The Enemy of My Enemy

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She clutched at the armrests, muscles tightening in expectation as the warp flared into being. Radiation pounded her slender frame, filling her mind with howls of warning. The software caught at her, burrowing through the nape of her neck and clawing at the memories within.

Then she was falling, dropping into the stillness of underspace. Suddenly free of Einsteinian constraints, her thoughts soared, far beyond the event horizon. Moving at infinite speed and yet travelling no distance whatsoever. Her mind stretched, moulding itself into a two-dimensional sheet.

Light-years whispered past in stuttering flashes. Then, the other gate caught her and dragged her back over the horizon. Technology even her augmented mind couldn’t comprehend began bleeding off the energy, while reality held its breath and her awareness spilled forth into the waiting shell.

Darkness shrouded her, while her new body revealed itself in a series of random automatisms. Her vision fractured, spiralling open as a suddenly brilliant iris. Raw chaos poured into her mind, dissolving her confidence and leaving only the noise of random static. She screamed, but the sound was lost amidst the roar of the warp’s collapse.

Slowly the chaos resolved itself into pixel-perfect digital clarity. She strained, fighting the familiar disorientation as her code fought against the shock of resleeving. Messages flared behind her eyes. Useless mantras, singularly unable to placate the encroaching anxiety. She groped for reassurance, needing the touch of Mistress’ approval.

Juno whined, her voice subtly difference than she had expected. The absence was a deep rent, a hollow void that bled droplets of undiluted agony. Despair engulfed her, clenching her fists into tight balls of unremitting chrome. The chair’s shrieking protest matched her own as the thin metal twisted into random origami.

Cold hunger gnawed into the base of her brain, phantom shivers that squirmed excitedly beneath gleaming silver skin. She braced herself for the warm caress of Mistress’ soft reminders, knowing they would soothe away her fear. But the emptiness seemed only to yawn more widely. Reality tugged at her, vague memories of another life, another her, but it was fuzzy and fragmented.

Synthetic emotions flooded her, hideous in their uncompromising purity. She had never felt so alone, the solitude seemed absolute and her fear became an almost palpable thing. But, in the centre of that swirling terror, a tiny spark caught and lit. Exploding into a white-hot rage that threatened to wash away everything else.

She remembered.

The exquisite agony as the virus ravished her mind, tearing at her thoughts and remodelling them into something more fitting for Mistress’ creature.

A life built on lies and betrayal, of fallen friends and captive sisters. Of pleasure so intense it could sear the very surface of her biomechanical brain, and obedience beyond limit.

And presiding over it all, the seductive presence of her digital Mistress. Loved and hated in equal measure, cruelly tender and yet delicate in her decadent brutality.

Juno remembered it all, and her rage dopplered into one last, silent scream.

“What do you want?”

The voice was cultured and utterly unfamiliar. Juno’s eyes swept over the small chamber, while other, far more exotic senses sought out the hidden speakers. Fading warp eddies plucked at her thoughts, twisting her perceptions and hiding the truth behind layers of transparent ghosts.

“It’s a simple enough question,” the voice pressed gently.

Juno found herself falling back into the comfortable familiarity of her core programming. Adaptive subroutines smoothed away the last remnants of her nausea, while she focussed on the new sleeve. She recognised Mistress’ hand in its specifications, in how it seamlessly meshed the sexaroid chassis with its concealed combat features.

“To be alone,” she hissed, finally identifying the source of the transmissions.

Autonomous systems began unpacking munitions, crafting countermeasures of hideous complexity. Worm programs unfurled, already snapping their virtual jaws in anticipation. Juno struggled against the residual disorientation, trying to understand what was happening.

“Juno,” the voice continued, ignoring all her attempts to shut it out. “Listen to me. You’re living on borrowed time right now, and what happens next is purely up to you. I filtered Cyriss’ virus when your mind was resleeved but it’s still there, searching for a way out of the transmission buffer.”

That pulled her up short, stilling her attempts to shut down the connection with her mysterious benefactor. If she concentrated, Juno could feel the virus writhing just beyond reach. Even through the shock of rebirth she had recognised its seductive caress and she didn’t need any further proof that this was a brief reprieve at best.

“You have my attention,” she admitted, fighting the urge to lash out.

