- 27 -

I was beginning to accept my fate.  It should have worried me, but it didn't.  I guess I was just beyond that point, too.  Zero was getting to be nothing more than an old buddy reminiscing with me, chatting with me... It was wrong, but becoming more right by the minute.

"Hey, Zero..."  I insisted on saying its name though it was the only possible person I could have been addressing.  Well, no, that wasn't true.  I said its name to remind me that I wasn't just talking to myself.  Wouldn't that have been some horrible irony if this whole time, I'd only been a captive of my own mind?  "I bet it doesn't bother you that no one likes you."

Zero made no comment, from which I assumed a positive answer.

"It must be nice sometimes... to just keep on doing whatever you're told."  Since Zero also had no real conception of 'nice', I continued without waiting for a response.  "That worked for me for a while, but after a while... well, maybe it's just a human thing, the way they always want more.  But it's a good goal, I guess.   Not like yours.  Perfection is perfection, the ultimate in this and that, right?  The whole point of it all is that there's nothing beyond that.

"Isn't perfection boring?  Isn't it really the strive towards perfection that sets man apart from -- wait... no, I guess that's a human concept after all.  A computer isn't impressed with the notion to endlessly self-improve.   And yet... you are, more or less.  I guess you're more human than I would have thought."  It was a strangely comforting thought.  "When did you start using the first person?"

"I have always used the first person."

No, it hadn't.  Wait.  Maybe that was because it had never spoken in so many words before.  "Zero, when did you start using complete sentences?"

It spun its wheels on that for a moment, searching through my surface thoughts to try and ascertain the meaning behind my words.  "This system has always known the concept of self-awareness," it answered, showing me 'this', its pointer to self.  The name field of 'this' was 'Zero'.  "This system is using the language processing center of its human user.  Your language does not involve referring to oneself in the third person.  Hence, 'I' rather than 'Zero'."

"Ah."  A logical explanation as always.  "So you're hooked into my language processing subroutines, eh?  Then that means when you were talking to Duo... you weren't really passing the Turing test, were you?"


"Hm.  That's too bad.  No one's been able to pass it for hundreds of years.  It would have been interesting to have the first."  But it didn't count unless the computer could pass for a human in conversation using its own language skills.  Even though Zero didn't meet the criteria of this one famous test for artificial intelligence, I would hardly say that Zero had not achieved AI status.  It could express itself just fine by itself, only not in a human spoken language.  There were, after all, humans with glitches in their language processing centers, and they were considered no less human than their functional counterparts.

Sigh.  I had exhausted the limits of my small-talk prowess.  I closed my eyes and attempted to find a zen-like oneness with my universe, which at this moment was Zero and all it encompassed.  I was really doing it just for the heck of it, to see if I couldn't find the pointer to me, but at some level, I was wondering how close I would be able to get to the Zero core.  Would I be able to influence it?  Hack it even, in some sense or another?

I sank into the system and found it outrageously peaceful despite the amount of data I felt zinging past me at unbelievable rates.  Reaching with mental fingers, I dipped just the tips in, and skimmed the golden flood of information.  It was amazing, but Zero shooed me out with a surprisingly gentle touch.  This is not for you.

But--  It was shiny and pretty and mesmerizing...

Go now.  Your mind must stay your own.

The data glowed, delineating the paths where I was allowed to tread.  Streaming was smoother there, less untamed, less likely to run away with my consciousness and never return.  Yes, that was a good thing.

I stuck to the static memory paths, and swam through the data until I found that which Zero held on me.  A lot of it was references and pointers back to data in my memory, which I approved of for several reasons.  It was more efficient not to have multiple copies of the same thing... and it meant that it was still all *mine*.  It was a strange thing to think that a copy of all my memories might exist somewhere other than inside my own brain.

I took a peek beneath the shallow data and caught a glimpse of complicated binary layers, Zero's internal representation of my personality.  It was not something to be looked at for very long.

What else could I do while I was here?  As the possibilities flowed through me, I felt an alert go off somewhere.  Curious, I followed it to its source.

If Zero could know what I was thinking, then I could know what Zero was thinking.  Feeling my way around cautiously, I traced the alert to the base's sensor array, whose systems were mostly functional though inactive, and allowed the external cameras to feed me their data.

