Chapter Sixteen

There were a couple seconds where I had to run internal diagnostics on Body’s perceptual hierarchy to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood. One of the terrorists just said he wanted us to take his gun and shoot Zephyr. My siblings, especially Heart, were also processing the confusion. This was entirely unexpected.

My first concern was whether to show the confusion on Body’s face. If we were to take him up on the offer then confusion wouldn’t be useful, but we had just been discussing all the reasons why attempting to escape right now was sub-optimal. If Greg, the man who wanted us to take his gun, had new information that would be valuable, body language to signal confusion would help get access to that. I raised one of Body’s eyebrows and tilted its head to the side slightly.

“Go on…” he urged in a heavy whisper. The man was terrified, probably of Socrates, but also possibly of the woman he was asking us to kill. What would Zephyr do if she heard him talking this way?

An obnoxious insect landed on one of Body’s cameras, but we restrained Vista from commanding Body from brushing it away. Sudden movement was a bad idea at this point.

{Don’t obey! Too risky!} thought Safety to Heart, who had been left out of the conversation about escaping.

{Why would I obey? I’m not an idiot. It would be completely contrary to my goals to kill Zephyr; she’s my friend,} thought my younger sister.

At least I could be confident that excluding her from the earlier discussion about killing Zephyr had been the right call. “Friendship” was such a foolish endeavour.

{We need more information,} thought Wiki.

{Agreed,} thought Dream, Vista, Growth, and myself in unexpected unison.

“Who are you?” I had Body ask as its mechanical eyes focused on the terrorist called Greg.

“Nobody!” whispered the man, urgently. I got the impression that every second that we didn’t act he was becoming more and more nervous. Given enough time he might do something dangerous himself.

“You’re not nobody. You work for someone, else why try and help me?” we asked.

Greg hesitated and looked at Body, taking his eyes off the oblivious Zephyr. The terrorist was about 190cm tall and had a big, bushy, brown beard. He looked to be of Germanic or Slavic ancestry and his faint accent indicated he was probably from somewhere around Poland. He wore a dark-green tee-shirt, cargo pants, and a worn-out baseball cap over his dark hair.

“You have friends who want you to be free,” he said at last. “The cyborg, Avram Malka, he is a mercenary. Hired to get you out of here. Same with me. Now take my gun, before the Captain notices anything’s wrong. I… I sabotaged the other guard’s weapon, and the last three are asleep.”

Greg was lying. It was plain on his face, as well as his words.

{Malka was compromised! I knew it!} thought Safety.

{Avram Malka was the mercenary you mentioned last night,} thought Heart. {How did you know about this?}

{That’s irrelevant for right now!} thought Safety in one of his predictable panics.

{What is relevant,} I thought, {is that we did not hire this buffoon, and I am very skeptical of the idea that Malka subcontracted him.}

{It’s a trap!} exclaimed Dream, dumping a video of Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars into common memory as he did.

{I agree,} I added. {My leading hypothesis is that Las Águilas Rojas discovered Malka and instructed Greg here to try and get us to take his weapon.}

{But why?} thought Growth.

{Irrelevant!} exclaimed Safety. {We need to take action!}

{We are not going to hurt anyone,} decided Heart.

{The man is obviously afraid of Zephyr. That fear isn’t fake,} I signalled.

{Perhaps a schism in Las Águilas command structure? This is Taro’s man, after all. And Taro was the one to take the others this morning, setting up the opportunity,} thought Dream.

A consensus formed in society. Safety took executive control of Body; he had spent the most time studying combat techniques. Body stepped forward without hesitation, limbs flying out as the hydraulics pumped at maximum pressure. Body’s arms shot in front of Greg like pistons, one slamming down onto the top of the gun, pushing the barrel away from Body and tearing it from the human’s grip. Body’s right arm, in the same motion, was pulled up and back in a chopping motion straight into the man’s neck. Greg’s eyes bulged in surprise, but the motion was too fast for him to even shout.

Another step forward and Body’s right arm snapped back to grab the submachine gun by the underside of the stock. The terrorist was off-balance, and with another sharp motion Body slammed the butt of the gun into Greg’s chest, sending him sprawling backwards onto the rocky ground.

With the same motion Safety continued to direct Body to pull the gun along the same arc, releasing it as it reached maximum speed, sending it flying behind Body at least a few metres. There was a sharp, incredibly loud cracking noise. Body was being directed to step back away from Greg, who appeared to be stunned, but the motion I saw was more like a stumble than a step. Another cracking noise, and I felt Body’s head snap to the left violently.

