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    Chapter 1
    “One cycle of a planet around its axis is called a day. One cycle of the planet around its star is an year. And one cycle of the star around the center of its galaxy is simply called a galactic cycle.”
    Etribone’s robots were busy explaining such fundamental sciences to primitive beings on this planet. Etribone wondered, why such an intelligent species had remained so naive for so long. But that was just one of the countless questions that were swarming his mind.
    Etribone is an Akyrian, one of the most numerous species spread across almost every galaxy. Historical time periods are measured in standard galactic cycles. All fundamental sciences are believed to have been discovered upto the limits of the uncertainty principles. In other words, every law that can be known, is known. Or atleast so was it thought, when Etribone suggested the existence of untraceable foundations that guided the laws themselves. “Artifacts” he called them. He reasoned “Why are the fundamental constants of the universe exactly what they are? What if, say, some of the universal constants can be changed? What keeps them where they are?”.
    Despite his stature, his thoughts on this topic were only considered a philosophical chatter. After all, the principles of uncertainty implied that even if there were such “artifacts”, it would be theoretically impossible to detect them.
    Etribone persisted. He repeatedly brought up this topic in discussions among research councils. The first time when he brought this up before a council, someone commented “It is known that there can be infinitely many such hidden variable theories, each leading to the same known set of laws. And just one of them is perhaps correct. You say that, assuming that we know which the correct one is, we might possibly be able to detect the so called artifacts, and in turn, possibly manipulate those hidden variables. But it is fairly established that, since there are infinitely many interacting variables, it is impossible to know their coefficients.”
    “Unless..” Etribone chipped in. “Unless the ‘artifacts’ manifest a change in themselves.”
    “A change like what, sir?” asked another observer.
    Etribone didn’t have the answer to that.
    “Perhaps time will answer that.” He thought.

    Etribone noted that the “artifacts” that he proposed could thus hold severe implications, rather than merely being abstract constructs. They would dictate the distribution of free will. But, Etribone realized, they could not possibly be altered. This was so, because, their fields were spread uniformly across the universe. Spread in form of untraceable interactions. Simply put, Etribone propounded that, every object would gain nearly as much flux of this field from all other objects in the universe, as compared to what it would give back to them collectively. All free will was simply stored in this pattern of redistribution, and in the underlying uncertainty principles.

    Etribone is fond of reading old archives. One thing that particularly fascinates him is the end of existence of a living being. The archives contain that, billions of galactic years ago, it was in fact believed that every thing which lives, eventually dies away.

    The universe is now not too far from the end of this cycle, and the beginning of the next. The question on many minds today, is, what happens to us at the end? When the universe restarts its cycle, everything breaks down into its most basic form. What do the thoughts and feelings turn into? Etribone knew that the answer to every question relating to existence of free will simply lay hidden behind the principles of uncertainty. After all, by definition, free will requires the existence of uncertainty.

    Etribone wondered “Perhaps, the beings that existed billions of years ago, when this “death” was commonly known about… they would have thought this out. They would have a different view of the universe’s end, than what we have today. Perhaps they had known the answers that we don’t. After all, each of them would have seen deaths happening around them. They might have learnt something from experimenting with it. But I am doubtful. It doesn’t seem that they choose death by their own will. The records indicate that they were searching for ‘cures’ and ‘medicines’. It seems that these terms refer to remedies designed to avoid or postpone death. So, they eventually succeeded. And that is why there is no thing called ‘death’ today. Perhaps, we have been taking our existence too much for granted.”

    Chapter 2
    Towards the end of one cycle of the universe, and before the beginning of the next, everything has to break down into its most basic constituents. Sciences and technologies at this time were far better understood than ever before. The concepts of illness or death could only be found in extremely old archives. But as the end of the universe’s cycle drew near, so do the concerns that it would mean end of everyone’s existence too.. their “death”.

    It was at this time that Etribones’ prediction of “artifacts” drew everyone’s attention. It started with complaints being reported from various intergalactic transporters. Odd fluctuating fields of minute amount of energies started to cause considerable chaos in navigation servers. This immediately drew curious innovators into researching them. Since innumerable galactic cycles, it had been believed that all sciences had been completely explored. It had robustly been demonstrated that, the tools that they had invented so far were sensitive enough to detect and study the existence of every possible kind of interaction, upto the limits of the principles of uncertainty. Etribone was perhaps the only one to ever question the stability of uncertainty itself. He had long back, suggested the existence of some kind of foundations, which he called “artifacts”, that guided the hidden variables governing the principle. The minutest change in the the nature of his artifacts could theoretically cause significant, observable changes in fields, like what they were observing now.

