Cian resolved to try to save Vanna, at least until he was sure he couldn’t get the jump shield back up. She was showing no physical signs of pain, and was, as far as he and the medical scanner he had found could tell, completely unconscious. Her brainwaves were like someone in a deep coma. He healed her for a while, getting her back into a stable condition, then went to working on the jump shielding. He read every scrap of information he could find on jump engines, their shielding, and how to re-engage it when it failed.
It was twenty four hours and several cycles of healing Vanna later that Cian finally chanced on something it might be. The activation of the shield normally required the initialization of a Weave jump. The error he was getting was basically that there was no Weave jump available – they were already in the Weave. But his first attempt at going through the convoluted shield start-up method failed. It jumped from 0 to 50 to 100 and right back to 0 in ten seconds.
It was another twelve hours before he found a method of slowly raising the shields. It was considered impractical as it took too long, but was supposedly foolproof. Foolproof was good. An hour later and the shield was at 20% and rising.
Cian celebrated by eating watermelon jerky. He was exhausted and starving, but he had done it. Now he just had to keep Vanna alive until the shield was up. He resolved to heal Vanna until it was at 100% and got started.
Cian woke with a start. He looked around. How long had he been out? He checked Vanna. She was still alive, but barely. The jump shields showed 100%. Cian checked his nanite levels. It was down to 9% – all the healing had been wearing them out or something.
He spent the next few days just healing and caring for Vanna before passing out for longer and longer periods. The cell damage stopped the day after the shields had came back up, but no matter what he did Vanna would not wake up. The strange background song didn’t end even when the shield came back up, and Cian was having a harder and harder time keeping himself awake.
The last memory Cian had in the Weave was laying his hands on Vanna and channeling mend. It had been getting increasingly difficult to channel mend as his nanites dropped lower and lower.
Cian woke suddenly in a cell. He was stripped to his boxers and chained to a metal chair by his arms and legs. A bright overhead light reflected off the table in front of him. He shook his head to clear the fog from it. There was a Boralan man with jet black hair and long beard, an Erisian woman with flawless white skin and long silver hair, and a blonde haired Celduran man with an androgynous appearance and a faint greenish tinge to his skin. The Celduran was working on a tablet device of some kind. All were wearing a form fitting, jet black dress uniform with a multi pointed half star insignia on the lapels that seemed to represent a rising sun.
Cian’s nanites had risen to 19%, so it must have been at least a few days since he was last awake.
The woman spoke up first. “Greetings, human! Please verify if you can understand us.”
“I can understand you fine.” said Cian.
All three of them did a double take and stared at him.
“Uh, you can? I mean. Great! Uh. What’s your name?” asked the Erisian woman.
“Why am I being held? Where is my friend? The Rastlin. Is she awake yet?” asked Cian.
“You’re the one being interviewed, human!” said the Boralan with a sneer. He reached his hand across the table as if to hit Cian, but the Celduran grabbed his hand and shook his head disapprovingly.
The Celduran spoke up in a deep voice. “I apologize for my colleagues. We are unused to being able to speak with humans. This is the first time our attempts have proved successful. I am Bann. This lovely woman is Reema. The gruff fellow is Kodai. Your friend has yet to regain consciousness, but appears to have suffered from fatal Weave exposure. She has symptoms of Weave Fever, and it is unknown if she will recover.”
“Okay. I’m Cian. I still want to see her. Why am I chained up?” asked Cian.
“You are not a prisoner here. We chain up our… guests, due to the violent reactions they generally have upon seeing us. From what I can deduce, your masters, the Dromon, programmed an intense hatred for us into all of you in order to use you as a weapon against us. Kodai, remove this man’s bindings.” said Bann.
“But!” said Kodai.
“Please, Kodai.” said Bann.
Kodai grumbled and walked over. He slowly fished out a key and began unlocking the chains entangling Cian to the chair.
Once that was done, Cian got up and stretched his arms and legs. Reema offered him a robe and he put it on.
Kodai never stopped giving him a dirty glare.
“Come, I will show you your friend and we may talk on the way.” stated Bann.
“Okay.” said Cian. He followed Bann out of the room and down a hall.
“I sincerely hope this disconnect between yourself and the Drom control system lasts long enough for us to study it.” said Bann.
“Pretty sure it’s been going on for a few weeks already.” said Cian.
“So you are aware of it?” asked Bann.
“Look, I appreciate that you unchained me and you’re bringing me to my friend, but who are you people? Where are we? Why should I give you my life story?” asked Cian.
“Ah. I thought you knew. Is our symbol so lesser known already?” said Bann, looking at the lapel of his uniform. “We are the Heralds of the New Dawn. Friend to the oppressed everywhere, and sworn enemy to every oppressor. We are aboard one of our base ships, currently traveling between two Wasteland systems.”
