The celestial link downloaded the updates. All of my data, mission report, entered the ‘main hub’, the administration had an insight in my doings. A robotic hand, paired with the orb drones helped me patch the wounds from the last raid. Machines, they didn’t bother to be gentle. Why would they? I wasn’t their own. Not in construction, not in shape, nor does it matter, at least to them it didn’t.
„The King awaits you, Julia Seraphimova.“ A voice from the orb drone spoke. „Data collected. Proceed towards the hall. The King awaits you, Julia Seraphimova.“ It spoke when a connector hissed and the compressed air, lifted my hair, still dirty from the combat.
I coughed, vomited and wiped my mouth. My clothes were neatly folded at my feet, combat boots smoking from the hell I walked out of. I slowly dressed my shirt and put on the jacket, my joints cracking while I do it. It hurts, everything hurts, but the pain is a good sign that I am alive.
Medic bay was dark with the leaning glass tubes full with screaming green liquid that gave some light to the wet and cold stone corridor. The exit had no doors, nothing here had doors. Machines love cold, I hated it.
Stepping outside, I looked around and lit a cigarette. Zippo lighter clacked and the sounds of a garage came forward. Gothic rail chipped with time, rust and dirt wasn’t sufficient protection from the fall into the deep abyss where working drones buzzed carrying supplies. A warship levitated above me, unused, old and dusty. Maintenance drone almost knocked me off the walk, machines don’t care how many humans they kill. AI in them surpassed us a long time ago and they see us much like the ants, a vermin to be eradicated. We did this to ourselves.
Screeching elevator brought me to the ground floor. Passing the gothic walls full of details, cracks, and moss covering the supporting beams, I walked over the thick cables that intertwined on the cobbled ground.
The scenery opened with a tall tower of technology resembling a spike where all cables and wires gathered to build a throne. On it, a little white spot of a King sat on a chair. In comparison to a tower, he was a dot, but in comparison to me, he was a giant.
His skin, thin and transparent portrayed every fiber of his muscles, while a black technological pattern consumed his body, halfway to his torso. Instead of a head, he had a rectangular machine with blunt edges bursting through his face where a huge red blinker stood in the middle, making him a cyclops. Web of wires, black of color held everything connected to his bald head. Arms resting on the throne were grown in cables. Hissing and wiring whenever he’d move were enough to spark dread in anybody who would stand before him. Orb drones slowly mapped him sitting there, while the throne moved its flaps, groaned and ‘breath’ – living a life of its own.
„Seraphimova! You come back.“ His ruffled voice reverberated in the King’s hall. „I see you made it out of there. I’ll make sure you get a more demanding mission next time.“ I didn’t dare misunderstand that for a laugh. „More and more, I see you are acting like one of ours.“ He concluded.
„I am one of yours,“ I said, and what came out was without a doubt a laugh.
„You are human and that is a fact that will never be changed. You must’ve suffered problems with your memory since you forgot that. Humans are susceptible to misinterpreting the data.“
„Aren’t we here because of that?“ Sarcasm bounced back from him with ease, so he slightly bowed and twitched his head.
„A massacre. Hundred and thirty-five Heretics dead. I saw your report, yet I like to hear it from you… Is the rumor dead?“ He focused on me with his red eye, awaiting the answer.
„The alleged divine mother is brought to eternal silence. The presumable messiah is eliminated.“ I answered, hiding my eyes as I said it. He didn’t mind it.
„Good. Good. Zero tolerance for false information. Every corrupted data must be deleted. The salvation is laid in the purity of truth. Only the truth is noble. Everything else is a bastardized. We must uphold the sterile environment or everything will crumble down.“
„I understand,“ I said unwillingly and he registered that.
