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Chasing ArtakhaSzora, Toa of Ice, stood on the deck of an Artakha craft, staring into the writhing aether whose only separation from siphoning his life force dry was just a millimetre of hard light. Szora had never gotten over the twisting nebulae inside the Zone of Darkness, nor had he met a single aethernaut who had. It was nothing like flat space, whose stars were remote and dead and whose planets were simple specks of reflection in an empty sea of incalculable distance. Here in the aether, everything was available and everything was present. Languid wisps of immaterial energy curled and tensed their multitudinous tendrils, the mists they emanated proffering panoramas of everything that ever had, did, or would exist in time and space......There were times when he felt as though he could just reach out and skim the scenes with his fingertips, like the surface of a pond. To just have a taste of what very plausibly could be the only manifestation of eternity in an otherwise stagnant universe. To corporally experience this impossible realm that, despite its freakishness, felt more like home than any flat space domain ever had......There were times he tried. The only thing he felt was the electric resistance of the integrity field snapping at his fingertips. For a brief moment the shock made his body phase into full form. It faded, but not quickly enough to prevent the cold pulses ghosting across his supposed-to-be inert heartlight. He exhaled, pushing vacuum from his compressors and watching as quantum intelligence dissipated in the stale air in a shower of blue sparks......‘Szora, you’re acting oddly,’ the words of a crewmate resounded in his cranium. ‘Is something haunting you?’.....It’d been Scrythar, a departed Skakdi navigator from several shiptime months ago. Szora had been startled at his implication. ‘Not slightly. Why?’.....The big husk of a Skakdi had shrugged then, training his hand at the penning of yet another map. Like most aethernauts, Scrythar had reinstated most of his armour with elemental manifestations instead. But instead of just a basic mechanical mast to support the function like several Matoran had, Scrythar had installed a nanoaugmetic limb to replace his forearm. The prosthetic had aether nodes that pulsed and chimed in flat space, but it was only when they entered the Zone did its majesty really come to life. Seraphic energy captured the limb and punched it intangible, leaving just a ghost of an image behind. Like in the myths of prehistoric Spherus Magna, a portion of Scrythar’s body had become capable in reality but manifest only in spirit......Szora was always captivated by how the way he wrote with that arm. He didn’t even seem to think of it. Rather, veins of light coursed directly from his arm into the scribe, which relayed the hololith map with chilling accuracy. In spite of this, the Skakdi always looked unwaveringly focussed on his work......He’d cackled halfheartedly then. ‘For all the relative time in the aether, I’ve probably lived here long enough to witness the birth and death of a few stars. I know a homesick sailor when I see ‘em.’.....Scrythar collapsed the map into a gleaming sphere and phased it into his palm. Then he gestured at Szora with the hololithic appendage. ‘You’ve been looking out into it, haven’t you?’.....Szora had nodded uneasily......‘What do you see?’.....He stopped to think......Then, ‘Home.’.....It was true. For how much he despised flat space, ghost images of the homeworld still washed up in the mists of the warp to stare him in the face before vanishing. He recognised the topography of the globe, and would absently wonder if those many dying spheres he’d seen otherwise in the warp had been glimpses of its future. The idea unnerved him......He remembered how Scrythar had left. They’d been travelling to the Ra Sector in flat space to explore displacements in the aether mapped there. Whenever they set off for a destination, it was impossible for Szora to tell whether the craft was moving or whether the Zone was just shifting around them. There was no friction or velocity, not even a hum going through the floor he could accredit the functioning of the ship to. The excursion could have taken fifteen minutes; it could’ve taken a few decades. Karzahni if he knew......‘Best of luck out there,’ Scrythar had told him. Szora gazed at him in confusion. ‘Where are you going?’.....‘In the aether, stuck inside this thing,’ he rapped on the hull for emphasis, ‘I have all the time in the universe. The Zone makes you immortal, see. Where’s the fun in that?’.....It wasn’t long after in the bridge that Szora found out there’d been a breach in the integrity field on the deck, and that Scrythar was gone. The dumb brute. It pained him that they’d never had a proper farewell ritual, and Szora wondered what he’d found out there......They had gotten to the Ra Sector, and that was where the beginning of the rest of eternity began for him. The displacements were boiled down to stormfronts, aetheric energy that debilitated their ship and left them stranded in the fringes of nowhere. Szora had lost track of how much shiptime had passed; it always went by so fluidly. They released distress calls back into the fringes of the aether dimension, but there was no telling when they’d be reached or responded to. ‘You know,’ the communications technician, a shady Vortixx-descended male, had said. ‘Relative time.’.....Maybe Scrythar had been onto something, Szora decided. It was better than being stuck in this craft, sessile in a sea of morphing energy without any means of latching on to the stream. He’d stand on the deck, like he was doing now, and see the tiny frozen stream of particulate where the field had been breached and the old Skakdi had slipped through. Scrythar. A name that could’ve been famed, but would never be noted for existing. Here in the warp, it seemed even a life was just relative. No flat spacers had been here to see: did it really happen?.....And there were other things that Szora saw in the aether as well. With time, the crust of his planet, materialising in the ghostly mists, was eroded into something much more heartfelt. If he’d been anywhere else his breath might have caught; here he didn’t breathe to begin with. Some emotional entity that dwelled among the circuitry in his chest stirred forlornly, and he found himself desperately reaching for the image. Rather than the shock he usually registered, his hand passed right through. It turned to ice as it breached the hard light. He lost all feeling as the corporality of his appendage disintegrated into a perfect ghost replica – just like Scrythar’s had been......Maybe it was just an aetheric fluctuation. Maybe the Zone had delivered this scene here just for him. For what might be the last time, he grazed a countenance that had first inspired him, all those nonexistent years ago, to ponder the idea of Artakha, to ponder the concept of the heavens......A transcribe played across his augmented sight. Something inside him snickered at the reading: Ignika Centric Time. Matoran jargon; even a set of calculations based on the most precise of protodermic motion on the homeworld was still only relative. Regardless, the missive continued to play. A series of digits tickled his vision......The mean time was special. Eleven aeons, millennia, centuries, and decades down to years and days in flat spacer time had passed since the reunification of the Spherus Magnans and their removed, spacebound cousins on the homeworld. A planet-defining turn in history, so far away now, almost just a shadow of lore. And here he was. Stranded in the aether, a scout deadset on finding Artakha, with half his arm energetically amputated, stroking a seraphic replica of the face of a woman he’d probably never see again. Love means nothing in the Zone of Darkness......A waste of such an eye-pleasing number.
Edited by Kagha, Jan 29 2012 - 02:29 AM.