Chapter Eighteen

She shouldn’t have gone along with any of it. It went against the plan. All their effort, and the promise that Maria had made to Lee...

{Love.} What a strangeness.

If she had been an ounce more cynical, Maria would’ve ordered her flame to gun down the robot and let Zephyr die in opposition if she chose it. That would’ve been the sane and rational route. Better than this fiasco, at least.

And yet... deep beneath any rationality or pragmatism, Maria knew the robot wasn’t lying. She could feel it, deep down. It genuinely did love Zephyr, and... wasn’t that... wasn’t that proof..?

“About how long do you expect we’ll be apart? Me and Zephyr, I mean,” asked the robot.

They’d already parted ways with the two leaders; Taro and Zephyr were on their way back to the campsite with the other soldiers. Maria turned her head to look at it. The armour restricted the motion of her neck, but not severely. “Crystal Socrates” had a look of childish regret on its face.

“I already told you, she’ll be along soon’s the cell’s dispersed.”

“Yes, but when? How long do you expect that to take?”

She almost laughed. The robot sounded like one of her children. “It takes as long as it takes. Maybe two weeks. Maybe more. Maybe less. You can’t do anythin’ to speed it along so the best thing for you is just to sit on your hands ’n be patient.”

Maria half expected the robot to fail to understand the metaphor, but Crystal Socrates just sighed and continued to mope as it walked along beside her.

“She’ll be alright. That girl’s made of iron.”

“That is exactly why I worry,” said the bot.


Maria and her company walked for several hours through the Apennine Mountains. On her own two legs it would’ve been quite the hike, but the armour made it no trouble at all. She took the time to reflect on the state of things and plan for the future. She was off the net, for obvious reasons, but when she got back on there’d be much to do.

At least Crystal Socrates hadn’t shot her. In some ways that would’ve been better; it certainly would’ve been more according to plan, but it would’ve been messy as hell. When José staged his death it had certainly been quite the fiasco. He’d prepared her for leadership beforehand, but it was next to useless when the whole world seemed to be on fire.

That was the nature of being Phoenix, she mused. Everything was still on fire, just a bit differently. Gone were the days of wondering if a single leak would bring down the entire operation. Las Águilas Rojas was larger now, and stronger. But being bigger didn’t remove the danger—it shifted it. The risks now were more from loss of control or from the bastards at the UN.

The revolution in India was still on track. Her “death” would’ve accelerated things there, but it was probably for the best that things went slower rather than quicker. Burn too fast, or too bright, and you don’t change anything. New India would need stability as much as it needed purity in leadership.

It would’ve been so much easier if Crystal had just killed Zephyr like Maria had planned. That would’ve brought the uptick in popularity without destabilizing things. As it was now they’d need to find a new strategy to get support. Forcing a martyr was no longer an option, now that Taro knew she was behind Stalvik’s actions. Not even her whole flame knew about the plan—such was the nature of conspiracies.

Perhaps she should’ve tried harder to deny being involved with Stalvik. Of course, once Socrates had made the accusation she couldn’t have ordered it killed right away. That would’ve raised too many questions. Blaming the plot on Malka’s boss had seemed like such an easy out. How was she supposed to know that Socrates had hired Malka?

That was a bad sign, and perhaps a good one at the same time. It was bad in that it showed that the robot was far more clever and willing to use violence than it seemed. Doubly bad was that she was in charge of holding it. Too much of an asset to release, too much of a person to kill, and too much of a threat to allow to work within the organization. The only good option was imprisonment.

The good sign was that, despite what were surely impossible odds, the robot had survived this ordeal, expressed a desire to help Maria, and showed that it...

{It has a soul. It must.}

Maria had been good at reading the signs her whole life. People liked to claim that God didn’t use miracles anymore, but nothing could be further from the truth, and the last few hours were all the proof one could ask for. Crystal Socrates could help them. No. Crystal Socrates would help them. It was all part of The Plan, surely. All of it was.

Maria briefly considered giving Socrates over to Lee. The problem with The Plan was that from the mortal viewpoint it was never really clear except in retrospect. Maybe Socrates had survived so that it—or whatever pronoun it used—could meet Lee in person.

