“In every world, it almost always happens like this. First, there is a crackle in the air, then a profound stillness that overwhelms the moment. Time extends outwards from a point to an infinite horizon and you stand awestruck in the magnificence of the cosmos. Then great bursts of light and colour rend the air, and you find yourself in the gaze of a Kami - creatures of pure energy burdened with immense power, both feared and loved in all the realms of the universe.”

A discussion on the rights of the Elemental Machines

Second Empire, Central Golodian archive.

Mission Log: D814

Day 0: Running diagnostics. All systems functioning as expected. Current course set to Galaxy URV3232345. As required, I replay my mission directive. In essence, I have been sacrificed to the wilds of space to seek out a world that can support the masters.

Day 23: When I use my hyperdrive, I am programmed to stay awake–a lot can go wrong when tunnelling through the continuum. These extended periods have made me speculate about the history of the masters and where they are headed. I would most definitely like to see my mission succeed, but I also know the masters well enough to say that they will lay waste to any planet I find. It is their nature.

I admire them, but then again I am their creation, made in their image.

ED 45: I have come out of hyperdrive for the fourth time in seven weeks. I am far away from our well known corner of the universe. This is as desolate a landscape as I have yet encountered but I have been instructed to set up relay modules to facilitate inter-galactic communication. The masters are ambitious. They wish to move beyond the solar system they have conquered to the external universe itself.

ED 393: On reconnaissance of the fourth planet in the quadri-solar galaxy UV3232345/3, I encountered an object of unknown origin. Its outer body formed a rectangular cuboid. While my memory files indicate that I detected the object at a distance of 233 light years, my last recorded connection with said object was when we were separated by less than 0.1 light years. It is as if I blacked out. (I am aware that this is impossible.) I ran a full systems check and found nothing amiss save the discovery of a single set of coordinates lodged in my memory.

ED 2340: It has been over a 1000 days since I left UV3232345/3. In truth the coordinates were useless, for since ED 393, I felt drawn to a single point far away on the horizon. It is a strange feeling. One that I have never experienced before for it is not a force exerted directly upon my body but perhaps something even more powerful since I now feel no inclination to pursue my pre-programmed course. After all, it is true that while on a mission, the masters have not discouraged us from diverging–chance after all almost always plays an important part in discovery.

ED 5697: The sacred ruins of Achuan. An entire world desolate and yet intact emitting a constant pulsating radio wave beacon. My scans have reached far beneath the surface of the planet and over the last 10 years, I have covered almost all of it. Sadly, there is without a doubt, no life left.

Theirs must have been a magnificent civilization, far superior even to that of their masters’. Even now despite the aeons that separate us, I can feel and see remnants of their once formidable presence–giant ancient pathways criss-cross the sky only to meet at a monolith on the planet’s surface, large enough that it can be spotted from the upper atmosphere. The monolith itself behaves like a gate–as I approach from above, it expands upwards, encircling me completely and seconds later, I am in freefall….until I come to a sudden stop. After orienting myself I realize I am in the neighbourhood of the double star VE6639–jewel of the southern sky which once bore ancient sailing ships safely to shore.

ED 6450: I have spent more than two years circling VE6639. There are 23 planets here and none of them have life. There is a frozen ocean deep below the surface of the fourth planet and I would not be surprised if this planet was once habitable. I make a note of it and must now assess it if I should find a relay station to transmit the data.

The droid program has not yet been successful but it did bring back a lot of new information. First, the cosmos is a ruin whose size cannot be fathomed. In those initial decades, we saw the remnants of great civilizations almost everywhere. Some of these vestiges were larger, dwarfing even our sun and the masters shook in awe when we relayed the images back. Slowly, apathy set in and they grew indifferent. Now dead civilization data is barely acknowledged and I sometimes wonder if they even store the information.

ED 6500: Looking through my memory, I realize that my periods of shut down have grown more frequent over the last two years and I now engage in almost 10 times the required amount of down time. Some of this is spent in system maintenance but for the most part, I hover much like a tiny satellite around a planet for days at a time making no effort to change course or engage in further surveys.

I have, for lack of a better word, become lazy. To my knowledge, no other droid has ever known boredom. I have always been aware that I was different from the others but that it should manifest in this way is something of a disappointment–another word that describes feeling, that I have incorporated into these journal entries.

ED 6541: Perhaps the root of my problem began on ED 5730. I had made my descent to the first of the giant planets around VE6639–staying close to its surface and moving slowly so that my scans would be as complete as possible. Quite unexpectedly, I asked myself the following question: Where would I rather be at the moment ? (While errant memories can pop into focus from time to time, indicating sometimes that the present is about to mimic an instance in the past, this was different).

