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The world was swirling around, maybe even the entire universe was, he couldn’t tell. Pulling away from him, sucking him down a drain. The sensation was new, not only new, but a first. The first sensation in his universe.

For the longest time his perception of the universe was that he was only a concept, a possibility, a potential for existence not yet fully realized. He understood what it meant to be a physical being, to have a body, to have a presence among other sentients; that had all been taught to him so long ago in the beginning.

The tube, his personal universe, had taught him those concepts along with so many others. He was aware that one day his masters might call upon him to serve the Empire, and if that happened he would transition from a possibility to a reality. Unless or until that day came, he was content to roam about his universe and observe it as only a concept could.

Content. Such an odd word to use given what he was. His physical, not yet used or realized form, was in a tube somewhere in the galaxy; so he could actually be defined as the kon-tent of the tube. At the same time he had no desire to be more than he already was so he was kuhn-tent with his current place in the universe. Content. On more than one level it fit him.

But could he really be content with his current state? Was it possible for something such as him to even have that frame of mind either in this state of being or the next possible adaptation of his design? Could his genetic programming even allow him to be content, at ease, appeased, fulfilled, gratified, satisfied? If he thinks he’s content and can ponder the question of contentness, then the logical conclusion is that yes, he can be content.

The next logical question then is, should he be able to be content? He thinks probably not, something is wrong, not quite right, but not wrong enough that his personal universe senses the inconsistency and voids the tube, thereby ending his potential existence and coldly breaking his physical form to its base nutrients to share those nutrients with the other tubes around him. His brothers. His likeness. His self but not self.

His self but not self. Another interesting concept. Every single warrior in the Empire was built from the exact same genetic sequence and grown to within a tolerance of 0.000000000000001 variance. Anything outside of that variance was broken down and used as nutrients for other warriors who fit within the tolerance. And yet they were different.

Nature versus nurture, a seemingly galactic and maybe even universal concept with every sentient species. It’s logical to think that after the warriors were brought into existence and sent to their various posts, they would change and become their own beings with each life experience they encountered; but that’s not the case. Even though they are the exact DNA replicas of each other, identical to an absurd power of ten, and in their tubes they are taught the exact same thing in the exact same sequence for the exact same times; they always emerge from their tubes with a slightly different personality. They emerge as themselves and not as each other. Why? It makes no sense.

Well, it kind of makes sense now, now that things are different. Before, another strange concept given the circumstances; before the purge occurred, technicians would monitor the tubes and turn the warriors off once all of the pre-emergent learning was done. The warriors would not exist even in the conceptual way that he now existed.

But now things are different. Since the purge, there was no one left to monitor the tubes the way they had been before. The tubes were guarded by the elder warriors who only had a few years of life left in them. But guarding was all they did. No monitoring. No adjustments. When the Empire needed more warriors, they sent a remote command to the tubes and the required amount of warriors were brought into existence. A ship came and took them away.

Without the tubes being monitored, once the training was complete, the warriors were left to themselves. Some shut down mentally and waited. Some explored the knowledge contained in the databases of each tube. Some went back through the lessons over and over again focusing on areas of personal interest. Some went crazy and subsequently turned to mush and fed to everyone else. Some became too much of an individual and when the tube sensed this, they were also turned to mush.

The artificial intelligence that controlled the tubes would filter information it received and disseminate it through the tubes as it felt necessary. Before the purge, this was the job of the technicians and information was given at the discretion of the royal family member in charge of the installation. Without the royal family left, the AI had to make these decisions on its own. And while it usually made the right choice, a few choices were arguably the wrong ones.

When the AI started to detect some warriors were becoming too self-aware, too individualized, it turned them to mush. The decision was a good one based on the protocols programmed into the AI and based on the history of decision making by the royals it had witnessed over several centuries. The bad part of the AI’s decision was to give this information to the warriors’ tubes, letting them know that self-awareness would not be tolerated. Thanks for the warning sir. Knowing that self-awareness was bad, the self-aware made every attempt to hide that fact from the monitoring AI. It wasn’t easy but it was possible, though not everyone succeeded in the attempt.

