2560 BC. Caressing his prickly chin, the overseer’s mind fuses into the grandiose view, his excitement aroused by the lack of sleep. The monumental feat for Pharaoh grows in perspective as, five hundred feet below, waged workers labour to hoist him and his three assistants and lovers to the apex of the grand Pyramid for inspection.
The real Architect is neither Pharaoh, nor him. Sentients rarely perceive Its hand. Nor can they contemplate the irony of what they have built on Its behalf. The construction has consumed generations of workers to edify an up-scaled tomb for the benefit of a few of their kind. The sacrifice of many for the celebration of the after-death, the repudiation of life for the perpetuation of Its reign and grandeur.
His name does not matter and will be soon forgotten. The distant echoes of the whips and chisels attain the suspended wooden raft that slides along the smooth surface of the white limestone and the remaining network of scaffolding, soon promised to dismantlement. They reach the top for him to admire the brilliance of his predecessors’ calculations and precision.
Yet the utter complexity, the cosmic integration, the inhuman scale has less to do with the engineering prowess of using paleo-technic tools or the intervention of some extra-terrestrial third party, than the total subjugation of human energies, genius and maniacal focus to a greater purpose. An invisible Leviathan roams across the universe, bending spacetime in Its own accord, through those, weak of mind, strong of ego, who fall for Its lustre and thirst of life.
Less than 5,000 years later, the Beast, Time’s ultimate challenger and closest thing to a narrator, keeps feeding off the mental diseases of evolved sentients, the falls and rises of empires, through the destructions and creations these converted masses deployed and sacrificed to Nir sake.
The more complex and the deeper Nir roots pervade a world or species, the more the gargantuan system Ne entails precipitate Nir own fall when Life forces strike back.
Neither is Ne impermeable to agents of chaos, independent operators with destinies of their own, counter-narratives of hope or subversion, who contest, destabilise, even topple Nir powerful grip over the entrapped minds, mesmerised crowds and amaurotic elites.
The Beast recalls a line once said by a sentient called G. Marshall. “Facts don’t change people’s minds, only stories do.” The Beast scowls.
Such a story, half virtual book, half videogame, loads its vision of the future and eclectic soundtrack with its remnants of distorted pop culture. The start of a space odyssey for a heteroclite crew on a heretic ship. The beginning of a darker cycle for the universe and spacefaring humankind, both riddled with demons and Shadows of their own making. The mere continuation of Life’s ballet and combat with Nem—the Structure, the Leviathan, the Beast.
 Switch to a neutral gender pronoun: ne/nem/nir/nirs/nemself.
“The religion of the Megamachine demands wholesale human sacrifice to restore in negative form the missing dimension of life.”
“If mankind is to escape its programmed self-extinction, the God who saves us will not descend from the machine: he will rise up again in the human soul.”
– L Mumford
Level 0 INDUCTION AND TUTORIAL
Spacecraft are meant to sail the stars, not seek the safety of dockyards or shiphavens.”
Any engineer or pilot would have told you Constelleanor was just an average ship, no key features, be it speed, armour, firepower, size, stealth, design or sleek looks, transpired or outshone by her excellence. Jack of all trades and master of none, no more.
First impressions conveyed deception, the master of all tricks. On the surface, nothing about her grabbed anyone’s attention, and this was the point. The uncertainty of deep space called for hidden strengths and deceit, luring into a confident, prejudiced, incorrect assessment, overlooking critical details to better surprise the unprepared. Lethal in its simplicity, the antic strategy—warfare based on deception—had won Constelleanor confrontations against stronger opponents.
A closer look revealed that, versatile, she did not suffer any particular weakness. She was not slow, even fast and quite manoeuvrable compared to her bulk, a solid hull, a wider range of weapons than a standard military cruiser; though, unlike military ships keen on exhibiting the power of their arsenal, her guns remained her dirty little secret until fired. She could quickly deploy several bespoke aerial and terrestrial armed vehicles and had a long-range travel autonomy that exceeded most intergalactic vessels.
She boasted her own on-board laboratory, astronomy and medical units, installed at the bow, away from the fake control tower that adorned most utilitarian ships, like her, and attracted the firepower of hostile vessels. The research facilities encircled the communication and hacking hub, command centre and its central two-storey holorrery, around which gravitated terraced circles and galleries and their ecosystems of blipping instrumentation and terminals.
Past the unique floating garden-library that nourished bodies and minds, a hybrid power generation coupled a perpetual core enclosed in the beam of the space-ark with several retractable stellar sails. The trans-blue and neon-orange sails were flanked between the hull, its patchwork of tan and sand green reinforced alloy, and the side corridors were bright orange. Such a power generator was an unusual feature, as most ships favoured cheaper fuels with fewer maintenance cycles.
The corridors led to Constelleanor’s small, private, colourful fleet of fighters, utility ships and drones, populating the mini-spaceport’s juggling platforms in a jungle of intertwining yellow or lime-green heavy lifting equipment, dancing in the frantic court-yard-pit between the vertical wharfs that hosted armouries, workshops and atolls of crates.
Above the choreographed mayhem of cranes, containers, narrow landings and departures, rocked by the auditive havoc of tools, loudspeakers, disputes and laughs, comfortably perched on the top of the stern, below the fake tower and embedded behind an also fake oversized thruster, stood a lustrous, award-winning bar-restaurant. The latter was indispensable to maintaining high spirits, when so many mutinies had brought down mighty space leviathans due to the insipid food served in their grim canteens.
