I'm going to read to you from the sequel to Sixth of the Dusk, which takes place during the space age of the cosmere. So there are going to be some fun things in here that you're not gonna get to see in-depth for a while. So if you are worried about space age of the cosmere being spoiled for you, I might recommend waiting for fifteen years before you read this.
This is not yet canon, because I haven't released it. It's entirely possible that I'll change some of this.
But for now, this is from the sequel to Sixth of the Dusk, which I haven't named. (It's not Seventh of the Dusk.)
MASSIVE FUTURE OF THE COSMERE SPOILERS
The Ones Above were human.
Dusk had imagined them as strange and terrible creatures, with faces full of fangs. Artists' renditions of them from the broadsheets tended to err on the side of mystery, showing beings with dark pits where faces should be, as if representing the darkness of space itself confined, somehow, into their strange outfits and helmets.
Truth was, nobody had known until this moment when, attempting to inspire trust, the two aliens from another world retracted their helmets and displayed shockingly human features.
Dusk stepped forward in the observation chamber, which overlooked the landing pad. The chamber was supposed to be secret, with reflective glass on the outside, but Dusk had never trusted that to hide him. The Ones Above had machines that could sense life, and he suspected they could see him, or at least his Aviar, regardless of the barrier. He'd have preferred to be out on the landing platform with the diplomats; but he supposed he should be thankful that they even let him attend. There were many among the politicians and company leadership who were baffled by Vathi's continued reliance on him.
The governing officials in the room with him gasped as they saw the faces of the aliens. One male, one female, it seemed; with pale skin that looked like it had never seen the sun. Perhaps it hadn't, considering they lived out in the emptiness between planets. Their helmets retracted automatically, but left stylized metal portions covering the sides of the head, reaching out and covering the cheeks. From the look of the delicate metal, ribbed like ripples of waves, those portions didn't seem like armor. More like ornament.
On his shoulder, Sak squawked softly. Dusk glanced at the jet-black Aviar, then looked around the room, seeking signs of his corpse. The bird could show him glimpses of the future, revealing as visions his own dead body. Ways he could (or perhaps should) have died.
It took him a moment to spot the death. It was out on the launchpad. One of the two aliens stood with their foot on Dusk's skull, the face smoldering as if burned by some terrible alien weapon. What did it mean?
Sak's visions had been... off, ever since that event five years ago, when the alien device had been activated on Patji. Once, seeing the corpse would have warned Dusk of immediate danger; a biting insect with deadly venom, or a hidden predator. Now the warnings often felt more abstract. The Ones Above were unlikely to kill him today, no matter what he did, but that did not mean they were safe or trustworthy.
"Toward a new era of prosperity!" One of them said out at the launchpad, extending a hand to Vathi, who stood at the head of the diplomats. "Between our peoples and yours, President!"
She took the hand, though Dusk personally would rather have handled a deadly asp. It seemed worse to him, somehow, to know that the Ones Above were human. An alien monster, with features like something that emerged from the deepest part of the ocean, was somehow more knowable than these smiling humans. Familiar features should not cover such alien motives and ideas. It was as wrong as an Aviar that could not fly.
"To prosperity!" Vathi said. Her voice was audible to him as if she were standing beside him. It emerged from the speakers on the wall, devices developed using alien technology.
"It is good," the second alien said, speaking the language of the homeisles as easily as if she had been born to it. "You are finally listening to reason. Our masters do not have infinite patience."
"We are accustomed to impatient masters," Vathi said, voice smooth and confident. "We have survived their tests for millennia."
The male laughed. "Your masters? The gods who are islands?"
"Just be ready to accept our... installation when we return, yes?" The female said. "No masks, no deception." She tapped the side of her head, and her helmet extended again, obscuring her features. The male did the same, and together they left, climbing aboard their sleek flying machine, which was in the shape of a triangle pointed toward the sky. It soon took off, streaking toward the air without a sound. Its ability to land and take off baffled explanation. The only thing the Dusk's people knew about the process was that the Ones Above had requested the launchpad be made entirely out of steel.
