Chapter XLIII: Clever

An excerpt from
Diary of the Clever
Entry 16: 7
Date 78 of 7499 SC


The door loomed before us, taller than any door in the parts of the Colony that we knew. That meant the door was built for something bigger than anything we knew. And as the others came to this realization shortly after I did, I could sense it as each neuron fired in their brains. But not just that - I could make sense of it with a raw intuition I had never felt before.

My unconscious mind did the interpreting, and the rest of me simply focused. This, I knew, was neuroplasticity at its best. My nerves were sensing something beyond what was in front of them. I felt as if I had become more than the sum of my parts. I was literally reading minds.

And I hated it terribly.

I don't like the constant reassurance that I am the smartest one in the room. I don't like knowing too much about too many things. Every juvenile thought that occurs to my companions echoes through me, and I feel a superiority that I disdain.

So I learned to turn it off.

But now, I needed it. I needed to know what they sensed before they told me. I needed every and any bit of knowledge that could give us the upper hand in this confrontation.

I held one of Father's blaster wrists in both hands. We'd salvaged a few of them from a recycling dump site that Sister wasn't tending to. With Bold's help doing the research for me, I was able to rewire the ones that weren't badly damaged. Now, they fired for us when we tapped two wires together momentarily. It was an overpowered and unpredictably crude weapon, but it was better than nothing.

Tender, however, had taken up one of Father's bladed arms, and used Sister's welding station to refit it with a hand grip.

I had struggled to use my ability on the work station console, trying to assess the flow of electrons and discern the purpose of the buttons and switches. I wasn't much help; I merely saved us from some trial and error. I came to the conclusion that it was too ambitious to think I could read a machine's thoughts, even a machine that wasn't sentient.

Tender pried at the door with the blade and yet was unable to wedge it open. He had his mind set on getting inside and making better sense of things.

We had demands for the machines, and we had information they would benefit from. I even had a few plans to propose to the machines - things we can't do on our own.

"How do we get inside?" asked Capricious. It was a question I had already heard from several nearby thoughts.

Except from Ethereal. She was thinking nothing. Her mind was in a blank, meditative state. Then she spoke, "Allow me." Don't think, just do it!

She walked forward.

Tender blinked.

And Ethereal just kept walking.

They should have collided, but all I saw was Tender shiver and his eyes rolled back into his head momentarily.

And then she melted right through the door, too.

"Where'd she go?" Tender was stupefied.

"This morning, she told me she dreamed she was a ghost," said Capricious.

I frowned. I didn't understand Ethereal's powers. It was very unpredictable. And she didn't seem to miss home enough to bring us all back there in one bout of longing. I had seen her transmute food and change her clothes with mere wishes, and that made me curious about how often and how limited the use of her power could be.

Something beeped five times. The fifth was louder and more dissonant, like a console rejecting input.

I read Ethereal's thoughts. She was on the other side of the door, trying to find the right code to punch in and make the door open.

I drew my focus to the numpad panel and attempted to determine the variable it was checking the input against. I pulled my self back, the numbers lodged in my mind. 7384.

She was about to give up and come back through the door to explain the situation to us.

I knocked on the door with my fist, seven times.

Afterwards, I sensed confusion in her, not just in the others. So, I repeated the knocking.

Ethereal punched in a seven on the numpad. I could tell both from her and the pad that the beep we just heard was the seven.

"What are you two doing, Clever?" asked Tender.

"Quiet," said Capricious. "I think he's reading her."

I knocked three times and then paused. As soon as she punched in the three, eliciting another beep, I knocked the eight. And then, after a brief moment, I knocked four more times. Beep. Beep. Then a louder, consonant ring.

We all stood back, holding our breath.

The doors slid open. On the other side, Ethereal was standing modestly, waving shyly as if she was passing us by chance in the halls.

Then we looked up into the shadows of the Warehouse behind her. And she, too, turned around.

The insectoid loomed thirty feet above the cold, hard floor of the Warehouse. Its pincers gleamed menacingly. Feet fell thunderously, each as thick as a tree trunk. It was heavily armoured and gleamed with an unblemished coat of metal.

"Father?" said Tender, as we all backed slowly away from the threatening manifestation.

"Brother. A giant soldier ant," said Capricious.

Pincers within pincers. Antennae that were clearly more than just antennae.

Tender raised his long serrated blade defensively.

I braced myself, as I immitated Ethereal's wise decision to aim for its head. My fingers twitched, ready to join the wires of the blaster if the robot so much as threatened us.

"Father is dead," it told us, as I struggled to focus on its immense circuitry. I was overwhelmed even before it spoke again, sending projectile launch calculations soaring through its own mind. "Soon, you will be too."

The End

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