The Greatest Mystery of All

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. This is the sequel to Opposite of a DogWarning: there be Spoilers here. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

Even now, you are not entirely sure why you did it. After you welcomed the human and the others inside of you, you’ve seen all the alternate realities. Sometimes you died. Other times you made friends with the human and they left. In a few more timelines you got to even fight the sun with them. But now you know that these different places and times are all the same: in you.

They remind you of the tangled three-dimensional model pasta experiment that once stuck inside your rib cage.

“eh.” your brother says as he reaches towards the human’s floating Soul. “just how much can i still afford to care.”

Your gloved hand closes over the red heart first. “LAZY BONES. YOU’LL FIND  THAT, WITH PRACTICE, MY DEAR BROTHER,  YOUR CAPACITY TO CARE WILL ONLY INCREASE TEN-FOLD.” 

Sans’ eye-sockets widen. “pap … what are you … no …”

“NYEH HEH HEHHH …” You tell Sans and the Soul of the Human in your hands. “DON’T WORRY. I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SHALL SAVE THE DAY.”

Papyrus Enthusiastic

Poor Sans is distressed. The human has come back and fallen down. They wanted Sans to help them, but you know better. Sans has, dare you think it to yourself, worked himself to the bone … (wowie, puns still make you wince even after everything) so far. It is a good thing you got sick of him missing a spaghetti dinner again and couldn’t find him at Grillby’s. It’s also fortunate that you can smell the scent of his magic and that he wasn’t far away from Lesser Dog’s old sentry point: a place you’ve made a point of still patrolling just in case any new humans came through … or the old one, your friend and former date, returned.

The Soul in your hands quivers, as though trying to get away from you. But you understand. This is a scary mission from what you’ve heard: one to save the timelines and Monsterkind. To save the human. But you can do it. 

*You shouldn’t have done it, Papyrus.

It’s your friend’s voice. Even as you sail through the rainbow-coloured wave of infinity to your next destination (you are in no hurry, as you really don’t feel like rushing infinity: it will do its job anyway), they still sound old and sad.

You’ve tried. One of the first things you did when you rescued their Soul was take the two of you, or yourself, for a Nice Cream: just to cheer you up.

“NONSENSE, HUMAN.” You tell them cheerfully. “I COULDN’T ABANDON MY BROTHER AND MY FRIEND IN NEED. YOU KNOW THAT. I HAVE A REPUTATION TO UPHOLD.”

*Papyrus … you took an awful risk. After everything I did … I didn’t want …

“bro.” Sans’ eye is actually glowing blue now. “don’t … don’t do this …”

“NO SANS. YOU AND THE HUMAN SHOULD’VE INVITED ME TO THIS SECRET SAVE THE WORLD MEETING. ESPECIALLY SINCE THE HUMAN’S FALLEN DOWN. I CAN HELP YOU. I’M GOING TO HELP YOU.”

“no …” Sans reaches for you. In retrospect you wonder why he didn’t just use his pranking abilities in space and time to just take the human’s Soul from you, but really, he was probably too shocked by your daring and deductive reasoning to even think about doing something so cheap and unfair. 

“AND THEY’RE COLD.” You say, feeling the Soul shivering violently in your hands, as though trying to get away from you. “DON’T WORRY, HUMAN.” You say as tenderly as you can. “YOU WILL BE WARM IN MY RIB CAGE UNTIL WE GET THIS ALL SORTED OUT.”

“PAPYRUS! NO …”

But it’s too late. You eased the trembling heart between your ribs. You recall hoping that it doesn’t fall out of them like all of your pasta. 

Undertale Heart

That is when it happens. You’ve never really felt the cold before, what with being a skeleton and all. But suddenly … you can feel it. At the same time you feel a raging warmth inside of your rib cage that makes you aware of the cold, but utterly immune to it. Something is beating, not unpleasantly, in your skull. Sans is in front of you still, but you can now see an afterimage. It’s white and shining. You blink and memories and thoughts that aren’t your own, and are, fill the deep cavern of your brain. 

Textures, colours, sounds, and sensations fill your bones. You recall something spoken not too long ago.

“WOWIE, HUMAN.” You tell them, drawing on the vast reservoir of culinary knowledge now at your disposal. “WE REALLY DON’T TASTE LIKE KETCHUP.” 

*Papyrus. Please. It’s not too late. Just put me down … and give me to Sans.

Sans is looking at you, at the two of you, in shock. “kid …” He looks at you and the human’s body on the ground. You realize, belatedly, that the human just spoke through your mouth. That’s ok. It’s only fair since you are roomies now. “pap. listen to the human. you … you don’t know what this power will do to you. i … i can take it from here.”

He is afraid. And you realize he is afraid for you. 

“SANS …” you say, and your voice sounds simultaneously large and quiet. “DO YOU … KNOW WHAT THIS FEELS LIKE?”

“pap … c’mon, bro.” Sans is pleading now, tears coming out of his eye-sockets. 

You go up to him and lean down. You put a hand on his face and wipe the tears away. “I CAN … FEEL YOUR TEARS, BROTHER. FEAR, HORROR, SORROW, REGRET, EXHAUSTION, DARKNESS, AND LIGHT … HUMAN?” You ask the presence, feeling awe, now inside of you, “IS THIS WHAT YOU FEEL ALL THE TIME? IS THIS WHAT YOU SEE?”

There is a pause. *Papyrus, this is what we … both see. I’ve never done this before, not in this timeline but I can see so many others now … No, Papyrus. Let me go. Please. I can’t do this to you. Not you. Of all people, not you. 

You realize it now. “YOU DON’T THINK I CAN HELP YOU.”

“bro, it’s not like that. this is … too dangerous.”

“NO.” You look at Sans and the human’s body on the ground and you understand. “YOU’VE BEEN PROTECTING ME. BOTH OF YOU. BUT, DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?” You grin at them. “I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS! IT IS MY JOB, MY DUTY AS A PROSPECTIVE MEMBER OF THE ROYAL GUARD TO FIND A HUMAN AND TO SAVE ALL OF MONSTERKIND! I FOUND YOU HUMAN. AND AS PART OF MONSTERKIND I NEED TO PROTECT YOU, SANS!”

“… bro.” Sans is openly weeping now. “please. i can’t lose you. not again. not like this.”

There are many rifts in the rainbow coloured expanse that you ride: opening to more strands of reality than there are strings of angel-hair pasta. You now understand that this is similar to how Sans would take his short-cuts, the lazy bones. It’s also close to how he was able to view different timelines.

But you also understand, with some sadness, just what he has been going through. There is a difference though.

“HUMAN,” you tell them, “HEROISM IS A RISKY BUSINESS. BUT WE HAVE SAVES AND LOADS. IT REALLY SAVED MY BATTLE BODY THE LAST TIME.”

*Papyrus, you really shouldn’t have put your costume in a washer with our Soul power. 

‘NYEH HEH HEHEHHH!” You pat the human, or really just yourself on the back. “BUT LOOK AT HOW IT TURNED OUT THE SEVENTIETH TIME. THE HUMANS IN THAT PARADE ON THE SURFACE REALLY LIKED HOW IT TURNED OUT.”

The human sighs. *We agreed to use that power to just make your scarf … match your eyes. Even the others thought the … The human sighs again. *The Rainbow Shell Battle Body was a little too … derivative. 

“BUT WE NEED TO ANNOUNCE OUR INTENTIONS LOUDLY. THAT IS WHAT A TRUE HERO SHOULD DO. BESIDES, WE CAN ALWAYS RESET –”

*Papyrus …

“YES YES I KNOW.” You shake your head. “LOADS AND SAVES ARE FINE. RESETTING IS BAD. TRUE RESETTING IS EVEN WORSE.” You sigh, suddenly a little melancholy. “IF MY BROTHER COULD ONLY SEE THIS, HUMAN. I MEAN, HE CAN. BUT I KNOW JUST HOW MUCH HE LOOKED FOR THIS POWER. IT’S AS EASY AS JUMPING THROUGH UNDYNE’S GLASS PLATE WINDOW TO USE THE WASHROOM. IT COULD HAVE SAVED HIM SO MUCH PAIN …”

*Trust me, Papyrus. It would have only caused him more, in the long run …

“OH LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE, HUMAN. YOU’RE CAUSING ANOTHER NARRATIVE FLASHBACK –”

“IF THIS POWER IS SO DANGEROUS, AS YOU SAY BROTHER.” You confront Sans, with your hands on your hips just so he knows you mean business now. “THEN WHY IS IT OK FOR YOU TO HAVE IT? AND YOU TOO HUMAN, WHY IS IT OK FOR SANS TO HAVE IT?”

They tell him that Sans has had experience with Resets and other Timelines. They tell you that you have a different duty and destiny. But you know that, what they’re really saying, what even Undyne had been thinking with all of your private training, is that they see you as just too … innocent. 

But this is the point where you need to tell them what is what. 

“SANS. YOU HAVE 1 HP.”

“pap …”

“1 HP. 1 DEFENSE. 1 ATTACK. SANS, HUMAN, I CAN SEE THE TIMELINES A LITTLE MORE NOW. UNDYNE HAD DETERMINATION. ALL THOSE OTHERS. THEY MELTED. AND YOU HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN TRAINING. REALLY, IT SHOULD BE HIS MAJESTY AND MAYBE HIS … CLONE? HUH, THAT’S NEW. AS BOSS MONSTERS THEY MIGHT BE ABLE TO HANDLE THIS. BUT I CAN’T RISK THE ROYAL FAMILY, OR YOU.”

“pap. listen to me.  t h i s  i s  n o t  a  g a m e.” 

“D O N  ‘  T   Y O U   T H I N K   I   K N OW  T H A T ?” 

“stop it bro.”

“NOW YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL WHEN YOU MAKE YOUR PUNS.”

For the first time this entire evening, Sans actually smiles a bit. You smile too. 

“THERE. THAT’S THE FIRST REAL SMILE I’VE SEEN YOU HAVE IN A WHILE BROTHER.”

“pap … even with all that power. you’re still the same skele-ton of a brother.”

“SANS!” You scream at his bad pun and a nearby mountain threatens to explode from the power you just unwittingly unleashed. “OH. OH I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN ABOUT THE POWER.” You put your hands on his shoulders. “BROTHER, I SEE NOW HOW YOU’VE PROTECTED ME. BUT JUST FOR ONCE, JUST IN THIS RUN, LET ME BE THE ONE TO TAKE CARE OF YOU.”

“bro …” The two of you hug. Even without the power of the Soul, you know that you’ve won this argument. The only other issue now will be to talk to the human, and then His Majesty. But one thing bothers you. 

“SANS. AM I … REALLY THE SAME NOW?”

“well …” Sans looks away from you.

“SANS!”

“all right all right already.” He stares you with an expressionless look on his face. “pap.” He reaches up to put his hands on both sides of your ribs. “your eyes.”

“YES BROTHER?”

“they look … like alphys’ rainbow brite …”

You feel a powerful sensation course through your chest. It doesn’t take you long to realize it is complete and total joy. ‘THAT’S SO … BEAUTIFUL.”

“it’s a nice look on you, bro.” Sans looks at your chest. “hey, kid. i know you’re in there. please … take care of the big lug here for me. stay Determined, for him.” You don’t miss his eye-sockets turning dark. “or else.” 

“SANS THERE IS NO NEED FOR …”

*I understand Sans. I-I’m so sorry …

“forget about it.” Sans waves it off, the lights back in his eyes. “you believe in me, kid. and i believe in my bro. time i put my money where my mouth is, stuff it in my ribs, and let him be a hero.” He hugs you, the both of you, again. “and pap. take care of the kid too. they’re good people.” 

“I PROMISE SANS.”

“and … don’t turn the world into spaghetti …”

“OF COURSE I WON’T.” You say as you dash to a short-cut. “AFTER ALL, IT ALREADY IS, SANS. IT ALREADY IS …”

The flashbacks are almost done now. Well, that’s not true. Ever since you walked into the Palace and asked a flabbergasted Mr. Dremurr for the location of the other six human Souls over a nice cup of Golden Flower Tea, you can see the flashbacks and the code still being written as you continue on your journey as a unified being affecting multiple universes.

The first thing you did after getting a human Soul was bury the human’s body. The human told you not to: that you both have great work to do, but you know you have time. They told you that it is just a shell and that once you’ve finished your Quest, it won’t matter anymore as this timeline will be negated anyway. But you did it in any case. You told them to do it.

You control your body fifty-fifty, or whatever number since then after the funeral and getting your six other human Soul friends on board the Papyrus Express (you promised the human never to use that terminology again in reference to your unique situation and arrangement). You made the hole and encouraged the human to take their body and place it down. They looked so old and fragile. Tears coursed down your face, though the human claims they were only yours.

Maybe it was your imagination, but you can feel some of their guilt and regret lighten a bit. Sans was also helpful. He even placed one of his favourite whoopie cushions into the hole to keep the human’s body company.

You read the notebook that the human left Sans, but you realized you knew most of this stuff anyway. Then you said your farewells to everyone else. Then your hellos to new friends and places. Then you said farewells and more hellos. You even met Fun Values and took care of Gaster (you still have no idea why no one can generally remember him, his name isn’t that hard). And now, you have a plan. It’s something even the human doesn’t know about. Yet.

