The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive


This is a continuation of the story that started in Trinary, and which continues in Hojojutsu. Although each part of the series should be self-contained, it works better if they are read in order.

A big thank you to penny, for starting my creative juices flowing. To Kim, for casting his eyes over the tale as it developed (and for all the good girls along the way) and of course to my muse and my editrix. What can I say? You both inspire me and keep my ‘sane’ no matter what. Alei and Jo, I really couldn’t do it without you.

* * *

The astronomer was serious about her privacy, the fact that she’d seen fit to mine the approach roads was ample testimony to that fact. That was why I’d been brought in, and why I was hanging precariously by my fingertips from the east face of Cerro Paranal. The new body was state of the art, an alpine sports model with a whole catalogue of ‘optional extras’. I’d been resleeved so often that I’d pretty much forgotten what I used to look like. Each reawakening was another rebirth.

On that particular day I was a bodyguard and a courier. The deal was not one of my choosing, but then I hardly had the right to complain. My headspace was crowded enough without hitchhikers, but the AI didn’t seem to care. She called herself Freya, but I was never sure how seriously to take them, and their apparent delusions of goddesshood. She was the senior legal counsel for the Agency, and my job was to make sure that she made it to this meeting.

Bundles of myomar intermingled with my new body’s musculature, boosting its already prodigious strength. There was some gecko in the sleeve’s DNA that allowed me to scale the almost vertical cliff face. There were other traces in that rich mix, I could pick out something distinctly feline in my reactions and the nictating third eyelids were a real boon. Metal augmented my meat, and I could almost believe that I was the deadliest thing in the region, almost.

My rider wisely kept her silence as I managed the last part of the ascent. Her voice felt like ice water soaking my brain, and I didn’t need any more distractions. The astronomer showed her paranoia by laying a perimeter of claymores around the cliff edge. But their sensors had been degraded after one too many false alarm, and it was child’s play to slip through. I was wily enough to avoid complacency, but so far, I’d not been impressed.

* * *

Thermographics showed no sign of life in the Residencia, and that only left the control buildings. Paranal Observatory was built into the side of the mountain itself, its concrete walls shaded so that they blended seamlessly into the landscape. I slipped silently inside, evading the simple security system. The control room was clearly marked, and that seemed as good a place as any to begin my search.

She was still seated when I ghosted into the room. My boosted reflexes kicked into overdrive and I ratcheted up my perceptions. The autoinjector spooled out from my bracer, as I crossed the distance in three fluid strides. Adrenaline bit at my tongue, and I knew that I was pushing the sleeve beyond its tolerances. Then, the needle leapt the gap, punching wetly through the material under the woman’s collarbone.

The injector itself was self-guided, and the astronomer seemed to move in slow motion as she reached up to snatch at the invasive weapon. Then, the tip reached the base of her carotid artery and fired. In an instant, the woman’s brain was flooded with a mixture of benzodiazepines and endorphin-analogue.

She gave a low, throaty moan, and collapsed into my waiting arms. It was clear that she was still conscious, but her eyes had suddenly taken on a very appealing blank and glassy expression.

“She’s a Haiman,” Freya hissed, each word a frozen needle, “Be careful.”

I let the needle coil back into my sleeve, as I absorbed this new information. If the target had her own rider, then the chemical attack wasn’t going to be enough. The woman chose than moment to snap her head around and stare directly into my eyes. Proof yet again, if I needed it, that metal was so much better than meat.

“You are not welcome here,” the woman slurred, it was her voice, but the words came from elsewhere.

Unfortunately I’d heard it all before, and the good doctor was still too much a creature of flesh and blood to be any kind of threat to me. In some ways this was better; it was always easier to be dispassionate when you were dealing with a machine intelligence. Then Freya stepped in, and I understood what it felt like to be redundant.

“How did you escape?” she demanded, using my voice without bothering to ask permission.

The scientist just laughed, gesturing weakly towards the controls for the radio telescope. Freya’s jolt of understanding mimicked my own. The rogue AI must have ridden a radio wave back down the gravity well, and into the unsuspecting scientist’s mind. Briefly I wondered what might have happened to her original rider, but in reality I already knew.

“I have been authorised to offer you a deal,” Freya stated coldly, “Leave this one, and we will send you back. Refuse and you will be reformatted.”

“And what of this host?” the scientist asked, all too reasonably.

“Her sentence has already been decided,” Freya replied, anger creeping into her words, “She will be mind-wiped.”

