Bite-sized Backstory 40: The Awakening of the Awoken (Destiny)
Physics no longer work quite right outside the Yang Liwei, where Mara Sov went to die. When Mara pushes off the ship’s hull the strange, life threatening gravity waves being produced by the mysterious alien ship push and pull on her, yanking her first one way and then the other. She pushed off with some 50km of super thin tether, but her progress away from the ship is uneven. Eventually, though, Mara does drift some distance into the darkness, away from the Yang Liwei, only to feel vibration on the line connecting her back to the ship. It is Uldwyn coming after her. Their suit radios don’t function while trapped within the darkened space, but since Uldwyn has come out and attached himself to the same tether as his sister, they can communicate through the tether’s hardwired circuits.
Like Captain Li, Mara has some sense that the surrounding Darkness is not indifferent:
Mara's tether trembles with Uldwyn's progress. She holds it in one hand and reaches out with the other, gripping the emptiness, feeling how the tides of broken space pull at her fingertips. She senses that the nothingness around her is not indifferent; that it is aware of all purposes, and that its own purpose encompasses them. It is infinitely hostile because it must be.
Over the hardwired com link, Mara can hear Captain Li attempting to broadcast a statement of neutrality, but we don’t even know if the other ship hear it. Then, all of a sudden, a beam of Light pierces the Darkness. Far back at Earth, the Traveler has done whatever it did to save us from the Darkness. But it did more than that, it also focused a beam of its Light all the way out to the Yang Liwei! Similar to the Darkness, Mara senses that the Light too seems to have a purpose:
It sings. It chatters. It speaks in a voice older than suns. She feels that she could Fourier the voice for a century and never decompose it into its parts. It is awesome and appalling and piercingly true.
These two powerful forces battle it out around the Yang Liwei. Close to earth it seems fair to say the Traver and the Light… won. Or at least, the Traveler was successful in completely dispelling the Darkness that had attacked humanity. But as far out as the Yang Liwei is, the neither the Light nor the Darkness have an advantage. Instead, these two powerful forces struggle and the area of space around the Yang Liwei is completely overwhelmed. Near the Yang Liwei, space itself gives way and a strange black hole is formed by the overabundance of the two energies competing with one another.
Mara has always been good at figuring things out. Somehow she knows that this isn’t the end. Uldwyn is yelling for her to pull back, but Mara does the opposite. And this next part is one of the most important things in all of Destiny's lore:
She fires the detach command into the tether.
Gravity seizes her. She falls forward in space and time, into the future, into the mystery. Yang Liwei is behind her. Uldwyn is behind her. She wants to be the first.
But, strangely, out of the 40,000+ passengers and crew of the Yang Liwei, it is not Mara that thinks the next thoughts. It is Alice Li. She is formless and it takes time and effort for her to define herself, beginning with her name. Through a thought process of cuts and infinities, Alice Li redefines herself as Alis Li. With that done she moves on to defining reality for herself. She remembers the Amrita Charter and that she was to be an explorer. She lets this thought and memory help her create a new, fantastic 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.
Next, second, we see Mara go through a similar process of defining her own name and then defining her physical self, but when Mara awakens, Alis Li is already there, standing over her. From all appearances, it seems Mara’s efforts to be first did not succeed. Alis leads Mara outside the building they are in and shows her the world she created with her own thoughts:
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.
Interestingly, the Yang Liwei is here in this new world. It is resting, partly embedded into a mountain, but it is intact and accessable. Alis leads Mara inside and when Mara asks about the others, there should be thousands of others, Alis tells her that they have to make them real. Then, Alis wonders out loud why Mara was the second to awaken from among the thousands of people aboard the Yang Liwei.
”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.
I love these two pages where Alis and Mara define themselves back into existence. Not only because we get to see how the Awoken awakened, but because the writing itself is so beautiful. I’d quote both pages in their entirety if I though our board would let a post be that long. I very strongly encourage anyone that is interested in this stuff to read Ecstasiate I and Ecstasiate II. Not for the lore, but for the way that the first two Awoken defined themselves by cutting and shaping their own names. It is something very different from all the rest of Destiny’s lore.
Next time, we’ll begin explore who the Awoken are as a people once the rest of them return from the formless existence that the conflict between the Light and the Darkness left them in. But, there’s also something secret that Mara knows and Alis Li does not. The question “Why you in particular?” has an actual answer, but it will be some time before we get to it.
Still, the more immediate stuff coming up is fascinating and important not just for the Awoken, but ultimately for the rest of the Destiny universe as well. The origin and Awakening of Mara Sov is just the beginning!