The short story: PRIDE
It began with an irritation ... Although I could not look down, I knew she was there, sitting upon my mighty foot with impudence. I was Chi-ah-din, the destructor, emperor of the cosmos. There was no planet that did not fall within my empire. There was no man who had ever lived, or would ever live, who could match my strength and intellect. In my presence great men would tremble. The mere mention of my name built and destroyed worlds, yet there she sat, and I could not move her.
"I know you are sad," she would always begin.
And I would respond with my silence.
"But I will stay with you once again ..."
Then we would sit in the stillness, and the memories would begin.
I had everything... but I desired more. With cunning, I had acquired the most distinguished seat in the galactic parliament, and for a time, I found the peace I had desired. But things changed- as they tend to do. I became bored, and again my desire was set upon conquest. It was what fed my purpose, and a life without purpose, is a life wasted.
It was then I decided, I would not rest until the universe was mine- and I did not. I transformed the parliament into a tool of war, whose generals were weapons in my hand. Galaxy after galaxy fell before me, and with each victory my sense of purpose, and my lust for activity, was satisfied.
As time continued, so did my reach, but to soon I had come to the end of my years. My life was approaching its close, and I had not reached my goal. Though worlds lay behind me in ruin, there were countless stars left untamed.
I can remember the moment when the thought had come to me for the first time. I stood, admiring my capital city from its tallest spire. The men and women sitting behind me, waited patiently for my decision. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I can even remember the imperfections in the glass- yes, imperfections- the word floated in my mind.
"You have a heavy heart," came a tiny voice from below.
My consciousness returned to the present. It was the little girl who had spoken. It was her way to not waste words- and for that I was grateful, for her words were like a dagger in my chest, and her innocence- her pure innocence, was a reminder of my imperfection. There was another flash of memory and soon the little girl, and the lush green park that surrounded us melted away, and I was once again amongst my thoughts.
Ah yes... Imperfections... the glass was the finest in the universe- crafted by the most talent practitioners of the art, yet there they were- imperfections. I turned to my cabinet: generals, statesmen, trusted advisers, and that is when I gave the thought reality. I would loose my imperfections, and replace them with perfection. The decision I made that day was not the one they were expecting, and there was peace in the universe for a time.
Years passed as I worked in private. Parts were shipped in from every corner of the galaxy. Some very rare, and expensive, but cost did not matter to me. I called upon the genius of a thousand worlds, but no one knew the extent of my purpose.
When I was finished, I admired my creation. Its cold exoskeleton was frightening to behold. Standing twenty four feet in height, it loomed above me in its hibernation chamber, its neural pathways silent.
I would live on, and there would be no end to my reign. Century after century would pass, and I would give the universe a new birth. I would create it again in my image.
The matrix came alive with energy and color. I looked around the lab and took in my last mortal breath. It was done...
"AHHHHHHH!!!! Too much. Too much- information." My mind reached out into its new home, and as each positronic neuron fired, I was aware of it. I was aware of everything. Every muscle that twitched, every pulse that surged. It was too much. The colossal beast crashed to the floor, and was still.
The colors came to me at last. Was this consciousness? I knew the color, but I did not sense it. It was a calculated perception. The complex processor in my head began to sort and place them, and a picture began to form. At first two dimensions, then the third. Was that a shoe? Distance: two meters- my mind told me.
"It must be lonely in there," said the little girl, as she sat kicking the heels of her tiny black shoes against the front of my armored foot.
Again my response was silence.
"Has it always been that way?" she asked.
No, I thought- It had not always been that way.
Her name was Meriem, hair like golden waterfalls, eyes like liquid moons. She carried herself with grace, as a lady should, yet there was a side that allowed for indulgence. I took a shine to her for a time, and there was happiness, but I could not be held back, and her love was not strong enough to keep me. My drive for power was too great, and it wasn't long before the strain had taken its toll.
"Yes... I think you are lonely." came the voice of my unwanted guest.
What did she know of loneliness? I had simply not had time for such indulgences. Another memory filled my consciousness.
I stood before the threshold of my greatest victory- the planet Steeth. I led my forces across the surface of the burnt rock, my blade cutting down soldiers ten at a time. I was war incarnate. With this last victory I would, at last, control the known universe. My lust for power was nearing its completion. The universe was my footstool, and God himself could not oppose me. Everything was in my grasp- and then it happened.
The sky grew dark, controlled by a force unseen. A hush fell on the battlefield, as every soldier looked to the forming clouds. The air smelt of electricity, and the wind shifted in chaotic apprehension. My anger engulfed me. I had no time for this distraction. In one motion my waste pivoted and my synthetic muscles flexed. My sword rose high into the sky and my grasp tightened around its hilt. I would not be detained from my prize...
I will remember that instant for an eternity, for an eternity is how long I have left to remember it. The sky opened and an energy stream shot down, biting into my metal skin. And the world became dark for a time.
When I was again aware of the things around me, the battlefield was empty. The ground was blackened, and there was no life left to be seen. I was completely alone. What's more, I was completely still. The energy burst had left me immobile. My deadly sword hovered in the air above me, but it would never fall again. There was no power to move it. All that was left was my secondary power cell, which made a wearing sound at the back of my neck. This is what kept my positronic circuits alive, this is what kept me- alive. And for centuries, I longed for death.
How many centuries had passed now, I did not know? How long I had remained here, imprisoned in this body of my own construction, was also a mystery? I had seen cities rise and fall around me, and time itself was my punishment. What I had considered a strength was now my bane. I could remember in detail everything I had ever done, every decision I had ever made, and every life I had ever taken
"Did you find what you were searching for?" came the voice of my hidden companion. As was her way, her statement was short, yet it held a universe of implications. I could not remember what it was that I had sought after. With each victory came a jubilant pride, but as the victories increased this too did not satisfy me. So what was it I had sought after? I could not remember. After a time, I continued on because it was all I knew. Countless lives lost, and still I pushed on.
I had squandered my existence, and so I MUST remember... that was my penance. I must remember every selfish thought, every wasted deed. Had I completed my task, what would I have accomplished? Would I have just become complacent as emperor of the universe? Would my fair jewel have lost its luster? What difference did it make? I had lost everything. My soul would never depart this metal cell, and I would remain here till the end of time enduring the shadows of my past.
"I forgive you..." she whispered.
Her words floated up to me, and they contained the peace I had longed for these many centuries. Suddenly, a part of me was awakened; that part of me that was once human. The part which contained the very essence of my mortality stirred once more. I could no longer feel that familiar power I once knew, that strong shell I had called my home for so many centuries. I looked upon the scene of a young girl standing beneath a towering monster- or was it?
The creature looked like a mighty knight, his sword raised above his head, his eyes cold and lifeless. Every jagged point of his armor made for destruction. She stood there, her tiny hand resting on his massive boot, and the humming ceased ...
The little girl looked up at me as if, somehow, she knew I was there. A single tear ran down her tender cheek, and a smile formed on her lips.
It ended with two words.
"goodbye" said she.
"goodbye" said I.
John Michael Hileman is an Author, Television Producer, and Columnist
His novel VRIN: Ten Mortal Gods is available where books are sold.