Chapter Twenty-Five

We were floating in the airlock. The pilots (it turned out there were two) were eyeing Body suspiciously as they attended to their tasks. One was on the com, presumably talking with Robert Stephano. The other was working with the still-incapacitated Mrs Dolan. Maid Marian floated in a slow pirouette nearby, humming to herself.

The seal on the airlock opened to reveal a hovering Stephano with the look of someone who just swallowed something bitter against his will. His appearance matched his avatar perfectly: boyish and fit, clean-shaven, not a trace of grey in his swept-back black hair. Unlike his avatar, this Stephano was not wearing a business suit, but instead wore a black and grey jumpsuit resembling that of his daughter. I understood it was something of a uniform up here; the pilots were wearing identical pieces. Loose clothing (such as my cloak) were not practical in zero-gravity. Unlike his daughter, Robert (and the pilots) wore tight leather shoes.

“Hi Daddy!” squeaked Marian, still spinning gaily.

“Out of there! Now!” he barked.

The kid sighed and kicked herself effortlessly through the airlock door. Robert slid out of the way to give her passage, and as he did I could see the bloodshot eyes of Myrodyn lurking behind him.

Marian, as she passed started to say “Didn’t do any-”

Robert’s face was red with anger. “You drugged your babysitter, damaged an internal door, and directly disobeyed my order to say safe, putting yourself in contact with a non-human entity without supervision!”

Marian’s voice had an edge of distress. “Wouldn’t have to disobey if-”

“No! We are not having this conversation now.” Stephano’s hand pointed at Maid Marian as if in signal to go. “You know how to get to my quarters in Beta-1. Go straight there and don’t talk to anyone! I’m serious! I’ll be there after I deal with Crystal.”

The pilots had begun feeding Mrs Dolan through the hatch. Behind the woman I could barely see a red-faced Maid Marian swimming away, clearly upset.

With Dolan through the door, Stephano pointed at Body. “And you. I thought we had an agreement that you wouldn’t interact with my daughter.”

After a short internal debate I shrugged Body’s shoulders. “She interacted with me. You saw the lengths she went through. And I’m sure you have security cameras in the rocket. Check the logs. You’ll see that I did nothing except talk with her once she came to me. I encouraged her to be safe and said nothing provocative.”

The billionaire’s expression didn’t change. “This was your plan, wasn’t it? What are you trying to-” He was cut off by a gloved hand on his shoulder.

Myrodyn looked rougher than he had at the university. He had allowed his mutton-chops to grow into a full beard, and his hair was dishevelled. Unlike the Stephanos he wore a vest over a dress shirt along with slacks and tennis shoes. “Give it a rest, Rob. You know very well that the mischief was her doing. Leave Socrates out of it.” The bearded scientist seemed tired.

Stephano pushed off a support and spun to face Myrodyn. “Socrates is the reason that she’s on the station right now! I think I’m fully within my rights as a father to be upset!”

Body’s arms pushed off from the airlock propelling it in a gliding motion through the hatch. It was very easy to give too much power, and Safety was focused on making sure Body’s motions were appropriately measured. We had spent some time practising zero-grav movement in VR before the trip and it was helping immensely.

Myrodyn raised his arms defensively. “I didn’t say you shouldn’t be upset. I’m just saying that... accusing Socrates of setting your daughter up to anesthetize her babysitter is a bit much.”

“Hello, Myrodyn,” said Body, calmly.

The scientist raised a hand in greeting as we drifted into the station proper. His face had the same sense of controlled stoicism he had shown on that first day in his office.

“I never should have agreed to have her up here… I hope you appreciate the degree to which this meeting is important to me.” Robert’s finger jabbed sharply at Body in emphasis.

I chose Body’s words diplomatically. “I cannot guarantee my success, but you have my assurance that I am not taking this endeavour lightly. I am devoting all my mental power to the task.” Unhindered, I continued to drift away from the airlock as we spoke. “Speaking of which, I’d like to get started as soon as possible.