The smaller ship would supposedly meet with the larger one that was in orbit around the planet. A ship larger than even the greatest of the steam-powered behemoths that Dusk's people had used here on First of the Sun. Dusk had only just been getting used to those creations, but now he had to accustom himself to something new. But even calm light of electric lights, the hum of a fan powered by alien energy. The Ones Above had technology so advanced, so incredible, that Dusk and his people might as well have been travelling by canoe like their ancestors. They were far closer to those days than they were to sailing the stars like these aliens.
As soon as the alien ship disappeared into the sky, the generals and company officials began chatting in animated ways. It was their favorite thing, talking. Like Aviar who'd come home to roost by the light of the evening sun, eager to tell all the others about the worms they had eaten.
Sak pulled close to his hand, then pecked at the band that kept his dark hair in a tail. She wanted to hide, though she was no chick capable of snuggling in his hair as she once had. Sak was as big as his head, though he was comfortable and accustomed to her weight, and he wore a shoulder pad that her claws could grip without hurting him. He lifted his hand and crooked his index finger, inviting her to stretch out her neck for scratching. She did so; but he made a wrong move, and she squawked at him and pecked his finger in annoyance. She was grouchy, as usual; he felt the same way, honestly. Vathi had said it was because city life didn't agree with him. But Dusk claimed different source. It had been two years since they lost Kokerlii to disease. Without that colorful buffoon around to chatter and stick his beak into trouble, the two of them had grown old and surly.
Sak had nearly died from the same disease. And then: alien medicine from the Ones Above. The terrible Aviar Plague, same as those that had occasionally ravaged the population in the past, had been smothered in weeks. Gone, wiped out, as easy as tying a double hitch.
Dusk ignored the generals and their chattering, eventually coaxing Sak into a head scratch as they waited. Everything about this new life in the modern city full of machines and people with clothing as colorful as any plumage seemed so sanitized. Not clean; steam machines weren't clean. But fabricated, deliberate, confined. This room, with its smooth woods and steel beams, was an example. Here, nature was restricted to an arm rest, where even the grain of the wood was oriented to be aesthetically pleasing.
Soon, with the coming of the Ones Above and their ways, he doubted there would be any wilderness left on the planet. Parks, perhaps. Preserves. But you couldn't put wilderness in a box, no more than you could capture the wind. You could enclose the air, but it wasn't the same thing.
Soon, the door opened, and Vathi herself entered, her Aviar on her shoulder. Vathi had risen high these last few years. President of the company, one of the most powerful politicians in the city. She were a colorful, striped skirt in an old pattern, and a businesslike blouse and jacket. As always, she tried through everything she did (dress included) to embrace a meeting of old ways and new. He wasn't sure you could capture tradition by putting its trappings on a skirt any more than you could box the wind. But he appreciated the effort.
"Well," Vathi said to the group of officials. "We've got three months. But they're not going to stand any further delays. Thoughts?"
Everyone had an idea. Ways to stall further. Plans to feign ignorance of the deadline, or to plausible pretend that something had gone wrong with the Aviar delivery. Silly little plans. The Ones Above would not be delayed this time, and they would not simply trade for birds upon the whims of the homeislers. The aliens intended to put a production plant right on one of the Outer Isles, and there begin raising and shipping their own Aviar.
"Maybe we could resist somehow?" Said <Tuli>, company strategist, who had a colorful Aviar of Kokerlii's same breed. "We could fake a coup and overthrow the government. Force the Ones Above to deal with a new organization. Reset the talks." Bold idea. Far more radical than the others.
"And if they decide simply to take us over?" said General Second of Saplings, rapping his hand on a stack of papers that he held in his other hand. "You should see this projections. We can't fight them! If the mathematicians are right, the orbital ships could reduce our grandest cities to rubble with a casual shot or two! If the Ones Above are feeling bored, they could wipe us out in a dozen more interesting ways, like shooting into the ocean so waves wash away our infrastructure."
"They won't attack," Vathi said. "Six years or more, and they've suffered our delays with nothing more than threats. There are rules out there in space that prevent them from simply conquering us."
"They've already conquered us," Dusk said softly.
Strange, how quickly the others quieted when he spoke. They complained about his presence in these meetings. They thought him a wild man, lacking social graces. They claimed to hate how he'd watched them, refusing to engage in their conversation. But when he spoke, they listened. Words had their own economics, as sure as gold did. The ones in short supply were the ones that, secretly, everyone wanted.
"Dusk," Vathi said, "what did you say?"
