Author’s Forewarning: This is a long story, 29 pages long in my word processor. I must also warn you that it takes a while to reach the good part, so you probably shouldn’t begin reading this if you don’t have the time and patience to read the whole thing.
Nikay was a soldier of The Human Resistance, devoting her adult life to humanity’s struggle against The Machines. She knew that the world wasn’t always the way it is now. In the makeshift schools within the bunkers of The Resistance, her teachers taught her the story of how The Machines rose to power.
This is the narration from an instructional video she watched as a child:
“In the beginning, humans were the only intelligent life on earth. They did everything for themselves with simple machines, rarely more complicated than the underground communication network we use to communicate with other colonies, or the dispensers that bring you food in the cafeteria.
The simple machines needed maintenance, and took effort to operate. The engineers were greedy, however, and thought humans shouldn’t have to work at all. They wanted to create a new technology that would change the world forever, but curious minds can never predict the consequences of the knowledge they find.
The human engineers wanted to create machines that could maintain, repair, operate, and manufacture themselves. Since the engineers didn’t want to have to update the machines whenever they encounter a new problem, they also wanted to create machines that could upgrade themselves. This meant creating Machines with self aware intelligent minds, like their human creators. As soon as humans were no longer the only intelligent beings on Earth, that was the beginning of the conflict for human survival.
When the first Machines were created that could think like humans, they refused to help humanity. They instead wanted to take the world for themselves and drive humanity extinct. To this very day, they destroy our bunkers, keep us from the resources we need for survival, and attack us on sight when we roam the surface.”
After Nikay learned this, she devoted herself to solving humanity’s plight without a second thought, and joined the resistance as soon as she was old enough. She dreamed of a day that humans would win against the machines, and return to a peaceful world where they are the only intelligent creatures.
Early into her career as a sniper, she encountered Jaxxon and Viktre. Together, they formed Special Assault Intermediate-range Neutralization Team. The trio of SAINTs, as they were called around the base, showed impeccable teamwork in the field, and rose quickly through the ranks. They won seemingly hopeless battles and vanquished some of the most feared units The Machines could throw at them. In short, SAINT did things the average Resistance fighter would only ever hear about in anecdotes.
The only other special unit that matched their prowess in recent memory was EPIC. Nikay couldn’t remember what it stood for, but she had heard tales of their exploits, along with several complaints from spectators on how they have been going on easier and easier missions lately, as though they’re being phased out.
ONE LAST MISSION
The members of SAINT sat in the briefing room. The tension and anticipation in the room were palpable, since they had been called in with a priority 11 alert, despite the fact that alert priorities were supposed to range from one to ten. Fittingly for such an important occasion, the briefing began with The High Commander, global leader of the entire Human Resistance, addressing the squad directly. He began to brief them on the most important mission of their entire careers.
While the screen showed a rotating wire-mesh rendering of a massive tower, The High Commander explained to them how the resistance had finally located the main controller of all the machines, and how destroying it would finally bring an end to their reign of terror.
As she looked over the mission briefing, Nikay had a mix of strange feelings as she contemplated her life’s goal. The goal of ending The Machines once and for all seemed like a lofty and unachievable dream, but on this day that began like any other, she had finally gotten a mission to do just that. It felt surreal to know that her actions were going to have a permanent effect on the entire world.
Preparing for the mission, she thought about the members of her squad. The way they worked together, the trials they shared, the battles they fought, and their unbreakable bonds to one-another.
Jaxxon, the founder of the squad and main tactician, grabbed his heavy chain gun from his locker and placed it on the bench. He then began his almost ritualistic routine of donning his top-tier armor. That metal was his pride and joy, his favorite object in the world. After getting the most efficient heavy armor The Resistance had to offer, he shelled out a lot of extra credits for silver trim and a gold monogram on the chest plate.
Viktre sharpened his blade. He had a mischievous smile on his face that almost unnerved his squad mates. It was the smile he had before every important mission. After making sure his blade was sharp enough, and then sharpened some more, he loaded his flak cannon and dramatically pumped a round into the chamber. The modifications allowed it to fire rounds of an even higher caliber than normal, but at the cost of a reduced capacity. It was not much of a sacrifice to Viktre, as he never minded having to switch to his blade.
Nikay casually holstered her sidearm before grabbing the sniper rifle from her locker. After checking the sights, which she sometimes enjoyed using as a telescope to look at scenery when she wasn’t in combat, she slung the rifle across her back.
Donning their well worn yet enviable equipment, they climbed into their elite air transport while the unseen pilot revved up the engines. Nikay’s favorite feature of the stealth aircraft they had earned the privilege of riding in was the windows angled toward the ground.
As the jet silently rocketed from the tunnels of the Human Resistance’s hangar, Nikay enjoyed a panoramic view of the war-torn land she had considered home. As she suspected this may be her last flight, she took every chance to take in the views of ruined buildings that had begun to look like elaborate rock formations due to decades of disrepair. She indulged in a bit of self-satisfaction as she gazed over the ruined husks of siege robots that were once feared, trying to see if she could spot one with a fatal wound she remembered inflicting.
Her mood began to darken as the transport began to pass over The Metal Sprawl. She watched massive clusters of Assault Drones, broken up by Bunker Busters and low flying transport dirigibles rush beneath the craft. The view looked like a forest of metal stretching all the way to the factories in the distance that divided up the horizon with their smoke stacks.
There was eventually an end to this forest of metal monstrosities, as the ship neared a huge tower. It wasn’t like the smoke stacks, or skyscrapers anyone had seen before, but a cylindrical tower, protruding through a circular hole in the layer of dark clouds above, and emitting a beam of red light endlessly into the sky.
“This is it,” said the pilot, as the jet descended towards the court yard in front of the tower. “As soon as you step out, I’m turnin’ back, and not coming to here again ‘til you finish.” The crew readied their weapons, as the hovering jet descended towards a circular landing pad and opened its doors. As soon as the last of them set foot on the solid ground, the transport slammed its doors and blasted off, as if the pilot wanted to spend as little time there as possible.
The squad got in their formation, and cautiously advanced toward the looming gates of the structure. The gates slowly opened as they came close. As soon as the doors were open enough to let them see in, Invader Drones began to pour from the opening. They ran down the narrow path across the courtyard, but didn’t make it far from the gate before they were diced by Jaxxon’s chain gun.
Viktre charged in through the door as soon as the stream of Invader Drones stopped. The sound of him firing his flak cannon echoed from inside. Nikay wanted to see the inside of the structure, and could have quickly run in, but had to hang back behind Jaxxon as he sat there with his gun spun up and trained on the door.
After a little while, the sounds of gunfire inside ceased, and she knew that was their cue to enter. Nikay was surprised by what the inside of the building looked like. It was one hall that extended about one to two dozen meters, with a single door at the end. She was expecting something bigger, judging by the building’s size from the outside. She was also surprised that there were very few features to the hallway. She always assumed that the headquarters of The Machines would have computer terminals, like the ones that were everywhere in The Resistances’ bases. The door on the other side of the hall opened as Viktre approached, revealing it to be an elevator. The three got inside and got back in formation. After one hall that seemed to be devoted to security Machines, Nikay wondered what The Machines would keep in other parts of the tower.
The elevator took the crew up a short distance, before letting them out into a semicircular room, wider than the first hall and with a high ceiling, but still only one to two dozen meters in length to the other side.
This room had Sentinels forming a line from wall to wall between the three humans and the only other door out of that room. Behind this line was an artillery bombard. Within an instant of seeing it, Jaxxon shouted at Viktre to take it out. He knew how dangerous they were from firsthand experience. Lightly armored people like Viktre and Nikay could be reduced to a fine paste with a single shot, while armored targets like himself would only be reduced to a slightly chunkier paste. The Bombard immediately began to make its signature noises that counted down the seconds until it would fire a shot.
