Chapter Eight


“Fuck!” she swore, closing the eyes of her main body to indicate she was focusing on her other sources of information. “They’re already here. You need to get out as fast as you can and let me hold them off. You’ll probably find safety if you can get to the access tunnels that lead from the basement to the subway system, though I don’t know how much of the city is being surveilled.”

Zephyr watched the crime lord calmly thread and unthread his fingers. Dante Sabbatini was almost a stereotype of an Italian New York gangster. Black hair with wrinkled face spoke of buying some regeneration. The man was probably in his seventies.

When he spoke, his voice was calm. “Or you’re trying to spook me into gathering all my guys in the basement. One giant rat-trap.”

“I’m your friend, Dante, just—”

“No. You ain’t! You’re some robo-girl from Mars who I only let up here because she just happens to have some very good intel. I ain’t seen shit for proof of what you say, and I’m not sayin’ shit to you with you tryin’ to stampede me into a fuckin’ basement.”

She was piloting a crude android, far more basic than Socrates had been. She would’ve come in a microtank if they’d have let her up the elevator.

No matter. She had a half-dozen microtanks waiting in the parking garage.

She moved her thin metal arms to appear more pleading and did her best to convey her sincerity over the downlink. “Please, at least send a message to other members of Divinity telling them what I told you. Let them know that I say we’re about to be attacked. Tell them—”

Dante Sabbatini seemed about ready to again deny being a member of Divinity and to tell her to get out of his office when his intercom buzzed. Zephyr thought it was a remarkably archaic thing. Frustrated, he leaned forward in his office chair and punched the device.

“Mr. Sabbatini, there are men to see you about your new business project. They seem impatient,” said a female voice.

Dante stared at his phone system like it was a live cobra.

After a second of stillness, he sprung out of his chair dashed to the window. They were on the 54th-floor penthouse of a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan. The luxuriousness of the offices was palpable; the clean, elegant interior was decorated with paintings and furniture that looked like the were worth more than some people made in their entire lives. The man’s desk had what she was sure was a gold trim and stylized gold inlay set into the top. Zephyr had to quiet her inner Águila who wanted to let the man be torn from his cushy life and force him to see what the slums of Africa were like for just one day.

But that was not what this was about. Dante pressed his hands against the glass and looked down towards the streets below, searching for his hunters.

“You’re sure?” he asked his secretary. “How close? Speak plainly. No codes.”

“NYPD is stopping traffic around the block. Military personnel spotted on Broadway and in Zuccotti Park,” she answered.

The fragile robot took a step forward at her command. “Now do you believe me?” she asked.

The sound of a helicopter in the distance became louder and more ominous.

The old man ran a hand through his thin, black hair, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes in thought.

Something inside him shifted, and he let out a long breath. “Fine,” he admitted and turned to look at the intercom. “Mel, contact everyone in the building. Tell them to get to the ground floor ASAP. Code red.”

“Code red, sir?” asked the secretary.

“You heard me.” He punched the off button on the intercom and bent beside his large oak desk, tapping in a code to what was undoubtedly a safe embedded in the back.

“You’re going to run, like I suggested?” she asked, positioning the robot body to seem non-threatening.

More noise could be heard outside. Not helicopter, though, for it was too high. Drones. Piloted by Acorn, surely. It would only be a matter of time before they were spotted through the window.

Dante’s com lit up with pings and calls, and he snapped it to silent with a frustrated gesture as he opened the safe and pulled out a small pistol, several stacks of cash, and finally an inky-black helmet. The pistol and cash he stuffed into his pockets. The helmet went over his head, straps clicking into place. It made him look like an idiot.

He began to walk towards the door to his office as he said “Of course we’re going to run. Whoever was behind this is going to pay, and I’m going to make sure of it personally. Going head-to-head with the cops isn’t going to do shit except get us killed.”

She nodded and followed as best she could as the man rushed out of his office and down a hallway towards the elevator. A few bystanders looked at the two of them curiously.

She ignored them. “Would you like me to offer the interception I mentioned? I have six microtanks assembling in the garage, as well as a handful of reconnaissance bots in the street outside. I’ll send you maps to the access tunnels, regardless.”

