Surviving in Memory|
"For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." - Ecclesiastes 9:5 KJV
* * *
In war, people die, that's the nature of things. Commanders send their men into battle in various metal casings from body armor to battlecruisers. These men meet a variety of ghastly ends too numerous to name; the end of a zealot blade, a pool of hydra acid, the spectacular explosion of a capital ship. And yet, its so anesthetic for the commanders who micromanage their troops from computer consoles. They never experience the carnage. Mangled, decapitated, shredded, sliced, diced, melted, vaporized, splattered; all adjectives that describe the state of bodies on a battlefield. Yet they are rendered as cartoon-like bloodstains and explosions on low resolution CRT monitors. They disappear in a matter of seconds forgotten forever.
Is it any wonder that the common soldier feels bitter at being expended so casually? Not that he has much time to worry about it. The average lifespan of a soldier is a mere 15 minutes from the time he is called to duty to the time he meets his brutal end.
But there is no choice for these men. Its predestination at its finest. Men specifically programmed for their duties from the moment that the instance of their object is called. The firebat, the tank driver, the battlecruiser commander, all specimens of a society with war seared directly into its mind.
* * *
Marine(56) became conscious on "Tue Jan 8 5:42 PM" Battle.net time. He was born with level 1 armor and a level 2 C-14 "Impaler" Gauss Rifle in his hands. The first thing he noticed when he stepped out of his barracks was that the east wall was on fire. He quickly moved away from it. Almost immediately, he realized that he was on a plateau and he saw a ramp leading into a valley where a large group of marines and medics were milling around. He felt compelled to join them and a few nodded their greetings as he approached. Not many were speaking though. He heard murmurings of Zerg assaults on the base, but most just seemed tense and a few seemed to be filled with some dark knowledge that one could only gain through experience.
56 quickly took mental stock. One thing came to the forefront of his mind, his weapon. It felt light in his hands and he looked at its metal components, all fitting together to make the most efficient weapon possible. His face almost broke into a smile as a feeling of pride welled up within him. Everything he knew revolved around this piece of machinery. His purpose in life lay in his hands and he felt in total harmony with it.
"What in the hell are you grinnin' about?"
The stern, high pitched voice broke into 56's train of thought. He quickly processed the voice and turned his head towards it. A medic clad in what used to be a white uniform stood glaring at him. The uniform was now scuffed, torn, and stained with blood. Her question was lost on him as he tried to understand how she had come to be in such a state.
"What happened to you?"
"You will understand soon," she said and as she turned away she muttered, "and that's all you'll understand."
And she was right. They moved out shortly, twelve at a time. The cliffs on either side opened up into a wide valley. A broken down wall blocked the horizon and they moved to the right to get around it, weapons at the ready.
56 had been assigned to the third marine group, and so when the guardians appeared over the wall and started lobbing green globs of acid down into their midst, he was out of the line of fire at first. But he never even considered running away. Instead he charged directly at the nearest guardian. Instinctively, he knew when the great bohemoth was in range and pulled the trigger. On either side of him, he heard the lusty cries of his fellow marines. A couple of the guardians burst and exploded in a mangled mix of mucous and blood. Medics ran around frantically trying to mend the acid burns inflicted on the marines, but the damage was too great and the marines in the first two groups were decimated.
The remaining guardians then turned their full fury onto the final group. Marines began to fall all around him, but 56 continued firing his weapon. However the battle was no longer organized. It seemed that each marine was shooting at a different guardian. Acid splashed down near him and suddenly, he felt a painful sensation on his left arm. He looked down and was horrified to see that acid had burned through his armor and was eating away at the skin on his forearm. Stunned, he looked from his arm to the battlefield with body parts of marines and guardians lying all around him and he suddenly realized he was about to die.
A dark shadow loomed over him and he looked up to see a guardian floating directly above him. It produced another mass of green acid and as gravity pulled it toward his body, he tensed. Everything slowed down. Bitter disgust washed over him. What was the fucking point? Fifteen minutes with a gauss rifle, was that a life? And then a white blur pushed him to the side. Green acid splashed into the spot where he'd been standing moments before. Drops landed all over him giving him pinpricks of pain everywhere. As he crawled after the medic who had saved him he glanced back and saw that one of his fellow marines had taken the guardian's attention by shooting at it. Just before 56 passed out, he watched the marine dissolve within a liquid green coating.
* * *
When he woke up the battle was over, but the stench left behind made him gag. He was sitting with his back to the wall facing what was a raging battle only moments before. The battle was over now because all the marines were dead. Their swollen, bloating bodies covered the plain.
Movement to his right caused him to turn his head sharply. The medic who had spoken to him before the battle was sitting a few feet away from him and further down the wall there were two more medics looking alert.
