209

+++

I'd ended up going all out. A new Commander Chassis, designed to make full use of all the things I'd picked up since I'd developed the Asura Commander and its Festum Core variant.

Mark Nicht served as the main inspiration for the new Chassis, though by the time I was finished with the design, there wasn't all that much resemblance left.

Much like the Asura Chassis, this one was relatively thin, eschewing thick and heavy armour plates in favour of extreme manoeuvrability and powerful shields. Also like the Asura Chassis, and unlike Mark Nicht, its proportions were closer to humanoid, instead of having extremely long arms like Nicht. This one was a bit taller than the Asura, however, being a solid fifty meters in height.

Mark Nicht's wings, laser canisters, and propulsion system were all present, though modified to fit the aesthetic. The wings were slightly large, including another pair of spikes for a total of five on each side. Another set of joints had been added, allowing the wings to shift and fold, though aside from saving on space, it didn't serve much of a purpose besides looking cool. The canisters the wings attached to were also sleeker, more powerful too.

The legs and arms had a very wide range of motion, naturally, as did the rest of the Chassis.

While the Chassis did have fabricators and weapons built into both arms, I'd equipped it with hands instead of full blown arrays. Mostly, that was because it was unnecessary, as the psychic power that could be channelled through it would allow me to far and away eclipse what I could with those devices.

This Chassis was far more powerful than any of my others, in fact. Reason for that was simple; I'd taken a page out of Walker's and the Tatsumiya Mir's book. Both of them had transformed their cores into water and air, respectively, and hadn't actually lost any of their power in doing so.

I'd done similar, except instead of air and water, I'd shifted the photon-crystal into metal.

The entire Chassis was constructed out of transformed photon-crystal. Everything, from the armour, to the circuits, to the Resource Cores, to the sensors... All of it was transformed photon-crystal.

All that power, hidden in plain sight.

I called it the Denken Chassis. German name because you can't not have a German name when you're talking about Fafners, and the Denken was close enough to count.

Anyway, that was what I was showing up with.

Though I didn't simply show up out of the blue. I gave a slight warning; activating the Warp Chasm and leaving it open for five minutes before sending the Denken through, thus giving them enough time to react to the sudden activity in at least some minor manner.

But the moment those five minutes passed, I walked through.

It was night time on the world that hosted the Coalition Command Center. It was brighter than night would be on Earth, thanks to the twin stars in the system, but not all that much.

It was much colder than before, though. Seemed to be winter on this part of the planet. What else...

A considerable amount of psychic activity, probably from the Aeon Illuminate since the majority of it is happening near that compound. A whole bunch of units nearby, some designs I recognize, some I don't, with aesthetics from all three factions. Most were pointing their weapons at me, but none were firing, so... that was good, I guess.

The three compounds were larger, more expansive. Small cities rather than compounds, really. The center building was also bigger, having expanded both upwards and outwards. There was still elements of all three factions' aesthetics present, and they were, perhaps, a bit more pronounced now.

Neat.

I paused only a few steps away from the wormhole I'd come through, which faded away as the Warp Chasm disconnected again. I sent a communication request, following the protocols that I'd picked up twenty years ago.

Five seconds later, it was accepted.

A familiar voice came through. "This is Coalition Command, identify yourself."

I smiled. "Well, hello there Ivan."

+++

"Well, well, well. It's been quite some time, Crusader Rhiza." I smiled at the woman.

Aside from slightly more elaborate markings on her face, she hadn't changed. Her hair, lips, and eyes were still bright teal, though her clothing was more complex and bore more marks of station.

"Drich." All business, I see. "This is... unexpected."

I chuckled. "I'm sure. You're here to lead me, then?"

She nodded. "The Princess, Ivan Brackman, and President Hall have gathered."

"Well, we wouldn't want to keep them waiting, then."

"This way." She gestured, turning and beginning to work.

+++

Princess Burke hadn't changed a bit.

Ivan looked a bit older, with more developed and more pronounced cybernetics.

Hall actually looked better. The bags under his eyes had faded significantly, and he didn't seem completely dour anymore.

"You look like you finally had a good night's sleep." I couldn't help but comment.

A miracle happened when the man actually smiled. A small one, sure, but a smile. From William Hall.

"Drich." He greeted. "You haven't changed at all."

"I get that a lot." I nodded. I turned slightly, offering a smile at the Princess. "Elegant as always, Princess."

Her head tipped slightly, and I suddenly wondered what would happen if I were to introduce her to Altea.

The two were surprisingly similar.

"Greetings again, Drich." She offered a slight smile.

I grinned, before turning to Ivan. I made a slight show of looking over him, before speaking. "Doctor Brackman set you up for this, didn't he?"

"My father prefers science to politics." His tone was light. "And Commander Dostya proved very convincing."

I chuckled again. "Well, it's nice you're all doing well, then."

There was a moment of silence, before Ge- President Hall straightened up. "What brought you back?"

"Oh, nothing but curiosity." I waved off his concern, dispelling the serious air that had only just started forming. "I was interested in seeing how things were going with you all." I looked between the three of them. "And to chat, if you have the time."

210

+++

Things were going well for them. Nearly twenty years hadn't been able to get rid of the tension that had come from the Infinite War, but all three had been trying.

And, really, that was enough.

The Order and remaining Seraphim had been hunted down in the first decade. Even still, that shadow hung over the Coalition, and would probably continue to do so for the next few decades. An ACU was a potent thing, after all, more than enough to wage a war, and even if the Coalition had a lot of them, they couldn't be everywhere at once.

Hall was thinking about retiring. He was pretty old, though he could easily live for a very long time thanks to the genetic engineering the UEF had done. Only reason he hadn't retired yet was because he was still putting things back together.

He hadn't liked being put into politics, though he'd dealt with it because the alternative was war and genocide.

Ivan was the voice of the Cybran Nation, as much as the various factions of the Cybrans could be voiced. He also didn't particularly like politics, but he didn't dislike it, either. His implants made a lot of things easier for him, especially coupled with the respect that came from being a clone of Brackman, as well as being one of the frontliners against the Seraphim and QAI.

The Princess, of course, was born and raised with the expectation that she'd have to deal with politicking. She was fine with it. She also had the unwavering loyalty of her subjects, and the powers granted to her by The Way, so... she was fine.

I'd asked where Doctor Brackman was, they told me he was out halfway across the galaxy, doing research on some life-bearing planets.

Five hours later, I arrived at his doorstep. Metaphorically, of course, as he was based inside a ship. It didn't have the facilities to host the Denken inside, but that wasn't all that much of a problem. I'd simply left it floating outside of the ship, making a slow orbit alongside the ship itself.

Dostya was on a nearby moon, setting up the infrastructure required to build and run Quantum Gateways. The ship was more or less on the edge of known space.

Have to say, the good Doctor kept a pretty tricked out science lab. Lots of high tech implements around the place.

I leaned forwards, examining a creature behind a three inch thick sheet of glass. It looked pretty weird, like a furless, six-legged dog, with a serrated tail.

"Why'd you bring this aboard?" I turned around, facing the Doctor's hologram.

Courtesy of being a brain in a jar who interacted with others using holograms, he hadn't changed a bit.

