Cythera Chronicles: Collusion Conclusion



  • Chapter 9

    The airship cruised through the rough mountain air with fairly little trouble, under the skilled guidance of Talaris.

    A sense of somber foreboding had precipitated over the occupants of the craft, and as if in response the mountain sky was dark and ominous, rye with signs of approaching thunder.

    Not one word had been uttered by anyone other than Talaris for about an hour, she for her part had occasionally noted something about their position, but said little else.

    Marchal shifted in his seat, and peered out the window of the cabin's covered forward section. A few drops of moisture had already landed there, the vanguard of a multitude more on their way.

    "There's Bagor township, we'll reach the foothills in about twenty minutes," Talaris said, looking out the window at a cluster of buildings, a sparse farm town trying to eke out a living working the harsh, high mineral soil of the empire.

    "I have family there," commented Captain Pynos, breaking his silence.

    Marchal broke his fixation on the ground below them, and turned to the front of the craft. Talaris adjusted a control, and the craft began to climb slightly.

    "Is it difficult to control?" asked Marchal.

    "No, not once you get the hang of it. Only a few basic controls, to control direction and altitude. Mastering it, though, takes experience," she replied.

    The rest of the climb into the mountains was relatively uneventful, punctuated by some rain, but little else.

    ----------

    The fog of the high mountains had considerably reduced visibility of the ground for the occupants of the airship. All that could be seen were endless glaciers and occasional rocky outcropings.

    Marchal had almost drifted to sleep when he heard Talaris' words - "There it is."

    He looked out the front windshield in the direction Talaris pointed. There was a brown, roughly spherical object. It was massive, even at a distance. He reckoned that it had to be as tall as perhaps 40 or 50 adult men end to end.

    He gaped in awe of the monstrosity.

    Captain Pynos similarly looked overshadowed by the enormity of the abomination.

    "It's far larger than it should be," Talaris commented, worried.

    They approached the seething mass of interconnected Shroomish, which rather looked like a massive fungal globe sprouted from the earth. As they approached at an altitude of perhaps only a hundred feet, they could see the ground around the Overmind was surrounded in moving masses of Shroomish acolytes, mindless automatons controlled by the massive brain they serviced.

    To have set foot on the ground would have been an act of suicide, so thick was the mountain with Shroomish. There were millions - nay, billions, of the foul creatures blanketing the terrain.

    Suddenly, with such force as had never assaulted their minds, came the words:

    I am the Shroomish. I am the Overmind.

    The words, so replete with evil energy, stuck Marchal's mind with the force of an avalanche.

    Your meddling in my plans will end here. Your quest was baseless from the beginning, and the Heat-ray you carry I will not allow you to use.

    Marchal thought, How does it plan to stop us?.

    He was caught off guard when the mind-reading brain responded.

    I will not allow you to touch the weapon. You will easily be bent to my will.

    Captain Pynos bust out. "We'll touch whatever we want, you worthless..." Before the captain could finish, he let out a scream and grabbed his head.

    His body began to spasm violently, and then he went silent, unconscious or dead, Marchal was unsure.

    Now, as you realize the futility of your foolhardy mission, I will give the order for my millions of hosts, throughout the world, to rise up and take my rightful position as Supreme Controller of all Cythera!

    With a strike, Marchal felt himself attacked. The Overmind's massive telepathic energy came to bear in his mind, assaulting his thoughts and eroding his mental defenses.

    A torrent of power, thoughts not his own, flooded forth. He struggled to keep his sanity, suddenly cast into the sea of his memories, all unleashed at once.

    His childhood, his wedding, the loss of Horgan, loss of his brother, being lost at sea, old memories revived, old wounds opened. Then, alien thoughts, those of the Overmind, and its memories - A sudden realization hit Marchal - the Overmind was attacking by merging its own mind with his, trying to bend him to its will. Marchal saw his grandfather, Velcarn, waging a battle against Shroomish high in the mountains. The arrival of a strange wizened man into the mountains, doing something with the Shroomish... Combining with them? In the next memory, Marchal felt the presence of the man he saw, combined with the Shroomish, giving them the vital spark of sentience...and enslaving them.