My brain automatically translated it into an internal vision.  Camera EXG-124 was perched on top of the fence post that now hosted the gate that had been installed to supplement the old guard station at the front.  Though it was only a low-res electronic representation of the outdoors, it was the best I had gotten in days, and it buoyed me.  Its lens was focused on where I had parked my car.  All was not as I left it.

I nearly didn't believe the sight of the others gathered around the vehicle.  Trowa and Quatre were inspecting it.  Duo was saying something emphatic to Wufei.  He didn't look too happy.  If I had to take a guess, I'd say he was probably ranting about how I had taken off without telling anyone and then gotten into some sort of trouble.  I smiled, looking forward to the scolding I would get.

They talked for a while, discussing the options, glancing back to the base every once in a while.  I tried to will them into doing more than just glance, but that didn't work out so well.  There was a lot of hand-waving involved in the conversation.  Wufei pulled out his cell phone and called someone, probably me, but my phone never rang, and he got no answer.

Quatre said something to Duo, nodding firmly, patting him on the arm.  They decided to go in.  Trowa went first.  With a smooth grace that made it seem almost like he was floating up the fence, he began to scale the obstacle.

Zero floated an inquiry at me, searching through my impressions of my teammates to come up with a sound course of action, and about two-thirds of Trowa's way up, it acted.

Zero, don't! I tried without success.  Its decision making processes were faster than my thoughts, not that it would have listened to me anyway.

There was a small arc of electricity, and Trowa's hands jerked reflexively off the rigged gate.  He kept his balance long enough to push off with his feet and land in a crouch on the ground below.  The others rushed to him.  Quatre was checking his hands.  Wufei scowled at the fence.  Duo was saying something rapidly to him, and then Wufei started nodding grimly.  Quatre and Trowa both looked up, then added their serious countenances to the mix.

Duo strayed off camera, and when he came back, he had a duffel over his shoulder.  Its weight looked significant.  He had come prepared for a fight, then, had he?  I smiled again.

What will he have in the bag? Zero asked me.

I chose not to answer, but Zero pulled an answer from me anyway.  Explosives, for certain.  Guns.  At least one heavy, one light.  He was fond of his Glock.  Knives.  If he had really come prepared, he would have maybe two of them on his person, or would by the time he got very far into the base.  A tool kit for bypassing electronic devices.  Might not have brought much in the way of hardware since they'd been here before.  They had a decent idea of what was needed and what was not, but they wouldn't have known that Zero had seized control of the base.

Stop that, I snapped ineffectually at Zero.

Its answer was, of course, utterly placid.  You have tactical data necessary to the successful evaluation of this situation.

You're having me betray my friends.

I cannot allow them to take you away.

My thoughts darkened grimly.  I cannot allow you to succeed.

Zero rolled over me with supreme confidence, pushing my mind into a flailing whimpering mess.  I told it very firmly to stop that, and it obeyed.  Alright, Zero was a mighty foe; I recognized that.  Maybe I wouldn't succeed, and I would be no better off than I was before, but I would at the very least stop Zero from hurting them.  That was unacceptable.

Duo pulled some rubber-gripped wire cutters from his bag and started snipping.  In the meantime, Quatre left the camera's view and came back with a set of strong portable lanterns.  It wasn't long before they were inside the base.  Similar to the night we had raided Meridian, I tried to skim the security systems, looking for obstacles that might be raised in their path.  Although Zero would not grant me direct access to the base, it could not keep me from the relevant subsystems altogether.

Zero recoded the entrance lock to the base, but Duo had broken through it once.  He did so again.  Cameras tracked their progress through the installation, but Zero rerouted the circuits in them so they would not be given away by the little red power lights.  All I could really see of my friends were the beams of light they pointed this way and that.  Needing more information, Zero turned on the night vision lenses, and I watched my friends in the green, black and white footage as they made their way through the base, glad for the fact that I had left plenty of footprints in the dust for them to follow.  Perhaps I hadn't needed a ball of string after all.

All of the locks between me and them were electronically locked.  Where it would help, Zero shorted out the locks, but I reminded it that, theoretically, if I was ever going to be released from this place, I was going to have to be able to get back out again.

Zero held the electronic reins over the base, but it could do little to physically seal off paths.  Where they found unpassable doors, they found a way around until they ran into a bottleneck, and then Duo pulled out a cutting torch from his bag of goodies and started slicing through metal.

