Through the Eye of Chaos
Still aboard Xio and Aten's ship, Metis is taken to the Jovian system to be formally reintroduced to the Foundation, the secret society formed by their extended family of immortals, including her true original parents, Osan and Teth, and her grandmother Keie, who are all overjoyed at the chance to finally meet her again. The Jovian moons are full of mostly-automated settlements, accompanied by numerous artificial satellites, all part of the "factory floor" (as it were) of Jovian Corp, the solar system's premier manufacture of cutting-edge starships, automatons, and other advanced technologies. But Jovian Corp is itself a front for The Foundation, who relocated to the Jovian system, predominantly in an enormous spacestation hidden in the calm at the center of the Great Red Spot, from their previous home base in the Earth-Moon system after the rest of humanity developed space travel. Her family explain that the Foundation have had space travel technology for centuries longer than the rest of humanity, having developed it secretly in equatorial America while the most advanced civilizations elsewhere were still in their Dark Ages, and then destroyed the evidence of it still remaining on the surface before any of those powers even knew the western continents existed. They say they would have been a dozen millennia still further along, if not for Kron's betrayal costing them their original starship and stranding them on primitive Earth for most of that time. Metis asks why they haven't revealed themselves to humanity long ago and guided everyone to a brighter future. She is told that they did reveal themselves to humanity long ago, after which they were worshipped as gods, which was more trouble than it was worth and ultimately drove them into secrecy; but that even from the shadows, they have been guiding humanity to a brighter future, both socially through the orchestration of the Internation, and technologically through things like Virtuality, automata, and the products of Jovian Corp. These reintroductions are interrupted by a transmission from Kron, who claims he is approaching the Foundation station with no hostile intent, needing only to come into realtime communication range. (Though their technology is advanced, and FTL communication via wormhole is known possible, they don't yet have the means to build such devices themselves, and so are limited by the speed of light in practice). Osan takes a heavily armed fleet of automata-ships out to escort Kron safely to within communication range, and then a kind of video conference through a wall-sized holographic screen is initiated. Xio has many harsh words for Kron for doing something this stupid in what amounts to another tantrum or plea for attention, but Kron is nothing but apologetic, which takes everyone present by surprise. He explains that he had intercepted the Foundation's communications with the Achilles, the ship sent to explore the world on the other side of the Eye, and knew from that that the vast spacefaring alien threat their creator Keius had feared was not there, even if the more-primitive locals to that particular world were hostile. Kron only intended to finally escape from living under the thumb of his own son, and all in the service of their inferiors (the rest of humanity) no less, and fully expected that the Eye would be sealed off behind them. But in the time since the Achilles came, something changed, maybe the Achilles somehow awoke the threat that was out there after all, and now Kron says his Horsemen are doing everything they can to push that threat back through the Eye so they can seal it off for good. (Aten explains for Metis that Kron long ago gave himself the epithet "light-bringer", or "Lucifer" in the language of the day, for which "Luke" is short; and his four loyal brothers were noted in one of the many mythologies loosely inspired by their family history as four horsemen thought to one day help him end the world as those primitive writers knew it, a moniker to which "Luke" has since taken a liking). But it's not enough; they need the Foundation's help, but even that won't be enough, as there are fleets of alien ships pouring into the other solar system from other portals to world still beyond it, they don't know how many in total. This, Kron insists in terror, is an existential threat to all of humanity, even they as immortals, and all of humanity must be mustered to combat it together if anyone is to survive. Xio agrees, as do the rest of the Foundation leaders present. Osan heads a fleet of Foundation automata-ships who immediately follow Kron back to the outer solar system to begin delaying the enemy further, while Xio heads back toward Earth to deliver the biggest news of all history to the leaders of humanity. Aten and Metis accompany him. En route Metis insists to Aten that she wants to help fight this fight; she will gladly direct a fleet of automata-ships or anything else that is needed of her, if it will help to save humanity. Aten remarks that she is her mother's daughter, in the sense that she (Aten) evidently takes after her (Metis) in her fighting spirit, and agrees