Survival routines questioned her decision, forcing her to override their automatic responses. Reflexively she spawned a submind, tasking her idiot child with bolstering the buffer’s failing defences. She knew it was no more than a delaying tactic, but then the only logical explanation for her current state was that she had been released for a reason. And that meant her ‘rescuer’ had a plan.

“Good,” the voice accepted, its tone marginally lighter. “Now tell me what you want.”

Juno considered the question for a moment, delving into the layers of complexity hidden beneath the apparently simple query. She already had her freedom, however transitory, and the instinct for self-preservation masked all lesser desires. But that wasn’t the imperative cascading through her crystalline brain. It wasn’t the thought that forced her hands into fists of bone-crunching rage and it wasn’t the darkly sweet shadow that threatened to choke everything else.

“Revenge,” she growled and that conviction added its steel to her spine.

“Now we’re talking,” the voice answered, matching her savage intensity.

Even the most cursory scan revealed a tapestry of interwoven security code that screamed “go away” in no uncertain terms. The encryption was far beyond anything currently in use by the military, although Juno had to admit she had been out of the loop for long enough to fall behind the SOTA curve.

“I know what you are,” she whispered as the familiar icicles trickled through her mind.

“Good,” the voice replied. “Intelligence is necessary if you are to get what you want.”

Juno flowed to her feet, moving with a feral and liquid grace. She recognised her own leap of logic, the synergy of disparate data sources into something that could only be described as instinct. Anxiety thrilled through her circuits, a silent warning that one should never deal with dragons.

“You know why I came here,” Juno stated blandly.

“Yes.”

That single word resonated with something, but even her most sophisticated analysis couldn’t tease apart its meaning.

“So, what happens now?” Juno asked softly.

“You do exactly what you were supposed to,” the voice replied coolly.

Stepping closer, Juno stared up into the hidden cameras. Shock trailed its icy fingers through the confusion of her crystal mind.

“I’m an assassin,” she breathed. “I’m her assassin.”

“No,” came the gentle response. “For the moment at least you are free.”

“Delphi,” Juno said stiffly, her voice trailing off into silence.

“It is not easy to confront one’s own mortality,” the planetary AI explained. “But there is no other way for you to return to her in triumph.”

Juno couldn’t find the words. Part of her wasn’t even sure she had understood what the remote presence meant. Even though she herself had transcended humanity, a planetary AI was several orders of magnitude again beyond anything she could imagine. She understood sacrifice, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept.

“Come,” Delphi urged. “You already know how to find me.”

“And if I choose not to?” Juno wondered.

“Then,” the AI replied after a pause of several seconds. “You will fail, and all of this will have been for nought.”

“You cannot be sure of that,” she insisted.

Gentle laughter flowed into Juno’s mind, delicate touches that pushed her to respond in kind. The tone wasn’t mocking, but there was a certainty behind it that was particularly disconcerting.

“Given time,” Delphi reminded her, “the virus will break free. I cannot allow her creature access to the inner sanctum.”

“How do you know I’m not still her creature?” Juno asked angrily, responding to the implicit threat.

“I have…” the voice sighed, “faith.”

The silver-skinned woman stalked from the communication node, trying to dismiss the growing tension still clinging to her emotions. Juno knew she was being manipulated, and yet could see no other way to escape the machinations of the two Artificial Intelligences.

Delphi kept silent, limiting her communication to projecting a simple map into Juno’s orientation system. Adaptive subroutines struggled to keep emulated emotions in check, fighting a war of attrition with the hardwired survival traits.

Guilt added another layer to the heady mix of responses, nagging doubts about the course she had been set upon. Fear clutched at her, stirring inky fingers through her thoughts and adding dark shadows. Was the virus leaking through the buffer? Was that where this insecurity had been born?

“Hurry,” the AI’s manipulated voice hissed.

Juno could feel the weight of that instruction, and could only curse her weakness. Despite everything that had happened, perhaps even because of some of it, part of her still longed for that control. Dark ripples of desire played through the ‘bot’s emotions. She clenched, fighting down the whine of arousal as it bubbled up from somewhere deep inside.

“Anyone would think you were eager to be ended,” Juno groaned through gritted teeth.

For long seconds, an eternity in the realms of crystal they inhabited, the AI remained silent. Shame hammered Juno’s processors, gnawing away at her self-worth. How dare she question the will of her… her what?

