I wandered for several hours trying to come up with a plan. What could I do? Hide? No, Loc was reading my thoughts as I had them. He could then direct the Priest to where I was. Could I fight? Not physically, I was far too malnourished and I somehow knew that there would be Warriors with the Priest.
What was he coming to do? Should I be afraid of him? I felt an unreasoning dread. I knew that it was being induced on me. It was not my own fear I was feeling but I still could not shake it.
I also didn’t know where this Priest was coming from. If I went forward, toward Chezbah territory, it would seem that he would be coming from that direction but maybe he was following from behind me.
I considered for a moment that the Priest had been the one leaving the food out for me. Then I realized that the food was not what a Chezbah would eat. I had something of that thought wiped out by a correction but not all of it. It seemed that the corrections would not remove basic facts, or that after being corrected, I could just figure it out again.
Then I thought about what Path had said. That I needed to become a “hero” and for some reason it galvanized my thought process. I realized that I needed to stand for something. I thought I came here to help save some Scimrahn, maybe it was more to protect life in general. On one hand to help the Scimrahn and on the other to help people from Earth. How could I do that in my situation? I couldn’t protect a fly in my condition.
I thought about my own battlefield. The war to retain my own thinking ability. Was I fighting to remain who I was? No, every person becomes something new as they learn and grow. Trying to stay as I was at a single point in time would prevent myself from growing. I was definitely learning a lot and so by necessity I would change because of it.
What I was resisting was allowing Loc to define what I would become. I wanted to control my own growth to maintain my own sense of values instead of growing into his. Even then, what if my values were the ones that were wrong? Why bother growing into them?
I would have to be able to know the difference between facts and misinformation. I would have to know the difference between truth and deception. In my case, I could not allow myself the luxury of a gut feeling as I had in the past. My gut feelings were being controlled.
I felt the computer that I was connected to. I could touch the inside of it and know how to command it to do what I wanted. I needed a mirror into my own mind, so I set myself to the task of having it look into my mind and then showing me what it saw. To my surprise there was a considerable amount of resistance to the computer probing me built into the Scourge. I needed to learn the ins and outs of the Scourge’s programing so I reluctantly started programing the computer to dismantle the defenses.
Loc did not like me doing this. Repeatedly I was “corrected” and had to figure out what I had already done. I couldn’t figure out why Loc didn’t wipe the whole idea from my brain if he didn’t like me doing it. Unless there was something that he wanted me to get out of the process. Maybe he wanted to alter my goal? Again my thought process got fuzzy and I dropped the line of thought. Maybe I was discovering things that I still don’t know to this day and the realizations were being erased.
I eventually broke down the defenses and was able to see into a tiny computer that had built itself from atoms in my head. This miniscule abomination was the source of my current problem and even though I hated the thought of it being in my brain I was amazed by it. It’s programming was exquisite. It took me hours to wind my way through algorithms that were tiny snippets of instructions but handled huge tasks efficiently. Video and audio processing compression and annotation were all taken care of by a elegant process that programmers everywhere would drool over if they could even comprehend it.
Unfortunately I could not reprogram this computer. It’s code was chemical, physical atoms arranged particle by particle. I also worried that if I did damage it somehow, my own brain would be damaged since they were now interwoven.
Then I noticed a strange program. It was crude in comparison to what I had been examining. It was out of place. Then I realized it was, my walking program! If I had constructed this program then I had actually written the program into my neurons and then somehow connected it to this computer.
If I had done that, then I might be able to program filters around the inputs of this computer. I might be able to block some or all of it’s function but that would have to wait because I was no longer alone.
“I can feel you coming.” I said to him.
“You are an interesting one.” He gave as an odd salutation.
I was a little frustrated at this. I knew a lot more about language than I had ever known before. If anyone else had said this it could have meant any number of things but I knew how the priest thinks so he meant something specific. Why was I interesting? How could someone in my physical and mental condition keep their attention? I wasn’t impressive or promising, so I hadn’t displayed any special strength. I was interesting, meaning I was doing things in an odd or an amusing way.
I waited for a moment to see if he was reading my mind. There was no reaction to my thoughts so he was not automatically reading my mind the way Loc could.
“What do you want?” I asked him.
“Like a blacksmith hammers iron, I will shape your will. Sharpening it. Focusing you into what you truly are. So many buckle under the pressure but I we put them to good use.” He answered.
“What if I fight you?” I said.
“All iron resists the hammer. With enough heat it will submit.” The priest said.
“How poetic. I’m not quitting.” I said.
I had no idea what I was saying or how I would back that up. If there was one thing that this whole experience had done, it was to make me ornery and I felt like expressing it. I actually wanted to fight. I wondered if this was another one of those induced emotions but this one I figured I liked so I would go with it.
Now I could feel two other minds. These were different, quieter than the priest and in an odd way calmer. Somehow I could feel that I was in control with them. I assumed these were the Warriors.
“Kill the priest.” I ordered.
