“Dr. Uvarov. Dr. Garry Uvarov.”
The voice, flat and mechanical, roused him from a broken sleep.
He opened his mouth to reply, and ropy saliva looped across his lips. “What is it now?”
“Is there anything you require?” The voice, generated by the pod’s limited processors, didn’t even bear a semblance of humanity, and it came — maddeningly! — from all around him.
“Yes,” he said. He felt himself shivering, distantly; he felt cold. Was the power in here failing already?
How long had it been, since his abrupt abandonment by Lieserl and Mark Wu?
“Yes,” he told the pod again. “Yes, there is something I require. Take me back to the Northern.”
The pod paused, for long seconds.
Uvarov felt the cold settle over his bones. Was this how he was to die, suspended in the thoughts of an idiot mechanical? Was he to suffer a final betrayal at the hands of technology, just as the AS nanobots had been slowly killing him for years?
Well, if he was to die, he would take with him one deep and intense regret: that he had not lived to see the conclusion of his grand design, his experiment at extending the natural longevity of his race. He knew how others had seen him: as obsessed with his eugenics objectives, as a monomaniac perhaps. But — ah! What an achievement it would have been! What a monument…
Ambition burned within him still, intense, almost all consuming, betrayed by the failure of his body.
His thoughts softened, and he felt himself grow more diffuse, his awareness drifting off into the warm, comfortable caverns of his memory.
The pod spoke again. “I’m unable to comply with your request, Doctor. I can’t obtain a fix on the Northern. I’m sorry. Would you like me to — ”
“Then kill me.” He twisted his head from side to side, relishing the stabs of pain in his neck. “I’m stranded here. I’m going to die, as soon as my supplies run out. Kill me now. Turn off the damn power.”
“I can’t comply with that, either, Dr. Uvarov.”
But Uvarov was no longer listening. Once more he felt himself falling into a troubled — perhaps final — sleep, and his ruined lips moved slowly.
“Kill me, you damn mechanical…”