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  • Ex-Tribune Cassius Vale stood at the edge of blackness, one elegant hand squeezing the burnished ridge of an expansive translucency. His icy glare moved decisively through the pale outline of his own reflection, those always stanch eyes of near black narrowing as an approaching ship eclipsed a cluster of distant stars. A small HOLO-projector, in the shape of sphere fluted with rifts of radiant, blue light rested in his upturned palm. Without looking he twisted his thumb, shifting one of the offset planes on the device so that a splaying beam of pixelated light shot upward. The particles began to rearrange, the dusky likeness of a human head taking form.

    His heart skipped a beat as he released a mouthful of the stale air which he hadn’t even realized he was holding. He tried to steady his breathing, his hands beginning to tremble, but all the swollen emotions were only serving to drench his brow in sweat. It was the same as the year before, and the years before that - when that fateful day inevitably would come to bring with it those irrepressible pangs of grief; that inexorable surge of rage.

    Once the projection was fully configured the face was rendered with incredible realism, so that only a closely discerning eye would be able to notice the space between each floating fragment of light. But the image was frozen, the tip of Cassius’ finger hovering over the blinking sliver on the device that would set the recording he had heard over a thousand times to replay. The image had no background. It was as if the young man was there with the Ex-Tribune, a living bust joining him at the viewport.

    He could usually fight back the tears, but on that day it made his eyes well. It was all he could do to drive his will to switch on the message, cluing the lips of the artifice to begin speaking.

    “Happy Birthday Dad!” the man wished cheerfully, with only a hint of the vocal dilution inherent in a typical recording. “I bet you thought I’d forget.” But the Ex-Tribunes work was far from typical.

    Cassius released a pitiful sound, more a grief-stricken snivel than the reminiscent laugh he thought would come out. That face - so familiar, and yet more the stranger with each and every day.

    “I can’t believe how fast another year has gone…” The man’s face dropped into a grimace, “Look… Dad. I know you’re worried about me, but I’ll be fine. You see… We did it, we finally did it.” The hologram rearranged, zooming out to trace his son’s full body. The floor of his environment was rendered, illuminating beneath his footsteps as walked over to run the back of his hand along the surface of a glass container. In it was simply water, but swaying beneath the ripples was the straggly form of an aquatic plant. Its stem was wiry, almost pathetic looking, but Cassius remembered the shiver up his spine the first time he saw it.

    “We moved it here from the lake. It’s growing under the surface. A real, Earthborn plant. For the first time in decades the purification process is taking a step forward. I.. I -” the excitement in his voice was palpable, bringing to Cassius a twisted smile as his youthful son tripped over his own words. “I know it doesn’t seem like much, but life on Earth after over two centuries… Dad, it’s… it’s a miracle.” His son gathered his breath, chuckling weakly, “You probably don’t care, but it’s everything to me.”

    *Everything to me*, Cassius thought to himself, his hand nearly slipping from the smooth sill he leaned on.

    “Well we’re about to head out for supplies, and don’t worry I’ll be safe. Earth isn’t as vengeful as you recall. Anyway, I’ll be thinking about you… and mom. I hope her mind is more at ease now. We’ll see each other soon, I promise. Love you dad... Bye.”

    *Bye.* Tears ran from Cassius’ eyes as the recording froze, leaving his son with that trademark, carefree grin he had worn since he was a child. The Ex-Tribune ran his thumb over the HOLO-Projector, replaying those lasts words over and over until he unraveled. The device slipped through his perspiring fingers its impact drowned out by his augmenting weeping. He hunched over the ridge, his insides curdling; his throat clenching as if it were being squeezed by a vise.

    Then he turned, and mustering his most regal stride he followed the device as it rolled across the floor. It bumped against the foot of a console and began to play again, but Cassius bent over to pause the message just as his sons face had fully formed. He went to deactivate it, but instead set it down on a table overlooking the laboratory.

    “You’ll want to see this, Caleb.” He whispered to the face as he moved in front of an array of HOLO-screens hovering over a console. Each of the bluish-green blades set to compute and configure date was blank until he keyed in a command which prompted the security protocol. He then placed the palm of one hand against a scanner and with the other typed in the password, 2AL3B82LE. Not too difficult for an outsider to figure out, but he always tried to maintain the guise that he held little information of value.

    The display lit up, hundreds of lines of diagnostics running across the large array of monitors which wrapped around him. Amongst all of the images surveying his world - The Moon Titan of Saturn – and other data, he gravitated to the one showing a not quite human figure. Then, pressing a few keys on his bracer, the information was transmitted to another screen rising up just above his forearm. His weary looking face popped onto it as he began to record.

    “Recordi…“ Cassius sniveled and wiped his cheeks one last time as to appear more his usually composed self. “Recording 243. March 15th, 514 Kepler Circuit… My birthday.” He began as he strolled away from the console toward a pulsating, red aura on the other side of the stark, dimly illuminated laboratory. “This will be my last entry regarding the Automated Dynamic Intelligence Mech: codename, ADIM. What began in anguish, as a project without intention, has become so much more to me. It has been four years, but now I, Cassius Vale, am on the verge of the greatest breakthrough in human history since the discovery of the element Gravitum deep within the Earth.”

    He stopped before a magnetically induced chamber where a small reactor floated at chest height. It seethed like magma, the light stifled as chamfered fins spiraled around the volatile core of the complex sphere. His eyes unfolded over the device, in marvel of his own conception, with the whoosh of the blades matching the rapid beating of his own heart as he grew close enough to feel the heat even through the protective field.

