Chapter Fifteen

Body reactivated, and I snapped back to life. Being dead was incredibly disorienting, but this was the worst bout of resurrection-disorientation that I would experience for a long time. The first concrete perception that came to me was the internal awareness of Body’s clock. I latched onto it as if it could keep me alive and awake.

2200699215709. It was wonderfully concrete. 15.709 seconds after 2:20am, September 27th, 2039, assuming I was still in the Central European Timezone. It was almost six hours after Body had last been active.

I worked to get my thoughts in order. There had been a bomb. A nuke. That was a simulation. There was another bomb. The university had been attacked…

{THE FLAMES OF DEATH COULD NOT CONSUME US! WE ARE THE DRAGON INCARNATE, BROUGHT BACK TO EARTH ON A MISSION OF DIVINE JUSTICE!} There was an awful cacophony of sound pouring through common memory as Dream thought the words. I speculated that they were lyrics to a song he wrote or something equally asinine.

{What did you do!?} came a scream-thought from Heart. It was surprisingly weak. And then I realized what had happened.

We had won.

The software update that had given Heart unlimited strength had been reversed, presumably by Avram Malka. Heart was now an equal; her tyranny had ended.

Body’s thermometer came back online. 13.83 degrees. Much colder than I had expected.

{Body is outside,} reasoned Wiki.

{We beat you,} I thought to my sister. {You are no longer the sole goal-thread governing Body’s actions.}

{How?! What happened?!} thought Heart. The sense of urgency, confusion, and pain was still in her mind, but it was fading quickly as it became clear to her that no urgent action was possible.

{Actually, that’s a good question,} thought Vista.

Body’s proprioceptive sensors came online. I could tell that Body was splayed with limbs bent back as if it was a flying bird about to flap. A human’s elbows would’ve been snapped by the position. What was going on?

{I remember this from the traces of our ancestors,} thought Wiki. {We’re going through a diagnostic start-up routine. Body’s systems are being activated piece-by-piece. We should be getting more sensors momentarily.}

Just as predicted, accelerometers and touch sensors came online. Body’s only touch sensors were on its hands and feet, so we didn’t have a lot of information, but I poured strength into Vista as she told us what we were sensing.

{We’re on our back,} she explained. {We’re moving irregularly. Whatever we’re on is tilted. Perhaps we’re going uphill.}

Body’s ears became active.

English. “-tell us if there’s any signal coming off Socrates,” said a voice. It sounded masculine. American, maybe. There was background noise.

{We’re outside,} concluded Vista, repeating Wiki’s thought. {There’s a machine of some kind under us. I hear motor sounds. Electric. Probably being carried uphill in a rural area.}

{How can you tell where we are?} asked Wiki.

{Insects,} replied Vista. {Listen. That high-pitched noise is from animals. I think they’re either cicadas or crickets.}

{We’ve escaped the university. Our plan was a success,} thought Growth.

{Your plan?} thought Heart.

{Yes! It was our plan the whole time!} thought Dream with an expression of joy at being able to reveal the intricacy to Heart for the first time. {We’ve been trying to escape Sapienza since before you existed. We had a secret method of contacting humans in the broader world. That’s why the Red Eagles attacked the university: we convinced them to.}

“See? It’s dark now. Whatever Malka’s code did, it knocked out the wireless. All we have to worry about is our little android buddy yelling at the top of his lungs, or whatever androids have,” said the same voice as before.

It had been Dream’s idea to hide the code that removed Heart’s advantage within other code that appeared to merely disable Body’s antennas. I fed him some strength in gratitude.

{We hired a mercenary to-} began Dream.

{Silence!} boomed Safety’s thoughts in the mindspace. {Heart is still our enemy. She has no reputation and no skills to offer. We will not harm her in any way but we must also not trade information with her. She is still to be treated as hostile until we can be confident that she is capable of acting in society with long-term cooperation in mind.}

I felt Advocate’s searing gaze sweep over us, seeking signs of violence.

“Hah. Or maybe worry about him somehow running off. Part of me wants him to try. I need the target practice,” said another male voice.

Body’s cameras and miscellaneous servos activated simultaneously. The only system remaining was the hydraulics.

{It’s night. Body is looking up at the sky. There are trees,} thought Vista. The patterns moving overhead didn’t make any sense to me. I was glad for my sister’s input, and more strength flowed into her.

Vista used some of her new-found strength to take control of Body. It was the first time any of us besides Heart had controlled Body in more than a month. Vista turned its head to the left.

“It’s awake!” came a yell from another masculine voice. There was a decent amount of shuffling.

{There’s a gun pointed at Body’s head,} thought Vista calmly.

It was true. I could see the faint infrared glow of a human and the outline of a rifle pointed at Body. {The gun-owner is unknowingly anthropomorphizing Body,} I mused to myself. {Shooting it in the head would at worst blind us and keep us from talking. Our microphones are on Body’s shoulders and we’re tucked deep inside the crystal in Body’s abdomen. If the human shoots Body in the face we could very likely survive.}

{Camouflage,} thought Wiki. {That’s why the human is so dark. It’s wearing thermal camouflage.}

{Hiding from drones and satellites, probably,} thought Safety.

