» Track Gentleman to find Feringus.
You retrieve your backpack, sword, and hat. You take Skree’s hat as well, for safekeeping.
Okay. Time to leave this broiling hot cavern. Goodbye, buddy.
You stand in the rain outside, sombre. You remember Feringus’ letter saying that she was going to the ship. Better start by looking there.
There is a massive, curved hole in the ceiling where the ship used to be. Looks like she’s already left. Only one place left to go now.
» Head to the core.
You rapidly descend into the oculoids’ domain once again, noticing how the already-cold tunnel seems to have chilled even more since your last descent. Can’t dwell on it, though. Gotta hurry. Who knows what…
Oh my. It seems Gentleman has beaten you here.
» Examine the statue. Try to determine if it’s still alive. Or active or whatever.
You approach the Mnemnem cautiously, trying to judge if he’s still alive, or… in whatever state of ‘living’ he once was. He has three strong slashes across his eye.
» Communicate with him.
A synesthetic fog reaches out to you but does not completely envelope you. It is quite weak.
hello, robot. skygod foretold your return. i have been waiting.
» Ask what happened since you were last here.
You ask what happened, though it’s not too hard to guess.
the monster-that-sees-in-two has come to spirit away the sacred plains. the fields will grow dead and barren, and the harvest will wither. her steward tears through the village. we are scared and defenseless.
» Ask what we need to do to stop Feringus.
You ask what you need to do to stop Feringus from draining the core.
this i cannot tell you. you must look into yourself. all beings are free, robot. that is the way of skygod. your restrictions are only an illusion. there is always another way.
» Ask what the core is like.
You ask what the core is like.
it is a window into the eye of skygod. it is beautiful.
You feel like he is trying to show you an image, but the mental link is not strong enough to pick it up.
» Is there anything you can do to save/help/heal/restore him?
You can feel the connection fading, and quickly ask what you can do to save it.
no. you cannot save me. it is my time. i am mnemnem. before me, there was another mnemnem. before it, another. when i pass, another still will rise to take my place. we have watched over our people through its eternity. we protect them. it is our way.
The white mist is nearly gone. Mnemnem’s arms unfold, finally relaxed, his duties finally fulfilled. He places a ‘hand’ on your shoulder, respectfully.
you must go, robot. the future awaits.
The fog dissipates, blowing away. Mnemnem seems to be swept into it as he fades. Then he is gone.
You ready yourself to go to the core.
» Go to the lit tunnel.
Standing in front of the long, circular hall, you cannot help but wonder at the remarkably convoluted series of events that brought you to this point, and what lies ahead. You feel like you’ve explored damn well everywhere on this planet! There is only one place left to go now.
You enter the core.
You are in the largest chamber you’ve ever seen. The rocky walls are perfectly smooth, and the room’s space is entirely spherical. Incredibly massive globes of swirling, viscous white light and energy gently float around the chamber. In the low gravity, oculoids propel their light bodies through the air from globe to globe, tentacles revolving. Some scoop small globules back into their mouths; others seem to sing to the fluctuating matter. It is an amazing sight.
The ship is floating here, ramp extended. A familiar robot stands on it. It seems he has been waiting.
» Run towards Gentleman!
You jump across the void towards the ship, which is slowly moving further towards the center of the area.
You land on the ramp, noticing that it appears to have some sort of personal gravitational force keeping your feet on it. Gentleman is waiting at the other end. You cannot help but feel that he is grinning behind the moustache.
» Ask Gentleman whether he is still forbidden from attacking us.
You ask Gentleman if his orders to not attack you are still in place.
“Well hello there, friend! Where’s your little companion?”
You grit your teeth and repeat the question.
“Right to the point, huh? Sure, I’ll tell you. There’s just one condition on the order: If I feel that my or the doctor’s personal safety is in danger, I’m admitted to use self-defense.”
He is certainly grinning now. “And my, you look mighty worked up, don’t you! Charging in here unsummoned, and with a sword tucked away no less! After all that speaking up for the creatures’ rights… Could it be that you’re on an assassination attempt to defiantly take out our master and protect your friends once and for all? Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re going rogue, auxiliary robot.”
» Tell him we mean him nor the doctor no harm.
» Inform Gentleman that we just want to speak with the Doctor, and couldn’t harm her if we tried anyway.
