This is something I wrote to sort of…explain what might be happening on a certain space-station after Kala performed her experiments and went to Shear.
The idea was to point the way toward potential future content. I was pretty happy with it, I thought you folks might get a kick out of it. I think it might have been fun to use the same actors from Evolve and cast them in similar, or deliberately different, roles. Sort of a repertory theater thing.
I’ll be on the stream this Thursday if anyone wants to talk about how the story might have evolved.
Celestial Advanced Projects Mobile Station, Code Named AKHENATEN.
16 hours after Communications went dark.
“I came from the docking level” Harper said. “Whole thing’s collapsed."
“Wait a minute, hang on,” Axel said, panicking a little. “Collapsed, what does that mean exactly?”
Harper looked at Buchholz and Shah. He didn’t like giving people bad news.
“It means there’s no way off the station.”
Buchholz, head down, nodded. He was thinking.
Axel, still covered in grease, looked from one survivor to the other.
“Ok so we activate the distress beacon,” he said with a shrug, like it was obvious.
Everyone in the room looked at each other. No one met his eye. They knew something.
“I mean, right? Why’s everyone standing around? Church, is this not a major goddamn breach of security? Press the big red button, man!”
“Tell him Shah,” Buchholz said.
“Tell me what?” Axel said, his voice breaking. He looked at Shah.
“There is no ‘big red button’ as you put it,” she said.
“There’s no distress beacon,” Buchholz said.
“Didn’t you read your contract, man?” Church, looming over the others, intoned.
“Oh my god,” Axel said.
“This is a top secret station,” Buchholz said. “No one knows we’re out here. Even Celestial execs don’t know the coordinates.”
“How can that be?” Harper, pragmatic until now, demanded. “There’s more’n two million people on this fucking station, how can they not know where they are?”
Shah glanced at Church.
“It’s easy.” The squat, black helmet sitting atop his massive armor meant they couldn’t see his face, but speakers built into the shoulders broadcast his voice. If need be, loud enough to be heard across city blocks. “All comms are scrambled first, then routed through Celestial HQ. They scramble ‘em again before they route them. text. None of it can be traced back here.”
“How long. . .,” Axel started. He suddenly didn’t want to know the answer. “How long until we’re declared missing?”
Everyone looked at Shah. “Two weeks,” she said grimly.
“Jesus,” Axel said. He wasn’t the only one overwhelmed at the news.
“Alright,” Buchholz said. He’d come up with something. The relief on their faces was obvious. “We can’t get off the station. So we move the station.”
“How the fuck are we supposed to do that?”
“It’s the reason we have a Patterson drive,” Shah shrugged. “So the station can be moved in an emergency. Defense against Corporate Raiders.”
“That what you think this is?” Buchholz asked Shah. The two of them had formed an informal command team among the survivors.
Shah pursed her lips, shook her head, but said nothing.
“Every corp in the Arm would kill to get a look at a tenth of what happens here,” Church said.
“What happened here you mean,” Axel said, having recovered. “This is the end of whatever the fuck was going on out here.” He waved his hand around the elevator, but the gesture encompassed the entire station.
“Someone did this,” Church said to Buchholz. “Someone created these things. We find out why, we can stop them.”
“Maybe,” Buchholz said.
The machine-monster whined and groaned as it tried to pull itself up and out of the microgravity well Buchholz projected before it collapsed in on itself. It was hard to tell, of the sounds coming from the beast, which were vocalizations and which were the metals and ceramics inside it screeching under stress.
“It’s working!” Buchholz shouted to Church. The massive creature buckled once, it looked like it was through.
Suddenly the top half of the creature spun and unlocked itself from the lower half. Jets fired, lifting the top half, now looking like a completely separate machine, off the doomed lower half. A huge cannon deployed from the underside of the hovering machine, while another cannon deployed from the exposed midsection of the bottom half.
Both cannons began shooting at Church and Buchholz.
“Oh my giddy aunt,” Harper said, as he came around the corner. He recovered fast enough to switch out to his Deployable Barrier projector. He threw up a tall, semi-transparent reinforced wall in front of Church, then Buchholz.
The walls held against the machines’ cannons, but they quickly went from blue to red as their tolerances threatened to break.
“We got about ten seconds!” Harper said, switching back to his tractor beam.