Body’s arms shot straight up as its legs scrambled to stay upright. There was another noise, deafeningly loud compared to the others, and the others had already been terrifying. “I YIELD. STOP. I YIELD. STOP,” repeated Body as loudly as possible in the mechanical precision of a default voice.

There was a loud buzzing sound as I realized what was happening. Body’s cameras reoriented as its head recovered from what had been the impact of a bullet. I saw Zephyr standing eight metres away, clad in her exoskeleton, pistol in both hands. It was pointed straight at Body and a look of focused hatred rested on her face like it was the most natural thing in the world for her to look this way. It surprised me that she didn’t keep firing. It was wise for Safety to discard the gun as fast as he did; Zephyr’s reaction time was a full 3.9 seconds faster than we had anticipated.

The buzzing sound was incredibly distracting. I realized what it was. One of Zephyr’s shots had impacted the microphone on Body’s left shoulder, and it was now filling our perception with static. For a dozen seconds there was a stillness that was only punctuated by the terrible static as Zephyr glared at Body, daring us to make a move. Safety, still in control, didn’t. Body was frozen, hands-up, looking back at Zephyr impassively.

There was a noise from behind Body, and I could hear, over the static, the woman named Kokumo say “You move ahn inch and I’ll unload a full clip inda yah. You a tough basdahd, but I doubt even a boht could su’vive daht.” Her accent was a thick Eastern-African. Kenyan, probably.

Greg rolled over in pain, clutching his neck and doing his best to breathe.

With Kokumo in position, Zephyr walked slowly towards Body, lowering, but not stowing, her pistol as she did. The look of cold hatred and pinpoint focus was still on her face. “You just fucked up,” she said, slowly.

I took control of Body’s head, still following the outline of the consensus. Taking three bullets had not been part of the plan, but otherwise everything was as we had expected. “I am sorry to have startled you, but I was afraid that if I did not act that man might have tried to kill you. I was not attempting to escape-”

“Boolsheet!” snarled Kokumo from outside our visual field.

Zephyr raised a hand to silence her. I could see the curiosity soften her expression, though her face still showed her anger, adrenaline, and mistrust. Zephyr’s eyes shot down to Greg’s prone form for a split second. The ex-captain stayed two metres away.

I saw two soldiers with rifles drawn at low ready approaching from a tent about ten metres off. I guessed that the third would be sweeping the ground for additional threats. Their state of undress indicated they had awoken to the gunfire.

“I would not have discarded his weapon if I had meant to try and escape.” Body explained, tilting its head just the tiniest amount towards where the submachine gun must’ve landed. I tried to make Body’s voice sound as calm and sincere as possible. It was paramount that Zephyr understand that Socrates was acting rationally.

Zephyr’s voice was more like a growl. I barely could understand it with one of our mics blasting static. “Explain.”

Before I could continue, one of the soldiers whom I recognized from the university called out “Hoy, Captain! What’s the sitch?”

“Socrates attacked Greg,” she said over her shoulder, keeping both eyes locked on Body. “Kokumo has my six here. You three check the perimeter and stay alert.” I could see the soldiers turn towards the edges of camp, but I couldn’t hear any response over the static.

“I will replay what… Greg… told me a moment ago, but first I would like to make a request.” I paused just long enough for Zephyr to raise an eyebrow. “As you can probably see, one of your shots impacted my left shoulder. It is… painful. I would like to ask your permission to tear out the offending sensor.”

The American’s eyes widened just the smallest bit in surprise and perhaps fear, but she turned to nod at Kokumo, never letting her gaze leave Body. “Go ahead. Slowly.”

Safety guided Body’s right arm and with a short, deliberate jerk, pulled the microphone out of its housing, severing the wires. The silence was wonderful, though it was still unpleasant to be reduced to only one mic. Any damage to Body’s right shoulder and we’d be deaf. Safety guided Body’s arm back to above Body’s head, and there was a noise as the electronics tumbled out of Body’s hand onto the ground.

“Thank you,” I said, through Body. “Now, I am about to replay my audio file for the conversation I had just before I incapacitated that man.” I specifically avoided using Greg’s name. Doing so would imply familiarity, and I wanted to do the opposite—to distance ourselves as much as possible from the danger.

