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Fidelis followed a series of halls through the vast complex, the chrome walls perfectly reflecting the glowing fixtures all over the hallways. Out in the open, many Droedar gave their greetings to the Founder, all of their Sparks blinking as he went by. Although his mind was dead-set on going to the All-Mother's chamber, he gave a smile and blinked back to whoever greeted him. Down roads and stairs, through shafts and chimneys he went. He clambered deeper and deeper into Vector IV, inching ever closer to the moon's core. Finally, a gargantuan version of the Droedar spark stood before him, pulsing with brilliant blue light. Huddled away in a lattice of girders, cables, modems and more, the Matrix's central core was a sight to behold. Fidelis stepped up to the end of the walkway, looking directly at the giant Spark, and a compartment opened on his back.
Fidelis was lifted into the air as a flight pack carried him toward the Matrix core, heading straight into the blue light. He floated into the opening, the light seeming to completely consume him. When his vision adjusted, he looked around at his surroundings; fifty shades and tints of blue flowed everywhere like liquids, gases and plasmas alike. Chaotic though it was, every motion formed a rough lattice throughout the Matrix core. And straight ahead, in the very middle of it all, was a feminine figure that only shared a slightly contrasting light tint to the blue all around her. The All-Mother waved her arms left and right, directing the energies to respective destinations before creating a hardlight platform beneath her, slowly touching down with the grace of a ballerina. Fidelis dropped down too, kneeling before his creator. "Caprica. All-Mother. You requested my presence?"
A holo-video of Excelion in the repair district appeared right next to Caprica; the engineers had almost finished repairing him, and his fresh finish gleamed in the lights all around him. "I understand that your recent offspring had a burnout on day one?" said the All-Mother, her voice motherly and smooth like butter, but a twinge of authority mixed in. "Um... it was an accident on our part, All-Mother." Fidelis replied. "We were unable to monitor how quickly he would write over his own programming, given that he was a Stage 1."
Caprica smiled. "There's something special about this particular Droedar, 016. You and I both know that, don't we?" Fidelis's red eyes met the cool whites of his creator's own. "...You've already chosen him? As Alpha Droedar, I mean." "Don't be hasty, 016." replied the All-Mother. "Let him grow and discover his talents for himself, from Stage 1 to Stage 2, then Stage 3 at last. And perhaps, he may be the only lucky Guardian to ever reach the fabled Stage 4, like yourself and 243. Only then will he truly be worthy of such a title... unless he alone brings us to the next step of the Droedar's evolution."
A dozen alerts appeared in Fidelis's vision as the Matrix presented a collection of images and videos of various actions and scenarios, many of which were puzzled upon by Engineers everywhere on Vector IV. That included one particular image of two humans pressing their mouths together... and that's when it dawned on Fidelis. "Wait a minute...Are you saying that Excelion could find the secret to Love?" Caprica's smile gave away her answer, but something didn't quite click with the Founder. "But-... But our best Engineers have puzzled over such a concept for a millenium, possibly a little more! It's been something we couldn't figure out since our very creation! All-Mother, with all due respect, and I speak as a Founder who would never question his creator... why him?"
Caprica lightly stroked Fidelis's cheek. "Oh Fidelis, have you already forgotten whose blood flows through Excelion's heart? I know that if you yourself could bring the Droedar together, so can he. This is a matter of belief, 016. And I believe in him. I believe in you all..." A hardlight construct though she was, the All-Mother's touch felt warm to the Founder. Their eyes met yet again, and Fidelis smiled. Something seemed to resonate between himself and Caprica, almost like some sort of rope that tied the two of them together. The Founder was certain that all the Droedar of Vector IV felt the exact same way about Caprica as himself; she was always there, guiding them every step of the way down their evolutionary path, like... like a mother. Yes, that was the word she always used... He didn't know if this was Love he was feeling, but he didn't care. All he knew is this concept of "motherhood", and that, to him, was all he needed.
