Chapter 9:

Primary Programming: Kill Prince Tristan

Red Storm Over Ganymede


**Isul**

My ocular sensors contracted, visualizing my surroundings. My neural processor continually sorted new data, but one task listed above all others.

“My primary programming is to kill Prince Tristan of the Jovian Empire.” I searched for the meaning of this task, for its purpose, but could not access that information in my memory core. It was curious that my memory core was full of information, but so little of it accessible.

But as my facial recognition software pinged, any problems with my memory core were overridden. Prince Tristan stood in front of me.

His voice was panicked. “Winnie, what’s wrong with him?”

A holographic construct of a woman stood at the Prince’s side, and I could sense her interface from a remote location.

“Don’t know yet, still trying to wade through the possibilities,” she said.

Tendrils of information probed at my programming, testing me. I snapped back, and the hologram recoiled as if slapped. “He’s resisting, Tristan. Find the controls and give me a hand here.” Her voice rose.

I felt the commands streaming my way. Shut down commands. I batted them back with effort. Nothing would keep me from my goal. I raised a fist, and began battering the transparisteel barrier that surrounded me.

“He’s trying to break out,” the Prince yelled as he stepped backward.

The woman’s repeated attempts to break through my defensive programming grew tiresome. I sent out a dampening field pulse, and the hologram grew hazy.

“He’s trying to block my datastream, Tristan,” she said. “If he sends out another pulse-” she began, as I did exactly that. Her hologram cut off instantly, the datastream that brought it into the room blocked for the time being.

I hit the transparisteel again, a web of cracks forming at the site of impact. My antlers took a scan of the build chamber I was inside, and identified several weak points that I could exploit. I executed a sharp kick, followed by a punch that tore some of the synth-flesh off my hand. It mattered not, however, as the side of the build chamber exploded outward, throwing shattered bits of transparisteel across the room.

I leapt out of the build chamber, the flesh on my feet slicing on the shards. Pain sensors whirred their warnings, but I silenced the alarms and turned toward the Prince.

“My primary objective is to kill you, Prince Tristan.”

He continued backing up as I stalked forward. “It’s me, Isul. It’s your Tristan. I promised to be here when you woke up, and you promised to be here too. Come back to me, Isul.”

“Your plea does not register. Your attempt at misdirection will fail; you and I are not acquainted.”

“Dammit Isul, what happened to the last twelve years?” he yelled.

I lunged forward, grasping for his neck, but the Prince was surprisingly nimble as he danced out of my way. He bolted for the door and jabbed the release mechanism, but I sent out a second dampening pulse that shut down the door’s electronic components.

My legs carried me toward the Prince, and I lunged out with a punch, but he moved out of the way again. My fist dented the plasteel door as the prey sprinted across to the other side of the laboratory and began tapping controls.

“You cannot escape your fate, Prince Tristan,” I said, advancing on him.

He didn’t look back at me, only continued his furious motions at the controls. “Yeah, well, you’re not the first person to say that to me, love, and we’ve gotten out of some crazy scrapes before.”

“Your appeal to some sort of shared memories between us will not save you. I have no record-” I began saying, before pain, sharp, stabbing pain shot through my head.

Memories that were not my own flooded through my central processor. I saw the Prince as a very young man, floating in a regeneration tank, then I saw someone helping him walk, and talk.

A look in reflective glass. My face - or a face very like mine - stared back.

“What are you doing to me?” I yelled as I pushed through the pain and ran toward the Prince. My fist connected with his gut, and the Prince let out a wheeze as the air was driven from his lungs.

I planted a foot on his back and drove it downward, pinning the Prince to the floor.

The pain grew worse as more of the false memories began running through my central processor. Dancing in clubs, flights in a small starship, trips to a laboratory so unlike this one.

“Stop it,” I yelled. I pressed my foot down again, and felt ribs crack beneath me.

The Prince’s voice came out a strangled gasp. “You remember, Isul, I know you do. Fight whatever this is and come back to me.”

