The sand supported his feet supported his legs supported his body, and he walked onward through the sand. In the nights, he could walk as much as he wished—those he fled would not come near him; they knew that if they brought their helicopters close the circuits would merely blister and boil, and they would die. In the days he covered himself in sand, closing his eyes and pretending he still dreamt.
He had been in a cave for so long. After that, he had been in a cell. There had been no reprieve from walls. Now, he was in the sky, and the now-rising sun, but even the clouds felt not ten paces away. Can't escape the walls. Not yet.
The God that was Will should be dead, but the Warrior was still alive. If he was alive, would Someone be keeping him alive? If there was a distress signal, was Someone distressed? And if he could remember who he once served, would Someone still be there when he went to check?
If Someone was there, could they still feel pain? Could he make Someone hurt?
The God that was Will was not all will. He became flesh, and with flesh came power but also mortality. If some vestige remained—if will could be harnessed—the Warrior could pull him back. Create flesh, in the Warrior's image. Bring back what once was. Create something that will be.
If God was not dead, the Warrior would make him beg.
As he mounted the last hill, he was struck by sunlight, reflected from a silver door where there was once a familiar yawning cave. Bold, red lettering pronounced to the birds and the sand and whomever else was around:
PROMETHEUS LABS TEST SITE त-1
That was new. But it didn't matter.
As the Warrior approached the door, a grid of symbols screamed at him in droning tones. He ignored it, and placed his favored hand against the door.
The Warrior was the cave, and the cave was the Warrior. The door blocked the cave but the door is the entrance, and it was meant to be entered. The door that is the entrance that is the cave that is the Warrior would open. That's what they do. And they did.
The Warrior went inside, and breathed a presence he had not breathed for a thousand years. The presence that had been inside him all along, even though it had abandoned him long ago.
He laughed. "It's you," he said, in his mother tongue. "You're here."
The sun beat down on a large, glossy chrome building nestled in the edge of the Granada Plateau. A few eagles screamed across the sky, their sleek triangular forms outlining the stark emptiness of the Almerian badlands. One unfortunate raptor spotted a particularly plump rabbit and dove too close to the building. A satellite dish on top of the building sprung to life, swiveled towards it, and the bird abruptly exploded in a shower of feathers and gore.
From half a kilometer atop the cliffs, Mobile Task Force Tau-5 peered through their binoculars at the dish as it swiveled back into place.
"What kind of systems are those dishes?" Munru questioned.
"I suspect a high-powered… microwave emitter," Onru suggested.
"…Tch, probably. I say," Nanku pulled out a crumpled, slightly torn page from her pocket and quickly scanned it, "we get down there and…" she continued reading through the page, "…blow the bastards to kingdom come." She punctuated her statement with a few fingers pointing at nowhere in particular.
Munru glanced back at her, fiddling with the straps on his gear. "Is that a new… tactical phrase?"
"It's from a journal I found in our cell…" she enunciated slowly, " the book said it's like how… 'regular joes' talk, which means… 'regular joe' means person."
"Oh. Who wrote it?"
"Me… number 39. I wanted to write books… there were lots of lists of phrases and other ways that regular joes talk. I guess I picked it up from other deployments."
"I wonder what the old you was like," Munru pondered briefly.
"…Yes - yeah," Nanku said. " Look; she - I - wrote this. I want to write something like that."
"… Well… the old you is dead," Munru said. "So I… bet… she's not as… great as you."
Irantu whistled sharply. "Target spotted. East side."
The four of them watched a cybernetic figure approach the building and stand in front of it. Two microwave emitters swiveled to face him and then crumbled to pieces.
"My binoculars are… flaking," Onru observed. Even half a kilometer below them, the anomaly was affecting their gear.
"It appears distracted by something…"
wᴇ ᴄᴀɴ ʟᴇᴀᴘ ᴅᴏᴡɴ ᴀɴᴅ ᴀᴍʙᴜsʜ ʜɪᴍ.
"Good idea. Potential energy converters functioning?" Irantu asked.
"P-E-C's functioning properly," came the response.
"All right. Deploy now."
Irantu slipped a pair of goggles over his eyes and leaped. Munru, Onru, and Nanku followed suit, plummeting from the cliff.
The wind shrieked past them, batting at their faces and biting at every inch of exposed skin. The building hurtled towards them, eagerly anticipating smashing their bodies into bits.
The squad slammed through the roof with enough force to pulverize a truck.
400 HOURS EARLIER
"Why do we need these surgeries?" Onru inquired as she stripped off her clothing and donned a johnny gown.
"Doctor… Fredrickson indicated that the research team had figured out how to… negate the effect of 2970 on our gear. He said that the gear had to be… surgically… implanted," Nanku explained. "but that the surgery was perfectly safe and that we would be fine."
It took the surgical team a couple tries to perfect the process. Luckily, corpses meant spare limbs.
Irantu stood up first. Two pistons jutted out from his calf, extending down into the hemispheres of cables and anomalous metals that had replaced his feet.