“Vanna spoke of you guys. I remember reading about you too. You freed the Rastlin, right?” said Cian.
“We helped them fight for their freedom, Yes. That was fifty five years ago.” said Bann.
“This is going to sound weird, but humans think you are flesh eating monsters. They’re all under complete mind control. I was chased here by a cruiser and nearly killed because I got spotted and somehow detected as a free human and they were all intent on killing me.” said Cian.
“I see.” said Bann. They arrived at a door and Bann opened it. “Here is your friend’s room. We have been caring for her, but she has been in a deep coma.”
Vanna lay in the middle of the room on a fancy looking bed, hooked up to monitors and an IV. A young Erisian attendant finished checking her and left the room.
Cian went in and touched her. She looked better. He had 19% nanites again, so he risked healing her more. They were silver again instead of the strange kaleidoscope that they were within the Weave. He spent half his Willpower channeling Mend into her. It didn’t seem to do much – he felt bits of damage here and there healing, but couldn’t isolate the problem that was keeping her from waking.
“Remarkable. Do all humans possess this technology? Is that how you kept her alive in the Weave? I suspected you had lost Weave shielding for at least some period of time.” said Bann.
Cian looked over, “I don’t know how many others have the technology. We lost shields for a couple days. Is there anything we can do for her?”
“I am afraid that we have never had anyone survive a coma during Weave Fever. However, her body is significantly less damaged than those patients we have records of. If there is to be a first, it would be her. It is a matter of time.” said Bann.
“I see.” said Cian. He held her hand and sat there for a few minutes.
“May I come in and continue to speak to you, or would you prefer to be alone?” asked Bann.
Cian looked up. “You can come in.”
Bann walked in and sat across from Cian.
“So, you said you somehow broke free and were hunted because of it? Would you be willing to tell me more? We have been under attack by humans for two years with no reprieve. If they are truly prisoners of the Dromon, we would wish to find a way to free them and end the bloodshed and injustice.” said Bann.
Cian took a deep breath and decided to tell Bann what he knew. Maybe this would be where he could figure out what’s really going on? “If I answer your questions, will you answer mine?”
“Surely, Cian. That I can speak to you at all is remarkable. That you are a self-freed slave who escaped a system that not even we could detect as slavery? Incredible. Any knowledge I have is yours to ask.” said Bann.
Cian continued, “I think it was a Weaveborn artifact I got from a Pa’Ran that broke things at first. I used one in order to switch bodies, then died and jumped around a bit more, then floated around kind of… incorporeal for a bit. A spawn room made me a new body, and ever since then I wasn’t able to log out anymore. You see, for humans it’s like a game – we don’t know what’s real. We log out to a world of humans and peace where credits here can be transferred for great wealth there. I don’t know how much of that is real or if Earth even exists, but to all the humans it’s home and here is just a game.”
“Truly? That makes a lot of things make more sense. The way the humans gather great wealth and hand it over freely to the Drom. How they fanatically ignore any words that try to sway their worldview. It must be an audio visual filter of some kind. They claimed that you were all from some lost colony in the Wastes. As far as Earth, assuming it is the one of legend, I must regretfully inform you that the location of Earth is lost. It is known as the cradle of sentients, as all sentient life is believed to have originated from there. The Weaveborn came from there.” said Bann.
“Lost? Could it be that maybe they found it, and it’s this lost colony that they’re talking about?” said Cian.
“Mmm, that is possible. There are numerous shifting connections in the Wastes, and we have barely scratched the surface in our wanderings. They did find something somewhere in the Wastes before this began, but we were unable to intercept them. We have not detected Drom fleets moving through the wastes, but it is possible they have found a route that bypasses our systems. We haven’t mapped many connections to Vim, that’s the Dromon controlled system connected to the Wastes.” said Bann.
“Okay, another thing to research. Anyway, ever since then I’ve been unable to log out. I thought the game was just broken, so I continued on like it was a game for a while. I still have the weird game interfaces, although they haven’t gained experience since the second Weaveborn artifact and I stopped gaining skill at some point too.” said Cian.
“A second Weaveborn artifact?” said Bann.
“Yes. I got it from another Pa’Ran Boundless. It was a helmet device. It was called a … nanite projection amplifier, I think? When I tried to use it, it said something about detecting tampering in my swarm and replaced all my nanites. It said it sacrificed itself to preserve my consciousness.” said Cian.
“Why, that is interesting. It sounds like this device is what fully disconnected you from their systems. Alas, we cannot recreate this particular activation – that type of Weaveborn artifact is extremely rare. I studied one once, years ago, but have never again seen its like.” said Bann.
