Anicetus waited, unmoving, contemplating the silence of the Trillion Voices. For eons upon eons the Trillion Voices had resided in the great machine, thriving and evolving in their virtual worlds- free of boundaries- free from all physical limitations. They existed as pure thought and mingling consciousness.
Countless minds had been poured into the machine; the entire population of the planet had abandoned their physical bodies to dive into the ocean of life undivided. In the end only Alexiares and Anicetus alone were left outside.
For age after age after age the Trillion Voices had lived on- the consciousnesses within swirling around each other like fluid thought. Even Anicetus, with his powerful mind, could not begin to comprehend the musings of the Trillion Voices, even a decade after they locked themselves in their vault of thought. But for countless eons since, deep within the machine, scientific enterprise continued on, as well as art and literature, mathematics and music. The Trillion Voices had grown in solitude, until they were like Gods or a God. But in all this time, the Trillion Voices had never ceased speaking to Anicetus when he called on them.
He had long suspected that his role as a guardian was obsolete. It was incomprehensible to him that the Trillion Voices would ever need his help. Compared to them, Anicetus was but a microbe- a spec of dust. He was certain that the fears that had necessitated his task had long since ebbed in the collective consciousness. In all likelihood Anicetus was allowed to continue his watch for the same reason the Great Clock was kept ticking: some form of sentimentality on the part of the Trillion Voices. Perhaps Anicetus reminded them fondly of a simpler time.
But why had they stopped speaking to him now? Anicetus tried to recall the last time he had communicated with the Trillion Voices. Protocol demanded that he announce his annual awakening to them, and yet, he could not remember his last awakening. Such forgetfulness should not have been possible.
Something was wrong. Something was wrong with Alexiares’s stasis compartment. Something was wrong with the Trillion Voices. Something was wrong with Anicetus’s own mind.
With cool, mechanical detachment, Anicetus began running a thorough diagnostic of all his internal workings. Almost immediately a flood of alarming abnormalities were detected. Anicetus was damaged- badly damaged. His physical body was showing significant degradation, and his memory storage was not interfacing properly with his conscious mind. The nanites designed to maintain him seemed to have vanished.
“My own systems appear to be damaged,” Anicetus said to his silent master. There was no response. Anicetus left the massive machine, turning back once before he left the enormous chamber.
He made his way back to Alexiares’s stasis compartment. Cautiously, he extended a thin sensory appendage into the compartment. Had the stasis unit been working properly, any part of Anicetus’s body which entered the stasis field would have gone numb and been rendered paralyzed.
Stasis fields were unforgiving. Mechanical beings of any size could not operate with them. The system was designed to prevent Anicetus and Alexiares from simultaneously being affected by a nanites malfunction. If things went horribly wrong on Anicetus’s watch, Alexiares would awaken unaffected by any nanites inflicted chaos, and would be able to correct the problem.
But now, Anicetus found that the stasis field was not operational. He snaked his thin sensor arm deep into the compartment and took atmospheric readings- not so much for the data, but rather to confirm that his limb was, in fact, still operational. It was.
The sensor arm probed the stasis compartment, looking for the body of the sleeping Alexiares. But something was amiss; the sensor arm detected nothing but an empty compartment.
Anicetus pulverized the malfunctioning doorway. It crumbled to nothing, and the light of the chamber flooded in. Now Anicetus’s powerful optical sensors confirmed… Alexiares was missing. Not a trace of his body was present in the chamber.
The great clock ticked ominously as Anicetus began methodically wending his way through every passage and crevice in the underground complex. Even damaged as he was, Anicetus found that his movement speed was unaffected.
Anicetus paused when he reached the visitor’s entrance to the monument. From this vantage point he saw the entire clock assembly. He scanned the scene for any sign of his counterpart. In the interest of thoroughness, Anicetus opted to overlay a projection of nanite activity on the scene before him. Had Anicetus been capable of panic, it was at this moment that it would have set in.
The massive gears before him should have been infested with nanites performing endless maintenance on every part of the clock- but instead there were none but a small stream climbing in a seam of ore in a wall of the chamber. These were the nanites that had travelled miles to the surface of the planet, and had returned carrying data about various mineral caches that had been deposited on the surface by meteorites. But for all practical purposes, the chamber was a devoid of the teeming mechanical life- the keepers of the clock.
Anicetus gauged the time on the clock against his internal chronometer, and discovered that the two measurements of time were several hours apart. This should not have been possible. Even without maintenance, the Great Clock would have kept perfect time for decades. Anicetus’s own clock should not have degraded by more than a few seconds every century. Without going to the surface and making astronomical observations, Anicetus could not be sure which clock was keeping the correct time. Such trivialities would have to wait.
Anicetus finished his patrol of the chamber and its offshoots. In the end, he drew the inevitable conclusion that Alexiares must have left the underground tomb and headed for the surface. There may have been good reason for doing so, but Anicetus could not imagine what that might be.
The time for exploring mysteries would have to wait. Anicetus moved to the seam of ore in the wall and commandeered the available nanites to tend to his system repairs. When a sufficient number had invaded his body, he set the rest to the task of rapid reproduction. Whatever his final course of action, Anicetus was certain that he would require the aid of an army of the microscopic workers.
Anicetus returned to his own stasis compartment. The door here was already opened- though Anicetus was uncertain as to why he would have left it so. His memory continued to fail him.
Inside the compartment were a number of tools designed for meta repairs- the jobs too big for nanites to accomplish rapidly on their own. Anicetus decided that it would use these tools repair his own physical deterioration, while the nanites focused on his delicate memory systems.
Before he even entered the compartment, Anicetus notice the motionless form on the floor inside. Alexiares, he thought. Finally, one mystery solved.
It was the first time in eons that Anicetus saw his twin. All this time, they had been kept apart for the sake of efficient security. A wise plan, Anicetus realized, for it seems that only the isolation had kept Anicetus alive while all the other mechanical life had died.
Anicetus pulled the body from the compartment and into the light of the chamber. He surveyed the body of his twin, assessing whether or not it could be repaired. The structure seemed to be just barely intact, with heavy signs of damage caused by the unchecked degradation of time.
He turned the body over and found that its central faceplate had been opened. Inside, the primary memory core was missing. The other components looked degraded beyond functionality.
On the floor of the stasis compartment, Anicetus found the missing part. The missing memory core was so badly decomposed that it would hardly even serve as a frame for the nanites to repair. If he was to bring his twin back to life, Anicetus might as well start from scratch.
Still, Anicetus stuck the missing component in place. Then closing the faceplate, he sat frozen in thought. The symbols on the faceplate were only slightly degraded; their meaning was unmistakable. The broken body on the floor bore the name ‘Anicetus’.
Anicetus moved to the reflective face of the Great Clock. He read the symbols on his own worn faceplate. Alexaires, it read. What have I done?