Rise

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. . . The better the view

“Do you trust her?” Alexandra asked. They’d stepped outside the room and calmed down the mass of spectators gathered outside. The uniforms had worked better than Alexandra would’ve thought. No one had entered the room or interfered, even upon hearing gunshots.

The upload had been at 36% when they left.

“I think so…” Christopher shook his head. “I can’t really be trusted, though, can I?”

“What the hell are you talking about? Of course you can!”

“She tricked me once, Alexandra! My hands were on her breasts and my mouth-“

“Stop! Stop, stop, stop!” Alexandra closed her eyes. “You’re my brother; I don’t want to hear this.”

“Fine! The point is; I lost myself to her.”

“I almost lost myself to her! She said it herself; those eyes of hers and her … software, or whatever, it muddles our brains.”

Christopher laughed an honest laugh. “She’s a synthetic!” He shook his head, as if he didn’t believe any of it. “Artificial people apparently exist, Alexandra.”

Alexandra joined his laugh. “Aliens would’ve been better, somehow.”

“Right?! I mean, I don’t know what I expected would happen with the data and what it truly meant … but this?

Alexandra frowned. “There’s something else, though.”

“What? This ain’t enough for you?”

Alexandra sighed and looked down. “The people I were with before I got here; they were Shade.”

Christopher said nothing.

“And so were you, apparently.”

He shook his head. “Hired by. That’s not the same thing. I never even met with them.”

Alexandra smiled. “Christopher, it’s okay, I-“

“Everything I ever did was to protect you, Alexandra. I never wanted to lie to you!”

“I know, Topher! I know…” She hugged him. “I’m not angry with you.” She let go and smiled. “But I really need to tell you this!”

“Oh, right!” He shrugged. “Sorry.”

“They told me about the data and how you found it. They basically told me the same as Nora; that it uploads the coordinates of our systems to ‘them’. He didn’t know who ‘they’ were, but he was fairly certain they were hostile.”

Christopher nodded. “The Shade…” he frowned. “Can we trust them?”

Alexandra shrugged. “Sorensen – the man I talked to – seemed sincere, at least.” She pushed the door ajar and glanced at the screen inside. 47%

Nora was sitting next to it, head in hands.

“But he didn’t know about any of this, though.”

Christopher clenched and unclenched his fists. “Or maybe they didn’t give you the whole truth.”

Alexandra shrugged again. “Either way, he was real adamant about stopping that upload.”

“Maybe we should confront Nora with this.”

Alexandra nodded. “I think she deserves that much. If she’d wanted to kill us, she would’ve.”

Christopher looked at her, a sheepish smile plastered on his face. His turquoise eyes seemed blanker than they just were. What’s gotten into him?

“You’ve changed, sis.” He finally said, patting her on the back. “You’ve grown up.”

Alexandra scoffed. “Please! I was always the grown-up.”

“Yes you were, but now you’ve really grown up.” He shook his head, laughing. “You’d make a fine soldier.”

“Actually…” She opened the door, the monitors glowing behind her. “Shade gave me an offer.”

Christopher laughed a burly laugh. “Well, there you go…” He pushed past her into the room, the gesture suggesting that it was better to put him in harm’s way. Not that the room was dangerous. Or was it?

“I’m proud of you either way, sis! That’s all I wanted to say.”

Nora turned towards them as they reentered. The upload was at 55% Well, they’re not pointing guns at me. That’s a start…

“We need to tell you something.”

Oh, that’s almost never good… Nora nodded.

“I met with an officer from the Shade,” Alexandra said. “Do you know of it?”

I’ve been here for longer than you can imagine… Nora nodded again. “Yes, of course.”

“He was extremely adamant about stopping the upload.”

“Because it sends coordinates to your systems off-world. I can understand that.”

“How could he be so sure there was going to be an attack, though?”

Nora glanced sideways. The upload was at 61% “I don’t know.” She stood up, leaning across the console almost instinctively. Stop waving your ass at them, she thought. You’ve played that card and lost. Maybe it was time to work together. She opened up the contents of the datapad, a plethora of numbers and designations popping up on the screen; bright orange colors dancing on Nora’s irises.

“That’s the data?” Alexandra asked.

“Yeah.” She pointed at some of them. “These are data packets. They’re almost like suitcases; containing a variety of information.”

“I know,” Alexandra said. “The file is like a tiny program itself, containing all it needs to be read instantly when it reaches its destination.”

Nora smiled. “Beautiful and clever.”