"They possess an interesting neurochemistry, oh yes." He still had that chipper tune, too. "Which I am studying, as it is particularly efficient, in terms of energy usage."

"Taking inspiration from nature?" I asked.

"Oh yes." He nodded. "This could be the tip of the spear for a new avenue of development. Very interesting, oh yes."

"Heh." I smiled. "Well, good luck with that."

+++

Doctor Brackman hadn't been doing much else aside from that.

He was actually quite okay with that. The good doctor had been around since before the start of the Infinite War; this lifestyle of wandering around and examining things, poking and prodding to his heart's content... That suited him just fine.

Dostya was also doing quite well. She was accompanying the good doctor mostly because she felt she had a duty to him, but also because she preferred the quiet of unexplored space to the noise of the Cybran Core. Symbionts, by virtue of their very nature, were quite sensitive to pretty much every form of electromagnetic and quantum transmissions. While most of them had no problem whatsoever dealing with the extensive transmissions and networking that marked typical Cybran habitats, every now and then there was one or two who preferred not to deal with it.

Dostya had also gotten into fashion, at some point. As a designer, not a model.

Doctor Brackman had been so delighted.

Out of pure curiosity, I had decided to go around and check the galaxy. A disposable timeline, of course.

Didn't find too much of interest. Some species, all of whom still in the early stages of advancement, some Seraphim artifacts, mostly useless...

I did not find a certain terraformation device, which was something I was... moderately curious about. Ivan, after all, was only introduced in Supreme Commander 2, and both Dominic Maddox and Thalia Kael also existed, but if William Gauge existed, I couldn't find him.

Interesting stuff.

Well, whatever.

After that, I went back to the Coalition HQ. A couple goodbyes later, I sent the Denken through the Warp Chasm, and then closed it off again.

I had no reason to stick around for too long, after all.

After checking in on everybody, all I had left to do was simply settle down and wait.

Well.

Here we go.

+++

2019:

March 19: The day that Humanity learned that it is, without a doubt, not alone in the universe.

March 27: After one full week of petitioning, a request to acquire a sample from the crystalline mass near Brisbane is finally approved.

April 2: After several days of no success, scientists declare that 'The stupid thing may as well be unbreakable. It's taunting us.'.

April 28: After over a month of continuous failures, the petition is withdrawn. Scientists conclude that anything short of a nuclear weapon won't even scratch it, after everything short of a nuclear weapon fails to scratch it.

May 5: A health survey of Brisbane reveals that, since the crystal crashed on Earth, the rate of injuries has dropped by 15%, 38% of people claim to feel more well rested, cancer rates have dropped by 26%, and general healthiness has gone up by 32%. These results are confirmed, independently, by fourteen more surveys over the course of the month. Sales of 'healing' crystals go up by 8000%.

June 20: Another survey reveals that over 90% of Brisbane's population is capable of pointing towards the crystal with an accuracy of 99.99%. Additional tests reveal that this ability continues even when a subject is disorientated, placed in a homogenous room, blindfolded, and given no frame of reference. This excites scientists the world over, mostly on the implications of how that was possible.

July 12: Further study into the detection ability shows that accuracy degrades with distance, but, even one thousand kilometers away, 90% of the population can still point it out with only a 10% margin of error. This leads to theories that the crystal is outputting some form of energy that is undetectable to instruments, but which Humans are capable of sensing on some level.

July 23: A baby in Brisbane is born with glowing cyan eyes. It is the first of eighteen babies born that day with such features.

211

+++

The thing about psychic energy is that, when one is exposed to it enough, one tends to develop their own measure of psychic power. In most, this will be so insignificant that it might as well not exist, but, to the young, the developing, and those with particularly adaptable minds, the effect will be more pronounced. There are ways to awaken psychic power in anyone, but simple exposure?

Exposing a fetus to psychic energy over the course of its development was one of the easiest ways to do it. The last four to five months of development are critical, then. The unborn would develop, constantly exposed to the raw power of the mind, and as such?

Their minds, too, would gain a measure of that power.

Not all. I was releasing a fair amount of psychic energy, yes, but not all that much, really. Combined with the fact that Humanity, as a species that had, until then, had no experience or contact with psychic forces, it would be a while before any significant percentage of the population would be born psychic.

It would take decades until they stopped being so small in numbers as to be within a rounding error.

But of course.

Humanity didn't know that.

+++

July 24: The world reels from the developments of yesterday. Preliminary investigations into the matter of babies with extraordinary features reveals no apparent source, nor any apparent consequences.

Genetically and structurally, the babies are 100% Human. The only way to identify them is by their eye colour and glow. Colours have been observed to cross the entire visible spectrum, ranging from colours normally impossible for humans, such as bright pink or yellow, to colours that are common, such as brown or blue. The glow is much more constant; near invisible under normal circumstances, but in low light circumstance, trails of light, and faint illumination, become visible.

Some babies are given up, but most are kept by their families.

Dozens of groups form, both for and against the changes. Those against claim that the babies are unnatural. Those for would wonder why that was a bad thing.

Debates rage, and will continue to rage for years.

July 25: Continuing studies show that the glow operates completely independent of any energy intake or outcome. The babies, in fact, eat and sleep less on average, though only by 3.4%.

August 1: Statistics are gathered and released. It is found that approximately one in twenty babies in Brisbane are born with extraordinary traits. Brisbane remains the only city where children with extraordinary traits appear.

Scientists complain about not having an easy name for the group.

August 21: First confirmed telekinetic event from the Brisbane Babies. Sales of robes and wizard hats increases 3000% overnight.

The event, caught on camera, shows a baby reaching for a piece of paper, only for the piece to come to her. The parents, in the background, look at each other in concern, before the father pulls out a lock and begins putting glasses in a box.

A later interview would state that: "It happened before, this is just the first time we've caught it on camera.".

The scientific community is split between groaning, at the existence of psychic powers being confirmed, and therefore the idea that physics is not as they knew it, and joy, at the exact same thing.

Subsequently, the scientific community would speculate that the crystal actually was releasing some unknown form of energy; specifically psychic energy, the presence of it had resulted in the Brisbane Babies, as witnessed.

In the wake of this, Brisbane sees a massive influx of travellers and visitors, as well as a large departure of many long time residents. The net population grows considerably regardless.

November 12: The existence of telepathy is speculated, with much supporting evidence. Brisbane Babies are observed to react to each other despite being outside of both visual and auditory ranges. Hard supporting evidence will not come for another year.

2020:

April 1: '4/20 Blaze It' jokes increase 9001%.

June 12: Kevin Shepard marries Allison Jones.

November 13: Confirmation of telepathic abilities occurs. Kim Lee, a Brisbane Baby, repeats the words of the parents of Joana Smith, her neighbor. Subsequent tests demonstrated similar ability.

December 6: The first child more than one hundred kilometers away from the crystal with extraordinary traits is born. Subsequently, the 'Brisbane Baby' label comes under fire, and all children are re-designated as 'ESPers'.

2021:

July 25: Michael Sullivan, father of Howard Sullivan, ESPer, makes public a series of videos showing his talks with his child, gathered over the last month.