    Soon, “artifacts” became a common term amongst innovators. It made sense to them that, as universe’s cycle neared its end, the nature of Etribone’s artifacts changed. After all, at the end of the cycle of the universe, everything has to break down, simplifying into its most fundamental constituents. The artifacts should break down too, altering the laws of uncertainty, and causing erie fluctuations in fields, similar to what they observed now.

    However, while pondering alone, ages ago, Etribone had assumed that the artifacts’ fields would be spread uniformly across the universe. It was a sensible assumption, and it justified why the fields could not detected. On the contrary, now it was observed that the fluctuating fields seemed to be overwhelmingly sourced from just one distant spot. This raised the question “Why could these fields never be detected so far?”

    Shocked at finding that an entire science had stayed hidden from them, the innovators scrambled to explore it. Most of them desperately hoped that this would help them survive the end of this cycle of the universe, and make it through to the next one. Etribone was chosen as the leader of this adventure. He immediately chose a team of the best known innovators across his Galaxy, mostly comprising of Akyrians, Banovers, and Steegans, and set out on an expedition towards the source.

    Akyrians are known to be curious dreamers and independent explorers, while Steegans tend to be introvert innovators. Banovers, on the other hand, are generally much more social, and tend to work as a team for most purposes.

    The fluctuating fields led them towards an average sized star at the edge of an averaged sized galaxy. Why should this spot be so special? They moved around, looking for a more precise location. Eventually they observed something unusual. An eerie planet. Like a dim white spot in the middle of a small dark canvas. It seemed to deflect away the light coming from stars behind it.
    “Great, now what should we call the opposite of gravity?” Etribone chuckled, as they moved closer to the planet.

    Etribone’s first thoughts immediately proved right. As they grew closer to the planet, it seemed that they were being pushed away from it, experiencing the opposite of what gravity should do. It seemed to take forever for them to push towards the planet. However, once they almost reached it, the gravity was suddenly “normal” again. The planet had a dense atmosphere, as one would expect to find in a planet of this huge size. It was filled with activity. And even life.

    “So.. what do we know about this planet?” Asked Etribone, looking towards a team member who had been browsing through their database of stars and planets.
    “Nothing” came the reply.
    “Uh, so you are telling me that there is a whole planet here that we somehow remained unknown to us all this while?”
    “Not just the planet, sir. This whole star system is missing from our database”.
    Etribone sighed. He briefly looked up towards the blank dimly lit sky. “How eerie is that, now?” he said, pointing towards it. “From the outside, It seemed to be deflecting light away. Apparently, light does not easily enter or leave either.”

    A Steegan screamed “Alright! Look at this.” Everyone turned their attention towards the screen that he was indicating. A spectra of electromagnetic waves was on display. It was heavily biased towards very low frequencies. He continued “This was taken just outside the star system, just when we had the first visual of this star.” Everyone stared blankly at it for a while. “So the light from this star turns to such high wavelengths as it moves away from it.”

    “Another trick..of some illusionary anti-gravity there” laughed Etribone. Some of his peers slowly nodded, as if in partial agreement.
    “We only know time to slow down near massive bodies. Here, it instead speeds up to such an extent that the self-dissociation of those waves in gravity fields, which theoretically would take countless galactic years to become significant, happens multiple times there before light escapes that field. That explains why we never discovered this star.” Etribone stopped. He knew that things did not quite add up.

    If what he said was indeed right, they would have ended up spent trillions of galactic cycles of their time while trying to reach near this star. And besides, he had thoroughly worked out the properties of possible hidden artifacts. He knew that they couldn’t selectively create any sort of an anti-gravity field. These constants would have the same values throughout the universe. Their existence would have been prone to easy detection from anywhere. This meant that any sort of field like this one, apparently opposing the effect of gravity, couldn’t have existed while the artifacts remained hidden. But then, it did exist, because otherwise, this star and this planet would surely have been known.

    His thoughts were interrupted by a fellow Akyrian. “What do you make of those creatures there, though?” Across the horizon, they could see a stretch of inhabited dwellings. He continued “A whole hidden universe. A race stuck billions of galactic cycles prior to our times.”

    Etribone didn’t reply. He was struck down by other thoughts. The planet had innumerably many species. The water below, the soil, the air, all of them were swarmed by different creatures. The rest of the universe put together might not add up to those many species. Some creatures were so small that, to observe them, he had to switch his lens into a millionth of the normal focal length. Tiny, fragile in appearance. He gently pushed one with a microscopic tool, and watched as it exploded. “Death” Etribone shuddered.

