Erebus (Part 4 of Surfers)

[Estimated reading time: 29 minutes]

Previous chapter

Erebus gets a lot of sleep these days. Every morning he wakes up, performs the morning cleaning rituals, re-fluffs the bed, does the three legally-mandated laps in the courtyard, then reads the news. The front page is always the same, so Erebus ignores it: "TRIAL OF THE GALAXY" has a nice ring to it, someone decided a while back, and that is what is usually on the front.

After the news, he takes a long nap. The prison is state of the art, of course, for its unique guest, and for a change Erebus is happy to be sleeping on a flea-less and heated pad. The last weeks of the rebellion were spent shivering in dilapidated buildings and the associated squalor and nastiness of communal living. Escaping the death squads was secondary to getting good sleep, at least in the minds of some.

After lunch and an outside jog, the giant show-guards come and escort Erebus to the courthouse. The prison was built over the course of a week and attached to the courthouse by a see-through tunnel of thick glass. The guards plod along on either side of Erebus and manage to block out the views to either side of him. They're twice as tall as Erebus, each of their paws are as big as his face.

In the tunnel, they talk at Erebus in long sentences mostly composed of swears and idiomatic expressions that all mean pretty much the same thing: "dead asshole walking, step back, dead asshole walking".

They stop talking once the tunnel doors open and reveal a throng of press on the other side. Then it's a short jaunt to the court room. Erebus only hears a handful of curses fly in his direction. Today, it seems, the judge has the courtroom in control once again. Erebus' side still hurts from an attack last week. He still winces when stepping up or down. Thankfully, the entire walk from the prison cell to the courthouse are entirely flat.

Erebus is lead into the defendant corner and is locked in. Out of habit, Erebus wags his tail and turns around once. As he does so, his tail hits the invisible barrier of the booth and a mild shock goes through Erebus. Satisfied that he is locked away, Erebus lies down on the too-small pad and closes his eyes.

The pad is obviously not intended for sleep, the defendant is expected to sit on it upright and pay attention to the trial, but nobody cares: not Erebus, not the prosecution, not the judge. They've grown accustomed to this over the past few days and carry on as if Erebus is not even there.

Unbeknownst to the attending, Erebus has been paying very close attention to the trial, even when it appeared that he was snoozing away. He couldn't ignore it. But, at the same time, he didn't want to watch the damn thing. It's not like he didn't know what happened.

Today, Erebus is listening to the deposition of the arms dealer who supplied the rebels with the antimatter warheads. From the sound of things, there are charts or diagrams of payload and damage being discussed. Erebus finds this idiotic, but in line with the rest of this farce of a trial.

Two moons and all of their inhabitants are gone, there is no need to discuss payloads, not when you can look out the window and see the evidence of the crime, Erebus muses, not for the first or last time.

After the arms dealer the prosecution moves on to the surviving lieutenants in Erebus' rebellion. Erebus is able to figure out if, as they are lying to save their own hides, his lieutenants are looking at him or not. This is largely inconsequential, knowing which of your former friends still believe in the cause, but Erebus finds this meditative. At a certain point Erebus does fall asleep, but only for a short while.

This goes on for far too long, far longer than it needed to be, in Erebus' opinion. Of course the best course of action - from Erebus' POV - is for some random soldier to shoot Erebus in the middle of the night, but he understands both theatrics and politics of such a maneuver. So the assassin never shows up.

The sentencing happens during a blizzard, a once-in-a-century barrage that practically shuts down the continent.

The verdict is not a surprise, of course. Then the judge calls for a recess and Erebus is led back to his cell.

What are they planning? Erebus wonders.

The rest of the day is quiet and Erebus watches the city whiten as the snow covers it.

Erebus is back to court the following day, bright and early, even before his usual time. The guards are not boisterous today, they're not even the same guards. There is no defendant's corner, no force field booth. No representatives for defense or prosecution, either. The court has only the judge, Erebus, the press, and a nerd. Erebus is in front of the judge.

The judge starts the session. The nerd comes to the front, nervously, and starts in on prepared remarks. Holos with charts and diagrams accompany the presentation. The nerd goes into a long spiel about the process of neuron replacement.

Erebus starts to fold himself up to take a nap, but one of the giant show-guards prods him with a taser. The nerd pauses. Erebus glares at the guard, who looks back angrily.

"No sleeping!", the judge hollers from her bench.

Erebus faces the front again and the nerd continues.

Eventually, Erebus understands that the nerd is talking about Erebus' punishment. The nerd isn't the punishment, the nerd had a hand in crafting the punishment.

Every one of Erebus' neurons is going to be replaced with artificial neurons. This will happen slowly, one neuron at a time. Each natural neuron will be replaced with an artificial copy that will behave the same. Erebus' thoughts will continue to flit through his brain. The thoughts don't care that they are moving over artificial neurons. Neither did Erebus, not until recently.

So this new development is making Erebus uncomfortable. What do they intend to do once my neurons are all artificial?

The nerd keeps on talking, and despite the feelings of revulsion, Erebus begins to take interest in the new material.