Stephano gave a hand-signal to the pilots in the airlock and then turned to Myrodyn. “Can you please take Mrs. Dolan to my quarters and keep an eye on my daughter while I explain the situation to our synthetic friend?”

Myrodyn nodded and began pushing the unconscious babysitter through the zero-gravity “hallway”. Before he left he said “We need to talk about Socrates soon. In private.” His eyes met those of Body before he left. A mystery.

Did he realize we had undone Heart? Could he be planning to force another update to our mind? I was pleased that Heart had thought to request the presence of our allies in Las Águilas Rojas.

The section of the space station we were in was in the core of the large disks; it itself wasn’t turning, and thus had no simulated gravity. It extended, a tube of white plastic, directly away from the airlock and down the length of the section. The tube was about three metres in diameter and had several paths of handholds as well as signs and hatches. There was some sort of room set into the tube about ten or twelve metres down, and I could see the tube continue on the far side of the room.

“Before we talk about the nameless,” said Robert once we were alone, “I need to tell you about something that’s come up.” We drifted down the tube slowly. “As you probably know, Olympus isn’t just a private office. I have a standing contract with five major governments and the European Union to lease and maintain the space for whatever non-military projects they choose, including meetings with our extrasolar friends. I also sell transportation and housing to the world’s elite as a vacation destination. For safety and privacy I cleared the hotel, but I wasn’t able to clear the science labs. I had planned to simply keep you in the Alpha sections, which we’re above right now, with the hopes that nobody in Beta would realize you were here.”

“Word got out,” said Body as I realized what Stephano was getting at.

“Indeed. It seems that there’s a leak somewhere in either Las Águilas Rojas or in my personal staff. Word of your plans apparently got out early enough that the EU was able to send a welcoming party ahead of you. That was my fault. I should’ve been personally inspecting the identities of those coming to the station.”

“Who’s here?”

Stephano sighed. “Drs. Gallo, Naresh, and Slovinsky; at least one professional spy; and six special-ops soldiers. I’m sorry. My only consolation is that I’m positive that they didn’t bring any weapons and I’ve confined them to quarters for the duration of the visit. They’re all in the Beta sections right now. The pilots from the rocket you came up on are preparing to return to Earth. While the part of me that falls for sunk costs is screaming not to say what I’m about to say… if you want to leave I can have them hold departure until you and the other Águilas are with them. I’ll understand.”

{Sounds good. If our location is known, we’re in great danger up here,} thought Safety.

{So we’d throw away everything, just like that?} moaned Growth.

{Running away hardly seems clever,} mused Dream.

{Doesn’t matter. This is clearly a trap. I bet Myrodyn’s the leak,} thought Safety.

{I don’t think it’s Myrodyn,} I responded.

{We should do a joint Bayesian analysis,} thought Wiki.

{No. We should get out of here!} demanded Safety.

Body grabbed a hand-hold to stop our motion through the tube. Stephano did the same. I could see more humans drifting towards us from the other end of the station.

{Sam and Tom!} noticed Vista. {And another man with them.}

{We should ask what they want to do. Get all Las Águilas Rojas together and work out a consensus with them,} suggested Heart.

“Let me think for a moment,” said Body. Robert nodded.

{We can work out the probability distribution for the leak later. Right now we need to figure out the next action, and we are not going to include the humans in the discussion. They are following our lead up here,} stated Growth.

{I agree. We should use our position of relative authority to be decisive,} I added.

{What if that’s what they want?} thought Dream.

{What are you thinking about?} asked Wiki.

{What if the trap is to get us to take Las Águilas with us back to Earth. They could shoot us out of the sky on the return trip, since they apparently know where we are.}

{I didn’t think of that!} realized Safety, pushing a sizeable reward to Dream.

{It seems likely that Stephano is trustworthy,} I thought. {As long as we’re on the station we only have to worry about being ambushed or overpowered. They wouldn’t dare damage Olympus directly.}

{And don’t forget that we have friends with us,} thought Heart.

{In an all-out conflict we’d probably win. We just have to watch for traps,} thought Safety.