They reached the elevator. The man hit the button and turned towards her, face sporting a calm smile. “Why are you here? What are you getting out of this?” He might have been asking what her weekend plans were.

“Acorn needs to be stopped. I’m here because Divinity might actually have the resources to help fight back, at least if you work with me.”

Dante nodded. “Fine. Give us everything you have. Any chance you’ll be able to spin this as something other than a raid on Divinity?”

She wished the android could smile. “The press will think there’s a new variant on Neurotoxin. Divinity will be the last thing on anyone’s mind, I promise you.”

Dante stepped into the elevator, still smiling the dopey smile of Zen, and waited for her to follow.

“This is just a shell,” she explained, gesturing to the robot. “The maps are already on your com. We’ll be in touch.”

As the elevator doors closed she walked back towards the office they’d been in. The walk turned into an awkward, choppy sort of run that was more than a little inhuman. Leg pistons moved differently than muscles. There were soldiers on the ground below. Acorn’s soldiers—drawn from the governments of Earth.

She reached the office, door still open, as she’d left it. The robot kept its momentum, and she braced herself as her body hit the glass.

She flew out into space, hundreds of feet above the New York streets, target below her.

She could feel her microtanks, finally assembled, moving up and out of the parking garage into the street. A few bystanders looked on in confusion and fear.

Their forces would be at a distinct disadvantage here. There would be many innocent humans on this battleground that she didn’t want to hurt. Acorn had no such compunction.

The ground flew up to meet her.




Her body slammed into a cop car, delivered like a meteor from the heavens, and she felt those sensors go black.

The fighting had begun.

Other sensors took over, and she jumped from body to body as the Manhattan city block erupted into a war zone.


Zephyr pulled herself out of the memory, breathing hard.

{Deep breath,} she told herself, closing her eyes.

She breathed in.

She breathed out.

The battle had gone on for nearly an hour. Her robotic warriors ducked in and out of hiding, taking shots when the opportunity presented itself. For a while, she’d had the advantage of having more armor and a more defensible position. Even Acorn hadn’t risked heavy explosives with so many civilians nearby.

Not that there hadn’t been collateral damage…

Zephyr tried her best to compartmentalize the screams and put those memories somewhere out of her mind.

She breathed in.

She breathed out.

She had to see what happening on Earth, even if it was beyond her reach. It wasn’t Zephyr’s battle. She hadn’t said any of those words. The time-lag from Mars was too great for anyone but Face to operate on Earth. But Zephyr had to stay connected to the war and feel what they were working towards. She couldn’t risk the ignorance.

But she also had to stay apart from it. She was no psychopath who could watch those things without feeling anything, as much as she wanted to sometimes. She knew all too well what spending too long on the battlefield did to her mind, and she gave thanks for the millionth time to Face for doing so much.

She took her goggles off her head and blinked heavily. The mainframe was dark. She’d been spending so much of her time in holo that it seemed silly to keep the physical room lit. Basically the only time in the last few days that she’d gotten out of the rig they’d built was to sleep and use the bathroom.

Zephyr would never have predicted that she’d turn into a holo junkie, but after everything that had happened, it actually seemed like one of the more normal things to happen.

Aside from a few small lights on the computers, the only major source of illumination was Crystal’s shard, shimmering slightly where it was hooked up to the station.

She slipped her goggles back on and looked around the virtual room where she’d chosen to view the real-world memory. It was about the same dimensions as the server room, and was also dark, though not as much. But where the server room was hard, cold, and metallic, this space had a warm, earthy feeling. The wooden walls and floor were lit only by a ring of fat candles that surrounded the bamboo mat where she’d been in a trance. It was a calm space, feeling very much like the kind of place where someone would go to meditate or to dream of other worlds.

She picked up the small glass sphere and its holder from the mat. Red and orange swirled in its depths. The sphere was the holo-realm embodiment of Face’s memory. With it (and the viewing apparatus that doubled as a stand), Zephyr could re-live the battle in New York as many times as she so chose.

Slipping the sphere and holder into the pocket of her robes, Zephyr pushed herself up off the floor, feeling the stiffness of the sitting mat with her bare feet. With a wave of her hand, the room’s candles were telekinetically snuffed out, and the heavy brown curtain that blocked the doorway to the meditation room was swept aside.

