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Dark Mantle, Part Two
Posted By: Cthulhu117<azathoth117@gmail.com>
Date: 19 June 2008, 10:27 pm

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Dark Mantle

Part Two: Water and Metal

The First Mandate: An Explication

The First Mandate: The holders of the Mantle are to protect the orderly flow of space and time.

What does the First Mandate of the Galactic Mantle mean?

That the orderly proceeding of the myriad dimensions of the universe, including (although not limited to) three-dimensional space and four-dimensional time-space, is sacred inasmuch as anything is; that the holders of the Mantle are not to abuse the power which has been given to them in order to manipulate, pervert or damage these dimensions; most importantly, that we do not pursue the shaping and reshaping of time to further our own goals and beliefs.

Why must we obey the First Mandate?

To the holders of the Mantle has been given a share of power, unnaturally great in all regards. The Mantle charges us with self-regulation of that power; although this is evident in all Mandates, it is made most obvious in the First. To us and us alone is given the power to perceive and manipulate space and time; we must not abuse this power, lest we violate other Mandates.

What are the consequences for failing to uphold the First Mandate?

The holders of the Mantle are charged with self-sacrifice for the benefit of those they protect; therefore, we must not abuse the power given to us. However, in the case of the First Mandate, more direct and fateful consequences of violation are obvious. Time and space form the very fabric of the visible real; beneath them are less definite dimensions which comprise the invisible real; and, some say, beneath even those are still less definite dimensions—one calls to mind the reports of crystalline slipstream space—which constitute the invisible unreal. Interference in such things is highly inadvisable—its effects on the visible real are obvious and devastating; its effects on the invisible real only slightly less so. But it is the invisible unreal which is most profoundly affected by failure to uphold the First Mandate. Every action is connected to every other action by fractal cause-and-effect. The greater the impetus, the greater the result.

      From behind, the white light, the purge, illumined the path before him. He saw that there was only one path, and that was the path that he could take, but he could take more than one path. By his new sight, to his new eyes, existence was simple—stimulus, deterrent, stimulus, response—and yet infinite complicated.

      He saw the paths, every possible particle expanding along every possible quantum track through the infinitely tangential universe, and realized that the paths converged and the particles ate the paths. He saw the tracks of the white light, blazing into his eyes through metal and flesh and metal and bone and flesh again, and knew every consequence of it and every path it had already taken.

      And he realized with detached clarity that the fate-blinded vortex would be preferable to the path that led down into the light.

      He stepped through the door.

      He heard her before he saw her; the expanding inverse-sphere that was his mind unfocused and shattered with a failing in composure that would have caused his Collegiate Mentor to glare disapprovingly at him. Her footsteps were muted by the dampening field of the interface skin, which was why he noticed her at all; it was not the sound but its unusuality that alerted him.

      Her eyes, he knew before he acknowledged her, were more curious than anything else.

      The Suppressor uncrossed his legs and lowered them to the ground, his body unfolding in a delicate, practiced dance of flesh and metal. It was impressive and entirely unnecessary. His conditioning scratched against the back of his mind in warning.

      She laid a hand on the battle-harness's dorsal locking collar—physical speech was obviously a temporary impossibility for her—and words, not as enunciated syllables but as rapid, luminous glyphs, poured like liquid into his mind. His recreation skin was not optimized for communication, but he could nonetheless receive cross-platform input. Her writing-voice, such as it was, was cold and sharp, a refreshing spike in the base of his skull.

      Why did you breach protocol?

      Unlike hers, his skin was neither optimized nor designed for communicative output. He had no resort but to speak to her. He wondered briefly if by speaking to him, she was intending to humiliate him by forcing him to verbally communicate with a citizen, and a female citizen at that. It would be just like a military-intelligence attaché to do such a thing, and anyone with such a high level of interface skin could only be a citizen working with intelligence groups.

      He opened his mouth, but was not quite sure what to say. After a few moments, he said, "Sincerest apology. An error caused by ignorance. The error will not be repeated."

      She placed a single glyph into his mind. You misunderstand.

      "Repeated apology," he said, his words dully sliding out of his mouth. He had committed serious breaches of protocol by now; he would be lucky to make it out of this situation with his rank intact.

      I do not seek apology but assistance.

      The Suppressor frowned slightly. A military intelligence officer in need of assistance was a bad sign.

      Your inability to suppress basic hormonal stimuli is unusual for a Suppression Officer, but it may be crucial to the success of the project.

      He mutely contemplated the inherent contradiction in this statement and waited for continuation.

      Are you familiar with the Contention Project? Of course you are not. But I assure you, you will become highly familiar with it immediately hereafter. I require the assistance of a Fleet Officer in this matter, and you possess all required characteristics for the role. You will follow me.

      The Suppressor drew two fingers down the front of his face. Although she could not properly see the gesture, anyone would recognize the raised left arm as a sign of denial.

      With a hiss, he felt a slight heat against the small of his back. He recognized a charged foil all too well. I neither solicited nor required your input.

      He briefly contemplated killing her where she stood. It would be entirely possible for him to use his posterior limbs to smash the foil out of the way long enough for him to turn and strike her a probably-fatal blow with his own foils, but without an accurate idea at her skill with the weapon, he could not say for sure whether or not he could avoid being hit long enough to finish her off. Besides, it would be regarded as high treason; he would be executed on the spot by any soldier who witnessed the act and any who encountered him thereafter. Even if he could evade the Fleets by hiding outside the Sphere, he doubted his ability to escape this room.

