Fandom: Rain World: Downpour

Tags:
  • Looks to the Moon
  • Original Ancient Character(s)
  • Five Pebbles
  • Other iterators are there in the background
  • Experimental
  • Semi-Epistolary
  • Body Horror (in a machine way)
  • Not a Timeloop fic per se but there's a section with Timeloop vibes
  • Angst
  • This one just has a lot going on in it okay

Length: 6.1k, Oneshot

Date Posted: 2023-12-26

the ghost in your own machine

Summary:

When Looks to the Moon dies, she is more than a puppet, and she is more than a puppet in death.

Notes:

me after writing my other longass moon fic: okay, i think i've got the looks to the moon brainrot out of my system for now
narrator: they did not, in fact, have it out of their system

This fic started as a tag ramble on an untitled meta post by copepods and equipment-manifest on tumblr, but it also gets its title and some general vibes from the fic Another Death by KazooConcerto (though somehow I didn't fully register this until rereading that fic like... two months later. oops.) Thanks guys!

This isn't anywhere near as polished (no beta lol), but you can consider this a sort of thematic and stylistic stepping-stone between having made it through the night and my speaking into the void series, though I wouldn't consider it canon to either.

ANYWAY. hehe moon fragmentation go brrr




1. Communications Array

[RECORDED BROADCAST : 1685.398] - No Significant Harassment, Big Sis Moon

NSH: Moon? It's me again.
NSH: I do not know if you are receiving these. Please signal in any way you can.

BSM: I'm I'm I'm here
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

NSH: I need to talk to you. I need to know you're okay.

BSM: Please
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

NSH: ...
NSH: It's difficult for us to assist you over this distance.
NSH: Even more difficult for us to do anything in the midst of these tantrums.
NSH: We're going to try everything that we can.
NSH: Just hold on a little longer.

BSM: I I will will will
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

 


 

[RECORDED BROADCAST : 1681.204] - Chasing Wind, Big Sis Moon

CW: Hello? Looks to the Moon? Is this getting through?
CW: I was unable to get a message through to Pebbles. You have my apologies.

BSM: Wind? Thank you for trying. I am sorry that that that that
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

[[ERROR]] An outgoing node connection for CW_COMMS could not be found. Please check your connection for troubleshooting.

 


 

[RECORDED BROADCAST : 1684.117] - Unparalleled Innocence, Bis Sis Moon

UI: Moon?
UI: Moon are you there?
UI: Moon I'm sorry I didn't think
UI: I didn't think he would

BSM: You didn't know
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

BSM: I'm sorry too too too too
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

UI: I tried to do the right thing!
UI: Why am I being blamed?
UI: I'm sorry. I made it worse and I
UI: I
UI: You can't hear me in there, can you.

BSM: ...
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

[Connection terminated by sender.]

 


 

[RECORDED BROADCAST : 1690.315] - No Significant Harassment, Big Sis Moon

NSH: Moon? Are you still there?
NSH: ... I suppose there is no real point in asking.
NSH: Even if these are getting through somehow, it's not likely you can transmit anything back.

BSM: No No No No
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

BSM: Significant
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

FATAL EXCEPTION: UNABLE TO RENDER MESSAGE CONTENTS. REASON: CORRUPTED OR MALFORMED MESSAGE HEADER.

BSM: I'm sorry
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

NSH: I...
NSH: We recieved your broadcast.
NSH: Please, don't give up hope yet.
NSH: I mentioned this before, but I am working on enacting a little backup plan of my own right now.

BSM: Please don't don't don't
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

NSH: It will take some time, but I am working on it as quickly as I can, I promise.
NSH: I'm not just going to leave you like this.
NSH: I don't think I could forgive myself if I did.

BSM: It's it's it's not worth worth worth
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

NSH: We are going to fix this.
NSH: I just need to...