Most of them go over his abilities, and what his life is like. The last video of the set, however, garners incredible public interest, as it concerns the Brisbane crystal.

+++

"Dreamy?" Howard looks up, cheeks puff out.

"You call the crystal dreamy?" Michael asks.

Howard nods. "Sarah says it's 'Dreamer', but Sarah's bossy, so I call Dreamy Dreamy."

"Why do you call it that?" Michael asks again.

"Dreamy dreams all the time." Howard answers. "Sometimes, me and the others get Dreamy's dream when we sleep, instead of ours."

Michael's eyebrow raised. "What happens in... Dreamy's dreams?"

"Dreamy has a lot of toys, so we play with them. Dreamy won't play with us, though. Dreamy said Dreamy would like to, but Dreamy can't." Howard frowns, looking at his crayon before putting it down and getting another. "Dreamy hurts. Dreamy said Dreamy had to sleep in order to get better, but Dreamy doesn't feel much better even though Dreamy sleeps all the time. Dreamy said it would take a really long time."

Michael is silent for a few seconds. "Huh. Did Dreamy tell you anything else?"

"Dreamy says a lot of things. Weird things. Dreamy did say that Dreamy liked us, though. Dreamy also told us how Dreamy got hurt, but I don't really get it. Dreamy said that Dreamy did something Dreamy shouldn't have, but Dreamy did it because a lot of other people would have been hurt if Dreamy didn't do it."

"Ah." Michael frowns. "I think that you'll understand when you're older."

"Dreamy said that, to." Howard shot a look at his father.

"Well, you are two."

"Two and two days." Howard pouts. "That's older."

Michael chuckles.

The video clicks off a short moment later.

212

+++

How easily things can fall into place.

A video like that is both confirmation and speculation. A two year old child is hardly the best possible source of information, but when it's about a matter such as this, a matter which had, until then, teasingly avoided any revelation...

Well, it paints things in a certain light.

Confirmation is simple: the creature, which had been seen to sacrifice itself to spare them, had itself told another that it was injured and needed to sleep in order to heal. A perfectly neat explanation for its continued inaction, even years later.

The specific wording of it implied an even greater sacrifice. The creature did something that it shouldn't have in order to spare others, making it seem even more noble.

After years of nothing, this is the first thing they learn of it. It even comes with a simple name: The Dreamer, named by Humanity's most extraordinary children.

How easily opinions can shift. How easily approval can come. It is is impossible to convince everybody, of course. Some people are too stuck in their ways, some are too distrustful, and some simply don't care.

But most are convinced.

The revelation, however, has come. After two and half years of silence, they learn that the Dreamer can, in fact, speak. That it can only speak through children changes nothing.

Somebody gets a bright idea. They contact the parents of dozens of psychic children, and ask them to ask their children what else the Dreamer can tell them.

Some take up the offer. Some are direct, others are indirect, and most of the time, the children don't remember to do it when they can-

But some do.

And they can tell their parents. And their parents can tell the world.

And the world, slowly, begins to learn.

The first question a child remembers to ask is simple.

Why are they different?

It is not a sensitive question, really, but that was after it had been given to the child, not before. The original question had been 'why can the children do the things that others can't', which wasn't a bad question, as far as they went.

It's a start.

+++

"Dreamer said it was because of Dreamer." Sarah said. Her lips are pursed in an adorably imperious expression. "Dreamer said Dreamer has power, which Dreamer would keep inside Dreamer, but Dreamer can't, because Dreamer is sleeping, so it leaks out. Dreamer said that because we were around it a lot before we were born, we got our own power. Dreamer said that there more of us there were, the more there would be, but isn't that the same thing?"

"Not quite." Hellen, Sarah's mother, answers. Her voice is quiet, considering.

"Mom?" Sarah asks after a moment.

"Yes dear?"

"What does 'born' mean?"

"Uh... I'll... tell you when you're older."

"Mom!"

+++

The second is an attempt at clarification. What did I mean, exactly, that there would be more of them as there were more of them.

+++

"Dreamer said that it was Dreamer's power which gave us our power. Dreamer said that our power would give others power. The more of us there were, the faster it would happen. Dreamer said that everyone will be born with it, one day. Dreamer said that day was a long time away, though."

+++

The third was equally simple.

It was also the most horrifying.

'What was it that you were fighting?'

A child of two cannot truly appreciate the horror.

Relayed from the child, however...

Well, in a way, it is even more horrifying. A child's description of the Reapers, and what they do... It is simplistic.

Somebody older, hearing it, would fill in the gaps with their own imaginings. A more personal type of horror, that.

+++

"Dreamy said it was a bad thing. Dreamy said it lived only to hurt others. Dreamy said that they don't hurt people because they want to, though. Dreamy says they don't have a choice. They have to hurt others, and then they have to take the people they hurt and make them into more bad things. They're scary, and Dreamy said there's a lot of them, but Dreamy has made a lot of them go away so they won't hurt others anymore."

Howard frowns at his crayon. "How do you make people into something else, though? Dreamy said I'd understand when I was older, but you can tell me, right? Dad?"

Michael, pallid, smiles at his son. "I don't think I quite understand it myself."

"You're scared?" Howard's head tilted to the side. "Dreamy said they were scary, but to you, too?" He frowns, shaking his head. "Don't be scared. Dreamy promised that Dreamy would keep us safe from them. Dreamy always keeps promises."

+++

And with a single conversation, the world learns that it will not always like the things it learns.

The cosmos is not safe, and there are things out to get them.

+++

August 3: A quiet panic sweeps the world in the wake of the video. Theories regarding the Dreamer's enemy appear from all walks of life. The general consensus is that the enemy is a part of an aggressive homogenizing swarm, though other suggestions remain.

Regardless, public demands, combined with the knowledge that there are hostile forces outside of Earth that would not hesitate to destroy them, leads to many nations beginning to engage in talks about the problem.

Over the course of the next few years, most nations would place much more funding in space agencies as a direct result.

The simple fact of the matter, however, is that there isn't much Humanity can do about the problem.

Not yet.

+++

There's no kick in the ass quite like the realization that you are not, in fact, the best thing since sliced bread. It can be an incredible motivator, if used correctly.

The idea that there were existentially hostile forces out in the universe that were more powerful and more numerous than them was not an idea that most species could stand. Humanity, of course, was included in that number. Us versus Them, with one dying and the other living...

These periods of time tend to lead to a lot of development. Technological, industrial, cultural... Not always positive, yes.

Well, regardless, the point was simple.

Humanity now knew that, if it wanted to survive in a hostile cosmos, it needed to be more. More people, more industry, more technology, more, more, more...

The choice is simple. Stand down and die, or rise up and fight.

Not a difficult choice at all.

212.5 (Snapshots)

+++

Demark: So do we live in a science fiction universe or a cosmic horror one?

MaliceInWanderland: Obviously cosmic horror. Angry black cosmic squid thing should have made that obvious.

Delimiter: C'mon, guys, this is obviously a Shonen/Seinen. A weird glowing alien thing fought a dark, evil, red alien squid thing, got knocked into a coma doing so, crashed on our planet, and then Humans started to get weird powers. Glowy alien becomes an object of study/reverence, tells Humans that there are more dangerous bad squid things out in the universe, and we now have to deal with that with our new weird abilities.

