Sk-13. The Reveal
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I suppose it’s time to stop being coy, dear readers.

As many of you have already deduced, I am none other than Skellish, Goddess of Entropy. In my role as a multiversal divinity, I oversee the cycle of reincarnation as it applies across all creation. As such, when the dearly departed shed their mortal coil, they find me waiting to welcome them into the afterlife. In this fashion I lovingly shepherd the near-infinite souls currently propagating across the multiverse, and by extension manage the distribution of entropy to prolong the continued existence of life.

Though you have no memory of it, mortals, you have all visited me before… and will, one day, visit me again. I look forward to guiding your continued evolution towards godhood.

Bon voyage.

It’s terribly common for souls to be distraught in the moments after their death. Shock, fear, denial and anger are all frequent reactions. This especially holds true for those who died suddenly, with no forewarning. As such represents nearly three-quarters of all deaths across spacetime, my primary responsibility is to provide counseling and closure for them.

I was discharging these duties with my usual verve when a certain deceased crab entered my dominion, and unwittingly triggered a series of events that altered the destiny of a whole galaxy.

Read on, dear mortal, and glimpse into the cosmic mysteries of the realms beyond.

******

Astronomer-8966, in contrast to most sentients, reacted to their death with a surprising amount of dignity and calm.

“So I’m dead…” their soul intoned flatly as they floated in the currentless void of the First Universe. “I guess the upload didn’t work.”

“In your case, no,” I replied, in the gentlest tapping-tone I could. “Please accept my condolences. I know yours was a short life, but it was nevertheless rich. Your soul is aglow with all the memories and friends you made.”

A-66’s mood shrank; they were sinking into a deep state of depression tinged by denial, and their thoughts turned to replays of regrets. In order to keep their soul at peace, I decided some closure was in order.

“Would you like to know what happened back in the mortal realm?” I asked, gently extending my claw and coloring my crab-projection a more jovial shade of blue. “After you died?”

A-66’s mind focused their attention on me. “You mean what happened to my people? To the worms? To Sveta?”

I rapped back affirmation. “Yes, exactly that. You’ll be happy to know the worms were successful at saving your race, and that this is the first step in a long and fruitful alliance between your two species. Your new friends Hunter and Sveta are also both safe.”

A-66 emitted thoughts of relief. “May I see? Peek in on how they’re doing?”

This was one of the most common requests levied by the recently deceased, and one I almost always granted.

“Of course, A-66. I will scry and show you the fate of your world.”

******

Far above Crabworld, the worm… er, human starship Radiolaria Galactica had just finished clearing all Sarcophage out of planetary orbit. While Genevi’s psychotic swarm purged the greater enemy waves beyond, the ship and her crew turned their attention to the world below, hoping beyond hope they had not been too late.

“I’ve successfully propagated 22dino’s crab translation protocols across the whole network,” Sveta reported to Admiral Savitskaya. Her holographic form hovered above the Admiral’s doll, cast against a projection of the world and space beyond. “Laria has already integrated them into her linguistic core.”

“As have I,” Katya replied. “Is there any indication of any survivors down there?”

“Affirmative,” Laria said, phasing her projection into existence beside Sveta’s. “I’m already receiving signals from a half-dozen other enclaves curious about our presence in orbit. While I’m not yet very good at precisely reading crab biosigns, largely due to limited knowledge of their biology, I can confirm they still exist in large, if not overwhelming, numbers.”

Small fans hidden in the Admiral’s lower jaw whirred to life, allowing her the reflexive reaction of breathing a sigh of relief despite her lack of respiration. “Thank God. We were able to save them from extinction.”

“Some of them, anyway…” Sveta muttered.

Katya silently logged the despondency in her tone, making a note to speak with Miette about it later, and continued. “Laria, do any of the enclaves reaching out to you seem to be in a position of leadership over the species?”

The ship’s AI shook her head. “Organized governance is long gone. Some of the enclaves appear to have elected leaders, but that’s all.”

“Very well. Let’s send the whole world a broadband transmission and let them determine who will represent their species. I’ll speak in their language, of course; Laria, please provide a Russian translation for fleetwide.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Katya’s jaw-fans whirred to life, in reverse this time, as she took a deep breath. “Let’s begin.”

******

“Greetings to all crabs of Crabworld. My name is Admiral Ekatrina Savitskaya of the United Soviet States of Earth, representing the human species. We come to your world in peace and alliance, to aid your struggle against our common enemy and preserve you from extinction.

“Twenty-two of your crab days ago, a member of the Astronomer’s Guild named A-8966 discovered our existence orbiting what you call the Southern Star. They were able to discern our military might, as well as our triumphant victory against the Enemy attack on our own homeworld, and consequently sent a message asking for our aid. We were more than happy to respond in kind, and thus embarked upon a campaign to reclaim and liberate your star system. You will be pleased to know that Crabworld is no longer under immediate threat, and we are on course to completely expunge the Enemy from Red Firstborn’s heliosphere within two months. After years of slaughter and horror, you are all finally safe.

