Chapter 29

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"Patience, my harbinger of death," IG-68 soothed his companion via narrowcast. "Patience, Ax. I know you could wreak righteous havoc on the kat's electromagnetic sensors, but then the compound would be alerted to our presence. We will be utterly useless to our team as spare parts."

Ax gave him the digital equivalent of a hiss over the narrowcast network, sulking at the order. Sometimes, IG-68 wished his companion could speak back to him.

IG-68 hadn't built language communication protocols into Ax's neural net, but that didn't mean she was mute. Ax communicated perfectly in digital code over their wireless network. Yet her primary function was as a weapon, not a protocol droid. The budding poet in IG-68 sometimes yearned for a companion as eloquent in the spoken word as he.

Til'trius, the Maker's Son, had designed a simulation that pushed them, testing them for their breaking point. Kat droids prowled nearby, and hiding from a kat was not as straightforward as hiding from its meatbag equivalents. Most kats were fitted with visible light, infrared, and ultraviolet spectrum sensors. On top of that, they sported a complement of wireless packet and electromagnetic field sniffers to detect droid infiltrators.

The only way to remain hidden was constant vigilance.

IG-68 had selected the comm pylons on top of the east office tower as their hiding place. This introduced a conundrum; while it would be harder for the kats to detect them, it would also be harder for IG-68 to complete his mission. The extra electromagnetic shielding IG-68 was forced to carry slowed him down, and his algorithms had to spend more time parsing out distortions in the field.

Worst of all, IG-68 hated playing the mouse. He much preferred to be on the hunt, stalking his prey. The goal was clearer, and the end within sight.

Instead, IG-68 had been forced to use a narrowcast network of SPY-DR droids to monitor any approaching kats. SPY-DRs were small, networked droids that proved adept at searching, patrolling, and infiltrating. Commonly called simply "spyders," they were a rudimentary, yet powerful tool.

In order to get around the detection problem, IG-68 had made his spyder network reliant on a line of sight chain of microwave bursts. This severely limited their range as extending the network meant daisy chaining spyders around vents, pipes, and air ducts; but it made them very difficult to detect.

SKYE had spyders as well, but they were not the primary line of defense for SKYE headquarters. Spyders were small and relied heavily on a network for processing power. As a result, they could be detected and hacked, and that was precisely what Til'trius had already done to the spyder network at SKYE.

As hackers became more sophisticated at foiling spyders, corporate security systems like SKYE employed larger autonomous "kats." The larger droids could not fit into the tiny crawl spaces of spyders, but they nonetheless were very adept at squeezing around tight corners.

More importantly, kats only uploaded to the network. There was no way to hack them remotely because the network could not communicate to them.

Once alerted of a threat, a kat investigated it. If a kat determined the threat posed imminent danger, it sent a signal to the network, instantly sounding alarms throughout the compound of an infiltration attempt.

A hacker could still hack the security system, preventing the alarms from sounding. Doing so would only delay the alarms for a few more seconds, as the kat would notice that the alarms had not sounded, bound over to a mechanical alarm not connected to the network, and sound the alarm.

At that moment, two SKYE kats tripped silent alarms on IG-68's spyder perimeter. IG-68 instructed his spyders to move away from the kat droids' approach vectors. Computations indicated a high probability of discovery if IG-68 remained in his current position. 

There was no way out. Both kat droids were triangulating in on his position from the southeast and southwest sides of the tower. Although IG-68 could adjust his location, IG-68's physical size was simply too large. Even with the cover of the pylons' electromagnetic fields, once the kats got close enough IG-68 would be discovered with a 95.4% degree of certainty.

With a silent whirr, IG-68's joints dislocated, and his head, torso, and limbs disconnected, each moving to spots on the pylon that would make them much harder to detect. Moments like this moved him to poesy.

"It is at these moments, Ax, that one discovers how futile it is to be attached to one's self. We are but grains of dust, dissolving and reforming again in the kaleidoscope of existence."

Ax responded with her own form of poesy, streaming hundreds of attack scenarios over the next several seconds as the kats moved in. One of the more creative scenarios involved using IG-68's legs and head as bait, while IG-68's arms and Ax rained death from above. "You are truly an artist of violence. What inspires your mind to such sadistic fantasies?"

For the next several seconds, Ax's primary routines examined her subroutines, searching for an answer. Meanwhile, IG-68's parts and Ax slowly adjusted positions to maximize the distortive effect of the pylon's electromagnetic field, as the kats paused to sniff for possible intruders.

To IG-68's surprise, Ax responded with a record of some of the most inspiring artistic works they had seen in their travels throughout the galaxy. Venthan Chassu's Selonian nude studies, the Veil of Skynara's balved sculpture, Zhale Sorrant's holomurals from Bish. Ax then showed him a picture of a dirty blank canvas, a rough block of marble, and a holo projector.

Finishing their scans, the kats continued their patrols, slinking away towards the side of the towers from whence they came. With the immediate threat contained, IG-68 dedicated more processing power to Ax's response.

"You pose me a riddle then? The missing factor is the artist, but I already know you are one. So you must be asking me what moves one to artistry?

I have struggled with this myself. Why be a poet? Why holocast to my followers, when it will one day all crumble to naught?" IG-68 queried.

Ax intoned a negative.

"Well then, you show the end state of beauty, and the initial state of ugliness. Perhaps then, you point out that an artist creates beauty, where once there was only ugliness?"

Ax intoned a positive.

"And so these fantasies of yours..." IG-68 sent several of the attack scenarios back to Ax, including one where Ax repeated stabbed out the electronic eyes of a kat. "...these fantasies are you creating beauty, where once there was only ugliness?"

A trill of delight sounded over the narrowcast network, as Ax slid down the pylon to return to IG-68's hands.

IG-68 scanned his companion, as his head secured itself onto his torso, the attachment joints whirring silently back into place. He created Ax to be an instrument of destruction, an avenging sword to purge the filth of the galaxy. Yet Ax possessed her own sense of destiny.

What had he wrought? Was Ax's personality emergent, or something IG-68 had programmed in himself? Was the mark that she left on the galaxy, his mark as well?

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