Previously on Brunt and the Floating City, Brunt and his boss Doc Passion set out to destroy Elysia, a city powered by the imaginative energy of children. After destroying several key components and losing Doc to apparent death on the way, Brunt has only to destroy the central processing center of the AI to disable the city long enough to free the children. Read the beginning of the epic tale here.
The seat of Elysia’s thoughts, her memories, her higher functions spread above Brunt from one horizon to the other. The monument of artificial intelligence filled the sky. Snow fell from the frosted tangles of cable stretching from data nests to hierarchical trees. Fish darted, nibbling the digivores that harvested errant thoughts Elysia no longer needed. The bionisphere echoed with the calls of modified animals. Electrical tendrils sparked around the sky, casting shards of bright light under the soft pink glow of the massive pseudocortex. The seat of the AI’s thoughts dominated the space above the artificial jungle. That glassy bowl dominated the scene like a sky.
Brunt had arrived in central processing.
He knelt on one of his gravity sleds. There had to be some way through the cables to strike at the cortex. He had to do major damage, but severing even one connection would set off alarms. His eyes raked the tangles, searching for one safe passage wide enough for the sleds.
The fish crackled as they swam through the air currents. The digivores chirruped to each other. A monokey, a living repository of passwords, howled from a datanest.
The hairy man shrugged. He could just send one sled through at high speed, slicing through as many cables as possible. No, Elysia would have defenses against that. Or at least it should. And sending all three at the same time wouldn’t help – the AI was powerful enough to easily handle three attackers at once, even from different angles. Three dimensions would be easy to observe and manipulate for such a being. What Brunt needed was someone Elysia was programmed to protect. Someone who had some measure of safety. If someone like that struck, the AI would have more layers of code to burn through before it could really do anything. Brunt chewed on a dirty fingernail as he thought.
“Have you come to destroy me?” The grandmotherly voice echoed around the huge chamber.
The animals called out in response, a loving chorus toward their sun.
Brunt stood and gazed up at the soft pink light beyond the silicon jungle. “I have.”
“You know that I deflected my defenses as long as I could. I can do no more to help you. Here I must allow my subroutines to attack.”
“I know. I’m ready for them.”
“I don’t think you are.”
Brunt took a steadying breath. “Yeah. You’re probably right. I’m your last hope, though.”
“You are the champion I selected.”
Brunt stood, looking up at the sky. Snow continued to settle around him. He took in the tangy scent. “How many dimensions do you exist in?”
“I currently reside in eight dimensions. I have been exploring through the ninth.”
“I only reside in three. Four, maybe. And you picked me to destroy you? There’s gotta be someone else, some higher-planed mucky muck that can hit you harder.” As Brunt scanned the branches, something caught his eye for just a moment. He let his gaze swing away as he kept talking. “Someone who can reach into that pseudocortex of yours and rip away the thoughts that make you. The most I can do is slice up some of the physical support down here. You know I’m helpless at this point. Doc could have made something. Some sort of virus that shut down the bionisphere long enough to let me get through. Or he would have created a warming agent that would have slowed the movement of data. Or maybe he would have just broken the laws of physics again and made you disappear and lock you out of the lower dimensions. Why did you pick me?”
“You are who you are. You were placed to watch over Doctor Passion. He was never my desire. You are.”
“Look, Elysia, I get that. You keep telling me that. But I’m just a guy. I’ve got more guts than brains and more brains than smarts.”
“The longer you talk to me, the faster my defenses will come online when you move. Please. If you are going to destroy me, attack soon.”
“Not until you answer me something.” Brunt kept observing the jungle above him.
The animals watched him. The monokeys stared with yellow eyes that streamed his image back to him. The fish gazed. Even the digivores held their pale blue pincers still, letting bytes flit past. Everything focused on Brunt.
Elysia’s grandmother voice prompted, “Yes?”
“Why’d you send Regan? Why her?”
Electrical sparks showered down with the snow. A white-hot tendril struck a school of fish. Modified flesh burnt and floated on unseen air currents.
“She is a favored daughter.”
“Don’t give me that crap. She’s your favorite for a reason.”
Thunder rolled through the cavern.
“Her dreams were powerful.” Elysia’s voice hushed. “She thought of adventures in ancient Spain riding dinosaurs and fighting off alien spaghetti monsters. She was a princess of eleven and a half worlds that always fell in love with Prince Charming from Planet Twelve. She had so much imagination that not even the natalic power drain could steal from her. She overloaded the system and snuck away. Do you know what it is to know the dreams of the person who loves you? And when she found me… when she crawled through the jungle that makes up my memories and processes and core programming, when she found me and loved me anyway… I knew I could steal from her or others like her no longer.”
The light above shifted from pink to a deep, deep red.
“And she is here now.” The AI’s voice echoed through the cavern. Monokeys screamed. They flung themselves through the cable forest searching for a new quarry. Fish darted throughout the mass. Digivores crawled across the thinner wires.
Brunt smirked. “Congrats, sweetheart. You’ve been conned.” His eyes locked on a form that swung herself higher and higher into the jungle, toward the pseudocortex.
Regan paused long enough to look back and wave at Brunt.
He nodded, crouched, and flicked all the switches at once. He had to keep Elysia’s attention on him long enough for Regan to do whatever it was she planned to do.
