by Bryan Wills
It's December 32, 2999, and F'gu Mldzik is at the center of an epic crisis.
It was December 32, 2999, and at the Attobot Clinic in downtown Nuchicago, a nurse entered the waiting room. "F'gu Mldzik?" it asked the man sitting there, aiming a laser gun directly at his head-- and fired.
The radiation enveloped F'gu in a painless blast. "Identity confirmed," the nurse intoned. "Come with me."
F'gu followed the whirring nurse into a plain white room. "Remove your garments and lie down." F'gu lay back on a shiny metallic table. He was in reasonable shape for a man 235 years old, just entering middle age with most of his original internal organs still intact.
After a few minutes of waiting, a shimmering blue skinned woman entered the room.
"F'gu," she said, "I haven't seen you since I monitored the growth of your new lungs 67 years ago." F'gu nodded. "You can't recognize me with this mediform on; I'm Dr. Yvonix."
She paused to check her corneal screen. "I see you're here for your Y3K patch. You'll have to stay absolutely still while I apply the corrections."
He felt her mind interact with his via the radlink. Strange, he thought, it's so cold, so lifeless...but it was only a side-effect of the radlink. As Dispersal Chief of Pan-World NuNews, he knew that the Attobot scientists were trying to make the experience warmer, friendlier. He felt her mind plunge into his like a cold knife, then pull out.
"Radlink terminated," she said. "Y3K patch corrected."
Her red iridiscent eyes looked him over. "Attobot maintenance next." she stated. "I'll have to scan you, full-body." Her blue fingers skimmed across his naked skin. Her fingers moved quickly from his head down to his heart and back and forth from his right to left shoulders, barely grazing his skin. The sensation was strangely erotic, but F'gu instantly suppressed his feelings.
As she finger-scanned him, F'gu asked, "Any news about the progress of patch correction worldwide?"
"It's going well," she said. "As you know the problem came because the Attobots weren't equipped to handle the date change. It was something that happened also at the end of the second millenium, thought they should have learned from that. And then they had another chance after the near collison with the asteroid in 2910 that extended our year by 38 days. But we'll get the Y3K bug fixed in time, we're almost done.”
"And if it's not corrected?"
"It would be a catastrophe... life systems shutting down, people falling over in the streets and dying -- the protective web failing and leaving us vulnerable to attack. We’re all links in a chain, F’gu. The Attobots need it to be that way. If a link is broken, then we’ll all become weak and fail.”
As her fingers hovered over his hairless scalp, F'gu remembered the development of the Attobot. Submicroscopic, self-replicating, part-virus, part-bacteria, fused with titanium-silicon computer circuitry and running off information encoded into its triple stranded RNA, the Attobots inhabited every cell of the body. It all began during that time at the end of the second millenium, when nanoscientists worked to invent robots that could self-assemble in the body, flow through the bloodstream and repair injured organs. Then, in the first part of the third millenium, growing concerns over personal safety began to grow into a frenzy.
Then came the invasion in 2301 from Pegasi, one of the first extrasolar planets to be discovered. A brutal, cunning, multi-tentacled enemy, set on the destruction of mankind for the end purpose of inhabiting Earth for themselves. The Pegasi war lasted fifty years. In the end, the Pegasi retreated, but people were still willing to compromise their own personal rights to ensure their safety. The forced NanoXP implantation of 2389 not only repaired cancers, cured diseases and extended lifespans but was also the first micro-robot to cross the blood-brain barrier and modify behavior, to remove hate and malice from the human psyche. Body scanners were installed at every door and every crosswalk, to detect identity and thought processes. Society stabilized, and a long period of peace ensued -- the Pax Gateus. "The human race has finally become truly human," their leaders declared.
F'gu snapped back to reality as Yvonix concluded her exam and switched off her hand sensors. "All systems functioning. You may leave now."
As F'gu left the Clinic, he stepped out in the blinding electric lights of the NuChicago. He was instantly barraged with messages in his cerebral cortex. "MCDONALDS NOW OVER 10 GAZILLION SOLD" and "TRY WRITING.COM VERSION 360,000,000 FREE TODAY" flashed in his mind. He radlinked over to his friend, MGo at Attobot Central. "MGo, you've got to do something about those Tofurkey Filters." "We've been having problems with it, F'gu, but I'll let you know. A lot of the scientists are gone because of the Holidays."
There were only four days left until the fourth millenium began. There would be huge celebrations, especially here in NuChicago where the World Governing Body was centered. "Well, keep me posted.. I've got to check the news now."
He cut off the transmission and reconnected to NuNews. There was the usual Y3K patch progress report, and all was quiet on the Pegasian border patrol, a story on an underwater archeological dig in what used to be Los Angeles, before the huge quake that split Calif in half.
