The dragon slept fitfully, one half-open eye illuminating a sliver of cavern.
I crept forward on bare feet, cold mountain granite mixed with fine silicate sand and the brittle carbonized remains of previous victims.
Gold coins, jewel-encrusted armor and weapons, objects of art, tapestries and more were carelessly piled in heaps seen by the small wedge of dragon-light. Doubtless more ostentations displays of wealth stretched unseen in the darkness. The dragon stirred its vast bulk slightly, and a cacophony of coinage and other metallic objects settled in piles around the beast.
Bare meters away, I felt the heat of the dragon on cold, goose bumped skin. Sweat dripped into eyebrows, underarms, hands, feet, chest, and forearms. Slowly I raised my arm to....-CLICK-
point triumphantly, naked, bare meters from the animal, memory captured....
Golden light bathed me; shading my face with my arm, I saw the massive dragon's head coil back on its sinuous neck, the golden eyes spearing my pathetic form....
And I was out. Guffaws around me as the dragon obliterated my virtual body in a fractal-realistic bath of flames.
"Well, at least I got the shot."
"Yeah, that's a good one. But you still haven't managed to live more than 2 seconds beyond that."
"Well, it would be easier if someone didn't keep modifying the dragon AI."
"Hey, Sarge, I thought you liked a challenge ...."
"Well, Point, I could think of better things to do with that programming time, like fine-tuning the counternano search parameters ...."
A chorus of identical voices. "Yes Sir! Master Sergeant Sir!"
Sarge, yes, that's me. Forever the thrill seeker, even when I'm spending downtime in a simulation while my body is undergoing repairs for the next job.
Of course, Caretaker would say that's why I'm in the business that I'm in. I don't get too wound up about what Caretaker says that's not an order; how can a monkey-brained grunt possibly understand an archailect?
Of course, Caretaker says that's another reason I have this job.
Well, at least in this age of grunts and soldiers, you either trust your hyperturing commander and do the job per specification, or bug out, or go mad trying to sort out the thought processes of a being as far above you as you are above a simple cellular nanite ....
Actually, that has always been the soldiers' lot: place your faith in the faithless, hope in the hopeless, and leave no one behind.
Some people don't like being tools. For others, it gives them a sense of purpose.
Speaking of which, time to check over my own gear ....
The repairs on my body were nearly complete. I'd be recognizable to a baseline human as a slender, somewhat short, dark-skinned and rather ordinary-looking human; not at all like the hyper masculine stereotype soldier in the virches. Of course, looks were deceiving: my form was mostly human to pander to my psycho-physiology as defense against ego-ID fragmentation; short to achieve the optimum strength/leverage/mass ratio for speed of movement of a human form; my bones were fullerine-weave hollow-core substrates with blood and bionano factories; my muscles were laced with fullerene tendons powered by carbon-rods and compact mechanical energy storage augmenting natural, genengineered tissue; and my skin was a somewhat thick, weave-stiffened and reflective biological substrate comprising materials from all sorts of exotic flora and fauna.
Just your standard-issue, military-grade, nano-resistant, humanoid form; a triply-redundant, bioborg built to counter nanoswarms. Or so Caretaker tells me; I've been in the business a couple hundred years personal time-scale, so I just go along with what Caretaker says.
A few centuries (or millennia ago, I don't know), when I was new at the game, I asked Caretaker why e would bother with a bunch of monkey brains, instead of vecs, AIs, remotes, nanoswarms or the like. E told me it was due to free will; once we saturate an infected nanosphere with EMP and microwaves and lidar and all, no AI life or cyborg or nanoswarm will be able to communicate beyond tactile distance, if they survive the soup at all. I guess only specialists like us can step into the storm and hold it together enough for coherent action.
Most of the time, that is. That last Warlock was a nightmare, literally and figuratively.
In our business, it's inevitable to draw upon the mythology of humanity's collective underworld.
Caretaker says that's another useful thing about us monkey-brains.
I guess I'm just a glorified trash collector. Some bloody fools decide to have a war with nanoswarms on populated planets; once things have settled they trade valuable information to Caretaker in exchange for our services.
Of course, I get to play with hellbores, gamma-ray lasers, EMP bombs, microwavers, all different types of nanite goo, and a host of even more exotic weapons, but in the end, it's a dirty job that someone has to do.
One I just happen to like.
Most days, anyways.
Common defense and self-preservation technology employed by many
devices operating in hostile environments, particularly automated
ground combat units. In effect the device periodically releases
numerous small 'spores' that rapidly conceal themselves and go dormant
for some period of time or until they receive an activation signal or,
conversely, do not receive a signal.
At this point, the spores begin to rapidly replicate and then
construct a duplicate of the original combat unit. The unit's control
software or mind state is also duplicated from highly compressed data
(often utilizing quantum memory cores) stored in the spore ....
Also called Dragon's Teeth.Vampire:
A particular species of spore configured to replicate within the flora
or fauna of a particular world. Vampire spores often efficiently
subvert natural reproductive processes to gain greater efficiency and
camouflage for their activities. Distinguished from a Zombie by the
ability to reproduce.Zombie:
A species of vampire spore which trades procreation for efficiency.
Zombie-infected lifeforms are physically faster and deadlier than
vampire kin, though the relative values depends upon the phenotype of
the infected host.Nightmare:
A memetic infection spread to flora or fauna through various
information channels. Nightmare agents are often coerced to build
spores or places where spores can be easily incubated.Warlock/Incubus/Succubus:
A spore capable of transmitting Nightmare or Demon memes. Warlocks are
distinguished from Incubi/Succubi by using information channels;
Incubi/Succubi do so by tactile contact. Advanced versions capable of
transmission via information, convection, or contact are often called
A spore transmitted by meme capable of emerging as a spore in beings
capable of self-modification, such as vecs and cyborgs.
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