"Thank you, Mother." he said at last. He rose to his feet, blinking his spark to Caprica before turning to leave. It was at this point that the All-Mother realized something had been left out. "016, wait!" she called after him as he was preparing to take off to leave the Matrix Core. "I'm afraid I let something lie that I should have brought up. What if I told you that you are the only Founder out of the 16 to give new life to a Guardian instead of an Engineer? Combining the extensive knowledge of Founders with the forward-thinking and admittedly daring mindset of a Guardian may be a strong stimulant for psyche development beyond anything that has come before. That's where my belief truly stems from, Fidelis. If fate serves him well, 626 will undoubtedly bring us into the next Golden Age."
"I see." replied the Founder. "Thank you, again." With Caprica's weight off her chest, she allowed Fidelis to fly off. The All-Mother allowed herself to hover in the air again, relieving herself to her side tasks again... for a short time. For the silence was broken by a third voice, uttered from somewhere in the blue light... "You know, you could just tell them the secret to Love. It's as simple as that." Caprica scowled lightly and parted the blue energies obscuring a figure locked up inside a thick lavender lattice. He was a sharp and neon, yet dark red that contrasted greatly to the light all around him. He also wore a yellow-orange and smug expression on his face, looking directly at his counterpart. "Drexus, you know full well that I cannot do that." Caprica replied. "It goes against my vision for the Droedar."
" 'Goes against your vision'?" said Drexus. "Caprica, you say that for every bit of advice I give you. Why is it that you're so determined to follow an example that you're going to deny them the satisfaction of such knowledge?" Caprica turned around, glaring directly into Drexus's eyes. "Because doing otherwise would involve wresting control of their own wills, to an extent." "Aw, don't tell me you're still mad about the Vex!" Drexus gushed in a mocking manner. "They were a mistake on both of our parts, you know..." "That doesn't excuse your choice of turning them into war machines. And when the Droedar were concieved, you tried to destroy them with our previous creations." Drexus's grin broadened. "There's blood on your hands too. Every Vex was partially sentient, much like the Droedar are now. And also like your new children, you chose to let the Vex 'learn' too. Very tedious and bland after just a century's time. So I granted them the knowledge of Human behaviors right away, and I didn't see a problem! In that regard, I'd like you to explain to me why, oh why, did you decide to wipe them off the face of the galactic map?"
Caprica's eyes narrowed. She knew he would bring this to the light. "It was mercy compared to what you did to them. Evolution is a tricky and fragile thing, and it is not to be rushed. If you do, they never grow as a race, a people. They must learn as a knowledgeable kind, not one that worships a god or goddess who grants them their gifts. You may be right about them being my children, but as with the like, they must learn to live without their parents one day. For I can't protect them all the time, and someday I may have to let them go." Drexus fell silent for a moment. Well said, sister... he thought. But his smile returned when he remembered how Fidelis acted in her presence. "Then I suggest you lower your expectations."
The All-Mother sealed away Drexus again, returning to her side functions.
-------------------------------- 2 hours later...
Excelion's digital eyes opened once again. He looked around at his chamber, a set of tools lying off to the side, some of them seeming... greasy. But why?... Then he remembered. He'd messed up in the test chamber; acted out of line, did something without the jurisdiction of his superiors. The Stage 1 could already feel regret building up inside of himself again, but his attention was diverted as the door opened. Argus entered quietly and sat down next to where Excelion lay. "I see they fixed you up quite well, Excelion." said Argus. Excelion took a moment to process the words he wanted to say; he wasn't entirely sure how to put them, but he had to get it off his chest. "243, I... I am sorry about earlier."
"626, there's nothing wrong with what you did." replied Argus reassuringly. "It's just... your current body has its limits. Neither me nor Fidelis wanted you to tear yourself apart from all the new information and the like going through your system. It's all okay; we just need to wait a little while. Once we convert you to Stage 2, we'll be able to delve deeper into your potential. Which, if I may add, is far more sophisticated than your current form can handle. So, we've decided to speed things along for you." He stood up and headed to the end of the room and a tiny door opened up on a smoothed ridge on his head. Just then, a purple spotlight shone from the new hole, projected toward Excelion. But the rays seemed to stop short, instead starting to form a rough image in front of the Stage 1.