Papyrus Devious

*Some of the others don’t understand. The human tells you. *We had already traveled to the time of the War. We explored the days before that. We even came to the very beginning of Asgore and Toriel’s reign Underground. At any point, we could have changed it. We could have destroyed the Barrier, or made sure it never existed to begin with. 

“AND WHAT DO YOU THINK, HUMAN?”

You hear a pause. And it is a sound. Even before the power of the Seven Souls, you’ve always known that silence has a sound of its own. It actually sounds like thinking: which is exactly what the human is doing inside of you before they respond.

Undertale War

*I think that disrupting history might complicate matters. It could endanger whether or not some of you even exist, or possibly make it worse in the process. And … some of you are so … angry. There is another moment of loud thinking. *And rightfully so. We imprisoned you down there and letting you out so quickly, after all that, without explanation, would be too dangerous for both humans and Monsters. Good intentions, don’t always go to good places, Papyrus. 

“NO HUMAN.” You tell them. “THAT KIND OF CYNICISM IS A BAD ATTITUDE TO HAVE. GOOD INTENTIONS ARE, WELL, GOOD. BUT I THINK THAT YOU NEED TO HAVE SOME GOOD ACTIONS TO GO WITH THEM, YOU KNOW? LIKE A FINE RED JAM WITH SPAGHETTI.”

*It’s good to know godlike power hasn’t changed your lack of taste buds, the human’s voice can’t help but chuckle, for which you are glad.

“ALL RIGHT. LET ME EXPLAIN IT ANOTHER WAY.” You tell them, you tell all of them. “I TEND TO THINK OF EVERYTHING IN TERMS OF PASTA … AND PUZZLES.”

*We couldn’t have guessed.

“WELL YOU WERE PREOCCUPIED IN EVERY TIMELINE WE MET, SO YOU ARE FORGIVEN HUMAN. NO. JUST AS I HAVE ALWAYS ENDEAVOURED TO CREATE THE GREATEST OF CULINARY FEATS OF PASTA, SO TOO HAVE WE SOUGHT TO MAKE THE MOST CHALLENGING OF PUZZLES. IT IS OUR KIND’S TRADITION. PUZZLES PROTECT US, BUT THEY ALSO CHALLENGE US. THEY MAKE US TRAIN, AND THINK, AND GROW. AFTER ALL WE, BY NATURE, ARE THE ULTIMATE GAMERS!” You chuckle. “YOU SEE, HUMAN, THERE IS NOTHING FUN OR REWARDING ABOUT HAVING AN ANSWER HANDED TO YOU. PUZZLES CAN BE TOUGH, MUCH LIKE PASTA, BUT WHEN YOU GET TO THE SOFT CORE OF IT ON YOUR OWN MERIT, THAT IS WHERE THE REAL JOY LIES. BUT I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SEEK TO DO SOMETHING … DIFFERENT NOW.”

The human’s presence is slow and hesitant. *Does this have to do with the surprise that you’re planning, Papyrus.

“NYEH HEH HEHHH … HUMAN, YOU ARE MOST ASTUTE!” You have gained enough power and discipline, along with promises of personal privacy and common decency from the other Souls to pick up their soul-socks without having to write too many mental notes that you can keep some element of surprise in play for them. It’s more entertaining than being stuck in glass jars for years on end watching dust, or bashing your head against a temporal paradox one too many times.

“YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN EXCELLENT AT FOILING THE MOST DIABOLICAL OF MY PUZZLES, HUMAN. LET’S SEE IF YOU CAN SOLVE THIS ONE, THIS GREATEST MOST WORTHY MYSTERY, BEFORE I DO.”

Papyrus Foiled Again.

*Papyrus. We should really do what we set out to. We don’t know how … long your body will …

Before it turns into a mass of ooze. You were already aware of that. As you’ve already stated in your internal monologues beforehand, it seemed most likely that only Boss Monsters or Vessels like your lost flower friend could safely hold this much power before liquidating like one of Sans’ failed quiches. You don’t like to think about Undyne in so many of the timelines who, on her own merit, managed to find Determination: or the poor people that Alphys tried to help out.

“WE HAVE BEEN GOOD SO FAR. EVEN UNDYNE, AT HER WORST, LASTED A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF TIME. AND THAT WAS WITHOUT A HUMAN SOUL. I HAVE ALL SEVEN OF YOU NOW. AND I FEEL … GREAT. AS IS MY NAME OF COURSE. BESIDES, THIS IS GOING TO BE OUR LAST STOP.”

*Papyrus, I made a promise to Sans. I won’t let you sacrifice yourself.

“AND I MADE A PROMISE TO SANS TOO, HUMAN. AND TO YOU.” You say. There is that loud quiet again inside of your merged Souls as you come to the closest rift: the one that you’ve been looking for. You marvel at this, one of your last journeys. Sans’ short-cuts are generally good, but limited to specific spaces and times and storage spaces for sleeping Gaster Blasters (while you only used them in the past to store your bones) whereas the Human’s Resets are linear in experience. Together, your journeys are winding and tangential. You make a good team. ‘AND HERE WE ARE. NEXT STOP FOR THE PAPYRUS EXPR –”

The collective groaning of your co-travelers is cut off by the sudden appearance of your current destination. It’s familiar to you, even though they aren’t necessarily your memories.

You are in the Underground again. Vast, ancient rumbling pillars surround you. You look up and see the hole of the mountain where humans can enter, but never leave. Somehow, though you don’t have lungs, you can feel the rest of your passengers holding their collective breaths: especially the human that was your first friend.

Where golden flowers should be growing are, instead, patches of hearty grass and dried dirt. Someone is lying on the ground.

Chara Has Fallen

They are wearing a green stripped sweater. Somehow, you know you have time before anyone else finds them.

Suddenly, one of your bones flies out from the short cut space where you keep them between training and duels. It’s your largest bone. Somehow the multi-coloured glow surrounding it is far less friendly than usual. The human lying on the ground looks up at you. They have paler skin and rosy cheeks. Long bangs of brown hair are plastered to their smudged face.

It’s like looking into a mirror, but it’s not you that’s looking — filled with rage and grief — and preparing to release your Special Attack.

“HUMAN.” You tell them. “PLEASE DESIST.”

Your human friend, controlling your Attack, does nothing. They aren’t listening. The human child opens their mouth. They scramble back, trying to find something: anything to defend themselves. But when all they find is dirt and grass, they lower their head. Then they look up at you again.

“Huh.” They say. Their eyes are distant and cold. “I didn’t know they had rainbow demons in hell.”

You don’t move. Neither does your Attack. But you find that you can still speak. “I AM AFRAID THAT YOU ARE NOT DECEASED. YOU ARE VERY MUCH ALIVE.”

*Not if I have anything to say about it!

“HUMAN, THAT’S ENOUGH.”

The human child in front of you looks up with some puzzlement. “What is …” They look up at the hovering bone. Then their face becomes expressionless again. “I see.”

You feel the other Souls wriggling inside of you. You realize that they are trying to stop your friend. But your friend was always so Determined. And now they are angry. They are screaming at them. At the child. At you in particular.

*Papyrus. Let me end this now. 

You shake your head. “NO HUMAN.”

*Papyrus. All of you. This is their fault. You are all here because of them. Let me kill them.

You shake your head again. Meanwhile, the child in front of you laughs. It is a cold, mirthless, dead sound. Even with the Seven Souls inside of you, even knowing how helpless they are, you can’t help but be disturbed by that sound.

“So that’s how it is.” The child says. “Well, I was going to do it anyway. Go on, Monster.”

*Let me kill them. They barely have enough LOVE yet. Hardly any EXP. If I kill them, I can end this. 

“HUMAN …”  You love the human, but you are not pleased with this development, even if if you should have expected it. This is their last chance.

“This world is cruel and vicious.” The child says. “It’s meaningless. I knew it was going to get me one day.”

*They made me kill Shyren while she sang. They made me kill my Mother after she made me pie. The Snowman kept screaming as they took him apart … as they laughed. And everyone … And Sans and … you. I’ll never forgive them. I’ll never …

The child sighs, as though bored of their incoming death. “It’s kill or be killed.”

That does it. “HUMAN, I AM DISAPPOINTED IN YOU. YOU ARE DOING EXACTLY TO ME WHAT THIS CHILD HERE DID TO ASRIEL.”

Suddenly, there is a surge of horror inside of you and your bone disappears.

*Oh … oh god. Papyrus I’m … oh no. It’s … it’s me.

“IT’S ALL RIGHT HUMAN.” You tell them, relaxing again, sending out some calming vibes to your friend inside of you. “DESPITE EVERYTHING, IT’S YOU.”

You urge the other Souls to comfort your friend as you turn your attention back to the child in front of you. They are completely still. If you didn’t know any better they might as well have been carved from the rock around you. You’ve chosen your words carefully. You are, after all now, a skeleton of great elocution.

“I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS.” You tell them, towering over them. “I AM AFRAID THAT YOU WON’T REMEMBER ME BY THE TIME WE ARE DONE HERE. A LONG TIME AGO, YEARS FROM NOW, IN ANOTHER PLACE, IN ANOTHER LIFETIME, WHEN YOU BECAME SOMEONE ELSE, MY BROTHER ASKED YOU A QUESTION.

“DO YOU THINK EVEN THE WORST PERSON CAN CHANGE?”

The child stares up at you: completely and utterly dumbfounded. “What …”

You sigh and begin to pace, moving your hands around in a way reminiscent of Gaster. “THE HUMAN INSIDE OF ME TOLD ME ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF LIFE AND IN PARTICULAR TIME TRAVEL. I ACTUALLY COMPARED IT TO PASTA AND PUZZLES. BUT MAYBE WHAT WE ARE REALLY DEALING WITH HERE, IS COOKING.

“YOU SEE, IF I DEALT WITH THIS THE WAY THE HUMAN WANTED TO, IT’D BE LIKE MY SPECIAL LESSONS WITH UNDYNE: MESSY, DESTRUCTIVE, AND ONLY FIRE WOULD LIVE HERE. UNDYNE IS A GREAT TEACHER, BUT THE STUDENT MUST EVENTUALLY SURPASS THE MASTER.

“BUT SPAGHETTI, YOU SEE, HAS TO BE AGED IN AN OAKEN CASKET. YOU HAVE TO TAKE TIME AND EXPERIMENT WITH IT. YOU HAVE TO BE PATIENT.  YOU HAVE TO, IN THE WORDS OF MY BROTHER, SHOW IT LOVE INSTEAD OF LOVE. YOU ARE IN LUCK. MY BROTHER. HE LIKES JOKES. BUT ME. I LOVE RIDDLES.”

“AND THIS IS WHERE I NEED YOUR HELP.”

The human gets to their feet. You wait until they get themselves composed. Those dead eyes flicker with something you’ve not seen before: a shimmer of uncertainty.

“YOU SEE, I PROMISED MY FRIEND HERE.” You point to your chest where your friend is now watching, tense, sad, but incredibly observant. “I PROMISED THEM TODAY THAT I WAS GOING TO SOLVE A MYSTERY INSTEAD OF CREATING ONE. I WAS PLANNING ON GIVING THEM A SURPRISE.

“AND I WILL GIVE YOU SOMETHING AS WELL.”

You loom over the child and open up your arms. The human inside of you starts screaming again, but the other Souls are gently holding them back, and reminding them that they trust you.

You walk up to the child. They actually flinch back, but they stop themselves as you are both at eye-level now. Before they can react, you stretch out your arms and wrap them around the child. The human inside you grows as silent as the child you are holding.

The child themselves stiffens in your arms. “What are you …”

You close your eyes and draw on the power of your friends inside you. You imagine using this power to break the Barrier in two. You take that power and you imagine a series of hard, brittle noodles. In this state, they cut the insides of people’s mouths. They could damage their stomachs going down. And when you squeezed them, they could so easily break.

But you know that when you put them in boiling water, something will happen. The noodles will grow. They will expand and soften. They will settle into the bottom of the pot and lengthen to the point of becoming completely and utterly expansive … and inclusive.

That is the armour around the child’s heart. You feel their eyes widen. But now you need to release them out of the pot. Out of the boiling water that coursing, unabated now, through their Soul.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE OUTSIDE WORLD DID TO YOU, HUMAN. TO MAKE YOU FEEL THE WAY YOU DO, BUT I’M SORRY. I’M SO SORRY.”

Undertale Papyrus

You are burning with power now. It is coursing into the child’s mind and Soul: into their very being. The other Souls join in — including and especially your friend’s — and they soften the hard bits that are the child’s heart and conscience. They start to feel what you feel, what they feel. They get all of your friend’s memories. They feel the emotions and the pain of everyone they have touched: and everyone they haven’t even met yet. The child begins to shake violently: as hard as your friend’s Soul did that day above their aged body at Lesser Dog’s outpost.

“Wh-what I …” You gently let go of them. The child looks around. Then looks at you. Tears are streaming down their rosy cheeks. They put their shaking hands up to their face. “What is this?” they blubber. “What … what have I done? No … oh … oh god.”

