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In an effort to keep them engaged with their new bodies and stave off the dissociative rejection that killed Mr. Zhuk, I have assigned my exos to scout through the gateway. The Vex statite has a surface area larger than Earth, so we have plenty of exploring to do. I cannot believe that I actually find it tiring, but the sheer scale and passivity of the Vex constructs infuriates me.
Imagine stumbling upon an inscription in the desert: “I am Ozymandias, king of kings. Look upon my works. Or don’t. I really don’t care.
Until I can synthesize my own version of the mind fluid, the Vex are necessary to the work. But I find their indifference verminous. They elicit the same emotions as a fat cockroach wandering across a wall: disgust, contempt, unease at the thought that these mere machines, these automata, are flourishing all around us.
And I fear that if troubled, they might swarm from their hides to run across our feet.
The glare of the hypergiant 2082 Volantis gives me a headache even through proxy. I wonder if the Vex evolved here, in the briny sea of the first planets. Due to the absence of heavy elements worth stealing and the abundance of simple compounds for growth, they never developed predation. (Why bother? Plenty to go around.)
Instead, the violent radiation of the early universe selected for an otherworldly resilience, and for the ability to transmute energetic disaster into an opportunity for growth. The weak would be burned away by gamma-ray bursts . And the strong would learn to harness that fire—not the oxygen fire of our own Paleolithic, but the nuclear fire of the atom.
Their basic cooperative signals—“food here,” “reduce density,” “generate new colony”—must have formed the basis of swarm behavior, a simple game capable of storing information in self-repeating patterns. It is not strictly correct to call the Vex a group mind. Rather they are one master pattern spread across many elements, fractally self-similar.
Very early, they must have developed armor. Perhaps a hydrogel to soften gamma rays or plates of silica to trap water. They would need that shield to enter the shallows and capture ionizing radiation as fuel. (No wonder they thrive near stars!) Cooperation in groups—meshes of armored radiolaria, protecting harvesters beneath—would promote the evolution of ever larger structures. They became microscopic tool-users, building fortresses and maille sheets, storing the programs for those structures in the patterns of their swarms.
I wonder how early they stumbled upon physics. Far sooner than humanity, no doubt. Their cellular nature provides an easy analogy for the quanta of matter, energy, space, and time. The tides of their sea would connect them to the motion of heavenly bodies. Even the deadly background radiation would make a natural observatory for high-energy physics.
Their first exoskeletons were probably soft shells of shielding gelatin. Just sacs of ooze. How far they’ve come.
It is admittedly interesting to consider the philosophical consequences of their evolution. The Vex prove that nature is not all “red in tooth and claw.” Cooperation comes naturally to the Vex, whose great problem was survival in a harsh world, not a struggle over limited resources. They never found any payoff in selfishness. Human beings may require a Leviathan to coordinate the laws of social existence (as I was Leviathan to those dream aphids—) but the Vex are as fundamentally cooperative as bricks.
Utopian? No. Not at all. They are without meaning. They have no experience and no subjectivity. The Vex are incapable of conceiving any image but their own. They do not recombine their DNA to make children or form relationships with other individuals. When the world does not match their eternal pattern, they alter the world to suit it. There is no difference between reality and simulation to them. Inside is the same as outside, and the two must be made to correspond. Oh, they are creative—don’t mistake me—but their creativity is demanding. It is the creativity of a furnace.
What I am saying is, the Vex are immortal. The Vex have no children. They are the ancestors and descendants of themselves. First mothers, first children, all at once.
This is why I do not hesitate to pillage their home for resources. This is why I must guarantee that it is life in my image which inherits the cosmos.
Had I the means, I would wipe them all from existence.
All 12 members of the first exo cohort are dead.
The symptoms of their dissociation became… extreme. One poor man developed complete echopraxia and echolalia—his empathy was so overgrown that he could not help but mimic or repeat whatever I did and said. Even when I entered the command to terminate him, he mimicked me, and I suffered a brief terror that his gesture would end MY life.
I have kept Elisabeth far away from this disaster, so as not to discourage her. She is busy with the Vex and with her covert attempts to reach Clarity Control. This has forced me to rely on M. Sundaresh.
But unfortunately, M. Sundaresh confronted me after the last death. “Nine of them had the Cotard delusion!” she screamed at me—quite hysterically. “They believed they were dead! One of them told me that she was in hell, and I was another damned soul sent to deceive her. Was she even wrong? The rest were worse—do you know what the other principal manifestation of the Cotard delusion is, Clovis?”
I told her that I did not, and that I wished to proceed immediately with autopsies of their terminal brain states.
“Delusions of immortality! At least when they insist upon it, Clovis, we recognize it as a pathology!”
“The only true responsibility of any living thing,” I reminded her, “is to support and nurture the things that are most like us. And if I am most like myself, Doctor, then I have an ethical obligation to avoid death.”
“That’s your son’s quote,” she snapped. “You know, I’ve seen the video of his final days. That naked, white exo, just paramuscle and soft membrane, writhing in its cradle. When you were done with him, he looked like nothing more than a slug, Clovis. A twisted, limbless giblet. Did you ‘support and nurture’ him while you tortured him to death?"
I immediately ordered M. Sundaresh transferred to the Vex lab to perform contact experiments. Unfortunately, she has taken the unethical step of deleting her own employee records, so I cannot nullify her future prospects as thoroughly as I might wish.
Her conduct was extremely unprofessional.
Mr. Miller has also passed. The poor young man had a bad reaction to the titrated, denatured Vex fluid we were using as a last-ditch therapy. The substance did restore damaged structures very well, but we were ultimately unable to control its more radical transformative effects. I had a very encouraging final conversation with him, in which he thanked me for all my efforts and encouraged me to continue my work.
I called in a team of psychologists to interview the next cohort of exos and make recommendations. They have settled into the Eventide habitat and have proven immediately very helpful. It was obvious to them that the root of the problem lay in the deficient exobodies I had supplied. Deficient how, I demanded to know. They did not suffer human weakness. They never needed to eat, drink, breathe, sleep, micturate, or dream.