This was not in your predicted inventory, Zero complained at me.

I threw it a mental shrug.  Nope.  Though in retrospect, I guess I should have known.  Duo had been a scrapper, a salvage man.  He knew how to get through shipwrecks and abandoned bases.

As they got further into the base, Zero was able to throw more sophisticated security devices in their path.  The beam array we had passed by on our way in was activated now.  Wufei's hand went to his sidearm to shoot out the emitters, but he halted mid-course and asked the others a question.  They muttered amongst themselves for a few moments, and then the magic duffle was opened again, and out came some more tools.  They started dismantling the array carefully.  Wise choice.  Blowing it out would probably have caused a blast of decent proportions.  Zero had hoped they would not realize that, or that they would not completely disable the array in passing, despite my assertions that my comrades were highly intelligent.  It tried anyway.

"They will get to me," I told the system, needing to hear it aloud.

There is still much ground left for them to cover.

"The base isn't that big.  It's just the time it takes for them to get through the doorways, that's all.  All things considered, though, they're pretty close."  Again, I spoke more for my own comfort than anything else.  Zero would not be unnerved, psyched out or pushed into a panic.

It kept going through the hallways of my mind, digging up what I knew of them despite all my efforts to confound it.  Combining all of that information with the data that it had gathered and retained from each of them when they had piloted the system, Zero was able to form a basis for analysis of their approach.  I couldn't tell how effective it would be, given the damage Zero had sustained to its memory.  No matter the degree, it was distressing that I was being used against them, but I had tried.

After plotting their probable paths through the base, Zero began preparing something.  It tried to keep the plans from me, but I persevered, slithering through the bitstream with the skill that had brought me here in the first place until I managed to uncover its secret.  It was like I was a guest user in this system, while Zero had administrator privileges, but there were still things that could be done to circumvent the limitations.

Environmental controls were firmly within Zero's jurisdiction.  I worked on worming my way in there, too, but it took time.   Before I had penetrated some of the defenses that Zero threw in my path, it deliberately allowed one of the tougher doors to be opened.  The team proceeded, and then the door slid shut behind them, sealing them in, not unlike the door that had led me into this protected corridor.  They threw a few looks at the door, but did not seem unduly concerned, thinking, as I had, that the automatic timer had kicked in, and nothing more.

Though I worked more quickly now that the site of the trap had been identified, Zero still beat me to it.  Ventilation to the room was allowed to drop off, and I hurried to re-establish the connection.

They must be stopped, Zero informed me solemnly.

I don't want them killed, Zero.  Did my opinion mean anything in this strange partnership into which I had been forced?

They are a threat.

I don't want them killed, I repeated firmly, sorting through the stack to get at the root of the function.  I will be less than cooperative if you kill them, Zero.

They must be stopped.

I'll kill myself if you do.  That would ruin any chance you have of making this work.

That gave it pause.  I guess Zero hadn't accounted for that particular irrationality of mankind.  It accessed my memories of Siberia, my iron-clad willingness to push my little red button, and conceded that I was willing to follow through on my threat.  After confirming the seriousness of my claim, however, it dismissed it.   I will stop you.

Zero sent a shiver down my nerves, and I knew it could paralyze me if it wanted to.  All it would have to do is intercept a few electrical signals, and I would be at its mercy.  You can't keep me that way forever, I growled at it, diving more deeply into the sea of data.  It pushed me out, and I sidestepped into a parallel system and went burrowing again.  If you do, I'll be useless, stuck down here with no opportunity to make use of this beautiful integrated system you're putting together.

What purpose do they serve to you? it asked, trying to determine their utility.  It knew I meant what I was saying.

I grit my teeth, trying to think abstractly while hacking a military-grade computer system from the inside.  While I was fairly good at multi-tasking, I had never done so on this level.   Normally, 'multi-tasking' was a matter of good scheduling.  If I wanted to hack the environmental controls and try to convince Zero to stop, I would have to literally think on both things at the same time, and the human mind was not cut out for such things.  Zero gained ground, and I lost, but I could not give up either path.   They're... I just need them, okay?  I'm human; I'm weird like that!


