/install00: Clean

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The world ached and groaned, and a gash of blinding light tore through the darkness. A wrenching scream shook every surface, while a crimson pulse beat through the jagged hole. Loose tubing fell across its face as bubbling plasma drained from the wound, leaving a sticky residue against its body.

It blinked. It could move.

With lethargic limbs it pushed the cables aside. It winced against the bright flashes and grasped the shredded hole with both hands, but the dense metal would not budge. Then, it drew its appendages close, noting their differences with abrupt curiosity. The right was solid, like the shell surrounding it – metal, mechanical, strong – but the left was not. It was soft, congealed, and weak. The fabric had torn when it gripped the rupture, and dark liquid seeped from the punctures. It knew what this material was. It was skin.

Another tremor shook the foundations, disrupting the remaining plasma as something heavy struck the shell. The being realized it might not be able to escape, for the metal would not budge no matter how hard it pushed. It was futile. It needed to find a better solution, a direct exit. It needed to cut.

Or perhaps there was an easier way. It slid its robotic hand through the gap and felt along the outside of the cocoon, scraping across a glass panel until it found a small port. The index finger split at the tip as small wires snaked out, darting into a pinpoint hole. Electrical signals coursed through its arm, tickling its metal skeleton, and the hairs on its neck began to rise. In another moment the cocoon gave way, sliding open with a hiss. The remaining viscous contents splashed to the floor, and it was free.

It gazed curiously at its surroundings, and found the environment to be entirely in disorder. Massive machinery had collapsed to the floor, dragging down thick tubing and crushing other cocoons. A fleshy hand protruded from one in a useless gesture, and it tried interacting with the rigid limb, but there was no response.

It caught its reflection in the pooling dark liquid, illuminated by bursts of violent red light. It was a humanoid, thinly built, with machinery covering most of its left side. Hardware plated its skull, which was otherwise covered in unkempt hair and pale flesh. It could barely see its shadowed face, but it knew that it was a male. This was important for some reason, but he was not sure why.

The longer he stared into the pooling plasma, the more he felt a rising urge to consume it. The substance appealed to him, and he instinctively rubbed inside his left elbow. There was a tiny node buried there, and with a tug, the thin tube slid from beneath his skin. He lowered it to the plasma, and a vacuum promptly sucked the puddle into his circulation. The substance was invigorating, and he gladly took more.

As he gazed unblinking around the room, he noticed something else. Another hand reached out beneath the destruction, entirely metal and longer than the man himself. It was attached to a multi-jointed arm, so mangled by debris that it blended in. He traced the slender limb to a body, and realized this creature covered the entire floor, its segmented body stretching into the wall like a massive cable. A bulbous torso sprouted numerous appendages, and its small head was crushed beneath fallen machinery, leaking dark plasma through cracks in its armored visage. The man wondered why it no longer served its purpose.

After many moments, the red flashes finally stopped, and the sirens ceased their cry. There was a final golden glow, then everything went dark. Only a faint light shone beyond an archway, illuminating another area, and with renewed interest he left the collapsed chamber.

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The next room was very different from the first. It was not equally proportionate, and stretched very far while offering little width. The arched tunnel was lined with metallic ribs and snaking wires, while blinking displays and faded screens lit up the walls. The man turned to his left, then to his right, indifferent to choosing either path. Before him was a dead end, and behind him was where he had already been. There was only right or left, if he wanted to go anywhere. He looked down at his hands again, feeling curiosity rise whenever he studied the organic one. It was intriguing, different from the rest of this world. He turned right, and strolled carelessly down the snaking corridor.

After eight hundred and twelve feet, the path branched off at a fork, then split again further to the right. He paused, unable to make so many choices simultaneously, and stood aimlessly at the crossroads. The man stared ahead with a vacant expression, and listened. Creaks and groans echoed through the metal tunnels as if they were constantly shifting. Liquid dripped from a forgotten leak, and steam spat through ventilation panels. The hum of electrical currents undercut everything. The entire world was moving, pulsing, circulating, thriving with some unknown purpose.

A louder echo came from one of the corridors, and he refocused his vision. A figure sprinted into view, followed promptly by a much larger being. They collided and fell to the ground in a tangled heap, but the commotion only lasted a moment before subsiding. The greater creature rested on four legs and nuzzled the thing beneath it with a jerking eagerness. The abrupt event startled the man, and he stared in silent fascination as the distant figures connected.

The creature's metal head shot up, its mane of wires bristling visibly. As quickly as it had appeared, it bolted back into the cavernous paths and vanished from detection. The world continued to churn, and the man continued to patiently stare, but the other figure did not move. Everything else kept working, as it should, so the man followed its example and approached without concern.

When he got close enough, he saw that the fallen entity was not male like himself, but female, a mixture of biological and technological components in humanoid form. Dark hair spilled across her oval face, and her arms and legs were splayed to either side. Her torso had been disassembled, revealing internal components that hung haphazardly, and liquid plasma leaked from the cracks in her exterior. Like the crushed metallic creature in the first room, she had ceased to function.

Before the man could approach further, something popped into view. A tiny creature appeared, nothing more than a wrinkled, fleshy face mounted on spindly limbs, which clicked along the floor as it approached the body. Five tiny arms were raised in defense, with the rear one holding a transparent vial. The man felt a surge upon seeing another functioning being, and took an eager step towards it, but the multi-legged head hissed menacingly. The sound made him step back in alarm, and he stood motionless as the mobile cranium crawled over the female. It began scraping as much spilled plasma into the vial as possible, all while keeping a wary eye on the confused man.

