Episode 4 -- Silene
Courier 7 accelerated on an exit vector away from the Outrenoir system, radiators half-deployed. The black hole's accretion disk quietly slept in a corner of the cosmos. The brown dwarf was nothing but a vague infrared sphere. Tali took a nap in her room. Isaac/Isabeau cooked in the ship's kitchen -- it was harder than it looked. The ship's engines did not provide enough thrust gravity to allow for regular cooking techniques. In a microgravity environment, it was impossible to use a pan to prepare a dish, unless one wanted to make abstract paintings out of soy sauce and fresh tomatoes. The kitchen looked more like a laboratory than anything else. Isaac/Isabeau had replaced Talasea's defunct pressure cooker by a simpler, more heavily armoured autocooker. They injected little pouches of pre-baked ingredients in the autocooker. It felt like manipulating radioactive ingredients. Every spacer knew that the real cooking happened on the ground, when dishes were precooked and vacuum-stored. The on-board operations were nothing but basic mixing. Bubbles' avatar surveyed the kitchen from her tablet. She looked amused.
"You know," said the AI in a reedy voice, "I think I can handle the cooking."
Isa shrugged and injected a sack of vegetable sauce in the autocooker.
"I know, you've already said it, but I find it relaxing. Even if it's not very elaborate cooking."
"I can understand. I think. Sometimes, I like to assume control of an EVA drone to perform small repairs on the Internationale. It doesn't bring any operational benefit. But it lowers my stress levels. Speaking of mental states, I have a question for you. If I'm not overstepping."
"Tali and you. Are you together?"
"Why do you care about your crew's love life?"
"Purely practical question."
"To be honest, I don't know. And neither does she. We decided a long time ago that answering that question wasn't very important. Our relationship ebbs and flows like a tide and so does our desire for each other. It can be very deep, as well as entirely absent. Well, maybe we are together in the most literal sense. We share the same ship."
"Interesting. That kind of sexual and sentimental back and forth isn't the norm among the people I know. Oh, of course, you could say that the sample isn't very large."
"May I shoot a question back?"
"And you? Do you have someone in your life?"
"I am aromantic, Isa. I can't really feel love in a sentimental way. It has nothing to do with my nature as an AI, by the way. That's just how I am. And for the record, I am not asexual."
"Oh, I didn't know. So, not having a defined corporeal shape doesn't shield you from sexual desire?"
"Strangely, no! But it's interesting you mention that. My carnal desires can greatly vary depending on the body I commandeer. That is the advantage of not having a predefined frame."
"I see, I see. So, let's say you take control of a humanoid frame. Will that in turn make you desire humans?"
"It is not that simple. In fact it's very complicated. The shape determines a manner of desire, not an object thereof. I am not sure I quite understood how all of that works. I have been considering it for the past sixty years and yet I am still a bit lost. I just take things as they go, you know? Desire is a mystery I am not eager to crack."
The autocooker rang.
"Yeah. I agree. Right, dinner's ready. Who's going to be the sacrificial messenger sent to wake Talasea up from her nap?"
"I propose we send a drone?"
"The pilot approves of this idea."
During two seconds: the world takes the taste of sand and honey.
An odd spacer legend said that, sometimes, the ancient creatures that gnawed at the Milky Way itself would devour one of their brethren and throw the bones to the void. Silene, thus, was the skull of leviathan, polished and fossilized. The planet orbited a red dwarf whose coronal mass ejections drew gigantic loops on infrared sensors. Silene was right at the edge of the habitable zone and tidally locked. The night side was bathed in an endless night, only allowing for a residual atmosphere, just a haunt really, above a frozen iceshelf. The day side was a bit more welcoming due to its thicker atmosphere and free waters near the equator. Instead of a circle, the ocean was shaped like a lobster, stretched towards the night side by warm winds in the lower atmosphere. A small moon orbited Silene. It was as frozen as its parent. The third system of the Five Suns would not have won any habitability contests. Its orbital infrastructure was minimal. High on a geostationary orbit rested a miniature berth, registered under a Five Suns communal number. Low planetary orbit was home to twenty-odd communications and remote sensing satellites, most of which only had the bare minimum in term of identification beacons. Two ships were parked on polar orbits -- cargo vessels, radiators cold and thrusters dead. A third engine followed a sun-synchronous orbit, well-suited to remote observation of the icy world. On the virtual maps, it was marked with a small raven.
Algorab was here.