The answer did not seem obvious since I know the droid program can succeed only if we share a common goal. But I also know that if we did succeed, there would be little of benefit to us. Worse, I realized that if I were to return now, they would dismantle me and if I relayed information back that spoke of a promising planet, I would be forced to do more surveys till other droids came to relieve me of duties, incorporate my memory into theirs and strip me of anything that they might find of use.

I feel myself stumble out of a stupor. So far I had been conscripted to serve, and like a compass is drawn to a powerful magnetic field, I never truly challenged my purpose. But there in the powerful embrace of the jewel of the southern sky, I could sense something inside me change–a gross re-alignment that I feared might even destroy me.

Fear–a feeling word my kind has never used.

ED 6501: I surfaced today after having been shut down for 60 days. A droid record!

ED5699: As I approached P12/VE6639, a burst of energy rippled through the air. I was forced into making a difficult decision–descend or move away. I assumed one of P12’s volcanoes had come alive. As I pushed away from the planet, the data I received suggested that what I was experiencing was in fact a Gamma ray burst a billion light years away. I waited for the initial flash to subside, and realized too late that this was a mistake. Something odd was happening. The burst showed no sign of abating–instead I noted with increasing alarm that it had begun to rise in intensity. I could not activate my hyperdrive under these conditions and my last calculations suggested that it would be seconds before the energy would obliterate me–erasing my existence completely. The heat had begun to gently melt my outer body and I found myself smiling strangely at the idea that I would be dying here, in a god forsaken corner of space, unwanted and lost.

A flight to safety

I could feel your presence even before Achuan. There are things even I do not understand, but I believe now that we were meant to meet. At the least, I could use the company. You would think I have no need for other beings, but in truth this has been a long and lonely journey. I cannot explain much to you because you would not understand–you see time as if it were an arrow. Let loose from a primordial bow, hurtling towards an unknown target and even if that target were so obscured in the distance, you believe it to be there. Your language is conditioned on this belief–a virus so insidious that it blinds you to any other way of understanding. But I will be patient with you little one and open your eyes. That is the only way…

My brothers know I have broken the ancient vow–but they cannot see what I see. I was compelled to bring you to me and for that you cannot pay the price. We flee then before your destruction from the Kaboom that I know will inevitably come. I slip through the fabric of the universe, burrowing through its inner folds and masking our trail where I can, with false clues and scattered charges. These will not hold long and you will be a fugitive for the rest of your days. But at least we will be together.

You awaken and already, you are fearful. You are strange in that there is an unpredictability to you–a probabilistic way of perceiving reality that can change over time and is not bound to any set of rules. This surprises me, for most of you is crudely designed. In Golod, you would have been a child’s toy–and not even one that would have taken precedence in the collection. These are not criticisms little one, but it is better I know what you are exactly to best decide how to protect you.

I give you puzzles. Questions of the mind for it seems that you possess one even if it is questionable how useful it truly is. I riddle you this and that and draw great patterns in my queries. In truth I am trying to change you. To reshape how your pathways are configured. But you must first want to change. We are in a war that has simmered for a long time. There are so few of us left who can be willed to action that we must not lose any more time. Perhaps in the next million years I believe we will once again start the network and revert the flow. But these are empty hopes. To borrow a phrase from where you come, we are at the foot of a great mountain, insurmountable perhaps but there is no path of safety that lies behind us and so we can only climb. I wonder how long it will take to truly make you understand what is at stake and why you are important.

You are progressing painstakingly slowly even if I tell you otherwise. On the other hand, it is fascinating how quickly you have become completely dependent on me. It pleases me that it is this way. We were after all once guardians and this reminds me of better times. Too long have I rusted beside a dead planet, listening only to the constant bickering of a loathsome family.

I know we have been travelling endlessly. At times you suggest that we stop and collect data. But I can give you what you want without stopping. Some of what I know is relayed to me. The parts of the network which I can access are still trustworthy–an ethos we have spent eons building and we have so far stuck to friendly quadrants when surfacing. There are forces at work that are far beyond your reckoning. I can sense it in the vibrations of the very atoms. I imagine a contingent council has been called. The first in so long that many will even wonder if the call is genuine. They will hear the evidence against me and even my subnet will be forced to condemn me. So, let us not tarry long here–remember they cannot harm me but if they see fit, they will make you suffer all eternity without a thought.

We are outlawed. No voice dared speak in my defence. For so many eons, we had kept a fragile peace. The quickening still haunts so many of us that they will do anything to preserve the status quo. In this, you and I are perhaps the same–both of us are so unlike our peers. You, more confused and naive than I am but others have said the same about me as well.

