ROGER continued carrying Sarah’s body as they covered the last stretch of land between the airfield and the bunker. Every so often Jayk could hear a faint moaning coming from her lips that tugged at his heartstrings and gave him the most horrible feeling of powerlessness. They were moving as quickly as they could to get her back to the shelter where there was medicine and supplies to treat her wounds. He hoped they would make it, and tried to keep his spirits high. She had risked her life to save his, having no idea who he was. He knew nothing of her for that matter; other than the fact that she was different; special in some way that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. But, he was determined to find out. Tired and thirsty, he fought through the pain to keep up with ROGER. Finally, they reached the entrance to the bunker. They started the descent into the underground structure, and as they came through the long hall they were met by Wax and some of the others who rushed Sarah off to the medical unit.
“How far away is everyone else?” Wax asked Jayk as they followed behind the others.
“Not far now, probably a half day’s travel. Wax, this is ROGER, he’s a medical doctor.”
“Well, perhaps “medical doctor” is an oversimplification of my abilities. I’m a genetic engineer. But, I can perform the functions of a surgeon, and serve in place of some of your own medical equipment. I have the protean capabilities of an electroencephalograph, electrocardiograph, genome sequencer, hemocytometer, blood typer; heart rate, blood pressure and blood/oxygen level monitor; spectrometer, mineral and chemical composition as well as poison and venom detector, and a host of other medical devices including fMRI, CT Scanner, and X-Ray machine all through the simple use of my own senses, which include nanoparticle biomagnets immanent within my system. I can even serve as a blood dialysis machine in a pinch.” ROGER explained rather nonchalantly.
“So … you’re a robot?” Wax began to look ROGER up and down as if examining a priceless artifact. And, for his capabilities that’s exactly what he was. But, ROGER was more than just a robot, he was a superintelligent A.I. with unlimited energy produced through the biomimetic nanoparticles that made up every fiber of his being. “Perhaps, you could help us solve the problems we’ve been having with getting our own robots to work!”
“I’d be happy to help you, but first I’d like to help with getting your humans to work, if you don’t mind.” ROGER stated calmly pointing in the direction of where they took Sarah.
“Of course, please do. Thank you.” Wax stated, obviously enthusiastic to have ROGER’s help, “This way.”
They all moved into the medical unit where they found Sarah on a thin metal operating table. The three of them were filthy, ROGER’s pristine white outfit was now dingy and the blood caked beneath Jayk’s nails had begun to turn black. Sarah’s face was covered with sweat and grime. They injected her with a sedative and Jayk watched her face grow peaceful as she drifted away. ROGER began cleaning her wounds as Jayk stood beside him. He stared deeply into her hazy eyes. A longing gaze, which he doubted she would notice. As she laid there calm and tranquil, he lifted from her sweaty brow a red lock of matted hair draped across her face and gently brushed it back with his slender fingers. Her placid orbs poking from beneath her heavy lids appeared as emerald jewels glinting in the light of the operating room. He stood beside her for as long as he could and watched as ROGER tirelessly cleaned and sutured her injury.
Finally, Jayk decided there was nothing he could do for her and, leaving her in ROGER’s capable hands, drifted off to sleep in an uncomfortable position in a chair next to the hospital bed. Tormented by the nightmares of the previous few days, he slept intermittently, waking for a few seconds here and there to look at her face. There was no day or night underground. Time blurred into a single mass of events as he lay sleeping in a contortionistic position in the chair beside her. Drifting in and out of sleep he dreamed of his parents as they died repeatedly in several different ways, each one more grotesque and more horrible than the one before. He watched in desperation as the monster that took Sarah’s arm escaped in a cacophony of grisly laughter. He wanted to stay awake, but he needed sleep. After a few hours, he awoke to see ROGER staring solemnly over her. Measuring the depth of appreciation he had for the human condition, Jayk asked about her ability to recover.
“The damage to the underlying tissue is significant. But, she is stable. All vital signs are normal. I expect a full recovery.” he said straightforwardly.
