Chapter 3 – First Contact

Still lying on the ground, the strange little man was completely frozen in place. Keeping his distance, Ares watched as the little man tentatively tried a single twitch of a facial muscle. Ares did not move. The little man tried moving a finger, then his foot. Sliding both of his feet up to his chest, the little man balled himself up — as if that could protect himself against the danger before him.

Ares just kept watching, careful not to make any sudden moves. He knew he should feel some pity, or at least a bit of guilt, about what he had done, but looking at the little man, Ares had to come to the scary conclusion that there was no emotion within him. Although the emotions themselves were gone, he had not lost the memory of emotion, which he now had to apply to his situation intellectually.

Especially because of the gruesome scenes he had just watched, it felt important that he not abandon the memory of his humanity.

Once they had stayed in this stalemate for a few breaths of time, the little man hesitantly opened his mouth and spoke. Words came out of his mouth, sounding familiar. The more he spoke, the more Ares could make sense of — or rather, the more the translation of the machine-made sense of it for him.

Unfamiliar language detected

  • Searching database for comparative linguistic markers
    • Elvan markers detected — calculating linguistic drift
    • Derivative language ‘Elvish’ has been cataloged
      • Mapping onto user-specific linguistic script
        • Initial translation is available – more exposure will result in better translation

“Alegua be — not kill me! Service I have for you; much to know I tell can. Please, I beg you… let me live… please let me live…”

The little man started repeating himself over and over again, sobbing as he cradled his head on his forearms. Ares opened his mouth and tried to say, “Can you tell me where I am?” What came out, though, was a messy potpourri of sounds without any meaning to it — not even in English. It sounded like someone had gotten bored with running their nails down a chalkboard, and instead decided to play scratched-up vinyl for a change.

The little man was so startled by the sound that he fell forward, planting his face in the ground while continuing to chant, “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me… please don’t kill me.” Checking his console, Ares found there were currently two problems at the root of this issue.

Severe damage to the unit’s throat detected

  • Linguistic output is limited
    • Manual repairs may be necessary for complete functions to return

Translation functions cannot override user autonomy

  • Guided speech tutorial is currently unavailable
    • Acquisition software is non-functioning

So simply talking was not an option. Looking around the room, Ares spotted the little man’s satchel lying opened on the ground, displaying its contents, where it had been dropped when Ares managed to release the little man. Among the utensils, he identified a few objects which might help his current speech impediment. He walked over to the bag and picked it up. The little man scrambled backward, terrified of being too close to Ares.

In the satchel, Ares found a small notebook and a charcoal pen. He took them out and flipped through the pages, finding the script completely unintelligible. It was not that the system could not identify it as ‘writing’, but unlike the tablet there was no information available on how the language traced the writing. The scribbles were fundamentally different from the runes of the tablet, meaning he was unable to read it.

Instead, he flipped to the first blank page and put the pen to it. The moment he held firm in his mind what he wanted to write, images appeared on his HUD, showing the correct sequence of runes. Mid-way through the writing, he had to stop and consider what he had just done. It was not that he had tried out a hypothesis about the power of the system in the unit, but rather that he knew it could do this, and had just executed the action without thinking.

Another disturbing realization.

Dismissing the issue for later, Ares finished his writing and showed it to the little man. Hesitantly, the fatty approached, pushing up his spectacles nervously before reaching out and grabbing the book — all the while keeping a constant eye on Ares. Once he had the notebook, he looked at the runes in surprise. He then looked up and said, “You can write in ancient Elvan?”

Ares nodded, hoping the little man was able to decipher this script. To his satisfaction, the little man adjusted his spectacles once more, then read out loud, “I will not hurt you as long as you are useful.” That made the creature stop and look back up at Ares; a little bit of hope shining in those small round eyes. Ares gestured for him to continue, and the man did so, “I am unable to speak at the moment. Tell me your name and where I am.”

Blinking, the little man looked back up once more and said, “You don’t know where you are? That’s odd.”

