to occur the unhappened world; to grip glass-hooped eternity in bloodslick hands and snap it from its circle. Know her as the Flaw, the Isotropy, the spike that pierced eternal recurrence and made the wound of time. Tautologies end on her fingertips, in the crease between skin and nail. Name her AILILIA, Broth Captain. Begin with her this subcreation.
First. A mandala. Rings of rippled light. Pinpricks like stars, selected elements of a Lie group: the math-skeleton of this new place.
What is this? Where am I?
A sheet of paper, blank with static. Her hands flat upon the face. A plasma of quarks and electrons, so hot and bright that it is pitch black. The mean free path is too short for photons to travel. The fire is too thick for light.
She has been here forever. AILILIA. The end is the beginning is the end.
She folds the paper into Space and Time. Now that there is light, she can read the paper, and she finds it is the Amrita Charter. "Sun is the cradle of life, but we cannot remain in the cradle forever." She was a seeker. The I of AILILIA, the arrow that points to new worlds: She sought new sun, new earth. Her mind passes across the words like a comb. Word becomes world, paper folds under nimble hands. The sting of a papercut: so God may yet be surprised.
From that cut her blood scatters through the void, and the isotropic universe nucleates around her droplets.
I am AILILIA, the guiding principle.
Bend the center. I am A L I S I L A, the arrow of time, sinuous but progressing.
I am A L I S I L I, one step forward, one element changed: This is how the world-clock ticks, by the letterwise permutation of secret names.
I am ALIS LI, the coalescence into entities, the compaction of drifting fire into sun and world.
I am Alis Li, the power that seeks new worlds. I have a crew. I had… a ship. I wanted to bring them to a place like—
(A paradise world: twin-ringed, impossible beauty, and a sky milk-bright with stars. She makes it real with a thought, and in that thought she falls herself, undoes her transient divinity, binds herself and all those after her into the law. The omniscient cannot explore. The omnipotent cannot struggle. She refuses that God-trap.)
This is how Alice Li awakens.
She was nothingness. If she existed before, she existed only as possibility stretched across the aether. Once, there might have been a body that was an anticipation of the body not yet formed, and a soul that was an anticipation of the soul not yet encrypted, but they were not yet real.
Then the universe began, and she was free to be born.
First there is a mandala, and upon the rings of that mandala are star-bright gems. M A R A R A M the closed symmetry, secret within itself: and she cuts it off center so that it is imperfect, open at one end, not cycling back to its own beginning but subliming away into future possibility. M A R A the permutation of one relationship into another, MA become RA, RA become what may yet come. Two points suggest a line.
With that amputation, around that scar, she incarnates. Awakens with a gasp. Cold stone under her shoulders and back and a face above her, radiant. "Mara?" the face says.
"What am I?" Mara whispers.
"The second," the woman says. "I'm Alis. I think you were Mara…"
The sky behind Alis blooms with stars, a haze of light like sun through mist, richer than a galactic core. Across that night sky arches the impossible twin shape of a double planetary ring. Mara gapes in wonder. "I remember," she says. "I was on the tether—"
The sudden need to keep this memory secret shuts her mouth. "We're on a world," she says, instead. "How long have you been alone?"
"Forever, I think. Come." She draws Mara to her feet. "I want to show you what I've found."
It is a world that grows, a world that thrives. The stone is rich with veins of platinum, and Mara tastes tingling inclusions of transuranic elements in a fingertip of earth. Silver rivers flow in fractal deltas to lakes as still and bright as coolant pools. Acres of forests all woven at the root into a single tree. There is life of such variety and energy that each new crawling thing they see must be its own species. Or species do not mean anything at all here, and all that lives may intermingle.
Jutting from the horizon is a titanic metal spear. The head of the spear is a metal dish, kilometers across, buried in bedrock.
"I don't know what this is," Alis says. "I only know that it's mine."
They pass inside. "There should be others," Mara says afterward. "There was room for others. Thousands of others. Where are they?"
"They're in the same place you came from. We have to make them real." Li stares at Mara, and coruscations of white fire map the tiny lines and furrows of her skin. Her bright eyes narrow. "Why were you the second? Why you in particular?"
"I don't know," Mara lies. It is the first lie ever told, the first secret kept.
Two became four, and the four called out, and so the four became eight. In this manner, conjured forth by their doubling, the sleepers did awaken. In time the awoken spilled across the face of the world, and their number was forty thousand eight hundred ninety one. They drank of the sweet rain, and they ate of the fruit of the forest, and the starlight pooled as clear oil on their skin. First of their tongues was Speech, and the first of their hunting weapons was the bow.
Now the awoken called out for a name to distinguish World from Unworld. The eight hundred ninety one said to the forty thousand, "Let this world be named Tributary, for we dream of a great river from which we have parted." But the forty thousand were troubled, and they asked to know their antecedent, the place from which they came. "We did not awaken from the sleep that we entered," said the forty thousand. "In our rest we passed through some terminus and our atavism was severed from us. How did it happen thus?"
So a council was called at the place where the rivers met to determine the nature and purpose of existence. Here was undertaken the first census, which counted thirty thousand one hundred eleven women, ten thousand two hundred ninety five men, and four hundred eighty five otherwise. A fear arose among the awoken that the men and otherwise would be lost.
Alis Li spoke first in council, but at the urging of Uldren, many sought out Mara for secret conclave. Among these were Kelda Wadj, who would be the Allteacher, and Sila, who would be mother of Esila.
Sayeth Alis, "We were granted this world by a covenant with high powers, and in that covenant, we yielded our claim to our history. We abandoned what came before, but in doing so, we cast off all our debts. Look forward! Let us explore this infant cosmos, and revel in its glories!"
Against her spoke Owome An, who was of the forty thousand. "We are alien here," said Owome. "We must climb up our worldline, back to the place from which we came. I call for a vote."
Sayeth Mara, in secret, "I think that we came here as safe harbor, and we cannot forever remain. I remember the danger was appalling. I remember we were born in death. I think we must gather ourselves carefully until the time is right."
From this council, there arose eight verdicts and a ninth.
First, that the people were Awoken, and they were immortal.
Second, that this world was Tributary of another, but that it was forbidden to seek any way to rejoin the mother stream. For this reason, it would be called the Distributary, for that was the proper name for a river that branches from the mother and does not return.
Third, that the Awoken should multiply in wombs of flesh and machine, but only after the most careful forecast of population and ecology, and only under the supervision of those who knew the good technology; for each new child would be immortal.
Fourth, that those wise in the good technology should be heralded and heeded, so that the eu-technology could be preserved. They would be eutechs.
Fifth, that the women should hold care and protection of the men and the others until more could be born.
Sixth, that the purpose of the Awoken should be to know and love the cosmos.
Seventh, that the Awoken were created out of covenant with Light and Darkness, but the covenant was complete, and no further debt would ever be called, except the duty of the Second Verdict to remain on the Distributary.
Eighth, that the Awoken were whole in themselves, and they existed in balance.
Ninth, that there would be no vote, but instead Alis Li would be recognized as Queen. Her first pronunciation was that there would be no secrets among Awoken.
For Alis knew of the quiet council around Mara, and although she was neither jealous nor afraid, she remembered it carefully as a spark that might catch.