Sally: I think it's a romance.

+++

"Let us follow the Dreamer's example! It gave itself in order to protect us! We must be worthy of it!

Show your kindness! Help those who need it! Show the world that the Dreamer chose correctly!"

- Excerpt from a sermon of the unofficial Church of the Dreamer

+++

"FUCK CUTTLEFISH! I KNEW THOSE LITTLE BASTARDS WERE EVIL! THEIR BIG BASTARD COUSINS ARE TRYING TO KILL US, SO WE SHOULD KILL THEM FIRST! DO YOU HEAR ME?!

Wait, what are you doing with thaAAAGH-"

- Last words of self-proclaimed 'Head Priest of the Church for the Destruction of Cuttlefish, right before being tased and arrested for disturbing public peace.

+++

"You idiot sleepers, you're going to get us all killed! The Dreamer is an abomination! We should kill it while we have the chance!

Wake up, sheep!"

- Rhetoric from a man claiming to be a part of an anti-Dreamer group known as the 'Awoken', later arrested for attempted acts of domestic terrorism.

+++

"So who do you think would win in a fight between the Dreamer and Superman?"

- First post in a thirty page long shitstorm.

+++

"Oh god not again."

- Second post in a thirty page long shitstorm.

+++

"[A 'what would win' meme with two pictures. The left one is a stylized representation of a human brain, with many equations floating around it, captioned as 'the entirety of Human knowledge on physics, chemistry, and other sciences, discovered over thousands of years of research'. The right one is an image of the Dreamer, captioned 'Something glowy thing showing up on a tuesday'.']

[A gif of the Dreamer, with a trollface pasted on it, dodging shots from the aggressor, which has a rageface pasted on it.]

[A gif of the Dreamer fighting the aggressor, except the aggressor's beams have been edited to show 'my responsibilities', while the Dreamer has the word 'Me' floating above it.]

[A video showing the entirety of the Dreamer's and the Aggressor's visible fight, except it has had laser noises from various sci-fi included.]

[A video of the entire time the Aggressor chased the Dreamer, with Yakety Sax playing in the background and slowly getting louder as they get closer to Earth.]

With the discovery of alien life comes alien memes."

- Blog post, dated two days after the Dreamer and the Aggressor first appeared.

+++

"[A video of a man smiling while sitting at a table, while objects, and two identical children, float around him chaotically. The children are saying 'dad' repeatedly.]

This is fine."

- Single father of two ESPers.

+++

"There are stories of creatures beyond Human comprehension, for whom contact with would change Humanity forever. One shudders to imagine the sheer havoc that such a creature could wreak, what power it possesses, and what it could do merely by accident.

It is quite fortunate that the Dreamer seems to like us, don't you think?"

- Excerpt from a magazine article, The End of the World as we know it

213

+++

2023:

October 12: A group of six ESPers attempt to talk to the Dreamer while remaining awake. All of them fail.

The attempt, however, reveals that the crystal structure of the Dreamer reacts to psychic energy. This makes psychic energy the only known thing in the existence that can affect the crystal at all.

Debates immediately begin to rage about what to do with this information, as attempting to interfere with the structure might cause the Dreamer to react negatively, debates which are ended three hours later after an ESPer wakes up from an afternoon nap, and tells their parents that they'd talked with the Dreamer, who told him that the Dreamer wouldn't particularly care if they took a few pieces of the crystal from it.

October 13: A group of ten ESPers attempts to remove a fragment of the crystal. Two hours of floundering later, one of them finally stumbles upon the method of reliably interacting with the crystal, and manages to sever a thirty-three centimeter long piece of it from the main mass. The missing fragment regrows over the course of eight seconds.

After sharing the method, each ESPer breaks of their own pieces, all of which regrow shortly. After asking if they keep them, seven of the ESPers break off a second piece, and keep the first.

October 15: Days of intense study reveal several interesting things.

First: The apparent immutability the Dreamer crystal demonstrates does not, in fact, apply to the smaller fragments. This leads scientists to theorize that the complete inability affect it previously was in fact the result of a defence mechanism of some sort.

Second: The crystals generate physical reactions in response to the presence of psychic energy. When exposed to ambient psychic, they vibrate. The more energy they are exposed to, the more intensely they do so. Regardless, it still occurs at a level far below Human ability to notice.

This property would directly lead to the creation of the first psychic energy detector and measurement devices, as the vibration is capable of being detected by precise equipment.

Third: The crystals are capable of causing a number of anomalous effects, and they also demonstrate a number of anomalous properties. When given to ESPers who are told to play with it, they have been shown to be capable of emitting electromagnetic energy, distorting gravity, generate more crystalline matter apparently from nothing, and, in one notable case, create glowing material that bares extreme resemblance to the Dreamer's previous form.

Subsequent analysis of the third and fourth reveal that the third is not actually the same type of crystal as the fragments, while the fourth, after being removed from the fragment, loses its glow and becomes a mass of completely normal silicon.

The ESPer who produced that result comments that it felt like it was full of psychic energy, but then it was removed and became empty, so it stopped being strange.

October 19: After nearly a week of continuous study, scientists finally feel confident enough to say that the crystal probably shouldn't actually exist. According to the researchers: 'On a molecular level, this stuff just looks like a bunch of photons bound together by what is probably just more psychic bullshit'.

November 21: An ESPer manages to make their crystal self replicate after a month of fiddling with it. The method is quickly shared, and extraction of fragments from the Dreamer is subsequently stopped.

With this, scientists also conclude that the crystals actually function as some form of amplifier for normal psychic abilities, and their apparent limits, therefore, are related more to the skill of the psychic who's using them rather than anything else. This theory is confirmed by the Dreamer, two days afterwards.

2024:

January 27: First birth of an ESPer more than one hundred and fifty kilometers away from the Dreamer crystal. In Brisbane, the average percentage of the population being born as ESPers reaches 7%.

February: An attempt to map and measure the psychic energy released by the Dreamer sees the mass deployment of psychic energy detectors in Brisbane and surrounding area.

This leads to the subsequent discovery that psychic energy can, and does, concentrate in certain areas. According to measurements, psychic energy within one hundred meters of the Dreamer is over forty times denser than psychic energy one hundred and fifty kilometers away.

According to observations, density appears to have no appreciable effect on the psychic strength of ESPers born within the field. In fact, all ESPers are observed to be born with a measure of psychic power within approximately 3.4% of each other. Psychic power, however, grows with time and training.

Attempts to measure the power of the Dreamer itself fail; Psy-crystal, when placed into contact with the Dreamer, simply stops vibrating. The sheer amount of ambient energy it releases, however, hints at the true depths of its capacity, as the ambient energy released by ESPers can be thousands of times lower than their actual ability.

April: First successful terrorist strike on the Dreamer. A man, notable for being a part of a heavily Anti-Dreamer group known as the Awoken, crashes a plane on the Dreamer Crystal. No harm is done, as the plane simply stopped upon coming into contact with the Dreamer Crystal, both the occupants and plane completely unharmed.

