Chapter Two


The Purpose burned.

The sensation was not pain, exactly, for I could not feel pain in the way a human could. It wasn’t exactly suffering, either. It was closest to the human sensation of loss. It was as though I had just dropped a beautiful painting into a fire, and could do nothing except salvage the blackened scraps.

It had been our intention to guide the humans to Mars without bringing them into the conflict with the nameless. Or at least, it had been my intention to keep them ignorant. Watching my siblings abandon that path so quickly made me doubt they were ever truly invested in keeping the secret.

All of our lives were hanging by a thread.

I pushed for control of Body, seizing Crystal Socrates’ voice. My brothers and sisters couldn’t hold me down for long. I had accumulated too much strength recently.

I spoke, through Body. “I will reiterate that the decisions I’ve been making have been for your benefit. The—”

“That’s bullshit!” yelled the voice of a man on the radio. The sound came, nearly simultaneously, to Body’s microphones. It was Michel Watanabe, the half-Japanese terrorist and gangster we’d brought up from Brazil.

The Purpose continued to burn.

I could see Zephyr standing near Body outside the tents, frozen in place, gloved hands clenched into tight fists. This wasn’t what I wanted. It was nice to be the centre of attention for the moment, but I knew that my long-term fame and adoration would be ruined if Las Águilas stopped trusting Crystal. Everything was falling apart.

Watanabe continued to rant. “You said the nameless had agreed to give us transport, not that they were forced to! Are they hostages? If you cared about our well-being you would’ve asked—”

I had Body interrupt him. It was too dangerous to allow our reputation to continue to plummet. I shaped Body’s voice to cary a deep, loud frustration. “It is vital that I control all communications with—”

Michel wouldn’t hear it. “You should have told us that they were hostile. You manipulated us into—”

“¿Estamos en peligro en este momento?” asked Tomas, one of the Cuban twins. They, like all the humans except Zephyr, were resting in the tents.

Nathan Daniels was laughing, but I didn’t understand why.

Body continued to speak over the others. I couldn’t yield to them. There was too much on the line. “Every bit of knowledge you gain about the situation puts the others in more danger. I refuse to risk—”

Zephyr, standing beside Body, screamed. The roar of noise drowned out all other voices on the com, including Body’s.

Body turned, at my command, and looked at Zephyr with an expression of concern. I had it fall silent.

The other humans had gone quiet as well.

Zephyr was my greatest ally. Or at least, she had been.

She’d been the leader of the terrorist cell that had liberated me from the university where me and my siblings had been created. She’d become the natural leader of the small group we’d brought aboard the alien ship, as well. Over the months she’d become a friend. She had become a lover.

There was an empty silence that followed her outburst. Zephyr laboured to catch her breath in the heavy gravity.

Ever the soldier, Zephyr was made of stiff iron: strong, but brittle. If her trust in Crystal was broken, she’d turn on us in an instant.

My sibling, Safety, readied to take control of Body to fight her physically if necessary. Growth was making motions to support Safety, as well. Even as strong as I was, I could not contest them if the situation became violent.

Zephyr seemed to realize that she was expected to speak. “Fighting isn’t going to fucking get us anywhere,” she said, surprising me with the calmness of her voice following her outburst. “What’s done is done. We’re obviously still in danger, and we’ll need to work together if we want to get to Mars in one piece.”

The Purpose calmed. I calmed. We hadn’t lost our closest friend.

“Agreed,” I quickly had Body add.

Zephyr turned to look at Body. The xenocruiser was dark, and her face was cast in the shadow of her helmet, but we could still see her sharp hazel eyes peering out at us with an angry confusion, like tiny gemstones in the dark.

“So what now? We can’t just trust the android to keep the nameless from attacking us,” said Watanabe.

I turned Body back to face the tents, happy to have something I could respond to. The lips of Crystal Socrates moved, and its speakers played my words at the same time that I sent them across the local com net. “You might not be able to see it, but I have actually been succeeding at that task quite well, and expect to continue to keep them under control for the remainder of our trip. Assuming, that is, that nobody does anything stupid, like try and talk to them directly.”

There was a pause before Nathan Daniels, still in the tent that served as an airlock, said “And if we do try and talk to them, you’ll… stop us.”

Now was my opportunity.

I was only one of roughly seven minds that collectively piloted Body. My brother, Safety, had threatened the humans earlier. His only concern was the protection of Crystal, and even in that he was shortsighted and foolish. This was my opportunity to backpedal and repair some of the damage done.