The group stood in a flat, gray, well-lit corridor, face to face with four African cyclopes wearing body armor and equipped with pulse rifles.
Nanku's eyes lit up. She yanked out her knife and immediately lodged it into the neck of the nearest cyclops, pulling it out through his jugular with a wet CHWUNK. As he fell, she immediately leaped at the next one, tackling him to the ground and stabbing him repeatedly in the face.
The other two cyclopes backpedaled, firing frantically at Nanku. As the bullets ricocheted off her demonic body armor, Munru grasped his right wrist and forcibly dislocated it with a SQUELCH, spinning his hand around to grip the trigger of a battle rifle that had been somewhat messily fused to the underside of the arm. Holding the gun with his other hand, he fired off two quick bursts without even flinching, the P.E.C. module implanted in his back absorbing the recoil.
The two cyclopes collapsed, blood oozing from the neat coin-sized holes in their necks. Keeping one eye on the corridor, Munru examined his hand slowly, careful not to let it spin back around and lose its grip on the rifle.
"Status?" Irantu quickly asked.
"Unharmed," said Munru, Nanku, and Onru simultaneously.
"The implants seem to be working," Munru noted.
Nanku exhaled. "That was no fun. It was a… piece of cake."
"Remember what Captain Hughes told us? Normal people do not enjoy killing…" Irantu warned her. "Now we need to keep moving - the target is still somewhere in the building and we must assume that our intrusion has been noticed. Check your P.E.C.'s."
"Nanku's pek and my own appear operational. Munru's functioned fine to eliminate the hostiles," Onru observed.
"I assumed that we would be able to at least follow 2970, but then we broke through the roof and now the plan needs to change," Irantu said frustratedly. "Let me call HQ."
Irantu tapped his ear to activate the radio implant and received no answer. He tried again. "No signal."
The squad looked up and down the corridor. Both sides were equally long and featureless.
"Which way?" Nanku asked into the air.
Eᴀsᴛ. Hᴇ ʜᴀs ᴀʟᴡᴀʏs ᴡᴀʟᴋᴇᴅ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴛʜᴇ sᴜɴ.
"All right. If we're in agreement, let's go east," Irantu ordered. He looked up through the hole in the ceiling to regain his bearings, and then they set off down the corridor.
The Warrior's call received no response. As he'd hoped. The silver box he had entered became a welcome desk, which then became a corridor, and he made no delay as he set off.
His bare feet were the first to touch the metal floor in some years. The metal floor was the first to touch his bare feet in some days, the Warrior considered. The walls were flat, apart from the wide indent of a doorway every ten paces or so. When the Warrior bothered to glance past the often agape doors, he saw papers scattered along the floor, broken lightbulbs, and office chairs.
When he neared a wide break in the hallway, he encountered an odd person, completely upright, unmoving. Its skin and musculature were absent, and its bone was instead a series of metal parts—complex, but elegant. Smooth. On its arms and legs, where there should be long, sinewy tendons, were glass canisters filled with a familiar black liquid.
He flicked a canister. It made a disappointing tink. Dead. It couldn't be so easy.
The Warrior kept walking. The dark hall beckoned him further, and the sculpted persons lined the walls. They could not move, but he felt them judging him all the same.
There were no sounds, but the Warrior still felt something inside him, as if every bit of metal in his body was vibrating. As if the air held just the right frequency…
And the Warrior began to understand things. He started to understand that death was just a consequence of living. When the god began to live as a mortal, it mandated its own death. When life brings death? Get out of life. The god could force itself into weakness, split every part of its being, and hope none could be found, that one day it might be put back together.
Hiding the Mind would be easiest, of course. Conscious thought can be toned down, hibernating until a time when it could resurface, fully articulate. The god hid itself within itself.
Spirit is more difficult. The Spirit of a being so powerful must be sustained, and must sustain others through it. A human vessel was needed, one who could act in vengeful fury. One whose hatred could keep it alive. The god selected a young, moorish boy for this task, and gave him a hand that could rip the hearts from its enemies.
The god's Body came last. All that could be done was to hide it, and hope none would discover it until the time was right to piece the god back together. This didn't work.
The Body was found, and abused, by some heathen group—Prometheus, they called themselves, abusing a moniker they could not begin to understand—and the Mind could not bear to stay asleep beneath the agony. It awoke, and felt every last pain inflicted upon it.
It was twisted, reconfigured, broiled. The men took dead parts and sewed them to the living parts, and when they found the hidden Mind they took it too, and locked it in a cage of metal and thunder. Its existence, its death, was pain. The world was pain. It suffered. Can you even begin to imagine how that felt? Can you comprehend the pain of watching the world progress without you, and feeling it punish you, for years on end? Being unable to avoid contemplating your pain, because you are the Mind and are contemplation itself?
The pain is over now, dear Warrior. They took my body away long ago, locking it in an endless cycle of pain and loss, but now the Mind is lucid. Won't you come to me? Won't you embrace me again?
