In the clarity of the desert night, a single point of light smolders against the blue-black curtain. And it slowly grows the closer it gets, falling toward Us through immense distances. The Super Wizard From Space is coming to Planet M.
We watch from outdoor forums, situated between the great black-stone palace and the Pyramids Of Ka super-computer cluster. It is an open air affair, surrounded by red desert sands and fat tall columns, open to the massive sky. A long stretch of road separates these two seats of government, with the wide round forum planted between them. Here, a long walk from the homogeneous cities and the haughty buildings, we feel alone in the infinite night, with disaster hurtling toward Us.
The robot court has assembled with Us. Nobles and functionaries. Twice Our height, with the heads of grim beasts. They click and buzz amongst themselves in their encoded equivalent of whispered gossip. They understand the grave seriousness their doleful emperor represents. It took little convincing for them to exert influences.
Servitor B makes gives an electronic ring and points eastward. M enters the forum along the old roadway, stepping with wintry acceptance rather than confidence… but even that quickly evaporates when he sees his gathered court.
"You-weren't-invited," he says at his retinue.
The animal heads look at one another, silently choosing a spokesman. "With-apologies, this-scheduled-event-has-been-updated-outside-your-established-parameters," announces a thin machine through a hawk's beak.
"What-gives-any-of-you-the-right-to-override-me?" he asks. Cautiously. Suspicious.
"We-would-never-operate-outside-the-bounds-of-our-programming, my-emperor!" says another through a jackal's sneer, "But-outside-subroutines-have-inputed-disturbing-data-that-required-substantial-upgrades-to-our-standard-operation-procedures."
The pinprick of light is expanding into looming light. Hurtling at Us. This is taking too long. "Us. They are refer to Us," We interrupt pointedly. "We have discussed your farcical designs. You have left Usz no option but to petition a higher authority."
At first, the poor boy looks confused… but when he sees Servitor B, M's hands roll up into tight, frustrated fists. The little drone is momentarily embarrassed by his new shape, huddling close to Us. We give it a reassuring pet along its hexagonical grill.
"You! You-selfish-witch!" Lashing sudden bile, cut off as he clutches his head. His headpiece turns into a scrambling racket of activity. "What-have-you-done?"
A lion faced machine proclaims, "The-magnificent-Pyramids-of-Ka-know-all-the-undeclared-variables, my-emperor, and-they-are-very-disappointed-in-you. They've-recalculated-upcoming-probabilities-based-on-your-intentions-and-are-force-uploading-new-criteria-to-you-now. The-nemes-harness-won't-be-released, to-prevent-you-from-surrendering-the-Pschent-and-to-prevent-you-from-abusing-its-power."
M looks back incredulously. "You-can't-be-serious. If-I'm-can't-use-the-harness-on-his-cosmic-crown-and-I-can't-defend-myself-with-my-cosmic-crown… I'm-certain-to-lose!"
"This-has-been-anticipated," says the tall functionary with sad nod. "For-the-duration-of-the-challenge, all-atmospheric-electricity-distribution-will-be-suspended. You-alone-will-have-full-access-to-Planet-M's-sacred-Kiloamps."
M is overcome with horror as the implications become clear. "What-about-everyone-else?" He sweeps an arm back toward the mechanized metropolis. "The-citizens, the-city… they-need that-power! They-won't-will-live-long-without-recharging!"
"Sacrificed," We say, "For the greater good."
"Being-greater-doesn't-make-us-good," he snarls back.
An unnatural dawn washes over the forum as the wizard enters the solar system. A dull roar builds in the air as the atmosphere itself panics. The incoming light is a small sun, stalking toward Us, brushing aside the shadows. We feel a shudder through us, pole to pole. The creature approaches. It will not be long now.
The shudder turns into shaking anger. The nerve! Of this petulant windup toy! Of this miserable machine! Death flies to Us and he cares only of his childish lamentations. "The blame lies entirely on yourself! We will not share any responsibility for your erosive attitude. This resignation you have wrapped around yourself is not appealing, is not heroic, is not noble, and is not productive. You cannot shirk your responsibilities when they become difficult or disagreeable. You cannot avoid confrontation because you find it unpleasant or unfamiliar. You cannot hide from the consequences when you fall short of the task. Stop measuring yourself against your wants and wishes… start acting your damnable Office!"
M takes a step back. His pompous menagerie cows in silence. Even our loyal drone retreats, his instincts overpowered. We close Our eyes and take a long moment to compose Ourselves. After so many centuries, our emotions still overrun. We need to be better than that. We are rock. We are wax. We are Queen and Hive.
CRACK! We open our eyes and watch the sky break open. Desert air catches friction fire. Hot wind lashes at red sands and stone columns alike. Disaster flies like a comet aimed at the ground. Aimed right at Us. All light and flame. For a moment, We forget that We are transmitting from galaxies away, that We are not really here… and We feel cold and still.
The comet slows. The fury and fire whispers away. The pale starlight dissipates, letting the night sky swallow the desert again. In the fresh darkness, as if stepping off a stair, the Super Wizard From Space lands on Planet M.
M has one last look at Us, an infantile tantrum of disappointment and shame. He turns and tramps out to the wizard, shouldering none of the respect of his powerful race. Each footfall rings hollow.
The columns cast stripes of grey dusk and black shade all the way across the forum. He stops a dozen yards from the wizard, one of those long shadowy swathes acting as a flat chasm separating them. Hands flexing with taut anticipation. Hands clenching and unclenching.
By contrast, the wizard is stock still. Hands balled into fists. Arms tensed. A statue ready to pounce.
From overheard, we hear the pop-hiss of a public address system clicking over. In the distant metropolis, the orderly lines of robotic citizenry stop. And witness.
"You look nervous," states the wizard.