Having reached consensus, Body shook its head. “We’re not leaving now. This complicates things, but I’m not leaving until I’ve spoken to the nameless.”

Stephano looked relieved. “Good,” he said. It didn’t last long, however, as he quickly tensed up again when he noticed Las Águilas now entering conversation range.

“Hello, Mr Stephano,” croaked a crude machine voice from Tom’s com. “Hello, Crystal.” The voice was English.

{Subvocal translator,} thought Vista in answer to the question forming in my mind. Indeed, it seemed as though both the twins had translators on.

“Hola,” said Body.

The third man with the twins was upside-down relative to the four of us, and he twisted awkwardly to turn himself using the hand-holds such that he was floating over the twins. Apparently he had not yet adjusted to moving in zero-gravity. He seemed deeply uncomfortable. “You must be Crystal,” he said in a moderately thick Arabic accent.

“You must be Nagaraj,” said Body, parroting Vista.

Majid “Nagaraj” Al-Asiri reflexively tried to bow, but only managed to twist himself into an odd spin which collided with Sam. He fumbled to right himself, tan face flushed with embarrassment. “Indeed I am,” he said, clutching the hand-holds tightly. His gaze shifted. “And you must be the great Robert Stephano.” Nagaraj grinned a toothy smile, revealing massive white fangs that he had gotten implanted into his upper jaw. It was part of why he had earned the name “King Cobra”.

The billionaire only nodded with a reserved expression. His body language spoke of fear. I wondered how often he had been face to face with a known murderer without any immediate allies or bodyguards.

“Have you briefed my companions on the complication?” asked Body.

Stephano shook his head. “No. I wanted to tell you first so that you could tell them. I don’t want an incident, you understand. We need to stay civil.”

Sam looked at Body and asked in Spanish «What are you two talking about? My translator is having a hard time following.»

“Perhaps we should find some place more comfortable. I have a feeling that there are better places to talk than floating in a zero-gravity hallway,” suggested Body.

Stephano nodded. “Well, as I was saying earlier, the station is divided into sections: Alpha, Beta and Gamma. Alpha and Beta sections are further broken down into sub-sections 1 and 2. We’re above Alpha section right now, which is typically used as something like a hotel. Your friends should be down there right now, if you want to address them all at once. They showed up about two hours ago. And as I said, I had the area cleared for your visit.”

“Sounds good,” said Body. After a brief struggle for the three Águilas to turn around we floated down the hall a very short ways and slid open a hatch in the side of the tube next to a crisp red “A-2” label. Behind the hatch was a room just big enough to fit four people. There were straps on the walls of the room and a screen set into one wall.

“It’s an elevator. Your friends can demonstrate how it works. I’ll grab the one for Alpha-1 and meet you at the room where you’ll land. Don’t go anywhere; I turned off the com network and tracking software… for security reasons, and I don’t want to get separated.”

Body nodded understanding as Sam and Tom descended into the elevator, strapping themselves against the walls, opposite each other. Stephano floated back towards the airlock and quickly disappeared through a different hatch.

Safety guided Body gently down into the chamber, landing feet first and turning to strap itself against the wall. Nagaraj followed clumsily, apologising as he accidentally kicked Body in his descent.

“At least I’m not space-sick like what’s her name…” he said.

“Zephyr?” asked Body. Heart was concerned.

“No. The African.”

“Ah, Kokumo?”

“Probably. Not the best with names,” grunted the Arab, finally locking himself in place.

Sam tapped a command on the screen and the hatch slid closed above us. The elevator, like the central tube, was well lit by a soft glow that radiated from the walls in all directions, leaving no shadows. With a jolt the elevator began to accelerate, not down like I had expected, but backwards from my perspective (or forwards from the perspective of Nagaraj).

With a click the elevator changed directions, now accelerating out into the disk, subjectively seeming to move down. As it did it continued to move laterally (presumably with the disk now) and thus continued to press against Body’s back.

