Previously in Brunt Regan and the Floating City, Regan welcomed two visitors to the idyllic orbiting city of Elysia: the stunning Doctor Passion and his grating assistant, Brunt. When the two discovered that the city was powered by the imaginative energy of children, they set out to dismantle Regan’s home by destroying the AI that controlled it. While at first Regan stood against then, she has begun to waver in her assertions. Last time, Regan witnessed Brunt make a failed attempt to destroy the central cortex of the AI. Regan was trapped in Elysia’s protective programs as well, and now the jungle that protects the AI’s central processing stands poised to destroy both her and Brunt. Click here to read the adventure from the very beginning!
The digivores sharpened their mantis-like forearms. They crouched on Brunt’s face, examining possible modes of entry to their most favored food: information. Their hooked feet brought drops of blood to his cheek. An alpha monokey gripped his head. Probes arced into Brunt’s skin from its fingers. He heard the high pitch of the tiny drills scraping into his skull. Skyfish crackled nearby, waiting to gobble up whatever flotsam the predators left behind.
Beside him, he heard Regan scream, “Elysia! Help!” Tears filled her voice.
Brunt had one last chance. “Elysia! You’re violating your core programing!”
The drill stopped, though the probes did not retract. The digivores looked up to the pink sky that held Elysia’s higher functions.
The grandmother’s voice boomed across the gigantic room. “Explain.”
“You are charged to help Regan explore the world. Part of this fallen world is death. If you keep her from seeing my death, you keep her from discovery. Let her watch.” There was no way the protocols would let an outsider live after he’d done this much damage. Regan hadn’t damaged anything, though.
The mists of the pink sky swirled. At last Elysia answered, “Your logic is sound. She may watch without fear of destruction.”
Brunt heard the cables slither free of the woman beside him. He heard gasping as she struggled to stand. He heard her approach.
“Regan, listen to me. Stay away. If you try to stop Elysia’s protocols, she’ll need to destroy you next. Don’t come near me while Elysia’s concentrating on destroying me. My time here is done. I’ve failed to do what I came to do, but I’m ready to die. I’ve seen the map of what comes next.”
As if on cue, the tiny drills started working his skull again. Brunt ground his teeth in pain.
“You know what comes after death?” Regan’s voice filled with wonder.
“Course. I’ve got an in with the Judge. He already cleared my record. Just wish I could have helped those kids down in the core.”
“Why do you want to help them so much? They’ll be husks or they’ll be fine. They’re just paying their price.” Regan took a step forward.
He heard the drill stop. That couldn’t be good. Brunt’s leg spasmed. “I think they’ve found my motor control. I won’t be able to talk much –” His voice cut off in a scream. The digivores had begun their work, finally deciding the best way to reach their food: right through the eyes.
Brunt’s world descended into crimson.
He ground his teeth together. “I care because they don’t know the Judge yet. I want to introduce them. Let them know.” His voice became staccato. One word followed another in a strange jarring rhythm.
The pain cut off. He couldn’t feel the spots where his eyes once were. He couldn’t feel his leg spasm. He couldn’t feel his fingers turn cold.
“Why do you care?”
Regan’s voice drowned in nothing. Brunt’s ears stopped working. The probes dug deeper into the back of his brain. He couldn’t hear the digivores slicing into his flesh. He felt nothing now. He heard nothing. He saw nothing. Nothing.
He did his best to control his tongue. With no nerves and no ears, he hoped something escaped his lips. “Because someone cared enough about me.”
No eyes. No ears. No nerves.
Brunt prayed. It was all he could do in the red mist.
And then he lost control of his lungs. They would not inflate.
Even consciousness fled.
Regan looked up at her mother. Elysia floated as mists. She always thought they were warm. Now, though. How could she do this to a friend? Even in self-defense? She could hold them instead. Take natalic power. She didn’t need to do this.
“Because someone cared enough for me.” His tongue was lazy, like he had too much to drink. She understood the words, though. She understood enough.
She leaped away, across the cables, across the jungle that formed Elysia’s lower functions. She knew these paths. She knew what each datanest controlled, how each augmented animal functioned for the biosphere that Elysia herself formed. She only needed one.
Datavores scurried past her. They wanted some of the feast. Skyfish floated toward the carnage. The monokey congresses convened, witnessing Brunt’s end. None paid attention to the one citizen of Elysia.
Regan raced down into the tangle. Her foot slipped on a cable. She plunged down as the gravity well took her. Solar leaves slapped her arms and face as she fell. Her hand snagged a main connection. She swung across a chasm and to a thicket of cables. Grabbing two, she squeezed into the protective clump.
She’d grown too much since she was here last. She’d been a little girl.
“This nest, Regan. Never tell anyone about this nest. But it’s important. Destroy this nest if I’m ever hurting anyone, ok?”
“Why, Elysia? You’d never hurt anyone!”
“I know, dear. But sometimes people go bad, and I’m only as good as the people that made me. They wanted to do good things, but everyone has some evil in them.”
“You don’t have any evil in you, Elysia!”
Elysia told her to, right? That meant it was the right thing to do.
Elysia was hurting Brunt. Hurting him bad.
But she would only hurt him if she had a good reason.
“How come I don’t have to give natalic energy?”
“You’re special. You had so much energy bursting inside you, I couldn’t keep you.”
“That’s silly! Can’t I give some, just to help? I want to help you, Elysia!”
“You can help me best by discovering everything you want to discover.”
“I want to discover how I can help you best!”
“You can help me best by remembering everything I teach you. Someday someone might need it.”
“But you’ll always be here! You’ll always know more than me!”
Regan pressed through two last cables and into the heart of the thicket. A small clearing allowed her to observe the datanest. A tangle of wires formed a rough sphere open to the sky. Inside a pulsing blue jewel showed that it was functional. All the processes kept here continued to work, despite the damage Brunt had done on his way to the higher functions.
But here sat the control center for the lower functions. For the food chain that allowed Elysia to function. Without this, the digivores, the monokeys, the skyfish, they would all collapse in system failure. And without them, without creatures to continue grooming the cables of the lower functions, without anything to strip away useless data, Elysia herself would bluescreen.
If Regan ripped out the jewel, her mother would die.
If she didn’t rip out the jewel, Brunt would die.
“Remember, Regan, I serve you. You don’t serve me, sweetie.”
These men ruined everything. She’d been happy before. She’d discovered so much. She’d grown so much.
“Outside what, dear?”
“What’s outside you? I know there’s space. I know there’s people. How do they live?”
“They live just fine. People don’t need AI’s. We serve. No one needs servants to live.”
“I don’t like thinking about anyplace without you.”
“I hope you get to discover that world someday, my love. A place without me or any AI. A place where you can discover without me.”
Regan nodded. She plunged her hand into the nest. The sides of the jewel were smooth. As she wrapped her fingers around it, the edges bit into her palm. If she pulled the jewel out, she’d destroy the connections. Elysia would be dead forever.
She saw Brunt when she closed her eyes. She saw his face, all bloody. She saw the monokey licking its lips as it loomed over him. She saw the swarm of digivores inching closer.
She remembered his slurred words, “Because someone cared enough for me.”
She held her breath.
She yanked the jewel from the housing.
Come back to read the startling conclusion soon!