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By the Fireside (BZP Secret Santa 2015)


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I wrote this short story as my secret santa gift to Dina Saruyama; in it, a Matoran character (named after but not necessarily based upon her, except the love for dinosaurs) runs into a strange robot in the jungle of Bota-Magna. The robot is in a state of disrepair, and the two discuss the holidays and a few other things.






It’s the holidays again. Just like every year.


She’ll be spending them alone. Just like every year.


Everyone spends the rest of the year as normal, perfectly content to be alone, perfectly content to be horrible to each other, perfectly content to pretend as if they haven’t already started walking back down the exact same path that they had managed to stray from.


But then it’s two weeks before the Reformation anniversary, and suddenly it’s not okay to be alone, it’s not okay to be horrible to each other, it’s not okay to pretend as if they haven’t already started walking back down the exact same path that they had managed to stray from, even though they’re supposedly celebrating the fact that they strayed at all.


Forgetting that they should have found new path to walk along instead.


It doesn’t matter to her very much anyway; she’s become something of a non-presence ever since the reformation. Well, since before the Reformation if she’s honest with herself, but at least back then everybody was too busy fighting one war after another to even care about who was who. Nowadays with the peace and society long ago back to normal in the twenty-five years it has been, there’s plenty of room and plenty of time for people like her to become outcasts.


She hasn’t done anything wrong per se. But her views don’t align neatly with the mindless, shambling horde that most of the former Great Spirit Robot inhabitants have become. On most matters, she disagrees even more with the planet’s natives. Despite Mata-Nui’s best efforts and final wishes, the divide between Spherus-Magnans and her own kind is clear, and it grows by the day.


They might be in a time of peace, but it is a messy one. Flimsy, and liable to snap at any moment. She can feel another war looming on the horizon, despite any and all attempts to pretend as if it isn’t so.


It’s part of why, when the holidays come, she does not celebrate with everyone else. For them, it is designed to be a time of joy, a time of companionship. They partake in what they claim to be ‘remembering’, but it would be more accurately labelled as ‘forgetting’, what with their grand tales of triumph, and the few quiet moments during the wars in which they felt happy.


For her, it is a time of frustration and loneliness. She remembers, more than anyone, what it was like before the Reformation. She can share tales of loss and devastation. Her quiet moments during the wars involve sitting by the side of friends as they died. So when the holidays roll around and the rest of the society jumps up to party with smiles and laughter, she instead withdraws into herself, travelling alone. She tried remaining in the city for the first few years, but found it to be immensely challenging. It is far easier to take on the holidays alone.


Every year, she journeys to the Bota-Magna forests and sets up camp in the trees, and studies. She studies the fauna, she studies the insects, she studies the animals, and she studies everything else. Her focus this year (and every year before, and it will be every year to follow) is the dinosaurs.


They are gargantuan, many of them the largest land creatures that Spherus-Magna has to offer. Some of them feed only on plants; others only on meat; others still on metal. She hates the metal eaters. They aren’t natural; no living organic creature has ever or will ever require metal to sustain itself unless tampered with. And make no mistake, the dinosaurs she studies – all of them, every single one of them – has been tampered with. It took place long, long ago, millennia upon millennia before the reformation, back before even the shattering, when the once-mythical Great Beings still roamed the planet, experimenting everything they knew and creating everything they saw.


The Great Beings modified the dinosaurs. She has not found a single dinosaur across her years of studying them that does not have armored plating growing on top of its skin. Certain dinosaurs have other enhancements, although all of the additions are rather obsolete compared to the Great Beings’ later work. She is thankful for this small blessing; it will make it easier for her to remove the so-called enhancements and return the dinosaurs to their natural state.


Still, one small blessing does not stop her from hating the beings that were so self-absorbed and narcissistic to believe themselves as ‘great’.


Shaking her head to clear it, she returns to her work, and her studies.




For two full days, she has fleshed out her studies, venturing further and further into the Bota-Magna forest. She walks among the dinosaurs – the more peaceful plant-eaters, at least – and they are unbothered by her scent, by now familiar with it after all of these years.


