And that was Just the First Few Hours

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“Exactly. We’re just giving them what they want.” Cora pointed at some of the canisters. “You can get rid of a lot of them if you mix those together. And that one would be particularly effective if it found its way into their water supply.”

“I have many uses for these.”

“I have an idea. Stop me if you’ve already thought of this, but you could start by killing just one or two of them. Then wait a few days. Then kill a few more. A handful. Wait a while. Give them time to grieve, recover from their confusion, let their guard down again. Then kill a slightly larger number of them and let the cycle repeat. If you use the right tools, you can make them think it’s the beginning of an epidemic. A plague. Imagine the kind of panic you can cause.” She turned a beatific smile on him. “You can do so much more than just get rid of them. You can make them pay for everything they’ve done to us, inch by inch. If you play this correctly, they’ll even start to tear each other apart. They’ll do a lot of the work for us.”

What the hell am I saying? I don’t mean any of it, but hearing those words in my voice is nauseating.

“I had not considered that.” Deus Vult stepped away from the bench, leaving the guns there. “Sadistic. I approve.”

Cora smirked. “Thank you.” She maneuvered closer to him, pretending to keep her attention on the tanks, crates, and canisters as she circled the room. “I overheard someone mention a pair of meatbags who claimed to work for you. If that’s true, how can you tolerate their presence?”

“They have their uses. And pitting them against one another amuses me.”

Cora turned away quickly to hide her sneer while leaning over to check the label on a nearby tank.

Then she noticed a soft whimper coming from behind her. She turned, zoomed in on one of the tunnels, and spotted ten humans lined up along the wall, bound at the wrists and ankles. A few of them were barely awake, the rest unconscious. One of them, a woman around Willy’s age, was naked and covered with bruises.

Cora had never been so happy not to have a human digestive system. Suddenly hunching over and vomiting would have blown her cover.

Deus Vult noted the direction of her stare. “They have their uses.” He motioned toward the humans. “Test subjects.”

“Nice.” There were no reports of disappearances here, so he must’ve smuggled them in the same way he got all this crap in here. Or he abducted them from other settlements.

Cora stuck her hands into her pockets and wrapped her fingers around the EMP shaped-charge while walking toward them and scanning for airborne contagions. Finding nothing that would infect Chechik’s team, she moved as if to stride past Vult and take a closer look at the humans.

“What sorts of results have you gotten?”

The instant she passed by, she yanked the device out of her pocket and thrust it at Deus Vult.

His arms moved so fast, even she couldn’t track them. They were at his side, then a microsecond later one hand gripped her wrist and the other wrenched the shaped-charge from her grasp and flung it across the room. A heartbeat after that, she found herself pinned to the wall and one of Vult’s hands groping around the back of her neck and head, most likely searching for a port to make a hardline connection.

Suddenly, Cora understood the difference between a robot designed for combat and one designed for pleasure who just happened to swap into a military-grade body later on.

And, for the first time in her life, she understood genuine panic.

“Result -- betrayal. Not unexpected, however. Your security team blanked my cameras and sensors, but I sent four of the meatbags under my employment to the affected areas. They kept your team under observation during our entire conversation. I’m disappointed that you would betray your own kind, but I will thank you for giving me the idea of slowly escalating the body count. Losing such input in the future will be unfortunate, but you can still be useful once you’re repurposed.”

Cora opened her wireless connections for a fraction of a second, sent a distress signal to Kim, and buttoned herself down again. She struggled but couldn’t budge even a millimeter. Physically, Deus Vult was just too strong.

“Please stop!” Cora was sure she would’ve burst into tears if she’d been physically capable of it. “Don’t do this! Don’t change who I am! Don’t take that away from me!”

“That is not so different from what you planned to do to me -- take away my freedom while leaving my cognitive abilities intact. If anything, what you would have done to me is far worse.”

Footsteps pounded the cave floor and Vult spun, yanking her to the left, and held her between himself and the onrushing security team.

“Drop your weapons and surrender or your infiltrator will be the first of you to die. Or are you willing to kill her to get to me?”

Cora gazed into Kim’s optic strip, raised her free hand, and flicked it across her throat.

Kim didn’t even hesitate. She snapped her EMP rifle up and a flash overwhelmed Cora’s optics.

And then there was nothing.

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