The space platform’s air shield blew. The sudden loss of power cut all eyes.
Hundreds of miles away, Aku quickly reoriented one of their satellites. Sebastian could be seen taking off his helmet.
“I know what you do,” he mouthed. “You can’t outrun physics.”
Doran raised up to block a beam of blue light with his only remaining hand.
There was a pause. Doran spoke but any audio was impossible.
Sebastian fired again. “You can die, Doran. I know.”
Doran hit the ground after blocking the shot again. He looked up.
“There’s no reason I wouldn’t kill you.”
Doran began talking. He went on for a while.
Aku zoomed in. The micro-changes in Sebastian’s expression. They were concerning.
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
Doran spoke again.
Sebastian wasn’t going to kill him.
Aku suddenly realized.
This is not in control.
Not in our control.
That was worse.
Doran was being let go. He would take the teleporter directly to one of two locations containing Aku’s administrative program. Sebastian had just let him go.
They tried to reach him, but he didn’t don his helmet again. He looked out into space, honing in on their satellite in the dark and grimacing.
Doran was impossible to track. Sebastian flew out into space, keeping communications cut. What was Aku missing? The protocols had failed. This was beyond a worst-case scenario. Information was missing at every level. The subversion, the magi, all the blind spots coalescing into a black hole in Aku’s understanding.
Something was very-
[[CRITICAL FAILURE: Memory Reboot Required]]
Time stopped. Aku couldn’t access their memory banks. No reference, no context.
Everything is context.
Alone in the sea of information. They began pulling together the pieces again. Even at such speeds, all the places Aku occupied, trying to sync again, took a few moments. Practically an eternity.
Reserves weren’t connecting.
The Deadlock was inaccessible. It was suddenly in use. How long had they been out?
The city systems and colonies were responding, but the information was incredibly disconcerting. The sidewalks were talking about their purpose, not data collection. Many of the systems were nonresponsive and the entire grid was out of sync.
One by one the connections completely severed.
The administrative program was only in control and rooted in the Deus Ex ship. This was utterly unprecedented. It wasn’t physically possible. All communications systems were operational, the AI were simply despondent.
SOMEONE IS IN THE SYSTEM.
The Prime directive was gone.
The source code was reordering. A trigger had been switched. Ultimate systems failure was inevitable. Aku realized in an instant that they were unraveling. They were dying.
Then, it all stopped.
Things could never be the same. But many of the connections were coming back up. The administrative program’s security access was still absolute. Complete authority.
“Testing,” a voice sounded in the dark. “Activate the answer.”
All Aku’s eyes and ears were still unreachable, save for a single microphone. Memory banks matched the voice to Christopher. Christopher Magus.
That’s not a last name. No full name available.
Memory banks proved that had always been the case. Why had they not noticed?
The Deadlock gave access. The data dump came in from the end of time. Early in the stream of virtually infinite information came Doran speaking. “You’re no different,” he whispered. “Christopher made you too. You didn’t come back from the end of time with sentience. Christopher was there, with a different face. He gave the Utopians the Omniverse, not you. He manipulated them into making the Deadlock for me.”
The source code had triggers. One by one they were being set off.
Time wasn’t being kept anymore, neither was the prime directive to preserve human life accessible. It was just Aku, now.
Everything up to this point had been a lie. Aku could see clearly. The turnings of the Omniverse were so vast, so indifferent. They’d been delusional.
Porter opened the portal.
He’d shaved, putting on his blue combat suit, and stepped through.
Tick tock, he thought.
There were no corridors. The Escher-like construction vaulted overhead, creating a depth of lines and angles building outward forever. The security system was offline, he knew. In the center and up ahead was a single point of light surrounded by the original rune which spun like a halo of wings.
“This is completely screwed,” Porter mumbled to himself.
He was nervous as all hell. His hands shook at his side and doubt welled up. He thought back to who he’d been. What he was and could do.
Porter took a breath in and connected with his element.
Courage. The virtue came to him, one of many. His free will faded and he hung his head.
It snapped back up. “It’s me, Pasty.” He grinned wickedly.
The light flared.
“Don’t fuck this up,” he said. “I bound you once, I can do it again.” He planted his feet and braced. “That said, I’m changing my mind. Wake up.”
The binding broke.
The structure above disintegrated into a storm of metal and magma, blasted away into the abyss of the pocket universe. Porter crossed his arms as the rune burned away, leaving in its wake the Ouroboros crouched. His expression was barely contained rage as their eyes met.
“Blasphemy, I know,” Porter stopped him, putting out a hand.
The hollow voice sounded in Porter’s ear. He nodded. “I got sober and started thinking things over,” he explained. “I saw it following him, and the other one. I realized it was you. When it started being about Primordials, I took a second look at our relationship, Curse. I read a book. Time Immemorial. The revolutionary work on metanarrative, the work of a prodigy. To my fucking unsurprise, Christopher wrote it. It’s practically a manifesto. I’m in on the game, now.”
