The Rose of Jericho

The interface streams over my eyes, whirling clouds of statistics and time-lapse climate patterns. Massive storm systems were spinning over the North Atlantic. The same screen, same timestamp, looping over and over again. We haven't been able to pick up any satellite signals or transmissions from the League of Nations on earth since the power surge.

We are on the 13th moon since the first ripples began spreading over the surface of the earth, atmospheric blues fading into seas of white lights and ash and the sound of thunder. 16 moons since Katherine last wound her spindle fingers into my hair and told me, us, that we were the hope for the world, the sum of humanity's will to persevere, as I lay face down on the operating table.


This is the last one, she had said during the last coils of awareness before the anesthesia swallowed me into spiraling darkness. It'll be a few days, but your nanomachine modules will be enabled to speed up the recovery process. Once the Rose of Jericho has been accepted by your body, the inhibitors will be turned on again.

Why, I had asked.

Because I won't always be here for you.

I was third, but never one of her favorites. My performance evaluations were riddled with instability, my teleoperation had little control over the gravity fields created by my nanomachines. I wasn't like Jove, her beloved Jehova, the reason why the insulation chambers used for nanomachine testing had 20 hulls around it. His electromagnetic fields had kept Katherine and the rest of her team busy. He was first.

Alexandra, her second, locks herself away in the medical bay, searching for a way to synthesize her regenerative DNA nanomachines to cure mankind's disease. She's one who still believes in Katherine's divine will, and probably the one left in executive power of our inhibitor chips. She pities me, and that's my inhibitors are disabled now too. The module flickered on a few hours ago, unfurling giddiness into my bloodstream.

The interface swivels around, idling, waiting for an ineffectual programmed maneuver, a swipe of my hand, but the dark shape haunting behind the screen keeps me frozen, unable to move.

Now all that's left of Katherine is a shadow on the edge of my consciousness, a glitch in my periphery, an AI program teleoperated from the Ishtar station mainframe into the modules Katherine had implanted in us before her last shuttle to earth.

Sometimes I wonder if you're avoiding confronting her, or whatever it is going on down there.

Andromeda. The fourth. Her voice bounces around my synapses in that wordless, soundless way she can talk to each of us, banishing the AI into a fuzzy shape in the corner of my eye. The plated window shields of the observatory deck shudder open with an electric hum, windows that we couldn't open for an entire year. I pull off the sensory deprivation helmet slowly, watching as the familiar blues and greens and diaphanous white fill my gaze, a vantage point we haven't had since the power surge. Sickness crosses me, my guts churning as if I here hurdling through its atmosphere.

"You could have knocked."

I couldn't disguise the disgust in my voice as she couched behind me, hovering. Below us the curve of the earth began to cave into a shadow of darkness.

I don't want that thing listening to us. It's an Intelligent Agent.

"I have a bad feeling," her real voice says.

We've suspected for a while now; it no longer speaks to us as one, just fragments whenever we trigger a queued response. The little ones, Hawa and Yoko, could be found on their free shifts, scouring the station corridors for any remnant of the AI. Alexandra says it comforts them to hear it—Katherine was still like a mother for them. Alexandra still believes in her mother's dream, while the rest of us continue to spin helplessly in the orbit of her living nightmare.

"About what?" I ask monotonously.

The Ishtar's mainframe is being remotely accessed.

The AI has been stalking us for months, the interface is frozen, mainframe crippled from the power surge. We suspect it even overrides Andromeda's attempts to give compartmentalized orders to the auxiliary automated system. Ishtar's trajectory has slowly changed—the propulsion system has been automatically initiated, engines roaring to life periodically over the months since Katherine's AI appeared.

"Alexandra. It has been over two shifts since she's come out of the lab. I can't override the access codes." Andromeda was pinched with worry. I watch her in the reflection of the observatory windows, the retracted metallic fairing of her sensory deprivation helmet glittering black gold around the crown of her head. I can't reach her, either. "She probably thinks she's close, and then, she's also very close."

Alexandra is moon-shaped now, waxing every week. Her inhibitor was turned off as well. Katherine always rued the fact we needed to have surgical implants; caused a whole host of rejection problems, like mine. Alexandra's biological nanomachines, however, were created out of organic matter, DNA that could nourish the next generation of bioengineered children; she wasted no time in resurrecting Katherine's cold storage fetuses.

"If something were wrong, we'd already know," I bitterly cut my eyes out into the void.

"Have you seen Jove?" Her voiced piqued in suspicion.


Jove was Katherine's first, and he didn't even flinch whenever it came to him. And yet we know that it whispered to him the most, bruising his eyes with sleeplessness. When it first appeared, with its appeal to save the world from itself, it turned the inhibitors off. Gave him the keys to the kingdom, the ability to teleoperate the HALO, High frequency Auroral Logistic Operative system, to disrupt the earth's natural ionosphere, and more importantly, access to weapon satellite systems across the globe.

