It takes me a few minutes to talk my way in. Then we have to move some furniture and a rug to expose the basement trapdoor.

It hasn't been opened in a few years. There's a lot of dust around the place, though not too many cobwebs. All things considered, Ed left the place remarkably tidy. He took about half of his old equipment with him to America, along with all his data, stored on his unimaginably fast computer. The stuff he left behind is heavier, less useful junk. A regular computer, probably operational but hopelessly obsolete by this point. Six or seven dull-looking devices, each designed to interface remotely with a unique particle accelerator somewhere in the world... something Ed doesn't do anymore. There's a miniature gyro stabiliser, unusual in that I built it, not Ed - still, as far as I know, an integral part of every Hughes-MacPherson J8 Bipedal Armoured Mechanoid. There are other bits of electronic equipment scattered around the various workbenches. Pieces of curved metal, a few model spaceships... a bundle of screwdrivers and less readily identifiable tools, an old projector bolted to the ceiling...

I open up one of the metal cabinets under a workbench and lift a few spindles of blank DVDs onto the floor. Then I reach further in and pull out a red plastic ring, one metre across. And a remote control.

"Superb."

The girl who let me in is watching from the steps as I yank the keyboard and mouse out of the old computer. I put the mouse and remote in my pockets, and bound back up the steps with the keyboard in one hand and ring in the other. "Got what I needed, thanks," I say as I pass her.

"What is that?" she asks.

I'm already at the door. "It's a very long story."

"It looks like a hula hoop." she asks.

"Well spotted, it's not," I shout over my shoulder while walking back out to the mech. "I don't have time to explain and you probably wouldn't believe me anyway. Watch it on the news tomorrow morning, like everyone else. Marcus, you there? I need to put this ring over one of the mech's fingers. We need to carry it externally since it doesn't have an airlock."

The mech holds a hand out and I am able to slip the ring over its left index finger before climbing back into the cockpit. I take a last look back. The girl has followed me out. "What's going on?" she shouts. There's no point in answering, so I don't.

"I just got sent some coordinates from SDC Response," says Marcus as the mech folds back together again. "Apparently this is where we have to go next. Thing is, this is about a thousand miles above central India. Is that right?"

"Yup," I say. "We can't put the ring on Earth, the backlash from an asteroid tearing through atmosphere at point one c would be too damaging in itself. We're going to build it in space, it's the only way."

Marcus begins flexing his fingers, and the mech begins to rise. "Do we want to arrive stationary at these coordinates?"

"Yes, geostationary, please, and zero vertical component; we'll be maintaining constant altitude manually so there's no chance of falling into atmo while we wait. And preferably within half an hour so we have time for the construction."

"Right. At two gees with a turnover halfway I can get you there in good time. Two gees is a little heavier than you're used to but you should be fine in that seat. Are you strapped in?"

"Pretty much," I say, and I find myself squashed down into my seat as the mech begins accelerate southeast, rapidly gaining altitude.

*

"Sam," buzzes a voice in my ear as we tear over France.

"Ed. What's happening? Don't you have a program to write?"

"No, I've got Tyro doing that."

"Who's Tyro?"

"Oh, that's right. You don't know. Tyro is the AI that spawned from my propositional logic calculator back in 2000."

"You let it loose? Dude, I thought it was quarantined!"

"I know, I know, federal laws, men in dark glasses, I don't care, Sam. Tyro is a genius if you give him enough processing power to work with - which we have - and there's no way I could write a flawless UC program on my own in this little time. I had no choice in the matter and I'm not honestly worried about tribunals or whatever. Besides, Tyro is totally benevolent, as you well know."

"Well... if you say so. So... what's up? I assume you're not just calling to chat."

"Given that all the necessary cogs are now in motion I have a free moment to talk. You said it yourself, Sam: no way in hell does a rock move that fast, on that flat a trajectory, directly out of the Sun so we can't see it and directly towards the most populous location on Earth, by chance. No way. Somebody threw it at us."

"The Eridanians?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. I find it hard to believe anybody survived the energy virus when it first went off."

"They could have been posted in another solar system at the time. Maybe ours."

"Doesn't matter. The fact remains. Somebody up there wants us all dead. If they discover what we're trying to do, chances are they'll try to stop it. I think the ring is probably going to come under attack. That's why half of the world's mechs are going to be meeting you at the rendezvous point and the other half are coming to where I am. You have to defend the ring, before, during and after construction."

"Me? Can't Marcus do it remotely?"

"Well, he should be doing it, he's listening in. Aren't you?"

"Yup," says Marcus.

"I'm just saying, is all. Be ready. You might end up getting thrown about a bit."

"See, this is why I never joined the SDC, you know. The whole risking death thing. We should never have built this accursed giant robot in the first place."

"Aww, come on. Without us, the world would've been destroyed or enslaved half a dozen times over by now. Relax, forty-five minutes and it's all over."

Next: Final Approach

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