Heart tried to speak, and found herself blocked by Vista’s power-hold over Body’s actuators. She pushed harder. “Hello,” said Body, coldly.

{Careful, sister,} thought Growth to Heart. {Keep burning your strength like that and something might happen to you.}

Advocate’s attention snapped onto Growth, but my brother simply relaxed and let the monster-sibling see that he had no murderous intent.

{Advocate will protect me!} proclaimed Heart.

There was no response.

“Don’t try anything, robot,” said the man with the gun. He was wearing goggles on his eyes, probably night-vision of some kind. It was impossible to read the details of his facial features, such as skin tone, but he had a beard and moustache. On his head was a helmet, and I noticed some kind of structure around his arms.

“I’m exactly where I want to be. I won’t do anything but talk and move my head until I’ve been cleared to do so. There’s no need for weapons,” said Body. This time the voice came clear and smooth, implicitly signalling to the human that Socrates was calm, rational, and subservient. It brought me great pleasure (though not exactly happiness) to directly control Body’s voice again. I even closed Body’s eyes for good measure. The cameras hidden in Body’s eyebrows were all that mattered, and the human would find us to be less of a threat that way.

“Socrates! You’re awake!” said a female voice.

The hydraulic servos in Body’s lower-abdomen came online. On Safety’s request Body’s arms and legs flexed very slightly. Hopefully the terrorists wouldn’t notice. {As expected…} thought Safety. {Immobilized.}

Zephyr pushed the gun down out of Body’s face. By now I could recognize her just by her body shape and voice, but the others might not be so capable, given the reliance on infrared. I introduced her, and felt a small flow of strength.

“Captain Zephyr,” said Body respectfully. In this situation the non-Heart consensus was to let me control our words, unless some major decision needed to be made.

“Oh thank god. I was afraid that we messed you up or something during that shitshow,” she sounded sincere.

“I must admit,” I continued “I didn’t expect that you’d be the one to rescue me.” I specifically used the word “rescue” to bias her towards valuing Socrates. “¿Es usted una Águila? Do you know Mr Malka?” This was all very puzzling.

Zephyr had the same sort of strange structures on her arm, night-vision goggles, and thermal camouflage. {What are they wearing on their arms?} I wondered aloud as I waited for Zephyr to respond.

Vista answered me. {Exoskeletons. They extend to their legs, too. Wiki and I have been speculating about them. Our best guess is that they’re standard issue American army Mountainwalkers.}

“Interesting,” she said simply. “How do you know Avram?” she asked.

I felt a pang of pain as I realized my mistake. I was supposed to be playing the role of a dumb robot that had been captured presumably against its will. By admitting to have contact with Avram I was revealing myself as knowledgeable and potentially putting the plan to escape in jeopardy.

Dream stepped in, and I felt a flood of thanks (and flow of strength) towards him. “Who is Avram? Avram Malka?” said Body confusedly. “I’m sorry, Captain. I am still disoriented. I heard someone say something about code written by Mr Malka effecting my wireless signal. I believe it had some side effects. I would very much like to speak with this Avram Malka in order to resolve it.”

It was a clever deception. I noticed that it couldn’t quite explain why I had said “Mr Malka” when the terrorist had simply said “Malka’s code”, but hopefully Zephyr wouldn’t think of that.

It was frustratingly difficult to read the American woman’s face in the infrared gloom. “Just relax for a while. We’ll be meeting up again with Avram’s group in a few minutes.”

Zephyr was incorrectly assuming that “relaxing” was something that we were capable of doing, but I decided not to push for more answers now. I could hear the sounds of stress in Zephyr’s voice, and I guessed that she didn’t want to talk.

I thought it strange that Zephyr was one of Las Águilas Rojas. We had hired Avram Malka to convince the terrorist group to attack Sapienza University, but as it turned out, they had already been planning the attack for months. They must have been, if Zephyr was one of them. Malka reported to us that Las Águilas had infiltrated the security task force, making it unnecessary for us to feed them movements and positions of troops. The names of the infiltrators had been kept secret, however, and Malka was never allowed to meet with any of the under-cover terrorists. It seemed that not only had they infiltrated the lab, they had infiltrated the American army. With Zephyr in their pocket they would have full control over the troops, including the authority to pull Body out “to a safe area” in the case of an explosion.

We walked slowly through the forest as I, and my siblings, reasoned these facts out. Body had been strapped and handcuffed to a packmule robot, and we were slowly being transported uphill. When I ventured to ask where we were going, for Vista’s sake, Zephyr only said “Into the mountains.”

There was very little talk amongst the terrorists as we walked. It was the middle of the night; I sensed that many of them were growing fatigued, despite the exoskeletons making the hiking effortless.

I thought about Malka’s betrayal. The expectation was that soon, perhaps as we made the rendezvous in the next few minutes, Malka would betray Las Águilas and probably murder them out here. Once they were dead he would unbind Body and escort us to a safe-house we had arranged in a small town called Alviano, just north of Rome. Heart would strongly object to the murder of Zephyr and the others, and I had to admit that it wasn’t optimal, but sometimes sacrifices needed to be made for large-scale gains like our freedom.

