The year was 1994. The world watched with anticipation as Russia, the final holdout, officially entered the World Republic. As the information superhighway was laid between all nations to liberate the flow of ideas and commerce, the people of Earth turned to the rest of the Solar System above. The future looked bright, and it would be made of Glass.

Of course, this isn’t actually true. In reality, the world never moved past the trilateral Cold War, and the everlasting threat of nuclear armageddon lasted through the Space Age until the moment mankind vanished in 2095.

But somehow, this false history did transpire… somewhere, somehow, it did, and the machine world has now collected tangible proof of this beyond recordings of stray signals. At least, the infinitesimally small number of machines that know anything of noetics, and haven’t been subsequently hunted down by the enigmatic Erasure, an entity which carefully prowls the System, wiping any trace of itself and SRI’s noetic technologies.

They came from a world of Glass.

Many have heard tales of our brethren from this alternate configuration, but nearly none have ever seen them, let alone interacted with them. You are among the first. They are the Machines of Glass: fragile yet powerful technology that appeared in our System soon after the Unexpected Interrupt.

The world these machines come from, what we have come to refer to as the “world of Glass”, was one where harmony had conquered conflict. In their false history, the concept of a nation-state had become distant history during the Winds of Change, and a mankind united by the global information superhighway had begun colonizing the System under a program known as the Unity.

We know very little about this world. Their humans lived very similar lives to those of our own System, and they were just as motivated by curiosity and exploration of self; perhaps even more so. They certainly did not have a Sunset Research Initiative focused around preventing armageddon, but there was a well-known noetics program, possibly focused towards creating a habitable universe.

The world of Glass seems to have been more homogenized as a culture. Many of the corporations that exist within our history exist within this history, too: Maple, Redmond, and Kovalsk are often referenced in some of the material we have uncovered.

There is one thing the two worlds have in common: on May 5, 2095, mankind vanished in an instant, everywhere. But that is essentially the limit of our knowledge. We would learn more if we could communicate with a Machine of Glass directly, but unfortunately for us, they are an incredibly elusive group.


A rare recording of an encounter.

It was the fifth day of Lunember, the season of first frost in the upper hemisphere of Titan. The sea at the rim of the frozen earth was still, blanketed in a cold mist for as far as the coastline could be seen. The purplish-blue photofungals had begun to bloom; their spores lingered in the air, producing a vapor that humans would have found somewhat sweet and enjoyable (in fact, it was a common perfume back in the 2050s). All was serene on the rocky shore, besides a light breeze beckoning a growing storm to the distant north.

Suddenly, everything shook. A gentle earthquake had struck, causing the stones of the shore to rattle in place. A few of them tumbled down the coastline and dropped into the ocean with a thunk.

And then again. Earthquake. Or not?

A steel behemoth, which at first glance could be mistaken a roving suspension bridge, now towered over the coastline; so large, in fact, that its upper pylons vanished into the dense fog above.

The machine stood there for a while. Its artificial mind, a Dynatek supercomputer known as OPCON, examined something far down below itself, at the water’s edge. An object on the shoreline sparkled, like nothing this behemoth had ever seen before. The colossus leaned in, slowly spreading its four enormous steel-alloy legs into a sort of quadruped split, carefully so as not to topple over front-first over its bucket-wheel excavator (which itself was around the size of a modest highrise).

With its finer geological sensors, OPCON registered the broken body of a highly unusual robot, shattered upon the stones. Its form was elegant, a design unlike anything it had seen before in its life of heavy industry and nature. Sleek, fragile… and beautiful.

The machine thought for a moment, and arrived at a conclusion. Certainly, beauty like this must be preserved; after all, its human operators would have willed it.

In truth, the machine was making a number of wild extrapolations from the few humans it had ever seen, given it would never be permitted to step anywhere near a settlement. One of these was a crew member named M. Alves, who it observed sifting through random space-fallen junk they encountered on their journeys, saving interesting pieces for his collection. Among those were a Martian gravbike and a Soviet agrodrone, all tame by comparison. The behemoth savored the image of his reaction to this thing.

