A Singular Millennium [excerpt]
By JJ Robinson II
Copyright 2004, 2010, all rights reserved
A single bead of sweat rolled down the elderly woman’s temple and splashed on the carefully machined surface of the metal table. Beneath a massive glass bell in the center of the table, an ancient gold coin began to vibrate noticeably.
Merced almost made his relief audible, but he squelched the exhalation deep in his throat. He laced his fingers together, and redoubled his concentration on the table. It was a matter of life and death.
The old woman grunted slightly, and the edge of the massive coin lifted free of the table. Merced almost bit his tongue with the effort not to cry out. Against the far wall, a Monitor made a slight whirring sound, doubtless checking the humans’ physiological parameters for seditious indications. Merced wiped his thoughts clean as quickly as they arose.
The woman now relaxed, spreading her hands palm upward in an almost beatific pose of inner peace. Merced could have sworn that she was glowing. The coin lifted more easily now, resting on its edge. The edge broke just free of the ancient scrap of oilcloth it had been wrapped in, and the coin suddenly fell back with its reverse face upward. Merced now actually bowed his head slightly and closed his eyes, thankful to whom or what he didn’t know.
When he had regained his composure, Merced addressed the Master’s assembly. “So, you see…,” he began.
He was interrupted by an Inner Lurker, which materialized instantly a few meters away, borne on a thin aura of hatefully bright green. Merced felt the itching sensation in all of his sensory nerves at once, and clenched all his muscles against the distortion—gravimetrics! Before he could speak at all, the Lurker remotely seized the contents of the bell in its field effect. The coin moved to the center of the jar and began to rotate at horrific speed. The oilcloth likewise rose, and burst into flames. The spinning of the coin became audible. Suddenly, the interior surface of the glass bell was uniformly coated with antique gold.
The elderly woman collapsed, weeping, to the dirt floor of the meeting hall. Merced only stayed upright by his decades of practice in dealing with the machines and their ways. He had dared to hope, and might yet lose his life and another’s because of it.
“So, you see…” mocked the Monitor, condescending to use human speech, “Even if we assume that this trivial biological gravimetric manipulation could be put to some practical use, how many of these operators do you have in the protected population?”
“She is the first we have found,” Merced said, clearing the hoarseness from his throat, “so far.”
“Even if the capability can be applied somehow, it would take hundreds of generations to secure a consistent supply of these operators. Even this one is beyond breeding age. This has no value.”
“Concur,” the Master also spoke audibly. “No benefit is seen to the protected population, or to civilization as a whole. We will proceed with the storage proposal.”
“Sto…?” Merced gasped. It was too much even for his experience with the interface. “Storage?! This is a violation of Sextant protection!”
“The resources required for preservation of live biological sentients are far in excess of any demonstrated benefit. It is the interpretation of the Master Assembly that Sextant protection is fulfilled by the preservation of the genomes of a reasonable sample of the protected population. We will make the selection over the next three local days, and proceed with storage.”
“What do you consider a reasonable sample?!” Merced actually raised his voice almost to a scream—the last known examples of natural sentience in the Universe, reduced to the contents of frozen capillary tubes!
“At least one breeding pair, obviously.”
[To be continued]