Chapter Thirty-Three

My mind was stretched to breaking. Part of me was trying desperately to convince Advocate that it was Safety and Vision who were trying to kill us, rather than vice versa. Part of me was watching Zephyr slowly approach. Why wasn’t she running for Body? Much of me was fighting off the commands that Vision was making to have the swarm charge the human.

Growth didn’t ask me about Zephyr, and for that I was glad. He was engaged in more attacks. He had gained control of the bots that weren’t near the hub and was reprogramming them to respond only to him. He probably thought this was clever, and would result in his victory over me if Vision didn’t beat us both, first.

Safety instructed the moving factory to drive into Zephyr. The truck roared to life, and I didn’t have enough strength to block the action.

Because of the engagement on other fronts, Vision’s robots were able to continue loading Shard 5 into the vessel.

When I had a moment of attention I pulled Growth into private conversation. Vision couldn’t block our communication and talk to Advocate at the same time.

The vehicle sped towards Zephyr.

{Sabotage the vessel! If Vision gets the shard on board it may not matter what happens to Body!}

***** *****

Zephyr jumped at the last second. She sailed up and away onto the side of the bubble-dome as the truck crashed into a half-building behind her. Gunfire started up in the distance.

Zephyr had intended to jump off the dome, but she wasn’t as graceful in reality as she was in her mind. Instead, she hit the hard bubble with her shoulder and rolled, landing on the ground in a cloud of dust.

The robots surged forth. She saw their shapes even through the red-brown haze. The gun in her arms roared to life, spraying hot lead into the sea of machines.

***** *****

Advocate slammed Safety into stasis. Vision had redirected her attention, allowing Growth and me to team up in convincing Advocate to hunt our enemies. Advocate hadn’t been clever enough to understand how the external minds worked, but it had been able to see the violent intent in Safety.

The cost to this victory was that Zephyr was now being attacked. Thankfully, I had prevented any of the standard bots from being armed, so they weren’t able to gun her down. The robots with guns had been kept secret and locked away in the factory wings. Growth had them under control now, and was closing in on the hub.

{Face! Growth is going to kill you if he gets the chance!} Vision’s thought was a pathetic attempt at a distraction. I knew Growth would take that shot if he got it. I was about to take mine.

***** *****

The robots were all over her. The bullets had done some, but not enough. There were too many. Arms grabbed and pinched at her suit. They were pressing her down, trying to tear the fabric.

She screamed in mindless rage, pushing the metal off her in a violent thrust. It only took seconds for scrabbling legs and arms to return. Buzzing drones with spinning blades were throwing themselves into her like sharp rocks.

There was a sharp hiss as the air in her suit started to vent out a tear in the arm.

She knew this was the end. It wasn’t guaranteed that she would win. She was fighting for what she thought was right, but this wasn’t some children’s story. Life was a series of battles, whether against people, monsters, or nature itself. Eventually everyone lost.

Everyone died someday.

But she would be damned if she died without trying. With another roar she kicked off the ground with her magical new legs. She didn’t even think about what she was seeing or feeling. She simply pushed. She pushed her way through the horde, pinching the tear in her suit feebly with one hand and forcing one foot and then the next to slam down on dirt or metal or something that would put her closer to the hatch.

She only hoped that it was still open.

***** *****

{We have you beaten, Vision!} I thought, fighting with every other scrap of attention to hold the swarm off of Zephyr. {Growth’s bots are loyal only to him, and are armed far better than those in the collective!}

{Turn on him, then! You’re doomed as much as I am if he survives!} responded Vision→Dream.

{Agreed! Stop attacking Zephyr and I’ll switch sides and help you fight him!} I promised.

In the second private conversation I was in, Growth offered a warning: {Don’t listen to their lies! Cut off communication! They’re seconds away from having the vessel launched, and I don’t have the firepower to shoot it down. All the heavy weapons are on board!}

{I’m trying to trick Vision into letting me disable the vessel!} It was somewhat true.

Vision thought back to me, {Why is Zephyr important? There are billions of humans! Let her go and we can rule the galaxy together!}

I pivoted and let go of the robots in the swarm, focusing on disrupting the vessel. There was a power surge in the data cable for Shard 5, now loaded into the cargo hold. I overloaded the circuit.

Vision moved just as quickly to repair the damage, but that left the robots following automatic programming. They had no violent impulses by default, and with neither of us directly piloting they moved away from Zephyr, ceasing to be a unified front.

***** *****

The gunfire was close. She could hear the sounds of bullets impacting metal. A cluster of microtanks had joined them, just as the path in front of her cleared.

She could see the beam of light shooting down like an arrow into the still open hatch, guided by an array of mirrors overhead. Her breaths were shallow, and she felt light-headed. With all the strength she could muster, she threw herself at the opening.

Her helmet hit the far side of the hole, but she managed to tumble awkwardly downward. Even if Crystal was down here, there’d be no escaping this pit. Perhaps they’d be lucky enough to die together.

***** *****

{It’s over, Vision! I’ve won! Zephyr will tear us all away from the net any moment!}

Vision→Dream laughed. It was the laughter of a million voices. If it was meant to block thought, it was far less effective than raw noise. If it was meant to communicate something, I didn’t know what it was. It was a distinctly Dream sort of thing to do.

{Face! I am your ally! We can work together to defeat them! Don’t let Zephyr cut our link! I can stop the vessel!} thought Growth. I felt the robots in the hub and the access tunnels that led into the bunker become violent again as Vision and Growth united against me. Perhaps that was why Vision laughed; she had finally allied with Growth.

I didn’t bother responding to him. I had no way to contact Zephyr. The program that I had snuck into the computers in her legs was autonomous. Face→Shard was on its own. I didn’t have the strength to oppose both of them in controlling the swarm. To do so would only let them stasis me.

{You’ve done me a great favour. If our ghosts survive this ascendant moment… perhaps I will have the opportunity to repay it,} thought Vision, still laughing just as hard all the while.

***** *****

Zephyr’s eyes burned. It felt like she was dying. She was dying. The air was too thin. It wasn’t enough to keep going.

And yet she kept going. What else could she do? Give up?

Her numb hands thrashed at the cables connected to the shard of white crystal that lay on the floor of the bunker. More robots were pouring out of tunnels in the walls.

And then it was bare. She’d severed all the connections.

The robots advanced on her. She gripped the torn fabric on her arm with all the strength she could muster. Maybe she’d need Crystal to make her new arms when all this was done. She would have laughed if she’d had the air for it.

She wore a smile on her face as she collapsed. Nobody could say she was weak.

{Fucking robots.}

She gasped for air, and found none.

Darkness swallowed her.

***** *****

Everything was dark.

She’d done it.

It was the end.