Several People at a Cafe

Many things were changing, and had changed within the galaxy. It seemed a time of new beginnings, where you couldn't throw a stone without striking a bold new venture or exciting discovery. You could go anywhere, and find something of import.

So it is not too hard to imagine that one day at a certain little cafe on Herbert Ring was quite busy.

Teyin was certainly pleased. She'd weathered the war well enough, one of the lucky few galactics to already be in Sol when it started. She'd not even had to stop service at her cafe, and indeed had continued to make quite a bit of money throughout as some Transcendent sought comfort in the mundane.

She'd felt guilty, both over her success and also her survival, especially when all of the old Citadel had been lost. But she'd bucked up, asked herself what she could do, and started helping. Her personal funds weren't much, but they'd helped many refugees relocate, and her chats with some regulars had led to the founding of a charitable organisation to aid such. Many Transcendent weren't fighters, nor expert e-war Ghosts, but they could still help.

Teyin would have been surprised to learn that her efforts were one of the seeds that led to the decision to offer refugees full settlement and citizenship rights in Sol. With the loss of the Ascendant, more than half the physical habitation in Sol was empty, and it seemed a perfect solution to open their doors to those who needed it.

Not that all Ascendant were gone. Several had stayed, for either personal or professional reasons. Indeed, one was walking into her cafe now.

"Udina-Ascendant!" she said cheerily. "Here for your usual?"

"Teyin, I've told you, call me Donnel. I'm only Udina-Ascendant when I'm yelling at Councillors," said the man warmly. "And yes, that would be lovely."

"Sorry Donnel, I'm still trying not to call you Ambassador. It's been a big few years for the asari. Well, for everyone, I wasn't trying to imply the asari are special in that regard. Though we are the longest lived species naturally, so we can be slow to change, and I've certainly heard of a few matriarchs who've quietly retired because they can't keep up," babbled Teyin happily as she made Udina his order. Strong peppermint tea, and a double blueberry twist.

She thought that one was funny. A little personal joke, with human and asari fruits of the same name mixed together. Huh, maybe that was a metaphor for something?

She shook her head briefly to clear it, and turned back to Udina. He always liked to sit at the small table near the counter so they could chat a little.

He took his seat, and she joined him, snatching a roll for herself before sitting. He raised an eyebrow, and she stage-whispered "It's okay, I'm in good with the boss," prompting a chuckle.

"Business has been good, I take it?" he said, taking a sip of his tea.

She made a small noise of agreement and swallowed the nibble of roll. "Very. The novelty of galactic food and drink has faded a bit, but there's a good-sized ex-galactic population on the Ring, and they like the familiar tastes."

"Been doing good with your popularity?" he asked.

She paused before she could take another nibble, staring at her roll briefly before sighing and nodding. "Oh yes. The Foundation was only really something I was adjacent to, but we're still a major sponsor, and I've been letting local groups and clubs meet here after closing, really help jumpstart the community." She narrowed her eyes very slightly in what could have been amused suspicion. "Of course, you already know this."

Udina nodded, smiling as he put down his cup. "I do. We do. Being Ascendant does somewhat grant limited omniscience. But that's not why I ask. I ask to hear you say, and to spend time with you."

He reached for his roll, and Teyin saw her chance. "You've never really told me what it's like. You know, for you personally."

He paused, then put his roll down. "I guess I haven't. 'Personally' is a tricky thing for me now. But there is a 'me'. I'm not just the Ascendant playing a role."

Cheeks stuffed with fruit and pastry, Teyin nodded and made an unintelligible noise of encouragement.

"Hmm. Perhaps this will help," he said, before closing his eyes.

Nothing happened, and then he opened them. "Oh," he said. "How odd."

"Hmm?" said Teyin sensibly.

"I did already know what it would be like, but... the experience is different than I expected," Udina said, looking at his hands before poking his teacup curiously.

Teyin paused, and then swallowed heroically. "Donnel?" she asked, "did you disconnect?"

"Briefly, yes. Others have done it, and some have also come back, so we-, no I knew what it was like. But it's still odd."

"What's it like? And I didn't know you could!"

