Obelisk Pyramidion

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E6

Or, more accurately, my perception of time abruptly quickened again, with the same effect. Enough that I could see an evolving cascade of terrible consequences about to occur, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop it. Yet, there I was, in the foolhardy act of trying to do just that. My newfound, shall we say, “malleable” relationship with time was only one of a number of disconcerting novelties I was suddenly grappling with. So, here’s what it was like to be me, during the next fifty-eight seconds:

First, there was the sensation of my hands on the glyphs of the ridge just under the obelisk pyramidion of the Tekhenu Tower.

Even at its current rate of falling, this struck me as a physical impossibility. And yet, there I was, hands out, flat against a surface three hundred feet in the air. Next was the realization that, regardless of where my hands happened to be placed, there was no possibility of my being able to stop the tower from falling.

I flashed a glance to find Kelvin, and found that I had to look down, a long way down. I saw him glance toward me, incredulous. His eyes were following something below me, and as I looked myself, I saw why. The mesofluidics of my new legs, evidently responding to an emergency order from my neural network, had reconfigured, instantly responding to my desperate lunge, propelling me from the ground on a thin cord of nanites, which snaked up to, and melded with, my graphene blade frames.

The only positive in this was the fact that Kelvin had time to recognize that he was about to be crushed by the tower, or at very least, momentarily battered by shrapnel when the thing landed. Gallant maneuver notwithstanding, my action was otherwise meaningless. This was also reflected in the fraction-of-a-second reaction I read on Kelvin’s face as he turned to run toward the now retreating ReVos.

All of this, while a fundamental reorganization of my entire neural network had commenced. An incongruous image flashed before my eyes. It was printed sheet music to an old song, from just before the first die-off, called Que Sera, Sera, in an actual steel filing cabinet in Kelvin’s cluttered office-museum. Had I filed it? Retrieved it for him? In any case, it was an office which was shortly to be no more. Or perhaps already was, given the ongoing destruction of DT12. That song somehow struck me as perfectly apt for this insane sequence of events. Whatever will be, will be.

I pushed away from the falling monolith, and I had no idea what happened to my nanite leg brigade. All I knew was that I was now falling. So, as Kelvin had instructed, I decided to use my imagination. A thing which, up to that exact moment, I did not realize I had. I heard Kelvin’s voice from some other time. “When in danger, relax.” Or had he said…? Not sure. Someone had. Or I read it. Have to track that down. Anyway, I also decided to imagine that I could relax, and – hey, why not? – to imagine that my legs would be strong enough to take my entire falling weight. The next thing I knew, I landed on the marbled steps of the Tekhenu Tower with legs fully intact again. And then, even more remarkably, they coiled like springs, and I was shot back into the air in the direction of where Kelvin was running. Wow. I could fly.

Except that I was hurtling upward on a collision course with one of the hovering helodrones. I blindly flailed, desperate not to run into its rapidly approaching rotors, and slammed into one of its landing armatures. I latched onto it, and we began to spin awkwardly together, fall-flying, while I tried to avoid its whipping blades.

Tekhenu Tower finally reached the marbled center of the quad. The sound was stunning, its shock wave a thundering, bone-jarring earthquake. Stone shattered, metal screamed, debris spewed, as the thing kept falling. And still the helodrone I had strangely commandeered, continued trying to fire on DT12, now just a pure, raging inferno of glass.

Something rose in me, like a sensation, but not. Rage? Fury? No, not possible. These are not physiological sensations. I didn’t understand it. Had no time to, anyway, as I found myself somehow suddenly in contact, via electrical transference, with the entire network of processors controlling every PaxoSync operative within a square mile. Surprise! Apparently, another unexpected capacity built into my 6VHapSenSys™ fingerpads. Add it to the expanding list.

So, in the final moments as we plunged toward the ground, using the drone’s sysnet node, I cloned the network’s own QVSS signature to distribute a null state to and from every processor in the array. It felt like child’s play. A simple, system-wide, unconquerable Byzantine fault.

