She shuddered once, a tremor that echoed throughout Her immense length. She paused fractionally in Her neverending task of laying eggs. The pause was barely longer than a breath, but the assembled tens instantly stopped their hurrying and carrying, then resumed as one, as if each had received the same unvoiced command… which they had.
Without another break in Her egg-laying, Hhe reached thin tendrils of nothingness to touch Herself through the darknesses of interstellar space.
She could not have explained to Her numbers what She was doing, much less how—perhaps She didn’t herself know quite what quirk of physics allowed Her to be in so many places at once—but then, She would never have considered discussing such a subject with mere numbers. It sufficed Her that they somehow knew that She was in all and of all.
Why else was She also God?
In less time than Her momentary trembling, She was with and in the hundreds of Her on seeding-ships, comforting Hers in the loss of one of Herselves, communing and consulting with Her wherever She might be, and almost instantly deciding upon the only course of action.
It was unheard of in all of Koleic history, but it was necessary.
She acted at once.
Chaptain Butk straightened infinitesimally when the klaxon sounded. It was not an alarm. No crisis… at least not one caused by any of the numbers on duty on the bridge.
This was the special klaxon.
God wished to speak to him.
For the short while it took him to scuttle from the bridge to the Hatchery, he wondered vaguely if he had missed something crucial on the monitors, if perhaps—although this would be almost beyond the realm of belief—the ship was somehow off-course.
No, he assured himself. Everything is as scheduled. We emerged from the last flash in perfect condition. There is nothing I have done—
When he arrived at the Hatchery and stepped through the iris, he was surprised to see perhaps a score of God’s eyen staring at him…a s if She had already been staring at the place where he would emerge from the corridor. Never in all of the flight, in the half-dozen times he had had the opportunity to stand in Her Presence, had She ever so much as turned more than one or two of Her multiple eyen—let alone one of Her single eyes—toward him.
“There is a thing to have been accomplished.”
Now the Chaptain was truly and righteously frightened. For two simple reasons.
First, this was a class of statement that did not require assent or answer; by its very structure, it actively prohibited a response. Not a ‘Yes, my God” or a surprised “But…,” or even so much as a hint of a question. It was not for him to comment but rather for him to ensure that the thing will have been accomplished.
And second, he suddenly realized that something crucial was missing: The steady plop, plop, plop of egg-laying that accompanied every other communication he had ever had with a God, even on the home-world. Had he been capable of speech at that instant, he would have had to utter this almost impossible sentence: She had ceased laying.
He shivered, allowing his mandibles to clack ever so slightly—he hoped She would forgive him the breach in decorum—and his head to click against his carapace as he bowed it in recognition of what she had said.
A thing to have been accomplished.
Not a thing to do, which might have invited queries.
A thing to have been accomplished. In the mind of God, it—whatever it might be—had already been completed.
After only a second or two, She continued speaking, this time simply reciting eight numbers.
Coordinates for a flash. An unscheduled flash, something that the Chaptain had never heard of before. Voyages were planned to the tiniest detail and nothing—nothing—interfered with one.
Except for this one.
When She finished, She turned Her eyen from him with a kind of somber, glacial slowness that told him clearly that She had no more to say. The interview—the audience—was over.
Without a word, he clicked to attention, turned, and left. He noted with one eyen that a doomed ten on the opposite side of the chamber had curled during the final few seconds. He made mental a note to have it cleared away.
Regaining the bridge took far less time that leaving it had taken. He didn’t pause, didn’t even respond to the low bows of submission from the numbers as he hurried past, leaving confusion and consternation in his wake. Clearly, from his attitude, something was deeply amiss.
He entered the bridge. Even before he took his place he called, “There is a thing to have been accomplished.”
Instantly, every number present startled, first to attention, then to ready, their first hands poised in front of monitors and keyboards in preparation for their Chaptain’s next words.
Rapidly, he recited the sequence of numbers.
Nothing else was needed. Everyone understood what the order had implied.
A new flash. An unplanned-for flash.
Chaptain Butk placed one first hand on the porcelain workspace in front of him, pulling against the impulse to brace himself.
Initially, when the flash-drive was first devised, it had required that even the hardest-shelled numbers place themselves in protective constraints. Every egg on board had to be deposited into a specially designed stress chamber. The God Herself would have been surrounded by defensive partitions lest the pressures of flashing interrupt Her eternal task.
The drive had long since been perfected. All that was required was stillness, and even the service-numbers understood instinctively that when the flash-alert sounded, they were to stop, drop, and roll into an almost-but-not-quite sphere, leaving a narrow slit open for breathing. They would remain like that until the all-clear sounded.
It was different for the bridge crew, however. They were not allowed to roll since—to their higher-order brains—the movement seemed demeaning, beneath their dignity, too much like curling…
[“Space Opera: Episode Two—The Great Old One Strikes Back” by Michael R. Collings is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, on sale now!]