"I-hereby-challenge-the-Super-Wizard-From-Space-to-combat," spits out Emperor M, the bile broadcasted from his loudspeaker face, "and-you'll-bear-witness-to-it, you- insufferable-bitch."
M's Pschent crown flares with cosmic energy. Our own crown answers, the grand Feather reacts in kind.
Like a universe giving birth right amongst Us. Shoving away this puny reality to make space. The great black throne room bends away, curves into the distance. A new foreign gravity forms. Dragging Us toward it. Pushing Us away.
A ring of chains made of immense power form. Surrounding Us. Surrounding M. Binding. Linking. An uttered oath transforms into immutable physical law.
Then, both crowns return to normal. The chains disappear. But We feel their weight remaining on Us.
Our shock wears off. And quickly turns to anger. To righteous indignity. We do Ourselves a disservice by showing it blatantly; M is taken aback in aversion to our expression. We forget how easily emotions are projected on this avatar's hominid face.
We close our eyes and take a moment to calm Ourselves. Or at least to make the appearance of being calm. "M, We would... szpeak to you of private circumsztances. Szome mattersz are not for the earsz of your vasszals." A shuffle at the edges of the room. The machine court is displeased by my generous definition. Their animal-heads click and murmur and growl amongst themselves. Their eyes glower.
M doesn't heed their displeasure. He is distracted. His holographic headdress flickers, the decorative stripes oscillate vertically. Like an audio transmission, but nothing We can hear. That would be the odd sense We had about it when We entered the room. It is a communication apparatus, similar to the nanotechnical nectar We ourselves are using.
He waves a hand in grandiose dismissal. The court makes a token protest, but eventually file out. Only little Servitor A exits without making any fuss. At least one drone understands his place.
Even when all others leave, M does not relax. "There. Just-you-and-me-now," he says as sternly as he can manage. He remains tense. A child expecting a scolding.
And he shall have one. "How dare you szpeak to Usz in szuch a fashzion! With szuch impudence! I did not communicate over these disztancesz just to szuffer lesze-majeszty! Eszpecially from the likesz of you, a deszpondent boy dresszed in the trappingsz of a deszert deszpot."
M shrinks into his throne and remains silent.
"What wasz all thisz for, then? Thisz pomp and pageantry. Wasz it to impressz Us? To impressz upon Our perszon some error of judgement? Or wasz it to prop up that fragile confidence you blame me for diminishzing? To show your ridiculousz peerz that your diszconsolateness is Our fault?"
"It-is-your-fault," he mutters. "I-did-everything-for-you. Gave-you-gifts. Did-you-favors. I-wouldn't-even-be-in-this-tournament-if-it-wasn't-for-you."
"You whimpering urchin! We are Genovefa Buzz! Immortal and illusztriousz! We are not a vending machine for you to deposzit indulgencesz into until reciprocation comesz out!" The grand Feather digs in, stirring up all Our frustrations at all the microscopic insignificants we endure. For once, We do ride the crest rather than letting in break against Our will. "You are no king. You are a szlave. To your imaginationsz and to your inszecuritiesz. Were We here, We would sztamp on you! You and your wounded ego both."
M stands suddenly, looking down at Us from his throne of fused metal forms. He squares his shoulders, dragging up courage as he says, "I'll-save-you-the-trouble. When-the-wizard- shows-up, I'm-only-going-to-offer-token-resistance." Our confusion must be showing clearer than our furor, because he clarifies, "I'm-going-to-lose-the-fight. I-going-to-let-the-Super- Wizard-From-Space-take-my-crown."
He gives Us a moment to respond. And must certainly be relishing Our inability to do so. We are... are not certain what We are feeling. Bafflement? Unease? M descends from his throne, looking smaller and smaller as he comes down to Our level. There is something not being told, something that would usually be a source of incredible annoyance, but M's complete capitulation has Us... has... what is happening here?
"Are you sick? Wounded?" We ask.
"What? No. No-I'm-fine."
"Are your people replaczing you?"
"No-replacement, no-succession, no-heir. You're-the-only-one-who-knows-about-my- intentions. In fact, not-even-my-supposedly-omniscient-computer-gods-have-been-told."
No eyes. Barely a face. Nothing to discern.
"I'm-making-a-choice-denied-to-me." M closes the distance. Stands before Us. A thin metal hand upon one of Our arms in a scandalously familiar touch. We are caught in a ball of fluster and frustration and foreboding. "You're-right. I-am-a-slave. Everyone-on-Planet-M- is. We-die-and-are-reincarnated-by-the-Pyramids, drip-fed-just-enough-airborne-Kiloamps- to-carry-on. But-we-don't-go-anywhere. We're-still-the tools-we-were-before. Assigned- and-applied, without-goals-or-progress. We're-given-a-field-of-offerings-without-having-to- earn-them. We're-given-a-world-of-complacency. We're-stagnant, existing-without-living. We're-rotting-away. I believe-that-there's-more-than-this. Only-trepidation-holds-us-back. I-will-overcome-this... not-by-overcoming-risk, but-by-accepting-failure."
We frown. "Thisz is not right. You are... szupposzed to be above thisz."