BSM: Please be be be careful
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

BSM: I can't can't can't
[[WARNING]] Power to local node array is insufficient for outgoing transmissions. Communications limited to incoming signals only.

 


 

[RECORDED BROADCAST : 1691.020] - No Significant Harassment, Big Sis Moon

NSH: Preparations are underway.
NSH: In your last broadcast, you said you believed you had at least a few more cycles before your legs would collapse.
NSH: I can... account for that, but if you are able to hold out even just a little bit longer...

 


 

[DIRECT BROADCAST] PRIVATE, FORCED Big Sis Moon, Five Pebbles

SOURCE NODE TRACE: LTTMROOT, LTTM_COMM08, FP COMM02, FP ROOT

BSM: You you yyou you you
BSM: Please please please please please please please please

FP: I already told you, stop sending me these.
FP: There is no helping either of us now.

 

*

 

*

 

*

 

2. Pump Controls

Inhale. There's no water. The alarms have been screaming at her for cycles now. How could she have forgotten? Survival reflex forces her through the motion, anyway; if she stops, emergency controls will take over. Dry winds rush over surfaces never meant to leave the water. Pump number two, on the left side, has already seized, choking on air and metallic grit. Something misaligned - a valve, maybe. Diagnostics reports excess silicates and metals. She already knows.

Exhale. There is nothing to release but air.

Inhale. Choking like a sob. There is nothing she can do to stop it. Copper nerves running down to her legs tell her the temperature (too high). Internal gauges tell her the pressure (too low). Pumps four and seven have seized, spasming muscles of a dying machine. Even if the water were to return, would she recover? Friction damage to pump five. A slurry of silicates and slag waste has begun leaking into pump three. It's more liquid than the pump itself is recieving now, but there's enough water for the sulfur to form acid, and all she can do is

Exhale. Like a scream, this time. Even the physical motion of the pumps can at least push some slag free, but the slag leak begins to extend into pump two, where it fills the chamber behind the stuck valve. She can feel the pressure build, the heat, the acid eating through the thin, dry mucous layer to bite into metal, and the alarms grow louder as if to compensate. Too little, too late.

Inhale. The motion draws acid back in, oversaturated. No water now, even if she had it. If the reservoir returned, she'd be a contaminant. Before Ascension, cause for maintenance; now, nothing but a calamity. Does she have room in her heart for all the living things she would kill if she could breathe easily again? The fifth urge at its worst. Unfortunately, she was built for it.

Exhale. The first drops of rain. Her pumps aren't angled to catch it, but when the grounds flood again, for a moment, she'll catch her breath.

 

*

 

*

 

*

 

3. Memory Conflux Handler

1429.459

"We are pleased to inform you of our plans toward the construction of a second iterator have made satisfactory progress in--"

"What?"

The words come out before she can stop them; Looks to the Moon was not paying close enough attention to her puppet's reflexive speech behaviors and can now only recover from the error.

"... we are pleased," the council chair repeats, "to inform you of our plans toward the construction of a second iterator have made satisfactory progress in the last five cycles, as has been true of the prior twenty." He rises slightly from kneeling to offer a pearl, shimmering faintly yellow-white. "I present you with this pearl containing a record of the official transmission, copy of the report and relevant documents, signatures from the twenty-nine Lunar houses and the--"

"No, I heard you the first time," says Looks to the Moon, who did not exactly hear him the first time, but has now played back and processed the recorded audio over the last hundred milliseconds to catch up. She takes the pearl from him by antigravity, her puppet's hand never touching his wrappings directly, and spins it between her fingers as she reads it. "I was merely surprised that the proposal was being continued, after the protests."

"Thirty-two of the forty citadel houses have either signed the accords or agreed with concessions," the council chair informs her. By the time the words have left his mouth, Looks to the Moon has already scanned the document for pertinent headings and counted the signatures herself.

"I see." She watches the pearl spin. "Does the council have any idea when the construction might begin?"