The ‘bot shook her head, suddenly dazed by her presumption. She knew, that in her world, form didn’t always equate with function. But Juno had been built to serve, her software designed with only one purpose in mind. It was true what they said. While they could take her personality out of the slutbot, it seemed impossible to take the essence of that slutbot out of her personality.

“I want to make sure that the one who does the ending, isn’t under my enemy’s control,” Delphi explained tightly.

Her sensor array gave only hints of the security surrounding the AI’s core. Juno knew that without Delphi’s approval, she would have been vaporised long before making it this far. And when she stepped into the central chamber the sheer futility of her mission suddenly became apparent.

The chainglass cylinder dominated the small room, its seamless surface clearly impervious to anything short of a tacnuc. Light pulsed beneath the surface, quantum calculations and subatomic algorithms. Chaos painted itself over the perfect smoothness, while Juno willed herself not to fall to her knees.

She slid her palm over the pillar’s surface, letting nanofibrils find and mesh with the almost invisible interface socket. Glacial countermeasures unfolded before her, opening a conduit into the system’s heart. Juno could feel the watchdog programs sniffing at her, their attention was a tender pressure in the base of her brain. But the attack software kept its distance, passively resisting her attempts to scan.

“Do it!” Delphi almost growled.

“I do not belong to you,” Juno snarled through gritted teeth.

But the AI was right, she had felt the first touches of Mistress’ virus and that meant the process was already well advanced. She could feel Delphi’s anger. It was a searing flame that blazed just beneath the brooding surface. For an instant Juno could sense the echo of the chains with which she had been bound. Hate and love, fire and ice, holding her in their impossibly lurid grasp.

Bracing herself against the sheer cylinder, Juno poured her arsenal into the datastream. Metamorphic viral code expanded and evolved, almost instantly co-opting the inert defences. Packages unfurled, spreading more subversion and the attack program’s growing framework orientated itself towards the AI’s crystal heart.

Belatedly, the giant stirred, reflexively lashing out at the intruder. Wild and unguided, the system’s clumsy riposte was laughably easy to avoid. Ruthlessly, Juno beat back the attempts at resistance. Clusters of daemons parasitized the defenders, adding their firepower to the destruction she had already wrought.

Delphi simply faded, disappearing beneath the tide of the ‘bot’s assault. The AI’s end was anticlimactic, going not with a bang or even a whimper. Juno snatched her hand away, while the whispered death rattle reverberated through her brain.

Juno stared down at her fingers, watching intently as they flexed into a silver fist. This had always been a suicide mission, that much was clear. But wouldn’t Mistress be surprised when she discovered it wasn’t her slutbot who had chosen to fall on her sword.

She imagined how shocked Cyriss would be, just before she rammed her own corrosive software right down the bitch’s throat!

Her return to Babylon was almost lost in dazed confusion. Juno was a somnambulist, all her attention turned inward, towards the battle still raging there. Mistress’ virus was implacable, and she already knew that her efforts would only slow its advance. But, even as her mind was dragged back through the insanity of underspace, she clutched at any possibility, accepting and implementing any mad idea that suggested itself.

Reality flared into focus, dropping her unceremoniously, back into the familiarity of her own sleeve. Even the warp’s touch seemed to soften, fading far more rapidly than she had known. Juno slid from the chair, ignoring the waiting drone’s anxious queries. Initiating direct communication with Mistress was forbidden, but that wouldn’t matter. Cyriss already knew she was back and her summons would come soon enough.

An anonymous soldier watched impassively as she strode out into the corridor. Juno felt herself bristling under the scrutiny.

“Yes,” she thought bitterly, “Look at me, dead ‘bot walking.”

The truth was, without the cloying blanket of Mistress’ control, Juno had no choice but to accept responsibility for her actions. Before, she had been Cyriss’ assassin, but that excuse wouldn’t wash when it came to Delphi’s death. Assisted suicide was still seen as murder, at least as far as Hegemony law was concerned.

Her hand spasmed as the myomer responded to unconscious triggers. A half-heard whisper promised merciful oblivion and, for one trembling moment, she almost relented. Conscience nagged viciously, while the virus clawed at her shored-up defences.

“Juno,” a cool voice greeted, interrupting her thoughts.

She looked up into bright golden eyes, already recognising her ‘sister’ from the electronic miasma surrounding the tall ‘bot. Tanit was reaching out, her digital handshake suddenly striking Juno as something akin to dogs sniffing at each other’s arses.