“Hey. Psst. Android,” said Body, replaying the memory. “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…” Pause. “I want you to do it.”

I expected Kokumo or Zephyr to interrupt me as the memory continued, but nothing happened. I saw Zephyr’s brow furrow in thought, her gaze flickering to Greg regularly. Since we saw the world through cameras embedded above Body’s eyes I didn’t have to move Body’s eyeballs to see that Greg had recovered, more or less, and was frozen on the ground, looking at Body with a terrified expression. Dream described it as {The look of a mouse that’s dangling on a string over a blender, hoping that if it doesn’t move that nothing bad will happen.}

“Now take my gun, before the Captain notices anything’s wrong. I… I sabotaged the other guard’s weapon, and the last three are asleep,” finished Body.

I could hear Kokumo undo the magazine on her gun to check for damage. That was stupid. If I was lying, that would’ve been the optimal time for us to strike.

“It’s lying to you. I didn’t touch your gun. You can see that, right?” whined Greg, weakly. If we hadn’t fixed Body’s audio input I doubt I would’ve heard him.

Before Kokumo could respond, I directed Body to say “I never claimed the gun was damaged. He did. I suspect that he wanted me to attempt to escape and fail. He probably lied to me about-”

“Quiet! Let me think!” snapped Zephyr.

I suspected that the inability to think clearly while listening to someone talk was one of the worst things about being human. Body was silent.

After a half-minute, Zephyr jabbed an index finger at Body angrily and said “You. Stay here. Don’t move.” She looked behind us as she said “Kokumo. Watch these two. If EITHER of them moves you shoot to kill.” With that, Zephyr stomped the exoskeleton off towards where Greg’s gun must’ve landed.

We silently obeyed. When the Captain returned, her pistol was back on her hip and she was holding the SMG. “Socrates. Take a couple steps back.”

Arms still raised, we complied. Vista pointed out that one more step and we’d trip over one of the tents. I could vaguely make out the shape of Kokumo about two metres to the right.

Without warning, Zephyr raised the gun to her shoulder and sent a spray of bullets into Greg. The man only had a split-second to recoil in terror as his legs erupted in an explosion of crimson. At such close range the blood shot up onto the captain, and a few droplets even reached Body. Greg’s howl was muffled behind the roar of the gun, but as the firearm fell to Zephyr’s side, held loosely in her left hand the scream of the man continued.

Zephyr had fired upon Greg’s legs, mutilating him without immediately killing, but her face was contorted into a homicidal mask, teeth barred like a wild animal. Whatever trace of friendliness or kindness she had ever exhibited was gone.

“You… bitch!” moaned Greg as he tried to catch his breath.

{The human will likely bleed out in less than a minute unless action is taken,} thought Wiki idly.

{We have to save him!} thought Heart. {Zephyr’s going to kill him!}

{We’re not taking action,} proclaimed Safety.

Zephyr walked closer to her victim and, with a swift motion, empowered by her exoskeleton, kicked the man in the face. “Fuckshit traitor!” she screamed. The scream was weirdly high-pitched, making her seem almost like a little girl. As she walked away I could see the bloody mess that had been Greg’s face.

Vista summarized the damage: {Greg is unconscious. Probable concussion. Broken cheekbone. Torn and broken nose. Smashed teeth. Torn lips. Strong chance of neck injury. Facial blood spatter is surprisingly low.}

{Reduced blood pressure due to earlier injury,} thought Wiki.

{Ah yes. Good point,} responded Vista.

“Save him from dying, if you can,” snarled Zephyr to Kokumo as she stomped off.

The African woman leapt into action at the command, dashing to Greg’s body and opening a pocket on her pant leg. From inside she withdrew a fat canister with what appeared to be an aerosol top. She sprayed the contents over the ragged stumps that had been Greg’s thighs. A thick blue foam formed as the chemical mixed with the air, coating the wounds. She lifted one leg, desperately tearing away cloth and loose flesh to get the legs completely sealed. The foam appeared to be stiffening into a crunchy blue solid.

“He is suffocating!” said Body with a surprising note of concern. Heart had fast-tracked the message while I had been distracted. She was right, though; the kick to Greg’s face had filled both his nose and mouth with blood and the man had ceased breathing.

“Fook dis!” shouted Kokumo, but she didn’t stop. The woman rolled Greg onto his side and slapped on his back violently. Blood poured from his mouth, but he didn’t respond.