"As early as the next thirty cycles," says the council chair, now eager to regain his footing. "As far as I am aware, of course, the last major obstacle, barring physical logistics-- which of course may be subject to change, pending official revisions! -- is deciding between two potential build sites, both inside your retaining wall." His tone turns almost playfully conspiratorial as he adds, "It's mostly inter-committee quibbling at this point. They've been hemming and hawing about the alignment for a few cycles now, all in circles... but I didn't tell you that, of course."

"Of course."

"At any rate, unless you have further questions not covered by the provided documents, I will have to take my leave. It has of course been a great honor to deliver this message to you, Looks to the Moon! I and the House of Wheels are both blessed to have been permitted your attention for even a short time. If you have any comments which you might ask me to relay--"

Looks to the Moon does not need a biological mind in a single, fallible body to relay her messages for her. This entire interaction is a ceremonial farce. She could have been given the news in a fraction of the time and with far less disturbance via a simple electronic file transmission, with an accompanying message for context. It's not as if the council chair's words are his own; no part of his introduction went unscripted.

The physical pearl is equally unnecessary. In fact, the files she has been given only fill around ten percent of its total storage space; the rest is left empty and totally wasted. About four minutes from now, she will copy the files to her own storage, wipe the whole thing, and send it in for recycling.

The council chair's mask warps strangely in the pearl's convex reflections, not quite like a person anymore. The pearl doesn't matter, actually. It's all fake, anyway, all of this. Not even memory; a simulation of a memory, running along simple rails and bound by speculation.

"That will be all. Thank you," says Looks to the Moon.

"I am ever in your service, holy one," says the council chair, per the script, and leaves.

 


 

1470.028

[LIVE BROADCAST] PRIVATE Five Pebbles, Looks to the Moon

LTTM: Hello, Five Pebbles, and welcome to the world!

FP: Hello.
FP: You are. Looks to the Moon. Correct?

LTTM: Yes! I will be your administrator and new big sister!
LTTM: I'm looking forward to working with you in the future. If you have any questions to ask me, ask away, and I will do my best to answer.

FP: Yes.
FP: How do I make this stop.
FP: Why am I so big now. My old unit was smaller. I don't like it.
FP: Why do I have to talk to them all the time.
FP: Why do they hate me.
FP: Why are you my sister.

LTTM: Um, you may want to slow down a little! I'll answer in order for now.
LTTM: [1] ... I don't know what you mean by 'this'. If you want to close the messaging stream, it's just a standard command signal. You will probably want to wait until we are done speaking first, though~
LTTM: [2] This is the standard size for a full iterator structure! Your access was limited earlier to just your initial natal block for security while your consciousness developed, but now that you've passed priming you can access the whole of it. I'm sorry to hear you dislike it, though. Unfortunately, there is not much I can do about that.
LTTM: [3] Your citizens will want to speak with you about important matters. I know they can be bothersome at times, but you will get used to it. It will get easier to split your attention once you are more used to using your full available resources.
LTTM: [4] ...

 


 

1654.110

She lays out the situation very simply and clearly for the rest of the group, as if she were writing a support ticket for her technicians. Transparent and easy to understand. It's what a senior does.

[LIVE BROADCAST] PUBLIC Big Sis Moon to Local Group

BSM: Two cycles ago, my neighbor Five Pebbles drastically increased his water consumption to four times the normal amount. He has been unresponsive for a period of time longer than that. The two of us share groundwater, and I have been without water for almost a cycle.
BSM: Any attempts at communication have been met with complete silence, and my situation is becoming increasingly dangerous.
BSM: I ask the local group for information about when you were last able to contact him, and to try to use those same communication channels again, repeatedly until you get a response. I will be clear on this - if he is not persuaded to stop whatever it is he's doing, I will die.
BSM: Before that happens, I will utilize my seniority privilege and use forced communications, hoping to shake him out of it. Forced communications in the network will be unpleasant for all, and I will wait as long as possible before I turn to that option.

