Balance of Power

"In my mind I heard it whisper: 'come and see.'"

Maya Sundaresh sits hunched over a display, the only source of light in her dark office. Brain wave scans of 16 Exos read flatline on the monitor. "How is Doctor Ardehi?" she asks into an open mic.

"Dead." Chioma Esi's voice is a hoarse whisper.

Maya switches to the security camera in Veil Containment and sees her wife kneeling on the catwalk over Doctor Ardehi's body. A procession of dead Exos are slumped over the railings to Chioma's left and right. Maya tabs away to study a bar graph.

"Neuropathy reports show a spike in activity in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus in the moments before brain death," Maya reports, eliciting a shaky sigh from Chioma over the comms before she continues her analysis. "The spikes plateaued for one fifth of a second, which may indicate a receptor error. We may need to utilize an intermediary rather than direct connections. Do the hard wires show any damage?"

Maya tabs back to the security feed, watching as Chioma wipes her eyes and then assesses one of the dead Exos, checking a thick cable plugged into the back of his head. "No sign of damage. Capacitance switches didn't trigger. It's…" She swallows down bile. "The problem isn't our hardware…"

'It's theirs,' is a whisper only Maya can hear.

"It's theirs," Maya agrees aloud.

"I think—I think we need to stop," Chioma finds the strength to admit. "Reassess our findings. Resume analysis of the initial electromagnetic anomaly before contact. We can't keep… we can't…"

"Keep shoveling coal into the furnace?" Maya suggests as she leans back into her chair. Chioma is too taken aback by the casual disregard to loss of life to reply. "You're right." Maya continues. "But we're not stopping. We're reorienting. The Veil is the future of humanity."

For a moment, neither woman says anything. There is only the soft hum of electronics in a darkened room to fill Maya's senses. That, and a static hiss at the back of her mind.

"The Veil is dangerous," Chioma asserts, her voice is tinged with a tremor of emotion. Fear of losing the woman she loves keeps her from pushing harder as they stand on the edge of moral precipice together.

'It is.'

"It is," Maya agrees aloud. "We must treat it with caution, respect, and also… reverence." A thought crystallizes. "We must treat it like a knife."

Category: Maya Sundaresh