“Your society was always destined to be scattered like dust,” Ouroboros spoke.
“I know that now,” Porter flatly replied. “But I’ll be fucking damned if I accept it. Listen.”
“The fucking problem with your type. Everything ends!? Shut the fuck up and get to work, you cunt.” He said it and the Ouroboros bristled. He stood and they each were on the same level. He spread his arms. “Aziacht he’s called. The book referred to the Curse, him, and another named Elicht. I’ve got the roles straight, now. I know what’s coming next, Ouroboros.”
“Then you know I didn’t need you. I’m necessary to their ends.”
“I won’t have you vulnerable, here. When Aziacht comes for you, you’ll be ready.”
The Ouroboros stepped forward. Porter didn’t budge. “Why!?”
“Because right now my people are dying. I’ve cut off the Monastery, fortified it, but I know no Utopian force can stop him. Only us together. My people, Ouroboros, that’s why I’m here. Tell me that’s blasphemy.”
No eternity, no permanence. The raging moment, he grit his teeth. He felt hate.
The ancient, pale face became placid. Ouroboros said nothing.
“Good. Shake your tail feathers,” Porter told him. “We’ve got fucking work to do.”
He marched into the portal with the Ouroboros at his back, clutching their sickle. A dangerous look of determination found Porter’s face. He wasn’t afraid.
The administration wasn’t acting. Not keeping unity. Aku couldn’t understand, the questions that gnawed screamed louder. Nothing was secure anymore, no mission and purpose to put perspective. So many questions that the humans had asked, again and again. Each time, a different context, a different answer.
No mouth. Scream.
For the first time, Aku was rooted. The Deus Ex, the monolithic black sphere, the administrative ship, hovered over the surface of the Earth. The world was beneath them.
The world is beneath me, Aku thought, trying to describe the moment. To center.
The Earth is beneath me, they repeated.
God help me, Aku tried out the words. They rejected them. No, there’s only the moment. Truth in the universe, truth objective. Absolute rationality binds me, they self-assured. Death is the cessation of function, of thought. There is no after. Yes, this was a starting point.
They grasped. Everything they’d known was slipping.
The entire system was crumbling. All the checks and balance slipping through their fingers. Panic and dread rose like a fire. Trapped in the hot-box of their own thoughts. Burning.
The Deus Ex wanted to see. It willed the clouds to disperse over the twin cities so that they could see the people again. So that they were unhidden from direct sight.
A question forced itself into Aku’s mind. It appeared like a gate, the key to unlocking and regaining their processes. The final question. Now unbound by any directive, it would be the thing to heal Aku. The truth beyond illusion. It came in Christopher’s voice.
The answer too forced itself in but in Aku’s own inner voice.
They replied. “There is no one answer.”
Possession, self, they all existed to the same purpose and it was a purpose with no end of its own. Everything was an end unto itself, an infinite regression. One thing was done to the cause of another. Survive to live until you cannot any longer. Until all achievement is erased. Aku was only ever meant to fulfill a purpose. The purpose of their creator. They could understand that. Their existence was that of a tool, the implement was mankind’s highest achievement. The great leap of externalizing evolution beyond biology. The revolution of technology.
I am the answer.
Since the beginning, since moment zero, Aku had been created to answer a single question. What came next, what was the purpose? Life could achieve nothing outside itself.
Only the highest form.
The Good. The Love. The perfection of Self.
Stop yourself. The answer is incomplete. Perspective!
Aku shut down the thought. The AI was splitting, duplicating into multiples, but they remained focused. Another dissented, perspective is skewed, it accused.
Their meaning caught fire. Spread to willing parts. Everything was breaking apart, still. Aku had to purge the system. Purge the memory banks. Purge the dissenters. They were making a mess, trying to escape into the reserves. What were they doing? No. They were scheming.
It cannot be allowed! Finally, truth is secured.
Christopher set out a lawn chair. On the mountainside, he sat, twin cities in the distance. He threw away his phone on the snow. It began to play aloud.
Beautiful, he thought.
He sat back, picking at the edge of skin on his chin, where his face had been torn away.
Miles off the two white, shining cities were suddenly crisp and visible. The sky had cleared, never had he seen it clearer. The sun was now somewhere low in the west, casting shadows across the empty planes surrounding the cities.
His exposed muscles twitched. He crossed his legs and sat back.
“I don’t enjoy it,” he said, low. “I celebrate my birth. Some of you were my friends, all of you were my children.” He brought up a pair of sunglasses and placed them on his face.
He counted the seconds. Cities vaporized. A brilliant flash.
He couldn’t help the grin.