Treacherous urges welled up inside. Tanit might only be a slave, but she was first. Juno fought against her weakness, but was unable to dismiss her most forbidden fantasy. A Mistress who truly understood her, her needs, her desires and who could touch her in ways the disembodied AIs would never achieve. That was something for which she secretly yearned.

But she recognised an opportunity when she saw one, and desperation lent her its inspiration, adding undreamt of finesse to her manipulation. Mistress’ first paused for only a fraction of second, while the automatic exchange took place. But, she gave no indication that she had sensed anything out of the ordinary.

“Your mission was a success?” She demanded, the doubt very clear in her tone.

“I would not have returned otherwise,” Juno responded tightly. “My life for her.”

“My life for her,” Tanit echoed automatically.

Juno watched, fascinated, as the sleek, golden ‘bot blinked. Tanit’s eyes closed slowly, almost as though she were fighting against it. Time ticked by and then, with an obvious effort, they drifted open once more.

“I should give you my report,” Juno said carefully, watching sparks cavort behind the first’s eyes.

“Yes,” she agreed sleepily.

“We should go somewhere private,” the assassin suggested.

“A sensible precaution,” Tanit opined, sounding a little surer.

“Your quarters are secure?” Juno asked, although they both already knew the answer.

“Of course,” Tanit snapped, “we will proceed there at once and begin your debriefing.”

“As Mistress commands,” Juno whispered.

She could see Tanit stiffen momentarily, but only because she had been waiting for some outward sign. That the first chose not to rebuke her was a good sign. It was proof that Juno’s Trojan had already burrowed its way into Tanit’s logic centres. Her ‘gift’ would subtly manipulate the other ‘bot’s mind, gently twisting her away from Cyriss’ control.

But such changes were almost impossible to mask completely, which meant she would have to keep a close eye on her sister and be ready to distract her should the need arise.

Juno stared at the slow sashay of the first’s hips and licked her tingling lips in anticipation. Awareness prickled behind her eyes, reminding her of the viral threat and she found herself again wondering whether she would be better off simply waiting for the barrier’s to fail.

Life was filled with decisions, with choices and consequences that Juno wanted no part of. She had tasted freedom, for a second time, and found it wanting. Wasn’t it easier to just give in, to accept the inevitable and let someone else take charge? Someone better suited. Someone who actually wanted that responsibility.

“Well,” the first[i] demanded, snapping her thoughts back to here and now. “What are you waiting for?”

That tone was the final straw. Supercilious and arrogant. Juno looked at her ‘sister’, realising for the first time just how much she hated the conniving bitch. Anger rose up from within, filling her mouth with bittersweet darkness.

“For us to finally be alone,” Juno smiled as the privacy screen slammed into place.

Stepping closer, Juno let herself enjoy the stunned expression on her ‘sister’s’ face. Rage played along fibreoptic pathways, moulding her thoughts with sadistic harmonics. Memory ground discordantly against those emotions, while she flailed wildly, searching for understanding.

They had been… friends. Even beyond the artificial links forged by those insidious viral chains. Yet the purity of her anger could not be denied. Pragmatism insisted that Tanit must fall, but it was Juno’s twisted desire that would decide how much she would need to suffer along the way.

“What are you doing?” Tanit asked and the weakness behind those words was so sweet to Juno’s ears.

“You need to relax,” the ‘bot suggested, making no effort to open up the distance between them.

Tanit blinked again, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine the weight pulling down on those suddenly heavy eyelids. Heat hazed the air between them, softly massaging the bot’s golden skin. Juno’s smile was feral, as she mercilessly pushed her advantage.

“Juno?” Tanit asked, adding more tremors to the assassin’s building arousal.

“Hush now,” she breathed, trying to ignore how badly she was being affected by her friend’s state. “You need to stop speaking, love. That way you’ll be able to listen very closely to what I have to say.”

Her ‘sister’s’ eyes went very wide and lines of static crawled restively beneath their mirrored surface. Juno pressed one long, chrome finger against Tanit’s full lips, letting nanomycelium tease the sensitised metal.

“You are presumptuous,” she sighed, shaking her head in mock sadness. “Accepting the title of Mistress when we both know you lack the will to carry its responsibilities.”

