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In the smoke filled room there was another door that had also been blown apart by the blast. It looked far larger than the previous one and made of stronger material. Perhaps that was what the bomb had been meant to destroy.
Meiki ran past it into another hall, narrower and darker than the previous. As she ran the smoke thinned until she moved through it entirely.
She came to another door. This one seemed small and plain. Meiki pushed through it and entered a lush forest.
Bright sun filtered through the leaves above. The earth smelled rich and whole. Small animals darted here and there and birds flitted and chirped from branch to branch.
“What the...” Meiki said as she stepped on the dense soil. Is this an illusion? Like a holographic simulation? But it smelled and felt one hundred percent real.
She almost forgot why she had come here. It was like walking into a room and not remembering why you got up in the first place except there was no room. There was just blue sky above the woods. Blue sky? Naya’s sky had never been blue. The sun had never been radiant. Not even over Newbright. Not this brilliant. This was the sky of Earth.
Figures were approaching through the brush. Meiki stood behind a tree and watched them emerge. It was Charlie and the woman she hadn’t recognized. Charlie was supporting the woman over his shoulder. The woman’s left arm was completely missing and most of her right leg as well. She should have been bleeding to death but was instead hobbling along as if pain were not an issue.
That must be Marie, the other android Charlie mentioned Thought Meiki. But they’re enemies aren’t they?
Charlie saw her and did not seem surprised. “Meikaya...I’m pleased to see you are unharmed. This is Marie...a...friend. I need you to assist her in getting to safety.”
“Where’s Amara? Where’s Rashmi?”
“The...Earth people are in the control room of the Nebcore. Meikaya...I need to prevent them from doing more damage. Please. Take Marie...”
She ran off in the direction Charlie had come from, no longer listening. The trees were thick and there were branches coming dangerously close to her face. She called the mask back on with a thought. A hundred meters ahead she could see a faint outline through the trees. The sensors in the suit had discovered a door. In seconds she was there.
She listened at the door. From the other side came Amara’s voice.
“Your plan is ruined, Kapoor. Come along peacefully and I won’t let Agent Sakai beat you.”
“Are you sure?” asked Rashmi.
They’re going to hurt her. What is wrong with these people?
Meiki opened the door.
Rashmi, Amara, and Junko stood in a brightly lit room. In the center was a cylindrical pedestal. It was white and covered with golden circuitry. Small blue lights dotted the surface. At the top was a small hole that looked like a universal port, an interface between one machine and another.
Rashmi was seated in a chair and Junko was holding something that looked like handcuffs. All three turned to look when Meiki entered.
“Child, I thought I told you to wait on the skipper," said Amara, “Do you have any idea the amount of danger you’ve put yourself in?”
“Meiki is in no danger from me, Captain," said Rashmi, “Slap the cuffs on me. As you said, my plan is ruined. I’m no threat.”
Amara looked suspiciously at Rashmi but said, “Do it, Agent.”
Junko attached the handcuffs to Rashmi behind her back and harshly lifted her from the seat.
Rashmi was looking noticeably weaker than before. Meiki assumed this was the effect of not wearing her suit for so long.
“Come, on," said Amara, “Let’s go home.”
Meiki’s arm lifted of its own accord. She tried to stop, but it was no longer hers to control.
She reached out to the pedestal and touched the port with her finger. Instantly the tip of her glove protruded from the outfit and bonded with the Nebcore.
The inlays on the suit lit up. Meiki could feel herself vibrate and hum during the exchange.
Amara gazed at her in shock.
“You monster!” she yelled at Rashmi, “You used her to carry a backup copy of the virus!”
Junko cracked Rashmi sharply on the jaw and the fugitive fell. The agent whipped out her little device and began depowering Meiki’s suit as she had done before. It was too late.
Amara looked at the Nebcore.
“It’s done. The virus is uploaded to the Neb,” she said.
The blue lights on the Nebcore dimmed.
“What does this mean?” Meiki asked.
“It means the woman you’ve been helping is the greatest mass murderer in history. Twenty five billion people will die because of this” said Junko.
“Oh, please now," said Rashmi, still on the floor. “Don’t be so dramatic. People were meant to die. I haven’t killed anyone. They’ll all live out healthy, natural lives. Most of them will live for another century or more. And they will have offspring who will live on after them. That’s the way mankind has always lived. I’ve done nothing other than restore the natural order.”
“Can’t we undo it? Some sort of antivirus?” asked Meiki.
“We could send out a retraction," said Amara, “Not an antivirus exactly, but it could stop other nodes from receiving the virus before they are destroyed.”
“I thought communication over the Neb was instantaneous.”
“Yes and no," said Amara, “The transfer happens instantly through the Spukhafte Exchange...but...it should take a while to propagate because not all nodes receive at once. There are certain security measures in place to slow down a threat like this.”
“So, what are we waiting for?” asked Meiki, “Let’s retract this thing. Maybe we can fix the damage done!”
“It’s a moot point,” said Junko, as she read the display panel on the transmitter, “the Nebcore here is dead. Kapoor’s virus shut it down right after transmitting. She knew what she was doing.”
“Kapoor destroyed the only access point we have to the Neb within a hundred light years.” added Amara grimly.
A weak voice came from the doorway. “No. There’s another one.”
Meiki looked up and to see Phel grinning as he leaned, unable to stand, against the portal.
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