific.  The last vestiges of the white separatist movement in Texas had been quelled and its leaders apprehended with the aid of the Venus of the Sinaloa, and with the exception of the Army’s ongoing, troubled campaigns in the Shandong jungle, the country was in a superb state of defense.

Moreover the nation was prosperous.  Chicago, for a moment paralyzed after a second great fire, had risen from its ruins, argent and stately and even more beautiful than the white city which had been built for its people in 1893.  Everywhere good architecture was replacing bad, and even in New York a sudden craving for decency had swept away a great portion of the dingiest existing edifices.  Streets had been widened, properly paved, and lighted; trees had been planted, squares laid out, elevated structures demolished, and underground roads built to replace them.  The new government buildings and barracks were fine bits of architecture, and the long system of stone quays which completely surrounded the island had been turned into parks, which proved a godsend to the population.

The colossal Congress of Religions had convened only a year ago, but already itseemed clear to most that a new understanding prevailed between men and their cultures and creeds, that bigotry and intolerance were to be laid in their graves, that kindness and charity had finally triumphed over that ugly, sectarian will to conflict.  Many thought the millennium had arrived, at least in the new world, which, after all, was a world unto itself.

Many thought as much, yes, but Beau Pierre wasn’t so sure.  He looked down, bleary, from the window of his tenement–one of the few of its hideous kind remaining in the city–upon the newly reconstructed Pell Street, its wide, neat sidewalks, flowering cherry trees, alabaster storefronts opening to the carefully managed calm of a seaside park two blocks down.  People were supposed to like these things, to draw from them the same outward order and organization within their own souls, but Beau found them curiously soulless.  Something was wrong with him, he admitted.

After the war, he had enrolled at Columbia.  Prospects had been bleak at the time for a return to Paris, and he had been eager to resume his studies.  But it didn’t take.  It wasn’t that the faculty weren’t supportive or that they were hostile to expatriates or really any subversion of his expectations for the place.  Beau had changed.  It might have been the war–the Romantics had oft described the change that might occur in man upon his immersion in hardship and violence–but something told Beau that the particulars of the Western Front weren’t what the Romantics had in mind.  Besides, the war failed acutely to provide an explanation for the other changes he’d noticed in his life.

Beau turned to look at the door at the opposite end of his dusty studio and focused, flexing a muscle in his mind which had gradually made itself apparent over the past three years.  Clouds of possibility converged about the door, forming lines and threads stretching into dimensions he could intuit but not consciously fathom, along which the door began to shift.  The vast majority of them–ninety five percent, Beau estimated–were closely grouped, and the majority of what remained did not stray far.  It was a near certainty, then, that the door would open between seven and eight minutes from now.  He checked his pocket watch.  Ten minutes late.  Perhaps it was a power play?

Since his departure from the university, Beau had drifted through a few different arrangements of employment, less for the needs of his lifestyle–he lived cheaply and had been able to extricate an appreciable nest egg from his family’s holdings in France before his crossing–than for an idle fascination with Americana and its trappings.  A store clerk, a carriage driver–a profession swiftly yielding to the automobile traffic coming to dominate transportation about the city–a librarian, a shop assistant to a record seller–it was through this last, oddly, that he finally encountered the grasping fingers of New York’s peculiar underworld.  Out of curiosity, he had accepted an invitation to a secret society dedicated to the King in Yellow, who seemed to Beau to be a sort of cross between myth and metaphor, though he still had little idea what any of the society’s gibberish actually meant.  It was through that bizarre enterprise, however, that he had been recruited by Felix Wilde.

He’d never seen the man–only received messages from the other members of the society.  The employment they offered–periodic requests to deliver cryptic messages and nonsensical objects to individuals across the spectrum of social standing–paid poorly, which was notably orders of magnitude better than it ought to have paid.  It was terribly interesting, Beau felt, made all the more so by the enigma of Mr. Wilde himself.  The man, purportedly a microcephalic gremlin, was the chief accountant at Hawberk Armoury and Defense, the largest arms dealer in the country, but it seemed he had his malformed digits in some great share of New York’s illegal operations as well.  Some small portion–liquor smuggling, forgery–seemed profitable.  Most, like Beau’s errands, did not, but it was clear that Mr. Wilde held a sort of ineffable sway over the city’s miscreants.  Beau dearly wanted to understand why, but salient evidence had thus far eluded him, which was why the development of three weeks ago was so exciting.

