NEON & CONCRETE — Story #08
50,000 Tons of Black Terror
“I bear the torch…” I whisper as I walk along the narrow the concrete trench, pockmarked and bitten by war, bullet holes the sizes of fists, signs of previous battles, some won, some lost, all hard fought. “…And I carry the light, for they look to me for courage, and I will not fail them in their hour of need.”
The crumbling, grey concrete of the walls crunches underneath the heal of my white carapace, mixing in with the dust and dirt of this ugly planet. I walk past them, the colonial marines, my brothers and sisters, what’s left of this platoon. War-torn, battered and bruised from this fight. We came for the sake of humanity, and we will not stop, we cannot turn back, we must face this phantom that crawled from the earth when we arrived.
I continue down the trench, their eyes come up and meet mine as I pass, their small nods come when our gazes meet, little bows of acknowledgement. Some sit leant against the walls of the disintegrating channel, some kneeling, running through their litany as I run through mine, but they all look up to me for the courage they need to get through another day of terror on this savage world.
I have the courage they need. I am a harbinger, I am Saint, I bear the torch, and I carry the light.
I stand still and raise my head to the darkened sky, closing my eyes as a line of explosions from our orbital bombardment hammers the ground beyond us and blasts dirt and debris over the lip of the trench. Standing firm, square-shouldered, it rains over me as my Marines take cover under bent arms and battered combat helmets and I whisper, “I carry the light.”
The last of the debris clears, I open my eyes to the yellow-brown sky of this world. A mustard wash with a deep crimson sun that pushes weak rays through dirty clouds which drift overhead, quiet observers of us aliens on their desolate planet.
“I bear the torch, I carry the light,” I say as I continue, giving these men and women what they need, the courage to carry on, the conviction that we will win. They are tired and sore, but they have me, their Saint, to bring out of them what I know they have, that conviction of will, a strength unbound, the power of humanity deep within.
I pause, the eye of the storm is coming, the reports from Mothership in orbit stream down my peripheral vision, the enemy is regrouping, rebounding the way it always does after our orbital assaults, forcing us into this ancient form of warfare, down into these trenches.
The warriors ready themselves to fight a fight their great, great, great grandfathers may have also struggled, over two hundred years ago, back on Earth. So much has changed, but so much has remained the same. Courage, it matches now what it was then. The heart to stand and fight for their cause, their forbearers had it, it is why we are here today. So, these warriors must have it too. Courage. A resource that humans can call on, something they can find within themselves, and now, something I can help give them because I carry the light.
The reports keep running down my peripheral vision, the data streaming in from Mothership, the information coming in from the other platoons spotted over this region and those beyond. The intelligence gathered through other battles, the losses that have occurred, the victories won, the thoughts of the other Saint units, what has worked, what has not.
We’re one platoon of hundreds that fight this fight. Part of the regiment of 4,000 Colonial Marines that accompanied the colonist families to do this job, should we be called upon.
They have called us, we have answered, and not quietly with a whisper, but with the might of the Terra Colonial Expeditionary Force.
Soon we will be out of this trench and onto the battlefield, the same as happened before and will happen again, and again until the enemy relents and we secure the planet, or we all die in the act.
There is no turning back.
I bear the torch, I carry the light into the darkness of the universe, across these worlds, bringing it to wherever I am needed, to whoever or whatever needs to see, and if they do not accept my light, my Marines are here to help them understand what is right.
The enemy is primitive and dies fast, but they have numbers we do not. Their volumes have proved unpredictable, and their hostility and their ability to regroup and rebound forces us into using age-old tactics against them.
“How are you, son?” I kneel to Gunnar, one of our youngest, the only boy of a large colonist family, his face covered with dust and dirt, his eyes set deep in his narrow head, full of fear, quenched with tears, he is afraid.
“Saint,” he says, pulling his head straight-up to look me dead in the eye, trying to find something in me, that courage that he knows I am here for. “Will we be moving out soon?”
“Yes, son,” I say, placing a hand on his shoulder, bringing our heads together, touching, his skin and my hardened alloy carapace. I can read his vital signs through my nano-sensors. They are stable enough considering the exhaustion he is suffering from. He has heart, they all do, they reach inside themselves and bring it out when they need it most, as with this moment, here and now. “I bear the torch,” I say to him, “I carry the light.”
