Suddenly there was light, well a little light, with flair the flaming flower bloomed brightly. Under the starless sky it was the only source of sight and weak warmth. But it stuttered, flickered, faltered shivered in the breeze.
By the ill illumination there was something else emerging, they'd probably never been snuck up upon by an obelisk before, but this one had done just that. When the darkness descended almost instantly there was no pillar but now with silent stealth it had snuck up on them.
But there was more to this one, a myriad of markings, all equally incomprehensible. It's no language any of you recognise, but then maybe it isn't language at all, nothing saying it has to be, or even that all of it's the same thing; each page is as different from the last as any of you are from each other.
But there's the odd word, it took a while but they start standing out, seemingly appearing at random amongst the rest of it. Pages going by without a single symbol that means anything then one, two or three words perfectly comprehensible all in sequence.
"Outback" "Puzzle" "Robot" "Gods" "Market" "Missions" "Pattern" "Travelled" "Stars".
A strange thing was happening, look for too long and you started to notice things, you began picking out patterns. Languages you couldn't speak mixed with images you couldn't imagine, somehow spoke to you, you could hear them in your head even if you didn't know the words.
Some were ordered starting to sound reasonable but eventually they all succumb to entropy. The writing or pictures or whatever they were spiralling out of control slowly at first but accelerating as if pulled by a grim gravity. Then however, it reversed, calm again at peace perhaps.
At the base was a white fluid, the same colour as the monument's markings with a slight shine.
The cold crept in, breathe too hard and you could see it. Creepy monoliths or no creepy monoliths the spine had to shiver a little.
It turned dark. In response, the AI shut down all its other personality cores. Leaving just the processing power, leaving them to just crunch over 0s, 1s and the various superpositions and combinations. Leaving it naked. Reducing power consumption. Even with the energy collected from the hot desert sun, there was still the danger of running out of power. It was a precaution nothing more. The body glowed a pristine white. V.A.G.R.A.N.T. stopped digging as it felt the shockwaves and zoomed to the epicentre of it. A shower of sand erupted as it did so.
A structure of some sort. Carvings cut into it. Pictures... No symbols. Words yet not words. Another puzzle? That was undecided. At least V.A.G.R.A.N.T. would be of some use here. Computers were born out of cryptography. Nevertheless, V.A.G.R.A.N.T. was far from a traditional computer. Advances had been made. Nevertheless, the same power was there. V.A.G.R.A.N.T. studied the monument. Words, images and more jumped out. But were all unsubstantial. All fell out of reach. Only fragments, pieces of the puzzle, remained. There were dots, but no lines to connect them.
Dragon picked up the corpse and yelled about how he could power it again, it seemed his abilities didn't work at night useful to know. odd for cybernetics to be solar powered, likely something else. His illuminate soul draws from the burning passion of the sun. Regardless it was dark now and their temperature concerns were rapidly switching to the other end of the spectrum.
The night sky was odd, starless, strange. Discomforting. And it wasn't long before their next surprise arose from the sands. A monolith covered in images and symbols, echoing in his twin brain. He approached it cautiously, reaching out with one arm and reaching out to it, keeping his feet out of the white fluid at its base. He felt that he should run his fingers over the symbols.
'Augh, this day just keeps getting better and better.' Knife thinks, as night...appeared, 'Flame' collapsed and a giant obsidian monolith rose from the ground, all in the span of a few minutes.
'Right, first things first we need to help the kid, then deal with the Stanley Kubrick prop.'
"Dragon, you said you needed a heat source yea?" Knife says, pulling an old beaten up zippo lighter from his pocket, "Will this do?"
The lighter flame was nearly decapitated by a stiff breeze. But it was the best they had, neither it or the small pyre was giving much warmth but it might be enough, uncomfortable but you could maybe do it with only the most basic of frost bite.
Touching the monument revealed it to be the usual hard black substance. The markings however, they felt oily, touching one left a white residue on your hands.
Assassin withdrew his hand, examining the strange white substance on his gloves, it felt oily a lubricant perhaps? Could explain it rising through the sand so easily. The symbolism and innuendo of such a substance on such an object are obvious and not worth commenting on. He considered the words the obelisk had projected into his minds, possibly referring to each of us? Nine words for nine people, an allusion, a parallel, the robot seems obvious the others less so.
This last thought seemed worth voicing "Did you hear the words as well? Analysis of them may show relations between ourselves and them. A strange symbolic puzzle, a journey of self discovery in a sense."