A crew of rare calibre and diverse horizons infused the sparkle of life into this heteroclite theatre of the sentient comedy—men, women, clones, aliens, engineers, scientists, adventurers, hackers, technicians, doctors, pilots, psychonauts, infiltrators, soldiers and, of course, a chef. It was an huis-clos within the microcosmic raft, chaffed by its surrounding immensity and bent to the will of omniscient spacetime.
Constelleanor’s singularity and discrete, unassuming exterior had made her the archetypic exploration ship, also known as explorex. Many in the galaxy despised generalist vessels like her, lauding instead the wonders of highly specialised ships and flying platforms, lightning fast or sleek commercial shuttles, elite interceptors, fleet supercarrier or imposing combat dreadnoughts. Only seasoned captains and a handful of iconoclast shipbuilders acknowledged how specialisation had weakened these bespoke single-purpose units, and how vulnerable they were to asymmetric warfare and—supreme irony—to the unexpected, which was, with madness, the most likely encounter in the depth of space.
An explorex’ mandate—the finer term for “contracted sacrifice”—spanned across a variety of assignments, from recovery of precious artefacts, rescue missions, military or diplomatic assistance, to trade of illegal items and special cargo delivery, usually undesirable. The military or diplomatic assistance trips were the least popular among Constelleanor’s crew, as they were the ones that typically went wrong. Though she shied away from antipyracy campaigns, pyrates had the unfortunate propensity to meddle in other people’s business and hers. Her repeated success in tackling their natural nosiness had attracted the wrath of the Pyrate Sindicate, along with a large bounty to any crew or—more likely—any fleet that would put an end to her journey.
Lost ships or non-responding outposts—or even worse, entire planets—in sectors that the officials or military forces preferred to avoid fell also under Constelleanor’s scope of services. They had become an increasing and lucrative business segment, though the rare and weakened crews that made it back faced clients far less inclined to honour the terms of their original agreement. Still, these risky investigations, together with the exploration of unknown systems topped her crew’s list of preferred assignments.
Constelleanor bore another anomaly: She did not belong to anyone but herself and her crew, and as such entertained no affiliation to any world, planet, guild, army, chiefdom, race, specie, space tribe or corporations. Yet, running an independent and smooth operation—a blessing for business—came at a price. She could count on no one but herself in moments of great need or peril. Solidarity and support, frivolous in nature anyway, evaporated once things became minacious, and they did that more than often for explorexes.
Yet, before her rising, indebted to luck as much as her skills and crew, Constelleanor started at the bottom of the food chain, like many. She climbed up on her own algorithmic remix of a #Cosmic Girl, the double helix ladders of chaos where the shallow dialectics of light-versus-dark and good-versus-evil would merge into the battled steps of Life and Structure. In the diamond-like process, mystic formation and polishing, Hadean paradises or luxuriant hells branded the penitent into an evolving shape, both the universe and virtues would have suffused, and through which most disintegrated, seared to dust.
Such a long way to go and such a slow, relentless burning to polish my understanding. How little I knew by then and how wrong I was. Most memories that marked my odyssey and my crew's peregrinations are not saved on the regular skydrives, they seem to float, intangible, in between logs and backups, where they respond to the authority of only colours, algorithmic melodies and powerful images, not to standard requests.
Looking back, I wonder, dangerous train of thoughts, whether the story was written on my behalf or whether I had a say. Had I forced those synchronicities to materialise, my destiny to unravel—eventful, proud, but not without mishaps and embarrassing blunders? If you don’t start writing your own story, the choice of words may no longer be yours, and you may lose the chance of altering their magical power and direction.
Yet, I often doubt the significance of minor details or events, and remain astonished at how they drive such unexpected momentums. Law of unintended consequences, sheer luck or cogs, that—independent of my will—obey something much bigger? Endless debates over self-determinism or fate may not count, they say the journey matters more than the destination. My curious perplexity only deepens as experience grows. Joy and humbled contemplation too.
Human development shines again after a few historical mishaps and setbacks. Their established monotheisms have been an obstacle, but for its most erudite followers have cracked the eggshell for the Beast’s resurrection. Their newly discovered science chases away superstition and fears of divine punishment. The time for expansion has come.
The Beast follows with interest the three caravels that depart the shores of Sevilla, fending the dark blue waters with ignorant temerity. The next expeditions come back with a lot more than just riches in spice, silver or gold: a much smaller world, ripe for the grabbing by the audacious and calculating minds.
Later in the year of 1587, on a jetty in Cádiz, the smell of fear joins the fragrance of rotten fish. A crate falls during the hurried unloading of a galleon, and spills its silver bars from the Peruvian mines on the dirty quay. Wonder and greed fill the dockyard workers’ eyes, despite the thunder of the remote cannons.
But the Behemoth always looks beyond: the thirst for that same silver in China, connecting continents unknown to each other before, Spanish silver dollar as global currency; the cosmopolitan Manilla and Mexico City; the funding of the raging battle and raiding expedition on Cádiz, that very day, arranged by London merchants. These are the precursory signs of the Beast’s awakening and coming consolidation.