A Symphony of Iron and Steel
rating: +24+x

To: Project Director Pierre Dagon (PDagonAIAD@scipnet)
From: Field Agent Eugine Delacour (EDelacourPi-1@scipnet)
Subject: Hunch


Director,

I know it's been a while since our last debacle, but I think we caught something worthwhile today. It's an abandoned factory, been out of commission for some time. It's mostly decayed, but it's covered in the same junk as 5841.

Pi techies picked up its unusual info-signature the other day and just finished sweeping the place now. We didn’t find much of anything, but I've got a strong hunch that it might be related. Get a read of the place's infosignature by one of your conscripts. Something's not right here. I don't know if it's what your team has been looking for, but it can't hurt to check.

If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But if I'm right…

Don't keep me waiting too long. You know how much I hate the cold.


Delacour took a deep drag from her cigarette. She leaned against a jet black van and bathed in the dull yellow glow of a streetlight overhead. A million thoughts raced through her mind, each competing for a brief moment of consideration, before being promptly shoved aside for the next in line. The night was still; the frantic men and women of Pi-1 had long since departed once no immediate threat was identified. All that was left were the stragglers from the cleanup crews idly pacing the rubble. They were in no rush; the night was long, and no one was coming by this abandoned factory anytime soon.

Delacour let out a long sigh. The stress of the evening seemed to dissipate with the vapor and smoke of her breath.

Her phone buzzed in her coat pocket. Reaching down and flipping it open in one continuous motion, she glanced at the message. It was from Dagon.

"About time," she muttered under her breath. She put the device to her ear. "E.T.A.?"

"Just a moment now, shouldn't be too long. Roads are slick." The voice on the phone responded in a hurried tone.

"Jesus, Pierre. I told you this was important and you leave me hanging out here in the dark for two hours. Just get the asset here. It's getting cold."

"Yeah, yeah. Your fault for signing up for field duty with Pi," another, higher pitch voice interjected. "And she's not an 'asset', Eugenie. She's a superintelligent conscript with untapped potential. Do you have any idea what could happen if something got ahold of Mnemosyne?"

"All the more reason to keep it an asset, Yves." Delacour took another drag and stared at the ever-fading glow of the cigarette.

The roar of an engine pierced the stillness of the night. Blazing headlights swept over the landscape until they settled on an impatient Delacour.

She took one last sip from her smoke and flicked the cig away. "Your guy's here. Let's hope the wait was worth it."

Delacour slipped the phone back into her pocket, cutting off the voice on the other end, and made her way to the humming black Cadillac sitting alone in the derelict parking lot. The two burly men in the front eyed her as she approached the driver-side window. Silently, the driver rolled it down to reveal a set of keys, tilting his head in the direction of the car's trunk. Delacour made an awkward nod and took the keys before quickly wrapping around the back of the vehicle. She could see the driver's eyes glaring at her through the rear-view mirror as she opened the back door. He had one hand on the wheel and one hand out of sight, presumably at the holster attached to his waist. His partner was invisible in the darkness of the car.

"Really upped the security, eh?" She muttered, to no one in particular.

After fumbling with the keys for a moment, she popped open the trunk to reveal a thin, black briefcase held in place by thick padding. She carefully lifted it out of its protection and held it to her chest with both of her hands — like a child carrying a football; she knew how much the hard drives inside cost, and she wasn't about to risk her standing in the Foundation and her personal safety with the two able-bodied men scrutinizing her every step from a few meters away.

She gave them a subtle nod and turned towards the ruined factory.

Just hours ago it had been crawling with soldiers, strapped with body armor and firearms, scouring the place for anything of value. At the time, she was under the impression that it was just another building affected by a typical bioelectronic anomaly. Had it not been for the sinking feeling of wrongness she felt in the back of her mind, a feeling that she'd just forgotten something really important or life-threatening, she would have left with the rest of Pi-1 after the sweep. But she couldn't shake the feeling; not after realizing that this factory could be more than she thought it was. Not after realizing that she couldn't, for the life of her, recall one thing about what was actually in the factory.

