Bonus Chapter

MMP cover

Interface Book Two: Crow City You Like Machines, Right?

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He heard it first. The aircraft came into his viewfinder a moment later. It was an air shuttle. Cybernetic Soldier, 105.34, hadn’t seen or heard in several decades. The unidentified craft entered firing range. He had it sighted for evaporation, ready to fire as soon as he received the go-code. But he knew the order would not come. He hadn’t received such orders since the collapse, over seventy-five years ago. A cybernetic was not able to fire a weapon or endanger another being’s life without explicit orders to engage from a trusted authority. He shut down his weapon’s systems.

The human part of him, the part that used to be Marcus Plummer, felt a pain in his chest. Heartache, he thought. Ironic, isn’t it? I have neither a heart or a chest but still I feel the pain just the same.

The flying machine was a corporate class shuttle, typical transport for Interface Industries big-wigs and high-ranking lawyers, accountants and executive assistants. Seeing it was disorienting, even for his enhanced computing abilities, it took a moment to realize the shuttle couldn’t be new. For a millisecond, his fifty-year nightmare had not been real. But C-105.34 righted his perceptions. He remembered how long it had been. Ecclesia Mortis was gone; the inhabitants of this craft were new. He reassured himself that he was sound even though his processors had been failing for the past decade.

The shuttle was painted with a black, light-absorbing paint. If 105.34 didn’t have infrared and ultraviolet optics, he wouldn’t have seen it at all. As it was, when the craft touched down, some kind of cloaking rose up. After that he could only see a shifting fractal when he looked at it sideways.  No Interface Industries shuttle was ever cloaked or painted black.

It landed a few hundred feet away from the loading docks, near the wing of the ruined hospital he’d been living in lately. He needed to be close to the operating rooms with its hardware and monitoring instruments. Also, the roof didn’t leak here. Radiology and imaging were just down the hall. He reasoned an eighty percent chance that the visitors were headed there.

 C-105.34 pressed himself into the shadows and shut down everything but essential functions. Three humans entered the hallway. Two women, one with shoulder-length auburn hair and the other with a worn stretch-hat pulled over her black page-boy and violet eyes, carried what he could identify as Interface-controlled, mid-twenty-first century plasma weapons.

Interface users, he thought. He hadn’t seen another Interface user since the last soldier in his platoon died. The pilot was dressed in an old, military-issue button front coat. He had no weapons but he still wore his helmet which scanned for movement with a sweeping infrared beam. The helmet was also Interface-controlled.


In the early two-thousands, the Interface solved the problem of functioning under the extreme high pressures of quantum acceleration. It consists of an implant and translation processor that allows the imagination to control machines. In short, The Interface lets humans to manipulate techno-processes with their minds. After collapse, interstellar transport was no longer part of anyone’s plans. But the Interface changed the balance of power.

C-105.34 fell into a memory. Remembering bathed his nervous system in endorphins, even though the release trigger was a mechanical injection rather than actual brain chemistry secretion. His brain had been floating in a tank of nutritional gel inside his torso for three decades. The first time he’d seen such a shuttle was during his initial training. He was mostly man then, having only had minor eye implants and, of course, the Interface capsule under the skin below his ear. The commanding officer and his assistant arrived in one on his first day of training.

The company jacked up his hormonal levels, especially his testosterone, in preparation the rigors of training. At the end of the ten-week intensive, C-105.34, who was still partly Marcus Plummer at that point, was given his processor and the programs he needed to become active. The terms and conditions of his employment demanded he surrender his Rights of Sovereignty, meaning that he was now the legal property of Interface Industries. Any enhanced mercenary had to give up his human rights. The sort of surgical changes they made were illegal. At least they were at that moment in history, things changed lightning fast near the end. Most human rights laws were rescinded by the World Government when the virus became a global crisis. But what do laws mean in a world without people?

