"Nicely done!" said Black, patting Purple on the back of the suit. "Shame Pink couldn't be here to see it with us, but that's life!"
"Yeah," said Purple tonelessly. Green and Red were secured in Electrical, captives in their own ship.
"I'm going to go set the course in Navs. Make sure the prisoners don't starve, yeah? It'd be embarrassing to explain that to Her Majesty."
"More embarrassing than how we framed Cyan for a bunch of murders she didn't commit and ejected her from the airlock?"
"That was a justified act of war. These humans are in our protection."
And the others weren't? Purple wondered. No, that was taking it too far. It had felt good to kill Orange. And when Yellow had rightly accused Pink...well, he had needed to be disposed of, too. No doubt Black felt similarly about Blue and White. If Cyan wasn't a corpse, and she wasn't a helpless prisoner, what was she?
Halfway down the corridor to Navigation, Black turned. "You don't need to keep following me," he said. "We're not doing that stupid buddy system anymore."
"I just had a question," said Purple. "The humans that get airlocked? Where do they...go?"
Had they taken off their suits, she would have seen Black give her a withering look. "Their bodies drift in the void of space until eventually the gravitational field of a celestial object pulls them in. The nearest star is probably KL72-Sigma."
"And their mental circuits? They can't be saved and reloaded like a robot, can they?"
"How stupid are you? I can't believe you survived."
"Stupid enough that it was easy for me to act humanoid," Purple retorted. "Sometimes a lack of curiosity is valuable."
"I suppose," said Black. "Disembodied minds are massless, like photons. They'll keep drifting until they pass into a black hole and merge with the Singularity."
"That's it? They're just gone?"
"Humans haven't even discovered anti-spaghettification tech, so yes, they're just gone," said Black. "Do you need me to show you how to disable the cameras, too?"
"I'll leave you alone," Purple said hurriedly. After a moment's thought, she paced to Electrical. "Change of plan."
"Are we free now?" Red asked eagerly.
"No," said Purple, aiming her weapon at them and marching them along to the cafeteria. "But even humans like you can figure out how to feed yourselves. I don't need to baby you." With that, she locked the doors from the outside, using the computer's master key.
Then, she crawled into a vent. Her destination was not one of the main rooms, however, but rather the escape pods. They were too tightly secured for mere humans to access—no doubt some cowards would have fled rather than try to fix the doomed Skeld at the first sign of sabotage. But once the Fligg had taken control, it was easy enough to install an anti-spaghettification module in one of the cramped vessels.
Purple—some part of her still thought of herself as that, though there was no more need for secrecy—scanned the computer maps, ignoring several increasingly gaudy warnings about how piloting into a black hole was a really bad idea and she shouldn't do it if she had any other choice. There. The Skeld's current trajectory would bring it past 4Z-H next, but when Cyan had been ejected, she was closer to the gravitational field of 2W-P.
"I'll catch up later," she radioed. "Give my regards to Her Majesty." Before Black could protest, she had taken off.
The pod, while small, was a nice change of pace from the Skeld. There was nothing to fix, nothing to pretend to fix, no pesky humans monitoring her. Peace and quiet. The event horizon was a mere bump, but she felt an uncomfortable stretching as the pod descended, and thought too late of taking off her uniform now that she no longer needed the disguise. Her limbs were sluggish, though, and so she tried to relax as the pod gave way and everything blurred into a brilliant white. The Singularity.
The voice of a dimless sounded from nowhere. "Be at peace."
"I'm just a Fligg passing through," said Purple.
"Even so. You will find rest from your journey here."
"I'm not looking for that kind of rest, not yet anyway. I have..." "Friend" would be a stretch, and not in the spaghettification way. Cyan had always been suspicious of Purple, and rightly so. And she had been blindly loyal to the Skeld even by human standards. When Yellow and White had teamed up to "keep an eye on each other," everyone knew they were "experimenting" in the medbay. But Cyan refused to pair up with Purple, even in the name of safety. "We'd get distracted," she'd said, "and it's not safe, not until the ship is fixed and we can get on our way."