The Mayor looked at the monolith and felt tired. Not the heavy-eyed and gentle lethargy of the sleepless, but the agressive, plodding exhaustion of those who simply want this day to end. The last time he had felt like this was when he had learned of the existance of Buyers and Traders, it was a feeling of general anger directed at all things, but only expressed towards things that made life difficult. He decided to stand near the robot. He liked the robot. The robot was simple, no real mysteries there. It was something he could, if not understand, then at least comprehend.
It was also quiet.
"I know the word 'Market.'" He said, in answer to Assassin, half mumbling, "That one's probably for me."
He sat down in the sand next to VAGRANT, looking up at the void above.
Then the idea struck. The Mayor, hoping he was not being impolite, gently rapped on VAGRANT's chassis. "You... Wouldn't happen to have a compass in there, would you?"
V.A.G.R.A.N.T. awoke to the stimulus. The answer to the question was a simple one. While V.A.G.R.A.N.T. had been outfitted with numerous instruments, it did not have a compass. Not exactly. It did have a magnetoresistive permalloy sensor built in. However, the levitation system would no doubt interfere with the results. V.A.G.R.A.N.T. made some whirring noises as it thought on the matter. They always seemed to make humans think that the machine was doing something. Then, suddenly, V.A.G.R.A.N.T. shut the levitation system and dropped into a cushion of sand. In a matter of seconds a projection was shown - raw output from the magnetoresistive permalloy sensors. Lines, angles, sins and cosines. With a flicker it changed to the more recognizable form of a compass. V.A.G.R.A.N.T. computed the possible reasons for this request while it waited upon The Mayor. Did the monolith have a magnetic field of some kind? Or was it just that The Mayor wanted to know where North was?
Dragon walked towards the bright light, with Flame still on his arms. He left him on the floor at a safe distance, then jumped into it. He felt the cold recede ever so slightly, as the small warmth spreaded on him. It wasn't much, but it should do.
Dragon promptly burst into flames.
He walked calmly towards his friend, as the heat and fire covered him harmlessly. He crouched, and unlit both of his arms. He put one hand on Flame's chest and attempted to revive him again.
"What is it with this place, and stuff happening without warning..."
He opened his eyes to see a figure aflame, but seemingly without much heat coming off, so he stared, shifted to a more comfortable position.
He wasn't tired, exactly, he was just, demotivated, things seemed pretty hopeless.
There was that column over there, with all those incomprehensible symbols, a few sticking out, some sense, and huge loads of non-sense.
He watched the markings calm to peace, and spiral out of control, over and over again, and couldn't help but start a gentle smile, appreciating the work.
Dragon smiled at his friend, then turned around to look at the monolith. He focused on the white fluid below it. "It's probably some sort of fuel", he thought. He shifted the flames to his back and grabbed a handful of the stuff. He dropped it somewhere aparted, stepped back and threw a fireball the size of a fist towards it.
Sure was a fuel, burned bright, hot and lasted a fair bit, much warmer than any lighter and even a rival for Dragon himself. After it died down you were back to the lighter and pyre and the chill crept in again.
The compass on the other hand wasn't doing anything much, it didn't suddenly spring to life spurred on by any magnetic fields.
"Hey, everybody, look!" Dragon shouted as the flame died. "The white stuff is a fuel! We should light the monolith. That should keep us warm. However..." Dragon looked at the rest. "You all seem quite intent on examining it. Perhaps we should light it later. You know what? Let's vote! We either burn it now, or later. What do you think?"
V.A.G.R.A.N.T. watched on the fire was brought to life and died back down again. Yet more evidence of the red one's malevolence. If the white liquid was fuel, if the humans here need to keep warm, then the red one was just wasting it. All that was needed was a cubic decimetre to test it. Not a handful. The red one's intent on setting everything on fire was evident here. A destroyer. Just like a virus. It was clearly with the other. In fact, the more V.A.G.R.A.N.T. dwelled on the matter, the more it made sense. Fire would be a perfect form for the malevolent data to take. A virus only destroys and replicates. Fire does the same. Besides, it wasn't a question of now or later. They could clearly grab some of the liquid and light it elsewhere. To illustrate the point, V.A.G.R.A.N.T. shut off the projection and rose of the sand, taking a scoop of the liquid with one of its arms. It then went about digging a well of sorts in the sand. Then it stopped and went to the Mayor, and pointed at the blue felt hat he was wearing with another of its arms, then at the little hole in the sand, then shook the vial of white liquid a little.
