Gary Baker, October 2013
(the ultimate end to my largest project?)
Roi gasped as air was choked from his lungs, the upright beast leader of the invading army holding ringed fingers firmly circumferential to the dangling human’s ever-closing airways. The creature clearly led by powerplay, it’s muscles strangled into bunched masses, tied here and there with metal chain-like cords that had been woven into the thick muscles themselves with weights hanging haphazardly as though at the end of fishing lines caught in the beasts arms. The armor was intense enough as is, without the gold and jade debris cinched deep into the tissues of exposed flesh.
Roi could see where chains had been torn free, whether from being caught by stray palms in fistfights or by being deliberately torn free by the beast who bore them, leaving gruesome scars behind that often came close to bisecting an entire limb. The invasion force, Roi thought, was far more primal than anything humanity had ever been. They had bred themselves this way, in as parallel a path in evolution as cognition was to humans.
Then the pain really hit home, knocking the wind remaining in Roi’s lungs into the back of his throat, only to be blocked by the pressure of the tense grip, which only caused an even worse need to expel that air and reciprocated until the man was sure he was going insane right then and there. The burning of his eyes grew hotter and worse yet, the evidence of his eyes bulging began to show even in his already hazy sightlines as the world picked up a fisheye lens effect, and his hearing all but turned to heavy lub-dubs as the blood in his ears threatened to break free at his eardrums.
The pain intensified, growing stronger while somehow -- astonishingly -- further away. It was as though he and the pain of his own undoing were standing on separate trains once side-by-side and now veering away from each other. The throb began to pulse in his eyes and lessened as much as his vision began to lighten into cloud white. The stammer in his chest beat a constant bulbous beat, but his skin was tingling enough that even deep inside he could feel almost nothing. The grip on his throat pushed closer to being just finger muscles touching messy finger muscles, but Roi was almost certain it wasn’t even his body part anymore.
The scream he heard through bleating eardrums should have been his, but the wind had long since turned to hot ash and therefore couldn’t possibly be coming from him. It must have been someone else, someone nearby.
In a flash of white, Roi and his other train-self were severed completely, on railside vehicle suddenly disappearing behind the stark white walls of endless light and undisturbed abyss. He felt his eyes flicker, then, and his fingers twitch. He heard the dull ache of a familiar voice nearby and turned what felt like well-oiled gears to find himself staring at none other than a smiling Agent Bond, in the artificial flesh.
Welcome back, Bond seemed to say, though no movement of the man’s lips were seen, I trust you come across well?
Roi stared, confused. What was this? Where was he? Had the others saved him and brought him to the hospital?
No, nothing like that, Bond replied, and still Roi gaped at how the man could communicate without moving his lips nor using any sort of speaker system. It was as though Bond were displaying his words directly into Roi’s brain. At that, the agent smiled wanly. Close enough.
Where am I? Roi tried to ask with vocal cords that seemed not to work.
Bond nodded and turned away and into the abyss, trailing his voice as he spoke, again without moving his lips. You are in a state of download, just now, Roi. Be patient. I know it’s a long time, but in merely point zero zero seven five microseconds everything will be as can be expected.
Download? The man stopped, unaware that he had even been moving in the first place. What do you mean, ‘download’?
The agent’s laugh was impenetrably awkward in the void of light, each echo made into endless miniature echoes until the whole of existence seemed to be made of them, the tiny echoes of a laugh made by a man who wasn’t even real. Let us be straight right now, Roi. You died.
I… I died?
Yes, and you don’t very well expect me to have lost such a mind, do you? Bond looked cross, blue eyes fixed on Roi in a hallucinatory, dark gaze. Just then the white started to fade ever darker, until Roi saw where he was, standing in the middle of the chamber Bond had asked him never to venture, a chamber that, until now it seemed, Roi had kept his word about. You see, Bond lifted eyebrows high in a world that seemed both static and slow in the same instant, I, alone, cannot traverse the galaxies with just one mind. I need others to take my place. In this case, I am called Omega, something you humans have gotten wrong for much too long, and you are now called Quintet, with just one other having been made between our creations.
I don’t get it.
Bond laughed, again making that tinny reverberant noise, like a mosquito caught at the point of a massive tin funnel. We never do in the first few microseconds. Let me say this much, though: you are the seventeenth player, and we have only a handful more before the game can begin anew.
Roi fanned out his thoughts, trying to comprehend, only finding empty space and endless facts and tidbits that he never knew could exist at so close a range to his thoughts. The further he reached, the wider Bond -- Omega’s smile went. And then he got it, understanding the whole of the universe faster than Neo had learned kung-fu.
This really was a game -- but it wasn’t between civilizations, per-se, but between the artificial minds behind those civilizations. Each time another race was added to the mix, another mind was captured and put to the test in an all-out game of intergalactic command, expand and conquer until all necessary players had been gathered.
Only afterward, however, could the real game begin; the game to be the last intelligence alive, surviving the downfall of other races and only capable of dying when one’s entire race had been eliminated.
Now do you understand?
All except for one thing, Roi tilted his head to the side in wonder.
Why did you bring me into this? If playing the game means you die in the end if you don’t win, why add in other players that might become your downfall?
Omega lifted an eyebrow high as though mocking Quintet’s thought process and all the systematic hardware that enabled such mechanisms possible. Because playing with the same minds all the time tends to get very, incredibly boring more often than not. In fact I look forward to the day that another player may become my downfall, for that day, alone, would be something far newer than anything I could possibly imagine.