“He expects a full recovery.” The words rolled around in Jayk’s head. “Full recovery.” he thought, “How can someone make a full recovery, when they have lost a part of themselves?” She was lucky to have survived. But, as ROGER had explained, the weapons the Sky Reapers use burn the flesh and cauterize the wound even as they take from the body. The tear was sealed just as it was being ripped apart. As she lay there resting, he could think of nothing else. He wanted to help her somehow, put her back together. “But how?” he wondered silently.
That night the rest arrived, bringing with them a host of wounded and seriously injured survivors.
When the sun reached its zenith John began to think he had made the wrong decision in following these people, but he had to know. They had already walked several miles past an old airstrip where defunct military planes, B-25’s, A-10’s, C-130’s, a few Apaches and an overturned Chinook, the bodies of which were in various states of disrepair, had gone to die. They had stopped for the night to get some rest before continuing on that day. The group finally slowed its pace as they came to the entrance of an underground bunker. They huddled together and made their descent into the bowels of what would become their new home.
He made his way into the interior of the shelter, quickly falling in with the rest. They marveled at the structure, its many passageways and empty rooms, the twisting labyrinth of corridors, stairwells and hallways that went on for miles below the surface. This had, at one time, been a command station or research facility, perhaps for military troops and officers or for scientists developing black ops technology for the government. It was nothing now. There was running water fed by an underground aquifer, electricity, food and most of all shelter. At last, there was some semblance of normal life. This is what he had hoped to find. Everyone was fascinated by the discovery of the strange technology, as if they had never seen it before. How long had John really been out? Long enough, he assumed, for an entire generation of people to be born without any concept of civilization.
They gathered in a large common area that could have served as a rec room many years ago. There was no assumption that he could make based on the passage of time. It could have been decades or several hundreds of years, there was no way of telling. A terrible thought filled him in the pit of his stomach, “What had that military experiment really been about?” Looking around the room he noticed that many of the rescued had banded together, either out of fear or comfort. “Are these people the last remains of humankind? And if they are, what chance did they stand against the beasts I saw in that city? If it was up to these people, humanity would surely be lost.” John fought the urge to say something. But the burden to speak began to outweigh his desire to remain anonymous. It began like a tickling in the back of his throat. He looked away. His mouth twitched, opened and out sputtered the quiet sound of words.
“I can help.” It sounded like a plea, but he continued, “I don’t know how I got here, or what’s happened to the world, but a little over a month ago I was a Gunnery Sergeant with the United States Marine Corps. My company was assigned to guard a watershed on the Balsas River. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in total darkness and found the world overrun by those creatures.” He wasn’t sure if he should tell them about the experiment. He already felt like what he said made no sense to him, and doubted if it made any sense to them. The few of them, the ones who seemed to be in charge, discussed in hushed tones. He made his way through the crowd of people and went up to the big one. “I’ve been living in that city, alone, ever since. Now, if we work together, I think we can …”
Po raised a hand to him in silence. “What’s your name?” John stood firm and replied, “John. John D’Arby, Gunnery Sergeant, United States Marine Corps. Oorah.” He saluted and his lips curled into a thin smile. He and Po were of a height together. It was very rare that Po met a man of his own stature.
Po smiled back and after a beat slowly raised his hand over his brow mimicking John in a return salute, “It would be good to have someone with some practical military skills. You could probably teach us a great deal!” He gave Jayk a quick glance just as Jayk left the room.
Sleeping arrangements were minimal. Throughout the night John heard the disturbing howls of grief. In the morning there were discussions about training an army and talk of overthrowing the invaders. Jayk was meeting with Ideo, Rensa, Dade and Po. They discussed what should be done with the new arrivals.
“We struck out recklessly without a plan and now we have hundreds more mouths to feed and no place to put them all.” Po said to the four of them. “On a brighter note one of the men we rescued is a former military officer. He claims to be from the past. He has no memory of the fall, or of the usurper’s domination of the planet. But, he’s willing to offer his leadership skills to help us.”
“What’s he, some sort o’ lunatic?” Dade questioned.
“I doubt that. He seems sincere. There’s a lot about this world I don’t understand. For all I know he could be telling the truth. Either way, he’s the only one with any actual military training. No offense Jayk, I appreciate your help, without you we wouldn’t have been able to shut down production at the alien camp. You inspired us a great deal. And you’re a strong fighter, there’s no denying that. But, now I think we could use some real military experience if we hope to continue with this rebellion.” Po said in a polite tone.
