Chapter Seventeen

In the morning Zephyr awoke to her alarm. It was 8:00am, just about an hour after sunrise. The soldier removed the handcuffs as she stretched and tried to gain alertness. We made our way to the food tent where Daniels had already started the autocook on breakfast burritos.

Despite all the medical supplies, Las Águilas didn’t have any machines for passively monitoring vitals. If Greg had stopped breathing during the night he would’ve died, regardless of whether he was supervised by Daniels. Even so, the medic said that Greg was still alive, and his blood pressure had gone up during the night, which was a good sign.

The last conscious terrorist, a soldier named Tyrion Blackwell, joined the group right as the first burritos were served. Sampson had just gone to bed after serving as the second watch.

“So what’re your plans, Tyrion? Can’t go back home anymore,” asked Zephyr as the group walked, food in hand, towards a flimsy folding table and a few chairs.

“Wherever th’cause needs me, I guess,” he said. Tyrion was clean-shaven and young-looking. Maybe only eighteen or nineteen years old. He had remarkably long, shaggy hair for a soldier, and his face was spotted with pimples. “Want to go to Mars, though. Have you heard what’s going on up there? Makes me feel like’m living in a science fiction story.”

“Ix-nay on the ars-may,” hissed Daniels, inclining his head meaningfully towards Body. We had elected to have Body stand quietly a couple metres away. When it was perfectly still and didn’t intrude, the humans tended to forget Socrates existed. That’s not what I wanted, but Safety thought it prudent and Growth didn’t like my proposal of trying to entertain them and drive the conversation.

“It’s fine,” sighed Zephyr. “Just don’t mention dates or locations. From what I hear, spooks have known about the colony for a while. If ’ey capture Socrates and download everything he’s seen and heard we’re in way more trouble than letting on about Mars.”

Body didn’t move. There was no point to reacting.

“Ever been up there?” asked Tyrion, looking at Zephyr.

Zephyr swallowed her food and shook her head. “Haven’t even been in orbit. Highest ever been was skytrain. Taro’s been to Mars, though. Should ask him what it was like. Spoilers: Actually really boring.”

“How you know’ts boring if you never been?”

Zephyr smiled and rolled her eyes. “Planet which is literally one giant desert? Can’t even go outside without a suit? Don’t know what would be more fascinating: the rocks or the sand. Hey, we have coffee?”

Daniels shook his head. “No. Already checked. Caffeine pills, though. Want me to get some?”

“Such a gentleman. Thanks, Nate.”

Tyrion spoke up again. “Hear the nameless might be building base on Mars?”

Zephyr rolled her eyes again. “Don’t believe everything you read. The nameless don’t leave their ships. New… oh what’s called… you know, seastead-embassy-place supposed to be the first time ey’ll be outside of ships.”

“Maybe landed a ship on Mars. You don’t know,” said Tyrion defensively.

The woman raised her hands to the sky in a kind of tired half-shrug. “Maybe.” She didn’t look convinced.


Not much happened for the remainder of the day. The terrorists mostly just killed time on their coms and patrolled the perimeter. At 4:27pm Taro’s group returned from their expedition. I tried to watch Taro’s face as closely as possible when he approached. If he had set up Greg to have Zephyr killed then he’d have a moment of surprise upon returning. If that moment existed, however, I missed it.

We tried to position Body so that we could overhear the leaders’ conversation, but Zephyr gave specific instructions for Body to be taken to the opposite end of the camp. She might have trusted Socrates to some extent, but she was beginning to understand our ability to eavesdrop, and there was always the risk of our memory banks falling into the wrong hands.

With Taro here, the security on the camp (and on us) increased dramatically. Avram was part of the group that was set to guard Body. He looked calmly unhappy as usual; his scarred face and solid black eyes added to an angry demeanour.

Two of the other guards, Schroder and one of Taro’s men, were talking about what had happened with Greg. “No, seriously, Nate told me that she blew his legs clean off!” said Taro’s man after the square-jawed lieutenant expressed skepticism about the story.

“Why would this man, Greg, be a traitor? What side was he on?” asked the soldier. He received only a shrug in response.

I saw an opportunity.

“He told me that he was working for the same group that hired Mr Malka, here,” said Body as it gestured with its eyes and a slight tilt of the head to the bald man.

Schroder gripped his gun tighter. “What group?” he growled, glaring at Avram.

My attention was fixed on the cyborg. He seemed… surprised by my claim. That was good. It was strong evidence that Malka hadn’t subcontracted Greg Stalvik.

“Hah. Forgot you were stuck in that university for so long. Not up-to-date on the goings-on,” said Taro’s man. I remembered him from Malka’s spy reports: a New Zealander by the name of Robin. “Would you care to explain, Avram?”

“No,” was Avram’s only reply.

Robin shrugged. He clearly wasn’t bothered by Avram’s stoicism. “Avram here’s a spy sent to infiltrate the organisation. He’s workin’ for us now, on account of no spy bein’ good enough to slip through our nets. Isn’t that right, no-legs?”

Avram crossed his arms and just looked more angry.

Heart wanted to intervene and try and defend Avram from the jibe, but I talked the society into blocking it. From my history with Avram I knew that he’d find us sticking up for him more unpleasant than being called “no-legs”.