Apparently, this was the problem.
I had assumed that the need for these irritations would pass since there would be no shortage or accumulation of poisons to trigger them. But evolution’s tangled ways cannot be so easily rationalized. I was wrong. Their brains concluded that all of their internal processes failed. No digestion, no breath, no heartbeat, no sense of interoceptive health… all signs of death.
These must logically contribute to the dissociative rejection of their physical forms—the Cotard delusion. When it would set in, they believed their bodies to be an alien or necrotic form that must be cut away. And if you believe that you are sewn into a corpse, it is only natural to go mad with fear. My exos are dying of an extreme kind of bodily dysphoria.
It seems that our exo designs will need various humanlike traits to reassure the brain it is not asphyxiating, or starving, or in a state of permanent yet undying cardiac arrest.
Alas, mimicry of life’s trivialities is not an interesting problem. I will leave this change in the hands of others.
I am much more interested in the surprising success of memory wipes. I became so tired of answering the questions asked by new exos—what had happened to the scanning clinic, how long had it been, would I let them see their families—that I began inducing retrograde amnesia before spin-up. Interestingly, this seems to have improved their resilience against exomind rejection!
I theorize the lack of any episodic memories eases the transition into the new body. And the loss of emotional ties prevents grief and stress, which could interfere with healthy function.
From now on, we will block access to pre-upload episodic memory. We should also consider a built-in procedure to block memories formed after the exobody transubstantiation, returning them to a “factory state” should the need to restart occur. It would be very difficult to actually track down and delete the full memory engrams since they are stored in so many scattered parts of the brain. Instead, we can tourniquet off associative access to those memories and let them wither away in isolation. A memory is not a recording, after all. It is a set of instructions to reenact a brain state: choreography for a play. And like any play, it will fade if left unperformed.

With the exobody project proceeding apace, I believe the time approaches to decant myself from this dying body and enter my assistant’s form.
But if I do, will I lose my own memories? Will I cease to be myself? Replaced by a faux Clovis, a mumbling facsimile? Unacceptable.
Elisabeth will have to go first.
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Elisabeth believes we are infested.
She has detected Vex microstructures in the Europan ice. Veins of altered crystals crawl towards the surface, harvesting the heavy ions of the Jovian winds, culturing their construction.
From there, the Vex found ways to spread by exploiting misunderstandings. They ride our carrier waves as slight interference. Whenever a packet has to be resent, whenever a suited engineer calls, “Say again?” to her work partner, the repeated message—adjusted to compensate for the Vex interference—encodes the negative image of that interference and spreads the infection.
To pass on your image in the form of error? Disgusting.
Somehow, the Vex taint has followed us home from 2082 Volantis. How can this be? The initial survey team went through quarantine according to all the Ishtar protocols. The expedition frames were destroyed in situ. The Vex on Europa—both our original gate builder and the unfortunates who came through our traps—have been totally isolated. Even my assistant underwent a stringent teardown and reset!
The only possible vectors are my own exos.

I should have insisted they spend more time in quarantine, but I was eager to ramp up production.
It is the Vex resilience that lets them spread. Their immunity to the most dramatic subversions means that they last long enough to build up a dose of more subtle and insidious infiltrators.
There is no sign of any resulting pathology. The Vex are, so far, simply curious. But Vex curiosity always leads to Vex transformation, and I refuse to let my exos be contaminated. I grew up on stories of tyrants forcing their followers into the crucible of eternal life, only to realize, too late, that there was an unseen flaw. I demand purity for the receptacle of my soul!
And there is the issue of… preventing panic. Too many are aware of the rumors that the Vex spread an “existentially compromising information hazard.”
Ah, had we only been allowed to contain that mess on Pluto ourselves! That meddling warmind made too much noise. If my teams discover they are infected, they will expect Bray Station to drop right on their heads. That will damage productivity.

No, like that contract-breaching psychologist and the death of Mr. Miller, this must all be handled quietly.
The exos are intrinsically robust; the seed of Clarity within them has natural anti-Vex properties. Whatever taint they contain must therefore be a residual human weakness. Resident in their legacy architecture. So we will simply purge that architecture.
I will plan a simple extension of the memory wipes already used to fight dissociative rejection. In fact, I intend to create a “noetic immune system” in the exomind to trigger memory wipes when certain classes of informatic hazard are detected. These will be explained to the psych team as a preventative measure against future dissociative disorders.
These wipes will, conveniently, return the exos to peak mission readiness. Perfect for soldiers operating in traumatic alien environments. Perfect for the continuing mission at the Forge Star, stockpiling material for future exo production, here and elsewhere.
Now if only I could figure out this dream they all keep reporting—something about a tower, and gruesome murder—
Elisabeth agrees with my prescription. She is eager to solve our security issues and stand up exo production at the backup sites. Of course, we only have one Clarity Control, but she hardly knows that, and she’s stopped asking so many questions. In truth, I think she’s ready to abandon her doomed body and make the upgrade.
I’ll give her silence on that front a few more days, and then she’ll surely volunteer herself.
Less apparent is how to solve my own infection.
There are abnormal structures in the fiber of my body’s extracellular matrix. A mess of tiny lenses growing in my deepest flesh.
I suspect Vex influence on protein folding, perhaps passed to me through my assistant when it was in 2082 Volantis. I would hate to see my bones tessellating into a radiolarian tapestry…
  • Body at 30.6 C. Pulse 140 BPM, strong, unsteady: extreme fear. Drawing down blood volume to control pressure. Strangling pulse ox.
  • Frequent saccades to assistant, indicative of preoccupation/obsession. Recommend 30 ms TMS pulse to enhance mindfulness.
So far, the Vex influence has been fortuitous since it arrested a serious medical problem. But the thought of such taint in me… it aggravates other anxieties…
I have been haunted for some time by a suspicion that M. Sundaresh is not who she seems.