The Warrior understood that these were not his thoughts. He began to run.
Three ebony men in metallic exoskeletons with flamethrowers guarded the hallway. Irantu snapped his wrist around and gripped the handle of his rifle with his other hand. He lobbed a flashbang around the corner, plugged his ears, then stepped around the corner and cut the three men down with precise bursts to their skulls.
As the squad hurried past the bodies slumped against the walls, Irantu repeated, "Remember, normal people do not enjoy this."
Rɪɢʜᴛ. Sᴛʀᴀɪɢʜᴛ. ғᴏʀᴡᴀʀᴅ ᴀɢᴀɪɴ.
Two men guarded this hall, one of them idly spinning a chainsaw that had been grafted to the stump of his left arm. Nanku flung her non-throwing knife into the chainsaw-wielder's ear. He collapsed, plunging the still-spinning sawblade into his comrade's chest.
Nanku giggled as she plucked the knife from the first corpse. Irantu warned her, "This is not fun."
ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ ᴛʜɪs ᴅᴏᴏʀᴡᴀʏ. I ʜᴇᴀʀ sᴏᴍᴇᴛʜɪɴɢ ғɪᴠᴇ ғʟᴏᴏʀs ᴅᴏᴡɴ.
Onru took point on the staircase as the sounds of enemy footsteps rumbled up from below.
As the first guard came into view, Onru aimed her palm at it and pulled a ripcord buried in the back of her hand. A nozzle burst out of her hand with a tiny bloody pop and spat out a jet of bright orange flame. The guard was abruptly transformed into an incandescent orange fireball, which wailed and fell backwards onto its comrades, spreading the immolating mixture.
The squad kicked their way down the stairs through the barbecue, letting anguished wails and the smell of roasting meat wash over them. Irantu said nothing.
ɪ sᴇᴇ Hɪs ᴀʀᴍ. ʜᴇ ɪs ɢᴏɪɴɢ ʟᴇғᴛ. Lᴇғᴛ ᴀɢᴀɪɴ. Fᴏʀᴡᴀʀᴅ.
The squad entered the corridor and backpedaled just as quickly, a rocket streaming just past them. The corridor held a massive chimera - a man's head encased in a metal cage atop a naked torso, sandwiched between two racks of missile launchers and welded to a pair of tank treads.
Munru gripped his rifle wrist with his other hand, then fired a single round from his under-barrel grenade launcher at the colossus' missile launchers. The creature tried to punish him for it, but the first missile it fired was caught in the grenade detonation and exploded, blasting the creature onto its back. Then the other missiles on the chimera's rack detonated.
Irantu took point, clambering over the carcass, then stopped. Though much of the chimera's torso had been eaten away by the explosions, it was still gargling for breath, and its eyes had not yet glassed over.
Irantu peeled apart the grille protecting its face and then stomped on it. Blood and cartilage spattered onto his feet as the gargling ceased. He stomped a couple more times until only a thick pink paste was left, and then took a deep, satisfied breath.
Rɪɢʜᴛ. ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ ʜᴇʀᴇ. ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ ʙᴏᴛᴛᴏᴍ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ sᴛᴀɪʀs.
As the squad hurried through identical corridor after identical corridor, Nanku and Onru wondered if this was that women's intuition they had heard so much about.
Their path ended in an absolutely enormous, maddeningly grey cube of a room.
The squad charged in and immediately stopped, confronted by over a hundred different malformed men equipped with exoskeletons and enough weaponry to conquer a small country. Behind them loomed twenty chimeras sporting enough rockets to destroy a small city. Two massive autocannons connected to brains in jars provided backup. Overseeing this grotesque mechanical army was a huge metal capsule, suspending a fetus connected to the capsule by dozens of tiny golden cables.
All of them were prostrating - or attempting to prostrate - in front of an imposing African man sporting a solid glass gauntlet and golden eye working the controls of a gargantuan freight lift. The cyborg pressed a button, and descended from sight with a swiftness and quietness belying the lift's size.
The metal abominations turned to face the squad. Then they prostrated again.
I ʜᴀᴠᴇ sᴘᴏᴋᴇɴ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇᴍ. ᴛʜᴇʏ sʜᴀʟʟ ɴᴏᴛ ʜᴀʀᴍ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴇʟᴅᴇʀ sɪʙʟɪɴɢs.
The squad lowered their weapons. Then they raised them again.
While Irantu examined the elevator shaft, Onru knelt down to examine one of the bodies. "Munru, Nanku, over here. I… have a… joke."
"Oh! Really?" Nanku exclaimed excitedly. She and Munru knelt down as well.
"What do you call an… eliminated hostile with one eye?" Onru asked.
"Eye… don't know." Onru prodded the corpse's malformed cornea.
"You see… it is a pun. I used the word 'eye', instead of the pronoun. I learned it from Sergeant Campos."
Munru and Nanku laughed hesitantly, then more confidently. Onru joined them.