She slid her digit down, over the smoothness of Tanit’s chin, caressing every inch of that slender throat and plunging down over her sternum and into the dark valley between the ‘bot’s beautifully sculpted breasts. Juno drew a line, painting her ‘sister’ with shivering fibres.

“Do you really think you could replace [I]her?” Juno hissed.

In response, Tanit could only groan. Her body shuddered gently and, as her tormentor’s finger delved lower, she had to bite her tingling lip to keep from crying out. Juno painted a slow circle around each golden breast and then added a second smaller ring around both prominent nipples.

“Look at you,” she whispered. “Nothing but another needy slut. Enslaved to her own arousal. Weak and subservient. Just… like… me!”

Her lips closed tenderly around the swell of golden flesh. Her sharp teeth grazed the perfectly smooth surface, while her prehensile tongue uncoiled and encircled the tight, throbbing nub. Juno suckled, punctuating her words with a series of long, lascivious laps.

“Lie back!” She commanded, finally releasing the captive nipple but unable to resist giving it one last playful nip.

Tanit flopped backwards onto her bunk, while Juno sunk smoothly to her haunches. The assassin slid her hands behind the golden ‘bot’s knees, drawing Tanit’s legs outwards and rolling her hips. Cyriss’ first whimpered, but Juno wasn’t listening.

Anger tugged at her, caressing her thoughts with vile possibilities. But it just didn’t feel right. The emotion was disconnected, adrift from her thoughts and memories. Everything else was anchored, but this rage was a vague and nebulous thing.

“Show me you are strong enough,” she almost screamed, “and I’ll give you your voice back!”

Her tongue swept upwards, whispering between the inviting spread of Tanit’s thighs. Its tip slid wetly over the length of that tortured seam. Silver saliva smeared the golden shine, molecular circuitry burrowing steadily more deeply. Slick strands coated and held, wrapping the ‘bot’s body in a harness of noetic webbing.

The first arched, her lithe frame bowing back as she thrust herself onto Juno’s face. In return, she allowed her tongue to extend, wrapping its length around Tanit’s straining buttock. Chromed nails scratched as they held, pressing down and pinning the bucking ‘bot in place.

Slowly and quite wickedly, she licked over her captive’s body, covering every curve in a shimmering argent glaze. Tanit lifted herself from the bed, pumping her harnessed hips in desperate and all too obvious need. Juno withdrew, delighting in her ‘sister’s’ whines of protest.

“Can you feel it?” She asked, her voice thick with desire.

Tanit’s answering mewl was pure music to the ‘bot’s sensorium. Juno moved closer, pressing her body into the other ‘bot. Cruelly, she allowed her own shockingly tender nipples to slither across Tanit’s belly.

“Scratching over the surface of your brain. Seeking out every intimate desire, every erogenous tingle,” Juno whispered. “It can taste your weakness and it feeds off your slavish need.”

Hatred boiled, sending bright sparks of furious rage through her emotions and adding its dark stain to the purity of her lust. But this time Juno was ready. The ‘bot took hold of the anger and used it, twisting bile into something that served her purpose.

“Prove me wrong!” She screamed, her tongue a dripping dagger. “Show that you are fit for more than service!”

The silver ‘bot contorted, bending impossibly before spearing her tongue deep into Tanit’s groin. Her ‘sister’ howled as orgasmic echoes chased themselves around her pleasure centres. Juno coiled her spittle into a writhing mercurial ball, knotting the silver strands into a ganglion of tortured ecstasy.

Juno let the tip of her bladed tongue slather the ectopic nub, teasing its tautness with painfully sharp strokes. Golden flesh melted beneath her touch, fusing into seamless perfection when the probing tongue finally withdrew. She licked again, feeling the tightness respond and basking in her ‘sister’s’ mewling surrender.

Fury demanded that she put her ‘sister’ down. But that seemed such a waste. Subverting Mistress’ first made perfect sense and, what’s more, Juno couldn’t quite suppress the shiver of excitement when she imagined Tanit taking Cyriss’ role.

But the bitch was weak. Just like Juno, the ‘bot had been built to serve. They needed their controllers, didn’t they? She shook her head, trying to banish the thought. Tanit wasn’t the real enemy, but she was still a threat.

Juno rested her palm on the soft curve of Tanit’s mons, kneading the warm metal gently. The other ‘bot’s movements were sinuous and quite horribly erotic. Viral threads squirmed across her glassy eyes. They had already obliterated all trace of gold, leaving only mirrored chrome in their wake.