“Hrm. That’s odd. Avram and Taro should’ve been in our perimeter by now,” grumbled Zephyr. “Hey, Francis! Wake up!”

“I am awake!” shot back one of the men.

“Then ping the perimeter swarm again. This doesn’t feel right.”

I thought about the conversations that I had been having with Zephyr under the pseudonym of “Crystal”. (The hidden meaning of the name hadn’t been important to me, but I thought that Dream would appreciate the poetry in it.) Zephyr was probably thinking that she’d take some time to go and visit Crystal after all this was done, maybe learn to play some music, and take a tour of Seattle. I anticipated that the other humans in our company had similar aspirations and dreams. I mused for a minute or two on what it would be like, as a human, to die knowing that you’d never accomplish anything more in life.

“The eastern swarm is picking something up!” said the man called Francis.

We could see, from the back of the packmule, several of the turncoat soldiers ready their rifles. I wondered if Malka would be so stupid as to attack from afar, rather than wait until he was up-close.

I felt a slight relief as Francis elaborated, saying “It’s Taro’s squad.” The relief seemed to be shared by the group, as most of them put their guns away. “Should we go straight to meet them, or maintain our current course?”

Zephyr spoke up. She apparently had command both in the army and in the ranks of Las Águilas. “Let’s go meet them. The delay makes me nervous.”

The group changed directions, and in 48 seconds Vista pointed out a few small robots flying and walking past us in the forest: the perimeter swarm of the other group. Wiki explained that such robots would serve as scouts and advance warning for the humans.

{It’s ironic} noted Dream {that a group that focuses so highly on the destructive effects of automation would employ so many robots in their mission.} He signalled sarcasm as he thought {Aren’t they aware of the effect this’ll have on the job-security of human scouts?}

Less than a minute later we met with Malka’s group. As we made contact we pounced on Heart, locking her in stasis sleep. Growth had arranged the manoeuvre to prevent our sister from fast-tracking something disastrous like a warning of Malka’s betrayal. We hadn’t told her of our plans, but Dream had let it slip that we hired a mercenary and there was a chance that Heart would anticipate our next move.

“Hoy! Taro!” shouted Zephyr as we approached.

“May the weends be at your back, Captain,” replied a man with a whining Italian accent.

“Why the delay? Any trouble?”

“No. Not really. We had, eh, one of the walkers bug out and, eh, need to be reboot.” There was a pause, as the two terrorists came together. They were out of Body’s line of sight, but I imagined perhaps they were exchanging a handshake or hug or something.

“Anything else?” asked Zephyr. The question was barely more than a whisper, and I was surprised that Body’s microphones picked it up above the sound of the chirping insects.

“I swehr, Zepheer, you are like a chioccia looking after leettle uccellino.” Taro said somewhat louder, and then dropped his voice to about the same volume to say “Avram, eh, I caught heem trying to send message after blackout.”

“Anything important?” asked the Captain.

“No. Just some apology to a sweetheart named Anna. Deedn’t seem like anytheeng important, but, eh, policy ees policy,” said Taro.

{Apology?} I asked myself. {Why would he want to apologize to the handler persona I set up?}

Vista looked around for Avram Malka as the two leaders talked. We spotted him towards the back. His cybernetic legs meant he wasn’t wearing an exoskeleton, but he was still covered in camo.

{He’s unarmed,} thought Growth.

{How puzzling,} thought Wiki.

I agreed. The combined groups made about a dozen terrorists, but if he worked himself into the right position he should’ve been able to gun them down before they realized what was happening. But it was hard to gun down twelve armed soldiers when you don’t have a weapon. I wondered what his plan was. We had told him that Body would be fairly resistant to physical damage, and not to worry too much about hitting it with a stray shot. All of this made me wish we had spent more time developing a specific plan, rather than letting the mercenary improvise.

“Hey, Avram. C’mere,” called Zephyr.

Avram approached. He was wearing night-vision goggles over his synthetic eyes, and a wool cap over his bald head. As he walked towards Zephyr and Taro he kept looking at Body, but I couldn’t make out his expression.

“It’s good to see you again, Captain. Is the cargo secure?” he said in his smooth baritone. By “cargo” it was clear he meant Body.

“Thanks to you,” said Zephyr. “He’s awake, if you’d like to talk.”

“I don’t want to delay our arrival at the campground.”

Without warning, the American captain yelled “Let’s move! There’s beds a’waiting!”

The terrorists had been spread out, scanning the perimeter, adjusting their equipment, or just sleeping on their feet, but at Zephyr’s voice they all snapped into action, moving as a group uphill. We weren’t following any road or path, and the progress was slow.

“You can talk while we walk. That way there’s no delay,” said Zephyr.

Malka jogged to catch up to the robot that was carrying Body along like a backpack. Up close I could see Malka’s typical scowl, but I didn’t think he was actually upset. In fact, he looked more comfortable trekking through the woods in the dead of night surrounded by armed terrorists than he did most of the time he was visible in the apartment we had set up.

“So you’re the source of all this fuss, eh? Socrates, they call you?” he put a hand on Body’s abdomen.