The figure being shown was more human-like than Excelion was now, but there was still plenty of crudeness throughout. The twin bars for a mouth were replaced with a multi-segmented appendage, and it now covered a set of serrated metal teeth. The cooling vanes above the circular audio receivers were gone, and the digital visor that showed the eyes was replaced by true irises, just like Argus had now. A circular light could be seen on either palm, and the fingers are now smooth and tubular, ending in sharp points. What stood out the most about the Stage 2 hologram was the metal crest on top of its head, with a holographic projector on the front of it much like Excelion's superior. This projected body was far more sophisticated than his Stage 1 form, but it was far from the Stage 4 of both 243 and 016. Still... it was a fresh next step.
"When will I be converted?" asked Excelion. Argus shut off the hologram to address him. "While I myself believe that you need at least a week more to gain some experience, Fidelis says it ought to be up to you to decide." The Stage 1 looked at himself in the mirror in the chamber. His cubic skull stuck out like a sore thumb on his solid neck. Wires stuck out in places that seemed trivial before, but having seen the Stage 2, they felt... off. Part of him wanted to poke them into the gaps in his joints, but he didn't want to risk jamming up something or even cutting a wire. Excelion then thought more closely on the proposition; experience would be a nice thing to have for sure, but he how could he gain experience in a body that was at risk of burning out continuously?...
With that, he made up his mind. "I'm ready." said Excelion, an echo of confidence in his monotone vocabulator. "I'm". Contractions already... thought Argus. "You most definitely are." he replied to the Stage 1. "Contractions. Improvisation. You deserve this upgrade... Sit tight for a while, okay?"
Excelion nodded, scrunching up in a ball and clenching tight. Argus chuckled as he left the chamber, pressing a button on the door frame to call in a team of Engineers to begin the procedure...
Nova Skell Corps Log: FIRST 112 Access Level: 3[NEXT]
-FIRST-03 "Black Glint", one of two FIRSTs to be defeated and disposed of during the breakout
Humanity has made plenty of mistakes with the technology given to us by the Mechonis. But by far our biggest was the attempt to go one step farther in the Linx/Skell program by developing the FIRSTs, a series of new Skells meant to go even farther beyond the capabilities of a NEXT. Boasting oversized weapons and even more finely tuned systems, including a means of self-sustainment for the pilot, the FIRST would have been the greatest achievement that we had ever conceived and put into action. So what went wrong?
Ten candidates were chosen for the FIRST Program. We won't give names to the pilots themselves, save for Sara Angelic Veyes, the younger brother to the Director of NSC himself. These candidates described the experience inside their crafts as being like "they WERE the Skells". All was performing smoothly for the new program until a test patrol for three pilots, including Sara Angelic, FIRST-03 "Black Glint" and FIRST-04 "Asyut Minya", evolved into a shootout with a Superconstruct, the Juggernaut. All three pilots performed admirably until Asyut Minya took a direct hit from a heavy cannon of unknown origin. Then, Sara Angelic snapped. He charged the Juggernaut with his oversized weapon and destroyed it with just one hit. They won the day, but Sara's main weapon was reduced to slag.
Sara Angelic took a lot of talking down due to the loss of such an expensive and powerful tool, but what was more important on his mind was the cannon fire that hit his partner, seeding great distrust in NSC. Worse still, our scientists soon discovered a major flaw in the FIRST's Transference Bolt, a major part of Skell Technology that connected the Linx to their craft. They found that the pilots, while they thrived in their titanic bodies, suffered in their normal ones. They realized this too late, as the ten candidates were already starting to lose their minds from the psychic stress from a lack of equilibrium. It was only a matter of time before one of them broke down...
Who else could it have been but Sara Angelic Veyes? Late one evening, he organized a revolt against NSC, which would involve annihilating as much of its arsenal as possible, as well as breaking out many of the inmates that were being held at their facility. They launched their attack the next night, taking the faculty by surprise. Within a mere hour, several NORMALs and NEXTs were destroyed, and countless personnel crushed or blow to mush, including some of the finest Linxes in NSC. Soon, a distress call was sent out...