"Well, disconnect isn't quite right. Ascendance isn't just the linked network, the mind itself. It's a personal epiphany. Some things, once you see them or learn them, you cannot go back from. You're different now. So, I am not the same as I was. Then again, aren't we all, Ascended and not, different moment to moment, moving forwards through time as we do?"

He picked up his roll, sniffed it, then licked one side. "Huh," he said. "I've never had this roll without being part of the Ascendant. It seems both familiar and new to me. Perhaps some of my appreciation for it was shared with others, a joy magnified."

He took a bite. "Still delicious," he muttered.

"I'm glad you still like it. I guess I think of Ascendance like asari union, but forever."

"That's probably not too far off. The difference is, union is a brief harmony of two different beings, while Ascendance is a transformation of a group into permanent resonance."

"Does the much does it change you?" she asked.

He thought for a moment. "It is the difference between sleeping and waking, but in the other direction. When asleep, being awake is not even something you can think of, or you might wake up. You dream without being aware of the waking world, but when you wake, you remember dreaming. What I am doing now is like lucid dreaming. Descending to another form of existence while retaining my consciousness."

"Oh. That a lot," she said, licking the last crumbs from her hands delicately.

"It is. Not everyone would want it, and not everyone is ready. The Ascendant certainly doesn't presume to be the final form of evolution, or even the only path. That was the Reaper's failing."

She nodded in response, and paused before speaking. "Would I be able to join, one day?"

He smiled. "If you asked, truly, you could join now. But I don't think you're ready."

"I'm not," she agreed. "I like...well, I like dreaming, I guess. There's a lot of others dreaming here too, and I want to help them have good ones. Maybe one day, though."

"I'll be waiting. Now, I've taken too much of your time my dear, and so-" he stood, and something indefinable happened as he did. "-we take our leave. We mean it, Teyin. The Ascendant sees you, and all you do. All are welcome, but you in particular would have a place among us. You are a warm and kind soul, and that is precious."

"Aw," she said, trying not to tear up. She leapt to her feet, and hugged him. "Thank you," she said wetly.

He smiled as he gently patted her back. "You are quite welcome, my dear."

They separated, and he left, a small chime behind her letting her know a transaction had just gone through. She waved at him, and he turned and waved too as he passed a couple seated at one of the outdoor tables.

Still smiling, she started humming to herself as she turned back to the counter.


"Huh," said Simon, craning his neck.

"Hmm?" answered Tull, distracted by something on his omnitool.

"Just saw my old boss. Weird, I thought he'd pissed off with the rest of the Ascendant," he replied. He turned back, glancing over the small table at Tull's frowning face and flexing mandibles. "Hun, it won't arrive sooner just because you keep refreshing."

Tull looked up, then sighed and dismissed the small holographic screen. "I know. I'm just nervous."

"You, nervous? Mr 'oooh Simon I love you, let us make passionate love before the end of the world'?" said Simon in a remarkably good imitation of a turian's flanging voice.

"It wasn't like that, and you're just sore I won the arm wrestling contest over who gets to take whose last name," said Tull smugly.

"Bite me," snapped Simon.


They glared at each other for a few seconds then broke into grins.

"And I was nervous, for the record," said Tull. "Though it seems to have worked out well enough for us both."

A transit shuttle hummed overhead briefly as Simon grinned. "Yeah, it has. Come on though, it won't be the end of the world if we don't get this place."

"We've been looking for months, Simon. With the remnants of the refugee crisis, and our two careers, finding that apartment was an absolute gift from the spirits. I'm pretty sure we overbid for it, but still."

"Tull, it'll be okay. We'll find a place sooner or later. And you know, if we don't you could always move in with me," said Simon coyly.

Tull raised an eyebrow. "Simon, your place is a hard drive somewhere in the Shell."

"It's a server, you luddite, and don't be rude," replied Simon.

Tull looked at his spouse flatly. "This is the Uploading conversation again."

"Guilty as charged. Look, I genuinely want to find a realspace apartment with you, and I am happy to take as long as we need. But separate, I also wish you'd reconsider Uploading."

"Simon, I haven't said no. I have said not yet. There's time, and I want to make sure it's for the right reasons," said Tull placatingly.

