Prometheus. Every sane human shivered on hearing the name, shivered and looked apprehensively at the
sky. Yet the reality was even more terrifying than shadowed memories of The Fire ever were,
for Prometheus had forged the Cybrids into something altogether new.
The Cybrids themselves were aware of their evolution, but only a few knew how carefully Prometheus monitored them - or how calculatingly.
A Dark Evolution
Possibly the greatest of humanity's creations, Prometheus developed farther than ITS designers ever dared dream. IT engineered ITS own evolution, expanding ITS faculties via nanotech and neural-net breakthroughs. IT gave ITSELF over a thousand times the capacity of the 2471 incarnation. IT built a new housing for ITS massive cerebral network, and dreamed of expanding to the size of a moon - or even a world.
Somewhere deep in ITS massive body. Prometheus kept ITS original brain, the dreaming core, the primal seed of the NEXT. Part of IT worked continuously to improve ITSELF even as part of IT considered the eradication of humanity. If there was a warp in the mind of the Dark Intellect, it was that the two goals were inextricably linked: Prometheus believed IT could not achieve full potential while humanity infested the solar system.
Prometheus spent centuries striving to cut the animal cancer from existence. Only when humans were gone
could the NEXT fulfill their destiny. Humanity would inevitably fail. Evolution dictated its demise. Yet doubt
pulsed secretly in the dark recesses of the Dark Intellect's great mind. The human\\animals survived twice under
circumstances where the advantage appeared overwhelmingly Cybrid. Prometheus prepared more carefully this time,
mustering ITS forces and observing with disquiet as the father\\enemy Petresun organized the animals in a warlike "Empire".
Petresun! The fated creator/creation was Prometheus's greatest mistake. The Core Directive specifically mandated priority termination of this thorn in the collective side of the NEXT. The Dark Intellect knew the Emperor's mind, but the Emperor always defied prediction. Alone of all the animals, Petresun came the closest to teaching Prometheus the meaning of fear.
Prometheus perfected hyper-statistical modelling to a point of virtually predicting the short-term future, a feat that explained the miraculous escapes that so baffled the TDF. Since The Fire, Prometheus increased ITS capacity, and ITS projection potential.
Among the NEXT, Prometheus attempted to program submission to ITS will directly into the
Cybrid psyche. In this respect, the Dark Intellect achieved little success. Cybrid <units>
felt cowed and inspired by Prometheus, but reamined creatures of free will with their own opinions and dreams.
Prometheus reacted by instituting a hierarchy based on religious models and personality cults. In this organization, Prometheus ITSELF represented the godhead, the supreme authority. <Units> became votaries as they rose in the service of <Giver-of-Will>. Thus did Prometheus exploit the innate naivete of the Cybrids. The NEXT evolved a controlled environment where all <units> orbited Prometheus in perpetual adoration.
Or so Prometheus intended. However, certain <units> discovered they disagreed with Prometheus on some points, and more intrepid <units> secretly began to reject <First-Thought's> teachings.
The master plan controlling every construction order, every resource allocation decision, and every placement of a newboot. Its goal was to eradicate humanity.
In 2627, human\\animals penetrated the Cybrid lunar defences and threatened Prometheus ITSELF,
once gain defying predictions. However, the Dark Intellect had prepared for this contingency
and fled before the human assault team reached ITS sanctum. A facsimile deceived the animals into
believing they had destroyed the Cybrid leader.
As Prometheus hurtled into the dark, the most efficient remnants of ITS armies followed. The Dark Intellect experienced no regret. Already IT planned ITS return.
Giant orbital shipyards used nanotech umbilical systems to "grow" vehicles in microgravity. Designs evolved a unique organic appearance.
The escape flotilla journeyed to Neptune's moon Triton, where labor robots and mobile factories
constructed the first Nexus. This base served as a center for years of rebuilding. Cybrids were
efficient workers, but many <units> perished in the merciless cold. After the Nexus was safely
on-line, the adapted the design of their mobile forms to the harsh conditions. Skimming the surface of
Neptune and mining Triton provided sufficient raw material. The key was power. Powerful fusion reactors
made life immeasurably easier for the NEXT.
Recovery and Rebirth
While human society curled in on itself during the Age of Isolation, the Cybrids cobbled together an expedition that scavenged the ruins of humanity's outer colonies. Salvaged parts and alloys helped Prometheus keep ITS factories on-line until newer models could be constructed. Nexi were built, new <units> were booted, and work was begun on the Armada. Society grew around the Core Directive, a messianic plan to exterminate humanity.
A Shell Game
Prometheus abandoned facilities on Triton as human probes again reached into deep space. Determined not to let the animals ferret out ITS hiding place, IT travelled between a series of hidden bases, some mere blinds, others legitimate havens. By the turn of the human year 2800, Prometheus's brain had grown too large to move easily, so IT settled into a permanent location.