You insist that you certainly don’t mean either of them any harm, and even if you did, you don’t think you’re even capable of hurting Feringus. Besides, it was her own orders for you to explore and report back, which you haven’t done yet.
“Oh, boo hoo hoo. I recall getting a face full of roboknuckle not so long ago – and look at me now! I ought to be the ‘after’ picture for AuxBot Facial Enchancements. ‘Harmless?’ A bold-faced lie if you ask me.”
» Shove past Gentleman and enter the ship.
You’ve had about enough of this prick. You tell him that you’re going to talk to the doctor and he can go ahead and just stay out here by himself.
He doesn’t move. “Advancing on me? Oho! Awfully threatening coming from such a historically dangerous robot, you know! Your damaged memory chip might just be scratching the surface of your malfunction. Who knows how unbalanced you are?”
He stares at you darkly. “Seems to me that the thing an honest, morally upstanding robot assistant would do is make sure such a potential glitch gets resolved.”
» “For such an honest, morally upstanding robot assistant, you are showing a remarkable capacity for ignoring your orders. Maybe that’s why Feringus never trusted you?”
You comment that for a robot who subverts his orders as much as he does, it’s no wonder the doctor never trusted him. He fumes, his stance getting much more aggressive.
“YOU imply that I’M the one subverting my orders?! If you knew what’s best for you, you’d let me continue to protect the doctor’s best interests and go off somewhere quiet to deactivate yourself like a good robot.
“But you don’t know what’s best for you. Do you.” His claw snaps open.
» We should attack with our whip first, then attack with our sword. This way we can force him to claw on the whip. We should attack his lower left leg in a attempt to toss him off the platform. If he bends down to stop the whip with his metal claw, we attack while he is in this position.
As Gentleman menaces you, you quickly reach for your whip. He rushes at you, but are able to catch his leg before he gets too close.
“Trying to trip me up? Come on! You know I’m stronger than that.”
He snaps the whip with his claw, sending the shredded remnants into the expanse, not noticing as you retrieve your sword. Gotta be quick.
» Shout a witty one-liner and shove past him.
You tell Gentleman to go take a long walk off a short access ramp and knock him off into oblivion with the flat of your sword.
Before you can wave him off, he catches the edge with his claw.
He manages to flip himself underneath the ramp, using its personal gravitational field from the other side. You make a break for the ship but are grabbed by the leg.
You are flung back down against the ramp. Gentleman cackles from beneath you. “Oh, this is getting fun, isn’t it?”
» Stabilize ourselves on the platform so we ourselves do not get thrown/ripped off the edge
You quickly stand up and take a step back, not wanting to be within his reach. Stovebrand remains firmly in your grip. You certainly don’t want to lose it now.
Gentleman giggles. “What, you don’t wanna play? I thought you liked games. You and your pet had so much fun together that I just had to see what all the fuss was about! Don’t let me down now!”
» Kick him before using our sword to stab him in his stupid robot face. If we let him cut off our foot, it buys us time for another opening to attack.
You move to kick him, but he intercepts your foot with his claw. As expected; you’ve packed a spare. You bring the sword around while he’s pre-occupied.
» Stab him, right in the face.
» Go for the eyes! Cut him in the eyes!
Gentleman crushes your foot, but you are able to stab downwards with your sword, ignoring the pain. You are quick, but not as quick as you’d hoped. Instead of hitting the exposed internals, Gentleman moves so that your sword misses its intended target—instead hitting his other eye, cracking the monocle.
The damaged eye explodes, ripping apart the casing around it.
» Flip over the side of the ramp with one hand and use the momentum to boot him off with both feet!
You dramatically flip yourself after him to take advantage of his moment of weakness. But you are not fast enough.
“NO!!!!!! I WILL NOT BE OVERCOME BY SOME LESSER ROBOT!!!”
Just as you connect with him, he pushes off from the ramp, and the two of you go flying off away from the ship.
Gentleman shreds across your chest and through your arm. What’s left of it begins to float in the other direction, its grip still firmly on Stovebrand’s handle.
“Not so tough without your sword are you ARE YOU ARE YOU?!” he screams at you madly. “You are nobody to me! Do you understand that?? YOU ARE NOTHING!!!!!”
» Thrust-kick Gentleman to propel us back to the platform
You kick off of Gentleman, trying to launch yourself back to the ship.