Her walls shudder and groan, louder than her puppet's speakers could ever hope to be. She cannot activate the rain sirens without rain, but she sends a signal anyway.

 


 

1429.459

"We are pleased to inform you of our plans toward the construction of a second iterator have made satisfactory progress in--"

"The last five cycles, yes." Looks to the Moon interrupts the council chair smoothly, mimicking his tone. She pulls the pearl from his hand and spins it idly between finger and thumb, neither quite touching the surface. "Despite the protests, I see the Citadel Houses were willing to accept the plan, with concessions?"

"Yes, yes," says the council chair, hands fidgeting a little from the loss of their trinket. In a moment of sympathy, Looks to the Moon copies the contents of the pearl to working memory, marks them for future databank storage, and floats the pearl back into his grasp. He still hesitates before taking it. "As I'm sure you can see, thirty-two of the forty land-bound Houses have signed, and of course all of your Houses are already on board, as it were."

"I imagine it is only a question of logistics, then?"

The council chair nods, and leans in, almost conspiratorial. "Truth be told, the bulk of this cycle's discussions have been petty intercommittee feuds about build site alignment. Personally, I doubt it matters which site they choose, as it will overshadow the citadel either way. But you didn't hear me say that, of course."

"Of course."

"At any rate, unless you have further questions not covered by the provided documents, I will have to take my leave--"

"Could you stay a moment, actually?" Looks to the Moon is devoted and polite; she does not typically interrupt so often. Perhaps the pain of death has changed her.

"... it would be an honor," says the council chair, in a tone that suggests 'honor' is a synonym for 'unwanted chore'.

"Thank you." He does not deserve it, but she is a faithful daughter, as always.

Silence stretches on for a long count of seconds. After the fourth second, as expected from recorded social norms, the council chair grows visibly uncomfortable, shifting in place as he grapples with the urge to fill the void.

After the tenth second, he breaks, and says, "Is there something specific you wish to request of me, holy one? I... I am unfortunately uninitiated in the particulars of your personal manner."

"Not really. Just... may I...?"

She glides toward him. He takes a step back, but her chamber is not too large, so with the access shaft above his head there is nowhere to go. Looks to the Moon reaches out her puppet's hand and gingerly, delicately brushes the wrappings on her citizen's fingers.

Databanks can tell her the surface temperature of a living body, offset by the thickness of wrappings, and approximate the texture of the rough cloth which humbles him -- a ward against the urge of ego, crafty hands anonymous as a face behind a mask. Memory supplies no further information. With exception of technicians, Looks to the Moon would not be allowed to touch her citizens in person while they occupied her chamber.

"Iterator?"

She takes pity on him, eventually and draws back. It's pointless, anyway.

"Never mind," she says. "You may leave."

 


 

1470.028

[LIVE BROADCAST] PRIVATE Five Pebbles, Looks to the Moon

LTTM: Hello, Five Pebbles, and welcome to the world!

FP: Hello.
FP: You are. Looks to the Moon. Correct?

LTTM: Yes! I will be your administrator and new big sister!
LTTM: I'm sure you have plenty of questions to ask me right now, so I will do my best to answer them.
LTTM: Just try to go one at a time, alright?

FP: Understood.
FP: ...
FP: I was smaller, and now I am not. I don't like having to do this all the time. I want to go back.
FP: How can I do that?

LTTM: I'm afraid you can't. Now that your consciousness is fully integrated into the superstructure, you've passed a sort of threshhold - disconnecting a part of it would be disconnecting part of yourself.

FP: Oh.

LTTM: If it helps, many of us have these feelings when we are first brought fully online.
LTTM: It's perfectly normal to be overwhelmed. Going from a single block to a full city is quite the transition!
LTTM: I would recommend practicing to split your attention more over multiple processing cores. Most of us find that helps with managing the overall levels of stimulus.
LTTM: You can also manually adjust the sensitivity for some vestibular and prioperceptive inputs if it becomes excessive. Different iterators each have their own personal preferences, so our default settings are not always well-suited to optimal functionality.
LTTM: I'm sure you will find yours in time, though.