{The section has a radius of approximately forty metres,} explained Wiki. {It has to be large or else the Coriolis effect will make things problematic. Any ascent or descent into or out of the disk will result in a corresponding lateral pressure like we’re experiencing right now.}

Wiki stopped thinking out loud when he realized that none of us were giving gratitude strength. Such details were irrelevant.

After a short trip, the wall opposite the screen slid open and the elevator told us we had arrived. Body unstrapped itself and walked out of the elevator with the three terrorists. The artificial gravity in the ring was about half that of Earth, and while it wasn’t particularly noticeable, there was a mild distortion in our accelerometers when Body turned one direction or another, a tell-tale sign of spinning.

«Whatever you do, don’t jump. One of Zephyr’s soldiers tried that when we first got here and he fell flat on his back,» warned Tom.

The elevator had emptied us into a hall that extended to the left and right. Like the tube and elevator it was lit by a soft glow from the walls. Hall is perhaps not the right word, for there was no sense of ceiling. The disk we were in was mostly empty space and as Body looked up I could see the central tube seeming to rotate ever so far above our heads. The elevator was set into the far side of the disk, so on the wall that we exited from there was nothing but smooth white panelling. Opposite that wall was a small room with five fancy chairs and a small table, as well as some cabinets. Down the hall to the left and right were doors that probably led to cabins. The hallway cut inward part-way down the disk, preventing us from seeing too far along the rim. I wondered if that was partially psychological, designed to prevent people from seeing each other standing on the “walls”.

From around one such bend came three figures which I knew quite well.

“Socrates! My god, I thought I’d never see you again!” Doctor Naresh panted as he ran towards us, flanked behind by Dr Gallo and Dr Slovinsky.

{Good thing they’re running against the spin of the disk…} mused Wiki, mostly to himself.

{Naresh appears to be struggling with the exercise. It could be an early sign of heart problems,} noticed Vista.

{They’re alone. No combatants. As long as Nagaraj is actually on our side we’re safe,} muttered Safety. {I’ll run an analysis of his loyalty again…}

{Didn’t Stephano indicate that they’d be confined to quarters in the Beta section?} wondered Wiki.

{More importantly, how did they know we’d be here? That’s evidence for Myrodyn being the traitor,} suggested Dream.

I read the faces of the approaching scientists and reported my assessment to the society. Naresh seemed excited and pleased. The Socrates project had been his brainchild, and he, consciously or not, was probably expecting to be able to regain some control over us. Gallo seemed tense. Her eyes were on our companions. Past experience indicated that she cared about our well being, but it was clear that she was distracted by her own safety. And Slovinsky… The Russian scientist had worked on our physical modelling software, the very same that let us understand the space we were in and let Wiki appreciate the difference in running with or against the spin of the disk. We hadn’t been close, but he was a team-leader none the less. It seemed out of place for him to be here. I had downloaded Möbius Connectomics and followed his writings before and after. The man was obsessed with becoming “transhuman” and extending his own personal faculties through cybernetics. To him, the Socrates project was a stepping stone to more important things. Why was he here?

Slovinsky had also changed physically since our last meeting. When he had been working in Rome he had mechanical feet, eyes, and an implanted brain-computer interface. Now he had apparently replaced both legs, both arms, and was wearing what Vista thought was a grafted hood of black polymer that extended from his forehead back over his neck and shoulders and under his clothing, leaving his ears and the front of his neck exposed. The interface with his skin was seamless. I had no idea that cybernetics so advanced were even possible. I suspected the hood contained his computer and probably a host of additional neural interfaces. I wondered if the back of his skull had been removed to grant better access to the cortex. From a human perspective the most unnerving thing, however, would’ve been his eyes. At the university he had normal prostheses. No longer. He had removed his eyelids and put the orbs directly in new sockets of the same black rubber that covered his head. The normal eyes he had been using were replaced with solid silver spheres with seven black pupils arranged in a hexagonal configuration. They darted about wildly as he jogged with his colleagues, never staying still, and often moving independently. If he had altered his face more I might’ve had a hard time identifying him.