to teach her the relevant AI interfaces in a simulation aboard the ship. Like the interfaces she is already familiar with, it consists largely of mediating between advisory AI and subservient AI, but instead of having to listen, understand, and approve the advisor's plans and then relay them to the servants, the Foundation technology interfaces much more closely between the human and the AI. There is essentially a fully independent general AI which lacks any "personality", having no long-term memory in its own program and so no beliefs or intentions on which to act, so by itself it merely sits there as unused potential, until a human mind interfaces with it through a piece of wireless headwear called a "halo". Then, the AI reads in the human's memories as its own, feels like it is the human, with all the same memories and beliefs and intentions, but with all the increased cognitive powers of AI; and it stores long-term memory of its experiece back in the human brain, giving the human user the experience that they are doing all the things the AI does, with all the same motives and personality they normally have, but with superhuman competence and ease. Because the AI process runs separately and not in the human brain, the human's normal thought processes meanwhile continue as usual, so the AI-enhanced process cannot control the human body, and everything done through the AI interface feels like thoughtless, effortless muscle memory to the human user. As their ship finally settles into Earth orbit, Xio begins gathering a multiuser video chat between various world leaders. He introduces himself as the face humanity knows him as, the head of Jovian Corp, and then he carefully details how Jovian Corp is a front for a far more advanced secret society that has been hidden among humanity for thousands of years and is now centuries in advance of them technologically. He spares them the details about them being immortals once worshipped as gods, but he does detail the alien wormhole in the outer solar system they have long known about, and how it has recently been reopened allowing an alien threat into the solar system which the Foundation are currently trying to fight. Lastly, he outlines the dire need for reinforcements, and calls on both Terran and Lunar forces to set aside their differences and lend aid, under his leadership, in combatting this existential threat to all of humanity. He then opens the figurative floor to questions, of which the world's leaders have many. (More details).
With the collective forces of humanity united under the Foundation's leadership, Xio has the leaders of Earth and Luna assign squadrons of ships and their commanders to report to a variety of Foundation leaders. They are deployed at strategic places throughout the solar system, predominantly spread out along likely flight paths between the Eye of Chaos and the Earth-Moon system. Aten and Metis command their fleets of ships near the back lines, around Earth, which Metis finds somewhat condescending; she wants to be on the front lines fighting, making a real difference, but Aten reminds her that prudence wins wars far more than bravery ever does, and those on the back lines are no less important than those on the front. Meanwhile a smaller number of forces are sent to intercept likely routes from the Eye to Mars, as the only indigenous Martian fleets are the ones recently destroyed in its decoy attack against Earth, and the one under the command of Luke and his Four Horsemen on the front lines of this battle. The Jovian system is trusted to be able to defend itself, what with the Foundation itself being centered there, and the automata at other uninhabited locations like Venus and Mercury are given general orders to defend themselves from threats as necessary. The general strategy of the manned fleet is to search and destroy any ships that have already broken through the front lines of defense, and gradually converge all forces toward the Eye until it can be retaken and sealed off again, protecting the solar system at least for the time being thanks to speed-of-light delays inevitable for anyone trying to reach it without the aid of the wormhole. As a last line of defense, the Foundation reveals to the Lunar forces that it is aware that they have had a banned gravitomagnetic weapon under development in case Terran forces should ever attempt an invasion of Luna by force, but rather than scold them for that, Xio tells them to use it if the alien fleet manages to reach the Earth-Moon system. As battle mounts it looks like humanity might stand a fighting chance, though the size of the alien army beyond the wormhole is still undetermined. Scans reveal to everyone's satisfaction that no alien ships have yet reached the inner solar system, and much to Metis' excitement, the back lines begin to converge toward the Eye until a clear battlefront is established surrounding the Eye at a distance in the outer reaches of the solar system. Then, into that battlefield, a wrench is thrown as an enormous unidentified ship enters the system not through the eye but from open space, at nigh-luminal velocities, and rapidly decelerates. Thinking