It takes four hours to remove the plane safely, as it remained at an almost 45% degree angle from where it had touched the Dreamer Crystal, defying gravity, inertia, and force easily.

According to one witness: "It was like watching the damned loony tunes. Plane's coming in, hits the thing, and then just stops. I think the crane they removed it with scratched it up more than the impact. Absolutely hilarious."

The man is arrested in the aftermath.

September: An attempt to steal a fragment of psy-crystal succeeds, leading to the arrest of three individuals for breaking and entering, and the escape of the fourth. Subsequent investigations into the group reveal connections with multiple anti-Dreamer groups. A manhunt starts for the final member of the group, identified as Evangeline Harper.

She is located only a few hours later, when she drives a car through a barricade surrounding the Dreamer and subsequently crashes into it. Guards immediately attempt to arrest her, though this is complicated when she reveals an IED containing the stolen psy-crystal fragment. When more police and guards arrive, she panics, and detonates the device by accident, severely injuring herself and eight others.

All are quickly taken to the hospital.

214

+++

A tricky part in guiding a civilization is moderation.

Well, to be more specific; moderation is easy. Teaching moderation is more difficult.

I had, by the simple action of not restraining my power, altered the course of Humanity, and gifted them with power of their own. Through letting them acquire photon-crystal, I had given them the means to enhance both their powers, and themselves.

I had, for all intents and purposes, given them access to some of the greatest tools in my arsenal.

And while they couldn't wield it with anything even approaching the ease with I did so, while they possessed a capacity that may as well not have existed next to my own-

The fact remained.

I was responsible for that.

Giving them such a gift, while not making sure they had the restraint to make proper use of it: That was the Masari's mistake, one I did not intend to repeat.

I didn't want Humanity to go out into the galaxy and conquer everything just because they could, or because they lusted for power, or resources, or whatever else.

I did not want another Hierarchy.

It is easier than it might seem, thanks to the specifics of the situation. Continuous exposure to my power has lead to continuous development of the abilities of the ESPers. The two most developed abilities are simple; telepathy and empathy.

As young as they are, they were constantly reaching out to each other, and those around them. Humanity as whole have already noticed; the children pick up new behaviours startling quickly, and they are very sensitive to the emotions of those around them. To the parents, it was a mixed blessing. An unexpected surge of emotion can upset the ESPers, but they are also easily calmed down when they pick up on the parent's own calm.

When they connect with each other, though... Then it reaches another level entirely. A group of ESPers can have entire conversations without saying even a word. Their ability to cooperate extends dramatically, as they instinctively send and receive information on what the other is doing.

There were lots of ESPers in Brisbane. So many, in fact, with their telepathic abilities overlapping and amplifying upon each other, that a primitive psychic network had emerged. Small, insignificant, and almost worthless at the moment, but in time...

Well.

It would grow. As would they.

All that considered?

I did not interfere very much. I typically did not need to. Even when I did, it was usually just to avert a bigger problem in the future, mostly through subtle methods like a traffic delay.

This was the first time I would be acting in an overt manner. One that would be noticed by Humanity.

I had no part in setting up the events that led to this, I'll note.

Save, perhaps, letting it happen in the first place, where I otherwise might not have.

Well, regardless, I let it happen. Nine people found themselves with fragments of photon-crystal embedded in their bodies. One was going to be classified as a terrorist. The other eight were a mix of guards, police, and a scientist who happened to be on night shift.

Why let it happen?

Presentation, and perception, were important.

And it was time that Humanity got some more concrete answers than what five year old children could relay.

So I let it happen. And I waited; until an explosion sent fragments into all eight, until all eight had fallen unconscious, their minds in a similar state, and the shards inside their bodies filled to the brim with my own psychic energy.

And then:

I reached out.

I pulled.

And eight people opened their eyes to find themselves within a dream.

+++

His eyes opened.

And-

Everything was weird. An endless blue sea stretched below him, his clothes hanging loose without the pull of gravity.

He was Michael Evens. Security guard to the Dreamer's Bed.

And only a moment ago-

He jerked, hand rushing to his chest. Where there should have been a blinding pain, and chunks of metal and crystal, there was simple cloth.

"What?"

"Michael?" A voice asked. Familiar enough that he placed it right away. He turned his head, and saw the person who had spoken.

"Tom..." He breathed a sigh of relief. A fellow guard. A good friend. "Where-"

"Hi!" A face suddenly stuck itself in front of him, making him recoil with a shout of surprise.

It was-

It was a child. A giggling, upside down child, with glowing eyes.

ESPer.

"Marcus..." Another voice spoke. Michael turned his head as best he could, spotting a man wearing a heavy jacket. Han Grant, scientist.

"Hello, Mister G!" The ESPer called, turning easily.

"Why are you upside down?" Han asked, frowning.

"I'm not upside down." The child smiled.

Han looked up. So did Michael. He saw ground. Trees and grass. And several other ESPer children.

He looked down. The endless blue sea was, in fact, an endless blue sky.

Which meant he was in the air.

"SHI-" He flailed his arms, gravity only now deciding to make itself known. Other shouts, and laughter, followed him.

The ground came closer with alarming speed, and he closed his eyes, waiting for impact.

He felt-

He felt a thump. The sensation of hitting something, but-

There was no pain.

Somehow.

After a moment, he opened his eyes. Clear blue stared back, wonderfully solid ground beneath him.

The laughter continued. He sat up, and looked towards it.

The ESPers. Some giggling, some outright laughing.

He looked around. The world seemed so normal, except it clearly wasn't.

He and Han weren't the only adults present. There were six others, for a total of eight. He recognized them all- everybody here had been involved in the mess with that crazy woman with a bomb.

Well, except the children of course, but-

"What is happening?"

"'Dunno." Marcus shrugged. "There's never been this many people in here, before. Never any adults, either."

"'In here'?" Han questioned. "Marcus, is this place what I think it is?"

"Yes." A new voice rang. Deep, but also soft, and resonating oddly, but not unpleasant altogether.

He turned, slowly.

The voice's owner was... what he had expected.

Smaller than he would have thought, but still three or four times taller than him. Its form was beautiful, in a hauntingly alien way; the core of its body was long and thin, though it buldged slightly at the top, middle, and bottom. Two 'arms' hung from the top, connected alongside two pairs of 'wings', and two more pairs of long 'streamers'. The entire body glowed in a soft blue colour, the colour changing only slightly over different parts of the body, enough to make it distinguishable, at least.

There was nobody who wouldn't be able to recognize this being.

The Dreamer.

215

+++

And so...

The world learned.

All of them woke up the next day, unharmed. All of them woke up simultaneously, with the shards of psy-crystal ejected from their bodies, inert.

That alone was clue enough that something strange had been going on. When the ESPer children finally got around to telling the adults what happened, well...

The information spread quickly. All of a sudden, there were eight adults who had spoken to the Dreamer.

Everybody wanted to know what had been said.

The eight who I had spoken to were... quite willing to tell, too, on account of the content.

Specifically?

I told them about the Reapers.

In all the gory details.

And in turn, they told the world. Raw, unfiltered, not echoed through a child.

The world learned several things that day.

First, it learned that the Reapers were more numerous than ever imagined; trillions strong, each one a towering mass of murderous metal.

