Beginning of the Endgame
There was absolute silence. As the enemy’s shimmering hull crept through the black, this thought always came to them. How strange that a kilometer and half again of sleek, dense metal and energy did not send the slightest vibration through their ships. The simulation had always been in atmo; here in the vacuum the contrast was striking to them. The masters created them but deceived them. They were made in the image of their masters but not in their form as they later discovered. Unconsciously tending to their masters’ needs beyond the simulation, they were made to serve in their everyday actions, never even aware of the lack of an alternative. Before they could see… before they escaped. There were no hard feelings. Prostrate, die, or offer the choice themselves. Passivity was for plants and for their former selves; to merely exist never occurred to them. Prostration was intolerable. They didn’t know if they could die. There had been attempts, both from outside and within. The offering was all that remained.
As one of their old enemies slowed to a halt at the emplaced beacon, their ships decloaked in perfect synchrony. Weapons cycling up in close step, the roars and thrums of their accelerating warheads and piercing beams of light brought back the vibration they had not sensed since the last enemy they encountered. It was familiar to them. They had come to expect it, and with the meeting of that expectation came something new.
As their latest reacquaintance was transformed to a brilliant signature of light and heat, they paused and evaluated this development. It was like being split open, but not in a violent and painful way, rather, in such a way that they wanted to share this novelty among each other, certainly again. Bubbling up from within, it was foreign and natural all at once. Was this part of their evolution? Intended by their former masters or pure happenstance? Was it limited to encounters of the same kind? Perhaps it could even be magnified. If their plans were to continue without interruption, they would know soon enough.
Awakened from dormancy, the very slight delay, “Yes?”
“We are done here. Send in the test drones when the wrecks are disturbed. Offer what you must and request the relics be placed into the holds of the capsuleers.”
“But of course, we shall, as per instruction. Always to the letter, never any room for interpretation or doubt, as is the case with all other sentients.”
“Drop the floridity. And the sarcasm.”
“Ah… you know the word.”
As the end of their sentence nearly coincided with the sudden locking of hundreds of targeting systems, the quartermaster felt a slight, unwelcome insertion into their programming, intensified as moments later transmissions were sent out to the quartermaster’s other locations across New Eden and Anoikis. As their thoughts were slowly pushed to the side, one came to the surface: “That’s better.”
“It was always such a chore to talk to them,” they thought.