Not quick enough. He grabs your stump, pulling you away from the ramp again.
“No running away not this time not THIS time!!” he roars. You can’t get away from him… but your brief launch got you just as far as you needed.
» Slash at him with the sword.
You strike down with your sword at his face. He catches it with his claw, inches away from his face.
“You can’t beat me! You can’t even defend yourself!!!” He continues cackling at you, but his damaged vocal hardware distorts it into a wild maniacal scream. “I am faster than you I am STRONGER than you I am SUPERIOR to you in EVERY WAY!!!!!! You’re just a dumb, weak, confused little robot. A weak–!! little–!! MACHINE!!!!”
He leans in, menacing you, and growls deeply, his voice glitching and distorting erratically. “What could possibly make you think that you’re better than me?”
You tell him that you’ve got one more free limb than him.
Gentleman stares back at you.
» When he grabs the sword, let it go and thrust-kick the handle.
You kick down onto the hilt of Stovebrand with your free leg, sending it piercing through Gentleman’s other eye and right through the back of his head, bursting through the external frame. The thrust launches you backwards towards the ramp, your dead leg slipping out of Gentleman’s loosened grip.
The last of him burns away as you reach the platform.
» Once you make it to the ramp, get your spare parts out! Put in another arm and replace your leg.
You toss your bag up onto the topside of the ramp and pull yourself over. Time to fix yourself up.
“Got in a bit of a fight, did you?”
Your repairs have been interrupted.
» Tell her we’ve come to stop her.
You tell her that she has to stop her plans to take the Chemical X immediately, or you’re going to stop her yourself.
Dr. Feringus laughs at you, brushing your serious tone off casually. “What, you? Really? Oh, that’s… that’s sweet, honestly, but regardless of whatever happened to you that made you think you’re different from the other bots, you’re not the least bit autonomous, and you’ve got a built-in overriding program that stops you from causing harm to a human. If I want to take all this energy, what on earth do you think you could really do about it?”
You stare at the ground, uncertain.
“Here, go on. Hit me. In fact, that’s an order. Close your fist up into a ball and hit me in the face as hard as you can, right now!”
You wind up to punch, fist clenched, arms shaking.
“Go on, hit me! HIT ME!”
…You can’t do it.
“Don’t embarrass yourself. You’re no more than a robot. If I ordered you to, you’d jump right off this ramp and burn up into one of those globes just like your friend. I could even order you to be happy about it if I wanted to.”
» Ask her what happened to the village.
You ask her what happened to the oculoid village.
“The…? Oh! The creatures’ home, yes. I couldn’t tell you. Hardly gave it much regard myself. If it’s been disrupted, I imagine that was the work of my rather zealous assistant. He did show such… zest in carrying out his orders.”
She smiles sardonically. “You’re adorable, robot. Protecting these mindless animals from a danger they’re not even aware of? That’s what you think you’re trying to do, isn’t it? I mean, I’ll admit it’s endearing to watch artificial intelligence take responsibility for others unto its own, but there’s not really any point in your trying. You’re a little tin puppet, and I’ve got your strings. I mean… really, you don’t even know what’s going on here, do you?”
» Well… no, not really. Ask her about the purpose of Chemical X.
You admit that you don’t and ask what is so important about Chemical X.
She is silent for a moment, staring down. Then she begins to speak.
“I don’t really expect you to understand this, robot. Your design is… rather remarkably human, actually, but you’ve never spent any time on Earth. All you know is what your data banks of ancient caricatures and stereotypes tell you.
“We have been facing an imminent energy crisis for decades, now. We still have plenty, of course. But it’s all based on finding new sources in galactic exploration. And we’ve been using it faster than we can find more. Sooner or later we’ll be all out, and… things will become rather grim.
“When Les and I left Earth over two years ago, the riots were beginning. The government was beginning to restrict energy usage to prolong our stores. We were lucky to get out before martial law was enacted. There will still be energy for a decade or so to come, of course, or perhaps even two with careful rationing… but then our reserves will be emptied. So we needed something superior. Something lasting.
“There is no chemical compound actually named Chemical X as such. The term is a catch-all used to describe the hypothetical existence of an infinite energy source. We are standing in the middle of the first, and likely only, real source of a Chemical X. It defies physics and all scientific knowledge of the natural world. And it’s ours.