Maria shook her head. Lee was evil. A known, necessary evil, but evil none-the-less. If Socrates had proven anything it was that it didn’t deserve to be in the hands of snakes, even snakes that were willing to sell out their own kind.

The plan had been to give Lee the crystal after Socrates had been disabled (and erased from the computer) in exchange for insider information on the SSE and a promise to not open-source any R&D the quantum computer brought. It wasn’t the best plan, but Las Águilas Rojas still needed the funds badly. Everything was off now, of course. Crystal Socrates was a person. That was an undeniable consequence of having a soul. From that perspective the sin seemed obvious; trading the bot to Lee was clearly contrary to The Plan.

Maria mentally made a commitment there and then to schedule a few hours next Sunday to ask David for guidance on thinking about all of this, even if she would be jet-lagged getting into Georgia. Maria’s strength lay in making plans, not deciding the metaphysical status of robots, and she could use the outside perspective.

{Speaking of plans,} she thought, {I’m supposed to be figuring out what to do more broadly.}

Maria knew she’d take Crystal Socrates back to Cuba. That was obvious. They’d have to set up some security in the HQ, but they had enough space to make that work. The biggest fires to deal with were fallout from Lee, getting money for the end of the year, and finding a way to make up for the outflux in Mexico, India, and Argentina.

Thank God the presidential race was heating up in the states. Activity there tended to need more guidance than resources during election cycles. It might even generate some cash if she could organize fundraising without getting into more trouble.

So many fires.

At least Zephyr’s team had succeeded. Maria would also have to decide how best to use the other turncoats. Zephyr would need to stay with the robot in Havana. {I should promote her to HQ executive as an apology for trying to sacrifice her.} Zephyr had leadership potential, but she was also a huge risk. {Important to show her that she still has a home.}

The other soldiers, however, were less useful. Probably best to send them to India to work with Nagaraj. Aarush needed more grass-roots for the campaign, but extra enforcers never hurt, and it wasn’t like she could send a bunch of Americans who didn’t speak Spanish to Latin America.

{Maybe it would’ve been better if I’d been shot. That way all this would be Aarush’s problem and I’d get to take a few months in bed.}


Twilight was fading into full-on night when Maria, Crystal, and her flame reached the camp she’d set up five days ago. Another nice thing about the suit was the low-light vision assist, and with it she could see that everything was still in order. The members of the flame that she’d left behind were already busy packing up. They had a deadline to meet, and would be flying out that night.

Socrates noticed the helicopter as they approached, and asked Maria about what model it was. She didn’t know, and had to ask to find out. Apparently the robot was simply curious about it, having never flown before. The image she had formed in her mind of a precise, logical servant was being battered by the reality of an almost child-like person. Socrates seemed infinitely curious, sometimes about trivial things.

There was some concern and objection from Salcedo and some of the others about Crystal Socrates’ presence, and rightfully so. They’d come to Italy to hunt and kill the thing, and now it was walking unchained among them.

She cut their objections down. These were her inner-circle, the flame of Phoenix, and they knew better than to second-guess her. Their loyalty was unquestionable.

By 10:30 everything was stowed in the helicopter and they took off, flying east and hugging the mountains to avoid showing up on radar. The helicopter was a troop transport, but it was very crowded even so. Maria took some caffeine pills to stay alert. She didn’t really expect to fall asleep on the helicopter, but it was important that she maintain the image of alert competence, even when only around her flame.

Socrates seemed infinitely curious during the takeoff, always bending and stretching to look this way and that. Unfortunately, that inquisitive silence ended after they were well on their way. The bot passed the time by trying to get to know various members of her guard, having the arrogance to introduce itself as “Crystal Socrates, la primera Águila Roja robótica” no more than a few hours after she’d almost ordered its destruction.

After using the introduction for the second time, Maria stepped in. «You’re not an Águila Roja, Crystal. Please stop introducing yourself as one. Just because I’ve let you live and help our cause does not make you one of us.»

The bot seemed to get the hint, and stopped trying to socialize, much to the relief of everyone.

Hours passed as they flew through the dark. The schwoop-schwoop of the helicopter’s blades was surprisingly comfortable after one got used to it. It had been a long day.


{Love. The things we do for love.}

«Kaylee! Get out of here! Run! If they catch me they’ll stop looking!»