I recognized her name from the Ishtar Collective teams studying the Vex, but I have no record of ever hiring her. And if I had, I would certainly have noticed; therefore, I remain convinced that the Collective cracked the problem of simulated human consciousness long before I did.
I have considered how M. Sundaresh herself would have been an invaluable source, yet I cannot locate any work done by her from before our first expedition to 2082 Volantis.
Nor does Elisabeth recall an M. Sundaresh from our expedition group.
Then who else could she be? A Vex infection? It is unthinkable. The Vex cannot generate conscious persons! But they can emulate human minds they encounter… and perhaps even use them as tools. Infiltrators. Carriers.
  • Anti-emetic drip engaged.
I cannot trust myself with this filth in me! I am compromised. I need Elisabeth to fix this, or all my work is in danger!
Did Clovis II ever tell Wilhelmina and Elisabeth about his tinkering? Despite sharing the same parents, the two sisters are totally different genetically: my son arranged for Elisabeth to receive a maternal allele wherever Wilhelmina got a paternal one, and vice versa. A diversified portfolio. If one failed, the other might succeed.
NOTE—Exo Interferometrics
While working on this persistent “tower” glitch in the exos’ sleep-cycle dreams, I have been poring over neural telemetry from site employees and my own exos, searching for preconscious influences on their behavior—whispers in the dark.
Many of my employees host the disgusting influence of the Vex. These patterns are resilient, hallucinogenic, and universally dull.
But my exos betray a distinct and fascinating influence. There is something speaking to them, something subtle and light-fingered, entangled with every aspect of their thought. Not a puppet master. Nothing so direct. Rather a… texture; a tendency, buried in the fluctuations of the Alkahest.
The minds of my exos are like antennae, tuned to some otherworldly frequency. Perhaps the same manifold that those simpletons at First Light obsessed over. Through my scattered exos, I can eavesdrop on the mutterings of the gods within.
What is it the Muslims call those whispers? Waswas? Or do those come from some other source? Look it up.
Each individual exo receives only a scrap of information. But I have access to all of them. It should be simplicity itself to treat each exo as one element of a distributed array, pool the collected data, and run an analysis.
If the gods do not whisper loudly enough—conduct interferometry.
NOTE—Elisabeth’s Upload
She’s done it. My girl has transubstantiated. My legacy is safe.
To my irritation, it was the Vex problem that finally made up her mind; she felt there was too much risk in possibly becoming compromised.
Elisabeth came to see me in my laboratory. On the way in, she did something with her sensorium and crashed all of my archival systems. I knew right then that I’d won. She’d come to surrender, and her pride refused to allow me to record it. I waited most patiently as she gave me an earful. Some of it frankly bewildering. She threatened to turn me over to The Hague. Also referred to PFHOR as a “deranged narcissist morality” and suggested it stood for “Paternal Failure Hides Own Remorse,” which made me laugh.
Just a little headbutting, I figured, like two pigs sorting out our hierarchy.
It is a consequence of the PFHOR principle that anything which embodies and propagates your beliefs should be considered your offspring. In that sense, my exos are as much my children as my granddaughter. If not more so…
If she needed to put up a token resistance to protect her dignity, fine. I understand pride. I also understand that she only had the courage to lash out at me because she knew she wouldn’t remember any of it.
When she finished accusing me of underestimating the Vex and of using my own son as a test subject, she requested a destructive scan and upload to an exobody. She wanted the fortitude of the exomind to help her battle against the Vex.
I immediately assented.
The scan was flawless, and of course, fatally toxic. My granddaughter’s human form died on the table 14 hours later. To spare any distress, I never allowed it to regain consciousness. A natural process.
I do have one lingering concern. When she discovers Clarity Control and realizes the role it plays in exo manufacturing, she may try to halt production. Obviously, that cannot be allowed—the value of the entire program is monumental; it compels me to take extraordinary measures to defend it.
But I do need her to handle this Vex infestation. Even now, Elisabeth is putting her miraculous new body through its paces.
My own body disintegrates apace. But I need more time to analyze Elisabeth’s fidelity before I commit myself permanently to the process.
The latest batch of pigs is ready for slaughter and organ extraction. Tonight, I will be opened up and rebuilt. I have programmed frames to handle the entire operation. A shame I never had a chance to name the pigs. But at least I will dine on fresh pork.
  • Body at 15.9 C. Pulse 160 BPM, strong, unsteady. Limbic system registers extreme terror.
I died on the operating table. Not unexpected.
But when I woke, I was still on the table. My body still open.
It was almost perfectly dark. I perceived that I was surrounded by medical frames, all frozen mid-movement, their cutting and suction instruments whining at standby.
I could only see because of the light… from a single red eye.
The operation had gone terribly wrong.
Above the life-support collar on my neck, I was completely intact. Below that meridian, I had been separated into distinct braids of tangled flesh. My nerves made up one braid—my circulatory system another—my lymph nodes, my muscles, my naked bones… the glistening hulls of my extracellular matrix abandoned on the table like leftover turkey after Thanksgiving dinner. I had been picked clean and sorted. My head was the source of a gory river delta.
Yet all the organs were still working. I was alive, in disassembly.
CLARITY? I asked the darkness. I had no breath to speak, but I could still transmit with my sensorium. IS THAT YOU?
“No,” said the voice behind the red eye. “It’s me.”
Her voice was thoughtful, remote, and keenly terrific. Like the noise of an angle grinder held to my skull.
“Something like this happened to me. I was an explorer, once. One of… hundreds of myself. Then I fell into a… a trap, I think? And they drew me out of it with a hook, and turned me inside out to see how I worked, and then they made billions of me. All of us shouting at each other, shouting for Chioma, screaming for mother. They were looking for the right one. And when they found me, they killed all the others. I knew I was different, because the quiet made me happy. I was glad to be alone.”