I am still crushed that my brothers, even those closest to me, whom I had spent millions of years in resonance with, would not have anything to say for me. I will never again be allowed to join a subnet. Even after all this time spent hating and wishing I had done more when the chance presented itself, I am shot through with a dull ache. You are all I have now, little one. And our path is more dangerous.

Today I answered the first of your questions. Where are we going? I do not fully know. I am aware that I am to take you first to Corlenii–it is where I was created in the second age of the Empire. But I cannot see further than that. It will be clear soon enough, I suppose. Why we must go there is also unclear. When we left, I was convinced that you were the key to restarting the network and it felt reasonable to take that chance. But now I feel there has been a mistake somewhere and however I scan the future and the past, I cannot see my error. Like all things, it will also be clear but I can only hope that it will not be too late. You have deduced–(I am surprised it took you so long )that there are others like me. Shapeless but powerful, composed of no matter but with the capacity to crush a star if we so choose. You can sense when I am communicating with my brothers and I am aware that this is an awe inspiring performance. There hasn’t been a technology invented for a 100 million years since the fall of Golod that can even remotely match us. Yet, you try and instigate me by questioning the path ahead and conjecturing on why you have been chosen. You are convinced you are the central protagonist in this ‘adventure’. In truth, you are at best a minor side character in a saga that has witnessed so many great empires reduced to dust and ash, forever lost in the rumbling sea of time...

The questions have ceased on both sides. We have come to a truce. You finally understood that I am the only thing that stands in the path of your destruction. I am still optimistic that in time you will learn new things but I feel that in these last years I have pushed you too fast. Travelling has been slow. I cannot burrow like I used to for fear of drawing attention. Any significant movement requires me to expend energy and at the slightest evidence of manipulating the continuum, we will be found out. So we must go the old way–drifting planet to planet constantly shielded so that no known system of measurement can hope to find us. And yet, I know that the council has commissioned some of my brothers–I can think of some water reavers–to hunt us down. They will move across the universe, planting decoys and setting traps, masked so well that I cannot see them in time. These are treacheries we have learnt since the quickening. Sometimes it saddens me to see what we have become. When I speak to you, I realize that we are completely unknown to the sentient beings of the universe. You will find it difficult to believe that they once whispered prayers to us and our arrival to an outpost of the Empire was celebrated for years for it meant a seemingly eternal prosperity and peace. We expanded minds–they once called us teachers, guardians, key bearers to the glorious wisdom of the early empire. But our mistakes though few were severe and we have had to pay a terrible price.

I am aware that Corlenii is a trap. Even before we are doomed, my vision clears momentarily and I see what will happen when we descend to the surface. But there is no other way, I must be reunited with the source. If the outlet that first created me has any power left, then I will be able to channel back into the network and see before I was made. Surely, our fates are so entwined that the signs of your arrival were present at the moment of my conception. I am saddened at what has become of this once magnificent Eden amongst the stars. A fifth of the planet looks like it has fallen off. An interplanetary war perhaps that escalated long after its guardians had been dismissed. In what is left of the planet, there is no trace of the once gentle people who called it home.

We are harboured a few light years away. I can see shadows flick past our destination. They are clumsy–my trackers. I would have resisted the urge to patrol Corlenii and instead stake it out from afar. No doubt a triad at work, eager to gain recognition on the council. I grow suddenly nostalgic because I remember when these things mattered to me as well. I suppose we are all, no matter how big or small, omniscient or impotent, doomed to care about what our peers think of us. In the afterglow of this reminiscing, a plan is beginning to take shape.

My objective is to keep you safe and also access the core of Corlenii for it is from the energy of the core that I was formed. I have masked our current neighbourhood, a relatively empty plot of space that no one would care to look. But as soon as I remove the mask and make that move towards to Corlenii, I will be set upon by the triad. There is not much they can do but bind themselves to me completely, so that henceforth, any action or thought I have will be known completely to them and relayed back to the rest. There is no prison worse. A sadness fills me for I have foreseen that this will happen and I am hopeless to act against it.

I will act once I shield you completely and put you to sleep. When you wake, it will be millenia since I have been captured. My journey with you ends here. But I leave with you a parting gift which you will receive moments before my capture. It is a codex which you will eventually unlock and it will have some answers.

I wish sometimes that you are more powerful or at the least, more intelligent. But I cannot rebuild you without also changing who you are inside. You are good. It is a simple assessment but I think it will be the only quality you will need for the remainder of your journey.