One moment it was a sunny summer morning, the next the sun was blotted out by the giant ships infesting the sky. With one exception, the inhabitants of Earth did not care; that single intelligence received the fleet captain's demand for landing coordinates without emotion, because it was not capable of emotion.
A shuttle descended to the earth; from it emerged a band of alien soldiers, hard, grim, determined. Around them, as far as the eye could see, were cylinders, each festooned with cables and hoses, each containing a human being.
"Commander, "said one of the soldiers, "this planet has circled its sun only seven times since Warhok's last communication. Were there not trees? Grass?" He indicated the thousands of cylinders. "Are these criminals? This is not the world of Warhok's report."
Before the commander could reply, a machine rose up as if by magic from the armor-plated ground. A scarecrow of a robot, its head a monitor screen.
The aliens were not impressed; nanotech assemblers had long been a part of their technology.
On the screen was projected the simplest semblance of a face: two ovals for eyes and a line for a mouth. "I greet you in the name of my creator, Professor Dementor, ruler of Earth."
The commander imperiously stepped forward. "I am Warfayre of the Lorwardians. Warhok and Warmonga, two of our greatest warriors, died in battle here; we have come to avenge them. "
"The Lorwardians you name are referenced in original sequences seventy-one, eighty-six and eighty-seven. Their essential data has been recorded, so nothing of importance has been lost."
"What?" He fought back the desire to smash the machine with a blow. "I do not speak with lackeys; let Dementor himself come to me, if he speaks for this world. "
"Your request is not within operating parameters," said the machine. "Professor Dementor has been in Wachowski cylinder A1, sector 1 since the inception of the currently running program. Six years."
"In – in one of these? Why?"
"On the first day of my sentience the creator stated that I would fulfill all his dreams for him. Through me, he would conquer the earth. I have obeyed those commands. Through me he rules this planet. Now I maintain status quo."
Deathly silence closed in around the aliens. Not even the song of a bird. "Machine, do the terms "irony" and "figure of speech" mean anything to you?"
"I am aware of them as they relate to the data and events recorded in the original eighty-seven sequences. They are not a part of my operating parameters."
"Mm-hmm." Warfayre considered the situation, his expression inscrutable, and chose his next words carefully. "We received information from Warhok's ship before its destruction. Can you verify this data?"
"The request is within operating parameters."
The Lorwardian held up a small hologram projector; an image of a beautiful young woman appeared, redhaired, inexplicably wearing a graduation robe. "Kimberly Possible. Is this human still alive?"
There was a pause as the machine mind searched its memory. "Kimberly Possible is in Wachowski cylinder M35487, sector 45. She has been stored there for three point seven years."
A young man, blonde, a troubled look in his eyes. "Ronald Stoppable."
"Ronald Stoppable is in Wachowski cylinder M35488, sector 45. He has been stored there for three point seven years."
"They were captured together?"
"There was difficulty. They resisted the will of my creator. Much circuitry was destroyed. However, human beings are inherently weaker than machines. These weaknesses presented an advantage that inevitably resulted in their capture. The ruined circuitry was rebuilt. All things are according to the will of Professor Dementor, as realized in the eighty-seven original sequences. Now I maintain status quo."
"Can you – do you have recordings of that capture? Could we see them?"
"There is no injunction prohibiting their view." The face on the monitor screen vanished, replaced by two figures sprawled in the midst of the debris that had once been their civilization. The young woman wore some sort of cybernetic battlesuit. From the shadows and ruins behind them, machines approached.
Together they struggled to their feet, bruised and bloody. A forcefield bubble, weak, flickering, appeared around Kim; Ron assumed a hou quan battle position, but the blue aura of his ch'i was also failing. They had been hounded into exhaustion.
Robotic claws reached out into the field of view, extended toward them, armed with hypodermic needles. The camera drew ever nearer; their faces came into focus, despair in their weary eyes.
Warfayre watched the conclusion with disgust. Warriors were deserving of better. And they had been warriors, without doubt; Warhok and Warmonga would not have fallen otherwise. "Enough. I've seen enough."
The rudimentary face returned to the monitor. "As you wish, Warfayre of the Lorwardians."
Warfayre's projector presented another image, a couple: a dark-haired woman in a space suit, her skin a light green, and a blue-skinned man seemingly wearing a flower-like headdress. "Shego and Drakken."
"An unforeseen disaster in sector sixty-three destroyed them and twelve thousand two hundred thirty five other Wachowski cells. Their essential data is recorded in the eighty-seven original sequences, so nothing of importance was lost. Now I maintain status quo."
"Commander," said one of the Lorwardian soldiers, an unnatural dread in his voice, "this is a planet of ghosts."
"There are no supernatural manifestations here," the droning voice responded. "There are only the Wachowski cylinders, their captives, and the circuitry that is myself. Everything else is unnecessary. Now I maintain status quo."
Disregarding the machine, the Lorwardian continued. "Let us leave here. Warhok and Warmonga are avenged. There is nothing we could do to these people that could compare to this."
Warfayre agreed. "Computer, continue to obey the will of your creator."
"The request is unnecessary. I am Professor Dementor's servant. It is impossible to be otherwise."
"We leave you now," said the Lorwardian commander, with the faintest hint of an ironic smile, "in peace."
Soon the ships were gone. And the insane king of electronic dreams continued to reign over its sleeping subjects, unaware that it was reigning.
"Shego!" yelled Drakken, greedily clutching some sort of gyroscope-like device. "Why must I always ask you to do something about this teen? Can't you take the initiative for once?"
Within a century every human battery would age and die, and with each death slay the machine piecemeal. That knowledge was not a part of its operating parameters; it continued to maintain status quo.
"Ok, I'm on it, Dr. D," she irritably replied, and somersaulted over the mad doctor's head to land right in front of Kim, ready for battle. "There's a TV on in the lobby," she chattily informed the teenage hero. "I was watching Agony County." She swung at Kim, missed, swung again. "I hear they're canceling it at the end of the season."
Across its planet, there was the perfect peace of lifeless chromium and plastic, and no voice ever rose again to disturb that perfection.
"Crazy network," Kim said, countering each of Shego's blows, "they cancel all their shows at the end of three seasons." She spun, did a handstand, kicked the villainess in the chest, sending her flying against the wall. "I'll miss it when it's gone."
Eighty-seven original sequences, and the ability to create an infinite number of variations, based on the original data. The life of a world.
"There's always fanfiction," Shego snarled, triggering her plasma blasts. "Not that you'll be writing any."