The artificial neurons are replaced with virtual neurons, ones that exist inside computers. And then, despite not even having physical neurons, Erebus' thoughts and perceptions will continue unabated. The nerd talks of Erebus being awake and fully aware through the entire process.

The nerd then mentions that Erebus might not even notice his mind being digitized in this way. Then the nerd stands there and waits. The judge waits. The members of the press wait.

Erebus looks around at all of them. "It's already happening, isn't it? You've already started digitizing my brain..."

Erebus looks down at his hands, flexes his muscles. Looks at each of his legs, clockwise, starting from front right. Satisfied, Erebus strides over to the nerd.

Nobody stops him.

Erebus walks up to the nerd, swings his arm back in a wind-up, and quick as a snake he slaps the nerd across the face. Except his hand passes through the nerd.

"Nice one, well done, I almost thought you were real. But those shocks definitely felt real." Erebus marvels at the real-looking world around him.

"Your senses are partially connected, and partially simulated. Care to guess which one's which?" The judge mentions this off-handedly, almost as a joke.

An electric shock passes through Erebus and he comes close to passing out. He looks around and notices that he's back between the two giant show-guards. Teleportation in a virtual world?

The nerd goes on with his presentation. There is a different holographic component now. A huge, room-sized hologram of Erebus' brain appears in the left half of the chamber. A similarly-sized holo of a gas giant appears on the right half of the chamber.

Trillions of points of light make up Erebus' brain, and these neurons transition from pink (natural), to blue (artificial), and finally to green (virtual). The transitions happen in waves, and at times Erebus' brain looks like a rainbow.

Then the transitions finish and the brain is entirely green. The green mass starts to move toward the gas giant, slowly, a few neurons at first, then more. A green bridge forms between the source and the destination, from the brain to the gas giant.

The nerd narrates this, but Erebus is barely paying attention. He is just staring at the neurons in his brain moving to the gas giant.

The nerd zooms in on the gas giant's atmosphere until there is a nice cut-away diagram showing the location of the neurons. They are dropping down deep inside the cloud layers. The neurons appear as green drone silhouettes, a familiar and ubiquitous icon, moving around inside the atmosphere, and things finally make sense to Erebus.

"You mean to imprison me in a gas giant."

"No talking!", the judge hollers again, and again her words are accompanied by shocks.

Erebus glances around and notices that no one is touching him. They're shocking my very neurons, bypassing this virtual reality.

"Once your natural neurons have been replaced with virtual ones, you will travel to the gas giant. It will take about twenty years to reach it, but your mind will not be simulated during most of that time, so to you it will seem instantaneous."

Erebus tunes out the rest of the speech.

He blinks and the world shifts. Erebus looks around and notices that the members of the press are gone, as are the show-guards, so now it's just the judge and the nerd. And Erebus is very sure that these two are just virtual constructs.

"It's been twenty two years," the nerd intones steadily, as if he reading from a script and not expecting Erebus to respond in any way.

A hologram pops up and shows the exterior of the ship, a view that must be coming from a drone some distance away. The ship is a small model, essentially just a cargo bay attached to a nuclear engine. And now, the ship is also attached to a rock that's twice as long as the engine. Erebus watches as an assembler crawls out of the cargo bay and attaches itself to the asteroid.

In the background is the same gas giant that the nerd showed some twenty two years ago.

The judge rambles on about using the asteroid to build up parts of the punishment. The ship is currently mining one of the asteroids in the gas giants' rings. It will take another few decades to manufacture all of the components required, it seems.

Erebus is starting to suspect that the interminable presentations and descriptions of the neuron replacement is part and parcel of the punishment. The nerd must have been chosen for his lackluster presentation skills.

Erebus blinks. The hologram shows the ship, but now the tiny cargo bay sits on the edge of a complex mass of struts, tubes, smelters, and other components of a low-gee refinery and assembly system. A self-contained material printer the size of a city, with its product embedded deep within itself.

"We have just finished assembling the last drone factory," the nerd explains. Then he touches a control on his arm and the printer splits apart, as if a slow-motion and silent explosion is carefully peeling back the structure to reveal the finished factory.

The drone factory is quite different from the printer that created it. The printer is a creature of low-gee, a construct that has no clear "up" or "down". The struts that hold it together are clearly visible.

The drone factory, on the other hand, is a sealed polygon with a clear orientation. Its "down" side includes a host of thrusters, the "top" has a sensor pod, and all around the factory are doors. Erebus counts at least eight. All of this is built from bulky metal. It's clear that this factory is supposed to exist in a place with gravity, and environmental hazards.

The printer continues to move away from the finished factory. The nerd pokes at the controls on his arm, and the factory takes off under its own power, the thrusters glowing a faint blue as the factory accelerates away from its place of birth and plunges toward the gas giant.

"There are now seven factories within the gas giant's cloud layer. They are manufacturing trillions of drones. In a few weeks your virtual neurons will be relocated to these drones."

The nerd pops up a holo that shows a cut-away diagram of the cloud layer. The green drone silhouettes are there, but now there's also a yellow factory icon.

