Dyson84 shuddered as he slipped through the protective field surrounding the temple and felt the first of the furies whip across his own, lesser protective fields. The constant storm of billions of nano-scale machines hurling themselves against his shields brought to mind the feeling of dozens of hungry, sharp-nailed fingers scraping down the bare skin of Dyson84’s back. He ran through several possible scenarios and, deciding that speed was more important that shields, shunted more power to his gravatic drive.
The drone containing Dyson84’s synthetic mind shot away from the temple of death at several times the speed of sound, accelerating towards the projected opening in the continually shifting layers of fields surrounding the Spire. The fury that had probed him was left behind, scattering as the billions of particles that comprised it were blown apart by the eddies left in the drone’s wake.
Over the next hour, the drone blasted through dozens of other furies, but none of them had sufficient mass or power output to penetrate its shields before it rushed past. Several of them attempted to hack into its processing systems, probing all of its signal channels with every form of communication that they could imagine, but Dyson84’s drone had been build with that very threat in mind. All of its incoming ports had been physically disconnected before it had left the shielded temple and, over the course of eighty-four iterations of software design, the navigation and sensory systems had been scrupulously firewalled from the control software.
Dyson84 knew that his sole reason for existence was to pilot this drone across the midge-infested wasteland that separated the temple from the Spire, then to execute the complex series of maneuvers that would bring it though the protective fields surrounding the Spire. He knew everything that his progenitor and predecessors had known and, in knowing that his progenitor was still safely alive and guarded by Gamayun, he was able to fully devote himself to his mission.
When Dyson84 was a kilometer away from the Spire’s outermost field layer, he decelerated rapidly, bleeding kinetic energy in an outpouring of heat that billowed away from the drone with a shimmering ripple of attenuating fields. He ran through the protocol that his progenitor and Gamayun had developed, comparing the intended route through the protective shell of fields with input from his sensors. Locating the correct region of the Spire, he plotted an intercept course that would bring him in contact with a weak spot in the protective field during a three second window of time. The opening was not completely unshielded, else the furies might have invaded centuries ago, but with sufficient velocity and the protection of his own fields Dyson84 should be able to punch through the defenses and into an eddy between the terrible forces of the fields on either side.
The drone shot forward and slipped into the designated gap, its shields flaring with the strain of penetrating the opposing field of manipulated space/time which protected the Spire. Once through the barrier, Dyson84 slammed to a halt and held his relative position completely still for seventy-six microseconds before applying downward grav and slipping into another opening. The instant his drone passed into this new space, Dyson84 tilted his grav drive to add angular momentum. He raced sideways for a full thirty seconds, drifting along at the center of a minuscule weakness in the field structure like an insect caught up in the eddy of a ship, before applying forward tilt and dropping a layer deeper into the maze.
This dance continued for over an hour before Dyson84 found himself trapped in a previously unmapped eddy, unable to find an exit. He shunted power to his drone’s active scanners, probing the invisible walls around him for subtle fluctuations in quantum mass, gravity, sonic distortion, and even visual artifacts from local variance in the universal constant. He found no sign of an exit.
Frustrated, Dyson84 realized that his time was up. Working in an accelerated frame which allowed him to process data far faster than his progenitor, Dyson84 sorted through all of the data he had gathered and prioritized the information that was new. Looking at the file listing, he felt embarrassed that he had gained so little new knowledge. He had, in fact, done little more than prove that he, or rather his progenitor, had been working on a dead end for at least a whole cycle. There might well be a path through the spire’s protective fields, but this course was not it. Indeed, it was entirely possible that the entire twisted route of weakened field patterns was a cleverly designed maze, intended to trap potential explorers.
Dyson swore bitterly as he carefully loaded the dataset into the transmission buffer, actuated the physical switch which simultaneously disconnected his internal processing from the networking interface and activated the q-link transmitter, and prepared himself for death.
It was not an easy decision to make, even though he knew that his progenitor still existed on the far end of the transmission, waiting to receive the data that he had collected. In that moment of severance, when one mind had become two for — Dyson84 paused to recall, sorting through all the layers of objective truth, self-delusion, and forgetfulness — the ninety-seventh time, he had counted himself as being as much a person as his progenitor. Objectively, he knew that this was not the case. Dyson had been careful to mentally prepare himself for the process of storage and co-location before ever undertaking it, with the intent of establishing in his mind that the duplicates of himself were absolutely subordinate to his original self. No matter how much he tried to convince himself of that, however, Dyson was not a disciplined soldier, not a dedicated fanatic, patriot, or even much of a nihilist. He valued his own life as intensely as he held his own intellect in higher esteem than that of any other, except perhaps Gamayun, and as a result his fragments each secretly valued themselves as much as their progenitor did.
The end came suddenly and violently for the drone bearing Dyson84’s mind. Walls of impenetrable force fields rotated into place, then shifted to mesh together like the gears of an invisible clock, crushing the drone and shattering it into its component atoms. Over the next few hours, these were inexorably shifted outward until they reached the outermost later of the shell and were cast out to become fodder for the furies.