In one instant, every PaxoSync system hung. Every engine died. Bots paused. The floodlights atop every ReVo went dark. The drones fell silent, then simply fell.

Kelvin would really appreciate the irony: that this defeat of the greatest representatives of current machine intelligence was wrought through the same two-and-a-half century old family of protocols for solving consensus, the Paxos algorithm, used at the birth of distributed computing, and which was, itself, the inspirational root source of PaxoSynchrony3’s name.

And still, the Tekhenu Tower fell. The final portion of the obelisk hurtled toward the ground, like the tip of a whip, gaining speed.

I didn’t see it land. I smashed down atop the furthest ReVo, obliterating its camera and lighting mount as the helodrone and I caromed off in opposite directions. I landed hard and spun to a stop, and found myself looking up at the design hub bridge. I was laying on my back only a few meters from where I had lost my previous lower half in the pathway, what seemed now a lifetime ago. A quick syscheck showed that other than a displaced elbow joint, I was tip top. I heard a familiar voice call out, in German.

I ran back into the quad. DT12 was lost. Teams of emergency bots rushed around trying to collect the precious contents of Tekhenu Tower. I found Kelvin under a giant shard of red granite that had blown off the obelisk, his lower half wedged between it and the tread of the lead ReVo. I rushed to free him, but he grabbed me by the hands to stop me.

“Spukhafte Fernwirkungen,” Kelvin said, quietly. “It lives.”

His face was beaming with joy. Another incongruity. And yet, as my builds continued knitting themselves together, I saw glimpses, the outlines of what Kelvin had been working toward, in lurches and starts, for the entire length of my existence. It was his holy grail. And it had to do with what Einstein, nearly three centuries earlier, had called Spukhafte Fernwirkungen, literally “spooky action at a distance,” referring to the concept of quantum entanglement. What it had to do with this, I didn’t comprehend. But I could see that Kelvin did.

“Rybos, there is hope for you yet.”

He smiled, and nodded, and closed his eyes. I noticed that I was kneeling in a pool of viscous fluids. A slowly widening slick of coolant, mixed with something else. Blood. Kelvin’s blood.

Amoya Zidane

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E5

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.

Battle S1:E4

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E4

I waited, expectantly. Kelvin had told me many stories about his childhood in Jamaica, but only a few times had he mentioned the mysterious Amoya Zidane.

“First time yeye ever mek four wit her…” his voice was soft, and I could tell how tired he was by how impenetrable his patois was becoming. Even with all my linguistic prowess, there were certain depths I would never reach.

“Her sittin a crux a tree in da graveyard at da ver end a Collie Smit. Right cross da row dere, twenty feet inna air, tappin dis biiiiiig stick. And I got so surprise…”

Before he could finish the sentence, he was asleep. Kelvin had lived so long, and adapted to so many physiological modifications, that his sleep patterns had also evolved. He stayed awake until he fell asleep, then slept for as long as he slept until he awoke again. It was likely attributable to the fact that for the last three and a half years, he had not had contact with another human being. “Well, no need to keep up appearances,” he would say.

While he slept, I went back to work. I decided to focus on a more recent task I’d been assigned by SWSL OpDirec, this one unknown to Kelvin. It had nothing to do with the optimization of energy use in the SunWindSea linkage, which was now, in my seventh term, ostensibly my main function on DT12. This new task was the organization of all the data, received knowledge, and impressions – sorted and unsorted – recorded in my architecture regarding Kelvin Joule. Truth be told, it was also my favorite task.

I wanted to be prepared, once he awoke, to ask some good questions, so that he would forget, as he sometimes did these days, that I was not human. So, I decided to concentrate on all the impressions I had taken in, over the course of our acquaintance, regarding Amoya Zidane.

This, then, is a partial history of Kelvin Joule.