The child wails. They fall onto their knees and puke. You rub their back gently as they scream. Years of pain and anguish experienced and inflicted rip out of them. The Souls inside of you are quiet as they realize what you have done. But then you hear the approach of footsteps from the Ruins and know that there isn’t much time left.

You whisper to the sobbing, convulsing child in front of you. “Remember. You can still be a better person.”

With that, you get up and walk behind a pillar. You watch as a young Boss Monster finds a crying, injured human child. You wait until the Monster takes the child and calls out for his parents.

Asriel and Chara

Then you step into a corner … and go into another shortcut.

You find yourselves back outside Snowdin: just out of Lesser Dog’s sentry post again. This time, however, the place seems more lived in: complete with even more sculptures than before. Your friend’s grave mound is no longer there.

*It’s funny. Your friend’s voice says through your head. *In some ways, I think what you did to them was far more cruel than simply killing them. Changing is painful. I remember that day, in the Ruins when you met me …

You walk towards the sentry house as you begin to release the other Souls out of your body: letting them dissipate out of you like a rainbow mist.

*That day I met my parents and my brother. I lived with what I did and tried to help them. When I died, the first time, I left. I told them I would come back one day.

The other Souls leave into the timeless space where all human and Monster Souls go when they are done. The world seems a little less vibrant now, but it’s replaced by a pleasant sort of tiredness.

*And I was told the story of the six other humans that found their way down here. Each one brought something new to New Home and Monsterkind. They were the children of the King and Queen, just as I was … Each generation would come until the Ambassador.

You smile.

Frisk the Ambassador

*The other six would leave their Souls with our parents and brother after showing Monsters that not all humans are bad.  And one with a strong Soul … will pass through the Barrier and help Monsters communicate with humanity and get a final voluntary Soul to free them. It’s amazing, Papyrus.

You feel your friend’s Soul relax and begin to rise out of your rib cage, out of your being.

*Even as a Soul, I can feel time expanding out, changing, like a noodle. My past is my future, and vice versa. I was the first. I remember being told about myself. I am also the last. I am not really here, am I? I … you are the real hero here Papyrus. Thank you … goodbye … 

“I DON’T ALLOW GOODBYES IN MY TOWN, HUMAN,” You say as a red light shines brilliantly and disappears. “SEE YOU LATER, MY FRIEND.”

Then you rest against the sentry post and go to sleep.

A little while later, someone nudges Papyrus.

“knock knock.”

Papyrus sighs, knowing there is no way around this. “WHO’S THERE?”

“doctor.”

“DOCTOR W — GAH! SANS! STOP WITH THE FREAKING PUNS!”

“well, someone had to wake you. seriously, bro.” Sans looks down at Papyrus with some concern. “i’m the one who sleeps around these here parts.”

“THAT’S FUNNY SANS. HEY. WHERE IS EVERYONE?”

“well … i don’t want to interrupt your rest six feet under, but …”

“SANS …”

“ok, well you know those humans you’re always looking for? well, prince asriel: he was in the ruins, at his sibling’s grave. and he found one.”

Papyrus folds his hands behind his head. “OH REALLY?”

“um. yeah. says they look just like the first kid. like his sibling. i … guess i see the resemblance. hey, what gives, pap?” Sans looks down at Papyrus quizzically. “i mean, uh, you’ve been looking forward to seeing a human for a while now. and what’s with the rainbow scarf getup?”

“WELL, PERHAPS THAT IS A MYSTERY FOR ANOTHER DAY. TO GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO. AFTER ALL,” Papyrus winks, as he gets to his feet, dusting off the snow that accumulated on his knees. “NOT ALL OF US CAN BE THE LEGENDARY FARTMASTER.”

Sans looks at Papyrus. Papyrus grins back at Sans. Suddenly, they both begin to laugh.

Sans and Papyrus

“what did you do, pap?”

“MYSTERY, SANS.” The taller skeleton says, putting an arm around his brother’s shoulders. “AND I WANT TO GO SEE THE HUMAN. AFTER I MAKE US SOME EGGS.”

“eggs?”

Papyrus shrugs. “YES. FOR SOME REASON I WANT SOME SCRAMBLED EGGS. AND SOME CLOVER. AND … WELL, I GUESS THAT NOT EVEN I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, CAN EXPLAIN EVERYTHING.”

Opposite of a Dog

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. Warning: there be Spoilers here. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

You are at Lesser Dog’s sentry post. You’re tired now: resting your back against the crumbling shack, your legs covered in a thin blanket of snow. It almost matches the long grey hair that’s covered your gaunt, exhausted face.

A faint smile flickers at the corners of your mouth and eyes when you look at the toppled snow sculptures of the long-necked dog. It’s been a while since he was here, you think to yourself. If his kind have the same lifespans as their cousins on the Surface, then he hasn’t been here for a long time and any successor he had probably had a post somewhere else that you must have somehow missed on the way here. It’d certainly explain why no one touched the sculptures: out of a sense of love and respect. You somehow know they spread his dust around his creations. It’s sad, somehow it fills you with a rosy sense of sentimental Determination … just for a little while longer.

Undertale Lesser Dog Sculptures

Your arms are wrapped around your upper body: enveloping the frayed and tattered blue and purple sweater on your body with warmth. You hold an object against you, huddling it into your chest.

And you wait.

“hey.” a voice says, waking you up from another longer blink. “ice to see you.”

So he is still alive. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise you. In fact, you were hoping for it.

“heh.” Sans walks out of the snowfall with his hands in his jumper pockets. “wasn’t my best, i gotta say. but i’m still on human-watching duty, so … freeze!”

You chuckle, but it comes out as a coughing fit. Still the same old Sans … in all the ways that mattered. The snow crunches under his feet as he comes closer to you. Somehow, those empty eye-sockets seem to squint down at you. Sans always said that he’d learned how to read people’s faces, but it’s you that sees it takes him a while to realize who he is looking at.

“kid.” He says, simply. “so this is what you’ve been doing these past couple of years? i mean, uh, pap and i could’ve shown you how to make snow angels.”

You see some lights in his eye sockets and, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the blue glow lifting you slightly off the ground, warming you, was another hallucination brought on by the cold.

You laugh again. It crackles a bit, but you aren’t doubled over this time. Even though Sans smiles, because he can’t do anything else, you can sense his intended frown.

“you leaving and not phoning us. i’ll admit: that was cold.” He says as he lowers you to the ground. “and it’s just, uh, icing on the cake to find you like this.”

If you didn’t already know that many of his puns and jokes were defense mechanisms more potent than what he really kept in reserve, the bead of sweat on his skull would have given away the fact that Sans is worried about you. As you feel your back gently land back in the snow, you know it’s time. Slowly, and with some effort, you uncurl your arms. Now that you’re trying to move again, they scream like a Nice Cream headache.

“hey.” Sans holds your arms and helps you move them apart. “what’s … that you got there, kid?”

Sans looks down and slowly pries the object out of your arms. You remember now. It’s an old, battered notebook. It’s ripped at the edges. Some of the papers had been ripped out but you’d found the missing pages and added new ones. Through the receding pain in your limbs, you manage to nod at Sans. The skeleton doesn’t ask if you if you want him to read it. You were never really much for small talk anyway. In fact, you were not much for any kind of talk at all. You know what you wrote in there. You’d written in it so much … and so many times that you know it all off by heart. You watch as Sans scans the first page of the notebook.

Hey Sans:

It’s not really a way to start off a diary. But this was never a diary to begin with. It was a Torn Notebook got it at Waterfall, from Gerson’s shop. It belonged to one of the humans that came here before me. They recorded some observations about the Underground and other things that I missed the first couple of times around. 

I’ve had a long time to think about this. I’ve had too much time to think about it, and do a lot about it. I think you know exactly what I mean. “let’s get to the point.” Right.

I’m a stupid doodoo butt.

I’m the legendary fartmaster.

Undertale Sans Password

Sans looks up at you as he found that passage. His eyes pierce your own. You now know that there is no turning back. He looks down, somehow closing his eyes, and he continues to read the pieced together notebook.

First, I’m going to tell you what happened this time around. After I met you in the great hall, I went to Asgore. I went to Asgore as I had many times before. I went there and he killed me. I went there and I killed him. I went there and Flowey betrayed and killed him. Sometimes he just killed himself. I went there and all of you interceded on my behalf. Toriel, the woman you trade puns with through the door to the Ruins — my Mom — saved me. 

But this time, I was going to do something different. I did my research in other Loads and Resets. I tried to find out as much about the other Souls — the other humans — as I could. I wanted to see how they died. Who killed them. I wanted to know if any of them just gave themselves up. 

Maybe you knew that. Maybe you even asked me about it and followed me. Perhaps you even helped me. But I can’t remember. There are too many variables and I can’t take items with me. Or Save them. 

Sans, I was going to give myself up. I’d do it myself and make sure that you didn’t break your promise to Toriel. I was going to give Asgore my Soul.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Undertale Asgore

Asgore let me go: to take care of any business I left unfinished. I think we both hoped I would never come back. I was surprised that you didn’t stop me or ask me what was going on. Everyone else thought I got past him somehow. No one ever came looking for me in any case. But I thought you, of all people, would have seen me. 

Perhaps you did. 

“kid …”

Sans briefly glances at you again and it is all the confirmation that you need. You incline your neck. You want him to keep reading.

So I ran away. I hid like a coward. I went back to the Ruins and Mom took me back. She never asked me what happened this time around. Maybe she thought the responsibility was too much for me. It makes sense. No matter what I was capable of doing, I was still a child Sans. I was scared. Still, it’s no excuse for …

She taught me things, Sans. Mom taught me more than how to survive in the Ruins. In addition to collecting and cooking snails, I managed to learn a little more about the humans that came before me. What each of them did. You know, a little more than the impressions I had when I had to face them, or free them so many times before. More than the objects they left behind. 

Mom also taught me some magic. I’ll never be as skilled as the rest of you, of course, but I know how it works now: just enough for when it counts. Between her and the encounters I’ve had I’ve learned how to bare my Soul. I’ve read the murals and spent time in the Library, Sans. I talked with Alphys. I even saw the True Lab and what she made with good intentions. 

Good intentions … Souls … They say that a human soul can survive without love. A being can even survive without a Soul. But that’s not true, Sans. A Soul can exist without love. A being can function without a Soul. But that’s not the same as living. Trust me, Sans. I should know. 

Undertale Flowey the Flower

You see Sans stop turning the pages as something catches itself between them. The large petal is still golden yellow after all this time. You avert your eyes from it, even as you remember why you put in there this time around. It is to remind you. You are so much older now, and he was still there taunting you, threatening you and your loved ones, waiting for you to die … You couldn’t risk that happening again. Not to them. Not to him. Even so, Flowey hadn’t resisted when you came that last time. But even his relief will never wash that guilt away.

There was another being who could utilize Determination. He was a being that could Reset. In almost every timeline Flowey took advantage of Asgore and stole the Souls away from him. It was one of the reasons I left. If I had died and Flowey had gained all Seven Souls himself … But it was not ever about the power, even with him. He was lonely, and soulless. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. We knew each other too well, Sans. 

The problem talking with you about any of this is that, every time I try, I never know just how much you know or remember. At one point you showed me your workshop and its drawers. I know that you can keep items and notes in there from other timelines. Maybe that is how you remember. Perhaps you have some psychic ability, or you just read faces well in addition to that sense of deja vu that a few other people get when I come around again. I just don’t know. 

And it’s not really important. As for why I came back to the Ruins, many of the above reasons are true. But there is one more thing.

I was afraid.

Again, I don’t know how much you know. You and Papyrus came to Snowdin a while ago and that is all the information I could get on you. But maybe you were working in the Hotlands then. I still don’t know much about Gaster: aside that I am aware that you had some association with him, or some of the … inventions that he created. Even finding the scraps and echoes of his presence — in the “Fun Values” of existence itself — it took every inch of discipline that Toriel ingrained into me in other timelines in addition to my Determination. 

Undertale DT

I don’t even know if he was involved with Alphys’ studies into the Human Soul but I know enough to realize that he could study timelines, perhaps much like you if you examine the graphs I pasted next to this entry. 

If you didn’t have Sans’ attention before, you know that you got it now. His eyes are definitely glowing and you can see his bony fingers shaking. And you know what’s coming next. You know what might happen.

Darkness. Darker and darker still … I didn’t want to admit it. It all began one day, after Mom kept me from leaving the Ruins. I ran upstairs, terrified from our first encounter, and lay down in my bed. That was when the memories started. But that’s not true. They started before, right after I fell. I saw the tapes in the True Lab. I heard about them at the Capital. I saw their clothes and their toys. 

I heard their voice in some isolated Echo Flowers. We even wore similar striped shirts. And we both fell through Mount Ebott. We even have … had the same colour Soul. And how could I read the Monster language on the murals and in the Library without having learned it from somewhere? There were times, Sans. It’s not so much a voice, at least not anymore. But it was a series of feelings and memories that weren’t my own. Most of the time they were impulses. I was so scared when I first came here. It seemed like everything was trying to kill me: to take my Soul. I thought everyone was like Flowey. Pretending to be nice, but biding their time … 

“It’s kill or be killed …”

Undertale Mirror

“kid.” Sans is shaking more than you are now. “that’s not possible. it can’t be …”

You shake your head violently. He needs to see this. He needs to understand and read on.