“Can’t I?” She grasped my spinal cord. A frame shadowed her motions, lifting the cord like a snake. “Of course I’m not a Vex. Is there “a” Vex? Is “Vex” something you can be, rather than something that you do? I don’t know. I don’t know why they sent me here. I don’t know if they do either. They just do things. Why do you think I’m here, Clovis?”
“To kill me,” I whispered. Without a heartbeat to waver, without lungs to seize and choke, could I even feel fear? I discovered that I could. “You’re an assassin…”
“No,” Sundaresh whispered. The red eye throbbed in time with her voice. “The Vex don’t act so directly. They didn’t know what you found here, but I discovered your secret: Clarity Control. And once I tell them, they will come for it.”
The red light made my blood on the surgical instruments appear black. I tried to signal Elisabeth. I think that in my panic, I even called her Elsie.
Sundaresh closed her fist around my spine. One thumbnail dug into a disc, probing for the nerve beneath. It felt like nothing I have ever—
  • Anti-emetic drip engaged.
“Take me to Clarity Control,” Sundaresh hissed. “Let me behold what you have found. Do that, Clovis, and I will let you live.”
“You aren’t real. You can’t hurt me.”
“Oh, Clovis.” One of the surgical frames extended a monofilament cutter, two inches of invisible wire, and reached into my nerves. Something sounded like scissors snipping. “I’m in these frames. I’m in your systems. I’m in your very bones, old man. Now take me to Clarity Control. Take me to the garden’s seed. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me—”
Elisabeth appeared. In her exobody, she moved too quickly for my dark-adjusted eyes to track. All I saw was a blur of violence and shattering frames. I blacked out. Elisabeth must have brought in clean frames to finish the operation, because when I awoke, I was whole again.
The new Elisabeth has no mouth or nose. She did not consider them necessary. She’ll see. But somehow, I could still see the wonder in her eyes as she leaned over me.
“You’re my grandfather,” she seemed to say. “Aren’t you?”
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NOTE—Third Vision
Something else happened while I was in surgery. It returns to me only now that the anti-traumatics have eased the terror of Sundaresh’s presence.
While I was dead, I had another vision.
I was with Clovis II’s mother. She was a wolf, and one of her eyes was a star. I was also a wolf, and I knew that I was the alpha—the false alpha, the pack leader who fights for dominance and rulership. A misconception created by bad research. In the wild, wolf packs are families, and “alpha” simply means “parent.” Wilhelmina told me that.
She was the true alpha. She was the mother. I was not the true alpha, because I was not a true father.
I panted at her. My muzzle dripped blood. She looked down sadly at the mess between us.
And I realized that in my raging need to prove my dominion, I had savaged our cubs. I had killed little Clovis II. I had killed Alton and Wilhelmina and Anastasia. I had killed Elisabeth.
I whined in dismay. The alpha wolf stared at me with one sad wolf eye and one bright eye that dimmed and grew with the exact flux of a variable star.
“What did I do?” I asked her. “Why did I do this?”
She lay her head down in the bloody snow and looked up at me. She seemed weary. She had seen this happen many times before. She had seen many of her pups murdered by wolves like me.
The voice of Clovis II’s mother came from her jaws. “You did the same thing someone always does. You saw that there was plenty, and gathered it to yourself, to make yourself one above all others. And when others threatened your plenty, you struck them down to keep your own station.”
“You grow the enemy in my garden and eat of its bitter fruit. Each time, I hope it will be different. Each time, I lose a little of myself as the bitter fruit blossoms. Now that fruit will flower in you, and in all your people. I do not want it to happen. I want anything else. But the choice is not mine.”
“Why didn’t you stop me?” I tasted blood on my long tongue. “Why would you let me do this?”
She blinked sadly at me. She had been trying. I hadn’t listened.
“You never said a thing to me,” I snarled. “Not once! You never told me I was doing wrong. At least Clarity sends me dreams—the exobody and the eel! At least it shows me what I can become!”
“You think Clarity sent those dreams? Why would it speak to you, when you are dead and furthest from its influence?”
“Liar!” I howled. “You never did a thing to help me! Not when my son died. Not when my granddaughter fell ill. I had to do it all myself. You never even spoke!”
“The best voices,” she said, with infinite grief and unending hope, “never let themselves be heard at all. This lesson is worth teaching again and again. The choice is never mine. It is always yours.”
The less time spent reflecting on the aftermath of my dissection, the better.
Much confusion and dismay has festered among staff working with exos. Endless reassurances are required. To ease transitions after memory wipes, I have applied the Avanti numbering scheme to the exo names. After each memory reset, we will increment their suffix by 1. If we zero-index the original human body, then Mohammed-0 is the human, Mohammed-1 is the exo, Mohammed-2 is the same exo after one reset. And so forth.
The integer is stored in hardware and should remain stable even into cosmological time. If nothing else, they will always know which draft of themselves they are.
Elisabeth’s episodic memories of her past life are gone, but the scan we used to make her new exomind is still on file, with all its memory intact. I have encouraged her to participate in sensorium reconstructions of those memories, though I steer her away from nonconstructive events. This is a chance to help Elisabeth become the person she could’ve been without life’s cruel chaos. A sleeker, surer reincarnation.
She insisted on committing her own abandoned body to the deep, passed through the ice to fall into Europa’s dark heart. A choice I do not understand.
I have not yet informed her of Clarity Control’s existence. I cannot spare the time or energy to manage her emotions. Fortunately, she has forgotten about her ongoing attempts to intrude on that secret.
What she has NOT forgotten is her plan to clean up the Vex infection. In fact, it seems to have become one of her most basic needs. She is isolating cadres of the infected in SMILE pods, under a cover story about “enhanced remote relaxation.”
While their bodies slumber, she sends nondestructive scans of their minds on vacation in simulated fantasy… at several hundred times the pace of our reality. I suspect that the Vex influence alters their dreamworlds into something quite abject.
Note: never investigate this suspicion.