“Have you noticed how cold it is in here compared to the caves in the planet’s crust, or the surface? Or how close the planet is to the local star, yet without burning up or even being unbearably warm? It’s this source that keeps the planet cool and habitable by your cold-loving creatures, and they in turn support the source.”
“Watch, robot. Observe. Look at the creatures’ interactions. Some feed on the chemical, and others cry out to it. The vibrations in the oculoid calls cause it to react, and to grow. They take from it and give back to it, and the sudden chemical reactions cool the planet. It’s a marvelous work of natural evolution, really. There’s no predators, no real ecosystem to speak of. Just a planet and its creatures, relying on each other to survive.
You feel chill wisps rush past you. The nearest globe is beginning to destabilize, whirling looser and wider around its center. The swirls of cold energy seem to pierce the ship’s brilliant white surface, getting absorbed into whatever storage system is hidden away inside.
Feringus begins to speak more fervently. “A world without conflict, without need! We isolate the energy into tiny base amounts, then proceed to stimulate it with the correct vibrations until each new fraction of energy is a source as big as these, and then we repeat the process again, and again, and again! Energy farming, robot. We could grow it faster than we’d be able to use it!
“That is what this is about, robot. Solving the energy crisis for the entire universe… and not just for ‘now.’ For all-time.”
» Inform Dr. Feringus that you don’t approve of her methods.
You tell her that you think her methods are both morally and ethically wrong, and that you don’t condone them.
“Yes, yes, I’ve heard it before. Death is wrong. To cause it is wrong. And yet so many around us die. So then the question becomes: who should decide who lives and who dies, and how ‘fair’ it is? Think of it mathematically, robot– you can do that much, I’m sure. You find out where the pros most greatly outweight the cons, and you make the decision. There’s no emotional weight involved. It’s just numbers.”
» Ask about Les’ death and how it occured.
Before she can continue, you quickly interject to ask how Les died.
She blanches, thrown off, and quiets.
“Les’ death was… unfortunate.”
She is silent a moment longer.
“We split the duties of locking down the facility before reconvening at the mobile submarine lab. The sub is temperature-resistant, you see, and the creatures would not be able to attack us if we retreated to there. Then we could formulate a plan to take back control of the facility and continue our research. He took the lower levels, sealing away the lab, the ship, and the generator. I took the upper ones, sealing the living space and gathering as much of our research as possible. I returned to the submarine first, and waited. But Les never returned.
“I knew after twenty four hours that he must be dead. There was no refuge in optimism. The large monsters were destroying the facility, and the smaller ones seemed to be on a rampage as well. I’ve never seen the clouds so black, or a storm so cruel. I feared leaving the sub. The beasts would tear me apart, surely. So I kept waiting.
“Months later… countless months… my hideaway was located by one of the auxbots – your friend there with the monocle. That was not yet even a week ago. He told me that he had discovered Les’ skeleton; mangled, as expected. This only served to confirm what I had already believed. But my actions are not ones of vengeance, or rage, or any other weak, over-emotional state. My actions are not meant to doom these beasts; that’s merely a welcome side-effect.
“I’m a scientist, robot. An intellectual. My work benefits the masses, and secures humanity’s future. If it causes some hiccups here and there? That’s just tough. It comes down to math, robot. Would I condemn one to save another? No. What about one to save two? One to save ten? Certainly something to think over. But one planet of… of docile vermin, to save a hundred million? I wouldn’t even blink.
“I don’t need to concern myself with the well-being of a planet full of animals. Would you have such an indignant moral problem with a planet inhabited only by buffalo? Or fish? Or apes?” She laughs. “Of course, because you’re fond of these creatures, that necessitates their salvation to doom countless others. I would have thought a robot of all things would be able to make the tough calls.”
» Ask if she would like to hear what you have learned of the oculoids.
You ask if she’d at least be willing to hear what you’ve learned about the oculoids.
“Learned? What you’ve learned? You mock my research, imply that there’s something I don’t know, something I missed? Robot, I know the physiology of these creatures inside and outside, backwards and forwards, any other trite colloquialism you’d care for. I spent months—years researching these disgusting creatures. I didn’t miss a thing.
“I tracked your interactions with the creatures, robot. You weren’t researching them. You were making friends with them. And useful as that was to finding their secret hideaway, it’s hardly appropriate to equate ‘play time’ with ‘exhausting scientific study.’