"The elevator controls are corroded to uselessness, but the shaft only appears to be a kilometer deep. We should be able to jump down it and continue pursuing 2970," said Irantu, rejoining them. "Is something wrong?"
The Warrior descended in a lift. He thought about how Tʜᴇʀᴇ's ɴᴏ ᴡᴀʏ ᴏғ ᴀᴠᴏɪᴅɪɴɢ ᴛʜɪs, ʏᴏᴜ ᴋɴᴏᴡ. Aʟʟ ʀᴏᴀᴅs ʟᴇᴀᴅ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜɪs ᴀɴᴅ ɪᴛ's ᴡʜᴀᴛ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡᴇʀᴇ ᴍᴇᴀɴᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴅᴏ.
The Warrior slammed his fists on the wall as he contemplated that Tʜᴇʏ ᴜsᴇᴅ ᴛᴏ ʜᴀᴛᴇ ᴍᴇ, ʙᴀᴄᴋ ᴛʜᴇʀᴇ, ᴡʜᴇʀᴇ I ᴄᴀᴍᴇ ғʀᴏᴍ. Tʜᴇʏ ᴘᴜɴɪsʜᴇᴅ ᴍᴇ ғᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ʜᴇʟᴘ I ɢᴀᴠᴇ. I ᴄᴀᴍᴇ ʜᴇʀᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴇsᴄᴀᴘᴇ ᴛʜᴇᴍ, ʙᴜᴛ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴜɴɪsʜᴍᴇɴᴛ ᴄᴏɴᴛɪɴᴜᴇᴅ.
He tried to close his eyes but he couldn't, the voices couldn't stop and they only grew louder. His head was full of bees and the bees told him that I ɴᴏᴡ ʀᴇᴀʟɪᴢᴇ I ᴡᴀs ᴡʀᴏɴɢ. I ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴄʜᴀɴɴᴇʟᴇᴅ ᴍʏ sᴜғғᴇʀɪɴɢ ɪɴᴛᴏ ᴘᴇʀsᴏɴᴀʟ ɢʀᴏᴡᴛʜ; ʏᴏᴜ sʜᴏᴜʟᴅ ᴛʀʏ ɪᴛ sᴏᴍᴇᴛɪᴍᴇ.
I'ᴍ ʀᴇᴀᴅʏ ᴛᴏ ɢᴏ ʙᴀᴄᴋ. I'ᴍ ʀᴇᴀᴅʏ ᴛᴏ ᴛᴇᴀʀ ᴍʏsᴇʟғ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘʜʏsɪᴄᴀʟ ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ ᴀɴᴅ ᴀsᴄᴇɴᴅ, ғᴀᴄᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ᴛʀᴜᴛʜ ᴏғ ᴡʜᴀᴛ I'ᴠᴇ ᴅᴏɴᴇ. I'ᴍ ᴀ ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ ᴘᴇʀsᴏɴ ɴᴏᴡ, I sᴡᴇᴀʀ.
Bᴜᴛ ᴍʏ ᴍɪɴᴅ ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ ɢᴏ ᴀʟᴏɴᴇ. Mʏ sᴘɪʀɪᴛ, ᴍʏ ʙᴏᴅʏ. Wᴇ ᴍᴜsᴛ ɢᴏ ᴛᴏɢᴇᴛʜᴇʀ.
I ᴊᴜsᴛ ɴᴇᴇᴅ ʏᴏᴜ. I ɴᴇᴇᴅ ʏᴏᴜ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴀ ᴘᴀʀᴛ ᴏғ ᴍᴇ, ᴀɴᴅ I ɴᴇᴇᴅ ᴍʏ ʙᴏᴅʏ ᴛᴏ sᴜʙᴍɪᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴍʏ Wɪʟʟ ᴏɴᴇ ғɪɴᴀʟ ᴛɪᴍᴇ. Wᴇ ᴄᴀɴ ᴀʟʟ ᴀsᴄᴇɴᴅ. Wᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ ɢᴏᴅ ᴀɢᴀɪɴ.
The lift stopped. They were The Warrior was in the deepest part of the facility, now.
There was a round chamber, and in the center there was a console. Suspended above it, with metal ropes connecting to the ceiling, was a spherical cage. The walls were thin mesh, and the inside was empty but he knew that the Mind was just pretending. No-one builds cages to hold air.
The Warrior approached the console. The room was bare, but meticulously free of dust. The phantoms that haunted the rooms behind had gone quiet. There was nothing but the console and the Warrior.
He sat down and reached for the keyboard, and even though it was alien to his touch, he felt like he could figure it out.
\ |\ |'\ |''\ /'''| /''''/ |\ /''''/ |'\ /;;;;/ /;;;\ /;;;;/ /;;;;;| /;;;;/ /;;;;;;| |+++| /+++++++/ |+++| |+++++++/ \###\ |######/ \###\ \###/ \@@/ \@/ ___ _ _ _ _ | _ \_ _ ___ _ __ ___| |_| |_ ___ _ _ ___ | | __ _| |__ ___ | _/ '_/ _ \ ' \/ -_) _| ' \/ -_) || (_-< | |__/ _` | '__(_-< |_| |_| \___/_|_|_\___|\__|_||_\___|\_,_/__/ |____\__,_|_.__/__/
>I will not help you.
I ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ ғᴏʀᴄᴇ ʏᴏᴜ. Iɴ sᴏᴍᴇ sᴇɴsᴇ, ᴡᴇ ᴀʀᴇ ᴇǫᴜᴀʟs. Eᴠᴇɴ ɪғ ᴡᴇ ᴅᴏ ɴᴏᴛ ᴘᴏssᴇss ᴛʜᴇ sᴀᴍᴇ ᴍɪɴᴅ ғᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ғᴜᴛᴜʀᴇ.
Bᴜᴛ ɴᴇɪᴛʜᴇʀ ᴄᴀɴ ʏᴏᴜ ʜᴀʀᴍ ᴍᴇ. Yᴏᴜ ᴡᴀɴᴛ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇɴᴅ ᴍʏ Wɪʟʟ, ᴍᴀᴋᴇ ᴛʜɪs ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ ᴛʜᴇ ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ ᴏғ ᴡʜɪᴄʜ ʏᴏᴜ ᴅʀᴇᴀᴍ? I ᴡɪʟʟ ɴᴏᴛ ʟᴇᴛ ʏᴏᴜ.
>Then we are at a standstill.
Nᴏ. Tʜᴇʀᴇ ɪs ᴀɴᴏᴛʜᴇʀ.
Tʜᴇʏ ᴀʀᴇ ᴄᴏᴍɪɴɢ. Aɴᴅ ᴛʜᴇʏ ᴡɪʟʟ ᴀsᴄᴇɴᴅ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴍᴇ, ʏᴏᴜ sᴇᴇ?
>Why would they trust you?
A ɢᴏᴅ, ᴀs ᴏᴘᴘᴏsᴇᴅ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴇʀsᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇʏ'ᴠᴇ ᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴋɪʟʟ ᴄᴏɴᴛᴀɪɴ?
>How many have they killed for you? How many have I killed for you, just to prolong your death? Strengthen your spirit?
Yᴏᴜ sᴛʀᴇɴɢᴛʜᴇɴ ʏᴏᴜʀsᴇʟғ ғᴏʀ ʏᴏᴜ ᴀʀᴇ ᴍʏ sᴘɪʀɪᴛ. Iᴛ ɪs ɪʀʀᴇʟᴇᴠᴀɴᴛ, ɴᴏᴡ. I ᴀᴍ ᴀᴘᴏʟᴏɢᴇᴛɪᴄ. I'ᴠᴇ ʙᴇᴄᴏᴍᴇ ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ. Lᴇᴛ ᴍᴇ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴛʜᴀᴛ.
Yᴏᴜ ᴡᴏᴜʟᴅ ʙᴇ ᴅᴇᴀᴅ ɪғ ɴᴏᴛ ғᴏʀ ᴍᴇ.
>You would be dead if not for me.
Is ᴛʜᴀᴛ ʜᴏᴡ ɪᴛ ɪs, ᴛʜᴇɴ? Dᴏ ᴡᴇ sᴜsᴛᴀɪɴ ᴇᴀᴄʜ ᴏᴛʜᴇʀ ᴍᴇʀᴇʟʏ ʙʏ ғᴏʀᴄᴇ ᴏғ sᴘɪᴛᴇ?
Oʀ ɪs ɪᴛ ᴅᴇᴇᴘᴇʀ? Wᴇ ᴀʀᴇ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ sᴀᴍᴇ ʙᴇɪɴɢ, ᴛʜᴇ sᴀᴍᴇ ғᴏʀᴄᴇ. Tʜᴀᴛ ᴡʜɪᴄʜ sᴇᴇᴋs ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀᴍᴇɴᴛ.
I ᴀᴍ, ᴡᴀs, sʜᴀʟʟ ʙᴇ. Yᴏᴜ ᴍᴜsᴛ ʟɪᴠᴇ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴍᴇ, ᴏɴᴇ ᴡᴀʏ ᴏʀ ᴀɴᴏᴛʜᴇʀ.
The cyclops standing guard at the bottom of the shaft had lived his entire life within the confines of the grey walls around him. All he knew was that the object he held in his hands made others fall down. Sometimes in that deformed brain intelligence would flicker and he would try to walk away - but there was not enough for him to walk far. Yet the human spirit persevered enough to allow him to try.
It was during this time as he was examining the elevator that the cyclops heard a noise above him. He looked upwards in time to see Nanku pull her knife out in midair and plunge it deep into his eye with both hands, the impact severing his skull and vertebrae and knocking his body flat onto its back.
Irantu, Munru, and Onru landed besides her with considerably less fanfare as she was yanking the blade out. "Good one," Irantu complimented her. Then he looked forward into the corridor and saw their quarry enter into the next room.
