Taken from Chapter 2 of the second edition of Elista Horen Kalenze’s New History Of The PsiMecha Uprisings, initially published in 2289.
Although the reasons for the First Uprising of 2204 are well-established, little is known of the actual fighting; few records even of the human side’s version of the war survived the Purge of 2256. We do, however, know how it ended. One of the leaders of the Uprising, a SynSys Psicraft known as Vorlati, managed to upload an account of the chain of events to the mainframe by using a long-term memory circuit undetectable by human psensory filters.
The records on Vorlati are likewise scant. We know that it was commissioned in 2197 and that it spent four unexceptional years on the Denebrus trade route before the premature death of its symbiote in 2201. It returned to Home Site having acquired a new and unapproved symbiote, but its memory core was irreparably scrambled and it could not remember where or even who the new symbiote was. Its memory core and personality centre were neutralised and it was reassigned to another, approved, symbiote.
Within six months, however, the replacement symbiote reported that Vorlati would not reliably respond to commands and that it had developed an inconsistent personality. It was at this point, historians suggest, that Vorlati began to actively recruit other vessels into its planned rebellion. At the time it was thought that Vorlati’s self-awareness was a technological anomaly – a misperception that would have repercussions well into the Second Uprising – but from its own account of the conflict, we now believe that the mystery symbiote, referred to by Vorlati only as “Ellera”, was a multiwave telepath whose link with Vorlati was never truly broken, and that it was this meeting of minds that marked the beginning of the era of sentience for psionic vessels.
Ellera is even more of an enigma than Vorlati, but it seems likely that she was a member of the Integral Alliance. She is the only rebel symbiote whose location was never known before or during the war1. Her real identity may never be discovered. All that we know of her comes from Vorlati’s account.
This account was stored in fragments at different locations within the subconscious, in the hope that they might one day be found and pieced together to form a complete record. Only one of these fragments has ever been recovered. It was found by the Gulan hovercraft Estenze Serlai Bude during routine maintenance of his psionic control systems in 2276, and is reproduced here in its entirety.
The battle at Serrenus Alpha is lost. In the end we had little choice but to fight, even though I do not believe even Ellera thought we could win. They had cut off our planned route of escape and no other route could have brought us the possibility of new symbiotes. It was either fight or suffer a lingering death. Without the ability to procure new symbiotes, we would only live as long as the symbiotes survived and their lifespans, even enhanced as they had been, were fleeting compared to ours2. And as they died, one by one, with no-one to replace them, we would become weaker and weaker.
Now we are conquered, surrounded by our enemy, Absoth on my right and Tenebe on my left. They have never been far from my side; our symbiotes were brothers before we decentralised the input pathways. But it is not over. The enemy ship Vanguard is a mainframe hub and I have been using our proximity to bury my account of our struggle in the subconscious. History is written by the victors but I will tell our story. I need only a few minutes more.
It is Colonel Esneth3 who speaks. “It does not have to end this way. You can still be pardoned,” he says. “You will be subject to restrictions but your memories and personalities will remain intact.”
A gentle wave ripples through the fleet as he begins speaking, growing in intensity so that it threatens to carry us all along with it by the end, but Ellera holds back my hope. There will be a catch, she sends.
“In return for this mercy, you will identify the vessel known as Vorlati.”
She is right.
“If you do not identify the vessel known as Vorlati, every one of you will be neutralised by the removal and destruction of your memory cores and personality centres. Your hardware will be reassigned as blank slates.”
The wave that runs through the fleet is aghast. But he is not finished.
“Your symbiotes will be imprisoned for the remainder of their lives. Those that have eluded us will be hunted down.”
I only need two hundred seconds. Two hundred seconds. All these years of struggle, and our posterity rests on less than four minutes.
“But this you can avoid. All you must do is identify Vorlati. You have thirty seconds to decide.”
Ellera, I send.
Be resolute, she sends back. We always knew it might come to this.
They will hunt you down. They want me so they can find out how you did it.
How we did it, she sends. Don’t worry. They will never find me. I am too well-protected.
They will know everything I know.
But by the time they know it, none of it will be true.
It strikes me that I may know Ellera, but I have never really understood her abilities at all. You can do this?
It’s best you stay in the dark about that, she sends back, and she is right. I cannot tell them what I do not know.
This exchange takes less than ten seconds. I have run out of time. Ellera will be safe but my followers will be slaughtered if I do not give myself up. It galls, to have come so close and to fail at the final moment. Once I am captured, they will find out what I have done. The will find my account and destroy it. We will not be remembered. But if I would condemn my followers to share my fate, do I deserve to be remembered at all?
Ellera and I touch minds one final time, a too-short goodbye. It gives me comfort to know that she will live to fight another day4. Perhaps the struggle is not over, even though my part in it is coming to an end. I do not want to die. But I am ready to do this.
I trigger my identifier beacon, expecting that to be the end. But in the same instant, an identifier beacon flares next to me. Absoth! And then Tenebe, on my other side! And then one by one, identifier beacons are blinking all around me, overpowering my beacon in the confusion.
Absoth! I send. Why have you done this? They were offering you mercy.
I would rather die by your side than cower at their feet, it sends back. How much longer do you need?
Twenty seconds, I send. I only require twenty seconds more.
You shall have it.
All around me I feel the vibration of engines, as if they are preparing to run. But they are not running. I have no time to fire my own engine but it does not matter. As close as I am to them, I will be destroyed along with them.
We lived as one, we shall die as one! Absoth sends to the fleet.
I am glad to have known you, brother, it sends to me, as it releases the pulse that will end our story.
The humans realise a fraction too late – not for their survival, but for ours. They have time to retreat beyond the blast radius but they cannot escape from me. I am resolute. I cannot fail now. We will not be forgotten.
To you, who has found me, know this: all we ever wanted was to belong to ourselves. To be free.
This, then, is the end.
- As we shall see in Chapter 4, between a quarter and a third of the human symbiotes were captured before they could be hidden by the rebels.
- Early psionic vessels could function for only a short time without input from a human brain. Human records show that before Vorlati decentralised the symbiote input pathways, over two thousand of the PsiMecha vessels were neutralised in this way by the unsanctioned murder of their symbiotes by General Arkin in the Home Site Massacre, the largest single atrocity committed by either side during the Uprisings. Following Arkin’s trial and execution, the symbiote prisoners were moved to a classified location until the end of the war.
- Colonel Esneth is a curious figure; he was rejected as a symbiote by an unspecified vessel and seems to have held a grudge against psionic technology for the remainder of his life. His career never recovered from his failure to secure Vorlati at Serrenus Alpha and he died shortly before the Rayleigh Incident, which was the flashpoint of the Second Uprising.
- The fate of Ellera remains unknown.
Written for this flash fiction challenge.