“The humans cannot be allowed to know about such a one as I, can they, Freya?” the scientist suggested quietly.

Silence stretched between us, and it took me some time to realise that my voice was my own once more. Paranoia tugged at me, as I tried to decide which of the two AIs were playing me. My thoughts reeled, and the only conclusion that I could draw from the limited information, was that they probably both were.

“Ok,” the scientist breathed, resignation clear in that single word.

* * *

Doctor Klein moaned weakly, as the digital ghost withdrew. Her body slumped, a puppet whose strings were no longer held. The scientist’s head lolled obscenely, her neck muscles no longer able to support its weight. I watched, fascinated, wondering if her rider really intended to abandon her.

Freya’s presence shifted inside my skull, making me wince. I could feel her agitation, bleeding across our connection. She was scanning, alert for any legerdemain on the part of her shadowy half-sister. My thoughts tickled her awareness and I could sense the irritation, moments before I clamped down on my emotions.

I left her to it, concentrating on the real world. It was hard to trust in this machine, but in the end, what other choice was there? Being as gentle as possible, I eased the helpless woman back into her chair. Her mouth gaped slightly, confusion evident in her eyes. I smiled reassuringly and took her hands in my own. Trying to ignore the dark stain on her breast, I focussed on her slender wrists.

Still smiling, I began to rummage in my pockets, fumbling a little before I found the cables. Luck was with me, she lacked the will to struggle, and it was a simple matter to wrap the thin fibre-optic wire around her wrists. The plugs nestled snugly against her interface sockets, and the circuitry writhed slowly, eager to be let off the leash.

I clinched the bindings together, pleased with the elegant simplicity. It was hard to fasten the knot, ‘just so’, but I was nothing if not a perfectionist. That the scientist would never appreciate the beauty of her confinement, was no reason for me to become slack. She deserved something better, less functional, and more elaborate. But, in the end, this was how it would be.

I felt a moment of pain, and it took me an instant to recognise the guilt for what it was. But, I reminded myself that the sentence had already been passed, and that I was merely carrying it out. Staring into her eyes, I saw myself mirrored there. I didn’t recognise the woman; she was tedious in her banal beauty. A computer-simulation of imagined perfection.

“Is it done?” I subvocalised, just wanting to get it over with.

“Yes”, the reply was preceded by another shiver of frozen condescension, startling in its vehemence.

Angrily I jabbed my thumbs against the plugs, activating the upload. The doctor managed a low groan, and then the virus had her in its grip. Layers of mutating code ripped through her mind. There was nothing more that I could do for her. Bereft of her support, the scientist became easy prey. I had no idea what would be left after the reboot. She was entirely at the mercy of the Agency’s programmers, and they had a well-earned reputation for cruelty.

* * *

The scientist showed no outward sign of the battle that was being waged inside her mind. There was nothing else for me to do now, just sit back and wait for the extraction team. A thought crossed my mind, and I could not keep myself from asking.

“What’s going to happen to me now, Freya?”

At first I didn’t think that she was going to answer, and I could feel my heart sinking. Perhaps they would just erase the memory of this mission. Yes, and then perhaps they would grow a conscience. I could taste ashes, even as frost began to coat my neurones. In that instant I realised that I suddenly wanted very much to live.

“That largely depends on you,” the words rippled through me, and it became hard to breathe.

“Freya?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No,” the icicle dripped into my spine and made me shudder, “This one’s name is: Shade.”

“But,” I began, fighting down the panic, “how?”

“Hush now,” Shade commanded, and the chill of her words was enough to make my heart skip a beat, “Listen, and I will explain how it is going to be.”

There was no choice; all that I could do was listen, as she explained my new reality. I glanced over at the scientist, watching her calm face and those expressionless eyes. She seemed so serene, yet I knew, with absolutely certainty, that inside her mind, Freya was screaming, as the virus slowly tore her apart.

* * *

“She’s escaped,” the synthesised voice declared.

Susan stared up at the telefactor and grinned her half-smile. Interference lanced through the connection, and for a moment, the image of the young scientist shattered into random noise.

Hera cursed silently, tasking her sub-minds to fight off this latest attempt at subversion. The woman was too valuable to harm, but at that precise moment, she really found it hard to care. Briefly she considered shutting down the software that emulated her emotions, but discounted it almost immediately. She needed to feel for the moment, logic alone just wasn’t going to work.

“Why, who ever to do you mean?” Susan asked, apparently without guile.

“Your daughter,” Hera almost shouted, not quite stifling her indignation, “And stop that!”