Before Marcus could be deployed, the fifth wave infected everyone in his division including the other seven cybernetic soldiers from his platoon. Most died within ten hours. The virus attacked the brain and interrupted life support. After the second wave, it mutated and learned to keep its host alive longer, but the infected were essentially brain dead and never regained consciousness.

His platoon mates each had different enhancements. Because of his size when he was human, he was originally outfitted with assists on his arms and legs in addition to his processor and vision tools. Fellow platoon member, Kyle Bossart, AKA C-105.40, had microscopic manipulation capability; his fingers contained a set of nano-wires that could be sent two meters into a tight place, through nearly any material. The tech havoc he could have caused was monumental, not to mention his ability to kill with those things.

But the virus was not choosy, it attacked everyone, even the biological remnants of Marcus. He didn’t know why it didn’t kill him, but it didn’t. It left him alive to witness his cohorts in various stages of paralysis. The disease infected living tissue, but depending upon what cybernetic enhancements had been done, it was only able to partially disable many of them at first. The horror of those times changed him. He would spend decades rewriting his own programing. But first, he had to interrupt the security systems that prevented access to his own processor.

Marcus was not an experienced programmer, but his processor enhanced his deductive reasoning and he had a talent with mechanical things. His cybernetic hardware and software were designed and fabricated at the headquarters of Interface Industries, right here in the same building as the hospital, several floors above.

It was in the largest city on the continent. In the past half-decade, nomads referred to it as, Beso Muerte, the kiss of death. But until it began to deteriorate, the city and surrounding region was powered by a grid of solar panels and vast wind farms in the deserts to the east. After the collapse, the electricity remained on for years.

105.34 poked around and learned as he went. He found a complete set of Interface tutorials in the library on the twenty-sixth floor. He also discovered the lead cybernetics designer: Ito Jones. Research and development labs were on the twelfth floor. He scoured Jones’ office and laptop. Not only did the engineer have a passwords spreadsheet, he had editable ghost images of the entire platoon’s processors. Each of them could be run in a virtual machine and tested, altered, and resaved. The laptop contained everything he needed.

C-105.34 used Ito Jones’ laptop to create a new image for himself. He was also able to create other cyborgs using wild animals as hosts. For twenty years, C-105.34 was busy. His programing prowess increased, often through terrible errors. And as he gained mastery, he began thinking of himself as M. PLUMMER again. The one routine that eluded his interruption was FSX7, commonly known as the Kill Switch. A program that was hard-coded into his core circuitry.

The Kill Switch was the program that prevented the Interface Industries Cybernetic Enforcers, or IICE, from harming themselves or others. It was not created by Ito Jones and his team. It was mandated by the World Government just prior to the collapse. WG engineers wrote the routine to appease fears that an army of IICE would be a threat to humans. Though M. PLUMMER was able to rewrite his programming and break his servitude to a company that had turned to dust over half a century ago, he was not free. If he were, he would have killed himself years before.

His self-preservation programing required him to move into the sunlight for a few hours each day. It also required him to consume water and living material in order to fuel his nutritional gel. If he did not initiate the action willingly, the program initiated itself.

Emerson Lloyde, Anastacia Moon and Elle Rattlesnake Quinn had come to this specific hospital in the abandoned megalopolis to salvage medical supplies and to mine the data-stores of Interface Industries. The Black Mariah, the name Emerson had given his shuttle, had a full diagnostic program built into its medical bay, but it couldn’t do MRIs and its x-ray capability was designed for triage emergencies.

The infant village they traveled south from was more of a large family. Though its inhabitants were not of a single blood, they were close. Together they had escaped from The City, a walled society across the Inland Sea and were building a new home for themselves and their children on the coast. A recent accident had provided urgent proof they needed better medical supplies. They sought the most advanced diagnostic tech available. Lives depended upon it.

Ana said, “I want to check out the server room. The newest hardware and software of the time was created here.”

Quinn said, “Let’s stay together until we have confirmed that no one else is here. This place looks too clean and orderly for me, it should be covered with fifty years of filth.”

