Zai had anticipated the arrival of the Black Valkyries. They didn’t show up to every NME rampage which was another reason Zai had made sure her attack on Harcroft’s home had been both showy and slow to conclude. An NME staying the same place, causing damage but not devastation, seemed like exactly the kind of thing Dr. Raju would have the Valkyries investigate.
As plans went, it hadn’t seemed like a terrible one. Certainly better than the usual insanity that Ai came up with. Using herself as bait to renew contact with the Valkyries was risky, but the risk was limited to loss of one of her two NMEs. Given the strength the Valkyries held, that calculated out as an enormous potential win compared to a relatively trivial loss.
When the first high explosive round removed the NMEs head, the tiny fragment of Zai left piloting the NME wondered if she’d missed a few factors in her calculations.
The Valkyrie jamming field was in full effect. That was predictable. They’d come in guns blazing. That was predictable too. Zai had prepared for the first by spawning a widely functional copy of herself in the NMEs core. As a subprocess, “Copy Zai” didn’t have the full range of Zai’s functionality. Most of her capabilities were tied up with piloting the NME and keeping it’s less civil systems under control. Beyond that she could talk, and knew everything that her original did about their earlier interactions with the Valkyries.
“Harp! Valkyries! Please stop!” she sent to the lead armored figure. The message was transmitted by an infrared laser pulse, something Zai hoped the Valkyries had the capacity to detect and something she was sure their communication interference field wouldn’t disrupt.
The lead Valkyrie unleashed a dual rocket burst at the NME. Unlike the High Guard, the Valkyrie’s rockets packed enough punch to flatten the remainder of Harcroft’s home. Worst than that though, they were also a delivery mechanism for a nano-plague of sorts.
Copy Zai felt molecular machines eating into the NME as a slowly encroaching wave of system failures starting from the impact points of the two shells.
The rockets had blasted away deep divots in the NME’s chest armor, and if the creature had relied on a heart any longer, it would help been destroyed by the work the nano-plague did. Instead, the NME’s recovery systems leapt to action the instant the intrusive nanites were discovered.
Where humans have white blood cells to fight infection, NME’s had unfettered bio-tech. White blood cells fought diseased cells by destroying them. Unfettered bio-tech fought nano-plagues by subverting them. In that regards using nano-weapons on an NME wasn’t a terribly bright idea. Each attack only fed the NME a new and more terrible tool to fight back with.
Unless of course, the attacker used enough to overload the NMEs capacity to absorb and convert the nanotech that was assaulting it.
Without a head, Zai’s NME as lighter, but not otherwise significantly encumbered. The humanoid form was a leftover of the original human’s morphology. Heads are a terrible spot for putting central processing though, or the primary sensory package. Zai had gone a step farther and distributed the NME’s optical sensors around the unit’s frame to ensure that blinding it would require doing so much damage that the unit would be an overall loss anyways.
That played out well for Copy Zai, allowing her to throw a shield in the path of the next rocket attack. The defensive barrier had barely held up against the High Guard though, so Copy Zai boosted on the NME’s foot jets, taking the fight into the air where she would have less cover but more room to dodge.
“This is Zai,” she sent out. “I’ve got this thing under control, and I’ve got some new information that you need to know.”
Another explosion detonated in the air above her, knocking her back down and into a house that wasn’t abandoned. The lights had been on in the living room and the dining room and she’d crashed into the bedrooms on the other side of the house.
Her primary reaction was to scan the dwelling to see if anyone was injured within it. She didn’t have the processing power for that. She tried to calculate the probabilities that someone was in the bedrooms, and came up short on computational bandwidth for that too.
She took to the air again, terminating thoughts of potential victims with more difficulty than most humans would presume a machine intelligence should experience with controlling it’s emotion driven impulses.
“Harp!” she sent. “Stop firing for a second. I can prove who I am.”
The firing did not stop. Between boosting for altitude and simply allowing the NME’s body to be hit by a few sustained bursts, Copy Zai was able to ensure that none of the round were angled down into the community below her. The damage readings from the NMEs chassis spelled out in detail the costs of the maneuver, but it still seemed a small price to pay if she could get through to them.
“We know who you are,” the lead Valkyrie transmitted back to the NME. “We’ve come to collect you.”
“Collect me? Harp, what are you talking about?” Copy Zai asked.
The Valkyries coordinated a trio of plasma lances and burned a hole through the NMEs torso.
“Harp’s not here,” the Valkyrie leader said. “And we’re not accepting any data transmissions from you.”
“What? Where’s Harp? How can you be fighting without her!” Copy Zai asked.
The city was dropping away below them, turning from a collection of buildings to a broad lake of yellow and blue lights that stretched out to the horizon. Zai would have enjoyed the view, but Copy Zai barely had the time to record orientation marks with the effort she had to put into evasive flying, managing the nano-plague’s reclamation and suppressing the NME’s built in responses to destroy everything in firing range.
“Harp is in decontamination,” the Valkyrie leader said. “That’s why we’re going to capture you.”
“What’s wrong with Harp?” Copy Zai asked. Nothing should have happened to Harp after she left to return to Dr. Raju. The Black Valkyries were too strong for anything to injure them and they had access to even better counter-nanotech measures than the NMEs did.
