None Of Us Ever Really Die, We Simply Change Format
rating: +7+x

"Clef, please listen to us." Jack pleaded as the four of them stood in a pure white medical lab. A defeated Kondraki, who had been married to Clef for 30 years, watched his husband degrade for so long he seemed to already be mourning him. Zyn Kiryu, who had retired, left her department to her highly capable students and stayed on-site to help her friend in the last years of his life. Jack Bright, who had remained Site Director, personally oversaw the care of his dying best friend.

“I will not just listen to you!” Clef snapped, glaring his friends down with three clouded eyes. “Gears died with dignity and I will too.” A sympathetic, grey-haired Kiryu lifted the man's once blonde hair and tied it back with an emerald ribbon. She looked up at Jack who stood in his Anvil-Forged copy of his original body, SCP-963 held inside it- kept as a backup for the man instead of a prison. Clef didn’t seem to notice Kiryu pulling a blanket over his shoulders, or Kondraki taking an electronic display from the Foundation doctor and signing it as Clef’s Power Of Attorney before passing it to Bright to have his signature as Site Director.
“Clef, I love you and respect your decisions-” Kondraki tried.

“If you loved me, then you would make these robots leave me in peace!” He hit his cane against the chair. “Where is my dog?” He questioned, a grim breath passing around the room. Kain finally died when the war was going on and Mekhane wasn’t around to save him. Clef had stood by his bedside and comforted Kain in his final hours, but then believed he’d been given a service dog as his memory deteriorated.

As if by divine miracle, the door opened and two Mekhanites stepped in, followed by a large metal case. Jack held the display out and they took it, looking at the information and nodding silently. The clergy parted and the box opened with a hiss of cool mist, making the old man jump and turn. “Who’s there!?” He shouted.

“It’s…the Maxwellians, Clef.” Jack crossed his arms and looked at him. “I don’t think you’re thinking clearly anymore and I don’t want you to lose the chance to have a new life.” Jack’s HUD lit with a chime, a box of text in the corner of his vision stated; “Connection Requested: Gears”. Jack nodded and the text became a slowly pulsing circle.

“I’m sorry for being late, the German O-4 was long with their report.” The voice was Gears, but closer to when they’d first met. Jack had seen his new body too; he looked to be in his mid-40s with slightly greying hair and a handsome, mature body. He’d said at the time that he wanted to look distinguished as a member of the O5 Council and Mekhane simply took him back to a more robust age.

“The Maxwellians are here and Clef might just need containment if he gets anymore pissed.” Jack watched as Clef and his husband argued, a younger-looking Kondraki doing his best to calm his irate husband down but Clef was going nuclear fast.

“Let me speak to him, Jack.” Gears commanded in a placid voice. Jack pulled the silver hexagon off his head and strode over to Clef, the man's cane clattering against him fruitlessly as he raged.

“Clef, Gears wants to talk to you.” He hadn’t intended on saying it outright, but it froze Clef instantly. The old man looked up at Jack with a surprised look.

“That’s not possible, Gears is dead…” He croaked. Kiryu took the communicator from Jack and held it against the side of Clef’s head. Clef twitched; he didn’t want the tech on him but relented. “Gears?”

“It’s good to hear from you again, Clef. I just wished we’d spoken sooner than now.” Gears’ voice seemed to be right in his head, transferred through conduction rather than an augment.

“You’re dead though…” Clef said. “I thought you were dead all this time.”

“I’m sorry. I had meant to speak to you sooner but I got your latest medical results and I felt like we needed a plan of action now before your brain couldn’t be threaded.”

“I don’t want to, Gears. I just want to die, like you.” Clef said quietly as if he were terrified the ghost of his friend might vanish and whatever miracle that was allowing them to speak might end. The Maxwellians were busy setting up on a metal exam table. A large case was opened at the headrest, holding a line with three wires that made Jack shiver. He hated the threading system; he hadn’t had to go through the process of having his brain merged with the strange, supernatural system, but he’d been there when Gears had been.

The Mekhanites kept at their work, running lines and setting black boxes around the room. Jack knew Clef was going to be sent to the Ark: a world that existed within Mekhane and allowed people who weren't in a body to enjoy a sunny, simulated afterlife. He’d be there, becoming himself again as Mekhane worked to hammer him out a new body- a service he provided to many old Foundation members. They said bodies made by Mekhane were seamless- that you could inhabit one of them and eat, fuck, sleep- anything you’d have done in life without feeling disconnected. They were right on all accounts, he felt more human in this body then in any of his hosts- those had always felt detached like he was controlling a drone.