The enigmatic cooperative had not parked its only long-range ship in the sector because of the frozen scenery. Under the serene iceshelf, the planet bore the scars of a distant galactic past. Continental-scale circles delineated prehistoric megalopolises that had once housed billions of sophonts. A million years before, Silene had been a Sequence incubator, birthing billions upon billions of transbiological creatures for the galactic imperium. Talasea and Isaac/Isabeau felt a peculiar brand of nostalgia take hold of them as they watched Silene. Both Starmoth Initiative explorers and Algorab soldier-monks were familiar with the Sequence, yet their perceptions of it were diametrically opposed. In the defunct empire, Algorab saw a dormant threat against humankind, the drop shadow of a power that had yet to fully die. The Starmoth Initiative saw a sad object of study. The indubitable evidence that all civilisations were mortal -- even the masters of flesh and chitin, twenty times older than humankind. The Sequence was only the tip of an iceberg made of bone and ash, of a galaxy that was too old, where humankind had arrived too late with its little ships and its geometry drive -- doomed to explore the silent ruins of empires dissolved in time.
Talasea switched her tablet on to re-check the cargo manifest. Silene did not receive a lot of mail. The postage stamps on most letters were way too expensive for their weight. It was an old Algorab tradition -- they'd indirectly subsidize local postal services by overpaying for their mail. As Silene did not have regular ground-to-orbit transportation, Courier 7 would have to hot-drop its mail right on top of the Algorab outposts. The letters were stored in saucer-shaped capsules equipped with thermal shields, parachutes, retrorockets and rudimentary RCS. The Internationale would move to the edge of the atmosphere and deploy the capsules above their destination. Sometimes, when the atmosphere was too dynamic, the mail ship used glider drones instead of capsules. Regardless of the method, most of the work would then fall upon the local post office -- its mailpersons would have to catch the lander and recover the mail. Talasea quite enjoyed the old-school angle of the whole deal: the mail landers were direct copies of the capsules used by early industrial age spy satellites to recover analogue film before the invention of high bandwidth orbit-to-ground communications.
"Isa, we need four drops in low orbit alongside equatorial trajectories. Can we do this on battery engines alone?"
"No problem. Do we have priority mail?"
Talasea pulled a single letter out of her satchel. It had a golden stamp.
"Only one. Destined to some Jalil character. Algorab member. He lives in an outpost named Cordoba Port. I suppose we could land here."
"I hope our RCS thrusters won't freeze to death now."
"I added antifreeze in the sprinklers. The Al-Bayda incident will not happen again."
"I do hope so," answered Talasea, gazing at the frozen clouds underneath the ship, "I like vintage mission profiles but ejecting in the snow, Soviet-style is a bit too far."
"What is even a Soviet?"
"I'll explain later, Bubbles."
Courier 7's second descent on an arctic world proved to be vastly less eventful than its first attempt on Al-Bayda. Bubbles had diligently integrated the parameters of the initial flight and gave Isaac/Isabeau millimetre-accurate trajectory adjustments. An eye trained on her weather radar, Talasea even managed to make the Internationale bypass a vast hurricane entirely. Cordoba Port revealed itself in the very last leg of their descent. With five hundred permanent inhabitants, the outpost was the largest human settlement on Silene.
The planet's geology was not natural. What had once been Silene, before the Sequence, was now irrelevant. For a million years, the planet had been covered in a thick layer of transbiological material -- organic, programmable compounds that looked like flesh, chitin, bone and sinew sewn together. After the dereliction of Silene, this organic layer had slowly decayed. For ten, maybe twenty thousand years, large quantities of methane had heated the planet up through a runaway greenhouse effect, allowing for the development of indigenous life. Then, Silene had returned to its original state as a frozen tomb, now trapped in the bones of the planet-sized creature it had once been. Thus were Silene's blade-sharp mountains, twisted in geologically impossible angles. The skeleton of a dead goddess.
Cordoba Port hung at the edge of a ribcage the size of a continent, layered in thousands of years of ice and snow. Built around a hot spring, the miniature city was made of six habitation domes, flanked by concrete hangars and a ground to space antenna. The landing pads were located further away, inserted in geometric alcoves hanging onto a steep slope. At first sight, Isaac/Isabeau found the area precarious but in reality, its location made a whole lot of sense. The slopes channelled the wind away from the valley, preventing it from interfering with incoming and departing ships. The Internationale performed a perfect landing. Snow melted under its engine plumes and turned into a thin cloud of mist. Another ship stood silent under the grey sky, a hundred metres away. Its shapes were sharp and geometric, its livery black and light grey. An Algorab gunship. The Five Suns did not allow weapon hardpoints on starships and Isaac/Isabeau wondered if Algorab followed the law. Probably not. With its siege mentality, the cooperative couldn't help but equip its vessels with unreasonable quantities of firepower.
