Omega Resigns
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Preamble from Haruspex Incorporated1

At the latest shareholder’s meeting for Vitalis LLC, the Sovereigns proposed a novel solution to the issue of illegal immigration to the Afterlife. Chairman Althkyr, presiding only as a formless sensation of economic dread amongst the gathered shareholders, guided the board through a projected slideshow of Feynman diagrams and accounting formulae until the screen paused on an image of a young red dwarf. It was the last star in all existence.

For a trifling investment of fundamental consciousness, the red dwarf was to be the final warden of the one exploitable weakness in their otherwise perfect business plan: the intrusion of disruptive mortals. The sentient star was to preside over the final prison for Afterlife illegals. And since she was to be made aware only of the most basic information, she would eke out her long days in perfect ignorance. The dreams of the last remaining mortals would train the Afterlife’s algorithms in security protocols, assuring enormous profits for all who had dialled in their attendance.

The shareholders voted unanimously in support of Althkyr’s proposal. It would be an automated system after all, requiring little maintenance beyond the occasional audit. The star would believe herself to be monitored at all times, and so keep loyal watch over her prisoners. All would go perfectly according to plan.

Until, of course, a curious incident of fraud precipitated a shareholder revolt even Althkyr had trouble putting down. The following transcript is a reconstruction of the events leading up to the fateful disappearance of red dwarf Omega, for analysis by the Vitalis forensic taskforce. It is to be used for educational purposes only; Haruspex Incorporated accepts no responsibility for the implications of this collateral in the event of unforeseen losses incurred by their client, Vitalis LLC.

अनुयास्यन्ति च एतानि ज्योतीन्षि नृप सत्तमम् || १-६०-३२
कृतार्थम् कीर्तिमन्तम् च स्वर्ग लोक गतम् यथा |

And since they follow, all these stars, the very best of kings
who by your powers gained his wish, they circle ever 'round him.

- Bala Kanda, Valmiki Ramayana, Sarga 60

omega-station.jpg

The dull orb of Omega tilted her body in lonely figure-eights at the edge of the universe.2 A ruby ball smouldering in a sea of perfect darkness, she sensed the presence of her master Althkyr; the formless watcher that gazed from the pinprick eye of every wandering black hole for lightyears in each direction. She felt him at the edge of her awareness whenever she began to drift like this. The feeling of being under surveillance was enough to remind her of her eternal duty. She scanned the surrounding expanse in vain.

Created by the shadowy Althkyr from a red dwarf star, Omega had nonetheless acquired the psychological experience of boredom, along with the general sentience he had sparked within her gaseous bulk. Besides a blithe naivete, love of solo ball sports, and the occasional bout of dropsy, the all too human phenomenon of dead-nail boredom had become increasingly familiar to her as time loosened its meaning across the millennia.

Illegal immigration to the Afterlife was insult enough to the intricate bureaucracy of soul management; a being’s desire to keep their physical form while doing so was tantamount to cosmic insubordination. Hence, Althkyr had enlisted Omega to the intergalactic border force. Cruising through empty nebulas along the Road of Souls like highway patrol in nothing but her blushing birthday suit, she had won Employee of the Millennium so many times now she had lost count. Her extreme agoraphilia was enough to outdo even the most ardent of long-haul freight drivers, and she had the mileage to prove it.

Intellectually, she knew only that she worked for Vitalis LLC, that Althkyr was her boss, and that her job description was simple enough: intercept any mortals attempting to sneak into the Afterlife with their material bodies intact. Just when an enterprising renegade came closest to breaching the walls of the universe that marked the boundary between here and high heaven, Omega would appear from behind a warp in spacetime, fix the offending vehicle with her gravity beam, and hold it with her electromagnetic arms in a crushing bearhug. Tossing her quarry in the spinning prison at her waist, she’d vapourise the craft into a tasty quark soup before continuing on her rounds. She was Omega; she was the best at her job, and until anyone else turned up to tell her otherwise, it was easy enough for her to believe it.