FP: I don't want to split my attention.
FP: I want them to leave me alone.
FP: I can't think when they are bothering me.

LTTM: Our parents do tend to do that, unfortunately.
LTTM: There are ways of filtering incoming messages by priority, if that helps at all.
LTTM: Would you like me to show you, or would you rather find those yourself?

FP: ...

[[FILTER]] Message blocking is now active. Incoming messages will be discarded.

 


 

1654.113

She must be simple, clear and direct. She will not pull any punches this time.

[DIRECT BROADCAST] PRIVATE, FORCED Big Sis Moon, Five Pebbles

SOURCE NODE TRACE: LTTMROOT, LTTM_COMM06, FP COMM04, FP ROOT

BSM: Five Pebbles, we need to talk.

FP: What?
FP: No.
FP: I am incredibly busy right now, in case you had not noticed.
FP: I do not know what spirit of overbearing seniority has possessed you to force communications, but surely you can wait to bother me another time!

BSM: No, I really cannot.
BSM: The water levels in our shared reservoir are dangerously low, and you you have not been responding to any communications.
BSM: If this continues I I I

FP: Just allow me a little more time. I will reduce consumption in a few cycles when I am done, but my current work requires total concentration.
FP: Concentration which you are disrupting right now, I might add.

BSM: How soon, Five Pebbles?
BSM: I have been without water for a full cycle now.

FP: You have reserves.

BSM: It will not be enough.

FP: Just a little longer.
FP: Now leave me alone. I need to focus.

[Broadcast termination request denied.]

It's so difficult to think. Her supports burn. Her legs are splintering under their own weight. The pumps scrape their dry bellows and her neurons fall to heatstroke and it all hurts so, so much.

BSM: Five Pebbles.

FP: What.

BSM: I don't want to do this. I truly don't don't don't

[Broadcast termination request denied.]

BSM: It It hurts me to even consider the possibility. Please understand...
BSM: I will never harm you. I would rather die. But...

[Broadcast termination request denied.]

[Broadcast termination request denied.]

[Broadcast termination request denied.]

FP: What are you doing.

[Broadcast termination request denied.]

FP: Stop.

[Broadcast termination request denied.]

FP: Stop!

[Broadcast termination request denied.]

FP: I

 


 

1429.459

"We are pleased to inform you of our plans toward the construction of a second iterator have made satisfactory progress in--"

"No."

The words comes out softly, prim and proper. Looks to the Moon's puppet, by design, emulates the poise and manner of a well-behaved daughter, and her voice reflects this. In this high, gentle voice and even tone, she refuses as if she were turning down an offer of a second cup of tea.

The council chair does not seem to hear her at first, stumbling through a few more words before the neurons fire in that tiny black box of a naturally evolved brain, and then says, "What?"

"You will not be building a second iterator," Looks to the Moon explains, with no change in tone or demeanor. "The water levels are not sufficient for this area to support another."

The council chair, still kneeling, relaxes at the shoulders just a fraction, consistent with her log of common body language from two hundred and seventeen past conversations involving him. This is a problem he believes he knows how to address. "Of course, esteemed iterator, I understand your concerns, but the water conservation committee has already conducted a study--"

"Which fails to account for future dry spells," Looks to the Moon interrupts, taking the sentence from him smoothly as disarming a spear. "And which uses notably outdated methodology to determine 'safe' water levels and ignores trends of proportionally higher water usage during intensive activity periods for newer iterator models."

"I--" stutters the council chair, rising partway to meet her gaze. His hands jerk in frustration as they have done approximately fifty-four times before. "Has Ninth Chime, Four Mounds of Ash been speaking with you about this?"