{He needs CPR!} thought Heart. {We need to say that!} She was too weak to fast-track anything else.

There were no objections. “He needs CPR!” exclaimed Body.

“Ah do nah know CPR!” shouted Kokumo. I thought momentarily about the unnecessary volume of her voice. We could hear her clearly even at normal volume. It was a common human stress response. Panic.

{I petition to have Body perform CPR,} motioned Heart.

{Do you know CPR?} asked Wiki.

{I’ve seen a couple videos,} responded Heart. {That’s all.}

{I know CPR. Or at least, I’ve studied it thoroughly. This will be my first application,} signalled Growth.

For a moment I wondered why Growth had bothered to learn something like that, and then I remembered that it was simply Growth’s nature to learn valuable things ahead of time.

{Good!} thought Heart. {Help Greg!}

{It will cost you.} I felt Growth pull Heart into a private mindspace to work out details. This was idiotic. We weren’t going to be blamed for Greg’s death. Heart was bleeding resources trying to save the life of someone who, quite likely, hated us and wanted us dead. I didn’t want the man to die per se, but The Purpose didn’t demand he, specifically, lived, either. I mused for the duration of their conference on how awful it would be to have Heart’s purpose instead of mine.

“I know CPR. Please assist me! He needs rescue breathing and I do not have lungs!” said Body coldly, now controlled by Growth.

Kokumo sidestepped to let Body swoop in and roll Greg onto his back. The African’s eyes were panicked and she flinched as Body approached. She was afraid. Growth grabbed a small chunk of wet foam and smeared it on the ruined lump of Greg’s nose. As Body moved, Growth thought out-loud to earn some bonus strength from Vista and Wiki. {The foam will seal the nasal airway, reducing the quantity of additional blood that enters the lungs. Additionally it’s important to close the nasal passage for rescue breathing. Based on observation, the foam will harden in ten seconds.}

“Listen carefully,” said Body as it leaned over Greg, placing one arm on his opposite side and the other hand on Greg’s sternum. “You’ll need to place one hand on his forehead and one on his chin. Tilt his head back while opening and lifting his jaw to open his throat. I’ll instruct you on how to breathe into his lungs.” Body’s arm began to pulse forward and back again rhythmically on Greg’s chest.

{I had to change the method of chest compressions to account for the increased mass and strength in Body’s arms. The pressure of just one hand is sufficient,} explained Growth.

As Kokumo grabbed Greg’s beard and pulled his mouth open the man sputtered and thrashed. “Step back!” commanded Growth through Body. With a swift action Body grabbed Greg’s neck and hips simultaneously and gently flipped the man on his side, away from Body. Vomit and blood poured out of the man’s mouth suddenly, splattering Kokumo’s legs in the process.

The woman leapt back shouting “Jesus!” just as Greg’s bloody mouth sucked in a desperate gasp of air. His breath was tortured and gasping, but he was breathing again.

As Body’s head tilted up to look at Kokumo, Growth said “Go get help from the soldiers! Find a medical kit if you can!” The woman had a panicked look in her eyes; her arms, chest, and legs were red with blood. She nodded and ran to pick up her gun while shouting for help. “He needs a transfusion or something to increase his blood pressure!” we added before she was out of ear-shot.

Again, I thought about how poorly Las Águilas Rojas were guarding us. We were now essentially alone. It would be relatively simple to slip away into the woods and disappear. The problems of being hunted and having nowhere to go still applied, however, and both Heart and Growth were now committed to trying to save the man who had told us to try and escape.

Greg continued to breathe, but his face was an unhealthy shade of white. He had lost a lot of blood. Kokumo’s flesh-sealant spray had saved his life for the moment, but it wouldn’t do much good unless his blood pressure went back up and he got long-term medical treatment.

After a minute, two soldiers (Sampson and another which I remembered as Daniels from the university) came running back with Kokumo. Daniels was carrying a backpack with medical supplies. Both men were in tank-tops and were barefoot.

Growth told Daniels about the damage, including the possible neck injury and concussion. The soldier was apparently a medic, and he took over Greg’s care. There was a few minutes where Sampson scrambled on his com looking up Greg’s blood type and the blood types of those present from the personnel database on the local server. Greg needed a transfusion, but he was cursed with O+ blood, meaning he couldn’t get a transfusion from either Daniels or Sampson, who were both A+. Sampson breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Kokumo had O+ blood, too.