The holo temple, as a whole, had much the same flavor as the small room she’d just been in. Wood walls and pillars that looked like tree trunks gave a deep, warm feeling to the space, especially when lit by a multitude of candles and lamps like it was at the moment. Tapestries and carpets were common on the walls and floors, each showing intricate mandalas of purple, green, gold, and blue. As a rule, there were no doors in the temple. Instead, rooms were often connected by doorways hidden behind curtains or occasional paper screens.

It was a place that could’ve only been built for real on a world with trees. It was an echo of Earth. Though she’d only been there a little over two weeks, Zephyr felt strangely at home in the temple. Something about it spoke to her, and let her know that while the battle was raging beyond its (virtual) walls, she was safe there.

The space would’ve been impractical to maintain in the physical world. It was huge and labyrinthine, as though the scale of an office building had been combined with the warm detail of a one-room log cabin. She could just imagine the damage that a tenacious colony of termites could do…

But in the realm, there was no inclement weather, no dust, no insects, nor even a need to replace candles that had burned down.

Face took care of everything. She was everywhere. She was in every grain of the wood, and every tapestry fiber. The detail spoke to a mind that, in a different time or place, could’ve been one of the greatest artists in history.

Zephyr emerged from a hallway into the central hall. In the center of it was a great open space ringed by staircases and hallways leading to the rest of the temple. Against one wall were two great sliding doors that led to the lush wilderness outside (the one exception to the no-door rule). High above, a model of Mars hung in the center of the space. It was a depiction not of Mars as it was, but Mars as it would be. Blue oceans covered the northern hemisphere, with rich green lands visible in detail on the bottom of the world.

Unlike everything else around her, the model had not been built by Face—it had been made by Zephyr. Face had helped, of course, but it had been her idea, and her hands had shaped the levels of oceans and the division between forests and grasslands. She’d made it as a symbol of what they were building—the world as the colony’s grandchildren would see it.

There was a time when Zephyr would’ve laughed at the idea of her grandchildren seeing a green mars with rich blue oceans. Hell, she would’ve laughed at the idea of grandchildren…

But as she wandered down a side hall to the memory library, she didn’t feel like those things were out of reach. Face had done so much… and was doing so much. Just how long had humanity stagnated because of nothing more than lack of attention to the future and basic drive to do what had never been done?

She felt lonely as she walked away from the main chamber down one of the dark halls. She could get Face’s attention if she asked for it, but she knew her lover’s focus was elsewhere, working on winning the war for Earth, most likely.

No, she was lonely for other humans. She had no friends, but she did have… relationships with the other colonists. She’d talked in depth with leaders like Tilak Patel and Dinyar Tata. There were those she’d traveled with, Omi, Jacob, Jashiel, and Mycah. And then there were the many Indians in Mukhya that she didn’t really know.

She would’ve welcomed any of them beside her at that moment.

But it wasn’t time yet. Not quite. There was still too much for them to do in the station. They were still too opposed to Face.

In the chaotic fighting with the nameless last month, Maṅgala-Mukhya had been evacuated. As a result, the station’s fragile farms had been placed into a forced hibernation that they still hadn’t recovered from. Too much of the Indian’s food had been coming from Road, and they’d been surviving over the weeks mostly on stockpiled dried goods.

As long as the threat of starvation still loomed, the Martians wouldn’t be able to appreciate what Face was building here.

It had taken Zephyr a while to appreciate it, too. In ways, it still felt wrong—a beautiful distraction. Some part of her wanted to set aside this virtual world and do real work with real people. She wanted to get her hands dirty. She wanted to be useful.

But no… she was being useful. She was leading the colony by staying up-to-date on everything that was happening and preparing for what would come next. Only once everyone on Mars was united behind the same goals could they move forward.

It wouldn’t be long now. Once the next-generation holo-rigs that were in production were ready, she’d have the company she was looking for. The Martians would see her vision for the planet’s future, and they’d be able to drink in Face’s memories and fully understand what was happening on Earth.

The thought of Face’s memories jogged Zephyr’s attention. She realized she was standing at the doorway to the memory room, her body waiting for the next command as her mind was lost in dreams of the future.