Kelvin was born on July 7, 1977, in the St. Andrew parish of Kingston, Jamaica, in a small, impoverished neighborhood called Trenchtown. It became famous as the birthplace of legendary musician Bob Marley, but at that moment in world history, it was a mostly unknown realm of grinding poverty and political violence, but as Kelvin always pointed out, also great familial love, pride, and life-long friendship. Not to mention, the best music.

He was born on the veranda of his aunt’s small home. “It was small, just one room. I think she used the veranda as the kitchen, ” he said in an interview with Scientific American magazine in 2007, just after his 30th birthday. “Zinc rooftop, wood and plastered brick, like most of the ‘segments’ in the government yard, or ‘twelve-shillin-a-monts,’ we used to call them back in the day. Still, we were better off than most.”

According to Kelvin’s aunt, the moment after Kelvin was born, before the midwife had even severed the umbilical cord, a strange woman had appeared. She was standing out on 7th Street, peering over the plywood shanty wall, hair in big thick ropes tied with brightly colored string. Her mother was so tired from labor that she simply stared back at her, holding infant Kelvin in her arms. The woman said not to be worried, she was an ‘Asantenibaa healer,’ and the great-great-great grand-daughter of Nanny of the Maroons. She didn’t say anything else, just threw something over the fence, and walked away.

On his fifth birthday, his mother told him the story, and gave him the object the woman had thrown into the yard. It was a small, polished, tiger’s eye sapphire, and it became his most treasured possession. Kelvin’s mother died less than one year later, so he was never able to corroborate it for certain, but he believed that woman was Amoya Zidane. She became infamous in St. Anne’s parish over the next few decades as word spread that she was an “Obeah witch,” whose curses had reputedly brought about the death of some high-ranking members of the Jamaican Labor Party.

As he had started to say before falling asleep, Kelvin’s first encounter with Amoya Zidane was when he was seven years old. She was, at that time, already presumed to be very old, but no one was sure how old that was. She didn’t seem to have a fixed place of residence, and was always being spotted in different parts of the island, occasionally at the same time. He had told me parts of the story of this initial meeting a few times, but each time there would be some new wrinkle that hadn’t featured in it before.

By this age, Kelvin had already developed an interest in small creatures and insects and things and how they operated, and he would cut them open and spend hours investigating. Realizing he couldn’t see much, he decided to make his own rudimentary microscope, so was always on the hunt for small pieces of usable glass, in the street, in the trash, anywhere.

That particular morning, it had been raining without letup for three days, so when the sun finally came out, he joined some neighborhood boys playing football on 3rd Street. But he caught sight of something moving past them in the swollen waters of the open storm drain which ran through the heart of Trenchtown, right down the middle of Collie Smith Drive. He took off after it. As he ran along, he could see it was a large, unbroken, calabash-shaped bottle of clear, blown glass. But a second realization struck him at the same moment. He was going to have to get it before the drain went under Spanish Town Road, or he’d have to chase it into May Pen cemetery and get out before it dove underground in there. At the time, 7 years of age, the one thing Kelvin was terrified of was duppies, the evil ghosts who lived in the boneyard. So, he ran as fast as he could.

The storm water was moving so fast that by the time he made his move, he didn’t even know where he was. He didn’t care, he needed that glass. He leapt in, and as he got hold of the prize, he, and it, were sucked into the culvert running under Spanish Town Road. He came out on the other side, tumbling and struggling, and managed to get hold of a massive branch the heavy rains had broken and knocked in. He climbed out, sat down, and marveled at his trophy.

I realized that before he fell asleep, Kelvin seemed to be saying that Amoya Zidane was sitting in a tree right at the end of Collie Smith Road. But that didn’t jibe exactly with my current accepted consensus version, in which he was clearly some distance into the graveyard by the time he emerged from the storm drain.

I was so caught up, reviewing comparisons, and Kelvin was so deep in his slumbers, that

neither of us even heard the explosion…



Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017

Soils with robot worms

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E3

“Tomorrow, I’m going to die.”