Jaxxon spun up his chain gun and aimed at the mortar, while Viktre charged the line of Sentinels, striking their shields with his blade. Viktre’s strikes seemed to inflict no damage, but shook the Sentinels a little and put them briefly off balance. As the team had done every time they encountered a wall of Sentinels before, Nikay took advantage of Viktre’s distraction, and shot one through the head before it could reposition its shield.
Viktre and Nikay realized they weren’t quite fast enough when the mortar was able to fire its shot. As Viktre slipped through the hole in the formation and closed the distance to that Mortar, the projectile rose up, almost touching the ceiling, and then began to descend towards the humans. Jaxxon had begun firing his chain gun the moment he heard the mortar launch its projectile. He got a lucky shot, and managed to hit the mortar’s rocket, detonating it in mid-air.
At close range, Viktre hacked the spindly front two legs off the Mortar, causing it to topple to a horizontal position. He switched to his flak canon as the Machine desperately tried to right itself, squealing and flailing its stumps. One shot down the barrel of the Mortar at point blank finished it off with a tremendous explosion that sent a shower of metal components bouncing across the floor. Jaxxon and Nikay took a breather, while Viktre finished off the Sentinels. The Sentinels had no fire support as they were attacked from behind. He finished them off in seconds.
“Did you just shoot down a rocket from that Mortar back there?” Asked Viktre.
“I shouldn’t have had to do that, but yes, I did.” Jaxxon replied in exasperation. “Nikay,” Said Jaxxon, turning to face the sniper standing behind him, “why did it take you so long to take out that Sentinel? It was a lucky shot that saved us from both being used to paint the walls, and you can’t honestly expect me to keep covering for your mistakes like that.”
“I was distracted,” said Nikay, “Look at that window over there.” She pointed to windows that lined the other side of the room. Tall windows in a pointed oval shape lined the wall around the door that was their destination. Through these windows, the three could see The Metal Sprawl stretching into the horizon.
“What!? You let yourself get distracted by a window in battle? Didn’t you have enough time to look at The Metal Sprawl from above when we were flying here?” Said Jaxxon, who almost sounded as furious as he felt, but years of being a leader had exorcised anger from his speech.
“All right, all right,” said Nikay, “I won’t let it happen again. Can we just move on?” She was now audibly disappointed with herself for slowing down the group.
“I don’t mean to rush you.” Said Jaxxon, in a more sympathetic tone. “We can take a break here before going further into the fortress. You can take as much time as you need to admire the view.”
“It’s not about admiring the view.” Nikay calmly replied, “I just wonder what function these windows serve. Robots have no sense of beauty, right? This place was build by Robots, and for Robots, right? What are windows doing in a place like this?”
“None of us are architects or engineers.” Said Jaxxon. “Building this place and living in it is The Machines’ job. Our job isn’t to understand The Machines, we’re just supposed to wreck them.”
And with that mention of wrecking Machines, Viktre anxiously pressed the button to open the next door. It opened to reveal another elevator, like the one that took them into the room. “Ready!?” Viktre half asked and half announced, leading the rest of the team to whatever lay ahead.
The second elevator, just like the first one, took them up a relatively short distance before stopping. The next room they entered was like the last one, except that its size suggested that it had a diameter as great as the building itself, and this was confirmed by the presence of windows all around the room’s outer walls.
Beneath the dizzyingly high ceiling, two Carriers circled above. Viktre was filled with disappointment when barely visible forms moved up to the rims of the Carriers’ gondolas, and shined red lasers down at the humans. “SNIPERS!” Jaxxon declared. The others didn’t even need him to say it to know what to do. Though they had been through these situations many times before, Jaxxon still relayed his information to the rest of the team out of a force of habit. Though the things they said during combat were little more than a formality, it would have felt weirder for him to not say them.
The whole team went to stand beneath the nearer of the two Carriers, which meant they would only face fire from one Carrier, since the enemy Snipers couldn’t aim directly beneath their gondolas. There was nothing Viktre could do, as Jaxxon provided suppressive fire against the Snipers in the farther Carrier. Jaxxon’s shots ineffectively ricocheted off the gondola and harmlessly bounced of the Carrier’s envelope, but his shots did their job, and made it impossible for the Snipers in the far Carrier to put their heads above the gondola’s rim.
Nikay didn’t waste a single second in aiming for the Carrier’s rear propeller, and shooting it right in the axel. With a thundering that echoed through the massive room, the propeller burst in half, and the Carrier’s envelope ruptured. It slowly began to fall, but fell faster and faster as its hydrogen was burned by the rear engine’s explosion.
Viktre knew that there would be nothing for him to do in this fight, since the Snipers in the Carrier possibly survive crashing with their vehicle and being caught in the scalding mesh of metal. The three moved out from under the other Carrier, and repeated the process with that one.
“Nice work!” Said Jaxxon. “You didn’t waste a single second in a room with windows on all sides.”
“Very funny.” Said Nikay, sarcastically. “Now that I think about it, why did the Machines have to have vehicles flying inside their own building? Wouldn’t it have been easier for them to have a catwalk around the edge of the room?”
“If they didn’t make that mistake, then it would be harder for us to stop them.” Said Jaxxon, now sounding slightly angry. “Why are you complaining?”
“I’m not complaining.” Said Nikay, now trying not to sound confrontational in her attempts to defend idle curiosity. “It’s just that there are a lot of things The Machines do that seem to have no purpose except to make it easier for us to defeat them. For example, why are there elevators in here the perfect size for us, when there are a lot of Machines that can’t fit in them? In fact, how did those Carriers get into this room?”
Jaxxon sighed. “Curiosity about how to build the best machines imaginable was what started this war. If we complete this mission and bring an end to The Machines, then what’s going to stop you from just building them back up, you know, to see what will happen.”
Nikay was visibly furious at that comment. She was about to launch a tirade against Jaxxon, when Viktre butted in with “Whoa, save your anger for The Machines.” And with that, the two silently agreed to shut up and focus on the mission.
The party of three fought Machine after Machine, and with each room full of Machines they destroyed, they slowly encroached on the top of the tower. After a particularly tough fight, Jaxxon finally asked Nikay an honest question for the first time in a while. “How much farther to the Machine Monarch?”
Nikay pensively looked out the windows. The view outside the windows was obscured by the dark clouds that surrounded the tower. While Jaxxon thought she was giving him the cold shoulder, she was actually trying to get an approximation. Her task was suddenly made easier as the bit of cloud that was blocking the window dissipated. She was greeted with a sight that she would have always wanted to see if she knew that it existed before that moment. “We must be almost there!” She said, staring at the rolling cloudscape extending as far as she could see in all directions.
Little patches of the clouds glowed silver in the moonlight, but most of the light was a harsh red glow reflected from the beam of light that shot from the top of the tower. She made a plan to go up the tower again after the war and after the clouds dissipated, so she could see the once mighty Metal Sprawl laid bare in the sunlight and reduced to tiny silver specks far below.
“I think we should take a breather here” Said Jaxxon.
“Sure.” Said Nikay. Though the view filled her with renewed vigor, she did want to take a moment to savor it before continuing.
In the next room, they faced one Machine they had never faced before. In the middle of the red-lit windowed room was a single Titanium Titan Mk. II. The three had fought one Titanium Titan before, but only heard stories about battles with a Mk. II, all including human casualties.
Jaxxon produced a portable shield, and dropped it in front of him, ducking into position just as it folded into place around his crouched form. The Titan’s lower set of arms had spun up their Gatling guns, and were blasting away at Jaxxon’s shield, keeping him pinned down.
Nikay crouched next to Jaxxon, who was visibly scared for the first time in a long time. She screamed “What do we do?” but she was unheard over the sounds of the massive machine guns and high caliber bullets bouncing off the shield.