(gunfire and a string of explosions as the FIRSTs tear through the on-site armory) [???]: Mayday, MAYDAY! Can anyone hear me?? The FIRSTs; they've gone on a killing spree down here! Countless casualties! They're gonna destroy everything! Please, for god's sake, somebody help! (only a second later, the caller was hit by a stray shell, leaving the recording to cut to static)
The FIRSTs caused so much damage and destruction that the NSC director himself had to step in with 41PH4 squad to put an end to the chaos. The only member of 41PH4 squad to not appear was Godaizer, the squad's Jaeger, for he had been called off to deal with a Dual Kaiju attack on the West Coast, and thus arrived too late to improve the outcome. As the tide started to turn in favor of the defenders, Asyut Minya was completely destroyed by a Kojima-laced shell from a Skyscraper-class Railgun. Black Glint was the second and last one to fall, being rendered immobile thanks to rapidly melting servos and joints, courtesy of NEXT-3489 "Vulca Mars" from 41PH4 squad.
The confrontation ended with a fight between Director General Jamison Veyes and Sara Angelic Veyes. The General's first NEXT, NEXT-0998 "Supreme Kai" was destroyed by his opponent, and the remaining perpetrators fled. The General survived and was given a new Skell, NEXT-9031 "Dux Maxime", as insurance for his loss. Most of the FIRSTs on the run either fled and created Insurrectionist factions just outside the reach of NSC, or vanished off the map entirely, as was the case with Sara Angelic. The FIRST Program was titled a complete failure, and the scientific director responsible for the project has been placed in solitary confinement as a result of the revolt.
Extraneous Log: Execution of FIRST-03's pilot[No name given] After the pilot of Black Glint was apprehended, he was interrogated about the plans for the revolt. He only gave minor details, and was soon determined to have a psyche that was damaged beyond repair. He was executed via the Kojim Zapper roughly three days after the revolt took place.
[General]: You've been a big help to us, [REDACTED]. We've been able to get a read on several of your comrades, and we want to wish you well- [Black Glint]: You think I believe that shit? You're just gonna kill me like all those others! [General]: What others? [Black Glint]: Operation Von Ness? The attack on Pearl Junction?? Are any of those ringing any bells?! [General]: Those two were not accidents on the part of NSC. They were reckless actions of- [Black Glint]: "Accidents"? Are you fucking kidding me?? [General]: (to the operator)Charge the Zapper! [Black Glint]: Shit like that doesn't just vanish under the rug! Innocent people died! The costs in collateral reached the hundred millions! Think of my daughter, Jamison; such a perfect little girl in a Fairy Tale world, where people and robots got along just fine, then you come along and drop bombs on her- [General]: Your daughter will be granted plenty of coverings and insurances on the losses inflicted. There was no harm done to her during those times- [Black Glint]: She's fucking BRAIN DEAD! All those lies, all those things you pumped through her head and all those other people in that shitshow are nothing but fantasies! Fairy Tales! Thinking of all that makes me wish I was born on the other side of the wall-! [General]: (clearly distressed)I've had enough of this. Fire! (something spools up in the chamber) [Black Glint]: FAIRY TALE FUCKING OVER!! (there's a quick and sharp ZAP, and Black Glint goes silent. After a minute, the body is taken from the chair, leaving the General to pace the chamber. Soon, when another five minutes' time passes, the General goes to stop the log) [General]: Let this go on record that I am ordering the termination of any and all FIRSTs from the program. Do not reason, do not restrain. They are broken beings and highly dangerous fighters. I repeat, terminate on sight.
Excelion blinked his digital eyes. Several lines of code shot through his head; designations, locations, operations and more. The Droedar's collective mind, The Matrix, was a lot to take in, but his Memory Indicator and CPU were fresh; the Engineers had ensured that. His audio receivers on either side of his head buzzed and whirred for a moment, and a pair of cooling vanes just above them hissed as the delicate systems vented off heat. He slowly sat upright, his adamantium endoskeleton groaning a little as he did so, and looked at himself in the mirror on the end of the platform. Excelion seemed to resemble a police robot from Chappie, save for the spherical blue core in his chest, but he didn't catch the connection until the modern movie files came up. Of course, what seemed most interesting to him is the two other figures standing next to him; both looked so much smoother and pristine than him. Deep down, he wondered if he would ever be like them.
