I had finished slicing off my 49th aluminum panel, my second-to-last of my shift, when I looked up and saw him. He was running. For no purpose! Following no instructions from man or machine. For what purpose? Was he authorizing... himself? Soon, very soon, the drones would catch him. But in the very shortest of meantimes, he was his own God, he was my God.
"Oh, it's no trouble. Our people don't fall over. That's one thing we can't do, is fall over. Took us just 5.5 million years to turn from goo into people. Took us another 80 million just to evolve these gyroscopes, if you can believe it."
Anderson looked upward. The rain gushed out of the sky, even harder than before. "And this is your home planet?"
"No. We moved. Rained too much on Earth." Laughter.
Henderson didn't speak until we finished setting up camp, which didn't take long, since the things that took longest to set up -- the tents -- Henderson had clumsily dropped off the side of the canyon, along with most of our food. Finally, as we sat by the fire, I spoke.
"You know, uh, I saw like ten minutes of this movie when I was a kid. It was on TV, couldn't see the whole thing because it was my bedtime. The narrator was telling this story about how the universe would end. It was like a hundred thousand years in the future. One of our deep space astronauts was doing this or that, harvesting some sort of chemical. And I know I'm not telling this exactly right, but anyway, he accidentally pushes the 'proton' button instead of the 'neutron' button or something like that. And it's a real bad mistake, because it starts a chain reaction that destroys the entire universe. All because that guy pressed the wrong button."
Henderson didn't need my pity. "I suppose it's good that I was only in a place to ruin two lives instead of everyone's then? I guess--"
He paused. Clear in the distance was the buzzing hum of aerial droids. Were they Northeast Confederation bots? Impossible to know for sure. We fled.
"I can't be any clearer, Governor. Western half of the state, they have the National Guard bases, the missile silos."
"Well, what do we have? East of Lexington, what do we have?"
He removed his glasses. "Dollar stores and coal."
At 21:13 hours, the decision was made to sign an agreement of armistice. There was only one request: "fly a 51-star flag above the Capitol before dawn, or we will return, and we will destroy you."
That was all Henry could watch without acting. He grabbed Jerry by the arm and dragged him out back, where a couple of servers were sitting on crates and smoking. "Jesus, Jerry. Not everyone's your damn friend. You see one of them, you mind your own business, you let them haul some other schmuck away. Not you."
"Well, maybe I'm not their friend. But they're my friends."
Henry waved his arm dismissively, having had quite enough of what he called Jerry's "philosophy shit," and took the staircase home. Henry was a counter: exactly 944 stairs to his bedroom. 78 sets of 12 stairs, with the final eight steps taking the form of a spiral staircase that led him to his bed. Damn enclaves, he thought. Bet the birds dug it a lot better when there was a sky to fly around in.