    It became clear to Marchal, under the madness of the surge of thoughts - the Shroomish were not of themselves evil, they were slaves of the Overmind. But who was the person, the creator of the Overmind? Who was he? Why? Why?

    Marchal could barely take hold of the thoughts as they pummeled his psyche, with more force than the last burst. Suddenly, he felt as if a dark hand was grabbing him, pulling him down, suffocating the life from him as he drowned in a sea of mental water.

    No! No! NO!

    Marchal fought for survival, struggling with all his might not to cave in.
    For a moment, the attack let up. Deep within the Overmind, something stirred.

    We are the Shroomish, We REJECT the Overmind!

    No, You Cannot! You Act ONLY for the Overmind!

    The attack on him let up further as the Overmind fought for control of itself.

    Marchal felt the vast sentience of the Overmind splinter and fragment into the thousands of individual Shroomish that it was comprised of.

    NO! You are Me! I AM THE OVERMIND!

    Any trace of the grip the Overmind had on Marchal faded rapidly as the entity dissolved. The last thoughts he shared with it were it's death throes, cursing the revolting nodes of which it was once comprised.

    A final burst of released mental energy struck as the Overmind expired. Marchal was overcome, and knocked unconscious.

    There were people all around, clad in blue robes of scientists from Mevren, and hordes of Coastal Empire soldiers. Talaris was nearby, convening with... Wolmark? Yes, it was. Chancellor Wolmark, and a pair of Confederation dignitaries. Some of the scientists picked at Shroomish remains on the ground, packing them in jars for dissection back at the institute.

    He heard talk among them, but could not put his finger on what their words were. Marchal was lying on a cot, and a person stood over him. She was an older woman, wearing a green robe. She said something to a aid, who said something to Marchal.

    He could not understand. The words, he knew them, but he could not attach their meanings.

    "Are you alright?"

    What did it mean? What were the words? So much of the alien memories of the Overmind still contaminated his mind. Finally, he found the meanings, as his memory returned.

    "Fi..ne," he replied. "What happened?"

    "We'll talk later. You have some more rest."

    Marchal nodded complacently and fall fast asleep.

    Talaris looked around the area. A vast mound of flesh stood where the Overmind once was, already beginning to fall to the forces of decomposition.

    A triad of airships floated above, moored to the ground by ropes. A pair of dockhands struggled to keep the largest one on the ground in the wind.

    Talaris turned to the tiny Mushroom creature at her feet. It lay still and unmoving, killed by the mental collapse of the Overmind. She could not be certain whether all the Shroomish the world over were dead, but even if they lived, it was as independent, relatively benign begins. They would never again threaten the civilizations of Cythera.

    But though the threat was over, many questions remained. How did the Shroomish become resistant to heat? How did the Overmind come about?

    Questions she'd save for Marchal, when he came to. The Overmind had not attacked her, but she had heard it's mental death throes. It had died from internal conflict, the enslaved Shroomish rising up against it at a moment of weakness, while it was preoccupied attacking Marchal and Pynos.

    Pynos, who'd survived, was no longer himself. Though he lived, his mind was disconnected, and he was totally insane. He was going to be shipped to Pnyx to see if anything could be done for him there, but Talaris saw little hope for him to regain his mind.

    Her work here done, Talaris boarded a smaller Zeppelin leaving for Mevren. Aboard was Wolmark, with the Vice Chancellor and a Dwarven ambassador (The Overmind had technically been in Dwarven territory).

    Talaris leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes, up for some long awaited sleep.

    The Leader Maximus of the Confederation, a strong-willed older man from the islands of the Coastal empire, sat clad in his customary white robes at a tall desk. Before him stood Chancellor Wolmark. In the back of the room, seated, were Marchal and his wife, Talaris, and a couple of other scientists and politicians.

    "So, your honor, we believe that disaster was averted due to the actions of four brave men and women - Marchal, Talaris, Captain Yesh Pynos, and Horgan. Were it not for their struggle, - and sacrifice - the World would most likely now be under the control of the Shroomish."