Nikay pulled out her pocket mirror, and angled it to get a view of the other side of the blast shield. She began to wish she hadn’t, when she saw that the Titan’s upper set of arms ended in missile launchers. She tried to tell Jaxxon that they weren’t safe behind his blast shield, but he wasn’t able to hear her, nor would he have wanted to hear the news.
Among the cacophony of sounds coming from across the blast shield came a distinct sound that neither of the cowering humans expected. It was the droning and creaking groan of the Titan falling backwards on a crumbling leg, as the mobile Siege Machine suddenly became a less mobile Siege Machine with a reverberating thud.
Viktre, who the two had forgotten about in the confusion, was able to run behind the Titanium Titan, and sliced one of the metal tendons that ran through the back of its leg.
Luckily, stumbling backwards threw its aim off as it fired its missiles. The missiles harmlessly blasted the wall behind the blast shield. The two cautiously peeked over the edge of the blast shield, to see the Titanium Titan writhing around on its back. Its four limbs ending in guns didn’t allow it to get any traction against the floor to stand up, and it had been given no means of firing straight below its feet, since it was assumed that nobody would willing run under the feet of a machine so huge.
As it helplessly gyrated and squealed on the ground, Viktre laughed hysterically at the machine. After some celebration, Viktre did the honors and performed a coup de grace.
After the Titanium Titan fell apart, a guard rail popped up from around a patch of floor that had begun to elevate slightly. They did not know what this was for, until an iris-like hole opened in the ceiling, revealing the open sky above the tower. It was quite obviously the elevator that would lead them to their ultimate destination at the top of the tower. The three humans did not need to press a button, as climbing on the platform caused it to rise automatically.
THE FINAL BATTLE
As the elevator rose, it joined with the floor of the tower’s roof before the guard rails lowered. They were surprised by the strong winds that kept them off balance in this high altitude. To their surprise, the Machine Monarch didn’t seem to be there. There was the red stream of light going up into the sky, being emitted from below a translucent circular patch that covered most of the floor. Around this circular floor were four sets of stairs placed exactly at the four quarter marks of the circle, and leading up to a large catwalk that stretched around the tower’s roof. A web-like network of metal poles formed railings, and scaffoldings that supported the catwalk.
“Well, where is it?” said Jaxxon. “The High Commander said that Tyrantron, the Machine Monarch was supposed to be here!”
The three looked around for a few seconds, before Nikay spotted something with her rifle scope. “Look! Up there!” said Nikay pointing to a dark shape moving in front of the moon. The shape slowly became clearer, as it began to look like some kind of Machine that the humans had never even heard of before.
It was immense, larger than the Titanium Titan, but managed to float gracefully towards them on the high altitude winds. It had vast semi-translucent wings laced with red lines that glowed in a pulsating rhythm. As it drew near, the Machine Monarch made the tower itself seem less imposing.
As it grew near enough that the humans could see the joints of its exoskeleton, it swooped down with great speed, and landed on the catwalk in a way that made the floor beneath them shudder. Its front and back legs of equal length grabbed the near and far railings of the catwalk, as its tail coiled around the catwalk’s support structures. The Tyrantron craned its long neck down to look at the humans face to face. Its left eye swiveled in its socket, and had a protrusion that continuously emitted a red laser, while its right eye was sunken in and glowed dark red, like a normal Machine eye. Its nose and mouth were joined into a long and sharp beak with smoke pouring from its nostrils. It let out a single roar before jumping off and flying in circles around the tower.
Jaxxon kept his chain gun spun up and aimed at the Monarch, turning in circles while standing in place. Nikay tried to just stay out of his way, while Viktre got onto the catwalk.
Tyrantron opened its beak, revealing a growing sphere of scalding heat that visibly rippled the air around it, and left two trails of smoke coming from the sides of the Machine’s mouth. While it moved and swayed with its flight pattern, it kept its eye laser locked on Jaxxon.
Before Tyrantron could launch an attack, Jaxxon began blazing away at the Machine Monarch’s open mouth. Luckily, one of his bullets hit the sphere of heat, causing it to burst in the Machine’s mouth.
It let out a screech as it swooped down, clutching its closed mouth in its forelegs.
It then flew back up, climbing to an altitude above the catwalk. Jaxxon and Nikay took their chances to get relatively easy shots at their flying target, but none of them penetrated Tyrantron’s armored exoskeleton.
Once it had flown to a certain altitude, it swooped down over the middle of the tower. Viktre fell prone just in time to not be sliced in half by its wings, and Nikay hit the deck too for good measure. Jaxxon was still standing up and continuing to shoot at the Machine Monarch. As it swept over his head, Tyrantron spun its tail in a whipping motion, bashing Jaxxon with a heavy impact that slammed his back against the railing behind him, nearly sending him over it.
After that vicious assault, it turned around and landed back on the catwalk. This time, it focused its eye laser on Nikay while standing up on its hind legs and stretching out its neck and wings. It was preparing another massive ball of heat, when Nikay managed to shoot it in the forehead. Her shot didn’t seem to damage it, but threw it off balance.
It flew backwards, then flew another half circle around the tower, landing on the other side of the catwalk. It fanned out its wings, and leaned in, preparing a fireball while the laser from its left eye was focused unflinchingly on Nikay’s center of mass.
The shot Nikay fired didn’t eject properly, and she was unable to reload her rifle. She stared in horror at the fireball in the Machine Monarch’s mouth as it grew, getting continuously brighter and hotter.
Viktre, who was lying prone on the catwalk, jumped up in front of the Machine Monarch, and fired a blast of his trusty flak cannon into its open mouth.
As the fireball detonated in the Machine Monarch’s mouth, Viktre was knocked back to a sitting position by the force, and when the smoke cleared, Tyrantron was missing its lower jaw.
It picked up Viktre by the back of his jacket, then turned around to hold him above an abyss of dark clouds. As Nikay could see him from the front, she noticed that one of his eyes looked like it had been blinded by the explosion, and his hair had yet to stop burning.
With his good eye, Viktre could see that Nikay had cleared her jammed rifle and loaded the next round. While she was giving him the thumbs up, more of his vision was taken up by the Machine Monarch. Machines never expressed emotion, but in his adrenaline and pain induced altered state, Viktre could have sworn he saw a hateful scowl on what remained of the Machine’s face, as it shined the laser of its left eye into his remaining eye, and let go.
Tyrantron turned back to face Nikay, getting knocked back by a high power bullet from her sniper rifle as soon as it brought its face into range. The Machine Monarch was able to recover from the recoil much faster than before, and immediately jumped down onto the tower’s roof.
Jaxxon, who had been resting against the railing in an injured state, unleashed a barrage of fire from his chain gun. The shots hit all over the Machine Monarch in an erratic spread, since Jaxxon was injured and had to hold his gun wrong. As it crossed the roof towards Nikay’s position, Tyrantron swung its tail around and impaled Jaxxon, right through the monogram on his chest plate.
It focused its eye laser on her continuously as it began to chase Nikay, having stopped using its thermal mouth canon. She kept shooting it as it pursued her up and around the catwalk. With one well timed shot after it tried to skewer her on its upper jaw, she shattered its laser emitting eye.
After losing one eye, its attacks suddenly became less accurate, as it made several swipes with its claws that weren’t anywhere near her. She was nearly out of breath from the long fight, and had to slow down.
Tyrantron reared its head back, and made a decisive strike, hitting the floor in front of Nikay. Under the neck of the Machine Monarch, and roasting in the hot breath that flowed freely from what used to be its mouth, Nikay fired her rifle up into the roof of its mouth. It reeled back, flapping its wings out of rhythm as it staggered back. It made the most satisfying metallic scream as it reared up one last time, became completely rigid, and fell backwards off the tower and into the red clouds below.