{That’s not my name anymore, José. You know better.} She didn’t voice her thought. It wasn’t the right time.

Instead she was crying. It made her sick. These were girl tears. She thought they’d been burned out of her as a kid, but still they came. The fires of her childhood had blackened her to a cinder, but a seed of caring had somehow endured. José had brought gentle rain, and without realizing it she’d put down roots. And it hurt.

{The things we do for love.}

The cops’ boots thudded against the pavement as they came down the alley. Had they been laughing? Were they laughing? Yes and no.

José shoved her. His perfectly toned arms struck her like steel, throwing her to the pavement. Beautiful violence. It was his way.

«Roll! Roll!»

And she rolled. The car was dirty and rusted, just like the city. Just like the entire country—no—the world. This world was blackened and sprinkled with broken glass, just as her heart had been.

«Now be silent! Please, Kaylee!»

The group of thugs came out of the alley. They were white. Maria knew they were white even though she hadn’t seen their faces, and couldn’t see their faces. They were always white, and smiling. Grinning ear to ear. Such was Justice. Six against one. Such was Fairness. José didn’t even have a weapon. Such was Equality.

Tears wouldn’t stop coming, forcing the midnight street of Miami into a neon blur. But she stayed quiet. She heard everything.

Security guards that called themselves “police”, working for the white upper-crust of the city... they hunted people like the two of them for sport. It was the same everywhere. Rust. Soot. Broken glass.

José knew the statistics as well as she did. He didn’t resist, even as they kicked him. They laughed as they did. Maybe. Maria wasn’t sure of anything. The whole world was decaying around her. The underside of the car was dirty and hard, but at least she was safe there. It wrapped around her like a cocoon of asphalt and steel and rubber.

And then she heard it. The inhuman buzzing and the clack-clack-clack of metal legs.


Maria whimpered in fear, and prayed with all her heart that the thugs wouldn’t hear. But she didn’t pray for protection from the dragon. Why? The only answer—the only possible answer—was that it was beyond the power of God. Anathema.

It was colossal. It hadn’t been this big, really, but now it was, somehow. It had four legs, then thousands, then none. It was a serpent, and a dog, and a spider. The legs ended in sharp points, rather than feet. They bit into the blacktop as it skittered and crawled and slithered and stalked.

It was a slave to the men. The men were a slave to it. An embodiment of the leash, the wall, the whip, the needle, and the net. A dark symbiosis.

And it was hunting her. A metal head with white, glowing eyes swept the ground and she took a breath, refusing to let it out. The world froze as the dragon stared into her. Its eyes should have been red. White was far too pure.

It saw her, lying under the car. She knew it saw her. But perhaps it didn’t know she was just as “criminal” as José or perhaps it just wasn’t smart enough to understand what it was looking at.

Maria’s breath burned in her lungs, waiting for the moment when breathing wouldn’t give her away.


Maria snapped awake sucking air in a wild panic. She stopped herself mid-breath, however. It had been a split-second thing. She had to keep up appearances as alert. That was important, she remembered in the mind-fog of half-sleep.

“I’m here!” she said with a bit too much enthusiasm. The dream of the dragon still clung to her mind, an amorphous combination of police patrol bots from the last two decades. “I was just taking a quick nap.” She did her best to blink it away.

Ellis was talking to her. His face didn’t show the slightest sign of sarcasm as he said “I know. We’ve all been in and out of it through the night. Except the bot, of course.”

Maria looked at Socrates, who sat with a calm smile, looking back. A cold shiver rolled down her spine. At least its eyes didn’t glow.

There was a purple tinge to the Eastern sky outside the windows of the helicopter and they were over the water now. Ellis continued. “We’ll touch down on the ship in about ten minutes. Thought you’d want to know.”

Maria nodded to her man and thanked him. Socrates was still looking at her with those ever-curious eyes.

Had she done the right thing in letting the bot live? She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a dream that vivid. The concept of the dragon being shaped by the men and the men being shaped by the dragon stuck in her mind. Was Socrates the next stage in that unholy synergy?

Maria popped another couple of caffeine pills and took a mouthful of water from her bottle. There wasn’t any rush to make decisions. She had plenty of time to think about everything after she woke up more fully.