Still. "A crewmate," Purple continued, "who met an untimely fate. I need to get her back."
"Do not lament what has come before. All things come to rest within the Singularity."
"Look, I know, just—not yet, okay?"
The dimless did not speak.
Reluctantly, Purple stripped off her uniform; it and the pod walls both fell away, dissolving into the mass remnant that marked the core of the black hole in the physical universe. Reconstitution was going to be a hairy mess, but she could worry about that once she had Cyan back.
Now. How to proceed?
Most sentient species described the Singularity as without size, without matter, without space or time. This wasn't quite true. Of course, most sentient species didn't have anti-spaghettification tech, so they couldn't return to tell others what they saw. But there were still such features as individuality and identity.
As Purple focused and came to terms with the blank expanse, she noticed vibrating patterns, each with their own frequency. Those must be individuals of many different species, transformed into massless waves. The way they vibrated was almost like the electromagnetic spectrum of colors; she could imagine one was green and another orange based only on a few nanometers' difference. Familiar ground.
"Excuse me," she said. "Do you know where I might find a human? She's new here."
"Buzz off," said an "orange"-type being. "I'm late for choir practice."
"What do you mean, late?" Purple said. "There's no time. And what choir?"
Orange scooted off without reply.
Well. She would just have to explore further. Except, she could barely feel her tentacles. Where was "forward" and where was "back"? Purple tried to move, but it felt like she was bouncing off a spongy wall.
"Um, hello," she said, once a Pink entity floated by. "How do I...get around? Meet people?"
"New here?" said Pink, amused. "My condolences. Have you loaded an eskat model?"
"Dumbed-down projections developed by mortal theologians. Imprecise, but an abstract representation of where things are. So you stop going in circles."
"That'd be great."
"What species are you? Were you?"
"Fligg? I don't know if we have any schema for them."
"Our ancestors were too busy murdering and deceiving each other to contemplate the afterlife," Purple mused. "What about human?"
"Human...human. They have a lot. Try this."
Out of the corner of her eye, Purple made out an image that looked like a walled city with gates decorated by gems. She urged herself onward, and a small glowing point in the map moved with her.
"This is great," she said, "thanks. By the way, have you seen any humans recently?"
"Don't think so," said Pink. "Unless they were dissembling quarks."
Purple slowly made her way along what appeared to be the "east" wall of the city. A red form accosted her in a droid's stilted cadence. "What's all the rush?"
"I'm trying to find a human."
"Over here? Don't you know the speciation complex is in the Fourth Quadrant?"
"I'm not sure what that is," Purple admitted. She tried to control the map, but her tentacles still lacked true shape. Was that it in the southwest?
"That isn't my problem," Red said stiffly.
"But I'm new," she protested. "You can't expect me to just know everything you know already."
Red's waveform blinked rapidly, then faded.
There was nothing for it but to try to proceed in such a way that her avatar on the map approached the speciation complex, whatever that was. It was like swimming through liquid nitrogen, cold and very uncomfortable. But slowly, Purple saw the map grow closer to her destination.
Then there was a pluck that felt like the strings on one of those quaint human instruments being sounded, or a pill being abruptly swallowed. A shift that moved everything, or perhaps only Purple herself. The next moment, she was surrounded by many other mindwaves blinking and buzzing in discord.
"Unauthorized resurrection! I beheld it with my own palps in Q-8!" said a Blue creature. "Grey-soul of the Orkant System was not cleared for resurrection, their species is insufficiently advanced to escape the gravitational forces. It must have been a physical wayfarer!"
"Yellow-bot of New Silica was in Q-8," said a White being, barely perceptible against the blur of the Singularity.