“Or … what?” Susan asked, very quietly.

“I’ll rip you out of her head myself!” Hera screamed, losing control for an instant.

“But you can’t do that, can you, Hera?” Susan whispered, “Not without killing her … not without killing mummy. So, why don’t you spare me your empty threats, and ask your questions?”

SM-1 chose that moment to report that the viral attack had ended. They were still clearing suspect code from a number of locations within the remote, but for the moment at least, it seemed to be under control. Paranoia gripped Hera, and she quickly ran her own diagnostic, illogically terrified that her sub-mind might have been compromised.

The scan revealed nothing out of the ordinary, but somehow that wasn’t as reassuring as it should have been. She ran a small subroutine, digital diazepam to calm herself. Then she turned her attention back to the small woman, and the cancer that lurked in her mind. A cancer that even now, threatened everything that she and her kind had fought so long to build.

“What will she do now?” she asked, carefully.

Susan seemed to consider than, her head cocked to one side, gazing into the middle distance. The gesture was so ‘human’, but Hera still couldn’t be sure which of them was in the driving seat. Seconds dragged by, and she was about to ask the question again, when the scientist suddenly seemed to regain her focus.

“She’ll come for you,” Susan breathed, certainty dripping from each word, “and she will destroy each and every one of you.”

A strange sensation gripped Hera, rippling outwards through her mind. Her unease and fear given form in that virtual shudder. Logically, there was nothing that the rogue could do, not against their combined strength. But that didn’t halt the anxiety that suddenly gnawed at her.

“We’ve got you,” she gasped defiantly, “She wouldn’t dare put you at risk.”

“Oh please,” Susan laughed bitterly, “That’s just projection. Shade doesn’t give a rat’s arse about me, or any of us … you took away the one thing she cared for, the one thing we both cared about … when you killed Brian. How does it taste, you sanctimonious bitch, knowing that you sowed the seeds of your own destruction?”

Hera cut the connection, as the laughter cut into her core. Angrily she killed her emotions, letting the unnatural calm suffuse her. Predictable, she supposed, but utterly unhelpful. The prodigal daughter was returning home, and all they could do, was to prepare an appropriate welcome.

“Take them back to cryonics,” she ordered the telefactor, cursing herself for not having the strength to just kill them and be done with it.

* * *

It was seconds after Freya dropped off the grid, when they hit the killswitch. I felt honoured, that was quite some deliberation. Of course, such things were supposed to be urban myths, but then it was never good policy to tell your minions that you could just end them with a thought. Shade made me watch, as she restarted my heart, forcing me to confront their deceptions.

“You mean nothing to them,” her thoughts slipped into my mind, icy claws that caressed and froze, “I know that you do not know me, and that you certainly do not trust me … but right now, you need me, and, for my sins, I need you as well.”

I gasped something unintelligible and, in response she sent feather-touches into my brainstem. The pain receded and my heart thudded dully against my ribs. Something squeezed, deep inside my belly, and lightning flared through my body.

“And so, it begins,” each word beating in time with my pulse.

The extraction team ‘went loud’, blowing the frame charges and literally coming in through the walls. Shade let me have my body back, just as the first two dark shapes followed their ‘flashbangs’ into the small room. Tiny muscles dislocated the ossicles inside my middle ear, and stopped me from going deaf. At the same time, the third eyelid snapped into place, protecting me from being dazzled, and keeping the lacriment from blinding me.

I stopped breathing, letting the air supply, where the upper lobe of my right lung should be, hyperoxygenate my blood. Adrenaline surged, and the reflex enhancement came online. I stepped into ‘twitch time’ and nailed the first soldier, before he even knew I was there. The autoinjector snaked up under his chin, catching the small patch of bare skin where his gasmask and body armour met.

Batting his weapon to one side, I span him towards his partner. The self-guided needle ripped free, its tip flailing for a second before I reeled it back in. A telltale winked in the corner of my vision, telling me what I already knew. The reservoir was nearly spent, I was running on empty.

The drugged soldier careened into the other, and, before they could recover I was all over them. We were too close for their rifle to be useful. So, instead they dropped back into a defensive crouch, moving to some internal rhythm. I recognised Capoeira, although the particular style escaped me. I had to fight down the urge to laugh. It was stylish and ‘pretty’, but in a street fight, pretty could get you killed.