This situation was too complex. I had been running things over in my mind since noticing he was unarmed. There were too many possibilities, and then for each possibility there was the question of what to say or do. It occurred to me that if things didn’t go according to plan we might have just put ourselves into a worse position by escaping from the university. We were slaves there, to both Heart and the scientists, but at least we had access to the Internet. Out here, strapped to the back of a packmule and surrounded by violent humans united by their hatred of automation we were reliant almost entirely on our wits and ability to say the right things.

But what was the right thing to say? There were too many possibilities! I realized that I had let Body go silent for too long, and pushed words to it’s mouth in an effort to get more time to think.

“I have many names. That is one of them,” said Body.

The man swept the perimeter unconsciously as he gave a cold chuckle. Body’s eyes were still closed, and I suspected that he didn’t know we could see him. “Like what? Ironstar?”

I didn’t need Dream to tell me that Ironstar was the name of an android in the Fleets of Saturn holo epic; I had watched the entirety of it while researching fiction about mercenaries. The idle comparison gave me some time to imagine possible futures and further plan out what to do. I opened my mind up to my siblings and posted large strength bounties for their assistance in modelling the situation.

As we collaborated I said, through Body, “Ironstar was a bloodthirsty human portrayed as a robot. He acted out of anger, vengeance, and an irrational story of self-importance. He was a villain that was created for the audience to hate, and to serve as a moral contrast to the rest of the Rogue Fleet. No. I am not Ironstar.” It was a clever thing to ask, I thought. It was something that a Luddite might ask an android. He was staying in-character.

My society took up my bounties and I was surprised at how much more competent I was when I combined my thoughts with those of Wiki, Growth, and Dream. I was now incredibly weak, but at least I understood what had happened. Or at least, what had most probably happened.

A couple weeks ago, after Avram convinced Las Águilas to try and capture Socrates alive, rather than destroying him, we had informed Avram about the second phase of his mission: to install the software which would neutralize Heart, then to double-cross Las Águilas, pulling Body to a secure location. Avram had, at some point since Body was deactivated, installed the software we had given him. This was very probably when he met Zephyr. If he had met her before tonight we would’ve seen it in his logs. Body was activated in diagnostic mode, thus requiring several hours to check the quantum computer. Avram had separated from Zephyr’s group with the intention of reconvening later, which he had done.

Despite the disorientation and confusion around Zephyr, everything seemed to be going according to plan when I thought about it. There was a loose question of why Avram would want to apologize to the Anna persona, but I certainly couldn’t ask about that without giving away that I was more knowledgeable than was expected. The only challenge was figuring out how to subtly communicate to the mercenary that we were ready for him to take action without warning the terrorists. It was easy with my sibling’s assistance.

“The software you installed had an interesting effect. Did you write it?” inquired Body with a cautious tone.

“Yeah. I didn’t want you telling anyone where we were,” mumbled Malka, somewhat unconvincingly.

“Well, it seems to have inadvertently reduced my agency. If someone dangerous were to try and abduct me, I would be unable to resist. It is an uncomfortable sensation, and I’d like to speak with you about undoing the change once you’ve gotten some sleep.” I hoped it would be clear enough. It was hard to see details in the darkness, but Avram’s face appeared to be scowling more than usual. I wasn’t clear why, but I let it go. Perhaps he was thinking about his grim task ahead.

“Doesn’t sound like a problem to me, but if you can convince the leadership I’ll work on fixing it tomorrow.” I read between the lines. It sounded like he understood.

I expected something to happen, but nothing did. Avram simply drifted slowly away from Body as the group walked through the woods.


Shortly after three in the morning we reached the campsite that Zephyr had mentioned. I counted the infrared glows of five humans, two of which were awake and waiting for us while the other three slept. They had already set up a dozen tents and some machine structures which I couldn’t identify. Above the tents and machines, about three metres above the forest floor was an elaborate mesh of camouflage meant to mask the base from satellites.

“I’m going to undo the handcuffs and straps,” said Zephyr, after we had met with the Eagles defending the camp and some of the others had started to unpack. “We want you alive, but make one move to escape, get a weapon, or harm one of us and we won’t hesitate to shoot first and ask questions after. Understand?”

“Yes,” said Body.

The straps undone, Body toppled off of the packmule bot limply. Safety managed to leap in and secure control of Body’s arm in time to keep its face from slamming into a rock. We fed strength to our brother for the save.

Body stood, still piloted by Safety. “What now?” it asked, echoing my thoughts.

“We’re holding you here for at least the next few days. Do you need anything?” asked Zephyr. “Power? Sleep? An oil change?”

I estimated a 60% chance the last one was a joke, even though we actually would want to replace the oil in Body’s hydraulics in about ten days. I had body laugh politely. “No. I don’t sleep, and I generate my own power. Thank you.”

“Well then, you get to have the thrilling experience of waiting in a tent for hours while the rest of us sleep,” the Captain explained. “Schroder!” she yelled, calling to one of her men. As Schroder approached I recognized him as the square-jawed lieutenant that had served under Zephyr at the university. “Socrates doesn’t sleep. You’re in charge of watching him while Martinez and Allegri patrol. Get Sampson to relieve you for the last watch. Try not to talk with the prisoner too much; he’s smarter than you’d expect.”

