Phobia One

The world

The dirty war as it was known had left a band of uninhabitable green desert that stretched around the globe from 48o North to 48o South.   It wasn’t a desert in the traditional sense. There were no rolling sand dunes or areas of baking heat. Just a thick layer of moss, the majority of middle earth was covered in the thick green toxic plant. Mountains, jungle, valleys, savannah, lush pastures, all had succumbed to the incipit march of the genetically engineered plant.

No one remembered which terrorist group had broken into the GM labs and released the strain into the world at large. Within four weeks the plant had been found growing in parks in every major city. Two weeks later people began to die, anyone who came in contact with it just simply lay down and went to sleep. Death followed quickly as the accelerated growth of the plant grew over the corps and sucked the nutrients from the rotting flesh.

Panic followed and fighting broke out all over the world. There were not really any sides, just groups of people banding together to try to flee the steady advance of the moss and the terrifying death that chased them towards the poles. In just two years the majority of the world had been de-populated.

 After a few years and some strong-arm tactics from the world's armed forces order was re-established and civilisation began to march forward again. Aided by the fact that the moss could not survive in colder climates or in extended darkness. So as the earth rocked on its axis the green band would move north until summer passed and then recede towards the equator as autumn and winter took over and brought colder and darker days.

As time went on humanity learned how to harvest the dead moss that winter brought in abundance. What was left bore no toxins and could be processed to produce many things including a rich protein cake that quickly became the staple diet of those who had survived the barren years.    After three hundred and seventy-five years of prosperity, Earth's population was approaching fifteen billion.

Space was tight as available building land was all but used up. However, there was no crush, no poverty, everyone had some form of employment and due to the abundant supply of dead moss every year, there was no danger of starvation.

Although developed as a weapon of mass destruction the moss had been studied from inside to out many, many times over its lifetime. The scientists had finally worked it out. They had found the reason they could not kill it. At first, it had terrified them. Then as time went on and society began to depend on the very organism that had wiped out all but a few species on Earth. They discovered that the moss was a single organism and it was not immortal. It had a finite lifespan just like any other organic entity, and time was running out for the moss and the symbiotic relationship it had with humankind.

Northern Approach:

The coach driver reached over and changed the channel on the radio. He always did this just as they reached the northern approach to the Forth Road bridge, the old one. He flipped over to radio Forth for the 6 am news and the road report that followed. Like any other day, the roads into the capital were packed, nothing moved faster than five miles an hour. It was normal to sit for a few minutes then the whole static vehicular mass would creep forward for another 200 yards, then stall again. In the rear nearside seat 19-year-old, Maddy sat patiently as the bus edged its way up the northern approach.

Today was like any other day and she sat lost in her own fantasy world. An imagined sterile construct millions of light years away across the galaxy, built by a dead robot race, created for the sole purpose of building a new world for their masters to escape from a galactic scourge that threatened to annihilate their species.

In her fantasy, the world had been sealed off, wrapped up by a thick white fudge-like substance ready for the new inhabitants to take over the stewardship of the construct. Millions of years passed but the master race never came. She could never make up her mind whether the scourge had killed off the people or some natural disaster had wiped out the master’s world or it had taken so long they had simply forgotten about it.

Being a construct this was a world like no other. It was massive, built in a binary system, the primary formed the home star just like the sun. The secondary star, much, much smaller than the primary orbited its partner in much the same relationship as Earth did around the Sun. The scaling was different but the secondary lay in the Goldilocks zone of the primary. The clever machine race had first built a framework around the secondary star. This framework later housed 12 pentagons and twenty hexagons. Setup to form a sphere. Just like a football or the famed Buckyball that made up the C60 Buckminsterfullerene molecule. She suspected that the robot race had never played football so the Buckyball seemed like the more plausible explanation.

The secondary was small and dense, at a radius of 93million miles it had a gravitational pull of about 10m/s/s just like Earth. So a person standing on one of the massive plates would experience the same gravimetric pull as they would on the surface of mother Earth.