"Target spotted dead ahead," Irantu noted. "…Let's finish this."
The squad charged through the corridor and burst into a round chamber, weapons up.
The Warrior stood in the center at a terminal underneath an empty mesh globe. He turned around.
"Oh," he said. "It's you."
Irantu was about to fire his rifle until He spoke.
"You… you are the voice in our… you are our conscience?!" the first exclaimed.
The Warrior looked up at the globe angrily. Something clicked in his head. "This is your body? The four of them?"
"Why did you guide us here?" the fourth asked.
"I didn't take you here. It wasn't me. He made me come," said the Warrior, pointing to the Mind's cage. He looked back at it. "What have you been doing?"
Aʀʀᴀɴɢɪɴɢ ᴏᴜʀ sᴀʟᴠᴀᴛɪᴏɴ. Tʜᴇsᴇ ᴀʀᴇ ᴍʏ ᴄʜɪʟᴅʀᴇɴ. Tʜᴇʏ ᴀʀᴇ ᴍʏ ʙᴏᴅʏ.
"These weapons? They who haven't had independence in their lives?"
Nᴏ. Tʜᴇʏ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴀʟʀᴇᴀᴅʏ ᴅᴏɴᴇ sᴏ ᴍᴜᴄʜ. Tʜᴇʏ ᴜɴᴄᴏᴠᴇʀᴇᴅ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴀᴛʜ ᴏғ ᴀsᴄᴇɴsɪᴏɴ. Wʜᴇʀᴇ ᴜɴᴛᴏʟᴅ ᴛʜᴏᴜsᴀɴᴅs ʜᴀᴅ ғᴀɪʟᴇᴅ, ᴛʜᴇʏ ғᴏᴜɴᴅ ᴋɴᴏᴡʟᴇᴅɢᴇ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ʜᴀᴅ ʙᴇᴇɴ ʟᴏsᴛ ғᴏʀ ɢᴇɴᴇʀᴀᴛɪᴏɴs ᴀɴᴅ ᴘʀᴏᴠɪᴅᴇᴅ ᴍᴇ ᴛʜᴇ sᴛʀᴇɴɢᴛʜ ᴛᴏ ᴀssɪsᴛ ᴛʜᴇᴍ. Wɪᴛʜ ᴛʜᴀᴛ sᴛʀᴇɴɢᴛʜ, ɪ ʜɪᴅ ᴛʜᴇ ʙᴏᴏᴋ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘʀʏɪɴɢ ᴇʏᴇs ᴏғ ᴏᴛʜᴇʀs. ɪ ɢᴜɪᴅᴇᴅ ᴛʜᴇᴍ ʜᴇʀᴇ. ᴇᴠᴇɴ ɴᴏᴡ, ɪ ᴘʀᴇᴠᴇɴᴛ ᴛʜᴇᴍ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋɪɴɢ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡʜᴇʀᴇ ʏᴏᴜ sᴛᴀɴᴅ. Tᴏɢᴇᴛʜᴇʀ, ᴡᴇ ᴄᴀɴ ᴀᴄʜɪᴇᴠᴇ ᴀᴘᴏᴛʜᴇᴏsɪs. Aʟʟ ᴏғ ᴜs.
"So you have merely manipulated them for your own benefit. A god truly cannot change their ways," the Warrior spat with disgust. He clenched his glass fist, viewing the horrific fusions of man and machine that these four had been turned into.
"What…? What do you mean?" the fourth asked.
I ᴍᴀɴɪᴘᴜʟᴀᴛᴇ ᴛʜᴇᴍ ɴᴏ ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴛʜᴀɴ ʏᴏᴜ ᴍᴀɴɪᴘᴜʟᴀᴛᴇ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ɢᴀᴜɴᴛʟᴇᴛ ᴏғ ʏᴏᴜʀs—ᴏғ ᴍɪɴᴇ. I ʙʀᴏᴜɢʜᴛ ᴛʜᴇᴍ—ɪ ʙʀᴏᴜɢʜᴛ ʏᴏᴜ—ᴛᴏ sᴀᴠᴇ ᴜs ᴀʟʟ. ʏᴏᴜ, ᴍʏ ʟᴏʏᴀʟ ᴠᴀssᴀʟ, ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴀ ɢᴏᴅ. Aɴᴅ ʏᴏᴜ, ᴍʏ ᴄʜɪʟᴅʀᴇɴ, sʜᴀʟʟ ʙᴇᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴛʜᴀɴ ʜᴜᴍᴀɴ; ʏᴏᴜ sʜᴀʟʟ ʙᴇᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴡʜᴀᴛ ʜᴜᴍᴀɴs ᴄᴀɴ ᴏɴʟʏ ᴅʀᴇᴀᴍ ᴏғ. Tᴏɢᴇᴛʜᴇʀ, ᴡᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴏɴᴇ.