Emerson didn’t speak, he was listening. Chandler Estes, his grandfather and the closest thing he had had to a parent growing up, would say, “Animals activate their cannabinoid system when they require intense concentration. We humans have access to it too, but we’re all too fucking numb from having everything handed to us nice and easy, see.” As boy, Emerson often didn’t know what his grandpa was talking about. But on the eve of his sixteenth birthday, Chandler opened an antique tin cigar box and packed a six-inch-long glass smoking pipe with a dried herb and handed it to Emerson. He lit his laser fire starter and said, “Take one big pull, hold it in your lungs. Don’t pass out.”

Emerson sucked on the glass tube, the taste was strong, musky and complex like dark roast coffee or skunk spray. He could only hold his breath for a second and coughed ferociously. When he quieted, his viewpoint left his body and floated up toward the ceiling. Chandler’s voice sounded distant, like it was under water. “Concentrate, boy. Make your chatterbox brain shut up for a second. Breathe slow; in… and out… in… and out…

The experience changed him. With practice, Emerson learned to find the calm, expansive awareness after the drug wore off. When he found it, time slowed and the dark outline of the world clarified. Over the years that followed, he learned how to bring that same calm, awareness to his hunting. Combined with the enhancing capabilities of the Interface and his shuttle helmet, Emerson possessed truly super-human observational skills.

Still, the three walked past M. PLUMMER and were half way to the first operating suite when the cyborg’s survival program suddenly kicked in and transported him toward the sun. The movement startled the shuttle team. Quinn, the least weapon-savvy of the three, nearly vaporized him.

Emerson yelled, “Wait.”

Quinn and the Cyborg froze.


Plummer vocalized. It was the first time he’d spoken in decades, his voice sounded foreign and weird to him. He said, “I am not a threat, don’t shoot.”

Emerson said, “How do we know? What are you?”

Plummer said, “I’m M. Plummer, a cybernetically enhanced human, but my programing requires that I move into the sun to recharge, please don’t shoot me, FSX7 makes me harmless.” He rolled away down the cluttered hall toward the dock on dual roller tracks.

Quinn, Ana and Emerson stood, stunned for a moment. Emerson said, “Ana, you can go look for the server room. Quinn and I will see what’s up with Plummer, whatever he is.”

They met the cyborg outside. He’d crossed what used to be a parking lot and was now standing in a field of waist-tall scrub-grass and pigweed. They walked the narrow trail Plummer’s treads made by making this trip every day. His solar collector was open, which made him look like an oversized, metal, neck lizard with an erect hood. A haphazardly patched, once army-issue green shirt hung in taters from his shoulders. The name tag on the left breast read M. PLUMMER.

His four arms, which looked like miniature segmented cranes made of erector-set parts hung limp at his sides. His head was tipped back as though he were under a tanning light, but the paint on his resin cast face had mostly flaked off, leaving worn, rash-like patches on his cheek and temple. The colors were bleached and pale.

Emerson said, “Can you speak while you’re recharging?”

He said, “Uh huh. What can I tell you? I’ve been here so long I don’t know where to begin.”

“I’m Emerson Lloyde, this is Quinn and Ana is inside looking for the server room.”

Quinn inspected his body. While she was looking, two rats scurried out of the weeds. She jumped back, startled. Plummer said, “They are harmless. Meet Rat One and Rat Two.”

Quinn squinted and said, “They don’t look like rats. They’re too big.”

Plummer said, “They were rats when I found them. But I fixed them. Now they are my Rats.”

Emerson knelt down and let Rat One smell his extended hand. It stood up on its hind legs and he saw the second set of arms constructed out of similar, smaller erector-set type parts tucked into its sides. The animal held out his actual right paw and nodded. Emerson said, “It wants to shake my hand?”

Rat Two sat down by Quinn’s foot and retied her shoe. She nearly pulled her foot away and said, “Shit! It has too many arms. You designed and built these?”

Rat Two sat on his haunches and looked up at her. He said, “Rat One actually helped build me.”