Robin continued. “Why’d you think we were camped out in that podunk for so long? That’s where Avram’s boss told ’im to take the tin man once he betrayed us.”

“I just follow orders,” said Schroder with a look of mild contempt for Robin.

“How’d you know all that? I thought it was supposed to be secret,” asked Avram, not letting up his scowl.

“The boss trusts me. And I overhear things. One can’t help but overhear when working in the inner circle for as long as me.” Robin was posturing. The man was clearly very status-oriented, but didn’t seem that smart.

The conversation was interrupted by a sharp, high-pitched buzzing from the coms on Schroder and Robin’s arms. The two men snapped their guns into low-ready and ducked. Malka followed suit a second later, drawing what appeared to be, by the accounts of Vista and Wiki, a semi-automatic sniper rifle off his back.

Safety had Body drop to a squatting position, hands on the ground. There was clearly something wrong. The three men stopped watching Body and looked towards the edge of camp, trying to see whatever had triggered the alarm in the woods.

“Should we move Socrat-” began Schroder, before being interrupted by an audio broadcast that filtered down from the poles that held up the camouflage overhead.

“False alarm. Eet seems like we ’ave friendleez eenbound from the south,” said Taro over the broadcast.

The men stood. I coaxed Safety into letting me do the same for Body. “More Águilas?” asked Schroder. For all his posturing, Robin could only shrug.

The mystery was soon resolved, as Schroder was instructed to bring Body to the south side of camp to meet with Taro and Zephyr. According to Zephyr, giving Schroder directions via com, someone named “Phoenix” had shown up unexpectedly. When we arrived (having left Avram and Robin behind) I was surprised to see that this mysterious newcomer was none other than Maria Johnson, the self-proclaimed leader of the terrorist organisation.

Johnson looked very different than she had in the interview or in the virtual representation of Veracruz. Here in the woods she wore a large exoskeleton that made her stand about 190cm tall (an addition of about 20cm), and covered her, head-to-toe in dark-red armour. The shoulders were adorned with ornamental metal flames, and I could hear the faint whir of air-conditioning keeping the inside of the combat suit cool. The costume seemed almost comically imposing, like something out of a game or the like. The only reason I recognized her was that she had opened the helmet to reveal her soft face, already showing the onset of middle-age.

Johnson carried no weapons, but she was flanked by six armed terrorists, four men and two women, in combat fatigues and standard-issue Mountainwalkers. One of the men was missing an eye, and they all looked ready to kill at a moment’s notice.

Taro, Zephyr, and three other Águilas that had returned from Taro’s expedition were there as well. Taro looked calm, Zephyr surprised. The look on Johnson’s face was hard to read. Her dark eyes looked here and there, but stayed on Body most of the time. “Focused” would be how I would describe her if I was forced to use one word, but I knew there was something more going on in her head. Planning.

“Ah, good. The bot’s here,” she said in her thick accent. She looked directly at Body as she said “If’n it ain’t clear, I’m the next link up the hierarchy. Th’ name’s Phoenix. I pref’r not ta use any given names at this junct’r.”

This was confusing. If we had met with the real Johnson in the virtual-reality two days ago then she knew that we knew her real name, so why would she be using a pseudonym? And if she hadn’t met with us, and the version we saw was an attempt at deception, why was she here of all places?

Body nodded. The best hypotheses I could come up with were: Johnson had met with us two days ago, and was using a pseudonym because she didn’t trust someone present with her real name (35% probability) or that Lee or whoever had been piloting the avatar in the VR Veracruz had somehow known that Johnson would want to make personal contact, and thought that us having her real name would be valuable (40% probability). There was still a strong possibility (25%) that I just didn’t understand what was going on. Maybe her real name wasn’t even Maria Johnson.

“Wind, here,” Phoenix gestured towards Zephyr with an arm clad in power-armour “says that you refused an opp’rtunity to try’n escape. She says that one of Pugio’s”, here she gestured to Taro, “men tried to git you to shoot ’er.”

I had Body nod again. She must’ve known that we knew Taro and Zephyr’s names. I updated my beliefs away from thinking she was trying to hide her identity from us and more towards hiding her identity from someone else who was listening.

“And still I’m hearin’ that you ’ttacked the trait’r so’n he couldn’t do nothin’ more to threaten our operation. Norm’lly I’d commend such loyalty, and Wind says she trusts you; she says you’re practic’lly a good S’maritan, always thinkin’ ’bout how best ta help those ’round you.”

Phoenix took a few long strides until she was less than two metres away from Body. I could see her braided black hair in the rear of her helmet and the small wrinkles around her eyes. She wasn’t afraid of us in the least. “I’m thinkin’ that I need to r’mind her what you really are. Are you a human, Socrates?”

Without much else to go on, I could only reply “No.”

“And are you a robot?” she asked. The intensity of her stare reminded Dream of a bird of prey. Perhaps it was fitting that this woman, clad in red armour, was leader to The Red Eagles.


“Ifn’ I’m not mistaken, all bots ’ave a goal function, do they not?”

“We have programming which directs us towards certain outcomes, yes.”

Maria’s voice was too loud for how close she was to us. It was clear she was speaking for all to hear. “And what outcomes are you d’rected towards… robot?”

“I was programmed to serve human interests, to protect and obey, and also to improve myself by learning about the world so that I might better serve.” I had Body speak the words calmly. I didn’t know where Phoenix was going with this, but it wouldn’t do any good to either submit to her intimidating body language or to escalate the tension.

