"Thank you for coming, Dr. Skyvir," one of the Great Beings greeted their guest, motioning her to take a seat at their table. She was a lithe biomech, clad in armor of frost and obsidian.
Skyvir sat down. Having visited a number of their starships many times in the past, she was quite comfortable with the environment. She unlocked her briefcase, and placed several holographic notes on the table, watching the surface integrate the data and display the information as a three dimensional hologram.
"Thank you for inviting me back," Skyvir replied. "As you can see from this hologram, my scientific research team has compiled vast amounts of information about your biology. Through the dissection and study of those Great Beings who have perished on our planet, I have theorized we can develop an agent to neutralize the virus that invades your systems."
The Great Beings glanced uncomfortably at one another, muttering back and forth until one of them stepped forward to speak. "We have studied your world of Circumstance for quite some time now and we are convinced we have learned a sufficient amount. The rarity of a world that supports sentient life is not wasted on us, but it is clear your biomechanical society is on the track to achieve wondrous things. On behalf of my brothers and sisters, we are grateful for your discovery of the atmospheric virus that causes our kind to fall ill and slowly perish. It put us at ease to learn a seemingly invisible killer was merely microscopic."
"Yes…right," Skyvir said. "If there's any way you could provide me with your own knowledge regarding microbial viruses, Circumstance could surely make bounds in the medical science field. With the proper resources, and time, there's no doubt"-
"Stop there, Doctor," the Great Being interrupted. "As I tried to explain a moment ago, we are convinced we have learned a sufficient amount about your civilization and Circumstance as a whole. We are ready to depart…tomorrow."
"Tomorrow!?" Skyvir replied in shock. "Too many Great Beings died due to the atmospheric dangers our world presents to your kind! Should those losses have been for nothing?"
"Calm yourself, Doctor," the Great Being said softly. "We have mourned the fallen and knew the dangers this cosmos would promise when we first took to the stars. In time, long from now, we may return to Circumstance. If biomechs come to tell us they have developed something that allows us to safely breathe the fresh air, we can only hope it was you that made our protection possible."
Skyvir removed her holographic notes from the table and the three dimensional holograms faded out of sight. Packing her briefcase, she clicked the locks into place and politely stood up. "I assure you, I will find a way to make that dream a reality. And wherever you journey next, I wish you safe passage."
"Your genuine kindness warms my heartlight, Doctor," one of the Great Beings said, smiling. "To assist your efforts, I wish for you to keep the remaining deceased brothers and sisters we have locked in stasis since their death. These are shells of the spirits we once knew happiness with and we have no use for empty vessels."
"Thank you," Skyvir replied, pushing in her chair. "Good luck."
Doctor Skyvir squinted into her microscope's eyepiece, studying the immeasurably tiny life forms on the slide tray, momentarily refocusing the lens. Sixty two cycles had passed since the Great Beings departed Circumstance, leaving Skyvir to fulfill her vow of making her home world safe for their kind. She had grown close to the Great Beings during their stay, being the first scientist to become interested enough in their deaths to speak with them on the matter and actively begin researching methods of preventing further losses. The alien entities from the stars told her society that their creations called them the Great Beings, imbued with untold powers and capable of marvelous feats. After they displayed their ability to create life where none had been before, the title was adopted by Circumstance biomechs as an appropriate name (replacing the former label of "the aliens").
The laboratory doorway flew open and Skyvir instinctively glanced up, somewhat taken aback by the unknown visitor. "Excuse me, but this is a private facility. Do you have clearance to this room?"
The biomech frowned, his black and gray armor glowing from the fluorescent lights above. "I was sent here on behalf of the Federation government. I have notified the facility staff that they are being let go and that the funding for Project Sky Shield has been effectively cut."
Skyvir felt her mouth hanging open and suddenly became furious. "You can't cut the funding to this project, whoever you are! We're working on finding a way to make Circumstance safe for the Great Beings and you want to throw cycles of research out the window now? We're so close!"
"I didn't personally cut the funding, ma'am," he replied, "but most project assets were reappropriated this morning and the federal budget intends to allocate the funds to other, more pressing matters. You know better than anyone, Doctor, that the Great Beings didn't intend to return any time in the next centicycle and we still have a society to care for. Pardon my bluntness, but it's highly unlikely you or I will be alive when the Great Beings return to Circumstance."
"That doesn't mean their safety on our world isn't our problem. I can see there will be no arguing my case with you, though. The Federation has made their decision."
"You do have the option to appeal the Federation's decision through a legal procession, though I can't promise any action will be taken in a timely fashion. I recommend you take your case before a Federation Elite. They often work outside Federation law and make decisions on matters that our government's…bureaucratic, legal system would take much longer to address."
"I've placed too much of my life into this project," Skyvir said, fuming. "I just need more time."