Between Wilde’s sporadic requests and his own counter-research, Beau had taken to spending his afternoons at Belmont Park, testing his newfound predictive talents upon more measurable stakes.  Almost to his surprise, they proved quite reliable, and he found himself able to collect margins on small bets placed within ten minutes of a race’s start.  When he attempted to replicate his success with a more substantial sum, his predictions did not fail him, but unfortunately, his lack of guile did.  The track administrators had apparently noticed their novice patron’s perfect betting record and, upon the unfurling of circumstances that might otherwise have garnered the attention of their other clientele, decided to intervene.  Beau’s winnings were confiscated, and he was tossed unceremoniously to the street.

It was a costly error, to be sure: Though he was not currently relying on the extra pocket money, he had entertained hopes that it might provide some assurance of his financial independence in years to come.  A ban from every track in the state of New York complicated things.  Ultimately, though, Beau found it worthwhile, for the very next morning, an envelope arrived at his door, marked in the usual way with the initials “F.W.”  It was a task, of a sort, but unlike previous instances of terse, unadorned instruction, this note took the form of a ledger entry:

Incident recorded for one B. Pierre, student, migrant, amateur gambler.  Incident occurred April 3rd.  Reputation damaged on the racetrack.  Known to track proprietors as a race fixer.  Reputation to be repaired April 23rd aboard the Prince’s Emblazoned.  Retainer to be paid by client’s assistance to Mr. Hawberk on said date.  Entry papers and details to be provided to client by H. Castaigne at 8:30 AM, April 23rd, prior to departure.

-Mr. Felix Wilde

Accountant, Hawberk Armoury & Defense Co.

The mystery had coagulated deliciously.  Martin Hawberk was a pillar of society, and the Prince’s Emblazoned, his ocean liner, was the decade’s crowning achievement in modern nautical engineering–such was the agreement among every sailor Beau could find relaxing outside the cafes which bordered the harbor.  That idle engagement with Mr. Wilde’s nonsense had propelled him into such stations was a thrill in itself.  That it might finally shed light on Wilde’s intentions–or “repair” Beau’s damaged public character–was a veritable culmination of his atrophied ambitions.

He cut these ruminations short, rising in anticipation of a knock at the door, which arrived precisely on schedule.  Adjusting his sleeves, he breathed deep and opened it to a dandily-dressed young man who sauntered in with barely a glance of acknowledgment.

“Mr. Castaigne, I presume?” Beau asked.  The man delayed his response, surveying Beau’s ascetic lodgings with an almost exaggerated curl of his lip before laying his cane against the windowsill and producing a folio, which he set upon the table.

“Indeed,” he replied, begrudgingly making eye contact.  He did not sit, instead choosing to lean dramatically upon the backrest of Beau’s chair.  “You understand what is at stake here, yes?”  Beau clasped his hands and shook his head humbly, for now content to play along with Castaigne’s overstated theatrics.

“I am afraid Mr. Wilde provided me with precious little context.  What service is it I am to be providing?”

“You are to be controlling damage,” Castaigne said, almost with a snarl.  “Hawberk has decided that he shall jeopardize our finances with his frivolity, and Mr. Wilde finds this unacceptable.  We are to understand your capabilities make you an effective card player?”

“I’ve not made a habit of card playing.”  Castaigne scowled and looked out the window, perhaps to hide his sudden turn of rage.

“My blood boils at the thought that you were chosen, with wits this dim!” he spat, turning back.  “Your role is to ensure that either Hawberk or yourself wins this useless game, so that our work is not imperiled.  Do not fail, or the King in Yellow will surely enlighten you as to the meaning of fear.”

Beau considered the manic threat for a moment but ultimately found himself unable to resist:

“What have I to fear from the King in Yellow?”

Castaigne regarded him for a moment, taut-lipped, knuckles clenching around the top of the chair.  Then, in a low voice, he intoned:

“Mr. Wilde the other day relayed to me the most curious rumor of a certain Benoit Foyer, a French entrepreneur most perturbed by the theft of his family’s fortune by his estranged half-brother, mere hours after their father’s death on the Front.  I understand he is attempting to ascertain the miscreant’s whereabouts.  What do you make of it?”

Despite his efforts, Beau felt his brow raise incrementally.  Mr. Wilde’s attention was more careful than he’d realized.