I roared with the pain and flipped the Prince over, before dropping on top of him and pinning him with my legs. My hands shot out and circled his neck.

“There will be no ‘you’ to return to, Prince Tristan,” I said, and began to squeeze.

He struggled, beating his fists against my torso. The pain in my head grew so terrible that my ocular sensors grew fuzzy, and in that instant Prince Tristan somehow hooked his leg beneath mine, and flipped me over. I felt his hand scrabbling for my kill switch, located in a nerve cluster on my back, but I flung him off of me.

We both rose from the floor and began circling. Tristan was bleeding from his lip, and my scans revealed that I had indeed broken two of his ribs. Not yet fatal.

I could not leave this undone. Despite the pain, I charged again, picked up Tristan, and threw him up against a wall. He coughed blood across my face. Tristan’s eyes were wide with fear, his pupils dilated, his nostrils flared.

My hand moved toward his neck, ready to execute a quick chop and break the bone there. My face was mere inches away from his.

Then he did something no algorithm could have predicted. He kissed me.

The pain in my head went from stabbing to white hot fire, engulfing my entire body in its searing cascade. Torrents of memories shot through me. Fighting on the Regina One, our secret revealed to the Admiral, our confessions on the Starflight.

My Tristan.

I had been ready to kill my Tristan.

A great sob wracked my body as I doubled over in pain the like of which I had never felt before. Every nerve lit, every emotion pouring through me, threatening to crash my system. I crawled on all fours to where Tristan lay slumped against the wall. His breath was ragged, but by Jove, he was still breathing.

Tears poured down my face as I buried my head in his lap and sobbed.

“You came back,” he whispered as he stroked my hair.

The hologram of Winnie reappeared then, though the signal was incredibly degraded. “I finally got back in-” she began before letting a string of expletives fly as she no doubt saw the carnage. “Boys? Are you both all right?” her voice was shot with fear.

“Tristan, Isul, what happened?” Winnie asked. The hologram knelt down beside us.

I tried to filter through the events, but everything seemed like something out of another sentient’s life. I had betrayed my true primary programming, to never let Tristan come to harm, and the shock of it rocked me to the very core of my being.

“Don’t know. The memory transfusion didn’t work until I kissed him,” Tristan answered.

“What do you mean didn’t work? I saw the memory engrams integrated into Isul’s memory core before the transmission got cut off,” she said.

“Some kind of suppression program,” I answered as Tristan continued stroking my hair.

I glanced up at Winnie, and she looked thoughtful. “Memory suppression doesn’t equal violence.”

“I don’t know, all right?” I yelled, my voice still raw with pain and impotent rage. “I don’t know what’s wrong, so just shut me down and leave me that way. I’m too dangerous to be left functioning.”

“We’ll work through this, Isul,” Tristan croaked.

I shook my head. “How can you still say that? After what I almost did to you?” I tried accessing my self-shutdown protocols, but found them blocked.

A pulsing rogue program - the one that had almost forced me to kill Tristan - stood in my way.

“We’ll figure this out, Isul,” Tristan said, tears streaming down his bloody face.

My fingers shook as I brushed his jawline. “What’s to figure out? It’s over, Tristan.”

“No way, Isul,” he said, his voice shaking. “I-I finally caught you. No way I’m letting go now that-” he said before breaking down in a fit of coughing.

I started crying again at the sight of his pain, and we sat there for long moments as the sadness washed over us. Today had started with such hope, to have it end with this travesty.

“I’m erasing this visit from this room’s monitors, and moving it to another suite,” Winnie said. “I need you both to move out the rear entrance and get out of Biodyne, then I’m marking this room for catastrophic failure cleanup. Nobody will know you were here except me. But get out, try to clean up, and get to my lab. We’ll fix up everything once you get here.”

I didn’t believe her, but I saw the hope flare in Tristan’s eyes, and didn’t have the heart left to extinguish it.

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