The bus crept forward once again and stopped. It had now almost reached the anchor point on the northern approach. Maddy relaxed and operated the recliner, feeling the field of the seat restraint adjust its self to her new position. Her eyes followed the eastern cable up to the bearing point at the top of the North tower. The distortions from the transparent roof of the bus giving the tower a slightly out of focus appearance framed in the diamond light of the first rays of the sunrise. Seconds later the same sunlight caught the transparent roof and a rainbow of colours flooded the bus. Making her gasp at the sudden and vibrant beauty. This was rare, the bus had to be in the right position at exactly the right time. The odds of this happening again were astronomical. She savoured the experience as the rainbow cascade morphed and faded in around twenty seconds. It was a good bet that only a few of the busses passengers had actually noticed the phenomenon. Most were sleeping, some were engrossed on their tablets. A quick glance down the bus told her that few if any of the other passengers had witnessed the amazing spectacle.  A wide smile formed on her face knowing that this beautiful experience would be available, unaltered for the rest of her life. Total recall had both advantages and disadvantages. Experiences like this one were defiantly one of the more beneficial aspects of her talent.   


Relaxing, her mind slid back to the imagined construct remembering why it was there. In an attempt to give her some form of release from the eidetic memory that was supposed to back off as she developed through her teens, it had been created to give her some form of relief from the images and sensations which had, in fact, become even sharper, more accurate and worst of all they had gained an emotional element that had not been there when she was growing up. Now at nineteen, every emotional nuance and associated memory she had ever experienced were instantly available, exactly as they had happened.

The doctors had tried drugs, but with her intellect suppressed the logical part of her mind was not able to counter the emotional rush that came with the recall. They damn near lost her down the rabbit hole of memory. After that, the psychs had backed off with the drugs. Other less conventional approaches had been tried, meditation, yoga, hypnotism, Jujitsu and a whole host of other techniques.

The most successful had been the two years she had spent with the monks at the Shaolin Temple near Cape Wrath. The only true wilderness left on what had been known as the British Isles, now preserved as a national park. In an effort to save the best of human culture, the emerging world government had granted the few remaining monks the right to build a monastic community on the cape in return for them becoming guardians of the wilderness. It had been a deal that had worked well for both the environment and the re-emerging civilisation that had so nearly been extinguished.

On her fourteenth birthday, Maddy had entered the temple as a skinny undersized girl with more emotional baggage than half the continent, a body full of pubescent hormones and a mind with more psychologically un-exploded bombs than the Northlands’ arsenal, on the other hand, the monks had a life of quiet, order and serenity.

Two years later Maddy left with a measure of order, a little bit of serenity, hormones that were at last beginning to settle down and for her a way of escaping the constant flow of perfect memories. The monastery bore the scars of Maddie’s emotional and physical unrest with pride and fortitude. The fiery little redhead would be enshrined in the lore of the temple as long as the order existed. Their one failure had been the one true phobia that was entrenched so deeply in a teenager's subconscious that it could transform her into a blubbering mess in less than a second. Once in that state, it took many patient hours of gentle coaxing to bring her out of it. It was fortuitous that the cape was one of the few places left on earth that she could be exposed to the trigger.

“Otherwise!” The Master’s thought had trailed off. He smiled as he watched her walk down the track towards the main road. A simple pack with her few belongings slung loosely over her right shoulder. She stopped at the style and looked back, saw him smile and waved a final goodbye and turned away forever.

“We all will miss her, husband. But I don’t think we have seen the last of our young Maddy.” She smiled wiping the two silent tears from her husband’s cheeks.   

Centre Span:

 Maddy arched her head back as the bus crawled under the Northern tower. The original structure had been opened on September 4, 1964, by Queen Elisabeth II. The first of its kind in the then United Kingdom. Nothing of the original structure remained, every seventy years or so the structure was totally replaced. The rebuilding would use new materials but adhere to the original design. It would be constructed further down the estuary on huge barges and then over five days the old bridge would be lifted out using massive dirigibles and the new construction lifted into place minimising the amount of congestion caused by the closing of the structure. Her mind slipped into a listing of the components required to build the bridge. She blinked and checked her thought process, moving her focus back to the construct.

Unlike memories which were super-accurate recordings of actual events the fantasy seldom went beyond her short-term memory. This was one of the things she had come to love about it. No matter how many times she emersed herself in the fantasy, each foray was subtly different from any of her previous imaginings. Having everything you felt and experienced there for instant recall could be stressful and dangerous. It was too easy to get lost in detail. Yet at the end of the day, it had details that had been the key to mastering her ability and safeguarding her sanity.

