I wasn't quite sure how best to represent binary; the end decision was the "Category: Statement" form of speech.
Magos Srequi Lantrane looked into the faraway fire, and saw an end to the work of millennia – for better or for worse.
The Dragon of Mars slumbered, somewhere. Its thoughts had uplifted the human race. The Emperor had trapped it, but nevertheless, through dreams and whispers, it had turned Mars into a center of innovation. Knowledge beyond that developed anywhere else in the human portions of the galaxy bloomed. The Golden Age of Technology had begun. And when the folly of men ended that dream, the Mechanicum remained, the last fragment of the Golden Age.
Only it was not the last. The Emperor remained, and rebuilt humanity. And then, of course, he decided to tear it all down. And through it all, the Dragon remained sleeping, and gave hope to mankind.
But this would be the end. The Emperor, the Dragon’s eternal enemy, would claim Mars. It would, at best, be rebuilt as a center of industry, but the supernatural inspiration would be gone. And so they had to free the Dragon, for a final battle.
At least, that was how the leadership of the Order of the Dragon explained the scope of this war; and Lantrane saw it, logically, as a sensible explanation – the only sensible explanation – of this apocalypse. And the dreams were real, for all that she was mostly metal. She saw the Dragon, resplendent in glory, though it was all too difficult to describe precisely how it looked.
And so she had joined the Order, like almost all of the surviving Magi of Mars. Some of them threw in their lot with the Emperor, who had killed Kelbor-Hal and now ordered Mars set to flames. These were traitors, not only to the Dragon and to humanity, but to Mars. They were Magi no longer; that much the new Fabricator-General, Kane, had clearly decreed.
But, Lantrane considered as she watched the flames from a safe distance, he had not clearly decreed much else. And it was still unclear whether Kane was truly with the Order of the Dragon, who bore the only path to Mars’s salvation, or if he remained stubbornly loyal to the ideal of the Omnissiah even as its avatar betrayed progress.
And so she stood before Kane’s forge, observing the fires of distant battle and waiting to talk to the Fabricator-General.
The doors in front of her were decorated with images of grinding cogs, of various types, in fractal patterns. Above them, a golden ribbon was curiously blank. Before, Lantrane knew from her previous visits to the then-Fabricator Locum, it had had the face of the Emperor carved on it. But though Kane had been more loyal to Terra than Kelbor-Hal, he was no traitor, and when Ferrus Manus relayed the Emperor’s command to end the Mechanicum, he defied it with every neuron in his body.
Martian independence; that was what this had been all about, at first. It was only after that it had become a matter of religious war.
The doors swung open.
“Greeting: It has been too long since I last saw you, Magos Lantrane,” Kane said in binary with a smile.
“Greeting: Likewise to you. Curse: The war has kept high-ranking Magi from meeting each other often, for fear of another massacre.”
“Curse: The war is infuriating to us all. Hope: We can still, however, win it, despite the defeat in Noachia.”
Lantrane nodded, and accepted Kane’s offered mechatendril, walking into the Fabricator General’s forge center. They stood on a catwalk, overseeing servitors and tech-priests scurrying about on the floor below. Beyond them lay a second door into Kane’s central, quiet sanctum; but the Fabricator General indicated they should talk here, in noise and not in silence.
Lantrane decided not to wait to state her purpose. “Declaration: To win this war, the loyal tech-priests of Mars must stand united.”
“Agreement: We must indeed. Query: Are you here to invite me into the Order of the Dragon?”
“Intent: I will join your order, though you must understand that at this stage I have no faith in it yet, under the condition that you save my forge. Explanation: Many in my personal forces were lost during the Athabasca victory.”
“Agreement: Your forge is in a strategic location, and you are personally crucial. Intent: We will honor that bargain.”
“Query: You, or the Order?”
“Explanation: I was not sent here without consultations as to what the Order would accept.”
Kane smiled again. It would have been difficult for most to understand that he was doing that, the metal on his hooded face obscuring the gesture, but Lantrane had known Kane for a long time. “Memory: There were days when you would have done just that, and I would have accepted it without doubt. Declaration: All of us have become darker with time.”