Then the street shook. The three survivors thought they’d be knocked off their feet.
The rumbling stopped and four auto-cannons popped out of the street, surrounding the monster. Buchholz looked around and saw a slim woman, probably of African heritage, operating a control tablet.
The auto-cannons each identified the monster, and opened fire. As the beams smashed into the hovering half of the machine monster, it lost its ability to right itself, looked like it might crash into the floor.
Then the two cannons retracted and the machine put itself back together again. In an instant, the machine-monster’s skin flashed into a mirror surface, and the fermionic blasts from the autocannons reflected back on the survivors, blasting through Harper’s shields, knocking the three men to the ground.
The monster’s skin-shell went back to normal. It could move, now that the gravity around it was normalized, but it was still under attack from the autocannons.
It stomped off, rounded a corner, and strode off behind a building. As it ran, the pop-up turrets of the autocannons automatically popped back down under the bulkhead while new cannons automatically popped up. They tracked the monster and fired until it was out of range, then retreated under the floor. A whole series of them following the monster, dynamically emerging and firing before hiding again.
The woman with the control tablet ran up to the other three survivors and helped them up.
“The defense cannons only run along the redline,” she said, pointing to the long red stripe that ran down the street. “As soon as it switches streets, it’ll be able to recharge its shields and come back for us.”
“Buchholz,” Buchholz said, as she helped him up. He pointed to the others. “Harper. Church.”
She nodded at Church in his Templar armor. “Security,” she said. Church nodded. “Nice to have someone from Level 3 down here. I’m Ogada,” she said.
“Hey,” Church said. It was impossible to be sure, but it sounded like he was smiling.
“Ok, introductions over,” Buchholz said. “”Everyone for getting out of here?” There were no objections. “Come on,” he said, and they ran for the relative safety of an Elevator.
“Alright,” Shah said, unrolling the blueprint onto the makeshift table they’d brought into the Elevator. The room was as big as a house, which meant it was one of the smallest rooms on the station. Shah had tricked it into stopping between levels for a few moments. It wouldn’t last, but it gave them time. “This is the masterprint for the station’s layout,” she said.
They all crowded in.
“Jesus,” Axel said. “Look how big it is.” For once, no one disagreed with Axel.
Shah nodded. “It’s a mined out asteroid,” she said.
“How do you know that?” Church asked.
“Yeah,” Harper demanded. “How you know all this? You can’t even see the station from the outside. All flights are black-out flights. ”
Shah smiled ruefully. “Not all of them,” she said. “Code clearance blue-black and above are clear-flights.”
“Blue-black,” Harper asked, unbelieving. “You L1? You from Command?”
Shah grinned wider and shook her head. “That’s double-black. I’m red-black, engineering. Hull maintenance. Work outside the station. Well,” she shrugged, “used to.”
“We’re going to need something more detailed,” Buchholz said looking over the blueprint.
Shah agreed. She looked at Ogada. “If we get you to a live terminal, can you get us access to the engineering core?”
Ogada appeared to think about this. “Yeah,” she said. “It needs to be a secure terminal. Not public access. But if we can find a secure feed, yeah. I can hack into engineering.”
Shah nodded. “Then I can get us more detailed plans. But for which level,” she said. “Where are we going?”
“We got two choices, far as I can see,” Buchholz said. “Command or Propulsion.”
“Well shit,” Axel said, pointing at the blueprint. “Those are in opposite directions, up and down.”
“There’s something else,” Ogada said. “Command, ok. We can probably get life support back up from there. And we’ll have all the eyes and ears of the whole station, and all the records. All our answers, right there,” she said, tapping a finger at the top level.
“Propulsion, sure,” she tapped another level. “We need to get the Patterson drive back up. Otherwise it’s still two weeks before anyone comes for us.
“But this is the level we need to secure,” she said, stabbing a finger at Level 30 - Advanced Research: Robotics.
“Right,” Church announced. Buchholz and Shah looked at Ogada, not understanding.
“This whole station is run by robots,” Ogada said. “It basically is a giant robot. This Elevator is a robot, it’s listening to us now. It just hasn’t figured out we’re important yet.”
“I took care of that,” Shah said. “It thinks we’re speaking Mayan.”
“Mayan?” Harper asked.