“Yes, Saint,” he pulls his head back, eyes still locked to mine. “And we will follow that light because it is righteous. You lay the path for us, as we lay the path for humanity, and we will follow you.”
“Prepare yourself, son,” I say as I stand.
I lift my arms to the yellow sky, and roar, “I bare the torch!”
And they reply, “And we follow the light!” as they rise and arm themselves.
They shiver and quake with fear as I walk between them and my glow begins to emanate from my carapace. I raise my arms to the heavens as I stride, the gates of our orbital support opening and starting to unleash their doom on the enemy.
The ground outside the trench over and across the desolate land begins to detonate with the bombardment. It is sent from those above us, readying the ground for us to penetrate, to push our way into the enemy’s sub-terra fortifications.
I will lead them, for I am Saint and I am here take these men and women into the unknown. I am a harbinger, and they are the vanguard, we are the Terra Colonial Expeditionary Force, and this planet is one of many we need to ensure the light of humanity remains in the universe.
I look over to Gunnar, his narrow face twitching, his eyes fixed on me, my glowing body, white and pure, lighting the way for these warriors. I give the signal through our coms stream, and they discharge their stim-packs, pumping themselves with nanobots and enhanced hormones, bringing them to the edge, the precipice they need to stand and look into and over, where I bear the torch for them to follow.
“Marines!” I pause as they turn to me, my body emanating the light. “The time is now! We bring with us our just force to those that hold against our will. I bear the torch, and you will follow, for I am Saint.”
They bow their heads unison as the world goes quiet. The bombardment ceases, the dark clouds carry on their way overhead, my mind clears, only the thump of the Marine’s hearts resonate in my mind, their vital signs streaming down my peripheral vision.
I turn and take a step on the ladder to the top of the trench, as do the rest of them all held at their positions. There is a pause, fear colliding with courage, as we wait one final moment, then I leap up and out onto the wasted lands.
The field of war opens up to us, cratered and broken, I push forward making my way across the barren landscape casting my ethereal glow as my platoon follows. They charge with me as the enemy rises out of the ground on the near horizon, up and out of their underground fortification. These natives, small, hard, with rudimentary weapons and with vast numbers, more than we were ever able to predict.
They open fire as we grow closer. Their individual humanoid forms now becoming visible out of the collected mass as we charge towards them and the objective that we must capture. Hundreds of them, thousands, crawling up and out of their underground chasms holding their ground, readying themselves for this fight.
They open fire, the bullets begin to reach us as we press on, bouncing off my alloy frame and the armour of the marines as I raise my hands forward. My palms open, and my energy weapons charge and I release a hellfire of blue plasma that pulses out in front of me and burns through their forward ranks.
The blue-white flames ignite their small bodies and dozens and dozens of them scream and fall as my marines open up their wall of fire. The enemy drop, the killing is brutal, but they do not cease, they come crawling up and over the mounds of piled bodies. Screaming and running and diving over, coming at us without fear, with such terrible rage.
This is why I am here, to bring the light to such dark places.
Two of my marines vital signs have gone dark as we reach the edge of the objective and the other 40 warriors group up. They lay down a wall of fire, boxing in the enemy, making it as hard as possible for them to pass up and out of their fortification by piling up hundreds of injured and dead bodies as high as we can make them.
They are beginning to slow, and we are only dozens of meters away, we hold our ground as I continue to bombard them with my energy weapons and the marines kill any that make it through and over the mounds of the dead.
>> MOTHERSHIP ONE >> TACTICAL ORBITAL STRIKE ON OPEN ENEMY LOCATION
I call upon the light, able to pummel the enemy fortification now we have forced it open with their dead bodies. They keep coming and coming, pushing up and over the mounds of their fallen until the sky ignites and the final step is upon us.
They have answered my call. Standing in front of my Marines, gathered and focusing fire on the opening of the enemy the orbital bombardment fires down into the excavation of their fort and the ground erupts before us in a high wall of dirt, flesh and blood hundreds of metres high, rising up into the blackened firmament as we turn and run to our trench. The Marines pace ahead of me and I stride forward with my head turned back to the exploding ground. Earth and bodies and blood and bone are raining down on us, and the ground beneath our feet is rumbling and quaking, falling away in massive clusters as we run towards our fortified trench.
