by Anders Sandberg

(Published in Homo Excelsior #1)

Still carrying the vacuum cleaner I slammed the door shut behind me, overcome with a sudden and unexpected sense of dread. As I moved to lock the door I caught a glimpse of silver beneath the threshold and my diffuse fear crystallised into a single word: Quicksilver!

The key fell to the floor, its head already melted by the quicksilver that was leaking out towards me. I didn't wait for the elevator (it would appear far too late to save me now) and rushed down the stairs. I realised that an aspect of my exoself must have noticed some sign of the presence of the quicksilver in my apartment and warned me; I remotely sensed the presence of local security and NERDs trying to calm me down, but panic tends to disrupt my usually quite clear link with the noosphere.

To say I was panicked would be a criminal understatement -- this was a matter of nearly primal fear. I knew like all modern people what the quicksilver would do to me if even the slightest drop of that diffusely malevolent intelligent liquid touched me. Floor after floor rushed past as I spiralled down, my feet hammering against the marble steps and walls (a marble staircase on a vintage twentieth century apartment ship: absurd, but probably historically correct).

I knew the Quicksilver was close, it had my scent, both digital and physical, and would not stop until it was contained or (more likely) I was a silver-flecked brown puddle. A glint in the corner of my eye confirmed my fear: a thin stream of silver flowed down the central pillar of the stair following me. It was slowly outflowing me, but I still had a few meters advantage which I desperately tried to invest in more distance. That I had survived the attack in the apartment was almost a miracle in itself, and the quicksilver was obviously unprepared for a chase. Whoever or whatever that had created the quicksilver menace originally had obviously intended it as a surprise weapon rather than sure-kill assassination device, a gnatbot with a nanotoxin or a plain bomb would have been a much more cost-effective than a mesoscale intelligent liquid.

Bursting into the foyer like a screaming maniac, I jumped from the last steps with a great leap. What I saw turned my panic ice-cold. People were fleeing from the quicksilver that were pooling on the white-carpeted floor like huge mirror shards; although it usually had only a single target, it sometimes went after others too. The devious entity! While I was fleeing from a small trickle the rest of it must have poured down a ventilator shaft to ambush me here. The tropical blue sky reflected ironically from the malign mirror.

I managed to land on an island of carpet, the quicksilver immediately flowed over it but I had managed to jump towards another island. Fortunately it didn't seem to have the volume to cover the entire floor, but it was clearly spreading quickly and eating up the last safe islands. I threw myself towards a remaining fleck just as it was replaced by mirrored surface. For a brief instant all was lost, then some aspect of my mind flared up and threw the small vacuum-cleaner forward ญญ in my panic I had completely forgotten that I was holding it despite banging it against the stairwell several times during my flight downwards. My feet hit the plastic cover, and I threw myself with my last strength towards the steps up to the main deck.

Just as I hit the steps with a painful crash my mind froze. It was as if it had vanished: the links to my external processors were broken. The quicksilver existed in the noosphere too, and was quite able to infiltrate and bring down communications of its victims. I couldn't move, trapped in my own slow and hurting flesh as a scintillating wave of silver flowed towards me.

A strong hand hauled me up; I had a brief glimpse of the blue coverall of a NERD agent before I was thrown with surprising swiftness and precision over the railing of the ship. My mind had simply given up trying to deal with things, and just peacefully noticed that the sky, the sea and the hull of the ship complemented each other nicely as they spun around. Then I hit the water and blacked out.

I woke up in a lifeboat together with a NERD and one of the ship's security officers. The last of the quicksilver was dripping down the hull into the water, where it sank. The devilish liquid had never been a good swimmer, and the NERDs were pouring milky disassemblers into the water killing everything of diamond and silicon. I was safe. I sent a resume command to my exoself and allowed myself to become unconscious again.