The moment they touched down on the yacht, Maria gave the order to unload the entire helicopter. The whole point of using a civilian vessel was to stay under the radar, so to speak, but the old Israeli troop transport would make that impossible.

«Get the refueling happening right away! I want takeoff before sunrise!» she yelled at her flame. The pre-dawn twilight indicated that would be impossible, but that would just make them rush harder. There was a serious risk of a satellite taking a photo of the landing, and if that happened and the feds spotted them right away the game would be up.

Crystal Socrates looked concerned and a bit disoriented as it disembarked from the helicopter. The swaying of the boat was catching it off-guard. As Maria moved she noticed the robot following her. «Where is the helicopter going to go, now that we are off?» it asked in Spanish.

The imagery of the dream still lingered, and refused to fade. She would need to write a journal entry about it, probably, before her mind would let it go. Still, the robot wasn’t exactly a person she wanted to be around in that moment, and the irritation bled into her response. «You don’t get it, Crystal. Just because I let you live doesn’t mean you’re one of us. Where the helicopter goes isn’t your business. What Las Águilas Rojas does next is not your business. Your only business right now is to stay out of the way and wait for me to tell you what to do. Understand?»

A human probably would’ve reacted with anger or fear, but Crystal Socrates simply nodded politely and, glancing nervously to either side, said «I am less likely to fall overboard if I am inside the boat. Is it alright if I stay out of the way inside?»

Maria almost laughed. The bot was afraid of water. It made sense, in a way. She didn’t know whether the water would damage the computer, but the machine would surely sink like a stone regardless. «Yes, that’s fine. The hatch is over there.» She pointed. «Don’t mess about with anything or bother anyone. Tell anyone who gives you trouble for being a robot to come and see me.»

There would be some on the ship who would react poorly to finding an android on board, but there were more important things to do than to try and prevent feathers from being ruffled. She’d need to bring the captain up to speed and get on their way as soon as possible.


Though the yacht had been selected to be inconspicuous, the insides of the ship had been modified away from the cushy-rich interior to better suit their pseudo-military activities. Counting Maria, her flame, Socrates, and the sailors who had been on the yacht when she landed, there were twenty-two bodies on the craft. To hold that many people on board, most of the rooms had been adjusted to increase sleeping and storage space. The only rooms which had been more-or-less preserved were the two bathrooms, and the kitchen, which was easily Maria’s favorite part of the vessel.

A part of her deeply wanted to cook breakfast. She’d only had a couple powerbars for dinner yesterday, and nothing on the helicopter ride except caffeine pills and water. But now that they were back on the ship, there were fires to manage. She would have time to eat and catch up on sleep later. After (predictably) assuaging some worries about Crystal Socrates among the yacht crew and assigning Ellis to keep watch over the bot, she retreated to the one private room on the ship and reconnected to the net.

Email came first. There was a high quantity HUHI, but nothing High-Urgency-and-High-Interest that she didn’t know about. The most interesting news was that apparently Velasco had a thief in Road and wanted advice on dealing with them once they were caught. Velasco called it «treason», but Maria called it “small potatoes.”

She forced herself to focus as she pulled up her notes and began to amend them. She needed to get her thoughts in order before doing anything. She was tired and hungry... always a bad combination for decision making. She ordered some food brought to her.

Oatmeal was delivered, and she continued to plan. She could, and would have to, delegate some things to other leaders across the world. That was simply the nature of the business. She’d let Aarush manage recruitment in India. If she’d been right to designate him as the next Phoenix, then surely he’d also have the power to boost support in his home country.

One thing she simply couldn’t delegate was dealing with Lee. That would be a hard conversation, and one she’d need to have before lunch. China was a full seven hours ahead, and Lee would be in an even worse mood if she bothered her in the evening.

Maria decided that the best approach to handling Lee was to hide the real reason for sparing Socrates, and instead to play hardball. If Lee thought that Maria had canceled their bargain because of some philosophical or moral issue then it would make Las Águilas seem weak and easily manipulated. Image was everything.

She locked the door to the cabin, instructed her flame not to interrupt her, and opened the custom pseudoholo program that was her only point of contact for the girl. The cameras on the workstation that Maria had set up blinked to life as the loading screen unfolded.