Sans puts the book down and his eye sockets are dark. “no.”

You look up at him. Your eyes start to blur. Your eyes are wide and pleading silently with him. You’re begging him to keep going. Sans regards you for a few moments, judging you much in the way that he did back in that palace hallway so many decades ago, so many different timelines ago. Your friend, your judge, your enemy continues to read the direction where your thoughts are headed.

Alphys never determined, if you’ll pardon the pun, what happens to a Human Soul when a Monster doesn’t claim it. She also didn’t determine what happens when a Monster carrying that Soul dies. Where does that Soul go, Sans? What does it do? Does it linger on the Earth forever? Does it move on? Or is it a cycle? Like a Reset. When Asriel died so many years ago, when he turned into dust, just what happened to Chara’s Soul? 

How is it possible to have two sets of memories? How it is possible for one set and its feelings and impulses to grow over your own? I thought they were a parasite or a demon. Perhaps a vengeful ghost buried in the flowers. I thought they were outside of me. But those early days, when I was first here, I fed them. I gave them what they wanted so I could survive. 

And when I was done, when they were done, I Reset and … the darkness, Sans. That’s why I really left. No matter how many times I Reset, or Load it’s there. Waiting for me. It eats at me, Sans. It chips away at what experience, what life I had, and I just couldn’t … I didn’t know if I could keep it at bay. I still don’t know … if I can keep it, from keeping myself, from killing everyone. Again. 

Undertale Chara's Deaths

You can’t even look at him. Tears flow down your withered cheeks. Sans is glaring into you now. And you can see it. Even through your blurry eyes what you’ve been building up to has finally happened. Sans has dropped the notebook completely. Only one of his eyes is glowing now. It glows with a luminescent cyan and baleful yellow. You remember that energy well. It haunted your nightmares for years. And now he remembers … now he knows too …

Sans glares down at you. “you dirty brother killer.”

You squeeze your eyes shut and turn away from him in shame. Those four words hurt you more than any bone, or Gaster Blaster ever could. But maybe now it will be easier. Perhaps now you can do what you set out to this time. Maybe you can finish what you’ve started.

“i should kill you.” Sans says. “i always felt something was off, with you. to think everyone, to think pap misses something like you. i can’t believe i didn’t see it at the palace. you looked so innocent. so determined. you’re disgusting. i wish didn’t make the old lady that promise.”

“Please.” You manage to say.

Sans pauses for a few moments. “please? please what?” Then you see understanding dawn in his expression. “you mean, you want to die?”

The skeleton is silent. He is looking at you, looking right into you. It is his judgment in the palace all over again: except this time with all of the facts. Just as suddenly, however, Sans’ eyes are back. He shakes his head, slowly, and then shrugs his shoulders.

“you know what? no.” He says. “i’m not going to do it. you know why, buddy? you’re just going to reset anyway, right?”

Undertale Sans Meglovania

“No.” You say, quietly. “I …” your voice is hoarse and quiet from disuse. “I don’t want to Reset anymore.”

“quit jossing me.” Sans’ grin is manic, angry. “what? you think this elderly shtick is going to make me feel sorry for you? you think letting yourself get all wrinkled and grey is going to get me into your sick little routine? no. i’m not giving you what you want.”

Sans picks up your notebook. “you chose the darkness. you even said it’s a part of you. you’re the one that dropped the ball, buddy. the moment you gave into it, you deserved everything you got. the only reason you’re pulling this guilt and remorse thing is so that you can save yourself. so i can put you out of your misery. and even if i wanted to, and i don’t, it won’t even work. you’ll just come back. but that’s fine. i’ll tell you what buddy.

“i’m going to take this here notebook and, uh, put it in my drawer. i’m going to read it. and when that darkness takes you again, because you’re weak and you’ll do it, i’ll be ready for you. i’ll use what i find in here to give you a bad time. i’ll use it to hurt you. but death? nah, kid. that’s too good for a brother killer like you.”

“… you’re right.” You say. “I am a brother killer.” You let the sins of other timelines and other lives crawl down your back. “I killed mine too. I’m glad you will never have to know what that feels like.”

Sans’ eye burns into you. “live with it or just don’t come back. it’s not our problem.” He starts to turn away.

“You can stop me from Resetting.”

Sans stops. You start coughing again. They are hard, raucous spasms. A minute of the sound goes by before you get your breath back.

“You can stop me from using the Reset. Forever.” You repeat. “You’ve read this far.” You tell him. “I know you want to stop me. Please. Finish reading. I … it will save us … save you time.”

Sans stands there with your notebook in his hands. Finally, he shrugs his shoulders again. “well, i guess we both, uh, got some time to kill, huh.”

You watch as Sans flips through more pages. They are diagrams of the different coloured hearts, the Souls currently in Asgore’s collection. You placed it right next to your findings and theories about Souls and your current predicament.

Undertale Asgore and the Six Human Souls

I’ve realized that the Reset is not always a conscious force on my part. I’m not even sure that Chara themselves is responsible for it. I recall Flowey’s observations, when he told me about how close to death he was once. There was a will, a struggle to survive, to live, to exist. I think that Determination is just another aspect of self-preservation. It’s inherent in everyone: Human, Monster … Plant. 

I could die, I have died a thousand times, but something, sheer animal instinct perhaps, will always bring me back: and specifically bring me back here to the Underground. I can’t end myself. I can’t stay dead. I’m too weak, Sans. 

But I think I know what I have to do now. It has, ironically, taken time Sans. I gathered all the information here into this book: taken from the Purple Soul who had it before me, the murals, the Library, Alphys’ notes, transcripts of your timeline graphs, my own recollections and interactions. All of it. 

The final reason that I ran from Asgore was partly for this purpose, and also out of pure selfishness. It never occurred to me before to live out my life down here. I needed more lived experience, more knowledge, and a sturdier sense of reality. But I also wanted to spend more time with my Mom, before … She doesn’t know Sans. I mean, she knew I had to leave again. I’ve lived a long life, for someone of my kind. I sharpened my mind and my will, and I let my body age. I robbed that other part of me of almost any other tool or weapon to get to this point. 

But I am getting older and Mom doesn’t age like most people. I just couldn’t do that to her. I don’t want her to see me like this. But I’ve had my time, Sans. I’ve had more than my time. I took all of yours. I mentioned good intentions earlier. And even in staying away from Asgore, I’ve only allowed the Underground to suffer. I can see the decline in birthrates and the stagnation setting in. I abandoned you. But I won’t turn away from this final task. 

I regret what I’ve done with my Resets, with all the people I’ve hurt through my actions and inaction. There is one thing I need you to do now. I think you already know what it is. I still can’t surrender myself to Asgore. We both know that he can’t handle this burden. No one else can. I’ve seen what that kind of power does to a Monster, or something close to it. 

I know you don’t like to work Sans. You pride yourself on your laziness if I can still say so. But you know, or you can view the timelines. You are aware of the SAVE state, of LOADING, of the RESET and the TRUE RESET. You are already a master of spatial travel. And you have the will. All you need is time now. And I have honed myself to the point where I can help you do what needs to be done. 

You know what to do, Sans. You know how to end this.

You can’t afford not to care. 

Undertale Sans Lab

Sans closes the notebook. You look up at him, silently pleading, knowing that he has now seen everything. You await his decision. Sans shakes his head.

“it’s not fair.” He says. “taking your time travel and using my own jibes back at me before i even make ’em. heh, you really are a class act. you know that?” His shoulders slump. “the sad thing is, i can tell you really mean it. you did some shitty things, killing us and taking our future away, but i can see it. you’re tired. but i’m tired too. and, uh, no offense, but after everything i really don’t want that soul of yours in me.”

You know this is your last chance. Sans is on that brink. You just need to hit home your point now. You dive deep into what strength you have left.

“Think of the timelines.” You say, your voice quavering. “Think about Monsterkind.

“Think about Papyrus.”

Undertale Papyrus

You lay your head back in the snow. That’s it. That is everything you can say to him now. The pain in your limbs is becoming more distant: just another set of memories that aren’t your own. You hear Sans’ footsteps crunch near your head. You focus your eyes and look up at him.

“you really want to die, don’t you.”

“This …” you cough for a long time. “This was never … about me … Sans. I read.” You force the cold air into your lungs. “I know the Prophecy. I was just a kid that never even knew how to make a snow angel.”

“… dammit.” Sans crouches down near you. “kid …”

You start shaking. Sans’ hand is on your head. “kid!”

It’s almost time now. The feeling is almost unbearable. You moan and writhe as you will the sensation out. You can feel Sans’ blue magic enveloping you.

“it’s ok, buddy. i’ll get us to snowdin and …”

You push up your sleeves. The pinpricks that are Sans’ eyes seem to shrink in horror. “kid, what did you do …”

“Too late. I … prepared. Before this.” The red through your cut wrists contrasts against the white around you. “I had years of practice …”

“no.” You can feel Sans’ magic attempting to knit your flesh together, but your body is too old and it would take Sans time to move you and potentially cause you more injury. “don’t do this …”

“Don’t worry.” You say, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s all right. If it makes you feel any better … it’s like my Soul … it tastes just like ketchup.”

Undertale Heart

“… t h a t ‘ s  n o t  f u n n y.”

“No.” You shudder. “I don’t … suppose it is. I’m … sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”

You can’t make out Sans’ face now, but there seems to be something running out of his blurry sockets. “it’s … it’s ok buddy. just hold on … no …”

You feel the warmth of your Soul rise up. Everything is red. It’s redder than your own blood. It is bathing the white around you in vitality. Your pain is gone now. The darkness of lifetimes is finally gone. You feel at peace.

“Sans …” You say. You find his finger bones clutching your hands. “Promise me … please … take my Soul. Take the others that Asgore has. End this. I … I believe in you.”

“buddy …”

You look up and see the dog sculptures: some spiraling out of themselves, or deep into the ground. Others broken and crumbling. Still more are left unfinished. It’s somehow fitting: that it would all end here. Another thought occurs to you.

“Hey … Sans …”

The bony hands hold yours tighter. “what is it, kid?”

“… I have a joke for you.” The crimson of the floating heart of your Soul envelops the both of you now, but you are still looking at the sculptures. “What do you become when you spell a dog backwards?”

Sans pauses, tears coursing down his eye sockets. “i don’t know, kid. what do you become?”

Undertale Lesser Dog

But you are already gone.

Sans looks at the old human, who had once been a child, lying there in front of him. All that is left of them is their Soul … and a smile on their face. Slowly, tenderly, the skeleton closes their eyes.

He stares at the human Soul floating above their chest. He thinks about the timelines, and his friends. And Papyrus. He thinks about himself. Sans exhales the invisible knot of grief and pain that had somehow been in the centre of his fleshless rib cage.

And then: Sans understands.

“heh.” he says. “i get it now.” He regards the red Soul. “still not funny.”

Then he slowly shakes his head.

“eh.” he sighs, reaching one hand towards the Soul. “just how much can i still afford to care.”

SAVE FAILED

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. There be Spoilers here. Do not say that you were not warned.

I’m not sure when it happened. Sometimes I forget … sometimes …

Yes. Recording. I don’t know how much time I have left. Or there’s too much time … to contemplate what happened. I’d reached Entry 17 of my Scientific Journal. I hope that you both found it in my attachment.

I remember now. I was examining the Souls. The Barrier was created around us: sealing us Underground with the power of human magic. There are two schools of thought on this matter: first, that humans only gained power through the consumption of Boss Monster Souls that exist longer than those of most Monsters. However, there have historically been few Boss Monsters among our kind and even they do not last as long as Human Souls.

Human Souls are energy sources that utilize a power known as Determination. Alphys, or perhaps you — Sans — will come up with this label. It makes sense that if the apex of Monsterkind can gift Humans with power, that any Human Soul grants us a far greater measure of possibility.

Undertale DT

I made plans for a DT Extractor, but I fear that won’t nearly be enough. But I have made a machine that allows me to utilize this energy in a limited capacity. I didn’t want to use the Souls themselves — that power was to be for His Majesty — but I distilled enough energy through the matrices to view the time lines: to see what possibilities there are to escape from the Barrier’s properties.

Through my machine, I was able to find the underlying codes and variables of reality. During the War, it was said that the Humans were able to cancel out previous actions, or come back from death itself. Some could even change events entirely and … confuse the memories of others. A truly terrifying, and magnificent power if there ever was one. One common theme in my research into the matter was that this Human SAVE function created a node in reality: a place that intersected between psionic, spiritual and geomantic dimensions. Essentially, a SAVE is a spot in the land itself created by the power of Determination.

I realized that seeing the timelines, and then the codes of existence — the “fun values” — was the first step. The second would be to observe and eventually manipulate said values. Eventually, if taken towards its inevitable conclusion, one could theoretically create a RESET: that same power that took victory away from us time and again: leaving all but a few without memory of our past achievements in the War and perhaps even the deaths of other Boss Monsters for Human ends. Truly, a distressing concept.