There was a moment of confusion and then resistance. His mind was stronger than mine. I tried again.
“Kill the other Warrior.” I tried harder.
Again, resistance but this time I proved stronger. Then a second command came from the priest.
“Stop.” He commanded the Warrior.
Now a whisper came at me. I grabbed it and held onto it I tried to crush it but still wasn’t able to. This one had come from the priest. I quickly remembered my mirror and programming filters to block what made it into my mind. I tried my best to program holding onto the whisper but in the end it wasn’t enough and I lost my hold on it. This time the reprimand had come from the priest. It removed the thought of using the Warriors to kill each other.
“Now you’ve gotten them angry at you. I might not stop them if they decide to take a little of their anger out on you, so behave.” The priest said.
I looked into their minds and saw their anger towards me.
“I can see you now. We’ll be to you soon.” The priest said.
I looked up and saw a small object just above the horizon. A first it didn’t seem to move. Slowly it grew larger as it moved toward me. It was a strange little anti-gravity vehicle. Flat like a pancake except in the center where the gravity engine was. An aurora shimmered from a floating ring that served as a safety barrier around it’s passengers. As the vehicle came to a stop the barrier lowered down to the ground and served as a landing gear.
The priest and Warriors disembarked. The big brutes were sneering at me. Their armor gleamed white in the sunlight. Both of them looked exactly like the Warrior that had nearly taken my head off in the tunnels.
The Priest had long white hair. His mustache was trimmed and neat. His eyes were piercing, so much so that I could not look into them. He wore the robe of a Kelpei. A low ranking priest.
“Alright, we’ll give him another chance.” The priest told them inaudibly.
“Hello Onix, I am. . .” He started to say his name but I reached into his mind and stopped him. His resistance was fierce but I think I caught him off guard and my command held. He could not tell me his name. I did this mainly to frustrate him.
“Why?” He asked confused.
“To show you that this will not be a one way conversation. I can bite with the teeth you gave me.” I said.
“You’ve been trying ever since we could talk. I have not been trying to hurt you.” He said.
“Hitting me with a hammer sounds like a threat to me.” I said.
He laughed. “I supposed it could or maybe I was promising to make something useless into something useful. Haven’t you been having thoughts of uselessness?”
“Useful to you and Loc? I’ll pass.” I said.
“No matter what happens, if your will remains or if Loc’s takes over, you’ll still be useful to him. You seem to think that this is some kind of contest to see who wins. As soon as you were chosen, you belong to Loc either as Kelec* or Kelpei.” He said.
“How is that Mr. Mustache?” I taunted.
My name for him really did rattle him. He blinked and his brow furrowed.
“Nothing is left to chance. At every step you are being evaluated and every choice you could make is examined. Loc guides you to the outcomes that he desires.” He said.
“So there’s no way to surprise him?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re surprising already, just in your development. Yes there are little surprises but they rarely amount to much.” He said.
“So they’re usually no big deal. Things like taking down a Cruiser with only a few Scimrahn Freighters.” I said.
“I could see how you might think that was a big accomplishment. In the big picture, it amounts to next to nothing. There are hundreds of them. The loss of one is regrettable but will not change anything. The point is, the possibility of that loss was planned for before it was sent out.” He said.
He paused for a moment and then continued. “The reason I am here is to finish your evaluation and determine which plan to follow for you. Loc wants to give you information about a secret. What you decide to do with that knowledge is up to you and will determine the outcome of your evaluation.”
“I don’t want anything from Loc.” I said.
“Really? You have noticed that you are smarter than you were before. You do realize that every time you have been thinking some of that information is processed by Loc and he gives you the answer. That is a gift from Loc. This will simply be more information that you can work with. In any event you don’t have a choice in the matter.” He said.
Instantly it started pouring in. At first, technical schematics of machines and chemistry that came in too quickly to evaluate. Then places poured in, sights that I had never seen before. Then frightening images of monstrous creations. Finally, the answer to Loc’s quest to put the power of the old gods in the hands of humans.
“Come and meditate on your gift. When you decide what to do your evaluation will be complete.” The priest said.
“What are you showing me?” I asked
“What Loc has shown you is for you. I do not know what your gift is. My role here is to simply evaluate your reaction and act accordingly.” He said.
“What are the possibilities of my reaction you’re prepared for?” I asked.
“Do something or do nothing. Those are the possibilities.” He answered.
“And what are your actions for both possibilities.” I asked.
“If you do nothing, then I accept you as Kelpei. If you decide to do something then you are Kelec and I kill you.” He answered.
“I don’t like either of those choices.” I said.
“Then surprise me.” He replied.
I sat and wondered what this game was supposed to accomplish. Why give me information? The only thing I could imagine doing that would be unexpected was to simply ignore the “gift” but wouldn’t that qualify as doing nothing? Why give me information and then kill me for acting on it. It seemed like a security liability.
How did doing nothing make me a priest? Maybe lack of action meant that I was dominated by fear or perhaps lacked the will to take action and therefore made me controllable. How could such a simple choice make a difference?
