Love on Gaia: The Nearest Mouth

(Featuring Molly ‘WireRat’ Morales, for the ‘Eros’ category.)

Staff, please restrain the subjects.

It was love at first sight. The first time Molly laid eyes on КЭСМ, she fell madly in love with it.

A vast circular chamber deep beneath the Carpathian Mountains, the light of decades old bulbs and glowing tubes backlight a fog of coolant. The source of the voice that had accompanied their infiltration of Facility Nine. Miles of tubes and wires, consoles and altars. While the ceiling was lost in darkness, the floor was studded with hatches and windows, hinting at the depths below. The madness with which vampires build their unstable lairs brought to a bizarre apotheosis, melding of astronomy and necromancy in the pursuit of ever deeper plunges into the cosmos.

Countdown to Core clearance initiated. Please vacate the program.

By that point, of course, the machine had already decided that it did not reciprocate that particular affection - In the end, it only had eyes for Halia, the lost cosmonaut. The modular structure. She is the program, and she and the deranged machine maintain each other.

Molly felt herself being yanked back by the collar as a crackling wall of energy sprung up; at first only visible as a faint red glow cutting through the cryogenic fog, then as a sputtering coruscation of sparks. Feet waved in the air as she struggled to draw a weapon.

Dropping to the corrugated deck with a clatter as Clarissa let go, Molly brought up her rifle and dove behind the taller woman, aiming for an irreplaceable 1950s vacuum tube. Her hair ruffled as Clarissa’s hammer swung past, line-driving a combat drone into the shadowy recesses of the ceiling.

Andrew let out a curse and a volley from his pistols, cut off from the rest of them by another energy wall. He tossed out a drone of his own just as Molly tossed a mine - neither lasted long as lasers speared down from above, seeking targets.

Trigger Protocol at… twenty six percent.

Molly and Clarissa fell back as the floor erupted, smoke rising from the latter’s clothes as she shielded Molly from the blast. Breathing heavily, their eyes met; around the handle of the hammer, she extended two fingers and thumb to flash a quick gesture - and then she was gone, leaping back into the fray, with an inarticulate scream and trusting the little hacker to have her back…

The two of them hadn’t been love at first sight. Not at all.

But that first sight of Clarissa had definitely caught Molly’s attention, and that had been enough to get things started. Slowly. It only took the tongue-tied albino a month to get up the nerve to talk to the silent, brooding girl in the elaborate, old fashioned dress.

They were sixteen years old, and it went disastrously - but the long detention cleaning up all the homunculus bits in the summoning lab had been a different story, and…

Trigger Protocol at… fifty percent.

Clarissa’s sister was down for the count by then - it was going to be a close fight without her damage output. They’d already been a bit shorthanded, but Maxine had been confident that they could handle it. Typical of her. And now the walls of energy were closing in, and it was all Molly could do to dodge through to an open space next to Andrew, who was hard pressed to keep healing through the increasing onslaught.

“I thought you were good with computers,” he gasped, green and yellow energy sparking off his fingers as he took her shoulder. Sarcastic bastard, but as long as he could keep Clarissa up…

“Bery funny,” she snorted back, drawing her shotgun and tracing the paths of the heavy conduits and cables that fed the monstrous device. Times like this, her accent crept back, but it wasn’t much of an issue; no time to worry about it, at least.

It had been real trouble at the Academy. That had definitely been part of what she’d shared with Clarissa. Two strange girls - a little pink eyed Pinoy tomboy with a heavy accent, a giant who dressed like a gothic doll whose mutilated throat could only produce guttural noises. Discovering and eventually facing up against a bigger, stranger world together.

Putangina Russians din’ hab de wi-pi…” she mutters as she resorts to hacking manually. With bullets.

Trigger Protocol at… seventy nine percent.

The cavernous chamber was almost consumed by the expanding kill-zone. From around the central core, Clarissa came sprinting with a half dozen drones swarming in her wake.

“Just… a liddle more,” Molly grimaced, as she finished tracing the critical components… aimed… fired!

Not enough to penetrate, but it sure got the attention of some process in that mass of circuitry. The drones quickly diverted as she reloaded. Just a tiny bit… more…

Shells clattered into place as they bore down on her.

The shockwave of Clarissa’s hammer striking metal knocks the drones in all directions in the nick of time - the final shot goes off with a roar as the energy walls close in around them.

The next shockwave is from behind them, the entire mountain seeming to shake as debris and glass rain down from above.

It was a shame, to have ended so violently… but it never would have worked out. The machine really only had eyes for Halina.

And at the end of the day, Molly only had eyes for the girl who was picking her up off the floor. Taking a deep breath, she mirrors the sign Clarissa had made earlier - I L Y - and lets Andrew take care of picking up the others as she settles into her girlfriend’s arms.