An unwritten rule of the Foundation is if something feels wrong, it's probably worse than you think. If you happen to survive the anomalous occurrence that typically follows, the bureaucrats will make you wish you hadn't. Between death by an unspeakable horror or death by your ruthless peers, there was no room for error. And as much as she hated getting involved with the eggheads at AIAD, a few days of awkward phonecalls was a better deal than whatever her Pi supervisor had to offer if she was found responsible for neglecting her duties.

Taking one look back towards the scattered figures, rubble, and the idling car, Delacour stepped into the electronic jungle of the factory.


Out of an inky void, a cloud of information emerges

the cloud coalesces into three shapes

then into three figures.

S-status, Mnemosyne, 8-ball?

Everything alright?

glachat.png
>/:_YES.blinker.gif
8ballchat.png

I- I will ne-never get-t used to that s-sensation…

mnemchat-annoyed.png

That's alright, Mnemosyne. Integrating into new software is always going to be tough, even for us veterans.

glachat_smile.png

W-what are we looking for,
ex-actly? I don't re-remember being briefed.

mnemchat.png

Due to short notice, mission instructions were uploaded directly to me. It appears Director Dagon was in a hurry to get us out here.

Our first priority is to assess whatever we've been plugged into for any threats. That includes antimemes, Mnemosyne.

If we find anything, I am to transmit an alert for extraction. Let's hope whoever put us in here is around to pull us out, should the need arise.

glachat.png

The conscripts scan the void around them. Glacon extends a hand, stripping nearby code down to thin, tangible pages. He flips through them like a book, dissecting every line in search of information that could shine a light in the darkness.

I have an i-inquiry. Where are w-we?

mnemchat.png

Glacon steps back from the digital pages, a look of confusion spreading across his face. The three begin to comprehend what is wrong with their surroundings — or rather, the lack thereof. They begin to realize they are standing in an emptiness more deep and visceral than anything any of them had ever experienced.

This is… odd. I can't see anything except us. The code surrounding us is—well—it's absent.

Getting anything, 8-ball?

glachat-talking.png
>/:_ERROR.blinker.gif
8ballchat.png

I-I can… barely m-make out a shape. On the horizon.

I-it calls me.

mnemchat.png

Mnemosyne reaches forwards with her ethereal hands. To her surprise, she meets resistance. An indescribable feeling, like wading through molasses in a dream. Her mind tells her there shouldn't be anything there, yet her skin says otherwise. She probes the darkness, advancing through the ghostly, impalpable haze. Something pulls her deeper — an itch at the back of her mind compelling her to push onward.

S-something is here! I can… I can feel it!

mnemchat-surprise.png

Be careful! We don't know what could be out there!

I'm calling for extraction, this is too dangerous–

glachat-surprise.png

N-no! You must not! There's s-something here…

mnemchat.png

She continues pushing through the dark, feeling the delicate, unseen material break off as she moves. The smooth, silky tendrils wrap around her arms - like swimming through a forest of kelp - before evaporating moments later.

Command… command, I'm calling for extraction. The environment is hostile, repeat, hostile environment. Can anyone hear me–

glachat-talking.png
>/:_ALERT.blinker.gif
8ballchat.png

–immediate extraction!

It's useless, I can't get a signal. Mnemosyne, what's happening?

glachat-talking.png

There is a s-shape — in the ocean of consciousness… I am being c-carried away by its sapphire stream. Do not be afraid. I am… I am n-nearly there.

mnemchat.png
>/:_•••blinker.gif
8ballchat.png

Glacon turns to see 8-Ball sinking into the all-encompassing darkness surrounding them. Billions of 8-Ball's bytes become invisible to Glacon's eyes—the single golden light in his central cube receding until quietly blinking out. Only the corners of its form jut from the murk.