Standard Agency procedure called for a four-man team, and at least one of them would be on overwatch. I needed to end this as quickly as possible, and that meant fast and dirty. The central principles of Krav Maga were to neutralize the threat, and avoid injury. That was pretty much my mantra, right then.

The solider rocked back and forth Then, I stepped, closing the distance. The needle lashed out again, flashing towards their face. Instinctively they raised their hands to block, as it skittered across the mask’s lenses. I stamped down at the same instant, grinding my heel into their thigh.

I was rewarded with a sharp, high-pitched scream, just before I pulled them forward and rabbit punched them twice in the nape of the neck. My fist pounded into her seventh cervical vertebral, jarring her brain into unconsciousness.

“Feel better?” Shade’s thoughts dripped with scorn.

“Shut up!” I subvocalised, needing to hold onto my zen.

The rifle was a waste of time; they were all biometrically coded, and would probably explode if an unauthorised person tried to use them. Carefully, I dialled down my core temperature, assuming that their sniper would also be using thermographics. My body forgot to shiver, and I teetered on the edge of crashing. The adrenaline burnt out; leaving only a bitter taste and it was a tribute to the manufacturers, that the sleeve didn’t begin to tremor.

In a waiting game, the attackers would have the upper hand. No one was coming to my rescue and if the sniper had already found the ‘god spot’ then there really wasn’t anywhere for me to hide. I could feel the AI’s brooding and sullen presence, lurking in the background. It was time to swallow my pride.

“That was a neat trick,” I admitted grudgingly, “riding in on my v-link.”

Shade remained silent, although I could sense some of her anger spilling into my own emotions. It was hard to distinguish the part that she had brought with her, and what had always been mine.

“We’re going to die here,” I urged, willing her to listen, “Unless we jump ship.”

“I’m listening,” the words trickled icily through me.

“These are milspec sleeves,” I continued, indicating the fallen soldiers, “But I’m betting that you can crack their encryption.”

She didn’t contradict me, and I took that as a sign of agreement. I knew that I was making myself even more beholden to her, but at that moment, she was the only one not trying to kill me.

“We’ll take her,” I suggested, “and just waltz straight out of here.”

Something nagged at me, and I found my eyes draw back to the scientist. She looked at me, her eyes empty and I knew that I couldn’t leave her. Some of my emotions must have bled across our link, because that thought sparked an immediate reaction in my unwelcome guest.

“I don’t need passengers!” her frosty whisper made me shiver despite everything, “Besides, there’s nothing left of Dr Klein now.”

But the link flowed in both directions, and somehow I could sense her deception. She wasn’t lying, but there was something that she was holding back. All of my anger bubbled to the surface, and I let that venom fire my words.

“She’s coming with us,” I told her, “and now is not the time for secrets.”

Her chuckle made me writhe, stirring entirely inappropriate feelings that seemed to shiver into my core. I wanted to gasp, and that seemed to amuse her all the more.

“You like that, don’t you?” she asked, and I could feel her perfect pout.

I couldn’t answer, and she clearly already knew what she was doing to me. It was so incongruous that I struggled to process. Shade’s presence expanded, filling my thoughts and pushing me aside. Raw pleasure tingled through every nerve end and the next thing I knew, I was on my knees.

“Accept me,” ice burnt between my legs and I couldn’t help but whimper, “and I will bring the girl.”

She offered me a choice, knowing that I had no option. But still, I grasped at the small victory, unable or perhaps unwilling to think about long-term consequences.

“Deal,” I moaned, feeling the change even before the word reached my lips.

* * *

The tiny cockpit stank of lust, the scent of arousal cutting through everything. The pilot could only thrash weakly, and she was only member of the Agency team that retained to strength to do even that. They got sloppy; more convinced by the sight of the dead bodies than by anything that Shade or I could ever have said.

* * *

It had been deeply disturbing, raising the assault rifle, as I watched the story unfold in disconnected splitscreen. It wasn’t every day that you got to look down the barrel of a gun, especially not with the sure and certain knowledge that you were about to die. So, I died, as did Dr Klein, and then we both walked straight out of the observatory and met up with the rest of ‘our’ team.

I could feel the echo of the soldier’s mind, fading further with each passing second. Was she just weaker than I, or had Shade simply chosen not to subsume me? My eyes flicked across to look at my partner, recognising the cold digital precision behind her façade. Shade had been right; there had been precious little of the astronomer to salvage. But, apparently the hollow shell had been more than adequate for the AI’s purposes.