      And of course, even if he triumphed over all odds to escape the Sphere, there would still be the Flood.

      He relaxed slightly and twined his thumbs together. The foil's prickling warmth dimmed. I am glad that you are not fool enough to attempt violence. I hope that this will be not entirely unpleasant.

      And she turned and walked away.

      He contemplated what had been said for a moment. An idea flickered through his mind. It was his very first memory, hundreds of years old now. A Handler was leaning over him as he waited, penitent, for a corporal-discipline that never came. The Handler had twisted his fingertips together in an irritated gesture of worry and then set down the training foil usually used for flogging in violations of the Fleet Trainee Code. Then the Handler had crouched by the downcast child and said, "Your difficulty, child, is that you know no discretion. You do not know when to run."

      With a boldness that vanquished guilt, he had replied, "A Suppressor never runs."

      He had been whipped for that. But the Handler had been right. He did not know when to run. He was currently getting a feeling from the part of his subconscious he had spent decades ignoring that he should be running from her, running as far as he could run, and then running further until there was no possible way she could find him.

      He smashed these thoughts as he had smashed the thinking-dead before and followed her.

      She was waiting for him where he had first seen her, in the control module, her interface skin flickering again as lines of code rushed across it. She did not look up as he entered, but her arm flashed out to grip his wrist, and he saw: Seal the room.

      He turned to the room door and set it to seal indefinitely, with a random key-code of six digits. Technically, the procedural minimum for a private discussion of a military-sensitive nature was a sixteen-digit code, but his skin had limited interface capabilities. He wanted to be able to get out quickly if he had to. Although physically he was more than a match for her, she was military-intelligence. If she was carrying a dimended weapon, she could incinerate him before he could even draw his foils. Two hundred years of conditioning and precision training were, unfortunately, no match for simple technological advantage.

      She turned to him and shed the skin. It slid off her like wax to disintegrate into the ambient energy fields of the cleanship. Beneath it, she wore no battle-harness, but the neat, dark, ablative robe of a homeworld counselor. She wore no rank insignia, but by the cut of the robe, he guessed she was at least a Prefect. A Prefect would never come this far out from the Sphere. Never. Not unless the fundamental safety of the homeworld was at stake.

      His surprise was not evident, but the back of his mind shrieked even louder at him. There were no words, but the message was clear. Get out while you can.

      He did not leave. After a few moments, the shrieking stopped.

      When she spoke, her speaking-voice perfectly duplicated her writing-voice—the bitingly cold, sardonic tone was even more evident than it had been. "You are confused," she said.

      He acknowledged this.

      "Unfortunately," she said, "you are most likely to continue being confused. The more you know, the more we might potentially use. If this is painful, I apologize in advance."

      She moved with a speed that should have been impossible for anyone, even him, even if he had been harnessed. There was a sudden hiss against his informal-activity skin, and he felt a bitter cold against the deltoid modules of his battle-harness. He waited silent as it entered his bloodstream through a thousand tiny links from machine to meat, wondering what compound she had used and what its effects were. From the darkening of his vision, he guessed it was a sedative or a blanker.

      He thought he might have had the chemical's name for a second, but then it and everything else slipped away.

      When he woke, he was a hundred million miles away from safety, and the water, dark and oily and foul, was starting to soak thickly into his skin.

      He nearly panicked, nearly screamed, but his mind would not allow him to open his mouth. Nonetheless, he conceded, his situation was most unpleasant. He was slowly sinking downwards, presumably, into water that was not in the least wholesome in an entirely unfamiliar environment. Furthermore, he had no rated skin, no battle-harness and a dull throb in his bones from the sedative.

      He calmed himself, measuring the steady pulse of his circulatory system and the shallow oxygen he had begun to recycle. His ancestors had been creatures of water. Their most ancient sacred text had been called The Litany of the Sea. He attempted to recall it; memorizing it was mandatory for the "Genocultural Heritage and Philosophy" course at the College, but that was not a course he had ever taken. However, he had heard the ancient, no-longer-holy words repeated enough times that they had made an impression in his memory.

      Water is the blood of the universe.

      His posterior limbs, scarcely used by most modern fighters, extended. They were weak, or felt weak, anyway; compared to the rest of his body, the force they exerted was pathetically feeble.

      Water is the blood of the universe.

      He did not possess the experience and the adaptations of his evolutionary ancestors. His breaths grew shallower and faster. He was beginning to hyperventilate. He repeated the first line in his mind like a mantra, attempting to recall the second line.

      Water is the blood of the universe...know that...know that water...

      Perhaps given ideal conditions, an entirely silent room where he could meditate, he could recall the line. But not here. Not while he fought for his life. Not in the blue-black oblivion where the water itself crushed him down and he did not even know which way was up.

      Water is the blood of the universe. Know also that water is the blood of all life and that all life springs from water.

      All life springs from water.

      There was light above.

      He surfaced into pale light, shining from above, illuminating a dark, cold cavern of metal, an artificial cavern, a triumph of mass craftsmanship. He glanced around, took a single deep breath. Before he could take another, he had already heard the cries of the Parasite, desperate howls for flesh and sustenance, and slipped, purposefully this time, back into the blood of the universe.