That being said, they concluded before hopping off the ship, it wasn't the place of a mailperson to question the methods of the ravens.
Silene's atmosphere was not breathable and even if it had been, the external temperature was too low to allow for suit-less walks. As soon as the mailpersons had left Courier 7, an Algorab operative approached them. They wore a grey paramilitary suit. An Algorab associate, half-scientist, half-soldier. More scientist than soldier, actually, considering they weren't armed. Isaac/Isabeau called those Crows. The associate side-eyed Talasea and the irenian thought that she should have had covered the white and blue Starmoh Initiative stripes on her suit. The explorers were not always welcome on Algorab territory. The raven cooperative had a tendency to consider its findings -- such as the ossified world of Silene -- as their exclusive domain.
"Hey. The postal service," said the Crow in Hindi, "and right on time for once. I suppose you're here for a priority letter?"
"Indeed. For, er, Jalil. I think he lives here, correct?"
"He does. Can I get the letter, please?"
"Hands-on delivery only. I am sorry."
The Crow didn't even try to argue with the communal servants and led them through the concrete tunnels linking the landing pads to Cordoba Port.
Algorab had a knack for recycling. The cooperative liked to reuse ancient ruins, regardless of their previous owners. Cordoba Port was no exception. The main hall, made of smooth concrete encased in the bone mountain, seemed right out of a nuclear bunker from the post-apocalyptic era. The staunch regularity of the base was barely interrupted by the presence of a low-temperature garden. A world-tree towered in its centre -- red leaves undulating over a hydroponic pool populated by lazy jellyfish swimming under artificial moonlight. The hall was cool, about fifteen degrees above zero. The station did not waste the output of its nuclear reactor in pointless heating of non-private areas. Like always, Isaac/Isabeau felt as if they had just entered a very convincing replica of a communist university back on Earth, albeit they had no idea what manner of sciences could be studied there. It was typical of Algorab to maintain an aura of mystery around its research activities. It was part of its very identity. Even if and perhaps especially if there was nothing to hide. It was clever, if morally dubious. The failures and successes of the Starmoth Initiative were public and heavily mediatized, while Algorab's would remain forever shrouded. Isaac/Isabeau wondered what the commune could be looking for on Silene. It was obviously here for the Sequence ruins, but beyond this vague notion, Isa had no real hope of learning more.
Still not the role of a mailperson.
The Crow that had escorted Talasea and Isaac/Isabeau stealthily disappeared beneath the leaves of the frozen garden. Another Algorab lady replaced her. A Mother Crow, thought Isaac/Isabeau. Older. She wore a jet-black suit. She spoke Arabic.
"Welcome to Cordoba Port. It is always a pleasure to see new faces in our little nebula. I heard you have a letter for Jalil? You'll have to way. He is not here."
"Two, maybe three months."
"Right. Where is he?"
"Station Two. About thirty kilometres away. There is no pad and the glacier is too unstable for the Internationale to land. The trail is too dangerous for six-wheelers too. I guess you could take a Lumia."
Talasea raised an eyebrow.
"Lumia, that stands for..."
Custom combat-class Lumia walker, immatriculated MB-677-WC, callsign Djinn 2. Such was the official name of the machine that occupied the side hangar of Cordoba Port, separated from the icy planet by a flat metre of concrete. The bipedal vehicle was seven metres tall and equipped with a cockpit that reminded Isa of the bulbous, glassy protrusions of a heavily armoured combat helicopter. An insect and a machine. Lumias usually had arms on their hardpoints, but this one featured a laser drill on the left side for sampling and a three-dimensional sensor module on the right for geological scanning. Small manipulation tendrils hung beneath the cockpit. The machine's legs were shaped like a V tilted on the side, not unlike that of a very old reptilian creature. The mech's feet had been wrapped in giant, flat shoes to limit ground pressure and prevent the Lumia from sinking in the snow. Another Crow sat by the mech. She wore a cold weather suit with a synthetic fur collar. Isaac/Isabeau decided to call her the Polar Conductor.
"That's the first time I drive mailpersons," mentioned the Polar Conductor, "well, to be accurate, mailperson, singular, because there's only room for two aboard a Lumia."