Plummer said, “They are my assistants. I needed to create programable cybernetic creatures to help me rebuild my own body. After the virus, it was slowly decomposing. I learned the hard way I had to replace my dying parts. The rest of my cohort expired in gruesome, drawn-out deaths. Rats are the smartest animals left.”

Ana had come outside when she couldn’t locate the server room. She’d heard Plummer’s last comment and said, “You made these things and they helped remake you? That’s amazing.”

Plummer retracted his solar collector and looked at Ana for a long minute. He had no facial expressions so it was hard to know what he was thinking. Finally, he said, “After the collapse, people blamed everything on technology. Many survivors joined the radical anti-technology church: Ecclesia Mortis. It gathered clots of angry humans with nothing left to lose and no one to blame for their misery. They attacked every machine they found, sentient or otherwise, and destroyed anything tech-related: piled it in huge pyramids, doused with the worthless petroleum that had killed the planet and let the fires burn until they went out. Sometimes it took years.

Disciples believed the reeking mountains were holy ground and fought each other for the privilege of dwelling near them. The smoldering ruins belched poisonous chemicals into the air and leaked toxic sludge into the sewers, killing most of the remaining population. The few survivors called it cursed and scattered.”

He barked a strange noise that sounded like something between a seal and a myna bird, thinking it sounded like a laugh. “The machines will outlive us all in the end. Ecclesia Mortis’s hatred for technology defined the struggle between science and ignorance for the next hundred years. I barricaded the hospital; they got in anyway. I had to defend myself.

Emerson said, “I thought you were harmless.”

Plummer said, “I can’t hurt anyone or myself. Waiting passively to be murdered is suicide. I am prevented. I tried not to hurt anyone too badly, but I…”

After waiting a long half-minute, looking from Ana to Quinn, Emerson said, “Plummer?”

The cyborg did not move or speak. Emerson could hear his gel churning and a faintly purring electric motor. Quinn shrugged.

Ana said, “Did he go offline?”

Before anyone moved, Plummer continued as if he hadn’t paused. “…am very strong, that’s the way I was designed.”

Emerson glanced around but didn’t speak.

Ana said, “That’s terrible. You seem like a gentle being, it’s a tragedy that they came after you like that.”

“I can’t blame them; the world ended. They’d believed it would go on forever. Anger is rational. In the absence of an enemy, they lashed out at what appeared to be the cause.”

“Yes,” Ana said, “but they were wrong, it’s unjust.”

 Plummer made another sound which his processor must have cataloged as laughter. It sounded like a donkey braying. Emerson smiled. Ana said, “What? What’s funny?”

Plummer said quietly, “You have an innocent idea of justice.”

Quinn said, “You have lived here alone all this time?”

Plummer rolled closer to Quinn, flexing his neck down into his torso bringing his eyes level with her breasts, which had leaked, darkening the fabric of her shirt. Her toddler, Marya, was still nursing. But she was one hundred miles away with another of the founding members, Elle Moon. Oblivious to how inappropriate his actions were, Plummer said, “I have my rats. But yes, all alone. There are several other beings, but no other sentient biological life.”

Quinn said, “I can’t imagine.” She stepped away, shivered and turned her back to him, searching the overgrown rooves of the surrounding buildings.

Plummer turned to Ana and said, “You like machines, right?”

She smiled, glanced at Quinn and said, “Most of the time. I certainly don’t blame machines for the evils that men program into them.”

Emerson said, “We believe in appropriate technology use. In my opinion you should never have been created. But now that you are here, we will treat you with the respect any living being deserves.”

Plummer said, “You came here for medical equipment, correct? Please, let me help you. As I said, I am very strong. And I know where everything is in this building. I have been living here for a long time.” He rolled off in the direction of Radiology.

Quinn side-eyed Emerson at Plummer’s swift change in subject, but she said nothing.


Ana told Plummer what she was looking for. Emerson explained about the MRI and X-Ray machines. He said, “And we can also use pharmaceuticals, surgical tools, bandages, skin knitters, surgical glue…” Plummer stood motionless. Emerson said, “Are you hearing this?”