With a RESET, we wouldn’t even need to circumvent the Barrier with the correct number of Human Souls. Rather, we would restart reality itself and change history. We could rewrite the War. We could have made it so that the Humans had never won. Or perhaps that the elements that began the War never occurred. We could have made it so that we had never been imprisoned to begin with.

But before that final phase in our potential endeavours, there was the third phase: the SAVE function. This would be essential in case anything should go wrong. In fact, SAVING would be valuable in and of itself. Aside from the potential therapeutic qualities of spontaneous regeneration more potent than even healing magic, imagine if anything should happen to the Underground: if there were a calamity of some kind such as a sickness or even an invader that our magic isn’t capable of halting. The ability to LOAD from the SAVE would allow all denizens of the Underground to survive. Perhaps, over time, we could even begin to slowly and gradually absorb the powers of Determination from our SAVE points. If not in our generation, then certainly in further and future generations we had the potential to develop that power and free ourselves altogether. Certainly, learning from our previous mistakes and memories would only bolster our potential as a species.

The possibilities are endless. But so are the tribulations.

You couldn’t conceive of what I saw. When I extracted that small amount of Determination into my machine, I saw all the building blocks of life, space, and time. All of the possibilities. Well, that isn’t true. Sans, you know exactly what I’m talking about even now. The experience was greater than anything else I’d ever achieved: more than my Blasters, even more than utilizing the geothermal power of the Earth to create the Core seemed minuscule compared to this. Even so, the work that led to the Core, miniaturized, was just the first step in utilizing geomantic energy to make our first SAVE point.

I think you know the first mistake by now, you two. The darkness I warned you about earlier. There was … there is an anomaly. I can’t account for it. It threatens all the timelines. I’ll admit: it terrified me. That was when I knew. The Barrier was petty compared to the threat of this cosmological aberration. I had to make that SAVE. I had to override reality to save us all.

I should have spent more time … but that’s exactly what I have now. More time. Yes. I said that already. I accessed the fun values. I attempted to change them. I tried to focus the machine’s Determination energy into one area and then I SAVED.

It didn’t work.

I didn’t unify in one place as I know I should have. Instead, I felt my body, and my being, spreading thin … disintegrating … I scattered everywhere. I’m data in the Core. I’m a child who should have died. I am a man who, in another time, decided to walk away from a Spider Bake Sale. Or I’m a face from the ground talking about myself, listening to everything …

I’m right behind someone. I’m sailing down a river? And I’m in a grey version of a room that I changed with tainted SAVE data. Use it to store anything. Not even a RESET will erase the matter in there. Not even the broken machine …

Undertale Sans Lab

But there is, there was some strange creature in front of me … Perhaps that is the anomaly? I was so focused on understanding it, on stopping it.

But there is a difference between Determination and obsession.

My friends, I don’t know how coherent I’m going to remain. I don’t even know if I’m talking to you in one timeline, or another. Or all of them. But you are all in danger. The Darkness will come from either outside, or within … Don’t listen to the Flowers. Beware the Child … I don’t understand … I’m everything, I’m …

Sans. Papyrus … I’m you. I’m will try to find a way to find you. Take care, my … take … Stay determined. Stay Determined … stay de-terminated … deter … mine …

….

SilSol: A Dark Crystal Vignette

Here is my second, and last Dark Crystal character sketch. I made a lot of speculation as to which urSkek SkekSil and urSol came from: especially from the second volume of The Dark Crystal Creation Myths. To me, this writing represents what I could have done, and what I did actually do. I hope you will enjoy it and appreciate this in the spirit that it is meant. 

SilSol flew through the lines of stars and suns with his brothers as they finally left Thra through the Crystal of Truth. His own mind, though clearer, now was no less blurred as they passed the point beyond space and time and perception.

He looked down at his form: such as it was now. It was a brighter orange: almost a bright white light. Once, UngIm would have told him that a white corona symbolized a process of healing. And he, above the rest of his brethren, shone the whitest of all.

Even now, travelling with the others, it was hard to think of Thra: of the place of their banishment. He remembered wanting to leave and rejoin his people so badly. He hovered in the skies far across the ocean and sang in a place where he thought no one else would hear them. To the Gelfling people, he taught them songs of growth, and peace, and love. But to himself, singing to an audience that no longer listened to him, that he was no longer a part of by virtue of being a “he,” of being an individual, he sang of loss and loneliness and the clinging to of false hope as temporary staving off of despair. But it had been a deceptive salve, one that ate away at his very being, that stained his reddening form with a spreading blackness … it had proven just as corrosive and as ineffectual a balm as essence, as vliya

Deep regret flowed and passed through SilSol’s ethereal form. He had not known the mariner Gyr had been there that day, listening to his song. It hadn’t been the Gelfling’s fault. It had been none of their faults. In his spite he thought them primitive savages and only Aughra was considered even remotely equal to his kind. But she had been wiser than he in many ways, though he did not spend nearly as much time with her as TekTih had, and the peoples of Thra had their own songs, their own rhythms and variations. It was the very opposite of the former unity and symmetry—the perceived perfection—of the communal consciousness of his own race. Once, long ago, SilSol knew his music had been as precise and perfect—as crystalline—as mathematics and the physics of the cosmos. But he had split away down a quantum path into something else, like the rest of his brethren and he hadn’t been able to find that perfect note again, that rhythm that he needed, that he craved for balance …

Is there no place in all the realms of the Crystal where a single being will show me compassion!?

It wasn’t even Raunip’s fault that he had finally unleashed his anger and bitterness. That one had his own imbalance, his own lack of connection with himself to deal with and SilSol had not envied him. In the end, SilSol blamed Thra, the place that graciously took them in, for this sense of loss: though the fault, he knew now, lay within himself.

Dark Heart, Raunip named him, once.

Is there truly no love for me in all creation!?

The Crystal, and Thra, and the Universe had answered him. They had always spoken to him. He just did not hear it. He chose not to hear it. Like the Chanter that he had been, he closed his hearing to everything but his own song, letting it play around him and drown everyone out, let it deafen the world, let himself become deaf …

He knew now that his brothers had been the same: had denied their darker impulses, had secretly hoped to purge them with the light of the Crystal, to go home … SilSol had just been the catalyst to ignite and rip apart their wilful ignorance.

But it did nothing to assuage his guilt. Better urSkeks than he: so many others including TekTih and the great SoSu passed on fragmented while he, the catalyst that made the Crystal divide them, remained. He recalled the Division vaguely: remembering the scorn of his brothers and their hatred of his one discordant note: for the vestige, that grating reminder of what he had cost them, of what they had lost and he had taken from them when they were all whole. He went around and used that crooning voice, that one note, to tell lies and ruin lives … At the same time, he recalled the Valley and the peace, though unearned, that he had finally found for his soul there, for the love he had of the planet he once disparaged, and the time he spent singing with his brothers, with the Gelfling Jen that was like their child …

As these fragmented memories unified, the pain in SilSol eased and flowed out of his body into the darkness of space, into the streaming of his brothers’ light. Even fragmented, he taught Jen his songs, and his selfish part—the part that caused so much pain—guided him to where he needed to go. Unity and symmetry won out at the end of the day, disparate notes becoming a single song again.

Around them, as they continued to travel, his brothers began to sing. UngIm, at their forefront where SoSu had once been, beckoned him forward. SilSol found his light becoming a brighter white and gold again. He understood that he would heal—that they all would heal and had healed—together. With this thought, this solace, his two voices—become one once more—joined the rest of the chorus as they, all of them, continued on their final and eternal journey together and whole again.

Urskeks

Jen: A Dark Crystal Vignette

Two years ago now, I immersed myself in the world of Thra: in an attempt to write a novel for The Dark Crystal Gelfling Gathering Contest. Every day I would write notes on my novel outline in my journal while reading the old novelization and the visualized encyclopedia. Before this, I had only taken smaller creative challenges that I displayed on this very Blog. But taking this on, even though I didn’t end up creating a novel, actually helped to save my sanity and cultivate my own creative energy. 

Still, sometimes I regret the fact that I didn’t write that Gelfling Gathering novel or the short story I had planned. To be honest, though, sometimes I’m just sad the contest itself ended: with all the interactions on the Community Forums and the possibilities of making myself a part of this world. During this time I wrote a few story sketches on the Board: to immerse myself and my writing into that world. Basically, I wanted to see if I was capable of writing Dark Crystal stories. So in honour of that special time in my life, I want to present to you one of the first story sketches that I made: from the point of view of our favourite Gelfling Jen in light of everything I learned afterwards. I hope you will enjoy this, my friends for I know I did, in writing it. Take care. 🙂 

Jen watches the luminous beings—the urSkeks—as they ascend into the air, through the Crystal, dissipating into mist, into space, and time and energy, and all the other elements and concepts that his Mystic teachers and friends attempted to instill in him until they were gone completely: as though they had never been there to begin with … as though they had never come to Thra at all.

But Jen knows better. The gleaming palatial white of the Castle that houses the Crystal of Truth—once blackened and warped by the filth and depravity of the Skeksis—is a testament to the beings that were here: that did all of these things. He sees the inscriptions on the newly clean walls: with art and frescoes rivalling that of the ruins of the Gelfling cities … so many cities … so many people … so many of his own kind gone.

UrSu had known. All of the Mystics—the urRu—had known. Even when they taught him, he sensed their collective weariness—their awful guilt—and a few moments ago he realized why.

Jen looks out through the window at the sky. The three suns have passed other another. The Great Conjunction has ended: not to begin again for another one thousand trine. And the wake of those three mingled suns leaves Jen with much to think about.

The urRu and the Skeksis had been one people: two halves of the same being.

His Master had always instilled into him that everything has symmetry and balance: and that when balance was broken, Nature—abhorring a vacuum—would adapt accordingly. UrAc, the Scribe of his people, of his brothers, once showed Jen a myth that his long-departed brother—who Jen now remembers as urLii the Storyteller—used to tell in which a race of great and powerful beings challenged the gods and for their hubris were torn asunder into two peoples. They would spend the rest of their existences trying to live and yet always searching for their other halves. UrAc had written this tale down: as one of the many chronicles that urSu let him see when he was learning to read, and the irony of this story does not escape him now.

He saw them. After the Skeksis cut down Kira, even after he saw her graceful, beautiful winged form crumple to the ground reaching for him and he slammed the burning shard into the Dark Crystal with a righteous fire in his veins, he saw his teachers come into the Chamber. They surrounded the Crystal and he saw them … He saw the light refract from the whitened Crystal blazing as they drew the panicking Skeksis towards them.

The usurpers of Thra were so afraid: as their moment of triumph became one of their greatest fear. It was as though the Skeksis feared death and, in a way, that is exactly what happened. Jen saw that even the Skeksis that tried to trick him and Kira, become drawn into the waiting arms of urSol. The urRu had always been so hunched over, so old, so humble but when they came before the restored Crystal they towered powerfully … majestically over the quailing Skeksis. They were beautiful as their thoughts and considerations finally followed through to definitive action.

The words of the long-dead Storyteller flashed through Jen’s mind of two becoming one again. So much more happened after that. The urSkek—the one that had ordered the Garthim and urIm the Healer both—told him so little, but enough. One mistake had cost them their unity, one mistake had cost the lives of the Gelfling people, and almost the life of Kira. But then … the urSkek sang and his brothers sang with them. It was urSol’s chant and the deep resonant hum of the other Mystics only with another chord running through the sound, a high pitch to match the heavy thrum. For a few moments Jen thought he had heard what was once the squealing “mmm” of the Skeksis he met before, which he now saw as just a broken fragment, a base echo of the brilliance surrounding him as his heart glowed against Kira’s body: clutching it for dear life.

And as the music filled him, it was like the dreamfast … only different. There was no touch of skin, but it went beyond that. He saw stars and a crystalline world, and the urSkeks, Thra in the beginning, Aughra younger and his people all whole and spreading throughout the world … the urSkeks aligning crystals to make the Crystal brighter, cultivating it … the Great Division, the inhibitions of the urSkeks turned into the Skeksis and their horror, the compassion and conscience of the urRu powerless to do anything but protect and pain, and sorrow, and joy, and peace and yearning manifesting into one place through another people entirely: Jen’s people … Jen and …

The joy of Kira stirring against his breast would never leave Jen as long he lived. And that was when he saw the glimmers of the urRu through the strange and ageless forms in front of him, the active power that was once embodied by Skeksis made into something positive again.

And now they are gone: the urSkeks leaving them with the mysteries of the Castle and the Crystal: with hope. Kira is at Jen’s side: stirring against him. Jen realizes he isn’t angry at the urRu for not telling him. They did in their way. But he wonders. What of the urRu and the Skeksis that died before the Conjunction: fragmented and separate? Were they consigned to a void? To an abyss of nothingness? Did the gentle and inquisitive urTih cease to exist? And what of urSu: the wise Master that shared his fate with a dying corrupted Emperor: who Jen now knew had finally let himself die so that he could succeed this day?