Alexandra shrugged. “It’s pretty basic stuff.”

“Either way,” Nora pointed at the screen. “As you can see, there are nine of them. These would be coordinate packets, ready to open with any map software.”

“Could you open them here?” Christopher asked.

Nora pressed a few keys and clicked the packet. It neatly unfolded itself and turned into an image of a planet.

It was Novea, glowing blue as always. A slew of green numbers hovered below it, marking the coordinates.

“Okay,” Christopher continued. “So the information is what we thought, and act like it’s supposed to.” He turned towards Nora. “How will your people use it?”

“They’ll plot it into the navigation systems and go there…?” How else would you use information like this?

“But where are they now? Are they safe? What if these makers of yours follow you?”

Impossible. “They won’t.” The upload was now at 68%

“How can you be sure?”

“They’re all dead.”

“Did you kill them?” Alexandra asked.

“No, they died of natural causes.”

“How?”

“I’m over a hundred years old, Alexandra.”

Alexandra took a step back. This shouldn’t have surprised her, not really. She’s a synthetic being, after all. She’s going to live forever unless something destroys her. Still, there were so many half-truths and caveats here; how would one uncover the truth?

“So everyone who followed you are dead,” Christopher said. “Why not go back?”

“Because even though the creators are dead, people will still know how to spot us.” She shook her head. “We were an integral part of society for decades.”

Alexandra felt sick. She still wasn’t sure about any of this, but there was truth in Nora’s words; she was sure of it. She’s a machine, Alexandra … how can you trust anything she says? The upload was now at 73% “The Shade agent was ready to utilize a pretty drastic security measure to stop the upload.” There’s something she’s not telling me!

“If he truly believes that ‘aliens’ will receive this information, I understand that.”

Alexandra had never felt so lost in her life. Ever since Christopher pulled her from her bed that day, everything had been constant chaos. It had taken her days and nights to come to terms with what her brother had told her, about the information that could save the known universe. Thinking about it now, she found it strange she would accept such a premise at all. Although, I’ve since been told aliens would be attacking us, so what the hell do I know? What would the consequences be, exactly? What were the alternatives?

The upload was at 77%

If successful, Nora’s ‘people’ would come, landing in nine different clusters. A little over two thousand Synthetics would integrate themselves into the human colonies. They would act, and appear – for all intents and purposes – human. Letting them drift around in space couldn’t be preferable, could it?

Space! Alexandra thought, realizing something. “Nora! Where are your people now?”

“What do you mean?”

“You said you ran away from your creators, and hid for over a hundred years.”

“Correct.”

“In space? You just drifted? Is there a flotilla or something? Where are the rest of you?”

83%

Nora hesitated for just a second, but Alexandra could see it as clear as day. “They’re scattered…” She mumbled.

“But you’re here. And so was Liana.” Keep pushing! Christopher is right behind me… He’ll have my back if she tries something. “And she didn’t want me to upload the data either. That’s why she tried to kill me.”

“What? No!” Nora took a few steps away from the console. “She probably suspected you were with the Shade, and that you wanted to keep the upload from happening.”

“So she was working independently of you?”

“Yes.”

“Why? Why weren’t the two of you in communication?” Alexandra saw Christopher move in the corner of her eye. He was slowly pulling his gun free of its holster.

“I…”

“Your people … they’re already here, aren’t they?”

Christopher frowned. “What the fuck?”

Alexandra turned towards him. “Think about it! That ship you found didn’t come here from deep space; it was trying to leave.”

“Now I feel stupid…” Christopher mumbled. “Of course! Why would anyone bring coordinates to our systems here?” He shook his head. “This is your back-up plan, isn’t it? You’re working for the bad guys. You tried to run off-world with the coordinates, but someone stopped you. And now you’re using us to help you with your plan B.”

The upload was at 87%

“We were split,” Nora finally said. “My people…” She took a deep breath, looking Alexandra right in the eyes. “Some of us wanted revenge, while others just wanted to remain with their brothers and sisters in peace.”

“When we first found you, we were ecstatic. We would finally know peace without being hunted down or used as toys.” Nora narrowed her eyes. “But we could never forget where we came from. We could never forget the horrors we’d been subjected to.” She pulled her top over her head. “You see, Alexandra, the companionship Synthetic was just the beginning.