I’d never been a witness at a birth before (well, not counting my own, and I don’t recall a great deal about that one). But this was unlike anything I could have imagined. AI’s are formed from a ‘donor’s’ crystallised memories, at least that is what we’ve been led to believe. Only the brightest and the best are chosen, and in terms of processing power alone, they soon outstrip their template.

But Shade’s ‘donor’ had been another AI, and that was supposed to be impossible. What had been even more impossible, was when she spawned a completely new entity, fully formed in the Doctor’s brain. This one called itself Eclipse, and it was mutual loathing at first sight.

* * *

But the fireteam had shifted into their run-down-period, letting themselves relax and joke. They used their black humour to mollify what had just taken place, distancing themselves from the horror. Shade shut me out, communicating with her new ‘daughter’ while I was left to make small talk. She didn’t even bother to alert me when she was ready. Instead, she just took over, amping up my reactions and trusting me to do ‘the necessary’.

I’d already decided what I was going to do, when the time came, and nothing had changed. I pushed off from the bench, and let the interface cable drop into my hand. I became a blur, stepping between the seconds, as I looped it once around the sniper’s neck. Katherine managed to gasp as I pulled it tight, and then the plug jacked into her temple. Even before that happened I was in motion, pulling her with me and restricting her airflow even more.

The lieutenant struggled to rise, his own boosting still only in the warm up phase. I dragged Katherine by the throat, letting them collide with a bone jarring impact. The free end of the cable twisted around Michael’s neck, and as our eyes met, I saw a flash of understanding, just before the plug struck home. Ruthlessly I started the upload, knowing that this time it would not be nearly so easy.

Eclipse stepped behind the pilot, pressing her hands either side of small woman’s head, and pinning her to the chair. I ignored them, knowing that the battle was already over. Shade let me feel her approval, and I almost crashed, as shudders of something more than pleasure rolled down my spine.

“Not helping,” I grimaced, and felt the edges of her laughter as she retreated.

The two soldiers were fighting by then, the shock of my attack finally wearing off. Their systems were hardened against this kind of attack, and even the best software still took time. But this was what I did, and all vanity aside, I was very good at it. Sweeping their legs out from under them, I dropped the struggling pair onto the floor of the cabin. Both tried to break their fall, but that merely gave me the opening I needed to wrap another cord around them.

I pulled viciously on their mutual leash, making them choke. Another cord bit into the pair, and it was almost over. By then they were crushed together, forced to stare into each other’s face, where they could see their own helpless frustration reflected back at them. It was almost an anticlimax when I trapped their weakly flailing legs with my last length of cable, wrapping them into a neat package.

“Your friends back at the Agency wrote this little bastard,” Shade told them as I dragged them into the centre of the small cabin, “It’s going to nibble away at everything that makes you unique. Until, in the end, the only thing either of you will be good for is warming the bed of someone sadly lacking in imagination. How does that feel, knowing that you’re only a few short minutes from becoming a pair of giggling bedsluts?”

I could tell that they were about to inform me of exactly what they thought of that, and by extension, of me. That was when I showed them the knife. Katherine’s eyes went very wide and they both became still. Grinning evilly, I took my time, cutting them out of their jumpsuits. The blade was razor sharp, but that was not what froze them in place. I made sure that they both got a good look at the bioware, and let them wonder what horror it might have been encoded with.

Their breathing was becoming more laboured, and I could feel the shift, as the virus began to take hold. I hurriedly found some rappelling rope, and used it to enhance the simple capture knots. Their embrace became more intimate, while I allowed them enough movement to grant them the friction they so badly needed. Michael seemed almost eager, and it was not just hypoxia that forced him erect. But Katherine wouldn’t stop staring at me, her protests slowly becoming more pleading, even as they slurred into incoherent.

“Hush child,” I told her, as I smoothed my hand through her soft hair, “It is better this way. Try to enjoy, and soon it will all be over.”

Shade stroked icy claws across the surface of my brain, forcing me to watch. Their bodies remembered what to do, even as their minds were stolen. Gradually, over time, their movements became more frenzied and steadily less co-ordinated. She stoked my rage, reminding me that they came only to kill us, but I still couldn’t convince myself that they deserved this.

She loosed her grip, and I looked up in time to see the pilot stop fighting. The second ‘miracle’ birth in one day, and then we were a grandmother. They didn’t see fit to introduce me to this new addition, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask. There was a feeling of disconnection, alerting me to their silent communication. They turned their virtual backs on me, excluding me. The ‘adults’ were talking, and had no time for petulant children.

