(Book I of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 1999 BY
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"So you are a god?" Merle asked, awed.
Xaa tucked his gun under one arm, and held the makeshift torch quietly as he and Merle looked at the being before them, deep in the rear of the cave. If it was a god, then the gods were truly ugly. It had no discernible eyes, ears or mouth - just a smooth, oval head. Not even a muzzle or whiskers. It was made entirely of metal, and was smooth and shiny, reflecting the torch's light and making eerie flickering shadows around the back part of the cave. It had shoulders, arms and paws, and apparently an upper torso, but that sat atop a featureless metal box. The wall of the cave behind it was covered in what looked like metal panels. There were various indentations and colored parts attached to the panels that Merle didn't understand at all - though some of them were reminiscent of Tinker's pressure gauge, the construction and design was different. In the end, Merle simply had no idea what she was looking at - and that frightened her.
"Well, I suppose from your frame of reference, I would be. The truth is, though, I am not. I am a machine," the god replied, shrugging his (or her, it was impossible to tell) metal shoulders.
"How is it you speak our languages? For that matter, how is it you speak at all?" Xaa asked.
"Both your languages lack the concepts to truly explain how I speak, or think, or anything else, for that matter. However, I can tell that your question really is 'how do you understand me, and how are you talking back, since you don't have any apparent ears or mouth'. That I may be able to explain. You see, your minds produce a series of surges of energy - like lightning, but on a very, very small scale. When you are near enough to me, I can read these little exchanges of energy, analyze the mind that shapes them, and understand what you are thinking and what your language is. From there, I simply repeat the sounds your mind understands as language, emanating these sounds from a small device below my chin, the workings of which you would not understand, but are similar in nature to that of a drum combined with the flexibility and sound-producing qualities of your own vocal chords. In addition, I do have an equivalent to your ears and eyes - they are protected and concealed by the shell which covers my head, which, although it appears to be metal to you, is not," the god replied, answering in Xaa's language.
"So, you're not a god?" Merle asked.
"From your perspective, I fit all the criteria of a god. I am immortal, and am immensely more intelligent than you, I think tens of thousands of times faster than you, I have powers and abilities your minds are ill-equipped to even begin to comprehend, and I am fairly close to invulnerable. However, you are correct - I am not a god, I am a machine," the god replied in Merle's language.
Xaa didn't reply to that, he simply looked about the remainder of the cave, and finally spotted two stones. Walking over to them, he knelt and stuck the makeshift torch between the stones, rising to his feet again.
"If you're just a machine, then who made you? The mus?" Merle asked while Xaa leaned his gun up against the wall of the cave.
"The mus did not make me - I made them from one of the six races on this planet, at the request of one of their ancestors several millennia ago. No, I was made by a race of people who no longer exist on this world, a race of people your language doesn't even have a name for," the god/machine replied, then crossed its arms. "They, like me, are completely beyond your comprehension. They had no fur at all, save for that which grew on their heads. None of your people existed at that time, save as animals in the wilderness - nor any of the other races which exist today that your primitive culture has yet to encounter. They were the Lords and Masters of this planet, and had been for nearly seventy millennia," the god/machine began, and gestured absently as it spoke.
"Lords they may have been, but poor masters they were, as well. The world was tired, polluted, worn and weary. The tools and technologies they had built as they dragged themselves out of the caves grew more and more powerful with each passing century, yet also became more and more destructive to the world. Towards the end of their history, they explored the stars and the planets that orbit them, plumbed the depths of the oceans and placed cities there, and began colonies on other worlds orbiting suns far from here. They had machines which could turn matter into energy, and energy into matter, in a process your primitive minds could never possibly comprehend as anything other than magic. They never lacked for food, as their machines could provide anything they desired with a push of a button. They could communicate with any other member of their race anywhere on the planet simply by speaking into a device they wore on their wrists. Their technology was powerful in the extreme, far surpassing the feeble efforts of your primitive races. Yet, their search for new technologies did not slow - they still sought to unlock the mysteries of the universe."
"One day, one of their most cunning inventors built a machine that could turn one's thoughts into reality - no touch of a control was required, no spoken word was needed. He thought this would be an ideal device - through his invention, the thinking machines like myself they had monitoring every aspect of their world could shape anything one's mind could conceive of, raw energy conjured into matter. What happened afterwards is impossible to explain in your language, but suffice it to say the whole world was Changed in a single night. Your people and the other races of which you do not know appeared, rising from six species of animals in the wilderness. My creators disappeared from this planet, though whether this was due to them being destroyed or simply deciding to join their brethren in the stars, I do not know. My memories of this time are fragmentary, at best. Either way, they left this world to your primitive peoples ten thousand years ago, and I found that I was left here, in this cave, monitoring the power systems of my creators in case they should ever return and choose to activate them again."
Merle, however, just stared at the 'Last God'. "Well, God or no, you are incredibly rude. Come, Xaa, let's get out of here - we found what we were looking for, the god-machine of the mus, so now all we have to do is keep Tinker from finding it."
"I agree," Xaa replied.
"Wait! You're not going to ask me for anything?" the god/machine asked.
"Mmm... Nope," Merle replied, and Xaa simply shook his head.
"But I can grant you anything! You, Merle Mousefinder, would like to be bigger so that Xaa will take you as his mate. I can make you bigger, if you will do a few small tasks for me."
Merle hesitated. She had been thinking that it would be nice to be Xaa's size, and perhaps be more acceptable as his mate. Then, she remembered the warning written at the entrance of the cave, and shook her head. "No, thanks. You can keep your magic."
"It is only magic from your primitive frame of reference," the god/machine replied tartly, then switched to the language of the mus, gesturing to Xaa. "You, Xaa'ap'Gasha, of the Clan Xaa. If you were to do the small tasks I ask, restoring me to my full power, I can do anything. I could destroy the cats utterly. I could fulfill your people's every dream."
"And our every nightmare," Xaa growled, staring at the machine fiercely. It did not reply. "No. I have perceived your flaw. I know not the cause of your madness. Perhaps you are simply old, and worn out. Perhaps your flaw was in your original creator's work. I do not know, or care. I shall heed the words of She-Who-Guards, for she knew you better than I ever will, having listened to you for far longer than I would ever have wished to. No. I shall not use your powers to destroy my enemies. We shall win this war another way," Xaa rumbled.
"It is good then that I am not so picky," a voice mrowled, and Xaa spun to see Merle already in the grasp of T'Vril. T'Vril held her claws to Merle's throat, having pounced upon her from behind. "Do not move, Slayer, or this one dies now," T'Vril snarled in the language of the mus, then Turned her head to purr behind her. "Mrr... Master, I have captured the mustie-girl, and am holding Xaa at bay. Please come and re-activate the powers of this god-machine, and we shall destroy the mus utterly."
Tinker walked up from the darkness, smiling
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