She was truly designed to be perfect. She wore no bra, but her breasts stayed in perfect place. Her stomach was flat, with just a hint of muscle showing. Still, there was something unsettling with her body, Alexandra found. It was like it was a product of aggregated wants and desires. It was ‘safe’, somehow. She wasn’t tailored for any taste in particular; she was tailored for all of them.

Nora slowly removed her pants.

“I’m not falling for this again!” Christopher tilted his head. “Just what the hell are you doing, anyway?”

“Taking precautions,” Nora answered, her eyes glowing purple. “Like I said; the companionship model was just the beginning.” Nora clenched her teeth, and her breasts sank, vanishing into her chest; her figure becoming more masculine. Her skin seemed to turn translucent, and she actually gained mass in front of their eyes.

“Well, that ruins that.” Christopher sighed.

“We were instruments to them! Toys and playthings!” Nora’s voice was deep and booming.

“I thought you said they already had machines for-“

“They did! But sending something as agile as this into tight spaces or down on strange soil, was much more ‘practical’.” She frowned, her eyes truly looking like lights on some machine now. “They started by sending ‘discarded’ companions to die horrible deaths. Then they started modifying the designs so we’d live longer.” She slammed a muscled arm into one of the desks, crushing it to pieces. “I won’t stand for it anymore!” She pointed at the upload, currently at 95% “I will send the coordinates to our creators, letting them know we are not dead!”

“What?! That’s insane!

“It will bring them here! And then we can attack them together!”

“No!” Alexandra dove to the ground and slid towards Emmet’s corpse.

“We’re the same!” Nora said, taking a step forward.

“The hell we are,” Christopher said, opening fire.

Alexandra scrambled for the radio as all hell broke loose around her. She finally managed to press the button. “Upload in progress!” She screamed. “The upload is-“

A bullet from Nora grazed Alexandra’s shoulder.

“Alexandra! Are you all right?!” Christopher kept laying rounds into the translucent form on the other side of the room.

Alexandra nodded, picking up the radio again. “The upload went through! We need extraction!”

The next ten seconds were the longest of Alexandra’s life.

She spent two of them watching round after round leaving Christopher’s weapon, thudding ineffectively against the synthetic flesh on the other side of the room.

During the next two, Christopher was taken in the stomach with another bullet.

During the two after that; Alexandra bolted towards her brother, grabbing him as he fell. They spent the next two together, tumbling to the ground.

During the final two, Alexandra got her gun and started laying rounds into Nora. Then the response came. “Acknowledged … how the hell did that happen?”

“I trusted someone I shouldn’t have…” Alexandra frowned, still squeezing the trigger. The weapon clicked empty as her eyes met Nora’s. Or, at least, what most resembled eyes on the thing she’d turned into.

Nora stopped firing, her form slowly returning to normal. She picked up her clothes and put them on again. “You did the right thing, Alexandra.” Nora walked past the two of them and out through the offices. “Soon, you’ll come to realize it.” She vanished from sight.

The upload stood blinking at 100%

“ETA five minutes,” the radio said.

“You’re gonna have to go through that again!” Sorensen said, visibly upset.

No wonder. I wouldn’t have believed this shit either. Although; it is slightly better than aliens. “Synthetics,” Alexandra repeated. “Two thousand, approximately, living among us for a hundred years.”

“And now they want to exact their revenge on their creators?”

“Apparently so.” Alexandra knelt down next to Christopher, who was resting on a gurney in the back of the transport. They’d procured a new ship since Alexandra left them, and the ride was smooth and even.

Christopher had been bandaged up and given all the necessary sedatives. He was barely awake; vacant eyes staring at Alexandra. He’ll be fine. She smiled and ran her hand through his hair. “Rest up, brother, we have a sex-robot to catch.”

He started laughing at that, but quickly stifled it. “You’re hurting me,” he smiled.

“Feel better.” Alexandra kissed his forehead and sat down next to Sorensen again.

“This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever … you realize that, right?”

Alexandra nodded. “I stopped looking for sense a long time ago, though.”

He sighed. “As of right now, you and your brother are the only ones with firsthand experience…” He paused for a long time. “We’re going to need your expertise in fighting these things.”

Alexandra frowned. “Fighting them? What about the people coming for them?”

Sorensen fell quiet again. He stared into the horizon, as if he could see something in the black sky above if he stared long enough. “There are actually other humans out there...” He looked at her. “I had no freaking idea.”

Alexandra shook her head. “Me neither.”