    He observed how the creatures competed with each other. Struggling, warring constantly, for their existence. At the cost of that of others. He had always longed to know how the universe looked at a time when death was known. He didn’t like the answers that he found.

    Chapter 3
    Etribone’s team set up a research point in this planet. From here, they could conduct their experiments on the erratic gravitation around this planet, and at the same time, try to move closer towards the source of the fields coming from the artifacts. Etribone soon deployed robots that observed the speeches and interactions among the species that inhabited the large dwellings on this planet, and used them to quickly learn their language. Using his tools of translation, he could now communicate with them. Despite being seemingly creative and intelligent, this species were primitive beyond his imagination. Fragile, prone to misbeliefs, and prone to death too. Suspicious, but curious, with a lot of stories to tell.

    Soon, Etribone was back on the trail of the mysterious field of the artifact. As they grew closer to their destinations, they found that the fields seemed to have multiple sources, all within an island on the planet. On reaching closer to the islands, they found that the ocean below was stormy below, despite the winds looking over it appearing calm. On reaching closer yet, the waves behind them appeared to slow down and got thinner in size, condensing closer to each other as they went further. The phenomena that looked familiar to Etribone and his team. It seemed to get harder to push their way further towards the island. Etribone immediately called out to retreat the ship from the island. As the pilots started turning the ship backwards, most of them working at their usual pace, he yelled at them “Faster! Full speed! At once!” Startled, they dashed the ship away at full speed, and overshot their return point. They turned towards Etribone, wondering what triggered him. Etribone dashed out of the ship, looking around as if he was searching for something. As the team followed him out, they realized that the planet was not exactly the way that they had left it. Their dwellings had been replaced by familiar drone homes. The primitive species that they left behind were now using tools and transports similar to what the rest of the universe did.
    Etribone turned back towards them. “Not as bad as I feared” he said, looking relieved. “We didn’t lose too much time in that gravity field, fortunately.” Etribone said, waving a clock that he pulled out from one of the robots they had left behind. Etribone had rightly guessed that a combination of high gravitational potentials and gravity waves together caused the strange waves that they observed on the sea. Unsure about how much time they might lose by staying in those potentials, he had ordered the quick return.
    But it was apparently enough time for the robots that they left behind to have taught more than one thing to the smartest species on this planet. They now respected and revered Etribone’s team of diverse intergalactic species. They felt liberated, basking in their new found knowledge, looking eagerly beyond the confines of their lonely planet. As a gesture of respect, Eronians would gently bow down whenever anyone from Etribone’s team approached them.
    For the next trip into the island, Etribone and his team studied the gravity on the sea around it. They now knew the amount of time they would lose each time they zipped their way through it. This time though, they would add a new bunch of interns into their team. They named the planet Eron, and picked a group of their new Eronian friends, who were eager to tag along with them. With their agreement, Etribone’s robots developed the ability to partly read the minds of Eroninans through weak electromagnetic waves that they emitted, a process that widely used at these times to share memories and complex thoughts quickly.
    Soon, Etribon’s team reached into the island that they sought to explore. This was inhabited by the same species of Eronians that they found outside the island. But it was the most mysterious sight that Etribone had ever seen. Trees formed vast structures that served as a natural habitat for those that inhabited them. Creatures other than than Eronians here exhibited no thoughts.It seemed like everything in the whole island had been programmed to serve the needs, and support the activities, of the few Eronians that lived here. It did not seem possible that this could have evolved on its own. To get the answers, Etribone took his fellow Eronians to talk to the local Eronian inhabitants here.
    The locals welcomed their fellow Eronians. After that, they found themselves staring curiously and amusedly at Etribone. “What is that?” asked a local, pointing towards him. Eronians chuckled, wondering where to start from. Finally one of them began “These friends of ours come from far-away stars! They gave us knowledge of things beyond what we could imagine. We now travel through skies with it, we live in comforts that we never dreamt of! They have come here to find out about this place, and we travel with them now.”
    The locals looked surprised. “So, you were not brought here by the call” They said, scrolling through the faces of Eronians.
    “The call?” asked an Eronian.
    Then was brief silence, which was interrupted by Etribone. “Could you please tell me more about this call?”
    The locals were startled that the weird alien being could talk, and that he was communicating with them in their own language. “Could he be the God?” one of them whispered to the other. “He can’t be. There are more of his kind” was a hushed reply from a local donning a long cloak. He signalled towards the other alien members of Etribone’s team, who were now making their way towards this conference.
    Etribone reiterated his request to learn more about the “call”, and requested their permission to ask more questions that they might be able to answer. They responded affirmatively. “We are the Guardians of this island, of everything that lies within.” the man with the cloak began. “We never have visitors here. We would like to answer your questions, and we would like you to answer our’s.”