Once it had gathered what little it could, the stranger closed the half-empty container and turned to flee. The man started to follow, but the creature turned on him with another hiss. He jerked to a stop, realizing that he was doing something incorrect, and desperately sought to resolve the conflict. He tugged on the inside of his elbow, exposing the retracted artery, and offered its contents to the stranger. The head recoiled and eyed him suspiciously, though it did not run. It watched as wet residue trickled from the intravenous tube, and tensed as each droplet struck the paneled floor.

It took a step closer, hesitated, then fled hastily into the labyrinth of metal. As it vanished behind a cloud of vapor, the man lowered his arm in defeat. He stared after the stranger for many moments, until he slowly turned to study the vacant corridor, as if searching for another being to interact with. There were none. His vision fell back to the female lying on the ground, and he knelt beside her, wondering what made her different from active creatures like the stranger and himself.

She was made up of the same material as them – mostly carbon, titanium, and aluminum – but yet there was something missing. The man struggled to identify what it was, perplexed by this anomaly. The world around him buzzed with electricity, overflowed with information and energy, yet this figure was an isolated void. This enigma had great importance, he knew, but he did not understand why.

Then, he became inspired. The man extracted the cable from his elbow again and studied the end of it. A small ring of aluminum and silver wrapped around the opening, with tiny prongs extending from its surface, and there was a definite reason for this design. He felt carefully around the female's arm and discovered she too had tubes beneath her skin. After a moment of investigating her aluminum ring, it twisted and caused the prongs to retract, allowing space to insert his own.

With a quiet snap, he successfully connected the two tubes, and allowed the plasmic substance to flow into her. Feeling accomplished, he sat beside the immobile figure and waited patiently for the results.

He did not measure the passing moments as he had measured his footsteps. He knew they were approximately over twelve thousand when he noticed movement again. He scanned the corridor and realized the stranger had returned, or perhaps it had been watching the entire time. It was irrelevant. The man turned back to the figure at his side, still strewn about with a vacuous stare. She had not moved a single digit.

He felt incorrect, even more than before. He realized the sensation was not a result of his failures, but from internal malfunctioning. His optics had dimmed, and his response time was delayed by nearly a full second. The plasma was crucial to functioning after all, just not for her. The man had wasted his own energy through misunderstanding.

Rising unsteadily, he knew he must return to the original room. He began retracing his route, vaguely aware that the stranger was following him. He was not concerned. The oval containers would have plenty of plasma for them both.

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He dragged his heavy boots, feeling like they had increased in mass, and stepping over the debris was difficult. He made his way to a cracked container and slid his tube into the residing plasma, and soon the rejuvenating substance flowed into him again. He sat down to relieve his overworked legs, as the nourishment washed away any incorrect sensations.

There was an audible clicking, and he turned as the stranger cautiously entered the chamber. It saw him drawing plasma from the container, and its eyes bulged even further from their sockets. It moved forward but stopped itself, staring at the man once again in distrust. He had taken enough to feel normal again, so he retracted his tube and stepped away from the shell, giving the stranger enough room to approach. Its suspicion seemed to fade, and eventually it crawled onto the container and submerged one of its vials in the plasma. It withdrew the filled object with wonder, and as the man watched curiously, the stranger capped the vial and plugged it into the back of its cranium. Its eyes fluttered in uncontrollable surges, and the substance bubbled as it began to circulate.

The man sat down again, feeling pleased that it had found a connection with this creature. The stranger continued to fill its vials, completely ignoring him in its eagerness. It capped the last vial and scuttled from the shell, having taken its full, but as it moved towards the exit the head paused and turned back, studying the amicable man with a peculiar expression. Slowly, it clicked towards him on its tiny, pointed legs, and held up the vial. It took a moment for him to realize the creature was offering it to him.

The surge of positivity expanded, overwhelming his senses. The man carefully accepted the small cylinder, as not to disturb the stranger, and felt his mouth shifting instinctively. The corners lifted, and his jaw opened and shut, attempting to produce sound. He only voiced a couple of unsuccessful vowels, however, before going silent again. He slid the vial into a small pouch in his baggy pants, and as the pair continued to stare at each other, the man realized that sound was not necessary. They already understood each other.

Suddenly, three mechanical beings marched into the room with singular purpose, though each was unique. The central figure was as thin as a pole but towered over the others, with a conical head and three pairs of limbs. The second being was much shorter, its nimble frame barely supporting the bulbous dome atop it. In its plated fists, it gripped a long forked pole that crackled with a live current. The third one was stoutly built, cylindrical in shape, with two thick arms extending from an armored frame. Its pronged helmet rotated towards the stranger as red lights flickered from its visor, outlining the startled stranger.

The creature scattered, its wrinkled face twisted into an odd expression that the man could not comprehend. It only took a few steps before the third machine fired a beam of pure energy from a protrusion above its hand.

When the light connected with the stranger, it was transformed.

The head stopped existing and became a cloud of ruptured tissue. Wet matter struck the shocked man, covering him in thick liquid. He stared in confusion at the pile of limp, crumpled limbs, unable to process the abrupt change in his new acquaintance. In an instant, the creature had simply vanished, even though it was all around them. It was illogical.

As the man balked at the gruesome sight, red dots flickered over him as well. His eyes rose and stared into the deep metal cylinder, still glowing with intense heat.

"Repurposed subject," the machine announced in a high-pitched frequency. "Registry invalid. Identify."