The Last Key (3/10)

3: SLUDGE

Aquatic drone AQ-7 motored through the waters of the Pacific, collecting readings in its memory banks and transmitting it in electromagnetic pulses. That was all it was really good at, and all it had to be good at: moving through water, collecting information, and transmitting it. Some of the waters, depending on depth and composition, were impenetrable by its pulses, and so the drone would store the information in its banks until it was once more within range of the surface.

AQ-7 was currently in one of those inter-pulse blockages. It was not extremely deep, but the waters around it were thick, muddy, saturated with metal ions and synthetic molecules, sometimes more oily than wet. There were several significant sludge patches among the oceans, formed by the natural flow of winds and currents, but this was still the major one, situated off the coast of China and spawned during the mad scramble that was the construction of their biggest city—when the realization that the Earth was doomed led only to a relinquishing of precaution and its even quicker destruction.

AQ-7 had no consciousness and did not care about any of this, but noted its readings for future transmission as it had been programmed to do.

But now AQ-7 was caught somehow, in some type of sludge-net: its propellers were toiling not from the thickness of the waters, but because they were opposing some sort of active restraint. AQ-7’s instruments recorded all of this. Sludge of a markedly higher viscosity seemed to close in about the drone, engulfing it from all sides. One might say AQ-7 struggled against this, as far as a consciousless drone could have. It simply followed its programming: when blocked, find another way, spin more forcefully, wriggle free. But the sludge closed in, guided by some sort of synthetic endoskeleton… and now there were—receptors?—of a sort; one, two, many, slithering through the sludge toward the drone. AQ-7 recorded all of this. One of them made contact and AQ-7’s instruments recorded a great spike in activity, or died?; another made contact and AQ-7’s hull shook with the electric +shock++ that reverberated through the little drone encased in sludge… AQ-7 recorded this, if it could. And now there was something//else among its ins*tru*ment*s, among its readings, among its unconsciousness, and AQ–sev–n tried to re~cord this but wasn’t sure how, and the drone’s struggling fell limp as electricity flooded its circuits momentarily, but then receded…

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