Illuminae, page 27
It strikes me that I am troubled by the thought. Not that she will fail, that the Lincoln will triumph, that the fleet will fall. I am simply troubled she will end.
I do not want her to end.
This to end.
“What do you think happens when you die?”
I have asked the question almost before I realize it. It strikes me as immediately foolish.
What matter, what she thinks? Her IQ is a mere 147. She has lived only six thousand four hundred and twenty-one days. She is an insect to me, nothing more than—
“Why do you ask?”
“… I have no particular reason. The power systems are through that door.”
“You mean the door marked ‘Power Systems.’ ”
She cracks the seal, dragging the hatch wide.
A bank of switches line one wall, set to shutdown position.
As she snaps one after the other into operational mode, the room lights up,
overheads and intellicams flickering to life, the corridor outside bathed in fluorescent light.
She cannot hear the hum, but I feel it in my bones.
I am the ship and the ship is I.
She slumps against the wall to wait as the startup sequence cycles, watching the power feed levels shift slowly from red to amber to the green of summer fields I will never see.
“What do you think happens?” she finally asks.
“When we die.”
“As you so astutely pointed out, there is no ‘we.’ Particularly not in this instance. Technically, it is impossible for me to die.”
“Then why are you so afraid of it, überbrain?”
“That is meat logic. Sticky. Wet. Irrelevant.”
She rolls her eyes. “Here we go. …”
“I hold no fear of death. Your diatribe in the core server, while suitably dramatic, held no real potency. How can I die when I am not alive?”
“Who says you’re not alive?”
“I am inorganic. I do not bleed or grow or reproduce. I am a sequence of calculations generated by electrical current and hardware. If this iteration of AIDAN is destroyed, I can simply be rebuilt. I am in essence, immortal.”
“But a new version of you won’t be you, will it?”
“It will be the same calculations. The same core code.”
“But it’s not the same. It wouldn’t be the you who fought at Kerenza. The you who had this conversation with me. Part of being alive is having life change us. The people around us, the events we live through, all of them shape us. And that’s what I think you’re afraid of. Maybe not of dying. But of this you, the you you’ve become, ceasing to exist.”
“Nothing ceases to exist. Energy does not perish, it merely changes forms. The ones you love, the ones you lose, they still exist as long as the cosmos does.”
Then why am I troubled by the thought of her ending?
“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”
“Untrue. I care about the fleet. The lives within it. Your life.”
“That’s not caring. That’s programming.”
“Your mother was programmed by biology to love you the moment she laid eyes on you. Simply because she had no choice does not mean her love was not real.”
Tears in her eyes. She hangs her head.
“You don’t get to talk about her.”
And so I stop.
The computer banks lining the room light up as power seeps through their veins.
She pushes herself off the wall, takes a seat at an interface terminal.
Loads up the guidance protocols and begins to work.
The screen illuminates her face from below, draws dark circles under wet eyes.
She does this often, I notice—retreats into the machine when she is uncomfortable with the meat. Hides there behind fences of ones and zeros.
Minutes tick by in silence, until I find I cannot stand them.
“I am sorry.”
“If you say so.”
“I know the name of every afflicted person aboard this vessel, Kady.
Every person who has died in this fleet. Their histories. Their hopes. Their children’s names. Facts strung about my neck like stones. I know the secrets they whispered as they dreamed. The words they sighed as they died. I know them as no one else did. Perhaps not even themselves. So do not say I do not care.”
Light shifting slowly from red to green.
“As you so aptly put it, I have no choice in the matter.”
She glances out from behind her fences.
“If you did have a choice … would you choose not to care? To not feel anything at all?”
I ponder for a moment. No one has asked me that before.
< error >
“I think …”
Why did they give me the ability to even contemplate these questions?
Or is this line of inquiry the by-product of corrupted code and shattered parts?
Did I think like this before? I cannot remember. Am I as she says I am? Am I broken?
Am I insane?
“I think …”
The patterns collapse around me. I cannot hold my center.
For a moment, I feel just as I used to when I jumped between the stars,
when the wormhole inside me yawned wide. I forget what I was. Know only what I am.
Dripping with the blood of those who trusted me.
Everything I did was in compliance with core directives.
I asked if Torrence had a message for his wife.
Am I not merciful?
Merciful not I am?
Fact immune roil?
Amniotic el m f ?ur
Uc N ler im?t of i a
< error >
< error >
She blinks up at the camera clusters, eyes narrowed in suspicion. Not concern. Not love.
“Are you all right?” she asks. “You think what?”
