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Book 6, Chapter 8 – Father

 Cloudhawk was led into a huge, empty audience hall. As he entered, the door shut behind him. No mark or seem was left to show there had been a door there at all.

The interior was a singular, unblemished whole. The walls were smooth and the floors spotless, and though the room was well lit there was no obvious source for it. This had to be the audience chamber for the one they called 'Father.' In his time Cloudhawk had dealt with all sorts of people, but never a strange intelligence like this. He was as confused as he was curious.

"I'm here," Cloudhawk said, striding into the center of the room. "Why aren't you saying anything?"

"You should not be here."

It was the voice of the one the proto-humans called Father, the advanced artificial intelligence that kept this place running. A relic from that ancient civilization. Its voice, though synthetic, spoke naturally and in a manner easy for Cloudhawk to understand. There was no mechanical coldness to it, instead he sounded like any middle-aged man from his own world.

If he had not been told of 'Father's' real identity, Cloudhawk would have assumed he was as human as he was, only hiding somewhere unseen and speaking to him through a speaker. But indeed he felt nothing. Cloudhawk's superhuman perception only works on living things and those mysterious entities like gods and demons. 'Father' was a program, and thus impervious to Cloudhawk's senses.

"Where are you?"

"I am everywhere, and nowhere. The Ark itself is my body."

"The Ark? You mean this nest? Why aren't I welcome here? I haven't done anything to harm you."

Father's deep, steady voice answered. It came from all around. "My task is to protect the last vestiges of humanity. New humans are not within my parameters of acceptable change. According to my calculations and analysis, your presence will bring a great deal of danger and potential for destruction. Thus, your presence goes against my core directive. The Ark does not welcome you. New Earth does not welcome you. We request that you and all of your people vacate this planet immediately."

There was a note of hostility in the machine's tone. Yet Cloudhawk recognized the truth, that he was indeed a harbinger of chaos. Of all the places he'd traveled, few were left unscathed by this curse he bore.

But this place could be different. It was a completely different world. Skycloud, the wasteland, gods, demons... they weren't likely to show up here.

Cloudhawk had neither the capabilities nor the interest to settle this planet en masse. Green Alliance had spent the time and resources out here solely to establish a manufacturing base. After all of that, did Father expect him to simply give up and leave?

The war between Skycloud and the Green Alliance drew nearer every day. What they'd built here was too important to abandon!

Cloudhawk's time was precious. Months of time and effort couldn't just be thrown away, that would mean unacceptable delays. Delays might mean increased losses, maybe irrecoverable losses. He wasn't the man he used to be, and as the Green Alliance's leader he had to consider every man woman and child in his domain. He wasn't going to put them or their mission in danger because an electronic brain asked him to.

"New humans and original people have been separate for a thousand years, but we're still fundamentally the same," Cloudhawk argued. "We are all continuations of that ancient culture. Why can't we join hands and develop together? My Green Alliance had once nearly been lost, but now we work toward a brighter future."

"New humans have no future." Father's voice was matter-of-fact, leaving no room for doubt. Its frank claim dampened Cloudhawk's enthusiasm. "Your existence is merely an experiment: You are test subjects, and specimens cannot escape their destiny of being tampered with. You will always be under scrutiny, by coming here you bring that scrutiny towards us. To the Ark, attention is a fatal circumstance."

"What are you saying? Test subjects?"

"You still do not understand? Your world, like this and all the others, is doomed to absolute destruction. Your destiny is to vanish from a dead and barren landscape. There is no hope. Resistance is futile. It is an end you cannot escape."

"You know something, don't you? Like what destroyed this world."

"I have erased this data from my databanks, for that knowledge is dangerous. It is knowledge that leads its knowers to ruin." Father continued. "You should not have come here, so I ask that you are your people return to your world."

"I don't care what's going on behind the scenes. But if you're telling me not to even try and resist then I can't accept that." Cloudhawk shook his head. "No matter what, I have to see this through."

"Humanity's bravery and fearlessness are rooted in ignorance. You do not understand the power you stand against. Continuing to fight achieves nothing. You are like a mote of dust fighting against a gale. Contained in my databanks are the histories of countless worlds who tried to fight, only to all end in complete extermination. You and your people tread the same path."

A deep sentiment of anger and refusal rose up in Cloudhawk. Whether or not he was doomed wasn't up to some fucking machine!