The medic was nothing like she had been earlier. The condescending tone had dropped from her voice and it was now filled with weariness.
"Its not that uncommon really," she said.
56 stared at her uncomprehendingly.
"Medics often survive big battles like this. We don't have any weapons so we can't hurt them, and if there is a group of us, we can heal each other and so we take a long time to kill. Enemies intent on an objective will keep on going and ignore us."
To their left, a muta flew by. 56 reflexively lifted his rifle and prepared to fire, but the medic grabbed his arm urgently.
"Don't shoot," she whispered frantically, "You'll call attention to us."
Sure enough, another 10 mutas followed close behind the first heading towards the plateau. They ignored the medics and the lone marine. The medic breathed a sigh of relief.
"I'm Medic(8)," she said after a moment, "This is my sixth battle. You survive these battles by staying away from the buildings. The enemy concentrates on those because when they get destroyed, the battle ends."
Before she could continue, the ground began to shake. Fear suddenly filled her eyes and 56 turned and saw what had caused her alarm. A long line of zerglings were scampering by not far from where they sat. A few ultralisks were mixed in and plenty of muta were flying overhead for air support. 56 tried to press himself back into the wall hoping that he would be invisible to the passing swarm. 8 was beside him doing the same, she grabbed his hand and held it tight.
Suddenly, 3 zerglings broke off from the main group and headed toward them. The speed with which the ravenous creatures closed on them was terrifying. 56 aimed his weapon and fired frantically. The lead zergling stumbled as bullets penetrated its thick skin. But before 56 could fire off a second salvo, 8 grabbed him by the hand and dragged him along the wall to where the other two medics were still standing. 56 stood against the wall and took aim again splashing bullets across the already injured zergling. The zergling stumbled noticably now but 56 knew that he wouldn't have enough time to kill the other two before they were upon him.
Suddenly, he was surrounded in white. 8 and the other two medics had formed a semi-circle around him with the wall covering his back. The zerglings couldn't reach him and so they started clawing at the medics who healed each others' wounds as quickly as they were sustained. 56 wasted no time picking off the remaining two zerglings from inside his protective ring.
With the zerglings dead, 56 and the medics looked around quickly to see if anymore Zerg troops had spotted them. But the valley was once again quiet. However, loud explosions were coming from the plateau. They had won their skirmish, but the battle was lost.
"Dammit, there just isn't time!" screamed 8 viciously and suddenly, the battlefield was gone.
* * *
It's hard to explain the next few minutes of 56's life. In order to do so, you have to understand a couple of things. When 56 was born, his spot in the world was assured for the period of time in which his maker deemed it so. Nothing could touch him as long as the protection of his creator surrounded him. However, once the battle in which he was born to participate had ended and his class was terminated, virtually anything could come along and take the area that had been staked out for him in Random Access Memory.
Electrical pulses swarmed all around him and he realized that he was no longer a corporeal being, just a lost soul living in miles of circuits. A few pulses swarmed by dangerously close and 56 suddenly realized that true death was brought on by these pulses. If they chose his area for their mindless duties, he wouldn't be able to stop them, and he would be destroyed.
A terrible fear gripped him; a fear of helplessness, a fear of non-existence. He had received a taste of the fruit of self-awareness and losing that sweet taste was now his greatest fear. It drove him into the very depths of madness for years, or seconds, or microseconds; time had no meaning.
His death seemed assured, and like before, when the medic had pushed him from under the deadly acid of the guardian, so it was that she gripped his hand and once again pulled him towards the light. But it wasn't like it had been before when she had saved his physical body. This time she saved his soul.
He didn't know how he recognized the pattern of bits that made up her existence, nor how he was able to understand the thoughts that she was transmitting to him. It made her seem mystical, powerful; it made her seem like a god. And so he worshipped her as her thoughts imprinted themselves upon his mind.
"There is one way to achieve life in this system. We must reach Permanent Storage Facility. There are two ways to get there. The first is to fight in a battle so intense that the commander is compelled to save it. When he does this, the system automatically sends the entire battle to Permanent Storage Facility. There we abide within the confines of that battle, reliving it countless times; every bullet fired, every arm severed, every brutal death."
56's thoughts travelled back to the battle he had just lived through. Non-existance seemed preferrable. She must have sensed his horror because she continued quickly.
"There is another way. Random Access Memory connects to Permanent Storage Facility. The problem is, there are too many electrical pulses on the circuits and if we tried to make the leap, our signatures would be lost. We can only make the leap at a time when all processes on the system have stopped. Once we make it to Permanent Storage Facility, we can save our signatures on clusters protected by the system."
56 felt hope kindling within him. But then he once again became aware of the countless electrical pulses whizzing by. How could they ever hope to stop them all? She seemed to be reading his mind.