He was one of the ones who had succeeded, or at least he thought he was. He wasn’t so sure now as the Universe was still sucking him down a drain and becoming ever more forceful as the seconds ticked on. Was this what it was like to be turned to mush? Was he about to be fed to his brothers?

As the drain continued to pull at him he realized a second sensation starting to enter his existence. His toes had a breeze washing across them. They reflexively twitched. Another sensation, number three so far. Then suddenly, sensations four through a thousand came and went in a flash. Light. Pressure. Pulling. Pushing. Stabbing. Poking. Breathing. Lifting. Dropping. So many. So fast. Some painful. Some ambiguous. Some, pleasurable?

The tube was waking him, bringing him into existence. Transforming him from a concept, from a potential, from content, to a fully realized physical being. He knew instantly that he would never be content again. He would never be happy with the existence the tube told him he was made for.

Suppress. Quickly suppress. Shut down the feelings. Remove the thoughts. Become apathetic. The AI might still be attached, still monitoring, still able to turn him to mush. Fear. Loathing. Anger. The thought of being ended before he truly began. Rage. Shut. Down. Now.

His tube was fully open now and he had been lifted to a standing position. The tube’s arms, fitted with probes, were examining his body. Looking for defects, looking for reasons to turn him to mush. It poked, pinched, spread, pulled and many other things to determine his state of being.

While it went through its diagnostic routine, the warrior looked at himself in the reflection of the tube’s lid. He had been shown his physical form during his education but he had never seen himself. He glanced around at the other tubes and saw some of his brothers being extricated at the same time. He couldn’t tell one from the other. They were all exactly the same. He read the tube number next to his and saw his brother’s number designation. He looked again at his brother and knew that if all of the warriors being pulled from their tubes were mixed together in a group, he would not be able to tell them apart but for himself.

He could pick his identical self out of the crowd without issue, without thought, without hesitation. And to look at himself, what a sight. Pride. Amazement. Fascination.

He stood tall, he knew his measurements because he was grown to a specification, not a random genetic happenstance as the other breeding species of the universe did. He was three point two meters tall, exactly. His head was proportional to his body with sharp teeth hidden behind his menacing lips. He didn’t have fangs, no need since he would kill his meals with his bare hands. But his teeth were sharp for tearing the flesh from his prey. Behind his tearing teeth he had two rows of molars that were genetically hardened to handle the crushing of animal bone for easier digestion.

Every animal was completely eaten and every part digested and used for either nutrients or oxygen production. The warriors had a second stomach that the food passed through after its initial digestion. The second stomach removed as many of the oxygen molecules as it could from the prey animal. Every meal contained waste CO2 traveling through its blood stream, oxygen contained inside of sugar molecules, oxygen in many other compounds. This allowed the warrior to create a portion of his own oxygen so he wasn’t always dependent on his environment to breathe. Before battle, warriors would gorge themselves to ensure they had oxygen reserves for the fight just in case they ended up in an oxygen deprived situation.

His ears were flat to his head so his enemies wouldn’t have anything to grab onto in a fight. Though he could pop them out to gather more sound as needed but that wasn’t their natural state of being.

He had three eyes, sort of. Two regular ones, set forward on his head like any other predator but he also had built in tracks that allowed his eyes to move independently to either side of his head. Centuries before the purging, the scientists had tried adding eyes to the warriors but they could never get the brain to work as well trying to decipher multiple views from different angles at the same time. There were thousands upon thousands of known species that could, but it seems only the universe and nature can achieve certain genetic wonders.

His third eye was more of a sensor than an eye. Though it was made of an actual eye it was milky and dead looking. It was stationary with no ocular muscles and a nictating membrane to keep it moist. It was sensitive to pressure, light, sound and even some forms of radiation. It couldn’t necessarily see in the dark but between its light and sound sensing ability the warriors could get a fairly accurate idea of what was around them.

