My morning route took me past the fabricators. They were silent now, though they usually ran every hour of the day. I glanced at the maintenance bots combing them over. I gave them a quick nod of acknowledgment. They did not nod back. Unsurprising, considering the fact that they did not have a neck. Or a head. I’ve considered drawing smiley faces on them (for a more human element) but I think a spider-like robot with a smiley face might be worse than just a normal spider-like robot. Especially since they tended to clean the rooms at night. I did not need giant smiling spiders waking me up at five in the morning. My nightmares were crowded enough, thank you very much Though not arachnophobe friendly, the design is wonderfully efficient at getting into all the small places that need to be maintained. Still, it took a few months to get used to seeing a small army of frisbee sized bots scuttling around the base.

I usually ran three laps around the fabricators, spending more time here than I did in any other room. That’s because the fabricators were my babies. My two-story tall, five-hundred square foot, state-of-the-art babies. They were the primary reason that Camelot existed, the most advanced set of fabricators in the world, capable of taking raw materials and spinning them into a complete Paladin Suit within 8 hours. Completely autonomously, requiring only an initial design (in a very specific format) to be transmitted to them. The fabricators could work with pretty much any material, or at least these ones could. They were the closest thing that humanity had to the real alien article, and in my opinion, I’d even improved on the design in some places. I had ten of them, and I would say I loved them all equally, but that would be a lie. F-03 was my favorite.

It was conflicting seeing them silent like that. On the one hand, they did deserve the rest. They had been working almost non-stop for half a year, pumping out next-gen mobile armor for an army that would never wear them. On the other hand, there was something beautiful about watching the massive machines build something from almost nothing. I had spent more time than I cared to admit watching as hundreds of tiny screws were created in just seconds and wires were pulled out of solid metal. Seeing the nanocircuits being created was probably the most entertaining part. The precision necessary for their creation was awe inspiring. Giving a last, loving pat to F-03, I kept my pace as I jogged up the stairs to the second floor, more than halfway done with my morning run. I was aiming for a few seconds faster than yesterday. I hate running, but it does provide me with something to fill my mornings with.

The second floor was my second favorite. It was technically called the armory, but in reality, it was more like a big storage room. It was a cavernous space, meant to hold ten thousand Suits. As I came up the stairs the lights activated. They started in the front, turning on in chunks until the entire space was brightly lit. I’m pretty sure that having the lights turn on like this was purely for dramatic effect. It’s not like the technology to turn on all the lights at once doesn’t exist. In any case, they did a phenomenal job of showcasing the more than five thousand Paladins gleaming on their racks, suspended from the ceiling in three rows. Dozens of spider bots skittered over the most recently completed ones, performing a final inspection for any flaws, no matter how minute. It was an impressive sight, and it was only half full.

My feet echoed on the concrete as I moved through the room. Though I appreciate the sight of thousands of tools of carnage as much as the next person, this place always felt lonely to me. Something about the dangling humanoid machines, waiting there in the dark, triggered melancholic feelings. If it weren’t for the space I had set up near the back of the room, one of my ongoing projects, I wouldn’t come here except during my morning exercises.

The massive freight elevator that connected every floor of the facility was resting at the second floor today. Mostly automated, it was responsible for delivering raw materials and completed products throughout the facility. It could fit tons of the stuff, and once it arrived at a floor, there were a couple different things that could happen. On the third floor, the materials from floors four through six would be delivered by drones and spider bots to the fabricators. On the second floor, completed Paladins would be automatically picked up by the racks, and stored for the long term. Smaller, more efficient utility shafts were located throughout the rest of the building for drone deliveries, but the big stuff all came up the freight elevator. I called her Ellie.

Finishing my lap of the armory, I made my way up to the first floor, stopping at the top landing and gasping for breath. Before all of this, I hadn’t really been much for exercise, but the abrupt end of the world really put things in perspective. Besides, piloting a Paladin required quite a bit of physical fitness. The jog part of the workout done, I checked my time. It was higher than yesterday. I fucking hate running.

Grumbling expletives aimed at no one in particular, I started walking down the hallway towards the gym. I swiped a hand at my brow and blanched a little at the gritty sweat that stuck to it, so I stopped at a water fountain, greedily drinking from it, and then splashing a little on my face. I don’t know if it was a result of being underground, or if the water was cooled on site, but it was always ice cold when it came out of the fountain. As I finished my drink, a smooth female voice spoke to me from the speakers embedded in the ceiling.

“Welcome back Sam. Did you have a pleasant run?”

I grunted in response. Not very polite, but this had become pretty routine by now. My supercomputer pseudo-artificial-intelligence would ask banal if well intentioned questions, I’d answer in a slightly rude if understandable series of monosyllabic response. On the one hand, it had gotten stale, but on the other it was a nice, comfortable routine. It really helped that she sounded very close to human, even though there were still some uncanny edges to it.

“I noticed your time today was higher than your previous slowest. If you’d like, I could offer words of encouragement throughout your run.”

“I honestly could think of nothing worse, Adelaide,” I said, heading through the first floor’s hallways, past the empty engineering quarters.

“Understood, Sam,” she responded, surprisingly chipper about being rejected. I could respect that.

My legs felt a bit shaky as I walked. I tried not to notice that, and tried even harder not to talk myself out of leg day. My internal struggle was ongoing when I reached the elevator that took me to the neighboring facility – the barracks, where the soldiers that would have piloted the Paladins might have stayed had they not all been horrifically slaughtered. I suppose I didn’t know if the soldiers had been horrifically slaughtered, but given that nobody had contacted me since everything went to shit, I had pretty high confidence in my guess. The elevator moved fairly quickly, and it got me wondering (not for the first time) if it should really be called an elevator considering it moved more sideways than anything. Sidevator maybe. I’ll think on it.

The barracks had a far nicer training room than the one in the main facility, which had an excuse for a gym that was composed entirely of a couple of treadmills and a set of weights. I suppose the brass assumed that a group of engineers and high-ranking officers wouldn’t need state of the art exercise equipment, or really any exercise equipment apparently. The top brass assumed a lot of stuff, but they’re all dead now, so jokes on them.

I spent a couple hours in the gym. A fringe benefit of being the only person in the entire base was the fact that I could play my early 2000s punk through the loudspeakers without anyone getting pissed at me. Amy, the other engineer that had been assigned to Camelot, had gotten me into the genre. I was born right as the fad reached its high point, so it kind of felt like a tribute to myself whenever I listened to it. That, and it was great pump up music.

The gym was probably the second loneliest space in either of the two facilities. It was massive. It had to be, considering the number of people it was supposed to accommodate. The rows and rows of identical machines did very little to dispel the desolate feeling. Though specialized exercise machines still existed in civilian gyms, these were the military’s top of the line ones. They were basically exo-suits attached to frames, and they could cycle through different regimes and weight resistances very efficiently. I could have done my jogging in them as well, but I preferred being in this room as little as possible. Also, something about jogging around the facility made me feel more connected to it, and less extraordinarily bored. As I was finishing up my last set, a truly unpleasant set of leg curls, Adelaide started speaking to me.

“Sam, I hate to interrupt you, but there is a situation you might want to know about.”

“Did one of the spider-robots break my pirate ship again, because I specifically told yo-“

“No,” Adelaide interrupted me, which took me by surprise, as she was generally very polite, “there is an Assimilator patrol approaching the perimeter.”

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