Chapter Twenty-Two


Her first memory on awakening was spasming as though she’d stumbled, and hearing Major’s whine as she jostled him. She must’ve been dreaming, but she couldn’t remember any of it. All she had was a nasty cold sweat and the feeling of suffocating.

It was bitterly cold in the airplane, and she did her best to wriggle deeper under the blankets that Face had given her without disturbing Major. The sun was low enough in the sky that it shone a cold light directly through the window on the opposite side of the plane from where she sat.

She looked away, partly because of the glare, but also because Myrodyn had been laid out on the two seats on the other side of the aisle.

She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the pain and the noise of the engines. Face had said they were lucky that the engines hadn’t been damaged in the escape. Acorn’s robots had only managed to put a few holes in the fuselage, forcing them to keep their altitude relatively low (though it was still unbearably cold).

Xandra didn’t feel lucky.

She felt like she was dying.

Her hands and neck were wrapped in tight bandages. That was where the mechanical insects had done the most damage. But she had dozens of cuts and wounds on her head, face, and body that simply had to go untreated. There was only so much gauze in the first-aid kit, and most everything that could be used for medical treatment had been used on the bullet wounds that the others had taken.

At least she hadn’t lost her eyes. Under the blankets, one of her hands absently touched Major’s head near the eye he’d lost to the insects, and he growled, still half-asleep. The thought of having ugly lidless sockets, like Mr. Malka, haunted her.

Thinking about Major’s injury made her think about Eyepatch. She felt her mind roll away from the memories. On some level she was aware that she was avoiding thinking about it, but that seemed good. Better to focus on… anything else.

She took a deep breath, or tried to. She began to cough, every wound on her body screaming in protest as she tensed, blood and phlegm coming out and making a mess on the blanket.

Face seemed to notice she was awake and began to walk over to her. The robotic suit of armor no longer held Malka, who was curled up under his own pile of blankets one row ahead of Myrodyn. The once-terrifying man seemed like a broken shell of a person, now. He’d avoided being hurt by the “wasps,” but he’d still taken two bullets, one in the shoulder and one in the lower back. Without legs or eyes he was helpless, but there was more to his brokenness than either his disabilities or his wounds. He’d said barely anything in all the hours they’d been in the air, to her, or to Face. It was like all the life had been sucked out of him.

Even the robot wasn’t doing well, though that was more a fact of the mechanical body than of the artificial intelligence. It had taken a lot of gunfire, and could barely move one leg. The blood and cold made its working joints stiff and slow, and Xandra knew it was struggling to keep a battery charge.

“How are you feeling?” asked Face. Despite the general brokenness of the machine, the voice of the AI came through as a clear, warm comfort. It reminded her of the voice of…

Her mind rolled away from the pain.

“Terrible,” she croaked. “Still feel cold.”

“Well, dear, we are in Alaska in February. Approximately.” The robot bent over her to rub her hair affectionately, and then turned to inspect Myrodyn.

“Think I’m sick…” she groaned.

Not looking away from Myrodyn, Face continued speaking. “Yes. I feared you would be. You’re not the only one… Myrodyn and Avram have the same thing. Growth designed the wasps to be carrying a bioweapon, I think. Probably a virus.”

So she was dying.

She didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t know what to think. A part of her wanted it… wanted to escape the pain.

Face went on, adjusting Myrodyn’s head and giving him some water from a nearby bottle. “We’ll be landing on Shemya in a little over fifteen minutes. As much as I wish we could stop and get you rest and medical attention, my guess is that whatever virus you’re infected with is just going to get worse as time goes on. In the long run, the only thing that has any hope of saving you is getting to Tokyo, and we don’t have time to waste.”

“S’where Daddy’s gonna be, right?” Xandra coughed again and moaned as she felt a cut on her cheek re-open, and begin to seep blood.

“Yes, dear.” Face turned the robot back to her. “Last I heard he was in Alturas working with Divinity, so he might be a little behind us. Or, he might be ahead, if he’s able to find an airplane that can fly at a higher altitude. I wish I knew what was happening with the skytrains…” A large black-and silver gauntlet handed her a bottle of water. “Here, drink this. It’ll help.”

Xandra reached to take it, gritting her teeth against where the cold air bit at her skin.

“The good news about your virus is that I doubt Major is infected. Despite the gunshot wound and what the wasps did to him, I expect him to recover, with or without Vision’s help.”