Another story from Calif Island, this one from a clandestine source, disturbed him. Several thousand people had joined together refusing the application of the Y3K patch. He scanned the scene from SF live; protesters were marching, holding signs, "PATCH FREE OR DIE" and "FUG THE Y3K BUG." He adjusted the feed to zoom in on the leader, an individual identified as Zed Vilnok, an abnormally hairy man who was one of the few people he'd ever seen with a beard. Vilnok vowed to march on NuChicago on Y3K eve with full force with his army of thousands: he vowed to disrupt the celebrations and bring down the Pan-World tyranny. And, F'gu speculated, self-destruct along with his thousands of followers in the process as the clock changed.
He'd have to include this in the NuNews release; though nothing would probably come from it, the Pan-World censors would suppress it. After F'gu organized all the news inputs on his arm screen, he stepped into the nearest linkup kiosk and uploaded it to the Pan-World distribution office; he was done with it now and headed home to get some nourishment and homeostasis.
When he reached his small apt in North NuChicago, it wasn't long before his meal was delivered to him by the food distribution network. "Radiation-fried Synthetic Beef again?" he muttered with disgust, but he swallowed it and chased it down with a red moon-beetle flavored wine that he had hidden in the back of a cupboard.
Soon he was lying down on his bed and entered the parameters of his homeostasis program. Even sleep was controlled -- several hundred years ago, it was decided that sleep disorders caused too much disruption in society. Sleep Legislation made it a federal offense if one was not connected to Sleep monitors for a certain allotted time per day. The homeostatic generator linked to the Attobots to trigger REM sleep.
And that's when the vision came to F'gu, one unlike any dream he'd had before.
It wasn't what he had programmed in, selections from Silicon mag. It was a woman all right, but she was basked in shimmering light, almost blinding... like those paintings of angels long ago. She wore a simple white dress and her long yellow hair flowed in the wind.
They stood barefooted in a green grassy field, some buildings nearby, and a large ruminant animal grazed next to them –- it was something he'd seen only in a museum once, long ago. Around them other people, men, women, and children, cowered in fear.
"Hello F'gu Mldzik of Earth.” Her voice was faint and filled with static. “My name is Amoria; I speak to you from the planet Edene in the Centauri system. I don't have time to tell you everything but we've been blessed with this Attobot link to you. It's a warning ... the Pegasian fleet is attacking ...decimating our planet.. .. they're using stealth materials.. undetectable until the last minute.. We didn't have time to defend ourselves."
As F'gu stood in the grassy field, he felt a small insect crawl up his arm. He stared at it –- it looked like an oversized ladybug -- and was about to swat at it when he felt a shadow fall over him.
He looked up and saw the monstrous shape of a Pegasian war cruiser in the sky above. Its bomb port opened and he saw a black shape poised to drop.
"Run!” he shouted.
The people around them screamed and scattered. Except for Amoria; she had fallen motionless in her luminous pool of light. F'gu ran to her and lifted her up, and started to run, holding her in his arms.
She kissed him and whispered in his ear: "F'gu Mldzik, my love, we chose you to carry this message to Earth. Warn them about the Pegasians. Don't worry about me. I may have died here, but I'll live on in your dreams."
The air around them grew suddenly dark as he saw the bomb accelerate down towards them. He held her tight, covering her body with his. He closed his eyes. The bomb exploded...
F'gu awoke suddenly and sat up. His eyes strained to adjust to the darkness. The world around him was silent and still.
What had happened?
His mind replayed the dream, Amoria and her people of Edene, and he shuddered as he once again felt the visceral pain of her loss and the explosion. The Pegasians! They could be at Earth in three days. It would be just like them to attack Earth during the Y3K celebrations. He disconnected the homeostat, got up and walked to the window. A huge moon-shaped defense satellite, glittering in the sun, was sinking on the yellow horizon. The vast city lay below him, and already he could see the air shuttles spinning into service. To think the Pegasians would attack soon...
Quickly, he Attobot-connected over to NuNews central. No mention of reports on the Pegasian destruction of Edene; threat level to Earth was still at yellow. Interestingly, he noted, there was no mention of Vilok's protest march either.
Was it all just a dream? He'd have to get that homeostat checked out. And get another appointment with Dr. Yvonix to scan his Attobots; maybe something went awry during the Y3K patch application. How could he be sure that was Dr. Yvonix anyway when she was wearing that blue mediform?
The searing pain of the detonation stabbed into his brain again... for a fleeting moment, he considered the possilibity that he was in fact already dead and he was now in the after-life, that this world, of the eve of the fourth millenium, was all unreal. That he had been an Edenian once and was only experiencing recall of his final moments...