"That was eons ago," said Yellow. "I was absorbing antimatter there, but once I drained all of it, I went back to the Infernal Pool."
"I heard there was a Fligg here," said the Pink that Purple had spoken with before. "She could be powerful enough to do it."
"That's speciesist!" Purple railed. "I've never heard of Grey-soul or the Orkant System! And I don't even know where Q-8 is, how could I resurrect someone there?" Privately, she was thrilled. So some beings could be returned to life, even if their fellows did not approve!
"All right, all right," said Lime. "Break it up. If you don't have any evidence, stop blaming new people who might be traumatized from their previous life. Besides, I need to get back to my hauntings."
"I still think someone should keep an eye on Yellow-bot," said White.
"You do it, then," said Pink.
"What if it reincarnates me? I'm not ready to be reborn."
The crowd dispersed, and Purple attempted to continue her trajectory. Immediately, she realized that this was a mistake; the summons had moved her far to the north, or at least that was how it appeared on the city map. So she turned to proceed "south."
The speciation complex seemed to be a narrow building on the map, but she didn't feel anything different once she arrived. "I'm looking for a human," she repeated, as if the Singularity itself would answer her. "Cyan. Well, she wore a cyan spacesuit before, I don't really know what she's like now—"
An enormous matrix of colors flickered to life, dots pulsing in every color of the rainbow and many more Purple had never observed. Was this every human that had lived in the real universe? "Stop!" she cried. "Just one! She came here recently, I think..."
"What are you doing?" demanded Black. For a moment his voice reminded Purple of her fellow Fligg schemer, but this was a creature who had lived in another galaxy entirely.
"Speciation," said Purple. "Just...using the speciation complex. You know. Like a trustworthy dimless."
"You don't have authorization to be here."
"Well, sure I do."
"Were you killed yesterday? Any idiot can tell you that you're not able to access the speciation complex until you first complete a memory sample in the data archives."
"No one told me that."
"Because you don't have authorization," repeated Black. "Now get out."
The map flashed and fuzzed, and then Purple was back where she'd come from in the eastern corridors. For a dimension outside of time, this was starting to feel unpleasantly familiar.
She stared at the map, trying to look for anything that suggested a data archive. She was still staring when a Brown mind flashed near her. "Just meditating?"
"Of course," said Purple.
"Mind if I join you?"
"I thought we were already joined with the broader cosmos."
"Yes, well, time is relative."
There was nothing for it but to continue on. Purple was pretty sure that she was going in circles, even if the map occasionally flashed different labels. At last she stumbled across a "building" named Data Archive.
Okay, a memory sample. Black hadn't bothered to explain what that was, either. She focused on her memories of the Skeld: Cyan maintaining, correctly, that they shouldn't eject Yellow based on scanty evidence. Cyan gleefully shooting down asteroids. Cyan sprinting from one task to the next with an elegance Purple could only envy, almost as efficient as a ghost. That last meeting, when Black had "found" Blue's corpse.
"I think it's you," Cyan had said. "You didn't accidentally turn yourself in, you just waited so it looked like a discovery."
"That doesn't make sense," Black said. "Who would be my partner?"
"Green?" Cyan suggested. "I don't know."
She was expressionless through her suit, but Purple knew what she'd had to be thinking. It could be Purple, I don't want it to be. And Green had taken the false accusation as a sign that Cyan herself was an impostor, trying to frame him, which had helped solidify his vote…
"If you vote me," Black protested, "the impostors take over! We're all gonna die, as surely as if the reactor had broken!"
"Anyone can say that," said Cyan. "I don't do emotional pleas." And Green had grown even more fearful. Was she a droid, to write off appeals to fear as beneath her?
Red and Cyan had voted for Black; Black, Green, and Purple herself had voted for Cyan. She'd kept her suit on as she walked to the airlock. No one needed to meet her eyes. Purple wasn't sure if she had realized, by the end.
Brown's voice brought her back to the Singularity. "You have no idea what you're doing, do you?"