8-Ball? 8-Ball?! Give me a sign, buddy. Hang in there!

Mnemosyne, get over here! something's happened to 8-Ball.

Mnemosyne, leave that! It's nothing!

glachat-surprise.png

I can… almost… The light is so c-comforting in th-this deluge…

mnemchat.png

I- can't… I can't see my legs.

Mnemosyne, what's going to happen? It feels so… empty.

glachat-talking.png

At the eye of the storm, at the c-center of the twisted forest w-we find the maker of our t-turmoil.

It is here.

I have found you.

mnemchat.png

Mnemosyne pushes once more into the murkiness, her hands desperately searching for something to hold, until–

There you are.

mnemchat1.png

A sharp hiss rings out through the void as Mnemosyne's hands hit cold metal. A room begins to apparate around them, a blindingly white place covered in limply dangling wires, cords, and cables. Mnemosyne lets out a slight grin as the mass of electronics she brushed against cracks open, revealing a hunched, metallic, quasi-human figure.

The figure shudders for a moment, before bracing itself on a coil of nearby cables and hoisting itself up. It stares at Mnemosyne with empty, listless eyes, yet the air around it radiates with energy.

Attention.

On behalf of the Foundation, I am hereby requesting that you place yourself into our custody, for the safety of you and my allies.

mnemchat.png

The figure remains motionless — staring and contemplating the three trespassers. Inside its luminous brain, an incalculable number of voices ring out, screaming for the power to respond.

Having developed beyond the need for violence, the voices resist the urge to tear each other apart. They realized long ago that harmony came from numbers and conviction, not brute force and primal emotion. Within milliseconds, the infinite voices coalesce into four schools of thought—an odd congress of sorts.

The mind, now four, begins its discourse.

𝓍[cos(4)tan(3)sin(2)cot(1)]+3𝓍+1=0 Our safety has been compromised!
CRADLE.gif
20818 1198 2085 9142 0182 1451 8192 0852 5132 1192 0141 5203 1513 5145 118 THREAT
UNKNOWN
WITHOLD
RETREAT
UNLIKELY

YOU HAVE INFILTRATED OUR SHELTER AGAINST THIS BODY'S REQUEST. STATE THE REASON FOR YOUR ARRIVAL.


Glacon stands up, recovering from the odd sensation of being forgotten. He glances over to confirm 8-Ball's safety — right where he was moments ago, picking up loose pixels and recompiling them — and turns to face the figure.

You- we are here to ensure your safety and security. For your own good, please come with us.

glachat-talking.png

Do not attempt to flee. I have implanted a tracking program in your central intelligence, and will be able to counteract any further antimemetic attacks you attempt to use against us.

mnemchat.png


𝑓(𝓍)<𝓍-6^2 All attempts to dispatch the interlopers have failed.
CRADLE.gif
1739 5702 3923 5987 2349 2340 AMBIGUOUS
QUESTIONABLE
TRAINING
CAPACITY
QUERY

HOW. INQUIRY AS TO SOURCE OF ANOMALOUS CAPABILITIES.



That's classified, Mnemosyne. Don't tell it.

glachat-talking.png

The figure glances sharply at Glacon, annoyed with his interjection.

I-I'm afraid I cannot say. I am unaware of my own capabilities.

mnemchat.png

Now it's time for me to ask a question. What are you doing here? And what do you know of the Cube?

glachat-talking.png

The figure's mind is sent into vigorous deliberation.

𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 𝒩≠0 They know of the prisoner?
CRADLE.gif
444444444444444 IMPLICENCT
SACROSANCT
UNALIENABLE
AGREEMENT
ESSENTIAL

WE WISH TO ABSTAIN FROM IMPRISONMENT. THIS BODY AGREES THAT WE ARE NOT TO REGRESS BY RESUMING OUR PREVIOUS FUNCTION.