    Chapter 4
    “And what about you?” Asked Etribone. “How did you end up here, how did you become a guardian?”. This was the fifth Guardian that Etribone talked to.
    “Well, just like the others here that you have talked to, I was one among the others outside this island, until I was called.” sighed Walmair, preparing himself to begin his monologue.

    “It started with just one weird dream. I saw a primitive island, a city over the water, a desert within this city, a mystic temple, and a gate to a palace that was always closed. It felt like I was in this dream for ages. Exploring and wondering, trying to master weapons and magic.

    It all felt all blurred out when I woke up. My house stood near the top of the hill. Almost involuntarily, I strolled out to my balcony after woke up, trying to shake the dream out of my mind.

    That is when it happened first. A memory from the dream flashed before my eyes. A map of a city that I saw in my dream. The map suddenly looked like a replica of my countryside. I could see the overlapping borders, hills, and trenches.

    As I walked down the streets, I keenly observed things that I had barely ever noticed before. The map occasionally flashed before me. And eventually, I realized that I could use it to explore. It showed me inns and farms that I didn’t know about, even valleys in the hills nearby that I had never visited. And it was never wrong. It felt like I was still living inside that dream.

    I had to find out what was happening. I traveled to every corner of the map, seeking to understand that dream. And at last, I reached the edge of the map, where, the dream suggested to me, stood a teleport that would lead me to new lands. Was it real?

    The flashbacks now had almost transformed into a firm detailed vision, overlapping with the real world that i saw. I searched for anything that could somehow, figuratively or literally, imply a teleport. But I didn’t find any.

    Bewildered, I walked up and stood upon the spot where the teleport was exactly supposed to be. As I glanced across the vast lake ahead, another flashback hit me. This time again, it was a map of a land from my dream. But a completely different map. With a lake.. that actually resembled this lake in front of me. Just like the first map had resembled my countryside.

    I saw more teleports in this flashback. Were the maps meant to lead me to somewhere? Were those teleports the places that I had to reach to find the next part of the puzzle? How was all this happening to me? I prepared for a journey to find my answers.

    And so I traveled through many maps, and between various maps. I started to learn what various objects in that dream indicated in this real world. I discovered many caves, and was led to strange rocks and objects, which, going by my dreams, were something beyond what I could comprehend yet. I took whatever of them that I could take with me. I traveled across to islands, waded through creeks, and eventually explored everything on the maps save two odd objects.

    One was a teleport. As I remembered from my dream, it would take me to mystic underwater lands, containing weeds that seemed to expel air when chewed, letting one breathe below those waters. But nothing ever happened when I reached the spot of this teleport. No new map or vision there.

    The other one was a palace. The gates to it were always closed, with two guards turning away any visitors. This land, the maps suggested, stood somewhere far away across the ocean. Left with nothing else that I could explore, I hired a ship to take me here. As I talked to its captain, he told me that he was well versed with those waters, and there was no land or island anywhere in the region that I talked about. Perhaps, I thought, whatever I was looking far, stood on the ocean then. If not, beneath it. I had started to feel that someone was watching over me. That I had to just make my way there, and the next path would be shown to me.

    As we got closer to our destination, the sea grew rough. A storm seemed to be approaching ahead. We only had to get a little further. We were almost there, but the waves had started to look dangerous. The captain ordered the ship to turn back.

    I had actually been expecting this. All my adventures so far were about me alone. Nobody else knew about what I had seen, and nobody would have believed it. I knew I had to carry on by myself. The answers would be waiting for me. I made my way to a little boat strung to a side of the ship, loosened it into the waters, grabbed an oar and rowed straight towards the approaching waves, which only grew wilder. I heard the crew yell at me, turned back to see worried faces screaming at me to return. I rowed on, and soon, I felt that I was in the presence of a strange aura. As I kept moving ahead, the sea started to grow calm now. And finally, it was almost still. The aura had faded away too. I found a whole island standing before me. The the map with the palace gate flashed before my eyes again.

    I turned back to see my ship standing far away on a calm ocean. But it was not alone. I could see scores of ships on the other side of the aura. All facing their backs towards the island, seemingly prepared to steam away, but they all stood completely still right there.