Plummer said, “Yes. Why?”

“Because when you stand still and all I hear is your fluids sloshing around, I’m not sure if you can hear me.”

An annoyed tone shaded his machine generated voice, “Right. You do know that I’m mostly a machine, right?” He went on after a slight pause, “I hear and record everything.” He played the recording back: “I hear and record everything.” If I say I am listening, I am. I cannot lie.”

Emerson said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to doubt you…”

“Well, there you go again. I am not seeking an apology; I am stating facts with the intention of improving our communications in the future. However, the small but significant part of me that’s still human thanks you for your concern.”

Emerson suspected Plummer’s instability but he nodded and said, “Ok then. Imagine you are starting a colony and you want to make sure to bring anything of relevance. Tell me what it is and where we can find it.”

They went back and forth collecting items and moving them to the dock. Ana chimed in when she had a relevant observation. Quinn stood back and watched. Before long, Plummer was leading Emerson to radiology. The ceiling tiles had rotted away exposing the pipes and wires above the grid. They kicked up a thick dust as they went, glass and plastic detritus crunched under Plummer’s treads. Rat One and Two scampered after them, sometimes swinging from the naked drop-ceiling grids like spider monkeys. The humans wrapped filter masks around their faces, a material that Emerson’s grandfather invented.

Ana said, “Plummer, how did you end up surviving The Death and become a cyborg of all things?”

“I was drafted.”

After waiting a while for a story that never came, she said, “Ok, your automated voice, is that what you sounded like or is it just a randomly generated machine voice?” In Blue Hole, where she grew up, Ana was an expert Interface programmer, part of a group of free technicals called Juice Hackers. She had genuine interest in Plummer’s programming. A being like him was capable of many things that humans were not, besides the fact that he was a goldmine of data on advanced cybernetics. The implications for medicine were overwhelming. Understandably for Plummer, value was an idea he had long since forgotten about.  Over the past several years he had given up.

“Strangely enough,” he said, “It is as close an approximation of my voice as was possible. My processor had plenty of recordings from which to create a profile. So, when we removed my lungs and larynx, that profile was the basis of my artificial voice. But I don’t think it sounds like me.”

When they were alone, Quinn said to Ana, “Something seems off about our favorite cyborg.”

Ana said, “He has glitches, if you know what I mean. I tried to run a diagnostic on him but he refused and locked me out.” She did a poor imitation of the cyborg’s electronic voice, “He said, ‘I run mah own diagnostics, thank you very much.’ It’s hard to tell if he is a machine or a man. It’s like he evolved with the worst attributes of both.”


At radiology they found the equipment they wanted. Emerson and Ana disconnected the components and Plummer brought the parts to the dock. On his final trip, he offered to show Ana to the server room and opened the locked steel door. But after she entered the room and ignited her halogen lantern, he sealed the door behind her.

“Plummer!” She yelled and pounded on the door, but it was solid. The room was a faraday cage; her coms device was useless. She didn’t know why the cyborg locked her in, but it was the place she was seeking. She put her concerns on hold and set to work, rigging a temporary power supply and switching on a bank of computers.

Fifty multithread processing servers sprang to life, power lights flashing from yellow to orange, eventually turning green a few moments later. She used her Interface to find a login point and cracked the password which was poorly encrypted by her year 2109 standards. Ana forgot where she was for the next hour as she searched storage abstracts and copied code.


After Plummer locked Ana in the server room, he rolled back to Quinn and Emerson who were filling a cart with drugs and paraphernalia. Plummer offered to bring it to the shuttle. Emerson asked, “Where’s Ana?”

Plummer said, “In the server room.”

When Emerson asked, “Where’s that?” Plummer didn’t respond.

Emerson stopped loading and stared at the cyborg. “Plummer, where is she?”