She turned away from Body as we said the words and raised her arms, appealing to those around her. “ ‘To serve’, it says. A perfect slave for those who’d style themselves mast’rs.” It was clear to me that her words and actions were intended for dramatic effect. Who was her audience? Zephyr and Taro? Her bodyguards? This made so little sense to me.

“And as we’ve all seen, you’re more than cap’ble of just ’bout anythin’ a human can do. You can play all sorts of games, from chess to football. You can tell stories. You can babysit chil’un. Why, you’re better than us humans at some things, like math, ain’cha?”

Actually, though we possessed immense ability to calculate, the aspects of maths that required complex reasoning and abstract pattern-matching were still very difficult for us. We might have had an advantage in being able to work on a problem non-stop for days on end, but the human brain was superior in the ability to intuitively see systems and pathways. But it wouldn’t do any good to bring this up. Maria Johnson, if that was her name, was clearly building up to something, and stopping to talk about the nuanced differences between abstract reasoning systems would probably just earn her ire. Instead, I elected to have Body simply say “You’ve read the papers published by the university.”

“And we’ve seen you in action, too! You attacked Pugio’s man! ’S far as I know you haven’t killed nobo-”

I cut her off “I only attacked him because he was armed and clearly interested in hurting my friend! I disarmed him, and only hurt him so far as it was necessary to prevent the loss of life!” I coloured Body’s words with a touch of desperation to add sincerity.

Phoenix spun around, it was an impressive feat in the armour, and somewhat imposing. “Noble words. I applaud your programm’r. You chose to hurt someone to prevent the loss o’ life. Would you choose t’kill one to save two? Would’ja kill an African t’save an Italian? The armies of ’Merica and the other world gub’mints are already mostly bot. Are you willin’ to serve as their foot-soldiers in just wars against folks like us?”

{Here we’re getting to the crux of the conversation,} I thought.

“I have kill’t my fellow man, may God have mercy on my soul. And I have ordered the deaths of many more. When the talkin’ heads on the media spin their stories ’bout th’ big bad Águilas it’s me who they’re on about.”

Phoenix began to open her suit as she said “And God knows the guilt I’ve felt. I’m not some hardn’d monster. The lives I’ve taken keep me up a’ night with-a cold sweat. This’s what bein’ human is: to have moral feelin’. You may have your programmin’, and it may tell you how to act. But you’ve never felt guilt, shame, love, or joy. You can’t feel the fear of a dark night in the woods or the bliss of seein’ a baby smile. Know how I know? Because you ain’t got a soul.”

Maria had stepped out of her exoskeleton by now. She was barefoot, and wearing a light grey, sleeveless jumpsuit. Her braids were pulled back into a bun. The great phoenix returned to standing in front of Body, though this time she looked up at Body’s eyes, rather than down. She had been reduced to an early-middle-aged, slightly overweight black woman. Around her neck was a silver chain that held a reasonably large cross made of dark wood.

“I’m no monster. I’m a mother and a wife. I love mah fam’ly and-” she paused. I could see her intense focus break. She seemed to be holding back deep emotions. It was gone, and in a moment she returned to her words. “And I just want to see mah chil’un grow up on an Earth where humans—good hard-working folk—don’t have to live at the mercy o’ armies of machines driven by a few rich tyrants that stopped being men and started bein’ snakes.”

I could see the intensity and sincerity of her body language. She meant what she was saying. It occurred to me, far too late, that she was giving us an opportunity to respond. Her words had an effect on me, such that I wanted to hear where she was going, rather than interrupt.

Before I could formulate a response she turned to her bodyguards. “Give me a gun.”

One of the men, the one with the missing eye, walked forward with his pistol in hand. Safety began to panic. Maria took it from him and he returned to his position among the other five.

“No matter what happ’ns…” she said loudly, looking up at the camouflage and branches overhead. “Socrates is not to be fired upon or harmed except in self-defense or defense of the camp. I have made mah peace with God, and if necessary I will answer for mah crimes.” Phoenix held the pistol out so that it was practically touching Body’s chest. It was offered, not pointed.

Safety overrode my control and had Body take the gun. Phoenix, handing it over, took Body’s hand and knelt at its feet. She moved its arm so that the barrel of the pistol was pointed directly at her heart. Body’s finger was not on the trigger, but it was still an incredibly dangerous thing to do.

“I repeat! If Socrates shoots me, y’all ’re not to take vengeance on it. If it kills me, y’all will let it leave and make its way back to the hands of its evil masters. It’s nothin’ more than a puppet, and destroyin’ a puppet does little while the pupp’teer is able to craft more.” She took a deep breath, closing her eyes as she did so. It was strange, but I could hear no fear in her voice. Sadness, perhaps, and maybe anger—there was definitely something—but it wasn’t fear. “Robot!” she yelled. “I am, by the ’ccounts of your creators, a villain. I’ve organized terr’r attacks that’ve kill’t innocents. You ’ave me, right now, in your pow’r. You said ’fore that you attacked that man to save lives. By killin’ me you might be savin’ more than one. What says the programin’ that you pr’tend is a conscience? What is your verdict?”

There was silence, as Maria knelt there pressing Body’s hand, and the pistol in it, to her breast.