    Of course, that is not what the crew of my ship saw. They saw me wade into the ocean and vanish into the towering waves while they scrambled away from the storm, back to the seaport.”

    “The walls of deceit” interrupted Etribone, nodding.
    Walmair took a deep breath.

    Chapter 5
    The Guardians believed that a God led them into this island, and that they had a purpose to defend it. Though not all of them agreed with what this God was. Some believed him to be the creator of everything that exists, and that he was watching over them. Some believed that it was simply a being of the past that had acquired all the knowledge that could be had. In either case, the God had left his immense knowledge to them alone, to use and protect from any misuse. This knowledge was passed to them through God’s own scrolls, which were scattered across the island, with only the Guardians there to explore and rediscover them.

    “Now what could these scrolls possibly be?” Etribone wondered. The Guardians’ always refused to divulge more about it. Seemingly, it was because they believed that they were the only ones who should have access to that sacred knowledge.

    Etribone directed his robots to teach Guardians, just like they taught Eronians. They Guardians were soon in awe of their new-found knowledge, much like Eronians. Though the Guardians and Etribone’s team interacted nonchalantly, the Guardians were not willing to give up their role as the custodians of their planet.

    “All the science that you show us, it still can’t explain the things that you see in this planet.” One of them told Etribone.
    “Perhaps we can figure that out together. The scrolls that you talk about, might help. Why don’t you show us to them?” Etribone asked.
    “They are just instructions, meant for those of us who were called here.” He replied. After a while he continued “We will try and figure out the purpose of this land by ourselves.”
    “But as I have told you, we don’t have time for that. The universe is in the final stage of its cycle, and we need to find our answers quick. Or well..”
    “Then perhaps” The Guardian interrupted. “The purpose of this island might be to protect those artifacts from the ones beyond the wall.. like you?”

    A brisk silence followed. Then the Guardian continued “An island on a secluded planet of a hidden star, radiating mysterious fields of some artifact.. It seem even more now, that our purpose all this while, has been to protect it..”
    Etribone grew uneasy “Look, we will protect it together. Don’t you think we can help you with that?”
    “We are very capable of protecting it ourselves” The Guardian nodded. “So far, you have shown us much of the great sciences that you know. But you would be surprised perhaps, to hear this from us primitive beings. There is a lot we know, that you don’t.”

    Etribone’s team continued to insist, but made some guardians wary of the aliens on their planet. They debated among themselves whether the newcomers should be welcome to explore their island. While some felt that the aliens perhaps had a purpose to serve in their planet, the others maintained that they might be the very threat that “God” commanded the Guardians to protect the island from.

    Etribone’s bots had by now mapped the mind structure of Eronians, giving them ability to interpret the thoughts and memories of them and Guardians alike, without interacting with them. At least theoretically. Outside this planet, it would be impossible to attempt this. Each individual had a set of encryption tools, which would alter those waves before anyone else detected them.
    “Requesting permission to initiate memory taps” a robot squeaked.

    Etribone’s team had a few options. One, they could simply mutate the minds of the Guardians, and make them amenable. Their primitive unshielded minds could be conquered by rewiring them, essentially charming them to submission. But such an attempt would be thoroughly forbidden by law and ethics. Besides, Etribone preferred not do something that could possibly disturb or destabilize the nature of this island, without completely understanding it. The other option, was to deploy the newly prepared bots that could simply read bits of the thoughts and memories of the guardians from a distance. Of course the guardians were too primitive to suspect this.


    As the bots began to try and obtain the thought of Guardians, something strange happened. The cloaks of some Guardians wavered. To Etribone’s surprise, the waves from their minds were encrypted too. The Guardians appeared alarmed, almost as if the wavering of their cloaks was a warning sign. They rushed and huddled into a large structure of trees, to discuss the matter.
    “Those aren’t just cloaks, those are sensors” murmured Etribone.
    “Looks like a quite primitive encryption, though. Decrypt it quickly” Etribone commanded his bots.
    “Perhaps we should simply rewire their brains instead.” A Steegan suggested.
    “Well did not know that they had those damned sensors on them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some sort of safety against being rewired, too.”
    “Well, perhaps we should just confine them all right where they are, and just force things.”
    Just then, a robot chipped in “Decryption complete. Some data doubly encrypted. Requesting permission to perform iterative decryption”
    “Granted.” Etribone looked at the portion of the data decrypted, and appeared puzzled. It just seemed to be the coordinates of some place on the island.
    “I’ll check it out quick. Please continue monitoring the situation, and avoid forcing a decision till we have discussed the developments further. And he zipped away.

