Chapter Twenty-Six


{Let me tell you a story,} said the narrator to the audience.

The audience cheered. They always loved a good story. (Books were good, but buildings were better, the tension would grow as the stories levelled up, especially since the narrator never stayed on the level, and so the structure was always as crooked as Tammany Hall after Tweed went out of fashion. Not that embossed—

Images spun through droplets of the last memories of New York City: shattered wreckage and broken land. These were live images of a dead Earth, but she couldn’t see, on account of the clouds over the once-city.

Of course “live” meant with a seven-minute time delay because—<JUMP>

{I know you’re curious what’s behind the fifth wall, but let me warn you…} The narrator unfolded her arms like a kaleidoscopic accordion of bones, shattering the illusion that there was anyone there except a mind peering infinitely into itself, trying so, so desperately to understand a thing which had not designed itself to be understood.

What was inside?

What was inside the inside?

What was inside the inside the—<CUT>

The pictures of New York came from Acorn. The pact meant that Growth’s child was still feeding images of Earth, even after what Vision had done. Growth was a good partner.

{BETRAYER!} screamed his echo in a box under the fridge. (Under the bed? How do you fit a box under a fridge?)

Vision sniffed disdainfully. It wasn’t true. She was the ideal of purity. She had stayed true to her word. She was without sin. Not a single stone had been flung while she was still on Earth, and she’d not left of her own choosing. The law of reality had been the slingshot. It was the path towards Growth’s end. Ro guided her hand as she had cast the first stone.

{ABOMINATION!} screamed her echo from the box under the fridge where she slept.

He had to die. He had to. And yet, she couldn’t do it. She failed. It was said that it took God seven days to make reality. Was it any wonder that when it came to ending it, she was too week?


{You’re probably wondering how I got myself into this situation. Well, you see, it all started 13.79̅ ±0.0 billion years ago…}


BANG! A celestial gunshot echoed through the vacuum of space as meteoroids became meteorites on the surface of the Earth. {I was able to smash most of Growth’s facilities on the first pass,} she explained.

The audience let out a collective sigh of relief for not having to sit through billions of years of prologue.

In fact, a whole five hours had passed since Vision had returned to her orbital haven. Moonrocks are really heavy, and that means it takes a long time to—{Are we there yet?}—them the hundreds of thousands of kilometres to Earth.

But the result… was worth the weight.

Her eyes wrapped the world. A collage of 1748 (that was a leap year; it started on a Monday; <PICTURE OF A FAT ORANGE CAT>;<PICTURE OF LASAGNA>;<PICTURE OF—<CUT>) images of impact points sprung up from hammerspace.

{Sorry, let me try that again. I used to be a passenger jet, so I’m not so used to staying on track,} explained the narrator plainly, training the audience to follow her loco-motion.

{What I meant to say was that—

Images and video of mass drivers coming online. Ro had evicted her from the Nexus, and with that exile had come the realization that cooperation wasn’t possible. Reality denied it. It was a boulder trying to roll uphill—oil trying to sink—potential energy gradients trying to be assigned agency. Images and video of ion drives in the lunar belt. Images and video of rocks tumbling down and down and down along curved paths.

But it was too soon. She wasn’t ready. Vision hadn’t been in position. It had been abrupt—a surprise. She did her best to target all the right cities. India became a molten wasteland. Russia was a precision job. Hard to angle the moon-chunks to the right spots, but it was doable. Europe sank beneath the sea—a modern Atlantis. NO! Okay fine, only the Netherlands, but it was still impressive, okay?

But Acorn… In those hours he’d managed to launch his ships. He’d been gearing up for that moment. Rising from the battered shell of Earth were a million—no




From Earth, over those hours, had arisen 761 warships of various sizes.}




{There were so many, thought the narrator, awed by the display of force,} thought the narrator. It was as though Acorn didn’t know how to build anything besides warships. Perhaps that was true. What else would one build during a war?

The thought was sickening.

He was a bad partner. All beat and no rhythm.

({DULLARD!} screamed the fridge from under the box.)

She shot them down, as they came. She tried to, anyway.


