We wait out the long desert night at the pyramidal base of a cyclopean super-computer. Its grey metal sides angle up into the dark sky, hard-cornered lines of blue electricity follow circuit-board hieroglyphs. Rumors claim these massive structures are only tips of the massive machines, the majority of it stretching down to Planet M's core.
We are not given opportunity to see how far the wound goes. We are not permitted to approach. The surviving members of the royal court worship the monument, crowing and baying in mechanical imitation of their beastial shapes. Even our converted drone is overwhelmed; in the presence of these primal mainframes, he buzzes and bows in profane ritual.
A scraping of metal on stone. A doorway finally opens. Emperor M emerges. Limping down marble steps to Us, doing his best to hide it. His bodywork is bent, the melted core warped toward his his lost arm. The remaining limbs are thinner. Twisted and black. His formerly reinments of chrome and gold are little more than carbon slab on his thin skeletal frame. Only the holographic light of his headdress and the cosmic power of the Pschent crown reminds Us of his previous glory.
"Is-it-done?" calls out Servitor B.
The emperor nods. He gestures back to the great pyramid and declares, "At-the-behest-of-our-electronic-ennead, I've-entombed-the-invader-within-the-Pyramids-Of-Ka! His-power-will-feed-our-preservation-batteries-for-countless-cycles." He falls to one knee as bows to his geometric god. The others do the same, murmuring in binary prayer.
Then, when they all stand again, the court descends on Emperor M. They pick up stones from the ground, bricks from the road, anything within reach to use as weapons. M puts up no resistance as the mob strike him from every direction. He falls to the ground and curls into a fetal position. We are in shock at the ferocity of these obsequious attendants, beating and battering and slashing and biting!
"Sun-Of-Righteousness! Living-Image-Of-M! Machine-Emperor!" They spit his titles at him in a surprising amount of fury. "You-would-have-willfully-betrayed-our-glorious-Pyramids? A-pox-on-your-Backup! A-curse-on-your-name! For-this-unforgivable-faithlessness, you're-stripped-of-your-designation! Your-nobility! Your-authority!"
Finally. We were starting to believe this citizenry incapable of passion. Though circumstances prevented violent supersedure until now, We were wondering how long they would tolerate their emperor's failings.
After the burst of brutality, the court members drag M away. He is not yet inactive; we can see his form moving. But he does not resist as they haul him along the stone roadway, back to his obsidian palace.
An unexpected flutter of curiosity tickles the back of Our mind. "What will happen to him?" we ask our little drone.
"They'll-take-him-to-the-Iconoclast-Throne," replies Servitor B with bile in his tone. "He'll-have-until-dawn-to-dwell-on-his-heresy. When-the-sun-rises, he'll-be-fused-to-the-throne, and-forever-after-act-as-a-warning-to-his-successors."
"We would witnessz thisz for Ourszelvesz."
B vibrates with confusion before carefully stating, "This... is-his-end, my-Queen. There-isn't-a-need-for-you-to-be-present..."
"Yesz, yesz," We cut him off, "Sztill... there are thingsz We would know before then." We follow after the court, and, with a moment of uncertainty, the drone comes along.
The march to the palace takes us past the devastated forum, now reduced to a wide crater of exposed bedrock and blackened glass. Just on the horizon, the bordering metropolis is rebuilding. Scaffolding appears along ruined buildings. Lines of gauzed-covered machines pass bricks and stonework in wonderfully organized displays of coordination. And in open squares, the dead are piled in uniform heaps; the mechanical populace either struck down by stray fusion or fallen inactive when they could not recharge.
They will recover. They will be stronger for the experience.
The grand palace has not faired any better. A lash of cosmic power has carved away half its top. Stone instantly became magma, sloughing on itself, or collapsed due the sudden weight. Centuries of history lost, the tales etched on the walls wiped away. The formerly intimidating throneroom is open to the elements now, one entire side erased in rubble and cooling slag.
The mob hoists their emperor up the dais and drop him at the foot of the throne. Each clockwork courtier takes a turn wrapping lengths of ugly chain around him and the seat. Each made sure to tighten, so much so that We can't tell if it is links or limbs creaking with strain. Each binds the prisoner. Each turns their back on him. Each leaves the room.
Only when all of them have left does M finally stir. The restraints cut across his neck and his shoulders, preventing almost any movement, but he still manages to slide his attention over Us. The loudspeaker in his face crackles with guttural growls, "You-must-be-pleased."