“Among humans, we have a saying: ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Your Great Enemy is known to us as the Sarcophage, and they have tried to exterminate Earth with equal fury to that they visited upon Crabworld. In that way, our two species are linked even across the vast gulfs of interstellar spacetime. Know that, should you desire it, our military will stand guard over your world in perpetuity and help you rebuild your civilization. All we ask in exchange is your friendship, and the free exchange of culture, ideas and technology between our two societies.

“Conversely, should you no longer wish our help after your system is safe, we will depart in peace. We come only to rescue, not to dominate. Even so, we humans firmly believe that our species stand a greater chance of victory against the Sarcophage united as equals.

“As such, we would very much like to establish official relations with your world. Since no greater crab global government exists at this time, we are asking each of the hidden Enclaves to choose a representative to meet with us… on Crabworld or aboard our ship, as you desire. We are comfortably able to accommodate your life support requirements should you choose to visit.

“Please respond to this message on the same frequency it was broadcast. Thank you, and I look forward to meeting you soon. Until then, on behalf of all the peoples of Earth, I pray for your glory in battle.”

It was a fairly good first-contact speech, as the Admiral had spent three days of processor-time compiling it. Miette was similarly impressed.

“She always cuts a dignified profile, don’t you think?” she asked Sveta as her Frame accelerated into Crabworld’s atmosphere. “The Admiral, I mean.”

“Hmm? Oh, yes…” Sveta mumbled softly.

Miette pursed her lips and mentally released Sveta’s controls, causing the Frame to lurch for a split-second before the latter took over. The uncharacteristic lag in changeover told Miette everything she needed to know; Sveta was troubled.

“So? What’s wrong?” Miette asked softly.

“Wrong?” Sveta asked dejectedly, mustering a halfhearted denial.

“You know what I mean. You’ve been down in the dumps ever since you synced memories with your planetside instances. Something happened down there.”

“Yeah,” Sveta said, grimacing. “It would be easier to show you. May I?”

Miette activated her comms. “Attention, all battle groups. I’m going for a brief excursion. Sabina is in command until I return. Acknowledge and confirm.”

The acknowledgement pings took a few seconds, after which Miette gave Sveta her undivided attention.

“Alright. Show me.”

******

“I’VE GOT CONTACT!” Sveta shouted, struggling to be heard over the thrum-buzz of her own positron cannons. “Detecting human ships in orbit!”

“The worm fleet?!” A-66 rapped back thunderously, the hue of their carapace flourishing a jubilant teal shade. “Will they make it to us in time?”

“Don’t stop firing!” Sveta barked, keeping A-66’s focus on the flesh-filled chokepoint ahead. “Keep that mining laser on target! If we hold out for long enough, they’ll be able to reach us!

“Are you sure?” E-59 asked, skepticism mottling their shell.

“They have to!” Sveta said desperately, rolling all her hopes into one final wish. “They just… have to…”

“Have to what?” Miette asked quietly.

Sveta blinked and shook her head, irises widening with shock. “Who? What did I?”

She looked around the shattered cave as her optics refocused and the din of battle abruptly faded. Before her slumped the corpse of A-66, their body resembling not so much a crab anymore as a gory pincushion. Miette stood by her side, gently squeezing her shoulder.

“How long was I…” Sveta muttered, looking for the right word, “…away?”

“About a minute,” Miette responded. “Flashback?”

Sveta nodded slowly, her eyes fixed upon the body before her. “Yeah. I thought I was past this, you know. I haven’t relapsed in nearly five years.”

“It’s alright,” Miette said, still keeping her voice soft. “We all get them, Sveta.”

Sveta recoiled, finally tearing her wide eyes from the corpse and fixing them on Miette. “No, it’s NOT alright! Don’t you understand, Miette? This is DIFFERENT! This is… this was… my…”

Try as she might, she couldn’t get the words out… but Miette knew what she meant well enough.

“Your first failure. The one you couldn’t save,” she whispered, and that was enough. Sveta collapsed into her arms, sobbing. The tears, holographic as they were, represented such an honest and anguished expression of pure grief that Miette didn’t notice how they fizzled away before hitting the ground.

******

A-66, for their part, was confused. “We only knew each other for a few days, and yet she seems devastated by my death. Why?”

“Sveta is used to triumph, not defeat,” I explained. “She’s made a name for herself pulling impossible solutions out of her hat at the last moment. Somehow, whether she’s protecting the entire human race or a single girl, she’s always saved the day, kept her friends alive and looked good doing it.”

Understanding washed over A-66 like a rising tide. “Until now, you mean.”

I rapped affirmation. “Yes, until now. She was long overdue in learning this lesson.”

“And I, in exchange, feel terrible,” A-66 mumbled, the light of their soul waning.

“Death is never an easy thing,” I replied. “Even so, it can lead to remarkable growth and change. Just watch.”