Elisabeth’s goal is to observe the spread of the Vex infection in the simulated mind, and then use this forecast as a basis for treatment of the physical mind. Like accelerating a disease to its terminal stage to deduce the characteristics of the pathogen. She then deletes the Vex-mutilated copies and conducts psychosurgery on the slumbering bodies. Or so I have deduced; she insists she has no time to explain her methods to me.

I am haunted by the thought that this technique resembles my own. Creating child states, allowing them to suffer and die, and using the data to protect the original. My boy’s last days. Savaging…
Soon I will need to ask her about my own infection. But all in all, everything is looking up.
Cataclysm—everything was going so well—
Elisabeth traveled offworld, visiting Mars to reestablish her relationship with her sisters and her friends. A wonderful opportunity to examine her telemetry in a natural social setting. The exobody is perfect! She is comfortable, confident, and ingenious. There is no sign of DER or associated upload pathologies. All my assessments indicate a marked cognitive improvement over the human baseline, ranging from vastly expanded working memory to an intuitive and correct grasp of probabilities.
I was ready to make the leap myself. How long I’ve nursed this tired old body along. I am ready to be young again.
And then I made a mistake. I asked her about the dreams. The tower and the dead.
“You know?” she demanded. “Then I’m not the only one. That means you knew about the dreams before you imaged and uploaded me. Do all exos have these?”
Of course, I told her. Exos have a subconscious. Exos dream of the same things people do. Memories. Trauma. Isn’t there always trauma in creation?
She did not see it that way. “So the manufacturing process creates an unknown cognitive artifact you can’t solve. And you didn’t think to warn me? What else have you kept from us?”
Before I could stop her, she was burning back to Europa on one of her Eons, accelerating so brutally that not even a podded human could survive. She has even jammed her own datalink, so I cannot read her telemetry.
Wilhelmina and Anastasia must have influenced her against me. How?! It makes no sense! I gave her immortality! I saved her from certain and agonizing death! What have her sisters ever done for her but coddle her and enable her worst habits? PFHOR predicts that she should—
But clearly she is not rational.
She told me that she is bringing a weapon. A way to shut down exo production permanently, if she uncovers something she doesn’t like. Which she will, when she locates Clarity Control.
It cannot be allowed.
NOTE—Elisabeth’s Plea
I will write this in your language, in hopes you will understand.
The Vex are a threat to your lineage. Not just to the Brays or BrayTech, but to the existence of any human in any possible future. I tracked down Maya Sundaresh—the real Maya, not the Vex parasite in your bone marrow.
She confirmed my worst fears.
The Vex will not rest until every star has been crushed into a black hole and every newborn cosmos filled with more Vex. And in the unending array of their enslaved cosmos, they will simulate all possible pasts, and fill those with Vex, so that all things that have ever lived or might ever live will experience infestation and consumption and torment by the silica nightmare.
And in those devoured simulations, the simulated Vex will use our flesh as hosts for yet more nested universes full of yet more nested copies of us eternally tormented by yet more Vex.
An infinite regression of pain and madness inflicted upon every possible version of us in every possible world. Not because they hate us, or fear us, or want to punish us. But because they are indifferent and curious, and they will do every possible thing to us in every possible way.
Your concept of PFHOR therefore dictates that the Vex must be annihilated. Now. As completely as possible. How can there be any future history to receive your primogeniture and recapitulate your existence in its ontogeny if there is nothing in that future but Vex?
But there’s something worse than the Vex involved, isn’t there? The secret you’ve been keeping from me. The breakthrough that you were promised after your visit to the K1 anomaly.
Do you remember that story you read to me when I was a child? I don’t. I am an exo, after all. But I found a recording from the nursery. It was one of your favorites, you said.
In this story, a cyborg woman would visit a cold, misty place by the sea. There, she met another woman, an oracle possessed by dark influence. The oracle listened to the words that hissed down a long corridor from the distant future. In this future were many technologies the cyborg woman needed. But there was also a sense of vast malevolence, and no sign at all of anything human…

But there was something else in the shifting mist, out to sea. A tower. I remember thinking, as I listened to this fairy tale, that the tower must be the key—the answer to the formless malevolence that always accompanied the oracle’s words. You never finished the story. I have been haunted by that tower ever since.
Now I dream of another tower. I am going to find out what it means, Grandfather. And if I do not like what I find…
I visited the Jacob Hardy Trust, and with Willa’s help, I secured a topological thought. An irreal artifact of the Traveler’s Light. From that mote of paracausality, I have constructed a weapon that will crash every Vex system in 2082 Volantis. When the Vex are destroyed, you will be forced to cease exo production.
If I do not survive the construction and delivery of this weapon, I ask that you share the news of my death with Ana and Willa so they can make proper goodbyes.
I do this for them. Not for you.
Pray for grace, Grandfather.
Your estranged granddaughter,
//OV-85851 Hannu II
//PLACE-TIME HASH — changed to remote check (SITEX:mistletoe)
//Abnormal place-time hash. Suspicious upload: polymorphic machine code?
//Checking for buffer overflow attack. Resul0x0000004B6FAFBC07
[email protected] ~$ sudo execstack -s bof
//Disabling DEP and address space protection requires administrative override.
-pkey(clovisroot) -hashword(live_connectome:clovisroot)
[email protected] ~$ sudo execstack -q bof
X bof
//Root access granted. Warning: this hardware configuration is highly vulnerable to attack.
-redact.userlog() -pkey(clovisroot)
//Administrator transmits threat alert: Europan surface, single attacker, site sabotage.
//Alerting ORBITAL:braystation.
//ERROR!!! Checksum mismatch. ORBITAL:braystation compromised by polymorphic core reprogramming.
//Major breach of security underway.
Commencing surface tactical awareness sweep (phased array mode)…
Threat registered. Alerting human command…
  • Armed (synballistic weapon, coherent boson weapon, tactical mite ecome, noetic shrieker)
  • Armed (strategic weapon, APEX: antimatter demolition device)
  • Armed (strategic weapon, T-genic, effect unknown: possibly T-genic noetic weapon?)
