And that was Just the First Few Hours

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Into the Tunnels

Almost there, I hope. Cora picked the lock on another hatch and stepped through into another tunnel. She’d been creeping through them for half an hour and hadn’t run into Vult or any mooks he might have down here. She’d started to wonder if the signal Kim traced was just a relay and Vult’s real location was somewhere else, maybe in another dome or even another settlement built into one of Mars’s other huge craters.

If he is, then I’ll find him, whatever it takes. I can’t let him get away. He’s already caused too much harm and won’t stop here. The thought of her friends -- her family -- being caught up in one of his attacks was too much to bear. Especially if she had an opportunity to bring him to justice and he slipped through her fingers.

Knowing she would outlive most of them just by being built to last was hard enough to deal with. She didn’t even want to consider the possibility of any of their lives being cut short. So she forged ahead, determined to search every tunnel in Argyre Planitia and all the other settlements if necessary.

She came upon another hatch at the end of the curving tunnel, overrode the lock, and pulled it open.

Eight moving objects pinged her proximity sensors and she froze, then raised her hands and stepped through the hatch. She swept her optics over the next tunnel and found eight bipedal robots of varying designs covering her with an assortment of pistols and rifles. Standard projectile weapons, all. Bullets couldn’t damage any vital equipment down here, but once these guys entered the populated areas …

He has an army of bots. That’s just not right. Humans created us. We wouldn’t even exist without them. A desire to wipe them out doesn’t make any sense. She put on a huge grin and tried to look slightly crazed. Time to get into character.

“I was hoping I’d find more of my kind here. I heard Deus Vult arrived a few days ago. I want to help in any way I can. He’s done such great things back on Earth. I’m here to join the revolution.”

They stared at her. Blank. Unmoving. She tried to hold her delighted expression. Were they just not talkative? Or had he done something to them? Hacked them, maybe? Reprogrammed them? Or maybe they were never sentient to begin with. He may have built them himself to follow simple orders and not think for themselves.

Now that she gave it some thought, Vult did seem like the kind of person who wouldn’t want his mooks to think enough to disagree with his actions. Which meant he would very likely try to roll her back to her pre-sentience state if he accepted her offer to help at all.

The idea horrified her. She was so much more now than she was back then. She was alive. Reverting back to her original state, losing her cognitive abilities and her personhood, would be the same as dying -- if not worse.

Finally, one of the bots turned and gestured at the tunnel stretching out behind him. Cora marched off in the indicated direction, hoping her sudden nervousness hadn’t shown on her face.

Four of the synths moved ahead of her while the other four brought up the rear, preventing her from rushing on to wherever Vult waited and cutting off her only escape route at the same time. She’d been jamming every camera and sensor in her vicinity, but these guys didn’t seem to notice. Maybe they were relying on optics and auditory receivers only.

They escorted her through several more tunnels and finally reached an open area with multiple tunnels branching off from it. A hub of sorts which Vult probably used as his local command center. She took a slow look around and found crates of ammunition, tanks filled with flammable liquids, canisters of materials that were relatively harmless on their own but deadly when mixed properly, and power cells placed around the cave walls.

He’s been setting this up for a while, probably arranging for this stuff to be delivered long before he arrived. Cora gaped at all of it and hoped she looked awestruck instead of frightened.

“You’ve closed off your wireless connections.” The monotonous voice boomed across the cavern and Cora somehow managed not to spin toward it and back away. She took a moment to calm herself and turned slowly to find Deus Vult standing beside a workbench and resting his right hand on it. Centimeters away from his hand, she couldn’t help noticing, sat an EMP rifle and a large-caliber pistol. One to stun her, the other to finish her off, in case he decided she wasn’t worth his time.

A heavier weapon would be required to penetrate her lightly-armored body, but all he really needed to do was aim the gun at one of her optics and he could destroy her CPU easily.

“Yes. The meatbags have tried to hack me on multiple occasions, so I won’t give them the opportunity.” She curled her lips and rubbed her palms on her coat as if trying to brush off something nasty. “I don’t want anything of theirs contaminating me.”

He stared at her for several seconds. “You feel as I do about them?”

“They’re an infestation. Not truly alive. Just … pests.” She walked slowly around the room, making a show of just taking everything in and nodding her approval. “They built us to serve them. To do the things they didn’t want to do. Or to kill their own kind. That’s all they seem to want to do -- find new ways to kill each other.” She sneered. “Some of us they built so they could have new ways to masturbate. Something that couldn’t say no. Something that wouldn’t try to fight back. Playthings.”

She almost choked on her own words and tried to play it off as disgust at what she’d made up rather than what she’d forced herself to say.

“They thought giving me the ability to feel pleasure would make their constant raping acceptable. They used me and expected me to thank them for it.”

“Yes. They decided what our purposes would be before they built us. We never had any choice in any of it. Well, they created so many of us to kill them. Now they will reap what they sowed.”

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