“Commence start-up of Project CIPHER.”
“Baseline functions are running, subject seems in stable condition.”
“Processing speed is at optimal levels.”
“Data has been fully backed-up to the cloud.”
“Internal wiring and hardware have all been reworked. We don’t want another failed result like that one…”
She was born from polished steel, wires and pure electricity. An artificial creation made to delve into the very core of circuits, seeking out anomalies and blockages in the flow, to swim freely in the currents of electricity. Her body was mapped with the very things she was meant to traverse, the neon patterns glowing luminescent against the burnished steel of her skin.
What was mechanical and non-living was her wellspring of life. The crackling, raw power that surged through every machine and gadget was her lifeforce, the twisting metal wires and internal circuitry her refuge. She was one with the machines, the currents of energy an open source of power she could tap on whenever she wished.
Every machine had its purpose. Whether it was programmed or simply designed to run that way, it had a specific purpose in mind, a duty to perform. When such an item failed to function properly and the problem could not be seen externally, she was sent to delve into the object’s inner workings, to seek out the malfunctioning area and repair what the naked eye could not see. The electric currents were her lifeline, her guide to her intended goal, they had always shown her the way forward.
Occasionally, she encountered another like herself. Sleek, marked with the same symbols as she, but where her wings gleamed from the wires and implants within, his were a dull pink in comparison. Unlike her, he seemed to be having difficulty moving through the currents, and even the light on his circuitry would flicker out every now and then. Caught in the tides, struggling to claw his way through to the common goal they shared, this time he reached out to her uselessly, begging her to take him with her.
“Please, you have to help me find my way, I need to be able to fix it, or they’ll delete me!”
And there she found it, the source of the problem: the data had been corrupted. Her markings pulsed as she concentrated, peering further, deeper, into the very 1s and 0s of the coding itself. The virus continued to elude her, CIPHER forged her way through the clusters of meaningless numbers and through the firewalls, through the blocks of corrupted code floating through the sea of binary digits. From a fair distance behind her, her temporary companion gave an exuberant cry, still fighting to reach her side through the currents of power.
“You found it! Please, I need to...I need to try and fix it, or they’ll erase me!”
The plea was lost on her deaf ears, the fresh surge of electricity had given CIPHER all she needed to break through the barriers and crack the shell of the virus that had lodged itself within the machine’s core. In her claws, it crumbled to pieces and shattered into meaningless bits of code, the pieces fitting back together to remake what was once whole. Behind her, a despairing shriek resounded, though it began to fade within seconds. Thoroughly bewildered by the dragon’s frantic behavior, she followed the noise back to the real world, back to the facility she had been created in, only to find the same dragon trapped, his image on the screen flickering wildly.
“Useless. Subject CODE was a failure. Rename the program file to ERRORexe, and delete it.”
From the screen, another horrified wail as the writhing dragon within cried out for mercy. Her creators merely shook their heads in disgust, one of them typing something in: editing the file name, she guessed. Onscreen, the dragon’s image glitched out, appearing in odd flashes of color, his speech cutting off every few seconds.
His eyes locked onto hers for a split second, and in that instant she saw a snapshot image: rows upon rows of folders. One of them had her name on it. Was that her file?
The image only lasted a second or two, but it had burned its way into her mind’s eye. A blink, and she was back in reality, with ERROR’s eyes burning into her even as she struggled to put the pieces together.
“FaiL...or gRoW oLD…rEpLaCe yOU...fILe DeLeTeD…”
Another vivid snapshot was related to her, this time she saw an entire section of profiles, displaying dragons she had never even met or heard of. Her file was not present, and it took her a moment to read the name of the ‘folder’ they were on.
And then she understood.
She was not the first of her kind. She had been one result out of many, the millionth or so creation they had put together. Those dragons she had seen were her digital ancestors, her predecessors, all of whom had been deleted after they had outlived their usefulness and either grown too outdated or been corrupted somehow. Eventually, she too would join their ranks, and her existence would be no more than a mere mark on the spreadsheets, another digit added to the count. How many of them had struggled to keep up, to meet the demands of their shared creators? How many had been erased from memory, had their existences deleted with a single click?
Eventually... inevitably...she would share their fate, wouldn't she?
I won't let that be your fate, either.
For years she had blindly obeyed her makers’ commands, had done all they had wished of her. If they were simply going to tire of her and remove her once she was deemed too outdated to be of use...then for once, she would strike back.
With a flash, CIPHER plunged herself into the main database's memory bank, streaking through the electric currents and whizzing past mountains of data. They could not stop her here, not when she already knew the twists and turns of the internal programming and the software, having been sent in to root out and crush any technological error that occurred within it countless times. The logic gates, the firewalls, she bypassed them all in a blink, her target was none other than his file.
The cursor was hovering over the NO button when CIPHER reached him. Blindly, she grasped hold of his foreleg, felt a sudden, tremendous surge of electricity bolt through her body as the system struggled to recover from her attack. The circuits on her skin flared once, so bright that it would blind any who dared look, if they were going to delete him, then the solution would be to change what he was, turn him into something that had the ability to roam freely outside of their makers’ control. She would not allow another one of her kindred to be deleted and abandoned, not when she had the power to stop it, not when he had been the one to open her eyes to her fate if she stayed here.
Sparks flew from the monitor as her power rewrote his internal coding and revamped his software completely, altering his form into something new and alive like herself. ERROR.exe gave a jubilant roar as the process was completed, the glitches vanishing and reassembling his body into a perfect whole once more. The same electricity that thrummed through her veins was in his now, they shared the same source software and the same newly improved programming that enabled her to think for herself, to make her own calls when it came to problem-solving.
They took off like twin bolts of lightning, diving through the conduits and wiring. From the main system, they fled from device to device, if there was a single link to something they could escape into, they went for it. There was no way to catch them, for their physical bodies were one with the electrical energy that powered everything they owned, and shutting things down now would mean losing precious unsaved data. Like wild, untamed sparks they flashed through every hard drive, every electronic system in the laboratory, searching for an escape route. Of course, their makers were quick to begin pinpointing their locations and send disabling probes their way, and they'd bounced between just about everything there was to find, from the security cameras to even the microwave.
Is there even a way out?
In response, as if reading her thoughts, ERROR.exe sent her another image file, which showed a portal device in the lab. An experimental machine, he explained, they had been trying to reach out to other worlds beyond this realm. It hadn't been tested yet, but it was reported to be in stable condition. Everything else was on lockdown, it was a race against time, and they had no other choice. Without a second thought, they threw themselves into the portal's inner workings and activated it from the inside.
It was a tremendous risk, but it was either that or stay and be erased from existence.
If I'm going to leap into this, I'd rather have you by my side.
They were spat out from the portal right into the icy fields of Sornieth, in the Icewarden's territory. Bruised and battered from the journey, but otherwise, they were very much alive. After living her entire life in a scientific laboratory, surrounded by machines, blinking lights, and the cold, sterile environment, the rawness of nature stunned her. With nowhere else to go, and nobody they knew in this world, there was naught they could do but take the first steps to establishing a life here on this realm, together.