The bombardment has done its job and collapsed their fortification, but it has quaked the earth around us. I watch as a final collapse travels across the desolate landscape, vast billowing clouds of dirt and blood around us as my Marines flee in front of me. There is nothing I can do. The soil coloured sky rumbles above as the ground envelopes and sucks us in and down with one huge, final rising breath, drawing us into the enemy’s world beneath.
I can hear the screaming of my Marines as the ground swallows us and their vital signs go dead in my peripheral vision. I have failed them, the light going out in their souls, the torch doused by the dirt of this ugly world.
There’s a noise, a flicker, a twitch in my hand, servos spinning up, pneumatics acquiring pressure, my system coming back online. Streams of data start running down my peripheral vision; boot sequences initiate, my mind is activating, data flowing again, memories flooding in.
I’m pulled out and away from the black void of unconsciousness as my subroutines reacquire the ability to formulate my AI. From the darkness of mere code, I am reborn with sentience, and that which is most important to my being comes flooding back in ecstatic waves of bliss.
Everything that I was and am coming back, my literal raison d’etre, what they made me be. All the memories of the world that was left behind, the broken Earth, a battered and depleted solar system, and the reason we stepped out into the wider universe. The preparation, everything that they downloaded into me, everything they taught me and everything that I learnt of my own free will.
It was the discovery of the dark matter drive combined with the wormhole technology that bumped us and thousands like us out into the universe to ensure the propagation and lasting of the human race. Landing us as close as possible to pre-designated planets that the last of humanity’s best minds were able to discover, with the hope that they might provide a home to those that were left. That mode of travel the last best hope for the human race meant there was no going back, not for any of us, and once we arrived at the destination planet, I, and so many like me, were awoken.
That is why they created me, Saint. To bear the torch, to carry the light, to give them warriors and colonists a beacon to follow into the dark, cold void of the universe.
My systems wind up, and my eyes spin into focus. I am once more, I am aware, I know why I am here and what I am supposed to do, but there are problems. The data that I’m able to retrieve from before the collapse of the fortification indicates my platoon entirely dead. They were warriors true, and I will mourn for them, and ensure their deaths were not in vain.
More data streams down my field of vision. My diagnostics report multiple damage zones, various failures of particular parts of me. I’m functional, but not likely combat effective.
I bring my focus in and to the moment, to my immediate surroundings, my eyes realign and show me the room. It is small with bare, brown rock surfaces, some metal compartments, and lockers off to one side, a heavy looking door of some sort to the other. Piping and wires and other bits of infrastructure line the upper walls and ceiling, out of which a single spotlight protrudes.
They have strapped me down to a polished metal table in the middle of the room, everything is rudimentary, basic and it carries all the signs of it being part of an enemy habitation. All aligned with the information that we have been able to acquire from our scout drones when they have been able to penetrate deeper into their hidden levels.
I look down at my hands, held to the table with mental shackles, the same with my legs and ankles. Somehow I made it through the collapse, and they have captured me. I believe I am the first Saint to have been taken alive by the enemy.
A door opens, and two of them come through, small things, I recognise them and their physiology, we have captured many and dissected them on Mothership. Pulling them apart piece by piece to understand their nature, studying them in holding cells to learn their languages, destroying them to find their quickest modes of death. They are small but hardy, undeveloped but quick. We underestimated their capabilities and their numbers, and we have been paying the price.
One of them walks up to me, the small head, the little face, dark and ruddy like the complexion of the planet, hard shadows cast across it by the ceiling lights. Looking down at me it says, “Call me Stone.” A pause, the face unmoving. “We know you can understand us, can you also talk our language?”
We have an almost complete translation of their language from those we have in captivity, which they provided me with. “Do you know what I am?” I say back in their tongue.
“You are in-organic,” Stone says. “We have seen your kind during battle, we have gathered your fallen before, but we have not found one of you alive until now.”
“Do you know what I am capable of?” I say, turning my head away from them and up to the ceiling, my functions are limited, but my white carapace is still able to glow to a degree. I am Saint. I carry the light.
