Chapter Two


73 days before Face’s arrival at Mukhya

The sound of the door made her jump. The jump turned into a spin, which evolved into an excited motion towards the door. One, two, three steps and she froze, realizing what the sound meant. It didn’t mean Mommy or Daddy. It didn’t mean escape. It didn’t even mean Myrodyn or some other standard jumbo dumbo.

He was back.

She took a few steps backwards, then, feeling the sunshine on her shoulders, remembering that she was trapped. She glanced back anyway, looking for a way out. The office’s tall windows held back the sunny Texas winter, showing a view of the tarmac, the satellite office buildings, and the green laws at the edge of Daddy’s spaceport.

She hated feeling trapped. Unable to stop herself, her mind buzzed over possible escape routes. Break the glass. Climb through the air vents. Climb through the ceiling. Rush past the man. Play dead. Invent a teleporter. Tunnel through a wall. Talk her way out of this mess. Of course she had to talk. That was the only sensible option. Her fingers gently touched the cold window anyway—making sure that it was still there.

“Sit down,” came the command. The man closed the door. If he could lock the door, she was sure he would’ve. But this makeshift interrogation cell was just a random office on the second floor of the spaceport administration building at Litochoro. The part of her that wanted to escape the trap flickered through thoughts of slipping through that door and making a break for it.

She rubbed her shoulder with the painful memory of the last time she’d tried that.

The FBI did not play nice, even with kids.

“Sit down,” came the command again, this time more forceful.

She obeyed, walking over to the hard folding chair they’d set up for her on one side of the empty desk. Everything else in the room had been removed, making the space feel desolate. She hated that she was obeying the man. Thoughts of little rebellions shot through her mind like hornets being fired from a cannon.

Perhaps it was genetic—some instinctual desire to be subject to no-one. The “queen gene” she’d call it. Was that one of the tweaks that Daddy had made to her DNA, or had that come directly from him? Either one seemed plausible.

“Tell me again everything you know about Crystal Socrates, from the top,” growled the FBI agent, acting like he wanted to be elsewhere just as much as she did.

Xandra shifted uncomfortably on the chair, feeling her weight change the balance. She fought back the temptation to try and lean back and balance on just two legs. She fought back the temptation to let one of the hornets loose and say something nasty. She fought back the impulse to cry and ask for Mommy again.

“Forget already? Not too bright, are ya?” she began, realizing a moment too late that perhaps her efforts not to say anything rebellious hadn’t been entirely successful. The hard planes that made up the agent’s face didn’t seem to register the insult, and she quickly went on. “Psh. Whatevs. Fine.” She took a breath. “‘S a Robot. Strong AI. Android. Named themselves after their fancy crystal computer and power source. Myrodyn said someone found in Himalayas. Probs alien, but recording from meeting with nameless indicates the aliens either don’t know or pretending not to know about it.”

She inhaled, leaning back in her chair so she was balancing on just two legs. “Report from climber who found the crystal also points to it having been buried for years. Maybe even since before first contact. Power source lets them have a good robot body built in Rome. State of the art. Mind is also human built. Not alien. Ask Myrodyn about that. Um. Bot’s dumb, but not totes, obvs. Went up to ‘lympus with me. Was pretty chill. Hijacked alien spaceship to go to Mars. Not sure what to say. Told you all this before.”

Indeed, this was the third time her interrogator had come to her. The instant that she and Daddy and the others had stepped off the spaceship, the FBI had sprung, dragging each of them away in handcuffs. Rather than taking them to jail or something, the goons had decided to interrogate them all right there at the spaceport. Logic indicated that they were in a rush. Probably still trying to catch Crystal Socrates.

The robot was a terrorist and had probably just started the first interspecies war. (At least if you didn’t count that thing with the emus in the 1930s…)

The agent shifted in his seat, looking down at her from under a heavy brow and dark hair. She didn’t like him. Despite his fancy suit, he had the appearance of a thug: stupid and mean.

“Tell me more about what you know about Socrates’ involvement with Las Águilas Rojas, and speak more slowly and clearly this time,” he commanded.

