Chapter 2 – Initialization

Before Sam could think any more about these aliens creatures, and how he had just witnessed brutal slaughter, something began appearing in the upper left corner of his vision. Word for word a text appeared, and in English no less…

Sentinel protocol executed

Initiating bootup…

  • Bootup unavailable… Diagnosing…
    • Insufficient energy reserves detected… Searching for solutions…
  • Terminated lower lifeform detected: Initiate recycling process?

Mentally, Sam blinked a few times. There were icons in his vision, blinking as if waiting for him to click on them. Meanwhile, his current perspective was completely static and unmoving, revealing only the cavern wall before him and the little creature he had hopefully managed to save below.

What did a ‘recycling process’ even mean? He might have pretty good idea, but did not really like the implications. For a moment he was held up by an inner argument, one borne out of the confusion of his situation, as well as the restrictions he felt upon himself. Whatever had happened to his ‘dark space’, he was now here having a conscious experience.

That much was clear, and very undeniable. He could be dreaming; he had never dreamed before — nothing he could remember anyway. With no frame of reference for knowing whether this was a dream or not, it was hard to be sure. Wanting to turn the perspective around and study the place he originated from, Sam found himself stifled by the inability to move anything at will.

The only choice he appeared to have was to either pick the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ functions that were blinking in the upper left corner, though neither were appealing. If he chose the ‘no’ option, would he then return to the darkness and stillness? Or would he remain here, transfixed in his current position, unable to move or influence anything?

That would be a sure way to go mad. What about returning to his life on the other side of the darkness, in the real world — whatever that meant anymore? For a moment he tried to return to the other side, tried to force himself to wake up from this nightmare, but it was completely futile. Then he remembered how he was supposed to be in surgery right now.

Did it fail? Am I dead — is this death?

That seemed absurd. One moment he had been in his well-known darkness, the next he had been here in the light, popping heads and crushing throats. What the connection between the two was, he had no idea, but his current situation had certainly never happened before.

Thinking like this made his figurative mind spin, although the ability to even conceptualize these ideas was staggering enough. Since there was no way of confirming one hypothesis over another, he would have to make a decision here and now with what little information was available.

It had not been his choice to kill the humanoid, and he was pretty sure he had managed to save the other one… Somehow. Wherever this place was, they really should not have been poking around in spooky caverns like these. Now one was dead, and the other out cold. In a way it served them right, for doing something so blasphemous.

Surprised by that train of thought, he nonetheless followed it down the rabbit hole. In time, if no one else found them, the humanoid would decay and turn into rotten meat and bones. Was there really any point in letting that go to waste?

He also had a strange sensation of ownership.

Sighing at his own rationalization, Sam made the final decision and mentally applied himself to choosing the ‘yes’ option. Once again, it was like fumbling in the dark, but he felt he had the hang of it this time. In response to the choice, his vision moved. It was brutal, terrifying, and disgusting, but Sam was forced to watch, forced to observe as whatever mechanism he now inhabited followed through on his orders; ripping the dead creature apart and stuffing into what was presumably some sort of mouth just below his line of sight.

It did, however, give him an opportunity to study the two appendages — the two arms — in greater detail, something he focused all of his attention towards in order to avoid looking directly at the horrible reality that was otherwise playing out before him.

They were two very human arms, complete with five fingers, opposing thumbs, flexible wrists, elbows, and covered in a strange sort of skin. Strange because, although it looked natural, it was covered in glowing markings that were clearly charged with some sort of energy — seeing as they visibly pulsed with light?

It took a surprisingly short time before the creature were completely consumed, clothes and bodies all, and then Sam’s attention was caught by something new.

Recycling process completed… Bootup available

Boot up unit?

It seemed a redundant question, especially since he had not been asked the last time it tried to boot up, and, considering the choice he had just made, it would be absurd of him to pick the second option. He selected ‘yes’, and was immediately inundated with text.

A line of text would appear at the bottom the console in the upper left corner of vision, only to be pushed up by the next line, and the next, and the next, ad infinitum. The speed was blinding, and Sam did not manage to read anything of value until a halt in the spamming prompted him with a question:

No available profiles match user… Register new user?

Again, it seemed redundant, but he still mentally chose ‘yes’. Another chunk of text flew by at blinding speed before he was prompted again with:

Select Username

How am I supposed to ‘select’ anything? He tried to just think on his own name.

The name ‘Sam’ has been rejected.

Username must be distinct from biological profile

Weird… What does that mean? Was he not allowed to be ‘Sam’ here? His full name was rejected as well. Sam had never really played any games or interacted online in ways that necessitated a profile name. Without a preference, would he need to make one up on the spot?

If it was going to be a permanent fixture to him, it should at the very least hold some meaning. Perhaps a reminder of his old life? His only real talent had been math, but it had never been a passion of his. He had wanted to explore; to go to the frontier of human civilization.

