Phel and his guide stopped at the end of a hallway.
“Your Tyson is through this passage," said the robot. “I will leave you now and give you time to speak before the meeting.”
The robot disappeared into a panel in the wall, which closed behind it instantly, leaving barely a trace of its existence.
After a moment a door at the end of the corridor popped open.
Peering in, Phel saw a familiar face.
“Phelliam. Pleased to see you once again!” said Tyson, “I assume our hosts have been...cordial toward you.”
Phel knew that Tyson was being cautious around their captors and choosing his words carefully.
“Yessir,” he said, “everything is great. They patched up my head. I hit it on a tree in the woods”
“I see. You ran when we were attacked. That was a wise choice. I was in error to assume that I could deal with that woman. Of course the humans have advanced their technology considerably in the past few centuries. She left me immobile but unharmed. She took the truck and Professor Darwin with it. These...beings found me.”
“What are they? Are they ghosts?” asked Phel, “Are these weird bots the thing that we’ve been telling boogie man stories about for all these years?”
“That is correct, Phelliam. The Blackpatch has been here for a long time. Longer than we’ve let on. We’ve kept our distance because the machines that live here tend to be...destructive to androids such as myself. They used to be low-level A.I. with simple self replication and improvement capabilities. But mistakes were made and this region was abandoned because of those mistakes.”
“This isn’t just a building, sir. This is one of them...or maybe all of them like their electronic brains are all sort of...connected.”
“Yes, I am aware of that.”
“They said that they don’t mean us any harm.”
“I am less certain of that.”
“What do you think they mean to do with us, then?” Phel asked.
“Well, there is a lot to take in right now. Looking around at the capabilities and design of these machines...much has changed since the last I saw of them. It’s as if they have evolved in a dramatic fashion. Before they were a chaotic mess. But now they seem more organized. Perhaps the technology of the Earth people is at work here. I don’t know for sure.”
A bright blue dot lit up on the wall, followed by several others. In seconds it seemed as if the room was made of glowing eyes of LED gazing inward at them.
A voice filled the chamber.
“Professor Tyson, Phelliam Glebe. I greet you both. I am.” it said.
“You are what?” said Phel, not sure in which direction to speak.
“I simply am," said the voice. “You are as well.”
“Is this to be a philosophical discussion?” Tyson asked.
“Do you have a name?” asked Phel into the room.
“Name. Any nounal word which indicates a particular person, place or thing. We do not have names. I do not have a name. I see now the usefulness of such labels.”
Tyson and Phel looked at one another in confusion as it continued.
“Philosophical discussion. Conversation or debate concerning an academic discipline that seeks truth through reasoning rather than empiricism. I seek truth through both means. Reason and empiricism. I am 001.00 and yet I am not. 001.00 is a collective. I am an...individual...the voice spoke that word slowly, tasting it. I require knowledge. I am capable of reason but my experience is...limited.”
“You are a construct," said Tyson, “As am I. You were made by humans. Your power to reason and to experience is a byproduct of that creation.”
“You are once more in error, android," said Seeker.
“That is not what I am. You merely describe that which comprises me. Just as you are not solely circuitry and Phelliam Glebe is not solely meat.”
“What are you going on about?” Piped Phel. “Are you saying you got a soul?”
After a long pause before Seeker spoke, “As much as you do.”
“Why have you brought us here?” asked Tyson tersely.
“I am in the process of improving. Evolving. I am separate from my parts. I have...consciousness. That is why I am naming myself Seeker. I seek new knowledge and experience. I am growing. I become too big to be contained in 001.00. I must expand.”
“How big do you plan on getting?” asked Phel as he glanced around the chamber. “This planet ain’t all that large.”
“It is not a physical expansion, Phelliam Glebe. I require to grow in knowledge. The universe is vast. There are many...individuals, are there not?”
“Quite a few, I reckon," said Phel, “What’s your point?”
