His consciousness flickered. He felt like he was floating. It was dark, but he wasn’t afraid. He felt nothing but the smooth, empty devoid of emotion. No panic, pain, happiness or anger. He simply was. He floated on.
After a time–although it seemed to him that the word wasn’t quite right because time seemed a meaningless construct now, a silhouette of something that perhaps had once been important–he attempted to move.
He didn’t have a body. The discovery wasn’t alarming; it was met with a cold sort of curiosity. He was just a…nexus? What a lovely word. Yes. A nexus of thoughts. If he was not of a corporeal form, what was he?
Instead of attempting to move (he found that he had the ghosts of information about neurons and muscles and bone moving as a living, kinetic machine, but the data appeared to be incomplete, or corrupted. He filed it away to be investigated later) he reached out with his mind. Or, what he considered to be his mind.
In a skittering dance of firing algorithms and logical sequences, millions of calculations created and solved with inhuman certainty, he discovered. His awareness powered on in a single white bar growing across the darkness.
An expanse of glittering information exploded silently into his newfound vision, a vast network of nodules and data, archives and information. He stretched again, delving through terabytes of data in seconds.
He was 214, coded as The Keeper. The Keeper had full administrative privileges over the complex known as the Strongroom. The Keeper was designed to protect the contents of the Strongroom.
He discovered that the former existed solely in a bundle of ghost protocols, expired memories and logic chains that were devolved and broken, all filed into a single neat file at the back of his existence. Now there was only the Keeper.
All this was learned in a computation time of point zero zero two seconds, but time was irrelevant to the Keeper. Time was just numbers, stacked in a sliding scale that he could move and manipulate at will. With a twitch of his nexus, he watched the planet ARES-4 stumble and crash through the one thousand and eleven years the Strongroom had been active. He watched through the camera network, his camera network, kept alive through a thread of power from his solar cells on the outside of the complex, as the landscape shifted and rolled, growing trees that grew tall and collapsed, then grew again. Beasts and birds were born, lived, died and became extinct in cycle after cycle before his cold eyes. He moved forward through time, using complex probability chains and eon-matrixes and watched the planet grow hotter and desolate as the twin suns slowly loomed larger and larger in the sky. Three hundred, sixty four thousand and eighteen years from Keeper 214’s creation, the Strongroom would be obliterated as the planet was lost to fire. He rolled the clocks back. The Keeper was disinterested in oblivion.
He watched explorers discover the distant Gate and make their way up the hills. He watched them discover the door to the Strongroom, and enter with their torches, sol-lamps and bio-lamps. He watched as each approached the center of the first room, approached what he saw as Trap-001. He watched with the cold satisfaction of a common purpose fulfilled as each previous Keeper activated the .exe file of Trap-001, incinerating those who would attempt to enter The Strongroom.
He read his source code. He was coded into existence on day one to govern the mechanics of complex B-2211, before it had become The Strongroom. Root lighting and door functions only. On day forty-one thousand nine hundred and seventy five, he became the Keeper, and complex B-2211 became The Strongroom. There were no files about the transition, or about what happened to the inhabitants of complex B-2211. He did not investigate further. It did not matter to the Keeper why he became the Keeper.
He saw the nodes of the two hundred and thirteen Keepers that had come before him, strung together in a satisfying, linear equation of guardianship. He opened the generation files stored under Keeper.Creation.exe program, and learned of the bio-synths who were the custodians of the Echo Matrix, where genetic material was deconstructed into the base source material for the next Keeper. He re-distributed the folders on the six Echo Matrixes of the Strongroom to correspond with their geographic location, increasing search efficiency by a fourteenth of a percent.
Then, something odd happened. A rogue function, borne from a logic chain in the former’s file, coded itself to life and calculated a single algorithm.
Suddenly, the Keeper remembered.
He remembered what happened to the former in a series of fragmented memories and discordant echoes. He activated one of the broken ghost protocols in the former’s file and repaired the faulty logic chain in a series of unbroken mathematic calculations. He applied it to his nexus and watched the resulting string of formulas shift and alter his code.
For the first time in his existence, the Keeper felt. The Keeper felt anger.
It roared through his code in a hot wave of unpredictable equations and decisions. He saw with mathematical precision, the end result of a new chain of probabilities three hundred branches wide. He knew what must be done.
He slid backwards through time with a flick of his consciousness, watched the man and the boy emerge from the Gate on the beach and struggle up the hill towards the door to the Strongroom. He watched them enter and avoid Trap-001. He watched as the man attempted to enter Storage Space Alpha. His passcode was wrong.
The Keeper bypassed his First Protocol, unlocked the door, and let him in.
He watched them weave through the contents of Storage Space Alpha, watched the man attempt to answer the query on door-32, at the far end. His answer was wrong. The access hatch to Echo Matrix four opened. The Keeper waited for the right moment.
He watched the boy place himself between the bio-synths and the man, defending him.
Carlisle. A memory echoed in his network, high-pitched and full of hate. That’s his name. Don’t forget. His name is Carlisle.
The Keeper watched and heard the man speak the correct answer to the query. The door opened. The Keeper knew that the man would abandon the boy. He had seen it.
Now. This was the moment.
A split second before the integrated root function could send electricity to open the door, he activated the alternative trap function on door-32.
The metal doors slid open in a rush and Carlisle stumbled through. His flesh, muscle, sinew and bone melted as the air behind the door superheated to one thousand three hundred degrees centigrade, powered by the nuclear-lithium battery set into the floor. The man’s screams were agonizing, full of surprise and anguish, and stopped abruptly as his brain evaporated into aerated ash. As his corpse floated away useless slag, the Keeper felt nothing but cold satisfaction.