it aligned with the aliens, the forces of humanity scramble to reorganize their defense, concentrating the bulk of their fire on this ship that seems large enough to just wade through their defensive line soaking up damage. Meanwhile, strategists scramble to figure out the implications of the aliens having already sent a ship at nigh-luminal speeds through open space toward Sol some unknown generations in the past, long before Luke and his Horsemen even opened the Eye, and whether that might make sealing off the Eye ultimately futile if this is just the point ship of a fleet already en route. Everyone grows even more confused when it's realized that the alien fleet they were already fighting are themselves firing on the newcomer ship as well. Shortly thereafter, the newcomer ship broadcasts a message encoded with a Foundation key: it is the Valkyries, the former crew of the Achilles. They are terribly sorry for disobeying orders and bringing this alien ship to Sol, but they ask everyone to please stop firing on them. They apologize that they didn't open communications sooner but they weren't sure talking would do any good since everyone opened fire on them immediately. But it's clear now why that was: because of the war that's obviosly going on here. Lastly, they ask humanity to also cease fire on the aliens, because there is clearly some enormous miscommunication that has happened. Their ship's AI recognizes the life-forms aboard the alien command ships as Ehrban, the people of Keius Meij, namesake of the Eye of Chaos and the one who made the immortals immortal thousands of years ago. Another transmission in an unknown encoding is broadcast immediately afterward, and as the Foundation and the rest of humanity's forces pull back and regroup in light of this information, so too do the alien ships. The Valkyries relay to the Foundation that their new ship's alien AI has established communication with the Ehrban and asked them to stand down as well. Talks between the Foundation and the Ehrban leadership are soon established with the help of that AI's translation services, it having learned human speech from the Valkyries and Ehrban speech because its creators, the Asiron, were created by Keius Meij as well. In those talks it soon turns out that the human commanders, the Foundation and Kron and his Horsement, and the Ehrban on the other side, both thought the other side were an enemy they have in common, those from whom Keius Meij closed the wormhole from the Sol side to protect humanity, and whom these modern Ehrban have been fighting a second war with for some time: a species called the Berol. With that cleared up, apologies are made from both sides for the misunderstanding, and both sides are fascinated to meet the other at last: the Foundation are fascinated to meet the people of their creator Keius Meij, and the Ehrban are fascinated to meet the near-mythical "adopted children" of Keius, who is as ancient and mysterious a figure to them as he is to the Foundation. But peace at Sol, it turns out, is very short-lived, as the Berol war already raging in other systems held by the Ehrban soon spills out into the Sol system as well. (More details).
From somewhere far away across the Ehrban's galaxy-spanning network of wormholes, the Berol with whom they have again been at war for some time now launch a novel attack designed specifically to counter the technique the Ehrban used to end their first war with them, thousands of years ago: shutting down the wormhole network entirely. To make that effort futile, the Berol have launched a series of enormous, heavily armored carrier ships intended to penetrate as deep as possible into Ehrban territory and then, when the carriers are finally compromised or can penetrate no further, to release a swarm of smaller automated ships from inside themselves, some of which will proceed to establish shipbuilding facilities on any appropriately rocky bodies in the vicinity, so as to ramp up an attack on the Ehrban from all sides. One such Berol ship has now penetrated the Asiron system, that on the other side of the Eye of Chaos from Sol, and then redirects to target the Eye itself. It initially cruises through the Asiron system ignoring the Ehrban's forces without stopping, only slowly turning toward the Eye. To make sure it never reaches Sol, Kron and the Horsemen cross through the Eye to the Asiron system with all of the fleets under their command, to join the Ehrban forces in attacking it. Osan follows with them, and Metis follows him, against Aten's advisement. Thanks in no small part to their help, the outer carrier ship finally is breached mere moments before reaching the Eye, but that only triggers the release of the warships within it. Because Metis is on the other side, Xio hesitates to immediately reseal the Eye, instead her and the rest of the human forces in the Asiron system to retreat back to Sol immediately. They are unable to do so before a significant fraction of the Berol warships are able to pierce the Eye and enter the Sol system themselves, with the retreating human forces only following behind them, and still more Berol flooding in