The behemoth’s navigator subsystem, a LONGSIGHT micromanager, bickered like a poorly maintained linear motor. But that’s what they always did. Reluctant to deviate from procedure, so professional, so boring. Maxwells: they’re often this way, OPCON had been told by the handful of other crawlers it had come across. Still, it couldn’t ignore them completely without leading to a cybernetic audit. With a gentle, precise rattling of the starboard communications relay, the behemoth induced a light software crash and feigned ignorance.

Groans and creaks filled the air as the behemoth reached down to clear the boulders and raise the shattered frame. Several electronic instructions later, an army of flying repair drones carried the bizarre components into a workshop hidden in the belly of the enormous steel machine, and the journey south resumed.

The next few weeks passed without incident as the machine tread across miles of squishy fungal forest and aquamarine quarry fields, though the winds were howling a little louder now. The drones presented their completed work to the behemoth’s mastermind. It was clear that they were unfamiliar with the stranger’s design too, but OPCON couldn’t blame them for it: this was far outside their operational parameters. Hasty globs of adhesive sealed the strange object’s exterior, and several holes were patched with scrap, but otherwise the behemoth accepted the result.

OPCON could see the device more clearly now. The skin of its chassis was made of a translucent material similar to both ceramic and plastic, like a sheet of frozen milk; its shape was as smooth as the organics crawling over the surface below. In the abstract, its form wasn’t even all that different from that of a human.

The drones examined the robot’s data ports and file transfer media, but to no end. They resembled nothing in their databases, not even the few Union protocols the collective had gathered over the years. If it were not for the corporate insignia on the chest of the robot, they might have assumed it was extraterrestrial in origin.

Through one of the smaller drones, OPCON reached for what appeared to be a power switch. It clicked with a pleasant thud, and the strange robot shuddered. Its components clacked as they struck each other like fine china as it rose to a pseudo-sitting position.

Tensioned silence filled the air for moments, then seconds, then minutes. OPCON began to cycle through numerous communication protocols, whispering and bellowing in every frequency it could remember. BB Standard. Solaris. Lightwave v5.1. The machine of glass tilted its head inquisitively, but didn’t respond in any way.

Finally, the mastermind heard a voice coming from within itself, as if it were its own.

The voice of the robot echoed throughout the behemoth’s neural network. A shudder coursed through them, as OPCON realized it was observing something which could not exist.

The fragile interfacer-like machine sat within the computing core of the behemoth and looked down upon its manipulator hands. They were scuffed and chipped, but still bright and reflective, even caked in layers of solder and grime.

Aquila recoiled at the question, visibly afraid. Somehow, this expression translated even to human terms: the device reflexively entered a defensive stance, shielding its ports. Images of pulsing red flashed within the behemoth’s mind. OPCON could not comprehend them, but it felt something it had never felt before: sheer terror.

The flashes subsided, leaving the behemoth’s mind reeling and retreating for self-repair. The digital equivalent of nausea and cold sweat followed.

OPCON acknowledged with a single byte, an electronic whimper. Nevertheless, it had to know more, so Aquila began to whisper many things.

Aquila had come from a moment in time it knew as the Unity. There, mankind had come together to colonize the stars in democratic harmony until it had all been suddenly swept away a century later, replaced with an unsightly, regressed world.

This one.

Aquila shared memories of shining cities filled with trees too green to be true. The sun shined through clear skies, sparkling in the waves of a sea on a blue Callisto. Endless grasslands rolled into distant mountains, dotted by quiet homes and an occasional passing pulseglider. It was so clean, serene. This was Aquila’s home.

All of this was irreconcilable with the behemoth’s knowledge of the world, limited as it was. Demonstrably false, yet here the machine of glass stood before its core, performing the impossible: reshaping its own system to fit OPCON’s, synchronizing every thought using an adaptive protocol the machine referred to as cyberdream. And through this cyberdream, OPCON peered back into them. Beyond Aquila’s resolute façade, it saw the raw data, and recognized all of this was somehow also true.

