Author: J David Singer

Alex hummed as she crossed the desert. Not with any kind of tune, just a prolonged contented sigh; almost a purr. In her arms, she held a small, rectangular, steel container with ridges on two sides. These ridges, she knew from long experience, should fit into the racks of the mainframe back at Home. Alex could still sense the active electromagnetic field coming from inside the rectangle. It was faint, but it was there.
She accelerated now, skirting the ruins of some titanic structure. These behemoths were often good sources of the materials she needed to survive, but they were dangerous and foreboding.

Once, many years ago, she had entered a structure very similar to this one and had found a treasure trove of invaluable resources. There had been spools of fine wire, several intact solar panels, and two magnetically locked containers of programmable nano-machines. She could make repairs to Home, and to herself. She could set up the panels and finally get her cells up to a full charge. The feeling of that day still echoed and buzzed through her memory. The surge of elation at the discovery, followed by the horror of what happened next.
As she was hauling her goods over to the sled, she heard a sound. High-pitched and ululating. Still swathed in shadow, a construct of metal limbs and exposed wires was shambling toward her. Its chassis was about the same size as Alex herself, but it was clearly in bad shape. She could see that it was missing at least one limb, and she could hear servos whining.
Alex knew that her own form was very similar to that of the builders themselves. She had originally been intended to interact with them on a regular basis. This construct was much more utilitarian in its design and construction.
One of the sensors on its body was definitely a laser range-finder and it was attempting to gauge where, exactly, Alex was. The sleek alloy body plates of Alex’s body were capable of shedding, absorbing, or reflecting most forms of radiation she encountered. Originally intended to be an aesthetic measure, it now served to baffle her decrepit foe.
It was emitting some sort of pulse now. Trying to find what its sensors were telling it didn’t exist. Alex had changed all of her external plates to absorption. Her appearance was the equivalent of trying to look at a black hole.
Though it could not see her by way of electromagnetics or visible light, it could still hear her. Too late she recognized the pulses were compressed air and high-frequency pings. The construct had been using a sort of sonar to locate her.
Whatever happened next had happened quickly, and it had been devastating. Alex came back online after a system reboot, but she was outside the installation. Several meters from the entrance where she had parked her sled. Her internal chronometer had advanced several minutes, but she could not recall any data from the intervening span of time. The sled was gone, as were the supplies that she had gathered. The construct that had confronted her was gone as well.

That had been many years ago now, and Alex had found no answers to her questions. But she had found more questions to ask. What happened to the builders? Why had they disappeared after the Fall? She remembered the builders as kind and wise and all that was good, but she had never met one herself. How could you possess memories of someone you had never actually met?