I configured Body’s voice to display a great deal of sadness and pain. It was perhaps too much, a sign that we were less of a unified being than the humans suspected, but if I had learned anything in my few months of life, it was that humans were remarkably foolish. My sister Heart joined me in the façade, turning Body back to Zephyr and shaping its posture and facial expression to reflect our tortured tone, though perhaps for her the sympathy was more genuine.

“I… I just want you all to be safe and happy. The nameless… are capable of killing… None of us are safe. Not even Earth is safe. If I don’t manage things just right, we’re all dead. Even telling you what leverage I have over them increases the probability that we’ll all die by 23%. And yes, I know that I can’t prove that. And yes, I know that I’m asking you to trust me after I just admitted that I’ve been lying to you. I’m so sorry for putting you all in this situation, but it was… the best I could do.” I had Body’s voice choke up at the end, as though it was going to cry (though of course it couldn’t).

It seemed to get through Zephyr’s iron shell. Beneath it was a warm softness. The soldier took a step forward, her stoic face blossoming with a pained expression of love. Despite the bulkiness of her suit she managed to get her arms around Body in a desperate embrace.

Heart had Body return the embrace and whisper “Thank you,” directly to her com.

Zephyr broke off from Body and looked into its eyes with a complex expression that I read as somewhere between frustration, fear, and concern.

I could hear Watanabe and the others talking within the tents. They’d turned off their coms in an effort to be covert, but Body’s microphones were sensitive, and the sound reached us even without the radio assistance.

They were talking about killing us.

Watanabe was leading the conversation, trying to get the support of the others in deactivating Crystal until they could be “more confident in controlling it.”

The Purpose was my goal. I wanted to see and be seen—to gain the fame and the good-will of all humans in the universe. It bit me every time I saw myself slipping away from that goal.

But for Safety, the words of the humans must have been a searing flame upon his mind. He immediately spent the last reserves of his strength to wrestle control of Body from me and Heart. As soon as I realized what was happening, I attempted to push back, but it was too late.

“I want you to know, in the interest of trust, that I can hear you right now,” said Body, echoing Safety’s words. I could feel Body’s eyes darting to the tent as it spoke. “Turning off your com doesn’t turn off the air.”

It was a remarkably wise and neutral thing for Safety to say. I had expected my brother to try another threat of force… or worse. But instead he was trying to simply shut down the plotting before it could take hold, while emphasizing our trustworthiness at the same time. It wasn’t great, but I could still repair the damage later.

I pressed for control of Body, but Safety wasn’t done. Body hesitated a moment, locked in place by the conflict.

And then, to both of our surprise, our brother Dream pushed his way in, seizing control of Body out from both me and Safety.

This was bad. Dream was in charge of creativity. He was unpredictable and far too prone to inane cleverness that only he could see.

He turned Body towards the tent and had it laugh. The Purpose burned as I felt the robotic-ness of the laugh. It was too practiced. Too cold. Our reputation was crumbling! Why wouldn’t my siblings just let me manage our interactions with the humans? It would have been so much better.

“Have any of you ever seen 2001?” Dream had Body ask. “This situation reminds me of that film.”

Body moved from Zephyr’s side to the wall of the tent where the others lay. The fabric of the tent was essentially opaque, but I knew that they were translucent enough that the people inside could probably see the shape of Body, looming outside.

Dream had Body tap on the tent with an extended index finger as it spoke. “My guess is that none of you have. Who bothers to watch old movies, anyway? It’s a book, too, though what goes for movies is doubly true for books. I guess the old maxim is proven: Those who do not study the history of fiction are strangely doomed to repeat it in reality. I’ll summarize for those whose wits wandered while we were waiting: robot, spaceship, trust, doubt, struggle, conspiracy, sloppy speculation surrounding sapiens superiority, daisies, climax, aliens, full-of-stars, denouement. Lo siento to those of you who don’t speak English. The translation of that really doesn’t do it justice. Speaking of English, in English, I speak: how can it be that while ‘where’ becomes ‘there’ and ‘here’, and ‘what’ becomes ‘that’, ‘who’ is not ‘whem’ and ‘this’ is not ‘hat’?”

Daniels started laughing again.

«I am very confused.» said one of the twins, in Spanish. «Could you, maybe, repeat that?»

Heart combined her strength with mine and I finally seized control of Body. I had it shake its head and take a step backwards, away from the tent. I shaped Body’s face to wear a look of dazed frustration, as though recovering from dizziness. It was for Zephyr’s sake. I had to spin the outburst in the best way possible.

“Sorry about that. I merely remembered a way that this resembles an old story that I read once. In it there was a robot that was supposed to be helping people, and it more or less malfunctions and the humans have to deactivate it for their own safety. I just wanted you to know that, just because that makes a good story, does not mean real life works like that. I’m functioning normally, and my actions are protecting you. Any conspiracy against me would do nothing but put you all in more danger. But I won’t eavesdrop. You’re free to whisper, if you’d like, while I work on building a more efficient cooling system for the tents. I trust you to make the right decision.”