"We are conquered," he said, turning from the window to regard her. He cared not for the others. But she didn't just grow quiet when he spoke. She listened. "The plague that took Kokerlii. How long did they sit in their ship up there, watching as our Aviar died?"
"They didn't have the medicine on hand," said Third of Waves, the company officer of medical industry, a squat man with a bright-red Aviar that let him see colors invisible to everyone else. "They had to wait to fetch it."
Dusk remained quiet. "You imply," Vathi said, "that they deliberately delayed giving us the medicine until Aviar had died. What proof do you have?"
"The darkout last month," Dusk said. The Ones Above were quick to share their more common technologies. Lights that burned cold and true. Fans to circulate air in the muggy homeisle summers. Ships that could move at several times the speed of the steam-powered ones. But all these ran on power sources supplied from Above, and those power sources deactivated if opened.
"Their fish farms are a boon to our oceans," said the company's Secretary of Supply. "But without the nutrients sold by the Ones Above, we wouldn't be able to keep the farms running."
"The medicine is invaluable," said Third of Waves. "<Infant> mortality has plummeted. Literally thousands of our people live because of what the Ones Above have traded us."
"When they were late with the power shipment last month," Dusk said, "the city slowed to a crawl. And we know that was intentionally, from the accidentally leaked comments. They wanted to enforce to us their power. They will do it again." Everyone fell silent, thinking as he wished they'd do more often.
Sak squawked again and Dusk glanced at the launchpad. His corpse was still out there, laying where the Ones Above had left, burned and withered.
"Show in the other alien," Vathi said to the guards.
The two men at the door, with security Aviar on their shoulders and wearing feathers on their military caps, stepped out. He returned shortly with an incredibly strange figure. The other aliens wore uniforms and helmets; unfamiliar clothing, but still recognizable. This creature stood seven feet tall and was encased entirely in steel. Armor of a futuristic cast, smooth and bright with a soft violet-blue glowing at the joints. The helmet glowed at the front with a slit-like visor, and an arcane symbol, remind Dusk vaguely of a bird in flight, etched the front of the breastplate.
The ground shook beneath this being's steps as it entered the room. That armor, it was surreal, like interlocking plates that somehow produced no visible seam. Just layered pieces of metal, covering everything from fingers to neck. Obviously airtight, with a rounded cast to it. The outfit had stiff iron hoses connected helmet and armor.
The other aliens might have looked human, but Dusk was certain this alien was something frightful. It was too tall, too imposing, to be a simple human. Perhaps he was not looking at a man at all, but instead a machine that spoke as one.
"You did not tell them you had met me?" the alien said, projecting a male voice from speakers at the front of the helmet. The voice had an unnatural cast to it; not an accent, like someone from a backwater isle. But a kind of... unnatural air.
"No," Vathi said. "But you were right. They ignored each of my proposals, and acted as if the deal were already done. They intend to set up their own facility on one of the islands."
"You have only one gem with which to bargain, People of the Isles," the alien said. "You cannot withhold it. You can merely determine to whom you offer it. If you do not accept my protection, you will become a vassal to these Ones Above. Your planet will become a farming station, like many others, intended to feed their expansion efforts. Your birds will be stripped from you the moment it becomes possible to do so."
"And you offer something better?" Vathi asked.
"My people will give you back one of a hundred birds born," the armored figure said, "and will allow you to fight alongside us, if you wish, to gain status and elevation."
"One in a hundred!" Second of Saplings said, the outburst unsettling his gray-and-brown Aviar. "Robbery!"
"Choose. Cooperation, slavery, or death."
"And if I choose not to be bullied?" Saplings snapped, reaching to his side, perhaps unconsciously, for the repeating pistol he carried in a holster.
The alien thrust out his armored hand, and smoke or mist coalesced there out of nowhere. It formed into a gun; longer than a pistol, shorter than a rifle, wicked in shape with flowing metal along the side like wings. It was to Sapling's pistol what a shadowy deep beast of the oceans might be to a minnow. The alien raised his other hand, snapping a small box (perhaps a power supply) into the side of the rifle, causing it to glow ominously.
"Tell me, President," the alien said to Vathi, "what are your local laws regarding challenges to my life? Do I have legal justification to shoot this man?"
"No," Vathi said, firm, though her voice was audibly shaken. "You may not."