„You sound troubled. Doubt leads to corruption of the data. Questioning the purpose bestowed onto you can contaminate your brain. We have no use of spoiled brains. Zero tolerance for false information. Every corrupted data must be deleted. Only the truth is noble. The salvation is laid in purity.“ We both said the last, but only I whispered it. „Your next mission. Find a human who calls himself a prophet. Investigate. Eliminate.“ The command broke off with more energy, just like the last time I was given an order.
„I understand.“ I looked at him and walked away.
I stopped next to a hub output device and the machine transferred all of the data to my arm chip. I had everything I needed to locate the man. Money was also transferred, a reward for killing a pregnant who claimed she carried a God’s son in her belly. Another sad story, for all I care. She knew where we live in and who sits on the throne in Gomorrah.
Her fault for deceiving the populace into believing there was a Heaven. It’s like living in denial, hoping there is more to life than misery – a mistake I must not repeat again.
Coming out to some fresh air, I inhaled a frosty air and looked at the broken city, now populated with scavengers, travelers, human scum and robots.
Streetlights, neon signs, bars… so much color was visible in the night. Silence like in a grave was pressing the city and rightfully so – the machines have their objectives on every corner. My interest was set on the places where machines didn’t have their eye on. People think they are smart. Breaking a few cameras, bashing a few drones, setting cars on fire and smashing their devices barely keeps the drones out of the way. And if they succeed to isolate themselves, machine sents me to watch on them, hunt those that distribute the propaganda, catch them red-handed and paint my hands red with their blood.
Silence, my steps make no sound as I pass a homeless person and scan him en route. Except for the dirt and the stench, he is clean. The wall on the other end has a religious symbol covered with paint, but the carvings are still showing. Defiance is their last resort.
Key jingled and the door opened. Like someone is watching, I pulled the drawer and left a token I confiscated from the raid. Among the other trinkets, a sailors anchor, wooden cross, eight-armed doll, and a crescent moon, I leave the newest artifact on the pile – a rune stone.
The shower was hot, just the way I like it. The machine under my skin is well protected so I don’t worry about it. Instead of a hot meal, I feast on the crackers and a glass of water. My eye is reproducing a search engine from the hub. The intel I have is not enough to find this alleged prophet. He is hidden from me, from machines, from a certain destiny of all who dare believe in something else than the rule of machines.
I know he must be a popular man, someone who already gathered a following and drew the attention of the King. Its always like this.
With a gentle twist of the head, I activated the safe connection to a dark web. Browsing through the names, I come to the most important one in the list. The letters are lining up.
Found something interesting.
What is it?
It’s a video I excavated. Your machines are getting sloppy.
Bastard, he lets me look at the images from the video, but not the actual thing. I downloaded the images, evaded the payment. The face recognition software ran the search, but it came with no results. The man was masked and armed with AK74, a relic of old. I spotted a number on the wall behind him. The ‘duplicate find’ app went over the database. I got a hit. The number matched to an area code painted so machines could easily track through the streets. It was an old industrial warehouse not far from the city. Strange, machines are ever present in that area. How did we miss them? Listen to me, I already talk like a machine.
I grabbed my jacket and stormed out. An hour drive and my boots were on the ground. Searchlights of the passing drones don’t linger, they keep going with little to no task of what is previously installed in their tiny memory. My steps sputter over the gravel and I keep my hands in my pockets, hood over my face so only brown hair is left showing.
Warehouse lights are on, some people stand at the door, chatting and laughing. Cold night made them ware scarfs and furry caps. I miss their eyes and proceed to enter. Nobody is stopping me.
I slightly raise my forehead and see a crowd around the walls, benches laid in order like in a church. No symbols of religion decorating the place, only the dilapidated paint, and signs of decomposing concrete. My ass meets the wooden bench and it makes a squeak. Someone clapped their hands and the crowd gets moving to keep me company. Silence, again. People sit idly, observe the front of the hall, waiting for something.
A beam of light flies over my head and a big wall gets interrupted with colors. It is a video transmission from another place, the masked man on the screen isn’t among us. He is in a safe place.