When it had gotten dark, the Spirit had been more worried about the coldness than how dark it was. After all, even if no one else had a great night-vision, his was. Worst case scenario, he had to lead the humans to wherever they were headed. However, a light had appeared, and a monolith with strange markings appeared. Of them, he could see some words. The Hunter and one of the humans believed that it might be referring to them. The Spirit was not that sure.
True, there were some hints that would suggest that, but if so, what use would there be trying to assign the different words? And, even if the words seemed random at first, all of there were items, except for a single verb. He did find it a bit particular that one, two or three of the words that they could understand were next to each other. If going with the monster's idea, that would mean the words next to each other were connected somehow, right? He could see it happening once, but not twice or even three times as a coincidence.
"I have never seen anyone here. And none of them seems to know each other either."
Still, the Spirit had never been one for puzzles, and it might be better done if the humans were left to discuss it themselves. Besides, the human with the fire-powers had set some of the white liquid on fire, in order to test if it did burn. And it did, quite fiercely, but it didn't last long.
"Humans never stop to amaze me. But no worries, he can learn."
The Spirit thought. Was there even more liquid left? The Dragon asked if they should just light the whole thing on fire or not.
"We are not close to dying of cold yet. We should keep whatever is left for later, when we need it," the Spirit advised. There was not much else he could say, although he did feel like scorning the human.
The Mayor looked at VAGRANT for a moment before recognition dawned. He removed his hat and placed it in the well. As an afterthought, he pulled his many-pocketed overcoat over his head. He was unlikely to get that hat back in usable condition, and he wanted some protection from the...
There wasn't a sun.
Nor was there a moon, stars or any other celestial bodies. They were completely adrift in a void. There shouldn't have been any light, and yet there plainly was, everyone could seew after all.
He brought this up with the party immediately.
TUDA sat up, listening to the robed guy point out the lack of light source.
"You didn't notice earlier? Common sense doesn't apply here.
We get something drinkable when it's hot, and something hot when it's cold.
So I guess there's some sense."
The others were walking away, leaving it alone, abandoning it in the cold dark sands. It didn't want to be alone, it had never wanted anything before, but it knew solitude in this place would mean death. It doubted they would recycled if it died here, even if it was a test. Here death was worse, it was alone and terrifying. It followed them, shuffling over the sands to where they had gathered. An obelisk covered in strange markings and even stranger words had spurted out of the ground. It understood the words, but not the meaning. It was disconcerting, so was the empty void that they were stuck in. How would they find nutrition in this spartan land? Water had been given to some before it had sunk back into the sand, food had yet to be supplied. Would this unit sink into the sand forever forgotten? It sat down and shivered at the prospect.
TUDA decided to try and make more sense out of things, there had to be some.
Hope renewed, he went to the obelisk, dipped a finger in the fuel, and started circling the actual words, maybe it'd help with reading them together...
Assassin had been ignored by most of the others, who made the discovery that the white substance burned as a fuel, possibly a useful discovery. The seek puzzles in things that are not, and ignore the suggestion of one in something that may be. Strange and contradictory, their minds are unaligned and unfocused. The corpse was even complaining that the place made no sense, something Assassin found laughable considering the source of said complaint, and now it was touching the fuel hopefully it would burn to ashes and he would be rid of its smell.
The strange deformed human had wandered quietly after the group, and now it sat in the sand looking defeated. Assassin approached it curiously "Hello, what is your name? It must be strange and fine to befit your strange and fragile appearance."
'Huh, apparently I don't have to worry about some of us becoming a human barbecue.' Knife thinks, upon seeing Dragon burst into flame. 'Guess that help solves the heat problem too.'
As for the celestial bodies above, or rather, the lack of thereforth Knife offered only a soft curse under his breath, no stars meant little in the way of navigation aids, seeing as the sun simply dissappeared rather than set. Not that there being any stars would do them any good, seeing as it was blarringly obviouse they weren't on any analog of Earth...unless.
"Maybe the earth after the opening of the Pandorica." He muses aloud, "Would explain the lack of stars, though not the odd way the sun's acting and the Space Odyssey rip off in the sand. So many possibilitys..."
Shrugging to himself, Knife walks over to the robed man and claps him on the back. "Good thinking with the compass thing by the way, looks like our only way of navigating for the mo."
"I'm Knife, by the way." He says, holding out his left hand while keeping the metallic stump of his right at his side.