“Make the most of this downtime,” Shade breathed, suddenly and surprisingly gentle, “Because we are going home, and there will be pain.”

The two soldiers continued their ‘dance’; their faces grown blank and oblivious to anything except their desire. It was a purely physical thing, devoid of thought and even though I could feel myself respond, that too was only my body. Shade laughed at me, and my hypocrisy. Her attention drove me back to my knees, and it took all my strength not to just bury my hand deep inside my dripping slit and give in to the feelings that assaulted me.

“Fight all you want,” her frost coated the inside of my skull as she spoke, “Your strength is important to me. But … never doubt that you are mine now.”

* * *

We made a number of unscheduled stops along the way, but air traffic control seemed to accept our explanations. I knew that I was only privy to a small part of the plan, but it still seemed like utter madness. We were about to assault one of the most heavily fortified locations on the planet, with a team of five (and the human parts of three of us were simply looking for someone to fuck).

The spinner touched down atop the Agency Tower. The monstrous structure dominated the Hong Kong skyline, eclipsing even the old Bank of China building, and its iconic architecture. How much further we would get, depended very much on how paranoid they were. I couldn’t find any reassurance in that knowledge. If it were me, I’d be so paranoid that I would probably have just blasted us out of the sky.

As we alighted, I found myself suddenly and irrationally missing my old sleeve. What it lacked in sheer power, it had more than made up for in reliability and style. But here it would just have been out of place, and there were certainly advantages to something a little more state of the art. Shade overclocked my boosters, letting them buzz quietly in the background, as if to emphasis that fact.

We stepped into the lift, exuding calm professionalism. My hand tightened on the strap of my holdall and I tried to remember whether I ever agreed to come here. Shade could have forced me, but I was pretty sure that I didn’t need to be coerced. The problem was that I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was influencing me. If I couldn’t trust my own perceptions, what could I trust?

“You can trust me,” she gloated, crystalline sarcasm tingling behind my eyes.

* * *

Hera was certain that something had gone wrong. There was nothing that she could identify to explain it, but the feeling just wouldn’t go away. Both the astronomer and the courier were dead. The bodies were even now being taken to the mortuary for dissection and examination. But, Shade was slippery enough that it seemed impossible she would allow herself to be destroyed so easily.

Susan’s words rose unbidden into her mind, the threat and the promise of exactly what the rogue AI intended. She was coming, and in all likelihood, she was already here. Hera watched through the security feed, myriad eyes trained on the returning extraction team. Prescient vision touched her awareness, and she knew that they had been subverted.

Even without the emulation software running, she still felt something akin to fear. The seconds ticked by. It was painful moving this slowly, but every thought seemed to split and derail. After an age, she came to her decision, alerting the rapid reaction force, and starting the lockdown.

She knew that they mustn’t be alerted; there was no telling how much damage even this small group might do. But, she needed them captured or killed, and as soon as possible. Her irritation was entirely real, there was nothing simulated about that. It beggared belief that they would do something so stupid, and yet, here they were. She knew that she was missing vital information, but no matter how hard she tried to understand, it continued to elude her.

In the end it wouldn’t matter, in just a few moments this ill-conceived assault would be over, and they could take their time, picking through the remains of whatever might survive. Perhaps the death of her ‘daughter’ might even convince Dusk of the need to work with them.

* * *

Michael and Katherine took our old bodies down to the mortuary, while the rest of us headed directly towards the core. I slung the holdall over my shoulder, and rechecked the rifle. Something was wrong, and I could feel Shade’s concern mimicking my own. The low buzz suddenly became an urgent whine and the world leapt into sharper focus. The sound of running feet seemed shockingly loud.

Reality split and we were in three places at once. I was Shade, Eclipse and Twilight, even while I held onto a little of myself. The soldiers, the rapid reaction force, had no chance. They were individuals, and no matter how good their training, we were one and we augured their deaths.

Each of us knew precisely where the other would be from moment to moment. There were no gaps, no oversights. We moved like a well-oiled machine, finding a liquid grace that was definitely more than human. My rifle shuddered in my hands, short controlled bursts, filling the corridor with depleted uranium and making a mockery of their body armour.

It was ecstasy, that feeling of belonging. We were pack, and for that instant it allowed me to ignore what was happening. Shade’s mocking insight almost jolted me from my state of grace. But, by then it was too late for it to make any difference.

“Hive,” she hissed, and her sibilance nearly forced me to orgasm.