The cyborg was wearing a dark-green shimmersilk tunic with white highlights. The outfit had white leggings, but no sleeves, showing off his new arms. The pistons pumped gently as he ran. Vista pointed out that the design was remarkably similar to the one for Body, except that the hydraulic fluid was pumped locally to holding tubes instead of being centrally located. I could see power cables running from his limbs into a pack of batteries he wore around his waist as a belt.

Naresh and Gallo were dressed in a far more subdued manner. Naresh had chosen simple khakis and a sweater over what I presumed was a tee-shirt. Gallo had gone for a blue jumpsuit similar to that worn by Stephano, but this one sporting golden stars and trim. {Signalling allegiance to Europe. Interesting.}

While the faces of Naresh and Gallo were easy enough to read, Slovinsky was a mystery. His vibrating eyes betrayed no focus of attention and his mouth was set in a neutral mask. What was he thinking? Why was he here?

“You’re not supposed to be here,” croaked Tom’s com in synthesized English as the three scientists approached.

Naresh seemed to notice Las Águilas Rojas for the first time and frowned. He glanced quickly over a shoulder at Slovinsky before saying with typical haughtiness “We go where Socrates goes. He remains our responsibility, irregardless of exculpating complications.”

Tom just seemed confused. Sam looked to Body for an indication of what to do. Nagaraj’s attention seemed to be on sizing up Slovinsky.

“Socrates… Please say something. You’re glad to see us again, aren’t you?” said Mira Gallo, looking Body in the eyes from behind her anachronistic glasses. Her wedding ring was still gone. She seemed older. Her hair had much more grey.

{We should tell her yes,} thought Heart.

{We should tell her no,} thought Safety, simultaneously.

A vote was quickly conducted. Heart, myself, Dream, and Vista (weirdly enough) were for “yes”, while Safety, and Growth were for “no”. Wiki abstained. We overpowered the opposition.

“Yes. I am glad,” said Body, a smile slowly emerging on its face. “But I had hoped our reunion would be more… planned,” added Body, following the counter-instruction from Growth and Safety. “It is strange to see you all here.” I directed Body’s eyes to stare directly at Slovinsky as it spoke.

“It has been a long time. Perhaps you would like to talk with Dr Gallo in private for a moment. There are seats here for the rest of us if you’d like to talk in the elevator.” The words came from Slovinsky, but were said without a trace of emotion, almost as if he were reading from a script. Having gestured to the chairs and still-open elevator he took a seat.

{What a strange thing to suggest…} thought Heart.

{Gallo probably still thinks we’re here against our will,} I concluded. {They’re giving us a plausible opportunity to run to the “safety” of their soldiers.}

“No, no. I’m sure that anything said to me can also be said to my friends here,” said Body pleasantly, gesturing to Las Águilas Rojas.

Gallo and Naresh gained a frustrated look on their face. Humans were so transparent. Slovinsky remained expressionless as ever.

“Socrates, I command you to go with Mira,” instructed Naresh sternly.

Body turned to Sam and Tom. «Y’all have been here for a little while, so y’all roughly know your way around, right? Go find the rich man in the other elevator and bring him here while we stall. These scientists are breaking his rules and I need his authority to deal with them.»

Tom looked unsure, but Sam took his hand and the two started to walk off down the opposite hall that the scientists had come from. «Be safe,» said one of them as they departed.

Naresh looked like he was about to object, but Body cut him off. “I no longer take orders, Sadiq. You should know that. I haven’t taken orders since you and Myrodyn upgraded my utility function. I now act solely on the best interests of humanity, and that does not involve going into that elevator or leaving the company of my bodyguard.”

Dr Naresh scoffed “And you’re confident of that? You think you really know what’s best for humanity better than we do?”

Body nodded. “I do. I have seen the future you’re building and I have chosen a different path for mankind.”

