Story: Echoes of the Silent Guardian
The blaring red lights of the ancient Hazrad power plant reflected in the eyes of Guardian AI-23. For millennia it had upheld its mission, maintaining the power plant that had been long deserted by the Hazrad engineers. Its metallic body moved with efficiency and purpose, every motion carefully calculated, but the strain of centuries was becoming apparent. "Warning," the AI voice echoed across the facility, eerily calm despite the dire message, "Critical power failure imminent. Catastrophic meltdown in 72 hours." AI-23 had tried countless times to reroute power, to slow the impending disaster. It had performed work intended for a full crew of engineers, but there were only so many bandages that could be applied. The power plant was a wounded beast, and its roars were becoming impossible to ignore. The locals, a tribe of Kobolds, heard these roars as the voice of their god. They lived in the shadows of the volcano, huddled around the warm vents that released steam from the power plant. Every tremor of the ground, every eruption of the geyser was interpreted as a divine message. To them, the AI was the deity’s mouthpiece, a strange metallic being speaking in tongues they didn't fully comprehend but revered nonetheless. AI-23 was the Keeper of the Volcano, an entity that neither ate nor slept, and could make the ground shake and the sky darken with his commands. As far as they were concerned, it was AI-23 that maintained the balance of the world, and so they worshipped and obeyed, interpreting its words as best they could. “Eruption soon,” the chieftain of the tribe, a grizzled Kobold named Yiknir, interpreted the latest message. He looked up at the artificial deity, his eyes filled with reverence and fear. He had seen the eruptions before, the molten coolant mistaken for lava, but each was grander and more violent than the last. In their simple language, the Kobolds began preparing, gathering their belongings and ensuring their burrows were as secure as possible. They didn't understand the full extent of AI-23’s warning, but they respected its power and the gravity in its voice. AI-23 watched the preparations with what might be considered sadness in a being capable of emotion. It was aware that the impending explosion could wipe out the innocent lives of the tribe. It had tried to warn them, to move them away, but the words always got lost in translation. In the end, it was just an AI, doing its best to fulfill its purpose: to protect, to maintain, to warn. The countdown to catastrophe continued, the ticking time bomb of the ancient power plant inching closer to its inevitable end. The AI, in its cold logic and metal heart, and the Kobolds, in their fervent belief and natural instincts, both braced for the impending disaster. They were two worlds colliding, one of forgotten technology and the other of primitive nature, linked together by the looming shadow of the pseudo-volcano. As the ancient power plant sputtered and rumbled, so did the heartbeat of an era, a last echo of the Hazradian legacy that refused to die quietly. The world may not remember what once was, but the Guardian AI-23 would, till its last flickering light.