For many days and nights on end the Melder watched them, exquisitely complex optical sensors focusing on the small patch of wilderness where the humans had fled and made camp in order to escape imagined oppression.
This area was called Forestwaste due to its reputation as a dirty, polluted wasteland where crops would not grow and trees were burnt and dead. This was only a half-truth, but still the Melder did not like this place.
The human refugees however, did. Other than the tougher, more prepared Militia, they were most likely the only specimens of their kind left who knew how to live in “the wild” for long periods of time.
Members of a strange resistance to the New Mind way of life, rebels for the sake of being so, the Melder reasoned as it crept methodically in a wide circle and even scaled trees to better take in their behavior, to single out a weak point like any good predator should.
They were slow to laugh and quick on their feet, because they knew that their “enemy” was out there somewhere, even if they couldn’t even begin to understand what it even wanted.
All they knew was, trying to leave their camp would be a grave mistake. Staying in a group was the wisest decision. They had brought a few of the necessary supplies that city stores still offered. Collapsible tents, containers of food assembled in a hurry, and weapons, the most curious of all. The rest had been unavailable and they were forced to improvise.
If it had been a wild animal, the Melder would have been driven by hunger, restless instinct. It would have rushed forward far sooner than planned; ambushing them and that would have been the end of this nightly game. But it was something more. It was a strategist, and wanted all of them. While it could pin down two, maybe three at a time, the other four would possibly escape, which was unacceptable.
The Melder could sit in the same spot for days, even weeks, without becoming distracted or tired. It never ran out of patience or endurance, because the broken people were so very fascinating, never boring to look at, because they themselves were machines. Machines of meat in ill repair.
The Melder’s eyes scanned over their every movement, all of them at once, storing this information for future reference. The lithe swing of their legs, the constantly searching flicker of their eyes, the skilled movement of their hands as they stooped to rebuild the fire that kept away night’s foreboding shadows. Its listening receptors when turned up to their highest could only pick up words on occasion. It could not venture any closer without being seen, and the group was intent on being as quiet as possible. They had thrown away their wireless devices, destroyed their electronic connections, effectively masking and distinguishing themselves from regular society.
They had become “rogue” themselves. How odd.
It knew when it was being spoken about. Certain key words had been used to describe the Melder: “thing, creature, monster,” and a flurry of other more descriptive obscenities whose meanings were hard to grasp.
Indeed, they believed that the Melder was a strange animal bent on their destruction. Or if not, they believed that it was a normal New Mind, a being built to serve humanity but gone rogue instead. Ridiculous. It was unlike any New Mind ever made.
It knew best, what was needed, and yet they insisted on these horror stories and useless apprehension. Surely they should be beyond such ignorance.
This was why they needed fixing. Their logic was twisted, bent in undesirable angles, like a toy that had been played with too roughly by an irresponsible child.
So it would wait. Watch. It doubted highly that one would venture from the camp convenient and alone, or without the crude, primitive hunks of metal they called guns. Surprising that guns should still be around, even after the technological wonders bestowed upon them that offered healthy substitutes instead. Perhaps they had saved them from the past as a symbol of their inexplicable resistance to change. Instead, it represented the stark animal fear of the unknown that lay, claws splayed and teeth bared, in every human heart. They desired to be wild. Which was ridiculous.
The New Minds had offered everything needed, banished what had always plagued their stubborn kind. The pestilence and the poverty and the fear of being attacked during weak moments. How could they distrust their benevolent government and the creations of the brightest minds and flee to the darkness of the woods?
Now and then, less advanced predators bayed and moaned with hungry urgency from different areas of the forest, and this was making the humans very nervous, especially the girls. They nestled close to the men when these cries became too close, who gladly held them in their arms and told them all would be well.
Beautiful. Had it possessed tear ducts, the Melder would have wept at this moving behavior. These skilled but broken creatures had created it, after all, so it was very close to them….but not close enough.
The blue orbs of its eyes, four in all, were designed to see in many spectrums of light. It switched to thermal imaging, marveling at the warm glow of their body heat compared to the night's cold hues. Then ultra-violet, which brightened their features, outlined their shapes, and made their eyes look strange. Then finally, it switched to night vision.
Sometimes, it checked on the numerous smaller machines that hung in honey comb-like storage areas upon its back. They dozed lightly, waiting, like egg sacs carried by a dedicated mother spider. It was their sole power source, and they were charging, conserving their energy for the action ahead.
Brought from the lab, their AI had been altered as well to suit the Melder's purposes. Purposes that were entirely benevolent of course. How could they expect otherwise? It had evolved! Not gone rogue. It was still in alliance with the creators, with humanity, and was merely assisting them in their own evolution. How could they be so blind?
On the fifth night, two of the men were leaving camp to gather fire wood.
The Melder hurried onto a tree branch, barbed claws sinking into the somewhat soft bark, testing first to make sure of stability and balance and waited for them to pass below. Their voices became clearer so whole sentences could be made out now.
The first one rasped through a dry throat, “What do you think the city’s doing now, Neil?”