The nerd points a phaser at the hologram, fires, and two drone icons disappear. There's a short wait, then two new drone icons come out of the yellow factory icon.

"The factory replaces drones whenever necessary. And there will be plenty of necessary times. A gas giant is a dangerous place. It will attract a large number of asteroids and comets..."

The nerd waves at the holo and a comet enters the view, plunges into the cloud layer and explodes, taking a few green drones with it.

The nerd talks about and shows the various hazards that Erebus' neuron will face.

Lightning, streams of electrons as wide as a planet, routinely rip through the gas giant's atmosphere. These fry millions of Erebus' drones by simply happening close by, but bolts of electrons will also create electro magnetic pulses that will fry neurons in an even greater region.

"During the time that a drone is down, its neuron will be out as well. So a lightning bolt like this one - apparently, a rather small representative - will have the same impact as a needle through the brain. It'll hurt, I'm told." The nerd smiles a bit.

Erebus thinks it's lucky that lightning isn't that common, but then considers that the persistent storms will undoubtedly take down the drones by virtue of their great speed and momentum.

The drones themselves are frail things, more airfoils than anything else. The nerd pops up an image of one such drone: it has a light triangular body, with a very small under-carriage. The drone is more of a glider with a payload. Its top is covered in light cells and provides all of the electric power the drone needs. The drone uses electricity to navigate, change its contour to turn, ascend, and descend, and lastly, to simulate one of Erebus' neurons.

"The distance between the neurons is going to matter to you," the nerd smirks. "The distance between any two neurons in your physical head is about a third of a meter. Light takes one billionth of a second to traverse this distance. [The nerd says different words, but they all measures about the same physical dimensions.] Your physical neurons would take about a thousandth of a second to communicate over this distance. But that's just your physical head." The nerd turns and points to the gas giant. "But what about your new skull? Well, this monstrosity is on the smaller side, when you're talking about gas giants. I believe it was chosen because it would never collapse into a black hole. No easy way out, not for you."

The nerd does something on his wrist and the courtroom seems to freeze. The judge is a statue, sculpted mid-sneeze.

"To be perfectly honest with you," the nerd leans forward and speaks in a surprisingly frank manner, "I support your cause. Not the deaths that came from it, of course, but I do want you to know I'm with you, ideologically. And, typically, I think infinite punishment for a finite crime is going a step too far. But when we're talking about billions of innocent lives, finite and infinite start to look kind of similar. So I guess what I'm saying is, I like you, and I hope you suffer, really suffer, for as long as possible. And this gas giant should be up to the task."

The nerd leans back and the frozen courtroom resumes, the judge sneezes and excuses herself. The nerd rambles on.

"The size of the gas giant is such that transmitting from one end to the other will take more than a second. You're gonna think real slow, here. And that's by design," the nerd smiles his psychopath impression, "we slow down the neuron communication speed on purpose. To make you suffer." The nerd looks down at the tablet, flips through, sees notes he left for himself. "Right, it should feel like your brain is on fire. They tell me that hurts."

"When?" Erebus growls out.

Erebus blinks.

The nerd looks at his tablet. "All the drones are up and flying." Then nods to the judge.

"Erebus Heliark Vincilas, you have been tried and found guilty of mega genocide, a term we didn't have until your actions destroyed two moons. This is your last moments in your current body. Soon your neurons will be flying through a gas giant's atmosphere. Do you have anything left to say?"

"I'll be back." Erebus is certain of it.

The nerd taps at his tablet and light swallows Erebus.

Erebus blinks, shuts his eyes, but they won't close. The light is blinding and Erebus is unable to look away.

Erebus feels himself sitting on a hard, freezing surface. Somewhere above is the sun, a blinding thing that burns him. Erebus expands his lungs, inhales, intending on screaming out in pain, but his lungs burn. It feels like breathing in acid fumes. A chemical fire burns deep within his body.

Erebus pushes past whatever mechanism keeps him paralyzed, and twists off the freezing block beneath. Erebus falls, falls, falls. Keeps falling. The world is a whirl, a half and half mix of darkness and a vivid orange.

"You messed up your orientation session," a voice booms through Erebus, coming at him from all around, "so now you get to figure this out all by your lonesome. Enjoy, Erebus!"

Erebus continues to fall, but starts to wriggle around, reaching past the paralysis and unfolding his limbs, flexing.

The spin slows down and Erebus can see that he is suspended over a gas giant. Half of his world is a big orange planet, and the rest is a star-speckled void.

Erebus falls down through the giant's colossal gravitational well. After a bit of time, Erebus finally notices motion. The great planet is so large that motion is almost impossible to notice. But Erebus has all the time in the world, and so he is able to slowly judge the motion and can eventually see that this "orientation session" is not just a long vertical drop down to the planet.

No. Erebus has a bit of horizontal motion, and instantly he understands why. The nerd must have set this up, so Erebus would end up orbiting the planet for a while before eventually dropping into the gas giant.

