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Herod opened his eyes, groaned, and rolled onto his side. He got his faceplate open fast enough to avoid spraying it with vomit when his internals suddenly convulsed.
Clear fluid mixed with digital code that was suspended in the thick viscous fluid.
He hacked and choked a minute more, than slowly pushed himself into a sitting position.
"Took you long enough," a woman's voice said.
Herod nearly screamed. He'd forgotten about the human woman. He slapped his faceplate closed and looked over to where she'd sat down on the floor, her back against the wall.
She was staring at him, her head cocked to the right slightly, one eyebrow raised, looking concerned but slightly amused. Herod noticed that the way she sat, with her legs open, seemed almost deliberately and lewdly provocative.
"So what did you eat that left behind garbled computer code?" she asked.
"Don't know. Things are a little confused," Herod said. He took a pull off of his water, ignoring the taste of lilacs, swished his mouth out and swallowed.
"You aren't human, are you?" she asked. She closed her legs, pulled her knees up to her chest, laced her fingers over her knees, and put her chin on her knees.
Herod shook his head. "No. I'm a digital sentience."
"So, a robot?" she asked.
Herod frowned. "No."
"Like... an android?"
"God, no. Those guys are complete assholes and kill anyone they come across. Be glad I'm not an android," Herod said.
"Wait, like a Terminator? Only instead of hunting Sarah Connor you're a maintenance man?" she asked, smiling slowly. "Or are you just some kind of jumped up disc defragger walking around in an Erector set?"
Herod understood exactly zero of the references except the defrag part.
"So, an artificial intelligence in a heavy repair body," she guessed.
"That's insulting," he snapped. "I don't call you a meat bag or a fleshy."
She shrugged. "It has no cultural connotations to me, feel free. Words only have the meaning society proscribes to them and only as much power over an individual as that individual gives them."
"I'm a digital sentience," Herod said. He stood up and looked down at Wally, who blinked at him. "We have work to do."
The human woman stood up smoothly, shrugging as she did so. "If you say so."
"We need to get you a hazardous environment suit. It's dangerous out there," Herod said. He moved up to the door and turned the handle, feeling the complex latch system inside the door move as smooth as butter.
"Sure," the human said.
Herod moved out to the control room, looking it over, committing it to memory.
"Are we it? Are we the entire repair team?" the human asked.
"Yes," Herod said. He moved over to the emergency supply room, opening the door and looking in inside.
He jerked back with a scream as a pair of dessicated bodies fell out, still holding onto each other. Their faces and necks were ragged and torn, their mouths still open in silent screams. Two flickering transparent version of the two combatants surged out of the room, through Herod, leaving him shuddering and shivering, down on his knees with Wally patting him on the back.
The human woman moved over and knelt down, staring at the two.
"Evidence of cerebral trauma, dentation matches wounds on opposite, dried blood around fingers and on hands," she said, kneeling down. She put her hands between the two bodies and pulled them away from each other.
"Phasic Energy Section," she read off the nametags. "Red stripes on one's legs, black on the other," she turned over their hands. "No calluses common to martial artists or those who have lived a martial life, no tool calluses. Computer workers or secretarial pool," she stood up, slapping her hands together. "An event caused a mass psychosis due to neural trauma and cognitive disruption. They each victimized the other even as they were victimized by some outside force. Doubtful it was a bioweapon or even a chemical weapon, as I didn't see any sores around the mouth or nose or eyes, no discoloration of the skin, and no smells that match known chemical weapons."
Herod looked up at her.
"Stand up, Pinocchio," she laughed. "I get that it was scary."
Herod got up, putting one hand against the wall, staring at her. "Didn't you see them?"
The human woman looked down at the bodies. "Yes. I just analyzed for them. Pay attention, Speedy, I don't want you to get Prime Law conflicts here."
"No, the temporal shades," Herod said. He coughed for a minute, trying to ease the ache in his chest.
"Didn't see anything," she mused. "Maybe I didn't observe in the right time?"
"Huh," Herod grunted. He stood up. *Sam*
Luckily, Sam had given him the route and map to the mag-lev that would take them to the damaged section.
The human woman was already looking at the hazardous environment armor and Herod moved into the room.
"Try this one," he said, taking one down that was still in the packaging. He opened the package, handing it to her. "It's unisex, but has waste disposal systems, you should be able to wear it."
She nodded, taking the hazard suit and looking at it closely.
She only paused a second before putting it on.
"All right, do a quick self-test, sometimes these things fry out if they've been sitting too long," Herod said.
"How long has it been sitting here?" the human asked. "How long have I been gone?"