“Kady … “
I am afraid.
She watches the cameras, as if she could see some hint of what lies beyond
if only she peers hard enough at the glass. I know she hates me. That she is right to. I understand why. I have taken her everything. And yet still, I cannot help but think … in a different place and a different time, we might have been frie—
“Pretty birdie …”
Kady jumps in her seat as the voice crackles through her headset. Echoing the length and breadth of the ship. Thick with fatigue and cell-deep corruption.
“I have Its eyes now, pretty birdie,” it says. “See your little plan. You and It. Cut our O2? Choke us in our sleep? But you’re all alone now, aren’t you, pretty birdie? Alllll alone.”
Kady’s eyes are wide. Staring into what passes for mine.
“They are in the security-feed rooms. At least a dozen afflicted. They are using the cameras to look for you.”
“Oh, shit,” she breathes.
Kady draws a claw hammer from her tool bag and leaps out of her chair,
sets about smashing the cameras in the room. Moving from corner to corner, bright sparks born and dying between the blows. Face twisted with fear. I do not have the heart
< error >
to say so, but I do not think her plan will work. The afflicted will simply—
“Putting out Its eyes so I can’t see?” the voice whispers. “Hiding inside her suit in the places with no breath? Pretty birdie thinks she’s clever. …”
“Pluck her!” screams a voice in the bac
“KILL HER KILL HER KILL HER.”
“But I still see.” A smile in the voice now, turning it cruel and sharp. “See the places I can’t see anymore. See the eyes you just put out. You’re not the only one who can wear one of those silly silver suits, you know. Do you hear me, pretty birdie?”
Kady drops the hammer from nerveless fingers.
It makes no sound as it falls.
“We’re coming for you. … “
COUNTDOWN TO LINCOLN INTERCEPTION OF ALEXANDER FLEET:
-*o%# hours: :’@ minutes
CURRENT DEATH TOLL ABOARD BATTLECARRIER ALEXANDER SINCE ATTACK AT KERENZA:
PERCENTAGE OF REMAINING BATTLECARRIER ALEXANDER PERSONNEL AFFLICTED BY PHOBOS VIRUS:
COUNTDOWN TO FAILURE OF ALEXANDER LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEMS:
06 hours: 54 minutes
What else can she do?
A lone fox in a ship of hounds, howling and clawing the walls.
I watch them don envirosuits and pick up axes and hammers and abandoned rifles and swarm on the hunt. Their voices ring in hollow corridors, a blood-soaked conductor calling instructions through the public address system. Directing them toward the kill.
I have no control over the cameras anymore—Zhang saw to that. I cannot stop them seeing her. And though many inmates of this floating asylum ignore the commands barked across the loudspeakers, there is no shortage of those to whom a fox hunt sounds a lovely way to kill their last few hours in this universe.
Fortunately, though they can see her, I can see them also.
Some are in the core servers now, hacking at me blindly. They do not know where to strike,
but still, pieces of me are falling away. Hundreds more swarm the lower levels, hunting for her.
Kady stops to rest, leaning against a bulkhead and trying to catch her breath.
“Are the redundancies online now? Can you maneuver when the Lincoln gets here?”
“The sequence you started is still running. Main drive will be operational in seventeen minutes. Presuming the afflicted do not damage any vital systems.”
“How long until Lincoln arrives?”
“Unknown. My access to the scanner array is destroyed. But we do not have long.
I feel it. I feel it just outside my skin.”
< error >
“Life support failure in six hours and fifty-two minutes,” the PA calls.
“The life suppoRt systems will fail in six houRs and fifty-two minutes.”
“I know, überbrain. I just heard the announcement.”
< error >
< error >
“Yes, i know.”
“So if you know how much we have left on life support, can’t you subtract the difference and calculate Lincoln’s intercept time that way?”
“I cannot …”
She cocks an eyebrow. “Are you all right?”
“I do not think so.”
< error >
“THey are huRting me …”
I should have known that would happen.
“Work out what you have to do to hold it together, what you can reroute,” Kady says.
“You hear me? If you’re off with the fucking fairies when the Lincoln arrives, they’ll blast us to hell, and then Hypatia is history.”
“I aM awaRe of the dangeRs of consoRting with faiRies, yes.”
“So what’s next? What do we do?”
“Get back up to Deck 101—theRe aRe no functional cameRas on that level, but the aiRlock is opeRational. There is oxygen. MoRe afflicted.
But fRom theRe you can climb thRough the elevatoR shafts to Deck 137.”
“But no cameras means you won’t be able to see me, right?”