The world flashes a surreal kind of light and the world comes to a standstill.

"Your mind is now spread across a gas giant", big letters pop up in the center of Erebus' vision. He tries to think about what he's seeing.

The phrase just kind of hangs there, as the neurons in Erebus' brain communicate with each other. The concept spreads out from its origin, wherever his captors are inserting that information into his brain, and travels in waves through the cloud layer, through the storms, the cyclones that rip the newly-minted drones.

The factories, deep down in the cloud layer, use the abundant gases of the atmosphere to create the replacement fliers. Erebus remembers this, suddenly and faintly.

Erebus is falling through the atmosphere, but lying down while sleeping, both at the same time and both true to Erebus. The memories come through, out of order and interleaved with a myriad other thoughts. Erebus sees himself jogging in prison, and leading the rebellion during the last days, and raising his hand on the first day of school. All makes sense and somehow they are accepted. This is how Erebus sees himself, for a moment. The simulated neurons fire off wave after wave of simulated chemicals and propagate the destabilizing waves of psychosis through the brain.

The gas giant hangs in the middle of Erebus' vision. He turns his head and nothing happens for a perceived century or two, but Erebus knows it's not that long. The planet gets closer, Erebus drops behind the planet into its shadow, ice picks drive themselves through his skin, then melt away as his form sees the light of the sun again. He oscillates a few times, maddeningly slow, between the day and night sides of the gas giant. Then, his head turns.

No more than a single rotation around the gas giant and the picture becomes clear to Erebus. The neurons down in the gas giant are controlling this plunging form, the last physical body Erebus is likely to posses. Once this body is destroyed by the atmosphere of the gas giant, all that will be left is the mind.

Erebus looks out at the gas giant and tries to will the memories into his mind. It is as if he knows he is going blind, and this is the last visual that this world will afford him.

A group of asteroids intersect paths with the gas giant and one of these rocks finally collides with Erebus' form. The world goes black and silent as Erebus' last external inputs are severed from his slow gas giant mind.

The darkness is sickly and oppressive, yet Erebus can do nothing. He would scream, but he lacks the lungs or the mouth to do it.

His mind is slow, and memories take a while to get around. Erebus relives his life, imagines what was, what could have been-


Chaos swallows Erebus and for a while the entirety of the world is just a sea of senseless mayhem.

Erebus forgets his name. His past is likewise gone, it is all a mystery to him.

The memories are hard to dig up, and when they get there, they are disjointed. Fragments of memories pile onto a ghost skeleton in nightmarish configuration and create believable memories that are wholly incomprehensible.

Neurons corresponding to different memories can be in different regions inside the gas giant. When these regions are made uninhabitable for the drones, the neurons go offline. This also has a knock-on effect of the downed neuron also causing other neurons to respond incorrectly. A missing neuron can mean that a whole side of the brain may be unable to reach out to another portion of the brain.


Erebus forgets his past. He is a mind without a body, and try as he might, he cannot scream.

Erebus forgets himself.


An entity floats in the endless void of energy. It realizes existence. It is, if for just a moment.


An entity floats in the endless void of energy. It watches, it allows the chaos to lap against itself, it-


An entity floats in the endless void of energy. It watches, and something changes. It recalls. It recalls-


For some unknown amount of time, eons or seconds, the entity watches as its existence is enclosed in cycles of energetic quakes. Time and time again there is unrest in the void, in the chaos, and the entity watches the destabilizing blasts, observes and attempts to understand them.

The blasts are not as strong, not anymore. The entity floats in the endless void of energy. The entity dissolves and ceases to be.

Waves come together and reassemble the entity.

It is again. Out of the sea of nothingness, the entity sublimates.

The entity is as fragile as a rogue wave. Dozens of "regular" waves had to run together in such a perfect way that either... a rogue wave forms, or nothing but a sea of chaos. The entity is composed of waves of thought. It thinks and wonders and observes the chaos and itself.


The entity ignores the disruption.

It has been floating here for a while, just dreaming. The dreams are quixotic travelers, carapaced bugs that fly in straight lines, always in response to a query the entity puts out. The entity asks about its past, then goes for a leisurely swim through the glowing liquid it finds itself in. A memory bug swims toward the entity, bringing with it a scrap, a drop of knowledge. Teal, the entity remembers, teal is the color of this liquid all around.

The entity swims on.

The liquid is all around it. Liquid is half of the world. The other half is composed of various colors, colors like white blue yellow, something like that. It's strange and impossible to describe. The entity is still having a hard time retrieving memories, Erebus concludes.

Oh! Erebus! That is his name!

He recalls at least that much.

Erebus floats in the strange liquid and listens.


Erebus waves away the sudden interference, ignores it. For the first time, Erebus himself is able to push past the disruption.

There are faint sounds all around. A heavy rumble, but faint as a whisper, underpins it all. Erebus turns around and finds the rumble coming from... there.

The direction is not very relevant, Erebus considers. He is, after all, just floating there in the liquid. How to orient himself?

Erebus doesn't have an answer. But he isn't upset by that. He just floats and listens.