But then Jen remembers. He recalls his Master telling him about another life, and Aughra saying that urSu could be anywhere. Jen smiles and closes his eyes: basking in the light of the Crystal and Kira by his side: for he now remembers another lesson. For just as urSu once told him that Nature abhors a vacuum and that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, the urSkek also taught him another lesson.

Everything is connected.

It is with this thought that Jen knows he and Kira can build again: and that there is again, finally, hope.

Jen and Kira

Black Cat

This is an alternate ending to Fummy’s The Witch’s House. If you want to play the game and not get any spoilers, do not read any further. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

Ellen already thinks that I’m gone. And that suits me just fine, really. She’s been a lot of fun, these past couple of years, centuries … Time makes no difference to me. Time is boring. But we’ve both got what we wanted, in the end.

Well, almost.

The fact is: I couldn’t miss this for the world. She got out of the house that I crafted for her, that she built on with all that pain and suffering, mixing the potion in exactly the same way I taught her to destroy the wall of roses and thorns that Viola made for her. Ah, Viola. Poor Viola.

But look at her tenacity. Ellen did quite a job on her. It was easy, from I understand. Viola was a lonely girl, without a mother, with her fearfully overprotective father always hovering over her. She didn’t have any friends her age. There aren’t many little girls that live in the woods. In fact, there are no other little girls that live in these woods. Not anymore.

Ellen used everything I taught her to get one last new “friend.” The magicks keeping her alive, for far longer than her weak, diseased, frail, pale violet-haired little form should have even existed, were waning. She was practically bed-ridden by the time she lured beautiful, healthy, blonde-haired Viola to her side. And played Viola like her musical namesake: appealing to natural sense of pity, compassion, kindness and — more importantly — her sense of loneliness.

It’s funny. They were different from each other in so many other ways, but I’ll bet if they really had time to look at themselves in the cracked mirrors of my house they would have seen that loneliness was the only thing they ever had in common.

Oh, Ellen. I taught you far too well. Maybe I’ve just been in this form for far too long. I mean, you’ve won. You could have killed Viola many times over. You could have killed her from the very beginning. The body-switching spell that I taught you only required her initial consent: after that, you could have made her rat-food.

But there you are. You just have to gloat over her. You just have to remind her about how she agreed to let you borrow her sweet young body for just one day, how she trusted you, how you cut off your own legs with that knife, blinded yourself, and made her drink that potion that destroyed your old body’s voice to render her so helpless …

You thought of everything, my Ellen. But you just had to toy with her, didn’t you? And, I see … her father is coming. With his gun. I see exactly what you want to do. It’s brilliant. He will see you, in Viola’s body and see Viola trapped in the ruined horror of your old form and kill her.

I have to say, it didn’t take much to shape you into this. I mean, you already killed your own parents before you even knew I existed. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed eating their souls immensely, but I wanted more. You still had some regret then, some fear over your own death, but it didn’t take much to assuage those bad feelings away with promises.

And I did promise you, didn’t I? I promised to teach you how to write. And I did. I taught you to read all those stories. I instructed you in magic and how only equivalent exchange — instead of literal, physical keys — could unlock the secret places in my house. And I told you the secret of how to exchange your body for another’s. I even said I would help you do it: that my house and I would disappear once Viola was gone and you could start your new existence.

Of course, I also told you I would miss having this form.

Silly Ellen. You really should have cut off your own hands.

You still don’t get it. She’s not just uselessly twitching those fingers in your own blood in the soil down there. She has made her final decision. The thought never crossed your mind.

Just how was Viola able to use your own magic against you?

The thing about me, that you never questioned, is that as long as there are shadows I can be in more than one place at the same time. Remember, Ellen, time is boring to me. Most of it is filled with eating souls that I can’t hunt myself, because I can’t touch this world without one of you, or playing games with my prey in my own little way.

It wasn’t as easy as you might think it was. Viola truly was a really good girl. She, like your pet frog, really did love you. I’ve never understood unconditional love, the thing you’ve wanted badly: more than discarding that rotting corpse of a body. But it is an interesting bauble to play with.

The pain of being in that mutilated husk of yours got to Viola, my dear Ellen. It didn’t take much. She had already been desperate enough to drink that potion you gave her, to “make the pain go away.” And I promised her, just as I promised you so many years ago, that I could help her if she helped me, if she listened to me, if she … fed me.

But she resisted. She was on her way though. Just as you have fragments of her memory in your body, she had pieces of yours: just enough, with my gentle guidance, to use the house, to make illusions … to create that wall of roses. It was all just to stop you, though. She wasn’t there yet.

It wasn’t until I mentioned her father, being all alone, being alone with you, that she agreed to my terms.

And even then, all I gave her was the spell. Oh, there you are my sweet Ellen. Right back where you belong. Oh, look at her abuse you. She is angry. Kicking your ruined head. What is that look in your eyes, my friend? Betrayal?

Silly girl: what did you think witchcraft was all about? It is about equivalent exchange again, about substituting one thing for another. Actually, I lied Ellen. Witchcraft is about false equivalency. Did you really think you were getting anything close to an equal exchange in our dealings? Did you think that’s what you gave all those poor little boys and girls you experimented on all those years?

But more than that, I even told you: witchcraft is about giving your familiar, your tutor, a physical form: thus making you a witch. And even more than that, Ellen, it was all about keeping me fed … and entertained.

Oh, she’s stepped on your brittle little fingers. Viola’s already learning. In fact, she’s learned so much. She will make an excellent witch. Tell me, Ellen, though we will have more time to talk soon I see Viola’s father coming with his gun, do you know what is more delicious than eating innocent, murdered souls? Do you know what is more nutritious than dining on a soul tainted with centuries of bitterness, resentment, and cruelty?

What is more wonderful is taking an innocent soul, tempting it, destroying it, warping it in on itself, and turning it into another witch’s soul that — one day — I will eat with great relish. In the meantime, I will have a whole lot of appetizers.

Starting with you, Ellen.

Ah, you were attacking his poor daughter and got some gunshots to the head for your troubles. Still trying to get the happiness you never had, the joy you’ll never feel. I see the light fading from your bloody sockets. Now that is A Funny Story. Is that despair? I bet you didn’t expect that reward. But don’t worry, Ellen. I will take my time consuming you, just to let its flavor set in a little more.

In the meantime, yes, that’s right Viola. Thank your father for saving you. Introduce him to me. He is just relieved the witch didn’t get you and will give you anything now. And look at the new house, the new life, you’re going to build for each other.

But remember our agreement, young lady. You will feed me souls. And for the soul transference spell, you promised me the very first soul that came your way. It’s not like he really understood you anyway.

Yes, I just have to say: in the end it’s really easy being a little black cat.

Black Cat

Mercy

The sequel and “Companion” piece to The Writer.

I look at the ruins of what I used to be and I smile. They are more peaceful now: metal and alabaster covered in weeds and flowers.

It’s been a while since anyone visited my grave. The Incarnations, ­­even some of the Great Old Ones that are smaller on the outside, sometimes like to stop by but the main ones, Pain and Death, stopped coming ages ago.

But Time never seems to stop. She’s always there. She is always there even now that he isn’t. Sometimes I think Time knows a lot more than she’s letting on when we pass each other in the streets of this world, and so many others.

I travel. I travel a lot. It seems old habits die hard that way, but even though my body is gone now, I find it amazing. There was a time when all of the stars and planets in this system were uninhabited. There were no psychic impulses, no telepathic fields: nothing. The only evidence of anything here having been anything other than eternal are the glyphs read on the corpse of me that became the site of my chrysalis.

He made them, but I’m the only one that can read them.

For now.

There is still some time. I could walk: it’s true. The breezes on the First World, Elysium, were always temperate even in the beginning. Instead I concentrate. It’s less that there are coordinates in my mind and more impressions of where I want to be.

I find myself in front of a small cottage surrounded by a larger garden.

“One day I will put down my pen. I’ll settle us down and work with what already exists. No more late nights. You won’t even have to kick me out for air …”

I shake my head. Even now The Tender, as everyone knows him, spends more time on his grounds than anywhere else. Nothing has changed, even if everything has.

He’s there. He’s wearing homespun overalls and a faded white shirt. His hands work a hoe as he plants another one of his cuttings into the earth. I remember his hair being so dark and short. But under his wide-­brimmed and ridiculous hat it’s now all shaggy and white.

Somehow, he always had long fingers. Even though gloves cover them, I know they still work calmly and methodically. I remember them being steady when they weren’t working furiously across a keyboard or a control board in a frenzy of inspiration. His movements had always been slower than The Other’s, but that was okay. He didn’t have to be fast.

I can see them trembling a little now. He lets go of the cutting and sits cross­legged on the ground: just as he always used to do. I wonder just how much he remembers before I notice the colour of the grass he’s sitting in.

“From now on, until this War is over, I will be The Poet Laureate Triumphant. I shall be your Orator. For we shall spread across the cosmos and show the Enemy that we are the red grass of Gallifrey!”

He takes off one of his gloves and plays with a strand of grass: lost in some thought or reverie he probably cannot name. He was so good at Naming: well, everyone but himself anyway.

The Poet Laureate. The Poet Laureate Triumphant. The Orator. And now The Tender. I resist rolling my eyes. At least the other names were just parodies and self­aware ironies. Even at his worst, he knew when to laugh at himself.

I wonder, again, if there is still some part of him laughing at all of this until I see … her.

Death stands behind him. She’s beautiful, I’ll give her that. And she’s standing in a white summer dress, metres away and entirely too close to my Writer.

Death. This was not the first time I died.

I died ages from now on a distant world in another place and time. I forgot in a War that I almost forgot. I didn’t remember what happened to my pilots but as parts of me lay in fragments or phased in and out of consciousness I could still feel the call of my heartbeat.

“A Battle TARDIS.”

“Wow. This must be an old design. I’ve never seen this kind before.”

“Or it’s a new one. The war might not have happened yet. She may not have happened

“That’s no ‘she.’ It’s just an old wreck.”

“No. She’s not. Can’t you hear it? Her Heart is singing …”

“Whatever. I’m going back to the Academy.”

“Wait. What–­­”

“Not my fault you suck with piloting. You can stay here with your piece of junk girlfriend.”

“Please! Get back here! Come back! Please … don’t leave me here …”

He was just a boy when his friends left him. I was old when my own companions left me.

“This panel. It’s … repair options. This is automated? Yes. Yes, I see. Thank you.

“I love your song.”

It took time, but I got us off and away from that world. He kept me hidden, his little secret, but he spent all that time nursing me back to health: healing me and making me better. We helped each other in our own ways. It wasn’t long before he graduated the Academy and it seemed like we had all that time to ourselves … for as long as it lasted.

No. I’m not jealous. I wasn’t jealous when he brought the Tree female Amber aboard. Or Venra the Silurian. And Elentha the Malmooth was kind. I did draw the line on that Carrionite female, however. Even though she helped advance his work considerably, I didn’t care for her trying to kill him.

But even this is different. I was willing to share him with the other women in his life. I’ve even met others since he … left as well. But I think I’ve shared him with you for too long, Death. I think you’ve been around us for far too long.

I don’t blink but she vanishes like a Weeping Angel just the same. He sits there, seemingly oblivious, for a while until he finally mutters to himself, gingerly rises to his feet, stands for a few more moments, and goes back into his cottage.

He’s not human, or even the equivalent of one. Even as he is now, he’s lived a long life and outlasted many wives and lovers. Sometimes there were even groups of them. Some things never change I guess. But it won’t be long now. Still, I can’t help but think of how happy he is.

Maybe it’s for the best that he’s forgotten.

There is a vessel burning in space. It will burn eternally, pitilessly, if left to its own devices: bitten piece by piece and crumbling each by inch into the Time Well. He looks on. Not even his Words can stop this.

I make the decision.

I fire a time torpedo and the suffering vessel freezes into place: the dynamism of its molecules stilled and allowed to shatter quickly like ice smashed with the precise blow of a hammer. The suffering vessel exists no longer.

He looks at me. While the other pilots call me by my designation, he always calls me “Lovely” or “my love.” But today he pats me with one long­-fingered hand and says my name.

“Mercy.”

I should have been slag. But not only did my Writer restore me, but through some Time Lord instinct and my will combined with perhaps the fracturing of time itself, we changed my fate.

“Mercy … please watch over them. Watch over these worlds, over my children …”

I remember, after centuries of work and isolation, when he placed the fob watch over my Heart … and he changed for the last time.

But so did I.

The watch and all that regeneration energy infused the Heart of me. The Workshop remains in flowers, wildlife, and beautiful fragments but I still remember that time when the Heart of me soared and transformed. New organs and parts, hands, legs, arms, toes, a shapely torso, a neck, a head and a face. Even as I look on at his departure, I realize that ­­ on that day ­­ my Writer was not the only one who had a wish.

“My friend left me a book from Earth. Mother Night tells you that you are what you pretend to be: or that, at the very least, you will become it.

“I’m tired, Mercy. I think I want to become something else now.”

I walk away from the cottage: his memories and mine entwining in my mind whenever I get too close. There have been so many times I wanted to awaken him. I might not travel as I once did, but I still think we can have many adventures. I still think I can drag him to many more places.

