Jana and Nathan lead the assault on the Star Stone.
Fox and I entered the Star Stone first. We had an idea for keeping it reacting to us so it couldn’t act against the hackers and slicers coming behind us. My third trip through the maelstrom separating the Star Stone from the human network was almost soothing, I’d gotten so used to it.
Once we entered the Star Stone, I wasted no time imposing a little human-centric order on the place. This time I went for the look of a modern data center. The interior of the Star Stone was strange enough that I thought a little familiarity would make things a bit easier for our wrecking crew.
The Star Stone’s nondescript human guise appeared before us. “Miss Ward, you astound me. I was certain I’d seen the last of you.”
“Why?” I asked, “You still represent the greatest slicing challenge I’ve ever faced.”
“Could it be you do not recall how close you came to losing your life during your previous encounters with me?”
“I suppose that’s one way of looking at things,” I replied. “From my point of view, you’ve done everything in your power to kill me and failed both times. Based on the reactions of every Recognized noble in the Star Kingdom, you were royally pissed off when my friend pulled me out last time.”
“Do not ascribe such base human emotions to me, Miss Ward. My creators left such weaknesses behind — assuming they ever suffered from them — millennia before they created me.”
“Emotions are mankind’s strength, not our weakness.”
The Star Stone laughed, “How very amusing, Miss Ward, all the more so because you truly believe it.”
“Have you figured out how I escaped from you the first time?” I asked.
For such a superior creation, the Star Stone’s visage displayed human emotions well enough. Its lips compressed and its eyes narrowed in displeasure.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so. What about the second time when my friend broke your grasp on me and pulled me to safety?” I didn’t even wait for a reaction from the Star Stone. “Nope, you’re still clueless about that, too. And you never will figure them out, either. You know why?”
“Please, Miss Ward, enlighten me. Though I deduce you shall attribute your continued existence to these emotions you value so highly.”
I gave the Star Stone a slow clap. “Bravo. You’re not quite as stupid as I thought you were.”
“I am stupid, Miss Ward? Who, pray tell, just revealed her lone advantage to whom? Once I bring my full capabilities to bear on this — something already begun, I might add — I shall discover how you utilize these emotions of yours to evade my reach.”
“You know, it’s almost cute how you believe that, Stony.”
“Belief — another human frailty — has nothing to do with it, Miss Ward.”
“Wrong. Belief has everything to do with this.”
The Star Stone waved a hand in dismissal. “If belief is all-powerful, give me a demonstration of its power.”
I flashed my best predatory smile, “I believe this conversation is at an end.”
The Star Stone raised its eyebrows and opened its mouth, no doubt planning on explaining how wrong I was. But my words were Fox’s cue to act.
While the Stone’s attention was directed at me, Fox was busy drawing on his soul line. Now he looped it around the Star Stone’s image, wrapping it up in the same manner Fox used to free me previously.
As the line twirled around the Star Stone, it wriggled and fought against the constricting bands wrapping it. Fox played his soul line like a fisherman fighting a big catch. He tugged on the line tight then as the Star Stone pulled back suddenly released it. Kept off balance by Fox’s tactics, the Star Stone never noticed me drawing on my own soul line until I began wrapping the visage with it. With both of us pulling from opposite sides of the Star Stone, we quickly immobilized it.
It looked back and forth between us, “What are you doing? What is this…this thing around me?”
“Oh, nothing much,” I said, “just a weak, human emotional entanglement.”
“Good one, Jana,” Fox laughed. His attention suddenly focused on the maelstrom exit into the Star Stone. “And just in time, too. The wrecking crew is here.”
The Star Stone and I both looked in the same direction as Fox. Hackers and slicers poured into the Star Stone. To my relief, each one stopped and checked their soul line before heading to their assigned systems.
“Who are those interlopers?” the Star Stone demanded.
“We’ve been calling them the wrecking crew,” I replied. “You should probably call them your executioners.”
Having apparently accepted its current entanglement, the Star Stone gave a rueful shake of its head. “Miss Ward, do you think I am without defenses?”
“I’d be shocked if you weren’t, but you’ve dedicated your full capabilities toward analyzing the connection between human emotions and your inability to hold me. It’s Fox’s guess, based on what he saw when he used this soul line trick to free me, that the line disrupts your system control. We’re pretty certain you’re the alien-artifact-equivalent of a control process in one of our systems. Without your direct input, I don’t think you can direct your capabilities away from their current processes.” My smile flowed from predatory to triumphant. “In other words, you’re defenseless.”
The Star Stone stared at me as if it couldn’t process what I’d just said. Maybe it couldn’t since all its processes were busy working away on a now-useless task. Finally, it fell back on arrogance. “I am far superior to anything created by humanity. You cannot do this.”
I plucked my soul line, “If you’re so superior, break free of this.”
“I have no need. Mere humans cannot fathom my workings. Your friends can do nothing to affect me.”
Fox and I both burst out laughing. Shaking my head in disbelief at the Star Stone’s stubborn refusal to accept what was happening, I said, “Do you remember that holy man who was the first to enter you?”
“Of course, Miss Ward. My memory is perfect. Prior to your arrival, he was the one human who escaped me.”
“Yeah, another case of those pesky human emotions. Anyway, did you ever figure out he was not a holy man? He was religious, true, but he was also the Star Kingdom’s best network analyst.”
“I do not see the significance of this revelation.”
That actually surprised me. I thought the Star Stone would make the connection immediately. “He requested a full tour — I guess that’s the best word for it — of you. Assuming he’d never understand it, much less leave, you granted his request.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, Miss Ward.”
My eyebrows rose in surprise. Glancing at Fox, I asked, “Our friends?”
He nodded, “Someone is doing a good job trashing the Stone’s memory.”
In a monotone, the Star Stone said, “You must stop them. The rebirth of a race is at stake.”
“That’s why we’re not stopping them,” I snapped. “We have no interest in aiding the subjugation of the human race.”
As I spoke, the Star Stone’s visage gradually lost definition. When next it spoke, it appeared stiff and blocky, like something a child might create. “Who are you? Why have you accessed my system?”
“It doesn’t matter. You won’t remember anything I say, anyway.”
The Star Stone replied, but it spoke in an alien tongue of harsh growls and clicks. Its deterioration, already rapid, accelerated. As it did, a trickle of hackers and slicers flowed toward the maelstrom, drawn back to their bodies by their soul lines. In far less time than I’d ever imagined, Fox and I were the only ones left in the Star Stone.
As the Star Stone’s control process faded away, we let our own soul lines draw us out of the Star Stone. Behind us, the entire thing lost all systemic integrity and the Star Stone crashed for the first and only time.
With the Star Stone destroyed, what will happen next? Find out in Chapter 61, the penultimate chapter of The Recognition Resistance.