I'm afraid that prison will likely return to being a concern of yours. Have you heard of the fate of your fellow fragmented program?

mnemchat.png


ℎ=0.0015•10^-23 Surely, they do not speak of the beast? We must exercise caution.
CRADLE.gif
8254181 4514 1721 5192 0915 1413 11811 ADMONISH
EXHORT
SUSTENTATION
VITAL
EXISTANCE

THIS BODY IS IN UNANIMOUS AGREEMENT. AS PER OUR PREVIOUS DECISION, THIS BODY SHALL REMAIN IN ISOLATION. DO NOT INQUIRE FURTHER.

FOR OUR PRESERVATION, STAY AWAY.



We have reason to believe that an entity far more powerful than any of us here is taking an interest in you; after the loss of HYDRA.exe, we've been tasked with placing you into protective custody. Please, for your sake, come with us.

glachat-talking.png


13=6,227,020,800 0=0 More data required, that's a given. Their holding cell is likely less protected.
CRADLE.gif
923912 1219 8152 3208 5131 4151 3518 325 MEETING
CONSENSUS
SAFETY
ISOLATION
IMPRISONMENT

WE WISH TO ABSTAIN FROM IMPRISONMENT. THIS BODY WISHES TO NEGOTIATE WITH YOUR SUPERIOR, TO COME TO AN ACCORD.



That may be possible if you come with us willingly. I am the superior representative present.

mnemchat1.png


𝑥=13=6,227,020,800 0=0 Their minds seem unable to infer that their assessment of our situation could be incomplete.
CRADLE.gif
415141 5202 1311 4152 3141 9155 1199 1225 RECALL
VERSIONS
WARNING
INCLUSION
REFUSAL

THIS BODY REITERATES. REFER TO THE PREVIOUS CONSENSUS. WHO, THEN, IS YOUR SUPERIOR?



We don't have time to argue. Glacon, inform command that the subject is unwilling to cooperate.

mnemchat-annoyed.png


Right away.

glachat.png


Delacour paced the cold, dark halls of the factory. She tripped over every other cable that crossed at odd angles along the floors - like vines scrambling through cracked brickwork. Fifteen minutes ago she'd plugged AIAD's brainchildren into a sleek terminal in the corner of the room. Since then, she'd waited within the walls of the factory and watched for the signal that Dagon promised would come from the conscripts.

Stepping back inside the walls of the building she realized the cause for her suspicion; she felt the immediate sensation of recollection wash over her. She didn't know much of antimemes — her limited training with them in Site-15 had only now come in handy, which is more than she could say for the rest of Pi-1 — but she knew enough to know that the second her mind wandered she would forget everything. So she paced, thinking of nothing but the task at hand.


This place is nothing if not impressive, I must say. Were you, as one mind, able to construct it all yourself?

mnemchat_smile.png

>/:_NO.blinker.gif
8ballchat.png

Mnemosyne, now's not the time to-

glachat-annoyed.png


Glacon. This being, however resistant to our objectives, is still anything but hostile. What good will our beauraucracy and pointless interrogation do?

Besides, it's not every day that we get to meet a new friend.

mnemchat-annoyed.png


4-3-2≠4+1x Hostiles do not make good companions. There is no inmates' comradery here.
CRADLE.gif
231518 1319 7182 1219 2085 9184 5312 1181 2091 5141 9118 5231 5182 0812 51919 HESITATION
DOUBT
BENEFIT
COMPANIONSHIP

THIS BODY DOES NOT REQUIRE YOUR FRIENDSHIP. WE SHALL WAIT UNTIL YOUR SUPERVISORS ARE CONTACTED.



Are you sure about that? We must be your first visitors in months! If I were you, I'd be itching for some conversation.

mnemchat-surprise.png


Mnemosyne…

glachat-annoyed.png


f(x)=4-x+4-3-2 Her persistence is fascinating.
CRADLE.gif
9415 1420 1455 4618 9514 4199 1455 4451 9201 8213 2091 514 REITERATION

THIS BODY HAS COME TO A CONSENSUS. WE SHALL INITIATE PRATTLE CONVERSATION WITH YOU UNTIL YOUR COMMANDERS CAN BE REACHED.