Shah shrugged. “I had to pick a language it didn’t have a dictionary for.” She looked back at the rest of the group. “But it’s temporary. Elevators are Vok-class. They’re smarter than Mutes and they’re self-repairing. It’ll fix itself soon.”
Ogada was impressed. “A hacker trick. That’s how we have to think now.” She nodded and tapped the blueprint again. “These monsters have control of all the drones on the entire station, they’re all our enemy now,” she said. “So level by level, we can trick them into fighting for us. But that’s all temporary. From Level 30 we can get their directives back. Get them back on our side.”
Buchholz nodded. “So, three teams. One to Command, one to Propulsion, one to Robotics.”
“Yeah.” Axel said, crossing his arms. “Yeah let’s split up. That’s a good idea.”
“You got a better idea?”
“I got lots of ideas,” Axel sneered, “but they all involve making different life choices so I don’t end up on this stupid station in the first place.”
“Ok,” Buchholz said, looking at the team. “Teams of four.” He looked at Shah. “Two weeks right? Plenty of time if we don’t get eaten first.”
“Yeah,” Shah said. “Fourteen days, maybe longer.”
“Five days,” Ogada corrected, her eyes cast down.
“Five?” Buchholz asked.
“Wait, five days,” Axel said. “What happened to two weeks? Five days until what?”
“I mean, I think the entire station will spontaneously disintegrate from so much critical structural damage,” Ogada said, “but assuming it holds up? We got about five days of air. They hit Life Support first.”
“She’s right,” Shah said. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it.”
Buchholz shot her a look. “You were busy,” he reminded her, biting off any attempt at guilt on the part of the other team leader.
“Air?!” Axel said. “We’re gonna run out of air? We’re on the biggest goddamn space station in the galaxy and we’re gonna run out of air?”
Ogada shrugged. “People gotta breathe,” she said.
The machine grabbed Church, the whole massive plasteel canister that was Church’s Templar armor and slammed him into the ground, the metal deckplates buckled. Church’s helmet snapped off, leaving his head exposed.
The machine snatched Church off the ground, the security commander still firing supermat rounds into the thing, and hurled him into the air.
Church couldn’t right himself, he just spun and flailed as he sailed out over the building opposite the battle, his gun still firing blindly.
Then, just as Church was about to disappear over the top of the building, land who knew where, maybe survive impact, maybe not, he stopped moving, instantly. Just sat there, suspended in the air.
The other two survivors watched as Church lightly, almost gently, righted himself and slowly descended onto the roof off the building. Church’s expression revealed his own astonishment at what had happened.
The mechanical creature grunted and sniffed. Pawed at the ground in confusion.
“What are you waiting for?” a voice called out. A woman’s voice. Buchholz and Axel spun and saw another survivor, a woman in her mid-thirties with jet black hair set off against a stark white and blue uniform neither of them had ever seen before.
She had no gear. No weapons.
She frowned, gritted her teeth, her arms, hands balled into fists, shook. Whatever she was doing took immense effort.
A high pitched whine emanated from behind them. From the monster. They spun around, expecting some new threat, some new, unimaginable weapon sprouting from the machine but turning, they saw the monster was just as surprised as they were.
A spot on the monster’s chest was glowing, white hot. The monster was confused, it didn’t know what was happening any more than they did. It clutched at the spot, tried to rip it out, but the metal and ceramics of its shell were melting, and burned the claw it scraped at the spot with.
It howled in pain.
“Fire!” the woman in white and blue said. Buchholz, Axel, and Church didn’t need to be told twice. They targeted the molten hole in the creature’s shell, and opened fire.
Dying, the machine monster armed its shoulder missile and fired at Buchholz, who it perceived as the leader.
But the glowing glass slug never reached Buchholz. It stopped in midair, just as Church had, turned around, and then sped back at the machine that fired it, striking it squarely in the chest, in the molten hole
The machine monster detonated in an explosion of metal and glass and blue and green liquid.
“You think if we keep gettin’ in trouble,” Church said to Buchholz, “strange people will keep popping out of the woodwork to save our ass?” He’d climbed down from the building he’d been deposited on and was now smiling at Buchholz and Axel.
Buchholz wasn’t in the mood. “Don’t count on it,” he said as the three of them approached the woman.
“Ah,” Axel said. “Hey I know you saved our lives and everything, which is super cool, but who the fuck are you?” he asked, voicing the other survivor’s thoughts.
