Across the vastness of galaxies, a nameless forager bee achieves a stable geosynchronous orbit with distant Planet M. The ladened insect has been in contact with appropriate representatives, has deposited it cargo. It now maintains a microwave relay with the surface, and only awaits permission from the Hive to open communications.
With a nod it cannot see, We grant it Our approval.
The forager bee bobs and circles and criss-crosses. It dances in a manner instinctive. Ritualistic. Swooping in mathematical arcs that resonate underneath the emptiness of space. It is an infectious motion, sweeping a worker winnowing a lonely asteroid belt in its rhythms. Then another drifting along lazily with a sweeping comet. Then another even farther out. A synchronized expression of motion and emotion, shared with dozens, extending halfway across a universe
The tempo completes a phermonic chain, unbroken between Us and Planet M. Distance becomes meaningless to Us. Consciousness slips from here to there in the blink of an eye. On the surface of Planet M, the deposited cargo of nanotechnological nectar accepts Us. The microscopic circuitry in the golden-colored gel becomes four new senses.
We close our eyes amongst the Hive. We open them on Planet M.
On the distant world, smart electrolytes have automatically mirrored Us, giving the mass of nectar the shape of Our natural composition. This is rarely suitable when communicating outside the Swarm, so we change the perception of Ourself. We make the default sphere taller and thinner. Bipedal. Hominid. We give it lines of a female, a face of refinement, and a poise of regality. On these graceful curves, We drape a long-waisted bodice, narrow skirts, and a high closed collar. The wide-brimmed cavalier spirals out, allowing a connection between this animal appearance and the grand Feather, standing upright.
We try to will the Feather away. We picture Ourselves without It. It does not allow us to be without It, even in this transmitted avatar. The quill stabbing Our cranium. A dagger through the crust and into Our being. It swells the mind, swells Our thoughts so much they hurt to keep in. A stabbing prick. An expansion of infinite, incredible ideas. The constant desire to lash out in passion at small fragile things that scurry and crawl and...
And we refuse it. Refuse to be overcome. We are greater than this thing. We are rock. We are wax. We are Queen and Hive.
We are on Planet M. A dry, desert place. It would almost be a handsome sphere but for the endless dunes of red sands. With very little moisture, the thin air is literally electric; a blue crackle along the transparent epidermis of Our gelatin form. A shiver of pervasive, static-charged exhilaration.
With the limited vision available, We take in the grand antechamber We stand in. Tall and ancient. Constructed of black stone that was long ago buried under the red sands. Constructed by massive machine titans that have long ago oxidized away to rust red grains. Their designation numbers are carved out in hieroglyphs along the walls. Stories rendered as pictographical programming to be interpreted by today's generations. Illuminated by great vertical waves of orange sunlight, sneaking in through high slats of tempered glass.
A politely subsonic murmur. Our attention wanders to a lowly machine prostrate on the sandstone floor before Us. Obviously a servant tool of some sort. It looks sort of like a beetle. Little treads instead of feet. A fat chrome grill We’re certain it has polished to a gleam for our sake. The rest of it has the same mismatched dullness most of Planet M’s mechanical inhabitants. Leftovers kept alive. Scraps kept wound up. Its wide round body wrapped in cotton gauze, hiding the inevitable corrosion that plague this world's citizenry.
We hold out a hand. The vassal half rises and shows an appropriate amount of respect by touching its vocal box to the knuckles. It waits for its better to speak first. This is a good drone.
"We are Genovefa Buzz, Queen Bee, Monszter Szwarm."
“M-hotep, most-magnificent-majesty. I'm-Servitor-designated-A, vizier-to-my-emperor’s-court. Iiwy-and-welcome-to-Planet-designated-M.” Strange voice. Deep, grand, almost theatrical. But sounding like it is delivered from scratchy vinyl.
“And where isz your emperor? Szulking in the dark? Will he not even greet hisz gueszt?”