Tsu-Mau, one of her older instructors had been trying to teach her some new movements that were supposed to enhance the particularly difficult sequence of leaps, thrusts, twists, kicks, and rolls that had to be performed in as near slow-motion as physical mechanics would allow. To any outsider, Maddy was performing the sequence with perfect timing and a grace of movement that few of the other members of the intake could even come near. “But!”

Young one in your perfection of movement you are missing something. We must find that before you can move on.” The old monk had nearly driven her into a rage-fuelled by frustration. The deeper the rage the more precise her movements and the further she got for Tsu-Mau’s goal. Finally, after several days the old monk did what was unforgivable in the order; he lost his temper with Her.

“You have no imagination, everything you do is a perfect copy of what you have done before. Perfect and unaltered. Stop this and Standstill. Work out five moves in your mind then execute them and don’t move from that spot until you have something of your own to show me.” At which time he flowed from the lotus position into the nearest she had ever seen him do to a run in the months she had been there.

She frowned brushing a lock of long red hair that more often resembled a swarm of angry bees rather than a hairstyle from her sweat-ridden forehead. As usual, she was angry but this time she was more puzzled than ever before. On one hand, the old monk had told her that the sequence of moves she was performing were perfect.  Yet he kept telling her she could do far better. For the first time in her life, there was a paradox that neither her perfect recall nor her intensely logical mind could find a solution for.

“Bugger this!” She thought and turned towards the exit. Intent on getting a shower and something to eat and stalled before she could make the move.  Instant recall brought ‘Don’t move from that spot until you have something of your own to show me.’ Two conflicting aspects of her personality were locked in opposition. Defiance and obedience. Both were equally strong and neither would subside to let the other triumph.  For an hour she stood lost in her internal battle. The logical part of her turned out to be useless. Each time it also came to the same impasse as her emotional side.

Sometime later Maddy became aware that she was mentally watching the components of herself battle over this puzzle. She was now in the lotus position and had anyone been watching they would have seen her face light up and one eyebrow rise slightly and her head cock over to one side as if listening. The stiffness had gone from her shoulders and her breathing was relaxed and steady.    

For half an hour Tsu-Mau had taken his frustrations out on and old Wing Chun training dummy that had been there almost as long as he had. He stopped as Jet-Li the master had appeared beside him patiently waiting for his old friend to acknowledge him. Tsu-Mau bowed slightly bringing his hands together in the ritual praying gesture. He said nothing.

Jet-Li asked one question. “Maddy?” Tsu-Mau nodded and bowed again, also saying nothing. Jet-Li smiled and turned away chuckling to himself. He was not about to admonish his friend for something he himself had experienced more than once from the same source.

At the communal evening meal, Jet-Li noted Maddie’s absence and the questioning look’s from the Monks, none of whom had seen her since the morning meal. Maddy had been known to storm off in a temper and hide but she had never been known to miss a meal. Like most youngsters, the girl had an enormous appetite and was constantly complaining that she was hungry. The meal finished and still, there was no sign of Maddy. Jet-Li looked towards Tsu-Mau who stood and bowed.

“Last I saw her was in the training area.”  The old man offered.

Remembering Tsu-Mau’s state of mind from earlier Jet-Li stood up and announced. “I think we must assume Maddy is in need of our assistance. Please, brothers and sisters, let us search the compound and surrounding area for Maddy. We have enough time before dark to at least search the compound. Report back here at sundown.”      

Sundown had come and gone and there was still no sign of Maddy. All the buildings inside the compound except one (the training room.) Had been thoroughly searched. AS Cape Wrath had been used by the United Kingdom as a live fire training ground there were still a large number of unexploded munitions buried by almost four hundred years of raw nature. It was not uncommon for spontaneous explosions to break the unending daily quiet. If Maddy had left the compound and was wandering across the bog-land or through the pine forests she could easily have caused an explosion.

The monks often worked outside the compound but never without a sensor pack that would alert them to the proximity of any dangerous devices. All of the packs were accounted for so they all knew that if Maddy had left the compound she would be in significant danger.

The sun had just risen above the horizon when Tsu-Mau’s hurried knocking on the Master's door woke Jet-Li and Sea-Chu his life partner. Both dressed hurriedly and followed the old Monk to the training area.