“Seneca,” she said.
“‘Seneca?’” Axel said. “What kind of name is that? Is that some kind of soda or something?”
“It’s a code name, idiot,” she said, and switched her attention to Buchholz. “Am I talking to him,” she asked, “or am I talking to you?”
“You’re from L22,” Buchholz said.
“What. . .what the fuck is level 22?” Axel asked
Church stood next to Buchholz. “You’re a Special Talent,” he said.
Seneca shrugged. “I’m not that special,” she said, and it seemed like an attempt at humor.
Buchholz nodded, a suspicion affirmed. “Never met a Special Talent,” he said. “Never met anyone from 22. Happy to meet you though.” Seneca smiled.
“What the hell is a Special Talent?” Axel said, looking from Church to Buchholz.
“Can you read our minds?” Buchholz asked. Seneca shook her head.
“Mind-to-mind only works on other Special Talents,” she said. Church and Buchholz looked relieved. Axel still looked, incredulous, from Seneca to the destroyed machine monster.
“You guys have any idea what’s going on?” Seneca asked.
Church shrugged in his massive suit. “Everything’s fucked,” he said.
“Are you the only survivor from 22?” Buchholz asked.
“How’d you do that shit?” Axel asked. No one seemed to be listening to him.
“Sixty thousand people lived and worked on L22,” Seneca said. “I hope I’m not the only survivor.”
“Only one to make it out though,” Church observed.
Seneca looked at the ground. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s a mess up there,” she said. “Everyone cut off from everyone else. I’m probably the only survivor from my building.”
Buchholz surveyed the ruined street the stood on. “Let’s get off the street,” he said. “There are others,” he said to Seneca. “We’re gonna try and get off the station.”
Seneca nodded. “Sounds good to me,” she said. “Lead the way.”
Buchholz headed west, Seneca and Church followed. Axel stood there, looking from the smoking monster to the other survivors as they walked away.
“Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything?” Axel complained. Then he ran to catch up.
“What am I looking at?” Buchholz asked. He was standing on stop of the husk—corpse?—of a machine monster. It was only thirty feet high, but he felt like he was standing on a mountain.
“I don’t know,” Seneca said. She was crouched down, resting on the balls of her feet to get a closer look at the thing’s insides. “I mean these are. . .this doesn’t make any sense.” She shone her flashlight into the guts of the thing they’d ripped apart.
“That,” she said, “is the fast-logic core of a SuperVok drone.”
“This is a drone?!” Axel asked, letting his grav-cannon rest for a minute, muzzle down, on the monster’s shell.
“Nono,” Seneca corrected. “It’s in there, but it’s not hooked up to anything. Just power out. Like a battery maybe. Meanwhile this. . .,” she moved her flashlight.
“Ugh,” Axel said.
“Is obviously some kind of organ. But from what animal? I am the wrong person to ask.”
“Level Eighteen,” Buchholz said without inflection.
“I dunno, those guys are crazy, but they’re strictly organic. This is. . .I don’t know what this is. The shell is metal, ceramics, glass. But it looks extruded. Or excreted. And the insides? I mean, that’s blood, there’s blood everywhere. What’s it use blood for? And those are data cables! Where are they going? L18…could they be collaborating with L30?”
“What’s level eighteen?!” Axel asked
“Biotics,” Buchholz said, deliberately using the formal term so as to keep Axel’s high-strung nervous system from snapping.
“The Body Banks, man,” Church said standing on the street. He was guarding the corpse from any insane drones that might try and dismantle them. “They oughtta shut that whole level down, flush it all out into space.”
“Church,” Buchholz said
“Last thing we need is goddamned nightmare monsters crawling around inside the deck plating because those assholes can’t keep their shit locked down.”
“I’ve heard of doctors playing God, but that whole level is like an army of people playing H.P. Lovecraft, and they got real good at it.”
Church turned around and leaned back to look up, his helmet affording little articulation.
“Oh.” He saw the state Axel was in. “Sorry.”
“No,” Axel said, shaking and failing to hide it. “It’s cool guys, I’m ok.”
Buchholz clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re doing great,” he said. “Remember, we beat this thing. We can do it again, if need be.”
“Yeah,” Axel said. Hefting his weapon. “Yeah we beat it. Yeah.”