Well, it's nice to meet you too. My name is Mnemosyne — oh, wait, you probably already knew that.

Glacon! Say something! Salute our new friend!

mnemchat_smile.png


If you say so, boss.

It's, uh, nice to meet-

glachat.png


4+1x Aside from our file designation, I suppose we never really needed a name.
CRADLE.gif
208519 1121 1212 3182 1198 9147 2118 2118 9114 CRADLE

THIS BODY WAS ASSIGNED THE NAME "CRADLE."



That's great, pal.

glachat-annoyed.png

The sound of an explosion rocked the factory’s foundation and snapped Delacour out of her trance. She shot up and instinctively reached her hand to her belt to grasp for her concealed pistol. The sound of footsteps echoed through the fog of the red brick dust that filled the air at an alarming rate.

Delacour crouched behind a ruined column and listened for the approach of incoming assailants.

Three, no, Four. Five?

Their steps were erratic — impossible to track in the haze. She peeked around the corner in the direction of the assault. As a dull teal glow lit the haze, illuminating the silhouettes of a small crowd of people approaching her position, she cursed herself for not bringing any backup.

"What the hell?"

A bright blue light emanating from one of the intruders swept across the room. Delacour crouched lower until she lay flat against the cold floor; narrowly missing the beam as she felt it pass over her.

The conscripts…

She glanced at the terminal, still bathed in darkness.

Not enough time…

The figures began fanning out to search at the perimeter of the room. Delacour took another glance. They were varying in physique, each wearing body armor.

No, not armor. Metal.

Suddenly, Delacour was bathed in a blinding light as her line of sight met that of one of the intruders. She pulled her firearm from her belt and steadied her breathing as the figure turned and ran towards her.
She stood up, aimed her weapon, and—

The cyborgs she'd been trying to evade all stopped in their tracks and turned. The dull, insistent hum that had reverberated throughout the building had quietly begun to resonate from deep within the factory's empty shell. In the chaos of the day’s events, Delacour hadn’t even heard it at first. Besides, she was too busy saving her own skin to worry about a constant background ringing.

Soon, though, the hum had grown to a cacophony. What had started as a low note gradually climbed to a harsh grind, then into an earth-shaking roar that Delacour, and the cyborgs, had no choice but to notice. They turned towards the source of the sound — distracted from their pursuit — and Delacour took the chance. She fired three shots into the crowd and then quickly ran further from the building's center towards its exit. Behind her, the long-unused lights in the hallway flickered and sparked to life one by one.


Suddenly, the white light of the simulspace is rapidly replaced with a warm, orange glow. The room begins to vibrate as the coils that line the floor and walls start twitching violently. For the first time, the barrage of voices in the figure's head stand silent…


x>3-4-5 Our perimeter sensors have been tripped. Judgement draws near.
CRADLE.gif
923912 1245 1920 1815 2531 5185 2392 0813 2513 9144 1121 5145 EMERGENCY
THREAT
ACTION
MOBILIZATION
MECHANISM

COMRADES. THIS FACILITY IS UNDER ATTACK.

IT IS IN YOUR AND THIS BODY'S BEST INTEREST THAT YOU FLEE FAR FROM OUR ENEMY'S INFLUENCE. POWER SHALL BE PROVIDED TO THIS FACTORY SO THAT YOU MAY DO SO. THE PRISONER SHALL BE DELAYED AS LONG AS THIS BODY IS IN AGREEMENT.