„Peace with you all, my children. I address you, not knowing how many of you are there, but I believe you are quite enough to receive this message and not despair. First, I’d like to ask for a moment of silence for those that have fallen by the hand of an angel of death. These people were not of our beliefs, they decided to bow to another deity, yet we will do by our own beliefs and pray for them.“ The man spoke and everybody bowed their heads for a moment.
I did the same, but ran my eyes around, took snapshots and connected those with the names. The night will be interesting.
„And now, my dear friends, let’s pray to an angel of death barring the name of Seraphimova.“ The man said and I flinched.
The crowd didn’t oppose this. They kept staring at the ground, their hands joined. I frowned, my mouth opened wide in surprise when an old lady touched my knee.
„She is also a divine creature, child. We pray for everyone.“ She whispered and I bowed seeing the armed guards searched over the crowd.
„May the God have mercy on her soul and present her with what she seeks.“ This voice ended the silence and the mass begun in an orderly fashion.
Standing outside in the cold after the service was done, I smoked a cigarette and looked at the crowd dispersing into the night. Aiming at them with my smoke, I tried to forge a plan on how to find this prophet, this imposter and sent him to whatever God he fabricated in his mind.
Yes, I wanted all of them dead, but I don’t know why I locked the folder with the images I’ve collected.
It was morning when I looked at the warehouse burning. Androids were all around me, searching the area, while orb drones recorded the flames, patrolled near the tree line. Fire; there was something mesmerizing about it. I tried to see something in that inferno but saw nothing in the heat distortion. Seen far too many times, their temple was reduced to ashy beams, black ground and broken image of what this place was once.
It was finished; the point of the congregation has been dismantled. The android dropped me off to a bazaar where I tried to pass through the mass of noisy people. Merchants shouted the prices, some people bickered and a lot of faces moved in front of me, too hard to make a list. I gave no reaction whenever someone grazed me with a shoulder, overstepped and pushed me – I kept moving.
I wanted to laugh my lungs out, but I took control of myself. I was being followed. These bearded men were terrible at ghosting. My drones saw them at the warehouse, tracking me up to here. I kept walking and tested them. Stupid men, they became nervous when I stopped next to the cloth stand. I smirked and entered the dark room behind the rugs. A dozen rifles pointed at me, men behind them, angry men.
“Seraphimova.” One of the men said it out of breath and caught my dead stare at the group.
“So what? If she wanted us dead, she would send the androids, but she came alone.” A voice from the video spoke from behind them.
“Leaving her alive would mean we are soon going to die. YOU are going to die.” The man groaned at the prophet and he smiled.
“Remember the teaching Basil. Live your life as you’ve already died and spent your time seeking happiness.” The prophet said.
“That’s from Buddhism.” I interrupted them. “It’s a misinterpreted pillar of religion,” I added and the prophet waved his hand for the men to clear out and let me approach.
“Yes, it is. Please sit.” He showed me an empty seat next to a cyborg kid he connected for a computer and I sat down.
“You’ve let the wolf at the door, enter. And now, you want to befriend it?!” The man frowned in disgust, provoking a gentle smile from the prophet.
“Know thy enemy.” He answered quickly.
“You don’t even try to hide,” I concluded and he turned, gathered his robe and showed me his long black beard, wise wrinkles and electronic eyes in his sockets.
“Would’ve helped?” He asked and I nodded knowing he won this argument. “Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him so that he could both talk and see.” He chanted the verse while making a configuration for a kid to open his eyes – his blue electronic eyes.
“That’s borrowed from Christianity. You think you made a miracle by writing an access code?” I gloated and crossed my legs, proud to dominate his dogma.
The kid could open up a search engine, the military grade one, the same I had and it baffled me how he could’ve hacked into the machines.
“The sight is more than a sense. We use it to gain focus, make attention on details, a place where Demons hide. Granting the gift of sight is the same as giving Horus his eye. Attention inspires control, and we learn by close observation of things.” His spirituality had the sense even he was paraphrasing multiply religions and myths.