“Whatever was on Ell One Eight,” Buchholz said, “it’s all dead by now anyway.”
“Yeah,” Church agreed, trying to show willing. “All the things they breed, they need food, right? No one around to feed ‘em, they die.”
“Yeah,” Axel said, feeling reassured.
“Yeah,” Church agreed. “’Course those monsters tipped this whole station over, probably fed 30,000 people to whatever lived on L18.”
“Ok,” Axel said, trying to ignore him.
“But most of their shit can’t reproduce anyway,” Church continued. “I mean some of it can, probably, but….”
“Oh my god, can you NOT?!” Axel cried.
“Alright we’re leaving!” Buchholz said, hopping down from the top of the beast.
“Ogada!” Shah shouted. Harper tried to keep the machine off Ogada, but his battery was so low the machine could ignore him.
Ogada was on her side, still disoriented. The massive machine-monster was close enough to forego the use of its It was simply going to crush Ogada.
Then of all things in that moment, the strangest sound. Like the beat of a drum. Getting louder. Getting closer.
Then the monster exploded. Bits of metal and blood and wiring and fire rained down around Shah.
When the smoke cleared, there was something standing in the place of the monster. Something that had run at the beast and slammed into it, destroying it. Finishing the job Ogada and Shah started. It was almost as big as the machine-beast. It was familiar….
“An M-Drone!” Shah shouted. Ogada stood up, happy to be alive, but backed away. Unsure of the drone.
“Stay back!” Harper barked. “The drones are…,” he stopped as he saw the robot just standing there. Lights still green. Not red like the rest of the Subverted drones.
“I think…, I think it’s….” Shah had her weapon out.
Ogada relaxed first. “It’s safe,” she said. “It’s still under Control.”
Shah sheathed her rifle and slowly approached the massive war-drone. It had “M121” printed on its plate. It was almost twice as tall as Church. But its posture was passive…for the moment.
“Thing saved our bacon,” Harper said. “Nice to see something on our side for once.”
“Let’s see,” Shah said. “Sit!” she ordered.
The huge drone threw its legs forward and unceremoniously dumped itself on its butt.
Shah looked at Ogada and Harper and nodded, impressed. “My new favorite drone,” she said.
“I can think of worse things than having a War Drone on our side,” Ogada agreed.
They both peered up at the huge red drone. “But why is it still under Control? I thought Control was smashed.”
“Maybe the war drones are on a different Control circuit? Would make sense.”
“Really?” Harper wondered, skeptical. “Different than security, surveillance, crowd control?”
“I don’t know,” Ogada gave up, exasperated. “These things could come from a completely different department for all I know, this station has lots of secrets.” This was something Shah could not argue with.
“Can you follow us?” Shah asked.
The War Drone stood up, making a lot of noise and shaking the ground as it did so.
“Ok,” Shah said. “Follow us.”
The women left. M121 followed.
“I don’t think we can just blitz straight to Command,” Shah said. “We need to spend some time figuring these things out. I mean they came from some level, we gotta figure out which one. What. . .whose project was this? What happened?”
Buchholz folded his arms. “We don’t know enough,” he agreed. “We don’t know if we need to head up to Command or down to Propulsion. And we have no idea where these things come from. I mean, let’s say we access a secure line, what do we look up? Do these things have a name?”
Shah saw Seneca was hugging herself, shaking.
“Are you alright?” She put a hand on Seneca’s shoulder. The younger woman jerked away, scowled at Shah.
“Buchholz,” Shah said, trying not to attract attention.
The team’s co-leader looked from Shah to Seneca, saw that something was wrong. Let Shah handle it.
“Seneca, do you need a medic?” Buchholz asked.
“Look,” Ogada said, nodding at the War Drone M121. Its blue lights were pulsing slowly in a rhythmic cascade. It hadn’t done that before.
“I don’t need a medic goddammit,” Seneca hissed. Something was clearly wrong, she looked like she had the flu. Sweating, shaking.
“Well,” Buchholz said, “good. Because we don’t have a medic. So whatever’s wrong, we need to know because we need you.”
“Then you need to keep that thing the fuck away from me,” she said, pointing at drone M121. Her hand shook.
Now everyone was watching. Axel saw it first.
“I think it’s doing something to her,” he looked from the robot to Seneca and back. The robot stood passive, but its lights were now vibrating intensely.