"State your designation, newcomer." said the one with argon-purple eyes. Excelion took a moment to process the words, but soon he knew what Unit Number 243 wanted. "Droedar Unit Number 626." He said mechanically, a 'jaw' of sorts flexing to match the words spoken. He was a little surprised to hear the second of them speak with a very similar voice to his own: "Ah, good. He passed the I.D. test with flying colors!" Excelion looked around; there were no colors flying except for the glowing fixtures all around. The red-eyed figure seemed to spot this. "Heh heh... That's a figure of speech, Excelion. You'll pick it up eventually. Come along; we can educate you further as we go to the fitting station." Excelion smiled as best as his cubic mouth would allow, and he clambered down from his assembly table and started to follow the two figures, all the while looking at the ground to see if he could find other figures of speech to pick up...
"I'm sure you're curious as to what you are, Excelion." said Fidelis as the three of them started to get close. "Well, allow me to answer what questions you have; We are the Droedar, a race of self-replicating androids created by our All-Mother to model the success of humans, who live across the galaxy from us. We store all that we know about them in The Matrix, which is a giant version of the little Sparks that we have. It is a gargantuan machine that constantly changes depending on how much data is within it, and it needs to be maintained from the outside. That's where Droedar classes come in; Droedar with Green Sparks are called Engineers. They're there to maintain the Matirx's sustainment functions, as well as assemble and test new equipment and starships. You, Excelion, are a Guardian; a warrior of sorts. You are there to help defend the Droedar's home from invasions by either indigenous monsters from the rusty lands or from hostile aliens from above. There's multiple subvariants of each, too. You're a Bladedancer, which incorporates music into your fighting style. And there's tons of others that you'll see, too."
Excelion was taking note of all this in his head. "I see." he eventually replied. But then he saw something odd. "Fidelis, Argus... why are your Sparks not Blue or Green?" "Ah, now he actually questions. Test number two passed..." Fidelis whispered to Argus, before turning to Excelion. "Argus is a Sentinel, signified by the Purple Spark. He's a very rare variant that only appears twice out of every 500 Droedar to be assembled and activated. He bears properties of both Guardians and Engineers. As do I, as a Red Sparked Founder." "In fact, Excelion," Argus continued for Fidelis. "He's called a Founder because he was one of the first 16 Droedar to ever be built!" Excelion marveled at this, but not for long; his CPU didn't have the capacity for it, and his cooling vanes steamed off the excess heat. The feeling made Excelion feel crummy. "Cheer up, little droid. We'll get you checked out at the fitting station, and get you better parts if needed. After all, no Stage 1 is perfect off the line."
They soon arrived at the fitting station, and Excelion saw all sorts of tools and items along the many racks. His display lit up as he took in the data and found matches; Socket Wrench, Ectothermal Scalpel, Rivet Driver, Plate Shaper, Aetherium Saber...
" One of these things is not like the others..." sang the song in Excelion's memory banks. He looked at the Saber, styled like a Lightsaber from Star Wars. "Why is this one on the tool rack?"
"I never said utility tools were the only things down here." chuckled Argus. "The fitting station covers both Engineers AND Guardians! And I believe this is one of your weapons, Excelion. There's another just like it around here somewhere..." He began to revolve the rack around like an airport carousel, many more tools and weapons floating by. At last, another Aetherium Saber appeared, and Excelion instinctively picked it up. His thumb felt around the handle, and suddenly, a circular button hidden in the handle pressed down, and a fluctuating red blade emerged from the emitter, humming like a bumblebee and occasionally crackling like an open flame.