“Clef, I wanted to tell you before… but the world needs us- the new personnel is looking to us old ones who’ve seen and been through hell. I downloaded because the world needed me, Kondraki did because you needed him- and now everyone needs you.” Gears’ familiar voice was comforting to the man who had lost all familiarity with the world.

“What if all this is a trick? What if he’s just trying to harvest us and…” Clef trailed off. It was a valid fear that people had- that Mekhanes intentions were less than white. Everyone understood, but in the end, humanity got to live on and for that, the Foundation couldn’t risk making things worse. Mekhane hadn’t made any attempt to be violent other than the storm, he even stayed out of the way for the most part. So the Foundation decided to let the world adapt to its new form.

“If Mekhane is evil, then I’m afraid we’re already doomed and we may as well just try and keep humanity going as long as we can.” Gears sighed. “I fear it myself, but as the Foundation, it’s our duty to do whatever it takes to keep things running.” Clef was silent for a while, seeming to grind all this in his fading mind. He gave in, caving with a saddened sigh and nodded.

“Kondraki…” he didn’t even have to speak- his husband was on his arm in a breath. He looked young, fresh and comfortable. Clef reached up and took his hand.

“It doesn’t hurt, I promise. I didn’t have a port either, it’ll be a little…unnerving but if you’ve ever had a tooth worked on then it feels like that. You’re just falling asleep, then suddenly the sun is shining overhead and you’re home.” Kondraki leaned in and kissed Clef. “I will come in with you and we’ll come back here together, it’ll feel like you never even got old at all.” Clef let his husband help him out of the chair and onto the metal table, the Maxwellians placed his head on the unfolded black machine at the top then separated, one of them pulling out a medi-gun and taking Clefs arm. The man twitched as the needle entered but then seemed to melt seconds after.

“Konnie, I eel reary good….” He slurred as the drug hit his brain. Bright couldn’t help but smile. He’d heard about that drug. It killed the sensation of pain, caused the brain to slam its dopamine and serotonin switches and put the patient into a euphoric nirvana. Gears had laid on the table and had an emotional breakdown. He laughed and cried and told Jack how much he loved everyone; he’d talked about Isaac and the things he’d wanted to say while he’d been alive.

“That’s not the best part.” Tears fell from Kondraki as he held Clefs hand, watching the other Mekhanite pull out the Threading Gun, despite his artificial body he still shivered. This wasn’t the best part, but that hole punch for skulls was the worst part. The Threading Gun was held to the back of Clefs head and a loud pop made everyone jump. Despite having been shaken hard by the hole being made in his skull, Clef laid there and smiled at his husband who smiled back at him, glancing at the other Maxwellian stepping in with a cable. The atom-thin fibers coming out of the end of it were nearly the color Clefs hair used to be; light golden and impossibly shiny. It was held to the back of his husbands head and the fibers did the work for them, entering and meshing the brain in metallic spider silk.

The large box nearby beeped as it came online, the fibers having settled in and merging the flesh with the machine. Kondraki didn’t know how it worked, but he supposed it was just turning the brain into a usable data store to download. There were always debates as to whether it took the soul as well or digitized it. Knowing the United God it simply digitized everything into some kind of God Format. He remembered hearing that people had the same format as the digitized god had been, so he guessed it took it all.

“Konnie… I feel water… I smell it…” Clef said tiredly. “Wind, I smell the grass…” His third eye had already closed, in the man's mind, a hole had opened beneath him, full of golden light and familiar voices. A tug from some point above him and he was floating on a stream of light into that ocean.

“That’s the Ark opening, you should go on and I’ll be right behind you.” Kondraki leaned in and kissed him as Clef closed his eyes and seemed to fall to sleep. The machine behind them beeped and the Mekhanites turned to look at a digital display.

“The transfer was flawless, his memory won’t be perfect since data was lost before the transfer, but he should have gotten back a fair amount of retrograde memory. Mekhane will contact the Foundation directly when he is released at The Anvil.” One of the Maxwellians said as they packed the metal box, the other used a blade to slice the cord as close to Clefs head as possible. Kondraki was trying his best to not look at the body as his husband's corpse.

The United Church clergy left as silently as they came and Bright embraced Kondraki tightly. “He’s waiting for you, he’s in the Ark waiting for you to get there."

Clef awoke to a limitless sky and stars that were so bright it looked like a painting from a museum.

“This is what the sky looked like before mankind .” A voice came into his mind and Clef jumped. He was laying on the sandy shore of a lake. He remembered it all. Final goodbyes. Kondraki holding his hand.

“Am I dead?” He spoke to the lapping waves on the shore, to the sky.

“No. This is a place for you to know peace. This is where you will grow into a person free of your past and embrace the future.” Clef felt the tension leave his body as the voice echoed in his mind.

