“Commander, human heavy infantry spotted approximately 20 esyat towards us.” It was the voice of one of the two Shrouded he had sent ahead to scout out the path of his combat patrol. A vid-link was sent with the message and with the briefest of thoughts Vaskar opened it and watched through the eyes of the Shrouded as the human heavy infantry advanced through the ruins of their city towards them.
With another thought Vaskar opened a general voice-chat with his combat patrol; “Enemy spotted and advancing. Spread out. Naskor, take that rocket launcher up that building to our right and be generous to our guests.”
The Noctifer replied with an affirmative and Vaskar paused to see the elite soldier begin to climb up the tall structure he had indicated. He shifted his attention back to the other troops around him and directed them with swift hand signs before he moved forward and crouched behind the fallen remains of an overpass.
It seemed to be only a few moments later that the familiar ‘fwump’ sound of a Shasvastii missile launcher firing met his ears, followed swiftly by its accompanying explosion and then with the pattering staccato of human gunfire hot on its heels. Vaskar tucked his combi-rifle tight to his chest and ran forwards, ducking around the rubble and moving up the narrow and relatively clear passageway ahead of him. His command comlog kept him up to date on the swiftly forming firefight as it piggybacked on the HUD’s of the two Shrouded observers.
Naskor had waited until the human squad broke cover to begin is attack, firing rockets in a broad intercept pattern. Vaskar smiled vicariously as he saw one of the humans collapse, but the sentiment was short lived as their enemies returned fire and Naskor’s vital signs disappeared. Vaskar grunted in controlled anger as his comlog registered their first casualty and he compelled his legs to move faster over the broken ground.
A Shasvastii combi-rifle opened up near him and to his right and his comlog notified him that one his Shrouded scouts had opened fire on a human that leaped from cover and towards its comrade that had collapsed under the rocket launcher’s barrage. The round’s stitched a path across the enemy soldier’s chest, bursts of blood painting the wall behind him as he fell beside the fallen ally he had moved forward to save. Answering shots flew past the Shrouded and smacked into the hard cover around him and with a yelp that would have been comical had the situation not been so dire he dropped prone against the sheltering cover of blasted masonry.
Vaskar pushed the Shrouded’s vid-link away with an unconscious shake of his head, clearing it from his eyes as he rounded a corner and came face to face with the enemy. The human soldier was encased in thick layers of powered armour, sensor spikes spread along its back and a smooth exoskeleton giving it the aspect of a giant insect. Vaskar grimaced as his mind jumped to comparisons with the disgusting Exhra even as he raised his left hand, the adhesive launcher automatically deploying from his gauntlet.
With a swift gesture of his hand he triggered the exotic weapon, firing green globules at the enemy even as it spun around and leveled its weapon at him. One of the green adhesive shells managed to find its mark before his foe could pull the trigger, the impact causing the round to explode wetly around the soldier as if it had been an overripe fruit, green filaments wrapping around him and then hardening in the space of a nanosecond.
The Aswang lowered his arm and watched dispassionately as the human struggled pathetically, like a fly caught in a web. Vaskar slowly walked forward, reaching up and stowing his combi-rifle onto a magnetic strip located on the back plate of his armour with his right hand even as his left began to materialize a hardlight-sword. The human’s face was completely concealed by his helmet and his skin wrapped in layer upon layer of protective armor but the Shasvastii could still sense his fear. Perhaps it was a gift of their species; to sense the terror of others and taste in it a reflection of their own engrained paranoia. Swiftly and cleanly he cut the Human’s throat and began to eat, losing himself in the euphoria of the Black Arts.
“Welcome back Operations-Commander Vaskar.”
The annoyingly hyper polite voice of the Medchanoid designated Light greeted the Shasvastii officer as he entered the command bunker of their section, hidden deep within the omnipresent jungles of the planet. The biomechanical creature-creation slithered towards him with all the eagerness and blind loyalty of a domestic pet before falling in step beside and slightly behind him.
“I understand your operation was successful. As your medical advisor I must inquire; did you ingest any living biomass?”