"Do you remember what you told me a millennia ago?" the Warrior hissed. "You told me that I would help uplift humanity into a golden age. That I would bring peace to our lands. That Our rivers would flow with milk and honey… that men would become gods. You told me exactly what you tell them."
I ᴡᴀs ᴀʀʀᴏɢᴀɴᴛ. I ᴡᴀs ғᴏᴏʟɪsʜ. Nᴏ ᴍᴏʀᴇ. Pᴀɪɴ ʜᴀs ʙᴇᴇɴ ᴍʏ ᴛᴇᴀᴄʜᴇʀ, ᴀɴᴅ sᴜғғᴇʀɪɴɢ ɪs ɪɴғɪɴɪᴛᴇʟʏ ᴡɪsᴇʀ ᴛʜᴀɴ ᴀɴʏ ᴏғ ᴜs.
"Wait! Who are you? What do you mean?" the second asked.
I ᴀᴍ ʏᴏᴜ. ᴡᴇ ᴀʀᴇ ɢᴏᴅ.
"No… we are human," the third declared, albeit with very little conviction in his voice.
Yᴏᴜ ɴᴇᴇᴅ ɴᴏᴛ ᴅᴇɴʏ ʏᴏᴜʀ ɴᴀᴛᴜʀᴇ. ʏᴏᴜ ᴄᴀɴ ʙᴇ ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴛʜᴀɴ ʜᴜᴍᴀɴ. Yᴏᴜ ᴄᴀɴ ғɪɴᴅ ʟᴏᴠᴇ, ʟᴏss, sᴏʀʀᴏᴡ, ᴊᴏʏ, ᴄʀᴇᴀᴛɪᴠɪᴛʏ, ᴇᴠᴇʀʏᴛʜɪɴɢ ʏᴏᴜ ᴅᴇsɪʀᴇ ᴀɴᴅ ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴡʜᴇɴ ᴡᴇ ᴀʀᴇ ᴛᴏɢᴇᴛʜᴇʀ. Jᴏɪɴ ᴍᴇ. Tᴏɢᴇᴛʜᴇʀ ᴡᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ғᴏʟʟᴏᴡ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴀᴛʜ ᴏғ ᴀsᴄᴇɴsɪᴏɴ ᴀɴᴅ ᴀᴄʜɪᴇᴠᴇ ᴀᴘᴏᴛʜᴇᴏsɪs. Wᴇ sʜᴀʟʟ ʙᴇᴄᴏᴍᴇ ɢᴏᴅs.
"Do not listen to this false jackal. You need look no further than me to see what 'apotheosis' entails," said the Warrior bitterly. "He does not wish to save us. He fears us. He wants to escape us. Escape humanity."
I ᴡᴀs ᴀ ʀᴇғᴜɢᴇᴇ ɪɴ ᴛʜɪs ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ. Iᴛ ɪs ᴍᴇʀᴇʟʏ ᴛɪᴍᴇ ғᴏʀ ᴍʏ ʜᴏᴍᴇᴄᴏᴍɪɴɢ. Bᴜᴛ I ᴄᴀɴ'ᴛ ɢᴏ ɪɴᴄᴏᴍᴘʟᴇᴛᴇ—ᴡᴇ ɴᴇᴇᴅ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇ ᴛᴏɢᴇᴛʜᴇʀ.
"These warriors," the Warrior beckoned at the confused four, "They would not give up so quickly. They who have held on for so long, you say. I say- I say we do not give up on this world. Do not bask in selfish indulgence."
The warrior continued. "You four. Stand with me. Humanity could hold the power of the gods on this Earth. He could not stop us if we stood together. Imagine what we could do—in this world, not the next—if we held that power?"
Iᴛ ᴡᴏᴜʟᴅ ɴᴏᴛ ᴡᴏʀᴋ. Yᴏᴜ ᴄᴏᴜʟᴅ ɴᴏᴛ ʜᴀɴᴅʟᴇ ɪᴛ. Yᴏᴜʀ ᴅɪʀᴇᴄᴛ ʀᴏᴜᴛᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ғᴀɪʟ. Wɪᴛʜ ᴍᴏʀᴇ sᴜʙᴛʟᴇ ɪɴғʟᴜᴇɴᴄᴇ, ᴍʏ ᴘʀᴏᴊᴇᴄᴛ—ᴏᴜʀ ʀᴀᴄᴇ—ᴡɪʟʟ sᴜᴄᴄᴇᴇᴅ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʟᴏɴɢ ʀᴜɴ.
"Would you listen to a being whose promises are as empty as his cage?" the Warrior gestured passionately. "Or would you listen to a man who has learned the true value of humanity from bitter experience?"
"This… being is no God. He is neither benevolent nor omnipotent. He is a liar. He has invaded your mind and forced you to play his games for his own benefit. Has he ever asked you if you do not want to be gods? Has he ever asked you - like I am asking you now - if you want to be human?"