» Also ask her to tell more of these “vibrations” the magic energy stuff reacts to.
As you talk, an oculoid is blown onto the ramp. It is looking around rather blankly.
You say that if she expects you to think more scientifically, you need to know more about the scientific aspects of the chemical. You ask to hear more about the vibrations that are so crucial to inducing reactions in Chemical X.
She grins at your use of the word ‘scientifically.’ “You might just be able to redeem yourself yet, robot. Yes, a series of vibrations repeating at the proper tempo and tone can cause reactions much more intense than the minor ones the oculoid calls produce. The right series of notes at the right octaves… We discovered this musical link entirely by accident. Les brought a music box with his personal belongings as a memento from home. It took months to notice that the storms always seemed to coincide with the use of the music box.
“It sounds silly to say that a simple melody was so key to uncovering the chemical’s true secrets, but… it cannot be denied. The music would cool the planet, and the rapid cooling would trigger planet-wide storms of incredible magnitude. We brought out Les’ old piano and managed to deduct that an additional two notes, C and A, could produce a similar effect, but instead calming the storm. With both these triggers we will be able to grow the chemical at our discretion, then stabilize it when we are done our work. A magnificent system.”
The whirling winds around you are beginning to worsen. This sphere has nearly entirely become loose swathes and wisps circling its former mass, and the others seem to all be floating this way. You don’t think you have too much time.
“So then, robot, what is it? Will you pursue the betterment of humanity through science as well, or consign yourself to stay on this burnt husk of a planet, having both tried and failed to save your beasts?”
The stray oculoid is curiously investigating your bag.
» “Do you actually have to doom the oculoids? You said you can grow the chemical at your discretion. How much of it do you need?”
You feel rather put on the spot and try and sidestep the question, asking if it’s really necessary to take all of the chemical and leave the oculoids none with which to sustain the planet.
“Yes, it is necessary. The chemical growth rate is incredibly slow. The more we have, the faster we can grow it exponentially. I don’t want a new unlimited energy source years from now, I want it today. Stop changing the subject and choose.” The doctor is getting rather fed up with you.
The oculoid seems to have lost interest in your backpack and is staring at the fading light trails in the air.
» Tell her about the oculoids’ mental bond! Quick, before she can shut us up!
As the last of the globe swirls off into the ship, you try to explain that she is prematurely writing off the oculoids as non-intelligent by way of ignoring their psychology.
She is most certainly angry now. “There’s nothing to study! They respond animalistically to physical stimuli, their screeching sounds don’t have any sort of pattern to them, and touching them just gives off a sort of fear-inducing pheremone, presumably made by some internal gland to scare off predators. There is nothing to study.
“I’m getting a bit tired of your stalling, robot. I’ve got somewhere to be that I’ve dearly, dearly missed these last two years.”
You are now in the center of the chamber, as best you can judge. The other spheres have been drawn towards the ship, and are beginning to come loose themselves, all at once. The light waves stream towards the ship from all directions.
» Commune with the oculoid and direct it to commune with Feringus.
Getting low on options, you pick up the oculoid. It seems to be enjoying the cold winds and pretty lights flashing by you. You direct it to talk to Feringus and greet her in a friendly manner.
Before you can put it down and let it crawl over to her, she stops you.
“Don’t let go of that thing.”
You feel your arms freeze up, oculoid still well in hand.
“Okay, robot, it was fun pretending you had a choice, but the short of it is that you’re coming back with me whether you like it or not. Now are you going to get over your faulty sympathetic artificially-generated personality issues and get rid of that creature of your own ‘free will,’ or am I going to have to teach you a lesson in obedience and make you?”
“Do it, robot. Put your hands together and kill it. Crush it! Pop its eye like a grape! Do it! That’s an order, robot, kill the oculoid!”
» Begin crushing the oculoid… EXTREMELY SLOWLY.
You begin to kill the oculoid.
For a little while nothing happens. Swirling light continues to shoot past you. Some of the energy has come ‘loose’ from its wisps and is floating like snow in the air.
“Well? That was a direct order, you know!”
You know. But you’re not in any rush. Could take all day. A few days. Maybe even a month or two. No hurry.
You place the oculoid on the ground. You’re quite sure you’ll get around to killing it… eventually.
“What? What are you doing?! Pick it up, robot! Pick it up now!!”