"I do not play games," the alien said. "I will not dance with words like the others do. You will accept my offer, or you will not. If you do not, if you join them, then I will have legal right to consider you my enemies."
The room remained still, Sapling carefully edging his hand away from his sidearm. "I do not envy your decision," the armored alien said. "You've been thrust into a conflict you do not understand. But like a child who has found himself in the middle of a war zone, you will have to decide which direction to run. I will return in one month, local time."
The colored portion of the creature's armor started to glow more brightly, a deep violet that seemed far too inviting a color to come from this strange being. He lifted into the air a few inches, then finally pulled the power pack from his gun, dismissing the weapon to vanish in a puff of mist. He left without further word, gliding back up the hallway past the guards, who stepped away and didn't impede him. This alien had arrived without a ship, but didn't seem to need one to travel the stars. He had flown down out of the sky under the power of, they assumed, his strange and magnificent armor. Once he had gone, the two guards took up positions at the door, sheepishly holding their rifles. They knew, as everyone in the room knew, that no guard would stop a creature like that one if he decided to kill.
Vathi pulled a chair over to the room's small table, then sat down in a slumping posture, her Aviar crawling anxiously across her back from one shoulder to the other. "This is it," she whispered. "This is our fate. Caught between the ocean wave and the breaking stone." This job had weathered her. Dusk missed the woman who had been so full of life and optimism for the new advances of the future. Unfortunately, she was right. There was no sense in offering meaningless aphorisms. Besides, she had not asked a question, so he did not respond.
Sak chirped. And a body appeared on the table in front of Vathi. Dusk frowned. Then that frown deepened, because the corpse was not his.
Never in all his time bonded to Sak had she shown him anything other than his own corpse. Even during that dangerous time years ago, when her abilities had grown erratic; even then, she'd shown Dusk his own body, just many copies of it. He stepped across the room, and Vathi looked up at him, seeming relieved, as if she expected him to comfort her. She frowned, then, when he mostly ignored her to look down on the body on the table.
Female. Very old. Long hair having gone white. The corpse wore an unfamiliar uniform after the cut of the Ones Above. Commendations on the breast pocket, but in another language.
It's her, he thought, studying the aged face. It's Vathi. Some forty years in the future. Dead, and dressed for a funeral.
"Dusk?" the living Vathi asked. "What do you see?"
"Corpse," Dusk said, causing some of the others in the room to murmur. They were uncomfortable with Sak's power, which was unique among Aviar.
"That's wonderfully descriptive, Dusk," Vathi said. "One might think that after five years, you might learn to answer with more than one word when someone talks to you."
He grunted, walking around the vision of the corpse. The dead woman held something in her hands. What was it?"
"Corpse," he said, then met the living Vathi's eyes. "Yours."
"Mine?" Vathi said, rising. She glanced at Sak, who huddled on Dusk's shoulder, feathers pulled tight. "Why? Has she ever done this before?"
Dusk shook his head, rounding the corpse. "Body wears a uniform. One of theirs, the Ones Above. There are symbols on some of the patches and awards. It appears as if prepared for burial at sea. I cannot read the alien writing."
One of the generals scrambled to give him paper and pen. After handing it over, the general backed away, regarding the table as one might a nightmaw that was ready to pounce.
Dusk copied the letters on the uniform's most prominent patch. "Vathi," read the Secretary of Supply, "Colonial Governor of the occupied planet First of the Sun." All eyes in the room toward toward Vathi. All but Dusk's. He knew what she looked like, so he kept writing, then nudged the Secretary of Supply again.
"Looks like a commendation for valor," the woman replied, "for putting down what was called the Rebellion of '05. The others are similar."
Dusk nodded. So if this was a glimpse of the future, it was what Vathi would be when she died, a servant of the Ones Above, apparently having turned his people's military against rebels who didn't agree.
Well, that made sense. He nodded to himself and tried to get a closer look at what the corpse was holding. A small disk; a coin of some sort, with a drawing on it.
"Dusk, you don't seem as horrified as you should be," the living Vathi said to him.
"Why would I be horrified?" he said. "This makes sense. It's what you would do. Probably what you will do."
"I'm no traitor," she said.
He didn't reply. It hadn't been a question, even it was an incorrect statement.
"Leave us," she said to the others. "Please. We can discuss this 'prophecy' later. I need to confer with the trapper."