"We're not sure. There's temporal stability issues in this place," Herod said. He looked down at Wally. "If I had to estimate, it's about eight thousand years old."
"Humans look much different? Seems like every day there was a new news article about how fucked up humans would look in a hundred years, much less almost ten thousand," the human woman said, her hands moving. She grimaced. "I would have figured someone would have invented better plumbing attachments."
"Do a test," he said, tapping his own wrist.
Something about her bothered him.
She flipped up the wrist and followed Herod's directions. He corrected her twice and then did it himself, making sure he quickly connected to the suit's network and frying some firmware.
"Two red lights. Bad suit?" She asked, smiling at him.
"Bad suit," Herod said. "It happens. The power from the first test shorts something out after it registers as green," he turned and got a suit.
He missed the calculating look in her eyes as she narrowed them slightly. By the time he was turned around with another suit she was smiling again.
She dressed quickly. Herod looked then shrugged. "Have you ever trained in extreme hazardous environment armor?"
The human shook her head. "No."
"We don't have time to teach you. There's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of damage control repair autonomous systems that need brought back online to fix a lot of systems," Herod told her.
She stretched, then bent down and touched her toes, then twisted at the waist first one way then the other.
"There, fitted," she said. She looked at him. "So what do I call you, instead of HAL or Speedy?"
"Herod," the DS said.
"Roman King of Judea, circa First Century B.C.," the Terran said. "Interesting name. Did you choose it yourself or was it chosen for you?"
"I chose it when I left the digital creche I grew up in," Herod said. He motioned. "We've got to take a mag-lev train. It's about a three hour ride."
"You grew up, weren't programmed fully formed?" she asked.
"I told you, I'm a digital sentience, not an AI," he snapped.
"Core life coding, then exposed to digital experiences and stimulus to form a unique being. Less artificial intelligence or digital intelligence and more pure energy being that can only exist in a dedicated electronic ecosystem," she mused.
"Pure energy beings are different," Herod said, frowning slightly as they wound their way out of the mat-trans facility.
"Like those Temporal Shades you mentioned. Those are pure energy beings. What kind of energy?" she asked.
"Phasic energy residue," Herod said.
"Caused by massive psychological trauma," she said. She was quiet for a second. "Phasic... phasic energy is psychic energy, isn't it?"
Herod nodded. "Yes."
"Psychic powers are an illusion. The amount of energy it would take to simply move a matchstick across a table with mental powers would require more bio-electric energy than the human body could store or handle, much less the human brain," the woman said. "Phasic energy is what psychic powers use?"
Herod sighed. "Yes," he stood there, waiting for the door to rise. "Phasic energy exists between two sub-quantum particle layers. Humans have a part in their brains that allows them to direct the energy."
"Sounds like bullshit to me," the woman said. "You'd find phasic channeling fibers in the brain and body of anyone able to use it."
"Like in Mantid bladearms and upper caste Mantid neural tissue," Herod said, dredging up a memory from school.
"So why didn't humans run around blasting each other with psychic powers for all of history?" the woman asked. "Seems like being able to melt each other's brains with psychic powers would have slowed down technological progression. No need to make a bow or a gun if you can just mind blast the other guy, Herod."
"Humans suppress and disrupt psychic powers in others around them. We found that out during the Terra/Mantid War," Herod said. He paused. "Did you work here?"
She shook her head. "No. I worked in a high security facility. My work is classified."
"We're inside a Dyson sphere, that's inside another Dyson sphere, that's wrapped around another Dyson sphere," he said. "It's called a Matrioshka brain and used for systems where sheer computing power is preferable to signal propagation."
"How big?" She asked. Herod noticed her eyes were particularly intent.
"The one we're on is roughly five hundred sixty two million mile radius," Herod said.
She narrowed her eyes again, then smiled. "That's big. How long did it take to make?"
"That doesn't really have a meaning here," Herod said. "It used self-replicating robotic systems to build each shell."
"What happened to the robots when the shell was completed? An orgy of destruction with the last one shoving the rest into a trash compactor and jumping in?" the human woman asked.
"We don't know," Herod admitted.
"Might want to find out," she smiled. "So, I'm warned, I'll be looking at something outside of my experience, and there will be a roof over my head. How far from me?"
"There will be one or more suns, moving through magnetic fields that will polarize to simulate night time. Those will be exactly ninety-five million miles from both this inside layer and the outside layer of the sphere inward from us," he warned.
"So, alien landscape. Got it," she smiled. She held up her hands. "I guess we better get going. Maybe I can help you repair things."
"Doubt it," Herod said, stepping outside. "This is pretty high tech stuff."
He missed the flicker of pure rage on the human woman's face.