V.A.G.R.A.N.T. then poured the white liquid into the hat. It could be lit whenever the others wanted it to be. Fire did not mean warmth and comfort to V.A.G.R.A.N.T., but a simple increase in temperature readings and the possible chance of fried circuits. It floated over in a circle around the group. The suspicious one was tracing the carved symbols with the white liquid. Which was not an optimal way to do things. The simplest solution would be to burn the hat and use the ash with some other fabric or paper to produce a rubbing. The white liquid would simply just slither out and splatter back to the source. Other individuals were idly chatting. Though there was one curious thing. There was something close to human, clad in a coat. The hooded individual was asking its name. V.A.G.R.A.N.T. stopped its patrol for a moment and then continued. It would watch this one carefully.
The Mayor smiled, watching the robot wander off and stand next to what he could only assume was an animated maniquin. He privately decided that this was the most unusual moment of his life thus far. "It's a pleasure," He said, turning his head back and shaking Knife's hand, "'Knife', that's a good one. Monosyllabic, catchy, gives of a 'don't mess with me' vibe. I like it. You can call the Mayor. That should give you something to identify me by, as well as leave me charmingly free of proper identification should I ever regret coming to know you. Thank you for the compliment by the way."
"Yea nah, fair enough." Knife says with a slight chuckle, "Can't exactly blame you, being thrown into a situation like this."
"The Mayor huh." Knife says, nodding, "Hah, your a damn sight better dressed than the last Mayor I ran across, he was wrapped in rags and had a sash made of some cable and a mayonnaise can label." Knife shakes his head, a grin plastered across his features. "So, what's it like, this town or city that your the Mayor of?"
TUDA stepped back from the monolith, took another look, reading the circled words...
They still didn't make any sense, or coherence.
There was still the possibility that this was all in his head, a side effect of the Curriculum upload, or perhaps some kind of conditioning.
Everyone was asking about each other, where they were from...
He just wanted to forget his past, he'd been 'rased, raised above duties to mortals, erased from his friends and families lives, trying to go back would just be a painful waste of time and effort.
But then who would he be?
Not any one identity, just a means to an end, an agent, not really living, just evoking Her.
An undead, divine agent.
He couldn't do it, not completely, he hadn't learned to let go.
For now called Flame, had normal upbringing, only been different since waking here.
Involving Her and Divine Prophets would just complicate things.
This desert couldn't last forever, there'd be no point.
"Cold, in ruins and filled with glowing people with supernatural powers and a hideous disease that want to beat the shit out of me." Replied the Mayor, with a completely straight face.
Dragon heard the negative rseponses and answered,
"Okey, then I won't light it just yet. If you feel cold, just approach me. I'll be on fire all night." Then the Agent moved towards the monlith, shifting he flames to the back of his legs so as no to acidentaly burn it down. He leaned to look at the circled words, then asked Flame,
"So... what are you circling?" The words hit his mind. "Oh I see.... but those that you are circling still make no sense." Dragon couldn't find any importance in many of the words. Yes, "Gods", for instance, was obviously important to many people, but he had never been a very religious man, as far as he remembered. Hard to be, when all the people around him can perform such skills as, for instance, turning on fire. However, the word "Missions"... it reminded him of his last mission. The one in which Black Panther had died. He stepped back, shifted his flames around his flames around his whole body and sat down as tears began to fill his eyes. It started to sink in that his best friend, and untill recently his only friend, had died, and would never come back. He looked down and put his hands over his face, and stayed in that position, in mourning.
It was good they're hadn't been any blood shed yet, though that could just be because it was early days. Their treatment of the monument fit with the pattern, which never ceased to surprise, fuel was provided and means to ignite it, but it went unused, smeared on the monument and left.
But no, the process couldn't be held up by simple wondering, this was important, vital the very definition of the word. Focus would need to be retained. Indulgences were not to be allowed, there was no time for this.
Back to the notes.
A pulse of light spread over the sky, first it was whitest white but then a wave of blue washed from centre outwards filling in the sky as it had been before. The monument was still there, day (if you could call it that) did little to shed light on the mystery monolith. Its white oily markings didn't mean much of anything, apart from the words they'd already seen.
Then it started raining, faintly but it was there, wasn't particularly noteworthy, cool. Slightly salty? The markings weren't phased by it; the water lacked any power to remove them.
Under the blank blue sky the dunes rolled on and on beyond comprehension, don't stare too long you might start seeing faces.