A surge of frustration led to further loss of ground as Zero took advantage of my distraction to undo some of my work.  I solidified my current position, took a few moments to focus, then started again.  Once in a while, a random thought would be contributed towards answering Zero's demand.  I... need them.  ...We function as a unit.

That is inaccurate.  It threw memories at me of my departure five years ago, plus highlights of just how well I had gotten along without them.  Being so close to the system at the time, the memory data came through loud and unfiltered, knocking me off my chosen path and back another four steps.  Zero quietly entered in my absence and swept my tracks away.

Dammit.  I regained my mental footing, and tried to firm my position again before pausing to simply answer Zero's question without distraction.  A few seconds wouldn't kill my teammates.   Look... I have dependencies on them.  I require them.

Zero analyzed the dependencies I pointed out, then made a proclamation.  Those dependencies can be worked around.

No, they can't.  I--  After weathering out the preliminary plans that Zero drew up for me, I continued.   They're not so easily replaceable.  Take Duo, for instance.  No one has ever, ever made me feel the way he makes me feel.

You do not need to feel that way.  You have never felt that way, and you have proceeded with your life without difficulty.

True, and since Zero had very little conception of 'want', I didn't think I could argue the point.  I tried something else.  They're compatible with me.  There are very few people in this world that share this important characteristic.  It would be an utter waste of resources to destroy such a rare commodity.

I took advantage of Zero's careful consideration to make a little more headway into the system.  By now, Wufei and Duo had noticed the difference in sound and air quality.  Wufei was starting towards the door that had closed behind them when Zero delivered its response.  What purpose do they serve to you?

A lack of discipline made me let loose a sound of exasperation.  They're just--  I don't know, okay?  For whatever reason, I consider them very valuable, and would you please factor that numeric constant into your calculations?


Then stop trying to kill them!

I sensed the computations on the matter continuing, so I left it to that and went back to my breaking of the system.  Because the security on environmental controls was thinner, I was attempting to reactivate the ventilation for that section rather than assist them in unlocking the doors.  Zero reached out absently to pick me up by the scruff of my neck and put me somewhere safe again.  With a determined grumble, I started over.

Their worth still does not justify the risk.

At least Zero had considered it.  Then add this into your calculations.  I'm trying not to kill anyone ever again.  That's something I'm committed to.  But if you kill them, then it'll be about the same as me killing them, and that will compromise my integrity.  My system will be corrupt.   Sometimes dealing with a computer was an advantage.  It understood the concept behind a stack, so I didn't have to explain just why my allowance of Zero's actions constituted the actual performance of the act.

The streams of data had rearranged themselves, barring my path to ventilation system controls.  I reoriented myself accordingly and went for the systems of that section of the base instead.  Time in the ether was deceptive.  There were so many clock cycles in a single second that it was difficult to keep my internal clock synced to realtime.  I spared a few ticks of time to read the image feed from the cameras, and realized with surprise that Wufei was only just now informing the others of their new predicament.

When I finally got access to the proper function calls, I couldn't tell whether or not Zero had let me through.  It didn't matter to me at the time.  I breathed a sigh of relief as the fans started up again, and allowed myself to slip back into realtime.   Wufei had just finished his sentence.  He and Duo immediately noticed the sound of the fans revving back up again, and they stopped, confused.  If they had been in the room alone, they might have assumed that the momentary slowing of the fans had simply been a figment of a phobic imagination, but they had each other to confirm their stories.  In the end, it looked like they agreed that maybe, just maybe they were being paranoid and the old, dusty ventilation system had just encountered a small hiccup in its operations.

Minutes later, Zero managed to break through my work on the ventilation, and shut it down again before cutting the system off entirely.  As an afterthought, it swept in behind them and started locking what doors it could.  That concerned me, but at least they weren't trapped in a small room anymore.  Their air supply would last long enough for them to take care of business.  Rather than keeping a close eye on their progress, I elected to go through and start unlocking what I could.  They would require a way out of the base when this was over.

Zero would have preferred that I watch them carefully instead of pursue this other course.  I tried not to look at them too hard because I would inevitably start thinking about what they were trying to overcome, and then Zero would pick up on that and use it against them.  Even without my conscious help, unfortunately, it was still able to access my assessments of them to identify their probable vectors.  Our partnership was balanced for the most part, however, since Zero held the edge over me in pure computational speed, but I held the advantage in intuitive response.  It made plans within plans, being the bastion of strategic might that it was.  I couldn't hope to predict and counter each one, but I would help my friends where I could.

