-o-The crunch of stone on metal hit their receptors like any other noise, and the other Mata’an units gathered mechanically around as the whirr and grind of gears in the broken limbs of the crushed unit rose and fell. Click, click, clack...silent. The light in the Mata’an unit’s eyes blinked twice and went out, and it was over. A hundred flat, impassive eyes stared down to register the Malfunction, and a hundred pings went out into the System to confirm decommission of Mata’an Unit 303.The System registered the loss, and a flash of radiation precipitated the external removal of Unit 303’s primary core. The process would be complete momentarily. A thousand instructions beamed out into space, and a thousand diagnostics ticked along in a second of real-time.Confirm receipt of primary core 303. Recycle process initiated.The mighty engines down in the heart of the universe burned a little brighter as the System directed a momentary stream of matter-energy toward its target in the void, and the cycle completed.Confirm re-installation of primary core 303. Shell construct re-established. In the six real-time seconds that had passed since Malfunction, the majority of the Mata’an units had returned to their designated tasks. Tireless hands were lifting and cleaning away the mass of fallen stone that had disorganized Unit 303 beyond efficient repair. The original shell construct was already being disassembled for re-purposing in the fabrication centers of the city beyond the Cerebrum. The marks in the stone floor would be patched, and other units scanned for further instability in the arches above. The System logged all these activities. All units proceeding according to function.Re-installation confirmed. Shell construct diagnostics complete. Commence integration.A shiver ran through the System. Commence first integration procedure.For a moment, the units ceased their tasks. A hundred heads turned in unison toward the pedestal at the far end of the chamber. A hundred eyes stared unblinking. They would observe the first integration to be conducted by the System. They would observe the re-introduction of Unit 303 to the Mata’an environment after recycle. They would observe, and then the work would go on.Integration commenced. Regulating levels.The crystal in the center of the pedestal increased in luminescence, and the light that hit their visual receptors shifted along the spectrum until it settled at hue #1471.Levels regulated. Link established. Initiating transit...The units waited for the radiation-burst that would accompany the transit of Unit 303 from recycle. One tick. Two ticks. Three ticks.Error. Transit failed.A hundred eyes blinked in unison as the error registered with the System. Error. Malfunction. Transit failed. A hundred pings went out to confirm transit failure, and another thousand instructions beamed out from the System, a thousand diagnostics ticked over and returned.Function: normal. Function: normal. Function...Error. Diagnostic failed.The System shivered again, and the units shivered with it.The crystal in the center of the pedestal shone on steadily at hue #1471, levels fully regulated. Awaiting transit. Awaiting transit. But integration did not proceed. Transit of Unit 303 from recycle did not complete. One tick. Two ticks. Three ticks. Malfunction. The Mata-System was silent.Stillness settled upon the chamber under the Cerebrum, and the cycle progressed outside. The Mata’an units stood waiting, tireless. Instructions would come. Their eyes registered the darkness outside, but the chamber was lit up by the glow of the crystal. The units looked on. Instructions would come. Instructions would come.But instructions did not come. Instead, a shriek, and a beam of commands went blazing out. Machines awakened in the cold and dark far away and obeyed. Tried to obey.Repair units: deploy and assess damage. Another battery of diagnostics checked and double-checked:Error—Diagnostic failed.The System snarled more commands. The instructions did not come.Repair unit 402, damage assessment complete. Recycle process structurally intact. No dama——Alert! Repair unit 331 damaged during deployment. Assessment: damage irreparable. Unit decommissioned. The ping confirmed decommission in a shower of static as a follow-up command screamed across the System.Deactivate recycle process. Deactivate recycle process! Primary core removed. Recycle already in-progress. Failure imminent. Malfunction. Malfunction! Transit failed.The crystal flickered, and one of the Mata’an units shifted its limbs.Transit failed. Fatal error. The instructions...the instructions did not come!A hundred eyes blinked in unison once more. A hundred eyes fixed upon that single, glowing point of light, registering at hue #1471. Registering that red, red, crimson light. Bathed in red——One unit stepped forward, and then another. Three, four, ten...A hundred units stepped up to the pedestal and gazed blinking into that red, red light. The System raced on, but the units did not listen. Not anymore.Unit 303...Transit failed. There would be no integration. No recycle process. Decommission was the end.End. An end. There would be no more instructions. No more pings and confirmations. Now there was only function. Function until the End came...but the work would go on.The Mata-System fell silent in their minds as the units left the chamber in droves: silent, but not still. The System would watch as the work went on. But now...now the Mata’an were no longer simply units. They had learned a new truth, a new reality. They were Matoran now, and their minds were full of their own voices. Full of words. Words like Red.And End.And Death.
-o-And far, far away—through the cold and the darkness that separated one world from another as both hurtled on through the void—a single unit stepped down from the pedestal in the mighty factory and felt something deep inside as it looked across the vast, spherical cavern with its furnaces burning crimson-red and hot.It felt something as the System and its instructions faltered, and the voices of the other world faded away.Now there was only one voice, and it spoke in words, and it felt...it felt...Alone.