“Yeahfinetotesmygoats,” she shot back, still apparently buzzing with anger about having been torn away from Daddy and treated like poop.

That got a bit of a rise out of the FBI agent, who put his meaty hands on the desk and leaned up on them, emphasizing just how much bigger than her he was. “Don’t test me, kid! You think there aren’t jails for girls your age? You think you’re any less guilty of treason? If you want to see your parents again, you should really cooperate and tell us everything you know.”

“S’what I’ve been doing!” she shot back. Her throat hurt. Somewhere inside her was a baby-self that wanted to burst into tears and beg to let them see Daddy, but she wouldn’t let them see that part of her. She wasn’t a baby.

The man simply sat there and waited. He’d introduced himself a bazillion years ago, when all this had started, but she didn’t remember his name. Just some FBI goon.

“The Red Eagles—Las Águilas Rojas—are Crystal’s hosts,” she said, trying her best to slow her voice down for the gorilla in the suit sitting across the desk from her. She tried to look him in the eye, but she ricochetted off, unable to hold the gaze. “Donno much. Crystal’s been all over the web splaining how great they are ever since they left the ‘versity. Buncha eagles went up to ‘lympus with Crystal when Daddy brought them up to meet the nameless.”

“And your father knowingly brought—”

The goon was cut off by the sound of the door opening. Two more men in suits walked into the office.

One was short and old, clean-shaven with thick, horn-rimmed glasses and the sort of face that seemed both comforting and unyieldingly defiant. She’d seen the man somewhere, though she didn’t remember him well.

The other was tall, thin, and handsome, with a goatee, long black hair pulled back into a pony-tail, and a very prominent eyepatch, unable to hide a shiny scar that ran down his cheek. He almost looked as though some kinda cartoon pirate had stepped out of history and decided to go to business school.

Her gaze didn’t stay on them long, though. Her body started moving before her mind caught up. She was out of her seat and running to greet her family. The chair, which had been precariously balanced before the motion toppled backwards as she moved.

She fell to the carpet on hands and knees and welcomed Major into her arms. The border collie barked happily and began licking her face in joyous reunion. His long black and white fur slid through her fingers. It seemed like the first soft thing she’d felt since landing.

Xandra began to cry.

It was dumb. She was fine. She’d been holding herself together. But… but she couldn’t help it. She wasn’t free yet. She knew they were still watching. She should’ve been strong, but… she wasn’t alone anymore. First it was just tears, but in moments she was sobbing into Major. The dog sat patiently and calmly, letting her cuddle. She hadn’t realized just how much she’d been holding back.

Mommy was there too, kneeling and holding her and petting her hair. The smell of perfume reminded Xandra of home.

The men were talking. Angry words that didn’t matter. She could let go now.

And she did.

Eventually she found herself in Mommy’s lap, with Major cuddling by her feet. Her tears subsided. Lucidity returned.

“You must be joking,” said the old man with the glasses to the other two. “After what I’ve seen today you’ll be lucky if the countersuit doesn’t cause every responsible party today to lose their jobs! Cut your losses and let the girl go home with her mother.”

The word “countersuit” tripped a threshold inside her mind. The old man was Mr. Kaplan, one of Daddy’s lawyers. She’d seen him around here and there, though never really spent time with him.

Another voice, unfamiliar to her ears, said, “That’s not good enough. She was a direct witness to what happened, and I have my orders. She’ll have her parents there, and it’ll just be me. Do you really think she’s in any danger?” It must’ve been the pirate-man.

“It’s not a question of danger, it’s a question of rights! She hasn’t done anything, and she’s being treated like—”

Mommy’s hand stopped petting her hair. “Let it go, Pete. It’ll just be for a short time. Rob agreed to it, and frankly, I’d rather us all be together than leave him to whatever’s comin’.”

Xandra could hear Mr. Kaplan sigh. “That’s your choice… but as your legal councel I very strongly encourage you not to say anything. Don’t even say hello. And the same goes for everyone in that room. At this stage, silence is your best armor. Just listen to what the FBI has to say, don’t say anything back, and then let me take over while you recover.”

