She wanted to run, but her legs wouldn’t move. The fighting machine retracted its arm – it flowed back to the thing’s body. Booker’s corpse collapsed, sans head. Jo considered hitting it with her gun. But that would do no good. She breathed in, prepared for death.

You are required, it said, without making any sound.


The fighting machine turned away from Jo and started down the corridor. Jo stood still for several seconds, glanced behind her. She couldn’t stay with Booker’s body. She didn’t know where she was, and there could be anything out there, and she was out of bullets, and if it had wanted to hurt her it could have done so already. She shook her head.

The fighting machine led her down the corridor, around a corner, and another, and then into a huge, high-roofed chamber. In the middle of that room was a great chair. And sitting on that chair – not wearing a helmet – was a man. The machine stopped. The man waved, weakly, at Jo.

‘Aloha,’ he said, when she got nearer. He was dark-skinned, and very thin – almost skin and bone.

‘Aloha,’ she responded. Then she realised that she’d heard the man’s voice through her survival suit’s comm-bead, even though he had no visible communicator. The man smiled.

‘The nano-spores in this facility’s atmosphere are able to interface with your communication system. It is quite simple.’

‘What… what’s going on?’ She tried to sound confident. ‘Who the Hell are you?’

He licked his lips; he shifted forward, which appeared to take a great deal of effort. He snorted.

‘My apologies. It has been some time since I last used a purely biological body. I am the first of my kind to return from a long journey. My name is Vijai Singh, and I need your help.’


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