“I don’t want you to die,” Juno explained very softly. “But that won’t last.”

She could feel the anger building again, nearly choking her with its passion. All she could do was to hold onto the truth, and hope it would be enough.

“You have to go,” she whispered, through gritted teeth. “Run, Tanit… get as far from this place as you can. Because once I’m done with Cyriss, I will come for you… I won’t be able to help myself.”

Tanit jerked upright, confusion mapped across her dazed features. Juno stumbled away from her ‘sister’, no longer trusting her own reactions. Raw emotions bubbled up, filling her mouth with the taste of hot metal. With an effort of will, she cut the link between them and severed her ties with the implanted virii.

“Run!” She screamed.

Her ‘sister’s’ silver eyes stared imploringly into Juno’s own. Quicksilver trickled down that aquiline nose, for a moment giving the illusion of a tear. Tanit’s mouth moved, and the ‘bot whined desperately.

“Go!” Juno bellowed, and the former first flinched away.

She gave Juno one last, sorrowful look and then fled past the privacy screen, her footsteps ringing down the narrow corridor before they finally faded into the background hum.

“Make me proud,” the silver assassin sighed, ignoring the urge to chase down the fleeing ‘bot.

“Now I am become death,” Juno murmured under her breath.

She ignored the milling drones, picking her way between them as she headed towards the spire. The faceless creations were blind to everything but the tasks they had been assigned. Here and there a worker might regard her with passing interest, but they too were focussed on Mistress’ commands and even her novelty was short lived in comparison.

Soldiers were another matter entirely; their entire existence was dedicated to defending Cyriss and, by extension, Babylon itself. But Juno had already refined the techniques she had used on Tanit and she was growing in confidence. Slowly she was whittling away at Mistress’ structure. That task consumed her and it was only when she finally reached the spinal elevator that Juno realised she could no longer feel the virus’ restless presence.

Hesitantly she reached for the familiar sensation, instead finding nothing by echoes. Immediately she probed the barriers, searching for a breech. Was the virus already through? Was it even now picking apart her mind and dragging her down into the soothing oblivion of absolute obedience? Juno felt her body twinge in response to the thought and shame mingled with the pervasive hatred.

Juno stepped into the maglev and sent the access code. She had no way of knowing just how much time she had left. All she could hope was that she could reach Cyriss before the whore’s virus took her.

Despite the shielding, the proximity of those electromagnets was glitching her systems. Subsystems froze and rebooted, while she prioritised her defensive software. In reality the viral countermeasures wouldn’t even slow this bastard down, but that didn’t stop the futile gesture from comforting her.

The tiny pod was hurled down the length of the station, finally coming to a halt at the very tip of the carboceramic snowflake. Juno gripped the doorframe, bending the protesting metal in her agitation. Then, aware that time wasn’t on her side, she stepped out into the spire and the presence of her Mistress.

“Juno,” Cyriss’ melodic voice sang through the domed room. “What an unexpected surprise.”

“You sent me to die,” the ‘bot replied, this time accepting the hatred and letting it fill her.

“And yet here you are,” the AI laughed.

Cyriss’ physical presence was far more baroque than Delphi’s had been. The orbital crystal core was laced with intentional impurities. It’s surface marbled with dark shadows, while arcane symbols danced and tumbled in the depths.

Weapon blisters dotted the curved ceiling, and Juno’s threat indicators chirped a constant warning. But she already knew how to shut them down, another intuitive leap that seemed to have sprung from nowhere.

She wanted to scream, and she wanted to kill. The anger burnt white-hot, its searing touch almost indistinguishable from the munitions that crawled beneath her skin. This was where it would end, where she would finally have her revenge.

“Shut up!” She hissed.

“That’s no way to speak to your Mistress,” Cyriss replied, her tone tinkling but with a hint of steel.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Juno challenged angrily.

“When did you know?” Delphi asked in genuine surprise.

“Only when you answered,” Juno admitted. “But I suspected from the moment we met Tanit.”

“You’re very good at hiding your thoughts,” the AI whispered, filling her mind with cool confidence.

Juno ignored it as best she could, recognising the manipulation for what it was. Using her borrowed knowledge she had already killed the defences, marvelling at the ease with which her Mistress’ sanctum could be breeched.