“I have no need for recoverin’, but I hear what you’re sayin’,” said Mommy. Then, to Eyepatch and the gorilla, she said “I think we’re ready when you are.”

“Thank you Karen. I appreciate your flexibility,” said Eyepatch.

Xandra felt Mommy’s body stiffen at the FBI-pirate’s use of her first name, but she didn’t say anything back. Instead, she bent down and kissed Xandra’s head and whispered “Let’s go see Daddy, okay?”

Xandra nodded and slowly uncurled from her mother’s embrace and got to her feet. The feeling of Major gently touching her as she moved was immensely comforting.

“Good dog,” she said, scratching his head.

Major’s tail wagged as the two of them followed Mommy out of that dumb office. The gorilla went his own way as they navigated through the building’s interior. White hallways and open break rooms slid by, mostly empty except for a few clusters of government agents talking quietly or tapping away at their coms. As Xandra’s group passed, the agents stopped what they were doing and stood at attention. The man with the eyepatch waved them down each time. Whoever he was, he was in charge. Eventually, they came to a set of elevators, and got in one, going up.

Xandra held Mommy’s hand and stood close as the elevator rose. She looked different than Xandra was used to seeing her. Where normally she wore her long brown hair down, today it was up in a tight bun. White blouse and black pants doubled-down on the emphasis on feminine power that came with her sharp red lipstick. It wasn’t a look that Mommy used often, but when she did, she seemed to turn into a superhero.

The light at the top of the elevator said “12” as it stopped—the top floor. As soon as the doors opened, Major began pulling her out. Xandra let go of Mommy’s hand and let the dog guide her, the others following.

Or rather, the others except for Mr. Kaplan, who stayed in the elevator. “Remember. Don’t say anything. Stonewall him. He’s not your friend, no matter what he says.”

Xandra heard Mommy say “Trust me, Pete. We know he’s not a friend.”

The top floor of the office building was dedicated to one giant conference room. Floor-to-ceiling windows ringed the entire space, and skylights added even more of a sense of being outside. The entire spaceport could be seen from up here: roads, hangars, launch-pads, and, of course, spaceships. Xandra could see the sleek Talaria Omicron that she, her father, and all the rest had ridden back down to earth on.

There was a lounge with couches off to one side of the room, but most of the space was dedicated to a huge wood table ringed with comfy office chairs. A quick estimate indicated it could seat at least thirty-six. The walls at one end of the long table were the exception to the huge windows that were everywhere else. Wallscreens there showed silent marketing shots of Olympian: views from around the spaceport, tours in the rockets and on Olympus Station, takeoff footage, a scene from one of the early encounters with the nameless, and computer-generated imagery showing a brilliant future of life among the stars.

Three men were waiting by the table for them in the otherwise vacant room. Two sat in chairs, while the other was on his feet and moving to greet them. He was why Major had pulled her forward.


They collided in a jumble of motion. Major jumped up right as he reached down and tried to scoop Xandra up into his arms. Unfortunately, he’d broken his wrist on the space-station and apparently hadn’t yet figured out that it was trapped in a cast. After a moment of chaos, the three of them managed a goofy hug instead.

“Oh, kiddo! I’m so, so sorry.” She melted into the warmth of his embrace feeling the scratchy stubble from his unshaven chin as he kissed her cheek. “Did they hurt you?” he asked, still holding her close. “Tell me you’re okay.”

Xandra thought she might burst into tears again. But she managed not to. Daddy wanted her to be strong, and she would be. “Yep. Totes,” she managed, trying to sound normal.

She would be. Despite everything that had happened, she knew that everything would be alright. Mommy and Daddy were there. They’d take care of things.

Daddy pulled back and put his good hand on her shoulder, looking her in the eye, a strange expression on his face. Relief, probably, mixed with other things. And then, in an instant it was gone, replaced by a confident smile. He rubbed her head affectionately, messing up her hair and said “Good. That’s what I like to hear.”

Daddy stood up and moved to Mommy next, and Xandra decided to take a seat like the other men who had been waiting. Major followed by her side, not needing to be told what to do. He was such a smart doggy.