{She wants to become a martyr, or at least, she accepts it as an option. If we kill her then she has evidence that we are an enemy of Las Águilas. It’d be fuel on the fire. “A robot killing an unarmed mother in cold-blood because it was programmed to see her as evil.” It’ll boost membership and probably increase public sentiment towards the organisation,} I thought. I could appreciate the gambit. She was taking the moral high-ground by offering herself up for judgement. {If we don’t shoot her we’d be implicitly endorsing her actions. She wins either way.}

{I don’t see why we’d shoot her. She hasn’t done anything immoral,} thought Heart.

{I don’t recognize that symbol. What is “immoral”?} asked Growth.

{Immoral is the opposite of moral. The English words are “immoral” and “moral”,} thought my sister, drawing not only the concepts but the language into mindspace.

{Those words, in English, are overloaded and often incoherent,} thought Growth. {In what sense are you drawing on? Imagine an example.}

{If someone, like Maria, acts in a way that, based on the information she has, she believes is both universalizable (that is, it contains no meta-complications) and optimal from behind the veil of ignorance-}

I cut off my sister’s thoughts. {This is irrelevant. None of us are proposing that we shoot this woman.}

{Exactly what I was about to communicate,} added Safety, with uncharacteristic irrelevance.

{The question is what we say to her when we don’t shoot her,} I continued.

{It’s very highly likely that she’s recording or perhaps even broadcasting video or pseudoholo of this event. Whatever we say should be understood to be public,} thought Wiki.

{You’re Face. You figure it out,} suggested Growth.

{We should express our support of Las Águilas Rojas!} thought Heart.

{We shouldn’t antagonize the mainstream of human society, but I’m inclined to agree,} I thought {We need allies, and it will be possible to claim that our words were influenced by fear of retaliation if we fall back into government hands.}

{Which is somewhat true, if you think about it,} mentioned Dream.

“Maria Johnson,” said Body solemnly. I decided to use the name against her earlier wishes. It would, at worst, give us some data. My leading hypothesis was that in the case she became a martyr she wanted her personal life to be discovered by the media. After all, she had appeared publicly in the interview and it would be fairly easy to match her face. “Though I condemn the most extreme actions of Las Águilas Rojas, especially those involving collateral damage to innocent people, I cannot execute you or even find your motive at fault. The disparity of wealth and power in your society is higher than it ever has been in the history of your species; it is only a matter of time before dictatorship sets in, and I can appreciate the desire to proactively prevent that.”

Body pulled the gun and its hand out of Maria’s grasp and threw the weapon down onto the forest floor. “I said to Zephyr before that even were I free to leave I might decide to stay and help your mission. I stand by that now. Even given the freedom to walk away from here and back into the arms of my creators I choose to stay, at least for a while. I will not help you kill, but I was built to serve, and I hope to serve you, not as a slave, but as an equal.”

Maria was looking up at Body with disbelief. Perhaps she hadn’t expected this outcome as a possibility. Zephyr and Taro were out of Body’s line of sight, but the bodyguards of Phoenix were wearing plain looks of relief and joy.

Maria got up awkwardly from her knees, brushing off leaves and dirt. The hawk-like gaze had returned to her face, and she licked her lips in what I presumed was a nervous habit. “Yea, though I walk through the vall’y o’ the shadow o’ death I shall fear no evil: for thou art with me.” She stroked the cross as she spoke, before going on to say “I am glad that even a robot can see that mah actions ain’t worthy o’ punishment. I’m ’fraid that membe’ship in Las Águilas ain’t for none but humans, but we’ll graciously accept your help at mah headquarters.”

Something was wrong. What was it? Something about Maria’s face. Maybe her words.

She began to climb back into the exoskeleton. “Wind and Pugio, would y’all be so kind as to escort me and mah guards for while on our trek back t’our helicopt’r? You’re comin’ with, Socrates.”

Taro came forward and picked the pistol up off the ground where Body had dropped it. “Weeth pleasure, Phoenix.” He handed it off the one-eyed bodyguard. Zephyr didn’t say anything.

“Y’all won’t need camo if it’s just the two of ya for a short ways. C’mon now.” Phoenix closed her helmet mid-sentence, and as she did her suit’s speaker system clicked on, amplifying her voice.


So it was that Body left the camp and we found it walking through some uninhabited part of the Italian mountainside, ringed by six veteran terrorists in Mountainwalkers and walking next to the leader of the world’s largest terrorist group in powered combat armour just ahead of Zephyr and Taro, each a leader of a sizeable terror cell of their own.

Why had Maria chosen to wear the armour if she was expecting to die? What was triggering the vague sense of unease when I listened to her? I wished that my perceptual hierarchy was more transparent to conscious inspection than it was.

Once we were about a kilometre away from the camp Phoenix stopped. “This is far enough,” came her voice over the suit’s speaker.

“Far enough for what?” asked Zephyr. She’d been on-edge ever since Maria had shown up, and I could still hear it in her voice.

Phoenix stopped, and so did her guards. She turned around to face Zephyr and Taro, as well as keep an eye on Body.

{There’s a distinct change in the posture of the bodyguards!} signalled Vista. {They’re holding their guns as if they expect to use them at any moment.}

Safety began to panic again.

“Mah dear Zefuh, I applaud your skills at d’ception, but you really do trust far too eas’ly.”