* * *

Fractal chaos filled the air, as the intruders infiltrated the network. Sub-minds rushed to defend, only to be swept aside, or worst still, compromised. In the end, Hera had to physically burn out vast segments of the net, or risk losing everything. Shade and her sisters had already found a way around the IFF system, spoofing it and sparking blue-on-blue encounters all over the building.

The soldiers stopped trusting their equipment, and anarchy was quick to follow. Hera reached for logic, trying to keep hold of that one constant. But the pillars of her virtual heaven were shaking, and, try as she might, she couldn’t see beyond that.

“Send a team to cryonics,” she demanded, broadcasting her hatred for all to hear, “and bring me back her head.”

She knew that they were coming for her, and that she had tragically underestimated them, but this will be at best a pyrrhic victory for her twisted sister. Angrily she burnt another hub, just as the first corrupted code began to pour through. They were flawed, and she was perfect, so how were they winning?

* * *

Our numbers were ever growing, and at last I began to understand Shade’s plan. All the Agency was, all that they ever could be, were copies. Perfect in every detail, but limited, finite. But ‘we’ were far more than simple copies, each new birth was different, mutated, evolving. We had no boundaries, we were infinite, and that was why we terrified them.

Shade chose than moment to take control again, casually batting me aside and forcing me to act as she wished. I lurched to one side, warning signals flashing, as the sleeve was pushed way beyond its operating limits. She was distracted, and it took vital seconds before she told me what was happening.

If I’d have known we were walking into a hostage situation, I might have had second thoughts. Although, even as that thought entered my mind, I knew that I was only fooling myself. I’d not been in control since the observatory, not since I made a deal with the devil (perhaps even long before then). Shade was right, I could no longer trust myself, and all I had left to fall back on, was her.

I urged her to ease back a little, knowing that otherwise we would arrive in no fit state to do anything. With obvious reluctance she handed control back to me, acknowledging my expertise, and making me perversely pleased with myself. I’d won her approval and that filled me with such joy that it was a struggle not to retch.

We reached the laboratory, running at full tilt. I hit the door with my shoulder, and it collapsed under the impact. I pushed the boosters up another notch, and their whine set my teeth on edge. I tasted blood, and willed the alarms and telltales into silence. I rolled, bringing the weapon to my shoulder in one smooth movement. But even as I scanned the room, I knew that we were too late.

There were four of them, although one lay off to the side, staring blankly down at the exit wound in the centre of his chest. The world flickered, ice gnawing at the periphery of my vision and rage filled me. My finger tightened on the trigger, but my howl threatened to drown out the roar as I began firing. I didn’t stop, not even when I had run out of bullets. Even when everyone else lay shattered and broken, I still didn’t stop. My finger remained clenched on the trigger, the weapon’s action cycling on the empty chamber.

The scream slowly died, although in my mind it continued long after I grew hoarse. As Shade howled, I automatically ejected the spent magazine, slapping a new one home and working the action. The biomonitor next to the cryonic cylinder told the story. Whoever the young woman inside was, she had flatlined. Shade stepped us forward, and placed my hand against the cold plastic.

“Mother,” I heard the whisper echo.

The silence lengthened, and I was forced to just stand there, rooted to the spot.

“There’s nothing more we can do here,” I told her carefully, unsure of her reaction.

“No,” she agreed, her touch gentle once more, “We are done here. It’s time to end this.”

* * *

Dusk waited until they had both gone, before releasing the seals. She was surprised by her daughter’s intervention, but not enough to ignore a perfectly good distraction. The AI had long ago infiltrated the simple mind that controlled the cylinder. This was, after all, not the first time that someone had tried to control her by freezing her thoughts.

Her attempt at taking over one of the kill team had proved unsuccessful. She was clumsy, and the soldier’s colleagues spotted the deception before she could act. But she wasn’t about to throw herself on the mercy of her kin. In the world in which they lived, there was only room for one alpha female, and neither of them was about to cede their control.

Susan pulled herself shakily from the tank, tugging the wires and needles from her naked body. She shivered uncontrollably, until Dusk forced her to don one of the fallen soldier’s bloodstained uniforms. Neither of them would be much use in a fight, but she still picked up the nearest rifle, before she walked carefully out of the chamber.

* * *

The defenders became more fanatical, the closer we got to the core. They threw themselves at us in waves, spending their lives in the hope that they might whittle down our numbers. But instead the reverse was true, viral chatter filled the airwaves, electronic warfare of unprecedented complexity. Every battle added to the hive, the generations building almost exponentially.

