Kasandra Krchevi sat in her kitchen, enjoying a truly lavish breakfast, part spat out of the alchemiter and part prepared by hand. The kitchen was sited in the most secure wing of her most secure bolt-hole, a pocket dimension protected by wards upon hexes upon energy shields, a box within an infinite number of boxes. The battle outside had lasted about seven seconds real time so far, which inside she’d been able to extend to a weekend and change. She watched the carnage unfold in slow motion, sipping coffee and eating hashbrowns and gravy while von neumann machines grappled with disassembler swarms, vomiting portals and antimatter and strangelets in a riotous display that could have annihilated solar systems. By her calculations there were about three seconds of fighting left before something managed to get through, and of course the smallest breach would mean the failure of all her safeguards. She intervened here and there, parcelling out bits of her power to give her forces an edge. A little Flow here to grant a berserker probe the reaction time it needed, Void to hide a clutch of bioships from a wash of radiation that would have liquified them. No doubt her foes were tipping the odds in similar fashion, and with the greater weight of resources on their side it was inevitable that they’d prevail. She had countermeasures for that too, ones that would hopefully scribble all over her, her foes and the entire wretched operation they ran, multiverse and all.
That’s how it always went in her fantasies back when she was a kid, dying. At the helm of a destroyer, emerging from behind the shoulder of Jupiter to smite the foes of the Republic, the bridge exploding around her as she repaid the damage tenfold to the enemy. Just like in the vids. Her right hemisphere continued woolgathering while the left checked the progress of the AI worms she’d thrown out to torch as much of the software at HQ as possible. She was committing the last of her reserves when the source of her troubles walked into the kitchen, wearing one of her bathrobes and rubbing sleep from his eyes.
Kassandra waved, preoccupied with line after line of undocumented posthuman spaghetti code. He took a plate from the counter and sat across from her.
“How much longer do we have?” He asked, piecing together a meal from the elements on the table.
She blinked away a flurry of alerts to look at him. “Maybe a day, maybe less. Maybe a lot less”
“If it’ll get you out of this I’ll let them have me.” He attempted to disguise it as an offhand comment, reaching across the table for a croissant and acting like he hadn’t just dropped what he thought was a grand romantic gesture into the conversation.
“What, seriously?” She snorted. “If it was just you that was the problem I’d have turned you over two days ago”
“And it’s not just me that’s the problem because…”
“Why do you think, idiot?”
“Because you looove me?”
He beamed and she threw a grapefruit spoon at him.
“Don’t flatter yourself. They get their hands on me, they won’t stop with my inexplicable fond feelings for you” She tapped her temple with a finger. “There’s a lot more than love those butchers would cut out of my excellent brain, given the chance.”
“Yeah, but remind me how your plan fixes any of this?”
“Game theory, dumbass. If they rewrite me, which to my current self is indistinguishable from death, I don’t get to stick around and enjoy the multiverse still existing. Thus, I obviously have every incentive to take paradox space with me when people try to lobotomize me.”
“That seems kind of egotistical”
“It seems like their own goddamn fault. ‘We can’t let you get away with this,’ they said, ‘we have to make an example, we have show people the rules apply to everyone.” She scowled and shoveled another pancake into her mouth, watching a neutron star bulldoze a greasy armored squid the size of a large city. “I’ll give them a fucking example, I’ll give them an example of what happens when their precious game has trouble stringing together a handful of elementary particles, let alone a fucking genesis frog.”
“Yeah, and that’s still a little extreme, not to mention it doesn’t give us a way out”
“Got a transportalizer they haven’t jammed stashed under that robe, genius? I’m not doing this because I’m fucking excited about dying”
He shrugged and began to slice a pomegranate, like that would disguise his apprehension. She could examine every neuron in his head while he sat there popping seeds into his mouth, figure out exactly what he was thinking, know what he was going to say before he said it. She decided in favor of examining his aura. Closing her eyes, she chewed a mouthful of bacon and smiled at the warm glow of affection, the undercurrent of fear, both of her and of what was outside. Without looking she placed her hand overtop of his, silencing his drumming fingers.
Later, with the evidence of their frenzied coupling still drying on her thighs, Kassandra Krchevi was warned by a barrage of alerts that HR was forcing its way through the last of the defenses. She puffed on a spliff, lolling lazily while she mentally activated the countdown on the last of her great projects, her little Samson option. With a sigh she blew a smoke ring or two, looked for a place to dispose of the roach, then, realizing it wouldn’t matter, mashed it out on the pillow. Eyes closed, she laid back, inhaling the rich odours of sweat, sex and space narcotics. Her paramour was dozing, arm thrown over her stomach and face buried in the sheets, staining them further with drool. She absently ran a hand through his frizzy mop of hair, extending tendrils of thought to examine his dreams.
Hospitals. His parents. A little boat on a bottomless black lake. Dying.
He was never going to grow up, not in the sense she’d been forced to. Never be ground down or grow jaded and bitter and cruel, never flower or burn out or fade away. It wasn’t clear whether she’d done the poor idiot a favor or not, dragging him into this mess.
She swallowed dryly and flicked his ear. He turned his face up, bleary eyed and sticky with drool and confusion. She was afraid.
He frowned and shifted to rest his head between her breasts. “Well don’t tell me,” he grumbled, voice muffled, “now I’m going to be all tense when it ha