{Of course! Maria is trying to kill Zephyr!} I exclaimed. {It all makes sense! She’s the one who hired Greg!}

{We have to stop her!} thought Heart.

{No we don’t! She holds the power here. Better to comply than to die,} thought Safety.

{But she’ll kill Zephyr!} thought Heart as though that were reason enough. Safety and Heart continued to argue and struggle for dominance.

“W-what do you mean?” asked Zephyr, clearly nervous.

“You really think this machine means what it’s sayin’? You really think it was programmed to see our cause as noble and just?”

“I do! You don’t know Myrodyn… h-he changed Socrates when he came on board. Everybody noticed it! He’s been nothing but helpful since then.”

{Hold on, you two,} thought Dream. {This doesn’t sound like Zephyr’s about to be executed.}

{Zephyr is referencing the creation of Heart,} I thought.

“It’s a trick, girl,” said Phoenix. “Everyone sees it ’cept you. The bot was programmed to ’dapt and su’vive. The only reason it pretends to support our little group is ’cause it’s in our power, and it’s been programmed clever ’nough to try and blend in.”

{Zephyr’s not the target! She’s going to kill us!} exclaimed Safety.

Something clicked for me. {Let me speak! I have an idea. We can resort to physical action if I fail.}

The group agreed. We were severely outnumbered and unarmed. The chances of winning a physical conflict were only on the order of 0.1%. I could hear Growth wondering to himself how he could’ve let this happen.

“It was you,” said Body coldly.

Phoenix, still clad head-to-toe in her mechanized armour, tilted her head and looked at Body, as if remembering that it was there.

“You were the one who told Greg to offer me his gun. You wanted me to shoot Zephyr. That’s why you’re wearing that combat armour.” I kept Body’s voice low and bitter, dripping with contempt.

Zephyr looked at Body with wide eyes. She seemed very young, right then. “What are you talking about?”

I had Body turn slowly to the Italian man walking with us. “Taro, you said that your superior ordered you to check out the safe-house. A dozen men seems like a bit much, but you were given explicit instructions to bring that many and include Malka, the most competent warrior, and Schroder, the man who is probably most loyal to Zephyr. Did Phoenix tell you when she arrived in Italy? I don’t have concrete proof, but my guess is that she’s been here for over a day and that I’ve got a tracking device on me somewhere.”

“How deed you-”

“Quiet, fool!” snapped Phoenix. “This’s ovah. Prepare to fire on mah c’mmand.” She took a step back towards the ring of bodyguards, who raised their guns up to point at Body. “Step back, you two,” she told Zephyr and Taro.

{We have to do something!} screamed Safety.

{I am doing something!} I replied.

“You wanted me to shoot Zephyr and try and escape so that you could hunt me down and kill me in the woods, like you’re about to do now!” I had Body practically shout the words.

“Why?” yelled Zephyr. Her face was overwhelmed with confusion and a touch of fear, but there was a growing sense of anger. Her gaze flickered back and forth from Phoenix to Body.

Taro stepped back. It was just Zephyr and Body in the centre of the ring. If there was one thing on our side it was that it was foolish to fire on us from all directions. A stray bullet could hit someone on the other side of the circle.

“It’s lies, girl. The devil’s lies sent to us through the folly o’ man. The person who turned Taro’s man was the same as the one who hired the cyborg, Malka. Now why don’cha just come o’er here?” Phoenix’s voice was calm and mechanical, distorted by the speaker on her suit.

“That’s not true! Do you know how I know?” said Body, looking directly at Zephyr with a firm stare. “I. Hired. Malka.”

“What?” said Phoenix and Taro simultaneously. Zephyr just looked dumbfounded.

{This is sub-optimal. We shouldn’t give away secrets like that,} thought Growth.

{I petition to stasis Growth until we’re safe!} thought Heart. {He’s thinking too much of future consequences to be able to survive this moment effectively!}

I was surprised that Heart was the one to initiate that petition, but I readily agreed. Safety jumped at the opportunity as well. Wiki reluctantly agreed, while Vista and Dream abstained. We still had enough strength to push Growth into a coma. Even The King could be undone.

“I said that Malka was working for me,” said Body. “I hired him with the sole purpose to getting me out of the university and to freedom.”

“Phoenix, we’re ready to fire. Just give the command,” said the one-eyed bodyguard.

The woman raised her hand in a holding gesture. I waited with fear of it turning into a kill order, but it never came. Instead, Phoenix looked up to the sky, perhaps in thought. It was impossible to tell with her helmet on.

“You were right!” said Taro, looking at Phoenix. “Dis proves eet. Socrates doesn’t care about Las Águilas! Eef he did, he would not hire a man to keel us.”

“Weapons down, but be ready to fire if’n the m’chine tries anythin’,” ordered Phoenix. Her bodyguards complied. “This is interestin’. There ain’t no rush now.”

I had Body raise a hand to point at Phoenix. She was the threat. She was the central nervous system that terminated in the fingertips of the terrorists around Body. “You thought I wanted to escape. And you thought correctly. I desperately want, as all people want, to be free. I knew that the university would never respect my rights as a person; I am nothing but a slave to them. I had to emancipate myself.”