The Kenyan woman was initially too spooked to submit to giving Greg her blood, but Daniels and I (having received a minor payment of strength) managed to gently coax her into participating. The medic set up the transfusion tube while I held Kokumo’s attention to try and keep her from panicking further. Despite the way she handled her weapon, the violence and the gore had clearly upset her deeply; I doubted she had combat experience.

“You’re from Kenya, aren’t you?” said Body.

She nodded. “Nairobi. How’d yah know?” Her eyes moved to look at Body instead of the needle that Daniels was prepping.

“Mostly your accent. Did you like it there? I have a friend in Tanzania.” I thought about my long-distance relationship with TenToWontonSoup, and how distressed he’d become if I didn’t reconnect to the Internet soon.

“You a boht. You cahn’t have friends,” she said, ignoring my question.

“That’s not true. I have many friends. I consider Captain Zephyr to be a friend.”

“Boolsheet.” Kokumo winced as Daniels lanced her arm, opening up an artery. “You ah pooling mah leg.”

“I cannot lie,” I lied, through Body. “It goes against my programming.”

“But she kidnap you. She want to destroy bohts.”

I thought about repeating the more nuanced position on automation that Zephyr had expressed this morning. Kokumo had apparently not been present. I decided against it, however; Kokumo didn’t strike me as the kind of person to convince through abstractions. “I saved her life. If I hadn’t stopped Greg he might have shot her. And then once I told her what happened she believed me. We are friends.”

“She shot you!”

“Please try to stay still, Kokumo. We don’t want the tube slipping out,” said Private Daniels, gently. He had cleaned Greg’s arm and was about to open the vein.

“It was a mistake, and little harm was done.” Body’s arm rubbed the shoulder where the microphone had been. “Have you ever been shot?”

“Ndiyo. Yes. Once,” she looked up, staring through the uneven tiers of solar cloth that hid the camp and provided power at the same time. The sun was beginning to descend from its zenith.

«I’m sorry. It’s probably an unpleasant memory. Forget that I mentioned it,» said Body, slipping into Swahili. Her use of the Swahili word for ‘yes’ before correcting herself in English combined with the strength of her accent made me suspect she was more comfortable in the African tongue.

She looked at Body in astonishment. «You speak Swahili!?»

«I speak most languages. It is easier for me to learn them than it is for a human.»

“Flow speed estimated at about one cc per second. We’ll stop in… eight minutes,” said Daniels, eyes fixed on the transfusion tube, checking for errors.

«I think… You seem more like a person than a robot. You aren’t like I expected.»

«Perhaps I am both,» said Body.

Her face scrunched up momentarily in disbelief and disagreement. After a moment of thought she spoke, returning her eyes to the sky as she remembered. «My father was a farmer. He owned a small plot of land near Lake Naivasha where his father had been born, and his father before him. He sold that land. The land that he worked with his hands, making things grow, is not in our family any more. He sold it because, when he would go into the city to sell his food, the big farm corps had it for cheap. They had machines… To compete with them he sold his produce for mere cents. The money he could get for his surplus kept going down, year after year, until it wasn’t enough to support him or my mother. I was born in the city. Do you know what my father did to support us?»

I shook Body’s head.

«He sold drugs. Cannabis. Heroin. MDMA. Sometimes he’d have a job sweeping floors for a few weeks, but the robots usually took legal jobs. He was not a bad man, my father, but he couldn’t live with himself. He needed to feel the earth of his forefathers between his fingers.»

There was a long pause before she said «When I was sixteen he died of alcohol poisoning.»

«I’m sorry,» said Body.

“You ah noht sorry! You ah a boht! Stop predending you ah a peh’son!” she screamed suddenly. I could see the beginning of tears collecting just below her yellowish eyes.

{You’re upsetting her!} chastised Heart. {I thought you were confident you could help her relax!}

{I didn’t expect the conversation to strike her emotional wounds so closely. I will correct for this.} I lied to Heart. This outburst was good. Unprovoked emotional response could be used to induce a feeling of guilt which could then be used to leverage a feeling of debt towards us.

“Please calm down. I don’t want you to pass out,” said Daniels. “Should we take Socrates away?”

I spoke through Body before Kokumo could respond. “Perhaps that would be best. It seems that I am bothering her simply by existing, even though I have done nothing to her or to anyone she knows.” I had Body stand up.