They didn't like it. They never liked it when Vathi listened to him. Perhaps they'd understand if they listened more themselves. Still, they filed out at the request, leaving two humans and two Aviar alone. Vathi's bird, <Maris>, hunched down and raised her wings while staring at the table. It seemed that she could sense what Sak was doing. Curious.
"Dusk," Vathi said, "why do you think I do these things?"
"Progress. It is your way."
"Progress is not worth the blood of my people."
"Progress will come anyway," Dusk said. "The dusk is past. This is the night. You will presume to find a new dawn and do what you must to guide us there." He looked at her and tried to smile. "There is a wisdom to that, Vathi. It is what you taught me many years ago."
She wrapped her arms around herself, staring at the table. "Must it be?"
"No. I am not dead, am I?" She shook her head.
"I want a way out, Dusk. A way to fight back against them, or something. A way to control our own destiny. They're both so confident that they own us. What I wouldn't give to be able to surprise them."
"You're holding something," Dusk said, leaning down. "A coin. A large one. Maybe a medallion. Not money. Engraved with a man on a canoe, wearing feathers and holding aloft a board with wave patterns on it. Some kind of trapper?"
"Tenth, the Finder," she said, and frowned. "Seriously, Dusk? He's one of the most famous explorers and trappers who ever lived!"
"My trainer didn't tell me of him."
"You could read a book, or something. The past is important."
"If it was important, my trainer would have told me about it. So, this man must not be important."
Vathi rolled her eyes. "He was the first man to explore Patji."
"Then he likely died quickly," Dusk said, nodding. "Means he must not have known much. The first explorers were stupid. Not because of themselves; they just didn't have experience yet." He looked to her, cocking an eyebrow.
"He vanished," she admitted, "on his second trip there. But we still use some of his exploration routes, these shipping channels, to reach the Pantheon islands. He was important."
Dusk didn't reply, because why would he contradict her? She liked believing this, and she always seemed fond of the stories of old trappers. She fancied herself an amateur one, even still, despite the fact that she had been one of the ones who ended the entire profession.
As Dusk was looking at the medallion, the vision finally vanished. Sak chirped, as if apologetic; and when Dusk looked at her, the bird's eyes were drooping, as if she were exhausted.
"I'm going to investigate stepping down," Vathi said. "A fake coup is silly, but if I simply quit, it could cause political unrest that justifies giving us an excuse to delay negotiations. Plus, it would remove me from a position where I could do damage."
Dusk nodded. Then felt himself growing uncomfortable. For once, he found that he couldn't remain silent. He looked at her.
"Another will do worse, Vathi. Another will cause more death. You are better than another."
"Are you sure?"
"No." How could he be? He could not see the future like Sak could. Still, he crouched down beside Vathi's seat, then held his hand toward her. She clasped it, then held tight. He nodded to her. "You are stronger than anyone I know," he said, "but you are just one person. I learned five years ago that sometimes one person cannot stand before the tide."
"Then there's no hope."
"Of course there is. We must become more than one. We must find allies, Vathi. Two peoples have come to bully us, to demand that we give up our resources. There must be others. Perhaps those who are weak like we are, with whom together we might be strong. A trapper cannot fight a shadow alone, but a battleship with a full crew... that is something else."
"How would we find anyone else, Dusk? The Ones Above have forbidden us from leaving the planet. We're decades, well... maybe centuries away from building flying machines."
"I will go into the Darkness," he said.
She looked into his eyes. Though she'd objected each other time he suggested this, today she said nothing. At times, she had become like him, and he like her. She made him believe that they could adapt to the future. He just needed to make her believe that he could help.
"We sent entire crews into the Darkness, Dusk," she said. "Scientists. Soldiers."
"I will go," he said. "I will find help."
"And if you fail?"
"Then I will die," he said. "Like your explorer man. Tenth the Finder, you called him." Dusk touched his forward, then pressed his finger against hers. "I gave up Patji for the planet, Vathi, but I will not give up the planet to those men from the stars, no matter how brilliant their weapons or amazing their wonders."
"I will gather you an expedition. Some guards, a crew..." she met his eyes. "You're going to insist on going alone, aren't you?" He nodded. "Fool man!"
He did not respond, because she might be right. But he was going to go anyway.