Diving into someone else’s bio-mods made for a more fantastic voyage than Ai had imagined.
“Did you know you have two hearts?” she asked, staring at the pumping organs as the beat in unison.
“Two at the moment,” Harp said. “There’s also a backup pair and temporary-use, emergency one meant for last ditch life support. There’s a reason the Valkyries are kind of hard to kill.”
Ai couldn’t help but gaze around at the wonders of Harp’s inner workings as they were drawn out on a scale the size of a small continent. The images of blood vessels, fiber conduits, and synthetic organs were part of a special virtual realm she, Harp and Zai crafted to monitor and direct the defanged NME activation sequence as Harp used it to reshape her body.
Once they began work, the NME code would infiltrate Harp’s systems, scaling over her firewalls and breeching the security locks which Harp was purposefully going to direct to let NME code in.
On a microscopic level, the nano-drones that maintained Harp’s systems would be invaded by the code, their original functions blanked out and overwritten with new orders.
Then the transformation would begin.
For a normal human, the NME transformation was a violent and chaotic affair. The nano-drones in the subject’s body ripped apart meat and metal at a molecular level, changing the materials within the person into the components of a war machine.
In Harp though, the transformation routines would encounter a unique situation. When they scanned to see what changes needed to be made to convert the host into a warbot, they would find that the work had already been done.
If Ai’s plan succeeded the NME code would also discover that its schematic for the final NME techno-monster form was missing. In it’s place, the direction for what to change in Harp’s body would come from Harp herself.
Where the transformation code was usually the architect of what the resulting NME would look like, the stripped down version that Ai offered was going to be a nano-scale scalpel for Harp to rebuild each of the non-organic systems in her body, cutting away any influences that Dr. Raju may have left within her.
That was is everything went well, and neither Ai, Zai, nor Harp expected things to go well at all. Not with the time crunch they were under.
With a wave of her hand, Ai’s view shot forward along a vein, coming to rest a microsecond later in the center of Harp’s primary heart. It was beautiful, in a clean and orderly sense. The ceramic plates and carbon fiber plates that made up the heart’s walls were a bit unusual to find in a major bodily organ though.
“Armor plating,” Ai observed, impressed with the intricacy of the design. “Don’t see many hearts that come equipped with that.”
“Sil suggested that we should be ‘The Hard Hearts’ rather than the Valkyries, but Dr. Raju wasn’t a fan,” Harp said.
“Do you have the schematics for the plating’s composition?” Zai asked. Since they were in a virtual space, she had an avatar as well. Ai and Harp had chosen looks that matched their physical appearances, but Zai opted for a similar physique to Ai but with circuit board skin and eyes that were swirling galaxies. As declarations of identity went, it didn’t leave many doubts as to how she saw herself.
In response to Zai’s question, Harp recalled a file from her memory and handed it over, the virtual action representing the simple data transfer Zai had requested.
“If Raju put any kill switches in me, there’ll probably be some here,” Harp said.
“Yeah, but maybe we should start with one of the hearts you’re not currently using?” Ai said. “If we trip a defense we’re not aware of, we’d have more recovery time if it wasn’t in an organ that was currently in use.”
“I wish we could but I’ve seen how Dr. Raju designs her security,” Harp said. “If there’s a trap here to destroy this heart, it’ll take out the others at the same time. And it’ll be linked in with at least one additional layer of security. Raju does not mess around when it comes to making sure systems have redundancy in them.”
“I’m becoming less a fan of Raju with each thing that I’ve learned she did to you but it’s hard not to be more and more impressed by her work,” Ai said.
“I know. She’s like that with a lot of thing. I mean, there’s no point putting in a kill system that’s easy to disarm, so if it’s here she’ll have done a really good job with it,” Harp said.
“I wish I could say I couldn’t imagine doing what she did,” Ai said.
“But you would do the same thing in, in a heartbeat, if you were putting together something like me,” Harp said.
“Someone,” Ai corrected. “And yeah, I probably would have. Until person has had power, it’s hard to tell how it will change them. With the kind of power you have, it would be a lot harder to stop you from rampaging after the fact without a few safeguards built in from the beginning.”
“If you ask me, the failsafe was still a terrible idea,” Zai said.
“Ai has a point about how hard it would be to stop me,” Harp said. “There was no guarantee that I was going to come out of the transformation with my mind intact. Picture an NME berserker but with the kind of tech me and the rest of the Valkyries have.”
“I can, but I can also picture a lot of paths were planting self-destruct devices in your heart do more harm than good. Take right now for example,” Zai said. “The problem is that systems like this give the illusion of control at the cost of introducing more peril. Oh, we don’t need to wonder if we’re speaking in hypotheticals anymore. There are a series of micro-filament explosives wrapped inside the armor plates. They don’t show up on the schematics but the nano-scans are pretty clear.”
“We’ll need to disarm them and then desynthesize the explosives so that we can rebuild the heart from scratch,” Ai said.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Harp said.
“Shouldn’t what?” Ai asked.