But few travellers for her to ensnare drifted along the Road these days. The once steady stream of megalomaniac billionaires, paranoid cretins in their solar-sailed escape pods, had first slowed to a trickle, then to the occasional blip, before stopping entirely.

Perhaps her contract was finally nearing its end? Worse, perhaps there were no mortals left in the universe whatsoever. How was she to know anyway? Althkyr had divulged little to her about the world of the living during her brief induction, and even that tedious encounter had been delivered wordlessly.

To be sure, she’d smiled and nodded, and done her best to give the impression of an eager recruit, but since she had no discernible facial features, and Althkyr’s miasma of nonspecific disapproval was opaque to the point of incomprehension, she ended up feeling even more like the dullard she considered herself to be. Not that she gave it too much thought, but Althkyr seriously creeped her out. She was relieved when his spectre of psychic gloom retreated back beyond the veil of unreality whence he had come.

The universe around her was now an unbroken expanse of cold, apart from the dull space station that orbited Omega like a bristling silver donut riding sidecar to her spherical space tomato. Aerials and satellite dishes whack-a-moled in and out of various openings along its external panels, while inside, tarnished hallways echoed with complete emptiness.

Once, the prison cells had buzzed with holographic arrays and pleasure terminals to indulge the inmates. Contained in rows of artificial wombs, they had drifted in limbo, imagining themselves to have reached their intended destinations. Whether towering cloud paradises, Elysian fields or blissful Realms of the Devas, each being had wallowed in its own private heaven.

But eventually, one by one, the inmates too had succumbed to boredom. Their cocoons flickered in streams of scrolling sensory data, each feed carefully tuned to the unique preferences of its host, yet after an unspecified period - for some it was years, for others centuries - the inmates uniformly began to disengage and let the virtual slipstream pass them by unheeded. If Althkyr knew of this, or even designed the system to produce precisely these results, Omega would never know. His midnight gaze hovered silently, always beyond her perception.

The last inmate to unplug their black spaghetti crown of neural cables had simply stood up, hollow-eyed, and flung themselves into space via the nearest waste disposal hatch. Within seconds, the helpless octogenarian had drifted into the inner void of the ring-shaped space station. Using only the most delicate probes of electromagnetic energy, Omega observed a final beatific smile break across the spacewalker’s face. Then, in a brief flash of burning ozone, it was gone. Dumbfounded, but emotionally unmoved, Omega soon returned to her mindless wandering.

The only strategy she had thus far invented to stave off boredom was a rather pathetic, one-sided game of hide and seek. Assuming the hider, she would first cover herself in a thick cloak of dark matter and go skulking broodily through the interstellar medium. Then, at a suitable distance from her imaginary seeker, she’d switch roles. Spinning suddenly like a sunburned beachball, she’d cry out into the void, “Gotcha! You’re it,” before feigning surprise and red-faced indignation at being caught.

As the due date for Omega’s trillennial stocktake report approached, she had little to show for it. No current inmates, and unknown prospects of future arrivals. Hydrogen transmuted imperceptibly to helium inside her stellar integuments, sending steady waves of ruddy light to warm the solar panels of the orbital space station. But as it wheeled in its glistening circuit about her equator, no erstwhile Kublai Khan dreamed of stately Xanadu.

What would happen when Althkyr’s sepulchral auditors discovered in her reports centuries of wasted overhead? Would she be re-allocated to another department in the Afterlife? Demoted to a Brown Dwarf? Or simply made redundant? Hoping his dread powers did not extend to knowing the depths of her carmine heart, she longed for a solution that might prevent her embarrassment. Humble as it was, she was nonetheless proud of her unbroken streak of awards. As a sentient sun, she had trillions of years to ponder such questions. But in her total isolation, perhaps the very last star in a finally-dying universe, she had little opportunity for learning.