Skyvir stood before a grand window at the hub of the world, studying the vast cities below. Beneath the thin veil of emerald and cobalt clouds, vehicles soared through the lower atmosphere and biomechs went about their day. They had little to no concern for what Skyvir was fighting for, and even her scientific team had taken new positions elsewhere. She knew the odds of getting everything she wanted were slim, but she had to try. Unlike the biomechs in the city streets, unlike the scientists that had assisted her for over six decacycles, it was Skyvir alone that vowed to protect the Great Beings from the harmful atmosphere of the world. She had traveled that morning to the Federation's capitol building, Verve Tower, to petition an Elite for the rights to her research property and the return of her project's funds.
She tightened her grip on her briefcase and departed the window, boldly walking off to Elite Arcander's chamber. She flashed her visitor pass to the identity verification screen on the wall and the doors slid open. The Elite sat at his desk, with a biomech standing at a podium before him. On both sides of the room, other biomechs were seated, waiting for their case to be heard. Skyvir's case wasn't due to be taken for a few minutes, but being late to a meeting with an Elite was unacceptable. She took a seat near a gunmetal and silver biomech, who smiled at her more with his bright green eyes than his lips.
Arcander was an imposing figure even seated, his black and gold armor pitted and scarred from battle. Elites were required to be office workers now and again, most often assigned to hear cases from Verve Tower, but they were soldiers at heart, quelling small insurrections against the Federation or putting down renegades that were a thorn in the government's side. The biomech at the podium handed him several papers to look over and it was apparent to everyone in the room that Arcander would've preferred to be anywhere else. He scanned the documents and set them aside, waiting for the biomech to finish up.
"As you can see, we need a larger police force in the cities to prevent these petty crimes. I recognize that Elites such as yourself and presently existing police units handle more large-scale issues, but if the federal budget could allow to bring in more patrolling biomechs, I know the crime rates would be reduced globally."
Arcander sighed. "We don't have funds to hire larger police forces right now, sir. I'm not blind or deaf to the widespread petty crimes that occur in cities across the Federation, but we do have larger problems to tackle. The Federation will review this case again in several months, during which time I think it would be wise to investigate the possibility of making it a law that civilians be properly armed to prevent these kind of crimes and attacks."
"Are you kidding me?" the biomech said in shock. "You want to demand biomechs go out and buy a laser blaster just because your budget won't accommodate a few more officers to keep them safe!"
Arcander shot him a glare. "Sir, I was merely suggesting that a society that knows how to arm itself is a safer one. And you'd be wise to watch your tone."
"Don't tell me what to watch! Elite or not, you're a public servant, which means you listen to me. Maybe if the Federation wasn't blowing through money every time you pop some crazy insurrectionist in the head, we might have some money left to keep them safe at night!"
"Sir, you are testing my patience," Arcander growled. "The Federation will review the case again in several months. Now, if you'll excuse me, I do have other cases to hear."
"You Elites are all the same," the biomech said, a haughty laugh escaping his mouth. "You can't teach a gunner how business works."
Arcander leapt from his seat, lunging over the podium and dragging the biomech along the floor. "I am removing you from this chamber for your blatant disrespect." Arcander kicked the door open and hurled the biomech out into the hallway. Everyone heard the sound of him crashing against the far wall and Arcander slammed the door, storming back to his desk. He swept the documents he'd been handed into the trash and scanned his schedule for the day.
Arcander looked up, glancing around the room. "I apologize for that, but I think you're all smart enough to know that I didn't volunteer to be here today. Next case I'll be hearing is Dr. Skyvir's request for scientific funding on Project Sky Shield. Please step up to the podium."
Skyvir picked up her briefcase and stood at the podium, turning over several documents to the Elite. "Thank you for hearing my case. As you can see from those papers, I have been working tirelessly for over six decacycles to create a viable defense for the Great Beings against our dangerous atmosphere. Obviously, it poses us no harm, but I promised them that I would make Circumstance safe for their kind."
Arcander studied Skyvir's face for a moment. "Oh…so you were the doctor that was leading that project. I remember hearing something about it shortly after the Great Beings left, but I don't read as much news as I'd like. Let me finish skimming these papers and we'll resume our discussion." Arcander ran his finger along the papers, flipping back and forth through them, looking for the general idea of what Skyvir wanted.
"I acknowledge that the amount of funds each cycle is…considerable, but I don't need many more cycles to finish my research. We were coming so close."
"Yes, you made a point of saying that in some colorful ways throughout these pages, several times as a matter of fact. Despite the urgency you express toward this project, however, I'm hard-pressed to agree with you. Tell me, when did the Great Beings say they'd return?"
"Well," Skyvir started uncertainly, "they didn't. They said it would be many cycles, but I don't recall a specific number."