“Good then. Well, that’s settled. We’ll have to ramp up algae production and make sleeping arrangements. It will take some time, but we should manage. Maybe we should send scouts out to hunt and trap for additional food?” Jayk suggested.
“That sounds good, I’d like to get out more, I can head that up!” Rensa said with a twinkle in her eye.
Dade scowled, “These new recruits will have to earn their keep! We can put ’em to work as soldiers, or they can cook and clean, whatever they want, but nobody gets a free ride.” He was picking the dirt and dried blood from under his nails with his knife, which made him look particularly menacing as he spoke.
Po looked at them all and stated, “We’ll begin immediately. Dade, you and Rensa get with John, the new guy, and form a regimen: food production and military training, conscript the ones you can, and get the rest performing some other duties. This will include scouting, setting traps and hunting or foraging for additional food sources. Jayk, you and Ideo get the room and board situation handled. You’ll need beds and clothing for everyone. We’ll have to work out the logistics of indoor recreation and such, but you can help with medical as well as training. We’ll need all hands on deck for this.” Turning to Jayk, Po said, “You may just get your army, yet.”
Jayk looked over at Ideo who had something wrapped in heavy canvas. “What do you have there, Ideo?”
“Have a look at it.” She said beaming with pride as she unrolled the device from the canvas. Ideo had brought with her the spoils of war, one of the electrical cannons the aliens used against them. The stock was shattered, there was no supporting framework or structure, it had no handle or trigger mechanism, but its barrel and muzzle remained intact, and most importantly the conducting sphere and interior belt that produced the electrical charges looked functional.
“With a bit of tinkering I think I might be able to fashion some sort of trigger mechanism that would allow a human being to use it.” Ideo mused looking it over.
Suddenly, Jayk was struck with a most unusual thought, “I have a better idea. Can I see that for just a minute?” He took the remains of the weapon and hurriedly brought it to ROGER.
“ROGER!” Jayk called out excitedly. ROGER was busy tending to a patient, but he responded to Jayk’s request with polite good nature. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Jayk?”
“I have a sort of weird request. I don’t even know if it’s possible. But if it is, it will be so amazing!” He spoke in fits and starts.
“Calm down, Jayk, and explain to me what you’re talking about.” ROGER replied. After several minutes Jayk explained his idea to ROGER. “It’s highly unconventional, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done, with her permission of course.” Jayk’s eyes lit up gleefully, all he needed to do now was convince Sarah. He went to her immediately.
“ROGER said he can bind the missing portions of your arm to the machinery of the weapon. It would be attached to the impulse nerves in your arm that would act as conductors for the electrical currents. He said, since the human body transmits sensory impulses that are carried out by motor impulses, it would be a matter of joining your central nervous system to the firing mechanism in the device. The nerves in your arm would act as a trigger, creating a circuit that could be activated by your own thoughts. It would be a weaponized prosthesis. He just needs your permission to begin.” Jayk pleaded with Sarah as she listened expressionlessly, “You’re the only one I’ve ever seen that could use their technology. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But, I believe you could help us win this war. Please, you’ve got to help us! Get your revenge on the creatures who did this to you! To us!” After several pensive moments, Sarah nodded.
ROGER began the surgery right away. Blood transfusions were needed while ROGER delicately attached the nerves in Sarah’s arm to the impulse controls in the weapon. She lost consciousness twice and several pints of blood were infused into her body over the course of her thirteen and a half hour surgery. She was then placed in a coma for two days while ROGER, Jayk and Ideo completed the reconfiguration of the alien device. Then he created an elbow, from robotic parts, that fit it to her forearm. When they were done she was cold and thin, but she had survived. They had replaced her left arm, finally. ROGER served double duty while performing the surgery. He continued tending to the newcomers’ wounds and helped to train some of the others in combat medicine.