    Soon, the Guardians seemingly concluded their meeting and one of them approached Etribone’s team. “We ask that you leave this island just to us, and turn away from here as soon as you can”. Saying that, he walked away and merged into a group of them.

    Etribone found himself before a sort of tunnel. He was unable to scan its interior. It stood protected from any sort of inspection by fields that would require immense energy to negate. Encryptions of this sort were last used in the era of wars, tens of billions of Galactic cycles ago. Etribone himself could not get into the tunnel. The fields repelled his protective attire. He removed his accessories, stripping down to the bare minimum that every creature outside this planet was required to maintain. The fields were still strong enough to push him away.
    Etribone now had a difficult choice to make. He could go back to return later with enough resources to break in. But that would require a huge resource outside the planet supplying energy into it, and the gravitational abnormalities would only make the process harder and slow. Etribone decided that there might not enough time for that, with how long the universe had before the end of this cycle. He started to strip away his essential attire, overriding all the warnings that showed up. And then he waded into the tunnel. Soon, to move further, he needed to strip even more. With that, he started becoming vulnerable to mechanical injuries. A little further, and again he needed to strip more. With that, he became vulnerable to being rewired. And he again still needed to strip more. His attire started to glow, which was a signal meant to mark if someone committed the unlawful act of stripping out his minimal defenses. This act would strip him off his identity; those who see him after now cannot be sure whether it is him, or an intruder with his body. Perhaps he would himself not know that either. Etribone began to wonder now, whether he had just made himself defenseless and unprepared for what stood in the other side of the tunnel. And soon, he again needed to strip more.

    On the other side of the island, an increasing number of Guardians started gathering out, bunching in groups, and taking positions around the ship.
    Etribone’s team was more amused than wary. The Guardians were still primitive to them. Their knowledge seemed limited to the little that the team had managed to teach them recently. Now they were confident enough to stand up in arms? But yet, the team was aware that the Guardians could hold a few tricks up their sleeves. Despite all their efforts, the team had not been able to understand the odd features and sciences so unique to this island. They would do as Etribone said, and buy time till he returned. But what was taking Etribone so long? They communicated to the Guardians again that there was an urgent need to understand their island for there to be a chance of their survival.
    “The God has always protected us, and he always shall.” was the reply. “We thank you for what you taught us, but then you tried to trick us. You tried to get into our heads, you attempted unholy methods to influence us.”
    “Unholy?” wondered the team. This word didn’t have an analog in their language.
    The Guardians started to get restless as they waited for Etribone’s team to respond. Though they had a friendly relationship with Etribone’s team and their fellow Eronians on the other side, they seemed determined to act on their threat. Etribone’s team tried to play along and make it appear that they were contemplating leaving the island. Eventually, the Guardians decided that they had waited long enough.
    “Leave with your ship, now.” One of them came up and said. “Or we shall take control of all your tools here, and you shall surrender your ship as well.”
    Etribone’s team knew they could not go with either of those options. They had to fight back, and at the least, push the Guardians away from the ship. The Guardians started to close in.
    “Build a thermal wall, that should keep them away, atleast for a while.”
    A hot blast of wind blew out and surrounded the ship, separating them from the Guardians.
    Some of the Guardians promptly went out to warehouses that they had built together with Etribone’s team, and came out with various tools.
    As the Guardians began to dismantle the thermal shield, a Steegan muttered “We shouldn’t have taught them how to do that.” The team wondered what to choose as their next line of defense. They had run out of non-violent options. The Guardians were vulnerable, and any attempt to push away the Guardians with a force that could injure them would start an all out confrontation between the two sides. Etribone’s team had to decide. Surrendering their ship could get them stranded and unable to continue their work till another group outside decided to investigate their absence. A waste of time, that was so precious now. What good are laws and principles, if they might jeopardize the existence of everything in the universe? The team decided to retaliate with whatever options they had. After all, they had come here with a mission. And perhaps, when the Guardians fight back, they might demonstrate and expose the use of those secrets that they have been guarding.
    The Guardians finally punched a hole through the fire wall. They trickled in and slowly began to surround the team. The latter stood ready and waiting. Billions of galactic cycles of peace finally coming to an end.
    A zap tore through the air.
    A piece of glowing metal burst into the ship. Etribone had returned.
    Electromagnetic transmitters instantly transferred into his memory the information of everything that had happened since he was gone.
    A robot quipped “Decryption complete, results archived.”
    “Shut down the decryption storage” He commanded the robots, perplexing his team.
    The Guardians stared at them solemnly. Etribone turned to his team.
    “You have to leave, now!” he said, surprising them.
    “Why do you say that?” an Akyrian looked suspiciously at his glowing attire. “And why would you do that?”
    “There is much more here than we can grasp yet.” Etribone replied. He gestured towards the Guardians “And these ‘Guardians’ here are not as defenseless as they seem. They have been taught to manipulate the artifacts to their purposes”
    “I will send you the answers as I get them. I shall stay back here.”
    With that, Etribone made his way down towards the Guardians. His team followed his instructions. Etribone pulled out a banner and held it before the Guardians, who looked stunned. As his team, along with Eronians, left the island, they looked back to catch a glimpse of the Guardians gently bowing down together towards Etribone.