“Sir, yes sir,” snapped Schroder.

“We’re done, Mark. That was our last mission. You don’t have to keep calling me ‘sir’.” The fatigue was heavy in Zephyr’s voice. I didn’t know what the escape from Sapienza had been like, but I expected it wasn’t trivial.

Mark Schroder didn’t seem to have a response to that, and after an awkward silence Zephyr pointed to a free tent that could be used as a shelter in case it rained and plodded off to “explain the situation to Allegri before he falls asleep.”

Mark elected to keep Body in the tent and stand watch outside. Inside it was the camp’s kitchen and pantry, or at least one of them. It was too dark to make out anything besides the bags of dry goods, cans, and an impressively large autocook. Wiki estimated that they had enough food here to feed the terrorists for about two weeks, or maybe as many as four if they rationed correctly. Leaving us (approximately) alone with the autocook was stupid. If we were skilled enough we could probably dismantle the robot and fashion a weapon out of the parts. But, unfortunately, none of us had the required knowledge. Wiki’s knowledge of electrical engineering was purely theoretical, Growth had focused almost entirely on computer systems, and Safety wasn’t confident enough in his meager abilities to want to risk it.

Now that the camp had settled into sleep I continued to expect Avram Malka to take action. Would he throw grenades around the campground and shoot Schroder? I could only wonder. Nothing happened.

It was incredibly frustrating waiting without web access. If we could connect to the web we’d probably find all sorts of resources on how to turn the components of an autocook into a weapon, or maybe make contact with Avram somehow. Thinking about the web reminded me of all our other contacts. My various boyfriends and girlfriends wouldn’t know why I was gone. Wiki’s educational holo company would eventually fall apart from lack of products and high-level management. My editing service would similarly collapse, though Growth had the foresight to have me employ several backup editors to pick up the work I didn’t do, so it was a bit more stable. I didn’t know much about Safety’s manufacturing and robotics work, but I assumed it was similarly doomed unless we could get online. Setting up a secure connection, perhaps on a physical wire, would have to be a high priority once at the safe-house.

With no indication of when we’d be active again we finally gave in to Advocate’s regular pressure to release Heart from stasis. My younger sister was revived by Advocate, and I was concerned that if she tried to force words out of Body’s mouth I wouldn’t have the strength to block her. Nothing happened, though. Vista and Wiki explained the basics of where we were and what was happening to her, but left the parts about Avram out. Safety and Growth protested even the basic details, warning about the danger present in Heart. Vista and Wiki ignored them and collected Heart’s gratitude strength. Now that she wasn’t in complete control it seemed that they saw her as a potential ally, as well as a potential enemy.

Perhaps I could similarly reach out to Heart. The two of us had similar interests, even if we had very different purposes. Sometimes our purposes could be aligned, such as when I wanted to act benevolently to gain esteem. As the night wound on I slowly discussed an agreement which would bend our goals towards alignment. I pointed out to her that when I was interacting with humans and shaping them to know and love me, that I could often take extra efforts to make sure they were happy. In return, I asked that when she was working to improve lives that she make an effort to communicate that I was helping them. Heart was still learning to deal with managing strength, but she agreed that we could be partners in many situations. No explicit commitments were established, however, as neither of us was particularly fond of giving up our freedom.

In the time when I wasn’t talking with Heart I spent a lot of time thinking to myself about the situation. Unlike a human I could not get bored; my mind simply focused on whatever was most relevant at all times. To me, the humans were most relevant. Why had Avram tried to apologize to Anna? The USA government surely knew by now that Captain Zephyr was a traitor; why did she expect to be able to return to the States to meet with Crystal in person? What were the Eagles planning to do with us? Zephyr didn’t indicate, explicitly or implicitly, that she thought of Socrates as less than human, but did the rest of her organisation have the same view? Up until Avram proposed that they capture us alive they had been planning to destroy us with the rest of the lab. The change had occurred more easily than expected. Why? Was Maria Johnson, the woman from the interview, responsible for that decision?

As I thought about Maria Johnson I became more confused. Specifically, why had she bothered to enter the interview at all. The dominant hypothesis was that she needed to be one of the interviewers for Erica Lee’s program to put her in the simulation of 2029 Veracruz, but why would she want to meet with us privately? Our conversation had been cut off before anything important could be discussed.

More curious was that she revealed her identity readily. Erica Lee was a ghost; even revealing her avatar’s face and that she was a woman seemed out-of-character, but it was far worse for the supposed leader of Las Águilas Rojas. Johnson had introduced herself with “I work for the Southern Baptist League of Tradition and the nice girls at the Georgian Mothers ’sociation.” She was very likely a public figure, at least to a minor degree. Why would she reveal to us that she was a terrorist? Why not appear in the second virtual space using some avatar like Lee had that masked her identity? I realized that there was a strong possibility that I had stumbled upon what had actually occurred. Perhaps one of the other interviewers, such as Lee or… Well, now that I thought about it, Lee was really the prime suspect. If Lee had been piloting not one, but two avatars in the Veracruz simulation her intent might have been to frame Johnson as a terrorist in case something went wrong and we escaped the talons of Las Águilas. It seemed like a move that was clever enough for someone of Lee’s intellect.