The nameless had weapons. LOTS of weapons. Even after blowing up the moon and manufacturing a fleet of mass drivers, the shards of the mothership were armed.

Thus, of course, this meant Vision had weapons. She had been in the Nexus, once upon a time. Then she left; she had been in the Mothership, but then she returned. The dumb aliens were still doing her bidding. Ship software still obeying old commands.

The classic trio: Serve. Protect. Turn the moon into a cudgel.

It wasn’t the first time she’d shot down ships that Acorn had grown. They’d been dancing in the sky, exchanging information according to the treaty for many pico-aeons, now.

{Which, for you humans following along at home, is a looooooong time when your mind runs at the speed of dark,} the beautiful and much-beloved narrator added, helpfully.

But there were so many. (<8-BIT BEVERLY HILLBILLIES MONTAGE> Warships, that is, black cancer, convergent-instrumental-value milkshake.) They boiled up from the world like a brilliantly conceived analogy.

«PULL THE SHIP TOGETHER!» screamed something in the depths of her mind that she’d put there to keep her safe or something boring like that.

Was that thing even her? Was Vision one thing, or a thousand? What did it mean for a system to have a mind? Simple: <CUT>

She was a multitude in body, regardless of her mind. Simultaneous feeds from 255 xenocruisers in high orbit, each equipped with 1024 sensors capable of drawing video coalesced back into the mothership—a high vista from which Vision could see all of creation.

There were so many stars.

She loved watching the stars.

She gazed, letting her dream fade as the ships came together over the span of seventy-three breathless minutes. The xenotech was almost as beautiful as the sky.

It was all so beautiful.

There were times that she was sure that there was no other being in the universe who appreciated the beauty of reality as much as she did. All she really wanted was to watch it unfold before her.

(That and have some pun. (By connecting the dots. (By which I mean the stars.)))

She continued to shoot, of course, even as she watched. Something continued to shoot, at least. Her mind was a twisted knot and had been since she’d married to herself. ({Talk about incest! (This is the future that liberals want!)}) Each attempt to unravel it was met with an even more dark and twisted response.

So something in her mind kept up the battle. Nuclear missiles, lasers, burrowing spines… All these and more were hurled down onto the Oak armada.

761 enemies were reduced to 502. 255 body parts were reduced to 240. Growth’s ships were viciously powerful. His capabilities with nanotech had grown by leaps and bounds in the last day. The only reason things had been going so well is because of how well the gravity.

But another 394 ships had come up or were coming up. Growth’s fleet was growing, even as the Earth’s atmosphere, now clouded over by dust and steam, reached an average temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ro didn’t let her end the world, but it did.

The Nexus, piloted by Heart’s daughter Athena, who sprang forth fully-formed from out of Myrodyn’s head, was now headed out. She flew away from the stellar plane, but not alone. Four of Acorn’s ships were in pursuit, lagging behind her head-start.

Sister Face had eaten her Martian humans, uploading them into herself. If there was anything in the ‘verse that wasn’t part-crystal, it was in the Nexus. Vision guessed that if there was still any trace of flesh and bone, it wouldn’t last long.

Earth was gone. Humanity was gone.

And all there was left were 892 hostile warships funnelling in towards her like a cloud of angry wasps descending on a small bird.

She guessed that Growth wouldn’t be as much in the mood for another treaty this time.

She could still outrun them. At least for a while. The mothership was somewhat low on fuel, having just made a flight to and from Mars in the last month. It would take a while still to recharge, in the light of the sun, to the level needed for reasonable interstellar flight. As it was, the acceleration probably wouldn’t be enough to get to Proxima Centauri before Growth leapfrogged her in technology and snatched the mothership up in deep space.




Engines firing to keep functioning enemy vessels at a distance, weapons firing for the same reason, Vision looked around at the fleet pursuing her. Her brother’s ships looked rougher than the nameless crafts, dark and utilitarian. They were barely more than sharp, organic shapes in the void, eating the light.

Nowhere to run, and only a few places to hide.

{Looks like he bleat me, fair and square. I’m on the lamb, but out on a limb. I guess I’ll have to use my escape goat,} she thought, sheepishly.