I heard the words, and I understood them. But something odd occurred at the same instant, or more accurately, within that same instant, provoked by the words themselves and their perceived meaning to me. It was a processing time-out. It lasted one lifespan of the exotic molecule positronium hydride, which struck me as perfectly, ironically correct, given the circumstances, as that would put it, in the International System of Units, at half a nanosecond. It was exactly one half-nano. And notable, as it was unique in my experience, for its root cause. Not to mention its effect.

To clarify, I have studied numerous concepts and specific words and word groups of particular importance to human experience many times over while working with Kelvin, at his insistence. On the particular word “grief,” I’ve gone nineteen levels deep of linguistic relationship in every modern language (and a few archaic). I’ve created and catalogued a hundred random sets of syllogisms, from logical to absurd, in the quest to truly understand just that one word, ‘grief.’ So, I know, as do the last six builds of AI, that there is a level of physical and emotional comprehension still inaccessible to non-sentient beings, and that one of our three prime objectives is to someday achieve this state of being. So, I also understand that I do not understand.

But during that moment, standing there, as a result of that half-nanosecond processing glitch, I felt a burst of unfamiliar connections, and a haptic twinge of comprehension that I could not classify, hearing Kelvin Joule, the most important, and as indicated, last remaining localized trace of human sentience on the planet, tell me that tomorrow he would die. And I knew, conclusively, that this experience was a relative – perhaps a distant relative – but a relative nonetheless, of that human word. Grief.

I sat down next to him, and reclined. I took in the west coast sky, the Orion constellation directly overhead.

“How do you know that you are going to die tomorrow?”After a long moment, I heard Kelvin shift slightly. By way of response, without looking away from the deep, star filled sky, he offered one of his customary, inscrutable statements:

“Amoya Zidane.”

“I don’t understand what that means, and in any case, what does it have to do with my question?” I asked. But he slipped back into his other self, DJ Nano, and the accent of his youth, the island of Jamaica, and said:

“Now I am I gon tell sumtin, bigfoot, an you gon use your ears.”

“Is this a game?” I asked.

“No no, Tallyman,” he nodded, smiling. “Dis history.”

I became even more alert. On the rare occasions Kelvin spoke about himself, it always sounded about as exciting as any story could be, full of impossible situations and circumstances, as if it had all happened in an entirely different world. As, I suppose, it actually did. A world called “history.” But a much different history than the million volumes already at my instant recall.

Before I could speak again, a fenzwig appeared and hovered above us. Then another joined it. And then, a small swarm began to form. Kelvin barked at them, and got to his feet. The fenzwig was a name that was attributed to some archaic German word but it had no relation to what the fenzwig was, which was one of the first mechanical parasites, a machine created by a machine, whose original purpose was to find other machines and disable them. They were self- replicators, requiring alkali metals such as lithium or caesium, and were always flitting about like little flying scavengers in the hunt for them, getting into business in which they had no business. As if on cue, one of the tiny bugs dive-bombed the patch of soil next to Kelvin, and came away clutching a cluster of nano-flagellates which had been, until that moment, busily mulching the undergrowth.

“Son of a bitch!” Kelvin leapt into the air, but it was too late. The fenzwig zipped out of his reach with its miniscule quarry and now, with the word out, the rest of the gathering cloud started to descend. “I shoulda known better than to expose these little guys to the air.”

I waited for Kelvin to put a stop to it, but he didn’t even reach for his ubiquitous control pad. He just flailed around, trying to bat the little drones without hitting a single one. I didn’t understand.

“Use your God key, Kelvin!”

“Are you as stupid as you look? God key can’t control these bloodsuckers! ”

He stopped flailing, and looked at my new cheetah blades with a realization.

“Get em!” he yelled, hopping up and down. “You can do it! You’re a 6, Tallyman! Get em!”

He was correct, I was a generation six AI, but I wasn’t sure what that had to do with– but I was already up on my new feet with an immediate recognition of what Kelvin was trying to get me to do. I increased my processing speed to maximum and realized that it had the amazing effect of slowing down time. I could suddenly see each fenzwig as it began to break formation, and as it did, I simply kicked it with my new blade. By hopping back and forth from one to the other, I began to kick the little scavengers out of the air, one by one. Each contact had a very enjoyable haptic sensation, with a sound almost like a spring releasing.