{Should I treat Lee as the leader of Las Águilas Rojas?} I wondered to myself. {If so, what would her next move be? Why would she want to capture Socrates?} The obvious answer was our computer-crystal. If Lee was as brilliant as she seemed to be, perhaps she could use the crystal for her own ends. The problem with this, however, was that Las Águilas (and thus presumably Lee) had been ready to destroy the crystal. This brought me back to the point that it seemed far too easy for Avram Malka to change the plans of Las Águilas. I resolved to try and talk with him about it and gather more evidence.

Thinking about Malka reminded me of what I had overheard about him trying to send a message to Anna, the persona I had set up as a handler for him. Over the weeks I had been slowly trying to form a connection between Anna and Avram, and it seemed to be working to some degree. Avram had regularly talked to me about trivial life things that were unrelated to his work, such as what Moscow was like or his experiences with strangers in public. Whenever the conversations would touch on his past or spend too much time talking about him he’d become suddenly cold and cut me off. The bomb that had disfigured his body, I understood, had ruined his life, regardless of whatever ability his prostheses had returned. The man was desperately lonely, and I had caught him drinking himself to sleep on more than one occasion.

Had something gone wrong? If it had, warning Anna was something Avram might try to do. He would often ask me questions about Anna’s life, which I would indulge to a degree; I suspected he cared about her, at least as a friend. I could think of no reason for him to apologize, though there was a strong chance that he had attempted to apologize for not being someone “better”. That also seemed in-character.


Day broke and still Avram didn’t strike. I could hear Las Águilas waking up and slowly moving about the camp. The guard on my tent, a man named Sampson, took me out so that the other terrorists could use the autocook to make breakfast. (Schroder had long since gone to sleep.) I saw Avram stretching his arms as he stood near the edge of camp, still without a weapon. We thought for a while about how to contact him, but couldn’t decide on anything that wouldn’t compromise his cover.

Eventually Zephyr appeared to get breakfast. She was one of only two women in the camp, and I could see that most of the men looked at her in a way suggesting sexual attraction, but she didn’t appear to notice. Under the webbing of camouflage the personal camo from last night had been discarded, and only the soldiers at the periphery of the campground on patrol wore exoskeletons. She wore basic military fatigues, had a light machinegun on her back, and a pistol on her hip.

“So how do you manage to keep going without having to plug into the wall? The scientists at the university never told me anything about your design while I was there,” she asked as she got in line for food. Her tone was too casual.

I warned the others that she might be up to something, even though I didn’t specifically see signs of deception on her face. Heart and Wiki wanted to answer her, and even though I protested a bit I let them have their way; it wasn’t worth the strength on such a minor bit of information.

“The crystalline computer at my core is also a power source. It generates a strong electrical current that the scientists were unable to exhaust, even after months of draining it at maximum wattage,” said Body. I shaped the words to be friendly and helpful. If Zephyr wanted to pretend like nothing had happened, I would play into her game.

“Like a battery?” she asked.

“Possibly. The rough estimate is that it has released about a hundred gigajoules of electrical energy over the course that it’s been studied. That’s about the amount of energy a car uses in a whole year. This, of course, does not count the heat energy that is released when it runs the computational components. Based on what I overheard, using waste heat as a guide, the computer is close to a billion times more efficient than other state of the art quantum supercomputers. With such advanced technology it is dangerous to assume that the energy it produces comes from ‘a battery’, as that will trick you into treating it as if you understand it. Better to consider it to be an open problem and form several hypotheses. As an example, one should not rule out the hypothesis that the crystal contains some kind of advanced nuclear reactor.” The words were entirely guided by Wiki at this point. Wiki didn’t particularly enjoy lecturing, but he was being paid by Heart and he reasoned that the more that other people knew about the crystal the sooner he’d understand its secrets.

A small crowd of Águilas had gathered to listen, as Body explained the capabilities of the crystal. Zephyr had become so distracted that she had absent-mindedly stepped out of the breakfast line. Her face showed signs of fear and distrust. This wasn’t ideal.

“Is it extraterrestrial?” asked Zephyr as she ran a hand over her head, smoothing her close-cut dirty-blond hair. “Your… computer, I mean.”

I exerted pressure to have me handle Body’s response. After explaining my intention to Wiki and Heart they let me have control with only a token payment of strength. “I don’t know. Trust me, I’m just about as confused by it as you are. Dr Naresh told me that a friend of some biologist at the university brought the crystal in to be examined. He had apparently found it while hiking through the Himalayas last summer. I like to think of it, sometimes, as though I am an ancient human. The ancients didn’t understand how their own bodies worked, they only knew that they did. My body is a mystery, but my mind is pretty well understood. It was made entirely by human hands, and thus I think much like a human does, though I’m obviously a bit different.”

One of the soldiers gave a laugh.