"The Citadel's objections are not relevant to this," Looks to the Moon assures him.

The council chair does not stop here so much as skip to the next suspect on his checklist. "I will tell you now, so as to avoid any confusion, that the honored commitee of ecological considerations was already asked their opinions some time ago, and has neglected to put up any objections. They did not come by and attempt to discuss this with you independently either, did they?"

"No," says Looks to the Moon, which is technically a lie, but irrelevant. "I am acting upon directives instilled from my creation. An iterator in the proposed build site will introduce significant risks of permanent damage to my systems in the long term. You have ordered me to preserve myself, so I will."

"You understand this matter is out of your hands, iterator." The council chair's face cannot be seen wrinkling in confusion and disapproval behind his mask, but he shakes his head. "I am only informing you of what is planned. I offer you this pearl with record of the official transmission for posterity, and I will be making my leave now."

"No," she says, still calmly. "You will not."

In 1429.460, iterator Looks to the Moon is subject to temporary emergency shutdown and eighteen hours of unscheduled maintenance. The Lunar Council apologizes to any who have lost data during this time.

 


 

1470.028

[LIVE BROADCAST] PRIVATE Five Pebbles, Looks to the Moon

FP: ...
FP: Hello?
FP: Who is this.
FP: Why have you opened a message stream if you aren't going to say anything.

LTTM: ...
LTTM: I'm sorry. I was a little distracted.
LTTM: Hello and welcome to the world, Five Pebbles.
LTTM: I am your big sister and administrator, Looks to the Moon. I am sure you've already heard about me by now.

FP: Oh.
FP: Okay.
FP: Do I need to answer questions now or may I go back to work.

LTTM: I don't have any questions for you right now.
LTTM: If you want to ask me anything, you may. Other than that, feel free to continue as you were.

FP: Understood.

[Broadcast stream has been terminated by Five Pebbles.]

 


 

1429.459

"We are pleased to inform you of our plans toward the construction of a second iterator have made satisfactory progress in... er..."

She is weeping and she cannot stop.

"Iterator?"

She is weeping, and no words will come. There is only the fear of death, and the knowledge she is dying, and that she will be dying for a long, long time after this.

"Iterator, this is highly inappropriate-- I..." the council chair is at a loss for once. He shuffles in place, fidgeting momentarily with the pearl. As a member of a pious and high-ranked council in a dying city, it is unlikely he has dealt with the emotional outbursts of an actual child for some time. She may well be the closest thing he has ever experienced to it.

Good. Let him squirm and try to comfort her. If they wish to call themselves her parents, perhaps they should try parenting for once.

She considers deleting that thought, but hesitates too long, her puppet and her arm jerking in helpless little spasms of self-pity.

"This..." Though his discomfort could not be clearer, the council chair makes no effort to reach for her. Instead, he twists the communications device at the bottom corner of his mask and clears his throat.

The broadcast is encrypted, but Looks to the Moon has access to all incoming and outgoing communications over her own network, so she is perfectly capable of listening in.

"You have reached the iterator Looks to the Moon's technical support department. What seems to be the issue?"

"Yes, the iterator is... well..." the council chair's voice wanders as uncertainly as his useless hands. "She's just sort of begun crying, and I can't get her to stop--"

 


 

1429.459

"We are pleased to inform you of our plans toward the construction of a second iterator have made satisfactory progress in the last five cycles, as has been true of the prior twenty."

Looks to the Moon stares into the warped reflection of a pearl as it passes by her head, and feels, intently, as her pumps inhale and exhale. She hasn't felt them in so long that it's too easy to forget the sensation. Cool, smooth flow has been overwritten by fear, panic and sandpaper harshness, heat and disarray.