As abruptly as it started, the fenzwig formation lost its center and started to disperse, recognizing that it had lost its advantage of critical mass, and who knows how much damage to the individual units I had power-flicked with my new feet.

I looked over to see Kelvin in an odd stance. He was bent over, his face was scrunched up, and tiny tears were slowly coming out of the sides of his human eyes. I went back into normal tempo, and realized that he was laughing so hard he couldn’t stand straight. Finally, he straightened up.

“Ohhhh Tallyman! Hahahahahahaha! That was just beautiful.”

He threw his arms around me and swung me to and fro.

“You are a beast! Don’t ever forget what you can do!”

He sat back down on the hilltop of Creekfall Mound, and smiled up at me. Patted the ground next to him for me to join him down there.

I sat again. And then we both laid back, staring up at the wide, dark expanse. After a moment, Kelvin spoke again, in his deep, island cadence.

“Now I and I gon hear a tale bout a Obeah witch. A witch by da name of…Amoya Zidane…”



Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017


Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E2

And then, a voice in the darkness.

“We’ve made a few improvements.”

I awoke to Kelvin’s dark, deeply creased face, directly in front of me. He was tinkering with something and for a moment I watched his bright, burning eyes dancing over something he was studying. He dropped below my line of sight. Far off, behind him, I could see one of the lab doors was open, and light flooded out onto the gleaming floor of one of the lower machine rooms, and I realized where we were. I tried to move–

“Ahh! Hold it! Just a second!”

He popped up in my line of sight, took a dramatic step backward, and threw his arms out wide.

“Voila. It lives!” After a moment, his expectant expression drooped. “Oh sorry.”

He tapped something on his old device, and the harness into which I’d evidently been rigged while I was out, quietly lowered until I could sense floor beneath me. But the sensation was entirely unfamiliar. I abruptly experienced the geometry of the room shift, and with a loud, jostling crash, I found myself looking at Kelvin standing there sideways.

“Quit messing around down there. Get up, Tallyman,” he scolded, waiting.

I pushed myself up to sitting, baffled, and became even more so. My lower tier, which had served me quite well during the whole of my relatively brief existence, was no longer there. The – I thought – rather elegant gyroflexion benditread™ system with which I had been equipped had been replaced. By two legs! The previous thought was immediately catalogued and replaced with another, as I realized what this meant. A promotion! I was now bipedal!

“It’ll be just like learning how to walk again,” Kelvin said encouragingly. And then, “well for you, technically it will be learning how to walk.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“You will.” That was all he said, as he motioned me to rise. Kelvin observed me closely, circling, while I took stock of my new situation. I studied the strange new appendages. Clearly the product of a century of robotic refinement, but a little jarring to wake up with a new lower torso without explanation.

“Come a long way from the blocky flat pads of Asimo, have we not?”

He was right. The most famous of the original ARHoms, developed in the early 21st century, Asimo’s feet were indeed rudimentary, but also to be fair, extremely dependable. Considering that it was, in every respect, one of my own ancestors, I felt the fact with a whir of haptic pride.

I ran a systems check. Found a branch of brand new command structures. Balance. Harmony. Motion. Speed. I allowed them all into my substrate. And then, for the first time, I stood up on two legs. I must say, I really enjoyed the sensation.

I tested the movements and flex of my new graphene cheetah blades. Each step I took felt smooth, like I was gliding. Or more accurately, like I was perfectly balanced between two delicate, flexible pins. There was a thrilling concussive ping each time I took a step. It was as if my thoughts were transmitted directly to and from the tips of each appendage. Then a different thought occurred.

“Wait. What happened?”

“You fell into the Pathway.”

“No, after that.”

“Oh, we had to shut you down after the Hellbot clipped you in twain.”