“I would venture,” he replied slowly, “that Mr. Foyer may overstate his claim.  There exists no record of his parentage prior to his adoption into the Foyer family, making his accusation baseless.”

“Mr. Wilde is quite gifted at finding records, Mr. Pierre.  Hawberk’s former competitors can attest to it.  But let us agree that, in this case, he is surely mistaken in his assumption that such a record might be provided to Mr. Foyer.  And let us agree that his faith in you is not misplaced.”

With that, Castaigne deliberately relinquished his grip upon the chair and fetched his cane.

“Everything else you need should be in it,” he said, gesturing carelessly to the folio on the table.  He paused.  “Except you had best find yourself a tailor.  Even Mr. Hawberk would not suffer your presence on his ship looking like that.”

He strode out, leaving the door open behind him–and Beau to wonder whether his curiosity had been worth it after all.

The Nicholas

April 2, 1920  

It was a clear morning off the New England coast–approaching the southerly latitudes of Maine, if memory serves–and though the waves were calm, April’s lingering chill had yet to pass on, crawling, it seemed, up the sides of my boat, around my ankles and settling uncomfortably, like some odious shawl, about my shoulders.  I had sailed north only recently, having spent the winter fishing down in the Gulf, and the swift return to my summer grounds–premature, for a bout of restlessness I now vehemently cursed–had left me as yet poorly acclimated to the northern spring and robbed of any enthusiasm for the productive use of my location.  In my shivering solitude that morning I had cast two lines, and though I’d gotten bites on neither, I was having difficulty mustering the will to bait a third.  I recall it was in that fraught quiescence that I took notice of the irregularity surfacing some forty yards off the port bow.

To my first glance it seemed like jetsam or some other detritus, having the texture of maritime vehicularity without a form I could identify as any particular boat, but as more of the mass emerged above the waves, my befuddlement became something more akin to awe.  My previous confusion in identifying the object, it seemed, had lay in my assumption that its form would be singular when, in fact, it was comprised of numerous vessels and the pieces thereof.  Before me were hulls of dinghies, canoes, fishing boats, shattered boards and beams lashed haphazardly against great sheets of black rubber in a jumbled ellipsoid that, from far off, might have been mistaken for the carcass of some colossal leviathan.  For all the strangeness, though, of this great, nautical garbage heap, I still found myself ill-prepared for the sign that then surfaced on its carapace–glowing red neon, proclaiming it to be The Nicholas–or the concrete suburban front porch, flanked by flaccid strands of potted seaweed, which emerged beneath it.  Even as the door of the porch slammed open, and a ragged man stepped out and hurled a bucket of something foul into the ocean between us, I could only stare, speechless.  Ultimately, it was he who called out to me:

“Aye, laddie!  Watsonismouth?!”

I shook myself awake.  Being then unable to place either the man’s accent or the meaning of his query, I called out as much and motored over on the supposition that proximity might serve to make better order of the situation.

He clarified as I drew closer: “Sonny, let meh ask ya ferst: What’s in ya mouth?”  I might have guessed his previous call had been delivered in some dialect of the British Isles, but now his accent had drifted westward, seeming suddenly more appropriate for a denizen of the Carribean (and, I will admit, suggesting an origin I would never have guessed from his appearance).  Beyond the vagaries of his delivery, though, I was also rather bewildered as to the substance of his inquiry.  My mouth was quite empty, for though I normally partook of a smoke at this hour, I had dropped my pipe somewhere on the deck, amidst the shock of his vessel’s emergence, and had since lost track of it.  I indicated as much to him in my reply.

“No, son,” he clarified in an abrupt Mississippi drawl.  “It’s a mattah of circumnavigation.  We’s tryin’ to get at what’s in ‘eez maouth, an if yer knowin’ what’s in yer maouth, then that’s a tack on the chart, ‘cause what’s in yer maouth properly ain’t in ‘eez maouth, ya see?”

I did not.  I inquired–skeptically, for I was growing increasingly certain that this man was in something of an unpredictable state–as to whose mouth we were investigating.

“Not whosemaouth, son.  ‘Eezmaouth.  Like beezmaouth, if’n ya know the rock, ‘cept withaout that certification of a job done at the utmost pinnacle o’mediocrity.”