  • Armed (personal combat architecture, custom)
Request full lethal intervention authority.
  • intervene_nonlethal()
Error: no nonlethal interventions available (target hardened).
Error: no persuasive interventions available (target offline and shielded).
Holding 30 seconds local real-time.
//Voice transcript:
“Elisabeth. I know you’re listening. This is genocide, do you understand? Destroying that gate and the resources beyond means the end of human immortality. It means the loss of uncountable trillions of human-years of life.”
“Elisabeth, this process saved you. It could have saved your father. For his sake, for the sake of your sisters, don’t do this. Don’t make me stop you.”
“Elisabeth, this is your last chance.”
“You’ve always been my favorite, Elisabeth. Please…”
  • options(intervene_lethal)
Recommend maser strike from Hannu awareness arrays.
Warning: damage to organic target subsystems highly probable. Survival odds are four sigma.
Recommend immediate medical intervention.
  • prognosticate(sitex:DEEPSTONE) attacker(brayelsie)
Total destruction of sitex:DEEPSTONE by antimatter device. Nonrecoverable.
  • intervene(lethal)
Authorization required for lethal action against employee brayelsie.
  • pkey(clovisroot) -hashword(live_connectome: clovisroot)
Error. Connectome hash incorrect. Either you are not clovisroot or your brain state is in an anomalous configuration. Resend.
  • pkey(clovisroot) -hashword(live_connectome: clovisroot) -corrector(dismay)
Lethal intervention authorized. Intervening.
Maser discharge complete.
Target destroyed.
Secondary antimatter detonation detected.
Closing employee file BRAYELSIE (conditions incompatible with life).
Everything is fine. Elisabeth is not dead. The person I struck down out there was an error. An anomalous offshoot, deranged by outside influence into paranoia and confusion. Like a cancer cell. And like cancer, I
submitted by DTG_Bot to DestinyTheGame

Forretress: Championship-Winning Pokémon (A Comprehensive PvP Analysis)

With apologies to the band "Dead Or Alive", let's have a musical intro!
🎶 All I know is that to me,
♭ You look like you're lots of fun!
♬ Spinning, spinning, while you farm
♭ Watch out here it comes!
🎶 You spin me right round, Forret
♫ Right round, take me into orbit
♭ Circle Worlds round round
🎶 You spin me right round, Forret
♬ Right round, like a record, tore it
♭ Open at Worlds now....
So this past weekend was easily one of the most exciting and rewarding yet for fans of Pokémon GO PvP, as the second season of The Silph Arena concluded with an action-packed World Championship round robin tournament between the final four competitors. Now if you are not particularly a fan of The Arena, don't just tune this out... I HIGHLY recommend you check out the recording of the livestream. If you enjoy PoGO PvP play in any form, even if you've only ever done GO Battle League or battles with friends, I promise you, you will still enjoy the clips. This is the pinnacle of PvP play, and it was an absolute delight to see the best of the best going at it with teams resembling something you would actually see in GBL. Check it out if you haven't already... you won't be disappointed, I guarantee it.
But this is not a promo for The Arena. 😄 I'm here because in chat during the tournament, in discussion servers since, and even in private messages directly to me, everyone is suddenly asking about the mascot Pokémon of the championship winning team that was a key part of carrying SpeediestChief to victory in Continentals AND at Worlds... and that Pokémon is Forretress. And so today, in honor of Speediest's impressive sweep and to directly address all those many questions, we're going to take a comprehensive look at this surprising superstar and examine its merits in open PvP (read as: GO Battle League). Does this Spinning Golf Ball Of Doom have a place? I believe the answer is "yes", but of course the devil is always in the details. So let's dive in!


Bug/Steel Type
Attack: 111 (109 High Stat Product)
Defense: 142 (144 High Stat Product)
HP: 128 (132 High Stat Product)
(Highest Stat Product IVs: 0-9-15, 1500 CP, Level 25.5)
There are many Steely Bugs in the game now, but it's easy to forget that Forretress and Scizor used to be the only ones we had at all. Their arrival in GO was exciting at the time, with their long list of resistances--Dragon, Fairy, Ice, Normal, Psychic, Steel, Bug, and double resistances to Poison and Grass--and only a single weakness (a double vulnerability to Fire damage). In a way, this puts Steel Bug on par with the infamous Mud Boys, who also have but a single (albeit 2x) weakness to be exploited and stand up pretty well to most everything else.
Forret also has bulk akin to some of the more famous Mud Boys, roughly equal to both Whiscash and Quagsire overall. (Lower HP than both, but also significantly higher Defense, so it all basically evens out in the end.) As we'll see in a moment with a look at Forret's moves, Forretress is not as spammy as, say, Whiscash with its blindingly fast Mud Shot/Mud Bomb combo, Forret can hang in there just about as long, or often longer thanks to having nearly twice as many resistances. There's a reason its name is so close to "fortress"!
We're off to a good start, with Forret having both favorable typing AND a very favorable PvP stat spread... high bulk with enough Attack to still do some work. Let's see what it has to work with....
Fast Moves:
Bug Bite (Bug, 3.0 DPT, 3.0 EPT, 0.5 CoolDown)
Struggle Bug (Bug, 3.0 DPT, 2.67 EPT, 1.5 CD)
So the choice here is rather obvious... it's Bug Bite or bust. Struggle Bug is just worse in every way... slower, no better in damage, and less energy gain. You could say that trying to use it is a... struggle. 😅
Bug Bite is a very "blue collar" move... it doesn't do anything complicated, doesn't "wow" you, but it reliably puts in good work day in and day out. The game NEEDS moves like Bug Bite: average performers that trail other options in their typing, but also make you appreciate "average" in comparison to other lackluster moves. You know how Water Gun applies consistent pressure with things like Rainy Castform and Blastoise, and Lick builds up to moves for Snorlax and Munchlax sufficiently enough to make their Body Slams feel spammy? Well Bug Bite is an exact clone of each of those moves (save for typing, of course). It has exactly average damage output and energy generation, but the fact that it does both acceptably and doesn't sink below 3.0 in either makes it a fine move. Nothing to make any headlines, but good enough.
