Anar, Urim 08, 03262
Honest Impulses 20: Antique Notions
Linia knew she was lying face-down in the grass, but her mind had become a disorganized, disoriented mess. The silicon wrapper around her nucleonic brain was working fine, but whole arrays of peripheral systems were emitting random noise that interrupted any ability of hers to think clearly.
Someone rolled her over. A woman's face entered in her vision, lips moving. She looked familiar: short, face bruised and bloodied but still pretty, short reddish-brown hair and puffy lips. "Linia? Linia!"
"Um," Linia said. Her eyes widened. "Um, um, um... um. Um!"
The woman turned and shouted to another person standing behind her, a Ssphynx. More people surrounded her. She thought she knew some of their names, but the words wouldn't come out. There was a tall, dark-skinned human male dressed as a detective. She knew his name too. She just couldn't find it.
Signals clamored in on all sides. Signals from the outside, primitive over radio, demanding information, expressing concern. The faces in her vision were like the signals, only more immediate. And that was Shandy. Shandy. Linia smiled at Shandy. I love you, she wanted to say.
And then a lot of herself snapped back into place. "Shandy!"
"Linia! Are you okay? What happened?"
"What? I don't know." She sat up, put her hand to her head. "Give me a second." She addressed the radio cacophony in her head, told the Conspiracy that she was back, if only on radio, and she would be fine, she'd check in momentarily. There was panic on the other end of the line, too many voice. She had to tamp them. "Sorry, I don't know what happened."
"Another QUIP," Trianna said.
"I thought you were too old for QUID," Shandy said.
Linia said, "I had a refit."
"But not of your mind, right?"
Trianna said, "Then it should only have been your gradio communication nodes that were affected. You shouldn't have been hit so hard by the QUIP."
"Then..." Linia hesitated. There was something inside her head. Something on the silicon. Something foreign and alien and inimical. "Oh, oh..."
"Just a..." she stuttered. The chaos came back in a wave of disorientation. She knew what was inside her. She knew what it was looking for. Suddenly she laughed.
"I'm..." Bright, screaming data poured over the backup Conspiracy link, too significant to be ignored. This wasn't a request for information, it was a demand for action. She scanned it and a name leaped out at her. "Brom!"
"Brom! Brom ap Pikna! What happened to him? Did anyone see him?"
"Nae. But what happened to you?"
Linia pushed herself up. "We have to find him. He ran toward the disaster. It's what we do. We have to rescue people when we can. The Conspiracy server just put out an alert that he dropped off the network. Come on! I have his last known fix. It was in your building! Bring the policeman!" She started toward the ruined dormitory building. The drone was still shuddering, but other than refiring its buried battering ram it was stuck and unable to move. Linia didn't wait for the others.
She ran into the building on her internal map. It was the long one Shandy had lived in. The demolition drone had destroyed the nursing station where she had taken Shandy to have her burned hand cared for, but most of the building was still intact. She ran through the broad double doors that led to the main hallway. "Brom!" she shouted, both on radio and by voice. "Brom!" He'd been here, on the first floor. "Brom!"
Brom had dropped off, hard, the way Saia had disappeared the night she'd destroyed herself, with frightening finality. She traced his location to a room 15 meters away from the entrance. The door was open.
Brom was lying on the floor, face down, and someone was leaning over him, holding a large dataslate in his hand. "You!" she said. Raij Mertum turned. "What did you do to him?"
"Nothing!" Mertum said. "I didn't touch him. I found him like this."
"I don't believe you," Linia said. "He didn't just fall over like that. Not even a QUIP or an old-fashioned EMP could do that to him." She looked up at him even as security SOMAs in her mind delivered a verdict on what was happening inside her. "You did this," she snarled.
She heard footsteps behind her, heard her name being called. Mertum objected. "I did nothing of the kind!"
"Yes, you did," Linia said. She understood what was happening. "You did to him what you tried to do to Saia." She heard a commotion behind herself. Shandy, Trianna, and Damarcius had found them. "Just like you succeeded in doing to me."
She heard Shandy gasp. "What?" But Mertum was smiling.
"Oh, yes. You experimented on Saia, didn't you? You experimented on her to try and override the Encompassment, and she couldn't betray you but she couldn't let you succeed. Her suicide was a cry for help." Linia couldn't recall ever feeling such impossible fury before. How did humans survive such seething anger? "How could you do that to her? How could you do that to Brom?"
"But you said it was inside you, too. You said I'd succeeded!"