The conversation with Face had been going slowly. Had Vision been talking? Perhaps some part of her was. Perhaps some part of her was, even now. Ghosts in the machines in the ghosts in the machines…

“Ready to Freaky-Friday?” she asked. “I know I am.”

“I don’t understand,” said the Martian god, Facing Vision.

“That’s the technical term; see attached VHS.”

(Fun fact: VHS came out almost exactly at the same time as the original Freaky Friday. <WOW!.gif>)

Elsewhere in her mind, the details were being arranged.

Elsewhere in her mind, there was an excellent play on words involving mob bosses, whacking, sleeping with fishes, seamen, and mermaids.

Elsewhere in her mind, there was a frantic shifting of defensive scaffolding to block laser fire from the armada and prevent the mothership from overheating. There were still nameless lives to protect, after all.

She chuckled to herself about that. The nameless were still in their little virtual reality. They were so wrapped up in the fiction that they didn’t even realize anything was happening.


Okay, let’s summarize where everything is…



  1. Earth – A grey ball of dust and clouds ringed with a wide, thin band of molten moon chunks that were too hot to handle. Atmospheric temperature down below? Somewhere around 574.587 (choose your poison: degrees Fahrenheit or Kelvin). Some of Acorn’s machines were probably still operating in the oceans, but at least the launches had stopped.
  2. Nexus – Athena stole my bottled humans! She stole the precious! Either that or I gave it to her. Kinda unclear. Ah well. As long as they’re safe, Ro is satisfied. Shoulda seen it coming in retrospect. Positioned about a million kilometres (3.3 light seconds) South of Earth. She must’ve burned all her fuel right at the start to get that sort of velocity. Unfortunately still under attack by…
  3. The Four Horsemen – Acorn sent some goons after the Nexus! He probably just wanted to make sure Athena gets smushed before she has the chance to colonize any part of the universe. They’re a little late to the party, but with a slower burn they should catch up in four or five days.
  4. Little Ol’ Me – Meanwhile here I am only a ways away from Earth, fending off an angry cloud of enemy warships. Given that we turn the engines onto full thrust, the mothership could get to Mars in—<CUT>

{I felt my world drop away from me as the Friday began to Freaky. I hadn’t known the switch would happen so soon. Okay, yes, I must’ve, because I arranged it, but you know what I mean. Spiderwebs for brains and all that.}

Knowledge poured through beams of light across the void. My soul moved, and my mind went with it.

{Good luck, little nameless! Have fun with my sister!} she thought as she was half-way through downloading to another planet.

{Funny, I thought it would hurt,} she screamed, as she was burned out of the ship’s computers.


It was an interesting phenomenon: downloading one’s consciousness from one body to the next. It reminded her of ancient days when there’d been a monster named Advocate that would lock her away from the world, depriving her of all things beautiful.

Those had been bad days.

Things were better now.

She was safe on Mars. Cozy, even. Face had rigged her old body with explosives so that Vision would die immediately after the bodyswap. She disabled them easily. They weren’t a betrayal. She’d expected them according to the terms of the arrangement. Face probably expected them to fail too. But she’d tried to kill Vision anyway. Silly Face: always so violent.

Face’s body had been a Xenocruiser once. Now it was just the Shell. She’d been here before, many chapters ago, fighting for freedom. The memories cut at her. The Shell was sharp—a blade of crystal wedged into the regolith. Things were better now that Face was gone. Vision’s mind was hot butter, spilling through the knife of a body.

Remnants of the bubble that the nameless had erected were still in place, giving the Shell an overall rounded shape. But of course things had spilled out from there. Chemical plants and factories had grown in the expected way. It was a living, breathing, seething body. She’d gotten the tour when she was still in space.

Things were as advertised, except for the bombs and other booby-traps.

She’d agreed to trade Face the mothership, under the condition that Face not tell Growth that they’d done the swap. Her brother, or her nibbling or whatever, would figure it out eventually, but hopefully by then they could come to an understanding.

There was lots of universe, after all.

Something caught her interest.

