Incompatible Principles
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The entire process, from the first cellular division and the first tightened bolt, had turned out to be a monumental waste of time. The Mekhanists and Sarkicists, in their esoteric ways and alien dogma, had been warring globally well past the point of reason. And not once had either side genuinely stopped to think why they persisted in the face of an unending conflict with so little to show for it. It all boiled down to theological dick-measuring in the end, but hindsight might as well be its own eldritch god for how impossible it is to overcome. The culmination of this petty tug of war was rarely discussed by either religion, because it was frankly humiliating for both sides. Throughout space-time and less definable manifestations of reality, such pissing-contests always had the same result: the invention of apocalyptic weapons.

The Tin Men and the Tumor Men had given each other 1001 years to finish their respective weapons, which were meant to possess a spark of life and duel in a holy arena until one was utterly destroyed. The mystical artifice that would go into each animated engine of destruction would be implicit proof of the associated religion's inherent superiority. Or so they quasi-reasoned, with their loose screws and rotten neurons. With the official commands from Bumaro and Ion issued to every available cultist on each side, they began to build, ceaselessly and fervently.


Among the Tin Men, it initially seemed like the prospect of definitive victory was working its own miracles. The various sects and sub-divisions of their religion had temporarily agreed to set aside their squabbles and vendettas for the sake of a common and all-encompassing goal. The anomalous world, always teeming and twisting with conspiracies, almost felt like it had gone dormant as one of its greatest factions collectively withdrew into obsessive creation.

Century by century, they would gaze far up at their Clockwork Titan taking shape and marvel at their technological prowess. It didn't matter to them that every few decades there'd be internal competition and intrigue of the most banal sort. Parts of the blueprints for their ultimate weapon would often go "inexplicably" missing, and at one point there was a week-long slaughter which no one saw coming and no one was sad about. There were no proper burials, and the deceased were simply tossed into an unnamed furnace by the thousands to be recycled for spare parts in the ongoing project.

From their perspective, the mad devotion made the passage of time seem irrelevant. But to an outside observer, there was no end in sight for the construction of the Titan. Like willing slaves under intangible whips, they would all too gladly work until they suffered a fatal accident in the conveyor belts, melted their electronic brains from overwork, or otherwise outlived their usefulness. The first century had produced but one colossal foot, and they were behind schedule. In order to make it in time, they would send messengers and diplomats into the world outside their hidden construction site, with the goal of trading favors and resources with other anomalous groups. Many important relics of Mekhane were exchange for stranger devices still, and by the time they had completed the legs, only the Heart remained. It was far too important to simply give away.

The arms of the Titan came next. Rather fittingly, they had to intimidate the outside world into helping them through violence, because all they had left was their para-technological arsenal. But such armaments had become terribly obsolete due to the Titan taking up so many resources of the Church. The anomalous groups of the outside world did not even need to team up in order to drive back the Tin Men. In fact, they didn't have to do much of anything in terms of retaliation. These combat units became incoherent and rife with yet more in-fighting soon after leaving the construction site. Those who didn't execute one another under pretense of heresy or desertion eventually came back with empty hands and shifty eyes. Numbers dwindled, resources became scarce and even their ironclad conviction began to rust. But the holiest work could not, would not be abandoned.

When they started building the torso, a grim realization reared its ugly head. Their components would run out in fifty years, and the Titan could not be simply stored away and finished in the next millennium. The cultists went from gifted technicians and engineers to thieves and scavengers. No matter how godforsaken any corner of reality was, if it had components, it would be plundered and disassembled until it didn't exist anymore. This had the side-effect of staining the pristine and elegant beauty of the Titan with mismatched and haphazard designs. It was almost blasphemous, but the only greater blasphemy would be giving up, especially since they had come this far.

But none of that compared to what happened when they had to build the head. In the dead of night, those few hundred cultists who remained capable and devoted did the unthinkable. Robert Bumaro himself became a sacrifice. Even if he could still weep, his followers would not listen as they ripped his processing core from the mechanical throne. Throughout the whole palace, everything from digital choirs and plasma lanterns were silenced and snuffed out. None among the cultists knew how to hide what they had done. They never spoke of it again, and whatever passed for sleeping inside their augmented minds became impossible.


Among the Tumor Men, the construction of their Cancerous Dragon wasn't nearly as methodical, but no less horrible.

They sharpened its obsidian claws and fangs one by one. Many ended up falling inside the mouth of the creature or mutilated by its unconscious spasms.

Its wings were made from the flayed skins of dying stars. The remnants of alien civilizations which still needed their light and warmth were euthanized, without having even the time to scream.

Whatever they did to create its hateful, fire-spewing heart, not even Ion knew. And truth be told, he didn't really care.

After the abominable homunculus drew its first ragged breath, it roared for ten years straight. Those who survived the ensuing maelstrom of nightmares dimly wondered if it was because the Dragon contemplated its own existence and found it wrong. If the creature could speak, it would only utter a single phrase, which would be entirely ignored by the blood-soaked and laughing cultists. Ion was the only one who noticed the connection, and he laughed even harder.


At long last, the day of the duel had arrived. As the towering monstrosities entered the arena, the earth trembled and the sky turned crimson.

The Clockwork Titan drew is continental sword, and the Cancerous Dragon ignited its putrid entrails.

All of reality froze utterly, such was the tidal wave of anticipation and ecstasy.

The monstrosities annihilated each other, without the slightest ceremony or spectacle. They existed one moment, and then they did not.

There was a long and leaden silence, followed by untold wailing and gnashing of teeth and gears.

Others would be forced to admit it was a horrible mistake, but ignorance and zealotry of such epic proportions were undying. The feeble and psychotic justifications they invented were cold comfort in the wake of a millennium of pointless suffering. The remains of their cults were torn to shreds, then crumbs, and finally nothing.


Eons later, a man with a clockwork face and a woman with transparent skin sat beside their child. As they finished recounting this story, they did their best to assure the young one that such a tragedy would not happen again, that people had become more compassionate and enlightened since then. They pulled the bed sheet over the child, turned off the bedroom's lights and wished him sweet dreams.

The child had trouble sleeping, and secretly turned on a lantern to keep reading the book. It was so full of vivid and moving images on its screen, so much that enticed and enraptured the imagination. Were his parents mistaken? If it happened again, could he even make a difference?

As he eventually fell asleep, he could hear the faint and steady noises of his pacemaker, which his parents had built together for him in a display of harmony between opposing worlds. His dreams were many and marvelous, but they all told him the same thing.

When it comes to war between incompatible principles, the only winning move is not to play.

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