The god’s carcass floated between the Marble Nebula and the Third-Quadrant Gate. Scavengers had already begun harvesting vital minerals and resources from the decaying godfall and ships matched its velocity as they fell through the cosmos.
Most were enterprise-grade ships, though smaller vessels dotted the space between. Many had a charter to sell their harvest legally throughout the Hundred-Thousand Worlds. Of course, there were always those who did their harvesting quietly, but illegally. Others, not interested in material pursuits, came to observe the phenomenon for their own purposes.
A tiny ship hung unobtrusively in a patch of space the other ships had disregarded. It didn’t experience the same troubles as the larger ships, having to line up their vectors to accommodate their small craft and EVAs. The pilot of the tiny ship did not need to consider such things.
Only a pilot resided in the tiny ship, minus small droids that assisted with repairs and maintenance. It was an old vessel, painted and retrofitted countless times as it passed through many hands over the years. The interior lacked the smooth elegance of newer ships; rather, it had analog switches and dials, exposed wiring and blocky architecture that served function over form. This vessel was something from ancient days.
Previous owners and passengers had scrawled small messages on available space, walls and floors alike. Perhaps the gesture was all they could do to leave a record of their passing in the harsh universe. The pilot had added soft fabrics and cushions to the living quarters and anywhere else that had sufficient room. Luckily, the gravity driver worked well enough that such comforts weren’t usually a hazard.
The pilot looked down at the god’s carcass from the cargo bay. The doors on the bay’s belly were open, and the force field airlock glowed an electric blue line along the open doors’ seam. The pilot knelt on the metal ground, ritualistic skirt flaring behind. They held a spear across their thighs and observed the undulating, shifting lights of the dead god.
They did not come for riches, spiritual enlightenment, or knowledge since they believed in a god not as paltry to be bound by mortality. But in this false god, new things were born.
The pilot was not a pilot. The pilot was a hunter.
The hunter squinted and tried to parse the movement of the scavengers from the shifts of the growing ecosystem below. Plants adapted to space sprung from the body, bioluminescent in the dark. Small creatures had begun to crawl over new terrain. This phase of evolution boded well. The hunter judged their quarry would emerge from one of the cavities within the next few rotations. They would have to be careful during their approach; the godfall was dangerous and ever-changing.
A successful hunt would serve as proof that the hunter was ready to move out of their home world’s parched and dry plains and into the abundant mountains. Ready to honor their home and perhaps forge a new family unit.
They inspected the charges in the spearhead. All was well. Time and again, they had checked their kit and knew all was in place. Nerves, however, cast doubt on their memory. They clucked their tongue and shifted to the balls of their feet, watching the godfall with renewed alertness. The great serpent would slip away if they were not watchful.
Larger and more varied animals appeared in the rapidly-changing ecosystem even as the scavengers burrowed into the carcass, harvesting everything that didn’t belong to them with their vulgar machines. Something shifted in the vacuum. Small animals on the godfall’s surface jerked in surprise before becoming eerily still and even the scavengers moved with more care. But it was impossible to say what had changed, though every creature in the area felt it nonetheless. Tension tightened over the hunter’s back, and they stood. Their eyes were sharp as they scanned the area.
A sinuous dark form slithered under the chasms in the dead god’s flesh. The scavengers didn’t notice, too focused on their greed, but the animals felt the shifting ground and the sense of wrongness. They bounded away from a large patch of ground that had begun to swell upward.
The hunter pressed a button on their headdress, and glass sealed their face. Below, the animals moved like a mass of birds shifting directions in a wind current. It was time. They pitched forward, through the airlock force field, and into space.
The hunter plunged downward, grabbed by the godfall’s gravity. Their ritualistic skirt fluttered behind like a splash of blood against the stars before the vacuum slowed it to a lethargic ripple. Their gaze focused on the far quadrant of the corpse’s skull. A bulge in the ground grew into a large mound with cracks spanning outwards from it, a herald of what was to come.
A massive form erupted out of the corpse’s skull. Plumes of magma and swirls of light slashed across the cosmos. A gesture from the hunter’s fingers activated the thrusters on the back of their suit. They hurtled over the curve of the dead god’s atmosphere and angled toward the breach.