The girls had always suspected him, Andromeda in particular, but she always seemed to trust me in a way that made my fingers ache with guilt. Always asking me to keep after Jove as he continued to drift farther and farther away from us. But she doesn't know how twisted he was in me, and her fingers twist too, in my hair, in my guts, and I always fold. She's tipping my head back, trance-spinning gossamer eyes holding my fast.

Jove and I were in the eye of an invisible storm.

I finished repairs to bridge's control panel. It's not perfect, but I've unjammed our signals. I can interface the mainframe.

Her face is still pinched, skin stretched far too tight, but her pale eyes narrow as if they search my waters, divining truth as she always does.

It dowses me, hurdling head to toe, the awful pretend that's been rotting in my body, it almost makes me forget that I am supposed to be relieved. It almost makes me forget how much I wanted her touch to keep warding off the spectral hands that were forever there. Andromeda withdraws.

"Find him," she whispered. The fairing eclipses her face. I need to check on the little ones.

She knows.

Jove and I were on borrowed time.



I found him haunting the gloom of the docking port, perched along the rim of the moon gate, a transparent door used for maintenance outside the space station. He rocks on his heels, brimming with a nervous energy, a tall glass cylinder next to him, brimming with a dark fluid. Below us, the earth keeps turning and dragging us along helplessly in the void, a predetermined path of which we have no control.

Katherine's ghost had followed me then entire way, pressing closer and sharper, dressed in her high-necked synthetic blacks and ringed eyes.

We were finally alone, just as she wanted, her biologically engineered children stranded at the summit of humanity's greatest endeavors while we watched the world burn.

"What do you think it looks like down there?" The echoes of the nearly empty port warp his voice. "It's been just about a year, hasn't it?"

Everything went dark, silent for a second, a deafening silence in the vacuum of space, then gasped back to life, humming above that soft drone that had seeped through the station while it was on auxiliary mode.

"Looks like Andromeda restored the bridge's manual control. That's why you came down here, isn't it?" Jove chants, a smirk ringing around the corners of his mouth, his fingers beckoning me closer.

My hair stands on end, the strange, uneasy feeling I've felt around him for months enveloping me, pulling me close. The AI flickers in front of me, sighing my name, but I step around it, rubbing the nape of my neck compulsively as I crouch beside him.

"I could make it stop, you know."

He leans in close, his fingers wrap around the back of my hand. "That's why you keep touching it, right? You just want it to all go away."


A sudden thrill runs down my spine. I withdrew my hand, turning to meet his black eyes like oblivion, echoed in the corners of his mouth. I hear a resonant scream in the depths of the station. Lights flicker.


"The same way I made sure she didn't talk to me anymore, either."

He tilts his jaw up to my ear, close enough now I can hear the pucker of his lips over teeth, the smile. In his other hand he conjures, cradled away from surveillance cameras in the palm of his hand, the small bead of microchip implanted during Katherine's last footsteps on the Ishtar. The nanomachine module inhibitor.

But that wouldn't be enough to keep Katherine's specter from bouncing around our synapses—and then another materialized in hand, glittering and lacey and shriveled, Katherine's Rose of Jericho.

"When did—how did you—?"

But the answer was months ago skulking around in drooping cowls, our surveillance compartmentalized from interface access. Prickling drafts that would raise my hair on end, his strange gravitational pull on me.

"They will see you were there, too. That you lied. That you stood aside and let me do thing you never had the guts to do yourself."

That I watched him turn their weapons upon one another, how he used HALO to spin unnatural disasters, how he surged the mainframe afterwards and called it a solar flare. I rear back in horror, paralyzed.

"We are an abomination to them, we are Katherine's little secret kept from the League of Nations. You were right, Ira. We were born into a world that never wanted us."

Jove stands up, head cocked to one side, calculating. The dark fluid rises from the glass cylinder, now in the crook of his arm, a strange ferrofluid his electromagnetic waves manipulate, ferrofluid like what we used in the insulation chambers, but that was gunmetal black. It crossed over the light issuing from the moon gate, pulsing red spinning halos around his head, spooling back into the canister.

Another shriek sounds behind me and I dare to look. Andromeda is swiping furiously in the air, flowered red on her front, her knees. Nothing happens, and she screams in rage.

"I always knew you were the one who enabled my inhibitor," Jove observed, his fingers drawing a sparking arc in the air, his dark hair lifting around his head.

"Don't do this, Jove."

Light flicker again, and I can feel it coil with Jove's furrowing brow, the crackling charge. The canister smashes to the floor in an explosion of flying glass and misting blood.

"He killed them, Ira," Andromeda blazes, fingers working wildly in the air.

It comes rushing forward, like a distant memory, and I ward, thrusting my rising barriers before Jove strikes, pitching him over the moon gate. He rises to his feet, but Andromeda gestures furiously, and the cylindrical airlock drops into place.

The moon gate slides open.

A moment later Jove began to fall to earth.



©2016 InkWellWisher

The Review Game's October 2016 WCC entry