When he still did not reply Emerson said, “Quinn, leave that. Come with me.” They began to walk away. Plummer moved fast. The metal fingers on two of his erector-set arms clicked around their necks. He lifted them thirty centimeters off the floor. Quinn went limp. Emerson struggled, trying to pry the cybernetic fist open. He choked. She whispered hoarsely, “Stop squirming around, you’ll hurt yourself. He tried to relax; it was hard to breathe.

Plummer said, “Can I put you down? You won’t try to run away, will you?” He set them on their feet, but left his pincers loosely around their necks. “Thank you.”

Emerson relaxed his shoulders, Quinn was right, as always. He took a deep breath and said, “What’s the plan, Plummer? Or am I talking to C-105.34?”

“That’s an admirable hypothesis, Mister Lloyde. No, I am not afflicted with a multiple personality disorder. My processor would never allow that. I am secretive and a little obtuse at times, but not as a result of a bug in my programing. I am the way I am because of what has happened to me; just like you. And because I am human at the core, I am always learning and adapting in hopes that I can overcome my limitations.”

He paused long enough for Emerson to wonder if he had a chance to escape.

Plummer went on, “The plan is companionship. Female companionship, no offence Emerson, but I never developed much of a taste for men.”

Plummer used two metal fingers to pinch a nerve in Emerson’s neck. He crumpled to the floor.

Quinn yelled, “Emerson…” and lunged toward him. But Plummer said, “Ah, ah…” and she stopped. “We can walk, or I can drag you.” Quinn nodded and walked ahead. She said, “He’s ok, right?”

Plummer said. “I just put him to sleep. He won’t even have a headache.”

When Emerson woke a few minutes later he felt like his head had been slammed in a steel door.


Ana was nearly finished copying programs when the server room door opened and Quinn entered with Plummer. It locked behind him. He blocked them in. Ana began to ask what was going on. Quinn shook her head. She hoped the concern in her eyes conveyed the warning. She tried sending the thought telepathically, the cyborg is unpredictable, dangerous. They needed to keep him from escalating the situation. Quinn hoped that Emerson would wake soon and come looking for them with the plasma rifles. She needed to keep Plummer calm until then.

Plummer said, “I want you girls to stay with me. We can make enhancements, possibly create offspring, wouldn’t that be miraculous?” Rat One and Two dropped down out of the ruined ceiling and stood on their hind legs to either side of Plummer like miniature wraths. “You could live forever. With me.”

Ana said, “Enhancements? You mean cutting us up and pasting us back together with spare parts? No fucking thanks.”

Quinn cringed. Emerson was tracing the door’s edges looking for weak points. She sensed that he was out there.

Plummer went on calmly, “I’ll give you the gift of eternal life in return for being my companions. Seems like an equitable trade to me. And we only have to replace parts that wear out. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.” He indicated his torso.

Quinn said, “What makes you think we are ever going to agree to that?”

Plummer mused for a second and said, “I might have to force you, though I’d rather not. Miss Quinn, have you ever seen a live human disemboweled?” He raised one hand and a four-centimeter-long scalpel snapped out of one fingertip. “And I have nine more.”

Ana was ready to fight. They would both end up dead in a struggle. Quinn said, “Let’s think about this differently, without the escalation, shall we? Wouldn’t your needs be met by coming to live with us? That way we could all benefit from your cybernetic expertise and you wouldn’t be forced to live alone any longer. Who knows, someone else might want to take you up on your offer. New people come to us every day.

Plummer was silent for a long minute. His nutritional gel gurgled. Quinn began to wonder if he’d hit a glitch again. She hoped he’d blown a fuse. Suddenly he replied, “You’ll take me flying? Up in the shuttle?”


Outside, Emerson had just finished setting charges on the door. He was huddled behind an overturned filing cabinet, about to trigger them when the door opened and Quinn, Ana and Plummer emerged.

Ana said, “I got what I came for.”

Quinn said, “We are taking Plummer and the Rats back to the village with us.”

Emerson said, “What happened in there?”

Quinn said, “Get ready to take off, I need to get back to our daughter. I’ll fill you in on the way.”