“Curse: Especially the times.”
“Query: Why, precisely, did you join the Order? Explanation: Your being in the Order is the only reason I accepted without further debate.”
Lantrane shrugged in what she knew was a peculiarly human way. “Explanation: The Order offered the only explanation of the times that both made sense and gave us an option with nonzero worth. Fear: If we win this war, the Emperor will only send more armies.”
“Fear: The Iron Hands are bad enough, but a second army will level Mars to the ground.”
“Confusion: Was Noachia not, in fact, leveled to the ground?”
“Explanation: I have not been keeping up with the situation, but I suspect Noachia was a special case. Explanation: That battle was the only thing that kept the Iron Hands ahead in the war.”
They stood, for a time, in binary silence, looking at some of the last intact industry left in the Red Planet’s northern hemisphere. It was a beautiful case of efficiency, sadly turned nearly exclusively to war (the remnant being devoted to providing basic needs to the Martians). Lantrane contemplated her own forge, whose production had been cut in half by an Iron Hand offensive that had only been beaten back by Titans.
But by this point, that was the least of their problems. Tharsis was a patchwork of Order and Iron Hand control. The south was almost entirely the Order’s, but most of the rest of the north was Ferrus Manus’s. And the Iron Hands had won in Noachia, opening the gates to the South Pole.
Lantrane considered the last of the major holdouts against the Order among the loyal Mechanicum: Magos Koriel Zeth, Mistress of the Magma City, who openly defied the Dragon. She, too, had once been a friend, but had also closely followed the Imperial Truth. There were rumors she did not even believe in the Omnissiah. Nevertheless, Zeth had been one of the primary drivers of innovation in the days before this mad war. She had, like Lantrane herself, pushed the boundaries of what the Mechanicum could achieve.
Kane had always been more cautious. He had, now, chosen to be cautious until it was clear the Order had taken loyal Mars. But it mattered little; the Fabricator General being on their side was a propaganda victory, regardless of his true faith.
The Order’s rise had, of course, been meteoric. It had gone from a minor heretical sect to the last hope of the Red Planet and the Mechanicum. Many of the outlying worlds had emphatically refused to accept it, and indeed the majority of Forge Worlds that Mars had contact with still supported the Omnissiah and the Emperor, at least officially. Privately, of course, most of those planets were sending communications plotting rebellion to Mars and presumably each other; but the Dragon was an afterthought at best. Mars had embraced it, in the end, from desperation. It was too close to Terra to endure otherwise.
But Lantrane really did believe in it, and in time, so would Kane. In fact, as Fabricator General, he would have abundant access to other communications, perhaps more of them than even the Order’s central command. But now was not the time to ask about that.
They stood, observing the wondrous industrial landscape, and Lantrane thought back to the day when the news had spread across Mars, like wildfire, of Ferrus Manus’s obliteration of Kelbor-Hal’s council. Fortuitously, many important Magi were not present at that council, due in large part to personal disagreements with Kelbor-Hal’s path. She, for her own part, had agreed with the Fabricator-General in most of Martian philosophy, but had had a major argument with him regarding Koriel Zeth not long before, and after the falling-out had retreated to her own forge.
In truth, the massacre had done little good; for the dead Magi’s successors chose resistance over surrender as well. They could rationally deduce it might be better for them, personally, to surrender, but the good of humanity had to be included into all such calculations.
She looked at Kane, and saw a man who had given up on this sort of factional infighting. He was beginning to become the Fabricator-General in truth, a less abrasive and radical one than Kelbor-Hal had been, as well as perhaps a less logistically brilliant one, but a worthy successor anyhow.
“Query: What will any potential rebellion outside the Mechanicum think of the Order of the Dragon?” Kane inquired. “Fear: Its religious nature might destroy our chances of allying with any other resistance movements that spring up to protect the Imperial Truth.”
And that was true, especially since most of the Order’s members were far more religious than Lantrane herself. But it mattered not. “Declaration: Such resistance movements should either follow us or ignore us,” she said. “Declaration: Mars will never kneel again.”
“Agreement: Mars will never kneel again,” Kane said, “to anyone.”