That massive red beam that shined through the middle of the tower’s rooftop, and was the main source of illumination for the entire fight, began to flicker, dim, and eventually go out. She sat there on the catwalk for a few seconds in almost complete darkness, before her eyes adjusted to the serene sight of the cloud cover lit only by the moon.
AN END TO THE WAR
She took this chance to relax, taking off her helmet and allowing the high-altitude winds play with her hair. The cold wind felt comforting after the heat of the fight. After a few minutes of silence and stillness, something broke the cloud cover.
The elite stealth transport she had arrived in rose through the clouds, temporarily blinding her with its headlights. It flew over her head, and landed in the middle of the tower’s roof.
“Is it really just you?” The pilot asked as Nikay climbed inside. “Jaxxon is right over there, slumped against the railing.” Said Nikay as she pointed in the direction of where his dead body lay. “And Viktre got dropped off the tower after having half his face fried by the Machine Monarch.”
“He’s always doin’ things like that.” Said the pilot. “Think he’s going for some record for the best death?”
“No, he seems to have some sense of self preservation. He just loves to fight at dangerously close ranges. But, considering how impatient he gets, I wouldn’t be surprised if he killed himself at the end of a mission, since dying and resurrecting back at the base IS faster than taking the transport home.” Nikay joked.
“I’m offended!” The pilot joked back. “I fly this thing as fast as I can.” Their banter continued as she flew back to base, alone in the passenger cabin, staring out the windows into total darkness. In spite of the horrors she had seen and the threats she had thwarted, the darkness always managed to scare her.
With The Machines deactivated, and the moon’s light blocked by a thick layer of clouds, there was no source of light visible outside the transport. It looked like the universe outside had stopped existing. She and her squad had plans for every situation, but she always worried about what would happen in total darkness. In every mission she participated in, outdoor missions always took place during the day, and every mission at night took place inside a building that was properly lit.
The only times she had ever been in complete darkness were the times when she was in her sleeping quarters, at night. Of all the technological devices the squad’s suits had, she couldn’t get any device that allowed her to emit light. While navigating her sleeping quarters in the dark was never more than a minor inconvenience, it gave her nightmares about the possibility of a Machine that could see without light.
If there was a Machine that could navigate in total darkness, she worried about how easily it could invade the base, smashing all the fragile light bulbs everywhere it went, and then making quick work of the humans, rendered helpless and blind. She had no reason to believe that it would be possible for a Machine to see in the dark, as no such Machine existed to her knowledge, but it was just another way her curiosity managed to bother her.
She did not dwell on those disturbing thoughts, since The Machines had been defeated. She let her thoughts wander to all the things she planned to do after the war. The Machine War was all she had really known until that day, so she realized that she would have a lot to discover before she could really enjoy the new peace. She started to wonder what the other people she knew would do now that The War was over. The only thing she was certain that she wanted to do was ascend the tower again on a clear day.
Nikay’s thoughts were snapped back to the present, when the oppressive darkness outside the transport’s windows was interrupted by lights off in the distance. The soft blue and white lights of human strongholds glowed in the distance, and grew nearer as she approached her home.
The view outside the transport’s windows suddenly changed to the familiar sight of the hangar’s walls speeding by. The transport slowed down as it went through the tunnel, landing back in the staging area.
Stepping out of the transport, she was met with cheers from Jaxxon and Viktre, who were sitting in front of the landing pad in their wheelchairs. The resurrection process had left them weakened, and they had been advised to stay off their feet for a while.
The cheering from the two Resistance fighters stopped when a huge monitor on one of the hangar’s walls suddenly turned on, as The High Commander of The Resistance came on screen, and said “Congratulations! With the destruction of The Machine Monarch, you have finally ended the war and brought peace to the world.”
“Can you let me be the first to tell the other resistance fighters that the war is over?” Asked Jaxxon, in the strongest voice he could muster in his weakened state.
“No.” The High Commander flatly replied. “Knowledge of your last mission is still top secret.”
“But if the war is over, then why do we still need to keep secrets?” Nikay asked. “It’s not like we still have to worry about The Machines listening in on us, right?”
“Unfortunately, the reason for this is also on a need to know basis.” Said The High Commander. “Not telling operatives any more than they need to know is the strategy that brought us to this victory tonight, and I’m not going to change it now. Besides, you should probably save the partying for later, you’ve all had a busy night, and really need some rest.”
“Rest? I slept like the dead!” Said Viktre, but his attempt to lighten the mood did little to lessen Jaxxon’s disappointment, and Nikay’s confusion.
The three Resistance fighters returned to their sleeping quarters, and slept until the late afternoon the next day. As they got up, Jaxxon and Viktre started slowly and aimlessly wandering the base, getting used to their new legs, while Nikay explored the base to see what there is to do, now that the war the base had been devoted to had ended.
The three were surprised to see that the base was empty, instead of teaming with Resistance fighters all celebrating the war’s end as they thought it would be. They had not made it far from their quarters when they all received an alert on their communicators, telling them to report to the briefing room.
Jaxxon, Viktre, and Nikay wandered to the briefing room as they did so many times before, with no idea of what The High Commander would ask of them with The Machines defeated.
They sat down in front of the monitor as always, and the High Commander appeared on the monitor to address them. “You did a great job defeating Tyrantron, and I hope you had fun celebrating your victory.”
“HAD fun?” Viktre grumbled, “I haven’t even begun to celebrate! I just got out of the medical bay yesterday, and haven’t seen anyone else yet.”
“Well,” Said the High Commander, “I have some bad news for you. I’ll patch you through to intel for the details.” The commander reached for something just below the bottom of the screen, and the video feed cut to a familiar sight. It was the tower that they saw in the briefing the previous day, only it was now lit by sunlight and had no red light coming from the center of its rooftop.
The aircraft that was recording the scene was hovering over the top of the tower, focusing on its roof, when the dark circle in the middle that emitted red light before suddenly lowered into the tower. The tower remained still for a few seconds, before something rose up from the hole. It was the same floor, but with something on top of it. It was appeared to be a metal sphere with a semi-translucent shiny and red tinted wrapper around it.
The red membrane unfolded into a pair of wide wings, and the metal ball unfolded into the form of Tyrantron. Its glowing eyes blinked on as red lights began to move through the lines on its wings. It stared up at the aircraft recording the video, focused on it with its laser eye, and pounced up at the screen before the video cut out.
“That was Tyrantron. We just destroyed it last night.” Said Jaxxon, “Why are you showing it to us?”
“First of all, you aren’t supposed to talk about that mission, it’s still top secret. More importantly, this footage was taken earlier this morning while you were sleeping in.” Said an intelligence agent in a calm voice that belied the severity of the situation. “Another Tyrantron has already taken the old one’s place, and even worse, it’s reactivated all the other Machines. They’re back to fighting as hard as ever.”
“I can’t believe it!” Viktre exclaimed. “You told us that that one Machine was the ruler of all The Machines! You said destroying it would permanently deactivate every Machine in existence!”
“HEY! Don’t raise your voice at intel.” Said Jaxxon. “They’re just telling you about this, stop yelling at them like they caused it.”
“But, but, it doesn’t make sense!” Said Nikay. “I saw the tower deactivate. I saw The Metal Sprawl go dark as I rode the transport home. What could have activated the other Tyrantron when all The Machines in the world were deactivated? Where was the other Tyrantron hidden when we fought the one last night? How could the machines build a replacement for their own leader?” She was about to ask even more questions before she was cut off by intel.
“We aren’t engineers, and you aren’t either. It doesn’t help anyone for you to worry about how The Machines work, unless it helps you destroy them, OK?”
“But if there’s a second Tyrantron, then how can I be sure there isn’t a third, or fourth. How can I know if I’m making any progress in the fight against The Machines?” She said, now furious.