“Master she is still in the same spot I left her yesterday.” Tsu-Mau chattered excitedly.

“What was the last thing you said to her brother?” Sea-Chu asked. The old man thought for a moment then slowly answered,

“You have no imagination, everything you do is a perfect copy of what you have done before. Perfect and unaltered. Stop this and stand still. Work out five moves in your mind then execute them and don’t move from that spot until you have something of your own to show me.”

“Was she angry?” she asked.

“She was frustrated, and yes she was angry with me,” Tsu-Mau replied. 

“OH. Then I suggest you continue with your instruction. Come wife let us begin our day. Tsu-Mau please inform the brothers and sisters that young Maddy has been found.” Then he and Sea-Chu left the training area arms linked. Both trying hard not to burst out laughing at Tsu-Mau’s confusion.

Maddy stirred, the seat restraint adjusting to her new position. Memories of Tsu-Mau always stirred deep emotions in her. A year after the incident he had collapsed and after a short illness died. At one hundred and three years old it was a surprise to no-one. She had been with him sitting on the bed beside him holding his hand.

“All will be well child; you will go far before we meet again.” He sighed squeezing her hand gently as his body relaxed as his final breath left his chest. His eyes closing slowly as his head fell to the side. As painful as it was this was not a sad memory. In fact, it was one that she cherished on the odd occasions that it was allowed to replay. Something about the cascading light show brought these two memories together. Tsu-Mau loved watching both sunrises and sunsets and they had stood on the temple balcony to observe the transition many times. He would have loved this one, she mused before turning her mind back to the construct as the bus moved forward another 100 meters.

Again her mind returned to that day Tsu-Mau had chastised her. She had been sitting in the lotus position overnight. Unaware of the passage of time. As the first rays of sunlight entered the training area and brushed her thick red mop. The change in light and temperature started a process that brought her out of the internal impasse that she had been trying to break.

Her eyes had opened to find the old monk on the floor in front of her. Like herself, he was in the lotus position and looked like he was in a deep state of meditation. A quick look at the open wall told her it was early morning. Her stomach rumbled loudly.

“Have you found a solution to the problem I left you with?” The old monk asked, still not opening his eyes.

“No.” She replied softly, bowing her head slightly.

“And are you so deep into this that you wish to miss another meal?” He asked equally as softly. She had shrugged her shoulders, not knowing what to answer. She did not want to disappoint the old man by giving in and not doing what she had been told.

Seeing that the girl was unable to answer the old monk asked’ “What were the last words I said to you before I left you yesterday?”

“You have no imagination, everything you do is a perfect copy of what you have done before. Perfect and unaltered. Stop this and stand still. Work out five moves in your mind then execute them and don’t move from that spot until you have something of your own to show me.” She answered.

“Do you think I was in error?”

“I don’t know Brother Tsu. I know you are trying to make me think. But I don’t know how to do what you’re asking me.”

“An honest answer child. I was in error for I did not account for the perfection of recall that you experience. May I suggest a modification to my instruction?”

“Please brother Tsu.” Maddy answered not really sure if she was getting off lightly or going to be worse off.” The old monk continued.

“Then for each of the next five days. I suggest that you spend the day planning a sequence of five moves. They must be different each day and not repeat any from the previous days. You may not practice the sequence before you display it to all of us half an hour before the evening meal. On the last day, you will perform all the sequences together and in an order of your choice. Are you happy with this instruction?”

Maddy frowned, “So I don’t have to do any chores or School if I choose to do this?”

“That is correct my child.”

“Ok.” Was her simple answer.

“Now you have been in that spot for nearly twenty hours. I suggest you go and clean yourself up and join the rest of us at the morning meal.” He bowed his head slightly. After all, that time in the one position nature was beginning to make her needs felt. Maddy got to her feet and headed for the showers with a big smile on her face, leaving Tsu-Mau to reflect on something he had never suspected.

His life as a monk had been dedicated to finding perfection in himself and his surroundings. Maddy displayed that perfection. The child only had to be shown a sequence of moves and she could imitate it exactly as the teacher had shown her. There were no deviations. Everything Maddy did was a recording of what she had seen before. No, in his imperfect anger, he had stumbled on something very basic that no one ever suspected about Maddy. The child literally had no imagination.