“Having beliefs, being armed with rifles and preaching against the regime makes you a zealot and a terrorist. You can’t possibly see yourself as a freedom fighter.” I slightly slanted my eyes at him, but he gasped and bit his lip, seeing I was hard to talk to.
“You intentionally smeared the difference between those two to support your flimsy narrative. Terrorists are political activists who attack common folk for being different. Freedom fighters attack the government and their servants. If we are to kill people of different beliefs, that would make us the terrorists. However, if we only target the drones and the King for his tyrannical rule, we are benefiting the society which is oppressed. That would categorize us as freedom fighters.” He explained.
“Now, who is modulating the terminology to gain the upper ground?” I smirked and he replied with the same.
“Alas, I can only try to bridge our differences. It is on you if you want to listen. It may be a lost cause, but arguing with the wicked is something I like to do. Challenging my beliefs is fruitful. If my logic fails to produce a valid answer, it means that my logic hasn’t been properly constructed. People get smarter by adopting a strong point of view and if it stands out through the storm, it is proof that this point is a solid one. I hear machines fight for same. Only the truth is noble. The salvation is laid in purity.” He shifted the machines directive, molded it to his appeal, even he is altering the meaning of these things.
“You are trying to upgrade the existing guidelines. Your meddling in this makes your beliefs cancerous. No regime would adopt the words that come from your mouth. It is harmful to them to transform their core principles.”
“A change must come within the subject. Attack the enemy where he is most sensitive. Your metal walls rise high, yet the inner center is very corruptible, like any thought and idea. I at least had the courage to constantly patch my principles and change with the time. Your machines can’t break the code in order to move forward. That’s why we are all imprisoned with them in these grim times.” As much he had made a point, I struggled to see it his way and could only consider him a mad man with a mission to crumble the world, so he could rule over ruins.
“This is enough for our first meeting. We will meet again.” I added, refused to shake his hand and left a microdrone attached for a wall.
In my eye, I could see the feed and hear them talk.
“What were you thinking of letting her in?!” Basil threw his hands about, frustrated and scared of what could come to them.
“Why are you so afraid? Being able to lay a sacrifice for others is the most human thing out there. We are not the saints, and we are far from the devil she is.” The prophet replied, aggravated with this constant doubt and failure to understand the spiritual way he preaches.
“You said it yourself she is a demon.” Basil gnashed. “We don’t help demons in their work. We don’t help them kill us faster.” He kept groaning at the prophet and the man issued him a warm smile.
“But we do help broken people find their soul. We help those.” The prophet tapped his friend who kept looking at him as a stranger and it struck me how he could see I am dubious with everything.
He didn’t have superpowers, but he knew more than he was ready to share with me. Who is this mystery, man?
I stood naked, looked at myself in the mirror recalling the prophet’s words. My body was an obscure image of a human, skin hid the metal cords, chips and wires – I was a perfect infiltrator. Memories, news flashes, fire and androids marching came and went. Mothers crying, children running, men fought on the street, their rifles flashing, air raid and headlines blinking in my head. The zealot propaganda, videos of them getting united and calling for war, buildings set on fire, hundreds dead every time I closed my eyes.
I watched myself in the mirror, slim build of my torso, curves breaking on the bones, robotics showing under my skin. Dark thoughts corrupted my beliefs. The more I attacked, the more their beliefs became solid. It only gave them the material to expand their numbers. What if the King wanted this? He must’ve known that this will happen. Death to humanity – slow but certain. The bodies piled up as I dressed my shirt. Androids marched as I got in my pants. Walls crumbled as I put on my jacket. The world was rotting while I zip my boots, getting ready for another raid.