Slightly irritated that the man asked such a redundant question, Ares tried to gesture him back onto the point. “Ahh, yes. Sorry about that, Great One. I am Sloan, a simple librarian from the city of Al Mendor. You are currently in the Heart of the Ammedian forest, in the center of the continent.” Before Ares could retrieve the notepad and ask a follow-up question, the man bowed low before him and said, “I apologize for disturbing your servant, Great One. We had thought this construct abandoned, since it was left here in the Heart, but you have shown us how blind we were. I thank you for letting this useless one live.”

My servant? What is he talking about? Ares would have to ask about this later, for now, he needed more immediately important information. He retrieved the notepad from Sloan and wrote another message. Sloan read it and answered, “Great One, we were here to find the treasure of the ancient Elvan. Of course, we did not know it had already been claimed by your illustrious self. If you do not mind me asking, why did you not bring this construct with you after finding it?”

He’s speaking as if I should be someone else, controlling this unit at a distance. He’s not surprised at this advanced machinery, so it must be somewhat ordinary to him, and yet he holds whomever he believes is behind it in such high esteem.

Ignoring the question, Ares posed his own to Sloan. “You want me to show the way out?” The fat little man said with surprise painted across his face, “Great One, surely you can just lead it back to you? I know it is bold to ask, but what use am I to you?”

A slight sense of irritation began to grow within Ares. He knew it was unwarranted irritation, since he was the one who was not explaining his situation and was keeping Sloan here on the threat of violence, and yet this little bug in front of him grated on his nerves. How dare he question his betters so?

Experiencing his thoughts travel down such an uncharacteristic line was another uncomfortable surprise. It was becoming more and more obvious to Ares that his new body was influencing the remains of what had once been Sam. Dispelling the irritation with a conscious effort, he wrote another message to Sloan, which the creature read out loud as, “I am not what you think I am. I have been asleep for a long time, and don’t know the world. I need a guide.”

Eyes as wide as they could be, Sloan looked back up. The notepad and pencil fell on the ground as the little creature prostrated himself in front of Ares, gasping breathlessly, “Old One, this humble creature has profoundly offended you. Accept my sincerest apologies Old One and allow me to atone for my sins!”

If you keep kneeling like that, how will you read what I write to you? I can’t speak, you idiot, get up, Ares thought, as he took a hold of the prostrate figure’s neck and lifted him without even straining himself. This kind of strength was exhilarating. He put Sloan down on his feet, grabbed the notepad and pencil again to write another message. “I don’t know if I am an old one either. For now, I just need you to get me out of this place and help me find some food. After that, you can go as you please.”

The little man was obviously much more uncomfortable with Ares now than before, and yet he still bowed deeply and said, “As you will, Old One.” Ares felt a mixture of satisfaction at being shown such an appropriate amount of deference, irritation at the stiff demeanor, and absolute horror at being addressed so respectfully. His sense of self was being stretched between his old understanding of Sam, and this new being that was Ares.

In the end, he came out on the side of Sam, writing Sloan the message of, “Do not address me so. Call me Ares.” The little man’s eyes had undergone so many ‘widenings’ that Ares was sure his little eyes would soon drop out of their sockets. This time, he held the expression and said, “I wouldn’t dare use your name, Old One! I am not worth—”

Ares stopped Sloan by knocking him on the top of his head — gently. Controlling his strength was difficult, though, but Ares did not have the patience or time to keep discussing unimportant matters with this little worm. The knock sent Sloan staggering backward, where he took hold of his head and crouched down, appearing to await another strike.

Rather than keep up the torment, Ares wrote one final message, “Do as I say. Now, show me the way out of here.”

“Y-yes Old— master Ares.”

Sloan picked up one of the discarded torches, giving the pile of scraps that had once been his companion a last look, shuddered, then proceeded to walk out the shimmering wall behind him. Ares followed along, studying his surroundings carefully. They appeared to be underground — in a tunnel of some sort. As they walked, many branching paths led away from the chamber he had arisen in, but so far there had been no other rooms.