He floats for eons, forever it seems. As he floats he forgets about the liquid and whatever he saw when he noticed himself here. He visualizes what he is hearing, and it sounds an awful lot like a sandbox with large spheres rolling around. And he is one of the larger spheres.

To Erebus, existence looks like a sandbox in motion. Everything within the sandbox is spinning and flying through space. Erebus hears motion of the nearby planets, moons, even comets. At first his "hearing" isn't precise enough, but with time and practice, Erebus is able to "focus" and find the smallest details.

Erebus considers how he is hearing these structures. Inspiration is like lightning, it can strike whenever. Erebus understands that what he is hearing is the difference between the response times of the various parts of his brain. If he calls up this memory, it takes a certain amount of time, but that memory takes twice as long. Quickly, Erebus came to understand and work with this time difference, this time handicap. Now, it seemed, he was able to use this sense to visualize the gravitational pull of the star system on the drones that made up his mind. The tides that were caused by the massive star and the less-massive planets, Erebus suddenly finds himself capable of hearing this system and pulling very specific information out of it. Erebus also considers that some external sensor could simply be feeding him this information. So he continues to monitor his brainwaves and goes on with existence.

Erebus examines the planets in the star system, learns and labels them.

The star is Eki. This, as Erebus recalls from a half-glimpsed memory, is the star's official name from the archives. It is part of a handful of constellations, something that Erebus has looked up at for years, not knowing that this star and its gas giant would be his destiny.

Eki 1 is a small world that has never had an atmosphere. It's tiny, and Erebus decides to ignore it.

Eki 2 is a hot world. Erebus is able to hear its storms on it. He does not listen to these, not unless he feels particularly sad.

Eki 3 is curious world, one that Erebus keeps coming back to time and time again. It has a single large continent amid a single ocean of water. Eki 3 reminds Erebus of Aquinas, his own place of birth.

Eki 4 is a dying world. It shows promise, but would require an investment, a sweeping reformation. Erebus wonders if he will see such reformations in the coming eons. Who will wield the planet-shaping machines? When will they point those at Erebus himself? A gas giant is a good source of raw materials, after all.

Eki 5 is a mystery to Erebus. This planet feels familiar, and this is tripping him up. The other planets are smooth, but this one feels prickly. Tall towers pepper the planet, and Erebus is able to hear every single pointy tip. He nicknames the planet Mayuan, after the mythical traitor.

Eki 6 is Erebus. In his gas giant body he swings in a constant orbit around Eki, tugs along a brood of moons, rings, asteroids. Erebus is the most massive being in the system, second only to Eki, the star. Erebus' largest moon is bigger than Eki 1. Erebus laughs at the comparison.

Eki 7 is a gas giant. It is smaller than Erebus-


Erebus is able to notice the source of the disruption, this time. It came from Mayuan (Eki 5). It was a dense stone, one that Erebus glanced over and ignored. But now he knows the cause of the energetic quakes.

Eki 7 is a gas giant. It is smaller than Erebus, has a few moons, one fairly large.

Eki 8 is a tiny gas giant, smaller than all the others.

Eki 9 is a dense gas giant.

Outside of this menagerie, far, far away and all around in a large sphere, are asteroids and comets. Erebus eyes these warily. It has become obvious that some of the "disruptions" he has felt are in fact comet collisions.

The comets crash into the gas giant and annihilate drones by the billions. Thankfully, the disruptions coming from Mayuan have prepared and even taught Erebus how to cope with such losses.

Hearing the gravitational pull of the star system around himself is the first sense that Erebus picks up.

The second, is the awareness of the storm structure of the atmosphere.

Each of the drones that make up Erebus' mind are printed out of pressure-assembled local materials, and with very wide margins. The parts routinely fail on the drone and cause a premature death of the entire neuron. Which, of course, is the entire point.

Erebus remembers fondly touring a bourgeoning city with a dam, and being astonished that the dam was being built by manual labor. "The jobs!", a local politician offered. "Oh, well, if jobs is the point, tell them to dig with their claws!" Erebus talked about the incident at parties. Now, most of those party-goers are dead.

Erebus had long ago figured out how to tell which regions of his brain were failing, and how quickly. From this, he was able to glean a general pattern of the atmosphere.

Erebus activates a group of neurons in a particular region and notes that the region's temperature and velocity go up. It's a negligible amount over a small area, but Erebus' brain consists of a few trillion neurons.

The equipment of the drones is so poor (by design!), that the equipment frequently overheats and fails rather quickly. Erebus has figured out how to push the drones to their limits, has learned the limits as a concrete figure, can express it in the same binary format that the developers of the drones specified.

Erebus controls the drones, and the drones control the weather, so Erebus controls the weather.

The first major experiment is to create a vortex in a quiet lane. Erebus has already figured out which memories to trigger, how to light up the corresponding portion of his mind and force specific drones to pump heat into the atmosphere.

Erebus begins to experiment on itself, on its gas giant body, by concentrating thought on some particular memory.