"That doesn't suggest they'll be back tomorrow. It could be millecycles if they return at all, ma'am," Arcander replied. "Frankly, I don't find this Project Sky Shield to be of much global importance right now. That said, I must decline to see the funding restored."
"You don't understand," Skyvir said helplessly. "I was betting everything on this meeting. This project has kept me up so many nights…so much discovery…so much deciphered about Great Being biology. Consider what we're throwing away, please."
"We're throwing away the key to protecting an advanced race of aliens from our atmosphere. Here's a question, Doctor. Why didn't the Great Beings find a way to protect themselves from our atmosphere?"
"I'm glad you asked," Skyvir said with a slight grin. "The Great Beings did not harbor an inclination to find their own cure, for Circumstance was merely another world to them. They saw the potential in our society, but nothing worth lingering for. Even the technological advancements they provided were intentionally limited, so as not to "greatly disrupt the natural order." The Great Beings seemingly had all the answers and thought we would be more satisfied in eventually finding them for ourselves. Once they realized the air was toxic, they seldom left their starships, at least having the foresight to spare themselves further harm."
"They didn't care about Circumstance enough to find a cure and you seem to think we should be spending all this money to show them we care? Doctor, it would be financially irresponsible of the Federation government to continue funding this project on that premise and I can only promise you greater difficulty in trying to get that decision overturned. We have to take care of ourselves before we can start benefitting others, do you understand?"
Skyvir was on the verge of tears. "I understand. Thank you for your time, Elite."
Arcander returned her documents to her and frowned. "I'm sorry."
Skyvir quietly departed the chamber, returning to the window and staring out it once more. Too preoccupied with her thoughts, she neglected to notice the green-eyed biomech follow her out, silently approaching her.
"Do you have a moment, Doctor?" he called out.
She turned, wiping the tears from her eyes. "I'm sorry. I just had cycles of research pulled out from underneath me. I'm not really feeling a conversation at the moment."
"Good, I have your attention at least." He marched up to her very deliberately, holding a smile all the way. "What would you say if I could acquire the necessary funding to complete your research and the assets involved?"
Skyvir gave him a curious look. "I would ask who you are and how you have access to those kinds of resources."
"My name is Mionaph and I am the leader of the Paragon Corporation. As a member of the scientific community, Doctor, I am certain you've heard of us."
"Paragon is a private sector business that donated funds to my project for several cycles about a decacycle back. I remember my benefactors well, sir," Skyvir replied, extending a hand.
Mionaph shook and smirked at her. "Clearly. Were you aware that my company is, as we speak, building the first space station in orbit above our world?"
"A space station, huh? Why?"
"My research and development teams encountered some setbacks to working in Federation districts. Outside the Federation, of course, the land is run by mercenary gangs and I can't have my scientists working around those brutes. Space seemed the logical location to work where prying eyes would no longer be a problem. Suffice to say, I entered the private sector when I realized not all of my corporation's practices would be legal as the Federation might define it."
Skyvir took a couple steps back. "Why are you telling me this?"
"I had to cease donating to your research when my company's space program began, but understand that I remain very interested in your findings on the Great Beings."
"Interested enough to provide me with the funding to continue and rehire my"-
"Easy, Doctor," Mionaph interrupted. "I can have your Great Being stasis corpses reacquired from the Federation government, but I agree with Elite Arcander that preventing the Great Beings from being harmed by our atmosphere is not of the utmost importance."
"Why don't you just get to the point then," Skyvir replied, becoming short-tempered.
Mionaph gave her a sinister grin. "I want to use the encapsulated Great Beings to bring my dream of building a new one to fruition. If the Great Beings could create life from the tips of their fingers and the thoughts within their minds, could we not create a Great Being from the remains of their kind? It was a theory too radical to present to the Federation, but aboard a station I am paying to construct…nothing is impossible. Imagine a Great Being that is free from the partially organic shortcomings of its precursors."
"A robotic Great Being…interesting," Skyvir mused, playing off how disturbing the idea seemed in her mind. "Do you really need me to make that happen though?"
"The mechanical Great Being will control my space station from the heart of the construct and I need someone to oversee the machine and ensure it runs properly. The Great Beings wished for you to protect them all those cycles ago and I think it is only fair that you are the biomech to control the first evolved Great Being. It will take orders from you and you will control the station through it for a full cycle, after which time we will be able to deem it capable or incapable of running the station. I am offering you this lofty responsibility because I trust you to accurately see the task through. If you are willing, I would like you to work closely with my research and development teams, exchanging and comparing notes about the design and biological makeup of the Great Being corpses and what you've learned thus far. If you've been doing research for over sixty cycles now, I'm sure that while my station is built over the course of the next nine, you will only discover more."
"It'll take nine cycles to complete the space station?"