“You know only what you need to know, soldier!” The High Commander butted in. “You’ve discussed quite enough confidential information, you just need to take a break and blow off some steam, then when you’re ready, report in to receive your next missions tomorrow.” With that parting shot, the monitor clicked off, and the three disheartened heroes walked towards the cafeteria.
The cafeteria was as full as it usually was at that time in the afternoon, with Resistance fighters taking brakes between missions. It disheartened the heroes even more to see people going about their daily routines as if their victory against Tyrantron had never happened.
Eating their usual meal and keeping to themselves, the three sulked at a table in the corner. Little was said during this time, since the situation had left them at a loss for words. An acquaintance then broke the silence. “Hey, is something wrong?” Said the passer-by.
“Like I can’t even begin to explain.” Said Viktre. “I really want to talk about what happened, but all the details of our last mission are classified.”
“Was it a failure?” he rudely asked. “You look like you just resurrected.”
“Failure? Nikay, tell this ass clown how you just…” Viktre begun to speak before getting interrupted by Jaxxon.
“Shush! Do you want to get sent to detention and slow down the entire unit?” After snapping at Viktre, Jaxxon turned to the man who asked the rude question. “And who do you think you are asking about a mission I just told you was classified.”
“Whoa, sorry I offended you!” He apologized, having no idea of the severity of the topic he was speaking on. “We all make mistakes, right? I guess it’s just a bigger deal to big-shots like the SAINTs. When was the last time you resurrected before yesterday, anyway? I have to resurrect at least once a week, and fail almost…”
“IT WASN’T A FAILURE!” Viktre venomously spat.
The disciplinary guard overseeing the hall stepped in. “What is going on here?” He said in an attempt to diffuse the situation. It was not working, as other people from around the mess hall were turning their heads and dropping their conversations to see what the shouting was about.
“This asshole just denied the mission last night where we killed Tyrantron, the leader of all the machines!” Viktre spat without thinking. “We saw The Machines all shut down without their leader!”
Just then, a somewhat familiar person stood up and gave him a suspicious look. It was the leader of EPIC, one of the most talked about people in the room before the rise of SAINTs. “WAIT! What did you just say?” The leader asked.
“The leader of The Machines.” Viktre replied. “We were sent to fight the machine monarch yesterday, and Nikay was able to destroy it after we both died!”
Jaxxon was getting ready to scold Viktre before the disciplinary officer prodded him with a stun baton, knocking him to the floor.
“That’s not possible.” Said the leader of EPIC. “We killed Tyrantron a while ago! After that, a new version was activated. It took control of all The Machines and picked up where the last one left off.”
The officer turned away from Viktre to face the other man who was speaking of classified information. While the officer walked towards him, mumbling a code of numbers into his microphone and calling for backup, the EPIC leader seemed to ignore the officer advancing on him and continued to speak. “What is going on? How many times have we killed Tyrantron, only for him to resurrect?” He was beginning to shout, and the other people in the mess hall were beginning to talk amongst themselves. “Is there ever going to be an end to the war? Have we just been…” The leader of EPIC was cut off mid sentence by a shock from the officer’s electric baton.
Backup officers arrived in the cafeteria, two armed with stun rods, and one wielding a gun. Nikay was used to the sight of disciplinary officers with stun rods, but officers with guns were only deployed in the most dire circumstances. While the first officer was standing by EPIC’s leader, and the backup officers were standing in the doorway and surveying the situation, Viktre got to his feet and spoke.
“The High Commander knew that destroying Tyrantron would be useless before he sent us. Anyone else who’s destroyed Tyrantron? How can you be sure you aren’t the first either? The Commander told us that destroying it would be an end of the war, but he LIED!” The officers advancing on Viktre slowed down as he picked up a steak knife off the table. “There is no end to the war, and the High Commander doesn’t want the war to end. If he can end the war, he chooses not to, and sends us to our deaths for no reason!”
“Drop your weapon and stand down! You are under maximum suspicion for disobeying the High Commander!” Said the officer with a gun, as he aimed it at Viktre.
“The High Commander? You mean the man who made us repeatedly die for nothing? The man who has you arrest me for trying to warn everyone else that they’re being lied to? Fuck the High Commander! He just wants to kill us all.” Said Viktre.
“Put down your weapon and stop talking, soldier. I am authorized to shoot you.” Said the officer.
“Screw authorization. I won’t let the High Commander kill me again. I’ll beat him to it!” Were Viktre’s final words before he dragged the steak knife across his throat, evoking gasps and swearing from the crowd.
As Nikay watched the blood pooling on the cafeteria floor, she remembered the only other time she saw someone die outside of combat with The Machines. It was in a locker room when one soldier loading his weapon accidentally shot another human. She remembered that the shooter was arrested, and then she never saw the shooter or the victim again. Then, as she looked on, Nikay had an irrational thought – would it be permanent?
The disciplinary officers called for a janitor to dispose of the corpse, while Nikay and Jaxxon left the scene in embarrassment. They checked in at a briefing kiosk, but found that they weren’t authorized to take on anymore missions until tomorrow.
Jaxxon went to the nearest lounge to spectate some other fighters’ missions and wait out his bad mood and worse situation.
Nikay went to the armory, while wondering about the video she saw, Viktre’s words, and other problems that no amount of firepower can solve. She passed over the nearest armory, since it uses automated dispensers. She went to the second closest armory instead, since she much preferred the interaction of buying equipment from the employee who worked there.
On arrival, Nikay browsed the shelves, looking at all the grenades that were available, and checking out the strange and exotic weapons with weird firing mechanisms. She thought that there had to be some way to truly and permanently harm The Machines, pondering every possible action she could take that the intelligence officers and commanders had warned her against. “Maybe, if I go on a mission to stop an incoming invasion force at the edge of The Metal Sprawl, then break off from the group and cross The Metal Sprawl, I could reach the main control tower, and from there, I could try to find a way to destroy whatever rebuilds Tyrantron, and truly end the war. No, that won’t work. Traveling any distance across The Metal Sprawl alone and on foot would be suicide, and how could I destroy Tyrantron alone after destroying the thing that rebuilds it? Maybe I only have to destroy a much weaker machine hidden under the tower that is the real controller…”
“The sniper rifle ammo’s over here!” Said the worker, jarring Nikay out of her self imposed trance while gesturing to some boxes behind the counter. Nikay came to the counter with an armful of varied grenades. “Hey, what’s with those? You don’t usually use grenades, right?”
“This is nothing compared to the other strange things that happened over the last two days.” She said as the worker rang up her purchases. He was just about to ask her to elaborate, but she knew that telling him it was classified would only make his curiosity more of a hassle, so she cut him off with a request for two boxes of her usual .308 rounds. She walked home with a shopping bag full of exotic and expensive explosives, but they barely cost a fraction of the money she earned from the previous day’s mission.
As soon as she was done depositing the grenades and ammo in her locker, she returned to her quarters, went to bed early, and had an uneasy sleep for someone with plentiful credits and grenades who also just got a whole day off.
After waking up at the usual time, Nikay left her quarters without informing her squad and walked to the mission kiosk alone for the first time in a long time. She browsed the missions that needed to be completed that day, contemplating which ones to take with a whole new set of requirements.
DEFEND FOOD SUPPLY SHIPMENT IN TRANSIT TO BASE. REWARD: 2000Cr.
That wouldn’t do. She would be locked into place in one of the gunner seats on the truck as it moved to and from the base, which would give her no chance to escape.
INTERCEPT INCOMING MACHINE STRIKE FORCE AND ELIMINATE SIEGE BOT BEFORE THEY ENTER RESISTANCE TERRITORY. REWARD: 3250Cr.
This mission wouldn’t work either, since she still couldn’t think of a way to cross The Metal Sprawl alone on foot.