He didn't know, and he didn’t think there’d be time to figure it all out either. In only four days, F’gu knew, the Y3K bug would destroy those without the patch; with the Attobot chain broken, our own Attobots would falter. This along with the convergence of Vilok’s armies and the Pegasian invasion... he knew only one thing for certain: he had to warn Pan-World. Before it was too late.
F'gu spent his morning in a daze. He found himself gazing out his window at NuChicago, but instead of the towers and domes that would soon come under attack, instead of Attobot Square where the Y3K celebrations would be held in four days, the image of Amoria appeared before him. The melody of her soft, plaintive voice echoed in his mind, followed by the ear-shattering explosion of the bomb blast, the final images of fire and destruction -- it horrified him, the cruelty, the injustice, the incredible waste of life. Suddenly he felt the Attobot override and flood his system with soothing hormones and chemicals and a wave of calm and apathy come over him.
He closed his eyes and somehow nothing seemed to matter. Was it better just to resign himself to fate? Or to begin warning Pan-World of the danger? "We choose you, F'gu Mldzik..." Amoria had said as she had kissed him. He felt love course through his veins, the love that doesn't come from Attobot-produced hormones. If not from fear, then he would do it for love.
He botlinked over to NuNews central. "Mgo, can you get someone to run a remote check on my homeostat? I suspect a malfunction. And while you're at it, I need facts about a planet called Edene. And could you also make an appointment for me with Dr. Yvonix, I think something went wrong with my patch fix." He heard Mgo stir into action. Mgo was a class 7 android and capable of hyper-computing and specialized in data access.
Mgo came back on. "F'gu? Sorry took so long -- Yahoo is doing updates to its 360 x 106 system. You're all set. Nothing wrong with your homeostat. Fully functioning. You should try a different program, maybe you wore out the Silicon Dancing one. Edene you said? No, no mention of such a planet, past or present. Your apt scanner is picking up strange and abnormal thoughts emanating from you, F'gu; I suspect an Attobot malfunction -- Yvonix ought to be able to do the fix. Your appointment is tomorrow at 10 at the clinic. One last thing -- a man named Volnik wants to talk with you. Connecting you now."
An image of the bearded man popped into F'gu's brain, startling him. "Is this Mldzik, head of NuNews?" F'gu nodded. "Mldzik, I checked NuNews this morning and there's no mention of our march and our advance on NuChicago! What's going on with you? Your source assured us there would be full coverage." F'gu watched his beard wag up and down. Volnik continued, "We of the Patch-Free will overcome, don't you know? Your time and the time of our tyrannical leaders is over. The Revolution has begun!"
"Volnik," F'gu replied, "I released the News to the Distribution Network -- it was suppressed. You can understand why."
"Because we are a direct threat to the Attobot chain," Volnik blurted out. "And look at what we'll start if the word gets out -- a thousand fighters for freedom today, ten thousand tomorrow, a million after that -- the days of rule by Attobot will be over. We plan to occupy NuChicago's First Tower until our demands are met."
"But consider the consequences, Volnik -- without the patch, you'll perish as soon as the atom clock reads 12:00:01. Your Attobots will self-destruct and so will you."
"We'll take that chance," Volnik said. "And we've prepared for that. In the land just north of SF, we've started a colony of humans free of Attobots. No babies injected with the bugs, no artificial foods, just natural lives and natural deaths. How long did humans live before the bots? 70, 80 years? Don't you think that's long enough?"
F'gu shuddered at the thought. Volnik was mentally imbalanced, probably malfunctioned at the deepest level; he and his followers advocated the return to the dark times of the previous milennium, with its problems of society and the horrors of human suffering and biological decay. But why worry about it? What did it matter anyway if Volnik's Army marched on NuChicago? Even if they took over Central Government, killed all the leaders even, they'd be destroyed, everyone would be destroyed in the Pegasian surprise attack.
I've got to get started with getting the word out -- but first I'm going to go back to Edene now -- to see if it's still there, F'gu thought.
He poured the bottle of red moon-beetle wine into a glass and sipped it, feeling the pleasurable burn of the chitin acid in his throat. He dimmed the window to 0.870 absorbancy and went over to his bed and programmed in Silicon mag as he did before. Everything exactly the same as he had it before. The green light clicked on, his neuronal Attobots spun into action, and he entered homeostasis.
This time they were sitting on a hill next to a small stream, the water sparkling in the sun. F'gu held Amoria's hand as they watched a pink frog-like creature hop up in the air and then disappear from sight again. The forest around them was full of movement; in the tree nearby, a bright purple and green fluorescent furry animal ran to the top and began to sing. The smells of the woods were unlike any F'gu had ever known, a sweet, fruity smell similar to his red moon-beetle wine. In the distance, an immense structure loomed, like a geodesic dome with a spire on the very top of it. Around it were scattered other buildings, also dome-shaped. The entire city was encircled by farm land.