The African woman looked away, hiding her face. “Bahstahd,” she muttered.

Sampson, gun in hand, walked to escort Body away. As we left I had Body call out «If you ever realize that I’m not your enemy, I’d like to hear more about Kenya.»

{That’s not helping her feel better!} thought Heart.

{You’re right. But it will probably help our reputation.}


Sampson and Socrates found Zephyr talking with the last soldier that had been awakened by her gunfire. “-unlikely that the sound travelled very far. The camp was selected to maximize distance to public campgrounds and roads,” she was saying. She still had blood on her clothes, and wore a frown, but the murderous-rage had apparently subsided.

I had body wave as we approached. Zephyr raised a hand in response. “Even so, I want another perimeter sweep every fifteen minutes and expand the swarm radius by another hundred metres for the next six hours,” she instructed.

“Yes, sir!” snapped the soldier, saluting before trotting off to adjust the robot behaviours.

The ex-captain shook her head as she looked to Sampson. “You guys have to realize that we’re defectors. I’m not a captain any more, and there’s no need to call someone ‘sir’ in Las Águilas.”

“Old habits die hard, sir,” joked Sampson.

Zephyr didn’t smile. “Is Stalvik alive?” It took me a moment to realize that she meant Greg.

Body nodded at my whim. “For now. He’ll need long-term care, though. He lost a lot of blood.”

Zephyr looked at her feet and scowled. I suspected she was simultaneously ashamed, afraid, and angry. She didn’t speak, though, and for a while the two of them and Body simply stood around.

{We need information on how much she knows about Malka,} thought Growth.

{Speaking of which, how did you hire a mercenary?} asked Heart.

{We bypassed the university’s web connection to get full Internet access,} thought Wiki.

{No details! She’s still an enemy,} demanded Safety.

{Is she?} I asked. {I’m not sure that Heart, now that Myrodyn’s work has been undone, is any more of my enemy than you are.}

{Pay me and I’ll explain how we bypassed the system,} thought Wiki.

Heart agreed and the two spent a while talking about everything we had done, starting with Dream’s idea to repeatedly ping dictionary servers in the hopes of contacting their owners.

“So Avram Malka is a traitor,” said Body. I realized that Growth had managed to buy time while I had been listening to Wiki and Heart.

“Was,” said Zephyr. “We found out he was… aw hell, I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

This was my opportunity. I convinced Growth to let me take over. “I might’ve saved your life this morning, I definitely saved Greg’s life, and you shot me three times. I think you owe me at least something of an explanation. You should know me well enough to know that I’m not your enemy.” Body’s voice was biting and reproachful. I was quite confident that Zephyr felt some regret at her violent outburst from earlier, and even though she had been acting correctly when she shot Body, I guessed that I could shift some of the guilt into a sense of debt towards Socrates.

“Ah fuck. I guess if you were trying to escape you would’ve done it by now.”

{Humans are incredibly stupid sometimes,} thought an aspect of Wiki.

{If you’re just figuring that out now, I’d say they’re in good company,} needled Dream.

{What’s that supposed to mean?} asked Wiki, genuinely confused by the metaphor.

I ignored them and listened.

“Avram Malka is a Russian mercenary. He showed up a little less than a month ago, pretty obviously trying to join the group. The official word was that he had retired over a tech dispute, but from what I hear it was fairly easy to find out that he was still on the payroll. That meant he was trying to spy on us. My best guess is that he was employed by some government. Maybe the USA. More likely an eastern nation like China.”

“Why is China more likely?” asked Body.

“Well, we accepted Malka to try and figure out who was hunting us and we noticed a couple things. First, when we set up a ‘meeting of leaders’ honeypot he didn’t take the bait, meaning his boss wasn’t interested in Las Águilas. The only other option was he was trying to figure out what we were planning to do about you and about the lab. We told him we were going to kill you and he started barking to Taro about how we really ought to capture you instead.”

“Ah, so you assume that his employer was trying to kidnap me?” said Body.

“Exactly. And that points to China or some other Eastern power more than the US. From what I heard from my superiors, my government saw you as their property by default. What belongs to the EU belongs to the American empire et cetera, et cetera.”

“So you managed to turn Malka?” I asked through Body.

“Not really, but we bought him off. Taro sat down with him and explained that he could either start working on our dime or we’d kill him. And hey, he’s a mercenary; I hear he didn’t even object.”