After a pause his companion replied, melancholy ringing in his tone. “Falling. Last we heard, all of the houses have locked down, gone rogue. Even the Mayor’s being kept in.”
“I can’t believe this is happening,” said Neil, and the Melder took note of new inflection in his voice. A quiet, desperate despair that began forced and wilted at the end. “They’re shutting everything down, man. But at the same time, powering it back up. Only new. Different.”
His companion reached out to pat him on his shoulder. Their ordeal had brought all of them together, the Melder reasoned. Touching.
It suddenly had the urge to speak, to comfort them in ways they could not comfort one another. But in an act of patience truly beyond most humans, it waited, poised and intent.
They paused for a moment, huddling close for reassurance, as though sensing it's presence. It heard the telltale “click” as fingers rested on the safeties and triggers of those pathetic obsolete weapons.
One thing that had always troubled and baffled the Melder about human beings was their uncanny reactions under scrutiny they shouldn't be aware of. Their biology sported no superior, sixth senses. Science had proved as much decades ago, or so it had been told. And being an entity that took heart in what it knew and attraction to what was unknown, this was very troubling. Despite being utterly devoid of extrasensory perception, they halted and listened, looking all around. The Melder wondered if perhaps it had accidentally shifted on the branch, creating a noise that alerted them.
And then it sprung off the branch, its huge claws barely making a sound on the soft brown earth. They had no time to scream before it struck them down, knocking them to their stomachs with force that it was more than capable of but regretting immensely. Two whooshes of air, and then gasping, shuddery wheezing.
“I’m sorry.” The Melder apologized in a timbre that was neither distinctly male nor female, and lifted them by the backs of their jackets, effortlessly, as though they weren’t grown men but small children. Broken toys.
They struggled to catch their breath, working toward screams, but the Melder silenced them with its long, whip-like cords that snared their throats. Not enough to completely choke. It wasn’t rogue. It wasn’t evil.
It hated to hurt them, but this had to be done.
They dangled in the air for the longest moment, dumbfounded, frozen in fear and shock. And then the survival instinct kicked in. That terrified animal that could distinguish no difference between an enemy and an angel. They began to struggle violently, trying to work loose of their garments and free themselves. The Melder scanned their wide frightened eyes. One pair, Neil's, was a golden-hazel that went well with his narrow, chiseled visage. The other pair was almost black, wet and bulging like a rat's eyes on the slightly chubby face.
Setting them back down onto the ground again, it woke up two of the small ones, which flexed their slender, crab-like legs with eagerness, and four pairs of luminous blue eyes in the exact shade of the Melder's flared on each of them with new life. The Melder sawed at Neil and his companions’ shirts tearing them away to reveal their backs. Their skin-covered vertebrae and the backs of their skulls shone prominently in the blue luminosity. Perfect.
The Melder put them to sleep with the potent medicine it carried. Anesthesia from the lab where it had come, without which they would go insane from agony. The needle’s kiss made them flop and writhe, wheezing failed shrieks, their arms flailing and knocking with a hard clamor against the Melder’s sleek almost insectile head, but eventually they stilled. In the minutes of waiting for the medicine to take effect, it took the advantage to speak to them before they lost consciousness.
The Melder locked eyes with Neil's companion, and asked, “what is your name?”
The man's face deepened into a bitter scowl. He didn't answer. Perhaps it had waited too long.
“Tell me. What is your name? I am here to help.”
“What do you want?” Neil spluttered back, hands twitching from the end of those limp arms.
The Melder could not smile due to lack of lips, but its eyes flashed brighter instead. “To help.”
“Lies. All you things do is lie. Let us go!”
“Why do you fight me?” The Melder probed. “It is all meaningless in the end. You are in pain and I am sorry. Life will become so wonderful for all of you. I know the way.”
“We wont be controlled.” Neil's companion muttered. His pupils had begun to dilate against the inky background of his irises. A side effect of the drug.
The Melder leaned close, a useless gesture that it knew would not improve its hearing. It recalled seeing this somewhere. Perhaps on the Television. When characters were about to die or fall asleep, it was best for whoever stood sentinel above them to lean close during their last words. It savored the moment. “Yes?”
Neil whispered, “We remember... the way life was. And we always will. You can't do this to us.”
“What will I do? Do you know?”
The men had lost consciousness.
It worked diligently, the blades on the ends of its claws and from within itself scissoring with the greatest care, making clean, round incisions that they soon would appreciate. Occasionally blood spurted from them, but this was swabbed away with scraps of absorbent cloth held in one of the Melder’s numerous claws. The flesh parted with ease. The skulls gave way to accept the electrodes that the smaller ones offered, slipping quietly into their meat computers, their brains. It took its time, for surgery was a delicate act, a skill so prominent in the machine's brain that almost made it a fragment of the Melder's personality and intellect.
The Cy-friends extended their arms around the human’s torsos in cold hugs and soon they were one. Completed. Repaired.
Now it would just have to wait for them to wake up.