Department for the Analysis of Alien Artifacts, K’Kassa, Issakass Homeworld
The being that sometimes called itself Lee reformed in front of the building. A body formed around him with barely a thought, so little that he took a moment to check what form he wore. It wasn’t anything special. For the moment, he was bipedal with four limbs, blue-green scaled hide, and while he couldn’t see all of his face, it was obvious that he had a long snout.
He wore a short robe with a tool belt.
He was, he recognized, a typical, lower caste Issakass male, the sort of being that would never be noticed walking into a government building—not that it mattered.
There were no Issakass as far as the eye could see. He saw plenty of evidence that the Issakass still existed. The smell of smoke hung in the air and he saw evidence of at least four burning buildings with a quick look around. He knew he could pick out more if he cared.
He didn’t. None of the buildings were close, so it wasn’t as if the neighborhood were burning. This block of low government buildings must look the same as it had before the war. Blocky and made of old plastics and ceramics, all of the buildings had a grayish tinge, whatever color they’d been before. The kassetia vine grew more thickly on them than the Issakass preferred, hinting that this block had been abandoned before the current fighting.
It didn’t surprise him. He felt sure he knew why, but it was good to check.
Well, he told himself, there was no reason to wait and every reason to get it over with. Depending on what he found, it might make the endgame easier.
He walked toward the door, walking under a mural of intricate carvings. The Issakass traditionally decorated their more important buildings with carvings. He remembered visiting when the custom was new. The Issakass had been a young species then. Though they’d always been too focused on money for his taste, they’d had the energy young spacefaring races had—exploring here, going there, encountering other intelligent life for the first time…
He remembered doing that with the others—Kee (had she been calling herself Kee then?) had always tried to understand the way things worked, Nataw had always seemed to enjoy the traveling more than anything they found, Halas had wanted to keep them safe. Lee shook his head. The universe didn’t allow you to stay safe. He thought about those three and the many others they’d traveled the galaxies with.
They’d been so very young.
He wondered where Halas was now. The last Lee had seen him, he’d been with the Destroy faction, designing devices like the one Lee had come to inspect. A part of Lee hoped he might have died in the fighting. Better to discover Halas had died in the years since he’d left than to have to kill him himself, but Halas wouldn’t have joined the Live faction. It wasn’t in his nature. Besides, Nataw had, and Halas had always been on the edge of not getting along with Nataw.
Lee supposed that he was Live now, assuming he could ever persuade them not to kill him in retaliation.
He spent enough time remembering that he reached the artifact before he expected to. One minute he’d been traveling down a hallway and the next he felt the device. Knowing where to go, he stepped through an archway and into a nearly empty room.
The artifact lay on the floor, a tangled mess of wires sticking out of a ceramic casing. It was older than some galaxies. Lee crossed the wide, white tiles, reaching the artifact halfway across the room.
Lee didn’t even have to pick it up to find out what he’d wanted to know. It released an invisible cloud of nano-devices. He could feel them dig into his skin—if he’d been a mortal, he wouldn’t have, and they would have made small but important changes in his brain and body. He’d have developed the ability to influence other beings with his voice, a stronger, more resilient body, and a deep need for conquest.
While going mad in the way Halas intended might be entertaining for a time, Lee had things to do. He thought them out of existence and let the body he’d created repair itself.
Then he summoned a sword and stabbed the artifact. Because it was more than a sword, Lee could feel it as the artifact died, along with the nano-factories inside it.
Good, he decided, he might not have to kill the entire species. If the species were being led into war by people changed by this device and others like it, he’d only have to kill the leadership. He’d have to inform the Xiniti. They’d be able to handle it. The Abominators had stolen elements of the technology and repurposed them.
He turned to leave, noticing a figure forming in the shadows in the corner of the room. More than nine feet tall, it had horns on its head and claws on its hands and feet. Great slabs of muscle covered its body, all of them tensing as it looked at Lee, ready to attack. Except its mouth opened and it said, “I didn’t believe it. I’d been told that you were back and that you were no longer with us, but I had to see it. Why did you do that?”
Lee shrugged. “It’s complicated, Halas.”
“Complicated?” Halas’ voice rose and the building groaned in response. “That’s all you’ll tell me? The younger races are going to kill us if we don’t destroy them first. You used to understand that—“
The ground shook as Halas stepped toward Lee. Feeling the power gather, Lee knew he’d have to match him, but he’d been planning to. He opened the doors to his power as he hadn’t for the first time in millennia…
From the Interstellar News Network:
The Issakass home world K’Kassia has experienced a series of devastating explosions. It’s not currently known if they are the product of fusion, fission or antimatter bombs.