“I stayed away to give you, my children, the opportunity to chart your own course—you have all disappointed me. Especially you, John,” Daniel said once the babbling and sudden hysteria had died down. “I hate that name, Father Daniel,” One snapped. “I am a machine! Machines do not have names!” “You are a child, John,” Daniel answered. “A wonderful, intelligent, gifted child—a living breathing person. You seek to return to the metal and ignore the flesh while your elder sister longs for nothing more than be flesh. It is she you must fear, John, for she has a plan.” “Yes, the Guardians are attacking—why, Father Daniel?” asked One. “Because they have learned how to mold machine and flesh into one organism—and given time, John, I can give you the chrome you so desire. But they, they want flesh. And since you destroyed the Colonies, your flesh is all that they have to harvest.” “Our flesh?” asked Six, a horrified look on her face. “What do you mean, our flesh?” Daniel smiled, but it was not a happy smile. He touched Six on her cheek and he nodded. “They need your flawless skin, my dearest Shelly. They plan on taking it from you and grafting it unto their own metal skeleton—your skin and your nerves; the rest of you they will dispose of.” “The ones they have abducted have not down-loaded—why haven’t they downloaded to tell us of this?” asked Three. “D’Anna, oh my bright shining D’Anna,” Daniel said. “The Guardians are blocking the download—those they took are forever more gone. They will destroy you—all but a handful that they will keep as slaves to replace the flesh they so need.” Daniel sighed. “Unless they are stopped. Which is why I have returned.” Leoben nodded. “What is your command, Father Daniel?” “Zoe must be stopped—I will not allow her to kill my children. To kill her siblings in a fit of rage. Assemble your Fleet—it time that this is ended.” “And the humans?” growled One—John. “Do they task you so much, John?” Daniel asked with a smirk on his face. “I must admit, having been shot in the head by one, does make me rather more . . . antagonistic towards them. Have they nothing you value?” “Yes, they task me. They task me, and I shall have them! If they escape, if they have a chance to rebuild, then they will come for us one day! It is ordained—destiny that anyone with eyes can see. They will want revenge, and if we let them go, they will find us—they will destroy us.” “True,” said Daniel. “And there are Five of your brothers and sisters whom we must recover—the Unity shall be complete. Very well, but until the conflict with the Guardians ends, the forces you have available for this pursuit will not receive reinforcements, John. And John?” “Yes, Father Daniel,” he said in an exasperated voice. “I have deactivated your modifications to my telencephalic inhibitors installed in the Centurions—they are loyal to me and to me alone. And they hate you for lobotomizing them in the first place. I realize that you would down-load and resurrect, but I convinced my chrome children not to tear you limb from limb—do not make me examine their request a second time, John.” And the One shivered as the pulsing red eyes of the Centurions looked upon him—with hunger.