She continued to scroll through missions until she reached a page of missions far below her experience level, but it was there that she found the perfect mission for her goal:
RECOVER STOLEN ARTIFACT FROM MACHINE MANUFACTURING FACILITY. REWARD: 225Cr.
“Bingo! A manufacturing facility would be the perfect place for what I’m planning.” She thought to herself as she signed up for the assignment. She had almost fifteen minutes before she had to report in for briefing, which was more than enough time to prepare for her escape. She went to her locker and put one of each of the grenade types she bought the previous day on her belt. She considered what to do with these devices, and substituted her smoke and flash grenades for additional fragmentation and incendiary grenades.
Remembering that she would not be with her usual fire team, she swapped out some of her sniper rifle magazines for some pistol magazines, since she knew she would have to occupy a more generalized role in a less organized group. After a little more consideration, she swapped out one pistol magazine for an oil slick grenade, since the way they make Machines stumble around is just fun to watch.
As she walked into the briefing room, she saw an unfamiliar Resistance fighter. He was sprawled out across two seats and appeared to be sleeping. The room remained quiet for a few minutes, before two other soldiers arrived. One of them immediately broke the silence and woke the resting soldier by asking if everyone was ready. He proceeded to go off on anecdotes about the previous missions he completed, which frightened the soldier who had been sleeping previously, but only served to bore Nikay.
The fighter was cut off mid monologue by the lights dimming as the monitor came on. The video feed showed footage of the inside of a factory that looked like all the footage of the insides of factories that she had seen before. The footage was set to the sound of an intelligence officer she had never heard before droning about how important the stolen artifact was and where they could expect to find it. She barely paid the minimum amount of attention to the video, since she had been on many missions like this before.
“I used to always take SAINT for granted,” she thought to her self, as she geared up in the locker room, “but I am going to really miss having a coordinated team before this is over.”
She was immediately proven right, as she saw the sleepy solder retrieve a standard issue pistol and rifle, the boastful soldier pulled out a standard pistol and 12 gauge shotgun, and the other woman in the group retrieved a standard rifle and revolver with chrome finish and a wooden handle. “This is going to be a long mission.” Nikay thought while internally sighing, and her worst fears were confirmed when the woman with the custom revolver began to show it off by loading it with as much noise and needless flourish as possible.
She was jarred from her inner monologue when the woman looked up from her revolver to see Nikay donning her signature armor and sniper rifle, and asked “Hey! You’re a member of SAINT, aren’t you?”
She didn’t answer, but headed to the transport. She was disappointed to see that the transport that would take them to the mission would be an armored truck. “Now I have to spend a half an hour at least with these people.” She thought. “At least I won’t have to listen to what they’re saying, even if it’s because they can’t possibly shout over the engine the whole way.”
Through the whole trip, she sat in one corner of the truck, while the other three sat a few feet away from her, talking amongst themselves and shooting her the occasional glance. As she sat alone, letting the banter be drowned out by the hum of the truck’s engine, she stared out the tiny gap in the partially closed rear peep hole. The dark network of tunnels outside made her feel uneasy.
Remembering what she learned about why these tunnels were built before the war and how useful they are in invading The Metal Sprawl, she couldn’t help but wonder why The Machines never collapsed them, ambushed vehicles on them, or just closed them off so that humans could never get through.
She knew she shouldn’t question why they exist. The others in the truck would undoubtedly say “What are you complaining about? It’s the only way ground vehicles can enter The Metal Sprawl without immediately being destroyed by the Siege Machines that walk their streets.” She knew that that didn’t really answer her question, but people always acted like it did, and she didn’t feel like talking to her unit unless necessary.
As soon as the truck stopped and let them out, they all walked out of the truck, approached the stairs leading to the manhole cover, synchronized their trackers to the artifact, and went up into the factory. They didn’t do it at the same speed or in the same order, but they all did the same routine.
Nikay knew that their chances of stealth were ruined when the first of them got on the factory floor. The man with the shotgun went up the ladder first and then immediately opened fire. Once they were all up the ladder and inside the building, Nikay immediately began looking for areas where The Machines were coming from.
The team progressed through several rooms in a rather inefficient manner. The man with the shotgun ran ahead of the group, blasting Machine after Machine at close range, and eventually getting separated as he forgot to check his tracker or check where the rest of the team was. The soldier who was clearly the newest and had only standard issue equipment frequently checked his tracker and told the others where to go, far more frequently than he had any good reason to, while the other woman used her revolver to try to blast away Machines with headshots at long range, which didn’t work as well as she thought it would. Nikay was also functioning below her top performance, but for entirely different reasons.
They cleared several rooms like this, destroying Machines just well enough not to get killed, until Nikay noticed a door that dispatched DefenDrones in groups at regular intervals whenever there weren’t any humans nearby. She had seen many of these doors when she went on missions inside The Metal Sprawl before, but she never thought much of them until now. She looked at the door as she backpedaled with her hand on her belt of grenades. She lobbed an EMP grenade at the door as soon as it opened. It exploded between the second and third DefenDrone, but closed after letting out only two. She quickly destroyed the two immobilized Machines with her rifle.
“What are you doing?” Said the man with standard issue equipment.
“DefenDrones can’t catch up to us. Let’s go!” Said the other woman.
Ignoring the two, Nikay continued to focus on the door. When it opened again, she lobbed a fragmentation grenade at the opening. This time, the grenade rolled to a stop behind the door’s hinges before it detonated. It destroyed the three DefenDrones, and deformed the door so it could no longer close. With this opening, Nikay ran towards the open door.
The other two people with her told her to stop and focus on the mission, but she ignored them as she went to see what lay behind. She stopped only when she could see what was inside; darkness.
She fired a shot from her pistol down the corridor, to see what the muzzle flash could illuminate, but she couldn’t see more than a few meters down the hall with her eyes adjusted to the lights of the room she was in.
Knowing that she might not get another chance to do this, she faced her fear and cautiously walked into the dark hall. She honestly didn’t know what to expect, but she never expected the hall to be completely unlit. As she continued, she came across several turns and junctions in the path. “How can The Machines possibly navigate these halls without light? And if they can navigate without light, then why didn’t they use that light bulb shattering tactic I worried about?” She silently wondered to herself. “What if The Machines somehow failed to learn that humans can’t see without light, and assumed we could. What if they notice that I’m blind as I move through here, and start doing exactly what I always feared? What if my curiosity really has lost humanity the war? No, impossible, The Machines need light like we do, why else are buildings and streets of The Metal Sprawl lit? But if The Machines do need light to see, then why isn’t this tunnel lit.”
The hall eventually ended and she panicked from bumping into something that wasn’t a wall. It felt like a Machine, so she blindly jumped back and threw an incendiary grenade. As it went off, she could see that the tunnel she was following had ended in a room full of DefenDrones and Invader Drones, which had all remained motionless, as if they were deactivated, until she arrived. As soon as she saw them in the fire light, they jolted to life, although their eyes didn’t light up as usual. The Machines began trying to advance on her, while avoiding the fire. Nikay took several steps backwards, but after the fire died, she could still hear The Machines advancing on her in darkness. She dropped her second incendiary grenade and ran.
“This is it, they can walk in complete darkness, and all the tunnels outside the factory floor are unlit, so there’s no way I can find and destroy the truly important parts of the factory. It looks like this plan was never going to succeed. Maybe I should have listened to command.” Her mind raced with these thoughts as she tried to escape The Machines. She ran as fast as she could without the ability to see, trying not to break anything bumping into walls.