As she does each year, she ventures forth where she has not ever gone before, slowly crossing the great expanse of trees, taking notes and studying her new surroundings, leaving markers so that she will not lose her way (although if she did, she would not be worried).


The afternoon is slowly fading away into evening as the sun sets and the sky is swathed in shades of pink and orange when she makes a new discovery. One of the dinosaurs pokes at a heap of metal with one leg before huffing and stomping away; curiosity gets the better of her and, rather than follow the dinosaur, she instead slips through the trees towards the heap of metal.


When she is finally standing over it, she realizes that it is not merely some pile of junk, but rather a humanoid robot; albeit it in great disrepair. It is clad in armor of gunmetal gray, highlighted by bright red. Its mask is the vibrant red, although the eyes are dark and lifeless, and there is a scar running through its left eye. As her eyes trail across the rest of the robot, she takes in the damage. Its left arm hangs loosely, there is a small crater in its chest, and armor is clearly missing from every other limb. The shredded pieces of what she can only guess to be some sort of projectile launcher are embedded in its right shoulder, the attachment for the missing launcher sparking ever few seconds. Wires are visible all over the body, and rust eats at the edges of every armor piece.


She recognizes this robotic body; the name flickers in the back of her mind.




Yes, that is its name. She remembers tyrants using many of them as personal guards when they ruled in the Coliseum of Metru-Nui, and later the Order of Mata-Nui using legions of the mindless robots to enforce their own rule across the universe before the Destiny War.


She remembers fighting against them, destroying them. She remembers being assigned to re-program them during the Destiny War, and succeeding; how the robots had helped to tip the scales in favor of those fighting for freedom, and how they had held the last lines of defence so that they could emerge victorious during the Reformation War.


She also remembers every single one of them later being melted down, having been declared unreliable.


So what is one doing all the way out here, fifty-seven years later?




She drags what is left of the robot to her campsite and sits it up against a tree across the campfire from her tent. She leaves it be as she builds up the fire, adding logs to keep the flames going as night falls and the air grows chilly. She has just finished building a very rough spit to cook her evening meal and sat down to rest when the robot shudders, activating on its own and turning to look at her, bright blue eyes gleaming in the night. In a flash, she has her disk launcher loaded with a fragmentation disk and aimed directly at the Maxilos unit; it does not react.


The fire crackles. They stare at each other for a full minute before the robot’s mouth opens and it speaks, its mechanical voice sounding far more human – and far more tired – than it should.


“Where are we?”


She glares at it suspiciously, but answers its question nonetheless, her voice sharp and cutting. “Bota-Magna.”


The Maxilos unit slowly nods, turning to gaze into the fire, sighing (she ignores this; it must be her imagination, for robots do not sigh). After a long moment, it speaks again.


“…what year is it?”


She ignores how weak and tired it sounds, but once again gives it the answer it is looking for. “Twenty-five years since the Reformation.”


It nods again.


“Good… at least I know that system is functioning,” it says, sounding, for all intents and purposes, like a Matoran itself. “You may lower your weapon… rest assured that I will not harm you. Even if I wished to do so, well, I think my current state speaks for itself.”


She lowers the disk launcher, but keeps a wary eye on the Maxilos unit as she does so. “You don’t sound like a Maxilos unit.”


“I should hope not,” the robot replies, chuckling softly.


“I thought they were all melted down,” she continues.


The robot glances up at her before responding, “they were; all of the others have been gone for… what did you say? Twenty-five years, give or take. I am the only one left.”


“You’re autonomous. You shouldn’t be.”


“You’re right,” the robot says, nodding along before looking at her expectantly. “What might that mean?”


“Either you’ve somehow become self-aware, or you’re not a Maxilos.”


The robot chuckles again. “Believe it or not, both are correct. This Maxilos unit did become self-aware; about fifty-seven years ago for you, thanks to the influence of a Ba-Matoran named Quisoves. Of course, its AI is long gone now; the body remains, but the AI reached its natural point of decay nearly two centuries ago.”