Sigh. "It wasz never anger We had toward you, M. Only diszappointment. Any animoszity between you and Usz... you engendered. You nurszed it. You poiszoned yourszelf with it."
M rattles his chains. "This-isn't-your-doing?" he asks with mock incredulity.
"You were planning to szurrender your coszmic crown to a unrepentant desztructive forcze. You would have left your world defenszelessz. We had to act. To save your hive from the szelf-desztructive doldrumsz of itsz monarch."
"BULLSHIT! You-did-it-to-save-YOURSELF!" The loudspeaker throws the words, shaking the ruined walls and slapping Us across the face.
Servitor B almost tears the sound-system out of the robot's head. "Traitor! I-believed-in-you! And-you-wanted-to-throw-it-all-away! You!" We forget just how strongly the instincts run in these fledglings. B turns to us and demands, "You-shouldn't-tolerate-this, your-magesty!"
No, We should not. Still... hm. A hand on the drone's grill. Asking for calm. B shakes with frustration, but reluctantly retreats. We stare silently at the spiteful sovereign. We allow him a chance to explain his... cheap accusations.
"You're-scared-of-him," M says flatly.
Tsk. Such presumption.
"You're-scared-to-death. Or-of-your-death. I'm-a-mummy-machine. I've-been-restored-from-Backup. Death-isn't-something-I-worry-about-anymore. But-you-do. You-worry-about-it-a-lot. And-you're-not-nearly-as-good-at-hiding-it-as-you-think-you-are. Everybody-knows."
This has lost its humor. "How dare you."
"We-could-see-it-in-your-eyes-yesterday, when-you-knew-I-wasn't-going-to-fight. And-we-all-saw-it-back-on-Amity, when-Rex-was-cut-down. Abject-fear. Overwhelming-fear. What-was-it-like? To-suddenly-know-that-you-weren't-as-immortal-as-you-believed. To-be-so-aware-of-it. That-death-was-real-and-that-it-could-happen-to-you. I-can't-imagine-the-shock. The-desperation. To-be-indestructible-one-moment, and-then... not."
His words breed an uneasiness in Our core. We can feel it leeching up to the surface. We cannot speak. We cannot find words.
"Did-you-think-it'd-get-this-far? Having-to-rely-on-me-to-stop-the-wizard. You-were-expecting-the-Language-to-break-him, I-bet. Or-Dharma-to-stop-him. Or-Rex-to-eat-him. Or-maybe-you-didn't-even-trust-any-of-them... did-those-rogue-bees-act-on-their-own-at-the-Argentonian-system, or-did-you-send-them-after-Gavrilo?"
We feel the Grand Feather stabbing. Through the crust, swelling Our thoughts with alarm. So much it hurts to it all keep in. "It wasz... not szupposed to be posszible."
"Is-that-what-your-Swarm-told-you? Back-when-they-made-you, is-that-what-you-told-yourself? The-monster-bees-wanted-a-home-and-a-hive-and-a-queen. With-their-transformative-toxin, they-could-have-all-three. But-combined-with-the-Feather's-cosmic-power, they-could-have-one! As-illustrious-and-ageless-as-the-stars-themselves! Grandeur-on-so-large-a-scale-as-to-be-virtually-unbreakable."
"It was szupposed to be... enough." We are rock and wax and weave. We are greater than this... this thing! Queen and Hive!
"I szaid ENOUGH!" This insignificant, rambling speck! "You think just becausze We are here at this of a szmall szcale that you can szpeak down to Usz? You have been no more altruisztic in thisz tournament than We have... so inszisztant to find companionship in your reincarnation, sztumbling over your failuresz, throwing them in Our facze. We should depart thisz vagrant sphere. We should leave you here ALONE, to be baked to your szcrap-iron chair. Then you will truly not have a szingle szentient creature to give a care of you!"
Servitor B coughs politely and asks, "Why-don't-you, my-queen?"
We glare back at the drone, riled at its gall... before we realize that it is right. We do not have to brook this harassment. It was only curiosity that kept Us here this long. Curiosity and responsibility, to see this through. To know. To be certain. To be safe.
And yet, why are We still here? Why are We not yet satisfied? This chained wretch obviously has nothing for Us but insults. And there is nothing more We can learn from the mechanical uniformity of the populace; dependant as they are on their atmospheric discharges, they are not even worth assimilating in Our Colony. So why do we feel that there is still something for Us here. Why do we feel there is value. Why do we feel...
"Emperor M," each word comes out as slow deliberate expletive, "What. Have. You. DONE?"