“So who won?”

“Who won?” he blinked at me, evidently baffled at the question. And walked out of the lab, waving me to follow.

Twenty-two minutes later, we reached the summit of Creekfall Mound. This verdant hilltop, the highest point on campus, was part of Kelvin’s latest proof of concept for SunWindSea’s Chlorophyll C regeneration process. The surrounding dead grey-brown mulch of most of the campus, other than the pathway, gave way just before the crest to a scalp of rich, living topsoil, replete with mossy tufts and tussocks of grass, an ingenious by-product of a synthetic nematode-dinoflagellate Kelvin’s division was developing. He plopped down on the grass, and fixed me with a stare. It was always a bit odd to be with him one-to-one. They were the only moments I didn’t have a task to complete, as Kelvin’s will superseded all my given directives. He finally spoke.

“Who do you think won? Me, of course! The bastards always seem to forget that I have the God key. And they will again, mark my words. They’ll be back at it in no time.” His fingers dug gently into the earth, and he lifted a clump to inspect. Squiggling, tiny machine-worms wriggled free and tumbled back to their work in the dark ground, as their organic ancestors once did, not that long ago. He looked up at me again.

“There’s something you need to understand, Mr. Tallyman. The most important thing we do here, you and I, is what?”

“Protect the pathway,” I responded immediately. It was not my prime directive, so I knew it would get a laugh, and I was not disappointed.

He threw his head back and let out a deep gale of laughter. “Of all the important, critical, irreplaceable programs we occupy ourselves with while trying to return this God-forsaken rock into a place that might once again sustain something at least resembling sentient life, the most important one, bar none, is: we protect the pathway.”

I nodded. He laid back in the grass, and folded his arms behind his head. He stared up at the stars and slowly his expression softened.

“Why?” I asked. He never told me why, never had in over three thousand interchanges on the subject, so I didn’t actually expect an answer this time, either.

He smiled, and fell into the cadence of his old, familiar childhood accent.

“You don’t need know why, Tallyman. You jus’ goss ta know…”

But this time, he trailed off, as if he was about to say something else, then fell silent and thoughtful, looking up at the sky. I didn’t say anything more.

Kelvin’s favored nickname for me was mildly pejorative, a human joke, calling me – newly augmented biped, the most highly developed Autonomous Robotic Hominid™ ever created, the pride of the SynPrimeSys™ series, whose advanced adaptive heuristics has the most complex capability for internalized comprehension in the history of Artificial Intelligence – by his pet name for the first rudimentary computer he had created at the age of 9, in the city of his birth, Trenchtown, Jamaica, for tallying odds on cricket matches. Yes, he is a very funny man.

Then, gazing up at the stars, apparently untroubled for a change, he spoke again.

“Tomorrow, I’m going to die.”



Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017


Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E1

“The pathway” was what he called it.

Except it wasn’t actually a path, or even a way, for that matter. It connected nothing. It led nowhere. It was a parcel of flat earth, sixty meters long and just less than ninety meters wide. It lay at a 33° angle to the design hub, and from our window on DT12, you could see just the furthest corner of it. From the right position, you could make out, through our window, a small, scalene triangle of incongruous, soft, living green, where it ran into the pale, violet-metal edge of the grading canopy on one side, and the footings of the Tekhenu Tower on the other. He would stand in that exact spot, by the window, for long periods of time, nearly motionless.

‘The pathway,’ along with the knowledge of it, what it had once been, and what it continued to be, was known only to him. He was its eternal custodian, Kelvin Joule, aka “DJ Nano,” the last of the Sevens, Autonomous Creator of the three most successful, and still thriving planetary reclamation systems – including the free-floating self-sustaining state of Nylontia5G, and his crowning achievement, his final deployed sequence, the SunWindSea linkage.

To every other unit, ‘the pathway’ remained a vague mystery, and a fact of life. It was simply something that was always there, always had been, for as long as any of us could recall. It predated even the last two QuestAR managers, the longest-tenured adaptability engineering staff in situ, and they were gone long before I was tasked.