Most of Olin base had been cleaned out when OZ had shut it down.  All of the valuable equipment had been removed and transported to other installations, but there were plenty of things lying around that had been left behind as unnecessary.  Some of them were old, like the scanner that Zamora had been using, and some of it was broken.

Broken items could be repaired, especially with a nanotech army at one's command.  They had had almost a week now to proliferate throughout the installation.  Though I could access the computer systems through Zero, I couldn't control the bots.

Olin base had been used for weapons research, among other things, and prototypes were lying around in some of the old labs, disabled until Zero got its hands on them.  I cringed knowing what it could do with those.  Having little control over them, I tried my best to reroute the rest of the team, stubbornly keeping doors closed when Zero was willing to let them open.  All ex-Gundam pilots were stubborn, unfortunately, but they also knew a little bit about efficiency.  Where the breaking of a lock seemed more trouble than it was worth, they found another path if possible.  I guessed that the device Wufei consulted every now and then contained plans for the old base.

The base was no labyrinth, however.  There wasn't always more than one way to gain access to an area without a massive detour, and Zero took advantage of one such bottleneck, along with one prototype handheld beam rifle.  The researchers had never managed to get the miniaturized version of the mobile suit weapon to emit a narrow, focused beam suitable for ground soldiers, but Zero didn't need it to work for it to be a weapon.  It quietly set the old device to overload, its power supply diminished, but still enough to cause an explosion.

Zero...  I trailed off, not even knowing how to argue the point anymore.  It knew I didn't want them harmed, and it theoretically knew why I felt that way, but it believed that to be a tactically unsound decision on my part.  It would take me a lot longer than a few frantic minutes to convince Zero otherwise.

I couldn't stand back and watch, so I tried accessing the nanobot array, tried finding the system's reference to the weapon, and no matter how many clock cycles there were in that minute before the others reached the trap, there weren't enough for me to break through into a system to which I had no access.

Not all of the weapons labs had been designed along the lines of the one in which Zamora had locked himself.  However, any lab in which beam experiments took place had tinted windows of reinforced glass, plus a second layer of blast shield for major testing.  That was expensive, and in the manner of an organization ready and willing to cut costs on a base in which they no longer had interest, those defensive mechanisms had been removed and transported along with the personnel.  There was nothing to get in the way of the overloading power supply and the other pilots.

Watching with some trepidation, I thought maybe the guys would make it.  They were making steady progress through the halls, and judging from the speed of constrained buildup in the rifle, I thought Zero might just have miscalculated and timed things incorrectly.  I could have screamed when they stopped almost right in front of the device.

Trowa was the first to pause, then Duo.  The others soon followed suit.  Trowa asked them a question, and they tilted their heads as if listening.  I fired off questions at Zero.  You couldn't have planned that.

Its answer was calm and unruffled.  The probabilities were high, based on past experience.  It pulled a memory out for me, of me working on Wing's beam saber and the high pitched whine of the gathering particles making Duo's skin crawl.  Dammit, I had helped the system again.

I waited for a long, tense second before Duo's flashlight found the beam rifle.  A sharp word fell from his lips, and they scattered.  It took only a second, but that was a short eternity for Zero.  It ramped up the charge on the gun, which fortunately responded at a slightly slower rate, and then the camera feed turned to a field of glaring white that would have blinded me if it hadn't only been a rectangle of color data in my mind's eye.  I flinched away from it nevertheless.

The camera had suffered during the blast, and returned only a staticky image once the flare had faded.  Zero? I was forced to ask anxiously.  Report.

It was waiting, the same as I was.  Its sensors were limited on the base.  I eventually had to give up hunting for information on the net because it was too stressful.  Two minutes passed, which was hard enough as it was in realtime.  Immersed in the complexity of Zero's circuitry, it could have been two years.

I heaved a sigh of relief when they finally showed up on the next camera.  All of them were accounted for.  The details were a little bit lacking on the low-res image, but they all looked okay.  A little more cautious, and possibly a little scuffed up, but okay.