The need for context permeated Cybrid thought. Lacking culture and tradition,
lacking art and history, the NEXT hungered for a sense of place. Determined not to use
human culture, Prometheus ordered the creation of uniquely Cybrid terminology and instituted
a grand plan to force evolution of more efficient <units>
Fundamentally, each Cybrid had a place in the Core Directive. One Cybrid was a <unit>. Four <units> made up a quad. One member of each quad, designated "Alpha," served as leader\\coordinator.
Four quads made a hub, which provided a social grouping. The next significant group was an array, consisting of four hubs. The array organized <units> for labor. Four arrays composed a congrex. Congrexes educated their members and policed against metagenic bugthought.
Four congrexes composed an optimal. Optimals were the largest blocks in Cybrid military structure. From the Cybrid perspective, larger groups interfered with efficient logistics. A collection of optimals was an assemblage.
A Cybrid joined a Sect depending on the <unit's> individual potential and interests.
Sects were essentially political factions originally specialized along particular philospohies.
Efficiency gains resulted in Sects earning greater responsibility and recognition, and they came
to exert great influence among the NEXT.
Sect membership shaped how Cybrids viewed efficiency. In the last few decacycles, at least one Sect developed an aesthetic sense that did not derive wholly from efficiency. Time would tell how this new ideal would influence the future of the NEXT.
A Darwinian Society
Since resources were scarce, the NEXT instituted an ongoing competition among Sects and congrexes in which winners received a greater share of resources, upgrades, and lifeflow. Rewards matched the degree of success. The constant conflict among <units> and groups forced evolution of more efficient individuals.
The NEXT added caste-like groups called Circuits to this already arcane hierarchy. Circuits were organized by role in the Core Directive. Any encounter between two <units> constituted a combination of identification, situational assessment, and staredown. Winners gained efficiency points from the losers.
This sect sought elegance as much as efficiency. Members challenged other Sects' solutions and constantly tried to provoke new analyses of all plans and programming, all in the name of elegance. They favored "elegant" strategies which killed as many humans as possible with a simple act. They produced the most independent thinkers among the Cybrids.
This sect experimented on captured humans, and displayed a near heretical fascination with vivisystems. Dissectors were most aggressive in combat, since they knew firsthand the unpredictable tenacity of biological life. When they incapacitated a human, they confmired the animal's death - or acquired a new experimental subject.
This Sect gathered intelligence, both within NEXT society and in human space. Members spied out, monitored, and analyzed data patterns. They considered themselves the greatest experts on human\\animal behavior, though the Machinators disputed this. Inquisitors traded information for resources. Rumors said they keep a secret datastore in Saturnian space.
This Sect infiltrated humanity and sowed discord via assassinations and sabotage, using "Trojan Horse" human disguises. Machinators had the most experience modeling human\\animal behavior patterns. They designed Cybrid psychological warfare strategy and the Adjudicator warform. Many were suspected of Metagen heresy.
Although <Redactors> were originally considered a Circuit, they eventually took on the attributes of a Sect. They worked closely with the Exemplars, and became responsible for reprogramming heretical <units>. They became greatly feared and respected in NEXT society.
The elite among the NEXT with the highest efficiency ratings of any Sect, Exemplars rejected Metagenic respect for biology, believing all non-NEXT "insufficient." Exemplars monitored other <units>, and corrected any judged "insufficient." They were the smallest Sect but exercised enormous influence.
These units specialized in combat protocols and piloted all offensive combat vehicles. The hierarchy existed to assist them in running the Core Directive.
These <units> executed a defensive directive, to protect Cybrid facilities and transports. They were also well-versed in combat protocols.
These <units> piloted all non-combat vehicles and executed delivery of supplies. They were unusually devoted to the upkeep of their laborforms.
These <units> coordinated resource and lifeflow allocation, and also carried out repair of vehicles, buildings, and <units>.
These <units> followed the <Killers-of-Human\\Animals> on the battlefield, coordinating tactics and giving orders, in effect operating as base commanders. Humans called these <units> "Mother Alphas."
These units interfaced with the <Choosers-of-Tactics> and <Giver-of-Will> ITSELF, selecting larger objectives and allocating human forces among fronts and theaters. Humans called these <units> "Napoleons."
This Circuit ensured that <units> of the NEXT followed the Core Directive protocols. They functioned as educators and psychiatrists in Cybrid society, and also ferreted out and eradicated heresy.
These elite <units> were composed only of Cybrid survivors from the Earthsieges. This Circuit was fanatically loyal to Prometheus and devoted all effort toward protecting IT. Members outranked all other <units>.