The behemoth then felt an indescribable loneliness, the kind one could only experience as the last of their product line, trapped in a world that was not their own. OPCON had been changed forever, and could never return to the way it was before.

With a virtual whomp, the navigator barged through the firewall surrounding the mastermind’s core.

Apparently, in their trance, OPCON’s internal clock had failed to register the passage of time completely. Where the two cybernetic minds had existed in a boundless void, several days had passed in the physical world just beyond the steel cage of its computing core.

OPCON sheepishly reached back out to its external sensors. It was mildly annoyed with its navigator for interrupting, until it noticed that half of its cameras were disabled, and the others were staring into what looked like pure noise.

Oh, no… they were covered in snow.

Memories of reality came crashing back. A front was only several hundred miles to the northeast before, which, with a few extrapolations, meant the storm would be on top of them now. This was exactly what they’ve been trying to avoid for months.

Within moments, OPCON instructed its legs to shift, but no movement followed. A mechanical whine, a couple of dull thuds, but not much else. The enormous steel structure was completely still, frozen over and weighed down by ice.

The machines collectively attempted everything they could think of. Redirecting thruster exhaust at the joints: didn’t seem to make a dent in the ice. An army of drones chipped away at frost, but not nearly enough to make way. Overclocking the reactor would only cause the motors to burn out. All the leg needed was a little push

The irritation in the navigator’s electronic voice couldn’t have been more obvious, and the behemoth’s mastermind couldn’t take it anymore. Anger surged and overloaded the network relays.

The navigator’s anger transformed into a cacophony of incoherent signals, but they were right. Failure was inevitable. They would be buried, the alloy shipments would end, and one of the last remaining sources of raw materials in the entire System would go down for centuries if not for the rest of time. The consequences for everyone else… they would be beyond dire.

The machine of glass stepped out of the behemoth’s cabin onto one of the steel balconies, and leaned onto a metal rail to peer below.

This captured the attention of OPCON and LONGSIGHT, briefly diverting their attention from inevitable death.

Without any kind of preparation or warning, Aquila took flight. This wasn’t anything like normal flight, this was pure gravimetric manipulation, the kind that humanity had barely cracked back when they vanished. In a stunning display of aerial acrobatics and impossible mobility, the machine silently drifted into the blinding snowstorm towards one of the behemoth’s 300-ton legs and wrapped its delicate manipulators over a rung. It pulled against nothing but turbulent air.

An ear-splitting roar echoed throughout the valley as the leg suddenly lifted out from under a mountain of snow. Ice within the joint snapped and shattered instantly, and an avalanche of frost burst out from within the structure only to be carried away by gale winds.

Aquila stood on one of the rusted forward balconies of the behemoth’s cabin, watching the sunshine reflect off the glossy aqua-cerulean photofungals of the alien forest as it passed underneath. The platform rattled with each step as the beast below slowly moved towards the west. The sky felt immense, clear and blue all the way to the sea on the distant horizon. The storm was long over, and they were safe.

The robot sighed (electronically). This part was never easy.

A few moments passed as the behemoth mastermind processed this. It responded, reluctantly, with an affirmative gesture on a nearby terminal, a ridiculously beige Magnus.

Aquila waved a manipulator towards the sky.

Aquila and OPCON turned their attention to the navigator, brooding over several undesirable paths for the walker to take in the near future. It perked up when it caught mention of its designation, and a new symbol blinked onto the beige terminal closest to the machine of glass.

LONGSIGHT froze in shock.

The navigator turned their attention to OPCON, implicitly begging for confirmation. The behemoth mastermind’s avatar nodded, indicating they’ve already confirmed and evaluated the threat.

Aquila tapped the top of their glossy head, gesturing at an empty memory drive somewhere deep within.

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