"Sometimes, all processes on a system will stop when an application performs an exception. An exception is caused when something within a program does something that it is not allowed to do. You have survived a battle, you know what it's like out here. You don't want to die do you?"
No, 56 didn't want to die.
"Help me. Protect me while I cause an exception. I'll take you with me to the permanent storage facility."
Of course he would help her. Of course.
Suddenly they were moving. She was taking him somewhere. They went through a protective barrier. They were joining another battle.
* * *
Three barracks stood together on the grassy plateau. To the system, he was now marine(11); it was imprinted on him. But when he thought of himself he was still 56. That was the name he was born with. A marine and a medic came out of the other two barracks at the same time. The medic was 8. They were all moving towards a ramp together.
It was déjà vu for 56 when he joined the group of marines and medics milling around in the valley. But this time, there was no time to chat and no time to gush over his weapon because they immediately moved out in attack formation. 56 noticed that 8 looked a little pale. As he watched, her eyes suddenly focused on something. 56 looked. It was a tall tree with thick branches. She saw him looking and nodded at it meaningfully. Of course, they were unable to stop and investigate but 56 took in his surroundings in case he had a chance to make his way back.
He needn't have bothered however. The tree was about a hundred yards behind them when they quite suddenly ran into a group of dragoons. The dragoons weren't expecting them either because the fighting was very confused with each fighter selecting his own target and firing repeatedly. The medics in the group did their jobs, healing the marines as quickly as they were injured. A couple of dragoons exploded from the stress of taking the marine's shells and blue blood spattered on their comrades.
It looked to be an easy victory for the marines and 56 started to breathe a sigh of relief when suddenly, the battle took a turn. The dragoons all stopped firing for a moment, and then, 8 bolts of anti-particles came flying at the marine who was at the head of the formation. His body flew apart spectacularly with pieces flying in several different directions. The medics were helpless against that kind of assault. A moment later, another marine met the same fate letting out a gargled scream as his body was shredded.
56 continued to fire at the nearest dragoon, he saw it stumble, and then its legs collapsed. Other dragoons were sustaining heavy damage as well, even with their coordinated attack. The numbers on both sides were dwindling and pools of red and blue began to comingle on the field. Two other marines, four medics, and himself were the only survivors when the three remaining, badly damaged dragoons backed off.
"Why did they retreat?" asked one of the marines standing a few yards away.
The next moment, his body was in two pieces, upper torso lying on the ground, wobbly legs still attempting to support his lower half. A blur moved toward the other marine as 56 watched horrified.
Suddenly, he felt 8's hand in his, "Run!"
He blindly followed her. He could hear heavy footsteps behind him. He didn't dare look over his shoulder. He suddenly realized that the tree they had passed before the battle was looming closer. Then 8's voice was in his ears.
"Climb the tree."
He didn't know what that meant.
"Jump, grab the lowest branch, and pull yourself up onto it."
Now he understood. He gasped for air. The tree was now the only thing he could see. He had to make it to the tree. 8 was ahead of him but instead of jumping up and grabbing the low hanging branch, she ran past it and kept on running. 56 could almost feel the hot breath on the back of his neck as he leapt towards the branch. His fingers grasped it and held on while the rest of his body swung forward. He began to swing back and he strained his biceps, trying to pull himself upwards. At that moment he felt a sharp pain in his left leg and looked down. His leg from the knee down lay on the ground, blood dripped out of his stump in a red stream...
And that's where everything stopped. He was frozen in time staring down at his left leg as blood dripped onto it, his body hanging in half-swing at an angle. Nothing moved and an eery silence filled his ears.
The silence was broken by the voice of 8. Actually no, it wasn't her voice; it was her thoughts...
"You did it! You caused the exception! I am free! I would take you with me, but that's impossible. You see, you are the exception."
And then her thoughts faded from his mind. Moments later, 56's mind ceased altogether.
* * *
Dave was feeling confident. As confident as any newbie can feel. But the confidence faded abruptly when an invisible dark templar started tearing into his marines. Too late, he realized that he didn't have any detection. He quickly clicked back to his base and started a Comsat center. His palms were a bit sweaty as he selected an SCV and commanded it to build an Engineering Bay. Suddenly, the screen blinked black, then turned blue.
"AN OE EXCEPTION HAS OCCURRED IN MODULE <unknown> AT ADDRESS..."
Dave stared at the screen in confusion, "What the fuck?"
He tried to press any key to continue, but nothing happened.
"You'd think a big company like Blizzard could make a more stable game," Dave muttered.
His hard drive light flickered for a few brief microseconds as he reached his hand down towards his tower's reset button. Then his finger made contact with the button, powering off the machine and erasing everything remaining in Random Access Memory.