“Disarm me,” Harp said. “We can take kill switches away from Dr. Raju, but if we miss any other pieces which give her control over me, then maybe it would be good to have an option in case she turns me on you.”
“Have an option? To blow you up? Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’ve killed a bunch of people and do you know what lets me sleep at night?” Ai asked. “They all had it coming! You though? You will never deserve that. If Raju hacks your systems and turns you against us, then we’ll just hack you back to our side.”
“Um, there’s kind of a better argument against leaving the explosives in than that,” Zai said. “If Raju has any access to your systems at all, what makes you think she wouldn’t set them off herself? Even without direct access to the “explode heart command”, there are lots of other possibilities for triggering a bomb that you know if there.
Ai and Harp looked at each other and exchanged shrugs. It was a hard point to refute.
“Also, assuming we live through the next twenty four hours, what makes you think any self-destruct system you have won’t accidentally trigger at some point?” Zai asked.
“Well, it hasn’t yet,” Harp said with another helpless shrug. “And it’s not like I don’t carry a lot of other ordnance around too.”
“Yeah, but that’s all designed to vent outwards as harmlessly as possible. It’s not wrapped around the organs that keep you alive,” Ai said. “Zai’s right too. I was thinking of how to stop a berserker, but this change isn’t something we can do a long QA process on. The chance that there’ll be glitches is…”
“Somewhere over 100%,” Zai said. “Do you really want to bet none of the bugs in the final code will affect something critical and life sustaining? I mean that’s going to be hard enough to insure even if we take out all of the problems we can find.”
“Ok,” Harp said. “No courting disaster then.”
“At least no more than we already are,” Ai agreed.
“I can manage the rebuild efforts here,” Zai said. “Do you two want to keep investigating?”
“Yeah, with Raju’s love of redundancy, there’s got to be at least three other kill systems to prevent what we’re trying to do.”
“If I was setting them up, there’d be a couple more large scale ones like this, and two very subtle ones,” Ai said.
“Only two?” Harp asked.
“Yeah. Too many and it’s easy to trip over a secret failsafe built into you, and that provides a clue that there are other, well hidden problems lurking throughout your systems. A second one, on the other hand, doesn’t raise the odds of discovery too much and it gives some fallback in case the primary failsafe is knocked out accidentally.”
“So, we’ll start once we find all four of the remaining systems?” Zai asked.
“We may not have the time for that,” Harp said.
“We’ll make the time,” Ai said. “We want you to have the best chance of coming through this as we can get. If it fails, Tython’s going to be unstoppable and the Valkyries will straight up murder Zai and me.”
“We’ll play it by ear then,” Harp said with a smile.
Together she and Ai began to scour the rest the virtual depiction of Harp’s body, inspecting the various systems on a nano-scale to find areas which weren’t quite what the plans Harp had access to said they should be.
A quick check of the other hearts showed that Harp’s guess was correct. They were all wrapping in thin, explosive cords, which were wired to trigger together if given the proper authorization. They marked those for the nano-drones to dismantle once the process started and moved on to the other organs.
Finding the other two major self-destruct systems was relatively easy. The first was an override coded into the firing mechanism for Harp’s weapons systems which could force them to backfire, reducing her to a cloud of wet dust. The second was a simple overload circuit which was capable of shorting out the cognitive mods she was equipped with. The capacitors the systems would short circuit to held enough charge to reduce everything above her shoulders to ash, so they spent some time working out how to safely discharge that system.
The two subtle systems took more effort. The first wasn’t part of any separate physical device within Harp. It was just a few lines of diagnostic code in her artificial liver. When invoked it “tested” liver functionality but produces chemicals for the liver to break down. The deadly part of it was the fact that the chemicals included a nerve toxin and the quantity would have been enough to slay a herd of elephants.”
The second system eluded them for long enough that Harp started pushing for them to go ahead with the transformation.
“We’ll have more monitoring in place than Raju could have ever predicted,” she said. “You and Zai are also clocked up faster than any other human has been. You’ll see any unexpected changes well before they become a problem.”
“If we see them at all,” Ai said.
“It’s not going to be long before the Valkyries reach the night market,” Harp said. “And we don’t know how long the transformation is going to take.”
“I know, but there’s a few systems we haven’t checked yet,” Ai said. “At least let’s cross those off the list.”
Before Harp could agree or disagree, Zai joined the conversation.
“This probably isn’t a good time, but I’ve got a call Tython asking to speak with Mr. Heartless. Apparently they have a limited-time offer to make?” Zai said.
“Now? Seriously?” Ai clenched both her virtual fists and her real ones.
“It’s ok,” Harp said. “Leave the rest here to Zai and me. Find out what they’re up to. We don’t know why they’re unleashing an NME army and you know they won’t be able to resist offering some explanation for it.”
“Are you sure?” Ai asked.
“Yeah, have some faith,” Harp said, offering her a virtual smile.
Ai waved the virtual world away with a flick of her hand and tried to settle into the right mindset to play Heartless. In the back of her mind though, she kept chewing on the problems that Harp was about to face. She had faith in Harp and Zai, but that didn’t mean she would let herself be blind to the trouble she knew they’d soon be in.