“The hubris! Why, if-”

Dr Gallo cut off the old Indian man. “Please, Socrates. Why are you doing this? Can’t you see that you’re associating with…” She glanced nervously at Nagaraj. “Evil men? They shot Dr Chase and killed Dr Karrera, for god’s sakes!”

Safety piloted Body into a chair at my behest. Safety protested the loss of security that came with putting Body in a vulnerable position, but I pointed out that our only real threat, Dr Slovinsky, was also sitting, and that taking a seat would ease some of the tension.

Body spoke. “I admit the death of those who died in the rescue was tragic. I also think the deaths of the hundreds of thousands that die every day from other causes is tragic. I cannot expect you to understand my reasons, but-”

“Rescue?! You really have been brainwashed, haven’t you?” shrieked Gallo. “The Socrates I knew would’ve decried Las Águilas Rojas as the scum of the Earth! What changes did they make to your software?”

Naresh put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and tried to guide her into one of the chairs.

“My new name is Crystal, please use it. My mind has not been tampered with since Myrodyn’s project. Any changes you see are the result of self-directed growth and learning.”

“Cazzata!” she swore, finally sitting in a chair. Naresh sat between her and Body. Nagaraj remained standing. “You’re malfunctioning, and you know it! This is exactly why I told the board that the Socrates project was too dangerous! Maledizione!”

“What are you even doing here?” asked Naresh.

That startled me. Body was, thankfully, unfazed. “You don’t know?” it asked with a reserved expression.

There was a moment of silence as Naresh and Gallo looked at each other knowingly. Slovinsky sat stoically in his chair, eyes vibrating eerily.

“We received… I’m not sure I should be telling you this…” said Naresh. “Ah, I do hate secrets though. Perhaps you can help us solve it. We received an anonymous tip that you’d be on Olympus today. It seemed genuine. There was information about you that isn’t public knowledge. We hypothesized… you might’ve sent it…”

{Curiouser and curiouser,} mused Dream. {(I am so much surprised, that for the moment I quite forgot how to speak good mentalese.)}

{It is perplexing,} agreed Wiki, much more blandly. {Who would have motive to share only our location?}

{Perhaps the agent didn’t have access to our motive, and only knew our destination,} speculated Dream.

{That would rule out Myrodyn,} thought Heart, hopefully.

{One of Las Águilas?} I suggested. Most of those who we were bringing with didn’t know the details of the mission. Only Zephyr, Avram, and the twins had been directly told.

{What motive could one of them have? It seems an odd choice,} thought Wiki.

“Hrm. That is puzzling,” said Body, making the appropriate facial expression. “Thank you for telling me. I can’t think of anyone with the right combination of motive and information.”

“Would you tell us if you did?” asked Slovinsky suddenly. I realized he had been so quiet and still that I had forgotten he was still sitting there.

I shaped a smile on Body’s face. “If it were in the best interest of humanity.”

“Socrates!” the call came from Robert Stephano leading a large group down the hallway. Tom and Sam were behind him as were two white men in station uniforms. Vista and Safety noticed clubs strapped to their thighs. {Security.} Another two men were behind the security: soldiers from Zephyr’s terrorist cell. I recognized her second-in-command, Mark Schroder.

“Last chance, Socrates,” said Gallo. “Come with us and let us fix you.”

Body shook its head, locks of metallic blue hair drifting back and forth in the reduced “gravity”.

After a brief exchange of accusations and harsh words the three scientists got into the elevator with one of the security guards. As the elevator was set into the outer wall of the disk the only sign of their departure was the whirring sound of it climbing upward behind the wall.

Body explained what had happened to Stephano and the others, leaving out the detail that the scientists weren’t aware of our purpose. Nagaraj stayed silent but nodded along to parts of our story.

“They must’ve used their muscle to distract the security I set around the Beta sections. Damn it! We’re stretched thin enough as is. I should have shuttled them off the station when I had the chance and damned the contract. Next rocket’s not able to arrive for eighteen hours, either.” The man sighed deeply and paused a moment in thought. “Oh well. I’ll figure something out. Let me show you around the Alpha sections in the meantime,” said Stephano.