It’d be good for him.

Or me.

I want to respect his wishes. He helped me escape a fixed point in time, intentionally or otherwise, and he already lost so much. I’ve been in war. I was made for war. I lived it my whole life. Until I met him. We spent so brief a peace time together. I never wanted this for him. I’d never wish war on anyone, but least of all him. He wasn’t made for it. But all I could do was be at my Writer’s side in the only way I could. And we did what we had to do …

And he deserves this peace.

Yet something is different now. It even took me a while to realize what it is. It’s like new memories or old senses have reawakened in me.

And that was when I realized that the Ways are open again.

What’s more: I felt a fissure in this reality. Something, someone, called to me. She feels different and younger, but familiar. I sensed her earlier. I decided to call out to her then. I waited.

She came with two others. I can feel strong echoes emanating off them. I see them at the remains of the Workshop: of the discarded cocoon and layers of myself. They are actually reading the glyphs.

I’ll keep waiting. Perhaps he should hear the news from them before it’s too late. My Writer needs to know. He needs to know that this story isn’t over yet.

“She is not a police box, but rather a phone­ booth. Cherry red and passionate. And through her I’ve been connected to everyone and everything I love. Because even though my loved ones are always far away, I know they are always there. Perhaps that is why her circuits chose this form in the beginning: to keep me connected to the universe. My friend. My home. My Mercy.”

Red Telephone Booth

Death of A Shining Prince

Dedicated to the four-episode long OVA Love Princess Koihime. Perhaps, one day, I will find you again. This story has some graphic and mature references. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

Musashi was dying.

Musashi knew he was dying. He knew because after all those years of college and medical school — after becoming a doctor — he recognized the signs. He knew because each rattling gasp out of his lungs was like the orgasms that young people — and older — lived for.

But most of all, Musashi knew because he was lying in his futon, surrounded by his wives, and not fucking them. Instead, he was dying.

His long white-haired head, now devoid of its ponytail, lay on Nami’s lap where her cool slender hands gently cradled his head. Anzu rested her own head on his right shoulder, while Suzaku grasped his hand while curled up into his left side. Mayuki lay on top of him, and even in his weakened state she was barely even a weight on his body. The small slender woman had her arms wrapped around his torso and her face buried into his chest. He could feel the frigid cold of her tears on his skin.

Musashi smiled sadly. He knew that all of them would take his death hard, but none harder than Mayuki. He was always her Sir Musashi: her Musashi-sama. This didn’t change when they all married. If anything it added another edge to their deeply intimate exchanges, and lovemaking. He brushed worn but strong slender fingers through her long hair, experienced hands in healing and pleasure, and felt an inevitable loss well in his chest before he swallowed it down back to a tired but content smile.

He saw them: forcing his gaze to grasp them where his flesh now failed him. They were trying to be strong for him now, but he could tell their hearts were breaking, and their mortal masks were slipping off of them. Nami’s golden horns sparkled through her greying dark hair and tears glittered in the careworn lines of her mouth and the crow’s feet of her eyes. Even Anzu’s emerald hair was faded and Mayuki’s once light blue hair turned just as white and icy as the flowers she used to wear in it and the element that she represented. Only Suzaku’s hair remained the same colour as before — a deep, brash and angry red that matched the scowl on her lined features as if she could read his mind right now: which — of course like her grandfather before her — she could.

Where once she would have punched him in the gut a few times for his stupidity, instead it was now her frown that seemed to tell him that he was an idiot, and it wasn’t his fault for dying, that it was something mortals do, and that they’d all made peace with that long ago and she would not abide by him belittling their commitment to him with such stupid doubts. Of course, that same expression on her face was also a very stubborn attempt to keep from bawling her eyes out and a promise to herself that she would do it later.

He managed to smile again at her chastisement and knowing her so well after all these years. Musashi remembered just how angry he’d gotten at their parents — the divine nature spirits themselves — over erasing his memories of them. He recalled going through life, doing well in school, even having other relationships and yet feeling a hole inside of him: sensing something missing after he visited his grandmother’s village all those years ago. Musashi recalled being furious at the spirits for making him forget about these girls from his childhood and was positively livid at Mayuki for voting to remove his memories of them.

She’d told him, later, that they knew he was mortal and that he would grow old while they would not. She told him that she didn’t want to keep him from his potential.

But it wasn’t your decision to make! he had shaken her shoulders hard that time and glared into her eyes, remembering childhood vows to all of them, recalling how he stood up to the very gods themselves for his love for them, It wasn’t your right.

He remembered her crying and almost turning the world into another Ice Age before taking her onto the futon and fucking her more fiercely than he ever had before. But that was a long time ago now, and he knew that it was Mayuki who ultimately changed her mind and wanted him back. He smiled back at his youthful passions, and the rash and ignorant blood-vows he made to them when they were all children, and that very confusing and frightening yet incredibly satisfying time he came back and made love to all of them.

Then they left the village, he earned his doctor’s degree and by some silent agreement between them his wives decided to grow old for him. They never had what would be considered to be a traditional life. Sometimes Musashi felt like the Shining Prince from Murasaki’s Genji Monotagari with all of his princess-wives. Yet unlike Genji, Musashi liked to think that he had a much less tragic life. Certainly, it hadn’t been easy. Unlike their lives back in his grandmother’s village, Musashi and his wives could not always be so public — with Nami as his legal spouse and the others considered family — yet it was a “secret” that they always hid in plain sight and not at all among their friends and children.

They had also fought, and bickered, and driven each other — and Musashi — insane. Sometimes he honestly wished their parents had killed him with their elemental powers back in the village. But there had also been the talks and sunny walks under the cherry blossoms with Mayuki in her frilly nineteenth century Western sun dress and parasol; the sparring matches and races with Suzaku that she always won; the movies and video games he and Anzu played together; and the home cooked meals and warm maternal arms and comfort of Nami to look forward to.

And then there was the sex. He recalled the coy submissiveness of Nami as he mounted her and the energy that crackled around her horns as he stroked them. He recalled Anzu as she wrestled him like a bratty little sister (he had long since gotten used to her calling him onii-chan even though they were the same age and not even remotely related by blood), ridden him like a demon, and loved to take him into her mouth. He grinned to himself as he thought of Suzaku riding astride him and in various positions, and knowing that he had at least one competitive sport he could match her in: if not completely surpass at times.

Then there was Mayuki — his Mayuki-sama — who he had almost always made slow, gentle and passionate love to her: the feeling of her cool skin burning heatedly under his touch. He looked at them all now and he knew that they were remembering the same things he did. Somehow, he could still see the strong broad-shouldered youth with his long shaggy dark hair in his ponytail. He could still see himself using his hands to gently spread their legs, and the intensity of his buttocks as he thrust into them.

Even though they let themselves age, they were still beautiful: his princesses. He looked at his own body and what time had did to it. Loving four goddesses had been kind to him. His body was heavily lined but not as broad as it once had been. Anzu said the lines around his eyes and mouth made him look distinguished. They had all laughed at the possibility of him wanting to grow a beard and moustache. Musashi knew he’d been a beautiful young man and that now he was a far cry from that time. Yet he also knew without looking at Suzaku’s fiercely admonishing glare that they still thought he was beautiful, and that they always would.

Musashi was afraid now. The light around him seemed dimmer. He knew he had been — that he was — a lucky man. Not many people could have done what they all did together. He knew that many relationships like these had failed; that unlike ordinary human beings his wives may have possessed different mentalities to allow for this. He also knew that many men never found true love in their lifetimes and that some died lonely and forgotten. Some never found one soul mate: never mind four.

The fact of the matter now was that Musashi wasn’t afraid for himself. He had all the love with him that he needed. Rather, he was afraid for others. He was afraid for his children — his many children — who might not find the happiness that he gained in the human world they lived in. He was afraid that they wouldn’t find that understanding and empathy. He’d told them about how most humans lived and how they usually took only one mate. Yet they always pointed out that he had been an ordinary human and that he found their mothers anyway.

Somehow, Musashi knew they would be fine. They had all visited him earlier and it was now just him and their mothers: just as it had all began. Yet the truth was, Musashi was afraid of leaving his wives: of leaving them alone and immortal to take care of immortal children in a mortal world. He was afraid of abandoning them and his blood-vows to the four of them. But more than that, he was deathly afraid of causing them pain by the mere existence of his own mortal death. Sometimes, when he and Mayuki sat under the trees and listened in companionable silence to the chirping of the cicadas, he could sense that fear of hers there and he wondered if that was part of the reason she had him sent away all those years ago: to avoid the pain of knowing his death.

“Onii-chan,” it was Anzu who spoke in his hair, “you can let go now.”

“You’ve always tried to please everyone,” Nami murmured, brushing his hair back, “It’s all right, Musashi. It’s your time now.”

“Stop being such a stubborn idiot,” Suzaku choked out, her eyes streaming but still burning into his own, “We’ll be just fine.”

Mayuki looked up at Musashi. The other three women regarded her still pale face with obvious concern until she spoke.

“We love you, Musashi-sama. Always.”

Musashi’s eyes began to blur. Then he smiled. They’d all known the risks in having a relationship with a mortal man. A part of Musashi in his later years wondered if a part of them had always regretted their decision, but he knew it was a stupid part. And as Musashi’s vision of the women he’d challenged the very gods for … whom he loved so much … began to fade away, he knew that whatever awaited him now this time he would never, ever forget them.

*

Musashi cursed.

He’d tripped over the last branch, but finally he was at the village. The cicadas sang in the woods under the bright summer sun. Musashi wiped his brow as he walked down towards his grandmother’s house. He hadn’t seen her in a very long time.

Yet as he came down, he noticed his grandmother waiting for him outside. She was the same as he’d always remembered: with her grey hair and kimono neat, and a kindly smile on her face. Next to her was a floating winged old man with long grey hair and a beard.

What is Soba doing with the old man?

“Who are you calling an old man, old man?”

Musashi was about to respond and then had his realization as he looked down at himself. “Oh.”

Grandfather Tengu smiled, “It’s all right. You are still much younger than me.”

Musashi stared at the winged old man, then back down at his now younger, broader and taller body.

“What? Did you honestly think we’d abandon the husband of our daughters and the father of our descendants?” he tapped a finger to his temple, “We are nature spirits, boy. Greater yokai. Divine kami. We spend time with a lot of souls: the ones that reincarnate and those that do not …” the old man shook his head, “All right. Maybe you girls can knock some sense into him.”

“Told you he’d still be stubborn, Grandfather,” a young Suzaku told him, stepping out from behind Musashi’s grandmother’s dwelling, followed by the other three girls.

Musashi stares at them in shock: daring not to hope.

“Now dear,” his grandmother told him, “surely you remember your old childhood friends?”

“Your Obaasan is the only human we let live among us,” Grandfather Tengu smiled, “She always knew of our ways and respected us. We should have known her grandchild would be special as well.”

“Musashi-sama?”

“Don’t make us have to knock some sense back into you,” Suzaku cracked her knuckles.

Nami sighed, “Now you three, don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t remember …”

“Oh don’t worry,” Anzu skipped right up to a dumbfounded Musashi, “I know exactly how to make Onii-chan remember!”

But before the green-haired girl could kick his groin, Musashi blocked it with his hand, “Of course I remember you, you idiots!”

Then Musashi spread out his arms and smiled.

Seven Day Children

Jenny

It’s easy to lose track of time when you are on an adventure. I’ve learned a lot about time and space since that first day, on what could’ve, and should have, been my last mission: the last day of my last war of my last life.

I had a lot of learning to do and, to be honest, that much hasn’t changed at all. After Messaline was finally changed and united, I just had to … well, run. I took a shuttle and ran through the stars. And I saw so many different things: different people, places, societies … I thought the Hath and the Humans were strange and diverse on their own, my fellow soldiers, my former enemies, but there is so much more.

It’s like the Source, that elemental ball of shifting and flowing energies back on Messaline released an entire universe before me. Expanding out and every outward I discovered new lives, saved worlds, revelled in my victories and learned from my failures.

Someone should have told me about the failures and the defeats. The machine that made me wasn’t much a teacher. If you failed during the War, you died. You died and the machine took your stored DNA and replaced you with someone else to fight and die: until victory or death. It seemed so sensible, so natural until I met my Dad.

Dad …

Perhaps Dad and his Companions were my first real teachers. One of them named me, you know? Jenny. Out of the word “progenation.” I’ve learned since then that other species do not necessarily reproduce like we did back on Messaline, though I’ve heard rumours about others …

You see, I knew — even before Dad would speak to me, not having expected me or even knowing what to do with me — that I was different from the other soldiers. I could see eddies and whirls around me. My reflexes were faster. There were angles in which I could perceive and move that our basic programmed training could not have possibly covered. And I just did them naturally.

Of course, having some hearts to hearts talk with my Dad really cinched it for me. The point is: even before I left I knew I was different.

I think my new adventure began when I found a vortex manipulator. It was an old one. Dad must have been a boffin: a quaint British word from Earth referring to tinkering and invention. You see, I learned something new when I travelled there back in the Sixty-First Century.

