The door swung open to reveal a gleaming, white cube of a room that was completely blank in every way, a bit like the elevator. And yet, it was stranger. In fact, it was one of the strangest rooms in all of the universe. It was perfectly still, but it seemed to emit a kind of energy, a sort of mental buzz, that gave the odd impression that the very walls were watching.
“I don’t get it,” Jake said. “I thought the ‘heart of the ZORG’ was a computer.”
“It is,” Zee said. “This room is the very center of the ZORG computer. We are inside ZERO.”
“Zero? Like, the number?” Jake asked, looking at Z like she was insane.
“No, ZERO. It stands for ZORG’s Essential Robotic Operations. Technically, that’s just the name of the software, but we just call it all ZERO because there isn’t really much visible hardware to speak of, as you can see,” she said, gesturing to the seemingly empty room.
Jake nodded, “Yeah, about that, how are we supposed to override a command with a weird, empty room?”
The Almighty Z laughed. “Have a little faith, would you?” She snapped her fingers twice and two clear pieces of glass appeared, hovering in front of her.
Jake took a step back. “What did you just do?!” He asked, taken aback.
The Queen rolled her eyes. “You know how the ZORG are telepathic?” She asked, like she was explaining something to a small child.
“Yeah,” Jake replied, prompting her to continue.
“Well, the computer that runs the ZORG is telepathic too, doesn’t that make sense?”
“Yeah,” Jake said, gesturing her on.
“So, then, as the Queen of the ZORG, and the being ultimately in charge of ZERO, here, when I mentally conjure something like a few control panels, it happens. Understand?” Z was obviously getting anxious to get her drones back. Every moment they spent dawdling another drone was picked for precious ZORG technology they could not allow the Tealians to figure out.
“Yeah, okay,” Jake said. Z swiped her hand and one of the displays flew over to hover in front of Jake.
“Alright,” The Almighty Z said, deftly tapping the glass, making multicolored boxes appear and organizing them into a specific pattern as a passcode into the computer. Once it was unlocked, she pulled up all the commands and tried to cancel the one that had screwed up her drones, which resulted in an error message telling her she didn’t have the authority to do that.
“Excuse me?” The Almighty Z said, angry now.
“What?” Jake asked, walking over.
“It won’t let me disable the command! Look,” she pointed.
Jake read aloud, “‘Error 837293238849320398023841111111111: Insufficient authority. Enter High Clearance Passcode and try again.’ So put in the right passcode,” he said.
“I DID!” The Queen yelled. “Nobody else knows that passcode! NOBODY! And it couldn’t have been changed because you need the existing passcode to create a new one!” She snapped her fingers and a fork appeared in one hand, and an apple in the other. Jake looked at her questioningly. She ignored this, threw the apple towards the opposite wall, and then threw the fork at the apple with such velocity that the apple ended up pinned to the otherwise white wall by the fork with a nice poingy sound.
“Whoa,” Jake said, looking at the queen like she was crazy, which, actually, she probably kind of was. “You must be fun at dinner parties.” Another fork materialized in her hand and she glared. He put his hands up in surrender.
She just repeatedly flipped the fork over in her hand. “You do know what this means, right?” She asked, hoping he did. If he didn’t, she would have to think about firing him from the post of her Head Security Officer
“Yeah, I think so,” Jake replied. “Obviously, because the computer has to know the password to accept, the correct, current password was stored inside ZERO. So, someone just looked in ZERO for the password somehow, and then changed it. And, since only the ZORG have access to ZERO in any way, it had to be an inside job, which makes sense also because we know the command came from a ZORG computer. Also, since you’ve highlighted the horrors that would happen to someone if they tried to get down here, it’s most likely it was done remotely, and the easiest way to remotely communicate with ZERO is via telepathy, which means it must have been a drone. So, you have a rogue robot, Almighty Z.”
She nodded and said, “You know, you could have just said the last sentence there and I would have gotten it.”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t you prefer I be thorough?” Jake pointed out.
“Touché,” the Queen said, conjuring another apple and sticking it to the wall with her fork barely an inch from the other. “I thought that this was impossible,” she said bitterly. “A drone turn against me? But apparently not.” Another apple hit right above the two, forming a triangle. Some apple juice slid down the wall and formed a tiny puddle on the gleaming white floors. She sighed and waved her hand. The apples vanished and any damage made healed. She walked out of the room, Jake following behind. “They’re made to be loyal,” she continued, “my army, my helpers, my companions.”
“Do you want to hear my theory?” Jake asked her. She looked at him like she’d forgotten he was there for a second before shaking her head and replying with a “sure”. “I think that the Great Alliance probably either manipulated, hacked, or stole a drone before and programmed it to get them information. I doubt one of them turned against you, more likely it was forced, hacked, or unaware. Maybe wiped and reinstalled with new software?”
“That would make sense,” Z said, “but how? ZERO is unhackable, and drones are all very carefully tracked. There’s no way one of them could have left and come back.”
“So one of them was corrupted here. It’s unlikely that someone would do a download of that size remotely...Is there anyone here who you don’t trust that could be around a drone a lot of the time?”
Something clicked inside Z. She snapped her fingers and looked at Jake, anger blazing in the back of her eyes. “Yes,” she said, pointing at Jake. “Yes.” She took off running in the opposite direction that they had been walking.
“Where are we going?” Jake asked, easily running beside her.
“Cool, I’ve never been in your dungeons before,” Jake said, a laugh hiding behind his voice.
“Most people would be content with it staying that way, you know,” she pointed out.
He grinned. “What can I say, I live to live life on the edge.”
“That’s a horrible way to live,” the Queen laughed. “You’re just going to end up doing more and more stupid stuff until you kill yourself in some kind of freak fire-breathing accident or something.”
“Good thing I’m joking, then. But seriously, what’s the meaning of life if it’s not to leave your comfort zone and explore, and try new things?”
“Three hundred and forty-four,” the Queen replied instantly.
“What?” Jake asked, obviously derailed.
“It’s three hundred and two plus forty two. The ultimate answer to the ultimate question of the meaning of life,” she explained.
Jake shook his head. “Whatever you say.”
“That’s the spirit,” the Almighty Z laughed. “Now, let’s go kill a guy.”