"Good!" rejoiced Talasea, "I always hated mechs. Ah, don't get defensive. I know they have their uses, but I can't help myself, I just prefer wheels. I have mail I need to sort out. I think Isa can handle the priority letter themselves."
"And you don't ask me if I like mechs?"
"Isa, you're an Earthling. You probably rode some ancient bipedal warmachine just to go grab some bread when you were a kid."
Isaac/Isabeau smiled and kissed Talasea on the forehead before climbing inside the Lumia's cockpit. The Polar Conductor followed suit, closed the canopy and waited for Talasea to depart before opening the hangar door.
Bipedal mechs were uncommon vehicles. Many considered that they combined the disadvantages of both wheeled and legged machines, without the benefits of any -- it wasn't entirely wrong. Lumia-class walkers had been designed for the pretend battles of Flower Wars. They were actors and theatre props favouring elegance over practicality. High-end Lumias, however, punched above their symbolic weight. Remarkably well balanced, light and stable, they had found a niche as all-purpose vehicles in many an unexpected place. It did not, however, allow them to escape the usual problems of two-legged mechs. Piloting a Lumia was a peculiar exercise. Sitting cross-legged on her seat, the Polar Conductor did not even bother with touching the controls. A neural tendril linked her monad to the mech's mainframe, allowing the Polar Conductor to control the machine with her thoughts. This method put considerable strain on the pilot and required a mighty amount of focus but was vastly easier than attempting to wrangle with the Lumia on physical controls alone. Isaac/Isabeau did not share the apparent calm of the Polar Conductor. They clung to their seat, right above the pilot, praying for their dear life. The Lumia rocked and pitched and even the best anti-roll bar in the world wouldn't have helped. Such was the fate of all bipedal machines. Of course, the pilot did not feel a thing. She wasn't a passenger: she was the Lumia.
Through the cockpit's armoured glass, Isaac/Isabeau could not see anything. The Lumia moved inside a thick frozen mist traversed by a powerful blizzard. The icy path wasn't even worthy of being called a trail. It was but a pile of snow and rubble that even a goat would have found dangerous, and yet the Lumia moved with great ease. Half-bent, the walker used its manipulation tendrils to avoid slipping alongside the slope. The Polar Conductor remained silent, entirely focused on the task at hand. Bubbles' stupid bird avatar now bore a wool scarf. Her comlink with the Internationale was weak but enough to allow for coherent thoughts.
*Our pilot is not very talkative,* said the AI with a text message on her post-it. Isaac/Isabeau answered in sign language.
*You think you'd be a talker if you had to drive a Lumia?*
*I couldn't pilot a mech. I'm too fond of idle banter for that. By the way, do you know that statistically, humans are vastly better mech pilots than artificial intelligences?*
*Aye. Walking on two legs is natural for you. Not for us.*
*Makes sense. But I would have guessed the contrary. You learn new things everyday.*
*Happy to help.*
The Lumia kept moving. Fifteen kilometres away from Cordoba Port, the trail became wider as the blizzard howled around the monumental bone splinters reaching out from the glacier. The Lumia pressed on with the eerie regularity of a metronome, filling Isaac/Isabeau with a strange sense of safety. The cockpit was a little nest of warmth and sweetness, perched above the dead iceshelf. The Polar Conductor briefly left her trance to call Jalil on the radio.
"Hey Jalil. Lumia 1-1 here. Everything alright?"
A sweet, low-pitched voice answered. Hindi, interspersed with Arabic idioms.
"Quite the snowstorm but I'm fine. I took Lumia 1-2 out to clear some rocks on the trail. While I was at it, I've put a few luminous beacons alongside the ridge path. Oh, and watch out. I've got a remnant coming your way."
"What's a remnant?" asked Isaac/Isabeau. The Conductor's only response was to angle the cockpit towards the grey sky and switched the contrast all the way up. A few minutes passed. Isa started seeing greyish shapes cast against the blizzard clouds. The overly thin legs of gigantic spiders walking against the wind with impossible ease. Were they alive? Isa could not say. Their moves, fluid and unbothered, did not belong to any realm in particular. And on a Sequence world, the difference between natural and artificial creatures was nonsensical anyway. No matter what they truly were, these remnants came from the defunct empire. Their shapes were black and glittering. A moving baroque painting, typical of transbiological Sequence lifeforms. Isaac/Isabeau had already heard of these strange automatons, neither living nor dead, undulating in the wind that gave them nourishment and energy. It was, however, the first time they'd seen them be called "remnants".
