I had lost Rosa to cancer. I had lost Lucy to poison. I wasn't going to lose Vera to a bullet. I was working on tools to deal with human injuries. Substances to clot blood in a millisecond. Prosthetic arms that could fuse with the nervous system. Prosthetic spinal cords, even.
I also needed machines that could extract Vera. Miles away, Noetron was constructing a teleporting robotic warrior.
Was there a way I could give myself those same abilities? Teleportation could be useful. I roughed out a design. No. There were more improvements to make first. I wanted to be able to grab a portion of a building and teleport it away to make a hole. Time to research that.
I reversed-engineered the shards of Acme I had recovered several months ago. Their molecular structure gave hints as to how Acme synthesized them so quickly. I stored the information away for future use. In the extremely near future.
I also worked out several great philosophical enigmas. As a human, I had considered the subject a shambles, a poor reflection of science and mathematics. And I was right. Human brains were evolved to run and jump and take stock of their possessions and observe their surroundings. Those skills made them passable mathematicians, but their brains had no apparatus to think about deeper meanings for the universe. My brain did.
Of course, you can only take so much solace in a theory of meaning that you developed in five minutes with less than tenth of your brain.
I sensed Raymond's approach. I heard the tremors of his footsteps, his heartbeat. His hair growing. I saw him through hidden cameras. I felt his radiation signature, I could almost make out his body heat. I communicated with the elevator that brought him down into my laboratory.
He entered the room. I could feel his heart pumping, smell the sweat. I sensed the chemical balance in his brain. He was going to try to confront me about something.
"Phoenix," he said, "we need to talk." The tone of his voice only served to confirm my expectations. It wasn't about the poker game. That wouldn't give rise to that level of anger. I had killed a lot of people, but there was no reason he would suddenly be getting confrontational about it. Something to do with his deceased family?
"About the thing you are becoming." Interesting. He was angry about my ascension to cyborgdom. I quickly planned out a few possible paths of conversation.
"Why does my being a cyborg make you uncomfortable?"
"Because it's making you lose touch with who you are." Not one of the responses I had planned. My conversation engines would need to get more powerful. Easy enough to backtest using the thousands of conversations stored in my memory.
"It is who I am." I began working on new models of conversation trees.
"No, it's not. I knew you before this whole cyborg thing toke over your life." He was winding down. It is hard to maintain anger against someone who remains perfectly calm.
"When you first met me, I had not yet realized my full potential."
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say. I really needed to work out a general theory of human emotion. I made it number eight on the to-do list, and tasked a section of my mind with the problem. "Full potential? You think you're better than you were. You think you're better than us!"
Of course I'm better than you! "I am different from you."
Raymond let loose a torrent of electromagnetic energy. It drowned out all communication on radio and microwave frequencies. I couldn't hear the steady stream of Noetron's reports.
"I don't trust what you say. I want Noetron to explain it to me. What is your plan?"
This could be nasty. My very unreliable models were predicting a twelve percent chance of violence. Raymond had powerful offensive capabilities; his blasts could be comparable to nuclear strikes. But he was just as vulnerable to a supersonic punch as any normal human.
No, that wasn't an option. First of all, it would kill him. Second, he contained enough energy inside him to vaporize my home, and many of the surrounding neighborhoods. I calculated that close to eight hundred people would die, and that my research would be set back two weeks. Unacceptable.
"Noetron, tell him what he wants to know."
"Phoenix is in the midst of several plans."
"What is his plan for us? For humans?"
"Phoenix believes that humans are primitive and inefficient. He is working to develop cybernetic implants to help you realize your full potential. He estimates that some ninety percent of the human race will willingly take on those powers. The rest will need to be coerced."
"You are going to force people to become robots."
"You can't do that to people!"
I didn't trust Noetron to field this question. "I'm helping people. Helping them see things they never could have seen, do things they never could have done."
"What if all they wanted was to live with the people they love?"
"Then they can do that too. Cyborgs can experience love just as deeply as humans." Even deeper, if we choose. Or shallower, if we gradually dial down our emotions, thinking them useless distractions. Nobody said the cyborg condition didn't need beta testers.
"You're just machines."
Noetron spoke before I could respond. "Humans are also machines. They are complex nanotechnological constructs capable of repair, replication, and intelligence."
"We aren't machines. Humans have souls. Unlike either of you. Tin cans."
Ad hominem attacks. Or ad cyborgium attacks. "And what about the addition of cybernetic components destroys the soul?" This was the wrong move. I should have moved to a subject less likely to make Raymond angry.
The human let out a wave of radiation. Destroyed most of my optical sensors. Visual information flow decreased by ninety-seven percent. My eyes were now only slightly better than those of a hawk. Raymond advanced towards me. "You think you know anything about souls. You robot! You machine!" Another blast of radiation crippled a wing.
He was mad. Sixty percent chance of physical confrontation mad. Seventy. I gave up, the fight was going to happen. I needed to be prepared. I couldn't communicate with Noetron via radio. But I needed the machine's help.
I spoke out loud. "Noetron, I will give you several thousand hours of instruction in-several-seconds-solistencarefullyIneedyoutoassembletheteleportingrobtndsndthrmlsrtdgsdadfniadsuogmkafnhscgnoasdgj dslkfhadsnofsldfchndaajklgqnjasdmfpoasdgoanglsdugmklajg"
"What did you just tell him to do?"
"I merely gave him some device for completing a project of ours."
"The destruction of the human race?" Another wave of radiation. I almost fell over. Nearly every bit of equipment in my lab was rendered unusable. But I couldn't risk attacking him. Not with the destructive power he had bottled up inside him.
"No. Something completely unrelated."
"Don't lie." Raymond blasted me with his power. I lost four percent of my brain. I wanted to kill him. What would you do to a lower form of life tearing your body and mind apart?
No, that was how humans treated insects. We cyborgs held ourselves to a higher standard. Wait, did we? I never held myself to a high standard as a human. Was it something about being the sole member of the next evolution of sentient life? Was I growing into my new responsibility? Was it because Raymond had been my friend? My pet? No, my friend. And I couldn't treat humans as animals because I had once been one. Humans weren't like cyborg pets. They were cyborg children. The future of the future. They should be killed only with extreme prejudice.
"Tell me what you are doing!" Raymond touched me. He burned straight through my cloak. My skin began to blister. I lightly pushed him away. He slammed into a wall.
Raymond charged at me. That was stupid of him. He had ranged attacks. I lifted up a table, and used it to swat him aside. The table would block about a third of all radiation. At least until it melted.
A condensed stream of radiation cut the table in half. He sliced across my stomach as I backed away.
I couldn't feel my legs. I had four data trunks that functioned like spinal cords, and three of them were damaged. It took my a half of a second to regain control of my legs. In that time, I had fallen onto the ground.
"I don't want to hurt you," Raymond said, his body glowing with deadly power, "but you left me no choice."
"I didn't want to hurt you either." A machine materialized behind him, grabbed him, and teleported away. It teleported straight upwards, again and again and again, covering almost a kilometer in the first second. Raymond realized what was happening at 1.4 kilometers. He detonated at 2.6.
Almost nobody had been hurt by the blast. Air at such altitude hardly transmits shockwaves, and there wasn't enough radioactive material generated to be a major threat. The casualties had come earlier. From my duel with Raymond beneath the Earth. The energy released had been too much for Justin to take. His genome had been torn to shreds by ionizing radiation. I estimated he had four hours left to live.
Not enough time to save him. I honored him in the only way I could. As I repaired myself from the damaged I had sustained, I sat near him, leafing through his hippocampus. Trying to understand what it had meant to be Justin King.