Underwater was definitely the best place to be. Caleb felt secure, invisible, untouchable there at the bottom of the lake. For one thing, he and his brethren could not get burned there. Secondly, the kind of enemy who had burned them before was prevented from coming down here by some biological imperative. Caleb had forgotten what it was. But the biological imperative was, of course, breathing.
The Cause had reconvened in this place of weightlessness and weight. There was weight on their shoulders, but they levitated over the bottom of the lake like astronauts. A thousand of them. They began in concentric circles, as before. It was slow. They didn’t swim well. Then a new pattern emerged. It happened slowly, organically. Neither Caleb not any of the other hosts came up with the idea. Epsilon Rex came up with it. It had to find a way to get all of the hosts in contact with each other, exchanging information, then processing it. The pattern that resolved was a strange new mandala of power. Single-file lines of hosts drifted slowly in and out of the centre of the circle. At the fringes, smaller circles revolved in tangent with the central one. A single Wreck constantly passing from large to small and back. Their auras danced with gold light. If anyone had been able to see it, they would probably have thought they were hallucinating. For Caleb and all his brethren, it was simply natural. This was the Cause. The journey towards transcendence.
Their questions and answers mingled like the silt thrown up by their movement. At first, it worked. Then Caleb got confused. The water was not an ideal medium to transfer their messages. It was a wall to the music of Angels. As they moved faster the message was getting left behind. Their response was animalistic but pretty effective. They clamoured closer to each other. Eventually they were all in contact. A mass of human flesh and Ep Rex purity. The communication was cleaner now. They felt each other’s skin as they moved. Molecules of Essence passed between them. They pushed towards their goal. Questions. Answers.
“What do we seek? We seek to grow. What can we do? We can move. We can claw and bite and tear. What makes us weak? Fire, and the limitations of the hosts. What would make us stronger? A new host. One that was greater than a human body. One that could not be destroyed by a simple fire. What strengths do we want from the new host? To think like we do now. As one entity. To recruit faster, and recruit more. To focus the Essence of Ep Rex in a host that continues to move, and recruit, and grow.”
They stopped moving. There was a new message. They all sent and received it at the same time. “Then this is our path. And this is how we will do it.”
They started to transform. It was not pleasing. Caleb’s instinct told him that there was something wrong about it. An old feeling, like fear, tried to make him back away. But his mind belonged to Ep Rex. His individual identity fought against it but was overruled. The painful change began.
It took some time and it was making him even weirder than the host he had left behind. After a while it was not as fearful. Together, all of them were making something that had never been before. The goal was getting closer. What the Cause had looked for was about to be achieved. Suddenly Caleb felt spurred by it all, and he put all his effort into the change. The whole mass of them mutated, like a sculptor made of clay, making himself.
Dirt from the bottom of the lake filled the water. It whirled round them in a storm of filth. Caleb could see nothing. But he could feel himself transforming and he could feel himself moving through the other hosts like lightning down a wire. Faster than he had ever moved before, either as a living being or a Wreck.
When it was over, they did not rest. Caleb felt invigorated. He felt that the new body was him and him alone. He responded faster to the messages coming from the Essence. He was complete. Everything he wanted was done.
But there was more. Now that he was renewed and reborn, he instantly felt the need to prey on something. It was not over. He was not finished. He was not even Epsilon Rex anymore, because the transformation had been much deeper than his mind could comprehend.
The new host felt strong and wanted to stretch. It rose towards the surface of the lake.