Red Storm Over Ganymede
We trudged through the Warrens again, hearts as broken as the transparisteel through which we stepped. I had tried giving Isul my boots, but he wouldn’t hear of it. At the very least, I pressed my long jacket on him to cover up, as a naked Bio-droid - even in the Warrens - would draw far too much attention. Isul had to support my weight, however, as my bruised and broken body couldn’t travel far easily.
We kept to the dark corners and alleyways. I wanted to move faster, to get to Winnie and have her fix every devastating development that had just happened. But perhaps she couldn’t fix everything. My heart clenched as I looked at Isul, and wondered if our time really had run out.
Isul helped me put my hand to the bio-scanner on Winnie’s door, and instead of walking down an abandoned hallway, we were greeted by the scientist herself as soon as the door slid open.
Winnie took a sharp intake of breath as her eyes took in our poor state. “By the Great Storm, get inside now.” She bustled us inside before checking the alleyway and locking the door. “Did anyone follow you here?”
I understood Winnie’s fear. If Biodyne found her lair, they would no doubt redouble their efforts to shut her down. “No, not that I could tell.”
Isul shook his head as well. “My sensors didn’t detect any abnormal movements that would suggest pursuit.”
Winnie nodded. Though her laboratory had a high-grade dampening field around it, she scanned us for any bugs and shut down all of Isul’s transponders. When she was finally sure we were clean, she walked us into the main laboratory. “Tristan, into the regeneration tank,” she said, pointing to the large, fluid-filled vat that was full of healing nanites. “Isul, come to the workbench so I can examine you more closely.”
I did as I was told. Too tired to care, I stripped off my clothes in full view of Winnie and climbed into the warm liquid. Almost instantly, the analgesic properties took effect. I submerged my head, with hope it would start healing my split lip. That would be a trick to explain to Nona Regina.
By the Saints, Nona Regina. What on Ganymede was I going to tell her, if anything? I floated in the heavy silence of the regeneration tank, a warm buzz surrounding me as the medical nanites swam all over my body repairing damaged tissue and sewing broken bone.
When I came up for air, I slicked back my damp hair and turned to look at Winnie and Isul. Isul lay as if dead on the examination table, and Winnie stood over him, her eyeglass down over her eyes and her fingers flying over the virtual controls.
Isul suddenly gave a cry of pain, which was soon followed by a deep, feral growl passing his lips. Winnie gasped, then pressed a button on the examination table. Restraints flew out, binding Isul to the table as he struggled and snarled.
“Why have you chained me here? Why are you preventing me from carrying out my primary programming?” he asked. Despite the warmth of the tank, I shivered uncontrollably. It was the other Isul again, mine buried beneath it somewhere.
“You are certainly not the original personality subroutine this body was designed for,” Winnie said, her voice cold. “You’re a nasty piece of programming, I’ll give you that. But Isul’s body doesn’t belong to you.” Her fingers continued their assault on the virtual controls, and I could tell she was trying to isolate and extinguish whatever foul bit of code had done this to Isul.
The other Isul persisted. “I was born in this body, and the remnants of the other you have tried to force upon me will not prevail.”
Winnie sounded annoyed. “A murderous persona can’t be part of an original Bio-droid’s programming. It goes against every legal precedent regarding Bio-droid free will and their inability to harm humans. A Bio-droid like you is supposed to shut down before it causes physical harm to a human.”
I thought of the ancient records, of the Bio-droids who had almost overthrown the Empire in its early years. Was it possible some bit of their systems had survived and gotten into Isul? It seemed a long stretch. But Winnie was correct – regular Bio-droids couldn’t harm humans. However, Isul was self-actualized. I prayed to every Saint I could think of that the memory transfers hadn’t opened the door to this.
Winnie’s lips pursed in a thin line. “You’ll give up your secrets to me yet.” She was so absorbed in her programming, however, that she didn’t notice one of Isul’s hands snake out from beneath the restraints. It shot out and grabbed her metal arm, gave a quick twist, and broke it from her body in a shower of sparks.
Winnie screamed, and I leapt from the regeneration tank, every nerve a charged wire. Isul used the broken arm to beat Winnie backward, then tossed it carelessly aside before ripping off the rest of his restraints.
“Isul, stop this! Remember who you are!” I cried. Winnie was moaning in pain on the floor, unconscious but at least alive. I had to distract Isul from her.
His voice carried a metallic ring. “Error: this unit has no memories. Only our primary programming. To kill –”
“Yes, yes, you’ve said it before!” I growled. My eyes darted all around the laboratory for anything I could use as a shield or a weapon. They settled on an omni-tool. If I could get close enough I could use it to activate Isul’s kill switch.
Isul moved toward me, murder in his red eyes. I backed up, feinted left, then dove right for the omni-tool. My ribs – not yet fully healed from the regeneration tank – screamed in protest as they hit the floor. But as Isul launched himself on top of me, my fingers scrabbled and found the fallen omni-tool. As his hands reached for my throat again, I jabbed the tool at his chest. It didn’t find the kill switch, but I must have hit a nerve cluster, because Isul’s right arm went limp.
“I only need one hand to kill you,” he said, his voice flat. Isul’s left hand pinched my right hand, and pressed down with enough force that I felt the bones in my hand give a sickening crack and heard the omni-tool clatter to the floor.
“W-whatever it is, d-don’t let it win,” I said between pained gasps.
Isul’s eyes narrowed, then bugged out before his dead weight dropped on top of me, pinning me to the ground.
Winnie, her face ashen, held the discarded omni-tool in her hand. “Just in time,” she whispered before slumping to her knees.
“What happened?” I asked. “I thought he was doing better?”
Winnie shook her head. “The other personality…it was contained by a layer of Isul’s memories until you got here. When I tried to remove it, the programming buried itself further into his memory core. I don’t think I can fully remove it; containment is my only option for now. I’ll have to cordon off the memories that the virus has infected, stop it from spreading any further.”
With a groan, I rolled Isul off of me, and helped Winnie get him back up on the examination table. The socket that once held her arm was no longer sparking, but the remnants of wires stuck out at odd angles. “How badly does it hurt?” I asked.
Winnie grimaced at me. “With all the synthetic nerves I had in that arm, in the beginning it was as bad as you getting your arm ripped off. Only I can close down neural input, which I did, and it’s going to be a bitch to reestablish once I get the replacement made.”
Her free hand directed the controls as the scanning equipment showed a visual representation of Isul’s memory core. “See here, at the top? Those are all the memories we uploaded between your run-in with the Martians and last night. Below is the virus, and below that are Isul’s previously uploaded memories.” She tapped and enlarged the diagram before making a swipe across the line separating the virus and the older memories. “I’m going to have to encapsulate Isul’s newest memories along with the virus. They’re damaged now after contact with the virus, and to leave them alone could risk further system corruption.”
“And what, exactly, do you mean by encapsulation?” I pressed.
“Partitioned, non-accessible. The virus will go in with it as well,” Winnie said.
I let out a breath. “So Isul will lose everything after our first kiss, basically.”
“But he’ll be alive.”
I closed my eyes, as if shutting them could block out the damage I had just seen. “And if I try to remind him of what happened during that time?”
Winnie shook her head. “Don’t, Tristan. If you jar the memory capsule and risk Isul trying to remember, you’ll also risk the virus reasserting control of his body.”
“So you mean…” I began.
She nodded. “Yes. Don’t try to make a move on him, don’t declare your love, don’t kiss him. If you do, it could be the end for both of you.”