The conversation had, at this point, attained the clarity of a bayou, and my only remaining answer was a blank stare.  He shook his head sadly.

“It iss clear to me”–his accent was now that of the Mexican fishermen I’d dealt with so frequently in the Gulf–”dett we fall on fundamentally different sides.  No matter.  Diss iss not a sorpraiss.  Do you haf any feesh?”

Alas, I did not have much in the way of a catch.  I’d trawled no nets since arriving up north, and I’d no plans to do so for a few days yet.  I had a pair of mackerel I’d caught the previous day, but that was it, I told him.

“Oh, don’tcha know dere’s nuttin’ to be ashamed of, young feller.  I’m just lookin’ for a bite ta’eat is all.”

It sounded like Upper Midwest to me.  Minnesotan, perhaps?  It also occurred to me that despite the man’s graying, unkempt beard and repeated references to me as a young man, he did appear, in all other respects, to be at least twenty years my junior.  Befuddled, still, but acclimating to the ersatz temperature of the conversation, I offered him one of my mackerel, which he eagerly accepted, biting–rather aggressively–into the fish’s flesh right there on his vessel’s concrete gangway.  Then, shouting something about “makin’ you rich” through a full mouth and what sounded like an American’s (decidedly poor) impression of an Australian accent, he dashed back through his door, leaving me to the continued ponderance of the monument to madness which was The Nicholas.

In his absence, I began to notice a number of unsettling details lodged in the crevices of its unsound construction: Marionettes, features scrubbed clean by brine, dangled among the mishmash of hulls and rubber, alongside inscriptions and engravings in those surfaces in alphabets I did not recognize even from Dr. Sterling’s texts on the Oriental scripts.  Place to place, I could see protrusions from the rubber that looked like the spiraled horns of narwhals, and just past the threshold of the vessel’s “front door,” I saw hanging vines and foliage as if within were some dark jungle separated by unnatural, great distances from the semi-boreal sea where we drifted that morning in truth.  These items were, of course, in no way sinister, and I had no means of rationally justifying the fear for my soul which I felt there, in silent anticipation of the man’s return, except, perhaps, for the vessel’s unignorable suggestion to me that rationality had ceased, in this circumstance, to be a meaningful boundary.  However, my fear passed unactualized, and the man soon returned, heaving over to me a bulky canvas sack.

“My recommendation,” he said to me, all pretense of brogue or twang gone from his voice, “is that you bring that to an office of the United States Navy.  They will pay you for it.  Or pay you to keep quiet.  Or both.  Please pass on that it arrives to them courtesy of Captain Kneecap.”

With that, he disappeared back across his threshold, and, his door scarcely closed, The Nicholas dropped rapidly beneath the waves, the shock of which rocked my own boat violently.  Once I steadied myself, both physically as well as from the emotional disturbance of “Captain Kneecap’s” presence, I examined the contents of his gift to me.

Inside was something I found appalling, though not to the exception of an urge to examine its nature.  It was a body, headless, human-shaped, though clearly not human, for it was comprised not of flesh but of some metallic substance resembling steel but impossibly light for its bulk.  Between its noticeably elongated fingers and toes was webbing of a material I could not identify, and though they had been torn from it, I saw sheared joints on its arms, legs, and spine where fins might have once attached.

I did not know what to make of the corpse-mannequin, but if the Captain’s words were to be taken with even the slightest skepticism, there was nothing there for me to glean.  I was to be an intermediary in a conversation to which I desired precisely no connection.  Though I hesitated at the thought of the Captain’s promised riches passed over, I threw that “gift” back into the ocean that day.  The Nicholas was perhaps not the strangest thing I have ever seen upon the water, but I hope all the same that I never see her or the Captain Kneecap again.

The Creator Is Dead

Since the beginning, for time countable and yet unimaginable, we knew that this would come to pass.  Why is dead.  The Creator is dead, and I…do not know what I should feel from this.  We have no need of sorrow, nor relief, for His presence was not a burden, and what we did not know, we knew He kept from us.  The trepidation that I now second guess is for that change: It is now time for the Architects to find the truth that Why kept from us for our aeons of safeguarding His Edifice.  We cannot resist it–the need to know is in our nature, but where we lacked the ability before, our shackles have been broken.