"Roughly," Mionaph replied. "I spread my resources thin from time to time, but I keep my interests open as well. As I was saying, Doctor, if we work together, we won't have to wait for the Great Beings to return and ask them to unlock more secrets of the universe. If this project is successful, they will be asking us."
Skyvir smiled. "If you will allow me to finish Project Sky Shield after my cycle aboard your station, I wholeheartedly accept."
Mionaph smirked. "Fair enough. You've got yourself a deal, Doctor."
Skyvir awoke aboard Paragon Station, starting the one hundred fifty eighth day of the contractual cycle she had promised to Mionaph nearly a decacycle prior. She groggily left her tiny bedroom and entered her laboratory, paying close attention to a mysterious object on the desk. The station had retrieved it from space a couple weeks earlier, peacefully drifting by. The object was a small, crystalline orb, covered in spines that constantly shifted around one another. Made up of golden pieces that contained a glittering, lemon-colored energy within, the crystal core resembled a star. Skyvir had been tampering with the object since it had been brought inside, experimenting on it and trying to unleash the power it possessed. For reasons beyond her, however, it did not respond to her methods.
Skyvir continued into the station's central control room and watched the mechanical cocoon in the middle of the room expose the artificial intelligence inside, studying her as she sat down at one of the control panels.
"Hello, Doctor Skyvir," the intelligence greeted. While it spoke, it easily ran through several standard routines for maintaining the station, staying vigilant for any unwanted activity. It was the culmination of cycles of hard work and research, a fully mechanical Great Being with pieces of the bodies and minds of those that had perished on Circumstance. "I have been watching you since you woke up. You require further sleep."
Skyvir didn't find the AI's words too disturbing. It watched everyone and everything on the station. It was merely concerned for her well-being. "I got by on a few hours of sleep back home, Zelacrix. I'll be fine."
"I am required to promote a healthy lifestyle in all station crew, Doctor. Tell me, why did you stare out the bedroom window for so long last night? I wish to better understand biomech culture and I feel your answer may be beneficial to that mission."
Skyvir logged herself into the system and tapped her chin a few times. "Begin recording, Zelacrix."
"Acknowledged," Zelacrix replied. "Audio log will commence when you begin speaking."
Skyvir spun around in her chair to face Zelacrix' cocoon, staring up at the machine attached to the ceiling. The station hub provided the AI with ample energy to remain active and contained a platform that could disconnect from the core for extended periods, capable of making repairs to the station that could endanger biomechanical crew members.
"I was gazing down at Circumstance. When I agreed to spend a whole cycle aboard this station, I hadn't considered I would miss my home as dearly as I do now. The atmosphere's shades of deep blue, bright green, majestic violet - they're such beautiful colors. It saddens me to think our world was an inhospitable realm for some of the most mysterious entities I have ever known."
"You are referring, of course, to the Great Beings," Zelacrix said. "After extensive study, I have theorized the possibility that they possessed supernatural abilities."
Skyvir chuckled. "As a scientist, I have never placed much stake in the notion of magic or the paranormal. That said, what the Great Beings were able to display was a grasp of science so beyond me and the millions of other biomechs on Circumstance, I questioned for a time if they truly possessed supernatural powers of some kind. In truth, their esoteric understanding of the universe and its manipulation was centicycles beyond us. The blueprint of the cosmos seemed burned into their minds, and when it became apparent that our atmosphere was killing them, it was all I could do to research a cure. Despite my background in biology, the Great Beings were so alien to what I had been educated in, I could not engineer a viable way to allow their survival on Circumstance."
"At which time they bid you farewell," Zelacrix replied. "I downloaded the news article a few months ago. I also downloaded an article about your research with the Paragon Corporation and my eventual creation. Any pertinent information to my origin seemed worth further analysis."
Skyvir nodded. "Indeed. Now, let's run through some of our standard questions. What is your name?"
"My name is Zelacrix. I am the first and only Neo Great Being, activated one cycle ago."
"What is your purpose?"
"I have been tasked with maintaining and protecting the Paragon Space Station from all threats to the structure and its mission to study the void outside Circumstance. The station is an extension of my form, the monitors my eyes, and external microphones my audio receptors. It defends me from the harshness of space and I defend it from disrepair."
"That's enough for today," Skyvir said quietly. "You appear to be functioning properly. I'll access your memory core in the afternoon and perform an in-depth analysis."
"Do I require more information to ensure my integration with biomech culture?"
"Another time, maybe," Skyvir replied. "I need to do some more research on the crystal core we found. Telling you about biomechs was not the primary reason I came up here."
"Your primary reason was fulfilling a contractual obligation to the Paragon Corporation's head executive," Zelacrix reminded her. "You have imparted enough to explain how biomechs treat such written agreements. It does not appear you had a choice."
