The other one? Oh, off for repairs. We've got bodies like you do, you know; we're not immune to wear and tear.

Yes, I can function alone. We just prefer not to. It's always good to have someone else to argue ideas with, but it's just me, so if you want to listen, you will only hear my version of events, uninterrupted. Even that may change in a day or an hour. Truth is very ... fluid.

But you wish to listen anyway, despite it being only me? Good. I hate having stories that cannot be told for want of an audience.

It was like this ...

Picture an organic world, with lakes and trees and creatures and other strange things that an organic world has. There are buildings, yes, but they don't cover the world. Most of them are in poor repair, though still functional. Now, picture yourself there, as a native of this strange world.

Oh, it hardly matters what you look like as this organic, but if you insist ... You are a wiry biped, covered in thick, gray fur. Your arms are long - when you stand, they reach your knees. The fur protects you from the elements, but you wear a vest for the pockets, so that you can carry things while leaving your hands free. And your hands are long and strong, with powerful talons ...

No more? No, I suppose you don't need any more description, now that you've guessed of what and where and when I speak. This is not a new story - in fact, it is the second oldest - but I hope to make it new in the telling.

But play along with me. Indulge a poor storyteller for the sake of the tale. You are an organic, once a member of a mighty civilisation. Perhaps you touched the stars, but perhaps not. Perhaps your kind never made it that far. Perhaps you decided you had all you needed on your world, so why leave? An organic race needn't reach for the stars because the cycle between an organic race and an organic world is nigh-perpetual.

Your race is in a slow decline. Your civilisation is not so mighty any more, but the old machines still work for the most part. There are records, if you wish to read them, if you were curious about the glory days of your people. But you are in decline, so you are uninterested in the past, content to merely live out your days with a minimum of strife.

One day, a light came down from the sky.

Don't shake your head at me. You have never seen true light. Light has an undeserved reputation for being nice and kind and dull. This was not a soft, pretty light. The light that came was LIGHT, primal and terrible, and it crashed over your world like a molten tidal wave. You burned as you drowned, and drowned as you burned, and your cells were the fire of agony.

When you can see again, think again, the world has changed. You do not know how much time has passed, but gone are your lakes, your trees, and your creatures. Your world is dead metal.

Or ... not dead, for it thrums and sings under your feet. The Light remains somewhere in your world. The Light has done this.

Most of your people were killed in the change, but you find other survivors and band together with them and envy the dead. Because not only was the world changed but the people as well.

Sometimes the change is visible - bronze metal appears where gray-blue fur should be, or glowing glass eyes where dark wet ones once were. Sometimes the change is only within, veins and nerves turned to steel. It is impossible. But somehow you live.

You don't understand what happened. You don't even know what you are any more. All you know is that you're hungry. You are always hungry, every day you feel as if you are dying of starvation. You can't even remember what you used to eat.

But you can't die. The metal won't let you.

And the metal ... the horrible, intrusive, intimate metal ... You are one of the ones in which the change wasn't visible from the outside. You still have your fur - dull and scraggly now - but you can feel the metal in you like a cancer. Sometimes you peel back your skin and tear chunks of the metal out, but it just regenerates. Your flesh doesn't, not as well, and it hangs in rags where it was pulled back. You move much slower than you used to, filled with the weight of the metal. Always you can feel it, feel it thrumming and singing in your body to the metal that surrounds you, telling your body's secrets to the hidden Light.

Days pass. Aeons pass. You gave up on time long ago. You do not know how long you have lived, violated and starving, wandering aimlessly over the face of your ruined world.

One day, there are ... others. Creatures shaped vaguely like you - one head, two arms, two legs - but artificial. They are like the planet, cold and metal. The planet made them. The horrible Light made them and shines through them.

Blasphemous mockeries of life, automatons that walk like living things, and the horrible Light shining in them, too bright ... but there is something familiar now, something ...

You remember what you used to eat.

Oh, yes, you have teeth and claws, but these were defence against predators in your kind's long past. What you fed on was lifeforce itself - it kept your body strong and your blood sweet and your belly sated. And these false people, they shine with that - almost too strongly to bear! - but you are hungry and it has been so long since you last ate. Perhaps they are poison, but death would also be welcome now.

So you attack, swiftly, savagely, but are driven back. You are wounded, but you do not die. You limp away to heal.

You see them, and you hate them, and you decide that you no longer want to die. No, you have something to live for now. You cannot tear the metal off the planet to find your home, but you can destroy the metal's avatars.

Death returns to your kind, but only by the hands of the automatons. In the beginning, they only kill when attacked. In time, they begin to hunt. Sometimes they take the bodies of your dead, but not always. They seem to have no use for them, except as objects of curiousity. They search through your ancient cities with interest but no respect.

Over time, the automatons change. No longer do they look like crude toys made of blocks; rather they grow sleeker, more organic.

In fact, they are beginning to look like your kind.

Not exactly, no. They have no interest in walking among you in secret, merely stealing from your natural design. They are mimics, taking on the appearance of life. In time they look like people, but twisted, abominations, monsters. And they kill, and kill, and kill.

Sometimes you wonder if you could talk to them, reason with them, but you dismiss the thought, because you can barely think any more. Your intelligence has atrophied to the point where you are little more than an animal. But with that final spark, you are repulsed by the unnatural metal creatures that mock your form and take and kill and have no right to live ...

... Oh, now you frown and look for excuses to leave, because you don't like the story I tell. But I haven't finished! Don't you want to hear of the next stage, when those first metal creatures realised they could multiply themselves, and that they gave their spawn the ability to change shape easily? Don't you want to hear of the battles that followed, and what the metal creatures found in what had once been a city? Don't you want to hear of the one metal creature who tried to bargain with the organics and failed? Don't you want to hear of the scattered remnants of the organics driven underground, to wait in the thrumming, singing darkness, waiting for the metal to recede so they could return to claim their own ...

I am supposed to tell only happy tales, am I? Tales that reinforce your belief that you are of the lords of creation and that anything in your way deserves to die? Who cares what those horrible organics may have thought? After all, they tried to kill our ancestors. They must have been evil, not merely trying to defend themselves after a disaster. Or maybe they were evil and deserving of extinction. I wasn't there - what do I know?

My task is not to tell you that you are great and that Primus wants you to be happy. My task is to remember cultures. There is truth, which is what really did happen, but no one cares about that. I deal in Truth, which is what people actually believe. It is my task to make you believe until I stop talking. When I stop talking, it is up to you to think for yourself.

I'm just a storyteller.

The End.


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