    "We are presently unable to ascertain the reasons, motives, and even the particulars of this most unusual chain of events, however, given a few months time we may be able to give you a more satisfactory report on the matter."

    The Leader Maximus nodded solemnly. "The Body of inquiry concerning the Shroomish collusion... is adjourned." With a tap of his gavel the Leader dismissed the group.

    "I shall await your report with interest, Chancellor," he said, turning to Wolmark.

    "Thank you your Honor," Wolmark returned, nodding. Wolmark had never been too comfortable with the way the Confederation was run, but he did vastly prefer the current Leader Maximus to some of his predecessors. Still, he knew this leader would most likely retire soon, his first term seemed to have made him several powerful enemies in the senate that would prevent a second term by him.

    Marchal looked out the windows of the room, located in the new Air-Castle. His wife along side him, he looked out over the sea, content to be in good company, and eager to head home.

    Epilogue
    --------

    To: Office of the Leader Maximus, C.E. Administrative Area
    From: Chancellor Wolmark, Scientific Institute of Mevren
    Topic: Final Report on Shroomish Collusion

    Dated 7-2-28 A.C

    Your Honor,
    It is my duty to present to you my report of the Shroomish Collusion, prepared with the assistance of Talaris, recently appointed senior biologist at the institute, and with the accounts garnered from witnesses Marchal and Captain Pynos (Who has made some headway towards regaining fully his sanity since we last spoke).

    Thus without further preface, here is the report, presented verbatim. Not one word has been changed from the original copy.

    A Report on the Recent Events Concerning the Shroomish Collusion

    Authors:
    Wolmark, Chancellor, Scientific Institute of Mevren
    Talaris, Senior Biologist, Scientific Institute of Mevren.

    We hope to here dispel most of the initial mystery surrounding the series of events now known as the 'Shroomish Collusion', more exactly, the alliance between the Shroomish and a political rebellion against the Confederation.

    We shall first outline the basic players in this pathos -

    The Rebellion
    Evidently, this rebellion rejected the globalization brought about because of the formation of the Confederation. Though possessed of a fairly large membership, perhaps a hundred-thousand strong, it mostly existed in poorer, conservative Cytheran and Interior Imperial lands. Of course, we are forced to admit, these areas were indeed hurt by globalization, low-tech, mostly infertile farms in the Empire mainland could not compete with imported food from Surmourdac. Of course, the rebels fears, while partly legitimate, are ultimately short-sighted in nature.

    Realizing their poor resources, the rebels understood that a simple civilian uprising against the well-armed Confederation would be an almost certain failure. Therefore, they sent one of there leaders, a former student of Pnyx, into the mountains to seek out the Shroomish beings.

    The Shroomish
    Now, the Shroomish are strictly xenophobic. They are not diplomatic in nature and attack any non-Shroomish creature they see. However, by means unknown, the rebel who sought them out was able to enslave them by merging his mind with theirs as they invaded his body. No one we have consulted, on either side of the great sea, knows of such an ability, so we must conclude that powerful indeed was the mind-force of this individual. At any rate, once the rebel leader merged with the Shroomish, he was able to retain his individual sentience and exude control over the Shroomish, implanting his mental essence on the Shroomish hive mind, a spherical structure high in the remote mountains. It has existed, probably for centuries, as a common knowledge and means for communication for the Shroomish. But now, with a sentient human at it's Helm, the hive mind took direct control of all Shroomish, and took on the identity of 'Overmind'.

    The direct control of the Shroomish required more nodes (Individual Shroomish interconnected in the hive mind, making up the bulk of it's mass) than were currently present in the hive mind, so the Overmind ordered the addition of approximately three hundred thousand Shroomish to the existing Hive Mind. So quickly were the new nodes rushed into service, and in such quantity, that a considerable number, perhaps thirty percent, retained traces of independent thought. Normally, these traces fade after a few years of a node's integration into the hive mind, and since only a few hundred new nodes were added each year to the hive mind before it became the Overmind, the percentage of nodes still partly independent was at most only one or two percent. However, a dangerous (and fortunate for humanity) situation occurred with the sudden addition of all these new, unconditioned nodes. This turned out to be a fatal mistake on the part of the Overmind.

