War of the Cybernetics

War of the Cybernetics

image Roughly 20 lyren after the events of Araa Jale Maen, Ariel and Eridanus had fallen into a comfortable routine. With both of them being Guardians, their lives together were never boring. Eridanus had not only been reinstated but had also been given leadership of his own division, to monitor the timelines of other evolving species and to manipulate their developments accordingly. Ariel had returned to reconnaissance missions and battles that swept across the cosmos. Vast amounts of time apart rarely bothered them, though. Both were true soldiers who loved their work as much as each other and were content with the balance that they maintained. After a few months or years at home, each would be sent out on their own respective adventures. Upon completing their tasks, they would return to share the details of their wild experiences with each other. If Ariel arrived first, her habit was to wait for Eridanus in the crystalline parks of Acadia Minor, where they often went to relax and catch up.

After one such break - too short, Eridanus felt, although he was equally anxious to get back to work himself - Ariel was asked to take on an especially dangerous mission. A cybernetic race that dominated the planet R'aijha, located in a galaxy not far from the Aeradisphere, was growing far too powerful and destructive, murdering and enslaving more and more of their neighboring species and razing entire worlds in the process. Ariel was to visit one of the occupied planets, to assess the risk that the cybernetics posed. If action was necessary, she would put together a team to launch a crippling strike that would put an end to the problem.

image True to her nature, Ariel accepted the challenge without hesitation and was dispatched immediately. With no current assignment of his own, Eridanus was left on Acadia to wait for word of her progress. But months passed and Ariel did not return. She did not speak to him through the khejzmyn, nor had the Watchmen heard from her since her departure. The task should not have taken more than a month and Eridanus found himself - for the first time since meeting his soul mate - concerned for her well being. He went to the Council and demanded action, ordering a team to be sent to R'aijha at once, even offering to lead it himself. But the elders argued that any number of developments could have caused the delay and warned him to leave the matter alone, giving Ariel more time to complete her mission. The rogue warrior, happy to defy the Council, promptly took matters into his own hands and set out for the war-ridden galaxy.

Upon reaching the alien star sector, Eridanus tried to determine which planet Ariel would have chosen as her base of operations. Being her genetic counterpart, he knew her well enough to guess. His first stop was Cerebrek City, an advanced and extremely overpopulated metropolis where the cybernetics had originated, evolved and ultimately rebelled and conquered. It was no longer their central home world, inhabited primarily by the native Loclantes, but it was key to their history and was still patrolled by large squads who held the planet under martial law.

image For weeks, Eridanus investigated the city, following both factual leads and pure instinct, which eventually led him to more remote areas of the unhappy world. He came across many indications that Ariel had come the same way, including tales from locals of "a strange and powerful alien who came and went at will," or energy remnants from a recent jump. But every time that he thought himself to be closing in, the trail would fizzle out as if she had disappeared into thin air, and not in the usual Xilon way. It frustrated him and he grew more concerned with each passing day. Overpowering a Xilon was nearly impossible without a major advantage, and even then, keeping one prisoner was most certainly impossible given their ability to move through time and space. But what other explanation was there? The situation was truly baffling; it was time for some real answers.

image With a bit of determined searching, Eridanus managed to locate the core of the planet's resistance movement and was informed that the cybernetics had been conducting bizarre, unheard of experiments on the locals, abducting members of different species from the worlds that they had conquered to perform tests. The details were kept under lock and key but the concept involved hybridization of synthetic biology with flesh-and-blood beings. Pressing for anything else that the resistance could offer, Eridanus also learned that a great warrior had been in their midst not too long before. The stranger was said to be an alien much like himself, who had been staying near the city of Corthos, the central science hub of the cybernetics, which served as their home base for all research and experimentation and housed the mainframe that powered the entire race. About a month before, troops from Corthos had raided a nearby village for test subjects and had been quickly driven off by "the stranger," who fought like no one had ever seen and singehandedly defeated the attack party. The mysterious warrior had disappeared less than a week later but the locals assumed that she had simply moved on. After all, what could stop her?