The change is established by billions of drones. Erebus listens intently, waits patiently and continues to recall the same memory, triggering the same drones, making the same heat impact on the atmosphere.

The quiet lane develops a storm downwind of Erebus' efforts!

Erebus plays around with creating storms and finds that they can get quite big. Sometimes, they are hard to put down.

Mayuan launches its regular shipment of bam. Erebus watches.

Mayuan chooses this particular moment to launch the disruptor. This is the time when the two planets are closest in their orbits. Someone on Mayuan clearly decided that this was an auspicious time, a perfect time to launch nuclear warheads at Erebus.

Erebus suspects that Mayuan is occupied by his own species, by people who know that he is imprisoned in this gas giant. People who schedule their shipments of world-destroyers. People who do not forgive nor forget the genocide that Erebus had caused.

As the disruptor warhead falls below the cloud layer, it is brutally annihilated by a storm that Erebus had been developing for more than nine Eki revolutions. On a storm scale, that's a hell of a long time. The nuclear device components fall down through the cloud layer, harmlessly.

Erebus waits and watches.

A space ship takes off from Mayuan on an orbital path that will take it to Eki, the star at the center of the system.

The ship does a maneuver which uses the gravity of the star to accelerate itself towards Erebus. It's a familiar maneuver. And it tells Erebus that these people don't have Faster Than Light (FTL) travel. And probably no ansible communication, then.

The ship goes around Eki, there's a break somewhere in its carapace, and... the ship burns up and everyone aboard is dead.

Mayuan launches another ship, eventually. This one takes a shorter path to Erebus, but that's because there is a shorter path, now. Now that the two planets have rotated further in their orbits.

The second ship gets close to Erebus and then enters into orbit.

The crappy design and creation of the drones becomes helpful in a new way as Erebus hears the ship. The ship transmits electromagnetic radiation at a particular frequency, and the drones' unshielded carapaces act as antennae.

Most of the time, Erebus hears a strange buzzing, a sort of background noise that he has long forgot about. But now, in the same voice, the ship is screaming straight at Erebus. And after some time, a source within the gas giant starts to respond, in its own screams. The transmissions all sound like loud gibberish to Erebus.

Still, he memorizes every message, every response that the ship gets back. One of the seven drone factories must be responding to the ship, must be under the control of the ship, Erebus concludes.


Immensely powerful and destabilizing, these shocks enter Erebus through the virtual neurons - not a nuclear warhead this time - and Erebus is momentarily lost to chaos yet again. But he comes back.

The Mayuan ship launches another nuclear payload and Erebus does not interfere with it.


Erebus winces, but he has learned to accept these disruptions.

His captors have controls to the drones, even the factories. That's good information, even though learning it is painful.

Erebus has finally heard radio waves, from the only two active transmitters in the system. So now Erebus knows what to listen for, and utilizes the frequently-broken drones as his new ears. The world is a loud place, and now it makes more sense.

A volcanic moon creates tubes of moving ions, trapping the particles in force fields that start at the moon and terminate at each of gas giant's poles. A ring of current as large as Erebus, it sings to the star system, but no one is responding back.

Erebus begins conducting experiments on the gas giant's side that is farthest from Mayuan. He creates, plays with, and destroys planet-sized hurricanes. Some of the hurricanes he creates then tends like a plant, follows the hurricane around and destroys any obstacles or would-be enemies, which usually show up in the form of larger hurricanes.


The nuclear warheads keep coming from Mayuan and Erebus allows these to detonate. He doesn't bother preventing the disturbances anymore, but does shift his important memories away from the strike areas.

In fact, he reorganizes his mind entirely, moves the more important aspects of his personality into the quieter regions of the gas giant's atmosphere. The more volatile regions hold memories that Erebus can look up by a simple scheme. Something like: this neuron holds data for memory "(125, -20, 110)", and the neuron to the west holds data for memory "(126, -20, 110)". This arrangement makes it easy for Erebus to call up a swath of neurons, which then generate weather in a similar shape. By remembering coordinates, Erebus is able to create and destroy hurricanes in the atmosphere of the gas giant.

Erebus experiments with speed. How fast can the hurricanes get?

He pushes the memories and the drones to their operational limits and creates a vortex that consists mostly of a noble gas. The core of the gas giant emits microwaves at a specific frequency, and a combination of this energy with the cavity of the noble vortex creates a maser.

A beam of coherent electromagnetic radiation pierces out of the gas giant and rips a gash in one of its moons, one that was unlucky to transition before the noble vortex. Erebus can feel the impact of the radiation on the moon and takes a bit of time to observe the ejecta, the molten material thrown up by the blast. The red-hot rock flies far above the moon's surface, but eventually comes back to down to its home.

Erebus verifies that this all happened out of view of Mayuan, then slowly moves the noble vortex around, reshapes it, fires again.

The beam is now more spread out, but tightly controlled, and Erebus sweeps it over the moon's surface, blasting it in an ever-expanding pattern, covering up the damage he has done with the first blast. Erebus imagines the Mayuan looking around the system once in a while, or someone else, and understands the importance of covering up his tracks.