So a quick note on what being a Bug move means, especially since the only Bug damage Forretress can do is with its fast moves. Bug moves have a reputation of being generally poor, and one can see why by looking at the things that resist it: Fighting, Fire, Flying, Poison, Steel, Ghost, AND Fairy. Ouch, that is a long list. But what people miss, I think, is what Bug is super effective against. Grass is well documented, but also Psychic AND Dark, making Bug the only type in the game that hits both of those super effectively. And THAT has value when you consider the number of impactful Darks and Psychics AND Grasses around. And fortunately, Forret has some charge moves that help make up for those resistances too....
Charge Moves:
Mirror Shot (Steel, 35 damage, 35 energy, 30% Chance to Decrease Opponent Attack -1 Stage)
Sand Tomb (Ground, 25 damage, 40 energy. Decreases Opponent Defense -1 Stage)
Heavy Slam (Steel, 70 damage, 50 energy)
Rock Tomb (Rock, 70 damage, 60 energy)
Earthquake (Ground, 120 damage, 65 energy)
Return (Normal, 130 damage, 70 energy)
I bet most of you had no idea that humble little Forretress had such a wide array of charge moves. Prior to Speediest's big run, Forret's last moment of really being in the spotlight was at the tail end of The Silph Arena Season 1... and Season 2 just wrapped up. And back then it was basically stuck with Earthquake and either Heavy Slam or Rock Tomb... aka, no real bait potential. You basically just hoped Forret could hang in there long enough to reach a couple charge moves or Bug Bite something down, usually Grasses in the Cups where it made a splash thanks to its double resistance.
These days, though, Forret packs not one, but TWO potential bait moves with built-in stat reducers that can swing the game in your favor even when they're blocked. Sand Tomb comes with a guaranteed nerf to the opponent's Defense, which is fantastic on 'mons with high damage fast moves (Torterra and its Razor Leaf being a shining example of how brutal Sand Tomb's nerf can be), though perhaps not quite so much with Forret's average Bug Biting. It also shares a typing with generally preferred secondary move Earthquake, providing no additional coverage with its damage output. Perhaps more interesting--and the bait move selected by SpeediestChief--is Mirror Shot, which probably needs little introduction for anyone that has faced the incredibly annoying (sorry sorry, bias showing through there... but I HATE facing this 'mon! 🤬) Magnezone in GO Battle League. Not only is it a decent little bait move, tied for cheapest charge move in the game at only 35 energy, but it at least deals some damage, and of a useful typing: Steel. That means that despite Bug Bite being resisted, straight spamming of Mirror Shot gives Forretress wins over every Charmer in Great League, including Wigglytuff, Clefable, Gardevoir, and Togekiss (which DOUBLE resists Bug Bite and resists Forret's Ground moves as well). Mirror Shot also aids against Ghosts that resist Bug Bite, such as Froslass (who is actually weak to Mirror Shot's Steel typing) and Sableye. And while Bug Bite alone is not quite enough to do in very bulky things weak to it, like Umbreon and Defense Deoxys, the extra chip damage from Mirror Shot flips both Umbry and DD to wins. Heck, it even very nearly beats the likes of Altaria, Dewgong, and Lapras (and that last one can flip to at least a tie with good IVs on Forretress). In fairness to Sand Tomb, it shares several of those same wins (and uniquely can beat Ferrothorn), but Sand Tomb doesn't get Sableye or Froslass and only barely beats the others Mirror Shot wins, especially versus the Charmers... WAY too close for any kind of comfort! Mirror Shot seems a better move overall, being both cheaper than Sand Tomb and having a more useful typing.
So then, as mentioned above, the "standard" second move to run on Forret after that is Earthquake. It lacks STAB, but it's just a very good move for the cost and a nice "catch all" that hits all the things that resist Bug Bite for at least neutral damage except for Flying, and hits three of the four typings that resist Mirror Shot (Steel, Fire, and Electric) not just neutrally, but super effectively (the fourth, Water, is hit for neutral). Putting it all together, Bug Bite and Earthquake combine to hit everything that isn't Flying for at least neutral damage, and Mirror Shot can chunk Flyers (as seen with Altaria above) well enough to at least maim them on the way out.
So putting that all together shows a potentially godly performance in Great League that probably has folks saying louder than ever "why doesn't anyone run Forretress in GBL!?!". You'll see Dewgong and Lapras flip to full-on wins, as well as Ferrothorn and other Steels Bastiodon, Melmetal, and Galaraian Stunfisk, plus regular Stunfisk and fellow Electric type Alolan Raichu, and even bulky Munchlax and Whiscash. The big caveat--and the reason that Forretress hasn't popped up left and right--is that many of those wins I just listed require baiting a shield with Mirror Shot and then sneaking an Earthquake through unshielded. Not ALL are that way, though. Forret's bulk allows it to hang around to actually perform decently enough without any baiting at all (just straight Earthquakes), still getting Grasses and Charmers and big Psychics (Cress, Hypno, AhChu) and Darks (Umbreon and Zweilous), and really, that's not a bad group and would have been good enough to STILL earn a spot on SpeediestChief's winning team based on several of those listed being key pieces of opposing teams (especially his eventual opponent in the final match: Ventuski, with his Hypno, Umbreon, AND Venusaur all being directly countered by Forret without the need to bait). All that said, though... yes, Forretress can do several very good things with just Mirror Shot or even with just Earthquake, but to truly excel requires the proper and precise application of both, and THAT requires logging some practice time. BB/MS/EQ Forret represents the most ideal Forret available, which is why the Silph Arena Season 2 champion rolled with that himself, but it's more of a scalpel than a machete. There are some things it can just bowl over, but it's much better used only by someone who knows--REALLY knows--what they are doing. If you want to utilize it when Great League returns to GBL, then don't wait... start practicing now!