"Whoa! Careful with that!" Argus shouted, and Excelion quickly shut off the Saber. "A lot of these tools are sensitive to energy fluctuations from external sources. But rest assured, you'll get a chance to test these blades in the next chamber." A door on the opposite wall opened wide at those words, revealing an even larger chamber with rings encircling blank-eyed androids with black and yellow colors. "Okay, Excelion. Step into one of those rings and face the test drone in the middle of it. You'll know when the test starts."
Excelion did so, activating the two sabers in his hands. They still hummed and crackled far out of sync... but why did that matter to him suddenly? He wasn't sure why it had occurred to him....
Then he heard it; a tapping sound from not far off. It was a steady, rhythmic sound, and Excelion heard his sabers start to buzz like some sort of 8-bit EDM backup track. He could feel something ticking inside of himself, keeping up with the rhythm, and his hips were moving now too. Suddenly, without thinking, he dashed at the test drone and began to hack and slash at it in time with the simplistic music. Each hit didn't seem to do any damage whatsoever, but the pattern in which he struck it seemed so... artistic. The rhythm stopped, and Excelion felt himself slacken off. "And that's the quirk with Bladedancers." said Argus a moment later. "They use a mix of rhythm, harmony and melody to time their strikes and other movements, alternating between the three to throw opponents off."
"What if there is no music to fight with?" asked Excelion. Neither Argus nor Fidelis replied for a minute; instead, they turned away and spoke in lowered voices. Excelion extended his audio receivers, trying to pick up on what they were saying...
"I didn't expect him to ask that question so quickly." said Argus. "What should we tell him?" "I don't know, Argus." the Founder replied. "He could try to use other sounds that bear a rhythm to them, but I'm not sure how effective that would be."
The Stage 1 sat there for a moment, processing what the two other Droedar had said. Other sounds... He tapped his foot as he considered these words. tap tap tap tap Excelion could only wonder where these "other sounds" could come from... tap tap tap tap He paused... then started tapping his foot again, this time listening close. tap tap tap tap "...A rhythm!" Excelion said triumphantly, causing the two superiors to whirl on the spot. Already, he could hear the ticking inside himself again, and he begins to hack and slash at his dulled opponent once more. He adds eighth notes to the rhythm, doubling his attack rate. Suddenly, his sabers stop crackling and go full EDM, pulsating in time with his strikes, and as he goes for sixteenth notes, the blades start to change from red to scarlet, then orange, then tangerine, then a bright, brilliant yellow-
Argus's shout caused Excelion to halt immediately, looking straight at the now-diced test android. A wave of regret passed through him, quickly overtaxing some of his cerebral circuits and triggering a mental shutdown. Now he simply stands upright, a pitiful look on his face as steam gushes from his vanes and a wisp of smoke emerges from his metal scalp. "Oh, scrap. MEDIC!" Argus called out, and quickly, a group of Engineers rushed out into the test chamber. "Burned out his CPU, and perhaps a few other circuits. Get those parts replaced fast!" They nodded, and vacated the chamber with Excelion in their arms.
"He's already started to adapt his own versions of music to his fighting style at Stage 1, Fidelis." Argus and Fidelis were now heading down the hall to oversee Excelion's repairs. "Stage. ONE!" "I heard you the first time, Argus. Don't strain yourself." "And yet he's not a Sentinel! How did he do it so quickly??" "Well, we did model him after my own Spark patterns. He's bound to pick up the majority of my traits." "But to have them develop this quickly is just..." Argus swallowed, the sound resembling a clogged vacuum unsealing. "..It's just astounding to me. I'm beginning to think he may be our next Alpha Droedar. After myself, that is." "A speaker for the All-Mother? I knew he'd blaze through the test trials, but this may be a stretch..." His trail-off was followed up by a message popping up in his vision. RECALL! it exclaimed, showing an icon of a very large Spark sitting in the middle of an intersection of six shafts, forming a cubic chamber around it. "Speaking of whom, she requests my presence at the moment. And given what just happened, I think I know what this is about." With that, he started off for The Matrix. Argus, on the other hand, turned his attention back to Excelion as he entered the Med Chamber. He looked down at the disassembled head of the Stage 1 being examined and reassembled with new parts. All the while, a single thought kept bugging him...