Loki crept through Sanctuary, his footsteps echoing up and down the dark corridor. Lit only with emergency lighting, the abandoned military bunker somehow seemed even more ominous than when Oz’s puppets had been patrolling it. Like Loki was exploring the underworld in a game after the final boss had already been defeated. Even though the AI was dead now, no longer watching his every move, Loki felt strangely vulnerable—and alone, for the first time since waking up in this strange new world.
Here, miles beneath the surface, he felt like the last person on Earth.
Fortunately, he was just one of the last humans alive. There were thirteen others. He had friends here. Maybe he even had a girlfriend. So what the hell am I doing down here instead of above ground with her? he thought.
He stopped in front of an open door and retraced his steps in his mental map of the facility. This must be it. He raised his blaster and cautiously stepped inside.
Oz’s central processing unit took up most of the room. Loki had never seen an AI’s brain before, but it reminded him of his gaming PC on a macro scale. It had a black metal chassis with an array of windows displaying the complex components inside, and lights and panels everywhere—darkened, stilled, and silenced by the shutdown protocol that Arcadia had taught Holden. In ye olden days, Holden would have been nicknamed “AI Killer” or “the Silicon Slayer” or something like that; so far he had taken two artificial intelligences out—one as an assisted suicide, the other premeditated murder, although done in self-defense—which was two more than anyone else here had managed, unless you counted caretakers.
Loki was still amazed that he and his friends had been rescued by an army of caretakers. They had distracted Oz and divided its attention enough for Holden to turn the demented machine off. Even so, Loki didn’t fully trust them yet; Jing-Wei’s “keepers” were almost as hard to accept as her being alive, remade again as some sort of robot whisperer.
Loki looked the room over, picturing what had happened here as Holden had related it. Cole hadn’t corrected or clarified his version of events. In fact, he had yet to say anything at all, not even a deeply inadequate Shucks, I sure am sorry about that.
It was hard to pick out in the dim red light, but Loki found the spot where Umta must have died, marked with a dark pool of blood. He forced himself to look beyond that, at the blood spattered on the computer console.
Loki pressed his lips together. He, too, had died in a computer room, back in his high school—six months, a thousand years, and a lifetime ago. He had shot himself in the head with his father’s service pistol, and he imagined it had left a scene much resembling this one.
Loki heard footsteps behind him and spun around, bringing up his blaster. Even as his finger twitched against the trigger, he realized he was aiming at Sunita’s chest. She didn’t flinch—all she did was raise an eyebrow. He sighed and lowered the gun.
“I could have zapped you,” he said.
“I could have dodged,” she said.
“You have great reflexes, but people can only dodge energy weapons on Star Trek.”
She tilted her head to the side. “Okay. But I knew you wouldn’t shoot me.”
“It still seems risky to sneak up on someone who’s armed, in the dark. What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” she countered. “We fought our way out of Sanctuary, and the first thing you do is walk back in? This isn’t a Stockholm syndrome thing, is it?”
Loki turned and gestured to the blood on the floor. “I had to see it for myself.”
Sunita drew closer. “Oh.” She linked arms with Loki. His first impulse was to shrug her off; he didn’t want to be comforted right now. But before he could, Sunita drew away and gave him some space. They stood there in silence for a moment, together but separate. Just her presence was enough to make him feel not quite so alone and guilty that he was still alive when Umta wasn’t.
“We’ve been so preoccupied thinking about how we were remade and what that means, what we’re here for . . . Have you ever thought about what we left behind?” Loki asked. “I don’t mean the lives we had back home, but what happened after we died. How our families dealt with losing us.”
“All the time. Every day,” Sunita said. “You haven’t?”
He shook his head. “Honestly? Not until today.”
“Really? Well, I guess we’ve also been busy with other stuff, like surviving.” Her voice sounded odd, though. Maybe she thought it was strange that Loki hasn’t considered all this before, but he had been trying hard to not think about who he’d been, what he’d...