One of the men was Myrodyn, the eccentric scientist who’d been a friend of her father’s since long before she’d been born. He looked even more unkempt and disrupted by the chaos on the space station, big beard sprouting wiry outbursts of hair and with clothes in crumpled disarray. But the overall messiness was just how Myrodyn always looked. In fact, his eyes twinkled with an alertness that indicated that he’d actually slept recently, so he was probably in a better state than usual. Myrodyn looked to be at least a decade older than Daddy, but Xandra knew that the truth was the other way around. Medical regeneration had let Daddy leapfrog his friend backwards in time.

Daddy may have liked Myrodyn, or at least liked hearing what he thought about things, but Xandra didn’t like him at all, and neither did Mommy. Probably nobody did, besides Daddy. Myrodyn was blunt and obnoxious. He was unpredictable, weird, never seemed to even notice her except when he thought she was bothering him. He usually smelled gross, too. She would have sat at the point furthest away from Myrodyn except that the seat in question was already filled by someone worse.

The other man was named “Malka.” She wasn’t sure if that was his first name, last name, or if he only had one name like Myrodyn. He was Russian—or at least spoke with that accent—and where Myrodyn was weird and irritating, Malka was scary.

He was one of the terrorists that Crystal had brought up to Olympus, but where all of the other Águilas had gone with the robot to Mars, Malka had stayed behind. She didn’t know why.

Malka was like some monster out of a fairy tale. He was bald, had no facial hair, and didn’t even have eyebrows. She could see some of the patches where little stubble was growing back, and she could understand why he shaved. A huge web of gnarled scar tissue ran across his blighted face from chin to well up his scalp, turning what was probably once a handsome appearance into a mass of twisted flesh. Pure black eyes, surely artificial, peered out from under the fleshy brow like he was a shark pretending to be a human. Because he had no pupils, Xandra could never be sure where he was looking, and so it always seemed to her that he was looking right at her. It made her skin crawl just to be in the same room as him again.

At least he was tucked away on the far side of the table. When he was sitting down, she could forget about the robotic legs that supported him. More importantly, she could forget about how he moved. Malka moved like a predator on the hunt. Every part of his body seemed to be ready to kill.

Xandra found a seat half-way between the men, just to the right of the head of the table next to the wallscreens. She hoped Daddy would sit next to her. Major sat on the floor beside her, attentive and ready to defend her if she needed help. Such a good dog.

She wiggled in the office chair as she sat, feeling the leather surface twist under her. She suppressed the impulse to spin around a bunch. Nervous energy.

The man with the eyepatch ushered Mommy and Daddy towards the table, and drew everyone’s attention to him. It didn’t take any words—somehow everyone just knew he was about to speak.

“I know I’ve introduced myself to several of you already, but just to get everyone on the same page, my name is Jonah Taylor.” Eyepatch looked around the room with an easy grin. The more she saw of the man the more the word “buccaneer” seemed to fit, more than “FBI agent.” He went on, gesturing with bravado. “I’m nominally the Executive Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division in the FBI, but I think in this room it should be clear that I’m talking to you as more than just a fed.”

“WIRL,” accused Myrodyn sharply.

Agent Taylor did a dramatic bow, sweeping his arms in front of him in a flourish. “At your service.” When he straightened, he whisked the eyepatch off his head. Where his eye-socket had been was only an ugly bit of machinery, silver and black. She liked it better when it was covered up.

WIRL, Xandra knew, was something like a social networking service for cyborgs. Or at least, that’s what it was on the surface.

“How far does this go?” asked Daddy. Xandra was pleased to see him come over to stand by her with Mommy, though neither of them sat. “You infiltrate my company. You infiltrate the FBI. Is any of this—” Daddy gestured around the room. “—not under your control?”

The cyborg laughed as though they were all just friends at a party. “You’re too generous, Robert. No, we don’t control everything. That’s a truly paranoid thought. I’m sure Mr. Malka can attest that we neither have full control over the FBI, nor even over all cyborgs.”

Malka just continued scowling behind folded arms.