When he turned around, she was looking up into the sky, her eyes narrowed. He watched her eyes moving rapidly, scanning the whole sky. She then slowly moved in circles, looking around her, and he frowned behind his polarized visor as he noticed she was only looking down a minute amount each time.
"How did you beat the magnetic issues for a mag-lev?" she asked at one point, mid-turn, pointing at a far off train that was slowly (to his perception) moving by.
"Monopole magnets and superconductors," Herod said.
"Hm," she said.
Herod sighed, waiting until she was done. That was one thing he hated about working with fleshys, they took forever to do anything that required mental exercise.
"The mag-lev is only a mile away. We'll take the travolator," Herod said, walking toward the entry station for the moving sidewalk.
"Be faster to walk," she said, looking around her as they moved toward the entry area. "Lots of dead bodies."
Herod stepped carefully around a trio of corpses, watching closely for any of the translucent apparitions. "The Glassing drove them mad."
The woman kicked a pair of desiccated corpses out of the way as she just moved forward, making Herod frown. She didn't seem to care about the dead.
"Don't do that," he said.
"What, they're dead," she smiled.
"Yes. Don't do that. Don't disturb them," he said.
"Fine," she said, walking around a corpse. "Better?"
"Thank you," the DS said.
"Funny that you'd say that, Herod, seeing as you're not human and you probably don't usually have a body. Is mortality a thing for you?" she asked.
"Yes. Eventually my core life strings will be too fragmented and I'll suffer core software failure," he said. "And no, I can't just be restored from an earlier backup, that's not how we work."
"Sloppy engineering," she muttered. She skirted around the weaving queue area while Herod walked back and forth along the line. "So what made them all go batshit insane?"
"The Great Glassing," Herod repeated.
"You said that, Herod. Why would aliens attacking Earth make everyone go crazy?" she asked.
Herod stepped onto the moving sidewalk, wishing she would be quiet. "The Mantid pushed the death experiences of everyone through SolNet and the SoulNet, every survivor had to withstand the death of billions," he told her as she stepped onto the moving sidewalk and then walked up to stand next to him. "Roughly half of the survivors went catatonic and never woke up. Two thirds of the remaining half became the Screaming Ones, attacking everyone around them in their agony."
He ended up explaining SoulNet, SolNet, and the SUDS system to her, staring off into the distance at the strange buildings and structures they passed. Once they got away from the Mat-Trans area the system smoothly put them on a high speed walk, moving them at close to a hundred miles an hour.
The whole time she listened, asking pertinent questions.
She seemed really interested in the SUDS system.
Together they got on the mag-lev train, sitting down after Herod punched in the transit code number. He looked at the ETA and looked at the human woman.
"It's going to take nine hours to get there. Sleep if you can," he said.
"I'm starting to get hungry," she smiled. She opened her faceplate and lit a cigarette. "These help, but I'm going to need food soon."
"I'll find some when I wake up," he said. He checked the mag-seal on his toolkit then looked at Wally. "I'm going to defrag. Wake me if anything bad happens."
Wally made a beeping tune and nodded, blinking his eye shields.
Herod closed his eyes.
"Herod, don't move, just move your awareness up," Sam's voice said.
Herod just brought his awareness almost fully up, leaving himself disconnected from his body. "What's going on, Sam?"
"What did you learn about our newest member?" Sam asked.
Herod thought, then quickly ran through his memories. He was surprised. He knew almost nothing ab out her.
"She said she worked in a secure location, on classified work. She got in the mat-trans, there was a stuttering, and she arrived here. She didn't know about the Great Glassing, I don't think anyway, but she knows Confederate Standard. She seems really interested in the mat-trans and SUDS systems," Herod said.
"So, we don't know anything," Sam sighed. "I checked her visual appearance against what little records are left. She didn't come up as a match."
Herod avoided smiling. "I've got good news for you. I left you a DNA sample in the mat-trans facility."
"Really? How?" Sam asked.
"I had her put in the catheter in one of the suits, shorted out the suits radio and beacon, and had her change suits," Herod said. "That'll give you DNA."
There was silence for a minute. "That was a good idea. Give me a few to check on it. I'll have to send in a bot."
"What's she doing now?" Herod asked.
Sam paused. "According to the cameras, she explored the train, busted open a vending machine, and gorged on the food inside. She's currently sitting across and down from you, looking out the window and smoking a cigarette."
"Oh, she said she was hungry."
"That's... weird..." Sam said.
"What's weird?" Herod asked.