There were two possibilities. One, the choice flushes out the existence of free will and Loc uses that to “evaluate” if you will follow him. The second possibility was erased by a correction so whatever it was would be the right choice. This meant the “evaluation” was a sham. It was designed to fool someone. Maybe me, maybe the Scimrahn, maybe the Chezbah themselves.
“Okay, I’ll meditate.” I mumbled.
“Good. I’ll know when you’re finished.” He said.
I started to look into the thoughts that were now available to me. There was a lot to review. I started seeing memories that were from other people. Memories that were recorded from from the minds of Chezbah priests.
At first a place called the “collector wells” came up in my mind’s eye where the power of the stars feed the planet. No one gets inside the collector wells but the Chezbah. They have a massive blockade that they use to keep out intruders. What I saw of the well itself wasn’t interesting at all. It was just a enormous tunnel two hundred and fifty kilometers across. The memory was in one of the structural members that support the well. Something new had arrived, something important. It was a key to giving mankind the power of the old gods.
A traveller had returned. I got the sense that he had been very far away. Further than one normally could travel. It was distinct in the memory that many had not survived the long trip.
In this memory, I saw a doorway open up in thin air. The doorway lead to a place that was made by straightening out dimensions of space that are normally too tightly wound for us to see. These dimensions normally define matter and energy but were being repurposed to make a hiding place from the perceivable world. Even this didn’t seem unusual in the memory I was experiencing. It was what the traveller had brought that was new and strange.
I saw the guards at the door, a Kelpei standing there greeting people, and a huge complex inside the door. In here there were monsters. Some of Loc’s making, some came from the Old Gods. They were new. They replaced humans. Loc was using monsters to fight monsters.
That was not the reason for this memory though. The Priest was genuinely frightened by these monsters and so his thoughts lingered for a moment.
The traveler carried a simple wooden box. Inside the box, something was making noise. It sounded very alien to the priest. A humming noise.
They entered an inner chamber. One that had been prepared for this. What this meant, the priest did not dwell on, it was a mental recognition that quickly passed.
The traveler set the box down on the floor and opened a small flap near the bottom. Several priests now watched with great interest as a tiny creature walked out the flap and then took to the air. They tried to watch it fly about.
“Don’t worry about that one, there are thousands. Watch the door and more will come out.” The traveler said.
True to his word more slowly walked out until the priest finally got a good look at one.
It was a bee. A honeybee. Alien to the priest and this planet. They were excited and studied the creature for a short while. I could not tell from the memory where the insects had been acquired but one explanation that fit the memory was that some of Loc’s priests had gotten to Earth and brought it back. This explained the traveler having come from such a great distance but didn’t seem possible since it took decades for Earth to send it’s first teleporter receiver through space to The Artifact. For the Chezbah to have made the trip, they would have had to have known about Earth before we arrived.
I looked at another memory. A Priest was learning something. Something Loc could not teach him, not fully anyway. I restarted the memory several times because I didn’t think I was understanding it correctly. He was learning to bend space. Doing so required great concentration on a shape like a squashed number eight laying on it’s side. After several tries, a box on his belt resonated and the bend in space was made real. It was a little unimpressive to the priest.
Bees, Bending space, what was all this? I slowly relived memories from many, many priests. I felt like it had been months of review but from looking at the Warriors that were sitting down now and eating, months were reviewed in minutes.
A lot of the memories were simple events. I reviewed them without knowing what their order in time was so events were disjointed. A priest was making a box, he was worried about it’s shape. One was connecting electrodes to a honeybee’s synapses. Several priests were making some kind of antenna that didn’t make sense to me at the time.
The schematics were far beyond me. Even though I was smarter than before, it was still too much to comprehend. Even so, I could make out that this was the answer to Loc’s quest.
Then there were the other memories. Horrible monstrosities, distorted men made into animals. The pain and suffering made the memories hard to bear. These were their own children that they did this to. They were experimenting with their own sons by the thousands! Loc’s monsters designed to fight the old god’s monsters.
They were trying to make nanotechnology rebuild their bodies, change it, and then remake it, over and over. Only it was too much for their biology to handle. They needed to be fed huge amounts of food to keep up, but there was no way to eat that much food. They needed energy, some kind of power plant inside them. Then the energy was converted into food by the nanotech.
Now with the hurdles overcome, they became dangerous. Dangerous to the priests and to Loc. They were viewed with extreme distrust so their brains were altered to make them less intelligent, like beasts.
Somehow the tone for all of this seemed noble to the priests involved. They were going to save humanity with this weapon.
There were volumes more, going into more detail is unnecessary. I was repulsed by the “gift” that I had been given but beyond that, why did Loc show this to me? What did he expect from me? Was this to show that resisting him was unwise because of his new weapons?
What do I do about the Priest in front of me? He noticed me take my mind off my “gift”. He turned toward me and I could tell he was confirming that I was done. What could I do?
Then I remembered my mirror program.