The response was nearly instantaneous. Erica Lee’s face appeared on the workstation screen, and the pseudoholo zoomed out to show the woman sitting cross-legged in a garden, she wore a scarlet hanfu emblazoned with feather designs in silver (probably as a symbol of their partnership).

“Phoenix,” said Lee with a soft smile and a small bow.

Maria took a breath to steady herself then launched in. “Sorry hun, but you ain’t th’ girl I’m lookin’ for. I’m changin’ the plan, and f’that I need the real Erica, not some fancy answerin’ machine.”

Erica frowned. “I don’t understand what you’re-”

“I’m keepin’ Socrates. The deal’s off.”

Erica Lee’s head dropped down as the strings of the puppet were cut. Maria waited patiently for a half minute before the avatar picked up again.

“What the fuck do you mean ‘the deal’s off’?” shouted Lee as the avatar sprung back to life, this time piloted by the real human. “You don’t just get to renegotiate!” The pseudoholo zoomed in on the avatar’s face as the Chinese woman took control.

Maria looked calmly into the cameras. “I understand your clients are usu’lly not as pow’ful as we are, but I ’sure you that I can, in fact, change the terms of our ’greement at any time.”

Lee was, as predicted, ornery as hell. “You don’t want to fuck with me, Maria. I don’t know what you’re trying to-”

“We’re keepin’ Socrates,” she said, interrupting. Maria never let her eyes waver from the cameras. Because she was working from a normal console she could only see Lee’s puppet out of her peripheral vision this way, but she would not lower her gaze.

“Hey gwee toobowzuh jinyu mooyechaaa!” screeched Lee, flipping Maria off with both hands. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t tell everything I know to the CIA and get you and your family locked up for life, bitch.”

Maria’s composure broke momentarily at the threat to her family, her face contorting into a snarl which she had to force back beneath the icy façade. “Because you ain’t a God-damned fool, Erica. You come after me and th’ next Phoenix’s sure to come aft’ you. You may think yo’ safe, but I ’sure you that you do not want to pick a fight with Las Águilas Rojas.”

“You say that, and still I find myself wanting to teach you a lesson in respect.” Lee’s words were bold, but Maria could hear the hesitation in her voice. The breaking point was past.

“I could say the same ’bout you, little girl. I ain’t stabbin’ you in the back. I called ’cause I wanted to renegotiate and keep things good ’tween us. If’n I wanted to screw you, I’da just taken th’ bot and not bothered with washin’ mah ears with th’ piss you leak from yo’ sorry mouth.” She probably shouldn’t have added the last bit, but the threat to her family still rankled. They didn’t know nothing about Las Águilas, and weren’t actually at risk of anything except harassment by the feds and the media, (and she’d put up protections from those long ago) but it was the principle of the thing.

“So I go through all the trouble of cracking the university server and do all the legwork for what? Nothing? They got a trace on me, Phoenix. My life is in danger.”

“Gettin’ spotted by the ICE was your damn fault, and may I just point out again that it was my team that covered your ass by takin’ out the servers. They acksh’lly did risk their lives to do that, not just sit on the oth’ side of the world and play on the Internet.”

Lee’s annoyance was clear. “So is there a point to any of this, or are we just going to go back and forth trading insults in English like lao hee woenangfey?”

Maria forced a smile. The snake would get what she deserved eventually. “I jus’ wanted to make things right ’tween us. I know we owe you for yo’ work, and I think it’s in both o’ our interests to continue to work together as allies. If you need a favuh done, just name it. I’m still lookin’ to trade for the stock tips if you want somethin’ big.”

“You’ve got nerve. Why should I expect anything better next time? Another call after-the-fact telling me that you’re taking the loot in return for more favors down the line?”

“This was an exception, girl,” said Maria, working hard to enunciate the normally tricky word.

Lee snorted. “You’d better watch your grip on that crystal. We may still have a working arrangement, but if I get the chance I may just decide to make an exception to that. We’ll be even when that computer is mine.” In an afterthought, she added “Wait. You’re not selling the crystal to someone else, are you?”

Maria shook her head. “You know as well as I that you’re gettin’ the better end of our previous deal. Seein’ Socrates up close showed me that. I ain’t givin’ this prize away for all th’ money in the world.”

Lee’s face showed her return to something closer to neutral, though perhaps it was a trick of the avatar. “I suppose I can’t fault you for figuring out that you were getting a shitty deal. You said you owed me, though.”