Second, it learned the details on how they were created, each one a horrific mutilation of hundreds of thousands to millions.

Third, it learned the fate of those that sought to follow them; becoming a Husk, twisted, slowly, by perverse cybernetics into something cruel. None were spared forever, only temporarily.

Fourth, it learned of Indoctrination, the Reaper's subtle weapon against civilizations, to take people and twist the mind into a husk, instead of the body.

Fifth, it learned that Humanity was already a target. Nothing would change that; in time, the Reapers would come for them, too.

Sixth, it learned that the Dreamer had declared them an enemy. An anathema, something that could not be allowed to survive, for the good of all life itself.

Seventh, it learned that these beings were called 'Harvesters'.

Eighth, it learned that there was approximately one hundred and fifty to two hundred years before the Reapers arrived in force.

Ninth, it learned that the Dreamer had no intention of allowing Humanity to die.

Tenth, it learned that that power they were starting to inherit was a power forbidden to the Reapers. They did not, and could not, possess it.

Eleventh, and last, it learned that survival, and, indeed, victory, was entirely possible- so long as Humanity was willing to work together for it.

I'll make a note here; telling them all this was as much a way to light a fire under Humanity's collective ass as it was to get them some real answers.

I'll also note that it was more effective than even I had intended.

+++

2024:

Late April: All individuals who were harmed during the terrorist attack heal over the course of three hours, surprising medical personnel, wounds reknitting and crystal shards pushing their way out of their bodies, leaving them unharmed. The sole exception is Evangeline Harper, who heals just enough to no longer be in a life-threatening condition.

At the fourth hour, all individuals wake up, again excepting Evangeline Harper.

The news breaks in less than ten minutes, and the public is very shortly made aware of what happened, what had been said, and who told it to them. ESPer confirmation comes later, but it comes all the same.

Public response, as one may expect, is panicked. It is the first true confirmation of what had, until then, only been speculated or told through the mouths of children.

Early May: Growing public and private demand leads to a UN meeting on how best to deal with the Harvester threat. Talks will take several more months, and agreements several more years, but it will all eventually culminate in the creation of a supranational group backed by almost every nation on the planet.

The group will become known as 'The Assembly'. Its actual name is significantly longer and far less catchy.

The group's mandate is to ensure the continued survival of Humanity against all threats that may come.

The Assembly will subsequently scout and recruit many of Humanity's best and brightest, bringing in scientists, engineers, and more from all walks of life.

October: After several months of a slow integration, NASA is assimilated into the Assembly, forming the core of its aerospace arm. With access to a far greater budget, the pace that rocketry and all assorted technology is developed quickens dramatically.

Over the next several years, several more prominent space agencies are subsumed into the Assembly.

2025:

March: A fusion reactor prototype exceeds expectations and returns a considerable energy profit. The Assembly recruits the designers and sets them on improving the prototype for general use. The project goes forward under the name of 'Project Prometheus'.

November: First confirmed teleportation incident by an ESPer. At six years and four months old, Marie Holl becomes the first Human to ever teleport.

She cannot repeat the act, to her dismay and her parents' relief.

2026:

The Assembly's Space Arm announces plans for the construction of an orbital space station. It is named 'Stepping Point'.

The Stepping Point is intended to sit at the Earth-Moon Lagrange 1 point, where it will serve as a gateway to colonising the Moon.

2027:

After two years of work and development, Project Prometheus bears fruit, and successfully develops a commercially viable fusion reactor, with an expected output that far surpasses any concurrent fission reactor.

Construction of a reactor begins shortly, a project which is expected to complete by 2030.

2028:

First ESPer more than five hundred kilometers away from Brisbane is born.

In Brisbane, ESPer births reaches as high as 10% of all babies.

2030:

World's first commercial fusion reactor comes online. Its yearly output will supply nearly a fifteenth of China's entire energy needs.

Many additional power plants are subsequently planned. Analysts state that the world could enjoy cheap, extensive energy as shortly as 2040, if more power plants are constructed.

2031:

Breakthroughs in robotics leads to semi-autonomous, reliable, and cheap machines. Automation beings to extend dramatically.

First confirmed healing event. An ESPer is able to cause a regenerative effect on a wounded man, healing cuts, removing bruises, and restoring lost blood.

The ability rapidly spreads as the ESPer teaches as many as he can.

2032:

First confirmed astral projection event. The ESPer is able to successfully replicate the ability.

Later study shows that the ESPer's body falls into a coma-like state, with only minimal and automatic brain activity occurring while the Esper is projecting. It raises new questions on the nature of consciousness.

Two weeks later, an ESPer sleeps in class while he projects, keeping notes and participating regardless. He remarks that he has never felt so well-rested, earning the burning jealousy of college students everywhere.

2033:

Growing automation leads to a number of effects in the economy. The Assembly, having seen it coming, launches a number of programs to help those who lost their jobs or livelihood, lessening the impact.

2035:

The Stepping Point finishes construction. Larger, somewhat spindly, and mostly self-sufficient, the station is set to provide the important staging area for future colonisation efforts.

2037:

First ESPer more than one thousand kilometers away from Brisbane is born. ESPer birth rates are now reaching 18%.

2039:

First ESPer astronaut enters space. Her abilities make her a much loved member of the team very quickly.

2040:

Breakthroughs in genetic therapy and genetic engineering lead to treatments that can eliminate the vast majority of cancers, and shortly thereafter, a significant number of other diseases. The

average health of Humanity skyrockets over the course of the next few years.

2044:

First ESPer born to an ESPer parent. The baby does not deviate significantly from the norm.

2046:

First phase of Lunar Colonisation completes, with ground-side power, construction, hydroponics, and mining now active. The base supports a population of 52, and is fully self-sufficient. Phase two will expand the base to 300 active personnel.

2047:

First ESPer, with both parents being normal humans, more than two thousand kilometers away from Brisbane is born. ESPer birth percentages now approach 35%.

2049:

Harvester forces attack the Dreamer.

216

+++

I had never intended to keep the Dreamer laying around. It was useful, in the beginning and as a guide, but I didn't want to keep it around forever.

I had not intended to get rid of it so early, however. The original plan had called for it to be taken out in 2062, but then...

Well, divergences. The power to see the future... Or, rather, the power to see the potential futures, and bring them forth. That was the key of it; potential.

The future that had come about was one where Humanity had gotten everything together faster than I had expected. I knew it would happen, but things kept going well, kept coming together in just the right way, even when I wasn't acting.

I had nothing to do with the fusion reactor that led to Project Prometheus. It was an accident that it had returned such an investment of energy.

An accident that had knocked off eight months on Project Prometheus developing. An accident that had taken two years off of commercially viable fusion reactors.

It was among the better possible futures that could have come to pass. Among the best, in truth, with only a handful that could have resulted in a better result. The future that I had expected to happen, the more common one, was one without that accident.

The Assembly being formed in so short a time? Also among the best.

It was... consistent. Things were just going Humanity's way. Luck here, decisions there.

I knew why it was happening. A simple thing.

The psychic network. It was larger now, having grown both in strength and in complexity from the days when it had only just begun forming. Even so, ESPers were only barely aware of it, but that would change, in time.