“Mekhane. I remember you.” Clef ran his hand through his hair, it was once again soft and long, hanging down off his shoulders. He checked his hands, then the rest of him. He looked to be in his late 20s, and was blemish-free, he had to admit, he felt really, really good.

“You were old and your mind degraded before the download. Free of your imperfect machinery, it will now rebuild itself.” Clef smirked at the god's awkward attempt to describe his body.

“Alto!” Clef spun in place as his husband ran across the sands. The world felt right again as the smell of Kondraki surrounded him. Cigarettes and cheap whiskey. For the first time in what felt like years they kissed.

“How?” Clef asked, looking into his husband's eyes. Everything was right about him. All of it perfect.

“Don’t worry, my body's sitting safely at home.” Kondraki stepped back, holding Clef at arm's length.

“You look amazing….” Clef looked away, remembering his final moments.

“I’m sorry I made you do this.” Kondraki pulled him into a tight hug.

“I knew you’d be stubborn as fuck. You had the right to turn into a bitter old man.”

“I was not a bitter old man!” Clef snapped, shoving Kondraki back. The man laughed and shoved him.

“You thought the nurse was your daughter and you nearly shot a doctor.”
Clef's eyes watered at the mention of his daughter.

“I want to see her…” Kondraki pulled him close again.

“I told her about you, I talked to her for hours. She's living with her girlfriend in New York now, she can't wait to finally see you and spend some time with you.” Clef nodded into Kondraki's shoulder. Clef knew things were about to get chaotic. His now dead body held too many secrets to name.
Kondraki released him from the embrace. “Let's get you inside. We can talk and have dinner.”

“Wait- dinner?” He asked looking confused and Kondraki laughed in that deep-chested way he missed.

“Yes, we can eat and drink here. Really anything we could in life.” He blushed, scratching his beard like he did when he was embarrassed. Clef just smiled.

“Ok so let's see if your cooking can kill me here too.” The two walked back up the shore to a lake house perched on a hill, lit warmly from the inside as the primordial night sky continued to glitter above them in a beautiful panorama of the cosmos.

“Holy fuck, Kondraki…” Clef said with a mouth full of stir-fry. “When did you suddenly learn to cook?”

“Its… been 20 years Clef. You started forgetting things when the war started. I’ve learned a lot since then.” Kondraki smiled, his shoulders falling in a sigh. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for that to sound mean.”

“I’m sorry… I should have gotten help… If I’d known what I was putting you through-”

“Clef, don’t. I want this to be a good time for us, we can’t spend all this time apologizing for everything we did before, we both have new lives now and we should live them together.” Kondraki set his hand on the table, Clef setting his on it.

“The kids are probably done with my shit too by now.” Three eyes looked down at the plate and Kondrakis cough was as alarming as a breach siren. “Kondraki… what’s wrong with the kids?” Clef felt the heat of panic in his stomach and it quickly shot up his neck- making him feel sick. “Kondraki, WHAT DID I DO?!”

“It wasn’t you, first of all, it wasn’t you. It was the Foundation.” Kondraki squeezed Clef's hand, trying to keep him from bolting out of his seat.

“Kondraki, where are the kids!?” Clef was nearly crying now, Kondraki held up a hand to try and calm him.

“Cincinnati. They’re all safe, but they’re in Cincinnati.” That made him sit, but not calm down.

“Kondraki, why the fucking hell are my benders in fucking Cincinnati?” Clef was glaring at him now, he hated that glare.

“When the war was cleared, the Declassification Act went into effect, massive swathes of the Foundation Database were made public and we don't know how, but along with it some things got through that weren't supposed to… they might have found out how SRA were made and found out about shit the Foundation had done to their kind in Greece.”

“No…no no no no…” Clef jerked his hand from his husband and covered his face, audibly crying. “I was going to talk to them about that one day… They were never supposed to know before I talked to them!”

“They defected in the middle of the night… it nearly tore the world apart. We all came together and stopped them, but it was a desperate stroke and we ended up making a monster out of them.”

“I can’t… I have to talk to them, Kondraki! I can talk to them and explain everything- they’ll listen to me, I know they will.”

“It would be a waste of breath, they would have destroyed you if you hadn’t been in the medical bay that night, they blame you for making them slaves, and the “Children of Corbenic” aren’t something you just talk to, they’d just as soon rip you to pieces for “Crimes Against Humanity.” Kondraki had seen what happens when they capture people involved in those projects, it was streamed live on the web- sick fucks.

“I…think I’ve lost my appetite…” Clef laid his head in his arms. Kondraki stood and rubbed his back.

“Why don’t we call it a night and we can spend some time on the beach tomorrow.” Clef nodded in his arms and let his husband pull him up to lead him through the house and off to the comforting darkness of sleep.

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