    His original goal of toppling the Confederation still implanted deep in his mind, the Overmind used telepathic summons to call Dwarven alchemists up into the mountains, where the Shroomish assimilated them and used their knowledge to make themselves more resistant to heat. (Previous reports, including those of Shroomish specimens brought out of the mountains, always pegged the creatures as dying as they were returned to warmer areas.) This theory matches neatly with the fact that four dwarven alchemists in Galt were reported as wandering off wordlessly into the mountains and not returning about seven months ago, within a period of one day.

    Now equipped with the new ability to venture into warmer areas, the Overmind probably sent Shroomish to invade animals or travelers bound for Cythera, where it contacted current Rebel leadership and formally colluded the enslaved Shroomish and the Rebellion.

    Based on the autopsies of a large number of military and civilian leaders on the Cytheran and Imperial lands who were reported as dropping dead at the time the Overmind died, we have discovered quite extensive Shroomish infiltration in the Confederate populations. The hosts were not normally invaded directly by the Shroomish, but instead by drinking beverages poisoned with Shroomish spores. This sabotage was probably carried out be rebel agents, based on accounts by captured rebels who were not Shroomish hosts and consequently did not die upon the death of the Overmind.

    The rebels had sent one of their agents, a Shroomish host by the name of Rothan, to contaminate the wine stores of the Alerician Tavern with Shroomish spores. Fortunately, Confederate police discovered the plot (Although their captain's report assumes the rebels were simply going to poison the wine, in an attempt to murder the hero Flynn, who was going to attend the tavern shortly) and arrested Rothan. They also arrested the proprietor of the tavern, though he had no knowledge of the plot against his visitors.

    On the way to a tribunal in Odemia, Rothan briefly managed to partly break the hold of the Shroomish and attempted to warn Marchal. Unfortunately, the Overmind realized what was happening and ordered the parasites to kill Rothan immediately, which they did.

    The Overmind, in a second fatal mistake, decided to kill Marchal, because it felt that Marchal's even fragmentary knowledge of the rebellion was a threat to it's scheme.

    Fortunately, it failed to kill Marchal, and he escaped, ultimately ending up at the Mevren institute, from which a zeppelin carrying an experimental elemental lens, designed to project fire element, was dispatched to kill the Shroomish Hive mind.

    When the airship approached the Overmind, it launched a mental attack on the vessel's occupants, attempting to merge it's own mind with theirs and consequently 'bend' them to it's will. It successfully drove Captain Yesh Pynos insane, and nearly did the same to Marchal.

    However, as it was expending so much energy outward, it inadvertently relinquished control of itself, and the not-fully-intergrated nodes that were recently added revolted against the enslavement of the Overmind. The dissident faction splintered the vast intellect of the Overmind, destroying its ability to control the Shroomish race. Within moments, the hive mind's revolt had done a fatal blow to the Overmind, and its cataclysmic death produced such a shock though the entire Shroomish civilization that most, if not all of them, were instantly destroyed.

    This concludes my report. The Shroomish threat is now gone, and any surviving Shroomish are now most likely no more dangerous that any other animal, and do not present a threat to civilization as a whole.

    The rebellion, thanks to the work of the police, has been mostly broken up, and although a few rebel cells remain, they also do not represent a serious threat to Confederate interests.

    I reccomend that a series of expeditions be sent to see if any Shroomish survive, and to make sure that no new hive mind (which could in theory again be taken over by a human) has been developed. This is the only reasonable way we can insure our continued safety in this matter.

    - Wolmark
    Chancellor, Scientific institute of Mevren

    --------------

    Credits:
    Writing and Concept: Bryce Schroeder

    Review and continuity checker : Michael Carey
    Concept Review: Katharina Bisping, Britten Pendergrass, Jorden Rager

    Thanks to:
    Lawrence Schroeder, Sandra Schroeder, Aaron Gallagher, Ody (Whose real name I don't know), and the members of the Cythera Chronicles that took the time to comment on this while it was serialized there.

    ©2002 Bryce Schroeder.