He took note of a few shafts leading deeper underground. Picking up a loose rock from the path he threw it in there, but never even heard it hit the bottom. It must go incredibly deep, he thought. It was interesting, but not as important as getting out of here. Perhaps he could go back and study it closer later. Sloan appeared to follow some signs left behind, leading them directly out. It took no more than 15 minutes before they came upon the exit of the tunnel, shining with bright light.

Blinded, Ares stepped out of the tunnels, waiting for his eye-sight to adjust. As his sight became used to the light, a fantastical world in a myriad of colors greeted him. As far as the eye could see, a wide forest expanded out before him in bedazzling colors. It was not merely green, but all the colors of the rainbow were represented: red, violet, yellow, and even blue. There were enormous trees with crowns towering above him, with low brushes in between. High above in the clear blue sky, two gentle, yellow suns shone like a pair of bright eyes above. That, more than anything else, made Ares hold his breath — until he, once again, remembered that there was no point in breathing at all.

Seeing the majesty of the world before him, Ares could not help but think back on the world he had left behind; a world he had never really gotten to experience. Now he was here in a strange new form — and a powerful one at that. He had spent the last year chained to a bed in a hospital, and, before that, even a simple walk had been difficult and exhausting. Now he was tall, lean, and muscular — which was about all he could gather from staring down at himself.

Now that he had a new lease of life, going forward and exploring was imperative. All in all, his rebirth here was a bittersweet experience. Sure, he was a violent-prone robot with some, supposedly, awesome power that was as-of-yet undiscovered, but he was also barely functional. This could be remedied, however, and it was first on the agenda. He would not waste away in terror of the outside world, such as his earlier existence had been most of the time. He would survive, and he would thrive!

The sudden urge to dominate whatever was within his sight overcame him — an unfamiliar sensation at best. His old self would never have thought about such things, he would rather be content with merely being able to move without feeling ill. However, within this new form, Ares understood that he was a master of whatever lay before him: every lifeform, every rock, and every tree. The juxtaposition between his old understanding of himself, and this new, overbearing instinct was warring within, enough to give him a headache.

Holding his head, Ares looked down on the ground and found himself on a ledge high above the ground. Though he should have realized it from the view alone, standing on the precipice was still a surprise. Reeling backward, he stumbled into Sloan, who fell backward and lost his torch. The wooden handle fell onto the ledge and bounced over the edge, falling freely before landing on the ground and breaking into two pieces. The fire that had lit their way extinguished on the way, leaving only a burnt piece of oily cloth.

Breathing deeply to calm himself, despite no air ever entering or leaving him, he soon experienced that logical calm descending upon him again. It was a fascinating sensation, until he thought of how his very human reactions were being repressed by the mechanical body in which he now resided. This caused another onslaught of existential philosophizing.

“Master Ares, are you alright?” Sloan asked, getting back on his feet surprisingly nimbly. Ares nodded, getting a grip on himself. All of these new sensations and changes to his disposition, disconcerting as they might be, were irrelevant. What he needed was a way to recover energy and restore himself. Since eating was an option, he would have to find something to eat.

Looking back down over the edge, he spotted a small camp of two tents down below. Curious, he pointed towards them. “That is our camp, master Ares. We… ‘I’ have a few provisions stored, but I imagine it may be too little to satisfy you,” said Sloan, hesitating slightly. There was some sorrow in the little fat man’s voice. It was understandable; Ares had just killed his friend.

I wonder if he’s just waiting for a chance to take revenge… Ares thought, barely cognizant of how such paranoia had crept into his mind. The little man seemed completely subservient, but he would have to take precautions against betrayal. A servant like him should know his place, after all.

Nodding, Ares stepped forward onto the ledge, readying himself for the descent. He had never climbed before but, like with so much in this world, this was a skill he would conquer.

This was his new world, his.

Right then, with a sharp crack, the ledge below gave in beneath his feet.