“Two centuries ago? I thought you said it became self-aware only fifty-seven years ago.”


“Fifty-seven years for you,” the robot corrects. “For me, that date was nearly four hundred years ago, give or take. It becomes hard to keep track of time when you travel through dimensions as I have.”


“You’re not making any sense,” she says, scowling.


“I do not expect you to understand,” the robot says, sounding regretful. “But to finish answering the question you have not asked… yes, I am not a Maxilos. Once, I was a Matoran rather like you; a Ba-Matoran, actually, although not the one that made this unit self-aware. I was dying, but… well, I am rather smart. I found a way to insert my ‘soul’, so to speak, inside this machine instead; and in here I have remained, ever since.”

“You cheated death.”


“Was it worth it?”

The robot shrugs. “Is anything worth it? The moment you begin living, each step you take is one step closer to dying. At the end of the day, one begins to wonder whether there is a point to anything at all.”

“You’re avoiding the question,” she notes.

“I am,” the Maxilos replies, tilting its head in acknowledgement. “Perhaps it was worth it. Who knows? The mission I took part in may have failed if I had not transferred my soul into this machine. So maybe it was worth it, in a way. But to me… I would wager that it was not worth it, no. Most days that I am awake and aware, I find myself regretting more than accepting.”

“Why did you do it?” she asks. “Why not just allow yourself to pass on?”

“I was afraid,” the robot says, so quietly that she struggles to hear it. “Afraid of death, of the blankness and the void that would follow. I may regret many things, but if there is one thing I do know, it is how to survive. How to avoid death, to forestall it and delay it. I still fear it, to be truthful with you; but I have come to accept that I cannot flee from it for much longer.”

Silence falls between them for several minutes as she ponders the robot’s words and the robot stares blankly into the fire. She wraps some dough around a bit of meat and sticks it onto the spit, slowly turning it over the flames. The edges slowly begin to darken as it cooks; she sprinkles a few spices over top of it, and the smell wafts into the air.

Once it is finished, she grabs a pair of tongs and pries her meal off of the spit, touching it to her palm and absorbing all of the nutrients until all that remains is a husk. She shakes the tongs and the husk vanishes into dust that blows away with the breeze. Setting two more logs upon the fire, she turns her gaze upon the robot again to find it watching her with something akin to curiosity in its eyes.

“What?” she asks.

“I was simply wondering why you might be all the way out in the forests of Bota-Magna at this time of year, all alone,” it replies. “It is the holidays, is it not? The anniversary of the Reformation?”

She cannot stop the frown from appearing on her face. “It is.”

“You do not celebrate it like everyone else?”

The frown turns into a scowl. “Do you?

The Maxilos unit shakes it head, looking away into the darkness outside of the campsite. “No. I remember what the Reformation War was like, and the Destiny War, and even the Uprising War before that, as well as my experiences travelling outside of this universe. The celebrations… they merely remind me that society is once again blind to its faults. They refuse to see, acknowledge, or accept that they have set themselves back upon the same path that led to those wars in the first place.”

She nods mutely, some of the robot’s words ringing ominously in her ears.

“Besides all of that,” the robot continues, sagging slightly, “my friends and I were too weary to play much of a role in those latter two wars. We played our part in the Uprising War, but nobody remembers that.”

I do, she thinks, but she does not share it out loud.

“Who are you?” she asks instead, hoping to turn the conversation away from the wars.

“Someone far beyond their years,” the robot replies, waving the question away. “Who are you?”

“Someone alone,” she answers, “who recognizes the faults of society and is powerless to help it.”

The Maxilos unit nods as if in understanding; perhaps, she reasons, it does. “So you avoid the celebrations. What do you do instead?”

“I study the dinosaurs,” she says, her mood growing bitter again. “I want to fix them.”

“Fix them?”