“How can it. . .,” Harper stared, then stopped. Seneca was sweating, breathing rapidly.
“Seneca,” Buchholz said. She wasn’t listening. He stepped between the War Drone and the Special Talent. “Seneca!” he barked. Finally, she looked at him.
“What is happening?!” Buchholz shouted to try and get Seneca’s attention, but while her eyes were looking at him, it was clear she could not see.
She pressed her fists to her temple. Shut her eyes tight, and shouted “It’s killing me!!”
The pulsing lights on M121 faded to a constant, dull blue. The drone made no movement, appeared perfectly still. Did it think Seneca was a threat? Is she a threat? Buchholz wondered.
“What was it doing to you?” Shah asked.
“Why don’t you ask him,” Seneca was hunched over, seemed to want to avoid the other survivors as much as the drone.
Everyone looked at the hulking drone, then back at Seneca, like she was crazy.
“Seneca” Harper said, talking softly. “We can’t ask it anything. That’s M121. ‘M’ for Mute, you know that.”
Seneca shook her head finally, cleared it. She straightened up, and with murder in her eyes, turned to confront M121.
She slowly, but steadily approached the War Drone, the hulking robot was three times her height, but it shrank back, flinched from her.
“Are you going to tell them,” she asked, her eyes burning, “or will I?”
M121 stood, mute.
“She’s lost it,” Axel said. “She’s snapped.”
Seneca turned her back on M121 and faced the other survivors. “There are three kinds of drone on this station,” she said, giving a lecture. “M-series for Mute, V for Vok, SV for Super-vok. . .,”
She turned back to face M121.
“And then there’s you,” she said, staring up at M121.
No one spoke for a few moments.
“Maybe this ‘talent’ thing,” Axel broke the silence, “maybe you go bonkers, you know?”
“Hang on,” Buchholz said. He and several others had noticed M121’s strange response to Seneca’s challenge, and were now watching M121.
M121’s single massive ocular scanner swept across the other survivors. The room held its breath.
“THE CREATURES HAVE NO NAME,” it said in a deep, sonorous voice.
“Holy shit!” Axel shouted. Many of the other survivors took a step back when M121 talked. This was no simple “Yes/No/Thank You” Vok drone, not even a fast-logic Super-Vok. There was a person in there, they could tell. A Mind.
The rest were dumbstruck, some terrified. But Seneca had already faced this demon, and her mind proved the stronger. She would not be cowed.
“You know what these things are.”
“NO,” M121 said. “WE DO NOT KNOW. BUT WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED THEM BEFORE.”
“Where?” Seneca demanded. Buchholz and Shah were happy to let the Special Talent do the interrogation of the nightmare machine.
“LANDFALL, SLATE, CHAPEL,” he said naming obscure worlds. “FACTOR. SHEAR.”
“Shear,” Ogada said. “We just got a top-secret Nordita report from Shear. Their colony collapsed. We were trying to decode the report when…everything happened.”
“I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED ON SHEAR,” M121 said.
“I bet you do,” Axel sneered.
“Was that a list of failed colonies, M121?” Buchholz asked.
“YES,” the War Mind answered. “THERE ARE PROBABLY MORE. MANY COLONIES HAVE FAILED. SHIPS DISAPPEAR. IT IS DIFFICULT TO CORRELATE THEM ALL BUT. . .THE PHENOMENON IS GETTING WORSE.”
“You’re not Subverted,” Ogada said.
“NO,” M121 said. “I CANNOT BE SUBVERTED. I AM SELF-CONTROLLED.”
“But you’re not on our side,” Church challenged.
“I watched you attack Seneca,” Church said. Of all of them, he might be the only one who could stop M121 if he went mad. “How did you do that? It looked like you were trying to cook her, you got a microwave transmitter in there? What did you do to her?”
M121 said nothing. Seneca answered.
“He read my mind,” she said.
“What?” Ogada asked. “What, like, an active PCAT scan?
“She said it,” Shah realized, looking from Seneca to M121. Then she walked up to Seneca. “You told us when we met you. You said ‘mind to mind only works…,’” she turned to look at M121 towering over all of them, “…on another Special Talent.”
“Oh my god,” Axel said. The survivors all collectively felt their skin flash over in goose bumps. All the warmth in the room fled.