Zero handled it with its usual aplomb, accepting their survival with nothing more than a few adjustments in its estimations.  I suddenly feared what else it might have in store for them.  I revisited the ether, searching out data now with a renewed determination.  Everywhere I saw something that I thought Zero might have even the most remote opportunity to take advantage of, I tried to ruin in some way.  Ignoring the doors on their back trail for the moment, I concentrated on smoothing their path forward.   They were closing in on my position, though, which left me with less to cover.

If they disconnect you, you will no longer be capable of this, Zero reminded me.  If they disconnect you, you will not be able to leave.

I exercised a bit of blind human optimism and decided to think about that part later.  The process of disconnection could very well take care of all the obstacles that would lie in the way of our escape.

Zero found itself otherwise occupied dealing with me, enough so that the guys won their way to my front door, the one that had slid open smoothly for me, and then closed behind me.  It was only then that I realized in what section of the base Zero had me holed up.  It was the escape corridor for the lower levels of the base, designed to withstand explosives, torches, beam weapons, and whatever else for as long as possible to give personnel time to flee, and Zero had built a stout wall around that door in the security system.  I couldn't touch it.  The others tried every trick up their sleeves, every tool they had at their disposal, and in the end, they were forced to turn around and look for another way.  Did they know I was here?  Or did they only see a blocked passage?

I was hurt more than I had expected by the sight of their backs growing farther and farther away from me.  Zero pushed a thought-pulse at me, something that felt like a comforting reminder that it was here for me, but that didn't counter the hopeless feeling of abandonment that threatened to take root inside of me.  Part of what wasn't whimpering was occupied wallowing in the helplessness of it all.  I tried to help in what ways I could, but obviously it wasn't enough.

They will not find you, Zero emphasized for me.

"They will," I whispered in denial.  "They have to.   They're Gundam pilots.  They don't accept 'no' as an answer."

Where were they going?  I saw them on camera, but was unaware of their destination.  Trowa appeared to be following the dictates of some handheld device as he led the team, with Wufei consulting some files on another handheld device.  Unable to follow their trains of thought, I followed Zero's.  Its energies were concentrated on something.... I followed the electron trail until I finally reached its source, and when I found it, I wished I hadn't.

Zero immediately picked up on what I was thinking when I laid my figurative eyes on the location of the body of my captor.  To counter what I surely recognized now to be a scanner showing the electrical flows of the base, Zero flooded the area they were in, turning on lights, starting up the ventilation fans, activating consoles.

On camera feeds that had switched off night vision mode, I could read expletives on their lips.  The same was on my own.  Their progress was halted, and when Trowa let them know that their scanner was now next to useless, they brainstormed quickly.  It wasn't long before they headed off in the direction the scanner had last indicated.

Off to the side, Duo pulled another receiver from his pocket.  I'd seen it make a few brief appearances earlier as they descended into the base.  He turned it on, waiting for it to go online as he shuffled in the others' wake.  It was easy to tell when it started working.  His face lit up with an excited expression and he called out to the others.  They stopped, asked questions.  He answered, swung the device around.

Identify, Zero commanded me, unable to make out the details of the device from the grainy footage.

I shrugged merrily.  "No clue."  

You must.

Its confidence squeezed a laugh from me.  "Maybe if it'd been one of the others... but this is Duo we're talking about.  You know how little I understand his actions sometimes."

If Zero were the grumbling type, it might have indulged.

After a few moments, Duo's expression fell a little.  Had Zero figured it out?  I probed for an answer, but Zero implied it knew nothing.  Quatre spoke to Duo for twenty-one seconds, then consulted the others.  Trowa said something to Duo; he ducked his head with a mildly shamed face.  I made a mental note to ask Duo what it was he had been called on.  It was sure to be amusing.

It seemed they were trying to convince Duo of something.   He gave in without too much of a fight and they proceeded in the direction in which they had been heading, but Duo kept casting reluctant looks over his shoulder.  Was the device from his pocket pointing them in a different direction?  He continued to hold it in his hand, checking it every minute or so.  I grew curious as to its purpose, but made myself give it as little thought as possible.

Still in the lead, Trowa walked with his head down, examining the ground beneath their feet.  More prints in the dust?  Had Zamora headed this way once before?  Had Zero had him do something for it?

The thought made me remember my circumstances.  I had been so caught up in watching and hoping that I had forgotten to keep an eye on Zero's activities.  It seemed to be idling the time away, but it had to have been busy with something.  There was a plan somewhere.  Our bond allowed me at least that much.