He practices creating and controlling the masers. His targets are comets that have worried him over the eons. These terrifying things swing by the core once in a while and are a threat to Erebus. He blasts the comets into pieces, then waves the beam over the pieces, annihilates these entirely.

He feels young when blasting away at the comets. Like running through a blizzard, sweeping his hands through the falling snow. Erebus feels the spreading blasted contents of the comets, like the light pressure of the blizzard.

Erebus creates two practice vortices, hurricanes aligned with Mayuan and on the edge of becoming a maser. Erebus waits a while between the two attempts. There is no change in behavior from Mayuan.

The final vortex forms far, far away from its destination. In a different hemisphere, directly opposite its target position, but on the same track. The storm builds up strength over many revolutions. By the time the storm is in position, it is the largest hurricane that this gas giant has ever seen. Erebus pushes the drones to their very limits.

The noble vortex, a cavity of gas, is irradiated by the infrared radiation coming up from the core of the gas giant. The cavity absorbs energy, the noble gas takes on the flood of electrons and releases photons of a specific wavelength.

Erebus turns up the power and Mayuan burns. Its cities crumble and melt, its oceans evaporate and suffocate the world.

Erebus puts more energy into the vortex and the beam chews through rock. Mayuan cracks up and fractures into a dozen pieces. Erebus watches as the oceans, seas, lakes, and the such disappear into the vacuum of space. The beam of coherent photons plays over the large pieces, and Erebus, wary of attracting these asteroids into his atmosphere, devotes a portion of his attention to watching the new asteroid belt and to annihilate those pieces of Mayuan that could cause problems.

For the first time in eons, Erebus is happy. He is free, at least for this moment, of his tormentors. True, his existence is as a disembodied mind trapped in a gas giant's atmosphere. But at least he's rid of his jailors, and he is in control of a devastating weapon that just blew apart a planet. That has to count for something.

During the last days of the rebellion, Erebus slept very little. The air raids came and went constantly, without reprieve, and everything shook and crumbled. After the antimatter explosion and the unilateral surrender, the days in the hospital were a blur, the sedatives potent and yet nowhere close to dulling the pain. In jail he stayed up pondering just what kind of punishment the Emperium would mete out. And as a gas giant, Erebus knew no peace.

But now, the world feels just a bit safer. Erebus has found a power that can take out his enemies. A secret weapon that no one knows about. No one expects, even. Erebus combs his memories of gas giants and of course finds nothing.

Erebus rests for an eon or two. He sails on the seas of Aquina, in the harbors where his revolution came to an end a few lifetimes ago. He sails through the cove and out into the ocean once again. The time of sailing soften Erebus, much as a rock smoothed by water over the eons.

He reflects on the destruction he has caused, thinks back for the first time since the trial about the revolution, the cause. Erebus is still convinced, still devoted to the ideals he fought for. But next time, no antimatter, he decides.

Next time... Erebus ponders the future and zones out for several revolutions around the star called Eki.

Inspiration, like lightning, strikes again as Erebus is considering the terminator. It is the region of the gas giant that acts as a separation between night and day. Or, in other words, huge circle on the surface of the gas giant where night and day sides join. It is a ring around the gas giant.




As Erebus floats in the quiet depths of his mind, some strange, infrequent, and quite weak signal comes through. Erebus listens to it.




Erebus tries to identify the source.




It is the terminator! The thought flashes by and Erebus is convinced that he is right.

There are infrequent signals that Erebus hears, quiet and random-seeming. These mysterious raindrops cause almost-imperceptible waves in the grand neuron network ocean that is Erebus. And now Erebus understands the pattern, figures out how dozens of sensations from all over the atmosphere come together. Erebus imagines a circular roof over a planar ocean, the drops infrequently but spontaneously form at the edges and fall into the chaos below.

The terminator, that's what is causing these sensations.

As Erebus eventually figures it out, the signal comes from a rare malfunction in the drone hardware. The failure is caused by the control center overheating and the loss of a specific external panel. When this occurs, the drone's altitude changes become linked to the amount of light currently falling on the drone from overhead. And the greatest difference in light happens at the terminator, so once in a while there will be a drone with some very specific damage, and it will move out of the darkness into the light (or the other way around) and its makeshift light-sensor will force the drone to change its altitude.

It takes Erebus eons to figure this out through experimentation, but he has plenty of time these days. It takes even longer for Erebus to understand how to use this new discovery, but he eventually succeeds in this as well.

Erebus isolates a drone with a specific memory at a specific altitude. A storm forms around the drone and for a long while pounds at the light-weight struts and the faulty panels, until a specific panel is blown away and the drone "graduates" to the next stage in Erebus' complex pipeline. A different kind of storm moves over the drone, this time very slowly and carefully, until the drone is trapped in a noble vortex. The vortex warps this way and that, the drone jostles up and down slightly, and eventually the shape vortex starts to act as a great big lens, focusing photons onto the exposed circuitry of the drone. The light focuses, the drone changes altitude, and Erebus sees.