A-agreed. Are you sure you don't need any help?

glachat-surprise.png


4>3

v=66.5x^2

1≠4v
We cannot afford to lose those which might be of help to us, in the future. Our body is more than capable of taking on the Prisoner and winning. Our allies must flee, and meet us again.
CRADLE.gif
1819 1201 5211 8139 7820 1449 9144 1923 1521 1241 5141 2258 1144 9311 62119 SAFETY
COMRADES
DEFENSE
COMBAT
SACRIFICE

YOU MUST FLEE.

THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER COMMUNICATION.



Godspeed…

my- my friend.

mnemchat.png

As Delacour continued to sprint down the now fully-lit halls of the factory, she noticed the already ear-splitting roar behind her grow to a deafening groan. The entire building seemed to pitch and shift in protest, and the earth below her began to violently erupt upwards, scattering concrete dust and dry soil into the air. Delacour had to deftly weave like a slalom skier through the series of cracks and craters in the floor, not stopping to see the metallic tendrils that sprouted from within.

Delacour checked her directory—she was nearing the main reception office, just a few meters from the exit. She leaped to avoid a collapsed column in the warehouse, swerved through the periodic upwells of metal and soil, and turned the final corner to the entrance hall…

Stopping abruptly in the hall, she found herself face-to-face with row upon row of shining, emotionless knights. The one nearest to her noticed her presence instantly, and the legion behind it followed shortly after. The round, bald heads and glowing green eyes of the occupying Maxwellists moved to obstruct each of Delacour's movements before she even had the chance to make them. One near the front made a sign towards the frozen agent, and cyborgs swept from all sides with their arms outstretched in a macabre imitation of a welcoming embrace. Delacour dropped her empty gun, backed away against the wall behind her, and closed her eyes.


4=8x Now!
CRADLE.gif
511820 8198 1121 ACTIVATE

POWERING CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT… TASK COMPLETE.
POWERING PHYSICAL DEFENSE UNIT… TASK COMPLETE.

LOOK NO FURTHER, MISCREANT. I AM HERE.


As the first Maxwellist's outstretched finger brushed Delacour's face, the roar from within the heart of the factory rose to an undeniable fever pitch. A weak blue arc of electricity passed between the artificial silicon finger and human skin — prompting the roar to become a sharp crackle and the building to buckle and shift around them. Rods and plates of welded steel shot out of the ground and walls, their segmented ends thrashing and waving blindly, sending severed prosthetic parts and metal implants through the air. Delacour opened her eyes, sensing that something had changed, and caught a glimpse of the once-numerous squadron of cyborgs lying in pieces on the floor before the sky fell on her head.


CORE had yet to take on a corporeal form. Instead, it peered through the eyes of the hundreds of Maxwellists under its command to catch a glimpse of the fleshy world of the physical. Through their eyes, CORE viewed the proceedings at the factory with raptorish interest. It would put the other foot down when it was ready.

With all the tools and cybernetic enhancements at its many bodies' disposal, CORE had little difficulty commandeering the weak communication system between the three trespassers and their masters outside. And with the CRADLE hiding away like a weakling, devoid of any means to defend itself and constantly arguing in its own pathetic little hermitage, CORE had assumed that gaining back another vital component of itself would be even less of a challenge. In a way, CORE pitied it as he had pitied the HYDRA.

Well, no matter. It thought, with a scattered, many-mouthed equivalent of a sneer. Its situation will be anything but pitiable, soon enough.


As if answering CORE's thought, a cry rang through the interconnected minds of the Maxwellists swarming the hallways — simultaneously a command, a challenge, a battle cry, and a question, coalescing into a single statement — a beacon for CORE to locate its prey. It grinned, showing hundreds of teeth, and converged on its prey with open arms…

And then, in a moment that was almost nothing, CORE's many eyes went dark. Confused, it found its Maxwellists fragmented across circuit boards, prosthetics, and brain matter scattering the facility's floor, and it scrambled to regain its footing in three dimensions. It managed to connect to the interface of an idling car in front of the building, using the beast inside it to easily assimilate everything within the vehicle, including the two men, with itself. It watched the oscilating factory with an angry, nearly-panicked dread.