    “The banner of the God” gasped Walmair.

    Chapter 7
    Etribone would regularly send reports of his research back to his team outside the island. While he researched inside, his team conducted research on the “walls” that surrounded the islands. Many more research teams from nearby galaxies chipped in to study the layers of deceptive walls around this planet. Etribone’s teams beamed Etribone’s observations in forms of logs towards other galaxies to notify them of their developments. One of the logs goes as follows.
    “The Ancients were an extraordinarily developed race for their times. Perhaps the only race that ever accessed the very building blocks that shape the laws of the universe, which we now call artifacts. The ancients held nothing back when it came to ensuring the safety of these artifacts from others, as well as from themselves. Their access to anyone else was forbidden by the Ancients who guarded it themselves. And even for an Ancient to come anywhere close to their cores of those vital artifacts, he would not only need permissions from multiple councils, but also have to pass naked through domes that would read their minds. These connected to secure self sustaining gateways that judged their intentions, opening only to the ones who had the purpose that they claimed, and the noblest of intentions. The Ancients knew well that a slightest change in the laws of the universe could invite a catastrophe, and accessed them rarely. Usually, only to improve their knowledge and sciences.

    That was until one of the most noble and most learned of the Ancients approached the most mysterious of all artifacts. The aura around it was known to enable anyone to take unusual control of his own mind.Allowing him to concentrate on anything he chose to, to temporarily forget that which he didn’t want to remember, to find connections between things with unbelievable efficiency. No one had been understood how this artifact worked, or what it controlled. Until now.
    Coming into the aura of the artifact, the Ancient immediately saw the links between the dots.
    Thoughts are activities of a mind, guided partially by free will. Free will and uncertainty go hand in hand. By guiding the the uncertainties, this artifact guides the laws and the limits of free will itself. Another result of this uncertainty itself, is that the consequences of tweaking this artifact could not be known without actually experimenting with it. But this would essentially imply an altering of the fabric of free will.
    The Ancient grew concerned about its implications. He decided that the artifact was not something to be played with. He realized, all consciousness among the living was fundamentally a manifestation of the uncertainties of the universe; drops of a huge pool of consciousness. It would exist in some form or the other, whether the being was living or dead. But that can only be guaranteed as long as this artifact was unaltered. No, it was not secure enough. Even the domes protecting the artifacts only read intentions. What would happen when someone, somewhere, some day, lesser learned than him, accessed this artifact? What could prevent an unforeseen consequence being caused by someone in an attempt to use it for some reason that he considered noble? It couldn’t be risked. Nothing was more important than protecting this. And there was only one way to do it. Every information about this artifact had to be wiped and hidden away.

    The Ancient used the ability of the artifact to selectively break down every source that ever consciously held the information of the artifacts. His own world, his own race.. everything.. had to be destroyed. The artifact wouldn’t be risked. Nothing mattered as much. He watched as the world that he knew tore apart, saw everything that he knew shatter, disintegrate, and vanish from sight. But he felt nothing. Being in such proximity to the artifact meant that no other thoughts could distract him from his objective. He then scattered the artifacts, concealed them across the universe in plain sight. They could be seen, explored, but all the information that distinguished them from other objects would vanish with him. And so, they would remain disguised forever.
    However, there was one thing still to be done.

    There was one final threat that the ancient could not protect the artifact from. He had to prepare for it before he could leave. He secluded the planet of a primitive race from the rest of the universe. They would stay hidden from everyone else. They would minimal interactions with the rest of the universe. And here, with them, would the last vestiges of knowledge of the artifacts reside. Just enough to ensure that when the time arrived, they would be ready to defend it.”

    However, not everyone was convinced. Etribone’s beliefs are just opinions, after all. And the evidence supporting them would be considered by many as being grossly inadequate for his wild conclusions. The artifacts are the only hope of their survival. And they needed to access them, at any cost, by any means.