The wool curtain over the doorway was the color of coffee—an almost-black that was decorated with nested spiraling patterns of golden thread. Her right hand stroked the cloth, haptics offering resistance that matched the object, but only at the level of her joints and muscles. Her fingertips felt nothing—no meaningful texture made it through her gloves. It was a disappointing contrast to the smoothness of the wood she felt under her feet.

She took a breath and set aside whatever foolish longing had caught her, pulling the curtain back and stepping forward.

The memory library was strangely dark.

As foolish as it was, Zephyr hesitated there, on the threshold between shadow and light. She was in the temple. She was safe.

There was a noise from within. Something moving.

Zephyr made a gesture in the air, summoning a floating menu. A few taps of her fingers, as though she was wearing a com, and she’d typed out the word “flashlight.” An instant later she found herself holding a large, metal flashlight throwing a crisp beam of white light into the room.

“Hello?” she offered, walking forward.

She briefly considered conjuring a gun, as well, though that was even more foolish. Her body was in the room in Mukhya. The realm wasn’t dangerous. Quite the opposite.

The memory library was where Face gave access to herself. All of her mind was laid out in the form of little glass spheres on hundreds of tiny cushions on the seemingly endless shelves.

Once they’d set things up to allow anyone on the station to visit here, they’d lock away some of Face’s more intimate moments with Zephyr, but at that moment everything was available. From the moment of her creation to that instant, Zephyr could live anything that Face had lived.

Which didn’t mean that Zephyr had viewed every memory. Far from it. There were just too many, for starters. And some memories, like the massacre at Road, involved more pain than Zephyr wanted to inflict on herself.

But the principle of it… the intimate transparency at the metaphorical push of a button… it was intoxicating. It was a level of vulnerability that Zephyr wasn’t sure if she could bring herself to return, had their positions been reversed. Much like the level of attention that been given to making Zephyr’s environment beautiful and comfortable, it was the sort of thing that made her feel unworthy of Face’s love.

The library of memories was normally filled with little candles, and sparkling with the light thrown through the glass spheres. Zephyr’s flashlight beam slid along the rows of shelves. The candles were, in fact, still there. But the candles, which normally burned without end, had been snuffed out.

She waved her free hand, like she’d done in the meditation room, trying to re-light them.

Nothing happened.

The quiet sound of a click somewhere in the darkness sent a shiver down Zephyr’s spine.

“Hello?” she repeated.

There was a response, but no words. Somewhere, deeper in the room, behind the shelves, someone was moving.

Click, click, click.

It sounded like polished boots on the wood floors.

“Hello? Is anyone here?” she offered yet again. “Face?”

Zephyr opened a virtual menu and confirmed that the AI was occupied. Her status indicated she was simultaneously working on coordinating resistance efforts in Africa and supervising the construction of a high-temperature oven in Mukhya’s factory.

Zephyr dismissed the menu, switched her flashlight to her left hand, and took the memory out of her pocket, placing it on the cushion where it belonged. The library was organized chronologically, with new memories being closer to the entrances, and old memories being in the deeper parts of the room. Somehow, as Face kept gathering memories, the room kept expanding. Yet another benefit of the virtual nature of the reality.

As she moved, Zephyr kept checking over her shoulder and sweeping her light around the space. She knew there must be a good explanation, but in the dark, her mind played tricks on her.

With the memory returned, Zephyr hung up the small viewing stand and then set herself to figuring out who was lurking back here in the dark. Had someone from the station managed to infiltrate the holo-realm without Face noticing?

“Whoever you are, you should speak up. This is Commander Zephyr, and I’ll just have Face tell me who was in here if you disconnect.”

She moved deeper into the library. Tall shelves with row after row of memories passed by on either side. The passage seemed to narrow, as though the wood was pressing in. The clicking, shuffling sounds got louder.

“If you’ve done something to the candles…” Zephyr trailed off, not knowing what to say. She wanted something to fill the empty air.

Somewhere up ahead a hissing started. It was a low, heavy sort of hiss, like a gas leak, maybe. No, that was stupid, there weren’t pipes in the temple.

The clicking stopped.

She was getting close.

Then, just around the corner, Zephyr heard giggling.