******

Sveta kept crying for a good long while. Even after her sobs quieted, Miette didn’t say anything. She just embraced the small robo-girl, silently offering reassurance through the firmness of her arms.

“S-S-Sorry…” Sveta said at last.

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Miette replied with a half-smile. “I know how raw this topic is for you. It all goes back to Ashley, right?”

At the mention of her ex-wife’s name, Sveta’s expression twisted back towards anguish. “Y-Yeah… I couldn’t save her either…”

Miette shook her head firmly. “We’ve talked about this. You bore no responsibility for her death, nor that of the crabs. Sveta, I know it hurts, but you can’t keep blaming yourself for these things. Ash told you just as much, right?”

Sveta nodded, a mite grumpily. “I guess… B-But we were so close this time! If I’d only called for help earlier… or gotten the crabs somewhere safer… or… OW!”

Miette had cut off Sveta’s spiraling by rapping her gently on her forehead. “Enough of that.”

“B-”

“ENOUGH,” Miette said, her tone firm. “You know what your problem is, babe? You’re too used to winning.”

“I’m n-”

“Think about it,” Miette continued, cutting off any protest. “You and Zehra pretty much singlehandedly saved Earth, and all without losing a single one of your close friends. You even managed to rescue Genevi despite the destruction of her physical body, a feat we all considered damn near miraculous at the time. Hell, you rescued Moby from deletion even though she’s a Sarcophage! You will do anything to save a life, and conversely you’re always devastated when you can’t. Inevitably, this leads to self-pity and self-doubt.”

“Wow,” Sveta huffed, puffing up her cheeks. “You moonlighting as the ship’s psychologist?”

Miette snorted. “Goodness, no. I just understand you all too well.”

“Hah.” There was a long pause as Sveta’s hyperprocessors whirled through a round of deep thinking that might have taken a biological mind an hour. “I suppose you’re right. Doesn’t stop it from hurting, though.”

Miette nodded.

Sveta took a deep breath and slapped herself on the cheeks. “Ok. Alright. I’ll be okay.”

“You sure?” Miette said, not quite convinced.

“For now,” Sveta qualified. She regarded the crab-corpses again. “I know I did my best, but… I truly wish I could have saved at least one of them.”

She found her eyes misting again, and she felt Miette’s arm snake around her shoulder. This time, however, she kept it together.

******

“Grief, as you can see, is an important part of the mourning process,” I explained to my ghostly crab ward. “It’s natural for death to wound the soul. The first step to healing is in acknowledging that wound.”

“She’s taking our deaths harder than I thought,” A-66 mused. “Some of it is ego, but…”

They didn’t have a subsequent thought formulated yet, just a swirling mass of confused half-concepts. I decided a verbal prompt was in order. “But?”

Their thoughts cleared and focused. “I observed similar magnanimity from Hunter, the other worm who accompanied Sveta. He was also kind, generous, and willing to sacrifice himself for complete strangers. That’s a degree of magnanimity I find astounding. Who else but the worms would fight and die for a species other than their own?”

Now there’s a question I’d never thought to ask. “Magnanimity…” I echoed back as the wheels of my mind began to turn at relativistic speeds. Could this wee mortal have sniffed out something about the humans that I, in all my grandeur, had overlooked? Something that brought to mind another crusading civilization, a half-galaxy distant?

A-66, for their part, seemed nonplussed by my sudden silence. “Magnanimity?” they said, echoing my echo.

I rubbed my eyestalks together to focus. “My apologies, mortal. You just gave me an interesting idea, though I will need some time to gestate it. Are you satisfied with your observations of Sveta?”

A-66’s mind indicated affirmative, even if they didn’t have the capacity to nod as an unsheathed soul. “Yes. I just have one more request before I move on to the next… whatever.”

“Of course. Ask away.”

“Can… Can I speak to E-59 one last time? They were my greatest friend, and it wouldn’t feel right to miss saying goodbye.”

“Ah,” I said, realizing the magnitude of the crab’s misconception. I supposed that was my own fault for not being clear earlier. “I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

“It isn’t?” A-66 replied, hope fading into dejection.

“Unfortunately not, but not for the reasons you’re thinking. You see, E-59 is not dead.”

Their malaise turned to shock. “Wait… WHAT?!”

“Exactly as I said,” I confirmed, realizing this little soul-session wasn’t concluded just yet. “I’ll show you what I mean. Looks like we have some more scrying to do.”

Woo-hoo! We're back! And, as many of you predicted, Skellish herself is indeed the "POV" character I'm using in the third-person chapters. Quite a literal interpretation of an omniscient narrator, don't you think?

This chapter is the first of a four-chapter arc I completed writing last weekend. I will be publishing it on alternate days throughout this week, with the second chapter going live in a mere 48 hours. Please look forward to it!

If you like my work, please consider joining my Discord server and following me on Mastodon. I've set up my own Mastodon instance, demon.haus, which is dedicated to me and my delightfully queer audience. If you're interested, DM me on Discord for an invite link.

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