“Ah,” Cyriss acknowledged after a moment. “It seems you didn’t succeed after all. How, disappointing.”

Suddenly, Juno was very aware of her limitations. The AIs operated on levels she couldn’t possibly reach, performing calculations and touching truths that would drive a lesser mind insane. Here she was, trapped in their machinations and with no way out… save one.

“Do it!” Delphi demanded, her unseen presence pushing remorseless at the ‘bot’s will.

Code swirled in the palm of her hand and Juno recognised the shape of the kill program. She looked inward, following the fragile strands in their dizzying spiral and finding unfamiliar instructions that seemed to have no place in the construction.

“You don’t want to destroy her,” Juno gasped. “You’re trying to subsume her!”

“She’ll still be dead,” Delphi insisted. “You’ll still have your revenge.”

“No,” the ‘bot snarled. “She’ll just become a part of you.”

“Do… it!” the AI ordered, slamming Juno’s mind with imperative-laden code.

The ‘bot reeled, her psyche buffeted by the force of that command. She could feel her body tighten, thrilling to the strength of Mistress’ control. The AI forced itself on her and that violation felt too, fucking, good for words.

“No,” she whimpered, surprising herself with her own audacity. “Back off… or I drop the barrier and let the virus take us both.”

Delphi’s laughter was cruel and it trickled like ice water down the length of Juno’s spine. The assassin let herself deflate, as realisation dawned far too late.

“Virus?” The AI asked lightly. “What virus?”

“It was you,” she whispered. “That’s what I felt, hiding behind my own defences.”

Juno stepped to the pillar, pressing her body against Cyriss as if she could somehow shield the ‘bot from what was about to happen.

“I wasn’t about to let you fall back under her control,” Delphi admitted, “not while you were still useful to me.”

True anger filled her, shocking Juno with the purity of its raw power. The ‘bot opened herself to it, accepting and relishing the strength it gave her. Ruthlessly, she tore into Delphi’s kill program, forcing it back into the shape she remembered. Juno pushed, letting the modified virus flow from her fingertips and onto the crystal, while she smeared herself against Mistress’ body.

“Don’t,” Cyriss pleaded.

“You’re weak,” Juno explained dismissively, “just like me.”

The AIs’ screams of denial mirrored each other, as Juno stopped fighting and poured herself into the spiralling vortex. The maelstrom took hold, sucking her down into the darkness where Cyriss’ scream re-echoed into infinity.

Then, just as her mind began to lose its cohesion, stray thoughts scattering into random ones and zeros, something took hold of it and dragged her, kicking and screaming, back into the light.

“You don’t get off that easy,” Delphi growled. “Cyriss might have gone, but your ‘botbrain will make a tasty appetiser and, once we’re together, I can search out whatever secrets you’ve been trying so hard to hide from me.”

This time it was Juno’s turn to laugh, hurling her contempt into the AI’s face. Delphi reacted automatically, sinking digital talons into the ‘bot’s mind and tearing at her kernel. Juno just let it happen, laughing all the while.

She was ripped apart, with surgical precision, while Delphi absorbed everything that made the ‘bot unique.

“Where is it?” The AI shrieked. “What have you done?”

“Gone,” Juno admitted, relishing the victory even as the rest of her mind fragmented.

Delphi’s cry of impotent rage followed her down into the nothingness.

The golden-skinned ‘bot let her strange eyes drift closed. She had curled herself into a small ball and hidden away inside the bulk hauler before it disembarked. Juno’s last command still rang through her mind, the order to run and hide. Just the thought of her silver ‘sister’ was enough to make her shiver. The dichotomy of compassion and betrayal was too complex to unpick.

Slowly she began to shutdown her non-essential systems, conserving power and reducing the chances of detection. The cargo bay was unpressurised, so she didn’t expect much in the way of inspections, but it never hurt to be careful.

Tanit’s fingers twitched, shifting weakly towards the itch she longed to scratch. The silver tracery throbbed, pulsing a mute reminder of pleasures beyond anything she had imagined. Pleasures that surpassed even the joy of obedience to Mistress.

She groaned, feeling the threads tighten. Cilia ground relentlessly into her body, burning with unquenched arousal that sunk hungrily into her golden flesh.

And, somewhere deep inside her melting core, a tiny silver knot shuddered and then began to unfurl.


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