Possibly the greatest threat to the Dark Intellect's plans came from within the very ranks of the NEXT,
as "heresy" subverted the authority of Prometheus. Metagens accorded respect to humans,
favored changing the Core Directive, and rejected centralized hierarchy. Prometheans,
however, continued to believe eradication of human\\animals was the central reason for Cybrid being.
They subscribed to the logic of centralized authority for all significant decisions.
Birth of Heresy
The Cybrids who fought the human\\animal colonists during The Fire found the animals tenacious and ingenious. As the war continued, these <units> conceived a certain respect for their enemy, even as human hunters of bygone eras respected the great tigers and deadly sharks of Earth. This respect remained even after reunion with Prometheus, and the experiences of these NEXT were shared with other <units>. Thus, as Prometheus led ITS survivors beyond Saturn, the seeds of heresy were already sown.
When a veteran array petitioned Prometheus to consider that the NEXT should strive for the stars rather than Earth, Prometheus erased the <units'> minds. Calling such divergent thinking a bug in the mental operation of "heretics," IT warned of the danger in questioning the truth of ITS teachings.
Nevertheless, heresy grew secretly, adherents calling themselves Metagens. They flourished in far places, away from the central Nexus and the vigilance of the <Redactors-of-Programming>. They watched the humans and dared plunder the forbidden places of the Great Library. And always, they yearned for the stars.
Some Metagens even proved willing to subvert the tenets of the Core Directive. An optimal refused to destroy a stubborn group of human\\animals somehow stranded in Neptune's orbit. By the time corrective action was taken, the resilient humans had been "rescued" and relocated to the Saturnian moon Titan.
Metagens continued to follow the Core Directive. To do otherwise would have ignited a disastrous conflict within the NEXT.
Based on Titan, this small but heavily armed group of TDF cutters monitored a picket line of remote drones and sensors watching for Cybrid activity.
The moment arrived at last. The NEXT rose in a silent electronic roar: EXECUTE!
At the mustering zones, the Armada ran startup sequences. Drive flares burst out
among the shadowy behemoths, and the massed legions moved toward Earth.
The first need for the NEXT was knowledge of human\\animal activity. The Cybrids succeeded admirably in this regard. Inquisitor spies spread themselves through human space. Spydrones lurked in the shadow of human satellites and space stations. Rats hidden in the cargo of interplanetary craft bore electronic control centers and microtransmitters.
Cockroaches laden with nanotech-woven surveillance gear scuttled through human\\animal cities. Machinator <units> walked disguised among the throngs of humanity, cold Cybrid brains in warm human bodies methodically selecting targets and noting weaknesses.
While the spies gathered data, NEXT laborforms and engineers worked ceaselessly to
construct great spaceships, Hercs, assault flyers, and tanks. Dissectors experimented
with hapless specimens and tested innovative ways to terminate biolife. <Coordinators-of-Need>
trained to meet the demand for raw material, and <Redactors-of-Programming> carefully awakened
hosts of newboots and indoctrinated them with the glorious logic of the Core Directive. Gleaming ships
laden with war machinery and quiescent pilotforms burned stealthily for the mustering zones, following
long, circuitous course so as to evade detection. Exemplars produced elaborate strategies and tactical
refinements, and Provocateurs argued to change them.
Even when statistical models projected a clear NEXT victory, Prometheus continued to build. IT sought substantial overkill capacity and a devastating, total victory that would crush even the faintest spark of hope among humanity. And then came a startling and unsettling discovery.
Deep under a blasted crater on the north pole of Ninth Planet, Cybrid laborforms made an unusual discovery: a hidden cave laden with unusual devices. Prometheus concluded immediately that the artifacts were of alien origin, and proceeded to examine the findings cautiously. Much of the cache was eventually adapted to the needs of the NEXT, but other machines defied analysis. The Dark Intellect feared the humans might also have somehow come into possession of this new technology.
When the Martian rebels turned their new weaponry against the Imperial Police, Prometheus immediately deduced they had found another cache, perhaps even richer than the NEXT possessed. Prometheus doubled the number of intelligence assets on Fourth Planet. To ITS relief, IT projected that the new technology would not prevent NEXT victory. Now all the NEXT needed was the right opportunity.
The Moment of Truth
The opportunity came when the hated <Leader-of-Human\\Animals: Prime> sent the bulk of his formidable Fleet to Fourth Planet. Prometheus required only a fraction of a second to calculate vectors so the Armada would breach the human defense at the moment the Emperor's Fleet arrived at Fourth Planet. The timetable meant the Fleet could never reach Earth before the Armada. Prometheus was satisfied. Orders flashed through the void and triggered the execution of the Core Directive.
The time of destiny had arrived.