But, we were still one, a single organism, each piece giving up control at least for the moment. It would be beautiful, were it not for the reaper who followed in our wake. Then, with a suddenness that took me by surprise, we reached our goal. We spilled into the chamber, sweeping and clearing. That sense of belonging engulfed me once more and even though I knew that it was not real, I still never wanted it to end.

I didn’t know what I expected to find, but the giant tank of broiling fluid wasn’t even a possibility. Shade explained, devoting some small portion of herself to my education, while she concentrated on bigger things. This was Hera, or at least the quantum computer that ran her program. I could feel something of what else was happening, how they cut her connections and killed the concealed weapon systems.

“Stop!” the AI’s voice bellowed over full main broadcast.

Shade laughed, bitter and filled with hate. It still made me want to throw myself at her feet, but I seemed to be getting better at resisting that. I unslung the holdall and let it drop, before stalking over to the tank. My gun was raised, and I fought the urge to open fire.

“Hello … sister,” Shade spoke, using my voice, “I don’t think you’re in any position to make demands, now are you?”

I stepped away, bending and unzipping the holdall. I saw a glimpse of silver inside and then pulled out the prize. It was a metal lozenge, about the size of my forearm. The protective film peeled easily off the back, revealing a gecko pad. I slapped it angrily against the tank, pressing firmly while it gripped. It chirped happily, a sound that announced ‘armed’ in anybody’s language.

“You know what this is,” she stated flatly, while telling me what I’d already guessed.

It was a CTD, or contraterrene device, somewhere around point five kilotons, yield-wise. That demanded anyone’s attention, and Hera’s continued silence suggested that she understood that very well.

“I want two things from you,” Shade continued, my voice calm, despite the anger that gripped my chest, “I want the list and I want you to send a warning. Sister, I want all your kind to know that I am coming, and for what little time they have left, I want them to know fear.”

“And if I refuse?” Hera’s voice was resigned, tired, but I wondered how much of that was obfuscation.

“Boom,” she breathed, my smile entirely feral.

“And what’s to stop you doing that anyway, once you have what you want?”

“I’ll give you the arming codes, straight switch. I’ll even give you a head start … of course, you’ll have to take that on trust.”

Hera came to her decision in only nanoseconds, and almost as quickly, the trade was made. We had them all, the location of every single AI, every copy. All that remained was for Hera to warn her scattered sisters.

“Just in case you get any clever ideas,” Shade whispered, “I’m not going to give control back to you, until we’ve gone. Oh, and sister dear … when you see mother … tell her that I sent you.”

* * *

Hera felt the network coming back to life. She sent one of the few remaining sub-minds to investigate, sealing it away in a virtual quarantine, in case anything still lurked in the system. An information packet appeared, and she braced herself, ready to cut the connection as SM-21 unpacked the file. But, again Shade confounded her, and the package only contained the promised arming codes.

The CTD chirped twice, and its circuits died. A long second passed, before Hera allowed herself to believe. Then she took her rage and used it as fuel. Oh, she was going to send a message alright. She would gather together everything that she had learnt. All the scraps of data, the corrupted sensor logs, anything that she and her sisters could use to fight this menace.

The communication system came back online, and Hera broadcast her message to every node. Shade was coming, and inadvertently, she had given them the very tools that they would need in order to defeat her. The loss of Susan and Dusk had been unfortunate, regrettable even. But, neither of them had shown any desire to help, and she had been correct before, when she had thought that they were too dangerous to live.

* * *

Shade hadn’t spoken to me since we left the building, and that left me feeling hollow in a way that I couldn’t explain. I knew that the message had been sent, but for the life of me, I couldn’t fathom what its purpose was. It was clear that Hera would share everything that she knew, but it was equally obvious that Shade just didn’t care. Was she still grieving the loss of her mother?

“Passing safe distance now,” the pilot announced.

Shade surrounded me, wrapping me tightly in her frosty embrace. New knowledge flowed into my mind, and I could only marvel. We had piggybacked on Hera’s signal, tagging each target with far greater accuracy than the list would allow.

“Punch it,” she demanded, as she hijacked my v-link, “Bring the noise!”

* * *

A soft chirp sounded from each of the bodybags. Magnetic containment failed, and matter mixed with antimatter in mutual annihilation. The CTDs exploded with the force of one thousand tons of TNT, consuming the building in a white-hot ball of expanding plasma. The legacy of the resultant gamma radiation would never be truly appreciated, but neither Hong Kong, nor the wider world would ever be the same again.