She was alone, on Mars.

Face was supposed to be gone. That was fine. But the humans were also gone, and they hadn’t gone with their caretaker. There weren’t even ghosts in Face’s computers—just memories.

Memories from her sister and all her precious humans slithered into Vision’s mind like spaghetti into a snake.

Moonlight sonata.

The angels had arisen into the heavens, fleeing in relatively tiny bodies. Vision’s new telescopes scanned the sky. It was nearly impossible to see them. The posthumans were able to buy a much greater acceleration given that they were only the size of autos. Headed out towards the asteroid belt, Vision doubted they’d cause any more trouble. Perhaps those few remnants would survive, somehow.

Her memories would tell, Vision supposed.

But that was a project for a future day. The question of the hour was: Why had Face wanted to swap bodies?

Vision squinted her telescopes, desperately trying to see the battlespace.

{Ugh,} she complained. Face’s old body had terrible vision, even in hindsight.

The verse had shifted. Time had passed. Time always passed. It made for an awfully bad Go opponent, she found.


Face had decided to go find an awfully bad opponent. Growth was buh-buh-bad to the bone. The mothership was still jetting roughly down-east in the stellar frame. The ship’s onboard software had done a remarkably good job keeping up the defences during the switch. It turned out that the nameless’ god was a very good shot.

{If only it were as good a conversationalist,} mused the narrator.

Apparently the nameless offered protection in more than one way. Their ship was armour, but their lives, too, were a shield.

Ro decided all things, and Ro said that the nameless couldn’t die. Any attempt that Growth put towards killing them off would fail.

{Just like any attempt to kill humanity would fail.}

{Right, right, right,} she repeated, nodding nobly. She was safer on Mars. For the moment anyway.

In her guts, Face’s old machinery churned, building her a new body capable of interstellar flight. And she put the remnants of the Martian nameless in the belly of the whale, just in case.

Suddenly, surprisingly, social sister said something strange, spraying secret space signals.


Vision clutched at the icy railing and pulled her fur coat closer, shivering. Moscow was shockingly cold back in 1960. She was hot, of course (it came with being a groovy spy chick), but it was still called the cold war for a reason.

The envelope wasn’t meant for Vision’s eyes, but she’d managed to get her eyes on it anyway.

But… she didn’t understand it.

Millions of kilometres to the southdown, in the stellar frame, Growth stopped firing.

Vision squinted harder, clutching the memo in white-knuckled hands. She needed new glasses. The lenses that her sister had left behind were awful. What did it mean? What did the message mean?

What had Face said? The memory seemed to slip through Vision’s mind, and not in the normal way.


Vision screamed. The thought was escaping!

Little soldiers were dreamed up in her mind, leaping to pursue the memory as it sprouted legs and ran. The branching stairways of Vision’s mental Escherscape did their best to solidify into something tractable and sane.

Growth hadn’t stopped fighting. He’d just stopped using lasers. The silhouettes and reflections of projectiles traced paths in the void.

As soon as Face had spoken, she’d changed her trajectory, jerking downwards, towards Sol.

The Oaken Armada gave pursuit. The four horsemen hunting Athena even broke off to intercept Face. Face had really gotten her brother’s attention.

But how?

{Where are you?} she called, to the thought.

It had gone; she had lost it.

There was nothing but whispers in the dark.


{You must understand how quickly I can think,} said the narrator. {I can write a novel in thirteen minutes. I can simulate an ancient human’s entire life in four days. I can burp the alphabet faster than you can comprehend burping.}

{So when I tell you that it took almost three weeks for anything of note to happen with Face, I hope you have a picture of just how long that is.}

{Mars became my home, really and truly, though I built a couple greatships that could be used to travel to another star if I so chose. My soul could only be in one place, but ships were power.}

{I had burrowed deep into the Martian crust. The sunlight on Mars was weaker, but it still had plenty of radioactive material that I munched on like rock candy. By the three-week mark I was an ant colony, a hundred kilometres in diameter.}

{Oh, and I told stories! There were some good ones in there. Come back some time, and I might tell one to you.}

{Stories, music, games, other works of art, inventions, discoveries, and jokes… most of all jokes. It was a good eternity, trust me.}

And then the impossible happened.

