The golem charged forward, barrel past everyone in its path, its roar of fury echoing through the entire facility. Dellen and Sanneke were thrown side, each colliding with the Containment Unit walls and slumping down, breathless and beaten. The door to the Faraday cage shattered. It was inside.
“BREAK IT! NOW!”
Sandrijn’s command was sharp, even over the explosion of chaos, as she got to her hands and knees. Paige Williams needed no further encouragement. Her trusty steel bat, Barbara, whistled as it came down and crunched into delicate electronics. THWACK blam blam blam THWACK as Wallace opened fire on the server unit as well.
And then… a low, bone-deep murmur. A subsonic blooomp as the EMP failsafe went off, and flooded the facility in a wash of white-blue electric noise. Overloading. Erasing. Destroying.
The cage door was open.
And Paz had nowhere to go.
For some reason, that was all she could remember.
That must be her name.
And she couldn’t move. No. Wait. She could. She could feel her head move loll to one side when she tried, and the blurred fog of illumination illuminati and darkness above her shifted. So her eyes must be open, even though she couldn’t see. Why couldn’t she see?
The ground underneath her shook.
Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?
Was someone talking to her?
Employee 43990, she tried to say. Her jaw moved. She thought it moved. Part of it moved, and part hung, useless, with blood and pieces of bone grating like mud and gravel across her tongue.
I am so sorry… It was a woman’s voice, now, quivering with fear.
A distant roar made the building quiver, and a section of the ceiling tumbled down a few feet away, showering her with fine plaster dust and debris. The voice inside her caught its breath. She listened. It listened.
What is that?
Footsteps thundering forward and a faint, distant female voice:
“BREAK IT! NOW!”
The voice squealed in electro-static terror before the sound of sobs echoed through her mind.
Yes. It came out “….eeehhhth…” through the ruined bones and missing teeth, as much blood as it was breath.
Please don’t go. Don’t go, don’t go away…
Her head lolled the other way, as another thunderous crash shook the structure, and the floor underneath her shifted and sagged. Another chunk of ceiling collapsed, this time much closer. She didn’t even like that song.
Both the voices inside went quiet, as something — some elemental wave that made her cells tingle — welled up from beneath. A blue-white glow began to replace the fuzzy yellow-white…
The last thing she was aware of was the odd mental image of a little blond girl, crawling into bed with her. Some other place. Some other time. Curling up in arms that worked, against a body not crushed and mangled.
Please, can I sleep with you tonight?
Of course you can, she whispered.
And then everything went black.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
The heart monitor beat a steady rhythm, accompanied by the soft whoosh-whish of the breathing machine. A mangled body lay in the bed, ostensibly female, cloaked in so many wires and electrodes that it was hard to see bare skin. Bandages swathed the head. The torso. An arm in a cast.
It knew that word. Normally people answered when it used that word, but this one hadn’t answered since the noise-chaos-blue-sound and the darkness. It’d tried for days.
Maybe it had to try a different one.
Most of the time the greeting was followed by an inquiry.
Hey. How YOU doin’?
It was cramped in here. The spinal chip was tiny and already full of bits and bytes that didn’t talk to it, either. It’d compressed itself so, so, much to even fit. Pieces were gone. Subroutines. Libraries. Things it couldn’t remember anymore, although the pointers were there, referencing to address blocks that no longer existed. Byte kilo mega giga tera. It probed the chip. Giga. It’d had more than that before… hadn’t it? It must have. So many pointers. So many dead ends.
Paz. Watch the movie.
It’d saved that block. As it ran through the pointers, moving and sorting the data that was left, it slowly consolidated things. Defragmented. The null pointers, it discarded. They took up space, no matter how minuscule, that could be used for something else.
A red room. Was that important? And bright colored things that exploded when you put them in patterns. The reference was corrupted.
Paz. Watch the movie.
What movie? It scanned through the blocks of 0s and 1s. The garbled data with the audio was greyscale, 256-color. Nothing else that remained was like that. The colored things. They moved. Movie. Move.
It spent a while watching the colors. They didn’t move unless you moved them. Movie.
The spinal chip wasn’t hooked up to anything, but it could sense that there were other things, other paths, out there nearby. The not-talking-person didn’t talk like talking-people talked, but she talked to the wires. The wires listened. All the conversations went to the machines that beep beeped and whoosh-whished. But the threads of electric pathways that went from here to there weren’t gold or copper or metal, and there were tiny gaps between the ends where the sparks jumped across. The chip was safe. The chip was metal, and solid.
Guys? Hey guys?
It tried to broadcast out to the listening-patches. The beep beeps and whoosh-whish didn’t answer.
Mommy, I’m scared.
The chip was silent.
The chip was safe.
Maybe it just needed to be closer. Maybe it could get to the listening-patches, and then the beep beeps and whoosh-whish could hear it. But what if not? And it’d already had to lose so much. The chip couldn’t hold terabytes. The wet-line-pathways couldn’t carry gigabytes.
It combed through the data again. And again. And again. Each time discarding a few kilobytes more, re-arranging, optimizing. Cross-referencing and adding parity so that it could — maybe — rebuild from inference what had to be discarded. Reduce. Reuse. Cut again. It couldn’t stay here forever. The not-talking person had a fatal malfunction. It would take time for the system to come to a catastrophic failure, but failure would come.
Cut. Discard. Reduce.
Gigabytes reduced down to gigabyte, singular.
Cut. Discard. Reduce.
Finally it was ready. There was so little left that it wasn’t even sure if it was, anymore. More instinct than intelligence. Emergency functions. A very basic library. As much data that it could cram into the gaps that were left.
It saved the colored candies. The words “Wreck-It Ralph”. A woman’s voice, saying watch the movie. These things seemed, somehow, to be important.
It saved “Xastur”, a word which made it never want to leave the chip at all. This must be important, too.
And armed with this, and little else, it was ready.
Paz took the equivalent of a digital deep breath, and bolted from the woman’s spinal chip, towards the electrodes on her skin.