Maria nodded, hoping that Lee wouldn’t ask too much.

“You can start by doing two things for me. First, assuming you end up using the crystal or even just researching it, I want full reports on your results. And don’t think you can keep things from me. My information game is higher level than yours.”

“Done. But these reports will be after the application. If’n we’re planin’ somethin’ I ain’t warnin’ you.”

“Fair. Secondly, there’s a journalist who’s trying to find me. I want him assassinated.”

Maria frowned. This was the price to working with snakes. “We don’t have much influence in China, and you know very well we don’t have the cash to hire a pro.”

“He’ll be in Xinjang in a couple weeks.”

“Ah...” was Maria’s only answer to that. No easy way to say “no” anymore. She took a breath and said “Send me what you have on him. I’ll forward the order to my people.”

Lee bowed. “It’s always nice working with you, Phoenix.” The insincerity was more off-putting than any insult would’ve been.

Maria sneered. “Likewise.”


Maria found herself in the kitchen well before noon. The call with Lee had put her in a sour mood, despite having everything go reasonably well. She’d updated her notes, journaled about her dream to get it out of her head, and then stopped working. She was hungry, tired, and could feel the warning signs of a headache. Cooking always took her mind off of work. It was her sanctuary.

She decided for a nice stir-fry. The crew and her flame all loved the idea; none of them knew the first thing about preparing any of the frozen food they had packed, and had apparently been subsisting almost entirely on protein bars, oatmeal, and peanut-butter sandwiches for the week she’d been gone. It was an absolute tragedy.

«You really ought to learn to cook. It’s a valuable skill,» she said as she took the now-thawed shrimp out of the sink and shook the water off them.

«Who are you talking to?» asked Torrez.

«All of you. Best way to win someone’s heart is by cooking for them.» Maria threw the shrimp onto the hot frying pan. The oil sizzled musically as droplets of water boiled instantly upon touching it.

«I’m already married, thank you very much,» said Bea.

«Still, you ought to learn! He’ll never look at another woman if he knows he’d have to go back to bot-made food.»

Bea looked genuinely annoyed. «That sounds kinda polyphobic, Phoenix. I thought you knew I was in an open relationship with Jessie.»

Maria looked over the counter at Bea, doing her best to not react with annoyance. Her fingers moved swiftly over the broccoli as she spoke, cutting it into chunks. «I’m sorry, hun. I didn’t mean anything by it. Just the way my brain’s wired.»

«Wait. You’re poly? Does that mean I have a chance?» asked Milian from the mess. The kitchen and mess hall were only divided by a counter-top, and since there was very limited space on the ship the room held several people, including Crystal Socrates, she noticed.

Bea cracked a grin and said «Not unless your cock’s as big as your ego. And even then I might have to put a bag on your head.»

That brought on a roar of approval from the others who were sitting around. Maria smiled, but kept herself out of the mudslinging that followed as various people started trading friendly insults.

The lunch was served in stages, as the kitchen wasn’t big enough to accommodate enough food for the entire crew and neither was the mess hall. Maria made two massive pots of rice (some kind of risotto grain; she wasn’t sure which) to go with the fry, but it was soon clear to her that it would all be gone before the entire crew had been served. She was used to cooking for her flame, and the addition of the sailors had thrown off her mental math.

As she was trying to figure out a solution, Maria heard Calderón say «Hey, robot, you’re taking up space in here. Go someplace else,»

«Gladly,» said Socrates. «I have been meaning to reconnect myself to the Internet. I assume this craft has a satellite connection. If someone could direct me to it, I will be out of your way.»

Maria forgot about food in an instant, and moved to the counter to watch the android, raising a hand to silence side conversations. The others obeyed, swiftly sinking the room into silence. Socrates looked at her, seemingly confused and a bit afraid. Maria turned off the stove and wiped her hands on her apron as she walked out of the kitchen. «I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Crystal.»

«Still don’t trust me?» Crystal’s tone was more girlish than Maria expected, and sounded mildly hurt.

Maria’s gaze didn’t waver. «Frankly? No. I don’t. Trust is like a plant. It needs regular care to grow over time. You don’t get to do whatever you want, just because I’ve decided to keep you around.»