Jayk stood beside Sarah’s bed watching her as she slept. Her angelic face was consumed with peace. He wanted to be the first person she saw when she woke up, perhaps it would be easier on her, waking to a friendly face. The newcomers had been training in another part of the bunker with John and the others. Now that he had become their military strategist it relieved Jayk of the difficult task, freeing him up to spend more time at Sarah’s side. He’d almost exhausted himself between the surgery and helping the others, and desperately needed some sleep.
“Sarah is sleeping. You should do the same, and not in a chair. The drugs have kept her sedated. When she awakens, I’ll come get you.” ROGER told him. “It would be best if we gave her some time to come to terms with what has happened, Jayk.” ROGER quietly stated. “She’s been through a tremendous amount of pain the past few weeks. I’m sure she will have a great deal to get used to in the coming days. She’ll need someone to help her, I think that should be you.” ROGER said encouragingly. Jayk agreed and went away into the common area where everyone else was sparring. The sound of flesh against flesh and the groans of pain kept him company while his mind wandered alone. He refused to make eye contact with anyone, least of all John.
Sarah awoke sometime while Jayk was out. After being in a deep sleep for almost a week, she was in better health than was expected, but she still had a long way to go. ROGER carefully unwrapped the bandages from her arm, what was left of it, and began inspecting the connections to her flesh. The foreign organometallic weapon extended from the left side of her body ominously. The unfamiliar substance that housed the conducting sphere was alien, almost symbiotic in nature, and at first they thought her body might reject it. She was confused and disoriented, which was to be expected, and had no knowledge of the surgery or how long she had been out.
ROGER began to explain to her in careful measured tones, “Your body appears to be reacting well to the mechanics of the device. We were able to bind the weapon to your upper forearm. Your brachialis muscle and the arteries surrounding it were severely damaged, but the cauterization produced by the electrical weapon mitigated any major nerve damage in the plexus. I was able to attach the device to the remaining nerve groups so that use of it would be almost second nature; easy as making a fist,” he raised his hand and, closing and opening it, made a fist to show her, “You are now the proud owner of a high-voltage electrostatic cannon.” He smiled sweetly, but noticed her grimace almost imperceptibly and attempted to ameliorate her fears, “I’ve deactivated the weapon’s conducting sphere, so you don’t accidentally discharge the weapon in your sleep. When you’re ready, you simply attach this cable to the microprocessor and voilà, you’re good to go.” He could tell from her eyes that she was still in no shape to be up and about, “Get some more sleep. You still have a lot of healing to do. I won’t be far away, and I’ll keep checking on you periodically.” ROGER grinned reassuringly. For almost an hour all she did was lay there peering menacingly at the thing. Then turned her head and gloomily went back to sleep.
Sarah awoke again to a mishmash of voices murmuring in the darkness. Her arm felt numb while the rest of her limbs tingled with sharp pains. She could remember as a child her mother referring to it as “pins and needles,” the effect of the blood rushing back into an appendage that had previously been cut off from circulation. Wiggling her legs and trying to move was a burden. At some point while she was asleep they had transferred her to a private dorm where she could be monitored by ROGER without arousing the suspicions of the others, who they agreed might not understand the nature of the alien technology she now possessed.
“So, how are we feeling?” ROGER brushed the hair out of her face and started inspecting the bandages on her left arm.
His eyes were silvery and bright like sparkling gemstones and his hair was rich and thick. When his fingers brushed against her scalp she felt a coldness that was unexpected. “Is he an apparition? Am I dreaming?” She wondered to herself.
Groggily she asked, “Who are you, exactly? I feel as if we’ve met before.”
He smiled faintly and said, “You were a part of The Protogaea Project of which I was the custodial engineer. Your DNA was uploaded into a neural network of biomagnetic nanobots. Your grandfather selected you to be one of the survivors, do you remember?” He stopped and waited for her to answer, she simply nodded, “I helped give birth to you. I was the one who brought you out of the facility. But, we got separated. I searched for you for a long time. Once I found you I never left your side. Although this is not what was intended, you are alive and doing well.” he began to change the dressings on her arm.
“What am I … some kind of a robot?” The words crawled out of her before she had a chance to reel them back in. She hoped he wouldn’t answer the question. She didn’t want to know. Instead, what she found out could have been worse, had it not been for the way he said it, almost with a tinge of admiration.