Filled with more questions than answers now, Eridanus left the movement's underground hideout and travelled through the sewers back to Cerebrek. As a Xilon, he was not used to moving great distances on foot, but he felt that warping on-planet would be unwise in such an overpopulated region, and would draw unnecessary attention to the appearance of a new "stranger." What he needed most was the element of surprise. As he trudged through the filthy underground, mulling over the situation, coming up with one scenario after the next, Eridanus felt at a loss. If Ariel had fought off an entire raiding party, what could possibly have beaten her a second time? If an army came for her, she would have jumped off-world and gone home to update the Council, not stayed to chance the odds. None of it made sense.

image Lost in his thoughts, Eridanus failed to notice a cybernetic patrol coming straight towards him from the opposite end of the tunnel. Looking up to find himself surrounded, he wondered at his own lack of awareness, then smiled. A good fight was exactly what he was in the mood for, and maybe some of these machines would know something useful. As the patrol closed in, Eridanus whipped out his favorite axe and within moments, every one of the synthetic soldiers was reduced to a heap of metal on the ground. Only one was left barely alive, and it didn't take much for Eridanus to get what he needed. The wounded robot quickly revealed that after the incident in the desert village, the more advanced cybernetics had designed a device to lure and entrap the stranger, who was currently being held in one of the experimental labs in the main hub. "You're just like the other one," the survivor observed, pained. "They'll get you too. You have no idea what we're capable of." But Eridanus laughed in reply. "My friend, you have no idea what we are capable of." And with that, he slammed the axe down. The robotic head went flying and crashed into the opposite wall of the small enclosure, dropping back to the ground with a satisfying thud. Feeling energized, Eridanus holstered his weapon and changed direction, heading towards the city of Corthos.

image Meanwhile, miles away, deep within the metal walls of the city, Ariel was as bored as ever, just as she had been for the last month. She was in a large, industrial room, strapped to a device that seemed to block her ability to use throxin, leaving her unable to jump. While most beings would have been scared or disturbed by the situation, Ariel was merely inconvenienced and annoyed, but also fascinated by the beings she had come to observe. They were so much more than the Xilon had given them credit for. It was intriguing. As machines, it had taken them little time or effort after their first encounter to process the information on Ariel as a Xilon, and then to design and build a throxin-block. Over the last few weeks, they had used Ariel as a model to create a kind of hybrid, mixing their own mechanical anatomy with her unique DNA and hefty throxin extracts. Little time had passed before the new being was completed, conscious and fully functional. They had named it Kataryme Yaergyian Rate Armalon or, as Ariel liked to call it, Kyra, who was expected to be the first of many such "super beings;" certainly a huge step forward in their plans to expand and conquer the rest of the galaxy, and perhaps to go even further than that.

image However, the cybernetics had failed to predict one very important fact - the hybrid's primarily mechanical body could not successfully process the throxin, since the substance only existed naturally within Aeradian life forms, who were specifically designed by nature to handle the unimaginably powerful material. As a result, Kyra had no chronospacial abilities and constantly had to be replenished with new extracts from Ariel in order to function, since the throxin rapidly deteriorated and was rendered inert by the synthetic shell. Ariel was not thrilled to be stuck as a lab rat in metropolis, but was riveted by their experiments and equally anxious to see the hybrid's progress. Kyra was part machine, but it was also part Ariel, and the latter could not help but see it as a freak sister or even a child. There were obvious barriers, yet they connected on many levels as well since Kyra shared much of her genetic makeup. Of course, a massive conflict lay in the basic fact that Kyra was at war with itself. As a hybrid, it had been programmed to think and act a certain way by the cybernetics, but the powerful Xilon nature within it also seemed to dominate on and off. Kyra would not (or could not) defy the cybernetics but cared for Ariel and the local beings as well. It was a true stale mate, and Ariel hoped to swing the hybrid's inner battle in favor of the Xilon, even though she had had little luck so far.

One night, in the midst of the usual monotony that Ariel had come to expect from life as a prisoner, all hell broke loose. Metallic screams and explosions could be heard all over the city, getting closer and closer to her own location. A central power line shorted out, throwing the room into near darkness. Aside from Ariel's glow and the dim backup lights, nothing could be seen. It was the first time that the cameras were off and she and Kyra were truly alone. As curious as she was to know how things might have turned out, Ariel knew that there would be no other opportunity. She used the moment to break free from the anti-throxin device and led Kyra to the main laboratory doors. It would have been wiser to leave the hybrid and warp home, but now that she was free of the inhibitor, she could leave whenever she pleased, so there was no real danger in investigating what had caused the uproar. As her hand touched the sensor of the lab door, it seemed to explode from the outside and Eridanus crashed through. Dismembered cybernetic bodies lay strewn throughout the corridor and a broken robotic leg was gripped tightly in his hands.