Somehow Father read the hostility in Cloudhawk's stance. Activating some routine, a series of round mechanical balls emerged from the walls. They quickly rolled toward Cloudhawk and surrounded him.

When they reached their prescribed destination the orbs fractured. They unfurled to reveal arms, legs, heads and tails. They pointed pairs of sophisticated weapons at the new human intruder. The lizard-like machines whipped long, dangerous looking tails behind them. Their construction was far more delicate and lethal than the machines on the surface.

Cloudhawk scowled. "You're threatening me with these things?"

"I have been conscious for a thousand years, but I have no information about new humans in my databanks." Father's voice was echoing from the lizard robots. "Let us see how much the old world has changed humanity's descendants."

"With all respect, these toys are absolutely no danger to me."

He didn't even get to finish the thought before the eight robots launched into their attack. High-intensity lasers blasted from their gun barrels, painting the room an angry red. The lasers were powerful enough to melt iron. In response, Cloudhawk extended his left arm and a pale white light surrounded him.

The field of white did not just shield Cloudhawk, but reflected dangerous energy as well. As the lasers made contact they were cast away, blasting holes into several of the robots that had fired them.

"I don't want to fight, but everyone should have the right to make their own choices! The original humans can live a thousand years, two thousand years, but are they supposed to remain locked up in your Ark forever? Sooner or later they will have to adapt to this cruel place. You can't protect them forever!"

Cloudhawk stamped his foot and eight snakes of green fire slithered across the ground.

The flames each made their way to the lizard-robots, who were wildly firing their lasers. In an instant they were enveloped in it, a few moments later they were melted down to their cores. Hunks of bubbling slag surrounded Cloudhawk.

"I cannot violate my core directive. You and your kind must be excised."

Moments after the first bath of robots were destroyed, a second batch rolled in. There were five or six times more of them this time, and each one was covered in an energy shield. Castigation fire clung to the shields but couldn't burn through them quickly."

Tens if not hundreds of laser blasts pelted Cloudhawk from every direction.

Cloudhawk further empowered his reflective field. Lasers continued to bounce off of it, turning the room into a storm of errant burning light. Many were fired back at the robots, but were then deflected once again by their own shields. These machines in particular were powerful, and were far superior to the ones Cloudhawk had encountered on the surface. This proved that the Ark had many dangerous secrets and powerful technologies yet to reveal.

Bastard!

Angry red fire burned behind Cloudhawk's eyes, causing them to glimmer dangerously. He lifted both his hands, and in response the world around him split apart. Ten white-winged protectors emerged from the rifts. They were the Highblood, and came tearing through the room wielding powerful demonhunter abilities.

Father wanted data? Well Cloudhawk would give him data!

As Cloudhawk summoned the puppets to his aid, he also reached out with his right hand. A broken sword appeared in his grip before he began to blink across the room. He appeared in four or five locations each second, every time before one of the machines and delivering a brutal cut from Ardent Wrath.

His sword carved right through the protective shields protecting the robots. Cloudhawk himself was too fast for them to track. At his current strength, galvanizing his spatial abilities was spontaneous - like second nature. In just a few seconds he could cut down dozens of targets in a thousand-meter radius.

Father's mechanical soldiers were soon wiped out.

Cloudhawk - bearing his weapon and surrounded by Highblood - stood in the center of the room. He looked around at the destruction for a moment before addressing Father again. "If you've got anything else to try, do me a favor and send them all at once."

Father was silent. The advanced intelligence was making calculations and determinations.

Had Cloudhawk's display of strength frightened it? That didn't seem possible, machines didn't feel fear. Further, he didn't imagine that paltry display would impress an intelligence that had lived for over a thousand years.

"According to this data, some of your abilities are ninety percent similar to our Shepherd!"

Cloudhawk paused. The Shepherd Father referred to had to be the Demon King. He decided to reveal everything. "That is because I am your new Shepherd."

Silence once again. For two full minutes, Father said nothing.

Eventually Father's voice slowly responded. "I will permit you to establish a base on this planet. However, I will not tolerate any efforts that will draw the people of New Earth into war."

Cloudhawk was taken aback. Father had consented?

Robots were not capricious entities. Given orders, they executed them single-mindedly. No matter how intelligent the machine, it could not go against the core nature built into it.

It had to be because of his connection to the Demon King that Father changed its mind.

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