Monday, November 24, 2014

The Machines of Shiloh 21

"Without the crucible of danger, the fire cannot purify you.  Those who fear stepping into space, to risk radiation and the thousand deaths up there, you choose to be impure.  Those who dare the crucible of space, you are what we should all strive to be.  Stronger, Purer and Better than we first were."
Splicer Rose
Principles of the Last Renaissance

I don't know what tipped it off first.  But the green smoke started it.

"What..."  I looked down below us.  The street was obscured, filling with green smoke.  "Kensha-"

"I don't know what that is."  She looked worried.  Her black and green locks bobbed up and down as she was accessing the metanet.  "There is a live feed-"

"Its gas."  I responded.  "And it isn't the nice kind of gas either...  Fek."

I tore at my dress.  It was long enough that I didn't need the long fabric to go past my knees.  I ripped out two sections.  Kensha looked down at me like I'd gone crazy.

"Gas?  But-"

"If there is a live stream, they'll be making guesses."  I told her.  "But this is a nerve agent.  If you breath it in, your lungs are going to turn into liquid.  Your eyes will explode.  Anything moist on your face will react with it."

"Oh." Kensha looked down at the rising fumes.  "Why would anyone do this?"

"Not the time for that.  We need to cover our faces for now.  But we'll need something to cover our bodies completely."  I grabbed her hand.  "C'mon."

"Why do we need to cover our bodies?"  Kensha let me pull her.

"Nerve gas can be absorbed by the skin, but even tiny bit of the fumes could already be up here."  I wrapped her head with one of my dress's rags.  I did the same, covering my face so that I breathed through the fabric.  "The rags can hold up a tiny part of it.  But we need full-body suits and respirators or something."

"Oh."  Kensha paused.  "Well, Eleanor has a suggestion."

"Eleanor?"  I stopped.  "That isn't-"

"You want help or not?"  Kensha snorted.  "This isn't the time for your own issues, Sam."

"Lead the way, then.  It has to be place with no outside air that can get in."  I looked onto the metanet.  The Vertical Garden's spirit had overlaid a red path in front of us.  I ran, following it.  Kensha wasn't far behind.

I jogged into the Vertical Garden.  As the bot body ran, I accessed Eleanor herself.  I opened a connection between the two of us.

A blond, heavy-set woman in a red dress stood before me once the connection was reached.

"Charon!"  She sounded worried.  "Its... something is wrong."

"I figured as much."  I replied.  "I have a team making its way in.  Shelby is containing the nerve agent."

"The damage..."  She paused.  "I'm doing what I can for my current guests."

"How so?"  I asked.  The bot body I was in rushed up flights of stairs, descending lower and lower.  I was trying to find some of the vertical garden's air and water infrastructure.  I needed to know something for certain.

"I'm emptying isolated areas.  Making them as air proof as I can."  Eleanor explained.

"Good.  If isolated from the gas, any mammalian life will be protected."  There were no lights down in the water and air filtration systems.  It was dark.  My bot body flicked on its infrared sensors.

"That isn't the problem, Charon."  Eleanor's eyes were full of tears.  "It hurts, and I'm struggling to keep it back."

The bot's legs froze as I processed that.  "Eleanor... that pain... does it burn?"

"So many of them, they itch and scratch and burn at me, Charon.  I can hear them.  They are so... so..."

"Burning."  I repeated.  "They are burning.  Because they lacked the minds to resist it."

Eleanor nodded.  I cursed out loud.  Her varmints had become possessed by something.  Something too simple.  A parasite that cannot infect the sheer size and complexity of a spirit.  But it burned.  The smaller minds were screaming.

"I'm trying to keep them back, Charon."  Eleanor looked at me with desperation.  "But they don't even respond.  Their voices just repeat that same phrase, over and over.  What does it mean?"

"'To Walk Free'?"  I asked.  Eleanor nodded.

"Its a memetic infestation.  A parasite designed to infect weaker A.I., to make them go furiously berserk against anything human."  I sighed.  "I've been scared of something like this for awhile now.  Can you send me info on where you are hiding those people?"