Should he be ‘Mars’ here, then? He had wanted to go there, after all… No, it’s no good. If I call myself that, I will only be reminding myself how I never got to go there.

It gave him an idea, though. The red planet was named after a god of war because of its bloody color. Perhaps it was a bit presumptuous, but if this was a different world, no one would presumably know if he named himself after a god.

Username ‘Ares’ has been selected. Is this correct?

Still a god of war, well… a god of berserk and instinctual side of war, really, but a god of war nonetheless. Ares was not a paragon of virtue, but neither was Sam. Considering the brutality he had just witnessed, he might need some of that berserker quality implicit in the name.

Profile registration complete:

Username: Ares

User Level: 0

Unit Level: Unknown

Unable to load unit information… Diagnosing…

  • Diagnose complete:
    • Unable to verify Legacy status
      • User calibration required
    • Unit damage at 89%
    • Energy reserves at 6%
    • Information corruption detected
      • Primary functions status:
        • Abilities – disabled
        • Acquisition – disabled
        • Communications – disabled
        • Equipment – disabled
        • Power Supply – disabled
        • Processing module – enabled
        • Skills – disabled
        • Storage – disabled
        • Physical module – unresponsive
        • Warp – disabled

  • Unit integrity is reaching critical failure… Initiating self-recovery protocols…
    • Self-recovery failed due to insufficient energy reserves
  • Assessing available functions…
    • Processing module is intact
      • Scanning Processing module…
        • Webbed Synaptic units found:
          • Computation – 30
          • Response – 10
          • Emulation – 0

Warning: Energy reserves are critical.

Estimating time before automated shut-down protocols are initiated…

  • Estimate complete: 3 hours until shut-down.

Shit…

He was screwed. The onslaught of information was either nonsensical, or downright terrible. Although he lacked the context to understand half of what was going on, the gist of it got through. This ‘unit’, whatever that was, was seriously damaged and barely functional. From what he gathered, he needed to find an energy source before the 3 hours were up. The obvious solution was to find something to eat — preferably something that was not sentient enough to begrudge him.

Bootup protocol complete

Returning agency to user…

Calibrating unit… error

  • Unable to verify user compatibility…
    • Manual user calibration required…
    • Manual calibration tools have been activated
      • Energy will be siphoned to complete this task

Operations complete

Good hunting, Ares

There it was. One moment he was the ethereal spectator ‘Sam’, locked inside a mindless killing machine; the next he was ‘Ares’: attuned to every artificial nerve, sinew, muscle, bone, and faculty of the unit.

It was like diving into a pool of ice water with a concrete block chained to your feet; a shocking sensation, followed by the desperate urge to return to the surface for light air — only to find out that you were chained and unable to move. The first few moments of newfound agency were characterized by Ares lying collapsed on the ground and screaming soundlessly in terrible and mind-numbing pain.

The sensation of having his entire self forced down the broken and twisted nervous system of the alien body was a blow to the stomach. The return of touch and smell was disorienting, the mental rejection of this new body was a tangible chord around the neck choking him.

All of it was akin to forcing a hand into a hole much too narrow, only to solve the problem by breaking every bone in said hand and hammer it down inch by inch, using his elbow as the head of a nail.

The pain receded only after a long while, and was instead replaced by a subtle thrumming throughout his senses. Ares breathed slowly, realized that no air was entering or exiting his mouth, then shut his mouth and opened his eyes. He was still in a cavern, but now he could look around for the first time and study it properly.

It was, of course, completely and utterly splattered with blood. The liquid life also covered his new limbs like a sheen of oil. He knew he should be disgusted, but the sensation was not there. He was just… hollow.

Steadily, Ares raised his new hand up in front of his face and marveled at it. The markings on the skin were pale blue, occasionally cut off when a hole in the skin revealed the machinery beneath. Looking like the human structure he was familiar with, the artificial bones and muscle responded to his every whim and desire at a rate he had not experienced for months now – if not years.

It was with hesitation that he put the hand to his face and felt the lines beneath. Remarkably it felt like what he was used to. The tingly sensation of touch was the same as well. Everything was the same, only there was no weakness, no siphoning of strength. There was just strength.

Staggering, he got onto his feet and, ignoring the blood all around him. He was unsteady and unpracticed, certainly, but there was also a spring to his movements. He felt a sense of having rested too long, and refreshed at the prospect of movement.

Around him was primitive pottery, cavernous walls, a clearly non-human skeleton, and a majestic sarcophagus in the middle of the room. By another wall, the little creature he had fought so hard to save was still lying lifeless on the floor, face down.

Is it dead? Is ‘he’ dead?

Hesitantly, he approached. Turning the little man over, Ares was somewhat relieved to feel it still had a pulse. Its spectacles were cracked, probably by the fall onto the ground, and the eyes beneath were open, but showed only the whites. Ares tried to gently slap the creature on the cheek, hoping it would return to consciousness. After a few attempts, he gave up the endeavor, and instead looked around.

