XCOM: Ranger

by Wanderer D

Chapter 158: Switch


Chapter 158: Switch

By Wanderer D

Scootaloo walked slowly through the metal hallway, which lit in front of her as she walked and turned off the lights behind her. The door to the engineering section had closed behind her soon after, and she had been having second thoughts the whole way.

But was there a chance? Could it really be her friend had somehow survived this? She had been distracted, too shocked by the prospect to really ask good questions, so after being unable to figure out something better to ask, she went for the obvious one.

"But, didn't they kill you? How were you able to load yourself into… AppleSeed?"

"A combination of many things. In part, it was thanks to Julian… when he had originally been captured, he managed to hide SPARK away. It's amazing what a facility this size can get away with, so when he and Ah started working together, he guided me into these labs, where SPARK was, and set me to learn from it."

Scootaloo listened as she followed the paths through the tunnels. There wasn't much to look at, just cables and pipes stretching into infinity… or at least as far as the eye could see.

"Julian said it was left behind by his "father" Dr. Shen, who had worked with XCOM and had intended to put Julian into the body. He was unable to access it at all, especially once ADVENT had captured and secluded him, but he had tried several times to hack into it and been unable to.

"He said he wanted to retrieve his body, as his father wanted, then fight ADVENT, but the way he said things… it just didn't sit right with me. Ah guess it was my Crusader danger sense… Ah knew there was something shifty about him.

"Ah sensed that Julian had different plans in mind than what he was telling me, so, while Ah was studying the SPARK unit that Dr. Shen built, Ah discovered it had a totally separate environment than what Julian used."

"Huh," Scootaloo muttered as she did a turn, "That's unusual. Why would it be encrypted differently than Julian's programing if it was for him? Some sort of weird security protocol?"

"Dr. Shen… he didn't intend for Julian to have that body. SPARK was its own personality, and Julian knew this, but wanted to override it. As I studied SPARK, Ah started developing my own AI… AppleSeed. Ah told Julian it was intended as an assistant, but Ah had the feelin'... well, it was more of a failsafe.

"Ah made sure that AppleSeed stayed a separate entity from Julian, and kept her growth mostly hidden. Ah did some additional research on XCOM with AppleSeed and Julian's help. It was about this time that Ah stumbled upon some notes from Dr. Shen that had been secured by ADVENT on how to use somethin' they called Meld.

"Dr. Shen had several ideas on how to use it to mix humans with machines… but apparently never got the chance to try it out. Julian was getting desperate, and Ah knew that there was a chance Ah wouldn't make it out… so I programmed a protocol in AppleSeed, and created a machine that could link me to her…"

"Wait, you linked yourself to an AI?! What the hell Apple Bloom?!"

"At that point it was more of a Virtual Intelligence… similar, but not whole. Ah designed a chip that would connect me constantly with her, and had her operate that into my brain, to work off of the ADVENT Network's chip.

"It… opened my eyes, Scootaloo… to the things they're doing. And that's not even the secret projects. Ah know that XCOM stole somethin' important, so Ah couldn't access it… and there's… someone else out there."

Scootaloo grimaced, not liking that. "Someone else?"

Even though it was a bodiless voice, she could almost feel Apple Bloom nodding.

"Yeah… there's… someone, Ah can feel them… Ah'm not sure if they can feel me… but it's in the ADVENT Network. Like a scream that's too far away to really understand what it is? Ah can't explain it, Scootaloo… but it scares me."

Scootaloo frowned. "Let's forget that ghost for now… unless you think it's watching?"

"No… Ah don't think it's paying attention to anything specific. And Ah couldn't feel it until I became… this. Anyway… now I had a meld tank which was processing my memories and impressions… me for lack of a better word, into AppleSeed… and Ah ordered AppleSeed that if anything happened, if there was any chance… she should hook me up to it."