“No, Sarah, you are not a robot. You are a clone, something far more beautiful and delicate than anything I could ever hope to be.” He said, smiling sweetly down at her.
He paused and she asked, “So, what are you, then?”
“I am a synthetic human organism, what would typically be referred to as a robot or an android. More precisely I am a superintelligent A.I., a product of your grandfather’s research. Humans had been trying to create artificial intelligence since the first computers were created, maybe before. But, the human mind had always outperformed A.I. because of its ability to execute many millions of terabytes of calculations per second while maintaining extremely low temperatures and using very little energy. For robots to think as fast as humans they had to build these enormous machines that required massive amounts of electricity and cooling fans, just for them to remain hot to the touch. Then, a breakthrough occurred when your grandfather, Dr. Lemky, created the first biomagnets. These organic semiconductors could do all the work of the biological neurons in the human brain, plus so much more, while maintaining temperatures of less than 37 degrees celsius. Dr Lemky’s biomagnets proved to be just the advantage that neuroscientists would need to catapult their research and develop a functional A.I. that could compete with human biology. The biomagnetic nanobots form what he jokingly referred to as the “society of the robot mind,” and like any good society there is a leader, the “orbus ex machina,” or the robot in the machine, that acts as the little robot-in-charge, or chief executive homunculus, if you will. The decision making circuitry of the A.I. is simply a series of nested subroutines of IF-THEN statements. Referred to as “agents,” these tiny heuristic programs are capable of learning behavior. Now, alone, one of these little nanobots isn’t capable of performing the sheer engineering feat of consciousness like the human mind, but when aggregated together they can achieve what humankind never thought was possible. Sarah, your grandfather was an amazing man. He was responsible for both your existence and my own. I just thought you should know that.” ROGER stated proudly.
His argentine eyes twinkled silently down at her, though devoid of feeling there was a kindness to them. He was a body without organs, made up of biomagnetic nanoparticles. On an atomic level he was simply an amalgamation of tiny programs. All the stimulus that his body felt was attributed to tiny little nanobots all communicating with one another, yet he was perfectly capable of all the functions of a human individual. Individual so clearly defined what he was that the very word took on new meaning to her.
“You should rest. When you are ready, let us know. I’ll send someone to bring you some clothes and food and check on you periodically. This will be your dorm for as long as you want it to be.” He said to her softly.
She turned her head away and stared at her mutilated arm. Before he walked out, she called to him, “Thank you … for taking care of me.” She didn’t make eye contact.
“It’s what I was designed to do, I am merely fulfilling my programming.”
“How very diplomatic of you. Did they teach you that at robot school?”
He didn’t say another word. Then he exited the room.
She continued staring at her arm even as he left. She tried to lift it, but that was no good. The effort was too great. It was like a boat anchor that tethered her to the bed frame. Eventually, she would have to get used to it, but she had greater concerns. She remembered everything, the project, the cloning process, the alien slave camps. It came back in a wave of memories that she had tried to pretend was just a dream. Trauma plays tricks on the mind, but in this instance, and for this time, she had played the trick on herself. Anger, confusion, resentment, all the usual emotions crowded in and took up residency in her mind. She had to make some hard decisions.
Just then a woman came into the room and brought her some clothes. “Hi, I’m Rensa. I just wanted to welcome you here. ROGER asked me to bring these to you.” The logistics of trying to wrangle a shirt over the bulky contraption must have escaped them all. She sat up and grabbed one of the shirts and made an attempt to pull it over the ponderous device, to no avail.
“So, Rensa, how should we do this?” Sarah asked, staring at her arm.
She stood bewildered for a moment, then awkwardly began sizing the shirt up and finally pulled a blade out and lopped off the sleeve. “There, that should work for the time being, until we can find you something else.” She smiled confidently, proud of her handiwork.
Sarah struggled to yank the thing over her new appendage until Rensa finally gave her a hand. “Sometimes it’s better to let a person try and fail, than to offer help unwanted.” She waxed philosophically.
“Thank you, this should do for now until I can figure something else out.” Sarah said. Rensa nodded, then left the room.