The great serpent was as dark as space itself. Out in the vastness of night, it would be impossible to locate. For now, the glimmer of dying magma glinted off of its massive scales. The hunter adjusted their angle and increased the power to the thrusters, holding the spear tight against their body. Sweat slicked their forehead as the great serpent grew larger and larger with their approach.
A long, sinuous body slid out of the breach in the skull. It coiled in loops and spirals, as though uncertain what to do now that it had reached its full size. Its snout angled toward one of the closer stars, and its coils shifted as it committed to its course. The serpent’s remaining body began to taper as it slithered out of the breach point. If they didn’t catch it before it left the corpse, the serpent would be lost for good.
Scales loomed, gargantuan, and the hunter activated the spear’s first charge. The blade of the spear shot out of the pole, a glittering, sliver metafiber rope tethering it to the shaft. It glinted as it sliced through the void and found its mark in the serpent’s hide. They pressed a button on the spear’s shaft and it began to vibrate. The mechanism inside respooled the metafiber, almost jerking from their grip as it pulled forward with sudden momentum. They reached out their free hand to secure their place on their quarry.
The hunter gripped the edge of a scale and locked the blade back into place. The serpent hadn’t even noticed the small pinprick of the spear nor the small lifeform crawling on its body. Curiosity and caution made the hunter glance back at the rapidly receding godfall. They needed to work fast lest they end up stranded.
They pulled out the spear and began to gently lift scales to peer underneath. The scales were cavernous in the dark and revealed nothing. They shook their head. Too close to the end of the tail. Better luck might be found closer to the skull. Thrusters engaged again, though on a lower setting, and they skimmed just centimeters over the serpent’s twisting body as they approached the serpent’s head while keeping a close eye on the undulating coils. To lose sight of the serpent in the darkness of space would spell their doom.
The hunter settled on the serpent’s body again. They ran gloved hands over the nearby scales; all were smooth and cool. The hunter shimmied forward and paused. They ran their hand over a scale again. There was an imperfection: the scale bent upwards a fraction. As they probed the area, they noticed a bit of heat, even with their thick gloves.
It was here.
Spear gently shifted scale upward, and a light shone out from underneath. It shifted between every hue imaginable, even those the hunter had never seen before nor had words to describe.
Their free hand reached towards the light. The glove shredded away, then the skin, showing the musculature, that too was stripped bare, revealing bones, and then finally, nerves. Time, space, and logic ripped away as the hunter approached the singularity.
The hunter was a child, covered in scrapes and dirt.
The hunter was ancient, swaddled in blankets while breath rattled in their chest.
The hunter was present on the serpent.
The hunter was passed, crouched in the cargo hold.
The hunter was all of these at once—a consciousness that existed at infinite points in infinite multitudes. It was too much for a single mind.
The child stilled. The ancient opened rheumy eyes. The hunter in the cargo hold looked up.
The present hunter gritted their teeth and glared at their deconstructed hand. They knew what they saw was not real; it was simply their mind trying to understand the singularity. They could not grasp it and should not make an attempt. The hand was a hand. It was bone, muscle, blood, and flesh, and it was encased in a thick glove.
Spindly nerves were there one second and replaced the next by the expected glove.
Their hand settled around the treasure. It was liquid, smoke. The singularity would not have a form unless one was defined for it. The hunter, all of the remnants of their points of consciousness, willed it to take the form of a sphere. The singularity squirmed once more and solidified. It pressed against the glove with the assured weight of a physical object.
They gripped their prize and pulled it out. The jewel-like sphere pulsed. Within it lay the power to shift space as one willed, to reach new worlds, and make a new life of their own choosing. It was everything the hunter needed and more.
The serpent continued to glide along ripples of gravity, oblivious to what transpired. No one knew why the great snakes housed singularities in their scales. Perhaps it was the power it needed to break through a celestial skull, and when the great beast had no more need of it, they didn’t mind its absence. The hunter looked over their shoulder at the faraway godfall. They tucked the sphere into a pouch on their thigh before they turned, ritual skirt billowing and ran down the length of the mighty beast’s body in a low crouch.
They strained to see the dark scales. Years of preparation instructed the hunter to wait until the perfect moment to launch themselves through the void. More worrying, the heads-up display in their visor warned of low fuel. Falling short of the godfall, or burning the thrusters too early, would spell disaster and death in the gravity well.