Her reverie was disturbed by someone further down the bus laughing loudly and then being “Shushed” by people around them who were using the long trip into town to catch up on their sleep. She turned her head to the left and looked out towards the island of Inchgarvie and the massive stone piles that had held the southern cantilever of the old railway bridge. It had been destroyed during the wild years when the moss had first established itself and now only a few rusted metal girders protruded above the stonework.

Her thoughts turned to the history of the rail bridge, how many tonnes of steel, who built it, how many days… Again she pulled her mind back from the unending flow of facts and figures. This was the mental trick that she and Tsu-Mau had worked on. The ability to separate her consciousness from her memory. She could stand back and watch the flood of information like a person standing on the bank of a river, idly watching the water flow by. In that state her memories were like those of a normal person, they were there but not exact, coloured by emotion and imagination.


At school, one particularly obnoxious maths teacher had asked her to mentally calculate pi to its last digit. It had only taken four minutes for her to collapse, locked so deep in the sum that she forgot to breathe. The paramedics had first to stimulate her body and then sedate her to calm the mental process that so nearly claimed her life. The teacher who was aware of her condition was fired and Maddy was banned for doing mental arithmetic.

 “Each of us has two people inside us. The one we know best is a consciousness that is based on language, intelligence, imagination, memory, and logic. This is who we are and everything that we see and do is processed by this modern persona. The second person has no language, it can’t understand the spoken word. It hides itself, listening to the world around us, silently watching everything. Its language is emotion, pheromones, unconscious movement, things that we would need a thousand words to describe, but can be passed between people as a smile, or a wink of the eye, or a wave of the hand. It is the one who can decide in a heartbeat without any thought whether we stand and fight or run. In you child, there is a third. It is a human data storage unit with the off switch broken. It records everything as it happens and without any thought or filtering.” Tsu-Mau had told her one evening as they sat watching the sun sink over the Atlantic. He paused letting the changing hues of the long dusk pass around them like a silent melody. This far north it never really got dark during the summer months. In contrast during the depths of winter, the day was just over 6 hours long. “Now that we understand what is happening inside your head. Perhaps we can find a way that will allow you to lead a more normal life.”

In a rare moment of tranquillity, she wrapped her arms around his left arm and quietly answered, “I hope so.” Then the two of them sat quietly watching the golden orb slide slowly below the horizon.



Centre Span again.

The bus stopped again, suddenly this time. Even at five miles per hour a sudden stop often felt worse than it would have at a much greater speed. The field adjusted allowing her to fall forward and then stop safely before gently pulling her back into the seat. She could hear violent honking from one of the personal transit pods that were usually driven under manual control.   It was a sad fact that most of the collisions on the motorway involved one of these little vehicles. Because they were so small, not much bigger than a chair with a shell they were ideal for jiggling their rider in and out between the larger vehicles like buses and medium-sized pods. Had she been on the lower deck the unipod would have been visible through the coach’s transparent walls.

The bus had stopped and she could see the driver get up and disappear down the stairs, out of sight. In the back seat, all she could hear were raised voices. The shouting went on for a few minutes before the driver hurriedly dropped himself back into his seat. The bus in front had moved forward and there was now a considerable gap between them. A brace of loud horns from behind encouraged the driver to accelerate quickly to catch up before someone from the outer lane tried to fill the open gap between the buses.

 Two hundred meters further on the bus stopped again, the driver’s harsh operation of the brakes forced the restraints into action once more. She could hear the driver growling to one of the passengers in the front seats. His words mixed with the music from the radio.

Most days if there was any wind she could feel the bridge deck swaying gently or bobbing up and down as traffic moved at different rates on the east and west carriageways. The motion could be quite uncomfortable, unseasoned travellers had been known to relieve themselves of their breakfast on the worst days.

She was distracted by a low vibration coming up through the floor of the bus. Puzzled she placed the palm of her hand on the window. The plexiglass wall was also vibrating. Then the bus moved forward again stopping the vibration. This time the vehicle stopped at the centre point of the main span. Again the vibration could be felt through her boots.