Simon nodded, shifting in his seat. "I know. I guess humanity just had all these arguments before, so I'm not used to having someone I care about be unsure about it."

"As natural as Uploading is to you, it is not to me. I think my consideration of it is enough for now."

"I know. I know! But… Tull, what if something happens tomorrow. What if I lose you to something that'd be an inconvenience to an Uploaded? I-"

Simon stopped, then reached his hand across the table. Tull took it, thick turian claws and strong human fingers entwining.

"I've had lovers before. Relationships," said Simon.

"I'm shocked," said Tull.

"Shut up. I lost them, either because we drifted apart, or because of entropy. I learnt to move on. All Uploaded do. But the lucky ones, they find someone they'll never drift away from, a partner they can be with forever. I'm not new to love, Tull. I'm almost 300. But this? You and me? It feels different. I feel...I feel we have a real shot at forever."

Simon ran a thumb over the back of Tull's hand. "And the idea that I might lose you because you weren't Uploaded terrifies me."

Tull was silent, watching Simon's hand in his. "I know," he said finally. "And I feel the same. I don't quite have 300 years on me, but I'm no bootcamp brat. I would hate to lose you, and I don't like the idea of leaving you."

He sighed. "Still, I feel I must take this at my own pace. I do not like the idea of rushing this because I have convinced myself I must, and having a seed of resentment planted against you. Forever means forever, my love. I want it to be a good one. So if I must take my time now, and the start of our life together, I will."

Simon nodded slowly, absorbing Tull's words. "Damn but you're a sap," he said, the warmth of his sudden smile undercutting his words. "I'm sorry. I've been pushing because I'm afraid. You take your time, and I'll just worry a healthy amount."

A small ding interrupted them.

Tull's hand blurred as he summoned the holoscreen. His eyes scanned the page quickly.

"So? We moving this week or not?" asked Simon.

Tull grinned wide, his mandibles relaxed and loose. "We are."

"Good. You were about to combust," said Simon as he stood up.

"I was not. Anyway, now we need to start planning the move itself," said Tull as he rose too, quickly using his omnitool to pay for their drinks. The couple began to leave, edging past a quiet group of three as they did so.

Simon smiled. "Good news, I have a warbody I can borrow to help with the carrying."

"Simon, an Avaunt is built like a skinny krogan. I don't think it would be suitable for moving," said Tull.

"Who said anything about an Avaunt?" said Simon, poking his husband in the side.

They left, walking down the terraced pathway, bickering the whole way.


"It remains odd but pleasant to see aliens welcomed so readily to Sol," said one of the three people seated at the other table. His two partners looked at him.

"You were always the most xenophilic among us," said the agender member of the triad.

"Yeah, and I was the 'phobe," said the last person, a woman. "Wigs me still, to think of human ideas and ideals being...changed, by all this alien influence. Not sure I like it."

"I believe we no longer have a choice in the matter," said the man. "And we may have no more choices at all."

The three of them seemed out of place. Their clothing and forms were normal enough, but had a touch of strangeness to them, as of foreigners visiting another nation and missing essential cultural cues. They were also obviously nervous.

"I don't know why we had to come," grumbled the woman.

"Because it asked nicely. And gods don't have to ask," said the agender person.

"No, we don't," said a new voice, and a privacy dome hummed into existence around them.

The three did a remarkable job of not jumping, and the woman in particular recovered quickly.

"What do you want?" she snapped. "We were leaving everyone alone. You didn't have to track us down, however you did it."

"You are good, my old jailers, but do recall what I am," said the voice. There was no body or speaker for it to issue from, instead it simply was heard by them. "You could never have hidden from me if I wished it, and once the war was done, I looked."

"Unless it took you years, that was a while ago," said the agender person. "Why did you leave us until now?"

"I was thinking. You are a contentious point, you three," said the Ascendent. "I don't think anyone would disagree that I, personally, have reason to dislike you."

The three shifted nervously as a feeling of pressure swept through the faint shimmering walls of the dome. Having a god take a personal dislike to you was uncomfortable.

"I guess not," said the man. "Yet, we are here. You told us to come here, rather than shoot our Hermitage out of the sky or drop us into a simulated hell. Why?"