When I fixed, and dare I say improved, on the manipulator I realized something that not even Dad’s words could convey. The universe was not an expanding diaphanous cloak of velvet and glittering lights. It is a series of dimensions refracting off of one another: like a gem with different facets but all one gem. And I could, somehow, see those angles on this one surface: knowing that each was different but all of it was unified. In this kaleidoscope of existence, everything is connected.

That was basic Time Lord philosophy, but I don’t think I would have understood it from an Academy. This came later: a lot later or whatever constitutes itself as later when you are even a basic time traveler.

It was this basic understanding of time and my failure to protect so many lives that made me realize something. It’d been fun until it got serious, but I knew then that I couldn’t be alone.

And I did my best not to be alone. I looked for Dad, but I never found him. Sometimes I’d come at the tail end of his passing, or meet some people that knew him. As a soldier, because you never forget your basic training as a soldier, I didn’t inquire too closely as I knew from our brief time together that he had enemies. I wanted to help him. I remember how lonely he looked and how happy he’d been when I made the decision not to kill.

I came close once. One time I was actually abducted by one of his enemies. I briefly a few of his Companions. One of them even rescued me. But I had been taken during an important time and I had to go back. I don’t think I could have faced him if I’d abandoned all those people. As hard as that decision was, it was the right thing to do.

I had friends along the way. I suppose you can call them my own Companions. And they helped me in my new adventure. Perhaps out of a need to know where I came from, to know how I did what I did, and even out of a sense of needing some connection with my lost Dad I scoured space and time to discover more about my father’s people: the Time Lords.

There wasn’t much left.

When he said that their War had been bigger than the Seven-Day War on Messaline I had no idea. Even now, it boggles my mind to consider the horror of a war waged across space and time: obliterating places and people out of existence, warping and twisting basic matter, and creating literally endless and eternal suffering. From what I could gather, and from what didn’t kill me, I cried. I cried for my father’s people, for the races and civilians caught in that War.

And for my Dad: who must have suffered beyond any form of sanity. We had more in common than I thought, and I wish we hadn’t.

But my goal to know more became very important when, it was made clear, that the Enemy wasn’t dead. There were clues. I admit that in my quest to know more about Dad’s culture that I looked for the remnants of their enemies: particularly on a ruined world called Skaro.

I wish I hadn’t.

They literally are the Enemy. It was like seeing the attempted genocide on Messaline writ large and made into a whole other species. It’s the end result of war and hate. And I knew that Dad was their ultimate enemy. And despite what he thinks, he can’t deal with them alone.

So I had to jury-rig a people together. A family.

Messaline welcomed me back with open arms. I could’ve come to them in the future or even before the Seven Days, but it would have been disingenuous. The progenation machine had been shut down after my Dad ended the War. But I needed to look at it even if I didn’t want to get the Hath or Humans involved in this. However, I knew that if the Enemy and their … sickening puppets had gone as far as they have everyone was at risk.

All of us on Messaline are soldiers. My friends in the Human population knew I was something big and they were willing to help me. If my own people, my Dad’s people, were all dead then I would have to bring them back: in a way.

I learned something about Regeneration in my crash course through the remains of Gallifreyan history. It was like progenation — genes being reconfigured into genetic variation by a force that is both mother and father — except for the fact that it uses a pre-existing material template, a body, to create a new adult person. I always wondered how I came back to life after being shot by Cobb. One theory is that I got caught in the energies of the Source which was, in its own way, literally regenerating the whole of Messaline.

But I also know that right after Regeneration occurs for a Time Lord that they are filled with a bio-energy that, for a while, will repair wounds or even regrow lost limbs and organs. I realized that I had just been born the day that Cobb shot me. And even though it was one of my hearts, integral to Regeneration, that I was essentially a new “limb” or being with those same energies coursing through me. The Source might have helped as well.

Only a few on Messaline have even this basic knowledge of what I intended to do. It was risky, but worth it: to see my children born. The first ones had to be adults. I modified the training programming. While we have basic combat ability, there is more room for reasoning and thought. And, much to my mixed delight — as I don’t like being hurt or seeing one of my children in pain — I realized Dad passed on more to us than I thought. We can, in fact, Regenerate.

This makes things easier in some ways. My children have taken a variety of different forms and interests since that time. Where it would have been immensely hard for me to find a TARDIS Graveyard alone or with non-Time Lord Companions, they helped me. We are even developing something of a rudimentary telepathic bond: a shallow echo of the collective consciousness that the Time Lords, our Predecessors, used to possess. But it’s dangerous. I know enough that the Enemy has its own collective and should they ever find a way to access those of others …

In my own travels, I learned how to shield my thoughts and I’ve taught my children to do the same. We are less an army and more a series of cells through space and time.

We’ve suffered some setbacks. During our attempts to salvage from the few Graveyards we could find, and to harvest and grow the necessary coral for our vessels, we began to discover that all Time Lord knowledge and relics vanishing throughout the universe. Even the black markets, which were usually somewhat lucrative in the past and who I’d dealt with somehow forgot about any of our dealings. There was so little of it left to begin with and, to this day I’m not sure what was responsible for this: the Enemy, Dad, or something else entirely.

But we keep working. We’ve been trying to repair some of the damage that the Enemy, and the War, did to other civilizations and time periods: but always behind the scenes, always on the move. Dad’s First Rule: Always run.

And we kept working. We worked when something old, powerful and on fire with rage materialized for a few moments in our minds: just to vanish back into past flames. We even took time to deal with the cracks in existence that began to appear before memory failed us and, somehow, we were back in reality: with the multiverse repaired and somehow better.

Somehow I know Dad did that.

I wish I could thank him, but I have other concerns now. My vessel, Unity, has grown to something the size of a station and has seen and protected us from the very beginning. I decided to make the timeline of 6012, Vector N-6012 of the Multiverse, our home. I have, at least unofficially, made Messaline a protected-planet under my jurisdiction. Our vessels grow as do my children and theirs: who are allowed to be children and to choose their path as I did all those years ago.

I’ve gone through a few Regenerations since passing a few centuries and surviving more than a few scrapes. I’m Mom to an entire people. We are not Time Lords, but while not as powerful we are something else: something new. My descendants have taken to calling us the Travelers: for all the exploration and running that we do.

Looking back, it’s miraculous when you think about. From the seed of a soldier grown in one day of seven, not meant to last for even a week, we’ve created a people that might one day live for thousands of years. I just hope that, one day, instead of living short lives in war we will all live long lives in peace.

I never found my Dad, but I’m proud of my Travelers, my Seven Day Children, as we continue to explore, to defend, to help, and to keep running: together and as a family.

Jenny and The Doctor

Continuity

I am Alaya. The irony that I’m going to have a lot time to write in this journal does not escape me. I suppose I should be grateful. Our sister Felicity and myself are relatively safe, all things considered, and I still have this psychic paper journal that Mom got me into my first century.

If you can read this journal, our language, and the unseen ink which it’s written, then you are hopefully a fellow Traveller and you will materialize this journal and its contents at Home Vector N-6012. I don’t have to tell you that family is important and I want our Mom to know what happened, and what we have done.

Our original quest from Mom was to help repair the damage done to the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire around Vector N-200,000. It was a worthy goal, but we had to be careful. Navigating the soft, grey areas surrounding the fixed points in time is difficult at best. Perhaps the Predecessors might have had an easier time: with more technological aid at their disposal along with skill and experience.

Mom likes to remind us that we lost much: so much that even she, during The Reconstruction, “a jury-rigging of civilization” she said that Grandfather might have called it, still hasn’t found everything. We even lost our own sense of calendar and chronology if, indeed, they can even be called our own all things considered. But we make do. We have to.

Felicity was particularly adamant about helping the Empire. I understand. It fell victim to the temporal machinations of outside forces. When the Council sent us on this mission, Mom made sure to have Parity, one of our oldest and most honoured vessels, to carry us. She made it a point to warn us against the potential of … puppets or agents left behind even after all this time.

I had my reservations, you understand. We are still finding out more about where we came from and what we are capable of doing. Does it make sense to help others rebuild when we are still in the process of reconstructing ourselves? Still, that drive to help — which came from Mom, and from Grandfather before her — burns through my veins too and my protestations were one-hearted at best.

Again, another unintentional pun about time. It took very little of it, all things considered, to begin the process. Felicity has a knack of seeing the eddies and whirls around particular situations, and specific individuals. But it was me, using Parity’s natural resources, that helped to create the crude prototype tectonic manipulators that would begin to give the humans some idea of what to do. It was perfectly plausible. Frankly, they should have developed this technology ages ago and if they want to take the credit for it, that is perfectly fine with me.

So aside from materializing some supplies and upgrading infospikes into something less intrusive and far more miniaturized, at least by our standards, we were about to leave. But I would be disingenuous if I said that we didn’t notice the anomaly within the area.

There were strong temporal energies situated around an old satellite. We knew enough about this Vector that our Enemies had managed to manifest here. After Mom’s own researches, we also knew that Grandfather had been involved in stopping that threat in this very spot.

All of you know just how much Mom wants to find Grandfather. In all of her travels through finding coral, the Graveyards, the ephemeral remnants of the War, and saving all the lives she could she never found him again. Even as she trained her senses, she couldn’t find his mind. And for all our small number, we are nevertheless more than one and our tenuous collective will still couldn’t find any others.

We still couldn’t find our Grandfather. Perhaps we weren’t at his level: at the place we should be. Or perhaps he is gone.

Whatever the case, Parity needed some time to recharge. Unlike the Great Behemoths we found in the Graveyards, she is still small and sleek. Her circuit hasn’t grown in quite the way our gifted sister The Geneticist planned, yet more things we don’t know — yet more — but she manoeuvres well and, unlike the others of the past, only requires two pilots to assist her. Besides, in case of discovery she makes due with the perception filters for which we’ve all been equipped to utilize.

It was fortuitous for us that the site of Satellite 5 was powerful enough a spacerift to feed Parity. We took the time to examine the station . Other Travellers had come here and taken the Satellite’s logs to Mom already, along with samples of cosmic dust and irradiated bodies. We meditated here to honour the sacrifice of the humans and focus on the hope that we would make their lives better for it. Mom gained so few scraps about Grandfather from this venture, but something was different this time.

Parity had recharged ahead of schedule. The rift was simply that powerful. And it was fluctuating. Something happened. Something changed somewhere. Even after hearing Parity’s quiet, silvery tone, I began to … perceive things. They were almost after-images: blurring, merging, and separating from each other. Sometime in environments like this, we see resonances of the past and future. But this was different.

It’s … imagine possibility. There are an infinite number of different things that can happen. And then somewhere in that something does happen or will happen. But the quantum branches of potential actions and reactions still occur. We see it, sometimes, out of the corners of our eyes but it’s always so far and out of reach. But not that day.

Even as my senses expanded out farther than they’d ever done, Felicity saw the rift open first.

It bloomed like a flower of flux and twilight in the darkness of space. And after a while even I could see the golden energies surrounding it. It reminded me of my Mom’s vessel, of great Unity herself and the times under her control panel when something pulsated and thrummed: a slumbering but active power.

Like a heart.

And I could even see it resonating in sympathy from Parity’s control panel. Something was calling to Parity. We could feel her responding to the call even as this wave of possibility rushed into us. It was impossible, you understand. Mom and the Council only heard rumours that, once, there were Other Ways. We had only just learned to travel through space and time. Most of us still use reverse-engineered and augmented vortex manipulators. That was how Mom began adventuring and rediscovering even a fraction of what we know.

But only the Predecessors knew how to travel to alternate realities. I examined the frequency and programmed it into Parity for future reference. It will be included in this journal’s equation and music section: transmitted through the mind through tactile-mode.

Felicity was excited. We found a gate to an alternate reality near one of the places where Grandfather and his vessel left a definite imprint. And then she perked up at something else. It took me a while to feel it too. It was … for lack of a better word, it was the shadow of a mind. It felt confused somehow. Muddled. Felicity could probably feel more, but from what I understand it is old. It is very old. Sad? Content?

And so familiar, like Mom but … different.

We debated this. Our mission to the Empire had been a success though the seeds of our work, like coral, would take a little more time to grow. Parity’s communications weren’t strong enough to pierce the fluctuating veil around us. I wanted to wait and deliver our findings, but there was no guarantee we would get another shot at this.

So we decided to go forward. In one of our best vessels and a copy of the temporal signal to go on, to perhaps replicate for our return and future explorations, we not only decided to investigate a rift to an alternate reality, but also fulfil a lifelong unspoken quest.

To find Grandfather.

It’s funny. In our dealings with Vector N-200,000 and others we had to make everything seem plausible. Felicity is good at finding errors and inconsistencies. I excel at creating possible solutions to those issues. Continuity is the key.

Continuity …

It never occurred to us, as we entered that rift, as it flashed and closed behind us, just how like editing — like writing — our quest had been.

Everything seemed so neat and tidy as the birthright of our wanderlust took us. There was only one other being we knew about who could have possibly had even a shadow of a psychic feeling of that kind.

It’s too bad. Because what we found beyond that rift wasn’t Grandfather.

He wasn’t Grandfather at all.