Today, having been reading The Atrocity Archives and having my newly-acquired PDF of Starfinder sitting on my hard drive, I’m going to describe what might potentially be the most terrifying creature possible in a sci-fi setting. Credit to Charlie Stross for the basic idea.
At the end of a universe’s lifespan, any life that is left will be surviving on the thinnest dregs of energy – the wisps of Hawking radiation from evaporating black holes, the last stale radio whispers of long-dead stars, and the last guttering scraps of radioactive decay; possibly even the last whispers of matter itself rotting as protons collapse into weak photons.
Any life in such a state will be immensely optimized to use even the tiniest gradient of entropy to survive; imagine, then, what happens if a passage appears to a younger and more vital cosmos – a universe young enough that stars still burn brightly, when only the most primordial black holes have evaporated, when the entropy gradient is steep and energy is everywhere for the taking.
These creatures – dubbed infovores, as the destruction of information is the ultimate form of increasing entropy and the best way to summon one if you’re so inclined – manifest as fields of intense cold, drinking the ambient heat in from the moment they appear. Able to sap any form of energy to fuel themselves, an infovore is the ultimate weapon of planetary destruction – even thermonuclear weapons only feed them, presenting a lavish banquet for them.
The best way to contain one, for a time, is to summon it into a living creature; while the infovore will immediately consume their consciousness and soul, it gives the summoner time to bind them into the body and lock them into servitude. Even for the best summoner, however, this is only temporary – so powerful is an infovore’s hunger that in time they’ll chew through the bindings and drink the magic that fueled them, then turn on their summoner before getting loose on the world as a whole.
The problem with containing an infovore is that they learn from the experience, and develop the skill of jumping from one host to another, devouring their minds and souls with each jump; the more experienced ones can spread like a virus, taking over multiple bodies and becoming a soul-eating plague. More than one world has been lost this way, the creatures devouring every last living thing before moving on to the ambient energies of the world itself. It’s a safe sign that if a starship drops into a system where one world is inexplicably cold and dead, it’s infested by at least one infovore.
They can be dispersed, for a time, if their hosts are all killed; eventually they’ll soak up enough ambient energy to recover and resume the consumption of life and warmth. Permanently killing them is hard to arrange, but easy for those who can accomplish it; they’re creatures from the farthest end of time, what metabolism they have balanced on the knife edge of exhaustion no matter how much they glut themselves on. If they can be dropped to absolute zero for even a few moments, they’ll devour their own structure and fall apart. It’s getting them to absolute zero that’s the problem – even spells designed to chill something have a limit to how cold they can go before their own energy prevents them from going any colder.
The good news for the universe is that while an infovore can learn to body-hop and to spread itself, that’s pretty close to their limit; operating spacecraft to spread themselves into the endless void is beyond them, and they can’t stop feeding – one trying to stow away on a ship will drain it and the crew likely before the vessel can reach escape velocity. It takes a foolish summoner to bring one into the warmth of the present cosmos – although the frozen worlds scattered here and there across the skies can attest to how often people like that exist.
And that’s the presently-statless infovore! Coming soon to a Starfinder stat block in some form!
Next time, I’ll be introducing a new feature to go along with the Atlas of Worlds and the Gatecrasher’s Almanac.