217 The Plan to Silence the City
Sometime later, Viridi landed in the center of a circular colosseum-like building with Zoey, Max, and Baiken on her back, and a terrified Markus hanging from her jaws. The extra passengers were no issue for Viridi thanks to the properties of Zoey's Gravity Rune, but it did not diminish the effect of hanging from the teeth of a dragon hundreds of meters in the air as they flew over the city. If the sheet-white color of Markus's face was anything to judge by, he was not a fan of heights.
Viridi landed in the center where it was clear, and as her passengers disembarked, they took a look around at the location. As Zoey had directed through the Eve network, the scattered Asurai had all gathered at this location after Baiken, Athena, and Markus had stumbled across it on their search. Everyone that had been located and was still alive was here, and they had been quietly reinforcing the entrances to the building while trying to avoid detection from the androids that were getting increasingly numerous outside. The situation was not looking very good, as it was clear that it would not be long before their presence would be discovered, and when that happened, their lodging on the flying city would be forfeit.
Zoey and the other's arrival did lift the spirits of the clanspeople though. She had saved them from so much already, and they completely believed that she could once again save them from the city that had trapped them. Zoey saw the faith and trust in their eyes, and felt its heavy weight on her shoulders. However, she did not flinch away from it. This ordeal was more or less caused by her actions. She had chosen to save them back in the canyon, and she had brought them onboard the Stella Tenebris in the first place. Now, she had to bear that responsibility.
Before long, Ssaul, Saigo, Taigen, Baiken, Max, Viridi, and Zoey were all gathered around a piece of machinery with a relatively flat upper cowling that was serving as a temporary table. The table had been decorated with a makeshift model of the circular building they occupied and some of the surrounding terrain as well so they could plan their defence strategy. Ssaul had a sharp eye for these things, and had been leading the effort to secure the area against the machines outside while they waited for Zoey to return.
Now that she was here, they were all waiting for her to tell them what she had planned. None of them knew where the Stella Tenebris was, nor why there were machines suddenly waking up while the city roared to life around them. Frankly, most of them were quite scared considering the situation, but their trust in Zoey and their leaders was keeping them steady and calm, despite the losses and the dire situation they were in.
After listening to Ssaul's report on the situation, Zoey laid out what they had to do. She projected out a map of the city for everyone to see, then highlighted the two locations that Praesidio had identified before.
"Now that we have everyone together, the main thing we need to do is get off this city in one piece," she said to her crew. "However, the issue is what we need to do, and what happens after. Even if we could leave right away, which we can't, the city would keep producing androids until it was completely full, and then it would start sending them to the surface, leading to a catastrophe once they start to spread. The city is locked into full operation by a defence routine, and now there is only one way to shut it down, and that also happens to be the only way to free the Stella Tenebris, our ticket off this place."
On their flight over here, Zoey had asked Praesidio about how to get her ship free from the city and what would happen if they left the city in its current state. What she had learned was worrying. The security protocol currently locked in was exactly like Zoey had just described; it would produce machines until max capacity, then start sending the army to the landmass below to collect more materials, and destroy any organics that got in the way, all in order to keep producing machines endlessly in order to protect itself. The androids were not dangerous on their own, but it was a networked hive mind, similar to ants that once aggravated would be nearly impossible to stop.
The last bit of bad news was that the system that was keeping her ship locked into the scrapping bay underneath the city was linked to the defence protocol, so to get off the city, they had to shut it down one way or the other. Like Praesidio explained, the only way to do this was to simultaneously set off a trigger at two separate locations on the city's upper surface, shutting down the defence routine and the lock on her ship at the same time.
A specific caveat that Praesidio had also noted was that the androids that had been activated would stay active and dangerous even after they shut down the system as they were hard-wired to fulfil their purpose, and that could not be overwritten without destroying them completely. With that in mind, they still had to worry about escaping after disabling the defence routine.
After Zoey laid out the situation and what they needed to do, she looked around at their faces. She was surprised to find all of them looking back at her with conviction in their eyes. Now that they knew what had to be done, they were ready to do what they must in order to save the remainder of their clan from extinction.
"Viridi and I will be going to this point," Zoey said, pointing at the map. The location she had chosen was the furthest away, but with Viridi's help she could get there relatively fast. "We'll need a small team to go to the second location, and from there we will work together to shut the city's defence routine down. There are a lot of machines out there, so the team needs to be able-bodied and quick on their feet… any volunteers?" Zoey finished as she looked around.
"I will stay here to overlook the defence as necessary," Ssaul said as he nodded at Zoey. "I suggest that Saigo lead the second team with his selected group, as he is most qualified in this case."
Zoey glanced at the old general, who nodded at her to show his agreement.
"Very well, I'll send the shutdown routine to your Eve. Contact me when you are at the location or if you encounter any difficulties." she said as she manipulated her interface to send him the information.
Once that was done, she headed back to Viridi while they handled the rest. Zoey was thankful for Ssaul recommending what he had. She was no tactician, nor was she a veteran leader, she was only an engineer. If they depended on her to make every tactical decision, she would eventually make a mistake, even with the aid of her interface. If it was building or dismantling something, she could easily deal with it, but in this case it was best to leave the tactical planning to those that had experience doing so.
Just before Zoey got to Viridi, she was stopped when someone grabbed her hand. Turning back, she saw Max looking up at her with an upset look on his face. She knew right away what he was upset about. He knew that she had no intention of taking him with her, and this was something he did not want.
Zoey knelt on one knee before the boy and patted his hair with a sigh. Under normal circumstances she would not hesitate to take him with her, but she was worried about what she would encounter once she got to the location where the shutdown point was located. More importantly was the task of protecting the remaining Asurai clanspeople still here, and that was where Max's strength would be the most beneficial.
Zoey looked around at the quiet efforts of the clan to help the old and young to find what comfort they could in this metal structure without any comforts of home available to them. Zoey was not worried about Max's safety, she knew he could handle himself, it was the rest of the clan she was worried about.
"I need you to stay. Protect them like you promised to protect me. I will come back, okay?" Zoey implored the boy as she looked into his grey eyes.
Max was reluctant, but he relented after a moment, nodding sadly in acceptance. Zoey could easily imagine his puppy-dog ears drooping with sadness as he did, making her smile as she stood with one last pat on his head.
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Wasting no more time, she jumped onto the awaiting Viridi's back and with a gentle leap, the two of them launched silently into the air as shadowy wings bore them into the sky. On the ground, everyone watched them go, but Max's eyes stayed glued to them the longest, lingering on the spot where they disappeared for a long moment before he looked away.
In Max's mind, he promised himself one thing; if Zoey did not return, he would not rest until he found her. He would rip this city apart bolt by bolt if he had to!