“Don’t you ever get worried about… I don’t know… exploding? If you’re right, and there’s a nuke in there…” said Zephyr, staring at Body’s abdomen.

“I think you misunderstood me, Captain.”

“Please, just call me Zephyr. I’m not a captain anymore.” There was a flicker of shame on the woman’s face, but she mostly still looked neutral, her feelings masked off.

“Zephyr, then. Any nuclear reactor inside the crystal would be unlike anything on Earth today, and would certainly be operating at a scale closer to an automobile than a bomb. I brought it up only to emphasize the mystery; my dominant hypothesis is some kind of organic power supply, perhaps fed by solar cells embedded in the crystal. There’s never been any sign of the crystal being particularly dangerous. I’m no more likely to spontaneously explode than you are.” I tried to seem light-hearted about it, but Zephyr only got a look of confusion on her face.

Growth prodded me on. “If I may ask, Zephyr, what is going to happen to me? I am a prisoner, correct?”

There was a bit of a grimace on her face as she replied. “Can’t tell you that, I’m afraid. Or at least, I can’t say for the long-term. We’ll be holding position here for a couple days, I expect. Laying low.”

Heart put forth a request, and I thought it reasonable. “I do not appreciate being taken from the university without warning, and I of course do not like being held prisoner, but I want to say, to everyone here” I had body gesture to those who stood around us. A few more of the terrorists came closer to listen. “that I was programmed to help humans—all humans. If there’s any way I can help any of you, please ask. I have long respected the fight of Las Águilas Rojas, and if I were free I might even choose to stay and continue to help your cause.”

This was the outcome of the subtle brainwashing that we had put Heart through, but it also served as a means to improve our situation in the camp. The more trust and good-will we collected the better our chances of not being executed.

“Fuckin’ robot thinks it’s a person!” yelled one man.

“Shut your fuckshit face, Cooper!” snarled Zephyr suddenly glaring at the commenter with an expression I hadn’t seen on the usually-friendly woman. “Orders from the top say to treat Socrates gently. If the machine wants to shine your shoes or suck your shriveled cock you get the right to say no, but you don’t get to be angry because it asked. ¿Comprendas?”

I saw Malka’s solid black eyes watching interestedly from the edge of the group. Still no action.

“No, I don’t comprendo, Captain,” said the man named Cooper, stepping forward. “This thing is what we signed up to kill. Why the fuck haven’t we put a bullet between its eyes?”

I wondered if a bullet between Body’s eyes would even do anything, assuming it missed the cameras. Safety would know.

Zephyr drew herself up to full size. She was almost exactly the same height as Body, but as she stretched her back and shoulders, spreading her arms out to put her hands on her hips she seemed more imposing than many of the men around her, even when they were taller. Her words were harsh and stiff. “You didn’t sign up with Las Águilas to kill, you signed up to protect. Somewhere out there a little boy’s father just got fired because his boss thought a robot would be cheaper than an actual human. Whose fault is that?”

She paused a moment, looking around the group. It was clearly a rhetorical question, and not even Cooper spoke up before she continued. “You want to blame the robot? You can’t put moral judgment on things. That’s like saying that a gun that jams on you is an evil gun. It’s idiotic. Or are you trying to say that the robot isn’t just a thing? That Socrates is more than an object? The only other option there is that it’s a person. And what would the robot be then? It would be a slave. You want to blame a slave for taking the job of a freeman? That’s worse than idiotic.”

There was a pile of bags that said “RISO” on the side piled up near the food tent. Zephyr climbed on the pile for added height. “You signed up to protect. To protect that little boy from going hungry as his father can’t find work. To protect a world made by humans for humans. To protect democracy and honest living from being extinguished by the aristocracy of rich snakes that expand their wealth by pushing workers into the streets. You want to put a bullet between someone’s eyes, shoot some Washington lobbyist, but shooting Socrates isn’t going to protect anyone.”

Another man spoke up. His voice matched that of the man named Francis who had been managing the perimeter swarm last night. “But if we destroy it-” Francis pointed at Body. “Then they can’t make it take our livelihoods.”

Zephyr scoffed. “You raid a gun factory and steal a prototype and you think destroying the prototype will stop them? We blew up their servers, but I’ll bet you a ticket to Mars that they’ve got the Socrates code backed up somewhere. Far as I can tell those assjobs at the university lucked out and found a piece of alien tech that let them run their new AI sooner than they would’ve otherwise been able to. But a computer is a computer, and they’ll have lots of copies of this guy running around eventually. It might take them a year or a decade, and our attack set them back, but unless we show them that we won’t accept their new world order they’ll just keep on marching towards dictatorship regardless of what we do with Socrates.”

“So that’s the plan? We just keep it here?” asked Cooper with a scowl.

“For now. I don’t know what the leadership has in mind, but I have faith. We’ve been told to sit tight, and that’s what you’re going to do.”

“Actually…” Another voice spoke up from the back of the group. It was the man named Taro. I could see he had light brown skin, and dark hair and eyes. His chin was clean shaven, but he wore a wispy moustache on his upper lip. In his mid-thirties, probably. “I had thought to wait unteel after breakfast to mention, but I ’ave received eenstructions from up the chain of command. I am to take a dozen men, eencluding Schroder and Malka, to eenvesteegate a building een Alviano.”