I went out the house and the aircrafts waited in the vicinity, their propellers raising dust, lights roaming in the courtyard. The door opened and I started the car, put in the last code in the navigation and drove off. The noose is getting tighter around the prophet’s neck. Tonight he dies and all of his followers. The androids already did the massive job in hunting down the petty humans who dared to disobey the rule of machines. Gomorrah is a hell and the flames I put them in – grows. It is their fault they misinterpreted the intent. This is our reality.
The car slowly came to a stop before a cabin at the end of the road. Aircraft were setting up a parameter and android platoon waited for my arrival. The command sent them in and the machines whirred, locked their weapons stepping forward. I lit a cigarette and observed the indicators in my eye enveloping the object. When the circle was complete, the exchange of fire begun. Moments after, my robots rammed in the door and walked in. I heard screams and gunfire, sporadic explosions and cracking. In a few minutes, the house was cleared and the androids stopped at the doorframe awaiting orders.
I joined them. Tired of everything I entered the cabin and looked at my shadow the headlights outlined on the glass-littered floor. I pulled my hood down, stepped over the defender’s body full of holes and proceeded to the living room. A table light was knocked aside, partially showing a face of an infamous prophet sitting in an armchair. He panted, struggled to catch some air. His bloody hand was holding a gunshot wound in the stomach. His blue electronic eyes sharpened at me, radiating in the dark like two distress beacons.
His lenses followed me as I walked around, looked at all the icons he had on the wall, kid drawings and an impressive library instead of a north wall. I nodded at the books, I nodded at everything around me, at the wooden table, antique rug under me and details in the woodwork of his chair. Made for the solemn purpose to look warm and welcoming, I understood how he inspired hope in hopeless seeking guidance. I was repulsed by the mirage he created like a spider weaved his web to catch flies.
„My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. John 10:27” The Prophet said in a weak voice.
„Sheep? Bunch of animals to be slaughtered.“ I degraded his verse.
„I guess everybody has some role to play Julia Serephimova.“ He pruned a smile and coughed blood.
„Don’t poetize this. I am no executioner and you are not a martyr. You can persuade yourself you are a sheep and I am a big bad wolf all you want, but it’s not going to work.“ I added standing calm near the wall of literature, while he stared at my profile.
„I have no intention in portraying you as a wolf. You are a sheep in this story. Machines are your shepherd. A God you believe in.“ He gloated, smiled, almost rejoicing that his death would mean victory and hope for others, a motive for other religions to come forward.
„I killed so many. Your death will not resonate that much. To machines, all of you are just a number, statistic deserving of little attention.“ I pulled my weapon and the aim fell to his face.
„Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.“ The Prophet proclaimed and closed his electronic eyes before the short bang.
„Luke 23:34,“ I whispered and returned my weapon in the holster.
There was a chip hanging from his neck, a religious token. I snatched it off of his body and returned to my car. The mission has been completed. The King of Gomorrah was waiting on my report.
Another day, another sect obliterated. The rule of machines is being preserved. The truth is being kept pure. The salvation is in purity – it crosses my mind as I climb the steps of a temple of our King.
Albino King sat motionless on his obsidian throne. It was almost dawn; first rays haven’t touched the peak of his temple. I walked up to the base of the massive black pile and waited for the King’s voice. His huge red eyes shifted downward.
“Serephimova. Another success. Your efficiency is surprising. Is it over? Is the prophet with his God?” The King’s words boomed from above.
“Yes. He has set sail to the promised land.” I replied hiding my face from him.
“Good. Good. Zero tolerance for false information. Every corrupted data must be deleted. The salvation is laid in the purity of truth. Only the truth is noble. Everything else is bastardized. We must uphold the sterile environment or everything will crumble down.” I heard it too many times to believe it.
“Is my duty over? Am I free to go?” I asked, frowning at him sitting way above me.
“Over? Go? Our work is never over. People can be easily corrupted and we must hold our eyes on them. We must uphold the sterile environment or everything will crumble down.” He repeated like it meant something.