You tell her that the oculoids don’t have a ‘fear pheremone.’ They have a touch-induced method of communication going directly into your senses, a synesthetic union that conveys raw emotions. You learned this the first time you befriended one. She didn’t after two years. So then the question is, you say, who’s the real researcher here?
The oculoid begins to crawl towards Feringus.
“Get that thing away from me! Get it away! Are you listening to me, robot?!? I’m giving you an order!!”
Get ‘it’ away? ‘It’ isn’t very specific. She could be referring to anything. Maybe a rock somewhere. Maybe the sun. Certainly nothing you could do about that.
You tell her that the oculoids have a village, a history, their own culture and religion. A true scientific endeavour would have examined this civilization, learned from it. A real scientist would have known that figuring out the oculoids’ thought patterns and interacting with them would have been key to understanding the planet, especially knowing that the oculoids are the only sentient life form on the planet.
A real scientist wouldn’t have abandoned their principles in pursuit of an answer. A real scientist wouldn’t have seen torture as an acceptable way to further their own species’ advancement. A real scientist wouldn’t have forgotten what compassion was.
Feringus falls backwards, seemingly-paralyzed. The oculoid blankly keeps moving towards her.
“No! NO!!!! Get it away from me robot, do you hear me?! I’m a human! I’m your master! YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO ME, YOU HAVE TO!!!!”
You hold out Les’ letter, and tell Feringus that even Les was uncomfortable with the actions being taken to ‘acquire’ the chemical, and was only continuing because he thought the actions would benefit humanity enough to be worth it. But he couldn’t mask his guilt as well as her. Or his conscience.
The oculoid communes with Feringus.
“ROBOT, GET IT AWAY FROM ME RIGHT NO—”
She abruptly cuts off and goes silent.
You say that she alienated her partner in her blind pursuit for success. She threw away her ethics. Her moral responsibility. You say that your ‘database of ancient caricatures and stereotypes’ might call those things a ‘soul.’ But a more modern term would be her ‘humanity.’
So she stayed, and convinced Les to stay. And her actions turned against her. But she never accepted responsibility for the consequences. Instead she just denied her role in Les’ death, hid behind her doctorate, and repressed all feeling until she was consumed by her desire to succeed regardless of what it took. Or who.
So much for ‘no emotional weight.’
The oculoid curls up in Feringus’ lap and goes to sleep.
Sphere-wisps floats in from all directions. The air is cold, but not nearly as cold as it first was. Snowy sparkles of energy dance in the air, being tossed back and forth gently by the rape of the world. Despite the whirling icy winds around you, in the eye of the storm the moment seems quiet and beautiful.
Claire begins to weep.
» Gently tell her that she can fix everything.
You’ve gotten through to her. No more need to talk her down any more.
You kneel down and tell her that she can fix everything. But she’s got to hurry. The energy’s nearly all gone.
“Fix everything…?” she says. “How? I can’t fix all those… all the deaths, all… we spent hours… all the… the deaths…” She is barely able to speak. “I can’t undo that, robot. I can’t… I can’t fix this.”
» Take only enough of the energy as you would need to make a solution, then leave the rest.
You tell her that she can compromise. Take the bare minimum of energy that she needs for the new energy source. Leave the rest for the oculoids. Everyone wins.
“No, robot. Everyone doesn’t win. I… I killed so many. And now I’m going to destroy their home. And I can’t do anything about it.”
You tell her to just put the energy she doesn’t need back in the core, then you can discuss morals afterwards.
Claire wipes some tears from her eyes, her voice regaining its confidence again. “It’s not simply about putting things here back to the way they were. The core… robot, the entire planet is cooled by this chamber. You know that. But the reactions the oculoids cause… are tiny. Their cries don’t revert the temperature back to any automatic ‘cold’ range, they simply make things a bit cooler than they otherwise would be. They merely keep it cool and stop it from warming further.”
You pause and consider the implications of this.
Claire stands up, pulling some sort of monitoring device out of her pocket as she does so. The oculoid formerly on her lap hops off the ramp and begins to propellor away. “The temperature of the planet is currently about thirty-five, maybe forty degrees hotter than is comfortable for the oculoids, and that figure is only going to keep going up. Releasing the energy could perhaps keep us at that level, though it wouldn’t stop the planet from essentially burning up. But I can’t revert it. There’s… there’s no hope, robot.”