Scootaloo had reached the final part of the tunnel and a door opened to a small lab. It had the signs of belonging to her friend, from a small frame depicting an aged photo of Apple Bloom and her family, to a more recent one of the three of them shopping at the mall.

On tables lay well-used tools of many sorts, and several vents pushed air high above, creating a constant hum. This place… was completely lacking cameras or other methods of detection.

"So… that's how you managed to escape notice from Julian…"

She could hear the smile on the reply, "Ah actually found this place a long time ago… Ah told Sunset Shimmer where it was, and when Julian shared some of the videos of when he met her, Ah noticed that she disappeared completely from his notice. Ah figured out this is it, so Ah programmed AppleSeed to bring me here."

Scootaloo now stood, staring at the half-gone body floating in the vat of Meld. Apple Bloom's lower half was mostly missing, and her chest and stomach—what was left of them, in any case—were severely burnt.

She had her eyes closed, and didn't seem to be breathing, although her body twitched from time to time. Scootaloo couldn't help it, she put a hand on top of her mouth and ran to a corner, throwing up into a small trash bin next to Apple Bloom's desk. "Oh… Bloom…"

"At some point, Julian figured out Ah was stalling… that Ah was having second thoughts about helping him, but my work was solid… he um… buttered me up.

"Julian didn't care about my body once he had figured out he could use you to finish what Ah started, so AppleSeed replaced it with the burnt husk you saw as Julian destroyed or killed everyone in the plant. Ah was put in the tank and resuscitated as per instructions, with my chip  was connected now directly to AppleSeed's core.

"Ah've uploaded all of myself as per Shen's instructions… Ah'm all that's left of me… besides the tank."

Scootaloo cast a glance in the direction of the tank and gagged, turning away and concentrating on the designs.

"Ah'm sorry you had to see that…"

Scootaloo coughed, wiping her mouth, and looking over her shoulder at the tank. "That… that bastard…" She didn't know what to say. Grimacing, she looked around at the design notes as Apple Bloom continued.

"Ah couldn't do much while he murdered the people he captured... "

Scootaloo had to swallow. She couldn't look at Bloom. Couldn't turn fast, or risk throwing up. She didn't want to think… of all the people they knew that might have been murdered by Julian. Another legacy of violence from XCOM and the Elders.

"But when Ah was uploaded, Ah pretended that Ah was still AppleSeed, a VI assistant. Ah also had to make myself useful or Julian would attempt to override me. So Ah told him Ah was designed to increment the power of the SPARK unit or any other unit created by him.

"Oddly enough, it seemed to please him. Ah think, in his own way, Julian sort of… cared for me. In the same way that he cares for Lily or Dr. Shen."

"Well he has a very peculiar way of showing he cares," Scootaloo muttered angrily.

"He was… he has no excuse," Apple Bloom said. "He knows the difference between good and evil. Dr. Shen was thorough on many parts of his programming. But he might have been too human… in the end, he wanted revenge more than he wanted happiness."

Scootaloo pushed herself back away from the desk, and taking a deep breath, she made her way to the tank, keeping her eyes on her friend's face. "And you?"

There was a long stretch of silence. It was a familiar silence, however. The type of silence that occurred when Apple Bloom was deep in thought.

"Ah want to go away," she finally said. Ah want to find Sweet Apple Acres. Ah want to build a small tombstone for Applejack and Big Mac and Granny Smith next to the old one Ah had for Ma and Pa."

Apple Bloom paused. It was clear that she was struggling with what to say next.

"Ah want to go home so bad, Scoots… but Ah also want to finish what Applejack started… but more than anything, Ah want you and Sweetie Belle to be safe."

Scootaloo took a deep breath. "What do you need me to do?" The computer next to the tank beeped, and the engineer walked over to look at it. Her eyes widened and her face paled. "N-no… you can't be asking this!"

"There's only one thing left to do, Scootaloo... " Apple Bloom said, "Press the kill switch."

o.0.o End Chapter 158 o.0.o