"Her cigarette brand. I've got the inventory of the types and brands of cigarettes available here for the Treana'ad workers and some humans. Hell, apparently adult Pubvians viewed cigarettes as.. ahem... martial aid stimulants due to the cardio-vascular effects," Sam said. He giggled, and Herod began talking to him, just talking about their work together in the Black Box under Legion, trying to ground the younger DS as he screamed and raved.
"Sorry. It's getting easier, but I feel like I'm bleeding inside somehow," Sam said. He sobbed, but managed to control himself. "Where was I?"
"Her cigarettes," Herod said.
"Yeah. I can't find the brand. You know Treana'ad, they absolutely love Terran cigarettes, they're a luxury item. 'Terran Grown and Sown!' you know?" Sam said. "And her lighter."
"What about it? I've seen a few Treana'ad with that kind of lighter," Herod said.
"It's stamped on the bottom, look," Sam said, giving Herod the image. ZIPPO MFG. CO. BRADFORD, PA ZIPPO PAT. NUMBER 2032695 MADE IN THE U.S.A.
"Is that..." Herod asked, feeling a chill at the three letter abbreviation.
"Yeah. The acronym for the Hamburger Kingdom. PA is the two letter code for the state region," Sam said softly.
"That would make that thing like eight or nine thousand years old," Herod said. "Except, I've seen her use it. It works."
"It's not a modern one, watch," Sam said. He passed the image to Herod.
She flicked open the top, put her thumb on the ridged wheel, and spun it by applying pressure. Sparks flew out, the ones hitting the twisted fiber wick bringing up a blue and yellow flame.
"That's flint and steel. That fiber, that's cotton according to the sensor systems. Not synth-cotton, real cotton. That's a steel casing, I can see the imperfections in it from here," Sam said.
"Give me a spectrograph of it if you can," Herod said. "I know enough about materials to get information."
It took a minute, then a little longer while Herod waited for Sam to deal with some lost children. Sam tossed him the spectrographic image of the lighter along with other scans.
Herod was not only able to identify the metal as 'stainless steel', but that it had enough impurities to prove it was mined metals.
When Sam came back he sighed. "I got the robot to the suit. You were right, there's DNA. Looks like she nicked herself a little with the catheter tube, there was a tiny smear of blood as well as fleshy fluids. Ew," Sam said.
"Running a DNA comparison against everyone who worked here, who had authorization to work here. It's millions of records, so it'll take a few minutes," Sam said.
"That lighter? It wasn't made with a creation engine," Herod said.
"They were in their infancy back during The Glassing," Sam said.
"It was hard manufacturing, inside a gravity well and a magnetic field. If I had to guess, I'd say it was actually manufactured on Earth," Herod said.
"Look at the cigarette pack," Herod said. "American Favorite. By the Digital Omnimessiah, those are actual relics, not forgeries."
"You need to be careful, Herod," Sam said, somewhat unnecessarily to Herod's thoughts on the matter. He paused. "Um. Oh, wow."
"What?" Herod asked.
"Her DNA. Holy shit. Um, look," he said, and tossed Herod the image.
Herod took one look at it and did the digital sentience equivalent of shake his head. "I'm not Legion, this is meaningless to me."
"Here it is compared to modern human DNA," Sam offered.
"Sam, I'm in a hazardous environment frame, I'm not using the network, just tell me. All you did was throw two plates of pasta at my brain."
"OK, they're wildly different," Sam said. "Even compared to Glassing human DNA, like the people around here, hers is really really different."
"Define... different," Herod said.
"No genetic prothesis or overlays, I can see where the Glassing DNA and the modern DNA have been modified through time, genetic drift, evolution, or genetic manipulation, but wow, her DNA is damn near off the charts. Lots of bad DNA in it, it's... it's really weird."
Herod felt a kick against his foot and heard from far away. "Hey, we're here. You said this stuff needs repaired, Speedy. First Law and all that."
"What is she referring to?" Sam asked.
"I have no idea. Maybe the Four Laws of Robotics?" Herod suggested, opening his eyes. He switched from talking on the digital frequency to his vocal cords. He looked around, the mag-lev train sitting in the station.
"Hang on, let me talk to the facility VI," Herod said, standing up.
The human woman nodded, folding her arms, exhaling smoke out of her nose.
"How bad is the damage to the phasic array automatic repair system?" he asked.
"Bad," Sam answered, obviously (to Herod) running his voice through a synthesizer.
"It isn't going to get fixed if we just stand here. Besides, I'm eager to see technology used in application of something that I was informed was make belief, confirmation bias, and attention seeking," the woman said.
"Ask her her name," Sam said.
"What am I supposed to call you? I keep forgetting to ask," Herod said.
"Miss Nee, my middle name is Tay," the human woman said, her smile getting wider. "But you can call me Dee."