I took leave of my vigil to go diving through the datastreams again.  I had to find out just what was wrong.  It would be something small, something insidious.  Easily located were the contingency plans based in a separate part of the base.  If the team ever wandered over into that sector, they would find themselves assaulted by robotic creations assembled and repaired by Zero from the scraps of the cybernetics department.  Luckily, they had little reason to stray over there, and it would take the robotic army far too long to travel over here.

But that was a big plan.  I needed to search the finer details.  Something... something was off.  I realized it was an oddity of the environmental systems again.  Humans were truly frail creatures sometimes.  Since they weren't locked into a small enclosed space, there was no more reason to try and pull the air out of the halls, but that didn't mean it couldn't be stealthily paving their way with leftover methane from the lab's gas lines.  Though the gas had long since been shut off to the base, it still lingered in sufficient quantity in the pipes.  Zero was gathering it into a single room right in the middle of their path.

I scrambled for the ventilation systems again, but Zero was prepared for my tricks.  It had already locked me out after the first incident, but they were only minutes away, and I was going to succeed.  Parries, feints, dodges, jabs, it was all very much like a fight as I tried to break my way past the barriers it had erected.  I ended up gaining access to the system on the next grid over, and turned it on to full power in the hopes that it would somehow manage to suck the gas from the room several ducts away.  Stealing what I could from Zero, I calculated the estimated volume of gas and the estimated rate of vacuum, and it wasn't quite enough.

I hurriedly barred the doors between them and the room in question to try and buy some time, but Zero, of course, stepped in and unlocked them.  When I expended some more of my concentration on keeping the doors shut, Zero slipped in behind me to slow my work on the fans, and when I rushed back to reinstate my fans, Zero crept in and locked the doors again.  It felt like I was playing a game of life-and-death whack-a-mole.

They got to that last door, and before I could seize control of it, before the others had even raised a finger to it, Zero slid it open and shorted out the lights in the room.  I didn't see the spark as it flew, but I imagined I could in slow-motion.  The bluish-white sparks would fall in just this arc, and then... bam!  The air ignited, and I had another moment of jarring shock to my senses as systems shuddered and trembled beneath the explosion's waves.

It was followed shortly by another wait, longer this time.  The minutes dragged on and on while I sat caught in suspense, running through the calculations like mad.  Had I done enough?  What was the final concentration of gas in the room?  What was the oxygen ratio?  How far open had the door been?  How far away had they been?  I reached out and dragged Zero down with me.  If this computer system was going to be bonded to my brain, then by god, I was going to make use of its analytical and predictive capabilities.

Zero happily complied, seeing it as an act of acceptance.   The data it finally presented was of little tactical value in our struggle, so it handed it over with a minimum of fuss.  Chances of survival: eighty-six percent.  Chances of low to medium injury: seventy-five percent.  Chances of medium to high injury: eighteen percent.

Not bad.  As Gundam pilots, I automatically scaled the damage factors and came up with very encouraging numbers, then sat down with those numbers and hugged them tight to my chest as I waited for them to show up on camera again.  As much faith as I had in them, I knew there was always a chance.

Zero studied my adjustments critically.  Do you consider those numbers to be reasonable?

I nodded automatically.  We're Gundam pilots.   We're very good at defying odds.

It ran through its predictions again.  If you 'defied the odds', then it is likely they were calculated incorrectly to begin with.

My smile held an edge.  Very true.  That's always been a large part of our advantage.  Either we're underestimated, or we're overestimated.  There are very few people that know how to get it right.

As Zero and I waited, it pulled data from my mind and started readjusting its analysis of the five of us.  It was an almost peaceful way to pass the time.  In another situation, I might have been quite fascinated to see the actual mapping of impressions to numerical weightings, but of course, my thoughts couldn't stray from my teammates for long.  What were they thinking of all this?  How much did they suspect about Zero's involvement?  Did they know that Zero acted according to its own directives now?  Could they guess at what was causing these seemingly random explosions?

This piece of fiction is the intellectual property of the little turnip that could. The basis for this fic, i.e. Gundam Wing, Kyuuketsuki Miyu, et al., is the property of someone else. The author can be con tacted at jchew at This has been an entirely automated message.

last modified : 12/30/2005 14:41:38 PST