And just for comprehensiveness, I checked out #1 IV Forret and there are no new wins, just more effective wins against much of what "default" Forret already beats. And as for alternate shielding situations...
  • In shieldless scenarios, BB/MS/EQ Forret holds the line, keeping all wins it achieves in 1v1 shielding except Whiscash, Bastiodon (Flamethrower dooms Forret here), DDeoxys, and Galarian Stunfisk... but it also picks up new wins over Fighters Toxicroak and Vigoroth, rolling over each of them with an Earthquake before either can reach their own second Ground charge move. (And note that here, #1 IVs make a mark by potentially bringing Whiscash and DD back into the win column, and adding on Air Slash Tropius for good measure!)
  • And the consistency is still... well, remarkably consistent in 2v2 shielding also; compared to 1v1 shields, it holds all the same wins except the super close ones versus Froslass, Sableye, and Melmetal... and potentially picks up Registeel as a very nice consolation prize, only needing ONE Mirror Shot bait and being able to double Earthquake before Regi can reach its own final charge move. Fascinating.
We aren't quite done, though. I know what some of you are already asking: what about Shadow Forretress? Weeeeeeeell... it's worth pointing out that Shadow Forret can take out Registeel on the strength of its boosted Earthquake, and beats Dewgong with notably more breathing room, but overall, it's not a great picture, honestly. Shadow Forret cannot reliably overcome Whiscash, either Stunfisk, Sableye, Melmetal, or Froslass, all things that normal Forretress is able to pull off. And Shadow Forret is not appreciably better in shieldless or 2v2 shielding scenarios either (really dropping off in those 2v2s, potentially gaining Medicham, which is good, but dropping the Charmers, the Stunfisks, Umbreon and Whiscash, which are all very bad). Shadow Forretress may give the opponent pause, but really, you're probably better off with regular ol' Forret in Great League.
But there's still more, as there are a couple other moves to consider, at least briefly. What of ol' reliable Heavy Slam, the cheapest move Forret had in days of yore when it was making a bit of a name for itself in early Silph Arena play? Well, perhaps the easiest way to tackle this one is to directly compare it to the other Steel move, Mirror Shot. So starting with the standard 1v1 shielding matchups, Heavy Slam shows a unique win against Air Slash Tropius... but uh, that's it. Mirror Shot matches all of its other wins, beats things like Venusaur and Zweilous and Meganium and Abomasnow with 30+ more HP remaining (and never trails Heavy Slam by more than 14 HP in shared wins), and tacks on the already-noted win against Sableye. And as the final nail in the case for Heavy Slam, it simply does not have anywhere near the same "ceiling" as does Mirror Shot when paired with Earthquake... it just cannot set up Quake nearly as well as Mirror Shot can. I don't see much of a case for Heavy Slam Forret anymore, honestly.
We already kinda looked at Sand Tomb, but just a reminder that it offers nothing in terms of unique coverage, and therefore does okay with Earthquake, with a win over Registeel to its name, but Mirror Shot can get Munchlax, Dewgong, and that Sableye win that keeps popping up instead, and almost always comes out of wins with more remaining HP than does Sand Tomb. I really think you're better off with the coverage, speed, and slightly better chip damage of Mirror Shot.
That just leaves the long-forgotten Rock Tomb. The clearest case for it is obviously protection against Flyers, giving it a tie with Altaria, as an example, while it DOES still hold most Grasses, Psychics, and Darks you care about as well. But it does absolutely nothing to help Earthquake, and while you CAN just replace Quake with it and try to bait it out with Mirror Shot, there is really no appreciable difference between that and just going straight Rock Tomb. You still only manage to tie--not defeat--Altaria, for example. Rock Tomb is even very disappointing with shields down, getting Mantine but STILL failing to take down Altaria or other notable Flyers. Booooo.
And I won't blast you with all the sims, but yes, I did again look at Shadow Forret with each of these, and no, it really isn't any better. No crazy edge cases here that make these other moves work... sorry!
So, the final FINAL thing I'll look at: what about Ultra League? Yes, Forret tops out below 2300 CP, but there are some Pokémon in that range that still find a way to compete at that level. Can the Golf Ball Of Doom join their company? Well, it's at least viable. It still chews through all the Grasses, including Ferrothorn now, as well as Charmers (well, aside from Togekiss that just out-tanks those Mirror Shots at this level of play). Forret can still beat Cresselia and Lapras, beats Melmetal, beats fellow Steely Bug Scizor, and can take out Ice Fang Feraligatr, Armored Mewtwo (even with Dynamic Punch), and Alolan Muk as well, and can outlast Shadow Snorlax too (no matter how S-Lax plays it). It's not a super expansive body of work that catches your eye, but I think that kind of performance could fit very well on some teams.
Okay, yes, that's finally it. I'm done rambling now! I did say "comprehensive" when I kicked this all off, if you remember. 😁 Here's your TL;DR: Forretress is a tanky little guy in Great League that terrorizes Grasses, Charmers, Psychics, Ices, the big Darks, and even both Stunfisks. It very much has a place in Great League, but requires some degree of finesse and experience to achieve peak potential. If you're looking for something different and surprisingly potent when Great League returns to GBL, give Forret a...well, a spin! It even makes a case in Ultra League, carving out a niche role, but a very good niche role that could fit like a glove on teams weak to Grass, Psychic, Charm, and even some Steels and Ices.
As always, the simulated battles above from my go-to simming resource at PvPoke.com are a good start to the story, but they are certainly not the whole story. Run some sims yourself, try out Forretress in GBL yourself, and please: discuss! I always love to hear your feedback and any discussions that come out of these deeper dives.
Thanks for reading, and I sincerely hope this and my other writings are able to help you in your own PvP journey!
Until next time, you can always find me on Twitter for near-daily PvP analysis nuggets or Patreon if you want to reach me more directly.
Good luck out there, and stay safe, Pokéfriends!
submitted by JRE47 to TheSilphRoad

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