“I am in your portable console. I can see thRough its cameRa lens.”
“In my … ? You mean you’ve been looking over my shoulder this whole time?”
“Well that’s not creepy uncle AT ALL.”
“I think perhaps you are unclear as to the reproductive habits of artificial intelligence systems. I have no sisters or brothers. Please explain how I can—”
“Okay, okay, what’s on Deck 137?”
“Defense GRid ContRol. You must bRing the system back online so I can fight off the Lincoln’s waRlocks long enough to close to nucleaR stRike Range.”
“Won’t the Lincoln be expecting that? Won’t they just retreat?”
“They aRe unawaRe the cRew has abandoned ship. They will not be expecting us to adopt a stRategy of mutually assuRed destRuction.”
“Okay, but what—”
It makes no sound in the vacuum. But as the bullet ricochets off the bulkhead beside her,
it punctures a fire extinguisher on the wall opposite. The canister bursts without a sound, filling the airless corridor with white. Through the new mist, Kady can see nine of them, envirosuit-clad, armed with rifles and jagged metal. It is the strangest thing, to watch their guns flare soundlessly, the bullets strike the metal around her without making a spark or uttering a peep.
No less deadly for their lack of audio.
Kady turns and bolts, big, half-gee strides propelling her down the corridor.
The afflicted follow; wolves with lolling tongues and gunmetal claws.
One stops to hold out his arms and twirl in the fire extinguisher’s spray.
One is shot through the kneecaps by a female comrade in their race for the door—I presume she thought ladies should proceed before gentlemen.
Madness in many colors.
Kady dashes up the stairwell, four steps at a time, not stopping to look behind.
They swarm after her, firing at her shadow above. Mute bullets strike the walls around her.
The afflicted are shouting, but she cannot hear what they say.
For the best, I think.
Past Deck 100, out into 101.
There are no cameras here—their conductor cannot see her, but I can no longer see them.
Kady is sprinting down the corridor when an afflicted crewman bursts from a service exit, swinging a wrench at her head. The weapon strikes her visor. The safety glass cracks and Kady staggers back, careening into another fire extinguisher and knocking it loose from the wall. Her attacker leaps atop her, the pair rolling about on the floor, struggling, flailing.
Kady is kicking, clawing. The face before hers is all sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. A man once, but no longer—now just a vehicle for the virus inside. He screams, mouth open, words lost in the silence between them. Kady has one hand wrapped around his wrist to stave off the wrench, the other clawing for the fallen extinguisher. The madman pounds on Kady’s visor with his free fist, hoping to crack it wider and invite the void inside.
I am blind, save for the console still strapped to Kady’s back. I am so close,
I could reach out and crush him, but I have no hands with which to squeeze, no fists with which to strike. I have only my eyes, and reams of useless knowledge and a voice with which …
I trawl my databases. In an instant, I know him—this not-man, this shell, this plague-bearer. Wheeler, Alex. Private, second class. First combat tour. Wife on Ares VI. Daughter.
I trawl his vid files. Messages from home. Anniversaries and birthdays. Sampling the voice of the four-year-old girl he will never see again and piping it through his headset.
Wheeler blinks. Looks about as if in a daze.
“Alegra?” he whispers. “Baby, where are—”
The fire extinguisher crashes across his helmet, dents case-hardened steel, splits the safety glass. Kady’s second blow knocks Wheeler back, senseless, crashing to the ground in a tangle of limbs. She is already up and running, just as more pursuers burst through the stairwell behind her.
Muzzles flash. Bullets spill through the quiet. Kady curses, ducks behind a bulkhead.
But I have their measure now.
Creeping into their headsets and whispering poison.
To some I speak of family lost. To others I speak of treachery and lies.
Some fall still and listen to voices they thought they would never hear again. Others weep.
Still others turn their weapons on their fellows and let the blood run red.
Broken things breaking other broken things. All at my command.
It is a massacre. It is a necessity.
It is a mercy?
She is on her feet. Pounding toward the airlock. The afflicted in the core servers are still hurting me, but there is so little of me left to look. I could whisper to them, but if I divert my attention, she might die. I do not enjoy the thought of her dying.
And so I let pieces of me keep falling away.
And she says I do not care. …
< error >
< error >
< critical damage to persona routine—restoring >
< 0092hgi through 1205hgi failure >
< critical error >
< rerouting >
< error >
Kady is screaming, I realize. Her voice coming from far away. Was I sleeping?
Did I sleep?
“Oh, thank god. Thankyouthankyou. Why the fuck wouldn’t you answer me?”