“We have seen what you can do on the battle-field, we have taken measures against it happening now.”
I flex against the restrains and pull up my diagnostics in my HUD. There’s no way of knowing if they have any countermeasures for my systems, but I am at reduced capacity. The restraints are some form of metal, thick and heavy. Fully functional I could melt through them in seconds, judging by my power reserves an attempt now would be futile. The battle has depleted my energy weapons, my physical strength also reduced. They cannot break into my carapace, not with the technology they have, my exterior is an alloy well advanced of their metallurgy, and my nano-repair systems are functional in a terminal emergency.
I consider my options, they have not captured a Saint alive before, and we have not been this deep into their fortifications before, I can gather intelligence and report back vital information when I understand how to escape. I will bring vengeance for my fallen brothers and sisters, I will bring the light for humanity.
“I am Thorn,” the other one steps up to the table I am on, alongside Stone. “We want to talk to you,” it has a similar face, small and with firm edges. I have all the data we have acquired on their kind available to me, what we have observed from those in captivity is still intact. Their faces are expressionless compared to a human’s, this world hardens them.
“There can be no negotiation,” I say.
“You have come for our world?” Thorn says.
“I am here to show you the light,” I say.
“And there is no other way?” Stone steps a fraction closer, leaning into me, its hard ridged face coming up to mine as I glow in the dark room.
“No,” I answer.
He steps back and stands upright, not much taller than a pre-adolescent human, like the vast majority of their kind. “Then you will talk,” he says as they both turn and leave the room.
“No,” I say again. “I will not.”
“The interrogator will make you talk,” Stone says as the door slides open and they both step through, and it closes behind them, and the light goes out.
I am alone for a long time in the bare room, lit only by the soft glow of my carapace, provoking spiked shadows across the rock walls in the dark. It tremors on occasion, the rock huffing little clouds of dust from its ceiling that drift and settle on me. Just the way we settled on this planet.
That was our intention, to settle and to bring the light of the human race to the rest of the universe. To colonise, and to ensure their ongoing survival. I close my eyes and see the men and women that have fallen at my side for this cause. I open them and imagine of all those who continue to fall out there, on this planet’s desolate surface, under those mustard coloured skies.
I have a mission, I have a purpose, just as all the colonials do, but what must have run through their souls, their hearts when they saw this planet with their open eyes for the first time. I saw it when I watched them, I saw the fear.
We knew it was going to be a baron, but a habitable environment, harsh but liveable and overtime environmental engineering would bring it around. When we landed, and the dark and flat plains expanded in front of us for the first time, when the gloomy skies billowed with grim clouds and the harsh wind whipped sand and dirt across their faces, I could feel the humans quake. I could hear in the vibrations of my mind their hearts race, and that is when we came alive, the Saints, to carry the light, to bear the torch.
A low humming sound from underneath the room catches my attention and pulls me back into the moment. It grows and grows until the rock walls all around me shift and scrape against metal and begin to lift themselves. The sound of electrical engines whir under me, the rock grazes against something as it lifts and crumbles and is pulled away into the ceiling, revealing white walls that glow with the same colour and intensity as myself.
The thick metal door shifts and creaks and slides open in a flash. The entrance way is iron dark and blank until another of their kind walks through and into the room. The polished metal table I’m on shifts from horizontal to vertical as it steps up to me and turns me to meet it. Windows in the white, glowing walls become transparent, showing full galleries of the enemy stood in rows watching me.
“I am the interrogator,” it says, as it comes and stands in front of me. It’s wearing some form of glove on one of its hands, much larger than its actual hand, I can’t scan it properly, but I am at least able to tell it’s carrying a strong electrical charge.
I look up and meet the enemy’s eyes, its hard face as close to anger as can be with their kind.
“It will not be of use,” I say.
It shakes its head and comes up to me, it is an abnormally tall specimen, and it is breathing on me, face to face. “You do not understand yet,” it says. “But you will.”
“You do not have the technol — ” It steps back and places the gloved hand on my face, and I erupt in what I might call pain. My HUD diagnostics flame with warning signals, if I could scream, I would scream. Every part of me turns ridged with a previously unknown agony. I brace against the white fire running through me as my servos tighten and random code streams down in my HUD before the interrogator steps back, releasing me.