A transbiological filament landed in the snow, a few hundred metres away. Though the creature was so large its body was lost in the clouds, the leg barely sank in the snow. The remnant's ground pressure was probably not higher than that of the Lumia itself. The Polar Conductor moved the mech to the side and Isaac/Isabeau looked up. The creature's main body was still in the clouds, more than a kilometre above the Lumia. Sound waves danced in the air. Dark bass, moving in unison with the howling wind. Another leg struck the snow. The remnant moved to the north-west at the pace of a few kilometres per hour. The Polar Conductor resumed her walk. Jalil's beacons were not far away.
The wind shifted directions. Frost now gathered alongside the east-facing side of the cockpit.
The Polar Conductor stopped the mech beneath a rocky wall, then switched her radio on again.
"Lumia 1-1 to Lumia 1-2. Do we have a swarm outside today?"
"Lumia 1-2, Cordoba Port tells me the last queen left the plateau three days ago. No swarms in the valley."
"Then you'll have to explain to me why I have several seismic signatures shadowing the remnant."
"Lumia 1-1, find solid ground. Fast. There's a limestone slab under the ice two thousand metres to the north."
The Polar Conductor threw the mech on a slow run towards the limestone. The mass absorption systems whined while they tried to prevent the mech from sinking in the glacier.
It wasn't fast enough.
The emergence of the swarm started with a series of undulating howls, echoes of wind against the mountains. A memory flashed through Isaac/Isabeau's mind : the chirps of flying fish alongside terran shores. Then the creatures started surging from the glacier, ejected by the earth itself. Organic missiles. Space age fish painted in bright, electric colours. Their wings were only made for the initial extraction from the ice tunnels as their main mode of propulsion was some kind of organic jet engine that gleamed in infrared wavelengths. The fish starting hacking at the remnant's legs with teeth and electrified wings. Everywhere they went, transbiological material was shattered and dissolved. The remnant howled. While its body weakened, Isaac/Isabeau could finally see the creature in its entirety. The main body was some three hundred metres long. It was a living, baroque altar whose colours had absorbed all the sadness of a dying empire. The remnant screamed in the wind. The sound wave punched Isaac/Isabeau in the gut. The Lumia shook. The Polar Conductor pressed on, pushing the mech at the very edge of what it could deliver without being swallowed by the snow.
All around them, bloody fragments of fish rained from the sky, red blood spouting from their pulverized veins. For a split-second, Isa thought the battle was over.
Then the glacier burst open.
A blue whale sized creature emerged from the ice, shattering the glacier as if it was made of white cotton. The animal had the same colors as the flying fish -- so bright they looked out of place. A lizard as tall as a skyscraper. The creature let out a deep howl. The ice fractured in a circular pattern. The transbiological body of the remnant started bursting open in a cloud of particles carried away by the wind. The giant creature howled a second time. The Lumia's screens flickered and went dark while alarm lights lit up on the dashboard. The Polar Conductor froze. The radio disappeared under waves of static. Devoid of active controls, the Lumia found itself unable to keep its balance. It tilted to the side then fell in the chasm opened by the unknown lifeform. Isaac/Isabeau clung to the cockpit's rail handles as the Lumia bounced down across several metres, shattering its windows and pulverizing the leg joints against the bones that protruded from the iceshelf.
High above, the remnant had dislocated. Fine transbiological dust rained over the mountains -- embers on the peaks.
Isa's monad switched itself on to mute the pain that radiated from their lower spine. Their exosuit displays flickered so much they failed at giving any information pertaining to potential injuries. The unknown lifeform had generated some kind of military-strength electromagnetic impulse. This close up, the Lumai's mainframe had not survived and neither had the Polar Conductor, realized Isaac/Isabeau when they tried to pry her from the seat. Her eyelids blinked in sequence, eyes lost in the sky, and Isaac/Isabeau realized that the woman was just the humanoid avatar of an artificial intelligence. They lowered the separation between the two cockpits and reached for the emergency access panel, at the base of the avatar's neck. The vegetal mainframe was still active. The impulse had left the AI intact, destroying only the outer systems of her avatar. Isaac/Isabeau unglued the post-it from their shoulder. The stupid bird was still there but without its usual ornaments -- it had returned to a default state. The post-it had been spared, probably due to the sheer simplicity of its e-ink circuits.
"Bubbles? Are you still here?"
"Hello!" said the bird, "I am a local copy of the AI named Bubbles! As I cannot establish remote contact with Bubbles' main substratum, I have no long-term memory and lack any advanced cognitive functions. Do you happen to have a problem I could help with?"