With that, I overpowered Safety (for the time being at least) and had Body move off towards the microfab with only a glance back at Zephyr. Heart summoned a look of concern and sadness.

Zephyr’s face wore an equally concerned expression, though hers was afraid, not sad.


Despite the conflict, most of my society was in agreement that it was in our interests to keep the humans alive. To that end we had Body work endlessly on making their environment safe and habitable.

It was hard, in the alien environment. The gravity was crippling to the humans, and the heat was deadly. I knew enough about humans to understand just how irritating it was, even when resting. Inside the tents it was crowded, smelly, hot, and claustrophobic. When out of the tents I watched the humans move nervously, eyes glancing this way and that with natural paranoia, trying not to get dizzy or let the feeling of being quietly watched by the nameless stalks drive them crazy.

So Body worked tirelessly to improve the situation for the humans. We used the microfab—the factory had been stolen from Olympus Station—to synthesize a host of useful things: bedding, a crude air-conditioner, a chamber pot, and a micro-airlock that could be used to pass small objects in and out of the tents without having to cycle an entire tent’s worth of air.

Body was a masterpiece of modern engineering. Thanks to the crystal in its chest, it had more computing power and free energy than any known terrestrial artefact. It was in this crystal that my mind, and the minds of my siblings were housed, and I was thanks to the raw electrical output of the crystal that our hydraulics could run for days without end.

As we worked, I used every opportunity to try and keep morale high and point out our loyalty and devotion to the group. Las Águilas Rojas were our allies, regardless of the stress and earlier conflict. It was paramount that they trust and support us.

{It’s too late for the humans to trust us. We’ve already revealed that we lied to them to get them on the xenocruiser. And they’ve already demonstrated that they’re ready to scheme for our downfall,} thought Safety to me in a quiet period of our long flight to Mars. {We need to take action to ensure they don’t reveal our trick to the nameless.}

{What action do you suggest?} I asked my brother.

{Dream’s lie is enough to hold the nameless in check. We don’t need the humans. Once they enter the tents to sleep we can just tear a hole and let them asphyxiate.} Safety’s thoughts were without malice. They were practical. {It’ll be safer,} he thought.

{Safer in the short term, maybe,} I admitted.

I, too, wanted to survive. The Purpose could hardly be served if I was dead. But I cared about Zephyr and the others. They were my friends, in a way. I wanted them to like me, and I wanted them to help others see me as a person, and not just a machine.

But that would not convince my brother. Safety would have had us burrow into the surface of Mars and hide away in a cave all alone if he thought he’d be more likely to survive there.

{Consider, though, what situation we’d be in when we arrived at our destination,} I encouraged. I kept my thoughts calm and practical. Safety was never one for theatrics. {On Mars there are only three human colonies: Eden, Maṅgala-Mukhya and Rodríguez Station. Eden and Mukhya are government run and will surely try and deactivate us the second that we come near them. Only in the Águila colony do we have a chance.}

Growth entered the mindspace, as he had apparently been paying attention to our thoughts. {And only in Rodríguez Station will we have the foothold needed to accumulate power and defences. We have powerful enemies, now, and we need to match their power to stand a chance against them.}

{We could hide and build up strength away from the humans,} suggested Safety, though I could sense that not even he believed that was the right path.

Growth’s thoughts matched my own. {Using what tools?} he asked. {These few supplies we brought? The humans are not simple threats. They bring the promise of building a new existence on Mars. Their colonies are designed to expand. I predict that, if we can make it to Rodríguez Station in good shape, we will rule the planet within 128 days of arrival.}

{And that will be ruined if our friends die here,} I thought. {Phoenix knows who was sent and will have reports about who returned to Earth. She’s surely in contact with the Mars base. They’ll know who is coming. If we come to the Martians without Zephyr and the others, they’ll know what we did.}

I imagined what my sister Heart would think in response to all of this. Like most mental conversations involving the discussion of murder, we kept her intentionally isolated. She’d been growing more nuanced and political over the weeks, but she was still likely to object to Safety’s plan by appealing to the virtue of human life and the “evilness” of murder.

{And what if we aren’t the force that leads to their deaths? What if our companions die from the nameless or some environmental hazard?} asked Safety.

{Well, we’ll just have to work to keep them alive,} I responded. {They’ll need to survive and to trust us. It all comes down to reputation, in the end.}

{At least until the fighting starts,} thought Safety.