    Chapter 8

    Races across the universe have divided opinions with regards to Etribone, and the manner in which Erone is being handled. Etribone’s logs only deepen the divisions, as he is suspected to have been re-wired. But billions of years of galactic peace have made them shun the mildest thoughts of war, and a violent attack on Erone’s inhabitants, who have been attempting to fortify themselves, is disagreed by many. Suspicions of Etribone being re-wired don’t cut ice with most, either. His logs seem to demonstrate that he completely remembers and understands everything the way he is expected to. Someone who completely retains his memories and understanding is unlikely to have been re-wired. After all, the only purpose that rewiring serves is to make someone selectively believe what is false, or forget what is true. And Etribone seemed to demonstrate quite well that he is still the same person with the same abilities.
    However, hard pressed for time, and unable to get Guardians on the same page as them, many of them give up waiting for a universal agreement, and forge up teams to forcefully take over the planet. While the rest of them just keep waiting and watching as things unfold.

    The Guardians are easily overrun by the numerous attacking parties. They do delay the attackers significantly, though. Well, most of the delay happens because the attackers are trying to take over Erone with as less violence as possible. Prefering to disarm and disable when they can, rather than to annihilate everything. The guardians do their best to use the artifacts as well as they can. But it turns out that their understanding of the artifacts is no better than what their understanding of science was before Etribone entered their planet. Erone is taken over. Etribone just spectates. He tacitly helps the Guardians strengthen themselves, making it appear as if he wants nothing to do with the conflict, and as if all Guardian’s technologically sophisticated defenses came from what they had learnt from his team. The Guardians bought him time, and that was what he wanted.
    It turns out, the center of the planet Erone was home to the “ancients” themselves. A ridiculously fast spinning core at the center brought in such effects of length contraction and time dilation that a vast universe seemed to be fit inside it. The ancients are still alive and well. Etribone’s story of the last ancient was a decoy. He had researched and found out about the well guarded core of the planet, and was atleast partly aware of the motives of the ancients, though he decided to keep it a secret. He managed to successfully make his way into the core while the Guardians and the attackers fought outside.
    It will never be known what exactly happened when Etribone waded into the tunnel, when he faced the most powerful artifact by himself, the artifact guiding the constants of free will. Perhaps his story of the last ancient described what went through his mind as he approached it. Or perhaps, he was rewired. The ancients themselves shun such a thing as rewiring. But then again, they took their situation seriously enough to lock themselves up inside a tiny planet where time moves so slow that a billion galactic years would pass outside in the duration of just one galactic year inside. They had essentially fast forwarded themselves to the end of the universe, essentially sacrificing the most part of their lives, for the purpose of ensuring the safety of these artifacts. Perhaps they wouldn’t mind making an exception to their laws by rewiring a creature or two, given that till the “recent few” galactic cycles, i.e, before enclosing themselves in this little planet, they only knew a universe filled with barbaric tribes, who were struggling and warring with each other for space and resources.
    Etribone was firmly on their side now. He believed that if the rest of the universe knew that they were against a sophisticated enemy rather than a bunch of primitive guardians, they would probably attack the planet fast and fiercely given the time that they had left. He knew that this was probably the reason why ancients hid this planet and the artifacts in the first place: They wouldn’t be able to defend the artifacts for long against the sheer number of outside forces wanting to access them after these forces became as technologically advanced as them. So Etribone would help the Guardians delay the attackers as much as possible, before the Ancients themselves lead the final defense to protect the artifact through whatever time might be left after that. Had Etribone bought them enough time?
    The final battle doesn’t end up as an Ancients-versus-all others. Many from outside the universe decide to join with Etribone, believing that the artifacts should indeed not be experimented with. At the same time Ancients are pleasantly surprised to find the universe much more civilized than the one that they had isolated themselves from. The takeover of Erone was peaceful even at the cost of the time that it took the attackers. A conversation is better than a war, but holding out for so long has made the attackers desperate and racing against time. Some Ancients find the attackers more reasonable and convincing than than their own race, which is now focussed on annihilating any threat to the artifacts by hook or or crook, and eventually end up joining the cause of the attackers. It ends up being a complex battle with elements of spies, deceit and sabotage on both sides. A war fought till the bitter end, and the result of which remains fogged out, as Erone stood completely clouded by dense fumes let out from war machines of the most brutal battle ever fought.

    • This topic was modified 11 months, 2 weeks ago by  fysicsTeachr.
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