Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 12
Occo and Bresk passed through the first wormhole on their voyage a short time later. This was the wormhole which would take them to the Masc Bleddin system, the largest wormhole nexus in their stellar vicinity. From there, they would have a choice of no fewer than seven wormholes to take in the next stage of their mission. Five of those seven wormholes were located within the magnetosphere of the Masc Bleddin system’s gas giant planet, Tranxegg.
The planet was so huge that it was almost a brown dwarf and had a magnetosphere to match. That made it effectively impossible for detection systems to keep track of an object as small as a spaceship that came close enough to Tranxegg to use one of the wormholes, unless the detection was done at close range or by the use of visible light. But since all of the wormholes were also within the orbit of the giant planet’s spectacular — and obscuring — rings, that made Tranxegg an ideal wormhole cluster for anyone to use who did not want their destination to be self-evident.
The Envacht Lu knew or at least suspected where Occo was headed, but everyone else would remain unsuspecting — especially the Nedru Concord Skein of Creeds. The Nedru were powerful but she thought she had a good chance of succeeding in her purpose if she took them completely by surprise.
It was always possible, of course, that the Nedru or someone else had placed a string of monitor satellites in a ball-of-twine orbital pattern that would enable them to detect the wormhole she used. But it was highly unlikely that the Nedru would have done so, given the great distance between Tranxegg and Vlax Broche. And if anyone else had done so, why would they inform the Nedru, who were as unpopular as they were powerful?
The term “wormhole” was a misnomer stemming from the earliest days of interstellar exploration. One of the first sublight ramjet expeditions set out to investigate one of Angla’s closest neighbors, a G4 star which it had been determined was orbited by at least one possibly habitable planet. The planet was not only inhabitable, it was inhabited by Ebbo. They were not colonists; the Ebbo rarely engaged in colonization, then or since. Instead, they were a survey expedition themselves, one of many sent out by the Ebbo to chart the pathways that permitted travel between the stars that was effectively faster than light. “Effectively” faster, because no vessel actually exceeded the speed of light. But from the standpoint of the traveler, the distinction was purely theoretical. One entered a wormhole, as the Ebbo called the peculiar pathways, and one emerged in another star system that might be as much as thirty-seven light-years away. For reasons no one had ever determined, thirty-seven light-years seemed to be the maximum distance one could travel using this method. Longer distances required two or more wormholes.
The Ebbo were not a species much given to purely abstract science, however. They were, here as in all things, the galaxy’s nonpareil practitioners of obsessive-compulsive behavior. They found the wormhole network, as they saw it, through purely pragmatic endeavors. Using it to full measure required charting the intricate complexities of the network, which — in the absence of theoretical analysis — required centuries of painstaking (and sometimes quite dangerous) exploration.
But Nac Zhe Anglan theorists eventually realized that what the Ebbo saw as a network of wormholes — as if there really were some sort of tunnels all through the spacetime continuum — was actually something quite different. They concluded that the pathways were fissures produced by the constant intersection and interpenetration of the untold number of branes which seemed to be the basic structure of a multi-universe reality. The fissures were temporary, not permanent, but since the time scale on which branes operated was vastly greater than the scales used by sentient species, the distinction was of purely theoretical interest. By the time a fissure that allowed travel from one star to another finally closed or evaporated, at least one of those stars would have moved off the main sequence or become a supernova.
That discovery — if such it could be called; it was really more in the way of a theoretical hypothesis — came just in time to forestall what had looked to be a great religious war in the making. By the time Nac Zhe Anglan theorists decided that the Ebbo analysis was incorrect, hundreds of expeditions had explored Angla’s stellar vicinity to a distance of several hundred light-years. And everywhere the Nac Zhe Anglan went, they found the traces and relics of a civilization so ancient it predated the emergence of multicellular life on Angla itself.
Traces and relics only, however. They found no living members of the race they came to call the Old Ones, nor even any species that seemed to be their descendants — although that was purely an hypothesis also. No one actually knew what the Old Ones had looked like. No fossils had ever been found, nor any visual images. The assumptions made about them were basely purely on the size, dimensions and details of their ruins.
The discoveries triggered a great religious awakening in the Nac Zhe Anglan. All faiths predating interstellar travel were either swept aside or subsumed within the new and far more vigorous creeds that emerged. There was no single persuasion that prevailed but rather a great constellation of dogmas, which conflicted with each other as often as they agreed. A few basic principles, however, were generally shared by all:
First, that the Old Ones were either deific or demonic in nature. That was the first point of agreement — and also, of course, the initial great schism. The first of the religious wars which dominated the early centuries of interstellar travel was fought (more or less) over this matter of dispute.
Second, that such immensely powerful beings could only have been destroyed by still more powerful antagonists. These might be either deific or demonic themselves, but they presumably had to be one or the other. The second great schism — it would be better to say, bipartite schism — thus produced four basic doctrines. Or rather, four basic doctrinal constellations:
There were those who held that the Old Ones were deific and had been utterly destroyed by the demons. The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by evil — a proposition in support of which, of course, there was much evidence.
Secondly, there were those who held that the Old Ones had been demonic and had been destroyed by beings still more demonic. The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by great evil — a proposition in support of which there was still greater evidence.
Thirdly, there were those who held that the Old Ones were deific and had won the great conflict, but at such a terrible cost that only a few survived, and those much weakened. The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by chaos — a proposition in support of which there was enormous evidence — but which held the possibility, at least, of the eventual triumph of good. For which the evidence was admittedly very slender.
Fourthly, there were those who held that the Old Ones were demonic and had lost the great conflict, but at such a terrible cost that only a few of the greater demons had survived, and those much weakened. The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by chaos but that the possibility existed that chaos would be eventually superseded by supreme evil.
This fourth doctrinal constellation then fell out among themselves over the issue of whether the triumph of evil over chaos was to be welcomed or opposed. Thus arose the factions between whom eight fierce religious wars had so far been fought, none of them with decisive conclusion.