“That’s impossible,” Harper said, eyes darting to M121 and away. Afraid to look directly at him. “How can you have a Special Talent Drone?”
“Man I didn’t even know what a Special Talent was before two days ago!” Axel said. “You can’t say what is and what is not in a place like this!”
“I mean, what is this station,” Seneca said, tacitly agreeing with the survivor from maintenance, “if not a place to cook up insane things like this,” she gestured rudely at the Telepathic War Drone.
“I APOLOGIZE,” M121 said. “I HAVE NEVER ENCOUNTERED ANOTHER SPECIAL TALENT. I WAS CURIOUS.”
“Your curiosity almost killed Seneca,” Shah pressed.
M121 turned its massive, blue, ocular sensor to Shah. “I KNOW,” it said flatly. “BUT I DIDN’T MEAN TO. THAT’S WHY I APOLOGIZED.” Its speech was more sophisticated than most Minds. More natural. But its thinking seemed more alien.
“Apology rejected,” Seneca said. “If you’ve never encountered a Talent before, then what the hell were you…made. . .for. . .” Seneca knew the answer to her question before she’d finished asking it.
M121 detected her realization. Answered her unfinished question. “MERELY A HYPOTHESIS,” it said. “WE ARE DESPERATE. THESE ARE DESPERATE TIMES FOR HUMANITY. I AM A DESPERATE MEASURE.”
“The monsters,” Seneca said, her voice low. “Are they Talents? Have you made mind-to-mind contact with one?” She feared the answer even as she needed to know.
M121 was silent. As mute as its name intended.
Seneca clenched a fist, as though she could will M121 to answer. Maybe should could, Buchholz thought. But he’d watched the mental fight between them and the toll it had taken on her and didn’t want to risk it.
“Church!” Buchholz called out.
Church armed his Supermaterial Cannon.
“STAND DOWN, TEMPLAR,” M121 pronounced. “I AM NOT RELUCTANT TO ANSWER. THE QUESTION IS COMPLEX.”
“Feel free to use big words,” Ogada said. “We’re smart people.”
“YOU WERE THE FIRST TIME I CONFIRMED MIND-TO-MIND CONTACT,” M121 said, looking down at Seneca. “IT IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED.”
“Only now?” Seneca asked.
“I…I PREVIOUSLY TRIED TO LINK WITH THE CREATURES. WHAT HAPPENED WAS. . .NOT THE SAME AS MY MIND-TO-MIND CONTACT WITH YOU. BUT AT THE TIME, I DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. NOW I DO.”
“You said it was different,” Buchholz said. “How different?”
“I DID NOT FIND A MIND. BUT I SAW SOMETHING.”
“What?” Buchholz needed answers, and was eager for something, anything, more than the nothing they already knew.
“A FACE,” M121 intoned.
“A…a face?” Suddenly Buchholz didn’t want to know that badly.
“A MAN. A HUMAN MALE. CAUCASIAN. OLD, GAUNT. WHITE HAIR AND GLASSES. FIERCE, PENETRATING INTELLIGENCE. I DO NOT KNOW THE FACE. BUT THE CREATURES DO. THEY ALL KNOW HIM,” M121 said.
The survivors held their breath.
“AND THEY HATE HIM.”
No one spoke for a moment.
“I’m serious, are there not escape pods?” Axel again broke the silence. “Has to be another way off this ride. I do NOT want to spend the next three days running around with THAT creepy thing.”
“Who’s ‘we,’” Seneca asked. She wasn’t done with her interrogation.
M121 said nothing.
“You said ‘we are desperate.’ Who’s ‘we?’”
Nothing from the drone.
“Who created you?” Shah asked.
“MY MIND WAS INITIALIZED ON EARTH,” M121 said. Ogada recognized this as an evasion. She stepped forward, stood next to Seneca.
“Who designed you? Who owns your chassis?” Ogada asked explicitly.
The telepathic Mind masquerading as a Mute looked from Seneca to Buchholz to Ogada.
“COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE: GROUP 9,” it said.
Buchholz mouth dropped open.
“CIG9!” Church exclaimed.
“A fucking robot spy,” Axel said. “A robot spy from Hub!”
“It’s a war,” Church said. “A war between CIG9 and these monsters and we’re caught in the middle.
Shah looked from Seneca to M121.
“What the hell’s going on, on this station?”