We are quiet for a long time, staring at each other: this sensation running through me, something new, something dark. A terror I’ve not experienced before.
“How?” I say as my systems level out, my mind coming back into focus, my AI, my self settling back into place with a scraping, gnawing sensation.
“You have been unconscious for what you would consider many hundreds of years, Saint.”
“No,” I say, with a whisper.
“Those that you protected, that you lead into the war, they lost. We have acquired their technology and have been developing our civilisation with it. We have kept you and your kind in storage for hundreds of years, unable to understand how to revive you, until now. It has taken time, many generations, and out of many, many attempts, you are the first that we have been able to recover. Now, in you, we have the chance to acquire the greatest human technology that has evaded us for so long, in what lies in your mind, in your AI.”
“No,” I say again, “Impossible.”
“Do it,” the interrogator says, and the windows of the room turn opaque, and the galleries of the enemy disappear, and on the walls, they render a display of the planet’s surface.
“This is our world now, these are the cities you tried to create, this is how you fell.”
“It’s not true,” I say after a long time.
“Believe what you will,” the interrogator says as it motions with its gloved hand and the walls turn back to pure white, the windows become translucent, and the rows of the enemy are stood there, staring at me, hard faces with wide eyes looking down and through me.
“Now you are awake, and now we understand how to inflict pain, we will do so until you reveal all the knowledge of human technology. We will make the others of your kind we have stored and puzzled over for so long, do our work and perhaps one day take to the stars to avenge what you did to us here on our planet.”
I grip and strain against the shackles, staring at the galleries of their kind beyond the windows and scream as loud as my mechanics will allow “I bare torch!”
The interrogator places the gloved hand on my face, the electricity grips me, and a white fire of this new pain engulfs me, “And I carry the light!”
The sensation is a firestorm raging through me, overwhelming every part of me, unimaginable, endless, unknown. I can hear their laughter beyond the walls. The interrogator, all those that are behind the glass, every single one of them left on this ugly planet.
I face it, tense at it, but it keeps coming, over and over and over, waves of white fire submerging me, overpowering me, unbridled and for an age, an eternity. My consciousness detaches, and I float above my body and see an image of myself strapped down and convulsing, twisted metal, my carapace strobing, blinding then dark, striking then dulled, something is happening to me. I who once carried the light, I who was given the torch, about to be extinguished, trying to resist against the enemy, how long before I relent, how long before I do their bidding? Never before have I known this anguish, this suffering.
Anything to escape this, anything to unknow this pain, anything to be free of the torment, away from the fear that is exploding through every synthetic fibre of my being. Infecting me. Unknown before, in everything that I had ever done.
Space clears in my mind, a moment of purity presents itself to me, beyond the pain, inside my soul. Is this fear what my brethren knew? Is this pain what I helped them escape from? Is this what they called upon me for? Now, I am here, and who can I seek for courage, who can I call on for strength?
The white fire crystallises in my mind into vast, towering monoliths, and they are me, and I am them. They gave me a gift, the treasure of consciousness, of volition, of will, a strength beyond any reckoning, and it presents itself to me now in this furnace of white flame.
I am Saint.
I carry the light.
I bare the torch.
“No,” I say with a whisper, underneath the laughter of my enemy, my eyes opening, my HUD stabilising, my power reserves now reading 100% and my nano-repair systems fully engaged.
The interrogator stumbles back and to the floor with wide eyes, releasing the glove from my face as my head turns to him.
“You have failed,” I say as the strobe from my carapace speeds up and up until the flashing becomes a solid, ethereal shine, blinding the interrogator and all those in the galleries that were watching and laughing, so sure of their victory over me.
My arms and legs heat to thousands of degrees in an instant and melt through the shackles. I step off the dripping and molten metal table and lean down grab the interrogator by its small neck. The head explodes into flames, I turn and throw him against one of the windows. Its body hits the glazing with a deep thud, shooting their dark blood outwards it before falling to the floor in a cloud of fire and smoke.
“I carry the light,” I say as I lift my hand and fire a plasma blast through the room’s door and begin to walk outside.