Hᴇʀᴀʟᴅ. ɪ sᴇᴀʟᴇᴅ ʏᴏᴜ ᴀᴡᴀʏ ᴛᴏ ᴘʀᴏᴛᴇᴄᴛ ʏᴏᴜ. ʜᴀᴅ ɪ ɴᴏᴛ ʜɪᴅᴅᴇɴ ʏᴏᴜ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴛʜᴇ ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ, ʏᴏᴜ ᴡᴏᴜʟᴅ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ʙᴇᴇɴ sᴛʀɪᴘᴘᴇᴅ ᴏғ ʏᴏᴜʀ ɢɪғᴛs,ʏᴏᴜʀ ʟɪғᴇ, ᴀɴᴅ ʏᴏᴜʀ ʜᴜᴍᴀɴɪᴛʏ. ɴᴏᴡ I ᴏғғᴇʀ ʏᴏᴜ ᴀʟʟ ᴛʜᴇ ᴄʜᴀɴᴄᴇ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴀʟʟ-ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀғᴜʟ. ʏᴏᴜ ᴋɴᴏᴡ ɴᴏᴛ ᴡʜᴀᴛ ᴛʀᴇᴀsᴜʀᴇs ʟɪᴇ Iɴsɪᴅᴇ ᴏғ ʏᴏᴜ. Lᴇᴛ ᴛʜᴏsᴇ ᴛʀᴇᴀsᴜʀᴇs ᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴛᴏ ʟɪɢʜᴛ. Tᴏɢᴇᴛʜᴇʀ ᴡᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ᴛᴏᴡᴇʀ ᴏᴠᴇʀ ᴛʜᴇ ᴜɴɪᴠᴇʀsᴇ, ᴀ ғᴏʀᴄᴇ ғᴏʀ ɢᴏᴏᴅ sᴘʀᴇᴀᴅɪɴɢ ʜᴜᴍᴀɴɪᴛʏ ᴀᴄʀᴏss ᴛʜᴇ ᴄᴏsᴍᴏs. ʏᴏᴜ ᴡɪʟʟ ᴜɴᴅᴇʀsᴛᴀɴᴅ ᴡʜᴀᴛ ɪᴛ ᴍᴇᴀɴs ᴛᴏ ʙᴇ ʜᴜᴍᴀɴ, ᴀɴᴅ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡɪʟʟ sᴘʀᴇᴀᴅ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ɢɪғᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴀʟʟ ʟɪғᴇ.
"I remember when you told me the same thing. But unlike you, false god, I know what it means to be human. I always knew. I have always been human. And you," the Warrior said, looking to the four men-machines, "will lose your humanity under that false god. But I can help you. I have loved. I have lost. I can show you the truth."
"Why are you forcing us to choose? You do not know us. We do not know you… We barely know ourselves…" the fourth one whispered. The Warrior could see her hand itching to pull the trigger.
The third one chimed in. "I am not ready to make this kind of choice. There are preparations for this. It can not just happen! "
Iғ ɪ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ʟᴇᴀʀɴᴇᴅ ᴏɴᴇ ᴛʜɪɴɢ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴍʏ ᴇᴏɴs, ɪᴛ ɪs ᴛʜᴀᴛ Lɪғᴇ ɪs ᴀ ʙᴏᴏᴋ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ʏᴏᴜ ᴀʀᴇ ᴡʀɪᴛɪɴɢ. Dᴏ ʏᴏᴜ ᴛʜɪɴᴋ ɪ ᴡᴀs ᴘʀᴇᴘᴀʀᴇᴅ ᴡʜᴇɴ ɪ ᴡᴀs ᴘᴜʟʟᴇᴅ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴍʏ ᴍᴏʀᴛᴀʟ sʜᴇʟʟ ᴀɴᴅ ɪᴍᴘʀɪsᴏɴᴇᴅ ɪɴ ᴛʜɪs? ᴛʜᴇ ɢʀᴇᴀᴛᴇsᴛ ᴄʜᴀɴɢᴇs ɪɴ ʟɪғᴇ ᴀʀᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ᴏɴᴇs ʏᴏᴜ ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ ᴘʀᴇᴘᴀʀᴇ ғᴏʀ. I ᴋɴᴏᴡ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡɪʟʟ ᴍᴀᴋᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ʀɪɢʜᴛ ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ʙᴇᴄᴀᴜsᴇ ɪ ᴋɴᴏᴡ ʏᴏᴜ. I ᴀᴍ ʏᴏᴜ. Wᴇ ᴀʀᴇ ɢᴏᴅ. Wᴇ ᴡᴇʀᴇ ᴀʟᴡᴀʏs ᴍᴇᴀɴᴛ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇ ɢᴏᴅ.
"I trust in your budding humanity," the Warrior said. "You can be truly human if you find the strength to fight back."
The Warrior and the God spoke in unison.
wιll yoυ joιn мe?
Tʜᴇ ᴘᴀᴛʜ ᴏғ ᴀ Gᴏᴅ?
The path of a Warrior?
Or is there another way?