The pain was incredible, as if the searing in his torso had spread to all the rest of him – every limb and digit and his head. He was momentarily gripped by panic and fear and inability to function, but then he passed through that and the pain was a part of him. It belonged, and he was whole. He was himself, more himself than he had ever been. He could see now that he had been only a part of a being previously; that accounted for the loneliness he had felt, the desire to be close to other partial beings, the fear felt in dark rooms at night that something was out there that could overtake him. There was no Bryan and no gamma now. He was simply he. He could remember being a child at the cabin on the lake, with his mother and father, and he could remember being born of the waste, of the absence of life in the dust and mud, and both memories were him.
He was putting his body back together – soaking in the blood and raveling the insides back in, even pulling the bits of intestine out from the stomach to throat to mouth of the other Eternal, who was a mess herself but she was also knitting back together. A human aeon was there, had moved away from him and cowered on the ground as he rose, blood still flowing like rivers through cracks in the pavement, running up his legs and into his stomach. The aeon screamed again and crawled backwards from him.
He stepped towards it. It was a stunning green thing, so close to aeons he had glimpsed before but nowhere near at all. It danced and shook before him, nervous. It would be his first meal as…
It was Harper. The image seemed to focus and click into place, suddenly Harper, pointing the gun at him. Her hands were shaking so badly she would surely miss if she did fire. There was more emotion on her face – shock, horror, sadness – than he had ever seen.
He could still eat her. It wouldn’t matter. He could eat what he wanted of these incomplete beings and join the others and move on to the next world and eat more.
It was the logical choice.
But he knew Harper. Harper had listened to him in his self-doubt as he told her his failings. But those weren’t failings, they were only part of becoming Eternal. Harper had held him as he slept. But he didn’t need anyone to hold him now; he was one. Harper had been about to kill him to prevent him from becoming whole, would have sent him into the nothingness of death. So why shouldn’t he kill her? Why shouldn’t he kill everyone?
She thought she had been saving him.
She was going to shoot him, and then herself.
It was why he had done this, taken all of himself. To save them. The humans.
But that was irrelevant now.
If he saved them, how would he eat? How would he be once the planet died and the sun died as well and the universe expanded to its full?
He looked up at the sky, the damned sun lighting up the heavens in the east. He grit his teeth so hard they cracked, and then they went about repairing themselves.
It was madness, what he was considering. It was wrong. It would damn him forever.
Why did he choose this?
Why had he chosen this?
Harper had shifted the gun in her hands. She closed her eyes and put the point of it under her chin.
“Don’t do that,” Bryan said. His voice was deep crystal, new and faultless, and yet there was something off in it.
Her eyes flew open. They stared at him, bloodshot.
“You have to watch this one.” He gestured to the other Eternal, who was about to sit up at any moment.
“What?” Harper gasped. “What are you…what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to close the gates.”
Again, he took off running.