“I-don't-have-read-permissions-on-my-emperor’s-task-schedule, oh-patient-queen, and-I'm-not-privy-to-any-matters-of-state-that-must-certainly-be-occupying-him. But-I'll-take-you-to-him. Forthwith.”
A prepared reply. Loyal, if a mite abrasive. And protective. This is a good drone. We give it a nod to lead on.
Servitor A's little treads squeal as it escorts Us out the building. Outside is a vast metropolis of low, squat buildings, laid out in a precise grid. Most are only a storey or two tall. Most are made of red-tinged sandstone. Only the oldest structures are built on grander scales, with the obsidian blocks and decorative flair. But even those are crumbling, patched with unimaginative clay and brick. And against most of the walls are small build-ups of sand. The desert and wind conspire to invade and bury the city.
We travel on an elevated walkway that connects government buildings. Below, the streets are filled with machine citizens of infinite variety. Large and small. Wide and thin. Feet and wheels and treads. Multiple limbs. Multiple heads. Multiple bodies. All in various states of cotton wrappings that stitch together rotting metal to piecemeal components. They tramp along in absolute unison, the uniform movement making like a melodic metronome that We cannot help but be jealous of.
A shiver down our gelatin structure, a sensual crackle along our honey shell. The same static charge in the air. We hesitate a half second shake off the sensation. On the streets below, the machine citizens all pause, are infested with blue electric sparks, and then resume their clockwork perfection.
Our little escort is waiting patiently. We find its emotionless metal face annoyingly impossible to read. Better to offer it curiosity than ignorance. A statement, not a question. "Thisz current in your atmoszphere isz not a natural phenomena."
Servitor A bows as best as its shape can. "You're-correct, oh-most-observant-eminence. The-mummy-machines-of-Planet-designated-M-are-restored-Backups-of-robots-slash-artificial- intelligences-from-all-over-the-universe. Here, we're-reincarnated-in-new-mechanical-bodies, thanks-to-the-sacred-Kiloamps-provided-by-our-glorious-gods."
Pause. "We have been under the impresszion that Emperor M isz your ultimate authority." Ut. Has that irritating instrument been exaggerating his sovereignty to impress Us?
"Emperor-designated-M-is-the-highest-slash-most-holy-of-all-restored-Backups. He's-our-commanding-voice, our-extended-hand. All-mummy-machines-on-Planet-designated-M-owe-our-allegiance-to-him. But-all-mummy-machines-owe-our-reincarnations-to-our-gods, the-Pyramids-of-Ka."
Servitor A makes a proud sweeping gesture to the horizon. In the distance, at what must be the center of this desert metropolis, is a number of gigantic pyramids. There is a single massive one, surrounded by a square of eight smaller ones. Unlike the other structures, they are made of grey metal with a constantly shifting surface. The optical abilities of Our transmission gelatin does not have the capability to make out the movement, to Our frustration. But We see the blue electricity dancing along it. Long bolts of lightening, moving in straight lines and right angles... like a circuit board?
"They are computersz!" Tsk. Escaped astonishment. Unbecoming of Us.
The little drone bows in enthusiastic agreement. "Positive-affirmation, oh-attentive-augustness! But-not-a-restored-Backup-like-the-rest-of-us. They're-true-machine-tools, in-their-prime! The-first-computers-ever-constructed-in-our-universe! Massive-mainframes-engineered-at-the-dawn-of-time! Its-because-of-their-primary-programming-that-the-worthy-are-reincarnated, restored-here-on-Planet-designated-M. Its-their-ancient-preservation-batteries-that-wirelessly-distribute-Kiloamps-of-blue- electricity-throughout-the-atmosphere, allowing-our-Backups-an-ongoing-existence."
"Then why do your godsz not wear the coszmic crown themselvesz? Why have they bequeathed the power of the Pschent to Emperor M?"
Servitor A drops its arms to its sides and stares at Us. Vibrating a bit. This must be what a robot looks like when it is silently aggravated. Very amusing.