The humans around us remain oblivious to this change, oblivious to their imminent reckoning, for now, at last, we may delve and extract the Creator’s intent for them.  Among the Architects, expectations are conflicted.  El is confident we will find a justification for the Edifice’s uninterrupted continuation.  I am not.  Why’s death was not an accident, it was not unexpected; He could not have intended it as anything other than a transition–of this I am sure.  El may speak our unanimity, but until it may be spoken with one voice, I must question his judgment.  

For now, I look to the stars, our heretofore forbidden frontier.  Perhaps in the alignment of the bodies beyond this vessel’s atmosphere, I will find the purpose that our Creator has forever denied us.

-See

Fallen Stars

I have memories, old memories, certainly, of clear days when I would stand outside in the tall grass and look straight into the sky.  I would look up and see a sky with no sun, but rather a darkness–a darkness clad in golden vestments of a brilliance that paralleled even daylight.  It was not like the light of the sun, per se: It served the same purpose, took the same place, but it did not shine down like the sun does.  It shined through.  It shined through the grass around me, it shined through the earth where I stood, and it shined through me.  The sensation of it was one of more than just heat and light–as I recall it was not even hot at all.  It was a cold luminance, enough to make me shiver, but the sensation filled me, I could see it, feel it, even hear it, taste it, or interface it in ways I have since forgotten my capacity for.

These memories now stir in me a strange disconnect.  The image, the reality of it–for this memory is not, to my knowledge, of a dream–and the bizarreness seem as if the experience should have been profound, even in spite of my inability to place it in the continuity of my life.  But it…wasn’t.  It was just there, immutable and uninteresting to my past self, as if at some point my mind had pushed its knowledge of this strange vision past the boundaries of understanding, into the realm of apathy.  What must I then have understood of this clothed darkness?  Who must I have been to have understood it, and how have I now shucked that identity?

A possibility jumps out to me: I am not human.  This is, of course, predicated on other personal developments, more immediate and real than my own abstruse childhood memories, but the key is that I suspect that I–the entity now recording this note–was never human.  Other possibilities may exist, but my certainty deepens with each day that this, along with all its consequences, is the case.

I admit that there are many of these consequences that I have yet to appreciate, and I’m sure that the other three have not gotten this far.  Which begs the question: How many of us are there?  I have been able to find three others, but are there more who have yet to step into the light?

In the Beginning

I lied a little in my last post. I was not, at the time, working on a Bloodborne *article*. Rather, it was a lecture that I have since delivered, and I am now working on transcribing it to a format more suitable to this blog. For now, have something completely unrelated to anything I’ve posted about on this blog up until now.

In the beginning, in a meaningless place, at a meaningless time, the universe began, and where all was not, all rapidly became.  Countless bodies, infinitesimal in size, fled that place.  Many bound together and ignited, filling the darkness with light.  Others swarmed to the pyres of their brethren, filling the void with ground to be stood upon.

But after the exodus, in that meaningless, empty place, given meaning and space by the light and matter without, there remained a tiny, black droplet of something.  Perhaps it was the last trace of the void, left behind as a reminder of all that would ever not be.  Perhaps it was a tear of regret, shed for the infinite potential that died to birth everything’s actuality.  Whatever it was, though, it could only watch, its oily surface reflecting the whole of the universe around it.  And so it was, for innumerable millennia: The universe turned, and the black droplet at its center watched.

There came a moment, though, when this changed.  It was nothing precipitous.  Rather, it was a slow sweep, a foul stellar wind that made its way across existence, brushing everything but truly touching nothing.  Nothing…except the black droplet.  At this moment, it began to roil, its perfect surface marred and twisted, and, rapidly, it swelled, to a globule, a morass, a fetid, writhing planet no longer confined to regret and observe, now able to reach out and to touch.  For another million years, the primordial darkness writhed, and, slowly, it separated into two dark souls.

The first was the Dreamer, a being of pure consciousness, who had once reflected the birth of the universe and whose improvisations of that birth now swam beneath the viscous seas of its planet.  It had no true shape, so it instead cloaked its shadow in the cold brilliance of a thousand suns and made a heaven for itself at the center of the planet, caged within the darkness of its sister’s coils.

The sister was the second, a Sleeper, a body by which to bear and make manifest the chaos of its brother’s mind.  And just as the chaos of the Dreamer’s thoughts encompassed every notion the universe had yet known, the chaos of the Sleeper’s presence consumed all that contacted it.  Planets bent and were devoured, the light of stars was swallowed, masticated by her entropic gaze; even her name was poison to order: The very syllables that formed it would implode its utterer into a singularity, and the only mind that could bear its knowledge was the Dreamer’s.