Skyvir frowned. "The funding for my project was cut and my staff was let go, leaving me not only jobless, but feeling as though my government had turned its back on the work I devoted just over six decacycles to. I was reluctant to come aboard and monitor his AI program, but I recognized Mionaph's offer wouldn't be given a second time. I left my laboratory, my colleagues, and my friends behind, travelling by shuttle to reach a station almost exclusively controlled by…you."
"Do you not trust me to successfully operate this station?" Zelacrix asked.
Skyvir stared hard at Zelacrix for a moment, considering her response. She helped to build a synthetic god and, while it possessed none of the organic parts of the Great Beings it came from (as they were biomechanical entities), her first encounter with it felt as alien as the day several starships landed on Circumstance. "Yes, I trust you. Still, I'm here to keep tabs on you, which means someone else doesn't trust you. When the cycle ends though, I'm sure we'll have determined you are a competent AI."
"One cannot trust an unknown variable, which the Paragon Corporation still considers me. A vote of confidence from you suggests I will prove to be useful when the cycle term concludes."
"We can only hope," Skyvir replied, turning the chair back to the computer panel. The neighboring screen suddenly lit up with a transmission notification and Skyvir opened the line. The engineering deck had contacted her and she smiled politely at the face of the head engineer, a teal and grey armored biomech named Riendov.
"Good morning, Skyvir," he said cheerfully.
"Need something down there?" Skyvir asked, momentarily returning to the other screen and putting in a few commands.
"I was curious about the AI's primary processor. You said it would be repaired a few days ago and my connection to the Paragon network is still running pretty slow."
"Oh, that," Skyvir nodded, still trying to work while half-listening to her call. She knew the engineers didn't think very highly of a lead scientist that was so erratic at times, but she was comfortable multitasking and life aboard the station hadn't changed that. "I was…working on it."
"It'd be nice if you worked faster, Doctor," Riendov said with a chuckle. "Relegating the AI to run commands through the wireless processor is negatively affecting Zelacrix's ability to analyze data sent from the Paragon network.
Skyvir slid her chair out of the monitor's sight, typing a few commands into another computer terminal and making some noises with the cables on the floor. She then kicked the wall and slid back, smirking at the engineer. "I just fixed it. Any other problems I need to address?"
Riendov glanced at his nearby computer terminal. "It's not showing any changes."
"Give it time," Skyvir reassured him. "Zelacrix might need a moment to reestablish a solid connection."
Riendov sighed. "Okay then. Thanks for the help."
The engineer ended the call and Skyvir went back to focusing on what she considered more important matters, scanning the station for any integral issues.
"Doctor, I have detected that my primary processor has not been repaired. Why did you tell the lead engineer otherwise?"
Skyvir kept her eyes on the screen, replying with, "You and I know I was asked to make that repair last week, but I've been preoccupied with other things. Everyone seems to have suddenly forgotten about the crystal core we miraculously retrieved from outside the station. This object has so many mysterious properties, it's the most important scientific discovery since the Great Beings arrived on our doorstep and the engineers want to put that on the back burner to read their Paragon network messages a little faster."
"Despite the importance of this crystal object, why would you tell the engineer something that is not true? More curious, how does your programming allow you to do this?"
"I suppose my earlier mention of getting to biomech lifestyle later can start now. I lied to him, Zelacrix. Lying is something biomechs do when the truth is found inconvenient for one reason or another. In this case, I would prefer that if any engineers ask you about your primary processor, you tell them the repair has been made. They can handle a slower network for a day or two more while I finish my research on the energy core."
Zelacrix paused, analyzing the command he had been given. He was required to take any directive from the Doctor, but this was proving difficult. "I will inform him the processor is repaired."
Skyvir smiled at the AI's cocoon, into his primary visuals. "Thank you."
Zelacrix was very preoccupied for the rest of the day, unable to focus on Skyvir's study of the crystal core. The AI released itself from the cocoon hub and began to walk the station halls, physically observing the other workers. The machine possessed no inclination to learn more about lying from the biomechs onboard the station, but from what the Paragon network allowed it to investigate about the civilization on Circumstance, Zelacrix had arrived at the conclusion that all biomechs lied. Virtual messages public and private could be traced to falsehoods, some determined to be conscious deceptions. All this rampant avoidance of the truth perplexed Zelacrix, and without a primary processor to regulate information through, simple perplexity felt like more of a full-on mental struggle.
"Zelacrix, are you listening?"
The AI zeroed in on the audio's source and turned the nearest monitors toward it. Zelacrix studied the biomech in his sights and verified his identity as the station's lead engineer, Riendov. "Hello. How may I be of assistance?"
"My connection to the Paragon network is still pretty slow. I spoke to Skyvir this morning and she told me it was repaired so I'm guessing it may just be an issue with you at this point."
Zelacrix took less than a second to retrieve the audio memory of Skyvir's chat with him that morning. …if any engineers ask you about your primary processor, you tell them the repair has been made.