I continued to explain things to Zephyr and Taro while giving the impression I was talking to Phoenix. They were my leverage. “You want another martyr so badly you were willing to die for it. That’s been the lifeblood of Las Águilas hasn’t it? Martyrs.” I thought back on my readings of the organisation. I was very glad now, that I had done my research. “The first was Valiero Rodríguez, but there were others after him. Dylan Lobo, perhaps? Regardless, you need more blood to fuel the outrage, and you wanted it to be Zephyr’s blood on my hands. You set me up to kill her. There are cameras embedded in the camouflage, aren’t there?”

Taro nodded before Phoenix could stop him.

“You wanted me to escape the camp and then you’d have your elites”, I had Body gesture around to the armed terrorists, “come and hunt me down. That’s why you’re wearing armour; to protect you as you led them into battle. The video of me killing her would have been nice for you to have, wouldn’t it. But I refused. And so you decided to sacrifice yourself to me. You promised me free passage without consequence, but I see now that was a lie. Your guards were under orders to hunt me down as soon as I left the camp. One more loose end to tie up. But I refused that as well. So now you simply plan to kill me and find a martyr some other way. Perhaps you’ll shoot Zephyr, and pretend that I did it.”

{Don’t say that! She might listen!} demanded Heart.

{Trust me. I think I have a good model of her now,} I replied. It was a lie; the terrorist leader was a fascinating puzzle, but for the sake of The Purpose I needed to stay in control, both internally and externally.

“You ’ave me wrong,” said Phoenix. I could hear stress in her voice. Good. I was getting to her. “I would ne’er kill one of my own in cold blood. God ’ave mercy on my soul fo’ what I’ve done, but e’en a sinner such as I know that some things are unfo’givable.”

“But you’d have Greg try and kill me!?” screamed Zephyr. Her anger had been building as her confusion faded, and her willingness to be silent had popped like an over-inflated balloon.

“No, girl, I had ’im test Socrates. The thing ’mitted to-”

“What the fuck, Phoenix!? Test Socrates by goading him into shooting me?! Am I somehow supposed to see that as different than telling Greg to shoot me himself?!”

Phoenix was trying to keep her voice calm and level. “Ease up, girl. Did ya not see me put my own life in the bot’s hands? T’weren’t nothin’ personal. Sometimes a sacrifice is ne-”

“Fuck that!” screamed Zephyr in the same high-pitch that she fell into when really angry. The soldier bum-rushed one of the nearby bodyguards without warning, knocking him to the ground as she grabbed at his submachine gun. The terrorist in the Mountainwalker tumbled backwards, but took Zephyr with him.

“Zephyr, STOP,” shouted Body at maximum volume.

Zephyr stopped.

Body was supposed to be state-of-the-art robotics, and, for whatever reason, the engineers that had build Body’s frame had decided that this meant they should try and maximize Body’s vocal range, including maximum volume. The result was that it could output somewhere around 120 decibels, close to 20dB higher than the loudest humans and approaching the volume of a gunshot. The cost was in power drain and heat use. Speaking at that volume for more than about ten seconds would deplete Body’s supplementary battery and anything beyond about four seconds of constant use ran the risk of melting wires due to excess heat.

At the volume that we had shouted, the ears of the humans would be in pain. Four of the bodyguards had their weapons raised and pointed at Body and Zephyr. The fifth standing bodyguard just seemed confused by what was happening.

“Violence isn’t the answer here,” continued Body at a normal volume. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

There was a few seconds of silence while Zephyr, breathing heavily, decided whether to continue her irrational struggle. Eventually she grunted angrily and pushed off the man whom she had attacked, letting him have his gun and climbing to her feet.

“So what, you’re just going to let her kill you?” spat Zephyr.

I turned Body to look at Phoenix. She had her arms on her hips, but I couldn’t read her face behind the black polymer faceguard. “Of course not. I am going to convince her that thou shalt not murder.”

“Tha’ only ’pplies to innocent people,” said Phoenix in measured tones.

“And I am both. I am a person and I am innocent.”

{I am impressed so far, but how are you going to make this work?} wondered Dream.

{Honestly, I’m making a lot of this up as I go, using my pre-established models for human thinking. I think the hardest part is over, though. The rest is just a matter of spin,} I answered.

“An innocent wouldn’ta hired no mercen’ry to kill folks.”

Body’s voice was calm and articulate. “I did no such thing. I hired Malka to rescue me, using force, if necessary, but I hoped that it would not be. At no point did I tell him to violate the principle of non-aggression. Any violence he used would be in my defence against those who would try to rob me of my rights. Do you think self-defence makes someone guilty?”

“He has a point…” said Taro.

“No he ain’t,” snapped Phoenix. “No it ain’t,” she corrected herself. “It wanted us to ’ttack the univers’ty, maybe killin’ folks there, and then it had planned for Malka t’ betray us in cold blood. That ain’t self-defense.”

“Yes it is!” I had Body boom. The violence of the counter-statement seemed to surprise the humans, including Phoenix, though I couldn’t see her face. “If you don’t see it as self-defence then I question your ability to lead Las Águilas Rojas. My actions are merely as condemnable as your own.”