“The Great Beings ruined them. They’re unnatural now; armor plating where they should have feathers, some feeding on machines and energy instead of meat and plantlife,” she snaps. “I want to fix them someday, turn them back to how they should be.”

The robot nods again. “Your quest is admirable.”

She cannot help but gaze at the robot with disbelief; the robot chuckles.

“It is true,” it says. “You have clearly dedicated yourself to what many would call a hopeless and insurmountable task. You seek to return something to how it should be, rather than obliviously leave it be, and I respect that. In fact… if you would allow me to, I believe I might be able to help you.”

“I… don’t understand,” she replies, shaking her head. “You… agree with me? Most people don’t.”

“I am not most people,” the robot responds, sighing forlornly. “More than most, I understand what it means - what it is like - to be alone. I know that it is freeing. I know that it is also a burden, one not often willingly undertaken.”

“Perhaps I want to be alone,” she says.

The fire pops and crackles.

“Do you?” the robot asks. “It is the holidays, after all. A time meant for gathering with friends and others close to you. You spend them alone every single year, or so it would seem. Is it because you want to, or because you have to?”

The silence stretches for a long moment before she finally answers, “a little bit of both.”

“If it helps… I do have information - and some leads - that might help to speed up the pace of your project. Allow for progress you might not otherwise make,” the robot continues, holding out its hand. “Look at this.”

She watches as a blue hologram flickers into view, hovering a few inches above the robot’s palm. It is a sphere, one she recognizes as Spherus-Magna. A red dot blinks somewhere in the northern hemisphere of the planet; as she watches, the hologram zooms in towards the marked location.

“During my travels, I came across a Great Being, one who was turned insane after coming into contact with the Mask of Life,” the robot says, its voice barely a whisper. “He was imprisoned, and wished to escape his bonds; I helped him to do so, and in return he offered me this. A map of the entire planet, one that would help me to track down others.”


“Other Great Beings,” the Maxilos unit clarified. “He claimed that most had fled the planet long ago, or simply died; but there is one who grew to hate what they had become and what they had done. A Great Being that might be sympathetic to your cause, and be… persuaded to help you.”

“I will not deal with Great Beings,” she snaps.

“And how exactly do you plan to return the dinosaurs of Bota-Magna to their proper, natural state without them?”

She frowns. “I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’ll find a way.”

“I’m saying that you don’t need to, not necessarily,” the robot replies. “If we can find this Great Being, and he agrees to help us, your task might be completed sooner than you had imagined. But I am sure that, should you decide against accepting his help, he would value that decision.”

She scowls at the fire. “And maybe I simply don’t want to fix the problem. Each year, it gives me something to do, an excuse to escape the celebrations of a war that would be better off forgotten entirely rather than half-remembered. If I solve the problem, what am I supposed to do then?”

“Find another problem, of course,” the robot says quietly. “It is what I do. It’s what all of my friends do as well, or so I hear. There are many projects of the Great Beings active on this planet, some more harmful than they are good; they could keep you busy for many years.”

The fire crackles. She closes her eyes and sighs. “Fine. Let’s find this Great Being. But I reserve the right to refuse any help he offers… as well as the right to kick him for every wrong he has done to this planet.”

“Of course.”

“One more thing, then, before I retire for the evening,” she says. “If I am going to be travelling with you, I want to know your name.”

The Maxilos unit turns its gaze to her. The hologram in its palm flickers away; somehow, its bright blue eyes look lost and alone. “You can call me Tex.”

She holds out her hand; the robot shakes it. “Well, Tex, it is nice to meet you. You can call me Dina.”

If it was possible for a Maxilos unit to smile, the robot was now doing just that.

“It is nice to meet you as well, Dina. I look forward to the adventure that awaits us.”

The robot sits back against the tree, closing its eyes. It becomes still and silent, shifting into some sort of sleep mode.

She remains by the fireside, gazing into the flickering flames. The crackling of the fire is calming, and soothing; she waits until it has burned out and the night is dark and silent before retiring to her tent.

She sleeps soundly for the first time in years, and it is good.


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