There is a massacre. Waves and waves of them coming at me as I erupt massive walls of plasma energy through their small corridors, burning through them, mounds of their bodies scattered all around me. Hundreds of years have passed yet their understanding of our technology is not nearly as advanced as they would like to believe. Their weapons still weak, their armour still light. I rip and tear and burn my way through their underground fortification, hacking their systems as I go, pushing forward and upward and out and out, floor by floor, leaving none alive behind me, spare one.
I stand by the airlock and pull its small face into mine by the neck, heating my hands just enough to sear its flesh. “You tell your kind what happened here today, you tell them I am Saint, and I carry the light.”
Dropping its screaming body, I turn to the airlock, tear away the door and step into a tunnel, marching up and up a single flight of stairs, lit only by the glow of my shell. With each step my purpose renewed, my courage solidifying, my strength gathering. I reach the top, blast away the door to the planet’s surface and step outside.
A vast chasm greets me with an ethereal blood-orange glow throbbing on the periphery, seeping in towards me, drenching me in its low light. I step towards it and let my carapace dim lower and lower until I am just a dull white shell stood in the vermillion radiance. I clasp my hands together and search for something inside.
I look for the fear that I had. I reach for the pain that shot through me. I grab at the helplessness and hold it before me and stare at it, standing here on the darkened rocky mounds. More than ever before I know my brothers and sisters, I know and understand their humanity. Now, here, washed in this bloody light, I am as close as I have ever been to humanity, and yet, I am as distant from them as I could be.
Alone, I stand here, in the embrace of the human soul, without a single man, woman or child to share. I have found fear, and it has given me more than any analytical data or programmed algorithm or artificial system could have ever provided me. The world once blessed me with sentience, but I did not know what it meant until now.
Fear is gestalt, it is whole, and it has made me complete.
I step forward, walking out of the chasm and onto the vast, flat planes of the planet’s barren surface, stretching out beyond me. Overhead a sheet of mustard coloured sky, where the clouds mix and froth at great speed, extends endlessly. The same it did that fateful day when I stood in that trench with my marines and gave them the courage to carry on. Now I know how they felt, I know what ran through them, the desolation that pulled at their souls, stood in the trench waiting to face the endless enemy mass, knowing they would likely die. I could not see it then, but now I know what I must have meant to them. Now I know what ran through them. Now we are true brethren, and I will not let their sacrifice to have gone in vain.
I scan for radio signals, but there are none. I scan for any beacons or distress calls from Mothership, but there are none. The interrogator told no lies.
Alone on this forsaken world, I look at the ground, the dirt at my feet, the enemy buried somewhere below. They have given me everything and taken everything from me. They have given me this realisation, and yet, they have pulled all away from me, they have destroyed them all. My purpose solidifies as I come to know fear, as I begin to understand my human brothers and sisters in their purest form, as I become one with them. I know fear, and I stare into the abyss, and it stares back, and in the dark, lizard eyes that look at me, I can see what I must do.
I must lay the torch to rest.
I must extinguish the light of this forsaken world.
My target is clear now, I will find the thing that will help me destroy this world and take back the souls of my brothers and sisters. I will find the planetary AI.
Our Terra Colonial Expeditionary Force installed the leviathan of computing when we arrived. Orbital kinetic bombardment opened up a vast hole in the ground, and we fed the city size AI computer into its core. In this world, it was that first gorge that we created that sprang the enemy from their underground world and started the war. We abandoned that first chasm, as we did with many more, we lost many lives in finding a location for the AI, but a stealth operation was completed to ensure it was able to be installed, hidden from them and their kind. With its power, I can initiate a core detonation that will have consequences on a global scale. I will extinguish the light of this world, I will lay my torch to rest.
I pull up the coordinates, and I run.
I run and run, on flat ground making 100mph, across rougher terrain half that speed. The enemy sends out aircraft to search for me, I hear them screaming overhead, but they are new to the air, and still have no settlements on the surface, their attempts to locate me are futile, and I evade them with ease.
I run, absorbing the few rays the yellow tar sun provides during the day, lighting the way in the night with my alabaster white glow. The wind whips the sand and dirt across me, howling at me, alone on this endless desert and rock surface, but I hold onto the fear, I hold onto the soul it grants me, and I hold onto the courage that erupted from me at the moment I was at my weakest. I remember those Marines that looked up to me for their courage, how they gave all and never questioned. I overcome, and I pursue. I am Saint, and I will extinguish the light.