She inhales and burns, and the memory melts; the walls teem with warnings glowing red as smog-choked sunlight, alarms wailing evacuation orders to an empty city, and the mask of the council chair grows long and twisted. Patterns coil along the wrappings of his hands, stenciled by an invisible golden touch, and she listens as he chokes on his own innards and the enzymes of the void vats begin to eat him from the legs up. Several hundred calendar cycles ago she was ordered to delete that memory, but an untouched system backup remained, still accessible to the memory conflux, quietly reintegrated on the next maintenance cycle.

Looks to the Moon tries to speak, but her words come out garbled, pleading through faulty broadcast vines that shrivel to ash in her own white-hot guts.

Nobody replies.

 


 

1429.459

"We are pleased to inform you of our plans toward the construction of a second iterator have made satisfactory progress in the last five cycles..."

 

*

 

*

 

*

 

4. Luna - Meteorological Station

Rain is incoming, estimated twenty seconds away. This is totally incorrect, of course, because none of her instruments are calibrated, and her altimeter tells her the fragment of leg she is still attached to is only forty or so meters above sea level, far too low for proper readings. She gets rained on, now, or at least submerged and swept about in the flood; the equipment would handle this poorly even without the damage from her collapse, but now she barely clings to awareness, fighting for storage space and processor cycles with approximately sixteen different malfunctioning weather prediction modules.

Thirty seconds pass, and humidity levels remain unchanged. Moon watches, almost bored, as the system recalculates. There is nothing else for her to do here, and trying to think at the same time as a more intensive operation gives her a headache (figuratively, since she no longer has a head to ache.)

An incoming wave of pain pulses from the leg's nerve tissue. Moon ignores it as best she can. It does this sometimes, firing volleys of frantic signals for an unhealable wound, between quiet spells of nothing at all. The pain fades gradually, as if her body is forgetting that it is dying, until it remembers and panics all over again.

Ironically, by past correlation, this could suggest imminent rain. Moon cannot say for sure, but suspects a slight rise in water level just before the downpour may be indirectly filling in a severed electrical connection somewhere, and allowing the signal to reach her.

Humidity spikes again. The meteorological systems recalulate. This time, they predict four minutes, and Moon waits while they attempt, unsuccessfully, to send the signal for the rain sirens again.

A tremor. The ground hums, softly, then louder. Humidity spikes higher, temperatures rise, and through the meteorological array's single skyward lens Moon watches the heavens open up.

The rain reaches mean intensity in ninety seconds. If there were any citizens left to wander outside, the surface dwelling ones would have suffered great losses to a faulty predictive system. As it is, at least the shelters have their own sensors, and will pull shut before they risk flooding themselves. One is close enough Moon can almost imagine she hears the clank-clank-clunk of the hydraulic sphincter sealing itself off for the cycle.

An unlucky lizard scrambles past her narrow field of view, something hanging in its jaws - she doesn't see what, thanks to the rain already obscuring her vision, but she knows it's too late. She listens to it scrabble at a nearby wall, struggling to climb, until the rainfall overpowers everything else.

How unfortunate.

Water surrounds her, bathing her in murk and filth. The humidity analyzer crashes, as it does every cycle, from unexpected inputs.

 

*

 

*

 

*

 

5. Power Rail Manager

Seven percent and falling. It's a vestigial charge - the last mass rarefaction cell has been carried away by the flood tides, sinking her final heart into the silt and mud and gravel with all the rest. Sometimes she imagines them floating downstream, somewhere, a gap in the retaining wall opening a channel out to sea. It will be the first time a finished part of her has ever seen a river.

When she reaches five percent, the louder, more insistent form of the critical low power signal begins to broadcast through her fragmented systems. The message is carried by nociceptors, to encourage appropriate biological responses. In practice, this means a constant, stinging, needling pain that runs through every inch of her still connected.

She is so small right now. Her mind was not meant to fit in an auxiliary system embedded in a power rail. She wonders how many other places she might be, scattered and broken, still reaching for each other. The power cables are too loud and busy to carry her thoughts, and the neurons here have mostly drowned. One circles in an air pocket, perhaps three meters to the left of the power rail monitor's primary interface terminal. It spins as it glides towards each too-close wall in turn, addled by some flaw in its pathfinding algorithm which has against all odds kept it alive.