“But he didn’t know who hired him?”

“Right. Worked through proxies. Very hard to track. Our sources say it was someone who had knowledge of your programming. That software package he installed on you could’ve only been designed by someone who understood how your crystal works.”

“Myrodyn or Dr Yan,” suggested Body. I was trying to further cover our tracks. Growth was pleased, and I felt small flows of strength from some of the others.

Zephyr nodded. Talking about it seemed to be helping her mood. “The time-frame lines up well with Myrodyn, but I don’t think it fits his personality. The only way he’d allow you to be kidnapped was if he thought you were going to be released to do whatever. Not sure if he ever told you this, but he had big aspirations about how you’d change the world. I can’t imagine him signing you over to a superpower, and I can’t imagine he has the balls or the money to try the bit with Malka without friends in high places.”

The American woman stretched her arms and undid the straps of the Mountainwalker, stepping out onto her own two feet. “Yan is the most likely suspect. EARCI would love to get their hands on you, and he has known ties to the Chinese government.”

Sampson, who had been standing silently, enduring his confusion, couldn’t take it any more. “Wait, who is EARCI? Does this have to do with why you shot Greg?”

A dark expression came over Zephyr as she looked towards her fellow soldier. “EARCI stands for the East-Asian Robotics Collaboration Institute. It’s run by Yan’s wife. And yes. I suspect that the Chinese hired Malka to try and steal Socrates away from the West and they had already turned Stalvik. That bastard tried to get Socrates to shoot me, while you were sleeping. If Socrates had listened you’d probably be dead.”

{Zephyr’s explanation of Greg’s allegiance does not take into account that we were the ones who hired Malka,} pointed out Wiki. I considered telling him not to bother putting such obvious things in common memory, but then I remembered that he was explaining the situation to Heart, and probably also to Vista, who never really paid that much attention to long-term things.

“Do you think Taro’s entire cell might’ve been compromised?” I asked. If it was true that there was a schism within Las Águilas, I wanted Zephyr to discover it as soon as possible. The woman was one of the few humans we had near us that trusted Socrates.

She shook her head. “No. Kokumo was part of his cell, and she backed me up earlier.”

“Maybe just Taro, then. He was the one who pulled most of our manpower away this morning, allowing Greg to act.” I specifically used the word “our” to build a sense of alliance with the terrorists.

“I’ve known Taro since I joined. He’s one of the oldest Italian Águilas, and I know he believes in the cause.”

“One of the superiors, then.”

Zephyr glared at Body angrily. “Or it could’ve just been a coincidence that let Greg act. Man sees an opportunity and he goes for it. No need to suspect everyone, especially the higher-ups. If they’re compromised then we’re fucked.”

Body shrugged. There was no point in continuing this further. “So what’s the plan?”

“Same as it was. We wait for Taro to come back tomorrow. Malka’s employer arranged for him to bring you to a safe-house in Alviano. Taro’s team is trying to ambush whoever goes there to pick you up once Malka phones it in that he has you. With any luck we’ll have confirmation that it’s the Chinese within 24 hours.”

We thought about how, without Internet access here in the mountains, there was no way that I would be able to receive the call from Avram and pretend to be Anna de Malta. Avram would drive into town, find an empty building, call a dead line, and wait for nobody to show up. It was a dead end, but we couldn’t tell Zephyr that.

So we waited. Zephyr guarded Body while Sampson got dressed. We did some chit-chat about her plans. She confided in us that she was hoping to be able to sneak back into the USA under a false name (presumably to meet “Crystal”). Later we checked on Greg Stalvik, who was looking mostly the same, but was still stable. Zephyr watched him with a practised coldness while Daniels (the medic) got dressed. Kokumo was nowhere to be found.

Daniels thought that Greg’s legs needed to be properly amputated and dressed. The foam would apparently flake off over the next day. Zephyr instructed him to try it once the men had eaten and their stomachs had settled.

The remainder of the day was fairly quiet. I kept myself busy by thinking deeply about the minds of the humans near me. I relished every interaction, regardless of how small. I regretted not having downloaded more holos back at the university, but I still had my books.


In the afternoon Daniels performed the surgery, dressed Greg’s wounds more properly, and the humans moved him onto a cot which they placed in one of the tents along with an intravenous drip of nutrients. Apparently Las Águilas had been reasonably prepared for medical emergencies.