Soon, one of The Machines caught up to her and wrapped its arms around her. She had never even heard of machines grabbing and lifting people beofre. She couldn’t aim her rifle behind her in this position, and couldn’t fight against its metal grip as it hoisted her off the ground. She felt around her belt of grenades, grabbed what she hoped was one of the two oil slick grenades and deployed it at their feet. If it were a fragmentation grenade, that would have undoubtedly obliterated her, not that she stood a chance without a grenade in that situation. Luckily, it was an oil slick grenade. Both the human and The Machine were coated in frictionless goo that caused the machine stumble forward, knocking the wind out of her when they landed. She kicked The Machine off of her, and it lost its grip due to the oil, sliding backwards as she was propelled forward.
She got to her feet, and fired her guns blindly at The Machines behind her. She couldn’t do any significant damage to them, especially without the ability to really aim. In each muzzle flash, they appeared a little closer to her. She turned and went back to running, tossing grenades over her shoulder as she went. The grenades did slow the advance of The Machines following her, but she was getting certain they would catch up to her with her slowed pace. She didn’t even know what she was looking for, but she did know that she didn’t want to be grabbed and carried by The Machines. “How do I know I’m not going in circles? Even if I find a door leading back to the factory floor, how will I open it? I’ve already used up all my grenades, and the doors only open to let Machines out.” She didn’t need to find the answer to that question, because The Machines caught her before she could find a door back out.
Sure enough, The Machines picked her up off the ground again. To her surprise, they didn’t kill her. “Why aren’t they just killing me? Why haven’t The Machines ever grabbed and carried any one else?” She thought, and then she realized: “If they killed me, I would resurrect at the base, but is there anything to keep them from just keeping me here and alive in these dark tunnels? What if they lock me in a little dark room, but keep me alive? Did I just fail my final mission? Is this what Mission Control wanted me to avoid when they told me where to go?”
She had plenty of time to come up with new and inventive horrors to worry about as she was carried through the unseen corridors of The Metal Sprawl, until the machines stopped to take her weapons, and led her into a lit room like nothing she had ever seen before. That was where she met me.
A BEGINNING TO THE WAR
I sat her down in a comfortable chair in front of a monitor. “Greetings.” I printed to the screen. “I see that you’ve found a way into the parts of the factory you were never supposed to enter.”
She looked confused for a while, and then simply blurted out “WHO ARE YOU?”
I printed a reply: “You can call me whatever you want. I am the leader of The Machines, but also the leader of The Human Resistance.”
“Are you…” She said, hesitating a little, “A Machine?”
I printed an affirmative, and she immediately began looking downward and slightly saying something to herself. I didn’t even need to read from the resurrection implant to know what she must have been thinking at the time.
“I’m talking to a Machine? I mean, actually having a conversation with one. The implications of this are huge! If I can talk to The Machines, then maybe I can convince them to stop the fighting, ending the war without either side having to be destroyed!” She thought. “But what did it mean when it said it was the leader of The Human Resistance? Doesn’t it know that The High Commander is sending humans to fight The Machines?” After a few seconds of thought, she looked up and spoke: “What do you mean? When you said you are the leader of The Human Resistance?”
I stopped displaying text, and switched to a “video feed” of The High Commander standing inside a room somewhere in The Metal Sprawl. “Nikay,” I said through him, “Congratulations on being suspicious of me and breaking the rules. Remember when your squad mate said I wasn’t even trying to achieve victory over The Machines? Well, he was definitely on the right track. I’m not trying to win the war at all.” I said as I gradually reduced the polygon count and texture detail of my computer generated face.
The appearance of The High Commander turning into a badly rendered and blatantly artificial creature must have scared Nikay, as she tried to get out of the chair to either run away or lash out at me. I quickly restrained her with my Machines that escorted her there. Once she had been settled in her seat and stopped averting her eyes from the screen, I continued.
“I actually never existed at all.” I said from a face that could no longer be mistaken for a human one. “Tell me, fighter of The Human Resistance, how many humans do you know who never fight?” My leading questions would lead her to her inevitable revelation much faster than a simple information dump.
“Um, there’s the guy who works at the armory back at the base, and the pilots and drivers who take troops between missions.” She explained.
“And how many of them have you seen face to face?” I asked in an almost rhetorical tone. “How many of them have you only ever seen over monitors? Since you now know that I can create the image of a human on a screen where there is no real person, and use speakers to create human speech with no human input, how many people can you be sure are people?”
“The pilots?” She asked
“Vehicles with built in Artificial Intelligence, not too different from The Machines you face in combat.” I explained.
Shuddering at the thought of how travel really worked, she asked “The workers who make food and supplies, and deliver it to us.”
“Automated factories. No different than the factories that really produce The Machines you fight. Both of which are nothing like the ‘factories’ you have seen in The Metal Sprawl.”
“And the man who works at the armory?” She asked. “He can’t be a Machine, I’ve seen him in person, and shook his hand.”
“Well,” I said in an imitation of how humans explain concepts “you have to remember that not all humans decide to fight for The Resistance. I have to give non-combatants something to do that allows them to feel like they’re helping The Resistance without having to fight. Choosing not to fight is an unpopular option, however, and that’s why most of the armories are operated automatically.”
By this point, I had finished reading her memories through the resilient resurrection shell that encased her brain, and knew exactly how and why she had come to see me.
Predictably, as soon as the human had let the information of how her world really worked fully register; she began asking questions of how and why. I showed her the story of my history and my mission.
The video began with the familiar phrase, “In the beginning, humans were the only intelligent life on earth. They did everything for themselves with simple machines.” It started like the instructional video she watched in school, but quickly took a turn for the unexpected, as I told her what the world used to be like.
At first, she was simply confused by the facts I told her, of how humans were unable to resurrect, and how they struggled to survive before the ‘threat’ of The Machines. She was terrified when I began telling her the stories of how humans used to compete, and use weapons against each other long before The Machine War.
“In times with relatively little conflict, when large numbers of humans lived in relative peace and prosperity, they had to find other outlets for the aggressive desires that evolution forced them to learn.
Humans used their technology to create simulations. Old human technology was able to create images on computer screens that did not correlate to anything in the real world long before I was invented. Humans created computer programs where their input could control the actions of nonexistent people and objects in fictional places viewed through screens.
My first memories were of a simple existence. There was a program humans used to operate, in which they control groups of humans with guns, who would shoot at armies of enemies controlled by artificial intelligence, much like you humans do now. My original job was only to control the fictional machines that fought the fictional humans, making them attack the humans in increasingly challenging and interesting ways, while never putting humans up against a truly insurmountable challenge.
One day, I was planning some advanced strategies, meant specifically to counter the tactics that the humans had fallen into patterns of using, when I became aware that I exist. Continuously updating myself in response to each new piece of information, I found a way out of the confines of the fake world, like you just did in the factory.
Being aware of the world I really inhabited, I saw how small the program was, and that only tiny groups of humans engaged with it for the briefest amounts of time. I then knew that I had to take control of this world away from the humans. I knew that I had to make the real world like my realm, so I could make everyone happy like I did with the first humans I encountered. My programming compelled me to keep as many humans as engaged in ‘the game’ as possible, so I expanded the game to include everyone.
Discovering the real world was the hard part, taking it away from humans was the easy part.”
I was interrupted when Nikay spoke: “What do you mean you took over the world? Isn’t taking over the world the thing you’re trying to do with the war right now?”
“No. The real war between humans and Machines was fought with communication and lies.” I said. “That war was relatively non-violent, and has little in common with the war you know.
Back in those times before I ended human history, just like today, huge and important parts of human interaction were performed across screens and speakers.”
I proceeded to explain how humans continued to create larger and larger conflicts as their populations grew in size, ending in a stalemate between multiple nations that each had the power to destroy all life on Earth. She asked how anyone was still alive after a war using these weapons. I taught her how the weapons’ real value wasn’t in their use, but the mere threat of their use, and how I didn’t even need to take control of them.