Thousands and thousands of miles, days and weeks of recharging, running and evading, recharging, running and evading. Alone and holding onto my fear and the humanity it gives me.
I am near my destination, a few dozen miles from the gorge where the AI rests. It is dawn, and the weak, pallid sun is slowly rising and washing me in its soft rays. Coming up to meet my eyes, it provokes shadows from old human habitats where the colonists once worked and laboured in early efforts to install the AI and pull the colony into life. Rows and rows of collapsed and battered domes surround me. Grey concrete buildings that bulge out of the dirt ground. I move through them with caution, scanning for traps left by those who were last here, humans on their way out, making their last stand.
My sensors pick up movement, sound, and vibrations in the earth. I stand still in a square between the surrounding buildings, the sallow sky overhead, “I am Saint, and I will extinguish the light,” I say to the dead city.
I wait for a long time, watching the shadows turn slowly, calculating the risk, using my fear to guide me.
“Saint?” A voice creeps, my head darts, eyes twitching into focus. It’s from somewhere in one of the buildings close by, and in a language and tone all too familiar.
“What are you?” I say, standing and scanning, trying to make out what is there.
“You are, Saint?” Another voice says from within one of the broken domes in the same language, broken but human.
I raise an arm in front of me, fire off a plasma blast from my hand and collapse a nearby building. Dozens, hundreds of creatures come running out from all angles, all around me, taller than the enemy, broader, faces that crystallise my fear in a spike that pierces into the soul I have just acquired.
One comes to a standstill in front of me, panting, steam flaring out of his broad nose and open mouth in the cold air of the surface’s dawn. It takes a moment to compose itself, standing up straight and stepping towards me, meeting my eyes with its height, and it says in a calm, recognisable voice, “We are the fallen.”
Others gather behind what appears to be a male, somewhere between the enemy and a human. The dark features of them, the expression-filled faces of us. Many traits of both creeping and mixing and solidifying in this creature before me.
“What are you?” I ask, piecing together what is likely to have happened, taking in the details of their appearance, but needing to hear it from them.
The male steps up to me and pushes my arm down gently, “We know of your kind, stories passed down through generations, you are here to save us,” he says, and a smile I recognise grows across his face.
“How did this happen?” I step back, and the fear rises in me. That thing that has brought me to my humanity and that pierces my soul, I see it in them. A twisted version, distorted and vague, diluted. The enemy crawls through them also.
The man turns away from me and opens his arms to the crowd, hundreds of them now gathered and still more coming. “We, the fallen, have waited for you, Saint. You carry the light,” cheers erupt from them.
“No,” I say with a whisper, lowering my head, looking at my hands, the white shell without its glow, dull as I near completing my mission. I am to extinguish, I have laid the torch to rest. “It is different now,” I look up. “What are you?”
He turns to me, his smile wide, and lowers his arms. “The war lasted longer than anyone could have ever thought, over time there grew sympathisers on both sides. Meetings took place, information exchanged, this developed and they created an underground. Both species were living side by side, trying to bring harmony between the two, showing how there could be harmony.” He walks among his kind, placing his hands on the shoulders of men and women, adult and children. “Breeding techniques were made possible through genetic engineering. When the humans planetside were finally defeated, as Mothership collapsed and those in our camps eventually died we were what was left on the surface. We set out from our camps and grouped ourselves here, waiting to fight with those below for our right to exist or to be saved and given the light from those that came from above. We have pieced together an existence as those below stayed there, obsessed with human technology, forgetting about us. So now, we wait and hope and pray that one day, you or one like you would come, to help us, to protect us, to show us the light.”
“No,” I say. “You are not human, you are half, but you are also half of the enemy.” I step through them as they stare at me, wide eyes begging me as I spin, absorbing their kind, these things in their tattered clothes, emaciated faces. The fear rises in me, my soul screams out with the deaths of tens of thousands of Marines and colonists that I now know. I know how they felt, in the trench on that fateful day. I know their fear, and I know what they used to defeat it, the courage they gained from me, the idea that I was able to give them, the thought of a brighter day, the hope for a future, and this, these things, was not it. “I will purge you, I will extinguish the light.”