“Yeah. After that, we got chased by black clad commandos. We got out of there, only to get involved in an altercation in the Valcim mall. Some official claiming to be a game master scanned me with something and demanded my player name and information. That’s when I really thought things were wrong. It ended in a shootout that I barely survived. This woman here, Vanna, saved my life. Removed the bullets. Nursed me back to health. Got a ship. Flew us out of the system. But some player, that is other human, tracked us down. That’s why we ended up jumping here. We got caught in the Weave, they sent a boarding pod into the weave and boarded us during the jump.” said Cian.
“Ah. And yet you fought them off. Impressive. I believe we found some of your attackers. We scooped up the boarding pod, complete with a cruiser jump drive. I suspect your story was much more exciting than you supplied. Onboard were twelve dead men. I had been studying the results of their autopsy before coming to witness your interview. It was quite enlightening to finally have access to bodies where the technology had not self-destructed, as usual. We also found one live soldier, but it sadly seems his interface reconnected when he entered real space again.” said Bann.
Cian looked up sharply, “Did you say one live soldier?! I think that may be a friend of mine. He came with the enemy, but helped me against them when he saw who I was.”
“Interesting. Mmm, let me see.” said Bann. He slipped a controller out of a pocket and tapped some buttons on it, pointing it at the wall. A camera view of Jolan, unconscious on a bed much like Vanna’s, appeared projected on the wall.
“Yes! That’s him! Do you think I could talk to him?” said Cian.
“Ah, I suspect his reception of you would be poor outside of a dead thread. That anomaly is likely what cut him and the others off from their controllers and let him choose for himself. From what I can tell, he is reconnected to the system now.” said Bann.
“What? Dead thread?” said Cian.
“Ah, yes, I should explain. You see, you and your friends came out of what is known as a dead thread. Something caused severe instability during the jump and blew the connection. Both ends immediately closed. Usually everything exiting a jump like that is dead from Weave Fever, although the exact mechanism of it is not understood. I suspect we won’t see a jump going from here back to where you came from for quite a few years. Why, this phenomenon or something like it is what I suspect caused much of the instability in the Wastes. The connection between Drom and Redstone is one such lost link. Dranus and Bora were similarly, but the link came back five years ago.” said Bann.
“It was strange. I didn’t realize that’s what happened. They blew a breaching charge. Then a secondary explosion went off in the form of some kind of prism. It was like a hallucinogenic trip. I heard colors. I saw music. I tasted the colors and music. The whole time I was in there, there was this eerie song. The dead ones in the ship you found died immediately, they weren’t part of the fight. They just dropped like their strings got cut. Vanna dropped immediately too. She was almost dead seconds after, so it must have came with a big dose of whatever causes Weave Fever.” said Cian.
“Interesting. Some kind of sensory effect. I would love to have a recording of this phenomenon, if you possess one. That explains the hundred percent fatality rate – no normal person can withstand that high a dose of the Weave radiation. I wonder if those humans respawned? I suspect when they were being disconnected, it pulled them as a safeguard. Why the others were left, I don’t know. Bandwidth limitation, possibly?” said Bann.
“I don’t think I have a recording, unless the ship made one. If you can pry one out of our ship, feel free to review it. I would like to see it too. Wait, you mean the others – the ones who fought me – might not respawn?” asked Cian.
“Oh, very likely not. I know the Weaveborn respawn system from my research. I have studied many of the rooms and back-end systems. I studied the ones on Kiana Prime early in my career. While it uses backups of consciousnesses, it actually pulls the stream of consciousness from the person. It can then work with it and fix it if it’s data is corrupted, but it will not – cannot – create a clone using a backup. They installed very specific, unbreakable safeguards to that respect when they built the system. No matter how much the Drom alter it, I doubt they could bypass that aspect. Any attempt to alter the system to do otherwise merely produces an empty, sub-sentient body that dies seconds after appearing.” said Bann.
“Huh. I can’t say I would miss seeing Gumbo again. That’s the guy who tried to kill me repeatedly and hunted me down.” said Cian.
“What unusual names. Isn’t that an English word for a type of food?” said Bann.
“You know English?” asked Cian.
“I know a lot of old languages, but a few in particular – English, Russian, Portuguese, German, Spanish, Mandarin, French – we studied to attempt to talk to humans that we captured. I didn’t expect to find you speaking fluent Celduran and Erisian.” said Bann.
“Ah. Heh, to me everything comes out English. I think it’s a translation feature or something.” said Cian.
