The shelter was cramped. It was meant to store supplies, not people. Ellie sighed. It was less cramped every day, every time the suddenly hostile machines stole someone.
“To Hutch,” said Luiz, handing Ellie a cup of moonshine. She took it and drank but did not bother to hide her grimace.
“It’s my fault,” she said. “I missed.”
“Everyone misses sometimes.”
They sat in silence until Jordan found them.
“Mayor says she needs you,” he blurted.
Luiz groaned. Ellie swore.
“It’s serious. It’s about this machine.”
“What machine?” Ellie sneered. “What about it?”
“We think it wants to talk.”
Captain Kim shook his head. “Under no circumstances. I order–”
“Captain,” said Hyong, “I am not under your command. You were assigned to protect me.”
“That is what I am doing!”
“Captain.” The word was enough. Hyong zipped his coat and looked from the guarded door back to Kim. Kim scowled but nodded to his men. They let Hyong pass.
The Inquisitor stood where the Envoy had disintegrated. It was ten meters tall and humanoid. Hyong could make out hundreds, perhaps thousands of figures moving around the borders of the Ring.
The Inquisitor turned its attention to Hyong. Hyong bowed.
Jazarah prayed. Ajit stood by solemnly, impatiently. Drones floated, rolled and trundled around them.
Jazarah had only ash to pray over. The Holy City had not been bombed but cleansed, though Ajit. The tentacled scavengers were gone. The flowers and trees were gone. The people were gone. Except them.
A heptagon approached him. He stroked it, running his fingers over the sigils precisely. It’s surface flashed like a cuttlefish.
“We have to go,” said Ajit. “More planes are coming, with soldiers.”
“Where,” whispered Jazarah. “Where would we flee?”
“We do not flee,” he said. “We go to answer the Inquisitor.”
Ellie ducked beneath the outcropping. She balanced her blast stick while she dried her hands on her vest.
The orb appeared. Ellie shoved the stick at it and pulled the trigger. The stick fired a crystal but it shattered ineffectually against the surface of the orb a centimeter from the seam she had been aiming for.
“Shit,” she said and ducked below the orb’s electrical arc.
“Get away from her!” she heard Hutch yell and then the bang, bang, bang of his pistol. The orb left Ellie and chased Hutch.
She swore and bolted for the safety of the hatch.
The manmade miniature sun existed for only a heartbeat but still it cleansed the Holy City of nearly all life. Many of those that had fled through the Ring died, too, since the Ring did not stop the blast.
When the blinding light faded, the Ring remained. The city remained. The machines remained.
Thousands of miles away, across the surface of this world, the machines came to life. The nuclear strike did not go unnoticed and would not go unanswered.
On the frozen plain, the Envoy disassembled itself. In moments, it reassembled, not as the Envoy but as the Inquisitor.
END OF PART TWO
Hyong approached the immense machine. His eyes flicked between it and his display. Technicians pointed sensors at it while Captain Kim walked beside him nervously.
“There,” said Hyong. He stopped moving and stroked the tablet. “That’s the frequency.” He was just meters from it now and it loomed over them all. Hyong tapped the display and the robot’s monstrous head tilted to regard them.
“Wait.” said Kim. He touched his ear piece, listening, and then paled.
“What?” asked Hyong but it was too late. The data stream on his display garbled with interference.
The alien machine began to glow menacingly.
Genet watched from the balcony. He was out of tears and prayers. Only bitter outrage remained.
The pilgrims sought escape back through the Ring. Turiq and his men fired on them. Alien machines rolled and flew through the streets.
Then he heard the distant sound. He identified it simply because it was unheard of in this place: a jet. He could see it far above moving across the sky.
He could not see the bomb. It was too small and fell too fast. He saw the light of its explosion: the last thing he saw before being consumed by fire.
“Is that Chinese?” asked Luiz.
Monica hushed him with a hiss. Jordan said, “Korean,” during a lull in the conversation coming from the radio.
“What are they saying?” asked Luiz. Ellie hissed this time. He looked to Hutch, who only shrugged.
Jordan spoke in short clips. “It’s a pilot. And a base. A boat, maybe. Shit. The plane’s a bomber. Shit. A nuclear bomber.”
“Where is it?” asked Monica. Everyone wore the same terrified expression.
“I can’t tell. Over a Ring city.” Jordan swallowed. “They are counting down.”
Hutch paled. “We’d see it right? Right?” he said then ran outside.
Miss Ryu took a deep breath before entering General Namgung’s office carrying a tea tray in one hand and a file in the other. She hated his leering and disdainful gaze.
The General was in conference at his desk display. He waved at her dismissively when she approached with the tea and file, but still ran his eyes over her.
She bowed and backed out of the room, thankful he did not have time for her. As she left she heard him say, “Redirect the bombers to Ethiopia.”
She hurried to her desk. There she sent a message to Hyong.
Genet walked the bloodied street. The dead were removed but the squirming, furry scavengers lapped up dried blood and viscera. The wind carried wailed prayers from the alleys but no one dared come out into the lane. The rows of alien machines waited motionless.
At the edge of the Pit he prayed, “God, show me my path.”
In the black there was a spark. He thought it was just a reflection but then it shone again. It was followed by a deep hum. Suddenly, the lines of machines turned away from the Ring to point at the Pit, at Genet.