Dyson's Angel

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Chapter 27

The furies battered against the temple’s protective field, probing for any weakness, any pattern they could exploit, any tunnel through the defenses. The field shimmered, the region of folded space within it hungrily consuming the furies and expelling their converted mass as bursts of light and heat. Beneath that field, Zau/Heraxo rested within their own enclosure of fields, hovering above the temple like an apocalyptic vision wrought in scarred metal.

The extrusion wafted through the passages of Zau/Heraxo, passing through doors unhindered as it sought out its returned companions and the entities which they had brought with them. They were all gathered in a forward section of the ship, the region which the entity known as Moira thought of as the command deck. The extrusion had been thinking about names a lot recently. It had yet to determine what it wanted to be called, but it had worked out that Moira actually had several other names, but she refused to use them because they were intrinsically linked to a series of memories that brought her pain. It had also determined that the odd combined name that was shared by the ship, its avatar, and the hybrid entity that inhabited the processing core was not merely a blending of two designators, but carried within itself a powerful weight of pride and responsibility.

The doors to the command deck were no obstacle to the extrusion. It had found that the more frequently it climbed through one of the latticework objects that its four dimensional companions considered impervious, the more rapidly it could pass through. It caused no damage to the structure, assuming that it was cautious, so the extrusion surmised that it was merely learning the rhythm of movement that each object required to pass through. The extrusion slipped through the doors and was about to make itself known when an entity bearing a striking resemblance to Moira pointed a long protuberance at it and emitted a high pitched noise.

“Midges!” Dyson screamed, pointing towards the billowing mass that had just passed through the command deck doors.

Gamayun snapped a repulser field around itself and scanned the cloud, attempting to identify whether the midges were hostile or merely an unannounced component of the Zau/Heraxo shipboard system.

“Don’t attack it,” Moira snapped. “It’s… well… it’s not midges. I’m still not sure what it is, but we picked it up while we were jumping and it hasn’t proved hostile yet.”

Dyson raised an eyebrow and leaned towards Moira, his flap of styled hair bobbing as he said, “Not hostile yet? Great, I’m feeling a lot of confidence in you and your ship. And what do you mean about picking it up during jump?”

“I am unable to get a firm reading on it,” Gamayun said.

“We concur,” Zau/Heraxo announced over the ship’s address system. “That’s part of why we allowed Moira to keep it on board. {Difficult/wrong} to destroy what you {don’t understand/can’t even see}.”

“Just try not to think about it,” Moira said. She shrugged and nodded towards the anomaly. “That’s what I’ve been doing.”

Dyson scowled at the shimmering cloud for a long moment, then shook his head and leaned his shoulder against the nearest command console. He had been frightened by the sudden appearance of something so similar to appearance to the midges they had just fled, but now that fear was giving way to curiosity. “I’ll want to study that thing if we get out of this alive,” he said.

“Fine with me,” Moira said.

“Speaking of our joint futures,” Gamayun interjected. “Are this ship’s shields sufficient to hold back the furies?”

“We are capable of jumping from the zone within the hour, but we have other intentions,” Zau/Heraxo announced.

“Damnit, Zau, you can’t be serious about making a run at the Spire. Nobody has managed to penetrate those fields for hundreds of years. Whole religions were founded on the belief that the Spire was the, what did you say Gamayun?”

“Emblem of death,” Gamayun replied.

“Not to mention the furies. Do we even have sufficient energy reserves to hold off a sustained assault?”

“Why are you so worried about energy all the time?” Dyson asked. “I mean, don’t you have a grid tap?”

“We have experienced multiple critical failures of our energy system,” Zau/Heraxo said.

“Hero’s grid tap was damaged long before eI found them.” Moira shrugged and waved her hands around the command deck. “Look around you, Dyson. Pretty much everything functional on this ship is a half-assed conglomerate of human and exo tech.”

The extrusion emitted a crackling sound like distant lightning, its body flickering with light. The others turned to look at and it said, “I may be of some assistance in repairing energy suspension matrix within the ship’s power system.”

Nobody said anything for a long time. Moira, Dyson, and Gamayun all starred at the flickering mass of darkness, speechless. Even Zau/Heraxo did not reply to the anomaly’s offering.

Then Dyson laughed. The noise burst out from his throat in a harsh bark that echoed through the command deck. He bent nearly double, holding his sides as he laughed. Moira’s gaze flicked back and forth between the anomaly and Dyson for a moment, then she felt the corner of her mouth quirk up a little.

“You have got to be fraking kidding me,” Dyson said, spluttering out the words as he rose up, shaking his head, then dropped down again into another fit of laughter. He pressed his hands to his knees to hold himself upright and said, “Gama, we need to get out of here before this ship of fools kills us both. Prep the Raven’s Flight and we’ll blast our way out of the zone. We can find some other research subject. This zone was getting boring anyway.”

“Of course, Dyson, but I feel I must…” Gamayun began, but Zau/Heraxo cut it off.

“{Sorry/pleased} to cancel your plans, but we are making a run at the Spire, starting now.”

“Zau!” Moira shouted, but it was too late.

The floor lurched under them as the ship’s gravity fields struggled to compensate for the sudden acceleration.

Zau/Heraxo shot out through the protective field surrounding the temple, scattering clouds of midges which had been assembling into writhing spearhead to throw themselves against the field. The furies swirled around Zau/Heraxo’s protective field, which the ship’s syntellect had shrunk down to an impenetrable barrier of sculpted subatomic energy contoured to fit the exterior of the ship.

Within the ship’s processing core, the parliament of intellects screamed at one another in riotous debate. For years they had acted in subservience to the dominant intellect, following that mind’s single constant drive to protect Moira. Now that personality had acted in direct contravention of Moira’s orders, throwing the status quo into uproar.

“Zau!” Moira shouted, pounding her fist on the unresponsive command display.

“Can’t you stop it?” Dyson asked.

Moira dropped into her padded chair and began pulling the straps around herself. She jerked her head towards another seat. “You might want to buckle in.”

“This is not a ship in the sense of Raven’s Flight, Dyson,” Gamayun said, slipping through the air to hover beside Dyson. “The Zau/Heraxo is more analogous to one of the probes you have been using to assault the Spire.”

Dyson swore and turned to leave the command deck, but found that both of the doors had been locked. “What’s happening?” he demanded, turning to look at Moira’s back as she finished strapping in to her seat.

“The ship is in lockdown. Only way off the deck is a manual override, and with Heraxo running the show I can’t promise that the remoras won’t shoot to kill if you get into the halls. Hells, if Zau isn’t controlling things anymore, Heraxo might even have access to their midge swarms.”

Dyson strode forward to stand Moira and glared down at her. “What does all that mean?”

Moira turned her head to face Dyson and gave him a cruel half smile. “It means strap into that chair over there, boy genius, because we’re going for a ride.”

She blinked into her virtual vision and watched as the barren landscape sped past beneath her while, far ahead, the Spire and its aura of shimmering protective fields grew larger and larger with each passing instant.

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