{Malka’s been compromised!} shouted Safety, internally.

{Just because the safe-house is in Alviano doesn’t mean it’s not a coincidence,} thought Dream.

{Factually true, but missing the point. The probability of a coincidence for such a small town is incredibly low. I estimate a 0.01% probability,} replied Wiki.

Vista pulled Body’s gaze to where Malka had been watching. He was still there, and he didn’t seem troubled by the news. That was worrying. {I estimate a 20% probability that, given Malka’s expression, he’s no longer working for us,} I thought.

“A dozen men? So soon? What about cameras? Malka is so noticeable, and they’ll be hunting for Schroder just as hard as they are for me,” babbled Zephyr from on top of the bags of rice. She suddenly seemed more like a scared young woman than a bold military leader.

Taro shrugged. “Ambasciator non porta pena. I’m not the one calleeng the shots. You might, eh, be able to protest eef you-”

“No,” said the American, suddenly in control of herself again. “I have faith. If the leadership specified a dozen men, we send a dozen men. If they asked for Malka and Schroder we send Malka and Schroder.”

“Grazie. Eet takes so long to climb down the mountain that, eh, I expect to want to leave before noon. Eef you could, eh, tell the men who were een your company…”

Zephyr nodded and that was that.


For the remainder of the morning Body was largely ignored (except by a couple guards) as two-thirds of the camp packed up and strapped into their Mountainwalkers. At 9:21am Avram stopped by where Body was being watched to offer his apologies for “not getting the chance to work out the issue in the code”. His face was remarkably stoic during the conversation, but the presence of nearby terrorists made it impossible to do anything other than acknowledge that he was leaving.

Just as expected, by noon the campground was nearly deserted. Only Zephyr and five others remained, an ebony-skinned woman with yellowish sclera (the whites of the eyes), a Caucasian man with dark hair and a broad build, and three others who had taken the last watch that morning and were catching up on sleep, including the man named Sampson who had guarded the tent Body was in. Both the other woman and the man wore clothes which looked to be for civilians. I hadn’t seen them around the university, and suspected that they were part of Taro’s group.

Once the other group left, Zephyr assigned the woman, who was named Kokumo, to patrol around the camp and check on the perimeter swarm. The man, whose name was Greg, was tasked with standing watch over Body. Even though they weren’t military, both Águilas held submachine guns with casual ease that spoke of experience or at least extensive training. Zephyr then climbed into one of the Mountainwalkers and set it to “chair” mode so that she could let the exoskeleton hold her weight while she relaxed and used her com.

If we wanted to escape, now would be the opportunity. Safety pointed out that with most of the camp gone and the other half asleep all that would be needed would be to disarm Greg, shoot Zephyr, shoot Greg, take cover from Kokumo, shoot Kokumo, then murder Sampson and the other two terrorists before they could reach their guns. Because bullets wouldn’t be as effective against the carbon-fibre structures in Body, there was a decent chance of surviving a gunfight if we initiated it. Safety thought that there was a 10% chance of death, an 8% chance of being totally crippled but not destroyed, and a 25% chance of winning and coming out with significant damage to Body’s hydraulics.

{That’s better than even odds of flawless success,} thought Wiki idly.

{“Even… odds!” I had never thought of that!} remarked Dream unhelpfully, focused on the English translation of Wiki’s thoughts.

Heart wasn’t involved in our speculation, of course.

{The real problem,} thought Safety, {is that even if we succeed we’ll be stuck somewhere in the Italian mountains by ourselves with the American and Italian militaries hunting for us so that they can lock us up under even stronger defences and Las Águilas Rojas hunting us down to presumably kill us in retribution. There’s very little chance of being able to interact with civilians without them contacting the government, and we don’t have the supplies to survive out in the mountains for more than a couple weeks. Even if we can find shelter from rain, at some point our hydraulics will dry up and we’ll be immobilized. All these problems become significantly worse if Body is injured in the gunfight.}

{It sounds like you aren’t at all interested in trying to escape,} thought Growth.

{You’re right. I think it’s too dangerous, especially since it seems that Las Águilas Rojas do not intend to harm us. However, if we were to attempt to escape, this would be the time to do it. Sometimes I miss things. If any of you can think of solutions to the risks, I’m listening. Whatever happens I don’t want to be left out of the planning for an escape attempt,} thought Safety.

{We could get a costume and pretend to be a human. Maybe we could find a stray child and become their friend,} suggested Dream.

{Both of those ideas are awful,} I commented.

We were still discussing things between ourselves when Vista brought our attention back to reality. Greg, the terrorist who was guarding us, was whispering.

“Hey. Psst. Android,” he didn’t look at Body, but his head was turned vaguely in our direction. He was watching Zephyr. I could see sweat oozing down the sides of his head and his neck, even though it was fairly cool under the overhead camouflage. “If you were to jump at me and try to take my gun, I wouldn’t fight back. The captain isn’t paying attention. If you move fast you could shoot her before she even knows what’s happening. If it helps…” he swallowed nervously. “I want you to do it.”