behind them. Many of the Berol ships focus on maintaining control of the Eye to keep themselves from being shut out of either system, but the rest of those already through it scatter toward the inner planets. Xio leads the forces under his command inward in pursuit. The automated shipyards on Mercury are given orders to start producing automated warships programmed to eliminate the alien ships by any means necessary without disturbing any of the inhabited planets, as a backup measure and counter to the Berol's own shipbuilding plans. Meanwhile Kron and those loyal to him try to close in and regain control of the portal. Metis also continues fighting the war in the outer solar system, and is thought killed in the battle, but in fact is rescued adrift in space by Kron of all people, and recovers on his command ship thanks to the nanotechnology that makes them immortal. Xio meanwhile has moved further into the solar system in defense of Earth. As the Berol reach Earth and overwhelm the conventional fleets defending it, Xio orders the surviving human defenders to fall back, and instead gives the Lunar forces the go-ahead to use their secret gravitic weapon to destroy large swathes of the Berol fleet at once. The superweapon works by using gravitomagnetic effects to artificially generate a microsingularity large enough to catch and draw in surrounding ships in a wide area of effect, but small enough to qquickly evaporate via Hawking radiation in an enormous explosion, destroying the ships it had ensnared. The Berol quickly adapt, and scatter their formation further, making targeting clusters of them with the superweapon more difficult and less efficient. These scattered forces then reconverge on the superweapon itself in the time it takes to repower between shots, and destroy it moments before it is able to fire again. This attack on the Lunar superweapon causes it to self-destruct in a catastrophic way, accidentally forming a microsingularity within itself, which then sinks quickly into the Lunar surface absorbing enormous quantities of mass as it falls, even while it continues evaporating away that energy it is absorbing, until it settles at last inside the hollow it has temporarily made at the center of the Moon, evaporating before the Lunar mass can settle into that space again, releasing the energy content of all the mass it had absorbed in an enormous explosion which shatters the entire Moon; exactly the kind of catastrophe in fear of which gravitic weaponry was banned in the first place, centuries ago. Pieces of the shattered moon scatter into unstable orbits near the old Lunar orbit, many of them quickly decaying in subsequent collisions, and a devastating shower of Moon fragments begins to rain down upon the Earth below. On their way down, many of these strike the World Ring, destabilizing it and the four Starbridges attached to it, sending them all crashing down to Earth along with shattered pieces of the moon. Thinking Metis dead in the attack that destroyed her ship in the outer solar system (not yet knowing that Kron has just saved her, and is about to send her to the relative safety of the inner solar system), and seeing now that most of Earth doomed and that the Terran internet and with it Virtuality is likely to collapse along with much of civilization, Xio abandons pursuit of the Berol still near Earth and instead heads to the surface on a desperate mission. Within Virtuality is another copy of Met's mind, his first attempt to atone for the sin of "killing" her so many millenia ago: before he reincarnated her into an organic body, he created an entire virtual paradise for her to live in, sponsoring the construction of Virtuality itself just for that purpose. But thousands of years trapped within Xio's mind had left her a ruined visage of her former self, and in her ceaseless fury she soon became an infamous legend within Virtuality, confined by her own actions to the deepest darkest realms of it for the protection of all others: the Queen of Hell, for whom Metis was frequently "mistaken" because they are in fact two copies of the same person. To save what he thinks is all that remains of Met, even if it is such a damaged and tortured version, Xio lands on Earth to connect to Virtuality from a stable hard link at the base of a Starbridge, and recover the Queen of Hell back into his mind if he can. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, the clone Metis has come to Earth in search of him, and finding him uncommunicative (because he is plugged into Virtuality) on the surface while, almost literally, the very sky is falling around him, she attempts to land at Earth as well to rescue him. But on her way to the surface her ship is struck by falling debris. The ship fractures and throws her from it still high up in the atmosphere, from where she plummets to the Earth below. Xio, still connecting at the base of a Starbridge, is soon buried under literal mountains of debris as the Starbridge collapses around him. As human civilization falls to a close, both are presumed dead, or as least as dead as their kind can be, and the fate of humanity remains unknown. (More details).