Pathways (Part 08): The Highway to Hell

The masses danced, but they were no longer in control of themselves.

They could not help but to dance. Their bodies flailed, limbs akimbo. It was madness. Chaos and anarchy. They were in bliss.

The priest smiled. He alone was unaffected by the frenzy. "Yes! Yes my people! Celebrate! Ready yourselves for the coming purge and know that you will be saved! Know that God's divine light will shine on you!"

The figure on the throne remained unmoving. But there was anticipation. For soon, he would awaken, and lead them all into God's Heaven.

The masses danced, though some were on the verge of passing out from exhaustion. They knew it would be nothing compared to what the unbelievers would be facing.

"And who are you?" the machine bellowed.

Adima was taken aback. He had never seen such a thing. Of course, he had heard of Todo Kirkinen before. The man was famous, after all, a pioneer of the mind transfer technology that was no so vital in preserving the lives of countless capsuleers. He was the first to do it himself, though Adima had always figured the stories about him transferring his mind to a machine permanently had just been rumors.

Apparently, they were very true. "I am Alard Hoturi," the Sansha follower said, gazing reverently at the massive mainframe.

"Alard Hoturi," the machine said, as if in thought. "Caldari. Related to Loro Hoturi, deceased member of Sansha's Nation. Wanted by the Caldari State for treason."

Alard smiled. "That's right."

"You are a member of Sansha's Nation, then?" the machine asked. "One of its True Citizens?"

"That's right," Alard said again. "Master Sansha says hello, by the way."

If a machine could laugh, then Kirkinen was doing it. It made Adima cringe. Not only was it hollow and devoid of soul, but it reminded him acutely of Reena's generated laugh. He suddenly missed her greatly.

"I am sure he does," the machine said, almost sounding sarcastic. "His coffin must have a good communcations system."

Alard shrugged. "About as good as yours, perhaps better."

The machine didn't immediately respond. "You have a connection, yes?" it asked. Alard nodded. "Can I interface with it?"

"I don't see how it would hurt."

"Mr. Kirkinen," Fritz spoke up suddenly, "do you think this is a good idea? I mean, you have no idea what will happen if you try to connect to the Sansha collective." He suddenly paused. "Is it a collective? Is that the right word?"

"Not exactly," Alard said. "And I assure you there is no risk. I am a True Citizen. My implants do not allow remote control over my body and do not affect my will at all. It is used for communication, that is all."

"I still don't know," Fritz muttered, looking at the mainframe in concern.

"Oh, don't be such a bore!" the machine said. "I haven't been this excited in decades, Fritz. I know what I am doing. If 'Sansha' plans something untoward, he will be in for a surprise."

"Well... Alright," Fritz said. He motioned for Alard to come closer. Fritz reached into an alcove on the machine and extracted a bundle of cable. Alard turned his back and bowed his head, exposing a small port on the back of his neck. Fritz plugged the cable into the port and then stood back.

There was a moment of silence, where no one did anything, except Fritz who wrung his hands nervously. Alard simply stood with his eyes closed, a look of pained concentration on his face. Finally, after about three minutes, Alard opened his eyes and let out a sigh.

"That is enough," the machine said. "Unhook me, Fritz."

"Yes, sir," Fritz said, quickly pulling the cable from Alard's neck.

"So," the machine said, "do you believe that is actually Sansha?"

Alard rubbed the port. "Of course I do," he said without conviction.

The machine let out its version of a laugh again. "I suppose it does not matter," it said. "Belief in Sansha's dream is enough, right?"

"Of course," Alard said with a grin.

"The plague data as well," the machine added. "We want property rights on it as well."

"Property rights on a plague?" Adima said, speaking up for the first time. "What sort of madness is that?"

"No more mad than Vitoc," the machine quickly countered. "Now be quiet and let the scientists talk."

Adima bit his tongue and slunk back behind Vernus. He let his thoughts drift to Reena.

Something was happening. There was noise and every so often a person would scream or wail in pain. Reena stayed quiet. She hoped whatever was going on outside wouldn't be drawn to her room as long as she said nothing.

Her heart was pounding in her chest, though. She could do nothing but stare at the ceiling and wait. She heard the door to her room open and her breath caught in her chest. For a moment, she panicked, because she couldn't force herself to breathe.

Whoever was there stood there. She could feel the person's eyes on her and hear the heavy, ragged breathing of the person. There was something else there, a laugh that was quiet and forcing its way out, as if the person couldn't help it.

Then the door clicked shut and the sound of the person was gone. Reena suddenly was able to breathe again, but her heart continued to pound. She closed her eyes and started to pray. She could think only of Adima.

"This plan is crazy," Cierra said.

"It can't be!" Gita answered. "Commander Rottan and his men are the best in the Fleet. There's no way they'd give us a hopeless task." She didn't sound convinced.

"There's no way the Amarr will let us - a Minmatar and a Gallente pod pilot - walk right in there and get into the employees areas!"

"You agreed to come along, so stop complaining," Gita huffed.

"Only because I wanted to get you out of this nonsense," Cierra answered. "Look, I don't know, maybe you have some deathwish. But there's no way this will work. It's impossible."

Gita ran her hands over her face. "I know, it sounds crazy. It sounds like there's no chance it will work. But why would I be sent on a suicide mission? If they asked me to go on a suicide mission, I'd go! But they didn't. So it can't be!"

"You're deluding yourself," Cierra said.

Gita looked at Cierra, worry etched on her face. For a moment, it seemed as if she'd agree, and she and Cierra would run off and escape this crazy plan. But then she hardened. "I don't care," Gita said. "I'm a soldier. The Navy gave me my life. If they're asking for it back, well, I'll gladly give it."

She turned and began walking toward the space port again. Cierra started to stop her.

Then the space port exploded.

Part 9

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