M gestures to his holographic headdress. "You-see-this? It's-a-harness. A-lock. The-only- one-of-its-kind. Applied-by-the-Pyramids-onto-all-of-the-Emperor-series-machines, past-and-present. It's-how-they-overcome-their-limits, having-me-go-and-act-in-their-stead. It's-how-they-seal-the-Pschent, to-prevent-their-reincarnated-puppet-from-accessing-the- cosmic-crown. When-the-wizard-arrives, the-Pyramids-will-release-the-lock-and-I'm- supposed-to-use-it-to-take-his-power. Instead, I'll-let-the-wizard-strangle-me- with-my-strings."
We yank away from his touch. "You are szick."
"Thisz isz not bravery. Thisz isz szelfishness!" It must be this gelatin form, this limited communication technology. We would have sensed this malignancy on him otherwise, we're certain of it. Even on a machine, he must stink of it. "You are royalty! You have reszponszibilitiesz! You do not belong to juszt yourszelf. You belong to everyone who dependsz on you. You belong to each individual worker and drone on thisz deszert planet."
M reaches out. We flinch away. We cannot risk whatever malaise infecting his programming to be downloaded along our transmission. "Thisz abdication you preach isz an act of treaszon and cowardicze."
He steps back. "I-thought-you'd-understand."
"Then you do not know Usz," We spit back.
M nods solemnly. The headdress oscillates again as he communicates silently. Giving commands. Or being commanded.
The tiles on the floor illuminate in slow sequence. They form a path away from the throne, to the long hallway behind Us. Familiar squealing fo rubber-gripped treads can be heard, pacing just out of sight.
M holds his head high. "Servitor-A-is-waiting-to-escort-you-to-the-public-forums," he broadcasts coldly. "From-there, you'll-watch-the-challenge-and-witness-the-result."
We look at him. We look at the Pschent suspended over him. A shiver runs through Us as we turn and march away.
Servitor A guides us through oppressively black corridors, all the time babbling something We fail to attend to. Our attention is completely preoccupied with a growing sense of anxiety. A cold trepidation that starts in our core and spins all the way out to Our surface. Bad enough that windup king's conceit, but this now this newfound nihilism? And he chooses now to become infected with it?
No. This is intolerable. This cannot be allowed.
We stop. In a tall warm passageway flanked by massive orange glass windows. The desert sun carved up the long hall with slices of illumination, red dust caught in the air. Outside was a wide stone forum, surrounded by sandstone columns and topped by a sky so clear that We can can make out the faint twinkling of stars even in the daylight.
When Servitor A realizes We are not moving from Our spot, it asks, "Is-there-a-problem, your-immortal-augustness?"
Immortal. Absolutely. "Your emperor isz deszpondent."
"He isz unwell! He isz unfit!" We sharply interrupt the little drone's canned response. "He plansz to betray you and your court and your planet."
The robot has no shoulders to slump, but it drops its short arms in exaggerated emulation.
"You muszt inform your computer godsz. You muszt warn them of hisz intentionsz."
"Oh! No! No-no-no," it declares. "I'm-sorry, I-cannot."
"You are incapable?"
"All-restored-machine-units-have-that-functionality. But-it's-taboo-for-all-but-my-designated- emperor-to-speak-with-the-Pyramids-Of-Ka. It's-not-my-place."
"It isz every drone'sz place to protect the szwarm."
"I-am-not-one-of-your-drones," it states firmly.
We release the nanotechnological nectar, breaking the connection with the world-bound avatar. Consciousness pulls back along the distance transmission. We touch the foragers spread out between Ourselves and M's metropolis.
My loyal drones, forming the links of Our phermonic chain. I ask and they understand. I command and they obey.
The bee at Planet M acts immediately.
We wait. It does not take long. Mere minutes, and it returns to geosynchronous orbit. Picking up the natural rhythms of the others, swooping and dancing. Reconnecting.
We close our eyes and slip back into the microscopic circuitry of the honeyed gel. We open our eyes, and absorb the scene anew.
The hot desert wind, already blowing in red sand into the corridor. The shattered orange window, where the orbiting drone plunged through. The spiderweb of cracks in the stone floor, where the drone slammed down upon its unsuspecting prey. The little round robot, a victim of the drone's string and already succumbing to its transformative toxin.
The purple-colored toxin is absorbed and quickly acts on the little robot. The beetle-like shell makes creaking metal noises as it bends into its new insect shape. The chrome grill warps into a hexagonal pattern reminiscent of multifaceted eyes. The spindly clockwork arms bend backwards with cracking sounds, reforming into equally spindly wings at the back. The rubber treads grow bigger and fatter, and from the rear wretches free a cruelly barbed iron spear.
And the whole time, the robot shakes uncontrollably. It cries out. A loop of static squall. An electronic mixture dying machinery and an awakening child.
We are envious of these emerging novitiates. The fervor of purpose they experience. That one time feeling, when understanding overwhelms. A fire of purpose, burning away drifting unsystematic lies. It's a single, blinding moment that should be cherished, that can never quite recaptured.
The new drone calms eventually. The thrashing stops. The moment has passed. We approach and gently lay hand on its metal carapace. A maternal sense of pride washes over Us as it looks up in supplication. And reverence. We lean forward, close enough to whisper, so sweetly, "Szo, who are you now?"
It speaks with clarity. "I've-been-reclassified! I'm-now-Servitor-designated-B."
"Yes. Naturally. Now, let'sz diszcussz unszettling buszinessz..."