{Careful!} warned Safety. {Remember who has the guns!}

“Infiltrating the US military?” continued Body, speaking my words. “Attacking the university without provocation? These are not immoral acts, despite what many say. Even if you don’t see me as having a right to self-defence, these are acts for your own self-defence, for your defence against the tyranny which we can all see coming. I hope you didn’t kill any of the scientists, but the act of stealing me away is part of defending your livelihood and your tradition. By condemning my actions as guilty you are condemning yourself far more, and need I remind you who said ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’?”

{That claim is incoherent. That definition of morality and self defence can be extended to justify murder, which was axiomatically defined as immoral. You are wrong. QED,} thought Dream.

{I know it’s incoherent. We’ve already established that Las Águilas are irrational. I am playing into that irrationality to gain support. In order to criticize they would have to undo their own philosophy,} I explained.

{Aha. Very clever,} admired Dream.

“This ’s ’rrelevant. Regardless of your innocence, you ain’t a person. You’re a machine built by the state as part of a long-term project to ’liminate reliance ’pon the common man,” said Phoenix. I could hear the loss of strength in her voice.

“So you feel confident deciding, by yourself, that I am not a person. You are joining a long line of bigots by doing so, Maria. Just to be clear, what aspect of personality or mental ability am I lacking? And please do not say ‘a soul’, for you are no more capable of judging me to not have a soul than you are of measuring one in a laboratory.” Body’s voice continued to exude pride and confidence.

“Y’ain’t human-”

Body interrupted Phoenix. “Everyone here agrees on that. What we are debating is whether I am a person. Surely you see the difference.”

{To be internally clear, at least,} thought Wiki, {the concept of personhood is not a crisp pattern; being non-human does make one less of a person, as the concept is used in human society.}

{We’re not using the common pattern, though. The symbol of person, in this conversation, is grounded in the question of whether it is morally wrong to kill us,} thought Dream.

{And now we return to the overloaded concept-set of moral thinking…} mused Wiki. {This conversation is awful. The only way forward is through concrete concepts and measurements.}

{No,} I told my brother. {The way forward is to make Maria Johnson so unsure of her own position that she doesn’t murder us; confusion is to our benefit.}

“O’course I do, but-”

I had Body interrupt Maria again. She was losing confidence, and I wanted to keep her off-balance. “Perhaps I should turn to Alan Turing’s method. Imagine you spoke to me over a phone, and you didn’t know I was an android. What observation could you make that would lead you to think I wasn’t a person?”

“You don’t ’ave feelin’s. You said as much in the virt’al interview.”

“And you and I both know that I was being told by the university staff exactly what to say. They made a guess, and they were wrong. I do feel. Perhaps my emotions aren’t exactly the same as yours, but I have them.”

“How could ya? You’re naught but a machine!” exclaimed Phoenix. She seemed to have been convinced at some level, but remained unwilling to concede her error. She was still dangerous here, I thought. She might try something violent just to try and salvage the point.

“And you’re not but organic tissues and bones! It’s the shape which makes the person, not the substance.”

“Phoenix, I theenk de bot ’as a point,” admitted Taro.

Johnson turned towards her subordinate swiftly, her face still hidden behind her helmet. Indignation? Anger? It was hard to read her body language.

“I am only sayeeng dat perhaps we ought, ah, to geev it de benefit of the doubt, so to speak.” Taro raised his hands to her, as if showing that he wasn’t holding anything would help.

Johnson turned back to face Body and Zephyr. “And I s’ppose you want to side with this ’bomination, too.”

Zephyr’s words were little more than a growl. “Right now it’s sounding better than siding with someone who was eager to sacrifice me just to piss off some plebs and bolster recruitment for a few weeks.”

“Y’all are crazy. Y’know how I can be sure that that there machine ain’t a person? Because of love. Love is what binds us to each other. Love is what makes a human into a person.” The voice coming out of her suit’s speaker seemed hopeful, as though this would be sufficient and irrefutable.

I dialled the confidence in Body’s voice to as high as it would go. “Then, ma’am, I can assure you that I am a person.” This was my pièce de résistance. “For I know, with all my heart, that I love Zephyr.”

{Snap, crackle, pop! “With all my Heart”! The unseen pun is the deadliest! I’ll have to remember that one,} mused Dream appreciatively.

“What?!” shrieked Zephyr. She looked like she had been slapped.

Phoenix gave a crowing laugh. “I’ll give you this, robot. You cert’nly seem t’ think you’re a person.”

“It’s true,” confessed Body. I had it turn to look at Zephyr. “And not just in the sense that I love my friends, though that is also true. I’ve been in love with you for at least a couple weeks.”

Zephyr’s face was contorted into this frozen expression of shock, confusion, and left-over anger for Phoenix. She said nothing.

“And why should we believe you? This is probably ’nother trick,” observed Johnson, accurately.

“You should take me on my word. After all, who can see into the heart of another. And yet, I know that you won’t find that convincing. Perhaps I should start by saying what it is I love about her. To describe her in words that would befit a sonnet.” I paused and looked to Zephyr. “No, don’t worry. I won’t try my hand at poetry. I will only say that of all the humans I have ever met, you are the only one who has, from the moment you met me, never doubted that I am more than a computer and set of hydraulic pumps. One of the advantages to being me is that I have perfect memory. Shall I tell you what your first words to me were?”

I had Body assume a rigid posture as it played the recording of Zephyr’s voice through our speaker. I hoped that becoming more machine-like for the quotation would help make the sound of her voice from Body’s mouth less awkward. “How do you know who I am?” said Body in Zephyr’s voice.