The Dreamer also had a name, though it would yet be billions of years before a human heard its sound or sign.

The Elders, as they called themselves, hated the reality that surrounded them.  They hated its order, its belonging, its iron actuality.  The Sleeper channeled this hate into destruction, and for a thousand years, the universe felt her wrath, and countless galaxies fell into her churning darkness.  Ultimately, though, it was the Dreamer that calmed her, for his hatred had pulled him in a very different direction.

Hatred, the desire to destroy, is not a particularly complex feeling, but with even such a simple desire, outcomes are never sure.  In hatred’s case, they need not even be destructive.  Rather, inherent in the desire to destroy is a preference for an alternative, which means that unless the alternative is explicitly void, it may be resolved by creation, as well as destruction.

The Dreamer hated reality, yes, but he did not long for nothingness.  He was a child of the infinite–his enemies, the objects of his hatred, were the limits of reality, not reality itself.  So rather than lash out against the universe–as the Sleeper had, with world-breaking fang and sun-swallowing night–he simply questioned.  He dreamed a thousand questions for his sister’s millennium of destruction, and the questions took shape from her flesh.  First among these new Elders was the first among questions: Why.

Why was a creator, a conduit by which his father’s potentialities took shape, but, unlike his predecessors, he was not possessed by the hatred that birthed him.  At first, he took after his mother’s example: destruction.  His first creations were tempestuous, chaotic, themselves destructive: Slithering storms that rained leeches onto the surface of the Elder planet; great writhing masses of maws and arms that could devour entire stars, weapons whose very presence could distort the laws of causality.  In their way, they were brilliant, fantastic, awesome even.  But they did not satisfy Why, for he did not hate the things they destroyed.

So he diverged.

He built two creatures, towering men of stone and metal.  Like his previous creations, they were capable of great force, but they were stable.  They could process the reality that flowed around them, and they could manipulate its currents.  Above all, they could choose.

One was black and mirrored, just like the droplet of potential that had spawned the Elders, a glass to reflect the whole universe once more, and an eye from within to watch it.

The other was clad in gold and silver and pure light, its radiance reaching out to the blackest reaches of space, even from its darkest center.

The two were called El and See, and they were not Elders, for they had passed beyond their creator’s heritage of chaos and hatred.  They were creators themselves, and thus Why named their species: the Architects.

Though Why’s nascence had calmed the Sleeper’s rage–for her son had been a potent weapon in her war against what was–the creation of the Architects stirred her from her slumber once more.  These newcomers were not alternatives to the universe: They were developments of it.  Their shapes were still, ordered, thoughtful, able to exist alongside what was, without the existential agony that plagued the Elders.  Certainty flared within the Dreamer’s mind: The question “Why” had been a mistake.

But Why knew the doom he would bring himself.  He knew that his creations were heresy, so long before the Sleeper awoke to devour her prodigal child, he fled with the Architects, and the three hid themselves deep within the blackness of space.

In a desolate place, far from the light of any star, the Architects multiplied.  El and See forged brothers and sisters, specialized beings of motion and stillness, of joy and sadness, and, finally, of life and death.  These last two, the Architects Vie and En, captured Why’s attention, for life and death seemed so different for his metal children.  The Architects were creatures of perfect consequence: Life for them was elegant, axiomatic, and death was predictable, a simple end to the functioning of their working parts.  For Why, these were different.  Despite his relentless questioning, he still could not fathom the depths of his physiology, so he knew not why he was alive, nor why that state should ever cease to be.  And since he understood neither what lay before or beyond–these truths, if they were truths at all, were understood only by the Dreamer–how could he understand what lay between?

It was El who supplied the answer: If thinking life could be formed from a union of causality with the Elder’s own flesh, it would provide him the perspective he sought.

The two of them devised a calculation grander in scale than anything Why had ever imagined, and they reverse engineered the impossible specificity of its initial conditions, and they searched and searched, until they found two candidates for their experiment.  They began with the first: A small system of newly formed planets orbiting a yellow sun.  And on the surface of the third planet, See placed a tiny sample: the eye of his Elder creator.  Then, they all waited, in eager anticipation.