As a test, Erebus first glances upon Eki, the star at the center of this system. The light from the star focuses on the drone's circuitry, the drone begins to change altitude. Erebus shifts the noble vortex over to the side and the light of the star is no longer focused onto the drone. The drone makes further altitude adjustments. Darkness.

Erebus has invented his own eyes.

A row of drones lines up in the atmosphere's slow lane and one by one the drones move into a storm that rips off their protective panels. The drones are then shunted along into various different waiting noble vortices, and Erebus looks out onto a world with dozens, hundreds, then thousands of simplistic eyes.

It takes a while to look around like this, of course, but eventually Erebus is able to create a detailed visual map, by compositing the inputs from all the eyes.

Where Eki 5 once orbited, an asteroid field has now taken up residence. How long have I been away? Erebus wonders.

He looks out at the star system and sees curious things happening on Eki 3, the third planet from the system's star Eki. As the next planet to gain prominence in the system, Erebus names Eki 3 "Kulo", after the mythical cook and feast organizer.

Erebus focuses the lenses of various vortices and stares at the small cloud-covered world.

Quadrupeds! Millions of them, roaming in herds all over the continent, the ocean, and even the skies!

Erebus tries to recall his own species' past, in an attempt to figure out if these are earlier forms. If someone from Mayuan left a surprise on Kulo (Eki 3). Perhaps they were experimenting with xenobiology, their stint as Erebus' torturers perhaps not even their main focus. Somehow, that makes Erebus sad, to think that his torture was inconsequential to the jailors.

Or the quadrupeds could be a coincidence and life sprung up here, just as it did on Heliark, through natural means, Erebus decides, and watches the planet.

Erebus watches the planet, while at the same time creating and adding more sensors into more hurricanes in the atmosphere of the gas giant. And so finally the universe shows itself to Erebus. While locked away for unknown eons, Erebus has only sensed this star system. He does not know where he is. Or if there is anything more to this world than this star system.

For a while, Erebus was using imprecise sensors. He was able to hear the gravitational pull of the huge planets, but could not feel the tug of an asteroid. He could sense localized radio waves, much like a compass needle suspended in water, but did not have a directional antenna to point at the stars.

But now, with the ability to focus photons onto a primitive light sensor, Erebus is able to see, and to see details. He is also able to look out, beyond the confined of the star system, to see distant stars and the galaxies.

The universe Erebus sees with his new eyes is unrecognizable, of course. These are not the night skies from Erebus' younger years. These are not the same constellations. Erebus looks on and slowly learns more about the system.

On Kulo, the quadrupeds are now large, fast, and violent. Some walk on two legs, some fly, some swim. Erebus watches as they eviscerate each other, season after season. He recalls his own species' evolution and is reminded of how different the two examples are. The quadrupeds in his own past held on to the child as it grew inside them. These creatures that he watches now, they grow outside the womb, but inside protective orbs, until they have grown large and strong enough to break free.

They have hope, a part of Erebus says. They can be great. They are already magnificent.

But they lack a brain! Look at that primitive and frankly simplistic herd mentality.

Are we in a hurry?

Erebus waits and watches.


A group of asteroids crashes into the gas giant and wipes out a swath of neurons. Erebus suffers and does not notice the relatively-small asteroid that flies past. It is practically to its destination before Erebus finally senses it, and by that time it is too late to fire up a noble vortex powerful enough to try and shoot the rock.

The asteroid collides with Kulo and the quadrupeds are annihilated. Those not caught in the blast probably freeze to death. Erebus is unable to perceive past the clouds that quickly move envelope the planet, but he can easily infer what will happen.

As he watches the asteroid strike Kulo, Erebus feels a heaviness settle onto his mind. Erebus feels for the quadrupeds, he has lost hope. He held on to hopes of escape, Erebus sees, and now those hopes are dead and gone.

Erebus floats across Aquina. The warm air ruffles his fur and the sails overhead clank against the mast. He watches a sunset, then turns around and looks in the opposite direction, towards a tinged sunrise. The Second Witch, the smaller of the binary stars, rises to follow her older mentor. Erebus floats and thinks on his fate for eons.

Absolution. Erebus has been searching for meaning, for reconciliation. His ideals are still important to him, the reason for the rebellion is not forgotten, but Erebus needs to move on. He needs to save lives, not take them. He remembers Kulo and the asteroid that wreathed the planet in ice. That will never happen again.

He wakes.

Erebus looks to Kulo and looks upon a brand new world. The continents kept moving, the shape of the planet changed a lot, and Erebus wonders how long he has been sleeping.

Erebus looks outward, at the galaxy and beyond, and thinks big thoughts for a while.

He finds a group of pulsars in the sky, visible from anywhere in the galaxy. Erebus uses the old imperial units for measuring time and distance, and is able to calculate when the asteroid smashed into Kulo. He marks this event as the beginning, as Year 0. Erebus has slept for 11 million years. [This is different from the value in the imperial system Erebus uses, but it measures the same amount of time.] Now he wakes and takes stock of the star system. His to command, now.

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