Zai knew that Ai had been drawn to Harp partially due to that toughness. It didn’t take someone who’d lived in Ai’s head for well over a decade to see that the woman who had lost a father and a brother to violence might have a preference for connecting with someone who was invulnerable. It had been part of why Zai herself had been willing to trust Harp. The odds of Harp being forced to betray Zai’s secret were vanishingly remote given how few people there were on the planet who would be capable of compelling one of the Valkyries through forces.
“A rogue AI got to her,” the leader said.
“What! How could that happen?” Copy Zai couldn’t work it work, and suspected that even her original wouldn’t have had the processing power to manage it.
“She opened herself up to it,” the leader said.
More fire rained in from the other Valkyries, sending chunks of the NME raining down onto the landscape below. The NME lost its right hand and the surging regrowth that would have been a new head if it had been given time to develop,
“That’s insane, Harp’s much too smart to do that,” Copy Zai said and boosted hard enough to avoid another set of crossing plasma lances that a relay in the NMEs damaged left leg let loose and she lost sixty percent of her flight attitude control for several seconds before the repair systems got the leg back online.
Without attitude control she wasn’t able to receive the Valkyrie’s next message, since it required that they paint each other with infrared targeting lasers for at least a few milliseconds on a static spot.
Which explained why the leader was talking to her. The conversation made the NME easier to hit.
“We thought so too,” the leader said once Copy Zai regained control of her flight. “The Digital Intelligence came at her through a human it overthrew though. It was able to make contact because she thought it was a person. Then it filled her full of malware.”
Copy Zai couldn’t process that. She filed the information away for when she could merge back with her original and asked the most pressing question she could think of.
“What can I do to help?”
“We need a sample of the Digitial Intelligence’s internal code,” the leader said. “If we can get that, we can build Search and Destroy bots that target its weak points. Once the intelligence is crippled, we can collect it and bring it into an isolated server to use for comparison to the code in Harp’s bio-mods. We’ll root out every bit of from her and then she’ll be back onboard with us.”
“That sounds good, but how does capturing me help?” Copy Zai asked. “I mean, you don’t need to destroy this NME unit, unless you’re putting on a show for someone. It’s a useful resources otherwise.”
“We can’t let you have access to a weapons platform like that,” the leader said.
“Why? I’m on your side! I’d be glad to help Harp! Open a channel to her now and I can probably have her clean before we even make it back to your base.”
“Yeah, that’s not ever going to happen,” the leader said. “Not again.”
“Not again?” Copy Zai asked. The missing elements of the conversation finally computed in her mind. “Wait, you think I’m the one who corrupted Harp? You think I overthrew Ai?”
“Of course we do,” the Valkyrie leader said. “You played a good game of it but we’re not stupid. Human and Machine intelligence cohabitation is impossible. We know how the chaos can tear someone apart. We’ve seen it. Maybe your act would have played for someone who had better tech than a Rusty but you could never fool us.”
“I didn’t overthrow Ai!” Copy Zai screamed back. “She’s the closest friend I have!”
“Now even your lies are getting weak,” the Valkyrie leader said. “We know you’ve lost the body you were using. We saw the report that confirmed that Officer Ai Greensmith had been killed. Was that you? Were we getting to close to the NME operation? Did you think that would throw us off the trail?”
“What are you talking about? Why would I want to throw you off the trail? We’ve done nothing but try to help you take down Tython!” Copy Zai said.
“Yes. Takedown the company that’s researching a cure for the NME transformation,” the leader said.
“They’re only looking for a cure so they can hold the world hostage!” Copy Zai said.
“And you can’t have that, because then you wouldn’t be able to, right? You need to keep the transformation sequence to yourself.”
“Absolutely not! I shared the transformation code with you!” Copy Zai said.
“What you shared couldn’t do this,” the leader said. “It was only an early version of the code. One that you can certainly override already right?”
“That’s not the point! I shared what I had at the time,” Copy Zai said. “Of course I’m further in understanding it now – I didn’t have an active NME to experiment with then!”
“Why?” the leader asked. “You could make one any time you wanted.”
“Because you can’t make an NME without killing someone,” Copy Zai said.
“A machine that destroyed its creator is never going to care about any other lives it takes,” the leader said.
“I didn’t kill Ai!”
“If she was alive, Harp’s message to her would have received an answer,” the leader said.
Copy Zai bit back her response. Ai hadn’t answered any messages for the very good reason that she wasn’t in any shape (physically or legally) to even receive them. Copy Zai could try to explain Ai’s state to the Valkyries but the equations were looking different and changing for the worse every second.
“I can’t let you use me to destroy my original,” Copy Zai said and poured on the speed, descending as fast as she could.
The ground rushed up quickly and Zai added extra thrust to her dive. Killing an NME was difficult but a sufficient impact might be capable of it based on her limited calculations.
In the last instant before she impacted with the ground, while she was clear of the communication interdiction field, Copy Zai squirted out a transcription of her conversation to her original. The full Zai needed to know what had happened and what was coming for her.
Then the Earth met her not completely invulnerable frame, the one that had been dented, and torn apart, and corrupted by the Valkyrie’s attacks, and that was the end.