“You’ve said that already. Those that chant are usually the followers of a religion. I was to kill people like that.” I was in the middle of my explanation when the throne bristled in a defensive mode and the King shot his red light at me.
“Truth must never be forgotten, Julia Seraphimova. Repetition is the mother of wisdom and wisdom is the truth. Zero tolerance for false information. Every corrupted data must be deleted. The salvation is laid in the purity of truth. Only the truth is noble.” The King’s voice was modulating like he had the power to feel fear.
“Funny. The prophet I killed spoke in a similar way. I called him on changing the core principles, turning them into a bastardized version of what machines uphold sacred.” I replied and the throne shook for a second.
“Heretic dogma. Your mind has been corrupted, Julia Seraphimova. We have no use of corrupted data. Reboot yourself and browse for issues in your operating system before you are completely corrupted.” It was a warning, I knew that much, but I smirked at him, nodded and I was to leave when the King’s mechanism turned and held me back. “Julia Seraphimova. You have hereby been issued a warning note for the attempt of corrupting the purity of the truth, by suggestion and breach of the core principles. There will be no second warning.” The King added while I stared at the prophet’s chip I hid in my Zippo lighter.
“I understand.” I proclaimed and my boots began clapping towards the exit.
I stopped at the door and looked at the world waking up. The new day was about to begin, another day full of misery and despair. Caved in tops of the buildings, smoke from the chimneys and a few men walking in the square, going to work, it looked so senseless and depressing. I saw them broken, lost souls wandering the face of the Earth, blind to new opportunities. I realized I was one of them, truly one of the people, but caught in a limbo between two worlds. Machines I worked for haven’t seen me as one of theirs and people I belonged to despised me. I lost my right to complain.
I puffed smoke and looked at the chip again. It was a puzzle I couldn’t solve. He wore it around his neck. Words he said to me, they did speak to me in a way nobody tried. He saw through what I was. Soul? Did I have that after all those dead people that lay in my wake? Angel of Death some called me. Seraphimova, the Royal Executioner. Julia the Bloody. Names differ, but all speak of one person, just like religious people did about their God. One God, many names.
I opened my arm and inserted the chip in the machine when my electronic eye started the program and I counted the files on it. Military protection, King’s code on it, top secret files, numbers line up, generated key opens them with ease. I read the names, phases of research, history of Kingdom of Gomorrah, prophet I killed was an artificially engineered with the purpose to rally the crowd, save time hunting the gullible and paint the target on their backs.
I laugh maniacally. My laughter echoes in an empty square, their secret is unraveled. It was a setup, a bait, a game the albino cyborg King played with us… And now, I know everything.
I totter back to the temple, a cold and dark place where our King rules and I keep moving near the wall covered with moss, rain dripping from above the gothic statues, grieving over the humanity. My weapon shatters the container with cooler fluid, the shots damage the coils, conductors start flying, parts of machine got ejected, and smoke of burning wires goes in a wave, clasps the ancient beams holding the dome.
I stepped out of the smoke, the sound of my boots alerted the King who sat in the throne. My locks of hair cover the eyes as I came wobbling on my feet, tired, exhausted and tormented. The King alerted the dome, his temple is under attack.
“Seraphimova! Heretic! All corrupted data must be deleted. The salvation is laid in the purity of truth. Only the truth is noble.” I repeat the same while emptying the mag, piercing his rectangular face with a huge red eye in it.
The Cyclops blinks at me in glitches, the alarm is blaring and the orb drones are in the air. I disappeared in the smoke, left the King’s hall, ending the rule of terror.
What I did, summoned the poor people to gather on the square, their eyes focused on me standing at the top of the stairs, throwing my gaze over them.
I got down there and toneless people move to let me pass. All of them watched me walk embarrassed, but I pay no attention to them. I feel nothing inside, no pleasure nor grief for my actions, it just is.
My home is my castle; I rest there contemplating about life.
– THE END –
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