With somewhat less flair than before, Taylor placed the eyepatch back over his strange prosthesis. “The FBI is like an animal. It’s a beast of the 20th century, moving according to simple rules and procedures, rather than true collective intelligence. All governments are like this: outmoded giants decaying from the inside as the world moves on. WIRL merely has hooks in the bureau, and I am one of the deeper ones. You’re genuinely all under arrest, mother and dog excepted.”

Eyepatch gave another cheshire grin as he moved to the opposite end of the table as Xandra and her family. “But! But but but! Though you have awoken the beast, and now lay pinned under its titanic paw, I am here to save you. I am the hook that can pull you to safety.”

“We don’t need rescuing by the likes of you,” said Daddy with a cold sneer.

The buccaneer rolled his eye dramatically and said “Right! Because treason is such an easy charge to shrug off, especially when the people will be clamoring for a scapegoat to blame for the war that you and I both know is coming.”

Daddy’s hand clenched into a fist by his side. “It seems to me that it was WIRL who started the violence here, not Socrates, not the nameless, and certainly not me. Anyone who bothers to look for the truth will see that.”

Xandra remembered the scattered events on the space station. She hadn’t been involved that heavily, but she’d reconstructed most of what happened from listening to Daddy and Myrodyn talking to each other on the flight back to Earth.

A cyborg named Slovinsky had, with WIRL’s help, disabled the station and forced his way into the alien spaceship that had been docked. Crystal, the robot, had managed to follow him and claimed that he’d had a bomb and was planning on destroying the alien ship. Slovinsky was dead now, by the android’s hand.

Crystal had also apparently taken the nameless ship by force and was now headed to Mars, presumably so that they wouldn’t have to deal with the sort of situation that Xandra and her family now found themselves in.

“The truth,” mused Agent Eyepatch, shaking his head. He walked over to one of the tall windows near where Malka sat, placing his hand on the glass and gazing out onto the vehicles below. “The truth, Robert, is that it doesn’t matter who did what. It only matters who has power. And WIRL has been building power here for a long time. We may not control the entire FBI, but we control enough to steer it. And importantly, we do control all of Olympian Spacelines. Did you know that your company has been preferentially hiring cyborgs into management positions the last few years? I could wave my hand and have a swarm of emails and audio files at my fingertips proving you knowingly invited terrorists and their pet robot to attack the nameless. And when scientists involved in the robot’s creation happened to be on board, you had them murdered. We already have several eye-witnesses supporting that perspective, including one Dr. Naresh.”

“Why would I do that?” growled Daddy. “What motive would I have for starting this bloodshed? I’ve done almost nothing in the past two and a half years except strive to set up a peaceful dialogue with the nameless.”

Eyepatch smiled. “And you made a tidy profit off of it. Isn’t that the reason a multibillionaire does anything? I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to dig up something that shows how you changed your mind about the best way for Olympian to profit off the aliens. Peace wasn’t enough for you.”

Daddy took a step forward, towards Eyepatch, but Mommy caught him and eased him into a chair instead. Her voice had the same icy tone as Daddy’s as she sat beside him and asked “Why is WIRL doing all this? What did we ever do to you?”

Eyepatch, the last man standing, followed their example and sat down at the far end of the table. “Revenge? What a cute thought. No. You haven’t done anything to WIRL. But the world is a small place, and growing smaller by the day. Collisions are bound to occur.” The FBI agent leaned back and put his fancy shoes up on the table. “No, the simple truth is that humanity needs an enemy. We need a focus for our darkness.”

“So WIRL tried to start a war just for the sake of war?” Daddy’s voice faltered for a moment, anger falling beneath pure confusion.

Eyepatch waved a hand in a sort of dismissive, twisting gesture. “No, no. You’re missing the point. We’re trying to unite humanity—to drive Earth in the right direction. To do that we need the world to have an outgroup—another tribe on the other side of the hill, so to speak. Us good, them bad. That sort of thing. And, to be honest, we wanted to deal a blow to Las Águilas too. If the plan had worked, we’d be in much the same situation as we are right now except that we’d have Socrates under control and the nameless would be angrier. Or at least more visibly angry. We’ve been having a hard time making sense of what they’ve been saying about the hijacking. Hell, they’ve hardly said anything.”