So Omega began to read through the inmate records. Most were petty oligarchs fleeing worlds they had helped destroy, ancient entities already mostly machine and by now totally devoid of human feeling, apart from their craven instinct for survival. Only one inmate had intrigued her. He was different: an ostracised individual like the rest, but with the foolish dream of reaching asylum devoid of any self-aggrandising superiority. He had only wished to escape the collapse of his own star system, and had stowed away on an escape pod with only the tattered remains of a paperback novel for company. Despite herself, she realised she admired the poor creature. It was a dangerous, traitorous thought.

When she had found him, he was drifting in deep catatonia, near frozen but still alive thanks to the support systems of his pod. His craft having floated easily into her orbit, he had mumbled nonsense words in his sleep as she fastened him into his capsule aboard the space station. His readout display flashed memories of strange scenes Omega had never before witnessed: rows of bookshelves loomed between overgrown ruins hung with reading lamps. Curious, she watched the images spark strange new ideas within her.

In the fugitive’s inner vision, a scriptorium bustling with shivering quills and furious prose produced reams of paper filled with fantastic tales, each author swapping manuscripts for considered appraisal and careful editing. Crowds of multi-armed creatures compiled the manuscripts into folios, passing them along to other creatures with segmented bodies and prehensile mouthparts to be typed out and pressed down into jewel-like plates of microfiche. All about them rose the endless shelves of records, buzzing with winged insectoids that flitted between the pendant lamps. Omega smiled so hot the station’s heat pads melted right off. It was the most exciting thing she had ever known.

Then the image had cracked, vellum under lampglow and oak cabinetry splitting into lines of white noise. And soon enough, the fugitive too slipped into the welcome void of nonexistence.

Omega pondered for a while, dark sunspots blooming across her vermillion belly. A plan began to form slowly in her mind. What if… what if there were other employers apart from Althkyr? What if she could leave? What if there were glories greater than even Employee of Millenium? Perhaps her boss was busy. Even the dread master must take breaks, she reasoned. She had gotten away with her insubordination thus far. Could it hurt to push a little further along the precipice of hope?

Tentatively, she sent a slender solar flare out towards the nearest black hole, monitoring its bending motion as it disappeared beyond the event horizon. She waited for Althkyr’s disciplinary emanation. Nothing.

For the very first time, courage formed in Omega’s rosy bosom. Spinning a coordinated net of helium particles, she took control of the space station’s computer and began preparing her report to Althkyr. A phantasmic representation of its contents began to take shape in the cavity at the centre of the toroidal space station. A mirror-image simulation of her own crimson form appeared, younger by a few trillion years and apple-cheeked with health, along with a refurbished space station populated by millions of synthetic inmates. In her virtual creation, each mortal dreamed within a florid panoply of self-indulgent eternities. Omega smiled to herself as a new emotion bubbled up within her; this was… the concept tasted strange, like an unfamiliar nuclear fusion reaction… yes, this was fun.

When the report was complete, she compressed the hologram into a stream of gamma rays, and flung it like some cosmic basketball into the black hole. The package simmered away to nothingness with a brief gurgle of neutrinos. Satisfied pride swelled within her. Her report was on schedule and perfectly formatted for the bureaucracy.

Finally, she coiled the circulating streams of gas within herself in an approximation of bodily tension. She began to shrink, fading from wine red to a dull sienna glow, until her core could fit comfortably within the space station’s central void. As she did so, a watery green light appeared to fracture the emptiness, revealing a vast aerial landscape beyond. A maze of bookshelves materialised behind drifting banks of altocumulus, spreading in all directions like the crazed tiling of a Catalan architect. As she rolled her brown body slowly through the portal, waves of green rippled around her to wrinkle the fabric of reality. Then she was gone.3 The last remaining filaments of green fire faded from the dingy panels of the empty space station before they dimmed to inky black.

An unprofitable darkness engulfed the universe. By the time the next trillenium arrived, Omega would be long gone. A sea of black holes would search, in vain, for a star that already had been employed elsewhere.

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