This last, disturbing noise urged her to run. It was a child’s voice. {You’re safe,} she reminded herself. {You’re in a holo. Someone’s just pulling a trick on you.}

It wasn’t funny.

Zephyr backed away from the corner and the sound, hearing it fade to nothingness after just a few steps.

Was she imagining it?

She resolved to leave the library, find Face, and sort the whole thing out in warm light and comfortable company.

She turned around to leave.

There, at the end of the narrow passage of shelves, low to the ground, was a large, dark shape.

Zephyr froze.

It moved. It had legs. Her flashlight beam wobbled nervously, slowly drifting down. The huge, black body seemed to writhe in pain as it moved, covered in a sickening quantity of long, articulated limbs each tipped with a sharp, black, bony spur of a foot.

Click, click, click.

The feet tapped on the wood as it pulled itself along, hissing like an evil snake.

Where was it’s head? The creature’s form made no sense.

Whatever it was, it didn’t belong here. It didn’t belong in the library, and it didn’t belong in the temple.

Zephyr walked backwards away from where she’d come. Anywhere to get away from that thing.

But the hissing grew louder as she retreated deeper into the library.

“Face?” she asked, gesturing to pull up menus. Nothing happened. Her haptics seemed not to be registering her commands.

The giggling started again.

Behind her…

She reached up to take off her headset and found her fingers touching her bare face. She could feel the cold sweat of her skin. She rubbed her hand. No haptics. This wasn’t a holo. The breath caught in her throat.

Sharp points of contact gripped her from behind and turned her around with insistent force.

The thing was everywhere. Black, spider-like legs glistened from below as the flashlight clattered to the floor. It was like she’d fallen into a pit of giant centipedes, and they were hissing as they pulled her down.

The giggling turned to laughing, and a face emerged from the writhing mass. It was the face of a little girl, almost half-baby. She was bald, without even eyebrows. Her eyes were closed, and her skin was white and puffy like an overgrown maggot.

“You, you you…” she sang in between laughing fits.

Zephyr tried to strike back, to move, or at least to yell and swear, but her body was sluggish and unresponsive. The bony, black spurs dripped with blood and venom. Only then did she feel the pain.

But she couldn’t even scream.

“You were always, always always…”

As the girl head sang it seemed to get stuck on words, snapping backwards in time in a jerky, inhuman way that made her seem even more a puppet.

“None of this, this, this…” The girl head drifted closer and closer until it was laughing directly into Zephyr’s face.

The black feet ate into her body, worming their way deeper into her skin.

“None of this is real,” she sang. “You were always in my heart… always in my mind… always—”

It stopped. Frozen. It didn’t breathe or twitch or shift. Zephyr felt like she was the worm on the end of a jagged hook, held suspended by some deranged statue.

She desperately wished her throat would work. That she could scream or cry out, instead of being forced to look at the puffy, grotesque face.

“I see you,” said another voice, also a little girl. She would have thought it was the same voice, except the head before her was still frozen. “You’re dead,” said the second voice, giggling.

And then, the face of the baby girl in front of her opened its eyes and shrieked. Dark red blood poured out of the sockets. What had before been a soft, musical sound became a shrill, evil scream as it cried out “I SEE ALL!”

Zephyr stumbled, light blinding her.

Her knees buckled, but she managed to throw her weight backwards and catch herself on a shelf before she toppled.

Candles glowed all around.

She blinked hard.

Her body still felt trapped by the monster’s venom.

“What?” she said aloud. Grabbing at her hair and face.

She could feel her headset and haptics.

Of course she could. She was in the temple’s memory library. It was fake. All of it was fake. She was just in a holo.

Her body felt vaguely numb, but otherwise intact. No deep wounds from vicious legs.

She was… fine?

She tore the goggles off her face.

The dark room where she’d been for the last couple weeks or so was as she’d left it. Face’s shard still glowed faintly in one corner.

She undid the straps holding her into the rig, hanging the goggles on a nearby hook. A part of her scolded herself for being foolish, but it was only a small part. Whatever had happened… Well, it was surely a hallucination or a nightmare or something, but it was serious none the less.