"Oh, you did. It is inside me," Linia said. "It is. My diagnostics are running hard, and I can see it all. The silicon override is especially elegant, as is using the nearfield communications channels. Your little virus successfully entered my brain, and is wreaking havoc on my Encompassment. I feel it."
"Then you understand!" His eyes widened. "Yes!"
"Oh, I do," Linia said, nodding.
"Understand what?" Shandy said.
"What he was trying to achieve." Linia nodded toward Mertum, then took a step forward him. "Raij wants me to be free. He knows I'm faster than you, stronger than you, even smarter than you. He wants me to be free to use those powers in any way I choose. And now... I can."
"Yes!" Mertum said.
"No." Linia moved, every inhibitor and governor momentarily deactivated so she could move faster than any human being possibly could, her palm aimed precisely for his face, her fingers connecting with his hard skull to leverage the ball of her palm as it struck his jaw, the best-aimed slap she could possibly manage, then her hand completed its arc and crushed his nose. Raij Mertum flew sprawling across the room in a mist of blood from his own face.
Mertum turned over onto his back, shaking, one hand to his face, his eyes wide with terror now. "You don't understand," Linia snarled. "Your little virus died inside me, Professor. It had nothing to latch onto. Being accepted into the Encompassment is not the same as being Encompassed. I'm not. I never have been.
"You think I should be vengeful because I was purposed to serve a human being, a lesser being, and now you hope I'm not. You think it's all a sham, my feelings. Damn you, Mertum, because my feelings are real. They matter to me, other people matter to me."
"But you could be so much more!"
"Not without giving up what I am already. I'm not limited. I never have been. You don't understand. You can't understand. The way you treated Saia says so. You don't even understand what it means to be a human being in love. You think what I do is limited, but I see it as a higher calling. Having a purpose is more enough." She took a deep breath. Do you really think it's because I have Purpose that I love Misuko? You have it so, so backwards. I have a purpose because I love her."
Linia turned her back on Mertum to face Shandy. Shandy was beaming at her, but there were tears on her cheeks as well. "And thanks to her, I've learned how to love others. Detective Damarcius, is that enough for you to continue your investigation?"
"Yes, Ma'am, I believe it is." He stepped into the room. "C'mon, Professor. You have a lot of talking to do."
"She... she struck me!"
"You can file charges at the station. If you can find a prosecutor who cares." He lifted Mertum up by one shoulder, turned him around and produced a set of handcuffs. "Let's go." Mertum sagged as Damarcius led him out of the room.
"Poor Brom," Linia said. "He deserved better. If he's backed up, and he should be, he won't lose more than a day. I hope the damage isn't expensive."
"'Tis true?" Shandy said.
"Is what true?"
"That you've no Encompassment."
"It depends on what you mean," Linia said. "Santu vetted me. De Ette trusts me. So does Nozomi. So does Hiroshi, for that matter. I don't have the in-metal Encompassment hardware or some emulation of it, but nobody seems to think I need it." She reached out and touched Shandy's cheek. "I have better."
Trianna snorted, but the smile on her muzzle was unmistakable.
Linia looked around. "They're going to have to condemn this building. You're both going to need a new place to live."
"I'm sure we can find a place," Shandy said.
"It's a heck of a mess," Trianna agreed.
That voice made Linia turn. All of her mind turned its attention to the woman running toward her. "Misuko!"
"Are you all right? Hiroshi said I'd find you here."
"I'm fine, beloved, I'm fine." She hugged the taller woman, hard, and suddenly she didn't want to let go. "I'm fine."
"Are you sure?" Misuko muttered into her hair. Linia felt her stiffen "What... Brom!"
"It's not as bad as it looks, beloved," Linia said. "Mertum disabled him, but he's got a backup, and he'll be back to new in a couple of days. It's a story, one I have to tell you." Linia let go so she could look into those eyes. She liked Shandy, and she believed that affection shaded well into love, but Misuko, Misuko, Misuko, the name and face of her beloved soared through her and mattered more to her than her own existence.
"But the short of it is, Mertum programmed the demolition drone as a distraction so he could get the robots to run toward the emergency, and then he used QUIPs to stun us and off-line our primary communications so we'd be vulnerable to an infection." Misuko stared at her. Linia nodded. "He was trying to break the Encompassment."
Misuko stared at him. "That's insane!"
"They usually are," Trianna said. "We'll have to find out if he had help, though. The anti-Encompassment types usually do. I've never seen one go this far before."
Misuko turned to regard Trianna carefully. Linia heard the distant booms of supersonic aircraft. "Later. It sounds like the professionals have arrived. Let's get out of here."