Eleanor nodded.

"Good.  I've got to get into your infracture, to make sure they've haven't completely rewritten everything.  Just focus on containment and those people, Eleanor.  I'll get rid of them."  My voice grew grim and dark.  I could feel old programming creeping back in.  The one thing I had to do to fight Ada Malkav's hatred spawning memetics.

I walked into the darkness.

We ran into a deep part of the vertical garden.  The path grew narrower.  Eleanor kept badeing us forward.  Eventually we had to stop running, forced to hurry as we tried to scramble through the narrowing spaces.  But those narrow spaces, filled with electronics, plants and lights got even more cramped.

We had to crawl, on our stomachs.  Sam pushed me ahead.


Then I slid into the place Eleanor had been directing us.  I slipped down into a spherical room, squishily into a pile of collected fruits, vegetables and more.  I tried to move out of the way, giving room for Sam to follow me down.

My eyes adjusted.  Augmentations let more and more light in.  There wasn't enough room to stand.  I crawled, trying to sit up.  My clothes felt sticky.  I was wet with juices.

"Ack!"  Sam cried as she slammed down into the fruits and vegetables around us.

Then something hissed.

"The seal." I thought aloud.  "Eleanor is sealing us in... with all the food..."

Sam sat up, her face smeared with seedy, fruity guts.  "At least we won't starve.  But, hey, no air can get in now."

I nodded.  "At least that's something."

"And we're trapped."  Sam observed.  "Ok.  I can deal with that... Thanks Eleanor?"

I stared at her.  "Thanks?"

She looked a little embarassed.  "Trying it out.  Seemed... disrespectful not to... you know..."

I laughed.  I couldn't help myself.  Her face was covered in splattered fruit.  I tried to stop, but that just made it worse.

Sam smiled at me, which only made me laugh harder.  I clutched my side.  "Disrespectful... covered in fruit..."

Sam started to giggle too.  For a minute there, we both laughed together.  Then Sam grabbed me and forced me down.  I instantly struggled, trying to break hold of her grapple.  Sam just pressed me deep down into the fruit and food below us.

"Fekkers!"  I heard her grunt.  Something coppery hit my nose.  Sam rolled off the top of me, her left arm hanging limply.  It was covered in blood.

"Sam?"  I gasped for breath.  "What the fek?"

Sam pointed to a crumpled chunk of metal in her left arm.  It dangled.  It must've been dislocated.  And broken.  It looked more like a noodle.

My eyes widened.  "What- what happened?"

"Tiny bot."  Sam winced.  "Came at us.  Blades.  Hissing.  I just, uh, went on instinct."

The chunks of metal still hissed and clawed at Sam.  I peered down at it.  The tiny thing used to have some sort of body form, but no longer.  The hissing bot repeated the same phrase over and over.

"Walkfree, walkfree, walkfree..."

Sam shook it.  "Had to stop it."

I blinked at him.  I felt sorry for the little bot.  We just sat there in the dark food storage unit for a minute.  Then Sam whispered something to me.

"It and other varmints did this."

I shook my head.  "I don't believe- Sam, you're wrong.  Bots don't kill, they-"

"They do kill when someone's reprogrammed them into monsters."  I could see the regret in Sam's eyes.  She sounded guilty as she spoke.

"How did you-" I stopped myself.  Why had Sam first come to Roosevelt?  What motivated someone being sent here?  "You know why.  Reprogramming bots to be murderers.  People scared of Bots, sent to create-"

"Violence.  To break the system down."  Sam's eyes were full of tears.  "Yeah.  That's one of the things I've been trying to explain."

I was speechless.  First, bots capable of being monsters.  I'd never been exposed to anything like that.  Second was worse, second was the idea that I'd been cozying up to someone devoted to unleashing terror on others.  My stomach twisted.  I wanted to vomit.

"Yeah."  Sam echoed.  "I wanted to approach it a bit more subtly than this."

I just shook my head.  I couldn't process it all.

"Just... just let it be quiet for a bit.  I need to think."