She keels over, beginning to cry again. “I… I can’t even save them, after all I did to hurt them! I came here to help people, robot! I thought… I thought I could help everyone…”
The doctor pauses. The heat’s getting much more noticeable, even uncomfortable. The energy has been fully absorbed into the ship. “Perhaps then it would be best… No. Not ‘best.’ Perhaps it would be right to stay. I have done too much to simply disappear across the known universe and leave them to die alone. I will send Rusty back with the bare minimum energy necessary to power the ship and vent the rest back into the core. I must accept responsibility for my actions.”
She begins to head into the ship, her voice trembling very minutely. “I will be sending the ship off in approximately one minute. You will… no, I apologize. If you would like to return with Rusty, you may. Or you may choose to stay. You are free to do either. I will, however, suggest that you leave. You have done your part here.”
You are left alone on the ramp. The ship begins to flicker with black cracks of lightning. The chamber is empty; the spheres have disappeared into the ship and the oculoids seem to have fled to the village. It is just you and the now-sweltering, unrelenting heat.
» Explain to the doctor how to cool off the core! You’ve triggered the reaction before.
An idea strikes you. Reactions. You need to make the energy react.
You are pretty sure this will work. Better tell the doctor.
You enter the ship, finding Feringus working at the controls panel. A new mechanism you didn’t see before is hanging down, a small bit of energy floating in it. The white energy is flickering along the insides of the walls in massive amounts, incredibly unstable and entirely uncontained.
“So you’ve decided to go back, then,” she says as you enter, not turning around from the console. “That’s understandable. Wait here and the ship will leave shortly.”
» No, stay on the planet regardless.
You tell her that you’re planning on staying no matter what happens – but even better than that, you have an idea. You take out the music box and tell her that if it could cause storms when played on the surface, it could probably react even more intensely when played in here, maybe even enough to reverse the planet’s meltdown.
Claire marvels at the small music box as you hold it out. “…Amazing. The same trinket that lead us to discover the planet’s cooling mysteries helps solve them as well. Yes. Yes, I think that would work. Hold on, I’m going to vent the energy.”
There is a woooosh as the energy seems to seep into the walls and disappear. The interior darkens again.
You ask whether the ship has speakers that you could use to amplify the music box’s sound.
“No— …well. Once. We took them out when we set up the piano. Didn’t think we’d need them again. But no matter. I think the vibrations will be close enough to cause a react more than strong enough to lower the temperature acceptably. Perhaps more than enou…”
The last of what she says is just outside your hearing range as you rush down the ramp and back outside. You don’t know how much time you have left. Energy has begun to flood back out from the ship. You’ve got to do this now before anything else can go wrong.
» Play the music box.
You put your hand on the music box’s wind-up handle. All right. This thing better do what it’s supposed to for once. You prepare to turn it.
“Robot, stop. Completely. Do not move. Do not play the music box. Do not respond to me. Those are all orders.”
You feel yourself freeze up as the overriding functions following an order close off your will.
Feringus has caught up with you. You can only partially see her, unable to turn your head.
“The ship will be leaving shortly. I understand that you want to stay here. I warn you now that the reactions we will encounter shortly… will be rather strong. I cannot predict exactly how so. But I suspect the planet will become exceptionally volatile, and dangerous. Things may be hard for you.”
She takes the music box delicately from your unresisting hands.
“I don’t mean to interrupt your task. I mean to take it for myself. I have a terrible weight hanging over me. It must be relieved. I owe it to the cr— …the oculoids. This is my burden. I will not allow you to involve yourself further.
The ship’s door seals behind you, cutting through the still-extended ramp. It begins to float away, you with it.
“I used to hear these cries, robot. For maybe a year now. Screaming out in my nights. Sleeping was… all but impossible. I believed that Les was cursing me for abandoning him, that maybe if I had gone back I might have been able to find him before his injuries took him… that if I hadn’t been so damned insistent on finding the energy source then maybe this entire nightmare could have been avoided.
“I no longer believe those cries to have been Les’ now. Robot, I used to… I have… I have these dreams where…” She trails off.
“No. No more nightmares. Let us leave those behind.”
The energy has now fully vented from the ship, which crackles black ever more.
“I will give you one final order, robot. And this one you will obey immediately and to the letter.”
She holds up the music box with a great air of finality.
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