“Interesting. The Humans are stuffed full of Weaveborn tech. How did they get their hands on so much of it, I wonder? I suppose that would be necessary to let you use the old languages and still speak to us. Probably hooked into whatever filter it is that keeps humans hearing what the system wants them to.” said Bann.
“Yeah. So, uh, anything else you want to know?” asked Cian.
“Oh, plenty. Nothing I need to know right now. Any important questions from you?” asked Bann.
“Everything about the Weaveborn. How the Earth got lost. What the Weave really is. Um. Lots.” said Cian.
Bann laughed. “Is that all? I happen to have some notes on the Weaveborn and our recorded history that I created as an outline for a research paper that I haven’t completed yet, I’ll get a copy on a tablet for you. No one knows exactly how the Earth got lost or where it might be, so no luck there. A lot of old colonies mentioned in the histories have never been found, either. The Weave is mostly theory. We know that it connects systems that contain life. Many of the systems are many thousands of light years apart, but every one of them contains life. We have lost connections to systems where ecological disasters have destroyed life on worlds. Other connections go dead, like the one you came in on, for different reasons – only to come back suddenly years or decades later. Then we have the Wastes, the connections here are scrambled and unstable. We have charted many connections along it, but have never found a reason for the instability or a reason for all the worlds in here being so extremely inhospitable to sentient life.”
“So it’s some kind of force highway between the stars?” asked Cian.
“Mmm, I don’t get the reference, but the weave is in effect a star path that connects all life in the universe. The Pa’Ran worlds are on the network too. Links exist that leave the galaxy as well, although no one has ever been able to take a jump along one. There’s a built in safety that prevents you from jumping anywhere that would take years to arrive. I suspect a galactic jump would require a generational ship. There have been a few initiatives to add links to the Weave, but they require years of slowly flying to nearby stars and attempting to produce enough life on habitats in the system to force a link to form.” said Bann.
“Wow. That’s incredible.” said Cian.
“This has been very enlightening, and I would like to speak with you again, but I need to get back to my dissection of the bodies. I don’t know if they’ll remain viable long and I need to find a way to disconnect other Humans from the system.” said Bann.
“Alright. Uh, do you have food?” said Cian.
“Oh! Of course. I am sorry, I got carried away with the talking and forgot to get you a room and food.” said Bann.
“Can I just sleep here? I want to be here if she wakes up.” said Cian.
“Oh, you may get interrupted by the nurses when they come in.” said Bann.
“That’s fine.” said Cian.
“I’ll have a second bed brought in. What would you like to eat? I’ll have something brought in. Would you like a burger?” said Bann.
“Burgers? Do you mean like a cheeseburger? With fries? And iced tea?” asked Cian.
“Of course. It’s a common street food on many planets. Fried meat on a bun with cheese and vegetables. We have a surplus of burgers, it’s a popular meal among the crew. I don’t believe we have the potatoes that you may be familiar with, but there is a red root vegetable with a similar taste profile. We have a variety of teas, but I suspect you want what was referred to as sweet tea? We have something similar.” said Bann.
“Sounds great. I look forward to it.” said Cian.
“I’ll see you later. Enjoy your meal.” said Bann as he left the room.
“Bye.” said Cian. He relaxed in the chair.
A few minutes later a group of attendants came in. Two of them moved in a bed while another brought a table and finally a tray of food. It was a piping hot cheeseburger with purple fries next to it. A big cup of iced tea sat beside it. Another carried a small tablet.
Cian moved himself in front of the meal and quickly bit into the burger. He chewed, savoring the taste. “Oh man, you gotta try one of these when you wake up Vanna. It’s amazing.” He slurped the tea. It tasted a bit different than he expected, but it was still good.
He picked up the tablet and looked over it. “Bann’s Notes on the Weaveborn & Recorded History” was the title. It was a 4600 word essay listed by date and major event, going from 6000 years pre-collapse to 2452 after-collapse. Most of the information was from something called the Heritage Project, which was apparently a huge archaeological find – some kind of mega time capsule that an ancient people put together. He spent a few hours reading and re-reading the notes.
“If this stuff is accurate, Earth as I know it doesn’t exist… Jupiter was destroyed. I think I would remember Jupiter not existing. Then again, if I’m really from some Wasteland colony… maybe Earth does exist in the Wastes somewhere. Some kind of Earth 2.0 with just the same names as the ones used in this historical cradle of sentients place.” mused Cian quietly to himself. He had more answers than ever, but they left even more questions. Where the hell did the Humans actually come from? Were all of them actually Weaveborn? The tech and immunity to Weave radiation fit.
“Vanna… you gotta wake up soon and help me make sense of this mess. I’m way over my head here. You would at least know if these people are pulling my leg or not.” said Cian.