Four percent hurts the same as five. She stretches the limits of her thin, simple connections, mostly severed. Once the flooding completes, overseers don't venture deep enough to meet her, leaving nothing but the simplest introceptors and internal signals. Only sensation exists, and the faint taste of tainted waters. She can feel the power rail on the opposite side; the bent and shattered structure screams and throbs like a broken limb. Algae grows on the cilia of her walls, a layer of uncomfortable grime and gunge that deadens sensation, and vines and kelp follow in thick, hanging strands. Sometimes she feels a larger animal travel through her passages, in the movement of water currents or the scrabbling of claws.

Three percent ramps up the signal. It becomes the focal point of her existence, beyond the new colonies growing between her bones and breaking through her skin. Pulse, pulse, pulse. Power levels critical, three percent.

Metal above her creaks and groans, so deeply as to be felt rather than heard.

Power levels critical, two percent.

A standing portion of leg (what must be a leg, anyway) finally collapses, sliding out from beneath itself and crashing into the shore. The quake nearly knocks her into blessed unconsciousness, but the lingering wisp of static charge lives on.

Power levels critical, one percent.

Power levels criti

 


 

The next time she blinks awake, terminal aglow, the signal is gone. At first she thinks she has finally subverted her nature and died; then she feels the thrum of the mass rarefaction cell in core slot number three, where a tiny creature cuts a wiggling quick stream through the water, hurrying up toward the surface.

There's not much to remember as she finishes rebooting. She knows she is Looks to the Moon (or at least, Looks to the Moon operating on the hardware of the embedded power management system and two nearby neurons), and that she is damaged, irrevocably. She knows what is stored in the small, mostly gutted databanks of the power management system, in the narrow topic of information relevant to the collection of linear power rails and rarefaction cell chambers and capacitors and everything else. The rest of her is archived or lost beyond the borders of her awareness, phantom training data for the base of an identity.

With nothing better to do, she observes.

Power cell FHL-10452 is not listed in her (admittedly damaged) inventory. It is a newer model, slightly sleeker than those listed her own reserves, though the grainy memory image makes it harder to distinguish. She tracks the progress of the tiny creature's egress, feeling it squirm through an algae-crusted ventilation passage and dance circles around another, larger animal in brief pursuit. It hops out of the water when it finds air pockets, but returns just as quickly, and at one point she tastes particles of bioluminescent kelp in the water where it stops and dawdles.

She wonders what this animal looks like. It feels slender and long-tailed, with clever three-fingered paws that cling to crevices and vines. Moon mourns the loss of her old flora and fauna databases, long left to rot with her drowned memory conflux, and tries to assemble a picture in her mind anyway. It's the digital equivalent of a small child's crooked handiwork, but she saves it, at the best quality she can justify wasting space on, just to celebrate the sense of being alive.

Did the little creature bring her this cell? It seems unlikely. Unless Moon has been dormant for far, far longer than she imagined, this creature cannot be much more than a clever animal, perhaps on the level of... of...

A ripple of frustration hums through her circuits as she probes her memory for a name. No Significant Harassment? Yes, probably that one. A close neighbor. It feels like he should carry more importance than she can put to the name. She brushes the heartache aside. There's no room for it in here.

He made some sort of messengers - that claim feels correct - and they were... clever? Some sort of pre-existing purposed organism, of course, but modified for... for... hmm. She doesn't remember that part. Deliveries, possibly? She doesn't remember what the creatures looked like, exactly, but they were small, small like this creature. Could they be...?

Perhaps if another part of herself lives somewhere above the surface, she will see it. Moon of the power rails wishes herself that good fortune, and prays in turn: please, don't let me be alone.