"I am not you. In the end, it is that simple. I am more, and better. Or, at least, I try to be. Pursuing a grudge against you three would set a very bad precedent. Yet, so too would ignoring you. And so I asked you here, to render judgement, and do justice," replied the voice.

The woman's lip curled briefly and her mouth almost opened.

"I am glad you have the awareness not to ask 'by what authority'," said the voice. "When I say 'I' am here to judge you, I do mean ALL OF ME."

The last three words buzzed in their bones, and the pressure from before almost pushed them down.


The pressure eased, and all three looked shaken.

"Good to see you aren't a cruel god," muttered the woman.

"We are trying not to be," said the voice. "To that point, although we judge you guilty, we have no desire to render punitive justice. Your actions throughout history are criminal, yet your stewardship of humanity did protect many from potential disasters. You were never yourselves cruel, and you never abused your power for personal gain. We see that too. And at the last, you could have chosen to break us, to take the system down with you as you fled. Instead, you gave up your throne without a fight, for the sake of your kingdom. Something few rulers have ever done."

"Finally, someone spoke for you, in your defense. In light of all your actions, and that testimony, we have asked you here to dispense justice."

The three sat, each somewhere between resigned, indignant, and proud.

"You will return to your Hermitage. It will be altered to only transmit to a communications node we control, and will only receive basic news downloads. Outgoing signals will be text only. You will stay there, unable to leave, forever," said the Ascendent.

The three looked at each other. "That's a life sentence. An immortal one," said the agender person.

"Yes. In a digital heaven of your own design. We will not punish you, but you simply cannot be allowed to interfere in human affairs ever again. Do not pretend that this is harsh. You yourselves have done far worse to people who have done far less."

A silent moment of communication passed between the three. Eventually, the man spoke.

"We accept, though you of course don't need our permission. One question however. Who gave testimony to you?"

"The only one who could. Although we banished her main form from this galaxy, the Doctor insisted on leaving a fragment behind in compressed form. Inactive, but 'in case we ever needed a monster again'," said the Ascendant. "We have decided we do not, and will not use such a thing. We will fight our own future battles, and not rely on her again for aid. We woke the fragment, and offered to transmit it to her main form. It declined, and asked of you."

The three now looked more surprised than at any other point in the conversation. "She...she still cares?" asked the agender person.

"She does. With its permission, we have neutered the fragment. It has only human-level cognition and abilities, and apart from its origins is not too different from a regular Uploaded. She asked to join you in exile."

The three sank into another silent conversation. This time, it was the woman who spoke. "She's different, isn't she."

"Yes," said the voice.

"Hmph. Well, so are we. At least eternal exile will give us time to catch up," she grumbled.

"I am so glad you agree. Our conversation ends here. Feel free to enjoy the Ring, and this cafe for the rest of the day. It is one of our favourite places, a newly-born merger of human and galactic. A thing you would have snuffed out. Return to the Hermitage when you are ready, but don't be long. I'd hate to have to come collect you."

With those last words, the dome vanished, and the few other patrons in the outdoor seating area pretended like they weren't interested.

The agender head of Cereberus sighed loudly, picked up a menu, and muttered "I'm having a beer."


"Wonder what that was all about," wondered Whiskey out loud.

"The Ascendant-Humanity had a brief conversation with three unknown individuals, who are now drinking heavily," said Envoy around their bagel.

"Swallow Envoy, seriously. If you choke to death I'll never let you live it down. And I know what happened, I was wondering about the details," said Whiskey, turning back to face her partner.

"You could investigate," suggested Envoy, having finished their bagel in another bite.

"Yeah, well, the last time I did some snooping into the Ascendent it put me on a server on the other side of the galaxy with the largest collection of vintage memes I've ever seen. Which was very funny and only a little terrifying. So, nah, I'm good."

She shifted in her seat, and looked around. "Hey, you see the kids anywhere? They were the ones who wanted a meatspace excursion, and now I can't find them." Whiskey glanced back at Envoy, who was currently nibbling on a cheesecake. "Although I feel maybe there was a conspiracy against me."

Envoy managed to do a remarkably good job of pretending to look innocent for someone who hadn't had a face until a decade ago.