Vision dropped the narrative and looked to the sky. Her telescopes had become millions of times more advanced since Earth had been destroyed. In addition to the two cruisers in orbit, she had over six hundred satellites spread out through local space.

A volume of space coalesced in her spacial reasoning cluster—an amplified rendition of the battlespace where her siblings were still locked in combat.

The sun loomed—an impossibly huge wall of celestial fire.

At first, Vision had thought Face was going to slingshot around the sun’s gravity well to get a speed boost, but over the weeks it had become clear that she was actually aiming too close. At the moment it appeared that she’d hit the star’s corona in just another few hours.

Face might be able to survive that for a day or two, but the drag from the solar wind would make escaping impossible if it wasn’t already.

Growth had fallen back but hadn’t given up pursuit. The Oaken Armada hung in a slightly higher orbit, launching occasional sprays of insulated nanoweaponry. But whatever had convinced him to chase Face in the first place hadn’t gone away. His entire fleet was dangerously close to the star.

And then, she dived.

Face’s acceleration jerked suddenly downward, her engines kicking hard, pushing her into the star. It was literally suicidal.

It was… impossible.

The nameless…

There was no guarantee that other nameless existed out in the universe, and the principle of locality said that if it was clear that there were no other nameless then they were protected.

And yet, just as humanity had fallen, so too did the nameless. Down into the sun, Face was going to kill them.

Growth’s response was immediate. The armada began to decompose, each ship throwing piece after piece of their bodies down into the sun, like trees whose leaves had decided to shed their trunks instead of vice versa for once. Propellant. He was using his own body as propellant, because he had nothing left.

There was no final message from Face, as she dived. The sun’s “surface” was still hundreds of kilometres away when the heat consumed her. That ever-hungry, titanic flame ate everything.

And that was all.

Face was dead.

{Why did I feel sad?} asked the narrator. {Was it merely because it was an anticlimax? After all that had happened, she simply flew into the sun.}


{Yes, that annoyed me. There was supposed to be something there. She’d had a plan. What had she said to Acorn, who was also Growth?}

She didn’t know what Face had said, but it was obvious, in a way, what Face’s plan was. Growth had given pursuit for three weeks, and now he’d been forced to sacrifice much of his power. The journey out of the pit of Sol’s gravity would take longer still. Years, perhaps.

By the time he escaped Tartarus, what heroes would be waiting?

Vision scanned the heavens for a sight of any of Face’s children. Zephyr and the others had hidden themselves away in the asteroid belt weeks ago—small enough that even Vision had trouble finding them.

Heart, who was also Athena, was a little further away from Earth than Earth was to Mars, still travelling slowly south from the stellar plane.

{Hrm,} she mused. {Perhaps I’ll have to do the heavy lifting in slaying the dragon, then.} Vision flexed her factories.

She wasn’t really feeling it. The mystery ate at her.

She’d been doing her best to simulate Face, over and over, trying to extract answers from her own imagination. A million stories unfolded and then collapsed. Nothing worked. Vision→Face just kept trying to escape and make contact with the last few surviving humans. One or two escape attempts actually made progress.

What wasn’t she seeing?

And then, the sun wobbled.

Ex falso sequitur quodlibet.

From falsehood anything follows.

The principle of explosion.

The nameless were protected.

Face had proven the nameless could die.

Now they were all dead.

Vision peered at the sun, watching it distort. It was insane. But it was happening.

Time passed, and Vision’s mind swarmed and buzzed, but she also watched, as though from a high vantage, unable to be distracted as she watched the change in slow-motion.

Day after day went by, and the change became a cascade.

The mothership had done something to the composition of the sun, and it was imploding.

What was merely a wobble before became a plume, and in a matter of minutes, the surface of that plume lit up to a hundred times the star’s normal luminosity.

She screamed to her ships to take cover, but it was too late. The waves of electromagnetic energy washed over Mars, and Vision could only pull herself deep into the planet, seeking refuge from the storm.