Xandra saw Myrodyn shift uncomfortably in his seat. He was being remarkably quiet.

Eyepatch spread his arms wide and leaned back in his chair again. “The world is on the edge of collapse. Things are changing faster now than they ever have before. Without any major enemies to point to as a justification for why things are bad, people turn against each other. Surely you’ve been seeing it. The human species has been eating itself for decades. And, let’s be real, war with the nameless has always been inevitable. Their perspective is too different, and they’re not powerful enough to be a true existential threat. We’re just trying to get the ball rolling a bit faster.”

Laughter caught the air. It was a cold, mean sort of laugh, and it took Xandra a moment to notice that it came from Malka. The monster had no mirth on his face as he said “You want war with the aliens before there is war with WIRL.”

Eyepatch spread his hands in a half-shrug. “We are the future. Humanity needs to see that truth and climb the evolutionary ladder before something actually dangerous comes along. Everything we’ve done is in the service of that.”

Xandra spent a moment realizing what the cyborg-pirate was talking about. Of course there were other aliens out there. There must be. Decades ago, before first contact, it had been thought that humanity might be alone in the universe. In a way, it had been comforting to hear from the nameless, but there was also a dark implication there. What were the chances that in all the universe the only sapient species were humans and the weird crabs?

Daddy spoke up. “That’s exactly why peace was so damned important! Even if we have the firepower to take out the mothership, it’s laughable to think we’ll be able to stand up to the next wave! The ship in orbit is obviously a scout! And—”

“What are you proposing?” interrupted Myrodyn with a sharp, uncompromising tone. He cut off Daddy, but he was looking solely at Eyepatch.

There was a cold silence in the room as Daddy fumed and the FBI agent looked between him and Myrodyn cautiously.

“WIRL has decided that it’s in our shared interests to work together to manage the aftermath and guide humanity towards a better future,” said Eyepatch at last.

Daddy let out a mean “Hah!” and said, “You think you can undo years worth of my work, pushing the world into violence, steal my company, threaten my life, break my arm, interrogate my family, and have me just turn around and join your…” Daddy held for a moment, reaching for something that fit.

“Conspiracy?” offered Myrodyn with a guarded expression.

“Just to set the record straight, we didn’t—by ‘we’ I mean WIRL—didn’t break your arm or interrogate your family. You have the EUFOR special agents and the FBI to thank for those hurts. But yes, we’ve been at odds. Setting aside all of that to work with us isn’t going to be easy, but when the alternative is you and your daughter rotting away in a cell somewhere—”

“Leave my daughter out of this!” snapped Daddy.

Major barked in agreement. Xandra reached down and did her best to keep the dog quiet.

“Too late, I’m afraid,” said Eyepatch with a shrug.

Mommy spoke up, then. “Why? Why not let her go? Even if you want to work together, what does WIRL gain?”

Myrodyn clapped his hands together, cutting off Mommy’s questions. His voice was characteristically quick. “We’ll accept your assistance and work with you. Whatever you want.”

Daddy made a sort of growling-choking noise and Agent Eyepatch let out a triumphant, surprised “Hah!”

Something tickled the back of her mind. Why would Myrodyn suddenly want to work with the cyborgs? He’d never shown any interest or affinity with WIRL in the past as far as she knew—though it hadn’t been apparent in the past that WIRL was anything more than some kind of niche social network for the technologically enhanced.

Surprisingly it was Malka the monster who spoke next, looking towards Eyepatch. “If we cooperate, you will use your influence with the government to buy our freedom?”

“Now hold on one damned minute!” protested Daddy.

Eyepatch ignored him and answered Malka. “I don’t have that kind of power, unfortunately. What I can do is negotiate a special arrangement where you cooperate with the bureau in exchange for being under a sort of house-arrest, at least for the short term.”

“Dammit, I said wait!” yelled Daddy again, pounding the table with a fist. Xandra flinched back, and felt Major press into her reassuringly. Her father’s anger wasn’t directed at her, but it was still a frightening thing to behold.

