Of course, it triggered when I turned on Iron Man.
Allow me to backtrack: I like to play video games (a little too much), and the game this evening was Stellaris, a challenging and sprawling space 4X. I was role-playing peaceful tech-loving aliens who might perhaps, upon attaining enlightenment, aggressively expand their space borders a tad. I’d set the difficulty level on high, and because I wanted to earn achievements, I had also turned on Iron Man, an in-game mode with one rigid save file. No timey-wimey messing with the past.
Wary of scores of overpowered enemies, I commission science ships and colonize worlds. The galaxy begs to be explored. I’ll grow and get stronger. I’ve done this before.
But for the first time, I find the Signal.
I’d heard Stellaris had received a small update. Something about a Horizon Signal spawning rarely in black hole systems. I’d never triggered it in any game prior and had religiously avoided spoilers.
And here in a game where I can’t reload, one weaponless science ship pops the event chain.
The captain wants to investigate. What’s the worst that can happen? Arcane readings flood his sensors as he steers for the signal in the black hole. Boldly, he crosses the event horizon – and his ship is sucked away.
Well. One science ship lost. Pay respects and move on. But it’s only the beginning. Anomalies start to pop up everywhere; more science ships and enamored captains probing mysteries that swallow them whole. How many ships am I going to lose? The first captain returns abruptly, changed. He babbles about some Worm and a Loop. What was will be. What will be was. Something from another dimension is reaching out to us. It loves us.
Blindly the captain attacks. He’s gone mad.
Still, I press on into the rabbit hole. Archeologists dig up an ancient temple on my home planet devoted to the Loop. What was will be. That phrase keeps returning. The game keeps giving me options to end this; shut down the experiments, steer your scientists clear. Naturally, I’m having none of that. Over decades of in-game time, I devote my research to the Worm. I construct a monolith.
It wants to come.
The Worm is close and fond of beginnings and wants to enter my home system. Does my neglected interstellar fleet have any chance against a dimensional horror? I face one last choice, the most consequential. Will I say yes, yes in everything I trust? Or is the answer no?
Sayonara achievements. They would have been nice.
I say yes. I have to know.
A new black hole consumes my sun. My home planet’s atmosphere whooshes away. We live on tomb worlds now, my people, all of them changed.
But still alive.
The dawning realization hits me that my game hasn’t actually ended. The light and love of the Worm is enough. What was will be. What will be was.
Things might only have just begun.
Need some more positivity in your life? Find plenty more at the MockingOwl Roost!
Joseph Paul “JP” DeNeui (he/him) is a basketball-loving missionary kid from Thailand transplanted to Chicago, Illinois, where he shivers through winters and writes fantasy and sci-fi. He is the author of the fantasy novel Shadow of Wings.
You can follow Joseph on Facebook, Twitter, his website, or LinkedIn to see what’s going on in the world of fantasy writing, fiction, and general fun. Or, if you happen to love a good epic fantasy novel, check out his book in paperback or Ebook.
Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org