To one side he could see a shimmering image of an exit, and thought briefly about checking it out. However, his attention was first led towards the sarcophagus and the skeleton instead.

The skeleton was covered in dust, although there were signs of a recent disturbance, and at its feet lay a small tablet. For a moment, Ares studied the skeleton curiously, finding the long limbs and dainty bone-structure so magnificently alien that he could not help but imagine what it might have looked like alive. In the end, however, his eyes were caught by the small tablet. Kneeling down, he grabbed it.

On it there were completely unintelligible scribbles. Ares noticed the console in his upper left corner working furiously, and failing furiously, to work out the script.

Essential writing discovered

Recording

Linguistic core has been recorded

Interpreting and affixing to the linguistic script of the user… complete

Elvan is now available for translation

Shocked, Ares watched as the unintelligible scribbles on the tablet warped to his vision. The actual image did not change, but his perception did. To him, the symbols now read like ordinary English. Not only was the change shocking, the actual text, too, gave him pause. It read, “Greetings, Awakened One. As per our agreement, we kept this construct safe until such a time when it was needed again.”

While he was reading, the runes changed again. This time, however, it was not a matter of eligibility, but of completely new meaning. Shifting about, the writing reformed itself into a new set of sentences. “While we do not know why the construct was left in such a poor state, we understand that much information may be missing or is simply unavailable to you, the Awakened One. We offer a small gift of knowledge in the hopes that you may take pity on our children and not needlessly harm them.”

Spellbound, Ares watched as the runes twisted around themselves once more, forming new word one last time.

“This is what we were told: this construct is the primary unit of the Warbringer class, built to protect against the eternal enemy. It holds the legacy known as Solar Lens, which allows for the power of ‘concentration’. In the event you, the Awakened One, meets with the eternal enemy, you must seek to survive first and foremost, before any vengeance is enacted. Let this offering be enough to ease your anger, and a small proof that our children may still be of use to you.”

Though he understood the words, and edged every single one into his memory, he was sorely lacking for context. Only moments after he had read the last word, the tablet crumbled in his hand, leaving behind nothing but a weak, green shimmer.

At least it was a start. He would need to know more, but for now it was good enough.

Turning from the small pile of dust, Ares went instead to study the magnificent sarcophagus. While its function was clear, it also had beautiful renditions of different scenes covering its sides and cover. Its depictions spanned from a wide forest landscape, long elegant creatures bowing down as walled cities on cliffs, looking like fangs hovering in the sky; construction work on a massive scale, with innumerable creatures in all shapes and forms pitching in beneath a sky of gold; and at last to a dark image of a sky filled with ruby red eyes and wicked talons reaching down towards a few stoic creatures standing upon a wide, empty expanse.

In his immediate interpretation, Ares saw these as the events that had led up to his current body residing within this cavern. The red eyes and talons, in particular, made him shudder. Was this the ‘eternal enemy’? How wonderfully vague. He needed more information, but, like with the tablet, at least he had the suggestion of what was going on.

It would be especially important to figure out how he had come to be here. Something must have happened while he was in surgery, something that had sent him here, and he had a growing suspicion that it might because he had died. Though he had fiddled with the idea of an afterlife due to his condition, he had never considered it a realistic possibility. However, since he was obviously not in his own body, or his own world, there were few ways he could exclude the supernatural in explaining how this could happen.

After scrutinizing the tilted cover a little closer, Ares pushed it all the way off the sarcophagus, which was a lot easier than he had initially thought, and began rummaging through the interior in the hope that something useful was left there. Unfortunately there was little, other than dust and cobwebs.

Sighing mentally, Ares stood up and took another look around. The two nearly-burnt-out torches, which the small creatures had dropped when he… well, when he assaulted them, were the only sources of light in the vicinity. Among the scraps of cloth that had survived the carnivorous brutality, Ares picked up a slight gleam in the light.

Picking through the mess, he found a leather belt with a small iron ax attached to it. Though looting was no noble activity, Ares felt he had already morally bankrupted himself enough to stoop to it.

He took the leather belt as well, which made him look down at his body and realize that he was completely stark naked. Ares had to blink a few times to accept the pendulant member swinging between his legs, much to his surprise. He tried to be embarrassed, but there just was no such sensation available to him at the moment. Then he just gathered some of the cloth pieces and wrapped them around him, fastening them with the belt that was more than wide enough for the task.

Clothed, because that was what civilized people were, and somewhat armed, Ares took one more look around. There were still some arms scattered around the place, but when he tried them out they either broke or simply fell apart. None of it was usable, and so he gave up on it. Certain there was nothing more of interest here, he was about to explore his surroundings, when a loud squeak notified him of the fat creature’s presence.

Turning slowly, he leveled his golden eyes upon the shivering creature a few feet away.