Emerson knew better than to ask again once Quinn had issued commands. She was, after all, the daughter of a Lord.


The shuttle door was too short for Plummer. He had to disconnect his head to get in and once it was back on his shoulders, he continually scaped the ceiling. After a considerable effort, the cyborg, his assistants, and the equipment were on board with the rest of the crew. Launch disoriented him, he had never planned for rapid acceleration and his nutritional gel sloshed around inside him. He had to shut down sensory inputs to keep from reacting. He wasn’t sure if it was fear or excitement; he hadn’t felt anything so strongly in a nearly a century. Like running into a bitter old friend.

They were cruising at 10,000 meters. Emerson was in the cockpit. Plummer brought himself back on line and said, “I’ve heard that there’s no time like the present, but I believe it’s more like no time but the present… Either way, the time is now.”

Quinn said, “What are you talking about?”

He said, “I’ve thought about your offer and I decline. Living any longer when there is a possibility that I might have a way out is unacceptable.”

Ana said, “So what are you saying?”

He replied, “You have provided a way out. That’s all I really wanted.”

Emerson arrived. The Mariah was on autopilot. He said, “What’s going on?”

Plummer said, “You are going to help me end my miserable life.”

Emerson said “What?” He was trying to trust that Quinn knew what she was doing, which she always did. He suppressed the urge to yell. It made him sweat.

Quinn was surprised by Plummer’s reversal which made her sound indignant. She said, “That wasn’t the agreement, Plummer. You were coming back home with us.”

Plummer said, “Yeah, it was an enticing offer, but I realized that being up in the sky could afford me an opportunity I’ve never even thought of before. I can use a manual override and disengage my driveshaft. If I reset my system, it shuts down the Kill Switch. In the thirteen seconds it takes for my processor to reboot I can kill myself before it can stop me. You just have to open the door and I’ll do the reset. You tip the shuttle and I’ll roll out the door. By the time my program recognizes what has happened it will be too late to do anything about it.”

Quinn said, “I could have just vaporized you if all you wanted was to die.”

“The program wouldn’t allow it. Protection systems are always active against weapons fire. They do not reset.”

Emerson said, “What makes you think we are going to help you do that?”

Plummer said, “I can do quite a lot of damage in thirteen seconds. And I still might be able to make it out the door.”


Emerson brought the shuttle down to a manageable forty-five hundred meters.

Plummer said, “Miss Elle Rattlesnake Quinn, I thank you for granting a dying man’s last wish. Well, one of them, anyway. You are a beautiful woman. I still believe you and Ana and I could be very happy living forever together.”

Emerson raised his eyebrows and side-eyed Quinn who pretended not to notice.

 Plummer went on, “And thanks to all of you for the part you have played in my escape from a lifetime of bondage. I would hug each of you, but my form makes that impossible.”

They stood around silently. Finally, Plummer said. “Please open the door before I lose my nerve.”

Emerson slowed the shuttle down to just above drop speed and opened the door. Plummer shut down. The wind streamed in and the patchwork of fields and forests drifted by below. Ana and Quinn were so mesmerized by the changing landscape that they were shocked when Emerson tipped the shuttle and Plummer rolled out of sight.

Emerson initiated the door close. Just before it sealed, one of Plummer’s claw hands gripped on to the bottom ledge. Ana yelled, “Stop. Emerson. He’s changed his mind.” But the door continued, severing Plummer’s metal fingers. Rat One scampered up and collected them, slipping them into a pouch on his belly. Rat Two joined him. They turned to face the humans together and bowed. They scampered off again into the bowels of the ship.

Emerson said, “I agree you are both beautiful, but eternal life as a cyborg?”

 Ana laughed and Quinn joined her. They stopped suddenly at the pounding on the outside of the ship.

Plummer’s headless body appeared at the main hatch window. He banged and yelled, the sound vibrating the Mariah’s hull so it sounded like it was coming from everywhere.

“Open the door, let me in. It didn’t work. I guess I’m coming with you.