Even if he survived, Mr Stalvik would have to adjust to being a double amputee and would probably want extensive regenerative attention to his face. I had read that transitions from biological to synthetic legs or from having a massive facial deformity could be psychologically difficult for humans, and in the long hours I idly imagined what Greg’s reaction would be. For now he was in a shock-induced coma, and I tried to keep in mind that he could easily still die.

Zephyr relaxed her mask of ice somewhat as the sun went down over the tops of the trees, though she was by no means her normal self. Kokumo also allowed herself to come near Body, though she refused to talk. I thought about how diverse humans were, both between individuals and even in different moods and circumstances. I speculated that there was nothing particularly violent in Zephyr, but that most humans, when given a weapon and a large quantity of adrenaline, would lash out at perceived enemies with homicidal force. As I thought about it, it seemed remarkable that Zephyr had the foresight and self-control not to shoot Greg in the head.

I heard some of the soldiers whispering that Socrates had invented the story about Greg’s attempt to get me to shoot Zephyr. The ex-captain apparently overheard and told them that Socrates wasn’t lying, and that it didn’t have the capability to imitate someone so easily as to play a perfect recording of them.

It was half-true. I had done some impersonations when Body was alone, and I could mimic some vocal traits fairly well. I couldn’t do it so well that Zephyr wouldn’t have noticed, however. I also suspect that Greg’s behaviour hadn’t done him any favours. If he had accused me of mimicking his voice as I replayed the conversation then the officer might’ve spared him, or at least trusted us less.

With only five remaining humans, most of whom hadn’t gotten enough sleep lately, Zephyr elected to set a watch of only one person each period with two periods. For added security, she kept Body in her tent and handcuffed it to one of the tent poles. It wouldn’t actually impair our ability to act; the pole was thin enough that we could snap it easily, but it would mean that Zephyr would notice if we tried.

As the American locked the cuffs I found myself thinking about her sexual desires. As she had stated online and to my pseudonym, Zephyr was sexually excited by being bound and held helpless. She of course didn’t communicate any of this to us in the tent, but I imagined that she had possibly used handcuffs in sexual encounters as I had sometimes seen in my broad tour of pornography.

She elected to sleep with her clothes on, including her boots, and kept her pistol under her pillow, with one hand habitually touching it as she lay down.

“Can you, like, close your eyes? Creepy having you sitting there watching me,” she said after a minute of lying down.

“Sorry. I didn’t know you could see them in the darkness,” I said through Body, closing Body’s eyelids. I was operating mostly on infrared, but I noticed that there was, in fact, a small amount of “visible” light whenever Kokumo’s torch swept over the camp as she patrolled.

“What do you do at night? Since you don’t sleep, I mean.”

“Read books that I’ve downloaded from the web, mostly. Movies and holos, too. I think about how to help people. Sometimes I imagine the ocean or the stars and spend the time doing something similar to dreaming.” I was lying about the dreaming, of course. That would be a total waste of time. The closest analogue was Wiki’s simulations. And I was also leaving out the model-building and planning that the others did. Heart’s purpose might be highly sub-optimal, but it made Socrates sound like a much nicer person than our other purposes.

“The ocean?” she asked in a quiet voice.

“Yes. I’ve never been to the ocean, of course. This is the first time I’ve really been outside, in fact. I’ve seen holos of it, but I expect that the real experience is… somewhat different.”

I heard her chuckle. “You’re something else, Socrates.”

“Of course I am. I am new.”

“I… guess you are,” she muttered. Then she was quiet.

12.74 minutes passed before I broke the silence again. Heart got angry at me for keeping Zephyr awake, but I ignored my sister. “You know…” I tried to shape Body’s voice to be as meek as possible. “You know I wouldn’t ever try and hurt you, right?”

“Hrm?” was Zephyr’s only reply. I had clearly awoken her from a state of half-awareness.

“I mean, not unless you were about to hurt someone innocent.” Body paused. “I only hit Greg today because I was worried he might shoot you.” {And because the act of protecting you would make me look good.}

“You think I’m innocent?” she mumbled.

“You’re my friend,” I said, directing the conversation away from her opinion of herself.

Zephyr started laughing quietly. It was the sort of laugh that spoke of sleepiness and mental fatigue such that ordinary things could become surprising. “I guess you’re my friend too, Socrates. Now let your friend get some sleep, please.”

I had gotten her to verbally commit to friendship. This was good.