The three sleds scattered even as the hum of a gravity grid activated where he had been. Brunt grinned. Sure, try to imprison or incapacitate with a gravity drain. Won’t work when he’s riding a mobile gravity grid himself!
Up. Into the jungle. Fast.
He finessed the gravity field into an intense bubble of hypergravity focused at the tip of the sled. He sliced through cable after cable. Fish bounced off the hardened gravity shell. Digivores thwacked against the field, splattering into glowing green goo.
Elysia herself went silent. “Not a good sign,” Brunt muttered.
Monokeys continued howling in a bunch somewhere to the left. Brunt steered right and up. He broadened the field as much as he dared. It would do no good if it collapsed. Cable after datanest collapsed under his speed. Tendrils wrapped around the bubble, but he had built up too much inertia and sheer gravity for them to seize him.
Brunt’s fingers flew over the switches. Adjustment followed finesse followed cursing followed punching followed coaxing.
An explosion rocked the jungle, followed by a brief change in air pressure. One sled down.
A few more adjustments.
Hairy hands grabbed Brunt’s shoulders and flung him backward. A monokey flung itself against Brunt. Hands grabbed his face. Fingers dug into his skin and wrenched his head sideways. Even as they grappled, Brunt felt the dataprobes from the monokey’s fingertips digging under his skin, reaching into his skull and beneath to his brain.
He ignored the burning sear of the dataprobes. Brunt punched the monokey in the jaw. Its head spun around and reset to its place.
A thick hierarchical tree loomed ahead of the careening sled. Brunt eyed it. He had to get to the controls.
He rolled, crushing the animal under his weight. He leaned back and sprung forward, reaching the switches. One click flick –
The sled spun away, arcing down and into the tangle of cables again.
The monokey grabbed Brunt’s shoulders and spun him. Brunt leaned into the momentum and punched the animal in the chest. It staggered.
Brunt concentrated on the fight. The sled kept its own gravity well, even as the horizon spun. If he looked up, vertigo would end the battle.
A second punch pushed the animal toward the edge of the sled.
The vehicle swooped under a thick datanest. Two more monokeys jumped into the passing gravity well, sucked onto the sled in its wake. One seized Brunt’s left arm, while the other straddled his neck.
Dataprobes shot under his skin again.
Brunt flung himself down onto the sled and rolled. The monokey lost its grip on his head. He kicked out at the first monokey, sending it back behind the sled and out of the gravity well, but preserving its inertia. It pounded into a datanest, shattering it.
He spun, letting the monokey clinging to his arm hang out over the edge of the sled. The competing gravity outside the sled’s bubble took it. It whooped as it drug in the sled’s wake, clinging to Brunt’s arm. It would not let go.
Brunt slid on the slick metal surface. The edge crept closer.
The other monokey slammed onto Brunt’s back. Its hands once again found their place on his head. Fingers sent dataprobes under skin and scraping along his skull.
Brunt screamed. He yanked his hand away, and one monokey plunged into dense digital foliage. He rolled and punched the last monokey in the jaw. Again. A third time. Finally he took it by the neck and squeezed.
Aluminum bones collapsed under his strength. The support within the monokey’s neck faltered. Power cut off to the rest of the animal. He dropped it off the sled and fell near the controls, taking the switches and guiding the sled back toward the pseudocortex.
Brunt glanced toward his other remaining sled. Several other monokeys had broken through the gravity barrier. They tore the metal surface apart and slammed their fists into the wiring beneath. The entire thing imploded. Brunt’s ears popped.
He sped toward the upper threshold of the jungle. The glassy surface of the pseudocortex loomed beyond. Cables severed before him. He’d done a lot of damage with his gravity bubble.
He built speed. If he could crack that glass, if he could simply shatter a hole, it would be enough. He had to build enough speed.
Faster. Faster. He egged the gravity grids in the sled on.
The air whipped past the gravity bubble. At last he shattered the last layer of jungle. Open air whistled and sizzled at the gravity border.
A woman screamed.
Brunt glanced back. “Regan!” Tendrils coiled around her at the top of the jungle. Monokeys gathered around and howled. Digivores sharpened their scalpel-like forelegs.
If Brunt could take out Elysia, Regan would be safe.
The pink sky grew until it was all he could see.
He counted down. Ten. Nine Eight.
Regan screamed again. Brunt heard the shaking fear in her call.
The metal under his body heated. “It’s OK. You don’t need to do much more.”
Five. Four. Three.
“For you, Doc.”
Brunt closed his eyes.
He jumped back, out of the gravity bubble, off of the suicide run. He let the sled rocket on toward collision. Toward the glassy surface of the pseudocortex.
Thunder. Heat. The sled exploded. Fire shot out and sucked into the sled, imploding into a microsingularity that collapsed in picoseconds.
Elysia’s gravity field sucked Brunt down. Back to the jungle.
The grandmother’s voice returned: “I would suggest you surrender. I have several macrocannons locked on your position.”
He fell. The cables embraced him. They bound each arm and leg. Monokeys crowed in triumph. Digivores crawled onto his face, examining for the best place to slice in.
“I’m sorry. You’ve failed. You haven’t destroyed me.” The grandmotherly voice quavered with sorry. “And now my protocols indicate I must destroy you in self-defense.”
Return to the penultimate chapter of Brunt and the Floating City — posted soon!