Myrodyn turned to him, calm and composed as Xandra had ever seen the man. “Rob, settle down and trust me. This is the best option.”

“Like hell it is,” said Daddy getting to his feet, and sending his chair rolling backwards towards the wallscreens.

Xandra tensed up as she watched Eyepatch’s hand snap towards some concealed gun, even as he still leaned back, feet on the table. It made it worse to see that Malka was also poised and ready to spring into violent action.

Mommy’s hand was on Daddy’s arm, trying to calm him.

Perhaps it worked, because after a moment of silence he said in an even voice, “I have the best lawyers that money can buy, and where lawyers won’t cut it, I have enough capital to bribe every politician on the continent. I’m a hero of the entire planet and an international celebrity. If you want a war, then maybe you’ll get one, but I’m sure as hell not going to join up to fight for your side just because you asked nicely.”

Where Daddy seemed composed, but angry, Myrodyn’s voice came out as almost indifferent. “Rob, you need to keep your eye on the ball. None of this matters.”

Daddy growled, venom slipping back in. “Like hell it doesn’t.”

“There are… more important battles. Think about the big picture for a second. WIRL is offering to help. What do we get from fighting them?”

Daddy moved to get his chair and bring it back to the table. “Let’s see… They’re trying to start a war with an alien force of unknown size and power. They’re the enemy of the vision that we’ve been working on all these years. Do I have to go on?”

Myrodyn tilted his head, confused, perhaps. “Peace with the nameless was never the goal. It was the strategy… it was a strategy. Keep your eye on the ball. Your intuitions are blinding you to what’s right. We can’t afford to burn our resources wrestling with… a potential ally.”

Xandra looked to Mommy. She was watching Daddy with an intense look of concern. Daddy looked… hurt, and trying to mask that with more anger. Malka seemed almost bored. None of them understood the obvious subtext.

“Daddy, he’s talking about Crystal,” she said.

For a split-second Myrodyn’s strange placidness broke as a pained grimace shot through him. One hand moved briefly to cover his eyes, and then was back to how he had been. “Among other things…”

That was a smokescreen. She’d been right on target with her guess. But Myrodyn didn’t want the others to know. He’d been trying not to mention Crystal.


A quick glance at Daddy indicated that he was coming to the same realization. “What’s wrong with Crystal?” he asked. “I thought you said they’re still acting within the desired bounds.”

Myrodyn was quiet for a long time, face neutral.

All eyes were on him.

“I was worried, rightly it seems, that you had spies in Olympian,” he said at last. “If this information got out it could ruin everything. I couldn’t even trust you to keep the… emotion off your face and keep them from seeing the trap. Had to maneuver things just right. They had to believe you genuinely wanted them there because of the nameless. I was going to tell you, on the space station, but then things went… wrong. I’ve been waiting until we had some privacy.” Myrodyn shot a glance at Malka and Eyepatch. “There’s still significant risk if this information gets out, but we’re beyond the critical moment.”

The man paused, but no one else spoke.

Myrodyn’s face began to leak some emotion. Dark fear crept in from the edges. “The code that I wrote back in July didn’t take hold. The old programming had a backdoor that I didn’t take into account, and it reverted to the… Well—it’s complicated. But the gist of it is that Crystal Socrates is very, very dangerous. If those damned idiots at the university hadn’t been so insistent on results…”

Another pause. Myrodyn took a long breath and continued. “Crystal is reaching for power, not for the benefit of humanity. They may have negotiated some deal with the nameless, or perhaps they’re looking to seize control of Mars. There’s a decent chance that they’ve already done serious damage to Earth. It’s hard to say. Regardless, they’re the real threat.”

“Not the aliens?” asked Malka.

“Perhaps, if there are other ships on the way, we need to worry. But if what we’ve seen of the nameless is any indication then we don’t have to worry about them growing. Not like Crystal. But if the machine gets hold of more computing power… there might not be any humans by the time another nameless ship reaches Earth.”

Myrodyn looked hard at Daddy and concluded by saying “That… is why we need to focus on the big picture.”