Chapter Thirty-Two


She slipped along by a far wall, gripping her big gun tightly. It had been designed to use as a turret mounted to a vehicle or structure, but she was confident that she could handle the recoil. And she’d need big guns to do anything to the machines. She’d shot Crystal before, and it hadn’t done much good.

“Zephyr! There was an explosion at the chemical lab! I need your help checking it out!” cried a voice that sounded like Crystal, but wasn’t. It came from a one-armed robot that sat on the path ahead of her.

She ran around it, staying well outside its reach. Her legs had stopped talking, and now were simply carrying her, but she knew that this was the monster that Crystal had spoken of. She would have shot the bot, but it seemed like the program from the nameless ship still didn’t understand that she wasn’t fooled by its façade. Better to let it keep talking rather than actively opposing her.

Her steps were more like bounds. The new legs were a bit stronger than her old ones, and in Martian gravity it was faster to jump-forward than to run normally, much like how on the xenocruiser it was fastest to shuffle along without ever moving your center of mass out from over your legs. It had been a torturous few months, but a small part of her was proud of everything she’d lived through. It would be one hell of a story, assuming she didn’t die.

She turned a corner and the thought fell apart half formed in her mind. The hub was located right between the bubble and the launch pad.

There were robots everywhere.

They swarmed across the ground. Drones drifted through the thin air. Legged bots were climbing on others. The smallest were the size of coins. The largest were the size of trucks. One of them, in fact, was the truck that Crystal had converted into a factory after they’d picked the android up. It was total chaos. The machines were doing things, but half the time they seemed to lock up and backtrack or occasionally slam themselves violently into their neighbors.

Crystal and the monster must have been locked in fierce conflict to have created this bedlam. She imagined two superhumans playing twenty games of speed chess against each other simultaneously.

She’d only been here once before. Crystal’s body was inside an underground bunker that Crystal (or had it been the monster?) had said was about ten feet underground. Wires and cables erupted from the ground all around the central hatch and snaked off in all directions. The hatch was open, as it had been last time she visited.

The crystal body was solar powered, much like the crystalline trees. Three large mirrors and various lenses had been set up in the area to focus the sunlight into a concentrated beam that shot down the hatch onto Crystal’s body.

Somehow she needed to get down into the bunker and disconnect the cables that let the monster work.

But she was outnumbered… by about a thousand to one.