Sarah drifted in and out of sleep … people melted seamlessly into one another, tall and short, slender, dark, females, males — it was hard to keep track of all the faces. They were a blur. Hours moved into days, and days into weeks. Sarah’s arm would be numb, then it would shriek with pain, no comfortable position fit her excruciating body. She ate, drank, passed out and awoke all in the same room and on the same bed. She had no idea what the sun looked like anymore, no concept of time. Then one day she sat up, dangled her legs off the edge of the bunk and heaved her oversize arm into her lap and sat there for a long while hunched and uncomfortable.
She cradled the cold metal with her right hand. Then, she slung it against the steel bed frame with all her might — putting a sizable dent in it.
It was time. She had finally regained her strength.
She began to think of all the things she would never do again. “Doctor, will I be able to play the piano? Of course you will. That’s good, because I never could before.” She whispered to herself, then laughed wickedly like an asylum patient. If nothing else she still had a sense of humor.
In walked ROGER, his august eyes met hers and she felt him examine her soul. As he glided smoothly across the room and straightened up to her side, she felt a sense of compassion from him. He gently lifted her arm and took her pulse.
“Your blood pressure has regained normal balance and your body temperature has improved significantly. How do you feel?” He quizzed her.
“Groggy.” She replied breathlessly.
“That’s to be expected. You’ve been on a regimen of intense pain relievers for a couple of weeks. Your body will adjust as you pass them.”
“The people that have been visiting me, who are they?” She asked.
“They’re friends. They rescued you from the work camp where you were being held captive. They were forcing you, and some others, to plant gardens composed of alien plant life. Myself and Jayk carried you back here after you were hurt in the battle to save you. You’ve been convalescing here ever since. We’ve been keeping you sedated until your body healed and you were stable enough to get up and move around. If you’re ready, there’s some physical therapy I have prepared for you.”
“Good, I’ll let the others know you’re coming while you get dressed.” He said and turned to leave the room. She slipped down to the floor, hauling the unwieldy device with her as if carrying a large piece of unnecessary luggage. It took her several minutes to get dressed, but it was easier than the first time she tried. Instead of the bulky clothes they wore to protect them from the harsh environment, Rensa had provided her with sweatpants and tank tops, much easier to slip in and out of. And, since she was going to be spending most of her time indoors, they would be both comfortable and sensible.
When he got back, he held open the door for her and she made her way out of the room and down a short hallway. They entered a smaller room where she was greeted by Jayk and the others who had been caring for her. Jayk smiled bashfully.
“I … we’ve been waiting for you.” He said and stood up quickly.
She moved to the center of the room and everyone crowded in around her. They stood and looked at each other for a moment. She was still very weak and the reality of carrying the cumbersome device around was already beginning to take its toll on her. Her arm was getting sore and her body listed to one side. She was noticeably nervous and they all stared at her with some form of unrestrained pity.
“Glad you’re up and about!” Rensa said, “Sorry about the shirt, but what you’ve got now’s a lot better.”
Ideo was excited to finally see the device in action, “Have you tried it out yet?”
“No, not yet.” Sarah replied.
“Bummer, I can’t wait to see what happens when you do! I want a full report, details and everything! You know, we’ve started calling you our secret weapon.”
“Nobody calls her that.” Jayk said.
“Well I do.” Ideo snapped. “Anyway, she is! She has the only real weapon we’ve got. Except of course for me … but then again, I’m a weapon all by myself. But, she could probably take on the whole alien horde!” She said gleefully.
ROGER interrupted them, “Sarah, I’ve got some exercises I want you to perform each day, just a little physical therapy to ensure mobility of your limbs.” He motioned for her to follow him into a training room. “These exercises will help to restore muscular strength, joint motion and flexibility.” He positioned her in front of a mirror and began by having her shrug her shoulders. Sarah continued in that manner for a few minutes, until she became tired. Her muscles, being frail and unaccustomed to use, made for a potent combination that was both monotonous and oppressive. He switched to having her lay down while raising and lowering her arm parallel to her side.
The alien device would have to be covered up somehow, so as to avoid startling others, at least until she got the hang of its use. Because of this, Jayk had found her an oversize coat that covered both her body and the weapon. Beneath this cloak of deception she would come and go in peace.