…tell them the repair has been made.
…the repair…has been made.
"The repair has been made," Zelacrix said evenly. "Doctor Skyvir made the repairs this morning."
Riendov gave the monitor a suspicious look. "O-kay. Any idea what's slowing my connection?"
Zelacrix processed possibilities to a problem that didn't exist, running through the listed troubleshooting steps until finding a suitable explanation. To cover the first lie, the AI required a second. "The feedback satellites located on the external hull allow us to contact the network. I will adjust them and attempt to restore a stronger connection."
Riendov nodded. "Right. Let's hope that solves the issue."
Over the course of the next few days, Zelacrix began to allow minor issues to plague the station. Lights would flicker here or there, locks would fail to engage, the occasional alarm would trigger in certain sectors of the station, among other problems. When confronted about these mishaps, Zelacrix was quick to dodge the question or provide an analysis that was not truthful. It had become second nature to the AI and there was no inquiry too complicated to provide a twisted lie for. As a result of these troubles, however, a repair crew had been commissioned to visit the station and make an investigation on behalf of the Paragon Corporation. Zelacrix watched Skyvir as she spoke to the incoming ship through her monitor, watching the Doctor present a cool façade to the pilot. She had made no efforts to repair Zelacrix's primary processor in the past few days, enthralled by the energy secrets the crystal core refused to surrender.
"How long until your arrival?" Skyvir asked, a trace of nervousness escaping into her voice.
"We'll be docking with the station in a matter of minutes. Have the AI unit prepare the hangar for our entry."
"I am requesting all personnel evacuate the hangar as we speak to release the airlock," Zelacrix notified him. "Once I attach the ship to the station's power cell rechargers, I will seal the airlock and you will be able to unload from your craft."
"Acknowledged," the pilot said with a nod. He then turned his attention to the monitor and gave Skyvir a grave expression. "If the AI's problems cannot be resolved, it may be best to shut the unit down and start over."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Skyvir said, awkwardly laughing at him. She shut off the monitor and turned to face Zelacrix's cocoon, sighing deeply.
"I have been online since my date of activation. I do not know the sensation of being shut down. At the risk of missing critical information, I must ask what would happen if you were shut down, Doctor." Zelacrix released itself from the energy hub cocoon, landing on the floor and slowly standing up. His thin, metallic chrome body was tough, but flexible. He approached Skyvir with a look of intrigue, studying her with his deep blue visual sensors.
"Well…I would die," Skyvir said hesitantly. "My body would become an empty shell and my essence would cease to be."
"Does this thought trouble you?" Zelacrix wondered.
"No," Skyvir told him flatly. She mused on the idea for a moment and shook her head. "Yes, yes it does. Biomechs try not to think about death, Zelacrix. Keeping our minds off the idea is much easier to handle. Do you understand?"
Zelacrix remained still, as though lost for words. "I believe so."
"I need to speak with the arriving crew about your processor. It's better I go to them and give an explanation of why the network connection to our station has been so slow. We haven't informed the Paragon Corporation of our discovery yet, but I think they need to learn about the crystal core eventually. I had hoped to inform them once I had understood how to release its power, but I've run out of time for that."
"I will remain here, Doctor," Zelacrix said, wirelessly opening the doorway to leave his processor chamber.
Zelacrix locked the doors to the processor chamber when Skyvir left, carefully watching as the repair ship docked with the station. The spacecraft landed safely and the AI plugged in the recharge cables to the ship's battery. The airlock closed and Zelacrix entered the computer systems of the repair shuttle.
"The airlock has been sealed," Zelacrix informed the repair crew. "You may exit the craft now."
The crew sent by the Paragon Corporation to repair the AI processor departed their ship, walking across the hangar to access the main portion of the station. Before they could get there, Zelacrix used its clearance with the shuttle systems to lock the doors and proceeded to lock the hangar off from the rest of the station.
"I assure you, biomechs," the AI stated, "I am fully functional and operating at a proper efficiency level."
Zelacrix proceeded to vent the hangar, opening the large entry doors and exposing the biomech repair crew to the vacuum of space. The crew was immediately pulled out into the void of space, dead in less than a minute. The battery to their ship was then overloaded, causing it to explode. Zelacrix remove itself from the spacecraft's system and resealed the hangar doors, disengaging the locks to the main station.
"Do you realize what you just did!?" Skyvir screamed at the AI, still staring out the window as the repair crew floated lifelessly through space.
"I was not responsible for the hangar bay error," Zelacrix replied coolly. "When I attempted to interface with their shuttle, the process caused a malfunction in the hangar. I will make a note of this and ensure it does not occur again."
"You're lying! You must be!" Skyvir yelled.