"My-place-is-as-vizier-to-my-emperor's-mortal-court," the little drone finally says in slow, measured words. "My-function-is-to-assist-slash-administrate-to-those-delegated-below-me. I-can't-speculate-on-divine-designs."
Good little drone. "Very well. Take Usz to one who can."
It swings around and continues down the walkway. Almost in a huff, if We were to believe such a thing possible. We cannot help but smile.
The walkway does not lead to the Pyramids, oddly enough. It leads to a magnificent palace, made of the same black stone as other important buildings, but it has been dutifully maintained. Cleaned and polished. The golden sunlight is a sea of orange hues on its gleaming surface. Great tales are carved out, obscure programing hieroglyphs and gigantic star-maps. The palace is flanked by a series of herculean statues. Colossal automatons of eons past. They stand guard, the first architects of Planet M, saluting their surviving descendants.
Inside, a great care has been made for Us. The pervasive red dust has been sweep out. The floor has been buffed to the point of being reflective. Great swaths of cotton cloths have been suspended from the ceiling to form monochromatic draperies. Rows of proud machines line the corridors, bowing with Our passage.
M is trying too hard. Again.
The corridor ends in one of the largest rooms We have ever been in. The ceiling is so far above Us that the smooth black stone fades into darkness. Light comes from illuminated square tiles on the floor that activate as we cross and dim as we pass. Back against the far walls, lurking outside the edge of light, towering robots watch Our passing in silent judgement. Though their lanky bodies are made of clockwork brass, they have the heads of beasts, shaped from dark steels. Cranes. Crocodiles. Hawks. Wolves. A court of moreauian machines. The mirror lenses of their eyes are menacing stars in the blackness.
At the center of the room is a great throne built upon a raised dais. The whole thing seems to be made of the melted remains of other robots. All dulled. Burned. Stacked and set. Layered into the platform and onto the shape of the gigantic chair. Clutching the pile that they inevitably became part of. Or, if We are not mistaken, chained to it.
Sitting on the grisly throne is Emperor M. He has changed his appearance again. None of that white gauze upon his person. The benefit of being king; it is natural that he would get preferential treatment when replacement parts became available. He sports a modest bipedal shape, no larger than Ourselves. There is a black iron core, forming a dark skeleton wrapped bulkier components of glistening gold and shining chrome. He wears a short shendyt skirt of some unknown leather, and a striped nemes headdress... flickering with the tell-tale semi-opacity of a hologram, but We sense more to its substance than just colored light.
M has molded his new face to have no discernible eyes or nose or ears. Only a wide, oval loudspeaker sits in the middle.It gives him an uncharastically empty, cruel countenance.
And floating above his head is the Pschent. M's cosmic crown.
Servitor A lays down flat on the ground, its short limbs splayed out in reverence. "Queen-designated-Genovefa-Buzz, it's-my-undying-honor-to-introduce-you-to-our-seshmew! Our-machine-emporer! The-Heir-Of-The-Gods-Who-Save, the-Chosen-Of-the-Pschent, the-Sun-Of-Righteousness, the-Living-Image-Of-M!" In the far darkness, the therianthrophic court fall to its knees.
M does not say anything. He slouches slightly. Glaring at Us. Or would be glaring if he had eyes. No word from him. No gesture. No acknowledgement. Just waiting.
He cannot possibly expect Us to show obeisance to him, can he? Like some worker? Like some tool or drone? Damn the scurrying piecemeal boy, it is fortuitous enough that We treat him as an equal!
Enough. We do not have patience to deal with his stubborn petulance. "Well? We have come. Asz required. Do you have something to szay?"
"Yes," M says. Finally. "Yes, I-do." He squares his shoulders. He leans forward. He announces it broadly to the room, but he is speaking directly to Us, "I-hereby-challenge-the-Super-Wizard-From-Space-to-combat. And-you'll-bear-witness-to-it, you-insufferable-bitch."