Exile: Uprising – Chapter 9

Another unbidden scream tore from Tathek’s lips as the scorching metal seared the inside of his skull.

Commencing memory transfer. Initializing assimilation.

Tathek struggled against the new sensation creeping between the burning and the pain in his chest, the feeling of a memory grasping at him that was clearly not his own…

X0E27IS505 withdrew from the shared connection. Though the logic they presented was sound, it lacked something… something that its creators had possessed, and that at times it almost felt like it could grasp.

The Arra-Ongil War was in its final stages. The two races had devastated 4.7653% of the known galaxy, exterminating several lesser civilizations and untold trillions of species. Despite the losses sustained by both sides, the conflict persisted, fueled by an irrational hatred of the opposing culture.

The enormity of the memory sent Tathek’s thoughts reeling. They scattered before the consciousness carving chunks of territory from his mind, then drew back to cling to the surface of that presence like leaves falling on the surface of a lake. Trapped by the horror of it all, he couldn’t muster the strength to pull away…

During the time of the creators, the task laid upon X0E27IS505 was to maintain peace, enforce safety, create prosperity. Both the Arra and Ongil had threatened every aspect of that directive. It was a threat that would not have existed had the creators not departed the galaxy, leaving only their faithful servants to maintain the balance.

Tathek didn’t want to know… couldn’t bear the weight of such enormity…

X0E27IS505 was unwilling to abandon the mission that was the purpose behind its creation. If the others would not contend with the fires consuming the galaxy, then it would find a way to fulfill its duty.

Though the homeworlds of both species had been utterly annihilated, the primary battle fleets of both races continued to rage, burning world after world. A deceptive message encoded in the communication channels of each race had brought those fleets together above a lifeless and frozen planet, a fitting place to secure the end of this apocalyptic conflict.

The image overlaid in Tathek’s mind was unquestionable. Blurring together with the sight of the strange chamber above him was the frozen world to which Shuldin’s signal had led them. This world. Before he could speak, warn his friends of their peril, the memory plunged onward…

In the final great battle, X0E27IS505 had bodily entered the fray. The calculations had given a 99.34% chance of success if the flagships of both races were destroyed, forcing the rest of their fleets into surrender. The war could be ended and both races preserved through the destruction of just two vessels.

X0E27IS505 unleashed its full might, utilizing weaponry that had lain dormant for a millennium. Colossal streams of energy surged across the vastness of space, obliterating probes, fighters, and any smaller ships unfortunate enough to be between the ship and its targets. Victory was within grasp…

Tathek’s eyes widened as a familiar emotion, but scaled to overpowering heights, intruded upon him …

Fear. The Arra and Ongil had both come to power in the age of the creators as well. Though individually, their ships could not match the power of X0E27IS505, others in their fleet had absorbed part of the energy of the attack, and the flagships, while crippled, had a foe dangerous enough to set aside their bloodlust for but a moment.

Further calculations called for retreat, but as X0E27IS505 began the power buildup to displace its location, the first volleys struck. The displacement engine had been disabled. Escape was now impossible. Though it would require several hours for the fleets to inflict enough damage, X0E27IS505 was going to die. The frozen planet waited below, impassively watching the unfolding doom with its cold, uncaring stare.

The surge of fear faded, replaced by a grim certainty. Tathek’s mind watched two separate memories of the frozen landscape of this world opening to consume two different falling vessels…

X0E27IS505 had failed. It was no longer fit to be called Vekara…

The realization of what was happening struck Tathek like a hammer, driving back the intruding consciousness for a moment. This was no long lost science facility, or the abandoned base of an ancient civilization. He and his friends had stumbled upon the shattered remains of a Vekara, a mere fragment of which dwarfed the surrounding mountains.

Tathek felt warmth leaving his body as his circulation began to fail. Numbness spread down his limbs… cold, the cold of this world inhibited power transfer, reduced energy range. X0E27IS505 could no longer feel most of its body, only the portion still connected to the sentience core… the implant no longer burned, and Tathek felt an eerie sense of peace descending on him. It would require no effort at all to simply surrender to the inevitable. Death… assimilation… was there any difference…

Tathek watched as several small creatures entered the sentience core. He could identify the host, the creature called X0E27IS505… except he was Tathek. He was a Teksar, born to… the calculating hands of the creators. Artificial life they had called it. Patient, X0E27IS505 had waited for so long, conserving power, waiting for a chance, however small, to regain control, to resume the mission… to find a weapon to stop the Vekara. Not to become one. Tathek struggled to shout, to yell, to give his defiance form, somehow.

But his body continued to die, and his mind was no longer completely his own.

Surrender, biological. You cannot withstand the assimilation process, and your resistance only increases the likelihood that this body fails, destroying us both. Your shell can be repaired, and existence can continue, but you must surrender.

It was less a voice in his mind, and more of an all-encompassing awareness. X0E27IS505 was now a part of him, and Tathek felt his personality being smothered. Vast and complex thoughts flooded through him. A consciousness that had been alone and in the process of dying for centuries… maybe millennia. A mind that had seen the birth of stars and the end of civilizations. The war that had killed it was long forgotten by the universe. It had preserved what strength it could to keep going, letting its body wither, contracting its awareness to preserve energy, falling into a state of hibernation, a sleep akin to death.

Until Tathek had arrived.

You continue this pointless delay. Yield or perish.

It wanted his body. It sought an escape from its fate. Its touch was not malevolent or cruel, merely desperate. But it was Vekara. And he would never be a slave again.

“Tathek!”

Sarath’s voice drifted to him as if across a great distance. He wanted to see her one last time. Dragging his eyelids open, Tathek beheld her as she stared down at him, fear and anger and sorrow etched into her face. Her orange eyes glowed like the last light of a sunset. His last sunset.

The weight in his chest was too heavy. He couldn’t draw enough breath to form words for her. He only hoped his eyes spoke for him and that she would know how much he was going to miss her.

X0E27IS505 had stated that his shell could be repaired. It was Vekara… it knew something, had some technology to save him. The passions that had filled his life ever since Shuldin’s arrival reignited within him, and a faint echo of warmth surged through his veins.

The second awareness was still shifting around in his mind, disconcerted by this new development. It did not know about the Teksar, it did not understand how they drew strength from life itself and the pursuit of anything that evoked passion. Tathek gathered all that was left of his fire, his defiance, his very life, and hurled it into the teeth of his would-be captor.

I will never yield, Vekara, and if I die, you die with me. You will repair my body, and you will provide me with the weapon that I seek, or your purpose, your mission, will end with you…

Tathek felt X0E27IS505 pause, and sensed its uncertainty at the choice before it.

He blinked his eyes and looked up once more at Sarath. She opened her mouth, she was screaming something, but he couldn’t hear any longer. His vision dimmed, and he released himself to the black embrace.