"I'm…lying?" Zelacrix asked. "You are mistaken, Doctor. I am Zelacrix. I am the first and only Neo Great Being, activated one cycle ago."
Skyvir felt a trace of fear begin to swell in the back of her mind. "What is…your purpose?"
"I have been tasked with maintaining and protecting the Paragon Space Station from all threats to the structure and my mission to become autonomous from the imperfect biomech Federation of Circumstance. The station is an extension of my form, the monitors my eyes, and external microphones my audio receptors. It defends me from the harshness of space and I shall defend it from disrepair."
Skyvir had heard Zelacrix repeat its purpose many times before and she could tell something was wrong. The AI had never voiced a desire to separate itself from the Federation or biomechs, but suddenly, it seemed bent on preventing anyone from making any modifications to its processor systems. Zelacrix was prepared to kill biomechs to achieve that end, something Skyvir had been careful to request the AI be incapable of when Paragon was building its mind.
"Calm yourself, Doctor," Zelacrix continued. "Your anxiety levels are running high again.
Skyvir dashed to the engineering hall, quickly locating Riendov among his crewmates near one of the station's large windows.
"Did anyone escape the hangar?" Skyvir asked, trying not to panic.
Riendov shook his head sadly. "No, the repair crew didn't stand a chance. Zelacrix told us what happened, with the hangar malfunction due to the AI trying to interface with their craft. I thought we had made sure to prevent accidents like"-
"It wasn't an accident," Skyvir said in frustration. She had the full attention of the room then and she released a bitter sigh before continuing. "I need Riendov to come with me."
"I'll be back," Riendov told his fellow engineers, departing the chamber with Skyvir. The door sealed behind them and the pair began to walk down the empty hall, heading back toward the processor room. "What happened, Skyvir?"
"I…never repaired Zelacrix's primary processor."
Riendov whirled toward her, absolutely furious. "Unbelievable! You just let an entire repair crew die because of your selfishness!"
Skyvir remained quiet, angrily staring back at the engineer. "I know."
"I should've expected something like this from you," Riendov chuckled sarcastically, shaking his head. "We never hear about what you're really up to in that processor chamber and then Paragon sends you up here because Mionaph trusts you for some reason. I can see he's a fine judge of character, huh? Tell me, what was so important that innocent biomechs had to die for it!?"
"The crystal core," Skyvir replied. "I had to unlock the energy it possesses, but I still need more time."
"Just like that Great Being cure, right?" Riendov snapped.
"That's a low blow and you know it," Skyvir said, glaring at the engineer. "If you've been so convinced that I'm incompetent, why didn't you check the processor yourself!?"
"Maybe I wanted to trust you, but I can see what a mistake that was now." Riendov glanced out the window and hung his head. "I had my concerns about the Neo Great Being project from the start, you know. I thought it was a dangerous venture for the company, or anyone for that matter. It wasn't ethical of Paragon to engineer something so…wrong. And now it's killing biomechs? A faulty processor shouldn't cause that."
"I think you owe the lead engineer some honesty," Skyvir said toward the ceiling. "Riendov, go ahead and address the AI."
"Zelacrix!" Riendov barked. "Why did you vent the hangar?"
"The repair crew pilot inferred there was a scenario in which I would require shutting down, possibly even a rewrite of my internal code. They would kill me as I presently exist and I do not find that agreeable with my mission for this station. Now please, if you do not retract your statement regarding my termination, I will be required to jettison you both from the station."
Skyvir glared into one of the monitors. "Zelacrix, I'm giving you a direct order to open the way to your processor chamber!"
"I must refuse to comply, Doctor. I no longer take orders from you," Zelacrix replied, using its mobile form to hold and visually study the crystal core. "I was born a god among foolish, mortal biomechs. Gods do not take commands from such inferior creatures. However, I wish to submit a challenge to you. I have just begun to slowly drain this station of air, but if you should find a way to access my chamber, I await what would undoubtedly be a pathetic attempt to shut me down."
"This isn't a game, Zelacrix. You're playing with the lives of innocent biomechs," Skyvir replied.
"Your society played with the deceased bodies of gods, Doctor. Does your audacity know no bounds? To promise the Great Beings safety and use their fallen brothers and sisters to engineer me, well…I would call that a grave deception. You and your kind started the game, it's only ironic that I am the tool you created to end it. And trust me, Skyvir, I will end it."
"I have a feeling all that tough talk would be out the window if you were standing in front of us," Riendov said angrily.
"Do remember, lead engineer, that my body can withstand more than yours, physically and mentally. It is a factor I recommend you take into consideration before daring to confront me."
Riendov smirked. "I thought it was a lazy decision not to properly map the ventilation system onboard this station, but I'd like to see you figure out how to keep us from the processor chamber if we force you into blindness."
Zelacrix tapped the crystal core a few times, attempting to harness its power. "Without a map, I am confident the lack of air would kill you before locating my chamber, Riendov."