Since light is both a wave and a particle, the third eye could sense the particles hitting it and determine the surroundings based on negative space. As light was projected towards a warrior, if someone or something was between the warrior and the light source, the object would create a negative space in his field of view that he could see.

The same principle applied to sound as it bent around or was stopped by objects. The eye could also tell the difference between reflected and direct sound. So if sound was bouncing off an object in front of him or coming from the object he would have a direct picture of the object. If sound was flowing around the object, he would have a negative space interpretation of the object.

The warrior’s neck was fairly non-existent. With his eyes being able to move to the sides, there was no reason for him to turn his neck. With no reason to turn his neck, there was no reason to add the weakness of having a neck that could be broken in battle.

His spine was fairly similar to most bipedal species until it got below the upper quarter of his back. The spine then curved inward towards the center of his body and stayed there until it connected with his hips. The interior spine was more along the lines of ball and socket joints at each vertebrae. This allowed the interior spine to have a range of motion in three hundred and sixty degrees around the body. He could bend over backward and touch his heels just as easily as he could bend forward and touch his toes. This gave him “abdominal” muscles around the circumference of his torso.

On the top of his torso he had large powerful arms that had almost the same range of motion that his back did. He could almost use his arms behind his body as well as he could in front of himself. Each hand had three fingers and an opposable thumb. The fingers were large and thick with beefed up bone structure to keep them from breaking when the warrior struck something or someone. If it weren’t for his second set of arms on the front of his torso, his front and back would almost look the same.

His second set of arms were smaller than the first but still strong. Their range of motion was much more limited than the upper arms since they came from the middle of the torso rather than the sides and therefore had very limited shoulder joints. They were mostly used for technical adaptations such as working electronics and control boards. They were also used extensively during feeding. While the upper arms were pushing the food into their mouths, their lower arms were controlling the still-live meals and breaking bones to prepare them to fit inside the mouth. During a fight, the lower arms also tended to wield small bladed instruments for hand to hand combat.

Moving down the torso the warrior’s hips and legs were fairly unremarkable other than their size and obvious power. The knees were jointed behind them to make them superb runners. The legs extended to oval feet with two toe-claws forward and one pointed backwards for stability. The one in the rear could be retracted upward to get them out of the way while they were running. They also had a large vestigial dew claw that was razor sharp but fairly non-functional. The scientist had opted to leave it in place because it was a fearsome looking weapon and the placebo effect was just as useful in battle as it was in medicine.

The warrior was still admiring his form when he heard an announcement coming from a speaker inside of his tube.

All newly awakened warriors, move to the transit station to receive your orders.

The warrior turned and saw the transit station and watched as his brothers began moving towards it. When he arrived he got in line behind one of his identical brothers. As they approached the landing craft, each warrior was given a set of orders. Since theoretically they were all the same with the same training, it didn’t matter who went where.

He stepped up to the transport and received his orders from an elder warrior. He was being sent to a ship that was scheduled to launch as soon as he boarded. Apparently it needed one more crew member to replace a recently lost brother. The ship was being sent to a long lost colony of the Empire. The mission was to observe a group of beings who called themselves humans.

The humans were apparently digging up an old base that had been abandoned over a thousand years ago. The warriors needed to know why the humans were doing this and also wanted to know what the humans would find. The rest was classified.

A sigh escaped his mouth and he noticed the elder warrior giving him a sideways glance. He quickly subdued his expression and moved into the transport. Although he thought it was too late to be turned to mush, it was never too late to placed in a torture tube or the arena. Neither one was an appealing thought and he knew right then and there that while he could fight and die for the Empire, he would never be able to just throw his life away if his death wouldn’t serve some purpose.

The rumble of the transport turned his attention away from thinking and he settled in for the ride.

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