Under the hunter’s boots, the body had begun to taper. They sighted the space of their final footfall, hit their mark, and launched upward. The snaking body vanished into the void while, in the distance, the godfall glowed. They scanned the area. A straggling ship could serve as a platform to catch their breath and plot their way back.
There was nothing.
Empty space stretched ahead, and they noticed, too late, the gap was greater than they estimated. Even with the current rate of velocity and trajectory, the hunter would not reach their destination. Panic tightened their throat. The singularity burned in their pocket. Nanoseconds ticked by as they despaired, but their hands moved along the spear shaft of their own accord, reversing polarity. There was a way to close the gap, but it would be dangerous.
They hoisted the spear and activated the second charge. The reversal initiated a small explosion out of the back of the spear, hurling them forward. Already, they could tell that the vector was wrong. The godfall grew larger, but if the hunter maintained the current course, they would be dragged into the lower part of the corpse, where the core of a forming world had begun to take shape.
Take a breath. Hold it. Let it out.
Red, urgent messages flared over the visor. Warnings of a too-fast heart rate and hyperventilation blared for their attention. Small messages appeared near these warnings, begging for permission to release sedatives and tranquilizers.
Blinking sweat away, they curled their fingers into the sign for the thrusters. A burst of speed propelled the hunter upward, over the skull’s temple where a vertical verdant field bloomed with tiny white flowers. The thruster fuel gauge deteriorated from yellow to red, plummeting until it hovered just above the empty marker. They snapped off the thrusters, and their breath echoed raggedly in the sudden quiet while the momentum continued to propel them upward.
They crested the curvature of the skull. Hazy mountains had begun to form on some far-off patch. They raised the spear again, fired another charge to catch the desired gravity wave, and began to skim along the top of the atmosphere like a stone thrown across a lake.
The friction of re-entry was negated by their space suit. Unfortunately, it could do little against the hunter’s velocity. The ground blurred past below, and the hunter held their breath as it approached. They activated the last bit of fuel for the thrusters to slow down before crashing. They rolled, kicking up clods of dirt and disturbing small animals before they came to a stop.
They groaned. Another klaxon rang in their visor. Several graphics flashed red. They rolled onto their back and stared at the pinpricks of stars, little ghosts just visible past the thin atmosphere. Memory of lessons warned that the godfall was a dangerous, ever-changing environment. They had to get back to the ship, before the ecology decided to absorb them into the landscape. Never mind there was no fuel left, and the final charge in the spear wouldn’t be able to reach that far.
Their thigh pocket burned with the singularity.
Clumsy, gauntleted hands tore open the sealed pocket. Fingers reached inside and wrapped around the singularity. They pulled out the object and brought it in front of their face for examination. Singularities could and could not be described. Even now, bound by the parameters that the hunter had forced upon it, the object moved and shifted in ways the hunter could and could not see.
The hunter blinked against the red alarms. Vision blurred. Something was wrong. Even the loud alarms became fainter and fainter. Some part of the hunter’s mind, the part that had drilled and prepared for years, managed to focus on the hairline crack in the visor. Small splinters spun outwards from it, a line of cracks that wouldn’t abide the pressure differential for much longer.
“Oh.” The word was lost, and the visor failed. Glass shattered inward as the void sought to equalize the pressure. No more klaxons. Only silence and a dead hunter.
The hunter dragged in the air. They opened their eyes. They sat in their ship’s utilitarian cargo bay, the glowing godfall below. They held the spear across their thighs. Had they slept? Had they missed their opportunity?
Their lap burned. They looked down at the singularity and its shifting microcosm of color. A ghost, an afterimage of themselves, moved into a crouch. This was memory. This was the future and yet also the present.
The hunter had died on the godfall and yet the singularity wished it otherwise.
The great serpent breached the god’s skull, and the hunter’s past-self dove through the cargo bay on a grand chase. The hunter watched their past-self for a moment. They noticed the small mistakes, but, oh, what wonderous successes, too.
More and more after images drifted through the hold, memories of past events that had led up to the hunt. They, the present and future self, smiled and lifted the singularity. It shone brighter and brighter. As it grew in luminosity, time and space shivered, the ship elongated and snapped forward into a vector between stars. Hunter and ship were hurled forward, into hyperspace, and towards a new beginning.