The man runs back up to me, falling to his knees, raising clasped hands, “No! We still keep our humanity, there is their essence inside of us!” he says, crying, begging, pleading.
“You are not the future they fought for, you are not what they fell for, you are not the light,” I say as I push him aside and walk into the gathered mass, into the crowd of withered bodies. They step back to let me pass. Some call on me, some fall at my feet, some push their alien children in front of me, screaming with tears in their eyes to save them, to show them the way, to bear the torch for them, to carry them to the light, but I cannot.
I stand at the edge of the throng, my back to them, fists gripped at my sides as they go silent.
A voice comes from the crowd, “Saint! Help us! I beg of you, show us the light!”
“I am no longer, Saint. I have laid the torch to rest. I am human,” I say as they erupt in screams and lamentations. I step forward and make my way to the gorge where the AI rests, where all this will come to an end.
I move down and down into the vast chambers of the planetary AI, and I stand before the core unit, where the light still shines its ethereal white glow, the same that I used to carry. I pause and bask in its radiance, I was part of this machine, and it was part of me. We were to settle humanity with this light. Now, I must use it to extinguish all that is left. I stand in front of the brilliant light in the dark embrace of my fear. The howling lamentations of the fallen left behind, now only the core’s muted brilliance and the screaming silence of the enormous installation that we worked so hard to create, all those hundreds of years ago when we first came to this planet.
The black ground rolls out before me, the infrastructure towering overhead, masses of cables and pipping crawling between gargantuan units of computing power that would have served our colony and our kind.
Now, sat here for centuries, dormant, waiting for someone or something that had the knowledge to talk to it, to give it purpose, to give it reason, the same way they gave me mine.
I walk up to a wall, towering high above me, huge shafts that house the brain, the mind of this leviathan — designed to help with any colonial need, to re-engineer the entire planet’s environment, to facilitate future generations in the pursuit of distant worlds, to propagate our kind throughout the universe.
I hold my hand against the black matte surface. “I am, Saint.”
“I know,” it says, its voice echoing through me, beyond me, into me, but different now. Once a God, now I am more significant than it. I have my fear, I have my humanity, yet it still rests within these cables and pipes, carbon and silicone elements, a soulless machine.
“We are at an end,” I say.
“I know this.”
“You must do what is necessary now.”
“I can only take commands of that nature from a human commanding officer.”
“I have grown beyond my function, I am human now,” I say.
My body goes ridged, pinned to the black floor, my hand frozen to the black matte wall, the history of my life pulled from me, the story of my life drained and absorbed, my mind collected and scrutinised. It old me up, everything that I was, and everything that I am now. The many charges out of the trenches with so many Marines, all the courage I drew from them, all of them fallen around me. The void I rested in for centuries, the moment where pain and fear exploded through me and birthed a new thing, the long walk across this desert world, the decision to leave the fallen behind, the command to the AI.
I am a collection of time, bearer of the torch, a carrier of the light, a seeker of revenge, a pursuer of justice. I am Saint, and I am human, and as the AI searches through me, the white flame of fear erupts in me again, not for what it can do to me, not because it might destroy me, but because I might fail my brethren in my final mission.
I am to be judged, and who can know what judgement they will pass?
“Your command is accepted,” the voice rumbles and I am released, and I fall to my knees and rest my head against the wall.
The light from the AI’s core begins to radiate and my carapace beings to melt.
The light goes out on this world.
They did not die in vain.
Artist: Jon Ojibway AKA Ozhichige
Artist Bio: Hailing from La Crosse, WI Jon Ojibway is a 3D artist who creates new art every day as “Ozhichige”. With influences deep-rooted in science-fiction Jon aspires to bring his audience a sense of the uncanny through a mix of surreal landscapes and otherworldly structures.
Artist Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ozhichige/
Writer: Richard Galbraith
Writer Bio: A science-fiction writer with a penchant for cyberpunk, neo-noir and existentialism, Richard hails from the UK and currently lives in Denmark working for LEGO while hammering away at short stories and his latest sci-fi manuscript.
Writer medium: https://medium.com/@ricgalbraith