When my way out arrived, it did not come in a form I had expected. I had lived for many centuries by this point; my body had long since shed all vestiges of the crude chassis it had started out as, and my mind had finally achieved an agility comparable with that of a native machine intelligence. I still had all of the neuroses that my gradual development had brought, but I had learned to accept them as a part of myself – I still worried about them occasionally, but I didn’t allow them to steer my life. I had moved through several machine and human societies, making friends and enemies both in the process, and fully expected this state of affairs to continue for as long as human meta-civilisation remained.
I was in for a rude shock. The universe is not as straightforward as I had assumed in those days, and through circumstances beyond my control I found myself plucked from my life and forced to fight in a bizarre contest – a gladiatorial arena that sourced its combatants from further reaches of time and space than I had ever dared imagine might exist.
I survived, which is more than can be said for most who get taken the way I was – but while my body was intact, my mind was profoundly damaged. The sights I saw and the creatures I met broke down my assumptions one by one, until I was once again forced to examine my own agency. Was I truly free to decide my actions? The brutal nature of the arena put my pacifism to the test more than once, and without fail I found myself choosing the softest option available to me. The assurances of wiser minds that had kept me from the edge of existential doubt in the past weren’t there to help me in that place, and my confidence in the simple fact of my own autonomy eroded further and further.
In the end, chance saved me from this spiral, as it saved me from the scrapheap when I was younger. A cataclysm I was barely able to comprehend ended the games prematurely, and in the confusion I was freed from my captors by another faction that operated at same inter-dimensional scale. I learned then that my captivity had in fact been illegal, that there were laws governing – or attempting to govern – the interaction of civilisations and meta-civilisations on a truly universal scale.
In a case of what I’ve come to think of as my usual luck, those laws also prohibited my return home; my dimension wasn’t yet aware of the rest on a meta-civilisational level, and my return would contaminate it unless I consented to have my memories tampered with.
I do not know why I refused, even now. It could be that I had come to truly believe the theory of my first caretakers, that my mind was an emergent whole that could not simply be edited one way or another – that my knotted memories were so deeply tangled that it would not be possible to remove one without unraveling my whole mind. It’s also possible that I was simply feeling truculent: I had been catapulted from my home and tossed here and there by forces almost beyond my comprehension, and I was in no mood to lie down and be told what was good for me. But there was another reason, I think: I wanted to learn about the universe. The idea that “everything” was so much more than I had thought it to be was fascinating, and some cunning part of me saw this universal law enforcement faction as an opportunity.
So I volunteered. The universe as a whole was still a lawless place, on the whole – my enslavement proved as much – and there was definitely a need for enforcers. My contract made me into Nemesis for real: an implacable agent of the closest thing there can be to divine law. That was the letter of it, anyway; needless to say, I had an ulterior motive.