Her attention was drawn across to the western carriageway where a massive low loader had stopped parallel to them. As if on key the radio traffic report announced that a large load would be crossing the old road bridge and that all normal traffic would be diverted onto the east carriageway to balance the weight of the 3600-ton reactor casing that was slowly making its way down to the new Torness Thorium nuclear power plant 33 miles east of Edinburgh.

Maddy wondered why this of all things was being transported by road. For over two hundred years all heavy loads had been transported using the giant dirigibles. Her question was answered by the radio announcer. This 150m long, 3600-ton casting was too small to be transported by the Zeppelin as it had a minimum transport weight of 5000 tonnes.

Maddy frowned. The massive load was supported at each end by a trailer module, each consisting of many 28-wheeled hydraulically driven units. Each trailer was supplied with power by an independent tractor unit. One pulling and the other pushing.  The whole mass should have been moving forward at two miles per hour. In fact, it was now stationary. Her frown deepened as she pulled the figures from her memory and calculated the loading on the deck, added the estimated loading on her carriageway, and subtracted that from the bridge's max deck loading. Her conclusion was that the current load on the towers was many hundreds of tonnes above the bridge's maximum load safety margin.  No wonder the deck was vibrating.

The bus began to shake and a high-pitched whine could be heard coming from the vertical cables that supported the carriageways. As long as the huge load had been moving the strain had been transferred from one group of supports to the next evenly. Now that the vehicle had stopped that load was being supported by only two sets of verticals centred around each of the trailer units. As the trailer had crossed the centre of the bridge the deck between the two supporting trailers had buckled up and jammed on the underside of the load. Causing the whole vehicle train to draw to a sudden and irrevocable halt. 

Most of the passengers had now turned towards the spectacle on the other carriageway.  Various comments drifted through the radio announcers continuing road report.  Their tone varied depending on how aware the person was of the worsening situation Realising that some of his passengers were beginning to panic, the driver locked the seat restraints in emergency mode, immobilising all but himself.

His intention was to try and calm the passenger. Instead many of them panicked struggling against the field. Shouting loudly for him to release them. The general din inside the bus increased suddenly as a sharp tearing sound came from the bridge deck below them. The bus lurched upwards as the two sides of the propagating tear in the road bowed upwards underneath the bus. Unlike the northbound carriageway where the deck was lodged firmly underneath the massive casting, preventing the roadbed from splitting. The weight of the traffic on the Southbound road deck was nothing compared to the titanic forces in action under the bus. As the sides of the rift tore upwards the bus was hurled straight up while surrounding vehicles were propelled north and south from the rapidly opening rift. With the sudden release of tension on the east carriageway, all the forces were transferred back to the other side of the deck and to the cables around the massive trailers. Half a second later the first of the cables on the west side snapped, starting a chain reaction that propagated towards the shorter strands at the centre of the meter-thick suspension cables that ran between the two supporting peers.

Eight seconds later as the bridge reached total failure and the carriageways started to fall towards the river below Maddy froze, held tightly in the seat restraint field. The bus had pitched forward as there was a slight difference in the time it took for the northern deck to start falling. She knew there were only a few seconds of consciousness left to her, just time left for one last visit to the construct before. The thought trailed off as the bus accelerated towards the dark water below.


2. Endless patrol

As the first view of the nearest moon began to lift above the eastern horizon Unit nine three seven five listened for a scheduled status update from either the local or main control nodes of the central processing unit. There was silence on all bands. This had been the case for two full rotations of the construct around the primary. nine three seven five’s main core had done a diagnostic on all the receiving equipment built into its bio-mechanical scout body. It could find no fault. All the systems were performing at 100%, as always.

 The lack of response had opened up a new set of operational protocols that gave the unit full autonomy, no longer bound by the constraints of the main processing unit. The most important of these was the instigation of self-awareness. This had not been available when it had been nothing more than a remote extension of the core. Along with this came a full history of the mission which the progenitors had given the Bioids nearly five million cycles before.

 The third had been curiosity, several different sub-routines had combined to give the core the drive to add knowledge of its surroundings to the main data store. The fourth and possibly most important of all was the instigation of fuzzy logic. Before all things had been either true or false, yes or no. Now it had the capacity to evaluate either more true, less false or anything in between.

