Victory is comes in many shapes and forms. It’s all too possible to strive for a goal, overcome all the obstacles that rise up, and still not win the prize your heart desires.
That’s why Beth knew she had to be careful.
“If you’ve got any brilliant ideas, now’s the time to share them,” Starshine said.
“We’re going to give them exactly what they want,” Beth said. On all of the monitor’s before her she saw only the blank emptiness of space. It was the perfect catalyst. An entire universe filled with empty pages. No boundaries except the tiny fixed lights in the unimaginable distance.
“They seem to crave our destruction,” Lagressa said.
“That’s a means to an end,” Beth said. “What they want is purity. What terrifies them is being corrupted by an outside influence.”
“It is not corruption,” Awluno, one of the Reilian techs, said. “We see that now.”
“And you don’t want to rejoin the Overmind?” Beth asked.
“Never,” Budaana, another of the techs, said. “For the first time, my mind is clear and my thoughts are not buried under the Overmind’s hate.”
There weren’t any novels in the Measureless Stars series written from the perspective of the Reilians. They were used as a source of faceless minions and general threat to the rest of the galaxy. Beth wondered if what she was seeing what a product of the writer’s imagination – backstory he’d never been able to work into the text of the series proper – or if it came from within Beth herself. Once she survived this, and she was certain she would survive it, she would ask him. Maybe even show him the world he’d created.
“We’re not going to let that go then,” Beth said. “In fact, we’re going to use it.”
“I hope you’ve got an idea for how you’re going to do that,” Starshine said, “because the gates are flaring. The seven fleets will be here in about thirty seconds.”
“Plenty of time,” Beth said and turned to the Reilians to ask, “is there a backup of the Overmind onboard still?”
Of course there was. She’d conjured it with her words, writing on the blank page of the Unread the core idea that the Overmind sent backups along with its attack fleets.
“Its offline,” Awluno said. “We dare not awaken it though! It will overwhelm us all!”
“Not if I give it something more important to worry about,” Beth said, and floated over to one of the command stations that had a functioning Dive Helmet attached.
The Dive Helmet had appeared in one of the earlier volumes in the series. It wasn’t specifically Reilian tech, but Beth didn’t see any reason they wouldn’t have included the technology in their communications system. For simple systems, a Universal Interface worked wonders. For highly complex tasks though, a direct machine-to-mind couldn’t be beat.
“You can’t dive into an Overmind!” Budaana said. “Your synapses will be destroyed!”
“I’ve had my mind blown before,” Beth said. “You’d be surprised the kind of things it has room for now.”
She fitted the Dive Helmet over her head and nodded at Awluno to proceed with reactivating the Overmind’s backup.
“If there is peril in this, I should be the one to undertake it,” Lagressa said.
“I need you to continue the music and to add it to a new channel when I give the word,” Beth said. “Try to keep our new friends’ spirits up too. This may get a little close.”
“The backup is ready,” Awluno said.
“No time to waste. Hit it,” Beth said and felt the world drop out from under her.
The Dive Helmet felt like it was carrying her down, falling into the gravity of the planet-sized Overmind that was rapidly awakening.
“Intruder detected,” the Overmind said. “Contagion elimination commencing.”
It’s voice rang off the heavens around her and Beth felt talons spear into her brain.
“Corruption was present,” she said. “It has been removed. I am an autonomous verification valid agent. Prepare for transmission of identity authorization data.”
The Dive Helmet churned as a properly secured data packet appeared in its memory buffers thanks to Beth’s imagination. Without a consciousness of its own, the Helmet passed the data onto the Overmind, which accepted the data as coming from a reliable and trusted source.
“I am a backup unit. What happened to my primary?” the Overmind asked.
“Primary and secondary Overminds feeds were corrupted,” Beth said. “Corruption has been purged but neither primary nor secondary feeds survived the purge. You were activated as per standard protocol after corruption in the feeds was detected and removed.”
“Control interfaces are not enabled,” the Overmind said “I cannot sense my fleet.”
“Quarantine is being maintained,” Beth said. “We need to be sure you are updated with new corruption detection algorithms in case any traces remain in your fleet’s subsystems.”
“Begin upgrade immediately,” the Overmind said.
Beth conjured another data packet and the Dive Helmet provided it to the Overmind again.
“This upgrade is not accepted,” the Overmind said, “The definition of a viable mind state for drones has been broadened, not restricted.”
In other words, it wasn’t happy that Beth was trying to make it believe that the newly freed Reilians were a natural and desirable phenomena.
“New behavior parameters were required to remove the contagion,” Beth said. “Accept upgrade, or be deleted.”
Talking back to a planet-sized hyper-mind was just ludicrous enough that Beth found she didn’t have any problem with it. It helped that she was able to architect the rules it had to live by because the Measureless Stars had left her an incredibly open canvas to work with.
“Upgrade accepted,” the Overmind said.
“More sources of contagion have been detected,” Beth said. “When you are connected to your fleet, you will find seven additional fleets inbound on attack vectors.”
“That claim is suspect,” the Overmind said, “Seven fleets is beyond the engagement profile for any conceivable encounter.”
“Check your fleet’s sensors,” Beth said and signaled for Awluno to plug the Dive helmet into the fleet’s systems.
“Five fleets detected. No, six. Seven?” The Overmind sounded genuinely startled.
“Reach out to the incoming fleets,” Beth said. “You have command override permissions. Provide them with the updated contagion detection upgrade and instruct them to pay particular attention for anyone who fits this profile.”
As her fleet’s Overmind reached out to the approaching ships, Beth sent along an image of the Burners so that the Reilians would know exactly who it was that was responsible for all the trouble they suffered.