To Be, or Not To Be

Prologue: The Key

The Key came into being during the instant of the universe's creation. Before there was time; before there was matter; before there was light; even before there was gravity. The Key was created at the moment when ten dimensional space-time cracked, giving birth the the four dimensional Big Bang from which everything else grew. The Key was a link back to the original ten dimensional omni-verse from which the universe was spawned, and from which new universes continued to be spawned. An ongoing process of creation, from which an infinite number of dimensions sprang.

The Key expanded and evolved with the universe. As the universe grew in complexity, so did the Key, until at some point—about four billion years after the Bang—it became aware. At first its awareness was rudimentary, its evolution was slow. It took another billion years for its first thought to really take form, and that thought was a very simple one: "I Am."

More thoughts came to the Key with increasing frequency, but they still happened incredibly slowly. Slowly enough that the Key was able to observe the universe as it expanded.

The Key was made from the most fundamental force in the universe. The other forces that came into existence during the Big Bang were only reflections of it, and the Key could sense and manipulate them all. It could sense the large whorls in space-time formed by the gravity of galaxies; it could sense the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and see the shining of stars; it could even feel the tiny interactions caused by the strong and the weak nuclear forces.

The Key watched the distortions in space-time as matter condensed to form stars and planets. Over time, it noticed that more and more complex patterns of the other forces forming in some of the smaller space-time distortions: it was seeing the initial sparks of life. It watched the sparks grow, and become brighter as life evolved, though it really didn't know that that was what was happening.

The sparks had a kind of beauty that intrigued the Key. They interacted with each other and their environments in an increasingly intricate dance. Sometimes the Key would try to join the interactions, but that almost always had unpredictable results.

Sometimes the Key's touch would extinguish the little sparks. The beauty of the universe was diminished, so it grew more cautious, learning the ways it could interact with the sparks that would not extinguish them. It learned the ways that it could encourage the sparks to grow brighter.

Then, on one tiny space-time distortion near the core of one of the larger whorls, something unprecedented happened: some of the sparks started to react in ways that showed that they were aware too. That had never happened before. The sparks had fleeting, ephemeral lives: winking in and out of existence in mere moments as the Key measured time. It had never considered the idea that they might have an awareness of the universe as well. The Key became even more cautious in its interactions.

More and more sparks started to appear as the universe expanded. Individual sparks barely lasted for any time at all, and their groups were nearly as transitory, rarely lasting for as long as it took for one of the galactic whorls to complete even a fraction of a revolution, but there were always new groups emerging.

Nearly fourteen billion years after the birth of the universe, some of the sparks started to do something new. They learned how to manipulate the primordial force—the one that was older than time, the one that made up the Key itself. These beings' experiments most often ended in disaster, bringing about the extinction of the race that conducted the experiments, and sometimes the complete destruction of their world, leaving nothing behind but a burst of gamma radiation that would puzzle astronomers on thousands of worlds.

On one small planet, near the fringe of a spiral galaxy, a race of hairless apes managed to survive its first experiments with the primordial force—which they called magic—largely because only extremely rare individuals were gifted in the use of it, and even their power was very limited. They did not lack intelligence though, so they were able to study and learn much about magic, even though their ability to manipulate it remained weak. A small band of these people became aware of the Key. They thought that if they could harness it, they could put its power to their use.

The Key did not experience time the way most thinking entities in the universe did. A million years could pass without its noticing, and the universe was vast, so it wasn't aware of what was happening until it was too late. The group of men who were to become known as the Order of Dagon had bound it. Its consciousness, which had once spanned the universe, was confined to a glowing green sphere, barely four inches in diameter. It lay trapped, unable to escape, as generations of men tried to harness its power.

Ten thousand years passed. Nearly any other thinking entity would have been driven mad by such a long incarceration, but the Key was older than time, and it was patient. It studied the men, while they studied it.

It had never before made such an intense study of the individual sparks of life. While its consciousness had spanned the universe, there had always been something to draw its attention away to something new. Now it was a captive audience. It learned far more about men than they ever learned about it. The men did learn a few things: they learned ways by which the Key could be used to force open portals between dimensions. They learned slowly though, since most of the men who succeeded in opening a portal were killed by it. The universe was vast, and mostly empty. Most random portals opened into vacuum.

And then one day, everything changed. The Key became Dawn Summers.