    (This message has been edited by moderator (edited 07-29-2002).)



  • Good job, Bryce. At last, we finally know how this story wraps up. I can't wait to see what you come up with next.

    Loaded with typos again! Spellcheck, I say, Spellcheck! In all fairness, you are getting a lot better about errors.

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  • Quote

    "In the back of the room, seated, were Marchal and his wife, Talaris..."

    There it is! That's the bit that confused me, last time. Sorry I didn't find it again to point it out. It's just that it could be read in such a way that it's calling Talaris Marchal's wife. If I'd found it in time, I would have suggested you swap the ordering to clarify it.

    Well, it's still pretty good, even the second time around. Thanks for adding the bit about Wolmark not completely trusting the Leader Maximus. :)

    There are a couple of points I'd like to raise. The first is a point on spelling that's been mentioned before, but Slayer seems to have missed this time: "its" & "it's". You only use an apostrophe if it's an abbreviation (for "it is", or "it was"); otherwise, it's "its".

    The second point has to do with something that's technically known as a 'McGuffin', after the man who first formalised the idea. A McGuffin is the single element that holds a story together, the thing that holds your focus throughout. I'm not sure if I can explain it any better than that, and I'm not even certain I use McGuffins properly myself; this is just generally for everyone's information.

    Throughout this story, I can identify at least three separate McGuffins, and it makes the action seem a little disjointed. The first McGuffin was Horgan, since the opening chapters focused primarily on him. When he was killed it interrupted the flow a bit, but by then the McGuffin had become Marchal.

    Later, in this last section, the McGuffin becomes the elemental lense, and that's where things become quite jarring. After all the set up - obtaining the lense, and travelling to the hive mind with the intent of using the lense to destroy it - the lense never gets used. So in a sense, I guess you could call it a false McGuffin, because it obscures what's really going to happen. Is that a good thing? Well, it's subjective, I guess; for my part, it feels like a loose end.

    Since my stories are usually character plays as much as anything, I suppose the collection of characters involved would be the McGuffin. I'd be interested to see what someone else comes up with as McGuffins in my tales, though, sometime; it could be quite educational.

    (Incidentally, even some fairly high profile stories break the 'single McGuffin' rule on occasion; one instance that stands out to me is the Bond film 'Goldeneye'. The first McGuffin is the stolen top-secret helicopter from the beginning of the movie, but it's used merely to carry the story to the main McGuffin, the Goldeneye satellite.)

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  • StarWars seems to have several of the McGuffins, if I am understanding things correctly...
    (Using the episode IV as an example)
    First, it's R2-D2 (Who contains the death star plans), then the Heros and R2-D2 traveling to alderann, then its Luke, headed down the deathstar trench.
    Is this correct?

    Anyway, in defense of the elemental-lens-loose-McGuffin, I think the story would have been much poorer if I'd just had them go there and fry the Overmind outright. Sure, it would have been a splended special effect if it had been in a movie, but the Shroomish themselves overthrowing their master was, IMHO, much more powerful.

    Of course, the heros would not have know this was going to happen, so they could not have just went there and waited for it to distroy itself, they had to bring the lens with the intent to use it to solve the problem.

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  • I think in Star Wars episode IV, the single McGuffin is the Death Star itself. Vader captures and boards Leia's ship looking for its stolen plans; Luke, Obi-Wan, Han and Chewbacca end up aboard when they try to take the droid with the plans to Alderaan, and the big climax is its destruction. Seems like it figures heavily in every major plot-point. Now, for episode V, I'm completely lost.

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  • Quote

    Originally posted by cache22:
    **Now, for episode V, I'm completely lost.
    **

    Maybe that's why V was lame... no McGuffin :)

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  • Bravo, Bryce. Very nice work. I think the world that you've designed could react in an interesting way to some sort of legitimate internal strife.. perhaps corruption in the Empire? I don't know.

    You should come on IRC, new members are always welcome. :¬)

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  • Quote

    Originally posted by Talos:
    **Bravo, Bryce. Very nice work. ...
    **

    Thank you. I am glad somebody liked it...

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