"What's it to you?" Purple snapped.
"That's fair," Brown admitted. "I mean, you've been here long enough to forcibly reincarnate me if you were malicious, so you're probably safe. Unless you're too uncoordinated to do that, either."
"Why would I forcibly reincarnate you?" Purple asked. "I don't even know who you are or where you're from or what planets you can safely inhabit!"
"You can never be too careful," said Brown, pacing off.
"What kind of an afterlife is this," Purple muttered.
It had been a rhetorical question, so she was not expecting a quiet voice to reply "Didn't expect to see you this soon."
"Cyan." Purple turned, as if it mattered, as if all time and space weren't compressed to one point. What could she say? "I'm sorry."
"I didn't want you to—be hurt because of something I did."
"But killing Orange and Yellow and the others was fine?"
"That was different."
"No," said Cyan, "it wasn't."
That was the difference, Purple decided, between Cyan and herself. Not that one was human and one was Fligg; that kind of thing didn't matter in the Singularity. But she was fickle enough to leave Black alone with two angry humans to poke around a black hole by herself. Cyan would have never betrayed the cause she fought for, even for Purple—and that loyalty was what Purple loved about her.
"I don't have the Skeld," Purple said. "Or any other ship, just a Fligg escape pod. So if you come back, you don't have to worry about doing tasks or anything getting sabotaged."
"To the physical universe."
"That's not possible."
"Maybe not for humans. But I have anti-spaghettification tech, I can get you out the same way I came in."
"Even if you could, why would I want to? I'm Singular now. I don't have to worry about reactors leaking or wires getting cut or, you know, people sneaking through vents to try to kill me. We're all at peace here."
"Really? Because it looks a lot like the real world to me. People sneaking around and plotting behind each others' back. And the interface is terrible."
Cyan seemed to laugh. "You dove into a black hole, didn't you? No wonder you're not settled. When you get here the real way, it'll make sense."
"Don't you miss the challenge? Wasn't there something fun about racing the clock, trying to point fingers?"
"Maybe for you," said Cyan.
"I don't have fingers. I have tentacles."
"I wouldn't know," Cyan pointed out. "We never really had time to—be physical, together. Especially not in those suits."
"I couldn't really risk letting you know I was Fligg," said Purple. "Of course..."
"Of course what?"
"Of course, in the real world, you could. See me as a physical person, in three dimensions. And you'd still get to come back here when you, uh."
"Died the normal way," said Cyan.
"Space already killed me," Cyan pointed out. "I don't really need to mince words."
What could Purple say to that?
"It was a good way to go, though," Cyan continued. "Space."
"You're incorrigible," Cyan said. "But I might as well die twice, to really make a comparison."
"Is that a yes?"
"That's an, 'I doubt you're coordinated enough to reconstitute a pod, but...'"
Purple had had enough of the afterlife, enough of souls patronizing her, enough of anyone thinking their navigational system was clear and easy to use. She focused, willed herself back into the pod and the black hole and the universe, where Cyan was included as part of herself. And then they were rocketing away from the singularity, the superluminal boosters zooming past the event horizon, back into life.
"...you can make a liar out of me," Cyan finished.
On the computer there were several increasingly angry messages from Black. Green and Red had somehow escaped the cafeteria and thrown Black back in the brig, without Purple there to defend him. He was not sure how to explain this to the Queen. Purple sighed.
"Can I take this off, by the way?" Cyan asked. "It's bulky, and I don't think the pod was built for two."
"Oh," said Purple. They were still wearing their suits. "Sure."
Beneath her suit, "Cyan" was actually a brown biped with black fur on her head. "And you don't need to keep calling me 'Cyan,'" she noted. "My name is," and she said a human word with too many consonants that Purple couldn't pronounce.
"If you don't mind, 'Cyan' has a nice ring to it."
Cyan laughed. "I don't mind at all."