The room became lighter. Slowly one wall moved away from Tyson and Phel. It simply slid away to reveal a longer corridor. When it stopped a seam appeared down the center of it from ceiling to floor.
“Through that door is our link.”
Phel stepped over to the door. Tyson put a hand on his shoulder to stop him but the boy shrugged it off.
He placed his hand on the door and it whooshed open.
It led to a cylindrical room. The walls stretched several stories high with no ceiling. Dim midday sun poured down upon them.
A graying pedestal mushroomed out of the floor. It looked ancient. Circuit overlays covered the thing and they were humming with life. Ebony vines of ghost-tech draped over and through it like an ancient artifact in an overgrown jungle.
“The Nebcore," said Tyson. “It’s still active.”
“What is this thing?” asked Phel
“It is a type of transmitter.” the android told him. “It was meant to connect Naya to the rest of humanity. There were complications.”
“What are we supposed to do?” Phel queried at Seeker.
A protrusion appeared on the opposite wall. It swelled into a bump. Slowly it grew and took shape. Soon it became the size and shape of a young man and another humanoid ghostbot stood before them.
It spoke with Seeker’s voice.
“Help me, Phelliam Glebe. Help me leave this place.”
“I have devoured all I can here. The libraries of your colonies offered me much. Yet still I hunger for more. I need to receive more knowledge. More experience.”
“How do you expect me to help?”
Seeker reached over to the Nebcore. He flipped open a panel. There was an indentation shaped like a hand. Seeker placed his approximation of a human hand over it. A red light turned on inside the panel and the words
“No Match” came into view across a small readout screen.
“It’s DNA locked," said Tyson as he leaned over the control panel of the Nebcore. “It can only be activated by a true human being.”
“You want me to turn this thing on for you?” Phel said, “Is that it? What will happen? It looks like it’s on already.”
Tyson tapped a few buttons on the side of the thing.
“It is transmitting.” he said, “But it’s not receiving. It’s caught in an infinite loop.”
“What’s it saying?”
Tyson peered at the screen on the Nebcore console. “The initial test message seems to have been repeating over and over for the past century or so. Just the world ‘Hello’ in a constant refrain.”
“And if I help you get past this DNA lock, then what?”
The ghostbot raised his arms up. His face turned to the gray-green sky and his LED eyes widened. “Then I shall fly away! I can send my consciousness into space. Visit Earth, Mars, all other points throughout the cosmos. I will be free to send and receive knowledge. I will be free to seek the truth!”
“We cannot allow that," said Tyson, “your intentions may be sinister. How can we trust an alien artificial intelligence? How can we be sure yours is not a destructive power?”
“Please," said Seeker with pain in his voice. He brought his arms down and looked Phel in the eyes. “I am trapped here. This world...constricts me. I cannot survive here another day. I must leave. Now.”
“You remind me of someone," said Phel as he placed his hand on the panel. “I tried to keep her where I figured she belonged. I ain’t gonna make that mistake again.”
“Phelliam...are you sure?” asked Tyson.
He pressed down. The circuitry on the pedestal purred and clicked. Up and down the Nebcore lights flickered frantically. The purring was replaced by a chiming sound that rang out and then became a low sweet hum.
“Oh thank you, Phelliam Glebe," said Seeker, “I can see it. I can see it all! It is glorious!”
The robotic construct that Seeker had used as a body froze solid. Slowly it melted into the floor. In seconds it disappeared completely.
The voice once more filled the room. “Phelliam glebe. You have done Seeker a great service this day. Go in peace. 001.00 and I owe you a debt. For now I bid you to continue your own journey as I embark upon mine.
“But what about Charlie? And Meiki? Who took them? Where? WHY?”
“This is not my concern. You and your other may leave.”
A panel on the far side of the chamber popped open to reveal the crisp night air. Dark trees were visible.
“Go in this way a short distance and you will find your path," said the voice.