Xandra felt her lips crack as she smiled at the black visor that she imagined Face was speaking from. It made no sense, but knowing that Major was going to be okay made a remarkable amount of difference. She fumbled with her bandaged hands to undo the cap on the water bottle and finally managed to take a sip under a blanket.

“Now listen, Sheyma is a tiny island with an airbase. Once we land, there are going to be some army men getting on the plane. Getting to Tokyo is their only chance at survival, too, and talk of a virus just runs the risk of scaring them into staying behind. So I’m going to need you to try and pretend not to be sick, okay? You’re injured, and you can fall back on that if you need to. Just pretend to be asleep if you don’t want to lie to them. Do you think you can do that? You might be saving their lives.”

“There’s a cure in Tokyo?”

“Almost certainly,” said Face, placing a robotic hand on Xandra comfortingly. “Vision will have wonders beyond your imagination.”

Xandra felt a spark of herself from before all of this rise up. “Donno ‘bout that. I’m pretty smart.”

Face laughed. “I suppose you are, aren’t you.”


It wasn’t the first time they’d stopped. The little jet that Malka had gotten from Daddy wasn’t meant for trips around the world, and so they’d landed briefly somewhere in Canada to refuel. That airport had been deserted, and Face had been forced to slowly do the refueling herself.

Xandra expected, somehow, that since the new airbase they were stopping at had soldiers, they’d soon be off the ground, but that turned out not to be the case.

The last thing Xandra wanted was to have to talk to strangers, so she followed Face’s advice and pretended to be asleep, occasionally peeking up at the figures that would occasionally walk by. They were almost all young men in uniform, with the exception of a grizzled old guy with a big grey beard.

Xandra and the others were seated near the front of the plane, though not in the cockpit, which meant she could hear them talking as they came onboard. The blood scared them, though they tried to hide it. Face scared them, too. The unthinkable had happened: America had fallen to an army of machines. The world had fallen. And now, rather than fly back to the mainland to fight, these men were placing themselves in the hands of another machine. They were the cowards, seeking to join a side with some chance of winning.

Minutes passed, and the sun dipped behind snowdrifts that had built up outside next to the runway. At some point, her game of pretending to be sleeping turned into the genuine thing.

She didn’t wake up when they took off again, or if she did, she didn’t remember it. She woke up when her nightmares became unbearable.

She smothered them, pushing them down into that same dark corner where the memories lurked. She couldn’t think about them. She had to forget.

It was deep in the night, and she knew they’d be somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Her head pounded and felt so terribly cloudy. Her lips, mouth, and throat felt like sand. She was sweating again, though the cabin didn’t feel nearly so cold. Perhaps they’d patched the holes.

She got up and managed to use the toilet and get a can of orange juice from Face. There was a frustrating moment where, after getting back to her seat, she realized she couldn’t get the juice open with her hands in bandages. Face, with thick plated fingers, also couldn’t open the tab on the top of the can. It was a small thing, but it made her want to cry. She would’ve except that it felt like she was all used up. No tears would come.

Eventually Face managed to find a plastic knife and pry the tab up to open the can. But somehow, that was no relief. The orange juice tasted nasty, like it had been mixed with some vile chemical. Face said it was her mouth and nose being affected by the altitude and her disease.

Major woke up and started whimpering. They didn’t have dog food, but Xandra gave him some water, crackers, and salami. His snout had been badly injured by the wasps, too, and it took him a while to get all the food down. He might survive, but he’d never be the same.

Her whole body ached in a million different ways, and it felt wrong to just lie there. She wanted to be up and moving. She wanted to run. She wanted to think. She wanted things to be the way they were. But she just sat there, instead, and tried not to pay attention to either her body or… the other things.

Malka was muttering things in his sleep. It sounded like he was having nightmares. She guessed a lot of people were having nightmares right now.

Myrodyn looked dead. Face said he was getting worse, and might not make it to Tokyo, though he wasn’t dead yet. It would be close.

She wanted to spit on him and yell at him. It was because of him… All of it was because of him… He could’ve stopped it, back in Rome.

But she didn’t want him to die. Not now. Not here.

She moved from the seat to the floor, and took Major with her, making a nest of blankets. And eventually, she was swallowed by the darkness and the roar of the engines, unable to keep herself from thinking about Mommy…

She was tossed against the seat with a roar that made the engines sound quiet.

The impact knocked the breath from her and echoed through her body, creating a terrible throbbing. She struggled to inhale, feeling panic seize her.