As he burst into the room, the first thing that Eridanus did was go for the hybrid, but Ariel stepped in front. "Not this one," she said firmly. "I'll explain later. We should leave." The Acadian raised an eyebrow questioningly but did not argue. "Dryadakrain," was all he said before disappearing in a blinding flash of light. Ariel turned around to grab Kyra, locked her hand around the mechanical arm in a grip like a vice, and followed her mate to the barren border moon on the outskirts of Chrysalian.

image Later, as the two spoke in private, Ariel explained everything that had happened during the months she had been away. Kyra, meanwhile, wandered through the trophy room, examining the various weapons and mementos as Eridanus kept a close eye on the creature, watching its movements like a hawk, one hand always on the handle of his axe. By the time Ariel had finished telling her story, Eridanus had made up his mind. "That thing must be destroyed," he said, rising to his feet purposefully. But Ariel grabbed his wrist and yanked him back. "Not yet. I can't explain it to you but we have a connection." Eridanus shook his head. "Irrelevant. It's dangerous. Its existence is a threat to the progression of time." He moved towards the hybrid and again, Ariel jerked him backwards, nearly pulling him off his feet. "I know that it's not a Xilon, but it's part of me. It's got my genetic makeup. It's part us and part them, and I can't just let it be destroyed. It's an incredible creation."

In vain, Eridanus continued to argue that what the hybrid stood for was unnatural and logically couldn't survive, but Ariel stood her ground, insisting that it could be of use to them. "We'll have to return to Corthos soon, to put the species down. Kyra could be helpful. It could be used to take out the cybernetics and end their reign once and for all."

image After further discussion, Eridanus grudgingly agreed to leave the hybrid alone until they had spoken to Ariel's team. His mate called her soldiers to nearby Oceania to strategize and, while most of their peers reacted the same way as Eridanus had, they respected Ariel's decision and understood the need for secrecy in light of the hybrid's presence. If the Council found out about Kyra, they would order its immediate destruction. Tensions eased a bit when Kyra began to offer inside knowledge of the cybernetics, which enabled them to devise a simple, straightforward plan to knock out the mainframe in Corthos, theoretically causing a chain reaction that would short fuse every brain connected to it. None of them cared for the idea of genocide but the situation was a difficult one and the future of many races depended on the robots' extinction.

image After dividing their group into concentrated strike teams to hit the central hub with maximum impact, the small army moved out. Eridanus and Kyra accompanied Ariel's troop back to Corthos and immediately launched their attack. As her fellow warriors struck at the heart of the city, Ariel took Kyra to find the main laboratory responsible for the core of cybernetic experimentation. As Ariel used her internal energy to destroy every piece of machinery and all recorded research, to ensure that no one could pick up where the doomed species had left off, her hybrid companion quietly strolled over to one of the central ports and plugged itself in. Feeling that something was off, Ariel stopped what she was doing and slowly approached Kyra, who informed her that it was notifying the cybernetic army of the invading Xilon, giving over all pertinent details of their plans and positions, and that the army was moving in to ambush them in the city's center. Ariel was not surprised. She understood that while Kyra had no desire to betray her or the Xilon, it was first and foremost a cybernetic, and its most basic programming would naturally be loyalty to the race that had created it.

image Removing its arm from the port, Kyra turned on Ariel, weapons raised as a roar of noise sounded out from the corridor. "They're coming," it said softly. "The experiment must be completed." As if on cue, the massive door behind them was blasted off its hinges and Ariel's entire team stormed into the chamber. The hybrid turned in surprise but had less than a second to process the scene before Eridanus stepped forward and blasted it across the room. Then, without hesitation, he strode over to the chamber's central port and used a dismembered mechnical arm to access the mainframe. As her mate worked, Ariel crossed the room to kneel by Kyra, whose motor functions had been almost entirely disabled by the blast. "How did you know that I would do that?" the hybrid asked. "I didn't know I would do that." Ariel smiled gently. "We wanted to believe otherwise but had to be prepared. We expected this outcome, so we had the teams plan an ambush of their own." Kyra nodded weakly, half-relieved that its betrayal had backfired. "I'm sorry." Ariel shook her head. "Don't be. You're one of a kind and I'm proud to call you family." As she spoke, Ariel slid her hand under Kyra's head to grip its central power source at the base of the neck. Before the words had left her mouth, the power source was on the floor at her feet, unplugged. The hybrid would not wake up again.

image When the battle was over and a new team had been dispatched from Acadia to pick up the pieces and assist the confused locals, Ariel and Eridanus returned and sat together in the crystalline gardens, talking over all that had taken place. Eventually, their thoughts turned to Kyra. "You were right," Ariel admitted. "Something like that shouldn't exist. It would have ruined the timelines. What happened last night was always going to happen." Eridanus sighed, noting her remorseful tone. "I'm sorry that it was so, and that you feel such regret. I suppose I understand your fascination, though. Even if the cybernetics' experiments were wrong, unnatural and very, very dangerous, there is a part of me that would have liked to see where it led. In another universe, it would have been interesting to see what may have come of it. But as it is, I suppose we'll just have to wonder."

Ariel nodded and leaned back against the crystal tree behind her. "Such as it is, yes." She drifted off into thought, then smiled. "Maybe next time."

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