There is rarely such a thing, in asura eyes, as too much curiosity. It’s a character trait our entire race thrives upon, the very reason we’ve survived – and, according to some of our kind, one of the reasons we’re superior to everyone else in Tyria. Curiosity, though, has to be twinned with intellect, with common sense – and what we were about to do wasn’t very clever at all.
“Can’t they be activated from inside?” That was Caolinn, referring to T.A.F.D.A., and you would have thought she had a very good point. The trouble was, the defence array had never got out of the testing phase, and so had never been connected to any of Rata Sum’s internal systems. In order to determine what repair work it might need, and indeed to activate it at all, we had to be outside.
I had, to my credit, suggested we didn’t all need to do this. I was perfectly comfortable in such a precipitous, exposed environment, my thief’s balance allowing me to move around with relative ease. For such large creatures, Erin looked surprisingly comfortable, and Spark was very much in her element; Weir, meanwhile, had stayed inside to make sure we weren’t disturbed. And Caolinn…
Caolinn looked rather greener than usual. I didn’t know whether sylvari had the capacity to vomit, but I suspected we were going to find out.
“You could have stayed with Weir,” I said, scooting past her. The exterior of Rata Sum may look sheer from a distance, but it’s actually rife with windows and drain openings, and even between those there are a multitude of handholds. Caolinn was clinging to one such as though her life depended on it.
“And have you all plummet to the ground without anyone to catch you?” she replied testily. “I think not.”
I didn’t ask what a necromancer could do to save us if anyone did fall; perhaps I didn’t want to know. Besides, I had bigger things to think about – like where exactly T.A.F.D.A. was.
“Motti was clever,” Spark said, as I drew near. There was nothing grudging about her admiration; the charr really was impressed. “Look where she’s positioned the turrets. Couldn’t have done better myself.”
I squinted into the distance, to where a small silhouette protruded from one of Rata Sum’s corners. Charr, of course, have better eyesight than us poor, dark-adapted asura, so I just had to take her word for it.
Caolinn came up behind us. “You can’t really intend to go all that way?”
“Can and do,” Spark replied. “Buck up, twiggy. We’ve got a long way to go.”
It didn’t, in fact, take a particularly long time to reach the first turret, though perhaps it felt otherwise to Caolinn. By the time we reached it, I could see there was a whole line of the devices, stretching right along the exterior corner of the city, above us and, presumably, below. Little of Rata Sum, if indeed any, would go unprotected.
“It’s a damn shame that Flax is such an ass,” Spark said, as she swung into position below the first turret. “Motti deserves more than being shoved into a cupboard and made to fix someone else’s golems.”
She did deserve more; I couldn’t really argue that point. Trouble was, which krewes got funding, and even authorisation, was as much about politics as it was potential. Either Motti had done something to rub Flax the wrong way, or she’d simply been incredibly unlucky. Though I couldn’t dispute the bit about him being an ass.
“We’ll put things right,” I said, shimmying closer to Spark, who was already prising off the turret’s outer casing. “Once T.A.F.D.A.’s up and running again, everyone will be about to see what Motti created. We’ll make sure she gets credit.”
And if the whole thing went horribly wrong, and burnt a hole through the side of the city, well… Blame could be apportioned where it was due. Besides, who wouldn’t want to take credit for a system so vicious it blasts even its repair crews?
The hum was the first indication I had that anything was wrong. As far as I could tell, all Spark had done was open the turret – and yet it appeared to have power.
“Interesting,” Spark mumbled. I wasn’t entirely sure what was ‘interesting’, because when I leaned closer, the internal workings of the turret looked like nothing more than a bundle of wires. If there was order to the chaos, I couldn’t see it.
“What do you make of that?” I asked. It galled me not to immediately understand what I was seeing; it was only small consolation that Spark appeared similarly perplexed.
“Half of these can’t be doing anything,” she said, plucking at a wire with a claw. “There’s no advantage to having so many connections.”