She… had she been asleep? Nothing made sense. It felt like she’d only just curled up, but part of her knew she’d been sleeping. It took her a moment to remember where she was.

Face’s voice came on the intercom. “Sorry for the disruption. We’re entering Japanese airspace. That was an EMP, probably launched by Acorn. The aircraft computers are damaged, but my robot’s systems are shielded and Private Waters has piloting experience and can take us in for a landing. Things are about to get really bumpy, though, so I suggest you strap in and hold on.”

Xandra pushed herself, feeling the weakness in her body. It was almost too much. Almost easier to stay in the blankets on the floor and let things just happen. But she pushed through the stiffness and fatigue. She even managed to get Major up on the seat and half-buckled up. He mostly protested being moved; he was exhausted, too.

Through the window of the airplane, Xandra could see the night’s sky and a few lights on the ground. The half-ring of molten moon arced overhead. A memory of coming to Japan when she was five years old resurfaced. There really should’ve been more lights. After a moment she understood why things were so dark. Smoke was rising from the ground in great plumes.

There were flashes of light from beneath the smoke, here and there. Explosions, perhaps.

“Incoming fire! Brace yourselves!” shouted Face over the intercom.

Major began to whimper as the airplane dipped without warning. Xandra’s stomach felt like it was desperately trying to wriggle up her throat. There was a flash outside from behind her, and the airplane began to shake like it was a leaf in a windstorm. Up and down. Forward and back. There was an unbearably loud noise, as though huge metal plates were being scraped violently together right next to her ears.

The aircraft dropped violently again and the orange juice from earlier sprayed painfully out her mouth and nose without warning. Major was howling.

“We’re through the worst of it!” exulted Face, even as the plane careened wildly to the left. There was another series of flashes outside the window. “We lost a wing, but Vision should be able to guide us down safely. She’s communicating with us optically since our antenna got knocked out by the EMP. Otherwise I’d put her on the com.”

“We lost a wing?!” shouted a man further back. Face was surely in the cockpit. There was no way she’d be able to hear him.

Major continued to howl as the airplane continued its downward spiral. From what she could see out of the window it looked like they were over the water again. Xandra put her hand on Major and tried to calm him, though she was nowhere near calm, herself.

Something slammed into the airplane with a deep thud.

“The fuck is that thing?” said one of the soldiers.

She struggled to look back out the window to see what had hit them, but she couldn’t spot anything.

Whatever it was, it was helping the airplane stabilize. Their wild spinning stopped, and Xandra saw a city full of light on the ground, unblemished by smoke.

“Xandra…” croaked a voice.

She looked away from the window, wiping the throw-up from her chin with a sleeve of her shirt. It took her a moment to figure out who was speaking.

“Xandra… Girl…” said the voice again.

It was Myrodyn. His eyes were wide and unwavering, one bloodshot, the other fully red from some burst blood vessel or perhaps damage from a wasp. He stared at her from where he lay, strapped to the seats in a cocoon of blankets, breath ragged and weak.

“It’s the end, Xandra,” hissed Myrodyn.

She hated him. Even as he was, she was scared of him. Somewhere under those blankets, she could imagine a knife, lurking. Strange, how somehow that was more frightening than the virus that was killing them both. “Go back to sleep,” she said. “Need to rest.”

He said something, but it was too faint for her to hear, and he began to cough. He looked old.

She could feel the plane diving and slowing down. They were coming in for a landing. She bit back the urge to throw up again.

“Please!” managed Myrodyn, weakly, barely audible behind Major’s barking. His face was the epitome of pain, bloody eyes never leaving her.

“What?” she hissed back, defensively.

He mouthed words, too weak of breath to make his voice heard over the sounds of the airplane and Major, but she could read his lips. “I’m dying. Please.”

She hated it. She hated him. She looked away, trying to pretend like she didn’t see him.

It lasted only a few seconds. He was coughing violently when she looked back, blood leaking from his mouth. The disease that they’d gotten seemed to be attacking their lungs.

A trembling hand emerged from the blankets, holding something. “Please,” he hissed again. “Don’t tell… Don’t… my brain…”

The plane hit the runway with a jolt. It wasn’t the smoothest landing, but they were down. Myrodyn broke into another round of violent coughing.

Xandra reluctantly unbuckled herself and fell to the floor. She didn’t have the strength to stand. She was so cold. Her whole body ached. And yet, she crawled on hands and knees across the aisle to the man who had been holding her hostage only yesterday.