Vaskar sighed and grunted an affirmative.
“Excellent!” the shrill mechanical voice exclaimed in his comlog. “I was beginning to fret ever-so-much. By the way, the EI has instructed me to summon you to its presence when you arrived here.”
Vaskar halted and glared vindictively at the AI. “Why didn’t you tell me that immediately?” he demanded angrily. Light tilted its head as if it where confused; “My social protocols dictated that a certain amount of personal interest be shown to my charges when greeting them and to act as a segway into more important affairs.” The Shasvastii’s eyes squinted before he turned around and began to head in the opposite direction and toward the EI’s local node, the long robe of his office swishing theatrically behind him. He had been forced to don the ceremonial attire of his rank while his field armour was cleaned…
The node chamber was a large and dark room located in the deepest section of the bunker, illuminated only by a hovering hologram of hardlight tinted a gentle blue and displaying raw data code. Vaskar walked into the silent space warily, perfectly aware that the only times one was usually called directly before an avatar of the EI was to suffer censure. He knelt before the display, a glaring white line of light illuminated the section of the floor within which he had come to rest. He quickly shook the feeling of being a displayed specimen.
“Operations-Commander Vaskar…you arrived later than I calculated.” Came an androgynous voice terrible in its gentleness. It seemed to emanate from all around him, but he kept his eyes focused on the floor before him. “I apologize. I was not made immediately aware of the summons.”
“You did not study any sciences that most civilizations would call ‘advanced’, so I will gift you with knowledge. Computers are pure beings; beings of perfect logic. Computers deal only in facts and thus, they draw their conclusions based on absolute objectivity. Using this, computers come to calculated conclusions. If there is anything a created intelligence hates, it is a miscalculation and that is because the data it was working with was flawed. Are you aware of how data becomes flawed Vaskar?”
He was sweating now, even his hyper-aware body control was only just managing to artificially slow his circulatory system. “I do not.” He said measurably, still trying to locate the source of the EI’s voice.
“Data becomes flawed when it is handled by biological organisms because biological organisms lack absolute objectivity. You are the reason my calculations are incorrect.”
He tried and failed to stifle a sudden, sharp intake of breath as an Anethematic materialized from thin air before him, its monofilament tendrils twitching on either side of his head. Plans and scenarios began to flash in Vaskar’s mind, but he knew his odds of fleeing or disabling the Anethematic where beyond remote. The EI’s voice speaking through the construct chuckled.
“Thinking of fighting me? How treasonous…” it said nonchalantly, turning away from him and looking at the hardlight hologram of flowing data before them both. “Relax Vaskar, I only used the word ‘you’ in a general sense to mean biological organisms. You personally have served me very well of late and this is why I have decided to promote you.”
The Shasvastii blinked, taking longer than usually to grasp the meaning of the Anethematic’s words due to the intentional emotional rollercoaster ride it was putting him through.
“Thank you very much!” he said swiftly, “I will not disappoint.”
The EI’s avatar chuckled once again at that and turned to regard him again. “You wont? I suggest you rephrase your promise. Biological organisms always disappoint me, and I take verbal contracts…very seriously.”
Vaskar looked up at the Anethematic, backlit sinisterly by the hardlight hologram. He could only bring himself to nod. That seemed to placate it, at least for the moment.
“Well, I will gift you with one more piece of information so that you will more fully realize the position you are in. Do you know how a perfect intellect such as the EI comes to decisions?”
“No.” Vaskar answered the rhetorical question.
“By consensus of course! While it is true that the various aspects of the EI are all copies of its will and personality, they are also each imbibed with some traits that might be considered individual, or have experienced different events that provide a different perspective to a given situation. All of the EI’s aspects synchronize with the greater intelligence, but our personal decision making process are remain distinct. Thus, we are each granted a label so that we may be known among our peers. This label reflects the purpose for which we where created or the individual character we where imbibed with or have developed. I will now tell you my name, and you would do well to remember it.
I am Terrible Recompense, and you shall be my Herald.”