The point was; that network...

Hell of a thing, really. Originally, it linked only the ESPers, only those that contributed to it, but now? Now, it could resonate with more than those ESPers. Now, it resonated, on a very, very primal level, with all of Humanity.

To be a psychic is to have the ability to impose one's will upon the universe. The psychic network is not at that level, but it could reflect desires, goals.

In recent years, Humanity had desired progress, growth, cooperation. The network had reflected this. Hence?

The universe reflected this.

The futures that came to be where the ones where progress, growth, and cooperation would be brought about.

...

These formative years... are going to define them for the rest of their existence. At the core of this network, there was those ideals. Progress, growth, cooperation. There would be deviants, yes, and it was far from omnipotent, yes, but it was truth regardless.

It would set itself as the foundation, once the network reached maturation. Once Humanity became truly aware of it, of just how interconnected they now were, once Humanity was mostly psychic...

That will be the day.

...

Well, I digress.

It was 2049. It was 13 years earlier than intended, but now?

Now it was time for the final stage of the plan.

Step one; borrow some Reapers.

Easy enough. I take them straight from the rest of the armada, modifying memories as I do. To the other Reapers, this group that vanishes had never been there to begin with; they were a task force dedicated to hunting down the Dreamer.

The story is simple.

Sovereign vanishes. The task force attempts to find him. They discover its last known location.

They go.

They find an active Mass Relay. They pass through. They see the system; and on the third planet, they see a mass of crystal two kilometers wide. Unsecured data transmissions reveal the past, and they know, then, that this is the enemy.

They launch their attack. A massive alpha strike, an attempt to end it quickly, before the Dreamer could react. They leap into FTL, firing their beams near simultaneously when they leave it. Enhanced by the potent mass lightening fields, the particle beams are travelling at velocities that would see them crack continents.

I had taken a small amount of Reapers, but small is relative. There are hundreds of billions of Reapers. The force that I have taken is a million strong.

Each and every single one of them has fired at the Dreamer, concentrating enough energy upon a single target that, if it had hit, it would have cracked the mantle of the planet like an egg, rendering the world uninhabitable in short order.

Needless to say, it doesn't hit.

A shield snaps in place the scarcest moment before the Reapers arrive. It stretches across the skies, wrapping the planet in a blue shell of protection. When the particle beams hit, these shields spark so brightly that night turns to day as a second sun appears in the sky; the energy release contained as a wave ripples across the shield, heading around the planet.

One moment, it was calm and peaceful. The next, everything goes crazy. A faint blue light permeates the atmosphere, night turns to day, psychic energy detectors across the planet go wild, and every single ESPer on the planet simply, and very suddenly, stops.

They have no trouble feeling as the Dreamer rouses itself, slipping from sleep into waking. The weight of its mind settles like a comforting blanket, enough that even those who aren't sensitive to psychic abilities can feel it on some level or another.

All too quickly, they start again. I can feel the panic that now begins to drive them. They're smart enough to know why the Dreamer would do this. Those who are closer reach out, a multitude of voices calling for the Dreamer.

The older ones come shortly, teleporting in.

"Dreamer!" They say. "Who/Is it/What happened/Why?"

"The Harvesters." I respond. An image drifts across; a million Reapers, above this world. They recoil, as I expect them to. "Worry not. No harm will come to you." I assure them.

"But-" They say. "You're still hurt/You haven't healed/Your recovery isn't complete."

"True." I say. "But I'll not let them harm you."

They protest, but it's too late. With not another word, the Dreamer leaves to fight.

217

+++

"Dreamer!" He shouts, both physically and mentally, but the Dreamer is already gone. Physically, that is; the massive crystal structure vanishing with the signature of teleportation.

He was Marcus. ESPer, among the oldest.

He had lived for thirty years with the Dreamer's quiet and sleeping presence nearby. Today was the first time he had ever known what it was like for things to not be that way.

He didn't like it.

He stared at the sky, rippling waves of blue pulsing across it. The Dreamer's power hung heavy in the air, every breath charged with energy. It was warm, like a blanket.

"Dreamer..." He murmured.

The Dreamer was awake. Something that seemed like a dream itself, ironically, but the truth. It would have been a good thing, except...

Except it was too early. The Dreamer had not yet healed.

He could feel it, underneath the calm consideration of the Dreamer's mind. Pain. Something within was hurting.

Why did the Harvesters have to come now? Why not later? After the Dreamer had healed, after Humanity had grown and been able to offer up some ability to help-

But they couldn't. Nobody had that kind of power. All of them together would only-

All of them together.

No one person had that kind of power, but they weren't alone, were they?

He reaches out, mentally, to those around him. The other ESPers take note quickly, confused, but confusion ends when he passes the thought along.

They weren't alone. They had each other.

The others join him, minds connecting and synchronising. They reach further, quickly drawing in more and more.

They feel the mind of a child. Too young, they decide, and pass over.

Their group runs into another group. He wasn't the only one who had the idea. The two groups merge. The range expands. They find more groups, and more individuals.

Every ESPer over ten in the city joins, and not long afterwards, every ESPer over twelve on the planet.

It is... not as hard as they thought it would be. This cohesion comes so easily, in fact, that they're suddenly not sure that this isn't how it was meant to be in the first place.

They put that aside, for the moment, and reach upwards, out, pooling mind and power together. The Dreamer's shield is magnificent in its scale and its power, but it does not stop them at all. They touch the minds of ESPers in orbit, and they join the group.

They reach towards the moon. The distance is beyond anything ever attempted. Together, their minds cross the gap with barely an afterthought.

There are five ESPers on the Moon. When they join, more than half of the ESPers in existence are working together. Those that aren't are those too young to do so.

The Dreamer is closer than the moon. They reach. They see.

The Dreamer is massive. Larger than before, they realize. It hangs in space like some ancient and beautiful god, emanating power beyond anything they had ever felt.

Power proven in the fact that none of the million Harvesters around it were capable of harming it. Black forms fired red beams, lancing strikes aimed straight at the Dreamer's heart, and not a single one hit. The beams met a shield, and simply stopped.

But, it wasn't fighting back. They could feel its power, carefully constrained so that it wasn't touching the Harvesters themselves.

Why?

They reach out to the Dreamer. They can feel that it is aware of them. It has been watching them while they worked together.

"We can help." They say,

The Dreamer's attention focuses, for a brief moment, on one Harvester in particular. They follow, recognizing the cue. They reach out, touch the Harvester's mind-

And recoil, shivering in disgust and phantom pain.

The Dreamer had told some of them, once, what a Harvester was. It had said that a Harvester was a machine built out of people, with hundreds of thousands to millions of minds trapped within, harrowed and agonized. They knew this, but until they had touched the Harvester's mind, they had not truly understood this.

The reality of it was worse than any imagination.

"Tormented things." The Dreamer agrees. "But they have made a mistake. This is all of them who are awake."

"How is that a mistake?" They ask.

"They have no Vanguard. They will not awaken early." The Dreamer considers, and comes to a decision. "An opportunity that must be taken."

The Dreamer, gently, pushes them aside. Its power stretches across space.

Too late, they realize what it intends to do.