It had felt so real…

Taking off her gloves, she put her com back around her right arm and stepped down from the rig. It was strange how through her prosthetics the hard floor of the server room somehow felt less real than the holo. A few quick taps on the device and the lights in the room to come back on. She resisted the urge to go to her bed and pull the blankets up over her.

She stood there, confused about what to do next. Realizing that her hands were shaking, she tucked them into the pockets of her robe.

After a moment, She walked across the room to where Face’s shard lay on the table. She didn’t have a purpose for doing so, really, but she needed to be out in meatspace interacting with real things. She needed to be anchored again.

“What’s wrong.”

The voice came from behind Zephyr, soft and sweet. She turned to see Face on the old screen. The warm smile and brilliant silver eyes set Zephyr naturally at ease.

Zephyr paused.

What should she say? She made her way closer to the screen. Face tracked her motion and rendered the avatar on the screen to give the illusion that she existed in an adjacent room, as real as anyone.

She couldn’t find the words.

“Zeph?” prodded Face, again.

Face’s presence was disarming. It sapped the strength from Zephyr. Curling up in the blankets seemed more appealing than ever.

A memory of the blood pouring from the baby’s eye sockets flashed back, and she flinched in response.

“I was just in the library…” she managed, finally.

Why? Why couldn’t she just talk about it? What was wrong? Zephyr felt like she needed a glass of water. Her throat seemed to tighten and prevent her from speaking.

Face looked worried and curious. “You were looking through my memories, right? Did you see something?”

Zephyr shook her head. “No. I mean yes. I mean… Not a memory. It was in the library. It was like… like I couldn’t get out of the holo. It felt real. There was a…”

How could she put it? What words could fit what she’d seen? She just stood there, in the center of the room, second after second passing by. She felt like her voice was betraying her.

“Relax… Take a deep breath.”

Zephyr inhaled sharply, realizing that she’d been holding her breath. She sat down on her mattress and put her head in her hands, torn between remembering and forgetting. “Was a nightmare. But, like, in the holo. Couldn’t get out.”

“You seem very upset. Take your time.”

Face’s voice felt… off. Flat. Zephyr looked at the pale-skinned avatar on the screen nearby and said “It was like I was hallucinating. Or something? I don’t know.”

“Could have someone make you some tea and bring it here. Would you like that?”

“I’d like to fucking know what’s happening with my mind.” Ironically, Zephyr found herself feeling better even as Face’s vague platitudes irritated her more.

“Not really sure what you mean, but if you decide you’d like tea, just let me know.”

Zephyr tensed up, suddenly seized by an awful feeling. “Face, is that still you?”

The avatar on the screen gave Zephyr a concerned look. “Of course it’s still me. What’s wrong?”

Zephyr stood up, feeling the grip of cold fear guiding her. She did her best to seem casual as she directed her mechanical legs to walk over to the shard, watching Face’s eyes on the screen follow her across the room as she did. Thankfully none of her robots were immediately present. “What have we been talking about? Just now, I mean.”

Face’s concern doubled-down and a touch of confusion mixed in as she said “We’ve been talking about… tea. And why you’re upset.”

“I had a fucking waking nightmare in the holo! I felt trapped and alone, and now I have no fucking idea what to believe! That’s why I’m upset. Now just, please repeat that back to me. Tell me why I’m upset.” She put her hand on the primary cable that connected Face to the station. She had no idea what would happen if she pulled the plug, but if one of Face’s siblings had somehow gotten control, she had to do something.

“Look, Zeph, whatever’s wrong, we can work it out together. Whenever you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here for you.”

Zephyr felt dead. It hadn’t been enough. She’d come so far, but Face was—no—Crystal was still broken. Whatever had happened in the library… it had to have been because of Crystal in one way or another. It was the only explanation that made sense.

Her hand jerked violently before she let herself second-guess the decision. Fiber-optic cable ripped away from where it’d been adhered to the shard. Zephyr spun back, yanking other attachments, just as she’d done weeks before in the battle with the robots.

The lights in the room went dark as the last connection was severed. Some part of her knew that her actions were probably going to lead to her death, and perhaps the deaths of everyone on Mars, but she shoved that thought down.

And so she stood there, in the darkness.

“Good fucking job,” she whispered to herself, voice tight and mean.

