That red glow incarnadining her code-form, Kaire looked around for some escape route – something, anything. She had what she needed; but this machine, devised to destroy a monster now long dead, had dug up more than it bargained for and overloaded its secondary mode. Now it was backsliding, reverting to outdated instincts.

My head is too full of dark things -

That chorus continued, an endless sweet howl of “No-no-no–no-no-no -” From below, a red glow was beginning to rise up toward the platform she was standing on.

Primary mode kills everything in its path. Within and without. Got to get myself untangled, now!

Kaire flattened herself down on her heels and leapt upwards into the void, clutching at one of the fluttering red ribbons. It wrapped around her wrist: fumbling for her dying connection, Kaire ordered it upwards, up and out into the ‘conscious’ space. It started to obey, fast as thought… but the Librais had more to think with. That red glow was spilling up, running all over the blackness, bright enough to hurt the eyes.

The chorus rose with her: “No-no-no-no-no –“

* * *

“Commander. Are you –“

“I see it too.”

Adree shaded her eyes against the brightness of the lightning around the Tower, wincing. Even as she watched, the lightning abruptly winked out like a light bulb. A pale crackle ran down one of the pylons… and then it was gone.

She pressed her fingers against her eyes as the afterimage swam in them. But now she could see more clearly what Robbes had been pointing out: the lights that swam in the tubes at the base of the Tower had darkened from a pale phosphorescence to a deep red glow. And she could hear a rumbling coming from within it, getting steadily louder.

“Ember’s blood, what the hell are those banru up to?” Adree peered down at the two men, still sitting around their fire. Athellus was rising to his feet now, expectant like a foxhound on the scent, the younger man pulling off a blindfold and looking around wildly. “If they’re stirring up the Librais –“

“Borden wouldn’t be that stupid.”

“Depends how far gone he is. Or maybe those Greater Powers gave them the nod to send Nones sliding into the sea. Damn it!”

* * *

Kaire broke back into the ‘cathedral’ like a swimmer through ice, gasping as she came up through the floor. She released the ribbon and it flickered into nothingness. Red light was spilling through the archways now, running along cracks in the floor, up from her escape route. She shook herself, the chorus growing steadily louder. And then something blared through her head:

/OPERATOR

Chunks of the ‘cathedral’ were dropping away. Beyond was that redness, everywhere, an encroaching tide subsuming what was there, an angry beast getting angrier all the time. The chorus soared up with it. She could feel the redness rushing at her, immolation that had nothing to do with heat, but with pure annihiliation.

/SUBMIT
/OPERATOR
/FOR THOU HAST WOKEN THE LIBRAIS
/AND THOU CANNOT STAND BEFORE IT

“True,” said Kaire. And took to her heels.

Running, leaping as the cathedral dissolved back into the Zodiac Engine’s madness, she flung her thoughts out, towards the Greater Powers. Her heels were sinking into the dissolving code; she had seconds left. Turning her mind to destruction, revelling in her chance to fight back, she  slashed through her connection to the machine.

“No-no-no-no-n –“

 

* * *

Breathe

Breathe

And wake!

Kaire woke up, and immediately was aware that she couldn’t, in fact, breathe: most of her head, including her nose and mouth, was enclosed by a sticky, organic mass. Her entire body was wrapped around in thick cables, her limbs and torso impaled by spikes hooked to heavy machines.

This will hurt. Be ready.

Summoning her strength, and bracing herself, she bared her forespines, and felt them cut through the cables binding her arms against her sides. She wriggled… then managed to pull backwards with both arms and bend them up to cut. The cable in her back, looped and pressed against her, was severed. As the system registered the damage, the spike was pulled out with full force. Kaire howled into the organic mask covering her face – as she howled, she tore it off, and slashed through the remaining cables with the energy of the unbearable pain. The mask dropped to the floor, the cable slithering backwards. Her sensitive ears were instantly subjected to the nearby squeal of sirens.

The chamber she was in, the operator’s niche, was full of flickering red lights and hanging electrical cables. There were shadows hanging from the ceiling, shattered forms underfoot that might have been human once, now rendered down to discarded bones. But Kaire had eyes for only one thing – the central node she had been hooked to, installed in the ceiling. She leapt for it, scissoring through it with a sweep of both arms. It slashed apart in a crackle of energy, and she heard a mechanical cry, that of something mortally struck. Dripping blood, still hearing sirens and that endless chorus, Kaire reared up amid the carnage and shrieked in furious triumph.

Staggering back, she headed unsteadily out of the niche, scenting for open air, for the way back. As the reverberations from the destroyed power node swept outwards, circuits blew and wires burst into flame as systems, now unregulated, began to overload, one by one. Kaire went through it all, trailing smoke and sparks, her wounds glistening with both blood and the paleness of bone.

 

 

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