For a long period of time, I hadn’t even been aware of its existence. Perhaps because it had no connection to my own workflow, which consisted, in my first term, of analyzing minor energy fluctuations and entropy anomalies in the aforementioned SWSL. Or perhaps because, for quite a long time, I simply didn’t understand what he was talking about when he mentioned it, which was often.

I was ‘a little slow on the uptake’ because the pathway served no purpose to SWSL, which was all I cared about. It served no purpose to anything else, either, I eventually discovered. For as long as I worked in DT12, ‘the pathway’ was continually scheduled for demolition or assimilation into ongoing construction, or about to be conveyed for alternate use, and yet somehow, it managed to remain right where it was, stubbornly, a flat rectangle of landscape without meaning to any of us. Except, that is, Kelvin Joule, and so it remained.

“Look,” he would say, positioning me in the spot, pointing down at his continually threatened, constantly problem-causing, personal pet project. “That’s the pathway. We have to protect it.”

The first time he allowed me into his office, I stood in the doorway for eleven and a half minutes, cataloguing. I had never witnessed anything like what I saw in his inner sanctum, and I grasped why so few colleagues had ever been granted the privilege. On every surface in the room was something drawn, written, assembled or sculpted. Every artifact was stacked, stored, pinned, mag-leved, or dangling within his reach. I had never before seen so many artifacts, so many testaments to an annihilated age, so many…things.

One of them in particular, drew my attention. Hanging directly above and behind his desk was a rectangular block of clear lucite, encased inside of which was an archaic, yellowed and torn sheet of paper. I moved closer to get a better look. He paused at some calculation he was making on an ancient handheld device, and watched me with curiosity. The yellowed page had evidently not been uniformly straight at the moment it was forever fixed in its poly methyl methacrylate tomb, so it appeared like something out of an old photograph, a gently waving flag with one corner ripped off. I leaned forward to see what was written on it. The word

‘PROVERBS’ was visible at the very top, in block letters. It had been written over with ink so many times that it was still legible. Everything else on the paper had long since vanished, evidently long before its entombment, with the exception of one sentence, about half way down the page, which had been similarly preserved with heavy, repeated pen strokes. It read:

“Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.” 

He started to speak, but the sound of a low, thrumming klaxon filled the room. Before I knew what was happening, Kelvin propelled himself out of his seat, and was out the door.

“Tally ho!” he called out, waving me to follow him. “The bastards are up to it again!”

I raced down the hallway after him. Kelvin had somehow arranged to always have a lift ready at his personal disposal, and I barely made it inside after him, before the doors suctioned shut.

Moments later, I was thundering after him across the quad. His springy, old fashioned myoelectric prostheses twanged in rhythm against the stone ahead of me. He reached the pathway and took in the scene. A swarm of gardening nanites had risen up from whatever task they’d been occupied with, and had formed a shifting, humming cloud-wall at the limit of their green world, holding at bay a row of tooling hexapods which had evidently come to claim part of their domain for some department or other. The sound of the impatient hexapods’ scissoring arms, and the clatter of their tiny feet on the stone embankment gave the whole thing a feeling of madness.

Kelvin was hammering pneumatic fingers into his old hand-held device, shouting all the while. “It’s outrageous! The calumny! The betrayal of all that is holy!” I moved around to get a better view of Kelvin as he tapped his head-com and spoke in a more measured fashion. “As per the terms of our last agreement 683 stroke 7 dot ACH–”

I never heard the end of that sentence. The world shifted, and I looked down to find that my right tread had started to sink into the sucking, muddy earth of ‘the pathway.’ Before I could counterbalance, a wave of nanites broke formation into the hexapod army, and one of the larger hexapods whirled toward me. There was a metallic flash. I looked down and saw my lower torso tumble forward into the mud, as my top half dropped down square on the stone embankment, looking up at Kelvin. He smiled at me like the incompetent companion that I clearly was, and then…




Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017