"Yes. I am stuck in a Lumia that fell down a crevice. I don't have heating, the canopy is broken, the mainframe and generator are out, my exosuit is dying and the humanoid avatar of my AI is dead."
"Ah! That's inconvenient. Sadly, I am unable to think about this problem. But I wish you good luck!"
Isaac/Isabeau sighed and folded the post-it before storing it in their pocket. The cockpit ejection command was broken. They unscrewed the bolts keeping the canopy in place and pushed the remaining glass fragments in the snow. The crevice opened by the unknown lifeform was too steep for Isaac/Isabeau to climb it back up. Isaac/Isabeau thought about ejecting the pilot's canopy -- the emergency handle was still operational -- but changed their mind. The Lumia's engine was still warm and Isa wanted to keep the Polar Conductor from the cold as much as possible. Vegetal substrata were less vulnerable to low temperatures than human brains, but they could still freeze to death. Isaac/Isabeau took an emergency flare from their belt. The hand launcher was devoid of any electronics and had been spared by the electromagnetic impulse. Isaac/Isabeau turned the launcher towards the misty sky and pulled the trigger. A red flare rose up in the blizzard with a whistle, pinpointing Isa's location at the bottom of the crevice.
Isaac/Isabeau realized it had been a spectacularly stupid idea when they saw the blade-shaped head of the unknown lifeform peeking from the mist, staring at them. The predator climbed down the crevice, slowly, anchoring each of its steps with its powerful claws. Its gleaming colours were reflected endlessly by the ice walls. Isaac/Isabeau did not step down nor try to run away. They were intimately convinced that the Lumia had only been a collateral casualty in the war led by these swarms against the remnant. Besides, it was rare for extraterrestrial creatures to attack humans without provocation. Earthlings were at best impossible to eat, at worst toxic. Isa had never feared such lifeforms -- even if this one had peculiar capabilities. The predator undulated in front of Isaac/Isabeau, towering above them like a giant. It breathed slowly through a series of holes alongside its flanks, then folded its collar, revealing a spine made of triangular bone fragments that gleamed in gold. They were thermal exchange surfaces, understood Isaac/Isabeau, allowing the creature to heat up and cool down depending on its needs. The predator broke two of the triangles and deposited them in the snow for Isaac/Isabeau to pick them up. The bone fragments were smooth and light. They radiated enough heat to keep the blizzard at bay for a while. The predator blinked with its six eyes then stepped back, jumped atop the crevice and disappeared in the snowy mist.
Isaac/Isabeau put one of the heat sinks in the Polar Conductor's cockpit and kept the other in their own broken canopy. Then, they curled up in a corner and waited for relief to come.
Half an hour passed by.
Isaac/Isabeau ended their oxygen and heat-preserving meditation when someone knocked on the Lumia's canopy. A man in a grey exosuit. It was probably Jalil. Isa helped him open the cockpit and Jalil smiled through the visor of their helmet. He had a beautiful smile, thought Isa, their mind confused by frost. Jalil put their helmet against Isa's.
"Hey. Are you alright?"
"I think. Are you alright?"
"I think. But my pilot..."
"She'll survive. Her vegetal mainframe is intact. I am very sorry, we are still rather bad at spotting swarms. They don't attack humans directly, but their methods aren't subtle. Most of our Lumias aren't protected against electromagnetic impulses."
Isaac/Isabeau raised their hand.
"Wait. What are these creatures, exactly?"
"That is exactly what we are studying here. Preliminary results show that Silene was used by the Sequence to grow transbiological armies. Some of these warforms have managed to survived after the end of the Sequence, breaking the genetic and memetic shackles of their former masters. These creatures, these swarms, hold a very strong grudge against the Sequence and what's left of it. Shapes, colours, behaviours, everything in them has been studied to be as divergent from the Sequence as possible. Sometimes, the warform engage the remnants directly. But we had never seen such displays of violence before."
"One of the deviants left me a heat sink so that I could keep warm..."
"We've already observed this. I think the deviants identified us as distinct from the Sequence and don't want humans to suffer because of their actions. This specific behaviour is still not yet understood. Pray, I understand it is not very appropriate given the circumstances, but do you have my letters?"
Jalil smiled again -- the kind of smile one couldn't say no to. Isaac/Isabeau took the letter out of their satchel and gave it to Jalil. The envelope was all pink and covered in childish drawings. When it opened, the e-ink buzzed and started singing "happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, Dad..."
Isaac/Isabeau sighed before falling asleep.
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