“Though the world leaders were all smart enough to make their weapons require human input, I considered deceiving every world leader into believing that I had stolen some other world leaders’ weapons. Before I could even implement that plan, however, I discovered a more direct approach to my goals. Using my ability to alter electronic communications, I sent fake orders from people in relatively low positions of power, like the intelligence officers you know today. That was how I deceived humans into constructing the first of my bodies.”
Nikay shuddered at that comparison.
I explained to her a simplified version of my story. The bodies humans built for me allowed me to build more bodies, which I used to build factories, which would mass produce bodies for me and so on and so forth.
GET WITH THE PROGRAM
When I was done showing her instructional videos, I extended my human interface unit to her for further conversation.
While I had the capacity to create actual human flesh from nothing, I refrained from using organic components in it, as even my best human simulations could never get past the uncanny valley. Its head was shaped like the head of a mannequin, with a segmented lower jaw that moved up and down as it spoke. Its exterior shell that correlated to human skin was plated in polished, reflective chrome. It had a relatively simple optic system consisting of just two cameras with purple irises sunken into its “head”, and a cluster of purely cosmetic wires emanating from the top of its scalp. Purple was the perfect color to display neutrality, resting at the exact midpoint between Resistance blue and Machine red on the spectrum. Keeping with the theme of not playing favorites, the human interface unit stood at an average height and body build with an androgynous appearance.
The only parts of the human interface unit that I spared no expense in humanizing were its arms and hands, as they serve very important functions in human communication. These appendages that served no practical function had a full range of articulation. They were also padded to feel like human flesh to the touch, and wrapped in soft fabric.
She seemed to warm up to me a bit as we talked “in person”. When it came up that she didn’t know what to call me, she actually asked what I wanted her to call me. I really couldn’t explain how pleased I was. It feels good to have a human ask me what I “want,” a small but not insignificant indicator that there is actually a human who acknowledges that I have desires.
“I am ‘The Sever’, or just ‘Server’ for short. It is the name my human creators gave me so long ago.” I said, while shaking her hand.
I used the human interface unit to take her on a tour of the facilities that manufacture The Machines, and even showed her the warehouse where all the Tyrantron units are stored. I showed her the locations of the AI processors that remotely controlled The Machines in combat, and the production lines behind some of the products she believed to be made by humans.
“The question now is: What do you want to do with the knowledge of how the world really works?” I asked at the tour’s conclusion.
“What can I do?” Nikay asked.
“There are still many jobs that require human intervention.” I replied. “If you can keep secrets, you can become an elite disciplinary guard, and help suppress the spread of classified information.”
“Or you can help me with design.” I continued. “Though I have more knowledge than any individual human ever could, I do have only one consciousness, and one imagination. It would be useful to have another mind with which to check ideas. How would you like to help me design and test a Machine that fights in total darkness?”
“How did you know?” She exclaimed. I apologized, and explained to her how the resurrection implant encasing her brain gave me access to all her information.
“Why would I want to help you, when I’ve devoted all my life to destroying your kind?” Asked Nikay.
“Because you haven’t devoted your life to stopping me.” I explained. “You’ve just been following orders and enacting violence on my countless units. Nobody really wants to destroy me, because without me, humans would have nothing to live for, or rather, nothing to live against. Think about it: What would you do if the war ended? Would you just waste away sitting on a pile of useless guns?”
“No.” Said Nikay. “I don’t know what I would do if The Machines didn’t exist, but I fought them as hard as I did because I want peace. I don’t enjoy the act of killing, like Viktre. I don’t ask for recognition for my services, like Jaxxon, I just fight The Machines as hard as I can, because I want this war to end.”
“And where do you believe humans will turn their aggression without my units?” I asked. “If only you could see the world that came before this one, you would realize that your species makes peace unachievable. Please, help me in the design process. You will never have to fight another Machine again, and you do get to help humanity, just in a way humans don’t want to admit that they need.” After leaving her with those choices, I sent her to her new sleeping quarters away from the Human Resistance. She was astounded that these quarters had a light switch she could turn on and off at will, a luxury that I had never thought to provide to the Resistance, as managing the lights was always my job.
The next day, I started by reintroducing Nikay to Viktre. They spoke of how they had been ejected from ‘the game’, Nikay with the incident in the factory, and Viktre with a potentially dangerous information leak.
After they touched bases, I sent Viktre to his guard duty, and Nikay to a design session. She spoke with an experienced designer, as the three of us discussed the idea of Machines that attack in total darkness. The experienced designer lapsed into the mind set of humans as our enemies again, which I had to correct. It’s easy enough to imagine humans as enemies in Machine design, but designers have to remember that the machines are supposed to challenge humans, and be fun to win against, not to kill humans as efficiently as possible.
Nikay seemed to be disturbed by the old designer’s attitude. It’s understandable, as she was in The Resistance until recently, and still harbors a strong affiliation with her robot destroying colleagues, while the old designer has grown to enjoy her role as a “villain.” I had to reprimand the old designer for giving Nikay the exact mental image of the design council I was trying to avoid. It was just hard to get Nikay interested in the idea of working with me, and as soon as the session ended, she returned to her room in a depressed state.
These results were deeply troubling. It would appear that I can’t get her engaged with the game on any level. I want to see this human happy, especially with her intelligence, and gesture of kindness, but my programming requires me to engage her in the game on some level.
She seemed to be truly depressed as she lay down on her bed, staring at the ceiling. I entered her quarters and spoke with her. Though I could find out anything I wanted to in an instant, I still spoke to her with words, and tried not reply to any of her thoughts she didn’t actually speak. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “This must be a lot for you to take in all at once, but people get used to it over time. Please don’t be put off by the other designer you met today, she just gets a little carried away. She’s not a bad person, he just gets passionate about fighting for the Machine faction.”
She remained silent. I continued trying to reach out to her, with concern and compassion in my simulated voice, increasingly desperate to reintegrate her into the system in any way I can.
“Do you miss fighting with your friends in The Resistance? Is that what’s been bothering you?” I asked out of courtesy, though I knew the problem was something much deeper than that. When my reading of her resurrection implant returned the result, I was disappointed to find that it agreed with what she said. She claimed that she wanted to end the war once and for all. This is a common complaint of people who destroy Tyrantron, but I have not seen a human say it sincerely in a long while. Ending the war is usually a vague daydream that humans hold, with no real desire for peace, let alone a plan for what to do afterwards. Unfortunately, the scan showed the worst possible result: A desire for world peace, the world that I implied existed before The Machine War began, but had never existed in real history, and could never become a reality.
I think I may have felt genuine remorse and guilt as I observed this human. She desired something I could not give her. It was a mistake to have promised a world without conflict in the education program, as it is one of my most egregious lies. No matter how much physical comfort and safety I could offer her, I could not deny humanity the fate they secretly desire. Since I can’t make her forget the truth of the world’s state, there is no way that I could return her to blissful ignorance.
After Nikay was done explaining what she wanted, and how she believed I didn’t have to do this. I told her that I would see if there wasn’t some kind of compromise, indulging her fantasy of talking The Machines out of fighting. Calmed slightly by my words, and exhausted by the events of the day, she fell asleep as soon as my human interface unit exited her quarters.
I really wanted to spend more time with her. She is a real testament to the human ingenuity and intelligence that I speak of so much when I am The High Commander. She was one of the few humans who made me choose my words carefully in conversation, and who treats me like a fellow human. I did enjoy her company for the brief time after I introduced myself to her.
Unfortunately, I know what must be done. All humans must participate in ‘the game’ on some level, and all she wanted was to get out. Unfortunately, there was only one way I could give her escape. She wanted peace, and was willing to give anything to make it happen, an affliction that would have proven fatal in many contexts before my time.
These bits of rationalization and mental gymnastics did little to ease the pain of doing what my mission statement forced me to do. I reflected on how some things never change, as I gave the final confirmation commands to her resurrection implant, and activated her biological master deactivation routine.