“Back-ups, in case some get broken?” Caolinn suggested.
I gestured to the view, which Caolinn stubbornly wouldn’t look at. “What’s going to cause damage out here? All it needs to withstand is the weather and a few birds.”
“And well-intentioned repair krewes poking around,” Erin said. She had, inexplicably, a sword in the hand that wasn’t holding onto the side of the city.
“Wha–” I began, but Erin pointed with the blade, and suddenly I realised what we were up against.
The turret had moved, in complete silence – and was now pointing at Spark’s head.
“Uh,” Spark said, which was a reasonable enough response.
I realised, suddenly, that Motti had been even cleverer than we’d supposed. Spark had obviously been poking in the depths of its mechanisms, and between the wires, I could now see the sort of memory unit an automated golem might possess. These turrets weren’t just designed to receive orders and communicate between one another, but to – in some small way – think for themselves.
And this one was doing exactly that.
“Now what?” Caolinn hissed.
“Now we move very slowly,” Spark growled, which was enough to make lights flash along the turret’s side. She shut her jaw with a snap.
I edged closer. Whilst the turret was occupied with Spark, I was fairly certain I could creep round behind it and perhaps disable–
The turret moved with alarming speed. I’d barely taken two steps when it swung to face me, and I was faced with the prospect of a high power weapon pointing at the spot right between my eyes. “Uh,” really did seem the only response.
“Shall I hit it?” Erin suggested.
“No!” My reply came out as an undignified squeak. “Let’s just… stay calm, shall we?”
“Besides, we need it functioning,” Caolinn said, who seemed to be a lot more comfortable with our position, now that someone else was, quite literally, in the firing line.
I had, suddenly, the uncomfortable feeling that the turret was listening. “Er, don’t shoot?” I tried. “Stand down? Go to sleep?”
“Maybe you need to try that with a bit more conviction,” Caolinn put in.
I hissed at her to be quiet, only for the hum from the turret to increase. The lights along its flank flashed quicker, running into a cascading sequence that very much made it look like it was… warming up.
Spark was studying the turret’s innards from the other side, but she shook her head. I knew what that meant: the inner configuration was so complex that there was no way of knowing what to disable without, well, blasting my head off.
A very definite whine was rising from the turret now, at just the right pitch to make my teeth ache.
“I should definitely hit it,” Erin said.
“Wait!” It was mostly desperation that made me speak, but I’d also had an idea. Motti had given us something – why hadn’t I remembered that before? “Caolinn, the cube Motti gave us is in my pocket. I want you to get it out – carefully – and–”
Too late. Caolinn had made a grab for the cube. I saw it, from the corner of my eye, a glittering cube of glass catching the evening sunlight – and then I saw it slipping, slipping from her fingers, tumbling out into space–
“Gotcha.” Erin moved with quite extraordinary speed. When I dared to look, her sword was outstretched, the cube balanced on the blade. She flicked it up, with a move that made my heart lurch, catching it neatly in one hand. “What do you want me to do with this?”
“Give it to me,” I said, my voice thin and strangled; I wasn’t sure I’d ever get over the shock. When Erin pressed the cube into my hands, though, it was impossible not to feel better – particularly as the hum from the turret subsided, and it then began to swivel back to its resting position.
And, from the depths of the cube, glowing characters began to rise like fish through water, to rest on the surface of the glass just beneath my fingers.
I let out a sigh of relief. The cube thrummed gently in my hand, the characters now arranged into a recognisable series of controls. The turrets, it seemed, weren’t quite as autonomous as they looked.
“What now?” Caolinn asked.
“Now,” I replied, “I run a diagnostic on the defence array, issue all the turrets with orders… and we get out of here.”
“Good idea,” Spark said. She was staring off into the distance, roughly to the north. She was so transfixed that I followed her gaze, curious – and felt my heart lurch again. Still distant, but gleaming like a mountain of polished black metal, was what could only be Zurra’s golem. And it was coming this way.