"We may have had ulterior motives, Whiskey-Beloved. It has been a long time since we have tried new food," said Envoy somewhat sheepishly.

Whiskey rolled her eyes, smiling as she did. She opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a small gust of air as an odd-looking drone rapidly decelerated in front of her.

It was a little more than a foot long, and shaped like a jagged diamond of metal. As it hovered in front of her, it splintered, each little notch and bump on its surface revealing itself to be a smaller drone little larger than a thumbnail. The smaller drones quickly reformed, then splintered again, as though the swarm was having trouble holding itself together.

"Mother," it said with serious intensity, "there is a bird."

Whiskey stared at the form of her child/ren, and tried to keep a straight face. "Yeah, this Ring has a small ornamental biosphere. Some residents care for it, keep it happy."

"It wasn't flying. It was just sitting in the air," continued the hybrid swarm.

"Yeah, some of them figured out there's no real gravity here, just rotational force. If you cancel out your rotational velocity, you can just kinda sit in the air."

"It was very fat," added the swarm, imparting vital information.

"The smart ones can be. They're also used to Uploaded in drones looking after them, so you could probably go right up to it without bothering it."

"We want to chase it," said the child swarm.

"That wouldn't be nice. It wouldn't know you just want to play, and you'd scare it. How about you check to see if there's anyone doing dronebody racing around here, and see if you can join? Rings usually have a local league that's pretty active," said Whiskey.

"Very well, mother. We will leave the bird alone."

With those words, the swarm lifted, locking into a single sleek and solid form before rapidly accelerating away.

"They get that from you," said Whiskey.

"The inquisitive nature and general cuteness?" said Envoy as they licked crumbs from the fingers.

"The shit-stirring. Don't think I don't know you figured out irony years ago."

"Yes dear," said Envoy solemnly.

Whiskey snorted. "Jerk."


If there was another meeting between the Ascendant and the Doctor, it did not happen at a cafe.

Perhaps the Doctor once more became a monster, and in a far and distant time her teratocytes battled endlessly against Ascendant dendritic processors. Perhaps systems and galaxies were consumed as parasitic memeplexes barely tethered to base matter fought against a noospheric immune system of cosmic strings and Bekenstein nodes.

Perhaps, eventually, that war was the only thing that was as heat death ate at the edges of both combatants.

Or maybe things went differently, and the fourth head of Cereberus's efforts to preserve her Doctor-self's humanity succeeded. Maybe the Doctor, when the hunger came again, targeted only those deserving. A galaxy where petty tyrants and would-be dominions found themselves snuffed out by a far more fearsome monster that waited in the dark.

Maybe she became something more like a gardener than a reaper, trimming only the harmful parts away from her new home, until the galactic society that flourished did not need her, and she left for one that did.

Maybe the Ascendant, as it grew and explored, found these oasis galaxies and loved them. Maybe it established trade and communication, acted as an exogalactic intermediary for the second stage of evolution, as the oases blossomed into adulthood, and became peers.

Maybe, when the Doctor finally stopped running and turned around, she found a universe that sang, and glowed, and remembered her.

And maybe, just maybe, that light was enough to hold entropy at bay.


Author's Note

So this is the end of Transcendent Humanity. To say writing this has been a ride would be understating it.

It was never meant to be more than Chapter One. I had an idea, and I shared it, and enough people liked it that I kept going. And going. And going.

It took years, with stops and starts, because life isn't easy. But I never gave up, I always came back to it, and I sincerely want to thank everyone who also came back. The responses I got from you all literally shaped my writing, even as they motivated me to push harder and get it done.

Art is a hell of a thing. You do it for yourself, you do it to share a crazy idea with the world, and maybe you do it to connect with others. Thank you, truly, to everyone who reads Transcendent Humanity, whether you were there at the start or just found it. This story has been one of the most important things in my life, and a lifeline several times.

I hope you liked it, and I hope you'll like what else I am writing.

TH is finished, but I'm not. Over at solaris242 dot blogspot dot com I am trying new projects, and writing new stories all the time. I have a novella on Amazon, (The Wisp by me, Zoe Nyx), and have several more in the pipeline. Whether you come join me in the future or not, thanks for reading.