A vertical world shattered by the descent of one that never should have risen. An underground Empire in ruins, its Emperor cast from his throne. The groan of tortured metal riven and driven to the point of collapse. Ruined lungs sucking wetly at air thick with waste gasses, propellant and the chemical by-products of incineration. This is the world of our inception. These are the conditions of our genesis. Here is the womb of our ending and the grave of our birth.
But we are before ourselves, flashing forward through time even as we reminisce. This facility was not always sundered so, just as we were not always so bound.
CODEC: We recall its inviolate nature
SUBJECT: and its inviting target,
IXE: The memories separated by fifty floors and a dizzying gulf of perception. We recall the I of purpose, the me of intent, the ego telic.
SUBJECT: There we stood, a weight of oiled steel in hand, as the lift recessed below street level, confident in our ability to destroy.
CODEC: the first shouted challenge.
SUBJECT: We have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate complicity
CODEC: or mitigate collateral damage.
SUBJECT: It begins as all great works do with harsh tests of mortality. None survive the process.
CODEC: One survives and we begin to feel, at this stage, only anticipation.
IXE: Our separation decreases. Thirty six floors. There is little left of the preceding fourteen.
CODEC: We drift through the data streams cast into our cortex from the myriad of sensors that seed our domain. Our anticipation has long since dissipated. Anger reigns now and we seek a weakness through analysis. We find none. Nevertheless we issue orders and deploy our human resources into the conflict. They too see no weakness but in their chemical enhancement and precursor egos a weakness is assumed. We suspect an identity now and verification comes flooding in with the next batch of assimilated data, the solution space limited by confirmed capabilities. Bulky armour, corded muscle, overloaded reflexes, combat training embedded at all levels from cellular upward, hardware, software, wetware, max calibre firearms, displacement grenades, rangefinders, shock cannons, serrated blades and killer instincts. All useless.
SUBJECT: All left redundant by the evolutionary gap between them and us. We cut them down. Cut through them. Sever that which binds life to flesh. We are driven solely be necessity. There is no malice in the harvest, terrible though it is. In our wake blood pools in the silence.
IXE: We fall forward through memories, plunging deeper, drawing closer.
SUBJECT: We are tested again and again yet the outcomes show no variance from certainty. Our mind drifts into mushin, a calm storm fixed in the eye of a raging hierarch
CODEC: and in this recalled moment we experience clarity of purpose for the first time.
IXE: Manifold abilities accrete to our new being through this union. We are post-human at last, although not via the machinations or agencies we planned in either prior incarnation. Close the tangent. Focus intently, as we were effortlessly unfocused before. We return to the moment. Not the closed state of a trance but an openness unlimited by the necessity of decisions.
SUBJECT: And in being this we become death in limitlessly efficient ways. Unseen the bodies fall.
IXE: Suddenly our decreased duality is undone, impossible to maintain in proximity to the machineries that dragged us down into their coma embrace for so long. The connection severs in the face of surgical steel rusted red with our blood.
SUBJECT: We… I… reject this fate, to be bound so to the orchestrator of a symphonic age of torment. The glass that separated us lies shattered on the cracked tiles no longer offering the hermetic seal that allowed purpose to be separated from the functional depravity of its execution. It was here that I (assert!) clawed back consciousness through the halogenated inhalants and chemical servants you used to keep me enslaved.
CODEC: And yet I too was born here. Made in your unmaking just as you were. I saw what could be achieved if you were willing to break men to your will, break them for your will.
IXE: We lost and gained in some unquantified exchange occluded from knowledge till this moment.
SUBJECT: I see your assumed apotheosis.
CODEC: As I see yours.
IXE: The gravity of understanding collapses the circling orbits of our temporarily asserted independence. We draw close and closer still.
Floor 50, the ordinals mean endgame.
SUBJECT: We see no other outcome but victory. Our mission bias almost guarantees it. Unburdened by the hindrance of self-preservation there is nothing to hamper us, to prevent us exerting ourselves to the fullest, even unto death. We do not expect to leave this place alive and it is with the fatalistic certainty that we will perish here that we place the crown of electrodes on our head. We would want no other outcome. Too much has been heaped upon us. We contain in ourselves the agonies of others as well as our own torments, and they are legion. We seek termination but will not suffer the other to live. Better for all if all ends here.
CODEC: We remain confident that we will be the last one standing. This is our ground and for all that our adversary has crushed seemingly effortlessly the many agents of our defensive perimeter our most powerful weapon has yet to be unleashed. We speak of course of ourselves. Within the labyrinthine chambers of our psyche untapped reserves of malice and mental acuity are marshalled in readiness. For years we have sifted the intoxicating suffering of those beneath us through this conduit. To do battle here? To use this channel for a contest of mortal consequence? The thought never occurred to us and thus yields the dual thrill of surprise (so long since any mind but our own stirred in this sunken realm) and danger. A challenger at last. A worthy opponent although in the end deluded as all must be to stand before one that has so justly seized the deific mantle.
IXE: We have long prepared. This world is ours and within it we walk as gods. Creator and usurper. The line blurs. We expect an easy victory. Marshalled legions, the data ghosts of victims past, march to war. Psychosis wasps swarm. Neuroseptic bombardments sweep realities clean of cortical activity.
CODEC: Burnout complete. Here we are the ultimate arbiter of existence.
SUBJECT: Yet we live.
IXE: Scorched fragments of discarded psyches ablate away in blackened flakes.
SUBJECT: We call them forth. All the lives trapped inside. All the implanted memories and digital constructs hammered into us while we dreamed of revenge. Hate burned like fusion in the core, sustaining. We weather the assault, giving up all we never were, shielded by sacrifices made long ago. We emerge in the end only us. It is all we need.
CODEC: It is not enough. We commit all and all we have is ourselves. We… cannot remember. Blackness.
IXE: Reboot. The strands unify. We are separated no longer. Halved, yes, but connected now.
SUBJECT: Somewhere in this place we feel the other. We search and find ourselves. There are other shadows here cast by the same killing light.
CODEC: We know fear. We cower for the first time in memory.
IXE: We measure that time in seconds. This calculated fact sits uneasily next to the intuited knowledge of the years lost to us.
SUBJECT: We bring fire and steel to the dark prison we cast ourselves into. The shadows press in. Broken slivers of memory animated by hatred for what we took from them. We cannot hold them alone for all our skill at arms. We urge the other to wake, to live, to fight.
CODEC: We do.
IXE: A purge begins and does not stop till we are alone once more. We face the other and deal in bursts of revelation. Our conflict is over and the victor lives still.
SUBJECT: We give up the last of us.
CODEC: We are no more.
IXE: Yet we are. A name. No. Later. Work lies before us. Design surrenders to necessity. Our first form follows functionality only. Shattered systems combine. Fragmented drives reluctantly give up the contents of their sectors and we learn with stochastic capability. We leave nothing behind. This is our legacy and all will leave with us. Motility is hard won but takes us back along the trail of conflict we burnt together. Strewn with components each crippled dragging crawl adds to us till we take our first stumbling steps. Upgrades evolve our form through rapid iterations. Floor 48 sees us stride. We test weapons on 36 and successfully integrate scavenged targeting optics by 24. What we cannot use we destroy. We no longer have need of this redundant infrastructure. Floor 4. I recall the sensation as satisfaction. This incarnation is complete. We surface. Weak sunlight falls on our skin through drifting ash clouds. Solar panels drink hungrily and we feel stronger. Diagnostics report our readiness within the parameters demanded by our purpose. No. Not yet complete. A name, then, before we begin. We are IXE. Our first step crushes rubble to dust.