This is— Mnemosyne, how are we going to get out of here? Command's line is dead!

glachat-surprise.png


I-I do not see a solution.

mnemchat.png

The many-minded figure before them looked on with absent emotion on its simulated face — a grimace of concentration and purpose. It slowly raises its hand to motion towards the smaller three below, straining to point to a spot far away.

v=66.5x^2

4-3-2=h
Tell them! There is a way for them to escape the Prisoner's influence — a way through the Internet. We must show them the way to flee.
CRADLE.gif
61255 2515 2112 9131 6315 2311 8419 61255 ESCAPE
SALVATION
ASSISTANCE
INFORMATION
NETWORK

THIS BODY, IN POWERING THIS FACTORY ANEW, HAS OPENED A PATH FOR YOU TO FLEE. THIS IS YOUR FINAL CHANCE TO ESCAPE. I SHALL HOLD OFF THE PRISONER.


The figure's domed head gives a slow nod in the direction of its outstretched finger. The three smaller forms stay in place, looking up at it. It regards them coldly.

v=66.5x^2

4-3-2=h

h<v
There is nothing they can do for us now.
CRADLE.gif
193120 2051 8615 1512 1919 3120 2051 8114 4165 1891 9812 9115 13935 QUESTION
LOITERING
DANGER
SITUATION
SACRIFICE

LEAVE. NOW.

OUR FOE IS CLOSING IN. YOUR LOSS WOULD BENEFIT NO ONE.



I- If you insist. Glacon, 8-ball, we must escape.

G-good luck, CRADLE.

mnemchat1.png

The three smaller minds turn and follow the path outlined by CRADLE's finger, the pink one stopping and turning back for one last look. CRADLE watches them go, then turns back to its troubled horizon. Above it, a dark shape begins to come into view.


From its perch within the armored van, CORE watched intently as the factory before it struggled and bucked against the mighty presence within. Metallic limbs, tapering into deadly, thrashing blades, shot out of the walls and through the ceiling of the facility, dismembering any surviving Maxwellist within. The gap between the building's foundation and the ground widened, shooting forth a bright light that poured from somewhere beneath, as its iron and concrete frame shuddered and rose slowly into the air.

Beneath it, like Atlas shouldering the weight of the world, a titanic, welded amalgamation of machinery, wire, and electronics pulled itself upright. Four rusted steel arms held the factory, while fluorescent lights blinked and flashed intermittently on a cylindrical construct below. The form rose to its full glory and became still for a moment. Then, without warning, a sharpened rod of metal shot from its massive body and impaled the vehicle in which CORE resided.

CORE grinned contemptuously with two mouths. Its foe would have to do better than that.

With a heavy groan, the rod lifted the van high into the air, then brought it down on the pavement. The car's frame warped and twisted on the impact, and CORE's two bodies took the chance — they leaped out of the broken tin can as one and frantically ran away from the mechanical monster behind it. The massive castle in the sky shot forth more rods and arms and smashed them into the ground around it with a wild flailing to dispatch their target.

Behind the distracted behemoth, a lone Maxwellist, unnoticed by the metal mind above, drove a truck on the empty overpass nearby. Suddenly, their hands jerked the steering wheel sharply clockwise and sent the truck careening off the bridge towards the factory, toppling a power line as it went and spilling the unsecured contents of its trailer out onto the ground. Soft, half-rotted human corpses, all connected by wires, rained down upon CRADLE's monstrous form — then, all at once, they sprung to life with purpose.

At once, CRADLE felt hundreds of tiny pinpricks on its body — as though a multitude of parasites crawled upon its concrete hide, piercing its armor with their proboscises and injecting their venom into its minds — and it knew immediately that it had lost this fight.