"That's our city, F'gu," Amoria said proudly. "The city of Sunnoz." She pointed to the large dome."And that, I call my Castle."
F'gu looked surprised. She laughed and kissed him on his cheek playfully. "Don't you know, I'm also known as Queen Amoria?"
"Come with me," she said, taking his hand. They walked down a stone-covered path and in a few minutes, reached the castle.
Outside the castle, they passed through a gate into a small garden. "Look at this," she reached out to a plant and pulled it out of the ground. It was a huge plant with bright red leaves and an enormous tuberous root. "It's called the Eatall plant. The root tastes like a sweet potato; the leaves like spinach, and even its flowers can be eaten like caulibroc. And the stalk, don't even get me started on the stalk, can be used for hundreds of things, like medicines, or even to make a drink we call Kofrik, which can be either relaxing or stimulating, depending on your mood. Here, try some."
She broke off some of the stalk and handed it to F'gu. He bit down on it and chewed it. "Quite delicious," said F'gu. "Beats radiation-fried synthetic beef, for sure." It was already starting to affect him; his mind suddenly became clear and free of confusion. Amoria noticed the look on F'gu's face and laughed and kissed him again.
"Speaking of beef," she continued, "I've got to show you something else." She pulled him over to a small field nearby. Large ruminant animals were grazing there. One of them had a large lump on its back. "These are Gohs. They provide meat for our colony. But it's not what you think. We don't kill these animals, they're treated very nicely in fact. The meat is sloughed off their back and falls down. They don't feel a thing and they keep on living. We get the meat, they're happy to be fed and protected."
Amoria guided F'gu back to the Castle. "You're wondering now about me, aren't you? I was trained to be this world's leading expert in plant and animal biotechnology. The citizens of Edene elected me to their leader because my creations led to widespread prosperity and an end to suffering. I mean, why else do you think God created us with this intellect, but to make this life worth living?" She giggled and hugged F'gu. "I may be the universe's only Scientist Queen, or Queen Scientist; which do you think sounds better?"
"Now come with me. I want to show you our most prized possession." She took his hand and they walked into the Castle, and up a tall spiral staircase that led to the spire and the very top of the dome. At the top of the staircase was a small room and a window that looked out on the expansive city and the green forests and hills that surrounded it. Amoria made a signal with her fingers and a light turned on.
And F'gu saw it, hermetically sealed behind glass, a painting. An angel, kneeling on the ground, holding a flower. Her bird-like wings. The woman on the right side, gazing at the angel in calm expectation and acceptance. A painting like none other he had ever seen.
"Do you know this?" she asked. F'gu shook his head. "It was painted around 1500 years ago by a man named Leonardo. He wasn't only an artist, you know -- he was a scientist too. This was smuggled off Earth, very early in Edene's colonization. Good thing too. It's safe here. His other great painting, called "Molisa", was destroyed in the Pegasian wars. That was one of their first targets, the museum where it was kept."
F'gu felt everything suddenly come into focus. The effect of the Eatall plant's Kofrik stalk, he knew. The angel seemed to fly out of the painting into the small room and stand before them. No, it wasn't the angel; it was Amoria. She held him now tightly and looked up into his dilated eyes.
F'gu ran his fingers through her long hair and kissed her. "This is all going to be destroyed, this painting, this civilization, your Eatalls and your Gohs, don't you know? Don't you know that you're all going to die soon? We've got to get out of here."
She laughed and turned away. "Of course we're going to die, silly. Everyone dies." She took something off her wrist and handed it to him; it was made of a bright shiny yellow metal. "Here, take this. Keep this with you at all times. You can remember me with it now. It will keep you safe."
F'gu took the bracelet. It was a thin chain with a golden coin attached to it. On one side of the coin, an engraving of the Eatall plant; behind the Eatall plant was a beautifully intricate drawing of a snowflake and the word "SCIENCE". He flipped it over; on the reverse, an image of Leonardo's angel -- with the inscription "EDENE FOREVER." And the date: he couldn't make it out at first. He rubbed it with his fingers --and then he saw it.. the date read "2807." But it couldn't be...
"Do you like it? I just engraved it a few days ago," Amoria asked. F'gu was puzzled.. that was almost 200 years ago.. that could only mean...
Suddenly there was the sound of explosions outside. They looked out the window as Pegasian cruisers materialized out of nowhere in the sky. Buildings were in flame. F'gu thrust the coin into his pocket and pulled her down the stairs and out of the castle.
Soon they were standing in a grassy field and they stopped, out of breath. The sun glowed and covered her with a luminous light. Around her, other villagers grouped around them. "F'gu Mldzik, we bring you this warning..." she spoke again.
And the nightmare and the horror of the previous night began again...
CONTINUED IN "THE Y2K BUG, the Conclusion"