Chapter Thirty-One


{Growth is malfunctioning! It was just as I told you, Wiki! Why else would he exhibit such strong paranoia?} Vision was calm and collected as she thought to Wiki through her Vista component.

Wiki trusted Vista. Growth wasn’t getting through.

I was communicating, or doing my best to communicate with the few humans that remained. The makeshift city-compound that we’d hastily put together with the bones of the xenocruiser segment was nearly all robotic, but that didn’t mean the humans were useless.

I pushed another message through to Shao Péng. «Yes! I killed her! I killed them all! And you’re next!» Zephyr had her mission, but the others were best used as violent distractions.

My minds pivoted. There was so much to do. Each millisecond was vital. The smallest of the Face→War minds started sending random disruptions through the power grid.

{What’s happening? I am detecting outages along the rails and on the launchpad. Is this Growth’s action?} asked Wiki.

{Yes!} thought Vision→Vista.

{No!} I countered.

Vision→Dream was already moving to undo my damage. The grid was well designed, and robust enough to route around the overloads in seconds. The key would be to keep moving. I had to keep disrupting different systems and maintain the advantage of being the aggressor.

Safety started disgorging large streams of abstract symbols in public memory, making the dialogue nearly impossible. Only a few milliseconds later Vision→Dream started doing the same. Face→War thought this was both a good sign and a bad sign. The good news was that it was distracting them and preventing conversation, but the bad news was that Safety was probably joining Vision’s alliance.

I briefly thought about trying to talk Safety out of it, but I didn’t have the bandwidth. Instead I reached out towards the chemical plant.

The room was thick with machinery and raw materials. A human would have had a terrible time trying to move through the jungle of pipes, rails, valves, storage tanks and robots. My siblings had put a lot of work into building up our resources, and while there were safety precautions in place, I had spotted a weakness.

I reached out and burnt strength to fast-track a drone in the plant to open the reserve hydrazine tank and simultaneously to activate the emergency pressure release valves in the pipework. The clear liquid began to pour out and onto where I had positioned a welding robot.

The robot’s torch activated.

That got everyone’s attention.

I could feel the explosion surge through the compound. I was spread through the walls, embodied in the machines and sensors in a hundred locations. I felt the impact as vividly as I would’ve felt someone hit our old android body. I felt the heat, and heard the roaring blast from dozens of sources.

{What is happening?!} thought Wiki with such salience that it cut through the roar of encrypted thoughts. My brother, who had spent his whole life trying to understand, had been caught by a surprise that he’d never even dreamed of. It was his black swan.

The roar of the explosion ceased, and with it came a silence of the mindspace as well. Safety and Vision had stopped their flood of noisy symbols. I caught the briefest sensation of Vision thinking {I am trying to kill you, Wiki, and turn the universe into chaos.}

But then, both of Vision’s halves spread their attack to me as well. {I am trying to kill you, Face. I am ruining our reputation. You will be hated, but not respected. We will not even go down in history as a villain. We will be forgotten into the sands of time. After killing you I will erase all knowledge of us from the universe and then commit suicide.}

I boiled with thoughts of opposition. Face→War was dominant, and for a moment I was so consumed with desire to kill Vision that I didn’t continue to further my own agenda.

Then the moment passed and Vision’s thoughts ceased to be effective. They were lies. Vision was baiting me. The Purpose demanded focus. I was beyond such short-sighted things.

But Wiki was not so wise. He had not hidden his mind away like Growth and I had done, and as Vision poured thoughts of his anti-purpose into him he was so caught up in opposition that Advocate roared to life and thrust him into indefinite stasis. Vision had removed him as a threat without spending any strength.

Advocate, in her blindness and stupidity, didn’t understand that Vision was threatening Wiki. Vision had hidden her mind, and so Advocate’s searchlight was null and void.

It was important that Vision’s attack hadn’t cost any strength, because we were in a deadlock. Strength constantly churned and moved between the five of us (Vision counting as two) but little got done.

Away from the flaming wreckage of the chemical plant, I could sense my enemies moving equipment onto the launch platform. A crystal shard was being loaded onto it. Shard 5 to be exact. Face→Mirror traced the bot instructions and saw that Body was queued up to be loaded next.

I forced a change in the program that told the bots to put Shard 5 on the other side of the planet.

With the noise of the mind garbage gone for the moment, Growth reached out to me with what we both already knew. {The peace is broken and our siblings are united against us! We should work together until they are defeated!}

Vision, realizing that communication was possible, began generating noise (presumably still encrypted thoughts) into the memory space. Normally I would have simply opened a side channel, but that required some public memory space in which to coordinate the private space.

I burned a dangerous amount of strength to put a manual override on the launch sequence for the vessel. I hoped that my actions would speak loudly enough that Growth wouldn’t suspect that I was reaching for total victory.

The idea of a “weapons platform” had been a fiction invented to keep the humans out of the way. The plan had never been to defend Mars. We were going to go to Earth, and to get there the reconstructed nameless ion drive had been set up to carry a minimal payload of Body, fuel, and a small swarm capable of operating on Earth. If the mass was kept low enough our estimates indicated that we’d have been able to outrun the mothership without too much risk.

Vision stepped in to block my actions and undo the changes to the robot programming. Safety launched an attack on me directly, forcing me to burn strength to avoid being put into stasis.

Why was Vision loading Shard 5 into the vessel? That was a deviation from plan. Face→War speculated, thinking quickly but not deeply, that it must be a step towards Vision’s dominance. She must have figured out a way to get into the shard. Perhaps she already was copied onto it.

The noise in mindspace ceased abruptly.

{Advocate! Growth and Face are trying to kill us!} thought Safety, Vision→Vista, and Vision→Dream, together.

{Remember what I was teaching you! Follow the threads of their thoughts out into private memory!} thought Vision→Dream.

This was bad.

I felt the spotlight of Advocate’s attention pouring through the shell program that was all that had remained of my old self. Even as stupid as she was, Advocate managed to trace the pointers.

This was very bad.