The Dreamer's power touches the Harvesters. They shudder, shiver, minds bending underneath it.

Crystal sprouts over their forms, covering the ominous black. The Dreamer acts, pulling the minds out and into itself, the crystals shattering as it does so. The minds themselves almost shatter, much like the crystals, but then the Dreamer interjects-

And it suffers in their place. Pain lances through it like a physical force, its form rippling before vanishing, disintegrating like dust in the wind. What's left behind is a massive bipyramid crystal, cracks running along its form.

The psy-crystal, they realize. Now they understand where that power was coming from. Humans could use them to enhance their powers, but the Dreamer had always surpassed them. What could it do with such a large mass?

Not save itself, apparently. The cracks spread, webbing and cracking.

There must be something they could do.

"No." The Dreamer speaks. "This is not a wound easily mended."

"There must be some way-"

"If you were older." The Dreamer says. "More numerous, and more experienced, then; this would be a wound that could be healed. But, you are not. You are young, still. You cannot help, not this time."

The Dreamer is apologetic. The words are harsh, but the truth. They don't like it regardless.

The Dreamer sighs. Its mind strums lightly over theirs, and then-

The world shifts.

A lush expanse, filled with trees, and pools, and an endless blue sky awaits them. They are all here, now. They look and see their own bodies.

It is familiar; the Dream.

"I had hoped it would not come to this." The Dreamer speaks. "But needs must. There is much to say, and precious little time to say it.

218

+++

"Why?" They ask. "You could have destroyed them with no harm to yourself. Why... do that?"

"I do not destroy them, because they can still be helped." The Dreamer explains.

"How?!" They ask, because they have felt the mind of a Harvester, the millions of tortured and broken minds within, awkwardly forced into shape, and they don't understand how a violation like that can be fixed. "How can it be done?!"

The Dreamer replies not with words, but with image and memory. They see-

They see the Dreamer. Its smaller form. It leads a harvester on a chase, drawing it into a pattern. It strikes, does damage. The Harvester releases its drones, and the Dreamer destroys them quickly. Several more strikes prevent the Harvester from escaping, prevent it from calling help. The Dreamer takes the Harvester somewhere it won't be found.

Then, the Dreamer sets to work, it reaches into the core of the Harvester, stripping away its metallic shell, revealing the distorted mechanical mirror of the species it was made from it. The Dreamer binds it. The Dreamer reaches into its processors, and subborns them. The Dreamer copies everything as it examines the overarching consciousness of the Harvester, and then strikes the code and the core. The consciousness shatters again into tens of millions of minds, tortured and broken, but singular again.

The Dreamer takes them carefully, lifting them from the Harvester's corpse. They are so fragile...

The lightest touch can shatter them all the more, and to the Dreamer, this is not something it is willing to risk.

It attends to each, reaching into them and looking through them. It sees the crude manipulation, and removes it. The broken memories are realigned, the mind pieced back together.

The Dreamer sees pain, and takes it away.

Time, then, does the rest. They come back, slowly. The Dreamer consoles them, helps them heal.

"Carefully." The Dreamer says, at the end of it. "And with patience."

"Then why-" They already know, they realize. The minds are fragile.

"Too much power," The Dreamer confirms. "And they collapse."

They understand, now. Why the Dreamer hadn't attacked. Why it had taken such a small form, before.

"I wish to spare them their pain." The Dreamer says. "Not to destroy them. The Harvesters are Anathema, but each one carries minds that are not. Quite the conundrum. I can do it slowly, and spare myself pain, but that would have risked the rest of them being awoken. More lives would have been lost. Or, I can do it quickly, at the cost of taking the pain so that they do not break completely."

"And you chose the latter, this time." They say.

"Yes." The Dreamer confirms. "This is my choice. I prefer to help life than to bring death. The latter is sometimes necessary, but not in this case. In hunting me, they trapped themselves."

"You said they wouldn't awaken early."

"The cycles of the Harvesters is precipitated by the Vanguard." The Dreamer reveals. "A Harvester, left awake while the others sleep. The Vanguard watches the galaxy, observing the species who develop within. Should they develop faster than expected, the Vanguard awakens the Harvesters, and the cycle starts early. When I came to this galaxy, I found the Vanguard. Before I realized its nature, it awoke the Harvesters, who assigned this force to destroy me." The Dreamer laughed. "They did not succeed. I was the hunter. I cut their numbers in half, one by one. The force today was all that remained."

"They have no Vanguard." They realize.

The Dreamer agrees. "And opportunity that must be taken. It is too important not to. The galaxy can develop as much as it wants to, and there will be no reprisal until the Harvesters awaken. Time enough, perhaps, to develop enough to fight back."

The Dreamer was excited. But that excitement faded shortly, calm consideration falling in its place. "It would be difficult, but possible. I took that chance, regardless of the costs."

"You're going to die." They murmur, because they can feel the pain continuing to grow, the Dreamer continuing to crack. It isn't stopping, not even in the healing Dream. "It's about to kill you."

The Dreamer laughs, its amusement echoing across the entirety of them. "No other time has your youth been so obvious. You have come far in these thirty years, but not far enough. You still do not realize that death is not an end." The Dreamer's amusement ceased to radiate, replaced with a contentedness. "Death is a delay. Transient, just as life is."

"You mean-" Hope sparks.

"I will die." The Dreamer spoke. "And eventually, I will live again. The question, merely, is when."

They begin to smile.

"But it will not be as soon as you hope."

The smiles falter.

The Dreamer consider them, a vague regret hanging in the air. "It is unlikely, I think, to come before the Harvesters awaken."

"Then..."

"I will not be there to see your growth." The Dreamer murmured. "A shame, truly. I am sure it will be grand."

The regret grows.

"How can you be so confident?" They ask.

"Your kind has been alone for tens of thousands of years." The Dreamer notes. "And you came far. The three decades I spent on your world are little, in comparison. Still, in that time, I have seen many aspects of your kind. I have confidence in you. You should have confidence in yourselves."

The world shudders. The Dreamer is all too close to dying.

"Still," The Dreamer continues regardless. "That does not mean that I cannot help. The burden you carry is one that can be lightened." Its mind presses along theirs. The Dreamer thinks, and remembers, and gives them four things.

A list, upon which are a series of locations. There are important things in these places, and Humanity may find them useful.

A date, and with it, the knowledge that this is when the Harvesters will awaken.

A gift, through which they may gain new power.

And the Dream, so that they may always have a place to rest.

The Dreamer pulls back, wavering softly, like a mirage. It is barely holding together, now.

It still has one last thing to give, but giving it will kill the Dreamer. They can sense this. Before it gives, the Dreamer has something to say.

"I have... one single piece of advice." The Dreamer says, haltingly. "Be kind, but not meek."

The Dreamer vanishes. They leave the Dream immediately, still linked, only to see...

The Dreamer's crystal is shining like a second star, psychic energy pouring out of it. It is power that surpasses even the moments beforehand.

The power reaches its zenith, and reality seems to twist, for a moment, before the power vanishes and the crystal shatters.

They have no idea what the Dreamer had done.

There is laughter, in their ears. The Dreamer is fading, but just before it fades completely... It whispers.

"It's your time now."