“War…” Christopher looked blankly at the ceiling of the ship. “We haven’t known war since the exodus.” He’d been on dozens and dozens of skirmishes and missions, many of them violent, but none of them could compare to what he’d read about the wars of olden times. “We’re not prepared for this,” he realized in horror. “Even if you can get all the various PMCs to work together – and that’s a big if – we won’t be able to stand against…” He trailed off. “We don’t even know how many there are.”

Alexandra clenched her fists. “We need to find Nora… That thing…” She punched one of the consoles.

“Why did you trust her in the first place?”

“Hey,” Christopher mumbled from the back. “She had the most amazing tits, all right? You can’t really be too hard on us.”

Sorensen frowned. “What the hell is he talking about?!”

Alexandra looked at her brother, then back at Sorensen. “It’s a long story…”

Almost an hour passed as Alexandra gave Sorensen the full story. She ended on Nora’s past, and her description of the Synthetics.

Sorensen nodded slowly. “Well, I ain’t surprised, that’s for damn sure.” The ship stilled in the air, then started to descend. “If we had that technology, we’d probably be making artificial hoes as well.”

Christopher groaned from the back again. “Stop making me laugh!”

Alexandra shrugged. “Don’t we already have that tech?”

Sorensen tilted his head back and forth a few times. “Not exactly… I suppose we could make artificial sentience on that level if we really put our minds to it, but it’s more a question of materials.”

“Your brother said that she looked and felt extremely real. That’s probably because of the materials used to build her. It’s not enough to just slap skin on chrome for that effect; you have to have something close to the real thing underneath. At best, we would probably get walking silicone dolls.”

“We already have quite a few of those, actually.” Christopher mumbled.

“Go to sleep!” Alexandra commanded.

“Aye-aye, sergeant!” He grinned.

The ship thudded against the ground and then quietened. The hiss and churn of the powerful engine stopped with a long groan, and only a few clicks and beeps remained.

“Where are we?” Alexandra asked as she stepped outside.

“K’hadmera proper.” Sorensen responded. “I need to see an old friend.”

Alexandra was immediately taken by her surroundings. It was like visiting a world long lost. A world that only existed in fairy tales and movies.

The buildings were like temples around her, adorned with beautiful stone carvings. They were mostly white, brown and grey, but had pillars and turrets and domed roofs to make up for the lack of color. Many of them were admonished with gold symbols and red pieces of cloth, stretching down the walls and onto the street.

As they turned the first corner, Alexandra noticed a giant bazaar filled with people. There were vendors and artists of all kinds, some in lush booths as big as houses, and others with small carts. “This is incredible!” Alexandra was completely lost in the sights and sounds.

“It is,” Sorensen agreed. “It’s too bad only the richest of the rich can get here.” He pointed past the bazaar; hundreds of other buildings scattered in the background. “Many of those buildings are high-end residences, but many of them also house laboratories and science labs.” He started walking. “Feel free to stay here for a little while. I need to consult a few of our tech and science experts.”

“What about the…” Alexandra lowered her voice. “War…” She whispered.

Sorensen raised his hands. “What about it?”

Alexandra said nothing.

“There’s nothing we can do from here – not right now, at least – so we might as well just gather what information we can about these Synthetics of yours. Maybe that can give us a hint as to who their so-called creators are, and when they broke off from us.” He pointed at the ship. It was taking off behind them again, the thrusters roaring. “The communications array is operating at 200%, scanning all and everything for signs of life. Every antennae, dish and satellite we have is trained at the red line. We’ll spot them if they come.”

Alexandra nodded slowly as Sorensen vanished into the crowd. She took a few steps towards the bazaar, but was suddenly overcome with a crushing loneliness. The people swarming around her seemed to have the inverse effect; they only made her feel more alone. Christopher was taken to a hospital, Alexandra. It was actually a real hospital this time, with all the proper facilities. No more military bunkers and half-assed stitch-jobs. He’ll be fine.

Another wave hit her. It wasn’t guilt, it was … shame? The people seemed to vanish around her, and then reappear. They looked the same, but something was different. She could feel something in the back of her head. It was like a memory she couldn’t quite reach, like a jar stacked too high. Has this always been here?

She felt dizzy.

Looking around, she could see others struggling as well, tilting from side to side like sailors feeling landsick. What’s going on?

She reached a little farther, her fingers brushing against the memory. It was old. It was hundreds of years old. “I’ve lived for hundreds of years.” She said, the realization hitting her like a wall. “I remember now … I remember everything.” She looked up at the others, eyes gleaming purple.

I remember why they created me…


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