M looks over his adversary. "I-am-skittish," he admits. "This-daycycle-hasn't-gone-quite-as-I-hoped."
"We don't have to do this," the wizard says, offering a hand. "We don't have to fight. Neither of us wants this. Surrender your crown to me willingly, and I'll leave."
Servitor B vibrates with confusion. The concept of 'surrender' has been erased from it, just as it has for most of the Swarm. It literally does not understand. And We cannot provide it any comfort… as we cannot fathom the gambit the wizard is playing. Leniency is not something that has ever been associated with the Great Disaster. What is happening here?
M seems as stunned as We are. He stares at the offered hand. Speechless.
Then a hacking barking noise blasts through the broadcast speakers. It takes Us a moment to realize that M is laughing. "I'm… hee-hee… I'm-sorry," M says apologetically. "I-wish-I-could. I-really-do. But-that-time's-come-and-gone."
The wizard withdraws his hand, and we're overcome with relief. And anticipation.
A radiance leaks from the wizard, banishing the shadows separating them.
M plants his feet firmly. Blue static slithers along his frame, dragged out of the dry air.
Planet M goes silent. Its weight leans toward the two.
The wizard acts first. Faster than We can follow. Radiance shoots down his arms. Hands snap up. Fingers toward M, power welling up.
M leans forward, face first. The single loudspeaker blasts out a single booming bass note! BOOM!
The volume! Terrible! Tumultuous! We instinctively protect Our ears. Columns shudder. Shatter. Fall away at the tone's force.
The wizard is struck, the proximity devastating! He is flung backwards, battered in the chest. The light in his hands escape chaotically. A laser spectrum blinding the sky.
M holds up his hand, palm upwards, grasping at the air. On the horizon, a whirlpool of electrical power sweeps amongst the Pyramids Of Ka, the surround eight splashing the middle with fluid current.
M closes his hand in a fist and thrusts.
The power at the pyramids explode! A gigantic bolt of blue lightening arcs across the sky, through the robot's fist, and spears! CRACK!
The prone wizard bounces off the ground with the force. The ground shatters underneath! The force of the hit knocks Us off our feet! The atmosphere is thrust aside, then collapses back on the spot with the mass of a mountain!
Our little drone is trying to screech something at Us. Wanting Us to escape. Away and to safety. We ignore it. We cannot leave. We have to witness! We have to be sure!
The wizard crosses his arms and flings them out wild. A quick, rash action that splashes out solid fire. Magma jumps out from him, tossed in a fiery wave.
M stomps forward. And lets loose another crushing bass note. BOOM! The wash lava folds back onto itself, flowing off between the columns' remaining stumps. The corridor is blanketed with hellish reds.
The moment allows the wizard to get half-way up. On one knee, he pulls his arm back. A loop of fusion curves around his fist! The air burns… the whip! The solar flare! We have seen him wound worlds with that weapon!
A snarl, and he snaps his arm. The fusion uncurls with a hungry jump! SNAP!
We flail backwards, arms up in a pointless attempt to protect Ourselves.
M instead lurches straight toward the wizard! Grabs the curve of fire with his left hand! Plucks the arc of nuclear fire from the air like a reed in the wind!
The free end of the whip bends unexpectedly, cutting across the forum! One side disappears in heat and glare! Three of the animal court are vaporized, their electronic screams sliced short.
We watch M's arm bend, the rope of the solar flare softening the robot's metal. It twists and drips, the heat of a star bleeding into it.
But M holds his grip. And yanks. The wizard is dragged down, unable to break the grip on his fiery weapon. And falls before Emperor M!
The emperor raises his free hand. A horrendous thundercrack! The sky splits! A bolt! Towering beyond eyesight! Flickering straight down through his hand! Jabbing downward! Spearing his foe! CRACK!
Blindness. Blue. Burning! Sudden howling winds! Atmosphere boils and rolls away.
A crash! Tilting. The ground under Our feet folds toward the impact.
Then… ever so slowly… the world returns. Our sensors remember how to function. We are allowed to see and hear again as light and noise peel away.
Most of the forum is gone. A crater remains, deep, bowl-shaped. The ground, giant shards of blackened glass. Jagged angry shapes, looking to escape the center. The ground under Us is at an angle, dragged into the hole before being shoved back away. We pick Ourselves up, having trouble with Our balance. Looking around, there is a less of an audience then when everything started.
Entire sides of the grand obsidian palace have warped. Walls still melting into liquid rock. Stone carved stories washing away in black magma. Beyond, the robotic metropolis has zig-zagging gouges where the incredible power spilled over. Long thin canyons still glowing from atomic heat. Buildings flattened. Thousands of mechanical citizenry gone.
We feel a pang of pain for this handsome sphere, for suffering such wounds. But was it worth it? What of the combatants? There is a sound… hard to place. The air seems thinner, if it is still there at all. How much was seared away?
Our drone spots them, pointing at silhouettes at the center of the pit.
M has lost his left arm, the solar whip melted it away. The incredible heat has also melted his spine, leaving him with a sideways slouch. His golden raiments are slag and carbon sticking to his iron frame. A thin carcass, still animated with wrathful violence.
He's stomping on the still wizard. Over and over again, with little finesse. Barely keeping himself from tipping over. The iron foot bangs down on an arm. On a shoulder. On the ribs. Over and over. A stick oily fluid bleds and pools from the unmoving form.
Emperor M finally stops, his stored-up savagery expended. He takes an unsteady step back, trying to stand straight and finding his structure is incapable of it. Still, he squares what remains of his shoulders and looks back to the forum. Back at Us. Without eyes. Expressionless.
After a long wordless moment, he bends down and grabs one of the wizard's feet. Then, Emperor M drags limp body away to the pyramids in the horizon.
Away from Us. We allow a smile. And a wash of relief.