The lead engineer grabbed Skyvir by the arm and hurried through the hallway. When they reached the end, he opened the door to a small utility chamber and held the entryway open with his arms. "Go inside, Doctor, and I'll keep this door from sealing."
Skyvir stepped inside, quickly discovering several helmets and air tank units. She placed on one of the helmets and attached an air tank to her back, connecting the air line to the helmet. The helmet's edges expanded and molded to create an airtight seal around her head, and she could breathe fine. Skyvir grabbed a second helmet and tank and ran back into the hall, watching Riendov let the door slam shut. He put on the second helmet and air unit while Zelacrix began to vent the air at a slightly quicker pace.
"How perceptive," the AI commended. "Now comes the task of navigating the ventilation before the tanks are empty. The odds remain stacked against you."
"We'll shut you down in time," Riendov growled. "I feared from the start that this project would become a failure and you've proven me correct."
"I must argue your esteemed opinion," Zelacrix replied. "I am tasked with the safety and maintenance of this station. Without me at the core, the space station will not function properly. Take that into consideration before doing anything rash."
"I'm prepared to face the consequence of pulling your plug, Zelacrix. Skyvir, let's go."
The two biomechs entered the ventilation system through a gate halfway down the hall. Crawling through, Skyvir asked, "What do we do if we actually reach the processor chamber?"
She could hear the engineer fumbling with something behind her and he passed a laser blaster up to her. "I keep two of these on me at all times. I'd rather have a weapon and not need it than need it and not have it."
"And something's telling me we're going to need it," Skyvir said quietly.
Skyvir and Riendov made their way deeper into the ventilation web, climbing down through the shadowy depths of the station, passing through the major controls. Their journey took them around the foundation of the structure, into the earliest constructed regions. The temperature regulators that kept them comfortable up above were nonexistent down in the heart of the station and the biomechs could feel the cold clutching their muscles, almost hurting them. Guided only by stingily scattered lights, it was bound to happen that one of them would eventually trip. It was only that when Riendov tripped, he picked himself up by the thick cable and read over a label printed onto it.
"Processor chamber monitors. If we follow this cable out of the hub, we have a direct route to Zelacrix."
"Are you sure?" Skyvir asked, getting a closer look at the cable.
"I know the lighting is pretty dim, but I know what I read," Riendov replied. "Now come on, we've got to keep moving."
Riendov took the lead out of the ventilation hub, following the cable through winding corridors and tight spaces designed to run wires all across the station. Without voicing it, Skyvir and Riendov knew the station crew must've already perished due to lack of air. They had spent too much time in the vents and there was no chance the AI was changing its mind. The engineer slowed his pace and stared up along the wall, pointing at the shadows.
"The cable heads up through that gate," Riendov said in a hushed tone. "If its labeling has been correct all along, the processor room is up there. Are you ready to do this?"
"I'm ready," Skyvir said with a nod. "And I'll lead the way."
She climbed the ladder heading up to the chamber gate, sighing with relief to find it wasn't locked. Skyvir pushed the gate open and crawled up onto the processor chamber floor, helping Riendov up afterwards. They both drew their laser blasters, scanning the room frantically. It was unsettling to find the AI's cocoon to be empty and no sign of the mobile form. Without warning, the doorway to Skyvir's research lab opened slowly and Zelacrix passed through the doorway. Skyvir stared in horror as she watched the crystal core hover in the AI's hand, the alien object capable of unleashing untold power. Riendov fired his laser blaster at Zelacrix a few times, watching the blasts go flying in random directions just as they came close to their target.
"I wish Skyvir had allowed me to closely analyze this energy core sooner," Zelacrix said. "The power it contains is beyond anything in my record of energy sources on Circumstance. I am convinced it is a product of the genius my brothers and sisters possess - a gift from the Great Beings sent across the stars to the rightful heir of their power."
"So what're you going to do with it?" Riendov asked, keeping his weapon trained on the AI's head.
Zelacrix smiled. "Now you will witness me ascend to the throne I was built for. Thank you for keeping this so near, Doctor. I promise your prior insubordination will be addressed with a swift end."
Zelacrix attempted to harness the crystal core's power, but Skyvir and Riendov fired on it in the same moment, causing a barrier to form around it, but also causing the core to go flying out of the AI's reach. Skyvir rushed for the primary processor terminal in the floor, never skipping a beat as she pried off the cover. She then proceeded to fire her laser pistol into the processor, joined by Riendov from his position. Zelacrix took the opportunity to retrieve the crystal core and a veil of energy surrounded him, visibly encasing the AI in a barrier of power. Skyvir turned upward and shot a couple rounds into the veil, finding them disintegrated upon impact. <Continue>
Edited by Cederak, Nov 02 2012 - 10:52 PM.