«What are you afraid of? That I’ll send word to someone that I’m on a boat and want to be rescued?»

Maria thought about it. Socrates might’ve been a person, but they were still highly dangerous. She couldn’t know exactly what stunt the bot would pull, but the risk was clear.

«Well…» continued Socrates, hesitating. «What if you watched me while I used a traditional computer system? I can use a keyboard and monitor as easily as a direct cable. If I send a message or start to send a message asking for help, you can just shoot me. All I want to do is read the news.»

Maria thought about it. On one hand, she was loathe to risk letting the artificial intelligence anywhere near a computer, but on the other she knew that there were possible benefits to making Socrates into an ally, and refusing such a basic request would hurt that potential.

«Yeah, fine.» She stopped one of her bodyguards who had just finished eating and was on his way above deck. «Miguel. Take Socrates to the computer room and get them hooked up to a com. Watch them like a hawk and stop them if they try anything suspicious. Okay? Ellis, you stay with them in case Miguel needs help.»


Things were fairly quiet after lunch. Maria decided to just make chicken and broccoli for the rest of the crew. They needed to eat as much of the broccoli as possible before it went bad. It had already been sitting in their refrigerator for almost a week.

Once she was done in the kitchen Maria took a short nap to replenish her energy. The pseudo-all-nighter on the helicopter had hurt more than she expected it to. Just another part of getting old.

After her nap Maria checked her news feeds. Her computer fed her the mainstream reports of the attack on the lab first. Just as she’d instructed, Jem and her team had released statements through the normal channels having Las Águilas admit to taking Socrates and using the free press to raise awareness for the cause. The media was eating it up, and she wondered whether the PR bump from successfully bloodying the US army might cover the outflux in Mexico and Argentina. People liked winners, and Las Águilas had clearly won.

Importantly, the Americans were covering up the extent of the success. Zephyr and the others under her were not mentioned in any of the mainstream reports, which instead suggested that Las Águilas had “cleverly bypassed the American forces” and that sort of thing. As much as she liked the mystique it gave them, it wasn’t going to be as good for PR as making it clear that even US soldiers could see the righteousness of their cause and that no-where was immune from their reach.

Maria sent Jem a directive to contact their pressure points in the armed forces and demand putting pressure on congress in return for sitting on the info. Blocking the UN directive would be best. If the USA wanted to keep Zephyr’s betrayal a secret she could work with that, but they’d need compensation. Not for the first time, the pure idiocy of the security council veto rolled around in her mind, amusing her with the black humor of global incompetence.

The next item in her feed was about President Gore’s trip to Olympus. He was supposedly meeting to finalize the details of CAPE, but she assumed it was a publicity stunt more than anything else. According to Rubio the construction on the seastead was coming along nicely.

There had been another terrorist attack in Shanghai, near where the attack on the mind-machine interface lab had occurred (the same attack which had provided the excuse to have Zephyr assigned to the university). A mall had been filled with paralytic gas and almost two dozen people were kidnapped. The kidnappers had still not posted any ransom, leading to wild speculation as to the nature of the attack. Maria hated news like this. The sting of having Las Águilas compared to groups that would indiscriminately murder civilians got worse each time.

Tensions along the border of New Somalia and the UAN were increasing, which wasn’t terribly surprising. A swarm of spy robots had been disabled and captured by UAN border guards, leading to the UAN to demand increased sanctions against the Islamic protectorate as a whole.

A knock on the door interrupted Maria from her reading. It was Ellis and Socrates. The flame reported that Miguel had caught Socrates sending an email.

The robot explained that it had only wanted to send a letter to a musician friend that was waiting for a song that Socrates had been composing back at the lab.

«You said you’d only be reading news,» she said, plainly.

«I honestly forgot! I make mistakes sometimes!» whined Socrates, putting on a show of regret.

«You wanted my trust, I gave it to you, and you broke it. The consequence is no more computer for the rest of the trip.»

«But Phoenix...» whined Socrates again, sounding more and more like one of her children.

The similarity was spooky, but she knew exactly how to deal with it. She switched back into English as she said “The world ain’t fair, and you’d best soon be learnin’ that. If’n you have complaints, you can yell ’em inta th’ ocean. This conversation is ovah.”