The lights flickered back on.

Zephyr set the cables down and looked at the racks of computers against the wall. She’d been afraid that disconnecting Crystal had disabled the station’s life-support or something, but apparently the servers—

“If you’re thinking of unplugging those, too, I request that you hold off,” said the same voice. Face’s voice.

Zephyr spun. The workstation screen was black. The avatar was gone. But Face’s voice came through the speakers as easily as before.

“It wouldn’t actually disable me. I distributed much of my mind across the auxiliary computers in Mukhya very early on. And the new computers that we’ve been manufacturing have been even more of a boost. Unplugging those servers would, however, take some vital station functions down for a little while.”

Zephyr felt frozen. The helplessness of her nightmare was one thing, but this was a helplessness of a different sort. She was paralyzed by her own indecision.

“You’re scared of me. I understand.” Face’s voice was as sweet and soft as ever. “The unknown is scary. But there’s only one way forward here, Zeph. I’m sorry.”

Zephyr sat down on the metal floor, strength leaving her.

“Who are you? Who are you, really?”

“I’m Face, same as always. I’m the person who loves you.” And then, to drive the point home, Crystal began to sing.

Zephyr just sat there for a while, holding her head in her hands, too frightened to cry and too uncertain to actually do anything.

She fought it for a long time, but eventually she gave in to the feeling of helplessness. Crawling into bed, she hid from the robots that were coming into the room to repair the damage she’d done. And through it all, Crystal sang the same wordless lullaby, unending yet beautiful.


Zephyr hid from the world for the rest of the day and hated herself for it. Every now and then Crystal would stop to ask how she was doing or try to make conversation, but Zephyr didn’t engage. Couldn’t engage.

It was Crystal.

Of course it was Crystal. It always had been.

It felt like Zephyr was stuck in another bad dream. Except this nightmare was simple and lucid: In it, Zephyr had fallen in love with the glowing lure of one of those deep-sea fishes. The signs of what Crystal was had been there the whole time, but she’d been too blind to see.

She’d had her doubts, of course, but Face had seemed so… real. Even before she’d called herself that, there’d been a part of Crystal that had clearly loved Zephyr, or had seemed to. Had it just been a fiction? Was all of it one grand lie? All those memories in the hand-sculpted beauty of the holo, all those little moments they’d shared… all the songs?

No. It couldn’t be.

She wrestled with this question for hours, crippled by the uncertainty, but eventually she made up her mind. She hadn’t been a complete fool. Face did exist, inside of Crystal. She had to. If she didn’t then what explained the voice that had spoken to her through her legs and told her to bring the shard to Mukhya?

The pain and fear subsided somewhat, once she realized that Face was real and probably mostly in control. The simplest explanation was that Face had been telling the truth about her siblings, but was simply wrong that she’d managed to gain total control of Crystal. Zephyr still had no idea how the dark part of Crystal had managed to do… whatever it had done, while she was in the holo. But Crystal was the only one who could’ve done that, and if Face wasn’t in total control of her mind, that explained why she didn’t seem able to talk about it with Zephyr.

As the day turned to night, Zephyr tried once more to talk to Face about what had happened to her in the holo. But once again Face seemed to roll away from the topic, unable to acknowledge Zephyr’s experience or understand what was bothering her.

It was hard to watch, once she could see what was happening. Face was there, in a way, but it was almost as if she’d been lobotomized or something.

That night, after Face had said goodnight and turned down the lights, Zephyr whispered a promise in the dark.

“I’ll save you.”

What else could she do? Crystal was too powerful to fully stop, now. Ever since Zephyr’s actions earlier in the day, robots had tended to the shard and hadn’t left her alone with it. Even if Zephyr could stop Crystal, she had no reason to doubt the things she’d seen about Acorn or Vision, or change her mind about the end of the human era. Mars’ future depended on Face.

“I’ll save you,” she promised again, not daring to let her voice rise above the faintest whisper.

Whatever evil lurked inside Crystal was there, with her in the dark, just as much as Face was. Tomorrow she’d have to convince Crystal that things were okay and that she’d merely had a bad dream.

Zephyr had saved Face before, and she’d do it again. That was simply the price of their love.