    “The fate which befell our beloved Homeworld was terrible… But we remain strong. Earth may be in our DNA; it may define us and where we came from, but even a master craftsman does not go back to remedy his first masterpiece. We left our mark on that fading world and in its dying gasp reaped the secrets to evolve beyond it. We have not fallen to ashes with the weak life with which we shared her, but instead have ascended to greet all the vastness of the universe arrayed before us. I was counted amongst the fools who lost sight of what is out there for us to claim, but I have been enlightened. Here is the first step toward a new future - a brighter future for mankind.

    “We don’t need the battered husk of Earth anymore, and with ADIM I will pave the way to a new foundation. It was once believed by the ancients that some divine being, some god, created man in his image. I believe today that we have assumed that role.” He typed a command into the panel on his arm and a table began to tilt upright beside the reactor’s chamber. Laying on it was the figure of ADIM. Bathed in darkness his outline began to be painted red by the oscillating light; the silhouette so like a man in height and scale that by the shadow the difference was almost indiscernible.

    “As I once crafted a son from the womb, here is another to be guided by my will; to follow without question in service to my will. An artificial copy which will not die so easily as…” Cassius’ lower lip began to tremble before he closed his eyes and breathed to calm himself. “He is the first of his kind. An artificial conception able to adapt and evolve as we do, not restricted to a console on a ship or to remain a mindless drone bent in the pursuit of a singular task. No, ADIM is a freely moving synthetic being born of intrinsic loyalty… A son eager to learn.”

    The table came upright, placing the figures gaping chest at the same height as the smoldering reactor. Cassius’ finger froze over the command to initiate. This was it, as easy as turning on the lights. He looked over his shoulder to see the face of his true son, frozen and lifeless. Four years of suffering and this was to be his gift to himself; progeny of metal and fission. When he turned again his eyes were brimming with conviction. He was ready and with no further hesitation the process was set to ensue.

    The whine of an alarm blared out as the field protecting the cylindrical chamber powered down. A mechanical arm rose up from the circular platform below the sphere, with a delicate claw-like apparatus on the end fashioned specially for grasping the potentially hazardous reactor.

    “Together we will set the path of humankind on the proper course. We shall assume the destiny we inherited when we survived the death of our homeworld. This is the future I promise to you - humans. Together, we will rise beyond any of our wildest aspirations and take our place as mighty titans of this galaxy and all others!”

    He proclaimed with the vigor of someone giving a speech to a massive crowd, but the response was only silence. The alarm stopped and all he could here was the soft, undulant humming of the reactor as it was lifted. His twinkling eyes watched without blinking as the source of power was conveyed into the android’s hollow body. Then all the inner workings of ADIM’s chest coiled to greet it; all the wires and circuits which traced the metal frame like our own veins. When that was complete a series of ribbed panels closed to form a chest, the fiery glow of the core slipping through the narrow spaces between each armored plate.

    The table slid so that it stopped directly before Cassius, coming completely vertical so that ADIM’s two-pronged feet landed softly on the floor. Branches of bright red diffused down his appendages, the light blooming through the gaps between all of the carefully articulated plates of exoskeletal exterior.

    Cassius turned off the screen on his arm and circled his creation in admiration, following the thick, reinforced circuits running between the shields on its neck as they pulsed with energy. Then tiny blue lights switched on, lining the outer rim of each piece of the dark-tinged, super-alloyed shell covering the entire body. It was one of the most beautiful things Cassius had ever seen. For the first time in exactly four years, a tear came to the corner of his eye that wasn’t drawn by memories of his son. Perfection, he thought as he ran the back of his index finger over the ridged, blank surface where ADIM’s mouth would be if he was a man.

    The eyes nested deeply in the crescent-shaped blackness between two plates of armor snapped on. They were two, blazing red orbs surrounded by a circle of smaller lights which slowly rotated around them like planets in orbit around a star. Cassius stepped back, observing the mouthless face which he only then realized retained a markedly curious demeanor. Then the magnetized table switched off and ADIM wobbled forward, innocent as a child learning to take its first steps. But as was expected, he was a quick learner. He found his footing after a few steps and stood upright, so that both he and his creator rose to the exact same height.

    “ADIM… Can you hear me?” Cassius asked, leaning in until his noise almost touched ADIM’s neck.

    “Processing commands” The smaller lights around ADIM’s eyes began to revolve faster as his cognitive and optical functions worked in concert to access and comprehend his surroundings. “This unit is ADIM?”

    It was hard for Cassius to infer that statement as a question from the cold, apathetic voice, but he was able to discern at least the slightest subtle inflection. He did create him after all. “Yes. You are ADIM.”

    The robot looked down at itself, turning his hand over to inspect the back. All his limbs and joints moved with such fluidity that there wasn’t a single noise emitted during motion as was typical in most machines, or even humans for that matter. “And you are the Creator?” He reached out and let the back of his long, sharp index finger graze gently along Cassius’ cheek.

    The Ex-Tribune sniveled, his hand quaking as it wrapped around his creation’s smooth forearm. The surface was cool, but beneath it he could feel the surging warmth desperate to escape the metal sheathing. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

    “Does this unit upset you?” ADIM asked, “This unit can assume a more familiar appearance if you desire.” The small blue lights circulating his plating flashed, emitting holographic pixels that converged envelop him in the image of his creator.

    Cassius was made to look upon his likeness, standing close enough to just barely see the red features of the machine beneath the projection. “No,” he shook his head. Out of the corner of his eye he stared at the hollow effigy of his son, looking on with that blithe grin he so adored. “You are perfect…”
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