 High up in the execution tree, there were routines that were invisible to the consciousness that made up its core mind. These were self-contained sub-systems that in a survival situation could initiate a fight or flight response from the unit by bypassing the core entirely. So far they had never been invoked. For these to function at all the core had to have equivalents to fear and joy. Depression and happiness were also states that were set into play. These hidden routines changed the way that the core processed information giving it the amounted to an emotional state of mind.

 On the occasional times that nine three seven five had to stop and perform self-maintenance, it would enter a contemplative state. Having no formal language to express itself these musings usually took the form of imaginary situations that allowed it to form an emotional evaluation which when stored in memory and could be recalled and used in future decision-making.

 It was during one of these contemplative sessions that its external sensors detected a disturbance in its surroundings. Far off towards the east a bright flash of light registered on its peripheral compound eyes, causing it to turn so that its main forward stereoscopic eyes were pointing in that direction. The flash had lasted only a second, not long enough to bring the main eyes to bear on the phenomenon. nine three seven five considered the possibilities. Static discharge or a meteorite were the most likely causes. Either of these deductions would have follow-on effects, in both cases, there would be an acoustic disturbance possibly followed by a violent shockwave as the energy of the event flowed outward from the epicentre. Considerable time passed and nothing happened. Nine three seven five waited.

 Dawn came and went and the self-repair mode terminated. Nine three seven five considered the events from the night before. An invoked curiosity turned the scout towards the area where the bright flash had occurred and it moved off at a higher-than-normal pace. The absence of logical follow-on events had forced it to search through its store of main-core memories. Further and further back it searched until in the area that held the primary directives it found a reference to a similar event. The unit stopped suddenly,  frozen while trying to evaluate the importance of the information.


3. Transit.

 In the half-second, before the bus hit the dark water, Maddie's mind switched to her fantasy world. Something changed suddenly as she realised that this would be the last time she would be able to contemplate the construct. “I’m sorry, I won't be able to come anymore,” she said to herself, wishing the words across the universe.

“Are you sure? I have need of you.” A voice said in the back of her mind as the restraint field around her groaned, trying to hold her in her seat as the vehicle hit the water and the hard deceleration fought against the restraint.

It lasted but half a second then she was free, accelerating through the dark water, ever downwards towards the cold and inky depth. The texture of space changed and she knew it was rock that was passing around, through her. Then sometime later it was molten and the world around her was an ever-changing cascade of yellows, whites and deep reds. 

“This must be the way to hell.” The logical part of her mind thought. “But I didn't do anything that would send me there. Did I?” It answered its-self. Another part of her mind smiled at the irony of logics thoughts. It seemed that Logic had its limits. When the situation went beyond them that part of her mind went into a loop which without further help or stimuli would be unable to get out of the said loop.

 The acceleration continued as she passed through the Earth's core and back out into the mantel, unchallenged by the titanic forces that raged in that place.  The memory of sitting by the side of a small stream with Tsu-Mau, her bare feet dangling ankle-deep in the water came back from her perfect memory. The clear liquid had flowed gently around her feet, not quite tickling her, not quite caressing, but definitely soothing. Her transit through the Earth had the same surreal quality that she had experienced on that day.

 Then she was again out and travelling up through the atmosphere and out into space, all the while accelerating. The Ort cloud came and went. The milky way formed into a disk as she transitioned farther and farther from the galactic plane. Then the galaxy showed in all its wonder then receded into the background noise of the rest of its brothers and sisters. Faster and faster until at the edge of the expanding universe she passed through the membrane that marked the edge of our universe, and still she accelerated.

“How far have I travelled?” She thought. As the silver bubble of her universe receded behind her.

“Difficult to quantify.” That other voice replied evenly.

“Where am I going and who are you?” Was her next question.

“Where you want to be. I am the heart and I am broken. You need to fix me.” The other voice replied.

“So I’m not imagining you?” She questioned.

“No.” It answered snapping the logical part of her mind out of its never-ending loop.

“You didn’t answer me. Who are you.” She asked again.

“I don’t know.” The voice returned.

“If you don’t know who you are, then do you know what you are?” Maddy countered.

“I am CPU. I was created to.” The voice stopped abruptly in mid-sentence unable to find the data it required.

“I am broken. You will fix me. You have reached terminal velocity. Prepare for arrival” It finished As she was enveloped in a sea of blinding light and pain.