Then there was a whistling, a high pitched scream as steel sliced sky. The steam trailing shortly behind the shimmering shard as it plummeted. Then it landed as a spurting spray of sand shot up into the air, when the shroud settles again, for all to see sits the blade. No hilt, or handle, whatever crafted it has little regard for defence. Even to clench is to quench the double ended daemons thirst.
It's landed roughly in the middle of the group, as it began to slip back into the rain churned earth.
Act fast! It won't be there for long.
That was better; this was a classic, simpler indeed, much more clear cut.
Direct as it was deadly.
An Executioner's Edge
"Hello, what is your name? It must be strange and fine to befit your strange and fragile appearance." The odd human asked. The one who felt like it was not quite there.
It had already answered this question, why must it answer it again? Had the odd one not been listening, ignoring it? It felt frustrated as it thought about this prospect. It brought it's legs closer to itself and hugged them tightly, forming itself into quasi sphere; it's body language betraying what it could not express with the facial features it lacked.
"This unit does not have a name." It repeated.
As soon as the sky was filled with the light, V.A.G.R.A.N.T. spread its panels, bathing in the solar warmth. This was quickly interrupted by the drizzle of rain. Like a turtle, V.A.G.R.A.N.T. quickly closed itself up and let the drizzle pour down its panels. With all its personality cores online, it decided that this was a curious series of events.
Then a piece of screaming steal fell out of sky.
V.A.G.R.A.N.T. calculated its trajectory in nanoseconds. Satisfied that it was not heading towards it or the others, it hovered, waiting the lump of metal to land - which didn't take long. It seemed that the rain-soaked sand had claimed it; the steal was sinking rapidly. V.A.G.R.A.N.T. already had a blade in its toolbox. But there was the possibility...
...The possibility that the others might make use of it.
It was simply a matter of safety then. V.A.G.R.A.N.T. floated over and a panel slid open, revealing a metal arm with a pincer. It gripped the piece of steel by the sides, knowing that trying to do it from the edges would be folly. Another thing that would be folly would be to attempt to store or hide the object from the others. Its insides would be cut to ribbons.
"This unit does not have a name."
This unit, like a part of a machine, it recognizes its role. Yet another limb of its group, perhaps it was cut for weakness, or perhaps it belongs here? What is its role, perhaps it does not know its purpose? Existential crises seem a common affliction for the divided minds, we are united in our purpose many are not.
"You said so before, do you have a purpose? A role?" before he could say more a piece of sharp metal came screaming through the sky A weapon judging by its edge. A lightning bolt from the heavens, a sign of things to come. The robot seized it, holding it carefully, Assassin felt no need for a blade except to keep it from others, so this did not trouble him.
"Hah, sounds like your not very popular then." Knife says, before lightly elbowing the Mayor in the side. "Probably good everything went to shit before the next election eh."
At that moment a blade decided to fall from the sky, landing in the sand before being grabbed by the robot. Interested, Knife stands and walks over to it, trying to get a better look at the blade clutched in the robot's pincer.
Dragon focused on trning himself off, but the rain quickly did the jo for him.
"Rain," he thought. "How appropiate." He stood up, his tears hidden by his hood, and walked towards the current focus of everyone's interest, which turned out o be the blade of a sword. The tears strengthened as he saw Black Panther's weapon of choice destroyed, without hilt or handle, as though it was made exclusively to harm and kill. He cleaned his eyes and approached the weapon to inspect it more closely, but it was futile, as whenever he tried to look at it, tears blurried his vision again. He eventually stopped trying, and sat on the soaked sand, defeated and destroyed.
"Morning already?" Murmured the Mayor, watching as the sky filled with light. No single source, it appeared. They were likely in a shell of some description.
Then a blade fell from the sky. No hilt, scabbard, or any other features that would make it a usefulo weapon. Its wielder would have to be rather unnatached to their fingers, because making any sort of use of it would swiftly make the wielder, well, rather unnatached to their fingers.
The robot picked it up, without hesitation. Good. He liked the robot. It didn't seem likely to make use of it.
Nevertheless, he thought, better safe than sorry.
"Robot," He said, his voice taking on a more concerned tone, "Would you kindly go bury that somewhere. I don't think anyone is in dire need of it, and I for one don't want the temptation around."
"Woah, wait a mo Mayor, everything that has...appeared I guess, so far has had some use. We had a basin filled with water, then a monolith surrounded with flamable fluid, who's to say that this won't be useful?" Knife says holding a hand out between the Mayor and the Robot, "Heck, it may even be a clue to why we're here."