It seemed like he was choking on his own blood. The man wheezed and droplets of red were spraying from his mouth with every cough.

She tumbled back into the aisle, startled, as the man began to thrash, eyes wide with terror. He clearly couldn’t breathe.

The thing he’d been holding tumbled to the floor.

Xandra reached out and grabbed it, then scrambled back to her seat as best she could on aching limbs.

{Bastard deserves to die,} she thought, trying to hold onto the anger. She felt so weak. It felt like without him she’d be all alone.

She didn’t bother to buckle up again, merely wrap herself in the blanket. Now that they were on the ground the turbulence was gone.

She coughed and felt a wave of terror from the wet feeling and the taste of blood. But then it passed. The disease was having a harder time dealing with her body, or perhaps it was simply the fact that she hadn’t been shot, first.

She put the thought out of her mind, and deliberately kept her eyes away from the too-still shape on the other seats.

She focused instead on the object she’d picked up from the floor. It was a tiny black box, about the size of a deck of playing cards. There were metal ports on one end and even in the darkness of the plane she could make out the word “Toshiba” faintly engraved on what she guessed was the top.

She knew what it was. Athena was on there. After the nuke in Israel, Myrodyn had made a big show of scanning all his paper notes and putting everything he had onto a digital drive which he could carry with him all the time.

It was his life’s work.

No. She didn’t want to think about him. She pulled into a ball, and tried, unsuccessfully, not to cry. Everything smelled like her vomit. Major whined.

It only took a couple minutes for Face’s robot to tap on her. “We’re here. Vision says we need to move quickly to a more fortified location. There’ll be time to rest later.”

Xandra uncurled, about to say something mean to Face, but she was already gone, moving down the aisle to give the soldiers the news.

She wasn’t sure how she managed the strength, but she unbuckled Major, picked him up, and walked over the patch of dried blood to the extended stairway. Myrodyn lay still, unmoving. Malka also didn’t get up. Perhaps he, too, was dead.

She clutched the data drive in one hand as she stepped barefoot down to the tarmac, carrying the obnoxiously heavy dog. A shuttle or maybe a short bus was there waiting for her. If she had been dropped into that moment without any memories, she might not have known anything was different about the world.

She set major down on the asphalt and coughed, spitting blood onto the ground. She wiped her mouth with a dirty sleeve and tucked the drive in the pocket of her pants.

Major’s hips and back-legs were wrapped up in bandages from when Face had dealt with his gunshot wound, and she could see that he desperately wanted to be up and moving. He was tired, but the stress was giving him energy.

Just like her, she supposed.

She picked him up again and made her way over to the shuttle. It was probably very warm, considering that it was winter, but Xandra was terribly cold nevertheless.

Just as she reached the door to the vehicle, a loud hissing noise caused her to turn. The hiss turned into a roar as two points of light shot off into the sky towards the horizon. Missiles?

“Hello, Stephano child,” said an androgynous voice from behind her.

Xandra turned back and saw… Crystal Socrates. They were just standing there. The robot was the same as it had been on her father’s rocket, all those months ago. It was impossible.

Socrates extended its hands, offering to help carry Major. “There’s a cluster of ICBM’s en route, and we should get to shelter before they’re intercepted. C’mon.”

No. It wasn’t Socrates. The face was too elegant… too human. It looked like what Socrates might’ve become after years of refinement.

She didn’t hand Major over, instead gripping him tighter to her. “Who are you?”

The robot smiled and stepped back, gesturing for her to get in the shuttle. “Didn’t Face tell you? I’m the dream that leads to insight. I’m the high vista from which all things make sense. I’m your deus ex machina. This city is my stronghold against the shadow, and you are my honored guest. With the wave of my wand I work wonders.” The robot gestured again towards the shuttle, and a long, black and white wand seemed to materialize out of nothing in the robot’s fingers. With a tap on the frame of the shuttle’s door, an aura of golden light began to emanate from the entrance, like tiny, phosphorescent plankton floating underwater. Above the door the word “SALVATION” began to blink in a similar golden glow.

“I am the hero, child,” said the robot with a smile. “I’m Glinda the Good, with the gift of healing for you.” The robot’s wand waved in front of her, and she immediately felt a surge of energy and warmth. “Am I yet understood? I’m the saviour of humanity, and your little dog, too.”

The robot took a bow and answered an unspoken question. “Me? You want to know who I am? Ha-ha! I am the virtuous vizier. I am the victorious vector. I am, verily, Vision.”