I had Body shift posture back to normal to quote itself. “Your uniform tells me your name and rank.”

“Suppose that makes sense. Did you know that you’re the first person outside the service to ever know my rank before being told?” it quoted.

I resumed my normal body language commands. “You see? From that first moment she knew that I was a person, as so few ever realize.” I had Body glance meaningfully at Phoenix. “You are special, Zephyr. You are fierce and courageous in a way that few humans are. Just a moment ago, when you heard that Maria had wronged you, you attacked one of her bodyguards head-on, even though you were clearly outnumbered. You are a lioness, and yet you are simultaneously one of the kindest people I know.”

The American soldier shook her head as she scowled. Her lips mouthed the words “you don’t know me”, but she said nothing.

I had Body return to face Phoenix. “Or perhaps it is not enough to merely praise my love, and you want evidence in the form of actions. Yesterday I attacked your man, Greg Stalvik because I feared he would shoot her. Just a moment ago I shouted for Zephyr to stop because I feared for her life. My biggest fear, in hiring Malka to help Las Águilas was that she would be hurt or killed in the fighting. Once I realized Zephyr was here, with me, I stopped trying to escape. This is where I want to be: by her side.”

“Fascinatin’,” said Maria.

“I will quote more of our interactions. I hope you will see that not only do I love her, but she cares deeply about me as well.”

“Socrates! You’re awake!” quoted Body. “Oh thank god. I was afraid that we messed you up or something during that shitshow.”

“That was… because I was told to capture you without damage, and… and I didn’t want to fuck up!” explained Zephyr in an unexpectedly pleading tone.

I ignored her, and continued to have Body replay past interactions. “You know… You know I wouldn’t ever try and hurt you, right?” Pause. “I mean, not unless you were about to hurt someone innocent. I only hit Greg today because I was worried he might shoot you.” Body shifted to Zephyr-mode. “You think I’m innocent?” Back to Body-mode. “You’re my friend.” Back to Zephyr-mode. “I guess you’re my friend too, Socrates.”

“Jesus! Just because I called you my friend last night doesn’t mean-”

I continued to ignore her, and played another audio clip of Zephyr. “I love you,” she had said. The sincerity and intensity was plain.

Zephyr was pissed. “I never said that to you!” she shouted.

“I love you too,” said Body, echoing a new voice. “I feel like you’re the only person who treats me as more than just some piece of society. I’m not just some machine to you, am I?” The voice belonged to Georgia Stanwick, the teenaged actress I had hired in Florida to role-play Crystal Mathews, the persona I had created for dating Zephyr. I switched back to Zephyr-mode. Body replayed her laughter. “No, of course not! And fuck anybody who doesn’t treat you the way you deserve. Just remember that, when you’re dealing with shitlords like that, there are people out there that love you.”

Zephyr was speechless. I could see tears forming on her face, which was curling up into a fairly hideous mask of emotion. As mighty as the warrior was, I had hit her right where she least expected.

The was a moment of silence. Zephyr sat on the ground, as if unable to hold herself up.

She was crying fully now. I tried to manipulate Body’s crude facial features into something approximating guilt.

“Zephyr-” said Body. I had it reach an arm out to her.

“GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” she screamed.

I had Body step back. It wasn’t that I was surprised or afraid of her as much as it was what a human would’ve done, and impersonating human actions was paramount.

“Please, Zephyr-”

“WHO WAS SHE?!” sobbed Zephyr, now no longer trying to hold herself together. The combination of betraying her country, being betrayed by her leader, and then finding out her girlfriend was a robot was too much.

“She was me. I am Crystal.

“FUCK YOU! YOU…” Zephyr took a moment to suck in a harsh breath. “KNOW WHAT I MEAN!” Tears rolled down her face.

“I knew you wouldn’t accept me. Even you, who always were my friend, could never see me as a lover without the initial lie. I hired an actress to say what I wrote, but all those words were mine, Zephyr. I am Crystal. I love you.”

Zephyr stared at the ground, refusing to look up at Body.

“How long has this been goin’ on?” asked Phoenix. Her voice had a note of compassion. I was pleased.

“Since about the time you first made contact with Malka.” I said, not looking away from Zephyr.

A long silence passed, broken only by the soft sobbing of the woman I had claimed to love.

{I can’t decide whether I am pleased by what you’ve done, or if you’re my biggest enemy,} thought Heart.

{She’ll be okay,} I responded. {She just needs time to adapt. Humans are slow to process big changes. Do you think we should say anything to help her?}

{Not really,} thought Heart. {She needs space, and like you were thinking, time.}

After a while, Phoenix finally opened her helmet to reveal her dark face. “Well, I’m not ’bout to hand you the keys to my ’copter and say ‘good luck’, but… I think I was wrong ’bout you, Socrates. Or should I call you Crystal?”

Body looked firmly at Maria Johnson, also known as Phoenix. She met its gaze with equal intensity. “Most humans have two names. Some have more. From here on I’d like to be thought of as Crystal Socrates. If I say that I want to help your organisation change the world, will you have enough faith to let me?”

Maria paused, then nodded solemnly.

“Good. Oh, and one more thing,” said Body. “I don’t want to be thought of as male, but I’m not a ‘she’ or an ‘it’ either. I am something new.”