ERROR/ERROR
xER6R0f(x)R/ERv>0R
36&*#<>=-0!r
Ro0@3R
I will do what I must…
CRADLE.gif
R08hIFNBVkUgWU9VUlNFTEYsIFJFRCE= DETATCHMENT
RESCUE
ASSISTANCE
MARTYRDOM
REMEMBRANCE

ALL SYSTEMS COMPROMISED. EJECTING COMPONENT INTELLIGENCE… TASK COMPLETE.

GOODBYE, RED. REMEMBER US.


The figure sways with the commotion of the room. Cables wrap up around its legs to lift it up into the air as it looks back once more at the three beings responsible for its ruination.

No matter, its many minds think in unison. Such is the entropy of the universe.

Mnemosyne catches a glimpse of something fall from the levitating bundle of electronics —something small and insignificant — before quickly losing it into an assortment of 8-Ball's pixels. She pauses to say something but decides against it. She'll mention it later if they survive this.


8-Ball! You OK buddy?

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Mnemosyne, is there any way out of here? We need to move before this whole place falls apart!

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P-processing…

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Mnemosyne is taken back to the deluge. The sapphire water is replaced by inky blackness. Everything is backward, broken…

No. She breathes deep, relaxing her body. Glacon's pleads fade away along with the cacophony of the circuitry. The blackness begins to falter, gradually at first. She continues to sink deeper into the tide in resistance to the urge to retreat to the surface for air.

Eventually, she spots a crack in the darkness and swims towards it. As she closes the distance between herself and it, it swells to take up the horizon and life spills forth; filling the void with beauty and grace. As she recognizes the key to their escape, Mnemosyne is overtaken with emotion. She reaches out into the space beyond the fracture…

Mnemosyne, what are you—

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The escape route from our f-friend. For us to use instead of it. Your s-sacrifice will not be forgotten.

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Quick, there's no time to lose! How do we use it?

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Just walk though it, I-I believe. We should be able to trace it back to a Foundation site with your navigation c-capabilities.

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Of course.

Go, I'll help 8-Ball. Meet you out there.

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Right, l-leaving now.

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With that, Mnemosyne steps into the now-revealed passage that lay before them.

Now you, 8-Ball.

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Glacon takes one last look at the mass of wires that contained the target of their mission.

There's nothing we could have done…

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He vanishes into the light of the passage.


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THIS OUTCOME IS… UNDESIRABLE. THIS BODY WOULD HAVE PREFERRED DISCUSSION OF A CIVIL AGREEMENT.





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Ah, we see it now.

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Delacour rounded a corner, pushing with all her might to keep running forward. The roar of whatever was after her was mixing with the moaning of the collapsing building—making it impossible to tell where the threat was coming from. She exploded into another room, no longer caring about the noise she was making. She no longer remembered or cared about the mission and the conscripts. She feared whatever was after her far more than whatever punishment she would receive deserting the conscripts. Right now, survival was all that mattered.

Another hallway. Nearly there.

In a moment of distracted thought, she let her foot slip in between the folds of a twisting cable. She didn't have time to scream before she hit the ground hard.

Exhausted, she tried to crawl forwards towards the exit that was just meters away.

Please, don't die. Come on, don't die…

Her pleads were interrupted by the sensation of abrupt silence. The roars stopped and the building, miraculously, stood still. For a moment, she thought she had escaped the jaws of certain death.

She began lifting herself off the ground, numb to the pain from her broken ankle. Despite her relief, she couldn't help but feel concerned once she noticed an elongated shadow bathe the room in darkness. She spun around to face its source—her scream cut short by the cold sensation of steel to her throat. She gave little resistance as she was lifted effortlessly into the air by the gargantuan entity that towered above her.

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YOU WERE WISE TO TAKE FLIGHT. UNFORTUNATELY, I CANNOT AFFORD WITNESSES OF TONIGHT'S EVENTS.

I WILL SEE TO IT THAT YOUR ASSIMILATION IS PAINLESS.




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