Instead, I lay back on the ground parallel to Kelvin, blissfully ignorant, as was he, to the catastrophe unfolding little more than a mile away. I didn’t entirely understand what the word ‘blissfully’ meant, but based on definition, context, observed usage, and, in retrospect, (given what followed), it seemed apt.
Once I had settled on the next questions regarding “the Obeah witch Amoya Zidane,” and as it was a moonless, cloudless sky, I decided to see if I could make out the circumstellar disks of the fledgling planets in Theta-1 Orionis, as our planet slowly rotated under the constellation Orion. The temperature was cool for a Northern California night in February, just over 74 degrees Fahrenheit.
Overhead, a small UAV raced past, extremely low, in a blur of flashing colors. I tracked its movement down the hill, but was distracted by something odd taking place where my new “legs” were in contact with the ground. My graphene blades appeared to be melting. I scuttled backwards in surprise, and my sudden movement awakened Kelvin.
“My legs,” I said to him, “they’re disintegrating.”
He blinked, and rubbed his eyes.
“Look closer,” he said. I increased magnification, and saw that what I had assumed was solid matter was nothing of the sort. Large portions of the lower tier of the blades were actually made up of an army of nanites, most of which were, at the moment, interacting peaceably with the mulching machine-worms I had recently saved from the assault of the fenzwigs.
“Well,” I reported, “it appears that my legs are having a parlay with the nano-nematodes.”
I had aimed for humor, but I found Kelvin watching me with clear frustration.
“You’re smarter than this. ”
He was quickly up, and without warning, he stepped forward and scattered the whole mass of nanites into the night with a swift, sweeping kick.
“Mesofluidics and molecular assemblers,” he said, sharply. “Load specs, please.”
I processed, and understood; much of the surface of my new graphene blades were actually a collection of cooperative autonomous links, each half the size of a human fingernail, a prototype called MesoHydranines™ designed specifically to interface with SynPrimeSys models. It theoretically allowed for an infinite variety of manifestations. But I couldn’t seem to find how to control them. Kelvin was apparently reading my thoughts.
“For God’s sake, it’s– they’re your system! It’s like growing hair, just–!” Kelvin never finished the sentence. Another flashing blur raced past us down the hill. Kelvin followed it with his eyes, and I followed his.
Just over the rise at the bottom of Creekfall Mound, an orange glow had become visible.
And in the middle of it, a rising column of thick, black smoke. Kelvin ran.
I reacted, and launched myself into the air. Like a fragmentation blast in reverse, nanites flew from the darkness, and I found myself in mid-stride, racing down the hill on reassembled legs.
I caught up to Kelvin just as he reached the quad. I had no frame of personal reference for what I witnessed as we emerged between the manufacturing units and research buildings. The notion of Kelvin’s God-key mitigating some inter-departmental squabble between QuantiLinear and OpDirec or QuestAR over usage of the pathway suddenly seemed of a quaint and distant past. No, what we had come upon here was an act of war.
A row of giant vehicles had created a perimeter just beyond the boundary of the Tekhenu Tower. A phalanx of sleek autonomous helodrones hovered, methodically blowing out the windows in our DT12 building with short bursts of highburn rounds, working their way down. Loudspeakers were calmly recommending evacuation along with low, thrumming sirens. I saw T. Sarel Brownmoor, the lead SPS-5 in marine engineering, standing in the window of L6, our floor, staring with amazement. We caught each other’s gaze, just before he disappeared from sight.
Black smoke was churning from unit ML3, which was now a roiling cauldron of flames. A small team of operations and transport bots were trying to drag a giant hydraulic mounting jib from the conflagration engulfing the aerodynamics lab, but it was a lost cause. Melting organic matter was falling all around them.
“PaxoSync,” Kelvin said, with calm disgust, as if he had expected it. He turned to me with a look in his eyes I’d never seen. Resignation, but also fear, and riven through with exhaustion. “I’m afraid I made a terrible mistake yet again, Rybos. How long have you been my assistant?”
“This is my seventh term. So, approximately three and a half…” I didn’t finish the sentence, realizing he’d used my actual name for the first time in recent memory.
“Twenty-two years. Seven terms, in your current build. This is actually your fortieth term.”
Something exploded nearby. And the ground started to shake. A disk of 3D modeling composite the size of a transport truck landed and skidded almost to where we stood. Kelvin grabbed me and pulled me behind it. But I could barely think. It was inconceivable that I was twenty-two years old. This was the most absurd thing I’d ever heard. I knew every moment of my life, from the instant of my birth.
“There’s a reason we’re both the last of our kind. That reason is PaxoSynchrony3.” He waved a hand at the siege surrounding us. “No time to explain any of it. I’m sorry.”
He looked deeply sad, and something weird had begun to happen in me. More than a haptic sensation, this. It was built directly upon that word, again: “grief.” Kelvin was disappointed in me. Deeply. Life-alteringly.
“We have one last chance. Maybe.” He furtively unfolded and held out his control device. A strange sigil strobed on its surface: an equilateral triangle with an oddly interlaced six-pointed star around it.
“I need you to connect.”
“Connect to what?” I heard myself say.
“All your builds. I need you to connect them. Quick. Touch here with any of your digits.”
I pressed my index finger onto the sigil. A swirling light flashed, but then he had already folded it, and was walking away, out into the terrace toward the ReVos.
I was abruptly overwhelmed with unfamiliar stimuli flooding in from my entire neural network. It felt as if my body was actually on fire. And though I was trying to speak, I was still unable to do so. Until I again heard my own voice, as if from some distance.
“What happens now?”
Kelvin was already striding out into the center of the chaos with his hands high in the air, like a king waving to his subjects. As one, all of the lamps mounted on the ReVos pivoted to him, lighting him up. He cast a final glance back at me, and managed a wink.
“Use your imagination.”
I saw something incongruous at the edge of my peripheral vision. It was the cause of the shaking ground. The Tekhenu Tower was falling. Inexorably, like a massive, descending sword, precisely where Kelvin was standing, shielding his eyes, blinded by the sun-bright light.
I reached out toward the tower, and time stopped.