Excerpt: Beginnings

The Finishers were lonely.

They shouldn’t have been. The outer reaches of space were empty, but they were the Finishers’ home. It was proper: silence and solemnity for a being that ended worlds.

If they didn’t like the silence, they had their memories. Rock and stone crumbling where they passed. Buildings constructed by every hand or claw or prehensile appendage in every galaxy, torn asunder to make way for them. The cries of the dying, roars or chirps or desperate mumbling, from sapient beings and beasts alike.

The screams were a song, and they carried it with them wherever they wandered among the stars. They had only to think of it, and it would fill their minds, flow from one to the next with no effort and no error.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Finishers could mimic the song. They had a thousand mouths, a thousand throats, a thousand lips and beaks and snouts and voice boxes. Borrowing the shape of a mortal creature was as easy as thought—and they shared those already.

And if even that didn’t ease their discomfort, they had each other. A vast web of minds, all linked one to another, all with eons full of memories. They knew one another’s thoughts like they knew their own, little lightning shocks of awareness crackling from one to the other, to the other, to the other.

And yet. Discontent flickered through their connection, an anxious thrill. It pricked at their minds, a sharp little sting.

They tried to drown it out, mouths twisting from their surface, shaping themselves into throats and tongues and teeth of every kind. They screamed, over and over, in thousands of voices, the curses and pleas of sapient creatures and the screeches of every kind of beast.

But those cries were only memories, and it had been eons since they had ended a world. It would be almost as long until they were called again.

And even then, the mortals they met would die soon after they arrived.

The thread of worry vibrated fast and bright.

Ending life was their purpose, yes.

But their purpose wouldn’t ease their troubles. Not when the problem was the silence.

Not when they needed someone else to fill it.


Vana was lost.

Out beyond the Third Frontier, lost was a bad thing to be.

She’d managed to evade the Legion. Even managed to hide for a few days without being found. But apparently when you were far enough away for those bastards to stop following you, you were too far out for your ship’s navigation to know where you were either.

And her ship might run out of fuel any day now.

Vana tightened her hands into fists and spat an array of curses. The ship’s computer didn’t seem impressed. Vana closed her eyes and forced herself to take a shaky breath in. Whatever happens now, panic isn’t going to help.

She let her breath out again, heavily, and unclenched her hands. She had some food. Some fuel. Less than she’d like. It had taken her a while to get out here. But it would last her long enough to figure out what to do, as long as she didn’t panic.

She paced, for something to do, and squinted at the map again.

It didn’t help. The array of stars looked as foreign to her as it did to the computer. She could see planets circling some of them, even a few systems, but…

Can any of those planets support life?

She blinked. “That’s it!” she yelled to no one in particular. “Navigation, do any of the three closest systems show signs of organic life?”

It wouldn’t get her back to the mothership. It wouldn’t connect her to any other Defiers stranded out here, either. Docking with another unit’s ship might look bad, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world, no matter what her racing mind might tell her. Joining the Defiers meant knowing things might go wrong.

Finding life out here wouldn’t find more Defiers. And it wouldn’t get her home. But it might keep her from starving while she figured out where the hell she was.

“Life signs detected,” the system chirped.

“Yes!” she cried, bouncing. She might blunder into something, but nothing could be as bad as the war back home.

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